Get to know your nearest Scot(ch)!

Author’s note: This was originally written months ago. I have decided that the time is right to post this before MM sneaks in and fills the front page with more recipes (who ever heard of recipes on a cooking blog?!?)


While on a flight to California for the ultimate in geeky conferences (Blizzcon), I decided to try to explain a fascination that I have had for years. While I have been geographically close, I have never been to Scotland, nor do I have (as far as I know) any Scottish blood flowing through my veins. But since I have been a teenager, I have had a fascination with Scotch Whiskey.

That is not to suggest that I started drinking Scotch as a teenager, because I didn’t. Heck, I didn’t hardly drink anything (Dad, I hope you are reading this, and believe me). As a teenager, I actually had a part in a play which mentions “Chivas Regal” as a sign of “making it” in life, as in “sitting back and sipping Chivas”. I always had this picture in my head of a dignified gentleman, sitting in a high backed leather chair with a small string quartet playing Mozart in the background as the man sipped a small glass of Scotch, smirking, very pleased with himself, all the while.

My first experience with Chivas Regal, a blended Whiskey (not from a single malt, more later), was not the idyllic situation that I had planned. I poured a glassful (perhaps a water glass was too big) of Chivas and took a big gulp. Up until that point in my life I had tasted pretty normal liquors. Dr. McGillicuty’s, Jaegermiester, Goldschlager, Beer, Wine Coolers, etc. are pretty normal upper teens and lower 20’s fare, right? But, I can not possibly describe the burning and coughing and hacking that followed my first taste of Scotch. If any of you have thought, “I like Rum and Cokes… I should just try Rum straight up!” you may have experienced something close. The fact was, I HATED it. I thought to myself, “If this is making it, I don’t want to.” That first bottle of Chivas, minus that virginal glassful, lasted me many, many moons after I first tasted it. But so powerful is memory that I couldn’t get my original, utopian, vision of what Scotch was supposed to represent in my life out of my head.

Then I discovered the real truth. The key to unlocking the secrets of Scotch: 7-up and ice! (Or, Sprite if you prefer.) These wonderful add-ons to my Chivas tastings prevented (or allivated, a much more desired effect) the burn of the alcohol of the whiskey, while sweetening it and making it much more palatable. For those of you, like me, who feel strongly that you have become an adult (finally!), and that you should be able to enjoy sip of Whiskey (Bourbon, Irish, Scotch or Kentucky) without gasping for breath for 10 minutes afterward, try a little 7-up and a couple of ice cubes with it. Things will proceed much more smoothly.

Ok.. Here’s the basics that you need to know about Scotch Whiskeys (as a beginner myself, I would never try to advise a true connoisseur of the libation, I let a wiki do that…

1) There are, to an American, two different types of Scotch Whiskey. The first, and most common, is the “blended” Scotch. Dewers and Chivas are two examples of a blended Scotch. The second type, while much more pricey and snooty, are not that different. They are called Single-malt Scotches. The difference between these two is pretty easy to distinguish. Blended whiskeys come from more than one different kind of malt and/or barrel of whiskey. Single malts are made with a single malt (usually grown nearby) and casked all at once, however there can be flavor differences even between two different casks (again, more later). The biggest thing to remember about point one is that Single-malt Scotches are usually MUCH more expensive and usually have a defining characteristic that make them specifically tasty for a certan palate. Blended Whiskeys are usually a good place for beginners, smoother and not as full of character, and then you can move into single-malts as you decide what you like and don’t.

2) There are about as many different kinds of Scotches as there are Scotsmen. Actually… There may be more Scotches (especially if you include butterscotch). Scotland itself recognizes 6 different varieties of single-malt Scotch. These are based on where, in Scotland, the Whiskey is made. Here’s a tip: If you are new to Scotches, avoid Speyside or Islay scotches, unless you have a weird craving for sucking on bandaids (I kid you not!). The reason for all of the variations? Malt, peat and mixture. When you mix different malts with different peats and waters, the outcome in favors can be varied from the aformentioned bandaids to the smoky salitness of the sea. The Scots also have this talent for taking used things, in this case, barrels, and re-suing them, and potentially making them better. What they do is take wine or sherry or even bourbon casks and fill it with the new Scotch. These all wood barrels can’t help themselves, they let out some small bits of their previous inhabitants flavor. So you get sherry oak notes in the tasting, or you will taste the chocolatey goodness of a fine Pinot in your Scotch. These casks become standards that also give you different tastes. This is the point where you have to buy many different scotches and see what you like and don’t like and start doing your research to see what else you might like. Drinking Scotch begets drinking more Scotch. Consider yourself warned!

3) More expensive scotches do not mean better scotches. Remember that bandaid thing I mentioned above? That comment came from the fact that I bought and tried a couple of Scotches that I really thought were going to be something special because they were priced that way. Spending $75/bottle on a Scotch is a good way to drink a bottle that you think you have to like, but don’t. Then again… When I was younger and more easily impressed with my accomplishments, I passed some certification exams and obtained my MCSE from Microsoft. (This was back in the NT 4.0 days for those of you who know what that means). After getting my cert, I decided to reward myself with a bottle of 25 year-old MacCallan. At the time, that bottle cost $175. So, how good does something have to be to warrant spending $175/bottle? Well. This bottle was so TOTALLY worth it! One of the bestest (note: do not use this word at wine or Scotch tastings), smoothest, mellowest, yet with character, liquors I have ever drank. This was before the distillery was bought out by Japanese investors, which hasn’t degraded the flavor, merely changed it and the price. That bottle lasted me over a year and unfortunately, it was not shared with my friends. Mostly because my friends didn’t want to appreciate the sublte flavors and texture, or like Citizen Chef, has yet to meet a Scotch they liked. But also because I hadn’t realized the cardinal rule of all Whiskeys, which is that they are much better shared with friends. Was that bottle worth the much higher price than $40-$50/bottle of most single malts? You bet your sweet bippy it was. I still rank that beverage as one of the best that I have ever had the honor of tasting. Does that mean you have to spend $175/bottle in order to enjoy scotch. Not hardly. Find yourself a good cheap “house” brand and go for it. There is no shame in getting yourself a merry little buzz on Dewer’s at $15/bottle instead of buying the 30 year-old MacCallan or other high faulutin’ brand.

Long story short… Buy yourself a fine Scotch and enjoy. Just remember the basics. Good Scotch should be enjoyed and shared. It should not be a “Bataan death march” for your, or your friends’ mouth and throat. Add some soda if you need to. Ice also helps. A little water is often used, even by Scotsmen. But in its purest form, a good Scotch in a nice glass (you don’t have to use crystal or anything fancy, but avoid plastic or paper for this!) really does help you feel like you have “made it!”


Squig Legs


Top Chef Season 5, Episode 11: Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Give Leah a fish and she’ll give up.

We’re going to dive right into the action this week because I sprained my wrist and am typing one-handed (har har).  But I can’t let this first paragraph go without some kind of tangential comment, so I’ll mention that fried avocado tacos are freakin awesome.



This was a tough one, no doubt.  And much has been made around the blogosphere of Leah’s giving up on the challenge.  I am not calling for her head on a spike like alot of people are, but only because I am not really that surprised.  She gives up, to one degree or another, quite a bit.  We saw it during restaurant wars, and her head has just never seemed that much in the game.   Even when she is on top in a challenge, she looks uninspired. 

Stefan got lucky with eel as the last challenge, I mean why not throw in some fugu for cryin’ out loud.  It was a niche kinda deal, but a niche Stefan excelled in, and he wouldn’t have gotten to the final test if he hadn’t aced the first two, more pedestrian fish.  Well as much as fish can be pedestrian without feet.



Hey it’s a nice day-off lunch with Eric Ripert!  And we are having fish, just like the challenge!  Wow that’s a coincidence!  And there are 6 dishes!  And 6 chefs left!!  That is a wild and totally unrelated fact!!  Seriously?  Congratulations, you guys have become the stupid girl in the scary movie that the audience yells at.  “DON’T GO IN THAT HOUSE!!!  ASK ERIC WHAT”S IN THE REDUCTION!!!”

Now this was a serious challenge, even if you were paying attention.  Stefan really got the most out of his quickfire win advantage by picking the one dish that most Top Chef viewers could have figured out.  We probably would have broken the hollandaise, or overcooked the lobster, but still, we would have had a shot.

Jamie’s cardinal sin, and it’s too bad because I like Jamie, was not “having time” to ask Ripert about her dish in the practice session.  Again, seriously?  You have a chance to get your dish graded before the test and you don’t take it??  Hell I would have done it just to talk to him face to face again.   I mean he’s no Fabio (mi amore… be still my heart) but he’s still pretty damn cool.

So the thought experiment question for the episode, is it better to know what you did wrong and not fix it (Jamie)?  Or be clueless but not mess up as badly (Leah)?  My heart says the former, but as was so eloquently expressed last week, intentions are meaningless.  You are judged by your food and your food alone.  And I still take some comfort in that.


~Citizen Chef

Top Chef Season 5, Episode 10: Oats and Failure

“Bunky beds”.  Can we just end the show and make Fabio the winner already?  Fabio is another great example of why everyone wants to be Italian.  It’s not just the coolness, it’s the zen-like ego-less coolness that allows them to be cool without being annoying for being so damn cool.   It’s the complete effortless cool  of Jude Law in “The Talented Mr. Ripley”.  Which I guess is a bad example because it got his head bashed in by an oar, but only because he didn’t let Matt Damon get in the bath with him which you know he totally wanted him to do anyway but whatever.



Enough with the product placement already!  How much does this show f***ing cost to produce??  I’ll give you the omnipresent Glad-ware and the stacks and stacks of Diet Dr Pepper in the stew room, but for God’s sake can we just let them cook without shoehorning another product in?  Because nothin’ says Super Bowl like oats!!

So Stephan wins, again.  Dude is looking pretty unstoppable…….(ominous music plays)……



Our contestants go head-to-head with previous contestants using the regional cuisine of NFL team cities.  I have to say I really like this challenge.  20 minutes is too short, in my opinion, to really showcase those regional cuisines but what the hey.  The issue I have (oh come on, you knew there’d be one) is the use of the phrase “All-Stars”.  So we got  Heckel and Jeckle, the pasta chick , Chunk le Phunk and some other people I don’t remember.  Anybody in this group win Top Chef?  Make it to the final show??  Anyone of you have a shot at winning at all?  That would be, in reverse order because it’s funnier that way, no, NO and NOT ON YOUR LIFE.  If we want to continue with the  NFL analogy, you are not playing the NFC Pro Bowl team, you are playing the Detroit Lions.

The three losers were Jeff, Fabio … and Stephan!!  (ominous music crescendo)  Stephan thinks he’ll be fine because it’s his first time at the bottom.  Sorry bucko, that’s not how it works.  In the end, Stephan didn’t go home because his dish was uninspired, but Jeff’s didn’t taste good.  And let’s give the judges a lot of credit here for making taste the sine qua non of a winning dish.  I imagine it would suck to get beat out by a warm seviche, that quite honestly looked like crap compared to his plate.  But hers tasted better.  And while that is a tough criteria for us to judge at home, it is really the only thing that matters.  In this touchy-feely, nobody-loses, perception-is-reality world we are currently in, I find it refreshing to have a discipline where intentions don’t matter, results do.  But, acid with cheese, Chef? 


The preceding blog article was brought to you by the hyphen.  HYPHEN-ATE YOUR LIFE – WITH HYPHENS!!

~Citizen Chef

Top Chef Season 5, Episode 8: Old McFabio Had a Farm, and all the cows were sexah

This is going to be a shorter post, since I’m already one episode behind, and for the first time in a while, nothing really cheezed me off in this episode.  Well relatively speaking anyway…


QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE:  Cook like a normal person!!!

As much fun as it was to see how many syllables Fabio could jam into the word “aquarium” this challenge was all about using (gasp) canned ingredients!!  Then it was a race  to see them all tripping over themselves to prove that they always use farm-fresh ingredients of the highest quality.  Yeah, none of your restaurants ever get shipments from the huge Sysco food truck.  Ok, gonna have to call shenanigans on that one.  SHENANIGANS!!!  There, I called it.  Anyway,  Stephan won with a sandwich or something.



I really wish they would have made them kill the animals themselves to see how “farm-fresh” the chefs really want to be, but that’s just me.  And that brings me to the only rant I have on this episode.  Let’s not all gush about “honoring” the ingredients like it’s a moral high ground.  If you really wanted to “honor” the animal YOU WOULDN’T CUT IT UP AND EAT IT!!  The organic movement, or the localvore movement or any of the related uh, movements, do themselves a disservice when they set their sights too high.  I don’t want to hear about my carbon footprint, I want to know if it’s going to taste good.  And in that regard, aiming at our lower appetites is the more effective, not to mention honest, way to go.  If your rationale for eating within a 100 mile radius of your house is that you want to decrease the gas emissions from the cargo trains not to mention the lower acreage required for root vege – I’m sorry, I stopped listening to myself after “house”.  Why do we have to stray beyond the basic formula (fresher food = tastier food)?

So Ariane butched her butchering and got sent home.  On a side rant, yes I think the right person went home, even though Radhika and Leah didn’t “do much”.  If everything got done, then they did enough.  And if we are talking about honoring the ingredient, Ariane failed.


~Citizen Chef

MoM Dec. ’08 Cook’s Illustrated: Breakfast Strata with Sausage, Mushrooms and Monterey Jack

This weekend, I took a break out of my Christmas Cookie baking whirlwind to try out one of the breakfast stratas in AwK’s December 2008 magazine of the month, Cook’s Illustrated Holiday Baking.

But first, what is a breakfast strata? The test kitchen writes:

What’s quicker than quiche, sturdier than souffle, and combines the best qualities of both? The answer is strata, a layered casserole that in its most basic form comprises bread, eggs, cheese, and milk or cream. Layered among them are flavorful fillings that provide both substance and character, and the result is, in essence, a golden brown, puffed, hearty, savory bread pudding.

Yes, please!

The article goes on to explain how the test kitchen sampled a variety of different kinds of strata and experimented with a variety of ingredients and methods of cooking. In the end, they produced three versions of perfect strata. I selected Sausage, Mushrooms and Monterey Jack Cheese.

Strata has to be made ahead given time to chill. Making it the night before is best.

Rather than let bread sit out overnight, I let mine sit in a warm oven for a little bit. While that was sitting, I sauteed up the sausage, mushrooms and shallots.

I actually like that this dish has to rest in the refrigerator, because it’s perfect for a holiday morning when everyone gets up early and wanders around in pajamas and bathrobes. It sides up nicely with a cup of coffee and bed hair, so make it the night before and, when you get up the next morning, pop it into the oven for the set time. A hot, fancy breakfast will then be available for everyone.

The article explains that part of their experimenting was done with onions and garlic, but they found that shallots were better in this case. This version of the strata calls for three shallots, diced and sauteed with the mushrooms and sausage.

Then your bread comes out of the oven, is buttered and placed in your baking pan.

The singled recipe makes enough to go into a 9x9x2 pan. Revised times for doubled recipes are also listed, so again, no guesswork when you’re working with the Test Kitchen.

From here on out, it’s just layering and trying not to eat the rest of the bread. I had great success with the former, and not much with the latter. When I placed the second layer of bread down, I realized I had eaten one piece too many and had to quickly toast up another slice. In the earlier bread picture, you can even see how I tore off a corner of that center slice and ate it.

Come on, it’s fresh Italian bread with butter slathered on top — can you blame me?

The second layer is assembled in the same order: bread, sausage mixture, cheese.

Then comes the fun part. A 1/2 cup of dry, white wine goes into the frying pan that you just had your sausage mixture in, and it simmers until reduced to half. It is whisked into eggs, cream, salt and pepper, then poured into the baking pan, over the assembled layers.

Before this goes into the oven, they recommend that the strata is weighted down. I was unable to do this because I only had foil and not plastic wrap, but they give another one of their nifty illustrations on how to do so. The article also goes into the whys, but I won’t go into it since it’s repetitive for those who have the magazine.

When it’s done sitting, it’s thrown in the oven for about 40 minutes. It will puff up and brown on the top and edges.

The end result is a light and fluffy egg breakfast, filled with savory ingredients. I worried that the bread might make the mixture too much like a bad, soggy bread pudding – I’ve been served a few of these and I’ve sworn them off for good. The texture really throws me off. The strata isn’t anything like that, and the bread gives the mixture some structure.

I cut my strata into quarters and served, piping hot.

Top Chef Season 5, Episode 4: “I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!”

OK, let’s start with this guy.

And here’s what Anthony Bourdain has to say about him:

Perhaps, then, they should teach the cautionary tale of Rocco DiSpirito as an example of A Chef Who Went Too Far, one who went over the line–messed with the bitch goddess celebrity and got burned. Before television, Rocco was the well-respected chef of the three-star Union Pacific, a bright, charismatic guy with the world on a string. He was known for his skill in the kitchen, his innovative style, and his insistence on quality. As he became more recognized, he began expanding his “brand”, consulting to other restaurants, signing multiple endorsement deals, showing up at openings and promo parties. Now, after his hideous, high-profile, post-ironic “reality” television venture, The Restaurant, has run its humiliating course, he’s no longer the chef of his once excellent Union Pacific; he’s banned from his own eponymous eatery (the cynical and soulless Rocco’s); he’s finally settled protracted litigation with his ex-partner, Jeffrey Chodorow and he can presently be seen hawking cookware with his mom on QVC. It’s been a long, hard, and painfully public fall. In a highly competitive business, a certain amount of backbiting and schadenfreude is to be expected. But, in Rocco’s case, the reaction from his fellow chefs has been positively gleeful.

And in case you were wondering where most of my writing style, thoughts on food, and love of commas comes from, well there you go.

The Quickfire challenge was a breakfast amuse bouche, and I am going to skip right over that, and the resulting “how many bites makes an amuse bouche into an appetizer” discussion. I think we need to figure out this first, and then move on from there.

What our sermon today will be about, is the elimination challenge: present a 3 minute demo of a dish for television. Which implies that to be a successful chef, you have to be famous. Really? Who decided that exactly? I thought we here on Top Chef were above such petty concerns, we leave that to that bastard stepchild The Next Food Network Star. Now I love the Food Network, but that show in particular lacked something for me, and not just contestants who could cook (Oh Snapskies! What? My daughter says it all the time, it must be cool.) The contestants on that show didn’t want to be chefs, they wanted to be tv stars. Only one of those is a noble calling. Here on Top Chef we take struggling cooks and catapult them into the position of their dreams!!!!

Uhm, waitaminute. Back up the Snapskie truck. A quick look at the bios shows that 11 out of the 17 contestants are either working as executive chefs, or own their own business. So what the hell are we actually doing here? We have seen more and more contestants with more and more cooking background, which is great. But if these guys are already established chefs, what do they need to be on this show for? The cash? The exposure? Has Top Chef become what all reality shows eventually become: a platform for people to get rich and famous?

But back to the original question (yes there was one), what does being a “successful” chef look like? In any artistic endevor, there will be people who “sell out”, or at least appear to to others, usually those who are less successful. Is whoring yourself out to the Today show necessary? Is it evil?

There are plenty of chefs who quietly become famous, Thomas Keller being the vanguard for that front. These are not ivory tower chefs who refuse to connect with the public. Chefs that are cooking food that they think tastes good are connecting with the public in the most honest way possible.

Then there are the teacher chefs, and God help me I’m going to mention Bobby Flay. Morimoto standing on the cutting board issue aside, his shows are popular because he teaches people that cooking is easy and fun. And you have to get behind that just a little bit. I’ll even throw Rachel Rae in this category. Yes she’s not a chef, I know that. She knows that. And the person she hires to take care of her dogs makes more money than you and I combined.

And then there is the TV personality. This has to be considered the lowest rung on the ladder, not because it takes any less skill, but because it is the least righteous. Righteous was the word I was looking for 5 paragraphs ago. Here we get into people like Rocco, who seem to have taken the easy way out, been seduced by the trappings and forgotten what they were trying to do in the first place. Cook really good food.

Being a chef is a business, and that brings all sorts of ugly realities into play. It also has a certain amount of fame required, which brings even more ugliness in. And not to sour grapes this whole bit, but that is a large part of why I am not a professional chef. The other parts being, in no particular order: not wanting to work weekends and holidays, I don’t think I could find a kitchen to work in that was set at 71 degree room temp, and I have to have my wife check to see if the meat is done or I will kill my entire family. Don’t get me wrong, part of me would love to be a chef, I mean it’s right under rock star as far as coolness goes. But I tell myself that I have the best parts of being a chef already: I get to cook food for people I love.

And as you are wiping away that small tear lest it run down your rosey cheek, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that you cannot make creme brule in an hour. You would think an executive chef would know that.

~Citizen Chef

Mini Meatball Heroes

Everyone gets stuck on things. Sometimes it’s a song you have to hear over and over until you’re sick of it and sometimes it’s a food you have to keep eating until you can’t eat it anymore. Lately I’ve been hung up on Meatball Sub Sandwiches. It’s not something I typically think about making, so I’ve been picking it up from the local sub shop. When my cravings really kicked in, it dawned on me that I should be making it at home…

So I did.

You wouldn’t think it’d be hard to find a good recipe, but it was. Most recipes, even the ones I saw on epicurious, called for jarred marinara and if there’s one thing I absolutely can’t stand, it’s that. Finally, I found one that I liked from Giada De Laurentiis.

The sauce typically takes the longest, not because of the work involved, but because of the simmer time. So I started with that.

Marinara Sauce:
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
2 dried bay leaves

A meatball hero requires a smooth sauce with little chunks. It should grace and adorn the meatballs, not get into an embittered texture fight, so I diced up the garlic and onion with a knife then pulsed the celery and carrots in my food processor.

The veggies were cooked up in a large pot until the onions were soft and translucent, then I dumped in everything else and let it simmer for about an hour.

Then I went to the fun part: the meatballs.

1 small onion, grated
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 large egg
3 tablespoons ketchup
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2/3 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup dried Italian-style bread crumbs
6 ounces ground beef
6 ounces ground veal
6 ounces ground pork
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

The first seven ingredients go into a bowl together and whisked.

So far, so good. Add the cheese and breadcrumbs and mix. Then add the meat.

I didn’t use the mixture of meat she prescribes above (one part beef, one part veal, one part pork). Instead, I used two parts beef, one part veal. The point of the mixture is to make sure you end up with a meatball that has a smooth, easy-to-bite-through texture. If you end up with meatballs that require gnawing to get through, it’s no good. Reviewers of the recipe also noted that they tried it with two parts turkey and one part pork with success. Feel free to mix it up – the veal and pork give the meatball a gentler texture that is easier to bite through. Beef on its own can come out a little coarse, same as ground turkey/chicken, so make sure you mix a little bit of pork or veal in there, whatever your poison.

Try and make sure you’ve combined the mixture as thoroughly as possible then, using about two tablespoons of mixture (I eyeballed it) roll it into a meatball.

From here you’ve got two options: frying or baking. I tried both, knowing full darn well the frying was going to come out badly. I’ve fried meatballs before, and it always ends unfavorably, because it smells up the whole house for days, your fabrics and linens smell like whatever you were frying and the oil eventually gets so hot that after your first couple of batches of meatballs, everything chars on the outside. I am not a good fryer and I’m okay and people like me.

But as you can see from the picture above, I tried it anyway. It was okay, but then I was freaked out that the veal hadn’t cooked all the way through so I broke open every single meatball to make sure that I wasn’t about to kill my spouse (because, let’s face it, we have a life insurance policy on him but it’s really not big enough to warrant killing him off, moving to a resort in Mexico, and hiring a sexy pool boy).

At any rate, when the frying didn’t work, I put all of the meatballs on a foil-lined cookie tray and baked them at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes. They all cooked perfectly and there was no char on the outside.

When those are done, you put everything together. Spoon up some sauce on the top and bottom of a roll (okay, you got me – I didn’t make any rolls, I bought them!) put a couple of meatballs on top and stick a slice of provolone on top.

Grab a napkin and dig in. Yummy.

If you have leftover sauce, which I did, it can be placed in an airtight container or two and frozen for months. When you want more meatball subs, take it out of the freezer and dump it into a pot with a half cup of water. Turn the burner on medium and place a lid over the pot, stirring the mixture occasionally. This will successfully reheat your sauce without burning the bottom of the frozen chunk.

Top Chef, Season Five Episode 3: Grant Achatz and other stuff that’s not nearly as cool, but the Foo Fighters were in there too and that’s nice.

Miss Macchiato has been busy posting about food of all things, so it falls to me yet again to dissect this week’s Top Chef.  The guest judge was Grant Achatz of Alinea, which was rated the #1 restaurant in the country.  The French Laundry finished 3rd that year.  I have mad hyperbole skillz but even I am not up to the task of telling you how cool Grant Achatz is.  I know molecular gastronomy is a term on the outs these days, but whatever you want to call it, he was doing it a long time ago, and better than almost anyone.

This is called Hot Potato.  It is a cold potato and truffle soup, served in a paraffin wax bowl.  There is a skewer through the bowl with a hot potato, a chive, parmesan cheese, a black truffle and one (1) salt flake.  You pull the pin out and the hot potato meets the cold potato soup.  Tell me that’s not the coolest thing you’ve ever seen.  Yeah?  Ok, how about this:

That?  Oh that’s just rhubarb.  Seven different textures of rhubarb.  There are 13 different components to that dish.  That’s one course.  The tasting tour has 25 courses.  Oh and he beat cancer, I almost forgot that part.

What kind?  Oh it was tongue cancer.  Yep, he was just your average chef with tongue cancer who went to every doctor he could find and they all told him he would either lose his tongue or die.  He enrolled in a clinical trial that gave him experimental treatment.  He couldn’t taste anything at all, and his face and neck were burned from the chemo and radiation.  He was finally pronounced cancer free the following December.  And Grant’s proudest accomplishment?  He only missed about 6 days of work.  Yeah he worked at the restaurant the whole time, so his employees would know he was still there for them.


So the quickfire they made recipes from the Top Chef cookbook (product plug) which was ok but it would have been cooler if they did it from the Alinea cookbook which I will hyperlink for another product plug but they probably could not have handled it because it’s friggin’ impossible and then no wait you’re making soup ok whatever and Leah wins and she picks all the best people to be on her team and all they come up with funny team names well not really and they are cooking Thanksgiving for the Foo Fighters who are very cool and you should buy their new album (product plug trois) but it’s not really Thanksgiving because they are cooking outside in New York and it’s not snowing and they are playing the concert across from MM’s work “HI MM!” and Richard makes a banana smore with no burnt sugar and loses and goes home the end.

~Citizen Chef

Turkey Leftovers: Turkey Biscuit Bake

Now that Thanksgiving is over for the U.S., carnivorous Americans everywhere are staring down the contents of their refrigerator with the same thought: “Damn. What do I do with all this turkey?”

Here’s a thought: I had a pot pie recipe from an old Taste of Home magazine that was pretty good, and it even included a recipe for a very simple buttermilk crust. All I did was change out the chicken for some leftover turkey bits and I had a leftover dinner that didn’t feel like leftovers.

Recipe courtesy Taste of Home magazine

Previously, I’ve spoken of Citizen Chef’s disdain of Taste of Home magazine, as he feels it is lowbrow as far as the culinary world goes. And this is true, however I will say this: Last night I had delicious turkey pot pie with a delicious buttermilk crust and he probably had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

That’s right. I went there.

So here’s the recipe, adapted from Taste of Home.

When I first saw this recipe, I thought the addition of cottage cheese sounded off-putting, but I actually like it in the dish because it gives the sauce a little more substance, and is a healthier option than the usual cream base. The taste of the cottage cheese isn’t too detectable, so anyone who dislikes it will hardly notice.

Turkey Biscuit Bake
Serves 2

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Dash salt
tablespoons cold butter
2 tablespoons beaten egg
1/4 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon granules
Dash poultry seasoning
Dash onion powder
1 cup shredded leftover Thanksgiving turkey
1/2 cup frozen mixed vegetables
1/2 cup 4% cottage cheese

The dough can be made in a bowl if you want: Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside 1 teaspoon beaten egg; stir remaining egg into buttermilk. Add to crumb mixture; stir until dough forms a ball.

Or you can do it my way: I just tossed the ingredients into my food processor, pulsed it, and called it good.

If you check the link I provided, you will notice the original recipe calls for only 1/2 cup of flour. This 1/2 cup is a lie. If you only put 1/2 cup of flour in, you’ll get a soggy piece of crap. Add flour until it’s manageable – anywhere between 3/4 and 1 cup.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead 10 times. It doesn’t take long. Divide dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one portion to fit the bottom of a greased 1-qt. baking dish.

In a small saucepan, start your roux: melt butter over medium heat and whisk in the flour until it’s smooth.

Don’t let it cook until it gets brown, just start slowly adding the milk, bouillon, poultry seasoning and onion powder. I find that the onion powder is key – I like a lot of onion powder in there. It gives the dish its pep.

Let it cook until it comes to a soft boil. Keep stirring; it will thicken as it cooks. Remove from the heat. Stir in the turkey, vegetables (use any kind you like) and cottage cheese. Pour the mixture into the baking dish. Yell at yourself because the lid on your poultry seasoning came off and turned your mixture a funky color. I don’t even know what color that is…

Roll out remaining dough to fit top of dish; place over filling. Brush with reserved egg.

Or, if you can’t find your pastry brush, accidentally pour too much on and slather your crust with egg. It looks like a happy little sunshine, doesn’t it?

Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown…

…or technicolor yellow. Whatever.

It’s tasty and filling, is minimal prep, and is as great way to get rid of your turkey leftovers, without feeling like you’re repeating your Thanksgiving meal.

Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake

I know I shouldn’t be giving you one last item to consider the day before Thanksgiving, but in case you’re still wondering about what to do for your menu, here’s another one I tried this past weekend with success: Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake.

Photo courtesy of

First, let me preface this by saying: I hate pumpkin. Hate. The texture of the uber-sweet, pureed concoction in my mouth is too much for me to take, so whenever I am offered a slice of pumpkin pie, I decline. However, I don’t want to deprive anyone of the traditional pumpkin at the Thanksgiving table, so I compromise with the happy medium of cheesecake.

Note: This recipe was listed with a Caramel-Bourbon Sauce, but since I was serving it at church where there were kids, I omitted the sauce. If you want a substitute, the cheesecake can be topped with a small dollop of whipped cream.

Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake
Courtesy of Bon Appetit

1 1/2 cups pecans, toasted, cooled
3 tablespoons golden brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
4 large eggs
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Large pinch of salt

For crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 9-inch springform pan with 2 3/4 inch high sides. Grind first 4 ingredients in processor until nut mixture sticks together. Press evenly onto bottom of pan. Bake crust until golden, about 15 minutes. Cool completely. Wrap outside of pan in triple layer of heavy duty foil.

Not much commentary on this one. Just toss your ingredients into your processor, give them a few whirls and then press into the bottom of your springform pan. After 15 minutes, it comes out looking like this:

And it smells delicious, too.

For filling: Using mixer, beat cream cheese, sugar, and lemon peel in large bowl until smooth. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then pumpkin, yogurt, flour, vanilla, spices, and salt. Pour into springform pan.

No rocket science going on here. Just make sure your cream cheese is soft and room temperature before you start, otherwise you’re going to have one hell of a time getting the batter smooth and creamy. If your cream cheese is too cold before you start, you’ll end up with a lumpy cheesecake. Before I start, I like to let the cream cheese sit on the counter, in its packaging, for a couple of hours.

Set springform pan in roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of cheesecake. Place in oven. Bake until outer 3 inches puff slightly and the center is softly set, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

I didn’t have a roasting pan handy so, as you can see in the picture above, I used a very large frying pan and filled up the sides with water from my teapot. This baked for exactly the 1 hour 15 minutes listed and I didn’t have a single problem with the center sinking. It fluffed up beautifully and stayed that way.

Throughout the baking process, I tried getting some shots of the cheesecake setting and getting fluffy and firm. I’m not so sure that comes through in the pictures, but you can kind of see that it rises and gets fluffy.

Or maybe not.

Cool in water bath for 30 minutes. (That was too much trouble for me, so I shoved ice cubes into the frying pan. SMRT!)

Remove from water. Cut around sides of cake to loosen. Refrigerate in pan until cold, about 4 hours. Cover and chill overnight.

At any rate, this was a decent cheesecake, easily made by anyone who is afraid of baking, and a fun way to present pumpkin for the holiday season. I definitely tasted the pumpkin, though the spices came through beautifully, and the crust jacked up the excitement of the flavors. My favorite bites were ones that had the crust in them.

Happy Thanksgiving and good luck with your menus!