Before the Food Network came along, my family was a mess. Fast food, takeaway, cereal for dinner, long cries in the shower...
My wife has never been much of a cook and I respect that. She’s a working woman and the main breadwinner. And since I’m a stay-at-home dad with two teenage kids, I realised it was up to me to come up with ways to promote a healthy and dynamic lifestyle in our family; something I would be proud to talk about with my mates at band practice and my lady friends at the gym.
So it was perfect timing and a gift from above when I discovered the Food Network. I would spend all day watching the likes of Ina Garten, Giada De Laurentis and Bobby Flay. Eventually, I began cooking some of their dishes. It changed my life, and my family’s eating habits as well. Today, I'm proud to say I am feeding my family dishes inspired by the best chefs in the world, and I have an incredible network to thank. I also wrote a song about it that I plan to reveal at my ska band's next real gig!
Here are some of my favourite new culinary tricks...
Using an old oil drum to make Thomas Keller’s buttermilk fried chicken by Ina Garten in Barefoot Contessa
At first I was intimidated by this dish. Who ever would've thought of soaking raw chicken in buttermilk overnight? But Ina, true to her word, came through with a delicious dish. The next morning I battered and breaded the beastie, then grilled it over an open flame in my backyard (I use an old oil drum that my band-mate Steve retrofitted with a grill rack).
One note: I accidentally skipped over the part of the recipe where we were told to refrigerate the chicken while it was soaking in buttermilk. In all honesty, the smell should've been a red flag, but I thought buttermilk was supposed to smell funny. Anyway, after a quick trip to the emergency room, the family was right as rain - and I knew the secrets to Thomas Keller’s incredible Buttermilk Fried Chicken. Win-win.
Watch Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics season 11, episode 1 - "Cocktails and Cookies" - right here:
Using diesel fuel to replicate Bobby Flay’s burger bar from Barbecue Addiction
Bobby Flay is a personal idol of mine. Not only does he know how to grill, but he is a master of delicious “manly” presentations that would otherwise come off as “girly” to a group of “rough around the edges” band-mates. But one night, I decided to give it a go and mimic Bobby’s Burger Bar in my own backyard.
First, I set the stage with Christmas lights, then set a table with various sauces including horseradish mustard and chipotle tomato sauce (two of Bobby’s favourites). While the band rehearsed in the background, I prepared Russian dressing slaw to top the burgers and got to work grilling.
Midway through, I ran out of propane, so I siphoned diesel from my car. While my band-mates disagree, I really do believe diesel improves the taste of grilled meats. I suffered second degree burns on my hands and face, but I’ll be damned if those weren’t good burgers.
Forcing the kids to watch Chopped at home
On Chopped, guest chefs are invited to create culinary masterpieces with only a few random (and sometimes head-scratching) ingredients. When my wife was between jobs, I decided to cheer her and the kids up with a little Chopped challenge of my own.
I pulled what we had in the fridge - black bean burgers from the freezer, cloves, hard candy and a potato. I melted down the hard candy into a sauce, infused it with cloves for flavour and broiled the burgers in the oven. I wasn’t sure what to do with the potato, so I mashed it and made a “puree” out of it.
Everything turned out pretty good except for the black bean burgers. The freezer burn made them soggy, but since they are high on protein and we were low on funds, I insisted the kids eat them anyway. It may not be as entertaining as watching football, but Chopped is a fantastic show, and it really brings the family together.
Watch Chopped season 27, episode 1 - "Knife Strife" - right here:
Cooking raw meat and pasta in melted cheese to create Michael Symon’s mac and cheese from Burgers, Brew & 'Que (no one went to the hospital)
Chef Michael Symon doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Sure, he doesn’t always have a beautifully equipped kitchen like Bobby Flay, but he is out in the field, in the woods or in warehouses improvising like the culinary journeyman he is. While he was in Nashville on Burgers, Brew & 'Que, he created a rich, creamy macaroni and cheese and a juicy pulled pork which knocked his diners’ socks off. What made it so creamy was all the cheese.
So I decided to de-engineer this melty masterpiece and work my way backwards. I started by melting down a three pound block of cheese into a soup-like consistency. Almost like a fondue. This is where I cooked the raw macaroni and pork.
Note: I will chalk up the quality of this dish to “pretty good” and not “great” because hot cheese is not properly heat-conducive to cook dry pasta and raw pork. But to my credit, no one went to the hospital. Also, aside from being “al dente” and my son’s chipped tooth, the pasta was pretty darn yummy. And really, who doesn’t like a tub of cheese?
Putting a lot of love - and a lot of Sprite - into Giada De Laurentis’ Korean barbecue beef from Giada at Home
My wife loves Giada De Laurentis - she's such a classy lady. You just know she smells like really expensive perfume. On this occasion, my wife actually decided to come home early and cook with me. She said she “wanted to make sure I didn’t poison her”, and I thought that was cute.
So I decided to surprise her and have dinner ready by the time she arrived. I soaked some beef in Sprite for sweetness. Koreans use fruit juice, but I figured the bubbles in the soda would make it marinade faster. I also coated bok choy in sesame oil and put some ramen noodles to boil. I didn’t have time to make the pancake, so I improvised with frozen waffles.
I asked my daughter to grill the beef and bok choy. She was busy on her phone, so everything got a little “well done”. Also, the waffle caught fire. Luckily there’s a Korean restaurant a few kilometres away, so I raced over and passed off their food as my own. My wife couldn't have been more impressed.
I don’t know what I would do without The Food Network. Not only has it made me a great cook, it’s brought my family closer than we’ve ever been. Yes, we spend more time at the emergency room together, but isn’t cooking all about family?
Watch Giada in Italy season 1, episode 1 - "Cucina Italiana" - right here:
DISCLAIMER: Frank Ponderosa is a pseudonym. The author is known to SBS but he has preferred to remain anonymous given his sordid past and poor life choices. What can never be called into question, however, is his passion for SBS programming.
Watch the Father’s Day BBQ marathon on Sunday from 5:30pm (AEST) on Food Network.