Trouble With Toast

Top Chef D.C. – Episode 11

August 30, 2010
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Okay, instead of typing up a five-days-late recap of last Wednesday’s Top Chef, I think I’m gonna leave the baseball episode to the professionals.  Well, professional, singular, that is – you should all go read Jordan Baker’s recap.  Click here!  She is teh awesomesauce.

Back with some better posts later this week – happy Monday!

Recipe: Lemony Orzo-Veggie Salad with Chicken

August 25, 2010
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Here’s another summer salad that I’ve enjoyed recently – you can tell that it was delicious (or that I was REALLY hungry) by the lack of pictures.

I always keep orzo in my pantry (usually the whole wheat variety, if I can find it), as it is a very versatile ingredient.  Yeah, I know it’s just teeny tiny rice-shaped pasta, but for some reason, it seems to lend itself well to salad preparations.  This version comes from Cooking Light, and it is satisfying AND simple to throw together after a long day.  The lemon-honey “dressing” is nice and acidic, which balances well with the creamy goat cheese.  As someone who cooks quite a bit with basil and cilantro, the addition of dill was a treat – I always forget how much I love it.

This salad works well as an entree, but you could always leave off the chicken and use it as a side dish.  Also, you can serve it warm or cold, and it will be delicious either way.  Enjoy!

  • 3/4  cup  uncooked orzo
  • 1/4  teaspoon  grated lemon rind
  • 3  tablespoons  fresh lemon juice
  • 1  tablespoon  extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2  teaspoon  kosher salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  minced garlic
  • 1/4  teaspoon  honey
  • 1/8  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 1  cup  shredded skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast
  • 1/2  cup  diced English cucumber
  • 1/2  cup  chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/3  cup  thinly sliced green onions
  • 1  tablespoon  chopped fresh dill
  • 1/2  cup  (2 ounces) crumbled goat cheese

Cook orzo according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and rinse with cold water; drain and place in a large bowl.

While orzo cooks, combine lemon rind and next 6 ingredients (through black pepper), stirring well with a whisk. Drizzle juice mixture over orzo; toss to coat. Add chicken and next 4 ingredients (through dill); toss gently to combine. Sprinkle with cheese.

Top Chef D.C. – Episode 10

August 23, 2010
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Much like I do not have the energy to stay up until 11 PM to watch Top Chef, I do not have the energy to keep recapping this beyond-mediocre season.  It takes a lot of awesomeness on my part to make these episodes sound interesting, people, and I’m just not sure that the likes of Kevin “I’m sad that my hetero life mate, Kenny, got the boot for his craptastic food, and I’m going to take it out on Alex” are worth the trouble.

So, instead of the usual narrative, I present you with the Top 10 Least Annoying Things About Episode 10.

10. Wylie Dufresne and his sideburns.

9. Alex getting the boot.

8. Learning that Ed’s spy name is “Muffin Winthrop.”  Tee.

7. The adorable new-to-DC way that the chefs get excited over being frisked at the entrance to a government building.  Trust me, kiddos, it’s not so fun when it happens EVERY DAY, and when you have to send your precious triple venti sugar free vanilla soy latte through the X-ray machine.

6. Wylie Dufresne playfully teasing Leon Panetta about not guessing that Kelly’s dish was king pao shrimp.  His exact words: “For once, I know something you don’t know.”  Adorable.

5. A rare moment of honesty and humility from Angelo, who says openly that he SHOULD go home based on his performance in the challenges.

4.  Tiffany’s SECOND double-win.  In my mind, she is one of the only likeable contestants, and I’m glad she is doing well while managing not to be a psycho hose beast.

3. Eric Ripert!

2. Eric Ripert!!

1. Eric Ripert!!!

Everything else, from the bad CIA/spy puns, to the awkward table full of government drones, to the fact that Kelly can’t cook rice properly, to Angelo’s self-doubt, was pretty damn irritating.  I guess the bottom line is, when I am more excited about the judges than about ANY of the contestants, it’s time for the show to either put up or shut up.

Recipe: Spicy Poblano Burgers with Pickled Red Onions and Chipotle Cream

August 19, 2010
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It is no secret that I LOVE burgers.  Yeah, yeah, I know – burgers have become both hip and cliche, with every chef from here to Timbuktu opening an eatery that specializes in his or her special brand of meat-on-bun.  But dammit, I loved burgers before they were cool.  Ever since I had my dad’s backyard version – a small but THICK patty, charred on the outside and medium rare on the inside, seasoned and served simply and usually accompanied by fresh summer corn and sliced tomatoes – I was hooked.

I seldom meet a burger I don’t enjoy, from the thin, retro double-stack (a la H&F), to the grass-fed and creatively topped (a la Farm Burger), to the over-the-top classic (a la Vortex).  This Cooking Light version caught my eye not only because of its bold spice mix, but also because it used lean sirloin yet still claimed to be moist and delicious.

It lived up to its billing – this was quite a tasty burger.  The heat of the peppers and spices was balanced nicely by the sweet-yet-sour flavor of the quickly pickled onions.  The creamy sauce was a nice touch, especially with the crunch of the onions.  A few tips: 1) The recipe talks about a grill pan, but if you have an actual grill, definitely use it (I did).  2) If you have a gas range and you feel comfortable, charring the poblanos over the “open” flame will probably be faster and yield better results than broiling.  3) The pickled onions store well in the fridge and taste yummy on a large variety of sandwiches.  Don’t get rid of the extra!

  • 2  poblano chiles
  • 1  tablespoon low-fat milk
  • 1  slice white bread, crusts removed, and torn into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3  tablespoons minced fresh cilantro, divided
  • 1  teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2  teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2  teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2  teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1  pound ground sirloin
  • 1/2  cup light sour cream
  • 1  tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1  teaspoon  fresh lime juice
  • 1  can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
  • Cooking spray
  • 4  (1 1/2-ounce) hamburger buns, toasted
  • 1/4  cup  pickled red onions

Preheat broiler.

Place poblano chiles on a foil-lined baking sheet, and broil for 8 minutes or until blackened, turning after 6 minutes. Place in a zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand 15 minutes. Peel chiles, and discard the seeds and membranes. Finely chop.

Combine milk and bread in a large bowl; mash bread mixture with a fork until smooth. Add poblano chile, 1 1/2 tablespoons cilantro, cumin, coriander, paprika, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and beef to milk mixture, tossing gently to combine. Divide mixture into 4 equal portions, gently shaping each into a 1/2-inch-thick patty. Press a nickel-sized indentation in the center of each patty. Cover and chill until ready to grill.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

Combine the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons cilantro, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a medium bowl. Stir in sour cream, shallots, and juice. Remove 1 chipotle pepper and 2 teaspoons adobo sauce from can; reserve remaining chipotle peppers and adobo sauce for another use. Chop chile. Stir chopped chipotle and 2 teaspoons adobo sauce into sour cream mixture. Set aside.

Place patties on a grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 3 minutes or until grill marks appear. Carefully turn patties; grill an additional 3 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Place 1 patty on bottom half of each bun; top each serving with 3 tablespoons chipotle cream and 1 tablespoon Pickled Red Onions.

Pickled Red Onions

  • 1/2  cup  sugar
  • 1/2  cup  rice vinegar
  • 1/2  cup  water
  • 1  jalapeño pepper, halved lengthwise
  • 2 1/2  cups  thinly vertically sliced red onion

Combine the first 4 ingredients in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add onion to pan, and cover. Remove from heat, and cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Top Chef D.C. – Episode 9

August 16, 2010
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Ah, Restaurant Wars.  The highlight of the middle of every Top Chef season.  Well, highlight may be overshooting it a bit, especially this season, but it was one of the more interesting episodes thus far.

The quickfire challenge is the tag-team cook-off, and though there is no immunity, the winning team will split $10,000.  Kevin, Kenny, Kelly, and Amanda are the blue team, and Ed, Angelo, Tiffany, and Alex are the red team.  There is a lot of action, but I don’t remember anything about the dishes and the challenge basically boils down to the blue team looking cool and collected and together, and the red team unraveling the second that Alex gets involved.  Nancy Pelosi and her Botoxed face show up to judge the challenge, and she says it’s a tough decision, but she ultimately gives the win to the blue team.

Padma announces that the chefs will be taking over a Bethesda restaurant for the elimination challenge, and that each “restaurant” has to prepare a three-course menu with two options per course.  She also says that each chef must be responsible for at least one dish, and that Frank Bruni will be the guest judge, which causes some of the chefs to shake in their Crocs (though I’m not sure why, because I always thought Bruni was a fair critic).  With that, half of the contestants go to Whole Foods, and the other half go to Restaurant Depot.  Hey, we have a Restaurant Depot in Atlanta (I pass it every day on the way to work, actually), let’s have the next season of Top Chef here!!!

The blue team, again, looks pretty organized and calm.  The red team, on the other hand, doesn’t have any shopping lists on account of their trying to figure out how to involve Alex in the challenge as little as possible.  To that end, they decide that he will be the front-of-house representative.  Look, I know y’all didn’t want him in the kitchen any more than was absolutely necessary, but I cannot think of a WORSE choice for FOH.  He is creepy and nervous and twitchy and just not charming in the least – not exactly the best qualities for a customer service position.  Kelly is going to be FOH for the blue team, so she works on a dish that can be prepared in advance.

When the teams get to the restaurant, the theme of “red team bad, blue team good” continues – Kelly is nice to the restaurant staff while conducting a detailed tasting of the menu items, and Alex is the biggest dick imaginable, demonstrating cleaning techniques to the servers and generally berating them.  He all but admits on camera that his restaurant staff hates him.  Gee, Sherlock, I wonder why?

The restaurants open, and EVOO (the name of the red team’s concept – and I don’t think I need to discuss how terrible it is, especially since it is pronounced “Eee-voo,” as in, rhymes with emu) is the first place the judges visit.  They stand at the front, wondering if anyone will greet them; Alex is already apologizing to another table, so a server takes the judges to their seats.  The first course is Angelo’s tomato confit soup and Tiffany’s crudo.  The judges praise the soup, and Bruni says it makes him want to taste more of Angelo’s cooking.  They feel that the crudo is overseasoned.  There is apparently a long gap between the first and second courses (and Padma acts like a huge bitch about it), but when Tiffany’s black bass and Ed’s turbot arrive, everyone seems happy.  The third course is Alex’s lamb chop with pea puree (seriously???) and a ribeye steak that I can’t remember who is responsible for.  The judges like the lamb but seem to be a little puzzled by the steak, which doesn’t have a Mediterranean feel (frankly, neither did any of the other dishes).  The judges get up and leave, and Alex is nowhere to be found.

Next up is 2121 (named for the address of the TC house), and Kelly greets the judges and tells them about their restaurant’s theme (which I didn’t really understand – something about being progressive).  The first course is Kelly’s chilled corn and crab soup and Kenny’s beet salad.  The judges don’t like how thin the soup is, and they feel that the corn has no flavor because it is out of season (which is in direct contradiction to Kelly’s intro, which mentioned the use of seasonal ingredients).  There seems to be a lot going on with the beet salad, and the judges make a Chanel reference about taking off accessories.  The second course is Amanda’s steak and Kevin’s halibut; the judges don’t like the former (though the compliment the sauce), but they think the fish is both beautiful and tasty.  The last course is dessert, which is Kelly’s chocolate ganache tart and Kenny’s “cheese course” (which boils down to a hunk of fried goat cheese over a strawberry-rhubarb salad).  Gail the dessert queen loves the tart, but everyone seems universally put off by the fried goat cheese.  Bruni calls it a horror show.  It must have been poorly executed, because the IDEA of fried goat cheese over strawberries and rhubarbs sounds really tasty to me.

In the stew room, Kevin says that his mind will be blown if the blue team doesn’t win.  Which, duh, means that the blue team doesn’t win.  EVOO is the winning restaurant, despite Alex’s poor service.  Ed’s turbot is declared the winning dish, so he wins some wine and a trip to Napa.

When the blue team goes in front of the judges, Kenny starts out by saying how surprised he is to be the loser because of all of the communication problems he witnessed amongst the members of the red team.  Gail reminds him that they don’t see (or care about) any of that, and that the blue team is on the bottom because of their food.  The judges compliment Kelly on her “clumsy charisma,” but they slam her soup.  They praise Kevin’s halibut, but they tell Amanda that her steak was overcooked and unappetizing.  They tell Kenny that they didn’t like either of his dishes, and he decides that he’ll go ahead and continue to trash the red team.  Specifically, he says that Alex didn’t conceive or cook a dish (which was part of the rules) and that he should be up for elimination.  Kevin joins the anti-Alex bandwagon as well (which is the dumbest move EVER, since Kevin’s dish was the best of that bunch).  This whole bit makes Kenny and Kevin look like ridiculous, whiny bitches.

The blue team goes back to the stew room, and the bitchiness continues with Kevin yelling at Alex.  Ugh.  In the end, Kenny is sent home, and he says he is in awe.  Dude, get over yourself.  You started strong, but you wound up in the middle and in the bottom because YOUR FOOD WASN’T THAT GOOD.  As slimy as Alex seems, I am happy that Kenny is gone, and I look forward to further narrowing the field over the next couple of weeks.

Oh, and by the way, Tom’s blog is definitely worth a read this week, in light of the “controversy.”

Recipe: Pepper Jack, Peach, and Chicken Quesadillas

August 11, 2010
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Sometimes, I come across a recipe that is so awesome that I cannot wait to incorporate it into my regular repertoire.  This recipe definitely falls into that category!  It is easy enough for a busy weeknight meal, but it doesn’t sacrifice any flavor – the spicy cheese, the sweet peaches, the meaty chicken, and the creamy, slightly acidic sour cream “sauce” all balance beautifully together.

A tip I learned this weekend: if peeling peaches ain’t your thing, blanch them for about 45 seconds in boiling water, and then shock them in an ice bath.  Then you should be able to remove the skin with much greater ease.

I served these quesadillas with the recommended spinach salad with cumin vinaigrette.  It went REALLY well with the dish, but darned if I can’t find the proportions for the dressing.  I’ll update you if my notes magically appear…

  • 1  teaspoon  honey
  • 1/2  teaspoon  fresh lime juice
  • 1/2  cup  reduced-fat sour cream
  • 4  (8-inch) flour tortillas
  • 3/4  cup  (3 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese with jalapeño peppers
  • 1  cup  chopped skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast
  • 1  cup  thinly sliced peeled firm ripe peaches
  • 4  teaspoons  chopped fresh cilantro
  • Cooking spray

Combine honey and lime juice in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Stir sour cream into honey mixture; cover and chill until ready to serve.2. Place tortillas flat on a work surface. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons cheese over half of each tortilla; top each tortilla with 1/4 cup chicken, 1/4 cup peaches, and 1 teaspoon cilantro. Fold tortillas in half.  Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Place 2 quesadillas in the pan, and top quesadillas with a cast-iron or other heavy skillet. Cook 1 1/2 minutes on each side or until tortillas are crisp and lightly browned (leave cast-iron skillet on quesadillas as they cook). Remove quesadillas from pan; set aside, and keep warm. Repeat procedure with the remaining quesadillas. Cut each quesadilla into wedges. Serve with sauce.

Top Chef D.C. – Episode 8

August 6, 2010

Okay, I know I have been saying for weeks that this season is boring, but the dullness reached new heights last night, as I actually FELL ASLEEP in the middle of the episode.  I have never fallen asleep during Top Chef before.

The quickfire challenge was judged by Marcus Samuelsson, and it charged the chefs to create a dish inspired by Ethiopian cuisine (and Chef Samuelsson gives the contestants a quick-and-dirty lesson in the flavors of the region).  As he explains injera, I can’t help but gag a little – I just hate the texture of that stuff (but I will spare you my gross nickname for it).  It seems like about half the chefs have some experience with Ethiopian food, while the other half have never even eaten it.  Kevin, Stephen, and Alex wind up in the bottom for various sins, and Amanda, Angelo, and Tiffany come out on top.  In the end, Tiffany – who had zero experience with Ethiopian food – wins the challenge and scores immunity.

Padma and Chef Samuelsson roll out a big map, and they tell the chefs that they will be cooking a dish inspired by the country they choose (and they draw knives to make their selections).  They will serve their food for various ambassadors at the Meridian House (I’ve been there!), and they won’t have any cooking equipment besides sternos.  Alex takes Spain, and I just know in my heart that he is going to butcher my very favorite food culture ever.  Stephen picks last and ends up with Brazil, which I think is all kinds of awesome, but he doesn’t really seem to know what to do with it.  The chefs all go shopping, and Kenny grumbles about being in the middle.  It must be because the judges think you’re a threat, Kenny.  Stephen remembers that he’s been to a Brazilian steakhouse, so that’s the direction he’s going.  Tom walks through as the contestants are prepping and cooking, and Kevin says he’s worried about the Indian ambassador eating his food.  Tom responds that Kevin SHOULD be worried about what Padma thinks.  Tee.

This is about the point I fell asleep, so I’ll skip ahead to judgment.  The top dogs are Kevin, Kelly, and Tiffany.  Tiffany wins for her tamales, and she gets $10,000.  DC Central Kitchen also gets a $10,000 donation, and Jose Andres gets all sappy and adorable.  I heart him so much – anyone who is not following him on Twitter needs to get on the stick, because he is hilarious.

The bottom three are Stephen, Alex, and Ed.  Ed’s duck was apparently too fatty and not tea-infused enough, and Jose Andres says that Alex’s Spanish-inspired dish was “a little nightmare” (only he says it in his awesome accent and it is fabulous).  Nothing about Stephen’s dish was done well, but his rice especially was mealy and overcooked.  Stephen goes home, and he is incredibly gracious and calm about it, which is awesome.

Next week…RESTAURANT WARS!!!  It looks like Angelo bugs out quite a bit, so it should be interesting.  Here’s hoping, anyway.

Guess where…

August 5, 2010

I had lunch here yesterday – anyone recognize it?

If it helps, here’s what I ate:

This vacation wasn’t supposed to be particularly food-focused, but we have definitely enjoyed some excellent meals.  More later!

Top Chef D.C. – Episode 7

August 2, 2010
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I know, I know, I’m totally behind on my recapping – but y’all should be used to that by now.  I couldn’t watch the episode on Wednesday, as I was engaging in some seriously good people-watching at a local country bar, and then I zipped out of town for vacay.  Guess I’d better write SOMETHING, though, lest I have to talk about two miserable episodes at a time.

I don’t really know why I bother – this season is a DUD.  Every episode is more of the same – Kenny being arrogant and talking about how the other chefs have it out for him, Kelly hating on Amanda, and Alex being all weird and creepy.  In this particular episode, the quickfire challenge involved food on a stick (well, a toothpick, to be more precise), which was loosely tied to Congress.  I mean, could the D.C. tie-ins be any more lame?  And here I thought the casino schtick from the Las Vegas season was bad.  Anywho, Angelo ends up winning with some kind of Asian tuna-in-a-cucumber thingy that actually looks delicious.  Someone (Kevin?) makes some ridiculous comment about how the judges must want to eat Chinese food all the time, since Angelo keeps winning.  Wow, what an incredibly ignorant and offensive thing to say.

The elimination challenge involves the chefs taking over the Palm restaurant and serving a power lunch.  Again, that is the best you can do in D.C.?  This is getting tiresome.  There are five proteins (porterhouse steak, swordfish, salmon, lobster, and lamb), so there are two chefs who will cook each one, but it’s not a head to head challenge.  In the kitchen, Amanda asks to borrow some salt, and Kelly refuses, slathering her own steak with the stuff (foreshadowing).  Ed can’t find his pea puree, and Alex mysteriously acquires some.  Whether or not Alex stole Ed’s pea puree features heavily in the episode – but seriously, this is a reality TV show, and there are cameras all around.  Couldn’t they figure out VERY quickly if he indeed stole another chefs ingredient?  That’s what makes me think that nothing was stolen, Alex just LOOKS shady because that’s his personality, and the producers drummed up a bunch of needless controversy to try to make a boring-ass show a little more exciting.  It ended up just making the show annoying, in my opinion.  Moving on…

The dishes: Kelly’s porterhouse is way oversalted (shock), and Amanda took hers off the bone with good results.  Andrea’s swordfish is way too sweet (she made a vanilla sauce of some kind), and TIffany’s (with a raisin tapenade) is tasty but a little overcooked.  Stephen’s salmon is a little messy, and Alex’s salmon with pea puree is a clear favorite.  Angelo’s lobster is chewy, but he has immunity, so it doesn’t matter.  Ed’s lobster gets good reviews at the table.  Kenny’s lamb seems to be pretty middle-of-the-road, and Kevin’s seems to be inconsistently cooked.  Alex, Tiffany, and Ed wind up in the winner’s circle, which makes Tiffany cry because she knew she overcooked the fish and had already prepared herself to be in the bottom.  Ed compares the lobsters to Volkswagens – tee.  Alex gets lots of praise for his pea puree, and he ends up winning the challenge.  This provokes lots of dirty looks from his competitors, but again, I maintain that this is creative editing at its best.

Kelly, Andrea, and Kevin are in the bottom.  Kelly, obviously, is there for her oversalting – which makes Amanda secretly (or not so secretly, I guess, since she interviewed to the camera) happy.  Andrea defended herself by saying that she doesn’t cook or eat swordfish because she doesn’t like it – and that’s when I knew she was going home.  LAME excuse, lady.  Kevin was taken to task for overcooking his lamb.  Sure enough, Andrea is sent packing, so she can go back to Miami and whine some more about how Michelle Bernstein has it out for her.

Next week involves some kind of embassy challenge – should be interesting, but it probably won’t be.  Sigh.