Monday, December 28, 2009

Dragon's Breath Blue

If you voted for the Canadian Blue Cheese, pat yourself on the back.
Thanks to Susan over at 29 Black Street for just one item out of my Canadian Care Package (more on that later).
While it is stinky, it's not as stinky as durian. Hmmm, all I need is some good crusty bread.

Do you know what it is?

What the heck is that thing?
I think it's a Hillbilly Candle (no wick) that Shamu got at her office White Elephant Gift Exchange
It's a Canadian version of Really Blue Cheese
It's Wax Sealed Candied Stinky Durian Slices that Shamu's brother sent her as a Stocking Stuffer. free polls

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Sunny Side of Life

With the holidays here, I'm often found experimenting. I love making food gifts. I have a whole collection of treats and nibbles that I like to make and package to give friends and loved ones. I try and push further than your typical cookies and 10 bean soup mixes. That means researching, making and tasting new finds to add to my collection. Sometimes you have to wait until the star ingredient is in season to test out a new recipe and so it was with Kumquats in Spiced Syrup over at Cooking Light.

Not everyone enjoys kumquats. I don't fall into that camp. I love the fragrant citrus sweetness of the skin and the sour pop of the flesh. It's like a sweet and sour popper in your mouth. It only gets better when you marinate the fruit in a spicy syrup of cinnamon, star anise, cloves and vanilla, topped off with a little brandy. It's a fairly easy recipe with the exception of one caveat...there is a monotonous annoyance factor. The recipe, as written, calls for 2 pounds or about 8 cups of kumquats. Each kumquat has to be pieced several times with a wooden skewer or toothpick. That's a lot of kumquat stabbing. Sounds like a job for...The Kids. (I'm quite sure had my mother known of this recipe when I was a kid, this job would have been all mine). Now the tricky part is if can you trust your kids to complete the massive task and not to stab themselves or their siblings (what?? poke my brother with a wooden skewer?? Never!). Once you get past any potential whining and poking, the rest is a breeze. You're on your own explaining to The Kids that after all their hard work they're still going to have to wait two weeks to taste the fruits of their labor. Just tell them all good things come to those who wait.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Snowmageddon 2009

I wasn't supposed to be here. Here being at my house in the Midwest. No, I had a date with some fine Virginia home cooking. Turkey with oyster stuffing, the best mashed potatoes in the world, rich turkey giblet gravy, greens and cranberry sauce. A big date. Not to mention two days of full out grazing on cheese, bread, oyster stew and whatever else my mother and brother would come up with. Instead I got hit full in the face with Snowmageddon 2009. My family got 19 inches of snow in Virginia during the big East Coast storm that fouled up both air and ground traffic earlier in the week. I'm currently sitting at 5 inches of snow with more predicted for tonight and tomorrow. I wasn't going anywhere except the grocery store to stock up on meat and the dvd rental place for some vintage Ab Fab. Still...I was feeling a little......Home Alone-ish. Dang, I knew I forgot something at the store! Old Spice.
I decided to seek solace in cooking up a simple but special meal. Prime Rib Roast, Yorkshire Pudding and Kale with Cranberries.

While I couldn't be with family this Christmas, I am certainly there with them in spirit. I hope where ever you are this holiday season, you are safe, warm and happy. Thanks to all our readers and especially our regular commenters, you guys are the best.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Most Important Kitchen Tool We Hope You Never Have to Use

During this holiday season, we wish all our readers many things. Good health, happiness and baconny joy. But we also wish you A Safe Kitchen. We wish you this because Cooking is the number one cause of residential structure fires. Cook's Illustrated, my favorite culinary magazine still in business, has a fantastic and detailed article reviewing kitchen fire extinguishers. I already had a smaller fire extinguisher but decided add their recommended brand to my culinary arsenal.So while you're busy checking your roast or turkey, while the pots and pans are merrily bubbling on the stove top, take just a minute to remind yourself where your kitchen fire extinguisher is, read over the instructions, and generally familiarize yourself with how it works. If you don't have a fire extinguisher then immediately get in the car, go to one of those big box hardware stores, pick out the Kidde Kitchen Fire Extinguisher and buy it. They're cheap, $20 which is cheaper than rebuilding your house because your flambé efforts went horribly wrong.
We wish you a full and Happy Holiday.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Just the Thing for your Culinary Christmas Tree

Cup of Espresso
Blue Cheese
Chinese Takeout and...

...a yummy slice of lemon meringue pie all from Pence Christmas Tree Farm.

Bacon and Eggs for Christmas Breakfast from Amazon.
A Pickle Ornament from Bronner's.

Inside out sushi ornament at Ornaments to Remember.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tom's Thoughts on Southern Cuisine

No matter who was your favorite chef going into those final moments, you had to feel for Kevin. Here was one of the nicest chefs ever to draw a knife from the Top Chef Knife Block. I don't recall him saying a harsh thing about any of his competitors, like calling their food overly complicated and bombastic. He had fun moments like kicking ass at the horseshoe pit out at the cowboy cookoff. Most of all he stayed true to his upbringing and roots. There was never a doubt how much Kevin loves Southern Cuisine and his passion to leave his imprint on the food he loves so much. Too bad the head judge seems to think that Southern Cuisine is limited to just biscuits and gravy.

Do you wonder what other misconceptions Tom has about Southern Cuisine?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blue Cheese Souffles with Black Grape Reduction

Saw some beautiful black grapes in the store and since I still had some of those wonderful brown eggs I decided to take a try at something I had in the To Try Pile of recipes.

Maytag Blue Cheese Souffles with Black Grape Reduction

Yield: Serves 6 as a cheese course or first course


For grape reduction
3 cups black grapes
1/2 cup water

For soufflés
3 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts (preferably black walnuts*)
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg yolk
1/4 pound Maytag Blue cheese
2 large egg whites
1 cup black grapes


Make grape reduction:
In a 1 1/2-quart saucepan simmer grapes in water, uncovered, 30 minutes. Pour mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Transfer liquid to cleaned pan and gently boil until reduced to about 1/2 cup. Keep sauce warm, covered. Sauce may be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Reheat sauce to warm before serving.

Make soufflés:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Butter six 1/4-cup ramekins (2 1/2 by 1 1/4 inches) and coat with walnuts, knocking out excess walnuts.

In another 1 1/2-quart saucepan heat milk and butter over moderate heat until butter is melted and bring to a boil. Add flour all at once and whisk vigorously until mixture returns to a boil. Transfer mixture to a bowl and whisk until it no longer emits steam. Whisk in yolk (mixture will be very stiff). Break half of Maytag Blue into small pieces and with a rubber spatula stir into flour mixture.

In a bowl with an electric mixer beat whites until they just hold stiff peaks and whisk half of whites into cheese mixture to lighten. Add remaining whites and whisk gently until incorporated (mixture will be dense).

Divide batter among ramekins and arrange in a roasting pan. Add enough hot water to roasting pan to reach halfway up sides of ramekins and bake soufflés in middle of oven until puffed and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Break remaining half Maytag Blue into chunks. Invert soufflés, 1 at a time, onto a large plate and turn right side up.  Spoon sauce around soufflés and arrange grapes and remaining cheese on plates.  

I've never made a souffle of anything before so this was an excellent recipe to try. I halved the recipe so if there was a disaster I wouldn't be wasting much in the way of eggs or blue cheese. The mini souffles turned out light and savory with blue cheese while the grape reduction balanced out the savory with just a hint of sweet. I think I'm ready to step up to a big chocolate souffle.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Who's Your Daddy?

Based on the dishes the 3 Finalist Chefs presented during the Season, whose restaurant would you call first to make a reservation?
Kevin, he rocks me to my Southern Roots
Bryan, his steady, well done food makes me drool
Michael, his Picasso-like food amazes me with it's brilliance free polls

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Power is a wonderful thing. As expected, Tom Colicchio's blog 'plains it all for you. Before we dig into the nuts and bolts rattling around inside Tom's head, I just have to point out what incredible freedom Tom has in his little Top Chef world. Not only is he the Head Judge, host and co-Producer, he is the lead historian of what was and is Top Chef. "But Shamu, you had a whole lot of chefs who were the stars of the show, who drove the story line, what about their view of what was?" Tis true, they were there but our little chefs wear a mighty big muzzle. Do you think Kevin believes Tom is the best judge of how pork belly should be cooked? He may believe it but he won't come right out and say Tom is full of Diet Coke. No, the chefs must swallow what ever Tom is serving and what Tom is serving is this.
First Course - Kevin takes a point with his chicken skin dish. Fairly easy judgment.Second Course or the clichéd Mystery Box dish (Don't we watch Top Chef to see something new, not something they've done forever everywhere else?) goes to Michael with his Dashi Glazed Rockfish. Have to take this one on taste faith that it was better. At least to Tom, not necessarily to Gail. Score is one point to Kevin and one point to Michael. Third Course was the Make whatever you want Course. Here's where it gets tricky. Bryan made venison that seemed to get raves, Kevin made pork belly that while his sauce is praised his cut of meat is considered undercooked. Michael gave us squab with mushrooms but both Gail and Donatello did not enjoy the mushroom concoction. What does Tom think? "The faux mushrooms were playful, a bit silly. They didn’t need to be there – why bother, when everything was so fine? That said, though, they didn’t hurt the dish a jot – it was absolutely delicious."  O....K. So a dish that is delicious but has a silly extraneous component is a hallmark of a Top Chef? Score - Michael 2, Kevin 1, Bryan is screwed.Fourth Course - Mandatory Dessert. While the previous judging may have been tricky, the dessert course show Tom's true colors. He claims Bryan won the round, making the score Michael 2, Kevin and Bryan 1 but what he conveniently glosses over is Michael's failure. "Michael’s dessert was really very delicious, even though he overcooked the ganache a bit. He knew he had done so, and that was unfortunate, but it didn’t overly harm the dessert, because the cake was still tasty and the other elements of the dessert worked really well. There were lots of little techniques in there that were used to great effect, and, overall, the dessert still worked." That's all well and good but Michael still failed to watch his sous chef over fill the molds and he didn't set a timer and ended up overcooking the dessert. Wow, seems a bit....(oh what's the word Tom used just last week), scattered to me. So scattered that I bet Jen was shaking her head that her well received, delicious duck dish was eliminated because she cooked it correctly but differently than what she told Tom. Understand that again, Michael made a dish, a dish he admitted he had made often at his restaurant, a dish he committed to memory but failed to EXECUTE! Tom says it was tasty but four people at that table remarked on the dryness. Now if I were judging, I don't think I'd want a Top Chef who failed to execute one of the dishes. As a matter of fact, I'd deduct a point for the failure. Hasn't that been the mantra this season and every season? One mistake and you're gone? Tell that to Tre back in Season 3. But I'm not Tom, who spent all night telling us, yet again, what he would do. Pork belly with roast pork, dessert bananas two ways, it really gets old. Last time I checked, Tom's not competing. I thought he was supposed to be judging the food in front of him. If he really wants to put his money where his big mouth is, I'm sure the producers of Top Chef Masters would welcome Tom as a competitor with open arms. I seriously doubt that will happen because handing over control of your culinary fate to judges not of your own making is not something Mr. Colicchio seems prepared for. Until then, we'll just have to suffer along with Tom Chef.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Color Me Unimpressed

Congratulations...I guess. For the quality of chefs up until this point, for the Finale episode, I expected a whole lot of fantastic, not the overwhelming urge to flip the channel to a mediocre Sandra Bullock movie. As for the food? Wow, totally underwhelmed. Yeah, I know, I can't taste the dishes. But I also don't see myself ordering many of them as they were presented on a menu of a restaurant I'd never dined at before, that's how uninspired I was by what I saw on my TV screen. I'm sure Tom's blog rantings will explain his intricate thought processes tomorrow but tonight all I can think is that was the most boring Top Chef Finale I've ever seen.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Last Quickfire

Our final four chefs have gathered on a rainy train platform to await their final Quickfire fate. Final Quickfires have been rather gnarly. Even bizarre. Last season, they had a Quickfire for the last 3 eliminated chefs (not the final four). The one who won that Quickfire had a chance to make it to the Finale, potentially bumping off one of the four finalists. Jeff won that Quickfire but ultimately could not go any further. Season 4 had a relatively simple Plantain Quickfire but poor Season 3 was cooking stream fresh trout over rock fire pits. Season 2 didn't have a Quickfire in their Finale, they went straight to an Elimination Challenge but Season 1 did have a Room Service Quickfire but used it to trim out the third chef. I was hoping for something special, a Quickfire to really challenge the nerves and resourcefulness of these talented chefs. So what did we get?Cooking on the Napa Valley Express? That's it?Turns out that due to Kevin's potential bouts of motion sickness and Padma's baby bump... ...the train could be re-christened as the Stress Hurler Express.30 minutes to make a dish showcasing Napa Valley grapes. To win a car. There is absolutely no tension or excitement in this Quickfire. NONE. No one threw up, no one accidentally stabbed someone else with their knife. Hell, Padma didn't even demand something like chocolate and mustard to satisfy her pregnancy cravings. So who won?Michael Voltaggio's Grape Leaf Stuffed with Couscous Vinegar Glazed Grape and Scallop Kabob. This looks like a nice dish however I thought it was a little gimmicky but when you're cooking for Michael Chiarello in his backyard of the Napa Valley, using a grape leaf to wrap couscous and a grape vine to skewer grapes and scallops is a very smart way to win a car. Why?Chef Chiarello himself whipped out cuttings from his own Napa grape vines for his finale dishes on Top Chef Masters. Now had Tom been judging the dish?Might have been a different chef driving away that car especially judging from the results of Tom's Diet Coke commercial and his hatred of inedible parts of dishes.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Supper Time

So you remember my Heritage Turkey that I brought in for my co-workers on Black Friday? That tasty, juicy bird? One of my co-workers so enjoyed that meal that as thanks he brought me a dozen farm fresh eggs from his parent's chickens. As you can see above, the brown egg dwarfs the supposedly large grocery store egg. I knew I had to do something fun with these luscious gifts. I decided to make Pasta Carbonara and not just any carbonara, a Peppery Pasta Carbonara with Poached Egg. I would even make the pasta from scratch. All with the help from my new leetle friend....

...the Kitchen Aid Mixer Pasta Attachment.

It's a well known fact that I love my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. It's a workhorse in the kitchen, making whipped cream and kneading dough at a moment's notice. I didn't have the pasta roller attachments in my mixer arsenal because I just didn't see myself using it that much since it was limited to sheet pastas. This new attachment? This one makes spaghetti, two sizes of macaroni, Bucatini, Rigatoni and Fusilli. It's a giant pasta Playdoh toy for big culinary kids. How fun is that?
I've never made fresh spaghetti before so I decided to use a simple recipe out of Alice Water's Pasta cookbook that consists of 1 cup of flour, 1 beaten egg, salt and just a smidgen of water that you mix, knead and then let rest. The dough came out of the machine in long beautiful strands. They were just as beautiful coming out of hot pot of water.

How beautiful is that egg? You can't get a smoother sauce than a poached farm fresh egg. It's so silky on your tongue. The pasta is tender and yet still toothsome (hehe) and smoky from the bacon. A great backdrop to the luxurious egg and another great chapter in the story of the Heritage Turkey that just keeps on giving.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cashing in the Chips

The Top Chef producers have been very generous to our kick ass Season 6 chefs. To the tune of $110,000 cash (if you count a $10,000 Macy's gift card). Not to mention a Toyota Prius just for winning the last Quickfire.But what's really interesting is who won the money. There were 7 episodes with High Stakes prizes. Only one chef not in the group of top four chefs won $15,000. Jennifer, Michael V. and Kevin won a combined $95,000 in cash. That's not counting non-cash prizes (like knives, cookware and appliances all of which I think either Kevin and Michael won). Even more fascinating is the fact that one chef won 4 Elimination Challenges, no Quickfires and no cash and only one prize and that lonely reward was to stage with Joël Robuchon in Vegas. That excellent chef is Bryan Voltaggio.Just something to keep in mind as we watch next week's Finale.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

First Impressions? WOW

From the moment he started describing her as scattered I knew she was gone.
Again, someone...anyone will have to explain to me how the Tom Colicchio judging system works, because kids, it's a mystery to me. How a duck dish that seemly glowed with judging praise suddenly went to being scattered. How from the moment she told him that fire coals story and how she used good judgment to save the dish instead of grilling it and ended up with under cooked duck, suddenly made the dish worse than what it actually tasted? Tell me how that's worse than attempting to make a tricky egg dish, under cooking the egg (raw eggs being so appealing to the general populace) and having the undercooked egg overwhelm the rest of the components of the dish? What's that you say?Oh yes, you're absolutely right, I did forget. Stunt Casting. Congratulations Tom, you've totally earned your latest title and the reputation that goes with it.