Thursday, January 15, 2009

Top Chef 1/14/09

Who is obsessed with Top Chef? (Okay, I really enjoy Hell's Kitchen too... who doesn't love Gordon Ramsay, but I don't know when that's going to be on again.) But, Top Chef is the best real cooking reality tv show out there right now.

I'm not going to recap episodes. If you want a good recap, I'm sure Television without Pity has something, or the official Top Chef website might have it. But, I am going to comment on something one of the contestants said.

Jamie--a San Franciso chef--freaked out with the Quick Fire challenge. The challenge: to cook a dish only using food found in most homes. (For example, canned vegetables.) She went on and on about how she's a real chef and cannot believe she has to cook with such low quality food. (That's where I got turned off.) It would be great if everyone could afford the best fresh produce and the best cuts of meats (scallops are her favorite, and maybe all she can actually cook), but the reality is, with the economy what it is, a lot of people are only able to get veggies on the table for their children if they buy that can of peas or green beans.

That's the difference between "real chefs" and those of us who are just regular, old home cooks. We are much more versatile. I love the free-range meat and organic vegetables that my husband and I get from two local CSAs, and I love the opportunity to experiment with these foods and try new types of vegetables. (Although I'm much better to the lamb we get than these so-called professionals were last night.)

But, at the same time, we're on a budget (especially now that I'm freelancing full-time), so I also know that I need to cook out of the cupboard when I'm running low on fresh. For my shephard's pie, I use a bag of frozen peas, and when I make soup, I usually use Swanson's broth or stock instead of making my own from scratch. Maybe it's not the way a "real" chef would do it, but I think it's the way most people in this country do it every night and only a snob would think that the ingredients were beneath her.

Any opinions? I'd love to hear your comments.

1 comment:

  1. Forget the snobs -- after all, cooking is their livelihood. I do draw the line at whats-her-name whose picture is on the Triscuit box. Her mantra is cooking only with prepared foods, which isn't cheap nor nutritious (fat, salt, etc). I may be a snob in this regard, but I think she is clueless. She's not a cook; she's an assembler.

    I'm with you: when I can, I cook from scratch ingredients and really enjoy the process ... but it takes time to assemble all the fresh ingredients (and yes, even high quality fresh veggies aren't cheap). When I'm busy, frozen veggies and basic non-fat canned broths do work wonders. I find canned veggies too mushy and salty (and the canning affects nutrition -- flash frozen produce retains much more of the nutrients).

    The exception is canned beans. I have no patience to boil and cook dried beans overnite. I regularly stock several varieties of canned beans (I buy when cheap -- .69 -.99/can) to have ready for my nonfat protein salad: I'll rinse and drain three different kinds; add a can of Trader Joe's sweet corn (rinsed and drained) and mix with chopped celery (if I have some), leftover parsley or cilantro (ditto - chopped), onion (ditto) and fresh salsa for a really healthy one-bowl meal /plenty of leftovers. (If I don't have salsa, a nonfat/lowfat salad dressing works, or I make a quick vinaigrette.) 1 cup = 175 calories

    We've only watched Top Chef Japan and while we know it's deliberately melodramatic, it gets tiresome. I have watched another guy on the Food Network (short, spiky blond hair) and have learned a lot -- in fact, 1st time I stumbled on his show, he was explaining how to make meatballs, which I was making for our Chanukah party the very next day! His suggestions* were terrific and made a big difference!

    *I usually use all ground turkey, but it does get dry; he uses 1/2 ground lamb and 1/2 lean ground beef. So I subbed the turkey for the beef, and the lamb kept it moist and flavorful. My recipe is for meatballs in a sweet & sour sauce and it all turned out beautifully.

    Anyway, this blog is very cool! I look forward to following your cooking adventures!