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Monday, December 24, 2012

Next Iron Chef: Redemption - Episode 8: Passion/Respect Finale Recap

Only three chefs remain for this final episode. Chefs Alex Guarnaschelli, Amanda Freitag, and Nate Appleman have to compete in the Chairman's Challenge of Passion. Each judge selected one key ingredient that they each wanted to have in their last meal on Earth; the chefs had to select blindly from the three. Since Freitag had won the most challenges, she got the advantage of choosing first. She picked card #3, Farm Chicken. Appleman selected card #2, Haddock. He pointed out he was not passionate about haddock, but would be for the sake of competition. Guarnaschelli, by default, received card #1, Sea Urchin. The chefs had 45 minutes in the kitchen of Fiama Trattoria, in the MGM Grand., to prepare one dish that showed passion for the ingredient.

Freitag went with a dish that would highlight crispy skin, moist inner meat, and fat from the chicken. One technique she used was removing the skin from the chicken thighs, laying it out flat, dusting with all-purpose and rice flours, and frying to a rich golden crispiness. She was using a lot of "lusty" lemon, and a basic roast on the typical vegetables.

Guarnaschelli wanted to show the passion for sea urchin and sunchokes she developed when she first arrived in France. She wanted to create a flan in the shell with Brussels sprouts and sunchokes, while highlighting the fluffy urchin and lemon.

Appleman decided to go with a clam chowder type dish with the haddock, a memory from his childhood. He wanted to create the smokiness of a chowder, and used a sous vide cooking method to slow poach the haddock.

Chef's Challenge Judging

Nate Appleman was first up with his Poached Haddock and Clam Chowder, with the ingredient chosen by Simon Mujamdar. Simon enjoyed the bacon and broth components, but felt some of the clams were a bit underdone, chewy, and didn't add anything to the chowder. Donatella loved the parsley buttered crumb topping. And Geoffrey didn't pick up any of the intended smokiness of the dish, but said it envoked the childhood memories tied to the dish.

Amanda Freitag was up next with her Lusty Lemon Roasted Chicken, featuring lemon ricotta, smaltz, and crispy chicken skin. (In case you don't know, smaltz is rendered chicken fat, a key ingredient in Kosher/Jewish cooking.) This ingredient is the one that Geoffrey Zakarian said must be in his last supper. He thoroughly enjoyed the dish, and raved accordingly. Donatella loved the lusciousness of it. Simon had nothing bad to say, either, including how wonderful the Parmesan chicken jus was. It was very obviously to anyone watching at this point, Chef Freitag smashed this one out of the park, and clearly would be moving into the final battle in Kitchen Stadium.

Finally, Alex Guarnaschelli was up for judgment with Donatella's last supper ingredient, sea urchin, in the form of Sea Urchin Custard, with Corn, Brussels Sprouts, and Sunchokes. Donatella was worried it would be too isoteric of a dish, but assured us, her worries were unfounded. Besides the unique custard, Alex stepped outside her comfort circle to produce a foam! Was she drawing inspiration from Marcel with that move? Her foam consisted of the sea urchin liquid from within the shell, water, lemon juice, and butter, to represent the movement of the ocean. A very bold move, but garnered criticism from Simon that he would have liked a little more lemon in it. He did, however, love the sweetness the corn imparted to the dish. Geoffrey felt the custard was not custardy enough. And Donatella loved the dish.

Clearly, it was between Alex and Nate for the spot opposite Amanda. It seemed very close; Nate lacking smokiness and having some underdone clams, and Alex with her not custardy enough custard (?) and lacking lemon in the foam. When it was all discussed and decided, I was happy to see Alex move on to face Amanda. With either of these ladies, I would be happy.

The Final Battle in Kitchen Stadium
The two finalists find themselves in front of Alton Brown and The Chairman in Kitchen Stadium. Brown reveals the theme of the final battle is Respect. In accordance to this, as additional judges, three of the senior Iron Chefs were on hand: Bobby Flay, Masaharu Morimoto, and Michael Symon. Brown reveals the secret ingredients. There were three categories on the podium, to pay homage to each of the senior Iron Chefs: Southwest ingredients (avocado, lime, chiles) to represent Flay, Asian ingredients (a shill for Kikkoman products, including Panko, ponzu, soy sauce, daikon radish, wasabi), and Mediterranean ingredients (olives, feta, phyllo, egglplant) to represent Symon.

The chefs needed to select two ingredients from each set, and create three dishes that would show Respect and pay tribute to the Iron Chefs they would be joining, upon winning. They had the normal 60 minutes, that was customary for Kitchen Stadium battles.

I won't even begin to try to type commentary for the actual action in the kitchen. I feel that's just something one would have to see for themselves.

Dishes were presented to the judges in an alternating pattern, just to confuse the hell out of us, I believe.

Guarnaschelli presented her tribute to Morimoto: Scallops with Hen the Wood Mushrooms. Her dish featured miso marinated shallots. Symon liked the way Guarnaschelli transformed the Morimoto flavors. Simon had one over cooked scallop. Flay loved the dish. Morimoto loved her vision of her dish.

Freitag created a Feta Burratta Caprese with lime, feta, and ponzu. Symon loved the Mediterranean dish. Zakarian appreciated it, and Flay thought it was more of a Morimoto dish. I was a bit puzzled with that comment.

Guarnaschelli's nod to Chef Symon was a Lamb Loin with Fennel, Olives, and Eggplant. The eggplant puree was thee star of the dish, all around.

Freitag showed her respect to Chef Symon also with lamb, in the form of a Lamb Loin with Charred Eggplant Yogurt & Chermoula. A chermoula is simple herbs, cumin, cayenne, and lemon. The dish was smokey, and Symon felt the sous vide cooking of the eggplant may have caused it to lose its bitterness, but kept its texture.

Guarnaschelli's Flay dish was a dessert, Cherry Tart with Pasilla and Lime, with crème fraiche ice cream with lime. Flay loved it, and felt it was brilliant. Other judges raved it was brilliant, inspired, stunning, "best dish","favorite", smart, and bursting with flavor! Obviously, this was the best dish of the battle. Was it enough to win it all for Alex?

Freitag created a dessert of a Brown Sugar Corn Cake with Miso Honey Ice Cream, featuring a blueberry ginger compote. The main critical point was from Flay, that it was too much on the savory side. 

All the judges then conferred and we were brought to the setting of the tapestry pictures of the reigning Iron Chefs. The Chairman stood before the covered tapestry and they did the customary talk to the contestants. Brown pointed out, truthfully, that both of them had gained redemption. But in the end, only one chef could reign supreme... 

The Next Iron Chef is...

Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli

I was beyond excited to see her win, but would have been happy to have either her or Freitag as the winner. And already, Guarnaschelli gets a chance at a little revenge next week, in her first Battle against Chef Judy Joo, the judge that caused her elimination in last season's Next Iron Chef. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Next Iron Chef: Redemption - Episode 7: Transcendence Recap

This episode opens with the four remaining chefs: Marcel Vigneron, Alex Guarnaschelli, Amanda Freitag, and Nate Appleman standing in the museum of magic in Las Vegas, with Alton Brown sitting in a helicopter cockpit, living out some odd dream of him being a 'copter pilot. Alton introduces the group to famous illusionist David Copperfield, who acts (poorly, I should add) shocked that he has sold more tickets to his performances than anyone, including Lady GaGa. Then, Alton stands aside as Copperfield carries out this gimmicky, confusing, and all around unnecessary illusion with cards to reveal the ingredient for the Chairman's Challenge to "Transcend" the typical buffet style meal. After suffering through all the confusion, it is finally revealed that the ingredient/theme would be... BACON! There will need to be three hot dishes, and two hot dishes, from each team, prepared and presented in two hours.

The chefs would be placed into two teams of two. Freitag had the advantage from the last win, so she got to choose her teammate; she picked Appleman. This put Alex and Marcel together. In the side commentary, Alex makes it clear she is not happy with her partner selection. As the twist, the non-winning team would be the two competitors in the Secret Ingredient Showdown. So eloquently put by Alex on several points in the episode, "Friends become Frenemies!" Sorry, Alex, does that mean you consider Marcel to be your buddy?

Before I get into the Chairman's Challenge, I should point out what I think about the contestants. Guarneschelli is my favorite, by far. Over the past few weeks, I have really come to like Appleman, as well. Both would be great Iron Chefs. Freitag wouldn't be a poor choice, either. But when it comes to Vigneron, I have not been able to stand him the entire season, thus far. I really wish he had made an exit with his "Bro", dude. Now, onto the Challenge!

Team Alex/Marcel decided to take the buffet to a French Bistro style. Marcel got all into his own selfish mind, and was about to piss himself with the idea of innoculating every dish with bacon. He was dead set on "bacon-wrapped bacon", but Alex seemed to have talked him down from it. After planning the menu, Alex and Marcel got down to business. Marcel immediately became a selfish little bitch by keeping the entire jar of sugar on a shelf over his station; Appleman retrieves the sugar for his teammate. Also, it seemed that Marcel went ahead and started the bacon-wrapped bacon, without letting his partner know he returned to that idea. He tossed a pork belly into the pressure cooker, and then wrapped it in a mat of bacon. While this is taking place, Alex does a basic roast chicken that has been mummified in bacon. When Marcel spies the chickens in the oven, he goes on and on about how he would seduce and mount them, and refers to them as "hot sex on a plate". I could have really done without the imagery of the offspring of a chicken and Vigneron. *shudder* And to be honest, I was not impressed with Marcel's idea to make a chocolate mousse with bacon.

Team Freitag/Appleman got to work on some very tasty-sounded creations. While Appleman's country fried bacon (which he credits from watching Good Eats) sounds fantastic, I wasn't really sure if he should be tempting fate with crepes while he couldn't pull off a good pancake, last time. As Freitag fills and rolls the crepes, she proudly boasts that her crepes "will bring all the boys to the yard". Indeed, Amanda, they just might.

The teams had to decorate their own buffet table. Alex tossed together something decent, which Marcel, much to her dismay, completely re-decorated. Appleman, smartly, realized he only had to make their table look better than Alex & Marcel's.

And in typical food television challenges, it appears neither team will get done in time. *GASP* Wow, they did finish just in the nick of time!!!

For the tasting and judging, Donatella, Simon, and Geoffrey were joined by Hal Rubenstein from InStyle Magazine, apparently to judge the buffet presentation?

First up is Team Freitag & Appleman. They transcended the buffet by going "petite". You know, when I think of all you can eat buffets, I think "petite". Their dishes included:

* BLT Salad with Jalapeno Lime Vinaigrette, with the deep fried bacon
* Lobster Crepe with Canadian Bacon
* Bacon Roasted Potatoes, cooked in bacon fat, with shitake mushrooms, asparagus, finished with sherry
* Honey Mustard Pork Belly with a cheddar, bacon biscuit, on their carving station
* The Elvis Brulee, Peanut Butter Pudding, Bacon Peanut Brittle

Simon did not enjoy the salad, as his was basically void of the dressing. A diner they showed also complained of the omission. All the judges seemed to agree that the pork belly was just too "mustard-forward" and was overwhelmed by it. Everything else seemed to please the judges, except the fashion judge did not approve of how the table was dressed. The Elvis dessert garnered praise from all the judges, and was deemed the best dessert of the competition!

Next was Team Guarneschelli & Vigneron. Their method to transcend the typical buffet was to go French Bistro on it. Their dishes were:

* Leeks & Eggs with Bacon Vinaigrette: a classic bistro dish
* Lobster Bacon Burre Monte with Potatoes: poached lobster in the bacon butter, with fried fingerling  potatoes
* Bacon Wrapped Chicken
* Bacon Wrapped Pork Belly with Brussels Sprouts
* Chocolate Mousse with Bacon Pecan Streussel

Geoffrey observed immediately that the leeks were undercooked in their opening dish. Then, he pointed out that everything in the lobster burre monte dish tasted the same. Let me guess... did it all taste like bacon, perchance? The bacon-wrapped chicken from the carving station brought mixed reactions. Simon thought they were juicy. Donatella said the ingredient was transcended. Uhm... what does that mean? And Hal knocked them for being unattractive and just "piled" in that pan. Question: If they are on a carving station, what does it matter how they look prior to being sliced? Everyone seemed to enjoy the bacon-wrapped bacon. The mousse dessert had broken, and become grainy. Simon smartly states that bacon does NOT make everything better. Hal complained about the presentation of the table, and said that the buffet did not call out to the diner. I'm still baffled why this guy was on the show.

Both teams had negatives: pork belly overwhelmed by the honey mustard, and the undercooked leeks & broken down mousse. The judges decided that Freitag and Appleman would move on, and Guarneschelli and Vigneron would battle in the Secret Ingredient Showdown. Marcel seemed very confident and Alex seemed stressed, as usual. This is Alex's first trip to the elimination round, and Marcel's third. And to note, this is also the point, last season, when Alex was eliminated. Please God, don't let Alex get eliminated against Marcel!

Secret Ingredient Showdown
In the world of product placement, Food Network is beginning to shill nearly as much as Top Chef. In this instance, the secret ingredient was Hershey's chocolate and candy. The contestants had to select two items and create a savory, holiday dish.
Alex chose Bliss White Chocolate and Special Dark, along with duck and radicchio. She created a Duck Breast and White Chocolate Fennel Cherry Salad. Her plating looked fantastic and did a great job showing a holiday theme: the cherries looked like Christmas ornaments, and the shaved white chocolate a nice snow over the dish. The dark chocolate on the duck breast and fried duck heart was a great pairing of flavors, as well as the dark chocolate in the red wine onions. 

Marcel selected Hershey Milk Chocolate Bars and Kisses, to pair with his savory duo of lamb and eggplant. He decides to create Roasted Lamb with Eggplant Caponata. I was confused about the holiday theme with his idea, since caponata is primarily a summer vegetable dish. He worked the chocolate into his eggplant puree, and went with a white chocolate curry risotto. He burned up his first pan of risotto and decided to use a sushi rice in order to cook faster. His lamb never had a chance to cook fully given the time constraints. He broke down the rack of lamb and appeared to be poaching or frying the lamb in chunks, on the stove top.
Vigneron's Showdown Dish, including underdone lamb
Vigneron was first up in the "Chamber of Judgement". Simon was very apprehensive about the white chocolate curry risotto (and who wouldn't be?), but found it to be wonderfully the best dish on the plate. He did not like the undercooked lamb. Geoffrey disagrees about the doneness, and Donatella never voices an opinion, other than a slight head nod.
Guarnaschelli's Showdown Dish
Guarneschelli is praised for her use of the duck heart, but Simon thought it was not well seasoned. The judges enjoyed the flavor compliment of the endive and fennel in her salad. And they thought she was spot on with holiday snow scene of her plating.

After much discussion, it was decided that Chef Alex Guarneschelli would move on to cook another day. Adios, Bro! Marcel made some remark about coming back possibly as a challenger on Iron Chef America in the future. Whatevs...
Time for pouty little Marcel to run home to his Bro', Yo... 
I'm happy with the three final competitors. I can picture any of the three being a great Iron Chef. Of course, my order of favorites: Alex, Nate, Amanda. It will be interesting to see who will be the final matchup. Next Sunday night is the Season Finale, and the new Iron Chef will be chosen!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

1st Anniversary Contest Winner...

Thanks for all the support over the first year! And thanks for all of the 13 entries! I assigned a number to each commenter, and used an online number generator to pick the number. And the winner is...

Trish Deimer-Steineke! 

Congrats, Trish... your prize will be on the way!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Frank About... The Bocuse d'Or World Cuisine Contest

Until I picked up the book Knives at Dawn: America's Quest for Glory at the Legendary Bocuse d'Or Competition by Andrew Friedman, I had never heard about the Bocuse d'Or World Cuisine Contest. I had heard of the Culinary Olympics that take place in Germany every four years; but the Bocuse d'Or is not to be confused with the Culinary Olympics. Friedman's work followed the training and performance of the 2009 Team USA's Captain Timothy Hollingsworth and Commis Adina Guest of Thomas Keller's French Laundry in Napa, California. It's a fantastic read, and I highly recommend it if you have any desire to learn more about the behind the scenes of a real cooking competition.

So, you ask... "What IS the Bocuse d'Or, Frank?" Well, you're in luck; I just happen to feel like dropping some Food Nerdery on you all, today!

Chef Paul Bocuse
In 1987, renowned French chef and ambassador of modern French cuisine, Paul Bocuse, started the biennial contest as a way to showcase a cooking competition performed live in front of an audience. It has been told that the French wanted their own cooking competition, to show their superiority in cuisine, rather than having to go to Germany and not fare so well. So, every two years, teams of two (a Captain and his/her Commis) from 24 countries gather in Lyon, France for the two day competition. They have five and a half hours to complete a meat platter and a fish platter, each with three original garnishes, for the 24 judges. The proteins are announced in advance, in order for proper training, and to become familiar with the specific meat and fish.

The Bocuse d'Or has become a very popular competition in all the participating countries, going as far as having loud, boisterous audiences for each country in the audience while the cooking takes place. There has never been much enthusiasm from the people of the United States. In a world where reality and competition shows rule the airwaves, you would imagine people would clammer to cheer on Team USA and do well keeping up-to-date with the happenings.

This is something that has plagued The Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation. Other countries have provided very large budgets and well-structured training regimen for their teams. In 2008, it was decided that Team USA needed more structure in their training, needed an order to how the team was selected, and overall more support.

The Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation was formed. Daniel Boulud, Jérôme Bocuse (the son of Paul Bocuse), and Thomas Keller make up the Board of Directors. They formed a competition system in the United States to select the representatives to the event in France, to take place approximately a year before the world competition, and a means to fund their team more appropriately.
Team USA Captain Richard Rosendale (l) and Commis Corey Siegel (r)
Captain Richard Rosendale, Executive Chef of The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia & Certified Master Chef, along with his Commis Corey Siegel, beat out three other teams to win the Bocuse d’Or USA on January 28-29, 2012 at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Team USA also includes Coach Gavin Kaysen (2007 competitor, asst coach 2009, 2011) and Tasting Board members Grant Achatz and Gabriel Kreuther.

An exact duplicate of their competition kitchen in Lyon, France was constructed in the basement of The Greenbrier, in order for Rosendale and Siegel to train to the precise size and shape of the competition area, and to the time and schedule they will need in actual competition.

This year's Bocuse d'Or takes place January 29-30, 2013. The meat to be used has been announced as Irish beef filet, with the option to use ox cheek, chuck, and ox tail. The fish dish was very delayed in being announced, and is turbot and European blue lobster.

There were also some major twists revealed, in how the fish platter is to be prepared and presented. Instead of the platter to serve fourteen people, the teams must prepare fourteen individual plates, as they would in a restaurant setting.

On the eve of the contest, the candidates will have 30 minutes to choose seasonal fruit and vegetables from something called the five continents market. They will use the produce and ingredients to prepare two of the three garnishes on the day of the contest. After having acquired the produce and ingredients from the market, the candidates, together with their coach and commis, will have one hour in which to design and write down the recipe for their dish. Then, to highlight the different national culinary heritages and encourage diversity, the third garnish will be typical of the candidates’ respective countries. This new guideline should lead to the introduction of local produce and ingredient. This concept of local has not been seen in the Bocuse d’Or, before now. 

It should be noted that Team USA has never placed better than sixth, on two occasions. Each year, the expectations are high. Let's hope to see them win it all, this year!

Here are some examples of the type of presentations you would see at the Bocuse d'Or: 

Chef Rosendale's chicken platter that won the 2012 Bocuse d'Or USA

Team USA's Lamb platter in the 2011 Bocuse d'Or
Team USA's Monkfish platter in the 2011 Bocuse d'Or
Team USA's Fish platter from the 2009 Bocuse d'Or
Team Denmark's winning Fish platter from 2011 Bocuse d'Or
Team Denmark's winning Fish plate in the 2011 Bocuse d'Or

Frankly Speaking...

Ever since reading Knives at Dawn..., I was hooked on keeping up with the Bocuse d'Or. I find it very fascinating to keep up on the action, and training, of Team USA. I am a huge food geek, though. Even if you don't get excited about things quite this deep, I hope you are at least aware that this takes place, and our country takes part in it.

The platters that these chefs conceptualize is simply mind-boggling and incredible. They have show pieces created just for the presentation of their food. That entire year of training has to materialize into a platter of food that is stunning in its presentation, innovative in its creation, original in its existence, and lastly, delicious and perfected seasoned, balanced, and prepared.

As a side note, part of the competiton is a poster contest! Yes, just like in grade school for "Say No to Drugs Week". Each team has to design their poster, and are voted upon to choose a winner. Here is Team USA's poster:

How can you keep up on the 2013 competition?

Easily! Social media has provided some great means to get all the up-to-date news and happenings!

You can follow Team USA on Twitter and Facebook, and check out their website.

You can keep up with the official Bocuse d'Or feeds, also on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Next Iron Chef: Redemption, Episode 6: Fusion

After a devastating and surprising elimination of Elizabeth Faulkner on last week's episode, and my disgust that the "Bro's" didn't both get sent packing, I had to regain my composure and move on to watching last night's Episode 6: Fusion.

Down to five contestants (Marcel Vigneron, Amanda Freitag, Alex Guarnaschelli, Nate Appleman, and Jehangir Mehta), this episode takes place in Las Vegas. The episode is flaunted as a figurative unconventional marriage of off-the-wall ingredients: The Chairman's Challenge of Fusion.

Alton Brown reveals an eclectic group of components, and begins to act as he is spontaneously pairing them up. Marcel, as the winner of last week's Challenge, gets to assign the "couples" to each of his competitors. He selected the most logical of the pairings, peanut butter & bleu cheese, for his own, as Alton heckles him for choosing the easiest marriage. Then, assigns the remaining vomit-inducing, hideous pairings as follows: squid & miniature marshmallows to Freitag, chicken livers & peppermints to Guarnaschelli, bone marrow & hard, fruit candies (read: Skittles) to Mehta, clams & strawberries to Appleman.

The judges select Freitag's grilled squid with marshmallow horseradish cream and Hungarian paprika sauce and Marcel's blue cheese ice cream, peanut butter powder, peanut butter brittle and peanut butter praline as the best two dishes of the Challenge. Then, they select Amanda Freitag as the winner of the Fusion Challenge.

Alex Guarnaschelli went the salad route, and eeked by for another week. She's my favorite, and really don't want to see her get so rattled and flub up, as she did in last season's Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs. Chef Appleman got dinged based on his undercooked cavatelli in his acqua pazza ("crazy water" in Italian, that is typically a poached seafood dish), while Mehta, justifiably, got placed in the bottom two based on his grilled bone marrow with hard candy chimichurri, pickled fruit candy fennel bread and chile lime fruit candy. Mehta didn't like one of his ingredients, so he did everything possible to un-Skittle them as much as possible! By transforming it from being a hard fruit candy, the judges stated that there was really no "fusion" in his dish. Neither of these two chefs seem to take criticism very well... too bad they didn't think about that before coming onto a cooking competition show!

Battle Shrimp

With the match of Appleman vs. Mehta set in the Secret Ingredient Showdown, I won't be too sad with either going home. (But my wife loves Mehta's voice!)  The Secret Ingredient was shrimp, to be cooked on a teppanyaki, Japanese flat-top griddle. 

Both chefs seem to cut it close at the end of the time period to get their plates finished. Chef Appleman prepared a shrimp and pea pancake with roasted shrimp head, critiqued as a late night drunk food. His unique shrimp oil earned some praise. Unfortunately, he was also criticized on a technique flaw in the pancake. The shrimp head "flavor packet" he created at the last moment was a stroke of genius, and showed great innovation of flavor. Chef Mehta cooked a mustard and cumin shrimp with mung bean salad. Judge Simon felt the lightly breaded and fried pepper was a bit disjointed from the rest of the dish. Judge Zakarian thought the cumin seed was a bit too pronounced, and commented on some still being stuck in his teeth. Mehta's dry humor/sarcasmic snip of "Just wash it out with some water" didn't quite crack up the judges. 

Mehta's Dish
Appleman's Winning Dish

Neither chef seemed to impress the judges, so they felt they had to pick the one that wasn't the worst. In the end, the ingenious shrimp head flavor packet proved to be the most Iron Chef-like quality of the two dishes. Appleman lives on until next week. 

Now, there are four... Guarneschelli and Appleman are my odds on favorites. Marcel can get lost, as far as I'm concerned. And I have nothing against Freitag, but she's just mediocre to me. I would love to see a finale of Appleman vs. Guarneschelli. 

Coming up next week... Vegas style buffet! Should be interesting! 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Happy Birthday to Us!

I would often find myself sitting at work thinking about some interesting dish I'd love to make. Or I would be reading some food news online, wishing I had someone with whom to discuss it. It was like my mind was full of ideas, concepts, and they were nearly bursting the seams of my brain to escape. I had this constant yearning that I couldn't put my finger on... something that just kept tugging at me.

One year ago today, I took some friends' advice to start a blog in order to post recipes and food ideas I had. So, I figured what the Hell, and started researching a good place to start a free blog. Then I wrote my very first post! It proved to be the spigot... the pressure relief valve that I needed to release all this (for lack if a better word) "stuff" swimming around in my head.

Now, a year later, Frank About Food sits at nearly 3,200 hits, has its own Facebook page, has delved into some great food and drink topics, has covered food programming, and has provided you with a wide range of recipes.

And all this could not have happened without YOU! So, I'm sending my sincere thanks to each one of you who have supported Frank About Food!

Contest Time!

Now... for a contest!!! What do you have to do to enter? Leave a comment here! I want your suggestions and feedback! What do you like about my project? What could be better? What topics would you like to see covered?

From all the comments, I will randomly select a winner. The prize could vary depending on your location. If you are local, it could be a gift certificate to a local eatery such as Instant Karma. If you aren't, it could be a bag of Cottage Small Coffee Roasters coffee!

One caveat... there must be a minimum of 10 comments for a winner to be selected! Contest deadline has been extended until Friday, Dec. 14 at 6:00pm CST!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

New! Next Iron Chef: Redemption Recaps Forthcoming

After seeing how many hits the blog gets every Sunday night and Monday morning via Google Searches about the show, I will start recapping the Sunday night episode right after, or first thing in the morning. I have two episodes on the DVR, and then will begin the recaps this Sunday night! Hope you enjoy!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Cottage Small Coffee Roasters... Local and Fresh!

About four years ago, Josh and Genevieve Moore decided to start roasting small batches of coffee for their own consumption. Drinking coffee all the time, and wanting to learn more about coffee, Josh had been reading and studying about different home roasting techniques. The couple had even been part owners and operators of a coffeehouse, which they frequented as customers. So, it only made sense to make the next step to try some home roasting.

At first, the batches were small, and just for Josh and Genevieve to enjoy, themselves. Josh began to increase the batch sizes enough for close friends and family. Next, the batches grew even more for gift-giving. Everyone who was lucky enough to get gifts from Josh and Genevieve really loved the quality and freshness of the coffee. It went over so well, in fact, that the Moores decided to try to sell their coffees. Already being regular customers of the Webb City Farmers Market, where fresh and local are key, it was the ideal venue for the newly formed Cottage Small Coffee Roasters.

Josh Moore of Cottage Small Coffee Roasters selling some of their
locally & freshly roasted coffees, at the Webb City Farmers Market
The couple makes a great team at Cottage Small Coffee Roasters! Josh roasts, packages, and sells the coffee, while Genevieve is the mastermind behind all the computer work, for the company. And when the weather is nice, you will get to meet Genevieve, as she helps Josh sell at the Market.

Genevieve says that roasting coffee can done in a number of ways, using a wide array of techniques. With a sufficient heat source, the challenge is finding a technique that consistently and evenly roasts the beans. Josh uses a modified bread machine for their coffees. The initial setup was not terribly expensive but as Genevieve reminds us, “the home roaster is a constant game of trial, error, and upkeep!” (On a personal note, I think they have it perfected!)

Coffee grows best along the Equator, so you will find most coffee varieties from countries that fall within that region. Cottage Small tries, each week, to have two continents represented. Some of the countries of origin they roast are Guatemala and Panama in Central America, Colombian and Peru in South America, Tanzania and Ethiopia in Africa, and Papua New Guinea and Bali in Indonesia. There are many, many more, and what they offer depends on what the supplier has in stock, that week. Being a conscientious company, all the coffees are organic, fair trade, and/or grown on a COOP; and all their packaging is recycleable!

Cottage Small used to label their coffees simply as light, medium, and dark roasts. There are many degrees of roasting within each of those broad categories. Now, Cottage Small categorizes their coffees as City (the lightest), City +, Full City, and Full City +, which is the darkest.

Genevieve reminds us that there are many more interesting and important facts about coffee to learn, and the most important factor of coffee is freshness.

“Coffee tastes best within two weeks of roasting. After that, it begins to get stale. Any coffee you buy in the store is roasted months before you get a hold of it. We roast our coffee the week we bring it to the market, so it’s always fresh.”

And I challenge you to try their coffees against your favorite store-bought variety. From the second you push that button on the grinder, your nose will tell you a major difference. As the coffee brews, you'll also be able to smell and see a difference. And of course, the taste sets Cottage Small apart! I tend to use mainly a French Press for my coffee brewing, and drink it black. This is a great way to get all the subtle nuiances of the coffee variety.

Cottage Small Coffee Roasters sell their coffees at the Webb City Farmers Market on the first and third Fridays of the month, during the winter market schedule. You can pick up an 8 ounce bag for $7.50, or two for $13.50. Usually, they also have a pot of one of the varieties brewed, so you can sample for yourself.

This is exclusively the only coffee I will brew and drink! Josh roasts each coffee variety in such a way to exemplify the notable characteristics of each type of coffee bean.

Check them out on Facebook, watch for updates, and give them a “Like” at Cottage Small Coffee Roasters. And it just so happens that this coming Friday is the first Friday of November, so you can find Cottage Small Coffee Roasters at the Webb City Farmer’s Market, at their winter location of The Clubhouse, 115 North Madison, in Webb City. Get out there and grab some local, freshly roasted coffee! And be sure to tell Josh you heard about them from Frank About Food!

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Frank Quickie: Pumpkin Dip

I had this on my mind, today, as I was thinking about what to take to a Halloween party, tonight. During the fall, you might be invited to several parties around Halloween or Thanksgiving. And often, you're at a loss for time, and ideas on what to take. An old standby that we like to make up that is fairly inexpensive, fast & easy to prepare, and is always popular is a pumpkin dip.

This is a very basic recipe, and is great served alongside gingersnaps and graham crackers. Be sure to have the cream cheese softened, to facilitate a smoother, creamier consistency.

This is a great serving idea, in the pumpkin. This, however, is a borrowed picture and not my own!
Pumpkin Dip
8oz. cream cheese, softened
2 C. powdered sugar
15oz. can solid pack pumpkin
1 Tblsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tblsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. frozen orange juice concentrate

1.  In a medium bowl, cream the cream cheese and powdered sugar together, until smooth. 
2.  Gradually add the pumpkin. 
3.  Stir in the cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and orange juice concentrate, until smooth and well   
4.  Place into serving vessel and chill before serving, at least one hour. 
5.  Serve with graham crackers, gingersnaps, and/or any other item you would prefer. 

Makes approximately 4 Cups of dip.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Great Halloween Idea!

My wife wanted to do some Halloween themed baking with our son (aka: my sous chef). She looked around online and found a great idea and recipe for Night Owl Cookies. The recipe was on the M&M'S Bright Idea website, and not my own. It's a great Halloween project for your youngsters! And they are delicious! I recommend you giving it a try!

Below is a great picture taken of my wife and son's version of the cookies, and the recipe, reprinted from the website. In her version, she used peanut butter M&M'S... a very nice blend of flavors with the cashews and cookie.

Night Owl Cookies

1 roll (18oz.) refrigerated sugar cookie dough
1/4 C. flour
1/3 C. cocoa powder
20 whole cashews
1/4 C. vanilla frosting
1/4 C. chocolate frosting
1/2 C. peanut M&M'S, in fall colors (orange, yellow, brown)

  • 1. Divide the sugar cookie dough in three pieces. Knead the flour into one  piece of cookie dough until smooth, set aside. Combine the remaining two pieces of cookie dough and knead in the cocoa powder until smooth, set aside.
  • 2. Roll the lighter colored cookie dough into a 1-inch round log about 10 inches long, and move it off to the side. Roll out the chocolate cookie dough on a lightly floured surface to a 10 x 4-inch rectangle. Place the light colored log of cookie dough on top of the chocolate rectangle. Wrap the chocolate cookie dough completely around the lighter colored log. Pinch edges to seal and roll the log smooth. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  • 3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the cookie log into 1/4-inch slices. Place 2 slices, side by side, on sheet pans. Press a cashew into cookie at the point the slices touch. Repeat with remaining cookie slices. Bake for approximately 8-11 minutes, or until cookies are just beginning to golden. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  • 4. Spoon the chocolate frosting into a resealable bag and snip a small corner from bag. Using the photograph as guide, pipe eyelashes. Spoon the vanilla frosting into a separate resealable bag and snip a small corner from bag. Using the photograph as a guide, pipe dot to secure candies. Add the M&M’S® Brand Chocolate Candies for eyes.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Frank About Food Update

Well, Frank About Food is now on Facebook!

I'll utilize the page to let people know when I make new posts over here, and also for posting links to lectures, videos, articles, pictures, websites, and anything else related to food and drink, that I think are useful, interesting, entertaining, or that you might really enjoy.

If you are on Facebook, head on over to the Frank About Food Facebook Page to give the page a look, and click the Like button. Do you have friends, family, coworkers on Facebook, whom you think might enjoy the page? Well, urge them to take a look and "Like" the page.

Keep your eyes peeled... you never know what all I might post up over there! Thanks for all your continued support; without you, I'd just be talking to myself!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Frank About... Reiter Oktoberfest 2012: Food Wrap-Up

This past Saturday, the third annual Reiter Oktoberfest took place at das Reiter Haus, in Joplin, Missouri (my home). What I'm speaking about is the annual German heritage celebration I've put on for three years, now. I always hold it on the first day of the actual Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. It's a very food-centric celebration. I want to do a little wrap-up of the event, including highlights of the menu, and perhaps include a few German inspired recipes you can try yourself, at home!

I decided to keep roughly the same menu plan that I adopted last year, with a few slight variations. Appetizers this year included pretzels served with a special cheesesauce made of melted Velveeta and 3/4 of a bottle of Mother's Brewing Company Imperial Three Blind Mice! It seemed to be a hit, a log of Braunschweiger, a selection of German and Swiss cheeses, including Limburger, Emantler, and Gruyere, and my take on bite-size Zwiebelkuchen, an onion tart. The crust for these little goodies is nothing more than refrigerated canned pizza dough. It is rolled out thinly, and circles cut with a tin can. Then, the circles are placed in the bottoms of a muffin pan, and topped with a filling of sauteed onions, bacon, caraway seed, eggs, and sour cream, and baked. There were NONE of these leftover this year!

The main portion of dinner was made up of some great side dishes: delicious pickled beets from the kitchen of my mother-in-law, Diane; a marinated cucumber salad and a red cabbage dish I made from recipes by Chef Stephen Block from his website; Brussels sprouts with bacon, which is a German variant on the Italian classic Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta; a hot German potato salad, which is from a family passed recipe in my wife's family; Spätzle which are small flour dumplings, sautéed in butter and breadcrumbs; and a German rye bread, prepared graciously by my friend Julie. The main dishes remained unchanged from years past. I beer-braised bratwurst and finished browning them in the oven on a bed of Bavarian style sauerkraut (Bavarian style just infers a seasoning of caraway seeds). The other main dish was the star of the show, this year. Jägerschnitzel is a pork loin slice, which has been pounded thin and tender, breaded and fried with a simple coat of eggwash and breadcrumbs. The prefix Jäger- refers to "hunter" or "forest". -schnitzel simply refers to any meat pounded and fried with a breading. The hunter or forest part of this fritter comes from the sauce you serve alongside. This sauce is a savory, velvety creation of sautéed shallots and wild forest mushrooms in a brown sauce herbed with thyme leaves, and made creamier with the addition of a whisk full of sour cream. This pan emptied the quickest of all the offerings!

Dessert did not come from my kitchen! Apple and cherry strudels were purchased from Black Forest House Bakery, in Carthage, Missouri. They sell their delicious offerings at the Webb City Farmers Market. You can find more information about Bert and Daffol Ott's business through this Joplin Globe article. And a wonderful German Apple Dessert was provided from the kitchen of my friend Meredith. Again, none of the desserts were leftover by the end of the night.

Here is a collective picture of all the beer offerings from the evening:

A very special thank you to Brian & Joleen Durham from Piney River Brewing Company in Bucyrus Missouri for donation a case of their wonderful beer, Old Tom Porter. It was a perfect fit with the cool, Autumn weather, and the food selection. Also a huge thanks to Chef Stephen Block for donating autographed copies of his cookbook, Recipes from a German Grandmother, as door prizes, for the second year running.

Chef Stephen Block included some Oktoberfest tips and history, with a little feature on yours truly, in his latest newletter here!

Below you will find my adapted recipe for the Zwiebelkuchen in a small portion format, perfect for appetizer serving. Pros't!


Zwiebelkuchen is primarily served in south central Germany, around the Swabian region, in the fall. During the harvest season, small winemakers will host tastings of their new (or "green") wine in their barns or garages for anyone who in interested in stopping in. With these glasses of "green" wine, wursts and these onione pies, zwiebelkuchen, are served alongside.

2 lb. white or yellow onion, sliced or diced
2-3 Tblsp. butter
3-4 slices bacon
8 oz. sour cream
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1-2 Tblsp. flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. caraway seed
1 can refrigerated pizza dough

1.  Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly spray a muffin pan with non-stick spray.
2.  Over medium high heat, place the butter into a large sauté pan. Once melted, add the onions, cooking
     until translucent and tender.
3.  While cooking the onions, unroll the pizza dough on a clean countertop or large cutting board. Roll it to 
     about ¼" thick. Let sit until onions and bacon are done, as it will try to shrink back when cut into circles,
     unless it rests.
4.  Fry the bacon in a skillet until brown and crisp. Drain, chop, and add to the onions.
5.  Add the sour cream, eggs, and flour to help thicken the water put off by the onions. Then, add the
     caraway seed and salt.
6.  Place the filling in a food processor and pulse, just enough to chop the onions down to a fine mince. This
     will make the small portion easier to bite.
7.  Using a metal can, or round cookie cutter, cut circles from the rolled out, slightly dried pizza dough.
     Place a circle into the bottom of the muffin pan wells, slightly pushing the edges up the well, just slightly,
     to form a very short crust up the sides.
8.  Top each dough circle with approximately 2 Tblsp. filling.
9.  Place into oven for 12-14 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned, and the filling is set.

Frank's Notes:
1.  This recipe should yield about 24 appetizers.
2.  Serve with a nice German or Austrian white wine, or Märzen style beer.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Worth the Wait!!!

Frank About Food has been relatively quiet for a bit. Thanks for sticking with me, though. The 3rd Annual Reiter Oktoberfest is coming up in a couple of weeks, and I will be covering all the food and beverage aspects of it, right here!

So, keep your eyes peeled for updates with some serious German goodies, food porn, and plenty of beer coverage!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Frank Food Adventures: Weekend in KC

Last weekend, my wife, son and I embarked upon a weekend getaway to Kansas City. The time has come for my son to start kindergarten, and we have another baby coming in November, so we really wanted to get in a small family trip.

My wife stumbled onto a fantastic deal for the Westin Crown Center, for a King room with four tickets to Lego Land Discovery Center, four tickets to Sea Life Aquarium, and even a $20 gift voucher for Crown Center shops. All this for only $80 per night. Needless to say, we leapt on that deal!

As you already know, this is a food & drink blog, not a travel blog. This post will be more about our food adventures, than about our trip.

We pulled into Kansas City right before supper rush on Friday night. My pregnant wife was craving Cheesecake Factory. We shared a spinach cheese dip for an appetizer, and I ordered the Over the Top Meatloaf Sandwich with a side salad. The sandwich was enormous (which is the Cheesecake Factory’s m.o.) on buttery grilled brioche. The sandwich consisted of very generous slices of a hearty meatloaf, Guinness marinated Swiss cheese, portabella mushrooms, caramelized onions, aioli, and arugula. Served with a side of tomato-bacon jam. It was fantastic!! I could only make it half way through this monster, and brought the rest home for lunch during the week. Of course we had to get a cheesecake slice to take back to the hotel. We chose Chris’ Outrageous Chocolate Cake (layers of moist chocolate cake, chewy brownie, toasted coconut-pecan frosting, and chocolate chip coconut cheesecake); it made for a nice snack after swimming, and as we watched the fountain show and very loud Diamond Rio concert from our eleventh story room!

Over the Top Meatloaf Sandwich

Saturday morning, we went to the Crown food court to grab something from Einstein Brothers. Simple breakfast of turkey sausage and egg on asiago bagel for me. The service there was horrendous!

We headed out to the City Market. It had been many years since my wife and I had the opportunity to check out the large market. We made a plan not to buy anything we could grab at our local farmer’s market. There was plenty of produce vendors, and many, many specialty vendors. I picked up a small assortment of heirloom tomatoes from URBAVORE Urban Farm. I also finally had the chance to pick up some award winning nettle fresh sheep’s milk cheese from Green Dirt Farm. They have made quite a name for themselves as one of the most recognized cheese producers in Missouri. I had been wanting to give them a try for a long time. There was a booth set up selling a variety of granolas, produced by a local company, called Hippie Chow. I opted for the five pack sampler.

In addition to the numerous produce vendors set up in the middle of the square, there are permanent stores lining all four sides. One of these is a great Italian deli called Carollo’s Groceria Italiana. You can get specialty imported products, meats, cheeses, an assortment of desserts, and even sandwiches and the like. They even have the old style barrels full of olives, pickles, and antipasta salads. We picked out a couple salamis, some oil-cured olives, and of course, for me, a cannoli. And anytime I think of that treat, this iconic quote rings in my mind:

“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” 
~ Peter Clemenza from The Godfather

By the time we were leaving the market, pizza was on our mind. We found a place called The Art of Pizza. It’s a New York style pizza joint on the way back to the hotel. Not a fancy establishment by any means, and had hardly any customers at 1:30 on a Saturday afternoon. We had no fears; we had read about how great, and N.Y. authentic the food was, due mainly to the transplanted New York native owner. My son had a very large slice of sausage pizza, and my wife and I split a stromboli and a pane stuffata. The stromboli was pizza dough wrapped around a split Italian sausage with roasted red pepper and mozzarella. The pane stuffata was Italian dough with baked in herbs, filled with salami, pepperoni, ham, fresh mozzarella, and tomatoes. Both were served with a side of their pizza sauce. This was some seriously delicious food, and great prices! I’m glad we chose Art of Pizza over the more trendy wood-fired place across the street called Pizza Bella. I really liked the more “authentic” feel of the food.

Pane stuffata to the left, Stromboli to the right. 

Back to the hotel after lunch, and to the Sea Life Aquarium. I didn’t eat there, so I will not go into that part of the weekend.

For Saturday night supper, we chose to take Daniel to a unique place in the Crown food shops. It’s a railroad themed burger joint/diner called Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant. The food was pretty good. Mainly the old style drive-in 1/8 lb. burgers in several different forms, greasy but crispy onion rings, etc. Basically, that’s what I had. But the unique feature of the restaurant is how the food comes to you. You have to order on an old phone handset at your table. Then, your food is delivered on one of the trains running on tracks over the tables. It was entertaining to see other people get their food. Often, the tray of food would be vicariously balanced on the drop down platform, or an empty table would receive a random order, or even the platform might malfunction and never deliver the food down to table level! My son loved it, and we used our $20 voucher, here, to make it a $4 net cost for supper!

Train delivering food at Fritz's
Yes, that happened!

Sunday morning, we decided to drive down to the Plaza to eat breakfast at Ingredient Restaurant. After a long time examining the great menu, I selected the Portabella and Spinach Benedict. A twist on the classic, this dish was a toasted English muffin topped with fresh spinach and portabella mushrooms, poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce, accompanied by skillet potatoes.

Before heading back to the hotel and Lego Land Discovery Center, I had to run an errand for a coworker: I had to grab some chicken feet from Bo Lings Chinese Please! on the Plaza. The chicken feet are from their very ample Dim Sum menu. Breaded, and cooked in a black bean sauce, they were delicious and tender (I got to try them on Monday, when I brought them in for her). I know there are haters out there, but trust me, until you try it, ZIP IT!

Maybe I DO have a foot fetish!
Before leaving Kansas City, we needed to grab a late lunch/very early supper. We were all tired, and blah after Lego Land, but had to come up with something. We decided on McCoy’s Public House in Westport. They brew a selection of their own beers, so I had to give a couple a try! For the beer, I chose their Unfiltered Wheat and their Czech Pilsner. Both fit nicely into their classic guidelines. The Pilsner had quote a refreshing note of citrus underlying. They were a nice compliment to my food order. They have three different sausage plates: Bavarian style, Moroccan style, and Tuscan. I selected the Bavarian. Their sausages are ground, seasoned and cased in house; a great touch! The Bavarian is a brautwurst style sausage poached in their Landing Light Lager, which came on a small square cast iron pan atop smashed potatoes and topped with applewood bacon and braised red cabbage-apple kraut. I also selected a salad to enjoy. The Baby Spinach Salad is a vegetarian salad with roasted beets, crumbled fresh goat cheese, crispy parsnips, toasted pistachios with a a sour apple-mustard vinaigrette. I can’t tell you enough how fantastic both dishes were! And to top off our supper, we grabbed a dessert called the Ice Cream Sandwich! It is homemade peanut butter ice cream layered between oatmeal stout chocolate brownies, with hot fudge for dipping/drizzling. Wow!

Baby Spinach Salad

Bavarian Style

Ice Cream Sandwich

I was very pleased with our food experiences from the weekend. There are always a thousand places I want to try. We’ll just have to get back up to Kansas City again, soon!

Here is a list of links of interest: