Cooking for Ferran Adria

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Could you imagine having to cook a meal for a man who many consider the best chef on the planet? How about one involving 50 courses? That is what the folks over at Modernist Cuisine did earlier this month when Ferran Adria came for a visit. The video montage looks amazing, I just wish I knew exactly what everything in it was. There is just some of the most beautiful food you will ever see here.

For your viewing pleasure:

Top Chef Duels

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Top Chef has apparently abandoned the all-star concept and is instead going with a head-to-head competition involving former contestants. From reading the description, it sounds like this is going to be Top Chef Chopped with a twist, that being:

Rivalries will be intensified as “Top Chef Duels” ups the ante and allows the competing chefs to each pick one mini-duel based on the other’s perceived weaknesses in the kitchen.

I like that they are getting both regular and all-star contestants, but I would have liked to have seen all the matchups as regular vs. masters.

Here are the matchups:

Episode 101: Richard Blais (Top Chef Chicago runner- up and Top Chef All-Stars winner) vs. Marcel Vigneron (Top Chef Season 2 runner up) – I like this matchup with two molecular gastronomy guys going at it. I would have loved to see either Blais or Vigneron against Wylie Dufresne, but this one is going to be good. I think Blais wins it in a close battle.

Episode 102: Shirley Chung (Top Chef New Orleans finalist) vs. Brooke Williamson (Top Chef Seattle runner up) – Chung didn’t impress me on TS-NOLA and I thought that Williamson was going to win TS-Seattle, so I think it is pretty clear how I think this is going to end up. I would have loved to see Williamson against Naomi Pomeroy or Anita Lo here.

Episode 103: Mike Isabella (Top Chef All-Stars runner up) vs. Antonia Lofaso (Top Chef Chicago finalist) – both of these two are very underrated cooks and I think this is going to end up being a fun matchup and I think Isabella is going to prevail. Would love to see one of them against someone like Jon Waxman.

Episode 104: CJ Jacobson (Top Chef Miami contestant) vs. Stefan Richter (Top Chef Season 5 runner up) – there is going to be a ton of trash talk in this competition and I think that CJ takes this one with Stefan complaining the whole time.  Would be cool if this one had Jacobson or Richter against Tom Colicchio.

Episode 105: David Burke (Top Chef Masters Season 5) vs. Takashi Yagihashi (Top Chef Masters Season 4) – master vs. master here, I think that Yagihashi takes it. Would have liked to see one of them square off with one of the Voltaggios or Sheldon Simeon.

Episode 106: Tiffani Faison (Top Chef Season 1 runner up) vs. Dale Talde (Top Chef Chicago and Top Chef All-Star contestant) – another tough call with two great chefs, but I think Talde will squeak out a victory. How about a battle against Chris Cosentino here?

Episode 107: Nyesha Arrington (Top Chef Texas contestant) vs. Jen Carroll (Top Chef Las Vegas finalist) – Nyesha annoyed the crap out of me and doesn’t strike me a great chef but Jen Carroll is, so I don’t think this one will be close. Fun would be Carroll against Rick Moonen. Really fun would be Carroll against Eric Ripert, her mentor.

Episode 108: Stephanie Izard (Top Chef Chicago winner) vs. Kristen Kish (Top Chef Seattle winner) – another really great battle, although I think that Kish got an easier road to winning TS-Seattle by plowing through last chance kitchen. Izard is the better cook and I think she wins, but I would love to see either of them square off against Mary Sue Milliken or Tracy Desjardins.

Episode 109: Kevin Gillespie (Top Chef Las Vegas fan favorite) vs. Art Smith (Top Chef Masters Season 1) – the battle of the beards and finally a master vs. regular battle, and they definitely got the matchup right. Both of these guys do home-style southern so it should be fun and probably involve a ton of pork products. I think Gillespie wins though.

Episode 110: Championship Finale – has me wondering how this is going to work. You have 9 winners from the previous episodes. If I had to guess who takes the competition overall not knowing how this is going to be presented, I am putting my money on Stephanie Izard.

The show premiers on August 6th.

Squirrel!

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Those who love me know of my man-crush on Alton Brown. Not only is he responsible igniting my interest in the science of food, he made the single best cooking show ever with Good Eats. I had the pleasure of meeting him several times over the years and he is a genuinely sincere and funny guy.

AB recently launched a web series that is a short bunch of how-to videos, like how to hard cook an egg in an oven (really useful if you need to cook a couple dozen eggs at once). His latest is how to make cat-poo flavored dog treats. I will admit, I am intrigued and am considering making them to try them out on friends’ dogs. The video is below and the link to the recipe is here. The bonus is that he shoots the short with his own dog, Sparky, guest-starring and calls the cat box the “stinky cheese shop.”

Creamy Nettle Soup

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Soups are a great meal since they don’t generally require a ton of ingredients, are easy to make in a large quantity, are easy to make from a technical standpoint and don’t require a ton of attention. One of the simplest and most delicious soups I have ever come across is the creamy nettle soup at the old Le Gourmand space in Ballard. This soup was so good that I think it might actually be the best thing that I ever had there. Unfortunately the restaurant is long gone, but the chef, the great Bruce Naftaly, still runs cooking classes and shows you dishes that he served in the restaurant. Since we are approaching the tail end of nettle season, I figured that this would be a good one to put out there, especially considering the somewhat unpredictable Northwest spring weather. Not sure where to get nettles? Try Foraged and Found – they are at the U-District Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and Ballard on Sundays. You probably only have 1 or 2 weeks left in nettle season though, so you many want to hurry.

 

The Software

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter

1 medium leek, dark green part removed, quartered and rinsed and cut into ½ inch pieces, about 8 oz.

½ yellow onion cut into 6 parts, about 8 oz.

2 shallots peeled and quartered, about 4 oz.

1 Yukon gold potato, quartered, about 6 oz.

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

¼ cup cilantro, roughly chopped

6 oz. nettles, washed

Salt and pepper

Nutmeg

 

The Recipe

In a heavy bottomed stock pot, melt the butter until it stops foaming over medium heat. Add the shallots, leek and onions and stir. Cook for about 15 minutes or until they soften, stirring occasionally. If the veggies begin to brown, lower the heat slightly, you are looking to sweat them, not brown them. When the veggies are soft, add the potato and stock. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked (you can pierce them with the tip of a knife with no resistance).  Add nettles and cover, cooking for 6-7 minutes until the nettles are wilted (this will also take out the stinging quality of the nettles). Remove from heat and puree in 2 batches, adding ½ of the cilantro to each batch. When done pureeing the soup, if the soup is too thick, stir in water or stock in small quantities until the desired thickness is achieved. If it is too thin, add some additional cooked potato puree to thicken it. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot or warm with a few grinds of fresh nutmeg and some nice bread.

 

Notes

If you can’t find nettles, use spinach instead. It won’t be as good but you will be able to make the soup all year round. The recipe will feed 4-6 people and scales really easily and can be served as either a main course or an appetizer. It will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days but freezes well and reheats easily, so it makes for a nice meal in a hurry. This soup is ultra creamy and luxurious, and, best of all, involves no actual dairy and can be made completely vegan by using veggie stock and olive oil instead of chicken stock and butter.

 

Mythcrushers – The NJ Edition

By Iron Chef Leftovers

A friend recently posted a link to an article titled “11 Things Only People from New Jersey Understand.” Being a long-removed Jersey boy myself, I thought it was an interesting list, but one, alas that definitely had some misconceptions, even if it was written by a Jerseyite. What does this have to do with a blog on food, sports and games, you might ask? Well indulge me a minute.

2. There Are Certain Foods You Can Only Eat When You’re In New Jersey

The list of things I have to eat when I’m in New Jersey, and try not to eat anywhere else are:

  • Bagels
  • Pizza
  • Corn
  • Tomatoes
  • Salt Water Taffy

I’m a total Jersey food snob because the rest of the country just doesn’t make them the same. And then there’s the ultimate NJ dish that doesn’t even exist anywhere else…

Ok. I want to bust this myth completely since I have heard it all of my life and it is simply not true. First off, corn and tomatoes make no sense. Yes, NJ is called the Garden State for a reason, but you can get stellar corn and tomatoes IN SEASON just about anywhere these days. The in season label applies to NJ also. Let’s face it, unless you spend half your year in the southern hemisphere, there is about a 2 month window for getting good tomatoes, and rarely they are from the local meagmart. Any farmer’s market will carry great produce in season, or just do what Coltrane and I do – grow them yourself.

Anyone that says you can’t get great pizza or bagels outside of NY/NJ is just being a snob. I actually know people who would laugh at the idea of eating pizza and bagels outside of NYC as a silly concept, so there are levels of snobbery here. Everyone who grows up in NJ has their favorite pizza place, most likely one that is currently being run by the 4th or 5th generation of an Italian family. I can think of at least a half-dozen excellent, non-Neapolitan pizza places in Seattle that make a pretty good version of a NY/NJ pizza.  I have had some truly terrible pizza also, but that is another story. Is it exactly the same, no, but I never expect that someone is going to make a pizza exactly like Pompeii Pizza in Bayonne, NJ. Heck, none of the other pizza places in Bayonne (and there are a ton of them) make a pizza exactly like Pompeii. I guess what I am trying to say here is that, while pizza in NJ may be the best on the planet, there are plenty of excellent versions of it in other cities, you just need to spend time looking.  The same thing applies to bagels.

I will just skip salt water taffy – it isn’t something I particularly love to begin with and I have had equally uninspiring versions of it elsewhere.

3. The Mere Mention Of Taylor Ham, Egg, And Cheese On A Roll Activates Four Different Regions Of Your Brain

Taylor Ham is the single best brand of pork roll available on the market. Taylor literally invented it. For this reason, it is not appropriate to call it pork roll–you must call it Taylor Ham in homage to John Taylor. Calling it anything else is disrespectful to the master.

Taylor Ham is definitely something that you will not find at a restaurant/deli anywhere else in the country. Heck, you are hard pressed to find anyone outside of the NYC/NJ/Philly area that even has any idea what Taylor Ham is. It is, for lack of a better description, a bastardized version of Canadian Bacon (the meat, not the movie). Strangely, while I can’t remember seeing it on any menu anywhere I have ever been outside of NJ, I can occasionally get it and scrapple (a hyper-local Philly specialty) at Ballard Market in Seattle. I have no idea why, but I can if I want to make it at home.

9. The Best Time To Eat At A Diner Is 2 a.m. When You’re Drunk With Your Best Friends

There’s only one type of non-chain eatery that has consistently good food at any time of the day and that’s a New Jersey diner. I remember going to the Chester Diner at 2 a.m. after working the late shift at the Chester Movie Theater and meeting friends for a gyro and pancakes. And you know what, they would taste exactly (amazingly) the same if I went at 2 p.m. on a Sunday after church. It’s a marvel of modern Americanized Greek technology.

Diners are just the best. Period

I grew up a half block from a diner and yes, there were many drunken late nights with friends eating really crappy food at 2 AM. Diners don’t seem to exist much outside of the east coast and are pretty much non-existent on the west coast and I do miss them, especially when I want breakfast for dinner. Like pizza places, everyone in NJ has their favorite place that has been there forever and still probably has the 40 year old personal juke boxes mounted to the wall in the booths.

10. Worshiping Bruce Springsteen And Bon Jovi Is Just A Natural Part Of Growing Up

Ok, this has nothing to do with food and maybe things have changed in the 25 years since I moved from NJ, but Bon Jovi was always considered to be a bad joke, not an idol. The Boss however, that is a different story. Springsteen is just about as close to a god as you can get in the state. I have seen The Boss play in 7 different cities, and none of those concerts came close to the energy of the 4 hour marathon he played in 1993 in NJ on the Human Touch/Better Days tour in front of the home crowd. Did I mention that the show I went to happened to be the 8th of 10 shows in 12 days he played in NJ, and he played for 4 hours? Yep, it was the most energized concert I have ever seen. Either way, it should tell you where Springsteen ranks in the NJ idol list – he is The Boss. When you say The Boss in NJ, everyone knows who you are talking about. I can honestly say that I have never had a conversation with anyone in NJ about how great Bon Jovi is.

The Next Big Thing in Chocolate

By Iron Chef Leftovers

If you like chocolate, you should really pay attention to where your chocolate is being sourced. Most of it is poor quality, purchased in bulk and is produced with unethical labor practices. Fortunately, there has been an alternative that is catching on (finally) in the chocolate world called bean-to-bar. It isn’t a new concept, but one that is finally becoming more mainstream. Here is how it works in an overly simplistic way:

A chocolate company decides it wants to make a bar with beans sourced from say Ecuador. The chocolate maker goes to Ecuador and talks to farmers and selects some that they would like to work with. The chocolate maker and the farmers collaborate on producing the best quality crop (over quantity) they can produce. The chocolate maker purchases the higher quality product at a significantly higher price than the going bulk rate (as much as 8 times the going bulk rate for the best quality beans) and makes their bars from that cacao.

Basically bean-to-bar is a direct trade between the farmer and the chocolate maker. It has become hugely popular in the U.S. thanks to Theo Chocolates, but there are now dozens of chocolate makers doing the same thing, many of them very small producers. One of my favorites is Mindo out of Dexter, Michigan. The owners spend part of their year working directly with the farmers in Ecuador (all of their chocolate is sourced from there), so they have a truly personal relationship with the process.

The trend seems to be catching on elsewhere, as evidenced by a recent article in the UK paper The Telegraph:

No longer is it sufficient for a smart bar to proclaim – as Green & Black’s do – that its contents are merely organic. Nor will it raise much interest among the chocolati to declare that your bar is artisanal or hand-wrapped, or that the cocoa within comes from a single estate. Worthy though all these considerations are, they are being swept aside by the latest trend in chocolate: bean to bar.

Let there be no mistake. Organic is good, and compared to the sugary slop mass-produced by Cadbury and Hershey, Green & Black’s (owned by the multinational Mondelez) is decent stuff.

Single origin bars, whose beans come from a particular location, are now becoming hugely popular, and supermarkets are making their own. So long as the farmers producing the beans are fairly rewarded and decent labour standards are maintained in production, there is nothing sinister about this either. But as it becomes easier to buy “good” chocolate, so the search for the best becomes more refined. True connoisseurs now like to pursue products that are not concocted from bought-in-bulk chocolate, but in which the whole process, from the grinding of the bean to the moulding of the bar, has occurred in one spot, under the care of one group of people: “bean-to-bar” chocolate.

I have had many conversations with small chocolate producers over the years and they all believe their biggest challenge is trying to convince consumers that paying $6 for a 2 oz. bar of chocolate is something they should be doing. Their product is infinitely better than the mass produced crap, but the price point is a tough sell. How tough? Well take a look at what I found last year when looking at dark chocolate prices:

Type Producer Cost Per Bar Bar Size Cost Per Pound
Mass Produced Hershey’s $1.19 1.55 oz $12.28
Fair Trade/Organic Endangered Species $3.25 3.00 oz $17.33
Bean to Bar Mindo $2.75 1.05 oz $41.90
Bean to Bar Theo $4.00 3.00 oz $21.33
Farmer Owned Kallari $5.99 2.46 oz $38.96

 

Theo is large for an artisanal producer and gains a great deal in economy of scale when shipping cacao from its source back to the US. The transportation cost is actually the biggest cost to a chocolate maker and even with the scale, Theo costs twice what Hershey’s does.  There are other advantages that offset price – bean-to-bar producers are making chocolate that is infinitely better tasting (better taste means you eat less in one sitting) and they are improving the quality of life for the farmers that they work with. If you doubt me, come with me to the NW Chocolate Festival in September. I will introduce you to the people who are on the ground working directly with the farmers. They tell their story much better than I ever could.

If you really want to be on the cutting edge of chocolate, purchase it from a Farmer Owned Co-op, like Kallari or Grenada Chocolate Company. The farmers control the entire process from the bean to bar and all of the profits are invested directly back into the local communities where cacao is grown.

No-Fuss Roasted Potatoes

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Potatoes are not one of my favorite things to cook or eat since they act as more of a flavor vehicle for what they are cooked in rather than having a great deal of inherent flavor on their own. Mrs. Iron Chef however loves them so I do occasionally make them, but I am constantly looking for new ways to cook them.  I came across an easy, no-fuss, one pot recipe on America’s Test Kitchen that I figured was worth a shot. Basically it calls for braising the potatoes first and then searing them, but it didn’t involve even taking them out of the pot, and only a couple of ingredients, so it really doesn’t get too much easier than this.

The Software

1 lb. Red Potatoes, roughly 1 to 1 ½ inches in diameter, washed and halved

1 cup water

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

2 teaspoons of salt

3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, in 6 pieces

1 tablespoon, fresh squeezed lemon juice

 

The Recipe

Arrange the potatoes in the bottom of a skillet (don’t worry about over-crowding, it won’t matter, I used a 10 inch, straight sided skillet) so that all of the cut surfaces are in contact with the surface of the pan. Add the water (it should come up about half way on the potatoes, add more water if necessary), butter, salt and garlic to the pan. Turn burner on high and heat the skillet until the water comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cover for about 15 minutes. Check if the potatoes are cooked after 15 minutes (a knife inserted should pull out easily), if they are not, cover until they are. Once the potatoes are done, remove the lid and remove the garlic to a bowl. Increase heat to medium high and continue cooking until the bottoms of the potatoes are golden brown – all of the water will evaporate leaving just the butter (this should take 10-15 minutes depending on your stove). While this is happening, mince the garlic and combine with lemon juice. Once the potatoes are done, remove from heat and toss in garlic and lemon. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

 

Notes

I would recommend using a non-stick skillet for this process to keep the potatoes from sticking to the bottom of the pan. The recipe scales easily, just put enough potatoes to fit in the pan and add enough water to come up half way on the potatoes. You probably won’t need to add more butter unless you use something larger than a 12 inch skillet. Fresh rosemary, sage, thyme or oregano would work well with this recipe. Just mince them and add them at the end with the garlic.