Friday, March 30, 2012

Flashback Friday 3.30.2012

This post was originally published on September 4, 2008.
Omnivore's Hundred

"Here’s a chance for a little interactivity for all the bloggers out there. Below is a list of 100 things that I think every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life. The list includes fine food, strange food, everyday food and even some pretty bad food - but a good omnivore should really try it all. Don’t worry if you haven’t, mind you; neither have I, though I’ll be sure to work on it. Don’t worry if you don’t recognise everything in the hundred, either; Wikipedia has the answers."

UPDATED for 2012: Entries in boldface are things I have eaten. I did pretty well, eating 69 of the 100 items listed, though I will admit some of those things I won't be eating again...

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison

2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare

5. Crocodile (does Alligator count?)
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho

13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses (no, but I've smelled it)
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar (I've smoked a fat cigar but I don't much like cognac)
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (in other words, a Jell-o shooter)
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail

41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu (sorry, not that much of a thrill seeker)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut

50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi

53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (I've eaten a Big Mac in my life, and McD's fries, but haven't ordered a "meal." I'm counting it anyway. It's not like it's real food.)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini (Dirty vodka martini, sure. Can't drink gin...ick.)
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads

63. Kaolin (I am confused as to why this is on the list. Kaolin is a type of clay.)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini

73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare (I don't like rabbit, so I know I won't like hare.)
87. Goulash
88. Flowers

89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano

96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee

100. Snake

From VGT--If you want to participate:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Top Chef Healthy Choice Cafe Steamers

The things I do for my art.

I thought it might be an interesting idea for Mr Minx and I to do a taste test on a couple of those Healthy Choice Top Chef meals. Top Chef viewers will recall that we were subjected to commercials for this product during every one of the eighteen episodes (e i g h t e e n episodes) of the never-ending season 9, and former cheftestants Casey Thompson and Ryan Scott made them seem pretty good. Or at least not horrible.

But they lied. Oh how they lied.

We chose two of the three varieties carried by our local Safeway, the Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean with Rice and the Chicken Margherita with Balsamic. 

I popped mine in the microwave first. After a few minutes, the combination of odors that make me loathe diet frozen meals so much started to fill the air: broccoli, bell pepper, and onion powder. I was starting to dread dinner.

After four minutes, I removed the plastic bowl from the oven, tore off the plastic, and lifted the steamer basket holding the dry ingredients off of the pool of congealed-looking sauce in the bottom bowl. Mr Minx took one look and began to laugh so hard, he pulled a muscle in his side. "That's just a bowl of sad," he said, as I flipped the basket, stirred up the mess, and put it aside while I put his dinner in the microwave.

While his pasta was cooking, I took a taste of my dish. He was right. It tasted of sadness.

This "grilled vegetables Mediterranean" was truly horrendous. Both the broccoli and bell peppers had the typical water-logged, raw, texture that they usually have after being frozen and then not cooked long enough. But they were the only things that had any sort of flavor whatsoever, apart from the onion powder. It took a few tastes (which is about all I wanted to take) to realize that the soggy and somewhat crunchy brown blobs were barely-cooked eggplant, and I assume the burnt-looking brown buggy things were barley. There were also some undercooked chickpeas which I pushed to the side. I really didn't want to finish this mess because it was making me angry, but I found that a bit of vitriol - and lashings of Sriracha - helped me to finish. Thankfully, it was a very very small portion with only 230 calories. (I supplemented the meal with a huge piece of thickly buttered fresh whole wheat bread.)

Mr Minx's chicken and pasta dish was at least 1000% better. There was no broccoli, no bell peppers, and no onion powder stench. Actually, the dish gave off a somewhat pleasant toasty/grilled smell. The chicken was very tender and tasted of...chicken. The sauce, however, was oddly sweet. Odd, because it contained balsamic vinegar, and vinegar is...sour. In any case, it was pretty good for what it was.

So we had one minor hit and one huge fail. Honestly, Bravo should be embarrassed to have the name Top Chef put on either of the dishes, but I guess when Healthy Choice ponies up the big prize money for the season, you do what you gotta do.

Have you tried any of these meals? What did you think?

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Cook Like a Top Chef - Sarah Grueneberg's and Floyd Cardoz' Seared Fish with Coconut Curry

The recipes on Top Chef are often so complicated that it's difficult for the home cook to recreate them exactly. I tend to take liberties with just about every recipe I encounter anyway, so it made sense for me to tinker with this recipe, too.

The whole reason I decided to try the dish that won Sarah Grueneberg a Quickfire Challenge in the Top Chef Texas finale was because I happened to have fish, coconut milk, and shallots in the house. There was also a lone orange in the fridge. As I started cooking the dish, I decided that the rather mild-seeming coconut sauce could use a little more zip, so I dug through the cupboard for my little baggie of vadouvan, a type of curry seasoning that I first heard about when Jamie Lauren used it to spice a carrot purée way back on Top Chef season five. With the addition of the vadouvan, I could hold back on the excessive amount of turmeric (4 tablespoons!) called for in the recipe, and I also halved the amount of coriander. And since I had to peel the orange that would essentially be a garnish, I tossed a strip of it into the sauce to add extra flavor.

Needless to say, I did not have a Dungeness crab hanging around (this is Maryland! Such alien creatures are not allowed!), nor did I have any other crustaceans on hand, so I skipped the crab salad part. Now that I look back on my recap for that particular episode, I see that the judges felt this dish needed more acid; even if I couldn't make the salad, I should have added a squirt of lime or two. The finished dish was a bit on the mild side, although it was quite tasty. And, surprisingly, easy to prepare.

Seared Fish with Coconut Curry (inspired by this dish from the Top Chef 9 finale part 2)

1 naval orange
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into coins
2 whole shallots, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons roughly chopped coriander stems
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon coriander
1 teaspoon vadouvan or regular curry powder
1 can coconut milk
2 8-oz mahi mahi fillets, halved
4 asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1" segments
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons bias-cut green onion
Salt and black pepper, as needed

With a vegetable peeler, cut a 1" x 3" long piece of orange rind, scraping off the pith if necessary, and set aside. Peel the rest of the orange and cut into supremes. Set aside.

In a medium sauce pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil, add ginger, shallots, and coriander stems and sweat for 10 minutes. Then stir in turmeric, coriander, and vadouvan. Top with coconut milk, add strip of orange peel, and simmer on low for 10 minutes, strain and set aside. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a medium pan, heat 4 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Season mahi with salt and pepper. Cook fish on both sides a total of 8 minutes, finish the pan with butter.

Remove fish and add asparagus pieces, cook for 2 minutes.

Place a pool of coconut sauce on a plate, place fish on top. Scatter asparagus and orange segments around the plate. Garnish with green onion and cilantro.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fumetto #19 - Always Dieting Girl

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse

Mr Minx and I are not steakhouse people. The last time we dined at one, we were extremely disappointed by the gristly meat and frosty service. But recently I received a $50 gift card to Fleming's, courtesy of American Express, and we couldn't not use it. So off we went to Harbor East, ready to tackle a good steak this time, since Fleming's only serves beef graded USDA Prime.

Mr Minx went for a classic steakhouse pairing of wedge salad and NY strip. Just to be different, I ordered the Fleming's salad and the pork rib chop; we shared an order of chipotle cheddar mac and cheese.

Salads are salads - unless they have some oddball ingredients, there's really not that much to say about them. Both of ours were fresh, well-dressed, and tasty. Now on to the important stuff: the meat.

Fleming's really knows how to cook meat. Not only was Mr Minx's huge NY strip perfectly cooked to medium rare, it was flaming hot. Yet, it was obvious that the meat had rested, since cutting into it did not cause a blood pool on the plate. The meat was nicely seasoned and flavored with a bit of rosemary. I like a little more char on my steak, but really couldn't find any fault with this one. It was nice to have a bit of bernaise sauce on the side, but it wasn't needed at all.

My elephantine pork chop was a pretty pink in the middle - the medium I requested - and was tender and juicy. I didn't care much for either the accompanying apple cider and mustard glaze nor the julienne of apple and jicama: the sauce had a burnt sweetness and wasn't mustardy enough; the texture of the jicama was odd. But those are personal observations - the pork chop itself was lovely. And did I mention it was huge? I could only eat about a third of it.

Also lovely was the mac and cheese, which was cheesy, gooey, and smoky without being spicy hot.

Honestly, the best $50 I ever saved. Fleming's is going on our list of special occasion joints, for when we're feeling the need to celebrate with a big ol' slab of meat.

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
720 Aliceanna St
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 332-1666

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cook Like a Top Chef - Mike Isabella's Pepperoni Sauce

During the Top Chef All-Stars finale, chef Mike Isabella produced a sauce that had judge Gail Simmons swooning. "Pepperoni sauce" was all she murmured for the last 20 minutes of the episode. With such a glowing endorsement, how could I not give it a try (despite the fact that Isabella lost the challenge and the competition)?

He served it with chicken, as did I: Top Chef Masters cheftestant Suvir Saran's lemon chicken, without the lemon (and with very little salt). Plain boring chicken breast, cooked sous vide, poached, or pounded thin and sautéed quickly, would benefit from a couple of tablespoons of Isabella's concoction, as would pork tenderloin or a bowl of pasta. The sauce is spicy, salty, and tangy--a little goes a long way.

Isabella's original recipe calls for six tablespoons of olive oil. It seems that most prominent Italian chefs like to drown their food in olive oil (I'm pretty sure Mario Batali even cooks bacon in it), but since pepperoni is such a fatty product, I figured one tablespoon to cook the onions would be more than enough. And it was--I skimmed off about 2/3 cup of liquid fat before I dumped the cooked sauce into the food processor. (That luscious dark red grease did not get made a very nice vinaigrette when whisked with a bit of balsamic vinegar, honey, and Dijon mustard.)

Mike Isabella's Pepperoni Sauce (adapted slightly from the recipe in the Washington Post)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, cut into small dice
5 medium cloves garlic, cut into very thin slices
1 pound pepperoni, cut into thin slices
1 teaspoon fennel seed, toasted
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 15-oz ounces can imported Italian plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juices
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf

Toast the fennel seed in a small dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the skillet often to keep the seeds from burning. They will become fragrant and slightly darker in color. Remove from pan and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, until the oil shimmers. Add the onion and garlic; cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until they are golden and fragrant. Stir in the pepperoni; cook for about 5 minutes, until fragrant and evenly coated, then add the toasted fennel seed and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute, stirring. Add the tomatoes and their juices, the broth, and the bay leaf; stir to incorporate. Bring to a boil, then lower heat so the mixture is simmering. Cook for 45 minutes until the pepperoni softens. Remove from heat.

Skim sauce with a tablespoon. Discard fat, or save for other use. (Make vinaigrette!)

Working in batches as needed, transfer to a food processor or a high-powered blender (including the bay leaf). Puree until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, to remove additional fat. When ready to use sauce, remove fat and reheat sauce.

After skimming, I had a quart of sauce. If you don't skim, you'll have more.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Lazy Baklava

As I mentioned in my b'stilla post, I don't like messing with filo. But I loooove baklava. And homemade is almost always better than store-bought, at least in my experience. That way, you know it's fresh.

The best baklava I ever ate was made by a guy named Lou. He brought a big tray of it to Martin's Eastwind one Tuesday night when a bunch of random people got together to do country line dancing. I do believe it was all pistachio, and it definitely was all delicious.

While the following recipe can't hold a candle to Lou's baklava, it's quick and easy and turns a slice of bread or a croissant into a quick and easy facsimile of a certain nutty treat.

Baklava Spread (adapted from Elle's New England Kitchen)

1 1/2 cups toasted nuts (I used half pistachios, half walnuts)
1/2 cup honey
pinch kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse about 20 times until nuts are in small pieces but not quite a paste. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Makes 1 generous cup

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Celebrating St Patrick's Day

I'm not Irish, not a fan of green beer, not a big drinker in general. So the way I like to celebrate St Patrick's Day eat.

How about some nice multi-ethnic goodness involving corned beef, or in the case of the last pic, an Irish-themed restaurant?

corned-beef sandwich on home-made bread...

...Korean-style Reubenadas...

...Poached eggs with cauliflower purée and frizzled corned beef...

...or an order of Calamari from Slainte (or anything else, for that matter) would really float my boat tomorrow.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fumetto #18 - Dessert Worst

So Anne Thornton has apparently been canned from the Food Network for plagiarizing recipes. She denies it. While some of Anne's ingredient lists largely resemble those used in recipes penned by other people, she does usually change a few ingredients and re-words the method. (Check out David Leibovitz' article on recipe attribution.) Do you think she deserved to be fired?

*Check out the original video clip for this recipe. Notice that she does dictate the ingredients for Toll House cookies. Now check out the official recipe on the Food Network site - it's been altered quite a bit. What gives?

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