Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Epitome of Laziness, Part 37

At some point over the last few days I was multi-tasking my way around The Casa de Boogie when I got a phone call from a friend. I dialed it down for a few minutes to focus on the conversation and happened to notice the Food Network was on. The particular show was "Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee" and it, generally speaking, features a host (Sandra Lee) who gives tips on how to cut prep time for semi-homemade fare (hence the title). Personally, I'm not a fan of this show because Ms. Lee is not a chef nor is she a cook; she essentially takes ingredients like frozen orange juice concentrate, pre-cooked rice, pre-packaged mixes and instant mixes (jello, pudding, etc.) and incorporates her own spin to create a "semi-homemade" dish or three.

Personally, I think the show's a joke; what makes it even moreso is that it's on the Food Network and not on something akin to Fine Living or, even more appropriately, the Home Shopping Network.

But neither here nor there. The point of the tale is that as I watched I saw her pour pre-bought lemon juice out of a bottle -- in her own "studio" kitchen -- rather than cut a lemon in half and squeeze that bad boy into her Frankenstein-esque concoction.

I don't purport to be Thomas Keller or Danielle Bouloud, so if I appear to be a food snob, that's not quite accurate. I like and appreciate high-end cuisine, but it's not just about foie gras and "Coke The Van" (thank you Aaron McCargo, Jr.). Plain, simple fare is more than adequate, and there have been plenty of times Kaia and I have kicked back with roast chicken and some steamed veggies and baked potatoes and it's better than some meals we've had in quasi-pricey restaurants.

The point is: if your gig is cooking on TV and you're trying to impart some measure of "home-y-ness" to your creations, using lemon juice out of a plastic lemon is not the way to go. In fact, as soon as I saw her do that I actually thought to myself "Why am I watching this dimwit?" There are some things one can do to speed up or help with home cooking; but some of the biggest no-no's are using garlic from a jar as opposed to fresh (if the garlic smell on your hands is your excuse, get a stainless steel fork or spoon after cutting the garlic and rub it all over your hands while under lukewarm water -- the smell will disappear) and squeezing a plastic bottle to get lemon juice rather than cutting a fresh lemon. If your lemon excuse is to avoid getting seeds in your mixture, then fer chrissakes use two hands and squeeze with one and let the juice drip into the other. The seeds will fall into your free hand and the juice will find its way into your dish.

I'll admit there are very few friends of mine whose refrigerators don't have a jar of garlic or a lemon bottle. The reality is that life -- phone calls, appointments, working out, etc. -- get in the way and it's not always easy to get to the store and get every single item necessary to whip up a five-star managerie from a decently-stocked pantry. So I can forgive John Doe and Jane Doe for going the quick'n'easy route. However, a TV "host" whose sole job it is to be prepared and set the bar for his/her viewers should know better. Even Rachel Ray, whose mouth is constantly moving as much as her dishes are speeding along in the 30 Minute Meals thing, always uses fresh ingredients, and I've actually seen her whip up a Thanksgiving dinner (albeit with some 'adjustments') in an hour. So the whole "shortcut" thing doesn't mean you need to buy, prepare and/or ingest crap out of a bottle or a wrapper.

In actuality, part -- if not all -- of the reason we, as viewers, watch the Food Network in the first place is because we're interested and care about what we consume. Seems to me that cutting corners in such blatant, basic ways contradicts the point of the network in the first place.

However, inasmuch as I am taking Sandra Lee to task here, she's more about cocktails and tablecloths than she is good food. I get it -- her standards are lower than many of her viewers. What bothers me is the shitbirds behind the cameras deeming these low-end shortcuts to be acceptable. There's nothing wrong with finding ways to speed up your food prep time, but if you're okay with chemicals and other crap out of bottles rather than the actual foods themselves, why not just call for a pizza and put out linen napkins instead of paper ones?

As I've mentioned before in these pages, Anthony Bourdain once described the Food Network as "striving for mediocrity."

Absolutely god-damn right.


Patti's Parlor said...

Sandra Lee is SO annoying. I hate they way she annunciates*every*word*when*she*speaks. Does anyone seriously spend that much time on “table-scapes” and change their kitchen curtains to strawberry fields when making strawberry shortcut shortcake?
Totally agree with lemons and garlic. Not much of a time saver. Years ago Andy Rooney did a bit about shortcuts that for some unknown reason has stuck in my head. One of the things was a comparison between a box of tea bag and a jar of instant tea. He looked at the instructions on box of tea bags and said “put one bag in cup and add boiling water”. He looked at the instructions on the jar of instant tea and said “put heaping teaspoon in cup and add boiling water”. Then he added a wise crack about not seeing the time saver there.

Boogie said...

LOL...the tablescape thing, almost as much as the regular cocktail theme, is a bit grating, no question. I won't knock her for enunciation, even though I agree with you. What really bothers me is a TV cook who doesn't cook.

I can accept going to Les Halles and knowing Tony Bourdain isn't cooking; hell, he's almost never at the restaurant at all. But a TV cook spending time encouraging people to use bottled lemon juice and garlic in a can is not appropriate and really goes against me.

At some point during the Next Food Network Star "contest," Nipa (Midwestern Indian Girl) had serious problems fileting her fish, and wound up using a 2 ounce chunk from the fish and trashed the rest of the fish. Michael Symon ripped her afterwards, saying that her doing that went against him as a Chef. Welp, Sandra Lee squirting lemon juice from a bottle did the same to me. I'm not a Chef -- I'm barely a cook -- but that really rubbed me the wrong way. If it was my aunt or my girlfriend, fine...sort of. But someone who's paid to host a cooking show on a network which, ostensibly, aspires to teach and broaden peoples' culinary horizons, should know better, and so should the people signing her check.


Kaia said...

Not a fan - she's like a stepford wife - predictable. Bah!

Boogie said...

"Predictable" -- probably the worst adjective one can slap on a television show. As much as Emeril seems like a really good guy, the "Emeril Live" show was laboriously predictable. He would come out, say hello to everyone, shake some hands, take off the blazer, pop on his cooking whites, and then -- without fail -- would say to the people in the front row "You guys thought you were in the cheap seats..."

Once things get overly predictable, there's no reason to watch -- which is why Emeril went from Food Network Citizen #1 to completely off the network entirely.

Sandra Lee's shows go all over the place -- car shows, the beach, parties for adults, for kids, etc. -- and yet the show never deviates from its cookie-cutter formula. This, admittedly, could be a good thing -- as in the case of Good Eats. That show, too, rarely strays from the path, which is analyzing the process and the science behind food preparation. Problem is -- at least for Ms. Lee -- that Good Eats is a good show, and her show is anything but.

Truth is I find that if not for Alton Brown, Tyler Florence (even with that horrid Applebees brainfart), The Barefoot Contessa and Giada De Laurentiis, there's little, if any, reason to be bothered watching the Food Network these days.

However, considering watching the Yankees is even less rewarding than watching Aaron McCargo Jr. in Spanish, there's little choice except, of course, to turn the TV off completely.

How novel ;-)

Patti's Parlor said...

Nipa’s fishcapade was awful. Throwing all but a nugget of fish in the garbage. I wanted to say “aren’t there starving children in ~insert country of choice~. You’d think one would know how to filet a fish if one had entered a cooking show completion. At least Sandra Lee could say no lemon died needlessly in the making of this juice.
I really think the FN PTB think the viewers are culinary idiots. Keep it simple. Blah.
Remember the show *How to Boil Water*? After several episodes I thought the ditzy blonde should already know how to chop an onion. That show would have been more believable if they would have had a different ditzy blonde each week. At least Tyler made it viewable. Barely.

Boogie said...


I agree re: Nipa, except, frankly, I think pretty much everything she did was awful, not just FishStock. They probably chose her knowing for there to be a fan favorite there has to be a few clunkers as well. 'Nother words, they knew going in who/what they wanted and they prolly figured they'd give her a shot and if she crashed and burned they'd edit it and spin it accordingly.

That, and for someone that wants to bring Indian food to the masses, she managed, IMHO, to do the exact opposite in her behavior and her overall lack of ability to meld East and West cuisines (bring back Ming Tsai, fer chrissakes). That fish thing was the best example. Even if you've never fileted a fish, after having watched the network (in the past, not the new-fangled dimwitted version thereof) you should -- in theory -- be able to do it. She showed she had very little experience beyond curries, tikkas and kormas. Gonggggggg....

Incidentally, I watched Tyler Florence do Coquilles St.-Jacques via FN On Demand the other night. He took what sounds like a really high-falutin', fancy-pants dish and showed his version, which is pan-seared scallops served in puff pastry with a Beurre Blanc (a white butter sauce consisting of cream, stock and butter). That's the kind of thing I want to see on the FN, not someone cooking a steak with a potato and broccoli.

In other words...

Before: Coquilles St.-Jacques sounds fancy and way beyond my abilities.

After: I could totally do that if I went and bought a dozen scallops, some frozen puff pastry, some chanterelle mushrooms and some heavy cream (and perchaps some veal or vegetable stock).

Now that I've seen it done, not a big deal at all.

Incidentally, they -- I think -- did the Boil Water show to make sure the viewer -- even someone who has no cooking ability whatsoever -- doesn't feel intimidated. Let's face it -- some FN viewers think "chanterelles" are a quartet girl doo-wop group from the '60s. So that woman -- Jack Something-Or-Other -- came off as a complete putz but by doing so made the viewer feel less stupid.

Unfortunately, rather than playing down to the less-experienced portion of their audience, they just dumbed down the shows to make sure there are less than 10 ingredients per episode so as not to confuse or confound anyone ;-)