Trouble With Toast

Recipe: Couscous Salad with Chickpeas

July 29, 2010

Here’s another recipe from the Cooking Light salad feature.  This is a vegetarian couscous salad, and it works equally well as a side salad as it does as a main course.  I served it with some store-bought rotisserie chicken, and it was a tasty, hearty meal.

The chickpeas add some heft and protein, so an animal product really isn’t necessary.  Between the sweetness of the cinnamon, the acidity of the lemon juice and tomatoes, the smokiness of the paprika, and the freshness of the mint and green onions, there is a lot going on with this simple salad – yet, it takes practically no time to throw together.  I substituted goat cheese for the feta (since I like it better and I had plenty on hand), but either would work.

The dish held up well for lunch the next day, too.  Enjoy!

  • 1  cup  uncooked whole-wheat couscous
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt, divided
  • 1/2  teaspoon  black pepper, divided
  • 1/8  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
  • 1  cup  boiling water
  • 3  tablespoons  extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3  tablespoons  fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  minced garlic
  • Dash of sugar
  • 1/3  cup  chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4  cup  thinly sliced green onions
  • 1/8  teaspoon  smoked paprika
  • 1  (15-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
  • 1  large ripe tomato, chopped
  • 3/4  cup  (3 ounces) crumbled feta cheese

Place couscous, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir in boiling water; cover and let stand 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Combine oil, juice, garlic, and sugar.

Add oil mixture, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, mint, and next 4 ingredients (through tomato). Sprinkle with cheese.


Recipe: Seashell Salad with Buttermilk Chive Dressing

July 28, 2010
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In a recent issue of Cooking Light, there was a feature on summer entree salads that caught my eye.  They all looked delicious, but this one stood out and wound up being the first one I tried – probably because it’s the least “salad-y” of them all.

Due to the buttermilk dressing and the fresh herbs, this dish tastes quite indulgent and rich.  The pasta gives it a little carby “oomph” (which I appreciate, as I am in the throes of marathon training), and of course the prosciutto adds a nice salty finish.  It’s not a meatless dish, obviously, but it certainly could be.  I’d suggest making extra dressing and saving it for later (or at least stashing the extra ingredients for use in another salad) – it’s really delicious!

  • 8  ounces  uncooked seashell pasta
  • 1  cup  frozen green peas
  • 1/4  cup  organic canola mayonnaise
  • 1/4  cup  fat-free buttermilk
  • 1  tablespoon  minced fresh chives
  • 1  teaspoon  chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 2  garlic cloves, minced
  • 2  cups  loosely packed baby arugula
  • 1  teaspoon  olive oil
  • 2  ounces  finely chopped prosciutto (about 1/2 cup)

Cook pasta according to package directions. Add peas to pasta during last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain and rinse with cold water; drain well.

While pasta cooks, combine mayonnaise and next 6 ingredients (through garlic) in a large bowl. Add pasta mixture and arugula; toss to coat.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add prosciutto; sauté 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle prosciutto over salad.

Top Chef D.C. – Episode 6

July 23, 2010
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Remember a couple of episodes ago, when Kenny and Tamesha each won $10,000 for cooking baby food?  Good times, right?  Well, the duo are together again in the most recent episode, which, by and large, was more interesting than the previous ones – but still, I find myself hating nearly every contestant and every challenge.  We’ll see if this week marked the beginning of an upswing.

The chefs arrive at the Hinckley Hilton for their quickfire challenge, and they are greeted by Padma and Michelle Bernstein.  Shit, does that woman have a contract with Bravo or something?  I was beyond irritated to see her smirky little face – mostly because, come ON, there are TONS of amazing and award-winning chefs who call D.C. home, and yet the Top Chef brass chooses instead to fly “Michy” up from Florida.  The irritation factor only increased when Andrea started whining about how she and  Bernstein are rivals and there’s been some sort of competition or bad blood between them ever since they started their careers in Miami.  Many fans have asked why Bernstein would be judging in light of such a conflict of interest, but my personal line of thinking is that Andrea is full of shit and that the rivalry is all in her head.  But, either way, bah – annoying.

Anywho, the quickfire challenge involves some unusual proteins.  SOME.  In other words, some of the chefs are cooking with duck nuts and rattlesnake, while others get foie gras and ostrich (not exactly exotic, if you ask me).  They draw knives and the commence the bitching about their respective ingredients.  Amanda does an admirable job of sawing through her emu eggs (she’s scrappy, that one), and then Padma comes in and tells the chefs to take over the protein on their left.  Aw, snap.  Alex has to give up his foie and pick up the ostrich – poor, poor baby.  Kelly gets the emu egg and decides to make one big frickin’ omelet.  Andrea ends up with wild boar, which she says she’s not scared of because it’s like a steak.  Um.  Hi, Andrea?  Boar means PIG, you dolt.  And just look at the damn shape of the cut – I’m not a chef, and I knew right away that it was something like a shoulder that you’d have to cook low and slow in order to tenderize it.  Padma and Chef Bernstein rove around the room, and sure enough, the latter has something negative to say about Andrea’s dish – but I think it was because she cooked a boar chop like a steak (which made it chewy, natch) and NOT because Bernstein is secretly plotting against her.  Kelly’s emu omelet wins the day, and shockingly few testicle jokes were aired.

The elimination challenge is a Cold War challenge (oy, more politico puns), in which the chefs will prepare cold entrees and be – gasp – judged by their peers.  Each team will select a winning and losing dish from the other team; the two winners will be considered for the overall challenge victory, and the two losers will be up for elimination.  Kelly gets to sit out the challenge and try everyone’s food (some prize).  The chefs go hang out on the U.S.S. Sequoia for a while, and there is much talk about strategery and game-playing, thanks to Angelo loudly giving advice to his teammates.  The chefs whirl through Whole Foods, and it seems like a lot of people are doing cold seafood dishes.  Then, during prep time, Amanda runs into some problems with equipment and runs around like a loony bird, and Tamesha calmly and quietly interviews that she would strangle her in a heartbeat.  Damn, girl.  And here I though the former cokehead was the crazy one.

Team One is Amanda (chicken galantine), Kevin (some sort of surf and turf), Kenny (lamb two ways), Alex (lamb with beets and tzaziki), and Ed (salmon on pumpernickel and cucumber vichysoisse).  I don’t know if it was just editing, but the other contestants were SUPER harsh.  I mean, I don’t remember one positive thing they said, though they must have said SOMETHING positive about Kevin’s dish because they declared it the winner.  Everyone but Andrea says that Kenny’s dish is the loser – Andrea rightly calls Amanda out on the cartilage in the galantine, which Alex knew was in there (he tasted it) but didn’t tell Amanda.  Kind of a dick move, but no surprise coming from these fine specimens.

Team Two is Tiffany (seared Ahi tuna), Angelo (some kind of Asian salmon, shocker), Andrea (trio of tartares), Stephen (chilled Asian beef), and Tamesha (scallops with a rhubarb jus).  The other chefs seem to be more fair this time around, and they universally like Tiffany’s tuna.  There are some positive and negative comments about most of the dishes, but they unanimously dislike Tamesha’s scallops – the texture of the scallop itself wasn’t pleasant, and the long pepper makes the sauce way too overpowering.  Tiffany wins and Tamesha loses, and everyone packs it up and heads to the stew room, where Andrea tells Amanda about her cartilage (little late).  Kevin ends up winning (and the prize is a Hawaiian vacation), which will hopefully give him a bit of confidence and positivity.

Tamesha and Kenny are called to judges’ table, and Tamesha says she is surprised to be there.  Michelle Bernstein says something weird about the texture of the scallop being like a tongue on top of you tongue.  Helpful, Michelle, really.  When Padma asks Kenny why he thinks he’s on the bottom, he replies that the other chefs think of him as a threat.  WRONG ANSWER, DUDE.  Now you served a lousy dish, AND you look like a pompous ass.  Bernstein takes him to task for the comment, saying that there was way too much going on with it (and by the way, Kenny, STOP doing duos and trios and “X ingredient served six ways”).  After deliberations, Tamesha is sent home, and she naturally thinks it was BS.  I really didn’t care which of the two of them got the boot, since they seemed equally talented and full of themselves.

Next week, the chefs take over the Palm.  Again, I say – SERIOUSLY???  IN ALL OF DC, THE FUCKING PALM IS THE BEST YOU CAN DO?????  That’s probably what I’m the most upset about in terms of this season – that the awesomeness of the city’s food scene is nowhere to be found.  Grrrr.

Recipe: Pesto Pizza with Butternut Squash

July 21, 2010
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One of Jason’s clients, in addition to paying for legal services in cash, occasionally brings us treats from his garden.  Last time we were treated to a big basket of okra, which I used to make some yummy seafood gumbo.  This time we got four beautiful butternut squashes.  But what to do with butternut squash in July?  All of the recipes that came to my mind immediately were more appropriate for fall or winter – things like gratins and soups and stuffings.

Aftter a short search, I found a winner – this pizza recipe would allow me to use the fresh squash without winding up with something super heavy.  The pesto and tomatoes did a great job of cooling things down, so to speak.  My only complaint was that between the squash and the tomatoes, the toppings had a pretty high liquid content, and it seemed to weigh the crust down (and, sadly, I was a bit too lazy to make homemade crust).  Otherwise, the flavors worked great together, and the pizza was a nice meatless treat.

  • 6 (1/4 inch thick) slices peeled butternut squash (about 1/2 pound)
  • 2  teaspoons  sugar
  • 3/4  teaspoon  olive oil
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2  cup  (2 ounces) shredded fontina or Gouda cheese
  • Pizza Dough
  • 1  (14.5-ounce) can finely chopped tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2  teaspoon  dried oregano
  • 1/4  cup  pesto
  • 1/2  cup  (2 ounces) grated fresh Romano or Parmesan cheese

Combine first 3 ingredients in a medium bowl. Place squash mixture on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until squash is tender.

Increase oven temperature to 450°.

Sprinkle fontina over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border; top with squash mixture, tomatoes, and oregano. Drop Classic Pesto by level teaspoons onto mixture; sprinkle with Romano. Bake at 450° for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Top Chef D.C. – Episode 5

July 19, 2010
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Alright, kiddies.  My Wednesday night swim practices are over, which means that I can finally watch Top Chef at its regularly scheduled time, AND that I don’t have to avoid teh internets for days until I can cozy up with my DVR.  So why did it take me so long to post a recap of the latest episode?  Because I am having a really hard time getting excited about this season.  The chefs?  Meh.  The challenges?  Meh.  The guest judges?  Meh.  The most impressive thing about Season 7 so far is Padma’s post-pregnancy boobage.

Anywho, this past week’s episode highlights some odd alliances among the chefs.  Angelo and Tamesha are up each other’s butts, as are Ed and Tiffany.  We’ll see how that plays out – particularly with the first pairing, which I’m sure is strategic in some form or fashion.  The quickfire involved Maryland blue crabs – yum.  Patrick O’Connell, from the Inn at Little Washington, is the guest judge.  Everyone seems to do either a crab soup or a crab salad – yawn.  Tim screws the pooch, which is extra painful/hilarious because he’s from Baltimore.  Ed ends up winning immunity for his Thai-inspired dish, which prompts Tim to lament that he should have “put some soy sauce in there.”  Only he pronounces soy “suey.”  Horrifying.

The elimination challenge involves the chefs working as one big team to prepare a meal (outdoors) for 40 people.  They won’t know anything about their cooking equipment or ingredients until they get there.  When they get back to the house, they try to divide responsibility – and when I say “try,” I actually mean “scream and holler and do everything but whip their dicks out and measure them against each other.”  Angelo and Kenny are the main aggressors, though Tim stands near them and tries to get in on the testosterone-fest.  At the end of the “discussion,” they decide to pair up with their partners from the last challenge.  This makes Tiffany/Tim and Ed/Alex somewhat unhappy.

The actual cooking is kind of a blur – I remember Tim changing his mind about what to do with the vegetables, Kevin’s cauliflower couscous toppling onto the ground (and someone actually suggesting that he scoop it up and serve it), and Andrea stressing about how to get a good sear on her pork loin.  Oh, and I also remember that Eric Ripert looks adorable in his scarf.

The favorite dishes are Kenny and Kevin (curried eggplant and broccoli couscous) and Kelly and Andrea (five-spice pork loin and roasted beets and apples).  Kelly goes the extra mile and makes a dessert (strawberry rhubarb crisp with basil whipped cream – YUM), which goes over very well.  Kenny’s eggplant ends up winning the day – and does anyone else notice that they are SUPER inconsistent with the prizes this year?  One week they hand out trips to Europe, and the next week, bupkis.

The bottom three are Amanda, Steven, and Tim.  Amanda’s minestrone wasn’t really minestrone (according to Eric Ripert, anyway), and the vegetables were chopped and cooked inconsistently.  Steven’s salad was overdressed and poorly presented.  Tim’s vegetables were bland.  The judges decide to finally send Tim home, and he mumbles some nonsense as he departs.  Blah.

Remember when my recaps were actually interesting?  Yeah, it’s because last season was actually GOOD.  This season is wearing on my patience – hopefully next week’s “judge your peers” episode will turn things around.

Top Chef D.C. – Episode 4

July 9, 2010

I am so glad I waited until Thursday night to watch this week’s Top Chef – it kept me blissfully insulated from the LeBron James media circus.  Because, truthfully, I know (and care) as much about basketball as Lynne knows about cooking pasta.  Ooooh, burn!

This episode was really weird.  I hated the baby food challenge – yeah, it’s fan-freaking-tastic that Tom and Padma have procreated (though not together), but I’m not sure that pureeing is a great sign of chefly talent.  Also, I couldn’t decide which was more disturbing – Kenny’s pimping of the dead wife story, or Alex’s uncomfortable sex references (though I did find his comment about practicing making babies, not baby food, somewhat amusing).  In the end, Tamesha and Kenny each win $10,000, but no one has immunity for the elimination challenge.

Which brings me to my next beef.  What the frack kind of nonsense was the elimination challenge?  Holy confusing, Batman.  I mean, the idea of a round robin-esque cook-off was kind of cool, but it didn’t sit right with me that the “losers” of the breakfast and lunch rounds were the ones that ended up winning the challenge and getting trips to Italy and Spain.  Oh, well, at least I got to stare at Eric Ripert and Bryan Voltaggio for a while.

The breakfast round is a flurry of eggy activity, and Amanda and Stephen (with a poached egg concoction) and Tiffany and Tim (with a crab cake Benedict) are declared safe.  The remaining chefs are annoyed that they have to cook lunch, particularly since, as Kelly notes, they didn’t receive any feedback about why the judges didn’t enjoy their breakfasts.  A fair point, I suppose.  Anywho, the funniest part is that Kelly and Andrea serve overcooked fish (I’m sorry, feesh) to Eric Ripert, and he and Padma have an adorable exchange about sending a dish back at Le Bernardin.  Tee.  Angelo and Tamesha are safe, with their beef carpaccio and kimchee vinaigrette, and Ed and Alex are safe as well (their seared scallops looked yummy, though I’m not sure what gnudi is – it looks like gnocchi to me).

The chefs cooking dinner are even more pissed than they were about cooking lunch, which I’m sure does wonders for their concentration and overall state of mind.  Everyone stews about how the judges wronged them.  Two teams make short ribs (Kelly/Andrea and Kenny/Kevin), and they each think their version is the best.  Arnold and Lynne make homemade squid ink pasta and mussels, but they clash about when to start cooking the noodles.  Arnold becomes increasingly anxious about not having enough time, and Lynne is a miserable bitch and repeats about 6 times that she’s made homemade pasta tons of times before (which is a death knell if I ever heard one).

Sure enough, Lynne undercooks the pasta, and the judges are not pleased.  Kelly and Andrea have the winning short rib, and they each get a trip to Europe (if I had been safe in the breakfast round, I would be raising all kind of hell).  Kevin and Kenny defend their dish to the death, and Lynne is a miserable bitch and keeps dodging questions by saying that she was happy with the flavor of the dish.  In the end, Arnold and Lynne are sent home because of execution errors and the fact that, apparently, black pasta is just too scary for Hilton’s guests.  Bummer, as Arnold was the contestant I hated the least at this stage in the game.

Note how I phrased that.  I didn’t say I liked Arnold – I said I hated him the least.  That is how I feel about this season of chefs, ladies and gentlemen – they are constantly battling to be the best of a cadre of bad options.  At this point, I guess I’m going to have to root for Alex, because at least that skinny booger TRIES to be funny and light-hearted.

Top Chef D.C. – Episode 3

July 1, 2010
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Ya know, this group of chefs is starting to piss me off.  “I’m not a pastry chef!”  “I don’t know how to use a grill!”  Seriously???  I may not have gone to culinary school, but I know how to bake a pie and I’ve made some pretty darn good picnic food in my day.  I suppose this episode confirms that there is a BIG difference between a good chef and a good cook.

The quickfire challenge – make a pie from scratch – seems simple enough, but very few of the contestants get it right.  My favorite line of the night comes from Gail, who, when Ed describes how he was inspired by his grandmother when he made a banana cream pie with celery spuma, asks quippily, “How does it compare to your grandma’s celery spuma?”  Tee.  And, by the way, what kind of a word is “spuma”?  It just sounds dirty to me.  Johnny Iuzzini gets second-best-line honors when he says to Amanda, “My grandmother wasn’t a pastry chef, but she can still make an apple pie.”  Aw, snap.

Anywho, Kenny wins the quickfire (finally!) with his bananas foster pie with Chinese five spice.  Then they are told they will be cooking for Hill interns for their elimination challenge, which is a picnic at Mt. Vernon.  Shopping at Whole Foods involves a story about Amanda’s coke-laden past, which maybe is good for context when she later yells at Alex about an oven and cites “prison rules” as her reason for being a bitch.  Back at the house, Amanda is the focus once again, which means she’s either going to win or go home.

When the chefs get to Mt. Vernon, hilarity ensues.  The little Gaysian doesn’t know how to use a charcoal grill, so he watches and copies Kenny’s every move.  Tim makes some kind of vaguely sexist (but totally expected) remark about women not knowing how to grill and men cooking meat and drinking beer.  There are a LOT of dishes, and most of them seem to be “meh.”  The guest judge is Jonathan Waxman, though, so that counts for something.  Oh, and a goose craps on Tim’s table.  And Angelo actually compliments Amanda’s food – wow, maybe I don’t have to punch him in the face after all!

At judging, we learn that Angelo, Amanda, Ed, and Arnold have the best dishes.  Arnold wins for his lamb meatball with gazpacho – and he is oh so happy about it (I believe there’s even a little victory dance)!  If he would stop popping his collar, he would have my full endorsement.  Tim, Steven, Tracey, and Kevin are the bottom four, and it is abundantly clear (to me, anyway) that it’s either going to be Steven or Tracey.  In the end, though, Tracey’s fennel-heavy, improperly cooked sausage sliders were the worst of the worst, so she gets to come back to Atlanta early.

Even though I didn’t particularly care for Tracey, I’m bummed that our only Atlanta chef got booted so early.  I guess I got spoiled by the Richard Blais and Kevin Gillespie seasons.

Whatever will happen next week when the current contestants tangle with the previous ones?  Stay tuned…