S2E19 (Mystery Box) – Chicken

For the final mystery box challenge of the season, the contestants were asked to demonstrate how far they had come. They had to create a dish featuring chicken with an open pantry, just like one of the first challenges of the season. Jennifer struggled, turning in a dish with overcooked and undercooked components (Bacon Wrapped Chicken with Apples and Jalapeño). Christian (Bacon Wrapped Chicken with French Onion Sauce) and Adrien (Braised Chicken Thigh with Acorn Squash, Asparagus and Rice) created better dishes, but the judges only offered high praise for Adrien, who won the challenge.

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For this challenge, I decided to do an “empty the fridge” type of dish. While that’s not really what I usually do on this blog, I thought that I had ingredients on hand to do a great stuffed chicken breast with ratatouille and truffle-butter potatoes. For the chicken breast, I made the stuffing out of feta, chopped bacon, minced garlic, chopped yellow onions, thyme, oregano, and crushed red pepper. After mixing all of this together, I pounded out the chicken breast, spread the stuffing evenly over the top of the chicken and then rolled it all up so that the chicken totally enveloped the stuffing. I seasoned the chicken with salt, pepper and paprika, and poured in enough chicken stock to cover the bottom of the baking dish. I baked this in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes, spooning the broth over the top of the chicken every 15 minutes.

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While the chicken was cooking, I started making the sides. While I did not have the ingredients to make a traditional ratatouille, I certainly had enough to create my own version. I simply sautéed some chopped zucchini, chopped red onion, diced tomatoes, minced garlic, and chopped red bell pepper in some olive oil and butter. I let the vegetables cook together for a little bit. Then, I added a couple tablespoons of arrabiata sauce and seasoned the whole mixture with salt, pepper, oregano, basil, cumin, and cayenne pepper. I let this all cook together on low until the vegetables were tender and ready to serve.

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For the potatoes, I simply fried the slices in some butter for a couple minutes per side, sprinkled them with truffle salt and then popped them in the oven on a baking sheet until they were fork tender.

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The final component of the dish was the red wine reduction. When the chicken was finished, I took the broth from the bottom of the baking dish and poured it into a sauce pan. To this, I added an equal amount of red wine (in this case, a pinot noir that I had on hand), a tablespoon of honey, and the juice of 1/2 a lime. I let this simmer until it was reduced by half.

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I plated the chicken breast on a bed of the truffle potatoes and ratatouille with the red wine reduction spooned over top. Overall, the dish came together pretty well. The ratatouille and potatoes were delicious. I easily could have eaten just those and been perfectly content. The chicken, on the other hand, was just ok. The feta did not keep the chicken moist like other cheeses I have used in the past to make this dish. And the crushed red pepper was too strong, giving the stuffing, as a whole, a bit of an odd flavor. The red wine sauce was very strong. I let it reduce too far and I used a fairly cheap wine, so the overall flavor was much too sharp. While there are definitely some tweaks that need to be made to improve this dish, I do think that it could be refined into quite a delicious meal.

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S2E17 (Elimination) – Gordon Ramsay Signature Dish

Employment Update: I have held off on including these updates for a couple posts, because I have had several things still up in the air, but I can now announce that I am back at Churchill Downs and will be working on the Events Team until the end of June. I am really excited because I will be working on the Taste of Derby, the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby. This will definitely be an awesome experience and I am very happy to have the opportunity. 


Ben, having won his first mystery box challenge, was able to pick which one of Gordon Ramsay’s signature dishes that the chefs had to recreate for this elimination challenge. He was given the following three dishes to choose from:

  • Pan Roasted Filet of Halibut with Crab, Crushed New Potatoes and a Basil Vinaigrette
  • Roasted Duck Breast with Honey Glazed Baby Onions, Minted Peas and Madera Sauce
  • Roasted Loin of Venison on a bed of braised Red Cabbage with Parsnip Puree, Beets, Mushrooms, Parsnip Crisps and a Red Wine Sauce

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Feeling confident in his ability to cook venison, Ben selected that dish. He was also given the advantage of asking Gordon 3 questions about the dish to help guide him in his recreation. From those questions and everything that was said about the dish throughout the challenge, I was able to glean the following information about the dish:

  • To cook the venison, warm the loin in butter (no higher than 140 degrees) and then sear the loin on all sides.
  • The parsnips should be cooked with a couple tablespoons of milk and cream.
  • For the puree, the core of the parsnips should not be used.
  • The beets should be roasted.
  • The mushrooms should be poached in butter and then finished with thyme and olive oil.
  • The red cabbage should be slow braised with some vinegar and lemon juice.

Even though Ben had several advantages over his competitors, he made too many mistakes and was sent home. Suzy (who had the judges’ favorite recreation), Christian, Adrien and Jennifer moved on to the top four.

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This was a difficult challenge because there were so many different components that required techniques that I had never really attempted before. There was also a lot of equipment and different types of ingredients that I did not really have access to. I did my best to recreate the dish but it was definitely the hardest dish I’ve ever done on this blog. For ease of explanation, I’m going to take this one component at a time.

“Venison”

I knew that I was not going to be able to get any venison loin at the grocery store, so I decided to do the same technique that Gordon described to grass-fed beef top sirloin. I decided to warm the steak in clarified butter with smashed garlic cloves and shallot slices. I put the burner on low, covered the pan and moved on to other components. Everything that I read and saw on the episode said that this process would take an hour or more. But when I checked it after 20 minutes, it was already completely brown. I did not have a thermometer so I don’t know how hot the butter got, but it was obviously much too high.

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Just before serving, I seared the beef on both sides for a less than 2 minutes a side. But when I cut into it, it was almost completely brown in the center. There was some pink still left but it was clearly overcooked. And the meat was really tough as a result.

Butter-Poached Mushroom Cap

For this component, I melted enough butter to cover a portobello mushroom cap. Then, I allowed the mushroom cap to bathe in the butter on low heat until the mushroom was tender (about 15-20 minutes).

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Just before serving, I seasoned the mushroom cap with salt, pepper and fresh thyme and then pan seared it in some olive oil about a minute per side. Finally, I trimmed the cap into a square for plating.

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Parsnip Puree

For this component, I simply followed a recipe that seemed the closest to what Gordon described. The recipe that I used was Tyler Florence’s version: Parsnip Puree. The only issue I had with this was that I did not have a food processor or a blender so I had to hand mash the parsnips. The flavor was great but the texture was not as smooth as I would have wanted. Overall though, it was a great and tasty component.

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Parsnip Crisps

This is another component in which I used a recipe as a guide. I used Alton Brown’s recipe for this: Parsnip Crisps Recipe. In terms of presentation, the one thing not shown in this recipe that needed to be done for the dish was to make the parsnip strips in a spiral shape. To get this effect, I just twirled the parsnip strips around my finger before putting it into the oil. This sort of worked but I’m sure there is a much better way to get this to work and look uniform.

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I also fried the crisps in crisco instead of peanut oil, and it worked great. I’m sure any oil would work fine. The crisps turned out perfectly. They were actually my favorite component of the whole dish, oddly enough. I will probably just make these again to keep around as a snack.

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Roasted Beets

Definitely the easiest component of them all, I simply sliced the beets, tossed them in some olive oil, salt and pepper, and put them into a 400 degree oven for around 30 minutes (until they were fork tender). As always, roasted beets are simple and delicious and one of my favorite things to make.

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Braised Red Cabbage

I used this recipe as a guide for this component: Braised Red Cabbage with Vinegar. I made a couple substitutions and changes though. First, I used beef broth instead of chicken broth. I also did not use caraway seeds. And I added the juice of half of a lemon. The cabbage turned out pretty flavorful but the vinegar flavor was very strong. If I do this again, I’ll probably hold off a bit on the that ingredient.

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Red Wine Sauce

And for the final component, I used this recipe to create a complimentary red wine sauce: Red Wine Reduction. I followed this recipe completely with the one exception being my use of beef broth instead of chicken broth. Overall, I think this is a great recipe but I lost track a bit at the end and I let it reduce a little too far. The flavor was a little too intense as a result, but that is something that is easily fixed.

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The final dish came together great in terms of plating. Just as a picture, I was able to recreate Gordon’s dish reasonably well. However, I fell into the same trap as Ben Starr did and overcooked the meat. The other components were decent enough but there were definitely some oddities in the flavors. Since I did not taste the original dish, it is hard to say if I made a reasonable recreation of the dish in that sense, but I definitely did my best at a complicated dish with limited resources.

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S2E17 (Mystery Box) – Ground Meat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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S2E16 (Pressure) – Salmon

S2E16 (Team Challenge) Note: At the beginning of the episode, the top six chefs were split into two teams and asked to run dinner service at the Michelin-Star restaurant, Patina. They were tasked with executing four of the restaurant’s signature dishes (shown below) with basic instruction from the restaurant’s chefs. The Red Team of Christian, Ben, and Suzy won based on feedback from the guests (all of whom were Patina regulars) and the restaurant’s chef and owner. This sent the Blue Team’s Tracy, Adrien, and Jennifer into the pressure test.

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The episode showed and talked about so few components of each dish that it was difficult to determine the techniques and ingredients used in each one. Additionally, based on my watching of the episode, it appeared that many (if not all) of the sauces, marinades, and other prep work were already done for the chefs. While I hate passing up on a challenge, I felt that there was simply no way for me to recreate even one of the dishes with the limited instructions and my lack of access to the ingredients that I thought would be necessary. Therefore, I had to skip this challenge and move on to the pressure test from this episode. 


For the pressure test, Tracy, Jennifer and Adrien had to scale and filet a whole salmon into at least 10 portions and cook one of those portions perfectly for the judges in just 45 minutes. Before the task, Gordon Ramsay gave a helpful tutorial to the chefs demonstrating the proper way to accomplish this. I thought it was really helpful so I posted the clip below. I really wish this show had more of this and less of the interpersonal drama. But I guess that’s not what reality shows are for…

All of the contestants really struggled with this challenge, but Tracy had the most issues with both the prep and the cooking, resulting in her elimination. However, I definitely think she got the better end of the deal as the show said that they would pay for 1 year of classes at Le Cordon Bleu for her and a job with one of them when she graduated.

Since I obviously was not going to get my hands on a whole salmon, I decided to simply make a perfect pan-seared fillet of salmon with a garlic-dill butter sauce and two sides: cheddar-gruyere scalloped potatoes and roasted asparagus.

The first thing I did was work on the scalloped potatoes. I used this recipe as my guide: Scalloped Potatoes – Southern Food. This recipe was very simple and straightforward so I, of course, had to jazz it up a bit. I made several key changes and additions,  which definitely added a lot of flavor.

In a small saucepan, I melted 3 tablespoons of butter with 2-3 cloves of garlic (minced). After allowing that to cook together for a bit, I blended in 3 tablespoons of flour and cooked that mixture together for 1-2 minutes.

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I then added 1 1/2 cups of skim milk, 1 teaspoon of salt and a couple dashes each of thyme, nutmeg and black pepper. I whisked this mixture constantly until it was smooth and bubbling. Then, I removed the pan from the heat and stirred in 2/3 of a cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and 1/3 of a cup of shredded gruyere.

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With the cheese sauce complete, I layered 2 cups of thinly sliced potatoes in the bottom of a a casserole dish and poured half of the cheese sauce over the potatoes. I repeated this with 2 more cups of potatoes and the rest of the cheese sauce. Then, I sprinkled the top with shredded cheddar cheese, grated parmesan and paprika.

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I baked this at 350 degrees for a little less than hour (until it was cooked through and brown and crispy on the top). For plating purposes, I used a large round cup to get a perfect circle of scalloped potatoes to display with the salmon and asparagus.

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While the potatoes were in the oven, I prepped a bunch of asparagus and tossed it in some olive oil, minced garlic, diced yellow onion, salt and pepper. I baked this in the oven (at 350 degrees) until the asparagus were tender, about 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness.

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Finally, it was time for the salmon. I have never pan-seared salmon before so I completely followed this recipe and it was great: Seared Salmon Fillet Recipe. While the salmon was cooking, I made a quick and simple sauce by melting a couple tablespoons of butter with 1-2 cloves of garlic (minced) and some fresh dill.

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When everything was finished, I plated the salmon then squeezed some fresh lemon over the top and spooned the garlic-dill butter sauce over the top. Finally, I put the scalloped potatoes and asparagus on the plate and served. Overall, this dish was delicious. I could not stop eating those potatoes and the salmon was very flavorful. I still have no idea how I would have done at breaking down the salmon but I’m now confident that I can make a great salmon dish.

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S2E15 (Elimination) – Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

As an advantage from her win in the previous challenge, Jennifer was able to pick the focus for the elimination challenge. She was able to pick from the three judges’ favorite childhood dishes of Joe’s Pizza, Graham’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese and Gordon’s Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese. She picked Gordon’s dish and the contestants had 45 minutes to turn it into a gourmet version.

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Suzy (Grilled Cheese with Red Pepper and Tomato Soup) and Tracy (Tomato Soup with Pancetta and Fontina Grilled Cheese) had the best dishes and earned the job of team captains for the next challenge.

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Ben (Roasted Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Onion), Christine (Heirloom Tomato Soup with Goat and Provolone Grilled Cheese), and Derrick (Gorgonzola Tomato Soup with Tomato and Bacon Grilled Cheese) were in the bottom three, with Christine and Derrick being sent home.

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When I saw this challenge, I knew that I wanted to use this as an excuse to try my hand at some homemade bread to use for the grilled cheese sandwiches. I have been trying to push myself to make items that I would usually just buy at the store. I did some research and found this delightful bread recipe: Potato-Rosemary Bread. I completely followed this recipe (including the roasted garlic, of course), and it turned out perfectly. It is a very time-intensive recipe but it was so worth it. Honestly, this is some of the best bread I’ve ever had and it worked really well with the other flavors in the dish. (Just a warning though: For those of us who are not regular bread makers and do not have biga just lying around, this recipe will take two full days to make).

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For the soup portion, I wanted to do a tomato and bacon bisque but I  had no idea where to start as I had never made one before. I used this recipe as an initial guide: Roasted Tomato and Smoked Bacon Bisque, but I changed and added enough components to make my own recipe.

The first thing I did was roast the tomatoes. I cut 5 pounds of roma tomatoes in half and removed the seeds from the center with a table spoon. Then, I sliced 2 shallots and minced 5 cloves of garlic. I tossed all of this in some olive oil in a large baking dish and put it into a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes (before and after roasting pictures are shown below). When the tomatoes were cool enough to touch, I removed the tomato skins and began my work on the soup.

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When the tomatoes were done, I browned 1 cup of chopped bacon in a large pot. Once finished, I poured off the rendered fat and added 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 yellow onion (chopped), 1 shallot (minced), 1 red bell pepper (chopped), 8-10 cloves of whole roasted garlic (which I roasted previously while making the bread), 2 large carrots (chopped), and 2-3 stalks of celery (chopped) to the pot. I seasoned this with salt, white pepper and black pepper and cooked this all together until the vegetables were tender.

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I then added the roasted tomatoes (without skins), shallots and garlic to the pot with 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock and 1 cup of white wine. I seasoned this mixture with 5 leaves of fresh basil (finely chopped), 1 bay leaf, 1/2 of a tablespoon of dried oregano, 1/2 of a tablespoon of dried thyme, 1 teaspoon of paprika, and some additional salt and pepper. I let this cook together for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Then, I added in a half pint of heavy cream and allowed this to simmer for 10-15 more minutes.

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Finally, I pureed the soup in a couple batches with a blender. I put the pureed soup back into the pot without straining it because I wanted a thicker soup. If you prefer a thinner soup though, I would recommend taking this step. I brought the soup back up to a simmer to ensure that it was still heated through (and to keep it warm while I was doing the grilled cheese), and then garnished it with a yellow cherry tomato (cut in half), a couple thin strips of fresh basil, and a few dollops of greek yogurt that I had mixed with some fresh lemon juice. This is completely unnecessary to enjoy the soup, but I did it to give it that “gourmet plating” look (and also to get a good picture).

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With the soup complete, it was time to make the gourmet grilled cheese. I wanted to go with some bold flavors for this component so I decided to create a grilled cheese sandwich with arugula, portobello mushrooms, prosciutto, gruyere and smoked gouda on thick slices of my homemade potato-rosemary-garlic bread. I lightly cooked the thinly sliced portobello mushrooms in some olive oil and then layered the sandwich components as seen below (with gruyere on one side and smoked gouda on the other). I then spread a generous layer of butter on both of the outer sides of the sandwich and grilled it on a hot griddle for a few minutes a side (basically until it was brown and crispy, as shown below).

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I cut the sandwich in half and served it in the soup. All together, this was delicious (and honestly one of my all-time favorites from this blog). The sandwich and the soup were both gourmet versions of the classic and tasted wonderful in their own right. But together, the flavors were magical. Ok… that might be overstating it a bit. But seriously, this was AWESOME! So good, in fact, that as soon as I woke up the next morning, I wanted the leftovers. (For the record, this is great for breakfast too). I certainly think this would have made a splash in the challenge and I definitely recommend trying this out for yourself.

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S2E9 (Mystery Box) – Vegetables

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S2E8 (Pressure) – Steak

Employment Update: I am officially putting out the request for any and all assistance in finding a job. Because I am getting soooo sick of resumes and cover letters. Any assistance, tips and connections are welcomed. Since my last post: 1 Job Application, 4 E-mails, Yet another rejection e-mail…

After losing the team challenge, the Red team was sent into the pressure test. However, only two chefs (as picked by the team captain) had to compete to keep their spot. Esther picked Max and Christine for this “honor.” The challenge was to cook three pieces of steak rare, medium, and well done.

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Christine undercooked her well done steak but got the other two steaks perfectly done, and Max was slightly off on each one. As a result, Max was sent home.

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This challenge is probably the most difficult that I have encountered. I have never really cooked much steak and I certainly have not done it to a specified level of doneness. In the past, I’ve just cooked it until I thought it might be ready and then cut through the middle to figure it out from there. I knew that that was not an actual culinary technique so I sought out advice for how to do this properly (without having to poke the steak repeatedly with a thermometer). I found this extremely helpful resource, which I used (in addition to the picture on the right) as a guide: How to Cook Perfect Filet Mignon.

I brought the steaks to room temperature, and seasoned them with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, Pepper, Thyme and Oregano. During this time, I preheated the oven to 450 degrees and also preheated my cast iron skillet on the stove. When the steaks were ready to cook, I put a couple tablespoons of olive oil in the pan and let it heat up. Then, I put the steaks in the skillet and let them all sear on that side for 3 minutes. I flipped them and let them sear for another 3 minutes on the other side. With 2 minutes left on the stove top, I put a pat of butter on top of each steak to keep it moist.

At this point, I pulled off the rare steak and let it rest. I then put the skillet with the other two steaks into the oven. After 3 minutes in the oven, I pulled out the medium steak and let it rest as well. I gave the last steak 4 more minutes in the oven before I took it out to let rest.

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Overall, for my first time making steak without the help of a meat thermometer and not cutting into the steak to check the color, I thought the steaks turned out pretty well. The rare steak turned out perfect and it was definitely the easiest one to do well. The medium steak needed a little more time in the oven. Just by looks, it was more red than pink in the middle but I felt that the texture of the steak was more on the medium side. The well done steak also got pretty close but there was still some pink left in the middle. I was slightly off on each but I now know in the future what needs to be done. (However, that sentiment probably would not have saved me during this elimination). Overall though, the seasoning on the steaks was great and they all stayed moist and delicious regardless of the temperature.

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S2E5 (Mystery Box) – Salmon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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