Thursday, January 31, 2013

Top Chef Seattle Episode 13 Recap

With this episode, Top Chef Seattle is now no longer Top Chef Seattle- it's Top Chef Celebrity Cruise Endorsement! Woo hoo! The five remaining cheftestants - Brooke, Lizzie, Stefan, Sheldon, and Mustache - pack their bags, find some coats, and clamber aboard a ginormous ship that will presumably take them to Alaska. That is, if they don't have to walk the plank first.

Brooke doesn't like boats. She doesn't explain exactly why. She says she has to get over it though because she fears passing her phobia on to her kid. But isn't that what parents are for? To make their kids neurotic? She indulges in a series of umbrella drinks with her compadres and keeps a box of Dramamine handy, just in case drinking on a boat is a bad idea. Ahem.

Padma shows up to spoil the fun and she's brought Top Chef Masters' host Curtis Stone with her. He's got a really terrible hair cut, which at least distracts me from his scary face. Speaking of hair, Padma's looks pretty shitty, too.

They tell the chefs to stop drinking, because they're going to be heading to the kitchen to prepare food for the ship's "Welcome Aboard" party. Each of them has to make one bite of food for two hundred people, and that one bite has to feature the scrumptuosity of ...iceberg lettuce.

Cute. Cruise ship. Iceberg lettuce. Don't make me explain it to you. Just imagine Celine Dion singing "My Heart Will Go On." Hey, it can't get any worse than it already is, right?

Actually, yes it can. This is a "super-sized" episode. "Stupor-sized," is more like it. Just for that, I'm going to make this recap as short as possible.

The cheftestants suit up and head to the ship's kitchen, which is huge and all-electric. A Padma voice-over tells the chefs not to fear - all of their Anolon cookware has been removed from the Top Chef Landlubber Kitchen and dumped onto the boat for them. Can't let a sponsor get unmentioned!

Rather than Padma and Curtis going around from chef to chef to taste their Quickfire dishes, the chefs have to bring their dishes to the judges. Stefan quips that the kitchen is twelve minutes away, so I hope nobody was expecting warm food.

Curtis seemed to love every bite, from from Mustache's elevated wedge salad (with bacon) to Sheldon's lettuce wrap with pickled lettuce core. Sheldon's was most interesting, had the best texture, and he gets the win.

Padma then tells the cheftestants to go play and explore the boat. Immediately Sheldon and Lizzie go for manicures while Brooke, Stefan, and Mustache go drinking. This interlude with the manicure is such a damn time waster. Lizzie meets someone else from South Africa, they gab, it has nothing to do with the show. Mustache tells us that it's his baby's due date, but he knows nothing. And Stefan says he lost his virginity on a cruise ship. I thought the story was that he lost his virginity to a babysitter when he was a pre-teen? Is anything he says true?

The whole segment is a huge waste of my time, and it cements my decision to stop watching Top Chef after this season.

More time wasting: the five eat dinner at Qsine, one of the ship's restaurants. They eat food served bizarrely in a dresser drawer, which seems too twee and gimmicky. And twee and gimmicky turns out to be the Elimination Challenge. Padma and her new sidekick Curtis show up and give the cheftestants indigestion by informing them they'll be cooking dinner at Qsine, doing something clever and cutesy with the old standard, surf and turf, and using some of Qsine's cutesy serving vessels.

Because Sheldon won the Quickfire, he gets the advantage of choosing his proteins from the ship's store first, and the other chefs cannot use either of them. After running around in the walk-in, he takes filet and lobster, the two most obvious and boring choices. Brooke takes frog's legs and mussels. Stefan pork belly and eel. Mustache bacon and scallops. And Lizzie grabs the suckling pig and still more scallops.

At this point, I've ceased paying attention to the show. All I gather is that Mustache wants to make pasta with his scallops by mixing them with gelatin and egg white, but he's obviously never watched Iron Chef. He spreads his scallop goo onto a sheet pan and puts it in the fridge, thinking it will set up. What he needed to do was put the goo in a pastry bag and pipe it into boiling water. Predictably, his method doesn't work, so he decides to "scramble" the scallop as if it were all egg, because he's running out of time and is desperate.

Brooke is the first to serve her dish to the panel: Curtis; Hugh Acheson; three Celebrity employees including Julie, Your Cruise Director, the chef, and a suit; Padma; and Tom. They find her combination of frog's legs and mussels to be innovative and delicious, but her pappadum accompaniment is greasy.

Stefan made pork belly with a super-crunchy top layer. He likes it that way. Mustache keeps trying to steal pieces of it, so he apparently likes it that way. I know I like it that way. Even Curtis likes it that way. But Tom doesn't like it that way. And if Tom isn't pleased, well.... The judges feel that the eel in Stefan's parsnip and eel ravioli is overshadowed by the parsnip. I can't even imagine the combination.

Mustache's scallop scramble is surprisingly tasty, especially when topped with his non-crunchy pork belly and bacon. The flavors are punchy and innovative.

Sheldon, who has the two most boring ingredients, makes the most boring dish. His Korean bbq beef with kimchi is tasty, but his tempura lobster is as soggy as his tempura custard in the roller derby challenge and Lizzie's tempura lobster from the sushi Quickfire. Tempura anything just isn't a good idea on Top Chef, so let's put it on the list with risotto, shall we?

Finally, Lizzie presents a cabbage roll that didn't get enough time in the steamer. The undercooked cabbage popped open when cut, and the delicate scallops inside were overpowered by the pork. But Curtis was impressed that she made a whole suckling pig, even though we know she just lopped off a leg and used that.

And blah blah more time wasting with the judges talking around the table about what dishes they liked and who should win even though we just heard them talk about it. And then they bring out the cheftestants and do the same thing in front of them. It's obvious that Brooke gets the win on originality alone, despite her greasy crackers, and she does. She also wins a 7 night Caribbean cruise, which you know she's going to give to someone else. Lizzie and Mustache are safe, so it comes down to Sheldon's soggy tempura and Stefan's crunchy skin. Personally, I think the tempura was a bigger sin, but Tom didn't like Stefan's dish so Stefan goes home. Well, he doesn't go home - they're on a boat. I guess he gets locked in the hoosegow for the remainder of the trip.

Meanwhile, while this is all going on, the Save a Chef voting has been raging between CJ and Josie and the results are very close - 94% for CJ, 6% for Josie.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Paint the Kitchen Purple and Black

The Super Bowl is just around the corner and happy Baltimoreans who are watching the big game at home will no doubt be looking for ways to create purple and black food for the occasion. Well, maybe not so much black food...but definitely purple! There aren't all that many naturally purple foods - potatoes, cooked blueberries, some varieties of carrot and asparagus come to mind. Not exactly easy produce to find in late January/early February.

Mr Minx requested that we have slider-sized cheeseburgers to eat during the game. I figured I'd make some red onion relish and pretend it was purple, but then I realized I could dye the onions with food coloring. I could probably also make purple ketchup and mayo that way, too. Maybe black ketchup? Maybe not.

McCormick makes neon colored food dyes in both blue and purple, which can be mixed together to achieve that perfect Ravens purple. (The color is actually violet; purple has more red in it.) And they're excited about the Super Bowl, too, as they've put up recipes for purple and black treats on their Web site. I think the purple cupcakes with purple and black swirled frosting are perfect (I wish we were entertaining for the occasion!) And definitely purple beer. As much as I like beer already, I think that purple beer looks more flavorful somehow.

What are your plans for Super Bowl snacks? Will you attempt to make purple and/or black food? I'll post my concoctions after the game.


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Birroteca, a relatively new restaurant located a piece down the road from Woodberry Kitchen in one of the old mill buildings near the Jones Falls Expressway, has been getting all sorts of positive buzz since the day it opened. We couldn't find time to visit the place during the holidays, but as soon as we knew our friend Melinda would be visiting, we made a reservation. So much better to try everything on the menu when there's another person around to help eat it all!

I heard Birroteca got crowded and noisy, so we made sure to eat early. When we got to the restaurant around 5:15pm, there were already several tables occupied and the noise in the bar was in full swing. Within an hour or so, the place was packed and the clamor - mostly due to one bigmouth woman at the next table - was deafening. This noisy restaurant thing seems to be a trend, no? And one I do not like. But if the food has received such acclaim, one must deal with the din in order to experience it.

Sun reviewer Kit Pollard mentioned on her blog that Birroteca's calamari alla plancha could be her favorite dish of 2012, so it was a must-try. She was not exaggerating. Mr Minx declared the roasty-flavored, über-tender ringlets to be the best he's ever eaten. I concur.

Sorry for the blurry photos. The restaurant was very dimly lit
and a flash would have been extremely obnoxious.
Birroteca serves food as it's ready, in large family-style bowls--all the better for everyone at the table to taste everything. The next several dishes that came to our table were carb-tastic, staring with the polenta. The planks of fried cornmeal mush were a bit too large, and the eggplant ragu didn't seem to have any eggplant in it, but otherwise, the flavors were nice. I'd have preferred smaller pieces, with a higher ratio of surface crust to fluffy insides. And some eggplant.

More successful were the arancini, which were nicely brown and crispy on the outside and tender and cheesy on the inside. The micro celery garnish was fun.

My favorite carb dish of the evening was the parmesan spaetzle with shaved snails and truffle oil. The noodles themselves were rice-sized, which gave the dish a pilaf-like quality, and super cheesy. I especially liked the cheesy crumbs on top. And don't say "eww" at the snails. I find snails to be closer in both flavor and texture to mushrooms than to anything that lives in a shell.

We also got a plate of the roasted cauliflower agrodolce which came adorned with pieces of dried fig. The sweet-sour element of the dish was subtle and didn't overpower the delicate cauliflower flavor.

We then noshed on the Locavore pizza, topped with broccoli rabe, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and a handful of arugula. It seemed like a good idea when we ordered it, but we probably would have preferred one of the more meaty varieties. The crust/cheese/sauce combo was all very nice, but the surfeit of cruciferous veg after eating a plate of cauliflower was a bit much. A bit of advice: don't leave the box of uneaten cauliflower/broccoli pizza in the car while spending a couple of hours at the mall. Phew.

Despite all that food, we decided to make room for desserts, which were served in smaller portions than the other dishes, but still share-able.

Mr Minx opted for the chocolate caramel espresso tart, which was, um...amazing. Yum. Loved the chewy caramel topped with just the right amount of chocolate. (The older I get, the less interested I am in chocolate desserts.)

Our server enthusiastically recommended the banana cake with Nutella buttercream, but I think it was the most disappointing dish of the evening. The flavor of the cake was good, but the banana slices inside had an oddly hard texture, like dried bananas. (This kind, not chips.) And I couldn't taste the Nutella.

Much better was the orange panna cotta with amaretto cherries. How can sweetened heavy cream thickened into a pudding with gelatin not be good? And the cherries on the bottom - so intensely cherry. Mmm. 

I've often heard people say that if a restaurant's service is bad, it doesn't matter how good the food is. The service at Birroteca was terrific - our server and everyone else who came to our table were genuinely enthusiastic about everything on the menu and seemed pleased when we enjoyed something. So even though a dish or two missed the (our) mark, we left very happy and full and vowing to come back soon, this time with a more meat-friendly companion (hence the plethora of vegetarian dishes we ordered). We want, nay - need, more of that calamari, and a duck confit pizza is definitely in our future, as are meatballs and probably some salumi or crudo.

1520 Clipper Rd
Baltimore, MD 21211
(443) 708-1934

Birroteca on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013


When football season comes around, it seems I'm always concocting recipes for long-cooked stew-type dishes. If I can get everything in a pot before the game, then I don't have to worry about cooking something afterwards when I may be stressed out from a loss or an especially hard-earned win. (Those times, I'd just rather have a cocktail and a big bowl of ice cream.) So there's plenty of winter weekends when we eat chili and the like. While I like to think I make some pretty kick-ass chili, I get bored with it.

One recent stressful Saturday, when the Ravens were facing the Broncos in the AFC Divisional Play-off game, and I was despairing that they had little chance against future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning and his new crew, I made something completely different - pozole. Typically a hearty stew of meat and hominy, my pozole contained red chiles for color and flavor, but green versions with tomatillos and green chiles also exist.

The dish was hearty and warming, and I was glad I didn't have to think about it much while I was biting my nails and cheering on my home team to their victory.

Pozole Rojo

2 pounds country-style pork ribs
1 teaspoon salt
6 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 ounces whole New Mexico red chiles
2 cups boiling water
2 cloves garlic, halved
1/2 roughly chopped onion, about 3/4 cup
2 15oz cans hominy
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
chicken broth
salt and pepper
cilantro for garnish
sliced radishes for garnish
flour tortillas

Place ribs, salt, and sliced garlic in a dutch oven with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then turn down so the water is simmering. Cook for about 90 minutes, skimming water as foam rises.

While meat is cooking, toast the chiles in a hot skillet for several seconds per side until they smell toasty. Place peppers in a bowl and pour on the hot water. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap or a plate. After about thirty minutes of soaking, remove stem end from pepper and slice lengthwise. Remove seeds and ribs, if desired, for a milder sauce, or leave some or all of them in for something spicier. Cut pepper into chunks and place in a food processor with the two halved cloves of garlic, the onion, and enough of the soaking water to make a thick puree. Set aside.

Remove meat from pot, remove bones, and tear into chunks. Strain the broth and set aside. Return meat to the pot with enough strained broth to barely cover, the chile, onion and garlic puree, hominy, and seasonings. Add chicken broth if there's not enough pork stock to cover, and simmer over medium heat, covered, for 45 minutes, until hominy is tender. If there's too much broth toward the end of the cooking time, turn up the heat for a few minutes to boil some of it off.

Season with salt and pepper to taste, garnish with cilantro and radishes, and serve with warm flour tortillas.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Rachael Vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-off 2.4 Recap

I've got to say - this week's challenge on Rachael vs. Guy is possibly my biggest nightmare: cooking for a child's party. I couldn't deal with all of those high-pitched voices, whining about whether the chicken fingers are "awesome" enough or if there was enough glitter on the cupcakes. Gah!

But Dean - Dean loves it. He's trying to market himself as the "Gourmet Dad," and thinks throwing a party for beings who are content with eating crushed chicken bones and Dimethylpolysiloxane as long as it's formed into a McNugget is a "real culinary situation." His teammate, Johnny, on the other hand, is terrified. He's pretty sure that kids don't like him, and I'll bet you anything that his effeminate manner got him seriously bullied as a child.

So. There are two kids, a girl named after Will Smith's son, Jaden, and a boy, whose name I didn't write down, so I'm going to call him, "Boy." They are pretending to have birthdays so the celebritynoncheftestants can defrost stuff "cook" for them. Since Team Rachael won last week, they get the "advantage" of choosing whether they'd rather work with Jaden or Boy, and Kathy and Carnie choose Jaden. Hiney Warts basically doesn't get a vote because the women on his team know he just wants to throw the football around with the male child and that ain't happening on their watch.

In addition to the usual menu-planning session, the celebs get 10 minutes with their kid. Jaden seems to like everything the celebs suggest, including hummus, which makes Kathy happy. The boy is a bit more picky and basically only likes chicken fingers and pizza.

The kids get shooed away like the whiny annoyances that they are and the teams commence to cooking. On Team Rachael's side of the world, Carnie is doing Sloppy Joes, which she's renamed "Sloppy Jadens." (Cute! No...not really. More like...Unimaginative!) Kathy is doing hummus, guacamole, and salsa with dippers, and Hiney is once again doing something extremely simple - quesadillas.

He's also making cupcakes, the idea of which thrills him to deaf! Kathy is making s'mores rice krispy treats, and despite knowing that Jaden looooves cheesecake, Carnie is making raspberry bars, mostly because she's got the recipe memorized.

Over on Team Guy, Dean is making cheese pizzas from scratch onto which the kids will add the toppings of their choice. Johnny is making chicken fingers, because he's only allowed to cook poultry on this show. Come on - make him make a damn pork chop! It won't kill him. Or maybe it will. He's also making cupcakes, which he's never done before. Dean is pulling out the stops and making rice krispy treats. Not just your ordinary treats, mind you - he's freezing them with liquid nitrogen so when the kids eat them, steam will come billowing out of their mouths. Also maybe they will freeze shut, which might afford the adults a few moments of silence.

Kathy's synapses are not firing on all cylinders yet again this week. Her krispy bars have basically three ingredients, and she keeps mixing them in the wrong order. Butter...krispies...marshmallow, right? NO! Um...butter...krispies...marshmallow? Wrong again! fuck! Finally, she puts the marshmallows in with the butter and gets it done. Meanwhile, she's run out of time to make everything else on her list, as per her usual. Get rid of her.

Johnny is having issues with his dish, since he never ever ever EVER fries anything because any fat in his diet would ruin his girlish figure. Oh boo, hoo. Bet famed East German gold medal skater Katarina Witt never said such a thing. Johnny's also never made cake frosting (because it's full of FAT!), so Dean comes to his rescue and makes it for him. Dean is a bit resentful that he has to carry his team, even though he is the "Gourmet Dad," and reminds us of that fact repeatedly.

So the kids arrive and I turn down the volume. Johnny's wearing two dunce-cap birthday hats and one lovely child tells him he looks like the devil. Which is true, if the devil has one pink horn and one yellow horn and wears lipstick and sequins. Hiney is a bit intimidated that he's the only boy on his side of the park and, to fit in, allows the little girls to paint his fingernails. He and Johnny should have switched teams before this challenge.

Rachael and Guy arrive and bring with them a pint-sized celebrity guest - Rico Rodriguez from "Modern Family." The kids all pretend to know who he is.

We see Rachael's team serve their food first, and Jaden seems mostly happy with everything. The consensus is that the Sloppy Jadens are nothing special, Kathy's hummus is "mouthwatering," and Hiney's quesadilla is OMGood. Kathy's s'mores are, predictably, "awesome," as are Hiney's cupcakes. Carnie's "rad-berry" bars, however, are not kid friendly enough.

Switch to Boy's party, where Dean's pizza is super awesome, but Johnny's chicken fingers are unevenly cooked and decidedly un-awesome. One smart-ass kid even claims that after eating the chicken he wants to throw up.  I hope his mother is really proud of him. The kids don't much like Johnny's cupcakes, either, but Dean's "dragon's breath" krispy treats steal the show. He makes a big production out of plunging the treats into liquid nitrogen, but I notice that nobody warns the kids not to touch the super-cold stuff. No "don't stick your tongue on the outside of the canister," warnings. Hmm.

After the kids are picked up by their parents, the celebrities face judgement. The kids all filled out comment cards and were predictably cruel. Everyone loved Dean's treats and Hiney's quesadilla, but hated Johnny's Chicken and Carnie's raspberry bars, saying that "boogers taste better." The teams end up tied this week, so Johnny can face Carnie in the Blind Tasting. They have to make something with hot dogs in ten minutes.

Johnny doesn't eat hot dogs, of course, but he tells us he's got plenty of experience with sausage. Of course. He makes a sausage sandwich with fried onions. Carnie is a hot dog gal from way back and makes one with bacon and cheese, a ketchup and onion sauce to go with, and some homemade potato chips.

Rachael wisely cuts the sandwiches in half because after sharing straws with Guy last week and finding a stray pubic hair, she wisely doesn't want to put anything he's had in his mouth in her mouth. They are torn between the sausage sandwich and the hot dog, but ultimately choose the hot dog because, well, it was a hot dog challenge.

Johnny goes home, and Team Guy is down to one man. Yes, yes, we know, Dean the fucking Gourmet Dad!

Next week: The celebs get their own food trucks! LDP makes an appearance!

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Special Super Bowl Dinner at B&O Brasserie

B&O Brasserie's chef Thomas Dunklin hails from New Orleans, site of the upcoming Ravens/49ers Harbowl, so he's put together a menu of New Orleans meets Baltimore yummies to celebrate.

From Friday, Feb 1 through Sunday, Feb 3, diners can choose from a five-course Super Bowl special menu, as well as the usual a la carte selections AND Restaurant Week.

For a ridiculously reasonable $50 per person, diners get the following five courses plus a local beer.

Warshore Oyster Roast
With garlic, paprika, butter

Crawfish "Boil"
Coddies, creole mustard, green tomato jam

Boudin Stuffed Flounder
Served with baked baby artichokes, meyer lemon butter

Ribeye Deckel Cut
With a "tiger sauce" crab crust and served with potato purée, house made Worcestershire

Fig and Goat Cheese King Cake

Sounds good, no?

Go Ravens!

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Chicken and Waffles

I never did "get" the concept of chicken and waffles. Crisp fried chicken accompanied by crisp waffles--and syrup--seemed an incongruous (and messy) pairing to me, so when we encountered the pulled chicken and gravy version at Rocket to Venus, I thought we found one that might work. Unfortunately, it suffered in execution. What I felt that dish needed - besides 90% less gravy - was good gravy. (Good gravy!) Of course, the maple syrup element probably needed to be added (so the waffles don't get lonely), but the thought of maple syrup AND gravy just wasn't cutting it. Then I thought, why not put maple syrup IN the gravy?

Because that's weird.

I then considered flavors that worked well when combined with maple and with chicken. When I was a kid, my dad used to make waffles with bacon in them, a glorious combination when bathed in maple syrup. My mom liked to make a chicken dish that involved bacon, along with heavy cream and scallions. The common denominator in these two recipes is, of course, the almighty bacon, so I knew that everybody's favorite porky substance could potentially be a bridge between the maple and the chicken. What am I saying, "potentially?" Of course it would work to unite the two flavors together, along with lashings of cream for richness and scallions for a fresh green bite!

I love it when a plan comes together. The maple syrup worked beautifully in the chicken gravy, without making it overly sweet. It was fabulous over waffles, but would be damn good over biscuits as well.

Chicken and Waffles with Bacon Maple Gravy

1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups rich chicken stock (preferably homemade)
2 slices of cooked bacon, chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
salt and pepper
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
your favorite waffle recipe
2 tablespoons chopped scallions

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter and whisk in flour. Cook for about 5 minutes - stirring regularly - to create a light blonde roux. Raise heat and whisk in chicken stock; bring to a boil. After a minute or two, when stock has thickened to gravy consistency, lower heat to medium and stir in the bacon, cream, and maple syrup. Season with salt and lots of freshly ground pepper to taste. Stir in chicken. Cook until heated through, another 3 minutes or so.

While the gravy is cooking, make up a batch of waffles using your favorite recipe. Keep them warm on a cookie sheet in a 250F oven until ready to serve.

To serve: Place waffles on a plate. Spoon sauce on top, but do not drown. Garnish with scallions. Serves 2-4.

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Food Lover's Guide to Baltimore Events

We have several signing events scheduled for those of you who'd like to get a copy of our new book, Food Lovers' Guide to Baltimore, in person.

February 7th
Happy Hour Launch Party
Chazz, a Bronx Original
1415 Aliceanna St Baltimore, MD 21231
(410) 522-5511

February 12th
Barnes & Noble Johns Hopkins Bookstore
3330 St. Paul Street
Baltimore, MD 21218

February 22nd
The Mallow Bar
8767 Philadelphia Rd Baltimore, MD 21237
(443) 231-7399

March 2nd
Baltimore Coffee & Tea
9 W Aylesbury Rd
Timonium, MD 21093
(410) 561-1080

March 3rd
Baltimore Coffee & Tea
890 Bestgate Road
Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 573-5792

More to come!

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Top Chef Seattle Episode 12 Recap

This week's episode was much less drama-filled than last week's, which is a good thing, because I'm barely hanging in with watching this show anymore.

The six remaining cheftestants are in their condo, eating and smoking and whatnot. Stefan is already referring to Kristen as the "ex-wife," (wonder who is on his radar now?) and he predicts she'll be back after Last Chance Kitchen. Josie tries to get some sympathy out of Lizzie by crying over what she realizes was an unfair elimination the day before. Boo hoo. Lizzie just leaves the room as quickly as possible.

They head to the Product Placement Kitchen and find Padma standing there with a little Japanese dude. Stefan tells us that's Katsuya Uechi, a sushi master so famous, Stef's wetting his pants just thinking about it. Padma tells the cheftestants that they will have to make sushi for the master, and now all of them are wetting their pants and Stefan is pooping. Why is he freaking out so much? Did he screw Katsuya's wife or something?

So the chefs get to slicing and dicing. Katsuya basically tells them to "keep it simple, stupid," but in Japanese, and most of the competitors completely ignore him. Mustache says there's not much sushi in Oklahoma, and I suppose we could believe him, but there's TONS of sushi in Baltimore - not exactly a hotbed of Japanese immigrants - so I think he's making an excuse. He makes an omelette with bacon and puts it on rice and calls it sushi. Katsuya calls it "greasy." Lizzie decides to get away from making a sushi dish at all and puts raw fish in a hot broth with tempura on the side. The broth and fish thing is a no-no and the tempura is soggy. Bwomp bwomp. Brooke, however, says she has sushi for lunch about three times a week, which means she's probably suffering from mercury poisoning at this point. She makes a simple octopus sushi that Katsuya calls "crean." And finally, freaking-out Stefan manages to "pull something out of his butt," (mm - appetizing!) and wows the sushi master with his yellowtail and shiitake combo.

There's no more immunity in the competition, so Stefan has to make do with $5,000.

Padma shoos Katsuya out and brings in another Asian chef - profane semi-genius David Chang, of the Momofuku restaurant empire in New York and now Toronto. With him is Tom Colicchio, who brags to the cheftestants that he rented a really swell house in Seattle and has invited all sorts of cool and hip celebrity chefs to hang with him in his off time. He name drops Emeril, and Wolfgang Puck, and Michele Bernstein and we're not so impressed. And then he mentions Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, and we're still not so impressed, as we recently watched them lose an Iron Chef America battle (rerun). Has Seattle has lost its magic already? None of these chefs represent the Seattle area, but are from LA, NY, and Miami.

Anyhoo, Tom wants to hire the cheftestants as caterers for a little shindig he's throwing that evening. And he wants fried chicken, dammit.

So the chefs make fried chicken. Sort of. Lizzie says while growing up in South Africa, she wanted her mom to buy one of those big buckets of fried chicken, but she never would. Instead, she made her kids eat boneless skinless chicken breasts. Honestly, that's torture. Stefan is somewhat excited about the prospect of playing with breasts and thighs, but rather than doing fried chicken, he makes chicken cordon bleu, which is fried, but is not fried chicken. Josie, on the other hand, is completely convinced she's got this battle in the bag because she's making real southern fried chicken with a buttermilk marinade full of genuine southern ingredients like Sriracha.

After a period of prep, the cheftestants head to Tom's house using the wonder of the GPS provided by whatever Toyota product they're riding in this week. Once there, they have one hour to cook their chix and get them served.

There's not a lot of kitchen space, but the producers have thoughtfully set up fryolaters in the back yard. Josie is having issues with one of them, so begs to borrow Lizzie's when she's done. Lizzie is a nice gal and says yes. I guess she hasn't had any personal issues with Josie yet in the competition; I'm sure Mustache wouldn't have been as accommodating.

The cheffy guests arrive and sit themselves at a long table in the back yard. Padma is already stoned out of her gourd. She calls Tom, "Tommy," and suggests that Emeril and Wolfie are a "power couple," just because one of them pulled the chair out for the other. The wine is flowing pretty freely through the whole dinner, as this is the Terlato wine challenge. The lucky winner of the fried chicken battle gets a year's worth of Terlato wines. That's 365 bottles, according to Padma. Maybe she can drink that much wine in a month year, but 12 bottles would probably be sufficient for me.

The cheftestants present their dishes three at a time. First we see Josie, Sheldon, and Lizzie. Lizzie's non fried-chicken fried chicken is moist and crispy, and they all swoon over the salad she serves on the side. And they drink some wine. And then comes Josie's chicken, which is oily and has "flobby" skin, according to Wolfgang. And they have some more wine before finally tasting Sheldon's, which he's made two ways. He lost a few pieces to overly hot oil, so not everyone gets to taste his Momofuku-style wings, but that doesn't matter because Tom has commandeered the plate and has eaten all of them. And they drink some wine. Because, of course, wine is a natural accompaniment to fried chicken.

Wolfgang is so potted, at one point he holds up a naked chicken leg bone and exhorts everyone to "look at his bone." Padma giggles and looks. They drink.

The next round of chicken comes from Brooke, Mustache, and Stefan. Dotolo and Shook ask Brooke if she recognizes them. She doesn't, and they tell her they both applied to be line cooks in one of her restaurants but she turned them down. Probably because she felt that two grown men who do everything together - including apply for jobs - is weird. Now she wishes she had hired them in case that gives her an edge. She needed an edge, because her boneless skinless breasts were overcooked and unpleasant. Wolfgang said she shouldn't be on Top Chef. She should barely be on The Apprentice. Burn! And they drink!

Mustache smoked his chicken before frying and topping it with traditional-ish Buffalo-style accouterments. The judges loved it, and then they drank more wine. Finally, the mocked Stefan for making such an old fashioned dish as cordon bleu. And it wasn't even good cordon bleu. But it went really well with the wine.

The judges are so drunk, they can't possibly do any judging that night, so they send the cheftestants home while they sleep it off. The next day, we see Stefan calling his mom, who has Parkinson's disease. He gets a little weepy, but we know by now that calling one's loved ones is no longer a clue that the chef is being sent home. We know he's safe.

Later, in the stew, Padma comes in with an icebag on her head and blearily calls for Mustache, Lizzie, and Sheldon. They've made the best chicken. While they adore Lizzie's and Sheldon's, Mustache's is the best of the bunch and they give him a lifetime supply of mediocre wine.

Stefan, Josie, and Brooke then come out for their scolding. They once again mock Stefan for his cordon bleu, and he says they don't eat fried chicken in Germany. Wolfgang then insists that one of the most famous dishes of his hometown in Austria is fried chicken. I guess KFC is not only in South Africa, huh?  Brooke really seems to be on the chopping block because they can't find anything nice to say about her dish. But it's Josie who's done the worst and finally, FINALLY gets sent home.

And the angels sing and Mustache rejoices that Josie and her laugh are out of the picture.

Next week: the final five board a cruise ship to Alaska.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Chocolate Sauce

When I received an e-mail asking if I'd like to sample some chocolate sauce, I responded with a resounding, "yes!" I loooove hot fudge, and have been searching for the ideal stuff for years. When I was a kid, I adored the hot fudge sundaes at Read's drug store. When I became an adult, I felt that the best hot fudge was served at Marconi's. Unfortunately, neither establishment exists today - huge losses for hot fudge lovers in Baltimore.

Chef Wheeler del Torro's hot fudge, which is sold through his Etsy shop and at 3 Scoops in Boston, hit all of the right notes for me. When cold, the sauce is very thick, with a pleasing grainy texture (like Marconi's), and is lovely when eaten directly from the jar. When heated and spooned over ice cream, the texture is smoother but the flavor is no less intensely chocolate. Adding a maraschino cherry to the top gave me Read's flashbacks.

But wait - there's more. Not only does Chef Del Torro make some lovely plain hot fudge, but he also produces small batch chocolate sauces in flavors like 7 Chocolate, Mayan Mint, Jamaican Hot Chocolate Pepper, Rose, Coconut, Orange, and Salted Chocolate - all of which have got to be scrumptious. I'm especially curious about the Rose and Jamaican Hot Chocolate flavors. If anyone out there gives them a try, I'd love to know what you think about them.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rachael vs Guy Celebrity Cook-Off 2.3 Recap

I'm sorry the recap is late this week, but there's a very good reason for that. Rather than flip the channel to Food Network at 9pm on Sunday, we Minxes preferred to watch the Baltimore Ravens humiliate the New England Patriots right out of Super Bowl contention. GO RAVENS!

About 24 hours after the episode aired, we watched it OnDemand. Turns out we didn't miss much. The Food Network agrees - they didn't bother to put up photos from the episode until late Tuesday morning, and the videos are not loading. They need to get new intern-monkeys.

In any case, this week's challenge was meant to test the celebritynoncheftestants adaptability by making them short order cooks. Teams Rachael and Guy find themselves at Mel's Drive-in, a greasy spoon in Hollyweird. Wouldn't a road trip to Mel's Diner in Milwaukee have been more fun? That is, if they could travel back in time to the Happy Days era. They could serve burgers and fries to Fonzie and the gang. Instead, we have to watch them serve regular LA nobodies desperately wanting to be somebodies. Meanwhile, the Fonz is selling reverse mortgages.

Hiney Warts thinks this challenge is perfectly reasonable because of the Guy factor. "All his shows is about triple Ds," he tells us. That's the grade I'd give Guy, too. A "D."

There are three celebs left per team, and there are three classic diner meals they have to prepare: a tuna melt; a chicken club; and a cheeseburger. Because Rachy's team won last week, they have the advantage of choosing the sandwiches for their adversaries on Team Guy. They assign the chicken club to Johnny, the burger to Chilli, and the tuna melt to Dean.

The teams go off to their respective trailers for some strategery. Johnny, who is wearing a spangled silver jacket and short shorts, plans to work the front of the house and be "real gay." Can you imagine how gay he can be when he actually tries? The mind boggles. Before being assigned the chicken club, he had planned to get away from using his favorite protein. And that would be...chicken. So to switch things up, he decides to do something super-radical and use something never before seen in a club sandwich. That's right - turkey. And he's going to make it "real gay."

Dean isn't all that thrilled with the idea of a tuna melt. He wants to switch his up by using olive oil instead of mayo, but Guy tells him he's used up all of the olive oil in his hair that morning. Chilli, who is turning into a real whiner in the kitchen, says she don't grill, honey, so she don't know how she's going to make a burger. Guy proceeds to tell her to make a ball of meat, smash it on the grill, and then use a dome spritzed with water to melt the cheese. Easy peasy. Chilli almost falls off her chair trying to process the technique.

Over on Team Rachael's side, she's advising her squad to stick with traditional diner chow, and not to "gourmet it up." But then she's fine when Carnie starts babbling about the amazing tuna salad she makes with tons of herbs and stuff. And then she tells Hiney to add chorizo or bacon to his cheese burger. Then there's Kathy, who's volunteered to work the front of the house. She's not putting any meat in her chicken club, no sirree. Rachael then suggests that she do a double-decker grilled cheese sandwich with seitan bacon. Fresh herbs, chorizo, and seitan are definitely traditional diner foods.

Team Guy gets the kitchen first, with one hour of prep time before 45 random folks come in to eat. Funny how these celebs pretend to like to cook, but only Dean seems to know how to do anything. He's not team captain, but he gets pulled into Johnny's and Chilli's dramas and has to teach them how to use the food processor and whatnot.

Guy comes in to sniff and sneer, and he gives Johnny some advice on how to cook his turkey. Johnny is ever-so-thankful because, as he says, Guy is a "professional." Yes. Guy is a professional. A professional douche. With a sunburn over a spray tan.

Prep time is over and Johnny puts his spangly jacket back on so he can wow the crowd with gayness. He sashays and wiggles and everyone seems to love it. But it doesn't distract anyone from the bad food. Dean's run out of cheese for his tuna melts, and the diners notice. Johnny's bread is not toasted enough, but that's not his fault. He's generating plenty of flames in the dining room. Chilli's freaking out over the complicated burger technique (ball, smash, steam with dome) and working very s l o w l y. The customers are getting cranky, so Johnny ups the gay/distraction quotient by putting on roller blades and skating around both inside and outside. Eventually, the burgers get done with some help by Dean but they're bland and un-special.

Next, Team Rachael takes the stage. Carnie is alternately freaking out and singing happily.

Kathy is making fifteen different components for her grilled cheese club, but the seitan bacon won't be one of them. She thinks it tastes bitter, but Rachael thinks she needs to include it for the crunch. Hiney has never even heard of chorizo, so he's putting bacon in his bacon cheeseburger. But first - he needs to learn how to use a food processor. Honestly, people, it's not that difficult. Put the food in. Push a button. Whirr. Carnie gives him instructions and Hiney is amazed that he's lived so long without using this machine. I'm just amazed he's lived so long.

Kathy goes out to entertain the guests but she's no Johnny Weir. She doesn't even have a sparkly jacket. Being a "vegetarian chef," while an amusing enough concept, just doesn't cut the mustard.

Carnie put her money where her mouth is with her tuna melt. And she probably put one of those tuna melts where her mouth is, too. She claimed that she made delicious tuna salad, and the judges and customers agreed. Her sandwich had great texture and, unlike Dean's, plenty of cheese. Hiney's burger, too, won raves, but he couldn't move quite fast enough to keep up with the orders. And this man was a wide receiver, someone who presumably had to think on his feet while both running and catching the ball.

Kathy's cheese clubs weren't making it out of the kitchen at all because Carnie was too busy singing and beating people with baguettes, completely forgetting that she was supposed to make Kathy's dish, too. When Carnie realizes her mistake, she curses Kathy's use of fifty-three different components, and Kathy comes back to help. Eventually her sammies come out, but it's pretty much a consensus that they needed bacon. Even seitan bacon.

Later, at Judges Table, Rachael and Guy tell them that Carnie's tuna melt beat Dean's, Hiney's burger beat Chilli's, and Johnny's double whammy of real gay service and tasty food beat out Kathy's dull service and bacon-less sandwich.

The customers chose Team Rachael as the winners, so that means the bottom two on Team Guy have to participate in the Blind Tasting Challenge. This would be Dean and Chilli, who are tasked with making a delicious milkshake in five minutes.

There are tons of mix-ins available, but Dean goes "adult" with his orange creamsicle shake with Grand Marnier and boozy Twinkie garnish. And I don't mean he got Johnny liquored up and put him on the edge of the glass.

Chilli tells us she's a mommy so wants to make a shake her son would like. I could have sworn she said her son's name was "Tron," and when I looked it up, I saw that it was, indeed, Tron. I guess there are worse things than being named after a bad 80s movie about video games. Just ask Atari Bigby of the San Diego Chargers.

Both Chilli's chocolate cookie shake and Dean's orange shake are tasty, but the boozed-up Twinkie obviously win's the hearts of Rachael and Guy, because Chilli is sent home. Just as well, as she was getting on my nerves. They all are, actually. Where's LDP when you need him?

Next week: my idea of hell. A kid's party.

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The Oregon Grille

January means Restaurant Week(s), and this year Mr Minx and I decided to stay in Baltimore County rather than stray into the City. Our first pick this year was The Oregon Grille, a cozy, clubby, and elegant restaurant just off the Shawan Road West exit on I-83. As befitting its location in horse country, the restaurant is decorated with equine prints and jockeys' accouterments. The menu has a nice mix of both seafood and meat dishes, featuring classics like steak au poivre and crab cakes, with a few more modern dishes like crispy duck legs stuffed with pears and a sushi-inspired appetizer called "spicy rolls two ways."

Sorry for the blurry photos, but the restaurant is dark-ish and a
flash would definitely have annoyed other guests.
I tried those spicy rolls as my appetizer, and they had a nice kick to them. The fish - tuna and salmon - was swaddled snugly within a nori wrapper padded with a layer of creamy rice. To continue with the Asian theme, we also tried an order of the crab and avocado wontons from the regular menu. They were heavy on the avocado, but crisp and greaseless. And prettily presented, I might add.

Mr Minx's RW appetizer was beef barley soup. It was a generous portion, with plenty of vegetables and nuggets of beef, but it needed a bit of salt.

For our entrees, I ordered the warm lobster salad, which was simply terrific. Lightly cooked julienned root vegetables were tangled with a bit of fresh watercress to form a bed for the meat from half a lobster, and everything was napped with a buttery lemon vinaigrette. On the side were pieces of truffled toast sorely lacking the truffle and a mite over-toasted, but I had a huge crusty dinner roll handy with which to mop up the sauce.

Mr Minx had the salmon with lobster risotto, crispy shrimp, and "vanilla dust" butter. Vanilla is a tricky flavoring to use in a savory dish, but it seems to be most successful with seafood. While all of the individual elements of his dish were well-cooked, the flavor of the vanilla was a bit too pronounced for his taste. I found it interesting, but a bit disconcerting because of the lack of accompanying sweetness. Vanilla = sweet stuff.

On to the actual sweet stuff. I had the orange-spiced apple crisp. The large shallow ramekin meant that there was a goodly portion of "crisp" - my favorite part. The combination of orange and apple was very fragrant and autumnal, and I quite enjoyed the dish. Mr Minx had the carrot cake with cream cheese buttercream, which was delicious and classic, if a bit dense from the number of layers of frosting.

While we had some minor quibbles about the meal, overall we really enjoyed the food at The Oregon Grille. The Restaurant Week prices are a real steal, and we recommend trying the place if you haven't already. Additionally, service was terrific, and our waiter, Tom, took excellent care of us. He even brought a tiny carafe of olive juice in case we wanted our extra dirty martinis even more dirty. We'll be back.

(Oregon Grille's Restaurant Week is extended to 2/2/2013, so there's still time to check it out this year.)

The Oregon Grille
1201 Shawan Rd
Hunt Valley, MD 21030
(410) 771-0505

The Oregon Grille on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Top Chef Seattle Episode 11 Recap

I'm not sure how much longer I can do this. I went to bed angry after watching this week's Top Chef. The producer manipulation of the Restaurant Wars scenario was so blatant, as was keeping Josie in the competition for yet another week. The winner of "Last Chance Kitchen" is pretty obvious, because Kristen will win this competition (or come very close). And why the fuck was the episode fifteen minutes longer than usual? Supersized eps are BORING, not dramatic. I don't need to lose even more precious sleep time because the network wants to milk more advertising money out of Healthy Choice, Toyota, and Canada Dry. grrrr

::::taking a walk around the block to calm down::::

So. Restaurant Wars.

The cheftestants plan their menus and head to the venue, the Georgetown Ballroom, which just happens to be a kitchen-less establishment. Instead, there's a large patio space and an area that can be used as the two separate restaurants. So not only do the cheftestants have to buy groceries and decor, but also kitchen equipment. How wise is it to put a kitchen outdoors in a city that has rain for much of the year? Guess that just means more drama! or not, since it seemed to be a nice day.

As we learned last week, Sheldon's restaurant is called Urbano, and it will be serving modern Filipino food. Because of his charm and wit, Stefan is in charge of the front of the house. Actually, it's because he has not only restaurant experience, but also Restaurant Wars experience. That seems like a mistake to me, but since the food is Sheldon's, he can't be taken out of the kitchen, and Mustache is a bit hot-headed for the job. Not saying that Stefan isn't hot-headed....

Kristen's restaurant is called Atelier Kwan, and her team is going to serve classic French cuisine made modern. It's an ambitious project, especially with Josie on her team. You can smell the clusterfuck brewing like a cheap cup of acrid coffee from the opening minutes of the episode.

And the minutes in the middle too. And the end.

After shopping and whatnot and the restaurants are set up, Josie tells Kristen she's going to get started on the stock for her bouillabaisse. A bit later, Kristen asks how the stock is going and Josie says she hasn't started yet. Still later, we find that Josie is going to finish other prep work and leave the stock for the next day. Kristen starts a slow boil of her own.

Over on Sheldon's side of the world, everything seems to be running smoothly. It would have been interesting to see the dynamic if Micah were still around. Would he have been helpful, or would his ego have gotten in the way? Would it have caused him to float up into the sky like a hot air balloon?

The next day, Josie is taking her sweet time with her stock. Kristen's inner control freak is really freaking out, and she's having a hard time letting Josie deal with her own dish.

Brooke (who is also working front of the house) and Lizzie are getting their dishes done without any drama. And Sheldon's team is still drama-free, despite Stefan up front.

And then the guests start arriving. The judges - including Danny Meyer, Emeril, and Gail - hit Atelier Kwan right away. Kristen has decided that the kitchen will plate everything a la minute, which makes things slow right off the bat. It doesn't help when the waitstaff mixes up orders and dishes need to be refired.

Lizzie's take on charcuterie comes out first, and it's a big hit. She's used rabbit, but instead of making rillettes or paté, she's made a soup, adding pickled turnips and beets for a nice acid bite. Josie's bouillabaisse comes next. Originally, the plan had been to thicken the stock with leaf gelatin, but since she was taking so fucking long, Kristen told her to thicken the stock with cream, instead. And even though it was Josie's dish, Kristen insisted it should be plated in a particular way. The judges found the various seafood items to be either over- or under-cooked, and the sauce practically non-existent. The third course was Kristen's boeuf bourguignon. Guess the girl didn't watch past seasons of Top Chef, otherwise she'd have known that if she calls a dish boeuf bourguignon, it had better be boeuf bourguignon. Tom especially hates things that are not named properly. Where was the wine in the dish? Otherwise, it was well cooked and tasty, but the judges have to hate. The next course is a cheese course from Brooke that mostly works. And finally, a dessert from Kristen, which she calls a macaron, when it's clearly cake. Indignation and bile rise again in the throats of the judges who hastily retreat to the other restaurant. How. Dare. She!

Meanwhile, at Urbano, Stefan is having a hard time getting rid of lingering customers. There's a gaggle of people at the door, and he's long given up plying them with alcohol. And you just know this is a producer set-up. All of the guests have been invited by either Bravo or Magical Elves, and there's no reason on God's green earth why they wouldn't get up and leave after eating unless the producers told them to linger. And lingering makes Stefan look bad, because the man has no patience. Eventually he gets a table freed for the judges, but Tom, et. al., notice the line of potential patrons not being liquored-up and become disgruntled.

Thankfully the food at Urbano is good. Really good. From Stefan's initial raw fish dish to Sheldon's adobo to Mustache's take on halo halo, the judges can't find fault. Except with Stefan and his service, which was so bad, he didn't even bother to come to the table and explain the third dish. This makes Padma make sour faces and roll her eyes, and Tom look even more cranky and constipated than usual.

After dinner, Padma wants to send Stefan to jail without passing go or collecting $100, but the judges also hated Josie's dish. They adjourn to Judges' Table to deliberate. Everyone stands judgment and after some whining and bitching from the judges, Sheldon's restaurant is declared the winner, and Sheldon gets a new Toyota with a trunk full of melted Healthy Choice entrees and warm Canada Dry ginger ale.

Sheldon's team goes back to stew, and Kristen and Josie are read the riot act over the bouillabaisse. Rather than throwing Josie under the bus for her slow-poke sauce-making, Kristen falls on her sword. It's her fault that someone else's dish tasted like shit, and also that she called two dishes something they weren't. TWO DISHES. That's practically grounds for beheading in Top Chefland. And rather than kicking off someone who has barely been hanging on for the run of the show, the judges send Kristen home. Stefan is verklempt, and he tells her he loves her.

::::collective eyeroll::::

But Kristen wins "Last Chance Kitchen," so she'll likely be back in a couple of weeks, along with whomever wins the "Save a Chef" thing.

Honestly, this show is such bullshit. And I am so sick and tired of those stupid Healthy Choice commercials. If the judges want something to complain about, they should try eating that flavorless garbage.

Next week: I have no idea. I was too blinded by rage to watch the preview.

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