Category Archives: Culinary

Chopped: Judgment Day

I was inspired by Matilda’s “Next Food Network Star” post, so I decided to do my own review on the cooking show I happen to watch on an almost nightly basis. I blame my husband for getting me started, but by now we’ve both found ourselves sucked into the “love to hate it” vortex that is the Food Network’s “Chopped”. If you are not familiar with the show, the gist is as follows:

Ted Allen. This shit is serious.

Ted Allen, the food fashionista first made known by Queer Eye, hosts this hour long competition where four chefs vie to be the Chopped Champion and take home the glory and ten thousand smackaroos.  There are three rounds, appetizers, entrees, and desserts,  and one person is eliminated after every round. There is a panel of three judges, usually successful chefs (I guess) who I’ve never seen or heard of before Chopped (except for Aaron Sanchez, whom I’ve seen in commercials for queso fresco. I know it’s him because the way he says “QUE-so Frrrrrrrrrresco” is so unforgettable). They rate the dishes based on presentation, taste, and creativity.  The clincher in Chopped is the basket. The Chopped basket holds the secret ingredients which each contestant must use successfully each round, and will contain anything from gummy worms to goat brains.

So that’s it essentially. They give four chefs some absurd ingredients and 20 mins to dazzle them with flavors. The parts that are so comically delicious about “Chopped” to my husband and I are the editing and the stereotypes. The “Chopped” producers seem to want to get across each chef’s unique culinary vision as well, as long as it can be neatly expressed in one or two sentences and repeated ad nauseum throughout the episode and at completely random times. Whether it’s “I studied in France” or “I used to be a drug addict” or “I’m a lesbian whose cousin has breast cancer”, you will hear nothing from the contestant that does not relate directly to this their relevant feature or their dish. It will come up when they are running out of time. “I waited to cook my fish til the very last minute, but I’m a recovering gambling addict so I love to take risks.” Ok, I made that up, but you get the idea, right? The best is during the judging panel.

If you can’t take the heat…wear shorts like the guy on the end.

Inevitably one or more of the judges will find fault with a chef’s dish. Either the execution was lacking or they didn’t adequately incorporate the jawbreakers and squid ink into the appetizer. The scene will often play out as follows:

Judge: “I found your use of citrus to be very overwhelming in this dish.”

Chef: “Well, after my grandmother was bludgeoned to death by a baby, excessive sourness seemed somehow appropriate.”

Judges: “…..”

When it comes to reality shows, I tend to blame the producers for making the contestants seem totally unhinged and disassociated from what is going on around them. I imagine the heavy editing cut out the part where men in black suits encircled the contestant, shining maglites in her face and demanding to know why there’s sadness in her eyes. On the other hand, some of the chefs seem to embrace the “wear your life story like it’s going out of style” party line.  The chefs that irk us the most are probably those from New Orleans, excuse me, NAH LINS. AND DON’T EVER SAY IT OTHERWISE, YANKEE SCUM!

I get it, they are from a beautiful, diverse, and culturally vibrant city that has experienced a great deal of hardship and obscurity. There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in the place you are from and wanting to represent it. But it can make for shitty TV! It’s just so predictable. Stirring mascarpone into some almond butter? Please talk about how Katrina displaced your son’s family. It is sad, it was a terrible tragedy, but the way it is just hammered at you while the chefs are braising venison butt makes it feel more exploitative than poignant.”Chopped” would make for a sensational drinking game.  Determine each contestant’s “identity” during the introduction section then drink every time they make reference to it. Heavy drinkers, keep your eye on the lesbians and former drug addicts.

The final word.

And then there are the judges. Look, these folks obviously know what they are talking about. They know when meats are properly cooked, they know how to prepare all sorts of exotic fruits and grains, most of which I’ve never heard of, much less tasted. So, I must rely heavily on what the judges say about each meal to get a sense of what the chefs created. They usually seem pretty spot on, though they can differ wildly in their expectations and preferred treatments. One day, it’s a sign of the chef’s laziness to put an ingredient on the plate in its natural form. The next, it’s a sign of having confidence in the ingredient. If I were ever to compete on this show, I would be paralyzed by indecision, knowing too well it could go either direction. (Then again, I can barely make palatable food using mainstream ingredients, so who the hell would put me on “Chopped”?) Though, I would know to steer clear of lentils, because everybody fucks those up.

Overall, it’s a fun show that appeals both to the culinarily minded (my husband) and the not so much (me). He likes to watch to see what surprising food combinations will be concocted, and I like to watch to see what disgusting health violations contestants will make. (My favorite was the Israeli soldier who cut himself and was bleeding profusely but who continued to make tuna rolls without gloves.) We both like to watch to make fun of the absurd use of stereotypes.

Can’t contain this dish.

 

Are you a fan? Do you disagree with my assessment? Any other observations I left out? Leave a comment! PLEASE! LEAVE A COMMENT! I’M NOT DESPERATE!

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A Culinary Point of View™: My Next Food Network Star Application

We all want to be this “Guy”


Has anyone else been watching the Next Food Network Star and thought, “hell, I could do that”! Oh, everyone? Ok. Well that’s because the Next Food Network Star is a culinary competition in which culinary prowess, knowledge, or experience are not required. What do you need to win? A Culinary Point of View™ and some guidance from one of the Food Network’s top-notch mentors, Iron Chef and probable adulterer Bobby Flay, rumored nymphomaniac and real-life bobble-head Giada De Laurentiis , and my favorite crabapple, Alton Brown.

The esteemed culinary mentors

But as we’ve seen from season after season of the show, finding your own Culinary Point of View™ isn’t that easy. Because your Culinary Point of View™ has to simultaneously reflect your “true voice” and be “responsive to criticism” from Bob and the Sooze. And what Bob and the Sooze want depends on the week, the season, and possibly whatever chemicals are laced in their self-tanner.

For example, while Bob and the Sooze loved Ippy’s authentic Hawaiian style at the beginning of the season, now they’ve decided that he’s too “laid-back”. Isn’t that like accusing someone from Minnesota as being too nice? That’s what Hawaii is about, guys. That’s called Hawaiian style. Oh, you want him to be his authentic self, but in a more frenetic way? That’s helpful, thanks.

Ippy’s got too much Aloha

Or how about when they eliminated previous favorite Emily for having a mediocre week and kept Giada’s “fiery hot Latina” Martita? The same Martita who finished her promo 30 seconds early and instead of trying to fill the time smiled wide-eyed at the judges for 30 Seconds. Of. Dead. Air. Oh, you didn’t want them to even try to do the challenge this week, Bob and the Sooze? I’m sure if you had told Emily what you wanted she could stand in awkward and confused silence for even longer than 30 seconds!

Martita, pretending like nobody can see her. And it worked!

The rampant discrepancies and conspiracy-like eliminations are almost making me think that winners and losers are decided by a complicated calculus of Network need, focus groups, demographic pull, and the aforementioned toxic self-tanner, instead of the actual challenges themselves. There, I’ve said it. The Next Food Network Star may be rigged.

This isn’t going to stop me from applying for next season. As some of you already know, I like to cook. I make salad dressing from scratch! And bread! And I soak my own beans! In Food Network parlance, I’m not a occasionally better than average home cook- I’m self-taught with a unique Culinary Point of View™. And the fact that I can’t tell you the difference between a hollandaise and béarnaise doesn’t matter. Because my ignorance is relatable! Who wants to learn how to cook from someone who knows interesting information about food when I can add a pouch of powdered ranch dressing to a casserole and tell stories about my Nan? That’s right, nobody.

The following are real questions from the Next Food Network Star application. I can’t make this stuff up.

Complete this sentence: If I were an ingredient, I would be…….

How can I answer this without it becoming a sexual innuendo? Um, salt? Because it’s in everything? Damn it, that doesn’t work. Okay, how about tomatoes? Because of the way their taut skin bursts in your mouth? Never mind. Breadcrumbs? Because they are getting old? They make everything crunchy when submerged in hot oil? Ugh, I give up.

Is there a non-perverted way to answer this question? People aren’t food, after all.

Unless……if I were an ingredient I would be Soylent Green. Because Soylent Green IS PEOPLE! IT’S PEOPLE! And there’s nothing sexy about that.

What is your unique Culinary Point of View™?

I’m not sure what to put here. I’m guessing that my real Culinary Point of View™, food that your kids won’t want to eat isn’t going to fly with the Food Network. And shows about Healthy! Delicious! Organic! Foods! That your kids WILL eat! are often a joke. (Case in point, when Nikki served a “kid-friendly Kale smoothie” to a group of gagging 10 year olds.) Kids are crazy. Some things they like, some things they don’t. Sure they are often more picky than many adults, but their list of likes and dislikes are impossible to generalize. My son loves Kale chips and hates pizza. My daughter could eat Fettuccini Alfredo for every single meal of her life but will not drink a glass of chocolate milk. She likes cashews, he likes almonds. See what I mean? It’s a boring show idea, because there is no “kid food” and that’s why these contestants never win.

Bob and the Sooze: The Orange Masterminds

Okay, here’s another idea for a Culinary Point of View™. How about The Boozy Chef? I’ll focus exclusively on recipes requiring the hard stuff and drink the leftovers as I cook. How about Grand Marnier French Toast, or Hooch strawberry salad dressing? Or what about potatoes two ways? I’ll just put some potatoes in the oven to roast and drink some vodka. I have a feeling the Sooze is going to love this one.

Unfortunately, I drank so much prepping my recipes that I can’t pull it together to fill out all ELEVEN pages of the application. So nobody will ever know what kind of role I generally play in groups, what topics are off limits to me at a dinner party, or other highly relevant food-related information. Maybe I’ll work on finding my adaptable authentic voice in the meantime.

What’s your unique Culinary Point of View™?

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Holy Guacamole!!!!

Buenos dias a la cucina de Carlita!! Ok, my Spanish is severely limited and pitiful for a girl who grew up in California, but I still have a deep and pervasive love of Spanish, and especially Mexican, cuisine. At least once a week I have burrito night and it’s just about the most extensive I get when it comes to cooking. But I’m getting better!

Bout to mash these suckers!

Avocado means testicle. Just thought you’d like to know.

One thing I definitely love to make is delicious homemade guacamole. The recipe I use is hardly the most elaborate or unique, but it’s easy and delicious and I love it!

What You’ll Need:

The supplies.

  • 2 medium sized avocados
  • Quarter onion, all diced up nice like
  • A small tuft of cilantro, finely chopped
  • Hot sauce
  •  Fresh garlic clove (or garlic powder)
  • Tbsp. Lime juice
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Optional tomato

Split in two!

 

 

Step One: Take those avos and cut them in half. If you have never dealt with avocados before, you should note there is a giant, hard seed inside each one, so you have to cut around this and then pull the halves apart. To remove the seed, I thwack my knife into it and then holding the avocado skin, rotate the knife. The sucker will come right out. The hardest part is then getting the seed off the knife. Knock it against the table a few times. Don’t blame me if your dull your knife in the process, though!

Now, spoon the insides of those 4 avocado halves into a big bowl, like in figure 3. Mash them up with a fork.

Boom.

Figure 3. Mashing the avos.

Step Two: Pour in tablespoon of lime juice. You can use fresh lime, which I normally use, but good old bottled lime juice will work, too. If you use fresh lime, cut it into quarters and squeeze that yumminess into the mix.

Step Three: Onion!! Chop that thing up like it’s nobody’s business. I like the pieces to be very small (finely diced might be the fancy schmancy term).

ON-YON! (Say it like that, it’s fun.)

Slide that into your avo mush.

Cilantro!

Step Four: Cilantro. This is how much I used. It is not exact science here. Wash the cilantro thoroughly, then strip the leaves off the stems. This part is kind of annoying, but you get the hang of it. It should look like this.

Separated from the stems and ready to get chopped!

Now dice that greenery up! It’s fun. Dangerous, but fun.

Dice, dice, dice!

 

Step Five: Pour in a a good couple pinches garlic powder. You can chop up a fresh clove, which would be more delicious, but I forgot to do so and just used the powder. I still think it’s yummy. Notice I even have a clove of garlic out for the first picture. Pregnancy brain strikes again.

Shameless substitute. I’d go for the real stuff.

Step Six: Add 8-10 drops of hot sauce into the mix. This really depends on your taste. I love spicy, bold flavors, so I load that shit on. But, it’s fine to show some restraint.

Step Seven: Add salt and pepper to taste. BONUS TIP: Taste your guacamole at this point. Does it taste too acidic? If so, add a little bit of sugar. This will counter the acidity nicely. Normally, I don’t really measure the ingredients. I just pour them in willy-nilly and take numerous sample tastes throughout the cooking process. By the end, there’s only half what I started with and I’ve compensated and counter measured multiple times. WHAT?! I never claimed to be Julia Child!

Re-re-re-re-re-re-re-remix!!!

Step Eight: Stir it up!!!! Here, you can also chop up that tomato, taking out the gushy seed parts and then putting it in. I really can’t stand tomato, so I skip this step. But it does add some nice color.

Step Nine: Make it look fancy!

Gourmet

The finished product! Delectable!!

I added paprika to give it some color.

Step Ten: ENJOY!! Can you believe how drawn out I was able to make this whole process?

Let me know what you think of this recipe, my presentation, my amazing photography, or whatever else is on your mind! Also, don’t forget to follow our blog so that you can keep up with each of our exciting installments!!

 

 

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Recipe rollout: Mug cakes!

Setting: It’s 8:30pm, the only light in the house emanates gently from the living room, where the husband is watching Top Gear on the boob tube and petting the head of his trusty hound. I am lazily perusing articles on the web, scrolling through that day’s occurrences, not letting anything sink in with much weight, when suddenly, it strikes. THE HUNGER! This isn’t hunger like the pangs of want that creep up around 5:30 just as the crackle of cooked garlic starts to stream through the air. This is the hunger of pure desire, of need, the desire…. for MUG CAKE!!!! Say it out loud, it sounds like mud cake. It’s not that. It’s mug cake.

I am not, what one might call, a gourmet. I have trouble making the simplest of meals without somehow destroying one or more components. It’s not a lack of intelligence, but rather impatience that is my culinary downfall. My hunger strikes like a stalking predator, without any warning! Perhaps this has contributed to my liking of raw ingredients, or perhaps my liking of raw ingredients has just enabled my abysmal cooking capacity. I can eat uncooked pasta like it’s nobody’s business. AND IT’S NOT YOUR BUSINESS!

But as I approach the onset of motherhood, I realize more and more that as a sentient being embarking upon the joys and terrors of reproduction, it is my responsibility to provide nutritive sustenance to my offspring. Sure, the boob will take care of that for a good year or two, but at some point, I’m going to have to… make food…. for my children. And there is no way I’m letting my kids eat the kind of crap that I have eaten in my life! Not until they are of an age where they can knowledgeably make those decisions for themselves, only to look down, see they are dipping raw lasagna noodles into a tub of cream cheese, and feel the deep and encompassing shame that I have come to know (That age is approximately 12).

A creative variation on the sad pathetic cuisine of my adolescence: Raw lasagna and ranch dressing

Now, you might be asking yourself “What the hell does this have to do with mug cake? I came to your stupid website because I was looking for mug cake!” Glad you asked! It has everything to do with mug cake! Mug cake represents part of my entrance into the world of overdue adulthood. It represents a smooth, gentle transition into baking! Mug cake is delicious, easy, and it qualifies as baking something from scratch! That’s right, I bake cakes from scratch! I can’t make cinnamon toast, but I bake cakes from scratch!!

So far, I’ve experimented with two recipes. The first, I found on instructables.com. The recipe is yummy, but mine came out slightly dry the first time. I think the remedy for this is to take the mug out a little earlier. The other recipe I’ve used is the first result when you search on google for mug cake. It uses almost the same ingredients just in slightly different quantities. I used chocolate chips in both. Both recipes were about equally delicious when I tried them, just make sure you don’t overcook the cake and dry it out.

I always pair my mug cake with some ice cream, and I sometimes have trouble finishing it. Not for a lack of trying, mind you.

(Looks better than mine did)

This is not the mug cake I made. Mine looked somewhat sadder and less plump. Still counts!

Here is the recipe from food.com posted by Zurie.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, any kind
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder (a pinch)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 2-3 drops vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a small bowl, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, tiny pinch baking powder and tiny pinch salt. (This can also be mixed directly into a large mug).
  2. Add egg and mix into dry mixture.
  3. Add oil and milk and mix well.
  4. Grease a tall, large mug, and pour in this mixture, scraping out with a spatula.
  5. Place in microwave on high for 2 1/2-3 minutes.
  6. (Best slightly undercooked, so be careful).

I do not condone hourly, or even daily consumption of mug cake. That is way too much of a good thing. I don’t plan to shovel mug cake into my children’s mouths while patting myself fervently on the back, shouting ,” Atta girl, Mrs. Crocker!” This will be a very cherished and rare delicacy. But now I know I have the power, the secret to a delicious dessert that takes 5 minutes from thought to bite! I encourage you to try out mug cake, and tell me what you think. There are vanilla recipes, (oh boy) nutella recipes, and probably tons of other varieties of mug cake. I have yet to be so bold. But here’s to venturing out into the unknown! Grab your spatula! Seize the day!

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