Thursday, December 11, 2008

Everyone expected me to win...

“Everyone on my team expected me to win.” Wow.

I loved this Quickfire challenge. Blind taste tests that force a chef to strictly use what they hope is a finely tuned palate always shows their mettle. What I don’t understand is why some of the chefs let the others get away with naming between three and five ingredients? It’s a sauce, so aren’t oil, salt, and pepper almost automatic? In any event, it was really fun to watch. The only Quickfire I like more is when they do the relay races. But again, my boy Hosea holds it down giving Stefan the stink and showing him that Americans know a little something about cooking too.

The Elimination challenge calls for the chefs to cook for Gail Simmons’ bridal shower…of 40 guests, a large number of which are colleagues of hers from Food and Wine Magazine. So finger sandwiches and instant coffee just isn’t going to get it done. And of course there has to be a theme and a twist. So to correspond with being a bride, the chefs draw knives to make teams of three with the themes “old”, “new”, “borrowed”, and “blue” to incorporate into their dishes as well as define the order of service.

Team “Old” consisting of Jeff, Stefan, and Hosea are the first to serve. They decide that a trio of tastings made from heirloom tomatoes is the way to go. In an effort to assert himself, Stefan really started to try to tell everyone what was what this week. He didn’t like Jeff’s idea of a tomato sorbet. He didn’t like another team’s concept for their meal. He made no effort to mask his contempt. He’s trying to get some action from Jamie? Hey, here’s to your efforts big guy but that’s going to be like trying ice skate uphill. Ultimately, though the guys did well and Jeff’s sorbet was well received.

Team “New” was just a comedy of errors. I think Eugene had a good idea working with a make-your-own sushi roll. But maybe not the best idea to make a bunch of well-dressed ladies make and eat their own food with no explanation as to how it was supposed to come together. Oh by the way, his rice was way overdone, apparently. Why he didn’t just make more, I don’t know? Danny seemed to be more in the way then anything else. And Carla just went to her place of Zen, I guess, and let it all happen even when Danny put mushrooms in her salad without her knowledge.

Team “Borrowed” drew on inspiration from various cuisines, particularly Indian. But I gotta say, when someone on your team is, in fact, Indian, you’re not really borrowing it so much anymore I don’t think. Their carrot puree was perfect, and the lamb was apparently perfect too.

Team “Blue” decided to do a meal inspired by the deep blue sea. According to Tom, there is no food in the world that is truly blue. But when you say “blue food” who doesn’t think of blueberries? And going last opened the door for a blueberry dessert. Seemed like a no brainer.

Teams “Old” and “Borrowed” ended up with the favorites across the board with “Borrowed” winning the day. But when picking the person who was the most instrumental in the win, you hear Jamie say something about wanting the win. Well, she didn’t get it, prompting her to say in the confessional “Everyone expected me to win”. I guess she thought that because it was her concept combined with her carrot puree, she deserved to win. Apparently, the judges saw it differently, and they should have. Ariane cooked the lamb, which was the focal point of the dish. Hell, I could’ve come up with the concept. Does that make me the winner? By the way, yet again, in spite of saying that she doesn’t want to be earmarked as just making Indian food, Radhika yet again makes Indian food.

Team “New” was called on the carpet for basically screwing up all over the place. Any of them could’ve gotten the boot, and Tom wanted to do just that. What seemed to save Eugene and Carla was that when their mistakes we pointed out, they owned them. Danny, by contrast, was utterly convinced that their food was great, and it didn’t matter what anyone said. Bye bye big guy.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I Don't Want To Be a TV Chef...

“I don’t want to be a TV chef” said the reality TV contestants. Last night, the chefs had to make a meal that could be condensed into a 2-minute demo that could be shown on TV. And according to most of them, they never had any aspirations of being on TV. Except, I suppose, for the purposes of being on Top Chef? Per the biographies of chefs that I have read, the cheffing community seems to have diametrically opposing views of the “celebrity chef”. They are either anit-celeb chef and it’s a travesty as well as an embarrassment to the profession, or they’re just kinda casually okay about it. In any event, chances are that you will be evaluated by a number of celebrity chefs in this competition, so perhaps it would be in the best interests of the contestants to keep their feelings about TV exposure to a minimum?

But a word about the Quickfire; Amuse Bouche is a bite. Last I checked, it’s like 1/4th of an appetizer. So what looks like a deconstruction of three components on the plate, no matter how good it tastes probably isn’t going to win the challenge. And for the love, I’m pretty sure that no matter how much Rocco Dispirito loves bacon, you’re not going to need a pound for two servings. Leah just grasped the whole thing, start to finish and delivered a one-bite, breakfast-oriented, challenge-winning dish, which makes two Quickfire wins in a row for her, and prompting my wife to choose Leah as her pick to win it all.

On to the elimination challenge…

The chefs had to prepare a demonstration that would fit well in two-minute slot on a TV show. It just seems like common sense to make something that fits several criteria; can someone make it at home? Will the ingredients be readily available in your average grocery store? Can the viewer pronounce whatever it is you’re trying to make? Can you knock it all out and have a finished product ready in the time allotted with enough information provided in the segment that people will feel comfortable making it? If the answer to any of these is no, you need to rethink your process. If I, as a viewer, need industrial grade equipment, can’t find the components, am too intimidated by the name, or don’t see a pro finish that dish, I’m probably not as likely to try.

For the second straight week, Ariane had a strong showing, winning the challenge. She was in good company too, seeing as Jeff has had a few strong finishes, and Fabio has a win. Furthermore, the announcement of her win was determined live on the Today Show by all the hosts. Her dish was simple, and she took a little heat from some of the other competitors about it. But she maximized flavor and presentation in two minutes. However, for each winner, there must be a looser, and Alex, Melissa, and Jamie found themselves in the bottom three for two reasons between three people.

Jamie and Alex ended up with the same problem; they just didn’t finish the dish in the allotted time. Jamie ended up serving a fried egg that still had some raw white around the yolk. The argument was made that people would consume undercooked yolk and have health concerns. Didn’t they see Rocky eat raw eggs by the half-dozen? And Alex, while I appreciate his bravado trying to make a dessert, should’ve known better. Crème Brule in an hour of prep time just won’t happen. And sure enough, it didn’t set up in time. Melissa made a dish so spicy that, per the blogs of the chefs on the show, couldn’t be eaten. I like spicy more than most. But having eaten a habanero raw and whole, you just can’t have people serving them in a meal who don’t know what they’re dealing with. Suppose someone serves something with habanero to someone with an ulcer? You may not kill them, but they’ll wish to God they were dead. In my mind, that should’ve been enough to excuse her from the show. But Alex’s runny Brule got the boot.

Two notes in closing; first, I was very glad to see Rocco on this episode. Last year he was only a guest judge for the season premiere, and I would’ve like to see him on there once or twice more. Hopefully, this won’t be the last time we see him this year. Second, there are all kinds of etiquette to being a guest on a TV show. If you read Tom’s blog about filling guest spots, he talks about it in detail. And they’re all good points. But there are some lines of decorum to be observed by the hosts as well. So for Kathie Lee to actually spit out Jeff’s dish was inappropriate on any level. Grow up.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving in July-ish

How odd do you think that it must have been to be preparing a Thanksgiving meal for a Thanksgiving episode in what…July? Anyway, I know I’m late getting something posted about the show, but with the aforementioned holiday, my mind was elsewhere.

With the chefs breaking into two teams, the assignment was to make dinner for the Foo Fighters and their entourage of roadies that was consistent with a Thanksgiving theme, and fit criteria of likes and dislikes set forth by the band. Oh by the way, they had to cook outside with toaster ovens, microwaves, and one lone burner. I have to give credit to many of the chefs on both teams for quickly assessing the situation and not taking an hour to piss and moan about how lousy the circumstances were. So with a number of ideas in mind, teams “Sexy Pants” and “Cougar” were off to the races.

In a losing effort, Ariane started to take steps in the right direction. She had a strong showing in the preparation of her turkey in a toaster oven. I like to think that I know a thing or two about cooking, but I wouldn’t have had a clue where to begin? And though she found herself on the losing team, the judges were quick to tell her that she was safe from elimination for the week. Good thing too…I don’t think she could have taken the stress of being in the bottom two for the third week in a row.

Jeff found himself on the block with a weak dessert bringing him before the judges. Pumpkin foam and raspberries just don’t sound good together. But Jeff seems to have a mystique and charisma about him that compel people to follow him and trust him, even when they are in competition with him. So with that, he assumed the role of the head chef and did more traffic directing, as a head chef does, than cooking. His leadership, not his food saved him this week.

Richard made a mistake mentally that cost him his station in the kitchen. When reading what the band really liked, he got stuck on bananas. For some reason, he thought it best to pair that idea with S’mores. He just got locked into those two components, and couldn’t let them go.

Originally, I wasn’t a big fan of Fabio. But with the passing of each week, he impresses me more and more. Thanksgiving is an American holiday, holding understandably little significance to a lot of immigrants. But he took the idea of a pumpkin-based dessert and made something he knew in tiramisu. And he did it with toaster ovens and microwaves. Original, creative, and resourceful…exactly the traits that help people go far in this contest or even win it all.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Season 5 Elimination 2

The producers of the show wasted no time at all thrusting the contestants into hostile territory and a professional kitchen. I can appreciate Tom’s charitable nature to allow them to use the kitchen of his flagship restaurant to serve a meal to pissed of runners-up. But at some point he had to be gritting his teeth thinking “I can’t believe I let this go out of my kitchen!” They say no press is bad press, but considering Craft as a corporation has already enjoyed success, not to mention everyone who’s seen more than one episode of Top Chef knows that Tom owns Craft, he probably could’ve done without crappy food leaving his kitchen.

Touching briefly on the Quickfire, everyone was asked to make a hot dog. Some hit, and some missed, but Radhika ends up winning the immunity. And what did she make? After professing several times in the first episode that she didn’t want to be typecast as the chef that only makes Indian food because she’s Indian, what does she do? She draws on her roots to make a hot dog inspired by Indian cuisine! Go ahead and email your thoughts on the topic to And no, that’s not a real link.

On to the elimination challenge, I was yet again confused by a number of people’s choices? Every single time there has been a dessert-oriented challenge in Top Chef history, everyone rolls their eyes or grinds their teeth, because by the chef’s own admissions, they don’t like doing desserts in general. Yet, as soon as the challenge was presented, a bunch of people jumped all over doing desserts. Why? Do they think that doing one now will prohibit them or win them favor when they will have to make one later? Or are they unsure about their confectionary prowess and figure they will take their chances now with more people around them thinking that they will hope someone else screws up and their dish can slide by being marginal? I’m thinking it’s the latter because as they are in the kitchen, a number of them kept reiterating in the confessionals that they didn’t like doing desserts. So why then did you volunteer for it?!

The challenge was to make dishes that were consistent with “New American Cuisine”. Read the blogs posted by the judges or Tom himself, and they will all admit that is a pretty nebulous idea. And unfortunately, a lot of the contestants fell short on meeting the judge’s expectations. Now, I can understand how they can be confused by the concept. But that’s no excuse to make food that just doesn’t taste good.

Fabio make a very impressive-looking carpaccio with olives, and won the challenge. Oddly enough, he didn’t win anything additional for winning the day? Didn’t they used to get stuff?

Crazy Carla made an apple pie with a piece of cheddar that seemed to go over really well too. But I just can’t get on board with cheese on apple pie?

Good thing Radhika had immunity because an avacado dessert? Essentially sweet guacamole with chocolate chips? Well, and least you didn't do two Indian-inspired dishes in one episode.

Ariane yet again found herself in the bottom of the group serving a dish they she knew and freely admitted was too sweet before serving. She had time to manipulate it and didn’t. She sobbed in the back room saying she didn’t think she deserved to be there…and she’s probably right. She’s not long for the competition.

My boy Hosea… he’s still my pick but dude, canned crab? I mean, did he really think he was going to sneak that by the palates of the judges? Props though, on the line up. He took the judges comments. He didn’t piss and moan and woe is me. He didn’t make excuses. He just took it well.

Unlike Jill, who when put on the spot couldn’t remember her own name. Her ostrich egg quiche just didn’t seem to make sense. It seemed like she decided to shop for an ingredient and make the dish around it instead of putting a meal together then doing the shopping. And when asked “how would you go about doing better next time?” she may have well responded by saying “well, ya wanna play good…and ya hope ya play good. And ya just gotta go out and give 110% when the chips fall where they may.” Actually, when it came right down to it, her complete lack of coherent thought in her response may well have talked her right out the door.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Top Chef is Back!

The majesty and glory of the greatest cooking show on TV is once again upon us! Top Chef has returned with it’s fifth season from the culinary epicenter of the known universe; New York City.

17 contestants were welcomed into the new season, but with only 16 spots to fill, someone had to be eliminated right away. Slow knife skills proved to be the undoing for Lauren, the CIA grad. Sorry about your luck, but Jags still rocks. Having eaten there, I can say with all confidence that for someone to be able to cook there means there’s serious talent in them yet.

With 16 remaining contestants, I really don’t have the memory to have something to say about them all. That said, let me hit the highlights…or lowlights as the case may be.

Stefan- Got skills, but seems like a dick.

Fabio- Mediocre skills, but seems like a dick.

Ariane- Really? The best thing you can think to say when facing elimination is “when I’m cooking something I don’t know I have a book to look at”? Maybe you’d be better off commenting on something that doesn’t illustrate your utter lack of ability? Perhaps the glare coming off Tom’s head? Retard.

Patrick- Picking your first elimination challenge to use an ingredient that you’ve never worked with before was just not smart. You don’t have to have gone to CIA to know that. Also, adding steamed bok choi doesn’t automatically make something Chinese. Don’t need CIA for that either.

Radhika- It takes you 20 minutes to get your knives out and your spices arranged? Sweetie, you are on the wrong show.

Danny- Aside from the oddly cut facial hair, I liked this guy right away. But Tom caught him in a very uncomfortable situation. I know that with as many variations on this, that, and the other in cooking these days, fewer and fewer dishes are completely original. But the higher up the ladder of haute cuisine you go, the more likely you are to find these truly original dishes. Tom looked at the salad Danny put together, had a taste, and immediately said “I recognize this salad. Wolfgang Puck has been making it for 20 some-odd years.” At least he took his inspiration from the very, very best.

There are two caterers on this season, Stefan and Carla. Carla got a little kooky with her “spirit guides” statements. And while she’s entertaining, I don’t think she’s going to have the chops to hang around until the end. Stefan, however, seems to have some pretty sick skills, winning both the Quickfire and Elimination challenges. His kung fu is strong. However, previous contestants Brian Malarkey (season 3) and Richard Blais (season 4) have said in their blogs that a caterer will never win this competition. I guess we’ll see.

Personally, I like Hosea. He seems like a pretty even-keeled guy with strong knife skills and a good eye for presentation. After the first night, he’s my pick to win it all.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Bucket List Caramel Apple Dip

Again, I’ve hit a bit of a rut, and haven’t posted in a while. Actually, I haven’t cooked anything new, eaten anywhere cool, or read anything that great in a while. But all that is about to change. I’m reading right now, cooking this week, and Top Chef starts in another 2 weeks, so I’ll be in business with more crap to spin into good reading then I can handle!

Anyway, in light of the fact that it’s Halloween and clearly fall, I have something to offer. Fall means apples. Good, crisp, tasty, apples the size of a softball. Granny Smiths, Honey Crisps, Gala, and the nebulous and elusive New Zealand. Some are better for eating, some better for cooking, some better for dipping into large vats of gooey molten caramel. That’s not exactly right because any of them dipped into caramel is a good thing. That said, I humbly offer my newest post on apples and caramel.

Ordinarily, I would avoid posting a recipe that I hadn’t at least tried to make myself. But this one was just so good I just couldn’t help it. This comes courtesy of a co-worker of mine, Diane. She brought this plate of sin into our office today with a bag of apples, and now we all want to lie of the floor and take a nap.

Diane’s Bucket List Caramel Dip:
2 Bricks of softened cream cheese
2/3 of a cup of brown sugar
1 tub of Marzetti caramel dip (or you can make your own if you’re feeling ambitious)
1 bad of Heath bar pieces, available in the baking isle with the chocolate chips and stuff
Eat then die, per Diane’s original instructions.

Mix the cream cheese and brown sugar together, and spread it into two pie dishes. Heat the caramel for 30 seconds, and spread it over the cream cheese/brown sugar mixture. Top with the Heath bar pieces, and serve with apple slices.

It’s simple, easy, no cooking per se required, and only a small and minimal blast of heat. Good stuff.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sea Bass and a Side of Yum

I’ve been a little lax about getting a recipe up here in recent weeks. And while I’m sitting at work, killing some time, and racking my brain to see what I can post or not, I realized that I have not yet posted on of my favorite new recipes which is quickly becoming my “go to” specialty; sautéed Chilean sea bass and mushroom risotto. It sounds fancy, looks pretty, and is not hard to make at all. The only drawbacks are that it takes a little practice to get the timing right, and it’s a little on the expensive side, considering Arborio rice runs about $5 per jug (there’s probably 4-6 cups in a jug) and sea bass has been up around $20-25 a pound the last 2 times I made it.

Chilean Sea Bass:
1 pound of sea bass (feeds 4 pretty well)
1 tablespoon of coarsely chopped shallots
2 coarsely chopped garlic cloves
1 tablespoon of butter
Olive oil

Cut into 4 pieces, or 1 for each person you are serving, and season both sides with salt, pepper, and a light coating of olive oil. Heat the butter with another dash of olive oil in the thick, heavy pan with the garlic and shallots. Once the pan is hot, start the fish. Cook it on each side until a light golden skin starts to develop (3 minutes per side-ish), then finish it in the oven at 300 for another 3 minutes or so. Once the fish starts to gently pull apart at the grains, it’s done.

Mushroom Risotto:
4-5 cups of chicken stock
1 pack of mushrooms sliced
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 cup or Arborio or Risotto rice
1 tablespoon of butter
¼ cup of heavy cream

Over a medium-high heat, melt the butter, and cook the mushrooms. Once they have surrendered their moisture, add the garlic and rice browning it gently for a minute or so. Keep it moving the whole time. Then comes the time consuming part. Add 1 cup of stock, and reduce it. Then repeat that process until all the stock has been used. Once this is done, add the cream and reduce it one more time. Season with salt and pepper. It will have a creamy texture and still fairly moist. Some people will add a cup of dry white wine before they start with the stock reduction. If it’s cheap or you have some on hand, great. If not, don’t loose sleep.

The risotto will probably take you about 45 minutes give or take a few. As far as timing goes, if you start the fish right about the time you start reducing the last cup of stock, you should be okay.

There are a few things that I love about making this dish. As I said, it sounds really cool and looks really pretty when you present it. But also, if you go into a restaurant and ask for a pound of sea bass, chances are they will sell you several entrees at $19-26 each. For the cost of one entrée and maybe one or two drinks, you can make this at home and feed 4 very nicely.

Have fun.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Cooking in the Dark...Literally.

This past week, the Greater Cincinnati area experienced a bit of a black out. A windstorm nailed the entire area, likely a result of cell depressions and such caused by Hurricane Ike. We experienced gusts of wind in excess of those experienced during a category one hurricane, and constant winds in the mid 60’s. Trees fell, shingles came off roofs, siding came down, and in the midst of all that distress there was enough damage to cost us our precious power for a while. Some 850,000 people in the area were without power Sunday night. As I write this on a Friday morning, there are still 100,000+ that are in the dark. Yes, it was an inconvenience bordering on being a pain, but it’s nothing compared to what the people in Texas were and still are dealing with.

With nothing to do in the middle of the day, Trina and I packed up our dog and headed over to my mom’s house. We sat in her garage snacking on food that would soon go bad without refrigeration and marveled at the range of the damage from house to house and street to street. As the time passed and the night set it, we all realized that we were getting hungry for some real food, as chips and dip just weren’t cutting it. So away we went to a darkening kitchen to take a quick inventory.

Now let me say this; should the day come that the US is invaded and should the masses descend on the Cincinnati area, I’m grabbing my wife, our dog, our cat- if I can locate her quickly, if not, TS, and my 12” Calphalon frying pan (the single most useful pan in my entire kitchen), and going to stay with my mom and step-dad. My step-dad, the Marine vet turned police officer will be ready to defend life, liberty, and property. And mom usually has food, and always has booze. We’re set. What did we not have in this would-be crisis? Batteries. Not a problem, we have uber flashlights that Pat uses to investigate crime scenes. They don’t get more commercial-grade than that. But considering how much use these lights get and the “green” movement in this country, these flashlights are rechargeable, rendering them useless after about an hour in a power outage.

Not to be daunted, we undertook the challenge taking food that would certainly spoil and cooking for 3…in the dark…on a grill. To all the people who think up the Quickfire Challenges at Top Chef, pay attention. The meal of the day became sautéed chicken tossed with a garlic-mushroom duexelle, and a light angel hair pasta. Does anyone out there have any idea how hard it is to cook in a pan, on a grill that doesn’t regulate heat well, and the only light that there is to speak of is coming from a dimming flashlight that is clamped between your chin and your shoulder much like you would hold a phone? I’m guessing probably not. And why? Because no one else is silly enough to try to cook something complicated under a lousy set of circumstances.

It took forever. The last time I made anything like this at my house, under normal circumstances, it took about 20 minutes. I was standing in front of that stupid grill for about an hour. But all in all, it was a lot of fun. And when it was all said and done, man did that food taste good.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Complete Techniques

While flipping through Jecques Pepin’s book “Complete Techniques”, I was more than moderately inspired. Actually, Chef Pepin’s book was only just brought to my attention from another book, “A Chef’s Story”.

A Chef’s Story” is a collection of interviews with a number of world-renowned chefs, which uncovers and explores some of the inspiring events in their lives. What lead them to the kitchen? Was this their first career? Was this their first passion? What drew them to their particular cuisine? Did they study abroad? Or for that matter, did they even train formally? And believe me when I say that these chefs were not unknowns in the culinary world. Todd English, Cat Cora, Tom Colicchio, Bobby Flay, Norman Van Aken, Thomas Keller, and Jecques Pepin, himself.

What was intriguing to me was that probably 20 of the 27 chefs interviewed said that Pepin’s book, originally titled “La Technique” was a revolutionary catalyst in their culinary careers. According to Pepin, himself, there was too much information that he wanted to share for one book. So shortly after the release of “La Technique” he wrote and released “La Method”. For world-class chefs to speak so highly about this book meant that it had to be something very impressive and very special. So I had to have a look for myself.

Special doesn’t really describe the depth of knowledge that is conveyed in this book. And it became almost instantly clear to me why these chefs all endorsed it so heavily. The newest edition that is most widely available is “Complete Techniques”. It is a combination of “La Technique” and “La Method”. To call this a cookbook is not particularly accurate. It’s more a guide to all things eating from preparation, to presentation, to how to fold a napkin differently for different events. And while most cookbooks are stocked with a bunch of recipes with outlined steps to reproduce someone else’s creation, “Complete Techniques” shows you the brass tax fundamentals of ingredients. It serves as an instrument to make your own creations from square one.

If you’re into cooking, think you might like cooking, or even had questions about how something was made, chances are the answers are in this book. It’s a necessity for anyone who spends any amount of time in a kitchen.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Great Debate

The more I’m in the kitchen, the more I use olive oil. It’s a great alternative to using other fats like butter, thought I still use plenty of that as well. And there are a fair amount of health benefits from monosaturated fats to antioxidants. What you may have realized though, is that this stuff don’t come cheap. You can spend as little as $5-6 for a standard bottle, or as much as $50 a bottle for the top of the line stuff. Is it worth it? I guess that’s up to you, as it will be determined by your palate. But for us mere mortals who don’t have industrial or commercial grade equipment, the $6 stuff is just fine. Personally, I think that’s even a little pricey for oil.

But what is a cold-pressed oil? If you get a filtered oil, what has been removed? Is it worth buying something that is a “product of Italy”? Is one is darker or lighter than another, is the oil better?

Cold-pressed oils are made when olives are crushed as pressed through extract the oils. When this is done without heat, the result is a cold-pressed oil. Wow…I really thought there would be a better explanation for that too. Well then how about we add the fact that if an olive oil is “extra-virgin” if the oil is extracted within 24 hours of harvesting. Extra-virgin oils have a lower free fatty acid content and higher level of polyphenols than virgin oils.

Filtered or unfiltered refers to residual olive flesh in them. Filtered oils have none, while unfiltered oils have residual olive bits, which may cause the oil to look cloudy. Unfiltered oils also have a shorter shelf life than filtered oils.

A “product of Italy” is a large crock of shit. It sounds good because of the idea that the Mediterranean climate produces the best products and yada yada yada. All it really means is that it was pressed in Italy. It does not necessarily have anything to do with the origin of the olives themselves.

Dark and light oils only mean that the olives used to make them are more or less ripe. It doesn’t have a thing to do with the quality.

There is also some debate about cooking with olive oil at or beyond it’s smoking point. The argument is that when olive oil hits it’s smoking point, generally between 365 and 420 degrees, it starts to break down and yields harmful bi-products. The fact of the matter is that all oils will break down when heated and when any oil is past its smoking point, personal experience and embarrassment indicates that it’s too hot to do anything with. Instead, heat the oil until just after it starts to shimmer, and you’re much better off.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shepherd's Pie

Last night was my first go-round with trying to make a Shepherd’s Pie. If you are thinking to yourself that this dish is an English-Irish staple in a cuisine that is not exactly known for it’s stellar combination of flavors, then you and I share a common generality. But a few weeks ago, I was watching Kitchen Nightmares and Gordon Ramsay was, as usual, helping to bail out an underachieving restaurant who’s “chef” wasn’t quite up to snuff. He whipped up a Shepherd’s Pie that looked so good even on TV that I had to try to make it. And yes, I’m aware of the irony of the inspiration of making a dish featured on a show called Kitchen Nightmares. But if Gordon Ramsay made it, it can’t be all bad.

Shepherd’s Pie:

3 large potatoes, peeled
1 pound of ground beef
1 medium white or yellow onion
2 stalks of celery
1 carrot
1 can of beef stock
2/3 cup of frozen peas
2 cloves of garlic

This may be the only recipe I ever blog about that I will say this, but here it is; don’t use any salt for any seasoning. There is PLENTY in the beef stock and Worcestershire sauce. And if you choose to use a bit while boiling the potatoes, there’s even more. So don’t worry about seasoning the vegetables or meat with salt

Boil the potatoes in water until they are fork-soft. Mash them in a mixer, slowly adding milk until you reach your desired consistency, and pour slowly. You’ll find it’s far more difficult to extract the milk than to add just a little bit more. Once whipped, set aside.

Chop all the vegetables (except the peas) into small pieces. Brown the beef, and drain the majority of the grease. Reserve a little bit in the pan for sautéing the vegetables. Add a little bit of butter to the grease, and then add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic allowing them to sauté together and a medium-high heat until the are tender and starting to become translucent (roughly 5-6 minutes). Add the peas, and continue cooking for another 5-6 minutes. Keeping the heat reasonable high, stir the browned ground beef back into the pan and add the beef stock, and a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce. Allow this to simmer until the liquid has reduced.

Spread the meat and veggies in the bottom of a baking dish. Cover the top with the mashed potatoes, and a few small, intermittent dollops of butter. Then bake it all together at 400 until the peaks of the potatoes start to brown. Pull it out and serve hot.

I was so excited that this recipe came together. Well, at least that it came together well enough that I will happily make it again. It’s pretty easy all in all, but it will take a little bit of time, so make sure you allow yourself at least an hour or so before you plan to eat. But it can be made in advance of any event and easily heated, and it can easily be made in large amounts for parties or groups.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Roasting in Hell's Kitchen

This week, I finished a great book. I’m not much of a reader to be honest. But when I get my hands on a book that really captivates my interest, I hammer through it in no time. This book did just that. It was “Roasting in Hell’s Kitchen”, the Gordon Ramsay autobiography.

Lots and lots of chefs have books. The problem is, at least in my opinion, that most of them are cookbooks. Actually, let me rephrase that; most of them are recipe books. At this point in my self-appointed culinary training, I am less interested in being able to reproduce a recipe that I have read, and far more interested in learning about cooking processes. What made someone try that? How did you come up with that? What’s the thought process behind trying something prepared this way or that? What if I did this? What would happen? Also, I’m fascinated in what makes someone pursue a career in food. If you’re publishing a book, you’re clearly no hack. In fact, you probably have or had your own restaurant, maybe your own show, and I’m willing to bet your pressing up on being a millionaire if you’re not already. Did these people think that when they first put on an apron this was where they would end up? Hence, my increasing interest in their biographies and autobiographies, and less in their recipes.

If you have watched Fox at all in the last 3 years, you know who Gordon Ramsay is. If, by chance, you really don’t know who he is, allow me to provide a summary. Chef Ramsay is the brilliantly talented, foul mouthed, and explosively tempered chef behind the shows “Kitchen Nightmares” and “Hell’s Kitchen”. Chef Ramsay set a record, according to the Fox network, by dropping the F-bomb over 80 times in a 40-minute show. Now that’s some cussing.

If you were to read his book however, you would swear it was not the same person. Lest we all forget, explosive personalities make for good reality TV.

Chef Ramsay is the personification of a dream; someone who went right out knowing what he wanted to happen, and took steps to ensure that it did. He came from nothing, literally. His parents had nothing. His father was abusive. And with little support financially, psychologically, emotionally, or professionally, he made up his mind to stake the claim for what he thought he was worth doing what he loved.

I could write and write and write about the facts of his life. Eventually though, I’d probably end up plagiarizing. If you’re avid about food, or need inspiration for long-term success pick up this book. You can’t help but be impressed.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Stuffed Jalapenos and the Appetizer Menu

Sounds like the title to a children's cook book doesn't it?

I think if I were to open a restaurant, it would be all appetizers. Well, appetizers and a bar. Why? Well, besides being quick, I seem to know how to make more appetizers than anything else. And seeing as I don’t quite have the know how with enough other genres to make a full menu. So I’m going with a 3-page menu of appetizers that have little to nothing to do with one another. Any thoughts?

To that end, here’s one that will definitely me on the menu that restaurant. It was introduced to me as a once-a-year treat that a family friend only ever made a Christmas. Why I didn’t bother trying to make it, or something like it, on my own until a few Christmases went by, I’ll never know. But it’s not hard, and doesn’t take too long. You don’t even need a stove. But if you have a refrigerator handy, that would help the cause.

Tuna-Stuffed Jalapenos:
2 jars of pickled jalapenos- there are usually about 5 in a jar, and the bigger the better
1 can of white albacore tuna in water
1 brick of softened cream cheese
Garlic salt

Remove the stems from the peppers and cut them lengthwise down the middle in halves. Set them aside on a paper towel to drain the oil from the interior. In the mean time, drain the water from the tuna and mix with the softened cream cheese. Season to taste with light dashes of garlic salt, and go easy. I don’t say this often, but you don’t want a strong garlicky taste. Just a hint will do fine.

Take the halved peppers, and remove the seeds and interior membrane. If you didn’t know, much of the spice in jalapenos is contained in the seeds, oils, and membrane. So if you would like them spicy, don’t remove it all. If you want it on the milder side, get as much out of there as you can. Once this is done, give them on more blotting off with a paper towel to remove as much residual moisture and oil as possible. Then fill and pack each half with the cream cheese/tuna mix. Crack some pepper over everything, again, just a little bit, and refrigerate to allow everything to firm up. Then serve cold.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Grilled Pineapples

I had very good luck with a new dessert last night. It’s definitely going to make it’s way into my regular rotation. While very similar to making banana’s foster, nothing gets set a blaze I’m sorry to say. But the sauce is very similar to what goes along with the bananas. It’s very mild allowing it to go well with any number of meals.

Grilled Pineapples with Caramel Rum Sauce:
1 cored pineapple
2 teaspoons of unsalted butter
1/3 cup of light brown sugar
¼ cup of rum (proof doesn’t really matter since you aren’t lighting it on fire)
1 pint of vanilla bean ice cream
White sugar for dusting

Slice the pineapple into disks. Over a medium-high heat either in a pan or directly on a grill, cook the pineapple for about 3-4 minutes a side, very lightly dusting them as they are turned. Once it starts to lightly brown and/or grill marks appear, pull it off and set it aside. In a separate pan, melt the butter over a medium heat. To it, add brown sugar and rum and continue to agitate. Increase the heat slightly to bring the mixture to a very gentle boil, and then reduce the heat and continue to stir while the sauce thickens. It should be of a medium consistency, and not totally runny. Once it cools, it will continue to thicken. Place the grilled pineapple in a bowl, ice cream on top, and spoon the sauce over the ice cream. Have a go. It’s very easy and tastes great.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts

This sounds like the most off the wall, out of left field appetizer…and that’s because it kind of is. When I tell people what it is, they tend to look at me funny and even hesitate to try them. I can’t say that I blame anyone for that. I think I actually did the same thing when I first saw them. But give them a try and I promise you won’t be disappointed. They sound simple, mostly because they are. It doesn’t get much easier than 2 ingredients and an oven.

Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts:
1 can of whole water chestnuts
1 pound of bacon

Don’t get too fancy with whatever bacon you decide to use. I generally stick with some run-of-the-mill, thin cut, not smoked in anything bacon. Smoked bacon gets a little overwhelming, and thick-cut bacon is a little harder to work with.
Take the bacon, and cut the package down the middle. Half of one strip is almost exactly the right size. Drain the water from the can of chestnuts, and slice them in half. Wrap the bacon tightly around the chestnuts and bake them at 400 until the bacon is crispy (roughly 25 minutes), and serve warm. Some barbecue sauce on the side for dipping doesn’t hurt either.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Go-To Snack

Taco dip is one of my favorite munchies. I love making eat, serving it, eating it. It is my official “go-to” snack, appetizer, or in some gluttonous cases, meal. It’s no too hard, but it can be a little bit time consuming, so grant yourself a decent window the first few times you make it.

Taco Dip:
Ground beef 1-1 1/3 pounds
1 can of refried beans
1 pack of taco seasoning
1 small can of minced black olives
1 bunch of minced scallions
1 large tomato diced
1 jar of queso dip

Brown the ground beef and cook according to the directions on the packet of taco seasoning. In a 9x11 pan, spread the beans across the bottom, covering it entirely. Spoon the prepared meat on top of the beans. Next, add the scallions, olives, and tomatoes. Spread the cheese on top and bake it all at 350 until it is hot throughout. Depending on its thickness, this could be 20-35 minutes. Serve it hot with tortilla chips.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Beef Stew

While gathering a list of stuff to get while grocery shopping yesterday, I came across a roast in my freezer that has been there a while. I had the best intentions of cooking it some time ago. But as the phrase goes “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Okay, that was just a bit dramatic. Anyway, I was reminded of one of my favorite recipes, born partially out of curiosity as well as laziness. It’s become a favorite of ours over the years, and I can’t believe it wasn’t one of the first that I posted.

Beef Stew:
1 medium size roast, roughly 2-3 pounds (usually either round or rump-skip pot roasts, they’re too expensive)
2 cans of Heinz fat free gravy
2 medium potatoes diced
1 cup of baby carrots
Garlic (optional)
1 Crock Pot

As I mentioned, don’t buy a pot roast. Yes they tend to be the most tender from the store, but you’re going to cook the meat so long it will fall apart. Trim the fat from the meat, (again, you’ll cook it long enough that you don’t have to worry about tenderness) season it with salt and pepper, and cut it into large cubes. Place the meat, potatoes, carrots, and gravy in the crock-pot along with a splash of water (just enough to get residual gravy out of each can), turn it on high, and leave it for 8-10 hours. Before serving, take a wooden spoon or spatula and aggressively stir the stew to shred the beef into strands. This will also help to emulsify everything and blend the flavors. Serve it hot.

I love this recipe because it doesn’t get a whole lot easier. You can turn it on before you leave for work, and leave it all day. It requires no attention at all. And like the black bean and chorizo soup, you can make a huge amount for a reasonably low price, making it great for cold Sunday afternoons watching football.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Application Questions

I know, I need to get a new recipe up on here. I’ve been meaning to, but the past few weeks have been a total whirlwind, and I have hardly cooked a thing.

I went and picked up a job application the other day. I’ve been saying for a long time that I want to really take steps towards chefing, and I know that’s not a real word, but for the intents and purposes of this blog it is. Anyway, I got an application to work in the kitchen at Dewey’s pizza around the corner from my house. Chances are, I’ll be surrounded by kids 10 years younger who just need something to do over the summer because mom and dad made them. Not a big deal. I read a long time ago that you should work to learn, not learn to work. I have always liked that concept, and so away we go.

What got me motivated to put anything in print for a blog was the application itself. There were a lot of questions that had nothing to do with your work status. They asked things like “what job that you have listed in your work history are you most proud of and why” or “rate your knife skills on a scale of 1-10”. One of the questions was “name your top three dining experiences.” Not a question I was expecting to see on the application for a pizza place, but a perfect question right up the alley of a culinary blog. So here they are, in no particular order.

April 2002- Cool River in Irvine, Texas: I was in town for a volleyball tournament and had dinner with a teammate and his brother who lives in the area. I had a 14 (or so) oz. filet oscar which to this day still tops my list as the best steak I’ve ever had.

February 2006- Red Square in the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada: I’ve been there three times in total, but none have quite been as impressive as the first time. It’s a Russian-themed restaurant with amazing vodka drinks. The food was very impressive as well, but the drinks really made it. I highly suggest their White Russian, Russkie, or Persephone’s Pomme. Amazing.

Many, many times- Chili Time in St. Bernard, Ohio: It’s the kind of place that you drive by over and over and never give it a second look. But it’s a Cincinnati institution. They are open for all but about 5 hours a day, and I think those hours are 2-7 a.m. Everything they have is good. The sandwiches are huge, the chili is fantastic, their fries are great, and feeding 2 people until your think you’re going to pop will run you a whopping $15 or so.

Honorable mentions:
Carrabba’s Italian Grill- every single time we eat there it’s good. We’ve never left having had a so-so meal.
Back Porch Bar and Grill in Destin, Florida- Great scallops, far better than you would expect from a place it’s size, great oysters, and a view of the Gulf that would make you swear you’re looking at a piece of heaven.
The Grand Finale- This was the first place I ever saw desserts flambéed tableside. Very cool stuff. Not to mention they have an amazing brunch every Sunday.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Culinary Q&A

I was killing some time looking at recipes this afternoon, and starting noticing the consistencies and variations used in terms of ingredients. I noticed that a lot of the baking recipes called for unsalted butter while a lot of the meal recipes called for sea salt. So I took it upon myself to look deeper into definitions and terms regarding ingredients that are commonly used. I never really gave a lot of thought as to why to use sea salt in cooking other than I think it tastes a little better. But then, why not use it in baking? Or when I recipe calls for unsalted butter and all I have is the salted kind, can I swap them in and out? That said; consider the following Q&A…

Q: What’s the deal with salted and unsalted butter?
A: I know this one sounds easy enough right? One is made with salt, and one isn’t. But why do recipes, specifically those pertaining to baking, call for unsalted? Ultimately, it’s to control the salt content in the product. Since the salt content per brand varies, you will have a hard time knowing just what your salt content is which may upset the balance of salty and sweet. Baking doesn’t work like cooking. You can’t call timeout and taste the food as you’re going to make sure it’s on par. You just have to be right. Why is salt content seemingly more important in baking? When’s the last time you had a salty chocolate cake?

Q: Why use kosher sea salt as opposed to table salt? Salt is salt right?
A: Well, kind of. Sea salt is obviously coarser, coming in larger individual pieces, almost like small flakes. By definition, all salt is at least 97-½ % sodium chloride. But table salt is mined from an underground source with a little bit of calcium silicate added to keep it from clumping. Sea salt is harvested from evaporated seawater leaving behind some of the minerals found in the water that manipulate the flavor just a bit. Also, because table salt is a finely granulated compared to the flakes that make up sea salt, ratios become skewed a little bit. So a teaspoon of table salt will contain more product than a teaspoon of sea salt.

Q: Why do so many pastry recipes call for a splash of ice water here or there?
A: My wife is the baker of the family, not me. I’ve tried a few pastries here and there, but because of the aforementioned “you can’t taste it as you go” methodology, I am not a good baker. But I have noticed that a lot of recipes call for a splash of cold water that seems to hold almost no substantive use? The answer is that when baking, you are probably using butter or margarine, a.k.a. fat. Splashing a bit of very cold water in there keeps the fat cold. So? The reason you want cold fat is because warm fat will release it’s water content into the flour you are probably also using. Moist four creates gluten, which will make the pastry tough.

Q: I heard the term “Puttanesca” on Top Chef a while ago, now I’m seeing it everywhere. What does it mean?
A: According to Top Chef judge, Ted Allen to make something puttanesca (i.e. pasta puttanesca) means “pasta the way a whore would make it.” I don’t think that’s what chefs have in mind when putting it on their menus, so here is a more practical definition: Puttanesca is a tomato-based sauce loaded with garlic, anchovies, capers, olives, and red pepper.

Q: Another Top Chef inquiry; they make “braised” meats all the time. Everyone seems to have a variation on the meaning. What’s a braise?
A: Braising is a slow, wet cooking method for meats used to blend flavors and soften the meat. It’s used a lot with meats that have a lot of connective tissue. The tissue breaks down while cooking into more of a gelatin and makes the meat very tender while helping it to hold its juices. If the same meats were cooked in a dry heat and/or quickly, you can be assured they are going to be very tough.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Finale

Top Chef Chicago is now in the books. We can chalk it up to the annals of history with some of the least noteworthy competitions known to man alongside Olympic Curling and the Detroit/St. Louis World Series.

If you have not yet seen it, read no further. I don’t want to give anything away. However, if you are up to date, read on my epicurean friends.

True to form and tradition, the chefs had to make a meal. No, that’s not quite right. They had to make the ultimate meal. They were assigned to a sous chef who had an assortment of proteins from which to select and base their meals. From these, they needed to derive a 4-course meal for what would be their final culinary test.

On a side note, did anyone think that Lisa was going to win? Yeah neither did I. So the 2-horse race of Richard and Stephanie surged ahead with little restrictions on what they were allowed to cook. I am impressed with Stephanie taking home the Top Chef crown and putting up consistent performances week after week. She came a very long way from the girl who’s hand was trembling so badly she couldn’t garnish her food in the firs elimination challenge. But here’s the question; did Stephanie win? Or did Richard lose?

Consider the difference; winning is having been better than someone else. Being beaten is having competed against someone better. But losing is not necessarily synonymous with being beaten. Put is this way, when someone beats you, they did the beating. But if you lose, you did the losing. I don’t mind being beaten, but I hate to lose.

To watch the show, it looks like Richard lost. He was in the kitchen with 3 world-class chefs, and managed to spark such an interest from Eric Rippert that Chef Rippert left his station to watch what Richard was doing. Incidentally, he was making bacon-ice cream with liquid nitrogen. And from there it went south. He seemed to lose sight of what started as a strong, well-planned menu. Make no mistake; I couldn’t make what he made. But then again, I’m not a Top Chef finalist. It was his for the taking, and by his own admission, he choked.

But hats off to Stephanie. She was sure and steady though 16 weeks of extraordinary culinary tribulations. On top of it, she was obviously well liked through out the contest. She was personable. She was polite. She didn’t shoot her mouth off. She didn’t pick fights. She took criticism very gracefully. In short, she was classy the whole time. In essence, she was the exact opposite of what a reality TV producer probably hopes for in a candidate. Didn’t matter. She won anyway.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Parmesan-Crusted Chicken

I have noticed lately that my menus at home have been getting a little bit repetitive. I have been on a bit of a mission to learn some new stuff and for some reason Italian jumped out at me. With that in mind, I decided to go after some Parmesan crusted chicken. What’s great about this recipe is that it can be whipped up very quickly with a few corners not quite cut, but definitely shaved. It’s pan fried, so the chicken can be ready in about 6 minutes. You can heat up a jar of spaghetti sauce if you don’t want to make it from scratch. You can serve it over any pasta you like. Personally, I like a small rigatoni.

Parmesan-Crusted Chicken:
1 pack of chicken beast
2 cups of flour
2 eggs beaten
½-1 cup of breadcrumbs
1-½ cups of Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 box of rigatoni

Marinara Sauce (if you’re feeling ambitious and have the time):
¼ cup of olive oil
2-3 tablespoons of chopped white onion
1 large can of whole peeled tomatoes
2 garlic cloves

If you’re going to make the sauce from scratch, get it going first. Drain about half the juice from the can of tomatoes into a small pot and get it simmering. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and add them to the juice. In a small pan, sauté the onions in the olive oil until they are brown, roughly 5 minutes on a medium heat. Add the onion with the olive oil to the pot, and season with garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, and basil to taste. Cover the pot and let simmer to thicken, stirring occasionally.

Start the pasta in a boiling pot of water over a medium-high heat. I’ve found that boiling the pasta over lower heat for a longer time will keep the pasta from tearing under the stress of violently boiling water.

Trim the fat and veins from the chicken and pound it flat (roughly half and inch thick) with a mallet or a rolling pin. Set the chicken on a paper towel to dry while preparing the breading. Take 3 separate containers and in them, and in this order, place the following: in the first one, flour and dash of pepper, in the second the beaten eggs, and in the third, the Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs.

Dredge the chicken in the flour, then dip it in the egg, then dredge again through the cheese and breadcrumbs. Once all the chicken has been coated, heat the butter and oil in a sauté pan over a medium-high heat. Pan-fry the chicken until golden-brown outside and white throughout on the inside.

Drain the pasta, and spoon it onto a plate. Place the chicken on top, and dress with the marinara sauce.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Potato and Leek Soup

My man Spike from Top Chef: Chicago was always talking about soups. In particular, he pressed the idea of butternut squash soup a few times. He was insistent that the best way to impress a chef was to make a high-quality, simple soup. I’ve got a few in my repertoire that I like to make from time to time. Clearly I’m not making them to impress professional judges, but rather they are a great way to feed a lot of people for not a lot of money. Also, I love that once you get them going, you can simmer them throughout the rest of the service and servings are hot and ready at will.

My wife loves leeks. Honestly, until not too long ago, I had no idea what they were. If you are wondering yourself, they look like really big scallions with long green chutes. You can get them in just about any grocery store with the produce. And in an effort to use an ingredient that really got Trina excited as well as learn to use something I’d not used before, potato and leek soup was born.

Potato and Leek Soup:
2 large leeks
3 tablespoons of butter
4 strips of bacon
4 cups of chicken stock
2 large russet potatoes diced
¾ cup of heavy cream
Salt and pepper

Start the diced potatoes and stock simmering over a low heat in a covered pot. Remove all the grit from the leeks and slice into thin disks. Melt the butter over a medium/high heat and sauté the leeks in the butter until wilting and translucent, then add them to the stock. Render the bacon strips until crispy. Remove them from the heat, blot off the excess grease with a paper towel, and set them aside. Bring the soup to a high boil for about 2 minutes then cover the pot and reduce the heat to a low simmer to let it thicken. Season the soup with salt and pepper as needed.

If you want to thicken the soup further, whip it with a wire wisk or an immersion blender to puree the potatoes. If you still could handle it being a little thicker, add small amount of instant mashed potato flakes, stirring them in and letting them simmer. Garnish the top with some crushed bacon and serve hot.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Top Chef Finale Part 1

I know that I have strayed away from recipes in my past few blogs, and there are 2 reasons for that. One, I haven’t been cooking quite as much at home in the past month as I have in times past. And two, the few recipes I have been experimenting with need a little revision before they are posted.

But last night’s part one Top Chef Finale will remain a topic of much debate. There was a lot of activity packed into that one hour, so I’ll try to make this chronological.

Upon arriving in Puerto Rico, they judges undertook their quickfire challenge, making local appetizers for a local chef. It was not all that exciting to be honest, and Stephanie won granting her an edge. This edge was realized the next day when they were led to the elimination challenge, where they were told to make a meal consisting of a minimum of 2 dishes, all made with pork. The catch is that they had a whole pig to butcher and break down while their sous chefs did the shopping. Stephanie, as the winner of the quickfire, was given the power to assign the sous chefs, Andrew, Dale, Nikki, and Spike to the contestants as she saw fit. She could’ve screwed EVERYONE by assigning people who would not have a good synergy together but aside from placing Andrew with Lisa she really didn’t do that. Side note, everyone would’ve had trouble with Lisa.

While the contestants broke down their pigs, the sous chefs shopped. Everyone reunited for some hardcore prep in a kitchen that was way too small for 8 people. Everyone did their thing for the next few hours until the allotted time was up, and retired for the evening. It wasn’t until the next morning that Stephanie and Dale discovered that Dale had left a seasoned pork loin out overnight, rendering it useless. Not to be thwarted, Stephanie and Dale pulled together and whipped up an alternate dish and ended up before the judges with Richard as being one of the evening’s two best chefs.

Winning the challenge, Richard was given a brand new car… kind of. He won a 2009 Toyota Carolla. Makes sense seeing as Toyota is a sponsor of the show. But the look on his face was priceless. It was something between “wow I won a car” and “I won this car?” Last week, Stephanie won a deluxe kitchen suite of GE Monogram appliances. I am more than willing to bet the grand total of that kitchen was well higher than the price of that car. I think most chefs would rather have the kitchen anyway.

That leaves Lisa and Antonia in the bottom 2. Personally, I’m not a fan of either one. Antonia seems like a spoiled princess and Lisa seems like an angry, agenda seeking lesbian. That aside, I think that Antonia has shown a great deal more talent through out the contest while Lisa has dodged the bottom 2 bullet 6 times now in 12 weeks. Antonia made the mistake of undercooking peas, while Lisa made the only dish all night that the judges didn’t even finish. I didn’t taste the food. They did. And as they’ve said all along, it’s not about what you did last week, and it’s not about your past record. It’s all about how you did tonight. Well that has to be the case, because once again, Lisa dodges the bullet, escapes the gallows, or whatever cliché you like to use to get into the finale.

Once reunited with the other contestants, Antonia said her goodbyes much to the obvious surprise of Richard and Stephanie, and took her leave. And this is the point where Lisa decided to pick a fight. She was angry that neither of the others had congratulated her on winning and staying in the contest. She said something to the effect of “instead of congratulating me, you’re sitting there looking like the wrong person went home?” And looking at Richard, he was fighting every motivation to say “yeah, that’s because the wrong person did go home.” Later in one of the confessionals, he admitted as much. No surprise there. Then follows up with “Yeah, congratulations. You won the bronze medal.”

It should be a 2-horse race from here on out. Of course, everyone said that it was only a 3 horse race coming into this week, and Lisa had no chance at all. But I really don’t think she can keep pace with Richard or Stephanie when the time comes to make whatever they want however they want.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Top Chef Generation X

If you’re a Top Chef fan, and have been for at least the past 2 seasons, you may remember Dale (Dale from season 3 not season 4) in one of his one-on-one confessionals near the end of the season. He said “For everyone watching at home thinking you can do this, ya can’t.” Yeah, he is probably right. But that doesn’t mean we can’t sit back and critique from the comfort of our couches while we indulge in piles of processed sugars and carbs that would never find their way to the Top Chef kitchen!

We are now into the final challenges, which have whisked the cheftestants away to Puerto Rico for the finale. Last year, there were 3 people in the finale. There were 2 the year before. Perhaps this year there will be 4? Or maybe there is another elimination challenge yet to come. In any event, not the point.

This season, in all honesty, has been a little bit disappointing. We are now down to the final 4, and there really hasn’t been anyone who has emerged as a clear fan favorite. Personally, I think it’ll probably be Richard, but I really like Andrew. Last year, by contrast, how could you not like Tre? What’s that? You’re the one person who didn’t like him? Then certainly you endeared yourself to Dale, the gay cowboy-loving Mohawk-wearing team player. No? Ah…you must have supported Casey, the chef who single handedly raised the sex appeal of the kitchen a notch or two. Still no? Then you clearly loved CJ, the cancer surviving, volleyball playing jokester. Maybe you even liked Hung, probably the most technically advanced chef in the group who everyone loved to hate. Don’t feel too bad, he’s laughing all the way to the bank having won the competition.

My biggest issue is that not only does the overall talent level seem to have gone down this year, but none of those personalities exist like they have in years past. And now that my boy Andrew is out, who will throw out catch phrases like “What’s that look like? Success!” or “I have a culinary boner right now.”

My bigger concern is that it seems to me that this apparent lack of personality and technical prowess has even started taking a toll on head judge, Chef Tom Colicchio. Chef Colicchio is at the forefront of a culinary empire with the success of the Craft family of restaurants. Incidentally, if you happen to stop by CraftSteak in the MGM Grand in Vegas, the oyster appetizers are amazing. He seems a bit more gruff, a little bit less interested, and a bit less patient this season than he has in seasons past. But with a top-notch family of restaurants to manage and make prosper compared with a declining talent, I can’t blame him. I hope I’m wrong. And if by some amazing coincidence of the moons and stars lining up that would lead Chef Tom to read my lowly blog I say “Tom, please don’t leave the show.”

Trina had an interesting thought on the future of the show last night, and I totally agree. For one of the next seasons, here’s what we’re hoping for; we would like to see the four finalists of each of the four seasons thrown back in the mix under the same format that is currently used on the show, and see who comes out on top. Would Harold’s experience outweigh Sam’s technical preparation and love of Kobe beef? Could Dale duel Richard? I have no idea, but I would love to find out.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Flaming Bananas

Banana’s Foster is a fantastic dessert to make for almost any occasion. It’s easy to make a high yield to feed a lot of people. It’s reasonably fast to put together. It tastes great. And it’s impressive as hell when you light it on fire. Also, it’s reasonably mild in flavor so you can serve it to compliment a wide array of dinners.

Banana’s Foster:
6 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 cup of light brown sugar
4-6 ripe bananas peel and cut crosswise into disks
¼ cup of banana liqueur
½ cup of dark rum (it has to be 80 proof or better or it won’t light and you get a wet sloppy mess)
Ground cinnamon
Vanilla bean ice cream

This will probably serve a decent amount to 4 people. Squeezing 5 or 6 servings out of these proportions shouldn’t be hard. So first off, scoop the ice cream into however many bowls are needed. Put the bowls in the freezer while doing everything else.

Melt the butter over a medium heat agitating regularly. Once melted, add the brown sugar and continue to agitate. DO NOT LEAVE THIS STEP TO IT’S OWN DEVICES!! Got news for ya, everything can burn, and a hot pan with butter and sugar in it is no exception. Not only will it render the rest of the meal inedible, it will stink.

Once the sugar has melted into the butter, you should almost have a golden brown gel. Add the bananas and allow them to brown while folding them into the sugar and butter (roughly 3-4 minutes). Add the banana liqueur and stir briefly, then add the rum and flame the pan with long match or aim and flame lighter. Or, for style points, you can fill a tablespoon with rum, light it, and literally pour the fire into the pan.

The pan will get hot, and quickly. Continue to stir and agitate the pan until the rum alcohol has burned off. Use a long spoon that is not rubber or wood. After the flame has gone out, quickly pour the bananas over the ice cream and garnish the top with some cinnamon.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Boom and Bust: Black Bean Soup with Empanadas

Last night was both a hit and a miss. I had my first Iron Chef ingredient, chorizo, to work with. If you haven’t ever seen Iron Chef, 2 people have 1 hour to make 5 dishes for 3 judges. The competitor can choose from 4 Iron Chefs (Bobby Flay, Masaharu Morimoto, Kat Cora, and Michael Symon) to cook against. The catch is that all the meals have to include the “secret ingredient” which is not known until after the competitor has chosen an Iron Chef to battle.

At home, we have a watered-down Iron Chef. Trina and I will take turns buying an ingredient that the other has never used, and we have to make a meal with it. Mine was chorizo, so a black bean soup was sought along with a dessert of banana empanadas. Here’s how it went…

Black Bean and Chorizo Soup:
1 small package of ground chorizo
1 medium white onion finely chopped
½ green pepper finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
4 cups of chicken stock
2 cans (15 oz each) of black beans
Crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 cup of white rice

As with every soup I make, I start the stock simmering first. Drain one can of black beans and add it to the stock. Add the second can of beans with the juice and cover it to simmer. In frying pan, brown the chorizo with the onions, peppers, and garlic in the olive oil, 7-10 minutes at a medium-high heat. Drain the contents of the pan on a paper towel and add it to the stock and beans along with the spices to taste. Allow everything to simmer together, stirring frequently. About 15 minutes prior to serving, add the rice and bring the pot to a boil for 1-2 minutes. Then reduce the heat to a low simmer and cover the pot for 10-11 minutes, or until the rice is cooked through. Give it a final stir, and serve hot, garnishing with a dollop or sour cream if desired.

This is a great meal to put together reasonably quickly for a 4-6 people and for probably about $3-4 per person.

The empanadas… well they didn’t quite work out like I wanted them to. I cut a few corners I probably shouldn’t have cut, so this one is going to need some revision. But I’ll try to get it right and have it posted soon.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dining Out in Southeast Florida

Katrina and I took a quick trip this past weekend to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We went down for a wedding, and didn’t get a whole lot of time to ourselves. Honestly, we didn’t expect to considering we were really only there for 2 full days, one of which was occupied by the wedding ceremony. But in that time, we managed to go out to eat together 3 times. Well, 4 actually, but the last one was McDonald’s that we ate on the pool deck looking at the ocean.

In my humble opinion, dining out should never be tricky. It shouldn’t be difficult or make you have to work too hard. After all, that’s why we go out to eat in the first place, right? But dining in southeast Florida wasn’t quite as relaxing and simple as I was hoping it might be for two primary reasons; the parking and the service.

People can argue that these are not the most important things in the dining experience. I don’t mean outright bad service, just mediocre. I think most people would agree that poor service just sucks. And good food should trump mediocre service right? And parking? Come on! That isn’t a big deal or anything. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Maybe it’s because I’m learning more and more about various cuisines. Maybe it’s both, and the older I get and more food I try has taken me to nicer places with better food and above average service.

Starting with the lesser obvious one, parking, everything in Ft. Lauderdale has valet parking. This doesn’t seem like an issue all in all. After all, why not have someone park your car for you and do the hustling? But that means that at the end of the meal, you need to have some cash to tip the valet, or you’re a jerk, and in some cases to pay for the service, or you don’t get your car. Just FYI, if you get down to Miami from Lauderdale on the weekend, expect to drop a $20 just for the “courtesy” of the valet. Chances are a $2 tip is going to make you look like an ass.

Service is a pet peeve of mine maybe because I have worked in the industry or maybe because I’ve seen how exemplary service can vastly enhance an entire evening. It can help to make for a good dining experience with mediocre food. Conversely, crap-ass service can make mediocre food bad, great food okay, and a lovely night a pain. Pay attention to the measure of a good server. Is your food taking a long time to come out? That sucks, but chances are it’s not his fault. He’s not cooking. He’s serving. Is he attentive? Does your drink remain full without having to ask? Is his presence known without being intrusive? If so, he is probably doing a good job. Not sure? Ask him to handle something for you that is well within his control. More Sweet and Low, another basket of chips, some more dressing… anything that he can do on his own, not depending on the kitchen. If he gets back to you on the hop, cut him some slack. If not, sorry that you got a dud.

Ft. Lauderdale is known for having been a popular spring break destination for years. Tourism is key in Florida…duh. Common practice in most restaurants I’ve been in is to charge gratuity to a check automatically for a party of a certain size. Most places are 7 or more in a party. I hate when places do it because then the servers get lazy as all hell. Why bust your butt? You’re already getting yours. Every so often, you get 6 or more. The insta-tip price is usually 15-17 ½ percent of the check. A QUALITY SERVER SHOULD POINT OUT TO YOU THAT GRATUITY HAS ALREADY BEEN CHARGED! He should not do everything to detract attention to the additional fee. In Lauderdale, charged gratuity is reasonable commonplace on most checks regardless of how many are in your party. I can understand the argument; drunken college kids spend every cent they have on booze and can’t afford to leave a tip. I’d be pissed too if I was waiting on them. But know your audience.

Trina and I are good tippers. If you get less than 20% from us, you screwed up royally. And every single time I’ve had someone tell me upon handing me a check that the gratuity was already included, I left them more. Props for integrity if nothing else at all. But all of this begs a question about the work ethic of people in the area. You are working in a town where people have money. Multi-million dollar homes with multi-million dollar yachts and shiny Ferraris are not uncommon. Even people who aren’t millionaires are in the city to spend some cash. If you’re already there doing the work, why not take an extra few steps to convince them to spend that cash on you?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Oven BBQ

Pulled pork without a grill is not out of the realm of possibility either. I figured that pulled pork not on a charcoal grill or a wood-fire smoker was no pulled pork at all. But I was able to find a great alternative for when you’re craving pulled pork and it’s the dead of winter, or you don’t have a grill. You’ll loose some of the smokiness that you get from charcoal or wood, but the end product is still some good eatin’.

Pulled Pork:
1 3-pound pork sirloin
Several cans of chicken stock
Dry rub (recipe follows)
A large frying pan
A roasting pan with a grate in the bottom

Dry Rub:
This is an inexact science. You can make a rub out of whatever you want and in any proportions. But some combination of the following seems to work well:

Brown sugar
Cayenne pepper
Dry mustard

Mix everything together. You’ll have to play with your proportions to see what you like best. But when it comes to putting the rub on the meat, don’t be shy about it. Coat the whole thing. Once the meat is coated, sear the outside of it using the frying pan. Then place it on the rack in the roast pan having put about ½ of chicken stock in the bottom, and cook it for about 4 hours, or until the middle is a sustained 170 degrees just as if it was on the grill. Turn the meat about once an hour while cooking, and if you want to baste the meat with each turn, have a ball. Just as on the grill, allow the meat to rest about 10-15 minutes, then shred with your fingers and a fork once it is cool enough to handle.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Pulled Pork

I had my first experience making pulled pork this weekend, and I have to say that I was rather pleased with the result. It took a while, and I totally smelled like smoked food for the rest of the day (which is fine if you’re outside the whole time, but when you go back indoors and you can smell it all over you, it looses it’s luster) but it was some fine eating when it was all said and done.

The original recipe calls for “pork butt” which is actually pork shoulder. Still wondering how that connection was made. But personally, I thought that the pork butts that were available all looked way too fatty for me. Instead, I went the way of a pork sirloin, which worked out very well. Here’s how it went…

Pulled Pork:
1 3-pound pork sirloin
1 large disposable drip or roasting pan
Several cans of chicken stock
1 grill, ideally charcoal

When you are stacking the coals for the cooking, either stack them low in the middle, or in two piles to each side of the grill. The idea is to have enough room under the grate of the grill to set the drip pan filled about ½ inch deep with chicken stock. Get the grill hot, roughly 300-350 degrees, season the meat with salt and pepper, and place it on the grate right over the drip pan. Turn it about once an hour. It’s probably going to take between 3-4 hours to totally cook. Once the internal temperature is a sustained 170 degrees, it’s done. Pull it off the grill and allow it to rest under some aluminum foil for at least 15 minutes. Once it is cool enough to handle, by hand and fork, shred the meat into strands. If you feel inclined to add your favorite barbecue sauce, have at it. You can serve it on buns if you want, or just eat it with a fork.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Night at Jags

Last night, Trina and I were fortunate enough to have one of the finest meals we’ve had in the Cincinnati area. We have been extremely fortunate in the course of our life together to have some really impressive meals and some really impressive places, Red Square, Mon Ami Gabi, and Craft Steak in Vegas, Destin Chops in Florida, Apsara and SoHo in Cincinnati just to name a few. But last night we had an amazing dinner at a privately owned, non-franchised restaurant in West Chester called Jags.

If your from Cincinnati and enjoy good food and a great dining experiences, then this place is really no surprise to you. Jags has been opened now for a little over 4 years. Trina and I have been meaning to get there for pretty much that whole time, but forces in the world conspired to prohibit us from getting there. It is on the expensive side of things, so it’s certainly not somewhere we would just stop into, not to mention, the place is PACKED almost every night of the week.

I want to clarify something real quick before going further, and that is the difference between the use of the terms expensive versus pricey. Chances are that Webster’s probably has them listed as synonyms. But so far as I’m concerned, there is a very different connotation. Both refer to money, but expensive always seems to suggest to me a certain level of value or making an investment in something that turned out to be “worth it”. Pricey always says to me that you spent your money, and would happily take it back if you could.

That said, Jags, while expensive, was totally worth it. Executive Chef Michelle Brown has put together a wonderful combination of continental indulgences and fresh seafood, not always the easiest thing to do in the Midwest, highlighted by a very nice selection of sushi. The desserts were amazing as well. My consisted of a short trip through the raw bar yielding wonderful oysters, shrimp, and crab legs, a beautifully presented lobster bisque, and a filet with black truffles, asparagus, and wild mushroom risotto. Dessert was a chocolate soufflé with Tahitian vanilla gelato. This only barely edged out the “Big Oscar” which was another filet prepared in an Oscar format. Trina has a beautiful piece of salmon which was very well prepared, flakey, and most of all, not spoiled with a lot of rubs, oils, or off the wall seasonings. They let the steak be and taste like steak, and the fish be and taste like fish.

At a glance…
Pros: concise and clean tasting menu; beautiful décor; comfortable seating; extensive bar; cigar humidor.
Cons: parking is tight; while ambient, the whole place was a little bit dark; they serve Pepsi, not Coke. That’s more of a personal preference, but no alcoholic drinks call to be mixed with Pepsi. Ever mixed Captain Morgan’s and Pepsi? It’s nasty.

But I digress…

If you live in Cincinnati and are looking for a fine meal, have a run at this place. You will not be disappointed. Not sure where it is? I have a link to their website just to the right of where you are reading. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

An Interesting Alternative

This past week I celebrated my 28th birthday. Closer to 30 then 20! Okay, so that’s actually been the case since I was 25 and a day. I went out shopping with my mom for my present, which is not a practice to which she usually subscribes, but she wasn’t sure just what I wanted. Anyway, we went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and I came home with a new set of Calphalon cookware.

Let me tell you, this is some really cool stuff. All of it has a lifetime warranty attached to it, theoretically making it the last set of cookware you’ll ever need. It can go right from the stove to the oven. It can sit under a broiler. It even feels good ergonomically. The only slight drawback is that it’s not supposed to go into the dishwasher. But I can happily overlook that for the quality it adds to the food.

Here’s what I learned;

The care manual for the cookware (yeah it comes with a care manual) says that non-stick anything that utilizes a spray propellant should not be used on non-stick pans. The spray’s propellant has a chemical in it that will lead to the deterioration of the non-stick coating in the pan.

The solution?

Take a mist bottle and fill it with your favorite olive oil. Remember, cold-pressed extra virgin is better for seasoning, standard is better for cooking. Keep the bottle on hand, and use it whenever you need to add additional non-stickiness to your pans. Cool stuff huh?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Pan Fried Chicken Gumbo

I kind of threw this recipe together on a whim one afternoon, when I had thawed chicken and needed to cook it before it went bad. However, that particular afternoon, I was having a taste for something Creole, and gumbo was on the menu. The problem that I had with making gumbo was that I generally made it with shrimp, and I could never cook the shrimp properly. As you may or may not know, it’s easy to overcook seafood in general, and then it tastes like crap with bad texture. And boiling shrimp then adding it to the cooking gumbo did just that. But not to boil it gave it a boring and unseasoned taste. So this became my solution.

Pan-Fried Chicken Gumbo:
1 pound of sausage, either ground or a smoked links cut crosswise into small discs
2 large chicken breasts
6 cups of chicken stock
1 can of peeled tomatoes with the juice preserved
1 large green pepper
1 white onion
1 bunch of scallions
Several cups of flour for dredging
3-4 garlic cloves
Cayenne pepper
Hot sauce
2 cups of long-grain white rice
Olive oil

Before anything else, put the chicken stock in a large pot and start it simmering at a low heat. Chop all the veggies into small pieces and add to the stock. Drain the juice from the tomatoes into the stock, dice the tomatoes, and add them as well.In a skillet, brown the sausage until the fat has been rendered. Remove the sausage and pat it dry with a paper towel. Once the residual fat has been removed, add it to the simmering stock.Pound the chicken breast to flatten it out, then trim it of extra fat or tendons, and cut the breasts into smaller strips. Dry the strips of excess moisture with a paper towel, then dredge them in the flour until totally covered. Pour a small amount of olive oil into a skillet, covering the bottom and begin to heat it over a medium-high heat. Heating it at a lower heat and cooking the chicken cooler but longer will help to reduce smoking. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken, in batches if necessary, and cook until the chicken is golden-brown on the outside, and white throughout the middle. Once it is all cooked, mince it into smaller pieces and add it to the stock. At this point, have a taste and season with pepper (red and black), salt, and hot sauce to taste. Then add the rice, cover the pot, and let it cook for at least 20 minutes. There will be extra moisture not absorbed by the rice and ingredients. No big deal.

Serve it hot with a little bit of sour cream on top.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Broccoli Braid

My mom introduced me to this recipe a while ago, and it became an instant crowd pleaser with everyone I know who has sampled it. It’s pretty easy to prepare, but it does take some prep work that is a little tedious. So make sure you have some time to devote to making it.

Broccoli braid is a bit of an understatement, not quite encompassing everything that goes into its construction. Broccoli/chicken braided bread would probably be a little bit more accurate. And it’s versatile as well. You can use it for a whole meal or just a snack/appetizer for a group of people.

One more thing to keep in mind; its easier to make two than one.

Broccoli Braid:
2 packs of crescent rolls- nothing sweetened or seasoned. Just the buttered crescent rolls
1 package of boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 red bell pepper
1 head of broccoli
1 bunch of scallions
2-3 cloves of garlic
1-2 cups of mayonnaise
1 cup of cheddar cheese
Flour to keep things from sticking

Cut the pepper, broccoli, scallions, and garlic into small pieces, and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes. They do no have to be as soft as they would be when serving. You’re going to cook them all again. Bake the chicken breast, also at 350, until totally cooked and white through out. Combine all the cooked ingredients in a large bowl, and add the mayonnaise. The exact amount you will use isn’t all together important. Just make sure you are able to moisten everything in the bowl a little bit. After that, mix in the cheese. Take the whole bowl and set it aside while you prepare the rolls.

This part is an imperfect science and takes a little practice, so if you make a mess the first few times, you’re not alone. On whatever surface you use to work the rolls, dust it with some flour first. Then carefully open the rolls, trying not to take them apart. One large, flat piece of dough is that you’re hoping for. Spread the dough out as far as you can without pulling it apart. Employ a rolling pin also dusted with flour if you need to. Once done, scoop out about half of the mixture from the bowl, and place it in the middle of the dough running length-wise. Fold the sides up and press them together at the top, making a capsule of dough around the filling. Repeat the steps with the second pack of crescent rolls and the remaining filling. Bake them at 350 for about 25 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown and serve it up hot.

Monday, April 21, 2008


the new thing i've come across in the past few days are webisodes. and yes, maybe i am in fact behind the times at 27, but i'm seeing more and more celebrities who have something to offer besides crotch shots and tabloids about their babies posting webisodes. rocco dispirito is one such celebrity. the first time i had ever heard of rocco dispirito was while watching top chef with my wife about 6 months ago. he was a guest judge, and very impressive in his overall presentation. i've seen a lot of people do guest spots on that show, and a lot of them are jerks. either that or they totally submit to what the other judges have to say about who should move on. he did not.

rocco is a professional chef, author, talk show host, triathelete, and webisoder. he has little 3 minute clips on bertolli's website that show all kinds of little additions to make a meal better. or perhaps to try something you've never seen or heard of before. but while scanning through his webisodes, here's what i picked up inside of about 5 minutes. he has a great book called "rocco's five minute flavor". there are a ton of recipes in there all created with the same criteria. they are all five ingredients or less, take five minutes to prepare or less, and cost five dollars per serving or less. it's a great book and definately worth having a copy.

here is my brief presentation of "chop's 5 minute insight". the premise here is to learn five things about cooking in five minutes or less.

1. just like there are 3 primary colors, there are 4 primary flavors that make up everything we taste; sour, salt, sweet, and bitter.

2. when you are cooking, to brown something is to make it sweeter while to char something (i.e. charbroil) is to make it bitter.

3. extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil is better suited for seasonings

4. standard olive oil is better suited for cooking.

5. pinot griggio is the best catch all wine for itallian food complementing.

My First Tartar

Tuna tartar was one of those things that I never really thought I would like. After all, it’s raw fish. It’s sushi, without the rice…which is actually what makes sushi sushi. So I guess it’s basically sashimi. It's one of those things that I thought I was never quite pretty enough or rich enough to order. But after going to a restaurant in Las Vegas and ordering it on a whim for $26, I figured it was something that could work it’s way into a regular rotation. To that end, I undertook a number of recipes to try to make it at home. Here’s what I found to work the best…
Tuna Tartare:
6 oz. of yellow fin tuna
1 teaspoon of chopped chives
1 teaspoon of chopped shallots
1 juiced lemon
1 oz extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon of chopped capers
Salt and pepper

With a large, heavy, sharp, non-serrated knife, cut the tuna into small cubes. Add all of the additional ingredients, and stir them all together in a large bowl. Place the bowl in the fridge for an hour to chill. Serve it up on some Ritz crackers.

Yes, tuna tartar is just that easy to make at home, and yes, now we can all be embarrassed together that we have spent over $20 on that appetizer. Who knew?

If you are feeling saucy and want to add some flare to the presentation, try this: Take some small Chinese soup spoons (the ones that are flat on the bottom) and crush some crackers in them, almost creating a loose crust. Then dish out small amounts of the tartar into each spoon on the crackers. You will get the contrast in flavor and texture simply in one bite.

The Spanglish

The first one should be among the easiest I think, so I’m going to start with an easy recipe that can be made with minimal effort in a minimal amount of time. It bares the title of the Spanglish Sandwich, a name given by my wife after seeing the movie Spanglish. There’s a scene in which Adam Sandler, a chef in the movie, makes himself a sandwich that looked particularly good to Trina. She asked if I thought I could make it, and not one to shrink form a challenge, I figured I could. This recipe is also available on my other blog, so if you’re bouncing back and forth wondering what you’re looking at, yes it’s the same thing.

Spanglish Sandwich:
2 pieces of bread
2 pieces of cheese
1 egg
1 tomato
Cooking spray

Butter one side of each piece of bread and place them butter-side down in a large hot skillet. Place the cheese on each piece and melt until the bread is golden brown on the bottom. Yes, this is an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich.

While cooking the bread, on another smaller skillet dusted with the cooking spray, fry the egg until it’s cooked to your preferred temperature. I usually cook mine until the egg is over well and not runny.

Remove everything from heat. Place the fried egg on one piece of bread, the tomato on top of the egg, and close the sandwich with the other piece. Serve it up hot, and enjoy.

A Fundamental Introduction

Welcome to my second blog!

Yesterday was Sunday. Trina was not home, and I found myself watch the show Chefography on the Food Network for the second week in a row. If you haven’t seen it, have a look. It’s a fun show. It’s a lot like an E! True Hollywood story about celebrity chefs. Not long ago, they did a show on Duff Goldman, the guy you’ll see on Ace of Cakes. They’ve done Rachel Ray. And if you don’t know who she is, you’ve been living on the moon, in a cave, with your eyes closed and fingers in your ears. I’m sorry to say that I missed the one about Bobby Flay. But my interests in the show were piqued by the first episode I saw about the man who would help coin the term “Celebrity Chef”, Wolfgang Puck.

My point is I like food. I like to cook food, eat food, talk food, learn food, watch it on TV, learn about the people that make it, and now I want to write about it. I’m not an author. I have neither professional training nor experience in writing. And I’m by no means a chef, or at least not to the point that I could make a living on it. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t even go so far as to say that “I know food”. I don’t have a well-refined palate and there are still things that I come across and can’t make myself eat because I can’t get passed the color, or what I know it is. All I know is what I like, which hardly qualifies me to be a critic. But upon an introspective review, a lot of people have managed to make their name on only knowing what they like with no formal training. Joel Robuchon, the man touted as the Chef of the Century, had no formal culinary education. He just started in various roles as an apprentice and cooked early and often.

So this will be my food forum. This will be where I come to talk food with people who want to talk food. This is where I will post recipes and stories about how they came to be. This is also where I will post recipes and stories that were utter failures, nearly burning down my house. But what I want to do is make sure I keep it all simple. Chances are, if I was able to make it in my modest little kitchen with my simple tools, anyone can have a go at making what I post. Ceviches, sous-vides, radicchio, and confits, while cool features, probably won’t find their way into my kitchen.

In coming posts, I’ll have all kinds of stuff to look at. I’m not super tech-savvy, but I’m going to try to have fun links and photos. I will have explanations about various inspirations. I’ll have a story about my blog’s title and how I came to choose it. Of course, if we know each other personally, you already know.

So if you read this, pass it along to some friends and like-minded people. See what they think. Share some thoughts, laughs, triumphs, and failures. Have some good food and drink some good wine. Go out and seize a little bit of the good life.