June 29, 2008

Danish Braid

I just loved June's Daring Bakers Challenge!

This month Kelly of Sass & Veracity, and Ben of What’s Cookin’? gave us the task of making Danish braids. Danish dough is very similar to puff pastry dough but is sweetened and yeasted. Kelly and Ben chose “Danish Braid” from Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking for our base recipe. We were given our choice for fillings and they could be sweet or savory.

The first time I made the braid (image to the right) I kept the eggs in the recipe but used substitutes for the dairy ingredients. I kept the orange/vanilla/cardamom flavor for the dough and filled the braid with raspberry filling. I made my braid a little smaller and used the extra dough for a few rhubarb-vanilla knots. It worked so well and was so easy, I wanted to make it again.

The second time (top image) I used my dairy=free substitutes but also removed the eggs from the dough recipe. I liked this dough even more! The resulting braid was flavorful and extremely flaky. My husband John asked for a Tofutti cream cheese filling since his favorite danishes are the cheese ones. I made a few plain "cheese" knots and a blackberry/"cheese" braid. Despite my dislike for Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese I really liked it in the danishes.

Making a laminated dough was a new thing for me. It was a little scary at first but with a little extra chilling I had no trouble at all. I'm ready to try and conquer dairy-free croissants now! I plan on using this Danish dough again for special breakfasts. It really brought back memories of Knudsen's Bakery in Detroit where my parents would take me to pick up fresh pastries.

Here is my version of the recipe:
Danish Braid, my vegan version
This is the variation I made that me and my family liked the best. I made a few shortcuts in the directions. The brands I used are: Silk Enhanced soy milk and Earth Balance in the tub (not whipped).
Makes 1 braid

For the dough
½ ounce (1 ½ teaspoons) active dry yeast
½ cup soy milk
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
seeds from ¼ of a vanilla bean
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt

For the margarine innards (buerrage)
1/2 cup (4 ounces) cold margarine
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

For the Tofutti cheese filling, double for all cheese
1/2 cup Tofutti Better than cream cheese
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
seeds from 1/4 vanilla bean

For the berry filling
1 cup berries, frozen works fine
1/2 cup sugar
the empty vanilla pods

Dough Directions:
  1. Dump the first six ingredients in a stand mixer bowl and stir with a spoon or whisk.
  2. With the dough hook on the mixer add the flour and salt in three stages. Mix with the dough hook until the dough is smooth and elastic, approximately 4-5 minutes.
  3. Dust the ball of dough lightly with flour and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  4. When the time is up for the dough to chill, beat the margarine and flour together until just combined. You may need to scrape the bowl once if you use your mixer for this.
  5. Take the dough out of the freezer and roll it into ~12 x 8 inch rectangle.
  6. Spread the margarine over the right two thirds of the dough.
  7. Flip the clear left third over the middle third and then top that fold with the right third.
  8. Place the folded dough on a lightly floured tray and dust the top with a little flour cover with plastic wrap and chill for 45 minutes. (This is turn #1)
  9. When the time is up remove the dough and place it on a lightly floured surface with the folded side towards you.
  10. Roll the dough out to a 12 x 8 rectangle. Fold the left third towards the center and then the right third on top. (This is turn #2)
  11. Chill the dough again for 45 minutes and repeat the roll and fold. (Turn #3)
  12. Chill the dough again for 45 minutes and repeat the roll and fold. (Final turn, #4)
  13. Cover the dough well and chill overnight (The original recipe says to chill at least 4 hours and to freeze the dough if you are not going to use it within the next 24 hours.)
Filling Directions:
(It's best to do this while you are waiting for one of your turns to chill so that you can chill the filling and let the flavors marry.)

For the Tofutti cheese filling
Mix the ingredients together well and store in the refrigerator in a covered container.

For the berry filling

  • Add the three ingredients to a large microwavable bowl.
  • Cook in the microwave for ~10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Watch to make sure it isn't boiling over.
  • If you'd like the filling seedless strain the seeds out with a fine mesh sieve. Otherwise you can chill the berry filling and remove the vanilla pod before spreading on the dough
Baking Directions:
  1. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll it into a 13 x 8 inch rectangle.
  2. Make diagonal, parallel cuts on the long sides, this will form parallel strips on each side. Cut in only a third of the way on each side leaving the center uncut. See an image here.
  3. Spread your berry filling on the uncut center third. Dollop the Tofutti cheese filling in the center of the berry filling.
  4. Begin the braiding by tucking under the uncut end a little. Then pull over one strip over the center towards the opposite side. Repeat with a strip on the opposite side. Alternate and repeat until the center is covered with braided strips.
  5. Carefully transfer the braid to a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap that has been sprayed lightly with spray oil.
  6. Allow to rise: 2 1/2-3 hours at 70 degrees F; 2-2 1/2 hours at 75 degrees; 1 1/2-2 hours at 80 degrees; 1 to 1 1/2 hours at 85 degrees; or 1 hour at 90 degrees.
  7. When there is a half hour to go for your rise preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  8. Carefully remove the plastic wrap from the braid and place in the 400 degree oven. Bake for 10 minutes.
  9. Drop the temperature to 350 degrees F and rotate the pan 180 degrees. Bake an additional 12-20 minutes.
  10. Remove the braid from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Decorate with powdered sugar glaze if desired.
  11. Slice and serve.

*Please visit Sass & Veracity or What’s Cookin’? if you'd like to see the complete original recipe. You can see even more beautiful braids by checking out the Daring Bakers Blogroll. Be sure to scroll down to visit the other alternative bakers. The gluten-free bakers had to be especially creative this month and deserve a lot of credit for their efforts. You can also visit us at the Daring Bakers Kitchen where we have forums open to everyone. And watch this great Julia Child hosted Danish braid video. It was a lot of help to me.

June 16, 2008

Asparagus and Potato Salad

We had family over on Sunday to celebrate my son Alex's birthday. I was thinking about side dishes and how I love little boiled potatoes dressed with herbs and olive oil. I wanted something different and saw local asparagus at our Whole Foods. These were beautiful, thin stemmed asparagus and I knew they would look and taste great with the potatoes. I kept the seasoning very simple: olive oil, lemon juice, chives, salt and pepper with the tiniest pinch of cayenne. The key to keeping the asparagus bright and green is to watch it carefully so you do not overcook them and then shock them in ice water immediately after you remove them from the cooking water. The salad's flavors are at their best at room temperature or just a little warm.

Asparagus and Potato Salad
This is a fresh and simple potato salad. If it has been refrigerated make sure you bring it to room temperature before serving for the best flavor.
Serves 8-10

2 lbs small potatoes
1 lb asparagus
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped chives
2 tablespoons lemon juice
a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper, to taste

  • Rinse the potatoes and place them in a large pot, covered with lightly salted cold water.
  • Bring to a boil and boil until cooked through. Poke a test potato with the tip of knife to check for doneness. The potatoes are done when the knife point slides all the way to the center easily.
  • With a wire strainer or slotted spoon, remove the potatoes to a plate or bowl. Leave the cooking water in the pot.
  • Bring the cooking water back to a boil. Rinse the asparagus and trim off the woody ends. Chop the asparagus into 1 inch pieces. Keep the tips separate. Make up a large bowl of ice water.
  • Place the asparagus (except the tips) into the boiling water. Cook for 1 minute and then add the tips. Cook for another minute and check to see that the asparagus is mostly tender but retains a little crunch. Remove the asparagus pieces from the boiling water and immediately plunge them into the ice water.
  • In a large bowl mix together the olive oil, chives, lemon juice, cayenne, and a little salt and pepper.
  • The potatoes should be still quite warm but cool enough to handle now. Quarter the potatoes and add them to the dressing.
  • Stir gently to coat the potatoes. Add the asparagus and gently toss again. Check for seasoning and add more lemon juice, salt and pepper if needed.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature.

A Bohrok Cake for Alex

Our big birthday week concluded yesterday with my son Alex's 6th birthday. Earlier this week I made my husband John a Hamsterball cake. Alex is a HUGE Lego fan and has been talking about having a Bohrok cake for months now. His father and I have been trying to subtly sway him in another direction since we couldn't see how a cake that looked like a bohrok would be possible. In spite of our attempts, he remained firm in his decision.

For the interior, I made the same cookie/cake combo as in John's cake. The recipes are here. I covered the base in red homemade fondant. Man, does the red food color stain hands! Then I used a bowl to form a Rice Krispy treat and recruited John for carving and art direction. Alex wanted the cake to look like this bohrok, but I forgo the brown fondant on top and rolled out a piece of my homemade dairy-free caramel for the top decoration. I brushed on luster dust with a cotton puff to make the head silver and the caramel decoration bronze. It was my first time using luster dust dry on fondant and it got a little messy. I ended up lightly dusting the red base with dust as well. I liked the effect and it made the impressions on the bottom trim stand out more. If you look closely at the base of the cake, I pressed a clean piece of Bionicle Lego into the fresh fondant trim to make a pattern. If I did it again, I would have pressed Lego pieces all over the base fondant for a cool pattern. I need another reason to make a fondant covered cake so I can play with impressions and luster dust! But, I'm hoping Alex picks something a lot easier for next years cake. Something square...maybe Spongebob...

Here's the birthday boy with his cake:

June 12, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Finale Part 2

**beware winner revealed**
The end is here, the final episode of Top Chef Season 4: Chicago. The finalists: Richard, Stephanie and Lisa are in San Juan, Puerto Rico awaiting the final challenge. Stephanie mentions once again how she wants to be the first female Top Chef. Richard says he's putting everything on the line. Lisa brings up the fact that she has only won one elimination challenge but is confident she's going to win anyway. The contestants are brought before Padma and three guest chefs: Eric Ripert, April Bloomfield, and Dan Barber. The three guest chefs each have tables in front of then laden with various proteins. Since Stephanie and Richard are tied for the most elimination wins they draw knives to decide who has first pick for the proteins and guest chef to serve as their sous chef. Stephanie wins the knife pull and chooses Ripert. Richard picks Barber and Lisa gets Bloomfield. The chefs are told they are to cook a four course meal for 9 guests and that the final course must be a dessert. There will be 3 hours of prep on the first day and 4 more hours before service the following day.

The chefs and their assistants head to the kitchens. Stephanie plans to show off her style, which she says is balanced cooking. Richard says he wants to marry his classical training with molecular gastronomy. Lisa will focus on the flavors of Thailand and Vietnam. We get footage of Stephanie instructing the four star chef Ripert on how exactly she wants her fish trimmed. Lisa gets along quite well with Bloomfield to every one's surprise. Richard seems a bit unfocused but manages to attract attention when he pulls out liquid nitrogen to make a Tabasco ice cream. The prep time ends and the chefs head home for the evening.

When the finalists arrive the next day, Tom Colicchio is waiting for them with some news. Their sous chefs won't be helping them today. None of the contestants look surprised and they talk about how someone not showing up for work is part of the normal business of restaurants. All around this is an expected catch. Each contestant goes over a rough outline of their dishes. Stephanie has red snapper (1st course), quail with lobster ravioli and quail egg (2nd course), lamb medallions (3rd course) and a ricotta pound cake (dessert). Lisa is making grilled prawns (1st course), tom kha gai soup with dumplings (2nd course), wagyu beef (3rd course) and Thai rice pudding (dessert). Richard has chosen scallops (1st course), guinea hen, foie gras and chicken eggs (2nd course), pork belly (3rd course), and bacon ice cream with his banana "scallop" (dessert). I'm really interested in Stephanie's 2nd and 3rd courses, Lisa's soup and rice pudding, and Richard's 2nd course. I think it's a little strange that Richard is pulling out that banana "scallop" again. Richard is using his liquid nitrogen for the bacon ice cream. He elaborates on how this technique freezes the ice cream so quickly and prevents ice crystals from forming. He should have said it prevents large ice crystals from forming but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt, since who knows how Bravo edits. While I like the ideas behind Lisa's dishes I'm still not convinced she's shown us she can pull it all off perfectly. Stephanie frets about her ricotta cake. Lisa gives her the "you have to be confident" speech. I think we're a little tired of Lisa's "confidence".

The diners arrive. Ripert, Bloomfield and Barber are joined by Padma, Alfredo Ayala and Tim Zagat. Ayala is the chef owner of Delirio restaurant. Zagat is the CEO and co-founder of the company that makes the Zagat Survey guides. The judges Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and Ted Allen make up the final three diners. The finalists enter to talk about their inspiration for the meal. Richard believes his meal is a reflective journey. Lisa mentions her Thai and Vietnamese influences. Stephanie says she tried to keep things simple and clean with multiple proteins on each plate while hitting all of the flavor points. The finalists return to the kitchen and the meal begins.

The 1st courses
Lisa: Grilled prawns with chili basil sauce and crab and a homemade potato chip
Stephanie: Seared red snapper, truffled cream and white asparagus broth with green asparagus salad
Richard: Scallop with mango and pineapple vinaigrette
Diners' comments:
The texture of Lisa's dish is great, maybe the spice is too strong. Stephanie's flavors are delicate. Richard's dish needs to be simplified.
My thoughts: Stephanie's dish looks beautiful.

The 2nd courses
Tom kha gai soup with dumplings
Stephanie: Seared quail breast over lobster ravioli with mango lobster sauce and quail egg
Richard: Guinea hen breast, sous vide chicken egg, foie gras and spring vegetables
Diners' comments:
Lisa's soup was delicious and balanced. They would love to have more. Stephanie's leeks weren't cooked enough. Richard's dish had good complexity but it was hard to distinguish between the components.
My thoughts: The coconut broth for Lisa's soup looks divine. Stephanie's dish seems to have too much going on. Richard's dish seems incredibly rich and I really want to try a sous vide egg.

The 3rd courses
Lisa: Wagyu beef with coriander, garlic, oyster marinade, chayote and cucumber salad, hot sauce and garlic chips
Stephanie: Medallion of lamb with maitake mushrooms, braised pistachios, blackberries and olive tapenade
Richard: Pickled radishes, mirin broth and pork belly
Diner's comments: Lisa's beef wasn't tender enough and the sauce too sweet. The salad was good. Stephanie's lamb surprised and delighted all. Richard's pork belly wasn't seasoned properly and needed to be crisped. The radishes were good.
My thoughts: Lamb with mushrooms sounds good but I would have been very skeptical of the blackberries and olives with it. All soft pork belly doesn't sound appealing.

The dessert courses
Lisa: Black Thai rice pudding with lime and mango creme, crisp taro and caramelized coconut
Stephanie: Ricotta pound cake with tropical fruit and banana creme
Richard: Bacon ice cream with banana "scallop"
Diner's comments: Lisa's pudding was "exciting" and they wanted more. Stephanie's cake was OK but too unrefined. Richard's dessert was good. Tom agrees with me that every ice cream manufacturer is thinking about putting out a bacon ice cream.
My thoughts: The rice pudding looks great and I love the crisp taro and coconut on it. The ricotta cake looks a little sad. Bacon ice cream is overdone and I hate typing the quotation marks on that "scallop". It's just a chunk of caramelized banana!

Dinner is finished and judging begins. The three contestants are brought forth to answer questions and defend their choices. Richard admits to having "choked". From what we've seen all season he could have done better than his performance tonight. Stephanie believes she makes mistakes when she second guesses herself. Her example is the ricotta cake. Lisa is straightforward and believes she gave food that represents herself and the food she likes to cook and eat. The finalists leave and the judges deliberate on who had the best dish for each course. Lisa and Stephanie both get high marks for the first course. Lisa aced the second course, with only a slight nod to Richard. Everyone is still wowed by Stephanie's creative third course. Lisa and Richard both get credit for good desserts. Then shockingly, Bravo does not torture the viewers with any more discussion...Stephanie WINS!!

I loved this episode! It really focused on the food. I'm happy to see Lisa do well, just to see the great ideas she came up with. Her soup and rice pudding both looked great. It was also nice to see her get along with another chef. I was sad to see Richard not at the top of his game but at least he made a solid effort. I loved that Stephanie amazed the guests with her creative lamb dish and the beautiful looking first course.

Stephanie's Winning Dishes: Red Snapper and Asparagus, Seared Quail Breast, Roasted Lamb Medallions, Ricotta Pound Cake

More food TV:
I suffered through my taped copy of the Next Food Network Star this week and it was pretty unmemorable. We didn't even get Lisa in a cute outfit! She was wearing a olive green sack for half the episode. Maybe it'll become interesting enough to write about as the competition thins out.

June 11, 2008

John's Hamsterball Cookie/Cake

Let me start off by saying I am not a cake decorator. Despite knowing this my husband John and my son Alex have been hatching GRAND plans for their birthday cakes this year. Add in the fact that both of their birthdays are in the same week and the panic really sets in.

John wanted to celebrate the upcoming boxed version of his game Hamsterball. Yesterday, I began a Hamsterball cake using my meager skills. While I'm getting together ingredients for my go to chocolate cake recipe, John throws in the idea that a giant cookie would be nice as well! Instead of making a separate cookie in addition to cake, I whip out my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and decide to combine the two. For the decoration, I add a marshmallow treat ramp to my growing list of components. I use a 6 inch mini springform pan for the cake, cookie and cereal treat to keep everything small.

I pull it all together with chocolate dairy-free buttercream and cover it with my new discovery: marshmallow fondant. This fondant tastes a lot better than the premade stuff and Alex loves it. The fondant also worked well to form a cute little hamster in a taped together condiment cup ball. I do need to learn the secret to getting the fondant wrinkle, crease and bubble free; I guess it's probably time for a cake decorating class! I thought the finished cake was pretty cute despite it's amateur qualities.

I took a couple of quick pictures last night and it was a good thing! Alex had to have the hamster roll down the ramp as soon as he woke up this morning. Having the cookie bottom and the single layer of cake worked beautifully. The cookie was still crisp on the outside and chewy in the center. The cake turned out rich and chocolaty as usual. The cake recipe is super simple and it never fails to get me compliments. Now I just have to figure out how I'm going to make Alex's bohrok cake for his birthday on Sunday...

Here are the recipes for the cake and cookie. My 6 inch cookie took 25 minutes to bake. The cookie and cake are both dairy and egg free and therefore vegan. The fondant recipe I linked to had gelatin and is not vegan.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
I love that you can leave the centers of these cookies underdone. They get perfectly crisp on the outside and are chewy/gooey inside.
Makes 3 dozen small cookies

1/2 cup margarine or butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cool water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/8 cup bread flour *
1/8 cup flax seed meal**
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2-2/3 cup chips
*If you don't have an 1/8 cup measure then remember 1/8 cup = 2 tablespoons
**Make sure your flaxseed meal is fresh. Rancid flaxseed meal will ruin these cookies. Store any extra meal double wrapped in the freezer.

-Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
-Beat the margarine and sugars in a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and water and beat 1 minute more.
-Combine the flour, flax seed meal, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Stir together with a whisk or fork to combine.
-Add the flour mixture to the margarine mixture and beat until combined. Add the chips and mix until they are distributed evenly.
-Spoon small balls of dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
-Cool and eat.

My Favorite Chocolate Cake
Originally, I needed a cake free of dairy and egg but this cake is so perfect I have never found a better chocolate cake. The only downside is that it is really only good for 2 layer cakes. It doesn't have enough structure to work well as a layer cake with 3 layers. The taste is worth the sacrifice.
Makes one 8 to 9 inch round or square or 12 cupcakes or (2) 6 inch round cakes

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 cup cold water
1 tablespoon vinegar, white or apple cider
5 tablespoons of neutral oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

-Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
-Line your pans with parchment paper or cupcake papers and spray lightly with spray oil.
-Sift together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and cocoa. You can also just stir them well with a wire whisk.
-Add in the chips and stir until distributed.
-Add in the water, vinegar, oil and vanilla. Mix with a whisk or wooden spoon until just combined.
-Pour or spoon into pans and bake. Bake 25-30 minutes for large round, 20-25 for cupcakes or 6 inch rounds. Check for doneness with a wood skewer and remove when only a few crumbs cling to the skewer.
-Cool for 5-10 minutes and then invert onto a plate or remove and cool on a wire rack.

June 5, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Finale Part 1

**spoilers ahead**
Puerto Rico at last. The first part of this season's Top Chef finale begins with updates on the four finalists' lives. Stephanie has been travelling in Cambodia, Vietnam and Taiwan. Antonia has been working 100 hour work weeks. Richard has been staying focused. Lisa got a haircut and has invested in a lot of hair product. Bravo emphasises Lisa's outcast status by having her arrive last in the airport reunion and have the other finalists give her that look. This all seems so reminiscent of Marcel's greeting from season 2. Except poor Marcel was the victim. And no, I'm not still bitter Marcel didn't win, why do you ask?

For the quickfire we are introduced to Wilo Benet of Pikayo. Wilo and Padma explain that Puerto Rico has many different types of frituras that are popular served with beer. What no Michelob plug? The contestants are told to make two dishes in 40 minutes. Both dishes will have to contain some plantain. The table before them has both green and ripe plantains. Stephanie remarks that she has worked with plantain before the finale and really didn't love them. I've never had great plantains, they just seem so starchy. Time begins. Lisa runs to pick her proteins while the other chefs pick over the produce table. The finished dishes are presented. Lisa has a confusing "chutney-slaw" which seems to be a random use of two terms. Antonia and Richard lose points for having unpleasant raw plantain flavor and/or texture in their dishes. Lisa and Stephanie both earn praise for their taste but Stephanie's wins with her balanced proportions.

The finalists are then taken to a party where they sample Puerto Rican fare. A whole roast pig is featured. Images of the celebration are shown along with the overly dramatic voice over of the finalists expressing their desire to win. Afterward, the contestants are taken to the governor's mansion for the elimination challenge reveal. Each chef is given a whole pig and set to cook a cocktail party for 100 using parts of the animal in at least two dishes. To aid them, four eliminated chefs from this season are brought out to serve as sous chefs. Stephanie is given the opportunity to assign the sous chefs as reward for her quickfire win. Lisa looks nervous since she's done a decent job pissing people off. Stephanie picks Dale for herself, Spike for Richard, Nikki for Antonia and Andrew for Lisa. The contestants begin to plan their dishes. The finalists are left to the task of breaking down the whole hogs while their sous chefs head to the markets. Richard makes a last minute call to Spike for Malta. He plans to use this sweet, non-alcoholic malt beverage for a rib glaze. This sounds really good! All of the finalists have a pork belly dish planned. Pork belly what you call bacon before it's cured and smoked. So essentially the fattiest part of the pig, yum. The prep time quickly runs out and the finalists and their sous chefs leave for the evening.

The next day the finalists are given five hours to complete their dishes. Soon after arriving Stephanie and Dale discover that their pork belly wasn't in the fridge all night. Dale takes the blame and is clearly upset over ruining the planned dish. Stephanie reacts calmly and pitches the questionable meat. Dale and Stephanie make plans for a pork rind topped salad and something with ground pork. Cooking is completed with only a minimal amount of Lisa complaining. No suspected sabotage during this round. The chefs and their food move out onto the mansion's courtyard and the guests begin to arrive. Padma is going for the goddess look. The judges and guests sample the finalists' food. I'd love to be able to taste Stephanie's coconut braised pork, her satay on sugar cane and Richard's ribs. Both Antonia and Lisa seem to go too literal with their Latin dishes.

Judging commences and Richard and Stephanie are called in as the favorites of the evening. Stephanie's salad with pork rinds and pork satay are praised. Richard is given credit for editing his dishes well and his execution. Richard is named as the favorite of the evening and a brand new Toyota is his prize! Antonia and Lisa enter for their critiques. Antonia admits at first that her beans were undercooked then backtracks and claims she wanted them al dente. The judges question Lisa's decision to follow a stricter Latin theme. The judges deliberate. Antonia is eliminated. Lisa vows that they will not regret the decision. Antonia and Lisa return to the other finalists and let them know the verdict. Lisa snipes at Stephanie and Richard for not congratulating her. They were friends with Antonia and yet Lisa managed to scrape by at the bottom once again. By all means they should be jumping with joy.

Antonia seemed like a good cook but her dishes never interested me like Stephanie's, Richard's, Andrew's or Dale's. At this point I really can't decide who I'd rather have win: Stephanie or Richard. I just want to wait and see who pulls out all the stops for the perfect final meal. Lisa has made an interesting villain but I don't think anyone is fooled into thinking she has quite the same amount of talent at this point in her career as Stephanie and Richard do. We'll have to wait and see.

This weeks winning dishes: "COSTILLAS DE CERDO" Pork Ribs and Pork Belly, BBQ Pork Shoulder, Ham and Beans

June 4, 2008

Great Cooks Blogroll and other stuff

I found another great community and food blogroll recently, the Great Cooks Community.

Founded by Jill from Simple Daily Recipes this is a friendly and creative group. Jill's site is really worth visiting as well. Her honey buttered biscuits remind me that it's past time for me to attempt dairy-free puff pastry. Alex would love anything with honey and cinnamon drizzled on top and I'd really like to have him try croissants and pain au chocolat.

This past Saturday I went to the Royal Oak Farmer's Market. The fruit and vegetable selection is still limited though the meat and tomato plant selection was amazing. I have a new variety of yellow tomato called Azoychka Russian that came in a real terracotta pot. Yellow/orange tomatoes are my favorites. I love their lower acidity.

I haven't tried several of meat vendors yet so I purchased some tasty steaks and a whole brisket from the Maitland Family Farm. Located in Melvin, Michigan their beef is all pasture fed. I have the brisket in the fridge turning into corned beef and I'll post the recipe when it's done curing and I cook it. I love cooking corned beef and this is my first attempt at curing it myself.

I also purchased some beautiful rhubarb. I was feeling too lazy to make pie and found this recipe for rhubarb bars. How can you not love a recipe with only five ingredients! I made them this morning and they were delicious, though I couldn't resist adding a scraped vanilla pod into the filling. Rhubarb and vanilla is my favorite combination of late.

While eating my piece of rhubarb bar for breakfast this morning I also got around to watching the season premiere of the Next Food Network Star. Food Network has really lost me in past years. I DVR tape and watch new Good Eats episodes and the new Jamie at Home series but other than those two and the occasional Iron Chef while on the exercise bike I have no interest in their current line up of shows. Ina Garten and Giada have good recipes but are dull to watch. Rachel Ray is painful to watch but she occasionally has good ideas for shortcuts. None of those shows feel like they're worth the time it takes to watch them. The latest batch of FN Star contenders look like MTV Real World alumni. They're all random and seem to care more about their personal presentation then about food. I must say that the clothes and shoes on the contestant Lisa are fierce. I loved the red dress she wore for the judging. She should kick her crazy, long winded speeches to the curb and just focus on fashion and great food. The dishes they cooked were generally uninteresting but maybe things will improve as the season continues. I'm looking forward to part one of the Puerto Rico finale of Top Chef tonight.

June 1, 2008

Sunny Sunday

There ain't nothing like a rainbow Sno-Kone.