May 30, 2008

Key Lime Pie Truffles

This month's Royal Foodie Joust features the ingredients: almond, lime and raspberry. Elle chose these ingredients after winning last month's joust with her delicious looking Mango Buffalo Wings.

I was very happy she picked almonds since I was already on a mission to clean out the nuts in my freezer. I also immediately knew I wanted to play with one of Alex's favorite snacks, Just Raspberries. These tart dried raspberries were the inspiration for my no-bake, mostly raw, almond "truffles". There is always leftover raspberry dust after Alex has eaten the whole ones and I've thought it would be great to coat the outside of cookies. I based my recipe loosely on this raw chocolate fudge and the Midwest favorite buckeye balls. The balls themselves are sweetened only with dates but I added a little sugar in the raspberry coating to buffer the tartness. The resulting tangy snacks remind me of key lime pie made into a pretty, pink, crispy-centered truffle. They are best stored in the freezer so the rice krispies stay crisp but I'm proud to say it wasn't even two days before mine were all gone. My husband John was a big fan.

Key Lime Pie Truffles
Tart and crispy no-bake treats that remind me of key lime pie.
Makes 36 balls

1/2 cup Just Raspberries* (freeze dried raspberries)
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup raw almonds
3/4 cup chopped dried dates, pits removed
2 1/2 teaspoons key lime zest
3 tablespoons key lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups crisp rice cereal
*You can find Just Raspberries in health food stores, Whole Foods and many larger grocery stores in the health food section. You can also buy them direct here.

1.) Pulse the raspberries, sugar and cinnamon in a food processor until they form a light pink powder. Tap the top of the food processor bowl and allow the dust to settle before opening. Pour the powder into a bowl and set aside. Wipe out the food processor bowl, washing is not necessary.
2.) Add the almonds to the food processor and pulse until they form a coarse meal. Add the chopped dates, lime zest, lime juice and salt. Process until it comes together like a cookie dough and the dates are distributed evenly.
3.) Scrape down the bowl if needed and add half of the rice cereal. Process until incorporated. Add the remaining cereal and repeat. This gives you some smaller cereal crunch and some larger.
4.) Form teaspoon sized balls and roll in the raspberry mixture.
5.) Freeze any uneaten balls. They are great right out of the freezer.

May 29, 2008

Top Chef Chicago High Steaks

***spoiler warning***
When rail was king, Chicago was known as the "Hog Butcher for the World". This week's theme and challenges were made for this Midwest city. The episode begins this week with clips of the contestants mooning over how close they are to the finals. Stephanie is especially excited over the potential for all three finalists being female. Perhaps Stephanie is really excited about the possibility that Richard will slip up and get eliminated? She has to know he's her biggest competition.

The two part quickfire challenge begins at the Allen Brothers butchery. A dry aged rib rack awaits each chef and they are given 20 minutes to carve out 7 tomahawk steaks, a ginormous frenched rib eye. Spike mentions he's part of a butcher's family and whizzes through his carving. When the time is up they return to the Top Chef kitchen and are introduced guest judge Rick Tramonto (beware, obnoxious music plays on his site). Each chef is then given another 30 minutes to cook one of their steaks medium rare. Various methods are employed by the contestants. Antonia finishes her steak in what has to be 2 pounds of butter! Poor Richard bemoans the fact that with only 30 minutes he's not going to be doing his steak sous vide, but pulls out a torch in the end to improve his steak's crust. Tramonto reviews the cooking of each steak as well as the butchery of the uncooked. Richard and Stephanie both under cook their steaks. Antonia's butter bath works in her favor and she receives an honorable mention for the steak's crust. Spike's wise decision to use the oven to finish his steak along with his superior carving earn him the quickfire win. Finishing a steak that thick in the oven treats it more like a roast and allows for more even cooking. It's a smart move on his part.

Padma reveals that the elimination challenge for this week will be to take command of the Tramonto Steak and Seafood restaurant for dinner service. Each contestant will be required to use the supplies at Tramonto to create an appetizer and an entree for a fully packed house. Spike's advantage will be to choose a unique protein for both of his dishes. The contestants go home for the night and are seen chowing down on steak dinners. (I'm hungry.) The next day they head to the restaurant. The interior does look beautiful. Spike makes his pick scallops and the aforementioned tomahawk. The other contestants make their selections and begin prepping for service. Both Richard and Stephanie have chosen sweetbreads and beef tenderloin. Is this a sign they aren't afraid to go head to head? Antonia decides to make an egg and bacon salad for her appetizer and a bone in rib eye for her entree. Lisa makes disparaging remarks over Spike's choice of frozen scallops and picks shrimp and NY strip. When he opens the scallops up, Spike begins to worry and spends time attempting to dry them off. Chef Tom Colicchio looks over the contestants prep and more ominous comments are made about the frozen scallops. He also produces his patented Colicchio flinch when Lisa mentions she's making peanut butter mashed potatoes. I can't blame him, it sounds awful to me. She shrugs it off and claims she knows what she's doing. Colicchio pokes at Richard and wonders if he's playing it too safe. Richard's defense is the restaurant's steak house theme. Further along during prep, Lisa has to bring up "sabotage" again when she gets a little too toasty in front of the wood burning oven. Her whining is generally ignored.

Before dinner service Colicchio announces that he will be expediting this evening and introduces them to their VIP guests. Out pop Harold, Ilan and Hung, the winners of previous seasons of Top Chef. They offer their advice for the competition: be true to yourself (Harold), don't shave any one's head tonight (Ilan) and don't worry about being the fan favorite (Hung). Service begins and each chef is told to create tasting plates for the judges and VIPs. Stephanie and Richard's dishes are enjoyed by all with the sole complaint of Richard's steak cooking being inconsistent. Antonia's salad is well executed but doesn't wow them. Her entree is deemed very rich but good. Lisa's grilled and chilled shrimp come under criticism. She pulls off the peanut butter mashed potatoes but her accompanying steak is flawed. Spike's scallop dish falls flat. He couldn't save the frozen scallops and the dish itself is lacking in texture and flavor. His tomahawk is commended for its execution but the plate itself looks far too spare. Its honeyed sweet potato side is deemed too sweet as well.

The chefs complete their dinner service and leave to go to their last judging in Chicago. Stephanie, Richard and Antonia get positive assessments of their dishes. Both Lisa and Spike have their appetizers critiqued. Spike pushes it a little too far in arguing that if Tramonto had the frozen scallops they shouldn't have been so bad. He has a point but isn't diplomatic enough in the way he brings it up. The contestants are sent back and the judges deliberate. Spike regrets his comments and fiddles a set of worry beads. The contestants are called back in and Stephanie's dishes are both deemed excellent and she takes the win. She receives Tramonto's latest book and a full kitchen of GE Monogram appliances. Even if she doesn't win in the end she has definitely collected some good loot from her various wins! Richard's appetizer is praised and he is in for the finals. Antonia gets her spot for her entree. Finally the choice has to be made and Spike loses his place in the finals to Lisa.

It's off to the finale in Puerto Rico for Stephanie, Richard, Antonia and Lisa! From what I've seen I think Richard and Stephanie are very nearly equal in great ideas, but Stephanie definitely has had more slip ups in execution. Antonia seems like a solid player and deserves her spot but I just don't see the same spark in her. Lisa is my least favorite. I haven't been intrigued by anything she's made all season. In addition she seems like she cooks to please herself not to create pleasure and excitement in others. I find her very much like her antagonist predecessor Tiffani from season one. She does serve to create drama in the show. We'll have to wait and see if there are any surprises in store.

This week's winning dishes: Veal Sweetbreads and Beef Tenderloin with Salsify Puree

Update: I always write my posts before I read other blogs but here's more info I found on the scallops from Hungry Magazine. Turns out Tramonto's not responsible for the scallops, Bravo is.

May 28, 2008

Donuts with Dad

Yawn, it's time to make the donuts.

My internal clock woke me seconds before the alarm went off at 5:30am this morning. John is headed off to Alex's kindergarten class for their Donuts with Dad event, an early celebration of Father's Day. Last year I made dairy-free Krispy Kreme style yeast donuts but a twist was added this year as John has given up wheat for awhile.

Yesterday, I picked up a box of Whole Foods' gluten-free baking mix. Then, after a quick search online I chose this recipe for gluten-free donuts. Since there is tapioca starch and xantham gum in the WF mix I skipped the first three ingredients in favor of 1 3/4 cup of the WF mix. A 1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg joined the cinnamon. The first set out of the oil seemed a little dense so I added an extra 1/4 cup of soy milk. The resulting donuts were perfect. Crispy, sweet, soft and fluffy inside and very beignet-like. John came home and told me Alex had to fight to get the 11 donuts he ate!! The others were gobbled up without any of the other kids or dads guessing they were gluten and dairy free. Of course only at a dad event would a child be allowed to eat 11 donuts. So far he hasn't exploded.

Opera Cake

It's Daring Baker time again! This month's recipe is the Opera Cake co-hosted by: Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie, Whiskful, Cream Puffs in Venice, or La Mia Cucina. Head over to one of their sites to find the original recipe and see what their version looks like.

Traditionally an opera cake is almond jaconde cake soaked in coffee syrup with layers of espresso butter cream, chocolate ganache and topped with chocolate glaze. In honor of Barbara of Winos and Foodies, we were told to mix things up and choose all light colored flavorings for our opera cakes. Barbara hosts the Taste of Yellow event in honor of the LiveStrong foundation.

I made my opera cakes for a Mother's Day lunch I had with my mom, grandmother, and godmother. Since I didn't want a ton of cake leftover, I decided to try and halve the recipe and then cut out circles of cake for individual mini opera cakes. The halved recipe gave me (8) 2 1/4 inch mini cakes plus scraps that I used in mini trifles. The day before the lunch I attempted to make the jaconde (the almond cake) with coconut flake since my grandmother loves coconut. When I tried to beat the coconut flakes, powdered sugar and whole eggs together they never got fluffy. I think the coconut flakes were too sharp and broke all of the forming air bubbles. The baked coconut jaconde was too heavy and flat, though it tasted great. I gave in and made another jaconde with almond and it came out tasty and light.

Per suggestions on the Daring Baker site, I used Dorie's Perfect Party Cake frosting as an alternative to the whole egg butercream in the opera cake recipe. Since I'm baking dairy-free, I made my "butter" cream with Earth Balance margarine. Half of the batch I flavored with raspberry juice and half with lime zest and juice. I wasn't thrilled with the taste of either. You could really taste the margarine, more so than in the frostings I make with just powdered sugar. It also seemed too sweet for me.

I cut out circles of jaconde and layered them with the two butter creams. I used grated ginger to flavor my syrup and the taste was wonderful! I rushed a little and when making this again I would freeze the cakes for a few minutes after applying each layer of butter cream filling. Some of my mini cakes leaned a bit and I had to trim them again with the cookie cutter. I tried using soy milk and margarine combined to replace the cream in the glaze with dairy-free white chocolate chips from Chocolate Emporium. My glaze was far too runny and never set up even after storing the extra in the fridge overnight. I think I would experiment with much smaller amounts of soy milk for the glaze next time.

I love the jaconde and I want to try using it again. I'm thinking of trying to whip the whole eggs and powdered sugar til fluffy before adding the coconut. I loved the ginger syrup and want to use that again. So even though I wouldn't make this exact version of an opera cake again I will definitely save the syrup and cake components for future recipes. It was a fun and interesting experiment.

May 26, 2008

Pimenton Spiced Walnuts

I've been looking at my over packed freezer pantry for awhile and thinking about trying to clean it out so containers of Tofutti don't attack us every time we open it. I stock all kinds of nuts in the freezer but all too often use them only in sweet preparations. I decided to make some spiced nuts and use up the remainder of a bag of walnut halves. After pondering several flavor combinations I settled on smoked paprika, thyme and lemon. My thyme plant was in desperate need of a haircut! Alex had to try these because he loves trying spicy things and then dramatically running for water. I think he actually liked the spice but doesn't care for walnuts so they weren't a hit with him. I thought they were wonderful so I'm taking them to a Memorial Day barbecue so I don't end up eating them all myself.

Pimenton Spiced Walnuts
Makes 2 cups
2 cups walnut halves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon smoked hot paprika (pimenton picante)
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
-Lay walnut halves in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 8 minutes.
-While the walnuts are baking mix the remaining ingredients together in a large bowl.
-Remove the walnuts from the oven and toss in spice mixture while still hot. Spread the coated walnuts back onto the baking sheet in a single layer.
-Turn the oven to 300 degrees F and bake 3 minutes. Stir the nuts and bake for a final 3 minutes.
-Remove from the oven and cool.

May 22, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Restaurant Wars

***spoilers included***
The awaited Restaurant Wars episode is here! I always look forward to this episode because I love seeing teams tackle interesting concepts and possibly bite off more than they can chew. This week's bonus replacement head judge, Anthony Bourdain, was a welcome surprise. Though I don't agree with the harshness of all of his views, his wit is always entertaining.

We begin this week with an early morning wake-up call from chef Collichio. The contestants are told to pack up and head out for breakfast service. They arrive at a local breakfast joint and are told they will each get a turn at the egg station. My 6 year experience as a Big Boy waitress taught me that there isn't a lot of "cooking" going on in most big chains these days. A lot of the food came from a local commissary and required little more than reheating by the cooks. The exception was always eggs. You could tell the skill and talent of the cook by how smoothly they could work the egg station. Salvador and Lupe, if you're out there, I mean you two! The cook's economy of motion and the instinct for egg timing lead to a smooth breakfast service. Antonia and Dale fared best at this challenge. Antonia takes the win for her ability to listen to direction and maintain a calm demeanor.

It's revealed that Antonia will be able to pick her restaurant team as reward for her win. Antonia wisely picks Stephanie and Richard for her team. This puts Spike, Dale and Lisa together for the opposing team. Minus two players, it's a rematch of the wedding wars teams. Antonia's team decides to call their restaurant Warehouse Kitchen (WK) and focus on high end cuisine in a casual environment. Spike, et al. choose the name Mai Buddha (MB) and are headed in an Asian direction. The next morning they head for Whole Foods for the food, Pier One for decor and back to their makeshift restaurants to start cooking. Bourdain arrives and the menus are revealed. I'm interested in the trout dish and the Gorgonzola cheesecake from WK and the laksa, halo-halo and short ribs from MB. Stephanie and Spike will represent their teams as front of the house staff in addition to providing help on a dish or two. Bourdain also reveals that each team will receive the help of an eliminated contestant. MB gets first pick and chooses Jen. WK decides to choose Nikki since they are making fresh linguine. The dining rooms are set up and waiters arrive. Plenty of the expected bickering occurs between Dale and Lisa. The judges arrive and the other guest judge is revealed to be Jose Andres. They visit WK first. There is praise all around, especially for Stephanie's two contributions the linguine and Gorgonzola cheesecake. The judges move on to MB. Ted Allen has a few snide comments about the decor. While the first course's pot stickers are praised Lisa's laksa is criticized heavily for its overpowering smoke. The second course follows the same pattern. Spike's short ribs are given heavy praise while there is nothing but disappointment over the overly sweet butterscotch-miso covered scallops. The final blow comes with the dessert course. The sticky rice fix has not done it's job and the dish is found sorely lacking. Baby vomit comments are thrown around.

It's time for judging and it's no surprise that WK is the winning team. The linguine and cheesecake are praised again and Stephanie is awarded the win. For her win she receives a luxury trip to Spain. MB is called in and their dishes are critiqued. The laksa, scallops and sticky rice are singled out as being the biggest problems. Spike's smart, game play influenced decision to take the front of the house and concern himself with only one dish works to his advantage. His short ribs are praised as the best of their menu. Lisa and Dale argue over culpability but in the end Dale is let go because of his role as the executive chef. Once again I'm sorry to see Lisa avoid elimination. Dale's food over the course of the competition seems much more inspired. He does seem to lack experience and will hopefully continue to improve and have success in life.

Little is revealed about next weeks episode. The question to me is will one of our strong players (Richard, Stephanie or Antonia) fail or will we finally cull Lisa?


May 18, 2008

Earthy Chocolate Muffins

Tired of the same ol' banana bread recipes, I made this delicious chocolate version with buckwheat flour. The key to these is the melted chocolate, it makes them rich while still keeping the sugar count lower than most banana breads. They can be made gluten-free by replacing the all-purpose flour with brown rice flour or a gluten-free flour mix.

Earthy Chocolate Muffins
Lower in sugar and fat than most banana muffins these are full of the earthy flavors of chocolate, banana and buckwheat.
Makes 12 muffins

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (2 1/4 oz) dairy-free chocolate chips or semi-sweet chocolate
3/4 cup mashed ripe banana (~2 large bananas)
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons margarine (or butter or shortening)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

-Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin cups with papers or grease and flour.
-Sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
-Beat the sugar and margarine together until light in color and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and beat to incorporate.
-Melt the chocolate chips or chocolate (microwave or double boiler). Mix the melted chips thoroughly into the mashed banana.
-Add the banana mixture and the flour mixture to the beaten margarine and sugar. Beat just until combined.
-Spoon into the lined muffin cups and bake for 17-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out cleanly.
-Allow to cool 5 minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. These freeze well.

May 16, 2008

Pork Meatball Soup with Mushrooms and Cabbage

I'm generally not one to worry about spending a little more money on food but some of the prices lately are a little shocking. I was at the meat counter trying to decide what to get that was inexpensive and not my standby, chicken leg quarters. I saw some pork steaks and thought they'd do well for soup. Using the bones for the stock and grinding the meat for meatballs was a way to fully utilize the three dollar purchase and stretch it into enough soup for several meals. I used Stephanie's Top Chef recipe for meatball soup as inspiration and borrowed some directions from this photo recipe for wonton soup. My version gives you Asian flavors with less work and using items I usually have on hand. I already had dried mushrooms, green onions, cilantro and some savoy cabbage in my kitchen. You could definitely make use of other vegetables and any mushrooms you have on hand for a similar effect. If you can't find bone-in pork steaks you use any pre-made stock and enhance it with mushrooms and make the meatballs from ground pork. The smell of the broth simmering had my mouth watering but I know from first hand experience that you can cheat and make any old vegetable stock ten times better by adding in dried mushrooms.
Here's the recipe, best eaten while watching Tampopo:

Cabbage and Pork Meatball Soup
Rich mushroom scented broth, flavorful pork meatballs and crunchy cabbage.
Serves 4-6

1 1/2 lbs bone-in pork steaks or 1 lb ground pork + 3 1/2 quarts of pork or vegetable stock
1/2 cup dried wood ear mushrooms (my package calls them dried black fungus)
1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons of grated ginger
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2-3 cups cabbage (savoy or napa are best), shredded
5 scallions, thinly sliced
more salt and pepper to taste

-If you are using pork steaks: remove the meat from the bones and place in a 6-quart pot. Cover the bones with 3 1/2 quarts of cold water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for at least one hour, skimming the foam/scum from the surface. Grind the pork meat in a meat grinder or food processor.
-If you are using premade stock: bring 3 quarts of the stock to a simmer in a 6-quart stock pot
-Mix the cilantro, ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, 3/4 teaspoon salt and pepper into the pork. You can microwave a small ball to taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Refrigerate this mixture covered until the stock is ready.
-Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for at least 15 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the water and add the mushroom water to the stock. Make sure you leave out any grit that is at the bottom of the mushroom liquid. Remove the stems from the shiitake mushrooms and chop into quarters. Add the shiitake mushrooms to the stock pot and cook for at least a half hour. Slice the wood ear mushrooms into ribbons and set aside, throw away any tough looking parts.
-When the shiitakes have cooked in the stock for at least a half hour remove the bones and add the wood ear mushrooms and bring to a good simmer. Add at least 1 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper, taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.
-Spoon in balls of the meat mixture into the simmering broth one at a time, stirring occasionally. I made balls about 1 1/2 tablespoons each but you can make any size. Add the cabbage and bring back to a full simmer.
-Add the scallions and serve.
-Optional: If I had them I would have used bean sprouts as a garnish. Other vegetables and/or noodles would be good as well.

Top Chef Chicago Serve and Protect

I was mistaken...last night the "next time on Top Chef" revealed the next challenge is Restaurant Wars!! I really was sad thinking they were only going to have a Wedding Wars challenge this season. I can't wait til next week!

We begin with a salad challenge for this week's quickfire. Haven't we heard enough that everyone thinks Sam Talbot is attractive? Bravo thinks not. In spite of the generous 45 minutes given, poor Stephanie forgets a component on her plate. Most of my favorite dishes this season have come from her but she just can't seem to pull it off consistently. Maybe it's just the pressure of the competition? Spike takes the quickfire win with his "Sensual Beef Salad". His over the top description and the messy looking plate didn't impress me but the taste really is the most important part.

The elimination challenge is revealed and the theme is healthy boxed lunches. Each lunch must include one ingredient from each of the four categories: whole grains, lean protein, fruit and vegetables. I love that the focus is low-glycemic index meals that would work for diabetics. My father is a type 2 diabetic and my own weight loss success has come at least in part from making high-carb foods treats only. For his win, Spike gets 10 extra shopping minutes and 4 ingredients that he alone can use. He gleefully announces that he plans on using this advantage to the fullest to screw over his fellow contestants. The chefs go shopping and Spike picks chicken breasts, tomatoes, lettuce, and bread. All are common staples that could really mess up the other chefs plans. Dale goes for lettuce wraps with bison, made with napa cabbage. I really love ground bison for chili and bison chuck for pot roast so I'm more interested in his dish. Andrew lets us know (repeatedly) that he studied nutrition for two years and plans to make a completely raw meal. His parsnip and pine nut "rice" for maki rolls sounds like a terrible idea. A broohaha occurs when Lisa finds her rice turned to high and cries "sabotage". Bravo gives us the vague evidence that Dale had been using the same range and furtive glances from all the rest of the chefs. The contestants pack up their individual meals and head for the police station. The officers are given the choice of meal and if necessary instructions on how to reheat them. Praise is given for most of the meals from the officers. Tom Colicchio prods Andrew's maki roll and looks offended.

In judging, Stephanie's comforting choice of leek and mushroom soup is given high praise for being a dish the cops could relate to but Dale's flavorful bison lettuce cups take the win. Lisa, Spike and Andrew are called as the bottom three. Lisa's undercooked rice and shrimp falls short. Spike's bizarre combination of olive and grape in his chicken salad and his lackluster use of the gameplay influenced lettuce, tomatoes, and bread come under scrutiny. Andrew's dish fails miserably as none of the judges liked it at all. Lisa then complains that she believes she was attacked and attacks right back with a unnecessary reveal the Andrew failed to use a whole grain. Andrew gets pissed. They glare at each other in the stew room and then are called in. Andrew and his raw maki get cut.

Again, I can't wait for next week's Restaurant Wars! In the meantime, I made some really delicious meatball soup of my own and I plan to post the recipe later today.

This week's winning recipe: Lemongrass Mango Bison Lettuce Wraps

May 9, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Wedding Wars

I'm sad to hear that there will be no restaurant wars this season. Having the teams of chefs work together to create a restaurant concept and try to execute it in such a short amount of time was fun to watch. In comparison, the past wedding themed episodes always filled me with a sense of dread. The quickfire is a welcome favorite from last season, the Relay Race! The mayo, oranges and artichokes I know I could tackle, though maybe not with the speed of the contestants. That monk fish on the other hand, Yikes! With so little usable flesh, frightening visage and messy looking innards I'm glad to not be the one filleting it. On an off note, I never see monk fish sold in SE Michigan. I wonder if I'm not looking hard enough.

The two teams of contestants are set to creating a dueling wedding meal according to the tastes of the bride or the groom. The bride wants meat and potatoes fare while the groom is leaning toward Italian, not incompatible choices for planning a menu. The wedding is pulled off with exhausted contestants and some fairly standard recipes. We see Richard and his team prove they are the much stronger competitors. Stephanie's cake is amazing considering the time given. On the other team, Dale's attempt make sure it all gets done whatever the cost to quality seems foolish. Spike focuses on making sure he has at least one dish done really well, a much smarter approach. Lisa certainly doesn't win points for the look of her cake but is saved by the taste. Nikki fails to step up to the plate and lead despite the Italian theme. As others have said, did we really think she was going to last much longer? This episode was fun enough to watch but left me with few recipes or ideas I feel I need to try. The one exception is Richard's brisket. The recipe sounds like a good one. Though, if you watch the shot of the meat raw you'd see that is no lean brisket and probably had a lot to do with how great is was.

Til next week, Braised Brisket of Beef

May 6, 2008

Kale and White Bean Salad

I'm a huge fan of greens. Kale and collards are my favorites but I like mustard greens, turnip greens, spinach, and Swiss chard as well. For awhile I was making kale and white bean soup constantly. Then I had a bumper crop of kale one summer and since I figured no one wanted hot soup on an eighty degree day I needed a new recipe. This salad was born. The beans are creamy, the kale is just barely wilted and still bright and green. The sweetness of the roasted peppers and garlic balance with the brightness of the lemon and richness of the olive oil. I just love this salad!

I'm adding this to a food blog event hosted by Food Blogga called Beautiful Bones. This recipe is perfect since kale and beans are rich in calcium and the vitamin C in the peppers and lemon juice can help you better absorb that calcium. Learn more about National Osteoporosis Awareness Month.

Kale and White Bean Salad
Good as a meal with crusty bread or as a side dish with grilled vegetables or sausage.
Makes ~6 cups

1 head of garlic
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
juice of 2 large lemons (~1/3 cup)
2 (15 oz) cans of white beans (great northern beans or cannellini)
2 large sweet red bell peppers
2 bunches of kale (~1 1/2 lbs)
1/4 teaspoon of hot pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

-First, roast the garlic. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut a head of garlic in half and drizzle with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, and a little sprinkle of salt and pepper. Wrap the garlic in a double layer of aluminum foil and roll down the edges to form a tight pouch. Place in the oven for ~1 1/2 hours. You can peek and remove it when you see that the garlic is golden brown and soft. Allow the garlic to cool until you can handle it. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skin into a large bowl. Smash the roasted cloves with a fork. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper and the lemon juice to the garlic.
-Drain and rinse the beans. Add them to garlic mixture and toss. Set aside to marinade while you cook the other ingredients.
-Now, roast the sweet peppers. (You can just buy the canned ones but they don't taste as good.) Wash and dry the peppers. Place the peppers on foil or cookie sheet under a hot broiler. Turn when the skin turns mostly black. Remove the peppers from the broiler when blackened on all sides. Cool until you can handle them and remove the peel and seeds. Slice into thin strips. Add to bowl with garlic sauce and beans.
-Remove stems from kale and discard. Roughly chop or tear the leaves into ~2 inch pieces. Then dunk and swirl the kale leaves in a large bowl of clean water. If the kale is sandy or dirty repeat with clean water until clean. Remove the kale but don't dry it. Place the damp kale in a large pot or pan over medium heat with the red pepper flakes and a little salt and pepper. Turn the kale several times while it lightly steams in the water left from washing. Remove when all the kale has brighten in color and wilted down a little.
-Add the kale to garlic mixture and toss together. Check the seasoning and add more lemon juice, salt, pepper or olive oil as needed.
-Best served at room temperature.

May 2, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Common Threads

My poor baby Alex has had a really crappy week. He's been sick and laying around since Sunday and is only starting to recover a little today after a miserable night last night. Since he's conked out after dismantling and rebuilding his Lego Chum Bucket, I thought I'd write down my thoughts about this week's Top Chef episode.

We begin with an Uncle Ben's rice quickfire challenge. I'm not a fan of microwave bag rice, most of them are pellet-like, greasy, taste terrible and are way over salted. But the contestants are given only 15 minutes for their entree and there aren't many ways to tackle rice in that short a time. At least it's better than the Kraft dressing challenge! I saw that Andrew was making his own wild rice flour and hoped this technique would work. Alas, he couldn't pull it off and his wild rice crusted fish ended up being too crunchy. Antonia wins immunity for her rice salad. I can see how the hard texture and heavy seasoning could work well as a salad accent and the majority of the dish was fresh vegetables.

The elimination challenge is revealed and the theme is the Common Threads organization. The contestants are given $10 to make a healthy meal for a family of four. Worried about cost the contestants fly to the meat counter for chicken, what a disappointment! Why not get the best looking, in season (and therefore usually cheapest) vegetables first and then decide on a small amount of meat to go with them or even forget the meat. I'm getting really tired of people planning meals around "the protein". I also thought it sad that no one picked pork. When making a mostly vegetable dish with meat as a seasoning, pork is as cheap as chicken and the flavor goes a lot further. At least Richard and Andrew pick chicken thighs instead of breasts. Stephanie looks pretty clueless and struggles to decide what to get. This does not bode well. When they get to the Common Grounds kitchen it's revealed that they will be cooking alongside the kids they will feed. I think this is a great idea to have the kids excited about trying the new dishes and help the chefs temper their creations and make them fit a child's palate. They all handle it very well and seem to genuinely try to involve and inspire the kids. I liked that Antonia was using whole wheat noodles and had high hopes for Mark's vegetable curry. Stephanie again seemed bewildered by the whole experience. Everyone gets their dishes done and serves them to the judges and groups of children, including their little sous chefs. I was amused by Andrew's server technique of squatting down to describe the dish. It's such a cliched trick he must have experience waiting tables.

At judges table, Andrew, Antonia and Nikki are called as having the top dishes. Antonia takes the win for her vegetable stir fried noodles. Stephanie, Mark and Lisa are called out as the bottom three. Things look bad for Stephanie and her mushy couscous and frenetic peanut butter and tomato sauce. Mark's "vegetable" curry is criticized heavily for being too sweet and not much more than sweet potatoes. His dish was found the most laking and he's sent home. At the end, we're treated to a glimpse of next week's wedding theme and the possible emotional and physical breakdowns of the contestants. We'll have to wait and see if they can deliver the drama.
This week's winning dish: Stir Fry Whole Wheat Noodles