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I found it!  I’ve finally found it!

See, after trying and loving Smitten Kitchen’s blood orange margarita, I was craving a vodka-martini version that would really show off the blood orange’s subtle flavor (and look amazing in a martini glass).  I tried a bunch of different recipes from the Internet but nothing quite scratched my itch.  (Also, once again, Internet, I need to remind you that “buy blood orange martini mix and combine with vodka” is not a cocktail recipe.)

The unsatisfactory recipes all had one problem in common: too much Cointreau. “Is too much Cointreau even possible?!” you cry.  I know, I know, I was surprised too.  But Cointreau is powerful stuff, guys.  Add too much and it completely overwhelms every other flavor in your cocktail — especially if you’re starting with a base that’s already orange-flavored.

So I tinkered on my own and finally discovered what I think is the right formula. Ignore all of those recipes that have equal amounts of vodka and Cointreau.  If what you want is a drink that tastes like a boozy blood orange — instead of a Cointreau-flavored drink that uses the blood orange for color and not much else — this is the recipe for you.

Petite Chablis Blood Orange Martini

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2 oz blood orange juice, fresh-squeezed
1.5 oz vodka
0.25 oz (1/2 Tablespoon) fresh lime juice
1 tsp simple syrup
1 tsp Cointreau or triple sec

Shake all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and strain into a martini glass.  For a smoother texture, strain the blood orange juice through a mesh strainer before adding it to the cocktail shaker (the strainer on the lid of the cocktail shaker will filter out most of the pulp, but not all of it).

Note: these were particularly dark blood oranges, so don’t worry if your cocktail isn’t quite this color.  The flavor will still be amazing.

If my home bar could only contain one item, I would choose bourbon without a second thought — which is probably why I’m so damned picky when it comes to my bourbon cocktails.  More often than not, I’ll try out a promising recipe for a bourbon cocktail and end up wishing I were just drinking Bulleit straight.

I know, my life is hard.

But this cocktail?  This heavenly mixture of fresh ginger, lemon, bourbon and sparkling water?  This is going into my regular rotation.  It’s easy, it’s inexpensive, and it’s delicious.

Sparkling Whiskey Gingerade

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Recipe at the Bonjon Gourmet

I didn’t have any agave, so I substituted 1.5 ounces of simple syrup and was very happy with the result.  If you do make this with agave, let me know how it turns out!

And, as long as I’m shamelessly taking advantage of other peoples’ cocktail genius, I tried Smitten Kitchen’s Blood Orange Margarita last week. (No photos — what can I say, the drinks looked too yummy to wait!)  Deb’s recipe is really good, but I liked the drink even better when I used 3 tablespoons of lime juice and 2 tablespoons of Cointreau.  I thought the taste of the blood orange came through better with less sweetness and more acidity — but remember, I’m a sour-mouth, so if you like your cocktails sweet try Deb’s version first.

Finale time, folks.  Would Kristen become the first LCK winner to take the title?  (Because if so, uh, that didn’t take long.)  Or would super-dominant Brooke continue her streak of awesome food and become Top Chef?

Specific notes on the courses and on the winner in the comments!

1.  What is this X-Factor crap?

I knew this was going to be a weird finale as soon as I saw Padma standing in that dark, awkwardly lit stadium.  When I saw that the judges would be eating at a table that looks EXACTLY like the damned table on American Idol/The X-Factor/every other crappy reality contest ever, I cringed.  I watch Top Chef because it’s so tonally different from those shows, Bravo, not despite that.

So.  Production-wise not my favorite Top Chef finale ever.  I’d rather see the finalists cooking in a restaurant.  I was extra-unhappy that they apparently didn’t tell Brooke and Kristen about this twist.  I also wasn’t sure how to feel about the head-to-head, first-to-three-points-wins approach.  I wanted my five courses of food porn, dammit.

2.  How were the teams chosen?

If you’d told me one team would contain Josh, Lizzie, and Sheldon, and the other would consist of CJ, Kuniko, and Stefan, I would have bet real money that the first team was Brooke’s and the second team was Kristen’s.  I would have lost that money.  The contestants hinted at why they chose these teams in a voiceover but I would have liked to learn more about how the two teams got assembled.  It would have been more interesting than the awkwardly edited retrospectives on Kristen and Brooke.  (Do they really expect that people who didn’t watch the season are going to tune in for the finale and need a recap?)

3.  Stephanie Izard still rules.

When Gail asked that annoying “share your tiara” question about whether Stephanie was ready for the show’s second female winner, she didn’t miss a beat before saying it was about time.  She also showed an appropriate hint of contempt for the question.  Love you, Stephanie!

Welcome to the first part of the Los Angeles Finale!  I can’t write much about this episode without revealing who won Last Chance Kitchen, so I’m putting everything in the comments.

Back to Alaska for our final three.  You know the drill – all winners/losers spoilers in the comments.

1.  Poor Brooke!

I am terrified of heights (I consistently refuse to look down when I’m on a ski lift), so “helicopter ride” isn’t exactly on my bucket list.  But the list of Brooke’s phobias just keeps growing, doesn’t it?  Boats, heights, enclosed spaces … Hopefully the next challenges won’t involve any more of Brooke’s fears.

The way she clung to Josh’s arm settled the question for me.  They give each other a hard time but basically like each other.

2.  Did Sheldon say what I think he said?

“I would die for some good reefer?”  Sheldon!  You pothead!  You’re not in Seattle any more, mary jane isn’t legal in Alaska.  Tsk tsk.  (Or did I totally mishear that?  I rewound to check and it sounded like that was what he said.)

3.  Training camp Quickfire

The Quickfire challenged the chefs to cook in a hut high in the mountains for people who are training for the Iditarod.  (Side note:  Puppies!!!!)  I normally don’t love watching the chefs cook on crappy setups, but I forgave this one because it’s an actual kitchen that people have to cook in on a daily basis and not some stupid hot plate on a beach somewhere.

Cooking at altitude is a challenge in itself.  I still suspect that it was the altitude that sent Casey down in flames in the Season 3 finale.

4.  Josh, STOP COOKING BREAKFAST

As Willow Rosenberg so memorably put it, “Bored now.”  I was so glad to see Padma call Josh out for cooking breakfast-inspired food again.

5.  Alert! Alert!

Any time judges cook for the contestants, you know something’s up.  As Roy Choi and Emeril prepared lunch, I wrinkled my forehead wondering what the twist was going to be here.  Then the braised short rib hit the table and I just started drooling.

But when Roy talked about how the short rib changed his life and made him want to be a chef, I knew what the challenge would be—cook a meal that represents the moment you knew you wanted to become a chef.  I love these challenges that really tap into the contestants’ passions.

I wanted to give Roy a huge hug after that story.  Damn.  Thank goodness Emeril was on the TV.

Ok, I have to admit, I found this episode a little dull.  With only four contestants left we don’t see as much food, and while I loved the Quickfire, it seemed like the chefs were all sort of burned out and uninspired during the Elimination challenge.  Did anyone else get this vibe?  Or was I alone in finding this a bit of a snooze?

1.  Wow, Alaska is pretty!

… and cold.  Looks very cold.  I hope they told the poor chefs to pack at least a few warm items before they came on the show.

2.  Yuuuuuuuuum, Alaskan crab

It felt kind of weird to see only four people competing in this week’s Quickfire!  All of a sudden the field feels tiny.  I think I still haven’t quite reconciled myself to a certain Elimination decision from a few weeks back (ahem).

Almost every Quickfire this season has had me salivating, and this is definitely no exception.  When Brooke joked about not being able to stop eating the crab I grinned – the last batch of crab cakes I made at home definitely ended up a little bit light.

3.  Josh, STOP IT WITH THE BACON ON EVERYTHING

There are other ingredients.  Good grief.

4.  Salmon and sourdough?

Having the chefs work with the gorgeous Alaska salmon made total sense to me, but … bread baking?  Really?  I am actually a total bread snob, but I don’t necessarily assume a great chef will be able to bake a kick-ass loaf of sourdough.  I was also concerned with whether there would be interesting variation between the loaves, since they all had to work with the same sourdough starter.  At least they gave the chefs an opportunity to let their dough rise properly.

Somehow, this week’s episode of Top Chef didn’t download!  Instead, I ended up with a 55-minute infomercial for Celebrity Cruises.  Isn’t that weird?

… that WAS the episode, you say?  Oh.  I guess in that case I’d better recap it.  All winners/losers spoilers in the comments.

1.  Off to the boat!

Our final five are boarding a CELEBRITY CRUISES boat to Alaska.  The boat is REALLY NICE.  And the scenery is AWESOME and BEAUTIFUL and GORGEOUS.  Did we mention you can see all of these things when you book a CELEBRITY CRUISE?

… seriously.  I’m pretty forgiving of product placement, all things considered, but holy jeez was that ever clunky.  I felt embarrassed for the contestants, who had obviously been instructed on pain of death to say nothing but superlatives about their FABULOUS CELEBRITY CRUISE.

2.  Lettuce have a Quickfire! (… groan)

At first I thought that they picked iceberg lettuce as the Quickfire ingredient because it will last forever in a cruise ship walk-in.  But it seemed like they actually were going for the Titanic pun.  I know it’s been a hundred years but I still feel like that’s kind of in poor taste.  People, like, died and stuff.  I’ve seen the movie.

3.  Button it, Stefan

My up-down relationship with Stefan is definitely down this week, because he pulls out the cat-hissy noise to respond to Lizzie’s request that he not put electrical equipment directly on top of the food she is trying to cook.  Grrr.  Lizzie, you keep right on protecting your space.  No more “you said I could use every last little bit of dill!” BS for our South African friend.

4.  You may also button it, Josh

We get it.  You’re from Oklahoma.  You think Asia is one country and put bacon on everything, including toothpaste.  And where you come from, men don’t get manicures.  But whatever heart-warming I felt when he talked about his baby’s due date evaporated when he asked if Sheldon would turn into a woman from his manicure.  I’m sure he would say he was “just joking,” but it’s a dumb and vaguely offensive joke.

5.  Whoa, that got awkward fast.

It seemed like the contestants were having a good time on their post-Quickfire dinner at the FABULOUS CELEBRITY CRUISES shipboard restaurant — until Josh bagged on Brooke’s fried chicken from the last challenge.  This quickly devolved into Brooke, Stefan, and Josh bickering about who had won the most/least challenges, while Lizzie and Sheldon looked on uncomfortably.

I honestly can’t tell whether Brooke and Josh like each other, hate each other, or tolerate each other.

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