Thursday, March 31, 2011

Top Chef All Stars FINALE Recap

So, finally we get the actual finale, between Richard Blais - who I always expected to be there -  and Mike Isabella - whom I neither expected nor wanted to place so high in the competition. Because, as you've come to learn over the past 38 weeks of Top Chef All-Stars, I just plain don't like the guy. He demonstrated his knack for being a sexist douche during season 6, which I do not appreciate, plus, I don't like his face.

The episode starts off immediately after last week's Judges' Table when Antonia is eliminated. While Blais and Mike pace in the Stew Room, Padma and Tom come in to give them their final challenge: to create the "restaurant of their dreams" in which they will serve a four-course tasting menu. More details will be given in the morning.

Mike says he has to win because he quit his job and missed his honeymoon. I have no idea what either of them have to do with winning or losing: he quit his job at Zaytinya in late 2010 to open his restaurant Graffiato, and he got married in August of 2009, long after Top Chef Las Vegas finished taping, and well before the All-Stars season was even a twinkle in Andy Cohen's eye.

The next morning, we see Padma in a large kitchen with all of the previously-eliminated recheftestants. They will be competing to become sous chefs for Blais and Mike and have 30 minutes to prepare two portions of an amuse for them to taste.

Back in their suite, Mike and Blais are discussing who they would and would not choose as their sous. Mike wants Jen Carroll because they are friends and because they'd worked together in season 6. He definitely does not want to get stuck with a certain someone, and who can blame him?

Blais thinks it's important to consider who wants to be there and who will listen to their directions. He'd prefer to get Dale, Angelo, or Jen.

The two suit up and head to the kitchen, where the recheftestants break into applause and Padma gives them their task.

After tasting all of the dishes, Blais chooses those created by Spike, Angelo, and Antonia, while Mike prefers the dishes of Tiffani, Carla, and his favorite gal, Jamie. And I'm hoping she becomes a huge slug-like, whiny, disadvantage.

Each team has one hour to plan their menus, then five hours to cook for 70 people, including a buttload of judges.

Mike chooses to call his place "Restaurant Iz." He tells his sous chefs that they will be making his food and that's that. On the other side of the room, Blais is allowing his sous chefs to play to their own strengths in his restaurant, "Tongue and Cheek."

make avatar
Blais tells us that Mike's strengths are his confidence and swagger. And his weaknesses are...his confidence and swagger. Mike demonstrates some of that confidence and swagger by telling us that he's going to out-cook Blais, which I don't believe for even one minute.

With a mere five hours to cook, the teams get right to work in their respective restaurants, Mike at Seafire at the Atlantis, and Blais at Café Martinique. When Tom comes in for a visit, he plays with the chefs' minds. First he tells Mike, who claims to be in the weeds, that nobody expected to see him in the finale.(Least of all ME.) On Blais' side of the world, Tom reminds him that he blew it in season 6. Blais says that he's over being creative for creativity's sake and that currently he's trying not to think too much about what is at stake.

Time to dine. We see some of the judges arrive at Tongue and Cheek: Padma, Lidia Bastianich, Hubert Keller, Alfred Portale, and Bill Terlato, who of course provided the wines consumed during the meals. Blais starts things off with an amuse (which he keeps pronouncing "am-u-say") of raw oyster with lemon horseradish ice cream that the judges love and feel is very sophisticated. Next is raw hamachi with fried sweetbreads, a weird combo that proves very harmonious.

Meanwhile, at Restaurant Iz, Tom and Gail get the short straw and must dine with Art Smith and new Top Chef Masters host Curtis Stone. They agree that Mike's spiced beet salad with chocolate vinaigrette is a good start, and Tom is in love with the steamed halibut he serves next.

Back at Richard's, he serves pork belly, black cod, and bone marrow - all on the same dish - and makes the judges swoon. His next course of short rib with red cabbage doesn't get as much praise, however, although all of the flavors are good. It's just not that interesting.

Mike serves a pork shoulder with pepperoni sauce that excites Gail so much she keeps repeating "pepperoni sauce." His dessert is a rosemary caramel custard that Tom thinks is overcooked and somehow cooked too fast, but tastes ok. Blais serves cornbread with mango and foie gras ice cream that is deemed a bit "controversial" by kitchen spy Spike, so Blais decides to change the ice cream up a bit before the second round of judges comes by.

The judges switch restaurants and we see more of the same lip-licking and praise. This time Blais' ice cream works better.

Back at the Stew Room, both chefs compliment their sous chefs. Apparently Jamie wasn't the liability Mike thought (and I hoped) she would be. And then its time to face the judges.

Both chefs are roundly complimented, which gives them both a boost of confidence. They are asked the "why do you deserve to win" question, which of course Blais answers articulately while Mike can only stammer something about doing it for his wife.

They are sent back to the stew while the judges make their very difficult decision. While there, Mike's mother, sister, and wife come in, along with Richard's uncle--his wife Jazmin is too pregnant to make the journey. Hugs all around. Meanwhile, the judges agree that Richard took the first two courses, and Mike took the third and fourth. But then Richard made that delicious amuse....

When they are called back out, Blais and Mike find their family members and the whole cast of recheftestants there to root them on.

Padma gives the verdict...

Richard is Top Chef!

I'm kinda beside myself with joy when Richard's name is announced and I give a little cheer. Blais is my favorite Top Cheftestant of all time, and I was as nervous about this competition as if he was sharing his prize money with me. (He's not, obviously, but I'd be willing to take a few bucks off his hands.... Richard, call me!)

That of course means Mike loses. Awww...poor Mike. Heh.

Next week - the reunion, followed by Top Chef Masters.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

B&O Brasserie News

Stuff is going down at B&O! First of all, they have a new chef, Thomas Dunklin, and he's created a new Spring menu that includes small plates.

“I love the idea of bringing small plates to the restaurant. To me, it gives guests the opportunity to sample and taste many different items from the menu without having to settle on just one entrée.”

I concur. Click here to see the menus. We'll be having dinner there soon and will report back to you on the deliciousness. :)

Next, B&O American Brasserie will be hosting the Bottle Battle: Cocktails v. Wines on April 27 from 6-8pm. Kimpton’s Master Sommelier Emily Wines (great name for a sommelier, huh?) challenges Award-Winning Head Bartender and Mixologist Brendan Dorr in an interactive cocktails v. wine dinner. 

During the evening, Chef Dunklin will prepare three original courses, each served with a wine and cocktail pairing from Wines and Dorr, followed by a small dessert course. In their quest for bragging rights and a chance at the championship belt, Wines and Dorr will make their case with a short course-by-course presentation to the guests, who then judge each selection based on a variety of criteria, including taste, versatility, etc.

The price of the four-course dinner is $60 per person, which includes three savory courses, a dessert course and wine and cocktail pairings. Please note that gratuity is not included. To attend Bottle Battle, please call (443) 692- 6172. Limited space available so reservations are highly recommended.

Posted by theminx on

Rice Cooker Oatmeal

I prefer steel cut oats to rolled oats because I find the texture to be more pleasing, however I hate that they take so long to cook. So one morning, I decided to try out the rice cooker. It worked beautifully, took about a third less time, and didn't require regular monitoring/stirring.

Rice Cooker Oatmeal 

To the bowl of your rice cooker, add 2 rice-cooker-cups of steel cut oats. Fill bowl with water to the 3 cup line. Add a pinch each of cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons dried sour cherries (or, if you prefer, cranberries or raisins). Close lid and start rice cooker. After the first 10 minutes or so, open the lid occasionally to check the cooking. (Depending on the brand of oats you use, the oatmeal may bubble too much when boiling and ooze through the steam vent.). When the rice cooker flips from cook to "keep warm" mode, the oatmeal is pretty much done. If it's still too chewy for you, give it a stir and turn it back to cook for another 5 minutes or so.

Serve with chopped apple, butter, and a bit of cream or half and half.

YMMV depending on the make, model, and capacity of your rice cooker. (Ours is a National SR-SH10RN 5-cup.)

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Answer to the Question...

...Botox or Photoshop is....

Photoshop. Bad Photoshop. Check out this video of Rocco DiSpirito on the Rachael Ray show. He can still move his face.

Posted by theminx on

Ghost Meatballs

Somebody in the Minx household has high triglycerides, so we're cutting back on red meat a bit and trying to eat more lean protein, like tofu and turkey. And you all know how much I love turkey. [gag] The things one does for love, huh?

Because this person is a pasta fiend, and spaghetti and meatballs can NOT be removed from the dinner repertoire, I thought it would be healthier to make turkey meatballs instead of using the usual triumvirate of beef, pork, and veal. To keep them moist, we employed a technique learned from watching America's Test Kitchen: mashing bread and milk together to create a mushy substance known as a panade. This both moisturizes the meat and coats the proteins so they don't bind together tightly, acting rather like the fat in other types of meat. Fat also acts to enhance flavor, so turkey meatballs need to be seasoned well.

A turkey meatball will never be as tender and juicy as one made from other animal proteins; increasing the amount of panade might help a bit, but as with a crab cake, you don't want to notice the breading. This recipe makes about 10-12 balls with a nice meaty flavor (ok, they taste like turkey), but that are scarily white on the insides, like ghost meatballs. If you like, you can add some chopped herbs to the meat mixture - basil and parsley would be nice - but then they might look like moldy ghosts. :)

Simple Turkey Meatballs

2 slices white or wheat bread
2 tablespoons milk
1.5 lb ground turkey breast
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large egg
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Moisten bread with milk, mashing with a fork to create a homogeneous paste. Mix with turkey, garlic, egg, and Parmesan, plus salt and pepper to taste. Form into balls, about 1.5" in diameter (mixture will be quite moist) and brown on all sides in a bit of canola or olive oil.

Serve with pasta and your favorite sauce. Serves 4.

Note: these actually taste better - and seem moister - after sitting in the fridge a few days.

Posted by theminx on

Monday, March 28, 2011

Social Eatz

Season 7 & 8 Top Cheftestant Angelo Sosa--everybody's favorite "Asian on the inside" with tight pants on the outside--has opened a new restaurant by the name of Social Eatz. (His last effort, Xie Xie, though well-received, closed in 2010.) While Social Eatz is admittedly a pretty odd name (isn't eating out in a restaurant, by its very nature, "social?" and the "z" is just dumb), the restaurant has a good concept: adding an Asian twist to American favorites like hamburgers, hot dogs, and tacos.

Coincidentally, Social Eatz opened its doors for its first lunch on the same day I was visiting New York, and I couldn't pass up that bit of good fortune. Chef Sosa was in the kitchen; I was seated close enough to hear his voice, and occasionally, he'd pop out and look into the cheerful orange dining room that was branded everywhere with the blobular Social Eatz logo, including the table topz. (His pants, sadly, appeared to be of the baggy variety that day.)

The current menu is made up of (relatively) small plates and sandwiches.While the bibimbap burger sounded tempting, I opted to try smaller and less-filling items on my first visit. My server recommended ordering two or three, so I went for the Korean-style beef tacos served on a corn tortilla with a bit of seasoned mayo and a bean sprout kimchee, and the "hot wingz" which also had a Korean vibe.

Put anything on a tortilla and I am a happy girl. Put something delicious on, and I'm even happier. The generous portion of meat had a sweet and savory flavor, and the other accoutrements added balancing creamy and tangy sensations. My only complaint is that the dish could have been spicier. Korean food can be incendiary, and I wanted at least a little heat.

I could also have done with more heat on the so-called "hot" wingz (yes, I died a little inside ordering something with a z at the end of the name). Ok, they were hot - in temperature. Those little buggers were actually pretty sizzling, so I busied myself with my tacos while the wings cooled down. When finally able to bite into a wing, I found they had a nice crisp crust and mildly sweet, gochujang-like sauce, but none of the expected chile punch.

And then suddenly I understood where the "z" came in. As in snoring. While both dishes were tasty enough, neither of them made me want to jump up and slap my poor dead mother.

Both the tacos and the wings were extremely messy to eat. My server, noticing my sticky-handed peril as I attempted to do a crossword puzzle while eating, rescued me with a damp hot cloth, like the kind one gets at the beginning of a meal at some sushi restaurants. A nice touch.

When my plates were cleared, I was asked if I wanted another savory course, or to try dessert. While I would have liked to try the spring rolls, or the "ribz," or the kung pao sandwich, I had to save myself for a dinner date for early in the evening and went for what I hoped was a light dessert--cream puffs with a yuzu cream.

After waiting for several minutes, I received my fried-to-order dessert. I loved the consistency of the filling - it was an extremely light custard with a tangy citrus flavor, with still more tang provided by the yuzu sugar sprinkled on the puffs and at the bottom of the dish.

Overall, I think Social Eatz has a lot of promise; the whole Asian-inspired small plates thing really turns me on. The menu, on paper (laminated paper, actually), is full of items that I'd love to eat, and I'll most likely go back to try a burger at some point.

Social Eatz
232 East 53rd St
New York, NY 10022
(212) 207-3339

Social Eatz on Urbanspoon
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Top Chef All Stars Finale Part 3 Recap

For the penultimate episode of the four-month-long Snoozefest 2011, aka Top Chef All-Stars, we have a heated fiery intense boring competition between three potential losers champions - Richard Blais, Antonia LoFaso, and Mike Isabella. Blais, who's been hating on his own self for the past several episodes, lets us know that Mike's successes in the past two challenges have started to bug him.

Blais gets me thinking, "that's right! In season 6, there were only four people who won any Elimination Challenges - Bryan, Jennifer, Kevin, and Mike...Voltaggio." So how the hell did Mike Isabella make it so far in this season, when his competition was as--or even more--tough than in season 6?

Because I dislike him so much. He's doing it for spite. Yeah, that's it.

Ok, so I'll be nicer this week. It might kill me, but I'll try.

So, anyhoo, Padma meets the remaining recheftestants in the still-not-underwater Atlantis kitchen, accompanied by Wolfgang Puck. She tells DoucheyMike, Blais, and Antonia that this final Quickfire will be a reenactment of three of seven "classic" QFs from past seasons. DoucheyMike, as the winner of the last Elimination Challenge, gets to assign one of these challenges to a competitor, and he chooses that Antonia make a dish using only canned goods. Antonia then assigns a hot dog challenge to Blais, who in turn gives a one-pot meal challenge to DoucheyMike.

They have 45 minutes to prepare their dishes. Antonia says that Blais was dumb for giving DoucheyMike the one-pot challenge because that's basically freedom to do anything.

He chooses a pressure cooker as his one pot for a rendition of pork and beans. Antonia goes for a curried coconut soup. Blais decides to make the popular German snackfood, currywurst, plus homemade bread.

Just as everything seems to be running smoothly, Padma comes back in. Uh oh. Trouble.

The chefs get to assign a twist to each other, and while they might like it to be a knife in the gut, that is not one of the options. Pity. Richard assigns "finish cooking with no knives or utensils" to DoucheyMike, Antonia assigns "cook with one hand" to Richard, and is left with the "cook with a partner, wearing a shared apron" scenario. And who does she get to share her apron with?

Hootie Hoo!

Hilarity ensues. Not really. DoucheyMike stands around because his food is in the pressure cooker and there's not much left for him to do. This annoys Antonia who has to open cans and brunoise vegetables with Carla as her left hand, and the one-handed Blais who has to wrestle limes with his teeth.

After Padma and Puck taste everything, DoucheyMike is chosen as the winner of the challenge, even though he made a salad to serve under the pork and beans and in my mind that is no longer a one-pot meal. He won $5000 from Terlato wines, and the other two (and I) got bitter. Blais starts to feel pressured. Me too. Honestly, because I want him to win so much, I am feeling Blais' stress and watch the rest of the episode through my fingers.

Damn hard to take notes that way.

Later that day, for a change of scenery, the three meet Padma at the Cloisters at Ocean Club. She's brought some friends: Wolfgang Puck again, his shirt wrinkled as if he just took a nap in it, plus Iron Chef and all-around non-smiley guy Masaharu Morimoto, and the now-ubiquitous, Jewtino chef Michelle Bernstein. Aren't we sick of seeing this woman already? Does she have some special contract with Bravo that allows her to pop up just about every season? Can we banish her to Real Housewives of Miami?

Padma introduces these "Culinary Icons" and tells the cheftestants that they will be cooking their "last supper." Because DoucheyMike won the QF, he gets to choose his chef and assign the other two to his nemeses. He picks Bernstein (because he secretly has the hots for her), gives Morimoto to Antonia, and Puck to Blais. Padma then waves a little envelope in the air containing a twist "for later." Oh goody.

So the finalists chat with their Culinary Icons to find out what they want for dinner. Wolfgang fancies goulash, spaetzle, and apple strudel. He mentions apple strudel several times, emphasizing how much he loves it, and Blais is left wondering how he can make strudel dough with liquid nitrogen. Bernstein makes things easy for DoucheyMike and tells him she wants fried chicken and biscuits with gravy, because she comes from--wait for it--a Latin Jewish family.

And finally, Morimoto tells Antonia about the deceptively simple lunch of miso soup, pickles, and sashimi that his mom prepared for him when he came home from playing baseball. Mom, apparently suffering from OCD, used to pick through the rice to make sure all the grains were the same size before she cooked them. No pressure, Antonia.

Back at the ranch, Antonia says that DoucheyMike has "given it to her twice today," which has kinda sickening and potentially incestuous implications. Yeah, you hate me for putting that in your head, don't you? Ha!

The next day, they have three hours to cook. Tom comes through and makes the chefs nervous, especially Blais, who he torments with DoucheyMike's recent success.

Antonia initially wants to make hamachi sashimi, however, when she unwraps her fish, she finds it to be nearly rancid. I'm thinking that fish wrapped in plastic and not bought fresh from a fishmonger is probably not sushi grade, but we never saw the chefs shop, and do not know where the ingredients came from. I'm guessing there are no Whole Foods in the Bahamas. She finds some less-flavorful tuna hanging around and uses that instead.

The show is only about half over when we see the judges and Culinary Icons arrive for their meal. I'm thinking, "yay! a special Undersized episode to make up for the damn Supersized ones we've had to endure!" With them is guest judge for the evening Melanie Dunea, author of My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals, there for the sole purpose of shilling her book, because her presence is a big nothing otherwise. Especially with Culinary Icons sitting just across the table from her.

Antonia presents her meal for Morimoto first. Her miso soup is too salty and her tuna is too spicy, but her rice is perfect and everyone seems to enjoy the umpteen varieties of pickle she prepared. However, Japanese flavors are subtle, and hers are anything but.

DoucheyMike added some pea puree to his version of fried chicken with a egg-yolk-stuffed empanada and mustard gravy. His chicken is a bit dry, and the coating, while crisp, didn't adhere well to his sous vide-ed bird. Bernstein says the egg-and-empanada thing is interesting, but her mom used to try that all the time and she wouldn't go for it.

Blais is last. As soon as the ladies taste his food, there's a chorus of "mmmmm," which can only be a good thing. His spaetzle are a bit tough, but they rave about his strudel, and the fact that he added his special Blais-ian touches, but kept the integrity of the dishes intact.

After the chowing down is completed, Padma tells them that Judges' Table is starting right now and that Blais is going on to the final final finale. He breathes a sigh of relief as Padma pulls out the envelope she showed the day before, the one containing yet another twist, and hands it to Antonia

Apparently the judges are still hungry, because DoucheyMike and Antonia  have one more challenge to face before finding out who makes it to the final final finale. The two of them must prepare one perfect bite, in 45 minutes.

Antonia goes for seared grouper in a coconut lobster broth with a yam, apple, and dill pollen relish. DoucheyMike makes a surf-and-turf of tempura lobster over beef tartare with olive caramel and chimichurri sauce. Dunno - both seemed much bigger than a single bite, particularly since there was food left over in the judges bowls when they were done trying the dishes.

The judges are split 3-3, leaving Puck to choose the who will go on. And that is...DoucheyMike. Of course. Damn.

Poor Antonia. Girl deserved to go to the final final finale.

Hate DoucheyMike.

Next week: Ravens vs Steelers (I'm from Baltimore, so guess who gets to be the Ravens?). The two finalists get to create the "restaurant of their dreams."  Art Smith and Curtis Stone - double yuck.

Posted by theminx on

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Of course, my idea of corned beef and cabbage isn't at all like the traditional St Patrick's dinner; I believe corned beef should only be eaten on rye bread with mustard, or, occasionally, with Russian dressing and sauerkraut.

Good rye bread is paramount. I'll never again have the delicious Levin's rye from my youth, but home-baked comes pretty close. Might even surpass it.

I bought my first-ever corned beef and braised it according to package directions. It was a bit bland, not to mention too lean, so next time I'll try the corning process myself on a fattier chunk of brisket.

In any case, it was pretty good on the rye with lashings of yellow mustard. (I find that other types of mustard can be too acidic and overwhelm the delicate taste of the meat.)

As for the "cabbage" part of the equation, how about a nice big helping of potatoes and chopped Brussels sprouts? You can call it "bubble and squeak" if you'd like; I just call it delicious.


1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups yukon gold or other waxy potato, cut into rough dice
3 tablespoons water
1 pint Brussels sprouts, stem end trimmed, outer leaves removed, shredded
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large skillet, add oil and onion. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion softens and edges begin to brown slightly, 10 minutes. Toss in potatoes and stir to combine. Cover pan and cook potatoes, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes until they start to soften. To speed up the process a bit, add the water to steam the potatoes. When potatoes are fork tender, add Brussels sprouts and stir. When Brussels sprouts have turned bright green, mash the mixture in the pan down a bit with the back of a spatula and turn up the heat. After 2-3 minutes, turn everything over and press down again to brown the other side. Taste for seasoning and serve hot.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Curry Cupcakes

Back in October of 2010, I posted some teaser photos of a batch of cupcakes that I baked up to test a recipe for the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Adventure Contest. I didn't win, so now it's safe to share.

The Chocolate Adventure Contest requires participants to use one or more somewhat-esoteric "adventure ingredients," which this year included stout, ricotta, buttermilk, saffron, coconut milk, molasses, adzuki beans, fresh beets, chiles, bee pollen, Meyer lemon, almond flour, and Sumatra coffee beans. I liked the idea of using saffron, coconut milk, and almond flour in the cupcakes themselves, and thought curry powder would be a nice accent for the saffron. The cake itself was ridiculously moist and the entire concoction was quite rich. And delicious! The curry flavoring was very subtle - I used Penzey's Sweet Curry, which has more sweet spices, especially fenugreek, one of the flavor components of "maple-flavored" syrups like Log Cabin. Taste-testers were hard-pressed to guess that the caramel and frosting were indeed flavored with curry.

Without further ado, I give you White Chocolate Saffron Cupcakes with Milk Chocolate Curry Caramel Filling and Curry Buttercream Frosting. (You'll probably notice that I used basically the same base in my pistachio cupcakes. It's so good, I don't see any reason to use any other recipe.)

White Chocolate Saffron Cupcakes

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
2 tablespoons boiling water
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup almond flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4-oz white chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup coconut milk

Preheat oven to 325F. Line muffin pans with 18 cupcake liners.

Place the saffron in a small bowl with boiling water and soak for 15 minutes.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder, and salt.

Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 1 minute at 50% power. Stir chocolate and if it does not melt completely, microwave for another 30 seconds at 50% power. Repeat at 15-second intervals until the chocolate is smooth when stirred.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in eggs one at a time, then add the melted white chocolate and vanilla extract. Alternate stirring in flour mixture and coconut milk, ending with flour. Mix until no streaks of flour remain, but do not overmix.

Divide batter evenly into prepared muffin cups.

Bake at 325F for 20-23 minutes until a tester comes out clean and the tops spring back when lightly pressed with a fingertip. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 18 cupcakes.

Milk Chocolate Curry Caramel Filling

1/2 cup sugar
1/8 cup water
1 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons salted butter, diced
1 ounce Scharffen Berger milk chocolate
1/8 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon curry powder (Penzey's Sweet Curry, if you can get it. It's sweeter and less cumin-y than grocery store curry powder.)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

In a medium saucepan set over low heat, stir sugar, 1/4 cup water, and corn syrup until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high. Boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber, occasionally brushing down pan sides with wet pastry brush, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cream, which will cause sugar to bubble furiously, then whisk in butter and chocolate.

Add sour cream, curry powder, and salt. Cool completely before using.

Curry Buttercream Frosting

1.5 sticks of  room temperature butter
7 ounces marshmallow fluff
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon curry powder (Penzey's Sweet Curry)

Combine the butter and marshmallow in a bowl, and with a hand or stand mixer, beat on medium until completely smooth. Reduce speed to low and add confectioners sugar, vanilla, salt, and curry powder. Continue to beat until smooth and fluffy.

To assemble cupcakes:

Using a paring knife, cut a small divot out of the top of each cupcake, about 1" deep x 1 1/4" wide (the little plugs are Cook's Treat!). Fill hole with some of the cooled caramel sauce. Spoon frosting into a piping bag fitted with a large plain round or French tip and pipe in a spiral onto the tops of each cupcake, making sure to cover the caramel. Garnish with chopped pistachios or sliced almonds, if desired.

Store in refrigerator to keep frosting from getting too soft. Bring to room temperature before eating.

Posted by theminx on

Monday, March 21, 2011

As Black As My Soul

Now tell me those aren't the ugliest cookies you've ever seen. They look like a Rocco Dispirito experiment gone awry, or maybe the digestive result of eating said experiment. The photo honestly doesn't do these double chocolate malt cookies justice - they are even uglier in person. The Hershey's Special Dark cocoa made them so dark brown they are nearly black. (Note: both items I've made so far with that cocoa seem inordinately salty, despite having relatively small amounts of salt. I think the flavor of the cocoa just doesn't work well with salt and probably won't buy it again unless I am desperate.) Those shiny/melty bits in the cookies are actually Ghirardelli 60% cacao dark chocolate chips. And they look pale by comparison. The lighter brown bits are nuts, and the light yellow-ish bits (no they are not corn) are melted malt ball centers.

Malt ball centers? Since the cookies are pretty gross-looking, you're probably thinking I did something equally disgusting to get to the centers, like maybe lick off the chocolate. But no. The centers are sold by my new favorite Internet merchant, Nuts Online. Last September I purchased a bag of teff flour for making authentic Ethiopian injera. I loved the fast service and the quality of the product, so before Christmas, I ordered several pounds of nuts and dried fruits for making holiday treats, plus a bag of their peppermint malted milk balls. OMG - Best. Malted. Milk. Balls. Ever. We recently ran out of nuts, so I placed another order, this time trying their huge, candy-like dried strawberries, mochi, and the malt ball centers. Tasty enough on their own, I thought they'd also make a good addition to cookies or brownies.

While not exactly a good idea, they weren't a bad idea, either. The sugar content is pretty high, so the malt ball centers melted and oozed a bit. They taste fine - but subtle. If you don't have them, don't worry about it - the cookies will taste quite good without them. And...the longer they sit, the better they taste.

Black as My Soul Double Chocolate Malt Cookies

3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup softened butter
2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 bag Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips
1 cup malted milk ball centers, lightly crushed
1/2 cup mixed nuts

Preheat oven to 345°F.

Cream the butter and sugars together, add eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. In a bowl combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour to the butter mixture in batches, mixing well to combine. Stir in chocolate chips, malt balls, and nuts. Onto a Silpat- or parchment-covered baking sheet, scoop dough in generous 2-or-3 tablespoon dollops, flattening with your hand to about 1/2 inch thick. Bake 12 minutes until browned. Remove cookies to a rack to cool. Makes about 3 dozen.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Top Chef All Stars Finale Part 2 Recap - Sorry

Sorry guys, I'm making an executive decision - no recap this week. Things have been too hectic since I've gotten home from my jaunt to NY, and at this point, I still haven't seen the episode.

I hear it was a snooze anyway.

I promise I'll be back next week. Ok, maybe I shouldn't promise anything.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Rocket to Venus

Mr Minx and I tend to go to the same restaurants over and over again, getting stuck in a favorite rut. While that's not a bad thing exactly, it's not something a food blogger wants to practice, particularly when there are so many places out there that we haven't yet tried. Last weekend, we checked out one of those places, Hampden's Rocket to Venus.

Richard Gorelick's 2007 CityPaper review made Rocket to Venus sound like a hip joint with good food. In 2011, I'm wondering what happened to that place.

Upon walking into the restaurant, I was immediately struck by the smell. Outside, the air was perfumed by fried onions, but inside, the dark room was full of a somewhat disturbing odor that was a cross between a barnyard and a sex shop (don't ask me how I know what a sex shop smells like). After several minutes, I got used to it, but hoped the source wasn't the kitchen.

After the hostess led us to our table against the interior wall of the restaurant, I had a look around. The odd oval windows filled in with glass blocks that ran along the opposite wall in the dark, somewhat depressing, industrial-green-and-black dining room seemed like portholes in an underwater dungeon. The bar and several tables were occupied by an assortment of folks: a young, tattooed couple with an infant; random hipsters in black; some hard-drinking types; a table of older women, one appearing to have just performed as the Artful Dodger in a matinée of Oliver. Our black-clad waiter reminded me of fellow students from my Maryland Institute days in his skinny jeans and rat's nest of hair.

I had chosen to eat at Rocket to Venus because the offerings on their Web menu seemed quirky and appealing. I was especially interested in the kimchee pierogies, the roasted Brussels sprouts, and the award-winning banh mi sandwich. Unfortunately, it was Sunday, and even at 6pm we were given a much-less-interesting brunch menu that included none of those things.

As we perused the somewhat disappointing menu, we were serenaded by the dulcet tones of Van Halen and AC-DC. After a few minutes, Mr Minx decided on the chicken and waffles, primarily because it seemed to make sense to have pulled chicken, rather than battered and fried whole pieces, on a waffle. "Pulled chicken" evoked "pulled pork" so we envisioned a bit of barely-gravy-moistened meat on a crisp waffle; instead, what arrived was more like a stew, one that completely swamped the waffle at the bottom of the bowl. It could have been a kitchen sponge, for all we knew. The container of syrup on the side was completely superfluous, as the dish needed no more moisture, and the sweetness would have seemed out of place with the gravy, which tasted of brown. Despite the unappealing gravy and waffle, we enjoyed the generous portion of tender chicken.

I'm a sucker for the now-ubiquitous beet salad and thought Rocket to Venus' version sounded good, "red beet, candied walnut, orange segment and feta tossed in light sherry reduction and extra virgin olive oil, served over watercress."  It also sounded like it would be prettier than it was. The uneven chunks of beet demonstrated a lack of knife skills in the kitchen, I tasted no dressing, and the only seasoning came from the salt of the feta, which served more to make the salad look dirty than to add any real flavor. The single branch of watercress under the beets included a large piece of tough stem. On the positive side were the generous portion of properly-cooked beets, and the candied walnuts.

This was the way the salad came out of the kitchen, although
it looks like I've already started eating.
I also tried a plate of hot wings, which weren't particularly hot, but were a solid, traditional rendition, with a nice crispy skin and a Frank's-style sauce. They came with a side of "smoked habanero ranch" that could have been chipotle for I all knew, since it didn't pack much heat, but it was good, particularly when I dipped my otherwise unseasoned beets into it. In fact, if I could redesign my salad, I would drizzle the ranch sauce on the plate and top it with sliced beets and a handful of baby arugula or watercress leaves tossed in a light lemon vinaigrette. Hold the cheese, extra walnuts, please.

Service was fine, the food was hot, filling, and cheap, parking was easy to find, so even though the food was meh this time around, I'm likely to give Rocket to Venus another try, on a weeknight. For banh mi, and fried pickles.

Rocket to Venus
3360 Chestnut Ave
Baltimore, MD 21211
410) 235-7887

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