Friday, September 17, 2010

What I'm eating right now...

caramelized pear & gorgonzola ravioli. sausage, shallot & dill cream sauce. chervil sprigs.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Top Chef Season 7 Finale

Hey loyal blog-followers! All seven of you...

We're back for the finale of Top Chef Season 7, with a live blog from Casa de Morrison. In addition to the live blog, we're making din-din for Beth, Ann and myself. On the menu is potato gnocchi with spring veggies and sauteed mushrooms. It's a pretty straightforward recipe from TC finalist Ed that you can find here.

I've been in the mood for seasonal pasta dishes lately, and even though this is a springtime dish, the heavy gnocchi and rich oyster and shitake mushrooms give it a weighty autumnal flavor. We opened a Dundee Hills 2006 Pinot Noir and started cooking. Ann and I prepped the mushrooms, blanched and shocked the sugar and snow peas and asparagus tips, and then made a garlic infused oil that we'd use to sear the gnocchi.

So...mistakes: I skimped for packaged gnocchi. I don't have the time or experience to make gnocchi by hand although that will be an experiment for a rainy Sunday. Packaged gnocchi is just not the same.

We also didn't have the right pan to sear the gnocchi for that crisp edge. And the veggies, while crisp and cooked perfectly, lacked the necessary seasoning. I needed to be a little more liberal with the salt and pepper as well as other spices. Other than those oversights, I think it's a solid dish that just about anyone can whip up in 30 minutes.

We began to speculate on what would happen in the Finale while watching the replays and giving Beth a recap of what had happened during the season as well as a characterization of the chefs.

So, before we get right into the TC finale, here is the final product. Comments?

Top Chef Finale: LiveBlog

Last week, we saw Kelly get the axe, despite the fact that all chefs performed admirably. In fact, all of them made really great food; Kelly's simply wasn't great enough. Too bad...I really like Kelly. She was certainly the strongest female competitor, and I knew it from the first episode. She also held it together better than her male competitors (Angelo's weepy fits, Kevin's hyper-aggressiveness, Ed's grudges).

The episode begins with a recap of the finalists, giving us a glimpse of their varied personalities.

Padma and her publicity orbs inform Ed, Kevin and Angelo that they will come back and draw knives for the final. The final four-courser is a little different this year:
1st: vegetable
2nd: fish
3rd: mystery protein that Ripert and Tom will choose (Tom threatens them with monkey)
4th: dessert

But the knives are for the sous. Hung, Michael Voltaggio and Elan, winners for TC Seasons 4, 6, 2 (respectively). Ann is squealing in delight when Michael comes on the screen. She has a major crush on last season's winner, which I largely ignore.

Cut to the next morning, and Angelo is sick in bed. Queue the 'Whhhaaa Whaaaa' horns. Angelo has by far been portrayed in the most negative light throughout the season. He's kind of opened himself up to that criticism but there's no denying his talent. We'll go ahead to call a moratorium of the Angelo dissing for now. Although he did admit having crabs on national television, for which there is no coming back from.

Tom and Eric show up with the mystery proteins and fish. There's cuttlefish, red rullet, cockles, and slipper lobster. And the proteins are pork belly and duck.

Angelo relays to Hung over the phone that they're going to do a duck and foie gras marshmallow...Wow! Sounds amazing. Hung continues to do the work of two chefs and would probably take any of our season's finalist blindfolded.

Kevin announces his menu. The standouts are cuttlefish "noddles" and the Singapore Sling panna cotta. Impressive. Ed's menu has a duo of duck, and sticky toffee cake. This should be interested.

Angelo is miraculously better. He better bring it, because Kevin and Ed are bringing out their big guns. Wants to show the judges what he can do "under the circumstances." Well, Angelo...I'm afraid that's not gonna cut it. If you've learned anything, the judges don't take those extraneous issues into account. They look at the food like anyone would at a restaurant...they don't care if the chef has a fever.

Susan Finegar sighting!! Ripert! David Chang (of Momofuko fame)! Celebrity chefs have invaded Southeast Asia.

Aside: Ed is becoming a bit of a douche. I know that he's a self-admitted "sarcastic guy" and has had a "bit of a 'tude" but he's now now crossed the Rubicon into super-douche territory. Be humble and gracious. Everyone on TC deserves to be there, but don't spend every waking moment on camera tearing down your opponent. Angelo, on the other hand, who started out with a huge ego, has gotten progressively sweeter and more endearing. Go figure.

The judges are effusive in their praise for the chef's menus, especially the desserts. One of them calls Kevin's frozen Singapore Sling the "new national dessert." And David calls Ed's sticky toffee cake a "F*ck you."

Judging time!!

They start with Angelo's second course...

They do take issue with his cherry shooter as a palate cleanser, citing that it coated their mouths. The marshmallow though seems to be well-received.

Kevin's veggie terrine could have used a little spiciness. He noted that he removed the seeds from the peppers, which accounts for this lack in impact. His 2nd, the cuttlefish noodles with slipper lobster on top looked like it really delivered. The 3rd, duck a la orange, was cooked well. And they all really enjoyed the Singapore Sling dessert.

Ed seemed to fall short the most, out of the three. The corn & fried cockles was well-received, but everything else seemed to be slightly lackluster, in light of what he's been doing lately. The fish wasn't a standout, the duo of duck was the weakest of the 3rds, and Tom took issue with his dessert as well. It's not looking good for Cotton.

Angelo appears to have executed his dishes, despite him being on the shelf during prep. The foie gras marshmallow was definitely the stretch dish, and overall it succeeded, but the fish course was really well conceived and implemented. The mushroom pork belly handmade noodle opener was also strong.

OK! Here we go...

Tom heaps on the praise, citing that the chef that took the biggest risks that also delivered the best meal would win.


It's Kevin! Yay!! I definitely thought Kevin's menu was the strongest and it appears he made it happen, Cap'n! Hurray!! Ed and Angelo are gracious in defeat. Kevin has really been the darkhorse since about halfway. Somedays he really brings it; somedays his dishes fall well short of the others. I felt the same way about my girl Ashley Merriman last season. She could have easily made it to the final. Or gone home the first few episodes. Ed and Angelo, in all likelihood, are better chefs. Kelly probably is too. But Kevin was stood out when it counted the most. He wanted it more than they did too. He's trying to establish himself, whereas Angelo and Ed are already entrenched at their respective establishments.

And with that, we're done. Here's to one the weakest overall seasons of TC, with one of the strongest finales. Looking forward to TC9!! Cheers.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Epic Sasquatch Hunt 2010

We know, we know… We've been heavy on the food and light on the music. Also, we have a backlog of blogs to get through. Here it goes...

The elusive Sasquatch had been spotted. Not deep in the woods leaving giant footprints in the murky mud but over the Cascade mountain range to the winding mighty Columbia gorge. The 2010 Sasquatch hunt was insane.

For those of you not in the know, Sasquatch Music Festival is a three day long music festival that is held at the scenic Columbia river Gorge amphitheater during Memorial Day weekend. Amazing music with crazy people at one of the loveliest concert venues on earth? Score.

It was so much fun and jam-packed with experiences, I can hardly remember what I had seen without the aid of photos and videos. OK Go? I had almost forgotten that I had seen them on the mainstage and sang along to their songs. Some of what happened during this year's festival stays at the festival but I broke down this year's Quatchie search into themes of items I can divulge:

Music of little yetis

Yes, it's us
This year's Sasquatch lineup lacked something it had from other years. Sure, Sasquatch has always supported up and coming indie bands or cult favorites but there usually are a few headliner bands. This year's Sasquatch lacked a classic headliner band accustomed to playing the large arenas and stadiums - no Nine Inch Nails, the Cure, Beck, Modest Mouse, Kings of Leon or the Beastie Boys. I loved the lineup at this year's event but I must admit I missed the huge stadium rock bands to look forward to in the evening and some bands had issues translating their small venue sound to the mainstage at the Gorge which should make the very last high hippie on the topmost edge of the lawn rock out. Regardless, the musical experience was still different and fun.

Day One

The first band we had rushed to see was Minus the Bear. We missed out on the first 30 minutes but those long-haired scruffy boys were great as always with an easygoing vibe.
I think I am a bigger fan of OK Go after seeing their creative music videos - this rube goldberg machine one is a favorite: In all honest, these guys are as fun and energetic live as they are in their videos. Their lead singer was enthusiastic and charming - even leaping into the masses for some crowd surfing, cracking jokes and instigating some serious audience participation. Not only did everyone sing along to 'This too shall pass' - even us sunbathing folk up on the lawn - but they got the crew with stuff animal hats to do a little crazy dance.

Bubbles at Sunset
The National also rocked in a much more subtle way as the sun was going down - they were a perfect 'sit on the grass and enjoy the sunset' band. The low baritone droll and steady beats made for a good cool down band before Vampire Weekend came out with their upbeat emo music.
BTW Deadmau5? Trippy.

Day Two

Istanbul? Or Constantinople? They Might Be Giants aren't the new, hot, young indie band anymore - they are, how shall we say, seasoned. But they still rock with plenty of fun, irreverent dancey music - oldies mixed in with newer songs. The crowd was an interesting mix of young and old (many geeks old enough to be their parents) but everyone had a good time.

Rocking out to Kid Cudi
A revelation of this year's Sasquatch - the crushable lead singer. Ok I'm known to be a tad more than a little boy crazy. A guy who can sing? Be still my heart. Kid Cudi was not only hot, but he was entertaining and connected well to the audience. His set list was a good mix of chill surrealistic pieces and more energetic songs that showcased his unusual style and gravely voice. Kid Cudi was definitely the biggest show of the day at that point in time; the crowd amassed after They Might Be Giants to enjoy Kid Cudi's hazy soundscapes.

I only caught a bit of The xx from a beer garden but I enjoy the play of male and female vocals. Complementary and sometimes dueling but sort of brit-pop-sexy music. The kind that you'd enjoy in a Topshop boutique.

Pavement was perhaps the single worst band I had seen all weekend long. They are barely worth mentioning except the fact that they started out strong with their 90's hit, "Cut Your Hair" which was a cock tease. I was left with blue balls. They were so bad in fact that I left in the middle and didn't care that Massive Attack was on next. My friend Jeff and I fled to watch some Public Enemy and dance in the rumpus room. Public Enemy was surprisingly great but they took the opportunity to get political and took it to the edge. Come on Chuck D, we're all politically opinionated and don't mind a sprinkling of it here and there but step off of the soapbox after 10 minutes please.

The rumpus room not only was a contained rave but it was full of nice people whom we gave glow bracelets to. Hey, we share!

Day Three

Day three was a beautiful day of strange weather - as if the weather Gods had done as much drugs as many of the concertgoers had and was reacting. It was warm and the brightest and sunniest it had been in a while with periods of warm sprays of rain periodically to cool off the sunburned and tanned masses.

We loved us some Passion Pit which turned out to be more fun, energetic and infectious than expected. A large crowd amassed for She & Him and there was a resounding agreement of how lovely Zoey Deschanel was. In fact, there is no way they would be on the main stage if it weren't for her popularity amongst both men and women. They were sweet-sounding like a combination of an indie band from Portland and a 1960's church-approved jingle band but otherwise not main stage material.

Band of Horses? Meh. For some reason, I don't dig them that much and don't think they translate well to big spaces. I got myself a snack and a catnap with the boys at that time.

Nick, Steve and I hoofed it back down to MGMT at Sunset and prepared ourselves for another dance-filled show. I hadn't realized how adorable the lead singer was (again, crushable singer) and despite the crowd getting really into the music and dancing up a storm, the band seemed to be going through the motions. Yes, they were energetic and gave some choice shout outs and we all can't help but gyrate to "Electric Feel" and "Kids" but they did not have the same authentic, emotional connection that some of the other bands did.

The Nice Canadian

The prevailing theme of the trip has been the nice Canuck. Not only do they say "about" in a funny way and really do say "eh" more than Rihanna does in Umbrella-ella-ella but they were the genuinely friendly and nice people of Sasquatch in contrast to the un-friendly and eyebrow raising American dick.

Nice and crazy Canadians with crazy animal hats
My friend Jeff and I tested this as we decided to wander after Pavement's horrible show. We walked up to random people and asked for hi fives, asked questions on their favorite acts of the day, handed out free glow necklaces. The ONLY people who reciprocated the hi fives, talked to us and generally gave us more than a dirty, exasperated look were Canadians. The Canadians camped out next to us and generously offered to share their beer, liquor and, ahem herbal refreshments. They chatted with us, asked us which acts we were excited to see, wanted to know if we wanted to walk with them, play flip cup with them, have breakfast with them, sit around with them, etc. (There were four sets of Canadians immediately around our area and they all did this.) I don't think the Americans camped around us even introduced themselves to us and promptly ignored everything we did.
To all of the Canadians out there: We love you. Come party with us next year.

To the Americans: Stay home and make room for us to party with the Canadians.

Dance Dance!

Everyone loves to dance but Sasquatch has subsequently gotten dancier with the times. I don't think there was much dancing the first Sasquatch I went to (was it 2005?) but now it has become an all out dance party from the campgrounds to the inner sanctum itself. I suppose that why Sasquatch even added a dance AND comedy tent.

Also, I think new bands are less afraid to be 'pure' in terms of their musical styles and have allowed their many influences and passions to come through, including dance. Rock bands have embraced some hip-shaking beats and rappers have incorporated not only guitar solos and rock elements but electronica.

Last year, our friends camped next to a group of nice Canadians who had an amazing soundsystem so we started last year's premier campground rave (complete with fog machine, lasers and lights to our delight). This year, we were determined to find the same group and party with them again - we lovingly referred to them as the 'real Canadians'. This year's Sasquatch was no different - except that we didn't originate the rave this year since it was already tried and true and more than an urban myth.

We danced like crazy on the second night there - we were dancing all night long with glow bracelets and necklaces like raving teenagers, feeling very happy and content until the campground security had to break it up to enforce quiet hours.


Group games are fun. Especially if they involve a little alcohol. At our campsite, we played tons of 'circle of death' with a few deck of cards, which we surmised to be less fun once we realized that Anna was cheating and drinking only juice. We also played a lot of beer pong and flip cup with friendly Canadian neighbors. We had a massive flip cup tournament at one point, mostly with PBR and Coors. I have no idea if anyone really kept track of winning and losing teams - it was just all fun.

The Canadians are forced to drink

The epic Olympic battle of Americans vs. Canadians started when the Canadians challenged our boys to a beer pong duel - upping the challenge by suggesting instead of beer, a few select cups should have vodka in them as a surprise. The Americans prevailed although it certainly was a tough battle.

All in all, this was a fantastic exploration of music and people. We enjoyed ourselves immensely and can't wait to search for Sasquatch again and party with the Canadians.