Monday, March 31, 2008

Food Gallery

Red and ruby, fresh strawberries are the jewel of spring. I saw some fresh organic strawberries at my farmers’ market this weekend, so I bought a basket. When strawberries come into season, you need to grab them fast because the really sweet ones are in season for only a few weeks. (Sure, you see them at Safeway for many months but those are hothouse strawberries that have been forced to turn red but taste like plastic.)

The fresh strawberries by the family farmer were so beautiful that I was inspired to take these photos. I generally like to just eat them as is and just enjoy their goodness, instead of baking them into some dessert. But if you want, you can also add them to a salad, which is what I did in the recipe below, along with another popular seasonal item—the California avocado. This weekend, think red.

Strawberry and Avocado Salad

Copyright 2008 by Cooking With The Single Guy

(no portions are given because you can put as much as you need to make the salad)
Avocado, pitted
Romaine lettuce
Parmesan cheese shavings

Creamy balsamic vinegar dressing:
2 T balsamic vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
1 T mayonnaise (optional)
1 T sugar
1 T extra virgin olive oil
pinch of salt and pepper

Whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing and set aside.

Chop up your romaine lettuce into bite sizes and slice up your avocado. Then combine with slices of fresh strawberries and croutons. Toss everything together with the dressing. (Just put enough dressing as needed.) Finish off with some shaved parmesan cheese.

Perfect to pair with any grilled meats.

Pair with a glass of Viognier wine.

TIP: To make the parmesan cheese shavings, just use a vegetable peeler and run it again the side of a chunk of parmesan cheese.

CROUTONS: I’m fine with using store bought when in a pinch, but if you have leftover bread, you can just make your own croutons by chopping them up into chunks, drizzle in olive oil, season with salt and pepper and any herbs you like and place under the broiler until golden brown. It should take just a few minutes so be sure to watch it and don’t let them burn.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Jamie At Home: Episode 12, Game Birds

This is Jamie Oliver’s last episode in his Jamie At Home series on the Food Network. At least it looks like it because the schedule shows that the next few weeks will be reruns. Anywho, I’m kind of glad because recapping this series was a bit rougher than I thought. Even though I love Jamie, there wasn’t much to say. But let’s end it with a bang, shall we?

Jamie is working with game birds today and he’s psyched. He thinks game birds are fantastic, delicious, easy to prepare and underrated. I for one don’t underrate game birds, I love them just as well, especially quail. Pan-sear or roast any game bird and they’re often delicious.

Oops, maybe I spoke too soon. Jamie says he’s going to start off with pigeon. And I actually grew up with pigeons. My mom would make my dad catch the pigeons that would stoop near the roof of our house. It was a free meal but I think my mom was mostly annoyed by all the cooing. Anyway, I wasn’t a big fan of the meat because it was darker than chicken and a bit tough. Let’s see what Jamie does with it.

Asian-style Crispy Pigeon

Jamie is outside with some wood pigeons. He has two of them already skinned and they look really dark, almost like those Chinese black chickens. He’s going to make a dry rub with Szechwan peppercorns and a pinch of salt with his spice shaker. Where does he find those things? I want one. Last week he had a red one, this week it’s a nice blue one.

After shaking up the peppercorns, he adds a teaspoon of five spice, which Jamie says is brilliant for roasting duck. He shakes the ground spices over the pigeons and rubs it all over. He’s pretty rough with those pigeons. Jamie sweeps up the excess and puts them into the cavity. He’s going to fry up the birds in a deep pot of oil, which has been heated up to 180 degrees. While the pigeons are frying up, he’s going to make a dipping sauce.

In a small bowl, he adds zest from half an orange, squeeze of juice, 5 tablespoon of oyster sauce, a teaspoon of sesame oil, half a tablespoon of honey and the juice from half a lime. He whisks all these ingredients together and that’s it. That was easy. (He actually says a bit of fresh ginger grated in would be good but he forgot it this time.)

He also prepares some toppings, so he gets some spring onions and chops them finely. Also some chili, which he makes this weird roar sound when he chops them, I guess to demonstrate what happens when you eat them raw? Jamie and his noises, you got to love it. He says chili makes you happy. Ok. He also chops up some coriander.

His pigeons are about done and he removes them from the oil and pads them with kitchen towel and then places them on a plate with the dipping sauce and he starts piling on his toppings (again with the roar when adding the chili). He demonstrates how to cut up the pigeon into halves and then quarters. I would have used a bigger knife or kitchen shears instead of that regular chef’s knife. But Jamie gets it done, of course. He bites into a piece after dipping it and he’s so happy he’s jumping around. It’s a finger lickin dish, he says.

Roast of Incredible Game Birds with Polenta

Jamie is outside and making a roasto misto, which he says is Italian for mixed roast. So he’s going to roast a bunch of stuff: guinea fowl, quails, pigeon, partridge and pheasant. Wow, the film crew is going to have a lot of food to eat after this demo. Get the complete recipes here.

In a roasting tray, Jamie has root vegetables: celery, onions, carrots that will act as a lift for the birds so they don’t fry on the bottom of the pan. He gets his pheasant and flattens it to make it cook evenly with the other birds. He gets the guinea fowl and cutting away the backbone (he says you can get your butcher to do it but he’s Sir Jamie Oliver so he has to do his own knife work).

He gets his four quails and he’s going to roast those whole. He’s basically stuffing these tiny birds with rosemary and thyme in the cavity. Jamie also has this pinwheel of sausage that he just adds to cook with the birds for flavor, along with herbs and bay leaves. He starts throwing all sorts of things in the tray like rosemary and other herbs, along with salt and pepper and extra virgin olive oil.

He does more rubbing of the birds. I don’t know if I would want a massage from Jamie because he looks a bit rough. He puts the tray into his outdoor wood-fire oven and says to cook it for 90 minutes at 350 degrees.

Classically in Italy this roast is served with polenta. So he works on making that. He has a pot of boiling water and he adds a bunch of polenta grain and starts to whisk it. He puts a lid on it and cooks at low heat for about 50 minutes.

Jamie brings out his tray and the birds are all golden brown. This is absolutely a celebration, he says. It should be with all that food. He puts the birds on the side and he’s going to make a sauce or gravy. He cooks the tray and the remaining root vegetables on the charcoal grill, adding a couple of glasses or decent Chianti. He also adds a nub of butter because butter is the base of all fine sauces.

He’s ready to plate up his feast, so he takes the polenta off the heat. He tastes it and says it’s bland, like mashed potatoes, so he adds three ounces of butter and a whole bunch of parmesan cheese, along with salt.

He pours the polenta onto a chopping board and smears them onto the edge. And then he makes a well in the center. He places the birds and quails and partridge and pheasant and places them all in the middle right over the polenta. He gets some of the juices and pours it through a sieve right into the center over the birds. It’s a huge mountain of brown birds. He says this is what they do for presentation in Italy but I’m thinking I can see some of the sauce juices dripping off the sides of the board.

Pan-fried Partridge with Pearl Barley

Jamie’s cooking at night, and he has a partridge that’s been gutted and plucked. He’s also cooking a sauce pan of pearl barley, which he says is an old English carb. He just boils them in salted water for 50 minutes.

Jamie slices up a red onion and says he’s making a vegetable stew with the partridge. He’s going to use frozen peas.

He drains the pearl barley, puts the pan back on the heat. In the saucepan, he sautés up the onion.

With his partridge, he demonstrates how to take off the bone, cutting off the drumsticks first and then sliding his knife down the backbone to cut two pieces of breast filets. He also chops off the ends of the legs.

After the onions get some color, he stops that and adds the pearl barley and pours in frozen peas. He returns it to the heat and adds either vegetable or chicken broth, adding enough to just cover all the ingredients.

In another pan, he’s going to fry up the partridge, starting with the legs. Starting off by seasoning with salt and pepper, he adds them legs to the pan. Then for the breasts, he seasons them with fresh thyme ad rosemary and salt, just sprinkling them on top and then adds to the pan along with chunks of smoke English bacon.

For the breast, he says it just takes two minutes on the skin and one minute on the other side.

For the stew, he thickens it by adding a nub of butter into flour and then adds that to the pea broth concoction. He’s going to add lettuce and rockets, which he says cooked lettuce is genius because of the flavor that comes out. He throws them into the stew and serves it up, pouring the stew into a bowl and puts the breasts on top along with the other pieces. The stew is still a bit wet, I think. But he says it’s absolutely delicious. (The complete recipe here.)

Must be a British thing:

Spring onions=green onions


Kitchen towel=paper towel

Jamieisms heard in this episode:


Jamie At Home airs on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. on the Food Network, although future episodes look like reruns. Visit Jamie’s Web site at More on the accompanying book for the series here.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Organic Butter Lettuce at Grand Lake

There's a lot more to see at the farmers' markets now that spring is in full swing, and some of the interesting things I saw this morning at the Grand Lake Farmers' Market in Oakland is this organic butter lettuce. Not only is it organic, but it sure is beautiful with its crimson tint. I've never seen butter lettuce so colorful and so big. They were piled onto this table draped in red cloth to match at this one farmer's stand. Time for some spring salad!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Can We Just Date for Now? Love At First Bite Bakery

Wrapping up my visit to Berkeley’s “Gourmet Ghetto” a few weeks ago, I ventured into one of the area’s popular cupcake bakery—the Love At First Bite Bakery. Cute name.

I love a good cupcake as you can tell in my posts here, here and here. So I had to check out this Berkeley spot, which I’ll call Love for short (just like how some people call Jennifer Love Hewitt). Love, the bakery, isn’t easy to spot off the street. It’s in this odd mini wooden complex of shops and stores near the corner of Vine and Walnut Streets a block east of Shattuck Avenue.

It helps to keep an eye out for the sign on Vine Street, which I totally walked right by. I noticed it later on my way out.

Once you’ve wandered into the heart of the wooden complex (it’s almost like going deep into the forest), you find this cute little bakery with the workers in the back icing the many cupcakes. In the front at the window is a table with cake stands filled with a variety of flavors to choose from.

There are also some cupcakes in the counter, and Love had some unusual names like Hummingbird (a Southern-style cake with banana, pineapple and pecans) and Bunny Love (the cute version of carrot cake). The cupcakes are priced at $2.75, which is a whole dollar cheaper than my favorite cupcake, Kara’s in San Francisco.

Love is pretty small but they did have this section that sold all sorts of children books and gifts.

Here are the workers I was telling you about busy icing the cakes. I don’t know if they bake the cupcakes on site because I didn’t really smell the aroma of freshly baked cupcakes. But they were definitely busy making the cupcakes look pretty. While I was there, a few people came in for their pre-orders so it looks like Love is pretty popular for the parties.

I ended up getting three flavors: the Lemon Kiss (a lemon cake with lemon buttercream frosting), the Matcha Green Tea (a cake made from matcha tea and topped with matcha-infused whipped cream), and the PB Affair (an ode to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups made with devil’s food chocolate cake and peanut butter buttercream frosting).

The Lemon Kiss was just OK, I found the actual cake part a bit on the dry side. The Matcha Green Tea cake had a nicer texture and the icing was a bit more sweet, but it didn’t have a strong green tea flavor. It was very subtle but tasty. I really wanted to enjoy the PB Affair because I love Reese’s PeanutButter Cups growing up. But it didn’t achieve the wonderful blending of chocolate and peanut butter. Instead it was just chocolate cake with a topping that was thick like, well, peanut butter. The only nice part was the quarter chunk of Peanut Butter Cup on top.

While the cupcakes were cute and clever, Love At First Bite is just nice, but not mesmerizing. I give it points for a reasonable price point for a definite boutique cupcake feel. So while I can’t commit to Love, I can say it was a nice first date.

Love At First Bite Cupcakery & Bakery, 1510 Walnut St., Suite G, Berkeley. PH: 510.848.5727. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Top Chef: Season 4, Episode 3

It’s a Battle of the Red and Blue States

Previously on Top Chef: Zoi and Jennifer are a couple, and Richard wants to make a statement with smoke. (Dude, what’s with the summaries from two episodes ago? That’s like “previously on previously.” WTF??) The cheftestants get wild at the zoo and Andrew wins while Valerie and her blinis go home.

Padma’s Prize Recap: I wonder how many Glad products you can buy with $100,000? My food will never breathe again.

The L-train rumbles across the city, waking up the neighbors. We cut to a scene that literally gets my mouth to drop. Really, I’m on the floor now looking for my bottom lip. My two favorites, Andrew and a shirtless Spike, are goofing around doing some Austrian-accented wrestling scene. Oh. My. GAWD. If this were the Real World-Road Rules Challenge, I’d peg them as the couple to beat. Anywho, elsewhere in the house Richard is being serious and Stephanie is missing Valerie even though she’s partly to blame because she made Valerie make those stupid blinis in the first place.

Quickfire Challenge: What color is Rick Bayless’ shirt? Is that eggplant? I need my sunglasses. With Chicago’s own master of Mexican fine-dining in the room, you know they’re going to have to do something fancy. So it’s no surprise when Padma tells the cheftestants that they have to dress up a well-known staple of Mexican cuisine—the taco.

This leads to almost a revolt among some of the cheftestants, who rightly so believe that the taco is the true symbol of Mexican street food and doesn’t belong on the menu of any fine-dining establishment. Erik’s bleeping his way through the challenge and says he’s going to keep it real with a street taco, so is Spike.

But the others try to rise to the challenge (do they have much choice?), either adding unusual ingredients like duck and cactus or like Richard is totally discarding the traditional taco shell and using jicama instead. (Yuck, I hate jicama.) BTW, doesn’t it look like Richard’s faux hawk is getting bigger each episode?

You know Manuel’s feeling the pressure, and not just because we’ve hardly seen much from him in the last two episodes. But since he works at a Mexican restaurant, he feels like he has to step up. When Bayless and Padma come around for the tasting, Manuel’s doing this rundown with a whole slew of Mexican ingredients that I’ve never heard of. (I could only get chorizo and picante verde, but that’s it.)

Lisa is the first to make Bayless nearly gag by using skirt steak in her taco. The man can barely bite into the tough meat and I bet he wishes he had a knife and fork so he can poke Lisa with them.

Erik, who’s keeping it real, offers up a really sloppy looking plate of tacos. Erik says he wanted to keep the traditional flavors, and Bayless is like, yeah, and so?

In the end, Bayless doesn’t like Erik’s train-wreck of a taco (and Erik could care less), Lisa’s tough skirt steak taco, and Ryan’s oddly paper-wrapped taco (“the paper just bugs me,” says Bayless).

BTW, I’m going to point out here that Bayless’ Frontera Fresco casual dining spot in the basement food court of Macy’s Union Square in San Francisco doesn’t even have tacos on the menu. I guess the only time Bayless thinks tacos are worth eating is when you have white tablecloths around?

Chef Bayless says he liked Spike’s soul-satisfying taco but the winner (and thus the guy with immunity) is Richard and his jicama-wrapped pseudo tacos. Bayless loved the refined presentation so much that he’s going to steal the idea and put it on the menu of his Topolobampo restaurant in Chicago. (Don’t you love it when guest judges use Top Chef as a test kitchen?)

Padma tells the cheftestants to divide themselves into two teams, one Red and one Blue. What? Too cheap to bring out the knives this week? The division isn’t very organized and you can tell who’s joining whom more for fun than strategy. It pretty much breaks down to the fun and carefree gang and the nerds, with Richard as the undeclared leader of the geeks.

They go into their respective colored vans and start driving around Chicago. This sounds just as boring as it was to watch—for nearly 5 minutes! This is such a waste of time watching the cheftestants try to guess their elimination challenge, I can’t believe I’m saying this: Bring on the commercials!

Commercials. Foster Farms chicken wannabes. How long have you been trying? Give it up already.

The cheftestants get dumped onto a quiet street in some generic tree-line Chicago neighborhood. Padma tells them that this neighborhood has an annual block party and tomorrow the cheftestants are going to have to cook for them. The twist? They won’t be shopping for food, but instead will have to get their ingredients by knocking on the doors of the people in the neighborhood. (Oh, and BTW, this is the challenge, which is the most stupid product placement possible because I never heard of, the challenge didn’t require the use of, and they’re probably only getting the benefit of being on Top Chef from the fact that I mentioned them three times in this recap! I’m not even bothering linking to the site because it’s too damn slow.)

So the cheftestants do a bad version of trick-or-treat as they go house-to-house looking for food. Of course, strategy comes into play for the Red Team when they send out pretty boy Ryan as the lead food beggar. Teammate Andrew says it was an obvious choice to send Ryan because he can pull off saying “Hi, I’m tall, dark and handsome and I need some grapes.” Ha! So true.

Some of these people have some really nice homes. The cheftestants are grabbing all sorts of stuff. One woman just came back from the farmers’ market, so that team scored with a lot of really fresh fruits and vegetables. OK, so I don’t know whether I should be jealous by the fact that these Chicago people have such fully stocked pantries, or whether they were told ahead of time to stock up because of the Top Chef visit? Either way, this challenge isn’t so much of a challenge because both teams leave away with bags full of stuff.

The Blue Team, led unofficially by Richard who can’t be eliminated, is talking about upscale, fancy-pants type of food like jambalaya. While the Blue Team wants to stick with American classic like sliders and hot dogs because they’re in the Midwest and there will be a lot of kids and you know what picky eaters they are.

It’s the next day already and the cheftestants are back in the Top Chef kitchen prepping their food for the block party. Here’s the planned menu by the two teams:

Blue: Paella, slaw, barbeque pulled pork, bean salad, inside-out cookie, “sexy” drink, fruit cobbler and mac n’ cheese.

Red: Sliders, corn dogs, pork skewers, sangria, Waldorf salad, pasta salad, taco salad and s’mores.

The Red Team is feeling pretty confident, but thanks to the editing of the show’s producers, we get a lot of foreshadowing of which will be the problem dishes. For example, Erik says he does corn dogs all the time at his restaurant in San Francisco but he’s worried they’ll get soggy during transport. (OK, so why risk it? Do something else people!!)

Zoi isn’t happy that she got put in charge of the pasta salad because she’s all like, meh, this is pasta salad, how fancy can you get? She says she doesn’t want to get eliminated and be known as the cheftestant who couldn’t make a good pasta salad. Yeah, I’m with you on that. That would suck big time.

Here comes Chef Collichio, and I have to say I don’t really get much from his kitchen visits. The only thing that I could gather from this segment is he’s suspicious that lavender would really make a drink sexy (hey, I love lavender!) and he thinks substituting mayonnaise in the Waldorf salad will take out the element that keeps it fresh-like.

Nikki is worried about her mac n’ cheese drying up during transport. So far it sounds like really poor planning by both teams who came up with dishes that don’t really travel well. It’s like they’re writing their own ticket to elimination. I’m so done with poor planners.

Commercials. You know that Stella Artois beer commercial where the bartender tries to pour the beer while on a train but can’t so he cuts his compartment off from the rest of the train, leaving him stationary on some mountain bridge? Well, it played at a movie theatre I was at recently and it got a lot of laughs. People ate it up! But I was like, now you’re stranded dude.

The cheftestants arrive back at the neighborhood where the block party looks like it already in full swing. Since there’s no grill or any outdoor cooking equipment, it looks like the cheftestants are mostly setting up and serving the food as is. As they set up, the neighbors cheer for their favorite colors. This is Chicago so I’m going to let you guess whether they’re for blue or red!

We’re still getting a lot of air time for Erik’s soggy corn dogs and Nikki’s dried out mac n’ cheese, so like I said, foreshadowing at work here. To counter the dryness, Nikki’s pouring a load of cream to try to basically give high cholesterol to everyone. BTW, was this filmed last summer? Why is it so warm out in Chicago that they can have a party outside? I can’t believe it’s almost a year since this has been filmed.

The judges arrive: Padma, Tom, guest Rick Bayless and Ted Allen. They start going around trying all the food, but they’re uncharacteristically quiet, not really offering up much criticism, good or bad. Ooops, Padma just dropped her s’mores on Ted Allen’s shoes!

The Red Team is having a lot of fun serving up their food, even the soggy corn dog. And ironically, it sounds from the neighbors’ reactions that they liked more of the food from the Red Team than the Blue. Afterwards, the Red Team members (notably Andrew and Spike, the goofballs) are having fun with the neighbors, joining in with the basketball games or dunking booth.

Over at the Blue Team, they look all stressed, worried and serious. They all head home. Gosh, it sucks to be caterers. You spend all that time serving food and you don’t get to eat any. That’s life, I guess.

Back at the Judges’ Table, the Red Team is still feeling pretty confident as they make a lot of noise going into that weird holding cell/storage locker room. But Padma comes out and asks for the Blue Team. The Red Team members know how this is going to go down, but they’re still in a bit of denial, thinking maybe the producers are adding a twist and calling the guys who sucked first. Sigh, sorry guys. The producers are not that creative.

Chef Tom says it was a fairly close challenge, and not in the good way where the two teams both excelled that it was hard to pick a winner. It was more like they both sucked so bad that the Blue Team just barely squeaked out the win.

Thanks to the foreshadowing editing, we know already that Nikki’s mac n’ cheese tasted awful. In fact, Bayless says it was like mac and brick. Tom was especially critical of Richard’s paella, saying it wasn’t authentic paella because it didn’t have the crispy rice bottom (ooh, I love that part) calling the dish a fancy-fied rice pilaf.

The judges did like Antonia’s bean salad (which we hardly heard about thanks to the foreshadowing editing of the bad) and Stephanie’s dessert and drink concoction. And get this! The judges say the Blue Team won primarily on the sexy drink from Stephanie. WTF? The best dish was some drink filled with simple syrup, lavender and carbonated water? This challenge did suck wind.

It’s the Red Team’s turn and some of them really seem indignant that they weren’t the winning team. Spike thought they kicked ass, and Padma’s like, no you did-n’t. Bayless thought Erik’s corn dog was a universal disappointment and that there was too much chicken in the Waldorf salad.

Just as the Red Team is indignant at the thought of losing, the judges seem especially critical and indignant that these cheftestants thought they could have won. Chef Tom at one point, after being told that all the members worked well together and tasted each other’s food to be sure, tells the Red Team that “well then you all must have pretty bad tastes.” Me-OW!

Andrew says he can’t believe he might be eliminated and adding more fuel to the judges’ contempt, he tells them that “as far as going home, you’re going to have to drag me out with security guards because this is my house.” Um, Andrew, kind of too early in the season to be throwing down with the judges, you think?

The judges chit chat amongst themselves, and Padma thinks it’s funny that the cheftestants didn’t realize that they did so bad. They harp on Ryan’s watery Waldorf salad and Erik’s soggy corn dog. Back in the storage room, Zoi’s effin-mad that she didn’t speak up against the pasta salad, which she says was an afterthought. You can tell by all her swearing that she’s partially mad at herself for not speaking her mind to the group. Her other teammates try to assure her she’s not going to be eliminated, but she’s not buying any of it.

Commercials. People are having a tailgate party on some highway, using Kingsford hickory charcoal. Talk about rush-hour traffic. Nexxus says my hair is talking to me. Really? I’d like to tell it to shut up so I can get some sleep. Oh, sorry hair. I didn’t mean it. PUH-lease don’t leave me!

Judgment time. Chef Tom says the challenge was simple but they screwed it up anyway. Padma sends Erik and his knives home to San Francisco, the first of four Bay Area cheftestants to get the boot.

Erik takes it like a rock star and says he’ll miss the camaraderie, which I don’t doubt given all the bear hugs that are being passed around. Zoi is crying up a storm, and partly it’s because she’s sad to see a fellow San Franciscan leave but partly because she realizes it was her ass on the line and the producers made Erik the sacrificial lamb.

Next week: Guest judge is Daniel Boulud. Looks like they’re cooking some fancy dinner with that actress that played Charlie in season 9 of “Friends” and Chicago movie critic Richard Roeper, who I think is funny because he calls the judges out for being too critical. I agree, this year they seem extra cranky pants, especially that Tom guy. And Andrew and Spike continue their fun and mischief, which starts to make some of the other guys in the house UN-comforta-ble.

Top Chef aires Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. Central) on Bravo TV. Check out videos and multiple blogs at the Top Chef Web site. Photos courtesy of Bravo TV.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

In the Kitchen: Pan-Seared Scallops

Seared scallops are one of my favorite meals to make—for myself or often as a starter for a dinner party. There’s something about the caramelizing of the scallops that brings out the flavor of this delicate shell fish. Scallops are like a good piece of meat. All you need is salt and pepper and a quick fry on high heat. You can never cook them wrong, unless you char them.

I debated whether to make a video about me cooking scallops because it’s so easy it’s like watching butter melt. But then I thought, hey, maybe this will show someone who’s intimidated by the idea of pan-seared scallops to actually make them because it really is so simple? And this video will prove that. In the video I plated my scallops over a lemon-mint risotto. The full recipe is below. Enjoy!

Pan-seared Scallops with Lemon-Mint Risotto

Copyright 2008 by Cooking With The Single Guy

3 wild scallops (defrosted if purchased frozen)
½ cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
zest from one lemon
½ sweet onion, diced
6 oz. Arborio rice
1 small glass of dry white wine
1½ cups chicken or vegetable broth (or 14 oz. can)
¾ cup shredded Parmesan cheese (or Parmigiano Reggiano)
1 garlic clove, minced
2 T unsalted butter
olive oil
sea salt to taste

In a medium saucepan, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat and add onion and garlic. Cook for about two minutes until onions are translucent, making sure not to brown the garlic. Add rice and stir with onions, letting the heat toast the rice for about a minute. Turn heat to medium and add wine and cook until most of it evaporates. Then start adding in the stock, using a ladle to add two to start. Continue cooking for about 15 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon and adding two ladles of stock along the way as the stock gets absorbed, until rice is al dente, or almost done. Half-way through cooking your risotto, add the lemon zest and mint.

When done, remove saucepan from the fire and stir in butter and cheese. Set aside to stay warm.

Season your scallops with salt and pepper. In a non-stick fry pan or skillet, warm a tablespoon of olive oil, then add the scallops and cook for about two minutes. Add a tablespoon of butter and let cook for about 30 seconds then flip the scallops over and cook until opaque and firm to your liking. (Probably another two minutes.) Before removing the scallops, squeeze some lemon juice on top. Plate scallops immediately over the risotto and serve warm. (Click here to view my demo on pan-searing scallops.)

Makes one serving as an entrée or three small starter plates.

Pair with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

TIPS: Seared scallops go well over anything. Besides risotto, you can serve your scallops on top of a vegetable puree or mash, polenta, cous cous or on top of a green salad.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Food Paparazzi

When shopping at a farmers’ market, you sometimes run into local chefs, especially those who specialize in seasonal, local, fresh ingredients. Last Saturday while at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, I noticed Chef Daniel Patterson of Coi doing some shopping.

Coi has been mentioned as among the best restaurants in publications like the New York Times and Food and Wine Magazine, but Patterson already established a name for himself in San Francisco at his previous restaurant, Elisabeth Daniel, and his past stint at Frisson. He’s also a good writer, having contributed to the Times Food Section.

You can usually pick out the chefs shopping at the market because they’re often pushing a cart filled with boxes of produce and meats. And if you really want to celebrity chef-gaze, you should hang out by the valet section on Embarcadero at the front of the Ferry Building because most chefs will often load up their goods into their cars there. (And while I do sound like a stalker, I assure you that I do not hang out at the valet waiting for chefs. Really.)

While Patterson looked vaguely familiar when I first noticed him, I wasn’t really sure until a farmer said “Hi Daniel” and I noticed his cart had containers labeled “Coi.” Still, I’m a bit shy about approaching chefs who I haven’t formally met, so instead I just channeled my inner paparazzo to shoot this photo of him. He was buying a bunch of citrus at one stand and had already loaded up on cheese, lamb, and several different types of micro greens and sprouts.

Coincidentally, I have reservations for Coi next week, which will be my first visit. I’m looking forward to tasting a dinner made with ingredients hand-picked by the chef! Coi celebrates its two-year anniversary next month.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Jamie At Home: Episode 11, Winter Salad

Jamie Oliver’s in his garden, and it looks like a storm is brewing. He says it’s rainy and windy. But despite the dreary weather, Jamie’s going to pick through whatever vegetables he has in his garden to make some wicked salads. Ooops, he almost trips over a planter box as he’s walking away.

Gosh, it’s really windy. I feel like someone should tie Jamie down so he doesn’t blow away. He picks some radicchio, treviso (which is the Italian version of radicchio), land cress (which I’ve never heard of but Jamie says it’s watercress that doesn’t grow in the water but the land) and mustard cress, which is his favorite salad of the year.

Roast Carrot and Avocado Salad

Jamie’s out of the wintry weather outside and in his tiny tool shed. He says he’s going to make a salad, but not the typical crunchy salad. He’s going to spice up it, Moroccan style. (Complete recipe at the Food Network Web site here.)

He boiled some organic carrots (they’re the multi-colored ones, also known as heirloom) for about 15 minutes and drained them. While warm, he tosses them with salt, pepper, red chili and cumin. He has this really interesting red glass shaker that he puts everything in and just shakes until it gets ground up. I guess you could use a spice grinder, but that red thing looks cool. Wonder where I can get one?

He adds thyme and garlic to his red smasher and shakes that up more, creating a paste. He adds some olive oil and a swig of vinegar (about a tablespoon and a half) and pours it over his carrots, then places everything in a roasting tray. He cuts a lime and orange in half and places them face down in the tray with the carrots. This will be for his dressing. Everything goes in the oven and bakes for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

He peeled two avocados and quarters them up to add to the salad. He combines it with the carrots and then works on the dressing using the roasted orange and lime, squeezing out the juice from both. He adds to the juice an equal amount of olive oil and a pinch of salt. He tastes it and decides to add a hint of vinegar.

Making what is pretty much croutons, Jamie grills a slice of bread in a pan and then rips it apart onto his salad. He adds a bunch of greens: radicchio, rocket, beet root leaves. They all go onto the salad with his dressing and he tosses everything together. You’d think he’s done, but no, it keeps going. He adds a spoonful of yogurt (he says you can use sour cream) and then more greens and finally, some hemp seed. Oh, and a drizzle of olive oil. Now he’s done. That’s a big salad.

Amazing Winter Salad

Jamie says he’s going to do something unusual by making a crunchy salad using root greets. First he’s making an unusual dressing, starting off by simmering six garlic cloves in a pint of milk in a saucepan. He’s trying to get them soft, and he says it should take about 10 minutes. He adds some anchovies including the oil from the can into the garlic milk.

Now he starts cutting up a bunch of things, and really he’s trying to get a mix of colors, textures and crunch. Jamie starts with carrots, that he cuts thin and places them in a bunch on a platter. It really looks like he’s making a crudite. Then he cuts a raw beet root (very thin), celery, cauliflower, fennel and a black radish. I’ve never seen a black radish, but since he has a big one, he says to peel it and inside it’s white like a normal radish. So he really defeats the purpose of having a black radish, me thinks. His last vegetable to add to his platter is a celeriac, which Jamie says he has the darndest time to grow in his garden.

For the dressing, he uses a hand blender to puree his garlic milk dressing and he adds more olive oil and some vinegar. You can tell he loves this dressing, which kind of looks like a buttermilk dressing. He pours it into a bowl and places it onto the platter of vegetables. So he says this would be it and you could be done, but he also likes to present it like a normal salad and he throws all the vegetables into a bowl and tosses them with the dressing, which kind of made it look like a soup. The colors of all the vegetables are incredibly beautiful, though. (You can check out the complete recipe here, although what's weird is that the photo on the Food Network site for the recipe doesn't look like the crunchy salad and actually looks like the tuna salad that Jamie's making below. How weird.)

Tuna Ceviche with Herb Shoots

I feel like Jamie’s making dinner because it’s totally dark outside while he’s sitting in his sun room reading to make his next salad with this humongous blue fin tuna that most have cost him a lot. But first he fries up some ginger sticks and garlic slices that he’s going to add to his salad. He fries them up in sunflower oil.

Jamie slices up his tuna, first in half then into very thin slices, placing them almost like a fan around a plate. He adds a handful of sprouts and places them in the middle in a big pile. He says he wants to make the dressing using the Japanese yuzu, which is a citrus that is very hard to find in London, of course. (I think we can find it at the farmers market sometimes in California.) So he’s going to make a citrus dressing to try to match the flavor of the yuzu, so he combines the juices of a Clementine, tangerine, lime and grapefruit. He seasons with salt and he thinks it’s brilliant, very close to the yuzu.

Jamie sprinkles some of the fried ginger on top along with garlic chips, and then finishes it off with his citrus dressing. Now that’s a nice light dinner that should brighten any winter night.

Jamieisms heard in this episode:




Jamie At Home airs on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. on the Food Network. Visit Jamie’s Web site at More on the accompanying book for the series here.

Chocolate Bunnies for Everyone!

Chocolate Easter baskets photographed at Scharffen Berger Chocolates in San Francisco.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Usher in Spring With Asparagus

You can find a lot of asparagus these days, in the grocery stores and the local farmers' markets. They're getting nice and thick and so versatile. You can roast them, grill them, put them in a salad or stir-fry, or make soup. And they're one of the few spring vegetables that are returning to the farmers' markets, which are going to be really fun and plentiful in the months to come. Can't wait! (BTW, the shot above is from the Berkeley Downtown Farmers' Market, which occurs every Saturday morning in the street one block east of the Berkeley Downtown BART station.)

Friday, March 21, 2008

People Coming Together in the Name of Cheese

The Cheeseboard Collective was founded in the late 1960s in Berkeley. So you know it’s going to be quirky. The quirk here is that every employee is an equal partner, sharing in the power and the success.

The Cheeseboard has grown so popular over the years that it’s credited along with Chez Panisse across the street on Shattuck Avenue for giving this area of North Berkeley the tag “Gourmet Ghetto.”

Last weekend I went to check out this Berkeley institution for the first time. Come join me, won’t you?

It was around 10:30 a.m. and the place was already packed with people at the cheese counter. There were all sorts of cheese from everywhere, but mostly California and the rest of the United States. Funny, I don’t really recall smelling a lot of stinky cheese, which I often associate with fromage shops.

The bread selection is pretty big, and according to its Web site the bread is also one of the big money makers for the collective. Bread and cheese? What could be better?

I liked how everyone working behind the counter seemed to be really happy. And they were chatting with customers like they all were regulars.

I liked the color scheme and décor near the registers. It really gave it that feeling of the old Berkeley Arts & Crafts movement. While the visit to the Cheeseboard was fascinating itself, the real reason I came all the way to North Berkeley was to try the pizza at the next door Cheeseboard Pizza (which formed its own smaller, separate collective in 1990).

The pizza restaurant was closed and didn’t open until noon for lunch. So I walked around to kill time. I came back 10 minutes before the doors open to find a line already forming. What’s the deal? Here I am at the end of the line. A few minutes later, the line extended past me and the doors still hadn’t open.

This is the pizza of the day. What’s funny is that when I saw this board, I thought it was a list of different pizza flavors for the day so I had my mind all set on a potato pizza with pasilla chili. Turns out, these are all the ingredients in just one pizza. Cheeseboard makes only one pizza each day and it’s one of those take-it-or-leave-it kind of thing. It’s all very utilitarian and Berkeley-like. If you can’t read it, the pizza on this day was roasted potato (comforting), pasilla chili (didn't taste it), onions (not my favorite topping), feta (yum), mozarella cheese (double yum), cilantro (decoration mostly), garlic, olive oil (maybe that's why it was so shiny) and limes (on the side really).

Here are the workers busy handing out the pizza of the day to the masses. I guess it makes it much easier when you just have one pizza and you can just bake tons of them and have them stacked up ready for sale.

I ended up just getting a slice of pizza (cost $2.50) and a drink. I was able to find a spot at the communal table inside and the couple sitting next to me had half a pizza for $10. I’m guessing a whole pizza would have cost $20. Hard to say because there weren’t any prices written any where. I guess people are so used to buying the same pizza all the time that the Cheeseboard doesn’t need to list the prices. Another thing: it's cash only (or checks) but no credit or debit cards.

They have a band playing for tips, which gives it a fun festive vibe on a Saturday. With the line out the store, it’s almost like a street fair.

I have to say that I was a bit bewildered by the line for the pizza. Don’t get me wrong, the quality of the ingredients was great and I love the combination of flavors. But I thought the crust was a bit soggy and there was a greasy sheen to the pizza that I’m not a fan of, so not sure if I would stand in line every week for what you get.

Despite the pizza being just so-so, I can see why this place is an institution and a great gathering place for cheese lovers.

Cheeseboard (store), 1540 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. PH: 510.549.3183 (Open Monday through Saturday, closed on Sundays.)

Cheeseboard Pizza, 1512 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. PH: 510.549.3055 (Lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Saturday, closed Sundays and Mondays.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Top Chef: Season 4, Episode 2

‘I’m Just Putting Perfume on a Pig’

Previously on Top Chef: Everyone arrives in Chicago and we find out that one couple arrived together (the two ladies from San Francisco), Stephanie is shaky when saucing (say that 10 times fast), Richard releases smoke and aroma (um, the good kind you silly) and Nimma was really salty. She’s the first cheftestant sent packing.

Padma goes over the prize list again and they all compete for the title of … TOP CHEF.

Sunrise over the Chicago skyline and the lake. Obligatory joggers who are everywhere (you should see them around my neighborhood in the mornings). And Dale yawning. Stephanie is already up and working out. That girl can curl. Then we find out that Valerie, who’s from Chicago, knows Stephanie because they worked at a restaurant together years ago. This business is so incestuous. Next week we find out Andrew and Spike were separated at birth.

We check in on our favorite lesbian couple, Zoi and Jennifer, and they’re sharing each other’s black crocs. This is why I’m single. I would never share footwear with my partner. [Yes, famous last words. ;-) ]

Quickfire challenge: The cheftestants meet Padma at the local farmers’ market, Chicago’s Green City Market. Yay, I love farmers’ markets! And so does Valerie who thinks she has the home field advantage because she says she shops at the Green City Market all the time. Padma tells them their challenge is to find the freshest ingredients to make a dish, but they can only use five ingredients (salt, pepper, sugar and oil doesn’t count). Winner gets immunity.

The cheftestants are off and running, jumping over a few kids to get to the stands. Spike is chillin’ listening to music. He’s my new favorite; he’s totally funny. Richard is looking over some eucalyptus leaves. You’d think with only five ingredients, he’d maybe want something more edible. Is he cooking for koala bears? (Oooh, zoo animal foreshadowing without even trying.)

Everyone’s shopping for protein and apparently the Green City Market sucks when it comes to that because the cheftestants are disappointed at the frozen meat that’s on sale. Australian Mark is in his own time zone and he’s totally frustrated at how slow. everyone. moves. … at the. market. At one point he basically opens up a farmer’s cooler to see what she has, and she’s all like, “excuse me?” He is in such a rush that he leaves another stand without his purchase (after clearly asking for a receipt).

Because Mark’s accent can be so heavy at times, I couldn’t really make out what ingredient he left behind. I think he said leeks. It was some kind of greens, and he eventually substitutes it with butter when making his dish because if you don’t have salad, add fat.

Back in the Top Chef kitchen we meet this week’s special guest judge, the molecular master and bearer of odd haircuts Wylie Dufresne, chef and owner of wd-50 in New York. You just know Richard’s just ready to pee in his pants at his excitement over seeing Wylie.

The cheftestants have 30 minutes to make their dishes, and everyone’s off and running in the kitchen. Richard says he’s making a classic braised chicken dish but he’s going to pump it up with the fragrance of the eucalyptus leaves. Spike unpacks his tenderloin tips and says they look like dog food.

You know, I probably should have paid more attention at how the dishes looked when they were finally done instead of typing away trying to get all the ingredients. Sigh, recapping is hard when you’re not taping the show. (I can only tape one show at a time and right now I’m taping "Men in Trees." Someone has to watch it, 'kay.) Anywho, here’s what I could figure out:

Richard tells Padma that eucalyptus is edible in small doses. He makes a braised chicken soup dish with apples.

Ryan makes steak with lettuce and radishes and something else. You know having worked at a San Francisco café that he’d be good at making simple, quick dishes with clean flavors.

Dale makes an egg dish with mushrooms and shallots.

Valerie seared a rib eye with sweet potato puree. Wylie thinks it’s refreshing and juicy.

Spike did apples with his tenderloin tips that he’s already apologizing for. Wylie says he thought he was going to make a steak sandwich. Spike is all, duh, next time bro, just for you.

Erik pan-seared some lamb chops.

Mark made sirloin with turnip puree, mushrooms and peach cream. Wylie knows Mark left a bag behind and says he likes the sweetness of the peach contrasting with the savory turnip. He also tells Mark “nice sideburns” as he walks away. So inappropriate. It’s like how David Cook keeps winking at everyone when he’s being lambasted by Simon on American Idol. Huh, I think I watch too much TV.

Andrew made something that I don’t remember but it really doesn’t matter because apparently Andrew is the kid in class who doesn’t listen to instructions. He used balsamic vinegar as an ingredient but didn’t count it as one of his five because he thought it was one of the excluded items (like salt and oil). He’s scatter brain like that, he says.

In the end, Wylie doesn’t like Spike’s chopped meat that should have been a sandwich, Erik’s uncomposed lamb chops, and Richard’s eucalyptus-smelling chicken, which Wylie thought was a bit greasy. Richard’s worried his molecular gastronomy card is going to be revoked.

The standouts were Ryan’s simple steak dish, Valerie’s flavorful rib eye and Mark’s sirloin with peaches. Mark (and his “awesome” sideburns) wins immunity.

Commercials. It’s raining Hershey’s Kisses. Doesn’t that brunette look like Cameron Diaz? … I would find it annoying if my dog kept yelping “sausage” all day like in that Bud Light commercial.

For the elimination challenge, the cheftestants draw knives and they’re all confused because they’re seeing words like “vulture,” “lion,” “bear,” “gorilla,” and “penguin” printed on the sides. Some speculate that they’re going to be cooking these animals. (BTW, Andrew makes this funny growling sound like a big lion; he really should be a voice in an animated movie.) Turns out, those are the names of their three-member teams.

Padma tells them they’ll be catering a staff party for 200 at the Lincoln Park Zoo. The twist is they have to make dishes that are based on the food their animal eats. (Zoi’s all nervous because she’s wondering what vultures eat. She guesses road-kill and rats. Wow, can’t wait to see what kind of dishes she comes up with for that.)

Lucky for Zoi and the rest of her team that vultures eat fish, rabbits and lamb. Yum.

The teams start throwing out ideas for their dishes. Ceviche for Team Penguin, honeycomb with lavender for the Bears. The editors start to pull out the odd team dynamics. Most notable? Dale is a control freak and doesn’t want to play with his team. Antonia thinks Valerie isn’t pulling her weight and Valerie is basically just the quiet mouse on Team Gorilla.

The next day, they all wake up talking about what kind of animal they’d be. But I’m distracted because Mark is wearing this black headband that’s pulled way back and he looks like Joan Rivers after her 100th facelift. Dude, that’s such not a good look for you. I thought he was wearing it to get those curly hair of his out of his face as he washes up for the morning, but the dude is playing pool, people! It’s freaking me out.

The cheftestants are at Whole Foods with their budget of $500 shopping for ingredients. Spike is molesting the produce section, and Lisa falls down and squishes some kind of vegetable. Nikki is asserting herself in Team Bear and insists on spending some of the money for table decorations, prompting Dale to interview that this is not Top Design.

Back in the kitchen, there’s more running and now Dale is wearing a headband. It’s reproducing! It’s the invasion of the headbands! If Tom Collichio shows up wearing a headband, that’s it. I will not watch this show anymore! I mean it.

We start to see what the teams are making. Team Penguin is doing a charred squid ceviche and also Andrew wants to make a glacier out of jelly. Team Gorilla is making banana bread, of course, but Natalie is already stressing about the blinis.

In comes Chef Collichio (thankfully sans headband). He visits each team but he really doesn’t say anything interesting or noteworthy. Thanks Tom for visiting. BUH-bye.

You know, I’ve said before that Andrew and Spike look like twins, except Andrew is the jittery one. I think they’re both really funny. They have this funny exchange at the refrigerator where Spike checks out Andrew’s jelly glacier and he stabs at it with his finger. Andrew’s all like “you’re going to break it.” Spike’s like “you told me to touch it.” Andrew’s like “touch it, not stab it.” LOL, I don’t know why I find that exchange cute but I do.

Dale says the stuffed mushrooms his team is making looks weird, and Spike says they look like turds. Nikki made them and she’s trying to pretty them up with some chives or chervils.

Over at Team Gorilla, Stephanie’s crab dish is falling apart because her celery chips are soggy, so they end up making a salad for the base. Shaky Hands Stephanie is now Totally Stressed Stephanie on this episode.

The cheftestants arrive in this beautiful room at the zoo with a lot of brick walls. They spend an hour setting up their stations. Team Bear is still wondering about the mushrooms. Dale sprinkles some cheese on them, saying in his interview that “At that point I was just putting perfume on a pig.” Ha! Too funny.

Padma arrives with the judges, including the return of Gail Simmons. The guests follow soon after. Hey, I see a woman wearing a zebra-print blouse! Typical.

As everyone’s checking out the different stations, Team Bear decides to pull their mushrooms because they’re cold (and ugly).

Wylie and Tom are checking out Team Lion and Wylie likes the beet salad with yuzu and the bison tartar. (Isn’t it funny how the boys are checking out the food together and the girls, Padma and Gail, are off on their own checking out the food. I notice this always happens at cocktail parties. Why can’t the sexes eat together? Discuss.)

At Team Vulture, Mark made anchovies in a quinoa croquette. He says it’s like a “piece of New Guinea” but I can’t get past the fact that he’s still wearing his headband in front of 200 guests. Have you no pride, man? Padma and Gail love the lamb meatballs.

Things aren’t as pretty when Wylie and Tom checks out Team Gorilla. The judges notice that the crab salad is too watery and Valerie’s black olive blini with fennel marscapone sounds delicious but isn’t. The only things they do like are Antonia’s lamb with edamane and Stephanie’s banana bread with salted caramel.

When they get to Team Bear, they try the cheese with honey and salmon with soy glaze. Padma and Gail ask about the mushrooms and Nikki makes the fatal error of bringing it out just for the judges “if you really want to taste it.” OK, so you decide it’s not worth serving to the guests, but you decide to serve it to the judges who will decide your fate? Nikki should be sent home now just for that dumb logic.

The party guests interview about their favorites, and of course everyone gets a mention. Although one honest guest said that the olive pancake (the blini) “tasted like dirt.” Ouch.

The judges do a mini huddle to discuss their favorites, and you can already tell that the mushrooms with pecorino cheese and the blinis are going to be problems.

Commercials. Jason Stratham is always running in his movies. I will not go to see “The Bank Job.” Also, the Bravo poll for the week is whether Tom Collichio is a Gorilla, Bear or Penguin. Come on, we already established last season that he’s a “bear.” Where’s my trip to Napa?

Judges table: Padma calls Teams Vulture and Penguin. Everyone loves the anchovy dish by Mark, and the lamb meatballs. For the Penguins, they liked the fun glacier and Wylie really liked the squid dish by Andrew. And since Wylie’s the guest judge, he names Andrew the winner.

Andrew goes back and tells Team Gorilla and “DA Bears” (it’s Chicago, after all) that they’re wanted at the judges’ table.

Tom lets them know that the two teams are there because they made the three worst dishes of the night: the mushrooms, blinis and crab salad.

Dale says the mushrooms weren’t executed well, and Nikki recounts her debate about whether to hold back the dish or serve the turds. Dale says they looked like shit so he added the cheese, which Tom says made it worse. He asked if he tasted it after adding the cheese, and Dale says no because he does not eat shit.

Stephanie admits that she wasn’t happy with her crab salad and that she pre-mixed the ingredients instead of waiting until they arrived at the party. (The salt pulled out all the moisture from the crab, adding more water to the dish.) Valerie also admits that the blinis shouldn’t have been made ahead of time. They were soggy and soft and Tom felt the rutabaga overpowered everything.

Gail asks Antonia who she would hire—Stephanie or Valerie—based on the dishes they made tonight. Antonia, who already interviewed earlier in the episode that she didn’t think Valerie had any skills, chooses Stephanie. Valerie feels like she’s been stabbed in the back, and with a sharp knife, not one of those floppy blinis.

The judges debate a bit and this is the most boring discussion to date. The writing’s on the wall and try as they might, the editors can’t find any reasonable clips to throw us off the scent.

Commercials. The results are in and (told you) Tom is voted as most like a bear. (61 percent)

The two teams are back for judgment. Tom does the recap and we’ve heard this already so let’s just get to Padma. She sends Valerie packing.

Stephanie looks really sad, like she was partly to blame. In a way, I blame her too. She was the one who assigned Valerie the job of making the blinis. But I guess Valerie should have spoken up and argued that the blinis should be made at the party. Oh well, she was the weakest link. At least she doesn’t have to travel far since she’s from Chicago.

Next week: The cheftestants take a field trip and it looks like they’re at a kids’ party. Chicago’s own Rick Bayless is the guest chef, and seems like there’s some major bitchfest among the cheftestants and we’re only in week 3.

Top Chef aires Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. Central) on Bravo TV. Check out videos and multiple blogs at the Top Chef Web site. Photos courtesy of Bravo TV.