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.

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 4.22.37 PM   Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 4.23.29 PM

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.

20140312-143703.jpg   20140312-143710.jpg

20140312-143717.jpg   20140312-143833.jpg

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.

20140312-143637.jpg   20140312-143724.jpg

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.

20140312-143825.jpg   20140312-143843.jpg

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.

20140312-143812.jpg   20140312-143818.jpg

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.

20140312-143859.jpg

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.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 2.18.34 PM   Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 2.15.50 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 2.32.00 PM   Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 2.25.58 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 2.26.54 PM   Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 2.28.29 PM  Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 2.34.23 PM

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.

20140303-154125.jpg   20140303-154146.jpg

20140303-154210.jpg   20140303-154244.jpg

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.

20140303-154218.jpg   20140303-154307.jpg

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.

20140303-154235.jpg   20140303-154358.jpg

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.

20140303-154226.jpg   20140303-154254.jpg

20140303-154336.jpg   20140303-154341.jpg

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.

20140303-154404.jpg

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.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 1.54.08 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 2.03.38 PM   Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 2.05.07 PM Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 2.07.16 PM

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.

20140302-151728.jpg

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.

20140302-151807.jpg

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.

20140302-151737.jpg   20140302-151759.jpg

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.

20140302-151824.jpg   20140302-151835.jpg

S2E12 (Team) – Three-Course Menu

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

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.31.18 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.39.48 PM   Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.44.42 PM   Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.48.55 PM

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

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.39.38 PM   Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.44.25 PM   Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.49.24 PM

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.

image

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.

image   image

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.

image

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.

image   image

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. 

image

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.

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.

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 4.19.43 PM

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

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 4.28.25 PM   Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 4.30.19 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 4.33.37 PM   Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 4.31.43 PM  Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 4.35.43 PM

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.

image   image

image   image

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.

image

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.

image   image

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.

image

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.

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 3.58.01 PM   Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 3.58.52 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 4.06.07 PM   Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 4.07.47 PM Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 4.09.30 PM

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.

image   image image

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.

S2E10 (Pressure) – Six Layer Cake

After losing the last challenge, the blue team was put into a pressure test. They were given 2 hours to make a cake with a minimum of six layers, with the losing chef being sent home.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 4.42.51 PM   Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 4.43.01 PM

Ben (Pumpkin Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting), Jennifer (Banana Split Cake) and Tracey (Chiffon Cake with Basil and Citrus) created the judges’ favorite layer cakes.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 4.52.15 PM   Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 4.55.59 PMScreen Shot 2014-01-16 at 4.55.15 PM

And Suzy (Ganache and Pecan), Esther (Lemon Raspberry), Christine (Apricot Berry) were in the bottom three. While all of them had significant issues, Esther was the one sent home.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 4.53.48 PM   Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 4.56.48 PM Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 4.57.49 PM

I am not really a strong baker so I dreaded this challenge. I remember trying to make a layer cake one time when I was about ten for a family birthday. There was recipe in this Minnie Mouse children’s book that I thought I could make, but my attempt turned into a messy disaster. I’d like to say that this one worked out better but it most certainly did not.

I decided to make a miniature layer cake with layers of gingerbread and chocolate with stout and chocolate buttercream frosting. I used these recipes as guides:

The batter for both cakes turned out well but the disasters started as soon as they were put into the oven.

image

When I checked the cakes around 30 minutes in, the chocolate cakes were overflowing into the oven. Luckily, the gingerbread cakes were working well, but even then, I knew that I was going to have some issues. When the cakes were baked all the way through, the gingerbread was still holding together great but the chocolate had sunken into the middle and looked like a dark brown brick. I probably should have stopped there and just stuck with the gingerbread but I was determined to see this one through.

image   imageimage

I let the cakes cool and made both of the buttercream frostings. Both turned out well so I was feeling like I could maybe still turn this one around. But then, came the decorating…

image   image

While the chocolate cake looked hard on the outside, it was so moist on the inside that it was essentially falling apart in my hands. This should have been the time to chuck the idea of the chocolate, but I’m too stubborn for my own good apparently. I was able to get six layers stacked on top of each other with the stout buttercream between the layers, and while it was sort of uneven, it seemed like it might have a chance. But then I started frosting the cake…

image   image 

I think the weight of the frosting destroyed the chocolate layers, which made the whole cake completely unstable. I kept frosting and packing it all together until I was able to get it so it could at least stand up straight (with the help of some skewers) but it looked a total disaster. I went ahead and decorated it just like I would have had to do for the challenge. But it was such a lost cause. Even though all of the components tasted good and complemented each other well, I am sure that I would have been sent home for this atrocity. The good news is that I am not actually on the show though, so I will live to fight another day. Hopefully, I can turn this all around with my next challenge and I will definitely avoid making cakes again in the future.

image   image

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.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 4.35.21 PM   Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 4.36.17 PM   Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 4.36.55 PM

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

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 4.35.16 PM   Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 4.36.14 PM   Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 4.36.51 PM

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.

image   image

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.

image   image

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).

image

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.

image   image

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.

image

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!

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.

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 5.05.45 PM   Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 5.06.05 PM

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

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 5.16.30 PM   Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 5.25.06 PM

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

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 5.18.04 PM   Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 5.21.45 PM Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 5.23.40 PM

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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).

image   image   image

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.

image

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.

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 4.34.50 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 4.46.48 PM   Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 4.48.01 PM Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 4.50.05 PM

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image   image

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.

image   image

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.