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Posts tagged ‘Page & Screen’

I’m So Hungry!

Approved I’ve been aware of the existence of Lisa Lillien, a.k.a. Hungry Girl, for some time, only in that I know there is a wildly popular person who makes low-calorie versions of Americans’ favorite foods using dubious substitutions. Now that I have been DVRing her show on Cooking Channel (which I thought was supposed to be a younger, hipper, cooking-focused Food Network but clearly not) I have learned so much more. I’ve only watched three episodes, but this is what I know:

Despite her diminutive stature, Hungry Girl is a grown woman somewhere in her forties, not a girl.

No matter what she says, using lettuce leaves for buns and soy patties instead of beef do not taste like a real hamburger.

Bringing your own bottle of one-calorie-per-spray Wish-Bone Salad Spritzers to a restaurant is very dedicated (almost as much as that woman on MTV's True Life who toted around a bottle of ranch in her purse).

The defeated tone of voice during the show’s animated intro when the cartoon Hungry Girl chomps a bite out of a plate and mournfully chirps, “I’m so hungry!” goes straight into my cerebral cortex and slowly oozes down my spinal column, confusing my entire body on how it should react to such a statement. I can only shudder (and then I rock myself to sleep while eating an entire chocolate-swirl cheesecake made from chalk and mud).  

A fan of Laughing Cow cheese since I was a child (they used to come in tiny cubes and it was a rare treat I’d only get at the “gourmet” store on yearly trips to Cannon Beach) it pains me to see the wedges mixed with fat-free sour cream to make girlfredo, yes, a mock alfredo sauce.

Also, fat-free cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, cheese and any other product that naturally contains fat, tastes like soft nothing. Munching on moistened dirt would be more satisfying.

Creating a brand called Hungry Girl instead of Skinny Girl or Skinny Bitch is very smart. Calorie-counting women are hungry and they wish they could eat more. Acknowledging this is down-to-earth and conspiratorial not asperational and abrasive. Despite her misguided recipes (though as I skim through them they start seeming saner and saner) Lisa Lillien seems like a nice person.

So yes, her emphasis on quantity—pointing out the enormity of allowed servings is requisite for nearly every recipe–over quality makes sense for the audience; lifelong dieters who are burnt-out on self-denial. But wouldn’t you rather eat a small portion of really good onion rings than a “ginormous plateful” of onions coated in Egg Beaters (what is egg substitute, anyway?) and crushed Fiber One cereal?

Hungry Girl is married to the producer of iCarly, the Nickelodeon tween show that popularized spaghetti tacos.

Dan Schneider, “the Aaron Sorkin of tween sitcoms” is obese. I doubt his weight defines him the way that Hungry Girl’s does, but it must create an unusual dynamic in the household. Does he also eat pieces of chicken breast coated in egg substitute, wheat flour and sugar-free pancake syrup and pretend that it’s Chinese take-out? Do you think that Hungry Girl wanted to swap her trademark Tofu Shirtaki Noodles for the pasta and use cabbage leaves instead of corn shells for the spaghetti tacos?

Oh, I got the answer (it helps to actually read to the end of a two-plus-page article).

“Mr. Schneider, the writer, said he plans to have the iCarly cast to his house to make a batch in the next few months, so that he can tape it and post it on his YouTube account. He’s only had a low-calorie/low-fat version prepared by his wife, Lisa Lillien, whose Hungry Girl franchise appeals to weight-conscious snack-food lovers. ‘I’ve never tasted the real, real version.’”

By the way, Hungry Girl keeps the taco shells in her version. The ground-beef-style soy crumbles? I hadn’t seen that coming at all.

Orphans in the Kitchen

Justlikemom Oh no, youngsters in Europe could become “kitchen orphans” because their parents aren’t cooking anymore. Since 1937 there has been a decline in “the nurturing, bourgeois home cooking for which French women have always been admired.”

Luckily, I had just read about Super Marmite, a French website where home cooks can sell their leftovers, minutes before seeing the Wall Street Journal piece. I don’t know that I would buy food from strangers because I’m distrustful that way (not from a sanitation standpoint, but a do we share similar tastes perspective) but apparently there’s a market for such things.

You Completo Me


Ease up, New York Post. You too would think New York City hot dogs were only “so-so” if you were used to eating them Chilean-style, smothered in mayonnaise and mashed avocados.

Try a completo for yourself at Astoria’s San Antonio Bakery. I forgot to take a photo of the hot dog, though. (I'm not a big hot dog eater.)

Luckily, Robyn Lee's (that's her pic above) Chilean sandwich post on Serious Eats provides some nice visual evidence.

Start Spreading the News

Philadelphia-cookbook Kraft and whomever else can put ads on every page corner of Bon Appetit for all I care—they lost me months ago. Gourmet loyalists have already proven that they won’t be won over the by the BA, and at least now there is no pretense of publishing a sophisticated food magazine. Let it all hang out.

One of my only concerns with Taste of Home, my latest subscription, is their rampant abuse of cream cheese. Philadelphia cream cheese is the anti-raw milk Époisses. I happen to like both, but please don’t make me puree the soft white block into a pesto. Thanks.

When Taco Salad Won’t Do

Taco salad My June/July Taste of Home couldn’t have come at a more fortuitous time. A chunk of family I rarely see (aunt, uncle, cousins, grandma—ok, I did see her last year) will be visiting over Memorial Day weekend. I suggested they come out to Brooklyn Sunday afternoon since it seems like it would be easier just to cook than to deal with a large group in a neighborhood that's not big on taking reservations (Lucali would be ideal but I can't even subject myself to that nightly pileup) and offers little more than Italian-American food (I already acquiesced on Little Italy for Thursday!) within a reasonable walking distance for car people.

Not everyone has relatives that would enjoy Jean Georges, Scarpetta, Pulino's, The Modern or wherever else it is that blogs and magazines often recommend you take adult out-of-towners. Two-starred as of a few minutes ago, Prime Meats, is the closest restaurant to my apartment but cramped, two-hour-wait eateries staffed by "a crew of handsome men and women dressed as if ready to ride horses back home to Bushwick, where they trap beaver and make their own candles" just isn't going to fly even with these visitors from The Beaver State.

But now I am mildly, only mildly, concerned because I know when people say “oh, I’ll eat anything” that is absolutely untrue. And frankly, I have no idea what this crew likes to eat. You never know what will give someone pause. In the past it has been cilantro and banh xeo (I know, I know, but it’s just an omelet filled with vegetables and meat). I am not saying they are yokels. One West Coast peculiarity is an affinity for wine even if you’re not a foodie type—they are bringing wine from a friend’s vineyard—but American flavors are probably a safer bet, cuisine-wise. I will temper my love of the fishy, fermented and mouth-burning.

And this is where I look to Taste of Home for guidance. So, what does America like to eat? I’m baffled by a taco salad recipe that is to-the-letter what we’d eat on a regular basis 25 years ago, the only difference being something called Western dressing instead of Catalina (I thought that maybe they were the same, but I’ve been schooled). I only turn into a food snob when I think about things like taco salad–Americans should not be eating like this still.

A search for taco salad on the Taste of Home site brings up 176 results, including a taco salad waffle, tater tot taco salad and the pictured patriotic taco salad. Readers undeniably score high marks for creativity.

Amidst the enchilada lasagna and chiles rellenos casserole, there is also a recipe for flour tortillas. Impressive, and more labor-intensive than I would expect from a weeknight cook. On the other hand, there’s nothing remotely spicy about the Thai chicken salad, all full of sesame-ginger dressing, peanut sauce and chow mein noodles.

I also couldn’t ignore the Cooking for Grandma contest featuring a 10-year-old boy who loves to fry (doughnuts and fried pickles are his two specialties). He came up with a recipe for Mexican ice cream (vanilla rolled in crushed cornflakes, sugar, cinnamon and honey). What’s up with all the Mexican-ish flair?

I almost went down that vague path myself; the grilled leg of lamb with ancho chile marinade in the new Bon Appetit jumped out at me (yes, I quickly eschewed Taste of Home for Bon Appetit). But lamb? Not always a crowd-pleaser. Ancho powder seems benign, as well, but who's to say.

Tunisian chile sauce is no one’s taste of home either, but I am leaning toward the harissa-marinated top sirloin tips from the same issue. Everyone loves steak, right? Well, they’re going to, dammit. Now, I just need a few sides that don’t involve cream cheese.

It’s Always Cheesy in Philadelphia

I always look forward to my copy of Taste of Home. It only comes every other month and brings me a different joy than Saveur, which I intend to read but rarely get through, Bon Appetit and Food & Wine, which are skimmers or Cooking Light, the only magazine I regularly cook from even though it’s the least exciting.

Taste of Home’s foundation is every day meals, nothing wildly exotic or labor intensive with no fear of cans or packages. I could imagine the chicken & vegetable stir-fry or the apricot-glazed pork tenderloin ending up on my table if I were a child today.

I’m only on my second issue, but I’m already seeing themes emerging.

So bad it’s bad: alfredo sauce and cream cheese where they don’t really belong. In fact, there is a full page Philadelphia ad advising readers, “Make your pasta more primo when you stir in ½ cup of Philly.” There is a section on the Kraft Foods site called, “i never thought i could add Philly to..” The lowercase is supposed to make putting cream cheese in Cajun, Thai and Latin dishes to make the spice more palatable, seem innocent? And I just saw a TV ad where Paula Deen is encouraging the abuse of cream cream cheese, too. Actually, it’s a contest—I’m now going to think up the most inappropriate placement of cream cheese in a foodstuff. Caesar salad? Baked beans? Barbecue sauce?

In this issue, the soft cheese is called for in easy enchiladas, meatball sub casserole and pretty stuffed spring peas. Alfredo sauce shows up in a white chili (at least it’s not white from mayonnaise) and a chicken cordon bleu pizza invented by a teenage boy, so you kind of have to give him some props for experimenting in the kitchen.

Some things are put where they don’t belong but are genius. Yep, bacon baklava.

Peanutbuttertrifle So bad it’s good: peanut butter brownie trifle. This dish is simply mini peanut butter cups and brownies baked with peanut butter chips interspersed with layers of instant vanilla pudding and topped with frozen whipped topping, a.k.a. Cool Whip. Just as I didn’t know that wine coolers were malt liquor, I had no idea Cool Whip wasn’t a dairy product for many years. And I would totally eat a big bowl of this trifle right now and wash it all down with a Blue Hawaiian Bartles & Jaymes.

Fictional International Intrigue

I can only wonder if Hugo Reyes' fried chicken chain, Mr. Cluck's, is more Popeye's, KFC or Pollo Campero. Whatever style they serve, it's clearly a global hit in the alternate universe. 

Mr. cluck's paris
Baguettes not biscuits.

Mr. cluck's japan
You know they serve teriyaki-glazed chicken.

Mr. cluck's egypt
A halal bucket of chicken?

And It Tastes Like Home

Donut tree A Taste of Home is truer than I thought. I subscribed to the magazine on a whim. Could 3.1 million readers be wrong? In 2002 it was said to be the highest circulation food magazine in the country, and it still very well could be. An anti-Gourmet, one would presume.

And sure enough, there is not one single whimsical alfresco spread in the publication. The photos are about the food with an occasional thumbnail headshot of a reader who submitted a recipe.

Also of note, editorial assistant, Jane Stasik, shown sitting in a pile of mail (because she answers reader letters, of course) is clearly over 40. None of that young, striving Conde Nast business.

I was surprised at just what a taste of my home the recipes really were, good and bad. I haven’t encountered monkey bread in years, though we called the canned biscuit confection cinnamon pull-aparts. I’d whip up a batch right now if I kept biscuit dough around the house—mixing flour, water and baking powder, myself? No way.

I was not surprised how prominently ground beef is featured, it’s inexpensive and feeds a family. Plastic-and-Styrofoam-wrapped pink squiggles of meat always taste like compromise to me unless they’re going into a burger.

We were never served Italian shepherd’s pie, cream cheese and swiss lasagna or roadside diner cheeseburger quiche (second place winner in their Beef It Up contest) in my household but hot tamale casserole comes quite close to what I might’ve found on my plate. Not a taste I’d like to replicate. And sadly, only subscribers can access magazine recipes online, hence no links here.

On the other hand, there is an entire feature devoted to doughnuts from scratch. It’s quite possible that I’m just being wooed by the true blue–my favorite unnatural hue for food–doughnut topping their tree. 

Fruit Hunters

Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie keeps showing up recorded with no description in my DVR. Every time I click, the episode turns out to be “Montreal: Cooking on the Wild Side” and now I feel like hate fucking Adam Gollner. That is all.

Stop, Thief!

Copycat Foodie cries of copying, imitation and more strongly, plagiarism, have been popping up faster than banh mi joints (or is it fried chicken? I can't keep up). I would understand if two people in a short time frame had written about a Ukranian vegan holiday meal at Veselka (surprisingly, the most e-mailed article in the New York Times last night, currently it is at number six). It's hyper-specific and not widely known.

But Seattle being a teriyaki town is not that much different than the ten million articles devoted to Philly cheesesteaks or on a smaller scale green chile burgers in New Mexico or lobster rolls in Maine. Not exactly secrets.

Is John T. Edge really copying a 2007 story by Jonathan Kauffman? You just don't hear about Seattle teriyaki much because no one gives a rat's ass about the Emerald City, a nickname not quite up there with the Windy City or The Big Apple. (As a native Portlander, the truth is even harsher; the average non-hip New Yorker has no idea where Oregon even is). Though, I imagine that when your under-the-radar regional specialty is acknowledged you feel possessive of it.

Same too, with General Tso’s chicken, it seems. I knew Francis Lam's warm, even-handed style would get him into trouble eventually (I was always surprised by the civility of commenters). Yes, Fuchsia Dunlop is a recognized Western expert on Chinese food (and of course I made her General Tso’s recipe from Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook ) but it's not as if she owns all historical inquiry into Americanized Chinese food, which I guess is also Jennifer 8. Lee territory. Digging into a topic that's been previously written about does not make one a plagiarizer.

No one rips on Saveur's monthly "Classic," which briefly explains the origin of a dish then gives a recipe. But then, their website is so discombobulated that these columns are floating freely as recipes and not findable enough to comment. Maybe I should go stir up some shit over pavlova or chouchroute garnie. I’m quite certain someone somewhere has written about them before.

Copy Cat photo from Handheld Games Museum