Trouble With Toast

Back to life, back to reality

November 30, 2009
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Back to the here and now, indeed.

Thanksgiving was wonderful, full of love and laughter and LOTS of food.  On Thursday night, we had our traditional non-traditional Thurber meal of standing rib roast, green beans, sauteed mushrooms, and roasted potatoes.  On Friday night, the Barzelay clan whipped up turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas, cornbread dressing, and yam and apple casserole.  Desserts were plentiful and included my mom’s famous bundt cake (yellow cake with raisins, topped with THICK vanilla and chocolate icings) and David’s mom’s famous carrot cake and apple pie.  Breakfasts usually included homemade buttermilk biscuits and some sort of meat product.  Leftovers disappeared faster than anyone anticipated.  On Saturday, we enjoyed pigs in blankets and hanky panky while watching Georgia beat Georgia Tech in one hell of a rivalry game.  Life was good.

Now, I am sad that my sister has to fly back to California, AND I am sad that I’ve put on so much weight over the course of one week.  I am excited to get back into the swing of healthy eating (and blog posting), but I still need some time to recover and strategize.  I also have to post a really awesome Personality Profile that I think you will all enjoy.  So, do come by later in the week, but for now…

Tell me about your Thanksgivings!  I’d love to hear all about your traditions in the comments.

Too blah to blog

November 19, 2009

Okay, I know I’m supposed to post a Top Chef recap.  But I just can’t.  I am too damn tired, for one, and I just didn’t find last night’s episode interesting enough to write about.  I mean, yeah, it’s great that Kevin won, and it’s sad that Eli went home (though I think he’s fortunate to have made it so far), but haven’t we all been predicting this very final four for weeks now?  Also, no offense to Thomas Keller or the other esteemed tablemates, but the whole Bocuse D’Or thing just SCREAMS 80s to me.  I mean, the mirrored platters and the ornate garnishes?  It’s just not my bag, baby.  I do want to note that Padma and Gail looked beautiful, and that Mike V. is still a dickwad (at least, they are painting him to LOOK like a dickwad, since Robin isn’t around to be the villain anymore).

On an unrelated note, the reason I am so tired is that we moved out of our condo on the quick.  It’s a long story, but the good news is that we are quasi-settled in a better place, and I now have a bigger, shinier kitchen to mess around in.  The first thing I made: ginger chewies, for a holiday luncheon at work.  I first had these delightful cookies at the Eat on $30 wrap party.  They looked plain and unassuming, like regular ol’ ginger snaps, but they turned out to be oh so much more.  For the recipe and some additional tips and thoughts, go visit my dear friend Tami over at Running With Tweezers.  Go on, now.  She’s very friendly.

I’ll be back next week.  Have a great one!

The Iberian Pig

November 13, 2009
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I travel a fair amount for work, and when I leave for more than a day or two, I do the good wifely thing and cook some meals for my husband to eat while I’m away.  While he certainly appreciates my efforts (let’s face it, otherwise, he’d be eating fast food for every meal–or just not eating), he is happy to STOP eating out of Tupperware containers when I return.  After one of my recent homecomings, we decided to go on a date and try the new Iberian Pig in Decatur.  I had heard some decent buzz about it, and I certainly enjoy Spanish food (having lived in Spain for a spell in college), but I was a little wary due to the fact that Atlanta has not really sustained an authentic, successful Spanish restaurant.

My first impression of the restaurant, other than “Holy crap, it is CROWDED in here,” was that I liked the space and the feel of the interior.  There is a lot of rich wood and some interesting furniture pieces, but nothing that obnoxiously screams Spain.  I found it tasteful and comfortable, if slightly lacking in “personalidad.”  The entrance/bar area is pretty tight, but we found a bit of space by the host stand and a very friendly bartender/manager came and took our cocktail order.  I must say, it was nice to have someone come to us, rather than having to lean over the people who were actually dining at the bar in order to get a pre-dinner libation.  We had a little bit of an issue with the hostess (she pronounced my name horribly wrong, causing us to wait an additional 10-15 minutes to be seated, after we’d already had to wait for our reservation), but we finally wound up at a cozy table toward the rear of the restaurant.

We wanted to think about strategy, so we ordered the obvious first: a plate of meat and cheese.  We opted for manchego, idiazabal, and the famous jamon iberico for which the restaurant is named.  The portions were fair for the prices, and the plate came with some bread (already “seasoned” with a tasty olive oil), sausage, and olives.  It also came with a sauce that turned out to be espresso aioli, but it truthfully reminded me of honey mustard more than anything else.  We didn’t need it, since the meat and cheese selections were delicious on their own.  In particular, the jamon iberico was buttery, tender, and rich, with an occasional, well-placed wallop of saltiness.  When combined with my lovely glass of Rioja, that ham transported me right back to Madrid.  We also ordered some tapanade (which came on the same crusty bread), but I’m not an olive lover so it wasn’t my favorite.

The menu has a LOT going on, and it was hard for us to choose where to go from there.  We decided to stick with the smaller plates (even though some of the “entrees” looked intriguing), and our next round included a pork belly special and the stuffed piquillo peppers.  I cannot exactly remember the presentation of the former, but there were some thinly-sliced apples and a reduction sauce.  The flavors were nice, especially when you got a bit of everything all in one bite, but I found the meat to be somewhat overcooked.  The peppers were very tasty (filled with delicious soft cheeses) and reminded me a great deal of dishes I ate in Spain.

Despite being “tapas,” the portions were quite large.  We found ourselves nearing full capacity, but I really wanted to see if the churros were like the ones I would devour after dancing the night away at a Madrid discoteca.  The pastries were hot and fresh, and they were correctly crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.  Unfortunately, they were VERY heavily dusted with cinnamon, to the point that I couldn’t taste anything else.  Additionally, the thick chocolate that accompanied the churros, while authentic in terms of texture, had a spicy, chili-flavored element that again masked the comforting taste of the fried dough itself.  With a lighter hand, the dessert would have been perfectly successful.

I found the prices to be reasonable and the wine list to be worthwhile, though I will say that the beer and cocktail offerings didn’t really speak to us.  Service was good in the beginning, but as our waiter got busier, he grew less and less attentive and we had to flag him down fairly frequently.  The owner came by to say hello, and he seems genuinely enthusiastic about what he’s trying to do.  My final (for now) verdict?  I would like to return to the Iberian Pig, though I will temper my expectations somewhat when I do.  I think if you go with a hankering for truly authentic Spanish cuisine, you’ll be a little disappointed.  However, if you are openminded, and if the restaurant can work out some of its service and flow issues, then there are many good meals to be had.

Top Chef Las Vegas, episode 11

November 12, 2009

Normally, I don’t just announce the eliminated cheftestant right off the bat.  However, Robin had it coming for SO long that I don’t feel bad about “spoiling” the episode.  I feel like now we won’t have to spend 15 minutes of every episode listening to her or someone else whine about whether she should or should not still be around.  Less talky, more cooky, that’s what I always say.

Anyway, on with the show…which I thought was a pretty good one, actually, and not just because of the end result.  The chefs head to a kitchen somewhere in the belly of the Venetian (my favorite Vegas hotel), where they receive a call from a bathrobed Padma.  She and Nigella Lawson (also bathrobed, and looking absolutely stunning) are chillin’ in their suite and want some room-service breakfast.  There is chaos in the kitchen, of course, because it is small and cramped and these chefs aren’t so good at sharing.  Robin goes first, and she serves goat cheese blintzes with grilled pineapple and berries.  Eli’s “reuben benedict” is next, and it gets props from Nigella for being great hangover food.  Mike does something he calls “huevos cubana” (don’t even get me started on the atrocious spanish subject-verb disagreement), and it seems to go over well.  Kevin serves steak and eggs, with some creme fraiche and aged cheddar, and it looks absolutely delicious.  Jen inexplicably decides to serve “shit on a shingle,” otherwise known as creamed chipped beef.  By either name, it does not sound appetizing.  It doesn’t look particularly appetizing, either, but it doesn’t cause any gagging.  Bryan presents an egg with corn polenta, crab, and asparagus, which would have been delicious but for its strange vanilla butter sauce.

Nigella announces that her least favorites were Robin and Bryan, and that her favorites were Kevin and Eli.  Go Team ATL!  Eli ends up winning, and for his troubles, his recipe will be the only one from the season to appear in the Top Chef Quickfire Cookbook.  Maybe he can get royalties and make enough money to move out of his mom’s basement!

Padma announces the elimination challenge, which requires the chefs to take inspiration from one of the casinos on the Strip in creating a dish for 175 party guests.  They draw knives to determine their casinos, and they are given some time to check things out and formulate their plans.  Mike goes to New York, New York, and he decides to do a fiery chicken wing in homage of the 9/11 firefighters.  Jen draws the Excaliber, so she takes in a show and a meal at the Tournament of Kings (think Medieval Times, multiplied by Vegas) and seems to enjoy drinking beer and eating with her hands.  However, she does not really have a clear vision for her dish.  Bryan is inspired by the shark exhibit at the Mandalay Bay, and he decides to design his dish around sustainable seafood.  Robin is immediately drawn to the Chihuly sculpture in the lobby of the Bellagio, and she decides to incorporate all of the beautiful color into a dessert.  Ruh-roh, Shaggy.  Kevin plays with dolphins at the Mirage and asserts his non-redneck-ness.  And poor Eli drew Circus Circus, which is the most craptastic casino of them all.  He says something about the aesthetic of the hotel, which makes me giggle, because there IS NONE.

There is a brief food flurry (they only had 3.5 hours to cook in the kitchen, and then one hour to get ready at the event site), and then the party begins.  Kevin makes a funny and says that he was going to put up a picture of his dish and then fill all of the bowls with sand (get it?  because it’s a mirage?).  Tee.  GO TEAM KEVIN!!!  The judges approach Jennifer’s table first, and she prepares her New York strip with beets, a red wine reduction, and truffles.  It sounds good, but it doesn’t look particularly refined (especially since the meat is tough, as is pointed out by Nigella and Tony).  Kevin is next, and he serves a lightly-cured salmon with a compressed veggie salad/slaw and a cucumber/tomato broth.  Everyone loves it.  Mike has turned basic chicken wings into a boneless chicken wing confit with a cold blue cheese disc.  The judges seem to enjoy the temperature contrast.  Brother Bryan also does well with his escabeche of halibut, despite initially turning the judges off with his description of a “parsley fluid gel.”  Robin’s panna cotta is too gelatinous and dense, and the spun sugar didn’t turn out well and couldn’t be served.  The curse of dessert lives on!  Eli’s caramel apple peanut soup seems to taste as bad as it sounds, though the judges appreciate his dedication to the challenge and his willingness to go all out.

Not surprisingly, Kevin and the Brothers Voltaggio are the judges’ favorites.  In the end, Mike pulls out the win and manages NOT to club Toby with his huge bottle of Terlato wine when he calls his food “effeminate.”  WTF?

The bottom three sullenly slink to the judges’ table and prepare for the verbal beating.  Robin seems to know her time is up, and admits to trying to “cook up” to the level of the other contestants.  Jen confesses to not having a solid concept for her dish.  Eli defends his concept and his commitment to the challenge, but he is slapped down by the judges who confirm that the dish was circus-like in its disastrousness.  Despite the fact that Jen says she’s ready to go (in the stew room, not in front of the judges, THANK GOODNESS), Robin is told to pack her knives and go.  She’s pretty emotional about it, which I’m sure she will also be when she sees the party that the other chefs throw to celebrate her elimination.

I saw Thomas Keller in the preview bit, and I was all excited and happy, and then there was a clip of Mike saying, “The food that Kevin cooks is the food that I cook…on my day off.”  Seriously, dude?  Why are you such a tremendous cocksucker?  Even if I wasn’t a flag-waving member of Team Kevin, I would think that comment was douchetastic.  I mean, just because Kevin doesn’t cook effeminate chicken wings doesn’t mean that he’s a hack.  Grrrrrr…

Recipe: Turnip-Parsnip Gratin

November 11, 2009

As the days get shorter and darker, and as the temperature dips further downward, my cravings for “comfort food” become stronger and more persistent.  Unfortunately, food that brings comfort often comes with a high caloric price.

This gratin has everything that I expect from a comforting winter dish–EXCEPT the empty calories!  Potatoes are fine and dandy, of course, but the use of turnips (high in Vitamin C) and parsnips (rich in potassium and dietary fiber) provides a similar texture and some added nutritional benefits.  Yes, there is some full-fat dairy in this recipe, but it was split between eight servings of the finished dish, so it doesn’t concern me too much.  The other benefit of using sturdy root veggies is that you can prep the dish in advance and then refrigerate until you are actually ready to pop it in the oven.  If you don’t have gratin dishes or large ramekins, you can use a glass casserole dish.

The end result was deeper in flavor than a potato gratin, which I really liked.  There was just enough cheese to hold everything together without turning into a goppy mess.  The buttery, toasted panko was a really tasty topping, and it gave just enough crunch to add some textural contrast to the softened vegetables.  All in all, I was really happy with how this turned out, and I’ll definitely be adding it to the comfort food rotation.  Enjoy!

  • 3 3/4  cups  (1/8-inch-thick) slices peeled turnip
  • 3 3/4  cups  (1/8-inch-thick) slices peeled parsnip
  • 6  cups  water
  • Cooking spray
  • 1  cup  whole milk
  • 1/3  cup  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 2  tablespoons  all-purpose flour
  • 1  teaspoon  kosher salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 1  cup  (4 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese
  • 2  tablespoons  butter
  • 1/4  cup  panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

Preheat oven to 400°.

Combine first 3 ingredients in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 7 minutes or until almost tender. Drain; let stand 5 minutes. Arrange about 1/2 cup vegetable mixture into each of 8 (5 1/2-inch) round gratin dishes coated with cooking spray.

Combine milk, broth, flour, salt, and pepper in a saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a simmer. Cook 4 minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk until thick. Remove from heat; add cheese, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Spoon about 3 tablespoons sauce over each serving.

Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add panko; toast 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture evenly over cheese mixture. Place dishes on a baking sheet. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown on top. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Turnip parsnip gratin

Recipe: Spaghetti with Caramelized Onions and Radicchio

November 10, 2009

As much as I like to cook impressive, complicated, time-consuming dishes, I also work a full-time job and sometimes just don’t have it in me after a long day at the office.  So, I’m always searching for recipes that are at least mildly creative and interesting (at least, more so than boxed pasta and Ragu) but that don’t require a ton of prep and cooking time.

This dish, which I saw in a recent Cooking Light magazine, seemed to fit the bill for a quick and tasty weeknight meal.  Other than some slicing and chopping of veggies and herbs, there really wasn’t much prep work involved at all.  You could definitely stick to the recipe as-is and have a delightful vegetarian meal; however, I had some big, beautiful shrimp on hand that I grilled (seasoned with olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper) and served on top.  My one caution: don’t be stingy with the seasoning on this one!  Since there’s no real sauce, and since the onions and radicchio mellow out once they are cooked, don’t be afraid of the salt and red pepper flakes–you don’t want to wind up with a big pot of bland pasta.  This is a great dish to make in bulk and then eat leftover, as the flavors mingle together in the fridge and taste even better the second time around.  Enjoy!

  • 1  tablespoon  olive oil
  • 6  cups  thinly sliced yellow onion (about 1 3/4 pounds)
  • 1/2  teaspoon  crushed red pepper
  • 6  garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2  cup  dry white wine
  • 1  pound  uncooked spaghetti
  • 3 1/2  cups  thinly sliced radicchio (about 1 head)
  • 2  tablespoons  chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2  teaspoons  chopped fresh oregano
  • 1  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4  cup  (3 ounces) crumbled Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 15 minutes or until almost tender, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until deep golden (about 20 minutes), stirring occasionally. Add red pepper and garlic. Cook 3 minutes; stir occasionally. Add wine; cook 4 minutes or until liquid evaporates.

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain pasta in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Add reserved cooking liquid, pasta, radicchio, parsley, and oregano to onion mixture. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper; toss to combine. Top with cheese.

Spaghetti with caramelized onions

Recipe: Rosemary Walnut Loaves

November 6, 2009

To say that I love carbs would be a gross understatement.  Shoot, I do triathlons just for the opportunity to gorge on bread, pasta, and rice without shame (we call it “carbo-loading” to make it sound all athletic and official).  In order to further my love of all things carbohydrate, I put a breakmaker on my wedding registry, but no one chose to gift it.  Sad Betty.

Instead of rushing to Macy’s and buying that breadmaker, I decided to see if I could make bread without any fancy gadgets or gizmos.  I am not a naturally gifted baker, so I put off the experiment for quite some time.  I don’t know exactly what I was afraid of, but this recipe somehow seemed to put my mind at ease.  After all, the author assured me that if I followed the instructions to the letter, I would have warm, delicious loaves of carby goodness.  She promised, darnit!

For the most part, she delivered.  I did wind up with bread at the end of the day, and it was darn tasty at that.  It didn’t rise exactly as I thought it would, resulting in two flat-ish discs, which may have had something to do with having no way to verify the temperatures of the milk and water at the beginning of the process.  It could also have something to do with my flour measurements being slightly off.  Before I attempt this recipe again, I will procure a good kitchen thermometer AND a baking scale.

All that being said, Jason and I enjoyed the first loaf of this bread immensely, eating some of it within a half hour of it coming out of the oven.  It was delicious with some unsalted butter, and would probably also be nice with the jam of your choice.  I am really glad that I tried my hand at baking bread, and I look forward to perfecting the technique once I get the right equipment!  Do y’all have other “quick bread” recipes that you swear by?  Share them in the comments!

  • 2  cups  warm 1% low-fat milk (100° to 110°)
  • 1/4  cup  warm water (100° to 110°)
  • 3  tablespoons  sugar
  • 2  tablespoons  butter, melted
  • 2  teaspoons  salt
  • 2  packages dry yeast (about 4 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 5 1/2  cups  all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1  cup  chopped walnuts
  • 3  tablespoons  coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1  large egg, lightly beaten
  • Cooking spray
  • 1  tablespoon  yellow cornmeal
  • 1  tablespoon  1% low-fat milk
  • 1  large egg, lightly beaten
  • Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add yeast, stirring with a whisk; let stand 5 minutes. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 2 cups flour to yeast mixture, stirring with a whisk. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 15 minutes.

    Add 2 1/2 cups flour, walnuts, rosemary, and 1 egg, stirring with a whisk. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes), adding enough of remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands.

    Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (Lightly press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.)

    Preheat oven to 400°.

    Punch dough down; turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough in half, shaping each portion into a round. Place loaves on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal. Cover and let rise 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

    Combine 1 tablespoon milk and 1 egg, stirring with a whisk; brush over loaves. Make 3 diagonal cuts 1/4-inch deep across top of each loaf using a sharp knife.

    Place loaves in oven; reduce oven temperature to 375°, and bake 40 minutes or until bottom of each loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Let stand 20 minutes before slicing.

    Rosemary walnut loafRW bread sliced

    Recipe: Roasted Pork Loin with Orange-Herb Sauce

    November 5, 2009

    A few weekends ago, when it was chilly and raw and all I wanted to do on a Saturday night was curl up with my critters, I decided to try a dish that just screamed comfort  This recipe came from one of the chef features in a recent Food and Wine magazine, and it called out to me with its piggy goodness and warm, citrusy sauce.

    The dish was delicious, and fairly simple and straightforward to make (if a bit time-consuming).  The meat was nicely browned on the outside, but it also had that consistent moisture and tenderness that comes from roasting.  The sauce was great on the pork AND on the accompanying baked potato.  As a bonus, it filled the house with a lovely herbacious aroma.  It’s not terribly fancy, but it was exactly what I needed on a fall evening.  Enjoy!

    • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
    • One 1 1/2-pound boneless pork loin
    • Salt and freshly ground pepper
    • 1 cup fresh orange juice
    • 1/2 cup chicken stock
    • 1/2 cup dry white wine
    • 5 black peppercorns
    • 1 rosemary sprig
    • 1 oregano sprig
    • 1 parsley sprig, plus 2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves

    In a large bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the oil with the garlic. Add the pork, turn to coat and let stand for 1 hour.

    Set a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°. In a medium ovenproof skillet, heat the remaining oil. Season the pork with salt and pepper and add to the skillet, fat side down. Cook over moderately high heat until richly browned, 4 minutes. Brown the pork on the remaining sides, then turn it fat side up. Add the orange juice, stock, wine, peppercorns and herb sprigs and bring to a boil.

    Transfer the skillet to the upper shelf of the oven and roast the pork for about 35 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 145°. Transfer the pork to a carving board.

    Strain the cooking liquid into a saucepan and boil until reduced to 1/2 cup, 15 minutes. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and stir in the chopped parsley. Carve the pork and serve with the orange sauce.

    Pork loinPork with citrus herb sauce

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    Top Chef Las Vegas, Episode 10

    November 3, 2009

    We are inching closer, kittens.  Closer and closer to the elimination of mediocrity and the emergence of the final competitors.  Thank the baby jeebus–I feel like this season has dragged on and on and on.  Of course I’ll be sad when it’s all over, but for now I feel like complaining about THIS, thankyouverymuch.

    Blah blah blah, the episode starts with everyone being kind of down about Restaurant Wars and, of course, about the fact that Robin is still there.  They head over to the M Resort, where Padma is waiting for them with Paul Bartolotta.  They announce a TV dinner challenge, so I’m thinking, cool, they’ll have to develop a concept that is microwaveable and still tasty.  WRONG.  Apparently, “TV dinner challenge” means “create a dish inspired by a random TV show and put it on a segmented plate.”  Oh, and it also means “Padma and Chef Bartolotta will eat the dishes while sitting on a 70s-esque couch in front of a fake television set.”  Lame, lame, lame.  I was pretty disinterested in the challenge, but I paid attention long enough to see Kevin win for his Sopranos-inspired meatballs, roasted cauliflower, and roasted pears.  YAY, TEAM KEVIN!!!  Even though your stellar Top Chef performance is making it frickin’ IMPOSSIBLE to get a reservation at your restaurant, I still heart you the mostest.

    Padma announces that the elimination challenge will involve the chefs taking over craftsteak (Tom Colicchio’s Vegas steakhouse) for the night.  That’s all the explanation she provides.  If I were a contestant, I would be very suspicious.  There is NO WAY the challenge could be so simple and straightforward.  I would immediately brainstorm potential tricks and twists.  Of course, I have WATCHED THE SHOW BEFORE.  Apparently, the actual contestants have not, as they proceed to lounge around the house and dream up delicious, meaty scenarios.  Dumbasses.

    When the chefs walk into craftsteak, they head straight to the walk-in and peruse the beefy offerings.  Not so fast, oh naive ones.  Tom and Padma have a surprise guest to introduce!  Her name is Natalie Portman…and she’s a vegetarian.  Cue ominous music.  The chefs scramble back into the chiller to fight over produce.  There’s a lot of grandstanding from Robin and Mike I. about how they cook vegetarian all the time, which clearly means that their dishes will suck.  Kevin mentions that he and his wife give up meat for Lent, but because it’s Kevin, it’s not grandstanding and it means that he will rock out.  YAY, TEAM KEVIN!!!

    Robin serves first, and she presents “Stuffed Squash Blossom, Beet Carpaccio, Fresh Garbanzo Beans and Chermoula.”  It looks like a mess to me, but Natalie thinks it is beautiful.  Unfortunately, it is oversalted and not so tasty.  Eli is up next with his “Confit of Eggplant, Lentils, Garlic Puree and Radish Salad.”  It looks delicious, and it gets good reviews from the diners and judges.  Mike V.’s “Asparagus Salad, Japanese Tomato Sashimi and Banana Polenta” is next, and initially the guests balk at the whole banana polenta concept.  However, the dish prompts one of Natalie’s cohorts to compare Mike to Picasso, so I think he ended up alright.  Not so for Jen, whose “Charred Baby Eggplant, Braised Fennel, Tomatoes and Verjus Nage” is deemed not substantial enough for a main course.  In addition, Jen sauces each plate individually, which would have been charming but for her shaking hands and awkward general nervousness.  Bryan’s “Artichoke Barigoule, Confit of Shallot, Wild Asparagus and Fennel Puree” is also a pretty darn small portion, but it spawns some sort of innuendo-laden conversation among the ladies, with Tom looking as uncomfortable as ever.  Kevin rounds out the group (literally and figuratively) with his “Duo of Mushrooms, Smoked Kale, Candied Garlic and Turnip Puree,” which just SOUNDS hearty.  And apparently it is, and the dish, while not so pretty, gets a lot of positive feedback.

    Kevin, Eli, and Mike V. get called to judges’ table first, and Kevin ends up winning the challenge.  YAY, TEAM KEVIN!!!  He wins a bunch of GE appliances, and he doesn’t look particularly jazzed about that part of the victory, but whatev.  Mike V. immediately gets a sour face and complains that he could have made Kevin’s dish “in 20 minutes” and “in my second year of apprenticeship.”  The producers/editors of TC have clearly passed the obnoxious, arrogant douchebag torch from Mike I. to Mike V.  I want to kick both of them in the teeth.

    Alas, I will have no further opportunities to express my dislike of Mike I. (until the reunion special, of course), as he is booted for his ignorance of what constitutes a protein and for his yucky, poorly-cooked leeks.  Yes, children, despite Robin’s all over the place-ness, and despite the fact that Jen is seemingly crumbling under the pressure of the competition, Mike I. is eliminated with a “whatever, whatever” and an emotional “it is what it is.”

    More of Mike V.’s arrogance and Robin’s annoyingness next week, it seems.  Can we get rid of both of them at the same time?  A girl can dream…