Thursday, March 27, 2008

Top Chef 4: Block Party!

by Xani and Erin

Four weeks into the season and things are starting to heat up... a little. Well, maybe not. This week's episode was a little disappointing. For the quickfire challenge, the chefs are asked to make tacos. But not just any tacos, fancy tacos. Chef Rick Bayless judged and proclaimed Richard's jicama taco filled with avocado, papaya and cilantro stems the winner. (Anyone else think it was weird that he made one for himself as well as Rick and Padma? Or was that badass? Can't decide...) Andrew's duck was also a favorite, but most of the tacos just seemed like regular old street food, not haute cuisine. Richard was rewarded with immunity and the honor of having his dish featured on the menu at one of Bayless' Chicago restaurants. Then, field trip time! The chefs split up into teams and brought to a residential neighborhood in Chicago and told to raid the pantries of the residents to gather food and use it to cater a block party the following day. Cameras inside the homes of the residents shows us the chefs' arrival is not such a surprise after all! After cleaning out the refrigerators the chefs get to cookin'. The blue team, unofficially headed by Richard, decides to go for a more "upscale" block party menu, while the red team, featuring Spike and Andrew, are all about classic, down-home party fare. Team blue serves "paella", mac and cheese, some kind of fancy ("sexy") drink, and a fruit dessert with a crunchy cinnamon wonton. Team red goes with corn dogs, sliders (!!), waldorf salad, pasta salad, and s'mores on a stick (this might be the most genius thing we've seen all season-- and what is that saying about this season??). In the end, Team Blue prevails (to Team Red's shock and dismay) and Stephanie wins again with her fruit and wonton dessert. Team Red mouths off (both Andrew and Spike) and while it seemed Zoi might get the boot for her tasteless and oily pasta salad, in the end it's Erik's soggy corn dogs that get him sent home.

Xani's Take: First of all, since I'm in California, I got an email with my Fafarazzi score report BEFORE the episode even aired! It was killing me not to check it, but I resisted. I don't know how you West coasters can deal! I didn't get to change my team from last week so again I had Nikki, Andrew and Richard.

I was feeling pretty confident when both Andrew and Richard were in Bayless' top three for the quickfire! Personally I thought Andrew's looked like a tastier dish, but I was happy when Richard won (3 points!). The eliminations challenge underwhelmed me... I'm already sick of them doing catering challenges instead of chef-ing challenges! None of the dishes (except the individual s'mores and maybe the sliders, because I am sucker for tiny burgers) really looked great to me, and the pasta and waldorf salads looked disgusting. I ended up with 8 total points, Richard's 3 from the quickfire and the other 5 from Andrew (for cursing and arguing with the judges)

Dish I wished I were eating: Andrew's duck and plantain taco. C'mon, duck and plantains?? Yes, please.

Favorite Chef at the moment: After Andrew's crazy outburst at Judges' Table ("This is MY HOUSE!") he's still on my team (I need the points) but lost his place in my heart. Stephanie's won two out of four elimination challenges, so I'm sure I'm not alone when I declare her my new favorite!

Erin's Take: I agree with Xani that I wish there were less catering and more real, gourmet (or at least truly challenging) cooking. I'm tired of the teams - let's let the chefs be individuals! I was disappointed in Erik that he broke the cardinal rule of catering/party-throwing: don't serve fried foods unless you can serve them right out of the oil. When Xani and I plan parties, fried foods always come up, and we always decide to cut them from the menu because we know they won't be good if they sit out. WTF, Erik??

Anyway, I switched it up this week and picked Richard, Mark, and Jennifer. Unfortunately, while I earned three points for Richard's quickfire win, I only earned one more point for Jennifer's cursing at the end. Lame! I guess I played it too safe this week. I suppose I should be picking Stephanie because she can win with a fried wonton!

Dish I wished I were eating: I thought all of the desserts looked good - the inside-out oreo, the s'more on a stick, and the mixed fruit with cinnamon wonton.

Favorite Chef at the moment: Although they were annoying at the end in front of the judges, Spike and Andrew were quite entertaining for the majority of the episode, especially when Andrew told that little kid that "these little burgers are full of awesomeness." I still believe in Richard though - I have a sneaking suspicion he is extremely talented and will go far in the end.

Let's see what goes down next week!

X & EP

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Hello, Moishe's!"

by Erin

On my last day in the Big Apple, we had cupcakes and pizza, but that wasn't all: we still were able to fit in two more culinary adventures before I returned to Charm City!

First was a mission for my father: he asked me to get him a "cornbread," and not the yellow southern variety, the Jewish cornbread from back in the day. You guys know what I'm talking about? It's like a rye bread but denser and with a really thick crust. It reminds me of my Dad, Grandpa, and uncles, all sitting around my grandparents' table, reminiscing about corn bread, of course!

Anyway, the BCD parents assured me that I'd have no trouble finding this delicacy in Brooklyn-- but they were wrong. I called about a half-dozen Jewish bakeries in the surrounding areas, but most didn't know what I was talking about, and one told me that they usually have cornbreads but their oven was out of commission. Lame! So, we did a bit more research and a place called Moishe's Kosher Bake Shop kept coming up.

I called Moishe's (he answered the phone in his thick Jewish NY accent: "Hello, Moishe's!") and I spoke to Moishe himself (I think), who told me he didn't have any fresh cornbreads but he did have one frozen and ready for transit. Not the best situation but better than nothing, right? So, we hopped in the car and headed into the city to Moishe's, located in the East Village. When I got there I told Moishe that I was the one who called, and he went and got my cornbread. I told him it was for my dad, which he loved. He said, "It's good with the soup! You going to make the soup for him?" I, not knowing what soup he was talking about, played along and said "Of course I'll make the soup for my dad!" But, sorry Dad, no soup for you.

Sweets from Moishe

Hamentaschen in the window for Purim

Along with the cornbread, I picked up some NY bagels (most of which I've already eaten) and some onion rolls for the BCD parents. Apparently onion rolls were a favorite of my late, great, Grandpa Al, so I was happy to pick some up for the family.

Real NY Bagels

After our visit with Moishe, it was time to eat again! Lauren and I went to a Middle Eastern restaurant in Bay Ridge called Tanoreen, which turned out to be a great last meal in NYC. We ended up getting a bunch of their appetizers and sharing, and it was a good way to go (although half-way through the meal I saw a whole fried fish go by and I was sad we didn't have one of our own...).

We ordered hummus, cauliflower salad, dandelion greens, fatoush salad, and sambosek, and everything was AMAZING! The hummus was pretty standard, and very lemony. It was good with some of the spiced, fried pita chips they put on the table.

The cauliflower salad was sauteed cauliflower tops with tahini, pomegranate syrup, and parsley - YUM. It was kind of oily but in a good way - the cauliflower and the tahini was a great combo, although I don't recall too much of the pomegranate coming through.

The dandelion greens were spectacular - they were sauteed in olive oil with garlic and lots of caramelized onions, and they had such an intense, satisfying flavor. Who knew dandelions were anything more than good for a makeshift bouquet for Mom??

The fatoush salad was also amazing. It had lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, mint, olive oil, lemon juice, and the signature fried bits of pita running throughout. The mint was an especially strong and refreshing flavor, and the pita pieces were definitely spiced up and added a great crunch to the whole salad. I could not stop eating this, well after I was full!

Last we got sambosek, the middle eastern version of samosas (in my opinion). These were so delicious - deep-fried dough pockets filled with ground lamb, spices, and almonds, and served with a cilantro-basil dipping sauce. So good!

It was a very satisfying meal, and I was glad we got some good ethnic food into the schedule. We ended the meal with some mint tea, which was lovely, until we were asked to leave before we were done our tea because people were waiting for our table. This made me a bit mad, but at the same time I understood why it happened.

The next day I took the subway to the train station ALL BY MYSELF and I didn't mess up! Hooray! I love NY, and I can't wait to get back there! Next time I want to go to Magnolia Bakery (I've heard I really missed out and that the frosting is not quite like Warren Brown's), and maybe Babbo if we're lucky?? Thanks again to my BFF Lauren for having me!

Happy eating and happy travels,

EP

Monday, March 24, 2008

Brooklyn Pizza: Check out that flop!

by Erin

After our cupcake breakfast and some "girl talk" about the previous night's craziness, Lauren, her roommate Sarah, and I headed to Grimaldi's, known (modestly) as the home of the best pizza in Brooklyn. Grimaldi's is located right on the water and under the Brooklyn Bridge. We had heard that there would be a really long wait to eat in the restaurant, so we decided to order two pizzas to pick up and bring back to the house in Bay Ridge.

When we arrived, we saw a long line of people waiting in the drizzling rain for a table. We walked into the restaurant and it was PACKED with a lively crowd enjoying their freshly made pizzas. We paid for our awaiting pizzas and dashed out of there to avoid being in the way of the extremely busy waitstaff.

In the pizza waiting line

Packed house at Grimaldi's on a Sunday afternoon

When we got home, we were so excited for delicious pizza! We ordered one pizza with pepperoni, mushrooms and fresh basil, and one with ricotta, garlic, and fresh basil, and let me tell you, they were AWESOME.

The lovely Lauren with our lovely pizzas

Grimaldi's website says that there are three factors that make their pizza great: ingredients, know-how, and a great oven, and I'd say that all three of those factors came through. When we were inside the restaurant, I happened to watch a couple of the guys making the pizzas, and you could tell they were experts. The ingredients were fresh, flavorful and delicious, especially the thick-cut pepperoni and the super-strong garlic and fresh basil. Even the subtle flavor of the ricotta came through. I think part of this great balance of flavors came from the proportion of crust to sauce to cheese to toppings. Speaking of the crust, it was a bit charred (from their brick oven, of course) and extremely thin, which resulted in super-flop pizza! It was truly NY-style!

Pizza with ricotta, fresh basil, and garlic

Pizza with pepperoni, mushroom, and basil

Check out that floppo slice!

The only criticism I would make is that the pizza was a little soggy but I think that's a function of our taking it home and not eating it in the restaurant, fresh out of the oven. Next time, I'll be waiting for a table fo sho!

We enjoyed our pizza and watched Driving Miss Daisy (which I had never seen before), and just relaxed around the house for a few hours. It was a great afternoon and it made me feel like less of a tourist and more of a New Yorker, which was a GREAT feeling. Thanks Lauren and Sarah!

Stay tuned for my next and final NYC eats post!

Happy floppy pizza eating,

EP

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Charitable Basketcases

by Xani and Erin

Attention readers in Baltimore and the surrounding areas!! There is a very special event happening in Baltimore this Saturday, March 29. It's the annual Maryland Public Interest Law Program (MPILP) Spring Auction, and not only will we be attending, but we will be donating a basket of delicious treats to the silent auction! The basket is still being developed but will look something like this:

(only way better!)

The MPILP auction is held every year to raise money to support law students who spend their summers working in public interest law. Held at Westminster Hall (attached to the Maryland School of Law, and also next to the cemetery where Edgar Allen Poe is buried!), the auction is a notoriously good time (due in part to the open bar, we're sure) for a good cause. There are tons of valuable and unusual items to bid on, many donated by local businesses.

We hope to see some of you there! If you need more information or for tickets, click here for the MPILP website.

Happy Eating,

X & EP

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