S2E14 (Team) – Sliders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

S1E8 (Mystery Box) – Dungeness Crab

Employment Update: I started my job at Churchill Downs this week. Everything has been really great and I’m very excited to contribute to the team. I’m still continuing to apply and interview for full-time jobs in my free time though since this gig will end at the end of November. I have a couple pretty exciting leads but I’m not far enough into the process to have any feel for my chances yet. But things are all good right now – especially considering that THIS is the place I get to go to work everyday:

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This week’s Mystery Box challenge focused on one (live) ingredient: the Dungeness Crab. From what I could tell, it looked like the rest of the box consisted of: cucumber, apple, avocado, tomatoes, asparagus, prosciutto, peanuts, spinach, banana and a red jalapeño. There was some other stuff but those were the ingredients that I could identify from what they showed in the episode (and they were able to use the pantry as needed).

Lee (Crab Salad and Gazpacho), Sheetal (Tomato and Crab Curry), and Sharone (Crab Cucumber Roll), were declared to be the top three dishes with Lee being announced as the overall winner.

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For my rendition of the challenge, I decided to make crab tostadas with spinach, guacamole, cojita cheese, thai red chili sauce and crispy pancetta. (For some reason, I could not find any prosciutto at the store but this was a great substitute). All my ingredients are shown below. The only other substitute I had to unfortunately make was the dungeness crab. Even though I made a special trip across town to a store that I thought would have at least some form of Dungeness Crab, I had to resort to using canned jumbo lump crab. I was disappointed because I really wanted to do this challenge as it was meant to be, but alas, it did not work out.

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The first thing I did was make the guacamole. My guacamole recipe is something I have just come up with over the years so I do not have an exact recipe. I honestly just add stuff to the bowl until I think it tastes good. But I will tell you that I have received rave reviews (and one not-quite-joking marriage proposal) for it. Basically, I smash the avocados together with chopped tomato, diced onion, minced garlic, and finely chopped jalapeño. I also add either sour cream or plain greek yogurt to make it a little creamier. Then, I season it with lime, salt, pepper and some tomatillo salsa. My favorite salsa brand to use is Rick Bayless’s Frontera. It is AWESOME!

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I set aside the guacamole to allow the flavors to marinate. Then, I sautéd the crab in some olive oil, lemon juice, fresh cilantro, salt and pepper just to warm it up (as it was already fully cooked). Once it was heated through, I took it off the heat, let it cool slightly, and then added freshly chopped cucumber and red bell pepper. This was to give a freshness and a crispness to the warm crab salad so I didn’t want to cook it with the crab.

After that, all that was left was frying the corn tortillas and the pancetta in some olive oil. When that was done, everything was ready to plate. I put the fried tortilla on the bottom, followed by fresh spinach leaves, guacamole, and the crab salad. Then, I garnished the whole thing with shredded cojita cheese, crispy pancetta and a few dashes of thai red chili sauce. The finished product is below.

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This dish was delicious and it looked great. But it was REALLY difficult to eat. I eventually just put it in a bowl, smashed it all up, and ate it like a salad. I’m not a huge crab fan in the first place so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. But I doubt I’ll do this again unless I am able to get fresh crab.