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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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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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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S2E13 (Elimination) – Pork

Employment Update: Sent 5 follow-up e-mails, Identified 9 new opportunities that I will apply to this week 

Adrien, as winner of the Mystery Box challenge, got to choose between nine different cuts of pork, ranging from easy to hard, for him and the other contestants.  He chose double cut pork chops for himself, pork belly for Suzy, pork cheeks for Christian, ground pork for Jennifer, applewood smoked bacon for Tracy, baby back ribs for Christine, boneless center cut pork loin for Alejandra, pork butt for Ben, and St. Louis style ribs for Derrick. The contestants only got 1 hour to cook their pork dish with pantry ingredients, making the tougher cuts very challenging to cook in time.

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Christian (Braised Pork Cheeks) and Christine (Dry Rub Baby Back Ribs) had arguably some of the most difficult cuts to work with but they were able to cook them well enough to be named team captains for the next challenge.

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Suzy (Glazed Pork Belly), Jennifer (Ground Pork Belly), and Alejandra (Pork Loin) struggled greatly though. The judges couldn’t even stand to eat their dishes. Alejandra though made the biggest mistake by serving raw pork, resulting in her elimination.

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Per my blog rules, I needed to come up with a dish that featured a double-cut pork chop (just like the winner of the previous challenge, Adrien). However, that was not available at my store so I had to settle for boneless pork loin chops. I decided to do a dish with a latin/spanish twist. Therefore, I came up with a Latin-rub pork chop with paella cake and warm spinach salad in a citrus-habanero dressing.

I got the idea for the paella cake from this recipe: Paella Cake. I pretty much followed the recipe but I could not find any pimentón and had to substitute paprika for it. I also substituted the seafood stock for chicken broth and did just a half recipe, which I believe may have caused some issues with how they turned out. In order for the rice to get tender, I had to add a great deal more broth than what the recipe called for, and the cakes did not want to stick together. In fact, 3 of the 7 that I made totally disintegrated when I pan-fried them. I also made them thinner than what the recipe called for, which could be a contributing factor. They also got a little dry. If I were to do this recipe again, I would do the full recipe without substitutions or just serve the finished paella with manchego without forming them into the cakes.

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The next thing I did was the warm spinach salad. In a couple tablespoons each of olive oil and butter, I sautéed 1/2 of a red bell pepper (finely chopped), 1/4 of a red onion (finely chopped), 4-5 ounces of baby bella mushrooms (coarsely chopped), and 1/3 of a cup of chopped pancetta until the vegetables were tender. Then, I added in 10-12 yellow cherry tomatoes (cut in halves) and let that all cook together for a few minutes. Then, I slowly added fresh spinach, covering the dish and allowing it to wilt a little bit at a time. All told, I used an entire large container of fresh spinach.

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After all the spinach had been added, I put together a dressing consisting of 1 tablespoon of honey, 2-3 tablespoons each of olive oil and apple cider vinegar, the juice of 1/2 an orange, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, and 1/2 of a small orange habanero (minced). After whisking the dressing together, I added it to the spinach salad with salt and pepper to taste and let it all cook together for a few minutes.

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The boneless pork loin chop was the easy part. I put together a rub based on this recipe: Latin Rubbed Pork Loin Chops. I mixed together 1 tablespoon of light brown sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons of freshly ground pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground ginger, 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cumin, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of onion powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons of parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. I then spread this rub generously all over the pork chops. Then, using this recipe as a guide: Pan Seared Oven Roasted Pork Chops, I seared them on both sides for 4 minutes each and then put them into a 425-degree oven for 10 minutes.

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Overall, this dish came together wonderfully. The pork was a little overdone so I should have taken it out of the oven earlier. The paella cake was a little dry and more mild tasting than I anticipated. But the warm spinach salad was fantastic. (My Dad even said that it was the single best thing I have made so far). All the flavors worked together REALLY well. The dish just needs a little refining and a better plating technique, but it was definitely an all-together high point. I certainly think that this could have gotten some positive attention during the challenge.

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S2E11 (Elimination) – Aphrodisiac: Truffle

Employment Update: So sorry it has been so long since my last post but I have been traveling a lot and have been quite productive: 2 Weekend Trips, 6 Interviews, 6 Job Applications, and 25+ E-mails. 

Having won the last challenge, Jennifer was able to pick the main ingredient to be featured in this week’s aphrodisiac-themed elimination challenge. Jennifer decided to skip the oysters and artichokes and picked the black truffle for the chefs to cook with. She was then given the option of cooking or drinking champagne while watching the others cook. She foolishly decided to cook, and then paid for that decision later.

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Tracy (Truffle and Corn Soup) and Giuseppe (Tagliolini) were the top two and named captains for the next team challenge.

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Erryn (Truffle Steak), Adrien (Seared Filet) and Jennifer (Coddled Eggs and Truffle) landed in the bottom 3. Luckily, Jennifer’s hubris did not cause her to be sent home with Erryn’s dish being declared the worst.

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I immediately decided that I wanted to attempt a truffle risotto for this challenge. In thinking about a protein to serve with it, I knew that I wanted to try something a little different. One of my favorite things to order in restaurants is duck confit so I decided to make an attempt at my own version. While it is typically done with duck legs, I was only able to find duck breasts (even after a couple trips to different stores). I followed this recipe: Duck Confit, with the only difference coming at the end. I quickly pan seared the breasts on both sides before serving instead of cooling and storing the duck. The pictures below show how the duck was seasoned and stored the night before, the duck in the melted duck fat before and after cooking, and the duck breasts being pan seared after cooking.

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While the duck was cooking in the oven, I worked on the risotto. The first thing I did was heat 5 cups of chicken broth in a pot on the stove. Then, I sautéed 8 ounces of baby bella mushrooms and 1 cup of english peas (which I had previously shelled and blanched in salted boiling water for 2 minutes) in 2 tablespoons of black truffle oil until tender. When these were done, I removed them (and the juices) from the pan and set aside for later.

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Next, I put 2 more tablespoons of black truffle oil in the pan with 4 cloves of garlic (minced), 1/4 of a small yellow onion (finely chopped), and 1/2 of a medium red bell pepper (diced). I cooked this until the onions were translucent, and then, added 1 and a 1/2 cups of arborio rice. I let this cook until the rice became golden, and then added 1/2 of a cup of white wine. Once the rice absorbed this, I added the chicken broth to the risotto 1/2 of a cup at a time (stirring constantly) until the rice had absorbed all the liquid. Then, I mixed in 1 tablespoon each of fresh finely chopped parsley and chives, 1/3 of a cup of parmesan cheese, 4 tablespoons of butter, a pinch of black truffle salt, the cooked peas and mushrooms with their liquid, and salt and pepper to taste.

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I plated the duck breast on top of the risotto and served. This was a great dish. The duck was tender and juicy. The risotto was cooked perfectly and had excellent flavor. The only issue was that the truffle flavor was very subtle. For a challenge that needed to showcase truffle, that was definitely an issue. Although, had I been able to work with real truffle instead of simply truffle oil and truffle salt, I think that I could have gotten a richer truffle flavor throughout the risotto.

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S2E9 (Elimination) – Crispy Catfish

Employment Update: 2 Job Applications (each with an abnormal amount of essays required)

Jennifer was given three dishes cooked by last year’s Masterchef winner, Whitney Miller, to choose from for everybody to cook. She chose her Crispy Catfish with Dill Tarter Sauce, Homemade Slaw and Sweet Potato Fries. The contestants had to recreate the dish with no recipe while Jennifer was given a basket of all 29 ingredients needed to cook the dish.

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Christian and Ben had the best recreations and were named captains for the next challenge.

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The bottom three were Alejandra, Adrien, and Jennie, with Jennie being the one who was sent home.

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Since I obviously was not able to taste the dish that I needed to recreate, I instead tried to find Whitney’s recipes online. While I was able to find these: Whitney Miller’s Oven-Fried Catfish with Fresh Dill Tartar Sauce and Sweet and Spicy Cole Slaw, neither was a perfect replica of what was shown on the episode. So I used these as a basic guideline for what flavors she usually incorporates and took notes of everything that was said about the dish by the judges and chefs. With all of this info, I think I was able to get a pretty solid recreation of the dish. (Note: I was really just winging all of the components so all measurements are really just approximations).

The first component that I tackled was the cole slaw. In a large mixing bowl, I combined 3/4 of a small head of red cabbage (coarsely chopped) , 20 brussel sprouts (coarsely chopped), 1/4 of a yellow onion (finely chopped), 1 small granny smith apple (julienned), 1 jalapeño (finely chopped), 4 small carrots (julienned), and 2 handfuls of pecans (finely chopped). Then, I made the dressing by whisking together 1/2 of a cup of apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1/2 of a cup of olive oil, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, 2 tablespoons of honey, and salt and pepper to taste. I tossed this all together and then let it marinate in the refrigerator until the rest of the components were ready.

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Then, I put together the dill tarter sauce for the fish. For my sauce, I combined 1 cup of mayonnaise, 2 teaspoons of ground mustard, 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, the juice of half a lemon, 2 teaspoons of fresh dill, 1 teaspoon of fresh chives, 1 teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of black pepper. I originally did the sauce exactly as her recipe called for but I thought it tasted like nothing more than mayo so I added salt and doubled the amount of lemon and dill to get more flavor.

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Next, I prepped the sweet potato fries. I simply cut the sweet potato into thin, long strips and tossed the strips in olive oil, salt and pepper. When I started frying the fish, I put the fries into a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes. I know the original dish called for fried instead of baked sweet potato fries, but I am a novice fryer and thought that I might get a bit overwhelmed with frying more than one component.

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Finally, it was time for the catfish. First, I let the filets soak in buttermilk for 5-10 minutes. Then, I coated each fillet in a mixture of panko, corn meal, salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder and chives. After fully coating each filet, I fried them in crisco for 2 minutes on each side. This completed the dish and I plated it just like Whitney did (since that was a major issue with the judges).

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All in all, the dish came together well. The cole slaw was surprisingly delicious and the dill sauce paired perfectly with the catfish. The breading on the catfish got a little dark so I maybe should have fried it a little less. And I should have fried the sweet potatoes because the baked fries were not as crispy as I was wanting. Overall though, everything tasted great and I think it was a pretty decent recreation of the dish.

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S2E7 (Elimination) – Dessert

Employment Update: 1 Interview, 3 E-mails, Lots of impatient waiting to hear about my dream job! 

For this week’s elimination challenge, Adrien was able to select which ingredient he would be making a dessert with and which ingredient the rest of the contestants would need to make a dessert with. He chose nuts for himself and coffee for everyone else.

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Tracy (Espresso Chocolate Cake) and Esther (Coffee Cheesecake) were declared the top 2 and became team captains for the next challenge.

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Jennie (Coffee Infused Tart), Max (Torte du Crepes) and Alvin (Coffee Filled Beignets) landed in the bottom 3 with Alvin being the contestant sent home.

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Based on my rules, I had to make a dessert featuring coffee. After spending A LOT of time researching in order to find a unique coffee-based dessert, I settled on making Caramelized Coffee Flan. As I had never made flan before, I decided to stick directly to the recipe and it turned out great. Final product is below.

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The flan was great! The coffee flavor was subtle and yummy but the texture of flan is not everyone’s cup of tea. While I did not serve it this way, I think it would have been great with some fresh strawberries (or other fruit), which would have cut the richness of the dish. I think this would have played well with the judges, but even though the recipe was fairly simple, I have no idea how I would have been able to produce it within the time frame since it needs to cook for 55 minutes and chill for 8 hours. Overall though, the dessert was a hit.

S2E5 (Elimination) – French Cuisine

Employment Update: 1 Job Application, 2 E-mails, 2 LinkedIn Messages

Having won the mystery box challenge, Christian was able to select the type of European cuisine that the rest of the contestants had to create a dish for. He selected French cuisine.

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Derrick (Gougére) and Max (Poached Cod) had the best dishes and therefore became the team captains for the next challenge.

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The bottom three were Angel (Fruit Tart), Erryn (Beef Carpaccio) and Mark (Peppercorn Crusted Filet), with Angel and Mark being sent home.

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I honestly had no idea where to start with this one. I know next to nothing about french cooking but I knew I wanted to try and master a classic. I did some research and I just couldn’t decide between The Pioneer Woman’s Coq Au Vin or Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon. Since I am still working full time, I decided to stick to the 2 hour dish instead of the 6 hour one, but I will definitely attempt some Julia Child soon!

To make sure I made the classic french dish correctly, I stuck completely to the recipe. The pictures below show the different stages of the dish as I compiled it prior to putting it in the oven.

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The only thing I did differently from the recipe was make the noodles from scratch. I used my Mom’s egg noodle recipe. We usually use this recipe for chicken and noodles but I thought it would work well for this dish too. The ingredients I used to make the noodles were:

  • 3/4 Cups of Flour
  • Pinch each of Thyme, Oregano and Salt
  • 1 Egg Yolk, beaten
  • 3-4 Tablespoons of Ice Water

The instructions I used to make the noodles were as follows. The pictures below show the finished noodles before and after cooking.

  • Stir flour, thyme, and salt together in a mixing bowl.
  • Make a small well in middle of bowl and put egg yolk and water in there. Stir until well blended.
  • Shape into ball. Place dough on lightly floured surface; flatten slightly.
  • Knead 5 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour to prevent sticking if necessary.
  • Cover with plastic wrap. Let rest 15 minutes.
  • Roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness or thinner on lightly floured surface. If dough is too elastic, let rest several minutes.
  • Let dough stand about 30 minutes to dry slightly.
  • Cut strips into desired length and width.
  • Boil in liquid until al dente. I usually use chicken stock but you can use any liquid you want.

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The final dish turned out great. (See below). The chicken was tender and the vegetables and sauce were delicious. I’m not sure what Coq Au Vin is supposed to taste like but this was FANTASTIC! The noodles were a little thick (I really need to get a pasta maker), but overall I’d say this dish is a winner, especially with the hodgepodge the contestants created in this challenge.

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S2E4 (Elimination Test) – Chicken

Employment Update: 1 Scheduled Phone Interview, 5 Job Applications, 3 LinkedIn Messages

24 contestants survived the apple slicing test and went on to the first cooking test of the season. To get the contestant field down to the Top 18, they had to create a great dish featuring chicken.

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Most individuals played it relatively safe – sticking to what they knew best. I cook with chicken all the time and have several go-to recipes. One of my favorites comes from Chrissy Teigen’s blog: Boursin and Bacon Stuffed Chicken Breast. I follow the recipe for the most part but I have experimented with stuffing it with roasted red peppers, onions, and spinach in addition to the bacon and boursin. Wrapping it in prosciutto is something that I don’t always do. And I also bake it with chicken stock in the pan to keep the chicken moist. Below is a picture of one of my versions of this recipe.

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First, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at breaking down a chicken so I used this tutorial: How to Break Down a Chicken. It certainly wasn’t easy but I was able to do it and the tutorial was hugely helpful. Although pausing and playing a video on your computer when your hands are covered in chicken goop is certainly an interesting trick. I may have used my nose and elbow at various points in the process. Regardless, I broke down the chicken relatively easily and didn’t get any salmonella on my laptop. I’d say that’s a win.

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In addition to breaking down the whole chicken, I knew I wanted to try something that I’ve never done before but always wanted to: Crispy Fried Chicken. I followed the recipe completely and the chicken turned out great! Although the entire time I was making it, this is what I thought about: Shake that! 

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For my side dish, I had this idea to do a potato, spinach and red pepper cake, but I had no idea if it would actually work. I thinly sliced 1/2 a russet potato and 1/2 a red bell pepper. Then, I made a butter sauce with 4 tablespoon of butter, a finely grated shallot, 3 cloves of garlic (also finely grated), salt, pepper, paprika, cumin and oregano. Then, I layered them (potato first, followed by butter sauce, spinach and peppers) in a small round dish and baked it in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes (until the potatoes were tender). When it was done, I turned it out onto the plate. It wasn’t very pretty but it mostly stayed together and it tasted great.

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While everything was really tasty, it definitely did not look gourmet. I also should have done a sauce to go with the chicken because I ended up using honey mustard to dip my chicken in (which was delicious… don’t judge). I doubt this would have played well with the judges but it was a great dinner for tonight.

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S1E13 – Finale

Employment Update: 1 Job Application, 4 E-mails, 1 Phone Call

It has all come down to this for Season 1: Whitney vs. David in three rounds: Appetizer, Entrée and Dessert. The chefs were given two hours to impress the judges with three dishes, and they definitely did. However, Whitney impressed them a little more and took home the crown as the first MasterChef winner.

Round 1: Appetizer

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Round 2: Entrée

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Round 3: Dessert

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For my first course, I decided to do a seared scallop on a mini-tostada with mango salsa and avocado cream. I first made the mango salsa, which is a recipe that I have developed over the years. It is really simple. I just threw together 1 mango (diced), 2 medium tomatoes (diced), 1/2 of a small red onion (diced), 1 jalapeño (finely chopped), the juice of 1/2 a lemon and 1 lime, 10 fresh cilantro leaves (finely chopped), 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. I mixed it together and let it marinate in the fridge while I worked on the other components. (See finished product below).

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I fried a couple of corn tortillas (cut into fourths) in some vegetable oil for a couple minutes on each side. Then, for the avocado cream, I mixed 1 avocado, 2 tablespoons of sour cream, the juice of 1/2 a lime, 1 tablespoon of tomatillo salsa and a pinch each of cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. I mixed it up as well as I could but, unfortunately, I do not currently have a food processor to get a nice, smooth consistency. It was a little lumpy, but it tasted good and that’s all that really matters.

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Finally, I seared the scallops, using this as a guide: The Perfect Scallop. I followed it exactly and the scallops came out perfectly as a result. The completed dish (below) was DELICIOUS! The flavors went together really well. It was kind of difficult to eat, but it was so good that I didn’t care. This is definitely one of the best things I’ve made this far.

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For the entree, I found some great lamb at the store and decided to serve it with mashed potatoes, green beans and mushrooms in a garlic and thyme red wine sauce. Everything with this was really simple. For the mashed potatoes, I skinned and boiled the potatoes until they were cooked through. Then, I mashed them with milk, butter, salt and pepper until smooth. For the green beans and mushrooms, I mixed them with olive oil, shallots, garlic, salt and pepper and roasted them in a 400-degree oven until they were tender. For the sauce, I reduced some red wine by half with a sprig of thyme and a clove of garlic. For the lamb, I seasoned it with salt and pepper, seared it on both sides and put it in a 400-degree oven for 10-15 minutes. The completed dish is below and it was really tasty. The red wine sauce could have been more flavorful but everything went together really well. And the lamb was tender and lovely.

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Finally, for the dessert, I decided to make pumpkin bread with chantilly cream, melted chocolate and caramel. I used these recipes to create the dish: Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread, Chantilly Cream, and Easy Caramel Sauce. While its not really a typical dessert, it was SO good! I love pumpkin and have been wanting to make some sort of pumpkin dessert for a while. This just sounded good to me today and I’m so glad I made it.

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Every dish I made today was really good. I think they certainly could have been on par with David’s and Whitney’s dishes. The only thing is I’m not sure how well these dishes work in a progression. Perhaps, that is something I can work on during the next season of challenges. Season 1 has come to an end, and I have already learned so much and tried so many new things. I am excited to undertake the next season’s worth of challenges so stay tuned!