John F. Russell/file photo
The popular programming on the Food Network doesn't always amount to a cooking lesson, but it's sufficient inspiration to put down the remote and pick up a spatula.
Tom Ross' column appears Tuesdays and Saturdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Growing up with Ozzie and Harriet, my sisters and I were certain that we were grossly underprivileged. We almost never were served TV dinners like our playmates were.
Instead, my mother insisted on cooking flavorful, wholesome dinners every night. It was an event that included fresh vegetables in summer and home-canned veggies in winter.
There always was a dessert, which might have been a down-and-dirty ice cream sundae but often was freshly baked. A rhubarb/strawberry pie, made with fruit picked in our yard, was not out of the question.
Still, my siblings and I regarded a frozen Swanson chicken potpie as exotic cuisine.
I must clarify that we relished my mother's (her name is actually Beth, not Harriet) rotation of fried chicken, pot roast with real gravy, tuna casserole and made-from-scratch macaroni and cheese studded with slices of Oscar Mayer's favorite sausage. Still, we fantasized about the meals being prepared over at the Swanson's kitchen.
But that was the '60s, and these are more complicated times. Even in the midst of a growing awareness of the benefits of fresh foods purchased in season, and a mania with the Food Network on television, some experts are convinced that home-cooked meals, at least on weeknights, are going the way of the polar bear.
Noted author Michael Pollan, of "Omnivore's Dilemma," offered an interesting take on the trend in a think piece in The New York Times Magazine on Sunday.
Pollan devotes much of his article to the original television chef, Julia Child, whose unedited live show debuted in 1963 when "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" still ruled TV as the model for American families (did anyone notice that Ozzie never seemed to leave the house and go to a job?).
Child helped millions of Americans, particularly American women, lose their fear of cooking, Pollan observed. However, he sees the popular primetime shows on the food network as being less about meal preparation than they are about reality TV entertainment. In the case of the "Iron Chef" series, it's less a case of cooking instruction than it is sports programming, in Pollan's estimation.
As I read Pollan's article, I had visions of sitting down in front of the television with a defrosted chicken potpie and watching chef gladiators in impeccable white coats and checkered slacks doing battle as they frantically invented six new recipes for squid.
It occurred to me that the time we spend watching TV in the evenings easily could be used to shop and do some meal preparation in advance. It also occurred to me that all too often I take for granted the creative chef with whom I share a home.
So on Sunday afternoon, I dug out an underused cookbook by TV chef Bobby Flay and prepared to do battle in Kitchen Stadium.
The fried squash blossoms with ricotta, roasted corn and sweet and hot yellow pepper sauce tempted me. But then I realized we were out of squash blossoms again. Don't you hate when that happens?
Instead, I set out to make Yucatan chicken skewers with red cabbage slaw and peanut/red chili barbecue sauce. The only difficulty I encountered in preparing this delightful entree was my utter inability to follow a recipe. For me, there's no fun in cooking if you're going to follow the rules.
So instead of red cabbage slaw made with a hint of onions, we had jicama slaw with a hint of red cabbage. Let's face it, red cabbage isn't the easiest vegetable in the world to digest. Which leads me to a quick culinary tip: If your recipe calls for a cup of chopped red cabbage, put it on your grocery list and buy it already chopped from the salad bar. If there's still a little left over, you can mix it in with the dog's kibble as a special treat.
And here's a tip for Pollan: Wired.com is reporting that the Food Network has collaborated with a gaming company and licensed 30 recipes from its TV kitchens for use in an electronic game developed for the Nintendo Wii.
Now, you can learn to cook without picking up a spatula. Just keep a good grip on your Wii Remote. Your family is sure to rave about the results.
Tom Ross is a longtime Steamboat resident. His column is published Tuesdays and Saturdays in Steamboat Today.