Monday, August 31, 2009

GREAT recipe contest - deadline soon!

The folks at Mezzetta are holding a GREAT recipe contest, called "The Mezzetta Make That Sandwich Recipe Contest" and the deadline is soon. September 7, to be precise. I've been around the block when it comes to contests, and have a list of criteria for what makes a great recipe contest. This contest meets them all:
1. It has a great prize. In this case, it's $25K and a trip to the Napa Valley. It doesn't get much better than that.
2. There's more than one winner. In this case, two other finalists win $1,000. Also not small change.
3. There's NO ONLINE VOTING. Enough said.
4. They have good taste. Last year's winner, by my good friend Edwina, was a Spanish-Style Grilled Cheese sandwich. It sounds divine but doesn't have too many ingredients or complicated steps. In fact, I've been meaning to try the recipe.

The folks from Mezzetta sent me a couple of their products to try -- olives stuffed with jalapenos and sliced peperoncini. Thanks, Mezzetta people! I'm thrilled with them both, because one son loves olives and the other loves peperoncini. I had planned to use them to work on recipes for the contest or the blog, but but the boys keep eating them right out of the jar. The olives in particular are disappearing quickly. My son says he loves the way they "start off tasting like an olive, and end up hot."

Off to snag what's left in those jars and start experimenting for the contest. If you'd like to enter, here's a link.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Whatcha Got Cookin in Fairport

I'm pretty sure this restaurant is out of business ... but if you want to hear about it anyway...

My husband and I were taking a walk along the canal in Fairport and caught a glimpse of a restaurant across the way.

Whatcha Got Cooking, Fairport NY

I peered across the water and saw that it was called Whatcha Got Cooking. I remembered that it had been located in a gray building on the other side of the street, also on the canal. I remarked that the quaint new location seemed to be a better fit with its folksy name. A few days later, I went to dinner there with a friend of mine.

Whatcha Got Cooking, Fairport NY
The old building had been decorated with an Americana flair. We snagged the last open picnic table on the front lawn. We went on a nice evening (which were unfortunately rare this summer), and a lot of people must have had the same idea. The servers seemed to be overwhelmed, and it was 40 minutes from the time we sat down until we got our food. We didn't mind, though, because it was a pleasant evening and location. My friend spotted a family she knew and invited them to join us at our table. We enjoyed chatting with them.

Whatcha Got Cooking, Fairport NY
The food was worth the wait. I had macaroni and cheese, which was served in a crock. Its creamy, cheesy sauce was studded with bits of bacon, and the whole dish was topped with whole cheese crackers and melted cheese. The combination of flavors and textures was decadent and delicious, but I forced myself not to devour the whole thing so that I could take some home for my son to try. (That turned out to be a bad idea. He liked it so much that he now adds bacon and a cheese cracker topping whenever he makes mac and cheese.)

Whatcha Got Cooking, Fairport NY
My friend ordered a Philly Steak sandwich with a side order of sweet potato fries. I doubt Philly natives would call the sandwich authentic, but my friend enjoyed it. I snatched a few fries because I've become a sweet potato fry aficionado. They were well cooked, but the sweet-on-sweet addition of cinnamon and sugar wasn't to my taste. (I seem to be in the minority, though, because I've seen that topping on several menus.)

Nice setting ... good food ... reasonable prices. I'll be back.

WhatchaGotCookin? on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Top Chef Las Vegas: Episode 2

Wow, we saw a lot of Laurine (the chef with local roots) in the second episode. She practically narrated the whole episode.

In the QuickFire challenge, the chefs rolled dice. The number they rolled was the number of ingredients the chefs needed to use (salt, pepper and oil were freebies). A fun way to do a QuickFire. Most of the chefs wanted a low number, but Laurine rolled a three. That's REALLY low!

She made an asparagus and leek soup with lemon, which sounded delicious. "Interesting," muttered guest judge Todd English. Talk about noncommittal. One of the brothers won the QuickFire.

The elimination challenge was catering a bachelor and a bachelorette pool party. The menu was dishes paired with the couple's favorite shots. I might have specified that the dishes needed to taste just as good coming back up, because that's what happened every time I did a night of shots. But I guess that would have been a little hard to judge. Maybe if they got bulimics to guest judge?

We saw Laurine shopping for lamb, which she said would pair well with a shot called "Golden Delicious."

"From a catering standpoint, people want familiar food to some level, and I think the boys are going to go off on some crazy tangents, so I think the girls are going to win," Laurine said.

I'm sure she knows what she's doing as a caterer, and that experience should help her in the competition. A lot of chefs were eliminated in previous seasons because they didn't consider which foods hold well. BUT ... the flaw in Laurine's logic is that the clients were not the people deciding her fate. And the judges aren't likely to be impressed by " somewhat familiar." It's actually one of the things I liked better about the format of "Top Chef Masters" -- the opinions of the diners were a numerical part of the scores.

The parties were on opposite ends of a huge pool area on a beautiful sunny day. Padma introduced the judges and Tom Colicchio looked downright grumpy. Why? He was in a beautiful setting, surrounded by gorgeous women, and about to eat some great food. Could it be that he was sweating in a dark shirt and a dark jacket when everyone else was dressed for a pool party?

Laurine's lamb chops got good reviews. They worked well with the shots and were perfectly tender. And nobody threw them across the room, which was an improvement over the previous episode.

"So we look over at one point and we see Ron with the chef coat open and the girls are kind of making commentary ... why are they taking their chef coats off? The next thing we know we see them jumping in the pool. We were a bit shocked," Laurine said. Her demeanor reminds me of Stephanie Izard from two seasons ago.

"At the end of the service, because of the positive feedback, we're feeling really good about our team and what we produced," Laurine said. Which usually is a sign that the team lost. And they did.

The winner was one of the brothers. They are playing up the sibling rivalry way too much. They are also playing up the gay thing too much.

The loser was the cute girl with the blond hair and sweet voice. Laurine says nice things about her in her post here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Top Chef Las Vegas: Episode 1

The first episode of Top Chef: Las Vegas was a blur of chefs, tats, and bleeped out obscenities -- and there wasn't anyone as cute and charming as Fabio -- so let's focus on our home girl, Laurine Wickett. (She hasn't lived in these parts for decades, but once a Rochesterian, always a Rochesterian.)

We first got a good look at her seven minutes into the show, as the cheftestants are lined up in the kitchen for their first QuickFire challenge. She says she was 23 when she started her catering business and she is "completely overwhelmed and intimidated by the whole situation." Uh oh ... the people who go far in this competition tend to be badasses who thrive on competition. Not a good sign.

In the QuickFire challenge, a mis en place relay race, Laurine is on a team with a chef who began the race by making a bloody mess of her hands as she shucked clams. Laurine, second in the relay, started peeling prawns way behind the two teams ahead of her. The brief shot of her with the prawns didn't give a sense for how fast she was, but it didn't seem like she gained a lot of ground. Needless to say, Laurine wasn't in the cookoff for the win and the $15 grand.

The next shot of her is her saying "thank you" as she checks out Whole Foods. Ah, a true Rochesterian. If memory serves me right, the city was named one of the most polite cities a number of years ago.

For the elimination challenge, Laurine made donuts. I had a couple of concerns about that idea:
- Desserts are tricky on Top Chef. For whatever reason, they don't seem to get the same respect as dishes with meat and seafood.
- Wolfgang Puck is the guest judge and his restaurants serve the best dang donuts my husband and I have eaten. (Bear in mind his pastry chef is the illustrious Sherry Yard.) Laurine had to live up to a very high standard for donuts.

All that being said, bacon donuts with a Belgian beer sauce and a chocolate sauce sounds pretty wonderful. And you've got to love a gal whose vices are donuts, bacon, chocolate and beer.

When the judges analyzed her dish, they loved the bacon and her sauces. Puck said the donuts were like golf balls and threw one across the room. Ouch. "The donut should be fluffy. The donut should be a cloud," Wolfgang said, and in fact, the donuts I had at his place were indeed fluffy clouds. Come to think of it, I've got to give making them another try.

Laurine wasn't shown at judge's table, meaning she wasn't the winner or the loser. Good enough for the first round.

The loser: Laurine's teammate, who bloodied her fingers during the relay race, cooked with seitan, and didn't unpack because it was unlucky.

Even though Laurine's photo makes her look like Sandra Bernhard, she seems like a girl next door. Likeable. I hope she does well, but I'm not sure she has the cojones.

Chef Laurine has a blog and is chronicling her experience. Her recounting of the first episode is here.

Go Laurine!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A wonderful Pom cooler (Surprise! It's nonalcoholic.)

I consider beer to be the nectar of the gods, and no one likes fun alcoholic drinks more than I do. But for various health reasons, I rarely drink alcohol. In the greater scheme of things, this is not a big deal, because I certainly can have a good time without booze. But my non-alcoholic beverage choices are usually limited to soft drinks, which I'm tired of and usually have a lot of sugar or caffeine, both of which I try to avoid. And there's nothing like sipping a glass of ice water while the people around me are enjoying beers and colorful tropical drinks to make me feel like I'm not a part of the party.

When the folks at Pom Wonderful offered to send me some samples, I happily accepted, with the goal of coming up with a summery nonalcoholic drink that wouldn't have me staring wistfully at other peoples' strawberry margaritas. What I came up with is very simple and probably unoriginal. I just mix the pomegranate juice with diet lemon-lime soda, add a lime wedge, and it's done. The tart taste of the pomegranate juice makes the beverage refreshing and not too sweet. The juice even has health benefits. I've served it when people come over for dinner, and my kids always want one when I make them.

Now I have a nonalcoholic beverage that makes me feel like a part of the party. (Thanks, Pom Wonderful.)

Wonderful Pom Cooler
Makes 2

1 small bottle pomegranate juice
1 can diet lemon - lime soda
2 lime wedges

Divide the juice and soda between two glasses. Add ice and garnish each glass with a wedge of lime.

A Tivo Tip for Top Chef Fans

I missed the first episode of Top Chef.

I thought I had my Tivo all ready to go for this season. (Have I mentioned that I love Tivo? I would go out and sell it. I love being able to watch my programs at my convenience and fast forward through all the commercials ... ironic, since I spent a huge chunk of my career working for advertising agencies.)

It was set to record "Top Chef," just like all the previous seasons. But NOOOOOO .... the folks at Bravo decided to call this season "Top Chef: Las Vegas," so my Tivo didn't pick it up. Grrrrr ... I have to wait until tonight to watch it.

So if you want to Tivo Top Chef, be sure to set it for "Top Chef: Las Vegas."

My ramblings about the first Las Vegas episode coming soon...

Top Chef Masters: I called it.

I just finished watching the finale of Top Chef Masters, and I wanted to crawl through the television and eat that food. But for cripes sake, where did the tradition of ending a meal with dessert go?

I'm glad I didn't blog throughout this series because they wouldn't have given me a whole lot of interesting material. Everyone was so professional and congenial. I am now a huge fan of Rick Bayless and Hubert Keller. They are both brilliant and seem like genuinely wonderful people. Michael Chiarello proved that he can cook at this level, even after his years of being a "TV chef," which I wouldn't have expected. It's too bad that he came across as such a jerk in last week's episode, though.

Let me just say I called it! I don't want to spoil it ... but if you want to know who won, scroll down a couple posts to my post of July 14 and read through it. At the end is my spot-on prediction. Not that I'm bragging.

Wait ... I can't help myself from a couple of musings which are spoilers so don't read further if you don't want to know...:

Could Michael's attempt at humor with the Saveur pages have cost him the title? James gave Michael a full point less than the other two judges -- could he have been slightly miffed?

What would they have done in the event of a tie? Split the prize money?

Come back next week for more pointless blatherings about the new season of Top Chef.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Allez ... Chairman!

Look who's going to be on "Dancing With the Stars" -- the Chairman himself!

The latest dancing star of the foodie universe is Mark Dacascos, known to us as The Chairman on "Iron Chef America." Given his martial arts background (he's renowned in Kung Fu), I'd guess he'd be in good shape and move well. If he has a sense of rhythm and a likable personality, I predict he'll last past our previous dancing foodie, chef Rocco DiSpirito, who was eliminated in Week 4.

The only question I have is, will all of his movements be accompanied by cheesy sound effects?
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