Monday, August 31, 2009

Adding That Special Touch




Swapping spit is not what I think the happy couple had in mind for an appetizer.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dim Sum Sunday - In the Bag

This, my dear bloggy friends, has got to be one of the simplest Dim Sum Sundays ever. Throw some protein, some veggies, your favorite herbs and seasonings and a little liquid in a bag, parchment or foil, plop it in a hot oven for a short period of time? Why don't more folks cook this way? Oh yeah, no special gadgets with celebrity chefs names on them. OK, OK, I'm sure Martha has her own brand of parchment paper but frankly I prefer the Home Economists, Pat and Betty's parchment paper.My dish started off at the Washington Post's Obelisk Halibut en Papillote. I used limes and curly parsley instead of lemons and the flat leaf that the recipe recommends. But I wanted a little more umph to my quickie meal so I added sugar snap peas, asparagus, green onions, and sliced mushrooms.Quick and delicious. Tender flaky fish laced with the tang of lime and flavored with bay leaf and thyme. Serve it with a nice crusty French bread or a hearty whole grain rice and you'll be enjoying great flavors with this incredibly healthy dish.

Which is good because you need to save room for Dessert. Chocolate Bag with White Chocolate Mousse and Berries.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

With this shot, I thee wed...


It seems like a lot of us got up on the pissy side of the bed for this episode. One woman I totally agree with and the other, not so much.

First we have Jennifer, who I am liking more and more each episode. I'm calling it right now, I think she's going to win. It All. I know there's some pretty strong male chefs but the minute you underestimate this woman, she will cut you off at the knees (and only at the knees if you're lucky). She called the BS for what it was for this episode. Men are no better cooks than women. French cooks are no better than American or Japanese cooks. Classically trained are no better than self taught. But since this is still Top Chef we still have to stir up the drama hornet's nest. While I believe Jennifer believes what she said about the "boy and girl challenge", let's not kid ourselves either, she was also pissed off being on the less experienced team of women. While she was going to be safe with her dish, she's that competitive that she always wants to lead the winning team. Not the whining team.

Which brings me to Ms. Ashley. Ashley's main beef was a rant on how if she can't get married then she doesn't want to deal with anyone else's nuptials. (If I may borrow Rachel Maddow's voice here for just a moment, What I think she meant to say is that she wants the right to have a marriage that recognized at the Federal level with all the rights and benefits that come with that recognition.) Ranting about that is fine, makes for fine, back at the living quarters banter. But here's the thing. You have to recognize the stage you're playing on. A Bravo reality show. A competitive food show. It's not a gay show like say, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. It's not a totally straight show since it often features gay and lesbian contestants and judges both in and out of the closet. The question is why in holy matrimonial hell did you sign up as a contestant for Top Chef when past seasons have done some sort of catering event for a happy couple about to get married? Hell they did Gail's bridal shower. If you felt that strongly, you wouldn't be here. And if you had actually done some homework you'd realize that Season One had a wedding.A big gay wedding. Meet Scott and Scott, Top Chef Season One, Episode 8. Bitching about the 3 gay and lesbian chefs having to deal with a straight wedding is just as bad as if one of Season One's chefs had decided they had religious objections to working Scott and Scott's wedding. You sign up for the show and agree to suffer whatever the Producers have in their big bag of tricks to throw at you. Live in cramped, suffocating quarters with people you may not like? Hope you like that. Work 12, 14, 16 hour days with no breaks and lousy food? Get ready. Maybe having a straight male chef hound dog you like Stefan did to Jamie last season? It could happen. All this and more is what you get when you sign your name to the contract in the hopes of winning fame and fortune. In the end, Ashley put away her objections and worked the gig. However I get the feeling that this won't be the last we hear of it. If she decides to take herself out of the competition for her political beliefs for an upcoming wedding challenge or the feed the military challenge, that's her right and I wish her well but I'm not of the opinion it would be the best use of the opportunity she's been given. And in case anyone wasn't aware, this blog is written by an out lesbian who would love nothing better to have the same rights and benefits that the institution of marriage allows straight people to enjoy. Or serve my country openly. I just don't think Top Chef is the best vehicle to achieve these goals. On the flip side, it does mean we'll never have to suffer through a season of Real Lesbian Housewives of Provincetown.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dim Sum Sunday - In the Bag

A Challenge. For our next Dim Sum Sunday, I'm challenging you. Or. It could turn out I'm just challenging myself. No matter. Here it is. In the Bag. Now I know my DSSers enjoy quite a wide range of interpretations when it comes to the theme so we could have a literal reading of the theme with an En Papillote dish or two. Or maybe we could see a liquor laden dish? Or a liquor laden cook? Whatever you come up with come back here this Sunday and share all your baggy glory.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Top Chef Masters - For Whom the Hat Tolls

I have resisted mightly but now the question must be asked. What is it with Top Chef and HATS???? Top Chef Masters, not to be outdone by run of the mill asshatery could not resist getting the one critic who is rarely photographed or filmed without one of her many hats. Having seen them all it's time to review the glory that is the Master Ass Hatter.Here's our first glimpse of Gael in her Episode 1 hat. Little known fact, Gael does not wear a hat when she dines in a restaurant she's going to review. She's saved that special treat just for us. I feel I must point out, as I did early in the season, this is reality TV. Seeing everyone's facial expressions is important. It's important because we cannot taste or smell the food. We're relying on the people on the show to tell us about the food. It's not about covering half your face with a hat more appropriate for a wake.Ah yes, here we have Episode 2's Black Feathered Darma Bucket hat with accompanying Beating Bird Heart Broach. I kept waiting for the Smoke Monster to rise up and snatch it from her head but sadly my inner producer goes unfulfilled.Episode 3's hat doesn't bother me nearly as much. Why? Because we're outside, it's a cool day and a hat seems totally appropriate AND she's standing up which means the poor camera man doesn't have to use the Gael angle to get any sort of decent shot of her face. The woman has a great smile....when we get to see it. Sadly the hat is just a tan version of Episode 1's version. If she had a decent set of gays advising her this would never happen.
Episode 4's Slouchy Magic Hat. It almost looks like a squeezebox for her head.
Episode 5 gives us the second red hat with extra wide brim.This episode seems to have been a battle between Gael's natural inclination to wear her hat down over her eyes and some poor producer directing her to wear it angled back more on her head. I call that battle a draw but you know it wasn't easy to even get that concession.
Episode 6 has Gael breaking from her red hat pack into what looks like an oddly shaped, hot and heavy, face obscuring chapeau. When asked why she doesn't wear wigs or disguises when she's out reviewing a restaurant, Gael claims wigs are too tight and hot to wear for three hours. I can't imagine this hat was any cooler under the hot television production lights.
The first round of the Championship brings another bellowy, slouchy hat seemingly color coordinated with James' outfit. I'm also noticing a hat to blouse slouch ratio that was probably unintended. At least I hope it was unintended.
Round Two of the Championship sees a repeat of Epi 4's hat with a green lizard chaser. C'mon, Hat Up Woman, it's the Championships. Not only does she repeat, she gets outhatted by this little cutie patootie.This is a woman who knows how to get her face on TV. Bravo, unnamed Friend Of Zooey, cute hat, cute outfit and we can see your face.Does she hat up for Round Three of the Championship? No, just another repeat of Epi 3's hat but with the bead bobbers prominently placed at the front. And we're back to hiding our face. Boooo!

Now you would think that for the Finale, for the crowning of the first Top Chef Master, Gael would pull something wonderfully Gael-ish from her magical bag of hats. You would be wrong because all we get another red repeater. I feel so used. There you have it, ladies and gay gentlemen. Not exactly Coyote Ugly but then again, I guess we should count our blessings. It could have been a lot worse.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Search for Speck

Remember back in July, I had written that I was unfamiliar with Speck nor did I think I could get it here in Kansas City? Turns out I was virtually surrounded by Speck.

It was here as an appetizer at one of my favorite lunch spots, Michael Smith's Extra Virgin.
It was in the deli case in my Whole Foods.Heck, it was in the cheese and meat case of the wine shop not one block away from my office. With such an abundance of Speck, it was time to give it a whirl. I decided not to deep fry it with pineapple (a la Chef Patterson) but instead wrap it around some black mission figs and blue cheese and grill it. If you'd like a recipe similar to what I did, there's Michael Chiarello's Proscuitto Wrapped Figs, just substitute the Speck.
I used two different kinds of blue cheese mainly because I'm always looking for a good excuse to buy blue cheese. My selections for this dish were a Roth Kase Buttermilk Blue and a Valdeon Blue. The Roth is a creamier, milder, slightly sweet blue cheese while the Valdeon has the more traditional salty tang you expect from those deep blue veins. Both were excellent but personally when using the Valdeon I'd use smaller pieces on the fig so not to overpower the other flavors.What I like about using Speck instead of Prosciutto is the milder more subtle favor. It's a lovely layed flavor combination of the sweetness of the grilled fig, the burst of the blue cheese and the finish of the savory Speck. It's a simple yet sophisticated appetizer and would certainly work with any mildly sweet fruit. Chef Chiarello suggested finishing his version with a drizzle of olive oil but I decided against that. I think next time I will try drizzling just a hint of some nice warm clover honey.
So look around, you might be surprised just how close your Speck might be.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Top Chef Kerfuffle

Here we are, barely into Season 6, fresh off a Top Chef Masters high of respectful competition and we have our first Kerfuffle. It seems Michael Isabella found himself neck and neck cracking clams in the relay race with ├╝ber competitive Jennifer Carroll. His thoughts on this embarrassing situation? As you can imagine, this did not go over well with some of my blogging brothers and sisters. Dorothy Snarker over at Dorothy Surrenders feels there's no place on TV for the pi...huh boy. Charlus over at Amuse Biatch is having a veritable psychoanalytical field day with this little piggy. But is Michael a hog?
Or just your garden variety ham?I'm voting for the latter. I have a feeling that grandma's little boy is going to be an asshat to every single person he encounters. Did you catch his "encouragement" to the teammate cleaning shrimp?Nice. But here we are talking about him, his restaurant and all things assy about Michael. I think we're all forgetting who runs Top Chef. The folks who thought it was not good what happened to Marcel but not bad enough to jettison the finale (cha-ching). The folks who stunt cast a lesbian couple one season and brothers this season? Do I think he belongs on TV? I wish he wasn't there just like I wish that abomination Hell's Kitchen would finally die. But the season is in the can and for good or for bad but mostly for ratings he's here. I can only hope that what they are really doing is setting up the mother of all Battle of the Sexes between Michael and Jennifer because I think we have our most competitive female chef since Tiffany. And just like Tiffany, Jennifer looks like she'd cut a bitch to win. Let's hope she sharpens her knife for a big juicy slice of Isabella Ham.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Making of a Master

The Bad The Hostess. I've pretty much ignored Top Chef Master's hostess mostly because she's a glorified announcer who sometimes eats. It's only on the finale that I caught her using the now patented Padma Lakshmi Food Inhalation System. I love Padma if only because she gives good blogger material but I have to say if Padma didn't LOVE eating so much I'd want to kick her skinny ass to the curb. That's what I want to see from every single judge, critic and yes, hostess doing, eating the food. If Padma can get through sampling all the Quickfires and all the Elimination dishes and still look that good then sister, so should Kelly.
Respect I have to say I was saddened by Michael's "attitude" concerning the past winners of Top Chef judging his food. Sad for two reasons. First, don't ever forget your paying customers, even if you think they don't have the knowledge to judge your food. Second, how about a little respect for those 5 individuals. Don't get me wrong, Rick, Michael and Hubert have all earned the respect due them. Top Chef Masters treated all their chefs much better in every way possible than the previous 5 seasons worth of Top Chef contestants. Were the Masters challenges harder? Perhaps but let's remember if not for the Harolds and the Hungs, the Michaels and the Ricks wouldn't be competing at all. And before you three gentlemen start patting yourselves on the back for "making it through" just remember you didn't compete and live with 15 other chefs, spend hours in the stew room with nothing but beer or water to drink, shoot 12 - 16 hour days for multiple weeks. You didn't have the camera on you 24/7. You never had Tom wake you at oh dark thirty and hustle you out for a Quickfire. You had no twist whatsoever for your finale. While I'm very happy that Top Chef Masters was about the food, you still owe a debt of gratitude to the chefs that came before you, not disparage them as some sort of twist to your strategy.
Judging I'm not sure what I expected from the judging. I do know what we got was very polite and adoring praise. When the harshest comments you get comes from Gael's suspicious nature towards foam (and who would have thought that) as opposed to say....Wolfgang Puck throwing your donut across the room? Certainly there's got to be a middle ground for these critics. How many cutaways did we see of chefs sweating Gael ripping into them. If that happened they must be saving it for Top Chef Masters - the Lost episode. I'm not sure Gael's the one you want to anchor this team. Make Gail Simmons your lead judge here. She won't hesitate a moment to tell you exactly what she thinks of the dish. Maybe Ruth Reichl or Patricia Wells. Whomever you get I want to see hot judging arguments, I want the judging passion match to the cooking intensity. I certainly don't want the cold fish that we were ultimately served. I do have to say that apparently critics find it much easier to criticize from the safety of their computer keyboards than to truly face a chef and tell him his food tasted like caramelized crap. If that's the case here then certainly they should audition some more courageous critics. I think the chefs can handle it.

Coming - The Ugly

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Top Chef Season 6 - Show Me the Money

Season 6 crashed into our lives with 17 new chefs all fighting for face time any way they can get it. Since it's Top Chef Las Vegas you know it's going to be all about the Money. But first......raise your hand if you thought the first Quickfire was to scale, gut and fillet enough goldfish to make an amuse bouche in 30 minutes? I know I wasn't the only one.Why showgirls? Because nothing says Top Chef like beating you over the head with the obvious Las Vegas reference.
Speaking of motivation. There's been a change in the Quickfire. Money. Big money. $15,000. worth of money. Or enough to feed Padma for a month. That's good news. Apparently immunity just wasn't enough motivation for the chefs to do their best for the Quickfires. A big chunk of change should certainly get those creative juices flowing.Now for the bad news. They took one of my favorite parts of Top Chef and drained it of all it's excitement and drama.By having four teams competing at the same time without much at stake (they didn't explain the money prize until after the race) there was no excitement of rooting for your favorite or finding an unexpected champion rising to the challenge. It was all just a bunch of chefs nobody knows either doing well or not. Or injuring themselves.Top Chef Basics 101: Knives. They are sharp. Kinda like tattoo needles. When jabbed into flesh, the flesh will bleed. Thought that would have been obvious.Hey? When did she put that glove on? So at the end one team is left standing, and we're left trying to decide what's worse, bloody clams or no clams at all. It's going to be a very long season.

The Making of a Master

There a lot of things I've loved about the regular series Top Chef, top of the list being the love of food ususally in the end wins out over the drama. Top Chef Masters took my love to a higher level with their approach to the finale. Show us your life long love affair with food. $1300 to create 4 dishes for 13 guests.

First let's look at the GoodBringing in each chef's personal Sous chefs. A really nice touch and a vast difference from bringing back angry past contestants that early Top Chef provided for their finalists.

Talisman Look at the glee on this man's face. This is a man who loves his truffles. French truffles. While Rick's heart might be in Mexican food his mortar and pestle certainly reveals his other touchstones.Michael brings the most basic element of his family vineyard to his final dishes, cuttings from the vines. You can just see the blood, sweat and tears in the very fiber of those cuttings.

Flirting. So many reality shows try to overpower us with the drama but forget to balance that out with the lighter side of life. Show us the fun, people, you're getting paid to eat the most amazing food and hopefully get to enjoy the companionship of interesting people. Watching Gail and Jay flirt just a bit was fun and cute.

Coming - The Bad