(The Blog Formerly Known as "Countdown to 30" and "30 is the New Twenty")

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Rachel Ray Cooking Debacle of '08: Or How I Learned Not to be a Slave to Recipes

I used to be a big fan of Rachel Ray. Let me emphasize used to be. Not anymore. What I liked about her was how she cooked very simple meals that anyone could make and you could make them in a short amount of time, too. I thought it was cool how she wasn't a professional cook and seemed to have come out of no where to have her own show on the Food Network and her own syndicated talk show. I thought of her as a modern day Martha Stewart. That is, before I attempted one of her recipes. She ain't no Martha.

I was watching her one day on the "Today Show" and she made a baked white pasta dish. It looked so easy and combined some of my favorite foods: spinach, mushrooms, garlic and pasta. I decided that I would cook this amazing dinner. I didn't copy the recipe down while watching, so I stopped by Border's and copied it out of her new cookbook. Yeah, I admit, that's a bit ghetto, but I was not about to spend $30 on her cookbook (at the time I didn't have Internet at home and this seemed like a simpler solution). As I wrote down the recipe, I was a bit puzzled at some of the quantities. Two pounds of spinach? Six cups of Mozzarella cheese? Two cups of Parmesan cheese? It seemed like a lot to me, but I figured she has to know what she is doing. I am a mere novice in the world of cooking.

After a trip to the grocery store and $30 later (What? She said this was a cheap meal!), I was ready to cook. The meal was supposed to only take me 30 minutes to prepare. I spent 30 minutes chopping up spinach and the entire clove of garlic. I actually only used a pound and a half of spinach. The colander was over flowing with spinach. Anymore just seemed like too much. I made the sauce, an easy white sauce, that ended up being a bit on the runny side. I don't know how, I followed her recipe perfectly. I decided to move on to the pasta part. Another 30 minutes passed as I sauteed the garlic, onions and mushrooms and wilted the spinach. Next I broke up the no bake lasagna noodles and threw them into my giant skillet. Another plus of this recipe is you only use one skillet. Amazing. I poured my runny sauce onto the pasta and dumped all of the cheese on top. Something didn't seem right. The ratios seemed way off, but I put the skillet into the oven for another 30 minutes. In the process of taking the skillet out of the oven, I managed to burn my hand badly. My own stupidity, of course. I grabbed the metal handle without a pot holder. Damn you, Rachel Ray! I ran my hand in cold water and cried. I felt like a cooking failure and possibly might have a severe burn, all because of Rachel Ray and her ridiculous recipe.

At this point, I had wasted 90 minutes cooking an "easy" pasta bake. I had feelings of hate building up for Rachel Ray and her perkiness and too tight tops. I was tired and my hand really burned. I felt like one of Oprah's fans who thought that Beloved would be an "easy" read. I was hoping that it would be a wonderful meal. That would be the one saving grace for the meal. It wasn't. Due to the massive quantities of dairy, it was extremely rich. Not in a good way either. With every bite, there was a half a pound of spinach, cheese, and garlic. It was not delish. It was edible and just ok.

All was not lost. I swore to myself that I would never, ever make a Rachel Ray meal again. It was not as simple and fast as she made it seem. I also learned that sometimes you need to go with your gut and not use massive quantities of spinach because the recipe says so. After this incident, I have been very leery of recipes. In fact, I decided to make my own pasta (not using a giant skillet) bake without a recipe. It turned out much better than Rachel's, took a shorter amount of time to prepare, and was a lot cheaper. For the cost of Rachel's pasta bake, I can make three my way. Take that, Thirty Minute Meal Queen!

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