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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S2E12 (Team) – Three-Course Menu

Employment Update: 10 Follow-Up E-mails, Way too much waiting to hear back form interviews…

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This week’s team challenge had the Red Team (led by Giusseppe) and the Blue Team (led by Tracy) conceptualize and create a three-course meal (an appetizer, an entree and a dessert) to impress the judges’ mothers. Each team captain was given two minutes to determine the mothers’ likes and dislikes to help guide their teams. From what they showed on the episode, here is the information that the chefs were given:

  • Joe’s Mom loves fish and vegetables
  • Gordon’s Mom does not like Sea Bass or Tuna
  • Gordon’s Mom and Joe’s Mom love fresh pasta (Graham’s Mom says it’s just “fine”)
  • Joe’s Mom loves fruit tarts (Gordon’s Mom does not)

I’m sure the mothers gave more direction than that but that was all the producers decided to show the viewer. The Red Team served a Mixed Green Salad with Crispy Polenta, Spaghetti Carbonara, and Apple Pie.

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The Blue Team served Carrot Ginger Soup, Pan Seared Turbot with Caramelized Fennel, and Poached Pear with Mascarpone.

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Even though the Blue Team took a risk serving the fish, they served the best entree and dessert and won the overall challenge. This sent the Red Team into the pressure test.

Since the instructions for the challenge were so vague, I decided to just try out some recipes for the appetizer and dessert portions, and use the entree portion to incorporate the mothers’ likes and dislikes. The menu I decided on was as follows:

  • Brussel Sprout, Pomegranate, Avocado and Orange Salad
  • Lamb with Kale and Butternut Squash Pasta in a Garlic, White Wine Butter Sauce
  • Beignets with Raspberry and Chocolate Dipping Sauces

Appetizer

The brussel sprout salad idea came from this recipe: Brussel Sprout Pomegranate Citrus Salad. It was a decent amount of prep work (this tutorial helped with the pomegranate though) but the result was great. It was really fresh and light, but you have to like the texture of pomegranate seeds to enjoy the dish.

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Entree

For the entree, I knew that I wanted to do a fresh pasta since that was one of the few things all of the mothers seemed to like. (And I have a pretty decent recipe that I have used before on this blog). I found some nice kale and butternut squash at the store so I thought that I could incorporate that into a really nice dish. The first thing I did was roast the squash using this recipe: Simple Roasted Butternut Squash. I let it cool and then cut it into cubes. Then, I prepped the kale (using this as a tutorial since I’d never worked with it before).

Next, I started to prepare the sauce. I put 6 tablespoons of butter, 4 cloves of garlic (minced) and 1/4 of a yellow onion (finely chopped) into a pan, cooking it until the onions were translucent. I then added 3/4 of a cup of white wine, 1 tablespoon of sage, 1/2 a tablespoon of thyme, salt and pepper to taste, and a splash of half-and-half. I let that all cook together for a few minutes and then added the kale into the sauce. I covered this and let it cook for a few minutes until the kale cooked down. I then added in the butternut squash and pasta (once it was cooked through in boiling water), and let that cook together for a few minutes until the lamb was done.

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For the lamb, I simply followed this recipe: Basic Sear-Roasted Lamb Loin Chops. Overall, this dish worked really well. The pasta got a little overcooked and the kale was still a little chewy, but the flavors were great. The lamb was cooked perfectly and all the components tasted great together. I would definitely do this again, but I’d cook the kale before adding it into the sauce and I’d make the noodles thicker or boil them less.

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Dessert

For dessert, I decided that I wanted to try and make beignets using this recipe: French Quarter Beignets. I followed the recipe completely and made Chocolate and Raspberry Dipping Sauces to go with them. I pretty much followed all of the recipes, with a couple exceptions. We experimented with the sugars that coated the beignets, ultimately coming up with 4 different variations: powdered sugar, granulated sugar, plain, and brown sugar with cinnamon. I also didn’t have enough raspberries for the sauce so I supplemented with blueberries and pomegranate seeds. I also used lemon juice instead of orange juice, which was great because it definitely added some more tang to the sauce.

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Overall, the beignets turned out great. My favorite was definitely the granulated sugar with the raspberry-blueberry-pomegranate dipping sauce, but they were all very tasty. The only thing was that the recipe made SO MANY beignets. We decided to freeze about half of them, and according to this recipe, they can be reheated by simply putting them into a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. I have no idea how they will work out but I’ll definitely let you all know.

Also, as a bonus recipe, I recently tried my hand at these: Homemade Fig Newtons. They turned out great but the dough is VERY difficult to work with. While the results are great (I mean seriously delicious!), the hassle is probably not really worth it. 

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Note: The Pressure Test challenge that followed this Team challenge was a repeat test: the chefs were asked to make a perfect eggs benedict in 30 minutes. Giuseppe, Derrick and Alejandra were the chefs that had to compete in this challenge, and Giuseppe was ultimately sent home for plating severely undercooked eggs. I do not repeat challenges on this blog but here is my attempt from Season 1: S1E12 – Semi-Final 2.

S1E13 – Finale

Employment Update: 1 Job Application, 4 E-mails, 1 Phone Call

It has all come down to this for Season 1: Whitney vs. David in three rounds: Appetizer, Entrée and Dessert. The chefs were given two hours to impress the judges with three dishes, and they definitely did. However, Whitney impressed them a little more and took home the crown as the first MasterChef winner.

Round 1: Appetizer

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Round 2: Entrée

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Round 3: Dessert

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For my first course, I decided to do a seared scallop on a mini-tostada with mango salsa and avocado cream. I first made the mango salsa, which is a recipe that I have developed over the years. It is really simple. I just threw together 1 mango (diced), 2 medium tomatoes (diced), 1/2 of a small red onion (diced), 1 jalapeño (finely chopped), the juice of 1/2 a lemon and 1 lime, 10 fresh cilantro leaves (finely chopped), 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. I mixed it together and let it marinate in the fridge while I worked on the other components. (See finished product below).

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I fried a couple of corn tortillas (cut into fourths) in some vegetable oil for a couple minutes on each side. Then, for the avocado cream, I mixed 1 avocado, 2 tablespoons of sour cream, the juice of 1/2 a lime, 1 tablespoon of tomatillo salsa and a pinch each of cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. I mixed it up as well as I could but, unfortunately, I do not currently have a food processor to get a nice, smooth consistency. It was a little lumpy, but it tasted good and that’s all that really matters.

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Finally, I seared the scallops, using this as a guide: The Perfect Scallop. I followed it exactly and the scallops came out perfectly as a result. The completed dish (below) was DELICIOUS! The flavors went together really well. It was kind of difficult to eat, but it was so good that I didn’t care. This is definitely one of the best things I’ve made this far.

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For the entree, I found some great lamb at the store and decided to serve it with mashed potatoes, green beans and mushrooms in a garlic and thyme red wine sauce. Everything with this was really simple. For the mashed potatoes, I skinned and boiled the potatoes until they were cooked through. Then, I mashed them with milk, butter, salt and pepper until smooth. For the green beans and mushrooms, I mixed them with olive oil, shallots, garlic, salt and pepper and roasted them in a 400-degree oven until they were tender. For the sauce, I reduced some red wine by half with a sprig of thyme and a clove of garlic. For the lamb, I seasoned it with salt and pepper, seared it on both sides and put it in a 400-degree oven for 10-15 minutes. The completed dish is below and it was really tasty. The red wine sauce could have been more flavorful but everything went together really well. And the lamb was tender and lovely.

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Finally, for the dessert, I decided to make pumpkin bread with chantilly cream, melted chocolate and caramel. I used these recipes to create the dish: Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread, Chantilly Cream, and Easy Caramel Sauce. While its not really a typical dessert, it was SO good! I love pumpkin and have been wanting to make some sort of pumpkin dessert for a while. This just sounded good to me today and I’m so glad I made it.

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Every dish I made today was really good. I think they certainly could have been on par with David’s and Whitney’s dishes. The only thing is I’m not sure how well these dishes work in a progression. Perhaps, that is something I can work on during the next season of challenges. Season 1 has come to an end, and I have already learned so much and tried so many new things. I am excited to undertake the next season’s worth of challenges so stay tuned!

S1E7 (Team Challenge) – Hamburgers for Truckers

Employment Update: YAY! Something good finally happened. Today, I was offered a temporary position as an event manager for Churchill Downs. I’ll be moving to Louisville next week and will be there until the end of November. I don’t know how much free time I’ll have but I will definitely keep posting as often as I can. 

This week’s team challenge asked the chefs to serve great hamburgers to 100 truck drivers for a gourmet truck stop lunch. Because the teams had to grind the meat themselves, they both stuck with fairly straightforward beef burgers.

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The Red Team made a beef burger with bacon, grilled onions, blue cheese and chipotle barbecue sauce. The Blue Team made a simple beef burger topped with tomato, onion, lettuce and coleslaw. While the red team ran into issues early, their choice to soak their buns in bacon grease before toasting them played well with the truck drivers, winning them the challenge.

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For my burger, I wanted to do something just a tad more adventurous and settled on a beef burger with gouda, roasted red peppers, grilled red onions, spinach, bacon and garlic aioli. I originally wanted to do a lamb burger but my grocery store did not have any ground lamb.

The first thing I did was make the aioli using this recipe. Then, I cooked 1 slice of bacon in a pan. When it was done, I took it out to save for later and then lightly grilled the red onions in the leftover bacon grease. When they were done, I set them off to the side and started to prep the rest. To make the burger, I mixed the ground beef with fresh chopped parsley, oregano, cumin, sambal oelek, salt, pepper, seasoned bread crumbs and the egg white left over from the aioli. Then, I shaped the patty and threw it in the same pan that I cooked the bacon and onions in. While the burger was grilling, I placed the gouda cheese on one side of the bun and lightly toasted both sides under the broiler. When the bun and burger were done cooking, I layered on the garlic aioli, onions, roasted red peppers, fresh spinach and bacon. (See finished product below).

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The burger was delicious although I do think that it would work better with lamb (which was my original plan). I’m not sure how it would have played with the trucker crowd but it was definitely an awesome burger.