Friday, June 28, 2013

Philly Mignon

If you want a grilled cheese sandwich, a burger, or a cup of soup, then skip that green truck labeled Philly Mignon in a font reminiscent of the old Philadelphia Phillies logo. All it serves are cheesesteaks and fries. The words "steak frites" under the side window basically doubles as the truck's menu.

The steaks come two ways: original Philly style with Cheez Whiz and "wit" or "witout" fried onions; or Balmore style, with your choice of lettuce, tomato, hots, & mayo. The steak is rib eye, flavorful and tender, and it's piled on a softly chewy hoagie roll with your choice of toppings. The Cheez Whiz option is a bit salty, but there's no faulting the tender and flavorful meat.

Despite the nearly foot-long size, the sandwich isn't heavy, nor is it particularly messy (although little nubbins of meat were wont to fall out now and again).

The fries are something they called "papas fritas" (which of course means fried potatoes, in Spanish), seasoned fries with onions and jalapenos. Haven't tried those, but they look good.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

New Food Network Offerings

The Food Network has a bunch of new shit shows coming down the pipeline in the upcoming months, most of them competitions or non-cooking reality shows. Do any of them seem like something you'd watch? I'm really not sure about most of them, but I'd probably give Bobby Flay's and Alton Brown's new shows a chance.

Notice that none of them involve last season's Next Food Network Star winner, Justin Warner.

July 2013 Premieres

Food Court Wars. Hosted by Tyler Florence, this show sounds like a pared-down version of NBC's megaflop, America's Next Great Restaurant. Food entrepreneurs battle against each other to win a food court restaurant rent-free for a year. Hopefully the winner's restaurant will be around for more than a couple of weeks, unlike the poor schmuck who won ANGR's joint.

Bubba's Grills Gone Wild. Custom grill building. Yawn.

August 2013 Premieres

Chef Roulette. Cooking competition in which four chefs attempt to create a meal despite also having to spin a wheel of (mis)fortune that may affect their dishes. Sounds like a clusterfuck with promise.

The Shed. Do you have interest in following around a Mississippi family that owns a chain of bbq restaurants? Me neither.

September 2013 Premieres

On the Rocks. Restaurant Impossible/Kitchen Nightmares, but with bars. I've had enough of this genre already.

Cutthroat Kitchen. Alton's new show is a cooking competition that allows competing chefs to sabotage each other while he laughs maniacally in the background. Could be fun.

Grocery Games. Another cooking competition that revolves around grocery shopping. Seriously?

October 2013 Premieres

Extreme Tupperware Ladies. A reality show about people who sell Tupperware. What's next - a show about Avon ladies? Mary Kay ladies? Pampered Chef ladies? (Please don't tell me these shows already exist.)

Bossover. Master Chef's bitchy Joe Bastianich will be making over bad restaurant bosses. No word if he and his business partner Mario Batali will be among them.

Restaurant Divided. Failing family-run restaurants are split into two warring factions that must compete against each other to improve the restaurant.

November 2013 Premieres

Restaurant Express. Aren't we sick of Robert Irvine yet? Apparently not. The bucktoothed Brit tests the business skills of a bunch of restaurateurs. On a bus. WTF?

TBD 2013 Premieres

Beat Bobby Flay. Like Throwdown, but instead of Bobby surprising chefs at their home base, the challengers will go to NY to play on Bobby's turf. He lost most throwdowns; he'll probably win more of these. Unlike most of you, I *like* Bobby Flay and would watch.

Chef Marks the Spot. This one seems rather involved. Two chefs are blindfolded and taken to a non-restaurant environment, where they have to source ingredients within a 50ft radius and cook a meal. Would be more fun if the blindfolds were left on.

Early 2014 Premieres

Amateur Chefs Competition Show. Amateur chefs compete against each other in a cooking show. Duh. Apparently they'll be coached by celebrity chefs. In the Food Network world, this probably means Bobby, Giada, Robert Irvine, etc.

Undercover Critics. Restaurants are secretly reviewed and allowed to fix any fuck ups before the review is published. What's the fun in that?

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bourbon, Bacon, and Caramel Cocktail

I'm going to the Fancy Food Show in NY next week. This will be my first one, and I'm excited! In preparation, I contacted a couple of the purveyors listed on the Specialty Foods web site in order to get information in advance. There are way more exhibitors than I'll be able to visit, and I figured this way I'll get a better idea of products that might be of the most interest to me.

One of those products was Lori's Salt Caramel Syrup, from the French Connection in Ashland, Oregon. They won't be at the show, but they were willing to send me some of their product to sample.

The syrup is made from caramelized cane sugar, Tahitian vanilla, Celtic sea salt, and a soupçon of maple. The flavor is subtly salty, and subtly maple-y, and I can see how it would be terrific on pancakes. Their marketing director suggested that it can also be used on ice cream, oatmeal, and corn bread, but I thought it would make a nifty addition to a cocktail. With bacon.

After trying the syrup with both rum and bourbon, I determined that bourbon was the perfect choice. The resulting drink is simple, and reminiscent of a Manhattan. Because of that, I'm calling it an Ashland, after the town in which Lori's Salt Caramel Syrup is produced.


Lori's Salt Caramel Syrup
bourbon (if you can get some bacon-infused bourbon, all the better)
Angostura bitters
crumbled crisp bacon
twists of lemon peel

For each cocktail, stir 2 ounces of bourbon, 1/2 ounce of salt caramel syrup, and a dash of bitters together with ice.

Dip the rim of a cocktail glass in a bit of the syrup, then in the crumbled bacon. Strain the drink into the glass. Add the lemon twist.

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

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Monday, June 24, 2013

The Next Food Network Star 9 Episode 4 Recap

I've had a morning already this morning and the coffee hasn't kicked in yet, so this recap is going to be short and sweet. Maybe not sweet. Ok, maybe not so short, either.

Giada and Alton meet up with the Wannabes in the Star Kitchen. It's dinner and a movie night!!! (I'm not really that excited. The caffeine is finally kicking in.)

The nine remaining contestants are divided up into three teams of three, each representing a movie genre.

Team Musical is Rodney, Chris, and akaLovely.
Team Romance is Viet, Damaris, and Chad.
Team Western is Russell, Nikki, and Stacey.

They'll have to prepare an entree, appetizer, and dessert for moviegoers with sophisticated palates. That's the easy part. The hard part: they have to shoot a 60-second movie trailer to go with their theme, to entice the audience to choose their menu. The team that sells the most food wins and the other folks are up for elimination. Or something like that.

Right away Damaris worries that Romance is going to bring out the awkwardly sexy side of her again. Awkward--definitely. Sexy--she probably doesn't have anything to worry about there.

The teams have 30 minutes to develop their menus and plan their trailers. Russell, over on Team Western, says the first thing that comes to his mind is spaghetti westerns. When Nikki asks him to explain that term, he hems and haws because he has no clue. He just likes spaghetti.

Over on Team Musical, Rodney suggests that akaLovely, who is doing the dessert course, make a "big-nyet." "Beignet," corrects Chris. akaLovely is going to do donut holes, despite the glam factor of a donut hole with a fancy French name. They're writing a 60-second musical about food, by the way.

Time is up and Team Romance is first to film their trailer. Predictably, it's painfully awkward. Damaris likens Chad to a "stiff, robotic Fabio" and I assume she means the long-haired, big-boobied, romance-cover model, not the charming Top Chef that we all know and love. You know, if the Food Network really wanted to attract the ladies, they'd give Fabio Viviani his own show. He wouldn't even have to cook.

When Team Musical gets up to film, we see that Rodney can't play gee-tar and enunciate at the same time. And on Team Western, Russell can't remember his lines.

The Wannabes are then whisked by Flying Carpet to Cinépolis, which everyone pronounces "sin-OP-o-liss." Shouldn't it be "seen-ay-po-lees? Anyway....

The theater has a nice kitchen and the contestants are let loose on the equipment. They have an hour to prep their dishes before the audience comes in to watch the execrable trailers.

After the patrons/focus group files in, Alton tells them they'll be using the Dials of Doom to indicate which performances they like best. The Western trailer airs first and it's not as bad as it could be. Nikki is perfectly comfortable in front of the camera and does the best job. Russell remembers his lines. Stacey seems a bit awkward, but is otherwise ok.

Team Musical's trailer is next, and it's awful. The singing is enthusiastic but off-key, and Rodney is still hard to understand.

Team Romance's is the last to air and it's cringe-worthy. Damaris is fine, despite talking about shrimp that "burst." (I didn't realize "Scanners" was a romance.) Viet is awkward, but Chad is downright creepy. Alton thinks it's 50 shades of hot sauce. Giada is speechless, but I think she's just turned on.

The Wannabes run back to the kitchen to anticipate orders flooding in. Team Romance seems popular because they get six orders right off the bat, but then Team Western takes over and gets a slew of their own. Team Musical is worried that nobody loves them--there are no orders for several minutes. Finally, the orders for lobster mac and blahblahblah pie come pouring in. But now Team Romance is twiddling their thumbs, with no orders coming in.

The judging panel--which once again does not include Tushface or Susie--tries Romance's food first. Despite the creepy factor, they enjoy Chad's wings, which are not as overly-sweet as other food he's made in the past. Damaris' grits need salt. And Viet's berries with sparkling yogurt cream are unimaginative and a disappointment.

The panel loves Team Western's veggie chili and Stacey's coffee-popcorn s'mores, but they think Russell's spaghetti is lacking in flavor.

Team Musical's meal is a mess. Chris's mac and cheese with lobster and chorizo and goat cheese and tomatoes and... has too many competing flavors, and some guests get chunks of lobster that are tough. Rodney's steak, cheese, and mushroom pie is just bad. And akaLovely's donut holes are tough and impossible to bite through.

Back at the Kitchen, the contestants are told that Team Western won the audience vote, so Russell, Nikki, and Stacey are safe. Chad, Damaris, and Chris are also safe, because they didn't suck. On the bottom are akaLovely, Rodney, and Viet, who did suck. Though Rodney's pie is bad (he's not made a good pie yet according to Bobby), they feel he's got a good look and can be a contender. Viet they like as a chef; perhaps he can grow more comfortable in front of the camera. Perhaps. But akaLovely hasn't impressed them yet, and her donut hole was a real bomb. Literally. You could have thrown it at people and done some real damage.

Much to my great pleasure, akaLovely is now akaDunzo. Sadly, however, this leaves no one that I truly dislike.

Next week: "live" 4th of July broadcast! In March, or whenever it was they filmed this show. And no recap, since I'll be in New York for the Fancy Food Show. Maybe later in the week, if I'm feeling up to it....

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament Round One Week One Results

Round one of the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament is off to a great start, as Barracudas Restaurant and Bar and The Point in Fells compete and advance to Round 2 of this live, local interactive chef competition where chef teams vie for a $1000 cash and a prize package from sponsors to include professional culinary equipment and products.

Four teams competed last week in the first week of the eight week competition, including Luna Del Sea, C&R Pub, Barracudas Restaurant and Bar, and The Point in Fells. Each team prepared an original appetizer, entrée and dessert featuring products from sponsors E. Goodwin and Sons Seafood, Heinz Foodservice and Roland Foods. Chef were required to use proteins Rockfish, local oysters and clams, as well as clam juice, mustard and apple cider vinegar supplied by the week’s sponsors, but were otherwise not limited in their creations.

The three expert judges and panel of guest judges, made up of audience members who purchased Judging Experience tickets, had a difficult task as they choose winners each night that eliminated two teams. In the end, Barracudas and The Point in Fells were victorious and will face each other in Round 2 on Monday, July 29th (tickets available for purchase now online at

Guests were also treated to a Punch Bowl Tasting conducted by Eric Rumenap of Country Vintner, and by Dan Searing, author of The Punch Bowl: 75 Recipes Spanning Four Centuries of Wanton Revelry. They also enjoyed complementary hors d’ouerves (including crab balls prepared by Mari Luna Bistro), dessert bar and coffee.

Additional matches are being held throughout the summer on most Mondays and Tuesdays at the Mari Luna Bistro in Baltimore. 10% of each ticket sold goes directly to Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, the competition’ charity partner.

Tickets*: $25 for general admission (includes tax)
$45 for judging experience (includes tax)
Available for purchase at:
*Tickets must be purchased in advance for the above pricing. $35/ $55 at the door.

The line-up for this week’s matches in “Battle Spain” include:

Match 3, Monday, June 24 - Chef Andrew Kopp of Waterfront Kitchen versus Chef Jirat Suphrom In of My Thai

Match 4, Tuesday, June 25 - Chef Melissa Fordham of Gourmet Again versus Chef Joel Soutworth of Leelynn’s

Happy Hour will feature a complementary Italian wine tasting Hosted by Rachel Kirk of Southern Wine & Spirits, complementary hors d’oeurves, as well as special pricing on drinks and food for purchase from Mari Luna Bistro. Guests will also enjoy a complementary dessert bar and coffee to top off their evening. Event details available at:

Chefs are available to provide in-studio food demonstrations and interviews or on-site interviews. (See below.) Additional dates and other chefs participating can be found at:

When & Where:
The 8-week event kicks-off next week and continues through the summer, with two competitions each week, until August 27th.

June 24 and 25 (5:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.)
5:30 -7:00p.m. – Happy Hour (free appetizers and wine/spirit tasting)
6:30 p.m. – Cold Prep Begins
7:00 p.m. – Chef Competition
8:00pm – Judging Begins

Mari Luna Bistro
1225 Cathedral Street, Baltimore, MD 21201

Why: Celebrate local cuisine and local talent while supporting an important cause. Ten percent of net proceeds will go to Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, a nonprofit organization that delivers nutritious meals, personal contact and related services to homebound individuals.
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Friday, June 21, 2013

Avocado Soup and Crab Salad

I do most of the cooking on the weekends, except when we go out to eat (of course). If I'm thinking ahead, I plan my meals by Tuesday, our usual grocery shopping day. Most of the time though, I don't give it a thought until Thursday or Friday and then I have to decide whether I should just use what we have in the house, or schlep down to the grocery store to pick up special ingredients.

One recent weekend, we had steamed crabs on Saturday and ended up with a nice container of leftover meat. Rather than default to making crab cakes, I decided to make a crab salad and serve it with a soup made from the two ripe avocados we had picked up earlier in the week. The soup was thick and lusciously creamy, and the citrussy salad added the perfect touch of acid.

I used black garlic to season the soup because I had it. You can use one clove of regular garlic, but chop it and add it to the scallion while it's cooking to cut some of the strong garlic taste. Of course, if you like the flavor of raw garlic, don't let me get in your way!

Avocado Soup

4 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
olive oil
2 ripe Haas avocados
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
3 cloves black garlic
couple shakes of hot sauce (I used green Tabasco)
salt and pepper to taste

Cook scallions in a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt until wilted. Add them, along with the rest of the ingredients, to the bowl of a food processor or blender and purée. If the mixture is too thick for your taste, add a bit more stock or yogurt. Season to taste, adding more lime juice, if desired. Serve chilled, topped with a handful of crab salad.

Makes 4 appetizer or 2 main dish servings.

Crab Salad

2 tablespoons orange or grapefruit juice or a combination of the two
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon honey or agave syrup
1 lb blue crab meat (body and claw), picked over for shell
1 tomato, seeded and finely chopped
fresh basil and mint leaves

Combine the first six ingredients in a small bowl, beating well with a fork until the dressing emulsifies. Season with salt and pepper.

Put the crab and tomato in a medium bowl. Pour over the dressing and toss lightly to coat. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Cut basil and mint into a chiffonade and stir in before serving.

Makes more than you'll need for the soup, so grab a fork and dig in.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Soft Shell Crabs

It took a long time before I was willing to try a soft shell crab. While I had loved eating hard crabs since birth (well, practically), eating a crab whole, shell and all, seemed too close to eating giant spiders. Once in a while my Dad would bring a couple of fresh ones home and pan-fry them in butter. No matter how much cajoling he did, I refused to even taste one. And I was a kid who would try just about anything once (and usually more than once).

It wasn't until I was into my 30s 40s adulthood that I gave in and tried a soft shell. I was with my bestie, Kate, at Harry's Seafood Grill in Wilmington, Delaware, where she had ordered a soft shell crab sandwich. I realized that as a fairly new food blogger I no longer had the luxury of being a wimp when it came to trying new foods. She gave me a bite of the crab's body, because the legs still freaked me out a little, and whaddya know - I liked it!

Today, I eat soft shells whenever I can. And I actually prefer the legs.

I enjoy maki sushi with soft shell crab, particularly the end pieces that have the crunchy legs sticking out. I also adore the soft shell po' boy at Cajun Kate's in Boothwyn, PA. But most often I get my soft crab fix from Mo's Seafood in Towson. A single soft shell crab, served with one veg (cole slaw is my choice) and a piece of toast for sandwiching, is $12, and two are $20. If  you ask nicely, you can replace one of the soft shells with a backfin crab cake (also $12 each/2 for $20). The waitress will tell you they're not supposed to do that, but they will. While Mo's crab cakes are generously breaded, they taste good, and the combination of soft and crunchy crab makes for a nice duo.

Do you like soft shells? How do you like them prepared?

P.S. Do read Kit Pollard's story on soft shells in the Baltimore Sun. I'm quoted.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Maryland is for Crabs

It's June, and that means it's time to eat crabs! (True of every other month of the year as well.) Please to enjoy an excerpt from our book, Food Lovers' Guide to Baltimore, with the addition of photos.

Here in Maryland, the act of cleaning steamed crabs, along with extracting (and eating) the meat, is known as “picking.” There are two schools of thought. One involves removing the legs before cleaning and the other does not. We like to remove the legs, since any meat that comes off with them is that much less we have to dig for later. Don’t just yank them out—grab a leg up high near the body and bend it downward. You should hear a small snap as it breaks away from the shell. Use a little finesse to gently wiggle the leg away from the body; hopefully there will be a hunk of meat attached to it. In the case of the backfin, there will be quite a bit of meat. If not, all is not lost—the meat is still inside. All crabs are different, so you won’t get lucky every time.

A crab and his legs are soon parted. Stop staring at me!
Next, turn the crab so it’s belly-up. Using a short, nonserrated knife, lift up the slim pointed tip of the flap-like apron (which is much larger on the female) and pull it upward until it’s perpendicular
to the body of the crab.

See the pointed tip of the flap?
At this point you should be able to slide the tip of the knife within the newly revealed gap between the bottom and top shells. Twist the knife and the halves should separate easily; remove the top shell.

Place your knife in that gap under the lifted apron, or use your
fingers if you prefer brute force.
What you have left will be pretty ugly, but stay with us! Use your knife or fingers to scrape off the gills or “dead man’s fingers” from both sides of the body, and remove the squiggly mess of guts
in the center.

Some of the squigglies are in the top of the shell, but you won't eat the shell,
so don't worry about them. The yellow, greenish-yellow, or brownish
pasty stuff, the "mustard," is edible, and actually tastes pretty good.
Some folks think it's fat, but it's actually the crab's hepatopancreas.
Mmmm! Doesn't that sound appetizing? 
Remove the gills, and the face while you're at it so it
won't stare at you anymore.
Whomever was the first to eat one of these was sure brave.
What you’ll have left is two halves of the body, joined by a thin piece of shell. With one half in each hand, bring them toward each other to crack the shell and separate them.

Grab each half...
...and snap the body in half.
Using the knife or your fingers, remove the meat from the various chambers that make up the crab’s body. The shell is quite easy to break with a little pressure, but the going might be slow until you get the hang of it.

When you’ve exhausted the supply of meat within the body, move on to the claws (the legs aren’t really worth bothering with, although there is some meat in them). Bend each “elbow” in the wrong direction to separate the top and bottom pieces of the claw. Grab the edges of the pincer (watch out, they’re sharp) and pull them apart. You should be able to wiggle the “thumb” portion of the pincer away from the shell, hopefully pulling out a piece of cartilage and a chunk of meat. If you only get part of it, use your hammer to crack the shell and remove it the hard way. Use the hammer on the white portion of the bottom part of the claw to crack it in the same way. Some people like to place the blade edge of their knife against the shell and hammer that instead, which can make a cleaner break.

However you do it, enjoy!

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Macaron Giveaway!

Who doesn't like macarons? You know, those pretty little sherbet-hued cakelets made from almond meringue and filled with jam and/or buttercream? Some might call them macaroons. I adore them and buy at least two every time I see them in a shop (one for me and one for Mr Minx, but sometimes two for me).

When the good people from Sucré, a Sweet Boutique in New Orleans asked us to give away a box of their Summer Macaron Collection, we couldn't resist - especially since they sent us a box to sample.

The Collection stars two flavors of macaron: lemon buttercream with blackberry jam infused with balsamic vinegar and cassis, and another with vanilla buttercream and peach marmalade. Both are quite lovely, but I have to say both of us here at Minxeats preferred the peach. (Perhaps because it's baseball season and they're orange, like the Orioles!) They were also packaged beautifully, with much care. Despite coming from humid New Orleans to humid Baltimore, not a cookie was broken, nor were they affected by the weather in any way. Each one was crisp and delicious.

So, if you would like to receive your own pretty box of fifteen macarons from Sucré, leave a comment on this post. Please make sure you use a valid e-mail address or leave some way for us to contact you electronically if you are the winner.

The Fine Print:

Winners must be 18 years of age or older and a resident of the 48 contiguous United States.
A valid e-mail address must be included.
Contest ends July 1, 2013.
Winner will be notified via e-mail.

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

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Monday, June 17, 2013

The Next Food Network Star 9 Episode 3 Recap

Welcome back, Food Network Star lovers! (What is wrong with you people?)

Two significant things happened in this episode: 1) Rodney did not make a pie; 2) Chad did not put BBQ sauce on anything. And that's all for this week, folks!

Oh, you want more? Ok, there's more.

This week, the Wannabes have to present themselves as food experts. Even if they really aren't. Bobby and Alton (Giada is AWOL, as are Tushface and Susie - this is getting better and better every week!) lay the bad news on the contestants. In front of them are black bags marked with a ?, each containing a mystery ingredient. The Wannabes have half an hour to prepare a dish with said ingredient, then be completely convincing when they tell Alton or Bobby about it during the tasting portion of this challenge.

Chad the BarBJew is wearing a cap that mercifully hides his greasy gray locks. He's got salsify, an edible root that has a flavor reminiscent of oysters, but he's calling it "sassifee," because, you know, root vegetables can be quite sassy.

Chris has bottarga, a cured fish roe that is one of Mario Batali's favorite ingredients. At least he can pronounce it. Damaris gets mango pickle, a spicy and savory condiment not to be confused with mango chutney. Russell gets arrowhead root, which is much more familiar as a dried powdered product, arrowroot, that has thickening properties much like corn starch.

Danushka, who promises us that she's really a fun person and that she needs to work harder on getting her personality out, gets dragon fruit, or pitaya, the fruit of a type of cactus. Viet gets umeboshi, a sour and salty Japanese plum, with which he is already familiar. Stacey's bag contains durian. She tells us she's encountered it with her dad (which seems like a random thing to tell us), and it tastes lovely, despite smelling revolting. Speaking of her, akaLovely gets the prickly Asian fruit rambutan, which is somewhat like a lychee. If you don't know what a lychee is, picture an eyeball made of fruit. Nikki's bag has a pile of cuttlefish, which are related to squid, and finally, Rodney gets bitter melon. Mmm...bitter melon pie!

Alton and Bobby divide the contestants, taking five each. Alton starts with Chris, whose salad tastes more of apple than of the fishy funky bottarga. Nikki's also made a salad and tossed some marinated cuttlefish in it. Alton likes the salad but thinks she didn't have to present it as if the cuttlefish were an afterthought. akaLovely - who is now the "party girl" - made a bread pudding with her rambutan and glams it up with some raspberry champagne sauce. Alton thought the sauce was overkill, and it seems pretty clear that he does not like akaLovely.

Stacey rambled a bit in her presentation, but her durian custard was yum. And finally, Rodney made a fruit salad with his bitter melon, serving the vegetable raw, which is risky (we just watched someone on Chopped get eliminated for using raw bitter melon in a dish). But he added some gin to the mix, presumably to make Alton drunk, and wouldn't you know it - it worked.

Alton thought that the dish gave a good indication about the way Rodney's mind works. I wasn't sure if that was a compliment or an insult. Rodney took it as a a compliment.

Over on Bobby's side, Russell's arrowhead root braised in bacon stock was overwhelmed by a pecan pesto. Viet made a tasty crab and avocado dish, but there wasn't enough umeboshi punch. BarBJew continued to call his vegetable "sassifee" which got him a smackdown from Bobby.

That blew any expert cred he might have had, and his sassifee hush puppies were too dense on top of it. Danushka's dish, a shrimp salad on slices of dragon fruit just wasn't creative enough and Bobby basically dismisses her. But he loved Damaris' vegetables with mango pickle, saying he could eat it all day.

Rodney and Damaris are the clear winners of the Mentor Challenge and will be given an advantage in the Star Challenge to come. But first, a commercial or ten for Buitoni. Honestly, I'm so annoyed by the Buitoni commercials (especially during the online recap), I probably will never buy that company's products again.

Finally, we get to the next challenge, which is a version of Chopped, but without Ted Allen. Boo. Instead, we get Alex Guarnaschelli as guest judge. Some consolation prize, but I guess it could have been worse. We might have gotten the great chef Scott Conant, instead.

Rodney's and Damaris' advantage, won in the previous challenge, is that they don't have to compete at all--instead, they will act as judges with Alton, Bobby, and Alex. Will they be douchey like Conant or nit-picky like Marcus Samuelsson?

For the first heat, Russell, Danushka, BarBJew Chad, and Viet battle first. Their basket has a theme--food one might eat at a sporting event. The ingredients they must use in their dish are: hot dogs, peanuts, cotton candy, and beer. The clock is set to 30 minutes and the Wannabes are off.

Viet, who may just be a genius, pops his dogs in the food pro and puts the resulting ground meat into a pot with beer and water to make a stock for ramen. Chad makes a bold move and eschews the grill for hot dogs and waffles, a play on chicken and waffles, although I'm not really getting that connection. Russell also dumps his ingredients in the food pro to make a filling for steamed dumplings. It sounds good until he throws in some tofu as well. And Danushka, who is a food purist who wants a hot dog to taste like a hot dog, makes a beer batter for her dogs.

Time's up! Russell presents first and tells the panel that the basket was in his wheelhouse of culinary sins, fat and sugar and whatnot. Unfortunately, he rambles on like he has more than a couple of minutes to explain his dish and runs out of time. Damaris tells it like it is.

Viet's dish was complex and refined, but he still needs to work more on his presentation. Alton didn't think he'd like Chad's wienies 'n' waffles and was surprised when he did. Bobby liked Chad's enthusiasm, but I don't recall seeing anything I'd call "enthusiasm." I think Bobby likes him because he's a fellow BBQ (really, grilling) guy. Finally, Damaris calls Danushka out on seeming like she didn't even want to be there, monkeys or no. Danushka doesn't seem particularly upset by this.

But back in the green room, Danushka claims that it was weird to be slammed by a fellow contestant. Viet and Chad insist that Damaris makes a good critic and that if she gets her act together can be real competition for them.

Next, Stacey, akaLovely, Chris, and Nikki open their baskets. The theme is kiddie food, and the contents are chicken nuggets, fruit leather, goldfish crackers, and apple juice. It's kind of appalling that parents voluntarily feed their kids this crap. It's no better than candy bars, soda, and frozen pizza. Stacey says that the back of her SUV is loaded with this garbage and that she's not ashamed to admit she's a soccer mom. Ok, then I'm embarrassed for her, especially since she made it sound like she's either a real slob, or she lets her kids eat stuff off the floor. She attempts to make a pot pie, but doesn't get it into the oven soon enough for her puff pastry top to cook through.

akaLovely continues with her new theme. The "party girl" is making bell pepper strips stuffed with mushed-up chicken nuggets. Mm mm. I won't be attending any of her parties, that's for sure.

Nikki's at first not sure that any of this crap fits with her "meat on the side" POV, but then she adds a shit ton of broccoli to the nuggets and transforms them into egg rolls. Chris gets all cheffy and deconstructs the nuggets, rebreading and refrying them, and serving them with a fruit leather gastrique.

Nikki presents first. In Rodney's first turn at judge, he dazzles us with his vocabulary.

Alex really likes Nikki's broccoli eggroll, too, and especially the fruit leather Sriracha dipping sauce.

akaLovely's "party" food was too sweet; Rodney really dug the "apple pie filling" on top. Apple pie filling? Alex thought it needed some soy or garlic to give it depth.

Apple pie filling?

Alton dings akaLovely for being too phony and too polished, as if she had a teleprompter built into her eyeballs.

Stacey's pie was raw, and she rambled on yet again. Last week she looked like a real contender, but this week she looks like a hot mess. Rodney wasn't into the raw pie.

Finally, Chris tells the panel that food saved him from his "broken life," and nosy Bobby wants to hear more. Chris confesses that he was a drug addict and alcoholic before he found Jesus cooking. Alton says we need to hear more of his inspirational story. Oh, please, no. No "Twelve-Steppin' in the Kitchen with Chris," I beg of you.

Time for judging - Alex Guarnaschelli gets to go home, and we're left with Bobby and Alton once again. They tell Damaris and Rodney they're safe, as are Chad and Nikki, whose dish was the best of the day. Chris and Viet are also safe, leaving akaLovely, Stacey, Russell, and Danushka on the bottom. Begrudgingly, through gritted teeth, Alton tells akaLovely she's safe.

Stacey had a bad day, but overall the judges really seem to think she has potential. Russell had a bad day, but he's worth keeping for another week or so. Danushka, however, has had three bad weeks. You know they want to keep her, to see if the hamster eventually finds the wheel again, but they have to let her go.

Next week: more of the same, but different.

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Enchiladas Elegante

Last month, we purchased a 5-lb bag of masa flour and used a whole two cups of it for this recipe. There was (and is) still plenty left, and I was looking for things to do with it besides making corn tortillas (which I have not yet done as I do not own a tortilla press). While noodling around online, I found a recipe for corn crepes. I love crepes, and they are pretty easy to make, so the next step was to figure out how to fill them.

I consulted a copy of Rick Bayless' Authentic Mexican for ideas (not that I planned to be authentic in the least) and settled on a green chile sauce with chicken. Only I didn't have any fresh chiles and didn't feel like slogging through the humidity to the grocery store to pick some up. I did have cilantro, and canned tomatillos, and why can't a chipotle en adobo stand in for its unsmoked cousin? I also found a can of mild green chiles in the cupboard, and threw those in too.

Since I was making crepes, which seem somewhat fancy, I figured I might as well make the presentation as elegant as possible, hence the chive garter. Fancy or no, they tasted muy bueno.

Enchiladas Elegante

green enchilada sauce (recipe follows)
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
masa crepes (recipe follows)
long chives
toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

Add chicken to prepared enchilada sauce and cook over low heat until warmed through.

If crepes have been refrigerated, allow them to sit at room temperature for an hour or so. Place a few tablespoons of the chicken mixture in the middle of a crepe. Fold up the bottom, then fold the sides over diagonally, so the crepe is fan-shaped and the chicken mixture can be seen through the wide end. Slip a chive under the middle of the crepe and tie it in a knot to hold the crepe closed. Trim the chives to a reasonable length.

Garnish with pepitas.

Masa Crepes

½ cup masa flour
3 eggs
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups milk

Pour all the ingredients into a blender and blend until well combined.

Place a bit of butter in a non-stick skillet and heat to medium-high. Ladle in some batter, swirling the pan to spread into a thin layer. Cook until the top looks dry and the edges are brown. Flip and cook the other side for about 45 seconds. One side will be much darker than the other. Repeat for the rest of the batter, omitting the buttering of the pan (the batter has plenty of butter in it). Keep crepes separated with sheets of waxed paper. Cover finished crepes with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use, up to overnight.

Makes about 10 8" crepes, depending on how many you mess up. (The first two are almost always casualties until you get the hang of it.)

Green Enchilada Suiza Sauce (roughly adapted from Authentic Mexican)

1 12-oz can whole tomatillos
1 4-oz can green chiles
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 handful of cilantro leaves and stems, roughly chopped
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, seeded and roughly chopped (or use 1 or two fresh jalapenos)
1 tablespoon cooking oil (I used extra virgin olive oil)
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup sour cream

Drain tomatillos and place them in the jar of a blender along with the chiles, onion, cilantro, garlic, and chipotle. Blend to a puree.

Heat the cooking oil in a sauce pot until a drop of puree sizzles madly. Pour in the tomatillo mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture darkens and begins to reduce, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium and add the cup of chicken stock. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Stir in sour cream.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013


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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Edamame Hummus

I've been on a hummus kick lately, have you noticed? I really do love the stuff and would eat it more often if it wasn't normally made with chick peas. Those little bastards give me such intestinal distress, I can't even look at them without getting gassy. In their place, I've been making hummus with just about every other bean under the sun, mostly with success.

Not long ago, we bought some edamame hummus from Trader Joe's, and man, that stuff was delicious! The best bean yet. So when I decided that our Memorial Day dinner would involve kebabs and various Mediterranean-inspired sauces, I put edamame hummus on the list of must-makes. Coincidentally, I received Louisville chef Edward Lee's new cookbook, Smoke and Pickles, at around the same time and the first recipe I turned to when I opened the book at random was his version of edamame hummus. It was kismet.

Lee makes his hummus chunky and uses it as a side dish. I wanted a more traditional dip/puree, so I added a bit more water to the food processor when I was blending. I also didn't need quite so much hummus, so I halved the recipe. Here's my take on it:

Edamame Hummus (adapted from Smoke and Pickles)

2 green onions, white and light green part, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup frozen edamame
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Saute the green onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft, 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients to the pan and bring to a simmer. Cook 6-8 minutes, or until beans are no longer crunchy. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Puree the mixture in a food processor until fairly smooth, adding additional additional water to help the process. Taste the mixture and adjust seasoning with more lemon juice, soy, and olive oil, if necessary.

Serve at room temperature with unsalted tortilla chips or pita.

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