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Tyler Florence's Spiffy New Site
Friday, December 29, 2006 | posted by Mike

Tyler FlorenceAbout a month ago, I mentioned that Tyler Florence's website was just a placeholder and wondered, "how cutting-edge the Tyler Florence site is once it’s launched." Well, now I don't have to wonder any more.

During my matrimonially-induced haze, I missed the launch of the snazzy, new TylerFlorence.com. Unlike the current version of TVFF.com, it features an interesting visual design, music and various other multimedia components. Then again, I'm guessing Tyler.com's operating budget is a bit higher than TVFF.com's.

Thanks to the Flash interface, I can't send you links to the various interesting bits, but if you poke around, you'll find the usual complment of recipes, press appearances, schedule and links to cookbooks and other endorsements.

Also highlighted on the site is a link to Tyler's spot on the (relatively) new AOL Food website. The site features large videos of Florence preparing a number of different dishes, and the production and technical quality on the spots is really nice. Also on the site is a link to Tyler's blog.

The blog is surprisingly personal, with more than just the usual recipe entries and "be sure to tune in" promos. There is a write-up of Florence's trip to his son's school to teach them about measuring and even a photo from his recent wedding.

Hey, what kind of goofball puts a photo from his wedding up on a food blog? Oh...never mind.

After seeing him appear in the Applebee's promotion that featured a strong online component and the Food Network Holiday Menu Planner, Tyler's personal foray into building an interactive presence certainly ranks him up at the top of the list of food TV personalities when it comes to taking advantage of the Internet.



"Kitchen Nightmares" Coming to Our Side of the Pond?
Thursday, December 28, 2006 | posted by Mike

Gordon RamsayFrom time to time, I've lamented the lack of BBC America in the TVFF.com household. The main reason for this is the fact that I've always heard good things about Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, a show that features the internationally known chef dropping in on a small restaurant owner in an attempt to give the poor shlub's place the makeover it needs to be successful. The clips I've seen have left me wanting more...and I continue to want

because of Cablevision's decision not to include BBC America among the 749 channels I get. I also don't get NFL Network, but that's a post for a different blog.

Although I have heard of no plans to add BBC America to my cable roster, we did get a tidbit of info about Kitchen Nightmares coming to US television. According to the site TV with MeeVee, there is a casting call out for restaurant owners who are interested in a makeover courtesy of Fox Television and Gordon Ramsay:

Fox TV and Chef Gordon Ramsay are now casting a new reality show, Kitchen Nightmares. The award-winning chef, culinary expert, and television personality is searching for restaurants in need of resuscitation. Chef Ramsay is offering his world-famous techniques and management secrets to help turn your business into a profitable and lasting success!

The piece is a bit vague, but I'm assuming it is an American version since it refers to it as a "new reality show." Also, it's a bit weird because they include a link an an e-mail address of the "producers," but the address is actually owned by a company that helps people get cast on reality shows and their site has no mention of KN (although they do have a call for Hell's Kitchen 3 applicants).

Sorry to be so vague about the whole thing, but we'll know more once we hear somthing official from either Fox or Ramsay.



Crumbs - 12/27/06
Wednesday, December 27, 2006 | posted by Mike

Hmm...why is it that the week between Christmas and New Year's instantly makes me think of the word "doldrums?"

We've let the inters go home for two days of much-needed rest and relaxation, so we're holding down the TVFF.com fort ourselves today. That's not too much of a problem because there isn't a whole lot going on.

However, I do want to let you know that Mrs. TVFF.com and I will be dining at Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles this weekend and I promise a full review some time next week.

In the meantime...

  • Rachael Ray, Inc., was one of the top 10 food news stories of 2006.
  • A positive review of the band fronted by Rachael Ray's husband, John Cusimano.
  • A sartorial look at Gordon Ramsay.
  • I don't think that Mr. Raskin likes Rachael Ray, but that's just a guess.
  • Lidia Bastianich will be creating the menu for a gala dinner in honor of a new exhibit of the artwork owned by Arturo Toscanini at Avery Fisher Hall in New York.



Good Deeds for Christmas
Tuesday, December 26, 2006 | posted by Mike

I hope that each and every one of you had a wonderful holiday! We at TVFF.com HQ are still easing back into the swing of things.

Did Santa (or whichever gift-bringing supernatural being you recognize) deliver any good food-related gifts? We picked up two new cookbooks, a whole mess of wine and a creme brulee set (complete with ramekins and blowtorch), so we'll be cooking well in the new year.

Of course, the holiday season is not about what you get, but what you're able to give. And two food celebrities, Gordon Ramsay and Alton Brown, got in the holiday spirit and gave to those who could really use it.

Taking a break from cooking for the guests at his New York restaurant, Gordon Ramsay flew to Afghanistan in order to prepare meals for the British troops. Although you would imagine that anything is an improvement over the usual food, the Hell's Kitchen star got rave reviews for his cooking.

Commenting on the chef's Christmas grub, Royal Marine Lee Oliver from 42 Commando said "the food was absolutely delicious."

Alton Brown also decided to do some good this year. Normally, whenever I hear about someone making a donation to a charity in lieu of giving gifts, I have visions of George Costanza and The Human Fund. However, Alton chose an interesting and worthy charity.

Through his production company, Be Square, Inc., Alton has been making donations to a charity called Heifer International, which provides livestock to farmers around the world in an effort to create sustainable solutions to combat hunger. The Associated Press spoke with Brown, who described why he is taking this approach:

''If I can get a couple of cows in Russia, bees to people in Kentucky, or a couple of flocks of geese to folks in China, that actually matters and I feel really good about it.''


Be Square Productions donates a Gift Ark every year -- a $5,000 donation that includes two each of Heifer's animals including cows, sheep, camels, oxen, water buffalo and rabbits, among many others. The animals go wherever they are needed most.

Brown donates money himself and in the names of his clients. Many times, he said, the people whose name the donation was given in are honored when they receive the gift card explaining that others will benefit from the money.

So, if you've ever wanted to give the gift of a camel but just haven't been able to find the right recipient, here's your chance.

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The Rachael Ray Juggernaut Rolls On
Friday, December 22, 2006 | posted by Mike

Rachael RayI've only been to one food celebrity book signing. Actually, I posted about it on my old blog and that's what got me thinking about doing TVFoodFan.com. It was an appearance by Giada de Laurentiis at a Barnes & Noble here in New Jersey. When I got there, the line was almost as long as the mall, so I did some window shopping, gawked at Giada when she came out, snapped a few pictures and high-tailed it out of there rather than spend three hours in line.

As devoted as Giada's fans may be, apparently there is nothing that compares to the bedlam that occurs when Rachael Ray comes to town. Reports from all over the Web have her signing copies of Rachael Ray 2, 4, 6, 8: Great Meals for Couples or Crowds in Chicago and Philadelphia, which was also covered by Madeline over at Everything Rachael Ray.

By the way, I'm sure that the story by Philadelphia's WPVI television referenced above had nothing to do with the fact that Rachael's show is aired on the same station...

Obviously, Rachael Ray is a big star right now. But, lest you think that she's just a passing fad, at least part of Rachael will live on well into the future. The Oxford American College Dictionary is adding "EVOO" to the official register. In an article from the Washington Post, the book's editor said:

"We look at thousands of words every year, and very few of them get in. It has to be useful to people, and we see people using EVOO."



Well, "Gridiron" is a Cooking Term
Thursday, December 21, 2006 | posted by Mike

Zack CrockettWe've recently mentioned the role in the Food Network has inspiring us to cook. And, yesterday, our Crumbs included a football-related item about Chris Cognac.

So, I guess it's only fitting that I mention an article from a few weeks back about a football player being inspired to cook.

It turns out that Zack Crockett is not only a fullback for the Oakland Raiders. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, he's also a heck of a cook.

How good is he?

"Borderline spectacular," said defensive tackle Warren Sapp, a regular at the Crockett table. "That man is the best cook I've ever seen, as a male, except for Emeril."

Deep-fried turkey is a specialty, which I suppose isn't terribly surprising considering that you would expect grilling and frying from a big, burly football player like Crockett. But his cooking does include some more refined dishes, as well, with a Thanksgiving spread that included, "ham, Peking duck, curried goat, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, sweet peas and candied yams."

Crockett mentions that his culinary inspirations include family members and food TV, with Emeril and Two Fat Ladies among his favorites. Once he retires (Retiring in your 30s sounds good to me!), he may even go to culinary school.


Crumbs - 12/20/06
Wednesday, December 20, 2006 | posted by Mike

Ho, ho, ho...the last crumbs before Christmas. I suppose you could think of them as the crumbs from those cookies you leave out for Santa!

Sorry about the slow trickle of posts lately. The bad part of a vacation is that you come home and the rest of your life has piled up like that mountain of mail that greets you when you open your front door. Add to that the rapidly approaching holiday and you'll understand why my free time has been at a premium. Stick with us, though, as I'm sure things will pick up soon enough.

  • Gordon Ramsay's wife is getting her own show. No word on who she will belittle and shout at as part of her program.

  • BBC America will be airing Ramsay's The F Word and Kitchen Nightmares. The BBC America-less TVFF.com household will still not be able to watch them.

  • Chris Cognac is is bratwurst heaven, as the Packers fan visits the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field.

  • According to USAToday,Crate & Barrel says, "Food Network has created a cult of foodies." As evidenced by last week's posts, I'm one of them.

  • Rocco DiSpirito won't go away. Find out all about his "semi-autobiographical" screenplay, Grain of Salt, on Radar Online.

  • Heat, Bill Buford's story of learning to cook under Mario Batali, was named one of Time's 10 best books of the year. Yes, the audiobook of it is still on my iPod. No, I haven't found time to listen to it.



Wedding & Honeymoon Culinary Recap
Tuesday, December 19, 2006 | posted by Mike

We had a comment down in one of the posts below asking about the food associated with the wedding and honeymoon. I guess that I should...after all, what are blogs for if not for going on about your personal life and subjecting all of your visitors to your stories?

By all accounts, the food at the wedding was very, very good. We were lucky enough to find a reception site that doubles as a top notch restaurant, so we were pretty confident that the food would be good, although you never know if the quality will suffer due to the demands of such a large group. It turned out that there was nothing to worry about.

Everyone seemed to think that the food at the cocktail hour was the big hit of the evening. We had a carving station, a pasta station that featured tomato sauce with prosciutto (pictured, at right, with Mrs. TVFF.com and me) and garlic/olive oil with sausage and broccoli rabe, an Asian station (which had these great wantons on a spoon) as well as the usual cold spread, crudites and cheese. There may have actually been more food than that, but I never made it all the way around the room. And this wasn't even counting the passed hors d'oeuvres, which included shrimp and scallops with bacon and very tasty coconut shrimp. A number of people said that they barely had room for dinner after the cocktail hour.

But, yes, there was a sit-down dinner. We started with butternut squash soup, which was a little bit sweet but had a nice nutmeg undertone. A salad of greens with mozzarella and sun dried tomatoes was next. The main course was a choice of beef (prime rib...I think), chicken (with asiago cheese) and snapper (with a light tomato and olive sauce which Mrs. TVFF.com loved). I had the beef, and it came with a rich mushroom sauce that was made by someone who knows how to make a sauce. Finally, creme brulee and the wedding cake...white cake filled with chocolate mousse and raspberries.

The food was good, even if I do say so myself.

For our honeymoon, we went to Secrets Capri in Riviera Cancun, Mexico. It's an inclusive resort, and we had heard good things about the food. And, in all, it was good. Our three favorite restaurants on the property (of the five) were the pan-Asian, the Italian and the seafood, in that order. Now, they weren't the best Asian, Italian and seafood restaurants we had ever been to in our lives, but we were able to find good-to-very-good dishes at east. On both of our trips to the Asian restaurant, Mrs. TVFF.com ordered a whole big mess of sushi, while I went with two curries...shrimp in yellow and beef in green. Both lacked the heat of most authentic curries I have tried, but they possessed a nice, fresh herb flavor and the ingredients were impeccable.

Surprisingly, the one type of restaurant that they didn't have was a Mexican restaurant, although their breakfast and lunch buffets had Mexican dishes. The disappointment was reinforced when they had a fantastic Mexican buffet by the pool one night. It featured a huge spread of very good, authentic dishes. Perhaps the best parts were the beef tacos, which were roasted on a spit, carved and seared over coals with small corn tortillas and served with onions, cucumbers and radishes, and the tortilla soup, which had a rich broth with onions and peppers cooked soft, which added body to the soup when combined with the crispy fried tortillas added at the last minute. It would have been nice to have had these options every day.

Did I like the food from the wedding and honeymoon? Well, I gained a full five pounds in the week (including the rehearsal dinner at a very good Italian restaurant), so that should give you some indication.


Life Imitates Art?
Monday, December 18, 2006 | posted by Mike

Dwight SchruteNow that I'm home, I'm unwinding from the trip and trying to get caught up on the various things I missed while away. E-mails, visits to blogs and taped television shows are all on my "to do" list. So, it was funny when two of the items managed to converge in a particularly strange way.

I was watching The Office (the best comedy on television for my money, by the way) and in walks Dwight Schrute, resident oddball, with a dead goose of undetermined origin. Despite protests from Toby, the HR representative, Dwight wants to roast the goose and serve it to his coworkers.

As I was watching the scene, I thought to myself, "Hey, wait a minute..."

A story on Irish Examiner.com has some info about Jamie Oliver's latest foray into television. No, he doesn't have a new show. Instead, his production company is behind a show starring Oliver's colleague, Fergus Drennan. Of course, any show like this needs a hook. I'll let the folks at the Examiner fill you in.

In the show, Road Kill Café, Drennan goes to Sandwich in Kent to persuade locals to forage for the first time and discover the delights of road-kill meat.

But, lest you think that this sort of thing might be a bit unsanitary:

“The animal must be fresh. If rigor mortis has set in it’s not eaten. Otherwise it’s immediately back to his kitchen.

“He firmly believes that road-kill is better than processed meat.”

I'm certainly aware that farm-raised animals aren't slaughtered with buttercups and jellybeans. And there is no logical problem with getting your meat courtesy of the front fender of a Nissan Altima. But I'm guessing this show will be a curiosity at best. Most people don't like even thinking about roadkill, so the thought of grilling up that deer who didn't quite make it across all six lanes of the highway isn't particularly appealing.

Note: If you are interested in abattoirs (and who isn't?), be sure to search out the fascinating episode of Errol Morris' First Person series called "Stairway to Heaven." It's about slaughterhouses in the sense that Citizen Kane is about news reporting, so don't let the topic turn you off.



I'm Baaaaaaaack!

Did you miss me?

What's that? You didn't even know that I was gone?

If so, that's only because the always-fantastic Madeline of Everything Rachael Ray was nice enough to fill in for me and post a bunch of items for me while Mrs. TVFF.com and I enjoyed our honeymoon.

Also, a special thanks to everyone who chimed in and wished us congratulations on the big event.

I'm sorting though all of the good food TV news that was waiting for me to return, so we'll be back up to our normal output very soon.


Five Things I Learned from Food TV: Day 5 - The Lidia Pasta Technique
Friday, December 15, 2006 | posted by Mike

OK...I've spent the week covering major themes like "ingredients" and "technique." I just want to take this Friday to tell you about one very specific thing that I have learned from food television, one that has probably made the biggest impact on my culinary abilities. Plus, it's amazingly simple, so you have no excuse to not get on the bandwagon, too.

Growing up, we would have pasta at least once a week. It was always on Tuesday, although I think we may have added another night or two of pasta dinners during Little League season, in order to get us out of the house quickly. Dinner would be ready and we would all sit down to the table and my mother would bring out a bowl of marinara sauce and a large bowl of plain, cooked pasta. We'd each take our portion of the pasta as quickly as possible and would ladle the sauce over it, stirring it in order to keep the whole thing from turning into one large, starchy lump. We were usually successful, but it took some serious tossing to get it all coated.

Once I was out on my own, the process was pretty much the same. Jar of sauce gets heated on the stove, box of pasta gets cooked in the water and they both meet up in the bowl right before I chow down. But, then, I saw something on a television show that changed everything.

Lidia Bastianich had always been that person on PBS who I skipped over as I was looking for something to watch on a Saturday afternoon. Sure, the Italian food she was cooking looked good, but I wasn't really a gourmet chef or anything, so why did I care? But she did something with the pasta she was preparing that made me take notice.

Not only was she making her own sauce from scratch, but she was doing it in a big, stainless steel pan while also cooking the pasta. (Fairly normal so far.) When the pasta was close to being done, she lifted it out of the water and put it in the pan. (Kinda weird, but OK.) Then, she took a ladle of the pasta water and poured it into the pan, letting the noodles cook along with the sauce for a minute or two. (Now, that's just crazy!)

But she explained why she did it. How the water could be used to make sure the sauce had the right consistency. How cooking the pasta with the sauce for a minute or two ensured that the the noodles were coated and the flavor developed.

I gave it a try, cooking her quick tomato sauce (canned tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, salt, red pepper and some fresh basil) and it was a revelation. The noodles and sauce just "went together" better than I had ever been able to do before and it was just one of those simple little tricks that every Italian chef knows. Unfortunately, not growing up in a particularly "Italian" household, it was never something that I learned. But, now, I had found it and my pasta dishes have never been a disappointment since.

And I learned it by watching food TV.



Five Things I Learned from Food TV: Day 4 - Enjoy Your Mistakes
Thursday, December 14, 2006 | posted by Mike

I get frustrated easily. (Mrs. TVFF.com is nodding her head as she reads this)

I like when things go according to plan and everyone is happy with the outcome. This is true at work, at home and, especially, in the kitchen. Of course, the world being what it is and me being somewhat less skilled than Thomas Keller, sometime my attempts at dinner turn out a bit less than perfect.

When I am cooking with the aforementioned Mrs. TVFF.com, there is sometimes a bit of confusion when we try to tag team a particular recipe. Something or other will be simmering away and I'll say, "Toss in a teaspoon of dried thyme."

Now, Mrs. TVFF.com is, by nature, a baker. I do the majority of the cooking in the house. So, as a baker, when I tell her that we need a teaspoon of something to be added, she reaches for the measuring spoon. Of course...if a cake recipe calls for a level tablespoon of baking soda, you put in exactly one level tablespoon. If baking is a science, then cooking is an art. And an art where the cook can feel free to color within the lines only when it suits his or her whim.

I'll usually grab the thyme, measure out something vaguely resembling a teaspoon and toss it into the pan. But I'm only confident enough to do this because I have learned to embrace the mistakes I have made in the kitchen.

I would love to be able to sit down, memorize a recipe out of a book or off of the Internet and recreate it perfectly in my own kitchen. I can't do that, though, and the reason for it is one that I heard time and again from TV chefs. You have to take into account a million different variables and apply your own judgement. And then, if something goes wrong, throw it out and try again.

As I said, I've internalized this mindset and become at peace with the continued mistakes and missteps that happen from time to time. But the point was really reinforced when I was reading through Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook, which I recently received. After explaining how to make Bearnaise sauce, he tells you that, if this is your first time making it, you probably screwed it up, so go ahead and throw it out and try again. Bourdain does not think any less of you as a chef for this and he's not assuming that you're incompetent (although you may be).

He just knows that becoming a good cook is a task that requires both successes and failures. The important thing, and the thing that I have learned, is to make sure that you enjoy the process of cooking and that you can appreciate when things go well and when things go wrong. When it comes to my cooking "mindset," this might be the most important lesson I've learned.

And I learned it by watching food TV.



Five Things I Learned from Food TV: Day 3 - Try Something New
Wednesday, December 13, 2006 | posted by Mike

When it comes to food, I'm constantly surprised by the fact that I like a lot more than I think I do. I know that tastes change over the years. And it wasn't surprising for me to find that the broccoli I wouldn't go near as a child is now one of my favorite vegetable accompaniments. And yet the mental block is still there for some things.

Once upon a time, things like sushi and carpaccio were well beyond where I would be willing to go. I had no rational reason not to eat raw fish, and I knew that, logically, it can't be bad for you since plenty of healthy men and women in Japan and around the world were eating it daily. And yet, I never worked up the nerve to try it. And the, one day, I did. And I loved it.

Not surprisingly, this was right about the same time I became a self-confessed foodie and started working food TV into my diet. Seeing the variety of strange and intimidating ingredients that these chefs were using was a bit of a revelation for me. Not only do people eat all of this, but they're willing to pay big bucks if it is done well. So I realized that there had to be something beyond the meat and potatoes that I was so used to eating.

Nobody in the world of food entertainment has been a bigger influence on my culinary adventures than Anthony Bourdain. This is a man who, I am convinced, would eat his own foot if he knew it was good enough. And, although I seriously doubt I will ever go anywhere near a cobra heart, Bourdain has, in some small way, made me a more adventurous eater.

Watching his show, Anthony Bourdain No Reservations, you quickly understand that, as much as it is about the food, it's just as much about using the food as way to get into another culture, another mindset. This is reinforced if you read any of his writing, and I strenuously recommend that you seek out Kitchen Confidential. When he's given the room to stretch his legs and really get into how it feels to eat, what it is like to experience a dish, you get an even greater understanding of why he loves food so much. To him, food is life, and enjoying one goes hand-in-hand with enjoying the other.

As I said, I'm not going to Bangkok for fried rat or anything like that, so I'm content to make incremental changes in my culinary lifestyle. For instance, I grew up never having something as simple as duck, and now I can't get enough of it. (N.B. There is nothing better than good duck, and nothing worse than bad duck.)

If I weren't lazy, I'd look up Bourdain's quote about chicken. Basically, he says that chicken is on the menu for people who can't decide what they want. Not to denigrate the fair bird that suffers and dies for you McNuggets, but there is a reason that they say that everything tastes like chicken. It's because chicken (particularly in these days of corporate farms) don't really taste like anything.

So, what Anthony Bourdain is saying, and which I have learned to appreciate, is to not be afraid of flavor. Yes, it might come in the form of tripe or chicken liver in his dishes, but to have shut myself out of the experience because I wasn't willing to try something different was silly. Again, I might not be ready for calf brains, but I can say that, without a doubt, I have learned to be a more adventurous eater.

And I learned it by watching food TV.



Five Things I Learned from Food TV: Day 2 - Rule: Don't Touch the Meat (and the Knob Corollary)
Tuesday, December 12, 2006 | posted by Mike

As I said yesterday, there was time, B.F.N. (Before Food Network), when I was thoroughly mediocre in the kitchen. It was never a "chore" to cook, but I was living by myself and there was no sense in putting together a big spread just for one person. So, I didn't have particularly good equipment and I really didn't buy the best ingredients. And, since there was no opportunity to practice, my culinary skills were certainly lacking.

Basically, the extent of my abilities were governed by what I read. More often than not, I read it on the side of the box of whatever I am preparing. Sometimes, when particularly ambitious, I would actually work off of a recipe downloaded from the Internet. But, if it wasn't on the page, it wasn't happening.

And yet, whenever I had a tasty or ambitious dish in a restaurant, I could clearly see that there was something special about it other than the ingredients used. There was something that made the dish more than simply the sum of its parts. Although it is quite obvious now, I didn't realize what it was. It was the skill and techniques employed by an experienced chef.

Enough failed attempts at recreating recipes finally got me to see the problem. I was doing exactly what the paper said, so why wasn't it turning out the same? It must be me. But I'm not going to head off to culinary school just to learn how to make a decent meal around the house, so how could I learn what good technique looks like without seeing it in person?

Enter food television. Pull out one of your all-purpose cookbooks and look up how to break down a whole chicken. The written explanation is enough to make your head spin. But if you get a chance to see it done, it makes all the difference in the world.

I started watching cooking shows, both on PBS and on the Food Network, and I started to see commonalities that formed the basis of my skill set. You know them...drizzle in the olive oil while whisking...dice the onion but cutting it in half and leaving the root end intact...and, when trying to brown your food, don't touch the meat!

Managing your heat might be the hardest part of learning how to cook. Consider having to manage said heat using an electric stove top like we have in the TVFF.com household and it gets even harder. But it takes a bit of courage to let that chicken breast sit in the pan, sizzling away, without picking it up before that brown crust forms. After all, isn't "burned" food ruined? And they always show those fancy chefs tossing the ingredients of a pan, so that must be "cooking."

Emeril Live was one of the first shows that I would watch with any regularity on the Food Network. Everyone mostly thinks of the "kick it up a notch" thing and the "BAM!" and the "I don't know where you get your XXXX, but where I get mine it doesn't come seasoned." But the one like piece of advice that he gives and that I always try to remember is when he pulls the knob off of the stove and shows you that it has settings other than "Off" and "High." It may not make you feel particularly macho to bring something to a low simmer, but it will pay off in the end.

I learned a lot from Emeril and from all of the chefs, particularly when their advice overlapped. It was obviously something that they learned early on in culinary school and it has proven to be something so important that they mention it nearly every time. Since I wasn't about to go applying to the Culinary Institute of America, it was nice to be able to learn these lessons in my own home.

And I learned it by watching food TV.



Five Things I Learned from Food TV: Day 1 - Salt
Monday, December 11, 2006 | posted by Mike

Before I turned into the gourmand that I am today, I was your "average" consumer when it came to buying food. Yes, I usually stuck to the "brand names" and the quality of what I was buying was perfectly fine. It's just that my shopping didn't have the attention to detail that it has today. I would get the jarred pasta sauces, but they would be the decent-to-good Five Brothers or Barilla brand rather than Ragu or Prego.

In other words, I wasn't paying attention to the little things that make good cooking "good."

So, what was the epiphany? Well, it was certainly after I started watching more food on television. Maybe it was the exhortations not to buy those awful canned olives. Maybe it was the endless lectures on the importance of the "EV" in "EVOO." But I'm thinking it probably was the salt.

Before watching food TV, I'm not certain I even knew what kosher salt was. I had an idea what it meant to be Kosher and I probably figured it had something to do with that, but salt was never something I really thought about. After all, that tube of Morton's Iodized had always served me well, right?

But here was this unfamiliar kind of salt, which all of the TV chefs were using. It had larger grains and they said it tasted different (Didn't it taste like salt?!?!) and that's not even getting into the fancy chefs who reached for the sea salt. So, something had to be up.

I went out and got the kosher salt and everything just started to taste...better. The change was subtle but undeniable. But the difference wasn't really made apparent to me until I tried an experiment on Mrs. TVFF.com, who was as skeptical as I had been. Give it a try.

Lay out three small piles of salt: some sea salt, some kosher salt and some iodized table salt.
  1. Taste the sea salt. Nice, fresh and clean. "Salty" but not "salty." Now take a sip of water.
  2. Taste the kosher salt. Not as clean as the sea salt, but a nice flavor. It gives you what you want without anything else. Take another sip of water.
  3. Taste the table salt. Ick. It tastes like metal, doesn't it?
Until you taste them side by side, it can be hard to tell the difference. But this is true of all foods...ask an expert in wine or cheese. You need to taste the good and the bad in order to appreciate the difference. And, once you can appreciate the difference, this is when you come to appreciate the importance of good, quality ingredients.

Salt might seem to be a small thing, but it goes into almost every dish you make. If you are going to make a commitment to be a good cook, you have to start at the bottom of the dish and work you way up. Although salt is the most basic of ingredients, it has become emblematic of the attention that I now pay to ingredient quality.

And I learned it by watching food TV.

Weekend Plans
Friday, December 08, 2006 | posted by Mike

Hey, everyone. Got anything interesting going on this weekend? Maybe some holiday shopping? Or perhaps you're spending your day making a nice veal stock?

Me? I'm getting married tomorrow, so I'm going to be a bit busy.

Oh...and then I'm going on my honeymoon for a week, so I'll just go ahead an apologize up front for the lack of timely posts next week.

Don't fret, though, dear TVFF.com fans! I've spent the past week pre-writing a couple of posts (hence the low volume this week) and the fantastic Madeline of Everything Rachael Ray volunteered to post them for me.

Starting Monday, we'll be running a five-part feature:

A TVFF.com Special Series: Five Things I Learned from Food TV

It will take a look at some of the things that I have learned while watching food television and how it has made me a better cook. I hope that you find it interesting and maybe it reminds you a little bit about why you're a fan of this stuff, too.

Feel free to add comments as you see fit. Or, if you would like to write up your own reason or reminiscence, send it along to tvfoodfan@gmail.com and I'll publish any of the letters that I get once I get back.

Have fun next week and I'll see you all on the week of the 18th!


The Neighbors Are Getting Restless
Thursday, December 07, 2006 | posted by Mike

Gordon RamsayLooks like there is some bad press on the way for Gordon Ramsay and his eponymous restaurant.

We got a tip a little while back via e-mail (thanks, anonymous tipper!) that the restaurant's neighbors are angry about the smells and noises coming from the establishment. Well, it's an uncorroborated rumor no longer.

According to a report on a British website called CatererSearch, the neighbors are angry and they're getting organized.

Residents of 150 West 55th Street, which is adjacent to the London Hotel and Gordon Ramsay at the London, have held a meeting with NYC councillor Daniel Garodnick complaining about "endless aggravation" caused by the establishment.

Violations cited include the blocking of pavements, noise disturbances by air conditioning and exhaust fans, unhealthy air quality, damage to pavement tree boxes, and blockage of public walkway space.

Management at the restaurant has downplayed the anger saying that "[s]uch challenges are not uncommon during a major construction project such as undertaken at the hotel and restaurant and when brought to the attention of Gordon Ramsay Holdings by the hotel, the complaint was immediately addressed."

It is no surprise that the restaurant is facing challenges. Ramsay and the New York fooderati both predicted that it would be a rough go and that the the chef's trademark temper may become an issue. Fortunately, Ramsay decided to let his spokesman handle the press statements instead of throwing cooking oil on the fire with one of his usual quotes.



Crumbs - 12/6/06
Wednesday, December 06, 2006 | posted by Mike

As much as I enjoy having this site as a means of listening to myself talk, I will admit that TVFF.com is significantly more interesting when we have more input from others. Sometimes, that takes the form of a back-and-forth between us and one of the other bloggers out there. Sometimes, we get it from the comments left on a (hopefully) thought-provoking entry.

Speaking of which, the comments on our post from a few days back on the quality of recent Food Network programs was great. We had a few people weigh in with their positions, including Dan, who runs The Hungover Gourmet, a TVFF.com favorite. If you missed out on the conversation, be sure to check it out.

On to the crumbs...

  • Stop the presses!!!! Jools Oliver picks out a Christmas tree.

  • Your chance to spend 60 Seconds with Nigella Lawson.

  • And a Wine Enthusiast Q&A with Gordon Ramsay.

  • Giada De Laurentiis makes a cheesecake on The Today Show.

  • Scripps' management seems very pleased with the performance of the Food Network.

  • Rocco DiSpirito stopped by a cooking school in Jacksonville, Florida.

  • CBSNews reports on "The Endless Energy of Rachael Ray." Could they have picked worse screen captures, though?



Hey, It's Chris Cognac! Now Where is That Butter Sculpture?
Tuesday, December 05, 2006 | posted by Mike

Chris CognacI live in New Jersey. Being from the Garden State, it means that I grew up an hour's drive from wide-open farms, cranberry bogs and the dense forest known as the "Pine Barrens." It also means Imminently-to-Be Mrs. TVFF.com won't allow me to go to Taco Bell for a couple of weeks.

But, as rural as parts of the state are, I've never been to a Farm Show. I never joined 4H or the Boy Scouts or anything like that, so the closest I ever came to livestock was an occasional trip to the petting zoo.

However, if you are living in Central Pennsylvania, enjoy things like country music and penning sheep and want to see The Hungry Detective star Chris Cognac, head on down to the 2007 Pennsylvania Farm Show starting on January 6th at the Farm Show Complex & Expo Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. According to a press release announcing the festivities, the highlights will include:

Culinary Connection - Host of the TV show, 'The Hungry Detective,' Chris Cognac, will entertain visitors with his culinary skills. In addition, five winning regional chefs will vie for the title of the PA Preferred Best Chef in Pennsylvania.

OK...I'm not 100% sure what is meant by "entertain[ing] visitors with his culinary skills" means. Not to cast any aspersions on Mr. Cognac's skills in the kitchen, but the point of his show is that he goes around getting other people to cook for him, so I'm guessing that he'll be operating in more of a host/emcee capacity. Either way, it should be good stuff. Guys like Cognac and George Duran (why don't I blog on him more?) are great for this sort of thing because you could probably plunk them down anywhere and they'd be able to strike up a conversation.

In case you're going:

The Pennsylvania Farm Show runs Jan. 6-13 from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily at the Farm Show Complex & Expo Center. Admission is free. Parking is $5. For more information, a complete schedule, or to make a reservation for the opening dinner, visit http://www.farmshow.state.pa.us.



More Importantly: Mario Batali for Vice President?
Monday, December 04, 2006 | posted by Mike

Barak ObamaI go to the Food Network to see new, interesting restaurants featured. I go to the Food Network to get hints and tips to become a better cook. I do not, however, go to the Food Network for political news. But could that be changing?

No, probably not. But Illinois Senator and Possible Presidential Candidate Barak Obama decided to make a little joke about announcing his candidacy for the highest position in the land on...the Food Network.

The joke was made on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, making it the funniest thing to happen on the show. (Sorry, but if you funniest bit is having people send in humorous headlines, that’s bad.) But it was fitting, since Governor Schwarzenegger made a similar announcement on Leno.
Obama was a guest on NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy for California's top state office. Leno asked the senator whether he would run for U.S. president in 2008.

"I know there's a tradition of making announcements here," Obama said to a round of laughs. "I have to say I've already committed to the Food Network to announce."
So, where would Obama make such a declaration? From those primo seats on Emeril Live? Or maybe as one of the judges on Iron Chef America.

Incredulous that someone would announce their candidacy on basic cable? Don’t scoff…in 2004, John Edwards (at least unofficially) announced his candidacy on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.



Twists on Proven Formulas + Likeable New Stars = Food Network Winners
Sunday, December 03, 2006 | posted by Mike

UPDATE: Be sure to check out the comment by Don at the end of the message. Feel free to follow his lead or to add your $.02.

All right...I’m tired of “news posts” this week. We all know the true reason to start a blog: Foisting your opinion on others.

A lot was made a little while back about the “loss” of Rachael Ray to chat show-land and the fact that the Food Network was in need of someone to step up and supply the star power. Paula Deen and her party show and the return of Nigella Lawson from across the pond were cited as the remedy.

Prime time programming on the FN has been very good of late, but I don’t think it’s because of some new, glamorous star. Rather, they’ve debuted a number of new shows featuring interesting spins on existing formulas and which star interesting and engaging personalities with whom we can easily identify.

Admittedly, I cringed whenever I saw the promos for Ace of Cakes, with the welding torch and the guitar playing, but the show has been something close to fantastic. With its ensemble cast of quirky “characters” and the built-in storyline of having to complete the cakes for a deadline, it plays out just like a workplace comedy along the lines of The Office.

The Hungry Detective, a riff on the food travel show, may be filling the spot of $40 Dollars a Day. The big difference between the two shows, however, is the personality of the hosts. Rachael Ray was an obviously polished television personality. And it was hard to believe that she was just dropping in these shops and restaurants. Chris Cognac, however, seems like someone you know. And so, when you see him visit a place, it’s a bit more believable. I know that it’s all perception, but I’m more likely to try out one of Chris’s places because it just feels a bit more familiar. Also, when you look at the later episodes compared to the Las Vegas pilot, Cognac has become quite a bit more polished without losing his “everyman” attitude.

But the freshness hasn’t been relegated to new faces. Bobby Flay’s newest show, Throwdown!, has been quite enjoyable. Now, everyone likes to rip Bobby for what I call the “smirk factor.” And, yes, it’s hard to deny that Bobby likes him some him. But the beauty of Throwdown! is that it takes “Bobby” and makes him more likeable because it puts him in a position to lose once in a while. Even on Iron Chef America, when Bobby loses, he’s losing to a trained and accomplished chef. When he loses on Throwdown!, he’s losing to someone like you and me, and that humanizes him.

It will be interesting to see if this trend continues with Dinner: Impossible. There aren’t many chefs more refined and esteemed than Robert Irvine, so the conceit of putting him in an over-the-top situation might be just what the show needs to make him more of a hero. If not, you end up in the same situation that we see with Gordon Ramsay on Hell’s Kitchen, where people just see Ramsay as the heel.

The Food Network is always going to need it’s “aces” or “anchors” or any other sports metaphor you want. But programming a full week’s worth of TV means you need to find and develop new shows and talent. Mary Alice broke the news on food network addict that Ace of Cakes will be renewed for a second season. Hopefully, we’ll hear the same thing about The Hungry Detective soon, too.

Rachael Ray is a star now, but she became popular because people identified with her message of quick, easy cooking. It’s always nice when you can find a natural on-air talent, with charisma and looks, to whom the audience responds. But they’ll also respond when they see themselves on the screen. And that’s a big part of the appeal of Food Network’s current slate of programs.

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Iron Chef: De Laurentiis vs. Food Processor
Friday, December 01, 2006 | posted by Mike

It's may be Friday around here, but I'd say it looks like Giada "has a case of the Mondays."

By the way, if you're still hanging in there, check back in a little while for one more post before I hang it up for the weekend.

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Hi, I'm Mike and I created TVFoodFan.com as a place where you can come to get the latest news and views about what’s going on in the world of culinary television.

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