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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S2E8 (Team) – Sausage Sandwiches

Employment Update: Well the dream job did not work out and now I am back to square one. It is really disappointing but I am getting back at it and trying my best to find the next dream job. Since my last post: 7 Applications, 8 E-mails.

For this episode’s team challenge, the chefs were split into a red team and blue team and given the task of making sausage sandwiches with a topping for 101 bikers. The main catch being that they had to make their sausages from scratch. The Blue team made a Spicy Italian Pork Sausage with Caramelized Onions and Molasses, and the Red team made a Beer Soaked Sausage Patty with Drunken Onion and Pepper Relish.

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The Red team had the most issues during the prep phase, having problems with the texture of the meat and the casings. They eventually decided to do patties instead and this allowed them to get an early lead. The Blue team’s sausage was deemed to be too sweet initially but they were able to adjust on the fly by adding the spiciness of banana peppers. This balanced out the flavors of their dish, and ultimately, gave them the win.

For my rendition of the challenge, I decided to push the boundaries a bit and create a mediterranean style sausage sandwich. My topping was sweet and spicy roasted artichoke, red peppers and onions. And my sausage was an uncased pork and feta sausage. I do not have a meat grinder or the ability to case the sausage so I had to cheat a little bit, but I definitely tried to do as much of the work from scratch as I could.

First, I created the topping. I prepped the artichoke heart, using this video as a guide: How to remove artichoke hearts. Then, I finely chopped up the artichoke heart and sliced up about 1/2 of a red bell pepper and  1/4 of a red onion. Next, I made the sweet and spicy sauce by mixing equal parts of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and honey mustard with a few dashes of thai red chili sauce, and salt and pepper. I whisked this together and then drizzled it over the chopped vegetables. (Picture below shows the topping before going into the oven). I mixed this all in order to coat the vegetables and then put them into a 350 degree oven until they were tender.

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Next, I created the sausage. After much research, I decided to use this recipe as a guide since it was designed to be a patty instead of encased: Simple homemade sausage patties. I made several changes to the recipe though to make it my own:

  • Doubled the amount of garlic, because garlic is the best thing ever
  • Added 1 slice of finely chopped bacon to add some additional fat since the ground pork I was using was very lean
  • Added oregano and crushed red pepper for additional flavor
  • Added some feta crumbles to keep the sausage moist and add to the mediterranean feel

I made thin, long patties to fit best on the hoagie buns that I got for this challenge. (I originally was going to make these from scratch using this recipe: Garlic Hoagie Rolls, but I just didn’t have enough time today.)

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When both components were finished, I lightly toasted the hoagie bun and then layered on the sausage and topping. Overall, the sandwich was great. The sausage was moist and perfectly spiced. The feta and bacon melded perfectly with the sausage and gave it great flavor. And the topping paired with the sausage really well. The only thing that I would have done differently was to make a little more of the sweet and spicy sauce. The vegetables soaked up the sauce, which gave them great flavor, but it left the sandwich as a whole a bit dry. I should have made more to drizzle on after the fact and maybe buttered the hoagie rolls to make it less dry as well. All in all though, this was a great sandwich that would work for breakfast or lunch and it is definitely something that I will try again soon.

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S2E7 (Mystery Box) – Lamb

Employment Update: 4 Interviews, 6 Rejection E-mails, 10 E-mails and LinkedIn messages 

This week’s mystery box challenge asked the contestants to create a dish including some of the following ingredients: Rack of New Zealand Lamb, Peaches, Romanesco Cauliflower, Fava Beans, Feta, White Rice, Thai Chili Peppers, Tarragon, Créme Fraîche, Pie Crust, Heavy Cream, Eggs, Walnuts, Mollasses, and Blood Oranges.

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Jennifer struggled again with this challenge and she was declared to have the worst dish of the challenge, having plated raw lamb for the judges.

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Alejandra (Curried Rack of Lamb), Adrien (Farmers Market Lamb) and Tracy (Sweet and Salty Lamb and Feta) though had the judges’ favorite dishes with Adrien winning the chance to select the focus of the next challenge.

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Before I get started on my rendition of the challenge, I first want to apologize for the long delay between posts. Between the holidays and job stuff, I have been slacking a bit. But while I have been slacking on challenges, I have definitely not been slacking on cooking. Since everyone in my family likes to cook (as well as eat and drink), my dad came up with the idea of creating a fun eating and drinking tradition on the days leading up to Christmas, which he dubbed Bill’s 5 Days of Christmas. The basic idea is to have a special drink and appetizer pairing on each of the five days before Christmas Eve. It was really great fun and all of my cooking energies were redirected into assisting with that. For those of you interested in how it all turned out, I have posted the pictures of each of the five different pairings below (Fruit cake with port, Pigs and Apples in Blankets with Brown Ale and Red Wine, Pork and Pear Chutney with Pomegranate Mimosas, Candied Bacon with Bloody Marys, and Shrimp with Mojitos).

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Now on to my MasterChef challenge! I decided to make a Walnut, Feta and Tarragon crusted rack of lamb with sweet and spicy cauliflower. My side dish was inspired by a delicious sweet and spicy roasted cauliflower dish that I once had at Ox, my favorite restaurant in Portland. I had no idea how to make it but I felt like I had the ingredients in the mystery box to do it.

I first made the sauce for the cauliflower. In a sauce pan, I cooked 1 clove of minced garlic, 1 slice of finely chopped yellow onion, and 1 finely chopped small orange habanero (my substitute for the thai red chili) in some olive oil. After a couple minutes of cooking, I added 1/4 cup of pinot grigio and the juice of 1/2 an orange. I let that cook down for a few minutes and then added 6.5 ounces of canned peaches (without the syrup). I had to substitute both the blood orange and fresh peaches due to availability issues but I think this same recipe would work well with any combination that you can get. I then added a pinch each of salt, pepper and ground ginger as well as a few dashes of thai red chili sauce. While it was cooking, I used a large fork to mash up the peaches, which I did until the sauce was, more or less, a smooth consistency. Finally, in a large baking dish, I drizzled olive oil, salt, pepper, and the sweet and spicy sauce over the cauliflower (1 head the regular kind because I couldn’t get any romanesco). I tossed this whole mixture in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes, stirring the mixture twice in order to completely coat the cauliflower with the sauce.

The pictures below show the cauliflower dish before and after baking. Overall, this was wonderful! It was a little too spicy for my mom but I thought it was really flavorful. It started out as sweet and finished spicy. And while the habanero taste grew as you ate the dish, it never got to be too much for me or my dad and brother. This is definitely a unique and delicious twist on classic roasted cauliflower and I definitely recommend trying it out (as long as you’re not a spice wuss).

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For the lamb, I first had to make the crust, which I did by finely chopping the walnuts and tarragon and mixing the feta in until everything was evenly combined (see below). I then browned the rack on all sides in a cast iron skillet.

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Then, I put the rack on a lined baking sheet, where I spread some greek yogurt (my substitute for créme fraîche) on the fat side of the rack and then pushed the crust into lamb and yogurt. I put this into a 400 degree oven until it was medium rare and the crust was golden (about 20-25 minutes). The pictures below show the rack before and after cooking.

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Finally, I sliced the lamb and served it on a bed of the sweet and spicy cauliflower. The entire dish was really delicious. The crust didn’t stay on the lamb as well as I would have wanted and there some fatty parts of the lamb that were really difficult to eat. But overall, I think everything worked really well, especially since it was a pretty out there dish. It was definitely a great meal for Christmas Eve Eve, and I will definitely be making the cauliflower again soon.

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