Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Choice Bites 11.30.2011

Apparently, an artist's t-shirts emblazoned with "eat more kale" "is likely to cause confusion of the public and dilutes the distinctiveness of Chick-fil-A's intellectual property and diminishes its value."

Eat more kale. Eat mor chikin. Yup. Exact same sentence. Exact same sentiment. Come on, man!

Remember Phoebe Cates? She puts half-and-half in her espresso. Huh. But she cooks! (I find the whole Grub Street Diet column fascinating.)

More celebrities: GQ hates Gwyneth Paltrow, her cookbook, and her pizza oven. Personally, I kinda like Goop. I don't think she's purposely pretentious - it just comes naturally.

Anyone out there watching The Next Iron Chef on Food Network? I had several requests to recap it, but I'm already doing Top Chef. After doing Rocco's Dinner Party AND Next Food Network Star simultaneously, I was ready for the boobie hatch. Anyhoo...Chef Eddie Huang is recapping NIC for Eater...he's pretty entertaining. And possibly on crack.

I've mentioned before that the chats on Serious Eats can be pretty entertaining. And educational. In a recent discussion on shoplifting, I learned that Preparation H suppositories are popular items to steal. Apparently coke addicts stuff them up their noses to relieve irritation.....

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ray at Chazz

Body by Chazz.
So apparently Ray Lewis, Jarret Johnson, and Haloti Ngata were at Chazz: A Bronx Original last night. For the stalkers among you, it was reported that Ray-Ray ordered the calamari fritti, the tricolore salad, and pan-seared salmon. Jarret had the chicken parm, and Haloti the fusilloni Caprese.

Chazz Palminteri was notified immediately and he told the restaurant manager to personally thank Ray and Company for their patronage and tell him he is the "greatest middle linebacker from sideline to sideline that ever lived."

Nice for a Giants' fan to acknowledge the truth that way.

Pic credit: Men's Fitness

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Unsafe at Any Temperature

So the other day we went out to dinner with friends. For our first course, we were offered a choice of soups: Maryland crab or cream of crab or a combination of the two. Mr Minx and I chose the combination, figuring that in most places, "cream of crab soup" is just a euphemism for "seafood-flavored wallpaper paste" and a mixture of paste + liquid soup might make for a more pleasant texture. (Because, honestly, I love cream of crab soup if it's done right.)

Those folks who ordered straight cream of crab were bought bowls of soup so thick and stiff I do believe one could have used it for modeling clay. One taste revealed it to be nearly stone cold. Our "half and half" soups were more on the tepid side, having benefited from also containing Maryland crab, which was piping hot. The flavor was fine, so I didn't really have a problem with eating soup that was less than hot. But then our cute but stupid waitress revealed that the burner under the pot of cream of crab had been turned off at some point during the day. "I don't know how that happened!"

I'm thinking that this large restaurant that likely serves a lot of crab soup uses huge pots. For a soup to get so cold, the pot was likely off the heat for hours. A cream-based soup containing shellfish, left off the heat long enough to get cold, seems like a health department violation to me. If *I* ran this restaurant, I'd take the cream of crab off the menu for the evening and offer Maryland crab only. To be on the safe side. Instead, our waitress took our bowls and popped them into the microwave. When she returned with the soup, a friend asked how she knew whose bowl was whose. The waitress replied that she just remembered where she had put each bowl on her tray.

Needless to say, Mr Minx and I declined to finish our soup. I'm still kinda nauseated just thinking about the whole thing. As far as I know, nobody in our party got sick after the meal, but I wasn't about to take chances with my health.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Cooking with Il Douche

While I love to pick on chef Rocco DiSpirito, he probably doesn't deserve the beating I give him as much as does another chef, Scott Conant. (Rumor has it that DiSpirito is actually a very nice guy.) Conant first popped up on my radar when he appeared as a guest judge on Season 5 of Top Chef. He didn't have to open his mouth for me to slap the "smarmy" tag on him; one look at the carefully-groomed stubble was quite enough. Top Cheftestant Fabio Viviani wasn't all that impressed with him, either. (Check out the last part of our interview with Fabio.)

A blogger that I follow posted on Facebook and Twitter not long ago that she was thisclose to Conant. I told her that I think he's a douche. Conant himself responded on Twitter that she should "tell her friend I'm not a douche."

After poking around his account for a few minutes, I noticed that he seems to enjoy re-Tweeting comments that disparage him. Maybe he gets off on it. 

He deleted his "tell your friend I'm not a douche" comment before I thought to screen-cap it. Guess he can't deny the truth.

Since this is a food blog, I figured I should try one of his recipes before I trash talk him. Because I've read raves about his simple spaghetti with tomato and basil sauce, that seemed to be the dish to try. Mr Minx and I whipped it up one recent evening.

Eh. It's fine. The sauce was so unctuous from the copious amounts of oil, butter, and starchy pasta water, the tomato provided merely an acidic accent that could also be achieved with a more reasonably-priced squeeze of lemon or dash of zest.

It's almost criminal that this dish is listed on the Scarpetta menu at $24. Wait...what am I saying, "almost?" Definitely criminal.

Personally, I think it would be tastier with more cheese, some shellfish, and chopped red onion.

Scott Conant's Spaghetti with Tomato-and-Basil Sauce

1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
30 fresh plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
11⁄2 pounds dried spaghetti
1 tablespoon butter
8 basil leaves, cut into a fine chiffonade
1⁄4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Add the olive oil to a pan and heat until it begins to smoke lightly. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, and red-pepper flakes, but take into consideration that the sauce will reduce and the salt will become concentrated. Crush the tomatoes with a potato masher to release all their liquid. Cook for 25 minutes over medium to medium-high heat, until the tomatoes form a semi-chunky sauce.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the spaghetti. When it is three-quarters cooked, drain the pasta and reserve the water. Add the spaghetti to the sauce and cook over medium-high heat until all the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is al dente, stirring occasionally. If the sauce becomes too thick, add a little of the pasta water to thin out the sauce. Remove from the heat, and, just before serving, add the butter, basil, and cheese, mixing thoroughly until the pasta is an orange hue. Season to taste with salt.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Top Chef Texas Episode 4 Recap

Let me start off by telling you I'm dead tired. I cooked all day Wednesday and stayed up to watch Top Chef when I really wanted to crawl into bed with my teddy bear. Thursday I helped cook the turkey by committee and dealt with the usual holiday/relatives stress, and then I stayed up way past my bedtime to watch the Harbowl. Go Ravens! And now I've gotten up early just to write this recap. I can't guarantee that it will be funny. Or even coherent.

On to the recap.

This week we had both Battle Chile-with-an-E and Battle Chili-with-an-I. For the Quickfire, the cheftestants had to chose a variety of chile pepper and create a dish around it. For their convenience, there was a tote board listing the heat factor of each variety available, presented in Scoville units, along with the potential monetary value--if the chef used that particular chile in a winning dish--presented in dollars. Sensibly, the hotter the chile, the more money a chef could win.

Chuy, the resident Mexican, tells us that he's got enough habanero chiles stockpiled at home to last until the next nuclear fallout. Huh? When was the last nuclear fallout? Are habaneros supposed to be a good antidote for radiation poisoning? Does he know something we don't?

Beverly doesn't seem to get the point of the challenge and chooses the Anaheim chile, which is so mild she serves it raw, with a Korean condiment and a leaf of lettuce. Ok, I get that she's Korean, but is she going to make Korean food for every challenge now? Like Debbie Lee on Next Food Network Star a couple of  years back, the annoying chick whose battle cry was "I'm Korean!"?

Paul is the only chef who's daring enough to choose to work with the Ghost chile, which at a hundred bazillion Scoville units, is the hottest chile in existence. Or at least it was last week. If he's successful - and doesn't rub his eyes - he'll be seeing $20,000 in his future.

The guest judges this week are the Too Hot Tamales, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, both of whom competed on Top Chef Masters and did quite well but somehow didn't manage to win. Along with Padma, they go around the room and taste all fifteen chile-packed dishes and seem to finish quite admirably without sweating, begging for a glass of milk, or running to the bathroom, butt cheeks clenched. Take that, Aaron Sanchez and Roger Mooking!

They chose Beverly's raw chiles, Chuy's scallops achiote with too-obvious canned tomato flavor, and Richie's too-sweet/not-hot enough scallop and pineapple dish as their least favorites. (This is not Top Scallop, after all.) On top were Heather's dish which involved cous cous, Grayson's daring habanero popper, and Paul's super hot Ghost chile coconut soup. The win appropriately goes to the cheftestant with the biggest cojones - Paul gets both immunity and 20K. Nice work.

For the second challenge du jour, the cheftestants are put into five teams of three and told that they will be entering a chili cook-off. They have no time limit for the challenge, as long as their dishes are ready by 7pm the following evening. The catch is...they have to cook in the Top Chef Mansion, which doesn't have a kitchen big enough to accommodate fifteen cooks.

Before they get a chance to figure this out, the cheftestants go shopping. Chefs immediately storm the meat counter demanding 30 lbs of brisket, which of course the store does not have times five. The chefs who don't get brisket end up with other cuts of meat and hope for the best. (Personally, I like chuck. Brisket gets too stringy.)

Once back at the house, the teams fight over space. Some go outside to take advantage of the grills, smokers, and giant outdoor fireplace, while one smart team stays inside the kitchen with the air conditioning.

Some teams cook all night long, while others wisely choose to go to bed at some point. Everyone gets punchy and there's drinking and swimming involved. Handsome Chris goes to his bunk bed and doodles hearts with Padma's name in them on the wall.

The next day, the chefs are weary but have to suit up and pack their chilis to take to the Tejas Rodeo. After setting up their pots, the chefs hand out samples to 200 or so rodeo attendees. These tasters are also judges for this particular contest, and will choose the overall winning team. The regular band of Judges - this week including Gail Simmons - get to pick the loser.

After the tasting, the chefs go hang out in the stands and watch the rodeo. After eating all of that chili, I would imagine that it was quite a fragrant place - and not in a good way.

As the calves are roped and clown cowboys get stomped, Beverly starts crying. Just when I start to think that  she's crying about the unnecessarily cruel treatment of animals just for sport, she starts babbling about missing her husband and wishing he were there. In episode FOUR, with ninety-umpteen episodes to go. Gack. Maybe she'll go home this week.

And then the announcer says it's time to declare the winner of the Tejas Chili Cook-off. Padma comes out on a horse and Handsome Chris starts creaming his jeans over her. It's really kind of sickening.

Anyhoo, Padma declares the Green Team of Handsome Chris, Chuy, and Sarah to be the winner.

The Black Team of Beverly, Richie, and Nyesha made the least- favorite chili, so one of them will be going home. But instead of the usual eeny-meeny-miney-mo decision, the three of them are told that they can get a second chance by successfully repurposing their losing molé-style chili as a dish from Chile! Well, no, but that would have been fun.

The three go racing into a nearby kitchen and get to work, and when 30 minutes is up they serve their dishes to the judges, while the other cheftestants sit nearby and doze off. Squinty Chris is distraught that his little buddy Richie is on the chopping block. He wants them to go all the way to the finale together, but alas that's not going to happen.

Beverly did the best job of repurposing the chili, using it as a sauce for seared tuna. Drat. And Nyesha's Frito-crusted shrimp came in second, which leaves Richie's one-dimensional pork tenderloin (also with Fritos) on the bottom.

He and Squinty Chris share a tearful embrace. After hearing them say "I love you" to each other, it's clear that this particular bromance has gone on for quite a long time. Kind of touching, actually.

Next week: the chefs head to Dallas and do whatever there is to do in Dallas. (I've only ever been to the's a nice airport. Other than that, I got nothing.)

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Poll

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Chicken Molé

We Minxes tend to eat dinner the way god intended - at the dining room table, with cloth napkins and real utensils. Very occasionally, however, we'll eat off of paper plates while glued to the basement television. Those occasions would be football games starting at 4:05pm and the Superbowl. If we're going to be paying more attention to the TV than the food, I think finger foods that can be prepped in advance are easiest to deal with. Bonus points if the items can be fully cooked during halftime! Usually, this means a pizza or nachos.

Nachos seem easy, but I tend to make a production out of it. If I'm lucky, I have leftovers that I can throw together, but even then I have to make a variety of salsas. Sure, I know I can buy salsa, but I really enjoy making them out of whatever I have on hand. For the most recent nacho feast, I made a salsa with canned tomatoes seasoned with scallions and smoked salt, a corn salsa, and one with fresh raw cranberries, honey, and lime juice.

I didn't have any leftover protein this time, so I poached several skinless, bone-in chicken thighs in chicken stock. I also made a kind of molé sauce to flavor the meat.

Molés are rather complicated sauces involving many types of chiles, nuts, and spices. I used what I had on hand and made a rather nice, mild, and non-sweet sauce that worked really well on the relatively bland chicken.

Fauxlé Sauce

1/2 cup chopped onion
olive oil
pinch salt
1 15oz can chopped fire roasted tomatoes
1 mulato chile, soaked in hot water until softened, destemmed, chopped coarsely
1 canned chipotle in adobo
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted and ground finely
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons chocolate chips
1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup

Over medium heat, cook the onion in the oil with a pinch of salt until onion is translucent. Add tomatoes, chiles, and garlic and simmer for about five minutes. Stir in the remainder of the ingredients and cook over medium-low heat for another 10 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Puree in a food processor or blender. Strain.

Makes one pint.

To use with protein: toss a few tablespoons with protein of your choice in a sauté pan; heat until warmed through. Or heat sauce and meat separately. :)

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Shrimp and Grits

On one recent weekday night without concrete dinner plans, I poked around in the pantry for inspiration. After moving a couple of cans of coconut milk and chopped tomatoes out of the way, I discovered a jar of Robert Rothschild Farm Hot Pepper Berry Patch preserves and a carton of grits. There was also some shrimp in the freezer and leftover cooked bacon in the fridge. Thus armed, and inspired by Top Cheftestant Grayson Schmitz's Polenta with Bacon Wrapped Shrimp & Port Wine Fig Sauce, I thought I'd make my own sweet-and-savory shrimp and grits.

The sauce was pretty sweet, but it played nicely with the very savory grits.

Spicy Raspberry Sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 cup hot pepper berry preserves
2 teaspoons Sriracha
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Combine first six ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until mixture bubbles and thickens and reduces a bit. Stir in butter. Set aside.

Bacon and Chile Cheese Grits

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
pinch salt
1 4-oz can chopped green chiles
1 clove garlic, minced
3 1/2 cups cold water
3/4 cup old fashioned grits (not instant, not quick)
1/2 cup grated cheese
6 slices cooked bacon, chopped
salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a 2 quart sauce pan. Add onion and pinch of salt. Cook until onion becomes translucent, then add chiles and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes. Turn up the heat, add water, and bring to a boil. When water is boiling, slowly stir in the grits. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook grits, stirring occasionally, until they thicken, about 20 minutes. Stir in cheese and bacon, add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve both with shrimp sautéed in a bit of garlic butter.

Oh, and the sauce is GREAT on a piece of chocolate cake! (With or without vanilla ice cream.)

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Flashback Friday 11.18.2011

This post was originally published on August 14, 2005. It was my very first post here on Minxeats.

Dim Sum

I love to eat. I love to cook. I think about food all the time. No, I obsess over it. What's for breakfast? What's for lunch? What's for dinner? These are questions that are running through my mind at most times of the day. I talk about food on my knitting blog. I even started a food-related thread on a TV show forum that I frequent. One of my favorite Web sites is, and I must admit that Steven Shaw (a.k.a. "Fat Guy") is one of my heros. I figured it was high time that I start my own food blog.

Welcome to Minxeats.

Dim Sum
My first installment on the world of food starts in China. More precisely, in Hong Kong: Jesse Wong's Hong Kong, a Chinese restaurant in the hectic burg of Columbia, Maryland. Today Neal and I set out for only our second dim sum experience without the accompaniment of native Chinese speakers.

I've been eating dim sum (Chinese for "a little bit of heart") since I was in my mid-20s. Back then the only place to find dim sum was a now-forgotten restaurant in glamorous and exciting Glen Burnie, MD. There, dim sum consisted mainly of an assortment of dumplings stuffed with various things, mostly shrimp and pork. There were few other delicacies to speak of, but what they had was fried, and fried is good. Right?

Many years later, I befriended LaRaine, born in Hong Kong but raised in the U.S. She still prefers Chinese food over all, and she introduced me to good dim sum, at a place in Wheaton, where the Asian population is much higher. At Good Fortune, I had snails in black bean sauce for the very first time, eaten with toothpicks in order to pick the tiny morsels out of their small shells. She would also order steamed spare ribs and chicken feet, both of which were fatty and bony and, in my opinion, too much trouble. The dim sum here was otherwise heavy on dumplings, but all were delicious, and I was always astonished at the amount of food three of us could put away in one sitting. (The average price per plate is $3.00; once our bill came to $60. You do the math.)

We later found a even better place with a great variety of goodies but even farther away from home, in Gaithersburg. New Fortune is huge, noisy, and delectable. They have platters of meats (roast duck) and vegetables (Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce), as well as the usual dumplings and body parts. There was even a dessert cart full of shiny, jiggly, gelatin-based, super-sweet sweets in garish colors. The best time to go is for Chinese New Year, when they feature a raucously loud Lion dance and martial arts demos.

Over the years, I've developed a list of favorites, items that are "must-haves" on trips to the local dim sum palace.

  • Shrimp crepes, cheung fun are number one on my list - slippery, pure-white tubes of glutinous-textured noodle filled with large shrimp and topped with a sweet soy sauce.
  • Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf - sticky rice filled with dried shrimps and chinese sausage, wrapped in aromatic lotus leaves. The taste is slightly medicinal, slightly fishy, very comfort food.
  • Hom Sui Gok - deep-fried, football-shaped, slightly sweetened glutinous rice flour balls with a wonderfully chewy texture, encasing a filling of ground pork, green onion, and minced shrimp.
  • Pork Humbow - a baked or steamed bun filled with chopped bbq pork. I prefer the baked ones, as a steamed one that has been sitting around for too long takes on the texture of damp terrycloth dishtowels.
  • Turnip Cakes - grated cooked turnips pressed into square cakes with dried shrimp and Chinese sausage, fried until crisp on portable grills
  • Fried whole (head-on) shrimp with ginger and scallions - Crisp. Hot. Delicious! I take the heads off but eat the legs and shell and sometimes the tail too.

Here are a few photos from today's dim sum adventure. Click on them to see more detail!

The place was full when we got there, and we got seated in what must be the wastelands of Jesse Wong's despite being directly in front of the kitchen door. After mugging a few of the cart ladies, here's what we started out with. The "Jade Dumplings" were filled with shrimp pieces and had a distinctive cilantro flavor. The chow mein was what I assume to be "real" chow mein - skinny fried noodles with bits of scallions and bean sprouts. Very plain but very tasty. The Soy Sauce Chicken was, as all meats are at dim sum, served cold. The meat was very tender and had a slight flavor of five spice powder. The scallion dumplings had a doughy wrapper and were filled with chopped green onions. They get sizzled on the same little portable grill as turnip cakes.

By the time the cart with the shrimp comes around, they are pretty cold, but I managed to snag a plate hot from the fryer. These were heavenly! The shells were crisp and the meat perfectly cooked. They were slightly salty and a tad garlicky. My plate soon became a dumping ground for discarded shrimp heads and tails. Neal tried one with the head still on, proclaimed it "mushy and fishier." Mmmm! Shrimp brains! I'm not particularly fond of their little black eyeballs staring at me accusingly.

So much food (we got offered congee--a rice gruel, tripe, several varieties of tofu skins, stuffed tofu and eggplant, myriad other dumplings, beef, jellyfish, and chicken feet) but where the heck were the shrimp crepes?? I spotted a guy come out of the kitchen with the telltale bottle of sweet soy on a tray with stacks of covered plates and managed to flag him down. Here they are - my all-time favorite dim sum yummy! Neal doesn't like them, it's a textural thing, so I got them all to myself.

I made sure to take this pic especially for my pal Fara, who lives in the wilderness of South Carolina and has no access to dim sum. This is sticky rice in lotus leaf, unwrapped to show off the rice. I did take another pic with the filling exposed, but Neal and I both decided that it wasn't at all appetizing. It was probably the cylindrical pink bit of Chinese sausage that stuck out of the rice.... :)

We usually skip dessert, although sometimes I'll give in to the mango pudding (almond flavored milky gelatin dessert served with mango bits and topped with canned fruit cocktail). Today, however, we tried the fruit tartlets. I had never seen a Western-style dessert here in the past, but there they were, three of them, each about 1 1/2" across. Tiny tart shells filled with a spoonful of pastry cream and topped with kiwi, half a strawberry, and a blackberry. Yum. Sorry - we ate them before I thought to take out the camera again.

Were we not going to the Mall afterwards, we would have ordered more food and then taken home a doggie bag. As it was, we ate just about everything on the table, except the condiment caddy. No, we have no plans to eat dinner tonight.

I hope you enjoyed this brief tour. Please leave a comment!

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Top Chef Texas Episode 3 Recap

This week, the competition starts in earnest, with the sixteen chefs who managed to make it through the three preliminary rounds: Paul Qui, Grayson "Teenage Alcoholic" Schmitz, Beverly "Oxtopus" Kim, Lindsay "Reese Witherspoon" Autry, Dakota "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" Weiss, Chuy Valencia, Heather Terhune, Keith "Ex-Con" Rhodes, Sarah Grueneberg, Whitney Otawka, Chris "Squinty" Jones, Richie "The Headband" Farina, Chris "God I'm Handsome" Crary, Nyesha Arrington, Jor-El Boring, and, as my friend David Dust put it, my "boyfriend," Edward Lee.

Now that the funny-business is over, Top Chef is getting back to the original format and starting the episode off with a Quickfire Challenge. It's Texas, and there be snakes in Texas! And it's fun to make cheftestants squirm by causing them to think they will have to slaughter and skin their own snakes! But first, Padma introduces the guest judge for this challenge, Johnny Hernandez, chef and owner of the restaurant La Gloria. 

Padma tells the cheftestants that Samuel L. Jackson was originally asked to be the guest judge for this challenge but when he was told he had to speak Parseltongue, he said he was already fed up with, "mother-fuckin' cartoons and shit. I'm sick of playing second fiddle to mother-fuckin' Yoda."

So Padma is forced to do her best imitation of Mr Jackson in his stead.

("I'd better see some mother-fuckin' snakes on some mother-fuckin' plates.")

Cheftestant Dakota gets a squishy-in-the-pants kind of feeling when it comes to legless reptiles.

Doubtless the snakes felt the same way when told they would become dinner. (Who knew there would be so many cool snake movie references to make?!)

Big black teddy bear, Keith, is also not a fan of the snake, but he and Dakota and the other fourteen press on valiantly because five thousand smackeroos are at stake, as is immunity from elimination.

Unfortunately for the home audience, their snakes had already been killed and skinned. I would have loved to see Edward take on a live rattlesnake. He'd probably try to kill it by biting it in half or something equally dramatic. Hopefully the medic would have been standing by with vials of anti-venin this time.

After all the slicing and dicing and cooking. Padma and Johnny go down on some snake.

Padma looks like a match stick this season. And what's with the bizarre t-shirt? Does she have a pack of ciggies rolled up in her sleeve?

Johnny picks Paul's, The Headband's, and Nyesha's offerings as his least-favorites. Beverly, Dragon Tattoo, and Sarah deliver the tastiest morsels. After a well-placed commercial break, we find that snake-hater Dakota is the winner of the challenge.

Right away the cheftestants are introduced to the dreaded knife block, which means this first Elimination Challenge of the season involves teams. Now, I could have sworn that I heard the first person to draw a knife say, "red," and the second say, "pink," which made me think - "red and pink teams? wtf?" but I was busy taking notes and might have had a brief hallucination stemming from the shot of DayQuil I had taken a few hours earlier. Then I hear Padma saying "pink and green" teams, which immediately leads me to think this is some sort of throwback 80s Izod/Docksides Preppy Handbook challenge. But then she introduces Blanca Flores, a girl of amazingly short proportions, as the hostess of this week's party. Blanca is wearing pink, but alas, she is not wearing a headband, and I'm disappointed that the preppy theme is merely a figment of my drug-addled imagination.

Apparently wee Blanca is/will soon be turning fifteen. In Latin America, a girl's fifteenth birthday is a big thing, called a quinceaneara, a occasion deserving of a huge, expensive, wedding-like party. For this challenge, the cheftestants are called in to create elegant Mexican food and a fabulous cake for 100 party guests.

(I guess if I were having a birthday party today, I'd have to call it my cuarentayseiseara. Doesn't exactly trip off the old tongue, does it?)

First, they have thirty minutes to pow-wow with Blanca about her likes and dislikes, then they go shopping with a $1500 per team budget. Half of the team shops at Whole Foods, while the other half goes to a Latin market. The guys on the Pink Team are tasked to buy shrimp for a passed appetizer and Keith has the grand idea to buy cooked shellfish because it's cheaper than fresh. He is not dumb enough to make the decision on his own, however, and asks the other guys for an opinion. Handsome Chris says, "go for it!" which we have on tape.

Back at the Huge Top Chef Kitchen, the Pink Team girls - Lindsay and Sarah specifically - go ballistic when they find bags and bags of still-frozen pre-cooked shrimp. Lindsay especially is not pleased. She asks Handsome Chris whose idea it was and he pretends not to be responsible, laying the blame firmly on Keith.

The Green Team seems much more cohesive because rather than having bossy girls trying to wrestle control of the situation while not actually doing anything to help, they have Chuy acting as team leader. His family is originally from Mexico, so he's got a good grip on the cuisine in general. Oddly though, he pronounces every Mexican food term with a flat American accent. I half expected him to pronounce the Ls in "tortilla."

The next day, the cheftestants have an additional 2.5 hours to finish cooking and set up their buffets at the venue. The whole time, Sarah and Lindsay show their control-freaky sides by taking issue with all and sundry - except, as we shall soon see, with important stuff.

The flood of guests arrive, as do Blanca Flores in a gorgeous corset gown fit for a princess, Padma, Tom, Johnny Hernandez, and this week's fourth judge, Hugh Acheson. The cheftestants serve some passed appetizers before the judges hit up the Pink Team table for a full tasting.

They take issue with Keith's enchilada because he made it with a flour tortilla instead of a corn one, prompting Hugh to call it a burrito. More tortilla issues ensue when Sarah and Lindsay serve store-bought ones with their underseasoned cochinita pibil. Just about the only dish that receives praise on the Pink Team is Handsome Chris' corn salsa, so it's pretty clear that this team is the losing team.

On the Green side, Squinty Chris' empanada is praised, and everyone enjoys Ed's gazpacho. Heather's tres leches cake looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but Blanca likes it a lot.

Padma tells the Green Team right then and there that they are the winners, but everyone still gets herded into the Pozole Room. After a bit, Padma calls out Sarah, Lindsay, Keith, and Kal-El as potential losers. She asks the chefs to explain themselves and Sarah takes the opportunity to talk about the shrimp cocktail issue. The judges had no idea that they had planned to serve shrimp, so there was no need to mention it at all.

Keith then accuses Sarah of throwing him under the bus (which I didn't expect for a couple more episodes at least).

Jor-El made a tough, overcooked, fritter to replace the shrimp cocktail, and despite producing (with Nyesha) a well-received carne asada dish as well, it landed him on the bottom of of the heap.

In addition to Shrimpgate, Keith's use of a flour tortilla for his enchiladas was a big problem. He claims that where he's from, flour tortillas are customary, but if his team had suggested he use corn, he would have done that. After all, there were plenty of store-bought corn tortillas floating around. Which prompts the question: why didn't control-freaky Lindsay and Sarah correct Keith? Beause they didn't really give a rat's ass about the team...I'd keep an eye on those two bus-drivers in the future.

In the end, Keith's mistake ends up as the most tragic and he is sent packing.

Next week: tortured horses, bulls, and calves! In other words: Rodeo. Call PETA.

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Happy Birthday... me!
Top Chef recap coming at some point...either later today or tomorrow, so please check back. :)

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Apple Crisp

It's Fall, and Fall means apples, apple pie, apple butter, apple cider, and especially apple crisp. There's almost nothing more comforting to me than a big bowl of hot apple crisp topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or maybe a drizzle of cream.

Just typing that sentence makes me want some right now.

I tried Top Cheftestant Robin Leventhal's Quickfire-winning apple crisp recipe a couple years back. It was good, but it had too many extraneous flavors. I prefer apples+cinnamon+maybe walnuts. My mom made a great version, very plain, but I have no idea where she got the recipe. Her beloved Better Homes & Gardens book only has apple brown betty, which just isn't the same. So I poked around teh innernets and found a simple recipe from Betty Crocker.

It was good, but not perfect. I used half Granny Smith and half Fuji apples, which at the end of the recommended 30-minute cook time were still somewhat crunchy. We ate it anyway. It was much better a couple of days later, when I popped the casserole back into the oven for a while. The apples grew more tender and the crumble got crustier, but there was this third somewhat gooey texture from where the topping got saturated by the apple liquid. I think it was my favorite part.

If you want that version, follow the recipe below. Either eat part of it or just stir it up a bit so some of the crisp topping can get soggy. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate. The next day, put it into a 350F oven for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and cook for an additional 15 minutes. (Yes, an additional 30 minutes seems like a long time, but remember it's now cold from the fridge.) Enjoy with ice cream, whipped cream, or a drizzle of heavy cream or half-and-half.

Betty Crocker's Apple Crisp

4 cups of sliced apples (Granny Smith and Fuji, or Golden Delicious)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Cream or Ice cream, if desired

Heat oven to 375ºF. Grease bottom and sides of 8-inch square pan with shortening.

Spread apples in pan. In medium bowl, stir remaining ingredients except cream until well mixed; sprinkle over apples.

Bake about 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown and apples are tender when pierced with a fork. Serve warm with cream.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011


My family has been going to Razorback's since they opened in Canton in the 90s. Now in Towson, they're far more conveniently-located and Mr Minx and I usually end up there once a year or so; it's a good place to hide out during the mayhem that is Halloween. Especially since Ukazoo books and Fresh Market are in the same shopping center. :)

A popular bar, Razorback's also has a pair of pretty dining rooms at the back. Shiny table tops and cloth napkins give one the impression of being in a fine dining establishment, but the bulk of the menu consists of familiar comfort/bar foods like burgers, fried oysters, and ribs, with a few more elegant steak and fish dishes.

We started off with an appetizer called "Baltimore Sushi," which is not sushi at all but a combination of shrimp and crab meat with melted Monterey jack and cheddar cheese, wrapped in an Old Bay-flavored tortilla and sliced into four pieces. Really an oddly-shaped quesadilla, the dish arrived piping hot, the tortilla crisp and the cheese oozy. It tasted pretty good, but I would have liked it much better if it were half the price. For $9.25, I expect quite a bit more seafood.

I almost always get ribs at Razorback's, and this visit was no different. I'm a sucker for fall-off-the-bone-tender meat slathered in a tangy sweet sauce with a hint of spice, especially when it comes with crisp Boardwalk-style fries and very good, fresh, cole slaw.

(Is it me, or are "full racks" of ribs getting smaller? When I buy baby backs to cook at home, I get the cryovac packs of 3 racks, one of which is sufficient to feed three people. Restaurant racks these days can't possibly provide more than 6-8 oz of meat. Are they using guinea pigs?)

Mr Minx went for the BOLT sandwich--basically bacon, lettuce, and tomato, with the addition of fried oysters, on a kaiser roll. I've always enjoyed the fried oysters at Razorback's, but the combination of bacon and shellfish doesn't always work for me; it didn't this time, but Mr Minx quickly scarfed it down. The oysters and bacon were both crispy, which was nice.

I hear the burgers are good, so maybe I'll try that next time. Or I might just stick to the ribs.

Razorback's Raw Bar and Grill
826 Dulaney Valley Rd
Towson, MD 21204
(410) 821-9550

Razorback's Raw Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

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