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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

You can help by leaving comments on posts and by becoming a follower. More than a quarter million people all over the world have viewed the blog and that's great. But every great leader needs followers and if I am ever to achieve my goal of becoming the next great leader of the Italian culinary world :-) I need followers! I promise, I'm not going to spam anybody. I'd just like to know who's out there and what your thoughts are on what I'm doing.

Grazie mille!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ideas For an Organized Kitchen

So many people these days think of cooking as a chore to be avoided or at least kept to a minimum. Part of that mindset, I think, stems from disorganized kitchens. After all, what fun is it to cook even the simplest dish, let alone a complicated meal, when you have to hunt for everything you need.

I grew up in a home that was extremely organized – and I do mean extremely. I'm not saying my mother was OCD, but she even organized the trash. Seriously. Decades before “recycling” became a trend, Mom had little bins inside the kitchen waste basket wherein she separated dry trash – paper, cardboard, plastic, etc. – from messy trash – egg shells, vegetable peelings, plate scrapings, and such. There was a place for everything in her kitchen and everything was always precisely in its place. Dishes were stacked a certain way in the cabinets, utensils were all pointed in the same direction in the drawers, small appliances all had particular places on shelves or counter tops. And we won't even discuss the pantry and refrigerator. Is it any wonder I turned out the way I did?

I guess that's why cluttered, disorganized kitchens where stuff is just randomly thrown into drawers and cabinets amaze and confuse me. I love cooking at my sister's house because she is as freakishly organized as I am. But I know people whose kitchens frighten me. I have no idea what I'll find when I open a cabinet or pull out a drawer. Cereal boxes and canned goods stored with the Tupperware? Mixing bowls scattered among three different cabinets on opposite ends of the kitchen? Pots and pans thrown in a heap under a counter with lids stuck in drawer somewhere else? When you have to conduct a scavenger hunt to assemble all the components for a meal, no wonder cooking is an onerous task.

Now, I'm not here to tell you in which specific drawer you should store your knives and forks or in what exact cupboard you must stack your casserole dishes. But, based on my experience and on my own kitchen layout, I do have some ideas on organizing your kitchen that will make meal preparation a lot easier.

In our professional kitchen, my wife and I shared a long 6 x 10-foot prep table in the center of the room. It had open shelves above and below. Things she needed most were kept on her side of the table and things I used stayed on my side. Items we both used lived in containers and on racks down the middle, accessible from either side. Small appliances and bulk storage containers were kept on shelves under the work table. Pot racks were suspended above it and a wire shelving unit stood at one end containing a variety of mixing bowls, cake pans, baking dishes and the like. Refrigerators and speed racks lined the wall near one end of the table. Ovens and cooktops were arranged along the wall on my side of the table with cabinets and shelves for dish storage and work space for plating directly adjacent. Dishwashing and cleaning sinks were on the wall behind her side of the table. Pantry storage and storage for large items like stock pots and sheet pans was on the other end of the room. We never had to move more than a few steps in any direction to reach anything we needed while prepping or cooking.

Obviously, you're not going to install a 6 x 10 table in the middle of your home kitchen. But whether it's a professional kitchen or a home kitchen, the same principles of efficiency and organization apply. Kitchen work is a lot less “work” when the kitchen is organized and efficient. It can even be fun.

Have you ever heard of the “kitchen triangle?” It's not related to the “Bermuda Triangle,” although I've seen a few kitchens that made me wonder. In design-speak, the “kitchen triangle” refers to the fixed points in your kitchen; the ones you're not going to be able to do much about without ripping things out and starting over. Your stove, refrigerator, and sink are usually the fixed points of the triangle. If you don't have an actual equilateral triangle, don't worry about it. I live in an older house and my “kitchen triangle” is more of a right angle. But you get the idea.

In an ideal kitchen – one laid out and designed by people who do nothing but lay out and design ideal kitchens – you would have your pantry/food storage space in the area between your sink and fridge. Your pots and pans and knives and cutting boards and such would live between your sink and your stove. And along the third leg of the triangle would be where you kept your dishes and storage containers. Now let's get into the real world where things are less than ideal.

No matter if you have a perfect triangle or a lopsided “L” shape, work stations are a must. Every professional kitchen is set up with dedicated stations for different tasks. There's a sauté station, a grill station, a fry station, a fish station, a salad station, a dessert station, and others depending on the size and scope of the restaurant. All in all, there are over two dozen “stations” in a classic French brigade. This may sound excessive, but it all boils down to my mother's basic philosophy of a place for everything and everything in its place. However, in your home kitchen, you really only need three work stations; prep, cooking, and cleaning.

If you think about it, you don't need a lot of room for cooking or cleaning. You pretty much stand in one place for these activities, either in front of the stove or in front of the sink. These areas still need to be organized and efficient, of course, but your prep area is literally where it all begins and ends.

As I mentioned, I live in an older house and it has its challenges. There's a lot more “stuff” in a modern kitchen and the builder of my house never heard of a “triangle.” Organizing took several days. But here's how I came out.

I have one long “L” shaped counter in my kitchen. The sink is in the middle of one leg of the “L,” leaving two feet of counter space on the left and about six feet on the right. My stove is at the terminus of the “L,” just to the left of the sink. To the right of the sink, I have about three feet of counter space before it makes a right angle turn. Then there's an unbroken six-foot expanse of counter with cabinets and drawers above and below. This end of the “L” butts up against a standing shelving unit. Here I have added an island of sorts; it's a rolling cart with a stainless steel top and drawer and cabinet space underneath. This gives me an additional four feet of work space, turns my “L” into a “U,” and completes my primary prep area.

Standing in the middle of that “U,” I can reach any point by taking one or two steps left or right. The refrigerator, pantry, stove, and sink are all just a couple of steps from the prep area.

My knives are on a magnetic strip to the right of the sink and my cutting boards live directly under them, standing upright in one of those little plastic mail organizers from the office supply store. I can do all my knife work right there at the sink. I also have a small block with a couple of essential knives on the rolling cart so I don't have to walk back to the rack if I need a paring knife.

All the whisks and spatulas and spoons and vegetable peelers and other utensils I use most are arrayed along the long counter in metal or ceramic containers. Things I don't use as often but still need to have close at hand are stored in the drawers under the counter. I use a toaster oven for a ton of things, so one sits in the prep space.

Dishes live in the cabinets above and below the counter. The everyday dishes are in the upper cabinets closest to the sink, with the serving pieces on the higher shelves and the plates, bowls, cups, and glasses down low. The rest of the upper cabinets hold all the mixing bowls, prep bowls, etc. Two sets of measuring cups and two sets of measuring spoons (his and hers) along with plastic 2-cup and 4-cup measures are suspended from hooks under the cabinet. (Racks of wine glasses also reside under the upper cabinets.)

Under the counter are all the storage containers, followed by glass and metal baking pans and dishes, casseroles, ramekins, and finally the odd sized pans, molds, and racks used primarily for baking. Logically, these baking pans and paraphernalia inhabit the lower cabinets directly under the upper ones that house the mixing bowls and such.

I've got one of those neat built-in turntable cabinets in the corner that would otherwise be wasted space. This is where all my spices and condiments call home. Far, far away from the heat and humidity of the cooking area. I don't care how convenient it seems, the shelf or cabinet above your stove is not the best place for your spices. The shelving unit at the end of the counter holds canisters of all-purpose flour, bread flour, self-rising flour, sugar, confectioners sugar, brown sugar, baking soda – you get the idea.

My marble pastry slab has a permanent home on the rolling cart, making it kind of the “dough station.”

Using this arrangement, I can prep an entire meal standing pretty much in one spot. Then I can clear everything to the sinks and lay out the dishes for plating and service in the same area.

Now to my cooking station. The stove is at the center. There is a pot rack above and I have pegboard on the wall to the left of the stove. That's where my assortment of cast iron pots and pans hang. I don't mind lightweight aluminum and stainless steel suspended over me, but cast iron is another story. Dutch ovens and stock pots live in lower cabinets immediately to the right of the stove. The drawer under the oven is home to half-sheet pans, pizza pans, and cookie sheets. To the left of the stove is a small utility cart on top of which I keep a variety of spatulas and spoons, as well as a fire extinguisher. My immersion blender and other small appliances live on shelves underneath. A large colander hangs on the wall near the pots and pans and a variety of pot holders are on a hook nearby. Again, I can reach out and touch anything I need.

By the way, I highly recommend pot racks. It makes me cringe to open a cabinet and see pots and pans all jumbled together, stacked one inside the other or one on top of the other. There's no quicker way to scratch, pit, chip and dent cookware or to dangerously loosen its handles. There are some cheap and easy ideas for homemade pot racks available online. Hang 'em up! You'll use less space, you'll keep your cookware in better shape, and you'll be more efficient. Besides, pot racks look pretty cool.

My microwave kind of lives in limbo. I could have put it right next to the stove, but it would have eaten up my limited counter space there and besides, that's a little too close to the sink for my comfort. So the microwave keeps the toaster oven company over in the corner of the prep area. I use it more for thawing and prepping than for cooking, anyway.

The cleaning station is last. Conveniently located between the prep station and the cook station, it's a double sink on which I changed out the old low profile faucet for a more efficient high arc fixture. The sink is a four-holer, so I have a working sprayer, but I also put a nifty little five-dollar swivel aerator on the faucet to direct the water flow. I buy dish liquid and sanitizing bleach in bulk quantities. The big jugs live under the sink. I keep a small squirt bottle of each on top behind the faucet. Dish cloths and towels have their own drawer to the left of the sink. Flatware rests in a compartmentalized tray in a drawer to the right, convenient to the prep/service area.

I own every small appliance known to man. Nothing lives on a counter top. Everything has a place in a lower cabinet or, in the case of lesser used appliances, on a free standing shelving unit in my utility room. Otherwise my counters would be an endless morass of cords and gadgets and I wouldn't have room for so much as a coffee cup, never mind the things needed to prep and serve a meal. These devices are wonderful when you need them, but they're space-hogging pains when you don't. Don't be afraid to move them out of your way. Got an attached garage? Stick 'em in there if you have to. Just because they're kitchen appliances doesn't mean they have to eat up space in the kitchen.

Well, that's how I do it, based on a borderline obsessive upbringing, a little time in professional kitchens, and some very scary experiences in home kitchens. (Did I tell you about the lady I once knew who, when she ran out of counter space, stacked her dishes on the floor?) Every kitchen is different, so your mileage may vary. But regardless of the size and shape of the room, all kitchens need to be neat, clean, and well organized in order to be efficient, pleasant places in which to work. Work smart, not hard. You'll get more done and have a lot more fun.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Kitchens Are Dangerous Places

Not Everybody is Cut Out to Be an Iron Chef

I'm sitting here pondering, “How the hell do you hurt yourself with an immersion blender?” And yet there it is. According to a recent article in the New York Times, mandoline slicers, meat grinders, food processors,and immersion blenders are sending folks to hospital ERs with alarming frequency. In fact, quoting stats from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, nearly twice as many people wound up being treated for kitchen-related injuries in 2011 as were seen in 2001.

The article speculates that a concomitant rise in televised cooking shows may have something to do with it. Maybe so. After all, a lot of people who have hardly ever seen the inside of a kitchen are suddenly being turned on to cooking by the likes of Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray, et. al. They run out and buy all the latest gadgets they see on TV and, having no idea how to use them, wind up as emergency room statistics. Face it, not everybody is cut out to be an Iron Chef.

Short of an anti-griddle, an immersion circulator, and an ice cream machine, I own most of the aforesaid gadgets. And I'm trying to think of how many times I've hurt myself on one of them. I have a fairly decent track record, a record I attribute to two factors: being careful and knowing what I'm doing.

There are pretty much two kinds of injuries you're going to get in a kitchen; burns and cuts. Yeah, you can slip and fall or have things fall on you, but, by and large, you're either going to get cut or burned. I've had both. And ninety-nine percent of the time it's been my own careless fault.

Burn-wise, the one exception happened when I was in high school and a defective handle caused a pot of smoking hot oil to overturn. It was an uncomfortable recovery period, especially where the oil melted my polyester pants. Otherwise, most of my burns have been of the “Ouch! Merda!” variety that occur when you touch a hot lid or pot handle or when you brush the edge of an oven rack or the inside of the oven door. And we won't even talk about grease splatters and steam scalds. They just come with the territory.

I have a deep fryer. I've never had any trouble with it because I remember two very important rules: (1. Never overfill a fryer (or a pan in which you intend to fry something.) Even if you dry them, many of the foods you stick in the hot oil are going to have some moisture left in them or on them and it will cause the oil to bubble up really, really fast. This has the potential of sending you to the hospital or of bringing in the firefighters. The second rule ties in with the first; don't throw frozen food into the hot oil. It will cause the oil to bubble up really, really fast........

If you should sustain a serious burn – as in second or third degree – whether it be a dry burn or from oil or water, don't try to tough it out with some sort of cockamamie, half-assed home remedy. I once saw a poor schmuck get an armful of boiling water clean up to the elbow. Some idiot knew how to “take care of it.” She slathered soy sauce on the guy's arm and wrapped it in paper towels. Basically, she marinated his arm. After two trips to the ER, the guy wound up hospitalized with an infection.

I've had my share of knife nicks, too. Mostly of the type that make you say naughty things and run for a Band-Aid. Oh, there was that time when I was about eleven years old and I was doing dishes and I ran the full length of the sharp side of a knife I was drying across my palm. I was still too young to have a respectable command of naughty things to say, but you know what? I've never done it again. Lesson learned.

Knives are probably the most dangerous of all kitchen tools, especially dull ones. You can do a lot of damage to yourself with a sharp knife, but the potential for damage is much greater with a dull one. The main reasons I still have all my fingertips and only a relative few scars on my knuckles are that I have very sharp knives in very good condition, and that I am acutely aware of my limitations. Some people aren't. They watch guys like Mario Batali slicing through vegetation at blinding speed while simultaneously looking directly into the camera, and they think, “I can do that.” No. They can't. I really believe there should be a disclaimer similar to the “Do not attempt. Professional driver on a closed course” line they use on the car commercials every time some TV chef starts flashing his knife skills around. Trust me, flashy knife skills make for great TV, but for practical purposes, slow and steady wins the race. And keeps you out of the hospital.

Believe it or not, one of the most common cutting injuries results from slicing bagels. A 2008 government safety study ranked bagel cuts as number five on the top ten. I guess it's because so many people hold the bagel in their hand and hack away at it. Put – the – bagel – down. Then hold it with the flattened palm of your hand while you slice horizontally through it. The bagel, that is. Not your hand.

Two other examples of careless knife handling before we move on to slicers: cutting on boards or surfaces that shimmy and shake like a hoochie-coochie dancer, and sticking your hands blindly into a sink full of murky water – and sharp knives. Both practices are pretty much guaranteed to redesign your digits. A simple way to stabilize an Elvis board – you know, one that rocks and rolls – is to spread a damp cloth under it. And never put sharp knives into dishwater. They turn into alligators. Hold the knife in your hand as you clean it, then dry it and put it away.

Moving on, slicers will really get ya. Mandoline slicers most of all. I once saw somebody on “Top Chef” slice herself right out of the competition with a mandoline. She was being all “Top Cheffy” and not using a guard or protective glove. I'm paranoid; I use both. And, along with piles of neatly sliced produce, I still have all ten fingers to show for it. Seriously, though, just enter “mandoline slicer injuries” in your favorite search engine and see what you get. Gruesome.

Meat slicers or deli slicers are also killers. Or, at least, great reshapers of Mother Nature's original design. Ask my son. Fortunately, the part of his finger that he lopped off eventually grew back. A butcher I knew when I was a kid wasn't so lucky. He was preoccupied at work one time and now points at things with an inch-and-a-half-long stub.

I've cussed my food processor a couple of times over the years. Actually, I've cussed my carelessness when picking up the round slicing blade. That rascal is razor sharp and you shouldn't blindly reach out for it while your mind is on something else. Band-Aid!!

Let's talk can openers for a minute. Now, the actual tool itself is pretty harmless, but the results of using one can be scary. The fancy new ones, like the OXO Smooth Edge, that make cuts below the lid and leave no sharp edges are very good. You have to be trying to cut yourself with one of those. But the old-fashioned openers that leave nice jagged edges around the top of the can have caused many a careless cook to seek medical assistance.

Have you ever grated a few layers off your knuckles on a box grater? It happens. In fact, it happened to Mario Batali on one of his first tapings of “Molto Mario.” He was grating carrots for a tomato sauce and zip! He just stuck his bleeding hand into the tomatoes and hoped nobody would notice until he could get cleaned up during a break. I would not recommend this approach in your kitchen.

As for blenders and immersion blenders, I don't get it. Unless the injuries occur when cleaning the blades, maybe. Otherwise, only somebody on the fast track for a Darwin Award would stick their fingers anywhere near the business end of an operating blender. I go with Alton Brown's idea for cleaning an immersion blender; immerse it in hot soapy water and fire it up. You can also clean a regular blender in a similar fashion; put soapy water or at 1:1 mix of baking soda and water into the blender and turn it on. No need to be fishing around with your fingers.

Mixers – both hand and stand – can also be manglers. They don't have to be. Simply make sure the mixer is off when you plug it in and that it is unplugged when you try to eject or remove the beaters. And surely I don't have to tell anyone to remove the beaters before you or the kids try to lick them.

There are lots of other hot, sharp, or pointy things in the kitchen that can do you harm if you're not careful. I know of somebody who got a nasty, concentric ring-shaped burn on the palm of her hand because she leaned on an electric eye that still registered 223 degrees despite having been turned off for more than a minute. All this is not to say that you should avoid the kitchen. Just be aware of the dangers therein. Most of the things I've described – indeed, the majority of kitchen accidents and injuries – are the result of simple carelessness. Know how to use your gadgets and tools, even something as simple as a knife. No showboating in the kitchen. And try to work in a safe environment. Screaming kids running through the room chasing the dog as the TV blares and the phone rings almost guarantee an accident to happen. Banish stress and distraction and remain focused on the task at hand, lest your hand become the focus of some emergency room doctor's task.

Be careful and be safe.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Taking Out Some Food Network Trash

I don't suppose I'd surprise anybody if I said the old Food Network ain't what she used to be. Once upon a time, you could actually learn about food there. If you were new to the kitchen you could learn how to cook and even if you were an experienced hand you could garner advice on how to cook better. The Food Network used to be about food. With a schedule jam packed with competition shows and “reality” programs, it's hard to tell what it's about now. Kind of like TLC. Remember when that used to stand for “The Learning Channel?” Populated now by bratty toddlers with tiaras, vapid cheerleaders, cougar wives, and the likes of Honey Boo-Boo, the only thing I've learned there is to not turn on that channel.

Oh, I'm still a Food Network junkie. It remains my “go to” station. When I turn on the TV, I always start at channel 231 before looking to see what might be on elsewhere. Unfortunately, whereas there used to be something on every night, it seems now that “elsewhere” is becoming an increasingly popular option.

I recently came across a blog post by writer Molly Dunn from the Houston Press entitled “5 Food Network Shows That Need to Go.” I find myself in complete agreement with Ms. Dunn's choices. (http://blogs.houstonpress.com/eating/2013/01/top_5_food_network_shows_that.php.)

Her picks include “Mystery Diners” and “Restaurant Stakeout.” Same show, different cast of characters. I can't figure out what the network needed with one of these programs; I certainly can't fathom the presence of two. I agree with Ms. Dunn that both programs are hard to take seriously. The premise is flimsy and the situations so obviously studied and scripted that nobody with two active brain cells would believe them to be anything other than fake. Kind of like “professional” wrestling. Okay, so your restaurant is losing bucketfuls of money and you think you know who's responsible. Do you, A) confront the malefactor and fire him, or, B) call the Food Network and have them send out a phalanx of cameras, both overt and covert, to “secretly” watch the suspect while you sit in a dark room with a guy who sends in shills and directs them through unlikely scenarios in an attempt to confirm what you've already figured out for yourself?

And while we're on the subject of dark rooms, have you ever noticed there's nearly always an empty office or warehouse or shop or something right next door to these afflicted establishments? I drove past several restaurants in my city and tried to find one that had a conveniently vacant space adjacent to it. No dice. And yet Charles and Willie always seem to find a perfect place to set up their command centers.

Which brings me to another issue; I know that technology has advanced to the point where you can conceal a camera in a matchbox, but some of the “hidden” devices they display on these shows are about as obvious as a thumb in your eye. And nobody in the place notices? “Hey, that big honkin' camera stuck to the ceiling wasn't there yesterday, was it?”

My favorite line is the one the announcer sonorously intones when Willie Degel shows up for the “emergency meeting.” “These employees have no idea of who is about to walk through that door.” That's right, they have no idea. And they continue to have no idea even after he introduces himself as “William Jack Degel of Uncle Jack's Steakhouse.” Why should they know and why should they care? I mean, this isn't some world-class culinary figure like Gordon Ramsay. If a fat dude in a pink tie walked into my place during a staff meeting and announced he was Joe Blow from Blow Me Down Steakhouse, should I be impressed? And would somebody please help Willie with his wardrobe? The ubiquitous pink tie is bad enough, but surely he owns something other than that pair of white shorts he wears to nearly every follow up.

Ms. Dunn says she is “creeped out” by “Sweet Genius” Ron Ben-Israel. Me, too. I've seen Ron Ben-Israel on other shows and he seems like a pretty normal guy. But the persona they've stuck him with on this silly show is........creepy. “I am a sweet genius. Are you?” To begin with, identifying yourself as a “genius” is a tad arrogant, don't you think? And considering the various connotations of the word “sweet,” the way this ballet dancer-turned-baker says it is.......creepy. As to the weird ingredients and odd format alluded to in Ms. Dunn's article, I really can't comment. One episode of this show was all it took for me to decide that one episode was one too many. I even fast forward through the promos.

While we're on the subject of annoying program hosts, let me cast my vote for Justin Willman of “Cupcake Wars.” Also known as “Justin Kredible,” he bills himself as an actor, entertainer, and magician. He's done a lot of work on kiddie shows and maybe kiddies think he's funny and entertaining but I find him irritating and bordering on smarmy. He and that insufferably pompous French judge, Florian Bellanger, are the two main reasons I gave up on the show after just a couple of episodes. That and the tired, derivative format.

Melissa d'Arabian and her “Ten Dollar Dinners” also make Ms. Dunn's heave-ho list. She likes the premise but doesn't like the host. What can I say? Melissa d'Arabian is the product of Food Network's current “star” system, the same system that gave us the likes of Aaron “Big Daddy” McCargo, Aaarti “Paarti” Sequeira, and a host of other forgettable lesser luminaries. The real “stars” like Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis, Mario Batali, Alton Brown, Tyler Florence – even, heaven help me, Ina Garten and Paula Deen – aren't being discovered and developed under the aegis of today's network execs who seem to feel that still another goofy “competition” show is the way to populate the firmament. So you get what you get; six-week wonders stuck on Saturday and Sunday mornings with an occasional prime time guest shot to justify the network's investment.

Then there's Ms. Dunn's principal candidate for the hook, Sandra Lee. Like Ms. Dunn, I really wonder what she's doing on Food Network. I don't know where they found her, but I wish they'd send her back. Actually, I do know where. She was an infomercial host on QVC, known primarily for hawking her eponymous “Sandra Lee Kraft Kurtains.” Ah, but she did attend Le Cordon Bleu......for a week. Close enough for a Food Network star! Sandra Lee is a total construct; a wooden frame with a plastic facade. Her questionable culinary ability runs about as deep as her ersatz, synthetic Stepford personality. She won a Daytime Emmy not for her tremendous cooking skills but for her “Outstanding Makeup.” Woo-hoo! When I need to learn how to cook from a box, I'll just read the directions, thank you. With her proclivity toward processed, preservative-laden products, one might think she was related to Sara Lee – except “nobody doesn't like Sara Lee,” a claim Sandra Lee can't make. Ask Anthony Bourdain.

There are other shows that I'd like to see axed. “Health Inspectors” comes to mind. Never watch this show when you're eating. And don't watch it if you ever plan to eat out again. There are some things you don't really want to know. This one's a little contrived, too. So, let's say, for the sake of argument, that I own a restaurant. And let's say that I know I have a health inspection coming up. And I know that my place is so disgustingly filthy that it'll never pass. So what do I do? Do I, A) consult the health codes and regulations and clean the place up accordingly, or, B) call Food Network and ask them to send out Ben Vaughn with a camera crew to show the entire world what a clueless, ignorant doofus I am and to stand there with “stoopid” written all over my face as Ben “discovers” one unsanitary disaster after another. “Oh, you mean if I'm knee-deep in rat turds, I might fail my inspection?” Du-u-u-uhhh! This is “reality” TV at its unreal worst. In my state, and in many others, the law requires the presence of a ServSafe certified employee in every eating establishment. You can't tell me all these people don't know basic sanitation practices and require a TV show to come in and educate them. Besides, in my experience, health inspectors don't usually call you weeks in advance; they just kinda show up and catch you with your pants down. That's been known to happen, too, but I don't want to give Food Network any more ideas for new reality programs.

And then there's the infamous Food Network “overkill” factor. When they do luck up and find somebody with a little charisma who sorta knows his way around a kitchen, they stick him in your face until you're sick of looking at him. I'm not pointing fingers at Guy Fieri, of course, but in the next one week period from the hour of this writing, “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” will air fifty-six times and we'll be treated to an additional fourteen exposures to Guy on “Rachael vs Guy” and “Guy's Big Bite.” Seventy opportunities to watch Guy Fieri in seven days. Even his mother wouldn't watch him that often.

Under Bob Tuschman et.al, Food Network's programming is broken. But its profits are soaring. The network is pandering to the same audience that puts Honey Boo-Boo on a pedestal. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to see a crossover; “In the Kitchen with Honey Boo-Boo.” The prevailing philosophy seems to be along the lines of you'll never go broke underestimating the taste or intelligence of the American public or appealing to the lowest common denominator.

And where does that leave foodie junkies like Molly Dunn and me? Living with our hopes, I guess. Hopes that someday somebody “upstairs” will wake up and smell the bacon. And continuing in the meantime to choose favorite dishes from an increasingly sparse buffet.