Thursday, March 20, 2008

Top Chef 4: Don't Feed the Animals

by Erin and Xani

Last night was Episode 2 of Top Chef, and it was a good one! Here's a quick and dirty recap:

  • Quickfire Challenge: Chefs go to Chicago's Green City Market and have to make a dish with 5 ingredients. Mark (the Kiwi) wins with his dish even though he forgot one of his five ingredients at the Market.
  • Elimination Challenge: Chefs must cater a party at the Zoo and are divided into teams of 3. Each team's menu is inspired by a different zoo animal and must incorporate the main ingredients of that animal's diet into their menu. Team Penguin and Andrew win the challenge with his charred squid dish (and edible gelatinous glaciers!). Team Bear serves mushrooms that not only look like poo, but don't taste so hot, either. But in the end Valerie of Team Gorilla was kicked off with her black olive blini.

Erin's Take:

I liked this episode - I liked that the teams had an interesting theme to work around, and I think many of the teams did a great job at capturing the essence of their animals' diets. I picked Andrew, Richard, and Dale for my fantasy team this week, which earned me 9 points for Andrew's win and some cursing by Andrew and Dale, though I lost points since Dale was on the chopping block for his team's stuffed mushrooms. Who puts a strong flavored garnish like pecorino on a mushroom and doesn't taste it??

Dish I wished I were eating: Mark's white anchovy on a quinoa croquette. Looked very interesting! Also, Stephanie's banana bread looked delicious and gorilla-friendly.

Favorite chef at the moment: Well now that Mark has redeemed himself from last week, I'm definitely back in the fan base. Though he should lose the headband - why are we highlighting the receeding hairline, Mark??

Xani's Take:

I also liked the episode although this early in the season, I find it hard to keep track of all the chefs and their dishes! I was glad this was a team challenge; it always spices things up to force the chefs to work in groups. Nikki was so bossy! And she made those poor-looking mushrooms. Andrew really surprised me by working well in a group (he seems so arrogant I was sure he was going to be a problem child) and then SHOCKED me by winning the elimination challenge (and earning me 6 points). Nikki lost me points for saying she didn't taste her dish nor did she stand behind it. Boo-- she is "auf-ed" from my team next week (oops, wrong Bravo show!)! I ended this week with 6 points, bringing my total to a staggering 16 points (that's sarcasm, folks).

Dish I wished I were eating: I second EP's vote for the quinoa and anchovy concoction, and also Team Vulture's Moroccan-spiced meatball. Personally I was eating a bowl of skin-on mashed potatoes from scratch while watching the episode, so I was pretty content with that, and not dying of food-envy.

Favorite chef at the moment: I'm still on the Andrew train. Despite last week's Mayonnaise-gate, I think this week he stepped up and showed up he can cook good food, be creative (yuzu glacier?!), and work well in a team.

What did everyone think? How did everyone do with their fantasy team??

E & X

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cupcake Breakfast!

by Erin

After our delicious meal at The Spotted Pig, Lauren and I headed around the corner to the Magnolia Bakery, famous for its cupcakes (and its long waiting lines). As we were standing in line, Lauren explained to me that Magnolia uses Italian meringue buttercream frosting, which I learned all about from Warren Brown at Great Tastes a few weeks ago. Italian meringue buttercream uses a lot more butter than sugar, which results in a less-sweet, more-greasy (in my opinion) frosting that doesn't harden when exposed to air (like traditional buttercream), so it's good for people in the cupcake business. However, it's not my preference, so we ditched the line at Magnolia, hit the subway, and headed to Tribeca Treats (slogan: "Think Inside the Box" - cute!!).

Tribeca Treats is right near Lauren's work, so she was well aware that it was a super-cute sweet shop with cupcakes, cookies, and ice cream sandwiches. We ended up ordering one of each of the mini-cupcakes they had that day (including PB&J, carrot cake, black and white, and cookies and cream), plus a variety of their sandwich cookies.

I matched the Tribeca Treat color scheme!

We then headed to Union Square to people-watch and chat, and we ate some of the cookies we'd picked up, including a s'mores cookie (graham cracker cookies with marshmallow filling, dipped in chocolate) and a chocolate caramel cookie (chocolate cookies with caramel filling). We also had a cookie photo-shoot!

Get ready for your close-up, cookies

We didn't get a chance to eat our cupcakes that day, but the next day, post-St. Patty's Day celebrating, we decided forego cereal for breakfast and cut right to the chase: cupcake breakfast! We tried the PB&J cupcake, carrot cake cupcake, and the white on white cupcake.

PB&J Cupcake

Vanilla w/ Chocolate Cupcake

Cookies & Cream Cupcake

The PB&J was vanilla cake with grape jam and peanut butter frosting. It was very delicious, although I feel like the frosting was not really frosting, but rather straight up peanut butter that had been put in a piping bag. It was great, but it was a lot of PB to handle. The carrot cake was also very good, and had some of the best cream cheese frosting I've had in a long time.

Needless to say we were on a bit of a sugar rush for the remainder of the day, but hey, I was on vacation! Cupcakes for breakfast is totally allowed, right?

Stay tuned for more NYC eats posts after our Top Chef recap coming up next!

Happy cupcake eating,

EP

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Chopped Liver and Male Models

by Erin

Last weekend, I went to NYC for the first weekend of my Spring Break to visit with one of my oldest and dearest friends, Lauren. You might remember our NYC eating adventures from October, and this trip was no different - we ate our way through parts of downtown and Brooklyn, and it was AWESOME.

We began our first day by heading into the city, the West Village to be exact, where we had brunch at The Spotted Pig. I've been hearing how great this place is for years now, and I've also heard about the notoriously long waits to get a table. So when Lauren and I arrived, we were prepared to wander around the Village for hours to await a table, but when we walked into the restaurant, we didn't have to wait AT ALL! Clearly they knew they were dealing with D-list (um...Z-list?) celebs.

The Spotted Pig is a gastropub, and both the menu and the ambiance reflected that vibe. It was a cozy space with (usually pig-related) chachkis on the walls, and a menu that was sort of upscale comfort foods.

Since it was brunch, we immediately ordered a cup of coffee, which they poured from a French press. Then we set to ordering. The first thing we ordered was something that I could only order with a member of my immediate family, or Lauren: Chicken Liver Toast. OMG this was AMAZING! (ps. Mom, you know I love your chopped liver, but I think they put crack in this one, so it wins...). The livers were cooked with wine and onions and some sort of fat (chicken fat, maybe?) and chopped up and served warm on a toasted slice of crusty bread with a drizzle of olive oil on top. It was incredibly rich and flavorful, and we savored every bite.

Upscale Chopped Liver

Next we ordered Pumpkin Pancakes with Chile Maple Syrup, which were sweet and delicious. The pancakes had a bite to them, as if the chef had used some sort of whole-grain or multi-grain flour, and they were topped with a pumpkin puree, the chile maple syrup, and of course, butter. The syrup was sweet but the heat hit the back of your throat at the end and added a whole other element. So good!!

Pumpkin Pancakes with Chile Maple Syrup

Then we ordered the specialty of the day, a Brisket Hash with Poached Eggs. This was absolutely wonderful - the brisket and potatoes and onions were really cooked down and melded together, and the eggs were perfectly cooked and delicious. I want to eat it every day!!

Brisket Hash with Poached Eggs

So as we were eating our pancakes and brisket hash, a nice (beautiful) young man at the table next to us jumped into our in-depth food conversation since he too loves food! (But really, who doesn't?? No friend of mine!) His name was Chase and it turns out he's a model (of course) and we chatted with him and his beautiful friend (Travis) for about half an hour. I love making new friends! It was a great ending to our first fabulous NYC meal. Stay tuned for more NYC posts. I love New York!

Lauren and I in front of The Spotted Pig after our lovely meal

Happy eating,

EP

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