Around The World In 80 Plates: The New Top Chef?

Wednesday night Bravo dishes out its newest, and what is claimed to be most expensive original programming venture yet — Around the World in 80 Plates — an ambitious show that pits 12 chefs from across the US against one another in a global setting. I know what you’re thinking: another Top Chef. So was I. But it turns out that 80 Plates is different. In fact, after previewing the first episode, I’m going to be so bold as to say it’s better, and perhaps a legitimate successor to the stale and repetitive Top Chef. Think Amazing Race meets the “restaurant wars” episode of Top Chef, which I know we can all agree is the most exciting and entertaining challenge that Top Chef has to offer these days.

80 Plates is hosted by Cat Cora and Curtis Stone, who, as we also know, I’ve been crushing on for some time. Throughout the course of the season we’re going to be treated to “food ambassadors” such as Jose Andres, Nigella Lawson and Wolfgang Puck. These ambassadors won’t play judge but will act as mere representatives of the cultures to which the competing chefs are exposed.

Continue reading for what to expect in episode one — no spoilers, I promise.

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Top 5 British Cheeses

ES sponsor is a new online food store: an artisan butcher, greengrocer and cheesemonger offering high-quality, organic British goods, delivered directly from the food producers who supply Britain’s top chefs, like Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck. The online shop includes everything from premium British bacon to leg of lamb and fresh produce. But, as usual, we’re most excited about the cheese. Turns out Britain has much more than just cheddar to offer. Check out Farmison’s cheese boxes available online, including our five new favorites:

5. Dunsyre Blue

You may associate blue cheese most closely with France, but in recent years the Scottish highlands have become ground zero for new varieties of this tangy, crumbly cheese. That’s largely thanks to Humphrey Errington, the Scottish farmer who first started turning the country’s ample ewes’ milk bounty into blue. His latest creation is a cheese more creamy than crumbly, with a soft, long, blue mellowness. Part of the British Farmhouse Cheese Box.

4. Golden Cross

Another French adaptation, this East Sussex product is a St. Maure-style goat cheese; an ancient method that involves lightly ash-ing each log so that it becomes denser, creamier and fuller-flavored as it ages. Golden Cross has a strong, cheese-lovers’ flavor, but with two distinct velvety, creamy textures — which can be brought out perfectly by grilling. Part of the Cheesemasters Special Selection Box.

3. Mrs Kirkham’s 4 Day Smoked Lancashire

Moving on to a British original, Lancashire-style cow’s-milk cheese has been produced in Northwest England for centuries. This creative take on the classic method involves smoking the cheese over hickory for four days while it is still very young. The cheese develops along with the smoke, resulting in a deep, dry, full-bodied flavor. Part of the Farmison Handpicked Cheese Box

2. 10 Month Old Lochnagar Cheddar

OK, so Britain’s not only about cheddar, but they still do cheddar pretty darn well. Made in the traditional Scottish style and colored with annato, then aged slowly until it develops a mature, only slightly sharp bite, this very cheddar-y cheddar is perfect for pairing with wine. Part of the British Artisan Cheese Box.

 1. Ragstone

This award-winning southeastern English goat’s cheese is unusual in that it is made using kid’s rennet, producing a finer, deeper and more consistent flavor than in most goat’s cheeses, which are actually finished with calf or vegetarian rennet. The smooth, slightly oozy result, with just light notes of lemon and honey, is the freshest-tasting goat’s cheese you can find. Part of the Farmison Handpicked Cheese Box.

Farmison offers six unique cheese boxes, or customers can create their own custom versions, choosing from an ample online selection. To view their unique selection of online cheese, meat and veg boxes. visit Farmison on the web.

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Cider Revolution

I get really mad at the farmers market in winter. I know I’m not supposed to. That’s the whole point of farmers markets — you get whatever is good and in season. But in New York in January, every week seems to bring the same thing: potatoes, apples, sweet potatoes, apple cider. The thrill of stumbling upon zucchini blossoms, ramps or some other new discovery is gone.

So I’m always impressed by a winter market that can pack a surprise. Wandering around London’s Borough Market on a cold day in early January, I saw loads of booths offering hot apple cider and mulled wine (god I love that drinking outdoors and drinking in the AM are both acceptable in Europe). Then I saw one booth offering something different: mulled pear cider.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never seen any cider other than apple. Why is this? The pear cider was rich, warming, and just a little bit thick, like a sweet, steamy soup — the perfect thing to warm your bones on a chilly winter morning. Personally, I think it could have done with a splash of bourbon, but that’s another story.

This is just to say…why do apples get to hog all the cider glory? I’d love to see more pear cider at the markets here. Peach cider? Plum cider? Zucchini blossom cider? Bring it on.

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An American in London

If you’ll continue to indulge me here on my whirlwind world tour, ESers, I’m currently on my way back home from Africa and decided to stop over in London for a few days (it’s on the way, right? Well, kind of.) Anyway, it’s a hot thing in the food world right now to talk about how British food isn’t as horrible as it used to be; how Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal and the gastropub explosion have finally made England safe for foodies. Of course, personally I was less interested in hearing about what celeb chef does the best high-end pigeon plate, and more into figuring about whether or not this newly foodified country knows how to make a proper sandwich.

First stop: Borough Market, the weekly food fest just south of Tower Bridge, where I spied some lovely slices of halloumi doused in garlic and lemon cooking up on the grill. I’ve mentioned the glories of grilled halloumi on the blog before, but let’s pause for a rant:  why is this delicious cheese so sparsely available in the US? Yes, you can find it in high-end stores sometimes, but it usually costs $9 and I almost never see it in restaurants. In Europe, and oddly, also in Africa, you see halloumi all the time on salad and sandwich menus, and it’s not particularly pricey. I know it’s not a U.S. cheese, but really, we have all kinds of Euro cheeses in the states, why are we so low on this one? I’m just saying, it really spruces up a salad or sandwich, and we need to get on that train. </rant>

Moving on — clearly, I wanted the halloumi as soon as I saw it. But then I had a twinge of travel eating doubt. You see, when traveling I always get hyper worried about making the wrong food decisions. I figure I only have a set amount of meals in each location, just get super nervous about blowing one by ordering something less than fantastic. Was halloumi really the right choice on my first day in London, especially when it’s not even a British food? I began to question my decision. The same stand also sold bacon butties, and the pork-y smell filling the air was raising serious doubt. Meat or cheese??? My food-travel anxiety kicked into high gear.

Then of course, I remembered I’m American and that I don’t have to choose.

“Could you make me a sandwich with bacon and grilled halloumi on it?” I tentatively asked the sandwich cook, wondering if he would scoff at my foreign fattiness.

“Absolutely,” he replied. “Would you like the bread toasted?

“Yes, please.”

“Actually, would you just like the bread grilled in bacon fat?”

Oh, man. Now that is my kind of British chef.

More Bacon: Recipes, raves and other bacon bits in Endless Bacon.

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Getting Busy With the Fizzy

One of the most popular holiday presents for foodies in recent years has been the Sodastream machine. These $100 seltzer makers are new, trendy and high-tech, but also fit nicely into the food world’s current obsession with all things organic and D.I.Y. So naturally, when I walked into my cousin’s Manhattan apartment recently and spied a Sodastream, I congratulated her on being such an up-on-it, trendy foodie.

So imagine my surprise when my other cousin, who was in town visiting from Ireland, walks into the kitchen a few minutes later and remarks, “Oh, a Sodastream – how retro!”


Irish cuz goes on to insist that every single Irish home had a Sodastream in the 1970s, “back when they were cool,” but that now the contraptions are mostly just gathering dust in people’s attics and basements. Clearly, we didn’t believe her, because these things just got popular here, and there is no way we could be decades behind Ireland in terms of food trends, is there? A few days later, she sends this:

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Top 10 Things to Eat Before the End of the World

It’s no secret that May 21, 2011 is Judgment Day—the end of the world—as so eloquently articulated (or do we mean ridiculously predicted?) by Family Radio Worldwide’s Harold Camping. Here at ES, we think the best solution to eminent annihilation is to indulge at one of our favorite foodie destinations. And if some of us survive, at least it’ll be easier to get a reservation.

10. English Pudding All Night

The stickiest way to finish up your time on Earth is at the  Three Ways House Hotel in Gloucestershire, England, where they have created the Pudding Club, an “end of the world” experience where you can indulge in a tasting of no less than seven puddings, from oriental ginger to jam roly-poly, and even stay the night in a pudding-themed bedroom. Talk about going out with a bang.

9. Salt-Baked Fingerling Potatoes with Bacon Butter and Anchovy Mayo

Chef Megan Johnson at Elsewhere Restaurant in New York City has created a deceptively simple dish combining the best of all things fatty, starchy, salty and creamy—all the palette pleasers you’ll miss when forced to live on dirt and ants if you’re lucky enough to survive.

8. Mexican-Style Street Corn with Cotija Cheese and Ancho Chile Powder

Austin’s La Condesa restaurant not only serves up more than 100 varieties of blue agave tequila (an essential for pre-Judgment Day partying), but also offers this signature south-of-the-border street corn side dish. If the world really were ending soon, we’d start covering every vegetable we eat in cotija cheese and chili. (Photo: Shelly Roche)

7. East Mountain Pork Live Paté

A beautifully decadent house-made paté is accompanied by onion confit and rye toast at Mezze, a classic bistro and bar nestled in the Berkshires with views straight to heaven. (Photo: Gregory Nesbit)

6. 1949 Chevalier-Montrachet Maison Leroy

Our bomb shelter of choice would have to be the St. Regis Deer Valley’s wine vault, stocked with more than 1,000 different rare labels. Acclaimed sommelier Mark Eberwein recommends popping one of these 60-year-old whites for your last night on earth. (Photo: My Wines and More)

Next: Top 5 Things to Eat Before the End of the World

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Revenge Served Cold: Nettle Pesto

Growing up in England nettles were a large part of my childhood, whether I liked it or not — and I generally didn’t. This wretched plant caused many a tear in my household, its stinging leaves leaving immense pain that lasted for hours, with little sympathy from my parents as I was usually up to no good in the garden or local park, causing said sting.

When I saw nettles at the local farmers’ market here in D.C., I jumped at the chance to fight back, to serve justice to this leafy plant once and for all. There’s very little you can actually do with nettles, the most obvious was soup, but in these late spring months it seemed a tad too warm for that. I settled on pesto, a simple and versatile sauce that I could use in many dishes.

We’ve cooked basil brownies and avocado milkshakes, now it’s time for the nettle pesto.


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