If you came here for snark about last night's episode of Top Chef All Stars, I'm sorry. I didn't watch. While I had planned to go the movies and eat greasy popcorn, I was just too tired. Instead I watched some of a repeat of Battle Oyster on Iron Chef America. I'm sure you can guess which chef they put up for that battle? Yes, Cat Cora and yes she won. Next was a little bit of Bobby Flay throwdown and battle lobster mac and cheese. But not even those two wonderful things together couldn't hold my interest. So I found comfort in the lovely acting abilities of Coté de Pablo who is a Chilean-American actress and recording artist playing a Israeli Mossad agent on the tv show NCIS.
Frankly...considering the two finalists....I made the better choice. You know why? Because I'm still....
Apparently March is pissed. Despite our best efforts to leap into the month of April and warm spring weather, March decided to remind us that she is one unpredictable month. While it wasn't much of a snow, Susan of 29 Black Street is getting some weather that's a little more aggressive, like....sideways snow (shiver). Still, we're not giving up.
Maple candy. Hard crack candy is very easy to make if you have the right tools, a candy thermometer being the most important and candy molds being the second. I just happened to have a mold I was going to use for small soaps.
Frankly they produce jaw-breaker sized candies but with the vast world of the internet you can certainly find some molds that produce more bite sized candies.
Susan of 29 Black Street gently reminded me that we bloggers of a certain age need to eat more heart healthy. Seeing that Day Three of Mapril didn't exactly fall into that category, I found a nice healthy breakfast alternative. Maple Yogurt Parfait.
Greek yogurt (in this case, non-fat) flavored with maple syrup, layered with granola, strawberries and blackberries. Remember the maple spiced nuts from Day Four? Cut them up and tossed them in with the granola. Enjoy!
Since it sounds like there will be much heavy drinking next Wednesday night, I figured I'd continue with the Bar Snacks theme. Today's Maple dish is Spicy Maple Nuts. Half a cup of pecans, walnuts and almonds each. Mix together with a tablespoon of maple syrup. Then add a 1/8 teaspoon of cumin, cayenne pepper and salt and mix well. Spread the nut mixture on a cookie sheet and bake in a 300 degree oven 15 to 20 minutes.
I think you get a bowl of these, a plate of the wings, a nice cold barley pop and you're set for whatever disgusting events might be happening on a certain Finale. As for that finale, I have just one word - NUTS.
1) In the eight seasons of Top Chef there have been 67 male contestants vs. 60 female contestants.
2) In the eight seasons of Top Chef there have been 16 male chef finalists vs. 5 female finalists.
3) Thenumber of restaurants in the Craft chain: Craft NY, Craft Dallas, Craft LA, Craftbar, Craft Steak Los Vegas, Craft Steak Fox Woods.
4) The number of female chefs as executive chefs at the 6 Craft chain restaurants: Craft NY - Damon Wise, Craft Dallas - Jeff Harris, Craft LA - Anthony Zappola, Craftbar - Lauren Hischberg, Craft Steak Los Vegas - Matt Seeber, Craft Steak Foxwoods - James Lynn.
The Bahamas. If Top Chef All Stars wanted to present their finale episodes as a travelogue of what the Bahamas are like, the last two episodes couldn't have presented it any better than black and white. Our chefs discover that they will be dropped off at a deserted island to prepare a meal for members of the Nassau Yacht Club.
But first they must rest and trash talk. The guys talk about how they both practiced making conch dishes. The gals? Tiffany talks about small towns and Antonia gets no face time whatsoever. The next morning finds Padma hanging out at the docks.
Answering the question that Yes, yes indeed, it is better in the Bahamas.
Mike definitely thinks so. Blais? Let's just say Blais has more important issues on his mind.
After a short boat ride, the chefs hit the beach of their deserted Kitchen Island. Lots of proteins and produce but no conch.
That's because they have to harvest their own conch. This is problematic. You see, I love most of my little TC Crack Monkey readers (actually some of you scare me but mostly it's love ) and I know most of you come here for the food, some for the drama and some come for the pretty lady Padma. I have nothing against men (mostly true), or Mike (hold on, swerving into Liesville) and find Richard the most awesome guy ever (no one out there believes for a second you didn't just puke all over your keyboard after typing that...) but when given the choice between looking at either one of their manboobs or gazing upon Padma in her Bahamian Glory....well I decided drastic measures were needed. I give you Padma-Vision.
(....and the Emmy for making Reality TV More Watchable goes to.....Big Shamu!!)
The chefs have now procured their carefully placed conch, thinking the hard part was over. HA! Now they have to remove the conch meat from the shell.
(I hope they let Antonia keep her black hammer.)
The one thing the guys couldn't practice because why would you want to buy and clean your own conch? Finally after much smacking, pounding and whacking, all four chefs move onto actually cooking. The food looks fantastic. Lots of spiny lobster, tons of different fish. Despite the fact that they are cooking on wood fired heat sources they all seem to be making beautiful food happen. Now I know they mentioned that the cooking supplies were rather thin so I'm guessing Richard brought this gadget with him.
Now, I haven't seen this at my local Williams Sonoma or any of the other kitchen gadget places. But I believe it's this -
A Paderno World Cuisine - 49823-99 - Dual Ribbon and Spiral Slicer. If you'd like to make ribbon noodles from sweet potatoes just like Richard and have a little over seven hundred dollars burning a hole in your wallet, it can be YOURS! Richard doing a little product pimping himself. But will it win him the challenge? I know his babbling about the added pressure of not winning his season won't.
The guests arrive and suddenly I need my sunglasses because we have entered White World.
White curtains, white clothing, white sand, white flowers and Tom's shiny bright white head. Just curious....no Nassua Yacht Club members of African descent?
Back at Richard's Station of Hate, he's getting nervous looking at the other chef's dishes. He's up first with his Hampton's style dish.
Doesn't do much for me but the judges seem to like it except for the guest judge's undercooked lobster....witnessed by Gail. Gail, who also corrected Tom that Richard did not make pasta but instead made sweet potato ribbons. You go Gail!
Antonia's up next.
This is more my alley, a nicely cooked piece of fish with a conch cerviche. The flavors seem to be good but she gets pinged for her conch dice being too small and some fish temperature issues.
Someone else with temperature issues is Tiffany.
I don't really get Tiffany's choice here, it's the top four competing, I don't think a bowl of chowder is going to cut it. Plus it doesn't help that she mistimed plating her dish and it ends up not being hot and comforting when it gets to the diners.
Mike's up last. He takes the time to reach back and smack talk yet another woman chef, this time Elia who was eliminated in the very first episode for banana leaf wrapped fish. Save me Padma-Vision from this pompous idiot.
Another nice dish that I'd be happy to eat. The only thing Tom picks at is the over-abundance of butter in the dish, his thinking the fish doesn't need it.
In the stew lobby, Antonia is making me love her with her sarcastic attitude to Richard....
...who is not amused. Judge's Table pretty much goes as expected with the dish with the least issues, Mike, winning and the dish with the most issues, Tiffany, heading home.
Now if you didn't watch or listen closely to the previews of the upcoming week, you missed the fact that there are two MORE finale episodes and then a reunion show. Apparently one more chef will be eliminated leaving the final two to battle it out. What it really means someone's head will explode, either Mike or Richard for being eliminated or mine for another finale without a female chef if Antonia is auffed. Stay Tuned...
What is Mapril and why are we celebrating? It's pushing the month of March out the door and getting a jump on April. Why? Because my good blog buddy, Susan of 29 Black Street, gets the blahs at the end of March. Instead of focusing on the last gasps of winter, we're focusing on the joys of Maple. Did I mention Susan is Canadian? Did I mention that occasionally she sends me pure Canadian Maple syrup? I didn't? Did I mention how much I appreciate this? I do especially if you've seen the price of maple syrup lately. In an attempt to cheer Susan up, I made her Candied Maple Bacon. Hopefully I've got some more maple mischief up my sleeve for the rest of Mapril. Feel free to join in and cheer Susan up. By eating more bacon and maple. God Bless America and Canada.
I've been slacking. Avoiding a certain chore that must be done. You know, the one we can't avoid? Taxes. Let's be honest, most of us would rather do anything than do our taxes. The folks that want to do their taxes? They generally end up starting their own companies and doing our taxes for us. After a gentle reminder this past week, I finally buckled down to sort, arrange and integrate all the crap that goes with filing. However....the only way I could do it is if I rewarded myself and my tax preparers with the gift of brownies. Cheesecake Brownies.
You know they need all the sugar they can get from now until April 18th to tackle the insane complexity that is our tax code. I'm a huge brownie fan but in truth, usually as a device to deliver nuts with some chocolate around them. Unfortunately with so many folks suffering from nut allergies I generally don't make brownies with nuts unless I know everyone eating them will be nut allergy free. So I cranked my Cook's Illustrated Best Recipes and decided the Cheesecake Brownies would be more appropriate. Let's hope my tax preparers like them.
CREAM CHEESE BROWNIES
Makes 16 2-inch brownies
2/3 cup all-purpose flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate 4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter 1 1/4 cups sugar 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 3 large eggs, plus 1 yolk 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position, and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk flour, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl; set aside. Coat an 8-inch-square baking pan with cooking spray, and, fit an 8-by-16-inch sheet of aluminum foil in bottom of pan. (Foil overhangs both sides of the pan; use as handles to remove baked brownies from pan.) Coat foil with cooking spray.
2. In a medium heat-proof bowl set over a pan of almost simmering water, melt chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until mixture is smooth. (Alternatively, melt chocolate and butter in microwave oven.) Remove melted chocolate mixture from heat; whisk in 1 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla; then whisk in 3 eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Continue whisking until mixture is completely smooth. Add dry ingredients; whisk until just incorporated.
3. In a small bowl, beat cream cheese with remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and egg yolk until of even consistency.
4. Pour half the brownie batter into prepared pan. Drop half the cream cheese mixture, by spoonfuls, over batter. Repeat layering and swirling with remaining brownie batter and cream cheese filling. Use blade of a table knife or a spoon handle to gently swirl batter and cream cheese filling, creating a marbled effect.
5. Bake until edges of brownies have puffed slightly, center feels not quite firm when touched lightly, and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into center comes out with several moist, fudgy crumbs adhering to it, 50 to 60 minutes.
6. Cool brownies in pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. , Use foil sling handles to lift brownies from pan. Place brownies on wire rack; allow them to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours. (To hasten cooling, place brownies in the freezer for about 1 1/2 hours.) Cut into squares and serve. (Do not cut brownies until ready to serve. Whole bar can be wrapped in plastic wrap, then foil, and refrigerated up to 5 days.)
I'm not really sure what the purpose was of the team Quickfire. Something about consistency, I guess preparing some of our chefs for a stint serving banquet food. It seems rather bizarre that we're checking to see if our four finalists can put out consistent food. Isn't that Chef School 101? For whatever reason, the four chefs must pair up and make 100 servings exhibiting consistency and precision. The cash prize is measly too, just five grand to split with your teammate. Mikey, despite his new found blood relation, fears hooking up with the Black Hammer. I'm not sure about this wisdom considering....
...the judgment used to select this craptacular piece of headgear. However the male ego is an interesting thing and for a second there I thought that our two male chefs were going to grunt and belly bump to cement their ritualistic macho bonding.
Obviously cooking and plating a hundred servings in an hour is a challenge that requires a fairly simple dish but still have some decent flavor for the judges and not forgetting the aforementioned consistency. Mike and Richard decide to go with pasta with a Bolognese sauce, highly confident that their status as "The Ones To Beat" will automatically make their Quickfire the winning dish and thereby crushing the girls. This, my little Crack Monkeys, is a luscious tidbit of foreshadowing, an amuse bouche of smack talk with a gelée of impending karmic justice. Antonia and Tiffany decide to do a seared beef salad with lentils, celery leaves and a chimichurri sauce. Notice that there are four components. Blais continues with some smack talk about how someone with no vision will fall back on a seared meat salad. He feels that their pasta with meat sauce, with it's two cooked components is much more ambitious due to the fact that they are making their own pasta in an hour. What's funny is that the very advice he gave to Mike, "Don't get confused by the technique, it's about the plates being perfect" is lost when he looks at the other team's dish. That they made their own pasta doesn't matter, it's those four components on the plate, all being consistent being compared to their two components of a pasta and a meat sauce. Could come back to bite you Richard.
Not to be outdone in the smack talk department, Mikey puts forth that he could have made all of Antonia's and Tiffany's dishes, by himself. Bold talk from a guy only made and cooked pasta and choked at Restaurant Wars searing lamb.
Of course the Red Team wins...
and something definitely got crushed...
...as possible Therapy money flies right out the window. I'm thinking Mikey and Blais are finding the Karmic Justice Gelée a wee bit bitter.
I'm sure the moment this challenge was announced the five remaining chefs immediately started thinking about what kind of dishes they could serve that would please royalty. Which is why I could never be on this show because I immediately started thinking about who actually rules the Bahamas (the Queen of England) and what are trade relations like with the United States. I worried that Mike might cause some sort of international incident but I needn't have worried, the only two things that the US and the Bahamas trade seem to be tourists and a place to stash cash in offshore banking. As for the royalty, Tom and Eric Ripert play up the honor and prestige aspects of upcoming meal. Perhaps in a bid to attain their SAG cards. The chefs are then shuttled off to their living quarters (hotel pimpage) for the rest of the season. It is here that we learn that if Richard wins Top Chef All Stars it "...would allow me to open up the restaurant of my dreams." This is an interesting statement considering that Richard has a few restaurant openings under his belt. Blais, his first restaurant lasted roughly six months and lost a lot of money for his investors. The cash prize for winning All Stars is $200,000 which after at least Federal Tax, is probably more like $150,000. I don't know many "restaurant of my dreams" that spring forth from that amount of money. I'm not sure if it even covers decent restaurant appliances. Of the seven Top Chef winners, the first four spent at least two years preparing for their first restaurants, Michael Voltaggio and Hosea Rosenberg are still at the restaurants they worked at before they each won their respective seasons, and Kevin, last season's winner, is in that sort of nether world of cooking demos, speaking engagements and trying to find just the right space for his own restaurant in Philly. And if Richard doesn't win? Hopefully he's won some prize money for some much needed therapy.
The next day finds our chefs with two and half hours of prep time at a fairly decent looking kitchen. They all chatter about how their dish will be refined enough for kings and queens. Except for Mike. Guess who makes a return appearance just in time for the Finale?
This guy. The guy who just can't keep his piehole shut about the women he competes against. Apparently he thinks that Antonia, Carla and Tiffany played it safe to get the final episodes. To which I have to ask....who didn't cook for the Tennis episode? Mike. Who was the disastrous expediter for the Dim Sum Challenge? Mike. Who couldn't cook pasta correctly for the Italian restaurant challenge? Mike. Who stole Richard's dish for a Quickfire? Mike. Who was pretty much a disaster at Restaurant Wars? Mike yet again. I'd be careful little piggie, you never know when Karma might be creeping up on you.
Prep time ends and the chefs are ferried away to their next location with a motorcycle police escort. Because royalty always spends the extra ducats making sure their cooks are also treated like royalty. The chefs ponder what luxurious kitchens might await them at the palace of the royalty.
(Haven't I seen that crown as a dash board air freshener in NY cabs???)
But a street parade with the King of Junkanoo dashes all their hopes of top notch kitchen cooking. Now it also gets kinda creepy or maybe it's just me. You see most of the chefs start rethinking their dishes....but really they start dumbing them down. There's an implied suggestion that the King and his crew would not enjoy the more refined dishes that the chefs originally planned. It's not only the chefs that seem to be saying this but also the production team because the kitchen they've asked the chefs to cook in is not exactly much better than the galley of the Ellis Island Ferry.
Good luck getting five chefs sharing this lone flat top. However the chefs, all being the prize money seeking, attention whores that they are make the best of it and start cooking away. Some more away than others. As Antonia tries deep fat frying her plantains the fryer next to hers starts smoking like a two pack a day person getting off a NY to LA redeye.
This is not like cutting your finger and taping it up and just continuing to cook....this is an Issue. Antonia tries to point out the danger and just as she says it's going to catch fire...
...WHOOSH - it does. Richard puts a half sheet pan over the top but the fire is still going full force underneath. There's a mad dash to save food and the production crew to put out the fire but in the end they evacuate the kitchen and call in the fire department. Now at this point I'm sure the chefs are wondering how to recover from a burned out kitchen and again, I have to point out how poorly I would be prepared because all I could think about was whose insurance would cover the fire damage if the place burned down. What would Bravo do, dip into Andy Cohen's Liquid Refreshment budget from Watch What Happens?
The fire is contained but the food is totally ruined from exposure to the chemicals from the Ansul system.
Tom, in his Royalty Casual red flannel shirt, drops the bad news bomb on the chefs. They will go back to the original prep kitchen, re-prep their dishes, after which the fire kitchen will have been cleaned and prepped for the chefs to cook and plate for the King and Queen. However if they want to change their dishes, they are allowed to totally trash their original dish and go with something else. How they do this on the back end with product I have no idea but it had to have been an extremely long night for everyone. Blais and Antonia decide to junk their dishes and head in another direction. With Prep, Version 2.0 complete, it's back to Twin Brothers restaurant where the deep fat fryers have been replaced with these.
This is not good. You went from 35 gallon capacity, thermostat controlled deep fat fryers to...what? A gallon, at the most? At this point I'm feeling bad for the chefs. It's not that they had to deal with a fire because restaurant kitchen fires happen a lot more than many of us realize. They don't always burn down the kitchen (unlike those timely, all consuming, owner deep in debt restaurant fires) but they do happen. Ask Top Chef alums, Stephanie Izard and Dale Levitski. Watching the chefs and the crew deal with it was surprising for the fact that it took eight seasons for it to finally happen. But still, it's the Finale, twists like sad kitchen equipment has been done to death. Plus it bites my remaining favorite chef in the ass. Carla, perhaps thinking that a more adequate deep fat fryer would available, did not change up her dish back during Prep, Version 2.0. She's still going to deep fat fry her bacon wrapped pork loin. The results? Rare pork. She tries to save the medallions by quickly searing them on the flat top.
This does not save the pork from being undercooked and worse, served to a reluctant Gail.
Who, I might add, was looking especially lovely, tanned and relaxed for her time in the Bahamas.
Back to the food, Antonia's Shrimp and Grits makes everyone sad that she switched out the lamb she was originally preparing. Mike's Sous Vide Chicken with Lobster Hash finally give the judges a reason to smile.
They also enjoy Richard's Lamb Loin with Mustard Sauce and Turnip Cannelloni.
However Richard apparently does not enjoy his own food. "My food is shit, disgusting." OK so the stress is getting to him back in the kitchen. Maybe he'll chill out later. Tiffany serves last and doesn't seem to get pinged for any major mistakes but is called out for the simplicity of her dish.
The service portion of the long day and night are over but now the chefs have to sweat out Judge's Table. Blais decides to vent his frustration over his own food...again. "I just hate everything I fucking do, that's the point."
Now I don't know if Richard really feels this way about his food or if he was just playing for sympathy or attempting to get the other chefs to reassure him that yes, Richard, we think your food was AWESOME. Whatever the process, here's the result. I wasn't much of a fan of Richard from his season and when given the chance to eat at his restaurant in Atlanta or Kevin Gillespie's restaurant, I went with Kevin. Had a great meal. I have no idea how Richard thinks anyone would find his food appealing after watching and hearing how the chef feels about his own creations. My culinary godmother keeps reminding me that the show isn't a popularity contest when it comes to the food. Valid point but it is a popularity contest back out in the real world. There are any number of star power chefs who may be assholes in real life, may treat their co-workers badly, would like to hang bloggers by their heels but I don't think I've ever heard any of them say they hate everything they do like Richard did to the judges. Judging by Gail's reaction...
...neither had she. Richard's blathering does not give him the win, that went to Mike but he's also not in the bottom three. That honor belongs to Antonia and Carla. They lump Tiffany in there with them but simplicity of a dish won't go home against overcooked fried shrimp and undercooked pork. In the end, Carla just couldn't overcome her poorly cooked loin despite all the love she put into her food. While she leaves Top Chef All Stars without winning the title, she still wins as fan favorite, and truly someone with an amazing attitude and outlook on life. Too bad some of that didn't rub off on the two remaining male chefs.
Much love, Chef Carla, thank you again for a great season.