THE RIGHT FOOD AT THE RIGHT PRICE – Rich Paschall

Worth It, a review, by Rich Paschall

We all enjoy good food. We also enjoy good restaurants. At times we may want to try something different, or just something that is familiar. Friends may give us recommendations for a new place, or their favorite spot. They may tell us a cetain dish is “to die for,” or mention one to avoid. Their restaurant may be inexpensive or rather “pricey.” The main question for a new or familiar gastronomic experience, whether pricey or not, is likely to be “Is it worth it?”

Buzzfeed Worth It

You have probably tried places where the food was very good but it certainly did not seem to be worth the price. We have gone to many fancy places in my lifetime to find the food was good, but it just wasn’t worth the price charged. Then there are other places where the food was inexpensive, but just OK. You would just rather go someplace else.

If you are not a millenial, then you may not have seen one of the most successful TV food programs currently playing. You won’t find it on a broadcast or cable channel. It is the product of BuzzFeed videos and you can find it on their website as well as You Tube.

BuzzFeed producer and presenter Steven Lim was asked to create a food program and decided on trying similar foods at three different restaurants and “three drastically different price points” to see which is worth it at its price. All the food may be good, but is it worth it?

The series began in 2016 with Lim and Keith Habersberger as presenters. Keith was a BuzzFeed employee and one of the popular “Try Guys,” also a Buzz Feed video series at the time. For the third episode Worth It paired Lim with another Buzz Feed producer and performer, Andrew Ilnyckyj (Ill-nick-ee). This combination hit gold and Andrew has hosted all of the additional epidsodes so far. They are now 5 seasons, and 51 episodes into their production.

Andrew (L) and Steven taste testing to see if it is “Worth It.”

Ilnyckyj previously appeared in a series of BuzzFeed videos as a creepy guy. Things that others (animals, babies, etc) do that would be creepy if you did them.  My favorite was Andrew in “Things Cats Do That’d Be Creepy If You Did Them.”

The pairing of the always enthusiatic Lim with a guy who has a more reserved and drier sense of humor has brought the team amazing You Tube success.  They approach their three subjects each episode like a couple of curious millenials, who want to learn a little about the food or the chef or the restaurant before they sit down to try the food.

The series is so popular that BuzzFeed has sent the taste testers to other locations outside Los Angeles where the series started. Not only has the team made it to other cities, they have even made some international stops. Season three garnered three entire episodes in Japan.

As they travel to each place they discuse the foods they will try out and share some “food facts.” Andrew is likely to throw in a food pun or two in each egg-citing episode. They describe the items as a regular person might, but with a sense of humor thrown in.

The guys have explained that they do not accept invitations from restaurants. There are no food sponsors. They try out places based on recommendations from colleagues, or the reputation of the establishment. Of course the places know they are coming. As a program that has flown under the radar until now, this lack of a big name has probably helped them along. Now the episodes garner ten million or more views each per season, with some season one episodes now topping 30 million. The episodes are about 15 minutes in length. They are all available online.

The third onscreen member of the team is Adam Bianchi. The sound man is usually seen in the back seat of an automobile as the group travels to each stop. He also works as a camera man on the shoot. He rarely speaks in the episode, but gets a vote at the end.  Yes they do feed Adam.

The show has also resulted in an occasional Worth It – One Stop.  They have tried a 1977 USD bunch of grapes, cut an expensive steak with a 950 USD knife and other interesting stops along their travels. The group has been so successful that there is a spin-off off, Worth It – Lifestyle.  The concept is the same, but this time Lim presents us with places and things (beds, chairs, gyms, houses, etc,). There are various BuzzFeed co-hosts for this and yes, sometimes it is Andrew.

Ilnyckyj also is a frequent “chef” on a series called “Eating Your Feed.” In this one the guest host or hosts try to recreate a famous dish as challenged by sound and cameraman Adam Bianchi. This is now into its second “season”. BuzzFeed is obviously making the most of their popular hosts.

The show has other “spin-offs.” The original show spawned “Worth It UK.” Ilnyckyj made a brief appearance in the first two episodes. There was also  a pilot made of Worth It India. That one did not seem to catch on.

It is interesting to see the Worth It hosts and their UK counterparts both did an episode on Curry. Andrew appears in both (I guess that is sort of a spoiler, sorry).  The likeable Worth It guys are very entertaining as well as informative. We are likely to see plenty more episodes featuring Steven, Andrew and Adam.

 

 

 

THE JOY OF COOKING SHOWS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The less I cook, the more I watch cooking shows on TV. I particularly love baking shows and I haven’t baked in years. But I’m obviously not watching these shows to improve my cooking skills or to learn new techniques or even to collect new recipes. I think for me, it’s more of an outlet.

I did once replay a Bobby Flay show a few times so I could write down his recipe for baked meatballs. We still use this as our go-to meatball recipe and it comes out great every time. But that was the exception, not the rule.

Bobby Flay

Since menopause, I’ve had to watch my weight (I fortunately never had to before).

I gain easily so I had to pay attention to what and how much I ate. Then over a year ago, I had to start taking Prednisone and I slowly gained ten pounds over the course of 15 months. This is a common side effect of Prednisone. Most people gain a lot more than I did, but I was actively ‘dieting’ to keep the weight gain down to a minimum.

This is particularly frustrating because I love food – I love to eat and I love to cook. I once created a whole line of baked goods for a business that never took off. I’ve put together several of my own cookbooks and I used to constantly look for new recipes to add to them.

One of my own recipe collections

I tried to cook something ‘interesting’ every night when my husband was still working and I came up with creative ways to use leftovers. Recently my husband was warned he was about to become pre-diabetic. He had to lose weight, cut down on sugar and alcohol to prevent it from happening.

He lost 30-pounds and is now as obsessed with maintaining his weight as I am. So no more rich sauces and cheesy dishes for us!

Recipes I adapted or created for my defunct English Dessert business

We got an air fryer (which I highly recommend) so we can still have French Fries and crispy chicken wings without any fat. But most nights we eat plain grilled meat, a baked potato, and vegetables.

Tom does the grilling and I occasionally roast something in the oven or cook an actual vegetable recipe, as opposed to plain, boiled or steamed veggies.

Air Fryer

But my love of food and creative cooking has not diminished. So I get my foodie fix by watching TV. My favorite shows these days are The Great British Baking Show, The Best Baker in America, Masterchef, and Masterchef Junior and Top Chef. I find that these shows have the best cooks and bakers and the nicest contestants.

The level of skill and knowledge is very high, as is the spirit of camaraderie as well as competition. The plating and decorating is usually impeccable and creative. Also, the shows have the classiest hosts and judges and the best production values.

Best Baker in America winner last season

I’m still amazed that an eight or nine-year-old can bake a macaroon or an éclair without a recipe, in one hour, even if they’ve never made one before. The amount of baseline skill and knowledge this implies is mind-boggling. The complex and imaginative dishes the food show contestants come up within an hour or less blows me away. I can’t seem to create dishes in anything in less than an hour and my dishes are far from sophisticated, mouth-watering of beautiful to look at.

Masterchef Junior contestants

These cooking competitions are at a level way above mine. I couldn’t even begin to copy any of their recipes. Tom and I have always longed to learn how to plate elegantly, but we’ve never gone beyond making a vegetable puree and serving it under each piece of protein, a common practice on cooking shows.

The decorations on TV seem to require lots of planning and extra ingredients and we never seem to get around to even trying. I wouldn’t know where to start making those colorful ‘drops’ that appear on so many artistic plates. And who keeps fresh parsley around just to use as a garnish? I buy it if I need it for a specific dish and it only lasts a day or so in the fridge before it wilts and becomes useless.

I love watching skilled people, even amateurs, do their magic in the kitchen. I love hearing the judges’ critiques, which teach me what the dishes are supposed to look and taste like.

While I’m not going to try to duplicate what I see, I am a more educated restaurant goer and a more attentive home cook. That, along with the hours of enjoyment I get watching my cooking shows, is enough.

RDP Saturday: GOURMAND

SHRIMP SKIMP – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Skimp

“What is this?” she asked him as he portioned out dinner on the plates.

“Hot and sour Chinese fried shrimp,” he said proudly.

“I sense the Chinese part, although as hot and sour goes, it’s not really that,” she commented, “But where is the shrimp? And for that matter, are we out of hot sauce too?”

“We were a bit short on shrimp. I couldn’t work out the sour part, so I just made do with what we had. Since I skimped on the shrimp, I added extra vegetables.”

“I haven’t found a single shrimp yet.”

“Maybe I skimped a bit too much,” he admitted and went fishing in the pan. “Here’s one,” he announced proudly. “Wait a minute, I think I see another one in there. No, that’s a water chestnut. There’s got to be another one in here somewhere…” as he trailed off.

“Listen. You can cook anything any way you like,  but if you don’t have the ingredients, maybe try a different dish?”

“Okay. We’re having hot and sour fried mystery shrimp with Chinese vegetables. Is that better?”

“It isn’t hot. It isn’t sour. And you didn’t fry anything,” she pointed out, using her well-worn chopsticks as she plowed through dinner. “It tastes okay, but you need a new recipe name. It is shrimpless. Fundamentally, it’s missing all the key ingredients. It tastes okay, but… Well, I’m not sure what it is, exactly. Pass the hot sauce. Maybe use chicken next time? You won’t have to skimp quite as much.”

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LITTLE VICTORIES – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night, dinner was perfect. I cook dinner every night except for the few when we are away from home, order in, or actually go out to dinner. Not surprisingly, I spend a lot of time pondering what to cook.

When we lived in Boston, we ate out. A lot. There were so many good places to eat, too. A lot of our choices took us down to the wharf where they had some great places for fish and lobster and clams. A lot of them were shorts and sandals kinds of places and some of these rather rough little restaurants had the best seafood you could imagine.

Dinner, anyone?

Then came The Big Dig. Between the construction which seemed to have closed every street in Boston and turned the usually difficult traffic into a calamity, those restaurants disappeared. Some of them reopened in other places in the city. They kept the same name, but they weren’t the same restaurants. They got fancy. All the effort that had previously gone into creating great food now went into dining room decor.

We left Boston. Of the many things we never imagined we’d miss was food.

The Blackstone Valley has its wonders. A beautiful place … with such pathetic restaurants. It must be something about we the people. Food is drab. No spices. Anything stronger than salt is regarded with deep suspicion, so bland is the name of the game. When anyone asks what we’ve got in the way of dining, I say “white bread and brown gravy.” But that’s not fair. A few places also make really good hamburgers.

We stopped going out to dinner except for very special occasions. I’m pretty sure there were better restaurants some years back, but they closed down. So we eat at home and periodically, we develop an intense boredom with food. It isn’t lack of appetite, though we don’t eat as much as we used to. It’s more that I can’t think of one more way to make chicken that doesn’t seem drab.

My goal in home food preparation is to keep feeding us without boring us into starvation.

Last night, I made “breakfast for dinner.” We don’t eat breakfast. We have coffee. I have an English muffin too. Garry just drinks a lot of coffee. Sandwiches suffice for lunch. This week, we’ve had chili, one of my standards. Sweet-and-sour chicken. Baked salmon. Shrimp with onions and peppers over rice. And frozen pizza.

I had cheese, bacon, and eggs in the fridge. Time to do something with them.

I make bacon in the microwave. Do not judge me. I do not like cleaning grease off half the kitchen after frying bacon, so I have developed a way of cooking it in the microwave that skips most of the grease and still turns out a pretty good platter. Timing has been the major issue, but last night I got it perfect. For 8 slices of bacon, two layers of paper towels on a platter (make sure it is small enough to rotate). Another double layer of towels on top of the raw bacon. Cook at full power for five minutes. Let it sit for a minute or two. Turn it back on for another 2-1/2 minutes at full power. Perfect and not all wrinkly. Chewy, but not raw. Everything was still hot when it got to the plate —  a small miracle in its own right.

Even the cheese omelets were perfect. I was still congratulating myself on dinner as we were going to bed.

This was a little victory, but still, a victory and all mine. A simple dinner in which each piece was as close to perfect as it could make it. Easy to clean up after, too. If I have to spend an hour cleaning up the mess, I feel a lot less victorious.

It’s the small things, you know? Big things can be overwhelming. These days, in a time when there is far too much “big stuff” blowing in the wind, my world is complete if dinner is perfect. Small victories help keep the wheels of life rolling smoothly.

EAT, DRINK, AND TRAVEL ON – Rich Paschall

Selfies, groupies, and foodies?

There are probably a few derogatory comments on social media about people who take food pictures.  OK, there are probably more than a few.

I may have even made one or two myself.  After all, these people are not writing reviews of the local restaurant for the New Yorker or Chicago magazines.  They are snapping pictures of their overpriced food from some overcrowded food court.  We, on the other hand, are snapping pictures of our excellent meals and truly excellent selves. If my brother were computer literate and online, he would probably be excited.

When I headed off on our recent adventure with a roommate who previously thought you could not have a meal without rice, we learned there are many things you can serve with your main course.  Below are just a few of from our gastronomic adventures.  You may even have seen some of this in our recent review of Frankfurt or will see soon in our Alsace travel report.

Be sure to click on any of the pictures to go through the full size of each.

Related: Frankfurt am Main

DON’T EAT THAT! – Marilyn Armstrong

Detrimental to Your Health 

Don’t eat eggs. They’ll kill you with all that cholesterol. No, wait. Eggs have the good cholesterol. Eat eggs. But not hard cheese. Wait! Real cheese is good for you … but not milk. Never milk. Except for those of you with calcium issues.

Calcium pills are better for you. Nope. We just discovered all vitamin pills are worthless. You need to get back to eating real food.

Except for animal fat (but butter is better) and eggs only on Tuesdays in a month that has 31 days or contains an “R” in it.

Everything is bad for you, good for you, dangerous, calamitous, fattening, helps you lose weight. Or will make you fat for sure.

We used to watch television back in a more benign news era and wait for the killer medical news of the day. Everything that would kill you on Monday (if it didn’t destroy your heart, it would probably give you cancer) and might very well be just what you need by Friday.

We concluded all food is detrimental to your health, but only if you eat it. The only possible solution is to not eat. Give up food.

No, wait. You have to eat, right? Damn, just when I thought I’d worked it all out. Okay, eat — but skip the bacon. It’s not detrimental to your health, but it’s really bad for the pigs.

HOW THE POTATO CHANGED HISTORY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

When we celebrate the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus on Columbus Day, we should also be celebrating Columbus’s discovery of the potato. More accurately, Columbus’s introduction of the potato from the New World to the Old World. This introduction of New World foods to Europe and the east is known as the “Columbian Exchange”.

Christopher Columbus

The potato, and other native American plants “…transformed cultures, reshuffled politics and spawned new economic systems that then, in a globalizing feedback loop, took root back in the New World as well.” This quote is from an article in the Washington Post on October 8, 2018, titled “Christopher Columbus and the Potato that Changed the World.” The article is by Steve Hendrix.

An example of the potato’s earth-shattering impact is that it helped eliminate famines and fueled a population boom in parts of northern Europe. This made urbanization possible which, in turn, fueled the Industrial Revolution. This population explosion also helped several European nations assert dominion over the world from 1750 to 1950. Thus the potato is also responsible for the rise of Western Europe and its colonies, including America.

But let’s get back to the initial introduction of the potato to skeptical Europeans. The potato spread slowly. At first, it was viewed with suspicion and plagued by misinformation. Initially, some people claimed that the potato was an aphrodisiac. Others believed that it could cause leprosy. When Sir Walter Raleigh brought potatoes into the Elizabethan court, the courtiers tried to smoke the leaves!

Sir Walter Raleigh

It took a while for people to realize what a nutritional bonanza the potato is. It’s filled with complex carbohydrates, amino acids, and vitamins. It is a nutritionally complete diet when paired with milk. It also took time for people to take advantage of the superior productivity and sturdiness of the potato over other agricultural products, like grains.

In the 1600’s, Europeans finally figured out how to successfully cultivate potatoes. The effect was dramatic – the population of places like Ireland, Scandinavia, and other northern regions, increased up to 30%. In a 1744 famine in Prussia, King Frederick the Great ordered his farmers to grow potatoes and ordered the peasants to eat them!

Famines were prevalent in Europe. France had 40 nationwide famines between 1500 and 1800 as well as hundreds and hundreds of local famines. England suffered 17 national and regional famines just between 1523 and 1623. The world could not reliably feed itself.

Enter the potato. Because potatoes are so productive, once everyone started planting them, they became a diet staple. In terms of calories, they effectively doubled Europe’s food supply. For the first time in Western European history, the food problem was solved. By the end of the 18th century, famines almost disappeared in potato country. Before the potato, European living and eating standards were equivalent to today’s Cameroon or Bangladesh.

Another benefit of the potato is that it is easily portable and stays edible for a relatively long time. So potatoes could easily be transported to the cities, fostering their growth. This created an urban factory workforce. Hence, the Industrial Revolution.

In the mid-1700’s, a French man named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier took it upon himself to launch a PR campaign on behalf of the potato. He created publicity stunts to draw attention to his miracle product. For example, he presented an all potato dinner to high society guests. One of them, it is claimed, was Thomas Jefferson. Parmentier also convinced the King and Queen to be seen wearing potato blossoms. His biggest stunt was to plant 40 acres of potatoes at the edge of Paris, knowing that the starving population would steal and eat them.

Antoine-Augustin Parmentier

The potato took such firm root in Europe that by the end of the 18th century, roughly 40% of the Irish people ate no solid food other than potatoes. That was also true of 10-30% of other countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, Prussia, and Poland.

In the mid-1800’s, catastrophe struck. Blights started wiping out the potato crops. In 1845, in Ireland alone, one half to three-quarters of a million acres of potatoes were wiped out. The following years, up until 1852, were even worse. The Great Potato Famine was one of the worst in history in terms of percentage of population lost. Over a million Irish died. A similar famine in the U.S. today would kill 40 million people!

Potato blight

Within a decade, over two million people fled Ireland, over three-quarters of whom came to the United States. That changed the history and demographics of the U.S. And it began the phenomenon of the Melting Pot.

A major commemoration of the potato exists in Germany. A statue of Sir Francis Drake was erected in 1853, although Drake did not, in fact, introduce the potato into Europe. The statue depicts Drake with his right hand on his sword and his left hand holding a potato plant. On the base is the following inscription:


Sir Francis Drake

Dissemination of the potato in Europe
In the year of our Lord 1586.
Millions of people
Who cultivate the earth
Bless his immortal memory.


Drake statue in Germany

So, as Steve Hendrix said in the Washington Post, “…a small round object sent around the planet … changed the course of human history.”