November 17, 2010

How I Accidentally Started to Respect Rachael Ray
I've never been a big Rachael Ray fan. Growing up, I hated when my mom would make us watch $40 a Day, and I've definitely been known to belittle her recipes on the Kittchen. So it was with great excitement that I sat down on Monday to watch Rachael Ray's new show, Week in a Day. I figured it would be easy entertainment, kind of like waiting for Democrats to grow a spine or for Sarah Palin to name her favorite founding father.

But here's the issue: despite her annoying voice and accent, her heart-stopping recipes, and her happy-go-lucky personality, Rachael Ray is actually a great teacher, and is probably one of the best candidates out there to change America's fear of the kitchen.

Why? Well, to start, her new Week in a Day show encourages cooks who are strapped for time or afraid to jump into the kitchen every night of the week to do all the week's cooking in one go, perhaps on a Sunday afternoon. This is fantastic, because it keeps overworked moms or single guys or whoever has kitchen hangups from ordering in every night or buying preservative-laden food in a box.

The make ahead recipes I saw her prepare were Braised Pork Tacos, Crab Cake Mac and Cheese, Moroccan Meatloaf, Ratatouille (which she pronounced with a machine gun ferocity that made my head hurt), and Papardelle with Pork Ragu, made with the remaining pork from Meal #1. While some of the recipes are not the healthiest (like the mac and cheese), at least they're a) easy, b) flavorful, and c) time-savers.

The other reason I'm starting to admire, or, at least, not despise Ms. Ray is that she really knows how to teach. Like any good teacher, Ray-dogg (that's my new, semi-affectionate nickname for her, in case you were wondering) is entertaining and really enthusiastic about her subject. Even though phrases like "yumm-o" make my blood curdle, they make it clear that she loves what she does. She also takes care to explain what she's doing and has come up with her own approach to recipes that makes following them really easy for a kitchen amateur.

Instead of two tablespoons of E.V.O.O. (which I hate but admire as a genius neutralization of a snooty-sounding term), for example, she calls for "two turns of the pan," which will make sense to someone who doesn't want to worry about measuring every last ingredient. Or instead of using both a grater (for lemon zest) and a sieve or cheesecloth (for lemon juice), she just grates the lemon, scoops the zest into the pot, flips the grater over, and uses it to catch any seeds while she squeezes out the lemon juice. When you're trying to mobilize a country as unfortunately lazy as ours can be, double duty tools and time-savers are money in the bank.

So...I might have (somewhat) reversed my feelings about Rachael Ray. She's not refined (like my Contessa), or elegant (like my Giada), and, like a high school history teacher of mine, she's a bit too sweet for me to like her. But she's smart, informative, and an effective enough teacher that I can at least say I respect her.

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