Artichoke Soup with Pesto Toast, Kale with Sausage, and Orzo Salad

So for the last two weeks, I thought I was going home to the Top Chef Allstars finale and for the last two weeks, I have been wrong.  Normally, I hate being wrong; but in this case, I am happy to extend the life of one of my favorite shows.  Finally, it was finale time last night and I was happy to see Richard Blais – my favorite from day one – win.  How could he not?  On a drool-worthy scorecard, he consistently pulled A+ grades.  Plus he lives in Atlanta (where he puts out amazing food at Flip), and I am proud a Georgian took home the title.
Both Mike and Richard put out elegant dishes that showed a level of restraint on their parts.  Richard, known for his amorous relationship with liquid nitrogen, contained some of his craziness and let it seep out only in the most appropriate of places.  The best example: his amuse bouche (which was not required and created just for the hell of it).  I would like to live inside Richard’s notebook for a little while because it seems to house some of the most interesting ideas.  Richard decided to name his “dream restaurant” Tongue and Cheek.  Here’s why he’s a genius:  Even the name itself is tongue and cheek since tongue and cheek are both food items.  He used the name to imply that food should be whimsy and carried that theme throughout his dishes, most perfectly with the amuse: an oyster with pearls (the pearls being lemon horseradish ice cream).  Mike’s fish and pepperoni sauce looked great but overall, it had to be Richard.
I can’t watch a show like that without making some good food of my own, so I tried out a few new recipes last night.  I was inspired by the creamy artichoke soup I had in Boston, so I decided to attempt one.  Mine was not as velvety as the one at Upstairs on the Square, but I was too lazy to strain it and re-blend – this is a weeknight meal after all, so I got it as smooth as I could with an emersion blender, decided it was a rustic soup, and called it a day.  I topped the soup with truffle oil and pesto croutons which gave it tons of flavor.  It definitely seemed like it took a while to make but I managed to cook the whole thing while browning my sausage, which brings me to dish number two.
I browned up some sweet Italian sausage and served it atop a bed of garlic kale.  This was my first time cooking kale so I made my life a bit easier by buying the pre-cut and washed kale and just dumping it in the sauté pan.  It took longer than I expected to wilt down, but I was happy with the finished product and the fact that I just blasted myself with a ton of healthy antioxidents.  Did you know kale is the new wonder-veggie?  For a side dish, I made an orzo salad with radish, basil, green onion, pine nuts, a vinaigrette, and a little goat cheese.  The goat cheese was actually unnecessary but I had a little lying in the fridge and figured I would use it up.  I may not have made fois gras ice cream like Richard, but I think my dinner was pretty solid.