Friday, July 30, 2010

Dinosaur Parmigiano: Why I'm Way More Awesome than Sandra Lee

Have you guys heard of Sandra Lee and her "semi-homemade cooking" phenomenon? I hadn't until just recently, when I read something about her using baby food and muffin mix and trying to pass it off as homemade (well, semi-homemade) and I was slightly disgusted. It's not that I have a problem with taking shortcuts. I can totally understand using a muffin mix. I've done it myself. The problem that I have rests in her tendency to act like her creations take skill and to tell her audience that nobody will know that it's only semi-homemade. Oh, right--and the fact that this somehow has a show on the food network. If you want to be outraged, go to her page on the food network's site and watch the short videos on the bottom. There were one or two that I found acceptable, and the rest were just absurd. Nobody's going to think that a grocery-store cake with melted lemonade concentrate brushed on it, coated with canned frosting with lemon extract mixed in, is anywhere near homemade, yet she finishes every single "recipe" saying "And no one will know that it's semi-homemade!"

Sandra Lee, the gig is up. I'm about to beat you at your own game. LET'S GO.

RECIPE: Dinosaur Parmigiano
I made this up, like, six years ago. Because I love dinosaurs.

-1 package Perdue dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets
-1 box spaghetti
-1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
-1 jar pasta sauce
-1/4 lb of the cheapest mozzarella you can buy
-about a teaspoon of Italian seasoning
-about a teaspoon of garlic powder
-freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese
-a couple fresh basil leaves (garnish, optional)

Yeah. This stuff. A good-quality sauce is key to making people think you have mad kitchen skills.

1. Preheat the oven to the temperature that the package of chicken nuggets says.
2. Get a pot of water boiling.
3. Put the sauce in a pan on medium heat.
4. Shred the cheese.
5. Spread the chicken nuggets out on a cookie sheet. Use your fingers to sprinkle a tiny bit of Italian seasoning and garlic powder over each one. Press down on them (to sort of embed the seasoning into the breading). Flip over and repeat.
6. At this point, the sauce should be bubbling. Spoon a little bit of sauce over each dinosaur, then top with some shredded mozzarella. Stick in the oven for 8 minutes.
7. Your water should be boiling, too. Put the pasta in there and cook it until al dente, also about 8 minutes. When it's done, strain it, put it back in the pan (off the heat) and add the olive oil to keep it from sticking.
8. When the dinosaurs are done, take them out of the oven. You can now assemble your plates. Scoop a pile of the spaghetti onto each plate. Cover with sauce. Add 4-6 dinosaurs. Sprinkle with the freshly grated parmesan/romano and garnish with a basil leaf. POOF! Semi-homemade.

See the seasoning on there? That little added flavor will completely convince your guests that you made this all from scratch. Seriously. They'll have NO IDEA. (At least, that's what Sandra Lee would have you believe.)

You shredded that cheese yourself. What more can your guests possibly ask of you?

And with a gorgeous presentation like this, how could anyone suspect that you pretty much bought everything pre-made at the store?

Okay, that's enough sarcasm for now--I'm starting to feel nauseous just pretending to think like her. Now it's time for the important thing: why I'm better than her. I'll make a list for that, too.

Reasons I'm Better Than Sandra Lee:
1. I'm not actually going to pretend any of this is homemade. In fact, by using the dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets instead of the less-obvious tenders or something, I'm admitting right up front that I put zero effort in. In short, I'm not going to lie to you.
2. I understand that, while sometimes you don't have time to cook an intricate meal for your family, shortcuts like this are neither as healthy or as tasty as what you'd make yourself if you had the time. I therefore don't encourage cooking like this all the time.
3. I would never, ever, EVER feed this (or anything like it) to guests. I mean, maybe if the "guest" were a little kid, sure--but I'm not going to have company over and serve them things I bought pre-made at the store.
4. I actually know how to make every aspect of this meal from scratch--the pasta, the sauce, the breaded chicken...okay, maybe not the cheese. But the rest, yes.
5. I think it bears mentioning twice--I'm not lying to you.
6. Come on. I used friggin' dinosaurs. How much more awesome could it get?

I promise to someday give you guys a real chicken parmesan recipe that isn't making fun of anyone. Someday. But for now...

Yes, we did actually eat this. And honestly? It's actually pretty tasty, as long as you don't expect real homemade flavor. I have no problem with boxed or jarred food items. It's easy and quick. This took about 45 minutes from me leaving to go to the grocery store and get the ingredients to putting dinner on the table, and you just can't do that with real homemade food, and most people don't have a lot of time to cook an intricate meal every day. There are plenty of better options out there for quick meals, but occasionally, this is just fine. The only real problem that I have is with people pretending it's something that it's not.

Oh--and I promise that, someday, I'll give you a real chicken parmesan recipe. It won't involve dinosaurs. But until then, why don't you go read about some awesome new discoveries that paleontologists are making? (I really, really love dinosaurs.)

Sandra Lee, our game is done sir.
Thank you for a lot of fun sir.