Trouble With Toast

Top Chef Las Vegas, Episode 2

August 31, 2009

Seriously, I am STILL wondering how an episode this lame made me yell at my TV so much.  I can’t wait till we weed out a few more of the “peripherals” (a term coined by my wedding photographer, in reference to my extended family), so the REAL competition can start.  Anywho…

The quickfire, I’m told, involved a craps table and using the same number of ingredients that the chefs rolled on the dice.  I admit, though, I wasn’t paying too much attention because I was TOTALLY distracted by Todd English.  Not because he’s “pretty hot,” as that girl who works for my boyfriend Eric Ripert so eloquently said, but because I was adding up in my head the cost of all the Botox he must have had.  I mean, Chef English WAS, at one point, a handsome man.  But it was hard to judge his reactions to the quickfire dishes due to his inability to make more than one facial expression.  At the end of the challenge, Mike V. reigns supreme with his nitro gazpacho and wins both immunity AND a $15,000 chip.

The elimination challenge centers around the storied bachelor/bachelorette party tradition in Vegas.  The challenge pits the women against the men in a battle of the sexes, with the female chefs cooking for the bachelor party and the male chefs cooking for the bachelorette party.  Various (female) chefs complain about the challenge; the girl who works for my boyfriend Eric Ripert bitches that it shouldn’t matter whether you’re a boy or a girl, and that a good chef is a good chef, period.  Androgynous Ashley whines that she doesn’t like the challenge because she’s gay and she can’t legally get married.  Listen, lady, I’m all in favor of marriage equality, but COME ON.  Have you ever watched Top Chef?  Helloooo, the show is in Vegas this season–how could you possibly think that a wedding-themed challenge WASN’T gonna happen?  I sure hope you’ve never cooked for a wedding or engagement function before, you giant hypocrite with your conveniently timed principles.  Ugh.

Moving on…the food that the chefs will prepare must pair with the happy couple’s favorite shots, only one of which (straight tequila) I’ve ever heard of.  With the exception of the tequila, they look and sound sickening.  After meeting briefly with the bachelor and bachelorette, the teams head to Whole Foods to gather ingredients.  There appear to be many ceviches in the works (yawn).  Ashley bitches some more about why she hates the challenge.  She also makes the incredibly boneheaded decision to make two dishes, the second of which is a dessert.  Again, I ask–have you ever WATCHED this show???  Dessert is like a death knell in these here parts.

Time for the party–which I assumed would be two separate shindigs in two different locations, with at least one of those locations centering around nudity.  Instead, we witness the most awkward. Bachelor(ette) party. EVER.  It is literally the men AND women, hanging out on opposite sides of the same hotel pool.  With no strippers.  Well, unless you count the male chefs who jump in shirtless at the end.  I mean, I’m getting married this week, and I can promise you that my fiance WILL be looking at naked boobs before we walk down the aisle, and I will be nowhere in the vicinity when that happens.  Vegas, how could you stand for such a craptastic set of parties being held in your name???

On to the food.  It’s hard to tell which team has the edge, because there seem to be some stinkers on both sides.  The judges don’t take kindly to Eve’s tasteless shrimp, Preeti’s wilted shiso, Ashley’s panna cotta (her second dish), and lip-piercing girl’s lettuce cup.  However, they’re also unimpressed with kerchief boy’s bouillabaisse, Ron’s non-spicy habanero whatever, and sexist pig’s arctic char.  The good news?  Atlanta gets some love, thanks to Kevin’s almond soup and Hector’s tofu ceviche.  But not as much love as the Voltaggio brothers get for their Golden Delicious sorbet with goat cheese cookie (Mike) and “chips and guacamole” meringue creation (Bryan).  I truly cannot remember what the judges really liked on the ladies’ side, which is when I figured out that the men were going to emerge victorious.  Indeed, Bryan wins the elimination challenge (and gets nothing, consequently).

Ashley, Preeti, lip-piercing girl, and Eve are the bottom four.  Ashley is told that she should have made ONE great dish, and they tell her that if she had stuck to her watermelon carpaccio, she wouldn’t be facing the judges.  Preeti is called out on her presentation, and she basically says that she did the best she could.  Eve is hammered AGAIN for her bad shrimp, and she seriously looks like a deer caught in headlights.  Lip-piercing girl seems to understand what she did wrong, but cries anyway.  Predictably, Eve is sent packin’, and she mumbles in her annoying Minnesota accent something about being herself.  Yawn.

Hope next week is more interesting…thoughts?

Holding pattern

August 27, 2009
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Well, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stay up till 10 PM to watch last night’s Top Chef episode.  After all, I had committed to getting up at the asscrack of early this morning for “bring a friend” day at my fiance’s fitness boot camp.  What I didn’t know was that massive thunderstorms would cause our power to go out, screwing up every electronic device in the house as a result.  We made it to boot camp by the skin of our teeth, but we don’t have TC on our DVR just yet.

So, though I realize that all three of my loyal fans and readers are just clamoring for a recap, it ain’t gonna happen today.  I’ll watch the episode as soon as I can and then post my thoughts.  The biggest challenge for me will be staying off the blog circuit today and not spoiling things for myself.  Speaking of which, dear food bloggers and TC recappers…DO NOT PUT THE WINNERS/LOSERS IN THE TITLES OR FIRST SENTENCES OF YOUR POSTS!!!!!  For crying out loud, some people don’t get to watch the show when it airs.  Yes, I know, I should be avoiding sites where I know the recaps are posted.  And I do.  But I also scroll through a lot of blog listings and RSS feed-type thingies, and it’s easy to catch things out of the corner of my eye.  Just a public service announcement, ya know.  I do what I can to help the people.

So, anyway, sit tight, and you will be rewarded with my brilliant commentary in due time.  In the meantime, have a great one!

Top Chef Las Vegas: Let the Sin Begin!

August 20, 2009

I have wanted to incorporate Top Chef recaps/reviews into my blog repetoire for quite some time, as I am a huge fan of the show and have been since its inception.  Up until this point, I haven’t gone through with it, largely because there are so many great TC recappers out there in the blogosphere–Jordan Baker and Chef Biatch are my two favorites, though there are also great posts on Serious Eats and on the Bravo site itself.

This year, I decided to blog my thoughts about Top Chef for two main reasons.  First, the show takes place in Las Vegas, which is one of my favorite places (despite the fact that I’ve only been there once).  Second, and more importantly, there are THREE Atlanta chefs in this season’s competition, so I thought it would be fun to track their progress and give them a little virtual love.  So GOOOOOOO Hector, Kevin, and Eli!!!  It should be noted that Hector comes first because he is the chef at Pura Vida, which is where my fiance and I got engaged.   Awwww…

On with the show!  My first thought: are they going to eliminate, like, six people tonight???  Sheesh, 17 chefs is a lot to start with.  Don’t expect me to learn any of their names (excepting the ATL peeps, of course) until at least week 3.  Their house in the desert looks pretty swanky, and the TC kitchen is in the even swankier M Resort, which wasn’t even built when I was in Vegas in late 2007.  Padma and Tommy-poo say hello and then deliver the news about the first quickfire challenge, which is the mise en place relay.  Fun!  They all draw chips to decide teams, and the lady with lymphoma draws the lucky gold chip that grants her immunity without even participating in the quickfire.  The four teams have to shuck 15 clams, peel a bunch of spot prawns, take apart 5 lobsters, and butcher two ribeye steaks from a massive side of beef.  There are so many chefs and so much food a-flyin’, but the focal points of the challenge for me are a) that the lady with the fauxhawk is REALLY bad at shucking clams, and b) that Mike (not Voltaggio, the other one) is a sexist asshole.  I hope that girl who works with my boyfriend Eric Ripert makes Mike cry.

Well, the team with that girl who works with my boyfriend Eric Ripert wins the quickfire, and Padma announces that they will each have 30 minutes to cook a dish with the ingredient that they massacred in the relay race.  At stake?  A $15,000 chip from the M casino.  Lymphoma lady is offered the opportunity to trade immunity for a chance to cook for the money, but she wisely (in my opinion) declines.  That girl who works with my boyfriend Eric Ripert ends up winning with her clam ceviche (which she pronounced “say-veetch,” which made ME want to cry).  She’s kind of badass.

I must say, I was totally distracted during the cook-off by the French dude’s kerchief.  Our couch conversation went something like this:

Betty: What is that ridiculous red thing that guy is wearing???

Jason: Well, he IS French…

Betty: Uh, my boyfriend Eric Ripert is French, and he doesn’t wear a douchey neckerchief!

You can probably guess what my fiance’s reaction was.  Moving on…

For the elimination challenge, the chefs each have to create a dish inspired by one of their vices.  Now, I know that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and I shouldn’t judge these folks on their vocabulary (or lack thereof), because goodness knows I can’t shuck clams or pull off a kerchief.  But dammit, half of those chefs had no idea what vice even meant.  For the record, a vice is a practice or a habit considered immoral, depraved, and/or degrading in the associated society.  Think sin, people.  Sheesh.  Thank goodness we’re dealing with restaurant professionals here, so most everyone has an alcohol problem they can tap into for inspiration.

Wolfgang Puck is the guest judge, and he is precious.  Well, actually, he’s kind of horrible–he talks about throwing one of his chefs in the fryer, and he chucks donuts around, and he likens someone’s puree to baby food–but his accent makes even his negative commentary adorable.  Not as adorable as Fabio or my boyfriend Eric Ripert, but still pretty adorable.

There are too many dishes to sum up, so I’ll just cover the Atlanta chefs.  Kevin wins the challenge with his slow-cooked Arctic char with turnip salsa verde, which sounds really yummy.  Yay for Kevin!  Eli’s dish lands in the middle group (though he was complimented on his scallops being cooked nicely), meaning that he is safe for the time being.  Hector is the only male chef in the bottom four, thanks to his deep-fried steak that did not live up to its promise of smokiness.  Luckily for him, the judges gave Hector credit for his creativity, if not for his execution, and spared him for this round.  The first chef to be axed was the mega-tattooed mom who made a ghastly-looking chile relleno filled with a weirdo protein.

The “this season on Top Chef” teaser shows lots of drama and lots of heavy hitters, as you would expect in Las Vegas.  What say you about the premiere?  Any early faves?  Who are you gunning for next week?

Recipe: Fried Rice with Scallions and Edamame

August 19, 2009
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Like any self-respecting Jewess, I love me some Chinese food.  Egg rolls, hot and sour soup, lo mein, General Tso, Americanized or spicy authentic Szechuan, I crave it all.  Unfortunately, the Chinese delivery options near us are either WAY too pricy or just plain terrible.  Also, delivery Chinese isn’t exactly known for being a beacon of goodness, nutritionally speaking.

The last time I made fried rice, it was in 6th grade home ec class.  I’m happy to report, it’s just as simple now as it was then, but it’s HEALTHIER!  I adapted this recipe (which originally came from Ellie Krieger) to suit my on-hand ingredients, and it worked beautifully both the night that I made it AND for leftover lunches.  I par-cooked the chicken on the indoor grill pan first, then cubed it, then finished it in the wok with the garlic and ginger.  You could easily substitute tofu (actually, that’s what the original recipe calls for) or another protein of your choice, and you could play around with the veggies (try peas for edamame, or add mushrooms, or throw in some water chestnuts).  To make this dish even healthier, use Egg Beaters instead of the real deal.  Enjoy!

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon canola oil, divided
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 scallions, rinsed, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 4 cups leftover cooked rice (mine was a mix of brown and jasmine) 
  • 3/4 cup finely diced red pepper
  • 3/4 cup cooked, shelled edamame
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen, thawed, corn
  • 1 chicken breast. par-cooked and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok or large skillet until very hot. Add the garlic, scallions and ginger and cook, stirring, until softened and aromatic, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rice, red pepper, edamame, and corn and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Make a 3-inch well in the center of the rice mixture. Add 1 teaspoon of canola oil, then add the eggs and cook until nearly fully scrambled. Stir the eggs into the rice mixture, then add soy sauce and incorporate thoroughly. Serve hot.

    Recipe: Garlic Basil Shrimp

    August 18, 2009

    While my fiance and I may disagree on fish–how often to eat it, whether to eat the skin, whether to serve it whole, et cetera–we can usually agree on shellfish.  We both love shrimp, which is convenient while dieting because it is a fairly healthy protein (it IS somewhat high in cholesterol, but we are fortunate that we don’t have problems in that area).  This shrimpy recipe called out to me because of its relatively short (and staple-centric) ingredient list and its quick preparation.  Perfect for a weeknight dinner!

    If you are trying to cook on a budget, I highly recommend scanning the supermarket sale fliers and grabbing bags of frozen shrimp when they are on sale.  The ones in the fish case are usually previously frozen anyway (unless you happen to live by the water and/or have a VERY good fishmonger), so you might as well save some money, right?

    As for what to serve with this dish, I went with orzo and it worked nicely.  You could use any sort of pasta you like, or you could go with the rice family of carbohydrates.  Even couscous would work, I think.  The key is, don’t pick a starch (or a side veggie, for that matter) that is going to overpower the beautiful fresh flavors of the basil and the tomatoes and the garlic.  They are the stars of this show!

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/4 pounds large shrimp (20 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes, or more to taste
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then saute shrimp, turning over once, until just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl.

    Add garlic and red pepper flakes to the oil remaining in skillet and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add wine and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Stir in basil and tomatoes and season the sauce with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Return the shrimp to pan and cook just until heated through.

    Garlic basil shrimp

    Recipe: Strawberry Tiramisu

    August 11, 2009

    It is somewhat timely that one of my favorite people and bloggers, the lovely Lemmonex, is quitting drinking for a month.  I, too, am swearing off alcohol until my wedding (which is on September 5, woot!), largely because my fiance is in fitness bootcamp again, and that involves lots of booze-free, exercise-filled, low-fat fun.

    While I don’t think that swearing off the sauce means that I have to keep all spirits out of the kitchen, I think it’s probably a good thing that I made this dessert BEFORE the detox (both for blood-alcohol AND calorie reasons).  There is a LOT of Cointreau in here, but don’t let the measurements deter you–this was an extremely successful dessert, and it got better and better as the flavors meshed and mellowed.

    As you can see, this is a recipe that doesn’t involve any cooking.  If you can fold ingredients, you can make this dish.  Another bonus is that you can (and, in fact, should) make this a day in advance.  While not as rich-tasting as the classic chocolate-and-coffee flavored tiramisu, the strawberry version is still plenty sweet and definitely decadent.  And, even if you are somewhat sloppy with the construction of the layers (which I definitely was, and I blame the fumes from the liquor), the end product will still look super impressive.

    • 1 1/4 cups strawberry preserves
    • 1/3 cup plus 4 tablespoons Cointreau or other orange liqueur
    • 1/3 cup orange juice
    • 1 pound mascarpone cheese, room temperature
    • 1 1/3 cups chilled whipping cream
    • 1/3 cup sugar
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 52 (about) crisp ladyfingers
    • 1 1/2 pounds strawberries, divided

    Whisk preserves, 1/3 cup Cointreau, and orange juice in 2-cup measuring cup. Place mascarpone cheese and 2 tablespoons Cointreau in large bowl; fold just to blend. Using electric mixer, beat cream, sugar, vanilla, and remaining 2 tablespoons Cointreau in another large bowl to soft peaks. Stir 1/4 of whipped cream mixture into mascarpone mixture to lighten. Fold in remaining whipped cream.

    Hull and slice half of strawberries. Spread 1/2 cup preserve mixture over bottom of 3-quart oblong serving dish or a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Arrange enough ladyfingers over strawberry mixture to cover bottom of dish. Spoon 3/4 cup preserve mixture over ladyfingers, then spread 2 1/2 cups mascarpone mixture over. Arrange 2 cups sliced strawberries over mascarpone mixture. Repeat layering with remaining lady fingers, preserve mixture, and mascarpone mixture. Cover with plastic and chill at least 8 hours or overnight.

    Slice remaining strawberries. Arrange over tiramasù and serve.

    Strawberry tiramisu wholeStrawberry tiramisu slice

    Recipe: Lemony Chicken Milanese with Arugula Salad

    August 5, 2009
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    Along with the previously posted pesto (say THAT three times fast), I decided to stick to an Italian theme when preparing dinner for our friends and neighbors the other night.  Because I had a big, rich dessert planned (to be posted soon), I didn’t want to do anything heavy like lasagna or chicken parmesan.

    This dish fit perfectly into my plans.  Breading and pan-frying the chicken gave the meat great flavor and a nice, golden-brown appearance.  The lemon juice provided a nice acidic kick, and the salad (note: I had to use a mixed green/herb salad, as my retarded Whole Foods had NO ARUGULA) provided some bitterness and crunch.  The fact that there are no photographs of this delicious meal–for which I truly apologize–further proves how tasty it was, as we couldn’t be bothered to stop eating long enough to snap a shot.  If you have small saute pans (or if, like me, you made extra), you can fry the chicken up and then keep it in a warm oven until everything else is finished.

    • 4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 1/4 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
    • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
    • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
    • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
    • 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
    • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
    • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    • 2 cups (packed) baby arugula leaves (about 2 ounces)

    Using meat mallet or rolling pin, flatten chicken between sheets of plastic wrap to thickness of 1/2 inch. Whisk eggs in medium bowl to blend. Mix panko, 2 tablespoons parsley, oregano, salt, and pepper on plate. Dip chicken in beaten eggs; turn to coat. Dredge in breadcrumb mixture, coating completely.

    Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add chicken and sauté until golden brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plates; sprinkle with lemon juice. Toss arugula with remaining 1 tablespoon oil in medium bowl to coat; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mound salad atop chicken.