Thursday, November 30, 2006

All apologies

Ok. I still have two Top Chef episodes to recap and I JUST. CAN'T. DO. IT. It just seems like the likeable chefs are getting picked off one by one. Pretty soon Top Chef will be called Ilan and the Jerks. Anyway, I want to start the slate fresh and just ignore the bootings of Josie and Carlos. So no recaps for those episodes but I will cover the rest, unless Ilan gets the boot and then all bets are off.

As soon as I can get to it I will be offering up the recipes for the pear-cranberry tart and the griddle cakes.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thanksgiving Post mortem - Part 2

3:45 - I make the griddle cakes which are totally easy. Their perfect texture is halfway between pancake and biscuit. If I weren't topping them off with the totally strong flavors of gorgonzola and pear, I would have added a little salt to give them more flavor. But paired with such powerful cheese and sweet pears, the blandness of the griddle cake was perfectly complimentary.

4:00 - I put together our cranberry-apple cocktail which is one part cranberry juice, one part sparkling apple cider and two parts sparkling wine. It's as tasty as it is lethal. You cna easily consume four or five of these and not realize you are tipsy.

4:30 - Auntie Em and Uncle Tim come over to take our picture in front of the Rhymes with Beverly sign. My mother in law loves the retro Beverly sign and comments on it every time she visits. For Christmas, we are giving her a picture of us in front of the sign.

4:45 - We stick the corn pudding, and the Timily's two potato casserole in the oven to heat. The Timily's make their divine spinach and pine nut thingy that is garnish with sliced pears. We put the desserts on the buffet and set the table. Normally we would totally put other the cobalt blue square Asian plates but the holiday screams for the totally retro daisy dishes that served as J's parent's everyday china.

5:30 - We go into high chaos mode, fueled by cranberry cocktail and a little bit of panic. J first steams the green beans in the microwave and then sautees them in butter. We top them with almonds.

6:10 - Thank Heaven for Little Girls (THLG) arrives with her rolls. I take the turkey out of the oven to rest.

6:25 - Slim and his friend The Chad arrive with a casserole of risotto. We stick the risotto and rolls in the oven.

6:40 - Lawn arrives with a casserole of perfectly cooked mashed potatoes. They are soft and creamy and I am dying to find out how she kept them warm considering how notoriously difficult it is to warm mashed potatoes. I carve the turkey onto out Ikea platter, using the durmsticks as a lovely garnish. It's a pretty Norman Rockwell looking platter with drumsticks on either side, turkey in one half of the middle and stuffing on the other half.

7:00 - We sit down to dinner and the true chaos begins. Plates are passed around and because there are so many dishes so people committ to eating five dishes in round 1 and the rest in round 2. I keep asking for the gravy boat. The hits of the evening are definitely the stuffing, the spinach, and the mashed potatoes. I'd have to say that the corn pudding was kind of meh. I realize what I wanted was more of a cornbread consistency and less of a custard consistency. One thing I do realize is that the totaly profusion of dishes means that it's hard to fully appreciate any one thing.

8:12 - I don't know who starts it but our tradition of talking about sex and bodily functions finally kicks off. It only took us an hour and twelve minutes. That's record. The Chad is tickled pink. He can stay.

9:00 - J suggests we retired to the living room for dessert and everyone says they are so full they can move. More dirty talk along with talk about Tom and Katie's Wedding, Michael Richard's insanity, and the 2006 election. Because I cannot deal with chaos, I starting clearing and putting dishes in the dishwasher. Everyone helps.

9:54 - We FINALLY have enough space in our tummies for a little taste of dessert. We give everyone little slivers of tart and pie and cut servings of pecan bars and baklava in half. Whipped cream (from a can) and ice cream are served alongside the slivers of dessert.

11:00 - We FINALLY have digested enough food to move. We finish clearing the table and putting everything in tupperware. I fix a plate for Lawn's husband.

11:30 - Seriously, the talbe and kitchen are CLEAN and people have to mosey on. The Timily's stay behind to talk some more. We love the Timily's.

12:30am - The Timily's leave. We watch the TiVoed Ugly Betty and Grey's Anatomy.



10:17 am - Baklava tastes so much better the next day.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

25 Things I'm Thankful For

Generosity of spirit

and T! :)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Thanksgiving Post mortem - Part 1

6:20 am - I get out of bed tem minutes before the alarm goes off. This always happens much to the delight of J who will never have th hear the alarm go off. For some reason the prospect of getting startled awake is too much for my body and I always wake up before the alarm. What's done? The pear-cranberry tart, the pecan bars, the pumpkin pies, and the corn pudding. What's left to do? The gorgonzola-pear griddle cakes, the green beans, the turkey and stuffing and the salad. J has decided to make baklava since there's time this morning.

7:00 am - J drops me off at the metro so I can go to the Thanksgiving Trot for So Others Might Eat. I've been training fairly indifferently so I don't expect great results.

7:30 - I get to the Smithsonian metro and see two people who are clearly going to the trot exit and decide to follow them. I figure the walk over to the race will be a good warm up. I was wrong because it's a 20 minute walk and I barely have time to register, throw my stuff into Auntie Em's and Uncle Tim's car (actually Uncle Tim ran over to the car and dropped my stuff off for me.) and stretch.

8:30 - AAAAAND we're off. I feel bad because a friend of the Timily's is starting next to me and is talking but all I want to do is listen to my carefully chosen race playlist. I run the first half like a mofo, passing people to the left and right. I get to the halfway part and grab a cup of water and then slow down a lot. For some reason I just can't spped up. But at least I'm still running. I see Emily and her friend Helen walking on the other side and I scream like a banshee and give them high fives.

9:00:40 - Woo hoo! I finish the race in 30:40, below than the 10 minute mile pace I wanted to finish. Much hugs all around. It was so much fun to running with other people and I want to conveince the Timily's to run another race.

10:06 - J pick me up from the metro and the fun begins. I make three versions of the same stuffing: one vegetarian for the leftover party the next day where there will be vegetarians, one with homemade chicken broth to be baked alongside the bird and another with chicken broth to be baked inside the bird.

10:30 - I finish the stuffing. I take the corn pudding and pumpkin pies out of the freezer to thaw. J prepares the two kinds of baklava (he can tell that story).

11:30 - J puts the baklava in the oven and I mix gorgonzola and cream cheese together for the appetizer and then add slices of pear. I get REALLLY hungry and decide to make a lovely breakfast of ciabatta toasts with melted gorgonzola cheese and honey. A delightful flavor combo. This begins the morning of sniffs. J and I start shoving food we make in each other's faces. First, smelling the almond in the pear-cranberry tart and then the baklava and then the earthy smell of the stuffing.

12:30pm - The best part comes when J makes a cardamom syrup for one of his baklava. It smells like an Indian dessert and J spoons some over a perfectly ripe pear. We take turns eating the syrup-drenched pear. That and the toast were the best breakfast i could ask for.

1:00 - I take a well-deserved nap.

2:00 - I take Patricia Reichardt the turkey out of the fridge, rinse the turkey and pat it dry with paper towels. I stuff Peppermint Patty with the stuffing and rub a mixture of rosemary, sage, butter, salt, pepper, honey and olive oil under the skin. One thing i did not do which I should have known better was to truss Peppermint Patty. This dried out the leg meat a bit.

2:30 pm - I stick Peppermint Patty in the oven. That feels so good to write that. Too bad she didn't apologize to Charlie Brown for being an ass.

Thanksgiving 2006

I want to start by being clear to those who do not believe it, that one can have 33 annual Thanksgiving meals with the green bean casserole and survive the 34th without it. I am pleased to report not only that I am alive and well, but that I am sated. (And I love the green bean casserole, especially mom's version with the added pound of cheddar, water chestnuts, and worcestershire).

And to say how thankful I am to all the people who cooked Thanksgiving lunch and dinner, to those who hosted, and to those who made the table warm in so many ways.

A very special shout out to T who made so many amazing dishes. It was inspired!

We had 8 for TG with several people contributing dishes. Here's what we ended up with . . .

Cranberry champagne cocktail (cran juice, champagne, sparking apple from Trader Joes)

Griddle cakes with gorgonzola and pears (from Fingerfoods by bay books)

Turkey (organic from Whole Foods, using an under and over the skin rub based on Ina Garten's roasted chicken recipe)
Marsala wine gravy (oh my, how I loved this)
Cranberry sauce (from the bag, but with the juice of one orange)

Parmesan biscuit rolls
Green beans in butter, salt and pepper, and almonds
Wilted spinach with garlic
Corn pudding (Ina Garten)
Two potato gratin
Garlic mashed potatoes
Ciabatta stuffing and dressing

Pear cranberry pear tart with amaretti crumble
Pecan bars (Ina Garten)
Pecan bars (Gourmet)
Pumpkin pie (Cook's Illustrated)
Baklava - Greek version with honey and walnuts (combined recipes from the web)
Baklava - Lebanese version with pistachios, rosewater sugar syrup (several from the web)

What Went Well (really just thinking about what we made):

GRIDDLE CAKES: Great flavor combo and texture dance
TURKEY: I loved, loved, loved the turkey. It was quite flavorful and moist.
GRAVY: Homemade chicken broth, turkey drippings, flour, S&P, and marsala - YUM!
COCKTAIL: Refreshingly tart and light
DRESSING/STUFFING: Peppreidge Farm doctored with more veggies, spices, and egg and some amazing ciabatta
PEAR CRANBERRY TART: As good as it sounds, maybe better.
PECAN BARS (INA GARTEN): Ina Garten's pecan bars were so amazing. Beautiful soft crust with just enough fight in it and very nutty filling

-salad was ignored and unexciting with so much on the table
-we could do without the Gourmet pecan bars given Ina's were representing well
-I had never made baklava before and really wanted to try when I had the time to do so. Both versions turned out wonderfully, but it seems that baklava just didn't fit for the event. In the future, I might make them for a dessert party or something similar.

The good news is, while we were playing around in the kitchen, we discovered a few tastes that will become part of our next menu:

Toasted ciabatta with melted gorgonzola and a brush of orange blossom honey may be the best bite I have had of anything in a long time. The salty cheese, the nuances of the honey, the crispy yet yielding bread. Oh my.

And, after making the baklava, I was eating a juicy pear left over from the tart and griddle cakes. I drizzled a bit of the cardamom honey on the pear and took a bite. Juicy, fruity, spicy, sweet. A stunning new flavor combo for us.

A new tradition as well -- we merged our food with a friend's food for a leftovers party on Friday. It was great to get some face and food time

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving Eve

So did you all see Scotte's preparation spreadsheet and the invitation to his and Jason's Thanksgiving hoo hah? So awesome. So pretty. You know, if you are going to cook for over 6 people, you have to have a schedule for such things. Twas the afternoon before Thanksgiving and all through the house, many creatures were stirring, especially the mouse.

Yesterday we went to Whole Foods in Alexandria to get our turkey, green beans, champagne for the cranberry-apple spritzer, and salad fixin's. We also decided to add a baked brie with cranberry chutney and almonds as another appetizer because the sample was SOOOOOOOO good. We made a dinner of our outing by raiding the Whole Foods salad bar. We highly recommend the mango brown rice.

I had a totally Lorelei Gilmore moment of spazziness when I insisted on naming our lovely, 13-pound organic turkey. The first name I came up with was Ina Garten but J insisted he didn't want ot name if after anyone we knew. I came up with Nancy Pelosi and J asked "do you really want to carve up Nancy Pelosi?" J came up with the name Jakob (the Eastern European pronunciation of YAAH-KOAB) and I replied it was a Jewish name and did we really want to stick anything with a Jewish name in the oven? Finally J mentioned that Peppermint Patty has a last name at it's Reichardt. Givne how atrociously Peppermint Patty behaves in a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, I am more than happy to stick her in the oven. So Patricia Reichardt it is!

I will have to take this oportunity to rant about Peppermint Patty's atrocious behavior on a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. She invites herself and her friends over for dinner and then once she gets there, complains that the only thing Charlie Brown made for them was jelly beans and buttered toast. F($%^& ingrate. The guy's like 7 years old. Were you going to make a seven course turkey dinner Peppermint EFFING Patty? Then shut your piehole. I am already anticipating shoving your sorry ass in the oven.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Yep, Another One

For those who could careless about our Thanksgiving plans, you're out of luck this week because I can't stop talking about it. It's like the Grey's Anatomy of holidays. In terms of progress, J made two pumpkin pies using the Cook's Illustrated recipe. Based on J "accidentally" sticking his finger in a pie (ooh dirty!) and tasting it, the pies taste delicious. Here's my thing about Cook's Illustrated, they have all of these steps to ensure hte perfect optimal whatever and in the end it feels so not worth it. To make the pies J had to use the food processor, a big pot, a stand mixer and a blender. And that's not even counting what I did to make the crust. He had to mix the ingredients in the food processor, add the dairy products in the pot and heat everything up and then mix again in the stand mixer. And STILL the pie took 20 minutes more to cook than the recipe called for. Nevertheless, two desserts down, one to go. Tonight we will buy the turkey and green beans. I changed my schedule and decided to make the griddle cakes Thursday because we have plenty of space on the stove to cook things but limited space in the oven to heat things up. In other food news, I found out that Slim will be bringing cider-butternet squash risotto.

In other Thanksgiving news, our guest list has changed. It appears that one of our friends and the friend we was to bring along loves football more than eating and will be spending Thanksgiving in a bar watching the Broncos game on NLF on Demand. If we had NFL on Demand, then our friend and his friend asked that they be able to watch it during dinner. Umm, no. Seriously, no. There's a reason why we have Thanksgiving at 7:00 pm as opposed to in the afternoon. It's DINNER.

I think this is where I don't get straight guys, not all straight men but GUYS. Why are sports more important than actual human interaction? I mean I am a total tennis and figure skating fanatic and I could tell you what Peggy Fleming's signature move in the Cortina Olympics is but given a choice between watching Michelle Kwan square off against Chen Lu or keeping dinner plans, my thinking is: "that's what TiVo is for." I've just never needed to see the sports I love in real time. I enjoy being able to fast forward through the boring parts. I wonder if that's because I like individual as opposed to team sports. I've never bought into that 12th man thing where I think that "we" won, especially when I am not even in stadium/arena/whatever when the team has a victory. I know a crowd can really help, but I still think a victory belongs to the person or team that actually COMPETED.

This does keep our unbroken streak of Thanksgiving drama when we've decided to stay in town. The first year we hosted, a former friend asked if we could have her boyfriend over and then decided to invite him to go to New York with her, WITHOUT EVER TELLING US. We found out about it secondhand after we bought extra place settings and groceries. The next time we went to the Lancaster where one guest insists on having fish (which Lady Lancaster cooks for her) AND wants one of the vegetarian entrees even thought she ate plenty of turkey and fish. Included in this calvacade of drama was the fact that the two men invited simply refused to help out with ANYTHING.

I'm actually more baffled than angry. The plus side is that we will be having plenty of leftovers to take to a leftover party on Friday AND I will be able to get a 12 pound turkey as opposed to a 15 pound turkey. Based on Nigella Feasts, 12 pounds is fairly optimal for a turkey in terms of juiciness and having enough meat for everyone. In fact, she says that if you have more than a 12 pound turkey can feed, get two 12 pound turkeys. Unfortunately, I don't have the oven space for that so I would have had to risk cooking a 15 pound turkey. So really it's a win-win situation all around.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Thanksgiving Update

This was a fruitful weekend for Thanksgiving planning. I made two pans of pecan bars. The first using a recipe from the Gourmet cookbook, and the second from the first Barefoot Contessa cookbook. What did I learn from that exercise? Never doubt the Ina. While the filling from both recipes were excellent, the crust of the Barefoot Contessa cookbook kicked the ass of the crust from Gourmet. The fillings in both recipes consisted of brown sugar, honey (which I replaced with a mixture of light caro syrup and maple syrup), a touch of cream and of course, chopped pecans. I also added a healthy swig of bourbon to the filling to give a little kick to the intensely sweet mixture. But the crust is where Ina Garten shows her skill in writing foolproof recipes. The Gourmet crust consisted of brown sugar, flour, and butter pressed into the bottom of the pan. The result was a pleasingly, flakey, but unfortunately crumbly, crust that made extracting the bars from the pans difficult. Half of the crust lay in a pile of crumbs at the bottom of the pan. The Ina recipe was a shortbread crust that included eggs to the flour/butter/sugar mixture and ensured enough wetness for the mixture to stay together when cutting the bars. This made enough bars for both Thanksgiving dinner and the post Thanksgiving leftover lunch the next day.

Also accomplished this weekend was the extra large batch of corn pudding which is happily in the freezer waiting to be heated. I'll give you the recipe after we've eaten it to make sure I haven't given you a dud but it's a Barefoot Contessa recipe so I don't think that will happen. I increased the recipe by half to ensure that all nine of our guests could have seconds and added a little four to the mixture to let it hang together better.

Also accomplished was the purchase of a roasting pan for the 15 pound turkey that I will roast upside down to ensure juiciness, and a serving platter for said turkey. I also made chicken stock that will be incorporated into the the stuffing and the marsala gravy and piecrust for the pumpkin pie.

What's left to do?

The griddle cakes (Tuesday)
The pear cranberry tart (Wednesday)
The green beans (Thursday)
The stuffing (Thursday)
And of course the turkey (Thursday)

Our guests will be bringing:

Two potato casserole (The Timily's)
Sauteed spinach (the Timily's)
Mashed potatoes (The Shyan's)
Rolls (Thank Heaven for Little Girls)
Wine (THLG)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thanksgiving Preparations

Last night J and I did our first round of Thanksgiving shopping. J decided to buy a Cook's Illustrated to try their pumpkin pie recipe. Even though Cook's Illustrated are sticklers for following the recipe EXACTLY, I declined on buying a thing of whole milk when we had 2% at home. Although that guy with the bowtie will probably have me shot, I told J that we could just increase the amount of cream the recipe called for and decrease the amount of milk. If the pumpkin pie turns out badly it's all my fault. I think there's something in my genes that requires that I fiddle with a recipe. I've already made a change on the Thanksgiving menu, going from the apple tartlets to a totally scrumptious looking pear-cranberry tart we found in Fine Cooking. But even to that I made a change, substituting the brandy and walnuts in the recipe for almonds and amaretto.

So here's the schedule for Thanksgiving:

Friday - buy spices at the Yes Natural Market (spices in bulk are cheeeeeep!)
- roast a chicken and make chicken stock
- make crust for pumpkin pies

Saturday - make pecan bars
- buy tart pan and roasting pan

Sunday - Hopefully before the end of the weekend J will pumpkin pies

Monday - Make corn pudding and freeze

Tuesday - Make griddle cakes and freeze

Wednesday - Buy green beans and fresh turkey
- Make pear-cranberry tart


6:30 am - Wake up and get to the Metro by 7:00 am

7:30 am - Meet Uncle Tim and Auntie Em at Turkey Trot

8:00 am - Warm up for said Turket Trot

8:30 am - Hopefully run Turkey Trot in under 30 minutes

10:30 am - Come back home

2:00 pm - Prepare stuffing. Prep turkey.

2:30 pm - Shove turkey in the oven.

3:00 pm - Set table. Make prepare pears and cheese to top griddle cakes.

4:00 pm - Blanch green beans

5:45 pm - Stick the corn pudding in the oven to warm. Warm up griddle cakes.

6:00 pm - Plate griddle cakes. Make cranberry-apple cocktail. Guests arrive.

6:30 pm - Take turkey out of the oven and let rest. Warm food that everyone else brought.

7:00 pm - dinner is served. Gorge.

For anyone who cares here's my playlist for the 5k

Do Your Thing - Basement Jaxx

Wild Night - John Mellencamp and that women who has ''' in her name

Dancing Queen - Abba Teens

Hey Ya - Outkast

Move This - Technotronic

Jump (for my love) - Pointer Sisters

Life is a Highway - Rascal Flatts

Flithy/Gorgeous - Scissor Sisters

The Mary Tyler Moore Theme Song - Joan Jett

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Top Chef -Episode 4

In the apartments, Mia is feeling insecure while Betty is feeling good. Mike is feeling pissy and wants another pair of his wife's panties. And that sends me to places I don't want to go. At the Kemore Kitchen, we meet Suzanne Goin who was one of Ted Allen's guests in last season's Ted Allen challenge. I will say her no-nonsense, direct manner is at least five kinds of awesome. The quickfire challenge is to create an amuse bouche, which SRTW uselessly explains that it means something that amuses the mouth. Well DUH. Chef Suzanne gives a better explanation by saying that an amuse bouche is a little tease of what's to come. SRTW says they will shop for ingredients and have limited access to pantry items. This is inspiring vision of gelee sugarplums in Marcel's head. The dreams are crushed when the contestants see that the store they will be shopping in are three vending machines. The chefs get a roll of quarters to buy two ingredients at each machine. Cliff thinks that Mike will win the challenge with his love of junk food. But Carlos has also loves junk food, choosing Squirt, carrots, sunflower seeds, and hard boiled eggs. Marcel decides to use lemon pies and cracklings. Mike decides to blow off the challenge and use Snickers, Cheetos, and Cornuts. Much F1 ensues. I see a lot of hard boiled eggs being used. Mike decides to puree the Corn Nuts and Snickers and mush them in a ball at the end of a Cheeto. So what did folks make?

Frank: A ham and swiss cheese quiche with a pesto dressing and mint infused tea. Chef Suzanne says it reminds her of being on the porch.

Betty: A an omelete chiffonade with a pear fig basil crream sauce. No huge reaction from Suzanne.

Sam: potato salad and pickle with fennel powder on a tortilla chip.

Elia: A mini chicken salad tostada. She likes the accent.

Mike: Mike so acts like he doesn't care. It's his stupid candy puree with Cheeto. Suzanne is being really nice about it saying the candy turd is an ode to the ingredients.

And in quick sucession are Josie and her deconstructed chicken salad, Cliff and his curried banana pudding, Marisa and her trpoical salad.

Then we get Carlos and his mini vegetarian loaf with sunflower seeds and a hint of Squirt. Chef Suzanne likey.

Mia does a twinkie on yogurt. Which gets a ding from Suzanne for being a DESSERT and not an amuse bouche. Throughout the entire judging, Suzanne is totally direct and nice at the same time. No raking anyone over the coals and no axes to grind, even when they are so called for... MIKE. Marcel makes a duo of cracklings which also gets a too-sweet comment. Ilan makes a deviled egg. The bottom two are Mia and Miike (who she totally busts for not caring). On top are Frank, Carlos and Ilan with the winner being Carlos. What I am loving about this season is that the competitors seems REALLY happy for each other.

In the elimination challenge, the competitors break up into four teams - black, white, red, and orange. All you really need to know is that Marcel is on the same team as his arch nemesis Betty. The teams break down is:

Orange team: Cliff, Carlos, and Sam

White team: Ilan, Elia, and Josie.

Black team: Marcel, Betty, and Frank

Red Team: Marisa, Mike, and Mia

The challenge is to make a whole meal that cannot exceed 500 calories. Ilan makes me love him all over again saying he doesn't count calories and cooking should be about adjusting flavors and feel. They will be serving their meal at the badly named Camp Glucose, a fat camp for kids. Sam talks about his confidence in the challenge because he is diabetic and needs to think about what he eats and makes. There's no arrogance in that statement just stating the facts. Me likey. This goodwill on my part will totally be eradicated by the end of the episode. Marcel suggests asparagus wrapped in proscuitto but Betty wisely pushes for pizza. Marcel to his credit, lets go of his ego and climbs on the pizza bandwagon.

Back at the Kemore kitchen. The chefs F1 while nutritionists hover over htem and calculate calories. We find out that a cup of olive oil is 1900 calories. Josie is affably goofy as she calculates calories. Mia tries to defend Mike saying there's nothing more dangerous than a cornered animal. Much weighing, calculating and F1ing. Frank and Team Black is rocking the pizza. Betty and her pavlovas? Not so much. Marisa finally says something intelligible by pointing out you can't substitute Splenda for sugar and expect to have the same consistency in your egg white meringues.

The Red Team is making BBQ chicken skewers, raisin coleslaw, grilled vegetables, and a fudge cake with fresh strawberries adding up to 480 calories for the meal. Team Black's meal of sausage pizza, fruit skewers, and the "meringues" end up being 440 calories. The White Team goes with chicken parmignana (with bran breadcrumbs), veggie lasagna (with no pasta) and berry cheesecake pie that is 398 calories. Tom asks about the menu and Elia playfully responds that she's a big kid and she likes pie. Because it's Elia who is totally chill, this statement comes off as endearing as opposed to stupid. Finally the Orange Team goes with spiced turkey meatballs, roasted corn on the cob and a summer fruit smoothie. Chef Tom asks about the smoothie as dessert compared to the more decadent desserts. The team responds by saying they want the kids to learn a lifestyle. Well, if the other menus are under 500 calories you can learn the lifestyle with a chocolate fudge cake or a berry cheesecake. Their menu is 454 calories. By the end of the day everyone seems to be doing well except for Betty who doesn't know a damn thing about meringues and the fact they have to sit in the oven overnight.

The next morning Betty is distributing kisses liberally to her rommates, even Marcel. Mike wants to win. Oh really? The chef's F1 at the Kenmore kitchen but Betty adjusts her recipe to make a better texture. Josie comments that the teams needed to follow the menus and recipes they presented to the nutritionists and her team is ready to do that. Cliff and Sam are suspicious of the other teams following the rules as Sam notices squeeze bottles of olive oil on the line. Carlos notes that Betty had to change her meringue cookie recipe. Betty cops to that with the understanding that her meal would still be under 500 calories because she is using fewer egg whites and only two tablespoons more sugar. This seems to be a legitimate misunderstanding on Betty's part but she should know after lycheegate to be completely anal about such things.

The Teams go to Camp Glucose and set up. In contrast to the previous challenge the judges are dressed sensibly in jeans and t-shirts. Even Gail has toned down her makeup and looks like she should be at the camp instead of the Roxbury. The Teams have to send out a representative to present the menus. Elia is excited about cooking for with kids, unlike a certain ousted contestant who name rhymes with Schlemily. Frank presents Team Black's menu which excites the kids. One kid adorably asks whether they have to choose between the pizza or the lemonade. Ok this camp is evil if they make kids make that choice. Frank is delighted to say they get the whole meal. Josie is typical Josie in her presentation of Team White's menu. But noone's happy about the veggie lasagna. Carlos pimps out Sam in his presentation. Later on one of the campers states whe would like to marry Sam. Mike on the other hand, goes over like a dried out turkey meatball (oooh foreshadowing). He acts like a damn fool and the kids aren't buying it one bit. I kind of want to adopt the entire camp for that.

Most the campers go for the pizza. And the rest of the camp is evenly split between the other teams. I do think the kids are blinded by the pizza because the cheesecake looks mighty fine. The judges and campers love the pizza. The campers like most of the meals but don't like the veggie lasagna, the coleslaw and the sour, thin smoothie. After the meal the chefs and campers play soccer. Marcel kicks the ball to Ilan's face. Heee!

At the judges table ding the turkey meatballs (a rock on a stick), the chicken skewers (underseasoned) and the blah coleslaw. They love the pizza. Suzanne gives props to the cheesecake. The judges call in Team Black and announce they are the challenge winners. Frnak owns up to the challenge-winning pizza and to their credit, Marcel and Betty look delighted. Frank gets a prize of Suzanne Goin's cookbook and an offer to collaborate on a menu with her. Team Orange and Red are called in and now comes the good part. Get prepared for some flattened bodies because people are being thrown in front of the bus. When asked, Mia says she was confident in her team's menu. In a bit of reality show functionality, the entire team takes the blame for the awful coleslaw. Mia even defends Mike's committment to being there. Wow. Team Red is given a lot of crap for their rock hard meatballs and the sour smoothie. When asked by Gail about whether they knew it was smoothie was too sour, Sam responds that they couldn't deviate from the original menu. And then he lets loose on the other teams. He points out the squeeze bottles of evil olive oil. This is where Sam moves into dick territory. Gail asks who was using the olive oil and Sam refuses to name names. Chef Suzanne points out that liberally using olive oil is serious business in this challenge. He then alludes to some things not working the previous day and then working that day. Gail tries to find out specific and Sam still won't names names. But Mia will go there and fingers Betty. SRTW bugs her eyes out but is silent. The judges are PIIIIIISSSSSSED. I totally agree with Chef Tom's annoyance about Sam bringing the squeeze bottle issue up after the fact. I love the fact that Gail is also pissed that there's no proof they can actually work with to judge hte severity of the situation. It would be like Kayne in Project Runway getting the boot and THEN pointing out in vague ways that Keith had pattern books.

Chef Tom goes all Principal Vernon on the contestants and asks who knew what about the cheating. Betty cops to changing her recipe and says her understanding of the rules was to stay below 500 calories. Most of the other chefs say they understood the rules as given. In the end noone is going home but if Principal Vernon sees any tomfoolery, he will be cracking skulls. Because if you mess with bull you get horn.

Elia makes me love her all the more by pointing out that Betty's forthrightness in admiting her recipe change showed she legitimately misunderstood the rules. Josie says she knows that her team played by the rules but she's disappointed in the backstabbing. The finger pointers are twelve kinds of defensive with Cliff drinking Pepto Bismol and Mia saying noone knows what really went on in the judging room. Care to illuminate Mia? Marisa wins me over by saying she's shock that Mia won't stand by selling Betty out. Ilan ends the conversation by saying rules were not followed and misunderstood but the bottom line is that they all are still in the competition. Well said.

Top Chef - Episode 3 The Exorcism of Emily

This episode was so weird. Quiet, depressed Emily turns into the second coming of Tiffani. Let the games continue. We open with the very loud snoring of Frank. I'm told by many people unfortunate to room with me, that I also snore like a chainsaw. Glowering Sam is particularly annoyed with Frank's snoring. We then segue to Marcel going on and on about molecular gastronomy. Yeah, whatev. Betty, who is winning me over, says that while others may have more training, she, Mia, and Mike have the advantage in comfort food. Mike proclaims that his strategy is to stay in the middle of the pack so as not to make people think he's a threat. NOONE will ever think that you're a threat Mike, but thanks for playing. He does make an allusion to the previous season's tomfoolery and sabotage, TIFFANI.

In the quickfire, SRTW talks about how most people DO NOT eat in fine dining establishments. And I'd like to point out that those of us who do appreciate fine dining can also have an Olive Garden craving like you wouldn't beleive. And I am not talking about myself. So the quickfire challenge is to create an original ice cream flavor. Marisa feels confident since dessert should be her speciality. HAH! Cliff is not happy as he hasn't made ice cream before. The chefs will be taking their ice cream to Redondo Beach where the man, woman, and child on the street will do the judging. Ok. F1. Many people are befuddled. Carlos sensibly realizes that making a typical custard ice cream that requires heating on the stove and cooling down would be time consuming. He smartly decides to forgo eggs and use avocados to acheive a cramy consistency. Emily goes for a trendy chocolate lavender flavor. While Sam says he's a diabetic and avoids desserts. Cliff goes with a cookie flavored ice cream. Ilan goes for a bacon (huh?) and waffle flavored ice cream because he likes breakfast flavors. There had better be a lot of maple syrup on that because bacon in ice cream? Marcel decides to completely turn my stomach and make a bacon and avocado ice cream. I DARE him to finish a pint of that crap. SRTW anounces that they only have five minutes left and she is wearing the most ridiculous short shorts I have seen in my life. She should be doing pilates, not hosting a reality show in that getup.

At Redondo Beach, it's a hot day and many children abound. Emily makes me hate her by saying "I was hoping the demographics would not be a bunch of snotty little kids. I hate kids." You must have been a blast on the playground Emily. Aaaaad we're off. Betty is a spaz. Cliff's marshamallow cookie stuff is a hit. Surprisingly, Ilan's waffles and bacon is sucessful. Carlos again shows he's a smart cookie by letting the parents know about the avocado, but hiding that fact from the kids. He's twelve kinds of awesome. Sam uses his sexiness to score points with the moms. I'll take his word for it. Ilan is so much cuter. Emily somehow thinks he looks like Ashton Kutcher. Whuh? Marcel is crashing and burning with his flavor. Kids are literally wiping their tongues to get the nasty bacon avocado flavor off. Adults are gagging. Josie gets a suspicious look from an older black lady as she tries to joke that she knows that the older black lady is all about cobbler. Emily proves herself to be completely hateful when one lady tells her there's not enough sugar in her ice cream. Emily shows off her charm by responding that "the last thing you need with your four teeth and huge ass is sugar." My response would be that the last career you and your jaundiced face need is in the kitchen. I could spend the rest of the recap bitching about that statement alone. MOOOOOVING on.

In the Kenmore kitchen, SRTW is in some kind of demin minidress and looks like Applalachia Lil' Abner barbie (thanks Michael Kors!). In the bottom three are Marisa, Emily, and Marcel (rock bottom). The top three are Carlos and Sam (tied for second place) and Cliff (the winner!).

The guest judge for the elimination challenge is Steven Bogarelli, the Executive Chef for TGIFridays and by the looks of it, Duff Goldman's cousin. The challenge is to take a dish that would appeal to the TGIFriday's guest. Chef Bogarelli says that they want a grownup version of a childhood favorite. He makes it very clear he wants an entree. Said entree would be an item on the Friday's menu. Betty is particularly happy since she feels she specialty is California comfort food. BTW if anyone ever goes to Palo Alto, please go to the Good Earth, an organic diner with some of the best iced tea around. THAT'S California comfort food. Another part of the challenge is that they wil lbe serving their dishes to fireman at a firehouse. Josie irritates m a bit more by saying she's friends with firemen and they are the unsung American heroes. Umm, did you watch the Septemeber 11 coverage. Firefighters certianly got their richly deserved share of recognition. Mike is singled out as someone who used to work at Friday's. Does this make him a threat? Hah. Marcel is worried about the challenge. Mike is making a steak sandwich and proclaims that he's related to a firefighter. That shit is so annoying. I love firefighters as much as the next guy but talking aobut how you know firefighters is as poseur as wearing FDNY t-shirts.

Emily scoffs at the challenge, saying that shes worked in the best restaurant of whatever town she's lived in. Whatever Emily. While Friday's certainly is a trough, why not embrace the challenge and make a high class, gourmet, comfort food dish. Zuni Cafe in San Francisco does an incredible roast chicken. Colorado Kitchen (with one of the pickiest chefs in town) makes donuts. So zip it Emily and show your mettle. At checkout, Mike decides to forgo two cheeses he bought for the dish in favor of buying beer FOR HIS OWN CONSUMPTION. Yep, he's a threat that Michael. Sam tries to persuade him otherwise.

Back at the Kenmore kitchen, much F1. Cliff makes macaroni and cheese and fish sticks. Chef Tom does his sniff and sneer. Betty does some major flirting with Chef Tom, asking him to taste her dish. Chef Tom says he can taste it but can't comment. Betty says that she will see his reaction by his eyes and then stares directly at him. Chef Tom responds by tasting the dish with him eyes closed. Frank is making an Alice in Wonderland mushroom salad, complete with button mushrooms on top of cucumber stalks. Chef Tom wonders if this is a flashback or a childhood memory. Sam is making a savory fruit salad. Marisa mystifyingly makes a fruit crisp. Um, entree? Marisa is the victim of the mysterious temperature lowering ovens that did Lee Ann in on the erotic dessert challenge. Marcel is doing pork chops, mashed potatoes, and onion rings. Betty is irritated by Marcel's attitude about comfort food and him placing it below fine dining.

The chefs take their food to the fire dept. The firemen come in and meet chef Tom who is wearing a leopard print shirt over a white undershirt. Gail goes along with the generally trashy attire that all the judges are wearing with an ensemble of a sliptank top over jeans. I don't know about you, but there's always something man hungry about Gail. Her makeup and clothes always seem to have that garish, Joisey girl air of wanting to get attention. SRTW is still wearing her Appalachia Lil' Abner Barbie outfit.

First up with Michael and his messily presentated steak sandwich and onion rings. The firemen and judges uniformly hate it. One fireman says the dish is like it's presentation, provoking Chef Tom to say "very sloppy." Marcel is next and realizes that the deep fat fryer temperature is lower than he wanted. Betty is irritated about his bitching want wants him to just cook. Elia tries to help him. Betty is increasingly pissed off. Marcel forgoes the onion rings. The judges and fireman like the entree. When Marcel reenters the holding area, he bitches some more about his bad luck. This causes Betty to unload on him. She says "anything to F%^* you up is fair." Marcel and Betty go at it while Sam is trying to get his dish done. Betty cuts Marcel off by saying that they can finish the conversation when Sam is done. THe negative energy doesn't hurt Sam a bit. They all love it and one of the firemen offers to get SRTW a straw for her to suck up more vinagrette.

Dear lord Emily is whining about her lack of experience with such simple food. Cliff helps her serve. It doesn't go over well. The main critique is that it's too salty. Gail says she can't keep Emily's food down. Frank plates his salad and it looks like a hot mess, on acid. Gail snarks that she feels like she's in smurfland. On an unrelated note, I always wonder how much play smurfette got being the only girl in a village full of guys. Ilan gives a great story about how his father would grill corn after he grilled bacon which inspired the bacon roasted corn dish. We get a quick mmm... Cliff comes with his fish sticks and mac 'n cheese. Quick shots of approval from the eaters. Josie, who seems stuck in the middle of the pack, makes grilled skewers with toast and tomato salsa. In quick sucession comes Elia's fish tacos, Carlos'chicken fried shrimp, and Mia's meatloaf and fries. Marisa's crisp gets kudos all around. Then we come to Betty and a bit of karma. Like Marcel and the deep fat fryer, Betty finds her griddle not hot enough to make her grilled cheese sandwiches. In a complete lack of class, Marcel taunts Betty DURING her cooking. Cliff breaks it up and Betty plates her dish by the skin of her teeth. Elia seems to work her prior professional relationship with Marcel to tell him she has his back. Nothing is done to follow up on this. We'll see if it affects anything in the future.

Betty does irritate the hell out of me with all of her stupid names for her dishes - a bada bing betty with spicy red pepper soup and sassy bacon. Did Rachael Ray make that up? In spite of the stupid names it gets raves from the firemen and judges.

The judges F2. Chef Friday complains that there wasn't enough innovation. He singles out Sam's dish as being craveable. Gail goes into maneater mode by flirting that she loves the term craveable. She's craving something and it isn't food. Chef Friday also singles out Betty's dish and Ilan's corn as craveable but Ilan's wasn't an entree. The judges call Betty, Sam, and Cliff as the top three. Ironically, for all of his bitching about innovation, Chef Friday announces that Betty's safe grilled cheese and soup wins. Betty is really delighted. Marcel, not so much.

Emily, Michael and Frank are called in. Frank tries to defend his dish as conceptual. Gail responds by saying that food is for eating. Chef Friday pointso ut that you need to be able execute a dish consistently, and that Frank's dish wouldn't lend itself to that. The judges wonder whether Emily tasted her dish. Gail unloads that Emily's dish was inedible. Miek frat boys that he's ready to take what the judges are willing to dish out. Chef Friday wonder why he thought his dish would help Friday's stand out from the competition. More F2 from the judges. In the end, Emily and her nastiness are sent off.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Eerie Little Cottage

Pardon this non-foodie interlude. This is an experience we had a while ago that I had to write down.

It Wasn’t Halloween, But . . .

I’m not quite certain if the translucent woman answering the door had been drinking her homemade wine or if she was just tipsy on age and a whole ton of Jesus. What I was certain of was that our stay at her bed and breakfast began with an unnerving chill.

A few steps in, we found ourselves surrounded by what looked like a church organist’s 1950s parlor, complete with supersized brass crosses, faded pastel furniture, and the first of a series of lifeless paintings of family members. The too-perfect solid black circle eyes. The way the army uniforms were crisp against fat-brushed teal or turquoise acrylic backgrounds. Names in a thin red script. These were not warm interpretations of “Dad,” “Uncle Jimmy,” “Big Robert,” “Auntie Dot,” or “Jimmy II”.

I’m sure she said something as we creak-stepped our way up the three flights of increasingly narrow and steep stairs, but I was distracted by the half-finished farm murals wrapping the rooms and the persistent appearance of more large, flat portraits. There were so many of them! By the stairs, by the tiny nook on the second floor, at the top of the third floor, and more. Someone had taken a mail-order art class and had found themselves with a whole lot of time.

We arrived at our room and our host nodded in the direction of the bathroom before closing the door. Twenty-seven fading creaks later, we let out the nervous laughs we had stored up. This was not the laughter of people who found something truly funny, but the laughter of people who could not quite fathom how they had landed in a place that was equal parts Poe and half-witted Martha. Hadn’t the website looked fine?

We were off for a relaxing weekend away from home and now here we were, in a slope-ceiling room on the top floor of an inn that was half church and half paint-by-numbers colony at the end of a twisty muddy road. I decided it should be referred to as The Eerie Little Cottage.

The Elizabeth Jane room was packed with bookshelves lined with paperbacks. The bed had a low mattress piled with phyllo layers of thin quilts and surrounded by a rusty iron canopy. A window seat, just the right size for a seven-year old, held stacks of ancient Country Living and Water Wildlife magazines. Ivy was painted on the walls with a dry brush but a good hand.

After getting settled, we ventured out to dinner. Uncertain of the area, we headed towards the one restaurant that had a sign on the road.

Part 2

Imagine driving down the darkest road you have ever been down in search of what is supposedly the only meal easily found in the area. You’ve never been to this area. The air is crisp and you can smell that the water is near. You are lost, hungry, and wondering if you should just go back to the main road and get the hell out of town. Waiting for you back at your inn is a translucent woman.

This is the situation we found ourselves in as we rounded our fifth dark corner and finally saw a light about a quarter of a mile ahead. Despite the fog and feeling quite out of sorts on the trip there, we pulled up to Earl’s next to the other car that was in the gravel lot and decided to go in.

The sign outside quite plainly read, “NO CREDIT CARDS.”

It did not say, “Hey, when you come in there will be half-eaten food on most of the tables, and one family picking at the bones of some sort of seafood. There will be smoking, but no one to seat you. There will be beer signs and a feeling that some people eat here every day, but none of them are here. Perhaps they will come back and finish the remains of their last meal, so we just leave it on the table for them. Someone might eventually come talk to you and will then take your order. He might scare you.”

If I had seen that sign, it could have prepared me.

We were at the end of another too-dark road seeking just a scab of sustenance and it was clear that that was unlikely. After about eleven minutes of watching the Johnson family make their meal look as mangled and half-chewed as the food resting on the other tables, a thirteen-foot tall man with a beard and a truckers hat emerged from the kitchen and came to our table. By this point, we were ready to go, our feet shuffling on the thin planks on the floor and swaying a bit in the ripped red vinyl chairs. All I could muster was, “Do you take credit cards?” Thank God for signs. The giant man said, “nope” and we were free.

So, we trekked about 30 miles away to a town with a great seafood place and, again, a return to normalcy. Full and prepared to face a return to The Eerie Little Cottage, we headed back.

We had just started feeling safe from Earl’s and our delicious island meal when we approached the road leading through the mud field back to The Eerie Little Cottage. It was about 9:30 by this point and as we approached the door, and we heard some something.

Part 3

We opened the door to find our host sitting with her husband, a man of about eighty-five with astounding deep lines around his wide mouth. His grin made me think of those multiple function math problems where there seems to be as many sets of parentheses as there are numbers. When he smiled he slowly tilted his head back, and then back down again like a mechanical Christmas elf in a mall display.

As if this were not enough, in the corner, a tiny man wearing crisp lumberjack clothes with shellacked hair sat behind a Casio keyboard. The Tiny Tidy Lumberjack was fingering old bar tunes but was not singing.

I may have taken liberties elsewhere in the story, but this is absolutely real.

Our host invited us to join her, her husband, and The Tiny Tidy Lumberjack for a glass of wine. My first thought, “Is that what happened to him?” My second thought was, “We’re staying and sucking up every moment of this.”

It took about an hour to figure out that The Tiny Tidy Lumberjack man was actually related to at least one of the others in the room. Maybe he was Uncle Jimmy?

Our host, who now seemed to be three-ply, felt it was her part to offer a refrain. It would have been nice if the refrain had related to any of the songs Mr. Lumberjack was prancing out on the Casio, but her constant words were “Play ‘Bad, Bad Leroy Brown!’ Play Bad Bad Leroy Brown!”

No one acknowledged it the first time she said it. Nor did they the third, fourth, and fifth times. It was almost as if she was repeating, “I’m a tipsy old lady with a Casio playing lumberjack friend and an automated, parenthetically-mouthed husband! Woohoo!” Everyone just seemed to accept it.

A few songs in, a blonde guy appeared from the back hallway. He was well-mulleted, bushy mustached and was wearing cut-off shorts. Let me stop there. He introduced himself, shook our hands, and had a few things to say, but I just couldn’t handle much more. He eventually blended into the scene.

We knew it was time for bed when Uncle Lumberjack looked at our host and said ‘I don’t even KNOW “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown!”

That was the end for me.

Part 3

After a night of running around and the Tiny Tidy Lumberjack Show, we were ready to sleep. I passed the portraits on the walls slightly less phased this time by the portraits and the creaking stairs, and decided to read a bit before going to bed. And talk. We had to process what we had just seen, but it was more of a reality check than anything else.

Tiny Tidy Lumberjack on a Casio? Check.

Homemade wine with a translucent woman? Check.

Automated man nodding and smiling, blonde guy in cutoffs? Check, check, check?

We thumbed through some Country Livings, and Wild Birds of the Shores and it was lights out.

Unfortunately, lights out did not mean rest just yet.


Shit, what was that? Maybe folks out here just like to fire guns in the middle of the night?

“Ding ding tst diddle tst ding POP! Ding ding tst diddle tst ding POP!”

And that? I think the tiny lumberjack found the preset bossa nova rhythm on the Casio.

“Mumble, mumble, mumble, sell your cats for you, mumble mumble”

Ok, and that? I believe it was, “Hey Bob, I’m going up to Somethingtown to sell some of these things, want me to take some of these cats?”

With that, we just laughed our fool heads off and waited for morning.

Part 3

At the breakfast table, we met Jessie, Charlene’s daughter. We had met Charlene briefly the day before as she was checking in. She was a Quaker with a gay son. We were pretty sure we would be safe as long as Charlene was. I think she might have felt the same way.

Jessie took one of the small apples from the centerpiece and placed it on the side of her plate. Moments later, our host came in to fill water glasses and stared at Jessie. In a deadpan that could only be delivered by a translucent woman who has not quite awakened from a night of tipsy lumberjack sing-alongs, she leaned toward Jessie just a bit and said, “You ruined my centerpiece.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I thought they were to eat.”

She leans in. “They weren’t.”

It was hard to reconcile the jovial, Jim Croce loving woman we had started to warm to the night before with this new version, the don’t-touch-my-damn-apples lady.

In this age of reality television, it was clear that the experience that The Eerie Little Cottage offered was a few nights with this family more than a relaxing and tasty experience. I may not have thought we got our money’s worth, but it is the first time I’ve wanted to tell people about what happened when I went on vacation in a long time.

I have a sinking feeling that The Tiny Tidy Lumberjack now sings a song about the people who came back to the inn on the night they were all playing characters in a hilarious improv game. The casio, the mullet man, the nodding laughing elf.

I’ll never forget them and am certain we’ll never have quite the same experience again.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Conversion and Controversy

So the in-laws were in town this weekend. As usual they were totally wonderful, Much good food was to be had and miraculously (and because we spent Sunday happily at home) J and I made a meal for his parents as opposed to them taking us out everywhere. Saturday consisted of an early dinner at the Crystal City Jaleo where we ordered the bacon wrapped dates, the stuffed peppers, beet salad, and the mother-in-law favorite - codfish fritters with aoili. The 'rents adored Jaleo and pronounced it one of the best meals they've ever had. While I'm sure Jaleo had great desserts, there's no way we would have skipped going to the Del Ray Dreamery (aka the Dairy Godmother) for dessert. Married boy loves this place and even after we eat a five course Indian meal, he will always ask if we want dessert at the dreamery. In a bit of splendiferous luck, they made an apple crisp fresh out fo the oven in a pyrex baking dish. With a scoop of maple walnut frozen custard, this was the most perfect fall dessert ever made.

Sunday, we invited friends over for brunch where the conversion of my MIL to the seductive charms of Barefoot Contessa began. From the Barefoot Contessa parties, I made a sour cream coffee cake (with vanilla yogurt instead of sour cream) and a smoked salmon fritatta. I supplemented these with a citrus salad of mandarin oranges, Valencia orange segments and grapefruit segments, a potato a roasted pepper fritatta, maple glased vegetarian sausage patties and maple glazed bacon. When my MIL saw the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks and their lovely pictures, the deal was sealed, she was a Ina Gartenite.

What did stir up controversy was the subject of stuffing vs. dressing. Should stuffing be inside the bird or baked in a separate dish? I firmly belive that hte stuff needs to be inside to soak up all of the lovely turkey juices. And really, how many people have gotten sick on stuffing that came inside the bird? But others feel that there's never enough stuffing it it's inside the bird and the stuffing comeso ut to wet. Pluh-Ease! Didn't anyone see Paula Deens Thanksgiving special where she made a casserole full of jiggly, wet, GRAY oyster stuffing? So what are your thoughts? Stuffing or dressing?