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!

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S1E6 (Mystery Box) – Cupcakes

Employment Update: 1 Job Application, 3 New Opportunities, 4 E-mails, 2 Desperate LinkedIn Connection Requests

This week’s Mystery Box challenge was very straightforward: make one great cupcake in 45 minutes. You could use any ingredients provided on the table below – what they claimed to be anything that you could ever need to make a great cupcake.

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A lot of people struggled with this challenge (even Tracey who claimed to be a fantastic baker). But Jake (Chocolate Lovers Delight), Whitney (Coconut), and Sharone (Hazelnut & Pistachio) were declared the top three. Sharone was declared the ultimate winner though.

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For my cupcakes, I decided to do a Honey Banana Cupcake with Nutella-Chocolate Ganache. I am not really a baker so I just followed this recipe completely. The only thing I did a little differently was add a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg to the cupcake batter. (See finished product below).

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The cupcakes turned out great! And they definitely took less than 45 minutes to make. The ganache I made never set up properly (probably because I got the proportions wrong with the half recipe). I was able to get it so it would sort of stay on top (see below) but it looked atrocious. So I decided to just quickly melt some chocolate with a smidge of cream and honey to B.S. a quick ganache-like topping, which I garnished with powdered sugar to add some sweetness. (The second image below would have been what I presented to the judges).

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Seeing how poorly some of the other contestants did with this challenge, I think my cupcakes would have fared just fine (even with the ganache failure). The only problem was that I had to pay very close attention to the recipe. If I had actually been in this challenge, I’m not entirely sure that I would have been able to come up with the correct proportions without it. Looks like I’ll have to seriously practice my baking skills before trying to go on the show!