Trouble With Toast

To make an end is to make a beginning

December 30, 2010
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”For last year’s words belong to last year’s language,

And next year’s words await another voice.”

T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

Wow, another year down the drain – can you believe it?  I know that the ol’ blog hasn’t been as hoppin’ as usual in 2010, but you’ll have to forgive me – between travel (two trips to DC, one trip to Salt Lake City, one trip to Tampa/St. Pete, one trip to St. Paul/Minneapolis, one trip to Destin, two trips to Charleston, and one trip to Chicago), my sister’s wedding, four other weddings, three triathlons, one full marathon, and buying a house, I didn’t have as much time as I wanted to tackle this list of food resolutions.

I didn’t TOTALLY bum out, though.  In January, I discovered some killer blueberry muffins, thanks to America’s Test Kitchen.  In February, my husband and I made friends with the Four Coursemen, and I wrote about the beginning of my love affair with Holeman & Finch.  I was eating healthy in March, which brought this awesome barley salad into my repertoire.  I was doing a lot of fundraising in April, for Share Our Strength and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  May involved lots of low and slow cooking, despite the warmer temperatures.  The worst season of Top Chef EVER, Top Chef D.C., started in June.  July had lots of salads, as one would expect during summer in the south.  We took a tasty trip to Chucktown in August, during which we revisited Poe’s but also tried FIG and The Glass Onion.  In September, I was obsessed with peaches.  October was busy, what with that pesky marathon, but I did find a new go-to chicken dish.  November of course included Thanksgiving, but before the holiday, I made two great Martha Stewart meals.  Which brings us to December – an exciting month in which Top Chef started its all-star season, and I posted about my first experience in trying to mimic Thomas Keller.

What will 2011 hold?  We already have a trip to San Francisco on the books (in 2 weeks, woo hoo!), BlogHer Food is coming to Atlanta in May, I know we’ll be in Charleston at least once, and I still have lots of cooking to do in my new kitchen.  So, all signs point to an exciting and tasty year!

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and a fantastic end of 2010.  See you next year!

Recipe: Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce

December 27, 2010

 Here is the recipe for Thomas Keller’s tomato sauce, to go with the meatballs.  Do keep in mind that this sauce will come out VERY viscous – so viscous, in fact, that I ended up thinning it out with a little bit of my homemade marinara sauce.  I think the thicker sauce would be great for a meatball appetizer, but for a pasta dinner, I wanted a little more to sop up.

Otherwise, the flavor of this sauce is incredible – so concentrated and zippy!

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1 cup minced leeks (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 cup finely chopped fennel
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Two 28- to 32-ounce cans San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 1 garlic clove

Lay out a 7-inch square of cheesecloth.  Put the bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns, and garlic near the bottom of the square and fold the bottom edge up and over them.  Roll once, tuck in the two ends of the cheesecloth, and continue to roll.  Tie the cheesecloth at both ends with kitchen twine.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the oil, onion, leeks, and garlic in a large ovenproof Dutch oven or a baking dish and sprinkle with salt.  Put in the oven and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the vegetables are tender and beginning to caramelize.

Stir in the brown sugar and vinegar and return to the oven for another 20 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed.  Remove from the oven.

Meanwhile, drain the canned tomatoes and remove the seeds.  Coarsely chop half the tomatoes.  Puree the other half in a food processor.

Add the tomatoes to the vegetables along with the herb packet (satchet), season with salt and pepper to taste, and return to the oven for 1 1/2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes.  The sauce should be thick and have a full, rich flavor.  Run the side of a spoon through the sauce – if it runs back together immediately, it is too thin.  Return it to the oven and cook until thickened.

Discard the satchet and let the sauce cool to room temperature.  Refrigerate in a covered container for up to 1 week.

Recipe: Meatballs with Pappardelle

December 27, 2010

For my birthday, my dad stood in line at Williams-Sonoma so that he and my mother could present me with an autographed copy of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home.  I literally squealed with joy when I opened it – look, isn’t it awesome???

The book is really gorgeous, and the recipes are all super enticing.  However, as I flipped through the pages, I realized that even though the dishes were more accessible than, say, the ones in the French Laundry cookbook, they were still pretty complex and detailed.  In other words, I probably wasn’t going to be making any quick weeknight meals out of Ad Hoc.

The next free weekend I had, I decided it was on like Donkey Kong.  I chose this recipe first because it didn’t require any unusual ingredients, and, well, I love pasta and meatballs.  It turned out that the most time-consuming part of the dish was the tomato sauce (which I will post separately) – the meatballs themselves were actually pretty straightforward and, dare I say, easy.

Easy as they were, these meatballs were fantastic.  The moistness and flavor were just right, thanks to the excellent mixture of meats (I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of veal, which I don’t normally love).  The cheesy center was just plain decadent – you really don’t NEED the mozzarella, since the meatballs are plenty rich on their own, but if you can say no to cheese, you have much more willpower than I do.

So, the first Thomas Keller experiment was a success – the dish was even a hit leftover, reheated in the microwave the next day.  Even though technically it was just “spaghetti and meatballs,” I was very proud of myself and couldn’t wait to try the next recipe on my list.

  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces boneless beef sirloin
  • 12 ounces boneless beef chuck
  • 8 ounces boneless pork butt
  • 8 ounces boneless veal shoulder or top round
  • 1/4 cup dried breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 1 pound pappardelle
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce

Heat the canola oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and reduce the heat.  Cook gently for about 20 minutes, to soften the vegetables without browning them.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Next step: meat.  If you have a meat grinder, the cookbook has a great breakdown of how to set things up and run the meat through.  I have a grinder attachment for my Kitchen-Aid mixer, but I really just didn’t want the hassle of DIY grinding.  So, I had the butcher at Whole Foods grind everything for me fresh.  I know, I’m a cheater, but I’m relatively sure that Thomas Keller would have wanted me to enjoy SOME time with my husband that day.

In a bowl, combine the ground meat, onion and garlic, bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons of parsley, and the egg and mix gently to incorporate evenly.  Do not overwork the mixture.  To check the seasoning, put a small patty of the meat on a plate and cook in the microwave for 30 seconds, then taste and add more salt if desired.

Divide the mixture into 12 equal balls, using a scant 1/2 cup (4 ounces) for each.

Cut the cheese into 12 cubes, about 3/4 inch.  Shape the meatballs, stuffing a cube of cheese into the center of each one.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.

Put the meatballs on the cooling rack and bake for 15-18 minutes, until cooked through but still juicy.  Remove from the oven and let the meatballs rest on the rack for a few minutes before serving.

Meanwhile, cook the pappardelle; drain and put in a large bowl.  Toss with the melted butter, the remaining tablespoon of parsley, and the lemon juice.

TK’s Serving suggestion: Spoon the tomato sauce into a gratin dish or shallow serving dish.  Top with the meatballs and garnish with fried oregano.  Serve the pappardelle on the side.

TCAS – Game, Set, Match

December 24, 2010
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You know I’m into a television show when I stay up till 11 PM on a school night to watch it a la minute (in the parlance of our times), instead of on DVR the next day.  I think the Fantasy Top Chef game I’m playing helps my late-night motivation – and, for those of you who are keeping score, I am currently beating my husband 11 to -5.  Yes, that’s negative five.  Tee.

I shouldn’t give him too hard of a time – this week, it could have easily gone the other way, since one elimination challenge team had TONS of my players, and the other team had tons of Jason’s.  Thankfully, the team with tons of my players ended up winning.

I’m not going to do a recap, since it’s Christmas Eve and I’m much more interested in snuggling on the couch with my pup while my delicious prime rib roasts away in the oven.  However, I will say two things:

1) As always, if you want a really good recap, go visit my girl Jordan Baker.  You won’t regret it.

2) This whole “Jamie doesn’t participate in the challenge for whatever lame-ass reason and therefore gets a pass” game is straight up bullshit.  As Fabio might say, “Ees Top Chef, not top spectator.”

Some level of normalcy should return to my life next week, so regular posting (recipes, woo hoo!) and TCAS recapping should resume.  In the meantime, happy holidays to all – I hope everyone is eating well this season!

TCAS – Double Elimination Fun

December 17, 2010
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Even though I have Ad Hoc at Home dishes that I am DYING to write about, I feel like I should comment on this week’s TCAS first – not because the episode was super awesome or anything, but because it gives me the opportunity to brag about beating my husband in Fantasy Top Chef All-Stars.  Yes, there is a Fantasy game for foodie nerds.  Deal with it.

Despite being interested for Fantasty purposes, I felt like the episode was kind of…off.  I don’t know if it was the hour-long format (when the previous two episodes had been 75 minutes), or the fact that half the time was spent watching the contestants eat at their assigned restaurants, but it seemed like one minute I was watching the quickfire challenge and the next minute I was watching judges’ table.  There wasn’t a whole lot of actual COOKING that made the final cut.

Anywho, the quickfire was a modified version of the mise en place challenge.  The chefs were randomly assigned to four teams of four.  There were three ingredients (lamb, artichokes, and garlic) to break down simultaneously, and the first team to finish to guest judge David Chang’s standards got to hit the button to start the 15 minute clock for preparing a dish with the ingredients.  The other three teams then had to complete their mise en place as quickly as possible, as they would only have whatever time was remaining to finish their dish.  Right as I was saying to Jason, “I bet half of these chefs haven’t done their own mise en place in YEARS,” Tre laughed nervously about how he works in a restaurant with its own butchers.  Conversely, Casey was shown butchering the hell out of some lamb, and Dale commented that she had to redeem herself for Oniongate in Season 3.  That WAS pretty embarassing.

The Green Team of Angelo, Straight Tiffany, Mike, and Fabio finished their mise en place first, and they were all kinds of confident (ahem, cocky) about their dish being the best because they had the most time.  Two teams wound up with lamb carpaccio because they didn’t finish with enough time left to actually cook a piece of meat.  The Blue Team of Blais, Spike, Tre, and Stephen pulled out the win, and they each got to take home $5,000 for the honor.

For the elimination challenge, the chefs (in the same teams) visited four of Manhattan’s best restaurants.  Then, they each had to create a dish that could appear on the menu of whatever restaurant they visited.  The only one I was familiar with was wd~50, and I kept obnoxiously shouting to my husband, “I’ve eaten there!  I’ve been in that kitchen!”  Like I mentioned before, it seemed like we didn’t get to see a lot of the prepping/cooking (and “shopping” consisted of an exterior shot of the Whole Foods), but we saw enough to know that Stephen couldn’t work a blender, Carla was still talking about her sous vide finale disaster, and Straight Dale was trying to capitalize on Wylie Dufresne’s well-documented love of eggs.  I love them, too, Wylie!  Let’s have brunch sometime.

Oh, and by the way, on the subject of Stephen – he was yammering on about how fashion has become an obsession of his, and apparently he said, “Could be worse; could be cocaine.”  But, what I heard was, “Could be worse; could be cooking.”  Which, duh, sounded really weird, considering he was saying this on a COOKING competition.  Guess I need to get the wax out of my ears.  Moving on…

The judges’ visited all of the restaurants, and it was pretty tame commentary, even from Bourdain.  So, the top four ended up being Straight Dale (egg dumpling with pork belly and broth that “tasted like breakfast”), Angelo (fish with white chocolate), Tre (grilled swordfish), and Antonia (riff on peas and carrots).  Straight Dale won, scoring himself a trip to New Zealand and me some major Fantasty points.  Woot!

The bottom four were Gay Dale (veal with peanuts, popcorn, and french toast – eek), Gay Tiffani (frozen melons – giggle), Fabio (wannabe Asian train wreck on a plate), and Stephen (salmon with fennel pollen that Bourdain said “tasted like a head shop,” whatever that means).  Since two of the bottom four were on my Fantasy team and two were on my husband’s, I was pretty much planning on splitting this one – but alas, the TC gods were smiling upon me, and Stephen and Dale (both on my husband’s squad) were sent home.  I will miss Dale’s funny commentary – hell, he actually talked about and demonstrated jazz hands in this episode – and Stephen’s well-tied ties, but that’s about it.

Looking forward to the U.S. Open challenge next week…will my winning streak continue???

Top Chef All-Stars!!!

December 10, 2010
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You know life is crazy when it takes this long to write about TEH GREATEST TOP CHEF SEASON EVAR!!!  Seriously, I was really looking forward to last week’s Top Chef All-Stars (which I will now refer to as TCAS, because I am supremely lazy) premiere – I was definitely ready for Bravo to redeem itself for the horrible, very bad, no-good Season 7.  For the most part, I was pleased with the cast and the episode, and I am very glad we have a sweet, brand new, 50-inch plasma TV all set up, so I can watch the events unfold in beautiful HD.  Then, last night, I finished watching the anger management lesson otherwise known as the second episode, so I figure I’ll just throw some thoughts together and then resume regular recapping next week.  This is optimistic, as I do not yet have internet access at the new house, but I’m a glass half full kind of girl.

First, the cast…

Season 1 – Stephen and Gay Tiffani

Season 2 – Elia and Marcel

Season 3 – Tre, Gay Dale, and Casey

Season 4 – Richard, Spike, Antonia, and Straight Dale

Season 5 – Jamie, Fabio, and Carla

Season 6 – Jen and Mike

Season 7 – Angelo and Straight Tiffany

Generally speaking, I was most excited to see Tre (because he is HOT), Richard (because he represents Team ATL), Carla (Hootie Hoo!!!), and Fabio (duh).  I was least excited to see the Season 7 kids – after all, we just spent many miserable weeks with them, and even though they are probably the two most talented chefs from that season, I just don’t think I”m ready to hang out with them again.  Oh, well – just like any TC season, there are too many cooks in the kitchen to start with, and it will take a few more episodes before I can truly commit to my favorites.

I loved the challenges in the first episode.  The quickfire challenge of teaming up by season and making a dish that represented that season’s TC city was pretty fun – though I do think that some of the teams (Chicago and Miami specifically) had a distinct advantage in that there are obvious foods that represent the area.  I was simultaneously laughing and banging my head against the wall when Blais busted out the liquid nitrogen from the get-go.  I also dug the elimination challenge, where the chefs had to recreate the dish that got them booted from their respective seasons.  Genius!  It was pretty clear from the start that Elia’s heart wasn’t in it, so I wasn’t surprised that she got the first heave-ho.  It was fun to watch Fabio square off against Bourdain – I imagine that, with the enormous egos involved in an all-star cast, we’ll see a lot of defensiveness and temper tantrums at judges’ table (FORESHADOWING!!!).

Episode 2 was less awesome, if only because watching a bunch of screaming kids get hopped up on sugar isn’t really my idea of good TV.  And WTF was up with Joe Jonas?  Bravo couldn’t find anyone with a background in, ya know, FOOD???  Sheesh.  In any case, Gay Tiffani got immunity and then screwed the rest of her team over while trying to screw the other team over (given the choice between T. Rex and Brontosaurus, she chose the former because she didn’t want the other team to have any meat to cook with – but little did she realize that HER team wouldn’t have any veg).  Katie Lee (Joel) was the guest judge, and she was as monotone and dull as I remember her from season one (though Tiffani and Stephen do their best to suck up anyway).  The Brontosaurus team pulled out the win, and Marcel/Richard/Angelo won the challenge with their banana parfait.

Then the fireworks began…Jen was PISSED that her team lost, and she proceeded to go all bitchtastic on the judges’ asses, basically giving a big “Nuh-uh!” anytime Tom or Gail gave her any criticism.  Tiffani whined about how a T. Rex is an omnivore, and she thought they’d be able to cook with everything.  Antonia threw Jamie under the bus and basically called her a pussy for going to get stitches instead of duct taping her knife wound.  At the end of the day, though, Jen’s “wet bacon” and bland eggs sent her packing, and she left in an expetive-laced huff.

I think TCAS has gotten off to an exciting start.  What say you?