Saying no to fast food

It’s just not good for us.

Even though I promised my six-year-old a rare happy meal today while we watch movies at the library for Star Wars Day, I have to shake my head. I know that fast food isn’t good for my family, which is why we don’t buy it very often. But hey, my kid eats the apple slices and has regular milk—isn’t that okay?

Well, no, because she also chooses the pink slime chicken nuggets because, let’s face it, is there any other choice for her? The food is not only high in fat, calories, and questionable ingredients; it is also contributing to the decline of our environment, the gross fast food lifestyle that I can’t stand (the rushing, the lack of family time, the excessive containers that are just thrown away), and even the decline of cooking.

So many of us don’t even know how to prepare a good meal anymore—and yes, there are other problems such as affordability, but fast food contributes to these as well. To read more about the fast food problem in America and other ways it can be harmful, as well as a few other resources you can check out, visit websites like  True Activist.

Food news

Here’s the latest about American food.

Though many of us love our lunch and love to read about (and look at photos of) food even more sometimes, this week’s food news might be bittersweet to lots of people. If you want the good news first, read on; if you want the bad news first, scroll to the bottom and read your way up (But not completely backwards, because then it would all be gibberish, and then you’d think the bad news was that you forgot how to read, and I assure that isn’t the case. Probably.).

Three Second Rule is A-OK…Maybe

Recently I taught my six-year-old the three-second rule, which is the simple rule we all had as kids that if your food fell into the floor, you had three seconds to inhale it before it was “bad.” This seems rather arbitrary and stupid (even to my six-year-old) but according to scientists, it may be true! Depending upon the salt content of food, some foods may be safer than others—but it looks like most foods surveyed were okay before the three second mark. After three seconds, however, the deadly bacteria starts to affect the food. Given that I don’t have very quick reflexes, I think I’ll stick to composting anything dropped from my counter…

Kids to Have Healthier Lunches This Fall

See, I told you I promised some good news! The latest cafeteria guidelines are being implemented this school year, providing students with more fruits, veggies, and whole grains. They’ll also have less salt and calories in their food options.No Need for Greed or Hunger…

John Lennon’s lyrics are not empty; there really is no need for anyone in this country to go hungry or to go homeless. Have you heard that for every homeless person in America, there are 24 abandoned homes? This is so distressing, and proves that we are a capitalist country bent on profits and business over people. How easy it would be to simply provide each homeless person with a place to stay, get cleaned up at, and work from?

No Squirrel for You!

My dad used to hunt and cook squirrels (as does Katniss, of course), so this news is distressing to me: eating squirrels can apparently cause dementia, as an outbreak of Mad Cow Disease due to eating squirrel brain has occurred in the state of Kentucky. Officials attribute this to more people eating wild animals in times of economic crisis.

Summer's best reality cook-offs

Hell's Kitchen, Around the World in 80 Plates, Masterchef and Next Food Network Star

I’m completely hooked on cooking competition reality TV shows. I can usually find a few decent shows to watch throughout the year, but as it is every year, summertime is the behemoth for a bunch of my favorite reality genre to be on TV at the same time. This summer, there are four—and only two involve Gordon Ramsay. Here are the reality cooking competition shows to watch others beat the gastronomic heat:

Around the World in 80 Plates. A new addition from Bravo, the network that gave us the model cooking show, Top Chef. This time, contestants have to travel all over the world (they’ve been to England, France, Morocco and Italy so far) cooking local specialties. Locals then have to pick the team that interpreted their homeland’s famous dishes best. The most intriguing part of this show—also the part that’s likely to piss fans of Top Chef off—is that the contestants of the losing team choose which team member to send home. That pretty much guarantees that the best chef in the bunch will not win this thing.

Hell’s Kitchen. The tenth season of Gordon Ramsay’s international hit pits a team of ladies against a team of gentleman (let’s get with the gender times, Ramsay!) to out-cook each other. The appeal of the show is Ramsay’s feisty tongue, which yells expletives at chefs who still can’t cook a bloody scallop. It’s the same each season—each episode, really—but people are obviously watching.

Masterchef. Fox expects us to make a complete about-face for the Ramsay-headed show, Masterchef. On this show, the lobotomized Ramsay says sweet things about blind ladies and lets war veterans cook because he likes their stories. Eventually one home cook—that means a person without formal culinary training and a conventional day job—will win $150,000 and a cook book deal. It’s amazing what these people can do in their everyday kitchens.

Next Food Network Star. The prize on Next Food Network Star is definitely the best of any food show—probably any reality TV show generally: the winner gets his or her own cooking show. That means, of course, that the contestants on this show have to be doubly talented, as chefs and as TV presenters. Competing this season is a tubby Hawaiian, a retro-hip blonde lady, an older Southern belle and a creepy, red-lipped molecular gastronomist—it’s fascinating to wonder about why these people want to be celebrities.

What are your favorite cooking TV shows?

Worst Cooks in America: "Luck of the Irish"

This week on Worst Cooks in America, the contestants have to recreate some pretty complicated dishes cooked by Bobby and Anne with only their sight, smell and taste. These chefs, who couldn’t cook macaroni and cheese to save their lives four weeks ago, now have developed palates that can recognize apple cider vinegar and broccoli rabe. Amazing—or impossible?

 

Anne has her chefs recreate a stuffed pork chop with sides of mashed potato and carrot and broccoli rabe with an apple cider vinegar. Bobby makes a pork tenderloin with a sauce of papaya and honey. The chefs leave the contestants alone in the kitchen to figure out how to cook their own versions, but secretly watch the action from a hidden camera TV in another room. Both the teams recreate their chef’s dish fairly well, and both Bobby and Anne are pleased with the results.

 

Next, the contestants receive their elimination challenge. They are to make a total of 70 appetizers for guests at a St. Patrick’s Day party in New York City. Anne and Bobby demonstrate how to make stuffed potato skins, but tell the contestants that they need to stuff 35 skins with a filling of their own choosing. Next, each contestant is given a recipe card for his or her own Irish-inspired dish, and are assigned to create 35-pieces of  this appetizer, as well.  

 

On the red team, Dorothy is the winner with her , while David wins fan favorite recognition for his appetizers. Both are safe. On the blue team, Melissa wins both Bobby’s choice for best dish and fan favorite for her potato skin and lamb kebabs served with a mustard sauce.

 

On the bottom two on the red team are Anthony and Kelli. Anthony couldn’t finish either his stuffed potato skins, or his boxty topped with beef and an aioli sauce, while Kelli didn’t cook her potato skins properly. Anthony committed the more heinous sin in not finishing the required number of appetizers, so he is sent home.

 

Bobby was unhappy with the remaining three members of his team, so he puts all three in the bottom. Tiffany doesn’t cook her potato skins properly, Vinnie didn’t make a bold enough filling for his potato skin offering, and Benjamin couldn’t finish anything but his kale chips for his appetizer. Before Bobby can make his choice, Benjamin announces that he feels that he should be sent home because his head is no longer in the game.

 

Are you going to watch the second to final episode of Worst Cooks in America next week?

Worst Cooks in America: "Late Night/Date Night"

The chefs learn to cook nachos and squab.

The poor contestants are woken up in the middle of the night, and told they have to make their way to a diner. Certainly, they can guess what’s coming next.

And they’re right. Anne and Bobby tell the hapless contestants that they’ll now learn how to cook comfort foods for their families, things that they would usually find only in a diner. Who wants to learn to cook things like greasy spoon hamburgers and cherry pies at home?

I don’t know if I’d like to go to a diner with Bobby Flay—his high-class nachos topped with pulled pork, a corn and avocado salsa and topped with a red onion looks very delicious, but way to highfalutin for a real, homespun diners. His team is told to make their own creative takes on nachos. Meanwhile, Anne makes French fries topped with a cheese-and-bacon sauce.

On the blue team, Benjamin wins the nacho challenge with a plate of spicy nachos. Dorothy, on the red team, wins with a plate of chorizo cheese fries with guacamole. On the lower end are Tiffany, who made dessert nachos with berries and mozzarella, and Bennett, whose play on a pot pie over his fries falls flat.

For their elimination challenge, Chef Anne teaches them how to make pollo al mattone, or chicken cooked under a brick. Chef Bobby assigns his team the challenge of cooking squab—and butterflying the birds themselves. Both teams have to pair a side dish with their main dish.

On the red team, David ends up with the win, even though he dropped one of the drumsticks from his bird on the ground. Anne still thought that his chicken tasted the best of any team member’s. Even though Bobby wasn’t a fan of his salad side dish, Vinnie still takes home the win on Bobby’s team for his well-executed squab.
 

Bennett from the red team is sent packing because of his extremely-overcooked chicken. On the blue team, Sarina is eliminated because she doesn’t seem to be improving as quickly as the other contestants are. Too bad there’s no one who’s too entertaining left on this show; truly, we don’t want to see them cooking well. There’s plenty of that on real cooking shows.

Worst Cooks in America: "Flavor Combos"

Making pizza.

This week on an episode called “Flavor Combos,” some contestants without any sort of conception of flavor are expected to make pizzas with their own flavor toppings. They are to “be creative” with minds that concocted indedibles such as vanilla fried chicken. Godspeed, chefs.

Anne and Bobby teach the contestants quickly how to make pizza dough. The problem, of course, is that neither one seems to want to lower him or herself to the level of having to teach inept chefs about making pizza dough. Because of this, all of the chefs seem incredibly lost.

The contestants sort of succeed on dough, but I think the judges have forgotten that they still have given their contestants any flavor conceptions. Erica from Long Island decides to make a pizza with capers, crème fraiche, spinach and lox. Vinnie also adds cream cheese to his pizza, to represent Philly. Sarina makes a salami, kale and Monterrey Jack cheese pie.

Anne and Bobby judge this round blind. The head of the team with the winning pizza will get to swap out a weak member of his or her team for a stronger member of the other team. Cruel.

The very worst pizza—topped with pecans, apples, bacon and lettuce, and once dropped on the floor—belongs to David. The top two contestants were Kelly, who made a pizza with zucchini, eggplant, red onion and clams, and Tiffany, who made a pie with a spinach artichoke sauce, chicken and goat cheese.

Tiffany, on Bobby’s blue team is the winner. He steals Melissa from the red team, and gives Anne David. He says that his ego is bruised, but that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

The elimination challenge requires the chefs to combine two extreme flavors to create one tasty dish. Some of the flavor combinations didn’t work—like pineapple and horseradish, for example—but others, like chili and lemon, worked very well. Bennett, who had never done well before, took it home for the red team, while Benjamin won for the blue team with a chili flaked-steak.

The bottom two on the red team are Bob and Dorothy. Dorothy added vanilla to her chicken—after Anne told her not to—and Bob made a much too spicy sauce. Bob is kicked off for not tasting his food. On the blue team, Sarina and Erica are in the bottom two. Sarina made a tasteless orange and soy-glazed steak, while Erica set her steak on fire. Erica, who was one of the funniest contestants to watch, is sent home.

Top Chef: Whistler, B.C.

Top Chef/Winter Games 2010

Top Chef decided to dilute its once highfalutin competition to resemble the 2010 Winter Games last night, requiring contestants to shoot, ski and ice-pick their way into the final three. It was fun to watch, but I certainly wouldn't care if my Top Chef could cook a lamb well while in a gondola.

The episode brings the final four to Whistler, British Columbia, which seems to be a welcome reprieve from the Texas-centric cooking of the season. I'm really invested in these final episodes because I'd be bummed if anyone but the single likeable remaining contestant won the whole thing. We have Sarah, the bully, Lindsey, the aloof ice queen, and Beverly, the pathetic. These are definitely identities used by the media to describe women, but I can't help the way Bravo has probably skewed my viewing. At this point, I think everyone is probably rooting for Paul, the sweet and adorable, Filipino Texan.

This week consists of three challenges that will determine the season's final three contestants. The winner of each challenge will win $10,000 as well as a spot in the finale.

The first challenge consists of cooking in a moving gondola flying over a huge valley in Whistler. The contestants two spans of the valley to cook their dishes. Lindsey ends up as the winner of the challenge and guarantees her spot in the finale.

The second challenge is even more bizarre. Food items are flash frozen in blocks of ice, and the contestants have to smash out the ingredients they want to cook from the block with an ice pick. Paul proves his niceness again by throwing the ladies' blocks of ice on the ground to help break them up. You sort of want to shake all of them for pretending to be weaklings and not looking out for themselves, but all is well when Paul takes the round anyway.

The final competition between Beverly and Sarah is the most comical. First, the contestants have to cross country ski around a track until they make it to a shooting range. There, they have to hit the bull's eye for the ingredients they want. Bev ends up making an arctic char with root vegetables, while Sarah creates a hazelnut, cherry and rabbit dish. In a tearful final elimination, Sarah ends up winning the final spot, and Bev is sent packing again.

For whom are you rooting to win the whole thing?

Worst Cooks in America: Dishwasher Fish

Yuck. And more yuck.

I was excited to watch the first episode of the first season of Worst Cooks in America so that I could feel better about my own cooking abilities. Sure, I might only know how to cook fried rice, but at least I don’t put vanilla in my fried chicken batter.

Before I get ahead of myself, let’s talk about the rest of the episode. The show is hosted by two of Food Network’s biggest personalities—Bobby Flay and Anne Burrell. Before the show began, the pair hosted a number of Worst Cooks events around the country in Houston, Miami, New York and Los Angeles. Thousands of terrible cooks were nominated by their friends and families, but only sixteen made the final cut.

The contestants are then taken back to the studio where they’re instructed to prepare their best dishes. Several of the contestants said that they’ve sent their spouses to the hospital with their cooking—one woman didn’t know that you could leave meat at room temperature all day…?—so I’d look out if I were Anne or Bobby. Another man wants to cook dishwasher fish—salmon wrapped in aluminum foil and then spun in the dishwasher for a cycle…oh god.

After the contestants finish preparing their cuisine, Bobby and Anne are left to the arduous task of picking teams of eight. I don’t know really what they have to go on, but they battle on nonetheless.

The contestants’ next task is to recreate breakfast dishes created by Bobby and Anne. Anne makes pancakes with whipped cream and orange butter, four types of eggs, including sunny side up, poached, scrambled and fried with a side of bacon. Bobby cooks the same dish, but with blueberry pancakes instead.

In the end, Tiffany, a professional poker wins for Bobby’s blue team, despite knocking her syrup onto the ground and sprinkling the pancakes sporadically. The bottom two on Bobby’s team were Sarina, a wedding photographer who lives with her mother, and Libby, a cooking ware host on the food network. On Anne’s red team, Kelly, a stay-at-home mom, wins, while Rachel, a club promoter, and Richard, an attorney are in the bottom two.

In the end, Libby and Richard are sent home, and it’s sad. These people came onto the show because their spouses/partners hated their cooking abilities, and they wanted to improve.

Will you watch Worst Cooks in America this season?

Top Chef Texas: the final four

...or five.

This week on Top Chef, the final four again becomes the final five. If you missed out on the secretive, online competition Last Chance Kitchen, eliminated Top Chef contestants got to compete with each other to secure a place back in the finals. Belittled Beverly beat a number of eliminated chefs to return to the final five and cook again for the title.

As was to be expected, no one was all too happy. They shouldn’t be. The original final four will not be given a secret competition in order to come back to the show—instead they will only be able to be eliminated once, in contrast to Bev’s second chance. I would be angry too. Plus, Bev was already universally disliked by these chefs.

The Quickfire Challenge is sort of pointless this week. The chefs are sent back into the pantry to collect the ingredients for their dishes. Obviously, they come up with some interesting items, but their culinary skills aren’t based on their ability to grope around in the dark. In the end, Sarah wins the challenge and has the choice either to take a Prius V or guarantee herself a spot in the final four without participating in the elimination challenge. She chooses the latter.

For the elimination challenge, each cheftestant needs to cook a dish that will impress his or her mentor. The mentors are flown in, and all of the contestants—save Edward—start crying. They all seem very sweet, especially Paul, who really can’t hold it together, and neither can his mentor. With Grayson gone, I’d like to see him take the whole thing.

All of the dishes are well received. Particularly impressive was Paul’s sunchoke and dashi soup with summer vegetables which showed admirable restraint. Also delicious was Beverly’s gulf shrimp and barbeque pork and Singapore noodles. These two contestants are secured spots in the final four with Paul taking home the car, as well.

Ed and Lindsey are on the bottom for their dishes. Lindsey makes a seafood stew over toasted couscous and broth with emulsified cream, but the cream is deemed excessive by the judges. Ed makes a braised pork belly and smoked oyster crema with pickled vegetables, but Tom doesn’t like the oyster sauce at all. In the end, Edward is sent home.

Will you watch the finale of Top Chef? Who would you like to see win it all?

Worst Cooks in America

Improve your self-conception by comparison.

I’m excited for the third season of Worst Cooks in America to return next Sunday, February 12 on the Food Network. As you can probably tell from the show’s title, the show doesn’t feature much fancy cooking; instead, its contestants need help boiling water.

The show includes two teams of eight terrible cooks apiece. These “chefs” have been nominated for the show by family and friends because of their subpar cooking skills—but most of the time, the chefs don’t know that. At the start of each season, the contestants have to impress the judges with their signature dishes, a hilariously-pretentious title for something so obviously disgusting. One cook will be eliminated right off the bat, and each week, one contestant will be sent home because his or her dish is the worst of the worst.

The teams are headed by some seriously-talented chefs: Anne Burrell, whose teams won the first two seasons of the show, and Bobby Flay, who will compete against Burrell for the first time this season. These two coaches help create newly-skillful chefs out of their cooking duds. The winner of the show will receive $25,000, and, hopefully, some improved culinary skills.

Anne’s team has some interesting members. Texan contestant Dorothy Strouhal put her husband in the hospital with food poisoning by serving him her vanilla chicken. Floridian Melissa Rhodes used to be anorexic, and wants to be a part of the show to regain her healthy relationship with food. New Yorker Rachel Margolin just lost a lot of weight, and needs to learn how to cook healthier food to maintain her figure.

Bobby’s team also has some interesting members. Texan David Shelton’s wife has become a vegan because she hates his cooking so much, and the couple can’t even share a meal together. New Yorker Erica Weidner uses “cooking tools” like razorblades and pliers (ew!) to create her food. Her family is, obviously, frightened. New Yorker Sherrill Moss-Solomon thinks her food is so good that she deserves her own cooking show—but her husband nominated her for this one.

The commercial for the new season already is hilarious. On their first cook-off, contestants boil liquids over the tops of pots, start meats on fire and burn themselves on hot pans. If you’re tired of feeling inadequate in your cooking after watching Food Network, this is the show for you.

Will you watch the third season of Worst Cooks in America this Sunday?

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