Friday, October 4, 2019

Food TV Friday: The Zen of the Stand and Stir

I’m very into both food and travel at the moment, so I love shows that combine both, like Anthony Bourdain’s (RIP) “Parts Unknown,” “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” or “Ugly Delicious,” but when I’m really stressed out (which is often these days), there’s nothing like a stand and stir to quiet my mind for a little while. At the risk of being to jargon-y (many of my coworkers speak almost entirely in the jargon of our field, so I’m especially sensitive to this), let’s take a second to explain what I mean by “stand and stir.” A stand and stir is a more old-school cooking show that features the TV personality in a kitchen teaching you how to cook something. Often it can cut to the TV personality doing other related activities, too, but the scenes in the kitchen are what make it fundamentally a stand and stir. Let’s take a look at three of my favorites: “Southern and Heart,” “The Pioneer Woman,” and “Pati’s Mexican Table.”

“Southern at Heart” features Kentucky culinary instructor/chef Damaris Phillips. Phillips was a Food Network Star winner, and so early episodes featured the concept she developed through that competition: teaching someone how to cook a meal for their significant other. Over time, however, the show evolved to focus more on Damaris’ life. Each episode usually features her doing some sort of quirky activity or hanging out with family or friends. Damaris is a very quirky person (which is a good thing in my book). She loves going to events dressed in costume and rescuing cats, among other things. The number of costumes she comes up with on a regular basis (which you can get some insight into if you follow her on Instagram) is really impressive. That quirkiness is reflected on the show, especially in episodes where she and a friend go to a circus training class or when she and her husband take some kids to a healthy food-themed puppet show.

Most episodes feature recipes with a Kentucky twist (usually bourbon, sorghum, or pecans). Food Network cancelled “Southern at Heart” several years ago, but they still air episodes on weekend mornings, and I have my DVR set to record them all. I also have Damaris’ cookbook, “Southern Girl Meets Vegetarian Boy.” I’ve cooked several recipes from it, and all are tasty. Both her stuffed acorn squash recipes (one from the TV show and one from the cookbook) are also staples in my repertoire. I also love her recipe for Kentucky red beans and rice (even if beans don’t usually love me) and chickpeas and dumplings. Her husband, Darrick, is vegetarian, and Damaris was raised on classic Southern food, so finding recipes that worked with both was the inspiration for the book.

I mostly watch “The Pioneer Women” because the vibe is overall very calm. Ree Drummond lives on a ranch in Oklahoma with her husband and kids. She also often cooks for the cowboys who work on the ranch and other various extended family members. She intersperses the cooking with commentary on whatever happens to be happening on the ranch at the time. Sometimes it’s activities her kids are involved in, like football practice or going away to college. Sometimes it’s something ranch-related like needing to move the cattle or build a new fence. There have also been episodes that show how buildings that would eventually become part of her lifestyle brand empire (more on that in a bit) were remodeled. One very poignant episode dealt with the death of Ree’s mother-in-law, who was a town institution and the matriarch of the family. I kind of feel like Ree is the Chip and Joanna Gaines of the food world in that she’s built a lifestyle brand that has turned a small town into a tourist destination. Like the Gainses have in Waco, Texas (which really isn’t that small, but work with me here), Ree has shops and restaurants Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

The food is generally fairly simple, keeping a busy parent trying to put food on the table in mind. There are a lot of freezer meals, for instance. Ree also very much likes butter, and she occasionally waxes nostalgic about her mother’s recipes from the 1970’s. Especially beef stroganoff. Her style of cooking doesn’t really gel with mine. Her chickpea curry recipe is awesome, though, and is one of my lunch staples. I don’t really watch for the food. I watch for the stories of ranch life told in a calm, almost hypnotizing way.

Wrapping this up, I’m going to talk about my very favorite stand-and-stir, “Pati’s Mexican Table.” This show has single-handedly changed the way I cook. I started watching earlier this year because I’ve been thinking about taking a Dia de los Muertos in the future, so I had been looking for whatever I could find about Mexico. Pati Jinich was born and raised in Mexico City, and she and her husband moved to the United States for his job in finance. Pati focuses on ways to mix her Mexican heritage with the life she has built in the United States. Seasons 3-7 are available on Amazon, and season 8 starts premiering on PBS stations around the country this weekend. These seasons (I’ve never seen seasons 1-2, so I can’t speak for them) each focus on a different part of Mexico. Places featured thus far are Michoacán, San Miguel de Allende, the Yucutan peninsula, Oaxaca, and the Baja peninsula. Season 8 will feature Sinaloa. For the most part (there are a few exceptions each season), each episode mixes Pati traveling around the featured area of the season talking with cooks with Pati cooking dishes in her Maryland kitchen (yep, she’s a fellow adopted Marylander!) inspired by her travels.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this show has changed the way I cook. I’ve dabbled in various Asian cuisines before, and Southern food as well, but Latin food was always a bit of an enigma to me. Since I started watching “Pati’s Mexican Table,” I think I cook Mexican food more than I don’t. I even have a favorite latin grocery store in Baltimore (Cinco de Mayo in Highlandtown if your curious) and have discovered the awesome that is fresh Queso Oaxaca. I’ve made tacos and enchiladas and guisados, and making a sauce Mexican style has started to become routine (cook your components a bit most of the time, blend them up, then “season” the sauce by frying it). I’ve learned so much about the regionality of Mexican cuisine, and I can’t wait to try the real thing. I’m hoping to get to Mexico City and Oaxaca next fall, and I’m teaching myself Spanish to prepare.

So, if you’re having a stressful day and need to zen out, check out any of these stand-and-stirs, and lose yourself in the cooking and adventures. And try cooking something, too! Chopping veggies can also be extremely calming. You’ll definitely learn something, and you’ll have a delicious meal at the end of it all!

No comments:

Post a Comment