Worst Cooks Exit Interview: Matt Crespi

by in Shows, January 17th, 2011
Matt's overcooked turkey and uneven potatoes sent him packing, but he remains convinced that his final dish tasted good.

Why did you need or want to be on Worst Cooks in America?
Where to begin…I once went through (read: destroyed) most of a loaf of bread in an attempt to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. To this day I maintain it was trick peanut butter, and not actually spreadable. The first time I tried to cook salmon; I took a piece of salmon, put it on a frying pan, and held it over a burner. Eating that salmon out of principle marked a low point not only in my cooking career, but also my life. I once ate a chicken sandwich out of vending machine that was better. (Years later, I found out you’re supposed to preheat the pan and put something like oil on it. Who knew?) My brother told me I made sushi-grade fish taste like cat food, but I think he’s just being kind because he’s my brother. While baking a brownie recipe which included instructions to “fold chips into the batter,” I laid out the batter, poured chocolate chips on half of it, picked up the other half and folded it over. When I couldn’t get the viscous chocolate mixture off my hands, my roommate had to hold a cell phone up to my ear so I could ask the recipe’s creator (my mother) what went wrong. Apparently “fold” is a metaphor.

What was the most valuable tip or piece of advice that you received from Chef Robert?
The most valuable thing I learned from Chef Robert was how to effectively use knives without injuring myself.

What did you take away from the experience?
Some cooking skills, some confidence in the kitchen, the ability to feed myself, 15 friends, 3 knives and one great story.

If you could have a do-over of the challenge that sent you home, what would you do differently?
I’d spend more time on the earlier steps, putting greater emphasis on thoroughness and less emphasis on speed. Multitasking to that degree with stringent time constraints was a new experience for me, and I overestimated my optimal pace.

When you presented your final dish, how did you feel about it?
I knew it had some technical problems, but I actually felt pretty confident. I may be a bad cook, but I’m awesome at eating, and I don’t mind telling you the dish tasted really good. Losing that challenge has in no way changed my favorable opinion of my dish’s flavor.

What was the first dish or meal that you attempted to cook back at home after being eliminated? How did it go?
When I got home, I cooked a pretty simple pan-fried chicken dish with peas. By my pre-show standards, it was epically edible. Since then, I’ve even invented a few successful recipes.

What advice would you give to future Worst Cooks competitors?
Have fun. If you’re freaking out and getting intimidated by free cooking classes, then you’re not doing it right. Also, don’t run while holding out a freshly sharpened chef’s knife. I cannot stress this enough.

Read Priscilla’s Exit Interview, find out more about Worst Cooks in America and catch the show on Sundays at 9pm/8c.

Worst Cooks Exit Interview: Priscilla Harden

by in Shows, January 17th, 2011
After gaining confidence on the show, Priscilla invited 20 people over for the Worst Cooks in America premiere and cooked for all of them!

Why did you need or want to be on Worst Cooks in America?
I need to repay my husband for cooking every meal for us from the time we dated to the present. The last time I cooked him a meal was in 1979 while we were dating. For two days, I called everybody I knew, in and out of state, to get advice on how to cook the meat (beef tips), the vegetables (turnips, corn, green beans) and the rice. After I was done, I invited him over to my apartment for dinner. I noticed that he took his time eating, and afterwards, he thanked me and told me I didn’t have to cook for him ever again! I thought he was just being nice, but I could never get him to come over and eat again. So, for 31 years, my sweetheart has cooked every meal for our family, including holiday meals, even after working all day. I need to learn how to cook so I can cook for him in order to show him how much I have appreciated his kindness all these years.

What was the most valuable tip or piece of advice that you received from Chef Anne?
I learned that plating the food aesthetically was as important as seasoning and cooking it correctly, because if it looks good, then it probably tastes good.

What did you take away from the experience?
Being on Worst Cooks in America gave me enough confidence to lose my fears about the notion that I can’t learn how to cook. Although I have a long way to go, I am now inviting people over to our home to eat. Now I have enough confidence to quit saying I don’t like to cook, which allowed me to hide behind the fact that I could not cook! I actually go into the kitchen and experiment with cooking and I find myself having fun and enjoying it as well.

If you could have a do-over of the challenge that sent you home, what would you do differently?
Instead of taking so many notes as if I were journal-writing, I would jot down the bare essentials for prep, seasoning and time allotment for cooking each dish, and then proceed as if I got this!

When you presented your final dish, how did you feel about it?
When I presented my final dish, I felt awful! I seasoned the steak with the wrong seasoning. I used hot pepper instead of the correct seasoning. When Chef Anne tasted my meat, she spit it out and poured it into the trash can! I was embarrassed and I felt incompetent because I made mistakes that should not have been made, including the fact that I did not plate the food cleanly or properly!

What was the first dish or meal that you attempted to cook back at home after being eliminated? How did it go?
The first dish I attempted to cook after I was eliminated was a chicken. Although I cut myself while cutting it up, I had fun! I tried cutting up the chicken in the order that we were taught, but I abandoned the procedure along the way when I became confused. Still, I got it done. And, although I did not use a “thank you for coming bowl,” I used a “thank you for coming bag,” which aided me in keeping my area clean. Chef Anne would have been proud of me! Furthermore, I have to admit, I ignored Chef Anne’s rule about not using black pepper to season food and it tasted fairly good to me. I remembered to taste the food as I cooked it, and I added more salt as I needed it.

Will you continue to work on your culinary skills?
Yes, just this past Saturday, I cooked some chicken breasts, green beans, cabbage and sweet potatoes. And, for the first time, I did not cut myself.

What was your most memorable or funniest moment while shooting the show?
My most memorable moment happened during an interview. I was trying to pronounce the name of a food seasoning item, or maybe it was a vegetable, but, regardless, my pronunciation of the word was terrible. Not only could I not master pronouncing it, I told the person who was interviewing me that I didn’t know if it were something you poured or cut. He said it would be our little secret.

Read Matt’s Exit Interview, find out more about Worst Cooks in America and catch the show on Sundays at 9pm/8c.

Sandra’s Saturday Savings: The Most for Your Money

by in Shows, January 15th, 2011

Sandra Lee Every Saturday morning in January, Sandra Lee teams up with the FN Dish to bring you budget-friendly tips for creating delicious dishes and meals for your family. From the supermarket to the stove, she’ll help you stretch every dollar and minute.

This week, Sandra offers strategies for keeping grocery bills low.

1. 75% of grocery coupons come from the newspaper, so buy two or three copies to save even more!

2. Families who join food co-ops save 20% to 40% on their weekly grocery bills.

3. Only 5% of consumers use the mail-in rebates for cash refunds. Take the time to send them in and save.

4. Buying foods like rice, grains and dried fruit in bulk can save you anywhere from 30% to 96%.

5. On average, produce travels 1,500 miles to get to your table. Shopping at a farm stand saves money on transportation and is good for the environment.

Want more tips? Sandra’s shows are full of ‘em. Catch Money Saving Meals on Saturdays at 9am/8c and Semi-Homemade Cooking on Sundays at 11:30am/10:30c.

Design Spy: Dream of Spring by Reinventing Winter

by in Behind the Scenes, Holidays, January 13th, 2011
Wendy took a green damask tablecloth from Christmas and used fresh irises and pink accents to transform the table setting to spring.

Design Director Wendy Waxman has been at Food Network since its inception decorating sets, designing tabletop displays and special events, and styling cookbooks. Among her projects are the altar displays for Iron Chef America and the sets of Guy’s Big Bite30 Minute Meals, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, Cooking for Real and Aarti Party. Wendy’s favorite pastime is sleuthing for colorful objects and she can be spotted pursuing her quest anywhere, anytime.

Like a post-holiday nymph who refuses to leave the party, January never fails to beckon with its tempting array of alluring sales. This is one post-holiday ritual not to be ignored. A plethora of fresh merchandise awaits discerning January buyers who peruse with a careful eye toward the coming year.

The seasonal green linens of December will surely welcome a spring lamb to the table, and a holiday red tablecloth will be the perfect backdrop for the guacamole and chips of that most sacred American celebration: The Super Bowl. And what better time to stock up on ornaments and decorations for the next Christmas season? You’ll save time and money next November. Here’s the original Christmas tabletop that I transformed for spring.

Wendy's Christmas table, with a green damask table cloth, red charger plates and ornaments, can easily be transformed for spring.

I often can be found scooping up discounted platters, plates, and bowls. I ask myself how a particular shape will enhance what I own already. Will that smooth shiny square plate play well with my favorite round matte dinnerware pieces? Glassware always makes my list, especially for replenishing the ever-disappearing stock of wine and Champagne glasses. I love discovering odds and ends. Glasses that look great together but don’t match give me a chance to build on this stockpile during the rest of the year.

I also love parties, so I never forget the cocktail napkin. Decorative paper napkins are on my radar and come in handy for office and birthday parties, or even stashed in the glove box for that last minute treat on the run. Small linen napkins in silver and gold make an anniversary special anytime of the year.

The venerable tray in any color or form is another sale treasure. I use them for everything from hors d’oeuvres to serving platters for larger fare. Don’t forget that when not in service they look wonderful on kitchen counters and coffee tables.

I bank on these January sales and similar ones after each holiday year-round. Shall we meet in the clearance aisle?

Cupcake Wars: Wedding Woes

by in Shows, January 12th, 2011
A-list wedding planner Mindy Weiss (second from left) joined the Cupcake Wars judges' panel this week.

Cupcake Wars judge Candace Nelson is the founder and pastry chef of Sprinkles Cupcakes, the world’s first cupcake bakery. She joins us on the FN Dish each week to recap all the sweet details of the competition from her seat at the judges’ table. Here’s what she had to say about last night’s episode, Wedding Planner.

If I had a fledgling bakery, I would kill to get in front of someone like Mindy Weiss. She’s planned every A-list wedding in Hollywood. On last night’s episode, Mindy came to help crown the next Cupcake Wars winner, so the stakes for these bakers were high.

In fact, the pressure for Melissa proved too much, and my heart went out to her when her caramel bottle exploded in round one and she was unable to complete the challenge. Florian and I applauded her for having the instinct to take a risk and work with an exotic and memorable ingredient like saffron, but when we received our cupcakes without frosting, we had no choice but to send her home.

Round two was similarly clear-cut. Sheila did not put her best foot forward, with decorations better suited for a casual shower than an elegant wedding. However, in round three, our jobs weren’t so easy. Both Jean and Andrea’s displays were beautiful. Andrea’s screamed outdoor wedding and rustic wine country elegance whereas Jean’s possessed a contemporary zen, perfect for a high-end hotel ballroom.

Florian, Mindy and I had to deliberate for longer than normal, but in the end, the lush colors and personalized cupcakes as well as her consistent theme throughout the day meant Andrea was the winner!

Andrea's Raspberry Cupcake with Champagne Buttercream wowed Candace, Florian and wedding guru Mindy Weiss.

Bake up a batch of Andrea’s winning Raspberry Cupcakes with Champagne Buttercream Frosting and check out FoodNetwork.com for more about Cupcake Wars, plus dozens of our best cupcake recipes.

Side Dish: More Food on the Web

by in View All Posts, January 11th, 2011
Know Your Cheeses

That’s The Cheddar: Since everything tastes better with cheese, spread the word about how these 8 popular cheeses got their names. [mentalfloss.com via eatocracy.cnn.com]

Food Pyramid Controversy: A nonprofit doctors’ group is suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health for failing to recognize a vegetarian alternative to the traditional food pyramid. The organization claims that the pyramid “recommends meat and dairy products despite overwhelming evidence that these foods are unnecessary and unhealthy.” [latimes.com via newyork.grubstreet.com]

Really Really Old Wine Discovered: What’s thought to be the earliest example of a wine-producing facility has been found in Armenia, the BBC reports. Scientists found grapes and dozens of dried vines from 6,000 years ago in one of cave, as well as a basin where workers could stomp the grapes with their feet. [bbc.co.uk]

What All Restaurant Websites Share: Is this the real reason we get so excited to go out to eat? And here we thought it was because it meant no cleanup. [mcsweenys.net]

Here’s our round-up of food news, trends and happenings across the web. Check back for more, and tell us what else you’re loving in the comments.

Worst Cooks Exit Interview: Anthony Scinto

by in Shows, January 10th, 2011

After his elimination in the second episode, Anthony went home and practiced his omelets.

Why do you need or want to be on Worst Cooks in America?
The inability, lack of confidence/knowledge, and creativity to make anything that I or anyone I know would want to eat makes me the worst cook.

What was the most valuable tip or piece of advice that you learned from Chef Anne?
Knife techniques.

Will you continue to work on your culinary skills?
I will and need to.

Read more

Worst Cooks, Episode 2: He Said, She Said

by in Shows, January 10th, 2011

Anne and Robert are happy to be on the farm...but not so excited to taste the recruits' omelets.

After each elimination on Worst Cooks in America this season, chefs Anne Burrell and Robert Irvine share their candid impressions of the booted recruits with the FN Dish. This week, they bid farewell to Jeff from Robert’s Team and Anthony from Anne’s Team.

Read more

Worst Cooks Exit Interview: Jeff Longcor

by in Shows, January 10th, 2011
After the first Skill Drill, Jeff quickly became known as the guy who tore chicken with his hands.

Why did you need or want to be on Worst Cooks in America?
My last girlfriend stormed out when I tried to serve her pasta for the sixth night in a row. Eventually she started making me do all the dishes and clean the floors instead of making meals. When I go on outdoor trips, my friends will actually starve themselves instead of eating my food. I mean, that’s just dangerous, when starving people won’t eat your food even when their life depends on it. I owe it to them to learn how to cook a decent meal and I owe it to myself to improve enough to avoid embarrassing myself in front of friends, family members, coworkers, and cute girls.

What was the most valuable tip/piece of advice that you learned from Chef Robert?
The chefs forced us to prepare everything in advance to make sure all the ingredients were ready before we needed them. This high level of forethought and preparation is a great strategy for approaching any challenge in life.

Read more

Happy Birthday, Elvis!

by in View All Posts, January 8th, 2011
Happy Birthday, Elvis!
Elvis Waffles - Image Courtesy Food Network Magazine

Happy Birthday, Elvis! The groundbreaking crooner would be 76 today. To celebrate, we’re breaking out the sideburns, some records and a few of his favorite foods. Serve these meals fit for the King of Rock and Roll all day long.

Breakfast: A Classic Combo
It’s no secret that Elvis loved what’s now a classic combo: peanut butter and bananas!  Aaron McCargo, Jr turns the classic sandwich into breakfast fare with these Elvis Pancakes: two buckwheat pancakes filled with…well, you know.   Or, make these snack-perfect Elvis Waffles from Food Network Magazine (pictured above.)

Elvis Waffles
Aaron McCargo, Jr's Elvis Pancakes

Lunch and Dinner: Southern Fare
As a good Southern boy, Elvis loved down-home classics, like this straight-from-Graceland recipe for Country Fried Steak and Gravy.  And don’t forget the barbecue  — Memphis-style, of course.  Pat and Gina Neely know a thing or two about Tennessee barbecue; make their tried-and-true recipe for Hickory-Smoked Ribs tonight.

Neelys Ribs
The Neelys' Hickory-Smoked Beef and Pork Ribs

Sweet Tooth: Elvis-Themed Desserts
Don’t forget dessert! These banana-flavored cupcakes from a Cupcake Wars winner are decked out with chocolate and peanut butter frosting. Top each one with a mini-electric guitar and get ready to start humming. Or, mix up a decadent chocolate-banana milkshake.

The King of Cupcakes
The King of Cupcakes

Here’s hoping Elvis’s favorite foods get your friends and family, ahem, all shook up!  What are you making to commemorate the King?