Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Top TV Picks

Beyond my parent's influence, my love of cooking and food blossomed at a very young age. The first cooking show I watched religiously with my mother was Cooking With Caprial circa early 1990s, before I was 10 years old! Today, my cooking show repertoire has expanded drastically. 

Inspired by Anthony Bourdain's new takes on some of today's hottest cooking TV shows, I thought about doing the same. I should first specify that these shows are not the only ones I watch. Typically, if I am home, The Food Network is on. There are some shows, or certain people, who make me turn the channel (Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee or Ask Aida. I have no specific reason except that they annoy me), but I will always have it on in the background. Here are some of my thoughts about the cooking shows on today:

Ultimate Recipe Showdown 
I love this show. It really reverberates with me because it is something I can aspire to participate in someday. Also, the background stories on the contestants always make me want to root for them to succeed. My favorite contestant was Harold Cohen, 74, a retired plastic surgeon who won the Best Burger. Even though he is legally blind, he was still able to wow the judges with his Southern Pimento Cheese Burgers. Something about the playful competition, witty host (Guy Fieri) and thoughtful judges mixes up the ultimate recipe for organized chaos and all-around entertainment.

Top Chef 
This show has won my heart and loyalty season after season. I believe that anyone who has seen it understands why. Bourdain attributes the shows success to Tom Colicchio's hard-headed determination to let the food guide the elimination decisions rather than who would make good ratings if carried through the show. I do not personally know Colicchio, but I think the show is more than just how they make the final decisions at Judges Table. The crazy stunts the chefs are asked to do seem impossible to an aspiring food fanatic like myself, who sometimes finds it difficult to cook organic whole-grain rice in 30 minutes, let alone an innovative and unique dish. The chefs amaze me show after show. I cannot wait to head home to Seattle to catch up on all the episodes I missed this season; I already know Hosea served Carla a huge upset. That was ruined for me the day it all went down :(

Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Meals
Her popularity is overwhelming. While she has the "girl next door" appeal, or as Bourdain puts it, "America's little sister," doesn't anyone else find her obnoxious? She's a great host and entertainer, but the few times I have managed to sit and watch her show I am in disbelief any average American housemother, her target audience, would be able to conquer all the tasks she tackles in 30 minutes. It is just misleading! 

Paula Deen
I may confuse readers by questioning Rachael Ray, and then praising Paula Deen, but that is just what I am going to do. I think she is so quirky and likable. I want her to be my surrogate grandmother. Her Southern Hospitality is contagious, but my mother is convinced she is elaborating her personality by a factor of 100. However, after studying abroad with a handful of Southern students, I can say for certain her bubbly nature is authentic. Oh, not to mention her name is now synonymous with butter, her preferred and favored ingredient. The more the merrier.

Kitchen Nightmares
My parents hooked me on this one, and not because it is a very good show, but because of the shock. It is hard to remove the gasp from your face when you are presented with some of the conditions restaurant kitchens could be in. It is like catching someone picking their nose, you are disgusted but you can't look away from disbelief, and that is definitely something you could witness from watching this show. It irks me to think of what could be going on behind the kitchen door of my favorite restaurants, and I can only hope Gordon Ramsay gets to them before I dine there again :/

Giada de Laurentiis
Who doesn't love Giada? She's gorgeous and she specializes in Italian cuisine, which no one can deny loving to indulge in. Her pristine kitchens are the envy of any home-chef, and it is interesting to know the entire first season was filmed in a different kitchen every week. The crew travelled from neighborhood to neighborhood to film each episode in authentic family homes. Each episode of Everday Italian brings back wonderful memories of my own travels through Italy, which is one reason why I favor this show.

Next Food Network Star
This show displays to anyone that their dreams are possible. Not everyone may dream about staring in their own Food Network cooking show, but I sure do! Watching average people jump through hoops to survive until the very end and win their own show is the best recipe for entertainment. 
Down Home With the Neely's
These two are over the top with cutesy, lovey-dovey couple-ness (Ya, I made that word up). It is a fun show and they make delicious, stick-to-your-ribs, comfort food that require a nap after consuming. The idea of cooking with your spouse is something I hope to have one day, like my parents have. The extent to which I have that kitchen togetherness with my own significant other consists of myself thoughtfully marinating chicken or beef, and he makes Pasta-Roni. Always room for improvement, and the Neely's are an endpoint I hope to see in my own life in the future.

I love to watch this show when I get around to it. I like the challenge to think on your feet and create something truly unique in the kitchen with certain ingredients, something I feel like I do every night in my own kitchen when I open my cabinet doors and refrigerator wondering what to make for dinner. However, some of the ingredients, and subsequently, the ending dishes, are never appealing to the viewer to want to create on their own. I like to watch cooking shows for inspiration, and Chopped entertains me but leaves me uninspired.

Bobby Flay
His grill-oriented shows are delicious. I only wish I had a grill to recreate all the delectable dishes he makes on every show. One of my favorite episodes was when he made different types of tacos. They all looked so fresh and flavorful. 

Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern
I strongly believe this man has a death wish. There are only so many times you can sample death-defying dishes in every country in the world and get away with it. At the same time, he is so fun to watch, or sometimes to cringe.
Barefoot Contessa
In my opinion, Ina Garten makes the tastiest food on The Food Network. Her series on cooking with basic flavors and ingredients is refreshing. She truly knows how to perfectly highlight the flavors of all her ingredients in a dish to end up with a harmonious blend of culinary woah.

Anthony Bourdain No Reservations
When asked which five people I would invite to a fantasy dinner with anyone, Anthony Bourdain is on that list. His commentary and appreciation for culture is an inspiration to me. His show encompasses everything I would aspire to do, and what I often try to do with this blog. His no fear, no holds bar attitude speaks to those fighting to break out of their PC stranglehold and speak their minds. Bourdain is one of my biggest inspirations.

Man v. Food
Watching this show is like going sky diving; You are always curious about it, but too scared to actually go through with it. Where he puts all the food, I don't know. How is it not a risk to his health to be consuming such large portions so often? In my opinion, he must fast for a week before performing. 

Iron Chef America
This show is so fun. I fell in love with this show back when the Japanese version was on The Food Network. Now, with America's favorite chefs as the stars, Iron Chef has given its viewers people closer to home to get behind and root for. Iron Chef American is Chopped on 'roids, or Chopped but making successful dishes you yearn to taste and create at home. Go Team Cora, first female Iron Chef!

Monday, March 2, 2009

College Student On a Budget

As I find myself tightening the purse-strings more everyday, I am actively seeking hearty, healthy and tasty meals to satisfy my cravings on a college student's slim budget. I grew up in a home with two amazing Home Chefs for parents. I proudly call them "Home Chefs" because the recipes they hold in their back pockets exceed a family's traditional mac n' cheese or spaghetti and meatballs, but instead, are not traditional at all, and are rarely the same every time. Although neither were trained in culinary arts, both have informally studied under some of the nation's top chefs thanks to the Great Chefs Program at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, Ca. Charlie Trotter, Alice Waters, Jacques Pepin, Rick Tramonto, Gale Gand, Lidia Bastianich, Stephan Pyles and Michel Richard are just a small cluster of the chefs my parents had the honor to meet and learn from. What does this formula equate for someone like me? Let's just say I keep the dehydrated ramen in the cupboards unless a sickness disables my taste buds. 

I came across a recipe in a Cooking Light magazine perfect for my needs: Cumin-Pepper Flank Steak with Horseradish Chimichurri. The most expensive parts of this meal were the flank steak and horseradish, both ranging from $5-$8 depending on the size; I purchased a 1 lb flank steak and a small jar of horseradish. In total, this meal cost me about $13, a small price to pay to be hostess to a couple friends for the evening. 

I rubbed the steak with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, black pepper, and cumin.

In a small food processor, I blended
2/3 cup parsley 
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
2 tablespoons water
1 hearty tablespoon horseradish
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
pinch of salt
1 garlic clove

I cooked the steak in a nonstick skillet for about 5 minutes on each side so it was not so bloody, sliced, and served!

This is the final product ready to serve with the horseradish chimichurri in the background.