The knives come out

Although I don’t enjoy reality television in general, I do love that fabulous Bravo show Top Chef. I love to cook. Before I even reached our new bureau offices in Texas I had a vegetable steamer and a set of very nice (and ridiculously sharp) Ginsus pre-deployed to my apartment (via Amazon supersaver shipping). I have also invested in a fust-class set of Calphalon cookware. Meal preparation has never been this much fun! Before I took up blogging, cooking was my one and only creative outlet. It is the only right brain talent I have. Blogging and cooking are very similar when you get right down to it. You have to serve up something delicious in a short time to an an often ungrateful audience who thinks they can do better.

Oh yeah baby. Pour that ink on me.

My favorite part of the show are those “quickfire challenges.” In these fierce battles, contestants are given only like 15 minutes to prepare a scrumptious meal out of some very basic ingredients. Once the hosts sent the contestants into a Kwik-E-Mart and made them use the food available there for a gourmet entree.

Speaking of hosts, Padma Lakshmi, the host of this season’s Top Chef (as Amardeep previously reported), has been getting skewered by the cooks off-camera. Here is a sample of the many ways to cut and prepare a Padma:

According to a source who worked on the set of Top Chef, the ex-model turned trophy wife turned hostess Padma Lakshmi allegedly enjoys smoking pot on set, giving a whole new meaning to the term “Quickfire Challenge” — see, cause she’s allegedly lighting up a joint instead of a stove! Anyway. Exactly how often this happened is disputed, though we were assured it was allegedly “fairly regularly…” [Link]

Asked if he trusted Lakshmi’s culinary taste, Ilan Hall, a line cook at Casa Mono, asked a Bravo flack, “Um, are we allowed to say disparaging things about Padma?” No. “She’s beautiful,” Hall offered. “Mostly, she just explained things, and she did a good job at that.” Cliff Crooks, executive chef at Salute!, said, “Nothing she said really made a difference in my cooking.” Sam Talbot, former executive chef at Punch, said, “Next question.” He also noted that she seemed intent on stepping out of her famous husband’s shadow. “She never wanted to talk about him. I remember a time she got a phone call and she yelled, ‘You can ask me any question you want, but don’t bring up my husband!’” And then there’s the matter of her stomach-baring, kitchen-unfriendly attire. “Some of the things she wore, I wouldn’t suggest anyone wear around a working kitchen,” said Crooks. “Either she’d be a fire hazard or she’d get hurt…” [Link]

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See, if I ever had the opportunity to score a trophy wife then I think I could do a lot worse than Padma. On the show she always has a very neutral tone though. She smiles often but never actually laughs. She also gives a lot of really intelligent sounding critiques to the chefs…until the real chefs nicely contradict her seconds later. I do love those outfits though, even if they are fire hazards.

Anyways the season finale of Top Chef is on Wednesday night! It’s down to that obnoxious Marcel and the saffron-happy Ilan. I can’t stand the excitement.

It’s not just “The Apprentice” with the chef Tom Colicchio subbing for the emperor Donald Trump, not just “America’s Next Top Model” with a much higher calorie count. It’s a look at the imagination, desperation, judgment and serendipity that inform any great meal. [Link]

I will close the comments tomorrow night until after the show is over on the West Coast. You East Coasters always ruin these things by blabbing too early.

96 thoughts on “The knives come out

  1. before i forget – cooking in cast iron pans in the oven is a very quebecois thing – and i’ve had some pan baked breads that have an aroma and crumbly-crustiness that’s just mmm mmm mmm

  2. Hairy and Lurker, you wash the cast iron pan with soap and water and the works? I was told no soap…and no water, for that matter, which is why it was such a &%*#ing pain to clean.

  3. yes i do SP. it works fine. but i’ve also heard about people who dont wash it. but as lurker said, i also take a little piece of paper towel and rub it over with oil after the clean up. it ends up being less non-stick than steel and better than teflon – i tend to overburn things sometimes when i lose track of time – and i had a bad experience with teflon when i let it stay too long and a crust formed – i thought it was some piece of potato but it was some layer peeled off the teflon and i didnt figure out why i was sick * until the day the surgeon peeled it out of my stomach lining. i had been getting bloody stool for a couple of weeks by then and the headaches were getting intolerable.

    *p.s. everything after the asterisk is fiction – for your general entertainment and gross-out value. enjoy. dont say hairy doesnt love ya.

  4. SP, Yup, Soap & water works for me. Seasoning after washing is the crucial thing. I do have to try prepping the pan hairy’s way though….Sounds like it really works.

  5. Will have to try that, thanks y’all. I’m very vigilant with the teflon but should probably start giving the forearms a workout.

  6. Ilan has been a peacemaker for most of the show

    you have got to be kidding me!!!!

    “cherries bring down your libido” “i’m doing an homage to marcel’s foam”

    (the above quotes will only make sense to TC2 enthusiasts)

  7. Hairy and Lurker, you wash the cast iron pan with soap and water and the works? I was told no soap…and no water, for that matter, which is why it was such a &%*#ing pain to clean.

    I wash my cast iron pans with soap, water and mild scouring equipment … it’s fine. Once you build up a patina from cooking, it’s very hard for it to wash away.

    My real problem is the back of the pan, which never got seasoned properly and is harder to do.

  8. My real problem is the back of the pan, which never got seasoned properly and is harder to do.

    forgot to add this – but the treatment i recommended earlier has one rub oil ALL over and bake the pan upside down in the oven at 400 or so for about 20 minutes. funny – i do something similar for my vinter boots to get the vax to seep into the leather grain but that’s another thread.

  9. i also do it with my long woollen underwear and socks to get that toasty feeling to the bone. thought you shoudl know

  10. Rani – I second your comments.

    Marcel is annoying, arrogant but he should have won. The other chefs picked on him and instigated confrontations as much as he did. In the end it became a popularity contest. Ilan won because he was the more likable chef, but he’s an insecure unoriginal clown. Spanish dish after Spanish dish. I love Spanish food, but show some creativity and take some risks. He also went out of his way during the competition to trash Marcel’s dishes to the customers. Complain about Marcel’s behavior in the kitchen and then you pull something like that, twice? You talk about your soul and passion for cooking then you use canned baby eels. “Oh I just planned the meal while in the farmers’ market…” You had the whole thing planned out with your Spanish flavor. Uggghh What a phoney.

    The formula was pretty similar to last year with two talented chefs, one very likable (Harold and Ilan) and the other a foil and villian for the others (Tiffany and Marcel). Unlike Tiffany, Marcel admitted that he had help and did not try and steal someone else’s dish like Tiffany. Marcel lost because he was not well liked and he picked that slob Michael to help him. Weren’t you watching him during the competition. The dude is sloppy and careless, of course he’s going to forget things and then sell you out at the end. Sam at least had some integrity, did his job, and even helped out someone he did not like.

    Sam and Marcel were the best in my opinion, followed by Ilan. Elia made a few dishes, but I have never seen someone whine soooo much. While she treated Marcel fairly for the majority of the show, she turned on him at the end in a very slimey way.

    Hopefully it will end up like Project Runway where someone unlikeable but talented (Jeffrey) will win out.

    Padma, while unanimated at times, was much better than the robot they had last year. She had the personality of a fencepost.

    No I’m not obssessed either…

  11. If you’re using Le Creuset, you don’t need to season the pans, or worry about washing them in soap and water. The whole point is that since they are enamelled, you get a versatile, essentially non stick surface with the heat transmitting properties of iron.

    Here is their website’s section on caring for pans: http://www.lecreuset.com/usa/products/care.php?dir=products%2Fcare&name=Enameled_Cast_Iron_Grills_%26_Griddles#1

    If you’re using plain cast iron, like Lodge, then you do have to season the pan and use just water to clean it.

    Le Creuset rocks!

  12. Lurker Chef, hairy_d, ennis, thanks for the tips on the cast-iron pots. I think I will take the big leap and get one (if only to have it hanging on the pot rack so people will think I’m cooler than I am:) )

  13. Curries turn out awesome and so do stir fries. Their dutch oven pot/stock pot works well for Biryani/Pulav.

    hey since youre a chef – how aboot you share a recipe for a good curry. :)

  14. Hairy, So what type of curry are you interested in?

    Paneer Makhani Coorgi Pork Curry South Indian Sambar Pineapple Gojju

    And the list can go on and on…..

    Just a thought…..Maybe SM can have a repository for South asian tried and tested recipes….Just a thought….I know SM’s charter/interests are wide and varied and does not want to become another bawarchi.com.

  15. chef sez

    Hairy, So what type of curry are you interested in?

    whatever helps mexicalidesi get off to a good start with cast iron pan :-)

    me, i’d really like to know your sambhar recipe, especially how to make the sambhar masala. I get the store bought packet but doing it from scratch would be awesome.

    Maybe SM can have a repository for South asian tried and tested recipes

    good idea! park that right next to sepia destiny :-)

  16. Who needs sepia destiny when we have the comments?

    Dude, think of all we’re missing. Not just double-blind email and other technicalities, but crucial information like “Favorite Movies,” “Most Embarrassing Moment,” and of course, “Five Things You’ll Find in My Bedroom” !

  17. Not just double-blind email and other technicalities, but crucial information like “Favorite Movies,” “Most Embarrassing Moment,” and of course, “Five Things You’ll Find in My Bedroom” !

    For laughs, my Persian Mob Squad sometimes points me to iranianpersonals.com where you’ll find the hilarious and hot, and sometimes both. Her World Bank comment is a gasser.

  18. For laughs, my Persian Mob Squad sometimes points me to iranianpersonals.com where you’ll find the hilarious and hot, and sometimes both. Her World Bank comment is a gasser.

    Wow that’s a detailed questionnaire! Gotta love a dating questionnaire that asks you, in deadpan alphabetical order, about your attitudes to Gun Control, Homelessness, Legalizing Drugs, and Mohammed Khatami.

  19. The script got flipped towards the last few episodes in terms of good guy/bad guy. Marcel is consistently annoying, but he was definitely the more immature figure for at least the first half of the show. As time went on, though, I think you saw him being more genuine and mature, but his words and actions got interpreted as being malicious because of how he set himself up in the beginning.

    I really wished Sam would be in the top two. Maybe it’s because he’s hot.

  20. Because you can’t easily exchange biodatas via comments!

    hai hai rabba! and jhu a married voman!

  21. A married woman with way too many single friends!

    So how come you havent tried to hook ennis up? For shame.

  22. funky pughs. Check.
  23. Cooks! vith cast iron. Check.
  24. knows his andas from andalusia. Check
  25. Rocks the casbah. Check.
  26. has connections with the planners, Durrty DJ’s and wine connoisseurs to make for easy vedding. Check.
  27. Let’s hop to it. like now. :-)

  28. hairy_d:

    i’d really like to know your sambhar recipe

    Kerala Sambhar Powder:

    It’s a little different from Madras sambhar because (of course) we use grated coconut. But here is the sambhar powder recipe: Sauté 5 tsp coriander seeds, asafetida, and 4-5 red chilies without oil and keep aside. Sauté 4-5 tsp of grated coconut until it turns brown. Grind coriander seeds, asafetida, red chilies, and coconut.

    And here’s how you use it. Cook 1 cup toor dhal with 1/2 tsp turmeric and mash. Save this. Sauté 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp cummin seeds, and 1 sprig curry leaved. Add 2 tbsp chopped shallots and sauté till clear. Add 1 cup veggies (I like pearl onions, but you can use drumstick, japanese eggplant, or lightly sautéed okra) and cook in 2 cups tamarind water (1 tsp tamarind paste) and bring to boil. Add toor dhal paste, sambhar powder and salt. Cook on medium heat till veggies are done (about 10 mins).

  29. hairy_d:

    And, you can do this in one pot (so long as you mash the dhal later). Always important for me. ;-)

  30. venu sez

    And, you can do this in one pot (so long as you mash the dhal later). Always important for me. ;-)

    hehe… hairy_d sez in #50

    i wash my pans all the time and wont use anything other – the versatility is amazing especially because one can also use these directly in the oven – i like the simplicity of few utensils.

    indolence was coined after an indo. har har har

  31. Stop calling it sambhar! It’s sambar, pronounced saambaar. The b is not aspirated, it’s a common North Indian mispronounciation/misspelling. Sounds like a good recipe, though :)

  32. Stop calling it sambhar! It’s sambar, pronounced saambaar.

    Thanks for putting this out there, desishiksa. Much appreciated. It’s often mispronounced like the deer. btw, Gemini Ganesan (father of movie star Rekha) was nicknamed “saambaar”.

  33. :-D @ #68 siddhartha and hairy_d’s indolence joke (gotta remember that one)

    Here’s a biodata of someone I know

    • Gainfully employed
    • Does not drink coffee, tea or other addictive substances
    • Wears undies with Shilpa Shetty prints on them
    • Is good with sex – Make benefit entire nation of womans
    • Fair and handsome
    • Matches international condom size
    • Not a racist or classist. In fact, no opinion on anything at all
    • Made it to the county level spelling bee when in high school
    • Not involved in identity theft
    • Not a terrorist
    • Sensitive to earthquakes and other large perturbations
    • Is very good at playing “countries-capitals”
    • smells like mango burfi
    • Atheist (except for occasional monotheism/bitheism once every few months)
    • Known as “Khan of bay area”

    You think any of your friends would be interested?

  34. Stop calling it sambhar! It’s sambar, pronounced saambaar. The b is not aspirated, it’s a common North Indian mispronounciation/misspelling. Sounds like a good recipe, though :)

    huh! it wasnt meant to be written in english. i’ll write it saambhaar or sambur or samosa. all i care about is a good recipe, but you wont know anything about that. the only thing you’ve ever cooked is the wax for your mustache, hunnh?

  35. hey venu… i did the sambar but it came out all black and a little more tart than i expected – i guess i need to cut down on the tamarind.

    dear desishiksha … sorry for the barb … your northindian thing stung… and i thought you were doing a mapuche number on sambar. i guess i got my comeuppance. my sambar turned sour.

  36. Don’t worry hairy_d, sambar is non-proprietary. Anyone can make it well, as far as I’m concerned. In fact, I don’t even care if someone makes it badly, if that’s what pleases them, as long as they don’t call it “sambhar”.
    I prefer to use dried tamarind in hot water instead of the concentrate–you have more control over the sourness.

  37. I like it extra sour. I think of that also as “spicy”. Btw, have you guys noticed that buffalo wings are more sour than hot?

  38. cuz they are dunked in tabasco sauce, which is basically vinegar with some red coloring thrown in. Anyone notice how desis like sour things as much as sweets?

  39. hey desishiksha… (i am really tempted to call you bob… as in desishishka-bob… but you’ll probably skewer me ;-)

    thanks for the tip. i didnt realize the tamarind paste was so potent. the thing just swirled and inked up the whole pot. my place smells very masala-ee right now btw – but in a good way.

    some learnings –

  40. the eggplant and okra was a wonderful addition. must do more of the same.
  41. skipped curry leaves and added oregano (i decided not to go to the local tiger joint) and went to the local healthfood store which had asafetida and tamarind paste but no curry leaves. jury’s still out.
  42. skipped turmeric (see above reason) and maybe that effected the color. i dont hink it adds much to taste.
  43. used desiccated coconut instead of grated coconut. it worked out fine and there’s a delicious undertone of coconut in every sip.
  44. need to figure out a way to grind spices better. i just used my old mortar and pestle. there is the odd husk of the coriander seed that sticks.
  45. need to go easy on tamarind paste for sure. it is tasty and kurma will probably love it but it is somewhat overpowering.
  46. Speaking of sambHar, Trader Joe’s has this written on their bottle (pretty healthy stuff for a good price).

    Sambhar, an area in southern India, is known for its classic lentil soup and namesake spice blend (cilantro, cumin, mustard seed, turmeric and curry powder). Trader Joe’s has taken this traditional lentil soup and added its own twist. It’s loaded full of potatoes, carrots, okra and a little kick of jalapeno pepper for heat. Just heat in a microwave or in a pot on the stove until hot. Fit for a King!

    Then there are pictures of a raja’s crown and an Indian flag. Kewl! Any rajas/ranis/princes in the house from the Sambhar region where curry powder is the real emperor?

  47. grinding spices: you can use a coffee grinder (just make sure you never use it for coffee unless you like your lattes haldi spiced) or if you have an osterizer blender they make a small jar that fits over the regular blade that you can use to grind dry ingredients. Maybe other blender companies make the same thing too?

    You didn’t use 2 cups of tamarind paste did you? (I think the recipe said 1tsp in 2 cups of water).

    i am really tempted to call you bob… as in desishishka-bob… but you’ll probably skewer me ;-)

    hahaha…puns and food, my two favorites.

    and finally: I don’t bother with making my own sambar powder…I use MTR brand. It’s probably sacrilege but it tastes quite good.

  48. cuz they are dunked in tabasco sauce, which is basically vinegar with some red coloring thrown in.

    What! really? Now that I try to remember (I haven’t eaten them in years), they did taste like Tabasco. Yup, yup. Wings=Tabasco and Root Beer = Iodex.

    I love me the MTR too. What is sacrilege? Ease is sacrilege? Remember your culture and practice INDOlence (hat-tip to the master). ‘Scratch’ and ‘authentic’ are over-rated, I say. Taste is what counts in my book (and being healthy), regardless of how invented-yesterday it is or how easy it is to make.

  49. I’ve met her in real life. She’s related to my relatives (i.e. not my blood relatives.

    She can’t cook to save her life. Made some watery chicken curry and then proceeded to stick whole baby carrots in it…

    trust me, its a pretty bad combo.

    She was dating a much better looking Italian guy (don’t check out dudes, but any fool could see he was a complete 180 from Salman) at the time of the curry incident who oddly really wanted to play football in the backyard.

  50. Root beer = Iodex – YES! But there’s more to wings than Tabasco. There’s Frank’s hot sauce, vinegar, celery salt and garlic powder too. For some reason me and every desi I know who went to the US is a wings FANATIC. My amriki friends said they never ate so much bar food before meeting me…

    MTR rassam and sambhar powders are v.g.

    You do need a small small food processor for masala pastes (esp with coconut) and Thai pastes. Braun makes one that has various attachments including an in-the-pot blender extension, and it works best for masalas, IMO. Mini-Cuisinart sucks.