Posts Tagged cooking

The Downside of All Those Silicone Spatulas


There's a problem with these spatulas.

One of the things that I loved about reading Julia Child’s Memoir, “My Life In France” is her descriptions of her cookware. By her own admission, she was quite the kitchen gadget fiend, and outfitted her kitchen with professional equipment long before kitchenware companies marketed “professional” lines to home chefs. But what really struck me was how durable all her equipment was – her copper pots, giant stone mortar and pestle, and sturdy whisks were meant to last a lifetime.

By comparison, a lot of the stuff in my kitchen is plastic. Spatulas? Plastic. Cutting boards? Plastic. Plates? Plastic (well, melamine). For awhile I had plastic mixing bowls, although I upgraded to those nesting glass ones. Even my new food processor (which I love with the fire of a thousand suns) has a large plastic ring in the lid that allows it to latch closed.

And don’t get me wrong, I love me my silicone spatulas. But especially now that I don’t have a dishwasher, I’ve realized that there’s a big downside to plastic – it smells.

Like, it really smells.

Whenever I chop garlic on one of my plastic cutting boards, no matter how hard I scrub them, they always smell faintly of garlic. My silicone spatulas have a vaguely savory, garlicky smell, borne of stirring various tomato sauces and stir fries. My flat silicone spatula I use for flipping eggs smells . . . well, like eggs. And my Tupperware smells like soap – I’ve actually had to throw some of it away because it made my food taste soapy.

The smell thing is a huge problem for baking – like, if you’re chopping tomatoes on a garlicky cutting board, it’s not the end of the world – but if you’re chopping chocolate or strawberries it’s a big problem. Once I made a vanilla custard that had an “off” savory flavor – it took me awhile, but I realized the culprit was my spatula. Before rolling out pastry, I always sniff my cutting board to make sure that it doesn’t smell strange. And the one time I made a garlicky sauce in the food processor, I had to wash the lid a couple times in the hottest water I could before that plastic implement in the lid stopped smelling like garlic.

So far I’ve dealt with the plastic problem by trying to have separate plastic tools for my pastry and baking, but I always worry that something will leak through and I’ll end up with an off-tasting frosting. The food processor lid is especially worrisome, since I don’t really want to have to buy a separate lid just for processing savory stuff.

I know that plastics are the future and everything – but sometimes I wonder if they’re just creating a whole other set of problems to deal with. Especially for us bakers without dishwashers.

Does anyone else have this problem?


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Where Do You Get Your Knives Sharpened in DC?


My knives are dying a slow death.

My chef’s knife really needs to be sharpened. I’ve known this for a while – it’s been getting progressively harder to slice an onion, let alone a tomato. But I knew things had gotten really bad when it was having problems cutting through an eggplant the other night. It’s one dull blade that won’t slice through an eggplant.

I have a sharpening steel (God only knows if I actually use it correctly), which hones the edge, but I’ve never actually gotten this knife sharpened. According to Martha Stewart, the steel is good for removing scratches and realigning the edge, but knives still need to be sharpened on a whetstone. And yes, in case you want to learn how to do that yourself, Martha will tell you how – but I think I’ll leave my sharpening to the pros.

I put the call out to the Adams Morgan listserv, and the good people of AdMo suggested the following places for knife sharpening. The Sur La Table got the most recommendations, but it looks like several of the local hardware stores sharpen knives as well.

Logan Hardware
1416 P St NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 265-8900

Pfeiffer’s Hardware
3219 Mount Pleasant Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20010-2137
(202) 462-1431

Sur La Table – Friendship Heights
5211 Wisconsin AVE NW
Washington, DC 20015

Sur La Table – Pentagon Row
1101 South Joyce Street
Suite B-20
Arlington, VA 22202

True Value on 17th
1623 17th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
Phone: 202-462-3146
Fax: 202-387-4503

I’ll be making a trip to one of these locations this weekend – but does anyone else have any place to add? Where do you get your knives sharpened in DC?

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Casserole Project, Take Three: Tex-Mex Casserole

Mexican Casserole - 1

A Tex-Mex casserole, topped with crispy tortillas.

Sometimes I’m mystified when I see techniques repeated in recipe after recipe that I know don’t work. Did I just not make this right, I wonder? Or did the recipe writers really not test this recipe?

Case in point is the Mexican casserole recipe I used for this week’s installment of my monthly baking/cooking project. I was inspired to make a tex-mex style casserole because I had a bad experience making a tortilla pie early in the summer, and I wanted to see if I could correct my past mistakes.

The tortilla pie didn’t “work” because the filling never cooked through, even after baking the pie an extra 15 minutes. The recipe called for mixing a bunch of uncooked ingredients together for the filling – canned beans, corn, bell peppers, and onions – and then letting them cook in the oven. But, even after a diligent 25 minutes in the oven, the filling was still underdone – the corn was unpleasantly crispy, the onions tasted raw, and the beans were tough.

When I started doing some recipe research for this week’s casserole, I was surprised to see that many other casserole recipes used the same technique. The Parade recipe I ended up using also calls for mixing a bunch of uncooked ingredients together and letting them bake in the oven. It makes me wonder – is there something different about the canned beans I’m using? Did I not chop my onions finely enough? Or did the good folks at Parade not really test this recipe before printing it? I guess, we’ll never know – especially on that final count.

For my casserole, I made some changes, cutting back on the cheese (I do not need 12 ounces of cheese in my casserole, thank you very much) and sauteing the onion, bell pepper, and garlic before adding them to the filling. But I didn’t take it far enough. The beans really could have done with some simmering over the stove, rather than adding them straight from the can. In the finished casserole, they were firm – and not in a good way. The corn (I used defrosted frozen corn, rather than the canned corn the recipe calls for) also tasted underdone and unpleasantly crunchy.

There are very obvious changes I can make if I make this again – sauté the corn with the other vegetables, and cook the beans until tender over the stove before adding them to the casserole.

But I am loathe to offer these suggestions because, honestly, I just don’t know if this casserole is good enough to call for the extra hassle. Given that I had to roast and shred the chicken, sauté the vegetables, mix the filling in a bowl, coat the tortillas in olive oil in another bowl, and then put it all into a casserole dish, this casserole was already a big production. And the finished result was okay, flavor-wise, but I can’t shake the feeling that it tasted too much like one of Amy’s Organic Bean Bowls to be worth the extra effort.

Perhaps this is why the original recipe calls for 12 ounces of cheese.

Mexican Casserole - 2

So, honestly, those crispy tortillas were the best part of the dish.

Recipe: Tex-Mex Casserole

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September Cooking Project, Take One – Mushroom, Brown Rice, And Ricotta Casserole

Brown Rice Casserole

It's not pretty, but it tasted good.

This week, it finally feels like fall. Kids are back in school, the highs are in the low 70s, and I can finally wear pants and not melt into a puddle. I can also turn on my oven for the first time in quite awhile without feeling like I’m going to burn my apartment to a crisp.

It’s a good time for this month’s cooking project – casseroles, which my friend Rebecca requested back in May. Casseroles are also a classic American comfort food and, given that we’re still in the midst of an economic crisis (or, even worse, a jobless recovery), I think that comfort food will still be very much in vogue this fall.

I was a little wary of this casserole project. Casseroles are tricky because if I make one, it has to be good enough to take for lunch for the rest of the week. And since I’ll be eating it every day, it can’t be the cheese and bacon-filled extravaganza that I’d usually make if I were making it for a dinner party. Just doing some preliminary research freaked me out, because all the recipes I found either called for using condensed soup or a heavy cream sauce to bind the rest of the ingredients together. My waistline (and tastebuds) did not approve.

I finally decided that if I expanded my search to savory pies I might find possible flavor combinations – and luckily I hit upon this recipe for mushroom and farro pie. I ditched the pie crust and used the filling as the basis for my casserole.

The recipe, which mixes mushrooms, scallions, garlic, farro with ricotta cheese as a binder, sounded promising. I switched out the farro, which I couldn’t find at the Giant, for brown rice, which was much more economical. I decided to up the health quotient of the casserole and added some cooked spinach, although the bitter flavor was distracting and ended up being a mistake. I also added some Pecorino Romano cheese to the ricotta, to punch up the flavor.

The final result was pretty good – not perfect, but a fine first attempt at a healthful casserole. The mushrooms, garlic, and scallions were a wonderful combination – and they married well with the earthy, chewy brown rice. As I mentioned above, the spinach was not a good idea, but the Pecorino cheese added a salty, savory note to the dish. And using ricotta cheese as a binder was perfect – it was creamy, without being too soupy and fat-laden.

Were I to make it again, I may add more onions or more Pecorino, since it lacked a little flavor. Chopped basil would be a nice addition, as would a spoonful or two of olive tapenade, mixed in with the ricotta. But even if it was an imperfect casserole, I’m still very happy this casserole is in my lunch today.

A fine start to this month’s cooking project.

Brown Rice Casserole 2

I think next time I should add a crispy topping as well . . .

Recipe: Mushroom, Brown Rice, and Ricotta Casserole

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Sexy Salad

Sexy Salad

I don't like salad. But I love this salad. Seriously love it.

I am not a fan of salad. I almost never write about it. I rarely salivate over it. And I only make it in a perfunctory, begrudging manner, because it’s supposed to be good for me.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t eat salad regularly (I do), or that I don’t order it at restaurants (I do). But even when I eat salad that’s been gussied up with cheese or fruit or nuts, the heart of the dish is still unduly austere. My favorite dishes all involve a certain amount of excess and theatricality, things not normally found in a sound salad.

But I just might have to change my tune, because I am absolutely in love with the salad I made for dinner this weekend. Like, in love. Like, I love it so much I want to marry it.

The salad was originally made as a contrivance. A joke. It was a way to use up food that had been sitting in the fridge too long. I had a couple of onions that were nearing the use-it-or-lose-it stage, so I decided to caramelize them and throw them on some salad greens I had lying around. I also had a pint of cherry tomatoes that were a little, shall we say, past their prime, so I roasted them in the oven and threw them in. I topped the salad with chunks of goat cheese and dressed the lot with my standard salad dressing, made with mustard and balsamic vinegar.

Its origins may have been humble – it may have been borne of my desire to comply with Wonk the Plank’s tyrannical laws about wasting food – but the end result was divine. It was a salad that I could proudly say that I loved.

All the flavors clicked – the tart vinegar, tangy goat cheese, and bitter greens balanced against the sweet tomatoes and mellow, earthy onions. The mix of textures added to its appeal – the smooth goat cheese and soft onions contrasted against the bed of crunchy greens. But I think it was the different temperatures that really pushed this salad into the greatness category: the warm onions and tomatoes melted the goat cheese ever-so slightly, and everything became coated in the smooth, tangy cheese. This was the salad of my dreams – sensuous, indulgent, deeply flavorful. It was perfection in a bowl.

So maybe I do like salad. I just need my salad tarted up.

Sexy Salad 2

Sexy close-up of the sexy salad.

Recipe: Sexy Salad

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Weekly Roundup: Spring Flowers Edition

Wardman Park Mariott

Flowers at the Wardman Park Mariott, near the Woodley Park Metro.

Good morning! I keep on saying that it’s finally spring in DC, only to be met with a week of rain. Let’s hope I’m actually right this time.

Recipes I encountered this week that I totally want to try:

  • Buttermilk pound cake from the New York Times. Granted, I’d switch out the shortening with butter, but it still looks delish.
  • Vegan chocolate chip cookies from the Vegetarian Times. Okay, I’m usually not sold on vegan recipes, but a friend raved about them on Facebook. I’m intrigued.
  • Three alarm tofu with oyster mushrooms and spinach from Serious Eats. I’m looking for meatless, cheap dinner options that don’t involve eggs. Not that I don’t love eggs – they are the food of the gods – but a girls’ got to mix it up sometimes.
  • Barbecued chicken on garlic toast from Martha Stewart. This looks like a perfect Saturday night dinner – I’d serve them with a salad and a good beer (from Oregon, of course), and eat them out on the fire escape with my favorite Plank.

And in other domestic news:

  • On May 11th, Proof will be hosting a benefit for the Museum of the American Cocktail in honor of World Cocktail Week. Given that I don’t have $145 to spare for a five course tasting menu and signature cocktails from some of DC’s best mixologists, maybe I’ll try to find my own way to celebrate this holiday. Possibly with this. Via Metrocurean.
  • NPR reviews good cookbooks for “lean times.” Maybe I should check these out for lunchtime alternatives to bean soup? I made it for lunches this week, and there’s no way I can eat another bowl.
  • The District Domestic is in love with succulents. It reminded me how much I love my own succulent, though it be near to death.
  • The Open House Blog has cheap decorating tips. I like that this article address the “Pottery Barn funk.” That’s one nasty funk.

Happy Friday!

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Would Julia Child Tweet?


Twitter ain't got nothin' on these babies.

Let’s start with the facts: I am not anti Twitter. In fact I signed up for Twitter a couple of weeks ago, on the advice of DeborahDawn and countless social networking articles (you can follow me at Modern_Domestic).

I may have joined the bandwagon, but I’m still not sure how I feel about Twitter. I’d still rather read a good news web site, or blog, or even (*gasp*) book, than my Twitter feed.

Which is why I felt especially conflicted when the New York Times reported that Twitter is taking on one of my favorite, time-honored food media sources: the cookbook.

The Times featured twitterer (tweeter?) Maureen Evans, who tweets recipes in 140 characters or less at Amazingly, the recipes aren’t just standard fare (if I were tweeting recipes, I wouldn’t get further than buttered noodles).

Take this April 5th tweet:

Darjeeling Soup: fry leek&onion/T butter. Simmer15m+2c cauliflr/1tater&celery/4c Darj tea/s+p/bay. Rmv bay; puree+6T milk. Srv w nutmeg&pep.

It’s sophisticated (tea as entree), exotic, complicated, and not something you’d expect could be communicated via tweet. And, once you parse through the abbreviations, it’s easy to follow.

But, with all due respect to Maureen Evans, who seems like an ambitious and thoughtful home cook after my own heart, her tweets leave me cold. As a technical achievement, tweeting complicated recipes in 140 characters is impressive. But where is the soul? Where is the voice? And where are the detailed instructions?

I not only find cookbooks easier to follow, especially for tricky techniques (I’d never be able to follow a tweeted recipe for, say, pat a choux, or caramel sauce), but the bare bones tweets are missing the human and dynamic element that make cookbooks worth reading.

Take Nigella Lawson – what would her cookbooks be without her soulful, decadent, descriptive prose? When Nigella advises me to not color lime curd with food coloring, because the off-putting fake green color “prove[s] in one characteristically rash act that food is better left to its own devices,” I’m not just being warned off chemical dyes. Her breezy tone tells me not to worry about being perfect and to take my mistakes in stride. At the end of the day, she seems to say, my love for food will shine through my cooking.

And would “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” have become a seminal text for the home cook without the no-nonsense, yet deeply sympathetic writing of Julia Child? How can you not fall in love with the book when she declares, in the beginning of the chapter on eggs “wine and eggs have no great sympathy for each other?” Her straightforward writing calms me, making even the most complicated dish approachable. Reading it today, I completely understand why her writing was such a revelation to home cooks in the 1950s.

This probably makes me old fashioned. And maybe this means I’m weird – maybe normal people don’t sit down and read cookbooks cover to cover. But I’m a firm believer that cookbooks are more than just the sum of their recipes. A good cookbook should introduce you to a cook’s world view on food, eating, and cooking. Trying a new recipe is more than just following instructions – it’s an opportunity to inhabit someone else’s kitchen. I don’t think it’s possible to do that in 140 characters.

All the same, I still plan on linking to this post on my Twitter feed.

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Recipes To Keep You Away From the TV: Martha Stewart’s Homemade Gnocchi with Basil-Walnut Pesto

Gnocchi - cooked

Gnocchi with walnut pesto.

Lately I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands, which means that I’ve almost driven poor Wonk the Plank to distraction because I’ve been watching so much bad TV. He hit a new low when he found me watching the season premier of The Millionaire Matchmaker for the fifth time last weekend (But, like, seriously, what was up with David’s butler?).

So to keep myself away from the TV and to preserve Wonk’s sanity, I’ve been cooking a lot of recipes from Martha Stewart’s Cooking School, the newest addition to The Great One’s long line of cookbooks. Why is this such an effective TV deterrent, you ask? Because the woman’s recipes are so incredibly complicated that they take up buckets of time.

We all know that Martha’s brand has been built around classic timelessness, so it’s no surprise that her latest cookbook showcases very classic cooking techniques. This means the recipes include lots of chopping and pureeing and straining liquids through multiple layers of cheese cloth. If I hadn’t been deliberately trying to keep myself busy, I doubt I would have had the stamina to attempt any of the recipes.

Basil Walnut Pesto

Make pesto instead of watching Bravo. Come on. I know you can do it.

But if you do choose to devote your Saturday to a Martha creation, at least you’ll have beautiful images and detailed directions to guide you through a recipe that, inevitably, is more complicated than you imagined it to be. The book is gorgeous and full of stunning photos that will make your mouth water.

And let’s face it, there are times when doing things the “old fashioned” way – like making your own stock, baking your own bread, or rolling your own pasta dough, is pretty appealing.

So I’d like to share once of my Martha Stewart creations – homemade gnocchi, which I served with homemade basil-walnut pesto sauce. The gnocchi were definitely a project; you have to boil potatoes, skin them, make the dough, roll out the dough, and shape the dumplings. But it wasn’t difficult and, if you have the time, I found it to be quite fun. My favorite part was seeing all those little dumplings sitting out and waiting to be cooked – the tangible result of my hard work.

Gnocchi - uncooked

My pretties.

And how did they turn out? Soft and pillowy, with a slightly chewy texture that’s absolutely addictive, they were the perfect vehicles for the pesto sauce. The pesto sauce was entirely improvised, since I was low on basil, out of pine nuts, and almost out of olive oil. Thankfully I was able to rustle up a pesto with walnuts and basil that was heavy on the cheese. I won’t force my improvised recipe on you, but I based it on this recipe, if you’re interested.

I’d serve these with a nice bottle of Italian white wine and make your Saturday night extra special. And, best of all, they’re guaranteed to keep large swaths of your Saturday afternoon TV-free.

Gnocchi Recipe, with Commentary!

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Top Chef: Soul(ess) Cooking in New Orleans

As moderndomestic had mentioned in her last Top Chef recap I’ve been asked to step in to “save the day” and take the blogging reigns for a post.  I’m not quite sure why she would request Elpis and Justice, who is usually busy writing about public health issues, but I’ll enjoy my power trip.  

Top Chef has been miraculously transplanted to New Orleans!  The guest judge is Emeril Lagasse!  The chefs are back and looking well rested.  I think the producers required each of the contestants to get a new haircut to emphasize the how much time has passed.  Modern’s boyfriend Fabio is sporting an miniature mohawk.  I’ll have to ask her how she feels about the new look.

What a beautiful setting for a Quick Fire Challenge!

What a beautiful setting for a Quick Fire Challenge!

The Quick Fire Challenge will take place on the grounds of the lovely Houmas House, which is surrounded by beautiful gardens and, ahh, as Fabio so eloquently put, trees with “stuff hanging all over.”  As the camera pans to the quick fire area there is something missing… a fourth table!  What’s this??  Will there be teams?  Will there be a duel to the death?  Will Stefan be heckling from the sidelines??

No no, in a Project Runway style tactic, to honor the rebirth of New Orleans three old contestants will be brought back to compete to get back into the competition.  Jamie, Leah, and Jeff (wtf?) are competing in the Quick Fire Challenge.  I quickly write off Jeff, and assume this will be a battle between Team Rainbow and Team, ah, Slumpy.

Jamie is back- I’m so excited!  Her perfect opportunity to redeem herself.  I can see it now.  Jamie will win, she’ll be amazing, she’ll be in the top three, it will be a close race between her and Stefan… but, oh wait they have to cook first.

The chefs have one hour to create a dish that incorporates crawfish.  

Looks sort of like Leah, rather "meh"

Looks sort of like Leah, rather "meh"

Leah produces a nice crawfish soup with andouille and sausage.  She’s never made a gumbo before, but her product looks pretty nice.  I’d say it’s a bit heavy on the broth.  Personally I don’t like to drink a think soup in hot weather.

This just looked like a bowl of mush to me.  The judges thought otherwise.

This just looked like a bowl of mush to me. The judges thought otherwise.

I assume Jeff is going to make three things poorly.  However it seems like he realized something during his time at home- on Top Chef it’s best to do just one thing well, or if you’re Stefan- three amazing things and a mango lollipop.  He makes crawfish with grits with andouille and beer.   This sort of grossed me out.  There wasn’t much variation in texture and looked like a big mush meal to me.       

Will this dish be good enough to bring Jamie back?  I hope so!

Will this dish be good enough to bring Jamie back? I hope so!

Jamie gets down to business and makes corncake, greens, poached Egg with andouille and crawfish cream sauce.  This seems much more creative than Leah’s interpretation, so mentally crown Jamie the winner during yet another uncomfortably long commercial break.  

The judging begins.  Jamie should…. wait.  Apparently Emeril didn’t watch the tapes.  He should know that Jeff sucks.  I don’t know how he made it so far in the show.  He consistently made mediocre/bad food, messed up other people’s good food, and, and, and Emeril names him the winner!?  Wait!  That was Jamie’s spot!  Nooooooo!  Jeff triumphantly accepts his copy of chef Lagasse book Emeril at the Grill.  

The chefs are invited to Emeril’s DelMonico and will retire for the evening at Hotel Monteleone. 

What a great hotel to be totally stressed out in!

What a great hotel to be totally stressed out in!

Before the competition begins, the contestants run through why they’re here.  Fabio is looking to win the money and help his sick mother in Italy, Hosea just wants to win, Carla is motivated by her family’s love… and Stefan tells us that this isn’t a “butt (or back? speak clearly!!) rubbing contest- there will be a slaughtering.”  Okay.

Carla, I gotta give it to you Carla.  I’ve never believed in you.  I’m a convert.  You cook good food, you cook it with compassion, and you’re just sweet.  I don’t think Stefan would think twice about spitting in your Finnish fish if he felt like it would either make the food taste better or he had a vendetta.  I don’t trust you- Finn.

The challenge is unveiled.  The chefs will be cooking for a masquerade party hosted by the Krewe of Orpheus at the New Orleans Museum of Art.  The chefs must make two dishes (one inspired by traditional Creole cooking) and a cocktail.  Winner gets a car (I shall not say the name just to spite shameless product placement!)  Fabio hopes to win because his car “is a piece of poo.”  Jeff needs to win in order to stay in the competition (stipulation of the quick fire).  

The chefs dash off to Emeril’s kitchen and begin their work.  Hosea decides to make a gumbo as his traditional Creole food.  He’s acting like a true Top Chef by putting a lot of time and effort into making a proper roux.  Roux is a combination of oil and flour, that is slowly cooked.  A good gumbo has a well developed roux.    

Jeff has also embraces the Top Chef spirit by making his own sausage.  I’m too mad at Jeff to care. 

Padma looking beautiful as usual.

Padma looking beautiful as usual.

Fabio decides to add an Italian twist to his food.  He’s busy making pasta and bread from scratch.  Oh boy Fabio, this might not be such a good idea.  Creole cooking is already a fusion of so many cultures, fuse it any more and there will be fission- and physicists can’t even do that.

Carla has decided to make an oyster stew.  Although she shucked her first oyster last week, she’s decided to shuck 100 for one of the most important challenges.  Carla, you may have just shucked yourself out of the running, and no, the boys aren’t going to chip in for one second.

The producers have edited Stefan into a real jerk this episode.  He’s behaving much like the hare he’s stewing by playing with sausages, going out to smoke, and creatively dragging his feet.  I don’t know if you learn about Aesop’s Fables in Finland, Stefan, but screwing around in the final leg of the race is a real no no.  The other chefs are equally annoyed.

It’s time to set up for the party.  The chefs go to their respective stations.  Hosea managed to forget a whisk, Carla laments about no one offering to help with the shucking, Stefan is out smoking with his bar tender, and Jeff is wringing his hands.

The party begins and the judges are mysteriously wearing black masks.  They remove them to reveal that the judges are…. Padama, Gail Simmons, Tom Colicchio, and Emeril Lagasse… why were they wearing masks??  That wasn’t a surprise!  Fabio mentions that the masquerade theme reminds him of an old po–adult film.  Padma is looking quite foxy in her gown.  I have a feeling Wonk would agree.  

Hosea took the challenge seriously.  His risk of slow cooking the roux was a good move.

Hosea took the challenge seriously. His risk of slow cooking the roux was a good move.

Hosea made duck, andouille and chicken gumbo, pecan crusted catfish, and a hurricane with Grand Marnier.  The slow cooked roux seems to have paid off.  Emeril loves the gumbo, although Stefan disagrees.  The judges are also pleased the catfish isn’t dry.  Cooking it on the spot helped with that.

I don't care how good that mojito is Jeff- Jamie should be here.

I don't care how good that mojito is Jeff- Jamie should be here.

Jeff made fried oyster with sausage, crawfish with pot de creme, and a cucumber mojito.  Jeff surprised me again.  The judges felt he made “smart choices” with his crawfish, and were pleased with his homemade sausage.  The cucumber mojito was also a big hit and scored him some extra points.

I feel like the pasta in this dish made the menu much too heavy.

I feel like the pasta in this dish made the menu much too heavy.

Fabio’s table offered grits with sausage and rabbit, crawfish and crab stew with pasta, and a bell pepper martini.  The reviews here were mixed.  I think Padma has a little crush on Fabio.  While Emeril and Tom Colicchio picked his dishes apart, Padma defended his honor.  The pasta was nice, but needed heat and the flavors weren’t layered.  The martini smelled good, but tasted too sweet for the judges’ liking.  

The judges could taste the love in Carla's dishes.

The judges could taste the love in Carla's dishes.

Although Carla’s table didn’t have booze (Carla doesn’t drink) her guests seemed to be having the best time.  The judges were thrilled with her food.  She made and oyster stew, shrimp and andouille beignet, and a non-alcoholic cranberry spritzer.  The food was “smokin’ hot,” the oysters were perfect, and the judges appreciated the care she put into it.  I was glad Carla’s philosophy of cooking with compassion was given another chance.  In a previous episode when she sent out runny ice cream “with love” the judges ripped her apart.

In the judges' eyes the taste wasn't as big as Stefan's ego.

In the judges' eyes the taste wasn't as big as Stefan's ego.

Stefan served the guests and the judges with a smirk on his face. Duck and rabbit gumbo with grits, an apple beignet, and a black cherry rum cocktail were on his menu.  The judges were not impressed.  The gumbo wasn’t bad… but they concluded his food wasn’t worth a return trip- not even for the dessert.  Tom was even less impressed by Stefan’s cockiness both in the kitchen and at the party.  In short, Stefan’s food lacked soul.  

The elimination meeting is tense.  If Jeff wins, then two of the finalists go home.  If Jeff loses, one of the chefs must pack their knives.  I liked the new attitude Emeril brought to the judging table.   He is a chef that not only cooks, but is also playing a role in the recovery of New Orleans. I felt like he was less about gimmicky remarks and took a holistic view of both the food and the chef.

The chefs are brought out for elimination.  Jeff is praised for his good effort, but is still sent home.  Stefan and Fabio are in the bottom two.  Stefan produced not only mediocre food, but also brought a bad attitude.  Fabio just missed the mark with his menu.  In the end it is Fabio who is sent home.

But who wins?  Carla!  Carla is just thrilled.  Not only is she closer to winning, but she also gets to take home a new car- nice!  Emeril’s words to describe her food were “balance, flavor, simplicity, temperature, yet creative.”  I think Carla really does represent what it means to be a Top Chef.  She has the foundation of a loving family, has excellent technique, the maturity to fuse food traditions properly, and sincerely loves cooking for others.  For now Team Europe has gone the way of Team Rainbow.  Good thing Bravo didn’t spring on the tee-shirts for that one!  

Next week, moderndomestic will be back to recap.  Who will be Top Chef!  Who??

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Domestic Failures: Bitten By Bittman

Awful Soup

This soup was truly awful; even Wonk the Plank wanted to throw it out.

Mark Bittman’s New York Times blog is seductive. Everything in it sounds so easy, so accessible, so fast, that you come to wonder why everyone doesn’t make their own riccotta cheese or fry their own pigs feet. “My God, the American public is so lazy,” you think as you read an article about making your own bread from scratch. “This is so easy!”

And that’s really the point of a lot of food writing – you’re supposed to pick up the new Gourmet and think “I can make my own Moroccan seven course feast from scratch! How hard could it be?”

Sometimes, harder than you think.

Witness example number one: my coworker came home a couple of weeks ago to find her roommate simmering with anger in the kitchen. There were the telltale signs of cooking rage: banging pans, grumbling, swearing at the oven. The roommate confessed that she had just read Mark Bittman’s article on cleaning out your pantry, and was trying her hand at making homemade croutons. Contrary to her expectations, it was neither easy, nor particularly fast—instead, it was taking all night. “God damn you Mark Bittman” was how she summed up the entire experience.

When I heard this story, I was happy to learn that I wasn’t the only one who had suffered from the Bittman Pantry article. Only I fell pray to the stock.

Last weekend I was feeling under the weather, so I decided to make a big pot of chicken soup with rice that Wonk the Plank and I could take for lunch the next week. Remembering Bittman’s adage that making your own quick-simmering stock was much easier and tastier than buying the pre-packaged stuff, I decided to whip up some stock from vegeteble bits and chicken bones that I had lying around.

“Look at me!” I thought to myself as I threw everything into the pot. “Following Mark Bittman’s advice! Making my own stock! I feel like such a bona fide Modern Domestic!

Except that making weak vegetable stock and using it as the basis for an entire pot of chicken soup is . . . well, when I tasted it all I could think was “why does this soup taste like salty vegetable water?” Even after a couple hours of simmering on the stove and letting the flavors develop, the soup tasted like slightly saltier vegetable water.

Suffice it to say, it was awful. I could barely get Wonk to eat a bowl of the soup for dinner. Wonk has depression-era values when it comes to wasting food, but there was no way that he was taking that soup for lunch all week. “Throw it out, said the puritanical Wonk, who will eat two-week old wilting celery sticks just to prove to me that they’re still edible.

But after I had spent two days making the stuff, I couldn’t throw it out. And I didn’t have anything else for lunch. So I spent all week eating water-y, tasteless chicken soup with rice. And all I could think as I ate each watery, faintly vegetable-y bite, was “God damn you Mark Bittman!”

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