Wednesday, September 30, 2009

No Show for YOU!

That's right, Top Chef Las Vegas is taking a break but that doesn't mean we've don't have anything to talk about. Seems that Eli is back and he's brought an even bigger load.Over on Bravo's website, they asked Eli to elaborate on his mocking the cancer victim comments. Never one to resist digging deeper into the poo pile, Eli shared the following.
I can't stress enough how mocking a cancer victim will not win you Top Chef nor will it even get you close to Fan Favorite. That doesn't mean Baby Eli isn't a strong candidate for Asshat of the Season but he's going to have to fight Mike I. tooth and nail for that award. Think I'm being too hard on Eli? Let's see what Gail Simmons has to say about the issue.I don't think I can add too much more than that except to say I don't think we've seen the end of Operation Expel Robin from Top Chef Las Vegas. I just hope nobody has left any hair clippers lying around.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Deconstruction Derby

With Eli's diaper finally changed and the Quickfire complete, we move onto the Elimination Challenge. Because we're in Vegas and because they already played with the Cirque de Soliel performers in Season One and they didn't want to do a whole blue foods challenge for the Blue Man Group, Penn and Teller are tapped to show us how to deconstruct a magic trick. A really old magic trick. A trick called Cups and Balls.This is a Bosch painting from the 1500s. What has this got to do with cooking? Not much really except that it allows Teller to perform their version of this trick.......while Penn attempts to pick the pocket of the what have to be the tightest pair of jeans Padma's had on in a while. Once all the balls have been revealed, we finally get to the Elimination Challenge.
These sort of challenges have confuzzled chefs in the past so the judging is always ripe with disgust. It's really very simple. Break down a classic dish into it's separate components, rework them so that when the diner combines them, they taste like the original classic. For example.

The classic Bloody Mary cocktail.

Ludo Lefebvre's Amuse Bouche of a Deconstructed Bloody Mary.
Tomato Sorbet, Vodka Gelée and Celery Mousse.

Can our chefs pull off chopping up classic dishes, putting back together again and make the judges happy?This is one judge you do not want spitting out your food. The better question is are there really rules to this challenge?
Shopping at Whole Foods I begin to wonder. Battling Brother Bryan has drawn the classic Reuben Sandwich. Corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing on grilled rye. So he decides to turn tuna into corned beef. Wha? I'm sure it will taste good and be pretty but will it really be a deconstructed Reuben? My girl Jennifer seems flustered by the whole challenge and her assignment of meat lasagna. Or perhaps it's the Shopping Cart Cam that's got her off balance?Back in the kitchen, we have another reason why some people should not be allowed to use power tools. Eli taping up his digital pressure cooker with blue gaffer's tape and expecting it to work is the best way to get sued by the maker of said pressure cooker. You know why?Because having the deeply dented pressure cooker pop it's top and rain hot chicken down on you and other contestants is really not what the makers of the pressure cooker want to showcase. (Mocking the cancer victim, inability to use tools correctly or safely...only one more strike to go Diaper Boy). Meanwhile Finger Dipper Cam strikes again.Oh Ron, not only did they catch you again but what the hell is that bright green sauce for your paella? He makes my head hurt.Still feeling her own pain and struggling to come up with a plan is Jennifer. SNAP OUT OF IT, WOMAN, WE'VE GOT INCOMING!!I did NOT miss Tom's little walk abouts in the kitchen. Hell I didn't even realize he hadn't been doing them until he showed up here. I've never been a big fan of this feature because I get the feeling that Tom makes up his mind about chefs and dishes that's hard to overcome once he's poked his nose into what's going on. I don't think I'm the only one who thinks that way because Jennifer immediately starts giving Chef Tom the finger.Good Gravy I LOVE this woman. With prep finished for the day, the chefs land back at the condo just in time to power up for the Bitch and Moan Hour. They also try to explain traditional paella to Ron who supposedly has done many paellas.It's not going too well and it's at this point that I start mentally packing Ron's knives for him even though Mike I. is just as clueless to his Eggs Florentine.Back at the kitchen the chefs ramp up their dishes for judging. Of course right off the bat, I'm confused. They ping Mike I. for revamping his dish, not deconstructing it. Mike V. gets a lot of love for a Caesar Salad that would find much comfort in Marcel's kitchen. Bryan presents his Tuna Reuben and as expected, the judges think it tastes good and is presented beautifully. How this dish evokes a big thick, juicy, dripping with sauerkraut Reuben is beyond me and bless Penn Jillette for actually saying that he disagreed with Tom and Michelle, that the dish in no way reminded him of a classic Reuben. Did he eat it all? Sure, but Penn's a man who likes rules....if only so he can break them. Laurine has the unfortunate luck of the draw to pull fish and chips when Toby's back as a judge. Although it looks like Michelle is about as impressed with Toby as many of the viewers have been.Jennifer and Ash are up next and Jennifer, despite all her stressing, hits it out of the park. When you make Padma smile more than she did in her Hardee's commercial, you know you're doing good.Ash's Shepherd Pie is a complete disaster. But then again part of the problem is that he gets raked over the coals because he used something other than potatoes in the dish much like....Bryan using tuna for his Reuben. Ron and Eli bring on their dishes. Ron's is pretty much the melt down we all expected. Eli's dish prompts some interesting table chatter.What the Bear Nation has been waiting to hear for six seasons finally arrives. Eli is saved by Tom's love. Ashley and Kevin make all the judges and Penn and Teller very happy with their dishes, Ashley with pot roast and Kevin with Chicken Mole. Kevin had an amazing amount of work going on with his plate which is surprising because we saw so little of him during this episode. He seems to be a very efficient and smart chef.Robin, who has immunity, rounds out the night with New England clam chowder that impresses no one.
The top contenders for the win are Ashley, Michael V., Kevin and much to her and Mike I's surprise, Jennifer. Kevin takes the win and a set of Calphalon cookware that retails for about $600. Back out in the stew room, Ash hoists himself up on the Beat Up on Robin bandwagon, upset that he didn't think of making a salad and a crisp to win immunity. I must point out that he's about as far away from sniffing immunity as I am from having a private baconization lesson from the lovely Michelle Bernstein. He, Laurine and Ron take their rightful place in facing the judges where there's lots of whining and excuses. Feh.
The really fun stuff happens they send the chefs back to the stew room. Seems that the Tobster takes his English arrogance and rubs it into the wrong Latina face on the correct pronunciation of paella.I don't know if Chef Bernstein travels with her cutlery but had they been within easy reach I would imagine it would not have been the small size of bull's testicles Padma would have been talking about this episode but the wee Tobsters instead. Still, even without her knives, the correct pronunciation of paella goes to my next stalking victim, Chef Bernstein. Ultimately Ron is sent to the Condo of Shame and Toby is more than happy to see Michelle out the door.

Next Up: Go to your Room and don't come out until you know how to Behave!

Top Chef Tattoo Tuesday

"Dear Lord, please don't ever let it be so hard to decide what's for dinner that I need to take hints from my feet. Amen."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dim Sum Sunday - It's Chile Picking Time

I have to say I had a blast researching and cooking for this week's Chile Dim Sum Sunday. I've never been a pepper fan so it's not like I have a go to recipe. So I googled. Quite a bit actually. I found tons of the typical recipes which sounded good but just didn't connect. It wasn't until I hit upon Central Market's recipe web site that I finally found what I was looking for, Apple Hatch Bison Meatballs. Why did this recipe resonate with me? It called for a decent amount of chiles, it features a protein I haven't used before, and it calls for fresh sage and mint which just so happen to grow abundantly in my backyard. That's not to say it was perfect. One of the ingredients is a cup of roasted Hatch Poblano pesto which I gather is a jarred condiment sold at this market. I had a choice, go without or concoct my own. C'mon, it's pesto, how hard could it be?

Not that hard. A classic pesto is pine nuts, basil, garlic and salt, a hard dry cheese and olive oil. The Hatch chiles took the basil's role, pumpkin seeds or pepitas became the nuts, the garlic, salt and olive oil remained the same. The cheese was a bit of a problem. I wanted a nice dry pepper jack but got lucky at Whole Foods.

(excuse my cell phone camera and the Midwestern Goober spelling of Chiles)

It seems Hatch Chile Peppers were one of their feature items this week which meant fresh, roasted and an excellent Hatch Pepper Jack Cheese. While the cheese was fragrant with peppers, it was a little too moist for my pesto so I added in some Pecorino Romano to help even out it's mixability. Worked like a charm. But I wondered, would the meatballs really need the pesto?

The mixing of the meatballs was fairly easy. I left the adding the pesto until the end and scooped out enough of the meat mixture to make two meatballs. Once I had those two samples, I incorporated the pesto into the remaining meat mixture and fried them up. I tasted the pesto-less balls first. The balance of savory bison was overcome by the flavor of the cinnamon. The the meatballs with the pesto were much more balanced. The bite of the peppers combines with the sweetness of the cinnamon to give an interesting backdrop to the deeply complex and meaty bison. Where ground hamburger seems to be more about fat and juice, lean ground bison gets all of it's flavor directly from the meat. It's a good hearty flavor, certainly bold enough to dance with the Big Jim Chile peppers. I also took a tip from the website and made up a batch of Smoky Hatch Blue Corn Grits so I could use even more of my Hatch Pepper Jack Cheese.The meatballs and the grits hit all the right notes for this early fall day, hearty, spicy and stick to your ribs good. Thanks to Moi for including me in the Harvesting of the Peppers.


After all the chile action I decided I needed a cool refreshing dessert to cool off my tongue. Virginia Willis's Tipsy Watermelon Salad was called into action. Here's the original recipe:

1 6 lb watermelon, halved lengthwise

1 cup lemon juice

2/3 cup sugar

½ cup Vodka

1/3 cup crème de cassis

pinch of fine sea salt

¼ cup chopped fresh mint

To prepare the watermelon, using a large ice cream scoop, remove the watermelon flesh from the rind and place balls in a large bowl. Reserve the scooped out rind of one half to use as a serving bowl.

To make the dressing, whisk the lemon juice and sugar in a bowl until the sugar dissolves. Whisk in the vodka and crème de cassis. Season the mixture with a pinch of salt. Pour the mixture over the watermelon and gently stir to combine and coat the balls.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour and up to two hours.

When ready to serve, gently toss the watermelon balls once or twice to redistribute the liquid. Transfer them to the reserved scooped out watermelon "bowl." Sprinkle with chopped fresh mint and serve. Serves 6-8.

As you see I've hacked the recipe just a tad. See I've got this teeny tiny melon baller and I was dying to use it. So instead of big ice cream scoops of watermelon, I've got little delicate drops. Plus I paired it up with some mascarpone cheese in the base. I also plan to freeze some of the watermelon drops so I can later plop them into some lemon or limeade. That is if I can keep from eating them all before I get some into the freezer. It's a really good dessert.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Devil in the Diaper

My goodness, I didn't know Pampers was pimping the last Quickfire. How else to explain the big whiny crybabies that emerged from our TV screen? What had their Pampers in twisted wad?The fact that Robin won the Angel vs Devil Quickfire with her Apple Fennel Salad vs Apple Crisp. The reason she made those two dishes was because she's a cancer survivor and eating healthy is very important to staying healthy. But like most of us, we always crave the things we can't have, so the apple crisp was her devil. The explanation made sense and was personal, her dish was simple and tasted good. Chef Michelle Bernstein enjoyed the simple flavors and execution enough to give her the win and immunity. That's all.

Not Quite.

Because she beat out Eli for the Quickfire win, Eli went all Douchbag in one of his one on one interviews. This is the quote. "That's a pretty good way to win a Quickfire, tell people you have f___ing cancer. When I had cancer I ate this and when I didn't I could eat this. Like...oh...ok. I mean weak." No dude, what's weak is your whining. How insulting. Not only to someone who is just happy to be ALIVE but also to the guest judge that you think the reason she chose Robin was ONLY because she was a cancer survivor. Brilliant. So we hereby nominate Eli for our first ever Whiny the Poo Award for General Cluelessness and Downright Douchbaggery. I think he's earned it. Now please, will someone change him out of the load he dropped in his Pampers?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sometimes You Have to Take the Good with the Bad

Were they describing the Quickfire or the judges?

Love the Michelle.

Not loving the Toby.

Dim Sum Sunday - It's Chile Picking Time

When someone asks if you want a share of a 30 lb bag of New Mexican Big Jim chiles you jump up and down and say "Yes Please!!!". That's just what recently happened when Moi of Bite the Apple graciously offered to share her plentiful peppers. I thought it would be fun to make Chiles the Dim Sum Sunday ingredient. If you'd like to enjoy some peppers of your own check out the New Mexican Connection to get your own Big Jims. Alternative method? Send a pair of red patent leather Christian Louboutins to Moi and you too can ride the chile pepper pipeline.
Come back this Sunday and show us your hot, your spicy, yes, show us the Chiles. Bonus points if you cook your dish in a pair of Louboutins.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Let the Sun Shine

I knew this would happen. You enjoy one episode so much that the next one is inevitably a let down. This episode certainly was a sun parched low to my French high.

The Quickfire Ingredient. Cactus. The Guest Judge. Tim Love, another leftover from Top Chef Masters. If you didn't watch when he was on then or didn't notice in this episode, Tim enjoys a good snort of tequila. A lot. Hell, that should have been the Quickfire ingredient. Maybe then we would have had an episode with a little more pizazz. Mike I. wins the Quickfire because he uses a lot of cactus in his New Jerseyian Greek food. Laurine and Tintin round out the top three. It shouldn't be a surprise that two of the bottom three are Ron and Ash. The big surprise was who joined them.That's right, Michael V. In the bottom. He looks a little surprised. Use it Michael, use it to inspire you to bigger and better things. Not more cerviche. Now as a couple of our observant commentators have pointed out, the cerviche method of preparation is getting used like a Real Housewife's credit card. In this Quickfire alone, of the dishes shown, three used the preparation to describe their dish. This is not a good sign. Also not a good sign but surely a funny sign is Tintin's pronunciation of the word cactus.Me neither, Tintin, me neither.
The Elimination challenge didn't really seem to be as much as a challenge but more of an exercise in Drama Production. So the best way to do that was to plop the chefs down in the middle of the desert and make them spend the night, sleeping two to a tepee. Really little tepees.Make them cook on fire pits.
Take away their hair gel...Brutal, dude, just brutal. Yet despite the serious lack of hair gel...
...the chefs must cook High End dishes for Cowboys. You know what that means - CERVICHE for EVERYONE!!!!Poor cowboys. (Somewhere ZZ Top is missing a member.) Now the criteria for the challenge was pretty wide open so the chefs had a lot of latitude in what they could make. Most chose some sort of seafood or went really simple. The better chefs, recognizing that if you could get past the setting and concentrate on a good tasting dish true to their style, counted on doing well. Standing tall at the winning Judge's table were the Battling Brothers Voltaggio, Laurine and Ashley. Mike V - not Mike I. Despite two newcomers to Happy Judge's Table, Bryan takes a 3rd Elimination win.This is not a look that says Brotherly Love at all. Perhaps Bravo might look into a Family Counselor as potential product placement.

At the loser's Judge's Table. CERVICHE FOR EVERYONE!!

Robin, Ron and Tintin face the judge's wrath for bad shrimp, raw cod and apparently a god awful coconut mojito. Perhaps using your naked finger as a tasting device might have something to do with that last one.Despite this finger foul, it's the half assed, triple threat of bad cerviches that finally sends Tintin back to his restaurant in Fran..uh...California. I'm making a Blog Command decision and counting his cerviches as 3 instead of one, add Ron's sweet cerviche, in total gives us 7 cerviche type dishes in episode. I'm sure that's a new Top Chef record. Another member of the kitchen fodder takes his rightful place in the Condo of Shame, I'm sure wearing a black manscarf of mourning for his lost opportunity.Don't let the cerviche hit you on the way out, Tintin.