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Food Network Stars in...

Food Network Stars in Review: Rachael Ray

This is the first in series where I review Food Network stars for rookies to the network (shame on you!). Are you a bored law student who wants to learn to cook as a method of relaxation but you don’t own a chef’s knife, food processor, or even a box grater? No? Wait that was me! Eight years later, I successfully feed my family whole and nutritious foods. This is how it started. 

It is easy to think you hate Rachael Ray if you do not get to know her through her recipes. Do not be short sighted. Rach, as I like to call her, can change your life, even if you never want to refer to anything as “Yum-O.” 

In her eight years on the Food Network, Rachael Ray has catapulted into our culture and kitchen. As she is quick to remind us, she is not a trained chef, but started in the restaurant industry and as a food buyer for a gourmet market. While she now has a talk show and magazine, she is most famous, and most beloved in my house, for her Food Network show and cookbooks based on the premise of a Thirty-Minute Meal. The entire meal, from chopping to plating, is supposed to take thirty minutes, perhaps forty-five if you are not particularly dexterous with a knife. 

I will never forgot the two recipes that convinced me that Rachael could be trusted: Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup and Cranberry Bog Burgers. A soup made of pumpkin puree and black beans with curry and cumin spices? Turkey burgers with apples in them? That sounds a little gross. But those two recipes are still staples in my kitchen and they taught me to trust unusual flavor combinations, especially in the name of a quick and tasty meal. Most recently, Rachael blew my husband away:

“What are we having for dinner?”

 “Eggplant subs.”

“I don’t like eggplant.”

“It’s Rachael. Just try it.”

“Okay, if it’s Rachael.”

And he had to admit, Rachael can do eggplant too (oven fried with a nice red pepper tomato sauce). Indeed, Rachael can put just about anything in macaroni & cheese and make you a hero at your family reunion. 

These days, I get all my produce from Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and I have drastically reduced the processed foods we buy. But I use Rachael more than ever. I have heard food snobs and gourmands bemoan “the Rachael Ray” method of cooking with fast and easy products, and I wanted to leap through my iPhone and shove the recipe for Creole Shrimp under the noses of those fancy-pants cooks. You cannot make a thirty-minute meal without a number of fresh ingredients, especially produce. Rachael uses few canned products except stock, tomatoes, and beans, and really, don’t we all? Instead, I can easily run a search for the vegetable that shows up in my CSA box and find a few Rachael recipes for the week. Piles of chard? How about seared greens with cheese ravioli and a fresh sage browned butter sauce. Or chard and lemon ricotta pasta? Overrun by zucchini? Try vegetable sloppy sandwiches on an English muffin or a Parmesan zucchini pizza. And, did we mention you would have it on the table in thirty minutes? 

There are a lot of ways to be a good cook these days. But speed does not mean sacrifice. Give Rachael a week night chance, and then feel free to brag to the uber mommies about how you really do not buy frozen lasagna any more.