Monday, January 31, 2011

Smoked Pork Tenderloin

Some years ago, my generous and thoughtful brother gifted us with a stovetop smoker and a bag of mesquite chips. The smoker sat, unused and unopened, on a shelf for a very long time because we were afraid of filling the house with smoke, setting off the alarm, and possibly burning down the house. The mesquite chips, however, were occasionally put to good use on the grill outside, which Mr Minx always arranges as far from the house as possible. (Yes, we are cautious people; you will not catch us deep-frying turkeys anytime soon.)

Then the February issue of Food & Wine arrived and I spotted a recipe for pork tenderloins that required a whopping 40 seconds in a stovetop smoker. After some consideration, I decided that having the smoker in action for such a short amount of time couldn't possibly burn the house down, and fetched it from its basement banishment.

Reading the directions that came with the smoker went a long way in reassuring us that using it wasn't a dangerous procedure.

After putting in two tablespoons of the hickory "chips" (it was more like dust) that came with the smoker, it went over two burners on our stove. In went two pork tenderloins that had been given a quick rub with a random mixture of salt, brown sugar, cayenne, paprika, and onion and garlic powders. Once smoke started to rise, the smoker was closed securely and allowed to work its magic on the meat. Mr Minx and I both felt that 40 seconds was far too short a time to make a difference in the flavor of the pork, so we left it in for ten minutes. I know - bold. Allowing the smoker to cool down off the heat for a few minutes while I walked the dog made for a smoke-free reveal of two pork tenderloins that looked pretty much exactly the same as before their smoky bath.

I finished the tenderloins by browning them all over in an oven-proof skillet, then cooking them at 375F for about 25 minutes. In the meantime, I made a side dish of buttered quinoa and warmed up some of the black barbecue sauce I had prepared earlier in the day.

The smoke flavors were very subtle, a little hidden by the sauce. Now that I know it's a safe procedure, I'll try a longer time for my next smoking experiment. I'm thinking spare ribs for Super Bowl Sunday....

Friday, January 28, 2011

Baking Bread

Some people are potato fiends. Mr Minx could probably eat pasta every day. But my carb of choice is bread - good bread. By that I mean flavorful bread with texture as unlike cotton wool as possible, preferably with a crackly-crisp crust, otherwise it's really not worth eating. This is why I get so upset when I'm given bread that doesn't stand up to the food that it's served with, including the bland starch that came with the rillettes at Chameleon Café and the charcuterie platters at Clementine. Both restaurants do so many things very well so why offer lackluster bread?

Years and years ago, I made my first and only attempt at baking bread. I had found a relatively-simple-seeming challah recipe which turned out a tough, if visually attractive, loaf. I swore off bread baking, leaving it to the professionals like Stone Mill, Bonaparte, and Atwater's.

And then I found Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I was a bit skeptical, but the recipes made sense and seemed too easy not to try. Five minutes per day is an exaggeration, of course; it actually takes much less time. Yes, I did say less time. Making a batch of wet dough takes fewer than 5 minutes of actual hands-on time because there is no kneading involved. Simply mix the wet dough, store it in the fridge, and pull off a blob to rise and bake whenever you feel like it.

I made my first batch on Saturday afternoon, tossing a packet of yeast, some barely-warm water, and flour into the Kitchen-Aid stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. After a few minutes, I had a ball of dough that I then dumped into a large Ziploc-brand resealable plastic container. After a couple of hours on the countertop, during which time the dough rose a bit, I put it in the fridge for later. On Sunday afternoon, I removed a blob of dough, floured it, and let it sit for 40 minutes while I preheated the oven with a bare cookie sheet and a shallow pan in it. When the oven was preheated, I put the dough onto the preheated cookie sheet, poured water into the other pan, and set the timer for 30 minutes.

Voila. A tiny boule, enough for two people to enjoy with dinner.

Although it doesn't look pretty, it tasted wonderful. The crust was properly crisp-crackly, the crumb was moist and firm with a pleasant springy chew, and it was perfect all on its own with a slathering of butter.

I am seriously pleased with myself, and will be experimenting with bread a lot more in the near future.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

National Chocolate Cake Day

Today is National Chocolate Cake Day, and to celebrate, I'm putting this lovely image in your head to sustain you while you're shoveling out from Thundersnowpocalypse 2011.

Sure, you'll probably only get a cup of hot cocoa - if you're lucky - but if you feel decadent and have a surfeit of eggs, you can whip up this dessert for yourself.

Morton's Legendary Hot Chocolate Cake

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the souffle cup
Granulated sugar
12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 large egg yolks, plus 7 large eggs
1 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
18 fresh raspberries
6 scoops of vanilla ice cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter six 6-ounce soufflé cups and sprinkle each with granulated sugar. Tap out the excess sugar.

In the top of a double broiler set over barely simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate together. Remove the top of the double broiler pan from the heat.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and set on low speed, beat the egg yolks and eggs for about 2 minutes, or until light and smooth. With the mixer running, pour the melted chocolate into the bowl and mix for about 2 minutes longer.

Put the confectioners’ sugar and flour in a fine-mesh sieve and sprinkle into the chocolate mixture. With the mixer on medium speed, beat for 30 seconds, or until well mixed.

Pour the batter into the prepared soufflé cups, leaving about ¼ inch of space below the rim. Set the soufflé cups on a baking sheet and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until puffed and about 1 inch higher than the rim. The centers will be soft but not sticky.

Remove the cakes from the oven and immediately invert each onto a serving plate. Remove the cup and garnish each plate with three raspberries and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Serves 6
-----------------------------------------------

If you don't have fifteen eggs hanging around, Morton’s is participating in Baltimore Restaurant Week through Sunday, so you can get them to make the cake for you.  Call 410-547-8255 or visit www.mortons.com for reservations.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Top Ho?

So this writer chick for The Frisky claims to have had a close encounter of the sexual kind with a former Top Cheftestant in Los Angeles last year.

Who do you think it is?

The Melting Pot

The Melting Pot opened in Towson sometime in the 90s, and I managed to avoid eating there up until recently, when I thought it might be a good idea to take advantage of their $30.11 four-course Restaurant Week deal. Mr Minx had never cottoned to the idea of eating three courses of fondue, but after realizing we could try it for a reduction on the regular rather-ridiculous price, he was game.

Right off the bat, things got off on the wrong footing. The hostess actually seemed annoyed that we walked in while she was doing Something Very Important (scribbling on a scrap of paper, possibly her phone number for the bartender) and made us wait by the entrance until she was done. During our wait, I noticed a foul stench in the air...a stink that reminded me of Lipton Cup-a-Soup in the noxious "Spring Vegetable" flavor, a regular 49-calorie lunch in the early 90s when I starved myself in order to lose 60 lbs. Dehydrated vegetables possess a fragrance that should never be inhaled in a restaurant with prices like the ones charged by The Melting Pot. Nor anywhere else, for that matter.

Eventually, the hostess completed her Very Important Task and took us to our table in the back room.

I had heard that The Melting Pot was a romantic restaurant, great for celebrating à deux. Rather than putting me in the mood, the Industrial Teal-colored walls with very little adornment, exposed ductwork on the dark-painted ceiling, and dark wooden high-backed booths, not to mention the baby screaming in the background, gave me a strong sense of depression and a real lack of confidence in the meal to come. Our waitress presented herself and asked if we had been to TMP before. When I said we had not, and she began a litany of dinner options for those of us who may be too lazy/stupid to read the menu, I promptly interrupted her to announce that we were interested in the Restaurant Week menu. Immediately she tried to upsell us to the "Big Night Out" that starts at $80 per couple, but we were not moved.

Eventually, she brought out a heavy metal saucepan and set it on the table's built-in burner to heat up while she fetched the ingredients for our Swiss cheese fondue. The fondue was prepared tableside by our waitress and seemed to contain traditional ingredients -  white wine, garlic, the cherry-flavored brandy called Kirsch, lemon, nutmeg. After prepping the cheese, she put down our dippers: a basket of soft bread bits; a ramekin holding about half a chopped Granny Smith apple; and a similar ramekin containing three or four small broccoli florettes, a few pieces of cauliflower, and some broken baby carrots.
Swiss cheese fondue. Notice the minute cup of vegetables to serve 2.
Because the preparation seemed so traditional, I was momentarily encouraged. Then I tasted it. Either the wine was really cheap or the Kirsch was really rubbing alcohol, because what should have been mellow cheesiness was sharp and harsh and bitter. The apple turned out to be the best dipper of the bunch, because its strong fruity flavor masked some of the bitterness. The bread, on the other hand, was squishy, un-crusty, and wholly uninteresting; I imagine that the cheddar cheese fondue option is probably a lot like Velveeta and Wonder Bread, only not as tasty.

"Court bouillon" with six "roasted garlic" shrimp, six chunks of
 "peppercorn" NY Strip, six chunks of chicken "Provencal,"[sic]
and four ratatouille and goat cheese ravioli.
After the cheese, we received what was called a "Caesar salad" - romaine and commercial croutons glopped with too much flavorless dressing and topped, weirdly, with sugared pine nuts. WTF?

For the entrée fondue, we received a pot of liquid that we were told was a "court bouillon" (of course pronounced "court bull-yun" and not the French "cor' bwyon" or even "coo bee on" as the Cajuns say). The source of the nasty soup-mix aroma I had noticed at the entrance, the "bouillon" was chock-full of dried vegetable pieces and a surfeit of black pepper. I was almost afraid to dip the raw food in, for fear that it would pick up the flavors of the broth. But I need not have worried - each of the proteins had been pre-flavored, and we were additionally presented with six different sauces, presumably to kill the taste of the bouillon.

While the portion size was laughably small (see caption above), I was somewhat grateful there was not more. As I suspected, one round of fondue is cute, two is tedious. Overall, the flavors were fine, certainly much better than the previous course, and I particularly liked that quickly-cooked shrimp and beef are extemely tender. The chicken, well, it was typical chicken breast. "Meh" would be an apt description.

"Flaming Turtle" fondue served with diabetic delight.
After what seemed like forever (2 minutes cooking time for pieces of meat, 1.5 minutes for seafood and veg, an extra "just in case" minute because the three proteins were touching on the plate), we finally finished cooking our tiny bits and were brought our final course, the "Flaming Turtle" fondue (surely a slam on Testudo). Our waitress prepared this fondue by mixing pecans with chocolate and caramel sauces and then setting them aflame, much to the consternation of my eyebrows. To dip into this vat of roiling corn syrup we were given a selection of other sugary substances: cheesecake, rice krispie treats, bits of brownie, pound cake, marshmallows coated with Oreo or graham cracker crumbs, and (mercifully) some fruit: four slices of banana and six slices of strawberry. After about three bites, the heart palpitations started and I gave up. Not only was it too sweet, but it was all very commercial-tasting, like Little Debbie cakes and Smucker's sauces.

What a disaster. I really don't understand how people can like this place. The food is just not good, and the service wasn't much better (we had to ask for water refills). And why are prices so high when, 1) portions are small; 2) the kitchen doesn't even do any cooking? Ok, I know you're thinking, "she's a food snob, with a built-in prejudice against chain restaurants like The Melting Pot." But you'd be wrong - I love me a Chik-Fil-A sandwich, have had many tasty meals at The Cheesecake Factory, and enjoy a burger from Red Robin or Five Guys every once in a while. And technically Roy's Hawaiian Fusion is a chain, but it is also one of my favorite restaurants. So it's not the chain restaurant aspect at all. It's the fact that The Melting Pot has a gimmick, one that seems to be enough to sustain the place without the food having to taste good, too.

Sad.

The Melting Pot
418 York Road
Towson, MD 21286
(410) 821-6358

Melting Pot on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pork with Cambodian Flavors

A good while back, I tasted a Cambodian dish prepared by fellow food blogger John, of the very excellent Baltimore Snacker. It was called "Nataing" and contained ground pork, fish sauce, sugar, coconut milk, and tons of garlic - a simple but delicious combination. I was happy to find that the recipe was available in an online version of the Elephant Walk Cookbook and bookmarked it. It took a good year before I got around to adapting it for my personal use, although it was always somewhere on the back of my mind.

Because the Ravens/Steelers NFL Playoff debacle game was on during dinnertime, I whipped up some nachos to choke nosh on while we tore out our hair and screamed at the television watched the game. I had tucked about a pound and a half of pork shoulder left over from the Christmas taco party into the freezer and used a bit of it, along with some chorizo, for the nachos. That left me with more than a pound of defrosted pork shoulder to play with for Sunday's (much calmer) dinner.


While the textures in my version are very different from that of the original, it shares the same rich and savory flavor profile and was delightful over leftover basmati rice.

Cambodian Pork

1/2 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 lb cooked pork, chopped roughly (shoulder, tenderloin, roast, etc.)
3 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 scallions, chopped
1/4 chopped roasted unsalted peanuts
rice

Cook onion in oil until just softened. Stir in pork, garlic, peanut butter and mix until well-combined. Stir in coconut milk, sugar, and fish sauce. Bring to a boil then cover and simmer until much of the liquid has evaporated, about an hour. Taste for seasoning; add more fish sauce if necessary. Serve over rice, garnished with cilantro, scallions, and peanuts. Serves 4.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Be a Chef - or Just Cook Like One

Baltimore International College (BIC) is offering a new semester of Food Enthusiast Classes for Spring 2011, including two just in time for Valentine's Day: Valentine's Day Chocolate, and Valentine's Day Dinner for Two/Aphrodisiac Foods. Classes are one session each, in the evening, and perfect for busy adults.

They all sound interesting - which will you take?

Choice Bites 1.24.2011

LA has a new gourmet food truck: called Phydough, it will dispense gourmet cookies and ice cream for canines. Yes, that's right - a gourmet experience for man's best friend. The food will be good enough for humans to eat, and the flavors sound really intriguing...how about a peanut butter and bacon cookie with some foie gras ice cream? Yes, please!

John Kessler of the Atlantic Journal-Constitution penned an open letter to Atlanta Chefs that could apply to chefs in Baltimore as well. Do you agree? (Be sure to read the response from Chef Oltarsh, linked at the bottom of the article.)

The Food Network's ratings went down by quite a bit in the last quarter of 2010. What? People are finally sick of Guy Fieri and Rachael Ray? Say it isn't so!

The Winter 2011 Fancy Food Show was held last week in San Francisco. Top trends for the coming year include chocolate for breakfast, exotic snack chips, and healing foods. Read more about it here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Smithwick's Facebook Sweepstakes

Smithwick's is celebrating their 300th anniversary and they kindly sent me a home brewing kit to test. With the holidays and all, I haven't yet had an opportunity to set it up and get brewing. :( But I promise I will very soon and will post progress and the results here on Minxeats.

In the meantime, you have a chance to win your own home brewing kit by entering their Sweepstakes on Facebook. Click here to enter. Contest ends January 31, 2011!

Rocco's Off His Rocker

So the latest food travesty to come from the mind of Rocco DiSpirito is "No-Yolk Deviled Eggs." How does he make deviled eggs without using yolks, you ask? By substituting them with another completely unrelated ingredient.

Sweet potatoes.

Yes, you read that correctly. Sweet potatoes. No doubt chosen because the color of their flesh is slightly reminiscent to that of egg yolks. What a brilliant guy, that Rocco! So what happens to the actual yolks that came with the eggs? According to the recipe, you throw them away.

Because money grows on trees.

Anyhoo...I just happened to have some cooked sweet potato in my fridge, so I decided to try Rocco's recipe. I hard-boiled two eggs, one to DiSpirito-ize (because I doubted I could stomach more than one) and one to make more conventionally (using the yolks from both eggs - egg yolks being one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D).

Rocco's eggs in front, real deviled eggs in back.
I used the same ingredients in both variations - mustard, smoked paprika, cornichons, parsley, scallions - plus mayo in the "normal" version. And I'm going to admit...the sweet potato-stuffed eggs weren't terrible. I usually add chopped sweet pickle to my deviled eggs, so I can see how sweet potato + sour pickle have vaguely the same flavor characteristics; I definitely missed the sweet component in the standard version. The smoked paprika and mustard helped to mask the sweet potato flavor somewhat, but overall the texture was just not right. It was too light. And yes, it was a bit too sweet.

Mr Minx's reaction before wiping his tongue with his napkin: "Blargh! It tastes like sweet potato!"

While not the disaster that Rocco's black bean brownies were, these sweet potato deviled eggs are still not recommended. First of all, they are completely wasteful. Second, by my way of thinking, if you can't limit yourself to one or two pieces of real deviled egg, the best advice is to not eat them at all. They are a party or picnic snack, and not a main course. But since I mention "party snack," I have to think that unless you're throwing a party for Rocco's fawning sycophants, or skinny silicone-plumped Hollywood-types, people are going to think they're too weird to eat. And the Hollywood-types are going to want to add a tablespoon of caviar to the top of each one so there goes the whole low fat thing.

I've eaten worse, but I still don't think that outlandish food substitutions are the way to go. Just eat less.

(If you decide you must make this recipe, please don't throw your yolks in the trash - put them outside to feed wild birds.)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Top Chef All Stars Episode Seven Recap

At the beginning of this week's scintillating episode, we are reminded that Antonia is the cursed individual known to all as the "Black Hammer." In Season 4, it was always someone on her team who was eliminated. This season, it's no different. Let's see if the trend continues this week, shall we?

Rather than meet at the TC Kitchen, the recheftestants head over to Le Bernardin where they are greeted by everyone's favorite tall, gaunt, and graying judge, the snarktastic Tony Bourdain. Tony waxes rhapsodic about the restaurant's fish butcher, Justo Thomas, who can portion out 700 - 1000 lbs of fish in a day. The recheftestants are then introduced to the Butcher of Feesh who does a brief demo for them. After the demo, the recheftestants find that their Quickfire Challenge involves portioning a cod and a fluke in ten minutes, a job that Justo can do in eight.

Come on, fish-related challenges for two weeks in a row? Yet no Eric Ripert?

The knives fly. Fabio slices through his fingernail but continues cutting, bleeding all over his fish. And why is that, Fabio?

Thank you!

Despite not being a pussy, when time is called, he's on the bottom along with Carla, Tiffany, and Antonia, the three remaining female chefs in this competition. On the flip side, Dale, Blais, Mike, and Marcel have done a much better job and must now compete for the win by making a dish out of fish trimmings (collars, cheeks, etc.)

Blais tells us he once held the prestigious position of fish chef at McDonald's and I half expect him to whip up a Filet-O-Fish for us, but of course with liquid nitrogen "cheese" and frozen, deep-fried, tartar sauce. Instead he makes cod belly schnitzel, which maybe isn't all that different, considering schnitzel is breaded. Dale is ambitious and creates two dishes, because he grew up eating fish scraps and is familiar with interesting preparations. I tell ya, I'm liking Dale more and more this season. He's really grown up since Season 4, from cocky crotch-grabber to confident chef.

Overall, Bourdain prefers Dale's dish(es), and awards him the win and immunity in the next challenge.

Later, back at the TC Kitchen, the recheftestants find Padma standing with Ludo Lefebvre, the wackadoo Frenchy two-time Top Chef Masters loser and supreme annoyer of Rick Moonen. Padma notes that Ludo's just completed the latest in his series of "pop-up" restaurants, Ludo Bites 5. (Not only is he annoying, but he bites, too?) And what does this have to do with the price of melamine-tainted tea in China? Well, it's time for Restaurant Wars! Whee! (whee.) This season, our recheftestants must create their own Pop-up restaurants at The Foundry...in 24 hours. Welcome to the original 24 Hour Restaurant Battle, without the douchey Scott Conant! But first - picking teams.

Because Dale won the Quickfire, he's automatically a team captain and has the benefit of picking the other team's leader.

Great strategy, actually.

After alternating picks, we end up with Team Winner Dale - Blais, Tre, Fabio, Carla; and Team Loser Marcel - Angelo, Mike, Antonia, and Tiffany. Marcel chose Antonia. On purpose. Let's see where that gets him, shall we? He's already getting a super loser-douchebag edit. Even Mike Isabella is griping about him in his confidentials.

The teams go on to conceptualize restaurant and food. Team Dale decides on something fun and whimsical, a play on the ever-present NY corner bodega. Team Marcel is disorganized. Nobody on the team has any respect for Marcel, so they don't want to do anything his way (which actually seems somewhat methodical and common-sensical). Eventually they end up with a "Mediterranean-inspired" theme and call their restaurant, "Etch." Which sounds a mite too close to "wretch" for me.

How about "Revolt?" No, guess that was used already....

The next day, the recheftestants go to The Foundary where they find that their restaurants and kitchens will both be outdoors. And there's a raging hurricane storming its way up the East Coast and making landfall at Long Island City. Wait, what? That's not the case? Oh darn - I was hoping for a little more interest and excitement than the usual "I hate Marcel" bickering. Honestly, that shit is more tired than his Wolverine hairdo.

With five hours to prep, Marcel's team is, predictably, a battle of egos with nobody wanting to play nice with him. Granted, he's no great communicator, and his "I know best" approach is never going to win him any fans.

Meanwhile, on the other side, Blais is worried that they're a well-oiled machine and are all getting along so well. And that points to failure, how?

Tom comes in for a visit and finds that Team Bodega has their concept well in hand, even if he doesn't quite seem to understand it. On the other side of the courtyard, after telling Tom about his planned "reverse amuse" (which I assumes means it pisses-off the palate) Marcel blows him off claiming lots of work to do. Before Tom leaves, he tells the teams that there will be one winner in this competition who will receive $10K. Motivation! And maybe sabotage and back-stabbing! Fun!

Eventually we see the guests start to arrive, including Food & Wine's Dana Cowin. She and the rest of the diners will be eating at both restaurants. The regular judges - Padma, Tom, Tony, and Ludo - arrive and head to Bodega first. There they are enchanted by Fabio, who is running the front of the house like the swayve European he is. They order two of everything and just about rave over every morsel.

Meanwhile, over at Etch....

Things don't go as well for the judges at Marcel's restaurant. First they find that Tiffany's idea of working the front of the house is schmoozing with the guests in a forced high pitched voice, with lots of fake nails-on-chalkboard laughter. The food is uneven, and there's an on-going meltdown in the kitchen. Bravo then decides to fake us out by showing the judges making faces and gagging noises while the other, non-celebrity-chef guests rave about the food at Etch.

Back at Judges Table, Etch gets called out first. They are the worst team of the night, with only 17 of 76 diners favoring them over Bodega. Immediately upon hearing that, the individual chefs start squabbling and throwing Marcel under the bus. Mike calls him a time bomb, and Angelo opines that the entire evening was a "shit show." Unlike the last two times she ended up on the bottom, Antonia contributed a less-than-stellar dish to the team and was just as likely to get eliminated this week as Tiffany for her egg dish and front-of-house performance or Angelo for his lackluster crudo. Marcel presented mushy monkfish and his "reverse amuse" which was called a "perfect storm of fucking awfulness" and a "thumb in the eye at the end of the meal" by resident wordsmith Bourdain the Magnificent was probably enough to get him eliminated even if he wasn't the Captain of the rapidly sinking ship.

Team Bodega, meanwhile, is worried that perhaps they didn't do as well as they thought. Blais is in a sweat about it, really convincing himself that they lost and maybe it was his fault. Fabio, on the other hand, is pretty sure that they won, and he's right. The judges praise everyone and every thing, and Bourdain raves about Fabio's dessert and his smooth-yet-commanding presence on the floor. Although Dale was the leader of the team, we learn that Blais was the idea man who "elevated" all of the dishes. Not only that, the judges enjoyed the two preparations he presented and gave him the win. Finally! Blais gets a win, and 10K.

Team Loser is brought out for another browbeating. Bourdain tells them that prison breaks are organized with more efficiency and teamwork than Etch. Eventually the Black Hammer comes down on Marcel, whom we knew was the loser of this episode from pretty much the first ten minutes.

Sure. Right.

Next week: cooking for Wise Guys?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ham and Pasta Soup by Mr. Minx


The other day, I was visiting my mother and she begged me to take the leftover ham she had in her refrigerator. Apparently, my brother had cooked up a huge spiral-cut ham and they, despite their best efforts, could not manage to finish the whole thing. Although the Minx and I are not big ham people, I took pity on my mom and loaded up a large container with ham. I even wrapped up the bone and took that home.

That night, Minx and I ate some slices with a makeshift stove-top potatoes au gratin that I whipped together and fresh green beans. The ham was actually not too bad. It seemed to be slightly overcooked, so much of the moisture was squeezed out of it and there was very little fat. We ate healthy portions, but we had barely scratched the surface of the ham pile in the container.

For the following night's dinner, I decided that I had to do something with that giant ham bone (and I don't mean William Shatner). Minx had given me three soup cookbooks for Christmas in hopes that I would make more soup dishes this year, so I combed through the books for recipes using ham. Surprisingly, there were only a few, so I settled on modifying a Yankee Bean with Ham recipe from The Daily Soup Cookbook, even though I had no beans and the Minx would not eat them anyway. I decided to replace the beans with ditalini pasta (little, stubby tube shapes).

First, I made the stock by sauteing about 1/2 cup of chopped carrots, one cup of chopped mushrooms, and 1 medium onion (also chopped) in some vegetable oil until the mixture was soft. Then I added the ham bone and six cups of water. After bringing the liquid to a boil, I turned down the heat to a simmer and added two bay leaves and one teaspoon of thyme. I also added salt and pepper to taste along with a clove of crushed garlic. I let the liquid simmer for two hours.

After two hours, the bone had given up its goodness, so I removed it from the liquid. At this point, there was quite a bit of melted fat floating on the surface of the water, so I skimmed out as much as I could before I added the remaining ingredients. Those ingredients were:

1 cup of ham cut into narrow strips
1/2 cup of frozen peas
1/2 cup of ditalini pasta

I turned up the heat to bring the whole mixture to a boil and let it cook like that for about 8 minutes. That allowed the pasta to cook to an al dente state. Then I turned the heat off so the soup could cool down enough to eat. While it was cooling, I removed the two bay leaves and added other seasonings to taste. You can season it however you want, but I added a pinch of cayenne pepper, a little garlic powder, and some smoked paprika.

The fat from the ham bone added just the right amount of unctuousness, the ham slices added salt and smokiness, and the peas reminded one of split-pea soup without the weird, indescribable funk that split-pea soup tends to have. Overall, it was a warm, comforting dinner for a cold winter's day.

As a side note, the rest of the ham was used for ham sandwiches, breakfast strata, pot pie, and cabbage soup. That was one big ass ham!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Deli Belly

When I was a kid, I ingested more than my fair share of deli food. At first we shopped at Jack's on Baltimore's Famous "Corned Beef Row," but eventually turned to Attman's for our Jewish-style beef fix. I loved going there with my dad because in addition to extra lean corned beef and roast brisket, dry-but-delicious meat knishes, and "well done" Kosher pickles, we would usually pick up a bologna-wrapped hot dog to share in the car on the way home.

Attman's was a regular stop before Summertime excursions to my aunt's house. In the colder months, Aunt Stasia would usually whip up some elaborate Sicilian-style eats, but when it was too hot to cook, we were all happy with corned beef sandwiches washed down with plenty of her sweet lemonade.

It's been years since I've had a really good corned beef or roast beef sandwich. In my mind, the meat in both cases must be well-cooked brisket, a cut so spider-webbed with thin strands of fat that slices stretch like an accordion when pulled from both ends. This webbing also ensures that the meat breaks cleanly when bitten, a quality much preferable than that of meat so resilient that a bite pulls out an entire slice, the result of which requires the removal of mustard from one's chin.

(Since I mention mustard, I must also mention my possibly-odd condiments rule: mustard on pink meat, mayonnaise on gray or white meat. Any other combination is wrong. So...mustard on hot dogs, corned beef, pastrami, bologna, and ham. Mayo on roast beef, turkey, chicken, and tuna. Spicy Italian-style cold cuts like salami are an exception - they require vinaigrette. This whole weirdness might stem from a particular elementary school lunch of ham-and-bologna subs that were heavily dressed with mayonnaise and very thinly sliced white onion. I found the combination so revolting that I would usually consume only the meat, wiped clean on my napkin. And I've never been a picky eater.)

So where was I? Oh yes, a good corned beef sandwich.

During the Christmas holiday, as Mr Minx and I were running errands in the vicinity, I suggested that we stop at Attman's for some corned beef and his deli meat of choice, pastrami. My family was never into pastrami. Nothing against it, it was just not a part of our dining repertoire (which, admittedly, was fairly limited). To me, pastrami was merely corned beef with pepper on the outside, but then I'd never eaten good pastrami. The stuff we had at Jason's in Las Vegas some years ago (where the server was aghast that we asked for pastrami and mustard on rye, without tomatoes or cole slaw or bean sprouts or some other California-style rubbish) was corned beef with pepper. It was also sliced too thickly and required much chin-swabbing. It was absolutely meh. But Attman's pastrami, well, it was the real thing.

It was smoked. I had no idea pastrami was supposed to taste of smoke, but it does. Not only smoky, Attman's meat also had a visibly fatty interior, which gave it a melt-in-the-mouth texture, especially when sliced paper-thin. It was delicious.

With our extra-lean corned beef and fatty pastrami, we also bought a well-done Kosher pickle. While the corned beef tasted as I remembered, the pickle did not, and its mushy texture left much to be desired. The bread we used to assemble our sandwiches at Casa Minx was also an issue. Pepperidge Farm rye bread just doesn't compare to the crusty deliciousness that was Levin's seeded rye; unfortunately, the bakery that was once my family's one-and-only source for hleb is long gone, so I had to make do.

You thought I'd pile a pound of meat on my sandwiches? At $16 a lb
for extra lean? Are you meshugah?

Despite the shortcomings of the bread and the pickle, these were the best corned beef and pastrami sandwiches we've eaten in a long long time. It really pays to shop where people know what they're doing. And Attman's has been doing it right for almost 100 years.

Attman's
1019 E Lombard St
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 563-2666

Attman's Authentic New York Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 17, 2011

Salmon, Succotash, Parsnip Latkes

Nobody could ever accuse me of being a seasonal cook. While I think it's a fine idea, and I use as much fresh local produce as I can afford in the summertime (afford being the key word here - farmers' market prices are often a wee bit too high for my pocketbook), I still need to eat vegetables in the winter. And when the weather turns cold, somehow I am able to find fresh yellow corn in the supermarket. I have no idea where it comes from, but it's sweet and actually tastes like corn (unlike the white stuff the region seems to favor). Four ears of yellow corn were calling to me from the fridge and begging to be made into the summertime dish of succotash.

I'm no fan of lima beans, so frozen edamame were called to duty as a stand-in. I also had a bunch of non-local asparagus on hand, a lone roasted red pepper in a jar, and half a package of bacon.

Once I had decided on succotash, I had to then determine the meal's protein and starch components, because that's how we roll in the Minx household. Three medium-sized parsnips were languishing in the crisper and I decided to use them in my first ever placki - latkes to the rest of the world. My grandma used to make potato placki all the time. All. The. Time. Honestly, I won't even eat them anymore. But parsnips are different - rooty, sweet, carroty.

My first-ever placki
With the somewhat complicated veg and starch decided, it seemed only right to make a rather plain protein. Frozen salmon fillets from Trader Joe's were popped under the broiler and topped with a much needed acid bite of sour cream mixed with lemon.

Succotash

8 slices bacon, fried crisp, 1 tablespoon bacon fat reserved
3 tablespoons onion, chopped
2 cups fresh corn
1 roasted red bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 cup shelled edamame
1/2 cup chopped asparagus

Parsnip Latkes

2 cups peeled and grated parsnips
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons chopped chives or scallions
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Peel and grate parsnips and carrots, then in a large bowl, toss with flour. Add eggs, scallions, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Heat ¼-inch of oil in a sauté pan until it is barely smoking. Drop batter by tablespoons into the pan and flatten. Fry on both sides until brown. Drain on paper towels, then serve.
----------------------------------------------

While everything was tasty enough, I felt the dishes had too much of a bland sameness about them. Mr Minx said the placki and succotash should have been served apart from one another - placki and plain asparagus and salmon, or salmon and succotash and mashed potatoes - because they both had a similar lumpy-bumpy texture. I had to agree.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Changes to Top Chef Masters

So I got a press release yesterday saying that Top Chef Masters was replacing host Kelly Choi with Curtis Stone, the Aussie celebrity chef with the surfer hair and scary pale eyes. I liked Kelly Choi - she was efficient and businesslike, attractive (if too skinny), with a nice speaking voice. Not exactly authoritative, nor a big personality, but also neither bland nor distracting from the premise of the show. Now, with a celebrity chef as host, one with a gaggle of fangirls, I fear that Bravo is taking a different direction in order to pull in more viewers.

I also can't stand looking at the man. I find his kind of looks more grotesque than handsome, and have to change the channel when his face is on screen. And from what I can tell, he thinks he's hot stuff.


Curtis, you're not all that.

I hope he doesn't affect my enjoyment of Top Chef Masters in a negative way, but it's a possibility.

Lowbrow Brilliant

We had a couple of people over before Christmas to celebrate the birthday of a friend. For noms, I put together a do-it-yourself taco bar with several types of homemade salsas and cremas and a centerpiece of roasted pork shoulder using Dave Lieberman's technique and a rub of Penzey's Bicentennial seasoning. But before the tacos hit the table, I served up a baked corn dip that disappeared like wildfire. My friend Sue Ellen would call it "lowbrow brilliant." ("Sue Ellen" and "lowbrow" don't even belong in the same sentence, but there it is.)

Prepared with canned corn, mayonnaise, and sour cream, the dish was definitely lowbrow. The blogger who supplied the recipe usually eats it cold, but the look is so unappetizing (no photo - use your imagination: corn, glops of white stuff, and shreds of yellow cheese) I can't imagine even giving it a taste in its uncooked state. However, heated in the oven until the cheese melts and forms a creamy amalgamation with the other ingredients, it's quite delicious.

Corn Dip adapted from One Savory Life

2 11oz cans corn, or three cups of frozen corn kernels
2/3 cup mayo
1 1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup chopped green onion
1/2 cup finely minced fresh cilantro
3 cups shredded medium-sharp cheddar cheese
1 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper or 2 dashes hot sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together, place in a 4-cup oven safe dish and bake at 375° for 20 minutes or until bubbly and the cheese is melted. Serve hot with flour tortillas or crisp corn tortilla chips.
--------------------------------------------------------

So what to do with a bunch of sundry party leftovers? (Corn dip, shredded pork, two types of crema  - one with green chiles and garlic and one with chipotle - bacon, and leftover spaghetti from another night.) Why, make a casserole!


Leftovers Casserole

2 cups cooked pasta
1 cup Corn Dip (see recipe above)
1 cup sour cream
cilantro, green chiles, scallions, seasonings to taste
1/2 cup shredded cheese
2 slices bacon, crumbled
2 tablespoons bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350F. Place pasta in a microwave-safe container, cover with plastic wrap, and nuke for a minute or so to soften.

In a separate bowl mix leftover dip and sour cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper, plus chopped scallion, chopped cilantro, cumin, chipotle, green chiles, etc.

Pour sour cream mixture over spaghetti and toss to blend. Place in a 8" square baking dish. Top with shredded cheese, bacon, and bread crumbs. Bake for 20-25 minutes until cheese is melted and dish is heated through.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Top Chef All Stars Episode Six Recap

Hallo, everybody, Fabio Viviani here! Da Meenx, she have-a da sinoose headache, so she ask me to cover for her here.

Forst, we see what-a happen before theese week's a-challenge. The gorls, a-tired from that crazy deem sum challenge, all go to bed, while some-a da men seet outsi' and have a peesing match. Well, mostly Marcel. Hee-a theenk that hees cheeken weeng was a weener, and he go off on Dale while pound hees chest like gorilla an' drink Bombay Sapphire straight outta da bottle. Oh, he ees such a douch-abag! I have-a to laugh a leetle beet when our alarm clocks go offa at 4:30 in-a da morning. Eets too late for a meednight sneck, and too a-orly for breakfast, but not too orly to a-wake Marcel!

So why we get up-a so orly? We go-a feeshing! Fabio does like to feesh, but I hope my beloved Turtle, she no' be upset weeth me. We head out to Montauk, on-a Long Island, an' meet up weeth-a Tom an' Padma who tell us that we do no' have a Queeckfire Challenge thees-a week. Then we peek teems. I hope I no' be stuck weeth-a Marcel, but my luck ees-a no' so good today.

Team 1 - Tre, Colla, Dale
Team 2 - Reechard, Marcel, an' me
Team 3 - Antonia, Jamie, Teeffani
Team 4 - Ongeelo, Teeffany, Mike

We get on two boat, Team 1 an' 3 onna da Sea Wife IV and Team 2 an' 4 onna da Susie E 2. I can see da udder boat, she ees catcheeng lots of feesh. Dey are all excited and geeving-a high-fives. My boat, she has-a nothing. I feel very unlucky today. Eet must be Marcel scare the feesh.

Meanwhile, the feesh a-scare Ongeelo. He do no' like-a da shark. I theenk maybe eef we see shark, we throw Marcel overboard. 

Eventually, after long hours een the sun weeth-a no sunscreen and-a no sunglasses, we catch-a lots of feesh an' go plan da menus an' find some aloe vera.

Of course, Marcel theenk he so smart an' he decide we going to do very complicated deesh. Reechard theenk eetsa good idea to do theese to keep Marcel quiet. Eef we make one strong deesh, eet be hard for judges to trow us out. Eets a leetle psycholoheecol warfare!

Den we shop at da farmer's market. I hear Antonia say that Reechard and I, we have a "bromance." She say he ees "da professor," and I am-a "da strange Italian eemmigrant." WTF? First of all, I am not strange. Second, nobody can take-a da place of Stefan Richter in my-a heart.

The nex' day, we-a head to da beach to cook. Eef you remember from our season five, Jamie, she ees-a huge whiner. She complain about da sand, she complain about da heat. She woulda made good shark bait, too. Tre say she like a leetle baby a-cry in the backgroun'. Ha!

So my team-a gets to work. Reechard, he a-work on da feesh, and Marcel, he walk around, all pompous and douchey. Me, I have to do all of the chopeeng and I get boss around. "Fabio, do theese," and "Fabio do that." Eet get on my norves, but I do eet because I am a team player. I do weesh we were make da gnocchi for thees deesh.

Soon eet geet dark an' cookeng time ees up. Da hongry people come een like a swarm of mosquito and da judges too. Weeth the lovely Padma an' Gail ees Tom an' hees "feeshing buddy" (weenk, weenk) Kerry Heffernan of the restaurant South a-Gate. I am relieve to see Bourdain ees-a no' weeth them thees time. I canno' hear what the judges say abouta food, so I jus' count the hours until I can geet away from Marcel.

We seet eenna da Stew Room for a while before Padma come een. She lower her voice like she-a very sad an' she say she want to see Dale, Colla, Tre, Teeffany, Mike, and Ongeelo. They have make da favorite deeshes an' that mean Fabio ees up for eleemination. Again. Thees season a-no make me happy.

When da top seex return, Colla eesa jumping up and down weeth-a hoppiness because she won theese challenge an' a treep to Amsterdam. Oh, how my-a Turtle would loff to go to Amsterdam! We would have such a good time together! Eenstead, I have to go face da judges weeth Marcel, Reechard, Jamie, Antonia, and Teeffani.

Forst, da judges say that I no' do enough for our deesh. But I do alla da knife cuts, except da feesh! They say maybe Reechard no' trust me, wheech-a make me sad. But den I get hoppy when they yell at Marcel for heesa foam. Always da foam! Stop weeth da foam! Den they go on to Jamie, who mada watery bland food. I want to tell them that she whine too much, too. Antonia's deesh they like an' they say eet was so good, she maybe win theese challenge, but her team suck. Teeffani deed not remove-a da bloodline from her bluefeesh, and eet not taste good.

They send us back to da stew to stew a beet more, den bring us out again. Thees ees such torture, you know? The judges make one last complaint about our deeshes, then Padma brings down-a the axe. Jamie and Teeffani are sent home, an' I am-a relieved. No treep to Amsterdam, but no treep back to Moorpark, either.

Next week: Restaurant Wars!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Baltimore's 50 Best Restaurants - Revisited

Back in April, I posted this link to Baltimore Magazine's list of the Best Restaurants of 2010. At that point in time, I realized I had not been to very many on the list (17 of 50). I vowed that Mr Minx and I would turn over a new leaf by trying at least one new-to-us restaurant every month for the remainder of the year.

I dare say we've been quite successful in our quest. While only five of the restaurants we've visited since April are on the list*, we've also eaten in nine other local restaurants that we had not tried in the past.

May
The Brewer's Art*

June
Talara
Bangkok Garden

July
Tangier's
Red Pearl
B'More Pizza, Subs, & Kebab

August
B&O American Brasserie*
The Chameleon Cafe*
Jack's Bistro*

September
Clementine*

October
Bluegrass Tavern

November
Langermann's

December
Demi (at Crush)
The Dogwood

Now it's 2011, and we're going to try to keep the same pace - there are still many area restaurants that we have not yet tried. Do you have any suggestions?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Office Party Chow

Every year we have a holiday party at work, and every year more people opt to bring restaurant food, like fried chicken or wings. While that's all well and good, I try to bring at least one home-made dish; this year I made two.

We have a former vegan-now-pescatarian in our group, and I wanted to make sure there would be food that he could eat, so I made an Asian-style pasta salad with lots of fresh veggies. Another co-worker liked it so much, she demanded the recipe before I left for my long break lest she resort to contacting me at home.

I was happy to oblige.

Pasta in repose on my "heater" which is usually stone cold in the Winter.
Asian Pasta Salad

1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 cup Thai chilli paste with basil
1/2 cup snow peas, sliced lengthwise
1/2 cup baby carrots, cut into matchsticks
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1 lb linguini

In a small bowl, mix lime juice, oil, soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, and chili paste.

Cook linguini in boiling salted water until tender (according to package directions). Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water to chill the noodles and wash off some of the starch.

Place noodles in a large bowl and pour over the sauce. There will be lots of sauce but it will eventually be absorbed into the noodles. Taste for seasoning and add more soy, chili paste, lime, or brown sugar if necessary. Chill for a few hours to absorb the sauce.

When ready to serve, toss with the vegetables. Serve cold.
-----------------------------------------------------------------

I've made my curried chicken salad several times in the past, always to rave reviews. The secret is in the chutney, which adds a wonderful sweet and tangy quality that balances out the dry spices in the curry seasoning.

Theminx's Famous Curried Chicken Salad

1 roast chicken, meat removed and shredded
1/2 cup mayo
1/4 cup Major Grey's chutney
1 T sweet curry powder (I prefer Penzey's)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped scallions
salt and pepper to taste

Place chicken meat in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, combine next five ingredients. Toss dressing with chicken and season to taste. Chill several hours or overnight to bring out the flavors. Makes about a quart.

Monday, January 10, 2011

America's Next Great Restaurant

America’s Next Great Restaurant: Curtis Stone, Bobby Flay, Lorena Garcia and Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle, are the judges when hopeful contestants present their ideas to the panel for the next big American restaurant. A nation-wide deal is on the line when the series kicks off Wednesday, March 16th at 9/8c. Looks interesting...will you watch?

I Love Fish Tacos

Remember this post? Yeah, well I didn't win that recipe contest, either. And I don't love fish tacos, but these were both pretty good.

I made two varieties of tacos using Gorton's frozen fish products and Ortega taco shells. The ones pictured below are chipotle honey-glazed popcorn shrimp with guacamole, mango salsa, coconut crema, and cilantro on flour tortillas.


These are grilled salmon fillets with corn salsa, bacon salsa, cilantro, and a peanut butter crema on crunchy corn tortillas. I don't even need to tell you that the bacon salsa and peanut butter crema were DA BOMB.


While they were terrific on the salmon, they were even better on the popcorn shrimp. Recipes for all of the various sauces are below.

Bacon Salsa
1/4 cup chopped roasted red pepper
1 scallion chopped
3 slices cooked bacon, chopped
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon honey
salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a bowl. Eat.

Peanut Butter Crema
1 tablespoon smooth peanut butter
4 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon chopped peanuts
pinch salt

Combine ingredients in a bowl. Eat.

Corn Salsa
1/2 cup corn kernels
2 small tomatoes, diced
3 tablespoons red onion, diced
1 scallion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon lime juice
salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a bowl. Eat.

Coconut Crema
3 tablespoons coconut milk
2 tablespoons sour cream

Combine ingredients in a bowl. Eat.

Mango Salsa
1 mango, diced
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1/8 teaspoon powdered ginger
salt to taste

Combine ingredients in a bowl. Eat.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Top Home-Cooked Meals of 2010

As a partner to my list of Top Restaurant dishes, I thought I'd do another list including of my favorite home-cooked concoctions of 2010. I experimented a lot with Asian flavors, and dishes with roots in Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand were some of the best of the year, including some Asian pork meatballs that were pretty terrific.

Korean BBQ Chicken Wraps
The Korean BBQ Chicken Wraps with Pineapple Relish were a big success, as were every iteration of Banh Mi I created. The Korean tofu with spicy sauce that Ruth Reichl demonstrated on an episode of Diary of a Foodie was so good, we made it several times, particularly in the hot hot summer.

Tofu with spicy sauce
Let's not forget the very delicious Thai-style seviche I concocted from a myriad of seafood products that were living in our freezer. Ok, not "living," per se.

Thai-style ceviche
Another Thai-inflected dish I really loved this year was my Coconut Gazpacho. My Thai dinner party guests really seemed to enjoy it, too. And speaking of the Thai party, the Tod Mun Mu - my porky variation of Thai fish cakes - were also a hit.

Veering away from Asia, I thought my Caprese Salad Stack was particularly successful. And while one of the versions of Chiles Rellenos I cooked up this year was a big hit, even better were the accompanying corn muffins. Another side that I really enjoyed was a dish of mushroom orzotto, served up for our 10th wedding anniversary.

It seemed that everything was fodder for tacos - it didn't have to have Mexican or Tex-Mex flavors, either. I prepared a couple of fish tacos for a recipe contest, and even though I used commercially-breaded, frozen shrimp for one of them, when combined with elements like bacon salsa and peanut butter crema, they were utterly delicious. (Those recipes will be coming up in a future post.)

I hope you enjoyed reading about my cooking adventures in 2010 and have tried some of my recipes. I plan to have more for you in the coming year.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

You Say Tomaytos, I Say Tomahtos...

...and New Joiseyites say...


...courtesy of Top Chef All-Star Michael Isabella.

Top Chef All Stars Episode Five Recap

I'm not sure I like the way each episode starts with a snippet from the end of the previous episode - it feels a bit like padding to me. In any case, I did find it amusing when Blais compared Jamie to an octopus. At first I thought he was going to say she had eight arms or suction cups on her hands, but he was referring to her emulation of the octopus' primary defense - hiding.

At least she doesn't squirt ink on everyone.

We then see the recheftestants assemble in the Top Chef kitchen, where Padma is sporting some sort of stripey, overly-snug top with puffy shoulders that make her look like a linebacker for the prison football team. She's alone, with no guest judge, so something's probably up. She delivers the Quickfire Challenge:

Tom will create a dish as quickly as he can, and then the recheftestants must create their own dish in the same amount of time. As Tom tells them, timing can be everything in the restaurant business. Not only do customers expect good food, but also good service. And when the show is over and the recheftestants return to their fast-food jobs, they're going to have to know how to cook quickly.

After much running around while balancing a cutting board full of bowls and ingredients, Tom manages to crank out a respectable fish dish in 8 minutes and 37 seconds. The recheftestants then try their hands at creating a dish in the same brief time period. Tom tells them the difficulty of their dishes will be considered, so it's not a good idea to avoid cooking by making a raw fish dish.

When Padma gives the high sign, most of the chefs run into the pantry to get ingredients, except the wily Marcel who grabs the unused portion of Tom's fish, which is sitting there in the kitchen area. While he - and everyone else - cooks his fish, Angelo gets the brilliant idea to make a raw fish dish.

Chaos cooking ensues, and all too quickly time is called. Tom and Padma do the tasting rounds and find that Dale's and Jamie's dishes are both on the skimpy side, while Angelo just plain didn't listen. This earns them spots on the bottom of the heap.

On top are Mike, Blais, and Marcel, with Mike coaxing out the most flavor from his ingredients. He wins the Quickfire which gains him immunity in the next challenge plus...a brand new Prius. Nice.

Next up, Padma gives the recheftestants their orders for the Elimination Challenge, one of the most cracktastical in Top Chef history. This bunch of chefs, mostly classically trained in the cuisines of Western Europe, have to serve dim sum to a bunch of ravenous Chinese folks. Take it from me - I go to dim sum fairly regularly - if the flavors and textures of my favorite dishes aren't right, it really ruins the experience. And you know these Top Cheftestants will be doing weird shit. Because they can, and because they're clueless.

Eww and eww.

Fabio is annoyed at the challenge, since he's never made Chinese food before. Dale, on the other hand, is very confident because he works at Buddakan, a NY restaurant that serves dim sum. He also tells us that Angelo was one of the first consulting chefs at the same restaurant, so we can probably figure out who's going to end up on top in this challenge.

Or not. Back at Chef House, Dale pulls out a bunch of photos of his girlfriend and baby and tells us that he needs to win so he can make his girlfriend an honest woman and buy her a nice engagement ring. I half expect him to whip out a Sprint phone and make a tearful phone call, which we all know is a time-honored sign of doom in the Bravo reality show world, but I am disappointed.

As the chefs determine who will prepare what dishes and who will take what role, Jamie announces that she wants to make scallops. This cues up a montage of her many scallop dishes from Season 5 and Fabio's now-famous comment....

I always thought he was a bit like Dr McCoy that time around, with his own special Fabio version of "Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor not a...."

Mike Isabella, with immunity and a new car, volunteers to be expediter, while Casey and Carla agree to push carts around the floor. Tiffany will load the carts and send food down in the dumb waiter.

The next day, during a 45-minute shopping trip in Chinatown where the recheftestants have to deal with fun things like unfamiliar ingredients and language barriers, Fabio becomes upset at the sight of tanks of turtles being sold for food. Anyone who is a Facebook friend of his can attest to the fact that he has a pet turtle and he might just love it more than his wife. He certainly talks more about his precious turtle, anyway. (Maybe the turtle is his wife? Or maybe just a euphemism for something else entirely.)

(Ah, no. In a clip we see Fabs with an actual turtle, which is led around on a leash. WTF?)

The recheftestants head to Grand Harmony to take over the kitchen. 3.5 hours doesn't seem like enough time to cook, and Fabio agrees. He's making pork ribs and says the oven won't go above 300F so he's worried. Jamie is making dumplings with her escallops and is not pleased with the way they are turning out. For once, she's not laughing.

Casey has chosen to make a dish with chicken feet, obviously having never cooked them before in her life.

Eventually she must leave her station and get ready to push around her cart of sub-standard, vaguely-Asian-ethnic dishes. I get excited because I really can't stand Casey and hope that the hungry hoards might trample her, or at least pull her hair. She puts Antonia in charge of plating her dish while she's on the floor.


A strip and a foot? WTF? Chicken feet should be served en masse in a bowl. They are mostly bones with a bit of fatty skin and gelatinous connective tissue, and you don't eat just one. (Unless, like Mr Minx, you are just eating it to be polite. And then how polite can you be while spitting out metatarsal bones?)

Meanwhile, Antonia is working on her own dish of shrimp toast, plus assisting Jamie in a dish of long beans with Chinese sausage. Why she chooses to stretch herself in this way is a bit baffling, considering that Tre is making a single lame-ass dessert and doesn't seem to be doing anything else to help the rest of the team.

Fabio has a religious experience when he removes his ribs from the not-hot-enough ovens:

Ah, Genius, but you made pork ribs; "short ribs" are beef.

While the recheftestants are running around in slow motion, trying to plate their dishes and get them out onto carts, hungry customers start flooding into the restaurant. They all want food and they want it NOW, so they start getting grabby and serve themselves off the carts. The perfect opportunity to push Casey down and run her over with her own cart is, sadly, not taken.

Just as things get rolling (or not), the judges take a table. The dimpled-and-ponytailed Top Chef Masters' finalist Susur Lee is among them, along with the usual suspects Gail, Tom, and Padma.

While they do get one of each dish to try, they can see that the mob around them is going hungry and getting angry. Before they can stage a riot, Tom goes to the kitchen to tell the pokey chefs to get the lead out.

After lunch service, as they flee for their lives from the angry and unsatisified diners, the recheftestants realize their attempt at dim sum was, for the most part, a big fat fail. Back at the Curiously Unsponsored Stew Room, Padma comes in to request the presence of Casey, Antonia, Jamie, Tre, and Carla. Carla is called out for her bland summer rolls, and Tre for his bland and un-set dessert (as if Chinese desserts aren't typically bland and wobbly - they are, very much so). Antonia's shrimpy toast was good, but she was guilty by association for working on Jamie's overly-oily bean dish. Finally, Casey's pancake was called "leaden" and her chicken foot was undercooked. It was so bad, even the hungry customers couldn't stomach it.

The bottom feeders were then sent back to the Stew and instructed to send out Tiffany, Angelo, Dale, and Fabio. Fabio seems surprised to be on top and tells the judges that he figured this time he'd be eliminated straight off, without the befit of a trial in front of Judges' Table. Tom joked that he was considering it, but Fabio's pork ribs were one of the best dishes of the afternoon.  Also good were Tiffany's steamed bun, Angelo's spring roll, and Dale's sticky rice dish, which Susur especially seemed to enjoy. So much so, he was awarded the win.

Unfortunately, this challenge didn't involve a special cash prize for Dale to put towards that ring for his lady.

When the loser chefs were brought out again, signs were pointing that Jamie would be eliminated, since she took credit for two dishes, neither of which the judges liked. Overall, however, Casey's dish was egregiously bad. Even though Antonia was responsible for heating and plating, Casey had to take full responsibility, and with that was sent home.

Hopefully Jamie will go next week. Fingers crossed!
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