S2E4 (Skills Test) – Apples

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Another season of challenges begins with a straightforward skills test in which the contestants must prove their precision knife skills by skinning and thinly slicing granny smith apples.

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I have never had great knife skills, mostly because I’ve never really had great knives to work with. I did my best but my cuts were a little jagged. The slices were sufficient but definitely not perfect.

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Even though this was only a skills challenge, I decided that I wanted to make a dish with the apples I sliced, and nothing goes better with apples than pork. I have been wanting to attempt carnitas and thought that this would be the perfect excuse. So I made carnitas tacos with an apple slaw and tomatillo cream. I cut up just under 2 pounds of boneless pork loin in to large chunks and browned it in a pan with some olive oil and chopped red onion. Then, I put the Frontera carnitas sauce with a little over a cup of water in the pan. I simply covered the pan and let it cook for around 2 hours in a 325 degree oven. When the pork was done, I shredded it with a fork and let it simmer on low while I finished the rest of the dish.

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I used the granny smith apple that I had sliced before and julienned it. Then, I mixed it with some chopped fresh cilantro, the juice of 1/2 a lime and some salt and pepper. Next, I mixed some sour cream and tomatillo salsa to make the tomatillo cream, and thinly sliced a vine-ripened tomato.

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With everything complete, I compiled the dish by spreading the tomatillo cream on a corn tortilla and then layering on the tomatoes, apple slaw, and carnitas. Finally, I garnished it with quesadilla cheese and fresh cilantro. (See finished product below).

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The tacos were great! The carnitas mix was a little spicier than I’d anticipated but the apples paired perfectly with the pork. Aside from the dish being time consuming, it was really simple. And it would have worked well in a crock pot too.

I’m very excited to see what season 2 will bring. It definitely seems like the home cooks are a step up from last season so it will be interesting to see if I can keep up this time around.

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S1E4 (Mystery Box Challenge) – Pork Chop

Employment Update: Identified 5 New Potential Positions, Received 2 Rejections, Sent 11 E-mails and 1 Desperate Tweet, and Accomplished LOTS of LinkedIn Stalking

For the first mystery box challenge of the season, contestants were given 45 minutes to prepare a dish using any or all of the following ingredients: a double-cut pork chop, a bunch of flat-leaf parsley, tomatoes, a granny smith apple, a head of cabbage, ciabatta bread, lemons, cinnamon sticks, cognac, chocolate, butter, eggs, flour and milk.

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Most of the contestants stuck with a pretty straightforward pork chop dish with only a few venturing out into dessert territory. The top three for this challenge were Sheena with a chocolate mousse, Jake with a country-style pork chop and Whitney (the challenge winner) with a southern-fried pork chop.

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I decided to go the traditional route and stick to doing a great pork chop. In addition to the pork, I chose to use the cognac, parsley, lemon, apple, cinnamon, tomatoes, flour, butter, egg, and milk out of the mystery box (excluding only the cabbage, ciabatta, and chocolate). The only other ingredients I used aside from these were salt, pepper and olive oil.

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My version of the mystery box (excluding the ciabatta, chocolate and cabbage).

The first thing I did was make a marinade for the pork using the following ingredients (measurements are approximations because I was just winging it):

  • 1/4 Cup of Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup of Cognac
  • Juice of 1 Lemon
  • 1/2 of a Granny Smith Apple, Skinned and Finely Minced
  • 20 Parsley Leaves, Coarsely Chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon each of Salt and Pepper

I covered the pork chop in this marinade, set the oven to 400 degrees, and then left it to marinate as I set to work on my next component. (See the marinating pork chop below).

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To accompany the pork, I thought spaetzle would work perfectly. I’ve never made it before so I used this recipe as a guide: German Spaetzle Dumplings. Because of the limited ingredients I had at my disposal and my self-imposed guidelines, I had to adjust this recipe significantly. The ingredients I used instead were:

  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons of Milk
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
  • Pinch each of Cinnamon and Black Pepper
  • 4 Parsley Leaves, Minced

I just mixed the ingredients together to create the spaetzle dough, and brought a pot of water to simmer. It should have been as simple as pressing the dough through a spaetzle maker (see below) and into the water. I used the spaetzle maker on the left, and I wasted a lot of time (and dough) trying to figure out how to put it together and use it the right way. But once I figured it out, the process was really easy. I left the spaetzle in the simmering water for just 5 minutes before taking it out.

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While the spaetzle was in the simmering water, I seared the pork chop on both sides (just a few minutes on each) and put it into the preheated oven. I also melted a tablespoon of butter in a skillet. When the spaetzle was done boiling, I transferred it into the skillet and sauteed it until the dumplings were crispy and golden.

After 10 minutes in the oven, I placed 4 thin slices of tomato on top of the pork chop, sprinkled them with salt and parsley, and put the entire pan back into the oven for couple more minutes. When done, I plated the pork chop and tomatoes on top of the spaetzle (as seen below).

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Pork chop marinated in cognac, lemon, parsley and apple with oven-roasted heirloom tomatoes on a bed of    cinnamon-parsley spaetzle

This dish was delicious. All of the components were great on their own and they worked even better together. The best thing was getting a little bit of everything in one bite. The only thing that I would say is that the pork chop was slightly overcooked. That was mostly due to the fact my meat thermometer wasn’t working and I’m definitely part of the “better safe than sorry” school of cooking. To get a perfect pork chop though, this is a wonderful resource: Tender & Juicy Pork Chops in the Oven.

This whole meal took me a little over an hour to complete. But without the spaetzle maker malfunction, I’m confident I could have completed everything in the challenge’s 45 minute time limit. And I definitely think this dish would have earned me some top three recognition.

That’s it for tonight but be sure to come back tomorrow for my next MasterChef challenge.