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Giada--the new "semi-homemade?"

For a long time, Giada has been one of my favorite chefs. Her recipes almost always work for me and are flavorful yet unfussy. That flavorfulness used to seem to come from great fresh ingredients.

Recently, however, I've been noticing a disturbing trend, culminating with a recipe from a recent show. In this case, she took brownies from a box mix and topped them with Nutella, hazelnuts, and chocolate chips, and called the whole thing a recipe. I'm sorry, but in my world, that just doesn't count as homemade--perhaps just "assembled" at best. I think Giada has been using this Sandra Lee semi-homemade technique rather often recently (mostly in desserts with boxed cake mix bases, etc., but also with some other more "main course" dishes too). Don't get me wrong, I'm all for streamlining, but I just don't think this is good. Giada has been relatively respected by many home cooks, and I wish she weren't encouraging the average Joe/Jane to skip the actual "cooking part." It seems rather at odds with her original philosophy.

Anyway, it could be just me--maybe I'm just imagining things.... What are other CH's views on the situation?

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  1. I would have to agree. I saw a show this weekend that included what I consider assembly. Take store-bought ciabatta bread and slice, then grill. Top with jarred apricot jam, sliced cheese and slice store-bought roasted chicken. This is assembly..... my kid was doing stuff like this by age 6!

    The emphasis is very much on quick, easy and minimum effort.

    2 Replies
    1. re: smtucker

      Not to mention that the only aspect of that sandwich that sounds even remotely Italian (is she still cooking Italian? I haven't watched her in a very long time) is the ciabatta bread. Probably tasty, though.

      1. re: smtucker

        "The emphasis is very much on quick, easy and minimum effort."

        I think this emphasis is across the entire network these days - it's possible she is doing this at the urging/requirement of her network execs.

      2. I despise that sort of "cooking" but my non-foodie friends remind me that they LOVE Sandra Lee, Giada, and Rachael because it's the kind of cooking they can actually do. They don't want to cook like me: a 3-day process just to roast a chicken because one has to brine, dry, roast, rest, broil, etc. Sure, the quality of their cooking is not as good as mine, but that's why they go to restaurants. I can see their point. BTW: Giada is the only cooking show my husband will watch - he says she has the best cleavage.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Claudette

          I don't think people are saying that there isn't a place for that kind of assemblage, but given the dearth of "cooking" shows versus assembly shows, it stinks that she is going that route too. Homogeneity is what FN is shooting for.

          1. re: Claudette

            I hear the same thing Claudette. FN knows their new target audience very well and is going after it full steam ahead. All those David Rosengarden, Mario and Sara lovers, get out of the way. Alton is just quirky enough to keep around for entertainment value.

            1. re: Claudette

              I don't get why people don't see that there is a middle ground between assembly type recipes and complex recipes that take hours to prepare. I really really hate the way FN is pepetuating this myth. They seem to be saying, "If you aren't willin to slave over a hot stove for hours, then you can't cook, so don't even try. How about some assemblage instead?"

              You can whip up a meal from fresh ingredients without it being long or complicated. Once upon a time there were FN cooks who actually did that. FN keeps cancelling their shows.

              1. re: Avalondaughter

                >>All those David Rosengarden, Mario and Sara lovers, get out of the way. Alton is just quirky enough to keep around for entertainment value.

                Very true, scubadoo97.

                >>FN keeps cancelling their shows.

                And let me guess, they schedule the Mickie D's commercial where people can't even manage breakfast.

            2. for a long time now, TVFN has been about entertainment and not about cooking. This is just another step out of cooking altogether. and don't tell me it doesn't have something to do with the departure of the real chefs... Emeril, Mario..... from the network.

              We aren't supposed to notice.... or something.

              7 Replies
              1. re: ChefJune

                I have seen her use ketchup as a flavoring agent. But the worst for me was when she used a store bought jar of red sauce. That was a bit much for some one who claims to be an Italian chef.

                I used to watch her show. But now just find her shallow and annoying. She has spread herself too thin and has wound up showcasing her lack of any real substance.

                1. re: Withnail42

                  Using jarred marinara sauce bugs me, too. I also get really irked when she is scooping flour, sugar and other dry goods for baking. (As mentioned above...not that she does this much any more.) Anyway, she supposedly went to culinary school to train as a pastry chef, but she doesn't measure her dry goods properly at all. For someone who claims to have gone to France, no less, for culinary school, it seems like blasphemy!

                  I've also seen her use prepared pesto. I know that pesto is labor intensive, but just doesn't seem very authentic.

                  I don't recall ever see her made fresh pasta or pizza dough either.

                  1. re: jewel4352

                    She also says some of the dumbest things regarding pastry considering the pastry chef focus. Her comments make no sense. I can't remember specifics right now, but it drives me crazy.

                    1. re: jewel4352

                      A pesto is not *that* labor intensive. Throw some pine nuts, parm, basil, oil, etc into a food processor and whiz. I can do it in 3 minutes. Even Rachael Ray routinely makes her own pesto and variations of pesto.

                      One of her recipes I recall was to cook store bought raviolIi and add jarred marinara sauce and ricotta with some basil. eg http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recip...

                      I really could have figured out this type of assembly of grocery store items without instructions.

                  2. re: ChefJune

                    What you're talking about is the evoloution of channels like this. Unlike a traditional TV network which fills up it's program line with a wide variety of different programs, one-note cable channels like FN or MTV or The Weather Channel have to fill up 24 hours of programming 7 days a week on the same subject. Take a look at MTV or The Weather Channel. In the beginning, MTV played only music videos. Now it rarely plays videos, it has programs that talk about music or about the "rock" lifestyle and such. The Weather Channel used to be nothing but weather forecasts 24/7. Now they have a series of programs that talk about the weather. It's merely a part of the changes on FN as it finds it's largest audience.

                    1. re: ChefJune

                      Don't forget Sara. She was an excellent cook. Is Michael Chiarello coming back? Iiked his recipes. I wish viewers could vote out who does a lousy job..1st on my list would be Down home with the Neely's. She is so obnoxious and makes fun of her hubby quite often

                      1. re: Smileelisa

                        There are occasionally new episodes of Easy Entertaining that show up in my DVR (it's set to find and record anything new from him). It seems that his shows, even new episodes, air on weekends around 7AM.

                    2. I have noticed this with her for a long time. She is always looking for short cuts and has made a trend of assembling things. I'll be honest, I watch her because I enjoy making fun of her; I don't like her. She says the same things over and over again, "just like that", "it's it pretty", "pop it in the oven". In fact, those quotes are even similar to what Sandra Lee says too!

                      Anyway, I have noticed she is moving away from Italian more and more as well. Like another poster sort of pointed out, is it really Italian if only one ingredient is vaguely Italian?

                      whatever, I guess. I don't really watch FN anymore, unless it's Good Eats, Healthy Appetite or Barefoot Contessa, sometimes. My Saturday addiction used to be all the shows on Saturday morning (kinda replaced Sat. morning cartoons). But now, I can't stand the hosts and find something else to watch instead.

                      Boo, Food Network!

                      20 Replies
                      1. re: jewel4352

                        Oh, I don't know. I have fond memories of my nona showing me how to make Italian Quesadillas....

                        Italian Quesadillas Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis
                        Show: Everyday Italian
                        Episode: Meet and Mingle
                        4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
                        2 large onions, thinly sliced
                        1 teaspoon sugar
                        Salt and freshly ground black pepper
                        9 (8-inch-diameter) flour tortillas
                        3 cups shredded Fontina
                        3/4 cup jarred roasted red bell peppers, drained well and patted dry
                        1/3 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
                        1/3 cup freshly shredded Parmesan, plus 3 tablespoons for garnish

                        (of course I'm kidding but this recipe is for real on her site)

                        1. re: southernitalian

                          ha, ha, ha! What part of that recipe is Italian? The flour tortillas? I did not know this recipe existed...but I guess that would be her take on an Italian twist. (isn't that her catch phrase?)

                          1. re: jewel4352

                            "What part of that recipe is Italian?"

                            I think it's the fresh Italian parsley leaves, and the shredded Parmesan! LOL!

                            1. re: danhole

                              Must be the way she tries to speak with an Italian accent. I am italian too and I don't talk like that. She sometimes does it when she actually thinks about it. Now her mother and her aunt have the authentic accent. What a fake she is.

                              1. re: Smileelisa

                                See now I'm going to have to defend her with the accent thing again. Italian is her first language. I don't think it's fake at all.

                                1. re: southernitalian

                                  Of course now that I've defended her as a non-fake, I am recalling that I realized a while back that there is no way that her last name could be De Laurentiius because that is her mother's maiden name. Phony Baloney.

                                  1. re: southernitalian

                                    Has she ever explained why she has that name? Considering she has always insisted her family connections have had nothing to do with her success. It is curious as to why, working in Hollywood, she picked her famous producer grandfathers name.

                                    1. re: southernitalian

                                      I've defended her authenticity as her being Italian also. Her parents were divorced when she was young. That must have something to do with the name change. According to a bio I just read, all the kids changed their names after the divorce.

                                      She was born in Rome. Her last name at birth is De Benedetti--sounds Italian to me. Her accent is authentic, but not common in the US because most Italian-Americans are not descended from Rome and don't speak the Roman form of Italian. Italian as a language has evolved over many centuries, and Italy as a nation has only been unified for less than 150 years (and even now there is dissent about unification in the North). The way people speak Italian in the Veneto, in Naples, in Sicily, etc. is very different from the way the Romans speak it. My own descendants don't sound anything like Giada, because they're from extreme southern Italy.

                                      Now, as for Giada's cooking, I'm going to have to stop defending that, as I hear that she's now using jarred sauce, packaged mixes, etc. Not for me.

                                    2. re: southernitalian

                                      I concur. She speaks the way my native-born high school Italian teacher taught me to speak.

                            2. re: jewel4352

                              I noticed about a year or so ago that she was running out of ideas.

                              She used to be one of my favorite cooks because she had so many useable, go-to recipes. Now she bores me.

                              1. re: Avalondaughter

                                Yeah, because Italian cuisine is very limited in terms of its ingredients and recipes. Very one-dimensional. So she ran out of ideas and now she's got a new show called "Semi-Italian with Giada De Laurentiis". Are table scapes far behind?

                                1. re: southernitalian

                                  I used to watch her show but the more exposed she got I realized the less she had to say or could do. For me the final straw was on her travel show she went to Paris and only ate Italian or 'Itanianesque' food. Then when she was a judge on TNFNS she was just plain nasty and mean to the contestants who had no experience. I have since seen her on the Today Show where she proved that she is incapable of doing live TV and a live cooking demo where she literally could not boil water.

                                  1. re: Withnail42

                                    >>the more exposed she got I realized the less she had to say or could do.

                                    And you don't mean media exposure, right?!

                              2. re: jewel4352

                                I have to agree with jewel. I don't like her either and she uses the same phrases over and over and over like there we go constantly I keep asking myself where are WE going? I also agree that she doesn't cook like she used to. I think all the FN stars are getting that way. I like Barefoot Contessa because she really cooks and makes a mess in the kitchen. You ever notice how sterile Giada's environment is? Let's face it, we all can read a cookbook we are looking for delicious foods made from scratch. It is not like 30 minute meals where you can't produce long cooking processes. Maybe her new baby will keep her home.

                                And have you seen the episode of Iron Chef when she was up against Rachael Ray? She was befuddled the whole time, can't work under pressure. The look on her face was priceless when Rachael won. Talk about a Kodak moment! she had such a pissy expression of disbelief that she lost. And she had Bobby Flay who is rather good in Iron Chef. Rachael was having fun the whole time. Giada was running around with her head up her*** She just wants to be all that but she isn't

                                1. re: Smileelisa

                                  I remember that for someone who prides and emphasizes their professional history and experience it was odd that she needed help from another chef. So much for real world ability.

                                  1. re: Smileelisa

                                    You think so? The only thing I remember Rachael doing on that show was stirring a cranberry curd and complaining about it. Mario Batali did most of the work and Rachael only made one dish. I thought the contest was just ridiculous. Mario beat Bobby. Rachael didn't beat Giada.

                                    1. re: Avalondaughter

                                      Actually Rachael also made a pasta dish where she used red wine and cooked it by adding the liquid slowly, like a risotto. I was so intrigued by the idea, I specifically remember it.

                                      1. re: charmedgirl

                                        She made the bucatini (like spaghetti but with a hole through it) by boiling it in red wine and served it with the cranberry ragout. I thought Rachel composed herself relatively well, much better compared to Giada.

                                      2. re: Avalondaughter

                                        i recall giada jumping up and down freakin' out when her huge vat of water wouldn't boil fast enough! ;-D

                                        1. re: alkapal

                                          Yeah they replayed that in Slow Motion too. I thought that was great.
                                          ;)

                                  2. i had to lol at your use of the word "assembled" - i have the SAME problem with the FN (giada and others) and elsewhere and have often used that...it's not a recipe, it's just assembling food!

                                    it really irks me when she uses wonton wrappers to make ravioli. you're italian! at least go buy some fresh pasta dough if you're not going to make your own.

                                    i've also watched less and less of the FN in the last few years, whereas it used to be my go to channel. my 6 month old son is, however, fascinated - he spent saturday morning screeching at sunny anderson from his jumperoo. i think he was excited by her use of bacon fat and butter (and i wasn't all that unhappy about it either).

                                    1. Yes, why even bother doing things that anyone could think up for themselves? Chocolate brownie mix, canned frosting, sprinkle coconut on top, Buy Italian rolls and some other stuff to put on it. Duh. This is barely above the level of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. New slogan: "Way less than cooking!"

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: mpalmer6c

                                        I take what I like and "delete" what I don't like. Using DVR is a great thing because you can see what the show is about and watch it or not. Most of them I delete to be honest.
                                        For example, I loved the salmon sticks recently shown. That was interesting. Yes, not sure what the italian connection is, but I don't really care. I'm looking for ideas that are simple and tasty.

                                        1. re: rcburli

                                          I do the same thing -- at the most, I watch 1 out of 10 of her shows (not including repeats). The only recipe that interested me recently was the spinach & white bean dip.

                                      2. I would assume that she is cooking for her audience. She, just like Rachel Ray (no flames folks) has branched out from her original show. And I love being able to take the short cuts. With two working parents, kids at home, and all that entails, I'm not even going to try to make a three day chicken or bake my own bread on most days. Sure on the weekend I might go that route, but on Thursday night, between getting home, getting the kid to karate class, my wife working late, etc. I want somethig that I can start and have on the table in 35-40 minutes or less. If that means using a good jarred pasta sauce as a base, the I will. And because I am the norm, not the exception that TFN is looking for, the shows give me what I want. Sure I love the shows that show me how to make things from scratch, but I use the recipes from the shortcuts more often.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: dinwiddie

                                          No one is disputing what you are describing. It is just that every single flipping show is that way on FN. Where is the balance?

                                          Bottom line is, they are catering to people like you, who appreciate this kind of convenience and pretty much ignoring the others who want something other than quick shortcuts. That is the marketplace at work, and I can understand it, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. As many before have mentioned, FN has turned its back on what used to be their core audience, the people who made them what they are today.

                                          1. re: dinwiddie

                                            Don't get me wrong--I am very much in favor of smart shortcuts (I, too, have occasionally used a good jarred sauce, pretty much always used canned broth, and love frozen phyllo as a crust for chicken pot pie). Since I work long hours, my meals need to be done in ideally ~30 min as well.

                                            Yet I still want the food I eat to be as homecooked as possible. I think it's healthier in terms of nutrition and yummier in terms of taste. The problem I have is when a "recipe" is presented in which not one ingredient is either homemade or in "whole" form from the market (ie veggies or a fish fillet, etc.). Thus, as far as the original example of the boxed brownie-Nutella-chocolate chips combo, I just don't consider it homecooked. It's both full of chemicals and lacking the homemade depth of flavor. I'd rather she gave a recipe for hazelnut-topped pudding, or something like that (I make from-scratch pudding all the time in under 10 min, which is likely faster than frosting all those fake brownies).

                                            In short, give me **smart** shortcuts to speed the cooking process and fast recipes (isn't that the whole point of a show entitled **Everyday** Italian?). But let them be real recipes, not assemblages of "fake foods."

                                          2. i disagree with the idea that every single show is like that on f.n. yeah, there are quite a few, but bobby flay, tyler florence, jamie oliver, ina garten, and mario batali--these are just the ones that come to mind--all have shows in which they legitimately cook, and aren't gearing their recipes toward ease for people who don't have a lot of time.

                                            i understand your frustration, but i think a lot of chowhounders get a bit hyperbolic about the subject.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: beelzebozo

                                              Look at the new shows they are introducing. New Batali and Lagasse shows are gone from the schedule. Garten, Flay, Florence are holdovers from before, it will be interesting to see how they end up. The new shows are much more along the same vein of quick shortcut, assembly shows. Jaime Oliver isn't touched by FN yet if his show is being done by the BBC.

                                              1. re: beelzebozo

                                                One overlooked aspect of the shows you mentioned, I think, is that even though they're not marketed as such, many of the recipes are still fast & easy. A recent Jamie at Home show just wrapped asparagus in bacon, broiled it, and served it with a soft-cooked egg. It took him all of 30 seconds to explain the recipe, and probably would take the home cook less time to put together the food itself than to heat the broiler. Quick and unfussy, yet still very much homecooked, not assembled from "convenience foods." Nigella Express, too, has simple fast recipes, but they're still real food.

                                                It's too bad that these types of shows about real food are full of tips/recipes useful to the harried cook, but that they get overpowered by quick-fixers just because they aren't specifically marketed as "American Mom" shows.

                                                On the Jamie Oliver note: I wish FN would rerun his old shows, and throw it into the mix of 24/7 same-chef repeats (I do love Flay & crowd, but some extra Jamie during the week would be super!)

                                                1. re: porceluna

                                                  that asparagus dish you're describing looked delicious on the show. i was salivating.

                                              2. I get the feeling she's been slooooowly revamping her style, kind of hoping no one will notice. Though its pretty obvious. I think Sandra Lee and Ray were FN's gateway drug to whats currently happening. Sad.

                                                1. Perhaps Giada has to deal with a new baby now too (isn't she a new mother?) and doesn't have the time to make everything from scratch the way she used to. Personally, I don't care for her, a little too titillating if you know what I mean. But I think she would really have to decline quite a bit to sink to Sandra Lee levels.

                                                  Watched some old Mario Batali Molto Mario shows on Fine Living - he was looking down his nose at the thought that the home cook wouldn't make fresh pasta or pizza dough from scratch, another end of the spectrum. Lately, with the preponderance of working parents, conflicting family schedules, competing sports activities, it's a miracle we can get a homemade dinner on the table any night of the week.

                                                  My view is that if Sandra, Giada and Rachel Ray can get people in the kitchen making dinner for their family & friends, more power to them. AS 'Hounds, we may not approve of their recipes or techniques, but who are we to criticize that this isn't better than takeout or Mickey D's? My gripe is that FN needs to offer more diversity - where are new Gartn/Chiarello/Batali type show for those of us who do manage to do more than throw together Hamburger Helper and boxed brownie mixes?

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                                    Yes, she is a new mother. But, the new shows on air now were filmed a year or more ago.

                                                    It's interesting how people say the don't have time to make a homemade marinara sauce, fresh pasta or pizza dough. Italians have been doing this for centuries before the conveniences of electricity, pasta machines or Kitchenaids. They were doing it by hand. Also washing clothes without the benefits of a machine. Yet, in our society we now say we don't have time to make these things from scratch, when we have all the conveniences to do so in minutes.

                                                    I'm not saying it's right or wrong. It's just interesting thought.

                                                    There are less and less quality cooking programs on FN because they are catering to "fast + easy", and the executives of the network do not deny this. It's just a shame that they can't balance "fast + easy" with programming that is less about being "fast + easy".

                                                    1. re: jewel4352

                                                      This phenomenon was the last straw for me with Chef Rocco as well. The last time I saw him on TV he was using jarred spaghetti sauce as a 'time saver'. Rocco, I already know how to do that...plus it tastes like doodoo.

                                                    2. re: Diane in Bexley

                                                      When my daughter was 11, she saw someone on FN making pasta from scratch, so she decided to do it, too. While it was a bit on the thick & chewy, side, it was perfectly edible, although she did not know how to make a sauce at the time. It's too bad more adults aren't that adventurous (although, I have to say that cleaning up the kitchen took more time than the cooking, but doesn't prep and cleanup usually take more time than cooking?)

                                                      1. re: Claudette

                                                        Kudos to your daughter for being adventurous, and kudos to you for encouraging that mindset. Most kids today wants everything handed to them, answers, knowledge, grades, experiences etc. I could just rant on about the parents and kids of today, but I won't.

                                                        1. re: Phaedrus

                                                          Thanks, Phaedrus - I'll let my kid know about your compliment. I heard on public radio that those kids have "helicopter" parents (who hover over them and solve their problems). LOL!