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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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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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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S2E13 (Mystery Box) – Scallops

Employment Update: 15 Follow-up e-mails which were all promptly ignored

This week’s mystery box contained some hand-dived scallops along with the unique combination of bananas, papaya, peas, lime, jalapeño, red onion, eggs, a croissant, pecans, cauliflower, parmesan, avocado, corn, cilantro, arugula, cinnamon, pancetta, and brandy.

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The top three consisted of Christian (Scallop Succotash), Adrien (Trio of Scallops) and Ben (Scallops and Bananas). Adrien’s Trio of Scallops won over Ben’s risky combination of scallops and bananas.

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Mystery Box challenges are always my favorite. I really enjoy trying to find creative ways to incorporate as many of the ingredients as possible. And this was no different. I decided to do just a classic seared scallop (by using the incomparable Chrissy Teigen’s Perfect Scallop tutorial as a guide, of course) with a cauliflower-avocado mash and mixed vegetables with pancetta.

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For the avocado and cauliflower mash, I used this recipe as a guide: Garlic Parmesan Avocado Cauliflower Mash. I stuck mostly to the recipe with the seasoning being the main exception. I steamed 4 cloves of garlic along with the cauliflower that I mashed up with it. I also used a decent amount of salt and pepper for flavor and thoroughly mashed the avocado up to give the whole component a nice light green color.

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For the mixed vegetables, I first cooked the peas and corn separately. There were no fresh peas at the store so I had to simply steam the frozen variety in the microwave. But I was able to get fresh corn, which I cut off the cob and boiled for a few minutes in salted water. I then sautéed 1/2 of a jalapeño (finely chopped), 3 cloves of garlic (minced), 1/4 of a red onion (chopped), and 10 cilantro leaves (finely chopped) in some olive oil, butter, and the juice of a lime. I wanted to put the pancetta into the mix at this time, but I forgot until later in the process because I was distracted but the numerous other components that were going on at the same time. But if you are doing this yourself, definitely put the pancetta in now. I cooked this together for a few minutes until the onions were translucent and then added in the corn and peas with some salt and pepper. This all cooked together for several minutes until the rest of the components were complete.

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I plated the dish with the avocado-cauliflower mash on the bottom, followed by the scallops and topped by the mixed vegetables with pancetta. Each component tasted good but I was disappointed with several things. First, I was only able to get frozen scallops, and as much as I tried, I could not for the life of me get them dry enough. They did not sear very well as a result. Also, since I forgot the pancetta until the end, it did not give a lot of flavor to the vegetables and did not get crispy the way I wanted. I think this dish has the potential to be very good but I executed poorly and didn’t have that great of ingredients. This is a fairly healthy and nice dish. I will definitely try this again but I will need to get more high-quality ingredients to make it worth it.

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S2E11 (Mystery Box) – Lobster

Employment Update: 1 Job Application, 5 E-mails

This week’s mystery box challenge had the chef’s create a dish that started with a live lobster.

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Derrick (Butter Poached Lobster), Alejandra (Thai-Style Grilled Lobster) and Jennifer (Baked Lobster) made the top three lobster dishes (which, of course, royally pissed off Christian), and Jennifer won the overall challenge, giving her the advantage in the next elimination challenge.

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I have never worked with lobster before so I knew this was going to be a task for me. Because of this, I decided to just stick to doing a simple steamed lobster with clarified butter and lemon. I knew it would not be as composed as the dishes on the show but I thought it was best to stick to doing a classic before launching into a complex, multi-layer dish. (I’ll save that for after I get the hang of this live lobster thing).

To do this, I used the following tutorials: Basic Steamed Lobster and How to Clarify Butter. I also highly relied on my brother, Andy, for assistance as I was not a fan of handling the live lobsters.

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We followed the instructions of the tutorials completely and even looked into a Good Eats episode for guidance. We decided to freeze them to numb them before steaming, which should have only taken 10-15 minutes. Our lobsters were a little more lively though and it took a lot longer than that for them to chill out. We then steamed them two at a time for approximately 14 minutes.

Overall, for Ohio grocery store lobsters, they turned out pretty well. I am personally not a huge fan of lobster, so I thought they were just fair. But the crustacean-lovers in my family assured me that they turned out pretty well. We also had an issue with uneven cooking. My lobster’s tail was overcooked and tough but the claws were perfect. My brother’s lobster tail was perfect but his claws were undercooked. My Mom’s entire lobster was undercooked but my Dad’s was perfect. We threw the undercooked pieces into a pan with some clarified butter for a bit to cook them all the way through (and they tasted great that way). It might have been better for the cooking process to just do one at a time, or to maybe try a different method. Overall, though, I was pretty pleased with my first attempt.

S2E9 (Mystery Box) – Vegetables

Employment Update: 4 Job Applications, 1 Scheduled Interview, 1 Sales Assessment, 2 Follow-up E-mails

This week’s mystery box challenge asked the chefs to create a restaurant-quality vegetarian entree out of some of the following ingredients: purple fingerling potatoes, goat cheese, phyllo dough, green and red tomatoes, asian pear, basil, shallots, avocado,  beets, mushrooms, asparagus, eggs, rice, cumin, lemon, arugula, parsley, green beans, japanese eggplant, smoked paprika, moroccan spice, curry powder and a variety of other herbs and spices.

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Jennifer (Vegetable Terrine), Adrien (Green Gazpacho) and Alejandra (Vegetable Korma) landed in the top 3 with Jennifer winning overall, allowing her to pick the focus for the next challenge.

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As soon as I saw that purple potatoes were part of the mystery box, I though that it would be really cool to do a purple potato gnocchi with oven roasted vegetables. However, when I went to the store, I quickly realized that finding purple potatoes to work with was going to be an issue. I had to settle for red skin potatoes but I was confident that it would work out since I had made gnocchi successfully before using this recipe: Simple Potato Gnocchi.

The first thing I did was boil about a pound and a half of red skin potatoes until they were tender. While the potatoes were on the stove, I prepped the vegetables for the dish. I cleaned and cut a bunch of asparagus in to thirds. Then, I chopped 1/4 of a yellow onion, quartered 8 ounces of baby bella mushrooms, diced 1 tomato and minced 2 cloves of garlic. I mixed all of this together and laid it out on a lined baking sheet. Then, I drizzled it all with olive oil and sprinkled it with salt and pepper.  I put this whole mixture in a 350 degree oven after I had prepped the gnocchi and started the boiling process per the recipe link above.

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As the gnocchi popped to the top of the boiling water, I transferred them to a pan with some melted butter and warm olive oil. I tossed them in this mixture to keep them warm and to keep them from sticking to one another. Once all the gnocchi were in this pan, the oven roasted vegetables were done. I transferred all of the vegetables into the pan with the gnocchi and tossed the whole mixture.

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Finally, I started the sauce. I melted 4 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan. Then I added 1/2 of a shallot (finely chopped), 4 cloves of garlic (minced) and 4 leaves of fresh basil (finely chopped). After a few minutes of cooking, I then added in 4 ounces of goat cheese, stirring while it melted to make sure everything combined evenly.

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I poured the sauce over the gnocchi and vegetables, sprinkled salt and pepper to taste, and mixed it all to coat evenly. I let the whole mixture cook on low heat for a few minutes to ensure that all the flavors could come together. And then I served it with a garnish of shredded parmesan.

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Overall, the dish came together pretty well. The flavor was great but the gnocchi did not hold up very well. I think using the red skin potatoes instead of the traditional russet potatoes threw off the dough. I could tell immediately that it just was not coming together as well as it had before. I also just made a half recipe (unlike before) and that could have thrown proportions off as well. The gnocchi stayed mostly in tact but I do think that it would have been much better had I used firmer potatoes. I haven’t really worked with purple potatoes so I’m not sure if that would have been an issue with them, but I do think the dish was delicious and very good looking regardless.

S2E7 (Mystery Box) – Lamb

Employment Update: 4 Interviews, 6 Rejection E-mails, 10 E-mails and LinkedIn messages 

This week’s mystery box challenge asked the contestants to create a dish including some of the following ingredients: Rack of New Zealand Lamb, Peaches, Romanesco Cauliflower, Fava Beans, Feta, White Rice, Thai Chili Peppers, Tarragon, Créme Fraîche, Pie Crust, Heavy Cream, Eggs, Walnuts, Mollasses, and Blood Oranges.

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Jennifer struggled again with this challenge and she was declared to have the worst dish of the challenge, having plated raw lamb for the judges.

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Alejandra (Curried Rack of Lamb), Adrien (Farmers Market Lamb) and Tracy (Sweet and Salty Lamb and Feta) though had the judges’ favorite dishes with Adrien winning the chance to select the focus of the next challenge.

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Before I get started on my rendition of the challenge, I first want to apologize for the long delay between posts. Between the holidays and job stuff, I have been slacking a bit. But while I have been slacking on challenges, I have definitely not been slacking on cooking. Since everyone in my family likes to cook (as well as eat and drink), my dad came up with the idea of creating a fun eating and drinking tradition on the days leading up to Christmas, which he dubbed Bill’s 5 Days of Christmas. The basic idea is to have a special drink and appetizer pairing on each of the five days before Christmas Eve. It was really great fun and all of my cooking energies were redirected into assisting with that. For those of you interested in how it all turned out, I have posted the pictures of each of the five different pairings below (Fruit cake with port, Pigs and Apples in Blankets with Brown Ale and Red Wine, Pork and Pear Chutney with Pomegranate Mimosas, Candied Bacon with Bloody Marys, and Shrimp with Mojitos).

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Now on to my MasterChef challenge! I decided to make a Walnut, Feta and Tarragon crusted rack of lamb with sweet and spicy cauliflower. My side dish was inspired by a delicious sweet and spicy roasted cauliflower dish that I once had at Ox, my favorite restaurant in Portland. I had no idea how to make it but I felt like I had the ingredients in the mystery box to do it.

I first made the sauce for the cauliflower. In a sauce pan, I cooked 1 clove of minced garlic, 1 slice of finely chopped yellow onion, and 1 finely chopped small orange habanero (my substitute for the thai red chili) in some olive oil. After a couple minutes of cooking, I added 1/4 cup of pinot grigio and the juice of 1/2 an orange. I let that cook down for a few minutes and then added 6.5 ounces of canned peaches (without the syrup). I had to substitute both the blood orange and fresh peaches due to availability issues but I think this same recipe would work well with any combination that you can get. I then added a pinch each of salt, pepper and ground ginger as well as a few dashes of thai red chili sauce. While it was cooking, I used a large fork to mash up the peaches, which I did until the sauce was, more or less, a smooth consistency. Finally, in a large baking dish, I drizzled olive oil, salt, pepper, and the sweet and spicy sauce over the cauliflower (1 head the regular kind because I couldn’t get any romanesco). I tossed this whole mixture in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes, stirring the mixture twice in order to completely coat the cauliflower with the sauce.

The pictures below show the cauliflower dish before and after baking. Overall, this was wonderful! It was a little too spicy for my mom but I thought it was really flavorful. It started out as sweet and finished spicy. And while the habanero taste grew as you ate the dish, it never got to be too much for me or my dad and brother. This is definitely a unique and delicious twist on classic roasted cauliflower and I definitely recommend trying it out (as long as you’re not a spice wuss).

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For the lamb, I first had to make the crust, which I did by finely chopping the walnuts and tarragon and mixing the feta in until everything was evenly combined (see below). I then browned the rack on all sides in a cast iron skillet.

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Then, I put the rack on a lined baking sheet, where I spread some greek yogurt (my substitute for créme fraîche) on the fat side of the rack and then pushed the crust into lamb and yogurt. I put this into a 400 degree oven until it was medium rare and the crust was golden (about 20-25 minutes). The pictures below show the rack before and after cooking.

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Finally, I sliced the lamb and served it on a bed of the sweet and spicy cauliflower. The entire dish was really delicious. The crust didn’t stay on the lamb as well as I would have wanted and there some fatty parts of the lamb that were really difficult to eat. But overall, I think everything worked really well, especially since it was a pretty out there dish. It was definitely a great meal for Christmas Eve Eve, and I will definitely be making the cauliflower again soon.

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S2E5 (Mystery Box) – Salmon

Employment Update: Identified several potential opportunities that I will apply to later this week

For the first mystery box challenge of the season, contestants had to create a dish using some of the following ingredients: salmon, strawberries, fennel, white asparagus, ricotta cheese, fingerling potatoes, pistachios, balsamic vinegar, fresh dill, noodles, bread, lemon, honey and puff pastry.

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Going against the typical grain of the mystery box challenge, the judges decided to announce that Ben made the worst dish of them all, having overcooked the salmon and prepared a “hideous” sauce to go with it.

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Suzy (Trio of Salmon), Christian (Pistachio Crusted Salmon), and Jennie (Savory Salmon Tart) won the judges’ praise for their dishes, with Christian being declared the ultimate winner of the challenge.

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I had never worked with fennel or white asparagus before so I knew I wanted to do a dish that featured both ingredients along with the salmon. I have also been wanting to try the “en papillotte” technique so I found a base recipe that I could tweak in order to make a great dish that used several of the mystery box ingredients. I mostly followed this recipe: Salmon and Fennel Baked in Parchment. The only thing I really changed was including 5 thin slices of shallot, 1 clove of garlic (coarsely chopped) and 2 pieces of asparagus (each cut in half lengthwise) under the salmon.

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Overall, the dish turned out great (and it was SO simple to do). It could have used more salt though and I should have sliced the fennel much thinner. I’m not a huge fan of the taste of fennel and this dish definitely did not change my mind, but it did give a nice flavor to the other components. I certainly think I would have been safe in this round but I’m not sure I would have cracked the top three.

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S1E10 (Mystery Box) – Venison

Employment Status: Had a really positive conversation with the hiring manager of a super exciting opportunity that encompasses pretty much everything I’m looking for. I’m really hoping it works out but I’m still keeping my options open. 

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For the last mystery box challenge of the season, the chefs were given several unique ingredients to work with. The box contained a rack of venison, bacon, red cabbage, fingerling potatoes, blueberries, quail eggs, beets, hazelnuts, brussel sprouts and red wine. Sheetal (Roasted Venison), Whitney (Venison with Southern Gravy) and Sharone (Pan Seared Venison with Blueberry Puree) were declared the top three with Sheetal having the best dish overall.

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As soon as I saw this challenge, I knew that I would have to come up with a substitute for venison. After some research, I settled on grass-fed, free-range flank steak. It is clearly not as tricky to cook as venison, but the flavors are similar enough to test out flavor profiles. With this in mind, I decided to do a pan-seared flank steak on a bed of roasted vegetables with a red wine-balsamic reduction.

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My Mystery Box

This dish was really simple with most of the work coming in the prep stage. I first seasoned the flank steak with salt and pepper and marinated it in some red wine. Then, I started with the vegetable component. I cleaned and chopped up the potatoes, beets, brussel sprouts, onions, garlic and jalapeño. Then, I tossed this with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, basil and thyme, and finally, added some small pieces of bacon. (See below  for the compiled dish before it went into the oven). This dish just went into a 425 degree oven until the vegetable were tender (about 30 to 45 minutes depending on how small you chop the vegetables and how well done you prefer your vegetables to be).

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While the vegetables were roasting, I started the red wine-balsamic reduction. I put about 1/2 of a cup of red wine and 1/2 of a cup of balsamic vinegar in a saucepan with a sprig of rosemary and let it simmer until it was reduced by half. With 10 minutes left on the vegetables, I pan seared the steak in some hot olive oil for just a couple minutes on both sides. I plated the flank steak on top of the vegetables and drizzled the entire dish with the red wine-balsamic reduction. (See below for the finished product).

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Pan-seared flank steak on a bed of roasted brussel sprouts, beets, and fingerling potatoes with a rosemary-red wine balsamic reduction

This dish was delicious! It is definitely one of my favorite things that I have made for this blog. The roasted vegetables were AMAZING and the steak was tender and tasty. I have no idea how I would have done with the venison, but everything else was so good, I think I could have made an appearance in the top three for this challenge.

S1E8 (Mystery Box) – Dungeness Crab

Employment Update: I started my job at Churchill Downs this week. Everything has been really great and I’m very excited to contribute to the team. I’m still continuing to apply and interview for full-time jobs in my free time though since this gig will end at the end of November. I have a couple pretty exciting leads but I’m not far enough into the process to have any feel for my chances yet. But things are all good right now – especially considering that THIS is the place I get to go to work everyday:

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This week’s Mystery Box challenge focused on one (live) ingredient: the Dungeness Crab. From what I could tell, it looked like the rest of the box consisted of: cucumber, apple, avocado, tomatoes, asparagus, prosciutto, peanuts, spinach, banana and a red jalapeño. There was some other stuff but those were the ingredients that I could identify from what they showed in the episode (and they were able to use the pantry as needed).

Lee (Crab Salad and Gazpacho), Sheetal (Tomato and Crab Curry), and Sharone (Crab Cucumber Roll), were declared to be the top three dishes with Lee being announced as the overall winner.

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For my rendition of the challenge, I decided to make crab tostadas with spinach, guacamole, cojita cheese, thai red chili sauce and crispy pancetta. (For some reason, I could not find any prosciutto at the store but this was a great substitute). All my ingredients are shown below. The only other substitute I had to unfortunately make was the dungeness crab. Even though I made a special trip across town to a store that I thought would have at least some form of Dungeness Crab, I had to resort to using canned jumbo lump crab. I was disappointed because I really wanted to do this challenge as it was meant to be, but alas, it did not work out.

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The first thing I did was make the guacamole. My guacamole recipe is something I have just come up with over the years so I do not have an exact recipe. I honestly just add stuff to the bowl until I think it tastes good. But I will tell you that I have received rave reviews (and one not-quite-joking marriage proposal) for it. Basically, I smash the avocados together with chopped tomato, diced onion, minced garlic, and finely chopped jalapeño. I also add either sour cream or plain greek yogurt to make it a little creamier. Then, I season it with lime, salt, pepper and some tomatillo salsa. My favorite salsa brand to use is Rick Bayless’s Frontera. It is AWESOME!

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I set aside the guacamole to allow the flavors to marinate. Then, I sautéd the crab in some olive oil, lemon juice, fresh cilantro, salt and pepper just to warm it up (as it was already fully cooked). Once it was heated through, I took it off the heat, let it cool slightly, and then added freshly chopped cucumber and red bell pepper. This was to give a freshness and a crispness to the warm crab salad so I didn’t want to cook it with the crab.

After that, all that was left was frying the corn tortillas and the pancetta in some olive oil. When that was done, everything was ready to plate. I put the fried tortilla on the bottom, followed by fresh spinach leaves, guacamole, and the crab salad. Then, I garnished the whole thing with shredded cojita cheese, crispy pancetta and a few dashes of thai red chili sauce. The finished product is below.

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This dish was delicious and it looked great. But it was REALLY difficult to eat. I eventually just put it in a bowl, smashed it all up, and ate it like a salad. I’m not a huge crab fan in the first place so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. But I doubt I’ll do this again unless I am able to get fresh crab.