pack your knives and go

232105 "So whad’ya think?" I asked as I licked the last bits off my spoon.
"Yeah, now that you’ve forced me to watch that Top Chef marathon, I’m an expert."
"Dude, I would totally make this at home." This was Affogato, an espresso dessert I’d never heard of before.
"What’s the big deal?"
"True, it doesn’t get easier than brewing espresso and pouring it over a moon of ice cream, but it is ingenious and quite smart that they included it on the menu."  I’d use vanilla, not chocolate, gelato, and I didn’t say "moon."  "And it looks impressive on a menu.  Yes," I say in a mock-sophisticated voice, "and for dessert, I’ll be serving Affogato."  I enunciate each syllable.  "Then people will raise their eyebrows only to learn it’s as simple as a pour.  I love it.  Ingenious, really."
"I say, pack your knives and go."

We’ve come to discuss all our meals as if we’re now experts, the both of us.  Once upon a time I was a food critic.  But now Phil is on board.  He suddenly feels the need and right (it is his right after all) to critique all his meals, all the chefs, quite harshly.  I highly encourage you all to watch TOP CHEF on Bravo.  HIGHLY.  They air previous episodes all the time, so you can catch up on the drama.  I love being inspired by the ingredients and challenges.  What would I create, say, if I were to compose a menu of the seven deadly sins?  Oh the fun in imagining it all and then having another dinner party!  So not going to happen now, but someday. In the meanwhile, I’ll keep my knives sharp.  I’m not going anywhere.



  1. Loved TC season 1. Loved Harold. Hated Tiffany. Started season 2 but somewhere along the way fell off but I did catch up last night. I am Team Sam all the way.

  2. speaking of knives, does anybody — stephanie or anybody else? — have a recommendation for a good set of kitchen knives?

  3. I think it would do you good to have a small dinner party .. even if it is just a sophisticated pot-luck – or maybe a small brunch. I know that when I have had the most difficult of time, it has helped tremendously to be surrounded by a few good friends, enjoying some good food .. and good conversation.
    Just a thought.

  4. Are people not watching that show? I love, love, love it and amuse bouche is now a word I use regularly. Well love it all except Tiffany from last season, "We said to impressive us". "Didn't I?" Blech.

  5. I love Top Chef! I have to admit that I was a bit of a snob when it first came out because I was a loyal fan of Project Runway but Top Chef has really inspired me to try out new foods and to really enjoy them more as an art and also to enjoy the process of creating food. I love being inspired in creative ways. I have to agree with the other poster, Amuse Bouche is a great word. I can't find enough ways to fit it into the vocabulary. Plus it doesn't hurt to watch it considering how hot I find Sam to be.

  6. I'm surprised you've been in Italy and never heard of it before… It's very common in the "bars" (the coffee shops here in Italy).

    Anyway… yesterday I was at a big mall near Rome, and I stopped at the bar for a coffee. They make all kinds of affogato there… I took one with cream and nutella (over espresso, as usual), and it was delicious.

    Since you are in a warm state, you could also check the "caffè freddo", a way to serve espresso ice cold, maybe with gelato, or cream… it's delicious, really, and in summer it's very refreshing.

  7. love top chef. can't believe padma is salman rushdie's wife. tom coliccio makes me uncomfortable. love sam. :)

  8. Is anyone else less than impressed by the contestants this year? Last year there were so many people you could root for, that I didn’t even have a favorite until the last 3 or 4 episodes. Now its like picking the least worst instead of the best.
    Sam and Ilan have been too hateful and petty with Marcel
    Marcel is just too arrogant
    Cliff is a jerk
    Elia lets everyone walk all over her

    Oh how I miss the Leanns, the Daves, and the Harolds.

  9. Okay. Harold deserved to win, and we all love him. Agreed. HOWEVER, if you go on the basis of food alone in that last episode, I'm betting Tiffany should have won. I didn't like her and was rooting for Harold with everyone else, but it did seem like Tiffany should have won based on the food she put out. "What makes a good top chef is people liking you and wanting to work for you." I guess. But there are plenty of ruthless chefs who turn out the best food in the world. And Dave… this season so needed a wounded, "you're not my bitch, bitch" guy.

    We all know Sam will win this season. I do LOVE the idea of having all the top chef winners compete against each other. Not just the winners. Maybe the runner's up too. Or they should do it with project runway, sort of an all-star game. Iron Chef but so much better. And I'm really looking forward to "Top Designer!" Man I want to make out with these shows.

  10. Love Top Chef. Also LOVED Hell's Kitchen. And Survivor. And Apprentice. And America's Next Top Model, and American Idol, etc.

    God help me.

    My brain is deteriorating by the moment. But I enjoy every second.

  11. CeCe, Couldn't agree more: this cast is not impressive.

    As for knives: I wouldn't recommend getting a set but getting a chef's knive and a paring knife from either Global or Sabatier. I think Williams & Sonoma sells Global knives. They have a pretty good knife selection. Besides a chef's knife and a paring knife, you maybe need a bread knife. Trust me on this. Those are expensive knives but worth the investment. Also get a sharpening stone–instructions are on the package, and you'll be set for decades.

  12. J. A. Henckels knives are always nice. As are Wusthof.

    I don't think this season was anywhere near as good as last. I think this one might have had more drama or something, but I thought the chefs were better last season.

  13. This is just a collection of small response comments to other comments:

    Personally, I'm pretty much over Top Chef. I don't know if it gets *better* that Iron Chef. Bobby Flay, according to my friends that know him, is a pretty arrogant bastard but his food is still pretty good and his Throw Down show is fun. Although, I think Mario Batali is way better. I just got back from Italy and I never saw Affogato either.

  14. As for the knife query…O.P. I would highly recommend Sabatier (made in France). My husband won't use anything else (talk about a kitchen artillery snob). They sharpen really, really well. The carbon steel ones take a supreme edge, but you have to watch the rust. We have a very old one that is still the sharpest knife in the drawer (ha) even though it is by far the eldest of our knives and its wooden handle has split. The Japanese Mac knives are good as well, though I don't have one personally. Henkel is over-rated and the quality of Wusthoff has gone downhill (my personal experience in using them in a restaurant kitchen). Get a good Sabatier sharpening steel, as well (make sure it is magnetic so the filings don't scatter). Most knives are intended to be sharpened regularly (though it's important you learn how to do it properly in a diagonal motion. You can wreck a knife by sharpening it incorrectly). Good knives make a HUGE difference in the kitchen and make food prep almost enjoyable. The financial investment is worth it.
    Okay, I'll shut up now.

  15. I heart the Food Network, but somehow I failed miserably in the execution of Ina Garten's Turkey Lasagna last night. Thankfully my husband realizes I'm on the chef Bunny Slope. In an effort to encourage me, he's actually eaten raw chicken before telling me "It's great!"

  16. I love that show. I'm so sad that Cliff had to go and pummel Marcel. (Marcel, who by the way resembles a sea monkey.) Why did he have to go and get kicked off?
    I'm rooting for Sam now.

  17. Huh, for some reason my other comment didn't come through:

    J.A. Henckels and Wusthof knives are good.

    And the chef's in this season's Top Chefs are no where near as good as last season's. In my humble opinion.

  18. Sorry to post again, but I have a Bobby Flay story (see Justin's comment). About five years ago, while dining at Prune (a tiny, one-room restaurant in the East Village), I saw none other than Mr. Flay walk in with his now-wife Stephanie March (the talk, blonde, beautiful chick who used to be on Law & Order: SVU–but you know that). The size of Prune (or lack thereof) makes reservations essential (my party of 4 was eating at the bar because we didn't have one). Anyway, I'm guessing this was pretty early in their relationship as he seemed bent on impressing Stephanie (March). When they were told there were no tables available, Bobby rudely gestured to a vacant table and was politely told it was reserved and would be held for a few more minutes (the people arrived a minute later). They were asked whether they wanted to take the next available reservation at 10 or 10:30 (can't quite remember, but it was late). Obviously aching to throw his weight around, but also blatantly wanting to dine there, he refused to respond right away, suddenly "unsure" of whether he'd deign to dine at a place that wasn't into kissing his ass. Instead of responding, he asked to see the menu. He stood there a good 10 minutes surveying the menu and quizzing the hostess about the preparation of several entrees (can you get any more obnoxious?–assuming, of course, he doesn't suffer from a ton of allergies). He had to be asked to move aside as he (read: his puffed out chest) was obstructing the doorway and other patrons (with reservations) couldn't get past. His face got so red (from embarrassment or anger, I don't know), I wouldn't have been surprised to hear him start yelling. Anyway, they finally left–to eat elsewhere, I concluded, but an hour or so later, we saw them sitting across the bar from us at a bar down the street. It looked like the date from hell. Stephanie (March), though beautiful, looked positively sour, and they weren't talking. At all. (I actually watched them, amazed that two people could go on so long in utter silence.) In fact, they kept staring past each other…Anywhere but at one another. When they wanted to settle their tab and his date reached for her purse, he made this huge show of waving her off and pulling a grotesquely massive wad of cash from his pocket and pulling off some bills, suddenly trying to be all casual and smooth. It was really quite hilarious.
    Anyway, he must have recovered from his wounded ego, or Stephanie really wanted to eat at Prune, for they left, walking back in the direction of the restaurant. She had her arms folded across her chest and stared at the ground, and he looked like he'd just had his balls busted. Probably had.
    So you can imagine my surprise when I heard a few years later that they were engaged (and are now married).
    As much as I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, from where I sat that night, he struck me as King Asshole.

  19. I'm all about those darling spoons! May I ask wherever did you find them?!

    As of late, Barista's are capturing the attention of all–

    Being from the Pacific Northwest, we take our coffee and tea quite seriously ; )
    I was suprised at how difficult it was to get an excellent cup of coffee in NYC. It is getting easier though. Having lived in NYC for just 2 years, it still strikes me funny to order a cup of coffee at some places and have the cashier ask, milk? Then proceed to add sugar and or milk for you. While I never… Don't these people know that there's an art to melting the sugar etc.?!

    Anyway, about those spoons???


  20. You case might be different, since the two of you will be mostly stay at home, with help, but as a parent, I find the concept of someone standing around preparing meals to be somewhat humorous. We still occasionally use the stove, but anything requiring more than 3-4 ingrediants is not a common occurence. Do any of the other working parents find themselves preparing elaborate meals?

  21. I love love top chef…cmon now hot guys, amazing dishes, what's not to like (except for Tom Coliccio, he really gets under my skin).

  22. When are the babies coming home? They look amazing in their pictures and their little room looks SO cozy – I am very excited for you guys.

  23. Those spoons, and that photo, are not mine. I found that image on the internet somewhere.

    As for knives, I've been happy with my Wustof ones. I believe a LARGE good chef's knife is crucial (the biggest you feel comfortable with in your hand), along with 1 serrated knife (designed for foods harder on the outside than they are inside: tomatoes, bread, melons), and a paring knife. Then eventually you can get a Japanese vegetable knife and other specialty knives. I took a knife skills class once, which is also invaluable. In fact, that makes an EXCELLENT gift for someone… a cooking class coupled with a knife or a saute pan.

  24. I was shocked at last night's episode of Top Chef. I've become a huge Marcel fan (despite his zaniness). I hate that the other contestants have been ganging up on him so much. It's horrible. He's dealt with it really well on the show. And Elia…I think she lost the plot last night.

    Stephanie, hope the weather is better and continued thanks for your blog!!


  25. To answer JoeyB: When you have a child, you don't stop doing the things you love. I'm amused at women who say they haven't read a book since their children were born. That means reading books just isn't important to them. Same with cooking. I have a 9-year-old, but I love to cook and throw big parties. That didn't stop when I had him, and it still hasn't.


    But I totally agree that this season's contestants pale in comparison with last season's. This last challenge was the only one I saw where everyone actually made a decent attempt at making truly exciting, interesting food. I bet the network producers had much more of a hand in selecting the constestants and deciding who to let go than last season, too. They seemed to be selected either for their drama potential or their looks. And the dearth of female candidates making it into the later rounds disappoints me again this season. But oh do I love that show.

    I wanted to have last night's meal SO BAD. Every course looked fantastic. MMMmmmmm. I'm hungry.

  27. In answer to the knife question…As a restaraunt veteran Global is the ONLY way to go. Happy slicing and diceing!

  28. OP,
    Stephanie is right. I think the best knives are Wusthofs. Personally, I get leary of purchasing entire knife sets. I think the best thing to do is to invest in one at a time, since a good knife is at least one hundred dollars. Start with a santoku, take a class, and stay away from any knife that is not locked under glass! As Jacque Pepin says, it is impossible to cut yourself with a good, sharp knife!

  29. To JoeyB – I am a single mother of 4 children, 3 of whom have significant disabilities, I work full time, and I still frequently cook gourmet meals. I love to cook and find it relaxing as well as rewarding, and I really like preparing different foods for my kids to try. My 16 year old son has an excellent palate and can usually identify all the ingredients in any given dish. That's not to say that they don't ever want Big Macs and Whoppers, but I am hoping to instill in them a love of good, well-prepared food.

    (And yes, I do have some housekeeping and childcare help which makes it possible for me to have extra time occassionally for those meals.)

  30. Hi JoeyB, I totally understand where you're coming from. Although I do cook most nights, I've come to find it more of a chore than anything else. I used to like cooking, but that was b/f having 3 kids w/ different tastes that range from steak and lobster to pasta and hamburgers and sometimes even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I try to make them healthy, well-balanced meals, but I do not run a restaurant, and it's hard, especially w/ their incredibly busy schedules.

    Yesterday afternoon all 3 kids had dentist appts. By the time we were through, it was dinner time, and one of them suggested stopping for pizza on the way home. I was all over that idea. Sometimes ya do whatcha gotta do to make life a little easier. I do enjoy cooking sometimes – holidays, when I have the time, etc, but usually I'm busy carpooling, helping w/ homework, etc, so making dinner is time consuming, and then cleaning up takes just as long as cooking the meal. Ugh. Two of my kids sometimes like to help cook, which always means more of a mess, but that's life. At least they mean well. I do enjoy hearing them all say, "thanks, Mom; that was a great dinner".

    Last night a friend of mine made her two kids a really nice meal. She worked hard on it, and when they came down to dinner, they each tried it and said, "blech". She should've joined us for pizza!

  31. I hesitate at buying knives from France, I'll take the Wusthof suggestion better. Those are German I believe. Can't get better than any sort of German engineering, in any manifestation be it cars, or tools.

    Ok re: Top Chef; I adore the show, you all need to read the PopWatch section of to really get into the show and comment about all the personalities and food choices (they have yet to do an official TV Watch on ew).
    I think Sam may take the cake, but Sam vs. Harold from last season (ps is Harold really dating LeeAnn? someone tell me!)- I think Harold would win.
    I love Ilan and I think its fine all their ribbing on Marcel. Marcel asks for it, easily.
    I love Elia too. She is just poised, she doesn't 'let people walk all over her.' She is the epitome of Latin class and grace. Viva mi'ja!

  32. I love to cook, and can't imagine giving it up b/c of children – of course for the first couple months i imagine i wont have much time for it. also, when i was growing up, it was more – eat what is served to you. my mom would cook what she wanted and we had to eat it, or go hungry – and it wasnt like she was making us eat escargo or something scary for children. it's probably why i will eat anything today. i dont understand parents who cater to their children's every needs – like cook a big elaborate dinner and then make them some seperate crap like chicken nuggets. it's always bothered me.

  33. Uh, Suzanne, besides that story being achingly too long, Gabriel Hamilton, the owner and chef of Prune is a close friend of Bobby Flay.

  34. I am home recovering from surgery, and I watched this marathon too. I am glad to see we (boyfriend and I) are not the only ones. :)

  35. i LOVE topchef! in fact, i love all bravo reality competition shows–BUT i watched the topchef marathon on christmas day with my dad and he called me yesterday while i was in a meeting to inform me that cliff got in trouble. i'm glad to read that you're able to relax with topchef and not stress about the babies and the snow for a minute!

  36. Thank you, JoeyB, for letting me know that I`m not alone with the cooking-problem. I`m a working mom (not fulltime, but it`s work too) with a fulltime working husband. It`s every day the same question, how to prepare a healthy meal that tastes everyone in less than 30 min.? But otherwise, I`m not a passionate cook – maybe I were if I had more time. But I guess Lisa is right, you don`t stop doing the things you love when you`re having kids. Well, seems that I`m not in love with the kitchen, I`d prefer a good book…

  37. jackson, ease up. She was just telling a story and clearly tried to make it clear she was telling it from her limited point of view.

    About the knives – I also support the Wusthof. My husband is a chef and that's all we have in our kitchen at home. Also agree on the suggestion not to get a set. Get them one at a time, and see how you use them to decide which one to get next.

    I'd love to take a knife skills class! I'd ask my husband to teach me, but I don't think either one of us would enjoy that.

  38. I love Top Chef as well! Good drama, good food, and always inspiring.

    My friend and I made the meatball amuse bouche from the restaurant challenge and it was amazing! So good. I love that they post the recipes so you can try them on your own instead of just guessing.

  39. I was at the MOMA on Sunday this past weekend, and when I was cruising through the cafeteria menu I saw 'Afogato'. It was vanilla, not chocolate gelato. And it was delicious!

  40. Hi Stephanie,

    That picture is scrumptious. I want one! Have you been to Teo's gelato in Austin yet. It's the best gelato in town & they serve Affogatos. I have yet to try it. It's on 38th St. in the 26 Doors shopping center on 38th St. just north of Lamar.

    Jean (We met at the TX book festival in the signing tent. I'm the girl from Long Island.)

  41. Man, my grandmomma was Italian and she made the most incredible meatballs I ever tasted, like you wouldnt believe. Sadly, she died last year and she didnt leave a single recipe for me so I’ve been trying to work it out by myself… slowly working my through the meatball recipes here, I still cant figure out what her secret ingredient was though!!!

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