Food & Cooking Reality Shows Update August ’09

There have been two food/cooking reality finales in the past week: “The Next Food Network Star” and “The Chopping Block”.  A third, “Top Chef: Masters,” is also nearing its finale. Two new shows are about to start as well: “Top Chef: Las Vegas” and “The Next Iron Chef”. Let us take a look at all the happenings.

The Next Food Network Star

The Next Food Network Star finished its season on August 2nd with Melissa d’Arabin (a.k.a. “Mommy Mayhem”) taking the prize. Melissa begins her own show “Ten Dollar Dinners” on Sunday August 9th. In what was described by the judges the most difficult decision in the shows history, Melissa edged out competitor Jeffery Saad. Both competitors were well qualified, however, Melissa seemed to be more charming and approachable than the more food knowledgeable Jeffery. Debbie Lee, the third place finisher, also had a good shot at it but made a few too many mistakes. Great to see another Texan on the network.

The Chopping Block

After a short time of being dropped by NBC, The Chopping Block was brought back to finish up its season on July 24th. Hosted by the culinary worlds first rock star, Marco Pierre White, sisters Kelsey and Vanessa Henderson walked away with the $250,000 dollar prize to start their own restaurant in Los Angeles. Kelsey and Vanessa won by taking Marco Pierre White’s advice to keep their menu and service simple. Runner ups, Lisa Stalvey & Michael Anapol,went the much more risky route in which Lisa cooked dishes that she had never cooked before. The third place team of Dean & Shari Della Ventura had a great shot at making the finals but failed due to being short handed in the kitchen and front of house.

Top Chef: Masters

The preliminaries of Top Chef: Masters are over and two of the six finalists have been eliminated. The final four include Michael Chiarello, Rick Bayless, Anita Lo and Hubert Keller. I really like the new scoring method with 5 points for the Quickfire Challenge, and for the Elimination Challenge, 5 points for the guest and each judge. I was rather put off with the challenges in the preliminary rounds, however, they have been much better in the finals. The chefs are not overly hand tied and can cook to their potential. My favorites to win are Hubert and Michael.

Top Chef: Las Vegas

Top Chef: Las Vegas (Season 6) starts August 19th. Padma Lakshmi returns as host alongside head judge Tom Colicchio, and judges Gail Simmons and Toby Young. Some of the guest judges scheduled to appear are Wolfgang Puck, Todd English, Natalie Portman, Daniel Boulud, Penn & Teller, Hubert Keller, Laurent Tourondel, Tim Love, Michelle Bernstein, Tyler Florence, Charlie Palmer, Paul Bartolotta, Nigella Lawson and Jerome Bocuse. The season will start with 17 chefs and it looks like we have our first set of brothers (or at least related contestants) competing Michael and Bryan Voltaggio. Curiously, a majority of the contestants are from Atlanta (3), Philadelphia (2), San Francisco (3) and Seattle (2).

The Next Iron Chef

Finally, we come to The Next Iron Chef. Michael Symon won two years ago to become an Iron Chef. Who will it be this time? 10 chefs will square off this fall. The show premieres October 4th.

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Sweet and Sour Stir Fry

This recipe was submitted by Hungry 4 More Facebook fan and high school friend, Peggy Wilson Larson.

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients:

  • Stir Fry
    • 1 1/2 chicken breasts, diced or sliced thin
    • 1 onion, julianned
    • 1 red bell pepper, julianned
    • 1 small bunch of carrots, diced
    • 2 broccoli hearts, broken into small pieces
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Sauce
    • 1/2 cup soy sauce
    • 1/4 cup honey
    • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Directions:

Sweet and Sour Stir Fry

Sweet and Sour Stir Fry

Mix all sauce ingredients in a separate sauce pan and simmer.

In a large saute pan or wok, heat oil over medium-high to high heat. Saute chicken for 3-5 minutes and add in carrots after 2-3 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and saute until all veggies are tender or as crisp as desired (3-5 minutes more).

Serve over rice adding sauce to final plating.

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Lemon Aioli

Nice and simple little aioli that I first used on a carpaccio appetizer.  It was inspired by Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro on a recent trip to San Francisco.

Aioli is, like mayonnaise, an emulsion or a suspension of small globules of oil and oil soluble compounds in water and water soluble compounds. Egg yolk is a commonly used emulsifier but mustard and garlic both have emulsion-like properties. Classic aioli is made without egg though many aioli recipes use it  including this one.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • Pinch of white pepper
  • 3/4 cup olive oil

Directions:

Combine egg yolk, lemon juice, garlic, salt, zest, and pepper in a blender. With blender running, slowly drizzle in olive oil, and blend until an emulsion forms.

Carpaccio dressed with Lemon Aioli

Carpaccio dressed with Lemon Aioli

For presentation and storage, use aioli in a condiment dispenser bottle for best results.  May be kept in the refrigerator for up to a day in a covered container.

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Italian Sausage Meat Sauce

Fucilli tossed with Meat Sauce and garnished with Grated Romano Cheese

Fucilli tossed with Meat Sauce and garnished with Grated Romano Cheese

Any pasta can be used with this meat sauce which is also known as a bolognese.  I normally use Fusilli because the meat sauce clings to it easily. I serve this meal in a bowl with a spoon and top it with fresh grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, medium chop
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper diced (red preferred)
  • 2 tomatoes diced (approximately 1 3/4 lbs)
  • 1 lb Italian sausage, removed from casing
  • 8 ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 6 ounce can of tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil leaves
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 4 1/2 ounce can mushrooms, drained
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed

Directions:

Meat Sauce

Meat Sauce

In a large pot heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and saute until semi soft being careful not to burn them. Add Italian sausage and cook until browned. Drain sausage.

In pot with drained sausage, stir in diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste. Mix in oregano, basil, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, red pepper flakes, mushrooms, cumin, fennel seed, and bay leaf.  Bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low and simmer for about 1-2 hours, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes.

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Perfect Pantry: Grains

This is the first in a series of articles on how to stock the perfect pantry. This post will be updated from time to time to add additional information. Grains typically have long shelf lives, commonly 2-4 years, so stocking up on a variety of grains is a good pantry habit.

Cornmeal

Polenta

Polenta is cornmeal that has been boiled in water. It is widely used as a staple of Italian cuisine. It can be used as is, grilled or fried. Prepared polenta can be found at most grocery stores.

Rice

Arborio

Arborio is an Italian short-grain rice. The rounded grains are firm, creamy, and chewy when cooked. Arborio has a high starch content. It has a starchy taste but blends well with other flavors. It is primarily used to make Risotto.

  • 1 cup rice, 3 cups water, yields 3 cups cooked rice

Basmati

Basmati is a variety of long grain rice, grown in India and Pakistan notable for its fragrance and delicate, nuanced flavor. India and Pakistan are the largest cultivators and exporters of this rice. The grains of basmati rice are longer than most other types of rice and are available in both white and brown varieties. Cooked grains of Basmati rice are characteristically free flowing rather than sticky, as with most long-grain rice and can be identified by its fragrance.

  • 1 cup rice, 1 3/4 cups water, yields 4 cups cooked rice

Cooking tip: Soak rice in water for 20 minutes before cooking to maximize grain elongation.

Jasmin

Jasmin rice, sometimes known as “Thai fragrant rice”, is a long-grain variety of rice that has a nutty aroma and a subtle and pandan-like flavor. Jasmine rice is originally from Thailand. The grains will cling when cooked, though it is less sticky than other rices.

  • 1 cup rice, 1 1/2 cups water, yields 3 cups cooked rice

Sushi

Sushi rice is a short-grained, Japanese rice. It is usually cooled to room temperature before being used. Sushi rice has a consistency that differs from long-grain strains such as those from India. The essential quality is its stickiness. Rice that is too sticky has a mushy texture; if not sticky enough, it feels dry.

  • 1 cup rice, 1 1/4 cup water, yields 3 cups cooked rice

Wheat

Couscous

Couscous consists of spherical granules made by rolling and shaping moistened semolina wheat and then coating them with finely ground wheat flour. The finished granules are about one millimeter in diameter before cooking. Traditional couscous requires considerable preparation time, therefore, a more-processed, quick-cook couscous is suggested for the pantry. Traditionally couscous is served under a meat or vegetable stew. It can also be eaten alone, plain, flavored, warm or cold.

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