S2E19 (Elimination) – Octopus, Veal, Mushrooms

Before I start this post, I first want to apologize for the long delay between posts. I have been very busy the last couple weeks as I have been working at Churchill Downs during the recent Kentucky Derby. It was a lot of work but also a lot of fun (as you can see here: The 140th Running of the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby). I am glad to have some free time back to do some cooking and blogging though.

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As the winner of the mystery box challenge, Adrien was able to choose between three of Joe’s favorite ingredients: Octopus, Veal and Mushrooms. He chose octopus for himself. Then, Christian was able to select his and Jennifer’s ingredient. Christian selected veal for himself and gave Jennifer mushrooms to work with.

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Each contestant had positives and negatives to their final dishes, but the judges decided to send Adrien (Pan Seared Octopus) and Jennifer (Mushroom and Egg Ravioli) to the Final Challenge. This eliminated Christian (Veal) from the competition.

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When I started this blog, I wrote a rule to direct me in what ingredient to cook with in challenges such as this. It read:

“For challenges in which the competitors are given different ingredients to work with, I will use the ingredient that the most chefs are given to cook with. If every contestant is given a different ingredient, I will use the one the winner picks for him/herself, or if the winner does not cook in the challenge, the ingredient that is given to that episode’s ‘target’.”

However, for this challenge, if I were to follow this rule, I would have to cook with octopus. While I would love to tackle the challenge, I know that I am just not going to be able to find octopus to work with. So to try and follow the rule at least a little bit, I will cook with the ingredient given to the challenge’s “target.” That ended up being Jennifer, who was stuck with mushrooms.

I knew I wanted to try something a little different and crepes have been on my list of “dishes to attempt.” I was lucky enough to find this recipe that met both criteria: Mushroom Crepes with Poblano Chile Sauce. Since most of this was new to me, I mostly stuck to the recipe with the one exception being my addition of chicken. This was going to be my dinner, after all, and I wanted protein! However, this dish would be just a delicious as the original vegetarian option. I also halved the recipe to make only 8 crepes, which brought down the expected cook and prep time of 4 hours to just under 3 hours.

The first thing I did was make the crepe batter. I blended 1 cup of whole milk, 1.5 eggs (I guesstimated this – I know its a weird amount but that’s what happens when you only do half of a recipe), 1 tablespoon of melted butter (that had been cooled), and 1/2 of a teaspoon of fine sea salt in a blender for 5 seconds. I then added 1 cup of flour, 1/2 cup at a time, blending the batter until it was smooth after each addition. I let this rest for 1 hour and then re-blended for 5 seconds just before using.

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While the batter was resting, I started to prep some of the other components. First, I charred 3 poblano chiles in the broiler until they were blackened on all sides. I then enclosed them in paper bag for 10 minutes. Finally, I peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced the chiles. For this part of the recipe, I used this tutorial as a guide: How to Roast and Peel Poblano Peppers.

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Next, I prepped the other ingredients: diced white onions, minced garlic, minced cilantro, sweet corn sliced off the cob, and shredded chicken (I cheated and just got the pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store). All of these were fairly simple but I decided to use this post as an excuse to try this: The Magic Corn Trick. While it worked really well for cooking the corn, the cob didn’t exactly slide out without any silk. Maybe I needed to cook it longer or maybe I needed to trim it more. Either way, there was something there that didn’t quite work but I’ll definitely try it again sometime.

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After all the prep work was done, I moved on to the crepe making. I heated a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. I brushed the bottom of the pan with melted butter. Then, I poured 3 tablespoons of batter into the skillet and swirled until the bottom of the skillet was coated evenly. I let this cook until the bottom of crepe was golden. (The recipe said that this should take about 30 seconds but it took much longer than that). Then, I loosened the edges gently with a spatula and turned the crepe over. I cooked this until the bottom was brown in spots, and turned the crepe out onto a paper towel.

The first crepe I made was a disaster. It wasn’t really cooking all that well and I turned it too early so it looked completely screwed up (as seen below).

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But I turned the heat up and got the hang of the cooking process on the second one and it only got better from there. I repeated the cooking process for each, making about 8 crepes (plus the one wonky crepe) and stacked them between paper towels.

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Next, I moved on to the poblano cream sauce. I melted butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. I then added 2-3 tablespoons of diced white onion and 1 clove of minced garlic, and sautéed for about 2 minutes. Next, I stirred in 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of flour and sautéed for 1 minute longer. I then whisked in 1 cup of warm whole milk and brought the whole mixture to a boil (while whisking constantly). I reduced the heat to medium-low and let the sauce simmer until it thickened, about 5 minutes.

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Then, I poured the sauce into a blender with 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream, half of the roasted poblano chiles, and salt and pepper to taste, and blended the sauce until it was smooth.

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After completing the sauce, I moved on to the filling. I heated a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. I then added 1 cup of diced white onions, 8 ounces of sliced shitake mushrooms, 3-4 cloves of minced garlic, and half of the reserved poblano chiles (chopped). I sautéed this until the mushrooms were brown and the mushroom liquid had evaporated, about 10 minutes. Then, I added the shredded chicken, 1 tablespoon of minced fresh cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. I let that mixture cook together until the chicken was warmed through.

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With most of the components finished, I then started to fill the crepes. I spooned some of the filling in the middle of the crepe, wrapped it and placed it in a baking dish. I drizzled about half of the poblano cream sauce over the top of the crepes, and then sprinkled 1/2 of a cup of grated manchego cheese over top. I put this dish in a 350-degree oven until the cheese melted, about 12 minutes.

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While the stuffed crepes were in the oven, I worked on the final component: the garnish. In a large skillet, I sautéed some sweet corn with the rest of the poblanos (chopped) in some olive oil with salt and pepper until they were heated through. I also prepped some cilantro and fresh lime as a garnish.

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When the crepes came out of the oven, I spooned some additional poblano cream sauce onto the serving dish. Then, I placed 2 stuffed crepes over the sauce and garnished the dish with fresh cilantro, the corn-poblano mixture and a squirt of fresh lime over the top.

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Overall, this dish was delightful. It was very unique and would have definitely caught the attention of the judges. While the crepes took a great deal of time (and probably should have been a bit thinner), the rest of the components were fairly simple. In the future, I might use pre-made crepes or flour tortillas instead in order to cut out a lot of the prep work. The flavor profile also didn’t feature mushrooms as prominently as the challenge called for, but I’m sure there’s a way to tweak this dish to do so. Regardless, this a delicious dish that should definitely be tried.

I am certainly happy to be back to blogging. Here’s to hoping there won’t be too many delays like this in the future.

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S2E19 (Mystery Box) – Chicken

For the final mystery box challenge of the season, the contestants were asked to demonstrate how far they had come. They had to create a dish featuring chicken with an open pantry, just like one of the first challenges of the season. Jennifer struggled, turning in a dish with overcooked and undercooked components (Bacon Wrapped Chicken with Apples and Jalapeño). Christian (Bacon Wrapped Chicken with French Onion Sauce) and Adrien (Braised Chicken Thigh with Acorn Squash, Asparagus and Rice) created better dishes, but the judges only offered high praise for Adrien, who won the challenge.

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For this challenge, I decided to do an “empty the fridge” type of dish. While that’s not really what I usually do on this blog, I thought that I had ingredients on hand to do a great stuffed chicken breast with ratatouille and truffle-butter potatoes. For the chicken breast, I made the stuffing out of feta, chopped bacon, minced garlic, chopped yellow onions, thyme, oregano, and crushed red pepper. After mixing all of this together, I pounded out the chicken breast, spread the stuffing evenly over the top of the chicken and then rolled it all up so that the chicken totally enveloped the stuffing. I seasoned the chicken with salt, pepper and paprika, and poured in enough chicken stock to cover the bottom of the baking dish. I baked this in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes, spooning the broth over the top of the chicken every 15 minutes.

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While the chicken was cooking, I started making the sides. While I did not have the ingredients to make a traditional ratatouille, I certainly had enough to create my own version. I simply sautéed some chopped zucchini, chopped red onion, diced tomatoes, minced garlic, and chopped red bell pepper in some olive oil and butter. I let the vegetables cook together for a little bit. Then, I added a couple tablespoons of arrabiata sauce and seasoned the whole mixture with salt, pepper, oregano, basil, cumin, and cayenne pepper. I let this all cook together on low until the vegetables were tender and ready to serve.

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For the potatoes, I simply fried the slices in some butter for a couple minutes per side, sprinkled them with truffle salt and then popped them in the oven on a baking sheet until they were fork tender.

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The final component of the dish was the red wine reduction. When the chicken was finished, I took the broth from the bottom of the baking dish and poured it into a sauce pan. To this, I added an equal amount of red wine (in this case, a pinot noir that I had on hand), a tablespoon of honey, and the juice of 1/2 a lime. I let this simmer until it was reduced by half.

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I plated the chicken breast on a bed of the truffle potatoes and ratatouille with the red wine reduction spooned over top. Overall, the dish came together pretty well. The ratatouille and potatoes were delicious. I easily could have eaten just those and been perfectly content. The chicken, on the other hand, was just ok. The feta did not keep the chicken moist like other cheeses I have used in the past to make this dish. And the crushed red pepper was too strong, giving the stuffing, as a whole, a bit of an odd flavor. The red wine sauce was very strong. I let it reduce too far and I used a fairly cheap wine, so the overall flavor was much too sharp. While there are definitely some tweaks that need to be made to improve this dish, I do think that it could be refined into quite a delicious meal.

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S2E18 (Pressure) – Lemon Meringue Pie

For the final pressure test of the season, Suzy and Christian were given 90 minutes to produce a lemon meringue pie.

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Both contestants had issues with execution and flavor. Overall, the judges described the results by saying that, “Christian’s looks better than it tastes and Suzy’s tastes better than it looks.” Essentially, it came down to who made the most mistakes, resulting in Suzy’s elimination from the competition.

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I have never made lemon meringue pie before, so I decided to fully follow this recipe: Lemon Meringue Pie. (I jut cut the proportions in half to make a mini-pie). Since I did not deviate from the recipe, I am just going to do a picture representation of the recipe with the proportions of the recipe that I used (so double what follows if you want a full pie).

In a bowl with a pastry blender or in a food processor blend or pulse together a little less than 2/3 of a cup of flour, 3 tablespoons of butter, 1 tablespoon of vegetable shortening, and 1/8 of a teaspoon of salt until mixture resembles meal. (I did not have a food processor so I just used my hands and it worked fine). Add 1 tablespoon of ice water and toss or pulse until water is incorporated. If necessary, add enough ice water to form a dough and form dough into a disk. Lightly dust dough with flour and chill, wrapped in wax paper for 1 hour.

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On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll out dough until about 1/8 of an inch thick and then fit dough into a pie plate. Prick shell in several places with a fork and chill, covered, for 30 minutes.

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Preheat oven to 400° F. Line shell with wax paper and fill with rice or pie weights. Bake shell in middle of oven for 10 minutes. Remove paper and rice carefully and bake shell until golden, about 12 minutes more. Cool shell in pie plate on a rack. Lower oven temperature to 350° F.

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In a heavy saucepan, whisk together 1/2 of a cup of sugar, 2 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch, and 1/8 of a teaspoon of salt and gradually whisk in 1/2 of a cup of water and 1/4 of a cup of milk, whisking until cornstarch is dissolved. Cook milk mixture over moderate heat, whisking, until it comes to a boil.

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In a bowl, whisk together 2 egg yolks. Gradually whisk milk mixture into yolks and transfer yolk mixture back into saucepan. Simmer mixture, whisking, for 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and whisk in 1 tablespoon of butter, 1/4 of a cup of lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon of freshly grated lemon zest until butter is melted.

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In another bowl with an electric mixer, beat 2 egg whites with 1/8 of a teaspoon of cream of tartar and a pinch of salt until they hold soft peaks. Beat in 1/4 of a cup of sugar in a slow stream, beating until meringue just holds stiff peaks.

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Pour filling into shell and spread meringue on top, covering filling completely, sealing it to pastry. Draw meringue up into peaks and bake pie in middle of oven (at 350° F) until meringue is golden, about 15 minutes.

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The pie turned out great! I have never made meringue or any type of custard pie filling so I was slightly amazed that it turned out as well as it did. It was delicious and I will definitely make it again soon.

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S2E18 (Team) – International Judges

For the last team challenge of the season, the top 4 were divided in two teams and cooked a dish for 3 judges from international versions of MasterChef: Kunal Kapoor (India), Sébastien Demorand (France) and Michal Ansky (Israel). They had 90 minutes to create a dish from the best produce, meat and seafood that America has to offer.

Suzy and Christian decided to do a dish that they called an upscale Thanksgiving dish with duck, sweet potato and raspberry coulis.

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Adrien and Jennifer decided to do a dish that showcased the best items from both coasts. It consisted of roasted corn, avocado and maine lobster with spot prawns, blood orange and red pepper coulis.

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Both teams had several issues with their dishes but the Blue Team worked together better, giving them the win. This sent Suzy and Christian into the pressure test.

I decided to do something fairly straightforward with some fresh, in-season ingredients, so I designed a dish with a boneless butterfly pork loin chop, roasted parsnips, red and golden beets, and a white wine-honey dijon cream sauce.

The first thing I did was prep the beets and parsnips. I thinly sliced them and laid them out on a baking sheet. Then, I drizzled them with olive oil and sprinkled salt and pepper over the top. I put them in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. However, I think I still haven’t quite figured out my new oven, because when I checked them at 15 minutes, the red beets were starting to burn. I was able to pull them out before too much damage was done, but definitely watch them carefully if you do them yourself.

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Next, I put together the sauce. I started by melting 2 tablespoons of butter with some minced garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Then, I added 1-2 tablespoons of flour and let the mixture cook together for about a minute. I then added in about 3/4 of a cup of white wine, 1/4 cup of milk, 1/4 cup of honey dijon, and the juice of 1/2 of a lemon. I let this simmer for several minutes, while I went to work on the pork chops.

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For the pork, I kept it very simple. I lightly coated each chop in flour, paprika, salt and pepper and put them in a hot pan with olive oil and butter. I cooked them for 3-5 minutes per side until they were cooked all the way through. I served the pork on a bed of roasted beets and parsnips with a side of the dijon-wine cream sauce.

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Overall, the dish was great. The pork and beets were delicious and (almost) perfectly cooked. The flavors were simple and straightforward but fresh and tasty. The sauce got a little too thick for my liking and it definitely had a unique flavor. I’m, honestly, still not sure how I feel about the sauce. It tasted good with the pork, but there were some very strong flavors that didn’t pair quite as perfectly as I would have hoped. But it was a good, simple dish that I will take another stab at soon.

 

S2E17 (Elimination) – Gordon Ramsay Signature Dish

Employment Update: I have held off on including these updates for a couple posts, because I have had several things still up in the air, but I can now announce that I am back at Churchill Downs and will be working on the Events Team until the end of June. I am really excited because I will be working on the Taste of Derby, the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby. This will definitely be an awesome experience and I am very happy to have the opportunity. 


Ben, having won his first mystery box challenge, was able to pick which one of Gordon Ramsay’s signature dishes that the chefs had to recreate for this elimination challenge. He was given the following three dishes to choose from:

  • Pan Roasted Filet of Halibut with Crab, Crushed New Potatoes and a Basil Vinaigrette
  • Roasted Duck Breast with Honey Glazed Baby Onions, Minted Peas and Madera Sauce
  • Roasted Loin of Venison on a bed of braised Red Cabbage with Parsnip Puree, Beets, Mushrooms, Parsnip Crisps and a Red Wine Sauce

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Feeling confident in his ability to cook venison, Ben selected that dish. He was also given the advantage of asking Gordon 3 questions about the dish to help guide him in his recreation. From those questions and everything that was said about the dish throughout the challenge, I was able to glean the following information about the dish:

  • To cook the venison, warm the loin in butter (no higher than 140 degrees) and then sear the loin on all sides.
  • The parsnips should be cooked with a couple tablespoons of milk and cream.
  • For the puree, the core of the parsnips should not be used.
  • The beets should be roasted.
  • The mushrooms should be poached in butter and then finished with thyme and olive oil.
  • The red cabbage should be slow braised with some vinegar and lemon juice.

Even though Ben had several advantages over his competitors, he made too many mistakes and was sent home. Suzy (who had the judges’ favorite recreation), Christian, Adrien and Jennifer moved on to the top four.

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This was a difficult challenge because there were so many different components that required techniques that I had never really attempted before. There was also a lot of equipment and different types of ingredients that I did not really have access to. I did my best to recreate the dish but it was definitely the hardest dish I’ve ever done on this blog. For ease of explanation, I’m going to take this one component at a time.

“Venison”

I knew that I was not going to be able to get any venison loin at the grocery store, so I decided to do the same technique that Gordon described to grass-fed beef top sirloin. I decided to warm the steak in clarified butter with smashed garlic cloves and shallot slices. I put the burner on low, covered the pan and moved on to other components. Everything that I read and saw on the episode said that this process would take an hour or more. But when I checked it after 20 minutes, it was already completely brown. I did not have a thermometer so I don’t know how hot the butter got, but it was obviously much too high.

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Just before serving, I seared the beef on both sides for a less than 2 minutes a side. But when I cut into it, it was almost completely brown in the center. There was some pink still left but it was clearly overcooked. And the meat was really tough as a result.

Butter-Poached Mushroom Cap

For this component, I melted enough butter to cover a portobello mushroom cap. Then, I allowed the mushroom cap to bathe in the butter on low heat until the mushroom was tender (about 15-20 minutes).

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Just before serving, I seasoned the mushroom cap with salt, pepper and fresh thyme and then pan seared it in some olive oil about a minute per side. Finally, I trimmed the cap into a square for plating.

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Parsnip Puree

For this component, I simply followed a recipe that seemed the closest to what Gordon described. The recipe that I used was Tyler Florence’s version: Parsnip Puree. The only issue I had with this was that I did not have a food processor or a blender so I had to hand mash the parsnips. The flavor was great but the texture was not as smooth as I would have wanted. Overall though, it was a great and tasty component.

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Parsnip Crisps

This is another component in which I used a recipe as a guide. I used Alton Brown’s recipe for this: Parsnip Crisps Recipe. In terms of presentation, the one thing not shown in this recipe that needed to be done for the dish was to make the parsnip strips in a spiral shape. To get this effect, I just twirled the parsnip strips around my finger before putting it into the oil. This sort of worked but I’m sure there is a much better way to get this to work and look uniform.

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I also fried the crisps in crisco instead of peanut oil, and it worked great. I’m sure any oil would work fine. The crisps turned out perfectly. They were actually my favorite component of the whole dish, oddly enough. I will probably just make these again to keep around as a snack.

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Roasted Beets

Definitely the easiest component of them all, I simply sliced the beets, tossed them in some olive oil, salt and pepper, and put them into a 400 degree oven for around 30 minutes (until they were fork tender). As always, roasted beets are simple and delicious and one of my favorite things to make.

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Braised Red Cabbage

I used this recipe as a guide for this component: Braised Red Cabbage with Vinegar. I made a couple substitutions and changes though. First, I used beef broth instead of chicken broth. I also did not use caraway seeds. And I added the juice of half of a lemon. The cabbage turned out pretty flavorful but the vinegar flavor was very strong. If I do this again, I’ll probably hold off a bit on the that ingredient.

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Red Wine Sauce

And for the final component, I used this recipe to create a complimentary red wine sauce: Red Wine Reduction. I followed this recipe completely with the one exception being my use of beef broth instead of chicken broth. Overall, I think this is a great recipe but I lost track a bit at the end and I let it reduce a little too far. The flavor was a little too intense as a result, but that is something that is easily fixed.

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The final dish came together great in terms of plating. Just as a picture, I was able to recreate Gordon’s dish reasonably well. However, I fell into the same trap as Ben Starr did and overcooked the meat. The other components were decent enough but there were definitely some oddities in the flavors. Since I did not taste the original dish, it is hard to say if I made a reasonable recreation of the dish in that sense, but I definitely did my best at a complicated dish with limited resources.

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S2E17 (Mystery Box) – Ground Meat

This week’s mystery box gave the contestants three types of ground meat to build a dish around: ground veal, ground pork, and ground beef. The mystery box also included: celery, corn, carrots, peas, mushrooms, lemon, tomato, bell peppers, garlic, eggs, milk, potatoes, red onion, worcestershire sauce, rice, mango, tomato paste, several fresh herbs, 3-4 different types of cheeses (among others).

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Jennifer (Meatloaf), Adrien (Trio of Meatballs) and Ben (Shepherd’s Pie) were named the top three with Ben winning the chance to pick the focus of the next elimination challenge.

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When I saw the ingredients available in this mystery box, I thought that I could put together one of my favorite dishes: stuffed peppers. I have never actually made these myself, mostly because my mom’s version is pretty well perfect and I didn’t want to create a poor impression. So I decided to find a recipe online that would be different enough to avoid the comparison. I settled on this as my guide: Stuffed Peppers with Ground Beef and Rice.

I essentially stuck to the recipe, except for few minor changes and additions, mostly dealing with the tomato sauce. I substituted fresh vine-ripened tomatoes (which I diced) and tomato paste for the canned diced tomatoes and tomato sauce that the recipe called for. I also added 2 cloves of minced garlic and 1/2 of a banana pepper (minced) to the bell pepper, onion, and celery mixture. This made the sauce very chunky but it definitely added a lot of nice flavor.

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Everything else from the recipe was the same (including the sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese towards the end of the cook time). Overall, the peppers turned out great but they were definitely not as good as my mom’s. (I’m going to have to ask her for her secret). I really wanted more tomato sauce throughout the beef mixture. When I make this in the future, I might put some sauce in the bottom of the pepper before adding the beef and rice mixture or maybe layer the sauce throughout. Either way, I will want more tomato flavor!

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To serve as a side, I went for this recipe: Delicious Corn Dish Recipe. I saw this on buzzfeed a while ago and I have been waiting to work it into meal until now. I followed the recipe completely with just a couple exceptions. I had to substitute banana pepper for jalapeño because my grocery store was out. (This would be a good substitution for people that don’t like spicy foods though). I also added some minced garlic to the corn when sautéing it in olive oil (because I have to add garlic to everything). Finally, I used equal parts of lemon and lime juice instead of just lime.

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I served the stuffed pepper on a bed of the manchego-lime corn, making a very colorful plate. Overall, the corn and the stuffed pepper worked well together. It was a pretty solid dish but nothing super special. The corn was awesome though. I will definitely do that again. The stuffed pepper was just ok. It really needed some more flavor but maybe I’m just spoiled by my mom’s version.

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BONUS RECIPE: The same night I did the stuffed peppers and corn, I also decided to try my hand at some duck fat fries. I had some extra duck fat lying around from this blog post and I was really craving potatoes, so this was the perfect solution.  I found this tutorial: How to: Duck Fat Fries, and followed it completely (including the soaking and two-step frying processes).

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When they came out of the duck fat the second time, I seasoned them with truffle salt, paprika and grated parmesan cheese. And they were DELICIOUS!!! Seriously, far and away the best thing I that last night, and I can’t wait to make some more soon.

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S2E16 (Pressure) – Salmon

S2E16 (Team Challenge) Note: At the beginning of the episode, the top six chefs were split into two teams and asked to run dinner service at the Michelin-Star restaurant, Patina. They were tasked with executing four of the restaurant’s signature dishes (shown below) with basic instruction from the restaurant’s chefs. The Red Team of Christian, Ben, and Suzy won based on feedback from the guests (all of whom were Patina regulars) and the restaurant’s chef and owner. This sent the Blue Team’s Tracy, Adrien, and Jennifer into the pressure test.

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The episode showed and talked about so few components of each dish that it was difficult to determine the techniques and ingredients used in each one. Additionally, based on my watching of the episode, it appeared that many (if not all) of the sauces, marinades, and other prep work were already done for the chefs. While I hate passing up on a challenge, I felt that there was simply no way for me to recreate even one of the dishes with the limited instructions and my lack of access to the ingredients that I thought would be necessary. Therefore, I had to skip this challenge and move on to the pressure test from this episode. 


For the pressure test, Tracy, Jennifer and Adrien had to scale and filet a whole salmon into at least 10 portions and cook one of those portions perfectly for the judges in just 45 minutes. Before the task, Gordon Ramsay gave a helpful tutorial to the chefs demonstrating the proper way to accomplish this. I thought it was really helpful so I posted the clip below. I really wish this show had more of this and less of the interpersonal drama. But I guess that’s not what reality shows are for…

All of the contestants really struggled with this challenge, but Tracy had the most issues with both the prep and the cooking, resulting in her elimination. However, I definitely think she got the better end of the deal as the show said that they would pay for 1 year of classes at Le Cordon Bleu for her and a job with one of them when she graduated.

Since I obviously was not going to get my hands on a whole salmon, I decided to simply make a perfect pan-seared fillet of salmon with a garlic-dill butter sauce and two sides: cheddar-gruyere scalloped potatoes and roasted asparagus.

The first thing I did was work on the scalloped potatoes. I used this recipe as my guide: Scalloped Potatoes – Southern Food. This recipe was very simple and straightforward so I, of course, had to jazz it up a bit. I made several key changes and additions,  which definitely added a lot of flavor.

In a small saucepan, I melted 3 tablespoons of butter with 2-3 cloves of garlic (minced). After allowing that to cook together for a bit, I blended in 3 tablespoons of flour and cooked that mixture together for 1-2 minutes.

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I then added 1 1/2 cups of skim milk, 1 teaspoon of salt and a couple dashes each of thyme, nutmeg and black pepper. I whisked this mixture constantly until it was smooth and bubbling. Then, I removed the pan from the heat and stirred in 2/3 of a cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and 1/3 of a cup of shredded gruyere.

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With the cheese sauce complete, I layered 2 cups of thinly sliced potatoes in the bottom of a a casserole dish and poured half of the cheese sauce over the potatoes. I repeated this with 2 more cups of potatoes and the rest of the cheese sauce. Then, I sprinkled the top with shredded cheddar cheese, grated parmesan and paprika.

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I baked this at 350 degrees for a little less than hour (until it was cooked through and brown and crispy on the top). For plating purposes, I used a large round cup to get a perfect circle of scalloped potatoes to display with the salmon and asparagus.

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While the potatoes were in the oven, I prepped a bunch of asparagus and tossed it in some olive oil, minced garlic, diced yellow onion, salt and pepper. I baked this in the oven (at 350 degrees) until the asparagus were tender, about 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness.

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Finally, it was time for the salmon. I have never pan-seared salmon before so I completely followed this recipe and it was great: Seared Salmon Fillet Recipe. While the salmon was cooking, I made a quick and simple sauce by melting a couple tablespoons of butter with 1-2 cloves of garlic (minced) and some fresh dill.

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When everything was finished, I plated the salmon then squeezed some fresh lemon over the top and spooned the garlic-dill butter sauce over the top. Finally, I put the scalloped potatoes and asparagus on the plate and served. Overall, this dish was delicious. I could not stop eating those potatoes and the salmon was very flavorful. I still have no idea how I would have done at breaking down the salmon but I’m now confident that I can make a great salmon dish.

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S2E15 (Elimination) – Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

As an advantage from her win in the previous challenge, Jennifer was able to pick the focus for the elimination challenge. She was able to pick from the three judges’ favorite childhood dishes of Joe’s Pizza, Graham’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese and Gordon’s Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese. She picked Gordon’s dish and the contestants had 45 minutes to turn it into a gourmet version.

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Suzy (Grilled Cheese with Red Pepper and Tomato Soup) and Tracy (Tomato Soup with Pancetta and Fontina Grilled Cheese) had the best dishes and earned the job of team captains for the next challenge.

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Ben (Roasted Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Onion), Christine (Heirloom Tomato Soup with Goat and Provolone Grilled Cheese), and Derrick (Gorgonzola Tomato Soup with Tomato and Bacon Grilled Cheese) were in the bottom three, with Christine and Derrick being sent home.

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When I saw this challenge, I knew that I wanted to use this as an excuse to try my hand at some homemade bread to use for the grilled cheese sandwiches. I have been trying to push myself to make items that I would usually just buy at the store. I did some research and found this delightful bread recipe: Potato-Rosemary Bread. I completely followed this recipe (including the roasted garlic, of course), and it turned out perfectly. It is a very time-intensive recipe but it was so worth it. Honestly, this is some of the best bread I’ve ever had and it worked really well with the other flavors in the dish. (Just a warning though: For those of us who are not regular bread makers and do not have biga just lying around, this recipe will take two full days to make).

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For the soup portion, I wanted to do a tomato and bacon bisque but I  had no idea where to start as I had never made one before. I used this recipe as an initial guide: Roasted Tomato and Smoked Bacon Bisque, but I changed and added enough components to make my own recipe.

The first thing I did was roast the tomatoes. I cut 5 pounds of roma tomatoes in half and removed the seeds from the center with a table spoon. Then, I sliced 2 shallots and minced 5 cloves of garlic. I tossed all of this in some olive oil in a large baking dish and put it into a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes (before and after roasting pictures are shown below). When the tomatoes were cool enough to touch, I removed the tomato skins and began my work on the soup.

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When the tomatoes were done, I browned 1 cup of chopped bacon in a large pot. Once finished, I poured off the rendered fat and added 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 yellow onion (chopped), 1 shallot (minced), 1 red bell pepper (chopped), 8-10 cloves of whole roasted garlic (which I roasted previously while making the bread), 2 large carrots (chopped), and 2-3 stalks of celery (chopped) to the pot. I seasoned this with salt, white pepper and black pepper and cooked this all together until the vegetables were tender.

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I then added the roasted tomatoes (without skins), shallots and garlic to the pot with 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock and 1 cup of white wine. I seasoned this mixture with 5 leaves of fresh basil (finely chopped), 1 bay leaf, 1/2 of a tablespoon of dried oregano, 1/2 of a tablespoon of dried thyme, 1 teaspoon of paprika, and some additional salt and pepper. I let this cook together for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Then, I added in a half pint of heavy cream and allowed this to simmer for 10-15 more minutes.

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Finally, I pureed the soup in a couple batches with a blender. I put the pureed soup back into the pot without straining it because I wanted a thicker soup. If you prefer a thinner soup though, I would recommend taking this step. I brought the soup back up to a simmer to ensure that it was still heated through (and to keep it warm while I was doing the grilled cheese), and then garnished it with a yellow cherry tomato (cut in half), a couple thin strips of fresh basil, and a few dollops of greek yogurt that I had mixed with some fresh lemon juice. This is completely unnecessary to enjoy the soup, but I did it to give it that “gourmet plating” look (and also to get a good picture).

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With the soup complete, it was time to make the gourmet grilled cheese. I wanted to go with some bold flavors for this component so I decided to create a grilled cheese sandwich with arugula, portobello mushrooms, prosciutto, gruyere and smoked gouda on thick slices of my homemade potato-rosemary-garlic bread. I lightly cooked the thinly sliced portobello mushrooms in some olive oil and then layered the sandwich components as seen below (with gruyere on one side and smoked gouda on the other). I then spread a generous layer of butter on both of the outer sides of the sandwich and grilled it on a hot griddle for a few minutes a side (basically until it was brown and crispy, as shown below).

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I cut the sandwich in half and served it in the soup. All together, this was delicious (and honestly one of my all-time favorites from this blog). The sandwich and the soup were both gourmet versions of the classic and tasted wonderful in their own right. But together, the flavors were magical. Ok… that might be overstating it a bit. But seriously, this was AWESOME! So good, in fact, that as soon as I woke up the next morning, I wanted the leftovers. (For the record, this is great for breakfast too). I certainly think this would have made a splash in the challenge and I definitely recommend trying this out for yourself.

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S2E15 (Mystery Box) – Surf and Turf

Employment Update: Still waiting to hear from a couple opportunities… 

This week’s mystery box contained a surf and turf theme in which contestants were asked to create a dish showcasing beef and seafood with the following ingredients as options to incorporate into their dish: live jumbo shrimp, alaskan king crab, live crawfish, buffalo ribeye, dry-aged porterhouse steak, and short ribs.

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Adrien (Short Ribs and Crab Salad), Jennifer (Risotto with Short Ribs and Crab) and Suzy (Prawn Bisque and Bison) landed in the top 3 but it was Jennifer’s risotto dish that gave her the win and the advantage of getting to pick the dish for the next challenge.

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For this challenge, I immediately decided that I wanted to do some sort of Thai recipe featuring beef and shrimp. After some intense Google-ing, I settled on this recipe as my jumping off point: The Best Thai Coconut Soup. I also enlisted my brother, the Grill-Master, and my mother, the maker of the best shrimp I’ve ever had, for assistance in this culinary venture.

The first thing we did was create a marinade for the porterhouse steak. In a small bowl, we combined 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons of peanut oil, 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, 3 cloves of smashed garlic, and some cracked pepper. We put the marinade and steak in a large Ziploc bag and put it in the fridge for almost two hours.

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Then, I cooked the shrimp using my mother’s flawless instructions. I brought a pot of salted water to a boil with a bay leaf in it. I then added 1 pound of frozen shrimp to the water and brought it back up to a foaming boil. (The foaming is the important part and this will take a while). After 1 full minute at the foaming boil, I removed the pot from the stove and drained the shrimp into a colander. Then, I rinsed the shrimp with cold water until the shrimp were cooled down to room temperature, and I let the shrimp stand in the colander until they were completely dry.

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Next, I started on the soup. In a large pot, I cooked 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of fresh grated ginger, 1 stalk of lemongrass (minced), and 2 teaspoons of red curry paste for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Then, I added in 4 cups of chicken stock, 3 tablespoons of fish sauce and 1 tablespoon of light brown sugar and let that simmer together for 15-20 minutes.

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Then, I stirred in 3 cans (13.5 ounces each) of coconut milk, 8 ounces of sliced Shitake mushrooms, and a small red bell pepper (thinly sliced) to the broth. I let this all cook together while the rest of the components were finished up.

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My brother grilled the steak for 5 minutes per side, taking it off when it reached 140 degrees. We let it rest for 5 minutes, and then I sliced it into thin strips for serving.

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While he was grilling, I made the jasmine rice. I brought 3 and 1/2 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil. Then, I added 2 cups of jasmine rice, stirred and covered, and let simmer for 15 minutes on low heat. When all of the water was absorbed, I removed the rice from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes while covered until we were ready to plate.

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Finally, I took the soup off the heat and stirred in the fully cooked shrimp, 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice, 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro (chopped), and several healthy pinches of salt (to taste).

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I plated the dish with a spoonful of rice in the middle with the soup surrounding it in the bottom of the bowl. I put three strips of steak over the rice, and garnished with a lime wedge and a cilantro leaf. This dish is definitely the prettiest plate of food I have ever made. It was pretty darn delicious too. The flavors worked together wonderfully, and it was a very filling and unique meal. I definitely think that this dish would have been a contender in this challenge due to its creativity and great taste. And even though it requires some unique ingredients, this is a very simple recipe that I suggest you try for yourself.

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S2E14 (Pressure) – Cheese Soufflé

The Blue Team’s loss sent Christian, Jennifer, Derrick and Adrien into the pressure test. The chefs were given 90 minutes to cook their best cheese soufflé.

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While all of the chefs had some minor issues, they all performed well enough that the judges decided to not eliminate anyone.

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I have never even tasted a cheese soufflé before, let alone made one. Needless to say, I was a little nervous about this challenge. I decided to just stick straight to a recipe and I decided on Alton Brown’s version to guide me. The only change I made was to substitute 2 ounces of cheddar for 2 ounces of gruyere to add another layer of flavor. Since I pretty much stuck to the recipe without really putting a new spin on it, I thought I would just take this opportunity to do a picture representation of Alton’s recipe, which is copied below:

1) Use room temperature butter to grease an 8-inch souffle mold. Add the grated parmesan (2 tablespoons) and roll around the mold to cover the sides. Cover with plastic wrap and place into the freezer for 5 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2) In a small saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of butter. Allow all of the water to cook out. In a separate bowl combine the 3 tablespoons of flour, 1 teaspoon of dry mustard, 1/2 of a teaspoon of garlic powder, and 1/8 of a teaspoon of kosher salt. Whisk this mixture into the melted butter. Cook for 2 minutes.

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3) Whisk in 1 and 1/3 cups of hot milk and turn the heat to high. Once the mixture reaches a boil, remove from the heat.

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4) In a separate bowl, beat the 4 egg yolks to a creamy consistency. Temper the yolks into the milk mixture, constantly whisking. Remove from the heat and add the cheese (in this case, 4 ounces of sharp cheddar and 2 ounces of gruyere). Whisk until incorporated.

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5) In a separate bowl, using a hand mixer, whip 5 egg whites, 1 tablespoon of water, and 1/2 of a teaspoon of cream of tartar until glossy and firm. Add 1/4 of the mixture to the base. Continue to add the whites by thirds, folding very gently.

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6) Pour the mixture into the soufflé. Fill the soufflé to 1/2-inch from the top. Place on an aluminum pie pan. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes.

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For my first stab at a cheese soufflé, I think it turned out great. It rose perfectly and tasted delicious. I don’t really have much of a baseline though, so I don’t have the slightest idea about how it would have compared. But since they didn’t send anyone home, I’m just going to assume that I would have been safe with the rest of them.

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