Archive for January, 2007

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Spanakopita: The triangulation of feta, phyllo and spinach.

January 15, 2007

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Ah, the magic of finger foods.

Spanakopita is one of my favorites. Why? First, because it harnesses the luscious combination of spinach and feta. Those two kids were just made for each other. Second, because it deploys that tastiest of all store-bought pastries: phyllo dough. Who doesn’t succumb to the siren song of layers of buttery, crispy, paper-thin dough?

Better still, spanakopita is a crowd pleaser — ready to pulled out for any occasion where utensils are optional. Not only is it tasty, but those little Greek triangles look fairly impressive stacked up on your hors d’oerves table. Guests from carnivore to vegeterian will love the tang of feta meets spinach, and appreciate the subtle buttery crunch of the phyllo dough… the papery remnants of which they’ll lick, satisfied, off their lips.

I personally devour spanakopita, so it’s a good thing that it’s also so easy to make. Once you get your production line going, those little phyllo triangles will stack up like cars in DC traffic. Long a staple of my family’s party gatherings, my husband has turned his mad culinary skills to these little phyllo devils… with typical outstanding results. So, if you have a gathering where finger foods are the order of the day, try adding spanikopita to your lineup. Your tummy, and your guests’ tummies, will thank you.

Click here to download the recipe for Spanakoptia.

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Top Chef Week Ten: KRAFT!, two less than successful restaurants, and a shoulder shrug of a send off.

January 11, 2007

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Amid commercials for other Bravo shows and obvious product placement ads – KRAFT! TOYOTA! KENMORE! – there was also a Top Chef episode (brought to you by, KRAFT! TOYOTA! KENMORE!) Ahem.

Tonight’s Top Chef episode was a depressing wake-up call for all would-be restaurateurs out there – particularly those contemplating opening a restaurant on 48 hours notice with $500 for food, $500 for dishes and $700 for decorating and with roommates that you marginally, or openly, despise. We saw our intrepid contestants fall on their faces as diners spilled their dissatisfaction on those fun comment cards that only wiseacres and dissatisfied patrons usually fill out. (Note to future restaurateurs: Reconsider comment cards.)

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, as usual. First, there was the QuickFire challenge, graced by a guest judge nearly as snarky as our own dear contestants. (Bonus: He, too, sported weird hair.) The chefs had 30 minutes to create a “snack” using KRAFT! products – mayonnaise, barbeque sauce and dressing. Obviously the producers had to cut out the intense eye-rolling that may have followed. (After all, these were the same contestants who found Friday’s cuisine completely foreign… now they’re eager to squirt barbeque sauce, mayonnaise and dressing on a “snack”?) Anyway, top offerings ranged from sauce-covered figs (Elia) to steak tartar (Cliff) to Po Boy with pickled peaches (Sam) to curried lamb kabob (Marcel). Michael’s overly cheesy crab-brie quesadilla and Ilan’s dry napoleon failed to impress.

Marcel and Sam won the contest and earned the honor of picking teams a la grade school kickball (an awkwardness that Marcel highlighted, obviously reliving painful memories). Marcel chose Elia and Cliff; Sam chose Michael and Ilan. Cliff, for his part, wasn’t happy – and recounted how many times he’d had an urge to slug Marcel. (Five.) Still, he went along, grimacing mightily.

(And to think, Cliff hadn’t even heard Marcel’s cringe-inducing rap at the opening of Top Chef. It took all our willpower not to exercise a clicker finger during that skin-crawling display. Had Cliff heard it, the total number of would-be blows to Marcel would definitely be six. At least.)

The teams endured the aforementioned task of coming up with a restaurant concept and opening with at least three dishes for patrons in a matter of hours. After toying with a Mediterranean restaurant, Marcel’s team switched gears when Elia suggested an up-scale diner. Sam’s all-male team went with an Italian restaurant cutesily named for a combination of all their honeys’ handles. Lala… something.

To sum up: The food at both places was marginal. The service – fronted by Ilan and Cliff, respectively – was poor. At the up-scale diner restaurant, the judges were made to wait 20 minutes for an undercooked amuse bouche chicken wing. At the Italian restaurant, they were denied wine (there wasn’t any), made to look at a spit-up olive pit on the table, and subjected to a dessert of watermelon with blue cheese sauce. Noses wrinkled, and judges decided that there was no winner tonight.

As all six contestants were made to face the chopping block, the pickings winnowed to Sam, Cliff and Michael. Ultimately, Michael – who had failed to spend an extra $100 at the supply store – was sent packing. And despite the dramatic music being piped in, it all seemed somehow anticlimactic. Were our brains dulled by the onslaught of product placements and ads for The Real Housewives of OC? Or is our interest in the show merely waning? We’d consider it more… but… yawn.

TOYOTA! KENMORE! KRAFT! Alright! We’re awake!

Are they setting up Marcel to be the show’s grand anti-hero?

Husband: I like this question if for no other reason than we can give him a nickname and tights. Really, it’s why I made the question up. I think it’s obvious that our junior Wolverine has become Foam Boy. I do think producers might be casting him as sympathetic so they don’t get hate mail at the end of the show. I think Marcel hurts these efforts when he tries to rap. People need to learn: Don’t rap or sing in front of a camera unless you are a professional. Even if Marcel isn’t the focus of producers’ schemes, it appears he might have the chops to continue being a compelling focus for the show.
Wife: I don’t know whether Marcel is an anti-hero… “Foam Boy” sounds more like a side kick to “Gelee Man.” But I know that I’m getting bored and tired of the drama surrounding him. Most of the conflicts come across as incredibly immature; mostly I wish could tell the contestants to grow up. (This is why I don’t normally watch reality shows.) I’ve moved from disliking Marcel, to feeling sorry for him, to not giving a whit about him, to really, really wishing I had never seen him rap.

Are we shocked about Michael?

H: Yes and no. I’m only surprised because last week the show went the same direction when Betty was kicked off. It had a great deal of drama, but none of it about the person who was kicked off the show. The reason I am not surprised is that it has become pretty clear that Michael, even if he’s not technically the least proficient, is not at a point in his life where he’s decided how he’ll be as a chef and leader. I don’t doubt that he’s a very good cook. I just think when you see the presentation and flavors from the others, it’s clear he is not there yet.
W: I’m not shocked that Michael was booted, but I’m sorry to see him go. His head down, hands in pockets, “Aw shucks” smile at the end is the reason why I ultimately grew to like him (after mocking him – a lot), and probably the reason he was also kicked off. He was a sheep among mini-Wolverines (and mini-Wolverine haters.)

Why were people drawn to the Italian restaurant over the diner?

H: I don’t know myself. I love me a good burger and find that there is a great deal out there in this realm of food. I might be biased because I cook a great deal in this area. But a true burger that modifies the standard and brings in new flavors and elements would have had me in a second. I also have this bias about Italian food. I love Italian food, especially pasta. Just look at the number of dishes we’ve posted with pasta here. But my personal take is that most Italian requires a limited set of skills to execute well. There are things at the fine dining end of the spectrum I’m not talking about. Italian is something I eat when I want to eat. If I want to go out and experience food, I typically don’t eat Italian.
W: As is every red-blooded American’s right, I like diner food, too. But I think the customers were all about boozing – let’s face it: they didn’t pay money to eat at those “restaurants” — and an Italian joint was bound to have wine, right? Wrong. That factor probably resulted in some pretty nasty comment cards. Plus, people want more bang for their free food – and no doubt Italian sounded fancier.

Who do you think is going to win? Who do you think is next off?

H: This is a lot harder then last week. Sam and Cliff let me down… consider Cliff’s sour demeanor and Sam’s watermelon fiasco. I’m not sure if Elia has the chops to carry it out, but she appears to be the person minimally affected this week. So I’m going to go with her. My next off is going to be Ilan. It’s crunch time and Ilan is young and is not showing the initiative that appears to be the sort of thing they are rewarding. I also think his jabs at Marcel are setting him up for a big embarrassing kick off. We shall see. Heck, I could make arguments for all of them at this point!
W: After being on the fence about Elia, she has definitely grown on me. And relative to the other contestants she seems insanely reasonable. My once favorites Ilan and Cliff are continuing to fall in my estimation: Cliff, because he seems more and more like a jerk; Ilan for his immature obsession with picking on Marcel. At this point, it’s hard to have a stand-out favorite… and I won’t shed a tear for most of the contestants should they face the chopping block.

So who do you think is the winner? The next off? And did this episode finally feature food or were we just imagining it?  

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Pretty maids all in a row: Pistachio Madelines with meyer lemon glaze

January 7, 2007

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Madelines. Sure, they’re beautiful: Allluring golden exterior, perfectly molded scalloped shape… they even have a seductive feminine name. But are they tasty?

Yes, indeed.

At least the Madelines that my husband makes are. Continuing his pistachio theme — as evidenced by the handful of dead pistachio soldiers I’ve been sweeping up from our kitchen floor — he thought to include those yummy green nuts in his first foray into Madeline-baking. Brilliant!

The pistachio flavor here is subtle; the green nuts add most of their punch in the texture of the cake. As you sink your teeth into the delightfully fluffly Madeline, you get a taste of the green flecks of pistachio laced throughout. Meanwhile, your nostrils are filled with the breath of meyer lemon zest that the cakes contain. It was quite an experience for my wittle tongue, but my intrepid taste buds can handle it.

Can yours?

Click here to download the recipe for Pistachio Madelines w/Meyer Lemon Glaze

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Take that, Col. Sanders: Pistachio fried chicken

January 5, 2007

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There is some truth in advertising. Fried chicken really is finger lickin’ good.

But it is also extremely hard to prepare well at home, at least in our experience — which is why Col. Sanders is wearing that stupid grin on KFC’s ubiqutous sign. The colonel knows that when a fried chicken urge overtakes you, you’re more likely to grab a red-and-white bucket of his crispy fried breasts and thighs than attempt to make your own.

Until now.

That’s right. It was while flipping through TV channels over the holidays that my husband and I had our hopes rekindled for the possiblity of tasty home-fried chicken. A stroke of luck (or my husband’s overactive clicker finger) landed us on the Food Network just as Paula Dean, soaked in her Southern charm, was showing viewers how to make some alluring fried chicken. Not only did it look outstanding, she made it seem so simple.

This was in contrast to our past encounters with frying chicken at home. Those results had been less than appetizing: greasy bird parts, soggy coating that slipped off and failed to deliver a crunch, and a generally unappetizing fried oil smell that lingered for too long. Col. Sanders was not only grinning at us… he was taunting us.

But my husband must have gotten fried chicken on his brain anyway, because not a week after seeing this episode he declared that he was going to attempt pistachio fried chicken… a nuttier variation of Paula Dean’s recipe. Despite the TV evidence that this recipe could work, I was somewhat skeptical.

Skeptical, that is, until I saw those beautiful chicken quarters exiting our cast iron pan. Golden brown and delicious they were, with meat that was tender and moist. And when I pulled away a delightfully crispy piece of skin and was met with a satisfying and terrific crunch, I knew that we had vanquished the colonel.

Yes, folks, you can make good fried chicken at home. And if you have a taste for a nutty, crunchy skin on your fried chicken… try my husband’s pistachio fried chicken. You won’t be sorry, and — bonus — the colonel just might be!

Click here to download the recipe for Pistachio Fried Chicken


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Better Blogging Through Downloads.

January 4, 2007

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For those of you who have been reading the blog for awhile, you might have noticed there are regular comments that part of the recipes are being blocked by our photos. This puts us in an awkward position: We love our photos AND we love our recipes!

From the start, we’ve thought that telling the story both visually and literally is extremely important. To pass on the husband’s experience – and the wife’s eating pleasure! — it’s important that you see what we see, smell, taste and feel. (Or as best you can until they come up with smell-a-Web, lick-a-Web and feel-a-Web. The porn industry is eager for all of these developments, too.)

Finally we’ve come up with a solution to our Sophie’s choice between photos and recipes. We’ve added a feature — a recipe download. Now you can see the much-loved photos online and print out a handy copy of the entire recipe. PDF files of each recipe will be included at the beginning of each post.

(We’ll be working backwards in our recipe history to implement these PDF files, so please be patient! Eventually every post will have a PDF.)

Happy cooking and eating from the husband and wife! Oh and keep voting!

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Decision 2007: Is MHC the best new food blog?

January 4, 2007

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Is it just an honor to be nominated? Well, we won’t answer that question just yet. See, we are in the hunt for Well Fed’s Best New Food Blog Award. This was very exciting, so much so that I had to run upstairs to wake my wife to tell her the incredible news (while she tried to get some sleep, I was putting on the finishing touches to our weekly Top Chef post). Seeing the hour it was and the degree of disturbance I caused, I am positive my wife wanted to know if I was going to serve the left over pistachio crunch ice cream during my nearly unintelligible rant about how thrilled I was. So while my lovely and droopy-eyed bride wanted either ice cream or sleep (favoring sleep I’m sure), I am filled with excitement and energy.

This leads us to the big issue, winning. Being a man, and a competitive one, I like to win. I mean I went to law school and became a lawyer so that should give you an idea of how cut throat I can be. However, winning this award requires people to vote. So if you feel we are worthy of your vote, I encourage you to vote for us.

Even if you don’t vote for us, I do encourage you to hop over to Well Fed. The other four blogs competing against us are really great blogs. Also, there are other categories which I also urge you to read and check out some real top rate food and writing.

So in the spirit of Kennedy-Nixon in 1960 and the Florida Fiasco in 2000, we encourage you to vote early and vote often! We also thank you for your support.

If you want to vote, you can just click here.

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Top Chef Week Nine: Playing with food coloring, dining with sinners, and a semi-surprise elimination.

January 4, 2007

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Maybe it’s the fact that Top Chef has been off the air for what seems like years, but… who were these people? When we last left this gang of vagabond chefs, Michael was a loveable but underachieving slacker; Marcel was unforgivably annoying – with weird hair; Betty was wearing out her welcome; we were unsure whether we liked Elia; and Cliff, Sam and Ilan were our favorites to win. Well, not anymore. The only constant, it seems, is that Marcel still has weird hair.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night: The rise of Michael. It began inauspiciously with an interview that showed the poor kid sporting what Sam called “a huge, herpes-like sore” on his lip, the result of an apparently ham-handed teeth pulling. But the painkiller appeared to actually sharpen his culinary skills… beginning with the QuickFire. Our second-favorite guest judge Ted Allen (in fact, if Padma wipes out in her six-inch heels, they might ask him to take over) presided over a 30-minute contest where the chefs had to design a meal around a color. The losers were Betty (green, which, um, should have been easy), Marcel (brown, stumbled on a dirty coffee lake), and Ilan (red, taken too literally with steak tartar). Hmmmm… this bottom three seems prescient. The top three? Sam (killer yellow foods), Cliff (purple pleasure, despite his colorblindness!) and – dum, da, da, dum – Michael (orange triumphs with awesome carrot chips). Sadly, for him and his aching jaw, he does not get immunity for winning.

With Michael surprising us, the producers plied us meek viewers with more emotional turbulence. Exhibit A: Marcel gets mad screen time, and surprisingly, we start to feel a little sorry for mini-Wolverine. Everybody keeps picking on the kid, and you can almost see his little doe eyes blinking back the tears. Does all this face time mean he’ll be kicked off (as is the case with every other “featured” chef before him)? We’re not exactly on pins and needles, but still. Exhibit B: Sam and Ilan take out their knives … and use them on Marcel. (Along with Betty and Cliff, who feel no love for him or his hair products.) For those looking to feast on reality-show drama, this is all delicious stuff. For us, it spurs some indigestion – we don’t watch for schoolyard scuffles and name calling at the kitchen supply store. Where was the food?

Oh, yes. It was in the Elimination Challenge, which asked each contestant to draw a knife and choose one of the seven deadly sins to prepare. Their concepts would make up a seven-course meal served to a handful of famous people we (sort of) recognized. Here are the results in a quick rundown: Sam, wrathful in a spicy ceviche with biting popcorn; Betty, slothful with a trio of slow-roasted soups; Michael, working envy with salmon and trout; Cliff, greedy in a seafood bouillabaisse; Elia, prideful of roasted chicken; Marcel, lusting after some cherry gelee and foam; and Ilan, gluttonous over chocolate cake, funnel cake and macadamia brittle. To make a long story short (too late) Michael’s was the dish that the judges wanted to devour, though Sam’s and Elia’s weren’t half bad either.

The apex of the evening’s drama came when Marcel, Ilan and Betty were on the chopping block. Although Betty and Ilan’s dishes seemed to fair the worst with the judges (chunky, weird soups and soupy weird dessert), those two quickly focused on Marcel and his annoying personality as deserving to go. The judges picked up on this bullying tactic, noting, as wise Ted Allen put it, this has nothing to do with the food. Conclusion: Betty “packs her knives” and leaves (with a few more parting shots at Marcel), leaving Marcel to cope with the awkwardness of no one liking him. Sniff.

Are we surprised about Betty?
Husband: No. While I think Betty is a good cook, a very good cook, the show is now thinning out. With her gone, it appears the only comfort food type is Michael. What remains is the elite effete and urban type cooks. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s what I think most people think of as Top Chef.

Wife: I’m not surprised, either. Betty had been sinking to the bottom over the past few episodes, and her nerves seemed increasingly frayed. I’m drawn to her comfort-cooking style, but it hadn’t shone of late.

What was the dish you most wanted to try tonight?
H
: I wanted Sam’s popcorn and ceviche. He said something about the popcorn being traditional, but it caused my brain to fry. I think of ceviche as Old World Italian and popcorn as New World Popped Maize. Now, I must admit that I’ve never ordered ceviche in a restaurant, so I may be wrong, but these are not what I think of as a traditional match. Plus, Sam had wrath as his sin and I love me some spicy food!

W: I wanted to try the dish everyone raved about: Michael’s. Tom Colicchio’s surprised comment, “Our little Michael made this?” sealed the deal, and expressed exactly how I’ve come to feel about that furry goofball. It was disappointing that the judges didn’t articulate better what made the dish so tasty.

What is up with Michael?
H: Seriously, wow. I mean ‘WOW.’ Michael has his tooth pulled, is on drugs (no comment about whether this is a usual state for him), and wins both the QuickFire and Elimination. And while I might think it was sympathy, both his orange colored dish and his envy dish come off as the real deal. I was uber impressed and really felt it was about time! Go Michael! Congrats and I’m somewhat sorry I’ve made fun of you over the last few weeks (Only sort of sorry because you make it so easy to get a laugh.)

W
: Michael does like to keep the expectations low, which I can sympathize with. If you don’t expect much, you can’t be disappointed, no? But clearly the kid has some talent. Let’s see if the boost of confidence that comes with winning can buoy him to greater heights, or if the added pressure (and fading Vicodin) will be just too much for him.

Winners and Next Off?

H: Despite the explosion in the kitchen supply store, Sam is the man. I think the samurai is showing both leadership and creativity. I think Cliff not being in the top group a couple weeks in a row knocked him down, and Ilan’s actions this week hurt him ,too. As for the next off, I’m thinking its very tough. Marcel’s presentation is keeping him alive, so I’m thinking we might see Michael go. I know he was awesome this week, but the doctor may have him off the hard stuff by next episode. Also, I think the judges don’t like his style of cooking in general. Let’s hope I am wrong!

W
: I like Sam to win, too, although I think he should keep his temper in check. Reality shows aren’t kind to temper tantrums. I think Marcel’s days are numbered, if only because he’ll start to welcome elimination if the unending ribbing of him continues. That, and the fact that the judges seem to be catching wise to his never-ending “foam” and “gelee” tricks. If he doesn’t have something more up his sleeve next week, it may be curtains for him.

Who is your next off and winner? What happened with Ilan’s quiet cool demeanor? And why is Elia the only one who wants to talk to Marcel?

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