Thursday, June 28, 2007

Top Chef - Comfort Food with a side of SWEAT

What kind of person allows drops of sweat to fall of their faces when they are cooking food to serve to others? Howie, man...wear a head band or something. That little camera angle alone should've gotten you iliminated. I don't care how good your food was. Sweat is not a yummy side dish!

Holy giant fish tank, Padma! I can only imagine the fishy smell that must've hit the chef'testants when they entered the kitchen for the big couldn't have been a big surprise. (I thought it was chicken! ~Snark~) The challenge was to create a dish using some of the fresh shellfish that was piled in the mystery tank. Sounds easy enough, but let's think logistically. There's shellfish to de-shell, and clean - and that is just a major pain in the ass (which is why I always purchase de-shelled and de-viened Shrimp at the grocery store!). Each of the chef's had 30 seconds, and the use of a rinky-dink goldfish net to collect as much fresh shellfish as they could. Resident Spazz, my boy Huang, got to collect first, practially bum-rushing Padma and knocking her out of the way. Yikes! Double yikes when he dropped a wee little crayfish on the floor. I thought he would stomp the life out of it for sure...but he didn't, although he also didn't pick it up.

Once everyone had their seafood, the cooking started. The 12 year old inside of me laughed like a crazy, when someone said "I'm not going to dick around with conck." Please - you know you perked up too! I'm so surprised that Micah even made it our alive with all the aparatus she used while trying to get the conck out of it's shell! I hope Top Chef as the local ER on redial.

Brian, a chef at a Seafood restaurant we find out, was the winner of the Quickfire and thus was granted immunity from the elimination round. I can not remember a single chef who slacked off after winning immunity, but I guess Season 3 is a season of change.

A table of traditional American comfort food appears out of nowhere, and it gets a little uncomfortable as you can see every single chef cringe and recoil. Is comfort food really that gross? Comfort food is delicious! Fried Chicken, Tacos, Pork Chops and Applesauce, Stuffed Cabbage, Meatloaf...wait! That's all the food I cook! I am so tired of hearing "this is really not my thing" or "I don't do comfort food." I want to slap those bitches! Tell me that they didn't eat Kraft Mac and Cheese as a kid. Tell me! After getting over the whole snottiness of the moment, I find out that our chef'testants must remake the classics into something delicious (duh!) and healthy. Interesting. And, good luck. (Last season, the "Healthy Challenge" turned into mishaps of sneaking in flavorings like butter and olive oil. Cheating insued. Rules were identified...I guess this time everyone was read the riot act prior.)

The chefs get to pick their dish in reverse order from the Quickfire, and then they're off with $75 dollars to spend and 30 minutes to shop. Dale purchases a pre-cooked chicken and instant mashed potatoes. Are you serious? He had a plan, and he knew it!

The chef's got one hour of prep time, then had to pack it all up to finish their dishes at the local Elk's club for service and tasting.

What a disaster! The dishes were very literal and didn't show any kind of imagination at all. And, CJ's Tuna Noodle Casserole looked like Fancy Feast Cat Food, tinted green! I almost threw up a little in my mouth. Even Nathan, who eats anything, commented on how gross it looked. I thought CJ, who is what...9 feet tall - my god!...was packing his knives. Luckily Micah, who picked Meatloaf, was the worst and was kicked off. I'm happy with that decision. There was something "off" about her that I couldn't put my finger on.

A turn around of sorts happened when the sweaty beast himself, Howie, won the challenge with his rendition of Pork Chops and Applesauce redux. (I want to try that apple slaw myself!) This time, he proved that he can cook pork, although it looked a little too rare for my tastes. What a difference a week makes!

Another change in plans happened when the judges brought the Immunity winner Brian out so that he could crap his pants in front of the bottom 5. Brian snubbed his nose at "healthy" and chose lobster as his protein - even though lobster is naturally high in cholestrol. (A big no-no in this challenge.) That wiped the smerk off of his face.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A green thumb?

Who'da thunk?

Mighty nice specimen, don't you think?

I planted my garden back in early June, after the threat of frost totally passed, and unfortunately nature and life (and Nathan) has been working against me ever since. Apartment living doesn't really allow for in-ground planted gardens, even when you are sleeping with the landlord. So, I have a slew of vegetables growing in containers - two kinds of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, zucchini and, basil and parsley. If trying to train cucumbers up a trellis isn't hard enough - the house has no water spout. Not that I haven't been promised one for the past two months....and it was fine when the plants were seedlings - but now they are growing and need water. Lots of water. I need a hose!

So, every morning when I take the puppy out for his morning potty, I fill a large watering can right to the brim, then juggle a wiggly dog on a leash and a splashing watering can as I navigate down the stairs and around the house - squeezing pass both Nathan's work van and truck nestled in the driveway. It's especially hard, because I am not yet awake. And, my feet are wet and slipping around in my flip flops. I do the same song and dance in the afternoon, when I return home from work, with pretty much the same results.

All that work has rewarded me with the sprouting of green tomatoes! Now, I just have to watch them ripen, and somehow figure out how to keep the squirrels away!

I just love that fresh scent that comes from the tomato vines...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Top Chef - Season 3

Let me first start off by saying that I am a Bravo Reality TV fanatic! I loved Project Runway, Workout, Shear Genius and of course, my favorite - Top Chef. I like contests that are based off of actual talent, instead of popularity...and by the looks of things this season, there is an awful lot of talent!

The episode began with the chef'testants gathering around at the murder site of the late fashion designer Gianni Versace. (How festive, no?) I wonder if the hair on the back of their necks stood up when they walked up the steps? I got the chills when they revealed the location!

The chefs began small talk around the gorgeous spread of meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables, before Padma and ("I'm not your mentor") Chef Colicchio entered with details of the Quickfire round. I mean, why waste time? You're here...mostly queer...let's get on with it! The challenge was to make an amuse bouche that represented each chef, from the ingredients that they had been munching on. No heat, no knives - oh yeah...and they only had 10 minutes!

Within that small amount of time, I was able to pick out a couple of favorites:
Tre, that's one literal tattoo you've got there buddy.
CJ aka "Fake Ball"
Hung, who looks to be this year's Marcel...hey, they're even friends!
...and Sandee

Micah almost made my list, but there is just something about her that irks me, however she did turn out to be the winner of the Quickfire. Her dish was absolutely lovely - a take on a sushi roll, with the outside of the roll made out of thinly sliced meat. (Serrano ham? Proscuitto? I didn't catch it.) With her victory, she won immunity in the very first elimination round. Poor Clay, the token southern boy with the wide frightened eyes, did poorly - not understanding what an amuse bouche was...even thought it was featured on both Seasons 1 and 2. If you are going to become a contestant on a reality show, do us a favor and watch a couple of episodes! What we learned about Clay in his interview, is that he did not go to culinary school, and that his father was an accomplished chef who killed himself because of the pressure of owning a restaurant. Wow! My heartstrings were pulled on, that's for sure. I thought that Clay would go further than I expected, because of his editing as being the "dark horse."

I feel so badly for the Season 2 chefs, after seeing the housing that Season 3 gets to reside in! That penthouse is beautiful! I had bad flashbacks from the Thanksgiving episode, where the remaining chefs had to cook a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner in their rooms...shudder. I guess there are certain quality of living standards in Miami, that there were not in California. One item that did stand out to me though - the bathtub that was located in the middle of the bathroom...I wonder if anyone will use it? It is a community bathroom, and all.

On to the Elimination Challenge! Exotic proteins. Last season, this challenge came a little later in the show, and at that time I said to my hunny "This is when I would be sent home." I guess I would have been the first person eliminated this time! I have no idea how to cook boar, or alligator, or geoduck! (Shout out to Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs!) Is ostrich meant to be eaten rare?

Looking at the table of rare proteins, made me gag. My palette is obviously not as refined as it should/could be. I'm sure that snake meat is wonderful - - but did they have to have a stuffed snake in an attack position on the table?! I don't think I could've stuck my hand out to even collect it, with that fangs at the ready! Luckily, I was not alone, as a couple of the chefs were just as dumbfounded as I was.

Overall, everyone did do a good job, and the plates did look lovely, even if some of the protein was rubbery or overcooked. Anthony Bourdain made an appearance as a tough guest judge, alongside the usuals - and was the only one who really questioned whether an incomplete dish trumped a yucky tasting dish. In my head, if you don't complete the challenge, you should be disqualified hands down, but whatever. Howie, you got lucky man...especially when you quoted Anthony Bourdain as to why you should stay! Clay, the kid with the dead dad, got sent home for par-cooking his chops. (So much for that tear jerking edit Bravo!) And, one of my favorites, Tre, won the first challenge and received a little hug from Hung, the runner up.

Unfortunately, this entire first elimination challenge was all about the men - as the ladies remained safely in the middle of the pack. We'll see what next week brings.

Top Chef is back baby!

Chinese Pork Dumplings - from MY kitchen!

Every now and then, I take a trip to the local Asian market to pick up some frozen pork dumplings as a side dish to a homemade stir-fry. They're good...and never in my mind did I think that I could make a homemade dumpling that would taste half as good as those frozen ones - not to mention the yummy fresh ones that you find at the Chinese Buffet.

But Dave Lieberman showed me the way! Dave's Dinners is one of those cookbooks that fills all of my hard-to-please criteria...lots of full color pictures, little stories that introduce the food and a ton of easy, fresh recipes. Plus, he's darn cute! The funny thing is, I never really dug his original show on Food Network, until I bought the cookbook and forced myself to watch. Only then did I realized that he also has a lovely on-air personality...and gives a good name to young chefs.

There are so many recipes that I am dying to try:
Pumpkin and Chipotle Corn Cowder
Jerk Chicken with Fried Banana Rice
Coconut-Ginger Tilapia Packages with Red Potatoes and Snow Peas
Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake with Shortbread Cookie Crust
Lemon Poppy Seed Semifreddo
...and more!

I do believe that this cookbook is going to be stained with food splatter - a gross sign of a well used cookbook!


For the dumplings:
*1 pound ground pork
*1 egg
*2 tbsp finely sliced scallion
*1 garlic clove, pressed
*1/2 tsp sesame oil
*1 tbsp soy sauce
*1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
*1 tbsp of freshly grated ginger
raw wonton wrappers (found in the organic section of your vegetable aisle)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Citrus-Soy Dipping Sauce (recipe to follow)

Combine all (*) ingredients in a large mixing bowl and work together until fully incorporated. Keep chilled until ready for assembly.

Lay on wonton wrapper on your work surface, and fill with a heaping tsp of filling into the center. Moisten the four corners, and pinch edges together, forming a dumpling shape. Repeat until all of your dumplings are made.

Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place all of the dumplings upright into the pan and cook, without disturbing them, until browned on the bottom. Add 1/2 cup of water to the pan and immediately cover. Steam dumplings for 3 minutes, then remove skillet lid. Continue cooking until water has nearly evaporated.

Transfer to a platter and serve with dipping sauce.

For the dipping sauce:
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Stir all ingredients together in a small bowl until sugar is dissolved.

Oh my Lord, these were good!

These will be making an appearance at the next party, for sure.

I was so impressed at how non-labor intensive they were, and how tender the wonton skins came out. The filling was super flavorful - not at all heavy in the soy flavor. They were wonderful with, or without, the dipping sauce.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Grilled Chicken with a Spicy Chipotle Sauce

Now that the weather is warmer, the grill is out...though not completely in full force just yet. Using the grill means that I need a cooking partner, as the grill resides in the backyard of our two family apartment, of which we live in the upper level. It's just easier (planning wise) to have someone else downstairs cooking meat, while I am upstairs preparing the rest of the meal. There's also air conditioning upstairs - - I'm no fool!

So - to use the grill means that I need a willing participant, and after a long day of work, Nathan was ready, and I was very, very pleased.


4 boneless, skinless chicken pieces (I used breasts, but you could also use thighs)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp taco seasoning mix
1/2 cup sour cream
2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, seeded, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp milk
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, or cilantro

Preheat gas grill to medium.

Brush chicken with oil, season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle with taco seasonings - on both sides. Place chicken onto grill and close lid. After about 6 minutes, rotate chicken 90 degrees so that you have nice grill marks on the meat. After another 6 minutes, flip and repeat the process, until the chicken is cooked through and the juices run clear.

Meanwhile, combine sour cream, chiles, parsley, milk and salt and pepper in a small bowl. Add additional milk if you like your sauce to be of a thinner consistency.

To serve, spoon sauce over grilled chicken and garnish with more chopped parsley for color. I added some creamy polenta (which I am obsessed with recently) to the plate, and a glass of white wine sangria to round out this Spanish-inspired meal.

I was also ready with a glass of milk, in case the sauce was more spicy than I could handle, but it was actually quite nice. The chiles hit the back of your throat, but dissipated quickly...and the sauce balanced nicely with the creamy polenta. We both thought the meal was a winner! And, I have to give props to Nathan, who grilled that chicken perfectly.

This is the first time I have ever used chipotle chiles in adobo, so let me pass along a couple of tips that I found during my google search...

1. You will find the item in the international section of your grocery store, in a small can. I think I walked by it 100 times before I realized that it would not be in a jar, and that the can would be teeny-tiny.

2. Chipotle chiles are dried, smoked jalapenos, canned in a spicy tomato sauce, which is called adobo. 2 chiles equals .5 grams of fat; 2 carbohydrate grams; and 15 they are a great way to add spicy flavor to a dish!

3. To store leftover chiles, pour the remainder of the can into a resealable plastic freezer bag. Press out air and tightly seal the bag. Place in freezer, pressing chiles into a single layer. Once frozen, break one chile off at a time, as needed. Brilliant!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Just BEET it!

Growing up beets were just...gross. And, yucky. The lunch ladies at my Elementary School served them about once a week with our hot lunches, and made every single child (and teacher) take a scoop for their tray, then (not so) gently pushed us each to "try one bite." Most of the time, I would pretend to swallow, then spit out the red mess into my napkin as soon as they walked away. Suckers!

But, the tide has turned! Beets are very, very good - as long as they are cooked properly. Beets have this really nice earthy sweet flavor...and the color. Oh my goodness! The coloring is absolutely magnificant - beet juice is a natual coloring agent, so be careful when handling and preparing...wear rubber kitchen gloves and an apron for protection!

I picked up a couple absolutely beautiful beets at the Farmer's Market on a whim, and just stared at them for a couple of days while recipe ideas ran rampant in my head. I really had no idea what I wanted to do - but I did know that I wanted the beets to be the star of the show, and not just a ho-hum salad on the side.

So - this is what I came up with (with a little inspiration from


2 whole beets, cleaned
1 tbsp olive oil
4 oz. goat cheese
2 tbsp bread crumbs
salt and pepper, to taste
wanton wrappers
4 tbsp butter
1-2 tsp poppy seeds
freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wrap beets in foil, with a touch of olive oil. Roast for 40-60 minutes, or until the beets are fork tender. Take them out and let cool. Take each cooled beet, and rub vigorously with a paper towel to remove the outer skin. (Protect your skin - this part is very messy!)

In a food processor, combine beets, goat cheese, bread crumbs and salt and pepper. Add more bread crumb if needed - until mixture is thoroughly combined, yet more on the dry side.

Lay out raw wanton wrappers on your work surface. Take a tsp of the beet mixture, and place into the center of each wanton wrapper. Dip your finger in some water, and moisten the edges of half of the wanton. Seal dumpling/ravioli by folding wrapper over on itself - trapping the beet mixture in the center. Crimp edges with the tines of a fork. Place finished ravioli on a lightly floured surface, in a single layer so that they do not stick together. Repeat process until all of the filling is used up. (I got about 25 ravioli out this recipe.)

A sea of tiny pillows.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Salt water well. Gently drop each ravioli into the boiling water, and cook until the ravoili floats to the surface.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet. Add 1 tsp poppy seeds. Once ravioli are finished boiling, gently drop them into the butter mixture for 1 minute, until the edges turn slightly brown. Remove from heat and serve! Garnish with reserved poppy seeds and some freshly grated paremsan cheese. Serve with a simple salad of baby greens.

This dish was extremely tasty, and very rich. The goat cheese gave the beet mixture a little tang than off-set the sweetness of the roasted beets. It really was a perfect marriage of ingredients! The wantons were a simple replacement for fresh pasta, which I have never really been able to master.

If you have an adversion to beets, these ravioli may be a little hard to swallow. Nathan was truly enjoying the "newness" of it all until I told him what he was eating...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Cherry Season!

Our markets are currently overloaded with ripe, beautiful cherries - coming in at around $5.99 a pound, and worth every penny!

My bounty included an array of deep burgundy colors, with a light, sweet flavor and a level of juiciness that is beyond words - to a lighter salmon hew, with a bright, sour bitterness and a crisp bite from the skin of the fruit. My mind was racing...thinking of ways that I could use these cherries, besides setting them in a bowl on the table.

This is what I came up with:


1 Pork Loin
10-12 pitted cherries

salt and pepper, to taste

1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Butterfly the pork loin. Place pitted cherries in the center of the pork, and roll the meat around the "stuffing" and secure with either toothpicks, or cotton kitchen string. Season meat with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a large skillet. When hot, place the raw stuffed pork into the skillet, and sear all sides, until golden brown. Transfer to a cookie sheet, and place in the oven. Cook for approximately 25-30 minutes.
While meat is cooking, start on the sauce...

cup Pomegranate juice (like POM)
1/4 cup pitted cherries
1 tbsp sugar
(if necessary)
2 tbsp dried cranberries

pinch of salt
1 sprig of fresh rosemary

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan, minus sugar. Simmer over medium heat, until the mixture thickens by half (at least) and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Before service, taste and add sugar if/as necessary.

I served this with some rosemary polenta. (Polenta is a 3 to 1 ratio of liquid to corn meal. I used two cups of chicken stock and 1 cup of heavy cream as the liquid - brought to a boil, as well as a tbsp of butter, salt and pepper, a tbsp of chopped fresh rosemary and 1 cup of yellow corn meal. Then, whisk...whisk...whisk! You are done in about 3 minutes.)

So good!!!!

The cherries stuffed inside the pork kept the meat really moist, and the sauce added a bit of sweet and sour. Plus, the color was unbeatable!


The cherries were so good in our dinner, I thought we might as well eat them for dessert as well...

Sometimes the most simplistic approach works the best. Meringues are so easy to make, and are the most perfect ending to a rich meal, because although they can be super sweet, they are also as light as air.


4 egg whites
1 cup of sugar
pinch of cream of tartar
pitted cherries, with stems attached

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Mix egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in a heat safe bowl. Whisk for 2-3 minutes over a pot of simmering water, until the mixture is warm. Remove from heat, and beat (beginning with a low speed slowly increasing to high) until you achieve stiff peaks.

Empty the contents into a pastry bag fitted with a Wilton #16 tip, and pipe 1 inch mountains on a baking sheet, either lined with parchment paper or a silpat. Bake for 20 minutes.

Lower oven temperature to 175 degrees, and bake for another 45 minutes...until the meringues are dried, but still white. Let cool completely. (I threw them into the fridge, so that they are easier to handle!) Top with a cherry!

Little bites of joy!