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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Beautiful Bones: Oysters Rockefeller Gratin & Me Singing

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When I read that Susan from Food Blogga was hosting an event called Beautiful Bones, I was intrigued. Afflicted with osteoporosis, she decided to host a food blogging event to increase awareness in women to the potential risks of the disease and encourage them to begin taking steps to protect their bones. Since May is National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month, her timing was perfect.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. If not prevented or if left untreated, osteoporosis can progress painlessly until a bone breaks. While women are four times more likely than men to develop the disease, men can suffer from osteoporosis as well. Calcium plays an important role in building stronger, denser bones early in life and keeping bones strong and healthy later in life. Vitamin D also plays an important role in protecting your bones. Your body requires vitamin D in order to absorb calcium.

While I've been fortunate that none of the women in my family have osteoporosis, I have seen the debilitating effect it has had on others. In fact, someone very close to me died from complications caused by this disease - my dear voice teacher, Ruth Gordon. I'd like to tell you a little about her story.

Ruth was a tiny, little powerhouse of a woman. She couldn't have been more than five feet tall in heels, but that didn't diminish the terror she could inspire in an unprepared student with one withering look! Ruth received her training at Juilliard and Indiana University, one of the finest schools in the country for vocal performance. She had an illustrious career in New York for many years before she and her husband retired to the Sarasota area. She wasn't retired for long, though. When word got out that Ruth was in town, every budding coloratura within two hundred miles was clamoring to study with her. It wasn't long before there was a waiting list just to audition to be a student of hers. Ruth was very discriminating in choosing the students she accepted. But, if you were one of the lucky handful of "Ruth's Girls", you could write your own ticket just about anywhere.

About six months after my daughter was born, I worked up the nerve to call her and request an audition. The coach I had been studying with had taken me as far as she could and suggested this. To my great surprise, Ruth already knew who I was! In that first phone call she said to me, "I was wondering when you were going to call." You just about had to peel me up off of the floor after that! Needless to say, my audition was a success and I became one of "Ruth's Girls".

I studied with Ruth for five years. Under her tutelage, I blossomed. She was a tough taskmaster, but I learned so much from her! Ruth was always brutally honest and never gave faint praise. I don't think I ever got through one song uninterrupted! She picked apart every single note! But, she was always kind and supportive. As a new mother, there were many times I showed up for a lesson frustrated and exhausted. Those were the days I received a strong, hot cup of tea and a stern pep talk at her kitchen table.

Ruth suffered from osteoporosis. During the years I spent with her, I watched her small body become more and more brittle. The slightest bump would cause one of her bones to break. Once, she fractured two vertebrae just from walking down the few stairs outside her kitchen door! She was like a treasured piece of delicate, antique porcelain - beautiful and translucent, and so very fragile.

That last year, she was in constant, intolerable pain. Eventually, she became bedridden. This immobility, can often lead to loss of muscle tone throughout the whole body including the heart and lungs, increasing the chance of blood clots and collapse of the lungs, resulting in pneumonia. Sadly, Ruth did contract pneumonia. Because of her body's weakened state, she was unable to fight it and she passed away.

I miss Ruth and our time together so much. She was a great lady and it was very hard to stand by and watch her body become so ravaged by osteoporosis. I'll never forget her. Ruth encouraged me to stretch and grow and break through the self-imposed limits that I had set for myself. She believed in me and taught me to believe in myself. That is why I've decided to dedicate this post to Ruth Gordon. Wherever she is, I know that she would be pleased.
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After my Gateau l'Opera post, many of you asked when I was going to post a clip of me singing. Since most of what I have done has been recitals, concerts and other live performances, there aren't many videos or recordings of me in "action". I do have a few things on Cds and I have attempted to include one below. If it works, it a recording of me singing The Shepherd on the Rock by Franz Schubert. Most of you won't understand the words - it's in German- but it is a pretty piece. It was recorded in a theater, so the quality isn't that good. Please be kind. Remember, you asked for it!




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To participate in Beautiful Bones, Susan has asked that we post one calcium-rich recipe on our blogs any time between May 1st and May 31st. Our recipe can be for any type of dish as long as it contains at least one calcium-rich food as a main ingredient. She was gracious enough to post a very lengthy list of foods that qualify. I was actually a bit surprised at some of them. There were quite a few foods that I never realized were high in calcium.


My original plan was to make one of Mr. SGCC's favorites, Oysters Rockefeller. I thought it would be perfect for this event. Not only does the dish contain calcium-rich milk and cheese, but it also boasts spinach and oysters, which are also very high in calcium, as main ingredients. Calcium-rich pay dirt!
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When the time came to shop for my ingredients, Mr. SGCC was at a late client meeting and I was counting on him to do the shucking. After an unfortunate incident with an oyster knife several years ago, I'm kind of not allowed to use them anymore. Don't ask. Anyway, I saw that the fish market had beautiful freshly shucked oysters in containers, so I bought some. You pretty much need the shells to make Oysters Rockefeller, so I switched gears and decided to adjust the recipe a little and make an Oysters Rockefeller Gratin. Pretty clever, huh? All the same good stuff with no nicked fingers.

For a traditional Oysters Rockefeller, garlic, shallots, and spinach are sauteed in butter, infused with Pernod and spooned over oysters on the half shell. They are then topped with a bread crumb/Parmesan/herb mixture and a creamy, cheesy Mornay sauce. Finally, they are broiled in the oven until browned and bubbly. To create my gratin, I prepared the toppings for the dish and the Mornay sauce the same way I would for a traditional Rockefeller. I mixed the sauteed vegetables and the sauce into the oysters, topped them with the bread crumb mixture and baked them.
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When I took the dish out of the oven, the first thing I thought was that it smelled and looked fabulous. It had a perfect crunchy browned crust and was nice and steamy underneath. I plated it and we sat down and dug in. The flavor profile was spot on. It definitely tasted like Oysters Rockefeller. The oysters were plump and succulent. The dish turned out exactly as it should have, but.....I didn't love it. Mr. SGCC didn't love it either. Mini-SGCC wouldn't go near it. She ate leftover stir-fried eggplant from the night before. I can't put my finger on why we didn't love it, because it wasn't bad. It was really rich with very strong flavors. Maybe it was just too much of a good thing. I don't know - Mr. SGCC did have two servings, but I think it was more out of hunger than avarice. Although, he did make me save the leftovers.

I thought about not posting about this dish and making something else. But, I decided that I should post about it, because I think that we can learn just as much from our failures as we do from our successes. I tell my daughter that all the time. I suppose I should practice what I preach.

So, here it is, for better or worse, my Oysters Rockefeller Gratin.


Oysters Rockefeller Gratin

1 quart fresh, shucked oysters
6 tablespoons unsalted butter plus a little more for the topping
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
2 shallots, chopped (If you can't find shallots, you can also use scallions or diced sweet onion)
4 cups fresh baby spinach
1/4 cup Pernod
Salt and pepper, to taste
Tabasco sauce to taste
1 cup Mornay sauce (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Prepare Mornay sauce and set aside.

Drain oysters into a large bowl, straining and reserving the liquor. Set aside.

Melt butter in a skillet. Saute the garlic for a few minutes to infuse the butter. Place the panko in a small bowl and add half of the garlic butter, olive oil, Parmesan, parsley and tarragon. Set aside.

Add the shallots and spinach to the remaining garlic butter in the skillet and saute for about 3-4 minutes, until the spinach wilts. Deglaze the pan with the Pernod, scraping up any brown bits. Season with salt and pepper and allow the mixture to cook down for a few minutes. Add to the oysters.

Gently mix the Mornay sauce into the oyster mixture. Add a few dashes of the Tabasco sauce. Add more salt and pepper, if needed.

Transfer the oyster mixture to a baking dish and sprinkle the panko mixture all over the top. Dot with small bits of plain butter.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until the top is browned and the oyster mixture is bubbly.


Mornay Sauce

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk, warmed
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese (You can use any Swiss cheese if you can't get Gruyere.)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup half-and-half
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with the half and half

In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat and whisk in flour. Cook for a minute or two until the flour just starts to color.

Slowly whisk in milk and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer and continue cooking 2-3 minutes, until sauce thickens.

Stir in the cheese and blend well.

Add egg yolk mixture and blend well.

Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
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Enjoy!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Top Chef, Season 4: High Steaks AND Givaway Winner

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Well, Mini-SGCC is officially a high school girl! Today was her graduation from middle school. Today is also my adorable twin nephews' sixth birthday. Such excitement all in one day! We were out of the house at 7:15 this morning, did the graduation thing, did the fancy lunch with all of Mini-SGCC's girlfriends thing, and then did the stop in at the office to check on the new secretary thing. Now, I'm home to change clothes so we can go out and do the birthday celebration thing! Whew! My life has been a real E-ticket ride lately!

I think that last night's Top Chef episode was my favorite so far this season. I really don't want to rush and throw together a half-a$$ed recap for it. Instead, I am going to give you some links to some other great sites that are doing fun Top Chef recaps too. Then, you can come back here and leave your comments for next week's Giveaway for a Top Chef Cookbook.
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Here they are:

David Dust (Love this guy!)





Endless Simmer (Where they do a live blog during the show. You can replay it too.)

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Our Giveaway winner for this week is Rachel at The Essential Rhubarb Pie, better known as the Short (dis) Order Cook. Congratulations, Rachel! If you'll email me with your mailing address at stickygooeycreamychewy AT gmail DOT com, I'll get your Top Chef sticky note pad out to you as soon as possible.

Remember, all you have to do in order to be eligible to win a Giveaway is leave a comment on this post before next Wednesday at 10:00 p.m.

Ciao for now!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Gateau l'Opera: Sweet Music from the Daring Bakers

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When I first learned that this month's Daring Baker challenge was to make an Opera Cake, my heart did a little happy dance. Un Gateau l'Opera! What could be more perfect? Regular readers of this blog might remember that I'm a classically trained lyric soprano. And that, my friends, means opera. I sing it, listen to it, study it and go to see it as much as I can. From the time I first heard Beverly Sills sing the Merry Widow Waltz on the Ed Sullivan Show when I was about five, opera has been an important part of my life. I'm also proud to say that Mini-SGCC is quite a budding little coloratura, herself. By the time she was nine, she had already appeared in a Mainstage production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers with the Sarasota Opera.
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There are conflicting stories about the origin of of the Opera Cake, which is also known as the Clichy Cake. One theory is that the cake was created by Louis Clichy because he premiered it at the 1903 Exposition Culinaire in Paris. It was Clichy's signature cake at his shop in the Boulevard Beaumarchais. A few years later an identical cake showed up at the legendary Parisian pattiserie, Dalloyau, allegedly created to honour the new Paris Opera house, and was dubbed Gateau d'Opera, or Opera Cake. Regardless of its beginnings or moniker, I think most would agree that the Opera Cake is an elegant, delicious and quintessentially Parisian confection.
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An Opera Cake is made up of five different components: a joconde, which is a light almond sponge cake, a syrup to moisten the joconde, a rich buttercream, a ganache to top the final cake layer, and a glaze to top it all off. The traditional flavors used in this cake are coffee and chocolate. However, for this challenge we were asked to use only light colors and flavors in our cakes.

I chose to use vanilla, almond and orange as the main flavors in my gateaux. The joconde already contains a significant amount of almond meal and I added a touch of vanilla extract and orange flower water to the batter. My syrup was also flavored with almond extract. I flavored the buttercream with vanilla extract, orange flower water and a few drops of orange oil and added some Amaretto to the white chocolate ganache.
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This is a very labor intensive recipe, not because it is so difficult, but because there are so many steps involved. I had decided to make several small round cakes, so that I could give some away. I spread out the creation of my cakes over three days. On the first day, I prepared the sugar syrup and the ganache. The next day, I baked the jocande, made the buttercream, cut out my cake pieces and assembled my cakes using cake rings. Then I left them to chill overnight. On the third day, I made the white chocolate glaze, constructed my decorations and chilled the cakes for several more hours until the glaze was firm enough to paint on.
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Amazingly, I had absolutely no problems at all with any of the components of this recipe. Each one, including the buttercream, turned out exactly as it was supposed to the FIRST time. If I hadn't been frantically trying to get my cakes finished before the deadline, I would have been in awe!

When I think of the Paris Opera House or the Opera Garnier, as it is also called, I think of gilded, glittery things. I've only been there once, but what I remember is masses of beautiful frescoes bathed in light from a multitude of gleaming chandeliers and encased in golden walls. I wanted my Opera Cakes to look like that. Trying to achieve a gilded effect, I painted some of my cakes with a bronze-colored pearl dust. I had used pearl dust to decorate my Cheesecake Pops and really like the effect. I dusted the rest of my cakes with an edible gold dust. With the help of my gracious sister-in-law, I piped out several treble clefs and assorted musical notes out of pink and white candy melts. Actually, she did most of the piping because I have a shaky hand and no patience, and she used to work in a bakery. Hey, I know when to turn to the experts!

I can't tell you how thrilled I was with the way my little gateaux turned out. The layers got a little muddled when I slid them out of the cake rings, but they were still very pretty. I really loved the look of the bronze pearl dust. It looks a bit darker in the photographs than it actually was, but it truly gave my cakes that "gilded" feel. The gold dust was more yellow than I would have liked, but it went well with the pale pink decorations. I love the combination of pink and gold, so I was very pleased with it too.
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Of course, the most beautiful cake in the world isn't worth much if it can't pass the test of taste. I am happy to report that my gateaux tasted like little golden nuggets of heaven! The buttercream was divine and the ganache....well, the ganache was sublime! I could swear I heard strains of Nessun Dorma as I took my first bite! I was glad that I made double the amount of both so that I can now use them to make another delicious dessert. Or, I could just grab a spoon and have at it!
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My thanks go out to this month's hosts Ivonne, Lis, Fran and Shea for a giving us such a great challenge. I would also like to dedicate this post to former DBer, Barbara from Winos and Foodies, for her tireless work to promote Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong Foundation.

Please take some time visit the Daring Baker Blogroll to see what my fellow Daring Bakers have "composed" for this challenge. There are many, many talented and creative bakers in the group and I know that you will be "wowed".
The recipe for this Opera Cake is quite long and I have opted not to type it out in this post. If you are interested in having the recipe, I have provided a printable version of it here.
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This recipe is based on Opera Cake recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.
Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

TWD: Honey Pecan Sticky buns

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To be honest, while I was looking forward to making this week's TWD recipe, the timing couldn't have been worse. The Pecan Honey Sticky Buns selected by Madam Chow is a fantastic one, but it is quite involved and takes at least two days to complete. After being without a secretary for three weeks due to the illness of my assistant, I spent most of last week frantically trying to find a replacement. We're also in the home stretch of the school year here. My daughter is graduating from the 8th grade this week and we've had several activities and obligations relating to that. Then comes a holiday weekend with yet more activities and family obligations. The icing on the cake is another very involved baking project I've committed to which is due tomorrow. As I sit here typing this, what I really feel like doing is pulling my hair out!

That being said, I made the sticky buns, but I really don't have time to tell you too much about the experience. Hell, I don't even remember half of what I did, as I was racing around my kitchen at warp speed the whole time. I can tell you that these buns were made using Dorie's Golden Brioche dough, which I have made before. It yields a delicious rich and buttery loaf, but making it is a long, punishing process, either for your arms or your stand mixer!

I probably would have really enjoyed the whole process of making this recipe had I not been so preoccupied with everything else. What's not to love about a sweet brioche filled with cinnamon, butter and sugar and then drenched in gooey, golden honey, nuts and more butter and sugar? Nothing, that's what!
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These sticky buns were divine! My family devoured them in record time. By the time I got around to taking the photographs, there were only a half dozen left! I would definitely recommend making them, but would advise you to do so when there isn't a whole lot of other stuff going on.

If you'd like to see lots of great buns, check out what the other TWD bakers have been up to this week!

Pecan Honey Sticky Buns

For the Glaze:

1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup honey
1-1/2 cups pecans (whole or pieces)
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For the Filling:

1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the Buns:

1/2 recipe dough for Golden Brioche loaves (see below), chilled and ready to shape (make the full recipe and cut the dough in half after refrigerating it overnight)

Generously butter a 9-x-13-inch baking pan (a Pyrex pan is perfect for this).

To make the glaze: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the brown sugar, butter, and honey to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar. Pour the glaze into the buttered pan, evening it out as best you can by tilting the pan or spreading the glaze with a heatproof spatula. Sprinkle over the pecans.

To make the filling: Mix the sugars and cinnamon together in a bowl. If necessary, in another bowl, work the butter with a spatula until it is soft, smooth and spreadable.

To shape the buns: On a flour-dusted work surface, roll the chilled dough into a 16-inch square. Using your fingers or a pastry brush, spread the softened butter over the dough. Sprinkle the dough with the cinnamon sugar, leaving a 1-inch strip bare on the side farthest from you.

Starting with the side nearest you, roll the dough into a cylinder, keeping the roll as tight as you can. (At this point, you can wrap the dough airtight and freeze it for up to 2 months . . . . Or, if you want to make just part of the recipe now, you can use as much of the dough as you'd like and freeze the remainder. Reduce the glaze recipe accordingly).

With a chef's knife, using a gentle sawing motion, trim just a tiny bit from the ends of the roll if they're very ragged or not well filled, then cut the log into 1-inch thick buns. (Because you trim the ragged ends of the dough, and you may have lost a little length in the rolling, you will get 15 buns, not 16.) Fit the buns into the pan cut side down, leaving some space between them.
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Lightly cover the pan with a piece of wax paper and set the pan in a warm place until the buns have doubled in volume, about 1 hour and 45 minutes. The buns are properly risen when they are puffy, soft, doubled and, in all likelihood, touching one another.

Getting ready to bake: When the buns have almost fully risen , center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Remove the sheet of wax paper and put the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Bake the sticky buns for about 30 minutes, or until they are puffed and gorgeously golden; the glaze will be bubbling away merrily. Pull the pan from the oven.

The sticky buns must be unmolded minutes after they come out of the oven. If you do not have a rimmed platter large enough to hold them, use a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or buttered foil. Be careful - the glaze is super-hot and super-sticky.

What You'll Need for the Golden Brioche Dough (this recipe makes enough for two brioche loaves. If you divide the dough in half, you would use half for the sticky buns, and you can freeze the other half for a later date, or make a brioche loaf out of it!):

2 packets active dry yeast (each packet of yeast contains approx. 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch water
1/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch whole milk
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature but still slightly firm

To Make The Brioche: Put the yeast, water and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using a wooden spoon, stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add the flour and salt, and fit into the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one. Toss a kitchen towel over the mixer, covering the bowl as completely as you can-- this will help keep you, the counter and your kitchen floor from being showered in flour. Turn the mixer on and off a few short pulses, just to dampen the flour (yes, you can peek to see how you're doing), then remove the towel, increase the mixer speed to medium-low and mix for a minute or two, just until the flour is moistened. At this point, you'll have a fairly dry, shaggy mess.

Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, set the mixer to low and add the eggs, followed by the sugar. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes, until the dough forms a ball. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter in 2-tablespoon-size chunks, beating until each piece is almost incorporated before adding the next. You'll have a dough that is very soft, almost like batter. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl (or wash out the mixer bowl and use it), cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 40 to 60 minutes, depending upon the warmth of your room.

Deflate the dough by lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap to the bowl. Cover the bowl with the plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours, then leave the uncovered dough in the refrigerator to chill overnight. (After this, you can make the sticky buns or freeze all or part of the dough for later use.)

Makes 15 buns
Enjoy!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

SHF #43: Citrus - Blood Orange Basil Mint Sorbet

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The very first blog event that I ever entered was for Sugar High Fridays. Though it's only been seven months, it seems like a lifetime ago - long before I became the tough, seasoned blogging pro that I am now - NOT! But seriously, when I look back at those early posts, I realize that I have come a long way. Now, as I write my posts, I no longer feel like my 8th grade English teacher is looking over my shoulder. I try to write as though you were all sitting at my kitchen table, sharing a cup of coffee and some friendly conversation.

And the photos......bleck! I absolutely cringe when I look at those early ones! I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Actually, I still have no idea what I'm doing. I'm just a little better at faking it now. Thank goodness there were some kind and generous bloggers out there to help me, one of whom is the lovely and talented Helen, from Tartelette, our host for this month's SHF. I've missed a few SHF deadlines in the past several months. They just keep sneaking up on me! But, when I saw that Helen had selected Citrus as this month's theme, I knew I had to make the time to participate.

Living in the Sunshine State, I have access to many genres of citrus fruits in all forms, shapes and sizes. Like any good Florida girl, I have an ample arsenal of recipes using lemons, oranges, tangelos and grapefruits, all which are indigenous to the area. So, when it came time to pick which one to use, what did I choose? Blood oranges, that's what! It was a perfectly logical choice
since blood oranges are neither indigenous to Florida, nor are they readily (or hardly ever) available here.
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The blood orange is a variety of orange with a crimson, blood-colored flesh. The fruit is smaller than an average orange. The juice is sweet but somewhat bitter and less acidic than that of regular oranges. Blood oranges are believed to have originated in Sicily. While the tree will grow and bear fruit in Florida, it is believed that a significant variation in temperature between day and night is necessary to develop the distinctive red color. Since there is no such variation in our climate, blood oranges grown in Florida often have little or no red pigmentation.

So, why did I choose them? Because I love them. They're different and exotic to me. The first time I ever heard of a blood orange was twenty years ago during my first trip to Italy. One morning for breakfast, I was served a large glass of the most gorgeous deep, dark red-orange liquid. I'd never seen anything like it before. Since I had ordered orange juice, I politely called
our Cameriere over to explain the mistake.
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"Ma signora," he said, trying to stifle a smile, "Prometto. Ciò è succo di arancia." (I promise. This is orange juice.)
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Thus, began my long distance love affair with blood oranges. For the entire month I was there, I gorged on them wherever I found them. Back home, I sought them out everywhere, usually without success. When I did find them, it was like a reunion with an old paramour - fleeting, but filled with sweet memories.
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A few weeks ago, I came across a bushel of blood oranges in the grocery store. They looked like they'd been around the block a few times, but I bought some anyway. Out of a half dozen, only one was lovely and juicy inside. The rest were kind of dry and shrivelled up. Crap! I went to my fridge and pulled out a bottle of blood orange juice that I keep stashed in there to mix with Campari. The bottle said "Fresh. Not from concentrate". It also said that the juice came from oranges from Italy. Score! I figured that the best way to use this kind of juice was to make a sorbet with it, and that's what I did. Yes, I know that it would be much better to use juice that I squeezed myself, but work with me! I'm doing the best I can! I can't afford to be a snob.
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Sorbet is one of the easiest things to make, and the payoff is big in terms of color and big, bold, fruity flavor. My sorbet was no exception. I infused some fresh basil and mint into the simple syrup and added a little lime juice and Cointreau too. The result was beautiful to look at, and cool, smooth and delicious to eat. The blood orange flavor came bursting through. Definitely a success!
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Sugar High Fridays was founded by Jennifer at The Domestic Goddess.
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Blood Orange Basil Mint Sorbet
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1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 cups blood orange juice
1/2 cup packed basil leaves
1/2 cup packed mint leaves
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons orange liqueur* (such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier)
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Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and add the blood orange juice, basil and mint. Let steep for about 5 minutes.

Add the lemon juice and strain into a bowl. Chill completely.

Stir in the liqueur and freeze mixture in your ice cream machine according to manufacturer's instructions. Once the sorbet is frozen, transfer to 1-quart container and store tightly sealed in the freezer for a few hours until firm.

Makes approximately 1 quart.

*The liqueur can be omitted from the recipe, if desired, but it is recommended to keep the sorbet from getting too hard and icy.

Enjoy!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Top Chef, Season 4: Restaurant Wars & Another Giveaway!

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Okay, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I hired a new legal assistant yesterday. She is a very nice lady with good credentials and I think she will work out just fine. After a few weeks of training, things should return to normal over here in SGCC Land. The bad news is that I am a day late with this Top Chef recap. I'm really sorry, but it just couldn't be helped. After a full day of interviewing, I had to race over to my daughter's school for their Spring Music Showcase. She is in the school chorus and she sang a lovely solo last night. I was so proud. My Mini-SGCC is a chip off the old block! Anyway, I'm here now and I have plenty to say about Restaurant Wars!

Woohoo!!! I was very excited to see that the Restaurant Wars are back! It seems that either Bravo was just teasing us or they couldn't think up another idea for an Elimination Challenge. No matter because I was pleased as punch when I found out that this week The Cheftestants were going to battle it out in that popular challenge.

The episode opens as the Cheftestants are catching up on some much needed sleep. At what appears to be an ungodly pre-dawn hour, Chef Tom sneaks in wakes them up to announce the Quickfire Challenge. don't you just hate to get up when it's still dark outside? It always feels like the middle of the night to me! Anyway, the bleary-eyed chefs are off to Lou Mitchell's diner, a bustling Chicago breakfast hot spot, for the QF. Tom explains that they will be working, not eating at the diner during the hectic morning rush.
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Once at Lou Mitchell's, the gang are introduced to the owner, Helene, who looks like someone way too scary to meet before having your morning coffee. She explains that the cheftestants will each take turns working the egg station in the "Hole". After that, Helene will decide who was best at taking the heat in her kitchen, and choose the winner.

Antonia's up first and she is unflappable, as is Dale. They both do a pretty good job and, of course place in the top two. The rest are a mess! I've never worked in a diner, but I've certainly cooked my share of eggs for some pretty impatient, cranky people and managed not to break every yolk or set my kitchen on fire. Seriously, I'm getting so f***ing sick of hearing those "chefs" whine about how they're used to "fine dining" and they don't "do" this or that. We're talking EGGS, people! What the hell kind of chef can't make a simple fried egg, over easy? My fourteen year old can do it.

I digress.

Helene picks Antonia as the winner and the dog and pony show goes back on the road - this time to the top secret and mysterious location of the Elimination Challenge. Wooooo! (Insert foreboding Twilight Zone theme here.) Tom explains that he is off to a charity event and won't be around for this EC. But, he is sending someone in to take his place.
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The Cheftestants arrive at a big, old, empty warehouse space. It is actually pretty nice, with rustic wood floors and brick walls. Padma is there to greet them and enthusiastically exclaims that "Restaurant Wars is back!". She explains that they will split into two teams and each will have $1,500 for food and $5,000 for decor. Since Antonia won the QF, she gets to hand pick her teammates. Predictably, she chooses Stephanie and Richard. Uh oh. This leaves Dale, Lisa and Spike on the other team. Is anyone else feeling a bit of deja vu here? No matter what those chefs put on their menu, I smell a recipe for disaster!

Antonia's team decides to go with a "gastro-pub" theme, calling their restaurant "Warehouse Kitchen". Since I had no clue what that was, I looked it up. Apparently, a gastro-pub is a "British term for a pub which specializes in high-quality food a step above the more basic "pub grub." The name is a combination of pub and gastronomy." (Thank you Wikipedia!) The other team - (Let's just call them the Team of Doom, shall we?) - decide to open an Asian restaurant. Big surprise there, since all three claim to specialize in Asian cuisine. Well, Dale probably does. They name their restaurant "Mai Buddha". Next, there is menu planning, shopping and decorating, blah, blah, blah.

Antonia decides she is going to be the head chef of Team Gastro-Pub. (After all, she did win the QF and so it is kinda her team.), and Richard will be her flunky. Stephanie agrees to take over the front of the house, which means she gets to wear a pretty dress. After a very scientific coin toss, Dale gets to be the head chef for the other team. Ever the schmoozer, Spike takes the front of the house for Team of Doom, which mean he gets to wear a nice suit. Spike is actually not a bad-looking guy. It's too bad he is such a back-stabbing a$$hole.

As the Cheftestants are madly prepping for the big night, Anthony Bourdain pops in to let them know that will be the one subbing for Chef Tom. He promises to bring his ''warmer, sunnier disposition" to this challenge. I wasn't aware that he had one of those! Team of Doom is a little nervous. Bourdain has spent mucho time eating his way through Asia and is going to be pretty damn hard to impress.
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Next, the eliminated Cheftestants are trotted in and each team gets to select one to help out. Team Gastro-Pub is making lots and lots of pasta, so they choose Nikki, because that's pretty much all she can do. Team of Doom chooses Jen, because she is a great chef and they love her.

Team Gastro-Pub's Warehouse Kitchen was decorated in an understated and low key style. In fact, it was so low key that I can't remember a single thing about it. I wish I had DVR'ed the show. Team of Doom's decor for Mai Buddha featured purple and silver napkins and, well....Buddhas. I won't even comment. I'll just tell you that I agreed with Judge Bourdain when he said that it looked like the back of Prince's van.

The Judges' Table picked up Chef José Andrés, who hosts a show on PBS called "Made in Spain", as the guest judge for the night. (I think I've seen him on Iron Chef America.) He, apparently, has opened up many restaurants of his own. I'll bet he never used purple and silver napkins.

As you've probably already guessed, the judges were in love with Team Gastro-Pub's food. They made a beet salad with goat cheese and ras el hanout spices, fresh pasta with clams and sausage topped with a horseradish creme fraiche (Good think Nikki noticed those gritty clams!), Lamb Squared, featuring a lamb loin and braised lamb shank, trout with cauliflower puree and savory gorgonzola cheesecake with a concord grape sauce.

The Team of Doom served up a coconut Laksa (soup) with grilled prawns and vermicelli, miso glazed scallops drenched in a thick butterscotch sauce, braised short ribs with pickled red cabbage, Halo-Halo and Thai mango sticky rice with toasted coconut. As you can also guess, the judges pretty much hated everything about the meal except the short ribs.

Team Gastro-Pub to the win big time in Restaurant Wars with Stephanie in the # 1 slot. That lucky duck won a culinary trip for two to Spain! I'm sooooo jealous!

Obviously, Team of Doom lost the war and after much verbal sparring, Dale was sent to pack his knives. Poor Dale. The only trip he won included a one-way ticket home.
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I must say that I was pretty shocked (and a little sad) to see Dale go. I really didn't see that one coming. I was looking forward to a Dale/Richard finale. Lisa has consistently been in the bottom three while Dale has been in the top three. Lisa's dishes were crap last night. Even if Dale's dishes were crap too, shouldn't all of his prior wins count for something? And Spike! He must be so slimy that the bad luck just rolls right off him.

What do you think? Now that Dale has been knocked out, who do you think will duke it out with Richard in the finale? Let's Dish!!!

GIVEAWAY WINNER!



It is my pleasure to announce that this week's Top Chef Giveaway winner is non other than Jen of Use Real Butter. Congratulations, Jen! (Actually, I don't think that Jen even watches Top Chef, but she might start now that she is the proud owner of an official Top Chef oven mitt! You can never have to many of those, right?). Jen, if you'll email me at stickygooeycreamychewy AT gmail DOT com with your mailing address, I'll get your prize out to you ASAP.





Remember, I still have more stuff to give away. I even have a little something special planned for the finale. All you have to do to be eligible to win is leave a comment on this post by 10:00 p.m. next Wednesday. I'll pick a winner using the handy dandy random number generator. Next week, I'll be giving away another one of these Top Chef sticky note pads.

On a personal note, I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who left such kind and supportive comments last week. I can't tell you how much they were appreciated. It has a sad, scary time around here the past few weeks and your good wishes really meant a lot. You're the best!

Ciao for now!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Madeleines - C'est Magnifique!

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Sheesh! Ever since I joined the Tuesdays with Dorie group, Tuesdays sure seem to roll around a lot faster! I don't really mind, though. I'm having a great time trying out all of these fab new recipes. This week's selection is a favorite of mine - Madeleines. I had my first taste of these plump and buttery little shell-shaped sweets last summer in Paris and I was hooked. In fact, one of my very first posts on this blog was about one of Dorie's versions of the madeleine. Part cookie/part cake, these madeleines go with everything and are a perfect treat any time of the day.

I followed this recipe as written. I've made them a few times before and they always turned out great. The only adjustment I did make was to add extra lemon zest, because I like a more lemony flavor. My madeleines turned out beautifully! They were a burnished golden color with the slightest hint of crunch on the outside and soft and cakey on the inside. More importantly, each one bore that very desirable hump!
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My thanks go out to Tara of Smells Like Home, our host this week, for choosing such a great recipe. Also, please take some time to visit the other TWD bakers here and check out their delectable offerings.

If you've never eaten a madeleine before, you owe it to yourself to make some NOW! Then, put on a Piaf CD, grab a steamy cup of cafe au lait and enjoy! C'est Magnifique!
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Traditional Madeleines
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2/3 cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
½ cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
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Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Working in a mixer bowl, or in a large bowl, rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the eggs to the bowl. Working with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together on medium-high speed until pale, thick and light, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. With a rubber spatula, very gently fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the batter and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours, or for up to 2 days. This long chill period will help the batter form the hump that is characteristic of madeleines. (For convenience, you can spoon the batter into the madeleine molds, cover and refrigerate, then bake the cookies directly from the fridge; see below for instructions on prepping the pans.)

GETTING READY TO BAKE: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter 12 full-size madeleine molds, or up to 36 mini madeleine molds, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess. Or, if you have a nonstick pan (or pans), give it a light coating of vegetable cooking spray. If you have a silicone pan, no prep is needed. Place the pan(s) on a baking sheet.

Spoon the batter into the molds, filling each one almost to the top. Don't worry about spreading the batter evenly, the oven's heat will take care of that. Bake large madeleines for 11 to 13 minutes, and minis for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are golden and the tops spring back when touched.

Remove the pan(s) from the oven and release the madeleines from the molds by rapping the edge of the pan against the counter. Gently pry any recalcitrant madeleines from the pan using your fingers or a butter knife. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to just warm or to room temperature.

If you are making minis and have more batter, bake the next batch(es), making certain that you cool, then properly prepare the pan(s) before baking.

Just before serving, dust the madeleines with confectioners' sugar.

makes 12 large or 36 mini madeleines
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Enjoy!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sweet Stuff at SGCC

I'm not going to tell you any sad stories today. I'm locking them all in my Sad Story Box and they are not allowed out until tomorrow. Today is my birthday and I just want to think about happy things! Don't ask me how old I am, though. If I told you that, I'd have to kill you!
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I've shared a lot with you all on this blog; the good, the bad and the bittersweet. Writing has always been cathartic for me and it is sometimes easier to express my feelings this way. I think that is true for many of us. Someone asked me not too long ago, how I could spend so much time talking to nameless, faceless strangers on the Internet. She said that interacting in this way was not true communication. She also claimed that because of the anonymity of the web, most of the people I've met online are probably not even who they say they are.

I tried to explain to her about this wonderful world of food blogging - about all of the terrific people I've come to know and how much I look forward to visiting them and their blogs. I told her that some of the connections I've made with other bloggers are are just as real as if I'd met them right here in town. We celebrate each others' successes, laugh over our failures, cry over our losses and support each other in our endeavors. She didn't get it. I guess people often can't accept what they don't understand. That got me thinking. How do you feel about this? Is what we do true communication? Can you really forge a strong bond with someone you've never met? Hmmm. Food for thought.

There has been a lot of sweet stuff going on here in SGCC Land and I couldn't be more thrilled! I've been saving it up to share with you all at once. I had planned to write this post a while ago, but with all of the craziness, I just never got to it. In the last several weeks, I've won a few contests and have been honored with some great awards!

Last month, I submitted an entry to Holly at Phemonenon for her Little Wonders, Blogging for Babies event. My Lemon Yogurt Cakelets was chosen as one of the top three entries! I was stunned! I was happy just to be able to participate in such a worthwhile event. To actually win was the icing on the proverbial cake! For my efforts I received a copy of Govind Armstrong's excellent cookbook, Small Bites Big Nights. Thank you so much, Holly and everyone who voted for me.

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Around the same time, I submitted an entry in the The Great Peanut Butter Exhibition #1 - Cookies, hosted by The Peanut Butter Boy, The Chocolate Peanut Butter Gallery and Foodaphilia. I entered my Holycraptheseareamazing Cookies and lo and behold, I won! WooHoo! I was too excited for words! My sincere and enthusiastic thanks go out to Nick, Kristina and E! Check out my cool badge I get to display!


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When it rains, it pours, this time in a very good way. Patsy at Family, Friends and Food has passed on the Blogging With a Purpose Award to me. Patsy is one of the sweetest bloggers around. She writes about her adventures in the kitchen with humor and charm. Not one to shy away from a challenge, she features lots of interesting and diverse recipes. Take a moment to check out her blog. You'll be happy you did. Thank you Patsy!

The Blogging With a Purpose Award was originated by Eric at Blogging With a Purpose. The rules are, that recipients must nominate five people who have not yet received the award, and that the blogs that receive the award must serve some purpose.

My good friend and fellow legal eagle, Cakelaw at Laws of the Kitchen has bestowed the Yummy Blog Award upon me. Cakelaw is one of my favorite bloggers. She is also one of the most prolific! I'm always amazed at how she manages to work full-time as an attorney and yet still find the time to create so many wonderful dishes and post about them to boot! She never seems to miss an event. Plus, she recently completed a class on cake decorating. You really need to visit Cakelaw's blog to see the lovely and tempting things she has been churning out in her kitchen! I am honored that she thinks my blog is yummy!

This award was started by Roopa of Kitchen Treats. Here is Roopa's decription of it in her own words: " The Yummy Blog Award is the award given to the blog with most yummy recipes/photos. The receiver should also quote their favorite yummy-licious dessert(s) that they have ever prepared/eaten...Also the receiver should pass on the award to four other bloggers who’s blog they find “yummy” and let them know about the rules." There are so many "yummy-licious" dishes that I've posted about. After all, if I don't love the food I make, I usually don't bother writing about it. If I had to choose one, I think it would have to be my Thank Heaven for Little Girl(Scout)s Samoa Cheese Tart. With all of that cream cheese, dulce de leche, toasted coconut and dark, rich chocolate, it is the quintessential Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy dessert!
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Both Gretchen at Canela & Comino and Val at More Than Burnt Toast have honored me with the You Make My Day Award. I've gotten to know both of these terrific women pretty well over the last several months and my life has been richer for it. They are generous and kind and incredible cooks! Gretchen features many mouthwatering Peruvian dishes on her blog and very charming and poignant stories to go along with them. Val's blog is like the United Nations of food! She presents delicious recipes from all over the globe, including her native Canada, often imparting valuable nutritional information too. She also shares lots of great pictures of all of the exciting and exotic places she's been. It's worth a trip to both of these blogs to see what they're up to. My sincere thanks goes out to both of these special ladies.

The Rules of this award are to give the award to up to 10 people whose blogs bring you happiness and inspiration and make you feel so happy about blogland! Let them know by posting a comment on their blog so that they can pass it on. Beware! You may get the award several times!


Last but certainly not least is the Arte y Pico Award that I received from Nikki from Canary Girl. I have to admit that when I first saw this one floating around the blogoshere, I was secretly hoping that someone would pass it on to me. I really, really wanted that lovely badge! I'm so very happy that Nikki thought enough of me and SGCC to send it my way! Nikki is one of the most fun bloggers around. Her sunny smile is infectious and her breezy writing style makes for a great read. Nikki lives in the Canary Islands, which is too cool for words! Her recipes are a great mix of different cuisines, but I especially love all of the Spanish offerings. Stop by and check it out. Thanks, Nikki!

The Arte y Pico award originated with Eseya at Arte y Pico. The rules are as follows:

1)You have to pick 5 blogs that you consider deserving of this award with respect to creativity, design, interesting material and contribution to the blogging community.

2) Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.

3) Each recipient has to display the award and link to the blog that has given it

4) The recipient has to link to the originator of this award.

5) These rules are to be posted.

Now comes the hard part! How in the world do I narrow down my list of deserving bloggers to so few? I can honestly say that I find enjoyment and inspiration in every one I visit. They all deserve these awards. But, since I must name some names, here goes. This post is already way too long, so you'll just have to go visit these blogs to see why I love them! I tried not to duplicate, and if I did, I apologize. It wasn't easy!

The Blogging With A Purpose Award goes to:
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Barbara at Winos and Foodies

Cathy at Noble Pig

Holly at Phemomenon

Jen at A2EatWrite

Susan at Food Blogga
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The Yummy Blog Award goes to:

Aran at Canelle et Vanille

Kevin at Closet Cooking

Heather at Gild the Voodoolily

Marc at [No Recipes]

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The You Make My Day Award goes to:

Stacey at Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Ho-Hos

Tempered Woman at Tempered Woman

Rachel at The Essential Rhubarb Pie

Mike at Mike's Table

Michelle at Thursday Night Smackdown

Grace at A Southern Grace

Mark at No Special Effects

Patricia at Technicolor Kitchen

Rita at Mochachocolata Rita

Lori at The Recipe Girl

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The Arte y Pico Award goes to:
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Jessie at Cakespy

Michelle at Bleeding Espresso

Diane and Todd at White on Rice Couple

Jen at Use Real Butter

Nicisme at Cherrapeno

Whew!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Fideos with Clams and Saffron from Top Chef: The Cookbook

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Those of you who have visited here before have probably already figured out that I love Top Chef! It's one of my “must see” TV shows of the week. I watch for the drama, the cheesy preening of the Cheftestants, the snarky guest judges, Padma’s outfits, and, of course, the food. The show is in the midst of its fourth season and I can honestly say that I’ve never missed an episode. So when I found out about the recently released official companion cookbook to Top Chef, I had to have it!
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For those of you who have recently returned from an extended stay on the planet Mars, Top Chef is only the hottest cooking competition on television. It is an exciting and slickly produced weekly reality show airing on Bravo TV, featuring sixteen aspiring chefs from around the country who compete for the title of Top Chef. Each episode features two challenges. The Quickfire Challenge is designed to test the chefs’ basic knowledge of cooking skills. The winner of each Quickfire is usually afforded immunity in the ensuing Elimination Challenge. The Elimination Challenges are themed challenges where the chefs, affectionately known as the Cheftestants, compete against each other to show their creativity and versatility in the kitchen. Each week a different celebrity chef joins the regular panel of judges to determine who will be asked to “pack their knives and go.”

The winner of the competition receives $100,000 to be used in the furtherance of his or her career, a feature spread in Food & Wine Magazine, a gourmet trip to the French Alps, and a showcase at the Annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.

The Top Chef Cookbook contains over 100 recipes, as well as cooking tips, interviews, chef profiles, and behind-the-scenes stories from the series. The book is clothed in a white canvas cover inspired by the chefs’ jackets worn by the Cheftestants on the show. Cute, huh? Actually, it is a really sharp-looking cookbook with easy-to-follow recipes and lots of great big colorful pictures. If you’re a Top Chef fan, this book is definitely one to have for your collection. Heck, it’s a great book even if you hate the show!
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My first creation from Top Chef: The Cookbook is a dish that I have been dying to try ever since I watched Padma practically lick her plate clean while eating it. I’m talking about the Fideos with Clams and Saffron that the infamous Ilan prepared on the show in Season 2. Ilan, himself, describes it as “one of the most delicious things on Earth.”

The recipe calls for fideos, which is a type of Spanish pasta similar to angel hair. It is very much like vermicelli, and the two are interchangeable in this dish. In Spain, fideos are broken into short pieces and used in place of rice in some dishes. The other main components of the dish are fresh clams, cream, and saffron. The pasta is baked in the oven and then cooked on the stove with the clams, white wine, and tons of caramelized garlic. Then, a saffron cream sauce with tender cauliflower is mixed in and the whole thing is browned under the broiler. It sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. From start to finish, this recipe only took me about an hour to prepare.

I’m telling you, words cannot adequately describe how wonderful this dish was! The briny saltiness of the clams melded right into the mellow sweetness of the cream sauce, creating taste sensations that were out of this world!

Whether you loved Ilan, hated Ilan, or loved to hate Ilan, you must try his dish. I promise, you won’t regret it. I really think it just might be one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted!

If you'd like to have this cookbook for your own, stay tuned for my weekly Top Chef recaps. I will be giving away a few more cookbooks in the coming weeks.


Fideos with Clams and Saffron
Adapted from Top Chef: The Cookbook

1 pound capellini pasta
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons saffron
2 cups cauliflower florets (I lightly steamed mine until crisp-tender first.)
1/3 cup olive oil
10 cloves garlic, peeled, but whole
1 pound fresh clams (I used cherrystone clams.)
1/2 cup white wine or seafood stock (I used wine. The clams make their own stock when they cook.)
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Break capellini into 3-inch pieces. Arrange pieces in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in oven until golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Heat broiler in oven.

In a small saucepan, combine heavy cream, saffron, and 1 teaspoon salt. Whisk to dissolve saffron. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat, stir in cauliflower florets, and set aside.

In a medium straight-sided skillet, heat olive oil and garlic over low heat until garlic begins to soften. Add clams, wine, and capellini to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Increase heat to medium and cover skillet. Cook about 4 minutes. Most of the clams should be opened. Remove from heat and discard any unopened clams.

Carefully divide clam and pasta mixture between four ovenproof dishes, filling each about half full. Top with cauliflower-and-cream mixture. Transfer dishes to oven and broil until golden brown.

Garnish with chopped parsley and serve warm.

Enjoy!
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If you like this recipe, you might also enjoy:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Top Chef Season 4: Serve and Protect, Some Personal Notes and AND GIVEAWAY

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This is going to be a short recap today. I'm in the midst of a crisis here in SGCC Land and I have to devote my full attention to it for a little while until things are under control. My legal assistant and good friend is gravely ill. She beat cancer just shy of a year ago and now it has returned with a vengance. She is only forty years old. Right now, everything is up in the air. Her medical team is still trying to figure out the best way to handle the situation. For now, M. is on an indefinite leave of absence.

Aside from being heartsick over this, I also have a business to run. Although, I usually am able to do most of my work from home, I have had to spend a lot more time at my office now that M. is gone. I am also now faced with the unpleasant task of finding someone to take over for her. I have been placing ads and suspect that I will be doing a lot of interviewing over the next few weeks.

As if that wasn't enough, I just got word the other day that another good friend and neighbor has been placed in a Hospice House. T. and his family were the first people we met when we moved into our house twelve years ago. They have become like a second family to us. T. was first stricken with cancer six years ago and was doing very well until this past several months. When my father was so sick and wanted to give up, T. was the one who came to visit him, offering encouragement, understanding and countless pep talks. He could do what the rest of us couldn't because he had lived it. I cannot describe the sadness I feel knowing that this beautiful man is nearing the end of his time with us.

I apologize for being such a downer today, but I wanted to let you know what's been going on. While I've been trying to keep posting, I know that I haven't been responding to comments lately. Nor, have I been making the rounds to all of your great blogs, like I usually do. I hope you'll understand that I've just been tired, cranky and really busy lately. I hope to catch up a little over the weekend. Thanks.

Now, on to Top Chef!

Last night's episode was titled "Serve and Protect". The focus in both the Quickfire and Elimination Challenges was on fresh, healthy and delicious food. Maybe it was just me, but I didn't see one dish during that whole show that knocked my socks off. Nothing horrible, but nothing very innovative or exciting either. They were all just meh, in my opinion. Not such a great commentary on healthful cooking! Maybe the chefs were just still too tired from the allnighter they pulled for the wedding wars.
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This week's guest judge was Sam Talbot, fan favorite from Season 2. In the Quickfire, Sam challenged the Cheftestants to "put the sexy back into salad" and they were given 45 minutes to do just that. I thought it was interesting that they received an extra 15 minutes for this, until I remembered how long it takes to slice and dice ingredients for a salad.

Spike created a steak salad that was designed to make people "want to have sex after eating it" and won the challenge. OMG! Now, I'm thinking of who might have eaten that salad! Ew! Sam liked Antonia's salad too, but Antonia just liked Sam. Lisa's salad was dissed because it was too banana-y. I would have dissed it just because it was Lisa's!

In the Elimination Challenge, the Cheftestants are directed to make a healthy box lunch for Chicago cops at the Chicago Police Academy. Each must include a whole grain, a lean protein, a fruit, and a vegetable in their dish. As the QF winner, Spike got ten extra minutes to shop for his food. He also got first dibs on one ingredient from each of the four food groups. No one else was allowed to use any of the four ingredients he chose. In the epitome of spiteful moves, Spike chose bread, lettuce, tomatoes and chicken as his ingredients.
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Having those four foods taken out of the box lunch equation pretty much screwed the rest of the
Cheftestants, but also proved how much more talented and creative they were compared to that mean-spirited, a$$hat (MSAH) Spike. He obviously never heard the phrase, "What goes around, comes around", or if he did, he was too stupid to care. To add insult to injury, MSAH Spike never even intended to use the bread, lettuce and tomatoes in his dish. He planned to just put them out on the table as a "display". It wasn't until Judge Tom questioned him about it, that he decided to use them as garnish for his chicken salad. Even at that, they were not actually part of his dish. Prick!
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In another bit of drama, someone supposedly turned the heat up to high on Lisa's brown rice. Lisa swears it was sabotage and goes ballistic in the Top Chef Kitchen. Everyone else thinks it was just a mistake. In any event, Lisa's rice was ruined and there was no time to make a new batch. She had to serve it as it was.

I also think it's interesting to note that Andrew seemed...um...shall we say, "zanier" (manic) last night than in prior episodes. I think I actually heard him say something about stabbing someone. For God's sake! Someone go to CVS and get him more meds!!!

In the end, Dale and Stephanie had the most successful dishes, with Dale taking yet another win for his Lemongrass Mango Bison with Brown Rice, Cucumbers and Radish Salad.

As you might have guessed, MSAH Spike's chicken salad sucked and he ended up on the chopping block, along with Lisa, for her ruined rice, and Andrew, for his salmon sushi roll wrapped in some parsnip-pine nut concoction instead of rice. As Lisa so helpfully pointed out at the judges' table, Andrew neglected to use a whole grain in his dish as required by the rules. And we all know what a stickler Lisa is about rules!
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All three of these bozos acted like jerks to the judges. Did they really think that mouthing off like spoiled brats was going to help them? It didn't. While I personally think that the judges would have loved to have sent MSAH Spike packing to show him what spite feels like, they gave the ax to Andrew, who graciously agreed to leave without the help of the TC security team. Whew!

So, what did you think? Is Spike a good strategist or just plain evil? Did someone try to sabotage Lisa, and if so, who? Come on people, lets dish!

And now, for our Giveaway winner.....

This week's winner is.........NEEM from Post-Collegiate Cooking à Deux!!! Congratulations Neem! If you'll email me at stickygooeycreamychewy AT gmail DOT com with your mailing address, I'll get your prize out to you. BTW, you have a choice of either a Top Chef Oven Mitt or a Top Chef Sticky Note Pad. Let me know which you prefer.

Remember, all you have to do to be eligible to win a Giveaway prize is leave a comment on this post by 10:00 p.m. next Wednesday. I'll pick a winner using the random number generator.

Ciao for now!