Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Otto

In February, I tried to get together for lunch with my friend, NY blogger David Dust. I chose Mario Batali's pizza joint, Otto, because it seemed like a good lunch place, plus it wasn't that far from where David worked. The bad news is he wasn't able to sneak out of work that afternoon, so we postponed our trip to Otto. The good news is that we were able to go there for dinner this past Thursday, along with friends Laura K and Roz.

We started out with a caprese salad. I was wondering what it would be like considering it's not quite tomato season yet...and was pleasantly surprised. The tomatoes had been oven roasted to bring out their sweetness, and the basil came in the form of pesto. Delish.

Another starter was a fennel and cucumber salad. I had expected shredded fennel along with sliced cukes, but the only fennel in the dish was a garnish of fronds. Still, nice and refreshing, and the only real vegetable I would eat for two days. (I actually only had two meals in two days in NY.)

Next came pizzas. We decided to get one each. I chose the funghi and taleggio from the "Pizza Otto" section of the menu....

...and David thought that the asparagus and goat cheese version sounded like a must-try.

Laura K went for the quattro formaggi from the Pizza Classica selection...

...and Roz chose the quatro stagioni (asparagus, mushrooms, cotto, peppers).

All of the pizzas were great, with crisp crackery crusts and flavorful toppings. My mushroom was my favorite - it was heavy on wild-flavored 'shrooms, and the cheese was tangy.

For dessert, we all went for gelati/sorbetti. I *had* to try the olive oil gelato. In fact, it was the real reason I had wanted to go to Otto in the first place. I also had the salted caramel and the pistachio.

The pistachio was mercifully not dyed green, and it had a rich nutty flavor. One of the best versions of that flavor I've ever eaten. Oddly, the caramel wasn't salty (it was dark and reminiscent of a good caramel sauce, slightly burnt and not too cloying), but the olive oil was. Salt in ice cream? A revelation! It reminded me of my mother's habit of eating Utz potato chips with vanilla ice cream. Only without the potato. Loved it!

The meal was terrific, but the company was better - thanks for a lovely evening! Oh, and I would definitely go back to Otto....

Otto Enoteca & Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Next Food Network Star Episode 4

There are seven wannabes left at the start of this week's show. We can only hope for a multiple elimination (like - 6 of them) so we can get this debacle over with...alas, the Food Network counter says we have more than a month of agony left.

After wakey-wakey scenes of toothbrushing, we hear Jeffrey confidently claim "I do believe I'm going to win," and Teddy say "I realize my mistakes." Well, we'll see about that. Plenty of time to make new ones!

On to the Food Network kitchens!

Oh yeah, redheaded chefs are scary people. Especially when they're wielding knives. Or wearing purple ties.

Bobby, who has gone burger-mad along with a plethora of other chefs such as Hubert Keller, Spike Mendelsohn, and Richard Blais (hmmm...all Top Chef contestants...), reveals the mini challenge for the week:

Hard to do. I hear she can unhinge her jaw.

This week is all about American food. The wannabes first have to create the ultimate regional burger; the winner of this challenge will have their burger featured on the menu of Bobby's Burger Palace. And every cent of the profit will go into Bobby's pocket.

Katie, of course, simply has to make turkey burgers. Which I guess is better than tofu burgers, except that tofu doesn't take that long to cook. Oh, and did I mention they only get 20 minutes to conceptualize and prepare the food?

Michael goes for a Mulberry Street burger. At first I thought it was going to be some sort of weird Dr Seussian creation of jing tinglers, trum tupers, flu floopers, and roast beast, but then he mentioned Little Italy and I realized he meant the street in that part of New York. Color me disappointed.

Jamika did a New Orleans burger, Debbie chose to do a Cal-Asian "bulgogi burger" (because she can't cook anything that's not Korean-inspired) Jeff also did California but with a Mexican flair (ditto, but Mexican-inspired), Teddy chose Pennsylvania (he apparently has an Amish fetish), Kate San Francisco, and Melissa did Burlington, Vermont.

Once the cooking is complete, the wannabes have to make a 30-second on-camera presentation.

Michael has charm but is too nervous, but his burger gets raves.

Melissa scores well on both presentation and flavor.

Jeffrey has that charm/nervous thing going on too. However, from week to week it's the same thing and Tushface wants to see some growth.

Teddy is as fake as a game show host.

Debbie had a good presentation but her burger wasn't exactly flavorful.

Jamika once again urged the audience to "take advantage" of her food (slutty, slutty, slutty!).

And finally, Katie served raw turkey burgers. Not only that, she didn't finish her presentation in the allotted 30 seconds.

Here, let me help you....

Because she served raw lamb two weeks ago, and now raw turkey, Fogelstein questions her culinary ability. Hell, you should do that for all of the wannabes!

After all is said and done, Bobby decides he wants to serve Michael's Mulberry Street burger at Bobby's Burger Palace. Congrats, Michael! (And congrats to Bobby's 2 ex-wives - he's going to make his alimony payment this month!)

The next morning, the wannabes are shuttled to the USS Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, where they are greeted by a color guard.

Wait, you'll find out soon enough.

...here it comes...

Let's make our grand and honorable military personnel stand with flags and pomp and circumstance for Guy Fieri! Personally, I think that's grounds for war.

For this "party," each wannabe has to create an all-American home-cooked dish. And here's the catch: they have to use all of the regional ingredients found in a basket that will be assigned to them. Shades of Chopped! The FN has so few original ideas, it even copies itself! In addition, the wannabes have to present their dishes to the servicemen and women who just want to go home and have a *real* home-cooked meal.

TJ Walter from USA Weekend then pops up to tell them that the winner of this challenge will be featured on the cover of the mag.

The chefs get their baskets and have 1 1/2 hours to prepare. Because the kitchen is small, they cook in shifts. Teddy gets a New York-style basket and decides to make a DLT, with duck substituting for the bacon. Sounds good, but I'm sorry - there is no substitute for bacon. End of story.

Alongside Teddy is Jeffrey, who freaks out over a Maine basketful of live lobsters and blueberries.

He makes a "pot pie" by mixing the berries with some chipotle to make a spicy/sweet sauce and then slopping it into skillets with a cream sauce and lobster chunks. I hope PETA didn't catch the wild machete action on those poor lobsters.

It comes out of the oven looking like hell.

During the presentation portion of their trial, Teddy comes out shaky and acts weird, checking the notes he wrote on his palm like a third grader. His presentation "bummed out" Fogelstein. But his DLT was tasty.

As for Jeffrey's pot pie:

Yeah, it was that bad. And his presentation wasn't much better. He even called it a "shpiel."

Next up were Melissa and Katie. Melissa got a New Mexico basket full of chiles and skirt steak.

Dumb and smart at the same time. It was funny to watch her set out a line of peppers with her hand shielded by a paper towel, as if the chiles were toxic waste. And then she put some of each in her mouth? I'm suprised she didn't use condoms....

Yeah yeah, we've heard that before.

She did a great job with both her presentation and her food. The servicepeople and their families seemed to enjoy her dish quite a bit.

Katie, who got a basket full of Georgia, made a healthy meal of catfish and greens and got weepy during her presentation. Bobby Flay felt she was "middle of the road" but he really meant "on the bubble." In other words, she had equal chances of being asked to leave or being safe this week.

Jamika was next, cooking up goodies from Wisconsin. She got a basket of beer, cheese, and Polish sausage, so she decided to make a casserole with potatoes. Because they had to use electric burners, she couldn't seem to get her potatoes to cook, so she threw the mess into a food processor and hoped it would do the trick.

Yup. You know what happens when you mix potatoes + food processor, right?

And here was the audience's reaction, in a nutshell.

Fortunately for Jamika, her presentation was good.

Finally came Michael with Basket o'Hawaii and Debbie with Basket o'Cali-for-nia.

Rather than beating Debbie with delicious food and a dazzling presentation, Michael takes no chances and beats her over the head with his sheet pan, calling it an "accident." He feels terrible, but goes on to do a good presentation about his love for macadamia nuts (and nuts in general); the judges think his food "tastes like Hawaii."

Debbie, despite being in pain, delivers her "shpiel" competently, but her food is bland and the judges think she could have used her pain to lift herself to a new level. Bullshit. I'm pretty sure that if I hit Tush in the face, only his cursing would reach new levels of creativity.

After the whole cooking/presenting/hitting people over the head ordeal is over and everyone is allowed to escape from the horror that is Guy Fieri, we get a nightime shot of the wannabes' residence, with the rooftop flag flying at half-mast. Because someone is going down. (Possibly Michael, Teddy, and some sailors.)

At the Screaming Yellow Room of Judgement, the lights are up and the wannabes are squinting. We are told that this week's challenge was to see if the wannabes have a grasp on regional cuisine. Each are called out and critiqued.

Finally, we get the verdict. Melissa, who is getting close to finding good energy in front of the camera, and who prepared the favorite dish of the night, is declared the winner.

And Teddy, despite his good-tasting food, was just too nervous for our panel of judges and is given the boot.

Not suprising - it was either him or Katie (who I predict will go next week).

Friday, June 26, 2009

Thai Luang

The Minxes (including Papa and Bro) are rather obsessed with duck. I think it might be our favorite meat; definitely our favorite bird.

Some years ago, Papa Minx told tales of a duck dish he discovered at a Thai restaurant in Herndon, VA, called Thai Luang. The dish was "crispy duck with sweet basil," noted on the menu as the "heart of Thai Luang." Eventually, the family descended upon Herndon and partook of this mythical dish; it was as delicious as promised.

Now, Herndon is a bit of a haul for us Baltimoreans, particularly Papa Minx who resides in the wilds of Bel Air. But we felt that for such an occasion as Father's Day, we would make the journey. And we would eat Basil Duck. Or, three of us would. Mr Minx, ever the maverick, ordered a special: fried pompano with ground pork and ginger. He also tried a special appetizer called something like "chicken curry puffy" which turned out to be empanada-like pastries stuffed with a mild curried chicken and served with a cucumber salad. Minx Bro and I ordered Tod Mun, or Thai fish cakes, plus bowls of Tom Ka Kai, chicken and coconut soup.

The tod mun were rather large, making us wish we had gotten only one order. They were also grease-free and well-seasoned with lime leaf. I thought they'd make perfect seafood "sliders." The soup was unctuous with coconut; I prefer it a bit more on the savory side.

The duck was as heavenly as ever - crispy, deeply chile-spiced (hot!), with a nice hit of basil.

Was it worth the drive? Hell yes! It's a shame we barely have Thai food in Baltimore, much less anything this spectacularly good.

Thai Luang
171 Elden St
Herndon, VA
(703) 478-2233

Thai Luang on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pina Colada Cake

When I posted my pineapple upside-down cake photos on Facebook, a friend responded with a recipe for a cake that contained crushed pineapple. I decided to make the cake for Father's Day, so added a rum glaze and flaked coconut. Dad loves a good pina colada.


Pina Colada Cake

Cake
1 ­ 20 oz can crushed pineapple and juice
2 c all-purpose flour
2 c sugar
1 c coconut
2 eggs, beaten
2 t vanilla
2 t baking soda

Rum Glaze
1/4 lb. butter
1/4 c. water
1 c. white sugar
1/2 c. rum

Preheat oven to 350F. Place ingredients in large bowl and mix by hand until thoroughly blended. Pour into a well-greased bundt pan. Bake 30-40 minutes.

Prepare Glaze: Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in water and sugar. Boil 5 minutes (stirring constantly). Remove from heat and stir in rum. Drizzle glaze over cake. Allow time for cake to absorb glaze. Repeat until glaze is all gone.


The cake was a big hit. It was moist, despite not having any fat in addition to that in the egg yolks. It wasn't light and fluffy, of course, but somewhat dense. I wished the coconut flavor was more pronounced, so might try this again, removing the pineapple juice and substituting coconut milk.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Tasty Thai Salad

Barry and Bobby

Bobby Flay gives some grilling tips to President Obama.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Next Food Network Star Episode 3

Sorry - no recap this week. Didn't get to see the episode last night!

ADDED: Here's an interesting blog post about contestant Teddy Folkman.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Wee-cap of Top Chef Masters

On episode 2 of Top Chef Masters - Wylie Dufresne has a bad day. And he got his ass beat by Suzanne Tracht in both the Quickfire and Elimination Challenges.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why Sandra Lee is Not Alton Brown

You know how on Good Eats, whenever Alton touches chicken, he admonishes the home audience to "wash those chickeny hands?" Well, I just watched a few minutes of Semi-Ho-Made in which Sandra Lee coats raw chicken breasts with jarred jerk seasoning paste. She schmeared a spoonful of paste on a piece of chicken, then put the raw-chicken-contaminated spoon right back into the jar, then repeated it again and again with the other pieces of chicken.

I guess the Food Network can afford to throw away the half-empty jar. But don't try this at home, people!

Lunch

A bowl of Campbell's V-8 Southwestern Corn soup, garnished with chopped tomatoes, chives, and cilantro. Meh, it was ok. Like most Campbell's soups, it was lacking something that I can't quite put a finger on. And it was a bit too much like canned creamed corn (which I haven't eaten in decades but remember with disgust). However, it did the trick and satisfied a grumbly tummy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Next Food Network Star 5 - Episode 2

This week, the Wannabes head to the Food Network Kitchens to find a row of cloche-covered plates, Bobby Flay, and some really douchey-looking dude from Esquire Magazine. The theme of the short challenge is "bringing food to life," so I'm expecting some bad CGI animation.

Under the cloches - ok, domes, if you insist - are ingredients that would be found in an Esquire man's pantry. I'm thinking this would be half-used jars of mustard, lumpy milk, and ancient eggs. True story: long ago, when I was a nice person, I thought to make a birthday cake for a guy I was dating. Because he was at work and I wanted to surprise him with it when he got home, I decided to make it in his apartment. He claimed to have eggs, butter, etc. and all I needed to bring was chocolate. And a bowl and a mixer. Well, he did have eggs...in a carton that was dated May 5. This was September 30. But before I read the sell-by date, I attempted to crack an egg into a bowl. The smell was so foul.... I won't go into my queasy-induced vaso-vagal syncope, fainting, etc. Oh, wait, I guess I just did.

Anyhoo.... Each wannabe had to take what was under the cloche and concoct a man-friendly dish in 45 minutes. Then they would have to serve the dish and do a one-minute, on-camera presentation.

Eddie came out first and did well with both his meal and his presentation.

Melissa was next.

Tushface called her presentation both confusing and boring. And she looks constipated.

Jamika came out next and started out ok, but then had a brain freeze. After barely recovering, she said something about "taking advantage of [the food]." Great advice for a men's magazine! On those lonely nights, when its just you and that pork chop...who's gonna tell?

Jeffrey made some great food but his presentation was a little dull.

Teddy came out and acted like a crazy person. And he said, "coming at you from the mind of a chef" twice, so I'm guessing that's his catchphrase. They eyerolling from the panel suggested they didn't much like it.

Brett came out next and acted insane.

Michael started out strong but finished several seconds early. He filled the rest of the time intelligently.

Or not.

Debbie was next and did well all around. Finally there was Katie, who served raw lamb chops coated with bran cereal and touted the benefits of anti-oxidants. Ugh. Who wants to watch that on a cooking show? Take that healthy crap to the Health Channel.

In the end, Eddie gets the win.

Next we see the Wannabes take a trip to the Hearst Building and visit the Good Housekeeping offices.

Patience! Giada and Good Housekeeping editor-in-chief Rosemary Ellis will clue you in.

Not only do they have to create a holiday with food, but they have to use dumb props.

Since he won the Esquire challenge, Eddie gets to assign holidays to his competition.

He decides to be a nice guy and assign appropriate holidays: Anti-oxidant Katie gets Earth Day; Insane Brett gets April Fool's Day; Debbie From the South gets Mardi Gras; Mommy Melissa gets Mother's Day; Weird Michael gets Halloween; Jamika gets New Year's Eve; Teddy gets Labor Day. Eddie considers himself romantic and takes Valentine's Day, while giving Groundhog Day to Jeffrey.

After grabbing their props, the Wannabes plan meals and start cooking. Melissa has issues with working in the too-large and unfamiliar professional kitchen. As she scurries about with time ticking down, Brett and Teddy offer to help her plate.

Calm down. You're so excited, you're blurry.

The selection committee is joined by Giada, Rosemary Ellis, and Good Housekeeping food director Susan Westmoreland, who wears the same befuddled expression on her face during the entire series of presentations.

Each Wannabe comes out with their props and food and does a 3 minute presentation. Melissa comes out first and Tushface thinks her food is "aces." Phillip is next and somehow links Mexican food to Groundhog Day. Well, he doesn't really make the connection but hopes his charm will win them over anyway. Jamika brings out some simple collards and corn bread but she presents the dishes well and the food is delicious.

Katie bores the group with her bland food and rambling about healthy blahblahblah zzzzzzzz.

Teddy comes out and pretends to be a container of crabmeat calling out to him. This guy is off his meds.

Brett comes out and claims he's leaving the competition. The judges look at him blankly, as if to say, "you're leaving sooner or later, pal." But then he yells "April Fool!" and starts rambling about how the holiday is related to his mom and lobster tempura and who knows what the hell else. Maybe he should take Teddy's meds, since they're not being used.

Debbie makes her Mardi Gras presentation and is considered "a joy to watch," by Fogelstein.

Michael is deemed inventive, and Rosemary Ellis says "he knows who he is." Yeah, we do too.

Finally out came Eddie, who rambled on about his girlfriend and intimacy until Bobby got squicked and made him stop. Unlike in the Esquire challenge, he was boring and his food was under-seasoned.

Giada was off her meds too, insisting that Eddie was insulting.

Finally, the painful presentations are over and the Wannabes head to the Screaming Yellow Room for judging.The network must have realized that the room is just too damn bright, as the lights are dimmer than they were last week.

Giada admonished Katie to inspire, not to lecture. She then got on Eddie's case for being insulting and sharing too much.

It's my dream to someday insult a Food Network Star to his or her face. Until then, I have this blog.

Melissa is complimented on her food, so Brett steps in and tosses her under the bus because he and Teddy helped her plate.

That caused Tushface to ask if she could execute her meal on her own.

Honey, if you had any, would you be shilling yourself to the Food Network?

Finally the committee chose their Top Three - Debbie, Melissa, and Jamika. Because Jamika was so natural in her presentation and her dishes were simple and good, she won.

The Bottom Three this week were Katie, Brett, and Eddie. I would have tossed out Anti-Oxidant Girl because I'm already sick of looking at her and her crazy eyes, but instead they gave Insane Brett the boot.

Because Jamika won the challenge, we next see her in a cute lavender coat heading back to the GH offices to create a dish to be featured in the July issue of Good Housekeeping magazine. I wonder why they didn't use her recipes for corn bread and collards?

Next week - ah, do you really care? The Food Network doesn't. They can't wait until it's all over, as evidenced by the finale countdown they have on this page.
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