MasterChef Guest Post – Matt Orsini’s Spinach Pine Nut Ravioli in Brown Butter Sauce

Today’s post is the third in a series of MasterChef guest posts. (See Carrie Peterson’s Whoopie Pies, and Ben Starr’s AMAZING post on watching the premiere here!).

Matt Orsini was another of my favourite people from the show. It bugs me to no end that his time in LA was cut down to about 2 seconds on screen (if that- it was a flash across the screen, at best!). He was one of the most friendly, passionate cooks there, and I was NOT alone in just assuming that he’d make it through the first round.

Whoops. Coming back from my forced grocery trip to find that he had gotten eliminated – not even being able to say goodbye! – was rough.

A few months after we went home, though, Matt was able to come visit me in Minneapolis, and we spent a fun day cooking, videotaping the cooking, drinking wine, and generally catching up. It was great – and the video we made of him making this dish is embedded at the end of this post!

Be sure to follow Matt on his blog, Italy to Dallas, and on Twitter: @ItalyToDallas.

Here’s Matt!

Ravioli is a dish that I cook quite regularly. It brings me back to the flavors and aromas of Italy that I love so much. My great grandparents are from Italy and I just love what the Italian family is all about, food.

While making pasta from scratch may seem daunting at first it is actually very simple, and here is a little secret you don’t need any equipment to make it from scratch. All you need are your hands and the mind to really get in there. Don’t be afraid to get dirty.

Spinach Pine Nut Ravioli in Brown Butter Sauce

¼ cup of whole milk ricotta cheese strained in a cheese cloth (will explain later)
Olive oil
One onion finely chopped
Olive oil
Black pepper
One clove crushed garlic
Either 1/4- ½ tsp of ground nutmeg or one half of a nutmeg finely grated
One bag of fresh spinach, washed and drained
Juice of two lemons
Salt
Zest of one lemon
One small bag of pine nuts
¼ cup grated Parmesan

1/4 cup of semolina flour
1 ¼ cup of all-purpose flour
Three eggs, beaten

One egg beaten

One stick of butter
Honey
8 sage leaves finally chopped

About a 1/3 cup of fresh grated Parmesan

The first thing I always do is have all my ingredients separated out.

Take the ¼ cup of ricotta cheese and wrap it in a cheese cloth. Tie it over the sink and let strain.

Once you have all these ingredients separated out you will want to go ahead and turn the heat up to medium on one pan lightly coated in olive oil. Once it has heated a bit, add the chopped onion. You will want to make sure the onions are fully caramelized before you pull them.

Go ahead and heat up another pan on the side. Check your onions and stir. The onions should be caramelized by now, so you will want to pull them and set aside.

Add a little olive oil, black pepper, the crushed garlic, and grated nutmeg to the other heated up pan. Once the garlic begins to caramelize add in the spinach and half of the squeezed lemon juice Grind some fresh salt over and stir to incorporate.

Sautee the spinach fully and add a little more nutmeg, the lemon zest, and black pepper on top of the spinach. Remember the most important thing is to TASTE AND TASTE! Always adjust as needed. If it needs salt add more. Go ahead and remove the spinach from the pan and fully strain. Set aside to cool.

Toast your pine nuts in a small pan until they have reached a golden light brown color. Pine nuts overcook easily so remember to keep an eye on them. Pull them and set aside.

Finely chop your cooled spinach and add in your onions and pine nuts. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary. Set aside to cool. Place in a bowl, cover and cool in the refrigerator until ready for use.

I love to use a kitchen aid for the next step, however it is not necessary. You will want to mix about 2 teaspoons of salt with the flours in the bowl of your stand mixer – or just a regular mixing bowl, if not using a stand mixer.

If using a kitchen aid with the paddle attachment, set the speed to a two and add in your beaten eggs slowly. If you are doing this by hand create a well and work the eggs with a fork from the inside out, until the ready to work with your hands. Wait until the flour and eggs have fully incorporated. If it is too dry add a little warm water and on the other end if it is too wet add more flour. You will want it to be just wet enough that you can knead it and roll it into a ball.

Once you are done mixing the dough place it on a floured cutting board to bring together by hand. Pasta does not like cold surfaces and a cutting board works great. Knead the dough out using the palm of your hand working it from inward/out. Work into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge until ready for use. Go ahead and set up the pasta attachment on the kitchen aid, if that’s what you’re using.

Remove the ricotta cheese from the cheese cloth and add in the 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese to it. Incorporate the spinach mix and stir and taste. Cover and set back in fridge.

To assemble the pasta:

Remove the dough from the fridge, working it out by hand until it’s soft enough to place through the pasta machine. Starting on the thickest setting, roll it, fold it; roll it again, etc…, until it gets as thin as possible. Right now you are activating the gluten.

After you have repeated this step about 7 times on a setting one you will send it through each other setting once time through until you have rolled it out at the thinnest.

Halfway through the stretching process you will probably want to cut it in half since your sheet of pasta will be extremely long. You are looking to have nice clean silky sheets. Cut each sheet in half.

Place the ricotta mix in a pastry bag and squeeze a little bit of the mix about an inch apart on a pasta sheet. Take a pastry brush and brush your other beaten egg lightly around the ricotta mix. Fold the other half of the sheet over and press all the air out. This is very important as you will want to make sure there is no possibility the ravioli can explode in the water. Cut your ravioli and set on a floured surface.

Start a pot of salted water to boil, and make your brown butter sauce:

Heat the butter and a little olive oil over medium high heat, in a separate pan. Once it starts to brown add in the other half of the lemon juice for acidity and a little honey for sweetness. Toss in your sage leaves to crisp up. Once you hear that popping sound your sauce has fully browned. Turn the heat slightly down.

Once your pot of water reaches a boil, carefully add in your ravioli. These will cook in about 1 ½ to 2 minutes as they are fresh. Remove the ravioli, drain well, and place in your sauce to sauté. The ravioli will start to brown a little so remove once fully sautéed.

This dish is amazing. You will get that crispy outside texture on the ravioli with the creamy burst of flavors on the inside. The honey adds a little sweetness to a normally savory dish. Enjoy and Ciao!

Now, remember when Matt visited me a couple months ago? When we got on the wine and made a couple cooking videos?

Here is the first one from that day – I only watched and edited it yesterday. DAMN. We had some fun there!

Savory Shortcake

Back when I was preparing and training for MasterChef, I spent a good deal of time thinking about potential ingredients, challenges, etc. I brainstormed about unique ideas I could put forth, that may bring an edge to my game.

Today’s post is one of the ideas I came up with – just a fun, summery appetizer: Savory Shortcake!

I almost feel guilty about posting this today, just a day after my Sushi Cake yesterday. My roomie from MasterChef ended up posting about it, saying that I have this “thing” about making savory dishes look like dessert. I thought “What? I’ve done it like.. twice now. What?”… and now, this. Ok, three times! (The first time being my Buffalo Chicken Buns!)

Anyway, this savory take on shortcake starts with a savory baking powder biscuit, topped with a cheese infused whipped cream, and crowned with jewel like cherry tomatoes, basil, and balsamic vinegar. SO GOOD.

This would be great served as a light lunch, appetizer at a garden party, or with tea. Also, as the result of weird schedules being subject to my whim.. I can tell you that this makes a great breakfast, too! Enjoy!

Savory Tomato Shortcake

Tomato Topping

1-2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, halved or sliced
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar of choice*
Salt and pepper
~ 1/4 cup basil leaves, sliced into thin ribbons

Toss tomato slices with balsamic vinegar until well coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste, the add in as much of the basil leaf ribbons as you want. Cover and chill until use.

* I like to use a light colored, lemon flavored balsamic for this.

***

Biscuits – makes about 6 large biscuits

2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Pinch cayenne powder
1/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup shredded white cheddar cheese
1 clove garlic, pressed or finely minced
1 green onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, salt, and cayenne powder.

Measure shortening into the same bowl, and cut into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter or fork(s). The ideal is to work it in until it’s evenly distributed throughout, in very small pieces. Stir in cheese, garlic, and green onion.

Add milk, stir until dough comes together. Don’t over stir or beat it. Gently compress the dough slightly, then roll to about 1/2″ – 3/4″ thick. Use a glass or round cookie cutter (about 3 – 3.5″ in diameter) to cut biscuits.

Gently arrange biscuits on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 10-12 mins, or until golden brown. As the biscuits are baking, prepare your goat cheese whipped cream.

***

Goat Cheese Whipped Cream

2 oz goat cheese
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup heavy whipped cream

In a small food processor, blend together goat cheese and ricotta until smooth. Add a little whipped cream – about 1/4 cup – blending once again, just until incorporated.

Add remaining whipped cream, process until mixture is at least doubled in volume, and reaches a consistency that you like – it will be thicker than normal whipped cream.

***

To Assemble:

Split each biscuit in half, top with a generous dollop of goat cheese whipped cream. Use a slotted spoon to garnish with tomato mixture, serve immediately.

MasterChef Recap – Season 4, Episode Two

Ok, so now that I’ve gotten through the first half of the MasterChef premiere, time to recap and give commentary on the second half of it!

Ok, here we go.

This episode starts out with Bime Cruz.


(Damian Legion and Bime Cruz, photo by Damian Legion)

Bime was one of the first people I met in LA, and he was HILARIOUS. Really great guy, kept us all laughing.

Man, his Mofongo de Camarones looked ridiculous. I have GOT to get that recipe from him.

“I’m wondering if this is really a Caribbean dish, or just shrimp scampi faked with some plantain put in it” – Joe

I’m going to spare you from my rant on the usage of “Shrimp Scampi”. (Along the lines of “ATM Machine” and “PIN Number”, but with the added fun of genus confusion / misclassification).

I will say that when people use “Scampi” to denote a cooking preparation (rather than species), it generally refers to shrimp cooked in garlic butter and white wine.

… where Joey Coattails gets the idea that Shrimp Mofongo (traditional dish) is a ripoff of this American usage of the term is completely beyond me. I mean… wow. Moron.

Bime gets an apron, moves on.

Next is Jessie, a model and pageant queen.

Her dish looked nice enough, the judges were wishy washy… and in THE MOST CONTRIVED MOMENT IN MASTERCHEF HISTORY, Gordon Ramsay came flying out of the audition area, into the cooking area where the rest of us were waiting, and hauled two whole sea bass out of the fridges.

… because they just happened to have two whole sea bass just laying around.

They challenge her to prove that she’s “the real deal” (that phrase needs to be retired from the show, seriously), by fileting the sea bass right then and there.

She gets an apron, obviously.

Next, they show the “circus reel” – Damian, Rachel Jesse, Jim Blesi, Abby, Dennis Hong, Andrew Keller, Shaun Jay. Tori.

Where to start? They don’t show a ton about the food!

Let’s start with Damian Legion, the pro wrestler and one of my ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE people there. Within minutes of meeting him, he complimented my “Magneto was Right” shirt and showed me his Dalek tattoo. I think that was one of the first moments that I didn’t feel super alone in LA, there was another geek there to hang out with!

Damian is a total teddy bear. Super sweet, caring, all around wonderful guy – I just love him, along with pretty much the rest of the cast. Just an all around great guy! You can check him out on Facebook, his page is Death Metal Domesticated, which is also the name of his Podcast.

Didn’t really get to know Rachel (Fire Performer), Abby Wolf (Farmer), Shaun Jay (Magician)or Andrew Keller (Pogo stick, crazy hat) all that well.

Jim Blesi:

He’s from Minnesota, the biker guy. Tough guy, badass, no nonsense, etc. I had NO IDEA that he made a fouffy baked Alaska for his audition – this kind of made my day.

Dennis: Funny story about Dennis. He had two grad students there to help with the robots, and they sat right behind me in the van on the way to the first day of auditions. We were all introducing ourselves, I turned to say hi to them..

… and DAMNED if one of the two didn’t look almost exactly like one of guys in Bran Van 3000, per the “Drinking in LA” video. Given that it had become my theme song by then, I had a good laugh / wanted to see it as an “omen” of sorts, LOL!

Really nice guys, all three.

Funny story about Tori Cunningham, the ice sculptor (They really only showed her squash carvings, but she’s a competitive ice sculptor).

A few of us were looking for her, and had very little information to go on. We knew her first name, and that she was from somewhere in Ohio.

So one day, one of my Mensa friends – Alan Baltis, from Cleveland – posted some photos from an ice festival he was at to his Facebook profile.

I thought “Hrm. I wonder if Tori did any of the sculptures, maybe there will be a sign or something?”.

Sure enough, the ONLY photo he had with the sculptor actually IN the photo? I was 95% sure it was Tori. Confirmed it with the others, and then we found her almost immediately. What are the odds of THAT?

Another funny thing – this was while we were still in our contractually-imposed silence, so I couldn’t tell Alan HOW I knew her, when I called him up to ask if he was still there, to pass a message for me. This, while he had very recently dropped the news that he would be on an upcoming episode of Jeopardy! (July 19th – be sure to watch him, he’s one of my favourite Mensa friends ever!)

Small world!

Anyway, John and Shaun get aprons.

Next up is James “Jesus James” Nelson. (There were 2 guys named James, someone had come up with ways to differentiate them at some point!

James told of losing both his parents, cooked a pork belly, and won an apron. Check out his sauce company, Bravado Spice.

Next, we have what my MasterChef Roomie Alexandra Jones refers to as “The Slut Reel”. These are the girls who were encouraged to flirt with the judges, etc – including Alexandra.

Julie Ann Gibson…

I’m so disappointed that they didn’t show more of her audition. This chick was HILARIOUS. Before the filming, she was talking about how she wanted to take Gordon Ramsay home in a box, and had the most hilarious way of describing her dish. Words don’t even do it justice, you’ll have to watch Matt Orsini and I discuss it in This Youtube Video we made!

Alexandra Jones, my roomie:

Alexandra actually got one yes (from Joey) during her auditions. Her dish sounded and looked amazing, a Spanakopita Wrapped Chicken with roasted eggplant puree and arugula salad paired with Laurelwood brewing workhorse IPA (click that link for the recipe!).

Sheena Hetzel:

This would be one of the more interesting uses of creative editing. They show Sheena biting one of her green pepper pieces, then later has the judges asking if she had plated the piece she had bitten. They then cut to her confirming “That’s right”.

It was an awkward cut / response, because it was pieced together from other footage – any idiot can look at the plate as shown on the screen, and clearly see that it is NOT the pepper she had bitten.

I don’t even get why they bothered to do that, if they were going to show the photo. So much stupid…

Nancy Nester

She was such a cutie, from the little I got to know her. Wasn’t fond of how they had her bring her whole group in, so excited for her, only to deny her the apron. Kind of a dick move.

With that batch done, we have a feature on Sasha Fox. I’m going to be honest, I have nothing nice to say about Sasha.

One of the first things I heard her say in LA was a loud declaration of how cooking “wasn’t (her) THING”, and that she was “just there to get FAMOUS”.

While that alone is enough to rub me the wrong way, given the nature of the show AND how many good cooks got cut, she then proceeded to berate those who did not get aprons as somehow being beneath her upon her return from the show. It was really insensitive and disgusting.

Also, she’s MUCH older than I am, but saw fit to act like a schoolyard bully and name-call about my appearance. Who DOES that?

That’s all I have to say about her.

Now, we’re told it’s been more difficult to get an apron this year. There’s some interesting math… they gave out 36 aprons (of 100 auditions) last year, and 40 out of 100 this year.

Again… Fox!

Now we have Rudy Reyes…

Rudy is a super sweet guy, and took SUCH good care of my while I was away at MasterChef. His girlfriend (who is a total sweetheart!) is autistic, and he knew exactly what I was going through with the whole thing.

I was so happy to meet her as well – the first words she said to me were double checking to make sure he had been taking good care of me, and asking if she had taught him well. She had! Thank you, Rudy and Cristina!

By the way, you can check out his audition video here

Unfortunately, Rudy’s Buffalo Frybread “Indian Tacos” failed to earn him an apron 🙁 This actually happened while I was away buying groceries for my audition the next day (They make you go at certain times), I came back and he was gone – didn’t even get to say goodbye! 🙁

I heard that those tacos were AMAZING, by the way.

Once more, we’re told it’s harder to win an apron this year… than EVER before. *snerk*!

I don’t remember the name of the first guy, with the scallops.

Elden is “James Dean”, the guy in the olive green shirt. I didn’t get to know him as well as my roomie did, but she tells me that his cooking is INSANE, including his plating. Him not getting an apron was a bit of a shock, especially as he’s a model.

Name up is my good friend, pilot Carrie Landry Peterson:

You may remember Carrie from her guest blog last week… where she shared how to make her audition dish, Whoopie Pies.

You know why her Whoopie Pies looked “like a 9 year old would make”? Because her oven that was supposedly up to temperature was very much NOT. Ugh.

You can follow Carrie on her Facebook page, Carrie’s Confections.

Next up, we have my friend Matt Orsini.

Matt made a spinach and lemon ravioli with sage brown butter sauce. He actually made this for me a month or so ago when he came to visit – no word of a lie, that was the best damn pasta dish I’ve ever had in my life. He’ll be guest blogging the recipe this week!

.. and another case of “auditioned while I was out shopping, failed to win an apron, was gone before I got back, did not get to say goodbye”. I COMPLETELY lost it when I came back from shopping, only to find he was gone. It’s a really shitty experience.

And then we have… me! For like 2 seconds!


(Thank you for the awesome screen grab, Leanne!)

I served up my Mango Mojito Upside Down Cake, which is ridiculous and turned out absolutely perfectly. I’d actually made 3 small cakes and served up two of them to my fellow contestants in my final minute of cooking time – so there are plenty of people who can attest to it 🙂 Hell, even my batter bowl was absconded within seconds of me filling the pans!

So, here’s the deal: I was SO relieved to not get an apron. Seriously, after a week of not seeing my husband, one of the very first things I said to him were “Get me OUT of here!”.

I was similarly relieved at the edit I got, after seeing how awful and CREATIVELY the show had cut some of my friends. Sure, I would have liked it if they’d shown that the first words from Ramsay’s mouth were “Graham is going to LOVE this”, the fact that they all enjoyed the cake, etc.

REALLY would have loved to see what happened when Joe tried to stare me down, and I laughed at him for it… and really, REALLY would have loved for them to air my exit interview – it was cold, articulate, and scathing! – but hey… overall, I think I did pretty well.

I think my “wow” and the look on my face said it all, and was a nicely condescending response to such a ridiculous insult – and to a GROWN MAN blowing a raspberry. “Boarding School Pudding, at best”, eh? I’d love to know what boarding schools serve up such boozy rum cake!

Ok, I’m gonna be honest, I hadn’t seen the rest of this episode before this morning. Once I was eliminated, the crowd at my party was pretty much relieved to not have to watch anymore (Most are NOT “reality” TV fans!), so we all decided to turn the TV off and just chat.

So this next stuff is all fresh to me…

Aww, Dawn Hunt was so cute, asking if she could hug the judges after not getting an apron.

You can check out her business site, Cucina Aurora.

Next up, we have Eddie Jackson, a former NFL player:

Eddie is one of the people that I didn’t really meet in LA, but wish I had. He seems like a genuinely nice guy… and his jerk meatloaf looked SO yummy!

Holy crap, writing these recaps really takes FOREVER.

Ok, then Luca from last year got an apron.

The end.

MasterChef Recap – Season 4, Episode One

It’s almost a week after the MasterChef premiere… probably about time I do up a recap / review.

So we start out with the mass audition footage, and some ridiculousness with helicopters and boats. Boring, let’s get to the actual “Auditions”

Actually, before that… I’d like to say something about the setting money on fire thing.

In today’s day and age, many people are hurting pretty badly for money. While I’m used to Joe Bastianich (“Joey Coattails”) reeking of entitlement on this show, this took it to whole other levels.

Whether it was real money (which would be illegal) or not, the symbolism of it was disgusting. My friend Shawn Bakken recently blogged HIS thoughts on it, which mirror my own pretty closely.

Anyway.

Natasha is the first audition. I didn’t really get to know her, which is kinda funny, given that I get asked about her more than anyone else.

While a lot of the others really don’t like her, I try to give the benefit of the doubt without firsthand knowledge. As far as all the stuff about “I’m so HOT!”, it *could* just be the show telling her to carry on like that. I was dreading seeing my edit, just for the amount of times / ways I was asked to talk about my IQ!

Anyway, she made empanadas, got an apron, and then promptly declared that everyone is intimidated by her looks, LOL.

On to 19 year old Christine Kim, or – as I’ve recently come to know her – my new baby sister. Yep, I have officially adopted Christine into my chosen family, and she is all kinds of awesome.

Christine’s Korean Duck dish looked ridiculously amazing, and I’d heard all kinds of great things from the other contestants. I was behind my station, cooking, as this she was finishing up cooking, so I missed out on trying it 🙁

Christine got frazzled, and plated the wrong duck breast. She’d had one cooked perfectly, one that wasn’t… came out without an apron and broke everyone’s heart. Broke hearts at my viewing party, of people who hadn’t even gotten to know her like we did!

Holy crap, that was hard to watch.

The next group is a bunch of exotic meats – rabbit, ostrich, bear, water bugs.

Joey Coattails refers to the water bugs as “cockroaches” immediately after being told they’re giant waterbugs. Ah, that ritzy boarding school education served you well, eh Joey? Moron. I loved the look on Chan’s face as he reiterated that no, they’re WATERBUGS.

I was really disappointed that they just held up Chan Heu’s dish as fodder for ridicule. He’s an entomologist, and was there to highlight certain bugs as an alternative protein source. I had really been looking forward to seeing his piece on TV – all of the other MasterChef series around the world are educational, not sure why the USA one isn’t. Well, why they seem to work so hard to be the opposite of educational, such as editing out education.

Oh right. Fox!

Steve – seriously the sweetest guy ever – is cooking bear, offered to let the judges smell the rub he was cooking it with. They all start cackling like 10 year old boys who just heard a sex joke, and Gordon says that he has NO interest in smelling the rub.

I don’t get it… ?

Steve had served up his bear to a bunch of the contestants, and I’m still kicking myself to this day that I missed out. Apparently it was AMAZING! “Barely edible”, “barely legal” (HUH?), and “I couldn’t bear it”. (Who had the “Judges try to sound clever” spot on their bingo cards?).

(On a personal note, when another contestant was talking crap about me behind my back in LA, saying I didn’t know how to cook and was only there for my hair color, Steve put him in his place and told him that if I was making the cake I made at our auditions – he was at the MN audition – that I would IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS be getting an apron. Still SO touched to hear about him defending my cooking honour like that!)

So then we have Brian, the person I’m asked about almost as much as Natasha.

Yes. He was weird. Not quite as animated as he was on camera, but that was a … unique… dude.

Of course, the judges spent the time making ridiculous “beaver” jokes.

They go to commercial, showing a preview of George’s marriage proposal. I tear up!

They show a few eliminations in very quick passing.. Rimmy and Olga among them. Two very awesome people, love them both!

They go to Jordan from Minneapolis. I don’t really know this guy. I met him briefly at our psych evaluation, and I got the feeling he was trying to convince them that he was nuts. Dunno what ended up happening … he seemed VERY different in LA!

Jordan makes a beautifully plated dish – ancho chile tostada – explaining that he loves to paint. Joe pegs him as the winner. It really does look ridiculously tasty! I may just need to screen cap it and figure it out.. hrmmm….

Then they do the “round of bad dishes” montage. UGH.

A few comments here:

1. The breast milk thing.

I’ve seen a ton of ridiculous comments online that need to be addressed: No one poisoned anyone, for one. IF that was even breast milk (I have no inside information either way, I just know that the “Reality” of “reality tv” tends to be anything but!), we were all subjected to a lot of blood/urine testing, and I would have to assume that they would have tested that milk THOROUGHLY. Laloni wasn’t being irresponsible or criminal in bringing breast milk to cook with, she was doing what she was told.

Oh, and by the way, Fox production people… I’m not violating the NDA here. In Googling to find Laloni, I did come across several posts from MasterChef casting people on forums and Facebook, actively LOOKING FOR people who cook with breastmilk.

Suck it.

2. “We’re going to eat raw ramen”.

An interesting comment from “Mr Italian” Joey Coattails. No, you’re not eating raw ramen, moron. Ramen is precooked pasta, I’m kind of shocked that you don’t know this, given how uppity you are about flour and water.

“We’re going to eat dry ramen” would be accurate – and not really all THAT strange, despite the shocked and disgusted airs you put on. Plenty of people use ramen dry, in a variety of ways. I guess you have to maintain your pretentiousness, though. Moron.

3. Nick Garcia

Nick Garcia is a really great guy who runs the kitchen at a local pasta bar here in Minneapolis. He KNOWS how to cook, and his Caribbean pasta with habanero and bananas looked fascinating – I’d try it it a heartbeat.

4. Wanda Allende-Ortiz

Wanda Allende-Ortiz was a total sweetheart, loves to cook, and KNOWS how to cook. Her dish was one that (as far as I heard!) EVERYONE who tried, loved. I don’t even know what to say about the judges telling her it was the worst dish in MasterChef history.

Andy Peters‘s “Oh Dear Lord Jesus” is going to turn into a catch phrase for him, I’m sure of it.

Now, the judges treatment of Ayla Skye.

I knew that the judges had treated a lot of the contestants in a very sexist manner, but I was shocked at the running theme of sexism that made it to air. I don’t remember any of it in past seasons, so I guess I kind of figured they were using such behaviour as a tool to get a reaction from contestants. (Not that I find that justified, I was just shocked to see it on TV).

Next up, we have Adriana Guillen.

Adriana was a COMPLETE AND TOTAL SWEETHEART, and I’m so glad that it came across on camera. On a personal note, she really helped me out when I was having a meltdown. Will always remember that.

Here we go back to the sexist stuff. “This is a great dish, but you’re too sweet and nice, so you can’t possibly hack this competition”? What kind of nonsense IS that? Aren’t they supposed to be at least pretending that it’s a food competition? Also, why don’t they talk to dudes like that?

Then we have a run of very quick aprons being given out. Bethy Rossos, Kevin Tindell, Monica Renee Watson, and Lynn Chyi.

Now we have George Mastrosavas.

We were all SO excited for George – he was a total sweetheart (and someone else who talked me down from the big meltdown!), everyone adored him, and he was GOING TO PROPOSE. SO excited.

George made a Greek wedding soup. It sounded and looked SO good.

Let me take this opportunity to once again point out what a douche Joey Coattails is.

George was born in Greece. BORN THERE. He is a bona fide Greek.

Joe is AMERICAN. He was born in America, to Italian immigrants. Not only is he NOT Greek in any way, he is Italian by heritage only, not by birth.

Gotta love it when Joe the American is telling George the Greek ABOUT GREEK COOKING. What the hell…?

I know a ton of Greeks, both by birth and by heritage. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Danforth area of Toronto – Greektown – which turns BLUE AND WHITE at certain times of the year (sporting events!), from all the Greek flags everywhere.

Butter is “The antithesis of Greece”, eh? Joey, I’m not so sure that you know the meaning of that word…

All I have to say is this. You show me a Greek that doesn’t cook with butter, and I’ll show you a Greek with Lactose Intolerance.

Wasn’t fond of them telling George to “Man up” in proposing … Oh hang on, I can’t recap this, I’m crying again. I don’t usually bawl over proposals, but this one got me. Nice touch with the judges throwing plates and yelling “Opa!”.

George and Maria, you’re awesome. SO MUCH AWESOME. Congrats again, and all the best for your upcoming nuptuals!

Since filming the show, George has opened a pizza restaurant in Ohio. If you’re in the area, you should totally stop by and order something – dude KNOWS food. 3 Brothers Pizza in Middleburg Heights, Ohio. They also have a Facebook page here. Check it out!

Next up is Krissi Biasiello, the single mom from Philly.

I didn’t really get to know Krissi while out in LA, but have enjoyed getting to know her since. Someone who is into direct communication, that I never EVER have to “read between the lines” with. No passive aggression anywhere! She’s a dream!

Though the show only just started, Krissi has already been subjected to one of the ugly side effects of reality TV – people are attacking not only her, but her 13 year old kid.

I can’t even … If you are going to get so invested in a “reality” TV show about people you don’t even know, as to go only and spew your hatred about them, I feel sorry for you. If you are going to take it a step further and call 13 year old kids awful stuff like “retard” – you are a loser of the highest (lowest?) order. Get a life.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with people?

Krissi makes a stuffed meatloaf florentine with a fontina sauce and “dreamy potatoes”. Looks tasty – Gets an apron.

Krissi, your son seems very well spoken – especially for a 13 year old. From everything I’ve seen and heard, you did a great job raising a good kid, and you should be very proud.

And that’s it for episode one… now going to work on episode two!

Guest Post – Ben Starr – How to Watch a MasterChef Premiere…from a MasterChef Survivor

Three weeks ago, I gave you all some insight into how I trained and prepared for MasterChef… but I left out a BIG part of my preparation.

As I watched all threee seasons, I was on the lookout for more than just information about the show, what the judges were looking for, etc. I was keeping an eye on the contestants, looking for SOMETHING. I am big on gathering information before jumping into anything, and this was going to be the biggest, most insane “thing” I ever attempted. What I really needed was information from someone who had been there.

Due to the contracts we had to sign, this would be a sticky situation. We weren’t allowed to tell anyone that we were on the show, which would make it difficult to obtain that information. I had to figure out how to do it in a way that wouldn’t violate the contract, and I needed to figure out who the perfect person to approach would be. Pick the wrong one, and for all I knew, I’d be messaging the best friend of one of the producers!

After watching all three seasons, the choice was obvious to me. I would anonymously contact Ben Starr, from MasterChef season two.

You see, something about him really grabbed me. He reminded me a lot of myself, and something told me that he would not only be an amazing source of information, but that he would be trustworthy – an important combination, for what I was about to do.

Against the recommendation of my husband and VERY small group of people who knew what I was doing, I set up an anonymous email address that wasn’t connected to ANYTHING – only ever to be used to contact Ben. I called myself “X” (LOL!), and carefully crafted my initial email to not ACTUALLY say that I was one of the 100. I knew he was smart, and I knew that he would know what I was getting at.

Over the few months before I left, we would email back and forth. I would pepper him with questions – mostly about logistical concerns – and he would provide just the information I was looking for.

I’ll never forget how generous he was with his time, answering all these questions from a complete stranger… especially given that he knew nothing about me! I was extremely careful to not reveal my gender, location, or anything that ANYONE could identify me by. I was even careful to make sure that I used region-neutral language and syntax!

Aside from answering questions I had about logistics concerns (“What is the laundry situation?”), Ben was like a personal, private cheerleader. He gave me the pep talks and confidence that could only come from someone who had been there.

He told me to cook my butt off and cook from the heart. To not try to play someone else’s game, just cook the food I know and love. He told me to be the biggest, boldest, but still most genuine version of myself that I could be. He told me to not to censor myself or try to “act,”but to be the person I am after a few drinks with friends – great advice!

He told me listen to the judges’ feedback, but always trust my heart over all. He reminded me that I’d know if I really cooked a bad dish, and sometimes harsh criticism is exaggerated to heighten drama. He told me not to take that personally and not to let it ruin my love of cooking or cause me to doubt myself. Above all else, he told me to embrace my fellow contestants, learn from them, and love them, because years from now, they will still be like family long after the world has forgotten about MasterChef.

Some of that, I didn’t really take to heart (Sorry Ben!). I read it and I processed it, but I wasn’t exactly able to tell him that the likelihood of me embracing anyone, making friends, or coming to see anyone as “family” was very slim, on account of me not being a people person in the SLIGHTEST – no identifying information about me!

Whoops. I guess he actually was right about it. I promise I’ll listen next time, Ben!

Funny thing – I had no idea just how good a job I’d done at concealing my identity, til I finally “introduced” myself to him. It was a confusing exchange, he didn’t immediately pick up on what I was saying… because he thought that “X” was a DUDE! Hahahahaa!! I don’t think he fully believed that I was female until got on Skype together!

Anyway, enough back story from me. Ben is an amazing guy, and I’m so glad that I met him – I chose WISELY. I thought it would be fun to get him to do a blog entry, leading up to my debut on MasterChef. When asked what I specifically wanted him to write about, I left it wide open. He has such a diverse range of interests, and is just a really interesting, entertaining writer, I didn’t want to give him any guidelines. I knew that whatever he would write about – food, travel, home brewing, gardening… or whatever else – would be great.

What he emailed me as a guest blog blew me away. This is amazing, and I really hope that people keep this essay in mind when watching MasterChef both this evening, and going forward.

Thank you, Ben, for everything. You’re amazing.

If you’d like to follow Ben’s adventures, you can do so on his website, Twitter, Facebook, and/or Youtube

All photos courtesy of Ben Starr.

It’s been 2 years since I found myself locked in a hotel room in Los Angeles, unable to leave without a babysitter, unable to connect to the outside world (including family, friends, and career.) Awake at 5am every morning and hustled into a cold van, driven to a grimy warehouse where I’d sit outside in a tent for 3 hours.

Every 10 minutes, a production assistant would come by and say, “5 minute warning, everyone. On-set in 5 minutes.” That warning would be repeated for many hours to come. Then suddenly a cry, “EVERYONE ON SET NOW!” Hustlebustle. And we’re herded in front of Ramsay, Bastianich, and Elliot to begin the 8-hour process of filming a 1-hour challenge. Then it’s back to being locked in a hotel room for a few hours of desperate sleep before the process repeated. Every day. Without stopping. For 2 months. Making MasterChef. Season 2.

On May 22, MasterChef season 4 will commence. And in a scant 3 hours of broadcasting, the lives of 100 contestants will flash before your eyes.Within 3 hours of programming, more than 80% of them will be gone forever,and only a tiny core of contestants will remain for the bulk of the season.

This blog is not about that core. This blog is about the ones you’ll see for fleeting seconds. Or the ones you’ll never see.

These initial 100 contestants were selected from live auditions that took place last fall. When you attend a MasterChef audition, you bring a signature dish of yours (they want it to convey “you on a plate”), and you stand in line for an hour or two (or six) with hundreds, or sometimes thousands of other hopefuls. Looking around, you see nervous, shy people with what appear to be truly spectacular dishes. You also see folks dressed up like pirate strippers or gangsta rappers, hopeful to make enough of a spectacle to warrant a second glance from the casting agents. When you reach the front of the line, you’re herded into a large room with 19 other people, where you have a couple of minutes to plate your dish…which has been silently curdling, wilting, fermenting, and basically dying while you stood in line all those hours. (Little do you know, this is preparing you for an everyday occurrence on the show…food on MasterChef is NEVER judged when it is fresh, only after sitting at room temperature for hours after it came out of the oven.)


The 100 contestants, who barely know each other, waiting in a cold dark alley to first enter the warehouse where the signature dish challenge is filmed.

Once your dish is plated, a series of people begin walking around the room. Some are casting agents. (That could range from the supreme executive producer of the show, to an unpaid intern at a local casting firm.) Some are “culinary experts.” (That could range from an instructor at the local culinary school, to a TRUE world-class Master Chef like Ferdinand Metz…the kind that FAR outrank formidable judges like Ramsay and Elliot, neither of whom are actually real Master Chefs.) The trick is that you don’t know who is who. You don’t know who to explain how you crafted the dish to, and who to explain that your family died when you were 2, you were raised by a pack of wolves, and you learned to cook by watching Mongolian television which was the only channel you could intercept through the airwaves in the remote mountain valley where your wolf-pack family lived. 2 or 3 people will ask you some basic questions, and after you’ve talked for about 30 seconds, they say, “THANK YOU,” write a few notes on their clipboard, and move on.

After all the casting folk have made their rounds, a few names are called for people who are to remain for further questioning. Among them are probably the pirate stripper and the gangsta rapper. Also, that outgoing, food-geek dude who rigged his homemade immersion circulator to run on battery power so he could keep his curried hollandaise at perfect serving temperature until plating time. Staying along with him is the adorable old grandmother who made her famous church-potluck deviled eggs with Hellmans mayonaise and a package of dry French Onion soup mix, and who does stand-up comedy at the Senior Center on Tuesdays.

Amongst the “rejects” who are cast back out into the real world are probably the most skilled and talented among all those present that day. But they don’t fit the list of characters the casting folks are looking for. Because reality television is most certainly NOT about skill. That is incidental. They are looking for *characters*.


Contestants enjoying a rare moment in the sun outside the warehouse.

After an invasive and arduous several months of interviews, psychological evaluations, background investigations, and blood tests for everything from STDs to drugs to full DNA sequencing (I’m not joking), 100 contestants are informed that they are cast on MasterChef.

When they arrive in Los Angeles to film the show, they immediately become perplexed. Because, as they get to know each other and chat about food, they discover that there’s a surprisingly wide range of skill and knowledge levels present. There are plenty of contestants who have never heard of “sous vide” cooking, have never tasted arugula, and don’t know what “mise en place” means. Then there are other contestants who may have been to culinary school, or may have worked on the line in a restaurant…who have dined VERY well…who have even more knowledge of sophisticated cooking techniques than many chefs. Most candidates fall somewhere in between. And the core group of finalists, after the majority are sent home without aprons, will be pulled from both extremes and the middle group. But in that first week as the contestants get to know each other, it can be very puzzling for some, and very intimidating for others. Puzzling to the advanced candidates because they are wondering, if this is really a skill-based competition, why are there people here who only know how to make casseroles from cans. Intimidating for those casserole candidates, because there are people here speaking in an advanced culinary language that they can’t understand, and they wonder how they fit in.


Through the magic of television, a crumbling old furniture warehouse is transformed into the signature dish studio.

Eventually, they all spend a week inside a dusty warehouse filming the “signature dish” challenge. This is where each of the 100 contestants has an hour to prepare their “signature dish” for the judges, and find out whether or not they get the coveted apron. Some contestants are truly lucky enough to actually cook their own recipe. Contractually unable to reveal any more, I’ll just say that other contestants don’t have that luxury and have to cook something else…sometimes it’s something they’ve never even cooked before. This week of signature dish filming is incredibly tense. Up to 10 contestants are cooking at any given time. Once their hour is complete, they put their food on a cart and wait for their turn before the judges. That wait can be up to several hours long, depending on how smoothly the production is running.

And this solid week of 12 hour days gets condensed into 2 or 3 episodes of MasterChef. The premiers. Out of 100 contestants, you’ll be lucky to see half them on the final edit. Those that are displayed will be a carefully selected sampling of some (but not all) of the top core of finalists, along with candidates who have inspiring stories, candidates with crazy mad skills but who are deliberately eliminated without an apron to prove to the rest of the contestants and the audience that this is a “tough and very serious” competition, candidates with bizarre aspects (ie a guy who plates his sushi on a naked woman, a guy who rides in on a horse, a guy with a pet monkey who sits on his shoulder as he cooks, a girl who cooks with her own breast milk, etc.) and contestants who were deliberately cast to be ridiculed by the judges for having amateur skills. Yes…that happens too.


In a casting van headed to the studio, contestants take every instant they can to study.

Do I know this because I have “inside knowledge?” Of course not. You know it, too. MasterChef auditions gather thousands of VERY serious, knowledgeable cooks. If the casting agents had truly sought out the 100 best home cooks in America, there wouldn’t be a single amateur in the house. No one would be sent home for having offended the judges with sub-par cuisine. But this is entertainment, folks. You wouldn’t watch MasterChef if they had TRULY recruited the 100 best home cooks in the country. Because it would be pretty darn boring.

One contestant creatively expressing their extreme boredom from being locked in their hotel room all day.

So as you watch the first 3 hours of MasterChef, let yourself be entertained. This isn’t reality. It’s television. But the lives *behind*the show are reality. And if you connect with a contestant who really strikes something inside you, reach out and find them on the internet. Because MasterChef changes lives for the worse, perhaps more often than it changes lives for the better. People discover that they were just cast to be made fun of. Others who truly believed they had a chance at winning, and who produced a truly fabulous signature dish, will be eliminated because they just didn’t have the right chemistry to be in the core group…and are judged based not on their cooking, but on their “package” as a character. And that is really traumatic for a lot of folks. Contestants will make it to the top group who know *very* little about cooking. Contestants will be eliminated who are breathtakingly talented. That’s just the way reality TV goes.

What can help heal them, and inspire them to continue following their food dreams, is to be contacted by fans who felt a connection to them. Because one of the truly remarkable things that MasterChef does is cause people to take a long, hard, objective look at their lives. They made the choice to potentially lose their job, their house, their spouse, because they have a dream of making a difference in the culinary world. And that’s powerful stuff. And those that get tossed out like yesterday’s salad can find themselves in a very trying place. But you can help push them to continue their dreams by showing that you were moved by their performance and you want to see more…*that their sacrifice and performance made a difference to someone*.

After the first 3 episodes are over and the core group of finalists is chosen, reflect on the fact that you only saw a handful of the total number of people who risked almost everything in their lives to be on the show. There are people who will never even make it to the final edit. You’ll never even know they were on the show in the first place. But their entire life was turned upside down for half a year. They had to leave their job with no more information than, “I’m going away for at least a week, maybe up to 2 months, and I can’t contact you until I get back.” They left their families the same way, too.

So while you laugh and cry as you meet the lucky (and sometimes very unlucky) folks who are featured during the first few episodes, think of the ones you *didn’t* meet. And realize that, even for the people the judges laugh out of the studio who seem to have no cooking skill at all, they took a very frightening risk to be there. Deep inside, they truly dream of being the next MasterChef, of leaving their mark on the culinary world. And, as every true Master Chef knows, *all* skills can be taught…but passion can’t be.

Epic Popcorn

Well, the MasterChef premiere airs tomorrow… probably a good time for a truly epic popcorn recipe!

In our household, I never, ever make the popcorn. I CAN make popcorn, but my husband is so much better at it – he’s a proper popcorn making ninja. Even when just basic buttered/salted popcorn, he’s just gifted at getting the right temperatures, the perfect amount of butter, the right amount of salt.

Plus, really… popcorn always tastes better when someone else goes to the effort, right?

Anyway, today’s blog entry is his own creation: Epic Popcorn. This is loaded with bacon, bacon drippings, cheese, AND some jalapeno kick – it’s not high cuisine, and it’s not diet food by any stretch of the imagination. It is, however, the best popcorn I’ve ever had!

As Porter likes to say, “It’s a fun and simple way to take something normal and make it truly awesome.”

Oh, it is that! I married a GENIUS.

Hope you enjoy this as much as we do.

Porter’s Epic Popcorn

1 lb bacon, chopped.
Popcorn kernels
Butter, optional
Jalapeno powder*
Salt
Cheddar cheese, finely shredded

Fry up the bacon as crispy as you would like. Strain off the bacon, reserving the drippings.

Use some of the bacon drippings – about as much as you’d normally use butter or oil – to pop the popcorn. If you’re using an air-only popper, skip this step.

Toss the popped popcorn with bacon drippings, alone or combined with a bit of melted butter. Be sure that the drippings (and butter, if using) are NOT super hot, or it will ruin the popcorn.

Season the popcorn with jalapeno powder and salt, to taste. Toss well to combine.

Sprinkle popcorn liberally with shredded cheddar cheese, top with bacon.

Enjoy!

* Jalapeno powder is just dried, pulverized jalapeno peppers. We buy ours from Midwest Supplies. It adds a ton of flavor to popcorn, without all of the crap found in store bought popcorn seasonings!

Interested in Gluten-free cooking and baking? You’ll LOVE Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

How many times have you come across a gluten-free recipe claiming to be “just as good as the normal version!”, only to wind up with weird textures, aftertastes, etc? Most gluten-free recipes are developed by taking a “normal” recipe, and swapping in a simulated “all purpose” gluten-free flour… whether store bought, or a homemade version. “Beyond Flour” takes a different approach: developing the recipe from scratch. Rather than swapping out the flour for an “all purpose” mix, I use various alternative flours as individual ingredients – skillfully blending flavours, textures, and other properties unique to each flour. Supporting ingredients and different techniques are also utilized to achieve the perfect end goal … not just a “reasonable facsimile”. Order your copy here.

Looking for even MORE fantastic gluten-free recipes? Beyond Flour now has a sequel: Beyond Flour 2: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

Imagine gluten-free foods that are as good – or better! – than their traditional, gluten-filled counterparts. Imagine no longer settling for foods with bizarre after-tastes, gummy consistency, and/or cardboard texture. Imagine graham crackers that taste just like the real thing. Crisp, flaky crackers…without the sandy texture. Hybrid tortillas that: look and act like flour tortillas, with the taste of fresh roasted corn! Imagine chewy, delicious cookies that *everyone* will want to eat! Imagine BAGELS. If you’ve cooked from “Beyond Flour”, you already know that these fantasies can be reality – it’s all in the development of the recipes. Order your copy here.

MasterChef Bingo

Two blog posts in one day, would you look at that?! Anyway, just a very brief update here .. more a case of using the blog as a public repository than a post, really…

In preparation for my MasterChef Viewing Party on Wednesday (to which the public is welcome to attend!), I have designed and PDF’ed some MasterChef BINGO cards!

MasterChefBingo

(Just a photo example for the sake of illustration – the actual file to print and download is linked below!)

We’ll be using these to play MasterChef Bingo at my own viewing party, and I welcome you – whether a fellow MC4 contestant, past contestant, or MasterChef fan – to use these at your leisure as well.

Click here to get the file … Enjoy!

New here, and a fan of MasterChef? I have some other links for you to check out as well!

Directory of all 100 contestants, with links to many: Here.

Group Pinterest board for season 4 contestants: Here.

Follow my experiences as a MasterChef USA season four top 100 finalist: Here.

Lucky (In My Life) – Eurodance Monday

Well, here we are… just a couple days away from the Masterchef premiere. It’s been a bizarre – and kind of amazing – few months, leading up to this point.

It’s crunch time! As I plan the final details for my own viewing party, the invites and plans are flying for many other such parties across the country. New clips of the show are being made available online, and I’ve been screen capturing like a madwoman … posting, and tagging for the group.

It’s been great to see more of their faces in these new show clips, for the most part… but the clips are also presenting/reinforcing the harsh reality that some of our new friends were not necessarily treated the best during their time on air. It’s hard to watch. On the upside, we have a very caring and supportive group, and I know most of us will be there for each other, whatever happens on Wednesday night.

I’m still amazed at how different things have been, compared to what I was thinking when going into this. How my priorities have changed… and how far off the mark I was about the idea of being surrounded by PEOPLE. Going in to this, I thought that if I could get along with my roomie, that’s about the best I could ask for. I didn’t think we’d have much chance to get to know anyone, based on what I knew of the show logistics… and I thought of that as a good thing.

… never in a million years would I have guessed that I’d walk out of the experience with a ton of new FRIENDS. *Definitely* never would have guessed that many of us would come to see each other as new extended family members. (Extremely nutty new family, in many cases!)

Guys, it’s been an honor and a pleasure getting to know you over these past few months. With the premiere just a few days away, I’m dedicating today’s Eurodance Monday pick to YOU!

MasterChef Guest Post – Carrie Peterson’s Whoopie Pies

Today’s guest blog entry is from one of the closest friends I made from the whole MasterChef ordeal ADVENTURE – Carrie Landry Peterson.

In LA, she and Carrie Stevens shared the room next to mine. During our downtime, Carrie and I would hang out – Boozy disposable coffee cups in hand – and swap conspiracy theories and observations about the general nonsense that surrounded us.

Since getting home… well, things are more or less the same. Swap out a hot, humid hotel hallway for our respective homes, add a couple phones, and change out the paper cups for real glasses. You know, except when we’re feeling nostalgic!

Love this girl!

Hello Everyone! My name is Carrie Peterson and I’m an Airline Pilot who loves to cook!

By now, you all know that Marie appeared on the FOX show MasterChef! This is how she had, I mean..I had the pleasure of meeting her! Marie has asked me to share with you, my “wicked good” Whoopie Pie recipe.

Whoopie Pies you ask?!? Yup, this would be the dessert that I have made since the ripe age of 8! I can make these scrumptious desserts in my sleep. So what better dish for me to make on my MasterChef TV audition, right?!?! Right…

So here is a little history on my beloved dessert…The Whoopie Pie was created in 1925 by Labadie’s Bakery in Lewiston, Maine. It’s the official state treat, does your state have an official treat? No? Well, what are you waiting for? Get on it!!

I’m not sure what Marie has shared with all of you fabulous people about her experience on MasterChef. Lets just say…it was interesting! We have all made 99 new friends for life! We have also learned that boxed wine served in to go coffee cups is like a glass of heaven after a long day of filming! I wish we could share more with you… Like who won, but you will have to watch yourselves!! Sorry!

Ok, enough of my rambling on….may I present to you, my “wicked good” Whoopie Pie recipe.

WHOOPIE PIES

Cakes:

3 c sugar
1 c butter (room temp)
4 eggs
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 tbsp vanilla
6 c flour
2 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tbsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 c milk

Filling:

1 1/2 c shortening
3 c confectioners’ sugar
1 1/3 c marshmallow topping
Dash of salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 to 1/2 c milk

Preheat oven to 350′ or convection oven to 315′.

In a large bowl using a mixer, beat sugar, butter, and eggs. Add the oil and vanilla and beat again.

In a separate bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. Add half of the dry ingredients to the egg mixture, stir or beat to blend. Add 1 1/2 c milk and beat again. Add the remaining dry mixture, blend until incorporated. Add the remaining 1 1/2 c milk and blend.

Depending on what size cake you would like (I make several sizes, depending on what it is for) you can use a large spoon or a measuring cup. Scoop your desired size cake batter on a cookie sheet (I line mine with parchment paper). Bake for 10-12 minutes. Let cool on wire rack.

In a bowl using an electric mixer, combine all of the ingredients except the milk and beat well. Add just enough milk to achieve a creamy frosting. Spread the filling on one cake half and top it with another cake half.

This recipe makes either 16 LARGE Whoopie Pies or 50 or so small Whoopie Pies.

Let me know what you all think!

Carrie xx

MasterChef Premieres in One Week … Not Sure I’m Ready to Watch.

So, we’re one week the big day – MasterChef premieres on May 22..

I’ve been back from filming for a while now. While the initial trauma is long gone (I almost passed out at the TSA in LA, phased in and out of consciousness my whole trip home, and then slept for four days – something I’ve never done in my life!), there is one thing that remains.

I still have no idea how I’m going to be able to watch next week’s 2 hour premiere, which features the “auditions”. Not a sweet clue.

Let me back up a little… going into the experience, I thought I had prepared for everything. I was absolutely confident that there was nothing that this experience could throw at me, that I couldn’t handle. I can cook anything! I worked on sensory training! I knew that the “Reality” of reality TV was bullshit, and that there was the unspoken “game” to play with the producers.

… but there was one thing that caught me completely off guard, and really screwed with me: I made friends.

If you’re a longtime reader here, you know that I’m a bit of a misanthrope. Humans – as an overall data set – are awful, and extremely difficult to get along with and/or even just relate to. Part of that is growing up different than everyone, as someone with Aspergers. Part of that is a holdover from how random people have treated me, my whole life. Part of that is just seeing what society has become, what passes for acceptable behavior, and what behaviors are actually rewarded.

Most of it is that by and large, people are illogical, and that frustrates me to no end.

Individuals – separated from that overall data set – can be ok. Hell, some individuals are awesome. It’s not that I can’t stand persons, it’s that I can’t stand *people* – and going into this, I knew I’d be surrounded by 99 PEOPLE – in addition to all of the producers, staff, etc. That’s just not a good situation for me.

I hoped that my roommate would be tolerable, and planned to spend all of my time alone, studying. I knew what kind of people made it on to reality TV, and I knew I was not one of them. There’s a reason you don’t see a lot of Aspies and Auties on reality TV, and really… if it wasn’t for being underinsured for the tornado damage by well over $60k… there’s no way in hell I’d be doing this. Desperate times, desperate measures.

Well, then some weird things happened.

Sitting at the Minneapolis airport on the morning of my flight out to LA, I was almost a wreck. I’d just said goodbye to my husband, and was seriously questioning my judgement on doing this. I waited for my flight… and then a familiar face walked towards me. It was Liyah, someone I’d talked some smack with at the pre-show psych appointment.

I was so happy to see her (Up til that point, I had NO idea who had made it through!), I almost cried. Actually, I may have teared up, now that I think about it… it’s been a long time.

We sat together and chatted for most of the flight. On our layover, we met up with Joan – a woman I recognized from my initial audition group. The three of us sat together on the second leg of the journey, and I felt like… OK. I know two people, they’re nice. That’s all I need, I can handle this.

Shortly after arriving at the hotel, we were giving the opportunity to go shopping for snacks, drinks, etc for the hotel rooms. We piled into vans, and started meeting each other.

… there were so many super cool people in my van. I actually LIKED them. Like, a lot.

At the grocery store, two of the guys chatted me up about my “Magneto was Right” shirt, and various geekery. One of them – Damian Legion – showed me his Dalek tattoo. OMG! Genuine geeks! I wasn’t alone!


With Damian Legion and my roomie, Alexandra Jones… Photo courtesy of Damian.

It wasn’t just geeks, though. There were people of all types there, and that van ride was probably the most fun I’ve had with strangers ever. This was a good group.

Later that night, I said and did something that still shocks me, months later. I’m still not sure that my husband believed me when I told him this, either… but I swear it happened:

I was sitting at a table with my new friends, feeling comfortable. I have NO idea where this ‘inspiration’ came from, but I stood up, said “I’m going to go mingle!”, excused myself and then DID SO. MINGLE!!

Insane. Hasn’t happened before, probably won’t happen again. Apparently I forgot to pack my “introvert”.


With Christine Kim, Rudy Reyes, and Damian Legion … Photo courtesy of Christine.

Over the better part of a week, we got to know each other – hanging out at the pool, hanging out in the lobby, a couple mall excursions, etc. I spent very little time studying, which surprised me. I’d heard that we would be on much stricter lockdown after the “auditions”, and wanted to make the best use of my time – I could study later.

When the show tried to provoke a “big autistic meltdown”, there were many people who helped me out, talked me down, calmed me. They went above and beyond, and they barely knew me… that will always stick out to me. These were good people, with only a few exceptions.


With Christine Kim and Julie Ann Gibson … Photo courtesy of Christine.

Then, the first day of auditions came. While I wasn’t auditioning til the second day, I can honestly say that the first day of auditions was the most traumatic day of my life. I’m not saying this lightly – I would sooner go through another tornado, than to go through that day again. I mean… no question.

All of my grand plans to remain cool and collected on camera went right out the window with the first person to be eliminated. It was someone I liked, and someone I expected was a given to go through, so yeah, I was shocked. (Don’t take this as a spoiler, the show will very likely rearrange the order of auditions when airing!)

That wasn’t the problem though – I realized right then that I had never actually been exposed to someone in the moment that they had their dreams destroyed. I’ve never seen someone that devastated. I’ve never seen THAT LOOK on someone’s face before. Months later, my hands are shaking as I type this, my heart just started racing, and I’m tearing up. In the moment that she came out that door without an apron, the look on her face… I’ll never forget it.

I may not have gotten PTSD from the tornado, but THAT moment traumatized me for life, I’m sure of it. I’m definitely symptomatic for PTSD over it, even months later. I’ve had nightmares about her coming out of that door, about her face, and the way it made me feel. (Chickie, you know I love ya… please don’t take that the wrong way!)

I honestly thought that I was going to throw up. My stomach knotted up and lurched. My CHEST hurt. I started into an adrenaline response, and was in physical pain from it… all from seeing a face. I cried.

All day, it was a stream of this devastation, peppered with the odd apron victory. For each person, they had us all line up for when the big door opened, and one one after another, we’d find out their fate, seconds after they did. I cried all day, and I’m sure the other contestants thought I was either crazy, or a big baby. Maybe I am – but I was NOT prepared for any of that. It wasn’t even just seeing my friends eliminated, it was people that I hadn’t even met yet. Every last one of them, that look in their eyes, THAT FACE… each one shook me to the core.

The part that confuses me is that I actually KNOW faces. I was diagnosed with Aspergers fairly early on, in my early teens. I made a point of studying faces, seeing it as a deficiency I had, and the “fix” seemed pretty simple – pattern recognition. Never once in my life – during studying faces or not – have I seen THAT facial expression up close, whether as a flash card, or in person. I’m sure I’ve probably seen it on TV at a distance, but damn… I never want to see it again.

I was afforded a brief respite from the carnage in the form of our required shopping trip, for those of us cooking the next day… and then I came back to the set to find that two of the people I’d grown closest to had been eliminated, and whisked away… I never even got to say goodbye.

I completely lost it.

That day ended very, very late. As we headed back to the hotel – tired, overstimulated, starving, and dehydrated – it felt very familiar to me, in an eerie and upsetting way. It felt *EXACTLY* like what I had felt like on the day of the tornado, as we headed to our temporary “home” at the end of a very long, very emotional day.

So… if I’m a total wreck at the viewing party next week, this is why. THIS is why I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to watch it. I feel sick right now, even just thinking about it.

Edited to add: I wrote this entry about two weeks ago. Shortly after, I went to see a therapist for PTSD treatment, realizing that I had not been able to handle it on my own, even after several months.

While I still find the subject of the first day of auditions to be horrible, I can at least think/talk about it without shakes and tears now. I maintain that I would find going through another tornado to be a far more pleasant experience, and I’m not prone to hyperbole.

I’m still not sure I’m ready to see the faces again, although I am – at the same time – excited to see all of my new friends on TV. I’m curious to see how things went, how the show edits everyone… and to be able to supply the words and support NOW, that escaped me at the time.

My viewing party is being held at Banana Blossom, an awesome little Asian restaurant on Lowry in Minneapolis, Wednesday May 22 at 6:45 pm – open to the public. This restaurant was smashed in the same tornado that my house was, and was closed for an entire year to rebuild. Come hungry, buy a lot of food! 🙂 Later in the evening, we will be sampling my Mango Mojito Upside Down Cake, my “signature dish” in my audition!