Thursday Night Smackdown: "Life is like waiting for a yam."

Oh, Bobby Flay. You continue to flog your bold Southwestern flavors and chile oils to within an inch of their lives on Iron Chef America, but damn if you don’t put together a tasty plate of food.

Seriously though, your Iron Chef appearances? Painfully redundant. I tell you this for your own good.*

The man does make some good food and some condiments, and one of my favorite things about cooking out of the Mesa Grill Cookbook is that you really can replicate the restaurant’s food at home and the cost of the cookbook plus the cost of ingredients will still probably be less than a night out at the actual restaurant. (Of course, you will have to bus your own table at home.) Tonight was Bobby’s take on shrimp and grits: sauteed shrimp with sweet potato-smoked chile grits with green onion-cilantro sauce and red chile oil garnishes.

The “one large sweet potato” (I always appreciate precision in a written recipe) was on the larger side of large, so I threw it in the oven as soon as I got home and started to work on the sauces. Even in the simplest Flay recipes there are a great many condiments and involve a great deal of blending and much washing out of the blender. Or swishing hot water around inside of the blender pitcher. Whatever, it’s the same as washing, especially if the water is really hot.

The green onion sauce was a simple affair of scallions, cilantro, mustard, honey, rice wine vinegar and canola oil. It makes the large cupful you see above, despite the fact the the recipe nominally serves four. Four who really, really love green onion sauce, apparently. And grits, but more on that later.

*Also, “Throwdown” is just plain mean.

I also made the red chile oil while the sweet potato baked. I got quite a bit done, in fact, since we’d bought the VW Vanagon of sweet potatoes – I’m talking actual size – and it took roughly 17 hours to roast. Roughly.

Bobby directs that you seed and toast the guajillo chiles; okay, done. Next, put them in the blender with some vegetable oil and a pinch of salt; okay, done. Then, blend for FIVE WHOLE MINUTES.

I know five minutes doesn’t seem like a lot of time. In fact, five minutes is the universal measure of “not much time.” “Are you almost ready?” “Yeah, just five minutes.” Five minutes of a constantly running blender? INTERMINABLE. It’s like when there’s a moment of silence, and you think you were quiet for like, at least a minute or two, or maybe three, and it was actually 20 seconds. Except it’s FIVE WHOLE MINUTES and you have to listen to your rumbling, whirring blender getting more and more high pitched the entire time, until it goes “Holy shit, are you serious?” and then starts to get all low and growly like it’s threatening to just stop. Or is ready to explode.

I’ll come clean: I made it through three and a half, and I had to stop. The dogs were starting to whine; I think the blender was starting to send unwanted messages not audible by the human ear.

Of course, I had a glowing, vibrant red chile oil to show for it. Except that I didn’t, and my oil, pardon my French, was the color of a Hershey squirt.

For a while after the chile oil was done, I sat on the sofa and stared into space while I listened to the new “puttering” playlist I’d made (actual name) in which the songs are ordered by song length and marveling when back-to-back songs by the same artist would come on, as though I had been witness to some statistical miracle. While I was starting, Brian asked what dinner was waiting on, and I told him the giant sweet potato was absorbing the heat of the oven faster than the oven could produce heat, so it was actually getting more raw as time passed. Which provoked the quote that is the title of this post: “That’s always what life is like. Life is like waiting for a yam.” There’s a fucking zen koan if you’ve ever heard one.

Life: not like a box of chocolates at all, because that would be pleasant. Nor, as Thomas Hobbes posited, is it “nasty, brutish and short.” Rather, life is like waiting for a yam -  long, boring, hungry, and hot.

Eventually, I just gave up and cranked the oven heat because it was going on nine o’clock and I was on the verge of eating a bag of “natural” Cheetos for dinner in lieu of waiting out the yam. While it finished, I mixed up the grits (onion, garlic, stock, milk and some pureed chipotle, hence the “smoked chile”). Then, because I didn’t want to wait for it to cool, I decided to suck it up and develop bionic chef fingers and peel the still-steaming potato. It had it coming.

I wish I had put something next to the pot to show you the scale; the whisk will have to serve (it’s a really big whisk). This was a giant fucking pot of grits, augmented by over a pound of sweet potato. In what universe does this serve four, the one where we’re all 11 feet tall and have five stomachs and are enslaved to sentient pigs? Because as intriguing as that one sounds, that’s not the one I live in, and my pathetic single stomach can only hold so much before the grits start leaking out and invading other vital organs that were not, unfortunately, designed to deal with grits.*

*Thanks for nothing, God.

I took a break to stare off into the distance some more while Brian sauteed up the shrimp, and dinner, finally, was served.

They say you eat with your eyes first, a phrase which has always gotten me right here, here being the part of me that is easily annoyed because I think that phrase is dumb as hell. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy an attractive plate, which this most certainly was: butterscotch-colored grits set off with bright green and red (which, yay! because it still looked like Hershey squirts in the bottle) sauces, mounded with delicate peachy-pink shrimp.

The flavors played together just as teasingly, a Bobby Flay signature. The grits were slightly sweet but earthy, and with a back-of-the-throat burn from the chipotle. They were also thick and rich, and the vinegary green onion sauce was just tangy enough to cut them without overpowering them with acid; the chile oil added another very subtle layer of heat that buoyed up the grits.

I almost liked the grits and sauces better alone than with the shrimp, which seemed a tad too delicate for the rest of the dish components; though in Bobby’s defense, I had some pretty crappy ShopRite U-Scoop frozen shrimp.

I have it on good authority that Bobby Flay is, as one might glean from his television persona, a bit of an ass in real life. (He’s also much taller than you’d think, but that has no bearing on his assiness, unless it turns out that assiness and size are directly proportional.) But you can’t go wrong with this book if you like his style of cooking, especially if you can’t get to the Mesa Grill yourself.

And now to rest up before another long day of waiting for a yam.

13 thoughts on “Thursday Night Smackdown: "Life is like waiting for a yam."

  1. Perhaps Bobby had you make a metric shit-ton of grits because he knows that leftover grits, fried, are even better than fresh grits. Seriously. Let the grits set up, then cut ‘em into circles or whatever the hell you want shape-wise, then dredge in flour and pan fry (bonus points for using bacon fat, naturally). You won’t get perfect firm little cakes, but you willgey deliciousness.

  2. I’m saying those leftover grits, fried up with an over-easy egg on top and some good bacon, would make one hellacious breakfast.I’m thinking sweet potato grits are on my agenda this weekend.

  3. I just had to look up what grits are (because I’m an ignorant Dutchie) and it seems to be similar to polenta. In what way is it different? Wikipedia doesn’t really explain and I’m a bit confused now!

  4. So here’s the thing about Smackdown.

    I’m no Flay fan (Flayette?), and when I heard the concept for Smackdown I was horrified by how incredibly douchey it sounded. I watched a few episodes solely for the purpose of fanning the flames of my Flay-hate.

    Which, as it turns out, didn’t work. Because he’s an absolute gentleman on the show, and really nice to the people he challenges, who are always game for the challenge. He also loses a good 2/3rds of the time, and does so with good humor. I went into Smackdown with the urge to hate him more, and ended up hating him less.

    Weird, no?

  5. For what it’s worth: I hereby crown you the best blogger, EVER! Your take on the food shows is absolutely spot-on; your writing style is incredibly entertaining and your sense of humor is unmatched! Now if that’s not worthy of a bejeweled crown, well then, I hardly know what to think. Please carry on.

  6. Bobby Flay is an asshole because he’s married to my television girlfriend, rendering her unable to enter into a fulfilling (yet ultimately sexless because I’m afraid of vaginas) relationship with me.

    His food is solid, though. It’s intuitive, and easy to make. But he needs to learn some new tricks for ICA, or I’ll be unable to continue my viewership.

  7. jinxie, oh, i’ve got bacon fat, all right.

    kay, they are SO being had for brunch this weekend.

    we gave bowlfuls away for the neighbors, and still have enough left for brunch guests.

    karen, see below!

    liz, it still sticks in my craw, even though he loses. these people think they’re getting their own special, then flay shows up and butts in.

    best ep ever: he challenged the doughnut plant guy, and dude was PISSED.

    elaine, stop it, i’m blushing.

    kay, thanks for saving me from wikipediaing, because i didn’t know what coarseness order they went in.

    kristie, i’m sorry he’s blocking the fulfillment of your platonic love for stephanie march.

  8. Wow that looks good…
    I bet you could find lots to do with all that leftover green sauce too. I might make just that and call it a day.

    And I agree…his act on Iron Chef is a bit redundant.

  9. You’re right about the five minutes thing. It would be pretty awful to hear a blender whizzing for that long. The finished result does look and sound really really good, if a bit chilli-ish for my tastes…I always think Bobby Flay sounds like the sort of name that someone makes up rather than gets born with, is it his actual name? (I guess this is my cue to go to Wikipedia).

  10. Your description of “five minutes of blender” kicked off a giggle fit of EPIC proportions. And then to get hit with the rawer sweet potato…gads.

    What is worse than five minutes of blender? My hubby would say ten minutes of listening to your wife out and out giggling (with tears streaming) reading Thursday Night Smackdown.

  11. Years ago, a friend of mine worked at one of Flay’s restaurants, and said he was nicer than you’d think. And I saw him at Mesa once, and he was not taller than you’d think. Or than I’d think, I guess.

    I am here to contradict, apparently. But not on the food! The food looks goooooood.

  12. Wow, you’re back! This is the kind of post I love best. I’m alternately drooling and laughing. Gonna do grits tonight. By the way, I speak fluent Redneck and grits is Redneck for Polenta. Although the grind size information was news to me…I learned something! Not bad, considering that I found your site again by googling “scared of vagina”!

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