The Recipe Critic

I get my recipes from a variety of sources. There is the Food Network, from what few actual cooking shows that they have left. We subscribe to three cooking magazines: Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, and Food Network Magazine. I also follow a few recipe sites on my RSS news reader. (My RSS news reader allows me to follow my favorite web sites using a sort of inbox format. It is a technology that is on the decline, however, something that I have written about.)

The Recipe Critic logoOne of the recipe sites that I follow is The Recipe Critic. Alyssa Rivers offers recipes that are consistently both easy to make and tasty. Low calorie, not so much. But for my cooking preferences easy and tasty rank higher than low calorie.

For example, last Saturday I made her Creamy Tuscan Garlic Salmon. (A lot of Alyssa’s recipes start with “creamy.” You see what I mean about them not necessarily being low calorie.) It was not at all difficult to make and it was delicious. Terry loved it.

At a time when neither my television programs nor my magazines are offering recipes that I find terribly exciting, I am glad that Alyssa is there to keep things interesting.

What the Food Network Stars are Doing

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about Food Network, although Food Network programs make up a large percentage of my television viewing. I haven’t written anything because nothing has changed in the past several years. There are still a lot of competition shows and a handful of straight cooking programs. Certainly they made some changes at the height of the pandemic as to which shows were taped and how they were taped. For the most part, however, Food Network has been pretty stable.

What frustrates me is that the top, most skilled Food Network chefs focus on competition shows when they could be teaching us innovative recipes.

Food Network logoAnne Burrell once had a good cooking program called Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. Now she focuses on Worst Cooks in America, which must be popular as the network renews it season after season. Tyler Florence once had a show I really enjoyed called Tyler’s Ultimate. Now he’s all about The Great Food Truck Race. Bobbie Flay, once known for his grilling and brunch programs is tied up with Beat Bobby Flay and BBQ Brawl. On the other hand, Valerie Bertinelli spends a lot of time on Kid’s Baking Championship, but still finds time for Valerie’s Home Cooking. It’s just that her recipes the past several weeks haven’t caught my attention.

I have to give the hosts of The Kitchen credit for giving proper attention to that program, which Terry and I both enjoy, while they still do other work. Alex Guarnaschelli, the newest Kitchen host, stays busy both as a competition host and competitor. Sunny Anderson works as a judge and Jeff Mauro his own competition shows, but we still see them consistently on The Kitchen. Geoffrey Zakarian is frequently off on QVC promoting his merchandise and has the occasional competition program on Food Network, but always offers interesting recipes on The Kitchen. We don’t see Katie Lee Biegel on competition shows, but she’s busy raising her daughter.

I know Food Network is there to make money, and I know they will invest in the programs that get the highest ratings. Perhaps it’s futile, but I can still hope for more straight cooking shows.

sometimes a sous-chef

When it comes to fixing dinner, I am the primary cook. There is no good reason for that other than that I had that role when Terry was working as a permit runner and that division of labor has continued after her job ended due to the pandemic.

kitchen prepStill, Terry is a great cook, and I’m always happy to have her fix dinner. There is one instance in particular when I am pleased to be her sous-chef. That is on our surf and turf Saturday nights. On surf and turf Saturday Terry has steak and I have halibut. Our nephew Eric says we should call it his and hers, as the phrase surf and turf implies both the seafood and the beef on the same plate. Nonetheless we persist with our terminology.

On these nights I take responsibility for the side dish: either baked potatoes or potatoes au gratin (from a package, not from scratch). I also prepare the baste mixture for my halibut, set out the grill pan and other necessary utensils, and then step away from the kitchen. I leave it to Terry to take over. She grills her steak the way she wants it and always does a superb job with my halibut.

Those are some of my favorite Saturday evenings.

a different kind of breakfast

Crock-PotTerry and I have had a specific kind of breakfast routine during the cooler months of the year. On Mondays we have blueberry pancakes and on Tuesdays we have oatmeal. Wednesdays through Fridays we eat cold cereal. For oatmeal days, Terry starts the oatmeal in the slow cooker on Monday night so it’s ready when we get up on Tuesday.

Terry was reading the Hints From Heloise column in the newspaper one day recently and came across a submission from a woman who frequently hosts overnight guests, for whom she wants to provide breakfast on their own schedule. She calls it her Crockpot Breakfast Apple Cobbler. Heloise reproduced the recipe as follows:

4 tart apples, peeled and chopped
¼ cup brown sugar
1 cup granola cereal
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter
Dash of cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in crockpot and cook on low overnight. Serve with a little milk.

Terry thought that might be a nice alternative to oatmeal on a Tuesday. We rarely have granola on hand so we picked some up from the bulk bins at Sprouts, along with a couple of Granny Smith apples. She put everything together on a recent Monday night, leaving out the brown sugar as she felt the granola was sweet enough.

We were both delighted. We liked it so much that this Tuesday we used a different variety of granola and frozen peaches. Excellent as well.

A really nice breakfast-time change.


Taste Makers coverTaste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America
Mayukh Sen
W. W. Norton & Company (November 16, 2021), 283 pages
Kindle edition $9.32, Amazon hardcover $18.99

In a food culture that in the past has tended to focus on men and on American women, Mayukh Sen highlights the culinary work of seven immigrant women.

Sen’s subjects are diverse. Chao Yang Buwei introduced many Americans to Chinese cooking. Although she never mastered English her husband helped her to produce cookbooks that were popular in the fifties. Elena Zelayeta overcame blindness as an adult to teach Americans about Mexican cooking. Madeleine Kamman taught French cooking and was jealous of Julia Child’s success. She became so irksome that Child automatically forwarded any correspondence from her to her attorneys. Marcella Hazan published Italian cookbooks in the sixties, again with the English-language assistance of her husband. Julie Sahni started out as a dancer, but soon turned to food. She published Classic Indian Cooking in 1980. Najmieh Batmanglij typed out Iranian recipes on an Apple IIe (I once owned one of those) and eventually self-published Food for Life as American publishers in the eighties didn’t want to be associated with an Iranian. Norma Shirley prepared Jamaican food for wealthy Americans in New York, but eventually returned to Jamacia where she opened restaurants for the locals.

Sen has one chapter on a famous American-born chef: Julia Child. He believed that her influence in cooking in the United States was so great that she deserved her own interlude (as Sen calls it) chapter. Indeed, Sahni studied Child’s work and Kamman considered her a usurper: an American who dared teach Americans about French cooking.

The women Sen profiles were not the first to publish cookbooks on their respective cuisines. Most of them had predecessors. Madhur Jaffrey, for example, was known for her Indian cookbooks before Sahni. Sen also does not hesitate to criticize the “food establishment” who in his mind made success for these women more difficult than it might otherwise have been. He gives credit where credit is due however, particularly to Craig Claiborne, who was consistently open to new voices, and who was happy to pay attention to newcomers in the cooking world, even those who were not male and not American.

If you consider yourself a foodie (as I do myself) Taste Makers may introduce you to some chefs whom you may not have previously encountered. It did that for me.

an expensive product fail

Terry and I wanted to do something memorable for Christmas dinner, since Terry’s sister Julie and Julie’s adopted mother-in-law, Laura, would be joining us. Terry ordered prime rib from a specialty meat shop in a town about half an hour to the southwest. It was pricey. At about six pounds, it cost over a hundred dollars, but we thought it would be worth it.

prime ribI seasoned it with Jeff Mauro’s marvelous Dino Rib Rub and we put it in the oven using the roast setting. We said grace, sat down to eat, and… It was tough. Tough! I said nothing until Terry and I were cleaning up and I whispered my thoughts. Terry agreed. Julie and Laura were polite and gracious, not saying anything. Julie even took some of the prime rib home with her. We still had plenty left over, which Terry sealed up with our FoodSaver and put in the freezer.

We’ll use the leftovers for beef stew, tacos, and such. But prime rib for stew and tacos? Prime rib for which we paid three figures? Really?

There’s something very wrong here.

a new FoodSaver

I have written here many times about our FoodSaver, which we use to vacuum seal leftovers to store in the freezer. The earliest blog entry that I can find dates to September 2011, and that was just a mention in passing. I have had it longer than that. The user guide has a copyright date of 2008, so if I bought it in 2009, which is entirely possible, that is twelve years. That’s a long life for an electronic appliance, and the FoodSaver has a lot of electronics.

I have kept it going by buying replacement parts such as the bag detection tray and the gaskets. I sourced wherever I could, including Jarden, the company that makes the FoodSaver, Amazon, and eBay. But this year the replacement parts simply weren’t there. And in recent weeks my FoodSaver became more recalcitrant and unwilling to seal up bags. At the height of its efficiency you had to hold your mouth just right as you slipped the open end of the bag into the narrow slot, coaxing the FoodSaver to seal the bag. However, it then reached the point of being downright obstinate, and Terry would hear cursing and swearing coming from the kitchen.

Time for a new FoodSaver.

FoodSaverI did some research on Amazon and settled on the FoodSaver model FM2100-000. So far I’m happy. It is a more compact design, and when you seal the bottom of the bag (when making a bag from a roll of plastic) it wastes less space beneath the seal than did my previous FoodSaver. It has a lid that opens so there’s no more coaxing the top of the bag into that thin slit. It’s easy to put the top of the bag in the proper spot and close the lid.

The first couple of times we tried to seal something our new FoodSaver did not cooperate. It didn’t create a vacuum and it didn’t seal. So we went back and read the instructions more carefully. Reading the instructions is always a good idea. It turns out that you need to put the open end of the bag inside the drip tray. This was a new concept for me, as on my old model the only function of the drip tray was to catch overflow liquids that the FoodSaver vacuumed out before sealing the bag. Once we made that correction it worked beautifully.

Sealing up leftovers in the FoodSaver is an essential part of our cooking routine, and we would be lost without it. I’m delighted to have a new one that is much easier to use, and I hope it lasts another twelve years. However long it lasts there will be a lot less cursing and swearing coming out of the kitchen.

cooking with plant-based meat substitutes

It’s been a while since I have written about plant-based meat substitutes, but Terry and I still use them regularly.

Cookout Classic packageThe one product we particularly like is the Beyond Meat Cookout Classic burger. I often fix them when I have just made a fresh loaf of bread. The Cookout Classics are frozen and come ten to a box, so it’s easy to pull them out of the freezer when we want that for dinner. Terry says she prefers them to beef burgers now. Unfortunately, that product seems to be currently unavailable. So the last time we had burgers I bought the standard two-pack Beyond Burger. The standard burger was good, but it is slightly larger than the Cookout version, and we both prefer the smaller size.

Beyond Meat Burger packageI also regularly use the Beyond Beef Ground product in chili. The dish comes out just as good as when using beef.

Given the fragile condition of our planet, and the huge carbon footprint that the consumption of beef creates I’m all for greater use of plant-based meat substitutes.

our full freezer

freezer contentsIt’s been quite a while since I’ve written about cooking here, but Terry and I continue to cook dinner at home several nights a week. We watch our favorite cooking shows on television and we subscribe to three cooking magazines: Food & Wine, Food Network Magazine, and Bon Appétit.

The problem we face is that it’s hard to cook for just two people. Or maybe it’s easy to cook for two and I just don’t know how. In either case we have lots of leftovers and quantities of meat that we bought but didn’t use in the original dish. Both get vacuum sealed using our trusty FoodSaver and put in the freezer.

freezer listLast week we were having new counters installed in the master bathroom and the installer’s truck and trailer were blocking our driveway. So instead of going to the grocery store I ordered delivery from Instacart. For Saturday dinner we had planned a surf and turf evening. That means halibut for me and steak for Terry. I asked Terry what she wanted, and she selected a London Broil.

It turned out that the London Broil was more than two-and-a-half pounds, a lot heavier than Terry expected. She cut it up into five pieces, one for Saturday and four for the freezer. Now the freezer was already full, and I needed to do some serious rearranging. Besides leftovers and cuts of meat our freezer contains frozen lunches, frozen fruit for breakfast, vegetables, and ice cubes made from water out of our reverse osmosis filter (which gives us beautiful, clear cubes in which we can see the crystals).

I took the opportunity to do an inventory of what we had in the way of leftovers and saved cuts of meat. You can see that we have built up quite a stash. We obviously need to go through our inventory for a while and make use of those ingredients and leftovers rather than buying new ingredients and cooking from scratch.

A few years ago we bought a new refrigerator with a larger capacity than our previous refrigerator. I guess it’s a good thing that we did.

our new grilling utensil

Terry and I both enjoy The Kitchen on Food Network and watch it regularly. During the pandemic the hosts initially shot their segments from home, but they eventually returned to the studio. When they did so they maintained social distancing, and Sunny Anderson regularly took up duty outside on the patio. (Apparently Sunny likes it outside. When the hosts were doing the show from home we saw in inside of everyone’s house except for Sunny’s. She was always outside preparing dishes that could be cooked on a grill.)

seafood grill basketOne week (back in the studio) Sunny was preparing a shrimp dish on the grill. She wanted a way to make sure she didn’t lose any shrimp when she turned them over. So she put the shrimp between two wire racks which she secured with thin wire off a roll from the hardware store. That struck me as rather kludgy and Terry asked why she didn’t just use a grill basket. And what was odd was that we never did see her turn the contraption over on camera, even after all the trouble she took to put the thing together. I suspect that an attempt to flip the homemade basket may have gone awry and been cut from the broadcast version.

That got me thinking, however, that we ought to have a basket for grilling seafood. I found exactly what we were looking for on Amazon. Our plan for its first use to be with shrimp didn’t work out, but I tried it out on the grill with some cod and it worked great. I learned that the inside needs to be sprayed with some non-stick spray or the safflower oil we keep in a spray bottle, but I consider the first use a success.

Terry then used the basket for shrimp. I have to say I’m a bit disappointed with the quality of manufacturing in the basket. After simply putting it in the drawer and storing it between uses, Terry had problems moving the bracket into place to lock the basket closed. I gave the top portion a twist to the right to enable the bracket to slip into place. That was annoying.

Still. it’s a useful addition to our set of grilling tools.