S2E19 (Elimination) – Octopus, Veal, Mushrooms

Before I start this post, I first want to apologize for the long delay between posts. I have been very busy the last couple weeks as I have been working at Churchill Downs during the recent Kentucky Derby. It was a lot of work but also a lot of fun (as you can see here: The 140th Running of the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby). I am glad to have some free time back to do some cooking and blogging though.

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As the winner of the mystery box challenge, Adrien was able to choose between three of Joe’s favorite ingredients: Octopus, Veal and Mushrooms. He chose octopus for himself. Then, Christian was able to select his and Jennifer’s ingredient. Christian selected veal for himself and gave Jennifer mushrooms to work with.

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Each contestant had positives and negatives to their final dishes, but the judges decided to send Adrien (Pan Seared Octopus) and Jennifer (Mushroom and Egg Ravioli) to the Final Challenge. This eliminated Christian (Veal) from the competition.

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When I started this blog, I wrote a rule to direct me in what ingredient to cook with in challenges such as this. It read:

“For challenges in which the competitors are given different ingredients to work with, I will use the ingredient that the most chefs are given to cook with. If every contestant is given a different ingredient, I will use the one the winner picks for him/herself, or if the winner does not cook in the challenge, the ingredient that is given to that episode’s ‘target’.”

However, for this challenge, if I were to follow this rule, I would have to cook with octopus. While I would love to tackle the challenge, I know that I am just not going to be able to find octopus to work with. So to try and follow the rule at least a little bit, I will cook with the ingredient given to the challenge’s “target.” That ended up being Jennifer, who was stuck with mushrooms.

I knew I wanted to try something a little different and crepes have been on my list of “dishes to attempt.” I was lucky enough to find this recipe that met both criteria: Mushroom Crepes with Poblano Chile Sauce. Since most of this was new to me, I mostly stuck to the recipe with the one exception being my addition of chicken. This was going to be my dinner, after all, and I wanted protein! However, this dish would be just a delicious as the original vegetarian option. I also halved the recipe to make only 8 crepes, which brought down the expected cook and prep time of 4 hours to just under 3 hours.

The first thing I did was make the crepe batter. I blended 1 cup of whole milk, 1.5 eggs (I guesstimated this – I know its a weird amount but that’s what happens when you only do half of a recipe), 1 tablespoon of melted butter (that had been cooled), and 1/2 of a teaspoon of fine sea salt in a blender for 5 seconds. I then added 1 cup of flour, 1/2 cup at a time, blending the batter until it was smooth after each addition. I let this rest for 1 hour and then re-blended for 5 seconds just before using.

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While the batter was resting, I started to prep some of the other components. First, I charred 3 poblano chiles in the broiler until they were blackened on all sides. I then enclosed them in paper bag for 10 minutes. Finally, I peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced the chiles. For this part of the recipe, I used this tutorial as a guide: How to Roast and Peel Poblano Peppers.

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Next, I prepped the other ingredients: diced white onions, minced garlic, minced cilantro, sweet corn sliced off the cob, and shredded chicken (I cheated and just got the pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store). All of these were fairly simple but I decided to use this post as an excuse to try this: The Magic Corn Trick. While it worked really well for cooking the corn, the cob didn’t exactly slide out without any silk. Maybe I needed to cook it longer or maybe I needed to trim it more. Either way, there was something there that didn’t quite work but I’ll definitely try it again sometime.

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After all the prep work was done, I moved on to the crepe making. I heated a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. I brushed the bottom of the pan with melted butter. Then, I poured 3 tablespoons of batter into the skillet and swirled until the bottom of the skillet was coated evenly. I let this cook until the bottom of crepe was golden. (The recipe said that this should take about 30 seconds but it took much longer than that). Then, I loosened the edges gently with a spatula and turned the crepe over. I cooked this until the bottom was brown in spots, and turned the crepe out onto a paper towel.

The first crepe I made was a disaster. It wasn’t really cooking all that well and I turned it too early so it looked completely screwed up (as seen below).

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But I turned the heat up and got the hang of the cooking process on the second one and it only got better from there. I repeated the cooking process for each, making about 8 crepes (plus the one wonky crepe) and stacked them between paper towels.

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Next, I moved on to the poblano cream sauce. I melted butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. I then added 2-3 tablespoons of diced white onion and 1 clove of minced garlic, and sautéed for about 2 minutes. Next, I stirred in 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of flour and sautéed for 1 minute longer. I then whisked in 1 cup of warm whole milk and brought the whole mixture to a boil (while whisking constantly). I reduced the heat to medium-low and let the sauce simmer until it thickened, about 5 minutes.

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Then, I poured the sauce into a blender with 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream, half of the roasted poblano chiles, and salt and pepper to taste, and blended the sauce until it was smooth.

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After completing the sauce, I moved on to the filling. I heated a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. I then added 1 cup of diced white onions, 8 ounces of sliced shitake mushrooms, 3-4 cloves of minced garlic, and half of the reserved poblano chiles (chopped). I sautéed this until the mushrooms were brown and the mushroom liquid had evaporated, about 10 minutes. Then, I added the shredded chicken, 1 tablespoon of minced fresh cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. I let that mixture cook together until the chicken was warmed through.

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With most of the components finished, I then started to fill the crepes. I spooned some of the filling in the middle of the crepe, wrapped it and placed it in a baking dish. I drizzled about half of the poblano cream sauce over the top of the crepes, and then sprinkled 1/2 of a cup of grated manchego cheese over top. I put this dish in a 350-degree oven until the cheese melted, about 12 minutes.

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While the stuffed crepes were in the oven, I worked on the final component: the garnish. In a large skillet, I sautéed some sweet corn with the rest of the poblanos (chopped) in some olive oil with salt and pepper until they were heated through. I also prepped some cilantro and fresh lime as a garnish.

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When the crepes came out of the oven, I spooned some additional poblano cream sauce onto the serving dish. Then, I placed 2 stuffed crepes over the sauce and garnished the dish with fresh cilantro, the corn-poblano mixture and a squirt of fresh lime over the top.

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Overall, this dish was delightful. It was very unique and would have definitely caught the attention of the judges. While the crepes took a great deal of time (and probably should have been a bit thinner), the rest of the components were fairly simple. In the future, I might use pre-made crepes or flour tortillas instead in order to cut out a lot of the prep work. The flavor profile also didn’t feature mushrooms as prominently as the challenge called for, but I’m sure there’s a way to tweak this dish to do so. Regardless, this a delicious dish that should definitely be tried.

I am certainly happy to be back to blogging. Here’s to hoping there won’t be too many delays like this in the future.

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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.

S2E5 (Elimination) – French Cuisine

Employment Update: 1 Job Application, 2 E-mails, 2 LinkedIn Messages

Having won the mystery box challenge, Christian was able to select the type of European cuisine that the rest of the contestants had to create a dish for. He selected French cuisine.

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Derrick (Gougére) and Max (Poached Cod) had the best dishes and therefore became the team captains for the next challenge.

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The bottom three were Angel (Fruit Tart), Erryn (Beef Carpaccio) and Mark (Peppercorn Crusted Filet), with Angel and Mark being sent home.

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I honestly had no idea where to start with this one. I know next to nothing about french cooking but I knew I wanted to try and master a classic. I did some research and I just couldn’t decide between The Pioneer Woman’s Coq Au Vin or Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon. Since I am still working full time, I decided to stick to the 2 hour dish instead of the 6 hour one, but I will definitely attempt some Julia Child soon!

To make sure I made the classic french dish correctly, I stuck completely to the recipe. The pictures below show the different stages of the dish as I compiled it prior to putting it in the oven.

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The only thing I did differently from the recipe was make the noodles from scratch. I used my Mom’s egg noodle recipe. We usually use this recipe for chicken and noodles but I thought it would work well for this dish too. The ingredients I used to make the noodles were:

  • 3/4 Cups of Flour
  • Pinch each of Thyme, Oregano and Salt
  • 1 Egg Yolk, beaten
  • 3-4 Tablespoons of Ice Water

The instructions I used to make the noodles were as follows. The pictures below show the finished noodles before and after cooking.

  • Stir flour, thyme, and salt together in a mixing bowl.
  • Make a small well in middle of bowl and put egg yolk and water in there. Stir until well blended.
  • Shape into ball. Place dough on lightly floured surface; flatten slightly.
  • Knead 5 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour to prevent sticking if necessary.
  • Cover with plastic wrap. Let rest 15 minutes.
  • Roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness or thinner on lightly floured surface. If dough is too elastic, let rest several minutes.
  • Let dough stand about 30 minutes to dry slightly.
  • Cut strips into desired length and width.
  • Boil in liquid until al dente. I usually use chicken stock but you can use any liquid you want.

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The final dish turned out great. (See below). The chicken was tender and the vegetables and sauce were delicious. I’m not sure what Coq Au Vin is supposed to taste like but this was FANTASTIC! The noodles were a little thick (I really need to get a pasta maker), but overall I’d say this dish is a winner, especially with the hodgepodge the contestants created in this challenge.

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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!