Cooking Channel vs. Food Network – Cooking Channel Wins!

7 09 2010

I’m in total foodie mode… and I’m loving it.

I visited a culinary school last week and, as I’m trying to figure out how I can get a hold of tuition money legally, what does my channel surfing lead me to but the Cooking Channel. It’s a younger, more “indie” version of the Food Network and, in my humble opinion, it blows them out of the water. There are more baking shows and more internationally themed shows – there’s even one about Vietnamese food that runs on Sunday mornings. I like Vietnamese food, so that’s a plus for me. They also run old school stuff in the afternoon – Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet There are the usual big names, Mario Batali, Nigella Lawson, and Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa) among others – but the best bit, the one that seals the deal for me is that on Saturdays at 10 pm they run the Two Fat Ladies.

I used to watch this with my grandmother, on PBS I think, ages ago. It a blend of comedy and cooking that is really fun to watch. Jennifer Patterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright, two plump, British matrons, drive around the English countryside on a motorcycle (one rode in a side car) and cook and laugh – at themselves, and other, and always at vegetarians. The ladies use butter and lard and cream and everything else you shouldn’t eat, their jokes get a little bawdy at times, and either one is liable to break into song or verse at any time. It’s too politically incorrect to have been made here and when it ran on Food Network a while back it was heavily edited. I only saw two episodes on the Cooking Channel, but they seemed to be the full episodes. This makes a big difference with this particular show because, unlike Rachel Ray and other popular TV chefs, these two don’t bombard you with a never-ending stream of dialogue. They talk when they have reason to, so once someone starts clipping away dialogue, it can get pretty sparse. Even if the heavy, very traditional recipes laden with high calorie ingredients sound out-of-place and unsuited for our super high paced lives, the show’s emphasis on local, fresh, natural ingredients will sound very current.

So far, I’m enjoying the Cooking Channel and it’s fresher style and approach to creating an entire lineup dedicated solely to food. It definitely seems geared to a different crowd than Food Network. Maybe its younger people, maybe it’s more of a difference in tastes, but whatever the difference, I’d definitely suggest checking it out.

On a more personal, but still very “foodie” note, I have another large baking project for my family. My uncle’s turning fifty and I’ve been asked to make the cupcakes. I’m throwing in port wine taralli for added deliciousness. A portion of both cupcakes and taralli will be gluten-free. There will be pictures, but I honestly don’t know when they’ll show up. They’ll just surprise you one day.

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Family History On a Plate

8 08 2010

Last November my cousin got married and I made her wedding cake, which was actually a collection of gluten-free red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing. This recipe like so many others is on a small card stuffed in a cookbook in my mother’s kitchen. The chances of it getting lost are high and there are plenty of other recipes that my mother and I love and use often that are old, raggedy looking, and in similar random locations just waiting to be misplaced or used as scrap paper by my father who wouldn’t recognize a recipe if it jumped up and did a tap dance on the counter. There are some fragile ones that are decades old and written in my grandmother’s handwriting. She passed away a few years ago and I would be very upset if these old, brittle bits of yesteryear finally crumbled while in my possession. Others are locked securely in recesses of my mother’s mind. I once searched my house for over an hour trying to find her apple pie recipe only to have her tell me that it had never been written down to begin with. We have some beautiful cookbooks that I’d rather not see spattered with oil and stuff because they got in the way when I was making something delicious and messy. In short, this situation has to change.

With this in mind, and because my unemployment gives me nothing but time, I’m copying down all of the favorites old and new and making two archives of them – one for me and one for my mother. It will make sharing them easier and I’m sure my aunts will have a few to add to our collection. This will also give me a chance to make some of my favorite foods for no reason which is always good. I’m always pulling new recipes off the internet and now they won’t end up in some corner of a drawer never to be seen again.

Essentially, I’m writing my own cookbook.





Taralli – My Culinary “Mission Impossible”

24 07 2010

What’s a taralli? Well, aside from delicious, this is the definition Wikipedia gives is this.

Taralli are an Italian snack food, common all over the southern half of the Italian Peninsula. A cracker similar in texture to a bread stick or a pretzel, taralli can be sweet or savory. Sweet taralli are sometimes glazed with sugar. Savory taralli may be flavored with onion, garlic, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, fennel, pepper or just salt. Sweet and plain taralli are often dunked in wine.

I had seen some of the sweet ones a while back and finally weakened enough to go out and buy some – something I usually don’t do because they’re expensive and, given my major weakness for baked goods, they don’t last long. I had, however, gotten the image of me enjoying a of couple glazed taralli and my morning coffee so ingrained in my mind that the obvious downsides didn’t faze me. Off I went to the closest grocery store – a small independently owned place where I always, Always, ALWAYS see sweet taralli… except for when I show up looking for them. I went to the next nearest grocery store – a Stop & Shop – and still no sweet taralli. If I’d have wanted the peppercorn ones, I’d have been set, which just made the situation more annoying.

Before I go on, allow me to explain why not finding a single lone tarallo (singular form of taralli) is such a shock. I live in New Haven county Connecticut – well within the metro-area where Italian-American everything is commonplace. The town I live in does not have its own high school – it’s part of a district – but it does have not one, but two places to get good pizza. If I’m honest, I could’ve driven to an Italian bakery and bought the taralli. There are a couple good bakeries around, but they aren’t as close as those grocery stores were and I was getting sick of driving around with nothing to show for it, so I went back home to go on an online recipe hunt. I had decided to try my hand at making them.

Traditional Italian baking is usually pretty easy – it can be time-consuming sometimes, but it’s not a difficult process as a rule. There are often few ingredients and the variety comes from the addition of different flavorings and such as opposed to an entirely different process for each recipe. A perfect example is when you walk into a coffee shop and you see seven different kinds of biscotti. The difference is not in how they’re made – they are all biscotti – but in the flavoring. One’s almond, one’s lemon, one’s dipped in chocolate, ect, ect… The difficulty comes in finding traditional Italian recipes. No one writes cookbooks full of these kinds of recipes. You find books with really elaborate versions of some of these things or, more irritatingly, how to fake Italian food with things like ketchup and canned soups. That, in my opinion, is an abomination. I’m cool with all sorts of things in life, but do NOT try convincing me that Campbell’s tomato soup even remotely resembles my homemade marinara sauce. I will think less of you as a person if you do.

My recipe hunt yielded a few good results most notably an italian food blog turosdolci.wordpress.com which is full of some delicious-looking recipes as well as beautiful shots of Italy. My urge to book a flight was almost as strong as my urge to bust out the baking utensils. Baking won only on economic grounds. Anyway I found this post about taralli and this post that was my inspiration – a sweet taralli made with red wine. I gathered my ingredients and about 35 minutes later my home smelled like heaven and I had taralli that are far better than anything I could’ve bought. Me being who I am I had to fiddle with the recipe a little. I used a Ruby Port instead of a red wine and the results are fabulous. Whatever brilliant soul decided, ages ago, that wine belonged in a baked snack deserves to be canonized. I also showed my mother the site and now she’s got baking plans that stretch to Christmas after seeing a few recipes for biscotti and other treats. I have plans to attempt some gluten-free versions of these things. My cousin is allergic to gluten – a cruel fate in a family like mine – and I’ve had a fair bit of success with substituting in gluten-free flours with little to no difference in taste. It’s health food everyone wants to eat. I’ll keep everyone appraised of the results of my gluten-free experimenting.

I will close this post with a warning regarding these snacks – they are addictive. To say I’ve eaten more than my fair share is an understatement to say the least. It isn’t just me, or the rest of the humans in the house for that matter, Tosca, my shiba inu, is now a fiend for them. She will climb, jump, and do everything else in her power to get a hold of some. This is unusual because she isn’t generally one to do this… unless you leave grilled beef unattended, and then it’s over. Tosca is an accomplished taralli thief.

I will try to post more good recipes (or links to good recipes) in the future.