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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S2E13 (Mystery Box) – Scallops

Employment Update: 15 Follow-up e-mails which were all promptly ignored

This week’s mystery box contained some hand-dived scallops along with the unique combination of bananas, papaya, peas, lime, jalapeño, red onion, eggs, a croissant, pecans, cauliflower, parmesan, avocado, corn, cilantro, arugula, cinnamon, pancetta, and brandy.

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The top three consisted of Christian (Scallop Succotash), Adrien (Trio of Scallops) and Ben (Scallops and Bananas). Adrien’s Trio of Scallops won over Ben’s risky combination of scallops and bananas.

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Mystery Box challenges are always my favorite. I really enjoy trying to find creative ways to incorporate as many of the ingredients as possible. And this was no different. I decided to do just a classic seared scallop (by using the incomparable Chrissy Teigen’s Perfect Scallop tutorial as a guide, of course) with a cauliflower-avocado mash and mixed vegetables with pancetta.

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For the avocado and cauliflower mash, I used this recipe as a guide: Garlic Parmesan Avocado Cauliflower Mash. I stuck mostly to the recipe with the seasoning being the main exception. I steamed 4 cloves of garlic along with the cauliflower that I mashed up with it. I also used a decent amount of salt and pepper for flavor and thoroughly mashed the avocado up to give the whole component a nice light green color.

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For the mixed vegetables, I first cooked the peas and corn separately. There were no fresh peas at the store so I had to simply steam the frozen variety in the microwave. But I was able to get fresh corn, which I cut off the cob and boiled for a few minutes in salted water. I then sautéed 1/2 of a jalapeño (finely chopped), 3 cloves of garlic (minced), 1/4 of a red onion (chopped), and 10 cilantro leaves (finely chopped) in some olive oil, butter, and the juice of a lime. I wanted to put the pancetta into the mix at this time, but I forgot until later in the process because I was distracted but the numerous other components that were going on at the same time. But if you are doing this yourself, definitely put the pancetta in now. I cooked this together for a few minutes until the onions were translucent and then added in the corn and peas with some salt and pepper. This all cooked together for several minutes until the rest of the components were complete.

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I plated the dish with the avocado-cauliflower mash on the bottom, followed by the scallops and topped by the mixed vegetables with pancetta. Each component tasted good but I was disappointed with several things. First, I was only able to get frozen scallops, and as much as I tried, I could not for the life of me get them dry enough. They did not sear very well as a result. Also, since I forgot the pancetta until the end, it did not give a lot of flavor to the vegetables and did not get crispy the way I wanted. I think this dish has the potential to be very good but I executed poorly and didn’t have that great of ingredients. This is a fairly healthy and nice dish. I will definitely try this again but I will need to get more high-quality ingredients to make it worth it.

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S1E9 (Pressure Test) – Pasta

Employment Update: 4 Job Applications, 1 Skype Interview, 4 LinkedIn Messages, 1 Scheduled Phone Call, 1 Rejection

Since they lost, the blue team was put into this week’s pressure test. The challenge was very straightforward: make a great homemade pasta dish in 90 minutes. The twist, though, was that two people were going to be sent home.  Jake (Stuffed Calamari with Marinara) and Tracey (Ravioli Bolognese) were the ones that ended up with judges’ least favorite dishes. This made Lee (Roasted Eggplant Ravioli) and Mike (Fettuccine with Roasted Peppers) safe to cook another day.

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For my pasta dish, I decided to try my hand at ravioli. I’ve never made it before so I wanted to test myself. In terms of flavors, I decided on a Chicken, Pancetta and Herbed Chèvre Ravioli in a Garlic White Wine Cream Sauce with Spinach and Red Peppers. For the ravioli, I followed this recipe (just did a half version, which made 18 large ravioli): Fresh Pasta Dough for Ravioli Recipe. It worked out really great but I had to do everything by hand (due to current lack of kitchen equipment) so they didn’t look as pretty as the should have.

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After making the ravioli dough and letting it set, I made the filling. I cooked 3 very thin chicken breasts (cut in small pieces), 4 slices of chopped pancetta, 1/2 of a jalapeño (minced), 1/4 of an onion (chopped), 2 cloves of garlic (minced), cumin, salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary in some olive oil. When fully cooked (see below), I let the mixture cool and then put it into a food processor with 1-2 ounces of the herbed chèvre, which I mixed until it made almost a thick paste. This made twice as much filling as I needed for the dough so only use these proportions if you make the full ravioli dough recipe from above. (I followed the recipe instructions for everything about the ravioli – definitely use that as your guide).

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To make the sauce, I used the same pan that I cooked the chicken filling in to get some of those flavors to transfer into the sauce. I sautéed 2 cloves of garlic (minced), 1/2 of a red bell pepper (chopped) and a pinch each of sage, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper in a tablespoon of butter. I added 3/4 of a cup of white wine and let that reduce by about half. Then, I added 1/2 cup of heavy cream and let that simmer until it thickened. Then, I added fresh spinach and let it wilt. As the ravioli finished cooking, I added it to the sauce as well (follow the recipe above for instructions but you basically just boil it until it floats). I let everything cook together for a few minutes and then garnished it with shredded parmesan cheese.

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Overall, the dish was delicious. The pasta did get a little thick in some spots, but I think it would have been fine with a pasta maker. The white wine I used also had a bit of a strong taste, which overwhelmed some of the other flavors in the sauce. But the flavors all worked well together and I definitely think I could have been in the running with this dish.

S1E8 (Mystery Box) – Dungeness Crab

Employment Update: I started my job at Churchill Downs this week. Everything has been really great and I’m very excited to contribute to the team. I’m still continuing to apply and interview for full-time jobs in my free time though since this gig will end at the end of November. I have a couple pretty exciting leads but I’m not far enough into the process to have any feel for my chances yet. But things are all good right now – especially considering that THIS is the place I get to go to work everyday:

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This week’s Mystery Box challenge focused on one (live) ingredient: the Dungeness Crab. From what I could tell, it looked like the rest of the box consisted of: cucumber, apple, avocado, tomatoes, asparagus, prosciutto, peanuts, spinach, banana and a red jalapeño. There was some other stuff but those were the ingredients that I could identify from what they showed in the episode (and they were able to use the pantry as needed).

Lee (Crab Salad and Gazpacho), Sheetal (Tomato and Crab Curry), and Sharone (Crab Cucumber Roll), were declared to be the top three dishes with Lee being announced as the overall winner.

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For my rendition of the challenge, I decided to make crab tostadas with spinach, guacamole, cojita cheese, thai red chili sauce and crispy pancetta. (For some reason, I could not find any prosciutto at the store but this was a great substitute). All my ingredients are shown below. The only other substitute I had to unfortunately make was the dungeness crab. Even though I made a special trip across town to a store that I thought would have at least some form of Dungeness Crab, I had to resort to using canned jumbo lump crab. I was disappointed because I really wanted to do this challenge as it was meant to be, but alas, it did not work out.

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The first thing I did was make the guacamole. My guacamole recipe is something I have just come up with over the years so I do not have an exact recipe. I honestly just add stuff to the bowl until I think it tastes good. But I will tell you that I have received rave reviews (and one not-quite-joking marriage proposal) for it. Basically, I smash the avocados together with chopped tomato, diced onion, minced garlic, and finely chopped jalapeño. I also add either sour cream or plain greek yogurt to make it a little creamier. Then, I season it with lime, salt, pepper and some tomatillo salsa. My favorite salsa brand to use is Rick Bayless’s Frontera. It is AWESOME!

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I set aside the guacamole to allow the flavors to marinate. Then, I sautéd the crab in some olive oil, lemon juice, fresh cilantro, salt and pepper just to warm it up (as it was already fully cooked). Once it was heated through, I took it off the heat, let it cool slightly, and then added freshly chopped cucumber and red bell pepper. This was to give a freshness and a crispness to the warm crab salad so I didn’t want to cook it with the crab.

After that, all that was left was frying the corn tortillas and the pancetta in some olive oil. When that was done, everything was ready to plate. I put the fried tortilla on the bottom, followed by fresh spinach leaves, guacamole, and the crab salad. Then, I garnished the whole thing with shredded cojita cheese, crispy pancetta and a few dashes of thai red chili sauce. The finished product is below.

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This dish was delicious and it looked great. But it was REALLY difficult to eat. I eventually just put it in a bowl, smashed it all up, and ate it like a salad. I’m not a huge crab fan in the first place so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. But I doubt I’ll do this again unless I am able to get fresh crab.