Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Food Network All Star Holiday Party Countdown

It's official: I can't wait for the Food Network's All Star Holiday Party!

Emeril, Rachael, Bobby Flay, Paula, Michael Chiarello and Sandra Lee.

I can just picture Alton Brown seeing Sandra's name and saying, "Hell no."

Will Emeril be drunk? Will Rachael slobberingly seek everyone's approval?

Will Michael Chiarello be mesmerized by Sandra Lee's boobs (confirming once again that I have no gaydar)?

Mark your calendars for Sunday, December 18!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Friday Frozen Dinner's Guide to Emeril

I can't help but like Emeril. The food he cooks looks tasty, he's knowledgable and he seems like a nice guy.

What's that? You can't stand Emeril Live? That's okay, neither can I.

In my mind, there are two Emerils. There is Quiet Emeril of Essence of Emeril and Loud Emeril of Emeril Live. Quiet Emeril is chill (and sometimes even looks like he's been partaking in some, shall we say, herbal remedies). Loud Emeril is brash and a showboat. Half the things Loud Emeril says don't make sense; it's like listening to someone play a videogame in another room.

Exhibit A: Essence of Emeril

Exhibit B: Emeril Live

In short, Emeril is just like my grandpa. If it's just a small group, my grandpa is relaxed and fun to be around. But as soon as he's in a crowd, my grandpa's inner Entertainer comes out, and pretty soon it's nonstop jokes, pronouncements and interruptions. It's charming when you first meet him, but it gets old quick. Emeril is a cook by trade but really wants to be an entertainer (evidenced by his short-lived sitcom, Emeril). My grandpa was a carpenter by trade but really wanted to be an entertainer (evidenced by his forays into music, including the saxophone, harmonica and saw). The secret to enjoying their company is to control your environment, set boundaries, and keep them away from crowds at all costs. I do this by only visiting my grandpa on non-holidays, and by only watching Emeril when he's not in a room with 100 enablers people straight out of 1989 tourists.

Without further ado, Armchair Cook presents the Guide to Emeril:

Quiet Emeril: "Confucious says..."


Quiet Emeril: < silence >

Loud Emeril: "BAAAAAM!"

"Quiet Emeril: "Painting breadsticks is a good way to get in touch with nature."

Loud Emeril: "OH YEAH, BABY!"

Quiet Emeril: "I enjoy a white wine."


Monday, November 21, 2005

Food Coma: 5 Suggestions to Improve the Food Network

It's only Monday and I already have Thanksgiving fatigue. In the last few weeks I've watched Rachael, Paula, Alton, Giada, Michael and Emeril prepare Thanksgiving meals. In case you missed these shows, let me sum them up:

Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, pie.
Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, pie.
Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, pie.
Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, pie.
Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, pie.
Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, pie.

I'm a little grumpy today. I feel like I've been watching the same show on repeat for the last two weeks. Only the faces are different.

I love the Food Network. I watch it all the time, but that doesn't mean it's perfect. I'd love to see a few changes and additions to my favorite channel.

1. Add a vegetarian cooking show (or two).

I'm pretty confounded as to why this has not happened yet. The Food Network already has a whole section of its site dedicated to vegetarian recipes. Eating vegetarian does not mean you have to give up leather, tasty food, or common sense. Many people eat meatless every day, so the show would not only appeal to hard-core hairy-pitted vegans.

Might I suggest Toni Fiore of Delicious TV and Regina Campbell of Regina's Vegetarian Table? If you don't want to poach all of PBS' programming, then how about Annie Somerville of San Francisco's iconic Greens restaurant?

Agree with me? Sign this petition asking Food Network to add a vegetarian show its lineup.

2. Add some ethnic cooking shows (as well as ethnic hosts) to the lineup.

First off, I understand that the Food Network wants to cater to the widest possible audience, so it's not going to have a Tibetan Recipe Extravaganza anytime soon. However, a lot of people enjoy Latin (especially Mexican) and Asian food - at least as many as those who like Italian, and look how much air time Italian food gets.

I liked the idea of one contestant from last season's The Next Food Network Star, travelling around the world to find new and exciting dishes. While the production costs of a travelling cooking show would be prohibitive, I'd love to watch a show where, for instance, the host would throw a dart at a world map and then next week he or she would have to cook a meal from that region. They could bring in a native of that country to assist, or the host would have to wing it.

While we're diversifying the food, let's diversify the hosts! Now, I don't think the Food Network has to be a rainbow coalition, but are the only cooks in America caucasian? I already mentioned Food Network Canada's Rob Rainford. Anyone remember Padma Lakshmi? This former fashion model cooked amazing food and, move over Giada and Sandra, is one of the most gorgeous women in the world. Her first cookbook, Easy Exotic, is one of the best kitchen resources I own.

3. Bring back gourmet.

I don't think I'm alone in saying that when I watch a show on the Food Network, there's a 90% chance that I will never want to make the food they're cooking. I will pick up ideas here and there, but mostly I want to be entertained. What is more entertaining than watching a highly educated and experienced chef prepare a meal containing ingredients that cost more than your rent?

4. Embrace the Web.

Food Network is doing a pretty good job with this one. Their website is pretty thorough, with lots of info about hosts and a searchable recipe database. Even though I don't care for Dave Lieberman, today the Food Network launched a 13-part Internet-only cooking show called Eat This with Dave Lieberman. From the press release:
Hosted by the critically acclaimed young chef, author and host of "Good
Deal With Dave Lieberman," each of the 13 episodes will visit several of the
hottest spots in five major U.S. cities, New York, Chicago, Seattle, San
Francisco and Miami, to focus on hot new trends and crazes in cuisine.
Lieberman will delve into everything from science-influenced food (in such
famed places as NYC's WD-50 and Chicago's Moto) to specialty meats (alligator,
kangaroo, elk) and flavored salt (smoked, Hawaiian red and Maldon) to spicy
sweets (chocolate truffles and bars flavored with curry, goat cheese and basil).
I like the idea of Web-only content, but this is just like $40 a Day, Tasty Travels, and Roker on the Road. The Next Food Network Star page has unaired videos of each contestant online, and lets viewers vote on their favorite. I'd love to see supplemental information for shows that have already aired on television, as well as original content that features actual cooking. Behind the scenes features might be a good place to start. And why don't any of the Food Network hosts blog at FoodNetwork.com?

5. Variety is the spice of life.

I'm no cooking show purist. That is, I love watching actual cooking and learning how to make new dishes, but I also enjoy some of Food Network's other programming. The jury is still out on Restaurant Makeover (who are bigger jerks, the designer and chef, or the restaurant owners?), but I do like Recipe for Success. Unwrapped bores me to tears, but I do enjoy the Food Network Challenges.

I'd love to follow a group of students through culinary school. I'd also watch Super Size Me-type experiments where someone only eats the food they cook for 30 days. I'm surprised that Food Network doesn't have any kind of kitchenry gadget program - I would totally be into a show that reviewed or showcased different types of kitchenware and appliances. Heck, they could even plug their own wares, considering they sell all kinds of kitchenware at Foodnetwork.com.

What do think of these ideas? Do you have any suggestions to improve the Food Network?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Friday Frozen Dinner Drink: Sandra Lee

Our Friday Frozen Drink is brought to us this week by Sandra Lee:

Semi-Homemade means Always Buzzed.

"5 for me, 1 for you...."

I'd bet money she copped a feel on that guy sometime during the night.

Chug! Chug! Chug!

"I have only five words for you: From my cold, dead hands."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Breaking Bobby Flay

Whether he's barbecuing on the patio of his fabulous Manhattan apartment on Boy Meets Grill or condescending to the unwashed masses on FoodNation, Bobby Flay pisses me off. I've seen FoodNation only once, because he treated the regular people on the show with such disdain and disinterest that it pissed me off. I watch Food Network to unwind. I don't want to get worked up because a rich jackass on tv is rolling his eyes at an old man's recipe for ribs. He's arrogant and obnoxious and mean, much like another reality tv redhead:

I won't speculate on what other similarities Flay may share with Bonaduce, but I do know that Flay is on his third marriage, with Law & Order star Stephanie March. Veiled Conceit eviscerated their New York Times wedding announcement this spring. Can you imagine if your daughter married this guy?

My dislike for Bobby Flay was always at a low simmer until I recently learned of his infamous Iron Chef incidents, which are succinctly summed up here:

Flay honed this type of social brutality during his storied appearances on "Iron Chef." At the end of his first battle against Japanese Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, a smack-talking, posturing Flay jumped triumphantly onto the counter. Standing on his cuttingboard and doing that dorky "raise the roof" hand gesture, Flay lead the crowd in chanting "U.S.A! U.S.A!" All of this, but primarily the standing on the cutting board part, grievously offended Morimoto and the rest of the Japanese contingent.

Hilariously, Flay lost the battle, and afterwards took every opportunity to complain to the press that it was unfair, that his equipment was inferior to his challenger's and that the odds were stacked against him. A year later, he was afforded a rematch, which he ended up winning. As the final buzzer sounded, Flay jumped up and stood on the counter once again. In typically obnoxious fashion, he pointed out that this time he wasn't standing on the cutting board cause he didn't want to offend anybody. "He's so American!" the young Japanese actress on the panel of judges tittered nervously. Morimoto just shook his head in disbelief.

I mean, what do you say about a guy who would do something that obnoxious and then would be clueless enough to think that the only offensive part was that he stood on the cutting board? Allissa Rowinksy's essay articulates all the bad vibes I've ever gotten from Bobby Flay over the years. Check it out.

As far as his food goes, I have no beef with Bobby Flay. His food always looks pretty good, although I find his overuse of mango to be suspicious. But it's barbecue: it always looks good! It is sort of amusing that the most arrogant person on the Food Network has made a name for himself doing exactly what the rest of America does on a Sunday afternoon. This guy says it best:

Arrogant? Why would he have the need to be arrogant? Dude, you f***ing barbeque. My dad barbeques. My mom, the gourmet, won’t go near the grill. How can you be an arrogant asshole about barbequing?

In his defense, Flay may not be a total tool. Flay has a feature on his site called Ask Bobby. I don't know if he is the one really responding to these people's questions, but the answers don't seem too bad. I guess I was expecting him to be openly hostile like he is on television.

Actually, I don't care what he's like in real life, because on tv he makes my blood boil. If you come across as a smug jerk on television, then maybe tv isn't for you. But it's not really his fault: I'd be smug too if I had conned Food Network into giving me four shows.

If the Food Network insists on having a BBQ man, then I suggest Rob Rainford of Food Network Canada. I haven't seen him in action, but the CBC carried an adoring piece about his style of cooking show and, really, he couldn't be any worse than Bobby Flay.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Paula Deen Coronary Watch at TVGasm

The good folks over at TVGasm have done it again. First they had Giada Watch 2005; now they've added the Paula Deen Coronary Watch.

What other watches would you like to see? I'm all about a Barefoot Contessa Cracked-Out-Camera-Angle Watch.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Food Network's All Star Thanksgiving: I'm Thankful for Alton Brown

As a vegetarian, I don't get too worked up about Thanksgiving. The turkey and its juices find their way into the potatoes, stuffing, and gravy and then I'm left snacking on my homemade tofu loaf and cranberry relish. One year I foolishly ate some stuffing to placate my friend's mom and let's just say my body was very unhappy for the next 36 hours.

Still, I was looking forward to the Food Network All Star Thanksgiving Special. The previews made it look like Rachael, Emeril, Alton, Sara, Tyler, Paula and Giada were going to do a lot of sitting around and eating. 90% of the show featured the cooks in their usual kitchens and only in the last few minutes did the Food Network stars come together. The only memorable dishes were Tyler's nasty looking sausage-artichoke concoction ("I got this recipe on my latest trip to Italy," he said.), Sara's gorgeous apple tart, and Emeril's Red Rooster drinks. All in all, the show was a real snoozer, with one exception.

That exception is Alton Brown. I have a bunch of favorite Food Network hosts, including Paula Deen, Michael Chiarello, and Ina Garten. They are congenial, competent and cook yummy food. But seeing Alton's turkey segment follow everyone else's, when it comes to charisma, innovation, information and overall watchability, no one even comes close to matching Alton Brown. Good Eats isn't fluff, it's where science meets entertainment. Alton's expressiveness and comic timing match that of the best comedians, while his knack for explaining complex concepts rivals that of Bill Nye and Mr. Wizard. I'm glad Alton carved the turkey and sat at the head of the table, because he is clearly the alpha male of the Food Network clan.

I love Good Eats. My favorite episode is his Down and Out in Paradise special, where he is stranded on the remote island of Oahu, and according to this FAQ it is the most fun Alton has had as a filmmaker (does that include School Daze?). I don't really remember much of the science from the show, which is why his book I'm Just Here for the Food is so valuable. Seriously, if you're only going to buy one cookbook this year, get this one. It's entertaining and a great resource.

Alton used to have a blog but he's revising that portion of his site due to harassment by 'net idiots*. I honestly can't imagine anyone not liking Alton Brown. Even people who don't like Food Network have good things to say about him.

Want more Alton Brown? Check out the Good Eats Fan Page (it's kind of hard to navigate, but the whole site is filled with good Alton info, so click away!).

A couple Alton quotes from the Thanksgiving special:

"I picked this up on a trip to south Georgia." - to Tyler, who has reminded us 8 times that his gross artichoke dish was picked up on a trip to Italy.

"You need it!" - while placing an entire turkey breast on tiny Giada's plate.

I'm surprised Sandra and Ina weren't part of the Thanksgiving dinner. I have a feeling, though, that if Alton and Sandra were in the same room, the universe might implode.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Friday Frozen Dinner: Giada de Laurentiis

Happy Friday!

Today's Friday Frozen Dinner features Little Big Head herself, Giadada de Laurentiiiiiiis:

My cat gets this look after getting into the catnip.

What kind of maniacal plot is she hatching? (And is that Penelope Cruz?)

My face hurts just looking at this.

That bread is about to be used as a weapon.

I'm just waiting for the top of her head to pop off.

It's not Everyday Italian without a little Everyday Cleavage.

"I'm having fish tonight."

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

What's the matter with Paula?

For a story about succeeding against the odds, read Paula Deen's biography. I'd heard she was agoraphobic, but I had no idea she was basically housebound for 20 years. I hope her old demons aren't coming back to haunt her, as she's seemed really off in her most recent shows. It's almost like she's constantly close to tears, and she doesn't look healthy. Her skin is all sallow and I suspect she has on a ton of makeup. Yesterday I watched her start crying as she talked about her Daddy who died when she was 19. Anyway, I hope she's okay and back to her saucy, butter-loving self in no time.

The Barefoot Contessa Project

When I first saw Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network, I hated it. Something about it made me totally uneasy and it seemed unwatchable. At first I thought it was because of the host, Ina Garten, but after catching parts of the show a few more times, I realized it was because of the crack head cameraman. Maybe they're trying to be artsy by emulating The Blair Witch Project, but I find the weird camera angles distracting.

I also have a feeling they're trying to spend as little time as possible focusing on the sometimes-frumpy Ina. Can you imagine Rachael Ray or Sandra Lee with as few mid-range shots or closeups as Ina?

Once I got past the nauseating camerawork, I realized that my girl Ina can really cook. I especially love her desserts - they look like something that would come out of a swanky pastry shop and she often uses fresh fruit. Ina breaks it down so we mere mortals can make desserts like Raspberry Orange Trifle, Strawberry Country Cake, and Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes.

Ina is always cooking things for her husband Jeffrey, who works "far away" during the week and comes home on Friday nights. She's always seems overly-fawning when talking about him, like one of those girls in high school that talked about her "long distance boyfriend" who you know didn't exist. The way Ina talks about him is a little creepy and Stepford-ish sometimes, but not only does Jeffrey exist, they seem to have a comfortable, easygoing rapport, which makes sense since they've been married for 37 years.

I did some research on Jeffrey and I discovered two surprising things: 1) his name is not spelled Geoffrey - I would have bet the farm on that one - and 2) Jeffrey works "far away" as the Dean of the Yale School of Management.

I then discovered that Ina founded her specialty food store, Barefoot Contessa, after she grew tired of working at the White House Office of Management and Budget, specifically on Nuclear Energy Policy. What?! She says in this interview:

I worked in the White House from 1974 to 1978 during the Ford and Carter administrations. I worked in the Office of Management and Budget on nuclear energy issues. It was very exciting for the first few years because your work was going directly to the President. However, after four years, I realized that although I was working on projects that were $20 billion in size, nothing had happened in four years. I needed to run something that I owned and that I could make my own decisions with. Plus, I needed immediate feedback. I've found in the food business that I can decide at 8am if I want to see if people will buy sticky buns; we make them, and by 5pm I know if it was a good idea.
It's not exactly a rags to riches story, but I do have respect for people who parlay their interests into careers they love. I've always wondered what she and Jeffrey did to afford that unbelievable house in the Hamptons, and now I know. Some people find Ina arrogant and flashy (how many times have we seen her Mercedes?), but that doesn't bother me. She's rich; get over it. Are we also going to pretend that Rachael Ray is just like you and me, spending $40 a Day when she travels? Besides, I think Ina has the nicest kitchen this side of Martha Stewart - that doesn't come cheap.

So now we know the story of Ina Garten, from White House wonk to Food Network star, cookbook author, and East Hampton hostess extraordinaire. She and is obviously educated and successful. Now why doesn't she fire that damn cameraman?