Monthly Archives: July 2010

Cooking on My Feet? The Answer All Along?

Ever since the universe mysteriously gifted me with the Food Network, I’ve been eating up — ha, get it? — the Next Food Network Star. It seems like all the remaining contests have learned by now that personal anecdotes in their presentations go a long way. And…on last week’s episode, Bob Tuschman even said that the job of the Next Food Network Star is as much about storytelling as it is about food. And it got me thinking…

Here I’ve been scrambling up and down and all over trying to piece together a career that will — 1) allow me to pay my rent and bills on time; and 2) feed my dual writing/food passions — and maybe becoming a Food Network star has been the answer all along?

I don’t think I’d last very long on the show though. I have NO IDEA how these guys whip out dishes so quickly. It’s the same thing with Chopped — they get SUCH CRAZY INGREDIENTS…like, say, pork belly and mint chocolate chip ice cream and polenta and one of the judges says something like, “Make me breakfast!” and I feel like you don’t ever see one of the contestants pause for even a moment to think, “What on earth am I going to do with this?” And, not only that, but — especially on the Next Food Network Star — they just instantaneously seem to have such well-thought-out dishes with fancy-pants names. Sure, there are missteps — I like Aria a lot, but agree with the naysayers that her fried shrimp was hardly a modern spin on pigs in a blanket. But, overall, I have to give the contestants props because — as noted — it’s gotta be super-tough to cook on your feet like that.

Then again, Aria’s shrimp is what inspired that judge from Esquire (…who I thought looked like he was channeling a star of the silent film era…or one of the Blues Brothers…) to say that he has interviewed countless super-successful people and the one thing they all have in common is that they took risks in their lives. And I found that comforting. Maybe the answer is that if I can somehow manage to wait out this massive period of uncertainty *just* *a* *little* *bit* *longer*, I’ll be one of those super-successful people interviewed by an editor in a bowler hat.

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Lasagna Sandwich 2.0

(Thanks to Tesco/NYDN for the image...)

Last week, a lasagna sandwich in the U.K. made headlines here in the U.S. And it got me thinking…what other main course meals would make good — or at least potentially lucrative — sandwiches?

I personally think you can’t do much wrong when you add stuff to grilled cheese or a panini…so, with that in mind, if the Tesco food development team is looking for additional entree-inspired sandwiches, I’d suggest…

– The Taco Sandwich: Some seasoned beef or chicken, pico de gallo…maybe a little guacamole and/or sour cream…and some melted cheese? A worthy experiment. (Although maybe this is actually a burrito?)

– The Meatloaf Sandwich: A slice of Mom’s meatloaf and a scoop of mashed potatoes. And, again, grill that sucker with some cheese. (And maybe have ketchup on the side for dipping?)

– The Fried Chicken Sandwich: Lest this sound like the KFC Double Down, I’d like to point out that I’m thinking of this more like Thanksgiving leftovers. I love making turkey sandwiches the next day with a little mashed potato, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce. I’m sort of thinking of that chicken-mashed-potato-corn-bowl-thing KFC put out awhile back — something with all of those components, but in a grilled cheese sandwich. Although, then again, you might be able to get away without cheese on this one.

– The Mac-and-Cheese-and-Bacon Sandwich: When I think of basic meals and/or entrees for those first starting out cooking for themselves, macaroni and cheese is one of the first that comes to mind. But a macaroni and cheese sandwich is weird. But then I thought, “Bacon!” and it suddenly made more sense. Sure, it’s a lot of carbs…but if you grill it up or put it in a panini press and get the inside all gooey and stuff, I think it might be worth the splurge and/or less odd. (Then again, bread and pasta may just not work together…but, then again [again], if people fry spaghetti, why can’t I pair macaroni and cheese with bread?)

– The Steak and Chimichurri Sandwich: Perhaps like a Philly cheesesteak, but with an Argentinian twist?

– The Chicken Tikka Sandwich: Like Indian takeout, but between two slices of bread. (I guess I could perhaps suggest using naan, but I’m not sure how well that would grill up.) Perhaps a dab of yogurt on top and that potato-pea-chickpea mixture that comes in samosas, too?

– The Fried Halibut Sandwich: I discovered fried halibut at the Alaska Salmon Bake in Fairbanks and was completely amazed by it. I’d always been ho-hum about fish and chips, but fried halibut is crazy-good. I think if you have some cole slaw and a little tartar sauce, you’d be all set.

So, Tesco, let’s talk? I’d love an excuse to finally come back to the U.K…

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My Top 15 Wacky Cookbooks (With Bonus Optimistic Prologue!)

I love wacky cookbooks. And, strangely, despite the carnage of last week — that left me sans part-time fake-gambling gig *and* full-time job prospects *and* hope — I’m feeling rather optimistic now.

I’ve been kicking around an idea for a children’s book series (literally for years) — and was finally compelled to sketch out one of the stories early this morning when I couldn’t sleep. There’s still much research to be done about pitching kids’ books, etc., etc…and I’ve certainly learned that hard work ain’t always enough to guarantee the results you want and that future endeavors must therefore be taken with a grain o’ salt…but when talking to my mother about how on earth I was going to dust myself off after the latest round of out-and-out failure, she basically said that there *has* to be something else out there for me…I just haven’t found it yet. So…maybe it’s this kids’ book series. And — don’t get me wrong — I’m not giving up on the book-book. I’m just maxed out and need to recharge the ol’ batteries before tackling it again. (The kids’ book is also a chance to test out my drawing skills…which I find pretty exciting…although it may be short-lived when I realize precisely why I didn’t pursue a career as a visual artist in the first place…)

I also recently met up with a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile and we got to talking…and all of a sudden, a brilliant blog idea hit me. No offense to this bad boy, but, for the longest time, I’ve tried to think of one of those clever, niche-y, schtick-y blog ideas that get book deals — like, say, Hungry Girl or Save the Assistants or This is Why You’re Fat — and I think I finally came up with something good last night. I think it’s an untapped, underserved sector of the blogosphere…and I think it targets a potentially sizable market. And if I can make it clever and funny, there’s no reason why I can’t attract a decent following — even one good enough to interest publishers. And once I have a single book under my belt (and am legitimately Author Lisa Lacy), the rest should come easy. I may have to take a Web design class before launching this new blog as I have a pretty good idea of what I want it to look like and I certainly can’t afford to pay someone to design it for me…but, at the same time, mad Web skillz may make me a more competitive candidate for multimedia journalism jobs anyway, so this could really end up as a win-win-win, right?

So…after my grumpy outburst last week, I have a much more optimistic post for you. And back to those wacky cookbooks…

The Huffington Post recently put up a slideshow called “Cookbooks You Didn’t Know Existed.” This totally feeds into my passion for wacky cookbooks and I was thrilled to see it. But, while there are some good ones (and, kudos to you, HuffPo, for imploring readers to upload their favorites, thereby doing your work for you)…I think they missed quite a few “surprising cookbooks.”

There are lots of *good* cookbooks out there — I’m not sure I would have made it this far without the Joy of Cooking, for example. I consult it all the time. And how can you not love Rick Bayless? I’m sure Fiesta at Rick’s is a pure delight. But wacky cookbooks are a different breed — they’re unique and they’re cheap and they’re funny…sometimes purposely so…but not always. I’m not sure which one is better.

So…My List:

1. My all-time favorite wacky cookbook isn’t 100% cookbook. It’s more a weight-loss guide. But I love it. And I imagine I have one of the few remaining copies on earth. It is Joan Cavanaugh’s “More of Jesus, Less of Me.”

I love that the title is literal — it’s quite literally about how to make yourself smaller by channeling your faith and it is dedicated to “all of God’s children who have been called Fatso, Tubby or Two-by-Four.” I found it at my junior class rummage sale in Mississippi…and I also love it because it is a book you’d be hard-pressed to find outside the Bible Belt.

2. The Hooters Cookbook. I found this at a Barnes & Noble once in a discount bin and I did not snap it up and I am still kicking myself. Sure, I probably wouldn’t make any of the chicken wings…but it’s such a conversation piece. And it epitomizes “wacky cookbook.” Stupid, Lisa. Stupid.

3. Naughty Cakes. I *did* buy this book from the discount bin at Barnes & Noble and, boy, am I glad I did. Where else would I learn how to make fondant into gold lamé hot pants on a giant ass? Or into firefighters with hoses in suggestive poses? It’s maybe the best baking book I own. There — I said it.

4. and 5. Saucepans & the Single Girl and The Little Black Apron. Man, there’s a whole industry out there targeting Sad Sallies, isn’t there? And…if I ever want to get married someday, where would I be without “bachelor-bait recipes and dazzling ideas for entertaining” and “a single girl’s guide to cooking with style and grace”?

6. Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book. The single girl’s two best friends — get it? Because she’s ALONE! She has to eat lots of ICE CREAM! It’s a rom-com staple!

But, in all seriousness, you can’t not like Ben and Jerry. And, while I don’t own this particular cookbook, I bet it’s good for dessert inspiration.

7. Not Afraid of Flavor. This is a legit cookbook — my roommate had it — but the name makes me laugh. So formidable!

8. A Man, A Can, A Plan. Perhaps this helps balance out all the Sad Sally books out there — something for the hopeless man! The boy in Alaska I was in love with — who petitioned Fruit of the Loom to make Underoos for adults — had this book.

9. 101 Things to do with a Dutch Oven. I don’t own this book either, but I love spins on the 101-things-thing and Top Ten lists (as noted) and things of that nature. And if the sample recipe for the “Mountain Man Breakfast” is any indication of what the other 100 names are like, this book definitely gets my seal of approval.

10. Skinny Italian. I have never seen the Real Housewives of Anywhere — but stumbling upon this book changed all that. Netflix has already sent me Disc One of the New Jersey series. And even though it sounds like Teresa is going to lose her magnificent home and has lived beyond her means to an extent even I find astonishing (…because I’m bad with money — get it?), the Amazon reviews were pretty positive about this book. Perhaps I will fall in love with the show and decide I can’t live without this book…and that will be my little contribution to helping the Giudices achieve financial solvency.

11. Dip into Something Different. Who doesn’t like fondue — *especially* when the Melting Pot says that it is “from our pot to yours”?

12. I Like You. I like Amy Sedaris. I like that she shows up on the Late Show in poofy dresses she finds at flea markets and that she has a made-up longshoreman boyfriend named Ricky and that she’s obsessed with rabbits. I admittedly have not given this book the attention it’s due — although remember a friend saying how funny she thought it was that Ms. Sedaris suggested you put marbles in your medicine cabinet before you throw a party so you know without a shadow of a doubt if anyone goes snooping in your bathroom — but I’m happy it’s part of my collection.

13. Forking Fantastic! I can’t decide if I like-like this book for real or if I like it because it’s ridiculous. It’s a bold claim to “put the PARTY back in DINNER PARTY,” but I admit I’m intrigued to see how these ladies do it. Reviews sound good, too.

14. The Book of Spam. At $3.99, there’s no reason each and every last one of us should not have this book. After all, it is “a most glorious and definitive compendium of the world’s favorite canned meat.”

15. Being Dead is No Excuse. We’ve sort of come full circle here — as this, too, is not *exactly* a cookbook, but rather a “guide to hosting the perfect funeral.” It seems like these ladies have a good sense of humor…and if I myself was financially solvent (it’s not just you, Teresa!) and could afford to buy all the wacky food-related books my heart desires, this one would be on the list, too.

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My Journalism Career, Which Never Properly Got Off the Ground and Could Not Provide Health Insurance, Dies at 8

I am feeling particularly dramatic. So it’s time for an obit:

I’ve never been in a situation like this before — I’ve never encountered a problem I could not tackle with enough elbow grease. No matter what challenge I’ve faced — be it AP Calculus or playing high school basketball or moving to another country by myself — I’ve always been able to grit my teeth and emerge successful from sheer determination to not fall on my face. (Granted, “success” is a relative term. Take basketball, for example. But, even then, I think I humiliated myself substantially less my sophomore year — even actually scoring once and knocking down nine rebounds in a single game…even if it was against the Mississippi School for the Deaf…)

But getting a job after J-school (…and internships at Good Housekeeping, Martha Stewart Living and sort of the Huffington Post…) has been nothing like that. I have failed. Repeatedly. And it continues to this day with no end in sight.

And, sure, I’ve been the recipient of plenty of concerned, “Don’t give up!”-emails from friends and family who have listened to my belly-aching for 26 months…but, at a certain point, the issue of putting one out of one’s misery must be raised, no?

I mean, sure, it’s an inspirational story to hear of the one-armed girl who dreams of knitting sweaters…and, heck, if that’s what she wants to do, she should go for it. But, at a certain point, if she can’t knit sweaters, is it really civil/kosher/advisable to let her go on struggling indefinitely? And at some point maybe we need to accept that it’s best she put down her knitting needles because it simply isn’t her lot in life to knit.

As callous as this analogy may seem, I made a list of my own one-armed endeavors. And I determined that at least 90 publications have said, “Thanks, but no thanks,” to me since May 2008.

To put that into perspective, that’s rejection an average of 3.5 times per month — or basically once a week — for over two years. And my poor little ego can’t take it anymore.

But…what now? Is writing/reporting in fact my sweater-knitting? (And because I’m feeling particularly sorry for myself after another stupid rejection, I can envision editors from Christmas Past unanimously exclaiming, “Yes!”)

So…where does that leave me?

Teach for America? I like kids, but…doesn’t sound like there’s a lot of room at the inn these days.

Mail order bride? I’ve been reading Stieg Larsson novels lately, but perhaps it’s worth the risk?

The military?

Fast food?

Retail management, like Frank on the Bachelorette who is about to announce he cheated and make Ali sad in paradise and drive her even further into Roberto or Chris L.’s arms?

Moving in to my parents’ casita and waiting for my maker to call me home? (Which maybe wouldn’t be such a bad thing, right, Gothamist?)

I don’t have an answer. But I’ll say this: Unlike Herb on the Next Food Network Star who battled his demons and was able to tell the judges two episodes ago that he thinks he is successful, I feel like a huge failure. And I’m going to be 30. And what do I have to show for it? Two degrees and a whole lotta debt? And a list of 90 publications that don’t want to hire me?

The list is by no means comprehensive — my computer crashed last year and I could have very well lost a number of Word documents. I’ve also applied for positions at some publications numerous times. But…I think it illustrates fairly well the effort I have put into acquiring gainful employment…and the inevitable letdown that has resulted after being rejected so many times. (I gave a pass to those companies that have declined to hire me but have graciously allowed me to freelance for a living wage…)

Here she blows:

AMNewYork

AOL

Aspen Magazine

Associated Press

Baltimore Sun

Beauty Blitz

BoardIQ

Bloomberg

Bloomingdales

Blush Media

BonAppetit.com

Buddy Media

CBS Interactive

Chicago Tribune

Conde Nast Traveler

D Magazine

Daily Candy

Deal News

Delish.com

Dow Jones

Economist.com

Episcopal Life

Equinox

Family Circle

Fast Company

FundFire

Field and Stream

Flavorpill

Food and Wine

FoodandWine.com

Food Network

FreshDirect

FundFire

Gael Greene

Gary Rivlin

Gawker

Good Housekeeping

Gourmet

Grub Street

Hachette Filpacchi Media

Huffington Post

Ignites

iVillage

Kiboo

Ladies’ Home Journal

Light the Night

Macy’s

MainStreet.com

Marie Claire

Martha Stewart Living

Mashable

Mediabistro

Metro New York

Mets

Miami Herald

Minyanville Media

More

MTV

NBC

New York Daily News

New York Post

New York Times

Nibble

Outdoor Life

Oyster Hotel Reviews

OZOLife

Parents

PastryScoop.com

Popular Science

Rachael Ray

Ralph Lauren

RD.com

ReadyMade

RealSimple.com

Refinery29

Reuters

Saveur

Seattle Times

SeedMagazine.com

Seeking Alpha

SF Weekly

Shape

Shecky’s

Southern Breeze

Star Chefs

Tan Sheet

Tango Mag

Teen Vogue

The Knot

Time

TimeOut New York

Times Picayune

TMG

TravelandLeisure.com

Tyra Show

UrbanDaddy

USA Today

Village Voice

Waterfront Media

Weight Watchers

Woman’s World

WomansDay.com

wowOwow

Yelp

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My Top Ten Patriotic Desserts

Kudos to the Cool Whip marketing team — whenever I think of Fourth of July desserts, I think of the Wave Your Flag Cake.

But…I was also pretty sure that there had to be other patriotic desserts out there…and while this *may* be slightly belated, it *is* still technically Fourth of July weekend…so here are my Top Ten Favorite July Fourth Desserts…which you can maybe still pull out for Columbus Day? Or Veterans Day?

10. Sandra Lee’s Fourth of July Trifle. I agree with Matilda Cuomo that cottage cheese has no place in a lasagna (I’m sorry, health nuts, but it’s wrong…), but if you are actually in possession of a trifle bowl, I see no better way to cap your 07/04 festivities than with the potential future First Lady of New York’s trifle. And, in true Sandra Lee style, this shizz is easy.

9. Or…how about this beauty? Taste of Home’s Red, White ‘n’ Blue Salad literally screams, “Happy Independence Day!” Just look at it.

8. If Yankee Doodle went to town and found this, he would have called it magnificent.

7. As temperatures rise, try these Patriotic Pops on for size.

6. Normally I feel Epicurious hits home runs…and the Red, White and Blue Ice Cream Cake may very well be super-tasty…but it also got hit with an ugly stick.

5. Firecracker Bites. These look more like sliders with straws or mini milkshakes to me…but kids allegedly enjoy making them.

4. I would wager a lot of people would prefer a younger, more scantily clad man emerge from a cake…but, in the spirit of the holiday, I suppose we can make our peace with Uncle Sam Celebrates 4th of July.

3. I don’t know where you find green ice cream cones, but — in all seriousness — these Lady Liberty Cupcakes are the bee’s knees.

2. Wait! Maybe I spoke too soon! Uncle Sam Ice Cream Cones are darn cute. *And* you can use regular cones.

Drumroll…

1. I’m not a huge fan of marshmallows on their own, but these Edible Eagles are maybe the most creative dessert I’ve ever seen. And, frankly, a fudge-covered Oreo in and of itself would make me one happy camper any day of the year.

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The Comfort Food Roundup

Oh, my little blog, it’s been such a long time since I’ve written a proper food post…and not just used you to help celebrate friends’ birthdays…so, I think at this point, the wisest course of action would be to do a little roundup to get us back on track…:

1. Carrot Cake, I Seek Comfort in Thee

For all intents and purposes (…which I always say as, “all intensive purposes…”), I have a massive sweet tooth. And when things in life get rocky, I cope with an entire mouth of sweet teeth. And so I indulged myself recently with a carrot cake. My favorite recipe is one my mother found in Saveur that includes crushed pineapple and coconut flakes. (I used to really not like coconut, but I think it’s growing on me…) I was on a cooking binge a couple of weekends ago and wasn’t sure I’d have room in the fridge…but I’m glad I rearranged things to make space on the bottom shelf — this cake is best after it has been refrigerated (…and, frankly, it was so hot in my apartment that I’m pretty sure the frosting would have melted right into the cake had I left it out). In short, you cannot be sad when eating this cake. (I have to be careful though — I recently caught a snippet of Dr. Oz’s weight loss secrets…one of them? “Don’t wear pants with elastic waistbands.” And that’s basically what I’ve resigned myself to while I feed my feelings…)

2. Real Olive-y Olive Oil

A J-school classmate recently invited me to a launch party for a new line of olive oil. (Thanks again, Columbia! My degree still hasn’t procured gainful employment…but, thanks to you, I made a friend who works with a guy who knows a guy who launched his own olive oil!) For all my blathering about food, I have realized in more recent history that I’m not exactly a “foodie.” (I just wrote a cover letter for a editorial food gig in which I tried to explain that if I was ever on The Next Food Network Star and Bob Tuschman or Susie Fogelson asked about my chef persona, I’d have to call myself something like the “curious novice,” by which I mean that I experiment a lot and learn as I go…and there are plenty of quasi-disastrous teaching moments.) Case in point: I bought 1.5 liters of extra virgin olive oil the last time I was at Costco. And…I can say with complete certainty that the samples of Ritossa Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Delmonico’s — yes, that Delmonico’s — were definitely more olive-y than Kirkland Signature Filippo Berio…but that’s about it. I don’t think I have a very fine palate. My companion could tell subtle differences by sampling the oils in quick succession…but I, alas, could not. The Delmonico’s bottle says, “Savor the intense and alluring aroma of fresh-cut grass…” which my friend definitely picked up on. But…it’s kind of like me and wine-tasting or what celebrity someone looks like — I never pick up on it by myself…but once someone says, “This wine has a hint of cat pee…” (which some wines do! Ask any oenophile worth his or her salt!) or, “She looks like Chloe Sevigny,” it hits me. (This is certainly not the plug the folks at Ritossa were hoping for, I’m sure…and I hope they are comforted that a) my mother is the only one who reads this; and/or b) I have included a cheer-you-up carrot cake recipe above. I will also vow to experiment with Ritossa and Delmonico’s once my Kirkland Signature is gone…and maybe there will be a noticeable difference in my food. Stay tuned.)

3. Martha’s One Good Recipe?

I’m not a huge fan of Martha Stewart’s recipes. There — I said it. Like Rachael Ray, I think they sound good (and easy) in theory, but usually come out bland and are not worth the (minimal) effort and I vow to never make them again. Not true with Martha’s Mediterranean Tuna Melt though. (Tuna melts are another Lisa comfort food. I think one of the best I ever had was at Lori’s Diner at SFO. But…since a cross-country flight was not an option, I had to find a Plan B.) The olives and capers really give it some zing and differentiate it from all the other tuna melts you’ve had in your life…although I’d advise against spooning it on two halves of French bread — I think it’s easier to just make the tuna and store it in the fridge and make individual melts as you go along. And…since her Mediterranean Tuna Melt renewed my faith in Martha’s recipes a bit, I also stocked up on ingredients to make her Spicy Black Bean Cakes. I hope I don’t regret it.

4. The Best 25 Cents You’ll Ever Spend

I have a friend who knows that sweets make me happy…and who brought me some 25-cent candy bars. I sort of forgot about them until I ran out of carrot cake (and — cringe — pudding…but the latter has lots of calcium so it’s good for my bones!)…and was happy as a little clam when I discovered them in my refrigerator last night. They’re Sunbelt bars. And…you know what? They’re really good. The chocolate-covered coconut bar reminded me a lot of the Samoa Girl Scout cookie. And it was only a quarter! (I recently decided that I can’t be such a spendthrift and drop off my laundry anymore…and was pleased to discover that it actually isn’t that bad to do my laundry myself at the Laundromat around the corner. Just $3 a load to wash and dry…and a little over an hour. So…I have to save my quarters for laundry…but my dimes and nickles will be going toward Sunbelt bars from now on!)

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Filed under cake, chocolate, Food Network, grilled cheese, Martha, olives, weight loss