Friday, May 30, 2008

A Tiny Flag...

...for a tiny flagpole.

Or that a culinary boner?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rachael Ray Strikes Again

Dunkin' Donuts has pulled the latest commercial featuring Rachael Ray. Apparently some right-wing nutjobs (begging your pardon if that includes any of my loyal readers) thought her scarf looked too much like a keffiyeh, a traditional headdress worn by Arab men and famously by Yasser Arafat.

The statement issued by Dunkin' Donuts:

"In a recent online ad, Rachael Ray is wearing a black-and-white silk scarf with a paisley design. It was selected by her stylist for the advertising shoot. Absolutely no symbolism was intended. However, given the possibility of misperception, we are no longer using the commercial."

I can't imagine why anyone would think ill of Ms. Ray.

Top Chef Chicago Episode Twelve

After a quick montage of grooming shots, the chefs head off to the Quickfire Challenge, held in part at Allen Brothers, purveyor of fine steaks.

There they are presented with sanitary garments to cover their clothing, led to a room full of meat, and given slabs of American-raised, USDA Prime, dry-aged, rib eye to cut into awkward-on-a-plate "tomahawk" chops.

I'm not saying a word, Spike.

After butchery, the chefs take their steaks back to the Top Chef kitchen where they are met by Padma and Chicago's own celebrity chef Rick Tramonto who tell them this Quickfire is about butchery and temperature. First they butchered the steaks, then they cook them to Rick's chosen temperature of medium-rare.

Rick and Padma don't bother tasting the steaks, they just cut them open to check the temperature. Stephanie's was badly butchered and undercooked. Richard also had problems in those areas. Lisa and Antonia fared better, but Spike won the challenge for his "amazing" butchering.

While waiting for Padma and Rick to make the rounds, the three remaining gals bond.

The guys, not so much.

For the Elimination Challenge, the five remaining cheftestants are taking over the kitchen of Tramonto House of Cholesterol Steak & Seafood for one night. Each have three hours to come up with an appetizer and dinner entrée, using the ingredients found at the restaurant.

Spike's Quickfire win advantage gets him first pick of proteins. He chooses the tomahawk chops (which, btw, Tramonto's menu lists as 40oz at $80) and a bag of frozen scallops, which causes lots of tittering and "I can't believe he chose the f*cking frozen scallops" comments. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, unless Chicagoans farm them in their bathtubs or something, most scallops in that town are going to be frozen at some point. I think the problem with Spike's selection is that they were probably *still* frozen, or not completely thawed.

The chefs commence to working on their dishes. Stephanie says she thinks this is a good last challenge. Does this girl ever complain? Tom comes in for the Sniff 'n' Sneer and to make the chefs nervous. He thinks Richard might be playing it safe, but Blais swears to under-promise and over-deliver (which worked fine for Team Can't Lose in the Restaurant Wars challenge).

Lisa is putting peanut butter in her mashed potatoes, which makes Tom throw up in his mouth a little, but she swears it's good eatin'. Spike gets the heebie-jeebies when Tom brings up the frozen scallops and runs to the walk-in for several cans of what looks to be crabmeat, just in case.

Tom announces that there will be three VIP guests in the hizzouse:

The cheftestants muse whether these past champs will be more critical than the usual judges.

Tom also announces that he will expedite. If he remembers how.

Finally, it's time for tasting and judgement. The judges table orders a tasting menu for six consisting of 1/3 portions of each appetizer and entrée.

Lisa's shrimp and lemon salad got compliments for the lemon, but complaints for the chilled shrimp. Richard's appetizer, the cleverly-named "vitello Tramonto" (a riff on vitello tonnato; I'll wait while you look it up) of raw hamachi and crispy veal sweetbreads was a big hit. Not surprisingly, Spike's scallops were panned. Stephanie's sweetbread dish "had what Spike's dish was missing" (sweetbreads, obviously). Antonia's salad had a perfectly-cooked egg, but wasn't the strongest. Probably because Sam wasn't there to make eyes at.

Everyone chose steak as their entrée protein. Richard's tenderloin was deemed "a project, not a relaxing dining experience" for its overly-complicated nature. Tramonto loved Lisa's peanut butter potatoes, but Gail thought the meal wasn't entirely balanced. Spike's crust was good, but Ilan didn't like the too-sweet sweet potato, Brussels sprout, and cipollini accompaniment. Probably because there was no saffron involved. Stephanie's dish was deemed gorgeous, and Antonia's dish was also a favorite.

As the chefs finished service, Tom demanded a tasting portion of each dish for himself before cleanup and retiring to Judges' Table. Gotta eat before you can bitch about it!

We then see the chefs settling into their usual long wait in the Glad Family of Products Commemorative Storage Room. The producers personally stocked it with a selection of alcohol in the hopes that it would result in cursing, chair throwing, and finger-pointing. You know, TV gold. Lisa would prefer Xanax, but she takes what she can get.

Padma comes in to announce that they want to see all five chefs at Judges' Table. Ever notice that even after a huge meal, she never looks any fatter in those skin tight dresses she wears? Does she only pretend to eat? Or...maybe it all goes to her ass.

The judges determine that while Richard's is the best appetizer of the night, and that Rick loved Antonia's steak most of all, Stephanie deserved the win because of her overall performance and deliciousness of both dishes. At first it seems her extra prize is cheesier than usual - merely a copy of Tramonto's latest cookbook - but then Padma tells her she's also won a complete suite of GE appliances like the ones she's been using in the TC kitchen. Sweet! She, Richard, and Antonia are then asked to leave the room, leaving behind Lisa and Spike.

Tom and the other judges point out their flaws. Lisa has been in the bottom three five times and Spike seven times. The suckitude of the scallops is brought up again. Tramonto goes on about telling your purveyor where to stick bad merchandise and Spike defends himself by saying he found those scallops in Tramonto's walk-in, therefore they should have been high-quality. Oooohhh, snap! Spike realizes his ass is so grass and tries a quick CYA maneuver by shaking Tramonto's hand and thanking him on his way back to the Glad Family of Products Commemorative Storage Room.

'Twas a futile attempt. When they are brought back, Padma announces that it's time for Spike to pack his asshat and go.

WTF? Bad Attitude/Apathetic Lisa gets to be in the Top Four? It should have been Dale in that position. Hmpfh.

Next Week: theminx most likely has a run-in with the lesbian, who sports a nifty new haircut!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Little Young to be a Red Hatter

Ok, wussies, if you won't watch the vid to see the hat, I'll just have to bring the hat to you. There it is in all it's red, pimped-out glory-------------------->

It should properly be accessorized with a nice purple pants suit, don't you think?

Doing the Laundry

Have you seen the blog "French Laundry at Home," Carol Blymire's chronicle of cooking her way through The French Laundry Cookbook? That's a lot to tackle for a home cook! Check out her entry on cooking pig's head. And make sure to watch the video at the end.

I have a copy of the book; shall I follow along at home? much work. LOL

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How Cosy

Despite his early elimination, Andrew manages to stay in Spike's life. He's even met his parents!

Check out the hideous pimp hat on the coffee table.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Losing My Mojo

I don't know what's wrong with me: I seem to be losing my kitchen mojo. It's possible I haven't turned out a great meal in months. Not sure why or why not.

I found a large package of short ribs in the freezer yesterday and decided to make a pasta sauce with them. I seared the ribs, poured off the excess grease, cooked onion and chopped carrot in the same Dutch oven to make use of the nice fond left behind, added half a bottle of red wine, 2 cans of tomatoes, pureed (I like thick sauce), lots of garlic, a bay leaf, a pinch of oregano. Cooked it for four hours, and the meat was just barely tender. We've never bought short ribs at BJs before, and now we probably won't ever do that again. Must've been an old cow. And I don't mean me.

The sauce was just ok. Mr Minx cooked up some Rienzi spaghetti. I'm not particularly fond of that brand because it has this weird cinnamon-esque smell that tainted the sauce for me. San Giorgio next time, please.

I suppose I just don't cook as often as I once did, so maybe I'm out of practice? But if that's not the case, how do I get my cooking mojo back? Any suggestions?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Helpful Hint

When baking cookies, don't use baking powder if the recipe calls for baking soda. I was in a mood for cookies the other day and thought I'd try that saffron cookie recipe again, this time with cardamom, cinnamon, and a little galangal. They taste fine, but they're puffy and hard rather than thin and crisp. Duh. At least it's a small batch....

Friday, May 23, 2008


Regular readers know I'm not fond of Sun reviewer Karen Nitkin. I'm happy to announce that she's leaving the paper. The new LIVE! reviewer will be Richard Gorelick of the City Paper. I like Richard. I think he knows what he's talking about.


( do I get his old job? heh.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Episode Eleven

The clock shows 5:45 AM as Tom Colicchio breaks into the Top Chef house and rudely awakens the cheftestants.

As the sleepy chefs rouse themselves, he reveals that today's Quickfire Challenge will involve egg cookery as a short order chef in one of Chicago's busiest breakfast spots, Lou Mitchell's.

Unwashed and still reeking of last episode's asshattery, the chefs drag their stinking carcasses to the crowded restaurant where they are given a quick tour of the egg station, otherwise known as "the hole - where the action is," according to Helene, the owner.

Just ask Spike.

The chefs are put to task individually. Antonia and Dale are both impressive, but Antonia is given the win and an advantage in the Elimination Challenge. Tom then hands the chefs a piece of paper bearing the address where they would be meeting Padma and bids them adieu for the episode. He's apparently got better things to do with his time.

After an opportunity to clean up, the chefs meet Padma in an empty warehouselike space with hardwood floors.

Antonia's advantage from winning the Quickfire is that she gets to pick her team. She's no dummy - she picks Stephanie and Richard to create Team Can't Lose! Part Deux. That means Lisa, Spike, and Dale (who all get along sooo well) are Team Loser. A Wedding Wars rematch! Even before the challenge begins, the end result is apparent.

For this challenge, each team gets $1500 to spend on food (and that means everything they'll need since there's no Top Chef Pantry handy) and $5000 to spend on decor at Pier One.

Team Can't Lose! Part Deux decides to present a gastropub called Warehouse Kitchen. Stephanie takes front of the house duties, Antonia is executive chef, and Richard her humble grunt. On the Team Loser side, as all three chefs specialize in Asian cuisines, they opt to call their restaurant Mai Buddha. (After Spike's employer Mai House and Dale's employer Buddakan. Original, no? No. But Drew Nieporent and Stephen Starr sure appreciate the shout-out.) Spike takes front of house and Dale and Lisa flip a coin to see who will be Executive Chef. Dale loses wins the toss so he's in charge.

I know I'm probably in the minority, but I like Dale. He's a little high-strung, but he's passionate, and a smart cook. Maybe a bad choice for a leader though. And I flashed back on last season's Restaurant Wars challenge, and Tre, and I knew exactly what was going to happen this year. But lets get through the middle before we face the end, shall we?

We see the chefs shop -- first food, then decor.

Team Loser buys just about every buddha statue Pier One has to offer. Good thing they didn't have to shop at Crate and Barrel, cuz they'd be shit out of luck on the buddha front.

Because Tom is off doing something else this episode, the Sniff 'n' Sneer is hosted by none other than Tony Bourdain, "bringing [his] warmer, sunnier disposition to this challenge." Warmer and sunnier than who? Tom? Satan? (I think Tony taught both of them everything they know.)

Restaurant Wars usually involves teams of four, so this year a few of the most recently eliminated chefs were brought back to serve as extra hands - Andrew, Mark, Jennifer, and Nikki.

Team Can't Lose! Part Deux chose Nikki because they were wrestling with homemade pasta and that's her forté (shaky though it may be). Team Loser wanted the strength of a Lesbian Alliance so they chose Jennifer. Plus they thought it would be a good idea to have a fauxhawk on their side, too.

Stephanie not only decorates the restaurant, she also does more than her fair share in the kitchen, preparing the pasta dish (with Nikki's help) and creating a gorgonzola cheesecake dessert option. Spike prefers to spend most of his time decorating and dreaming of Andrew than being in the kitchen, but he does create a short rib dish, even if other people are actually doing the cooking for him.

After a mere five hours, guests start to arrive and the restaurants must open for business. Judges Bourdain, Padma, and Ted Allen are joined by DC chef/ restaurateur José Andres to dine and critique the meals. Team Can't Lose! Part Deux does no wrong. Everything is delicious.

Team Loser, on the other hand, has problems.

First Bourdain criticizes the purple and silver napkins as something that Prince might use. Ted disagreed and thought they were more like something Steven Tyler would hold during an Aerosmith concert. The food didn't fare any better. Bourdain's eaten a lot of Asian food in his travels, including laksa, and he didn't think much of Lisa's version. Padma did think the other appetizer course of pork and pickled plum dumplings were "slammin'." The butterscotch miso scallops were roundly panned. And the mango sticky rice dessert was called "baby vomit with wood chips" by Bourdain and "baby food garnished with potpourri" by a guest. Yum!

After dinner, we see the cheftestants back in the Glad Family of Products Commemorative Storage Room drinking brewskis and toasting each other.

Padma comes in and requests the members of Team Can't Lose! Part Deux to come out to face Judges Table. Bourdain told them he was impressed by their comportment and performance. The food was praised too. And because Stephanie took on so much responsibility and handled everything so well, she was declared the winner. Her bonus prize was a trip for two to Barcelona including a guided wine tasting tour.

Team Loser was then brought out for their whipping. The Laksa was too smoky, Dale's scallops too sweet. The short ribs were deemed the best. There was lots of eye-rolling when Spike claimed them as his, but to his credit he did say that it was his recipe, but Lisa and Dale did the cooking. Otherwise, their lack of teamwork was disgusting. Because Tre Dale was the team leader and he couldn't hold it together, plus his bread pudding scallop dish was terrible, he got the axe.

And Spike and Lisa are allowed to survive another week. Life is just not fair.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Last Thursday, Mr Minx and I met up with my two best friends for an excursion to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see the Frida Kahlo exhibition. Afterwards we had dinner at Cebu, on Chestnut Street in the old city. Originally a Filipino restaurant, Cebu has Americanized its menu but kept some Asian-style touches. Their appetizer section is billed as "tapas," and consists of 21 protein-packed selections, all of which sounded tempting. One could order them individually, or as a "Trifecta" - any three tapas for $20, saving a dollar or so in the process. The four of us originally thought to order four Trifectas, thus tasting 12 different dishes, but Kate suggested we up the ante and go for five. See, we were used to tapas-sized portions being on the small side...not so at Cebu. Doggie bag city.

We all started off with the very nice Cebu Salad: Crisp Garden Greens arranged with a Slaw of Green Papaya, Mango, Peppers and Sweet Onions. Dressed with a Coconut Vinaigrette. The dressing made the salad with its pronounced coconut flavor.

After the salads, the tapas started coming fast and furious. It was only 5pm and we were the only customers in the joint, so there was no delay in getting food to the table.

Pan Seared Pork Loin - Tender Slices of Pork Simmered in Soy, Garlic, Rice Vinegar, Bay Leaf, Lemongrass & a Hint of Ginger Delicious.

Mini Egg Roll - The Philippine Spring Roll. Ground Pork, Shrimp, Carrots, and Scallions, Stir Fried with Banana Sauce and Oyster Sauce. Crispy Fried and Presented with a Traditional Dipping Sauce. These lumpia got soggy as soon as they hit the sauce, but they tasted good anyway.

Clams - Manila Clams Wood Roasted with Fermented Black Beans, Chorizo, Garlic, Ginger, and Wine. The clams were tiny but delicious.

Krispy Ox Tail - Small Crispy Oxtails tossed with a Spicy Peanut Glaze and served with a Cool Mango Dipping Sauce. I don't think any of us had tried oxtails before. They were very intensely beefy. But not "krispy." And the dipping sauce was actually a glaze.

Grilled Marinated Pork - Grilled Marinated Pork Tossed with Sweet Onions, Cilantro, & Scallions in a Garlic Soy Vinaigrette. This pork dish was fantastic. I wanted a bigger portion of it and a nice bowl of white rice.

Crispy Wings - Plump Roasted Wings Slow Cooked in Adobo Sauce. Crispy, Fried & Glazed. I don't think these were slow cooked. Deep fried maybe. Not crispy because of the glaze, which was a little too sweet.

Mussels - Mussels in a Shallot, Garlic & White Wine Sauce These were fairly simply prepared, so they were pretty tasty. Too bad we sent the bread basket away before we could mop up the juice.

Krispy Calamari - Crispy Calamari Served with Sweet Coconut Chili I'm a sucker for fried calamari. These were a little on the chewy side. And what's with the lack of tentacles?

Seared Beef - Marinated Beef Tossed with Sweet Onions, Garlic & Scallions served with Soy Vinaigrette Another one I'd happily eat as an entree with a bowl of rice.

Seafood Croquette - Deep Fried Seafood Croquette Coated with Panko Bread Crumbs Served with Honey Cilantro Mustard This was the most disappointing thing we ordered. As you can plainly see from the photo, these are not croquettes at all but shumai. They were served with a sweetish soy dipping sauce. I at first thought that our waiter might have mixed them up somehow with the dumplings (which he suggested we not order) but another look at the menu shows that those are of the vegetable persuasion and served with a red pepper coulis. Curious, and not worth $7.

BBQ St. Louis Style Riblets - Cooked Adobo Style with Tamarind, Soy, Sugar, Vinegar & a Blend of Asian Spices. These were pretty good, if a bit too sweet.

Krispy Combination - Sliced Braised Pork Belly, Chicken, & Longaniza Sauted with Onions, Peppers, & Scallions Tossed in a Light Mayonnaise Lime Sauce. Definitely the weirdest thing we ordered, it was like a hot chicken salad. Mr Minx and I really enjoyed it, particularly the bits of sausage. Kate and Andree, I think, considered it pretty gross. More for me!

Krispy Pork Belly - Chopped Braised Pork Belly Tossed in Sweet Onions, Scallions & Cilantro Tossed in our Homemade Pate Vinaigrette. Pate vinaigrette? I didn't notice any pate flavors, but the pork belly was yum - tender meat and melting fat. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

Shrimp Tempura - Tempura Style Crisp Shrimp Served with Sweet Ginger Sauce. Standard tempura. Seemed weird not eating it with a soy dipping sauce and maybe some tempura sweet potatos and onions.

Marinated Chicken Adobo - Traditional Adobo Style Chicken in Soy, Garlic and Rice Vinegar. To tell the truth, I don't even remember what this one tasted like. After a while, everything ran together. It didn't help that everything was presented in identical white bowls with identical carrot shreds-and-lettuce garnishes - the reason I didn't photograph each dish that came out.

We drank a nice Talus Pinot Noir with our food and opted not to get dessert. Something like tiramisu seemed completely inappropriate after such a heavy meal.

We had some forgettable dishes, but for the most part, I think we all enjoyed the food. Although there are dozens of other restaurants in Philly that I would like to visit, I'd eat at Cebu again. I'd definitely order the pork belly, and I might like to try the scallop and tofu tapas that we did not order this time.

123 Chestnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 629-1100

Cebu on Urbanspoon