THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
Although it's moved away from straight cooking shows lately (kind of like how VH1 and MTV don't show much music anymore), The Food Network has amassed a large catalog of instructional cooking shows that it's starting to release on DVD. Rachael Ray, she of the big smile and perky style, has carved out her own niche as the host of 30 Minute Meals, a show that concentrates on helping prepare food quickly after a busy day at work. Sort of the opposite of Alton Brown's Good Eats, 30 Minute Meals is all about practicality. If you want a bunch of recipes that you can whip up with plenty of time to still catch My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance, this is it. There isn't much depth beyond "chop this, dice that, throw it in the pot and stir," but some of her dishes look quite tasty.
The three disc set I received for review featured twelve half-hour episodes, featuring recipes such as grilled Spanish-style snapper with tomato and green olive salsa, tuna steak au poivre, double-dipped spicy chicken and crab cakes with roasted pepper sauce. All the dishes look lovely and will definitely impress a blind date or a family get-together and Ray's friendly personality helps make it look easy.
There are times, however, when the ride gets a little bumpy. It's very easy to backseat drive a cooking show, but Ray does mess up the recipes occasionally (at least once in this set she goes back and corrects herself, other times her instructions just don't seem to make sense.) Another minor quibble is her slight cheats that bring the recipes in at thirty minutes: Suggestions like washing and chopping all your veggies right after you buy them to save time later. Honey, if I had time to do that, I wouldn't need you!
Ray's overly chipper attitude can also be a little much at times. Her constant giggling is just silly, as is her habit of calling extra virgin olive oil "E.V.O.O." I know chefs sometimes do that but, please, stop. Statements like "let's get a little nut action with the green beans" just sound weird and her laughing at the salad spinner has a strange stoner-esque vibe. Ray is fun and bubbly but at times the show's "real time" style causes her to yip-yap more than is needed.
Granted, some liberties need to be taken to fulfill the show's gimmick, but even if you end up spending, say, forty minutes cooking up Venetian shrimp with scallops, I don't think anyone will hold it against you.
Like other Food Network DVD releases, the full-frame video quality here is lacking. The main problem is over saturated colors which make everything from the food to the funky set seem garish and unappealing. The show doesn't look like this on the air, so there's no reason for it to be so ugly here.
The Dolby Digital audio is flat and uninvolving, but it doesn't really matter here.
Printed recipes in a booklet are probably the most useful extra, although sadly no photos are included. Other than that only a biography of the host and Food Network trailer are included.
A decent cooking show, Thirty Minute Meals is a good primer for the busy professional. Rachael Ray is a fine host, if a bit mannered, and her recipes seem simple but flavorful. For some reason, Food Network's DVD treatment is lacking, as usual, but for the fan, this set makes a nice gift.