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Posts tagged ‘Food’

Elizabeth Cauvel vs. Courtney Lapresi is going to be the MasterChef 2014 finale, right?

MasterChef seems to be a big fan of the narrative thread this season perhaps more than any other — for example, Leslie and Ahran feuded repeatedly in early challenges and then, on Ahran’s eventual elimination night, it was her vs. Leslie (and it got to the point where she said Leslie was going to win the whole thing). I’ve written about Leslie a little bit before, and while I do think he’ll be in the final three/four, I see him eventually getting eliminated. He’s a very good cook and he’s done a masterful job surviving all these Stress Tests, but I think there’s an element where they’re keeping him around this long for the ratings side. He seems like he’s a potentially insufferable dude on the regular (although we see such a narrow sphere of these people’s interactions that I can’t be sure).

If you think about the narrative side of this season, though, it seems like the entire thing is building towards Elizabeth vs. Courtney. Even last night, when — SPOILER ALERT — one-time fan favorite Big Willie went home, the whole thing was essentially about Courtney (up in the balcony after winning Mystery Box) trying to screw Elizabeth by putting her with Cutter. It almost worked. I’d say at least once per episode this year, either Courtney or Elizabeth has done something and they’ve immediately cut to a shot of the other one throwing shade / side-eye at what just happened. They’re angling to meet in the finals; it definitely seems like the earlier episodes were edited to get us hyped for that.

The final six is now Cutter, Christian, Leslie, Elizabeth, Courtney, and Jaime.

I feel like the strongest four cooks, based on the body of evidence thus far, are: Leslie, Courtney, Christian, and Elizabeth.

Personally, I feel like that’ll be the final four. I could easily be wrong.

I like Cauvel (Elizabeth) a lot because she seems like a cool person off show, and she’s doing the social media side of it right. For example:

Fans are into it too, and she responds:

Plus, she’s got a cool website — tag line is “Staying in is the new going out” — and the website has a blog, with entries like this:

A lot of my friends do “Meatless Mondays.” As a conscientious omnivore, I try to eat meat at only one meal a day (although sometimes, I don’t adhere to this rule–which is why I try not to preach about it). As I’ve discussed before, I am a strong believer in the meat-in-moderation approach to eating, and I hope that this recipe shows you that you can conceptualize dishes in fun and unexpected ways when you take meat out of the equation.

The inspiration for this dish was definitely the iconic visual of spaghetti and meatballs–one of my all time favorite meals, and in my opinion, in the top ten best dishes in the world. But could I take that beloved classic and make vegetarian? I knew I could do it. And for me, the fun is always in the challenge. I was actually surprised just how tasty this ended up being! The zucchini noodles are actually awesome–I will definitely be adding them to my repertoire! And they couldn’t be simpler. This was the first time I’d made falafel from scratch, and while I can’t say it was perfect, my husband said it was the most delicious falafel he’d ever had. High praise from someone who LIVED on the stuff in college.

To potentially contradict my theory on Elizabeth making the finals, there’s this tweet from her husband on July 26th. I have no idea of the shooting schedule of MasterChef and this could just be for the comedy sake of the posed shot, but … she might have been said because they taped her elimination episode before she flew back to NYC. Again, who knows? I love floating theories.

On August 17th, though, she was away again. (Still don’t know the production schedule, but clearly it’s wrapped by now.)

Point is on all this stuff: there’s six left. I’m not sure how they’ll eliminate them, but if I had to guess, this would be my order:

  • Jaime goes out next week (it looks like a stressful test, and she hasn’t been great at those)
  • Cutter goes out the week after (he’s been skating, legitimately)
  • Christian goes out the following week (Leslie does something devious to get him gone)
  • Leslie vs. Courtney vs. Elizabeth gets rid of Leslie
  • The final is Courtney vs. Elizabeth

Obviously they may edit it differently and eliminate two at a time, etc. — but that’s my best guess for the final six.

Your thoughts?

Courtney Lapresi and Cutter Brewer are just awful to watch on MasterChef Season 5

I’ve been watching a lot of Master Chef recently. I have no idea why. This morning, I woke up at 4:21am having to pee. I did that and couldn’t successfully go back to sleep, so I went and watched the most recent episode, which I hadn’t seen yet.

I’ve never watched a full season of Master Chef before — or any cooking show, for that matter — but for some reason, this Season 5 of Master Chef resonates with me. The first possibility is that I actually learned to cook only in the last 3-4 years, so maybe now that I have a few skills in the arsenal, I like to see other people try stuff out (that said, I’d fail at almost every single one of these challenges).

The other possibility for my connection with Season 5 — the more logical one — is the characters. Like I said, I haven’t seen U.S. seasons 1-4, so they could have been populated by dynamic characters as well, but Season 5 has some hella train wrecks.

First, you have Courtney Lapresi. She’s ostensibly one of the favorites; every time someone tries to challenge her or eff her over, she cooks better and continues to advance. She wears high heels and has a cloying smile and voice, and used to be “an aerial dancer” at The Golden Nugget in Atlantic City. Plus, it regularly appears that Gordon Ramsay wants to have sex with her, which makes the entire thing even more awful.

You’ve got this dude Cutter Brewer — a petroleum landman from Beaumont — on the show as well. You can see one of his classic “stand-up-for-myself-but-come-off-like-an-ass-in-the-process” moments at the very top of this post. He’s been in the bottom three (worst three dishes) five times in nine episodes, but hasn’t yet been eliminated; he basically keeps getting narrowly saved because someone else on that specific episode is just hideously incompetent. (Plus, I mean his feuding with the judges makes for good television.)

Here’s Cutter describing what’s ostensibly a large cracker as “an artisan pizza:”

Probably the third-most annoying person on Season 5 U.S. is this old dog, Leslie Gilliams, who seems to antagonize everyone around him for no real reason – then get flustered attempting to make diner eggs. Here’s a quote he gave a local publication in his home area (Malibu):

“I tried to be friendly, but I don’t think I was well-liked on set,” Gilliams said. “There was a big age difference between me and the rest of the chefs and I think they thought I was a silver-spooner.”

Indeed. You can see his stuff with the eggs here:

If you are watching this show and the above isn’t total Greek to you, my prediction would be that the final four is Christian, Courtney, Ahran and Elizabeth — but I could be utterly wrong on that (probably will be). Willie is kind of a great story too, so you could see him being around at the end, but his cooking seems to be better when the focus is Southern / Texan, and you know they’ve got a lot more Italian coming up (in fact, that’s the elimination test in two episodes).

I could see Cutter last 1-2 more close call shows just to keep people interested, then get violently bounced in an episode where his oven explodes or some such. Leslie will probably be there until the final six-eight, because he’s a good foil — especially for Ahran.

If Courtney wins the whole thing, though, I think I might swear off cooking shows for good after only truly following one of them ever.


Your kids may be eating sand in their pizza at school

From Mother Jones and their visit to a school lunch conference:

While the exhibitors were eager to show off their products’ nutritional stats, few offered actual ingredients lists. When I asked the rep at the Uno pizza booth why ingredients weren’t included on his nutrition information sheet, he told me the list wouldn’t fit on the page.

“Don’t the school nutritionists ask you what’s in this?” I asked. Nope, he said. Most of them just wanted to know whether the product met the legal guidelines. He offered to email me the list later. When he did, I learned that Uno’s Whole Grain Low Sodium Sweet Potato Crust Pepperoni Pizza contained nearly 50 ingredients, including sodium nitrite, which has been linked to cancer. I also persuaded the Domino’s rep to email me a list of ingredients in his company’s specially formulated school pizza, SmartSlice. It was also nearly 50 items long, and included silicone dioxide, otherwise known as sand.
The other notable aspect of this post is something that shouldn’t surprise a soul: the big-name food companies (General Mills, Yum Brands) sponsor the school lunch conference and, as such, get prime tables near the front and center aisles peddling their programs and ideas. Those may not be as healthy as some “mom-and-pop” or smaller outfits who get resigned to the further aisles, where less people actually go. That’s why — well, that’s part of why — the problems persist in the school cafeteria space (the other problem is likely just money; it’s a little bit more expensive to have kids in schools eating super-healthy every day). Then there’s Robert Aderholt and all that.
In some states, the issues around school lunches are becoming a little bit of a fracas.
My two cents: having been a teacher, I know how hard it is to maintain student interest in any topic. I also know a few things about attention spans. It’s unrealistic to expect students to learn really effectively, especially in the back half of the day, when they’re eating essentially sugar’ed-up garbage at that midpoint. School lunches are incredibly important as a topic, but the money just might not honestly be there in a lot of contexts — and when the money is there, it’s likely from corporations and fancy booths at conference events. A shame, but not an unexpected one.

If everyone in America stopped eating beef tomorrow and started eating chicken, it’d be like taking 26 million cars off the road

Greenhouse Gases and Food Production

Check out the chart above, via here. It compares the greenhouse gas emissions linked with the production of beef and chicken. As you can see, chicken is a lot less — in fact, it’s about four times less. If you were to rank the main things that humans tend to consume, in fact, the order of greenhouse gas emissions linked to each goes something like this: lamb (which we apparently should never eat, because it’s just crushing the environment), beef, cheese, pork, farmed salmon, turkey, and then … all the way at No. 7: chicken.

Get this, from the crazy stat department:

Diane Rehm hosted a patriotically apropos discussion on her radio show this week, in which experts called for the U.S. to be global leaders in assuaging climate change—with our meat choices. Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group (which conducted the studies that created these charts), said, “If every American stopped eating beef tomorrow—which I don’t expect—and started eating chicken instead, that would be the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off the road.”

Now add this: the 16 largest ships in the world account for the same amount of environmental duress as all the cars in the world. So Elon Musk’s grand plans be damned, a real key to somewhat ebbing the environmental issues out there is down-shifting America from beef to chicken (in terms of beef consumption, the global average is about 93 pounds per year; the American average is, predictably, over 210 pounds per year).

I eat beef and chicken, although I do find it morally interesting how we decide what animals are OK to eat — for example, most Americans would never eat a dog (although other cultures do) and are freaked out by eating horses, but would love the chance to eat whale, which is basically an apex predator. I have no real idea how we make these decisions and value judgements, honestly; it seems like maybe it was something handed down to us and we just ran with it. I know there’s a culture around beef being “true American” or something, but in reality, beef is a fairly boring product — and so is chicken. You can do a few marvelous things with each one, of course, but there’s not a massive difference in eating predominantly beef or predominantly chicken, from a taste/experience perspective — at least at the home cook level. I’d argue chicken might be a little healthier (albeit easier to eff up in terms of cook time). Point is, more people should be eating chicken (and lentils!) and down-shifting from beef. It’s expensive anyway. You can save money and save the world a little bit? That’s a win-win.


Sprouts, a grocery chain out of Phoenix, is changing the way you walk through a supermarket

Via Quartz, consider this. This is typically how a supermarket is laid out in the United States:

Typical Supermarket

But this layout below belongs to Sprouts Farmers Market supermarkets, which are currently mostly in the Southwest:

Sprouts Supermarket

See the difference? Typically when you enter a store, produce is to the right, and if you walk through and loop the exterior that way, you’ll hit fish, pork, poultry, meat, yogurt, eggs, OJ, dairy, cheese and frozen. That’s how my current primary supermarket works, and, come to think of it — that’s how pretty much every supermarket I’ve ever regularly attended has worked (minus one, in Queens, but Queens is a whole different ballgame for supermarkets). The typical one I just described is illustration No. 1. In illustration No. 2, the Sprouts one, notice that produce is essentially a destination — you need to want to get there, because it’s in the center back, give or take.

Most supermarkets keep produce on the “right wing” because they can make more money there. Lest you think I know nothing, here’s an actual expert:

“The outside of the store, the produce, the meat, and seafood, it has much higher margins,” says Euromonitor International analyst David McGoldrick.

The reason Sprouts can do it differently is a little bit about their primary locations — they’re in the Southwest and get a ton of produce from California on the cheap — and a little bit about their differing business model:

The reason is price. Sprouts’ business is based around aggressively-advertised low prices for produce—20% to 30% below conventional competitors. Those low prices mean high sales volume, which means, faster turnover, which means less waste, which means lower costs, which means the company makes money despite the lower prices.

As a result, Credit Suisse is calling Sprouts “one of the most compelling growth stories in all of retail.” Indeed, they actually have 366 percent growth since 2008. Wal-Mart has 112 percent in that period, and Whole Foods has 75 percent.

There are no doubt concerns about Sprouts’ ability to go bigger — if it tries to get into the American Southeast, for example, it will have proximity to Florida produce but it might have to raise prices a decent amount in that context. And then, of course, there are the California drought issues.

Those expansion concerns notwithstanding, investors look at 366 percent growth and start salivating. “Disruption” is all the rage these days too — lines might be next! — and turning a 60-year-old model straight on its head in terms of how to lay out a supermarket is interesting stuff too. There are no doubt challenges, but Sprouts is a brand area to keep an eye on.

Final sidebar: I went to a wedding in Columbus, OH last fall and one of my wife’s friends works in the supermarket industry (actually, out west/southwest too). On Sunday after the wedding, we hit up a couple of supermarkets in Columbus and basically analyzed the hell out of their layouts — apparently we’re all nerds — which was way more interesting than you might think. Where you put layouts of salty chips vs. red wine vs. cucumbers is all, theoretically, a science. I’m not sure every lil’ ol’ consumer views it that way, but someone is paid to view it that way, and it’s cool to walk around a generic supermarket with someone who actually knows something (I don’t). Other thing I learned on that trip is that middle-aged men in Columbus seem uncomfortable buying meat/poultry without calling their wives.


This is how you get your kids to eat vegetables

Apparently, you make them start early. This is from a new experiment at the University of Leeds, also covered here via the BBC. Here’s the money line from there:

“Even if your child is fussy or does not like veggies, our study shows that five to 10 exposures will do the trick.”

Nice. The format of the study was 332 children aged 4 months-38 months given different exposures of vegetables (all done in European countries) and then, essentially, seeing whether they “cleaned their plate.” The other big takeaway was that children older than 24 months (2 years) are much more reluctant to pick up new food choices.

This whole situation obviously varies by country / availability of vegetables / parenting styles, but there is a strong future alignment here: essentially, one-third of the world is currently obeseso if we could get people interested in slightly healthier food choices when they’re not actually the ones making the food choices, maybe that could help a little bit.


The Templeton Rye Pork Project is about making your bacon taste like whiskey. Good idea, or awful execution of science?

Here’s the deal. You can essentially request a pig that will taste like whiskey because of a process whereby they eat the dry distillery grain during the raising process. It’s all overseen by Nick Berry from Iowa State University and only features 25 pigs. Via here, here’s what you get from one pig (generally speaking):

  • 18 lbs pork chops, 4 lbs spare ribs, 12 lbs sausage, 24 lbs ham, 20 lbs bacon, 12 lbs shoulder butt roasts, 14 lbs shoulder picnic, 16 lbs bone/trimmings, 30 lbs fat = 150 lbs

Common reaction from the masses to this:

It all seems fine, and it goes back to the central argument about how we view pigs / eating animals in general — typically it’s fine for Americans to eat anything they wouldn’t have as a pet — but a broader question here is why (aside from “it could taste good”). There are numerous ways in the cooking process to combine bacon + whiskey and do it in quite a tasty way. So logically it’s a marketing move — but then why raise only 25 pigs? Why not go for 100? The entire aspect seems confusing. Maybe I don’t know enough about pigs.

There’s already bacon-infused bourbon, FYI — and you can make a bacon-infused Old Fashioned via this recipe:



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