Monday, January 31, 2011
Saturday, January 29, 2011
While I enjoy a wide variety of ethnic foods, creole cuisine is not something I normally find myself cooking or ordering in a restaurant. I have not had the pleasure of visiting New Orleans nor do I remember ever having had gumbo let alone a good gumbo before. So I was definitely in uncharted waters this Saturday. That wasn't the only issue. There was also the roux. The roux for a gumbo can be a bit tricky.
It starts out like all roux, with fat and flour. In this case, unsalted butter. The directions seem simple enough: In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour, stirring slowly and constantly, and cook to a medium-brown roux, about 30 minutes. Check out that last part. 30 minutes of stirring so your roux doesn't burn. No wandering off to see if the dog is barking at something important or just another squirrel mocking him from the tree outside. No checking your email for the latest Groupon coupon. You're on Roux Duty because your Gumbo depends on it! Once you get that done, it's all smooth sailing from there.
So the next time the weather prognosticators are predicting a major snow dump, instead of stocking up on milk and toilet paper at the grocery store before it hits, get the makings of Mama's Seafood Gumbo and spend that snowstorm productively practicing your roux making skills and warming up your loved ones with some spicy seafood goodness.
Friday, January 28, 2011
In fairness to the folks who enjoy the manly side of life, thought it was time to share Slashfood's Top 10 Hottest Men in the Food Industry. Number Two on the list:
Photo by Keith Farris
...the always popular Anthony Bourdain.
Curious to see who is Number One? Check out the list yourself at Slashfood.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
I thought for sure for an All Stars Experience she would bring out the big guns in terms of over the top Padma Top Chef Collection. Really....not so much. So I decided to go back and look at her first season with Top Chef to get a sense of our first impressions of The Hostess that Eats the Mostest.
Looking back through most of Season Two, Padma more often than not looked like this...
...lots of vests, some with shirts underneath, some with not. But almost always with bare arms. That doesn't mean she didn't a little wild and crazy.
That is one shiny skirt (and I had to include Tom for the most ridiculous pose ever, frankly I'm shocked the Sears Catalog didn't sue for copy right infringement) and man did she take some heat for that beach ensemble. So what do you think of her Season Two collection?
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Now this is kinda strange because hasn't this been the premise of Restaurant Wars all along? Create a restaurant for a night? (Don't think, Meat!) Not that I mind, Ludo is always fun although he's more fun when he's trying to cook. Onto team selection. Since Dale won the Quickfire, he has the honor of choosing the head of the other team. This cannot be easier for Dale.
Frankly many a TC Crack Monkey knew right then that it was over for whatever team Marcel put together. I knew why Dale did it but I think as a competition strategy I would have pit myself against my strongest opponent. Getting rid of Marcel is not that great an accomplishment, satisfying though it may have been. Competing head to head against Blaise or Angelo, that would have been classic but sadly it was not to be. So Dale picks Marcel and now Marcel gets to pick first from the remaining chefs to start his team. This is amazing because Marcel gets to make the team his own. Even if he had won the Quickfire, he would have never picked Dale to be on his team. He picks Angelo instead of Blaise because he's already had a bad team experience with Richard and Angelo seems to work fast and clean and easy to get along with. Dale, of course picks Blaise as his first pick. Marcel's next pick is a bit of a mystery, Mike. I would have thought he would have picked Tre. Dale's thinking that too because that's who he picks next. Marcel really let an opportunity slip away by not picking Fabio at this point but picks Antonia instead. You don't have to tell Dale twice as he snaps up Fabio. Marcel is left with Tiffany and Carla to choose between and again, he surprises me with Tiffany. Who is going to make your desserts Marcel? I don't recall Tiffany being all that experienced with desserts. So there are your teams.
It's at this point that Padma reveals the second twist. The Customers will decide the winning team. Down in Blogging Basement Central there was much rejoicing. There was also a little whispered wish that this twist would be permanent to all future Restaurant Wars if only for the minutest chance to see Tom's shiny head truly explode.
The teams split up to do a little planning. Right off the bat, Marcel's team runs into their first problem. Front of House. Because few of the chefs really respect the front of the house role, they look to their weakest chef to plug into that duty. Normally I might agree with them. Unfortunately the diners are deciding your fate this time around and a good front of house person can help your kitchen overcome a lot of problems. A bad one can turn the best food into mud. I get why Team Marcel pushed Tiffany into FOH instead of say, Mike. Mike didn't exactly shine in his expediter role during the Dim Sum Challenge besides his skills on the line should be better than Tiffany's level of experience. Tiffany for the second time during this challenge does not look happy.
Over at Team Dale, they don't even have to worry about this, they've got Fabio. They head straight into the concept design of their restaurant, suggested by Dale, as Bodega. Now I'm sure they didn't mean the Danish use of the word Bodega which means small bar but more of a salute to New York and the corner bodega or small convenience store. There is immediate acceptance of this concept. Back to Team Marcel, getting Tiffany as FOH was the first and last time they all agreed on something. They try and come up with a food focus and sort of settle on Mediterranean but what they all really want to do is nail down their own dish. Instead of trying to work as a team, they are five separate chefs who have been forced to work together. It's not pretty. Back at the loft, the planning continues. Team Dale starts planning dishes that play off their Bodega theme. Team Marcel (without Marcel) decide on Etch as the name of their restaurant. What the name Etch has to do with Mediterranean food doesn't make itself immediately apparent to me but it won't matter if the food is the best they can cook.
The next day finds our chefs arriving at their kitchen for the night. I applaud the producers for this episode. It takes a lot of balls to tempt the weather gods with a outdoor cooking, serving and shooting of this challenge. Much can go wrong shooting any reality show but an outdoors segment where a pop-up shower can make everyone's life miserable? Gutsy.
Work starts on all the dishes. Bodega's food sounds like stuff that would come out of a bodega, chips, bacon/egg and cheese, can of tuna, pork shoulder, blueberry pie and cheesecake. Etch's food is inspired by Mediterranean cuisine. Have you looked at a map of the countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea? Are we talking Northern Africa/Middle Eastern countries? How about the big three, Spain, France and Italy? Or perhaps we're feeling the love for Greece and Turkey? With such a vague influence, I guess anything goes. Eggs and chorizo, fluke crudo, octopus, monkfish, lamb, and ricotta gnudi round out the menu. No dessert is mentioned at this time. Because no one has thought of one?
Ahhhh, it wouldn't be Restaurant Wars without the shiny head of Chef Tom showing up for a little Peek and Prod. Absolutely nothing of interest is learned from his questions however he does reveal that one chef will win and for that win they will receive $10,000. The chefs barely notice, so deep they are into prep and cooking. Tom skulks away.
Time ticks away and Fabio begins his magic on the front of house. Tiffany....struggles with a six minute egg. Angelo makes a reasonable suggestion to leave off Marcel's foam (renamed Air for the purposes of making Marcel seem not so much the Captain of the Good Ship Foam which, for most folks, sailed away a long time ago) to cut down on plating time but Marcel will have none of it. Etch is looking and sounding like a big mess while Bodega is looking like Tranquility Bay.
Service finally starts and the madness begins. All the diners will eat at both restaurants, first one and then the other. It's at the beginning of service that we get a glimpse of old Dale, the Dale with anger management issues, the Dale that sometimes lets the stress get the best of him.
It could have been a nightmare and escalated into even more Dark Dale but not with Fabio there to calm him down. Not only does he calm him down, he keeps himself composed and in charge for his servers and never loses the charm factor he uses on the diners. Frankly he's becoming the Chef Whisperer. Antonia, over on the other side, thinks Etch's food is perfect. That is until the plates start coming back because of undercooked lamb, not to mention the instant dish critique Tiffany gets on her salad from the VIP laden table of Dana Cowin.
Oh look....it's the Judges....who don't get to decide who the winning restaurant is. What's it feel like to have no influence on who wins or loses??? Actually I can totally see Tom doing a little Chicago style voting...early and often.
Service on the Bodega side is flawless. The comments from the diners and the judges are good. I think one diner pinged Richard for putting the tuna in a can making it difficult to eat. That's it. It really doesn't get any better than that. Compared with the Etch dining experience? Not good right from the start, from the hostess not seating the judges, to the forced chattiness with the diners, to the slow pace of food getting to the table. Quick or slow, the food does not help their cause. No winners in their first course of salad and crudo. Back in the kitchen diner complaints about cold dishes and unappetizing food push the chefs into sniping at each other. Second courses do no better than a "like" for the octopus dish and the label of mushy baby food for the monkfish. The next course of ricotta gnudi gets the dread "too salty" for the sauce but praise for the gnudi itself. The lamb chops don't actually get any complaints while the judges are eating them unlike the "dessert" and I only use that term loosely because I still don't get what that last thing with the dry ice was with it's foams and powders.
So is there really any reason to go to Judge's Table? Apparently the only person who thinks they did a bang up job is Marcel even when the Black Hammer tries to bring a little reality into his world, Marcel can't get away from Debby Downer quick enough.
Not to worry Marcel, you'll soon be away from them all. However if ever there should have been a challenge where there was a double elim (or even a triple) this was it. Really, Mike did himself no favors with his performance. Is Marcel a dick? Oh yeah but does that really mean you have to match him dickness for dickness? Did you really have to make it a battle of the Dickiest? I know from where I'm sitting I'd have to call it a draw because if you look at the scorecard that really matters, 17 out of 76 is a massive failure on all levels. Of course it's evident how you earned that scorecard with the team wide bus tossing that played out for Tom and the crew. I don't know how the judges picked the losing-est of losers but they settled on Marcel, more than likely because he just doesn't have the people skills to get people that don't respect him to do what he wants. Etch unwittingly makes a deep mark in Top Chef history by getting totally whooped up on by Bodega and Richard Blaise, winner of All Stars Restaurant Wars. I suspect we have seen the last of Marcel and his love of foams, at least on Bravo. Can't vouch for the SciFi Channel.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
The original salad called for orange juice, ginger, olive oil, honey and salt and pepper as the seasoning for the butternut squash. I replaced the olive oil with a small amount of sesame oil, kept everything else but added a sprinkling of five powder spice to give it a little kick. Turned out kinda fun, shredded butternut has a fresh and crunchy taste.
For the Shiitake broth, there again I substituted butternut squash for the fennel and got a much milder, sweeter broth. As for the sea bass, what a great fish. No wonder it's been over-fished. It's luscious and moist, handles most types of cooking methods without a problem.
Put all together...just a great bowl of food. Big tender flakes of fish, crunchy bits from the original sear, the warm flavorful broth and the crunchy salad on top. I'm not sure if anyone's kids would eat this but that's the great thing about dishes like this, if they don't eat it, you should.
Happy Dim Sum Sunday - 2011 everyone!!
It was grown (and photographed) by our good bloggy friend, Dani of Gardening Under the Florida Sun. I saw that cauliflower and said to my I want that. I want to cook and eat that. Luckily for Dani I live very far away. However the many local grocery stores where I live have plenty of cauliflower on hand for my dining enjoyment. But what would be the best way to enjoy it? I like raw cauliflower as a snack to bring to work. I enjoy it steamed and drizzled with curry butter. I wanted something new to try. So, as I often do, I sent a missive to my Culinary Godmother. She, as she often does, sent me many options for putting that head of cauliflower to good use. The first one was a Roasted Cauliflower Pasta (an amazing dish that I will be featuring on a Sunday soon). The only problem with the dish was not eating the cauliflower right out of the oven so it could make it into the pasta dish.
First up is Kale Chips. Actually I think this will work for any of the Big Greens. You know the ones I mean, at the grocery store or farmer's market, the massive bunches of greens bundled together with abnormally large twist ties. Most people stew with some sort of smoked pork product. We're not talking bags of that delicate little baby spinach, no we're talking the massive collard leaves that could easily be fashioned into a broad brimmed hat for a sunny day. We want those. What you first want to do is cut out the thick stem that acts as a spine to the leaf. Next you want to wash/rinse the leaves well. There's nothing more off-putting than biting into grains of sand when you bite down on greens leaf. Next you need to dry off your greens. This is important because you're going to be coating the leaves with olive oil and since oil and water don't mix, the oil won't adhere to wet leaves and then your leaves won't get nice and crispy. So I first gave my greens a spin in the salad spinner. I would think this would be a great job for the kids to do, they could even make a game of it to see who can make the spinner spin the longest. When you've removed the majority of the water in the spinner, it wouldn't hurt to either roll it up in a dry clean dish towel or have at it with paper towels to make sure the greens are good and dry. Next you want to put your leaves, and I leave them as whole as possible, in a large bowl. Drizzle the leaves with one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil (rule of thumb, one tablespoon to one bunch of greens). Toss so that the leaves are evenly coated. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a large sheet pan with parchment paper. Lay your leaves out on the pan and sprinkle lightly with sea or kosher salt and roast them for ten to fifteen minutes. Watch them closely so they don't burn. Burned Kale will make your kids hate vegetables and you and will just add to the list of things they will eventually complain to their therapists. Don't Burn The Leaves!! If you don't you'll get an amazing treat that will rival potato chips as a snack and that is packed with goodness.
Up Next: Ewwww, are we eating Brains???
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Yes, I do love my Kitchen Aid mixer because this is a whole lotta dough to mix. I forget how wonderful rising dough smells, that yeasty beast working hard to achieve that smooth elastic dough. After two rises and a quick trip into the oven you get some wonderful and delicious rolls.
Wish I had made these back when I made the Black Bean and Pumpkin Stew. Delicious slightly sweet rolls perfect for creamy butter and a generous drizzle of honey. What a great start to fun Saturday cooking.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Eric Ripert's Little Temple of Seafood, Le Bernardin. Our lusty seafood adventure with the All Stars continues. Our Captain of the Quickfire, Anthony Bourdain, would like to introduce the chefs and the viewers to Justo Thomas.
Justo cuts up all the fish that's served at Le Bernardin. All of it. 700 to 1000 pounds of fish a day. Not like a 24 hour day....no, a 5 hour time slot. Not only is he efficient and steady, he has to butcher fish to the rigorous standards of Le Bernardin. We're not talking Red Lobster here, we're talking no stray bones, no bloodlines, and no scales in that mountain of fish. When you read about how many awards, stars and diamonds a restaurant receives, it's not just because of one superstar chef, it's because that chef recognizes you need to find the best of the best for every member of your kitchen team. Justo is the man who makes the most of fish delivered to his chop shop. Waste not, want not. So now our chefs face more fish cutting.
Easy right? Out of the ten chefs left, the top four will be chosen. The clock begins and they are OFF!
Tiffany, despite being the executive chef of a seafood restaurant, struggles. Fabio cuts his finger but refuses to pull a Jamie (as I am sure it will now be forever known on Top Chef) and pushes through. Carla can barely get through one fish before time is up.
Not so good. However she's got Fabio, Antonia, and Tiffany as company in the bottom rung of fish butchery. The top four include Dale, Richard, Mike and Marcel but surprisingly not Angelo. But we're not done yet. The top four have a make a dish with those fish they just butchered.
Not from the fillets but from the heads and carcasses which still have plenty of usable flesh. I love it, don't waste a thing. Use it all. It's at this point where we witness a little kerfluffle between Mike and Marcel. Mike needs a chinois and asks out loud where they are. Marcel tells him in the back. Mike takes a brief look in the back, doesn't immediately see one and comes back to ask if he can use the one Marcel has already set up. Marcel declines. Mike, still searching, asks if he can take out his super bag. Again, Marcel directs him to procure his own tools.
Finally Mike finds what he needs but the cut aways have Mike calling Marcel a dick and I'm thinking: 1) Does Mike have to have help from everyone else for the simplest of thing like straining a liquid and 2) Why the hell would Marcel help you in a non-team Quickfire with Immunity on the line? This is still a competition and Marcel's not your sous chef. Hell, he didn't have to help you out at all.
For 45 minutes and fish carcasses it all looked good. Tony has almost all nice things to say except for Marcel's dish which he calls too texturally monochromatic which I think means to much soft on soft. However it is Tony, he could be experiencing an extreme pharmaceutical flashback for all we know. It was very close between all four dishes but you know that bacon dashi had to kick Dale into the winner's circle.
Immunity doesn't hurt either because it's time for Restaurant Wars!!!!!!!
Now if you've read this blog long enough you know I'm not a great fan of Chef Blaise. It has to do with some issues that happened during his season, his reliance on cutesy name play with his dishes but the biggest issue I've had with him is that he felt he was really the winner of his season, that somehow he lost for some other reason than he got out-cooked. I don't deny the man has skills and those skills were rocking on all cylinders during this episode. With all that in mind, I still would not have awarded the win to him. Nope instead I would have given it to...
..this guy. Fabio totally kicked ass in his many roles for Restaurant Wars. Now there's a mistaken belief that when you put something out front for Restaurant Wars, they get auffed. In the seven previous seasons, that's only happened twice. The reason why we tend to believe this is because the judges harp so much on front of house service performed by chefs. So it only seems fair to me that sparkling front of house service should have been rewarded. Just compare the two chef's performances in that role. Tiffany failed on cooking eggs, totally screwed her asparagus dish, and was not exactly well versed in her front of house role. In all honesty, Mike would have been better at front of house but he didn't volunteer. Fabio on the other hand set up his restaurant, fully prepped his waitstaff, most likely greeted every guest, and helped with food prep. When Dale started freaking out a bit at start of service, who was it that calmed him down and made things run smoother? Not Richard. It was Fabio. How was Fabio's contribution to the menu? Well, he made a dessert. We all know that desserts are the kiss of death in Top Chef. How was his dessert? Apparently one of his best offerings so far in this competition and totally melded with the rest of the menu. So while Richard did a good job as his self appointed role of technical adviser (????) I think the real winner was Fabio. So I'm awarding him $10,000 in Karmic Kitchen Bucks (actual value - Doodly Squat) for the fantastic job he did for Restaurant Wars.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
It was certainly worth it to see Tom Colicchio squirm while contemplating that he would not be in control of the outcome. Too bad it wasn't a closer contest. Tom needn't have worried.
Who will fall tonight in Restaurant Wars? Will Tre freeze up? Will Marcel annoy everyone else to the point of getting eliminated? Will Dale have to call upon his Anger Management Training? Watch Tonight!!!
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
He does this by agreeing that his team should only do one dish thereby putting all their fish in one net. This is a tricky strategy because you've picked the least manageable chef left to attempt to manage and it's a double elimination. Richard may regret this decision.
The produce at the farmer's market looks spectacular. Plenty of fruit, vegetables and herbs to select from. Angelo is right when he says the market dictates what your dish is going to be. Let's say you've already decided you want to do a watermelon salsa to go with your fish dish but the watermelon at the market is pithy, the onions old and dried out and there's no bright green cilantro, would you still make a watermelon salsa? I would hope not, you might have to go in a completely different direction depending on what's available. So it's here where our chefs will make or break themselves.
Carla tells us she has caught two bluefish. Bluefish is not a fish I've had in a great long while but according to what was said on the show and a little research, it's a fish with a flavor than most folks are not used to or enjoy. When you eat a nice mild salmon or some tender flatfish, bluefish definitely falls into the strong, fishy category. Carla has a dish in mind but she's got to have the right produce to balance out what she wants to do. Jamie, she of the Teflon Outer Shell, caught striped bass and thinks a freshly picked cucumber is the way to go.
What? With all the rod and pole jokes you didn't think the editors would leave a genuine lesbian with cucumber shot lying on the cutting room floor did you? Forgetaboutit!!
The next day is beach party day and the chefs start breaking down their fish in their outdoor kitchens. Carla explains how tricky bluefish can be to clean. Have to get rid of that bloodline or your dish is going to be too bitter. Over at Team Manage Marcel, Richard apparently is now backtracking, saying that it was only Marcel who wanted to do one dish. Wha...? Why Mr. Blaise, I do believe there were three members of the team who agreed to that, you being one of them. Now he's stuck and seems to be taking it out on Fabio who is doing a lion's share of the prep work. It's so sad when Bromances go bad.
Time for Tom to do his Peak and Prod. He picks the low hanging fruit first with Richard, Fabio and Marcel's single dish. Now Blaise sees the error of his ways.
Ya think? Tom checks in on Mike, Tiffany and Angelo and has no issues to pick at them about. He next checks in on Dale, Carla and Tre. Tom, being a passionate fisherman, has to ask about Dale's big fish. Turns out that sucker weighed in at 37 pounds!!! That's a lot of good eating. Dale is roasting it whole and serving it with flour tortillas. Tom can't resist stepping on his big fish high by asking if he made his own tortillas and now Dale is left to stew in his own store bought tortilla sweat. Tom moves on to Tiffani, Jamie and Antonia where he tries to hint to Tiffani that her preparation of the bluefish might be a problem. Sadly she doesn't seem to pick up on it. It turns out she will be cooking her bluefish, skin on. Unlike Carla, the bloodline will remain in Tiff's dish.
The chefs finish with all their work and service begins. What an incredibly beautiful setting with the mild weather and the city sparkling in the background.
Service is calm and low key which, after the dim sum challenge, is a welcome change. No huge mistakes but what is interesting is that they split the judges up. Padma ate with the guest judge and Tom and Gail ate together. They did this before, during the Night at the Museum episode. I kinda like this because they each can find their own strengths and weaknesses with each dish instead of being influenced by some of Tom's yoyoing back and forth between his issues with seasoning.
In the stew room the chefs start to sweat out the second double elimination of the season. Padma calls in Carla's team and Angelo's team. Because of the change up by the producers of not always calling in the winning team first, the chefs left in the stew room hope against hope that this is one of those instances. It is not. Even worse, there's a trip to Amsterdam as a prize for the winner. That winner being Carla with her amazing Smoked Blue Fish Lettuce Wrap.
This is all the things the judges like to see in a dish. A fish cleaned and prepared correctly. Seasonality with the freshness of a lettuce wrap and last but not least, surprising the judges with an out of the box presentation, namely smoked fish and a bagel. She reinterpreted that simple idea, that ode to New York into a winning delicious dish. It deserved to win. It was the Ying to Tiffani's Yang of bluefish dish.
Smoked bluefish with tomato, roasted corn and zucchini ribbon salad. Even if she had cooked this fish without the skin and the bloodline, the dish is still not exactly blowing anyone else away in terms of style or conception. After seeing Carla's dish and then seeing Tiff's, you know Tiff was heading for the door. Had it not been a double elim she might have squeaked it out to cook another day because Jamie finally cooked her way out of the competition. Richard, Fabio and Marcel have the ladies to thank for saving their one fish dish wonder.