Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Scoop on Dining: Bi-Rite Creamery and Bakeshop

I’m doing a two-part post this week on the “Bi-Rite Experience” in San Francisco’s Mission District. On a block of 18th Street, it’s like Bi-Rite is taking over the neighborhood, first with its grocery store selling fresh fruits and gourmet meats and now its ice cream destination, which I’m featuring today. Come back tomorrow for a tour of the Bi-Rite Market.Artisan Ice Cream with a Fifties Flair

Recently I got my cholesterol checked again because it was high last year, and now my doctor says I’m back in the normal range! So I went out to celebrate by checking out the Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco. ;-)

Opened a year ago, the tiny ice cream spot is right across the street from the Bi-Rite Market on 18th near Dolores. It’s known for its creamy, fresh ice cream made from mostly organic dairy products (primarily from Straus Organic Dairy). They say they make their ice cream in small batches, supposedly emphasizing the home-made aspect and giving a dig to the mass produced ice creams like Haagen-Dazs.

Here’s my visit from this past weekend. I actually went twice—on Saturday on my own and then again on Sunday afternoon after the Giants baseball game with my friends David and Ann. The sacrifices I make for research.
Because I’m in marketing and do graphic design on the side, I’m always impressed by good branding. Bi-Rite does this well with its whimsical signage, including the hand-written notes all over the place. I have to note that the line didn’t seem as long and as slow as it is at my other favorite ice cream destination spot, Ici in Berkeley. Another difference? More single people in line, and not a kid in sight. There’s always an advantage to living in the city.

As you enter, there’s a ton of chocolate sauces and other items for sale along the wall. But hardly anyone was browsing. Everyone seemed focused on what to order.

Here are more organic chocolate sauces and a stack of David Leibowitz’s “The Perfect Scoop.” This book is in virtually every artisan ice cream shop. Gosh, he has a good publisher.

There’s a small refrigerator below all the chocolate sauces where you can find a drink. I love the old-time ‘50s look to all the appliances. Again, great job with creating the brand feel. You just know you can get a good bottle of Pop here.

The freezer to the side offers ice cream by the pint and a whole bunch of other things, including ice cream pies, ice cream sandwiches and coconut macaroons.

The moment of truth: Time to decide what to get. Again, love the hand-written displays—so organic and natural. Many of the flavors were focused on sweet candy inspirations, like mint chip, coffee toffee and butter pecan. Bi-Rite has less of the innovative fruit and spice flavors of Ici. It also has some odd flavors like roasted banana. I wasn’t that adventurous to try it.

The place is sooo small, but it has maybe three barstools on the side if you want to eat in. But it was such a beautiful day, I ate outside where there are a few tiny benches around the trees.

Here’s what I went with on my first visit—two scoops in a cup ($4.25). The top flavor is balsamic strawberry and underneath it is the famous salted caramel. I thought the strawberry tasted fresh, but it was just like strawberry ice cream you get at the store. Plus it had a few pieces of ice, which I thought showed a lack of perfection in technique. But the salted caramel was fantastic. It had a creamy texture similar to gelato and the flavoring was rich and deep. If I drank coffee, this would be a nice flavor to pair with a good cup of Joe.

On Sunday with David and Ann, I decided to go with my favorite flavors of lemon and ginger. So I got a scoop of each and I had them sprinkle the cookie of the day, which was a lemon-ginger snap. Yep, it was lemon-ginger overload. I liked both the lemon and ginger flavors of the ice cream, but I wasn’t a fan of the cookie. Some parts were crispy while others were stale. And I think the guy was a bit too generous on the sprinkling, if that’s possible.

This is what David and Ann went with. On the bottom is the salted caramel, of course, but on top was a new flavor: peanut butter with Fleur de Sel nuggets. Fleur de Sel, the fancy sea salt from France, is being generously used as toppings in a lot of confections these days. And why not? It’s a great contrasting flavor. The nuggets were like chocolate bits with the sea salt mixed in, and the combination with the ice cream was an amazing trick.

Bi-Rite is a fun and delicious destination for ice cream in the city, especially being near Dolores Park on a warm weekend (which will only be for the next two months in the Bay Area). It sells more variety of ice cream products, including three flavors of popsicles (pineapple, mango and kiwi for $1.95 each). The palette of flavors lean heavily on the candy (which is what my friend Ann likes) compared to the seasonal fruits and spices at Ici (which is what I like). So I say Ici is still my favorite for innovative ice cream flavors, but I wouldn’t turn down an offer to drop by Bi-Rite when in San Francisco. Especially since my cholesterol is back to normal. :)

Bi-Rite Creamery and Bakeshop, 3692 18th St. at Dolores, San Francisco. Summer hours: Sunday–Thursday, 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Friday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Sweet Nectar of Onions

I was recently having a debate with a friend about which onions were the sweetest. We talked about the Vidalia and the Walla Walla, but I told him hands-down the sweetest onions are from Maui. For awhile I saw Maui onions sold in gourmet packets at my Safeway, but then they stopped carrying them. So I had to tell my sister in Hawaii to pack some in her suitcase whenever she traveled to the Bay Area for business. (Of course, she didn’t like the idea of smuggling onions into California and getting caught by some overzealous Homeland Security officer.)

Well, my friend found Maui onions sold at his Andronico’s, so he gave me some recently. Now with too many onions on my hand, the only thing I did was to make soup! Below is my recipe for French onion soup. This is one of my favorite soups and it’s also really easy to make. But doesn’t it look classic? The recipe is, of course, reduced a bit for one or two people and I added some depth with the Worcestershire sauce, which I love for anything meaty. The Maui onions made this soup taste wonderful, and I didn’t even mind that it was hot outside. (Luckily, we’re starting to get cooler evenings in the Bay Area—that typical San Francisco summer weather pattern!) Enjoy!

French Onion Soup

Copyright 2007 by Cooking With The Single Guy

3 Maui sweet onions or 2 regular yellow onions, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T butter
½ cup dry white wine
1 14-oz. can of beef broth or 2 cups homemade beef or veal broth
1 cup water
2 T flour
1 t dried thyme
1 bay leaf
2-3 oz. Gruyere cheese
slices of French baguette

Warm olive oil and butter in a saucepan or pot. Add onions and garlic and saute for about two minutes to soften the onions (they should look translucent). Sprinkle flour over the onions and cook for a minute to get rid of the flour taste, then add white wine and cook for another minute to burn off some of the alcohol. Add broth, water, thyme and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Then reduce to simmer for about 30 to 35 minutes under the onions are tender.

Cut your baguette into bite-size pieces to create croutons. Place on baking sheet and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil then place under broiler for a minute to get a golden brown color.

When your soup is done, remove the bay leaf and then laddle the soup into oven-proof soup bowls. Float pieces of your croutons on top to cover the top layer and then grate the cheese over the croutons and bowl. Place under broiler until the cheese melts. (If not using broiler, place in oven at 400 degrees until cheese melts, about 2 to 5 minutes.)

Makes 2 to 3 servings. Makes a nice starter for a beef dinner.

TIP: I suggest cutting your baguette into smaller pieces because it makes it easier to eat. Some people like to slice the baguette and place one big piece of toast on top of the soup bowl. It looks more dramatic, but I think it’s not very considerate to your guest who has to deal with that big piece of toast on top. Also, I like to place at least one piece on top of the initial layer, sitting almost in its own layer, so that you’ll get at least one cheese crouton that’s crunchy and dry and not soaking in the soup.

SERVE IT UP: You can make the soup ahead of time and just warm it up before placing in the bowl and adding the croutons and cheese. You can even make it ahead of time and have a bowl a night for the next three nights as a quick starter to dinner or snack. But I think it helps to warm the soup up on the stovetop instead of just pouring cold soup in the bowls and hoping the broiling or oven will warm it up. It won’t thoroughly warm up before your croutons and cheese burn. So take that extra step to warm up the soup before serving.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Throw an Avocado on The Grill

Next time you fire up your grill this summer, consider throwing on a few halves of avocados. In California, we're finally seeing locally grown avocados, instead of the ones from Chile, so I've been enjoying eating them, especially since they're good for you. But as a fun party starter for a picnic, you can grill them just for less than a minute (the natural fat helps with the grilling, but you can also spray it lightly with an olive oil spray) and top them with my mango salsa recipe. It gives it a slight smokey taste, but really it's just to get those cool grill marks! Enjoy!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Mini Dish: Don Day’s Korean Burritos (New Owners)

Is that bulgogi in your burrito?

UPDATE (4/7/08): Don Day has reopened under new management. The interiors still look the same but the menu is now traditional Korean cuisine. No burritos!

UPDATE (3/03/08): This tiny restaurant closed in late 2007 and a sign says a new owner will take over. No word if they will continue with the Korean burritos.

Where I work in the Oakland-Lake Merritt area, there’s not a lot of lunch options, which is why I typically pack my own lunch and eat at my desk. But when the weather is so beautiful, like it was today, I had to step out and enjoy the sun—and hunt for some quick lunch.

That’s when I saw this sign for Korean burritos. It was outside the Don Day Korean restaurant at the corner of 14th and Webster Streets on the way to Oakland’s Chinatown.

Oakland has a very prominent Korean community, and I’ve noticed more and more Korean restaurants opening near Chinatown. Don Day is actually a place I’ve eaten before awhile back, when it was just a regular Korean barbeque joint. But in the last year, I’ve noticed that it’s gotten a new look, with new signs and a hipper, youthful appeal. It’s almost like the older Korean couple who was running the place recently retired and turned the business over to the kids.

Along with the new look, Don Day recently changed its offerings from the traditional Korean barbeque to a lunch-friendly burrito menu during the days. (You can still get the traditional barbeque dishes, with its accompanying soups and side dishes, for dinner. But only the burritos are sold during the weekday lunch.) Intrigued by the idea of a Korean burrito, I decided to check it out.

For now, Don Day offers six varieties of burritos for $4.99 (with the exception of the salmon teriyaki, which goes for $6.99). The choices include bulgogi, chicken bulgogi, spicy pork, spicy chicken, chicken teriyaki and the aforementioned salmon teriyaki.
You order at the counter (cash only) and then you can sit in the refurbished area to eat your burrito. Bulgogi is one of the more well-known Korean dishes, next to kim chee. It’s basically very thin beef marinated with soy sauce and sesame oil and has a sweet and spicy undertone. Because I didn’t want to load up on my red meat for the week, I stuck with the chicken bulgogi. I ordered my chicken bulgogi burrito, and then since it was a nice day, I took it to go and ate at a nearby park.

Here’s a shot of my chicken bulgogi burrito. It looked like any other burrito, and it’s pretty huge for $4.99.

You can’t get a real idea of the burrito unless you look inside. So here’s a shot of my Korean burrito after I took a few bites. It had the basic ingredients of a burrito: the tortilla wrap, naturally, and lettuce, some tomatoes, bean paste and meat. Overall, it tasted like a chicken burrito. There was just a very subtle sweet and tangy Korean taste that was in the sauce.

What really made my chicken burrito turn Korean was the side sauce that came with it. I’m assuming this is the bulgogi dipping sauce, which traditionally is very spicy. This sauce was just that. It was thick like hot sauce and had the underlying spicy Korean taste like what’s found in kim chee. It really made my burrito taste like a Korean burrito. But if you get this, I recommend that you just drizzle a little bit of the spicy sauce with every few bites.

Overall, it was a filling and interesting lunch at the park with my Korean burrito from Don Day. I can’t say it was necessarily anything that tasted revolutionary, but it’s a nice option to have for a quick lunch and definitely broadens my choices for the work week.

Since this is a mini review, I’m not giving it a rating. Don Day is located at 346 14th St. at Webster in Oakland. PH: 510.444.7755.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Don't Judge A Soup By Its Photo

Some of my friends ask me how I come up with recipes for this blog, and most times I'm playing around with things I've made before and switching out ingredients, or I'll get inspired by something I see in another cookbook and take it in another direction. So the weekends at my place is pretty much "test kitchen" central.

Well, I regularly post my recipes but rarely do I post the duds in the test kitchen, until now. The above is a photo of my chilled cantaloupe soup. I know, sounds great, huh? Looked even better after I photographed it. But when I tasted...eh. It was just OK. It lacked another depth in flavor. There was a very subtle cantaloupe sweetness, and I barely made out the leeks and fennel that I boiled and pureed with the cantaloupe. I had made it without any broth because I thought the sweetness of the cantaloupe would be enough. And don't get me wrong, it smelled fantastic as I was boiling the cantaloupe to soften it so I can puree it with my hand blender.

So you see, sometimes The Single Guy Chef test kitchen works. Sometimes it doesn't. I'm going to have to keep testing this chilled cantaloupe recipe. Maybe one hot summer I'll get it right. Anywho, it was just soooo pretty that I didn't want to waste this photo. If you can't taste it, at least it can maybe make you feel relaxed. That's how I feel when I look at it. Now isn't that a nice way to start the weekend? :)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dish on Dining: Oliveto Café Revisited

Rustic Italian fare in the heart of Rockridge
5655 College Ave., Oakland
PH: 510.547.5356
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

On nice summer days, people like to flock to the outdoor seating area at Oliveto Café, sipping a glass of wine with their pizzas or pasta dishes. And with a prime spot at the base of the Market Hall clock tower, you’re sure to do a lot of people watching as well.

Oliveto has been around for many years, and the upstairs dining room is the standard-bearer for fine dining in Rockridge (along with the other longtime restaurant Citron down the road). Created along the lines of Chez Panisse—that means an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients—Oliveto in recent years has been under the guidance of Executive Chef Paul Canales, who worked many years before as the restaurant’s chef de cuisine.

Similar to Chez Panisse, Oliveto offers formal dining on one level (upstairs) and a casual café with a wood-fire brick oven (downstairs). Last weekend, I decided to have an early dinner at the café with my friends John and Jessie. (Some of you may recall that I’ve been designing John’s Web site. And I’m almost done!)

All the outdoor tables were filled, so we settled for a table near the sun and decided to drown our disappointment with a round of dry martinis. (Yum) The café has a clean, elegant look often accented by a beautiful floral arrangement. The service when we were there were friendly and not at all standoffish.

The café has a limited menu compared to the upstairs dining room (prices also about $5-6 cheaper), and it focuses primarily on simple, Italian dishes. It’s also very kid-friendly with at least a pasta and pizza selection.

We decided to start with the antipasto misto, which was a mixed plate of golden beets, purslane, buffalo mozzarella, toasted almonds and marinated olives. The platter looked beautiful, and everything was simply dressed with either vinegar and olive oil or served naturally. Jessie commented that his yard in San Jose is overrun by purslane, considered a weed and sometimes used as landscaping. So it was interesting to see it being served at Oliveto. (And I’m noticing it on a few other menus around town as well—maybe because it’s so easy to get!)

For our meals, Jessie had the albacore tuna, which was lightly dressed with cherry tomatoes and arugula. John eyed a nearby table’s pasta dish and ordered something similar, the pasta al forno trompetti al ragu. Both of their dishes were perfectly cooked, although Jessie’s tuna dish reminded me of a similar simple tuna dish at Perbacco. (BTW, I learned that Italians like to eat their tuna more on the well done side than rare like the Japanese. Jessie’s tuna was somewhere in between.)

I ordered the arrosto del giorno, or roast of the day, which was a Hoffman Farm hen served with dandelion greens and crispy potatoes. The hen was also perfectly cooked (that became a recurring theme for the expert hand of the chef working that day) with a wonderfully golden brown skin and tender, scrumptious white meat. This was also my first time tasting a Hoffman Farm hen, and I highly recommend you ordering this if you ever see Hoffman Farm as the source for poultry on a menu. I wasn’t a fan of the dandelion greens, however, which were a bit more tough and bitter for my tastes (I would have preferred arugula or even fresh spinach). But I was an instant fan of the crispy potatoes. They were tiny, dice-sized golden brown nuggets of crunch. Again, perfectly cooked.

We ended our meal with a chocolate dessert. It was called a tartufatti with amarena cherry pieces around it. It was chocolate ice cream encased in some kind of chocolate shell that was pretty darn hard to break into. Plus, it didn’t look very appetizing. (There’s always a risk, IMHO, of making chocolate balls with little bumps around it. Eeeww.)

Oliveto Café is a beautiful dining area with expertly executed dishes. The choices are simple and basic—more rustic than refine. So don’t come expecting to be wowed with innovative combinations of ingredients or fancy plating. Simplicity is the key here. It’s a great place to have a casual dinner while still feeling like you’re getting the special treatment.

Single guy rating: 3.5 stars (quality ingredients showcased simply)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Oprah-Okra. Okra-Oprah.

I just realized okra, one of my favorite southern vegetables, sounds a lot like Oprah, who sometimes talk with a Southern accent. Anywho, today I’m cooking with okra because I saw this beautiful basket of fresh okra at the farmers market this weekend and had to buy them.

Now you’re probably wondering how a boy from Hawaii developed a taste for okra? My mom used to cook with it, making a beef stir-fry. I remember the gooey, sticky okra looking like slugs, but I just gravitated to the hearty, thick skin. And since then I’ve enjoyed it in the more traditional form as the base of gumbo, one of the more festive comfort food dishes I know.

So below is my quick recipe for okra stir-fry with beef, playing off the traditional pairing my mom used to make. It might take some getting used to the odd gooey nature of okra, but it’s definitely something different for the dinner table. Enjoy!

Okra Beef Stir-Fry

Copyright 2007 by Cooking With The Single Guy

6-8 oz. good cut of beef (such as New York or sirloin), cut into bite-sized slices
2 cups okra, cut diagonally
1 yellow bellpepper, cut into cubes
1 shallot, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 t fresh ginger, grated
1 t white pepper
1 T soy sauce
1 T xiao-shing wine (cooking rice wine) or sherry
1 T sesame oil
1 T oyster sauce
2 T canola oil
1/2 T cornstarch

Marinate your beef in a small bowl with white pepper, soy sauce, xiao-shing wine, sesame oil, ginger and garlic. Set aside for at least 10 minutes.

In a wok or large skillet, warm oil over high heat. Add shallots and stir-fry for about 30 seconds and then add beef. Brown both sides, about 1 minute each, and then remove from wok. (Remove the beef after it’s brown but still red inside.)

Add more oil into the wok if needed and then add bellpepper and okra. Stir-fry for about 2 minutes. Season with salt (about a teaspoon). If your wok is getting too dry, add some of the marinade sauce leftover from your meat. Just as the okra looks like it’s tender, add back in the beef and blend all the ingredients with a drizzle of oyster sauce. Then create a slurry with the cornstarch and some water (about ¼ cup) and then add slowly to your stir-fry to create a sauce. Add only enough to make as much sauce as you like.

Makes 2 to 3 servings. Serve with steamed rice.

Pair with a glass of pinot noir.

TIP: If you have really good beef, you don’t really need to cook it all the way through. Some pink inside will be nice. That’s why I recommend taking the beef out of the wok while you’re cooking the vegetables and then adding it back in the end. Also, when adding the beef to the wok for the first time, don’t add all the marinade with it or else you’ll have soup. Add just enough to create a sizzle but don’t drown your meat. You can add more marinade as you’re cooking whenever your wok looks like it’s drying out.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Next Food Network Star: Season 3 Finale

After just eight episodes (gosh, didn’t it seem longer?), tonight we finally find out who will be The Next Food Network Star. We cut to a shot of the Statue of Liberty at night and then we’re told by the mysterious voice that it’s a live show from the Food Network’s Manhattan studios, but it’s really not live because it’s probably taped delay here in California where everyone probably already knows who’s the Next Food Network star but I was too lazy to Google it.

So it’s either going to Rory, who cooks “real food for real people” (which is always better than fake food for fake people), or Amy, the “gourmet next door” (as opposed to one that’s galloping).

We get the opening scenes of the show (didn’t Rory look weird with that pseudo military cap trying to look all tough in the hood?) and then we cut to the live studio audience. Damn, they all look so old. Is this the typical Food Network demographic? Where’s the little girl crying for Sanjaya? Out comes Marc Summers, who they dragged out from Season 1. (Every year Marc’s role in the show gets less and less. Next year they’re probably just going to have him come out to deliver the envelope with the winner’s name.)

Marc says someone is going to get their own food show, just in case some of you forgot why you tuned in. Then he asks the audience who’s it going to be? Of course, I hear mostly people yelling “Amy,” but Marc, trying to keep up some semblance of mystery, says “it’s split down the middle.” (Hey, how come the audience doesn’t have any signs with their favorite’s names like American Idol? And did you notice they never really reveal the gazillion number of votes received, if even. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s see how we can bore viewers for the next 55 minutes.)

Marc introduces a taped segment reviewing the past season. And really, I don’t need to recap the recap when you can just read my previous recaps of Episodes 1 through 7. We do get to remind ourselves of some of the rejects, like Patrick from Seattle, who probably had the best cooking skills but has the honor of being one of the first two to leave the show. What’s interesting is some of these people are talking about their cooking vision, and it totally doesn’t sound like what they demonstrated on the show. Ooops, my screen just went black for a bit. Did that happen to you guys? I hate cable. Oh, there’s that clip of Paul talking about the country of “Plummy.” (Told you they would show that again. )

Geesh, finally. That was a long segment. OK, they bring out the two finalists and they’re both wearing black and white. (I’m not going to discuss the style of the clothing because I think it’s sexist to describe what women are wearing unless it’s relevant to the topic. So since this is not Project Runway, let’s move on.) Amy and Rory talks about “their journey” to this point together. You can tell Rory is more nervous than Amy. Amy’s cool like a cucumber. Rory’s from Texas, so she’s probably cool like a cactus, which really isn’t that cool. More prickly. And then Marc does the thing Ryan Seacrest always does on AI, which is tease that we’re going to find out who wins this, but of course they never ann ounce that right after the break and we know it, so why tease that fact people?

Commercials. Memo to Crystal Light. I like my water plain, thank you very much. Please don’t pump it up. Sincerely, Single Guy Chef.

Marc asks Amy and Rory if their lives have changed because of their new found celebrity. Amy’s talking about being recognized grocery shopping for a big bag of gummy bears. She’s such a mom. Rory says her small town couldn’t get the Food Network, so the town banded together and called the local cable network and now the Food Network is on Channel 99 in Vega, Texas. I’m sure the Food Network is excited to pick up the 936 additional viewers (no kidding, that really is the population of the entire town).

That’s the segue to the taped segment of Rory back in her little town of Vega. We finally see her cowboy boyfriend, who really looks more nerdy than rugged. He’s saying something about how the town is so small that when someone sneezes, it gets down to the other side of town in 10 minutes. All I can think of is, gawd, didn’t you learn any manners? Please cover your mouth when you sneeze! Rory reveals that she’s from New Jersey but went to Texas on another reality show where they took city slickers and put them in a rural town. Huh? Never heard of that show, but I bet it would have been fun. Or was that the “Simple Life”? Hmmm, Rory could be Paris. Not.

Since returning home after taping the show, Rory has opened a restaurant called Boot Hill Bar and Grill. It looks like some old town saloon. I expect Marshal Dillon to come get a drink and then beat up some bad guys who were pimping poor Miss Kitty. In Rory’s world, she’s having a private opening of her place and she’s cooking everything. The food looks pretty good and everyone’s loving it, of course. What’s weird is she’s wearing this bright red bandana and at the end of her opening, she’s talking in a black cocktail dress but still wearing that weird red bandana. She is so blue collar. (I know I contradicted myself about not talking about what women wear, but that black cocktail dress-red bandana combo couldn’t be ignored.)

Rory says after the segment that she learned a lot about patience and to be proud of herself. In the crowd are her divorced parents who are both remarried and her cowboy boyfriend.

They go to commercials, and see, Marc Summers does that stupid Ryan Seacrest thing where he teases about announcing the winner. Marc, we know we have 45 minutes of filler still to go. Commercials. Hey, have you all listened to Michael Tolcher’s “Voila” song on the Hilton commercial? I haven’t seen it on any other shows, so I’ll be sad to not hear it anymore. Ugh, Daddy Day Care movie preview. Cuba Gooding Jr. has really picked bad movies since he won an Oscar. So sad.

Marc reminds us that this season a woman will win this series, just in case anyone was confused of Amy or Rory’s gender. (It is actually nice to have a girl winner after two seasons of guys.) Then we see the taped segment of Amy back home in San Diego, where she grew up and is a third-generation San Diegan. She has a son with a pretentious name (“Indiana”), and her daughter, Scarlett, is the typical high-pitched screaming 1 year old.

It sounds like she lives in a compound with her parents in one house and her own family nearby, including a whole bunch of siblings. She’s preparing a barbeque for the whole family. Amy says she never used to grill until she got on the show and now she says she grills almost every night. She’s going to be the female Bobby Flay. It looks like a really big family and you know what? All the women in the family have big black hair. What’s weird is she doesn’t talk about her French husband. In the clip she’s sitting on the couch next to some guy, but I’m not sure if that’s her husband. It’s really weird she doesn’t mention him or show footage of him. And when she introduces who’s in the live audience rooting for her, it’s her mother, aunt, and two sisters. But not her hubby? Hmmm, odd.

Now it’s reunion time and they bring back all the other contestants. Everyone’s dressed really nice, except JAG (hisss) who comes in wearing a big white shirt and jeans. He does look like he lost some weight. Must have been the stress of lying. See, it never pays to fib, unless you want to lose weight. It’s the lying diet.

They show a taped segment about the 11 contestants living together. It’s soooo boring. They talk about snoring and Amy talking in her sleep. Gosh, can we see clips of people flossing their teeth? Maybe that’ll be more interesting. Oh, there’s a segment of the guys without their shirts. Hey, maybe this segment is starting to look up. Paul has the best body, I say. Oh no, Michael Salmon shirtless! OK, end this already.

Now they talk about the challenges and they show a segment about the wedding challenge and the “controversy” of Tommy making a vegetarian polenta with chicken broth. They ask Nikki why she didn’t say anything when she knew Tommy was using chicken broth. She says Paul told her not to. Paul’s laughing but you know in his head he’s thinking how to get back at her.

The other controversy is Colombe and the whole shopping bag being left behind that belonged to Paul. They show the clip of Amy fighting with Colombe, and that was definitely a drag out, knock down fight. But in the end Colombe, of course, says they’re all fine now. I’m so relieved.

Other boring reviews include the “meatloaf frying” incident from the military challenge. And now Marc asks JAG if he has something to say. He just thanks the fans and says “it ain’t over.” Um, I’m pretty sure it is in just 30 minutes.

Then the blooper reel, and basically they’re just showing people laughing. There’s just only a few bloopers like when Guy Fieri says New Jersey Nicks instead of Nets, and Paula Deen points out that Miss Everyday Italian Giada has spinach in her teeth. There’s this one scene where JAG slips some ice cubes down Paul’s pants. And I’m really surprised he could get any down there because those pants looked pretty tight. Tommy is seen dancing often in the clips, which prompts Marc Summers to do an impromptu “So You Think You Can Dance.” This is going to be so sad. Adrien comes out in support of his buddy Tommy, and they both do this weird robot-like dancing. Sigh, this moment probably best sums up this entire season! Forced and robotic!

More boring recaps: Nikki dropping her dessert on Bobby Flay’s suit during the wedding challenge. (Again, she says Paul made her do it.) Commercials. Design Star is back on HGTV. You know I’ll be watching that after this.

Now they talk about how they hated the elimination round. Nobody liked going home (except I bet Tommy). A few tears were shed. We’re reminded that Amy almost dropped out two episodes ago. She’s so lucky the producers knew better. They bring out the judging panel of Bob Tuschman, Susie Fogelson and Bobby Flay. Bob Tuschman says the judges may have come off mean but it was all “tough love.” Nobody has the guts to bitch about the judges. They know better. Bobby Flay says that if he were a finalist, he would have come in seventh because he probably wouldn’t be able to do the Iron Chef commentary and he’s only done one wedding cake. Thanks for sharing, Bobby.

There’s Bob Tushchman trying to make amends now by kissing up to Vivien and Patrick, saying they deserved so much better and are very talented. Oh Bob, unless you’re trying to sign them to their own shows, they don’t care what you think anymore. Patrick informs everyone that soon after he got kicked off, his wife gave birth to their son. So I bet his wife was glad that he got kicked off early.

There’s more boring banter between the contestants and the judges. Paul gets one last attempt to put the spotlight on him by asking Susie what he should do to become the next Food Network star, and she says to cook better food. Bobby does say something profound about how you should be nervous about your passion, because then that means it’s real. I believe that’s true, because I’m nervous every day.

They show a segment about how everyone got sad whenever someone left the show. This is the tear-jerker taped segment. And it seems like most of the crying were done by the guys. Paul and JAG are continuously talking about their close bond, and all I can say is “get a room.” JAG is constantly touching Paul’s left thigh, and even I get uncomfortable.

Finally, they’re about to announce the winner. And I can’t fast-forward any faster just to get this over with. They introduce Emeril Lagasse, who seems to be given the honor of announcing the winner every year. Emeril’s like the grandfather of the Food Network, even though he didn’t create it. Emeril says it was the most exciting season ever, and I am so not buying it. He reminds Amy and Rory that the winner will also get that big honking hybrid Mercury Mariner. (Memo to auto industry: Just because you make an SUV a hybrid doesn’t mean it’s still good for the environment. It still sucks up more fuel than other hybrids.)

They introduce the president of the Food Network who does the perfunctory congratulations. Bobby Flay hands the “magical” envelope to Emeril, who then asks the two ladies if they have any last-minute thoughts. Amy says she’s proud she made it this far; Rory gets all flekempt and says she can’t really talk. Emeril asks Bobby for help to open a simple envelope, and then he says in such an anti-climatic and quiet tone, “Amy.” Almost like he’s saying, “Amy, could you move down just a bit. Thanks. Rory, you’re the winner!” But of course, it is Amy who wins because we all know she’s the one with the poise to have her own show. But I have to say, Rory did put up a good battle and did show she could probably hold her own. So there you have it. Catch the Gourmet Next Door on the Food Network early Saturday mornings this October.

Thanks everyone for reading my recaps and for your encouraging comments. If you can’t get enough of my recaps, then be sure to check back in a couple of months when I start recapping the show, “The Next Iron Chef,” when real celebrity chefs (including San Francisco’s own Chris Cosentino of Incanto and Traci des Jardins of Jardiniere) compete to become an Iron Chef, joining the ranks of Masaharu Morimoto, Bobby Flay, Mario Batali and Cat Cora. Now that’s going to be an exciting food show to recap. Check back in October.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Cooking Demo by Joyce Goldstein

I was at the Ferry Building's farmers' market yesterday and along with all the great fresh vegetables and fruits you also learn some things about cooking. The next time you visit (market is every week on Saturday), make sure you're there around 11 a.m. because that's when they have their featured cooking demonstration at the makeshift demo area on the north side of the building facing Embarcadero.

Yesterday's featured guest was San Francisco chef and restaurant consultant Joyce Goldstein. I have to admit, I never heard of her, but I saw her book Antipasti and currently curious about anything charcuterie, I went to check it out. Of course, she didn't do a recipe from her book! :( Instead, she made some tapas dishes from her upcoming book featuring Spanish cuisine. Oh well, since I loved traveling to Spain, I stuck around and watched.

She demonstrated two quick and easy tapas that featured grilled bread, basically a crostini. Her Spanish version featured a base called Samfaina, which she called a Catalan version of the French ratatouille. (Hey, ever since Pixar made that film of the same name, EVERYONE has to talk about ratatouille these days. Ugh, and I hardly eat ratatouille.)
Goldstein basically put her base ingredients of Japanese eggplant, onions, garlic, zucchini, green and red peppers, tomatoes and parsley into the roasting pans and started to cook them down. For flavor, she added sweet pimenton, which is Spanish smoked paprika. (I use this often when making my paella.) Samfaina sounds a lot like sofrito, because the idea is to cook the vegetables all the way down until it's almost like mush. Then you can use it as a base for other dishes or sauces.
The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA for short) is the sponsor of the demos. And they got this big grill yesterday to grill the Acme bread for Goldstein's recipes. Sigh, if I had such a big grill, I would do more than just grill bread. But that's just me.
Goldstein's helpers were busy grilling bread in the back and rubbing each one with a garlic clove.
This is not the Samfaina, but another recipe Goldstein demonstrated. It was a simple white bean puree with olive oil and sea salt (reminded me of humus) and she topped it with swiss chard that was cooked down until it was soft and drizzled with red wine vinegar and more olive oil. Very Mediterranean.
Here's the grilled bread with Samfaina. I had to wait so long for this to be cut and passed around because they had to wait until the Samfaina cooled down before they could top the bread. Now basically, Samfaina would be cooked slowly at a simmer for a while before it's ready. But Goldstein, for her demo yesterday, did a shortcut and cooked it on high with a cover. So I can't say if it turned out how it typically should be. But it tasted all right. A quick and easy snack.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Seen At The Market: Lollo Rossa Lettuce

What a beautiful day to be at the farmers' market. And looking at the crowds in San Francisco, I wasn't the only one who had that idea. I was at the Ferry Building farmers' market this morning and it was packed with locals and tons of tourists soaking in the summer sun with breathtaking views of the Bay Bridge and water. This is why I live here despite the 4.2 earthquake a couple of days ago centered in Oakland (the city I live in, BTW). Anywho, there were tons of summer squash, tomatoes and other vegetables at the market, but this vibrantly red leafy lettuce caught my eye at the Green Gulch Farm booth. This is a Lollo Rossa lettuce, and it's an Italian lettuce that is more compact than the normal red leafy lettuce you see at the grocery stores. They are so beautiful.

Other notes about the market: lemon cucumbers are popping up, and I bought a bag of these cute cucumbers that look like lemon but holds such a nice crunch. I eat it by itself with a miso dressing. There are a lot of heirloom tomatoes too but still they're not at the peak of varieties, and the red flame seedless grapes (my favorites) are still not crunchy enough (probably another month). Go out and support your local farmers' market!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Dish to Go: Geta

My Go-To Place for Takeout Sushi
165 41st St., Oakland
Piedmont Avenue
PH: 510.653.4643
Hours: Mon.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5–9 p.m. Closed Sunday.
Credit cards: $10 minimum

Geta is one of those tiny gems that you really don’t want to tell people about because you don’t want the lines to get any longer for the times when you end up going for takeout. But I’m a giver. So here’s my review of this family-run, hole-in-the-wall in the Piedmont Avenue shopping district in Oakland.

My philosophy on Japanese food is it’s very hard to screw it up. Japanese dishes are relatively simple and typically tickles the palate with the right balance of shoyu. With sushi, of course, you’ve got to have the freshest fish and perfectly cooked rice to distinguish a good sushi bar from another. But when it comes to dinner to take home, I generally order the teriyaki chicken. And really, how hard is it to make grilled chicken with the shoyu-sugar marinade?

What makes Geta (I’m still not clear if their name is Geta, which sounds Japanese, or Get A, as in “Get a sushi to go”?) a gem is that it makes standard Japanese dishes for takeout taste just like you’re dining in a restaurant. Their ingredients are fresh and their servings are generous but not overly so. So that makes Geta a value meal for weeknight takeout when you don’t want to fuss with cooking after work.

I call Geta a hole-in-the-wall because its tiny quarters do feel like someone dug a hole in the building next to the Longs Drugs store and decided to put in a kitchen. When you walk into the space, with a tiny sushi bar and maybe four tables and one raised table in the back, you really do feel like you’re walking into an unmarked ramen stand in an alley in Tokyo.

Some people do eat in the tiny restaurant, but I’ve found that most people, like me, go to Geta to get a dish to go. This can be either their ready-made sushi from the refrigerated section to the right or ordering off the menu.

Like I said earlier, I generally go for the chicken teriyaki, especially since I often go to Geta after the gym and my body’s craving protein. One day I got their daily special, which was a bento-style box (bento is the Japanese word for lunch boxes where you get an assortment of items beautifully presented in a carryout box) that included chicken teriyaki over rice, 6 pieces of gyoza, soba noodles, a green salad and miso soup—all for $7.50.

When I got home, I dug into the chicken, which had a strong smoky grill flavor. The gyoza had a thin skin and were plumped with filling and pan-fried for a crispy edge. Everything else in the box was nicely made, including the leafy lettuce salad with a soy dressing and a hint of yuzu and the perfectly cooked rice. The only down side was the miso soup, which was a bit salty for my taste.

Another time, I ordered a sushi roll off the menu. Although they sold ready-made sushi in the refrigerated section, I always feel it’s fresher if they made it right then and there for me. I took home the Rock N’ Roll sushi, which is avocado and unagi (broiled eel). It didn’t taste like anything special, but it was decent and much better than the ready-made sushi you’d get at the grocery stores. And for $4.25, that’s way cheaper than my Safeway sushi.

I wanted to experiment with their donburi, which is a staple takeout item for me as well. Donburi are the rice bowls topped with a main ingredient along with egg and onion slices. I typically order the oyakodon, which is the chicken teriyaki over rice (I know, I’m such a creature of habit). But this last time I ordered the Katsudon ($5.75), which is breaded pork cutlet over rice.

My mistake in ordering this was forgetting that the crunchy skin of the deep-fried pork cutlet couldn’t possibly survive my trek home. If you ever order this to take home, remember to leave the cover slightly open to allow any of the steam from the fresh katsu to release so it doesn’t stay trap and give your dish too much moisture, thereby softening the crunchy edges of your pork. Which is what happened to me. When I got home, the katsu was soft and not very satisfying.

However, I do have to sing Geta’s praises about the egg in the dish. Most donburi are made with the egg almost scrambled with the onions. But at least this particular time, Geta gave me a katsudon where the egg looked like it was made over-easy. So by the time I got home, it was still partly cooked giving the overall dish a beautiful creamy texture (just like eating custard). Hat’s off for the Geta chefs for their expert cooking of the egg in their donburi.

Geta is nothing fancy, but just one of those places you rely on when you don’t want fancy but want something basic and hearty. The fact that it’s just 10 minutes from my home and doesn’t cost a lot makes it one of my prime takeout destinations. (And not just mines, either, based on the number of people waiting each time I’ve visited. Tip: Call ahead with your orders to avoid a wait.)

The service is always very friendly, although some times can seem frazzled when busy. But everyone waiting always seem to be very patient. Probably because they realize Geta is worth the wait.

Single Guy rating: 3 stars (satisfying value meals)

Explanation of the Single Guy Chef’s takeout rating system:
1 star = Might as well cook yourself
2 stars = Nice to know it’s an option
3 stars = Definitely will return again
4 stars = I have its number on speed-dial
5 stars = Can I live here?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Just Peachy—Part II

More on cooking with peaches: today I show you my favorite recipe, Peaches and Pork Stir-Fry. This was the first recipe I invented for my blog when I started last year, and it's one of my favorite when peach season comes around. Most people will typically make desserts with peaches, but I rarely eat dessert at home. So I use my fruits in savory dishes, and the taste of caramelized pork with the soy-fish sauce marinade in this recipe is such an amazing combo to the sweetness of the pork. I eat it and it really reminds me of what they mean when they talk about unami, that other level of tastes. Below is a quick demo on how to prep your peach, but it also shows you part of the cooking of this dish. Enjoy!

In the Kitchen: Peaches and Pork Stir-Fry

In this demo, I show you an easy way to skin a peach, revealing the beautiful orange-colored flesh that I use in a savory dish, my Peaches and Pork Stir-fry. You can get the complete recipe in my original post here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Just Peachy—Part I

Today I’m cooking with peaches, one of my favorite summer fruits. Below I’m sharing a simple recipe for a salad I put together last week after a day of cooking with sea bass. I was exhausted from cooking and wanted to do something simple and easy, so I grilled a peach and added some prosciutto I had left over from one of my bass recipes. And I got this light but filling dinner salad. I garnished it with some of the chaubier cheese I got for Bastille Day. It’s a goat and cow’s milk cheese that’s soft but hard enough to shave onto the salad. Enjoy!

Grilled Peach and Prosciutto Salad

Copyright 2007 by Cooking With The Single Guy

1 fresh peach
2 to 3 thinly sliced prosciutto strips
2 cups arugula
cheese for garnish

Balsamic vinegar dressing:
1 T dijon mustard
1 T sugar
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Remove the pit from peach and then cut into slices. Spray or brush slices with extra virgin olive oil and place on hot grill or grill pan for about a minute to get the nice grill marks. When done, toss peaches with arugula and some of the balsamic vinegar dressing. (To make the dressing, just combine all the ingredients by whisking or blending.) Tear pieces of the prosciutto over the salad and garnish with cheese shavings such as a hard goat cheese or Parmesan cheese.

Makes 1 to 2 servings.

Pair with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

TIP: To make cheese shavings, you can use a grater. But for a more rustic touch, get your vegetable peeler and shave along the side of a hard cheese to create your cheese garnish.

BROWN BAG IT: Living in California, I get the best picks of fresh peaches at the farmers markets. But if you buy your peaches from the grocery store and it's still hard from being picked early to be shipped, then just place them in a brown paper bag. They should ripen nicely in two to three days. (Be sure to check on it regularly and don't forget about it or else you'll have mold in your bag.)

SEASONAL FRUITS: This salad is nice and light for the summer and prosciutto pairs nicely with a lot of fruits. For other times of the year, experiment and substitute the peaches with figs, pears or apples.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Next Food Network Star: Episode 7

Previously on TNFNS: It was an Iron Chef challenge and Paul’s intimidated by Alton Brown, so much so that he states that plum tomatoes are from the country of “Plummy.” (Not his most shining moment, but a clip that will air again and again and again. Paul’s just lucky that the season ends next week.) JAG gets a flashback of the “you disappoint me” speech from his father, and apologizes. [[spoiler]] This is probably his easiest apology to date. [[end spoiler]] It’s goodbye to party boy Paul. Tonight: It’s media day with the final three appearing with Miss Rachel Ray. And before we head into tonight’s episode, we get the ominous music and a tease that there will be a new competitor (cut to shot of the closed swinging doors). Now that’s the way to do a preview, Food Network editors! I’m left at the edge of my seat! What’s happening? Are they bringing back Paul? Let’s watch and find out, shall we?

We get the parade of Food Network stars asking “Who will be the next Food Network star?” and then the flying glass stars making way to an opening scene of dusk in Manhattan. Gosh, I’m going to miss the sound of broken glass when this show ends.

Rory wakes up and she comments in her taped interview that she wants to win so badly, as opposed to Amy who just wants a few more minutes of sleep. Funny thing: They’re the last two women in the carriage house, so why do they still have to sleep on the top of the bunk beds? What, couldn’t they move into more adult beds? You know if I were a contestant, I would be rearranging the rooms after each elimination, giving more space to moi.

Amy says she came in thinking her selling point was the fact that she lived in Paris and knows French culinary techniques, but now she’s learned that her biggest selling point is that she’s a mom and “an extremely normal person.” Hmm, I didn’t think you were all that “un-normal” Amy. I have lots of friends who are moms who love Paris. (Just like my friend who contributes to this blog called “chez” Stella. Of course Chez Stella has been too busy being a mom to blog any recent posts since the beginning of this year! ;-)

JAG says he’s come a long way from a boy growing up getting beaten up on his way home to see what his mom was cooking. I don’t know what to say about that. How can you comment on a poor kid who gets beaten up just because he wants to eat his mom’s cooking? And why am I not surprised that JAG got into fights when he was a kid? He’s so scrappy.

The final three linger in the kitchen when up the stairs come Bobby Flay. We’ve seen Bobby so often that he might as well have been the head judge like Tom Colicchio of Top Chef . He’s followed by two young women dressed typically of working professional women in Manhattan: clean lines, solid colors from Banana, framed glasses to give you that smart but sexy look. (They’re Lisa Del Colte and Carrie Welch from the Food Network’s Public Relations Department, but really, they contribute so little to this episode you really don’t need to memorize their names.) Bobby says whoever wins this competition will have his or her own show, and will be under the wings of Lisa and Carrie, the spin doctors. Carrie tells them that the first thing is to always be positive. She’s saying this at the same time while having the most serious face I’ve ever seen. (It’s clear that she’s a graduate of the Susie Fogelson School of Marketing.)
The two take the contestants to the offices of XM Satellite Radio and tell them that they’ll be interviewed on the “Ron and Fez” Show. OK, so I don’t have satellite radio and I rarely listen to radio since I don’t commute in a car. So I don’t know Ron or Fez. I’m just hoping Fez is some cute fuzzy Muppet.

Amy is up first and turns out Ron and Fez are just two typical talk show DJs. No Muppet in sight. They challenge Amy to make something out of their tray of food, and I think they’re pretty generous to call what’s on the table food. It’s really junk food, mostly doughnuts and breakfast things, and a few apples and oranges. Amy grabs a bagel and some luncheon meat and cheese and puts it in the microwave. Ron and Fez are not impressed, but Amy throws in a plug for the show saying she will be doing more “fancy-shmancy” cooking on the show instead of what just came out of the microwave. I give Amy’s radio interview a B+. (We also learn during the interview that her husband is French, which explains the living in Paris and constant talk about French cooking.)

JAG is up next and for his challenge he slices up an apple with what looks like a pocket knife and cuts a doughnut in half. Then he drizzles orange juice over the whole thing. (Whoever came up with this radio challenge should be shot. It is so boring. What kind of food did they think people could create?) Let’s just cut to the drama. Ron and non-Muppet Fez ask what kind of show JAG wants, and he talks about his Latino-Caribbean cuisine and how that’s not represented on TV. He just opened the door wide open for the line of questioning focused on why Latin cuisine is not represented on Food TV. Fez goes in for the kill and asks if JAG thinks Latin cuisine is “misrepresented on the Food Network.” (I think he meant to say “not represented.”) JAG does a nice save and says it’s not represented as much as it could be, so that’s why he’s here. I give his interview a B-.

They end with Rory and she gets the question of whom she thinks she matches up better with for the final two. Rory says it’ll be easier to beat Amy, so she would rather be matched up with her than with JAG who may get the “cultural” vote. I think that’s a broad generalization on Rory’s part that JAG will corner the Latino vote just because of his ethnicity. Anyway, her interview borders on the potentially sensitive racial vote discussion, as well as the smackdown on Amy the Pushover. For her challenge, Rory does a weird fortune cookie, honey, apple mush that she calls Asian nachos. Ha! Courting the Asian vote, Rory? She gets a D (which I bet is not her first).

The three head back to the Food Network studios where they meet Matt Coppa, the entertainment director of Star Magazine. Isn’t Star like the Enquirer? WTF? They couldn’t get any food writer from the New York Times or even bring back the Gourmet editors like they keep bringing back the same guest judges? Anywho, there’s also a photographer who’s going to do a photo shoot of the three.

Coppa interviews JAG first and asks him what he thinks about the two other remaining contestants. JAG catches on that this may be a trick question and doesn’t want to mess up like he just did on the radio show, so he diplomatically says that they’re all winners. Throughout the interview, JAG has this weird persona where he looks uncomfortable sitting there for an interview, like he’s at the principal’s office. He’s also very reticent to talk about his past, trying to steer away from too many personal questions and just focusing on the food. He’s off to the photo shoot and of course you know he hams it up for the camera and says he loves the taste of stardom.

Rory’s turn to interview and you can tell Coppa has a crush on Rory, leading off with the question that she’s an attractive woman and whether she thinks she’ll be taken seriously as a chef despite her good looks. I initially thought this was a slightly offensive question from Coppa (and as a former journalist, I consider it a stupid question), but now I think maybe he’s playing stupid and trying to throw Rory off with a sexist question. Rory gives the typical answer that looks shouldn’t make a difference in cooking, and then she goes off and does the sexy model poses with her “rack” of meat. This segment is wrong on so many levels.

Finally, extremely normal Amy talks about missing her family and finds inspiration from her working mom. BTW, Amy totally got a terrible stylist for the shoot because she has some weird hairdo that almost looks like her curls are shaped into horns. She doesn’t look normal at all.

Bob Tuschman, Susie Fogelson and Bobby Flay meet with the PR spin duo and Matt Coppa of Star Magazine for a debrief. The PR duo gives Amy high marks on the radio show, JAG was too laid back, and they say Rory screwed up in the interview, falling for all the traps like dishing on her fellow competitors. The judges ask Matt for his thoughts, and he loves Rory, of course, who he says has a lot of life. JAG sidestepped questions and Amy is the most poised and genuine. Basically, this first 15 minutes of the episode are so boring that I apologize for even recapping it with such detail.

Commercials. Snapple Earl Grey tea. You know what? I brew my own iced tea every week and sometimes use Earl Grey with Lavender. So why do I need this?
The three finalists meet Bobby who tells them they will be demonstrating their signature dish on a live taping of Rachel Ray’s talk show. And you can tell Bobby is pumping up Miss Rachel Ray, who is treated as the queen of the Food Network (with probably Emeril as the king). Bobby says “there’s no one bigger than Rachel” and calls her “the fabulous Rachel Ray.” Yawn.

They all go to the green room and Amy interviews that “we just get settled in and then you hear that voice.” Of course, she’s referring to Rachel Ray who comes in to meet the three. (I know what Amy’s talking about when she says “that voice.” On the weekends I set my television to automatically turn on to the Food Network because Rachel Ray’s 30-minute show is on in the early hours and that voice motivates me to get up out of bed just to change the channel. Awww, come on, tell me you don’t agree. Hey, who threw that bottle of EVOO at me! ;-)

Miss Ray tells the three that she’s not going to give too much advice, but then goes into telling them about talking about their culinary point of view and to be sure to tell stories because anyone can cook—pointing dramatically to herself. (I have to admit, her self-deprecating manner is appealing.)

Rachel Ray opens her show, which I’ve never watched. Backstage, the production manager Veeda is taking Amy to her mark. And I have to say, this Veeda person is great at pumping up the guests before they go on stage. She’s playing with Amy and encouraging her. I want my own Veeda with me every time I’m about to speak in front of an audience, which is basically never. So no Veeda in my pocket for me, I guess.

Amy is up first and she’s making an egg dish baked in ramekins. She loses me because first, she says the words “fancy-shmancy” twice and she already said it once earlier in this episode and that’s already her limit. Then she says something that sounds like “ca-ca” and I ask myself, did she just talk about poop? But she’s referring to some fancy-shmancy French term for the technique of baking eggs in ramekins. Anywho, she throws in butter, cream and parmesan cheese with the eggs in the ramekins. Oooh, that is sooo French and will kill you if you eat this every day. She makes some prosciutto and says another term that I don’t know as well. Sounded like “pepperon,” and something about the Basque region of France, which is close to Spain. Oh hell, it basically looks like a hash and she throws it on the side of her ramekins with the eggs and it looks like she doesn’t know how to plate her dish because half the pepperon or whatever is in the ramekin and eggs and the other half is falling all over the side. I don’t know. I didn’t really like this demonstration from Amy. I thought she seemed relax but I just got lost with the food information. She should have stuck with making a good French omelet.

Later backstage, Amy is all emotional that she was able to complete all the challenges on this show and that she’s gotten this far. Wow, she sounds like she’s already done and ready to leave now that she’s completed her goal of finishing all the challenges. What, you don’t want your own show Amy?

In the teaser right before the commercials, the Food Network editors give us more about the ending, offering up a clip of Bob Tuschman talking to someone about “rumors.” Ooooh, can it be something related to JAG and all the talk about his military background? You know, I only heard about it through the person who commented on one of my earlier posts and I never really looked into it that much myself. But I bet that’s it.

Back from commercials, Rory is up next with Miss Ray. She starts talking about “blue-collar cooking” and about her cowboy boyfriend. She’s talking a lot and you know what? She’s hardly talking to Miss Ray, who is just standing on the side like some assistant. Miss Ray has to force herself into the presentation by asking Rory questions about the steak that she’s making. Anywho, she’s grilling steak and making what she calls “chuckwagon potatoes” that are for the cowboys in her life. It’s filled with potatoes, bacon and butter and it looks like a potato salad but she’s just mixing them up and placing them on a tray and roasting everything in the oven. My arteries are hardening just watching all the red meat and butter used in this episode. Rory makes her typical sugar-grilled asparagus and she finishes off her dish with smoked cheese on top of her potatoes that gets Miss Ray all hot and bothered. Oh boy , Rory just added more butter on top of her meat. She then high-fives Miss Ray and feels like a winner.

Break for commercials and the ominous voice says “the competition takes an unexpected turn.” During the commercials, the Food Network does this weird promo where they just show the words of a quote with Paul’s voice over saying “I’m going to win. I’m going to win.” What does this mean? Why Paul? We know he’s gone so he’s not going to win. Am I right, and is he coming back? Or are the Food Network just rubbing salt in Paul’s wounds? Now that’s just mean.

Finally JAG is up with Miss Ray and he’s all scary-nervous back stage. But once he’s in front of the camera, he’s a total ham and he’s busting out his “EVOO Red,” which he says is olive oil with some kind of seed. I don’t know what it is but he says it’s the poor man’s saffron. He cooks some Spanish onions and then adds lobster. He’s basically doing a stir-fry. Right now he’s waving something called “culantro” that looks like big-leaf cilantro. Miss Ray asks where she can get it because she’s never seen it at her market, and JAG doesn’t really answer her. Eventually he says that you can just replace it with a bit of cilantro. Now he’s adding broccolini. His demo is going so fast and as usual, he’s using all sorts of ingredients, ooops, more butter from him. He adds some pasta to everything and tosses it, and he really cuts it to the very last seconds of his five minutes to finish and plate his dish. The last-minute rush drives the audience wild.

Rachel Ray does a debriefing for the judges, but she basically says that she loves them all and it’s going to be a hard decision for the judges. Susie is beaming like a proud mom saying she’s happy they all did so well.

Off to commercials and the ominous voice says there’s “a revelation that changes everything.” Forget about the commercials, let’s get back to the show.

So it’s the evaluation and elimination round. This is the final one and the last person will be eliminated before the remaining two go up to the public vote.

The critique goes something like this: Rory didn’t do well on the radio show because she dissed her competitors, but she was very down-to-earth on Rachel Ray even though she ignored Miss Rachel. Still, the judges are worried about her inconsistency in cooking. For Amy, they thought she did well on the radio interview but was back to her old French snobbery on Rachel Ray with her demo filled with too many fancy-shmancy terms. Amy tells the judges that she really is the Gourmet Next Door and not “snooty French girl.” And finally, JAG. He’s the best cook of the three, but the most raw when it comes to his TV skills. Bobby calls him “unpredictable,” but says that JAG captivated the audience on the Rachel Ray show, and Susie says she wants to “flipping” learn more about JAG. And this is where the foreshadowing goes into full gear as JAG says it’s difficult to talk about his past and how he just wants to focus on the future.

What? Commercials again? The ominous voice in the teaser says this time: “If you think you know what’s going to happen next, think again.” Damn you ominous voice, stop being a tease! And stop with the commercials. Just get on with it.

Susie does this weird speech about how she’s all choked up over how brave the three finalists are. Whatever, just tell us who’s going home.

Bobby tells Rory she’s the first to be named a finalist, which is a surprise that it’s now between Amy and JAG because I really thought Amy was the front-runner. Bob Tuschman names the second finalist as ... Oh. My. GAWD, it’s JAG and Amy’s gone. What? JAG, the Jekyll and Hyde of TNFNS? Amy’s all teary-eyed but glad that she’s gotten this far.

Wait, there’s some big block lettering on my television. Hold on while I go read it. It looks important. “Several months ago,” blah blah blah “Food Network learned” blah blah “misrepresented facts” what da? “JAG.” The block letterings go on to say that JAG had said he served in Afghanistan and graduated from culinary school when in fact neither is true. These were the rumors that have been posted for the last few weeks on the discussion boards and apparently have now risen to the level of the Food Network and its crack background checking team.
So apparently the media has been asking JAG about these discrepancies in his background since the show started airing, but JAG hasn’t been very upfront so the Food Network flew him out to New York to get to the bottom of everything.

Cut to JAG in a plain, light blue shirt coming out of the elevators and into the Food Network hallways. He’s voicing over about how it’s awesome being in the final two but it comes with a higher-level of scrutiny. There’s press and people going into his personal life, he says. JAG enters a room and Bob and Susie are sitting there waiting for him.

Bob talks about the rumors circulating and says they’re giving JAG the chance to clear the air. JAG says it’s very hard to talk about because this is something he’s dreamed about all his life. But basically he fesses up that he never graduated from culinary school and he never went to Afghanistan. Bob looks very sympathetic but Susie looks like she’s not buying any of this contrite demeanor from JAG. In the end, JAG says he’s withdrawing from the competition. He says he can’t continue because he may not be mature enough to meet the requirements to be the next Food Network star. And ironically, that may be the most mature thing he’s done all season.

Susie says some weird thing about how unfortunately they will be happy to accept his resignation—like it was all up to him. Bob says that JAG will have many more doors open up to him. Hugs are exchanged and JAG does his “what if?” interview. And then he walks away wearing sunglasses and a cap like he’s going to try and avert the damn paparazzi outside, who’s dogging him like Lindsey Lohan coming out of rehab.
Cut to Rory, who says she got a phone call saying she needed to fly to New York. There she meets Bob and Susie waiting for her in the studio kitchen and she’s told JAG has withdrawn from the competition, and her mouth totally drops and you see even more of her teeth, if that can be any more possible. “I don’t even know what to say,” is all she can say. Bob says she’s got a new competitor and Rory turns around and in walks ... AMY! Yay, our snooty French girl is back! Rory’s all “hi honey” and they exchange big hugs, right before they realize that they’re now going to have to duke it out to win the viewers’ votes. Bob says Amy was an awesome competitor and glad she’s back. (I really felt they made a mistake and it really should have been between these two in the first place. I think the Food Network producers were taking the easy route in trying to do a boy-girl finale.)

Next week, it’s the season finale. What? We only have two days to vote? Guys, go online and go and vote now. (And don’t let me influence you, but I already voted for Amy.) In the final episode, all the contestants are back and we get behind-the-scenes footage and I’m sure it’ll all be very boring as we just wait to see the crowning of Amy’s “Gourmet Next Door.”

What I Would Have Done: My Signature Dish
If I were on the Rachel Ray show, I’d probably make as my signature dish my favorite Korean-style Ma-Po Tofu. I listed this as one of my three signature dishes in my TNFNS application (the other dishes were my sticky chicken and Asian-style steamed fish recipes). I consider this ma-po tofu dish my signature dish because it’s simple and easy to make, which is what I would have emphasized on my show, Cooking With The Single Guy—simple but interesting recipes for the single person looking for something quick to make after coming home from work. But it’s also my signature dish because I took a traditional Chinese recipe and added a twist to it with the kim chi. So I’m all about combining ingredients that people wouldn’t think about if it weren’t for me. ;-)

The Next Food Network Star season finale airs at 9 p.m. this Sunday, and repeats at the same time the following Thursday. Photos courtesy of the Food Network Web site.