Author Archive: Jay

Hell’s Kitchen 2007, Episode 9

And then there were two.

Hell’s Kitchen has its finalists and we’ll see who won next week. Not that it’ll be a surprise; just a matter of interest to see how close the second place person comes.

The challenge this time was picking a random classic American comfort food and making a gourmet variant. Cool idea. Gordon Ramsay introduced his mother, who brought in a yummy looking baked macaroni and cheese as an example. Then Ramsay showed his version, all lobstered and fancied up. I’m not sure I wouldn’t prefer hers.

Bonnie got franks and beans, something I always enjoyed but she never heard of as a combination. That was funny; her agonizing over it, but the result looked great.

Jen got fried chicken. Oddly enough, I don’t think of that as a comfort food. I think of it as almost an exotic or special food. We never had it when I was a kid, short of whenever we first started hitting KFC as a major, rare, huge, special treat. Which is probably why I still think of fried chicken as a big treat and something unusual to make. I’m not sure my grandmother ever even made fried chicken, but I know we never had it at home. I had fried smelts as much as I had fried chicken as a kid.

Rock got spaghetti and meatballs. I think I might have had the hardest time picturing something upscale to do with that.

What I’d like to know is what were the choices under the two extra domes. I wouldn’t expect mac and cheese to be one, since that was the example. Maybe meatloaf? Maybe hamburgers?

They all did creations that looked and sounded good.

No surprise, they brought in their mothers to do the tasting and judging, without knowing who had done which dish. Jen’s chicken won, though it was amusing seeing Bonnie’s mom not want to stop eating Bonnie’s dish.

This was the episode where the prize was a shopping spree with a $1000 certificate at a fancy cooking supply store. Jen was cute, marveling at the stuff. They did a great job getting the amount almost dead on. This year there was no gify buying for the other contestants, at least not on camera. There was also no bitching and moaning in jealousy from the others, which was nice. After seeming like a worse crew this year, they’ve really shaped up.

Rock and Bonnie had to clean the dorms. Bonnie whined amusingly and bossed Rock around. He can be patient. On her part, it’s almost more like a schtick than how she really is.

If it wasn’t already clear, just as there was more than “pastry chef” to Jen, there was more than “nanny” to Bonnie. She doesn’t do much nanny work and is really a personal chef. I’d like to be able to afford a personal chef! Well, except then I’d spend it elsewhere and enjoy cooking even more myself. Except being able to afford that implies maybe being too busy to cook. It’s a vicious circle.

This episode’s service was the one testing their lead chef skills, as far as managing the activity of the team, calling the orders, plating and quality control.

Jen failed the larger quality control test, but wasn’t bad overall.

Bonnie was remarkably good at that aspect of things, and got raves for presentation, which is no surprise. She was arguably the best of the three, though there wasn’t wide variation.

Rock wasn’t nearly as good as I’d have expected, being an executive chef already. He caught the quality problems and was overall competent.

They got through the whole service and the diners seemed happy. There were a few goofs beside the intentional ones, but it’s a far cry from even a few weeks ago.

They each had to think about and be able to make a case for why they should stay. When they came back for the elimination and made their statements, Bonnie’s was probably the best and most coherent, followed by Rock’s. Jen had trouble getting past something akin to “because I wanna.” We’ve seen a lot of that this season, when people were asked why they should stay. Future contestants should remember this is important, and when it’s close can make a difference who stays.

Gordon Seacrest faked out Rock, making him think he was going and then saying he had to be in the final. Well, duh. How can Rock win if he’s not in the final?

Chef Ramsay made sure they all knew they done good and should be proud, including Jen, who landed in third place. It an honorable place to be, and I had a feeling once she won the challenge that she’d be leaving.

Bonnie is no fool, and has obviously seen Hell’s Kitchen before, which many of them seem not to have done. You could hear her asking Jen, when they were hugging, if Jen would be on her team. They bring back some of the other contestants for the final and each finalist “hires” half of them. It’s like gym class all over again.

I can’t wait to see the final. I think I’m more excited than I was for Heather and whatsername last year. But Rock will win. What I want to see is how well Bonnie does. Whatever happens, her options are much wider open now than remaining a personal chef. By comparison

, Jen already had done quite well for herself and may not have so much upward room. I figure Bonnie has gained a lot of confidence simply by having made it this far, and will be far more of a challenger to Rock than we would have suspected weeks ago.

Zucchini Fritters

I partially answered my own squash question, finding a ton of zucchini recipes online.

So when I turned off the computer in deference to thunderstorms yesterday afternoon, I started experimenting ahead of when I would otherwise have started making supper. I decided to try making zucchini fritters, using two of the five at the linked page.

I didn’t use any of these recipes, but I was intrigued by the pancakes, faux crab cakes, and Lucky Olive’s Zucchini ideas there. I don’t have any Old Bay seasoning, nor having I smelled or tasted it to my knowledge, so I’d have to wing it, combining the seasonings that are, in some proportion, a part of Old Bay. Which already sounds like something I’d come up with, except I seldom use the dry mustard in anything but Laurie’s Spicy Chicken (which I may as well repost here, if Google is going to have such an insanely hard time locating the post).

I also thought zucchini enchiladas sounded intriguing, though it intrigued me as much that it didn’t call for canned enchilada sauce, and could presumably be adapted to chicken, or a mix of chicken and veggie.

Anyway, I was mainly focused on the 4th fritter recipe, but I was intrigued by the 2nd one, as anything that calls for mint is so rare in my experience.

Here is the first recipe I used, as written, with points of concern in red:

3 cups of coarsely grated zucchini
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons of milk
2 teaspoons of all purpose flour
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh mint or
1 teaspoon of dried mint leaves

Place zucchini in colander; let drain 1 hour. In a large bowl, with a wire whisk, beat the eggs until they’re frothy. Add remaining ingredients; whisk until blended. Stir in the zucchini, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper. Preheat oven to 200ºF. In large skillet, over medium to high heat, heat 2 tablespoons salad oil. Spoon in fritters batter, using 1 tablespoon butter for each fritter, adding more oil as necessary. Cook 1 minute on each side, until golden brown. Keep warm, covered with aluminum foil, on platter in oven until ready to serve. Makes 6 servings.

First annotation, the flour; this seems to be too little. My proportions were off because I used one cup of zucchini but used a whole rather large egg, but if you compare to the later recipe, the minimalist amount of flour makes little sense. They came out almost custardy, with kind of a soggy texture. The mint flavor went poorly. It would be better simply to steam, boil, even roast or bake zucchini with mint.

I grated one zucchini, resulting in 3 1/3 cups to use. As noted, I decided to use a cup for the mint variant, interpreting 2+ cups as about right for the garlic, oregano and parm variant. Though in reality what I grated was little more than a medium zucchini, so you could interpret the second recipe as saying to use five or six cups.

The grated zucchini went into a colander that nested into a bowl so it could shed liquid, and I mixed in a fair amount of salt to aid that process, letting it sit quite a while.

Anyway, I beat an egg, added and beat in maybe a tablespoon of milk, a teaspoon of flour, a couple dashes of black pepper, and near half a teaspoon of dried mint. Flour by the teaspoon? Still sounds weird to me. Then I mixed in the zucchini thoroughly.

I used olive oil for frying; not very deep. One lesson is they could have used more oil. That second annotation I realized, after momentary confusion, that it was a typo of batter. It’s not saying to add a tablespoon of butter for each fritter.

The modified recipe made four, nice and neat. They were thinner and runnier than the later ones, and I was surprised while they were still cooking as they seemed hesitant to get crispy. Getting Deb to eat zucchini is mainly about texture. That they came out like custard was no help, given that she disliked custard due to its texture.

You could eat them and live, but they were weird. I snacked down about one and a half, including a small piece I gave Sadie that sadly made her uninterested in trying the other kind later. She made a face and discarded it.

Not recommended. But I’d still love some ideas on what to make using mint, since I have a jar of it on the spice rack.

Here’s the recipe as written for the other fritter variety I tried:

2 medium zucchini, unpeeled & shredded
1 cup of flour
2 beaten eggs
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1 teaspoon of oregano
1 clove minced garlic
1/4 cup of water
1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese

Combine and mix all ingredients. Mixture will be the consistency of pancake batter. Drop by tablespoonfuls into hot oil and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

I had two cups and a fraction of shredded zucchini, as mentioned, and I decided to treat that as the quantity correct for the recipe. Who’s to say what “medium” means, after all.
, except it was Parmesan and Romano, rather than straight parm, and I used a little extra, and the clove of garlic was fairly large. I also added a dribble of extra water when I couldn’t even mix the batter, it was so thick. I scoffed at the “consistency of pancake batter” part, but it was, for relatively thick values of pancake batter. The moisture in the zucchini saw to that.

I made the oil deeper for these, and they tended to be thicker. Used slightly higher heat and made sure they were cooked as crisp as could be expected.

Deb liked it.

Valerie ate three of the twelve the recipe made. Sadie didn’t try them.

I thought they were tasty, maybe a bit strong on the garlic, but strong as it was, the oregano flavor shone through too.

We ate all twelve before and during dinner, despite having chicken, rice, summer squash and lima beans too.

I cooked the chicken in the same oil, figuring the flavor infused from the fritters would be a good base. I added a touch of garlic powder, red pepper, generous paprika, dash of ginger, celery salt, pinch of oregano, and some Italian seasoning. It was one of the tastiest batches of random chicken I’ve ever made.

I keep forgetting; I have pictures.

Plate of food for one of the kids, including part of a fritter:

Shredded zucchini, ready for its closeup:

Mint zucchini fritters:

Garlic oregano parmesan zucchini fritters:

Laurie’s Chicken: Making It Measured

This is a repost of Laurie’s Chicken: Making It Measured from retired blog Accidental Verbosity. I’d have eventually reposted it anyway, but when I went searching for it today I found that Google had changed something about how AV is indexed or ranked that made traffic there plummet a couple weeks ago from just about 300 a day to under 100. Whatever that change was, it made this post not findable at all by title or most of the logical sets of keywords. I should probably start reposting systematically, but this is one of my favorites…

My stepsister used to make a hot red sauce baked on top of chicken breasts, usually as a treat for her less kitchen comfy cousin, and once for me when we were both at my father’s house in Vermont. It was so good, I always remembered it fondly and wanted the recipe.

My stepmother recently asked her about it, and here is the “recipe” as I received it:

1/3 cup ketchup, 1 TBLS W’shire Sauce, black and cayenne pepper to taste, dry mustard, Brown sugar (she said she sometimes used twin B. sugar) and a little apple cider vinegar. Says these are all the ingredients which as you can see its by taste. Cook until slightly reduced. I would think you could dble this as it does [not] make very much.

So I decided to attempt to measure and create a more detailed recipe

, based on guesses and adjustments to quantities the first time I made it. Here is what I wrote up as a result, followed by pictures during and after. It is all quite adjustable, but if you like hot and don’t like lack of measurements to guide you, this works:

Laurie’s Chicken Recipe

This would work for 3 breasts, or heavy on 2 breasts. This is extremely hot as measured here, and could be done lighter on both kinds of pepper to soften the impact. Everything is somewhat flexible, beyond that, to taste.

1/2 cup ketchup
1.5 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons or so water, optional
boneless chicken breasts (2 or 3, adjust recipe to make more)
2 – 3 tablespoons butter, optional

Combine the spices, ketchup, worcestershire, brown sugar, and vinegar. I ended up using water to help flush as much as possible out of the measuring cup I mixed it all in, when transferring to a small saucepan. It gets cooked down either way. I was tasting as I went along, adding brown sugar after it was in the pan. Stir regularly while cooking over low heat.

Preheat oven. I would estimate 400 degrees throughout to be appropriate, though I started at 450. I put butter in an appropriately sized Pyrex pan and let it melt in the bottom before taking the pan back out. This was on the theory I needed something greasing the pan, and everything is better with butter. It would probably work fine with spray or even nothing.

Place the chicken in the baking pan. Cover top of each piece more or less evenly with sauce. Bake until done, perhaps 25 – 30 minutes at 400.

Here’s the sauce on the stove while cooking down:

Here’s the chicken after I put the sauce on, before baking:

Here’s a finished chicken breast:

I don’t know how, but Deb makes arguably the best mashed potatoes I have ever had. Normally I’m more of a baked guy. Some might even say I’m half-baked. Anyway, neither here nor there with respect to the recipe above, this is what Deb made to go perfectly with the hot chicken:

It was amazingly good; a bit on the hot side for Deb, perfect to bordering on excessive for me.


I have a ton of squash from my brother’s garden, about half each of crookneck summer squash and zucchini.

Anyone have recipe ideas?

Normally I would cook the summer squash traditionally, by boiling or steaming, then serving with butter and pepper.

My preferred way of cooking zucchini would be to slice and fry it, same as fried eggplant. I consider it rather bland, even compared to summer squash, to serve as a boiled veggie, though at least it’s food. I’ve also had it in mixed vegetables with things like carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, where if it’s bland you don’t notice so much. Hard to believe it’s so closely related to pumpkins.

I’ve had dishes in which the two squashes, or just zucchini, were cooked with tomato and maybe some seasonings. Some of those have been marginal, others have been excellent.

I can picture adding, say, some dried dill to the water for cooking zucchini, adding some zing.

Any other ideas?

Growing Herbs

Has anyone had experience with growing their own herbs inside the house?

I was reminded the other day that cilantro is the plant part of the herb that produces coriander, the seeds. Once upon a time, I grew coriander in a mixed flower and herb garden by the back steps of the house where I grew up. Along with a few other things, like mint and parsley.

The biggest thing I remember is how disgusting and long-lasting was the smell imbued in my fingers by handling the coriander seeds.

At that point I’d never heard of cilantro, nor had I eaten anything that could seriously be considered Mexican food. Not unless you count tacos from Jack in the Box before they all closed around here. Even Taco Bell was, around that time, a rapidly growing company spreading west to east like wildfire, expected to be so huge that its stock was supposed to be a great investment.

Remembering the herb growing experiment made me think of growing them inside. Thus the question…

Hell’s Kitchen 2007, Episode 8

What an episode!

First, the equivalent of last year’s lunch truck challenge. This time it was one dish each by the five contestants, 100 servings, for high school students. Julia won with a remarkable 51%, which surprised us because we thought she might have gone overly lowbrow. I seem to recall that last year for the equivalent challenge the most lowbrow and highbrow dishes didn’t do so well.

Julia got to take one of the others to Vegas to see Rock’s future restaurant, stay in the resort, and meet Heather, last year’s winner. Julia was funny, talking about the bidet.

This episode was the final five, so all one team at last. Service was pretty awful. I don’t remember it being this bad other years. Julia was off, Rock was off, and Josh was absurd.

Josh should have gone home before now, and stayed through chance dynamics. He was so bad, no doubt edited to look worse, that Ramsay actually tossed him out early. Out. Completely. Unprecedented. I thought he would be the elimination for the night, and the others would just get critiqued and warned before moving on to next week.

Nope. Apparently the Aaron dynamic was indeed supposed to result in a net reduction of one episode, so they had to balance out

Bonnie had her best night ever, apparently despite the monkfish incident. I think she has hidden depths and merely comes across as flighty and uncertain. I’d not credited it as possible until now

, but it’s entirely possible Bonnie could be in the final. I’d been figuring Jen or Julia versus Rock. In any event, Rock has been positioned for the win, and whichever one he is up against is to be judged not by the fact that she loses, but how lopsidedly. Tonight Rock made it feel like more of a contest.

What’s cool about Rock, though, is he knows when he’s lost his cool and not thought straight. He’s reflective and self-evaluating enough to avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over.

With Julia gone, with what I’ve seen of Jen (or how the clever editing makes Jen appear), I’m inclined to root for Bonnie for second place. Jen likely has greater kitchen skills, but it’s not entirely about that.

So Bonnie had to select two out of the three for possible elimination. Rock was the obvious choice. Rock was also not ever going to be axed, so from a non-futility standpoint she might as well have nominated both of the other women. From a game play standpoint, you could have made a case for Jen being nominated, but Bonnie chose Julia, along with Rock.

That left Ramsay the option of sending away Julia, or overruling Bonnie and sending away Jen, for which there was no justification, and which would destroy the game play aspect.

Julia received the nicest elimination of any non-winning contestant I can remember. The last time I can remember Ramsay being that excited about someone’s talent was when Michael won the first season. Julia just needs training… so he’s personally putting her through culinary school! That choked me up.

And that provided a lovely symmetry; Josh getting tossed without even going through the normal process or receiving a parting commentary, bad or good, followed by Julia’s praise-filled elimination and consolation prize.

I am absolutely thrilled for Julia. She could probably have run the restaurant, but it would have been a stretch. With his sponsorship, no more stretch when she’s done, and massive opportunity.

Barbecue Pork and Chicken in Mushroom Soup Gravy

Last night I let Deb do the cooking; a particularly good batch of chicken broccoli alfrado. However, the two nights before that were particularly good ones for my “toss something together” experimentation that makes it impossible to convey recipes.

Two nights ago it was a barbecue shredded pork, but I had started it the night before, at the same time I worked on the chicken.

The first part was cooking it in the crockpot, with a twist. I used water, cider vinegar, a small handful of chopped onion, a generous sprinkle of red pepper flakes, and a wee bit of celery flakes. I forgot about the typical addition of brown sugar, then decided to pass when I remembered in time to have sweetened it up a little. Thing is, the sweet isn’t necessarily needed, and perhaps the onions added a subtle touch of sweetening.

That resulted in rather tasty boneless pork loin (there were four pieces, enough to exactly cover the bottom of a large crockpot without any being on top of the rest) with a distinct but not excessively strong peppery flavor. The pork from there would have been good any number of ways, including on a plain sandwich with some mustard.

It went in the fridge until the next evening, and tasted excellent cold.

Based on the flavor, I wanted whatever I did to lean sweeter rather than sharper or spicier. I considered a Chinese inspired sweet & sour type of sauce, shredding or chunking the meet as I would with barbecue, mixing it in and serving it over rice. I considered coming up with kind of a honey mustard sauce, which could presumably go on a sandwich or over rice. I considered coming up with a variant on what I’ve done for barbecue sauce before. That’s where I ended up, as it sounded easiest, tastiest, and fit the idea that for a change we’d just have sandwiches.

I made a concoction that included lots of brown sugar (I believe it was 5 heaping tablespoons, and that was as close as I came to measuring anything), some vinegar, a packet of soy sauce (okay, that’s a measurement), more Worcestershire sauce than I normally use in anything, yellow mustard, ketchup, water, garlic powder, red pepper, and allspice. How good was it? I really, really wish I had a recipe. I whisked it smooth, simmered it, tasted and approved, and shredded the pork into it, stirring it in and letting the pork heat via the sauce.

I was shooting to have just enough sauce to coat the pork, with minimal extra to make it sloppy, and somehow succeeded, entirely by eye. There were no “good rolls” on hand, but we had some hot dog rolls in the freezer and employed them. The sauced pork went on the rolls with some cheddar cheese. On the side we ate chips, having an unusual, veggie-free meal.

Two nights ago I craved something along the lines of chicken in gravy over rice. Inspired by a comment by Jen, in which she described something akin to no peek chicken, but in a crockpot, I decided to use cream of mushroom soup in the gravy. I might have attempted something in the crockpot, faking out the onion soup part, but it was too late by the time I thought of that.

So I thawed three chicken breasts, of course, then cut them into small pieces. In the pan I melted some butter with various spices, emphasizing very heavily the crushed bay leaf. I also included amounts ranging from almost none to fairly substantial quantities of other things, including savory, thyme, poultry seasoning, garlic powder, ginger, red pepper, black pepper, celery flakes, oregano, and I believe both chives and parsley. Cooked the chicken until done and the extraneous liquid was largely cooked off, leaving just a bit of remaining butter/oil.

In the meantime, I had filled a Pyrex cup with water, heated it two minutes, then dropped two chicken bullion cubes in it to sit and dissolve.

Moved the chicken to one side of the pan, added a glop more butter, let it melt, whisked in a heaping tablespoon of flour, then another and some of the broth to smooth it out as it overthickens.

Rapidly add the rest of the broth and whisk it in. So far so good. At this point, depending on the dish and consistency, I might add more water, more flour, some sour cream, some milk, or even some flavoring if I tasted and it was lacking. I added a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup. It happened to be Wal-Mart’s store brand, which tasted a little different from Campbell’s, but seemed perfectly good. Mixed that in, along with enough more water for appropriate consistency and volume, and stirred the chicken in with the gravy.

The chicken itself had kind of a strong flavor, very oriented to the bay leaf, which I would probably reduce in the future. The gravy was fantastic, with plenty of chicken flavor, yet different, and with little bits of mushroom in it. The peas I served on the side could have gone in it.

I make a meal that size and we always have leftovers. If not of the rice or peas, at least of the meat dish. Not this time.

The kids devoured the chicken. Even Valerie, who eats meat minimally compared to her love of veggies. I gave them each about six piece of chicken, in gravy beside and over a small pile of rice. They each had seconds of probably as much again, Sadie had thirds, and they did a good job on the rice and peas too. The two of us ate heartily, and I finished it when I saw how little would be left. It was particularly good.

It helps that the kids seem to have gotten more in tune with meals, eating more at meal times and snacking less. It also helps to give them an advance taste. That’s a great trick, if you want your kids to be more enthusiastic about what you’re serving. Valerie had an intrigued look I’ve never seen before when I gave her a taste of the gravy when it was almost done. She got a second taste that included chicken, and Sadie got a couple tastes as well. They both liked it enough to be primed for it to appear on the table.

Another trick that can work well to get them to eat well is sort of a “dessert first” serving of a small sweet, or a small snack, shortly before the meal. An M&M or spice drop before dinner tends to make them devour the “real food.”

Fruity Pancakes

Yesterday at lunch time Sadie happened to see me heft the big Bisquick box by way of reminding myself that, yep, it was almost empty and we’d forgotten to buy more. It was one of the things I forgot on the BJ’s run.

That resulted in a chorus of “pancakes! pancakes! daddy make pancakes!”

I looked in the fridge and confirmed we were out of blueberries, which I pictured finishing in a half batch of pancakes for the kids.

Aha! I had an idea.

We have a big bag of BJ’s own brand of trail mix, a particularly fruity variety. It has some almonds and soy beans, and pretends to have a walnut piece here and there, but mainly it has apricot bits, raisins, cranberries, blueberries and cherries. It’s almost too sweet.

I heated a half cup or so of water in a Pyrex cup for 99 seconds in the microwave.

Into the hot water I put a large amount of dried fruit to soften and rehydrate a bit. Never thought of this before, but it’s a great trick for making fruit pancakes without requiring a relevant kind of fresh fruit in the house. Then again, even though they can be made with other kinds, to me the fruit for pancakes is blueberries or bananas. Thus having apples and nectarines on hand was beside the point.

The fruit soaked several minutes. I found there was around a cup and a third or so left in the box, so I finished it, using the Bisquick pancake recipe as if it were the full two cups. Figured the fruit would bulk it up, and a high proportion of egg would help it rise around the fruit as it cooked.

I scooped in the fruit, sans most of the water, and added a handful of sunflower seeds to make it more interesting.

I poured out larger pancakes than usual, doing two on the pan at a time, rather than four. The fruit was heavy and wanted to cluster enough that it was basically a matter of pouring out some batter and then scooping fruit onto it, trying to keep the amount in each appropriate. Otherwise it was just like cooking any old pancakes.

They were fantastic

, able to be eaten without syrup, or with minimal syrup. It was a little like having a fruitcake flavored pancake, but not exactly.

Sadie devoured a full two good-sized pancakes. Valerie ate most of one avidly, and overall might have eaten as much as one and a half. They didn’t eat this much when we had blueberry pancakes. I ate the other six.

Definitely a keeper idea, and brilliant given our tendency to have trail mix or raisins in the house. We actually prefer Wal-Mart’s house brand large bags of tropical trail mix to the fruity one from BJ’s, but the fruity one was probably better for this.

Hell’s Kitchen 2007, Episode 7

Leftovers are food that has been cooked, not eaten, then put away for potential follow-up consumption.

Making an interesting meal with leftovers is what I might do with, say, leftover meatloaf, serving it in a different, embellished way.

Leftovers are not raw ingredients that just happen to be left over from a previous day. By that definition, when I cook only half a package of pasta, the other half of the package is “leftovers.” No. It’s unused pasta.

Now that we have that straight, let’s get on to this week’s challenge, which is preparing three items per team out of a rag tag fugitive fleet of leftover ingredients, not “leftovers.”

The way the girls worked on the “leftover” challenge, Melissa might as well have been back with them. It’s tough, but half or so of the half an hour just to pore over the ingredients and shoot down each other’s ideas for what to make?

The guys were awesome in their execution. I was half expecting the moral equivalent of the duck incident from the girls. Or the raw egg incident from Cooking Under Fire, which was so good I wish they’d do another season.

I was surprised the chef tied Bonnie’s soup with Brad’s sea bass, but they did both look good, and they were offset by the second pairing. Jen made steak and eggs. Josh made what looked like a nice stuffed chicken dish, but it tasted awful. Ramsay either poked fun at Julia, or fun at the other girls for denigrating her, by noting that steak and eggs was Julia food. It was Bonnie’s idea, but Jen went along with making it, and it’s not as if they left themselves time to be fancy.

Rock won it for the guys with an excellent sea bass and rib eye, versus a fancy variant of what amounts to fish & chips by Julia, tasty but not the kind of thing he had in mind. Again with having wasted time.

We were speculating whether the show producers sometimes have dual rewards. This is the second week that the reward has seemed geared to the winning team. In this case, Ramsay got to show off his mad paintball skills and beat the guys three to one, while the girls got to clean, unload trucks, and completely screw up checking stuff in accurately. They were so setup and completely fell for it.

I must be a softy, or team player or something, because I’d have had trouble walking on by them without helping to carry something in. And that sort of attitude would have kept me out of the trouble Rock and Brad got into later.

This was also the first episode this season where it was clear that the challenge was one day and service was on the next day.

Here’s the fun part; create your own menus. It’s not an easy thing, because you have to plan the dishes on paper, then create something that works in reality to match it. An hour is not much time for that, especially when you can’t agree. It’s a time to keep it simple, if not macaroni and cheese simple, fancy version or not. It’s no time to learn how to cook rabbit for the first time.

Ramsay continues to try to teach the other contestants a lesson with Julia, but it doesn’t seem to stick. Her idea for steak and shrimp was shunned, so no ideas of hers are on the menu. He pointedly asks and overrules them on that, so everyone can see later that Julia’s idea was the most popular entree of the night. She followed through by making them all perfectly.

Then guys had complicated menu items, which the narrator amusingly emphasized were all Brad’s ideas. When they started service, nobody even ordered from the blue menu at first, at the same time they went so heavily for the simple steak and shrimp on the red menu.

This was another episode in which things went well enough on the red team, if not as smoothly as last week, that the negatives had to be all but manufactured and overemphasized in the editing.

Josh did badly, unable to cook the lamb properly. Rock and Brad looked like asses for not helping him when Ramsay asked, and Josh managed to recover nicely. I’ve never liked Josh, but that was not right and he did a fine job coming back. I still thought he’d be leaving, though. Even if Bonnie was worst on her team, either Josh or Brad deserved to go ahead of her.

They managed to get through a whole service, amazingly.

Julia is declared best of the night and gets to nominate Bonnie from her team. All the guys were disappointing, so he makes them come up with a consensus nominee. Brad and Josh should have ganged up and nominated Rock, just as a matter of game play, even though Ramsay would then have switched to one of them. Not sure if they didn’t think of it, or considered it futile since Rock has been the obvious winner for almost the entire season.

Brad is their nominee, which made more sense to me in retrospect than it did initially, given my focus on getting rid of Josh. Brad took the leadership role. He controlled what went on the menu. He flew through getting out appetizers, then they all came back because he screwed them up. I’d hire him ahead of Josh, from what I’ve seen, which is of course heavily edited and may not reflect reality, but he gambled big and paid the price.

Brad has not once been able to give a coherent and reasonably concise response to the question of why he should stay. This episode was no exception.

Brad is gone, and next week there’s no more competing teams. These five are the equivalent of American Idol’s top ten, except they won’t be going on a cooking tour together next summer.

Looks like next week will be exciting, with early exile for one contestant during service.

Rock remains the leader, and I’m increasingly torn between Julia and Jen as his competition in the finale. I still lean Jen, but Chef is pushing Julia hard, and she certainly has potential. Bonnie has more to her than I think usually shows, but she’d have to do an amazing transformation and perhaps be a bit lucky to make the finale or even third place. She and Josh are too obvious as the next two to leave. Which come to think of it makes the elimination of anyone else in the next two episodes a surprise elimination that changes the whole dynamic.