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.

 

S2E14 (Team) – Sliders

Employment Update: 1 great interview at an awesome company that I am impatiently waiting to hear from, 12 follow-up e-mails, 3 job applications

This week’s team challenge had the contestants cater a children’s party. Each team had to develop a slider and a side dish, without using beef or potatoes, that the children would enjoy. The Red Team made a chicken nugget slider with corn fritters while the Blue Team made a grilled turkey slider with apple sticks and caramel sauce. The Red Team was more collaborative and won the challenge as a result.

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With this challenge, I immediately knew that I wanted to make my own slider buns. My personal favorite sandwich bun of any kind is pretzel bread so it was really a no-brainer to attempt those and build the dish around them. With the bun decided, I thought that the best flavor profile would be to do a lamb burger with gouda, cucumber, pickled red onions and a kalamata olive aioli.

With all of these different components, I had to use a lot of different recipes and enlist some grilling assistance from my brother to create this dish. The first thing I tackled was the pretzel bread slider buns. I used this recipe: Pretzel Slider Buns. The recipe was great and very clear with the step-by-step picture instructions. As a result, the pretzel bread turned out perfectly! The only problem was that the buns kept rising throughout the process and I ended up with regular-size buns instead of slider-size buns. So if you try this recipe, be sure to account for that and make the buns much smaller than what you think will work.

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Next, I made the toppings for the burger. I pickled some red onions using this recipe: Quick Pickled Onions, and I thinly sliced some cucumber. Then, I created the condiment for the burger from a recipe in Stephanie Izard’s AMAZING cookbook Girl in the Kitchen. I straight up stole this recipe so I am just going to retype it all here for those of you that want to try it for yourself:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the head of garlic in half horizontally and place the two halves on a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the garlic and then fold up all four sides of the foil, pinching them together to make a pouch around the garlic.
  • Roast the garlic until the cloves are tender and slightly browned, about 40 minutes. Let the garlic cool and then pop the cloves out of the skins.
  • Smash the cloves into a paste and transfer them to a blender. Add 1 egg yolk, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard and pulse several times to combine the ingredients.
  • With the blender running, add 1/2 of a cup of blended vegetable oil (half olive oil, half vegetable oil) in a slow steady stream through the lid of the blender. Process until the aioli is think and smooth.
  • Transfer to a small bowl and fold in 1/2 of a cup of chopped pitted kalamata olives. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.

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Finally, my brother grilled the lamb burgers. (I figure its a team challenge so its ok). He seasoned them with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. He grilled them for 4 minutes per side and melted the gouda cheese on them before taking them off and letting them rest for a few minutes. Then, I served them on the pretzel buns with both of the toppings and the condiment.

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For my side, I knew I wanted to do tempura green beans. This is one of my favorite things to order when I am out to eat and I was very excited to try to make them by myself. I also used a recipe from Stephanie Izard’s cookbook for this, which is as follows:

  • To make the tempura batter: Whisk together 3/4 of a cup of all-purpose flour, 3/4 of a cup of cornstarch, 1 1/2 teaspoons of coarse salt, and 1/2 of a teaspoon of freshly ground pepper in a large bowl. Add 1 cup of cold soda water, whisking briskly until the batter is just slightly thinner than pancake batter.
  • Heat 1 cup of canola oil to 375 degrees in a wide dutch oven or a large sauté pan with high sides.
  • Using tongs or your fingers, dip the green beans in the tempura batter to coat, and fry them in batches, 10-12 beans at a time depending on the size of the pot.
  • Slowly drop the beans in one at a time, being careful not to overcrowd the oil, which will drop the oil temperature, resulting in a soggy coating.
  • When beans are golden brown, remove fried beans with tongs, transfer them to a paper bowl to drain, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat process in batches.

I served the green beans with Alton Brown’s Soy-Ginger Dipping Sauce. While the dipping sauce was delicious, I was disappointed with my tempura green beans. The fried batter was much too heavy and they cooled down so fast that the texture was even more off-putting. I think I will have to try out a couple different batter recipes until I find one that I really like.

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On the positive side though, everything about the lamb burger was delightful. All of the flavors worked together magnificently and all I wanted to do was eat another one just like it after I was done. I had a lot of fun playing around with some different flavors with this challenge, but I’m not too sure how many kids would have liked it. At the end of the day though, I thoroughly enjoyed it and that’s what really matters.

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S2E12 (Team) – Three-Course Menu

Employment Update: 10 Follow-Up E-mails, Way too much waiting to hear back form interviews…

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This week’s team challenge had the Red Team (led by Giusseppe) and the Blue Team (led by Tracy) conceptualize and create a three-course meal (an appetizer, an entree and a dessert) to impress the judges’ mothers. Each team captain was given two minutes to determine the mothers’ likes and dislikes to help guide their teams. From what they showed on the episode, here is the information that the chefs were given:

  • Joe’s Mom loves fish and vegetables
  • Gordon’s Mom does not like Sea Bass or Tuna
  • Gordon’s Mom and Joe’s Mom love fresh pasta (Graham’s Mom says it’s just “fine”)
  • Joe’s Mom loves fruit tarts (Gordon’s Mom does not)

I’m sure the mothers gave more direction than that but that was all the producers decided to show the viewer. The Red Team served a Mixed Green Salad with Crispy Polenta, Spaghetti Carbonara, and Apple Pie.

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The Blue Team served Carrot Ginger Soup, Pan Seared Turbot with Caramelized Fennel, and Poached Pear with Mascarpone.

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Even though the Blue Team took a risk serving the fish, they served the best entree and dessert and won the overall challenge. This sent the Red Team into the pressure test.

Since the instructions for the challenge were so vague, I decided to just try out some recipes for the appetizer and dessert portions, and use the entree portion to incorporate the mothers’ likes and dislikes. The menu I decided on was as follows:

  • Brussel Sprout, Pomegranate, Avocado and Orange Salad
  • Lamb with Kale and Butternut Squash Pasta in a Garlic, White Wine Butter Sauce
  • Beignets with Raspberry and Chocolate Dipping Sauces

Appetizer

The brussel sprout salad idea came from this recipe: Brussel Sprout Pomegranate Citrus Salad. It was a decent amount of prep work (this tutorial helped with the pomegranate though) but the result was great. It was really fresh and light, but you have to like the texture of pomegranate seeds to enjoy the dish.

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Entree

For the entree, I knew that I wanted to do a fresh pasta since that was one of the few things all of the mothers seemed to like. (And I have a pretty decent recipe that I have used before on this blog). I found some nice kale and butternut squash at the store so I thought that I could incorporate that into a really nice dish. The first thing I did was roast the squash using this recipe: Simple Roasted Butternut Squash. I let it cool and then cut it into cubes. Then, I prepped the kale (using this as a tutorial since I’d never worked with it before).

Next, I started to prepare the sauce. I put 6 tablespoons of butter, 4 cloves of garlic (minced) and 1/4 of a yellow onion (finely chopped) into a pan, cooking it until the onions were translucent. I then added 3/4 of a cup of white wine, 1 tablespoon of sage, 1/2 a tablespoon of thyme, salt and pepper to taste, and a splash of half-and-half. I let that all cook together for a few minutes and then added the kale into the sauce. I covered this and let it cook for a few minutes until the kale cooked down. I then added in the butternut squash and pasta (once it was cooked through in boiling water), and let that cook together for a few minutes until the lamb was done.

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For the lamb, I simply followed this recipe: Basic Sear-Roasted Lamb Loin Chops. Overall, this dish worked really well. The pasta got a little overcooked and the kale was still a little chewy, but the flavors were great. The lamb was cooked perfectly and all the components tasted great together. I would definitely do this again, but I’d cook the kale before adding it into the sauce and I’d make the noodles thicker or boil them less.

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Dessert

For dessert, I decided that I wanted to try and make beignets using this recipe: French Quarter Beignets. I followed the recipe completely and made Chocolate and Raspberry Dipping Sauces to go with them. I pretty much followed all of the recipes, with a couple exceptions. We experimented with the sugars that coated the beignets, ultimately coming up with 4 different variations: powdered sugar, granulated sugar, plain, and brown sugar with cinnamon. I also didn’t have enough raspberries for the sauce so I supplemented with blueberries and pomegranate seeds. I also used lemon juice instead of orange juice, which was great because it definitely added some more tang to the sauce.

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Overall, the beignets turned out great. My favorite was definitely the granulated sugar with the raspberry-blueberry-pomegranate dipping sauce, but they were all very tasty. The only thing was that the recipe made SO MANY beignets. We decided to freeze about half of them, and according to this recipe, they can be reheated by simply putting them into a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. I have no idea how they will work out but I’ll definitely let you all know.

Also, as a bonus recipe, I recently tried my hand at these: Homemade Fig Newtons. They turned out great but the dough is VERY difficult to work with. While the results are great (I mean seriously delicious!), the hassle is probably not really worth it. 

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Note: The Pressure Test challenge that followed this Team challenge was a repeat test: the chefs were asked to make a perfect eggs benedict in 30 minutes. Giuseppe, Derrick and Alejandra were the chefs that had to compete in this challenge, and Giuseppe was ultimately sent home for plating severely undercooked eggs. I do not repeat challenges on this blog but here is my attempt from Season 1: S1E12 – Semi-Final 2.

S2E10 (Team) – Appetizers

Employment Update: 3 Job Applications, 1 Interview, 2 Scheduled Interviews, 8 E-mails

This week’s team challenge had the two groups cater a high-end West Hollywood party with three appetizers each: one vegetable, one beef and one dessert. Both teams put out very similar menus so it came down to execution. The red team did a Duo of Gazpacho, Raw Beef Tartare, and a Puff Pastry Fruit Tart.

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The Blue team created a Tomato-Mint Gazpacho, Mini Beef Wellingtons, and a Kumquat Fruit Salad with Whipped Cream.

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Both teams struggled significantly with this challenge but the Red team ended up winning by putting out the better vegetable and dessert. This sent the Blue team into the elimination challenge.

For my rendition of this challenge, I decided to take on three fairly ambitious appetizers:

  • Vegetable: French bread crostini with fresh mozzarella, artichoke hearts, strawberry, and basil with a honey-lemon-garlic balsamic reduction
  • Beef: Thai-style beef with a mango, red onion, cucumber and red pepper salad served in a crispy endive leaf and garnished with chopped spanish peanuts
  • Dessert: Popcorn with salted caramel and mexican chocolate

Vegetable Appetizer

For the vegetable course, I was inspired by a recipe I found in Stephanie Izard’s cook book Girl in the Kitchen. She is one of my all-time favorite chefs and I have eaten at Girl and the Goat in Chicago more times than I care to admit. One of the recipes in her cookbook is an Artichoke and Strawberry Panzanella. I was intrigued by the flavor profile but I knew that I needed to compose a small, single-bite dish, so I decided to re-create it on a french bread crostini with a couple twists of my own (mainly the lemon-honey-garlic balsamic reduction).

The first thing I did was clean the artichoke by using this tutorial: How to Remove Artichoke Hearts. Then, I let the heart soak in enough cold water to cover it and the juice of 1 lemon. I let this soak for over an hour, which kept it from browning and made it tender before cooking. While this was soaking, I baked a loaf of french bread (which I bought at the store because I was too lazy to make it from scratch) and made one of the sauces for the dish.

In a small saucepan, I put 1 clove of garlic (minced), 1 tablespoon of honey, the juice of 1/2 a lemon and 1/2 of a cup of balsamic vinegar. I simmered this until the liquid reduced by about half, strained out the pieces of garlic and then let it cool while I prepped the other ingredients.

I thinly sliced the strawberries and the french bread, cut the mozzarella into appropriately-sized pieces and then sliced fresh basil leaves into thin strips (known by fancy people as a chiffonade).

Finally, it was time to cook the artichoke heart. I cut the heart into 8 pieces and then put it in a pot with 1/4 of a cup of olive oil, 1/2 of a cup of chicken broth, 1/3 of a cup of white wine (I used pinot grigio because that’s what I like to drink), 3 cloves of garlic (minced), the juice of 1/2 a lemon and a hefty pinch each of salt and pepper. I let this simmer until the pieces of the heart were tender (about 15-20 minutes). Then, I took the artichokes out with a slotted spoon and kept the liquid simmering until it reduced by half.

With that, all of the components were finished. All that was left was the plating. I laid out the crostinis on a serving dish and   brushed each with the liquid that I cooked the artichokes in (basically a garlic-white wine sauce). Then, I layered on the artichoke hearts, mozzarella, and strawberries. I drizzled each crostini with the balsamic reduction and garnished each with a strip of basil.

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This was definitely the prettiest-looking dish I made and I was a huge fan. Not only did it hold together wonderfully as a one-bite dish, the flavors paired together great. It was sweet and savory and creamy all at once. It was a lot of prep work but it was certainly delicious.

Beef Appetizer

For the beef appetizer, I also wanted to do something both savory and sweet. I had really been craving mango too (it’s one of my favorite fruits), so I thought that pairing these things together in a thai-style dish would be delightful. And I must say, I think I was right. While, I used this recipe as an initial guide: Thai-Style Stir-Fried Beef with Mango, I made enough changes to it that it definitely warrants its own recipe.

The first thing I did was make the mango salad. I finely chopped up mango, cucumber, red bell pepper and red onion, tossed it all together and set it aside. Then, I thinly sliced some sirloin beef and tossed it with 2-3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1-2 cloves of minced garlic, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. I let this marinate in the fridge while I completed the rest of the components.

The next thing I did was make a dressing for the mango salad. In a small saucepan, I combined 3/4 of a cup of water, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 tablespoon of lemongrass paste, 1 teaspoon of paprika, 1 clove of garlic (minced), 1/2 of a teaspoon of ground ginger and 1/2 of a teaspoon of sambal oelek. I let this simmer for 5-7 minutes, took it off the heat, and when it was cool, added the juice of 1/2 of a lime. (FYI – These proportions made a lot of dressing so you may want to adjust depending on how much you’re planning to make). I tossed the dressing on the fruit with a pinch each of salt and pepper, and let the flavors marinate until I was ready to plate.

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The final thing left to do was cook the beef. I simply stir-fried the beef in some olive oil and the leftover marinade until the beef was browned all the way through (about 5-10 minutes depending on how thick the slices are).

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Then, I  plated the dish by filling the endive leaves with the mango salad, placing a couple strips of beef on top of each and garnishing the beef with finely chopped spanish peanuts.

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This dish was definitely my favorite. The beef was really flavorful and it went really well with the mango salad. It was a little more difficult to eat than the crostini but it held together better than I initially thought it would. I also would have liked a little more spice in the dish but I held back so my mom would be able to eat it. If I make this dish I again, I’ll probably add some finely chopped jalapeño to the mango salad and up the amount of sambal oelek (or add another thai spice) to the dressing.

Dessert Appetizer

The idea for my dessert appetizer came completely from my brother, Andy. He is not really a fan of dessert (or sweet things in general), and he LOVES popcorn. We started talking about how he had been thinking that making some sort of caramel/chocolate popcorn would actually be a dessert that he would enjoy. Thus, this dish was born.

Since he is the popcorn expert in our family, I let him take reins on that component. (I mean, this is a team challenge, after all). He basically follows the recipe on the back of the Orville Redenbacher package for anyone that wants to try this but I also found this tutorial that works pretty well for those of us that usually go the microwave or movie-theatre route: How to Pop Popcorn on the Stove.

I made the salted caramel sauce using this recipe (just adding more salt to the mix): Easy Caramel Sauce and used Abuelita’s mexican hot chocolate tablets as the base for my chocolate sauce. I essentially just melted down two tablets in about 1/2 of a cup of half and half with a pinch of cayenne pepper and a dash vanilla extract, and it worked out great.

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Finally, I plated the popcorn on tasting spoons and drizzled a bit of the caramel and chocolate on it before serving. It was delicious and my brother definitely found a dessert that he enjoys.

Overall, these three appetizers were delicious and they would be a hit in any situation. They didn’t really go together but neither did the teams’ dishes on the show. Either way, I definitely suggest trying one or all of them!

S2E8 (Team) – Sausage Sandwiches

Employment Update: Well the dream job did not work out and now I am back to square one. It is really disappointing but I am getting back at it and trying my best to find the next dream job. Since my last post: 7 Applications, 8 E-mails.

For this episode’s team challenge, the chefs were split into a red team and blue team and given the task of making sausage sandwiches with a topping for 101 bikers. The main catch being that they had to make their sausages from scratch. The Blue team made a Spicy Italian Pork Sausage with Caramelized Onions and Molasses, and the Red team made a Beer Soaked Sausage Patty with Drunken Onion and Pepper Relish.

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The Red team had the most issues during the prep phase, having problems with the texture of the meat and the casings. They eventually decided to do patties instead and this allowed them to get an early lead. The Blue team’s sausage was deemed to be too sweet initially but they were able to adjust on the fly by adding the spiciness of banana peppers. This balanced out the flavors of their dish, and ultimately, gave them the win.

For my rendition of the challenge, I decided to push the boundaries a bit and create a mediterranean style sausage sandwich. My topping was sweet and spicy roasted artichoke, red peppers and onions. And my sausage was an uncased pork and feta sausage. I do not have a meat grinder or the ability to case the sausage so I had to cheat a little bit, but I definitely tried to do as much of the work from scratch as I could.

First, I created the topping. I prepped the artichoke heart, using this video as a guide: How to remove artichoke hearts. Then, I finely chopped up the artichoke heart and sliced up about 1/2 of a red bell pepper and  1/4 of a red onion. Next, I made the sweet and spicy sauce by mixing equal parts of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and honey mustard with a few dashes of thai red chili sauce, and salt and pepper. I whisked this together and then drizzled it over the chopped vegetables. (Picture below shows the topping before going into the oven). I mixed this all in order to coat the vegetables and then put them into a 350 degree oven until they were tender.

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Next, I created the sausage. After much research, I decided to use this recipe as a guide since it was designed to be a patty instead of encased: Simple homemade sausage patties. I made several changes to the recipe though to make it my own:

  • Doubled the amount of garlic, because garlic is the best thing ever
  • Added 1 slice of finely chopped bacon to add some additional fat since the ground pork I was using was very lean
  • Added oregano and crushed red pepper for additional flavor
  • Added some feta crumbles to keep the sausage moist and add to the mediterranean feel

I made thin, long patties to fit best on the hoagie buns that I got for this challenge. (I originally was going to make these from scratch using this recipe: Garlic Hoagie Rolls, but I just didn’t have enough time today.)

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When both components were finished, I lightly toasted the hoagie bun and then layered on the sausage and topping. Overall, the sandwich was great. The sausage was moist and perfectly spiced. The feta and bacon melded perfectly with the sausage and gave it great flavor. And the topping paired with the sausage really well. The only thing that I would have done differently was to make a little more of the sweet and spicy sauce. The vegetables soaked up the sauce, which gave them great flavor, but it left the sandwich as a whole a bit dry. I should have made more to drizzle on after the fact and maybe buttered the hoagie rolls to make it less dry as well. All in all though, this was a great sandwich that would work for breakfast or lunch and it is definitely something that I will try again soon.

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S2E6 (Team) – Five-Course Meal

Employment Update: I wrapped up my position with Churchill Downs and have moved back in with my parents. (Whomp. Whomp…) I am back to the full-time job search, AKA as the worst thing ever, but there have been some exciting things happening and I have been pretty productive recently. Since my last post (sorry – I know it’s been a while): 2 phone interviews, 20+ e-mails and LinkedIn messages, and 5 job applications. 

This week’s team challenge had the two teams catering a five-course meal for 350 office workers in the building that included a soup, a salad, pizza, a special entree and dessert.

The Blue Team produced Chicken Chili, Seasonal Salad with Blue Cheese and Nuts, Arugula and Bruschetta Pizza, Beef Hamburgers and Chocolate Chip Cookies.

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The Red Team produced Chicken Orzo, Watermelon Salad with Cucumber and Feta, White Pizza, Cheesy Lasagna and Fresh Berries with Cream.

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The Blue Team had several issues with their service (including running out of food) so the Red Team was declared the winner. Since I am not going to be cooking a five-course meal for 350 people anytime soon, I decided to use this challenge as an excuse to try some recipes that I have been wanting to take a stab at.

For the soup portion, I wanted to try Giada de Laurentiis’s Italian Wedding Soup Recipe. I followed the recipe completely and it was so simple and tasty. If I did it again, I might try adding some other types of vegetables and seasonings to give it a more complex flavor but this is a great recipe for a straightforward, delightful dish.

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The salad course was where I decided to get a little adventurous. I saw this recipe a while ago and I knew that I wanted to try it: Roasted Beet and Citrus Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette. I had not planned on making any changes to this recipe but my grocery store had other plans. It did not have golden beets, microgreens, ruby red grapefruit, valencia oranges or blood red oranges. So I had to improvise. I kept the roasted beets (all red), mixed greens, fennel and mustard vinaigrette, but everything else was different. I used mango, navel orange, and pomelo on the salad and eliminated the pistachios all together (because I do NOT enjoy nuts in my food). While it was nothing like what I had originally set off to make, it was really delicious! This was my dad’s favorite dish of them all and it was definitely one of the best from my point of view as well. It’s a really unique and flavorful dish, and it looks totally beautiful with all of the bright colors of the fruit and vegetables. It is something that I will definitely do again when I want to impress people at a dinner party.

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The pizza course was another one that I decided to have some fun with. I saw a recipe for Brussel Sprout and Bacon Pizza recently, and given how much I love both ingredients, I knew that I had to try it. I pretty much followed the recipe, but it called for A LOT of resting time for the dough (both in the refrigerator and at room temperature). I was way too impatient (and hungry) to wait so I skipped most of the resting time and the dough was still wonderful. I’m sure it would probably have been better if I had followed the recipe exactly… but if you can get really tasty dough in half the time (or less), why the hell not? Overall, the dish really surprised me. It was unique but still tasted just like a pizza, a REALLY good pizza but pizza nonetheless. This was one of my Mom’s favorite dishes of the day and it is definitely one that I want to make again. I think it would also be really good (and a little more unique) to substitute the tomato sauce for a barbecue sauce or garlic cream sauce to switch up the overall flavor. (I’ll let you know how that goes when I try it).

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For the entree portion, I decided to make use of the leftover turkey from thanksgiving (don’t worry – I made this when the turkey was still good) and made a turkey pot pie using this recipe as a guide: Ina Garten’s Chicken Pot Pie. I mostly followed the recipe with several key exceptions:

  • Substituted chicken with the leftover turkey
  • Used yellow and green onions instead of yellow and pearl onions
  • Added garlic and celery to the filling
  • Used all butter for the crust instead of vegetable shortening and butter
  • Added oregano, thyme, cumin, sage and red pepper flakes to the filling

The pot pie turned out great. The crust was flaky and delicious and the filling was super flavorful. It was a great dish and a wonderful way to utilize all the extra turkey from Thanksgiving.

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Finally, for dessert, I decided to try my hand at a homemade cake. I found this recipe: Spicy Chocolate Stout Cake and I knew I wanted to try it as soon as I saw that it called for Guinness (one of my favorite beers). For the batter, I kept everything the same except I added a pinch of cayenne pepper to give it a little more of a kick. I wasn’t a huge fan of the idea of the peanut butter frosting so I decided to switch that out to a Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting Recipe. It was more work because I had to make the salted caramel sauce but it was SOOOO worth it! I am honestly not all that into cake. I mean, it’s good, but I’d rather have almost anything else for dessert. I could eat this cake, though, all day long (which may prove to be an issue). The caramel frosting and the spicy chocolate went so well together. And it ranked in as one of my mom’s favorites as well.

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While it certainly took me a while to cook my way through this challenge, it was a lot of fun to try a lot of recipes that I have wanted to. They were all delicious but the ones that I want to have more of right now are the roasted beet salad and the brussel sprout and bacon pizza. In fact, I’m going to go have some more right now!

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S1E9 (Team) – Wedding

Employment Update: Sent 4 Follow-Up E-mails, Received 1 Potential Project, Identified 4 Potential Full-Time Opportunities

This week’s challenge had two teams catering two courses for a wedding reception. The first course was a simple Caesar Salad with Goat Cheese Tartlet, and the second course was Filet Mignon and Salmon with Steamed Vegetables, Mashed Potatoes, and Fried Onions. The Red Team served both courses to the Bride’s side and the Blue Team served both to the Groom’s side. Based on both judge and guest feedback about the dishes, the Red Team was declared the winner.

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The first course was really simple, especially since I cheated and bought pre-made pastry dough. But I did make the dressing from scratch by using this recipe: Caesar Dressing Recipe. And for the tartlet, I just brushed the pastry dough with olive oil, sprinkled the herb goat cheese over top, and popped it in the oven for 10 minutes. That really was it and it was pretty good. I wasn’t crazy about the dressing but I may have not whisked it enough because it was pretty thin. The tartlet was really good though and it worked well with the salad.

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The surf and turf dish was significantly trickier though. Each component was simple enough but there were many different components that needed to end up on the plate. To make this entree, I used the following ingredients (broken down by component):

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    • 1 6-ounce Filet of Atlantic Salmon
    • Salted water for brining
    • Juice of 1/2 a Lemon
    • Tablespoon of Butter
    • Pinch of Dill Weed
    • 1 6-ounce Filet Mignon
    • 1 Cup of Balsamic Vinegar
    • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • Steamed Vegetables
    • 2-3 Carrots, Diced
    • 1/8 of a Yellow Onion, Chopped
    • 1/4 of a Red Bell Pepper, Chopped
    • 1 Cup of Spinach (It was supposed to be zucchini but the zucchini I bought at the store was rotten on the inside so I substituted for spinach since I had it on hand)
    • 1 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
    • Pinch each of Oregano, Sage, Salt, Pepper
    • Olive Oil
  • Mashed Potatoes
    • 1 Pound of Russet Potatoes
    • 1/2 Cup of Skim Milk
    • 2 Tablespoons of Butter
    • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • Fried Onions
    • 1/4 of a Yellow Onion
    • 1 Egg
    • 1 Tablespoon of Skim Milk
    • 2-3 Dashes of Hot Sauce
    • Bread crumbs, Salt and Pepper
    • Oil for Frying

Since there were so many components and I went back and forth between all of them, the easiest way for me to explain how I did each is to go through each component one at a time.

Surf and Turf – First, I seasoned the filet with salt and pepper and put the salmon in some salt water to brine. Then, I started a balsamic reduction to go over the beef. I used this as a guide: How to Make Balsamic Reduction. Then, I pan seared the filet to brown it on all sides and popped it in the oven for a few minutes to finish it off. Then, I made a sauce for the salmon with some melted butter, lemon and dill, and pan seared the salmon (just a couple minutes on each side).

Steamed Vegetables – This was definitely the easiest part. I sautéed the onion, garlic, carrots, red bell pepper, herbs and spices in some olive oil until the carrots were tender. Then, I added in the spinach and let it wilt.

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. I didn’t measure the milk (which was stupid) and accidentally put too much in. They were still good but a little thin for my taste.

Fried Onions – To prep, I sliced up part of an onion, mixed egg, milk and hot sauce together, and stirred up the bread crumbs with some salt and pepper. Then, I just dredged the onions in the egg mixture followed by the bread crumb mixture and threw them into hot oil for a few minutes until they were crispy.

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Surf and Turf with Mashed Potatoes, Fried Onions, and Sautéed Vegetables

Overall, everything tasted great. My mashed potatoes were a little thin and the fried onions were too salty, but the steak and veggies were perfect. The steak with balsamic reduction is actually one of my favorite things I’ve made for this blog. All in all, a perfect Sunday dinner.

S1E7 (Team Challenge) – Hamburgers for Truckers

Employment Update: YAY! Something good finally happened. Today, I was offered a temporary position as an event manager for Churchill Downs. I’ll be moving to Louisville next week and will be there until the end of November. I don’t know how much free time I’ll have but I will definitely keep posting as often as I can. 

This week’s team challenge asked the chefs to serve great hamburgers to 100 truck drivers for a gourmet truck stop lunch. Because the teams had to grind the meat themselves, they both stuck with fairly straightforward beef burgers.

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The Red Team made a beef burger with bacon, grilled onions, blue cheese and chipotle barbecue sauce. The Blue Team made a simple beef burger topped with tomato, onion, lettuce and coleslaw. While the red team ran into issues early, their choice to soak their buns in bacon grease before toasting them played well with the truck drivers, winning them the challenge.

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For my burger, I wanted to do something just a tad more adventurous and settled on a beef burger with gouda, roasted red peppers, grilled red onions, spinach, bacon and garlic aioli. I originally wanted to do a lamb burger but my grocery store did not have any ground lamb.

The first thing I did was make the aioli using this recipe. Then, I cooked 1 slice of bacon in a pan. When it was done, I took it out to save for later and then lightly grilled the red onions in the leftover bacon grease. When they were done, I set them off to the side and started to prep the rest. To make the burger, I mixed the ground beef with fresh chopped parsley, oregano, cumin, sambal oelek, salt, pepper, seasoned bread crumbs and the egg white left over from the aioli. Then, I shaped the patty and threw it in the same pan that I cooked the bacon and onions in. While the burger was grilling, I placed the gouda cheese on one side of the bun and lightly toasted both sides under the broiler. When the bun and burger were done cooking, I layered on the garlic aioli, onions, roasted red peppers, fresh spinach and bacon. (See finished product below).

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The burger was delicious although I do think that it would work better with lamb (which was my original plan). I’m not sure how it would have played with the trucker crowd but it was definitely an awesome burger.

S1E5 (Team Challenge) – Feed the Marines

Employment Status: 2 Job Applications, 8 E-mails, 1 Phone call

For this season’s first team challenge, the chefs were asked to feed 400 U.S. Marines with the two different teams serving one entree, two sides and one dessert each.

The Red Team made barbecue steak, potato gratin, roasted root vegetables and apple turnover (the first dish below), while the Blue Team made stuffed pork loin, garlic mashed potatoes, roasted corn and berry napoleon (the second dish). Even though the Red Team’s food was declared better overall, they underestimated the necessary portions and ran out of food. The Blue Team essentially won by default.

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Since I am obviously not going to feed 400 Marines, I decided to use this time to share some of my favorite recipes that could easily be scaled up to meet the needs of the challenge.

For the entree, I LOVE the Pioneer Woman’s Peach Whiskey Barbecue Chicken. I’ve made this dish multiple times and it is always a winner. I pretty much just follow the recipe (with the one exception being that I use breasts instead of thighs) so go there for instructions.

For the first side, I highly suggest my Mom’s mac-and-cheese recipe. I have adapted it over the years and made it my own and it is totally delicious. I had one friend even say that he thought he didn’t like mac-and-cheese… until he tried this. Even today, he says that this is the only mac-and-cheese he likes. If that doesn’t convince you how good this is, I don’t know what will. To make 4 servings of this awesome mac-and-cheese, this is what you’ll need:

  • 2 Cups of Uncooked Pasta (You can literally use any type of pasta for this but I prefer to use Penne, Orecchiette, or Fusilli)
  • 1/4 Cup of Butter
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon of Pepper
  • 1/4 Teaspoon of Garlic Powder
  • 1/4 Cup of Flour
  • 1-3/4 Cups of Milk
  • 4 Ounces each of Sharp Cheddar, Gouda, and Gruyere, Cubed
  • 4 Ounces of Sharp Cheddar Cheese, Shredded
  • 2 Ounces Parmesan, Shredded
  • Seasoned Bread Crumbs

To make this dish:

  • Cook pasta as directed, drain and set aside.
  • Melt butter over medium heat (with salt, pepper, garlic powder and any other herbs and spices you like – I have been known to throw in Sambal Oelek or White Truffle Oil depending on my mood).
  • Blend in flour, stirring constantly until mixture is smooth and bubbly.
  • Slowly stir in milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly.
  • Boil and stir for 1 minute. Turn down heat and stir in cubed cheese until melted.
  • Place pasta in casserole dish. Stir cheese sauce into pasta. Top with shredded cheese and seasoned bread crumbs
  • Bake uncovered for approximately 30 minutes at 375 degrees.

For the second side, I made this Tomato Zucchini Tart for a party recently and everyone loved it. It was time intensive but it was super easy with a mandolin slicer (which you can get fairly inexpensively at Target). You can also spice this up and add yellow squash and/or eggplant as well.

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I have to admit: dessert is not really my thing. A pastry chef, I am not. So I really only have one go-to dessert recipe that I can share with you. As an Ohio native and an Ohio State Alum, this, of course, is Buckeye Candies. The ingredients that you need to make around 36 pieces of candy are:

  • 1 Cup of Smooth Peanut Butter
  • 1/8 Cup of Butter, Softened
  • 2 Cups of Powdered Sugar
  • 2 Cups of Chocolate Chips
  • Toothpicks

Mix the peanut butter and butter until creamy then slowly beat in powdered sugar – just a 1/3 of a cup at a time or else powdered sugar will fly everywhere. Shape into small 1-inch balls, place toothpicks in the center of the candy and freeze for at least one hour. Melt chocolate chips using a double boiler and dip candies one-by-one into the chocolate. Store in the fridge until ready to serve.

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I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I do. I’ll be back with another challenge soon.