Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rachael Ray Says: Nuke Your Garlic!

"Tip:  Microwave garlic cloves for 10 seconds -
the skin will slip right off."

- Everyday with Rachael Ray Magazine, March 2009

Ever heard this one before?  

This trick really piqued my curiosity, so I gave it a whirl.  The results?  Mixed.

I've often zapped a lemon or a lime prior to juicing, but I'd never heard of giving garlic the same treatment to facilitate the peeling process.  Turns out, it works like a charm.  When you bust open the head, separate the cloves and microwave them for 10 seconds.  The skins will, indeed, slip right off - but that's where you should stop when using this trick.  

It's great for applications in which you'd keep the clove whole (such as roasting), but when I tried to proceed with mincing the garlic, it had turned so sticky that I had a hard time getting the job done.  That small burst of heat must also release a certain amount of ticky-tacky juices, because that garlic wanted to cling to the knife and to my fingers, rendering the chopping process much more difficult than if I had peeled it the old-fashioned way.

Final score?  5.  This tip is useful about half of the time, in my estimation.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Austin Adventures: In With the Old, In With the New

Good Morning!

As promised, I have much to share from our trip to Austin last weekend.  We visited an old friend and made a couple of new ones (restaurant-wise, that is), and were reminded just how awesome it can be to head out for the evening with no specific destination in mind...

Friday Night

Looking for a bar on 6th Street is kind of like shaking presents under the Christmas tree.  You can check out the wrappings ("Ooooh - shiny!") and get a vague idea of what's inside ("Sounds kinda boring..."), but you really don't know what you're in for until you tear the paper off and go inside.  Or something like that.  Anyway, when the hubby and I headed out the front door of the hotel and landed on 6th that first night, we really didn't know where to go.  We figured we'd wander the street and open a door when the mood felt right.  A few blocks down, however, we realized that we'd need a little nudge in one direction or the other, so we stopped a hip-looking shopkeeper on the sidewalk.  We asked for a cool bar with a patio and she pointed us toward Casino El Camino.  Awesome suggestion!

This place was all tiki-ed up, with colorful murals painted on the walls and a creepy statue-slash-fountain gurgling his little heart out on the patio:

We really liked Casino El Camino.  At around five when we arrived, we had the patio to ourselves, but it quickly filled with local-looking types chugging cold beers and munching burgers (Did you see the sign above?  Those burgers looked great!).  I'm glad we asked a local - if we'd gone it alone, we could have unwrapped some underwear, if you know what I mean.

We stayed at the Casino until sunset and then headed down the street to Geisha Sushi for a bite.  This place is a dive, but the sushi was to-die-for.  We had a little of everything, including the "Crazy in 6th" roll, which consisted of deep fried shrimp, cucumber and tuna drizzled with a spicy sauce.  It was crazy good.  We'd never been to Geisha before, but we'll be back.  Here's to a great night of firsts on 6th!


Saturday afternoon, we headed out to the lake to revisit an old haunt that had a close call a couple years back.  The Oasis is a giant restaurant/bar/gift shop complex located 450 feet above Lake Travis.  As you can imagine, the view is absolutely spectacular, and the restaurant itself is pretty damn fun too, what with all the funky statues dotting the grounds, kitchy decor and friendly staff.

Here's an example of the restaurant's eclectic outdoor art:

We love the Oasis, but we hadn't been since the restaurant was damaged in a fire back in 2007.  Hearing the news up here in Dallas, we were afraid our old friend might be gone for good, but The Oasis was back up and running shortly thereafter.  They also took advantage of the unfortunate event and began a series of renovations.  According to the nifty informational brochure I picked up on Saturday, they added more than 8 new party rooms in the process and can now accommodate gatherings of up to 2,200 people.  Wow!

We were a little bummed that the patio was uninhabitable that day due to high winds, but we snagged a seat at the window, which was the next best thing.  We munched fried shrimp and fish tacos while enjoying this amazing scenery:

After lunch, we took a drive and watched shadows and sunlight dance on the water as we dipped and curved through the hills surrounding the lake.  It was a beautiful afternoon, and a wonderful trip altogether.  I can highly recommend any of these spots for your next visit to Austin.  Enjoy!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Three Days Off

Just wanted to give a quick shout-out and let everyone know that I'll be taking a short break from blogging between now and the end of the weekend.  Stay tuned for a new post on Monday, and maybe I'll have some dining adventures from Austin to report next week!


Reader Recipe File: Baked Mac & Cheese and Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

Ready for more reader recipes?  Part Two is pasta-rific!

Today's guest chef is B.J. Foley, a dear friend, beloved Grandmother of eight, football fanatic and all-around awesome cook.  B.J. and I have lunch on a regular basis, and if I'm lucky, she'll also bring along a sample of her latest creation for me to "taste test" for dinner that night.  Hand-delivered home cooking?  That's my kind of take-out!

B.J. has offered up two creamy, comforting pasta recipes for our series, both of which are favorites with her "grands".  In fact, after tasting her trademark Mac & Cheese, the kids finally gave up the blue box!  And as for the Alfredo, how could you possibly go wrong with ricotta, heavy cream and Parmesan cheese?  'Nuff said.

Thanks, B.J.!

Baked Mac & Cheese

3 cups cooked, drained macaroni
1/2 cup butter
3 tbsp. flour
3 cups milk
1/2 tsp. salt
4 ounces cubed cream cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded swiss cheese
1 cup shredded brick cheese
3/4 cup crushed potato chips
1 tbsp. melted butter

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Melt 1/2 cup butter in large saucepan and stir in flour.  Continue stirring until smooth.  Add milk, salt, and cream cheese and continue cooking and stirring until sauce has thickened.  Mix sauce with cooked macaroni and 3 remaining cheeses and spoon into a 9x13 pan or 3 qt. casserole.  Sprinkle with crushed potato chips combined with 1 tbsp. melted butter.  Bake about 30 minutes until golden brown.

Hint from B.J.: "Before mixing the sauce into the macaroni, I add the other three cheeses to it, stir and allow them to thoroughly mix into the sauce.  Then I add the macaroni.  This makes for a more blended cheese sauce."

Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

1 pound fettuccine pasta
1 1/2 cups butter, divided
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into cubes
2 16-oz. containers whole milk ricotta cheese
1 pint heavy cream
1 tsp. salt
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook fetuccini in salted, boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.  Melt 2 tbsp. butter in large skillet over medium heat and saute chicken until no longer pink and juices run clear.  In a large saucepan combine ricotta cheese, cream, salt, Parmesan cheese and remaining butter and cook over medium heat until well combined, about 10 minutes.  Stir in cooked fetuccini and chicken and simmer until heated through.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Comment Card

Not only is a certain busy blogger's birthday coming up (March babies rock!), but we also just celebrated another exciting birthday here at DallasEats...  

All this made me wonder - what's your favorite treat on your special day?  I love sweets, especially cake of all sorts, but there's not one particular type that's my favorite.  Each year, I pick something different, and that's become kind of a tradition in itself.  I know many folks, though, who always have one kind or another - and it just wouldn't be their birthday without it!  Other friends enjoy a certain savory dish to mark the occasion, either made by a loved one or served at a favorite restaurant.  

So, how about you?  What's your birthday treat of choice?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Celebrate Spring Today at Whole Foods!

Whole Foods is celebrating the first day of spring in a 
very C&S-friendly fashion!  

Stop by the Highland Park store today for a free tasting of 20 wines from 4-7 p.m.*!  Yes, that's 20 wines to mark the beginning of patio season and the first blushing buds of the year.  

... And while you're at it, stock up on Castillo Guijosa Tempranillo, now on sale at WF for the low-low price of $6.99.  This red's a little spicy, a little smoky and just right for a March evening with a bit of chill left in the air.  And if you take advantage of the 6-bottle discount, this deal will definitely put a spring in your step.

Have a great weekend!


* I learned about this event by reading a flyer at WF Highland Park, and I later called them to confirm the details.  The Lakewood store will be hosting a similar tasting, but not until April 1st. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Quick Quiz for Cooks

Got a pad and pencil handy?

In Monday's Well Column in the New York Times, Tara Parker-Pope presented the findings of an interesting study conducted by Cornell University on the subject of home cooking.  The researchers there, after studying hundreds of individuals who are the main shoppers and chefs for their families, isolated five primary categories into which we home cooks fall.  Each type has a very different and powerful effect on the eating habits of his or her family. 

From the "Methodical" cook who follows recipes to the letter to her adventurous and experimental "Innovative" counterpart, these "personalities" are revealing - if a bit simplistic.  I didn't find that I fell into one category exclusively, being the type to exhibit habits and preferences from any of the five (or a combination thereof), depending on which side of the bed I woke up on that day.  I did, however, learn that I'd like to be more like one particular category, so now I can make a few changes in that general direction.  It's an interesting - and easy - quiz.  Click here to see for yourself.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Has Sandra Lee Jumped the Shark?

We DallasEats girls are equal-opportunity when it comes to cooking shows.  Between the two of us, we can find something to like in pretty much any program.  That's not to say we don't pick favorites (FP was *this* close to erecting a shrine in Ina Garten's honor, before I pointed out that so many candles in close proximity to all those Barefoot Contessa books might present a fire hazard...), but when cooking is your favorite spectator sport, the Food Network is your oyster.  Or something like that.

My love of Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee is a perfect illustration of this philosophy.  Over the years, I've developed a fondness for Sandy (that's what her nieces, nephews and devoted fans call her) and her creative, quirky twists on traditional and trendy dishes.  For those of you who haven't tuned in to this program, the premise is that Sandra Lee uses "shortcuts" in the form of canned, jarred, frozen or otherwise prepared foods to execute recipes in a quick-and-easy fashion.  Her show is aimed at average home cooks, as opposed to amateur Iron Chefs who might experiment with sous vide in their spare time. In addition to fully-coordinated theme menus, her shows also feature cocktail recipes and decorating tips.  In fact, that's probably what attracted me in the first place.  How can you not love a show that offers up a new cocktail recipe almost every week?

Over the years, I've enjoyed tuning in and soaking up Sandra's concoctions.  I've even made a few at home myself - her cake and cookie recipes are especially tempting.  When she's veered into Salisbury Steak territory, I've turned my head and hummed a tune, more than willing to allow her a few moments of 50's-era regression in the name of nostalgia.  And if a "tablescape" or two struck me as a little on the tacky side (or downright over-the-top), who was I to judge what someone else might deem the perfect theme for their next Bunko night with the girls?  Sandy had, after all, cruised with P. Diddy on his yacht, sipping vodka and Red Bulls with one of the coolest guys on the planet.  Really.  That should count for something, right?

Well, the episode entitled Easy Elegance which aired this past weekend made me take a good hard look at this rationale.  The menu it featured was shocking on so many levels, I had to watch it twice to soak it all in.  In addition, her table decor and matching outfit crossed the line from cute and kitchy to borderline brothel.  And so, in the name of good blogging I've crunched a few numbers to help us all make sense of the shark-jumpage...

Semi-Homemade Cooking - Easy Elegance
Featured Recipes:

The Shocking Totals:

Cans of Soup:  
6 (4 condensed, undiluted)

Various Packets:  
4 (including, but not limited to, Shake and Bake, Onion Soup and Vanilla Pudding Mix)

Misc. Other Ingredients:
1 lb. ground beef
1 1/4 lbs. ground pork
2+ Cans Evaporated Milk
1 Pound Cinnamon Rolls
4 Cups (light!) Butter Pecan Ice Cream

(Paltry) Fresh Vegetable Count:
1 potato
2 zucchinis

Keep in mind that these recipes are meant to be served together as a complete menu for 4-6 people.  That's one whole can of prepared soup and 6 oz. of meat per person, just for starters.  Yikes!  I mean, she's never claimed to be a healthy chef, but this is ridiculous.  This episode should have come with a disclaimer for diabetics and those suffering from high blood pressure.  The worst part?  It looked kinda good to me after watching her show all these years.  Sad to say I can't say the same for the show's theme decor - it brought to mind an antique store tea room on acid.  I think I'm going to have to re-evaluate my cooking show criteria, and in the meantime, I'll be keeping an eye on Sandy.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cookies and Cuteness

Kids and cookies:  They go together like peanut butter and jelly, like Tom and Jerry...like broccoli and ketchup at Eddie G.'s house (!).  

Seriously, though, I couldn't resist sharing this picture of my adorable nephew enthusiastically displaying the cookies I baked for him this past weekend.  Is there anything so wonderful as watching someone - especially someone so cute - enjoy food that you've made for them with love?  I think not.

My go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe has always has been the classic Toll House version.  This time, I added rainbow sprinkles for an extra, kid-friendly kick.  What's your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe?  Care to share?


Monday, March 16, 2009

Reader Recipe File: Thai Noodle Salad & Wine Punch

Good Morning!

Today, in the first post of a new series, I'm offering up two delicious recipes from one of our DallasEats regulars who really knows her way around the kitchen.  Since FP is going to have her hands full for a while, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to cajole a few of the best home cooks I know into sharing some of their well-kept secrets.  Pretty sneaky, huh?  We're all cooking at home more these days - well-stocked pantries at the ready - and this series will offer some new and tasty dishes to work into the rotation. 

First up is Marcie Thomas, an amazing cook I've known almost all my life.  Throughout the years, my family and I have enjoyed many wonderful dinners at the home of this dear friend.  When I got married, Marcie surprised me with the gift of a collection of her recipes, and it has held a place of honor in my kitchen ever since.  From warm, hearty soups to sweet, sinful desserts, Marcie has a wide-ranging recipe repertoire - including the two all-time favorites she's shared with us today.  So, whether you're in the mood to Thai a new salad, or if your happy hour could use a little punch (sorry...couldn't help myself), she's got your bases covered.  

Thanks, Marcie!

Thai Noodle Salad

1-8 oz. pkg. vermicelli, cooked and drained 
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
2 cloves garlic, minced 
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
¼ cup fresh lime juice 
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. honey 
1 ½ tsp. sesame oil
¼ tsp. sea salt 
2 carrots, grated
1 English cucumber, chopped 
1 cup shredded cabbage
¼ cup dry roasted peanuts

Process cilantro, garlic, jalapeno, lime juice, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil and salt in a food processor until smooth. Toss together pasta, cilantro dressing, carrots, cukes and cabbage. Sprinkle with peanuts just before serving. Recommended to serve salad immediately but leftovers will keep a day.

Refreshing Wine Punch

2 cups red or rose wine
2 cups cranberry juice (regular or reduced sugar)
1 6-oz. can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed (do not dilute)

Combine in pitcher and chill until serving.  Garnish with citrus slices.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Comment Card

In honor of FoodiePrincess's recent announcement, let's talk cravings - pregnancy-related or otherwise.  What's the weirdest, wackiest craving you've ever experienced or heard about through the grapevine?  

I'll kick this one off with a doozie:  A certain sweet someone I know craved grapefruits with a vengeance while she was expecting, and was even awakened in the night by her intense need for the sweet-and-sour fruit.  More than once, she consumed multiple grapefruits in the wee hours and even dreamed about the darned things when she finally got back to sleep!

Wacky, huh?  Now it's your turn!


Thursday, March 12, 2009

For Shame!

WARNING:  The following post contains material that may be upsetting to some culinary-minded individuals.  Reader caution is advised.

I have a confession to make.  

The shocking photo at left is an un-retouched image of my own pantry, taken just days ago in a moment of quiet desperation.  I have grown to know and love you all, dear readers, so when I realized I had a problem, I knew I had to come clean...

Things have been pretty hectic lately.  What with work, family in town and about a million other things going on, I've not had a lot of time for planning, shopping or cooking - at least not cooking of the creative variety.  We've been eating out a lot, and when we're at home, it's all about grab-and-go.

I guess I didn't understand just how dire the situation had become until I was rooting around to see if I had another jar of jam - to slap together the 900th pb&j of the week - and discovered that, no only didn't I have the jam, but I didn't have much of anything else either.  The cupboard was basically bare, save for a few spices, some ancient canned goods and a bag and a half of Fritos (I swear those aren't mine...).  Oh, the shame!  What self-respecting food and wine enthusiast would have allowed things to reach such a desperate low?  How did I manage to continually knock eating well at home so far down my priority list that I wound up scavenging for Smucker's in my very own pantry?  I'd laugh if it weren't so sad.

I believe I've taken the first step in my recovery by coming clean to you all today.  Now the restocking can begin.  But where to start?  I'm not keen on those pre-made pantry lists put together by the experts - I'd really like to know what you all always keep around.  What pantry items do you find the most useful for quick and tasty meals and snacks?  What are you never, ever without?  Hopefully, with a few good pointers, my pantry and I can soon return to happy, healthy harmony once again.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

FoodiePrincess is a Mom!

I am excited to announce that yesterday at 6:01 pm, Miller Allen Brant made his entrance into the world. It was a bit of a scary day, as he was about three weeks early, but weighing in at 6 lbs. 4 oz, he is doing great.

Because of this exciting new adventure, I will be taking a maternity leave from the blog for a couple of months. I will definitely miss working with C&S during this time and interacting with our readers. I promise to come back with a vengeance in May, however, and not just with stories about making your own organic baby food or breast vs. bottle.

Thank you to all of you DallasEats readers (and especially to Classy&Sassy, otherwise known as Miller's Aunt Lisa) for your support. This is certainly a new adventure for me and my husband, but we couldn't be more thrilled to be starting it together.

Take Care,


Savor Dallas: A Delicious Diary

This past weekend was Savor Dallas, our annual two-day, multi-venue food and wine event.  Click the link below to read my full report on Saturday's International Grand Tasting, the centerpiece of this wonderful weekend.  I had an all-access pass, from behind-the-scenes set-up early in the day to an evening filled with chefs, winemakers and lots of amazing dishes and drinks.  

Did you attend any of the Savor Dallas events?  If so, which?  What were your impressions?


Friday, March 6, 2009

Comment Card

Mardi Gras has come and gone, and we're now well into the season of Lent.  This time of year, to many, is about thought and reflection, beginning with the pledge to abstain from an everyday pleasure as a reminder to focus on faith.  Often, this pledge involves a favorite food or beverage - chocolate, wine and red meat are common indulgences given the boot each spring by thousands across the city.

How about you?  Have you given up a delicious favorite or daily treat for Lent?  Have you managed to stick to the program so far, or is it tougher than you bargained for?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

New Feature: Chow Hound!

Look to the left-hand side of your screen to see 
DallasEats' newest feature:  Chow Hound!  

Each week or so we'll be posting an adorable pic of one of our four-legged fans, beginning today with Vince Young, FoodiePrincess's boisterous brown-eyed boy.  Enjoy!


p.s.  Should we feature your Chow Hound in the future?  Post a comment and let us know!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Peeps!: March Marshmallow Madness

It's our favorite time of year again, Peeps!

Though they now come in shapes and colors to compliment just about every holiday, most of us still associate Marshmallow Peeps with the pastel baskets, plastic grass and multi-colored eggs of Easter.  Each spring, as the weather turns warmer and tulips come in bloom, these fluffy treats bring a smile to so many faces...and a sadistic smirk to others.

Turning 56 this year, the Peep is more popular than ever, but perhaps in a different sense than Bob Born of the Just Born company envisioned when he brought this unique candy to the masses back in the 1950's.  Whereas chocolate bunnies and jelly beans, also traditional at this time of year, have only ever warranted a passing appreciation of their seasonal sweetness (and maybe an ear-biting joke or two), Peeps have inspired art, crafts, recipes and more than a few disturbing experiments*.  

What's the fascination?  If you have to ask, it's high time you sunk your teeth into one of these sweet, sticky, gratifyingly granular, adorably creepy little marshmallow birds.  And while you're savoring the sinful sponginess of it all, click through the list below for the good, the bad and the downright weird in the world of Peeps.

This site is chock full of Peep lore, fun facts and info on the full Peep product line.

37 creative contenders in the Washington Post's second annual Peeps Diorama Contest.  Hilarious!

Lest you worry about the little guys, this disclaimer is offered to ease your mind:  "Before any testing begins, all Peep subjects are thoroughly examined and sign a disclosure form explaining the potential risks of their volunteer service."

Original Peep art by David Ottogalli.  This site also has free Peep screen savers and wallpaper - sweet!

Oh, the carnage.

And if you're still curious:  Peep Image Google Search  (Don't miss the Peeps and Peppers Stir-Fry!)

*My Mother floats Peeps in the toilet every Easter.  Really.  It's a wonder I turned out as nearly normal as I did.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Top Chef: New York, Finale

Finale, Part 2 (Otherwise known as the actual Finale)

Finally the field of chefs has been cut down to only three: Stefan, Hosea and Carla. Other than Stefan, probably not an outcome I would have predicted at the beginning of the season. Not that I have anything against Hosea, but he's always seemed kind of middle-of-the-pack to me. And although Carla has been awesome the last several episodes, she started off so weak that there was really no way to see this coming. Yay, Team Carla!

Predictably, the challenge for the final round is rather simple -- cook the best three course meal of your life. I love it. They will be cooking their meals at Commander's Palace, and the dishes will be served head-to-head. They will be free to use any of the ingredients found at Commander's Palace, so I think we can all rest assured that they will be top quality.

And then, of course, twist #1. Because the chefs will have a limited amount of time to prepare their dishes, they will need some assistance. This comes in the form of three ghosts of Top Chef's finale past - Casey (Dallas' own) from Season 3, Marcel from Season 2 and Richard (LOVE HIM) from Season 4. All three came this close to winning their seasons, but all three blew it (especially Richard) in their finale. The chefs draw knives to see who will be paired with who, and Hosea draws first pick. He goes with Richard (I would have too), Stefan takes Marcel with his second pick (now there's an interesting pair), and Carla is left with Casey - although she claims she would have picked her anyway.

I am going to skip ahead here a bit, because I couldn't find a picture to go with twist #2, and I want to include it in the recaps of the chefs' dishes. After getting 2 hours of prep in after the challenge is announced, the chefs return to the kitchen the next morning to find Tom standing there with a big ol' dead alligator. He tells them that they will have to create a fourth dish - an appetizer to be served before dinner. There are three possible proteins - alligator, crab and red fish. Tom produces a king's cake (love it!), and whoever pulls the baby gets to pick who gets what protein. Hosea gets lucky again, and he picks the red fish for himself, the crab for Carla, and of course sticks Stefan with the alligator. Way to poke the bear, Hosea.

Carla decides to base her menu around French comfort food, which sounds like a good plan and right up her alley. She mentions doing her version of a bouillabaisse, and doing a meat-and-potatoes course. Here's where things start to go downhill fast. Casey suggests that Carla sous-vide the steak, since it's so easy. Carla has never tried this technique (Danger!), but agrees to give it a shot. Seriously. On the finale. She decides to try a technique she's NEVER done before. I kiss Carla's chances of winning goodbye at this point.

And from there it only got worse. For her third course, she had decided to do a cheese tart with a marmalade and some other yummy bites. Casey, once again (or at least it appeared on the show) talked her out of her game plan and into doing something outside her comfort zone. Carla takes her suggestion to do a blue cheese souffle (yum), but botches it by putting it in an oven that is too hot. The souffles are curdled and inedible, so she is left with no real third course. Needless to say, the is out of the competition.

Casey, by the way, did not appreciate how she was portrayed in the finale. Check this out...

Hosea calls himself a "flavor junkie" and wants to base his meal around strong flavors. Hmmmm. Isn't that what all food is based around? Flavor? But anyway, his menu does sound pretty darn tasty. For his first course, he's doing a trio of sashimi, which being a fish specialist you would think he would knock out of the park. His second course sounded like the best dish of the evening to me - scallops with foie gras and pain perdu and apple compote. Yes, please.

He decides not to do a dessert course (which Tom totally okay-ed when he announced the challenge) and instead does a venison loin for his third course. I commence drooling again.

So, this is pretty much Stefan's to lose, right? Wrong. Once again this week, Stefan acts only mildly interested in the challenge, and much more interested in being a jerk. I have enjoyed him all season, but this was the first episode for me where his joking and ribbing with the other contestants crossed the line from amusing to douche-y.

But back to the food. For this first course, he commits a major food sin, and chooses to freeze the fish he's using for his halibut and salmon carpaccio. He says this will allow him to slice it thinner, but this seems like a mistake to me too. The whole point of gorgeous, fresh fish is that it hasn't been frozen, right?

His second course sounds much better, and much more classically Stefan: squab with braised red cabbage and schupfnudlen (hand-made noodles that look kind of like spaetzel to me).

For his third course, Stefan does decide to do a dessert, putting together a whole plate full of little bites of ice cream, a banana pop, and some other random stuff. Compared with some of the other desserts he's done on the show, this one just looks kind of busy and fussy, not like something I'm dying to try. We'll see what the judges think.

When it comes down to judging, we get twist #3 - Fabio will be one of the judges! Yay! He is joined by Rocco DiSpirito, Branford Marsalis (who is ADORABLE at the judge's table), a bunch of other random New Orleans chefs, and the usual suspects - Toby, Padma, Gail and Tom.

The appetizer course pretty much seems to be a wash, as they love all of them. Hosea did a corn cake with red fish, Carla did a blue crab soup that sounded kind of Asian-inspired (Casey's influence again?), and Stefan did an alligator soup.

Then it started to get interesting. For the first course, everyone LOVED Carla's bouillabaisse. They said it was totally a "Carla" dish and that they could taste the love. Hosea's dish is deemed beautiful (it was gorgeous on the plate) but under-seasoned and just kind of uninteresting taste-wise. Everyone agrees that Stefan shouldn't have frozen the fish, which left it kind of watery, but that the dish itself was well-executed.

During the second course, Carla started to get smacked down. The sous-vide steak was deemed tough (ouch) and the plate itself overly fussy. Hosea's scallop dish was very good, although Rocco is "tired of foie gras". Gag. Both Gail and Marsalis totally call him on this pretentious posturing, though, which is adorable and hilarious. Everyone LOVES Stefan's dish, which was the best of the round, although Hosea's is a close second.

Poor Carla, by the time the third course rolls around, she is already out of the competition. Poor thing doesn't even have a real dish to put out, and everyone is very disappointed. Stefan's dessert course isn't met with much enthusiasm, with Gail calling the plate something straight out of 1992. Ouch. Some of the judges do give him credit for even offering a dessert, though. Hosea's venison, on the other hand, is a big hit with everyone.

When they get to panel, things get emotional pretty quickly for poor Carla. My heart was just breaking for her when she explained tearfully that she didn't cook "her food" and that's where she got tripped up. Even robot Stefan seemed sad for her and tried to offer her some comfort, which was a nice gesture. But it was clear to everyone - including Carla - that she was out of the running.

What became more clear as judging continued, however, was that everyone pretty much agreed that Hosea had made the best meal of the night. However, Stefan's second course was deemed to be the best overall dish of the night. Would that, paired with his great track record over the course of the season be enough to net him the title of Top Chef?

No. Hosea is named Top Chef, finally beating his season-long nemesis, Stefan. Although I totally think Stefan (and probably Carla) is a better chef than Hosea, it seemed to me that Hosea earned it. That being said, I still felt disappointed at the outcome.

Overall, I think this was kind of a weak season of Top Chef. There just didn't seem to be as much talent in the field as in the past, and I think that really hurt the overall entertainment-factor this season. That fact, paired with the disastrous Hosea/Leah show-mance, put this as my least favorite season of Top Chef ever. However, I still enjoyed it, and I will be there to watch again next season!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Is Malbec The New Merlot?

The Wall Street Journal wine report linked below is doubly interesting:  Not only does it present some startling stats about current wine purchasing trends, but interviewee Howard Silverman also offers up an assertion about Malbec, that hot new red from Argentina.  

As proprietor of Howard's Wine Cellar in Chicago, Silverman has witnessed first-hand the recent consumer migration toward lower-priced wines (a trend dubbed "trading down" in the biz), and has apparently spent considerable time and effort seeking out quality bottles that fall into the $10-$20 range.  One of his bargain best-sellers is of the aforementioned South American variety, and he explains that these days, Malbec seems to be the "new Merlot".  In other words, the delicious crowd-pleaser is here to stay.