Archive for November, 2006

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Top Chef at the midpoint: An MHC clip-show

November 29, 2006

topchef_desktop_thumb1.jpgIt’s that time of year. Shows go on hiatus and we’re stuck with re-runs and dull holiday specials. Of course, we could turn off the mind-numbing boob tube and do something crazy like, say, read. Dramatic pause. Ha, ha, ha, ha!

But seriously, folks. There was no new Top Chef tonight, so we’ve devised a way to fill the TV void… by talking about TV. We thought we’d devise our own short clip show of sorts and reflect on the season that has been Top Chef.

The highlight so far is…
Husband: Anthony Bourdain‘s stint as guest judge. His appearance in the second half of last week’s show really demonstrated the program’s potential (and how it’s falling short). Bourdain’s appearance was both comical but duly critical — it actually was about the food, instead of just snarky drama. My favorite Bourdain quote was his description of Michael: “Betty Crocker and Charles Manson had a love child and it’s cooking for me.”
Wife: Love the drah-ma. From stolen lychees to the addition of furtive tablespoons of sugar to toothbrushes dropped on nasty dorm floors, the attempts to make compelling TV out of mundane interactions between (often intoxicated) chefs are admirable. What’s next? Someone changed my oven temperature and used all of the butter? Can’t wait!

Last year, Top Chef gave us “It is what it is.” Is there a catch phrase this year? Anything?
H: I don’t know if there’s a Top Chef catch phrase, but the thing we’re sure never to forget is Marcel‘s hair. Part Wolverine, part Farah Fawcett. What is in that?
W: I’m still fond of “It is what it is” and I don’t know why these chefs don’t use it more. I use it all the damn time… It should be a bumper sticker. There’s no way this group could top it… and the best lines of the show so far have come from Anthony Bourdain, and that kid at Camp Glucose who declared that she “wanted to marry the hot diabetic.”

Best Elimination or QuickFire challenge?
H: The vending machine QuickFire challenge. First, because you got to see the contestants make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. (Some of the crap in those machines was frightening.) Second, because we got to see Michael’s true inner spirit — which said, ” I don’t really care about this contest” — via his pornographic Cheeto emerging from a lump of Snickers offering.
W: Well, since my hubby has named the obvious best challenge, I’ll go with the ice cream contest as runner up. We got to see Marcel’s cutting edge molecular-gastronmic instincts lead him awry as he prepared bacon and avocado ice cream for 7-year-olds in board shorts, and Emily‘s inner devil rear its ugly head as innocent and average looking beach-goers were subjected to a bitter and hostile tongue lashing for not enjoying her ice cream. And she got kicked off. Ain’t karma grand?

How the show could be improved?
H: I think there’s a dearth of big personality providing guidance to the contestants. While Tom is great, I think having him and another chef of his caliber (perhaps Anthony Bourdain or Danielle Bouloud, both of whom already have TV shows) would really spur the contestants and make them step it up, as Tom has been trying (with limited success) to do.
W: I’d like to see more of the, ahem, food that these contestants prepare. Especially in the early episodes, we viewers glimpsed the dishes for only a second and had no notion of the ingredients, or even how they tasted. I like this show because it’s (supposedly) a meritocracy. It would help to judge the chefs’ skills if we could actually envision eating their food. Or, the producers could bag that and just inject more drama about stolen produce.

Since we always pick a winner and loser, let’s turn it around: Who of those chefs who’ve been eliminated would you invite back?
H: Emily. Actually, I don’t want Emily to come back, I just want her to be a color commentator for the show so we can hear her nasty remarks about what’s happening.
W: None of ’em. And let’s get crackin’ on eliminating more. Seriously, don’t we know who the final three or four are going to be? Let’s cut to the chase, producers.

Your favorite moments? The funniest or saddest bits? Heroes and villains? And predictions for who will come out on top?

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Mmmm zesty and sweet!: Meyer lemon pound cake with meyer lemon curd

November 29, 2006

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Sorry, but the wife’s witty remarks won’t appear today. So you are stuck with just me, the Husband, today.

So where was I? What do I want to rant about? Oh right, Meyer lemons… For most of us on the East Coast of the US, getting these little gems is a treat. Confined mostly to the West Coast of the US because of their thin skin, meyer lemons are usually just the flavoring in large commercially produced products. Yet about a month ago, I saw them in my local grocer and decided I had to have them.

Now that I’ve stated my wanting for these lemons, I guess I should explain why they are so special as to ellicit such desire from a married man. Meyer lemons are not really lemons in the way most of us here in the US think of them. They were introduced to this country about a century ago from East Asia and are likely a hybrid between a lemon and a sweet orange. The result is a juicy citrus fruit that has an intense fragrance and a juice that is both sweet and tart. The problem is that they tend to have a thin skin, making them harder to get if you don’t live near where they grow. So when they appeared in my grocer, I bought.

So now that I had a bundle of these left-coast fruits, I wanted to make something that really allowed the fruit to show off. I mean these are out of town guests, you really have to show them a good time. So I gave them a simple place to shine—a pound cake with a nice lemon curd topping. The results were good.

The recipe has a pleasant lightness and tang of flavor from the curd, yet it has a nice filling feeling to it from the density of the pound cake. This combination is also flexible. I served this as dessert for a dinner party with a tiny bit of ice cream and some powdered sugar over the plate to fancy it up. Or, it can be served like it is in the photos for a simple treat.

I really love this recipe with all its flavor and little effort. The cake takes time to bake, but very little preparation time—the equivalent of making brownies. The curd is also very simple (though you do need to stand over it for 10 min), but can be used in many ways and as a topping for other things. If you can’t get meyer lemons, you can use regular ones. However, I would use at least one extra lemon in both recipes if you do. Meyer lemons are very juicy. I hope you enjoy a bit of springtime here in winter.

Click here to download the recipe for Meyer Lemon Poundcake with Meyer Lemon Curd

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Shrimp ‘n’ grits. Need I say more?

November 27, 2006

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For the uninitiated (are there any poor, deprived souls out there?), grits are good. And of course, shrimp is good. Therefore, shrimp and grits are really, really good. It makes perfect sense, and causes me to wonder why I didn’t do better on the damn logic portion of the GRE.

I had never had grits before I attended college in the South, and the school cafeteria didn’t really do them justice. It wasn’t until I ventured to order grits in a restaurant that I acquired a rabid taste for them. Now, I’m slowly eating my way through the (usually shrimp ‘n’) grits offerings at our favorite haunts.

But my husband here has just made it a little bit harder for those establishments: He has set the shrimp ‘n’ grits bar astonishingly high with his latest creation. His shrimp ‘n’ grits combines my favorite sauce for shrimp (spicy and Cajun) with creamy, delicious grits. And the two do play well together: The heat from the buttery cayenne-laced sauce infuses its goodness into the shrimp and veggies, and then mellows out when it hits the thick and creamy grits. If you have a crusty bread roll and a fork, you’ll be a happy camper.

Tuck in, folks. Tuck in.

Click here to download the recipe for Spicy Shrimp and Grits.

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Mmm…. stuffing. Mmm… pie.

November 23, 2006

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Happy Thanksgiving!!! Well, it’s one of those super busy days for us cooking fools. Luckily, this year I avoided the duty of cooking Thanksgiving dinner. We are enjoying it with my family in North Carolina. This means my step-mother has the job of cooking for 10 or more. I suspect I will be in the kitchen offering to help, but have a feeling I’ll be turned away. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Top Chef Week Six: We missed a QuickFire, Anthony Bourdain at an avant garde Thanksgiving, and Carlos goes off to drink margaritas

November 23, 2006

topchef_desktop_thumb1.jpgSynopsis…
Well, we have a confession, we only saw the second half of the show. We were in transit to our holiday destination and if you were on I-95 between DC and Richmond yesterday evening, you know what I am talking about. So we finally settled in and got to catch the second half. Le sigh. That means we only saw half the show’s snarkiness, therefore our snarkiness is at half-power. Sorry.

We missed the QuickFire and plunged right into the Elimination Challenge. Through our powers of rapid deduction, we gleaned that half the contestants were sitting this one out and the other half were compelled to make a “cutting edge” Thanksgiving meal in their dorm-like apartment kitchens. Those who were sitting out bided their time drinking, ripping on Marcel, and trying to create drama by telling Frank (a.k.a the “snorting wildebeest”) that he should be really ticked that Marcel dropped his toothbrush on the floor. The wildebeest, sporting a wine glass, pointed his finger at Marcel and talked very loudly. Great drama.

Meanwhile, the cooking. Let’s sum up: In four hours, Carlos made a butternut squash salad (judged as lame). Michael made a turkey canapé (good), potatoes two ways and cheese-wrapped corn (tasty and puzzling), and a cheese plate (who doesn’t like cheese?). Elia made a delicious mushroom soup (er, do other people eat this at Thanksgiving? Is my family missing out?). Marcel made a turkey roulade and cranberry gelee (apparently daring, but dry). And finally, Betty made a pumpkin crème brulee, an espresso and something I can’t remember (OK, but not cutting edge and not crème brulee). Marcel and Elia were judged the best, and Elia won because hers actually tasted good. After more finger pointing, Michael said Carlos should go home, Carlos said Betty should go home, and Betty practically screamed that Carlos should go home. And ultimately, perhaps due to Betty’s decibel output, Carlos was kicked off for preparing a mediocre salad in four hours.

The highlight of the show was actually Anthony Bourdain, who graced the table as a guest judge, inserting a biting wit and humor that made you realize that the show is usually really lacking in that department. So it was a great move, Top Chef, but also a bad move. Unless you bring him back next week… What do you say?

Anthony Bourdain was a quote machine. A sampling of his great lines:
“Its limp and unattractive…”
“What type of crack house are you running?”
“Complete failure of imagination!”
“Just thinking about it puts me into a coma.”
“So perverse that I’m starting to enjoy it.”
“Betty Crocker and Charles Manson had a love child and it’s cooking for me.” (About Michael. Natch.)
“Despite its pure Flinstonian Execution…” (About Michael. Natch.)
“On a cruise with Kathy Lee yodeling on the leto deck…”

Is Betty having a meltdown?

Husband: Yes. I think we’re seeing our kind champion from the first few weeks turn into a Whitney Houston-like diva, sans the drugs.
Wife: I declared that she was having a meltdown during the show. The signs: Shouting that Carlos should be kicked off (at a volume that alarmed the poor, skittish judges), and repeated immature confrontations with Marcel. I think she may look back at some of these episodes and cringe. I hope she gets it together, or it could be a tearful goodbye. In the meantime, a word of warning to Marcel: You don’t want to antagonize a woman on the edge who’s wielding a chef’s knife.

What product placement opportunity do you think they are missing?
H
: Aspirin or one of those over-the-counter hangover remedies that you see at gas stations.
W: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Marcel’s hair products. Is it mousse? Gel? Dippity-do? Dapper Dan? I’m burning to know.

Predictions: Winner? Next off?
H
: I’m still sticking with Cliff since I didn’t see anything he did this week. I WILL NOT pick Michael to be kicked off. I’m ignoring him. I’m going out on a limb and saying Frank might go. His drunken dressing down of Marcel seemed a precursor to a meltdown.
W: I’ll pick Sam to win. Just to vary from picking Ilan again. And I dig Sam’s Samurai ponytail thing. Hmmm…. Hot diabetic samurai. Sounds like a Quentin Tarantino film. Off? Marcel? Why not?

Your thoughts? Your winners? And what did we miss so we don’t have to download it on iTunes while snarfing down turkey and pie?

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Don’t bogart that cranberry cobbler

November 22, 2006

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Cranberries + cobbler = Happy

Face it: Cranberries are a requisite ingredient in the upcoming holiday gorging event. As my husband (mockingly) describes below, I enjoy me some canned cranberry sauce. Preferably Ocean Spray, still bearing the telltale cylindrical marks on its wobbly sides, delicately sliced straight from the can.

As much as I enjoy that cranberrified-jelly-goop, I realize it’s not the apex of cranberries’ culinary potential. And my husband has opened my eyes to still better uses for that red gem… cobbler, for instance.

Cobbler is delicious, particularly when the biscuit topping is crumbly and delicate — and perfect for mopping up any escaping sweet syrup from the hostage fruit filling. Cranberry cobbler is no exception. The berries’ tart flavor yields to a long roasting in sugar, juice and spices — and the resultant heat from that cooking helps to cook the undersides of those crumbly biscuits. It’s a culinary masterpiece, and not that hard to make, to boot.

So, fellow canned cranberry sauce lovers, I urge you to branch out and sample a berry that’s never seen the inside of a can. You won’t be sorry.

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Warning Test Kitchen Experiment in Progress: Chestnut and Acorn Squash Ravioli

November 21, 2006

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Experiments are good. However, sometimes you end up scratching your head when you fail. The individual pieces may work, but the combination makes you realize that not all things work together in the kitchen. I’ve been to a few restaurants, most of them leaning towards “fusion” cuisine, where there is such a discord of flavors that you are wondering who in the kitchen is tasting the food before it went out. (My wife and I have a restaurant in mind when we had one of those moments and it always gives a good chuckle to remember it.)

Unfortunately for me, last night, I had one of those moments. Caught in the frenzy for Thanksgiving, I tried to continue my exploration of very fall ingredients and give it some Turkey Day love. Oh, well, so sometimes you learn more from the effort than the results.

The new ingredients were acorn squash and chestnuts. Both are quintessential cold weather flavors and would require some effort to learn on my part. I had never used them. I had tasted both on a few occasions, liked them well enough. Yet, the only thing I was confident about them was that I would need to roast both ingredients before serving them.

It was after the thought of roasting them that my thoughts turned to ravioli. I decided I would make a filling from roasted squash and chestnuts. Then, I decided to serve them with a sauce made from braising a turkey leg. Now before you go “Ewww” too much, both pieces, the ravioli and the sauce, were delicious. My mistake was the combination. The problem was the ravioli’s filing was so sweet from the squash and the chestnuts and the sauce from the turkey was too heavy and too savory.

However, the ravioli are right. And seeing as this is a blog about the food I make and my wife eats, I felt I should share a bit of my work in progress. I don’t want people think everything I make is great. Trust me, my wife has eaten a few embarrassments over the years. Right now, I’m working on a lighter, better sauce to make this work. But until then, advice and experience of my readers could be hugely beneficial. I hope you enjoy and share ideas on my work in progress! Read the rest of this entry ?