Thursday, April 28, 2011

Appy to See You

"What do you want for dinner?" I don't know how it was at your house growing up but in mine, this was a question I heard a lot. Finding meals that children and spouses will eat. Usually I hoped it wasn't something that involved plumbing the depths of our chest freezer to find just the right package of meat. Cold hardy my fingers were not.

While I was suffering from freezer burn, my mother was scouring cookbooks, women's magazines and the food section of the newspaper for new and exciting ways to get food into our gullets.

Flash forward to 2011 and parents have a treasure trove of recipe ideas to choose from. The food sections of newspapers are much better, more magazines are devoted to cooking, you've got tons of TV offerings from PBS to all the crap on the Food Network. And Then....there's the Internet. For better or for worse, it's a wild west show for food on the web. But it gets better for Mom because now there are cooking apps she can pull up a specific recipe on her Iphone while she's shopping at the grocery store.

Can't leave Martha home? She's got an app too.

And if Martha's got an app, the rest of the Celebrity Chefs can't be far behind.

Now I don't know about you but I'm not sure I want Gordon Ramsay or Mario Batali in my pocket.

Nigella Lawson on the other hand? Houston we have a GO!

So tell me my little crack monkeys, do you have cooking apps on your various electronic doodads? Would you pay ten bucks to have Mario at your beck and call?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cutting the Cord

Remember this? I don't. I still haven't watched the finale. Just downloaded the episode off of ITunes today but only because I downloaded an app called Finger Cut for my ITouch (an app that let's you be a cutter without the pain, infection or scars). I'll probably never watch that episode. However my disgust with TV went even further than that. I'm not only done with Top Chef, I'm done with Masters, Bravo, hell I chucked cable all together.

It was a long time coming but the DouchToad Finalists of Top Chef All Stars were the straws that broke my TV's back. No more. No more Swamp People. No more Housewives. Paula Deen and her Ten Tons of Buttery Fun will have to seek elsewhere to find buyers for her wares. My cable representative was not happy. It wasn't like I was a huge customer anyway. I never bought into the HD hype because again, do I really want to see Swamp People in HD? I think not. So my package was fairly meager to begin with but that didn't stop the cable pimper from trying her darnedest. "Well, if it's a matter of money you could get our most basic lineup..." This pissed me off because you can get over the air HD basic if you buy an antenna from Radio Shack and pay once instead of paying the cable company twenty bucks a month for those "free" channels which wouldn't be in HD anyway. She tried another tact, "Perhaps if you upgraded to the HD package?" So now she wants me to pay more for even more crap shows and box rentals? I politely declined. Finally I convinced her that I was a heretic and quite serious about no longer paying them any of my hard earned money.

Of course it didn't stop the Cable Company representatives from calling my house every day, sometimes twice a day for the next week (thank you caller ID) to try and lure me back. But here's the other thing. TV made me a zombie. I have a ton of cookbooks I want to read and explore. There are some fantastic restaurants here in KC I want to visit. It's Year Two of the Backyard Garden Experiment which in reality will only work if I break out the lumberjack flannel and cut down half a tree to get more sunlight to my garden plot.

That's not to say there won't be some things I'll miss from Pay TV.

NCIS marathons.

Robot Chicken

Aqua Teen Hunger Force
(Holy crap, am I a twenty one year old computer nerd trapped in a 50 year old lesbian's body???)

So what am I watching instead? Apparently I've gone back in time. It's a happy place that I suspect many in our country would like to go back to...

...when people had maids who wore sensible shoes and were named Hazel. A time and place where Sally Field did more than pimp Boniva....

...she rode a beach board and called herself Gidget only to follow that up by... riding a nun's habit into the skies of Puerto Rico.

A time when kids played outside and had lots of energy without being labeled hyperactive.

This does not mean I've given up foodie tv, it's just limited to PBS. Or until certain folks decide that killing the Muppets on Sesame Street is in the best interests of the country.

I think I'll be ok.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Spring Rituals


It's springtime and that means enjoying one of my most favorite spring rituals. The watching of the Ten Commandments. I love this epic. Filmed in 1956, it was Cecil B. DeMille's last directorial effort and a film of epic proportions. Costumes, sets, music and design, all were colorful and amazingly detailed. It also had an amazing amount of men in skirts.

No offense to the Heston fans, he just doesn't fill out a skirt the same way Yul Brynner did.

Yul Brynner was one sexy beast.

I don't know what Nefertari was thinking, Moses was kinda of doofus.

And then there's the casting. Edward G. Robinson as Jewish slave? Really?

Yvonne De Carlo as Moses' shepherdess wife. Don't recognize her?

Recognize her now?

So in honor of Passover, Easter and the Ten Commandments, I decided to try my hand at making matzo ball soup. But not any old matzo balls, Technicolor Matzo Ball Soup. Well....that's what I'm calling it. Susie Fishbein, whose recipe it is, calls it Tricolor Matzo Ball Soup.


A little spinach, a little turmeric and a little tomato paste spice up the matzo balls of old, adding both flavor and color.

matzo ball soup2

Believe me, you need a big hearty bowl of soup to get through four hours of some unintentionally hilarious dialogue. My most favorite line? Heston's "Thou didst blow with thy winds..." Does it get any better than that?

matzo ball soup

Enjoy the goodness of spring.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chocoholics Anonymous Alert

We've all done the chocolate fondue thing. It was bound to happen that it would grow into something larger...

I've never been to an event that had one of these but I bet they are very popular. So it was only a matter of time before this happened.

An actual chocolate waterfall. 12,000 liters per hour. As far as I can tell, no one has jumped in but then again, it's in London. I wouldn't be surprised if the American version included a Chocolate Shower.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What the Heck is a Jumblee?

Chow has a fascinating look at a very old, handwritten cookbook. Ever wonder what people used to eat, what kind of ingredients were available and what people's favorite treats were? My question is will anyone be able to read your handwriting in 120 years from now?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Girl Power

The call came a little after midday. Yes, there were still reservations left for the event tonight, now if you just give me your credit card information...

Which is how I found myself here, a golf community north of Kansas City. Not really my stomping grounds but when you get an opportunity to get to eat a six course meal prepared by two of your most favorite chefs in all the Top Chef shows? Get the camera ready baby, because Carla Hall and Antonia Lofaso are in Kansas City.


Girl Power indeed. Night two of a two night event of food and Top Chef chatter. Cocktails started off the night in the spacious National Clubhouse. Not a huge event, ten tables of eight and no table was filled out. Since I had made my reservation so late and couldn't get anyone to go with me, I was beginning to worry that I was going to be at a table alone. Happily Emily and Dino made reservations just as late as me.

Emily and Dino

How cute are they? Not to mention they're Top Chef freaks, run a restaurant and Emily has a girl-crush on Antonia. Good food, good company, gorgeous setting and Top Chef gossip, does it get any better? Let's check out the first course.


Antonia started off the meal with a Hamachi crudo, crispy rice, mizuna, with miso vinaigrette. A bold dish to serve to folks in Kansas City, a place steeped in stockyard and meat on the hoof history. Not that anyone at my table minded since we all enjoy sushi so the hamachi was a welcome starter. Still trying to figure out how Antonia did the crispy rice because it was a nice little crunchy treat on top of that flavorful hamachi. And BONUS, both Carla and Antonia help bring plates to the table.

brought to you by carla

Our second course was a salad course.

golden beet salad

Another bold choice by Carla since so many people reject eating beets right off the bat. An Asparagus, Golden Beet & Shitake salad with a Tarragon Dill Vinaigrette and a quenelle of goat cheese boursin. The chefs come out after each course is served and talk a little bit about the dish. Carla gave us a little taste of spring, especially with the asparagus. The general consensus at our table is that it was a great salad especially since the beets didn't have that distinctive beet flavor. It didn't last long on the plate.

sweet shrimp

This photo is part of Antonia's next course. This is some sweet shrimp and matchstick apples. Now....I don't have a photo of the whole dish but I have a really good excuse. See, they plated the shrimp and apples and then came around with hot pitchers of Curried Cauliflower Soup and poured it over the shrimp and frankly when the smell of the soup hit my nostrils all thought of grabbing a photo left my brain. I know it's spring but this is a soup that would be great on a fall afternoon and we did everything but lick our bowls clean. Check out the recipe at the end of the post. Bravo Antonia!


Next up is Carla's Grilled Halibut with Ramps, Pickled Fennel and roasted Sunchoke Pesto. When Carla talked about this dish, it sounded like it was still a dish in progress. The fish was cooked well and the sunchoke pesto was interesting but I still think the dish needs a little oomph.

lamb loin

Antonia's Lamb Loin, Fennel Butter, Brussel Sprouts and Blue Bacon Salad. This dish, more than any other dish on the menu, gives us a chance to eat a dish the chefs prepared on the show. Or at least intended to serve on the show. This is the dish that Antonia planned to serve to royalty had a fire not happened in the restaurant. It's a pretty good dish and certainly sounds better than the shrimp and grits she did eventually make. Even my table-mate Emily who doesn't like lamb, enjoyed this dish.


Carla finishes up the night with a Strawberry Rhubarb Meringue Tart with Lime Basil Coulis. I love lime so this is right up my ally. The only problem is that the tart base could have been a tad more tender but it didn't stop me from eating it all.

Now that the chefs are done with kitchen duty, it was time for a little Q & A. We got to hear about future plans which for Antonia include writing a cookbook for busy working moms trying to make good food on a tight schedule and budget. Carla shared her exciting news of being part of The Chew, who along with Mario Batali and Michael Symon will be taking on daytime TV (and killing ABC's soaps along the way). Both Carla and Antonia's favorite episode, hands down, was the fishing episode because they had so much fun. Carla's least favorite episode (aside from the one she was eliminated on) was the Target challenge mainly because the cameramen COULD NOT KEEP UP WITH CARLA. After a demonstration on just how fast Carla is, she's right, I'm sure she left them in Target dust. They also shared a funny story about one of the dishes for that challenge and how one chef thought he was coming up with an incredibly unique dish but when he shared his idea with Carla and Antonia they were flabbergasted. The dish? Baked potato soup which any number of chain restaurants have been doing for years but really a bit of good luck for Carla because Angelo went home instead of her. The chefs shared another amusing moment that revealed a little bit of the behind the scene production issues. Carla and Antonia were asked to sing the Beef Tongue Song.

Beef Tongue Song

The only reason the Beef Tongue song even happened was that when Antonia gets nervous, she sings to herself. In real life, this is not a problem but on a syndicated show like Top Chef, the moment a recognizable song is uttered, for it to make it on air, the right's holders to that song must be paid. So all the songs Antonia came up with to sing away her nervousness had to be original in nature. Enter Carla and Angelo, co-writers of the Beef Tongue Song and Hello I-Tunes downloads and one of the most fun moments in Top Chef history.

We discovered, while as horrific as it was for us seeing Mike in swim trunks, was nothing in comparison to seeing it live, proving once again that while you can choose your friends, you cannot choose your family. I'm pretty sure finding out Mike was her cousin was not the Elimination Prize Antonia was hoping for. We also discovered that Padma is a warmer, more approachable person since the birth of her baby (while I did enjoy Antonia's description of Padma's eating habits as more in line with that of a long haul trucker). However after hearing the three restaurants Carla and Antonia hit up in a two hour period here in Kansas City, they apparently were doing their best Padma imitation. Two bbq joints (Arthur Bryants and Oklahoma Joe's) and one burger joint (Blanc Burgers) is a whole lot of meat to consume before a big night of cooking.
Finally the questions were done and the chefs graciously allowed any and all who wanted their photos taken to be accommodated. Which means Emily's girl-crush fantasy is fulfilled.

Emily's girlcrush

I have to say at the end of the night, Carla and Antonia were exactly what I thought they'd be like. Carla is funny and entertaining and apparently seems to be the only chef who seems to find the good in everyone. Antonia is honest, warm and engaging and I certainly hope she finds success as a result of her time on Top Chef. I'm sad that neither one of them won Top Chef All Stars but I believe their triumphant spirits will take them further than winning the title ever could.

Antonia Lofaso -- Curried Cauliflower Soup with Sweet Shrimp, Apples, Cilantro
Serves 4 people

Thinly slice half onion and sweat, no color.
Rough chop 1 head cauliflower and add to onions allow to sweat.
Add 4 t curry powder and allow to bloom.
Peel 2 apples, remove seeds, rough chop and add to sweat mixture, approx 10 minutes.
Cover with 3/4 cream and 1/4 chicken stock simmer, season with salt and pepper, blend.

Dry 16 pieces of sweet shrimp, season, salt and pepper, dust with all purpose flour.
In a hot sauté pan with about 2 T peanut oil, sauté shrimp.
Garnish soup with sautéed sweet shrimp and julienne Fuji apple garnish with micro cilantro and cilantro oil.

For cilantro oil....
2 bunches cilantro blanched, refreshed and blended with 2 cups peanut oil, strained thru cheesecloth and sieve.

Carla Hall -- Asparagus, Golden Beet and Shiitake Salad
goat cheese boursin, tarragon dill vinaigrette
serves 4

1 bunch asparagus
1 pound golden beets
8 ounces shiitake mushroom caps, julienned
¼ cup goat cheese boursin (see recipe below)
1 cup baby arugula
1 recipe tarragon dill vinaigrette (see recipe below)

1. Prepare beets – preheat oven to 400°. Wrap each beet individually in foil and place on sheet pan. Roast beets until they can be easily pierced with a fork, about 45 to 60 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, and peel beets with dry paper towels, then cut them into ½” dice. Toss in vinaigrette.
2. Prepare asparagus – trim the woody asparagus stems by bending them until they break; the asparagus will naturally break where the stem becomes woody. Discard the woody ends. Heat a cast iron skillet then add minimal oil. Sauté asparagus in small batches until browned and just tender, about 2- 3 minutes. Set aside to cool. Cut the asparagus on the bias (at a diagonal) into 1” pieces and toss with lemon zest.
3. Sauté shiitake – sauté mushrooms in hot skillet until browned; season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
4. Putting it all together – arrange beets, asparagus and shiitake on each plate. Dot with small balls of goat boursin. Lightly toss arugula in vinaigrette and top composed salad with greens.

Tarragon-Dill Vinaigrette

Lemon oil
2 cups canola oil
Strips of zest from 1 lemon
1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer layers removed and bottom 4 inches roughly chopped

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, about 1 lemon
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon tarragon, torn
½ teaspoon dill, snipped
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons tarragon, roughly chopped
¼ cup lemon oil
½ cup olive oil

1. Prepare lemon oil – In a medium heavy saucepan over very low heat, combine oil, lemon peel and lemongrass. Cook, uncovered, until aromatic, about 1 hour. Do not let oil boil. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Strain through a mesh strainer into a heatproof container. Cool completely before using. May be stored in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.)
2. Prepare Vinaigrette – In a medium bowl, whisk together lemon juice, mustard, tarragon, dill, salt, sugar and pepper. Slowly whisk in lemon oil, then olive oil. Adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Goat Cheese Boursin

1 garlic clove, minced
8 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh dill
1 tablespoon chives, minced
2 tablespoons parsley, minced
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Vegetable Meatballs

Do you like challenges? Do you like pushing yourself to solve a cooking conundrum? I have good friends, for many reasons, who are always on the lookout for ways to eat more vegetarian dishes. Have you ever had a vegetarian meatball? Sadly they tend to suffer from a similar fate as some regular meatballs, namely the darn things are dry, dense and heavy. So my challenge was to make veggie meatballs that are moist and flavorful without resorting to kitchen contortions to deliver a fairly simple recipe. Meat lovers, take a seat, this one is for the veggie lovers.


And when I say veggie lovers, I mean the hardcore veggie lovers. We start with an eggplant. A lovely medium deeply purple eggplant. Take out whatever you use to peel carrots and use it to peel your eggplant. No tough skin for this recipe. Once you've stripped your eggplant, go ahead and cut it into a medium chop. You should get about 4 cups of chopped eggplant. Next you want to chop both an onion and mushrooms, also getting about 4 cups each.


This is going to be your base for your meatless mixture. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Add 4 cloves of finely minced garlic. Let the garlic cook in the oil about a minute, careful not to let it get too brown. Now add you cut vegetables. Because we are working with three of the wettest veggies at our disposal, we want to cook down some of that moisture while adding flavor. No need to add salt. We'll be adding that later. You want to reduce your mixture to about 4 cups total. How long this takes depends on how carefully you cook your vegetable mixture. I'd say roughly 15 to 20 minutes.

reduced down 2

So now you've got this lovely flavorful base for your meat mixture. Still you can't form meatballs with it so next we pop it into your food processor and give it a whirl. So it looks like this....

not pretty mixture

Not very pretty is it? Now it's more like a chunky paste but it still needs some work. We need to get rid of some more of the moisture. This is where I take a dish towel, and placing half the mixture in the dish towel, twisting the towel so you can torque the liquid out and SQUEEZE. The more liquid you get out now, the more your meatballs will taste better when cooked so don't wimp out on this step. Repeat with the other half of the mixture. Once you've done your best female Russian shot-putter imitation...

...put the entire mixture in a bowl. Next chop up a half a cup of oil cured olives into a fine dice. I like adding olives for their salty meaty flavor. Mix well with your meat mixture. You also want to add a half a cup of diced shredded mozzarella. I don't like leaving the larger texture of the shredded cheese in the ball, so go ahead and dice it down a bit. Now for some flavorings. Since I'm making meatballs to go with spaghetti, I used a liberal sprinkling of a Italian dried herb non-salt mix I found in the spice aisle at the grocery store. I also added 2 tablespoons of minced fresh basil. I have not added any salt because the olives are already salty and I don't think it needs any. You, however, are free to go wild with whatever flavorings you enjoy. Don't forget to taste it and adjust. Once you do have the flavor of the mixture the way you want it, there's one more step. As long as you successfully went Irina on getting the moisture out of your trifecta of veggies, we're going to add a binder back into the mixture. You'll need two egg yolks and roughly a slice and a half of white bread. You want to mixture the two together until you get a paste.

breadyolk paste

Mix well into your vegetable mixture. If all has gone according to plan, the mixture should hold together well. To form the meatballs, you have two choices....coat your hands with olive oil and form the balls with your hands or if you got a small ice cream scoop, you can coat that with olive oil and scoop up the meat mixture. Either way, you will want to drop them on a silpat lined cookie sheet and bake them in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about twenty minutes.

Meatless Meatballs and spaghetti

Now, I'm not trying to replace meat in your world and frankly this recipe only works if you like the flavor of onions, eggplant and mushrooms but let me tell you, it's pretty damned tasty. It's still moist, the olives give it just the right tang and the fresh basil makes a great Italian compliment to your sauce. It's really not that hard to make and I bet they freeze well so making a big batch will be a time saver in the long run. Plus if you grow your own eggplant and onions in your backyard garden, you will be set when ground beef prices go up and up. Eating more vegetables doesn't have to mean losing out on flavor. Bon Appétit.