Monday, May 5, 2008

Grilled Sweet Potato Salad, Food Network, and the Ultimate Test of Frugality

Growing up, my family had cable TV for a single year. I don’t remember which one exactly, but I do recall Debbie Gibson’s “Lost in Your Eyes” parked at #6 on MTV’s Top Ten countdown for the duration. After that, Ma and Pa jettisoned the package, concerned about the impression Music Television (and Debbie’s awesome fedora) would make on our fresh young minds. In retrospect, it was probably a good decision, since we fortuitously missed out on the Hair Band era.

The ‘rents didn’t have cable again until 2000, when reception abruptly blotzed on in the middle of a lightning storm. All of a sudden, Pa had more fishing shows than he could handle and Ma could see St. John’s lose basketball games ANY TIME SHE WANTED. They ordered it permanently soon after, and I got my first gander at Food Network. I became a constant viewer, and beyond The Office and American Idol, it’s really the only TV I watch anymore. FN is my background noise, my recipe center, and my source for making informed fun of Sandra Lee. And even though The Boyfriend, our roommates and I chucked cable last year in an attempt to save on bills, FN miraculously remained (bizarrely, along with three Spanish-language channels and QVC). It’s like it KNEW I would wither and die without Alton and Ina.

Then it happened.

This weekend, like my first boyfriend out of college, Food Network got homesick and moved back to Ohio. (Translation: it checked out.)

So, uh … AUGH! WHAT DO I DO? A food blogger without Food Network is like a sports blogger without ESPN or Pa without 47,000 fishing shows. What if something crazy, like movement, happens on Ace of Cakes? What if Giada makes the claw hand and I miss it? What if Tony Bourdain writes another devastating critique of the channel and I don’t know what the crap he’s talking about?

It’s a conundrum. The four of us can definitely afford cable, but truly, we were fine without it. And is it worth the expenditure for a single channel? Yarg. It is my greatest test in frugality yet.

Because, seriously? Without Food Network, where will I find recipes like Emeril’s Grilled Sweet Potato Salad? I love it so hard, and though it’s a little pricier than what I’m accustomed to with a side dish, it will be much more reasonable in two months when the prices of red bell peppers and mangos come down. It’s way cheaper than what you’d get at a restaurant anyway, and there are other advantages besides: the salad is both a starch and vegetable (so you won’t need another side), it’s packed with Vitamins A and C (fiber, too), and it’s a neat changeup to throw at a barbecue (especially for your mayo-hatin’ relatives).

Arg. This is an issue. Readers, I need your opinions. To FN or not to FN? That is the question.

Grilled Sweet Potato Salad
Serves 3
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse.

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 sweet onion, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1 mango, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1/2 red bell pepper, stem, rib, and seeds removed, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1/8 cup olive oil
1 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pinch cayenne

1) Start your grill.

2) Mix all ingredients in a large bowl (adding spices last) until vegetables are evenly coated.

3) Tear off 2 huge sheets of heavy aluminum foil. Layer them one on top of the other. Pour the veggie mixture in the middle and make a pouch. (Make sure it is very well-sealed.) Pop it on to the pre-heated grill and heat about half and hour, until veggies are tender enough to eat. (Or, roast in the middle of a 450°F oven for 45-50 minutes covered, then 15-20 minutes uncovered.)

4) Take pouch off grill and let it sit a few minutes to cool down. Unwrap and dump in a bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. (NOTE: Emeril calls for cilantro and peanut garnishes, as well. I leave them out because they drive the price up and really don’t add much.)

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
291 calories, 9.5 g fat, $1.43

1 pound sweet potatoes: 409 calories, 0.7 g fat, $1.03
1 sweet onions: 70 calories, 0.1 g fat, $1.04
1 mango: 135 calories, 0.6 g fat, $1.00
1/2 red bell pepper: 15 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.84
1/8 cup olive oil: 239 calories, 27 g fat, $0.20
1 teaspoons fresh lime juice: 5 calories, 0 g fat, $0.13
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1/8 teaspoon salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
Pinch cayenne: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
TOTAL: 873 calories, 28.6 g fat, $4.29
PER SERVING: 291 calories, 9.5 g fat, $1.43

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Ms Meghan said...

I totally vote to FN, as it is a source of food information, entertainment and really good recipes. Plus they started showing a Cook's Tour reruns, so that makes it even better.

On a completely different note that picture of Giada is terrifying. It's in the same category as the Rachel Ray Maxim pics.

Trinity said...

If it's any consolation, FN has an awesome website with videos and recipes and such...

JAB said...

Trinity is right. The website is great

I feel the same way about FN. We have satellite TV plus satellite internet, and it would cost the same without the TV. So I don't have to face your tough decision.

I think, though, I would have to vote for keeping the cable off and using the website.

Perhaps it will come back. Or you could hang out in empty hospital rooms and watch their FN. Just kidding.

Cinzea said...

I second Trinity. You can watch any video or part of any FH show, for free, on their web site. All you need in life (right now) is high speed internet access and that's about it. You can see most any TV show, newscast, sit-com, gosh, anything on your computer.
I wouldn't pay the cable companies any more than basic care. In fact, I actually have the old rabbit ears set up on one of my TV's and I'm fine with it.

Go figure?

Sarah said...

I am in the same boat as you. We are moving and I want to cancel our cable, but that means no more Food Network. It's the one channel that has prevented me from making the phone call to the cable company as of yet.

Jaime said...

You have just put much fear in my heart, as I, too, have been enjoying the grace of the cable gods and getting free Food Network. (In Manhattan below 96th St, you also get Bravo, which just about kills me with jealously and might be the only bad thing about the northern reaches of the island.)

I can't really tell you what to do - if I could afford cable, I'd have it, and I'd probably watch a lot more TV. (As in any that isn't at a friend's house.) I miss the Daily Show. But most of all, and if you get cable this is a must since it's, like, $5, DVR. It changed my life. I do fine without cable, but cable without DVR would be agony.

Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

I don't have tv, but among the Food Network website, Epicurious, and the various food blogs I read, I feel more than well-covered on various issues.

Sarah said...

I have been cable-less for almost 3 years. I get by on PBS cooking shows (America's Test Kitchen, Rick Bayless, Everyday Food), food blogs, magazines, Food TV shows on DVD from the library, and video podcasts.

In fact, having only PBS cooking shows available makes me enjoy and savor them even more, rather than having Food TV available 24/7.

Cinzea said...

We're forgetting one very important thing: PBS, FREE public broadcasting! They have some of the finest cooking shows, i.e: Lidia's, Jacques Pepin, Everyday Food, Everyday Baking (both by Martha Stewart), Daisey Cooks! as well as other ethnic foods such as mexican, asian in addition to America's Test Kitchen, Ciao Italia, Mark Bayless. People, these chefs are, in my opinion, some of the best chefs in the world! Mark Bittman, thee numero uno NY Times food critic!
I always watch PBS! Try it.

It's free!

mamacita said...

I never watch the Food Network anymore because when I did, I would immediately want to eat everything in my house. Not cheap, healthy or good, ya know? But it's true, I get TONS of great recipes and food ideas from the internet. Here's a new site I heard of last night, in fact: Open Source Food.

Scott said...

Except for Alton Brown, I've pretty much given up on the Food Network. And yes, America's Test Kitchen and a couple of the other PBS shows are better than about 98% of FN's offerings these days.

Chief Family Officer said...

If you're doing fine without cable otherwise, I would really really really try to live without it. There are decent cooking shows on PBS (do you have a DVR or VCR)? Troll the web for videos - Food Network even has a page devoted to them. Subscribe to Cooking Light, if you don't already. I have way more recipes saved from past issues than I will ever be able to make. And if you need intel before mocking Sandra Lee, you can always check out her web site.

TwoHandsAndARoadmap said...

Stay strong. Say no to the cable.

Autumn said...


No more FN? No more Alton late at night when you can't sleep? No more Chairman's ridiculously dramatic eyebrows? No more laughing at the way Duff laughs? (Kind of like a cross between an old man coughing and a duck quacking.)

Our cable is provided by our landlord, so I guess if I had to pay for it I might seriously reconsider FN's value as well. I don't know. I suppose there are plenty of people who live without FN, and from what I can tell, they still manage to be happy with their empty, flavorless lives. If you decide to try it, well...Godspeed.

Kelly said...

You can live without FN, Kris. I have for the past two years. (OK, that's a lie - my access was only completely cut off a year ago when my boyfriend got rid of his cable too.)

Here's the thing. I love Food Network and would get it in a heartbeat if I had the spare $50 per month to access it and like 70 other channels I don't care about. But letting go has been made a lot easier by the fact that the channel is not what it used to be.

Toward the end of the boyfriend's cable run, he and I could not tune in to FN without seeing "Giada's Italian Vacation" or "Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels." That's not about food; it's about the personalities, and I won't put up with that nonsense from anyone except Alton Brown, who is my Food Network boyfriend and can therefore feast on asphalt any time he likes.

So I get by, thanks to the Internet and a few "Good Eats" DVDs. I recently got a digital TV converter, which quadrupled my access to PBS stations; I'm hoping my odds of seeing some of their lovely cooking shows will go up as well.

To maximize your free cooking show viewing potential, consider building a DVR out of an old computer for cheap (Google "diy tivo" for ideas).

And remember - if you give up Food Network, you never have to wake up in a cold sweat knowing that in some small way, you're contributing to the income of Sandra Lee.

sara l said...

I agree with most of the other commenter's, if you're doing fine without cable you can find way to live without food network.

Now that I've given the 'good' answer I'll confess that I don't want to cancel my package and loose all of the great things I have on my DVR.

Grumpy Misanthrope said...

The Food Network no longer has value as a resource about food. It's about personalities rather than cooking, etc... The fact that Good Eats and Molto Mario were really the only good shows about cooking and food (1 is only showing reruns, which I would rather have on DVD and the other isn't even on FN anymore) make it really easy for me to dump the FN.