Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bizarre Foodie Dream

I had a dream early this morning that I was in the kitchen in my family's house in Guilford. I was preparing an elaborate feast borrowing elements from several Asian cuisines and I was looking for someone to feed. I thought my brother would be a likely candidate. (Although he is just shy of 5 years younger than me in reality, he was about 15 years younger in the dream.) When I went off to find him (it was a big house) my mother got tired of the mess in the kitchen and put everything away in the fridge. When I returned from my search, fruitless, everything was already cold. Upset, I started pulling things back out of the fridge - several salads, garnishes, various exotic leaves I was using as plates(!), meat - to reheat.

My brother suddenly showed up, as did several strangers, all clamoring for food. Before I know it, the kitchen has more than doubled in size, I have about twenty dishes that I am in the middle of preparing, and there are dozens of people waiting to eat. I am starting to grab strangers and assign them tasks.

"Please reheat this and place about a tablespoon's worth on each plate," I said as I put a casserole filled with the ginger-scented leaves of about 100 brussels sprouts into the hands of a strange woman.

"And you, top each spoonful of that with a little sauce," as I handed a bowl of sauce to another woman.

I wanted to plate everything, all umpty-three dishes, and then serve, but I notice that people were starting to serve themselves buffet-style, one of which was Martha Stewart. She was acting all imperious like it was her kitchen. I informed her that it was not a buffet, and she looked miffed. I then shouted above the din to make an announcement to all assembled: "People, this is not a buffet. If you've already filled your plate, please take it into the dining room and eat. Everyone else who's not here to help me please leave and you'll get plates eventually!" or something like that.

And then I woke up, annoyed. What the hell was that all about?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bleeped Bourdain

For those curious about what Bourdain really says in the bleeped bits from the video I posted earlier in the week, here's the scoop from the Amateur Gourmet

* on Next Food Network star: "it's sort of like watching German anal porn, I can't turn away... it's horrifying, but I'm learning something about Germany while I'm watching it."
* on Sandra Lee: "She should be taken to Guantanamo and waterboarded."
* any final words: "Watch Travel's so much better than Food Network."
[The bleeping makes it seem worse than it is--well except for that Guantanamo bit--but those were the parts the higher-ups took exception to.]

Top Chef Chicago Episode Three

The episode opens with evidence of what might be a budding romance between Spike and Andrew as they play a little grabass. There was lots of giggling and touching and next week we'll probably see them both fall out of the same bunk bed.

Shenanigans are brief, however, as at 10:02pm, Padma is already announcing this week's Quickfire challenge. When I saw that Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo was the guest judge, I immediately thought, "ah! Create a new chicken sandwich for Burger King!" But no. The challenge was to reinvent the Mexican staple, tacos, into a fine dining dish. Many of the chefs balked at taking a traditional - and delicious - street food and hoity-ing it up. But they did it anyway.

I was especially impressed with Manuel's pronunciation as the cheftestants described their dishes for the judges. I have no idea what he said, but eet sounded bery bery Espanish to me. Then there was this chick Lisa Fernandez who suddenly appeared. Was she in either of the first two episodes at all? Why do I not remember her? She's either going to win this thing or get eliminated next week.

Bayless picks his bottom three dishes. Not surprisingly, Mr Soufflé Disaster Erik's was the least favorite. It was called a "train wreck," but I thought it looked more like the "contents of a baby's diaper." The mysterious Lisa Fernandez and Ryan Idontknowfrompiccata were also on the bottom of the heap.

Eric's Diaper Bag Special

While Rick loved Andrews duck tacos, and thought Spike's were "super soul-satisfying," he proclaimed Richard's jicama-wrapped veggie appetizer tacos as the winner. "A beautiful dish," that Bayless plans to steal for use on the menu at Topolobampo, his upscale Mexican restaurant. Gee, Rick, thanks for asking. Can't come up with your own dishes anymore?

Mark's tacos weren't shown at all in the episode, but I thought they were an interesting idea. Even more interesting is's spelling of "mille feuille."

At the end of the Quickfire, the chefs divide up into two teams, red and blue. They get into their Toyota Highlanders and head off into the wilds of Chicago, finally stopping in a residential neighborhood where they are given the bad news: the chefs have to prepare food for the neighborhood block party in the " challenge."

Rather than hit Whole Foods, the cheftestants are told that they need to do panty pantry raids on the neighborhood houses. The chefs seem to feel strange about doing so, as if Bravo hasn't already warned the neighbors and stocked their pantries for them!

After the awkwardness, the chefs take their loot back to the Top Chef kitchens. The Red team decides to make boring Americana-type staples like corn dogs and hamburgers, and the Blue team decides they will make upscale food, like mac and cheese made with huge boxes of Velveeta. Scary.

Tom struts in for his Sniff 'n' Sneer. When Ryan tells him he plans to use a white balsamic vinaigrette on his Waldorf salad, Tom haughtily informs him that "mayonnaise is what keeps everything fresh." Tom, baby, you've got half the story. Commercial mayonnaise is indeed a hostile environment for salmonella bacteria because of the pH level and sodium content. And why is this? Because the USDA regulates the amount of acid commercial mayo producers use in their product. Acid = vinegar. White balsamic = vinegar. Homemade mayo on the other hand, made with raw eggs and relatively little vinegar or lemon juice, is a concoction that would happily invite salmonella to grow in its creamy goodness. So don't be so smug, Tom, it's acid that does the trick.

So there, you learned something this week.

The elimination challenge involved real teamwork. The chefs tasted each others' food, there was little griping, nobody planned to throw anyone under the bus. They seemed to enjoy working with each other and the kitchen had an overall feeling of friendly camaraderie. Hate that. Where's the crazy guy running around with knives? Where's the pompous dude complaining that there is no proper wine match for Velveeta?

We next see the party in full swing and the neighbors seem to be enjoying the food. Padma, Tom, Rick Bayless, and Ted Allen cruise the buffet and taste the culinary offerings while the cheftestants served food and drank lots of beer.

At judges' table, Tom nitpicked Richards paella for not really being paella because there was no top and bottom crust. Well, it was made ahead and reheated, so of course it would lose the crust. He said it was more like a pilaf. Why is Tom so into semantics? Nikki's macaroni and cheese was a disaster, which any chef should have known would be the case to begin with. My mac and cheese is fabulous, but the second day, after refrigeration, it's hard and dry and needs a whole lot more heat than a couple cans of Sterno can produce to bring it back to any sort of life. Despite these complaints, Blue team won, with Stephanie getting the individual win for conceptualizing the dessert and working on the drink.

It was suggested that the Red team dumbed down their menu. Crap like pasta salad (it's hard to make a good one in the first place, and I have no idea why it was so popular in the 80s) and the completely insane idea of making corn dogs in advance were not saved by Dale's innovative and delicious-looking smoked red curry pork skewers. As for Ryan's Waldorf salad? It was panned because the chicken was "too moist." Have you ever heard that complaint in your life? Moist chicken is a bad thing now. I think Tom was just sore because he didn't get a chance to get his Hellman's on.

These don't even look particularly appetizing. Turds on a stick.

It was difficult to determine whether the pasta salad or the corn dogs were a bigger faux pas, but in the end, Erik got to pack his knives and go.

Next week: Andrew and Spike take their love to the next level!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Stinky Cheese

On a recent trip to Whole Foods, Mr Minx and I picked up some extremely stinky cheese - French Muenster. We both like the square mild American version of Muenster with its orange colored edges and tiny holes and thought that the French version would be similar. It was wedge shaped, with an obvious linen-textured top and bottom rind; the cheese appeared to be semi-soft and oozed out the sides. And it had a mild smell through the plastic wrap. We chose a small wedge to try.

Once home, I unwrapped the cheese and was immediately hit by an odor like the inside of a hamper in the Ravens' lockeroom - dirty feet, jockstraps, maybe even some death. God, it was stinky. Mr Minx couldn't even eat it - he gagged a little at the first taste. I thought it tasted ok if one didn't inhale too deeply while it was in front of the face, but didn't taste that good!

After dinner, I rewrapped the cheese and put it in a plastic baggie. Somehow, that wasn't enough to contain the stench, as in a few minutes the whole refrigerator reeked. Two more bags later, the cheese, now triple-bagged and wrapped in plastic, seems to be behaving itself. There's still a sizable piece left, all mine I assume. What should I do with it? We've had stinky cheese in the past and Mr Minx used it on a pizza with lamb, which worked out very well as the stink was neutralized by the heat. But will that work on French Muenster, or will the stink take over the house?

Stay tuned....

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Blotto Bourdain on Food TV

The Food Network probably allowed this to be posted on their site because Bourdain is obviously drunk, which should only make him look bad. What they don't realize is that he'd say the same things stone cold sober.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bones and Beans

After reading the Amateur Gourmet's blog entry on eating bone marrow at Blue Ribbon, I got a hankering for it myself. Before you go, "yuck," I should tell you that I grew up eating the stuff. My Grandmother's beef soup recipe involved beef bones, and if we were lucky, the marrow didn't fall out into the soup. When we found a full bone, my mother, grandmother, and I would literally fight with sharpened knives for the tasty morsel which would then be spread on buttered rye bread (yeah, the butter was probably overkill; and...I'm kidding about the knife fight).

Mr Minx and I had to go to the warehouse store to pick up a leg of lamb for Easter dinner and while we were there, I scouted around for bones. There were no packages of loose bones, but there were slices of beef shank, and I figured I could cut the meat off and freeze it for a future use. A quick trip to Whole Foods afterwards revealed several packages of solo bones, big ones full of marrow for about $1 each.

Also at Whole Foods I picked up a scant handful of sea beans. I had never eaten salicornia before, but was curious after seeing them used on Top Chef a couple seasons back. (As a bonus, we spotted John Waters in the produce section.)

Salicornia, or sea beans, are neither a seaweed nor a bean. They are a succulent that grows in marshy areas, with a flavor somewhat like supersalty spinach or asparagus. I soaked them in cold water for a while, then nuked them in a bit of fresh water for a few minutes, then resoaked them in cold. They were still pretty salty, but I thought they would make a good foil for the marrow.

I roasted the bones for 25 minutes at 450ºF. While they were in the oven, I made a large salad with mache, blanched asparagus that was marinated in balsamic vinaigrette, and quartered grape tomatoes. A crusty baguette was sliced, and we were ready to feast.

Witness a slice of bread, spread with marrow, and topped with salty seabeans. As salty as they were eaten on their own, the marrow still needed a tiny sprinkle of Kosher salt. And it was good, if messy (the bones had fat on the outside, which rendered in the oven and oozed over everything outside the oven).

Not a dinner for everyday, as it's pretty rich. Bone marrow tastes like beefy butter. It has a fatty, slightly gelatinous texture, and spreads unevenly. But it is delicious, in a foie gras kind of way. Mmmmmm..... If you haven't tried it, and aren't a squeamish eater, then what are you waiting for? Get thee to the meat department and buy some bones!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Episode Two which the chefs are confused.

At the top of the show, we see the cheftestants relaxing and exercising at home.

During this fairly gratuitous segment, we see Valerie and last week's winner Stephanie chatting together. Val has a girlcrush and hopes to get to work with Steph in a team challenge. Be careful what you wish for! Dum dum dum DUM!

Next we see the chefs head to Chicago's Green City Market and are told that for this week's Quickfire they have to create a delicious entree using five total ingredients. Salt, pepper, sugar, and oil wouldn't count, but anything else from the Top Chef pantry would. The chefs race around the market to pick up their ingredients. Mark is in such a hurry, he pays for and then leaves a bag of greens at one of the stands. Such mistakes usually spell doom for a chef...dum dum dum DUM!

We see two separate cases of Chef Confusion during the Quickfire. First there's Richard, who can't tell the difference between a chicken leg and a chicken wing. The whole time we see him cooking wings, he's calling them "legs."
Click image to enlarge

Hope this helps, Richard.

Now, I should probably give him the benefit of the doubt. Who knows how long it was between the time the cooking was done and the personal interviews were filmed? Maybe he forgot that he used wings. This guy competed on Iron Chef a couple years back, so I think he probably does know the difference. Even if Batali beat him.

The second case of Chef Confusion came when Andy misunderstood that "balsamic vinegar" was neither salt, pepper, sugar, nor oil. He exceeded his five-ingredient limit, but it didn't really seem to hurt him.

Someone help the boy with his plating. His dish of lamb chops and peaches looks like it had already been tasted. "Decorative" broken smears of sauce on a plate always make me think of skid marks.

Guest judge Wylie Dufresne and Padma taste the fifteen offerings. We get to see about half of them. Despite leaving an ingredient behind, Mark compensates for it very well and wins the challenge and immunity. And Dufresne complimented his sideburns. Can't beat that.

The Elimination challenge started with the chefs drawing knives from a block. Knife drawing usually means a team challenge, and this one divided the chefs into five groups of three, each named after a different wild animal. Valerie and Stephanie get to work together! Yay! The challenge itself was to cater a staff party for the Lincoln Park Zoo, creating food based on the diet of the animal for whom their team was named: Gorilla, Lion, Penguin, Bear, Vulture.

The cheftestants plan their menus and shop at Whole Foods. For the most part, the teams seem to get along fine, but there's some drama with team Bear. Dale isn't much of a team player, and Nikki is bossy. Unfortunately, there was no real cut-throat action; nobody died, nobody went to jail. Quel dommage. Because bears eat blueberries, Nikki decided to make mushrooms stuffed with them. That said a big "yuck" to me, and that's they way they looked coming out of the oven as well. She suggested waiting until they got to the venue to maybe pretty them up with chopped chives, but Dale considered that to be like "put[ting]perfume on a pig." He decided to add more Pecorino instead, rendering them inedible. Cheese, blueberries, and mushrooms. Quel fromage!

The final case of Chef Confusion is more a problem of pronunciation.

Valerie, Gail, let me help clarify something for you.
Click image to enlarge.

A Bellini is a cocktail made with Prosecco and fresh peach puree. A blini is a little pancake of Russian origin, often served with caviar. Got it? Good. Don't let me hear you make that mistake again.

Another skid mark from Andrew proves to be the winner when garnished with a squid ceviche and soy-balsamic tapioca. (He was not penalized for his use of balsamic this time.) Congrats #@*(@*! Andy!

The Bellini/Blini debacle proved to be a mistake not just in name only. Valerie's black olive blinis were obviously too thick, cooked too far in advance, and topped with undercooked rutabagas and fennel mascarpone. As gorillas (her team) are vegetarians, she was fairly set on making a veggie dish. But, would a gorilla actually deign to eat that? At least her teammate Stephanie didn't throw her under the bus (maybe because she was on the chopping block as well for her watery crab salad.) Buh-bye Valerie!

Watch her exit interview here:

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Gimme Five

A meme for a Tuesday morning:

Five Favorite Foods
In no particular order, despite the numbers
1. chocolate
2. anything Thai
3. ice cream
4. bbq ribs
5. naval oranges

Five Least Favorite Foods
1. lima beans
2. garbanzo beans (they taste ok, but they make me sick)
3. fermented shark (never tried it, but I'd bet it would make this list)
4. raw squid
5. Aunt Stasia's salmon spaghetti.

Five Favorite Restaurants
1. Roy's
2. Mesa Grill
3. Sotto Sopra
4. Cajun Kate's
5. Yamato Sushi

Five Favorite Pizza Toppings
1. mushrooms
2. Italian sausage
3. onions
4. lamb (if I get to make the pizza!)
5. flavorful cheeses other than mozzarella

Five Favorite Food-related TV Shows
1. Top Chef
2. Iron Chef
3. A Cook's Tour
4. America's Test Kitchen
5. any that feature actual cooking that aren't on the Food Network

Tag, you're it: Amy, Kate, Kit, Neal - anyone else who wants to play!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Friday, March 14, 2008

Top Chef Season Four!

Because I enjoy recapping Project Runway, I thought I'd try my hand at doing the same for Bravo's Top Chef, which made its Season Four debut last night. Judging from the high quality of the dishes turned out in this episode, I think this will be a strong season. Not sure how high the drama quotient will be yet, although that's not as important a consideration to me when food is involved.

The show starts off with our cheftestants arriving in Chicago. They go to Pizzaria Uno for lunch and an attempt at getting to know each other. There are entirely too many of them at this point, so it will be a while before I get the names straight. Speaking of straight, it turns out that chefs Zoi (pronounced "zo-EE" not "zoy" btw) and Jennifer not only both hail from San Francisco, they're a couple. Awww! Was this Bravo's feeble way to add drama to the show? Are we going to see their relationship break down over the pressures of competing against each other? Tune in next week!

Lunch at Pizzaria Uno was a big hint as to the theme of the first Quickfire Challenge of the season. After heading to the Top Chef kitchen (courtesy of of the Glad family of products, the pantry supplied by Whole Foods, not to mention GE Monogram appliances) Padma reveals that their task is to create their own signature deep dish pizza in 90 minutes.

As the chefs scramble about, we get to know a few more of them. Mark is from New Zealand. He is in desperate need of defrizzing serum.

...and Andy has Tourette's Syndrome. He curses too #@*$&! much.

At the end of the 90 minutes, the chefs box up the pizzas and deliver them to a lovely mansion. Rocco DiSpirito opens the door and the cheftestants pretend to be excited.

Padma and Rocco taste the 16 different slices of pizza and divide up the group into the eight best and the eight worst. Richard's and Mark's versions are singled out as favorites.

I must be getting used to Rocco's face, because he looks less weird and freakish to me.

The contestants are told that the house they're in is where they will be staying for the duration of the competition. It's a pretty swank place, with a spacious kitchen and a pool table. And lots of bunk beds. I hope there's more than one bathroom.

The next day, the chefs head back to the Top Chef kitchen for the Elimination challenge.

The eight yummy pizza chefs from the night before draw knives to see in which order they get to choose an opponent from the yucky pizza group. The partner then selects a classic dish from the list on the chalkboard. Each of the paired chefs must cook their version of the chosen dish and try to best the other.

Food shopping happens very conspicuously at Whole Foods. Cooking is a whirlwind. I love Top Chef because I can show off (mostly to myself) how much food knowledge I have squeezed in my tiny brain. As Ryan wrestles with the simple dish of chicken piccata, I shout at the screen, "dip chicken cutlets in egg and flour! The sauce is lemony! No - no breadcrumbs!" and "Souffles are all about the egg whites."

It's unfortunate for the chefs that none of them can hear me.

Then a very ominous-looking panel of judges walks into the kitchen - Rocco, Padma, Tom Colicchio, and Anthony Bourdain.

The chefs present their dishes in pairs, and for the most part, it's pretty easy to pick a winner from each.

This was supposed to be a soufflé.

Ok, so none of that actually went down. Bourdain behaved himself, at least on camera, but you know he was just itching to cause some trouble with poor Rocco.

In the end, Stephanie's version of duck a l'orange wins. I think it looks pretty scrumptious and it might be a good way to use those duck breasts that are in my freezer...hmmm....

And Nimma, who was criticized in the pizza competition for having too little salt on her mushrooms, oversalts her scampi and completely blows her side dish. Padma shows her the door.

We didn't get to know Nimma, and that's probably ok. We won't miss her that way.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

A Monkey Wrench

I had planned to make chicken mole tacos with pomegranate margaritas last night. I picked up some cilantro and flour tortillas at the store during the day, along with a pint of what looked to be freshly made salsa verde. When I got home, I washed a handful of cilantro and put it aside, and made some additional salsa with 2 scallions, two small blood oranges that were starting to shrivel, and a handful of strawberries. Late in the afternoon, I set the chicken (thighs) to simmering on the back burner.

Then the power went out - from 4:30 until 8:00 PM.

Not wanting to open the fridge because both it and the freezer were full and we had no idea how long the outage would last, we couldn't access the salsa, the tortillas, the jar of Trader Joe's Red Mole sauce, OR the pomegranate juice. All we had was the chicken and the bowl of cilantro. I remembered we had a can of Progresso cheese and chicken enchilada soup in the cupboard, so we dug that out and poured it over the chicken. Thank God we have a gas stove! Served with cilantro and Garden of Eatin' Red Hot Blues chips, it was a meal worthy of Rachael Ray or Sandra Lee.


Monday, March 03, 2008


From an article in the Baltimore Sun about the Food Network:
"According to Marc Summers, the executive producer of Dinner Impossible as well as host of the show Unwrapped, the transition from dump-and-stir to reality was inevitable. 'They have to grow,' he said. 'Look at VH1 - they have no videos anymore. It's the same with the Food Network. They have to move beyond cooking.'"

To what, exactly?

Dinner and Dancing

Mr Minx and I went to Cafe Spice in Towson to see our friend LaRaine perform belly dance. We had only been to the restaurant one time since it took over the space formerly occupied by our favorite Korean restaurant, Purim Oak, and were interested in sampling the food again. Especially buffet-style!

We were sorely disappointed. The buffet contained a large platter of chopped raw onions, another of chopped iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber. There was a large bowl of raita, and two smaller ones of coriander and tamarind chutneys. There were fried ovals called "vegetable patties" that were mostly potato; basmati rice and naan provided more starch. There were three entrees: vegetarian korma consisting of either frozen or canned mixed veggies (the only way to explain the very un-Indian additions of lima beans and corn kernels) in a flavorless orange sauce; potatoes that tasted several days old in a saag sauce; chicken curry that was similar to chicken tikka masala, but very watered down and with few chicken pieces. And for dessert: kheer, which was probably the best thing on the buffet. It was so bad that Mr Minx, he of hearty appetite, refused to go up for seconds.

Granted, there were a lot of people present, but when you charge $20 to walk through the door, and you're going to offer a limited number of entrees, please make sure they are well-prepared and taste good, otherwise nobody will return. Oh, do I ever miss Purim Oak's weekend buffet! The unlimited panchan and those weird soups! All delicious.

As for the bellydancing.... First off, the invitation to this thing was one of the worst graphic design jobs I've ever seen. The event itself was sort of like an open mic event (except the dancers signed up in advance). There were all levels of performers and they started out with the weakest ones. Our friend and her mini troupe Tananeen came out after the interminably long intermission and performed a tribal dance with long silky fans - they were excellent. Other notable performers were Toria (who was not only a great dancer but also strikingly attractive, particularly in her bright turquoise costume) and Samira Sharuk. (Don't let the name fool you, she's probably Irish with her red hair and ghostly white skin. In fact, she resembles a cross between Nikol Kidman and Carrot Top. A shame about that last bit.)