Friday, December 19, 2008

Top Chef Digest

Sorry this is delayed a day, I got busy yesterday afternoon. My bad.

A series of accurate predictions and an unfair challenge left me a bit unfulfilled by this week's top chef. Plus, they all pretty much sucked it up.

We start off with the cheftestants relaxing in the morning. SprayTanAriane is happy, the Tryin' Hawaiian is pumped about fighting his way to the top, SuperFabioBros and BorkBork are now referring to themselves as "The Euros" and the Prophet is talking with his sister on his oh-so-obviously placed T-Mobile Sidekick.

At this point, we feel they're setting up Hosea for one of two outcomes - the losing "now I'll have more time to spend with my sick dad" or the "I'm going to win this one for the Gipper!" win. Meghann voted lose, I was pulling for the win.

So here comes the QuickFire, and it's guest-judged by none other than MARTHA, carrying her new book. The IMs were fast and furious at this point, mostly consisting of "WE MET HER!" and "WE HAVE THAT BOOK SIGNED!" and other nerdiness. The challenge was this: make a 1-pot meal, holiday-inspired. Easy, right? Not when you've got the queen of entertaining at home judging your stuff. I'd be freaked-the-hell out.

Here's what everybody made, with annotations:
BorkBork - veal goulash. Martha thinks its tasty and approves.
Prophet - traditional paella. Martha approves.
Melissa - braised pork tenderloin. Martha likes.
KitchenKen - potato "risotto" with pork and brussel sprouts. Martha disapproves, saying that it is too starchy and heavy. Jeff also fails with me because he seems to like to name dishes inappropriately (like last week's "tomato carpaccio")...potato "risotto" sounds to me like lumpy mashed potatoes.
Jamie the Sparkplug - Potato/kale stew with scallops. I say meh, Martha approves. Maybe I'm sick of people cooking scallops, especially her (see below).
SprayTanAriane - Filet with cauliflower puree. Martha approves.
CrazyCarla - brined turkey with cranberry-apple stuffing. Martha says "tasty"
SuperFabioBros - polenta and duck. Sounds awesome, but gets a harsh "Thank You" from Martha.
Eugene - pork stew. He says he doesn't have the time to thicken the stew normally, so he thickens with cornstarch (I immediately cringe). Now, I don't think there's anything criminal in using cornstarch, but I'm also not a professional chef. It really is cheating when you can make a quick roux or some beurre manie.

SprayTanAriane wins...maybe she's more talented than she lets on or the general public believes? Too bad she annoys the crap out of me. Alas, the trials and tribulations of watching this show.

So in walks the Harlem Gospel Chorus Choir Singing People, and thus begins the XMas Bludgeoning, where the producers of Top Chef begin beating all the viewers over the head with holiday campiness, just in case we forgot...even for a microsecond...that this was an Xmas-themed ep. They draw knives, and each get one of the lines from the "12 Days of Christmas".
Clever, and Bludgeoning! They have to put together a dish for an event for 250 people, which means that this is yet another episode of Top Caterer. Unfair, if you ask me (and Tom brings this up later)

Everyone goes to Whole Foods, and they're doing their prep, and they're all on point with their kitchen work. There really hasn't been any sort of tradgedies when it comes to prep and service, and they're all rushing around and they all seem to be doing a great job (the sole exception being Hosea's smoking up the kitchen while cooking pork). Except when they all come down the next morning to do some prep, they find the kitchen was warm and left open and OH NO! Hosea and Radhika's dishes are completely ruined. However, the Bludgeoning begins again because everyone helps out with scraps and leftovers and they help them bring it together and put a palatable offering out on this holiday episode of Top Caterer! GO XMAS SPIRIT!

Here's what everyone put out, with annotations, of course:
BorkBork - 12 drummers drumming: chicken pot pie. Meh. I'm sure it tasted great, and the judges thought well of it, but I didn't see how it related to the theme. I'd have made something with duck legs or chicken wings.
Prophet - 11 pipers piping: smoked pork with chipotle mashed potatoes. I think it looks delicious and I would order that at a restaurant for sure. The judges were impressed.
KitchenKen - 10 lords-a-leaping: seared haloumi and kasseri with roasted beets and spices. His idea was he was "leaping" island to island in the Mediterranean. I liked his first idea, though...frog legs! Delicious.
SuperFabioBros - 9 ladies dancing: crabcakes. Bad inspiration, greasy and dense...Fabio is not impressing anyone since the get-go. Steph suggested he could've gone with something from the Nutcracker. Sugar plum faeries? One of the cultural things? Not a bad idea.
Melissa - 8 maids-a-milking: steak with gorgonzola. Excellen idea, but too much gorgonzola wiped out any flavor from the beef. Only a little is needed!
Jamie the Sparkplug - 7 swans-a-swimming: raw scallops "swimming" in vichyssoise. Ew. She definitely not impress in this challenge. Warm raw scallops. Could have done something with sous-vide (you know, it's swimming in water!)
SprayTanAriane - 6 geese-a-laying: deviled eggs six ways. Now I LOVE deviled eggs, and the idea was good...but deviled eggs? That's what I make to bring to a potluck, not to win a professional chef competition. Stick with the egg theme, or do something with caviar. Not quite geese-a-laying, but it's fish-a-laying
Tryin' Hawaiian - 5 golden rings: poisson cru with a pineapple ring. Sounded tasty, despite his terrible story, but it ended up being overtly super-sweet. Alas, keep tryin'!
There were no 4 calling birds! You thought I wouldn't notice...but I DID!!!
Leah - 3 french hens: braised guinea hen on brioche. Not a bad idea, and they liked the taste, but she put it on a dry brioche crouton. Better to have just served it straight on the plate
CrazyCarla - 2 turtle doves: chicken with duxelle and mushrooms. Idea looked good, but they said it was too salty.
Radhika - partrige in a pear tree: duck legs with pear chutney. I still have my issues with Radhika, but man oh man can she cook and really get the theme. Way to go. I was a fan.

Meanwhile, Tom freely admits that this Top Caterer challenge was unfair to other past Top Caterer challenges because it was a solo vs. a team challenge. I personally think its completely unfair, but I'm not the show's producer.

Prophet, KitchenKen, BorkBork and Radhika are tops, with the Prophet winning one for the Gipper! Did I call it or what?!? Tryin' Hawaiian, BoringMelissa and Sparkplug in the bottom. I originally predicted BoringMelissa...well...because she's boring and brings nothing to the show. However, the Bludgeoning finishes off when "in the spirit of XMas we are not sending anyone home"...looks like its Xmas in July!

Tom Ripken Jr. tough-talks the chefs...which is about as predictable at this point as my old swim coach tossing us out of practice and dressing us down at least once in October. No less entertaining. Next week: Free rein in the kitchen! Cook whatever you want! Can't wait!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The verdict

I say "What a perfectly cooked and seasoned piece of chicken. The very essence of what chicken is supposed to taste like. Moist, tender and delicious."

Steph says "It was boring"

Now, we're both right in this case. Steph was not happy was a simple piece of chicken seasoned with salt and pepper. However, since I was following the recipe the first time I cooked it, and all it called for was salt and that's all it got!

The important thing was that IT WORKED. I was able to keep my water bath at a consistent temperature (160 - 163) and the vacuum bags did not puncture or leak or otherwise ruin my food. I'm rather excited to try this out and play some more, with attempting chicken that has been premarinated, with some steak (which would be seared after cooking) or maybe try my recipe for balsamic pork, but with some sous vide pork chops.

This was definitely time well spent. I am excited!

Adventures in Sous Vide

Inspired by a number of things, namely Top Chef, a blog I follow, and the Alinea cookbook, I wanted to try my hand at cooking sous vide. Sous vide is sealing some ingredients in a vacuum bag, then submerging it in a water bath for a given amount of time. I've seen it done quite a bit on TV and I've been reading alot about it (with what seems to be the best and most scientific guide here) and I wanted to get my hands wet (no pun intended) because pretty much all of the recipes in the Alinea book call for meat to be cooked sous-vide before searing/serving.

Things that are awesome about sous vide is the concentrated flavors that you get when you cook with it, and the near-impossibility of overcooking your food (since it obviously can't get above the temperature of the water immersion bath). It also can be relatively low in fat, if you choose (I could've added a tbsp of butter to each bag...but I didn't). The problems are that for consistently good sous vide, the best piece of equipment to have is a thermal immersion circulator, which provides consistent water temperature at all times, as well as a vacuum-sealing system (with options from the moderately pricey to the exceedingly ridiculous).

However, for the home cook on a budget (both money and space), I've taken some shortcuts that should hopefully work...

This recipe was taken from the Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking.

I brined 2 chicken breasts in a 5% salt solution for 30 minutes (that's 50 g salt in 1 Liter of water). After rinsing under cold water, drying and lightly seasoning with salt and pepper, the chicken breasts then went into their own Reynolds Handi-Vac Bag, and sucked out all the air.

Using my awesome cast-enameled Dutch oven (thank you in-laws!) and my handy digital thermometer, I rigged up a water bath at 160 degrees. In went the chicken, where it's been sitting for over an hour. I'm planning on taking it out in 13 minutes, then eating it with some roasted potatoes and shallots w/ olive oil and rosemary, and vegetable du jour (for Steph). I'll report back how it is when I'm done eating and cleaning!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bonnie's Rule of Cooking #1

The holiday season is rapidly approaching, which means that many of my friends start to throw holiday potluck dinners for all of us to be together and to eat and drink and be merry. I'm also usually in a bind because I'm never given any sort of limits to what I should make, and I frequently get the "make whatever you want, it'll be delicious" (my culinary skills are held in high esteem by my friends). I also find myself wanting to challenge myself and up my skills, but I'm held up by Bonnie's Rule of Cooking #1:

Never make a recipe for company the first time you are preparing it.

More after the jump to explain my dilemma.

The issue is that I don't have the time to test out a lot of the recipes I want to try, so invariably I end up whipping them for the first time. Blargh. Thankfully the rules are flexible enough that I can get through this holiday season without poisoning anyone and/or ruining anyone's taste buds.

Happy eating, everyone!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Top Chef Digest

I don't want to come out and play favorites, but I will definitely say I have issues with 2 of the cheftestants so far. Swedish Chef is an arrogant douche, but not in a Marcel/Steven lovable sort of way...he's just an ass. I also can't get behind the sort-of-backwards-trucker-hat look from Melissa. Please. Either wear some tasteful headgear or don't wear anything at all.

This episode had 2 of my favorite things - palate tests and group challenges. All in all, a good episode, and I honestly got my initial projection wrong. More after the jump.

First, we're treated to a quick montage of Swedish Chef being creepy and hitting on/stalking Jamie, who is humored and repulsed at the same time. Note to Stefan: making clothes and putting them on stuffed animals will not win over a lady's heart. You'd have better luck running up to her and screaming BORK BORK BORK! in her face.

The Quickfire this week was a variation on the "palate test" that has been done every season thus far, but this time it was a head-to-head taste test tournament, naming ingredients in a Liar's Dice sort of way. One cheftestant would say how many ingredients they could name, and the other would either up the bid or call bullshit, at which point the cheftestant would have to name their ingredients. A novel idea, especially with Swedish Chef bumping up everyone on purpose and being an arrogant prick. Shrimp and Lobsert Bouillabase for Round 1, Green Curry for Round 2 and Mole Sauce for Round 3. In the end, The Prophet had better taste buds than Swedish Chef, and was victorious.

Can we just agree for a minute though that claiming "salt" or "pepper" as one of the ingredients is a bit lame. Let me see, odds are that since humans put salt in almost everything, there's a REALLY good chance there's salt in this dish! Please.

The Elimination Challenge is presented via knife block, dividing the chefs up into groups "Old", "New", "Borrowed", "Blue" - pretty obvious they're doing something involving a wedding. Out comes Gail (who I admit I think is rather cute) and says they're catering her bridal shower lunch, with a dish inspired by one of the four bridal thingys. The only limitations she puts on them is no veal and no black beans. I can understand the veal, from a certain POV (more on that later) but black beans? Must be a personal thing. Also, one of the chefs mentions (something I noticed immediately) is that Gail probably invited a bunch of her coworkers...who all work for Food & Wine Magazine. Tough crowd, this one.

Here I will describe the trials and tribulations of each group, culminating in service:

Something Old (The Prophet, Swedish Chef, Kitchen Ken): Wisely, they get to Whole Foods and realize "Even though this is going to air in December, we are shooting it at the height of tomato season...let's do heirloom tomatoes!". Swedish Chef rubs everyone the wrong way, telling them how to cook their dishes without worrying about his own. They go with heirloom tomatoes in old-school preparations. Prophet makes a gazpacho, BorkBorkBork makes a tomato terrine (which got panned by someone on-screen) and KitchenKen makes tomato carpaccio with a tomato sorbet, which gets rave reviews. (Can I just rant for a second: tomato carpaccio? Come on!) The dish is successful, with no adverse service problems.

Something New (Tryin' Hawaiian, Chops, Crazy Carla): Chops is going on about pickling spices (which does not say "new" to me), Eugene the Tryin' Hawaiian (thanks Meghann!) wants to make some sort of "new sushi" and Crazy Carla is just keeping everything bottled up. They "settle" on a "surf and turf sushi", but Eugene overcooks the rice, and tries to hide it by adding more ingredients (NOTE: Adding more things to food that has already been messed only ensures one thing - more messed up food). Chops then adds mushrooms at the bottom of the wonton cups under Carla's salad...and she doesn't say anything! To compound everything, Eugene "forgets" to explain how to eat the dish to the diners...nothing made me laugh harder than Dana Cowin flapping 2 nori sheets around her head.

Something Borrowed (Jamie the Sparkplug, SprayTan Ariane, Just Because My Name Is Radhika Doesn't Mean I'm Cooking Indian Food): Can anyone take a guess what THIS group is making? They're "borrowing" Indian flavors from Radhika's cultural background!?!?!?! ARGH!!!!!! Let me just repeat again I would have no problem with this if she hadn't said she didn't want to do it in the first episode! Anyway, they cook up a marinated lamb with an Indian-spiced carrot puree and it looked delicious (even though I thought it was rather raw from a far shot, it was actually cooked perfectly). They had issues with timing and plating was going to be tough, but some of the other cheftestants helped them out with plating and all was well. This should be a lesson to everyone else: better to make sure your main protein is cooked right and rush your plating, rather than having improperly cooked meat and failing miserably. SprayTan Ariane gets the win for this challenge, with a boatload of Calphalon kitchen electrics (LUCKY!)

Something Blue (SuperFabioBros, Leah, Melissa the Trucker): There is no such thing as blue food, as our heroes quickly surmise. SuperFabioBros wants to make something from the's blue...good idea. They do a blue cornmeal-crusted Chilean sea bass with a corn puree and some greens. I immediately call that it's a mushy fish, combined with mushy greens and a mushy puree...bad idea (turns out I was right). However, the most inane part of it was when Fabio is explaining how their dish is "blue" and he says "in the color spectrum, yellow and green make blue". You're playing in my sandbox now, big boy, and let me tell you that yellow and green certainly DO NOT make blue. You stick to cooking food and saying silly things, leave the science to the scientists. In the end, the dish is destined for failure because it is too safe and too boring (and Tom Ripken gets a good shot in, telling Fabio it's not that hard to cook 40 pieces of fish. PWN3D!)

In the end, Chops still insists they put out an awesome dish, which ultimately leads to his packing his knives. Alas, Chops, we hardly knew you! Sad though, I thought he could've been a contender.

Frontrunners: Sparkplug, KitchenKen, BorkBorkBork

Next week: MARTHA! Sweet.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Guilt-Free Chicken Parm

First, let me just say a few words about Top Chef. I've been a slacker, I admit. All I have to say is this: it should be a HUGE clue to people who watch the show that you can telegraph who is getting the boot simply from seeing whether or not they decide to "show their versatility" by making dessert. Coincidence that the last 2 cheftestants to get the boot have tried their hand at dessert? I think not.

I love chicken parm, there's no getting around it. I eat it so rarely because there's not much worse for you than deep-fried chicken cutlets smothered in salty tomato sauce and gooey cholesterol-laden mozzarella cheese. Comfort food is great, but I always feel so guilty after eating a chicken parm sandwich, I just feel absolutely weighed down with grease and salt and blah. Fortunately, I've got a killer recipe for a lighter chicken parm that has all the taste, without any of the guilt. Stephanie and I housed this tonight, without even breaking a sweat. I also made some Barilla Plus spaghetti and tossed it with some of the leftover sauce. Delicious.

Lighter Chicken Parm
For the sauce:
14 oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tbsp tomato paste
dash red pepper flakes
1/2 tbsp minced fresh basil

For the chicken:
1 cup dried breadcrumbs
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (with more for serving)
1/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tbsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 egg whites
2 tsp water
vegetable oil spray
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved into cutlets
1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella
1/2 tbsp minced fresh basil

Preheat to 475.

Puree the diced tomatoes (with juice) in a miniprep until...well...pureed. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil then cook the tomato paste, garlic and red pepper flakes until slightly brown, about 2 minutes. Pour in the pureed tomatoes and stir and cook until thickened, about 20-25 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper.

While the sauce is cooking, combine the breadcrumbs and oil in a large skillet and toast over medium, stirring until golden. Spread the breadcrumbs in a dish and cool. Stir in Parmesan. In another dish, combine flour, garlic powder, salt and pepper. In another dish, whisk together egg whites and water. Dip the chicken cutlets in flour mixture, then egg mixture and then breadcrumb mixture. Put on a rack over a baking sheet (sprayed with vegetable oil spray) and spray tops of chicken with...well...the spray. Bake for 15 minutes. Take out of the oven, spread some sauce on the top of each piece, and top with shredded cheese. Put back in the oven for 5 minutes until the cheese is all bubbly. Finish with basil and Parmesan and serve with spaghetti. Delicious.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Almond Butter

I love almonds, as I can eat a 1/4 cup (which is a surprisingly large amount) per serving, which is quite a filling snack. They also have that added side bonus of (supposedly) helping to increase my HDL and lower my LDL counts, both of which will make my doctor happy. I used to eat the roasted/salted ones, but I've gotten into the habit of buying the roasted/unsalted, since cutting back on my sodium is also a good thing.

Recently, I got the idea that I should make my own almond butter, from seeing a video of someone making their own peanut butter and from when I worked at Godiva when I was 15, where I used to sneak almond butter domes from the back room every chance I could get. So here it is - one of the easiest recipes ever.

Almond Butter
1 cup roasted unsalted almonds
1/8 to 1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Process the almonds and salt in a mini-prep until finely ground and clumping together. Add the vegetable oil in a slow stream while processing. Add more oil to thin out the texture, if you like. Keep covered tightly in the refrigerator.

That's it!

Dirty pans

Nothing is sadder than waking up in the morning and seeing a pan that I still need to clean. The saute pan that I dirtied beyond belief when I lost track of searing steaks is mocking me from the sink, even after I let it soak in hot water and soap overnight. It's just sitting there, reminding me how I charred the fond and made a huge mess of things.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Comfort food

There's something comforting about a chicken cutlet, coated in some seasoned bread crumbs and quickly pan-fried. With a little Israeli couscous and a salad, it's a perfectly delicious dinner. Yum.

In other news, I was the happy recipient of a double e-mail from my great friend Meghann and her man Aaron, inviting themselves over to our house for a day of cooking and eating and drinking. I can't say that I mind - they're two of my favorite people on the planet. I am PUMPED, and I'm already full of ridiculous ideas. I'm also positively sure there will be pictures and blog postings galore come January 3rd.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

A big update

Hey, to those that still keep track of this corner of the blogosphere. I've been slack lately due to a number of reasons. The end of the marking period just passed, which meant a good amount of extra work. I also was awfully sick on Thanksgiving, running a 100+ fever and having an awful stomach issue (which is why I still haven't gotten around to a Top Chef Digestion for last week). Fortunately for me, my mom is awesome and is making a big meal for today, with all of my favorite foods and sides and dessert. Who says Thanksgiving needs to be on Thursday?

The other issue I've been dealing with over the last week is that my doctor told me my cholesterol is rather high and I need to make some changes in my diet in order to bring that number back down to normal (which should also have a positive effect on my higher-than-normal blood pressure). To that end, I've been doing a bunch of reading and a bunch of research on how to adjust my diet. Here's what I've discovered about the way I eat

1) As much as I profess my love for bacon, I really only eat it every now and again. When it comes to eating meat, I tend to stick to lean cuts, things like chicken breasts, sirloins, pork loin. A big thing item I'm going to have to limit is sausage, whether its sweet Italian or Polish.
2) I eat eggs quite a bit during the week for breakfast. Cooked in a big pat of butter. That's going to be altered for sure, probably going to switch to egg whites, which I am a fan of.
3) More fiber. This is something that is difficult for me, because I don't eat many vegetables, but I'm going to work on eating more whole grains. I just spent an hour in the supermarket reading nutritional labels looking for foods high in soluble fiber. I picked up some Kashi bars and some Wasa crackers, which provide a big fiber punch in a small package.
4) Eating fruits and vegetables. Fruits aren't a problem, and I'm committed to eating my apple every day when I get home from work. Vegetables...I'm still trying to find a way I can hide the flavor of many of them. Blech.
5) Exercise. It starts again tomorrow.

So yeah, that's the scoop. So hopefully, along with lowering my cholesterol, I'll be losing weight, too.

Maybe not the most fun post for you all to read, my friends, but I'm trying here!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Adventures with Roux

As another batch of gumbo simmers away on the stovetop, I'd like to reflect, for a moment, on the numbness in my right arm caused by 45 minutes of uninterrupted stirring, trying to make sure my roux didn't burn.

For those unsure of just roux is or what it does, it's easy: heat equal parts of flour and oil over medium heat, while stirring continuously. Then it's just a matter of cooking until it reaches the color you want:

Clockwise from top is a white roux, a blonde roux and a brown roux. White roux is used when making things like bechamel sauce when you're cooking macaroni and cheese. Blonde roux is used for cooking...well...I honestly don't know. Brown roux is used in old-school things like espagnole sauce, but is used commonly in Cajun cuisine.

The thing about roux is this: the darker it gets, the hotter it becomes. When I was stirring up the roux when it was at the white roux stage, a couple of drops would splatter on my knuckles, with no harm done. However, by the time I was getting into the blond/brown transition, every tiny drop was absolute agony! Needless to say, my stirring became much more deliberate and careful.

The other problem with making dark roux is the fact that it takes forever, which has led to my arm being numb and my right hand barely able to type because it's so cramped up from holding a wooden spoon. Not fun.

On a side note, I reread my Top Chef recap from yesterday, and I realized I need to clean up a few things, namely repeating words in the same sentence, and fizzling out at the end of the post. I'll lock it down better next week.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Top Chef Week 2 Digestion...

...aka "How to Step Into Obvious Pitfalls"

Last week, Team Rainbow was whittled down to the Rainbow Duo (thanks Wow) when inexperienced Patrick was sent packing. Richard the Teddy Bear was bummed, and Spray Tan Ariane went on about how she deserved to stay because she's older. Spare us your whining!

I would like to, at this point, declare that Fabio needs to get as much camera face-time that the editors can give him. He said some sort of crazy saying about slaying a dragon and rescuing a princess...and all I could think about was him wearing a red cap and some overalls, jumping and breaking blocks with his head. More on this later, because it's time for.......Quickfire Challenge!

Joined by Donatella Arpaia (she of David Burke & Donatella), Padma declares that the challenge will involve a food that New Yorkers love and spend bucketloads of cash on each year. Immediately I think hot dogs and pizza, and lo-and-behold, I am dogs! They also bring in some famous lady from Brooklyn who has a hot dog cart, and it is supposed to be head-to-head judging against her hot dog, but it is simply for novelty effect, nothing more.

Here's my take on the Quickfire:
  • Putting something in the middle of rice or a wrapper does not make it sushi or a summer roll, Jill and Eugene (who let me down here, I think he's really talented)
  • Swedish Chef and Dan (aka Chops) all made boring dogs. Something inspiring and original was needed, not making a hot dog panini or topping it with sauerkraut.
  • Radhika "I don't only cook Indian food" served up Indian-style food again with her kebab-style dog. I don't mind if she goes with the flavors and techniques that she grew up with, but don't come out right away and say "I don't want to be known just for cooking Indian food"
  • First, FabioBros says "I love hot dog! Do I know how make hot dog? I not know how make hot dog. I know how make sausage!", then he eats a mushroom to turn into SuperFabioBros. Excellent - keep talking. He makes what sounds to me like the best of the bunch: andouille sausage with goat cheese and roasted pepper. Damn, I might just have to make that for myself (or at least attempt to)
  • Jamie goes with a pork/beef combo, and ends up with a bit of ground bone in the dog. Epic fail.
In the end, despite my displeasure with her, Radhika takes the win and gets immunity. Lucky for her...

So the Elimination Challenge is this: the entire team needs to make a 3 course lunch menu in the "New American" style: old-school dishes made with a cultural twist, peasant fare made with primo ingredients, things like that. Here's some reflections from that:
  • KitchenKen (Jeff) helps "the children" (his words, arrogant ass) divide up into three groups: apps, entree, dessert. I am shocked that people were actually volunteering for dessert - usually it is the kryptonite of Top Chefdom
  • Hosea wants to make a Dungeness crab salad, but it is summertime, and Dungeness season does not start until November, so all the have is canned crab (inward cringe). Hosea decides (unwisely) to attempt his dish with canned crab. Now I can pull off using canned crab when I'm making crabcakes for my friends and family at my house. However, his dish wasa delicate crab salad dressed with citrus and vanilla, where crab is supposed to be the showstopper. Not looking good for the Prophet.
  • SuperFabioBros orders the butcher just to give him the entire untrimmed filet and he'll butcher it himself. Right on! However, I'm worried because his planned carpaccio isn't really "cooked" per se.
  • Eugene is no-nonsense. I like his style, and I'm rooting for him and his deconstructed meatloaf. I also like Jamie's style as well - chilled sweet corn soup sounds tasty.
  • Jill decides she wants to make an asparagus quiche, which is tasty for Sunday brunch fare, but is not "New American". Compounding the issue is she decides to make her quiche with ostrich eggs. I've never cooked with ostrich eggs, but why wouldn't you make your quiche with chicken eggs? Not a good plan.
  • SprayTan Ariane is bemoaning that she is not a baker or a pastry chef. Why would you volunteer to make dessert (a lemon meringue martini? what is that?) if you're not a pastry chef?
Chef Tom Ripken Jr. comes in, and SURPRISE! Not only are the cheftestants cooking at Craft, but the diners are going to be 50 Top Chef rejects! One such reject proudly announces that he doesn't cook with animal fat or butter in his restaurant, which is precisely the reason why you were not chosen in the first place! Tom is going to expidite and be in the kitchen with the people when they're busy getting their dishes together.

There were no issues to speak of during service, so here's a rundown of what everybody whipped up:
  • Jamie: chilled sweet corn soup w/ mint and chili oil - I'm not a big fan of corn, but it looked tasty
  • SuperFabioBros: carpaccio with traditional accompaniments, and a cool olive "ravioli" made from mixing olive puree with sodium alginate then submerging it in a calcium salt solution. It creates a "skin" around the liquid puree which then bursts with a little bit of pressure. A really cool technique, and it made the dish.
  • The Prophet: Canned cab salad with vanilla citrus, avocado & mango - failed on many levels, mainly because of the canned crab
  • Leah: Scallops on Potatoes - not much mentioned, sort of boring
  • Melissa: Avocado & peaches, grilled - BORING
  • Jill: Ostrich egg asparagus quiche - awful and uninspiring
  • Eugene: Deconstructed meatloaf - looked promising, but reports were poor. The presentation was poor.
  • Swedish Chef: Halibut with champagne sauce and ravioli - no complaints, I'd definitely order it at a restaurant.
  • KitchenKen: Chicken with chorizo spoonbread. I liked the presentation alot with the little cast iron pot. I don't order chicken at restaurants, but that looked tasty.
  • Alex: Pork tenderloin with mushroom demi - boring and uninspired
  • Rahdika: Avocado mousse with chocolate wontons - this looked absolutely terrible. Avocado mousse? That sounds absolutely terrible.
  • Chops: Ricotta poundcake with a strawberry-lemon coulis. Awesome, especially since he'd never made it before. Looked awesome and would definitely order it.
  • Spray Tan Ariane: Lemon meringue martini - she ran around having everyone try it, they all told her that it was a little too sweet...gamesmanship since they all knew it was awful. Padma spit it out!
  • Richard the Teddy Bear: Banana bread with peanut butter and banana brulee - I agree with Gail, this was more of an afternoon snack than a New American dessert.
  • Crazy Carla: Apple tart with cheddar - the tart was excellent, the cheddar looked out of place, even though I love apple pie with cheddar cheese. She was worried about her pastry crust, came out excellent.
Tom tasted all the dishes in front of the chefs, talk about intimidation. I like the new method of calling the winners and losers into the Judge's Table - creates some more suspense. SuperFabioBros wins the day with his amazing olive alginate balls. Jill can't mount a good defense (or a coherent sentence for that matter) for her dish, and gets her knives packed.

My front-runners (in no particular order): SuperFabioBros, Jamie, Swedish Chef

Next week: FOO FIGHTERS!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Top Chef: NYC!

Last night was the premiere of Season 5 of Top Chef, this year taking place in New York City, which has got to be the greatest place to eat in the world simply because of the variety of food you can get (a theme which was used effectively in this opening episode) I'm telling you, you can get ANYTHING in New York, which makes it a very interesting backdrop for this season.

I'd like to just make a disclaimer out there that this is the first time I'm doing something like a TV show recap, and I've learned from the best blogger I know, Mrs. Meggie Wow, but bear with me - my notes are practically illegible!

Here's a quick rundown of some of the cheftestants and my first impressions:
Fabio: First time in NYC, funny accent
Jamie: Yet another local/seasonal American cuisine gal, founding member of Team Rainbow
Eugene: Dishwasher turned chef, will make Bourdain proud
Jeff: Narcissistic tool. I have no time for him. His new name is Kitchen Ken. Ass.
Radhika: Don't pigeon-hole me because I'm Indian in descent!
Lauren: Hot Army wife
Ariane: Why New Jersey folks have terrible reputations. Awful spray tan, awful accent.
Danny: Total meathead, in the same mold as Joey and Howie from Season 3
Patrick: School kid who barely needs to shave, and I'm expecting recipes straight from the CIA textbook
Stefan: Born in Finland, that's close enough to Sweden for me. Bork bork bork!
Richard: Founding member of Team Rainbow, already cracking jokes
Leah: Girls Don't Cry!!!

Padma quotes a little bit of the Chairman ("If I can make it there...") and Tom already starts up with the tough talk, and it's time for an immediate QuickFire. All the cheftestants react with shock...and I am forced to wonder whether or not they have seen this show before. Fools!

The Quickfire is broken into 3 stages, with the top finishers from each stage moving on to the actual show. The first task was to peel 15 apples with a paring knife, which is no small task considering the advent of the vegetable peeler (Tom gleefully announces "They'll be here for a while!"). Someone gashes a thumb (Richard, I believe) but keeps on peeling. Eventually, the Swedish Chef calls out he's done, gets his work OK'd by Tom, and gets immunity from elimination. He handles it in a most non-humble manner. Eventually 8 others finish. The 2nd stage was to brunoise some apples - eep! Brunoise means perfect little 1/8" cubes - which means all those lovely curves need to be squared off. Not the easiest thing to do, as demonstrated by Jill who gets her work dismissed by Tom...but eventually all but 4 of the cheftestants accomplish this task.

The last stage was to take some random ingredients and make Tom a dish with apples in it. The one he likes the least packs their knives and goes home. Nothing notable here, except that Radhika, for not wanting to be pigeon-holed for making Indian cuisine, makes CHUTNEY. Really? Chutney? Whatever, Tom liked it, and sent Lauren (with a boring salad of apples, spinach, pears, bleu cheese and bacon) home. Good riddance, that's a salad straight out of Better Homes and Gardens (not that I'm mocking that magazine, I just expect better from a potential TOP CHEF).

So its time for the Elimination Challenge, and (gasp) it's time to draw knives! They all draw out neighborhoods around NYC, which correspond to ethnic cuisines (I called it as soon as they pulled Brighton Beach). It's a head-to-head cook-off, creating a dish inspired by the neighborhood and the ethnic foods. However, before they go out the next day, we get to see them all giddy and drinking in their new pad, and already the Swedish Chef is pissing poeple off by being all arrogant and a soccer fan (A vinaigrette is not an emulsion? Suuuuuuure, says the chem major). Team Rainbow is all giddy!

Here's a list of some stuff that I noticed during the shopping/cooking, taken straight from my notebook.
- Carla (who is tall and scaring me) is asking her spirit guides for knowledge in Russion cuisine
- Ariane has no clue about anything in Middle Eastern food
- Jeff (aka Kitchen Ken) is cocky because he's from Miami and knows Latino food
- Patrick took a course in Asian cuisine
- Danny is a meathead who uses football metaphors for cooking
- Neither Alex or Eugene have cooked Indian food, which smells disaster
- Jeff wants to use lots of garnishes (never a good idea, because you either run out of time of forget 1 or 2 of them)
- I didn't know anyone could murder an animal that was already dead...until I saw Carla totally destroy a smoked fish
- Ariane choosing farro is going to be a poor choice because it takes longer to cook than rice does (an eerily prophetic note, as it leads her to be in the bottom two later on)
- Rice noodles can be very gummy, if you wanted soba noodles, you should've bought soba noodles, Patrick.

So the judges come in, with Padma, Tom, Gail Simmons (who, despite her dress, is still a cutie) and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, one of the greatest chefs alive. Here's what each cheftestant prepared, briefly. You can follow along with pictures at Rate the Plate by Bravo:
Middle Eastern: Ariane makes lamb with farroto and dates, Swedish Chef makes lamb with hummus & a beef skewer. Farroto is undercooked (duh!), Swedish chef wins
Greek: Richard makes lamb sliders (which sound absolutely delicious), Jamie makes deconstructed Greek salad (I hate things "deconstructed" - they taste good together!). Richard overcooks his lamb (doh!) so he loses.
Jamaica: Jill makes jerk scallops, radhika makes jerk halibut. Jill wins.
Latino: Fabio makes pork with mango sauce, Kitchen Ken makes pork with beans and rice. Kitchen Ken wins.
Russian: Hosea makes trio of smoked fish (some of which he smoked himself, excellent technique), Carla makes smoked trout cakes (which was all she could do after absolutely shredding the fish). Tom the Salt King finds her dish underseasoned, so she loses.
Italian: Leah makes farroto with snapper, Melissa serves rib-eye with tomato sauce (which sounds like a bad Italian special at my local pizzaria). Again, Melissa does not add enough salt for Tom's palate, so she gets the L.
Chinatown: Both dishes are terrible, in both my opinion and the judges. Patrick makes a glazed salmon with bok choy straight out of an "Asian Food for Dummies" book, Danny makes a poached chicken salad. Both were boring, but Patrick's moreso.
Indian: Alex makes lamb chops with a spicy ragout, Eugene makes more lamb with a yogurt sauce. The judges are really impressed, but Eugene gets the win for making a traditional Indian dish without realizing he was making it. Not sure if I agree, but I wasn't there tasting the food.

In the stew room, Fabio says what everyone who has been watching Top Chef for years knows already - Tom wants his food salty. I've watched them dump big pinches of salt into food over the years, and I am convinced it is just his own personal taste to like his food salty. Everyone who is on the show should know this!

Swedish Chef gets the win over Eugene and Leah for his duo of grilled meats. Not awful, but I prefered Eugene's I think. The bottom 2 are Patrick and Ariane, Patrick for not showing any originality or vision, Ariane for just not knowing. In the end, Patrick's inexperience cannot be denied, and so he is told to pack his knives and go! Goodbye!

It's too early to name a few frontrunners, so I won't. Next week will better I'm sure, in terms of my recap. I hope you enjoy this one!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tomato Soup and Top Chef

Is there anything better than tomato soup and a grilled cheese? I think not. When the temperature gets chilly and the sun sets ridiculously early, there's not much better. That's why I made it tonight for dinner (and had enough leftover to freeze)

Also, before I give you my soup recipe (adapted, of course, from an America's Test Kitchen recipe), let me remind everyone who reads this wonderful blog that tomorrow night is the season premiere of Top Chef on Bravo. I'll be providing commentary and opinions and generally trying to emulate my awesome friend Meghann, her blog and her reviews of Project Runway. I hope I am as good of a writer as she is!

Recipe after the jump!

Cream of Tomato Soup
2 28 oz cans of whole tomatoes in juice
1.5 tbsp dark brown sugar
4 tbsp unsalted butter
4 large shallots, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
pinch of ground allspice
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1.75 c chicken broth
0.5 c heavy cream
2 tbsp brandy
salt and cayenne pepper

Preheat to 450, and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. In a strainer over a bowl, push the seeds out of the tomatoes, letting the juice fall into the bowl, and straining the rest of the juice. (You should end up with 3 cups) Place the tomatoes on the baking sheet in a single layer and sprinkle with brown sugar. Roast in the oven until all liquid is evaporated, about 30 minutes. Let the tomatoes cool.

While the tomatoes are roasting, heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until foamy. Add the shallots, tomato pate and allspice, cover and cook (sometimes stirring) until the shallots are soft (8 min or so). Add the flour and stir constantly for about 30 seconds, then whisk in the broth in a gradual stream. Add in the reserved tomato juice and the roasted tomatoes, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Strain the mixture into a bowl and rinse out the saucepan. Puree the solids in a food processor with 1 cup of the strained liquid. Put the strained liquid and the puree back into the saucepan, add the cream, stir and heat on low until hot. Off the heat, add the brandy. Season to taste with the salt and cayenne and with a delicious grilled cheese sandwich.

*Note: When I made this tonight, I only ended up with about 2 cups of juice from the tomatoes, so I used water to bring the volume up to 3 cups, and I added an extra tbsp of tomato paste...came out delicious. DO NOT be afraid of the cayenne pepper. You literally need a pinch per serving, and it really brings out the tomato flavor, without adding any amount of heat or spice.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Football Sunday!

So when it's time to have people over for an afternoon of football watching and relaxing, here's how my thought process tends to go:

1) Lots of snacks to whet everyone's appetite before serving food
2) Make something that is forgiving in terms of cooking error and cooking time
3) Make one main dish that I am positive everyone who is coming will like
4) Make something that can be served family-style

So, planning on having 10 people over, here was the menu as I planned it:

Veggies, potato chips and dip
Guacamole and tortilla chips (as I knew my friends would be demanding of the guac)
Hot artichoke dip
Chicken wings (honey BBQ and buffalo)
Pulled pork w/ sandwich slaw

Needless to say, we ended up only having 5 people over, so I ended up not making the hot artichoke dip, nor did I make the chicken wings. However, I presented a delicious spread of yellow & red peppers, carrots, celery and broccoli, with some old-school sour cream-Knorr vegetable soup dip. Also, the guacamole made its appearance and its equally quick disappearance, thanks to my wife and friends that can never get enough of it - they inhaled 6 avocado's worth in about a minute or two. It was then time for the main course - the magical animal!

I am a huge fan of slow-cooked shredded meat, and pulled pork is my absolute favorite. Normally, my recipe involves a dry rub and smoking and a finish in the oven and a long rest. Also inherent in my recipe are two sauces, a seriously spicy no-nonsense vinegar/sugar/ketchup/cayenne that gets mixed through the meat, and a thick and spicy BBQ sauce that goes on the buns. Topped with a sandwich slaw, it's the most delicious stuff in the world.

Looking for a recipe that I could make in the oven, I flipped through my CIA Professional Chef textbook, and I found an extremely simple recipe that looked delicious, and came out even better. It also had recipes for two sauces that were similar to my sauces. I decided to roll the dice and violate Bonnie's Rule of Cooking #1. Everyone were fans!

Recipes after the jump.

Carolina Style Pulled Pork
12 lb of pork shoulder
1 oz of salt (don't be scared if it looks like alot)
1/2 oz of freshly ground pepper (again, don't be scared)

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Sprinkle the pork shoulder all over with salt and pepper. Put a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet, put the pork on it, then put it in the oven. Roast for 5 hours. Take it out, let it cool until you can handle it, then pull it apart with your fingers. EASY.

Just make sure you don't overcook the pork, as it will not pull apart as easy as you'd like it to. When you're done, serve with your sauces (which I'll post tomorrow) on split buns, with sauces and coleslaw. The perfect meal to please a crowd.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Flavored Iced Teas

Went out to lunch at Ruby Tuesdays yesterday with Steph and the in-laws, and they've got a list of like 40 or so different flavored iced teas. Steph ordered the pomegranate iced tea, which was out of this world.

So, to experiment, I bought a bottle of 100% organic pomegranate juice and we've mixed it with our standard fridge-brewed iced teas. 1 part pom juice, 4 parts iced tea and 1/2 an Equal. Delicious. Anybody have any other ideas?

Also, I'm apparently going to have people over on Sunday to watch the Jets game. Menu planning awaits...

Monday, October 27, 2008


Now that the weather is starting to get colder, and the days are starting to get shorter, it only means one thing: it's time to start making soups and stews in the house again.

I try my best to be a "seasonal cooker", not just in trying to use ingredients that are in season, but cooking techniques as well. During the summer, I refuse to turn my oven on, and I barely use the stovetop. However, now that cold weather is creeping in, I *love* making soup. One of my favorites is old-school, no-nonsense chicken and sausage gumbo. There's nothing more satisfying than a delicious bowl of gumbo with some fluffy rice...I'm so happy I have some waiting for me in the refrigerator (leftovers from last night).

One of the simplest recipes ever. Just make sure your arm is rested.

2 tbsp oil
3 chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1 lb smoked sausage (andouille is best, but it is too spicy for Steph's taste so I use kielbasa), cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup flour
4 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped green pepper
8 cups chicken stock (at room temperature)
cayenne pepper
sliced green onions (for garnish)

Film the bottom of a heavy Dutch oven with the 2 tbsp oil over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken, then brown the sausage in the pot. Remove the meat from the pot, and wipe with a paper towel to clean out any excess moisture. Add the 1 cup oil and heat over medium for 2 minutes. Add flour and stir, stir, stir until combined. Do not stop stirring! This is making the roux, which is the thickening agent for the soup. DO NOT burn the roux! It will be shiny and should be "like sand at low tide" (according to the CIA), and will darken in color and become nutty in aroma. Keep stirring until the roux is the color of a penny, then add the vegetables and keep stirring until they are completely coated in roux and softened nicely. SLOWLY pour in your stock and stir continuously until all your stock is added. Increase heat and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for an hour (or more). Serve with fluffy white rice.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Panini Wednesday

Tonight, I made chicken with bacon, rosemary and lemon, and it was just as good this time around as it was the last time. I was able to save some time by making cutlets out of breast halves, and it was still delicious. I also added more bacon (is there any other 2-word combo better than 'more bacon' in the English language?) so it was even more delicious.

However, I want to talk about last night. Wednesday night is usually grad school night, and this semester I've fallen into the habit of making panini for dinner. This time around, I picked up "panini rolls" from Wegmans to use, as opposed to the traditional peasant-style boule I'd snag. I was picking up some roast beef and provolone for Steph's, but then I saw they had some roast pork and all I thought was "cubanos". So I helped myself to some sliced roast pork, ham and swiss, picked up a jar of dill pickles and was on my way to tasty deliciousness. We've become fans of the Kettle Brand Lightly Salted potato chips - not greasy and not overtly salty, but still a tasty accompaniment.

Seeing that I want to add more pictures to my blog, I had my wonderful wife Stephanie (who was not eating yet, and therefore free) snap some pictures as I was preparing dinner. Here we go.

Here's me spreading some sun-dried tomato relish onto both sides of Stephanie's panino. Sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and some McCormick Italian seasoning in the Cuisinart Mini-Prep.

This is Stephanie's sandwich, before closing and pressing.

This is my cubano, layered from the bottom, with mustard, ham, roast pork, dill pickle slices, swiss cheese and mayo. Absolutely delicious.

This is my "panini press". I've gotten into the habit of using a heated quarter-sheet pan, with all my pots stacked on top. It's honestly alot easier than pulling out the Le Creuset. It makes a great sandwich, that's for sure.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I Melted the Ice Queen

So yesterday, Mom and I trekked up to Short Hills Mall (or The Mall at Short Hills for you snobby folk) to meet up with Katya and get some cookbooks signed by Martha Stewart. First off, just to get the sappiness out of the way - it's great when you're friends with someone, you don't see someone for, literally, years, but when you hang out again, you can just pick up where you left off without a hitch. So glad to see Katya last night, can't wait to meet up again!

So we're standing on line, BSing about food and constitutional law and cake decorating and other randomness, and all of a sudden there were carts with refreshments getting wheeled up and down the line. Shortly after, they brought around a snack - creamy tomato soup (recipe from the new cookbook) for all to enjoy. It was better service than I've ever had on an airplane - so friendly...and delicious soup!

So finally, after like 1.5 hours, the moment arrives, and we head into Williams-Sonoma to get our books signed. I walk in, Mom goes first and says something to Martha about how all her recipes come out great and what not, then it's my turn. I tell her it was great to meet her and how happy my wife is going to be that I'm going to have new recipes to cook - she responds that it's great that I do the cooking in the house, and then asks if my mom (pointing over to Mom) is a good cook...I respond "she's good...but I'm better!" At that point...I get a wink and a chuckle...from Martha Stewart. Talk about shocking, I was not expecting emotion! I melted the ice queen!

So after getting our books signed and ogling all the cookware we don't need/can't afford/don't have storage space for, we went off to California Pizza Kitchen for some tasty pizza. We had the Roasted Pepper and Goat Cheese Pizza and the Mango Tandoori Chicken Pizza. The first one was pretty good, but the Mango Tandoori was UNREAL. Spicy and sweet and delicious - I'd definitely order it again.

Eating tasty pizza and hanging out with an old friend, and meeting Martha and making her chuckle. All in all, a great night.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Katya > Martha

I got a Facebook message from my friend Katya, asking if I wanted to go to a Martha Stewart book signing. Like she needed to ask - I'm always on the lookout for additions to my collection of autographed cookbooks. She replied she figured I would say yes, and she had picked me up a ticket when she had stopped by to get hers before she even asked me if I wanted to go. Talk about a great friend - THANK YOU KATYA! Tomorrow I'll be the proud owner of a brand-new autographed copy of Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook. Totally wicked - can't wait to use it.

So here's my list of autographed cookbooks - yes, I am a huge nerd:
  • Louisiana Real and Rustic - Emeril Lagasse (Mom got this at a local B&N book signing some years ago)
  • Fork in the Road - Paul Prudhomme (this was my grandmothers', it's addressed to her)
  • Express Lane Meals - Rachael Ray (no personalization - I HATE YOU - this is a story for a for a whole different post)
  • Williams-Sonoma Mustards - Chuck Williams (wandered into the opening at the Short Hills mall when I was 14 years old, walked away with this!!!)
  • Farallon - Mark Franz (from Farallon in San Fran, a gift from the parents when they were out that way a few years ago - still haven't made anything from it yet)

Almond-Fruit Balls with Coconut

I'm home sick with the gout today, so I'm not doing much in the way of walking around. Fortunately, I've got flank steak marinating in the fridge (2:1 lime juice:soy sauce, chopped garlic, ginger and scallions) and Steph is going to stop for some Wegmans premade potatoes (she likes their roasted yams or their sweet mashed, but I like their garlic mashed.) Good time to write about my Sunday morning.

So I had this recipe that I can't remember where I got it from, but it was intriguing to me because A) it required no cooking and B) it was full of tasty and relatively nutritious stuff and C) I've been looking for something tasty to nosh on when the sweet tooth comes calling. Hence, Almond-Fruit Balls:

1 cup almonds (the recipe called for raw, I only have roasted and salted)
1/8 tsp salt (I omitted this since the almonds were salted)
1/4 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (I used, 3/4 tsp extract)
4 oz dried pineapple, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
4.5 oz soft Medjool dates, pitted (about 1 cup)
2 tbsp dried cranberries
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut (I only could find sweetened at Wegmans)

Pulse the almonds in the Cuisinart until finely ground (you're supposed to add the salt and the vanilla seeds at this point. Obviously, I did not follow Bonnie's #2) Add the pineapple and dates (I added the vanilla extract) and process until the mixture holds together. Transfer to a bowl, stir in cranberries, roll into 1" balls and roll into coconut. Enjoy.

What worked: The final product is absolutely delicious. They're chewy and 2-3 are very satisfying in terms of flavor and sweetness. They have a texture that is similar to a dense DD chocolate Munchkin.

What didn't: After the processing of the dates and pineapples into the almonds (which took longer than I thought it would, I had to keep the processor going), the final 'dough' was VERY oily. As I was rolling them into balls, I had oil literally dripping off my hands. I don't know if maybe I overprocessed, or if it had to do with the fact that I was using roasted almonds as opposed to raw almonds. It was just something I wasn't expecting - although my hands were super-soft when I was done and all cleaned up. Also, the coconut did not stick to the outside of the balls as well as I'd have liked, another symptom of the excess oil on the 'dough'.

What I'm planning for next time: Raw almonds, vanilla bean (not extract), lower processing time, chopping up the cranberries before stirring them in.

It's definitely a repeat recipe, and they'll last a while since I don't have to worry about Stephanie noshing on them - she's not the biggest fan of dates or almonds.


Steph said I should have more pictures on my blog. I think its a great idea. I just don't know how to take pictures while cooking at the same time. Help?

Saturday, October 18, 2008


How can you go wrong? It's easy - you can't with this awesome recipe I made earlier (again, courtesy of my favorite source for recipes)

15-Minute Fudge
16 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
1 tbsp vanilla
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped

Toss the chocolate with the baking soda and salt. Add the sweetened condensed milk and tha vanilla and stir to combine. Melt over a double boiler, while stirring until most of the chocolate is melted*. Remove from heat, and keep stirring until all the chocolate is melted. Fold in the nuts, then pour and spread into an 8" baking pan, lined with foil w/ overhangs. Refrigerate for a while, then serve.

*Be careful here. If you overheat the chocolate (like I did), some of it starts to break and the oil separates out, leaving you with a greasy top on your fudge. I ended up having to blot the top of the fudge with paper towels to drain off some of the oils from the chocolate.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chris Kimball GOOD, Bowties BAD

I think if I ever met Christopher Kimball, I'd probably give him a big hug. The man sure knows how to run a company, and that company sure knows how to write a cookbook. The bow tie, however, has to go...I'm a huge nerd and I don't wear bow ties regularly.

Anyway, tonight's culinary delight was another offering from the Best of America's Test Kitchen 2007, which was Chicken Breasts with Bacon, Rosemary and Lemon. Honestly, you had me at bacon. As always, I followed Bonnie's Rule of Cooking #2 (since I was making it for the first time) but I halved this recipe. I'll give the method I followed, with the recipe halved, then reflect (oooooh! reflective practice!) on what I'm planning on doing differently next time. Here we go...

2 slices thick-cut bacon
1/8 c flour
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
1/2 tbsp butter
2 garlic cloves, sliced very thinly
1/2 tsp dried rosemary, chopped (the recipe called for fresh, so much for the rules!)
dash red pepper flakes
1/2 c low-sodium chicken broth
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice (NEVER EVER use the bottled stuff!)

In a non-non-stick skillet, fry up the bacon over low until crispy and the fat is rendered, about 5 minutes, and transfer it to a piece of paper towel to drain off the fat, and chop into small pieces. While the bacon is cooking, season the flour with salt and pepper and dredge the chicken in it, shaking off the excess. Pour off all but 1 tbsp of bacon fat, add the butter and heat to medium-high. When the butter stops foaming, add your chicken, and cook 5 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken, tent with foil. Lower the heat to medium, add the garlic, rosemary and red pepper, and cook until the garlic is golden brown, about 1 minute or so. BE CAREFUL not to let your garlic overcook - it will turn disgustingly bitter and ruin the entire dish. Add the broth and lemon juice to the pan, scrape off all the tasty fond from the bottom of the pan, and simmer for 3 minutes until thickened. Add the chicken back to the pan and cook until the sauce is thick, another 3 minutes, while turning once or twice. Serve (we had egg noodles).

What I'm going to do differently the next time I make this (and there will be a next time):
1) Chicken cutlets - the time you put in on the prep end by cutting the breasts into cutlets gets realized on the cooking end with quicker cooking times. As always, cutlets need to be monitored carefully to make sure they don't dry out.
2) When the chicken came out of the original saute, it had a bit of a crust from the flour, which turned soggy when it was put back into the sauce to simmer. I think next time I'm just going to saute off the chicken, make the sauce, then add the chicken back to the sauce *right before* I'm about to serve.
3) More bacon. Can't go wrong by adding more bacon (as Stephanie just reminded me)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Pork w/ Apple-Sage Sauce

In preparation for writing this post, I say to Steph "Hon, can you go get me my cookbook from the kitchen?" Needless to say, I could feel the look of incredulity burning itself into the back of my head before I appended "Hon, can you go get me my America's Test Kitchen cookbook from the kitchen?" I am so smrt. (Note: Steph just asked me "you're rooting for Tampa?" before quailing under my look of incredulity. We're both smrt.)

So the exact recipe name from the cookbook is Roast Pork Tenderloin with Lowfat Apple and Sage Cream Sauce. Here's the full recipe (I halved it because I'm cooking for 2):

2 12 oz pork tenderloins, trimmed (and halved crosswise if it doesn't fit into your saute pan)
salt & pepper
vegetable oil
1 Granny Smith, peeled, cored and sliced thinly
1/2 medium onion, sliced thinly
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup apple cider
3 tbsp brandy
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp fresh sage, minced
3 tbsp light cream cheese
2 tsp cider vinegar

Preheat to 450. Pat the tenderloins dry and season with salt and epper. Heat enough oil in a saute pan to film the bottom, and brown the tenderloins on all sides, about 8 minutes. Be careful to watch your heat so you don't burn the fond! Remove the pan from the heat, put the tenderloins in a baking dish and roast for 12 minutes, flipping the tenderloins halfway. Transfer the pork to a cutting board and tent.

While the pork is in the oven, add the apples, onions and salt to the saute pan and heat, covered, over medium-low heat until the onions are soft and the apples are tender, about 8 minutes. Off heat, add the brandy* and cider, then return to heat and scrape all the tasty fond from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the broth and sage, raise the heat to medium-high and simmer, reducing until thickened, about 5 minutes. Pour any pork juices from the pork into the pan, reduce heat to medium-low, whisk in the cream cheese and cook until thickened. Off heat, stir in vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Slice the pork thinly, spoon the sauce over the pork, and serve.

I was trying to figure out what to serve this dish with, and sweet potatoes is usually my go-to starch with pork, but I figured that it would compete with the flavor of the sauce. Instead, I went with wide egg noodles, which was a great choice because they were delicious when I spooned some of the sauce over them on the side. I caught Steph wiping extra sauce from the pan with her fingers - proof positive this recipe was definitely a keeper!

*Even though the pan is not hot enough to ignite the brandy, I've gotten into the habit of always adding brandy off-heat, just in case.

Busy Saturday

Just got back from Wegmans, the greatest supermarket in the world, ready for a full Saturday afternoon of culinary delight. I'm fixing up freezer rations of soboro, mini-chicken burgers, onigiri and rice portions. I'm also trying a new recipe from Just Bento, which is for savory pumpkin-miso mini-muffins. I'll definitely let you all know how those come out. In case you all hadn't figured it out, I'm a huge fan of Just Bento and everyone would do well to check out that amazing site. It's full of great recipes for bento lunches, and is an excellent source for all things bento.

Dinner tonight is pork tenderloin w/ apple-sage cream sauce (courtesy of America's Test Kitchen). Tasty.

I'm also planning on whipping up a batch of white-chocolate chip cookies, straight from the back of the Nestle bag, if I have the time later.

All in all, should be a good afternoon/evening!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I Never Thought This Day Would Come

My mother's mother (aka MaMa) was amazingly talented in the kitchen. A child of the Depression, she knew how to take the cheap parts and the leftover pieces and turn them onto something magical. Even though I was never (and still am not) a fan, when she used to fry up chicken livers before a family dinner, everyone would just stand there with a fork and eat them right out of the pan (she used to get them for like 8 cents a pound). She used to buy skirt steak and flank steak when it was the cuts the butcher would try to sell off cheap, before mainstream eaters realized these are two of the tastiest parts of the cow. She ran a kitchen in a bar when my mother was growing up, and eventually became the head of catering for Weil, Gotshal and Manges, which is one of the largest law firms in the United States. Even though at that point she was outsourcing to NYC caterers, she still did some things on site (in a kitchen that had more square footage than my house) and still kept her touch, even after her retirement.

Some of my fondest memories growing up were helping MaMa in the kitchen. I learned at an early age that those who did the cooking did not do the cleaning, and I also yearned for an escape from the cousins and my sister and whomever, so I'd go and ask what I could do to help. I started with washing food, peeling vegetables and stirring pots. As my skills improved, I graduated to measuring ingredients from the spice jars, chopping up veggies, and eventually was allowed to man the stove (usually cooking chicken livers with hungry adults hovering over me - BLECH).

Why am I getting all nostalgic about my grandmother? One of the greatest things she made was rice pudding, and I've never had any rice pudding that compares. The only record of her rice pudding recipe is in a folder at my mother's house, which consists of my grandmother's handwritten ingredient list. Just ingredients, no method. Talk about old-school. She taught my mother how to make it, and I used to beg my mother to teach me how, and I'd always get a vague explanation that was spit out in about 2 seconds. Come on!

Why is this the day I never thought would come? Last night my mother typed up and printed me out the method on how to make MaMa's rice pudding. Oh man. One of the greatest desserts ever, and now I have the recipe. Life today is good. The deliciousness, the creaminess, the sweetness of the greatest rice pudding on the planet! All mine!

Needless to say, don't expect to see THIS recipe posted anytime soon :-D

Monday, October 6, 2008

I Can't Believe I Tried That...

...or "How to Completely Screw Up a Perfectly Good Recipe".

I went to an earlier muay thai class tonight so I could make a quick dinner afterwords - I decided on my recipe for sesame chicken with peanut noodles. I figured it was quick and easy and tasty and I'd have enough to pack tomorrow for lunch for both Stephanie and I. Seemed like a good plan, huh?

Everything was going swimmingly until I decided that I'd try the "original" recipe and add 2 tsp of hot sauce as opposed to 1 tsp. BAD IDEA. I also went with ground ginger since I didn't have any fresh ginger. BAD IDEA. The sauce was all wrong, and I tried to compensate by adding a boatload of more peanut butter. This made the volume of sauce increase quite a bit, and made it extra sticky, extra heavy...just generally AWFUL. I was severely disappointed, and so I will be having a sausage and pepper mini-calzone tomorrow for lunch instead (Steph gets the chicken w/ some rice).

The moral of the story: sometimes you don't need to play with the recipe.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Helping the Environment

I'm not usually one for being "green" but one of my fellow teachers is having a positive effect on me. We eat lunch together, and she has her really swanky and eco-friendly Sigg water bottle. Inspired, I picked up one for Steph and I this weekend at Wegmans. Here's what I got, here's what she got. Aren't we cute.

My karmic aura is that much brighter today.

Char Siu Pork

As I have said before, I am a big fan of America's Test Kitchen and the recipes they come out with. Not only are many of them designed to be relatively easy for the home cook, but I always like reading about just how the recipes were conceptualized, developed and tested. I'm pretty sure there's no recipe that I have made from them that hasn't come out excellently.

To that end, their recipe for char siu pork (aka Chinese BBQ pork) is one of the most unreal things I've ever eaten. Sweet, spicy and tender, it's everything you'd expect when you order from the Chinese food restaurant, only 20x better. I'm not concerned about copyright stuff - here's the recipe:

4 lb boneless pork shoulder roast
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c soy sauce
6 tbsp hoisin sauce
1/4 c dry sherry
1/4 ground white pepper
1 tsp five-spice powder
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c ketchup
1/3 c honey

Cut your pork shoulder in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 4 strips. Trim away the hard fat, but leave a little to render when you're cooking. Poke each strip with a fork 10 times per side then put in a Zip-Loc. In a bowl, mix everything except the ketchup and honey together until smooth. Take 1/2 c of the sauce and put into the Zip-Loc, then seal it up and throw it in the fridge for 2 hours or so. Put the rest of the sauce into a saucepan, add the ketchup and honey, and simmer until reduced and thick, and glazelike.

Preheat your oven to 300. Foil a baking sheet, put a rack on the sheet, then place the marinated pork on the rack. Add 1/4 c water to the bottom of the baking sheet, and cover the whole thing tightly with foil. Put in the oven for 20 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 45 minutes. Take the pork out of the oven, turn on the broiler. Broil the pork 7-8 minutes until crispy, then brush with the glaze. Put it back under the broiler for 3-4 minutes, until the glaze turns deep brown (BE CAREFUL. You do not want this stuff to burn). Flip the pork and repeat the process on the other side.

Let it rest 10 minutes, then slice and serve with rice and stirfried veggies. This is also a great recipe because I can make a TON of the stuff on Sunday and have enough leftovers to be able to bring for lunch for Monday and Tuesday. That's what my application of bento is all about - lunch-size portions of meals I made the night before. It's efficient and it's economical and it's somewhat healthy.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hot Dog "Calzone"

I totally lifted this idea from Not Exactly Bento, which you should definitely check out for great ideas on bento recipes and lunch construction. Her pictures are WAY better than mine will ever be, too. I'm also jealous of some of her bento boxes and feel a big splurge coming on in the future.

Here's what I used:
4 hot dogs, parboiled and cut in half crosswise
1 yellow pepper
1 red pepper
1/2 red onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
cheddar cheese, sliced thin
1 package of Wegmans whole wheat pizza dough

Preheat your oven to 375. Slice the pepper and onion into 1/4" strips. Saute the garlic, onion and peppers w/ a sprinkle of salt and pepper over medium heat until crisp-tender, max 3-4 minutes. Flatten out the dough and cut it into 8 equal pieces. On each piece of dough put a hot dog half, some cheese and some peppers and onions. Roll up the whole megillah, sealing the sides and placing it on a parchment-lined baking sheet, seam-side down. Do this for each hot dog. Brush the top of each roll with some olive oil. Bake until golden brown, 25 minutes or so. Let cool then enjoy.

Next time, I'm going to make it with green peppers and I'm going to parboil up some sweet sausage. Talk about an awesome thing to pack into my lunches, that is filling and tasty and somewhat healthy (as I'm intaking some vegetables, for a change).

...and just so everyone can see what sort of effect my bringing smaller lunches and watching what I'm eating has done...I'm down just about 10 lb since the beginning of September. Not bad at all.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


First, a note on why my blogs always seem to go nowhere in the end - I have so many things to get done its hard for me to find the time to write, especially when I've got 60 pages to write for grad class by the end of November. However, I will do my best to find some time to jot down some notes and thoughts about my culinary trials and tribulations. That said...

Sandwiches could be one of the most meaningful invention in history, right up there with the wheel, the atomic bomb and wireless Internet. Meat and other tasty goodness tucked between two pieces of bread? Unreal. The Italians really nailed it on the head with the panino, which literally means "little bread". It should be noted that panino is the singular form, while the ubiquitous panini is the pluralization - it is very bothersome that all the sandwiches at Panera and other places that serve them call them a panini - when one orders mozzarella and portobello panini you should get multiple sandwiches!

One of the biggest misconceptions is that you need to buy a panini press in order to prepare this delicious treat in your own home. Why spend a bunch of money on a huge machine that only has one purpose? Here are the only two things you need, and it's great because you can use these two things for other purposes: a grill pan and a wide casserole pot or Dutch oven. A good grill pan is a great thing, because it lets you do things you would normally do on a grill indoors, so it serves more purposes than just preparing your panini. A large pot...well, you should already have one of those. (Note: any grill pan will do, but the square ones give you more cooking surface)

Here's what you do - cut your bread, put in your sandwich fillings, assemble, preheat the grill pan to medium, then put your sandwiches on the pan. Throw a piece of aluminum foil on top of the sandwiches, put the stock pot on top, and throw in as many heavy things as you can find to press those sandiwiches down. Cook for about 6-7 minutes, flip cook 6 minutes more, then serve. Nirvana in a sandwich.

I usually like to go with a southwest-style panino of smoked turkey, pepper jack cheese, tomato and some homemade chipotle mayo. Steph is true to her Italian roots and prefers roast beef, provolone and some of my sun-dried tomato relish. My mom apparently made one the other day that was bacon, cheddar and apple, which sounds delicious and I may just make it tomorrow for dinner. I'm looking for new flavor combinations - any ideas?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Quick & healthy breakfasts

I love all manners of breakfast meat. Bacon, sausage, Canadian bacon, ham...all delicious fruits of the magical animal that are wonderful in the morning. However, as much as I would love to partake of this tastiness every morning, there are two things holding me back: the time it takes to prepare and the ridiculous amounts of fat that go along with eating them. I'm always on the search for a breakfast that I can prepare very quickly, that has good flavor and substance, and is tasty...demanding, aren't I?

Thanks to the influence of my wife, I've become a big fan of the Vanilla Almond Crunch Special K, but since I'm not a daily milk drinker, the milk isn't always great to my system. I like to eat eggs, but eating too many isn't exactly the best for the cholesterol. Bringing this topic up at lunch one day, one of the women I work with suggested I try what she does - she makes flax seed muffins on the weekends, halves and toasts them with a little bit of butter in the morning (she does this for herself and for her 2 kids).

Reading about flax seeds, it turns out they're super-high in omega-3 and antioxidants and are nice and high in dietary fiber. All in all, a tasty addition to my attempting-to-improve diet. So here's what I've adapted from what I've read:

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups ground flax seed
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups milk
1 egg
1/2 cup chopped almonds
3/4 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 350. Mix all dry ingredients. Beat together the milk and egg. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix. Fold in almonds and blueberries. Pour into non-stick-sprayed muffin tin and bake 25 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes in tin, then remove and cool completely.

They came out pretty good for the first time through. I may add a little more sugar or maybe sprinkle sugar on top to make a nice crumbly topping. Can't wait to see how they taste tomorrow morning.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


It doesn't matter how many times I try olives, I don't like them. I should like them, but I don't.

It makes me sad. Damn you taste buds.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A week's worth of bentos

As I'm packing up a new batch of soboro (made with 90% lean beef this time) and finishing up some pulled BBQ chicken, I'm feeling reflective of how the 1st week of bento lunches went.

Time: Except for being lazy with not making the pepperoni/cheese skewers the night before, packing up both Steph's and my lunch usually takes a maximum of 10 minutes. Talk about great when I'm trying to get out the door in the morning.

Portions: The only thing I eat during the day that I don't bring along in my bento is an apple. Not bad. I try to space out when I eat everything over a time period of 11:00 to 1:00, during free moments during my day. Smaller bites more often is good, and one of my coworkers has made it a point to make sure to really talk during lunch so we eat slower. Good stuff.

Taste: I am never wanting or craving anything, as I try to balance the sweet/salty combination of foods. I like eating raisins and almonds, especially, and I've been noshing on dried blueberries from Wegmans, even though they look like rabbit poop.

I've also been cooking so I get more leftovers, which makes me kick myself that I never did this in the past. All in all, a successful first week on the lunch front.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sesame Grilled Chicken with Peanut Noodles

Made this tonight for dinner - an absolute winner.
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp hot sauce (I used Tabasco)
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I sliced these into cutlets)
  • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1/2 lb Asian noodles*
Bring water to a boil & preheat your grill to high. Meanwhile, whisk garlic, ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, hot sauce, brown sugar and sesame oil in a small bowl. Take 1/4 cup of this mixture and toss it with the chicken. Add the peanut butter to the rest and whisk until smooth. Add the noodles to the boiling water, stir and cook until done. Drain and toss with peanut sauce, adding soy and hot sauce to taste. Grill the chicken, then slice and serve over the noodles.

Easy, quick and DAMN delicious. I reduced the hot sauce from 2 tsp to 1 tsp, but feel free to play around with it. I think next time I'm going to throw some sliced scallions on top when its finished, just for a little extra flavor.

*We have an Asian market near us, so I got dried Asian noodles that took literally like 2 minutes to cool. You can use thin spaghetti if you don't have access to Asian-style noodles. Maybe even soba or udon would be good.

My Don't-Eat-So-Damn-Much Diet

I'm a pretty big guy, and because I've got a large frame I can pull off a little extra weight without much of a problem. However, I got on the scale about a month or so ago and it hit 240, a number I haven't seen in college. It made me reevaluate all the crap I was eating and the snacking I was doing. Hence, the Don't-Eat-So-Damn-Much diet.

I know it sounds silly, but my biggest problem is that I am hungry ALL THE TIME. So, in order to compensate, I'm really trying to focus on eating smaller meals, more often. I know that eating plan sounds a bit cliche, but its keeping me from wanting to devour an entire cow.

Here are some of my rules for the Don't-Eat-So-Damn-Much diet.
1) Portion control - I try to limit everything I eat during the school day to whatever is in my bento box. Even at dinner, I'm trying my best not to gorge myself (despite the best efforts of my mother-in-law, who refused to accept that I was full after 4 chicken cutlets and 2 helpings of potatoes).
2) Balance - I don't get wrapped up in counting carbs, because I need the energy to keep me going during the day. However, I am trying to get my carbs from better sources such as whole grains and fruits.
3) Hydration - I drink tons of water over the course of the school day, at least a gallon. Combine that with my drinking of water at home, and I'm doing my best to stay as hydrated as possible, which leads us into our next rule...
4) No caffiene - I have pretty much cut out all caffiene intake. No more regular coffee, no more Diet Wild Cherry Pepsis, nothing. Even for the house, I only buy soda that is caffiene free (Sprite Zero or diet ginger ale).
5) Veggies - I really don't like eating most veggies, so I am trying to force myself to eat them and enjoy them.

I know these may sound like the same-old repeated means of trying to eat right, but I'm not imagining the 4 lb I've lost in the last 2 weeks.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Epoisses, king of all cheeses

I'm in the midst of making some more pepper and onion confit, so I'm hoping I don't scorch this batch like I did the last time.

So I was grocery shopping at Wegmans early this morning, trying to avoid the hurricane-overreacting crowd. Now, I will *always* walk past the cheese shop/showcase because A) I love cheese and B) there's a 75% chance they're doing some sort of sampling. Sadly, no such luck this morning, but I did notice they had little rounds of cheese in a wooden little box with a sign that said "Just Arrived". I'm a sucker for signage, so I look closer, and what is it? EPOISSES!!!

It's a cow's milk (unpasteurized!) cheese that is then ripened while being washed down with some local French brandy. It's also hand-scrubbed to make sure all the lovely bacteria get spread all over the surface of the rind that forms. If you want to know more, check out what Wikipedia has to say. When I've had it, I've had it on a tiny cracker with some dried fruit or quince paste. It's creamy and pungeant, with a bit of a tang from the salt and the brandy they wash it with. Quite simply, if you're a fan of cheese, this is the real deal and you owe it to yourself to go try and find some.

Two things you should be warned about with Epoisses:
1) The price: For a little wheel about 6 inches in diameter was $25. It's well worth it, in my opinion, but it is more for special occasions than everyday eating.
2) The smell: Epoisses was voted 'worlds smelliest cheese' back in 2004. It smells in a most delicious and pervasive way, but it will definitely smell up your entire refrigerator if you don't take care of it.

Brillat-Savarin (who was so influential in the development of French gastronomy that they named a cheese after him) referred to epoisses as king of all cheeses. I am inclined to agree.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

First Day of School!

So I woke up a bit earlier than normal for the first day of school (5:00 AM), just to make sure I had enough time to pack up my lunches. Both took 10 minutes, start to finish. Kickass!

My bento consisted of the following:
- Upper left: pepperoni and cheese toothpicks (totally swiped the idea from Leslee over at This Little Bento) and some almonds
- Lower left: Wegmans fat-free vanilla yogurt w/ raspberries
- Right: Soboro over rice with furikake

Steph's bento consisted of:
Upper left: raw red pepper and sugar snap peas
Upper right: pepperoni & cheddar toothpicks
Lower left: onigiri with furikake and baby carrots
Lower right: mini chicken burgers w/ teriyaki sauce

Things that worked:
- Getting everything together in the morning was a breeze since mostly everything was premade.
- Made up the pepperoni & cheese picks the night timesaver in the morning.
- The raspberries and yogurt was a morningtime improvisation, and worked like a charm. The yogurt didn't leak or splash around.
- Steph was able to eat her bento at room temperature, which is the way it is supposed to be

Things to improve:
- I ordered fun reusable skewers, sauce bottles and other stuff. Can't wait until they get here.
- Had to microwave the soboro because the box had to be refrigerated due to the yogurt. Want to figure out an alternative way of packing fruit without needing to keep cool.

Quick shout-out: I know some of you have chatted with me about starting to pack your own bento boxes. Please please please post any suggestions or war stories or what not about what works and what does not. Also, if you're inspired and want to see some good-looking bento and a great blog to steal some ideas from, go check out Leslee's This Little Bento. I've gotten tons of good ideas from her, so go check her blog out!