cooking

Littleburg Pop-Up

If you know me, you’ll know I love a good food pop-up.  If you know my fiancé, you’ll know that he will not eat at restaurants labelled “vegan.”  This weekend might have changed his mind, though!

Matt’s coworker’s boyfriend is a talented chef who hosted a pop-up at The Local Fare in Arlington this past weekend.  Littleburg Vegetable Kitchen offered veggie burgers, two sides, and two desserts.  We ordered everything and regret nothing.

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They coursed the meal out for us and we started with the summer vegetable salad of heirloom beans, almond dressing, polenta chips, and herbs.  Man, this was so good!  It had such a satisfying crunch and fresh taste.  Along with that we had the broccolini in a blanket with cashew ricotta and spicy tomato sauce.  This was like a broccoli quesadilla and I was so impressed by the “cheese.”  It felt like I was eating dairy, which obviously I loved!  This was actually my favorite thing I ate, I think.  Matt ate the sauce straight out of the container after we were done with the broccolini in a blanket, so that’s saying something.

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We then split the veggie burger.  I’ve never seen Matt eat a veggie burger, let alone enjoy one this much!  The spices gave it a bit of an Indian taste, and the vegetable toppings were super fresh.  I might have been obsessed with the thick slice of tomato.

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Finally, we had two amazing desserts that blew my mind.  How were these vegan?!  There was the chocolate mousse and Kimball Farm blueberries with shortcake and whipped cream.  Usually, I’m not one to eat dessert without chocolate but I may have actually liked this blueberry dish better?  Honestly, I can’t tell.  I loved them so much and I would never have known these were vegan.

This is 100% a meal I need to repeat.  I’ll be on the lookout for more Littleburg pop-ups, as this was his first, and you should be too!

Top Chef Charleston Finale

Another season of Top Chef has come to a close.  As much as I complained about this veteran v. rookie format, I loved some of my old favorites get a second (or third) chance to capture the title of Top Chef!

Shirley and Brooke face off for their final four course dinner for Top Chef.  All of the previous cheftestants come back to act as sous chefs.  They get to pick two each.  Shirley has the first pick and snatches up Brooke’s obvious first pick, Casey.  Brooke goes with who I thought the first pick would be, Sheldon.  Shirley picks Katsuji, pretty much because he’s Mexican.  Brooke picks Sam, which is kind of a surprise to me but okay.  The judges bring in Brooke & Shirley’s chefs de cuisine for their third sous.

They shop, but the proteins are provided for them and they make a little list for the requests… only, Brooke forgets to add pork belly, even though she has a dish that is built around pork belly.  Shirley orders it as back up, so Brooke ends up getting to use it anyway.

They make:

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To be honest, I could tell Brooke had this on lock down.  The reception to her first three dishes was just too good.  Even though Shirley cleaned up on dessert (even Brooke’s mom knew that) and held her own on most of the other dishes, I just knew this one was going to Brooke.

You know, Brooke got beat by Kristen Kish via Last Chance Kitchen and, although Kristen was completely deserving, being that it was the first season they did LCK, it always felt a little rough to me.  For Brooke to come back and win it all via LCK really felt like the redemption she deserved.

Of course it’s hard to see Shirley lose.  She is so endearing!  She truly puts her heart on a plate, and listening to her sister teach her mother say “I’m very proud,” I felt Shirley got a little redemption too– “…not a doctor, but a chef,” she says.

It was a great season, and I can’t wait for another!

Top Chef: Ancient Mayan Tools

I’m so dumb, you guys.  I’ve been calling this episode the finale, when in fact the finale is tonight‘s episode.  I just assume this is it once they’re actually in the finale location!  We’ve seen finales with three in the past, can you blame me?  Anyway, I’m calling this penultimate episode “finale part one,” because, well, I’ve already put it out there.

Anyway, the final three relocate to the heart of the Yucatan for a habanero challenge.  They have to shop for their ingredients, which, as my fiancé notes, should be no problem– if you work in a kitchen, you speak Spanish… unless that kitchen is in Hawaii.  Sheldon seems to speak as much Spanish as I do, that is, none at all.  He ends up with a tamale instead of cheese.  Shirley used to work in a Mexican-Chinese fusion restaurant, and thus is complete in her element, but Brooke ends up taking the win again.

For the final elimination challenge, they are to create a dish like the Maya used to using traditional Mayan ingredients and traditional Mayan cooking methods only.  So, no tools and open flames.  The chefs are also shocked to see how limited the ingredients are– hey, they said only!

They cook in front of this amazing Indiana Jones-esque set and come up with the following:

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Shirley is the big winner and makes it into the [real] finale first– she’s full of joy!

“I get to cook, I get to cook!  I can’t wait to show you!”

Between Brooke & Sheldon, the choice is tougher.  What the judges really would love is Brooke’s fish on Sheldon’s dish, but they need to choose one.

It hurts, but Padma asks Sheldon to pack his knives before the real finale.  After, she & Tom both appear teary.  I was watching too!  Sheldon is so amazing, I’m truly sorry to see him go.  I do love a female finale, though!

Team Brooke or Team Shirley?!

Top Chef: Breakout and Dance

I figured I’d say my finale part 1 recap for right before the grand final tonight!

We’re in Mexico now with Shirley, Sheldon and John.  They find their way to Chivas Stadium, home of Guadalajara’s soccer team and their Quickfire Challenge.  They are joined by the winner of Last Chance Kitchen… Brooke!  I’ve got to say, I’d have been happy with either her or Casey here, but Brooke just feels right.  After being beat by Last Chance Kitchen in the finale, it’s only appropriate that she gets her chance to win again through Last Chance Kitchen.

Since Chavas means goat, they’re cooking goat.  A little morbid maybe?  Also, hard to do in 45 minutes!  Here’s what they makes:

Brooke wins the Quickfire, making her return all that much sweeter.

For the elimination challenge, it’s all about Patron!  They have to make a unique margarita to pair with a dish to serve to 100 Patron employees.  Also, they have sous chefs!  Casey, Sylva, Katsuji, and Emily walk on out.  Brooke gets to assign them since she won.  She takes Casey for herself, gives Sylva to Shirley, Emily to Sheldon, and Katsuji to John.  Yup, that last one’s trouble.

Here’s how they do:

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Sheldon was worried about his octopus, and the commercial led us to believe that we should be worried too.  Have no fear, though, Sheldon’s food is great!  The drink gets compared to a fish tank, though– too much garnish.

I was really worried about Shirley.  Sylva accidentally grabbed vanilla instead of agave nectar and, while Shirley thought it was a happy accident, the judges did not agree.

Brooke’s only criticism was that maybe her drink wasn’t that strong, but it made the pairing with her dish that much better.  She ends up taking the win!  Two wins directly after being eliminated, or three wins in a row– she’s on fire!

John’s drink is a big part of his un-doing.  He really wants to create a classic margarita, which is not the creative drink the judges asked for and with just tequila and lime, completely overpowers the food.  He is asked to pack his knives.

Tonight’s finale is actually the match-up I wanted– Shirley, Sheldon, and Brooke will face off for the title.  Who do you think will win?!

 

Top Chef: I’m Not Crying

We’re down to the final four at the start of last week’s episode– Brooke, Shirley, and Sheldon I knew would be here, but I’m as surprised as John is to see him there!  But yeah, no; he’s not crying.

The chefs find the Quickfire set up to be a little different– 4 identical sets of 2 work stations divided by a wall.  The chefs are to instruct mystery guests and make a dish that tastes and looks the same!  Now, these mystery guests are their nearest & dearest– John’s wife, Sheldon’s wife, Shirley’s husband, and Brooke’s sister.  (Fans will remember; Brooke’s husband is a chef too, so he clearly wasn’t allowed to play.)  It cracks me up that no one seems to recognize their loved one’s voice!  Sheldon picks up on it right away, but he keeps the surprise for everyone.

All four dishes are successful, but Sheldon ends up taking home the win and a prize fo $10k for him & his wife!  The chefs all get to spend some time with their loved one that evening when Padma cooks for them in their home.

The elimination challenge for the week is equally as sentimental as the Quickfire ended up being.  The chefs are to create a dish to reflect on their time in Charleston; winner gets to cook at the James Beard house!

Here are the results:

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John worries his dish may be a little simple by comparison, but his oceanside point-of-view is clear.

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You know Shirley’s going to knock it out of the park when she says she’s not made this for the judges, but for her family who inspired her.  With a request to open up a Chinese soul food restaurant in Charleston heard, I think it’s safe to say she did just that.

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Brooke takes a literal interpretation of the challenge, as that’s how she works best.  She uses ingredients and elements from dishes that have brought her success in Charleston.  Though she’s not confident, the judges do enjoy what she presents.

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Sheldon works magic melding cultures– he takes Carolina gold rice and turns it into chow fun.  And with it, he wins!

Tom says there are no losers, just one person who’s not moving on.  Sadly, and honestly surprisingly, that person is Brooke.

Let’s not forget, Brooke was beat by Last Chance Kitchen’s champion, so she’s really still in this!  Maybe.  We’ll see tonight, right?!

Top Chef: Just Don’t Suck

Fresh off a win, Sylva is feeling “a little unstoppable,” which he thinks is a bad thing.  The six remaining chefs are met in the stew room by Tom Colicchio himself!  He promises a treat for them since they’ve been working hard.  They meet him at a marina the next day and they’re going out shrimping!  Even Brooke with her boat-phobia has a great time.

Padma is waiting for them when they dock.  It’s Quickfire time!  They’re obviously making a shrimp dish, which is not news to them, but the fact that it’s a Sudden Death Quickfire is!  The chefs struggle a little bit being outside their kitchen.  Sylva complains about opening a can with his $400 knife and Shirley is a little loopy from the motion sickness medication she took to brave the boat.

The three chefs with Tom & Padma’s least favorite dishes are facing off for elimination.  Sheldon is definitely safe, producing the best dish.  Casey, Shirley, and Sylva are going to have to fight to stay in the competition.  For the cookoff, the three are to use the other things they caught during their shrimping trip– squid, skate, and the like.  It’s a close fight, but Casey is eliminated for chewy calamari.

Phew, all that before the episode’s main challenge!  Padma says it’s time to have fun with your food.  The creator of the cronut, Chef Domanique Ansel, comes out to talk about brunch.  The chefs are to put on a brunch– the judges aren’t looking for anything traditional, but for unique mash-ups.  Man, this sounds hard!  (Slash, I really want to try Tom fois grasffle.)

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Top Chef: Ah Spicy, Ah Ginger! Next!

It’s the episode I’ve been waiting for!  Michael Voltaggio guest judges for a very fun Quickfire– the blindfolded taste test!  This is one of my favorite challenges from the best of the Gordon Ramsay shows, so I always like seeing it.

When all is said and done, Emily, Silva, and Shirley named the fewest ingredients.  Brooke, Sheldon, and Casey did the best.  Sheldon got 10, Casey got 11, and Brooke crushed the competition with 16!  (John goes unmentioned in the middle of the pack.)

The challenge for the week is to create a meal that is reminiscent of your childhood. (more…)

Top Chef: Tastes Like Strawberries

It’s the moment all the chefs have been waiting for: Restaurant Wars!  There is no Quickfire this time.  The chefs find themselves face to face with Daniel Humm, Will Guidara, and of course, Padma Lakshmi.  The space they stand in will be their restaurant… both teams’ restaurant, as they will serve on separate nights to see how each team can transform the same space.  They draw knives to determine teams.

Shirley and Katsuji pull knives to make them team captains.  Katsuji, who’s pulled first pick, selects Sheldon who admits he’s “had some luck” on this challenge before.  Shirley pulls Brooke, another solid Restaurant Wars veteran.  Katsuji picks Casey and Shirley picks Sylva, leaving John and Emily who are both tough picks after the last elimination.  Katsuji goes for John having worked successfully with him before and leaving Emily to Shirley.

Shirley naturally takes the role of executive chef.  She gives Brooke front-of-house, where she excelled in her last Restaurant Wars.  Katsuji, for whatever reason, does not want executive chef.  He wants to make three dishes.  He assigns this role to John and gives Casey front-of-house.  Katsuji also got to choose which night his team serves, and he’s opted to go second.

So, Shirley’s Red Team serves first.  Their restaurant is called Latitude, inspired by the sea.

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Brooke’s salmon is well received, but Emily’s squid ink pasta lacks both texture and flavor.  Shirley’s snapper goes over pretty well, but Sylva’s halibut is a big hit!  Shirley’s panna cotta is a disaster, though she knew it would be.  Emily buttermilk cake is surprisingly well received, though!

Katsuji’s Blue Team goes the next night.  They merge their styles using the south as their inspiration, since it is Top Chef Charleston after all.  Southern Belle serves up family style, making Tom ask, “Why are we sharing small plates?”

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Katsuji’s tamale is a bit confusing, but his beef tongue is a restaurant favorite.  His dessert is undercooked, though.  Sheldon’s soup doesn’t really work.  Casey’s dessert is nice and “tastes like strawberries.”

The Red Team wins, putting the Blue Team on the chopping block.  John, as executive chef, is under fire.  Katsuji, as the ultimate decision maker, takes the brunt of it and ends up packing his knives.

This was a tough one for me, as I like Katsuji!  Who do you think is next to go?!

Top Chef: Maybe Captain Planet is Coming

Last week’s Top Chef started with the most interesting Quickfire.  Based on the cheftestants’ zodiac sign, the chefs use ingredients to represent Air, Water, and Fire (there are no Earth signs among them) for Padma and guest judge Michael Cimarusti.  Unfortunately for the group, it’s a sudden death Quickfire.

When the dishes are tasted, Katsuji, Sheldon, and Jamie are the favorites, but Jamie takes the win and immunity.  Emily, Jim, and Sylva are on the bottom and fight it out in a cook-off.  Because there were no Earth signs, they must use those ingredients to create the same dish.  They choose steak tartar.  Graham Elliot joins Padma and Michael for judging.  Jim is shockingly send packing his knives!  Guys, this one hurts.  I’m rooting for him in Last Chance Kitchen!

The mood focuses to Black Beard the pirate, who apparently threw quite the party!  The chefs are breaking into teams for an ingredient treasure hunt through Charleston!  They draw swords to determine teams of three.  The yellow team is Sheldon, Shirly, and Sylva.  The black team is Katsuji, Brooke, and Casey.  The red team is John, Jamie, and Emily.  This seems like such a fun challenge, but it’s a tropical storm…

They run around in the rain with a map given to them by a pirate.  There are seven chefs, each with three ingredients.  The first team to the chest gets their first choice of ingredient.  Yellow is the first team to finish.  Black is just a few minutes behind, despite Katsuji’s abhorrence for the rain.  Red is the last to return, but they have plenty of time to cook with their booty.

The yellow team took an easy win, being the judges’ clear favorite.  Shirley is given the win for the team!  While Katsuji had a good dish, there were some issues with the rest of the black team’s dishes.  There were equally as many issues on the red team.  Jamie had immunity, but one of the worst dishes.  Jamie offers up his immunity to the judges to be judged for elimination among his peers; he feels that his dish landed his team on the bottom.  (Funny, Tom said the same thing tasting them!)

Tom & the judges think that Katsuji’s dish saved the black team.  Padma asks Jamie if he’s sure he wants to give up his immunity.  He confirms, and is sent packing his knives.  That was kind of crazy!  Jamie was very noble, and is off to Last Chance Kitchen to fight his way back.