Thursday, October 01, 2020


From time to time we get a delivery of farm fresh produce from Washington's Green Grocer. A recent box included a fat savoy cabbage. I took one look at that thing and thought "golabki." (I suppose if I were more Ukrainian, I might have thought "halupki.") I had never made golabki (the word is pronounced "go-woomp-key" and means "pigeons") before, but that wasn't going to stop me. Once upon a time I had never made, well, anything that I make now. There's always a first time.

Genetically, I am very much Eastern European. Yet I seldom, if ever, cook food from that part of the world. I think if my grandmother had been younger when I was born, and up to cooking more labor-intensive dishes like pierogi and golabki and kruschiki (oh my!), I may have learned some recipes. Or would even have had the inclination to try making these things for myself. But she mostly made soups and stews, easy things that involved throwing a bunch of ingredients in a pot and adding a handful of peppercorns. (I'm not kidding. Every mouthful of Grandma's chicken/beet/beef/sorrel soup revealed hidden spicy pepper bombs that blew out the palate for a couple of minutes.) My mother was more of a convenience foods cook, and she never made anything more complicated than Shake 'N Bake when I was growing up.

But Golabki are cabbage rolls stuffed with a combination of ground beef and rice and sauced with Campbell's Tomato soup. How hard could they be?

I looked at a couple of source recipes, including ones my cousin Dianne had sent me last year. One was her grandmother's recipe. It looked good, but those old recipes are always a bit underseasoned--aka plain--for my palate. I decided to do a riff on the classic, but with additional onions, garlic, and fresh thyme from my garden, to perk it up a bit. And tomato soup was fine, but I thought it could be better with the addition of diced tomatoes and tomato paste.

I am too fancy for my own good sometimes.

I gotta say though, my changes worked out for the best. I hadn't had stuffed cabbage in ages, so didn't have a nostalgic taste in my mind's palate, waiting to taunt me if my version didn't taste as good as my memory. My cabbage rolls were pretty damn good, if I do say so. I served them with some green beans and the leftover rice. You can serve them with whatever you want.

Aren't these pretty? Raw golabki look like fancy green brains.


1 large savoy cabbage
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper
1.5 lb fatty ground beef
1 cup cooked rice
1 egg
1 can condensed tomato soup
Chicken stock - 2 or more cups
1 can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Cut out the core of the cabbage and gently lower the head into the boiling water. Blanch about 10 minutes. If you notice the outer leaves softening and starting to float away from the rest of the cabbage, remove them as it happens. You don't want to cook the leaves, per se, just soften them enough to fold around a filling.

Remove the cabbage from the pot and blot it dry. Remove as many whole leaves as possible. The center of the cabbage will still be crunchy, so stop when you get to that point. I got about 19 leaves out of my medium-large cabbage. Set the nicest and larges leaves aside; reserve the rest. Discard the uncooked cabbage center or use it for slaw.

While the cabbage is cooking, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring regularly, until softened. Add the thyme and season with salt and pepper. Let the onions get slightly browned before turning off the heat and allowing them to cool completely.

In a large bowl, place the ground beef, rice, egg, cooled onion mixture, and additional salt and pepper to taste. Blend well to combine. Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow flavors to meld.

Time to fill the leaves. If any of them have a tough bit of vein at the end where they were attached to the head, cut it out. Add a few generous tablespoons of filling to the stem end of the leaf. Fold over the top, then the sides, and roll up. You will probably only get one or maybe 1 1/2 turns.

Use the torn and leftover leaves to line the bottom of a large pot. Arrange the filled cabbage parcels in concentric circles in as many layers as needed. Pour over the condensed soup. Fill the soup can with chicken stock to rinse it and add that to the pot. Dump on the can of tomatoes. Mix the tomato paste with a cup of stock and add that, too. If the liquid level doesn't reach to about halfway up the topmost layer of cabbage parcels, add enough stock to do that.

Bring pot to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, cover pot and turn heat down to simmer. Cook 1 hour. Remove the cover and continue cooking for another hour. If you want a thicker sauce, turn up the heat for the last 20 minutes or so. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if needed.

Makes 12-15 rolls.

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Friday, August 14, 2020

Happy Anniversary to Minxeats!

It's hard to believe that Minxeats has been around for 15 years already! I actually started blogging in 2014; my first blog was knitting-related and segued into other subjects. I realized I enjoyed eating more than knitting, so a food blog was the next most sensible step. 

In the last 15 years, I've made 2,678 posts and had nearly 2 million visitors. The fist post was about dim sum. My most popular post was on French Fry Hash Browns, and the next most popular recipe post was Mr Minx's tofu stir-fry

Thanks to Minxeats readers over the years for hanging in with us. I don't know how much longer we'll be doing this, but it will be at least a few more years.

* 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. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, June 19, 2020

Top Chef Season 17 All Stars Recap - Episode Fourteen

Greetings, Readers! Writing this week's recap has got me a bit verklempt. Not only is this the last Top Chef recap that I'll write for a while (maybe ever), but it also marks the end of fourteen long weeks of staying home, socially distancing, and all that other good stuff. When this season of Top Chef started, I was pretty sure I'd be back at work by this point. Back to the usual routine of twice daily bus rides fully of smelly and rude people, sitting in an overly-cold office for 8 hours, daily walks around Oriole Park at Camden Yards, listening to my co-workers chatting loudly instead of working, and watching the weirdo who eschews wearing shoes walking up and down the filthy hall carpet on his way to the even dirtier men's room down the hall. But no. I am still at home, with a 1 minute commute from bedroom to dining room table/work desk, which I share with my husband of 20 years (jesus christ, when did that happen?). The only thing--other than my employment and relationship status--that has remained constant in my life, pre- and during the pandemic, is my thoughts of food. I think of food pretty much every waking hour of my life. What to eat, how it will be prepared, where to obtain it. I conjure up recipes in my head regularly, not always bringing them to fruition, but enjoying the process nonetheless. Food is what has kept me somewhat sane over the last three months. To that end, I have enjoyed Top Chef this season because the show is primarily about food. But it is also about a group of people who have spent a great deal of concentrated time together and so have become good friends. And I have envied the interactions between these people, watching them coexist these last 14 weeks, even as I have not been able to see and touch my own friends. Of course, these same chefs have also had to endure the trials and tribulations of pandemic life just as I have, but with the added burden of wondering if their businesses will ever recover. Will life ever be the same? Will we ever have the relative frivolity of a food competition show like Top Chef again?

I'm going to try to make this recap brief. But then I say that every time and fail miserably.

There's no Quickfire again this week. The cheftestants--Bryan, Melissa, and Stephanie--find a note from Padma that urges them to eat breakfast before meeting her on the very foggy and damp terrace. Tom's there too, and they both compliment the chefs' performances so far before reminding them that their next challenge involves the best four course meal of their lives. Again Padma stresses that it be a progressive meal, which, as I have stated before, normally refers to a meal eaten in various locations rather than at one table. But I think the Top Chef meaning of the word is a meal that goes from appetizer to dessert. Not four courses of soup, or pie, or pate en croute. They want soup to nuts, but not necessarily soup or nuts. 

Out of the fog emerge their helpers for the contest: Kevin, Malarkey, and surprisingly, LeeAnne. Gregory has not been feeling well (his back still acting up, I assume) so LeeAnne agreed to take his place. Big of her to agree to travel to Italy, huh? The Final Three draw knives to determine who chooses first. Stephanie is number one and her choice is...Malarkey? She claims she chose him for his skill and enthusiasm. Bryan then chooses his bestie Kevin, leaving Melissa with LeeAnne.

Each pair gets their own SUV and heads off to do meal planning and shopping in Florence. Melissa of course is planning to continue her fusion (though she admits its a dirty word) of Italian and Chinese cuisine. Lee Anne is very opinionated, offering strong advice on how to prepare octopus and suggestions for ingredients Melissa might want to incorporate into her dishes. Melissa, however, is able to say no and shoots down most of Lee Ann's ideas. Stephanie tells Malarkey that she is going to make several things that she's made in the past, dishes that mean something to her. Personally, I think they sound a little done, particularly the kataifi-wrapped shrimp, which was a thing a few years back. Hopefully she doesn't shoot herself in the foot. Or shoot Malarkey for being annoying. Finally, Bryan--who last episode was deeply wounded by criticism that his food has no heart--wants to make dishes that are less his usual modernist tweezerings and more food with soul.

After spending a thousand euros on ingredients (much like my weekly food budget these days), the cheftestants head back to the Renaissance and cook for 5 hours. Everyone seems very enthusiastic about their menus. After the day's cooking is complete, they head off to a farmhouse in the countryside for a dinner promised to them by Tom. In a rather lovely twist, the meal has been prepared entirely by Tom, Padma, and Gail. It's a very nice gesture.

We then see our trio of finalists at home, skyping with their loved ones. Stephanie chats with her BFF Kristin Kish, winner of Top Chef season 10, whom she met in culinary school. (Stephanie also participated in that season, but was eliminated in one of the initial qualifying rounds.) Melissa converses with her excited mama, and Bryan calls Michael Voltaggio for some supportive brotherly love.

The next day, the chefs have another three hours to finish their dishes and serve them to a group of highly regarded chefs including Marcus Samuelsson. Their first courses are well-regarded by the judges, whose only quibble seems to be that Melissa's char siu sauce is a bit sweet. Tom praises Stephanie's kataifi shrimp, saying it's perfectly cooked. (So maybe the judges aren't sick of that particular dish quite yet.) The dish reminds Stephanie of her late brother, and her tears cause Gail to shed a few herself. Each of the three finalists serve pasta for their second course--so appropriate in Italy--and these dishes are also praised. There are a few more issues with the third course, mostly with Stephanie's veal breast dish which is a little dry. Bryan's squid ink foccaccia is also criticized for not being absorbent enough. (By the looks of it, it wasn't foccaccia, either.) Dessert also seems to please the diners, which means the judging will be difficult. 

You all know that I've been rooting for Bryan, who was competing on Top Chef for the third and final (so he says) time. You all also know that he didn't win any Quickfire Challenges and few Elimination Challenges this season. So something was off with him this time around. If Bryan couldn't win, I would have loved to see Stephanie get the prize. She was clearly an underdog who came on strong toward the end of the competition. Melissa was strong the whole season and clearly a chef to be reckoned with. And while I liked her just fine, and loved her concept of adding Chinese elements to just about everything she prepared (Chinese cuisine is my very favorite), she was not my choice to win.

So of course she won.

Congratulations to Melissa King for an amazing run. She's the winningest competitor ever, and only the 6th woman in 17 seasons to earn the title of Top Chef. She was also the Fan Favorite.

Sorry, Bryan, you will always be my favorite.

* 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. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, June 12, 2020

Top Chef Season 17 All Stars Recap - Episode Thirteen

I went to the office yesterday for the first time in 12+ weeks. It was strange. Only my supervisor was there, plus a guy from another department. The corridors were dark, the air was silent. And I kinda liked it. My regular readers probably have figured out that I don't like people very much, with few exceptions, so I found the deserted hallways soothing. Still, I'd rather not go back to work anytime soon. The occasional visit to do some essential chore that cannot be done from home is fine, but working from home is a life change that I have definitely gotten behind.

That is not true of the culinary world, of course. Thirteen weeks into the pandemic and restaurant people are tired of losing money. Honestly, I get it. But opening restaurants for indoor dining isn't going to help the bottom line very much. Restaurants need 80% capacity to survive, not 50%. Maryland is opening restaurants today at 5pm, after only a week of outdoor dining. Frankly, I'm sick to my stomach that businesses are valued more than people (and remember, I don't like people). We (that is, the state of Maryland) haven't yet finished our first wave of the virus but apparently are eager to get started on the second. Good luck to those people who are so desperate to get out and be aspirated on by others. My husband and I will continue to stay at home.

On to today's recap, which should be fairly short as there was no Quickfire Challenge.

When the episode begins, our remaining four cheftestants--Stephanie, Melissa, Kevin, and Bryan--are still facing Judges' Table. Prosecco Padma is still babbling on in half-Italian, half-English. She tells the chefs that super sponsor San Pellegrino is sending them to Parma in Emilia-Romagna where they will embark on a food tour of two of the region's most important foods: Parmesan cheese and Prosciutto. Their tour guide will be Lorenzo Cogo, the youngest chef to receive a Michelin star in Italy.

Padma also reveals the next Elimination Challenge, in which each of them will be responsible for two dishes, a primi and secondi--essentially a pasta course and a meat course--featuring the region's prized cheese and ham. These delights will be served up to a gaggle of Michelin-star-winning chefs who will judge the chefs harshly because they are stupid Americans who don't understand Italian food.

The next morning, they drive through the gorgeous countryside to their first destination, a cheese factory called Caseificio Gennari, where they don stylish blue coveralls and caps so they don't get their American filth on the product.

They are gifted with an 80-pound wheel of Parmesan to use in their dishes. Bryan hoists it on his shoulder and they are off to their next destination, Ruliano. There they taste some of the prized ham of the region, are told they should never cook the ham, and receive a leg of prosciutto to take with them. Bryan hoists it on the other shoulder and books a flight back to the states.

Shopping for this contest involves a series of adorable markets in Parma, where the produce is gorgeous despite it being November. Stephanie picks out a giant cabbage that looks like it just came out of the ground. Kevin finds some beautiful red and white borlotti beans in their pods. Bryan purchases a fish with bright red gills--a sure sign of freshness. Melissa sees scallops and thinks of XO sauce, which is made with dried scallops and Jinua ham. She feels prosciutto might be a good way to link her Chinese heritage with Italian food.

After shopping, the chefs head to Antica Corte Pallavicini where they will dine, spend the night, and prepare their meal. In that order. Before dinner, they wander through a creepy cellar full of hanging hams; Melissa wonders if a serial killer will make an appearance. They have a ham tasting, and Kevin is in hog heaven.

We seem him close his eyes in ecstasy, make that swishing movement with his mouth as if he was tasting wine, and have a porkgasm right on the spot. But the tasting is just foreplay for the main meal, a multi-course dinner during which the cheftestants do the inevitable musing about their "journey" to that point. God, I hate that word used in that way.

The next day, the chefs hit the kitchen and commence to cookery. Stephanie, despite the admonishment not to cook the prosciutto, decides to use it as a substitute for meat in a ragu. In other words, she uses a shit-ton of the precious ingredient, cuts it into tiny cubes, and cooks the hell out of it. For her second dish, she's putting slices of prosciutto within cuts in her cabbage and braising the whole thing. Again, defying the recommendation that she not cook the meat. Daring and perhaps dumb, but she's feeling confident. Melissa, too, is working with the prosciutto in an unconventional manner by using it in her XO sauce. She's working the parm into her primi as a flavoring element for her brodo. She's also using the French technique of making a raft--a mixture of coagulated egg and other ingredients that floats on top of and draws impurities out of a stock--in order to clarify it. It's a fiddly thing to do; she accidentally allows the raft to break, so she has to start over.

On the boys' side of the room, they're going in the opposite direction by barely draping the required porcine product over their dishes. Kevin found some pork at the market and is just tickled with his plan to make pork with pork on top. He's using the borlotti beans to make a pasta i fagioli with a Parmesan garnish added at the table. Bryan is making pasta alla chitarra which he will top with an egg and a nasty foamed up version of Parmesan fonduta that looks like marshmallow fluff. Mr Technique is also doing bass draped with prosciutto on top of a pumpkin seed pesto.

Prosecco Padma et al enter the dining room. Apparently the chefs gathered were the recipients of a collective 16 Michelin stars. Most are Italian natives, excluding California chef Evan Funke. His Italian accent is nonexistent but he is a master of pasta. It's a tough crowd.

The girls present first and leave elated. Despite cooking the prosciutto, Stephanie gets raves for both her pasta and the sauce which was well-balanced with both ham and cheese. Melissa's use of Parmesan rind in her brodo along with the Asian flavor of yuzu created something that had great depth of flavor. Then the boys get kicked in the head. Kevin's bean stew is fine, but the tablespoon of parm he adds at the table makes the dish too salty. And Bryan's pasta is good, but the judges don't like his aerated parm fonduta. I mean, they really hate it. Possibly because they expected to taste marshmallow fluff.

Both Stephanie and Melissa are praised for their secondi, braised cabbage with fonduta and scallop with XO and radicchio, respectively. Kevin's dish, however, is "not so good-a" because his pork is tough and the drape of prosciutto seems more like an afterthought. Bryan basically treated the ham the same way, but it's his pesto that gets slammed. Apparently it doesn't work-a well with the other ingredients.

Bryan should probably change his last name to something far less ethnic, cuz his Italian card just got revoked.

Judges' Table is pretty predictable. Evan Funke joins Pads, Tom, and Gail for the party and they roundly praise both Stephanie and Melissa. Stephanie points to herself, "me?"

She's surprised that she is going on to the finale, though Melissa is actually the winner of this challenge. That means the boys are on the bottom. Bryan's dishes may not have had soul, but at least the pasta he made was the best of the evening. Kevin isn't so lucky. His pork "ate tough" and was overseared, his raviolo was too salty, and the ingredient he was supposed to feature--the prosciutto--was an afterthought. Kevin thought his cooking was soulful, and maybe it had more soul than Bryan's, but the technical flaws were enough to send him home.

I'm happy that Bryan gets to go on to the finale, but I had hoped he'd get there on his own merit, rather than slipping through because someone else's food was worse than his. I'm sure he feels the same way.

Next week: the cheftestants will need to cook the best 4-course meal of their lives, along with a little help from their friends Kevin, Malarkey, and LeeAnne. Looks like Bryan is getting an advantage working with Kevin. Will opinionated LeeAnne sink Melissa, who looks to be the strongest chef in this competition? And how will Stephanie fare paired with Malarkey? Stay tuned!

* 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. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, June 05, 2020

Top Chef Season 17 All Stars Recap - Episode Twelve

I'm not sure what I'm going to do when Top Chef is done and I'll have to remember what week it is on my own. Six weeks ago I made steak for dinner in hopeful celebration of the mid-point of quarantine. (Yes, I know we're not technically in quarantine. It's just easier to say/type than "stay-at-home.") Six weeks later, we're still in the thick of it, despite states (including my own--Maryland) lifting restrictions on dining out and getting haircuts and tattoos. The first wave isn't over, people. We don't need to start a second one so soon. Hey, but there are 6000 open ICU beds in the state, so go on and have fun! You deserve it!

This week on Top Chef--a much happier and less-contentious place than the world in which we currently live--the Final Five go abroad to do more cooking. They pack their bags, say "arrivederci" to the Top Chef Mansion, and head to the airport. We see them checking in and dining in the first class lounge, which seems extravagant. So much so that Kevin wonders if Padma and Tom are supposed to be there but got stuck flying "Jet Malarkey." While lounging in their first class seats-that-become-beds, the chefs are served what appears to be real food, judging by the steak on Kevin's plate. They probably drink a whole lot, too.

We don't get to see our weary cheftestants going through customs in Rome. (I presume that one of the pre-show requirements is to have valid passports, likely snatched up by the producers on the first day of filming.) but we do see them traveling the 3+ hours to their home-away-from-home in Tuscany, the Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa in Castelvecchio Pascoli. Sign me up for that spa, baby! After spending nearly three months using my dining room table as a desk, my back and shoulders are killing me. The scenery on the way there is so beautiful. Who wants to run away to Tuscany with me? Bryan?

Before the cheftestants head to beddy-bye, they find a note from Padma reminding them that it's not all fun and games. The next day they'll be expected to meet her in Lucca, an ancient city in the northwest of Tuscany. 

True to her word, Padma has materialized in Lucca with Filippo Saporito of Michelin-starred La Leggenda dei Frati. (I can skip this place when we go to Tuscany; I'm not wealthy enough to enjoy a menu of chicken liver terrine, beef tartare, maccheroni, lamb, and zuccotto for €115.) Champagne Padma announces that she's ready for Happy Hour and the cheftestants are all for it. Prosecco Padma goes on to say that in Italy, there's a tradition called "aperitivo." Saporito offers that aperitivo snacks should be small and eaten with one hand, so the other hand can hold onto a beer. Only he said it with a heavy Italian accent. Fortunately for the cheftestants, Prosecco Padma speaks fluent Italian. Fortunately for us, there were subtitles.

The Quickfire Challenge is to make aperitivo schnacks using Peroni beer for 30 locals plus Pads and Fil in 45 minutes. Oh, and they have to use workstations that contain only foods particular to one of five regions of Italy. Believe it or not, folks, there's more to Italian food than lasagne, pizza, and sketti and meatballs (which aren't even eaten together there)! It looks cold in Lucca, as it's probably mid-to-late October at this point, but the chefs are still going to cook outdoors. They are possibly jet-lagged, but Asti Spumante Padma demands to be fed so they must comply. Plus, there's a 10K prize on the line for the winner.

Bryan needs to win a Quickfire, but right off the bat things go wrong. He decides that his original idea of lamb chops with gremolata is a bore, but then he can't find breadcrumbs for scalloppine, either. With time running out, he opts for tartare, which isn't a familiar dish for his region.

I'm not sure how he incorporated enough beer into the dish, but considering he hasn't paid attention to the QF directions all season, he wasn't about to start now. Annnnndddd....of course he ends up on the bottom. He's used far too much raw garlic, which Fil says is not good for talking with friends. Stephanie's odd venison and gorgonzola en carozza (essentially Italian grilled cheese) is tough, putting her on the bottom as well. But Fil and Pads like Melissa's mussels, Gregory's cuttlefish, and Kevin's polenta with prosciutto and radicchio agrodolce. Kevin is declared the ultimate winner and in about a year will receive a check for 10K from Peroni. 

Tom and his hat then saunter into camera range. Together, he and Franchiacorta Padma announce the Elimination Challenge. The cheftestants will be able to cook any dishes their heart desires--for 100 guests at a Tuscan Food Festival--as long as they use white truffles. But first: they're going truffle hunting with people from Savini Truffles and two very cute doggos.

The dogs are relentless hunters of the fragrant tuber, which unlike black truffles, are much better when eaten raw. After observing the dogs unearth thousands of euros worth of fungus, the chefs are sent to Il Alimento Totale to do their shopping. Shopping in Italy is apparently difficult if Lambrusco Padma is not around to translate. Which she isn't. She's probably sippin' the bub somewhere.

The next day, the chefs head into the kitchen at L'Imbuto for three hours of food prep. Stephanie, who originally planned to make egg drop soup, has switched to pasta. She makes a radicchio sauce to go with and finds that it just tastes gross. 

Rather than toss it, she puts in a ton of butter and hopes for the best. Kevin finds that he's picked up wild boar in addition to pork and veal for his meatballs. Curse those poor foreign language skills! (The only foreign language skills I have involve food terms. Cinghiale is the Italian word for boar. Doesn't everyone know that?) Gregory is struggling with back pain and has had a couple of shots (lemoncello? sambuca?) to help deal with it. They will all Make It Work. (Wait - that's Project Runway....) Melissa cleverly combines Asian and Italian elements in a congee dish, and Bryan is doing veal with potatoes. 

After prep, they pack up their foodstuffs and head to the festival site. As they're finishing the cooking, Brachetto d'Acqui Padma, Gail, Tom, Chef Cristiano Tomei of L'Imbuto, and truffle dude Cristiano Savini arrive to taste. They feel that the spicing of Kevin's meatballs competes too much with the truffles. Though Stephanie used tiny dollops of her bitter radicchio glop, it was still too much. But they do like her pasta. Gregory's wild boar stew is great, but despite lashings of truffle shavings, their delicate flavor disappears. Melissa's congee with fried garlic and salami pleased the judges, though they'd dump the cold cuts. Bryan's truffled potatoes--dispensed from a whipped cream canister--offer the purest truffle flavor of all.

It looks like Bryan might get a win, but no, they give it to Melissa.

As for the bottom three, the judges have a hard time deciding who should go home. All three dishes were good, but all had issues. Stephanie's pasta is good enough to keep her safe, but Kevin's and Gregory's dishes didn't allow the truffle to sing. 

Gregory goes home. He says that he gave 110% to the competition. Perhaps he should have kept it at 100%.

Next week, which is the penultimate episode and not the final: Bryan wrestles with a giant wheel of Parmesan cheese--and wins! Wins the battle with the cheese....

* 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. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, May 29, 2020

Top Chef Season 17 All Stars Recap - Episode Eleven

Welcome to the end of Week Eleven! Is everyone still relatively sane out there? I know I get close to wigging out sometimes, but so far I have kept it together. No shame if you haven't, of course. Some people are having a hard time with all of this isolation. I'm not a people person, and I actually like staying home, so it's less difficult for me than for others.

While it's still Pandemic Central in the US, with who knows how many weeks to go, we're almost done with this season of Top Chef! Two weeks of finale and that's it. I feel like it flew by pretty quickly, especially compared to the last couple of seasons I watched. (They were interminably long, at least 47 weeks each.) This season has also been helped greatly by the handsome presence of Bryan Voltaggio. I'd better be getting two more weeks of him!

So what happened this week? First, we got the results of Last Chance Kitchen. Kevin was the reigning champ, and he kept his title by beating last week's ejection, Karen. But that wasn't enough! Once Karen was out, the final five cheftestants swaggered into the kitchen. They weren't late to the party, they were the next part of the challenge. Tom announces that despite his exhaustion, Kevin would need to fight three more matches, and if he won 2 of the 3, he'd get back into the main competition. His new opponents were of his choosing: Bryan, Malarkey, and Gregory. The latter two went down, so Kevin was back in the game. We knew that was going to happen, right? But suppose he didn't beat 2 of 3? Would Last Chance Kitchen have been an exercise in futility? Well, apart from Karen coming back a few weeks ago. But she was eliminated again, so yes, maybe futility is the right word.

The next day, after Kevin gets some well-deserved rest, the now-six cheftestants head to the Top Chef Kitchen and find tipsy Padma, drunk on Champagne, lounging in airline-style seats with Jonathan Waxman. Waxman is a pioneer of California Cuisine, but Padma says his biggest achievement is being her friend. Hello, Champagne Padma! (Thank you, Stephanie, for that nickname.) This alter ego reminds me of the old Cannabis Padma--a little off. Definitely slower. Perhaps more fun. Or not. I'm not sure Padma is ever fun. (Keep in mind, Padma's Lawyers, that I am being satirical here, also, offering an opinion.) Anyhoo...the Quickfire Challenge involves making a memorable meal that might be served on an airplane. It must include salad or veg in addition to a main course. Items need to be only as tall as the service trays, as they must be able to fit in an airplane cooker.

Bryan laments that he hasn't yet won a quickfire. Maybe if he followed the rules once in a while? But he's oblivious - he's just cooking VOLT food all the time. It's as if he doesn't own other restaurants that don't serve tweezer food. He's decided to make braised chicken thighs with green lentils and a side salad with green goddess dressing. Will that be enough to win him a prize? (I can't eat lentils, not even for Bryan. If I were a judge, the answer would be...of course he wins! I am biased.)

Meanwhile, Champagne Padma offers Jonathan some nuts to nibble (not hers). She also inquires as to his favorite (probably his own).

Knives down! Padma and Jonathan stay where they are--seated, with champagne--and the cheftestants bring the food to them. Padma struggles with the parchment that Stephanie used for her rockfish en papillotte, and with cutting Malarkey's tough pork chop. Are both dishes really that difficult to deal with, or is it the champagne? Annnnd....Bryan's lentils are undercooked. Champagne Padma dings the three of for their offenses. Meanwhile, both she and Jonathan enjoyed Kevin's meatballs, though they were a bit too tall. Melissa's beef curry served with tofu salad was the biggest hit of the day, however, earning her the win and a benefit in the next challenge.

Champagne Padma then reveals the location of this season's finale: Tuscany. Only five of the six remaining cheftestants will go. Everyone wants to go. I want to go. (Maybe not right now, but someday.)  First, the Elimination Challenge, which is to create a dish inspired by the food and philosophy of Michael's Santa Monica, an iconic restaurant celebrating its 40th anniversary. Jonathan Waxman worked there, along with a pantheon of cooking greats: Roy Yamaguchi; Sang Yoon; Mark Peel. Even Top Chef winner Brooke Williamson. The cheftestants will visit the restaurant for dinner and to meet owner Michael McCarty, a pioneer of California Cuisine.

After the chefs shower and change, all six of them pile into one Sponsorship Mobile and head to the restaurant. Bryan is driving, as usual. He must enjoy sitting in traffic. Once at the restaurant, they are served some classic Michael's dishes by current chef Brian Bornemann. They include an angel hair pasta with chardonnay cream sauce and diver scallops, grilled quail, and heirloom beet risotto with monkfish wrapped in crispy prosciutto (courtesy of Brooke Williamson, who was a sous at Michael's by the tender age of 19). Then comes sweetbreads with veal loin, chanterelle mushrooms and white truffle, followed by grilled lamb saddle with potato galette and red currant cassis sauce. Finally, they get duck two ways, a grilled breast and confit thigh with wild rice and blood orange sauce. The knife block appears, and Melissa gets her advantage. She chooses the dish she wants to reinterpret first. The remaining chefs choose knives.

Melissa: quail
Kevin: duck
Stephanie: scallops
Bryan: lamb
Gregory: monkfish
Malarkey: veal

After dinner there's shopping. Back at the Top Chef Mansion, bros Kevin and Bryan chatter about being able to go to Italy together. And Malarkey facetimes his kids Sailor and Schmailor. It's their 9th birthday, and dad's a schmuck because he has to be away, feeding his enormous ego in yet another cooking competition, missing time with his family. Womp womp.

The next day, the chefs travel to Michael's and get set up in the tiny kitchen, which is apparently 80s style. It's so jam packed with pans, squeeze bottles of condiments, and other kitchen paraphernalia, it looks like my kitchen. I hope they have more counter space than I do. Everybody tells us what they're going to cook, and I groan when I hear that Malarkey is going to make a duo. Duos are pretty much the kiss of death on Top Chef, and he knows it. But he filled his shopping cart with pomegranate and other fruit that aren't going to work with truffles, and he has to use them somehow. Gregory is making a risotto, which also tends to be unpopular with the judges. Melissa is going to Asian-ify her quail, which makes sense from a culinary standpoint, and Kevin's decision to turn duck confit and wild rice into a croquette sounds amazing. Bryan is going to elevate the shit out of his lamb, because that's what he does. I can almost hear the tweezers clicking.

Jonathan Waxman joins Tom on the Sniff N Sneer. He's such a pleasant-seeming person; I always enjoy seeing him.

Out in the restaurant, the judges arrive and take their place at a long center table, with other invited foodies filling the remainder of the room. Champagne Padma is nowhere in sight. Instead we get regular Boring Padma. Will someone please bring her a bottle and a glass?

Gregory's dish comes out with Stephanie's. His monkfish and beet risotto was meant be accompanied by a crispy prosciutto chip, but he remembered them just as time was up--too late. Jonathan claims to love his interpretation, but was expecting that porky bit. Though everyone seemed to enjoy Stephanie's version of scallops and pasta, served with fancy little caramelle, Roy Yamaguchi opined that it was one dimensional. Bryan's treatment of lamb, served with fondant potato, was simple and refined, but lacked "wow." Kevin's duck dish was a hit, especially the croquette.

Some of Malarkey's specially-plated dishes didn't make it to the judges; apparently other diners got to enjoy them. But the judges were probably full by then and were willing to share. As usual, there were too many things on his plate. His "duo" was essentially two separate and disparate dishes, ones that didn't taste good together. Finally, Melissa's quail was deemed to have highlighted the bird itself, always a plus.

Back at the kitchen, Melissa wins and is the first to reserve a seat to Tuscany. Jonathan tells Stephanie that the race was close between her dish and Melissa's, so she's going to Italy as well. And so are Bryan and Kevin, who jump up and down and embrace each other. But will it be Gregory or Malarkey getting that final plane ticket? While the judges missed Greg's crisp prosciutto and felt the fish got lost, Malarkey's dishes didn't evoke the original Michael McCarty dish. Malarkey starts a speech about being exhausted and having had a great ride. Padma wants to know if he's quitting.

He doesn't have to quit. Malarkey is out. Finally. (Not that I don't like him, I just find him annoying.)

Next week: Part one of the finale, in Italy!

* 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. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Monday, May 25, 2020

Appreciating What We Have

Today is Memorial Day, and I know many of you are griping that you cannot celebrate the holiday the way you would like. There will be no large family gatherings (at least, there shouldn't be) or neighborhood block parties (again, there shouldn't be), or gatherings of clustered maskless folks in enclosed spaces (once more--there shouldn't be). Honestly, I don't care what your state tells you is ok, it's most likely not. (I welcome you to come back in 6 weeks if there hasn't been a spike of cases and tell me I was wrong.)

This whole situation has been going on for ten weeks now, and honestly I have gotten pretty used to spending 80% of my time in my own dining room with no company other than my husband and our dog. Last week, however, we had the opportunity to get out of the house and socialize. It was Dara's birthday, and she invited friends to come over and sit on her lawn, 6'+ away from each other, to enjoy cake and company. We were to arrive in shifts, and fortunately our shift overlapped with that of other friends, the Keefers, whom we have not seen at all in 2020. We spent a good hour or more discussing life after Covid, the current season of Top Chef, and the local restaurant industry. I haven't had such a good time in, well, at least 10 weeks! And I realized that such simple pleasures--sitting in the sun, talking with friends--are among the most important things in life. Not haircuts and manicures or going to bars.

Stay well, readers. See you on Thursday for our next recap.

* 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. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, May 22, 2020

Top Chef Season 17 All Stars Recap - Episode Ten

Episode Ten, or, The Panna Cotta Caper.

Did I think, when I started recapping this season of Top Chef, that I'd still be doing it from home in Week 10? Yes, actually. I was thinking we'd be home at least 12 weeks, but it's looking like it will be far longer--for me at least. I feel like I have some form of Stockholm Syndrome. Not that I have fallen in love with my "captors," but that I have come to strongly agree with the whole stay at home thing and am not planning to go anywhere anytime soon. Sure, I miss hanging out with people, one or two in particular, but as an introvert, I don't crave it. I did get to spend a little time with a few friends this week--outside, 6+ feet apart, on a windy day--and it was nice. We talked about food, the fate of restaurants (one friend was a chef, another the doyenne of the Baltimore food scene), and Top Chef. My chef friend thinks Gregory has what it takes to win it all. Maybe Melissa. You all know I'm rooting for Bryan, but I don't dislike anyone this season. Hell, I'd be happy if Stephanie won, as she is very much the underdog in this competition.

I wasn't really feeling this episode. It wasn't exciting to me. But then very little is these days.

When the cheftestants enter the Top Chef Kitchen, they find Padma standing with Sherry Yard, pastry chef extraordinaire. Yard has won 3 James Beard awards and spent nearly 20 years as executive partner for Wolfgang Puck's restaurant group, in charge of pastries for Spago, etc., and is eminently qualified to judge the Quickfire Challenge.

Each cheftestant must create a dessert to wow Sherry. They have access to a basic pantry of flour, eggs, butter, etc, but they must "win" more exotic ingredients via a blind taste test. This Quickfire is my favorite every season, and it's nice to see it get a little twist. I get a perverse pleasure of watching people put strange things in their mouths. (Get your mind out of the gutter!) A spoonful of gloppy/milky/mealy ricotta cheese or hot sauce makes for some interesting facial expressions. This season, each chef gets 5 minutes to taste and identify as many of a selection of 20 items as possible. Items that are identified correctly may be used in their dish; also, the more correct, the more time they get to cook. Two chefs with the highest score get an hour, the two lowest get 30 minutes, and the two in the middle get 45 minutes.

Everyone leaves the room except Bryan, who starts off the blind tasting. His palate is good enough to score him 45 minutes of cooking; the same goes for Melissa. Stephanie has the highest score, with 15 of 20, and gets an hour, Gregory also gets an hour.

Karen and Malarkey suck balls at this game, correctly identifying 8 and 7 ingredients (out of 20) respectively, and get a mere 30 minutes to work. Honestly? Are their palates that bad? I'd love to participate in a blindfolded tastings and think I'd do pretty well.

I don't know why chefs choose to make panna cotta in a competition with a time crunch. Like Chopped. Thirty minutes isn't enough to get gelatin to set, even in a blast chiller. Karen finds that out the hard way. Malarkey is smarter, choosing to bake a cake in the wood oven. If one of those things can cook a pizza in 90 seconds, a cake shouldn't take much longer, huh? He also makes ice cream for the third time in this competition. Melissa was smart to have several desserts in her arsenal already, including an olive oil pistachio cake that she makes in a muffin tin and serves with a custard she turns into ice cream with the help of liquid nitrogen. Stephanie also uses science to make the ice cream to accompany her peach and tarragon crostata because the ice cream maker is still full of Malarkey's residue.

 And then we have Gregory and Bryan. Bryan has created desserts for his restaurants, so it's not like he doesn't know what he's doing. But maybe he doesn't? He serves a bowl of wet sawdust that is allegedly lychee curd with macerated peaches and coconut. Gregory also makes a bowl of that involves coconut and milk chocolate curd and a whole bunch of toppings but also looks like wet sawdust. Or even worse--oatmeal. I dunno. If I was served a bowl of curd with stuff on it in an expensive restaurant (which means it would be a $12 bowl of curd), I'd probably throw it at the chef and demand some cake.

Padma and Sherry are especially stone-faced. There seemed to be far more smiles and compliments during the last 9 tastings. These ladies find the most fault with Karen's un-set panna cotta, and Bryan's bowl of sawdust...not because it was sawdust, but because the ingredients were too flavorful and competed with each other. Melissa's and Malarkey's cakes put them on top, with Melissa getting the win and an advantage in the Elimination Challenge. Which is...

The Cheftestants will cook for a group of elite Olympic athletes making dishes inspired by Japan. Huh? Well, the Summer Olympics were going to be held in Japan this year. Yeah, I completely forgot this was an Olympics year, too. Emphasis on was. The event has been reschedule for 2021, and there's no saying it will happen then, either. But when Top Chef was filmed, last fall, there was no hint of the coronavirus disaster that would put much of our lives on hold. Ah, don't we all long for those good old days, those innocent times, to return? Those days of sitting in traffic as we commute to work, flipping the bird to those assholes who cut us off on the beltway, and buying gas more than once every 10 weeks! Those days of being able to push our shopping carts right up against the person ahead of us in line because we are in such a goddamn hurry to put our stuff on the conveyor belt! Those days before every toddler in the neighborhood had a skateboard, scooter, or bike and got in my way as I attempted to walk my kid-hating dog! (I quite miss those toddler-free days, actually.)

But I digress.

Before the chefs do anything, they get to eat some fancy Japanese grub. Niki Nakayama and Carole Iidi-Nakayama, co-owners of the restaurant n/Naka are on hand to feed the cheftestants and discuss the art of kaiseki, or a multi-course dinner of very special dishes. The challenge is for each chef to create one course of a 6-course progressive dinner to be served at the LA Coliseum. Now, I'm not sure why they felt the need to use the word "progressive." When used to describe a meal, it normally means that each course is eaten somewhere else, be it a home or restaurant. Though each course will be prepared by a different chef, it will be served in the same location to the same people sitting at the same table. Or will it? Perhaps, being that the diners are Olympic athletes, the chefs will be chasing them up and down the aisles while doing backflips? While that might be fun, it would smack too much of that terrible season filmed in Texas, specifically the episode in which the chefs were made to source ingredients while riding a bike around the Alamo in 110 degree heat. Ugh. Coincidentally, the finale that year was made to recreate the 2010 Winter Olympics, replete with events such as the biathlon (with guns!), cooking in a moving ski gondola, and the newest and perhaps most dangerous event, hacking ingredients frozen into a block of ice with an icepick. God, I hated that season.

And I digress yet again.

After the chefs ooh and aah over the delicate meal, Melissa gets to use her advantage. She chooses which course she wants before assigning the rest. But she's nice. Rather than stick her competitors with something they might not want, she attempts to match them to their strengths. Better to win (or lose) against strong competition. The bonus for this week's winner is a trip to the 2020 Olympics! Or wait...2021. (2022?) Much better than Gregory's prize of several weeks ago--a trip to his living room to watch the new Trolls movie while on a Zoom meeting with Nini, his date for the event.

The courses shake out like this:

1st course Sakizuke (app) - Bryan
2nd course Owan (soup) - Malarkey
3rd course Yakimono (grilled) - Karen
4th course Mushimono (steamed) - Melissa
5th course Shokuji (rice) - Gregory
6th course Mizumono (dessert) - Stephanie

This kind of thing seems particularly up Bryan's alley. His restaurant, Volt, in Frederick, Maryland, used to serve a 21-course meal called Table 21, a bargain at $120 per person. (Currently Chef's Counter is 15 courses for $150.) It's been 10 years since I ate Bryan's Voltaggio-style kaiseki, and if we ever get out of this pandemic (and if Volt is able to reopen), I think it's high time to experience it again. Mostly to see Bryan frown at me repeatedly while threatening me with tweezers. (Let me have my fantasy, ok?)

The cheftestants then hit up Whole Foods for a late night shopping trip (it's dark outside).

It's so dark that Malarkey calls Bryan by his brother's name. Though they have the same coloring, I don't think the two resemble each other all that much.

The next day, the chefs head to the iconic LA Coliseum. IIRC, the word "iconic" was bandied about a lot this week. It may even been used correctly. As they cook, the judges (including Nilou Motamed in place of lookalike Gail Simmons and both Nakayamas) arrive with athletes like gymnast Nastia Liukin and beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings. Bryan serves his scallop crudo dish first to many compliments. Malarkey, Karen, Melissa, and Gregory have all done something displeasing, be it a lack of acid or seasoning or an errant bit of crab shell. Stephanie is then roundly praised for her panna cotta served in a lemon.

Back in the kitchen, Padma announces that the unanimous winner of the challenge is Stephanie. Surprise! After Bryan looks sad, they tell him that they also loved his dish, which seems to mollify the loss. The two of of them are told to stand to the side as the remaining four chefs are scolded for their mistakes. Malarkey's celery root overwhelmed his dish. Karen's duck was unevenly cut and the skin should have been crisp. Melissa's chawanmushi was delicious but there were bits of shell. And Gregory's dish was a festival of bland.

You can probably tell that I ran out of steam while writing about the Quickfire. I think that happens every week. Please let me know if you want me to cut the narrative there and add more to the Elimination section of the recap. I might not do it, but at least I know.

Karen is out. Time to face Kevin (and apparently everyone else left) in Last Chance Kitchen.

Next week: something something almost over something.

* 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. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Monday, May 18, 2020

Pandemic Eats, Week 1-8, Home Edition

While we ate a lot of carry out and delivery food during the first 8 weeks of #stayhome, we also cooked regularly, too. Some of the food was completely from scratch, while other dishes repurposed restaurant leftovers. (I hate food waste, and you should, too.)

On the Tuesday of what would become Week One, I had tickets to The Band's Visit at the Hippodrome, and I had planned to take my friend Jeremy. The show was postponed pretty early on, so he and I made alternate plans. Those alternate plans were also changed by coronavirus. Plan C involved J coming over to make us Chinese dumplings, from scratch--wrappers and all. I was sous chef, and I am responsible for the horrible pleating on the dumplings. (I think we added too much water to the dough.) Still, they were delicious, particularly the fried ones.

I made gluten free apple pie for dessert, which we consumed with an Irish coffee on the side. Pierish coffee, as J calls it. It's not a thing, yet, but it should be.

My friend Laurie, @Baltimorehomecook on Instagram, started a project of making pasta and delivering it to folks. I can't turn down her homemade cavatelli, which I served with chopped up Italian cold cuts, spinach, parm, and fresh chives.

I was still attempting to continue Whole30 at this point, so these pancakes are made with Bob's Red Mill gluten free one-to-one flour.

Then I decided, since I wasn't losing anything, that I'd allow some gluten back into my life. Like the crust on this ham and brie quiche.

And the pumpernickel bread used for this toasted cheese sandwich served with a quick soup of canned tomatoes, cannellini, and stock, with fresh swiss chard.

Black bean soup with pickled watermelon radish yielded enough to stash a quart in the freeze for future eating.

Leftover pork tenderloin became an element on this salad, a riff on the classic nicoise, with a mustardy vinaigrette and potatoes. Cheese and nuts just because.

I found that beets make great lunch salads. I tried red, chioggia (candy stripe), and gold beets, and determined that the earthy flavor of red goes best with cheese (feta or bleu) and nuts (walnuts or anything else).

Turkey meatballs with creamy pesto were good for a couple of meals.

Ditto this pot roast, which we ate at least 4x.

I like changing up my daily lunch, so when I don't have leftovers to eat, I make something like this beet hummus.

I opened up a jar of Desert Pepper Salsa Rio and knew we wouldn't be able to eat the whole thing before it got funky, so I repurposed it as a soup with cannellini beans, leftover pork, and pickled onions. Cheese quesadilla on the side.

We've been eating a lot of potatoes, mostly baked. One time I got fancy and made Smitten Kitchen's cacio e pepe potatoes Anna. Pretty good, but next time I'll use butter instead of olive oil, for more flavor.

We've had Chinese carry out a few times, from Red Pepper Sichuan in Towson and Asian Kebab and Hot Pot in Lutherville. (They are owned by the folks who operated the late, lamented, Hunan Taste in Catonsville.) A ton of rice meant fried rice one night. I also repurposed some crazy spicy pig ears into this dish, and the avocado mellowed that heat out nicely.

I broke out my recipe for sriracha bouillabaisse one evening to use up a pack of frozen TJ's mahi mahi. With some rouille-coated toasts, it made a fine light supper on two evenings.

What have you been cooking at home?

* 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. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, May 15, 2020

Top Chef Season 17 All Stars Recap - Episode Nine

Happy Friday, readers! How are you all doing? It's sunny and warm in Baltimore today, quite the change from the overnight lows in the 30s earlier in the week. I've been eating too many carbs recently and feel like a dead cow floating down the Ganges. I'm trying to break a diet plateau, and I hope my month of near-excess does the trick. I'm sure you will see me complain here if it doesn't. (Hopefully that will not put you off coming back to read future recaps!)

This week's episode of Top Chef has a wee bit of Girl Power in it. No, none of the Spice Girls make appearances. No celebrities at all, actually. Instead, we get season 16 winner Kelsey Barnard Clark playing the role of Quickfire guest judge. TBH, Kelsey was the chef I least wanted to win last season. Hunky Eric was my first choice, then Sara. I only watched the finale, but that was enough to make me root for the other cheftestants. No explanations. I'm just putting it out there because this is my blog and I can. Another Top Chef winner, Brooke Williamson, is the guest judge for the Elimination Challenge. Are they hinting at a female winner this season? (Melissa, methinks.) Not-So-Fun Fact: there have only been five female Top Chefs out of 16 seasons of the regular show, 2 of Just Desserts, 1 of Duels, and 5 of Masters.

The clock at the Top Chef Mansion shows that it's 5am and the cameras are already being intrusive. We see Gregory wiping sleep out of his eyes while he's still in bed, and Bryan disembarking from his top bunk, sadly fully clothed. The chefs sit down to breakfast and there are complaints about the coffee. Bryan apologizes, as it's his fault. He's apparently still mopey about his friend Kevin's departure after Restaurant Wars. Bryan suddenly gets up and walks toward the other side of the room and pretends to discover an envelope on a side table.

Director: "Ok, Bryan, go over to the little table by the fireplace and pick up the note."
Bryan: "What's my motivation? Why would I suddenly walk across the room?"
Director: "Um, maybe you need more coffee?"
Bryan: "But the coffee pot is in the other room. I should know--I made coffee this morning, and everyone hated it." [bursts into tears]

Maybe it didn't go down like that. Or maybe it did.

Right, the note. It was from me. "Meet me downstairs in 15. Bring your speedo. Don't tell the other chefs. xo"  I lie. It was actually from Padma, announcing that the cheftestants would be attending "summer camp." Why did I put "summer camp" in quotes? If you remember Malarkey's ranked list of chefs from Episode 5, you might recall that it was dated "9 24 19." Considering that each episode takes roughly two days, and hoping that the producers give the chefs a day off now and again, today's episode was filmed in the first days of October. Regardless (or irregardless, if you're not particularly bright), the general response to the thought of going to camp with Padma was, "um, no thanks." Malarkey prefers to cook indoors, in the city. Lee Anne is suffering from PTSD from her brief appearance on Top Chef Colorado (season 15) in which she had to hike in the snow and suffer altitude sickness. Despite not really wanting to go, the chefs have no choice. They pack warm clothes, load into two of their sponsorship mobiles, and hit the road.

According to Google Maps, their destination is about 90 miles east of Los Angeles, or three days of driving in LA traffic + an hour once they leave the city. Once they arrive, they realize that something is very wrong. It's no ordinary "summer camp!" It's a special Vacation Bible Camp! But before the cheftestants get to have some good clean fun, they have to pass the Quickfire Challenge. Each chef needs to create a grilled dish with show sponsor Bush's canned beans. To make the challenge even more fragrant, the winner will receive $10K and a lifetime supply of Beano. I don't know about you, but I find grilling beans to be exceptionally difficult. They keep falling through the grates....

The chefs use all the varieties of Bush's beans, from seasoned baked to plain varieties. Most choose to do things that are bean-forward, but not our Bryan. He is his own worst enemy this season. Rather than cook a meal that fits the challenge, he tends to cook something that fits with his particular fiddly, tweezer-needing, style of cuisine. His dishes are always amazing, because he is an amazing chef. Also cute. But his good looks aren't enough to make the judges forget that he has never quite seemed to fulfill the challenge. At least not the Quickfire. So it goes this time, as Bryan's bean-juice-marinated meat is on the bottom with Stephanie's weird veggie burger and Melissa's under-filled fried pies. The top toques are Karen, Gregory, and Lee Anne, who laments that she has never won a Quickfire. Until now, that is, with her bean empanada. She plans put the 10K prize toward her wedding expenses, mostly catering.

Padma then tells the cheftestants that they are not the only guests at the camp! There is also a gang of  mommies from all over the country there to drink copious amounts of wine and bitch about their husbands. GIRL POWER! And also Jesus. And because these wenches need sustenance to go with their booze and bitterness, they will be provided brunch. And Bibles. The lucky cheftestants will be providing said brunch; each of them will be responsible for 2 items, each feeding 200 mouths.

But first, the chefs get to play. I mean, prepare their souls for everlasting life and denounce the evils of the world.

After changing into camp-branded apparel, the cheftestants are first made to sit through a lecture on the sinfulness of tattoos, homosexuality, eating shellfish, and worst of all, wearing garments made from a cotton/poly blend. Like chef's coats. They are then made to zipline over a local wildfire to show them just how hot Hell can be.

Afterward, they grill Field Roast plant-based sausages for supper--because pork is evil--and go to bed, boys in one cabin, girls in another. Meanwhile, the mommies are singing Christian karaoke downstairs until 3am.

Just a couple hours later, the chefs pull out their earplugs and prepare for a morning of scrounging ingredients and cooking for the 200+ hungry mouths that at exactly 9am will descend on them like a plague of locusts. There is no Whole Foods near Camp Killmenow, so the cheftestants must use whatever ingredients happen to be in the larder. I imagined SPAM, Twinkies, Wonder Bread, Dinty Moore beef stew, pasteurized process cheese food slices wrapped in clingfilm, more canned beans, and myriad other things that the average camper eats in this great land of ours, and was pleasantly surprised to see that there were also fresh ingredients like spinach and eggs, too.

There's only 4 hours for the chefs to plan dishes, choose ingredients, and cook. Melissa says it's like "straight-up Hunger Games." Malarkey decides he's going to make "sharkshuky," though there's neither fish nor the letter R in that dish. A lack of tomato products makes him change course for something with shrimp, proving that the temptation of Evil is hard to resist.

While the chefs are cooking, Tom comes in for his Sniff N Sneer with Brooke Williamson. She's had some sort of work done. Her hair is definitely highlighted, but maybe also face and/or lip fillers? I can't understand why attractive people do that to themselves. Before long, they slide down that slippery slope into Real Housewives territory. It's probably not a coincidence that both shows are on Bravo.

Someone should revamp Leviticus to mention Polymethyl methacrylate and silicone.

Shortly, the Karens mommies flood into the dining hall and start fighting over bottles of champagne. They all need a little hair of the dog to help combat the wine they drank while caterwauling to Amy Grant and MercyMe. (Don't judge. Jesus drank wine.) The chefs are waiting for them, set up like lunch ladies beyond the buffet, ready to serve and explain their dishes. The judges get in line with the rest of the crowd. There is some squealing when the mommies get to meet Lee Anne, and even more squealing when they spot Bryan there, too. Hands off, ladies! He's mine.

The highlights of the meal were Bryan's carrot salad and Karen's corn cake. Gregory had originally intended to put eggs in his dish of mushrooms and tomatoes, but realized that eggs for 200 would be impossible to pull off. The judges loved his swap of spinach. They also like Stephanie's "breakfast salad" and her biscuits. Everything else was crap. Well, not crap. Malarkey's steak was pretty ok, but his shrimp and chorizo soup was bland and the overcooked shrimp were sure to invoke the wrath of God Almighty. Melissa's romaine and grapefruit salad landed her on the bottom along with Malarkey, and neither of Lee Anne's dishes--an accidentally steamed berry clafoutis and dense donuts--were going to get her into Heaven.

I was feeling the girl power of this episode (also Jesus) until Bryan was declared the winner. I mean, yeah, he finally won a challenge this season, but it also threw the theme I was planning to use in my recap under the bus. Also, he has tattoos! To make matters worse, Lee Anne was the eliminated chef. Clearly her dishes weren't half as sinful as Malarkey's shrimp!

Next week: the remaining 6 cheftestants must create a 6 course progressive Kaiseki meal for Olympic athletes. Which would be great, if any of them knew anything about Japanese food....

* 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. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Monday, May 11, 2020

Pandemic Eats - Week 1-8, Take-Out Edition

It's hard to believe that we haven't been able to dine in a restaurant for 8 weeks already. And things were looking up this year! Last year it appeared that we were overlooked for most media feedings, at least in local restaurants. (Chains like Fogo de Chao still liked us though.) This year seemed like it was going to be so much better. In March alone, I was to judge two food events and we had at least 5 invitations to media dinners. Then we were asked to stay home in order to flatten the curve, which doesn't really seem to be happening. While states are starting to re-open businesses, I'm betting that situation is going to revert pretty quickly once infections start increasing again.

In the meantime, we're trying to keep local businesses afloat by getting carry-out or delivery at least once a week. Here are some of the things we've enjoyed over the last 8 weeks.

We had to be in Dundalk in Week 1, and any trip to that part of town deserves a pizza from Squires. We also got crab soup. At this point, we already realized that it might be smart to order enough food to last for more than one meal. At least a dinner and a couple of lunches.

The following weekend, we visited our friends at Cajun Kate's in Wilmington. We brought home 8 quarts of various gumbos and some red beans, and enjoyed this catfish turnover with maque choux and deep fried mac and cheese in the car while we were there.

Red Pepper Sichuan in Towson got the call the following week. This was at least 3 meals.

After that was pizza, wings, and a Lorenzo salad from Earth, Wood, & Fire. Two dinners and a lunch.

Koco's pub came next, for crab cakes that we supplemented with homemade celeri remoulade. Just because. We also got crab soup for a later lunch.

One of our quarts of Cajun Kate's pork gumbo was called into service later that week. Thankfully we were able to get in and out of Delaware before Maryland put the kibosh on out-of-state trips.

We were contacted by Ledo Pizza and asked to promote their $5 calzones on Instagram. They threw in one of their famous square pizzas too. Neither of us had tried Ledo in the past, and we thought their unusual flaky crust was quite good. Two dinners and a lunch.

Silk Road Bistro's Uzbek cuisine, including chicken tabaka, kebabs, and a couple of salads, served us well for two dinners and three lunches.

My brother tipped me off to a place called Asian Kebab and Hot Pot in Lutherville. The place is owned by the former owners of one of our fave Chinese restaurants, Hunan Taste, that closed in 2018. The menu is different, featuring hot pot and kebabs rather than Hunan food, but still quite good. We'll put this place into our permanent rotation, hoping that they stay afloat.

We ordered a dozen bagels and some veggie cream cheese from Bottom's Up Bagels and were pleased to finally find a place that made a proper chewy bagel. We put most of them in the freezer to enjoy later (and we're down to our last 3 already!)

Mr Minx was craving burgers, so we grabbed a couple and some poutine from Clark Burger. I think these burgers taste better at home than perched on an uncomfortable stool in their tiny joint on York Road. While this was only one dinner's worth of food, sometimes ya gotta make sacrifices.

Gypsy's Truckstaurant supplied us with wings, a lamb gyro, and crab cake tacos. for a dinner and a lunch.

We even scored half dozen free donuts from Donut Alliance. The bananas foster one in my hand was my fave, though I also really enjoyed the birthday cake one. The icings have real flavor, unlike those at some other places that will remain nameless. And yes, we ate all 6 on the same day. Donuts get stale, you know.

What have you been eating these last 8 weeks?

* 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. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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