Wednesday, April 30, 2008

(Slow Week)

I can't believe I haven't had anything interesting to eat this week. Well, last night it was meatball subs with homemade meatballs (Mr Minx made spaghetti on Friday) and provolone, and they were pretty good. Messy too. Our sole nourishment for Monday was a late lunch at Pizzaria Uno, one of my Dad's favorite spots (for the all you can eat soup. There are waaaay too many chain restaurants in Bel Air, and that man eats out waaaay too much.) I had the sliders, three decently-sized burgers with spicy cheese and decent fries (albeit the weird batter-dipped kind). Mr Minx and MinxDad had an extremely skimpy portion of fish and chips. (Half a filet! Red Brick Station gives you three mammoth filets...at twice the price though. But still...half a filet!?)

Today's lunch/dinner...who knows? We're heading back up to B'lair....

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Episode Seven

In which reuniting feels so good....


The show starts off with the usual yoga/pilates/wake-up sleepyhead montage. Jen is still annoyed that the love of her life was booted two episodes ago and vows once again that she is going to win this competition for Zoi. And things apparently didn't work out between Spike and Mark.


When the cheftestants get to the Top Chef kitchen, they see it filled with multitudinous desserts, which of course fills them all with fear and loathing. The feeling of dread is cemented when the chefs see Padma standing next to hottie pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini of Jean Georges. Nooooo! Pastry is scary! It involves science and paying attention! And yes, the Quickfire Challenge is to create a delicious dessert. Padma adds that if the chefs don't have a go-to dessert recipe in their repertoire they should improvise. Foreshadowing, kids!


Richard thinks that bananas resemble scallops, so he does a spoof on a savory dish. Half the other chefs take his lead and use bananas in their dishes.

Hottie Johnny and Padma make the rounds and taste the 10 desserts. Spike's "I'll show them I have balls," soufflé, as well as Antonia's and Mark's are the least favorite dishes, while Dale's, Lisa's, and Richard's come out on top. Richard's play on scallops pleases Hottie Johnny most and he is given immunity for the Elimination Challenge.


Looks like bananas and a skidmark (plus bonus poo) to me, but what do I know?

Padma then announces that the chefs will be going out on the town to see some comedy at Second City. They are excited and head back to the house to primp and pretty themselves for the evening's festivities.


During the improv show, the comics ask the audience to shout out colors, emotions, and ingredients. The chefs suddenly wise up and realize that they're going to be doing some improvisational cooking. Lucky for them they don't have to do it right there at that very moment. The audience's contributions are grouped together into "yellow love vanilla," "purple depressed bacon," "green perplexed tofu," "orange turned on asparagus," and "magenta drunk Polish sausage" and the chefs are left to their own devices to create a menu of five courses riffing on these keywords.


Back at the house, the chefs pair up and start planning their dishes. The next morning, they shop.

Spike, on the yellow/love/vanilla team with Andrew, is elated as he finally gets to make some butternut squash soup. He's also pretty thrilled that he and Andrew finally get to work together - in the kitchen. Awwwww....




Unfortunately for them, there are no machines in the equipment room. No food processors, no juicers, no blenders, nothing. Andrew resorts to using a food mill to get the squash puree as smooth as possible.



Richard and Dale work with Green/perplexed/tofu, which they transform into green curry and tofu marinated in beef fat. Richard should win this thing for being a damn genius. Even tofu tastes good when smothered in meaty goodness!

Jennifer and Stephanie get the Orange/turned-on/asparagus combination. To me, this seemed like the easiest, most food-friendly grouping of words, as the color is also a food. These two, however, decide to complicate it by making it a "menage-a-trois" and adding goat's cheese and a big old slab of toast. Personally, I am turned on by a slab of cheese and bread, but will the asparagus feel the same way?

Antonia and Lisa get Magenta/drunk/Polish sausage and decide to throw the whole concept out the window by making Chilean sea bass with chorizo. From their high horses they insist they're not going to cook Polish sausage in beer, the logical choice. A nice beet soup garnished with sausage and a shot of vodka would have handled the challenge nicely. But nooo.... We hear Antonia in a voice-over talking about Lisa being Cuban and preferring chorizo and all sorts of excuses.


The truth comes out.

Lisa disses Polish sausage by describing the only kind she's had, which by her description sounds like that lame Eckrich smoked stuff that I, too, hated as a child. But I will confess that three of my grandparents were born in Poland so I am familiar with the cuisine. The Polish sausage we had for every holiday was the fresh kind, redolent of garlic and absolutely delicious. There are other kinds of Polish sausage as well - kiszka, or blood sausage, which I loved but we only had at Easter; kabanosy, a thin air-dried sausage flavored with caraway; krakowska, a thick salami-like sausage. Others too, but I won't go on as you've probably already learned more about Polish cuisine than you care to.

Tom comes in for a brief Sniff 'n' Sneer to tell the chefs that the judges will convene at their house, so food needs to be packed up and taken home. There they will get an hour to finish and plate their dishes.


At this point, we get a commercial break for the Glad Family of Products. This is a spot that's been run incessantly over the past several weeks and it has consistently struck me as stupid. A bland-looking Waspy female named Erica is being touted as Mrs Economical because she uses cheap Glad products instead of the more expensive Ziploc brand of bags. She's so in love with her Glad bags, she stores her peas and carrots in them! Hey, Erica - don't those things come pre-bagged in the freezer section? Erica also keeps her cheese and pre-cooked macaroni in Glad bags. The funniest part of the whole commercial is the funky, "Shaft"esque sountrack.

Why don't they show Erica scraping the remainder of her white bread lunch of boiled hot dog, macaroni and cheese, and peas and carrots into a Force Flex bag?


There's something very gay about that product name.

Back to the show...the chefs are plating and the guests arrive and take their place at the large dining table set up in the front room. Jen and Stephanie attempt to "sex-up" their food by talking about "long hard logs of goat's cheese" and each down a skinny spear of asparagus in a so-not-sexy manner. Not sure whether to laugh at them or with them.

The judges laugh at them and decide the plate had too many elements, the bread was too hard (snicker) to deal with, and it was more like an orgy than a menage-a-trois.


Antonia and Lisa bring out their un-drunken, non-magenta, Polish sausage-less dish, accompanied by a shot of tequila for themselves. Nothing for the judges, who definitely noticed their stinginess with alcohol and immediately held it against them. Spike charitably remarked that the dish "looked like turds," which is perhaps what Antonia meant by an earlier remark that sausage on a plate looked inelegant.


The non-magenta purple potato puree looks...ahhh...softer than turds

Mark and Nikki served pork loin "depressed to be on the same plate with Brussels sprouts," with glazed bacon in a purple grape sauce. I'm always thinking that Nikki is next to be out, so was surprised when the judges really enjoyed this dish.

After dinner, the cheftestants get herded back to the Glad Family of Products Commemorative Storage Room to stew as Padma puts on her Death Face and requests Andrew, Spike, Dale, and Richard to come out and meet their fates.

The bile rose in Antonia's throat as Spike and Andrew's soup was deemed the "best-seasoned dish all season," by Tom. (No doubt it was all the extra added "love" their little reunion added.) But she was saved further bad taste in her mouth by Dale and Richard's win for their f@#&ing brilliant tofu steak dish. They each got a bonus gift of $2500 worth of Calphalon cookware. All well and good, and I was happy to see the team win, but I want to know why one of them wasn't singled out for the victory? (It's perplexing....) Why a dual winner this week, without getting any conversation to that effect between the judges? While Dale's green curry sauce was no doubt delicious, it was obvious that Richard's "steaks" were the crowning glory.


Not surprisingly, Antonia and Lisa and Stephanie and Jennifer were on the bottom of the pile. The lack of Polish sausage was a problem for the former, and Hottie Johnny suggested that they should have cooked Polish sausage in beer. The girls are just lucky that Bill Swerski and the Superfans weren't judges; they'd have rioted if they got fish instead of sausage and beers!

The supposed suggestiveness of the asparagus was but one of the issues for the latter pair. Hottie Johnny just didn't see skinny green asparagus as particularly phallic, and the cheese was far too commanding a presence.


Stephanie has too many wins under her belt already, meaning Jennifer had to be the one to get the shaft, so to speak, and is now able to join her love Zoi moping in San Fran. Another reunion, this one bittersweet and off-camera, to conclude the episode.


Is the bread a bed, the asparagus lovers, and the cheese a blankie?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Taiwanese Dim Sum

The Minxes love dim sum and this weekend we tried something new: Taiwanese dim sum from A & J in Rockville. Our favorite Hong Kong-style dim sum at Jesse Wong's Hong Kong features multitudinous dumplings along with seafood, noodles, and vegetable dishes. Taiwanese dim sum is quite a different animal. A & J's menu was heavy on fried things and noodle soups, and not a shred of seafood was to be found.

We ordered far too much, but that's ok - it was dirt cheap and there's always the doggie bag....


The thing that looks like a rolled-up wash cloth is actually a roll of glutinous rice filled with beef. It was somewhat like sticky rice in lotus, except the rice was firmer and the lotus was replaced by a sheet of plastic wrap. The other plate has thin slices of cold pork belly with a soy-based sauce.


Two versions of beef and Chinese turnip noodle soup, one with thick noodles (that reminded me of the storebought Polish kluski my grandmother made once in a while, very firm to the bite) and one with thin. The turnip was pickled, and added a piquant flavor to the broth.


Chinese fried chicken with sticky rice. The greenish stuff behind the rice was chopped greens of some sort (mustard?). The chicken was outstanding.


Foreground: Scallion pancakes that were piping hot, multilayered, and crispy good. Behind the scallion pancakes is another sort of flaky wheat pastry/bread that would have been good with some cinnamon and icing but was otherwise difficult to eat and somewhat bland. To the left is a plate of pot stickers.


Two pickled dishes: long beans with ground beef, and cabbage. The long beans were cut up very finely, and the flavor of the dish was not at all what I would call "Chinese" or even any sort of Asian. There was a spice in it that reminded me of caraway seeds, so I had the impression of eating a Reuben sandwich (I have a good imagination). MinxBrother thought it was more like a Middle Eastern dish. In any case, it would make a fabulous empanada filling. The cabbage tasted of Western pickling spices, and there were peppercorns visible among the pieces of veg. It wasn't sweet, unlike the pickled cabbage they sometimes serve at New Han Dynasty.

We also had steamed pork dumplings that were much like those from a Hong Kong dim sum, and a cruller, which was greasy and delicious. Unlike other dim sums where I can eat and eat and eat, I got filled very quickly this time. Probably all the grease. It was good, but I missed my cheung fun (shrimp crepes), turnip cakes, taro balls, savory shrimp, Chinese broccoli, shrimp dumplings....

A & J Restaurant
319-C Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852
301.251.7878
A & J on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 18, 2008

Communication Regarding Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company

I signed an online petition regarding the downer cow fiasco earlier this year. Yesterday I received a response from the USDA. Do I believe the government is really doing something to prevent this situation from happening in the future? No. I'm not a vegetarian and I never will be, but I think it's a good time to put tofu in heavy rotation in the National School Lunch Program.

Dear Sir/Madam: (because "Kathy" is obviously a unisex-type name)

Thank you for your communication regarding inhumane handling of cattle at Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been asked to provide you with a response, and we appreciate the opportunity to update you on how the Agency is responding to the situation. I want to assure you that USDA and FSIS are taking these allegations very seriously. FSIS and the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) are working with the USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) as they conduct an investigation into this matter. The USDA investigation is ongoing, and additional actions will be taken as warranted.

FSIS is the public health regulatory agency in USDA responsible for ensuring that meat, poultry, and processed egg products are safe, wholesome, and accurately labeled. FSIS enforces the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, and the Egg Products Inspection Act, which require Federal inspection and regulation of meat, poultry, and processed egg products prepared for distribution in commerce for use as human food. FSIS also enforces the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which requires that all livestock at federally inspected establishments be handled and slaughtered in a humane way.

We place a very high priority on ensuring that animals are treated humanely at all times. We have taken prompt actions. A summary of those actions is listed below.

January 30, 2008 ­USDA indefinitely suspended Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company as a supplier to Federal nutrition assistance programs. In addition, an administrative hold was placed on all Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company products that were in or destined for Federal food and nutrition programs.

February 1, 2008 ­Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company voluntarily stopped slaughter operations.

February 4, 2008 ­As a result of FSIS findings, FSIS issued Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company a Notice of Suspension because the establishment failed to maintain and implement controls to prevent the inhumane handling and slaughter of animals at the facility as required by FSIS regulations and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. The suspension will remain in effect and the establishment will be unable to operate until written corrective actions are submitted and verified by FSIS to ensure that animals at the facility are handled and slaughtered humanely.

February 17, 2008 ­Based on evidence obtained from the ongoing investigation, FSIS announced that Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company had voluntarily recalled raw and frozen beef products produced since February 1, 2006, due to non-compliance with FSIS regulations. The recall has been designated a Class II because these products represent a low risk to human health. The Federal government has an interlocking system of controls established to protect the food supply. Immediately following the recall announcement, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) issued instructions for the recall and destruction of the Hallmark/Westland beef placed on hold since January 30, 2008, and for Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company beef dating back to February 1, 2006. Products affected by the recall are no longer being served in schools. To minimize disruption to school food service operations, USDA is working closely with States to quickly provide replacement commodity product from validated sources or credit their commodity entitlement accounts. For information or questions regarding the purchase of products for Federal food and nutrition programs, you may wish to visit the AMS Web site at http://www.ams.usda.gov/. For information or questions regarding the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), including contact information for the State agency that administers the NSLP in your State, you may wish to visit the FNS Web site at http://www.fns.usda.gov/fns/default.htm.

February 28, 2008 ­FSIS announced the interim actions that the Agency is taking to verify and thoroughly analyze humane handling activities in all federally inspected establishments pending the conclusion of the investigation. Details of the interim activities can be found at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/NR_022908_01/index.asp.

March 18, 2008 ­FSIS granted the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company’s request for a voluntary withdrawal of inspection.

Please visit the FSIS Web site at http://www.fsis.usda.gov for updates as the investigation progresses.

Sincerely,

Kenneth E. Petersen, D.V.M., M.P.H.
Assistant Administrator
Office of Field Operations

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Episode Six

The show opens with the aftermath from last week:


Dale sorta kinda apologizes for his crude pseudo-gangsta crotch-grabbing blow-up at Lisa from the night before. She insists that if someone has a problem with her they should tell her...then when Dale says he still has a problem with her negativity, she's all "whatever, talk to the hand." That's what communication is all about, kids!


The chefs head to the Top Chef kitchen where they are met by Padma looking like a model for the latest in prisonwear chic, and Koren Grieveson, an expressionless robo-lesbo from Avec restaurant in Chicago. Padma and Koren were about to drown their sorrows in a couple dozen pitchers of assorted beers when the chefs demand their fair share. "Hey! We're sick of that crappy Michelob served up in the Glad Family of Products Commemorative Storage Room!"


When they finally pry Padma's hands off a pitcher (and Koren's hands off Padma), she declares that the chefs need to sample three beers from what was left, choose one, and create a dish that pairs perfectly with it. Spike declares that all beer tastes the same to him (which is why he can drink all that Michelob without gagging) and there's sundry whining from the rest of the peanut gallery, but eventually everybody picks a beer and commences to cookery.


Padma and new BFF Stoneface Grieveson eat and drink (merrymaking comes later) and then give the good and bad news: Nikki, Spike, and Dale are on the bottom; Richard, Stephanie and Jennifer are on top. And because lesbians need to stick together, Koren pronounced Jennifer's seafood beignets the winner.


Padma then announces the Elimination Challenge - they were going to Da Bearssss game and cook at a tailgate party for 80! Go Bearssss!

Next we see the cheftestants frantically racing around Whole Foods. Spike buys every damned chicken wing in the place and we see Ryan buying fruit.


After two hours back at the kitchen prepping and packing their food into the Glad Family of Products, the chefs go home to get their relaxation on.

Spike, on the rebound, decides to take a friendly bath with Mark. "He's got curly hair. He's a cool looking dude."


Mark tries to fit in by practicing saying "da Bearsss" but it comes out more like "da be-ahs" in his Kiwi accent. No doubt Spike thinks he's damned cute.


The next morning, the chefs unpack their containers from the Glad Family of Products and cook their dishes for the hungry hordes at Soldier Field. Former Bears luminaries like William "The Refrigerator" Perry were on hand to enjoy the food (and there was a brief worry when it looked like he might eat all of it).


The judges try to fit in by coming in Bears jerseys, curiously all wearing punter Brad Maynard's number 4. Apparently, Koren Stoneface was injured in the first half of the game and replaced by someone with a bit more personality - Paul Kahan of Avec and Blackbird. Padma is understandably disappointed by the appearance of a man in old-man jeans and a dorky hat.


For the most part, the chefs' offerings were well-received. Richard's fancy hamburger, cleverly called a "Paté Melt" is one I wanted to try for myself, along with Dale's Indian-style ribs. As a Chicago native and big Bears fan, he was particularly tickled about this challenge and one could see the excitement on his face as he was approached by former Bears players for a taste of his food.

Next up, judges table. People attending the tailgate party chose the top and bottom three dishes based on flavor, and the judges picked the ultimate best and worst of the bunch. Padma, wearing her grimmest face, calls Stephanie, Antonia, and Dale out before the firing squad. The cheftestants look equally grim. Don't they yet realize that the first to go out are the winners? Or is it just edited to appear that way? Although Steph's pork and Antonia's jerk chicken sandwich are raves, Dale's unusual preparation of ribs and potato salad wins the challenge. In addition to bragging rights, he gets a fancy schmancy grill from Weber to cook up more tailgate chow. And he also gets to go back to the Glad Family of Products Commemorative Storage Room to get the three biggest losers: Mark, Nikki, and Ryan.


Mark is called out for being a slob - his grill was a mess, and he was caught tasting from the same spoon he served with. Gack! Nikki ran out of peppers and sauce before the judges got to her, but her biggest sin was not making her own sausage. I want to know why she sliced the sausage into bits - whole links would have been better. And Ryan prepared food that was difficult to eat, unattractive, and just bad-tasting. I knew from the beginning that making poached pears was a stupid idea - it's a tailgate, moron! If you want to make a dessert, how about brownies or cookies? They're portable, easy to eat, and known crowd-pleasers. And how does one feck up hot chocolate, particularly when it's spiked? Ryan has some special talent there. When questioned about his poor choices he blathered on and on, daring to mention "California cuisine" and generally boring the judges with his spew of idiocy. (Nina Garcia would have had him drawn and quartered.)

Padma finally gets him to stop talking by asking him to pack his knives and go. On his way out, Ryan whispers some sweet nothings in Spike's ear that sound suspiciously like, "I wish you would have noticed me earlier. We could have been good together."


Looks like something pulled out of a garbage can to me.


Good thing Ryan plans ahead.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Lead Chef Challenge

Friday, April 11, 2008

Eating Out and About

Mr Minx and I have been eating out quite a bit over the past few days. On Saturday, we went up to Bel Air to visit my Dad and shoot some pool. We usually bring food with us, but he said not to worry about it and we'd order pizza. Instead, we went to Wargo's Forest Hills Inn for pit beef sandwiches. Dad and I have always been fans of the stuff, well-done and preferably topped with lots of crunchy carbonized bits. A pit beef sandwich on rye with mayo, smothered in so much horseradish our eyes burned, was always a highlight of the Fells Point Festival.

Wargo's sandwich was a little dry and had none of the requested mayo or horseradish. It was also served on a weird buttery roll. We got some horseradish and used copious squirts from the bbq sauce bottle on the table, which helped a lot. We also had onion rings, which were the standard thick cut variety. They were nicely crispy, but otherwise ordinary.

Several hours and more than a few shots of orangecello later, I wasn't particularly hungry, but Dad wanted to go to Bertucci's for dinner. I haven't been to one of those in a good decade (and it has been a good decade, thank you) and wasn't impressed with it the last time. But there's not much in the way of non-chain food in Bel Air (and so many ugly McMansions with oddly placed sill-less windows, but I digress) and it's good to see Dad eating copiously again (cancer sucks) so I agreed. I ordered eggplant parmigiana, usually a disaster of sogginess in most restaurants, but I felt daring. The eggplant was roasted in the pizza oven and not breaded, thus avoiding the dreaded sog. The accompanying linguine was perfectly al dente. Color me surprised! The meatballs that came with Mr Minx's linguine tasted like real meat, rather than the gristle-textured once-frozen protein pucks that I anticipated. And everyone else at the table (Dad, his gf, MinxBro) seemed happy with their meals as well. Not that I'm going to start frequenting Bertucci's over, say, Sotto Sopra or Boccaccio, but it's good to know if I'm craving Italian and am too lazy to cook (that's pretty lazy), there's an option in Timonium.

We had to move our usual grocery shopping day from Tuesday to Monday this week, and a need for bulk paper towels and peanut butter led us to eating dinner at New Han Dynasty before heading to BJs. New Han Dynasty is a little Chinese restaurant in the shopping center at the hellish confluence of Joppa and Belair Roads, the one with the Weis Market. We've been going there every few months for the last 8 years or so, and the food is always consistently good. They're refurbishing the place at the moment and putting in a sushi bar, but for now the menu is the same as it ever was. They serve some of the best won ton soup around, although recently the won tons have seemed a little undercooked/too firm. Mr Minx felt pedestrian this time and went for their extremely garlicky chicken chow mein, and I chose the triple kung pao. Both came with a pretty decent eggroll and a fried shrimp, plus fried rice. (I prefer the plain white rice but forgot to ask for it.) It's a ton of food for about $10 each, and I'm wishing I brought some of my leftovers for lunch today....

Tuesday night, we took my brother-in-law out for his birthday. Yes, I know his birthday is in February, but this was the first opportunity we had. We chose an old favorite, Petit Louis. I was happy to see that, according to petitlouis.com, their Tuesday plat du jour was skate, and knew in advance that would be my entrée, with the crispy eggplant Napoleon for a starter. The eggplant was delish - a crispy fried round topped a mound of un-breadcrumbed eggplant, tomatoes, goat's cheese, and olives, all in a puddle of pesto. The skate was also very good, lightly floured and sautéed with a caper brown butter sauce and a side of chopped haricots verts.

Mr Minx went for the chicken paillards with gaufrette potatoes (aka fancy potato chips) and a chopped frisée salad. He thought it was all a bit salty, and that was probably the citrus caper vinaigrette over everything. I thought it was well done, and was impressed at the frisée. I'm ordinarily not a fan of the stuff because its prickly texture annoys me, but chopped and lightly dressed it was quite delicious.

MinxBro started with the always capably-done French onion soup (as did Mr Minx), and followed it with the grilled salmon with braised leeks, bacon, and hollandaise. He seemed pleased, and what I tasted of it was very good. Why don't we have braised leeks as a side dish more often? They're delicious.

Finally, my BIL had the skate, but began his meal with the much more daring frog's legs. He wanted to try new things, and he enjoyed both dishes. (I didn't taste the frog's legs because having had them before I knew they'd have the texture of undercooked chicken legs and that's not pleasing to me.)

We washed everything down with a bottle of 2004 vintage Georges Faiveley white Burgundy which was crisp and aromatic and something I must try to find at the local booze emporium.

This coming weekend I'll be in NY, and of course that means I'll probably indulge in decadence...naughty me. :)

Petit Louis Bistro
Petit Louis on Urbanspoon

Wargo's Forest Hill Inn on Urbanspoon
New Han Dynasty Chinese Rstrnt on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Episode Five

Wherein breaking up is hard to do....

After a bit of morning yoga and knife sharpening (unfortunately, not simultaneously), the gang heads to the Top Chef kitchen to find Padma standing with Ming Tsai, this week's guest judge. They giggle conspiratorially.

The Quickfire Challenge involves good taste, a quality the cheftestants are presumed to possess. Padma takes out her kinky black blindfold and places it over the eyes of each chef individually while making them taste things. Shades of 9 1/2 Weeks! Not really. Each chef must determine which of two similar ingredients is the higher quality, for example, cheap vs. expensive soy sauce, sake, etc.


Antonia, with twelve out of fifteen correct, won the challenge and immunity. Stephanie, who has done well in the show so far, surprisingly scored only six of fifteen.


The Elimination Challenge was a little more interesting. At least, the chefs got to cook this time. Divided up into four teams of three, the cheftestants had to create a first course based on one of the elements (Plutonium, Molybdenum, Yttrium, and Krypton) and serve it at a Meals on Wheels function saluting Chicago chefs.

Team Air (I was kidding about the Krypton) was Nikki, Jennifer, and Ryan, maybe not the sharpest knives in the block. They erred on the side of obvious and chose to use a bird with the gift of flight - duck breast with citrus salad and a pomegranate prosecco aperitif. I can see why they chose duck, although doing something like a mousse would be better representative of air. But the pomegranate? WTF does that have to do with air?


Team Earth (ok, no Plutonium either) was Zoi, Spike, and Antonia the Control Freak. Despite having immunity, she overpowered her team mates and took charge. Spike suggested that they make butternut squash soup, but because they had a budget of $500, Antonia thought they needed to go more expensive and make a beef carpaccio topped with mushrooms and sunchoke aioli. Now, when I think "earthy," neither carpaccio nor butternut squash come to mind (but, I admit, mushrooms do). I thought the soup idea was a good one, but how about a nice potato soup (either warm or vichyssoise) with a black truffle garnish? Nothing says "earth" like truffles. But no, they didn't listen to my suggestion at all.


Somehow Andrew and Richard got teamed up again, this time on Team Water (ha, fooled you again!)




Mark from New EnglandZealand was also on Team Water.


Richard was practically giddy with the idea of poaching fish in water. Wow - is that irony? Or maybe just pathos? Of course they weren't really going to poach it - they were going to use that damned sous vide bath, the "Jacuzzi" as Richard referred to it during Tom's Sniff 'n' Sneer. They served it with more of that stupid-ass faux caviar tapioca (can Andrew do anything else??) a watercress salad, and a parsnip puree. Parsnips = earthy, not watery. But...New Zealand IS on the opposite side of the earth, so maybe it's a bit like Bizarro World?


Team Yttrium, no wait, Team Fire was Stephanie, Dale, and Lisa, who didn't want to play nice. She didn't like the dumb-ass ideas that Dale and Stephanie were pitching, such as deviled eggs wrapped in some sort of seared meat. Her style of cooking leans heavily towards the Asian, and heaven forbid she do something out of her comfort zone! (Although deviled eggs-and-meat? Pretty damned uncomfortable.) Team Fire squabbled well into the produce department when they finally came up with something Lisa could deal with - spicy sambal-marinated grilled shrimp with pickled chili salad and bacon. There you go, biotch, vaguely-Asian-style.


While eating, the judges commenced to picking apart the chefs' offerings. They called Richard's sous vide salmon "mushy" and complained endlessly about the scales that were left on. And, damn - you can see the pattern of the plastic bag impressed in the flesh of the fish! I think it looks raw. If you're going to cook fish, then cook it - don't just give it a bath! And there's that damn Andrewcaviar again. It was impressive the first time, ballsy stupid daring of him to do it a second time, now it's just plain getting old.


The skin on Team Air's duck wasn't scored in order to render off the fat. Hi! I'm a home cook and I know to do that, Jennifer! A pretty serious error on her part, but not enough to get the team into any trouble. Tom was annoyed by the twee little pomegranate-tinged drink (the arils looked like blood clots in water), but Ming was so thrilled with it, he burst into song, along with Padma. (It must have been a strong drink.)


The only dish they seemed to be happy with was Team Fire's spicy shrimp. All of Lisa's bitching and moaning paid off - she was declared the winner for her miso maple bacon. Dale looked more than miffed at that verdict, after all, he made the salad.

What the judges hated most was that Team Earth forgot the salt. The team made excuses: Spike wanted to make soup, but big bully Antonia cut him down; Zoi thought her mushrooms tasted wonderful. The judges disagreed, particularly Gail, who seemed offended by the presence of rosemary.


Zoi was asked to pack her knives and go. Personally, I've been waiting for this moment practically since episode one. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, whiner!


In the Glad Family of Products Commemorative Storage Room, we finally get to see some real drama, proof that the pansy-assed comraderie of the first four episodes was either phoney or at least the product of judicious editing. Of course Zoi's paramour, Jennifer, got pissed off about the ousting. Maybe she thought the two of them were going to somehow win this thing together? Not gonna happen, and I predict that fauxhawked Biesty Gal will find herself doing her own packing soon enough.



And even though his team won, Dale couldn't contain his anger at Lisa for having complained so much during the planning stages of their meal.


Spike mouthed off too (doubtless fueled by Michelob). Although he was happy to see one of the lesbos go, the feeling was bittersweet. No longer did Andrew want to swap clogs (or anything else) with him. Both couples would now have to suffer the loss of a partner.


Tune in next week, when we find out exactly what Spike's talking about...!
*lyrics from After the Love is Gone, by Chicago's own Earth, Wind, & Fire
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