Food Blog Awards – Time To Vote

This year, I was again honored to be asked to help judge the annual Food Blog Awards, the prestigious awards for food bloggers that were started four years ago (I think – maybe it was three – I’m getting old) by Kate at Accidental Hedonist and then taken over by the other Cate at WellFed.net.

Anyways, I and some other fantabulous judges, just finished a LONG weekend of looking at food blogs and picking finalists from the nominees. Now the time is right for everyone to go vote. So do that – go vote.

No axe to grind here except participation. There were a LOT of nominees and judging was tough – it took several go-rounds to shake out all five of the finalists in many categories. There were several categories where it was hard to pick five – I’d have preferred to pick seven, or ten or…

I found lots of new and new-to-me blogs as well as a host of already deservedly well-known blogs.

So go support your community and make your opinion known and felt…

Umm – not goodbye

It seems that quite a few took my most recent post (just below) to mean that I was giving up the blog altogether. Don’t know how they got that form my completely clear and lucid prose. 😉

In fact I am just saying goodbye to the Paper Chef (which lives on in Sweden – but I can’t tell you how to participate – to the shame of my ancestors I can’t speak or read Swedish). I haven’t been able to give it the care and attention it needed for a while and it was silly to pretend otherwise.

But I’m going to get back to my old haphazard blogging ways – in other words, when I feel like it. That is likely to mean chutney and also persimmon butter sometime soon.

Saying goodbye and giving thanks

It is time for me to face facts. I no longer have the time or energy to keep Paper Chef going. I don’t have time to even write short notes in what was – more than four years ago now – intended just to be a personal record that would help me remember how to repeat dishes I’d made that I and others liked.

So, first of all, I would like to give a huge thank you on this day of thanks to all of you – all the food bloggers out there who loved and supported Paper Chef. You made it a wonderful and fun couple of years while it was going strong. My apologies for not being able to keep it running.

And thanks specifically to everybody who ever entered and particularly to those of you in the last year or so who have pushed me to continue.

May you all have a joyous (and thankful) Thanksgiving.

Paper Chef 26

If I get started now I think we can pull this off! So….

Paper Chef 26 ingredient nominations are now open.

the current ingredient list is: Zucchini (courgettes), crawfish (crayfish), scallions (spring onions), cocoa nibs, italian prune plums, saffron, blueberries, olives, chicken, peaches, rosemary, five spice (the chinese blend of five spices), ‘skin’ (presumably of anything), basil, cod roe, lard, sardines, caraway seeds, lemon cucumbers, cardamom and apples.

You can only nominate ONE ingredient this time around since we now have a list and you cannot nominate those used last time (smoked swordfish, chile peppers or eggplant/aubergine) and please don’t skirt around it by nominating smoked salmon or something similar.

Winners – let me know your address and at some point in the future I’ll mail you a copy of Digital Dish.

As a reminder, here are

The Rules

Absolutely only the fun of it and for no other reason whatsoever, the Paper Chef challenges each and every one of you reading this to let loose your culinary imagination and make up a dish of your own. Loosely based on the ideas of the Iron Chef, fond TV favorite in the US and Japan, and on the British show Ready, Steady, Cook! (fond favorite in the UK), the Paper Chef is all about creativity and constraint, challenge and cooking.

About a week and a half before the event opens, I post an ingredient list from previous events here at Tomatilla! Older ingredients fall off the list, as does anything that actually got used in an event. Those ingredients are ‘banned’ for a month just to prevent the choices being cream and chocolate and cream and chocolate and cream and chocolate and…you get the idea. Any reader of the blog can nominate a new ingredient (one nomination per month per person please) and it can be anything within the bounds of good taste (both kinds).

Three ingredients are chosen at random from the final list and the host (usually me but not always) picks one more ingredient that is topical or seasonal or that suits our whimsy. The first three random ingredients are announced on the Wednesday before the first Friday of the month (hey – they are official rules – so they should be incomprehensible). The fourth special ingredient is announced on the first Friday of the month.

Then you get five days (Friday Noon to Wednesday Noon) or so to make up a recipe, cook it and post the recipe to your blog. Then post a comment here or send an email to owenl1998 at yahoo dot com to be included in a roundup. Optionally, if you are up to speed on these things there will also be a Technorati tag to place on your post to make it easier for everyone to find posts.

It is also absolutely OK to substitute if you just cannot find an ingredient or if you or someone who will eat the dish has an allergy – just try to substitute with something close to the original to remain in the spirit of the occasion. We know that ingredients are fresh and in season at very different times in different places around the world.

There are a constantly changing set of categories categories every month at the discretion of the judge (but always at least one). Despite extremely fancy creations from many entrants, a good simple entry is just as likely to do well.

The previous month’s winner gets to be judge if they want (and is ineligible to win that month but can still enter) and gives out whatever kinds of awards they like. It is also OK to NOT want to judge, in which case I’ll find a judge of some nature for that month.
I’ve had lots of questions about things like photographs. Photographs are NOT necessary to take part. Nor is having you own blog – I’ll be happy to post a recipe for you if you want. However, it is clear that having a nice photograph will help influence the judges – if they see it looking good it is a lot easier to imagine it tasting good…

We aren’t sticklers for timekeeping here – but turning an entry in after the judging is done probably means you won’t win. And – on the point of competition – most of the people who enter seem to like it being a competition – so it is one. But it is NOT a competitive competition – it is more like a collaborative competition. People love to see the inventive ideas others come up with.

Paper Chef winners and more

OK, despite all my intentions I am not getting updates done at anything like an acceptable pace. However, in an effort to keep moving, here are the official winner(s) of Paper Chef 25. Since we had a couple of single dish entrants and a couple of multiple dish entrants I am going to just decide to have a singel dish winner and a multiple dish winner this time around.

As usual, it is practically impossible to make any kind of differentiation – the entries are always all so very good. But a choice must be made. So for nest single dish entry, the winner is Mrs Anderson (Heather) of Gild the Voodoolily for her chowder. Abby of eat the right stuff was a worthy runner up (and not a first time entrant as I had said) for her smoked aubergine and elephant garlic soup. And we also had Jonski Farms enter a burger, dip, almost-bengan bhartha combo.

Hard as that decision was, the multiple entry was even harder, especially since the two entrants are two of my all time favorite food blogs ever. Both of them have won Paper Chef before. Both could write knockout cookbooks (and should!) I thought about awarding a tie but that would be a cop out. So I thought and thought and thought some more. And ended up giving the win to Ilva of Lucullian Delights because the pasta dish she made is so simple. Runners up are the Belly Timber crew and especially their ‘Oven-roasted Indian eggplants filled with a paste made from the extras on hand: bell pepper, garlic, chives, Thai chiles, and more of that delicious cherry-smoked cod.’

I am going to ask that all four winners and runners up be part of the next judging panel if time allows – let me know if you are up for it – the next Paper Chef will be kicking off very shortly.

Lots of parties

I know that I am holding fire on announcing a Paper Chef winner – especially since the next one is due to kick off pretty shortly! So that’ll come later today.

In the meantime I just need to record a few notes about things I have cooked recently so they don’t slip my brain entirely. We hosted a few parties lately and I actually got to make some new things that came out well. So, in no particular order, with recipes to follow later:

mushroom and onion puff pastry tartlets
pork tenderloin stuffed with sundried tomatoes and goat cheese in a red wine sauce
roasted root vegetables
basic bruschetta
red wine and paprika marinated chicken
polenta slices with heirloom tomatoes
A twist on kir
Fresh heirloom tomato and garlic sauce for pasta

there was probably more but that is all I remember.

Roundup for Paper Chef #25 – The Home Edition

I guess the theme song for this should be ‘Home on the Range’ rather than something less cooking related – but it makes me think of rather different things. Tradition and a relaxed frame of mind and a relaxed approach to life. Rather more ‘slow food’ than cowboy food perhaps.

Here’s how this edition of the Paper Chef event was set up:

“The theme for this edition of Paper Chef is ‘Home.’ That means that the fourth ingredient is ‘something you already have in your home’ – you can’t go out and buy it – you have to look around and use something. If the cupboard is bare then you may have to make water the special ingredient! A reminder, the other ingredients are chile peppers, smoked swordfish (or if you can’t manage that, any smoked fish, and if you are a vegetarian, something smoked) and eggplant or aubergine.”

We got a smallish number of entrants but that’s completely my fault since this is the first Paper Chef after a six month break where I just got too busy to keep everything going.

Without further ado, here (I think in order of receipt of information) are the people and dishes that entered Paper Chef The Home Edition.

First entry in is from a brand new paper Chef participant, ‘Mrs. Anderson’ of Gild the Vodoolily. She entered a Smoky Green Curry Seafood Chowder. This soup is very rich, complex and wonderful sounding.

Another newcomer, Abby of Eat the right stuff, entered another soup, but very different, a smoked aubergine and elephant garlic soup which also sounds delicious but does come with a mild warning…

The Belly Timber crew, aka MizD and ChopperDave, honored us by taking time out of a horrendously busy schedule to play in the kitchen and – as usual – come up with a completely over the top surfeit of food. I may well miss something, but here is what I make it that they entered:

They, too, did us a soup – Smokey Spicy Fish Soup;
and Chile Roasted Eggplants;
and Smoked Cod and Eggplant ‘Tagine’
and an extra unofficial ‘Oven-roasted Indian eggplants filled with a paste made from the extras on hand: bell pepper, garlic, chives, Thai chiles, and more of that delicious cherry-smoked cod.’

on top of everything else they also sacrificed pottery to the gods to make this feast!

Ilva of Lucullian Delights, who gets an award as a patron saint of Paper Chef for her tireless support and enthusiasm for the event, also entered a feast, this time of two dishes. The first, a starter, was Hot Eggplant Rolls with Smoked Tuna, Fried Bread and Pinenuts and the second, a primo, a Pasta with Eggplant, Chili Pepper, Smoked Tuna and Pinenuts.

Finally, another new entrant, Jonskifarms of Jonski Blogski, entered a not-quite-following-the-rules, ‘smoked eggplant dip, and a green chile buffalo burger‘. It turned out that the smoked eggplant dip was actually a Maddhur Jaffrey recipe for one of the all time great Indian dishes ‘bengan bhartha’ and it sounds like it may have converted the author to at least one use for eggplant!

A little more time

Entries and recipes and photos are coming in for Paper Chef 25 and since I am stuck at work until late in the day anyhow, I am extending the deadline until the end of the day. Regular participants and lurkers already know that we don’t pay too much attention to deadlines and rules around here, so this extension isn’t much of a surprise.

I realised that in futzing around with things here over the past month I lost my old blogroll so I am going to put a new one up over the next day or two while I wait to be certain I have all the entries there there will be and post a roundup of them – maybe Friday.

When the gas grill is a lifesaver

The short answer is whenever it’s hot, which means most of the year here. But it is more complicated than that. For example, although my fancy new gas (propane) grill has a side burner, I wouldn’t make it my first choice for boiling water. In fact it is used mostly for roasting coffee. But that means all boiled foods are out when it gets too hot to cook in the house.

That in turn means getting creative when you have potatoes coming out your ears because your CSA box just keeps ’em coming. So I had to come up with some way to make something other than slabs of grilled potato – which aren’t all that great and take too long.

Grilled Potato Packets

So, I dug out my trusty chinese plastic almost-a-mandoline and sliced up lots of potatoes really thin and then did the same with a couple of onions. Then I made little packets of foil, each with a large individual serving of potatoes and onion, liberally doused with olive oil, kosher salt and sprigs of fresh rosemary. Fold them up tight, crimping the edges to seal them. Then put them all around the edges of the grill while you cook something else – taking care to make sure they aren’t over direct heat.

For this to work you need a grill with a cover so the heat gets kept inside like an oven. Turn the packets over after about twenty minutes and keep cooking for a total of about 50 minutes – your temperature inside the grill cover if you can test it should be about 450 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

When everyone unwraps the potato packets they should get soft, melt in your mouth potato and onions with a caramelized crust on the bottom of crisp potato and browned onion.

The last two times I did this I did them once with marinated grilled pieces of cut up chicken and the second time with a whole roasted chicken on a rotisserie spit. The first came out perfectly in every respect, but in the second I got a big grease fire when I went in the house to check something and came back to find the chicken rather blackened and the temperature in the grill at over 700 degrees! But I cooled it down and figures out that it was just the skin and that I could pull it off after it was finished cooking and everything would be good – which it was. And the potatoes were even better.

And, yes, Paper Chef ends tomorrow at Noon, so hurry and get those entries in!

Dining Out Disaster

While I wait for the Paper Chef entries to come flooding in, I’m going to resume blogging about other subjects. In this case the matter of going out to eat at restaurants. I do this less and less and especially less and less at fancy dining establishments. Why? Because I find it a worse and worse experience. The cult of celebrity has made truly high end dining so expensive that it cannot be worth it – especially at large establishments where you just cannot get truly personal attention. And mid-level restaurants just don’t seem to get it anymore – they act like high-end places but the food isn’t good enough and the service is phoney. As a result I prefer low-end dining. My favorite places to eat out are all under $20 per person total for a full meal (excluding drinks – but I rarely order much anyway – I don’t have the legs for it anymore).

I still have some favorite high-end places, but they are all very established and are clearly no longer ‘fashionable.’ Never mind that I think the food and the total experience is better – they just aren’t trendy anymore. I’m talking about places like Chez Panisse and Boulevard and Bay Wolf that are reliable and comfortable and just plain good.

What crystallized all this for me? A recent trip at the height of Summer up to Sonoma and then back through Napa. I took some visitors from England up to Dry Creek for a very nice trip around some wineries. We had lunch first in Healdsburg, did a nice circuit and then headed across to Calistoga and back down through Napa in the hopes of scoring a decent meal without a reservation at a good spot. We ended up in Yountville at a new establishment that has gotten lots of attention, highly positive reviews, and which is associated with one of the highest reputations in the world. We were seated at the bar, treated indifferently and got a meal that started on a high note and went steadily downhill to plumb the depths. I should have sent the dessert back and perhaps would have done if I wasn’t with overly reserved and polite English people (and wasn’t one myself).

And that was the bottom line. I could not have made a salad as nice as the one we started with. But I could have done better on the next two courses and ANYBODY could have done better on the dessert. Let’s just say that a raw crumble is very bad indeed.

I was not asked how my meal was – which WAS a good thing since I was prepared to say what I thought. Obviously I’m not going back. And I may very well not bother going to any of the other restaurants I associate this one with – life’s too short

Anyway, this is just one example. In fact I am more disappointed than not when I eat at high end establishments. And I am almost always disappointed when I eat at mid level restaurants. It’s only down at the so-called-bottom of the range that I find satisfaction anymore. Am I the only one?