S2E17 (Mystery Box) – Ground Meat

This week’s mystery box gave the contestants three types of ground meat to build a dish around: ground veal, ground pork, and ground beef. The mystery box also included: celery, corn, carrots, peas, mushrooms, lemon, tomato, bell peppers, garlic, eggs, milk, potatoes, red onion, worcestershire sauce, rice, mango, tomato paste, several fresh herbs, 3-4 different types of cheeses (among others).

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Jennifer (Meatloaf), Adrien (Trio of Meatballs) and Ben (Shepherd’s Pie) were named the top three with Ben winning the chance to pick the focus of the next elimination challenge.

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When I saw the ingredients available in this mystery box, I thought that I could put together one of my favorite dishes: stuffed peppers. I have never actually made these myself, mostly because my mom’s version is pretty well perfect and I didn’t want to create a poor impression. So I decided to find a recipe online that would be different enough to avoid the comparison. I settled on this as my guide: Stuffed Peppers with Ground Beef and Rice.

I essentially stuck to the recipe, except for few minor changes and additions, mostly dealing with the tomato sauce. I substituted fresh vine-ripened tomatoes (which I diced) and tomato paste for the canned diced tomatoes and tomato sauce that the recipe called for. I also added 2 cloves of minced garlic and 1/2 of a banana pepper (minced) to the bell pepper, onion, and celery mixture. This made the sauce very chunky but it definitely added a lot of nice flavor.

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Everything else from the recipe was the same (including the sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese towards the end of the cook time). Overall, the peppers turned out great but they were definitely not as good as my mom’s. (I’m going to have to ask her for her secret). I really wanted more tomato sauce throughout the beef mixture. When I make this in the future, I might put some sauce in the bottom of the pepper before adding the beef and rice mixture or maybe layer the sauce throughout. Either way, I will want more tomato flavor!

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To serve as a side, I went for this recipe: Delicious Corn Dish Recipe. I saw this on buzzfeed a while ago and I have been waiting to work it into meal until now. I followed the recipe completely with just a couple exceptions. I had to substitute banana pepper for jalapeño because my grocery store was out. (This would be a good substitution for people that don’t like spicy foods though). I also added some minced garlic to the corn when sautéing it in olive oil (because I have to add garlic to everything). Finally, I used equal parts of lemon and lime juice instead of just lime.

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I served the stuffed pepper on a bed of the manchego-lime corn, making a very colorful plate. Overall, the corn and the stuffed pepper worked well together. It was a pretty solid dish but nothing super special. The corn was awesome though. I will definitely do that again. The stuffed pepper was just ok. It really needed some more flavor but maybe I’m just spoiled by my mom’s version.

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BONUS RECIPE: The same night I did the stuffed peppers and corn, I also decided to try my hand at some duck fat fries. I had some extra duck fat lying around from this blog post and I was really craving potatoes, so this was the perfect solution.  I found this tutorial: How to: Duck Fat Fries, and followed it completely (including the soaking and two-step frying processes).

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When they came out of the duck fat the second time, I seasoned them with truffle salt, paprika and grated parmesan cheese. And they were DELICIOUS!!! Seriously, far and away the best thing I that last night, and I can’t wait to make some more soon.

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S2E15 (Mystery Box) – Surf and Turf

Employment Update: Still waiting to hear from a couple opportunities… 

This week’s mystery box contained a surf and turf theme in which contestants were asked to create a dish showcasing beef and seafood with the following ingredients as options to incorporate into their dish: live jumbo shrimp, alaskan king crab, live crawfish, buffalo ribeye, dry-aged porterhouse steak, and short ribs.

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Adrien (Short Ribs and Crab Salad), Jennifer (Risotto with Short Ribs and Crab) and Suzy (Prawn Bisque and Bison) landed in the top 3 but it was Jennifer’s risotto dish that gave her the win and the advantage of getting to pick the dish for the next challenge.

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For this challenge, I immediately decided that I wanted to do some sort of Thai recipe featuring beef and shrimp. After some intense Google-ing, I settled on this recipe as my jumping off point: The Best Thai Coconut Soup. I also enlisted my brother, the Grill-Master, and my mother, the maker of the best shrimp I’ve ever had, for assistance in this culinary venture.

The first thing we did was create a marinade for the porterhouse steak. In a small bowl, we combined 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons of peanut oil, 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, 3 cloves of smashed garlic, and some cracked pepper. We put the marinade and steak in a large Ziploc bag and put it in the fridge for almost two hours.

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Then, I cooked the shrimp using my mother’s flawless instructions. I brought a pot of salted water to a boil with a bay leaf in it. I then added 1 pound of frozen shrimp to the water and brought it back up to a foaming boil. (The foaming is the important part and this will take a while). After 1 full minute at the foaming boil, I removed the pot from the stove and drained the shrimp into a colander. Then, I rinsed the shrimp with cold water until the shrimp were cooled down to room temperature, and I let the shrimp stand in the colander until they were completely dry.

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Next, I started on the soup. In a large pot, I cooked 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of fresh grated ginger, 1 stalk of lemongrass (minced), and 2 teaspoons of red curry paste for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Then, I added in 4 cups of chicken stock, 3 tablespoons of fish sauce and 1 tablespoon of light brown sugar and let that simmer together for 15-20 minutes.

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Then, I stirred in 3 cans (13.5 ounces each) of coconut milk, 8 ounces of sliced Shitake mushrooms, and a small red bell pepper (thinly sliced) to the broth. I let this all cook together while the rest of the components were finished up.

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My brother grilled the steak for 5 minutes per side, taking it off when it reached 140 degrees. We let it rest for 5 minutes, and then I sliced it into thin strips for serving.

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While he was grilling, I made the jasmine rice. I brought 3 and 1/2 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil. Then, I added 2 cups of jasmine rice, stirred and covered, and let simmer for 15 minutes on low heat. When all of the water was absorbed, I removed the rice from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes while covered until we were ready to plate.

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Finally, I took the soup off the heat and stirred in the fully cooked shrimp, 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice, 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro (chopped), and several healthy pinches of salt (to taste).

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I plated the dish with a spoonful of rice in the middle with the soup surrounding it in the bottom of the bowl. I put three strips of steak over the rice, and garnished with a lime wedge and a cilantro leaf. This dish is definitely the prettiest plate of food I have ever made. It was pretty darn delicious too. The flavors worked together wonderfully, and it was a very filling and unique meal. I definitely think that this dish would have been a contender in this challenge due to its creativity and great taste. And even though it requires some unique ingredients, this is a very simple recipe that I suggest you try for yourself.

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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!