Thursday, February 26, 2009

Top Chef Season 5 Finale Recap


Do not continue reading if you don’t want to know who wins!!!

Okay, now that that is out of the way – let’s talk about the Top Chef Season 5 Finale! It all started last week with a challenge I really enjoyed. Fabio, Hosea, Carla, and Stefan traveled to New Orleans where they were greeted by Padma, Tom, and special guest Emeril Lagasse! Then, in true Top Chef fashion, the freshly eliminated Jamie, Jeff, and Leah magically appear. Oh and weren’t we all so thrilled to see whiny, needy, clingy Leah once again? Not so much. I swear that girl had an excuse for everything. If she made a mistake it was never “Oh, okay, good to know”, it was always this whiny “Oh really? Okay well see I didn’t know that so I just did the only thing I knew how to do because I didn’t want to risk messing it up….” Blah. I’m over her. Anyways, so then the past contestants had a quickfire challenge to see who would be rejoining the competition. They had one hour to cook a dish using crawfish with Emeril as a judge – talk about pressure! I was hoping for Jamie but Jeff managed to walk away with the win and get back in the game. Once again, see ya Leah!

And next, we move on to the real challenge in this episode, which I loved. I think I actually liked this more than the actual finale. Jeff, Hosea, Carla, Fabio and Stefan were catering a Masquerade Ball for Mardi Gras. They had to make two appetizers, one of which had to be Creole, and then also a signature cocktail. I thought this was great and really let them showcase their creativity. I also like it when the contestants get to interact with ‘real people’ instead of the judges because I feel like the judges can be overly critical at times and the ‘real people’ just like what tastes good and aren’t as worried about technique, etc.

I thought everyone’s food looked great, especially Carla’s. In order for Jeff to move on to the real finale, he had to win this challenge. So the winner of this challenge not only got to move on to the finale, they also won a Toyota Venza! (I know I wouldn’t have any idea what this car was if they did not advertise it during every commercial break…) Once they got back to judge’s table I really thought Jeff was going to win. Emeril seemed to really enjoy his food and had great things to say. They were just really taken with Carla though and she got the win – and the car! They had to eliminate one more person also and in the end it came down to “Team Europe”, Stefan and Fabio. As I was watching I was sure they were going to send cocky Stefan home but they sent poor sweet funny Fabio home instead! He was so determined and had such a good attitude through the whole competition. I was really sad to see him pack his knives and go.

So on to the finale! Side note: I feel like this may have been the worst Top Chef Finale EVER. I felt like the whole episode was so rushed, they didn’t show much of their prep work or planning out of their menus, and the judges hardly showed any commentary on the food itself. I was ready for more Rocco DiSpirito! Come on! AND, whatever happened to the part of the finale episodes when the talk to the contestants about what they’ve been doing since other episodes of the show finished taping? I seem to remember them going to people’s homes and talking to them about the recipes they’d been practicing, discussing offers they’d gotten, etc. And haven’t they been able to bring special ingredients back to the finale in past seasons also? None of that this time – I’m not sure what was going on.

Here’s a little more Rocco for you though, just for fun. Oh how I heart him! And really how could you not? LOOK at him!!!!

And now on to the finale. Tom and Padma greet the remaining contestants, Hosea, Carla and Fabio, and Tom announces their final challenge. “Cook us the best three course meal of your life.” He is quick to add that they can use any protein they like and that their three course meal is not required to have a dessert. Everyone seems excited about the challenge. Nothing weird has been thrown in; they can finally just relax, cook a normal meal and showcase their talent. Then a surprise! Out of a dark tunnel, appear three shadowy figures. They get closer and closer and we see that its Marcel from Season 2, Casey from Season 3 and Richard from Season 4! The Season 5 contestants draw knives to see what order they will get to choose who they work with. Hosea gets to go first and chooses Richard. Then Stefan is up and in a move that I thought would be lucky for Carla, he chooses Marcel which means that Carla gets to work with Casey. I was so excited because I really liked Casey in Season 3. This is shaping up great.

They have 2 hours to prep that night and then 3 hours to cook the following day. They get into the kitchen and get to work. Carla already has a plan for some of the things she would like to do and then unfortunately Casey talks her into come changes. Carla has never used the sous vide method of cooking but Casey thinks it would be great for the ‘meat and potatoes’ course Carla has planned so they go with that. Then Casey also talks her into a blue cheese soufflĂ© – I’m not getting a good feeling about this Carla! Go with your gut – don’t listen to Casey!

Everyone is busy busy in the kitchen and the 2 hours seem to fly by. When they arrive back in the kitchen the next day Tom is waiting for them with another twist. They now have to add an appetizer to their 3 course meal and they must use one of the proteins on the table in front of him: alligator, red fish, or crab. They draw knives to see who picks first – its Hosea. And in another twist, Hosea not only gets to pick his protein, he also gets to assign the other 2 to Carla and Stefan. Hosea picks red fish, gives Carla the crab and sticks it to Stefan by giving him the alligator.

Moving on. I thought Hosea’s appetizer looked amazing! I would have totally ordered that if I’d been in a restaurant. Stefan and Carla both did soups which I thought was really odd for an appetizer that was assigned to them as ‘something that could be passed’. So you know this isnt’ something people are going to be sitting down to eat, they’re going to grab it off a tray. That situation doesn’t really call for soup to me but they both did it and they’re on this show and I certainly am not so maybe there’s something there. Everyone seemed to really be impressed with all of the appetizers and things were off to a good start.

Side note: Did anyone else notice the additional guest at the party? Otherwise knows as Gail’s b00bs! Hel-lo! What was going on with that dress???? And where was Emeril in this episode? I was hoping he’d stick around for both parts of the finale.

For the first course, it seemed that Carla had it in the bag. Unfortunately Casey’s idea for the meat ruined her second course and no one really liked it. The third course was interesting because Hosea did venison instead of a dessert of any kind. Carla chose to do a cheese course but accidentally curdled her blue cheese soufflĂ© and was unable to serve it and Stefan made a banana lollipop and some ice cream. Not very impressive.

Once they are at Judges’ Table it is clear that Carla is not going to be the winner. They hardly even talk about her food at all, she is quickly dismissed from conversation and they begin comparing Stefan and Hosea. They do note that it didn’t really seem like some of the dishes Carla made were her normal style and wondered what was going on. Um, Casey was the problem there! The judges decide that Stefan’s dessert just wasn’t that special, and they didn’t really care for his watery fish first course either so the winner is……..Hosea!

I was honestly shocked. I felt like surely it would have been Carla until Casey got in the way and ruined it for her. And I really liked Casey before this! I felt like Hosea was always kind of under the radar this season. He only won a few challenges here and there, always just seemed to skate by. I guess he did something right in this finale though! I also felt like this finale was more rushed than others have been. I wish they would have given them a little more time in the kitchen so they could really produce something they were comfortable with and proud of.

I think the reunion next week will be really interesting. I really hope Hosea and Leah are not dating in real life!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Valentine's Day!

With Valentine's Day looming over us and my love for champagne very apparent, I thought I'd share a few easy desserts that will go with any bottle of bubbly you choose!

One that may sound kind of odd but I promise is especially good involves the following ingredients:

Just clean and cut the tops off the strawberries and using a fork, dip one side lightly into the sour cream and then into the brown sugar and Y-U-M! I know it sounds weird, sour cream and brown sugar...but I promise its really good! And tastes fantastic with champagne! I don't know anyone who has ever tried this and NOT liked it, give it a try this Valentine's Day! (It also comes off seeming like you are a real 'foodie' and into the weird combos, maybe you could impress your sweetie with this interesting dessert!)

I even managed to find a picture of this online so I know I'm not the only one who likes this!

My other super easy dessert is a chocolate raspberry brownie fondue. This recipe is adapted from the Betty Crocker website. I have taken this to numerous watchings of The Bachelor, book club meetings, even Superbowl parties and it never disappoints!

For this recipe you will need:

Bake the brownies according to the package directions. Let cool and cut into 1 inch squares. (Don't forget to use a plastic knife to cut your brownies - it makes a much cleaner cut!) If you have one of those fondue bowls with a tealight underneath (I think you can get them for about $10 at Crate and Barrel...) you can use it for this to keep the mixture warm or just any normal bowl will do you just may have to heat it up again from time to time. For the icing to preserves ratio I use about 3 parts icing to 1 part preserves. I usually start with about 1/3 to 1/2 the container of icing and then add a few spoonfuls of preserves - or peanut butter, its pretty good with the chocolate also! Stir this up in a bowl and then heat in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Then let the dipping begin!

For a little variety, you can add some berries, marshmallows, or maybe pretzels to dip also!

Most importantly, don't forget the bubbly.......

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Sparkly AND Turquoise? I'm in LOVE!

With the weekend approaching and not much going on at work I decided to peruse some of my favorite websites and do a little planning for a much needed retail therapy session that will be taking place this weekend.

I'm not sure who is in charge of designing Banana Republic's jewelry these days but they are doing everything right in my book. Those of you who know me know I'm a sucker for anything sparkly and anything turquoise so the items below are totally speaking to me.

Here are a few things I'm going to have to check out in person:

Rings can be tricky so I'll have to try this one on and see how it works - could be a great new friend though! If the earrings are pretty colorful in person they may come home with me as well...

I'm also loving this bracelet but I'd like to wear it to work and I'm a little worried that it might be too noisy and I do have another gold and turqoise bracelet so I probably shouldn't - we'll have to see how the rest of the day goes..
I also came very close to buying this watch earlier - something about that turquoise gets me every time! I think its a sign I need to spend more time on the beach!Hope you all have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Workout DVD Review

I heard about this dvd from the Four Fat Chicks blog and after seeing their amazing progress with this video and their Weight Watchers diet pact, I just had to give it a try for myself. I had been putting working out on the back burner the past few months because of a work commute but now that I've moved and have more time for things like that, I've become more motivated and I'm looking for new ways to workout. I can finally actually USE the 24 Hr Fitness membership that is so conveniently autodrafted from my bank account each month but the start of the new year also means the start of a new program for lots of people and the gym has been a little crowded. Also, there are just those days when you want to mix it up a little or save some time and workout at home.
So when I read about Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred dvd I added it to my Netflix list and thought "how hard can it be?". The dvd is made up of 3 20-minute workout segments. Levels 1, 2, and 3. The dvd is designed with the idea that even if you only have 20 minutes to work out, if you do one of these 20 minute workouts each day for 30 days, you will see results. Each 20-minute segment is divided into a warm up, 3 different 6 minute workout routines, and then a cool down. Each workout routine is 3 minutes weight training, 2 minutes cardio and 1 minute abs. Jillian keeps you busy the whole time with all that switching between exercises! The first level includes push ups, jumping jacks, squats, punches, jumping rope, crunches, reverse crunches, and I can't even remember what else. By the end of it I was a little sweaty but wanted to keep going and see what Level 2 was all about...

Level 2 was a little more of the same with some lunges, high kicks, and planks thrown in for good measure. Jillian doesn't let you take a water break but man I was reaching for mine every chance I got between the cardio and abs portions! This is a total body workout for sure! Its fast paced and Jillian seems focused and pretty serious about delivering results. I was able to do all of it, sans weights on the first go round, and Jillian is there cheering you on along the way which helps a lot too. She knows just what to say to keep a girl going "Picture yourself going shopping for jeans - or even better bathing suits!" - definitely got me going a little harder! There are 2 other girls in the video also, one doing an advanced version of each move and one doing an easier version so you just do what you can - the important thing is to keep moving. After I had finished I didn't feel like it had been the hardest workout in the world or anything but upon waking up the next morning and even still today, 2 days later, I am feeling those squats, lunges, chest presses. This dvd is about $10 and totally worth it. I think I'll be bringing Jillian home for good and adding her to my workout video library pretty soon! After my trial run of Levels 1 and 2 I wasn't up for Level 3 - honestly after Level 2 I'm a little scared of what is in involved in Level 3! Maybe I'll get there once I own the dvd and have mastered the other 2...

The only complaint I have is that you can't set the workouts to play all in a row. So if you want to do more than one, you have to go back to the menu, select the next one and then go from there. Not a huge thing but a "play all" feature would be nice. And the music selection isn't the best but what workout dvd really has music that is that great? Not many!

There are only 2 other workout dvds that I really like. One I've had since college and even though Billy Blanks has been around the world and back at this point and probably has about 100 dvds, I'm still a fan of the original. The dvd I have has 3 workouts on it and once you are familiar with the moves, the Advanced one is great. It runs about an hour and has great moves for strength and toning. There is a good section at the end for abs and butt/legs too. I can do this one over and over without getting too annoyed with the music and/or people also. I started doing Tae Bo in high school and still, 10 years later, I would be happy to pop this in and kick and punch with Billy for an hour!
The other dvd I regularly do at home is MTV Pilates Mix. This dvd is made up of 2 30-minute workouts and a 12-minute bonus routine for whenever you're in a real time crunch. On the 30-minute workouts, one concentrates on lower body and one concentrates on upper body. To me, the workouts are timed perfectly. They're not too long or too short. This dvd does have a "play all" feature so I usually select that and do both 30-minute workouts. This is the perfect workout for those times when you don't want to so hot and sweaty that you have to take a shower but you do want to get a good workout in. The toning and ab moves are great and I feel like it does help you lengthen your muscles and improve your overall posture. The instructor for this also does a Power Yoga dvd for MTV but I haven't tried that one just yet. It is coming up in my Netflix queue so I will let you know what I think pretty soon!
Also, none of these dvds require any additional equipment. You could use some light weights for the 30 Day Shred, but thats about it. You just need to make the space on the floor in front of the tv! And Jillian and the Pilates Mix dvds are listed for about $10 each on and qualify for their great "Super Saver Shipping" so you could add on something fun to make up the $25 minimum order and have these in your home by next week! Sadly, I just realized that the Tae Bo dvd I mentioned is pretty hard to come by these days. I think all of his workouts are probably great, the original advanced one is just one that I prefer. He must be doing something right if he's still able to make and sell all these new dvds!

TV Schedule

So I've seen this post on a few other blogs lately and thought I'd share mine as well. Here's my weekly tv rundown. I don't usually watch these shows when they air, I'm a fan of the DVR and usually get all of this in in one or two marathon sittings....

Gossip Girl
Jon & Kate + 8
The City/The Hills

One Tree Hill
The Real Housewives of the OC

The Real World (I've heard this cast is great but honestly they're still on my dvr - I will catch up soon hopefully!)
Top Chef

Grey's Anatomy (also WAY behind on this...)
The Office
Ace of Cakes

Desperate Housewives
Brothers & Sisters

So you see its a lot of reality tv and teenage drama with some things that are more appropriate for my age thrown in for good measure. I will also usually watch any type of "challenge" show that is on The Food Network and can easily get sucked into a Lifetime movie. I am also so excited for the return of The Millionaire Matchmaker, The Rachel Zoe Project, and The Real Housewives of NY - I'll watch pretty much anything on Bravo apparently. I'd also LOVE to get into The Biggest Loser because I have heard such fantastic things about it, maybe next season....

Monday, February 2, 2009

Love Lessons

This article was on last Friday and all weekend I've been thinking about how true it is - you dog lovers will understand!

Here's the link to the full article:
And just to sum it up...
1. The reasurrance of forgiveness: In order to have a successful partnership, letting bygones be bygones is crucial. An inability to get over issues and move ahead is a key roadblock to happiness. If humans could let the little things go as easily as dogs do, their relationships would be better for it.

2. The security of unconditional love: Forbes says that as a rule, when a dog loves his owner, that bond is lasting and real. When it comes to romantic relationships, humans should strive to emulate a dog's focus on what a person really offers in terms of love, kindness and warmth, he advises.

3. The comfort of consistency: In a romantic relationship, consistency can be quite comforting. What's not to love about a partner who is never moody or capricious? ( I will say that it would be boring to be in a relationship with someone who never had a change in their mood BUT I never get tired of seeing how excited Ellie is to see me at the end of the day, or even when I just go get the mail and come right back. There she is, ALWAYS, greeting me with a huge smile and wagging her butt like crazy! I know I can count on that every day, without question, and who wouldn't love to get a similar reaction from their partner each time they walked into a room???)

4. The need to be playful: Forbes notes that most dogs want to have a good time, keeping things light and not so serious all of the time. In police-dog training, Forbes explains, training is balanced with play and fun. "The harder you go at it in a training phase, the more you have to counterbalance it," he says. "It's the same with a relationship — you have to relieve the pressure through play and good times."

5. The importance of effective communication: (PS If this were my list, this would be much higher than #5!) While communicating with your partner is important in a relationship, it's not merely the act of communicating that will ensure your relationship's success, but finding the way to do so that best matches your partner's needs. Essentially, no one person or dog communicates the same way — each individual has a unique style, and taking the time to learn about your partner's needs is the key to a strong bond.

And, because I'm new to the blogging world and not quite sure about reprinting something someone else wrote here is some more info on where you can find this: Chelsea Kaplan's blog, "The Momtourage" can be found at