Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Top Chef All Stars - Clash of the Almost Titans

I've watched the previews, I've read the background. I am totally stoked for this Wednesday's beginning of Top Chef All Stars Season Eight. Eighteen chefs from seven past seasons clash for the title of All Star Top Chef. Are you ready for the lineup? Then RELEASE THE KRAKEN!

Top Chef Kraken

Top Chef All Stars Season 1

Season One in San Francisco gave us the delicious Tiffani and Stephen, two of the Originals. The chefs that made us love this thing we call Top Chef.

Top Chef All Stars Season Two

Season Two, L.A., The Cursed Season. Marcel and Elia.

Top Chef All Stars Season Three

Season Three, Miami, one of best seasons in terms of entertainment with Tre, the Fallen, Casey, the Black Widow and my Big Gay Boyfriend, Dale.

Top Chef All Stars Season Four

Season Four, Chicago. Holy Crap, does Season Four really warrant four chefs? What, they couldn't get Lee Anne from Season One to sign up so they yanked out a box Top Chef Helper and came up with Asshat and Dale to flesh out the cast?

Top Chef All Stars Season Five

Season Five, New York. The nearly unintelligible Fabio, Carla Hootie Hoo, one of my All Time top five Top Chef contestants and Jamie, who seems to be a bit of an odd choice here.

Top Chef All Stars Season Six

Season Six, Las Vegas. This season, in my opinion, was the most competitive when it came to the food which is odd considering the chefs that are participating. Jennifer I have no problem with but really who wants to see Mike when there could be Kevin Gillespie or Brian Voltagio knocking heads with Tiff or Marcel?

Top Chef All Stars Season Seven

Season Seven, DC. Snoreapolloza as it's known in my house (Tiffany was the bright spot of that season).

That's the rundown with the regular lineup of judges of Tom, Gail and Padma. The extra special judging sauce?

Anthony Bourdain

That's right, the Bourdain. Let's hope it's not the pale Season Seven judge but the roaring Season Two and Three judge who compares bad broccolini to doll's hair.

So what can we expect from all this ego-crazed goodness? Probably some of the best challenges of all the past seven seasons to probe the known weaknesses of the chefs. Like say a Cooking for Kids challenge to see if Tiff has learned to dial in her love for children?

Tiff and kids

Perhaps the kids thing is still a sore spot for Tiff. How about something we've ALL been waiting to see, a head to head match up with Tom Colicchio.

tom competes

Could be fun especially if things start dropping on the floor. How about guest judges?

Paula Deen

Looks like Paula Deen pays a visit and she may or may not be bringing her Peanut Brittle Whole Smoked Ham Pie with her.

Peanut Brittle Smoked Ham Pie

(I think this pie sends at least one chef to the hospital, maybe two.)

Who do I expect to do well when slaying the Kraken?


Of all the contestants I think Tiffani has the most Top Chef experience. She was second only to Harold in Season One and only because she did a dual menu. She was in the short one episode cookoff between Season One and Season Two at the beginning of Season Three. She won the Top Chef Christmas Special against some of the same chefs she's cooking against now. She also cooked in the strange little Fabio reunion show. So when it comes to competing Top Chef style, I'd say only Marcel has almost as much. She's completely dialed into what the judges tend to look for and she is fiercely competitive. Add to that she's been cooking non-stop when she's not doing the Top Chef gig. Who are her biggest competitors? Jennifer, Tre, Dale L., and Marcel. I expect the competition to be fierce but will it be entertaining. I have questions. For instance, will there be any bikini shots?


casey's bikini

If not, why not?

Will the Four Assed Monkey make an appearance?

TopChef, the 4 assed monkey

Will this little piggy squeal all the way home?


Does Casey still have the Kiss of the Spider Woman?


Will Stephen be giving advice on being a well dressed man to just about every other male cast member on set?

well dressed man

One can only hope.

Will Padma take any hints from Gail on style and taste as it applies to dressing for work?


I take it that's a no?

Will Carla....


...ever meet her doppelganger...

dramatic topchef-prairie-dog

...Dramatic Prairie Dog?

Does Dale T. really think this lipstick is his color?

Dale T. Lipstick

(Not photoshopped)

And finally, will someone, anyone tell me which chef for Season Three used this in their audition tape????

Who is this

(I won't tell)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Holiday Shopping Possibilities

Have you noticed that Williams Sonoma is becoming the Toys R Us for cooks, introducing fun and new stuff just in time for holiday shopping season? This is one of their offerings. The Mini Pie Maker.

Mark this the end of the whole cupcake phase, say hello to the personal pie craze. The great thing about this little gizmo is that you can make four different pies, keeping peace in your family between the cherry pie freaks and peach pie snobs. Not to mention making your own designer chicken pot pies (take that Swanson and Stouffers!).

So, what say you readers? Is this something you'd be excited to see under your Christmas tree or will you be returning it for store credit to buy even more attachments to your Kitchen Aid stand mixer?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fall Feast

It's fall here in Kansas City. The leaves have left their lofty perches high up in the tall oak trees. The squirrels, mindful of last winter's thick blankets of snow, are manic in their quest to bury all available acorns and nuts and fortify their leafy nests with even more insulation. It also means men of all ages and occupations set off into the woods to hunt. Wild game of all sorts is plentiful in the wood and fields of Missouri and Kansas and white tailed deer is certainly no exception. So when offered fresh meat from a recent hunt I jumped at the chance to fill my oven and my freezer.

Marinade venison

First I whipped out my vacuum sealer and dropped a huge venison loin in a mixture of soy sauce and brown sugar, sealed it up and let it have a good long soak overnight. All the other roasts and loins also were vacuum sealed and snuggled into the chest freezer. The next day I released the loin from it's bath and sliced it in half. I decided to roast one half wrapped in bacon. The other half I cut into chunks for stew. Venison is a very lean meat and adding a fat will help keep the meat from drying out.

wrapped venison loin 2

Enveloped in bacon and secured with tooth picks, the loin goes into a 350 degree oven for roughly twenty to thirty minutes depending on how rare or medium you enjoy your meat. I went twenty in the oven and then fifteen minutes on a hot grill to crisp up the bacon. Plus I like how the grill adds a bit of a smokey flavor.


A young visitor on a play date with my hounds gets her first smell of roasting venison. Looks like Bugbee likes it!

finished venison loin

moist venison loin

Who wouldn't? Look at that moist meat!

Venison potatoes

I quickly whipped up some rich scalloped potatoes to go with the moist venison. The meat was juicy with just a hint of sweetness that balanced out the venison flavor. It was a succulent feast and a wonderfully seasonal meal. My one regret was not making the cranberry and walnut dish I've got waiting in the wings for Thanksgiving. The flavor of the meat with the richness of the potatoes would have paired up wonderfully with the crunchy tang of the cranberries and rounded out the flavors of the entire dish. Still I'm thankful to the hunter for the wonderful opportunity to make this meal.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Winning Was Never So Sweet

Don't know what everyone else thought about the finale of Just Desserts but it was a bittersweet ending to a enjoyable twist to the Top Chef series. In my humble opinion the right person won, the underdog almost took the whole shebang and Karma had a little surprise for the third place loser in the form of unsellable souffles.

One of the biggest surprises, at least for me, was the finalists going straight into the finale. Certainly no rest for the weary. The chefs show up at the Kitchen expecting one more Quickfire only to find Gail in a hot new outfit but apparently unable to move below the waist. Gail fills them in on their final challenge, a four course tasting menu, totally chef's choice of what they want to make. All served to a dining room chock full of outstanding chefs and well known critics waiting to pick apart their desserts.

Gail generously gives the chefs the night off and sends them off to enjoy a night of cocktails at the Edison. It's a dark little spot and there our chefs find Chef Johnny lurking in the shadows, enjoying an adult beverage. After reassuring them there's no twist waiting in the kitchen, Johnny orders some desserts to share.

These desserts look so yummy but sadly there's no hint as to what they are or who made what. Well, no specifics exactly but we do get to meet the chefs.

It's the Three Blond Aces!! From right to left, the very perky Chef Sherry Yard, next to my longtime pretend girlfriend, Chef Elizabeth Falkner, next to old school pastry Chef Claudia Fleming (former pastry chef for Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Park). They made the fancy desserts and they will be serving as Sous Chefs to our finalists as they prepare their final desserts. Yigit pulls Sherry from the Cookie Jar of Destiny, Danielle takes Elizabeth leaving Claudia for last. Danielle, of course has a face for just such an occasion that mixes anxiety and elation.

She really should market this ability. Perhaps Danielle's Face A Day Blog. It could go on for years. There's another night at the condo where more childish stupidity happens but I'm so sick of it that we're just not going there. Back in the kitchen, all the chefs crack down to get as much done as possible in the seven hours they have on that first day. It's uneventful yet productive. It might have even been a learning experience had one wanted a lesson....say in the technique in spherification (the culinary process of shaping a liquid into spherical shapes). Morgan does his best to enlighten Chef Fleming...

(I'm not here for a chemistry lesson, you big mook)

...while Danielle listens attentively, wondering if Chef Claudia will embrace Morgan's methods to her bosom?

Yeah.....I'm guessing Chef Fleming is going to take a pass on spherification. So Day One ends with hugs for Sous Chefs Falkner and Yard. Chef Fleming, having failed Spherification 101, is not rewarded with a hug. Fast forward to Day Two at the kitchen where a whole new set of Sous Chefs have replaced the hard working crew of the day before.

Guess who doesn't play well with most of these folks? It's at this point that the Idiot King makes his last nasty, violent remark. However this post is about the winners of this last episode, not the loser. So the Cookie Jar of Destiny is produced for the last time and Yigit pulls Tim, Danielle pulls Tania and Morgan pulls Heather H. and before you know it their three hours is up and it's time to start serving. Lots of familiar faces among the guests.

Elizabeth Falkner.

Suzanne Goin with James Oseland. While Suzanne is looking really spiffy in her should cut-out dress, James has decided on the outfit he wants to be buried in.

Susan Feniger, another one of my pretend Girlfriends (for when Elizabeth is out of town...)

The remaining contestants not working in the kitchen also get to join in but only after they are segregated away from all the Adult chefs and relegated to the Just Dessert's version of the Kids Table. Damn that's cold.

Now when it comes down to the Finale dishes, it's really about perfection. There's a lot of other criteria but if you fail at one thing, you get shoved to the bottom and then those who performed better are judged against each other. I think I can safely say Yigit had a pretty flawless night.

Yigit's First Course

Cucumber Lime Sorbet with Straus Yogurt Caviar Pearls

Of all of Yigit's desserts, I think I want to try this one the most because it totally challenges my idea of what a dessert should be. It's so intriguing.

Yigit's Second Course

Strawberry Sorbet & Lemongrass Ginger Ice Cream with Berry Meringue & Consommé

Yigit's Third Course

Muscovado Braised Pineapple & Coconut Cake

This is the dish I most want to try and make. Pineapple and coconut? Yes please.

Yigit's Fourth Course

Hazelnut Dacquoise, Milk Jam & Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Everything else just looks amazing. It's a menu full of confidence and energy and really shot Yigit into the Winner's spot.

Team Go Diva, together again.