Masterchef US, Season 6, Episode 5: Crabs and Corn

*19 cheftestants remain as they enter the Masterchef kitchen. They face live crabs in their mystery box. For the elimination challenge, corn is on the menu but they must cook it either in a savory or sweet dish. Choosing the wrong type of corn sends yet another hopeful home.

Dungeness crab Photo: Public Domain (U.S.Fish & Wildlife Service)
Dungeness crab
Photo: Public Domain (U.S.Fish & Wildlife Service)

*The Mystery Box has lots of crabs–big ones like the Dungeness and small ones such as Blue. The small ones seem more active. You can tell by how most of them react to live seafood they have never worked with them before probably getting crabmeat at the store or having it prepared in a restaurant. Interesting fact: not all crabs live in the water. Some spend their entire lives on land such as the Coconut Crab. And yes it does eat coconuts (one the ground that is, it does not climb up to get them!)

*Olivia does the wise thing rather than flay about and asks Gordon for his advice on how to properly dispatch one. I think she is the first person to actually do that. She is initially fearful of the crabs since they look like giant bugs. Fortunately she conquers her fears and her dish–Crab Benedict–is one of the top three. Joining her are Amanda with her Seattle inspired Dungeness crab cakes and Jesse with his Crab Dumpling in a spicy broth. Olivia’s is the best presentation of them all but Jesse wins the round

*Time once again for the Magic Mystery Tour time on Masterchef. What is inside that box? It glows mysteriously when opened giving it that Steven Spielberg effect from one of the Indiana Jones movies (or perhaps something extra-terrestrial). No trip to the pantry needed today. The cheftestants will not learn what the secret ingredient is until they get to the pantry. And the entry ticket is shopping cart from Jesse. He selects who gets to cook it savory or sweet.

Photo: Fox
Photo: Fox

*The cheftestants learn they are cooking corn. Rows of corn, bags of popcorn, and even sickly sweet corn candy as well. And yes there is also the canned version as well (an evil temptation). Savory is certainly easier than sweet in this Elimination Round. In corn challenges of the past, the sweet ones have a greater chance of going wrong.

*Corn (maize) is from the Americas and the Spanish brought it back to Europe. It is one of the most widely grown crops in the Americas. And used for a lot of things. Although wheat flour is used in northern Mexico and in the U.S border areas, corn is the primary bread in Central and South America. It can also be made into a sugar (corn syrup) and even a biofuel.

*When a judge offers polite advice, it is wise to listen to it. Justin was working on a concoction that involved profiteroles, sweet caramel corn, and even candy corn. Christine said it needed more salt but Justin seemed oblivious to the comment. Graham ominously wonders if he is on his last moments in the kitchen. The gong of  doom is sounding loudly here. It does also for Veronica who is trying a corn crème brulee.

*Most of the dishes tasted passed muster. The two winners, Shelley and Stephen have the top two dishes. Shelley brought up some delicious Shrimp Tacos that wowed the judges. Stephen, who seriously needs to control that inner voice but otherwise a good guy, had Corn Tamales with Chorizo that wowed the judges as well.

*Charlie, being from New Orleans, ought to have nailed the shrimp and corn grits. It was a total fail. The shrimp was done fine but the grits were underdone. Gordon made an unfortunate comment about grits that got bleeped.

*Veronica came up like she was serving the best dish in the course. Her corn crème brulee looked nicely toasted on the outside but when Christine dug into it, it did not look creamy. I think she really had to control herself considering how bad it must have tasted. It had been cooked at too high a heat and too much fat. There was nothing good to say about it except she nailed the crackled look it was supposed to have.

*Justin. Well this was predictable. His profiteroles were underdone, it was sweet on sweet but worse he used canned corn. In a room full of fresh corn he choose the canned.  As the Germans say, dummkopf!  No surprise he was on the bottom with Veronica and Charlie. Charlie’s saving grace is that his shrimp was cooked right, so he got sent back to his station. And if you have a choice between someone who at least tried and failed with a fresh corn dish versus someone with raw pastry and canned corn, it was not hard to say as Jesse noted who should go home. And so Justin ends up leaving Masterchef.

*This goes back to a cardinal rule of reality food competition. Unless you are specifically told to use a canned product, if the fresh one is available use that. Most trained chefs have good palates and are going to tell the difference in flavor between fresh and canned. Charlie made the mistake of treating his corn grits as an add-on rather than as a centerpiece and it suffered. And Veronica overthought her dish and her overconfidence blinded her to its defects.

Next week: Las Vegas. Hopefully we will not have an elimination challenge on a rooftop again.

Ben Franklin Flew A Kite and Got A Charge Out of It

Ben Franklin’s Famous Experiment To Capture Electricity on 10 June 1752. Public Domain

On June 10, 1752 Benjamin Franklin conducted an experiment on electricity that has become both famous and legendary. Electricity was not well understood but many knew the effects of lightning. Franklin was fascinated by the subject and decided to conduct an experiment on a stormy day. He used a kite with a key to gather electricity the storm gave off and used string to transfer it to a Leyden jar. His son was the only witness to it. Franklin made sure he was grounded and that the string his hands were touching were not wet. Franklin’s delving into electricity would give us words we use today:battery, conductor, and electrician. He also developed the lightning rod,a very useful tool if you live in an area where you get thunderstorms. Simply put, a lightning rod on a house (or other elevated structure) acts to capture the electricity from lightning and then sends it through a wire to the ground thus avoiding it passing through the structure (which can cause damage). There are more modern variations of it but all use the same principle of grounding electricity so it does little harm to people or structures.

Attempts to replicate Franklin’s Experiment show how lucky he was and that it is difficult to do even under controlled circumstances. Some doubt it happened at all. Mythbusters found that in their recreation of the experiment he likely would have died. But they concede some parts were feasible such as collecting a charge from a damp string and accumulating it in a Leyden jar. So did it happen or not? Like all good stories, there is likely something to it. If he did do it as claimed,he was truly fortunate or blessed because it is extremely hazardous to do. Many places ban such experiments because of how dangerous it is. Whether he did as claimed or through some other means we may never know the full tale. But likely he did try something close to it and obviously he never tried it again.

Tuesday Titanic (and other stuff) Musings

Titanic-Not By Clive Palmer-Replica Gets Noticed
The fact that in 2017 visitors to a Chinese theme park will be able to board a full size Titanic replica is really played up all over the world. Not only will it look authentic, it will also serve food served on the famous liner, and even offer accomodations. Still not enough? Well you can experience the Titanic Sinking Simulator. They are spending $150 million on this tourist draw. Las Vegas style of entertainment is planned. You get the point. This is not like Titanic Belfast with its historic tours and ability to learn lots about Titanic. This is a Las Vegas style type of entertainment built on the grand scale.

Steven Spielberg posing with triceratops animatronic in 1993 on set of Jurassic Park. It was originally posted as a gag by a Facebook user but taken as serious by a whole lot of people including noted author Joyce Carol Oates in 2015.
Steven Spielberg posing with triceratops animatronic in 1993 on set of Jurassic Park. It was originally posted as a gag by a Facebook user but taken as serious by a whole lot of people including noted author Joyce Carol Oates in 2015.

The Ultimate Game Trophy of All Time
Steven Speilberg has made a lot of movies over his career. Most of them have done very well and even won awards. Jurassic Park, his 1993 adaptation of the excellent Michael Crichton novel, wowed audiences and made them believe the age of dinosaurs was back. Last year a photo circulated, taken in 1993, of Spielberg sitting in front of an animatronic dinosaur used in the movie. When I first saw the picture, I knew exactly what it was: a dinosaur and not a real one either. Well that picture caused some heat from animal rights people and generated all kinds of negative posts. It did not matter that this was of an extinct creature or that it was simply a glorified stage prop. Nope. Spielberg was roundly criticized for his cruelty. Except he had the last laugh when all those idiots were made as fools.

However noted author Joyce Carol Oates recently saw the picture and sent out a message on her Twitter account:

So barbaric that this should still be allowed… No conservation laws in effect wherever this is?

— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) June 9, 2015

Oh dear. You do not know whether to laugh at her foolishness or utter “what an idiot!” Something has really gone off the rails when a simple photo of a director with a prop is misidentified as the real thing. It is logical fallacy at play that speaks of both ignorance and illiteracy. It goes something like this: My dog has four legs, a cat has four legs. Both have mouths and ears. Therefore my dog is a cat. You could it put off to other things but far too many people seem to follow this logic. Which why when pranksters put pictures of hunters standing over a supposed dead Yeti (a creature that so far has not proven to exist except in folklore and grainy photos) they get called all kinds of nasty names. One good thing came of this: I decided to re-watch Jurassic Park in the near future.

Your Egg Breakfast Is About To Become A Luxury Item
Chicken egg prices are rising fast to due a lot of hens being killed  due to bird flu. Not all the hens are infected but once it is found in one, the chances of it spreading are pretty good considering the close quarters hens are kept in. The result is that everything that uses eggs for commercial products are seeing massive price spikes. Meanwhile eggs needed for such production will have to be imported. The rising cost from all of this is already starting to be noticed in US eastern and middle sections. And spreading west. For the first time in recent memory, organic eggs will actually be the same price as regular eggs and perhaps, in some cases, a few cents cheaper. Even when the bird flu is over it will take a while for supplies to resume. Which means your plate of eggs at the local diner is going to get a lot more expensive or not available at all in some parts of the USA. Of course producers of duck, pigeon, and quail eggs might get some new business. And one ostrich egg equals about twenty chicken eggs. You will need a special drill,goggles, and a very large pan. 🙂

Sunday with Lifehouse

Here is a nice song for your Sunday. You and Me by Lifehouse has become a favored song for many weddings these days. An enjoyable love song that says so much and does it remarkably simple. Have a nice Sunday everyone.

And of course this clip from Smallville, season 4, episode 18 “Spirit.” This scene gave the song a wider audience and more popular than before.

Remembering D-Day, 6 June 1944

National D-Day Memorial at Bedford, Virginia Photo:Public Domain
National D-Day Memorial at Bedford, Virginia
Photo:Public Domain

Today we cannot imagine or fathom the resources and manpower needed for this highly complex operation. It took years of planning, putting together needed resources, and training the men needed. Even then things went wrong right away but despite the terrible odds and the high casualty rate, the Allied forces prevailed. With many junior officers wounded or killed right away, it was the ordinary soldier that won the day.

The world of 6 June 1944 was this: Nazi Germany held total control over Western Europe except for Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland who remained neutral. However its invasion of Russia had collapsed at this point with the German army now forced to retreat. It had already been forced out of North Africa and Allied troops had landed in Sicily in 1943 and by 1944 were in Italy. Mussolini had been deposed in 1943, rescued by German paratroopers, and put in charge of a German supported puppet state in Northern Italy. The Germans knew the allies were planning a major invasion along the coast of France.

Crossing the English Channel was going to be an enormous challenge. Despite what some want to believe, it was easier in concept that actual implementation. While cries of a second front had been going on for years, it required a vast amount of resources to pull off. You not only needed the men, but they all had to be trained, fed, and properly outfitted. Not just the foot soldiers but also the special units. Then you needed ships not only to bring them over to England, but camps to house them and continue their training. The Army Air Corp needed runways and facilities. The list goes on and on. Imagine a list of needed items that stretches, when laid out flat, from San Francisco to Los Angeles and you get an idea of how enormous an operation this was going to be. And that is just on the planning and supply side.

Then the problem of getting men over to France was a major hurdle. Landing craft at the start of the war were not very good and unreliable. New ones would have to be devised (they were, the Higgins boats) that would allow troops to be dropped off as close to shore as possible. Then you needed accurate intelligence to tell you what the troops were going to face. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had put up every possible fortification on the beaches and the area around. From mines in the water to barbed wire to turrets filled with guns and German troops. Hitler wanted an Atlantic wall and Rommel was pretty darn close in getting it done.

That is why D-Day is important. This was a massive operation unlike anything in history. A full fledged invasion of Europe on a tricky North Atlantic where weather was hardly ever your friend. It did not go to plan, some parts went hideously wrong (landing at wrong places etc). Yet the Allied forces prevailed because of the determination of the soldiers, mostly noncoms and enlisted, to get it done. It came at great cost in lives yet when it was over began the march to push Germany out of many conquered lands. Today some talk down this military success out of some desire to lessen having to celebrate in any way war or military accomplishment. Yet had this invasion not happened or been unsuccessful, the Third Reich likely would have lasted a lot longer or worse perhaps not fallen at all.

MasterChef US Season 6, Episode 4:Knott’s Berry Farm and Cinnamon Buns

20 cheftestants remain and face their first team challenge at Knott’s Berry Farm. The losers face the dreaded pressure test where cinnamon buns determine their fate.

*Knott’s Berry Farm is a nice place for the team challenge. It is considered one of the earliest theme parks in the country as it started in the 1950’s before House of Mouse was built. Much has changed along with the rides and attractions. In addition to the famous chicken restaurant, T.G.I. Fridays and Cinnabon are there as well. But today Masterchef is holding food court serving up hamburgers with onion rings and coleslaw, and fish and chips.

*People sort themselves on their own into teams but the judges decide who are the team captains. Team Blue is Darah and Team Red Kerry. Darah works in a theme park and Kerry is a human relations department manager. Fire up the grill and get the fryer going.

*This is not a real difficult task but requires organization to pull off right. And both teams have problems. Team Red wants to do three sauces but Gordon nixes that. Later though Kerry screws up by not having onion rings (he got too busy) so they have to race to get them done.

Photo: Fox
Photo: Fox

*Team Blue is disorganized because Darah is not a good leader. Katrina is doing the batter for both onion rings and fish. Tommy is concerned she is moving too slow but she is the only one doing both. Two problems emerge. One is that fish are not being cooked and later because the batter is too thick they are coming out raw.  Gordon threatens to shut down Team Blue if they have another major problem.

*The ten second rule meant if you did not have the food ready for them, they got an empty basket. Both teams had problems but Team Blue came up short in the end. Even though comments were suggesting many liked their food better, too few were able to cast their vote for them. They got empty blue paper lined baskets and the paper ended up blowing around Knott’s Berry Farm for the rest of the day.

*Everyone reassembles the next day for the Dreaded Elimination Challenge. Team Blue stands there and the inevitable question to Darah is what went wrong. She did not answer that question and instead talked up individual team accomplishments. Oops. Talk about clueless about the concept here. The judges want to know what YOU did wrong.

*Well Tommy sure does not like Katrina much. He said the problem was lack of communication and through some dog poo at Katrina. I hardly think she was the problem on this team (she was one of the harder workers there). Derrick was never asked but in the confessional did not think much of Darah.

*Darah has the option to save up to five people and her choices mostly puzzle the judges. She does not save either Katrina or Derrick who did a lot of the work. Hetal declines the save saying she belonged there and offers her spot to Derrick (who did not belong there). Darah did not save herself leaving Katrina, Olivia, Hetal, and Tommy to join her in the Dreaded Pressure Test.

Cinnamon roll buns fresh from the oven. Photo:Eric Petruno
Cinnamon roll buns fresh from the oven.
Photo:Eric Petruno

*Cinnamon Roll. Ah, the lure of the cinnamon roll.  Fragrant and gooey deliciousness when done right. They are a joy to eat. But like all pastries you have to pay attention to the rules about rolling out the dough and shaping it right. You also have to get the spice mixture right and a topping that goes with rather than fights the pastry. And since this is from scratch, you have no where to hide. The cinnamon roll is unforgiving. Fortunately most of them measure up but the competition was keen.

*Hetal was the real surprise here. She produced a batch that was delicious, evoked memories of India for Gordon (he did a series of shows where he travels through India to learn their food), and got an additional accolade. Gordon thinks she has a future in baking. I think if she plays her cards right she will go far not only on the show but much further.

*Katrina was upset by being in the pressure test. Making it worse was Tommy. Tommy said some rude comments during the preparation time. But Katrina had the last laugh. Tommy really dislikes her and likely we will see more of it.

*Both Katrina and Olivia passed muster with the judges with some minor criticisms here and there. They were not in danger of going home.

*Tommy. Where to begin with this guy? Well he reminds one of that guy a few years back that decided that madness came before genius and produced artistic dishes that totally fell flat with the judges. Tommy decided to do the same and produced the most hideous looking cinnamon buns ever on national television. They may have tasted okay, as Gordon noted, but you would not want to ever see those buns in the light of day. I think they would make a splendid Haunted House scary meal dish.

*Alas poor Darah. She really messed it up big time. The anise overpowered the buns and worse, they were raw. There was nothing good to say about these buns and so she got the chop in the end leaving Tommy to muse as he walked back that Katrina was still in the game.

*This episode showed us a lot of things. Leading a kitchen brigade requires communication and the ability to watch how things are going. You have to be organized otherwise customers ending up waiting too long for food or miscues end up with dishes not done right.

Next week: Crabs. How will they deal with live crabs? Never show fear and watch out for the pincers. They are not giant mutant crabs! 🙂

Tuesday Titanic News

Photo:Yoshi Canopus(Wikimedia Commons)
Photo:Yoshi Canopus(Wikimedia Commons)

Things Not Well For Chinese Shipbuilding These Days
1. The Chinese shipbuilding industry appears to be in financial trouble. The major shipbuilders are either in bankruptcy or teetering on the edge of ruin. A combination of bad management, low bids, and rising costs are causing lots of problems. So if that Australian tycoon is still planning on making a Titanic replica, China does not look promising at all. He might have to consider, gasp!, having a European firm build it. That is of course if he is truly serious about building it.
Source: Shipbuilding Industry In China Has Titanic Money Problems(1 June 2015,Want China Times)

2. Now One Pass To See Titanic Belfast and Nomadic
Until recently you had to pay separate tickets for Titanic Belfast and Nomadic. No longer. Now there is a White Star Premium Pass that covers both attractions. It is priced at £25 per adult, £20 for seniors/students and £15 for children.

Using the ultimate Titanic experience ticket, visitors can now not only enjoy the delights of Titanic Belfast but the SS Nomadic, the last remaining White Star Line vessel, as well as the award-winning Discovery Tour, which highlights the famous barrel-vaulted Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices, the slipways and the building’s iconic structure for one price.

It is advised you purchase tickets well in advance. You can purchase tickets at
Source: Titanic Belfast And SS Nomadic Launch Joint Ticket – The White Star Premium Pass(29 May 2015,Belfast Telegraph)

3. SS Carpathia: The Unassuming Ship That Became Famous
Maritime Executive has a nice write-up of SS Carpathia, the ship that rescued Titanic survivors. Neither a grand ship or a clunky cargo hauler, she was built to carry immigrants from the old world and bringing tourists from the new world. A nice bit of writing and a reminder of a bygone era.
Source: Carpathia’s Role In Titanic’s Rescue(31 May 2015,The Maritime Executive)

Masterchef US-Season 6,Episode 3:First Mystery Box and Apples Send 2 Home

Photo: Fox
Photo: Fox

22 aspiring masterchefs enter, only 20 remain at the end. They faced their first Mystery Box challenge and the elimination round was all about the apple.

*I like it when Masterchef shakes things up. The first Mystery Box challenge had ingredients in their own pantry. Now they just had to make a meal that met the high standards of Masterchef.

*The top three were Katrina (pork schnitizel), Dan (savory eclairs), and Hetal (coconut curry soup). Dan took top honors and went back to the pantry.

*So many deserts but fortunately they are just for show to demonstrate the wide range of Chef Tosi. She wants a humble apple pie but Dan thankfully does not have to cook it. He gets a bag of apples though to pick those he can save. In this show, the old wisdom about an apple a day keeping the doctor away has been rewritten. Now an apple will save you from making an apple pie from scratch.

*Making an apple pie is not as easy as it looks. You have to get the pastry just right, a filling that is sweet but not overly so, and make sure it is properly cooked. No one wants an underdone pie. Or one that falls apart when you cut into it.

*Olivia seemed unclear about whether she needed a crust. Gordon had to remind her that Tosi wanted an apple pie. And the gong of doom could be heard as she noted the addition of goat cheese in the apple pie.

*A pie might be ugly but Veronica proved it can also be delicious. She went against that chef maxim that good dishes must also look immaculate and won.

*The top ones were (in my view) Christopher,Sara, and Veronica. Christopher won.

*Olivia’s pie was overpowered by goat cheese landing her in the bottom. Mateo’s crust was too thin and it fell apart. Breanna created apple soup. This being a double elimination, Breanna and Mateo got chopped. Olivia was saved literally by a slim apple wedge.

*So far things are moving at a fast clip since the premiere. No sense of who the standouts are or if there are any villains. The next episode might start revealing who has the cooking chops and those just passing through the kitchen on the way to ordering pizza for dinner.

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