Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Top Chef - Episode 4

Alternately known as the redemption of Dave and the smackdown of Stephen. Actually throughout the episode, people who were annoying the crap out of me were getting more likable (Tiffani!) while people I had a fondness for were irritating the shit out of me (Harold!). What continues to irritate the shit out of me is Billy Joel's Child Bride's monotone voice. Why oh why does she have to narrate every fricking segment?

We open with Dave voice overing about how vulnerable he feels given that he's been in the bottom three for the past three episodes. He is voiceovering to shots of him bashfullying covering up his half naked body with a t-shirt. In the first bit of redemption for Dave, I am noticing that he his face looks so much better when he smiles (going from thuggish to boyish). His boyishness and stockiness gives him a distinct resembles to J, which intrinsically makes him cute. Unfortunately we cut to Stephen who crows about winning the challenge but thinks he's SOOOO much better than his teammates, namely Candice who voiceovers how insecure and inexperienced she feels. At least you're not a huge tool who needs to lord over his pretention to the world.

We head to the next challenge where we are in CA-Rebecca's neighborhood - San Francisco's Mission district. Billy Joel's Child Bride announces that the quickfire challenge will have them making dishes using ingredients from a local market. Announcing is a relative term since this is done in a clumsy voiceover. Of particular importance in the directions is that the competitors can only use the DRIED herbs and spices in the pantry. As the Mission is incredibly diverse, the competitors are thinking ethnic food. The camera pans to a convenience store where the competitors are shocked that they will be shopping. Taking this turn of events particularly hard is Harold who snots that this isn't a REAL test of culinary ability. I guess that means America's Next Top Model isn't exactly a test of modeling skills. Especially since ANTM Season One loser, Elyse is now the Christy Turlington of Asia while Season One WINNER is desperately trying to get Peter Brady to marry her. In other words, Harold, suck it up.

The competitors scramble for ingredients. Stephen tools that he's looking for a wine pairing in the gas station convenience store. Caught in the web of Tiffiani's wrath is Miguel who poaches her idea for Krispy Kreme bread pudding. It's an idea that she came up with her BOYFRIEND. Way to represent the bi-affectionate, Tiffani!

These awful voiceovers need to stop. They show Billy Joel's Child Bride greeting the competitors but then it goes into voiceover and then back to the Child Bride. Folks are spazzing out in the kitchen with only 30 minutes to make their dish. What they come up with ranges from the barely palatable (Lee Ann's Oscar Meyer Spadini) to the utterly vile (Stephen's Dried peas, nilla, wafers, and spam). The judge today is a dead ringer for Jeb Bush, a chef at Nieman Marcus' Rotunda restaurant. During judging, Bill Joel's Child Bride asks Stephen if he understood her fairly clear direction of using only DRIED herbs. Stephen lies through his teeth and says he only heard the word herbs. The other competitors (except for Harold who is now allied with the devil) look disgusted. Unlike the other guest judges, Nieman Marcus is particularly harsh, targeting Candices gazpacho. He pronounces Lee Ann the hands down winner.

Their next challenge is to cook a meal for the East Bay Junior League that will be made ahead and reheated in the microwave. Harold REALLY starts to bug when he snots that he doesn't beleive in the challenge and he should be cooking in a restaurant kitchen with servers to serve his food. Pooor baby. I guess someone put a gun to your head to apply for a reality tv show. Chefs are scrambling. Things don't look good for Candice who is making a quiche, Lisa who somehow doesn't have the time to cool her noodles down, and poor Dave whose lasagna looks like a hot mess. Adding to Dave's indignity is Harold and Stephen standing on the sidelines making fun of him. He's visibly upset and in confessional talks about how much he hates Stephen and Harold. They all put their dishes in individual microwaveable containers and call it a night.

The next morning they head across the bay to some fancy schmancy mansion. Because they are cooking for the Junior League, Billy Joel's Child Bride is dressed up like Jackie O, looking fairly ridiculous. Before I go too far, the Junior League is a pretty damn elitist organization when there is only ONE person of color who is part of the East Bay/Oakland branch. So here comes my favorite part of the episode. The contestants are hanging out in the mansion's kitchen waiting to be called up. Stephen smarmily states that he never had a tv dinner as if it's some badge of superiority. Miguel responds fairly calmly that he's sorry Stephen never had that experience. Stephen ups the ante and runs past Wendy Pepper in the race to be Bravo's biggest douchebag by saying to Miguel "you'd eating anything." The look of disdain completely apparent on Stephen's face. With a lot more composure and class than I could muster, Miguel responds by saying he'd give anything a shot and points out that Stephen probably had dinner with his family every night, complete with a friendly, but pointed, pat on the back. Miguel continues that he didn't have that luxury growing up in a household with a single working mother who had to provide for her family. With utterly no rancor he talks about eating whatever his mother came up with when she got home, doing homework and going to bed. In all of this exchange it's clear Miguel worked pretty damned hard for everything he has and appreciates his mom's sacrifice. Stephen simply cannot comprehend that experience and can only smile his oily smile. I think I might be a little in love with Miguel after the way he handled himself. And really, I give Stephen a hard time but this is beyond the pale. WHAT KIND OF TOOL INSULTS SOMEONE BECAUSE THEY CAN WORK A HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCE AND HAS AN OPEN MIND ABOUT FOOD???

Now that I have that out of my system, onto the dishes.

Dave - He admits that his dish looks like shit but he kind of becomes the fag to the Junior League's hags. He's very engaging and personable just asks the folks to try it. His dual sauce lasagna looks pretty much like a tv dinner but the whitest ladies in Oakland eat it up.

Stephen - He's digging his own grave here. His dish is a banana leaf tamale with a rojo sauce. This guy loves the sound of his voice because he can't stop talking. He acts as if the women have never eaten a tamale before. Dude, California is over a quarter Latino, the ladies have eaten a tamale, even one that's wrapped in a banana leaf. But then he goes on an on about the region in Mexico. As he describes it, the tamale sounds more and more unappetizing. The ladies hate it, commenting the dryness of the tamales and the fact that the tamales are cold (because Stephen was talking so much).

Harold -His seafood coconut soup with the pea shoot biscuit looks bland but he wins the crowd over by bashfully admitting his lack of skill with a microwave. I think he learned from the example of Stephen about the fact that with this crowd, you shouldn't lord it over people that you don't know how to use a microwave. He asks the crowd for pointers. The ladies eat it up, literally.

Tiffiani - The redemption of Tiffani. It appears the spirit of Carole Greenwood has left her body and she's now possessed by the spirit of Sandra Lee. Tiffani is PERKY, going on about how she and her "girlfriends" take shortcuts in impressing their beaus by plating frozen dinners. She reassures the ladies it's perfectly ok to buy a meal at a store and take credit for it. She engages her audience to pull a "Tiffani" by plating up the frozen dinners themselves. And this comes out of Tiffani's mouth - "Food should be welcoming. Food should be comfortable. You should feel free to be creative with it and have fun." SERIOUSLY, WHO IS POSSESSING TIFFANI. Did Rachel Ray brainwash her during commericals?

Lee Ann - Next to the perkiness of Tiffani, Lee Ann acts drab. She matter of factly describes her dish and the ladies coo over it.

Candice - Poor Candice. She starts by saying that she's the youngest person in the competition and gives the microwave it's props. She's engaging but the judges slam her for her soggy crust and poor skills. The shrimp in the quiche tastes rubbery.

Lisa - Dear god Lisa's chicken and noddle dish looks like a big beige blob. You can totally tell Lisa doesn't beleive in her dish. The ladies just want her to get the hell out. They hate the food.

Andrea - Andrea bowls over the crowd with her talk of nutrition and bowel movements. actually, I think her quinoa pilaf and sweet potato mash would be great things for the microwave. She talks about health and beta carotene. The ladies love it. She even offers to dance for them. Blah blah blah healthy colon. The judges are surprised by how much the like her dish. When Andrea goes back to the kitchen, we get a check on who's classy and who isn't. Dave, Tiffani, and Miguel hare happy for her. Harold and Stephen look bitter.

Miguel - Last up is Miguel who decided to put his meatloaf in a convection oven first. He product whores the fact he used KC Masterpiece in his meatloaf. He completly undercooked the whole dish. The judges and the Junior League are not happy.

Judging, the judges note that people who previously sucked, rose to the challenge. Chef Tom notes that some people (STEPHEN) got too creative and didn't think about how their dish would actually taste. They note that Dave was particularly strong. The judges give kudos to Andrea for pulling out a great dish considering her previous efforts were lackluster. The three that get called up are Andrea, Harold and Tiffani. Andrea is particularly delighted. Harold gets props for flirting with the ladies and the flavor of his soup. Everyone loves the food and chef Tom notes how great it was to use the sea bass with it's high fat content which kept the fish moist. Tiffani is pronounced the winner and she revels in being the Kenmore microwave queen. My only comment is - who the hell took over Tiffani's body????

Stephen, Lisa, and Candice get called as the bottom three. I wish there was some kind of font that could indicate the flat delivery of Billy Joel's Child Bride. How can you make the phrase "you are the bottom three" sound boring? The judges slam Lisa for not cooling her pasta in preparation making it a gooey mess along with the overkill on the herbs. Candice's quiche is described as doomed from the start. Candice copps to the awfulness of her dish. Both Chef Tom and Chef Neiman pile on about the fact Stephen's dish was a mess of flavors and styles. The food writer calls it almost inedible. Chef Tom says that he wanted to send them all home. Unsurprisingly, Candice gets sent home due to her inexperience.

In the clips for next weeks show, it looks like Lee Ann and Stephen have to work together. DAMN!

So Not Food Related

But I seriously cannot stop laughing at the Britney Birth sculpture. Right now my co-workers are freaking out because tears are rolling down my eyes and I am clutching my stomach. I can only point to my computer screen and the image of pregnant Britney clutching a bearskin rug on it. HAHAHAHAHA

Monday, March 27, 2006

Wild Wedding Weekend

Oh my god I am sooo sore. Who knew being in a wedding was such a workout? So Sunday, March 26, the Engageds became the Marrieds. And in doing so they solved the riddle for the ages, how do you have a wedding where the bride and groom are deathly afraid of attention? The answer is - with a lot of joy.

There was so much joy throughout the entire weekend. I think having an enormous amount of good food helped. It started with the rehearsal dinner at Lebanese Taverna where people were chowing down on a mezze of kibbeh, fried dumplings filled with ground meat, felafel, hummus, babaganouj, spinach pastries, tabbouleh, and plenty of fresh pita bread. This was some good eating especially because the food was already laid out on the table ready to be eaten along with the friendly waiters immediately filling your wine glass. Now THAT'S good service. This being a Jewish wedding, there was a sizeable contingent of Israelis. They heartily approved of the meeze. Just when our stomachs were groaning under the weight of the delicious mezze, we learned that it was just the FIRST course. The second course consistent of grilled vegetables, squash stuffed with rice, chicken and lamb skewers, rice pilaf, and grilled salmon. Just when you couldnt eat anymore, they brought out baklava. Among the many funny things aobut the rehearsal dinner, the bride and groom were tucked away at the kids table which was located at two booths near the end of the room. Highlights of the evening? The mother of the groom's speech of how the bride's fmaily welcomed her and her family into theirs. Throughout the weekend you could see this wasn't just a pretty speech. The true kicker was when the groom's 8-year-old niece sang the L-O-V-E song. she sang it so well that I persuaded her to sing it again so our side of the room (the 30somethings) could hear her lovely voice. Little girls belting out big band standards? Me likey.

As this was a Jewish wedding, the wedding was actually on the Sunday. It was held at Meadowlark Gardens in Vienna and the Meadowlark atrium was a perfect setting for this indoor garden wedding. The tables were set in a blue and silver theme and the centerpieces were blue delphiniums, hydrangeas, and wildflowers along with little pots of fresh herbs. There were twinkle lights in the huge ficus trees and a little stream ran along the entranceway with a wooden bridge to let people over. Because I helped make the chuppah, the traditional wedding canopy, I was asked to hold one of the poles that held the chuppah up. It was a great honor to do that and an even better upperbody workout. Who knew fabric could be heavy? In case anyone's arms got tired we had chuppah backups. J was mine. but since I MADE the chuppah, there was no way I was going to let it go.

Speaking of the ceremony, the female rabbi ROCKED. She was dignified, yet fun with a slight Eastern European accent. The way she officiated the cermeony honored tradition but also honored the love that was in the room the community of friends and family. I was especially touched when she talked about me making the chuppah and how it symbolized the community that brought the bride and groom together. As a true crybaby, I totlaly started sniffling when the rabbi talked about how the couple talked to her about their relationship and why they wanted to get married. It wasn't gushy or oveblown, it was simply that thye could imagine spending their lives apart. It was lucky I was holding the pole that faced the bride and groom because if I saw J I would have been a blubbering mess.

After the ceremony, there was cocktail hour that was made even more special by the wedding cocktail that was a kir royale with a splash of raspberry vodka. The appetizers consisted of a fruit station, mozarella and tomato kebabs, mini latkes with smoke salmon and sour cream, stuffed mushrooms (that I never had a chance to eat), and cheese and crackers. Dinner was more of the typical wedding fare with a pasta bar and rice pilaf and stuffed portobello mushrooms. A standout though, was the moist and flavorful potato-wrapped sea bass. The sweetness of hte citrus glaze highlighted the delicate flavor of the fish.

After toasts from the father of the bride who was brief and eloquent and the best man who was so not brief and focused on his 12 page speech, the hora started. This is not your movie style hora with the bride and groom being foisted on chairs, this was everyone holding hands dancing in concentric circles. I loved how much joy was flowing out of everyone, escpailly the father of the bride who looked like he could step into the Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof. He actually led the chain of dancing that went around the entire room.

After some requisite tunes from the 50s and 60s, the dancing was REALLY kicked off when the DJ played "I Will Survive." I will say this to you dear readers - do not underestimate the power of the Big Butt song. This will turn a party into a celebration. CA-rebecca and I were squealing like little girls when the dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum beat came on. I will also wax poetic about how much I love dancing with J. Unlike, the spazzing out that I do, J actually looks cool dancing. I love the way he pulls me too him on the dance floor when I cam clearly the biggest dork out there. I love being swung around the dance floor with him leading, making me feel graceful. I am never happier than when I get the chance to share the dance floor with him.

I saw the same look of happiness and love on the faces of the bride and groom. I saw two people who could be themselves with each other and know that they were spending the rest of their lives with the person who loved them best. I am so grateful to have that in my life and celebrate it in the lives of the Marrieds.

To DS and DS, thank you for getting married!!!!!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Top Chef - Episode 3

I'd like to take this moment to talk about the opening credits, if only to say that even in voice-over Billy Joel's Child Bride sounds like she's trying to run for student council treasurer. The anamatronic Abe Lincoln in Disneyland's Hall of President's has more life than this girl. Two other things to say about credits, Miguel looks slightly cross eyed, making him look like he has Down Syndrome, which he clearly does not; and the huge knot is Stephen tie makes him look like Fred Flinstone dressed him. You have to be tall with a slender neck to pull that off. Stephen is neither so the tie looks ridiculous on him. One other thing, I love how hard Harold is trying to be sexy in the opening credits taking off his chef's jacket and putting over his shoulder.

We open to Brian talking about Andrea's ass, and Dave, struggling to get along with Brian. Oooh! Foreshadowing! Cut to a shot of Candice doing yoga and Brian mentioned there's still some nice ass left in the competition. This makes me wish Tiffani would pound his ass.

So we cut to the kitchen where everyone smelling something nasty. This pisses me off, because unless the food is actually rotten, a trained chef should never characterize their food as nasty. It's so five-year-old. Oooh foreshadowing. I would assume that these chefs would know that stuff that have strong odors are often delicious and therefore, would keep an open mind. Billy Joel's Child Bride introduces guest judge Laurent to the group and boy does she bug. Laurent is awesome and is the head chef of Aqua, one of the most famous restaurants in the Bay area. The contestants remove the lids to their pots to show the secret ingredient for the quickfire challenge is octopus. Everyone does their grossed out look but seriously, it's OCTOPUS. That isn't nasty. I'm sure this group of people have had to cook with intestines and organs, so octopus shouldn't be shocking. Billy Joel's Child Bride states that the hardest part of being a chef is making something nasty looking taste wonderful which once again, is par for the course. Any raw meat kind of looks disgusting. It's FLESH.

People get to work. Tiffani talks about octopus coming from the Mediterranean and that she will go with Mediterranean flavors. In judging, it appears several of her colleagues went the same route. Stephen uses just the tentacles in his pretentious plating while Cynthia gets brownie points for putting a cork in the water to tenderize the octopus. The child Bride is amazed by this, but then again she's probably amazed by rainbows, fluffy clouds and ponies. Brain only uses one tentacle as a garnish in his stew, showing that he didn't know how to use octopus. Dave gets burned because he completely forgot to season his dish. Tiffani wins the challenge for her emphasis on the Mediterranean flavors. As long as it isn't Stephen.

So the next challenge is cooking monkfish for a group of 8 to 11 year olds. They get broken up into two teams with Cynthia, Candice, Miguel, Stephen, and Lisa on the Red team, otherwise known as Team Annoying, and Lee Ann, Tiffiani, Dave, Harold, and Brian on the Blue team, which I will now name Team Harmony. Tiffani bitches that she doesn't want to cook for kids because of their plebian tastes. Well, Tiffani, at some point in your career, a child may come into your restaurant. Suck it up.

Over at Team Harmony, Brian keeps suggesting things that Dave swats down while at Team Annoying, Lisa, who actually has children gives Stephen the smackdown. He keeps suggesting stupid ideas like cantaloupe soup. Team Annoying settles on making monkfish corndogs while Team Harmony chooses cereal coated monfish, both are essentially fish sticks. Cynthia hears her dying father takes a turn for the worse and she wisely leaves the competition.

Stephen justifies my nickname for his team by constantly ripping on Candice's lack of experience especially her use of cookie cutter shapes for kids, saying that it's CHILDISH. Um, who are they cooking for in this challenge? Candice warms the cockles of my heart by calling him a douchebag. Stephen, gets into it even more with Candice harping on her lack of experience. Both Miguel and Lisa put a stop to the insanity while Team Harmony looks on in horror. Stephen voice overs that Candice "can't stand the heat in the ktichen" but guess what, she's STILL HERE so obviously she's doing something right.

The next day, Andrea comes back to replace Cynthia. Stephen decides to marginalize the returning Andrea along with Candice, calling her a "workhorse." Harold notes that Brian's carrots are soft. Ooh foreshadowing. Tom, the judge comes in and wonders whether kids will like the yogurt that Team Annoying is serving. Have you ever been to a supermarket dairy aisle, Tom? He them asks the teams who is their leader. Team Annoying tags Lisa while Team Harmony demurrs that noone is the leader until some person yell's "Dave!"

At the Boys and Girls Club, there's some fake chaos by children. You can totally tell that someone told these kids to start yelling. Stephen shows what a total tool his is by criticizing everyone and then knocking a tray off the table. Team Harmony is harmonious.

OH MY GOD. Billy Joel's Child Bride calls the kids in and then does something that pisses me off. She asks the kids if they like things like pizza and hamburgers. She then asks if they like fish, saying the word fish as if it were toxic waste. This is a pretty diverse group of kids in SAN FRANCISCO, they probably don't just live on chicken fingers. At Brainfood, where I volunteer, whe asked our students what their favorite dishes were adn they mentioned fresh pasta, oven baked sweet potato fries, and stir fry. J notes that the kids Capri Suns have duct tape on them. She then shows the whole monkfish, saying how icky it is, way to lead the witness. Eagle eyed J notices that the Asian kids are totally not grossed out. Team Harmony's menu is oven-baked monkfish with a cereal coating, homemade appleasauce, homemade tater tots (I want the recipe for THAT) and the aforementioned overcooked carrots. Team Annoying's menu consists of the Monkey Dogs and vanilla yogurt with fruit skewers.

Shots of kids eating and Stephen trying to entertain the kids by showing off his extensive knowledge. Team Annoying treats the meal like a pep rally, rallying the kids to vote for them while Brian from Team Harmony does the same. Unfortunately his teammates, especially Tiffani thinks they should be above such common antics. If being a chef were only about cooking then Rocco Dispirito probably wouldn't own three restaurants. So shut up Tiffani.

The judges ask the kids who they liked more. First table by table, but then as the full group they ask the kids to raise their hands. It's a 24 to 13 vote in favor of Team Annoying.

Onto the judging. Before I start, I am surprised how bad the voice overs are in judging. You would think the same people who have to make Heidi Klum sound intelligible would be able to disguise the voice overs better. Anyway, you can totally tell Tiffani is twelve kinds of defensive because she's leaning back in her chair with her arms crossed. She looks like she would cut you if you crossed her. The judges start in on Team Harmony saying how much the kids didn't like Team Harmony's meal. Harold tries to justify the meal by saying theirs was more nutritous. He gets smacked down by The Child Bride who says the other team served yogurt and fruit. Tiffani snots that this wasn't a challenge that tested the skills of a real chef which gets the response from the brunette food reviewer that says it was about the customer. Did Tiffani go to the Carole Greenwood school of customer service? Because she is twelve kinds of snotty. She says (and this is a direct quote), "children in this country eat crap and nothing but crap and if it doesn't come with a toy, they're not interested in it." I'm sure half the granola cruncher parents of the bay area are ready to corner Tiffani in a dark alley for that statement alone. Oh Tiffani, you won't have immunity for the rest of the season and you just put a huge target on your back. The other point I have to make is - Tiffani, you are on a reailty show. Don't talk about not compromising your integrity who you've put yourself on display in the most public way possible. The judges give her a fairly gentle smackdown given that she's being an enormous ass. And the thing is, I agree with her to some extent. I certainly get annoyed when kids demand nothing but chicken fingers and hot dogs, but the world is in shades of gray and catering to a customer is the nature of the restaurant industry. The judges slam Brian for his mushy carrots, saying that the very kids who Tiffani derided were pretty clear they didn't like overcooked carrots. Brian deflects the blame by tagging Dave as the leader. Meanwhile, Lee Ann tries to stay above the fray by saying how well they worked together, while Harold tries to take the blame for their defeat. In the end, Brian's mushy carrots doom him and he's sent packing.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Top Chef - Episode 2

Ok. I am totally recapping the entire run of Top Chef because 11 comments! Me likey. So the theme of episode 2 is desserts. Before we start, did you know that Stephen is a sommelier? I would have never guessed, if not for the fact that he reminds us of it every five seconds. Also, a tip o' the hat to the producers of Top Chef who chose to set the show in America's best food city, San Francisco. Sorry DC. Step up to the plate.

Speaking of plates, the quickfire challenge this week is making fruit plates. While most end up looking like a Las Vegas buffet, the standouts include dykey Tiffani who did some lovely caramelization, nerdy Harold who showed off his knife skills with elaborate little fruit fans, and pretentious Stephen who put everything into little teacups. Inventive, but from the comments of the other chefs, he was more focused on presentation that flavor. But that is enough, because the even dykier guest judge (who is a pastry chef) chooses Stephen as the winner. Even though it isn't shown, I am certain Stephen spent the next day lording it over everyone.

In the next scene, Billy Joel's Child Bride comes to talk about the next challenge. Talk is really a relative term since her delivery makes Natalie Portman's Queen Amidala look like an overemotional spazz. I'm just saying, that girl is dead inside. She introdcues a lady of a certian age who is decked out in little leather outfit complete with top hat. She talks about the challenge, which is to make a dessert for her leather/latex shop.

Cut to the competitors discussing the challenge. Miguel is getting all spazzy about it and shows his naievete when a reference to hair pies goes completely over his head. They shop and then get to work on their desserts. Everything goes well, except for poor crazy Cynthia who is all over the place. Then we get to THE INCIDENT. There is always THE INCIDENT on every reality show. It's either a fight or a meltdown. This time it's a fight. Someone turns down the temperature on Lee Ann's oven so she needs to have a little more time to bring it back up to temperature. She asks the group if she can have a minute that day and she will work a minute less the next day. Tiffani tightasses that rules are rules and Lee Ann has to end when everyone else does. Lee Ann sucks it up and just throws away the phyllo pastries she was making. But Tiffani is dead to Lee Ann and to me as well.

They finish their desserts but unfortunately, a few intrpid folks decided to make ice cream desserts which are melting like the wicked witch. Especially affected is poor crazy Cynthia. They deliver the desserts to the sex shop where Billy Joel's Child Bride tells them that they need to sex themselves up and be propoer ambassadors for their cooking. I'd like to note that Billy Joel's Child Bride is wearing a tighter version of the usual spaghetti strap dress she usually wears and her hair and makeup is up to New Jersey proportions. The only judge even trying to get into the act is the guest judge and the contestants are really doing much either. Except for Miguel who looks like an S/M version of groundskeeper Willie complete with red wig.

So the contestants have to whore themselves out to the sex shop's party guests, one of which is RuPaul. RuPaul, this is BRAVO, your over the top drag queening isn't really all that outrageous. Especially next to the antics of Wendy Pepper and Santino.

Judging - the judges point out that while Tiffani's concept of cookie necklaces was interesting, the cookies tasted like crap. They also point out that the champagne Stephen picked to pour over his apple celery gelee (blech) was way too dry. OOOH! Burn! At the end of the evening, the judges call Miguel, Brian, and Stephen in as their top three. They end up choosing Miguel, much to the chagrin of Stephen who Santinoed that it should have been him.

The three up for elimination are Dave with with his tit for tat dessert that looked like a hot mess, Andrea with her chocolate and nut dessert that looked like a girl scout project, and Cynthia with her melting bombe. In the end it was Andrea who gets eliminated. The judges rightly point out that her natural, organic style of cooking is hardly revolutionary in this day and age. Especially in San Francisco I might add.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

It’s enough to make your heart hurt

So I was in New Orleans this past weekend sleeping on a cot in a church. Actually the cot was pretty comfortable and there was this adorable kitty who kept on jumping on the cot to be petted. I came to New Orleans because of the new job. I’m giving training and technical assistance to organizations in New Orleans to help build leadership in the Asian community and ensure that Asians have a voice in the rebuilding process. The local organization taking the lead of all of that is the Vietnamese Catholic Church where we all slept.

Right now they should change the nickname of New Orleans from the Big Easy to the Big Hard. Because things are hard there. It's clear who are the haves and who are the have nots. The haves have the money and resources to get their insurance and FEMA checks and their Garden District mansions rebuilt. The haves have street lights and working stoplights and trash nicely piled instead of strewn all around their lawn. The have nots, aren’t living in New Orleans. It’s hard to live somewhere when you have nothing to live in. The have nots have inspectors and assessors who knock once on their doors and then leave so they can check off their tally that they TRIED to inspect the house but noone was there. The difference between the haves and the have nots is especially clear at night when certain neighborhoods have light and others are plunged into pitch darkness.

There are not many haves but many many, many have nots. The devastation is enormous. It’s surreal to drive down Interstate 10 to see an entire suburb, strip malls, streets, houses, a shell of itself. The outsides of the buildings are standing but if you look inside the windows that haven’t been boarded up, you’ll see the mildewed walls with the sheetrock blown off and the wooden rafters rotting. You’ll see all the freeway signs leaning on each other. You’ll see garbage on the median because FEMA only cleans up Katrina related trash. If you came back and gutted your house for remodeling, they ain’t picking up THAT trash.

You know what’s also hard? City planning. Especially city planning that doesn’t want to think about people. I heard from folks that the initial planning took into account only environmental issues. While I think the environment is important, those decisions result in whole neighborhoods being told they should just be turned into wetlands. WTF. Whose fault was it that a housing development was built there in the first place?

Just so you know, things get harder when you ignore your low wage workers. When poor folks can’t come back to the city, it means that awesome 24 hour gumbo joints close at 8:00pm. It means that crepe restaurants aren’t open for lunch.

But for those wondering, the food is still excellent. The Trolley Stop makes some amazing dirty rice and gumbo. Café du Monde still makes its famous beignets with a mountain of powdered sugar. And the crawfish that was boiled in a pot in the church parking lot tasted like it should.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

God Help Us

But we got hooked on Top Chef. Create by the folks at Project Runway, it is blessed with the Project Runway knack for good casting and good pacing. Unfortunately it is cursed with perhaps the most atrocious host ever known to television and some boring judges. Ok, the fetus that Billy Joel married, simply cannot host. Her flat, running-for-junior-class-council speaking voice is crazy grating. It's neither over-the-top-crazy like Kathy Griffin or cool and deadpan like our favorite Tim Gunn. (Speaking of Tim Gunn, J was reading about him somewhere that Tim was cruelly dumped 20 years ago and HASN'T BEEN IN A RELATIONSHIP SINCE. The silver fox has been single for 20 years.) The other problem is, unlike Heidi Klum who is content (and smart enough) to flit in give the instructions and stay the hell out of the episode until judging, Billy Joel's child bride is talking all the freaking time. Unlike shallow socialites like Ally Hilfiger, Jaime Geicher, or the Hiltons, the child bride has no sense of humor. And of course the judges really can't compare to his orange higness, Michael Kors and the cool intellect of Nina Garcia.

The first challenge was fascinating. They went to Fleur De Lys (a San Francisco dining institution) where they worked the line in the kitchen for 30 minutes. Folks who didn't cut it were asked to leave. It was fascinating to see season chefs leave early while some of the less pexerienced held their own in the line. The second challenge was to make a signature dish for the judges and their fellow contestants to critique.

The contestants:

Stephen - Like Emmett being a menswear designer, we are constantly reminded that Stephen is a sommelier. Like every time he talks. Is all about the wine and in the first episode, picks a wine pairing for his "signature dish." Great presentation skills but arrogant and pretentious. Dude, you work in LAS VEGAS. Even the Bellagio has nickel slots so don't get too big for your britches.

Andrea - Some hippy dippy macrobiotic personal chef. Is all about the vegetables and the bowel movements. Her signature dish was a huge freaking mess. Poor presentation. Overcooked broccli and undercooked kale.

Harold - He's the fly under the radar guy that might win the whole thing. Kind of brainy about the whole thing. Your heart broke in the first challenge when he was too nervous to decorate the plate. He made up for it by winning the second challenge.

Tiffani - The tough dyke. But dear god she takes her cooking seriously. She really does treat cooking like a form of religion. And we're not taking laid back Quakers, we're talking Calvinists. She SEEMS to have th skills to back it up. Was in the top three in both challenges.

Brian - So his specialty is food with a Carribean flair. I try and forget FakeDeborah from America's Next Food Network Star and her constant talk about her Carribean flair. Unlike Deborah, he seems easygoing and competent.

- Poor poor Candice. Totally out of her league. Overcooked the chicken in her signature dish.

Kenneth - Asshat. I was surprised he was eliminated from the competition in the first episode. I thought the producers would keep him on for the drama. Screws up the first challenge by dipping his figner in a sauce to taste it (unsanitary for a restaurant). Then he talks back to the guest chef. Goes all crazy in the kitchen while making his signature dish annoying everyone, especially the uptight Tiffani.

Dave - Flying under the radar in both his cooking and personality. Former dot com millionaire who lost it in 2000. Solidly in the middle of the pack after two episodes.

Miguel - A personal favorite. Fun, lively and doesn't take himself too seriously. I liked his gourmet enchiladas althought the presentation left something to be desired. So far has not used the dread phrase "I'm not here to make friends" which actually means "I'm an asshat."

Lisa - Another fly under the radar type of person. I am confident she will be more ALexandra of PR Season One than a Daniel Vosovic who was low key and rose ot the challenge.

Cynthia - a big ol' mess. No much else to say after that. I still don't understand why her shoes were inappropriate for working in a restaurant.

Finally -

Lee Ann - Aaah! A golden sister. Seems to be cut from the no nonsense cloth as Chloe Dao. Won the first challenge with her professionalism. Seems to be pretty drama free. J and I are rooting for her to win.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Post Wedding Brunch

So the Engaged will be the Marrieds in a couple weeks and it made me a bit nostaglic for the festivities around our wedding. I've talked at length about the food at the reception but I wanted to give another bit of advice to those getting married - create a space after the wedding for people to hang out. In the hubbub of the actual day, the wedding couple never gets to spend quality time with their friends, especially the out of towners. It's hard to be fully present on the BIG DAY. That's why doing something afterwards is so important. In the days where I was living in group houses, two different sets of folks got married during the day. After the wedding, everyone went home to join the couple who were opening gifts and ordering pizza. Like that wonderful time after a party where you get to clean up and dish, post-wedding activities give you a chance to talk about the craziness of the wedding. And believe me, no matter how well planned, there will always be wedding craziness.

With that in mind, we asked Rootbeer if she would host the post wedding brunch. We kept the menu completely simple (although that didn't stop Rootbeer from going all out) and went with a bagel and lox platter from Pumernickel's bagels and two pastry platters from Bread and Chocolate. Rootbeer supplemented that with some lemonade cake, a fritatta, and plenty of orange juice and coffee.

The brunch worked its charm and our friends had a chance to see us opening our presents and laughing about the wedding craziness.

Monday, March 13, 2006

An orgy of food this weekend

How much cooking did I do this weekend? SOOOOO much cooking. Actually, I did most of the cooking earlier in the week. I had a fundraising event I was cooking for along with a post event dinner. Lot’s o’ food. It’s a good thing I LIKE cooking. Also, J made quite a bit of food himself including the spinach balls (taking the great advice of DC Rebecca on some improvements) and quite possibly the best mac ‘n cheese ever produced. I know I love to cook and I cook A LOT but J is really the unsung hero of our cooking twosome. There’s a lot he makes better than me but he doesn’t get the mad amounts of praise I do. Probably because I am an attention whore. For the dinner with did a gourmet Southern theme with spinach balls as appetizers, an a main course pf Paula Deen’s shrimp croquettes (with some flaked salmon added in for good measure), gits ‘n gravy and sautéed green beans for good measure.

Anyway for the event I got more creative. First of all, god help me, I made my own mayonnaise. At another event, I had the most divine cream puffs filled with chicken salad and was determined to make it. Of course I forgot to buy mayonnaise for the chicken salad and decided to make my own. This is getting back to my roots because for holidays, my mother made a chicken that she deboned, ground up the meat with ground pork, and added garbanzo beans and shitake mushrooms to and stuff back into the deflated chicken skin. With that, she served homemade mayonnaise that she whisked by hand while one of us would pour a little stream of oil into.

Kylie Kwong did this on her show and it looked so simple. It looked easy on tv and guess what? It IS easy. My mother used lemon pepper and regular cooking oil on her mayo. I used a mixture of olive oil and canola oil and fresh lemon. In a large bowl, drop one egg yolk, a pinch of salt, a clove of garlic, minced, a tablespoon of lemon juice and a pinch of pepper. Whisk vigorously. In a small steady stream, slowly pour in the olive oil (probably 1/3 of a cup or so). Once it gets the consistency of a bechamel sauce, switch to the canola oil. Add another 1/3 of a cup or so. It’s really a matter of taste how thick you want it. Add more salt and pepper to taste. It’s that easy.

For those of you making cream puff or profiteroles or choux or whatever a country calls them, use your oldest nastiest pans. New fangled, insulated pans will not allow the dough to puff up in the oven. It’s the extreme heat of an old cookie sheet that creates the requisite “puffiness.”

Also, I made chocolate cupcakes with the Barefoot Contessa recipe that uses Hershey’s chocolate syrup. AMAZING. They stay moist even after I left them out for three days. I glazed them with a glaze I made with chocolate chips, butter, and vanilla and sprinkled with chopped hazelnuts.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas…

Unless you are me. So this past weekend, I went to Vegas for a board meeting for my new job. Before I get too far, a tip o’ the hat to dancerindc for getting me the hookup at his place of business. While it didn’t work out, it was great to have something in the hopper. Anyway, I got another job and it’s wonderful. My co-workers and I have come to the conclusion we’re actually all one person. I started my new job last Wednesday and left Friday for Sin City. Because we are a small community nonprofit, we stayed in “downtown” Vegas in the Plaza hotel, right next to the bus station. For those unfamiliar with Vegas, downtown is NOT the glitzy, Disneyfied Las Vegas strip. It’s the repository of the sad-ass hotels for those who can’t justify spending $200 a night at the Bellagio. It appears the clientele of the Plaza hotel (no relation to the New York Plaza hotel) came directly from the bus station. Because I am lazy I came up with a list of things I thought about in Vegas.

Non food-related thoughts

1. Downtown Vegas is swarming with Hawaiians. While Hawaiians live in paradise, they like to vacation in Sin City. A person from Hawaii I talked to said the only reason he sets foot on the mainland is to gamble in Vegas.

2. It’s amazing how totally sleazy Vegas still is. There are newspaper kiosks for hookers the way we have newspaper kiosks for apartment rentals. I am tickled and disturbed at the fact that Treasure Island slutted up it’s outdoor floor show from a pirate theme to the “sirens” of Teasure Isand girlie revue.

3. Speaking of Hawaii guess where the next board meeting is? If you can guess that, you can also guess who is going on an island getaway in September.

4. OH MY GOD. The Bellagio is the most fabulous hotel I have ever set foot in. I love the Alice in Wonderland forest even though I know it took a lot of resources to have a gazillion tulips sent to the middle of the desert. Not to mention WATERING them.

5. PENNY SLOTS!!!! My risk-averse ass has found its game. I thought I was in heaven with nickel slots. I can bet on five lines at once and still have 95 more tries!!!

Food related thoughts

1. I love the fact that the buffets reflect the nature of the clientele. Since the downtown hotels are swarming with folks from Hawaii. The buffets have an extensive Asian component (lo mein, rice, lumpia etc) and Portuguese sausage. At breakfast there’s more styles of Asian noodles than there are eggs.

2. If you are a cheapie like me and are staying downtown, DO NOT go to the Golden Nugget buffet. The macaroni, tuna, and chicken salads look like bacteria factories.

3. If you ARE staying downtown, believe the freeway signs and go to the buffet at the Main Street Station hotel. It’s extensive, fairly fresh (as those things go) and the staff is friendly.

4. I know it’s totally expensive, but get a pastry at Jean-Michel at the Bellagio. They are divine and it’s worth it just to see the world’s largest (and prettiest) chocolate fountain. Actually it’s a fountain with chocolate, mocha, vanilla, and hazelnut sauces.

5. While we resisted it, Diego, at the MGM Grand really does have some of the best Mexican food I ever taste. How can you beat guacamole made at your table?
6. OM MY GOD, I miss In ‘N Out. Apparently, so does half of the visitors in Vegas. I am still savoring my double-double.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Tofu in Tomato Sauce

I can't believe I've been doing a food blog for over a year and never got around to giving my tofu in tomato sauce recipe. People LOOVE this dish. Scratch that. People ADORE this dish. It's great comfort food and crazy easy to make. It's essentially an Asian version of a bolognese sauce. You can find fried tofu in your health food store or at any Asian market. I have never seen it in any supermarket. Such a shame.

Tofu in Tomato Sauce

2 packages of fried tofu
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 carrots, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
1 cup of fake ground beef (like Morningstar Farms)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sambal olek or any kind of hot sauce
2 tablespoons of hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon black bean sauce
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1/2 cup of frozen peas

In a few tablespoons of cooking oil saute the onion, carrots, and garlic until the onion is translucent. Add the tofu and the soy sauce, sambal, hoisin and black bean sauce. Saute for a few minutes and then add the fake ground meat, tomatoes and peas. Simmer the mixture on low heat for 20 minutes until flavors marry. Serve over rice. Graciously accept the inevitable compliments.