Poached Perfection

If you follow me on Instagram or on Twitter then you probably know I enjoy cooking. I love all kinds of foods but eggs hold a special place in my heart, most especially the poached egg. For years I’ve been on a quest to find the best / most foolproof method for poaching eggs and I’m pleased to report I think I’ve finally found it.

When it comes to cooking the perfect poached eggs, there are many factors that can lead to failure or at the very least, eggs that are not pretty or are a pain in the clean-up department. I’ve tried Gordon Ramsay’s method, America’s Test Kitchen’s, and most recently Heston Blumenthal’s recipe which I was convinced was the holy grail of poaching eggs. But then I came across an unassuming video from Life Hacker on ways to cook eggs in the microwave. Although the first two (scrambled and sunny-side up) resulted in less than spectacular results, the third for poaching works *perfectly*. And I do mean perfectly. The method is easy. Simply fill a small bowl 1/2 with water, crack the egg into it, cover with a saucer and microwave for at least 1 min. Cooking times vary greatly depending on the strength of your microwave but once you dial the proper setting in for your own equipment, you can produce one perfectly poached egg after another in very little time and with next to no clean-up. Just remember to use fresh water each time so the left-over, heated water doesn’t mess with your timing and over-cook your eggs.

Unlike dropping a raw egg into a pot of boiling water, there is no where for the egg white to go. Since the bowl is so small, the egg proteins can’t disperse. You don’t need vinegar or whisking the water into a vortex, or a pocket of cling film or even have to worry about bubbles on the bottom of the pan turning your creation into a real eggo waffle. If you love a good poached egg, have a microwave (who doesn’t?) and want to change your culinary life forever, give this method a go. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got second breakfast to make.

Double Standards for Chopped All-Stars

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains mild spoilers for ep. 1 of the new season Food Network’s Chopped All-Stars. If you’re a stickler for spoilers, leave the kitchen now.

If you’re a fan of Food Network’s reality TV competition, Chopped, then you’re no doubt you’re relishing the new season of all-stars which started this past week. The show pits the biggest names of the network head to head in the Chopped kitchen to see who stands above the rest. The All-Stars edition is a great opportunity to see how talented chefs deal with the pressures of limited time and crazy mystery ingredients in a creative and professional manner. Or so one would think.

In the first episode of Chopped All-Stars, two of the competing Iron Chefs, Marc Forgione and Michael Symon each drank from a bottle of coconut rum they were given and then proceeded to pour the ingredient from the same bottle into their pots. As any fan of the show can tell you, whenever competing chefs commit a cooking no-no like this, they are always called out by the judges at the end of the round. Always. Judge Scott Conant is a stickler for cleanliness and has made many competitors feel 10 inches tall after having tasted from a spoon and then used the very same spoon to stir their creations. Mysteriously, during the all-star edition no one called out either Forgione or Symon for their un-professional behavior.

Another tidbit that’s just as telling is Iron Chef Cat Cora’s use of raw red onions in one of her dishes, an ingredient Conant is infamous for hating. His dislike of red onion is legendary on Chopped but for some reason he didn’t seem to mind Cora’s use of the onion at all. These details are nit-picky to be sure, but are important none-the-less. Speaking as a fan, it rubs my rhubarb to know the Food Network’s talent is put on a pedestal instead of the chopping block where they belong.

What’s Wrong with the Radish?

Something’s wrong with the humble radish. When I was a kid I remember these funny little root vegetables burning my face off from just a single bite, but lately I’ve found they have no more kick than a cramped kangaroo. Part of me suspects that the heat of the modern day radish has somehow been bred out of it for a wider appeal to mainstream American consumers. A quick check of Wikipedia reveals that there are no less than 10 common varieties of radishes. The Cherry Belle is the version most often purchased in North American grocery stores. From the taste and smell of them they must be some of the blandest radishes on the block.

I first became addicted to radishes when I was very young. My aunt grew them in her garden and would often give them to me and my cousins to chomp on along with freshly dug carrots. Aunt Lorraine’s radishes were strong enough to put hair on your chest and I loved them to death. I also remember the veggie from the Passover celebrations in my church. Part of the ritual involved eating “bitter herbs” and although radishes were probably not historically accurate, I distinctly remember eating slices of radish on pita bread while listening to Fiddler on the Roof. Come to think of it, I’m not sure why our Catholic parish ever celebrated a Jewish event, but I’m glad we did because that’s where I learned to love radishes.

These days radishes might as well be turnips or potatoes because they have about as much flavor. I’ve searched high and low for radishes with heat and not found any in years. The topic came up at lunch today with the guys from work and David suggested checking out the locally grown radishes of the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market. I’ll be heading there this weekend to do some research and hopefully return home with my hot-headed pearls. If all else fails, you can be sure I’ll be sending away for my own super-hot radish seeds next spring. By hook or by crook, the heat will be on!

Wishful Dining

I’m going to apologize right up front to the scores of local folks who will read this post and complain that I’m poo-pooing the Triad’s dining scene. This post isn’t about the lack of dining quality in the Triad, it’s about the lack of establishments that meet the criteria to be on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Several weeks ago, a producer from Triple D emailed local bloggers to ask for suggestions about places in the Triad that might be right for the show. Ed Cone put up a post to ask for input and many people chimed in. The trouble is, none of these people actually seem to watch the show.

If they did they’d know that there are very few, if any restaurants in the area that Guy Fieri should be visiting. That’s not to say the diners, drive-ins and dives in Greensboro, High Point and Winston aren’t good, many of them are. Take one of my favorite sandwich places, Jams Deli, which is just up the road from my office on Friendly Avenue. I love Jams very much and I and the guys at work enjoy eating there at least once a week for lunch. Yesterday I noticed a sign on Jam’s window asking for people to email Guy and suggest Jams to be on the show. As much as I love Jams, they too, seemingly have never watched Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. If they did they’d know Jams isn’t Triple D material.

The eateries that are featured on the Food Network show have at least three things that make them TV worthy. First, they make all their food from scratch. Last time I checked, Jam’s doesn’t make their french fries, hot chips, onion rings, buns or rolls from scratch. Second, they usually have waiting lines out the door at all times of day. The closest place Triple D has featured, The Penguin Drive-In in Charlotte, NC typically has a 20-45 minute wait to get a table any day of the week. Third, they serve interesting food. Over at Cone’s, Liv Jones suggested Johnson’s in Siler City for their yummie burgers. While I respect Liv’s opinion, Siler City isn’t the Triad, and Johnson’s burgers have nothing on burgers featured on Triple D. The places the producers are looking for have notable items no one else has. Like homemade fried pickle chips or a giant hot dog affectionately called “The Homewrecker”.

Same goes for almost all of the other places I saw suggested at Cone’s blog: Country BBQ (it’s good, but it’s also standard NC fair) Beef Burger (ate there 2 weeks ago, absolutely over rated, not all food made from scratch), Texas Tavern (in Virginia, not the Triad, no interesting food items). About the closest I think would meet the show’s criteria is Yum Yum. Because it’s a college hangout, it’s always busy and people rave about the place, but I don’t know if the food is made from scratch or what.

At this point I can sense you really are upset with me. Upset because I’m not begging the producers of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives to come to Greensboro and film their show. Trust me, I’ve watched every episode and no one would love for them to come here more than me. I would just love to be able to point them at a place like Henrietta NY’s Dibella’s Old Fashion Subs and say “This is the place you’ve been looking for!” But I can’t. If there was a place in the Triad that deserved to be on the show, I’d be eating there every single day. Of course there are plenty of places in Greensboro I’ve never been, so go watch a few Triple D clips and get a sense for the kind of food they showcase. If you still think you know a place that can measure up, suggest it in the comments. I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong, wrong, wrong on this one. In the meantime, I’m heading to Charlotte to check out Penguin. Who’s with me?

To Thine Own Self Be True

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains spoilers for season 5 of Bravo TV’s Top Chef. If you’ve not watched the finale episode yet, then you should stop reading right now. I really mean it. Just stop.

Part of the problem, and allure, of reality television is that it doesn’t always go how you want it to. Take the conclusion of one of my favorite shows, Bravo’s Top Chef. Season five of the hit reality series about a group of wannabe Julia Childs seemed to be full of promise. There were a number of chefs that really knew their way around the kitchen and were worth rooting for.

They ranged from fan favorite Fabio, a suave Italian competing to be Europe’s first Top Chef, to my personal favorite, Carla Hall, the eclectic cook who put a heaping tablespoon of love in each of her dishes. Like many others, I didn’t like Carla at first. She seemed too flighty to be a serious competitor and didn’t win any of the Quick Fire Challenges early on. Then a strange thing happened. Carla decided to make dishes from her roots and cook food she was passionate about. She began to earn the respect of the judges, edged out Fabio for one of the 3 spots in the finale and seemed to be poised to take the title.

I was sure the competition in the final round would be between Carla and Stefan. The other finalist, Hosea Rosenberg never seemed to have his act together, a fact illustrated when he crossed the line flirting with another contestant, Leah Cohen. In addition, despite owning his own seafood restaurant, Hosea lost a critical seafood challenge. So when Hosea managed to best both Carla and Steffan for the ultimate title of season 5 Top Chef, I was upset.

I was upset with Carla not because she cooked poorly or made mistakes, but because she let herself be second-guessed by her assigned soux chef, Casey Thompson from season 3. Casey convinced Carla to cook her main entree using a technique she wasn’t familiar with, sous vide. The meat was rubbery and didn’t have the soulful feel the judges had come to expect from Carla. In addition Carla took another bit of advice from Casey and changed her desert course from a tart to a much more risky soufflĂ©. Carla didn’t pay attention to the oven temperature and the soufflĂ©s were ultimately ruined.

By taking direction from the person who was assigned to her, Carla effectively gave the $100,000 prize to Hosea. To add insult to injury, Hosea managed to pull an upset against the man who has served as William Shatner’s personal chef, Stefan. If anyone of the three deserved to lose Top Chef, it was Hosea, and judging from the polling that night about who the audience thought would win (Carla 65%, Stefan 20%, Hosea 15%), the final results came as a shock.

Carla doesn’t blame Casey for her loss, and although I was upset with Casey at first, I’ve come to realize it wasn’t her fault. Carla was the one who didn’t listen to her inner chef and follow through with her plans. Like so many of us in our day to day lives, Carla let hesitation creep in and as a result, her once strong plans turned sour. If there’s a lesson I’m going to take away from my latest bout with reality TV, it’s simply this – stay true to yourself. That plus don’t take cooking advice from runner-ups. Here endeth the lesson, we still love ya’ Carla.

I’m turning Japanese!

A few months ago I came across a great website called Cooking Cute. The site gives tips and tricks for creating imaginative and beautiful bento box lunches. I’m a big fan of all things Japanese and am fascinated by the level of detail and creativity on display there.

One of the typical ingredients in a Japanese bento box are hard boiled eggs, but not just any old eggs. Cooking Cute shows how to use plastic egg molds to shape your lunch into cute objects like cars, fish and stars. Turns out you can’t get them in the U.S. (at least that I found) and so I turned to eBay and ordered them directly from Japan. Click the image to visit my Flickr page and see how the whole thing turned out.

The process is relatively simple and straight forward. Hard boil some eggs as you normally would, but peel them while they are still hot. This turned out to be the most difficult part. You have to get the eggs into the molds as quickly as possible, while they are still pliable. Be careful not to burn yourself! This part should definitely not be done by children. Next, stuff them into the molds and lock them shut. If there is overflow, don’t worry, you actually want as much egg in the mold as possible. Next, float them in an ice water bath for about 10 minutes to set and cool them. If all goes according to plan, you’ll have a cute bunny where a plain old egg used to be!

Egg molds can be great fun, especially if you have children in the house. It’s a nice project that isn’t nearly as messy as creating Easter Eggs. Just be sure you buy extra large, jumbo eggs. If you don’t, some of the parts of the mold don’t get filled and you’ll end up with failed eggtemps (sorry!). Check eBay for the latest egg molds and then get ready to bring a little slice of Japan into your kitchen.

New ‘Dinner’ Is Impossible To Swallow

Food Network’s Dinner: Impossible used to be one of my very favorite shows on television. The reality series about chef Robert Irvine tackling increasingly difficult culinary challenges with absurd time limits made for great drama. The show was a bright spot in a network lineup filled with Americanized knock-offs of genuine hits and talentless hacks who think big boobs and native pronunciations pass for cooking ability. Then, early in 2008 it was revealed that the show’s host, Irvine, had padded some of the more impressive parts of his culinary resume. This, combined with some bad business decisions by Irvine surrounding two new St. Petersburg, FL restaurants, led Food Network to can Irvine in favor of Michael Symon of Iron Chef America fame.

Viewers got a taste of the new Dinner: Impossible on July 20th, with a special advanced viewing of Symon as host. The results were not encouraging. Symon stumbled through his first challenge like a freshman CIA student, all the while annoying us with his goofy giggle. You might be tempted to chalk this unpleasant outing up to beginner’s nerves. But Symons deals with high pressure cooking situations every time he does battle in Iron Chef America’s Kitchen Stadium. No, it seems clear that Symons isn’t compelling or likable enough to shoulder Impossible without Alton Brown riding shotgun.

Even though Robert Irvine didn’t actually work on Princess Diana or Prince Charle’s wedding cake, it turns out he was perfectly skilled to host Dinner: Impossible. Irvine was a tough, but fair chef who brought out the best (and worst) in those he worked with. Whether he was cooking in -30 degree temperatures for the ice hotel episode or giving a set of his prized knives away to soux-chefs who inspired him, Robert Irvine made Impossible what it was. I don’t particularly care if Food Network didn’t bother to check his credentials before they hired him, I throughly enjoyed watching him cook under pressure. The suits that canned Irvine have proven once again that what viewers want, and what network executives want are two very different things.

The official start to season 5 of Dinner: Impossible with host Michael Symon starts August 20th, 2008. However, the show’s producers had better get Symon’s buns in gear or they may find viewers souring on DI, permanently. Personally, I think they should have given the gig to Guy Fieri. He turned in a fun and memorable performance as a guest chef on Dinner: Impossible last season and would strike the perfect balance between challenge completion and humor the show so desperately needs. Even an aging Emeril Lagasse would have been a better choice than Symons to helm the show. If I had to choose between Emeril’s “Bam!” and Symon’s silly cackle every week, “Bam!” wins hands down. I can’t believe I just wrote that.

Playing In Hell

First there was Cooking Mama, and then my friend Dave Miller blogged about the upcoming Iron Chef game for the Nintendo Wii and DS. Now the genre comes to full circle thanks to the controversial but always entertaining Gordon Ramsay. His hit show Hell’s Kitchen, is being transformed into a digital arena where wannabe chefs can hone their culinary skills or face ultimate humiliation in the comfort of their own homes. According to the Hell’s Kitchen website, the game includes “Career Mode” and “Arcade Mode”, kitchen and dining room challenges and even includes recipes you can try at home! I fancy myself an amateur chef and I have to say the game seems to capture the manic feel of the TV show without all the hassle of actually becoming a reality TV contestant. If you’ve always wanted to feel Gordon’s wrath after ruining his famous risotto for the 10th time (as I have), then this is the game for you.

A video preview of the game includes a virtual Gordon complete with his famous potty mouth, digital Jean Philipe and much more. Although the release date has not been published, thankfully the HK site reports the game will be available for both the PC and Macintosh operating systems. From the looks of the screen shots and the illustrated nature of the settings, the graphics seems to be a cut above most games of this type. Hopefully game play will be interactive, fun and challenging enough to keep players chopping, sauteing, and plating for days. If you’re interested, there is a sign-up available that will keep you posted about the game and when we can expect it to hit shelves. In the meantime, sharpen your knives and harden your ego, because apparently virtual Gordon, like his namesake, takes no prisoners!