S2E13 (Elimination) – Pork

Employment Update: Sent 5 follow-up e-mails, Identified 9 new opportunities that I will apply to this week 

Adrien, as winner of the Mystery Box challenge, got to choose between nine different cuts of pork, ranging from easy to hard, for him and the other contestants.  He chose double cut pork chops for himself, pork belly for Suzy, pork cheeks for Christian, ground pork for Jennifer, applewood smoked bacon for Tracy, baby back ribs for Christine, boneless center cut pork loin for Alejandra, pork butt for Ben, and St. Louis style ribs for Derrick. The contestants only got 1 hour to cook their pork dish with pantry ingredients, making the tougher cuts very challenging to cook in time.

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Christian (Braised Pork Cheeks) and Christine (Dry Rub Baby Back Ribs) had arguably some of the most difficult cuts to work with but they were able to cook them well enough to be named team captains for the next challenge.

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Suzy (Glazed Pork Belly), Jennifer (Ground Pork Belly), and Alejandra (Pork Loin) struggled greatly though. The judges couldn’t even stand to eat their dishes. Alejandra though made the biggest mistake by serving raw pork, resulting in her elimination.

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Per my blog rules, I needed to come up with a dish that featured a double-cut pork chop (just like the winner of the previous challenge, Adrien). However, that was not available at my store so I had to settle for boneless pork loin chops. I decided to do a dish with a latin/spanish twist. Therefore, I came up with a Latin-rub pork chop with paella cake and warm spinach salad in a citrus-habanero dressing.

I got the idea for the paella cake from this recipe: Paella Cake. I pretty much followed the recipe but I could not find any pimentón and had to substitute paprika for it. I also substituted the seafood stock for chicken broth and did just a half recipe, which I believe may have caused some issues with how they turned out. In order for the rice to get tender, I had to add a great deal more broth than what the recipe called for, and the cakes did not want to stick together. In fact, 3 of the 7 that I made totally disintegrated when I pan-fried them. I also made them thinner than what the recipe called for, which could be a contributing factor. They also got a little dry. If I were to do this recipe again, I would do the full recipe without substitutions or just serve the finished paella with manchego without forming them into the cakes.

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The next thing I did was the warm spinach salad. In a couple tablespoons each of olive oil and butter, I sautéed 1/2 of a red bell pepper (finely chopped), 1/4 of a red onion (finely chopped), 4-5 ounces of baby bella mushrooms (coarsely chopped), and 1/3 of a cup of chopped pancetta until the vegetables were tender. Then, I added in 10-12 yellow cherry tomatoes (cut in halves) and let that all cook together for a few minutes. Then, I slowly added fresh spinach, covering the dish and allowing it to wilt a little bit at a time. All told, I used an entire large container of fresh spinach.

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After all the spinach had been added, I put together a dressing consisting of 1 tablespoon of honey, 2-3 tablespoons each of olive oil and apple cider vinegar, the juice of 1/2 an orange, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, and 1/2 of a small orange habanero (minced). After whisking the dressing together, I added it to the spinach salad with salt and pepper to taste and let it all cook together for a few minutes.

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The boneless pork loin chop was the easy part. I put together a rub based on this recipe: Latin Rubbed Pork Loin Chops. I mixed together 1 tablespoon of light brown sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons of freshly ground pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground ginger, 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cumin, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of onion powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons of parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. I then spread this rub generously all over the pork chops. Then, using this recipe as a guide: Pan Seared Oven Roasted Pork Chops, I seared them on both sides for 4 minutes each and then put them into a 425-degree oven for 10 minutes.

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Overall, this dish came together wonderfully. The pork was a little overdone so I should have taken it out of the oven earlier. The paella cake was a little dry and more mild tasting than I anticipated. But the warm spinach salad was fantastic. (My Dad even said that it was the single best thing I have made so far). All the flavors worked together REALLY well. The dish just needs a little refining and a better plating technique, but it was definitely an all-together high point. I certainly think that this could have gotten some positive attention during the challenge.

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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.

S2E7 (Mystery Box) – Lamb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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