Entertaining

topchefquickfire.jpgOn the TV show Top Chef, contestants create dishes to impress the judges often with limited resources of time or money or ingredients. From a viewer's perspective, the biggest problem with the show is that you can't taste the food. Still I love it. Perhaps it's because I enjoy the challenging aspects of cooking--like every other home cook, I am challenged to use what ingredients I have and the techniques I know, to cook something delicious, day after day, night after night.

Sometimes I wonder if I would agree with the judges. And I wonder how good those cooked-in-a-flash dishes with barely any ingredients really taste. I may never bother cooking something sous vide, break down an entire side of beef or serve 200 guests in one evening, but I'm happy to say I can now duplicate various dishes presented in the quickfire challenges on Top Chef thanks to Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook. Top Chef: The Quickfire Challenge Cookbook features mostly recipes that home cooks can easily duplicate.

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Book-CoverHistorically, there are a few things you will never see me turn down:

1) A glass of champagne.

2) A ripe juicy heirloom tomato during summer.

3) Anchovies or Sardines, In Any Format, Any Time Of The Year, No Matter Where

About number three, yep, it’s true. My lifelong love affair with those salty, powerfully fishy flavors of the sea no doubt originated with my dad, who was happy to keep tins of sardines in the house, and when I think back we kids must’ve been a sight to see, eagerly inhaling sardines in mustard or sardines in olive oil with crackers, toast, or just by themselves.

As an adult I was happy to learn that there’s actually a whole world of variety when it comes to anchovies and sardines (two completely separate fish), but it’s a group I’m quick to lump together just because, well, they belong in THAT category. To me, at least.

If they’re on a menu — FRESH — forgettuaboutit. If I’m in Spain, they will be consumed daily. If they’re layered on a pizza (we’re talking anchovies here), I’m in. And my eyes eagerly seek the fine print of menus for the “Our Caesar Is Made With Anchovies, Please Inform Your Server If”, which, of course, I never seem to finish that last sentence. I am so down.

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amysedaris.jpg
I have held off writing about this cookbook that I really, really love, because I was worried that I might offend someone.

The cookbook in question, which is much more than a cookbook, is called I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, and is written by Amy Sedaris. Amy Sedaris, in addition to being the sister of my idol David Sedaris, is an actress best known for her role in “Strangers with Candy.” She is unnaturally funny, has a keen grasp of pop culture past and present, and even if one does not cook, this book is worth reading  just for the “helpful suggestions,” the photographs and the illustrations. In the first chapter, “what a Party Means to Me,” Sedaris gives the following pointers for being a “Self-Realized” person:

-Be unique in a way that is pleasing to everybody.

-Accentuate the positives - medicate the negatives.

-Have a hairstyle that is flattering to some and offensive to few.

-Have access to money.

-Never cry yourself to sleep in front of others.

 

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CoverBlueBloodsCookbookFrom the Blue Bloods Cookbook

There are two types of cheesecake in the world: coarse-textured Italian cheesecake made with ricotta cheese, and the smooth and creamy New York–style cheesecake made with cream cheese and sour cream. If you’re a New York Irish family, you go for the New York–style. Ours has a blue topping in honor of the NYPD and their uniforms—see below for the recipe.

This cheesecake is silky smooth with a melt-on-your-tongue texture. We make our crust with walnuts in addition to the classic graham crackers, which give it a crunchier, slightly more interesting taste and texture. The secret to a crack-free New York–style cheesecake is a water bath underneath the cake while baking. Bake it carefully, and this super-creamy dessert will look as beautiful as it tastes. Serves 6 to 8

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Image Like most modern day, self-taught chef's I have, of course, heard of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. First published in 1896, it's currently in its' 13th Edition, which is pretty impressive since Fannie Farmer died in 1915. Granted cooking has changed a lot in the century since she first began inspiring young wives and mothers to create lovely meals at home.

She ran the original "test kitchen" at The Boston Cooking School, constantly reworking recipes until they were just right and eventually included in the cookbook. Who knows what she would make of all our fancy gadgets and time-saving devices, but after reading Fannie's Last Supper, I have a feeling she would have enjoyed the relative ease of cooking in a more modern time.

God knows delivering dinner in the Victorian-era was no small task, as was discovered by the book's author Chris Kimball, the founder of Cook's Magazine and host of America's Test Kitchen.

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