A grand experiment is under way, and Dubliner thinks it will develop into my own show on the Food Network.
Dubliner has suggested something to which I’d like to aspire. However, instead of being in front of the camera, I’d rather be behind it, researching the origins of everyday foods, tracking down interesting facts from culinary history and uncovering reference information about cooking that a star chef could share with viewers.
You see, I’m a devotee of the Food Network. Most days, I spend my lunch break at the Grant Health and Fitness Center, keeping the potentially detrimental effects of my healthy appetite and formidable sweet tooth in check by taking a two-and-a-half-mile walk on the treadmill. I’m a firm believer in both self-improvement and multitasking, so while I’m keeping up with my 4.2-miles-per-hour pace, I’m watching Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” on the television screen overhead.
I’m so predictable with this daily activity that tuning in to the Food Network has become my signature characteristic among fellow gym members. When I ask to change one of the channels from ESPN or CNN so I can see Alton at work, my neighbors conquering their exercise goals on treadmills, stationary bicycles and ellipticals exhibit true gentlemanly behavior. Some of the bodybuilders to my left have been known to put down their weights and become just as entranced as I am in what I’m watching. “How’d you enjoy your cooking show today?,” the cardiac rehabilitation patients ask me as I check my blood pressure before I go.
Before I know it, “Good Eats” is over, my exercise time is up, and I’ve learned some amazing things. Besides picking up helpful culinary techniques from Mr. Brown, nutritional anthropologist Deborah Duchon frequently enlightens me on the backgrounds of some of my favorite foods. Just this past week, I’ve discovered the origin of crackers and the difference between biscuits made in the North versus those hailing from the South. On today’s episode, I learned the techniques for making the perfect batch of eggnog, how to separate an egg using a slotted spoon instead of a cracked eggshell, and even how bourbon is made.
I enjoy watching television chefs practice their craft so much that I decided it was time to see what I could pick up in a live cooking demonstration. Last Thursday, I had a front-row seat for the Veggie–Table Vegetarian Demo at Kingsdale’s Giant Eagle Market District.
Gina Casagrande, the store’s registered dietitian and wellness coach, and Chef Bryan Loveless of the Cancer Support Community of Central Ohio teamed to offer a terrific no-cost wellness event to a hungry audience of shoppers interested in learning how to introduce more vegetarian dishes into their diets. They shared the recipe for each dish so we could not only follow along as they prepared each one, but also try them at home ourselves.
Sandwiched between the butcher and the fishmonger, the demonstration kitchen at Giant Eagle Market District is a fancy arrangement of convection ovens and elegant but serviceable countertops topped with a glass wall. While smaller groups can stand around the perimeter of the area and watch what’s happening, it’s also outfitted with three cameras and large television screens. This allows larger groups to see what’s happening on the stovetop and work areas, so everyone can learn the recommended ways to cook the dishes being prepared.
As we watched Bryan, we learned many helpful culinary techniques. He demonstrated how to chiffonade, or finely and uniformely chop, basil leaves. He told us about mise-en-place, a French term meaning “everything in place.” Bryan explained that in professional kitchens, this term is used to refer to the time-saving technique of organizing and arranging the ingredients that a cook requires for preparing the dish. When you’re watching professional chefs on television, you might have seen how they sprinkle salt high above the dish they’re preparing. According to Bryan, this allows the salt to be spread over the food in a more uniform fashion. Nifty!
First, Bryan and Gina prepared stuffed boneless, skinless chicken breasts with goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and basil. They also used the same mixture to create a roulade of grilled slices of eggplant, which was very tasty indeed!
Next came zucchini fritters, made with shredded zucchini, ricotta cheese, whole wheat flour, and thin slices of leek. We sampled both oven-baked and skillet-fried versions of the fritters. This is the oven-baked one, which I liked best. A salad of artichoke hearts, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and red onion slices, dressed with fig-infused white balsamic vinegar and Italian seasoning, followed. Finally, we sampled apple confit, a sweet treat prepared in a slow-cooker that you can top either with vanilla ice cream and toasted walnuts for dessert, or with yogurt and granola for breakfast. We learned that confit is a garnish made from fruit that has been cooked until tender in a seasoned liquid.
Cooking demonstrations aren’t the only thing for which you can visit Gina at the Giant Eagle Market District. She also offers free aisle excursions. Last month, she perused the aisles with a focus on shopping with diabetes in mind, offering coupons, recipes and samples to help participants with this disease eat well. On Saturday, December 15, Gina will be leading an aisle excursion on how to indulge in your favorite foods during the holidays and still manage your weight by learning how to make healthy modifications to your favorite holiday recipes. For a fee, she also provides personal nutrition counseling sessions and weight loss and management classes, such as suggestions for helping diabetics read food labels and plan healthier meals by choosing the right types and amounts of carbohydrates. She even crafts two-day meal plans using Giant Eagle’s weekly sale ad, highlighting in which aisles you can find the ingredients for these meals, which you can pick up at the store at no charge. If you’re lucky, you can also time your visit to Giant Eagle Market District to coincide with one of Gina’s free Healthy Recipe Sampling appearances in the aisles. Last Friday morning, you could find Gina sharing samples of cranberry pancakes in the baking aisle. If you did your grocery shopping last Saturday afternoon, you might have seen Gina sampling dates stuffed with pistachios and honey.
To see other nutrition and wellness events at Giant Eagle Market District, click here.
Other Giant Eagle chefs provide cooking demonstrations, offering help with ingredients and how to use them. They also share recipes for restricted diets and special occasions, and help you create your own recipes.
Bryan told us that Giant Eagle is a major corporate partner of Cancer Support Community of Central Ohio, an organization offering knowledge, community and hope for people affected by cancer. It exclusively sells “Grounds for Hope,” an organic coffee that’s brewed locally by Crimson Cup. A new seasonal blend for the holidays joins three traditional roasts: House; Dark and Decaffeinated. Three dollars from the sale of each bag directly benefits CSC. Giant Eagle also offers a portion of proceeds from sales of Bloomer Candy Co. chocolates to CSC.
Bryan and Gina usually offer “Cooking for Wellness” on the fourth Thursday of each month at 6:00 pm at Giant Eagle Market District. They also appear on NBC4 for special segments with “Daytime Columbus” Host Gail Hogan at 11:00 a.m. on the fourth Wednesday of each month.
I’m still researching my plan of attack for this grand experiment to which Dubliner referred. In the meantime, if you’d like to read more about how food sheds light on history, here are some of my favorite titles.
From Hardtack to Home Fries: An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals is written by Barbara Haber, former curator of The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library. Home to one of the world’s finest collections of historic cookbooks, this library includes approximately 15,000 volumes that are cookbooks or food-related titles. The collection covers culinary history, the culinary professions, gastronomy, and the role of food in history and culture. It’s also home to the papers, recipes and cookbooks of Julia Child. “Barbara Haber: Food Muse,” an article in the November 2002 issue of Victoria magazine, is another good read.
97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, by Jane Ziegelman, is a culinary history about the life of Germans, Irish, Italians, and Eastern European Jews in New York’s Lower East Side during the turn of the 20th century. American Food Writing: An Anthology with Classic Recipes, by Molly O’Neill, a Columbus native and former food columnist for The New York Times Magazine, provides a fascinating look at American history through foods like clam chowder, hot dogs and Southern fried chicken.
Dining with the Washingtons: Historic Recipes, Entertainment, and Hospitality from Mount Vernon, edited by Stephen A. McLeod, is a fascinating collection of essays written by Mount Vernon staff members on how food reflected the culture of 18th-century America. Based on archival sources, the book also offers plenty of historic recipes that have been adapted for today’s kitchens. Dining at Monticello: In Good Taste and Abundance, edited by Damon Lee Fowler, is a similar book that’s also an excellent resource.