Corn Relish – Sweet Corn Spectacular!

My third cookbook – Sweet Corn Spectacular – came out yesterday, and I’m so excited: it marks a couple firsts for me!

It was my first “published through a regular publisher” book, so that was an adventure for Mega Type A, self-publisher-to-the-bone me. I’m happy to report that Minnesota Historical Society Press has been nothing but awesome so deal with, and never made me feel smothered, hindered, or compromised in any way. Those have always been some of my biggest aversions to traditional publishing, so it was all a happy surprise!

It’s also my first cookbook that is NOT dessert oriented!

After my recent reality show adventure, I’ve been more aware than ever that there is this weird “if you bake, you probably don’t know how to cook” stigma. I’ve always cooked like I bake – and vice versa – so that’s always been a bizarre mindset to me. How nice that I get to follow it up with a book that is predominantly savory in nature! (Yes, there is a whole chapter dedicated to desserts, because… really.)

Yes, in Sweet Corn Spectacular, I was able to run free and create recipes using whatever techniques I felt like. There’s some cooking, roasting, grilling… a bit of baking, some brewing AND some canning! Yay, diversity!

Today I’m sharing the recipe that may just end up being the most popular in the whole book, and it’s a canning recipe: Corn Relish.

I left a big jar of this relish at a friend’s house as a welcome home gift. It didn’t take long for her to message me a thank-you, saying, “It’s delicious.” When I let her know that we had plenty in case she ever wanted more, she surprised me with her follow up:

“I will take as much of this corn business as you’re willing to give me. I want to pour it in a kiddie pool and lounge around in it.”

I think she liked it. Five quarts may not be enough: double the recipe and share the joy – it makes a great gift, or contribution to a backyard BBQ party. It’s also a great way to stretch the life of summer’s fresh produce… and my husband puts this on EVERYTHING. In his words, this relish “adds a delicious sweet crunch to ANYTHING”.

Enjoy!

Corn Relish, from “Sweet Corn Spectacular”
Makes about 5 quarts

24 ears fresh sweet corn, husks removed
4 large green bell peppers, chopped
2 large onions, chopped
2–3 large tomatoes, chopped
4–5 ribs celery, chopped
2 jalapeños, chopped, ribs and seeds removed if desired
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup salt
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 tablespoon celery seed
2 teaspoons dry mustard
5 cups vinegar

Use a sharp knife to remove kernels from the cobs, place kernels in a large pot. Add peppers, onions, tomatoes, celery, and jalapeños.

In a medium bowl, mix together sugar, salt, turmeric, celery seed, and dry mustard. Add mixture to the pot, and stir well before adding the vinegar.

Heat to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 40 minutes.

Ladle into hot, sterilized canning jars. Affix sterilized lids and rims, and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes. (Add 5 minutes for altitudes above 1,000 feet; add 10 minutes for altitudes over 6,000 feet.) Allow to cool overnight.

Check all lids for a proper seal: they should have sucked down into a vacuum seal as the jars cooled. Store properly sealed jars for later use; refrigerate any that did not seal for use in the coming weeks.

MasterChef Recap: Season 4, Episodes 7 & 8

Having watched these two episodes last week, I’m not super in the mood to watch them again to recap them, so let’s start with a “too long, did not read” version: The entire two hours were spent with two apparent goals: getting rid of ONE contestant, and fawning all over Luca.

I’m way too ADD for this crap…

Anyway. the first episode had the contestants cooking for 101 firemen, as their team challenge. Immediately, I’m happy to see that Bethy Rossos is getting more face time. For as interesting as she is, the show has done pretty much NOTHING with her.

I mean, this girl is an archer, hunts her own meat, just MADE a gorgeous wooden bow. She’s Greek, is always posting amazing looking Greek food (The show makes a big deal of the Italian cooks each year, but not a lot is said about other backgrounds!), and she was the host of a show called “Adrenaline Hunter” that just won an Emmy. But hey, let’s just ignore her in favor of a bunch of name calling and forced drama.

Then we have a bunch of fluff about how awesome Walmart is. Yay for product placement? I’m pretty sure that my MasterChef roomie – Alexandra – is still traumatized by being forced to carry a big Walmart logo bag in the opening scenes of the audition rounds!

First person chosen is Lynn. If I recall correctly, this isn’t the first time, and for good reason. Absolutely everything Lynn has posted online looks ridiculously amazing, and what little we’ve been shown of his stuff on the show is much of the same. I have NO idea why they’ve shown so little of him. Does America really prefer watching the judges prance around, and the focus on BS drama… over actual cooking? I’m really disappointed. Lynn is a culinary *Artist*.

“Banqueting is like the medical school of restaurants” – Wow, Joey. I honestly don’t even know where to START with that ridiculousness.

Anyway.

I find it weird MasterChef professes to encourage professional food dreams – and makes comments like Joey’s – but actively discourages contestants from acting as they would in pro kitchen.

In restaurants – and in medical school, for that matter! – people wear gloves. People tie their hair back, and people wear hair nets (or surgical caps, if we’re continuing the med school analogy!). Whether restaurants or med school, people realize that physical or biological contamination is a huge issue, and one that must actively be avoided.

In MasterChef, we see long hair worn loose, sometimes dipped in the food. We see people touching their hair or face, and then going right back to preparing food, without even washing their hands. While this is certainly not unique to this challenge – or this season – it’s an interesting contrast to all of the talk about how these firemen are America’s heroes, should be treated with respect, etc. Prepare them an amazing meal, but don’t tie your hair back! Got it…

This challenge makes me think of Mark Famiano, one of the 100 finalists – Cleveland Fireman. TOTAL sweetheart! Check out his audition video, here

So one plate’s missing sauce, Joe grabs the plate to go yell at the contestants, and one of the most hilariously disgusting MasterChef moments ever happens:

As Joe Bastianich yells “DO I SPEAKING ENGLISH!?”, he spits all over a bunch of steaks to be served to the firemen.

Way to respect your heroes, Joey.

So Bime’s team loses, and he does NOT want to save himself. I respect that, the show does not (obviously), so they make him “safe”. He further displays commendable sportsmanship by “saving” the person who he actually felt performed the best, rather than playing strategy to benefit himself. Good on you for showing some honour, Bime! There is NOT enough of this on this show, in popular media, or in society.

The pressure test is making Eggs Benedict, and it’s just a boiling pot of bizarre at this point. For some reason, Gordon carries on about how the Hollandaise sauce should be made first. Um. No.

Is he deliberately misleading contestants, or is he not a logistics person? I have no idea. Poach the egg first, shock it & hold it in cold water to stop the cooking process, and reheat it in some hot water right before serving. The Hollandaise should be made as close to serving time as possible, or it’s far more likely to break. At BEST, it’ll cool to a much thicker texture – which would be fine AFTER plating, given the logistics of judging… but you don’t want to spoon congealed sauce over your egg.

Bottom line: Always start with the most time-stable element!

One thing that’s really tiresome about this show is the forced “suspense” that’s supposed to enable “shockers”. If a team is being shown as being strong, blah blah.. they’re going to lose. Beth gets some face time talking about how she makes Eggs Benedict all the time? She’s going to fail miserably.

The show does a good job of keeping things inversely proportionate (The bigger the brag, the uglier the fail), but I’m not sure that’s something to be commended. It’s weird that they’re so threatening about spoilers and such, but spoil everything themselves – whether showing the results of last week’s challenge before the audition episode even aired, or by making it patently obvious what’s going to happen with challenges, before people are even finished cooking.

Loads of attention is given to Krissi botching her sauce. LOADS.

As is their pattern, Beth screws up royally, Krissi comes out on top, and Bri – the vegetarian who says she’s never poached an egg – also comes out on top. Yawn. It would be nice if they weren’t so heavy handed with it all, and employed even a little bit of subtlety.

As a preview of the ridiculousness to come in the second episode of the night, Ramsay declares the remaining 4 people to be leaving the kitchen for another elimination challenge.

Second episode starts, and they’re in Vegas for the first of two challenges.

They have them cooking burgers in a “real” restaurant, Gordon Ramsay’s Burgr (I hate that spelling, it pains me to type it and see the little red “you misspelled this!” indicator!)

Once again, reality tv apparently is exempt from common food preparation ordinances, and we’re treated to more bare hands, loose hair, face touching, etc. So freaking gross. I’m disappointed that the judges didn’t put their foot down, even if producers wanted contestants to wear their hair down. Also, seriously – how would wearing gloves take away from anything? So gross. I’m in the process of planning a trip to Vegas this fall, after seeing this… I know where I will NOT be eating. I wonder how the diners feel about this episode of MasterChef, watching the utter lack of food prep hygiene… especially in an expensive restaurant (It’s a burger joint, but apparently the average entree is $25 = expensive).

I have to laugh at Gordo saying “welcome to my world”. I would love to know when he last worked in a kitchen, he has something like 20 shows!

Blah blah, I can’t handle watching this again – I value my few remaining brain cells too much – so I’m going from memory on the rest of this.

This episode was hard to watch, because it was mostly a whole lot of Gordon screaming at the contestants. So much for the “This show is positive and encouraging” and “The softer side of Gordon Ramsay”. Blech!

Interestingly enough, while cooking burgers… there is NO mention of how awesome Walmart’s beef is. 🙂

Luca and Kathy lose the burger challenge… so they have THEM do *another* challenge: butter poached lobster.

One thing that stuck out to me when the challenge was announced was the lead up to it. The judges (probably Ramsay, IIRC) carried on about how this was one of the most expensive, luxurious ingredients in the world. Um.. No.

There are SO many food items that are far more rare, exotic, luxurious, etc. Hell, in one of the past seasons, contestants were each given – EACH – a $500 truffle to work with. I can’t even imagine…

Lobster? Lobster is great, and yeah, a little on the spendier side. You know, when you compare it to Walmart steak, anyway. You can usually find a decent lobster tail for $10-15, even here in landlocked Minnesota.

Also, fun fact: Lobster has a history of being referred to as “poor man’s chicken” on the east coast of Canada. Yes. For those on the coast, lobster was so plentiful and easy, that’s how it was seen. Actually, Googling it just now, this wasn’t just in Canada – in America, lobsters were apparently fed to prisoners, slaves, and servants all the time, because it was so cheap.

Anyway, especially after the “Everyone gets a $500 truffle!” thing, I have to wonder how disappointed Kathy and Luca were when the “most luxurious, expensive ingredient” was… Large ocean bugs. (Don’t get me wrong, I love pretty much every manner of sea crustacean!)

Luca wins, after a long spate of mediocre performances.

As they focus on Kathy’s exit, we’re treated to all sorts of fluff about her journey, about how far she’s come, and what a fighter she is. WTF? They’ve shown pretty much nothing about her “journey” or her, no one sitting at home has any idea who she is, what she’s cooked, what she can do, etc. Wouldn’t it be great if the show focused more on the contestants, so people could actually get more invested in them? So that stuff like this actually makes sense to the viewing audience?

As a fun “behind the scenes” fact… man, the show was awful to Kathy when we all first arrived. Apparently she showed up with bright orange hair, and production marched her over to a salon and made her dye it the colour you see on the show. If THAT wasn’t bad enough (she was NOT happy about it!), they decided to change her entire look. The spunky, flashy little Brooklyn BRONX diva look that we met in the first few days – fitted jeans, spangly earrings, metallic embossed flashy shirt, etc… was replaced by a plain purple t shirt, HUGE baggy jeans, and hiking boots. It was beyond bizarre… and signaled to me that she would be going far in the competition, before we even “auditioned”.

At the time, she seemed kinda pissed that I was allowed to keep my bright turquoise hair! (Had they insisted I change it, I would have walked. I’m sure they knew that.)

I haven’t been in contact with Kathy at all in a long time, after some weird Facebook drama. Regardless of what went down, I wish they’d shown more of her personality, background, and food, and I wish her all the best. The show really did her a disservice, on several levels.

The weird thing is, the show is doing itself a disservice. They whole point – for them – is to end up with a best selling cookbook… so why are they actively turning off their potential buyers with all the forced drama, and preventing people from getting invested in the FOOD aspect of the show at all? SO WEIRD.

MasterChef Recap: Season 4, Episodes 5 & 6

Oh, the best laid plans. I thought for SURE I was done with doing the recaps… but I went and told my fellow “contestants”. Peer pressure!

So, I’ll continue doing the recaps for now. A bit of a disclaimer:

I like to keep things positive on this blog…. but I also like to keep things real. MasterChef was a big part of my life this year – 6 months, full time.. and then some! – but I don’t have a ton of positive things to say about it, aside from all of the awesome friends I made. If I can’t be positive, at least I can be honest… and honestly, there is a good chance that my recaps will devolve into “Joe is a moron. The end” by the finale. Hey, the show wanted me for my lack of filter, right? LOL!

So… If you’re adverse to negativity and drama, you may wanna skip my recaps of a trashy reality show that treated my friends like crap! 🙂

Ok. Here we go.

As the show starts, I have two thoughts, and both are about Krissi Biasiello.

1. WHO is Krissi gonna fight tonight?

2. I’m starting to hate Krissi a little because she’s one of those *PRETTY* chunky chicks. Makes pasty, puffy, blotchy me a bit jealous. I won’t hate her too much, though: She may BE one of those pretty ones, but she don’t routinely bleat about it. LOL!

This episode features the first team challenge of the year. Much like with the display of lamb on the previous set of episodes, I feel a bit of a twinge. Though I don’t usually play well with others, it would have been cool to be able to do a team challenge. I am SUCH a logistics freak… but I guess things going smoothly don’t make for good TV. LOL!

Anyway.

Opening montage of the contestants on a bus, driving through LA. Gotta say, I do NOT miss being driven through LA.

Joe’s shoes look so stupid with his suit and overall demeanor.

The contestants are told they’re cooking lunch for over 300 elementary kids. They have 1:45 to cook it, and 90 minutes to serve.

Ramsay is doing his faux Shatner thing again. Is this supposed to be suspenseful or dramatic or something? I know I’m not Fox’s target market for ANYTHING, much less reality TV, but… bleh.

Jordan and Jessie are team captains this week, and alternate picking their teams. (and I’m SO glad I got to avoid the rehash of always getting picked last in school, LOL!)

As they are picking, I notice once again that every one of the women have their long hair down. Where this is preparing food for the public, I really hope they’re made to wear hair nets. You’d think food prep regulations would apply at this point, right?

Hrm, apparently not.

Right away, Jessie’s Red Team is talking about how kids don’t want green vegetables, so they choose corn. Sigh.

First off, I hate that the show is encouraging and/or perpetuating BS about kids hating veggies. Kids hate veggies when they’re told to hate veggies. Maybe stop all the crap about “Oooh, they’re picking GREEN BEANS, the kids will HATE THAT!”, and kids will love green veggies like normal human beings.

My favorite veggie as a kid was Brussels Sprouts. Never had anyone filling my head with “Not supposed to like that!” nonsense.

Secondly, corn is a grain… NOT a vegetable. (And hey, shameless plug here… my newest cookbook, Sweet Corn Spectacular comes out in just 3 weeks! Preorder now!)

They decide on Chicken Teriyaki.

The Blue Team goes for spaghetti and meatballs.

Gordon starts carrying on about how Chicken Teriyaki is a bad choice, because it’s brown and kids will hate it. Joey Coattails agrees, saying that between spag and meatballs, and chicken Teriyaki “no doubt in his mind, he’s going for the spaghetti and meatballs”.

Well, duh. Joey doesn’t go for anything that’s not Italian.

Also, let’s be serious. If your kids turn up their nose at chicken teriyaki, odds are good that you’re either a bad cook, or a bad parent as it relates to food.

Joe and Graham go to the red team and tell them that they’re cooking the chicken wrong.

I’m really distracted by everyone’s hair down. Gordon and Graham are chefs, and Joey Coattails owns restaurants. I’m blown away that NONE of them put their foot down and have the contestants practice proper food prep hygiene. Guess I know a few restaurants I won’t be eating at… ew.

So the kids go running and screaming at the competitors.

The announcer mentions that the teams have 1 hour to serve. What happened to the 90 minutes mentioned earlier? Does Fox think that there are 90 minutes in an hour now? (I wouldn’t be surprised…)

Lots of footage of the kids giving opinions of the food.

Man, this episode could be soooo suspenseful if the show hadn’t spoilered the winners way back even before the cast list was announced. What genius decided to show challenge results coverage?

Having seen the Red Team victorious in that commercial, I find all of the crap about chicken teriyaki is WAY over the top. There is not subtlty or nuance in reality TV, huh? “They’re going to lose! They’re going to lose! OMG THEY WON WHO SAW THAT COMING!?”. Lame.

Graham refers to corn as a veggie. Sigh.

The last kid who walks through the red team’s table is subjected to waving and whooping… poor kid.

Footage of the blue team talking about who’s going home.

Jordan’s given the opportunity to “save” three people from the pressure test. He saves Howard and James, is told that he can save himself for the third option. So… he does. Of course.

I hate it when team captains do this. From what is shown, it’s his “leadership” and lack of logistics that ended them up there. Krissi declares it to be a “bitch move”, and I agree. Competitions should have more sportsmanship and honour… even if it’s a “competition”, in quotes! 🙂

So, the 6 remaining people have to make cheesecake.

They have only 90 minutes to make, bake, chill, AND garnish a cheesecake. Ridiculous.

Gordon declares that the CRUST is the secret to a great cheesecake, saying that “when your base is solid, your mixture is solid”.

Um. WTF?

Dear Gordo… your cheesecake batter is completely separate from your crust. Your crust has no real influence on how cohesive your batter is, I have NO idea what the hell you’re getting on with…

Also, the real key to a successful cheesecake is to take your time mixing it GENTLY, and cook it at a low temperature for a long time. Period. You know… something that they don’t actually allow the contestants enough time for!

Adriana is cooking mango cubes and guava paste together, ingredients from the “limited pantry” provided to top the cheesecakes.

After some footage of drama, the judges start talking condescendingly about how Adriana “just used canned guava paste… come on!”.

Given that they’d shown her cooking a topping of mangoes AND guava paste, I’m not sure how they justify the “just” in there. Also, guava paste is a specialty item. A delicacy! What is it even doing in the “limited” pantry, if they’re going to carry on like she’s slathering her cheesecake in Velveeta?

… also, seriously, they apparently let Howard get an apron on a canned peach cobbler. Guava paste > canned peaches.

Joe’s thoughts on cheesecake – especially given the parameters of competition – are BEYOND stupid. “DDDUUUUUHHHH I’m from New York, I expect cheesecake to be 6″ tall, even though we don’t give you the TIME for it”. Dumbass.

Judging:

They like Krissi’s cake, after the peanut gallery trashes her (including what seems to be a snotty comment on her weight, from Jordan).

John presents an interesting looking pineapple cake. Joe uses his fingers to shove a piece in his maw (It’s cheesecake, you neanderthal. Use a damn fork!), then makes some weird comments about how the pineapple topping is a *contrasting* texture for the cheesecake, and he doesn’t like that.

Joe, you ignorant slut.

What are you even doing “judging” a cooking show? ALL decent cooking features contrasts of all types, including texture. The whole POINT of cheesecake topping is to provide a stark contrast to the cheesecake itself – in color, texture, acidity, sweetness, etc. Moron.

Kathy presents a cheesecake with a berry compote, nails it.

Eddie makes a vanilla bean cheesecake with mixed berry compote. Judges give him some flak about not draining his compote first, but overall they like it.

Savannah made a salted caramel cheesecake that doesn’t look like a cheesecake. It looks GOOD, but just not like cheesecake.

The judges rip on Adriana’s guava cheesecake with mango and coconut – which looks INSANE, btw … I would eat the shit out of that! – Gordo starts carrying on about canned guava paste again.

Adriana goes home. Ridiculous.

Ok, on to the second episode of the night.

Mystery Box Challenge time. Contestants are told that someone will be cooking alongside them, blah blah. It’s Ramsay, who goes on to showboat and drink tea for half the challenge. Meh.

The contestants have cod… oooh I love cod. Anyway, they have a bunch of Asian ingredients with it.

JESSIE TIES HER HAIR BACK!

Well, sort of. A ponytail is a start.

Ramsay goes and has a tea, etc, before BIG DRAMA starts cooking, and then all the focus is on what he’s doing. Description about what he’s doing, etc. Forget the contestants.

One thing I dislike about this show is that it’s all basically a circle jerk for the judges. MasterChef Australia, for example, is WAY more about the competitors.

Joey Coattails seriously made fun of Gordo’s regionally appropriate pronunciation of “basil”. EXPRESSO, Joey!

Gordo’s dish is presented with a great flourish, and Joey invites the contestants to taste “how a real Master Chef does it”.

“Master Chef” is actually a professional designation, attained through a specific accredited program and intensive testing. There are very few actual Master Chefs in the world (Pretty sure it’s under 100!). I can’t find any reference anywhere to Gordon Ramsay ACTUALLY being a Master Chef.

Hrm.. I wonder if I can just adopt “Doctor” as a label. I mean, because training and earning a professional designation apparently means nothing anymore. “Doctor Overlord Marie”? “Overlord Doctor Marie”? Which works better? And where do I fit in “Czar of Cakes” with that? LOL!

Howard apparently plated raw fish. I don’t even get why he’s still in the competition. Nothing he’s made so far has stood out in any positive sense, and nothing he’s done gives any indication that he knows how to cook at ALL. I mean.. AT ALL…

… and, aside from the odd snark at Krissi, he’s not really there as a big personality player.

I have to wonder if all of the behind-the-scenes drama he had going with another contestant is going to end up coming out as a plot point. I’m not sure if I’m looking forward to that (Schadenfreude!), or dreading it. The show will step into irreparable trashiness if they go there…

Anyway.

The contestants all present their meals.

It’s almost too bad that Lynn Chyi is so reserved and drama free on the show. He gets like NO face time, and all his food looks *beyond* gorgeous.

Wouldn’t it be great if the show focused on the FOOD, rather than the judges and/or BS drama?

Luca wins the challenge, is given the choice between decorated cookies, cupcakes, and ca… WAIT A MINUTE. Are they using a freaking FUNFETTI CAKE as the demonstration?

WHY YES I THINK THEY ARE.

FunFetti

… Why would you DO that? I mean, I get throwing together a box mix in the interest of saving a few minutes for something that likely won’t be eaten, but why wouldn’t they use a plain flavor, not easily-identifiable FUNFETTI.

Man, they really are going for trashy this year!

(Note: I don’t judge people who like Funfetti. We all have guilty pleasures… but this is GORDON RAMSAY presenting the cake on a “competition” show!)

Luca picks cupcakes. I am bored.

He’s also given the advantage of handicapping one of the others for the challenge.

Luca takes Jordan’s mixer, as punishment for his earlier bitch move. I’ll admit, he’s kind of adorable about it.

I can’t believe how much drama is being forced over Jordan not having a mixer to work with. What a bunch of wusses we’ve become. All KINDS of cakes and pastries were made LONG before stand mixers (or electricity, for that matter) were even invented.

Gordon gives Kathy some hassle over her putting stuff on the bottom of her cupcakes. “Why complicate them?” he asks. “Why not?” is her answer. I like it!

Graham makes some comment about how Bethy has flour and sugar “all over her face”. If he honestly thinks that having flour on her face is somehow indicative of not knowing cupcakes, he’s never been in a bakery… and DEFINITELY never been around a baking competition.

Luca is called downstairs.

Howard is first to present. Says he has “Tahitian Vanilla Bean Cupcake”… except that there’s no bean, he just used extract. Um…?

So guava paste is bad, but calling cupcakes “vanilla bean cupcakes” when only using EXTRACT is Ok? Oh boy…

No mention is made of the fact this his cupcakes look like crap, and have barely any frosting on them. There is a MINIMUM frosting to cake ratio that should be attained, he missed it by a mile.

Malcolm’s cupcakes looked delicious until they were cut into. Also, one of these years, MasterChef will cast people who know how to pronounce “Mascarpone cheese”.

Bime’s cupcakes pretty good, decent frosting ratio.

I’m laughing at Joey Coattails being so offended at Kathy putting stuff on the bottom of her cupcakes.

For someone who is “SOOOOOO NYC!”, I’m shocked that he doesn’t seem to realize that what Kathy did is actually quite popular, even trendy. I mean, NYC is pretty much the cupcake capital of the WORLD. You’d think a food “expert” would be familiar with such cupcakes.

Bethy made three types of cupcakes, including Bananas Foster, Raspberry Lime, and an Almond Chocolate cupcake with Hazelnut Liqueur.

You know I love me some Bananas Foster cake… (and I have recipes for a few variations in both Evil Cake Overlord and The Spirited Baker!)

Anyway, her cupcakes look really good!

Jessie’s cupcakes look good, if small and irregular.

Jordan presents his cupcakes, which look good. He says “marscarpone”. LOL. Top home cooks in America!

Luca is invited to taste Jordan’s cupcakes, and he looks SO excited. He takes a bite, loves it. Seriously, he looks like someone needs to hand him a towel.

He asks if he can keep it, which is adorable for about a second… then my husband yells “HE IS PROBABLY STARVING!” right next to me.

Good point!

Looooong drawn out “deliberation” and elimination drama.

Bime and Bethy are selected as the two winners / team captains for next episode.

Malcolm goes home.

Done!

MasterChef Recap: Season 4, Episodes 3 & 4.

So, this time I’m almost a week late with the MasterChef recaps. To be quite honest, it was really starting to look like I wouldn’t be doing it, and I’m still not convinced that I’ll bother, going forward.

The longer I’m back from LA, the more I hear about things that happened to my friends… the more disgusted I am with everything. On one hand, I feel like I would be doing a disservice to my friends – and those I didn’t even meet – by NOT giving them some exposure, after we all uprooted our lives for ~6+ months for this.

On the other hand… two of my MasterChef friends have had suicidal thoughts since coming back, as a result of the treatment out there. One friend was sexually harassed by the judges to the point that she had her lawyers get her edited out of the show completely. (As part of it, one of the judges told her that the only way he’d have an appreciation for her is if he was looking at her naked body!). Two of my friends were physically assaulted – one by production, one by a judge.

Of the incidents I mention, there is no crossover – these are all unique individuals. They’re not alone, either – I know of a few other women who were treated in a sexist, degrading manner by the judges… and all of these incidents that I mention are just the ones that I KNOW of. Many have been dealing with depression as a result of the experience.

I knew that MasterChef contestants can be in a bad way when they come home, and I knew that the show has sent many from previous seasons – even those who have “placed” high – into depression, and even ruined a few lives… I guess it’s just harder for me to tolerate in specifics – it’s easier to wave off an abstract idea, without any context. Also: without knowing those involved. These aren’t mentally unbalanced people, or drama queens – these are real, everyday people. Good people. For this reason, I have very little desire to give MasterChef any real coverage, going forward. I’m beyond disgusted…. I’m livid.

Add to it the fact that it sounds like they’re going to full on, super trashy reality TV this season? Blargh. This article actually had me envisioning the show turning into a “Scary Movie”-esque parody of reality TV, it’s all so over the top.

Still, this past set of two episodes gave us the first – and last – brief glimpses of some of these people. So… here we go.

First, we have brief glimpses/introductions of people. Nancy Fillipelli, A swimwear model, Malcolm Green, and Bri, an actress.

They show a quick montage of people, and then Howard. Howard makes a peach cobbler, get an apron. I’ll admit, this one still stings a little – Apparently he used canned peaches and frozen blackberries. Awesome.

Then we have a very brief montage of rejections.

We have Paulina, who manages one of the most gorgeous food blogs I’ve ever seen, Potato Chips are Not Dinner. Fun fact: Joey the Ignorant told Paulina that her traditional Phillipino dish was “bad Chinese food”. WTF.

There’s Mark Famiano, a TOTAL sweetheart firefighter from Cleveland. Liyah with her “babies – stuffed animals – and we see Grace Chen for all of two seconds.

Carl “Pen” Wippert presented the judges with white chocolate spaghetti with strawberry puree and lemon cake “garlic bread” <- complete with finger quotes. LOVE this guy, and you should too - check out his website and Facebook page – he has a cookbook (“Gourmet for Everybody”) coming out VERY soon!

Jonny B uses a beer bottle as a rolling pin to extract lobster meat from the shell, to put on his caramel and coconut “crackerjack”. I’m still not sure how I feel about that dish. Unique, weird, and… I THINK I’d be interested in trying it? I dig salty and sweet, not so sure about seafood and caramel though. Anyway, he gets an apron after some big fake judge dramatics and “suspense”.

At this point, just 10 minutes into the show… they’re done with the audition round. SO many people, stories, and elaborate set ups were not even mentioned, much less shown. So many other people having months of upheaval condensed down to even a second or two. What is the point of having a second 2 hour episode, and only spending 10 minutes on the auditions?

So then we go to the next round of eliminations. The 40 people with aprons are assembled – equally spaced out among the “Fight Club” space – and told they’ll be competing to stay, asked to follow the judges out to another area

Brian Baum tells us that he has adrenaline coursing through his veins. I promptly get Phat Bass stuck in my head.

Nancy Fillipelli isn’t thinking about going home, she “IS” home.

They go to this other area, and they show individual faces. Let me go all “Romper Room” for a minute..

I see Seonkyoung, Mark Oberle – a trapeze artist!, and Gabriella.. I see Steve Smith (who doesn’t seem to have a MasterChef page for some reason?) and Dean Karadimas, who is QUITE the character, btw. There is Seymira Salamy, and Kevin Tindell, who I just adore! I see Dahlia Abrams (and you can tell on her face, she thinks she’ll be told to kill the poor lamb that Ramsay just presented.. does NOT look happy with it!). I see Duckie and Bime … and then a flood of sheep run into the area, apparently relieving themselves all over the contestants.

Cause, you know, that’s a great thing to do to people about to cook, and in an area they’re about to cook in.

They’re told they won’t be killing any of the lambs, and a HUGE display of every possible cut of lamb is revealed.

I’ll admit, I shed a tear at this point. I am SO glad that I went home when I did – and I manage to feel even happier about that with every new story I hear – but man… challenges would have been so much fun. Forget TV, forget the competition even… I’d love to be able to walk into a pantry / meat department like THAT, have my pick of it all, no worries about budget, and just make whatever I want. What a dream!

Ramsay makes some bizarre comment about how the contestants will be like lambs to the slaughter if they make a mistake. The hyperbole in this show is epic… and not in a good way.

So they start the 60 minutes, the contestants go running, James talks about getting shoved down, and Seymi laughs – she was a rugby player, by the way. 🙂

Some coverage of contestants picking ingredients, with judges yapping.

I want to eat whatever Gabriella Aronja is making. I have no idea what she just said. It was in Spanish, and I bet it’s amazing. There are roasted peppers involved.. yum!

I digress.

Malcolm is making a lamb sampler plate, Joe makes a snotty comment about how it sounds like he’s not confident enough to make one dish. Because, you know, I’m sure none of Joe’s restaurants sell anything with more than one preparation of an ingredient, and because such a dish has NEVER gone over well in past seasons, right?

Moron.

Beth cooks her lamb on hay. Was kinda surprised to hear they had hay as an ingredient, seems kinda random.

Luca is stuffing a lamb loin with sweetbreads and goat cheese.

Brian is describing what he’s doing, gets insulted. Whatever.

Judges discuss James Ladd, saying he’s “way out of his depth”, mentioning his BBQ sauce. Apparently, that sauce was straight up amazing, btw.

In a moment of fake “spontaneity”, the judges “decide” that some people have been ‘showing their true colors’ (you know, mid-cooking time)… and should just be eliminated right now, before they’re even close to running out of time.

What a ridiculous slap in the face. I can’t imagine having had to stay another week, just to be fodder for craptacular forced drama BS like that. So disrespectful!

So with 15 minutes left – a full quarter of the time still remaining – Joey Coattails walks through and eliminates people. Gabriella – oh, her food looks SO good! – is first to go, being told she has “too many technical mistakes”.

James Ladd is next to go, then Brian Baum.

I’m struck by how much time is being spent on drama, and how little is being dedicated to the actual food. We see a few photos, no titles or descriptions of what’s being cooked.

The contestants are divided into two main groups, with a few stragglers. One group goes through to the competition, the other is just cut. Not a word about what anyone’s cooked. Past years, we’ve seen a LOT more about the food, about what was made, thought behind it. This year, it’s like they’re not even pretending that the show is about food, on some levels.

Duckie tells us that the judges are missing out, with her being eliminated. I had her pegged as top two from the minute I met her, so I totally agree. She KNOWS food – you should check out her site, Duckie’s Dine-asty. Don’t go when you’re hungry, though… just amazing stuff. She’s also hilarious, smart AND witty (not the same thing!), and just an all around great person. She actually did my makeup for me right before I cooked during the auditions, and made me look FABULOUS – thanks again, Duckie!

They show Luca’s dish, which doesn’t look appetizing at all.

Malcolm goes up against Seymira, Seymi goes home 🙁

Seymira’s African culture comes through in her cooking, and her dish looks insane. Girl, I would happily snarf your cooking any day.

The elimination is dragged out for far too long. Also, I hate seeing Seymi cry. This chick was a ray of sunshine the entire time I was in LA, love her to pieces.

Then it’s Jonny with a lamb rangoon, vs Brian “Crazy Eyes” with a lamb liver dish that looks very tasty. Gordon insults him, Brian goes home in another looong drawn out elimination.

I’ve got to say, I wish American MasterChef was more like Australian MasterChef: Way more focus on the food, it’s actually kind of educational for the home audience. Also, the judges are far more positive and encouraging.

Nancy up against Bri, Nancy goes home.

Luca goes up against Beth. Beth’s dish is gorgeous, Luca’s… not so much. While many of the cooks here seem to have some grasp on use of color, everything on Luca’s plate seems to be variations on bile yellow. Just… not appetizing at all.

I’m fast forwarding through the drama surrounding the elimination. I may have a short attention span, but really – do people like seeing this stuff drawn out so long, and so… forced?

Also, why does Gordon. Ramsay. Try to. Talk like. William. Shatner?

There is only one Shat. Gordo is not it.

Now we’re on to the second episode from last Wednesday. I’m just going to include my review for it here, rather than start a new one.

It’s a mystery box challenge. Tomato, Bacon, Chocolate, and Potatoes are the main ingredients.

Krissi excitedly yells “BACOOOON!”, and America falls in love with her 🙂

Graham describes “an INCREDIBLE single potato”. It’s a potato. Don’t get me wrong, I am a VERY stereotypical Irish Canadian, I adore potatoes… but the hyperbole bores me so. I’m assuming that Graham has a better grasp on language than Joe the moron does. (I’m still laughing at “Butter is the antithesis of Greece”!)

Gordon has never seen chocolate and potato together, which reminds me – have you guys tried my peppermint patties recipe?

Then we have a little bit of talk about the food, then a whole bunch of manipulated drama.

Just a comment on this: I’ve seen a lot of comments out there online, usually on forums and comments section of news articles, about how the drama between Krissi and Natasha “came out of nowhere”. Keep in mind that at this point, the contestants have been in LA for almost two weeks. That’s a LOT of time to form some opinions about others. Hell, most of us were only there for a week, and THAT was enough time to form some very tight, lifetime friendships. There are two sides to that sword, and not EVERYONE there was awesome to each other.

Bime is up, Joey Coattails says that his dish “smells like a fake” to him, asks where he’s ever had food like this before. Definitely a recurring theme, after accusing Bime of his mofongo being “a ripoff of shrimp scampi, with a little plantain”

Does Joey not eat anything besides Italian? I have a hard time pinpointing whether his BS is racist, classist, or just general ignorance. Maybe a combination? So much stupid…

He tells Bime that he hopes he can “walk the walk”. I’d love to see Joey “walk the walk” – does he even know how to cook? Any time – over ALL of the past seasons – that any of the judges cook, it was not Joe. There WAS a tortellini forming demonstration once, but I remember noticing at the time that the edits were such that it very easily could have been someone else’s hands doing the close ups.

Anyway, Natasha gets on and yaps about how pretty she is.

I’m torn on this. Instinctively… barf.

On the other hand, I was there… and I KNOW how much footage they have of me talking about my IQ, etc – all prompted. I was DREADING them using all of the various “Great! Now say it like ____. Cool, now can you say _____ also?” incarnations of it all, piecing it together and making me look like a mega douche.
So I know there’s a good chance that it’s all VERY manipulated, etc.

The thing is… for each time I had to talk about my IQ, I was cracking jokes and doing my absolute best to make it impossible for them to edit it in a way that made me look like I take it seriously, or am actually hung up on it. With her… she really seems to be genuine about it. So, again… barf. Well, unless she’s acting. She did claim to be a model (??), and tons of these people are model/actors, so… I dunno. I digress.

I’ve already seen this, the night it aired… so this whole recapping thing is tedious. I remember how much of this was all the interpersonal drama and BS, and I just don’t feel like watching it.

Also, I’m really grossed out by the fact that every one of the women have their long hair flowing everywhere. IN A KITCHEN. Having been there, I know they don’t have a TON of control over their appearance, but I wish the show had them tie their hair back.

I still remember being grossed out, on past seasons, by people actively sweating OVER their food. So gross. This show is supposed to be able encouraging/preparing the contestants to pursue their culinary dreams (with a little suspension of disbelief applied, anyway!)… I don’t get why they don’t encourage some adherence to the basic hygiene rules and regulations that they’ll encounter in the real world.

Luca is making pasta. Go figure.

Krissi Biasiello is making langoustine mac and cheese. Smart – Lobster mac and cheese is very trendy, popular, and well received in general.

Howard starts insulting Krissi’s mac and cheese … while he’s pairing langoustines with STRAWBERRIES? WTF?

LOVE Krissi’s responses to him, grinning and giving the finger. She’s so adorable in her snarking back, rather than being straight up angry/obnoxious. It’s like she’s more amused by it than anything – I like that.

They show Bri apologizing to her meat once again. Kind of weird that she’s the token vegetarian, and very little mention is made of the fact that Adriana Guillen is a vegetarian. She was “Mexican Veggie Girl” during the pre-audition time, and is very passionate about promoting tasty and healthy vegetarian recipes. I am seriously the biggest carnivore out there, and even *I* find Adriana’s stuff to look amazing, btw. She has a blog started, HERE.

Blah Blah… Howard made a small amount of a citrus and spinach salad with a little bit of meat on it. I can’t imagine being given such a specialty ingredient and minimizing it in such a way.

Loads more forced drama…

I love the irony of Joe telling anyone that they’re wasting his time.

Lynn’s dish looked amazing.

Blah Blah Blah… Joey acts like a child, Ramsay makes some comment about there being a “cardinal rule” against stuffing langoustine (BS!), more forced drama… whatever.

Lots of skipping ahead.

Sasha goes home for some reason. I can’t stand her, but I was craving cheese grits the next day – not a crappy little salad that looked like a cheap side dish.

Done.

I will continue to watch the show until my last friend is eliminated, but then I’m done – with MasterChef, with Fox, and Reality TV in general. This crap is the bane of society and culture, in SO many ways. In today’s society, we need to be encouraging people to have empathy for each other… not training the masses to lack it.

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!

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!

How Bizarre – Eurodance Monday

Ok, so this week’s Eurodance Monday isn’t Euro. I swear I’m not looking to make this a long term trend! Like most posts this month, this is MasterChef related.

I’m not going to lie – pretty much every step of this little adventure has been completely bizarre to me. I still haven’t even wrapped my head around the idea that I – of ALL PEOPLE – had the thought “I should try out for a ‘reality’ show” even cross my mind, never mind stuck it all out to fruition. Hrmm, impulse control issues?

Anyway.

So, having gone through this whole thing, from decision to arriving in LA… all the way through the first few days of life in sequester? I was still sort of wondering if I was dreaming. I mean, I’m a very lucid dreamer – there were a few points where I was really second guessing my sleep status.

The night before the LA “auditions” started, I had a really surreal experience in the hotel lobby with a few other “contestants”. Like, I stood back from what was going on and actually thought to myself “Man, this feels like something that would air on a commercial for something trashy, like Jersey Shore. I’m so glad no one is filming!”. Reading that now, I’m not sure that I’m actually capable of describing how surreal the moment was. I actually considered the possibility that some of those involved were actors, and I was being punked. LOL!

Anyway.

So the next morning – with that still fresh in mind – we woke up, tried to get a quick bite to eat in our hotel room, and got dressed and ready for the day’s adventures. I headed out to the lobby, sat down, and IMMEDIATELY OMC’s “How Bizarre” came on over the hotel’s speakers. It was a lot like last Monday’s blog entry, life just providing the perfect soundtrack. In addition to seeming perfect for the bizarre reality I was living at the moment, it was bizarre in that I hadn’t heard the song in FOREVER – maybe not since I moved to the USA! – so the randomness really struck me.

Now, I’m sure most people don’t know the lyrics beyond the chorus (doesn’t EVERYONE know the chorus?), but I have to say, the song was appropriate on so many levels. Let me highlight a few key lines..

“Destination unknown, as we pull in for some gas, freshly pasted poster reveals a smile from the past”. (Ie: Luca from season 3)

and

“Ring master steps out and says “the elephants left town”, People jump and jive, but the clowns have stuck around. TV news and camera, there’s choppers in the sky”

That’s all I’m gonna say about that. HOW BIZARRE!