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A Personal Take on Food Network

As a kid, Food Network was my second Disney Channel. Immediately going for the couch and turning on Food Network was an essential part of my after-school routine years ago. For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to the kitchen. The creativity and care behind cooking intrigue me. In the grand scheme of things, meals are culinary visions that have come to fruition. What’s better than a network that consistently broadcasts these ideations? 

Giada at Home was energizing, yet relaxing. Chopped was an inspiring thriller. Worst Cooks in America was informatively hilarious. Something that I have always appreciated about Food Network is that it does not limit the scope of food. Its shows are hosted by a broad range of people who represent different cuisines and diverse personalities. The channel is a haven for culinary education and caters wonderfully to those who are interested in expanding their skills in the kitchen. My love of food is greatly attributed to my long-founded respect for Food Network. 

Two predominant categories characterize Food Network: one-on-one shows and competition shows. Both of these categories are uniquely valuable and provide viewers with distinct viewing experiences. One-on-ones are typically the most personal. They feature chefs who craft recipes while speaking to the audience, instructing viewers on following specific recipes. Helpful tips, step-by-step instructions, and reassurance permeate these programs. They are largely informational and, in my opinion, mainly meant for viewers watching at home to replicate the dishes they see on screen. Though not as entertaining as competition shows, one-on-one content is probably best for those who are trying to learn new cooking techniques. Barefoot Contessa and Giada at Home, examples of this Food Network genre, are shows in which the chefs/hosts address the audience as if they were friends absorbing their detailed suggestions. 

Photo courtesy of Barefoot Contessa

Competition shows differ tremendously. The dynamic of competitions typically follows a template––contestants are gathered to battle against each other for a grand cash prize. A fundamental component of competition shows are time limits, which elevate the intensity of battle and captivate the audience amidst chaos occurring on screen. Contestants are usually tasked with speedily preparing a dish with some sort of common theme or unifying element, which all participants are to abide by and individually interpret. The hosts of these shows are usually chefs themselves and provide knowledgeable commentary or instruction while the participants are frantically cooking. 

For example, Chopped successfully entices viewers by emphasizing both the harsh time constraints provided and the obscurity of the “mystery basket ingredients” which contestants are required to incorporate into their creations. The main purpose of competition shows on Food Network is to shed light on culinary determination; contestants on these shows sign up for personal reasons, whether it be to validate their careers, garner funds for their restaurants, or learn more about the art of cooking. Competition shows engage audience members by portraying heightened concentration among contestants, spontaneous creativity, and hunger for victory. By watching competition shows, I have learned that properly preparing a dish requires extensive precision. Judges are essential to competition shows, as they ultimately decide the winners of challenges based on performance. With their refined palettes, judges in this genre inevitably pinpoint the flaws or shortcomings that they observe in the participants’ creations. Minor mistakes send contestants home, reminding viewers that cooking is an art: in the kitchen, success mandates care and attentiveness.

Despite their differences, both Food Network styles embody the passion that food entails. On virtually any show on this channel, you find people who love being present in the kitchen so much that they feel compelled to share this profound enjoyment on a large platform. Whether you diligently take notes as Ina Garten explains her grilled cheese’s special ingredient, or you hold your breath as Bobby Flay hurriedly plates his entrée on Iron Chef America, it is obvious that Food Network shows are collectively meant to illuminate the innovative nature of gastronomy. On this channel, food is utilized as a vehicle for creative expression, and it knows absolutely no limits. What kept me so engaged with Food Network as a child, I believe, was the fact that I learned something new every single day. One day, I found out that pasta water is a thickening agent in sauces, another day I was instructed on how to dice an onion. The constant learning that I experienced endowed me with the insight that one never stops gathering knowledge about food. Nifty tips, recipes, and techniques know no boundaries. 

Photo courtesy of Entertainment Weekly

Presently, I do not watch Food Network as often as I used to. I attribute this unfortunate decreased investment to my busy schedule, which involves less time to keep up with what’s new on the channel. However, I still keep up with Worst Cooks in America because of how humorous (and empowering) it is to watch clueless recruits grow as cooks and acquire new skills. 

Reflecting now on the impact that Food Network has had on my life, I can confidently say that the channel has taught me just how influential food is. By that, I mean that food has the power to touch the lives of so many people. The reasons behind food’s vast influence are the various individuals who can approach it their own way. As I alluded to before, assorted cuisines and differing personalities encompass food’s interpretation. Food Network shows represent such a wide array of cooking styles that audience members are bound to find at least one show on the channel that is relevant to their own cooking styles or kitchen experiences. On another note, watching shows that explore unfamiliar cuisines propel viewers to expand their realms of taste and share newfound recipes with family and friends. Tuning into Food Network means immersing yourself into a world of gastronomic spirit and divergent perspectives. Throwing yourself onto a couch and dialing the channel number on your remote is only the beginning: Food Network is a mindset changer.

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Essays

Home is my Mom’s Lasagna

Culinary bliss, in my perspective, is defined as a moment of gastronomic euphoria. When in a state of gastronomic euphoria, one revels in the delight that food can ignite. As a person, I consider myself to be extremely detail-oriented. Whether it be through sight, smell, or taste, my attentive nature seldom falters. Unfortunately, this heightened sense of observation causes me to automatically pinpoint shortcomings or deviations of preference when it comes to food. When taking the first bite of a dish, I immediately determine if it appeases my palette. Before eating, my stream-of-consciousness always poses the question, “Will this meal be a hit or miss?” Lasagna is a masterpiece that undoubtedly transports me to a state of culinary bliss. Always a “hit,” lasagna is my absolute favorite meal to savor. 

Italian cuisine, in particular, satiates my taste buds like no other. Chicken parmesan is always a treat when in the mood for poultry and fried calamari is a gift of the sea. Within this realm of food, pasta is a culinary star. Its delicate texture and ability to soak up flavor cannot be overlooked! 

Photo courtesy of The Spruce Eats

Pasta has the undeniable ability to complement the various sauces that could accompany it. Creamy sauces enhance the richness of pasta; the acidity of tomato-based sauces beautifully cuts through pasta’s starchiness. Lasagna explores both of these dimensions. Béchamel sauce, the buttery and smooth white sauce that is typically used in lasagna, indeed highlights the richness of the layered noodles. Blanketing your taste buds with a subtle savory pop, béchamel sauce is a crucial component of successful lasagna. On another note, the tomato sauce fused with ground beef takes your taste buds in a completely different direction, heightening your meter of enjoyment. The tomato paste usually added to the tomato sauce provides a strong concentration of tomato flavor, emitting subtle acidity while also bringing out the saltiness of tender beef. 

The cheese in lasagna fosters intense satisfaction. Shredded mozzarella layered between the noodles functions as an adhesive, yet it also melts in your mouth and contributes a subtle hint of sweetness. Ricotta is another type of cheese that lasagna champions, also sweet and soft. My preferred way to eat ricotta in lasagna is when it is mixed with sliced basil, given that it acts as a vehicle for this herb to permeate the dish with aromatic freshness. Parmesan cheese is an ingredient that ties the entire dish together. Sprinkled on top of lasagna before entering the oven, parmesan cheese’s nuttiness and salty bite facilitate harmony amongst the meal’s components. While baking, the parmesan cheese forms a golden crust on top of the dish, balancing gooeyness with crunch. Once out of the oven, the scent of lasagna is pleasantly pungent and overwhelmingly inviting. The driving factor behind completed lasagna’s delightful scent is the dried oregano sprinkled on top before baking. Finished lasagna visually begs to be eaten. From the golden shade of the crust to the sight of texturally diverse layers, the dish is simply irresistible. 

Lasagna has been a personal favorite for an extended period of time. It is in the comfort of my home where I am able to best indulge in lasagna, as my mom cooks it with extra care knowing that I love it. Every time I find out that my mom is making lasagna, a huge wave of happiness overcomes me. It’s quite ridiculous just how ecstatic I get to smell the oregano, to marvel at the golden crust, to take the first bite from my plate. Apart from the sadness of leaving my family behind, a concern that crossed my mind before moving to Massachusetts was how much I would miss my mom’s lasagna. My perception of successfully executed lasagna is informed by my mom’s interpretation of the entrée, crafted with so much patience and attention. When away from home, moments of culinary bliss are few and far between. While at college, I crave the culinary bliss that my mom’s lasagna produces. 

It has become a tradition to eat lasagna every time I visit my family at home in Florida. Acutely aware of how much I miss her lasagna, my mom never fails to receive me at home with the dish as soon as I arrive from Miami International Airport. My flights from Boston usually arrive around lunchtime, so I practically start eating as soon as I get home. After quickly transporting my luggage to my room, I join my family at the lunch table and watch my mom cut me a piece of her culinary triumph. The mozzarella stretches and the steam rises, indicating comfort and warmth. 

As I take the first bite, my thoughts center on the perfection of this dish. There are no errors, the lasagna is out of this world. My mom’s lasagna fulfills the mental criteria that I judge lasagna by: it’s savory, it’s sweet, it’s velvety, and it’s crisp. A year into college, I view lasagna a bit differently. Though it remains a favorite of mine, the emotions I associate with lasagna are new. The culinary bliss that I always treasure when indulging in it is now accompanied by appreciation for returning to a loving home. The euphoric moment is, after all, fueled by thoughtfulness and kindness. I would not change a single thing about my mom’s lasagna, just how I would not change a single thing about the care and receptivity of my home.

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Essays

The Multifaceted Beauty of Paella

Paella: a symphony of texture, flavor, and splendor. The culinary complexity of paella is unmatched, one’s taste buds go on a rollercoaster ride while indulging in this dish. Even though paella is a stand-alone meal, it is wonderfully intricate. My mother usually makes this recipe on warm summer days when the grill is practically begging for interaction. 

Throughout my entire life, I have enjoyed assisting my mother in the kitchen, whether it be slicing vegetables, stirring the contents of a pan, or seasoning the day’s protein. On paella days, I exult in helping with all three tasks. Before the action at the grill begins, it is crucial to engage in mise en place. This French term is widely utilized in the culinary world, and it means “to set up.” My mother and I evenly dice the red bell peppers and onions, sprinkle salt and pepper on all of the incorporated seafood, and slice the chorizo into fourths. After mise en place, crafting paella is a matter of assemblage at the grill.

First, we add long-grain rice to the hot pan and stir it for a while, along with olive oil, the diced red bell peppers and onions, garlic paste, and a key ingredient, saffron, which lends the rice mixture a color like pure sunshine. The time has come to add the seafood. From shrimp to scallops to squid to clams, the seafood in paella is the star of the dish. We transfer the heftily-seasoned marine delicacies to the pan where the saffron begins to transfer its rich and aromatic essence, taking its role as co-star. Once the shrimp turns pink, we submerge the contents of the pan in seafood stock, cover the pan entirely with aluminum foil, and close the lid of the grill to allow the rice to cook through. After about a half hour, the rice is tender and the time has come to add the pre-cooked chorizo. We let the chorizo warm up and become fully incorporated into the rice before the final step, which is to sprinkle a touch of salt onto the paella before serving.

Watching the grand paella pan make its way from the grill to the center of the dining room table is truly a magnificent sight. Before spooning the entrée onto our plates, my family takes a few moments to admire the masterpiece sitting before us. As the steam rises, we can smell the earthiness and sweetness of the saffron. The aroma of paella is spectacular, but the flavor is simply exquisite. As the combination of rice and seafood enters our mouths, we are immediately hit with the rice’s savory punch. Though the seafood offers the perfect bite, the shrimp, scallops, and squid eventually melt in our mouths. Seafood has a way of absorbing savory notes while also retaining its natural sweetness, a pleasurable dichotomy. The warmth of the dish engulfs our taste buds, providing us with intense satisfaction. The tenderness of the rice beautifully contrasts with the seafood’s firm texture. Paella, even by itself, never feels like an incomplete meal. As noted earlier, the dish is elaborate and multifaceted. Apart from the rice and seafood’s harmonious relationship, it offers the freshness of the vegetables, the spiciness of the chorizo, and the crunchiness of the slightly-burned rice at the bottom of the pan. When eating paella, our taste buds run in a million different directions. That’s the beauty of this meal. 

Paella is not the easiest thing to cook. In fact, successfully executing paella requires extensive organization and patience. However, the result is beyond worth it, and the process has its unique perks. Cooking meals can sometimes be frustrating because they can have various, seemingly unending components. Oftentimes, people have to worry about separately preparing sauces or side dishes. Although paella has an abundance of components, crafting it is a one-pan task. Once all of the dish’s elements have been merged in the pan, more effort is not required to complete your dining experience. Paella’s multidimensional nature makes for a well-rounded meal, no side dishes or sauce required. Once you have the pan sitting in front of you, your thoughts do not pose the question, “What else?” As soon as paella is introduced to your palette, your mind (and mouth) revel in complete satisfaction.

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Essays

The Power of “Pán de Yuca”

Although my parents immigrated to south Florida shortly after marrying, I consider Guayaquil, Ecuador central to my life origins. It is a place cherished by every relative I know and love, and the connection my family holds to Guayaquil is undeniable. Through my travels there, Guayaquil has revealed to me the fulfilling and transformative power of exploring one’s cultural roots. 

Flying from Miami International Airport to José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport is nothing short of invigorating. Welcomed by family members that I do not get to see as often as I would like, I feel endless warmth upon arrival. Embracing my grandparents, uncles, and cousins at the airport is a moment that I look forward to every time we visit. While they rejoice in our return, we rejoice in their kindness. 

Food has always been a source of connection for my entire family. While visiting our relatives in Ecuador, we relish in the country’s delicacies. For my Floridian family, shared meals foster invaluable connections with our Ecuadorian relatives. It is during moments of culinary togetherness that we extensively savor Ecuadorian cuisine. 

Food has bonded me to my maternal grandmother, “Abuela Nini,” one of the people with whom I spend the most time while visiting Guayaquil. Staying at her home in the neighborhood of Entre Ríos, I hold sacred the love she continuously offers and the laughs she ceaselessly produces. Over time, I have noticed that she and I both view food as an outlet for intense satisfaction. We relate in that we not only acknowledge but cherish the power of flavor. For us, food is not fuel; it is one of life’s treasures. Therefore, eating with my grandmother is nothing short of wonderful. 

While visiting Ecuador a few years ago, I had a profoundly special culinary experience with my grandmother. For an afternoon during my stay, I accompanied her as she ran errands around town. After a few hours of productivity, I suddenly recognized my surroundings from within her car; we were minutes away from Entre Ríos. Hungry after a long afternoon, I suggested that we eat at a restaurant called Naturissimo. Accepting my request with a smile, my grandmother soon made a right turn into Bocca, a nearby plaza where the restaurant is located. Among a wide array of city-wide locations, this specific spot is preferred by my family. Naturissimo is an Ecuadorian franchise known for offering delectable “pán de yuca” and yogurt drinks. “Pán de yuca,” a beloved baked good in Ecuador, is often viewed as a staple of casual dining. The dish consists of cassava cheese bread, always served warm. Every time I encounter it at Naturissimo, my taste buds are enlightened by the spirit of South American comfort food. 

Entering the restaurant with my grandmother, I was immediately welcomed by the colorful paintings on the walls and the kind staff members. Behind the counter, there were several páns de yuca kept warm by insulated display cases. In addition to ordering some of these, we both selected raspberry-flavored yogurt drinks, which were similar to yogurt milkshakes. After paying, we decided to dine outside. 

Sitting across from each other at a round table, we began to indulge. The warmth of the bread in my hands significantly elevated my excitement. Pulling the dough apart, I could see the steam rising and the cheese expanding. Pán de yuca has a crisp exterior, so every bite begins with a perfect hint of crunchiness. However, the inside of the bread is extremely delicate. The bread’s interior is like a savory cloud, melting in your mouth with every bite. The nuttiness of the cheese and the starchiness of the cassava complement each other, producing a blissfully warm sensation in your stomach. That day, the sweet-yet-tart raspberry yogurt drink exquisitely balanced the pán de yuca with bursts of fruitiness, beautifully contrasting the bread’s salty notes. Sips of the cold, smooth beverage highlighted the comforting warmth of pán de yuca. 

In the past, I always wondered how my Ecuadorian roots specifically touched my life. As a south Florida resident, there are many differences between my lifestyle and that of my Ecuadorian relatives. Often, I would feel culturally detached while staying in Ecuador; visiting felt like I was stepping into a world drastically different from my own. 

While eating at Naturissimo with my grandmother that night, I witnessed the joy that eating pán de yuca and sipping on raspberry yogurt drinks produced in us both. The happiness that I felt inside reminded me of the times that I had eaten pán de yuca in Florida. It suddenly dawned on me that every time I ate this baked good at home, I would think of the endless love that I have for my relatives in Ecuador and how deeply I miss seeing them during the school year. Looking into my grandmother’s eyes, I realized that Ecuadorian cuisine not only allows us to bond, but it also fosters thoughts that mentally unify me with my Ecuadorian roots.

The warmth of the pán de yuca equates to the loving warmth of my relatives abroad. For me, exploring my cultural roots means consuming Ecuadorian food and valuing the lovely thoughts that ensue. The food that pertains to my culture touches my life by reinforcing the respect I hold for familial ties. The pán de yuca and raspberry yogurt drink at Naturissimo taught me that love defies distance.