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.