Archive for November, 2008

I can’t tell you how much leftover guacamole I’ve eaten.

November 23, 2008

Today was spent, as most of our weekends have been (and will be, for the foreseeable future) on further preparing our house for real living! Most of the kitchen cabinet doors have been attached, and I have found almost all of our dishes. Thus far, there has been only one Fiestaware casualty-one of my peacock coffee mugs. I wanted to take a picture of how lovely all of the plates, bowls, mugs, and various serving ware items look in the white cabinets, but I figured the effect would be even better once the kitchen is completely finished.

I prepared my first official meal (grilled cheese sandwiches and beans and rice do not count!) on Thursday night. For the inaugural meal, I selected cold chicken satay noodles, one of my most favorite dishes. It’s a very simple dish, mostly because it calls for a rotisserie chicken. I’ve really come to appreciate rotisserie chickens-flavorful, relatively inexpensive, and very little preparation involved! The chicken is tossed with whole wheat spaghetti, thinly sliced spinach and carrots, and an absolutely heavenly AND addictive peanut and soy sauce. I could eat buckets of these noodles, and I’ve even been known to sneak a small bowl in the morning! They are also the only dish that I make with whole wheat pasta that my fairly non-discriminating husband will eat. No matter how hard I try, I cannot get him to really enjoy whole wheat pasta. Needless to say, we had the nicest little meal together at our own dining room table, and I was bursting with happiness at having been able to cook in my own house.

We spent the morning raking leaves and mowing the lawn. Actually, my husband mowed the lawn, and I followed along behind, picking up the 1000’s of tiny avocados that have been tumbling from the tree in our front yard. I’m going to have to read up on avocado trees and make sure I’m doing everything I can to make ours healthy. As you can see,

the tree in the front is certainly producing a plentiful amount of fruit, but they are immature. Imagine how much money that blue bucket would be worth if it was full of ripe, mature avocados? It’s mind-boggling! By the way, I don’t know why my hand is so freakishly swollen-looking here. It’s the angle, I promise!

We set up a little table in the kitchen, a breakfast nook of sorts, and I couldn’t resist including this picture:

Look at that beautiful bowl of Meyer lemons! From my own tree! For the non-cookbook obsessed crowd, Meyer lemons are a highly coveted, expensive variety of lemon. They have a more spicy aroma and taste than a conventional lemon. Lucky us.

By far the highlight of the day, however, was using my new avocado picker (a long pole with a hook and basket attached to the end) to pluck a slew of avocados from my healthy tree in the backyard. It was a delightful feeling to yank the avocados down! We’re still not sure about the ripening process, so we’re just going to try putting them in a brown paper bag to see if that helps. Of course, I had to photograph them first.

Advertisements

It doesn’t matter how many dragon you kill, it’s who take home the princess.

November 20, 2008

Well, the second episode of Top Chef was certainly a tremendous departure from the first, at least as far as the food was concerned. In episode 1, there was nary a dish (besides Ariane’s poorly cooked farro risotto) that inspired a negative reaction from Tom and the judges. Apparently, it’s one step forward, approximately 25 steps back, because the dishes this week were almost across the board either unimaginative, boring, or plain awful. But that’s mostly in the elimination challenge, so let’s get back to the beginning of the episode.

Nothing extraordinary occurred in the house after Patrick’s departure, other than Ariane feeling emotionally depleted from her trip to the judge’s table, Stefan and Fabio each determining that the other is their greatest competition, and the viewers being treated to a gratuitous shot of Dr. Chase’s chest. By the way, I would like to mention that I have an inherent distrust of any rail-thin or exceptionally toned chef. There’s just something not right about that. It’s one of the reasons (besides her strangely large head and penchant for selectively using an Italian accent in an annoying fashion) that I can’t quite warm up to Giada DeLaurentiis.

The quickfire was much more successful than the elimination in this challenge. Padma and guest judge Donatella Arpaia (David Burke and Donatella fame) informed the chefs that they would be working to produce an original take on a classic New York dish, which (I found this shocking) New Yorkers spend over 100 million dollars on each year. I was not at all surprised to see Angelina D’Angelo rolling in a hot dog cart, straight from Queens. The chefs seemed a mixture of panic and pleasure. Melissa reeled from her assumption that a real classic New York dish is cheesecake- oh dear Melissa, you have so much to learn. Fabio loves hot dog, but determined you “cannot beat American hot dog playing his own game.” Daniel was unfazed, because he is from Long Island, and he has his “New York flavorings” to help him beat the hot dog lady “of all times.” Ariane worried, as expected, because she has not made a hot dog since charcuterie class in 1989. I’m beginning to lose respect for culinary school-surely they don’t actually have courses where hot dog preparation is a part of training?

As for the final products, I thought that many of them looked delicious. Radhika, the eventual winner (who is still not doing much to break through the Indian barrier) made a most delicious looking lamb/pork/beef dog, kebab-style, with caramelized onions, cucumber, and tomato jam. Hosea’s squatty dogs, which looked terrible, nonetheless tasted great. How could they not have tasted great? They were comprised of pork, roasted poblanos, jalepenos, a bit of red wine vinegar, and most crucial of all ingredients, smoked bacon! My mouth is watering as I write! Interestingly, Stefan and Fabio both went for a “panini dog”, though Stefan’s global dog, a horrific-sounding mixture of Wisconsin cheddar and Irish tartar sauce (what IS Irish tartar sauce, anyway?) did not please Donatella, while she enjoyed the Mediterranean flavors of Fabio’s dog. Radhika, Fabio, and Hosea ended up on top, while Jill and Stefan were stuck firmly in the bottom. Jill made the fatal error of not making her own sausage, which does not spell a good future for her in the competition. Not making your own sausage on Top Chef usually leaves you plummeting in the judge’s estimation, but actually using a hot dog instead? Her dish looked like a disaster, and probably tasted worse.

The chefs then learned of the elimination challenge: they would be required to create a dish for a three-course New American lunch, which they would be serving to 50 New York chefs in Tom’s restaurant, Craft. The twist? The 50 guest judges of sorts were all Top Chef applicant rejects. Immediately, Crazy Carla is concerned. Mean judges, plus she also has to learn a “new kitchen”, just when she was getting used to the first new kitchen. How did Carla make it onto this show? Just because of her craziness?

Speaking of crazy, I have never seen bedlam ensue on the show like it did as soon as Padma announced the challenge. The chefs immediately began screaming out the courses they wanted. I believe I heard “I’ll do dessert!” and “I want dessert!” several times, which I found alarming. Everyone knows that chefs do not actually specialize in desserts. On this show, if we’re lucky, each chef has one or maybe two decent dessert recipes up their sleeve, and none of them are relishing the idea of actually having to use those recipes. Although Dr. Chase had to step aside to calm his own panic, he eventually rallied the forces, and 5 chefs each were assigned to appetizer, entree, and dessert.

Warning signs abounded as the chefs prowled the aisles of Whole Foods. Jill lit upon a ginormous ostrich egg and determined that she would make an ostrich egg quiche, thus scoring points for using an unusual product. I had to agree with Jamie, who felt Jill was “playing it ridiculous.” Plus, quiches never go over well on this show. Absolutely never. It’s not really the kind of dish that does well with advance preparation.

Hosea made the mistake of purchasing canned crab meat. He felt confident in his dish (always another red flag), so he was willing to go without fresh Dungeness crab. Major faux pas-not only was the flavor from the tin evident in the final product, it just didn’t taste (or look) that great. Ariane decided to make a lemon meringue martini dessert. What is a lemon meringue martini, by the way? It looked dreadful, and sent her straight, and deservedly, to the judge’s table.

As for the rest of the dishes, they simply weren’t spectacular. Eugene’s dish had something freakishly yellow, Alex’s pork looked undercooked, Leah’s presentation was so “80’s” and Radhika used an avocado with dessert. Padma actually spit out Ariane’s overly sweet lemon meringue. One can only wonder if the sweetness of the dish was due to Richard’s snarky unwillingness to tell Ariane that it was too sweet. I couldn’t blame the guest judges for not loving any of the dishes, though I was highly annoyed by the footage of the chef who uses neither animal fat nor butter. Seriously? This is why you didn’t get to be on Top Chef. I’m just saying…

Only Fabio’s really and truly stood out to the judges, and that was mostly because of his strange chemical treatment of the olives (hard to understand with his accent), where he caused them to be liquid on the inside and frozen on the outside. Dr. Chase’s chicken and chorizo actually looked delicious, but the judges weren’t wowed by it. I shouldn’t forget Jamie, who made a chilled corn soup and did manage, along with Carla and Fabio to have a top three dish. I’ll go ahead and reiterate that I think Jamie is going to go far. There is a sophistication and professionalism to her cooking and presentation that is unique and interesting. Of all the chefs, she is the only one that really seemed to understand the New American concept.

In the end, it was Jill that was sent crying to her bag o’ knives. She gave the “lamest explanation” the judges had ever heard, according to Gail, on five seasons of the show, for why her dish wasn’t good. In fact, her inability to speak about her dish and what she would do to change it is the only reason that Ariane wasn’t the one to go. Not to be cruel, but Ariane is actually absolutely right in her self-assessment-she doesn’t deserve to be there. Thankfully, we know that Jill has plenty of cookin’ years ahead of her. I won’t be at all surprised to see Ariane back at judge’s table next week.

The accent has continued to work its charm on me…I think Fabio might be my favorite. I wouldn’t mind hearing the dragon story a few more times.

A feast for the eyes!

November 19, 2008

Okay, so these photos aren’t even movie stills. They are, in fact, taken from this month’s issue of In Style. Which I do subscribe to, conveniently. What can I say? I’m quite taken with the chemistry that seems to exude out of these two…

And here they are at the premiere. Quite fashionable, as you’ll notice.

I fear it is now totally evident why I’m having difficulty getting anything done around here. Back to work!

All in a day’s work…

November 19, 2008


Yes, this is seriously what I donned yesterday to scrub the paint out of my new kitchen sink. Somehow the fact that I was alone in the house while wearing the ridiculous getup made it even funnier. I had to protect myself from the evil fumes emanating from my aerosol can of Goof-Off, a miraculous, though highly suspect super cleaning product. I had a close call the day before when I inhaled just the slightest whiff (I was not wearing my protective gear) and almost passed out. By the way, that is a bird of paradise that I have outside my kitchen window! Birds of paradise, avocado trees, lemon, orange, and apricot trees-it just keeps getting better!

I finally found a set of my plates! The past few days have not been as productive as I’d like, because I’ve spent them in my garage, precariously balanced on top of piles of boxes with my trusty box cutter, attempting to find all my kitchen stuff. Of COURSE I neglected to mention to the movers that I would like those boxes at the front of the garage. Lest anyone fear that I’m endangering my life climbing on less than sturdy boxes, there is no cause for alarm. I have enough boxes of books that I could build a small house out of them, and they are certainly able to support my weight. You can see from the picture that I am not yet cooking in the house. Instead, I have been eating sandwiches and peanut butter crackers. This delicious everything bagel slathered with jalepeno cream cheese was a refreshing change of pace.


Breakfast has been slightly better, what with the addition of my newest Fiestaware, though I was nothing less than crushed to discover that my local Safeway does not have Cocoa Beach! Blueberry Morning will have to provide a temporary substitute until I make my way back to Palo Alto and purchase at least 10 boxes from the much more appropriately stocked Safeway there. I’m eager to find the rest of my plates, so I should probably make my way back out to the garage…

Dance biscuits

November 18, 2008

Hahahahahahaaaaaaa….Oh, this video was a ray of hilariousness shining upon my day. I’ve been enjoying replaying it over and over until the powers that be remove it from You Tube.

**UPDATE: Sadly, I was right. This video existed on my blog for a mere evening before it was removed from You Tube.

**UPDATE TWO: Ha, I found another video, although it has Justin on Weekend Update as well. The HILARIOUSNESS really begins around 4:10.

My idea of heaven…

November 17, 2008

…would be this dish:

I came across it in my latest issue of Food and Wine. I recognized Michael Schwartz as a former guest judge on Top Chef, and I tried to read the accompanying article, but I was distracted by the picture of the BLT salad. I racked my brain to try to come up with a more appetizing combination, but alas, I could not. Bacon + blue cheese = divine.

The recipe, taken from Food and Wine magazine, December 2008, pg. 198:

BLT Salad with Blue Cheese

8 thick slices of bacon (4 ounces)
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large head of frisee, torn into bite-size pieces (8 cups)
2 pounds assorted tomatoes, large ones sliced or cut into wedges
6 ounces blue cheese, such as Stilton, cut into 4 equal wedges

1. In a skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Cut the slices in half crosswise.
2. In a small bowl, combine the shallot, vinegar, and olive oil and season with salt and pepper. In a large bowl, toss the frisee with the vinaigrette; mound on plates. Arrange the bacon, tomatoes, and blue cheese around the frisee and serve.

You can read the article here:

http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/miamis-got-good-taste

And he’s BACK!

November 15, 2008

Dwight Schrute, in his infinite wisdom:
“Once I’m officially regional manager, my first order of business will be to demote Jim Halpert. So I will need a new number two. My ideal choice? Jack Bauer. But he is unavailable. Fictional. And overqualified.”

November 23! Two hour prequel!

Overcooking your protein is unforgiveable.

November 14, 2008


Not long ago, when I decided that my blog would no longer be devoted to only two pursuits, my love of literature and my passion for cooking, I thought that perhaps what I might also enjoy writing are recaps for my fave reality show, Top Chef. I do have to confess to enjoying reality television-I mostly like the classics, Survivor and Amazing Race, though I often descend into the madness that is the Bachelor. I was only recently introduced to Top Chef, and I was immediately addicted. The contestants are all professionals, in some capacity, so it’s not as though the average home cook could even fathom participating, but watching those crazy chefs is equally inspiring, motivating, and horrifying. I think that recaps are a fairly young development in the television world-I suppose we’re all watching more television than ever. I’ve grown extremely attached to the recaps of a few Entertainment Weekly columnists, Dalton Ross and Josh Wolk, and one of my favorite blogs, ihategreenbeans.com, is full of the most hilarious and deftly comedic recaps (of the Bachelor) I’ve ever read, courtesy of blogger Lincee Ray. My recaps cannot aspire to the work of these fine writers, but I know I’ll enjoy reliving the Top Chef episodes.

I am disappointed to acknowledge that this batch of chefs does not include one that I immediately felt an attachment to-every season I’ve watched so far has had stand outs, right from the beginning. Crazies and snobs? Quirky and clueless? Yes, most definitely. I’m just not feeling a Tre or a Stephanie or a Harold among them. We have two international chefs, Stefan and Fabio (yes, a Fabio) who, incidentally, seem to be the most arrogant of the group. Arrogance runs rampant throughout the chefs on this show, and there is always one that the cameras seem to focus on the most. What’s interesting here is that almost inevitably, one of the most arrogant chefs is actually able to back it up with great food. Stefan seems to be that example this season.

I was filled with joy to see Padma and Tom awaiting the chefs on Governor’s Island. It’s just been so long! We were barely able to glance at the buckets full of apples before being slammed with a proverbial reality show twist-the loser of the Quickfire would be sent home immediately, without ever even stepping foot into the Top Chef kitchen! Heavens! The nervous, weirdly sunburned chefs stepped up, however, preparing to peel 15 apples, sans peeler. Well, they had a paring knife, but apparently, peelers are readily dispensed in culinary school, so many of the chefs felt “out of practice” with the knife. Stefan blazed through his apples, thus winning individual immunity.

Now, I should stop for a brief minute to share my initial, often wary, impressions of some of our contestants, or “cheftestants”, as the Entertainment Weekly columnist likes to call them. We have Lauren, doomed from the start, stating that she doesn’t want to “waste her life away” while her husband is stationed in Iraq. Seems a bit heartless. Then Radhika, the “global small plates” chef, who immediately states that just because of her Indian heritage, everyone will assume she will just make “spicy curries and rice.” That’s fine Radhika, but don’t expect anyone to take you seriously when your VERY FIRST DISH is a chutney. I’m not hating on Radhika, as she may turn out to be lovely. Just a bit weird to bash a stereotype and then actually make it true! I can’t forget Crazy Carla, who later in the episode informs us that she is led by “spirit guides” to her dishes, because she made the cardinal sin of comparing catering to working as a restaurant chef. If I’ve learned anything from watching every season of Top Chef, it’s that caterers, personal chefs, and anyone else who hasn’t actually experienced the pressure cooker that is a restaurant will never win the final prize. Sorry, Carla.

Ok, let’s get back to the quickfire. Despite the fact that one batch of apples were doused in Richard’s blood, from an untimely cut, every batch was deftly peeled in a timely fashion except for those of Radhika, Lauren, Patrick, and Leah. Well, there were a few more who had to partake in Round 2 of the quickfire, which was to “brunoise” the 15 apples. I’ve learned a new culinary term! To “brunoise” is to finely dice. The losing four had to prepare a dish with apples, with only 20 minutes to spare. I immediately doubted Radhika (see above complaint) and Leah, who decided to use scallops. Somehow scallops and apples just don’t seem to be the most appropriate combination, but then again, I wasn’t there to taste it! Patrick and Lauren both made a salad, and both ended up on the bottom. I guessed correctly that Lauren, who made a delicious-looking but decidedly ordinary and classic spinach salad with balsamic dressing, blue cheese, and bacon, would be the one who departed without feasting on the sight of piles of Gladware and Whole Foods products in the Top Chef kitchen.

For the elimination challenge, the chefs drew from the knife block, each selecting the name of a New York neighborhood. I am proud to say that I knew several of the associated cuisines-I would not have been stumped to draw the Brighton Beach knife! Ha! Borscht and caviar! The challenge was similar to the last season, when two chefs went head to head on a popular classic dish (like shrimp scampi or crab cakes). This time, two chefs would face off, preparing an ethnic dish based on the neighborhood they drew.

Problems rose a collective ugly head almost immediately as we saw the chefs depart for the neighborhoods. Dr. Chase, er, I mean Jeff, raced about the market in Ozone Park, totally confident of his ability to cook Latin food because he’s from Miami. Hey, Dr. Chase, have you met Radhika? Self-proclaimed “country mouse” Melissa admitted that she has little experience with Italian food. Seriously?? This is Top Chef-how could any of them not have a basic go-to dish representative of every major cuisine? At the very least, I would think that go-to list would include Italian, Japanese, Indian, and some sort of Latin dish. Good lord! Ariane wandered around the Middle Eastern grocery in Long Island City attempting to read the labels, looking forlorn and piteous all the while. Ariane, pull yourself together! I felt a teensy bit suspicious of Patrick’s demise when I heard him confidently share that he really knew Chinese food, because at the Culinary School of America they have a “Cuisines of the East” course. Sheesh, Patrick, “Cuisines of the East” will certainly not get you through even one episode of this show. It’s serious stuff! Also, it is NEVER a good idea to decide, on your first elimination challenge, to cook something that you’ve never worked with before.

By the way, as I’m watching the show a second time to add to my notes, I’m gradually growing fond of Fabio. Something about the accent, I think.

As far as the actual challenge went, nothing monumentally shocking occurred during the cooking, except Dr. Chase crying as he chopped onions. I erroneously believed you develop an immunity to that kind of problem the more you cook.

I should mention that the chefs had the extremely stressful misfortune (and/or honor) of having freakin’ Jean-Georges Vongerichten as the guest judge. Of all the judges! If Patrick wasn’t doomed before…

The highlights of the judging were with the unassuming Hosea and eager yet self-conscious Eugene. Padma stated that Hosea’s dish was an example of “culinary eloquence” and Tom seemed equally taken with the mild-mannered, sheepish bald guy. I’m going to have to start calling him “Humble Hosea.” Maybe he’ll be my favorite. Eugene was worried when he drew “Little India” (is that really a neighborhood name? what about Curry Hill?) because he has no experience cooking Indian food (see my note about Melissa). However, he proved to be a perfect example of “cooking by mouth”, my spin on “playing by ear”, cooking what Padma called a perfect “curds and rice”, a classic Indian dish, even though he mistakenly referred to it as a tzatziki. I actually really liked that Tom, Padma and Jean-Georges weren’t too bothered by that mistake-proves they really loved the food. As far as what dish sounded the best to me, I would have to go with Jill’s jerk seasoned scallops with plaintain fritters and three sauces. The winning dish, Stefan’s lamb chop with tabouli and beef skewer with onions also sounded very good, and I can’t deny that I would probably have happily devoured Richard’s lamb slider with dill, feta, and orzo salad, even though the judges felt it was overcooked.

In the end, Patrick fell victim to his own inexperience. While Ariane made an elementary cooking error (and, horror of horrors, admitted a reliance on cookbooks!), Patrick revealed, with his first elimination dish, that he has a lot to learn. He is simply not on par with a host of professional chefs. Bless his heart.

Hopefully, the second episode will show us the more favorable, lovable sides of the chefs…I want to have a favorite!

Quickfire Winner: Stefan
Elimination Winner: Stefan
My Top Four Predictions: Hosea, Jamie, Stefan, Fabio

Check out the subway tile-style Top Chef logo on the wall!

Harbour Island 2008

November 12, 2008

As predicted, our trip to Harbour Island was absolutely wonderful. It was just as a vacation should be, with few big events or planning to worry about, just simple relaxing, each day passing seamlessly into the next. We woke early each day, heading down to the beach for morning swims, then came back to the house to enjoy large platters of eggs, bowls of cereal and fresh, hot coffee on our shaded deck. Our typical routine would continue as we spent time reading before enjoying the second or third swim of the day, then finally diving into delicious Bahamian dinners prepared by Elizabeth, a kindly local woman who seemed to enjoy our company as she puttered around our kitchen, adding finishing touches to grouper or conch. We rarely strayed from the beach, save for a few side trips for brunch and shopping and an amazing snorkeling adventure, where we swam with tropical fish, inspected gigantic starfish, and collected sand dollars and seabiscuits. Not so simple to return to real life after such a wonderful vacation, I have to say, though I’m glad to get back to preparing our house for move in.

The daily view from our thatched umbrella:

The breathtaking beauty of the walk down to the beach:

Just to give an idea of the size of the starfish (hard to catch in the shimmering, gentle waves of the water):

The only place I showered, for the duration of our vacation:

Do the words "I can’t get enough" mean anything to you?

November 11, 2008

ParamoreNew MusicMore Music Videos

It’s not just for the footage that I include this video. I actually think the song is great, all Twilighting aside. The soundtrack, which I of course bought and downloaded on the day of release, is awesome, incidentally. Especially this song. 🙂

And finally,

Sigh. Swoon.