Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Japanese Egg Molds: How-To

How do you turn an ordinary oval-shaped chicken egg into a fun food item that'll be the talk of your child's kindergarten? Turn it into a bunny-shaped hard-boiled egg, that's how! In another what-will-they-think-of-next segment of "Those Crazy Japanese," the Land of the Rising have given us the--drum-roll--Egg Mold! Although it's been around for years, I've just recently discovered it through my 'net surfing for the latest food trends. In the competitive world of bento preparation, mothers all over Japan compete against each other to decorate their children's lunch (bento) boxes with the most unique and and most colorful food items. Star-shaped carrots, meat patties decorated like Mickey Mouse's face, Hello Kitty-shaped hard-boild eggs, you name it and it's been done. And yes, I'm pretty serious.

So I decided to seek out these unique egg molds, in the hope that it might help my youngest daughter to finally get eggs onto her very limited food likes. After hunting around for a while, I found these molds (2 per pack) on Ebay for less than $5 each (see below).

So how does one get these egg molds to work? Well, here are step-by-step instructions:

Step 1: Buy molds!

Step 2: You'll need eggs, specifically extra-large eggs. The large ones would work as well but the shapes won't be as defined. So get that egg into a pot of boiling water and make yourself a hard-boiled egg.

Step 3: When the egg is done, remove the shell cleanly, making sure not to tear the outside egg white. Place the egg onto the mold and gently press down and shut the mold.

Step 4: Place the egg mold (with the boiled egg in it) into the refrigerator for about 15 -30 minutes for it to cool down and take its shape. When it's done, you'll get..........TADA! A bunny-shaped egg!

Step 5: You are done! Now you can remove the molded egg and either leave it whole (3-D bunny head) or cut it in half and have 2 bunny faced eggs!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Quiche Florentine

If you are ever in the mood for eggs, try making a quiche. It's easy and pretty darn delicious too. Quiche is of French origin, it is a baked egg custard served on a pastry shell. The best thing about this dish is you can add most anything you want as a filling. You are only limited by your imagination and how the flavors go together. Most quiche are savory and this one is filled with chopped spinach and artichokes, onions, ham and shredded cheese.

Start off with a pie crust. You can either get a pre-made pie shell (as shown above) or buy pie dough and cut it to fit any baking dish. To fill up one of these pie shells, you need approximately 8 large eggs and half a cup of light cream. Remember to season the eggs and cream mix with salt and pepper. To put the quiche together, first sprinkle some shredded cheese (Cheddar or Monterey Jack) on the bottom of the shell (be generous). Next, add your filling, which in this case are chopped fresh spinach and artichokes plus onions and shredded ham. Now, fill the pie crust up with the eggs and cream mixture right up to the top. Sprinkle more shredded cheese over the top surface of the quiche and you are ready to bake. Pre-heat your oven to 350F and bake for 40 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the middle of the quiche and make sure it comes out clean. Oh, one more thing. When you bake the quiche, make sure that you place it on a sheet tray in case the eggs boil over and make a mess out of your oven.

And that's it. You got yourself the perfect breakfast.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Braised Spare Ribs with Mushroom, Leek & Green Beans and Garlic Mashed Potato

The term spare ribs actually originates from the German word rippenspeer or "spear ribs" as this cut of meat was usually skewered through a spear and roasted over fire. BBQ spareribs are a staple of Chinese restaurants but for this dish, I decided to braise it with coconut milk, ginger, honey (or molasses) , onions, garlic, lime juice and fresh jalapenos.

I started off by first searing the spare ribs (seasoned with salt and pepper) to get a slight browning on the outside. Then I added all the ingredients together and marinated the spare ribs in it for a few hours in the refrigerator. After that, all you have to do is cover the spare ribs and its marinate with a tin foil and pop it into the oven for between one to two hours at a relatively low temperature of 350F. Remember to baste the spare ribs every 15 minutes or so to keep the meat moist. Check for tenderness towards the end and the spare ribs should be done when the meat falls of the bone easily.

As for the side dishes, I have steamed green beans topped with sauteed mushrooms and leeks and homemade mashed garlic and parmesan potatoes, garnished with chives.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Top Chef Sin City (Episode 4): à double problème (Double Trouble)

How do you keep Sin City's Top Chef contestants on the edge of their knives? Change the rules in the middle of the game, that's how. I love it when the show mixes it up and catches everyone off guard and that's exactly what happened this week. "Survivor" does it all the time (not that I watch it anymore) but Top Chef has been pretty much on the straight and narrow path, providing very little surprises. For eg., when Padma comes in to call the first group of contestants to the judges' table, you already know, without a doubt, that they are the winners of the challenge. I just wished that maybe once, Padma would switch it up and stun everybody by calling the losers first.

So, for episode 4, the rules are tweaked a little. First, the show decided to eliminate 2 chefs instead of the usual single elimination. Not only that, it is the episode where everything is all French, all the time. You've got your snails (it's escargot, monsieur and madame!), your French classic sauces, your classic French chefs, poussin and at the end of it all, "lè guillotine" to the contestant with the worse dish! Sounds so delectable and so French!

First, the Quickfire. This one is held in French chef and restaurateur extraordinaire Daniel Boulud's brasserie at the Wynn Las Vegas casino and hotel. The chefs are asked to create a dish based on the VERY French ingredient,, escargot. Of course, this particular episode seem to favor none other than Frenchie himself, Mattin, the only French-born chef in the competition. Or so you would think. You could see Frenchie grinning from ear to ear when they are first introduced to Boulud and when escargot was announced as the secret ingredient, he would've peed in his pants and passed out (in no particular order) if not for decorum in the presence of master Boulud. OK...........moving on!

When judge Tom C. announced that it was going to be another high-stakes challenge, the contestants' eyes lit up, expecting another big $15K payday for the winner. (Cue the sound of tires screeching to an unexpected halt!) Not so fast, people! Nope, this time high-stakes mean just the opposite. Instead of the winner walking away with cash, the loser walks away. Literally! Yup, a chef would be eliminated at the end of the challenge. Snails....I mean....escargot would be someone's downfall. So, off they go, 45 minutes to come up with, as Boulud states in his very French accent, "sumtheeng I 'ave naver tisted before." Cut to the end and voila! what's her face, the one with the tats and piercings, gets "lè guillotine". No surprise there. It was only a matter of time, no? Jesse's been consistently bad in the past few challenges, always ending up in the bottom of the heap. And now she finally gets the chop! Oui!

The winner? Amish fat boy. Kevin (you could just see Frenchie sneering uncontrollably into the camera!), who is not only safe from elimination, he doesn't even need to take part in it. Instead, he'll be dining with la creme de la creme of French cuisine: big daddy Joël Robuchon voted French Chef of the Century (how's that for intimidating!), Hubert Keller, Boulud and a few other names that I don't recognize (just like Asians, all Frenchmen look and sound alike to me!) The other contestants were then asked to pick knives that had the name of a sauce or a protein printed on them. The chefs are then asked to pair up according to what sauce goes with which protein. As luck would have it, two of the strongest chefs, younger brother, Little V and Jennifer got paired up, while the older Voltaggio brother paired up with annoying Mike I. for the challenge. Again, Frenchie is in a confident mood, even after pairing up with dazed and confused Ashley.

The outcome is more or less a done deal at this point with only the bottom teams yet to be determined. As expected, little V brother Mike, Jennifer, Big V Bryan and Mike I. are declared the two winning teams of this challenge. The winner? Big V with his (ho-hum) cured trout dish which came with Mike I.'s deconstructed bearnaise sauce (actually, if I'm not mistaken, the deconstructed bearnaise was Big V's idea and Mike I was just executing on his direction). Actually, I thought Little V's and Jen's dish of rabbit chasseur with mustard noodle and shiso was a more exciting dining experience. But hey, what do I know, I'm not even from the same continent as these French masters.

The bottom teams turned out to be Ash's and Hector's Chateaubriand and Sauce Au Poivre and Ashley's and Mattin's dish of Seared Poussin and Ravioli with Sauce Veloute. Frenchie screwed up one of the mother sauces, an unforgivable sin in any Frenchman's eye and I was sure he was gonna get "lè guillotine." Fortunately for Frenchie, Hector's Chateaubriand, which was a bloody mess (literally!), was deemed a far worse sin for a Top Chef. It took 4 episodes but the first male contestant was finally guillotined from the show.

Wouldn't it have been a perfect and poetic end to an all-French episode if Frenchie would've gotten the boot? Oo-la-la!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Top Chef Season 6 Sin City: Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel

Three episodes in and the show's right on track in weeding out the few contestants who have no business being on the show in the first place. I say that because this particular season is pretty top heavy with some creative and skilled chef contestants as well as some really bad ones. The disparity is unfortunately quite apparent, especially among the women. About the only one who can stand toe to toe with the guys in the top half is Jennifer (Ripert's chef). I've mentioned how good she was in the past two weeks and she has not disappointed me yet. If she does well (and I think she will), we probably won't see Eric Ripert show up as a guest judge like he has in the past seasons.

OK, I know it is early but based on what I've seen so far, I'll go out on a limb here and declare my pick for the top 4 chefs who will be in the season finale: brothers Michael and Bryan V., Kevin and Jennifer. Not a big stretch really considering that these four are pretty formidable contestants. Three episodes in and the brothers have each won an elimination challenge, Kevin won the first one and Jennifer had won two Quickfire challenges. Unless one of these guys really stumble or if someone emerges as a dark horse, these four are pretty much a lock for the finale showdown. In the darkhorse category, the possibilities include the annoying Mike I., Puerto Rican Hector or possibly even French poodle Mattin. Even Vegas agees with me. The Sin City oddmakers have pegged Mike V. to win with 7-2 odds, Jennifer at 9-2, Kevin at 5-1 and Bryan at 6-1.

So what happened in this episode? The guest judge this week was Chef Mark Peel, chef and owner of Campagnile restaurant and a former protege of Wolfgang Puck. The Quickfire challenge was to create an "out-of-this-world" dish based on the humble potato in 45 minutes. This spud challenge was won by Jennifer with her mussells in potato sauce. Once again playing to her seafood background and strengths, Jennifer comes through for her second Quickfire win. There was a little drama during the challenge when Preeti accidentally poached her vegetables in a pot of water set aside by Ashley for her gnocchi. Ashley managd to overcome the setback and wound up as one of the top three dishes.

For the Elimination Challenge, the contestants were asked to cook for US Air Force soldiers at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, either returning from their tour of duty or getting ready to be shipped out. Obviously, this challenge brought out the patriotism quotient and some of them mentioned how proud they were to cook for these soldiers. Instead of creating a dish by themselves, the chefs decided to make teams of two and collaborate on a dish. Also, they appointed Jennifer to oversee the entire operation, essentially to make sure everyone gets what they needed and to keep everyone on track. She was the de facto Executive Chef in this challenge and didn't cook as she already had immunity from her earlier win in the Quickfire. This made sense but was it a good decision in the overall big picture? Only time will tell.

The camera showed the judges arriving at the large hanger where the event was to be held, with Padma slinking out of a military jeep in an inappropriately short dress. The airman opening the door of the jeep must've had an eyeful of those legs! Anyway, the challenge went very well, with some pretty successful dishes and some really lame ones. Kevin's and Eli's Southern style pulled pork and potato salad was a hit and so was Mike V.'s and Mike I.'s braised "pork belly" which actually originated as a slab of bacon! Hector's spicy chicken chili was also praised even though the temperature was in the 90's at the event.

At Judge's Table, the pork brothers, Kevin and Eli, together with Mike and Mike were judged to have created the best two dishes of the day. Finally, it was Mike V. with his braised pork belly dish, that was declared the winner. Now each brother has an Elimination win under their belt. Talk about competitiveness! As for judge's least favorie, the judges asked for Preeti and Laurine and--gasp!--Mike I.! It's rare for a contestant to wind up in the favorite and least favorite category but Mike I. did it! And he had his weak Greek salad to thank for. Although he didn't need to create another dish after collaborating with his partner on the braised pork belly dish, Mike I. decided to make one anyway (for the troops, he said). But it was a bad interpretation of a Greek salad, which had nothing Greek in it! The dish was bland, underseasoned and the shrimp, undercooked. Fortunately, the other team at the bottom did even worse. Preeti and Laurine's pasta salad was so ameteurish and weak, either of them would not cop out to coming up with the idea in the first place. Preeti insisted that the dish tasted good (???) while Laurine said that she forgot this was a competition and wanted to make something for the troops. What the??!!

In the end, Preeti got the boot for her insistence that the dish was good. And the Vegas odds on Miss Preeti? 50-1. 'Nuff said!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tuna Sashimi 2 Ways

Here are two smashing ideas for a tuna sashimi appetizer. First, you need to buy Grade A (sashimi-grade) tuna and not the lesser quality ones that are not suitable for consuming rare. The top most picture, is a pan-seared pepper tuna with wasabi and ginger aioli. The tuna is first seasoned with salt and fresh ground pepper and lightly pan seared to a medium rare to rare temperature. On a hot skillet, this should take less than two minutes. Try to cut the tuna steak into a symmetrical rectangle block. You can either season and sear all four sides or just the top and bottom. I prefer to do all four sides but it's all up to you. Once the tuna is done (which should take no time at all), set it aside and let it rest. To create the aioli topping, I start with regular mayonnaise and add wasabi powder (or paste), ginger powder and fresh garlic that has been mashed into a paste-like consistency. Season with salt and the aioli is ready to go. Now to add some crunchy texture and color to the presentation, cut some chives and red radish into tiny cubes and sprinkle on top of the aioli. And there you have it. pepper-seared tuna with wasabi and ginger aioli.

For our next appetizer, this time, slice the tuna into thin slices. Lay it down on a plate and top it with finely chopped fresh ginger and scallions (or chives). Simply season it with soy sauce and a dash of lemon juice. Now, let's heat up a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil or sesame oil until it starts to smoke. Sesame oil has a low smokepoint, so it should start smoking rather quickly. Just spoon some of the oil over the tuna slices and see it sizzle and cook just a little, perfect for a bite-size tuna sashimi appetizer. This technique was invented by famed Japanese chef, Nobu Matsuhisa, owner of his chain of Nobu Restaurants around the world. And like most inventions, it came by accident. When a customer returned a sashimi dish because he/she didn't like raw fish, this was Chef Nobu's perfect solution to the problem. He called it New Style Sashimi. I prefer to call it Nobu Style Sashimi.