Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy Kwanzaa!

I can't resist posting this hot mess.

And...acorns? Those look like Corn Nuts to me....

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

A very merry Christmas to you and yours from me, Mr Minx, and Milo.

Julie, our cat, says, "bah, humbug!"

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Top Chef All Stars Episode Four Recap

This week's guest judge is former Top Chef Masters competitor Tony Mantuano, of Chicago's Spiaggia. I guess he just happened to be in town and desperate for a television appearance, because the episode has nothing to do with Italian food or Chicago.

Anyhoo(tie hoo)...the Quickfire is a bit of craziness - the chefs must create a dish without using normal utensils. No knives, no food processors, no spoons. And that dish would be...stuffing. This is the Swanson Broth Quickfire to test the contestants' imagination and resourcefulness; the one who excels will win not only immunity from Elimination in the next challenge but also $20K. And possibly a lifetime supply of Swanson Broth.

Damn good thing that shizz comes in a paper carton! I would have loved to see the recheftestants attempt to open cans without a can opener. Now that takes ingenuity!

Speaking of which, after telling us that "a chef useeng no tools ees like a sorgon dooeeng a-sorgery a-weeth hees a-fingers," Fabio used the top rack of a metal shelving unit to grate Parmesan cheese. He theenks he's hot sheet now.

Meanwhile, Jamie still thinks everything is funny. I swear, she's laughing in just about every shot Bravo has of her. What is so fucking funny?

Tiffani goes on about how stuffing is so specific to regions and even households. I can attest to that. While I think  my stuffing is pretty good (and basic), my brother-in-law can take a similarly basic recipe and completely ruin it by adding far too much stock (but probably not Swanson). So much liquid that one can take a handful of stuffing and wring it out. Yeah, that's wet. And not in a good way.

Time's up, utensils down! Wait...scratch that...

Padma and Tony go around tasting the food and seem to be happy with the majority of dishes. Carla unfortunately has chosen to work with black quinoa, a grain that requires more than 45 minutes of cooking. She tells the judges that she made "un-done-tay" quinoa; when Mantuano corrects her pronunciation, "you mean al dente," she says "I said un-done-tay" and that's exactly what she meant. She ends up on the bottom, as does Tiffani with her too-sweet maple stuffing and Casey with her Asian-esque stuffing.

On top are Tre and Marcel, and while it looks close, Tre wins it with his Southwestern bread pudding. Yes, I said "bread pudding." Who knew it was a dish that could make or break a chef?

Next came the announcement about the Elimination Challenge, which will involve competing at the US Open. But rather than playing tennis, the chefs will be cooking. I tell you, this was one of the more convoluted contests in all of Top Chef. First, the recheftestants had to choose cans of tennis balls. They were then instructed to remove one ball from their can; the color of the ball would reveal the team on which each would be playing. Are they getting sick of the knife block, too?

Before we get any further, here are the teams:

Team Orange Balls: Blais, Carla, Fabio, Mike, Dale, Marcel, and Antonia
Team Yellow Balls: Spike, Tre, Tiffani, Tiffany, Jamie, Angelo, and Casey

Now for the rules: the recheftestants must compete head-to-head in rounds, one Orange Teamer against one Yellow Teamer. The winning dish in each round will score a point for that team, tennis-style (15, 30, love, nonsense shit like that). The team with the most points wins the match, with all of the point-scoring members of that team eligible for the win. The point-losing members of the opposing team would be eligible for elimination. Got that?

Also, the teams need to take into account that they wwill be cooking for tennis players, who are on a strict diet. And because of the whole head-to-head thing, there is an element of strategy involved.

The teams get fifteen minutes to do menu planning then are sent home where they work on strategery. Spike thinks that his team should send their weakest dish out first because he's sure the other team would send out their best and that way would waste their strongest dish. His teammates pretend to agree, but they're all off making sure they can save their own asses.

Carla wants to make a groundnut soup, but Dale shoots her down by saying that the US Open crowd is high end. But she knows better than to listen to someone else and stands her ground.

The next day, after shopping at Whole Foods, the recheftestants have three hours to prep their dishes at the US Open kitchen.

Fabio is making gnocchi yet again, and he's really acting cocky about it. It's as if he's channeling Stefan or something.

Fabs - you're almost not cute anymore. Cut it out.

Angelo finds that his fish is slimy (there's a joke in there somewhere) and begs for fresher fish from Tre who refuses and sends him to Tiffany who does give him some of her tuna. (And there's another joke in there, too.) Tom comes in to ask about strategy. Team Orange is mum on the subject, but Spike reveals his plot to send out the weakest dish while everyone else on his team rolls their eyes and shakes their heads.

While preparing her dish, Carla becomes momentarily distracted and lops off the top of her finger. Blood ensues. The set medic bandages her up and suggests a trip to the hospital, but Carla is a team player, not a...well, you know.

And Spike, so busy plotting, fucks up the shrimp component of his dish and is forced to prepare another batch which he realizes too late is not properly seasoned.

Out on the court, the teams set up tables on opposite sides so they can't see what their opponents are planning. Jamie's dish of chick peas is undercooked, which according to Spike's plan makes it the weakest dish. However, she's refusing to plate so Casey volunteers to go first against Fabio. Team Yellow speculates that if Fabio has the strongest dish, then every dish on the Orange Team must be great. (Shows what they all think of Fabio's abilities, eh?)

Round One: Fabio vs Casey - Fabio wins a point for Team Orange
Round Two: Dale vs Tiffani - Tiffani wins a point for Team Yellow
Round Three: Marcel vs Angelo - Angelo wins a point for Team Yellow
Round Four: Antonia vs Tiffany - Antonia wins a point for Team Orange
Round Five: Blais vs Spike - Blais wins a point for Team Orange
Round Six: Carla vs Tre - Carla wins a point for Team Orange

That makes four points for Orange and two for Yellow, so the last two competitors, Mike Isabella and Jamie, don't need to compete at all, much to Jamie's relief.

During the competition, Angelo is "helpful" to his teammates by sabotaging them. He adds some completely unnecessary lemongrass gelee to Spike's shrimp and soup dish, when it really just needs more seasoning on the shrimp. And he "helps" Tre by overcooking his salmon (perhaps to pay him back for refusing to let him use some in his own dish).

Back at the Stew Room, nobody is surprised to see Fabio, Antonia, Blais, and Carla called out to Judges' Table first, because they were the winners of their round for Team Orange. Gail tells them these were some of the strongest dishes in the past seven seasons, everything was so good. But the best of all was Carla's groundnut soup. For the win, Carla not only gets bragging rights but also a giant bottle of wine and a trip to Italy, courtesy of Terlato Wines.

The bottom four then face the judges: Spike, Casey, Tiffany, and Tre. Tre clearly has the worst dish of the evening with his overcooked salmon, but because he has immunity, he's safe. Spike tells the judges that Angelo tinkered with his food, but they weren't buying it. He's responsible for his dish, and because the shrimp were underseasoned, he's getting the boot.

And Jamie, who didn't present her dish at all, is safe for another week. But I'm sure she'll get her comeuppance fairly soon. I hope so. And then I'll be the one laughing. 

And on that note - Merry Christmas to all! (But not to Jamie. Bah.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday Vacation

I'm taking a wee holiday vacation from blogging...so apart from any Top Chef recaps, it'll be pretty quiet around here until next year!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mocha Spice Biscotti

In their Holiday Cookie a Day slideshow, Bon Appetit featured a recipe for coffee-spice shortbread with crystallized ginger. While that combination of flavors intrigued me, I thought I might prefer to make similarly-flavored biscotti, instead. And while I'm all over coffee-flavored foods, might not a bit of chocolate make it just that much better?

In the end, I used David Lebovitz' recipe for chocolate biscotti as a starting point and used the flavorings from the shortbread recipe. The resulting cookies are the quite delicious Mocha Spice Biscotti, even better when dunked into a cup of hot coffee or cocoa.

Mocha Spice Biscotti

2 cups flour
1/2 cups cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons finely ground coffee
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, coffee, and spices.

In a large bowl, beat together the 3 eggs, sugar, and vanilla extracts. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients.

Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat (or parchment). Divide the dough (it will be sticky) in half, placing both halves on the baking sheet about 3" apart. Form each dough blob into a loaf about 9" long by 5" wide x about 1" high. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the dough feels firm to the touch.

Remove loaves from oven and cool for about 15 minutes. Using a serrated knife, gently cut loaves into about 1/2" slices. Lay the cookies cut side down on two baking sheets and return to the oven for about 20 - 25 minutes, turning them over at the halfway point.

When the cookies are cool, you can drizzle them with a bit of chocolate: melt the chips in a microwave-safe bowl for about a minute on high. Take them out every twenty seconds or so and give them a stir to see if they are melted. Once melted, spoon the chocolate into a small zip-top plastic bag, twist closed, and cut off one tip to make a piping bag. Pipe squiggles onto the cookies. Allow to cool until chocolate has hardened before storing cookies in sealed containers.

Makes about 30 cookies.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Turtle Graham Bars

For years I've subscribed to the Food Network's "12 Days of Cookies" newsletter. What I like best about it is that I signed up once, and it arrives automagically every year without my having to do anything else.

Seldom do I see a recipe that's a "must try" but every once in a while a goodie pops up. When I got this year's Day 6 email, I thought I'd give Clare Robinson's Turtle Graham Bars - a riff on the old favorite Saltine Toffee - a shot. I was in the mood to bake something and coincidentally had a brand new box of graham crackers and a bag of chopped pecans in the house already, along with brown sugar and some chocolate chips. This was so easy, and didn't involve getting out the flour canister or dirtying up the stand mixer.

The recipe below is as it came off the Food Network site. I, however, only used 1.5 sticks of butter and about 9 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips (or the remainder of a bag that was in my pantry). For my tastebuds, even 9 ounces was too much dark chocolate, so next time I make this, I'd use either milk chocolate, or cut the amount back to 7 or so ounces. The best part, after all, is the pecan toffee.

Oh, and Clare likes to add sea salt on the chocolate while it's still warm. I went one better and added some espresso-flavored sea salt. Oh yes I did.

Clare Robinson's Turtle Graham Bars (from foodnetwork.com)
Approximately 14 graham crackers (if each graham cracker is 5" x 2.5")
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
Kosher salt, to taste
12 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone mat. Arrange the graham crackers in a single layer on the lined baking sheet.

Put the butter, brown sugar, pecans, and a pinch of salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour the butter mixture evenly over the graham crackers and bake for 15 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a glass bowl placed over simmering water. Pour the chocolate over the toffee-covered graham crackers and spread evenly. Chill completely in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. Cut into bars.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Top Chef All Stars Episode Three Recap

Two down, sixteen to go. Yeah, still too many chefs, but that will soon be rectified somewhat, as this week is a double elimination!


For the Quickfire Challenge, our numerous re-cheftestants have to team up and compete in a relay race, but not just any relay race! Yes, it is a three-legged race, complete with burlap bags and rope! No, only kidding - but wouldn't that have been fun? Imagine Fabio and Marcel as partners...or Marcel and just about anyone.
And, it's not even a relay race. Instead, the chefs team up with the chefs standing nearest to them (as designated by Padma) and go at it simultaneously. "Go at it" meaning to peel and chop garlic, turn artichokes, and cut racks of lamb into chops, not anything more interesting.

King of the Momofuku empire, David Chang, is the guest judge who keeps a watchful eye on the re-cheftestants as they smash and chop. The first team to complete their mise en place gets fifteen minutes with which to create a fabulous dish with those ingredients.

The teams work out like this:

Green Team: Angelo, Fabio, Tiffany, Mike
White Team: Dale T, Carla, Marcel, Tiffani
Red Team: Antonia, Casey, Dale L., Jamie
Blue Team: Stephen, Spike, Blais, Tre

Fabio has issues with Antonia's one-at-a-time garlic peeling technique:

Spike also has issues with the way Stephen works the garlic, and lends a hand or two.

Marcel shows off a "technique" that he learned to french a rack of ribs by bashing the hell out it with his chef's knife. I was just waiting for the knife to bounce off the bone rather than hit the meat and ricochet back into his fool forehead. Now that's TV gold. Alas, it was not to be.

After many minutes of simultaneous frenzy, the Green Team finishes first and starts the fifteen minute timer. Blue finishes next, then Red, then White who ends up with only about 8 minutes of cooking time. Padma and David come in to taste; despite their first place finish, the Green Team produces one of the two worst dishes, as does Red Team. Blue and White are favorites, with Blue getting the win for their dish. They do not get immunity from elimination in the next challenge, but they do get a cool $5000 each.

Then the knife block comes out and the teams draw to see which schmancy New York restaurant they will be dining in that evening. Because the White Team is suddenly wealthier, I think they should treat, but apparently this is part of the Elimination Challenge. The teams will first dine and later create a dish that would fit in with that restaurant's menu. Team Green gets David Chang's newest restaurant Ma Peche, Team Red draws David Burke's Townhouse, Team Blue gets Michael White's Marea, and Team White has WD-50, owned by our old friend Wylie Dufresne, who still cuts his own hair with safety scissors.

That evening, each team has dinner at their restaurant to get a feel of the kind of food it serves. At Marea, Stephen the Obnoxious encourages Tre to try various things. Tre, on the other hand, knows his own palate and acts like a big stubborn baby. The chefs who drew WD-50 end up eating in what looks like a cinderblock room full of wine, but the Townhouse diners get a private room.

The next day, the re-cheftestants have two hours to cook their own dishes - although they are in teams, they will not be cooking as teams and will be competing against each other.

Carla is unsure about having to work her hootie hoo style into the WD-50 menu, and she cites the disastrous attempt at sous vide that lost her Season 5. But we all know that was Casey's fault; they're not on the same team this time so Carla won't fall under her evil influence.

Fabio is also having issues with being a primarily Italian chef having to cook French-Vietnamese food at Ma Peche.

Stephen, who should have his dish in the bag, is fighting with the blender at Marea.

Tre isn't having problems at all working his way around the Marea kitchen. Apparently he has a very special nickname:

Soon we see the judges exiting a cab - Tom and Bourdain looking fine in suits, guest judge Kate Krader of Food & Wine Magazine looking...well, she's not all that good-looking, and Padma wearing a dress that she quickly fashioned out of the bed-skirt on her daughter's crib.

They hit Marea first where Bourdain gives us the foodie judgement of the evening:

Next they head on over to Ma Peche where they criticize Tiffany's crudo for being boring and Fabio's dish for being too crazy. As this episode was billed as a "shocking double elimination," I suddenly feared that Fabio would be on the chopping block.


At David Burke's Townhouse, Jamie's smoked tomato soup (soup! so safe!) lacked a "wow factor" that would be necessary to get it on the menu at Townhouse. And Dale Levitski's veal dish included peanuts, pop corn, and a too-sweet French toast component. Yeah - read that again: Cracker Jack and French toast with veal. That sounds ten times worse than Dale Talde's disastrous butterscotch scallop dish from Season 4. Ugh.

Finally, at WD-50, Tiffani's frozen melons [insert joke here] were watery and "an intruder on the plate." Carla's dish was "safe" but good, and Marcel's dish was timid.

Fakeout Scene! Cut to Marcel saying that he had in the past been accused of plagiarizing a dish from WD-50, so it was now ironic that he was now cooking a dish in the kitchens of that very restaurant. /Fakeout.

Yeah, that was one of the lamest fakeout scenes ever.

Back in the Stew Room of Doom, Padma comes in, a little giggly from four meal's-worth of wine pairings, and calls Dale T, Angelo, Tre, and Antonia in front of the judging panel. The four of them had produced the favorite dishes from each restaurant, and while all of them were great, Dale T's egg and pork belly dish was the best of the best. He knew that Wylie Dufresne had an egg fetish so played it very smart and prepared a well-cooked egg. Also smart was not using any fancy molecular gastronomy techniques, which are not Dale's strength. Not only did Dale get the win, but also a 6-night trip to New Zealand, courtesy of Hilton Hotels.

When they get back to the stew, he has the unpleasant task of telling Stephen, Tiffani, Dale L., and Fabio that they are on the bottom. Fabio on the bottom again! Oh noooooo!

At this point, I was pretty sure that Stephen was going to go - he admitted that he wasn't spending as much time cooking in the kitchen so was perhaps rusty. Fabio's dish sounded pretty bad and misguided, but somehow he was spared and poor Dale Levitski and his too-sweet, bizarre combination of breakfast and veal was sent home.  Sad, but not heart-breaking.

If you remember, I mentioned last week that first week loser Elia Aboumrad said that Jen Carroll, Dale Levitski, and Spike were her bestest buds. So who goes home next week, hmmmm?

Hey, I'm not doing this for my health, yannow - if you like my post, please leave a comment!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Shrimp with Black Bean Sauce

My little brother was born in September of 1970, two months short of my 5th birthday. I suppose that taking care of an infant and an annoying pre-schooler (that would be me) was a bit much for my mom, even though her mother lived downstairs and was always more than happy to keep an eye on one or both of us. To get a little bit of a break from two kids hanging on her, Date Night was instituted. Not between Mom and Dad, but between me and Dad. Once every other week or so, Mom would dress me up and ship me out of the house as soon as Dad got home. He worked late in those days and was seldom around for dinner, so getting together, just the two of us, was kinda special.

So what did we do on our nights out? See Disney movies and eat fast food? Of course not! We went out someplace nice to eat, like the grown-ups we were. Keep in mind that this was nearly 40 years ago now so I don't remember every excursion, but one in particular sticks out in my mind: a visit to Mee Jun Lo. Mee Jun Lo was a Chinese restaurant on Mulberry Street, near Baltimore's minuscule Chinatown. It was a bit of a hole in the wall, up a dark flight of stairs into a dark room full of interesting smells. We usually went to Jimmy Wu's, up on Charles Street, so Mee Jun Lo seemed...exotic somehow.

I remember that one of us ordered shrimp with black bean sauce, something I had never before tried. The flavors of shrimp and garlic exploded on my palate, with the salty beans adding an earthy quality. I was plenty used to garlic as I had been exposed to fresh Polish kielbasa in the womb, and one of my maternal aunts had married an Italian man whose father taught her a vast repertoire of Sicilian dishes. But the combination of shrimp and garlic and those funny black things - that was new to me.

I'm not sure I ever ordered shrimp in black bean sauce ever again. But the flavor of that first-ever dish still lingers in my mind.

Shrimp in Black Bean Sauce

1 pound peeled and deveined medium to large shrimp

1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon corn starch
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons black bean sauce with garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup sliced onion
1/2 roasted red bell pepper, sliced (you may use raw green pepper)
2 green onions, shredded

Rinse the shrimp and pat dry. Place the shrimp in a bowl and stir in the marinade ingredients and marinade the shrimp for at least 15 minutes.

Heat the wok and add oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and cook until it begins to wilt. Then add the black bean sauce and fresh ginger, stirring it together for a few seconds until aromatic. Add the shrimp. Stir-fry briefly until shrimp turn pink and opaque.

Stir in the green onion. Serve hot over rice.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Collard Greens and Biscuits

Although I'm a big fan of gumbo, shrimp & grits, and the like, I don't cook a lot of Southern-style food at home. But on a recent trip to the grocery store, I noticed big bags of collards on sale and thought why not make a "mess o' greens" for dinner one night?

I had made greens twice before, but a dozen years ago by now. The first time, I used bundles of fresh collards which required stem stripping and thorough washing. The second time, I thought I'd get smart and buy frozen greens, which I assume had been de-stemmed. Wrong. Even after hours of cooking, chunks of stem retained their odd sharp crispness. It was like eating a bowl of razor blades.

The bagged greens should have been pre- cleaned and trimmed, but I still found tons of stem while giving them a bath. Bah. Better to buy whole greens and do it all from scratch. That said, they still tasted pretty great after several hours spent sharing a pot with three hamhocks and some spices.

Man, however, does not live by greens and hamhocks alone. Biscuits were also necessary to sop up all of that gorgeous "pot likker." And by biscuits, I mean drop biscuits with cheddar cheese and chives. And duck fat. There was a pint of duck fat left over from Thanksgiving dinner, and I put some of it to good use as a substitute for shortening in the biscuits.

Best biscuits I ever made. They were so tender and fluffy, they were practically floating off the table. It had to be the duck fat.

Collard Greens

3 smoked ham hocks
2 quarts water
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning (I used Emeril's Essence)
1 teaspoon hot sauce
2 lbs collard greens
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add ham hocks and Creole seasoning. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 1 hour.

Wash the collard greens thoroughly. Remove the stems that run down the center (they are tough). T Stack 6 to 8 leaves on top of one another, roll up, and cut into a chiffonade Place greens in pot with meat; cook for 60 - 90 minutes, stirring occasionally. When done, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Cheese Drop Biscuits

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup duck fat (you can use shortening)
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Combine flour, salt, baking powder, cream of tartar, and sugar in a large bowl. Cut in duck fat with a fork or your fingers. Stir in milk and cheese. Drop by large spoonfuls onto greased baking sheet. Bake at 425°F for 10-12 minutes. Makes 6 fist-sized biscuits or 8-10 smaller ones.

Monday, December 13, 2010

To Hon, or Not to Hon

Have you read the flap about Denise Whiting, owner of Café Hon in Baltimore, trademarking the word "hon?" Apparently she believes this gives her rights to not only her own logo, the word "hon" in an oval, a blatant rip-off of the UN identification stickers found on European cars starting in 1969, but also to the word itself. She has bragged that she allowed the MTA to use the word in (the ridiculous, over-the-top, and tacky) advertising for their new fare system, gratis. But that when a non-profit wanted to use it, she charged them $25. A non-profit!

Personally, I think it's all quite ridiculous that a person can trademark a word that has been part of the vernacular for generations before she ever came to this town. And only to make a buck.

But if she can do that, why can't I trademark the words "the" or "a?" Talk about profits!

Read more about it here. And check out this terrific review of Cafe Hon on Yelp.
Gotta wonder if one of my favorite local food blogs, Bon Appetit, Hon, is going to be asked to fork over usage fees?

Friday, December 10, 2010


I bought a copy of Martha Stewart's Cookies some months ago and ever since, I've been jonesing to make the recipe for Rugelach Bars.

When I was younger, I had a real thing for the rugelach sold at Macy's Cellar in New York. Every trip to the Big Apple had to detour through Macy's so I could get my fix, and if Dad went up there on business, well, he had his instructions. A while back, Macy's re-thought the whole gourmet food thing and did away with most of it, including my favorite cookies. Others I've tried since then were good, but none had exactly the right flaky pastry.

I figured I should probably make my own, but I didn't want to fiddle around with rolling out dough. Martha's recipe required rolling, too, but as they were bar cookies, I figured I could get away with doing my own thing.

Not rolling the dough worked fine - the pastry was nicely flaky. However, the filling was not up to snuff. For one thing, the one tablespoon of cinnamon called for is Too. Much. Cinnamon. Seriously. And the granulated sugar made the filling unpleasantly gritty. Otherwise, my substitutions of almonds and hazelnuts for walnuts and dried cranberries for currants worked perfectly. Below is the recipe as I made it; next time I'd add more chocolate, and lower the sugar to about 3 tablespoons. Oh, and use about half the cinnamon!

Rugelach Bars (adapted from Martha Stewart)

1 cup (total) almonds and hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup dried cranberries
Grated zest of 1 orange
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 tablespoons melted butter

1.5 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small piece
8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt

1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons sanding sugar, or granulated sugar

In a bowl, combine nuts, chocolate chips, cranberries, orange zest, corn syrup, sugar, and melted butter. Mix well until solid ingredients are coated by the syrup and butter. Set aside.

With a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix butter and cream cheese together until mostly incorporated but some butter chunks remain. Add flour and salt and mix until just beginning to hold together. Divide dough into two parts. Press one part into a 9 x 13" inch pan. Spread the prepared filling evenly over the dough. Spread remaining dough as evenly as possible over filling. Refrigerate at least one hour or until ready to bake.

Preheat oven to 350F. Beat egg yolk and water together and brush over bars. Sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake rugelach bars in center of oven for 35 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into 30 or so bars.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Top Chef All Stars Episode Two Recap

Oh, I got so excited while watching the previews this week. I kept thinking, "Wow, look! It's Blais! And Jen Carroll! Whee! If I had the opportunity to cast this season, I would have included just about everyone participating (except for Casey, whom I never liked and after she badmouthed Carla, never will - notice how she says she's "done with TC," yet is magically back after they waved 200K in her face) plus Andrew "Culinary Boner" d'Ambrosi because he's insane and Stefan Richter because he made me laugh. And Bryan Voltaggio. Of course.

The seventeen remaining recheftestants enter the Top Chef kitchen to find Padma hanging out with one of those pesky Jonas Brothers, Joe. (At least Bravo had the sense not to get Justin Bieber - he'd just get hair in the food.) Some of the chefs seem bemused, others are pleased.

Others are clueless.

Anyhoo...Padma goes on to introduce both Joe and the challenge:

With the expression on Fabio's face, what else could he have been-a theenking?

So, to sum up: the recheftestants have to create a "midnight snack" for a bunch of kiddies. They will have no utensils or plates, and the snack must be served in a brown paper bag. To match the brown paper bags that all of the museum curators and chaperons will be carrying around with them, if you know what I mean. Joe Jonas and his refined tastebuds will choose the winner, who will get immunity and an advantage in the Elimination Challenge.

With rare exception, the recheftestants don't seem exactly thrilled to be cooking for kids. 

After 45-minutes of cooking, Padma and Joe return for tasting. There are seventeen dishes, and I am going to avoid describing them except to say that Dale Levitski made a sugary concoction that he called "crack" and Fabio tells the judges that "in Eetaly, midnight snack ees roast cheeken and pasta."

After tasting, Joe determines that Tiffany, DoucheyMike, and Stephen made his least-favorite dishes. On top are Spike and Tiffani, but he's so torn between them, Padma announces a twist: the two must recreate their dishes in bulk and serve them to the children at the museum that night. Let the brats little angels decide.

Because they now must prepare their dish for 150 people, the other recheftestants are enlisted to help them, in the form of teams.

Team Spike: Blais, Dale T, Marcel, Stephen, Angelo, DoucheyMike, Carla
Team Tiffani: Jenn, Antonia, Dale L, Casey, Jamie, Tiffany, Tre

Wait - where's Fabio? Oh, he got left for last, so Padma asks him which team he would like to work with. Taking it personally, Fabio grumbles and chooses Team Spike. Because of course that team needed yet more testosterone.

After preparing tons of snacks, the teams shovel them into red and blue paper bags and haul them to the museum where they are greeted by a hoard of maniacal midgets, already sugared-up and rarin' to go.

Some of the chefs look downright intimidated by the kids.

Others decide to brave the hungry beasts little darlings and campaign for their team's snack. In the end, Tiffani's sugar bombs win over Spike's carrots and potatoes.

Relieved that the day is finally over, the recheftestants are about to head home when Tom strolls in and announces that their Elimination Challenge will start right then and there. They will be staying at the museum overnight and preparing a buffet breakfast for the little bastards darlings and their parents, starting at 7:30 AM. The two teams will have to represent two dinosaur types that are in the museum's collection: the carnivorous Tyrannosaurus Rex, and the vegetarian Brontosaurus.

Why do I suddenly feel like Fred Flintstone should be the guest judge?

As the winner of the Quickfire, Tiffani is allowed to choose which dino's diet her team will work with. Thinking it would be advantageous to have bacon and eggs in a breakfast challenge, she chooses the TRex. That means Spike's team gets fruits, veggies, and grains.

But first...a brief and unrefreshing nap on cots in the hall of North American Mammals, where we find that Tre likes to sleep in the nude. Unfortunately, the viewing audience is denied that particular treat.

At 4AM, the gang heads into the museum's kitchen to start work. What Tiffani didn't hear when Tom presented the choice was "meat and dairy ONLY." "Only" meaning no grains, no herbs. Meanwhile, Team Bronto was well-chuffed that they could make lots of goodies...only to find that they didn't have access to eggs or butter. However, the Brontos seem to have an advantage. Especially when TRex Jamie cuts her finger and has to go to the hospital for stitches. The rest of the chefs say they would have taped it up and gone on, and Fabio reminds us of how he broke his feenger in his season and still managed to cook. Tell 'em, Fabio:

Jamie has always been an annoying little whiner. And while her team is one man down, her partner in crime for this challenge, Jen Carroll, is cooking their dish herself.

Eventually they are done in the kitchen and have to prepare the buffet, outside.

During the hour of prep, Angelo determines that the plums in the dish he's making with Blais and Marcel are too big and instructs Carla to cut them down. This pisses off Marcel, who immediately suspects Angelo is the kind of guy who will resort to sabotage.

Pot, meet kettle.

Jamie returns with two whole stitches in her finger, which prompts more "I'd have duct-taped it and continued cooking" from the other annoyed recheftestants. In other words....

As if Jamie isn't annoying enough, we then find that Season One hostess Katie Lee-no-longer-Joel is our guest judge. Hell, even Joe Jonas is more interesting. But anyway...the judges make their way to pick up their buffet breakfasts and choose to dine at tables with parents and kids, to get their reactions on the dishes.

While Team TRex seems to have the longer lines, Team Bronto's food gets more kudos from the judges who particularly enjoyed Fabio and Stephen's gnocchi (which Fabio later points out was made without eggs or butter) and the banana parfait prepared by Blais, Marcel, and Angelo.

Team TRex offers up salmon with overly-salty sauce, limp pork belly topped with unseasoned eggs, and partially-raw frittatas.

Later, back at TCHQ, Padma calls Team Brontosaurus to face the judges. They are declared the winner, with the top accolades going to the banana parfait. When Team TRex faces the firing squad, Jen gets super defensive of her dull dish and does a lot of mouthing off at the judges. Tre is also in trouble for his over-reduced sauce. Back in the stew, Jen declares that All-Star Jen is not the same as Season 6 Jen. Which proves to be true...Season 6 Jen ended up in the Final Four, but All-Star Jen is sent packing in episode two.

No surprise there. If you listen to Elia Aboumrad's interview with Laura K on All Top Chef, you'll hear that her best friends on the show were Jen, Dale L., and Spike. So I'm betting the latter two aren't going to be around for much longer, either.

So what did you think? Please leave a comment. :)