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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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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S2E16 (Pressure) – Salmon

S2E16 (Team Challenge) Note: At the beginning of the episode, the top six chefs were split into two teams and asked to run dinner service at the Michelin-Star restaurant, Patina. They were tasked with executing four of the restaurant’s signature dishes (shown below) with basic instruction from the restaurant’s chefs. The Red Team of Christian, Ben, and Suzy won based on feedback from the guests (all of whom were Patina regulars) and the restaurant’s chef and owner. This sent the Blue Team’s Tracy, Adrien, and Jennifer into the pressure test.

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The episode showed and talked about so few components of each dish that it was difficult to determine the techniques and ingredients used in each one. Additionally, based on my watching of the episode, it appeared that many (if not all) of the sauces, marinades, and other prep work were already done for the chefs. While I hate passing up on a challenge, I felt that there was simply no way for me to recreate even one of the dishes with the limited instructions and my lack of access to the ingredients that I thought would be necessary. Therefore, I had to skip this challenge and move on to the pressure test from this episode. 


For the pressure test, Tracy, Jennifer and Adrien had to scale and filet a whole salmon into at least 10 portions and cook one of those portions perfectly for the judges in just 45 minutes. Before the task, Gordon Ramsay gave a helpful tutorial to the chefs demonstrating the proper way to accomplish this. I thought it was really helpful so I posted the clip below. I really wish this show had more of this and less of the interpersonal drama. But I guess that’s not what reality shows are for…

All of the contestants really struggled with this challenge, but Tracy had the most issues with both the prep and the cooking, resulting in her elimination. However, I definitely think she got the better end of the deal as the show said that they would pay for 1 year of classes at Le Cordon Bleu for her and a job with one of them when she graduated.

Since I obviously was not going to get my hands on a whole salmon, I decided to simply make a perfect pan-seared fillet of salmon with a garlic-dill butter sauce and two sides: cheddar-gruyere scalloped potatoes and roasted asparagus.

The first thing I did was work on the scalloped potatoes. I used this recipe as my guide: Scalloped Potatoes – Southern Food. This recipe was very simple and straightforward so I, of course, had to jazz it up a bit. I made several key changes and additions,  which definitely added a lot of flavor.

In a small saucepan, I melted 3 tablespoons of butter with 2-3 cloves of garlic (minced). After allowing that to cook together for a bit, I blended in 3 tablespoons of flour and cooked that mixture together for 1-2 minutes.

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I then added 1 1/2 cups of skim milk, 1 teaspoon of salt and a couple dashes each of thyme, nutmeg and black pepper. I whisked this mixture constantly until it was smooth and bubbling. Then, I removed the pan from the heat and stirred in 2/3 of a cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and 1/3 of a cup of shredded gruyere.

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With the cheese sauce complete, I layered 2 cups of thinly sliced potatoes in the bottom of a a casserole dish and poured half of the cheese sauce over the potatoes. I repeated this with 2 more cups of potatoes and the rest of the cheese sauce. Then, I sprinkled the top with shredded cheddar cheese, grated parmesan and paprika.

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I baked this at 350 degrees for a little less than hour (until it was cooked through and brown and crispy on the top). For plating purposes, I used a large round cup to get a perfect circle of scalloped potatoes to display with the salmon and asparagus.

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While the potatoes were in the oven, I prepped a bunch of asparagus and tossed it in some olive oil, minced garlic, diced yellow onion, salt and pepper. I baked this in the oven (at 350 degrees) until the asparagus were tender, about 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness.

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Finally, it was time for the salmon. I have never pan-seared salmon before so I completely followed this recipe and it was great: Seared Salmon Fillet Recipe. While the salmon was cooking, I made a quick and simple sauce by melting a couple tablespoons of butter with 1-2 cloves of garlic (minced) and some fresh dill.

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When everything was finished, I plated the salmon then squeezed some fresh lemon over the top and spooned the garlic-dill butter sauce over the top. Finally, I put the scalloped potatoes and asparagus on the plate and served. Overall, this dish was delicious. I could not stop eating those potatoes and the salmon was very flavorful. I still have no idea how I would have done at breaking down the salmon but I’m now confident that I can make a great salmon dish.

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S2E15 (Elimination) – Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

As an advantage from her win in the previous challenge, Jennifer was able to pick the focus for the elimination challenge. She was able to pick from the three judges’ favorite childhood dishes of Joe’s Pizza, Graham’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese and Gordon’s Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese. She picked Gordon’s dish and the contestants had 45 minutes to turn it into a gourmet version.

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Suzy (Grilled Cheese with Red Pepper and Tomato Soup) and Tracy (Tomato Soup with Pancetta and Fontina Grilled Cheese) had the best dishes and earned the job of team captains for the next challenge.

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Ben (Roasted Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Onion), Christine (Heirloom Tomato Soup with Goat and Provolone Grilled Cheese), and Derrick (Gorgonzola Tomato Soup with Tomato and Bacon Grilled Cheese) were in the bottom three, with Christine and Derrick being sent home.

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When I saw this challenge, I knew that I wanted to use this as an excuse to try my hand at some homemade bread to use for the grilled cheese sandwiches. I have been trying to push myself to make items that I would usually just buy at the store. I did some research and found this delightful bread recipe: Potato-Rosemary Bread. I completely followed this recipe (including the roasted garlic, of course), and it turned out perfectly. It is a very time-intensive recipe but it was so worth it. Honestly, this is some of the best bread I’ve ever had and it worked really well with the other flavors in the dish. (Just a warning though: For those of us who are not regular bread makers and do not have biga just lying around, this recipe will take two full days to make).

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For the soup portion, I wanted to do a tomato and bacon bisque but I  had no idea where to start as I had never made one before. I used this recipe as an initial guide: Roasted Tomato and Smoked Bacon Bisque, but I changed and added enough components to make my own recipe.

The first thing I did was roast the tomatoes. I cut 5 pounds of roma tomatoes in half and removed the seeds from the center with a table spoon. Then, I sliced 2 shallots and minced 5 cloves of garlic. I tossed all of this in some olive oil in a large baking dish and put it into a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes (before and after roasting pictures are shown below). When the tomatoes were cool enough to touch, I removed the tomato skins and began my work on the soup.

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When the tomatoes were done, I browned 1 cup of chopped bacon in a large pot. Once finished, I poured off the rendered fat and added 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 yellow onion (chopped), 1 shallot (minced), 1 red bell pepper (chopped), 8-10 cloves of whole roasted garlic (which I roasted previously while making the bread), 2 large carrots (chopped), and 2-3 stalks of celery (chopped) to the pot. I seasoned this with salt, white pepper and black pepper and cooked this all together until the vegetables were tender.

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I then added the roasted tomatoes (without skins), shallots and garlic to the pot with 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock and 1 cup of white wine. I seasoned this mixture with 5 leaves of fresh basil (finely chopped), 1 bay leaf, 1/2 of a tablespoon of dried oregano, 1/2 of a tablespoon of dried thyme, 1 teaspoon of paprika, and some additional salt and pepper. I let this cook together for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Then, I added in a half pint of heavy cream and allowed this to simmer for 10-15 more minutes.

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Finally, I pureed the soup in a couple batches with a blender. I put the pureed soup back into the pot without straining it because I wanted a thicker soup. If you prefer a thinner soup though, I would recommend taking this step. I brought the soup back up to a simmer to ensure that it was still heated through (and to keep it warm while I was doing the grilled cheese), and then garnished it with a yellow cherry tomato (cut in half), a couple thin strips of fresh basil, and a few dollops of greek yogurt that I had mixed with some fresh lemon juice. This is completely unnecessary to enjoy the soup, but I did it to give it that “gourmet plating” look (and also to get a good picture).

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With the soup complete, it was time to make the gourmet grilled cheese. I wanted to go with some bold flavors for this component so I decided to create a grilled cheese sandwich with arugula, portobello mushrooms, prosciutto, gruyere and smoked gouda on thick slices of my homemade potato-rosemary-garlic bread. I lightly cooked the thinly sliced portobello mushrooms in some olive oil and then layered the sandwich components as seen below (with gruyere on one side and smoked gouda on the other). I then spread a generous layer of butter on both of the outer sides of the sandwich and grilled it on a hot griddle for a few minutes a side (basically until it was brown and crispy, as shown below).

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I cut the sandwich in half and served it in the soup. All together, this was delicious (and honestly one of my all-time favorites from this blog). The sandwich and the soup were both gourmet versions of the classic and tasted wonderful in their own right. But together, the flavors were magical. Ok… that might be overstating it a bit. But seriously, this was AWESOME! So good, in fact, that as soon as I woke up the next morning, I wanted the leftovers. (For the record, this is great for breakfast too). I certainly think this would have made a splash in the challenge and I definitely recommend trying this out for yourself.

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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.

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!

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.

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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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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S1E3 (Boot Camp: Skills Test + Cooking Challenge) – Onions and Eggs

This Week’s Employment Status: 7 Job Applications, 10 Unanswered E-mails/Phone Calls, 2 Rejection E-mails, 0 Prospects

To begin my MasterChef adventure, I skipped the audition rounds and jumped right into the very first challenge episode: the first boot camp. Contestants were first asked to slice and dice (literally) a truckload of onions in order to demonstrate their knife skills. After eliminating the contestants that managed to confuse their own fingers for onions or thought cutting onions in half classified as a coarse chop, we got to the real cooking challenge: making a dish that showcases a perfectly cooked single egg.

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So for my first dish, I decided to combine the two challenges and make a really great meal that showcased onions and a perfectly cooked egg. When I think onions, I think of French Onion Soup. And I have always wanted to try poaching an egg. So combining the two seemed to be the logical choice.

I have never made either dish so I needed some assistance. I looked at these recipes for help:

Tyler Florence’s French Onion Soup

How to Poach an Egg

But, as my rules stipulate, I have to make the dish my own, which I decided to do through herbs, spices, and, of course, bacon. So here’s what I used to get one very generous serving of soup:

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  • 2 Tablespoons of Butter
  • 1 Medium Onion, Sliced
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced (Full Disclosure: I LOVE garlic so I alway put 2-3 times the amount that a normal recipe would call for. So if you do not share my love of garlic, you may want to minimize this amount)
  • 2 Strips of Thick-Cut Bacon
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1 Teaspoon of Sambal Oelek Chili Paste
  • 1 Teaspoon of Thyme
  • Pinch each of Cumin, Basil, Oregano, and Crushed Red Pepper
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1/4 Cup of Red Wine
  • 1 Tablespoon of Flour
  • 2 Cups of Beef Broth
  • 2 Thin Slices of Baguette
  • 1.5 Ounces of Gouda
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 Tablespoon Vinegar
  • 0.5 Ounces of Parmesan
  • Hot Sauce

And here’s the steps you need to recreate this dish for yourself:

1) Heat butter and olive oil in a medium pot. Add sliced onion, minced garlic, chopped bacon and all the herbs and spices to the pot. Cook until onions are soft and caramelized (like the second picture below).

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2) Add the red wine. Simmer until the wine has evaporated. Take out bay leaf. Sprinkle flour over onions and stir to mix. Cook for a few minutes until the flour is cooked.

3) Add beef broth. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Additional salt and pepper to taste. (Finished soup below).

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4) While soup is simmering, preheat the broiler and prep the cheesy croutons. Cut a couple thin slices of baguette and place on a cookie sheet. Brush with garlic olive oil and cover with gouda (or cheese of your choice). Broil 3-5 minutes until golden brown. (See finished cheesy croutons below).

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5) Now it’s time to poach the egg. Fill a pot with 2-3 inches of water and heat until it is barely boiling. Add a tablespoon of vinegar at this point. (This is key – I tried it the first time without the vinegar and the egg white went everywhere). Break the egg into a ramekin or small cup and then gently transfer the egg into the hot water. Use a spoon to move the egg white around the yolk. Turn off the heat, cover and let set for 3-4 minutes until the egg white is done.

6) While egg is poaching, arrange croutons on top of soup. When done, transfer egg using a slotted spoon and place on top of cheesy croutons. Sprinkle with pepper, hot sauce and parmesan cheese. Finished product is below.

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Overall, I would say the dish was a success. It tasted great but the presentation could have been better. It was pretty easy but it took over an hour and I needed two eggs to get the poaching right. Given that fact, I probably never would have made my way to the top 14. But I’m going to choose to ignore that fact and solider on. Stay tuned for my next MasterChef endeavor.

But until then, here’s a bonus egg and onion dish that I straight up stole from Chrissy Teigen’s blog: So Delushious. I did a Caprese version for breakfast today with Tomato, Mozarella, Fresh Basil, Garlic, Onion, Balsalmic Vinegar, and Olive Oil. See her blog for instructions but here are the before and after pics from my attempt:

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