Monday, March 22, 2010

Battle Breakfast

Jamie and Alessandro, the winners of Battle Cheese, played Sherri and Becky, the winners of Battle Beef, in Battle Breakfast on Saturday March 20. Here are the results:

Becky and Sherri Dish #1: Hawaiian-style ebelskivers made with macadamia nuts, filled with mango-banana butter, and topped with toasted coconut and homemade coconut syrup

Served with Kona coffee and orange juice

Becky started off the day with an islandy take on Swedish round pancakes, called ebelskivers, which have recently come into fashion in New York. Judge Mary Beth declared that they reminded her of Thai coconut pancakes, and Danielle bemoaned the fact that some of hers had been singed.

Becky and Sherri Dish #2: "The Full Monty" Irish-Breakfast Bread Pudding Casserole

Becky's ode to Irish breakfast was filled with fried potatoes, roasted tomatoes, bangers, and bacon. Rich and creamy, judge Sam said "I can't finish this now, but I'm setting it aside for later."

Becky and Sherri Dish #3: Chinese Dim Sum: Pork and chive dumplings, bacon-wrapped shrimp, and duck eggs rolls

Served with Milk Tea with "sago" bubbles

Sherri's ode to dim sum, the Chinese breakfast served on carts around Asia, was well received.
"Fried things are good," declared one judge.

Becky and Sherri Dish #4: Québecois Maple Tart served with a candied bacon tuile and Pancake Batter-flavored ice cream

Served with a maple-apple champagne cocktail

Judges liked the smooth texture of the homemade ice cream, though some questioned if it tasted more like vanilla than "pancake batter." The tart was less sweet than expected in a dessert, leading several judges to question why it was so savory.

Jamie and Alessandro, Dish #1:

Pumpkin muffins with cream
Served with a choice of cappuccino or Moroccan mint tea

Jamie's pumpkin muffin was a throw-back to his childhood. His mother would bake these muffins, and serve them with cream instead of butter. ("I really enjoy pouring cream into the muffins," said one judge. "I'd like to just pour it into my mouth," said another.) The judges loved the muffin's moist texture and the flavor ("There's so much butter in this, it's almost a travesty to call it a muffin"), but debated the addition of pumpkin seeds. They also loved the accompanying drinks, and the showstopping disposable serving ware.

Jamie and Alessandro Dish #2:

Yogurt-honey parfait with toasted almonds
Served with papaya topped with mint pesto

Jamie explained that he never liked the taste of papaya—until he tasted it with lime. Many judges agreed that the combination was lovely. "Papaya usually has a slightly vomity after-taste," explained Judge Mary Beth, "but not with the lime." Other judges disliked felt the papaya didn't pair well with the yogurt. "I'm German," explained Judge Grimm "I wanna be able to mix everything up in a bowl."

Jamie and Alessandro Dish #3:

Open-face egg sandwich with candied bacon, dill, and roasted asparagus
Served with a Venetian Bellini

Alessandro had worked at Harry's Bar in Venice, the home of the bellini, so it was no surprise that it was made just right. The egg sandwich was also a hit with many judges, though a few wished for salt or cheese.

Jamie and Alessandro Dish #4:

Cereal-studded crêpe topped with
homemade toblerone ice cream and salted caramel

Judges were torn on whether the cereal's added crunch was a bonus or a bust, as they were with the texture of the cereal (some called the Toblerone bits too crunchy) and the caramel sauce, which firmed up when it was poured over the ice cream. "It's like Magic Shell!" declared judge Mary Beth, comparing it to the childhood sundae topping.

Congratulations to Jamie and Alessandro—the winners of this round!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Battle Cheese

For Battle Cheese, Iron Chef returned to Brooklyn—with two new teams! Danielle and Mary Beth battled Alessandro and Jamie, neither of whom had even seen a game before. Would ignorance be bliss? Read on to find out.

Danielle and Mary Beth
Team 1, Dish #1: Wisconsin Beer-and-Cheese Soup with Spicy Cheese Straws

This velvety cheddar soup was topped with crumbled bacon and served with cheese twists that packed some heat.

"The twist tastes like a Cheeze-It at first!" said judge Dave. "And then the pepper kicks in."

Team 1, Dish #2: Watercress, Hazelnut, Grapefruit salad served with a Parmesan Tuile

This refreshing salad course was meant to contrast the heaviness of the other courses.

"The nuts bring out the nuttiness of the Parmesan," said judge Sherri, while others wondered if the dish was cheesey-enough for the cheese to be the star.

Team 1, Dish #3: Pimento-Cheese Sliders with Honey-Bacon Slaw

Who doesn't love a cheeseburger? Team 1 served a playful take on the classic with a creamy pimento cheese spread beneath a cheese-studded burger and a fresh slaw.

Team 1, Dish #4: Mexican Chocolate Cheesecake with Tequila-Cinnamon Whipped Cream

As the oohs turned to aahs (and ouches), it was immediately clear that this was the star of Team 1's day. A shockingly spicy dessert, the heat was balanced by the cooling whipped cream. Judges raved about every aspect—the crust, the creamy and dense filling, the whollop of aggressive heat, and the tasty whipped cream accompaniment.

Mary Beth and Danielle smile for the camera, glad that their cooking was finished, at least for the day.

Jamie and Alessandro
Team 2, Dish #1: Burrata Panzanella with Pesto

This richly flavorful Tuscan bread salad featured crusty bread soaked in tomato water and olive oil, served with fresh burrata cheese (described as a soft mozzarella) and a homemade Parmesan-basil pesto. Judges loves that the bread retained its crunch, and that the pesto tasted even cheesier on its own.

Team 2, Dish #2: Three Cheese Risotto

The decadent risotto was topped with taleggio, Parmesan, and panna cheese, and flavored with red wine and radicchio. Judges adored the complexity and richness, but debated if it was a touch too al dente, or if their palates had been tainted by bad American risottos.

Team 2, Dish #3: Steak with Gorgonzola Sauce and Blood Orange Salad

The salad that accompanied this dish was an interesting mix of blood orange segments, black olives, red onions, and greens—a refreshing palate cleanser after six dishes of cheese. But it was the tenderloin that was unforgettable. Sliced thin and served medium, the beef was tender, and the smooth, creamy sauce offered just enough blue cheese tang.

Team 2, Dish #4: Whisky-Mascarpone Cream with Hazelnuts and a Nutella Crust

A decadent end to a rich meal. Judges loved the flavor, the texture... everything about it.

So would Jamie and Alessandro be able to win on their first visit?

The answer was yes! The newcomers were victorious. Congratulations Jamie and Alessandro on a job well done! They return next month to try their hand in Battle Breakfast. Stay tuned....

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Green Goddess

Becky's Thai beef salad was a hit at battle beef, and not just because it was the one veggie-laden course of the day. The fresh, bright flavors of the dressing are a knockout.

Thai Beef Salad

  • ½ lb filet mignon
  • 4 cups torn lettuce leaves (you can use a spring mix, but avoid bitter greens)
  • 1 cup chopped mint leaves
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 chopped red onion
  • ½ of chopped jicama
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons of a fresh minced hot chili or red pepper flakes
  • 6 tablespoons of Thai salad dressing (see below for recipe)
  • One package of Thai glass noodles

Follow the instructions on the noodles package to cook noodles. Once they are cooked, put them in a bath of cool water to chill. Season the beef with salt and pepper and grill to rare (an outside grill is best but a grill pan will work as well). While the beef is grilling, combine the lettuce, mint, cilantro, onion, jicama, tomato and chili (or pepper flakes) in a large bowl. When the beef is rare, take it off the grill and let it rest for 5 minutes. Then slice it into 1/8” thick slices.

To assemble the salad, dress the lettuce mixture with the Thai salad dressing. Put a small helping of the noodles on each plate as the bottom layer, then add a handful of salad and place 2 –to 3 slices of beef on top. Garnish with additional mint and cilantro if desired. Serve immediately. Makes 6 small appetizer-size servings.

Thai salad dressing (makes enough for the salad recipe above)

  • ½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ¼ cup Thai fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons thin-sliced tender center of a lemongrass stalk

In a bowl, mix ingredients together until the sugar has dissolved.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Battle Beef

The first battle of 2010 was in a new venue—Boston! The snow came down and temperature dropped, but the new crew of Boston-based judges figured the whole thing out pretty quickly and the contestants luxuriated in the perks of playing in a suburban kitchen. Team 1 was Brian and Chris; Team 2 were their wives, Sherri and Becky. So, on January 2, 2010, it was boys against girls in Boston... here are the results.

Team 1, Dish #1: Cow Jumped Over the Moon
An ode to the boys' years in Pennsylvania, Chris cooked homemade beef scrapple, a Pennsylvania Dutch treat, and cut it into cow shapes. It had a crunchy exterior and a smooth, livery inside. His "moon"? Scrambled eggs. The judges weren't sure what to make of the "scrabble" since some had never had it before—"It's pâté-like," one said. "That's what I like about it!" countered another. In the first of the beer pairings, they served a breakfast-y Peak Organic Espresso Amber Ale.

Dish #2: Marrow with Brioche Toast and Fig Jam

The marrow bones were roasted, then sprinkled with sea salt. The brioche was toasted, and the not-too-sweet fig jam, a mix of mission figs, caramelized onions, and balsamic vinegar, was a homemade hit. "I would eat this jam on anything," Judge Sam declared. The beer pairing: Unibroue's Trader Joe's 2009 Vintage Ale. "You know what I don't like?" said Judge Reuven, "The beer pairing. It's too Christmasy."

Dish #3: South-of-the-Border Chipotle Sliders with Sweet Potato Fries

Topped with queso fresco, cilantro, and red onion, these burgers had a flavor all their own, with chipotle chillies mixed into the meat. "The spices are dancing on my tongue," declared Judge Austin. The beer pairing: Mexican Sol served with a wedge of lime.

Team 1, Dish #4: Beef Sundae

A creative visual play on a dessert sundae, this dish was actually made up of steamed white rice topped with Korean bulgogi-style beef, scallions, sesame seeds, and a roasted cherry tomato. With heat and flavor, the dish was a crowd pleaser. The beer pairing: Korean brew Hite.

Team 2, Dish #1: Jamaican Beef patties with scotch bonnet sauce

These empanada-shaped treats were served with proper Caribbean hot sauce. The judges said "Water, please!" And then the cooks remembered they had brought Jamaican ginger beer to cool the fiery heat. Oops. But the judges were glad to have it, even though it came late.

Dish #2: Thai beef salad

A refreshing treat after five courses of serious beef, this salad was served over glass noodles and laced with mint and cilantro. The filet mignon was sliced thin, and the dressing was a tangy mixture of Thai-style fish sauce and lime juice. The result: a real hit.

Dish #3: Texas-style Barbecue Brisket with garlicky Texas toast and homemade barbecue sauce

Another hearty beef dish, this one didn't benefit from the lengthy cooking time it usually gets, but made up for it was a tasty sauce. The beef was served "wet" —which means fatty in barbecue speak. "It's repulsive how much I like fat," declared Judge Reuven.

Dish #4: Chinese orange beef lollipops

Served on popsicle sticks stuck in clementines, these fried chunks of beef were arranged with grilled orange slices. On the side, Becky served a tart and tasty hoisin-orange sauce, and a fortune cookie for good luck in the new year.

So who won this first game of 2010? The girls! It was a close one, once again. (This time, there was also a little bitterness "I've lost three times! I'm taking my legos and my transformers and I'm going home—I'm not playing again."

Next month, it's back to Brooklyn for Battle Breakfast!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Tart Treat

On this week especially, it seems appropriate to share another recipe from Battle Thanksgiving.

And, no, in case you were wondering, the picture doesn't do it justice.

First of all, the whipped cream is covering up the pie itself, so you can't see the beautiful garnet color of the cranberries. Second, there's a Dalek in the image, which seems quite unnecessary. Third, you can't taste what the quince does for the dessert, which is quite a lot and hard to imagine if you are unfamiliar with the particular flavor of quince, as many judges were before the battle.

Here, Cybele's much beloved pie.

Cranberry-quince pie with Grand Marnier whipped cream

3 large quinces, peeled, cored and chopped (approx the size of the cranberries)

1 cup fresh cranberries

2 cups good quality apple juice

½ cup sugar

¼ cup good quality honey

1 large lemon (zest and juice)

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1 cinnamon stick, plus ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

A few pats of butter for top of pie

Note: you can use a store bought crust or roll your own.

1 container whipping cream

¼ to ½ cup Grand Marnier (Calvados or apple brandy would work too)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and plan to use the middle shelf. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan or pot (with lid), combine the quinces, apple juice, cinnamon stick and cloves. Bring mixture to a boil then let simmer for 20 minutes, covered. Add the cranberries and simmer for another 10 min (you don’t want to let these get too soft that they completely fall apart and turn into mush). Meanwhile, poke holes into the bottom of the crust with a fork and pre-bake for about ten minutes.

Pour almost all of the liquid out of the cranberry and quince pot (so that the fruit doesn’t steam in the oven but bakes; the mixture should be soft but not be runny). Add the sugar, honey, lemon zest and lemon juice and cinnamon. Add more sugar or spices to taste. (The quince is a little tart so you may want to add more sugar or honey.)

Pour mixture into pie shell, dollop the top with butter and bake for about 30-40 minutes, until the filling has set. Let cool for half an hour on the counter then another half an hour in the fridge.

When you’re about ready to serve the pie, whip the cream until it almost forms soft peaks. Add Grand Marnier and whip until it forms soft peaks. (Don’t make the whipped cream until you’re almost ready to serve the pie because the alcohol will fall out of the mixture if it sits too long.)

Serve the pie at room temperature.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thanksgiving Stuffing Strata

Here, the recipe for Becky's home-run: A Thanksgiving casserole based on the breakfast strata concept. Filled with turkey sausage and herbs, it's stuffing transformed. We served it with a tart cranberry gastrique—a tangy reduction of sherry vinegar and cranberry sauce that balanced the richness of the strata and added a bright shot of color to the plate.

Stuffing Strata
18 slices Italian white bread, crusts removed
1 lb. turkey sausage (made with cheese, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme)
2 shallots, minced
8 ounces provolone, sliced thick
4 ounces aged white cheddar, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup chopped green onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
5 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Saute sausage and shallots until brown.

Line bottom of 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish with 1 layer of bread, cutting some slices to fit. Arrange half of sausage-and-onion mixture evenly over bread. Sprinkle half of cheddar and half of provolone over. Sprinkle with half of green onions, rosemary, thyme, and basil. Top with second layer of bread. Layer remaining sausage mix, cheese, green onions, and herbs atop bread.

Cut remaining bread into 1/4-inch cubes. Sprinkle over top.

Whisk eggs, milk, mustard, and salt in bowl. Season with pepper. Pour egg mixture over strata; press down on bread with spatula. Drizzle melted butter over strata. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Uncover strata and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Bake until center is set, about 1 hour. Remove from oven. Preheat broiler. Place strata under broiler until top is golden, about 30 seconds. Cut into eight large squares and serve.

Cranberry Gastrique
3/4 cup red-wine or sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons cranberry sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a small saucepan simmer vinegar until reduced to about 2 tablespoons, about 3 minutes. Whisk in preserves and salt, whisking until smooth.

Serve warm (or at room temperature). Use the gastrique as more of a garnish than a sauce, as the flavor is strong.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Battle Thanksgiving

Battle Thanksgiving

Cybele and Dave Dish #1: Sweet Potato and Apple Cider Risotto, served with spiced cider

The day started off with a bowl of warm risotto. The flavor combination was a hit, but the textures had the judges stumped.

Cybele and Dave Dish #2: Chestnut Ravioli with Béchamel and Parmesan

Judges loved the combination of spicy and sweet but the white-on-white look caused Lambeth, a new judge, to declare "This looks like a ghost—with splotches!"

Cybele and Dave Dish #3: Braised Turkey Legs with Creamy Mashed Potatoes and Gravy

Dave's turkey was juicier than most you'll find on Thanksgiving day, and his spicy gravy packed a surprising amount of heat. Judge Chris declared the sauce a hit: "Like napalm, it sticks to you as it burns. I couldn't stop eating it!" Fortunately, extra gravy was served on the side.

Cybele and Dave Dish #4: Cranberry-Quince Tartlette with Grand Marnier Cream.

As Chris said, "That's a tart tartlette." This dessert was the highlight of their presentation—a sweet and tangy dessert. Judges loved the gorgeous garnet color, the clever use of cranberries as an ingredient, and the fact that the dessert was sophisticated rather than cloyingly sweet. All around, it was decided that quince should be a part of everyone's Thanksgiving.

Sherri and Becky Dish #1: Stuffing Strata with Cranberry Gastrique

Becky's ode to stuffing was a giant hit—the best dish of the day according to many judges. The rich strata was filled with turkey sausage (made to order by a Park Slope butcher, with sage, rosemary, and thyme) and several cheeses. The one complaint? The large portion size was daunting to judges, who by then were on their fifth dish. But it was a true compliment that several set theirs aside to finish later.

Sherri and Becky Dish #2: Harlem-style Chicken-Fried Turkey and Pumpkin Waffles with Pecan Butter, served with a bottle of pumpkin ale

Sherri's take on this New York classic was topped with crispy fried turkey thighs, ordered specially from DiPaolo Farm. The waffles lost some of their crispness (one judge called them "droopy") as they waited to be served, but the buttermilk-marinated turkey seasoned with cayenne packed a great crunch and a lot of heat. Beth said: "Sylvia would be proud."

Sherri and Becky Dish #3: Yam-Maple-Whisky Soufflé with Crème Fraîche and Bacon

These eggy soufflés were made all the richer by their garnish of crunchy bacon and crème fraîche. Some judges wanted to know "Where's the sweet potato?," which several thought was dominated by the maple. The aroma of maple and bacon, on the other hand, was a winner.

Sherri and Becky Dish #4: Cranberry and Pumpkin French Macaroons, served with a cranberry champagne cocktail

The pumpkin sandwich cookie was filled with a pumpkin-nutmeg butter cream, and the cranberry one was filled with cranberry jelly and vanilla butter cream. Judges raved about the crisp exterior and the soft interior of the cookies. "How did this happen in an hour?" wondered Sachiko, though several judges declared the portions too big and the sugar coma imminent.

I know, a gratuitous baby picture. But you can't deny that Casey Joshua, our littlest judge, is a cutie. He stuck to his own yams, though.

And, in the end, Casey would be proud—his mom, Becky, and her partner Sherri won again! Now, they move on to Battle Beef...