Lee Anne Wong

Lee Anne Wong breaks down the holiday episode ... one partridge in a pear tree at a time.

on Dec 18, 2008

Setting up for Christmas in the middle of the summer is always fun. We did it in Chicago too when we filmed the Christmas special. It was decided the day before the challenge that we needed to create a beautiful holiday table for the reveal. Because we were already swamped with Gail's bridal shower challenge, I went shopping for the ingredients and then left Louise on set to prep it all while we went on location for the bridal shower. The next morning we came in at the crack of dawn to finish cooking and plating all of the food. The table was missing something -- we had the ham, we had the goose, but it needed a centerpiece, something big. You try finding a whole turkey in the dead of August. My PA Bev found one that was frozen solid. We put that puppy in a 450°F oven (we had about two hours before the cameras would roll), thawed it a little, brushed it with some molasses and let it go for 30 minutes till it looked like a fully cooked golden brown turkey. The problem with the set was that the building had the front door open all of the time, so naturally the flies came to check out our Christmas buffet. We tried citronella candles (like in Puerto Rico) but alas, it was not enough. Sadly, and much to the chagrin of the camera and sound crew, we had to spray the entire Christmas buffet with Deep Woods Off. The things we do for television.

One Pot Wonder was an idea of mine from last season. It seemed fitting considering the Queen of Homemaking was to be our judge. I also tasted the beauty plates and here's my assessment:

Eugene's pork stew with cornstarch was not great. Maybe it's because he didn't attend culinary school, but the better choice would've been to use a roux (a mixture of flour and fat, traditionally butter) to thicken his stew. Cornstarch while often used for thickening, created a thick, glossy texture to the broth that was unnatural at best. Plus the pork was very chewy and the entire dish needed salt and acid. Stefan's veal goulash was very good. It was studded with small chunks of chorizo and I was most impressed that he tourneed his potatoes (turned them into little seven-sided footballs). It's one of those things that they make you do at culinary school that will give you arthritis if you do it long enough, hence my appreciation for his efforts. Hosea's paella was also very tasty, full of that saffron, seafood, meaty goodness. The pork with apples and bacon might be the first decent thing I had seen from Melissa in a while. And Jamie's scallop (you will begin to see a trend) was also very good, and well balanced. I happen to love making potato risotto. The key is to keep the potatoes just slightly al dente, so they retain their shape -- if you overcook it, then you end up with lumpy mashed potatoes (and do you really want a splash of vinegary verjus on top of your mashed potatoes?). The steak and cauliflower was good also, if not very basic. I don't necessarily think it was the best dish. I feel like Hosea and Stefan did well by cooking dishes that really were all cooked in one pot together, not cooked and then pulled out and set aside while you clean the pot to cook the next thing. But what Martha wants, Martha gets. Carla's turkey and apple stuffing was okay, though the turkey was a little dry and flavorless. Fabio's duck with mushroom polenta was bland with an overall soft, mushy texture. Italian grandmothers can't always be right I guess.