Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Taste of Yellow No-Knead Bread for LiveSTRONG Day

The food blogging community is supporting LiveSTRONG Day with a blog event called a Taste of Yellow. LiveSTRONG Day is the Lance Armstrong Foundation's one-day initiative to raise awareness and funds for the cancer fight. It will happen on May 13, and that's the day you'll be able to go to Winos and Foodies to see lots and lots of delicious recipes that include the color yellow.

I am behind this effort 100%. Like most people, I have lost loved ones to cancer. Our family lost my Aunt Mary to breast cancer, and a few years ago, her daughter Maggie lost her battle with cancer. My Aunt Dee is now dealing with a recurrence of breast cancer.

My recipe contribution to LiveSTRONG Day is an easy, fluffy, and, of course, yellowy no-knead batter bread, so the time you save by not kneading bread can be spent on exercise, in the spirit of Lance Armstrong.

The no-knead technique seem to be all the rage these days but the technique is hardly new. As Judith Jones says in the introduction to this recipe in The Book of Bread:

The chief distinction of loaves that are formed of dough mixed by beating instead of kneading – hence the name batter breads – goes back to ancient times; in fact, the English term may have first been used in the Middle Ages.

The bread was quick to make, although the dough verged on being as thick and elastic as Silly Putty. It was tricky to wrangle it into the pans and shape it attractively.

The bread has a pretty yellow color and a slightly sweet flavor that reminds me of Challah bread. The only thing I wasn't care for was a few black specs in the crust of the bread, which were caused by the cottage cheese in the batter. I'm not sure the cottage cheese added much to the loaf.

The thing I love about this recipe – and all of the recipes in this book -- is the writing. That's why I'm including it here word for word. She gives you information that lets you know that the recipe is on the right track, and helpful hints for making it turn out right. As an example, she says the initial consistency of the batter will be a little thicker than cake batter – which is helpful, because that's quite different than most yeast breads. At the same time, she doesn't give you so much detail that the recipe is overwhelming. Very few cookbooks I own have recipes that have the voice of a friendly, experienced cook guiding you through the process.

No Knead Batter Bread

From The Book of Bread by Judith and Evan Jones (out of print)

Makes four 5 ½-inch loaves

Batters that contain eggs make richer breads, and the addition of yeast produces soft, feathery loaves. We prefer baking this bread in small loaf pans, and it is so quickly made that very often you can start the bread as you prepare a meal and have a warm loaf ready to eat with it. This batter bread is also delicious toasted.

1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons cottage cheese
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons coarse salt or 1 ½ teaspoons table salt
4 cups white flour, preferably unbleached

Put the yeast in a large bowl and pour the warm water over it.

Heat the milk with the butter just long enough to melt the butter. Stir in the cottage cheese, beaten eggs, honey, and salt. Pour this over the dissolved yeast and stir in the flour; the consistency will be a little thicker than thick cake batter. Beat at least 100 strokes by hand or for one minute with an electric beater at medium speed. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place for one hour, when the batter will almost have tripled in volume.

Stir the batter down and spread it evenly into four small greased loaf pans (if you don't have enough 5 ½-inch loaf pans, use casserole dishes 3-4 inches across). The batter will be very gummy and you will have to cut the dough off and into the pans. Let rise until it just swells to the tops of the pans, about 20-25 minutes.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35 minutes. Cool on racks, although this bread may be eaten while still warm.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Daring Bakers: Cheesecake Pops


Lessoned learned during this month's Daring Bakers Challenge: you can't hurry cheesecake pops (noooo you just have to wait .... pops don't come easy .... it's a game of ... sorry, got carried away).

The challenge, from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O'Connor, looked like a fun and relatively easy challenge. Bake cheesecake - I can do that. Roll it into balls - not too tough. Plop in a stick, dip it all in melted chocolate, and roll in toppings - no problem.

But I ended up doing it all in the span of one morning and afternoon, which was folly. I meant to make everything well in advance, but with a week filled with one son's Little League practices, another son's play rehearsals, plus helping Wickham Farms prepare for their seasonal opening (May 1!), it just didn't happen.

The cheesecake batter seemed to have just the right consistency. The recipe called for a 10-inch pan (not springform). I don't have such a pan so I pulled out my 9-inch pan. When I realized that pan would overflow with all of the batter, I put the remainder of the batter in a small loaf pan. I put them all in a large roasting pan, and added the boiling water for a water bath. I didn't have enough water for it to come halfway up the pans but I figured it was close enough.

This recipe calls for the cheesecake to be baked 35-45 minutes, which is very short for baking a 10-inch cheesecake. Many Daring Bakers baked theirs for well over an hour. Figuring out when a cheesecake is done is tricky. Usually the center jiggles a bit when it's done. I deemed this one done when it one formed a crust on top, there was no jiggling, and was slightly golden -- 55 minutes in my convection oven (I pulled the smaller loaf pan out of the oven earlier).

Your best bet is to let cheesecakes refrigerate overnight before serving, but this was time for shortcuts. When they came out of the oven, I popped them right into our outdoor "beer fridge" until they were about room temperature, then into the freezer to get them good and cold.

I don't think I misjudged the baking time. When I started scooping truffle balls, the cheesecake wasn't runny at all, but it was very soft, like a truffle filling.

I admit I unintentionally broke one of the rules of the challenge (I didn't read the rules closely enough.) The recipe called for the balls to be 2 ounces. When I weighed a 2-ounce blob of cheesecake, it was about the size of a golf ball. I wanted mine to be bite size, so I made mine 1/2 ounce.

Although the recipe says to form the balls, impale them with a stick, then freeze then, I tried to skip the freezing step. I rolled some, inserted the stick, dipping them, and then rolling them in jimmies. I figured that if you could do it with truffle filling, you should be able to do it with this stuff.

The soft balls of cheesecake wouldn't stay on the stick and kept falling into the white coating (I used candy making wafers, which, although they contain evil trans fats, are the easiest to work with). So I did it like truffles, dipping it into the white substance with a fork, rolling it in the toppings, and then adding the stick. That's how I did the ones with the colorful jimmies in the first photo. It worked fairly well. The disadvantage was that some cheesecake was left behind in the white stuff each time. I knew this wasn't going to work for a large quantity of pops.

Then, I decided that I'd do all of the scooping first and put trays of the balls in the freezer to firm up a bit in order to roll them and insert the sticks.

Here's the thing about freezing 1/2 inch blobs of cheesecake. They freeze pretty damn quickly. When I got them out of the freezer to form them into balls, they were too hard to roll into nice balls. I stuck some in the fridge to soften up a bit. Others firmly rolled into something resembling balls.

I dipped the frozen balls on a stick into melted chocolate. But here's the thing with dipping frozen balls into chocolate: by the time you drip off the excess chocolate, it's too firm to roll in other toppings, like nuts or jimmies. But if you let them soften too much, the cheesecake balls won't stay on the sticks.

Also, I noticed when you eat the things (hey, I had to taste test!) that when the cheesecake thawed, it too soft to stay on the stick. I thought blobs of cheesecakes dropping off of sticks wouldn't make for an elegant end to my friend's dinner.

I found two solutions that were easy to do, looked good, and tasted great.

The one I liked the best (left): Dip the bottoms into a mixture of finely chopped nuts and crushed graham cracker crumbs to imitate a nutty crust. Then drizzle the top with melted chocolate. Make sure the chocolate hits the stick, because that's the glue that keeps everything on the stick. It all resembles a tiny piece of cheesecake.

Solution number two (right) was dipping the whole ball into one kind of chocolate, letting it firm up briefly, then drizzling it with a second topping. Again, make sure some of that chocolate hits the stick.

This whole process made quite the mess. This photo, with some of the pops ready to go to the dinner party, gives you an idea of the fraction of the mess that was left to clean up.

But I have to say, they were a hit with both the kids and the adults! And they are addictive. I have to keep myself from opening the fridge to pop another one in my mouth. The rest are going to band practice tonight.

If I decide to make these again, I'll probably stick with my tried-and-true cheesecake recipe, and I'd stick with the 1/2 ounce balls.

Thanks to Deborah from Taste and Tell and Elle from Feeding My Enthusiasms for another unexpectedly challenging challenge! If you want the full recipe, it's posted on Deborah's blog.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Top Chef Chicago, episode 7

The "improvisation" episode struck me as having a different mood from the previous ones. The chefs seemed more mellow, more professional, and less abrasive. Everyone seemed to chip in and help each other. Less profanity. It was almost like someone else directed it or edited it.

On to the Quick Fire. The judge is the supposedly sexy Johnny Iuzzini. In Chicago, I think it should have been Gale Gand, but maybe Bravo doesn't like to use people who have been on the Food Network. Still, I'm not sure about Johnny because of the name of his upcoming cookbook, Four Play. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't think of a cookbook with a sexual title that's a mainstay on most people's shelves. If you have to lean on sexual innuendo to sell your cookbook, my suspicion is that the recipes aren't that great.

Anyway, the Quickfire challenge - to make a dessert - was pretty straightforward, and I would have eaten any one of them.

Even though Spike is kind kooky, you have to give him some credit for his bravery at attempting the souffle.

Lisa's won tons and strawberries looked like a mess. (It also reminded me that I made fried won tons on New Year's and never posted about it.) I was surprised that it landed in the top three.

Dale's Halo-Halo looked interesting and complex. He said it's shaved ice, like it's a simple thing that you get at a fair. Since he finished in the top three I checked out the recipe. Holy cow -- there are a ton of elements. The liquid that's mixed with the ice is lemongrass, ginger, sugar, and coconut. That shaved ice concoction is topped with mango that's braised with chiles and coconut, another preparation of mango that's bruleed, an avocado "shake" that's made with condensed milk, kiwi caviar (which I think is just finely diced kiwi), fried five-spice cashews, coconut meat, Rice Krispies (of all things), cilantro leaves and chile rings. That isn't anything like a shaved ice I've ever had! I would love to taste it. Dale is emerging as one of the front runners to me.

So what beats it? The dish that immediately caught my attention as the sure-fire winner of tonight's Turd Award -- Richard's Banana Scallops with Banana Guacamole. Nothing about that plate looks appetizing to me. There's a nice smooth bowel movement dominating the plate -- I had to read the recipe to see that it was chocolate ice cream. (Granted, the deep color of the ice cream leads me to think it was chocolatey and scrumptious, but still.) The banana guacamole looks lumpy and it's oozing liquid -- I could further the BM references but I'll spare you. And those scallops? They don't look like scallops to me. But were seared in sugar, so they must have tasted pretty good. I'll guess that the flavors rocked. That recipe will be in the Top Chef cookbook -- so you, too, could make this turd-like dessert for your next dinner party!

Speaking of Top Chef: The Cookbook, have you looked at the recipes on the Bravo site? A cursory glance shows that the recipes are not accurate or useful. Another chef might be able to use them as a guideline, but they are not written for a home cook. I love the show and would love to look through the book, but I can't imagine that the cookbook would be useful for cooking.

Back to the show ... the chefs are told they are going to Second City, which is fun. Lots of famous comics came out of there (they failed to mention the late great Chris Farley, who graduated from Marquette University a year after I did). But first, we get to see gratuitous shots of the chefs getting ready to go out. I could understand if Sam from a couple of years back was around, but there's no one from this bunch I care to see in undies and towels. No more of that, please. And what was Mark's remark about Blaise's pink shirt? "Goes with the skin tone, doesn't it?" I didn't get it. Mark is an odd duck.

But you knew the trip to Second City wouldn't be just for fun. I thought it was a fun way to set up a challenge. Yeah, some teams had it harder than others but that's part of the game, isn't it?

Then they pair up for their courses. You've got to give a little credit to Dale for pairing up with Richard. Yes, Richard is a front runner, but if they wind up on the bottom, Dale is out. Their tofu dish -- making the tofu taste like meat to be "perplexed" -- was brilliant in conception.

Mark and Nikki strike me as an odd pairing -- maybe they were stuck with each other, since they've both been on the bottom in the past. People loved their glazed pancetta. That's the second time people ooh and aah over glazed bacon this season. I've got to make me some glazed bacon.

"I'm feeling pretty good about having a menage a trois in my future," says a smirking Jennifer about the concept of their "turned-on" dish. Uhhhh ... uhhhhh .... words fail me. Now if I had asparagus and "turned on" I would totally go phallic. But did anyone catch the irony of Jennifer coming up with that concept?

Spike and Andrew seemed to feed off of each other as a team. The combo of their personalities was weird and hyper. But I liked the idea of the vanilla creme fraiche garnishing the butternut squash soup. I'll bet it was tasty.

Lisa and Antonia didn't like their ingredient, Polish sausage. (There is such a thing as fresh Polish sausage that's different from the smoked shrink wrapped stuff. I'll bet they could have found some amazing sausage to work with in Chicago, but not at Whole Foods. Too bad.) They came up with a fish dish, and garnished it with chorizo instead of Polish sausage. I just knew they were going to get nailed for this, even though Ryan and Mark were given a pass for using quail instead of duck in their "Christmas Story" meal a couple of episodes back. And doing a shot in front of the guests? Stupid.

So Dale and Richard win some Calphalon pans. After the previous winner got an amazing grill, and the winner before that got a trip to Italy. The prizes ... well, they make me perplexed. I wanted to see Dale and Richard lugging their great big boxes of pans back to the room. At least the product placement would have seemed a little less awkward.

The elimination came down to Stephanie and Jen and Lisa and Antonia. Stephanie and Jen didn't do a good job toasting bread and used too much cheese. Lisa and Antonia and didn't fulfill the rules of the challenge. Boo! I disagree with the decision to send Jennifer home. But I'm soooo glad that Stephanie didn't go home. Whew! Time for a Stephanie rebound!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Banana Loaf Cake - with TONS of bananas!

Like every other city, it seems, Starbucks is all over the Rochester area. We're even getting a new one walking distance from my home. While I like the atmosphere of Starbucks, their coffee is too bitter for me, and the lattes vary widely in terms of flavor.

Some of their baked goods are tasty, though. One of my favorites is their reduced-fat banana cake. It is not as dense as most banana breads, but is super moist and has a pronounced taste of banana (which I'm starting to suspect has banana flavoring rather than lots of real bananas).

I wanted to make something like it, and searched the Internet for a recipe. The closest thing I could find was Banana Loaf Cake, from the blog, David Lebovitz ... Living the Sweet Life in Paris. I always thought his blog title was kind of smug -- because after all, shouldn't we all be living a sweet life, whether it's in Paris or Rochester? Then I realized he's a pastry chef, has written lots of book about desserts, and gives chocolate tours in Paris. Duh -- he meant THAT kind of sweet life. (Anyone else humming "This is the Suite Life ... This is the Suite Life"? If so, I'll bet you have kids around the same ages as mine.)

Anyhoo ... I've made this recipe twice and it turned out moist and delicious both times -- although still more "banana bread" than the Starbuck's cake. (Of course I did use some white whole wheat flour, which may have made it a little more dense.) This is now my go-to recipe when I have lots of overripe bananas.

I prefer making sweet breads in mini loaves so that I can share them, but it bugs me that it's hard to find baking directions for small loaves, so I've included those. The first time I made this was one larger loaf and one smaller, and the second time I did four small ones.

Oh, and being the compulsive competitive cook that I am, I couldn't resist entering this in the Banana Bread Bake-off Event hosted by Not Quite Nigella! Check in mid-May to see all of the great entries!


Banana Loaf Cake
Adapted from Perfect Light Desserts by Nick Malgieri and David Joachim

One 9-inch cake OR
One 8 x 4 - inch cake and one 3" by 5 3/4" cake OR
Four 3 1/4" by 5 1/2" cakes

2 1/2 cups flour (I used 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, and 1 cup white whole wheat flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large egg whites (I used one egg and one white)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (David's directions call for 4 or 5 large bananas, but both times I made it, it took 6-7 bananas. Maybe the bananas we get in Rochester are puny. I mash bananas with a potato masher.)
(I added some chocolate chips -- maybe a cup)

Spray pan(s) with Baker's Joy, or cooking spray and a dusting of flour. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Stir together the flour(s), baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites to break them up, then whisk in the sugar and the brown sugar. Whisk in the butter and vanilla, followed by the mashed bananas.

Sift the flour mixture over the banana mixture and thoroughly fold it in. (Add the chocolate chips, if using.) Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about:
55-65 minutes for 9 x 5 pan,
45 -55 minutes for the smaller loaves (such as 3 1/4" by 5 1/2")

Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then unmold it and cool completely on a rack.

Storage: Keep the cake wrapped in plastic at room temperature after it has cooled. For longer storage, double wrap and freeze for up to a month.

Weight Watchers information: The Starbucks reduced-fat banana loaf cake with chocolate c hips has 8 points per serving. This recipe, if you cut the loaf/loaves into 12 pieces, has 6 points per serving if you use all whole wheat flour (instead of half and half) and the egg and egg white as directed.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Top Chef Chicago, episode 6

Hey, you didn't think that a little thing like the Pillsbury Bake-off contest would keep me from Top Chef, did you? I was kind of bummed that I didn't find another fellow Top Chef fan at the Pillsbury contest, or even people familiar with the show. I wonder what that means in terms of the demographics of the show and the contest.

Anyway, the tailgating episode didn't disappoint. In fact, I wanted to crawl right through the TV into the episode -- from the beer Quick Fire challenge to the great looking tailgating food to the Bears legends to the Bears game.

First, the beer pairing Quick Fire challenge. That would have been tough for me because I think that everything goes well with beer. OK, maybe not breakfast, but anything served after noon or so. Actually, strike that -- beer with Huevos Rancheros rocks. (Bear in mind that one of the people at the Bake-off called my dish "beer food." He had me pegged!)

So how about that guest judge on the Quickfire challenge? She was not exactly telegenic -- she actually seemed bored. We want Charlie Trotter! We want Richard Melman! We want the Hearty Boys! Oh, wrong channel ... but for the record, I went to my cousin's wedding catered by them and the food rocked. I still dream about the mushroom lasagna. Anyhoo, random thoughts about the Quickfire:
- Richard was smart to put away the bells and whistles for the Quickfire, as well as the entire episode.
- Dale's pork dish with the pretzels and miso caramel sauce sounded great in concept. I guess the execution didn't work.
- Spike gets on the chopping block last week for a carpaccio, and now he comes up with a charcuterie plate? Does he only cut meat, or is he ever going to actually cook it?
- Jennifer's beignet looked good. I've never had a savory beignet but I sure do like sweet ones.
- Stephanie finally landed toward the top of a Quick Fire! I can take or leave mussels but good for her.

On to the Elimination Challenge -- now this is my kind of food! I want to try it all!
- My initial reaction to Richard's "pate melt" was ... oh, come on... PATE melt in Chicago? That's going to go over like a lead balloon. Guess I was wrong. But why did he whack the patties on the hotel tray before he shaped them? Wouldn't that overwork them, or is there a burger technique I don't know about?
- Ryan annoyed me throughout the show. Poached grilled pears -- for tailgating? How are you going to make poached pears be something you'd eat standing up, and putting poached pears on the grill? They looked charred in the TV shot. Ugh. The only thing that he seemed to have going for him was the chili-spiked cocoa.
- Jennifer's dish struck me as smart, whether or not it was for the girlfriend -- it had a Greek twist, and Chicago has lots of good Greek food.
- So Dale is from Chicago and a die-hard Bears fan! And fawning over Gale Sayers, Richard Dent, and the Fridge ... awwww ... I kinda like him now.
This exchange with the Fridge cracked me up:
Dale: I am a die-hard Bears fan, born and raised in Chicago. This is an honor ... this is an honor...
The Fridge: Let me get the ribs. Come on...
And in the end, both Gale Sayers and the Fridge liked the ribs, so good for Dale. It was interesting to do what sounded like an Indian take on the ribs and potato salad -- I like that he didn't dumb down his flavors for the Bears fans.
- How about Spike: "So when's the last time the Bears won a Super Bowl?" What a dumb ass. If he was cooking last season, the Bears had just come off of a painful Super Bowl loss the year before. Did I say dumb ass? Yes, dumb ass.
- About Mark ... so a couple of guys hung out in the tub fully clothed? Who cares? It was a little weird but took up too much time in the show. I did find it surprising that Mark was the only one who had the "testicular fortitude" (his words) to cook with charcoal. I would think more people would have used charcoal.
- Andrew still strikes me as someone who's strange and frenetic, like he's on some kind of a stimulant. And cooking in a helmet? He reminded me of Gazoo on the Flintstones.
- The dung award for the week goes to .... Nikki! "I realize the judges had not tasted my food yet and I'm nearly out of food and I'm just sh*tting my pants. Talk about a dumb ass.
- Stephanie is in the top three again! Hooray! Go Stephanie!
- Dale was the winner! Good for him! So he gets a Bears jersey, which I'm sure he thought was cool, and a great new grill. Weirdly uneven prizes from challenge to challenge ... wouldn't you think they'd increase as the competition went along?
- As for the bottom three, Nikki doesn't seem to have the skills of the others. I can't see her lasting long. Ryan wanted to do a dessert to make it a "dining experience." Then make some kind of a really good bar cookie thing, not a poached pear! And Tom called out Mark for double dipping his tasting spoon -- how many times have we seen that on the show?
- While they are waiting, Ryan gripes that he didn't run out of anything, like that's a good thing. Ummm ... wouldn't running out of food mean it was popular? In the end, the chef that worked "for a short time" for two of the previous guest judges gets the boot. As he leaves, he says he realized he wasn't "the sh*t." No kidding. Buh-bye.

So next week they go to Second City. They are doing a good job showing Chicago. If they are going to Second City, I hope they go to the House of Blues as well.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Is this cookie REALLY worth a million dollars?

It starts almost the second the winner of the Pillsbury Bake-off contest is announced.

"A million dollars for ... a PIE with GRANOLA BARS?"

"A million dollars for ... CHICKEN with WAFFLES in the stuffing?"

And the latest...

"A million dollars for ... a PEANUT BUTTER COOKIE???"

And I wonder ... what possible recipe would live up to the expectation of a million dollars? How about one that has flecks of 14K gold in it, like the vodka my brother-in-law drinks ... AND tastes decadent but has a negative calorie value ... AND cleans the kitchen as it bakes? Do you think that would put an end to the snarkiness (or is it sour grapes) that ensues every time the winner of the Pillsbury Bake-off contest is announced?

Let's be real about what the Pillsbury Bake-off contest is all about. The Pillsbury Bake-off is to promote products. That's what it was created to do in the 1940s, and that's what it does now. ALL company-sponsored recipe contests exist to promote products.

So why don't you see recipes "from scratch" in the Pillsbury Bake-off contest any more? Let me give you a lesson from Marketing 101 (the following is my unsubstantiated theory, but I'm pretty sure I'm right). General Mills sells a Pillsbury branded flour, but flour verges on being a commodity product. There's little way to differentiate between brands and therefore little wiggle room when it comes to price. Yes, there are some avid bakers who buy based on protein content, and some people who will buy from a smaller company based on their values, but I'm willing to bet that most people reading this blog will admit that they buy flour based on price. Selling a commodity product does not make for a very profitable company (and let's remember that profitable companies do nice things like provide jobs, provide wealth to shareholders, pay taxes, support communities, and help our economy). Convenience products like prepared cookie doughs are far more profitable -- and people buy them and happily use them. And that's why General Mills has prepared products as "qualifying ingredients" for entering the Pillsbury Bake-off contest. Its flour was also on the list this year, but I'm pretty sure that every recipe that they selected to be the 100 finalists used a convenience product (like prepared cookie dough, prepared pie crust, etc.)

Getting back to Carolyn Gurtz's recipe, I've seen comments criticizing her for making her recipe from refrigerated cookie dough. These people need to get a clue. Had Carolyn made her dough from scratch, she would not have been selected to be a finalist in the contest, and she would not have been in the running for the million dollars. End of story. I didn't meet Carolyn at the contest, but I will bet you that she makes a darn good batch of peanut butter cookies from scratch. She entered the recipe with the refrigerated dough to get her to the contest.

I made the million dollar recipe for Double Delight Peanut Butter Cookies yesterday. When they first came out of the oven, they didn't taste much different from a regular peanut butter cookie. When they cooled off, however, I understood why they won. The creamy center, chewy cookie, and crisp coating gave it a great contrast of textures. The flavor was enhanced by finely chopped roasted peanuts. I can't decide about the cinnamon flavor with the peanut butter, but all-in-all, the cookies were delicious. I definitely had a "why didn't I think of that" moment when I tasted them.

If you're going to make them, here are a few tips:
- I think it may be easier to handle the filling if you refrigerate it (or put it in the freezer) for a bit after forming it into balls. The balls should be the size of a large marble.
- Serve/eat these the day they are made -- within a few hours, if possible. The chewy texture doesn't last long.
- My personal preference would be not to flatten these to 1/4 inch as the recipe indicates. The filling has such a nice flavor and texture that I'd rather have the filling be a bit thicker. I'd flatten them to 1/2 inch or so.
- Don't substitute unsalted peanuts or unsalted peanut butter in this recipe. You need the salt.
- If you want to make this recipe, but don't want to use a refrigerated tube of cookie dough, don't! Substitute your favorite "scratch" peanut butter cookie recipe.

So in the end, is this recipe worth a million bucks? On April 15, nine judges evaluated all 100 recipes (a job I wouldn't want) and picked this recipe as the winner. That's the way it works, folks, and that's good enough for me. Congratulations Carolyn Gurtz! Enjoy your winnings and don't let the naysayers get you down!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pillsbury Bake-off Report

The big day started bright and early, with a buffet breakfast at 6:15 a.m. We lined up in two rows for the Grand March onto the contest floor. Right away, Gloria, the woman in line in front of me, pointed out a logistical problem: we were on the right side of the line, but our ranges (also called an oven) were on the left. Would we cross over the others walking in to get to our ranges?

"Don't worry," I said. "They'll tell us where it go and it will be fine."

We walked in ("happy and clapping," as directed) to clapping and cheers. If you look at the guy just to the right of the Doughboy's hat, that's the male half of Tom's and my favorite contesting couple, Edwina and Bob. They are fun, interesting, down-to-earth people.

Anyway, Gloria and I turned the corner ... and photographers and TV cameras are positioned right in front of our ovens. We would have started a traffic jam if we had tried to cross over the line on our left get to our ovens. Nobody was directing us, so we just kept walking ... and found ourselves in the back of the room with the march over! (So in other words, this contest veteran advised Gloria wrong.)

What else was there to do but jog back to my oven? I felt ridiculous.

We clapped to the music for what seemed like an eternity, and the baking started promptly at 8 a.m.

When I opened up the bag of my refrigerated groceries to begin making my Jalapeno Popper Cups, I was dismayed to see that they provided me with mild cheddar cheese -- and I always had made the recipe with sharp cheddar. I looked at my ingredient list and sure enough, I hadn't specified mild or sharp. What to do?

Given that they require you to approve an ingredient and equipment list months before the Bake-off, I knew they wouldn't be eager to make a switch for me. I decided that I'd make my first batch with the mild cheese and taste them. (We were required to make it two times -- one for judges and the other for photography and display, but could make it a third time for sampling). I hadn't planned on sending my first batch to the judges anyway, because I thought jalapenos would be too much for the judges before 9 a.m.

Sandra Lee, the host of this year's contest, gave me a quick break from fretting about my cheese. I know there are plenty of people who don't care for Sandra Lee or her show. But after being around her, I am now a fan. She is beyond gorgeous -- "a tall drink of water," as my husband described her. She's very friendly -- she introduced herself to me as "Sandy" and gave me a firm handshake. And she is an absolute cut-up. I asked her if she could look at my husband, standing in the spectator area, and smile for a picture.

Sandy asks me Tom's name, then yells over to my quiet, unassuming husband as he's taking the picture,
"Hi Tom, do you clean?" she calls out to him in a boisterous voice.
He nods his head as he's taking our picture. (And I agreed -- he does clean.)
"Well, there's nothing a woman finds sexier than a man who cleans," she quipped.

So this tall drink of water implied that my husband was sexy. To him, that made the event worth the $525 guest fee.

Back to the popper cups (I'm in the front right in this photo) ... I went ahead with the plan to use the first batch for photography and display. I was the first person to get my entry to the photographers, at 8:45 a.m. They must have taken a dozen photos of me, trying to get my nametag and button not to reflect, and having me to tilt my dish toward the camera -- which was hard to do without them toppling over.

When I returned to my range, the six or so appetizers I left for sampling had disappeared, so clearly there are people who don't have a problem with jalapenos before 9. I tasted the one I set aside to taste, and was not happy with how they tasted with the mild cheddar cheese. The taste was blah (which may be why a few reviews on the Pillsbury site said it needed more flavor.)

I explained my dilemma to my runner. I said I knew it was my mistake that I didn't specify it, and I didn't have a leg to stand on, but would be possible to get sharp cheddar. He went and asked the grocery manager, and came back with an answer of "no." Lesson learned, I thought.

I started on my second batch, which would most likely go to the judges (I didn't want to take the chance of my third batch not turning out). I made the filling, then carefully lined the mini muffin cups with the biscuits. Just as I was about to start filling the cups, my runner showed up with a package of sharp Cheddar cheese. He said the grocery manager had run to the store to get it (thanks grocery manager, whoever you are). But I wouldn't be given additional ingredients for other batches, and could only make three.

The second batch turned out good enough. I carefully placed the best dozen on a platter.

Then it was the long walk to the room where the judges were sequestered. (You can see a black curtain covering the door where the were.) When I saw this photo, I asked my husband why in the world he took a photo of my fat ass, but it gives you a sense of the long walk to the judges, with the camera crew running ahead of me. A corporate attorney and a man from the judging company greeted me there, and I signed a statement that I had made the dish on my own.

Once that was done, the pressure was off. I made my third batch and handed them out as samples and my cooking was done.

After that, I walked around the Bakeoff floor. I checked out the other recipes, sampled some of them, and chatted with other finalists and guests. That included Sally Pillsbury, who I'm talking to above. She is a real pip. She hadn't heard of jalapeno poppers so I explained what they were and why my cups were easier.

Gloria, to the right, cooked Poblanos Florentine Casserole at the range next to me. I tried it and it was delicious.

That night, everyone involved with the contest was treated to a fun party at a place called Eddie Deen's. (People have asked me if it's Paula Deen's son's place. I don't know but I don't think so.) Lots of good food and drinks.

Even the Pillsbury Doughboy tried out line dancing! I did too. It was lots of fun and we closed the place at 10 p.m. We struck up a conversation with a couple from Dallas on the bus, and chatted with them at the hotel bar until midnight.

The next morning was another early one, with breakfast at 6:15. Next was the awards ceremony. I was really happy when Vanda's name was called! I have to note a funny coincidence: for three years running, a Rochester contestant has been a category winner -- and has been standing right next to the million dollar winner! It brings to mind the Buffalo Bills of the 1990s -- we keep knocking on the door...

Anyway, Sandra Lee was a great host. Her off-the-cuff remarks were really funny. Everyone I talked to thought that Pillsbury should keep her on as host every year.

By now you know the winner was Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies. I didn't taste them while I was at the Bake-off so I plan to bake them tomorrow. I'll reserve judgment on the recipe until then (which I what I suggest everyone should do).

I didn't meet the woman who won, but she was adorable. I'm looking forward to watching her on the Today Show tomorrow.

We returned last night, loaded with gifts thanks to the tote bag we were given. My in-laws, nephew and sons all enjoyed their goodies.

Rochester represented well at Pillsbury!

If you've been following the 43rd Pillsbury Bake-off contest, by now you know that a peanut butter cookie won the million dollars. And if you were looking for my name among the winners, it wasn't there.

But you may not have noticed that the other Rochester area finalist, Vanda, was a category winner! This marks the third straight Bake-off contest that there has been a winner from the Rochester area -- me at the 41st contest in 2004, Karen Mack at the 42nd contest in 2006, and now Vanda. I have to believe this is an unusual record, and I'm excited about it!

I returned home last night. I wanted to post about the winners from Dallas but the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas was charging $15 per 24 hours to use the wireless connection in your room, so I only paid for one 24-hour period. (Just a rant -- can you believe an expensive hotel like the Fairmont would charge $15 for wireless, when we get it free when we go to Holiday Inn Express?) Plus we wanted to get out in the beautiful weather and do some sightseeing.

I am in the process of posting a lot of pictures and writing a recap. I will try to post it by tonight.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Luggage arrived and the cooking is over!

I awoke at 4:30 this morning to find that our luggage had arrived! Woo-hoo! Nothing like some clean clothing, hair products and makeup to make me feel like myself. So here's Tom & me today, with me pointing to a picture of my recipe on a display. (I've also added some photos to previous posts.)

I have loads of stories to share but frankly want to enjoy my experience here, so I'll wait until I get home. I'll just say that my recipe went relatively smoothly, but after walking around and looking at and trying a lot of the other dishes, I don't think my chances of winning are good. Oh well, all the more reason to enjoy my trip.

Tonight is a party at Dallas institution called Eddie Dean's. They tell us to wear our cowboy gear, so it should be fun.

If you want to read more about the Pillsbury Bake-off contest experience, there's a blog on the Pillsbury site.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lovely dinner, more "semi" than "formal"

Tonight was the lovely welcoming dinner for the Pillsbury Bakeoff contest. As Tom said, we were dressed more "semi" than "formal" due to our lost luggage. (That's me with Jasmine and Edwina -- notice the difference in the clothing?) But people were understanding about the luggage predicament. We sat with a nice group of people, all of whom were new to us and to the Pillsbury Bake-off contest.

It was a tasty dinner:
- a salad with poached pears, brie and candied pecans
- filet mignon and sea bass for the main course
- a yummy trio of desserts (including a tiny creme brulee, which I'm dying to make at home)

There were some welcoming speeches and George and Sally Pillsbury made an appearance.

It was a nice event but of course the luggage situation is hanging over our heads. The latest story is that it should be here within three hours.

This situation brings to mind a story of a trip to the Pillsbury Bake-off by my friend, Betsy (I hope she doesn't mind me sharing this story but it's too funny not to pass on). She, too, had her luggage lost on the way to the contest.

The first day of the contest you are given a tote bag filled with goodies -- mostly promotional items from the brands that are part of the contest. (My favorite goodies this year: a set of stainless steel measuring cups and a cute set of hat and mitten copper cookie cutters from Land O'Lakes.) In Betsy's year, they were given Doughboy tee-shirts that made the Doughboy giggle when you pressed it. Having no other PJs, she decided to wear the t-shirt to bed. Now, it's hard enough to get a good night's sleep the night before you compete in the Pillsbury Bake-off contest. But it's even harder if you hear the Pillsbury Doughboy giggle every time you roll over!

Anyway, breakfast is at 6:15 tomorrow morning, and then there's a "grand march" onto the contest floor. The baking starts at 8 a.m. (I was told by a GE rep that they used to advise people to turn on their ovens right when they get to their stations. One year, however, that created a power surge that caused some trouble. I'm turning on my oven at 8 a.m., power surge be damned.)

That's all for now ... crossing my fingers that the luggage arrives and all goes well with making my appetizers.

I'm in Dallas ... but my luggage isn't.

I made it to Dallas (after a 3-hour delay) to compete in tomorrow's Pillsbury Bake-off contest. Unfortunately, my luggage didn't arrive with me. So I'm due to go to tonight's semiformal welcome dinner in jeans, a casual "Chicago" shirt, and pointy black cowboy-type shoes. And no makeup. If I had had a connecting flight, I would have packed a change of clothing in my carry-on bag, but it never occurred to me that they could lose my luggage on a direct flight.

Something I learned today: when they announce on an airplane that they are "making some adjustments" because the plane is too heavy, they are taking luggage off of the airplane. And it could be yours, even if you checked in 1 1/2 hours early. Oh, and hold on to your boarding pass and those little tickets they give you when you check luggage. You may need them.

Anyway, I've connected with a bunch of contesting buddies, and met some new ones (that's me with a few of each.) People who have never met me before have offered me shoes and clothing! Isn't that nice? I haven't taken them up on it -- yet.

I've taken some photos I wanted to upload but the camera is running low on batteries and the recharger is -- where else? -- in Tom's suitcase.

Anyway, it all will work out somehow. It's all good. I'm not frantic, just tired.

I thought I'd share a couple of newsy notes from today's orientation:
- The winner will appear on the Today Show on Thursday.
- There is no live broadcast of the awards planned, so if you want to see who wins, go to the Bakeoff Web site after 9 a.m. (Central time)

I have a bunch of stories to share but I am going to rest a bit before that semiformal dinner.

Delayed!


I'm not surprised ... my flight to Dallas on American is delayed. I was scheduled to leave at 6:25 a.m., and now they are saying we're leaving at 9:30 due to "mechanical difficulties." Hey, I'd rather be late and have them fix the plane.

I said goodbye to my fellow Rochester finalist, Vanda, and her family, who are flying a United flight that takes them through Chicago. Our flight is direct, so we'll see who gets there first.

You wanna know what bugs me? The seats at the airline gates don't have armrests that fold up, like they do on airplanes. At least we could lie down somewhere other than the floor and take a snooze. Since I'm operating on two hours of sleep, I could use a snooze about now.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Almost time for my date with the Doughboy!

I'm off to Dallas (on American Airlines) very early tomorrow morning. I've gotten lots of calls and emails and comments to wish me luck and I so appreciate them all. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Then, by way of Cookie Madness, who happens to be the 2006 Pillsbury winner, I found a lovely post about the Pillsbury Bake-off contest that included this backhanded compliment:

Kudos to all the participants; hey, at least they’re spending time in the kitchen rather than idling in the takeout lane at McDonald’s.


Gee ... thanks ...

Really, I'm used to people looking down their food snob noses at the Pillsbury Bake-off contest. I'm fine with that. We can argue all you like about whether convenience items belong in a cook's arsenal, and whether General Mills' direction with the contest is appropriate. But this particular post came from a blog on the King Arthur flour Web site.

I think it's one thing for them to run down their arch rival. But to put down the CONTESTANTS? Some of whom are THEIR LOYAL CUSTOMERS?

DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY TIMES I HAVE PRAISED THEIR FLOUR ON THIS BLOG?????!!!!

Yes, I know I'm screaming. Maybe it's the stress of getting ready to leave. Or maybe I need to switch to decaf. I am going to leave a comment on that post. And maybe get rid of my nice comments about their flour on this blog. But for now I need to get ready to leave. I will do my best to post from Dallas.

See y'all later!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Top Chef Chicago, episode 5

Yeah, I should be cleaning and packing for my trip to Dallas but I just couldn't resist spouting my random opinions on the most recent episode. SPOILERS AHEAD, so don't read if you haven't watched it!

- Ming Tsai -- yay! At the risk of sounding like Randy Jackson on American Idol ... I met him! He did a presentation at the Pittsford Wegmans a few years ago, and had a fun personality -- and the samples of his food were fabulous. Too bad his engaging personality didn't come across on Top Chef. I guess he took his guest judge job seriously.

- I'd probably stink at the quickfire challenge, which tested their palates. I was glad to see a girl win -- until they showed more of her personality as the episode developed.

- I still didn't like Zoi and Jennifer's earrings. But if Padma was wearing Zoi's earrings, I might consider them "fierce." Maybe it's all in the wearer.

- What was up with Spike's pointy straw baseball hat? Do you think it was supposed to look that way? Maybe he packed it in his luggage and it got mangled. (Speaking of which, I'm trying to figure out a way to pack my straw cowboy hat for the trip to Dallas ... the only solution seems to be wearing it, but I don't want to arrive in Dallas with "hat hair." Any ideas?)

- They cooked for the elimination challenge in the kitchen of the "old Marshall Field's building." Now there's a name that brings on a wave of nostalgia and emotion for Chicagoans, myself included. I have fond memories of Christmas shopping expeditions with my sister to the Marshall Field's on State Street. It's a glorious old building. I'm with those who thinks the decision to convert all Marshall Fields stores to Macy's was a corporate blunder. It's not enough that they kept Frango Mints. Here's a link to a site dedicated to bringing back Marshall Field's (lots luck to them).

- "Just remember, when you curse it calls attention to you," Nikki admonishes a teammate. Hmmm ... she HASN'T done much cursing, and we haven't seen a lot from her. Sounds like her fellow cheftestants have figured out how to get airplay on Bravo.

- About the salmon ... I distinctly heard the fishmonger say that they had some fresh Coho salmon, and since Richard said they used "wild salmon," I'll bet that's what they used. I grew up in Waukegan, which calls itself "the Coho capital of the world." Since my dad is a fisherman, I grew up eating Coho -- and haaattted it. The judges commented that it was mushy, blaming the sous-vide cooking technique. It's been years since I've choked it down, but I remember Coho having a watery, mushy texture, so maybe the problem wasn't sous-vide, but the fish itself. Anyway, if you're headed to the Lake Michigan area, let me give you my fish recommendations. First, Lake Perch -- a small, firm, mild tasting fish -- the best fried fish ever. If you head north, whitefish is the way to go. A Michigan fish boil is great, but my favorite preparation is when it's cooked and served on a plank, with mashed potatoes piped around it. Yum.

- Does Tom C. seem especially cantankerous this year? He seems to need an anger management course.

- Here's what I think is a hallmark of any professional: the ability to take feedback, critically judge your own performance and admit when your performance wasn't up to snuff. Richard admitted that he didn't like how the salmon dish turned out (although he didn't own up to not properly scaling the fish). Zoi, on the other hand, whined and complained about the previous challenge. I was glad to see her go. And not just because of the earrings.

- The previous elimination challenge winners didn't receive any prizes. THIS one gets a great trip to Italy?!! Woah, that's quite a disparity. I understand Dale getting ticked off about Lisa getting the prize for cooking BACON. I think Stephanie should have gotten the prize -- from what I could tell, she conceived the dish. And speaking of Stephanie, hooray for her being on the winning team! Go, girl...

- After the brouhaha about the butternut squash soup, I rewound to see whether Antonia said she'd make soup. She did. "If you both want to make soup, I'll do a f-ing good soup with you," she said, then went on to say why it was a bad idea. I do think Antonia was annoying and bossy ... but, truth be told, I'd probably come across the same way if I were ever foolish enough to go on a reality show.

- Next week looks like there's a challenge with a Bears theme! Hooray! Did I hear a guy ask when the last time the Bears won a Super Bowl was? I don't even have to look that up. It was 1985, and the team included the great Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, Richard Dent, and "The Refrigerator" Perry. The QB was the rockin' Jim McMahon. Need I go on? And they were just in the Super Bowl in 2007. Whoever disses my Bears are going to get HAMMERED here next week.

In the meantime, I've got to get back to packing. If you're as much of a Top Chef junkie as I am, here's a link to the Top Chef blogs.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

If I won a million dollars...

There's a cool article in today's Democrat and Chronicle about a local chef, Gerry Brinkman, who built a wood-fired brick oven in his back yard. When he fires up the oven, it's time for an outdoor baking party at his house. When the oven is at its highest temperature, they start by baking pizza, and as it cools down it's on to breads, then cookies, then slow-cooked dishes, and so on. It sounds cool and fun. Add some beer and some jamming musicians and you've got the perfect party. Here's a link to the article.

As I read the article, I found myself thinking, "if I won the million dollars, I'd do that." I have that fleeting thought every so often these days. I don't expect to win the million, because an appetizer has never won the Pillsbury Bake-off contest, but it's still fun to think about it. So I guess I need to find a way to make friends with that chef. Think I could just call him and beg?

Anyway, I'm going nutso trying to get ready to head out of town for the Pillsbury contest, so this will probably be the last post before I take off (early Sunday morning). I plan to take my laptop and post from Dallas, so check back on Sunday (the day we fly to Dallas), Monday (the day of the contest), and Tuesday (the day the winners are announced). Butterflies...

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Dave's Rockin' Taco Pizza

When I joined CRB, I expected that playing gigs would be fun (and it is). An unexpected bonus has been meeting and jamming with some other talented musicians. One of my favorite jamming buddies is Dave, a fellow Illinois native and Cubs fan. Dave is a guitar player, bass player and lead vocalist. Here's a link to his new band, Redline.

Moving onto the food part of this post ... Dave tried (and liked - hooray!) my Jalapeno Popper Cups, so he sent me one of his favorite recipes. It looked tasty and easy, and since I'm knee deep in spring cleaning and decorating, it looked like a good solution for a family dinner. Another advantage of this recipe was that it was easy to adapt for the various members of my family.

I divided the pizza dough in half and made the recipe two ways: one Dave's way, and the other without any veggies (unless you count taco sauce). I doubled the beef so the veggie-free pizza wouldn't be sparse. For the veggie-free version, my husband used taco sauce as a base, topped it with meat, cheese, and nacho chips, then drizzled with more sauce. Not health food to be sure, but it made them happy.

For the two of us that ate it Dave's way, I added sour cream as a garnish. We found it to be tasty, and liked the crunch of the Doritos on top.

In other words, thumbs-up from the whole family! Thanks Dave!

Dave's Rockin' Taco Pizza
Note from Dave: This is a pretty messy pizza so add the topping sparingly. They really add up. Its a fork and knife kind of pizza.

1 28-oz. package fresh pizza dough
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 can of refried beans
1 2.25 oz. can of black olives
1/8 – 1/4 cup jalapeño slices
1/2 lb ground beef
1 cup chopped lettuce
1/4 cup diced tomatoes
1 2 5/8 oz bag of nacho cheese Doritos
1/4 cup taco sauce

Seasoning for ground beef:
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp Hungarian paprika
1 tsp garlic granules or powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt

Set the dough out at least an hour before working with it. Once the dough has risen, pre-heat the oven according to the directions on the dough. Brown the ground beef and season with your favorite taco seasoning or use the recipe above. Roll the dough out for the shape of you favorite pizza pan. Spread a layer of refried beans on the dough. Refried beans are kind of hard to spread so it helps to heat them up a little in the microwave. Top the pizza with the seasoned ground beef, black olives, jalapeños and cheese. Bake the pizza according to the directions on the dough.

Once the pizza is baked, top it with the lettuce, tomatoes and crushed Doritos. Drizzle the taco sauce over the top of all of this. Once the pizza has cooled for a minute, slice and enjoy with Tracy’s Jalapeño Popper Cups!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Top Chef Chicago, episode 4

I'm feverishly trying to get spring cleaning and decorating done before I head to Dallas, so here are a few random thoughts and reactions to the most recent episode:

Quick Fire Challenge:


- Ryan says he spent a short time working with Daniel Boloud. "It wasn't my style," he said, with a sneer. Now wait a minute ... if memory serves me right, didn't I read on Rick Bayless' blog that Ryan worked for HIM? I checked, and sure enough, Bayless wrote that he didn't care for Ryan:
... I remembered him and the swagger with which he walked through the kitchen, and that doesn’t go over very well in our kitchen.
Then Ryan goes on to gripe about the kiwi guy with the curly hair (I'll get the names straight one of these days) ... and then talk about "Dumb and Dumber" being one of his favorite movies. I think Ryan has surpassed Andrew as the jerk who's gotta go.

- The Quickfire dishes were impressive. I wish they had shown more than seven of them.

Movie Theme Elimination Challenge

- I liked the theme of the challenge. Like the zoo challenge, it required some creativity but it gave the chefs enough leeway to make good food.

- Did you notice that some of the chef's coats had pockets for pens in the sleeves? Cool. I want a jacket like that ... but I'd rather have a pocket for my iPod.

- I thought Ryan and the kiwi guy would get skewered for their take on "A Christmas Story." Their explanation: in the movie, there's a scene when they went to a Chinese restaurant and ate duck (which is, in fact, a great scene). So they served quail. That's quite a departure from duck, isn't it? But they seemed to get a pass for that interpretation.

- There were raves about the "Christmas Story" carrot puree. I can't imagine ever getting excited about carrot puree so I'm intrigued. I'd like to try it, but the recipes on that site are written for chefs, not home cooks. The recipe reads, "Roast carrots in saute pan with ginger, onion and corn oil." No information on temperature or technique. I either roast food in a roasting pan in the oven, or saute in a saute pan on the stove. How do you roast carrots in a saute pan? I'm puzzled.

- No crazy closeups of Padma eating. She looked gorgeous in that blue dress.

- This week's turd award goes to Andrew for his appetizing comment, "I have no doubt that the people eating the food will culinarily crap in their pants." Appetizing.

- The lesbian couple has bad taste in earrings. Especially Zoi. I can't watch her talk without staring at the great big earrings.

- I wanted Spike to be eliminated. Manuel was likable. He had a very classy departure.

- Fewer obvious, obnoxious product placements this week, thank goodness.

- I think I spied Ming Tsai next week! Hooray, I like him.
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