Posted in food, recipes
March 21, 2010

Food Network – why the hate?

I read a lot of food blogs, and typically all the reviews on recipes that I think I might make. And well, I’ve noticed a lot of people who are angry at Food Network.

Once upon a time, there was a woman who revolutionized food television- indeed, she basically created it. Julia Child. A woman who showed us you can debone a duck at home and make beautiful French cuisine. Most people complain that now food television has devolved into celebrichefs like Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee who make their money off of being the anti-Julia.

This is true. What people are failing to take into account is that our societies are vastly different. Back in the 60’s, women were just starting to gain a foothold in the work place. For the most part, women were expected to stay home and to cook. They took classes or learned from their mothers and grandmothers. Cooking was a skill that any accomplished housewife was expected to know. Even coming off of World War II where the TV dinner was hailed as the next big thing, it wasn’t unusual to expect that a woman could cook.

Today? Our society has moved towards TV dinners or fast food being the norm. It’s not unusual to find anyone, man or woman, who say that the most they can do is boil water. People claimed they were too busy to cook for themselves, and consequently, the sort of people who are turning to Food Network aren’t just the accomplished foodie or home cook. There are plenty of people who watch because they don’t know what they’re doing.

But Food Network isn’t just home to Rachael Ray and her 30 minute meals, or Sandra Lee and her short cut ways. There are plenty of serious chefs on there- Ina Garten (who is the Hampton Julia Child in her approach), Giada, Bobby Flay, and Alton Brown.

A second charge is that Food Network has moved away from having serious food shows in their primetime, instead, focusing on reality/competition shows. Which is true. But honestly, how many people would be watching Food Network while they were preparing their dinner? It’s easier to watch a show about traveling, restaurants or a competition while making your dinner and/or eating.

By the way, I’ve learned plenty from those competition shows- I’ve picked up some great time management tips, as well as learned a lot about new ingredients. Do I think I could compete in an Iron Chef type event? No, but I have learned about a lot of different types of fish and their preparations from watching.

One of Food Network’s newest hosts is getting a fair amount of anger: Melissa d’Arabian, the winner of the last season of Next Food Network Star, and host of 10 Dollar Dinners. Critics argue that she’s dumbing down meals, that she’s obnoxious, and offers nothing new to the network. Others argue that like the woman who won NFNS earlier, Amy Findlay, who nobody seemed to like.

My defense: Regardless of her personality, Melissa’s show offers two things of interest. One, it’s gourmet type meals demystified. Two, it’s gourmet type meals delivered on a budget- something that most people are interested in. Because of this, yes, she does alter recipes. She made a non traditional cassoulet that didn’t have sausage- but mostly because it’s impossible to sneak sausage into that when you already are using chicken, unless you plan on that being the only thing you eat. And there is a third matter, she offers plenty of money saving tips. Frankly, ones that are more valuable than Sandra Lee’s Money Saving Meals offers.

Unlike Rachael Ray, Melissa’s recipes don’t skimp on time. While she’ll use less expensive cuts of meat, or stretch out proteins by adding beans, she doesn’t skimp on time. My only complaint is that she uses wine in most of her meals, which I avoid (but the why is another blog post for another day). Though, if you eliminate the wine, there’s even more money you’re saving!

For St. Patrick’s Day, I browsed through Food Network’s site and decided to use her recipe for Shepherd’s pie- a favorite pub food of mine. Fair warning, this recipe takes about 2 1/2 hours to prepare, as well as a fair amount of attention. So it isn’t the type of meal to make if it’s just you and your two little ones while you’re making it.

Shepherd’s Pie
Source: Food Network’s Melissa d’Arabian

Serves: 6 to 8 (If you have good appetites, it’s more like 4-5)
Time: 2 1/2 hours

Garlicky Potato Topping:
4 large russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 to 1/2 cup beef broth
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Nonstick cooking spray

4 slices bacon, cut into thin strips
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon for later
1 teaspoon sugar
1 pound ground beef
2 to 3 medium carrots, roughly chopped, (about 1 cup)
3/4 cups frozen peas, thawed
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 (12-ounce) bottle light or dark beer (I used Guinness)
1/2 cup beef broth
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Swiss or Cheddar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

Prepare potato topping: In a large saucepan add the potatoes and garlic and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain. Transfer the potatoes and garlic to a large bowl. Add the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the broth, butter, salt and pepper, and beat on low speed with a hand mixer until the potatoes are light and fluffy, about 1 to 2 minutes. (Whitney’s Note: I used a masher, because I don’t have a hand mixer and didn’t feel like setting up my stand mixer) If the mixture is too dry, add the remaining 1/4 cup broth. Do not overmix. Cover and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 10-inch round baking dish with nonstick spray. (Whitney’s note: I didn’t have dish of that size- so I used what I believe was a 9″ square. Try to make sure it’s at least 10″ and fairly deep. Also, make sure you put it on a baking sheet)

Prepare filling: Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally until browned and almost crisp, about 7 to 8 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate; set aside.

Add the oil to the drippings in the skillet and put over medium heat. Add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle in the sugar, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to caramelize, about 3 minutes. Stir in the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat, until the beef begins to brown, about 7 minutes. Add the carrots, peas, and garlic and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and flour and cook, stirring, until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add the beer, bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, and scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, about 2 minutes Add the cooked bacon, the broth, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.

Spoon the meat mixture into the prepared baking dish. Spread the potato topping evenly over the beef mixture. Bake until the filling is hot, the topping is lightly browned and the edges are bubbly, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the cheese. Return to the oven and bake for 10 more minutes. Let rest out of the oven for 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Final thoughts: This was delicious! I should also note that used about 6 cloves of garlic for the topping- I wasn’t sure if they’d like it being that garlicky, though next time I’m going to use all 10. Everyone loved it, and I was already asked to make it for a Sunday dinner. It was a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day meal- I only wish I’d discovered it earlier!

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