S2E17 (Mystery Box) – Ground Meat

This week’s mystery box gave the contestants three types of ground meat to build a dish around: ground veal, ground pork, and ground beef. The mystery box also included: celery, corn, carrots, peas, mushrooms, lemon, tomato, bell peppers, garlic, eggs, milk, potatoes, red onion, worcestershire sauce, rice, mango, tomato paste, several fresh herbs, 3-4 different types of cheeses (among others).

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Jennifer (Meatloaf), Adrien (Trio of Meatballs) and Ben (Shepherd’s Pie) were named the top three with Ben winning the chance to pick the focus of the next elimination challenge.

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When I saw the ingredients available in this mystery box, I thought that I could put together one of my favorite dishes: stuffed peppers. I have never actually made these myself, mostly because my mom’s version is pretty well perfect and I didn’t want to create a poor impression. So I decided to find a recipe online that would be different enough to avoid the comparison. I settled on this as my guide: Stuffed Peppers with Ground Beef and Rice.

I essentially stuck to the recipe, except for few minor changes and additions, mostly dealing with the tomato sauce. I substituted fresh vine-ripened tomatoes (which I diced) and tomato paste for the canned diced tomatoes and tomato sauce that the recipe called for. I also added 2 cloves of minced garlic and 1/2 of a banana pepper (minced) to the bell pepper, onion, and celery mixture. This made the sauce very chunky but it definitely added a lot of nice flavor.

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Everything else from the recipe was the same (including the sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese towards the end of the cook time). Overall, the peppers turned out great but they were definitely not as good as my mom’s. (I’m going to have to ask her for her secret). I really wanted more tomato sauce throughout the beef mixture. When I make this in the future, I might put some sauce in the bottom of the pepper before adding the beef and rice mixture or maybe layer the sauce throughout. Either way, I will want more tomato flavor!

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To serve as a side, I went for this recipe: Delicious Corn Dish Recipe. I saw this on buzzfeed a while ago and I have been waiting to work it into meal until now. I followed the recipe completely with just a couple exceptions. I had to substitute banana pepper for jalapeño because my grocery store was out. (This would be a good substitution for people that don’t like spicy foods though). I also added some minced garlic to the corn when sautéing it in olive oil (because I have to add garlic to everything). Finally, I used equal parts of lemon and lime juice instead of just lime.

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I served the stuffed pepper on a bed of the manchego-lime corn, making a very colorful plate. Overall, the corn and the stuffed pepper worked well together. It was a pretty solid dish but nothing super special. The corn was awesome though. I will definitely do that again. The stuffed pepper was just ok. It really needed some more flavor but maybe I’m just spoiled by my mom’s version.

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BONUS RECIPE: The same night I did the stuffed peppers and corn, I also decided to try my hand at some duck fat fries. I had some extra duck fat lying around from this blog post and I was really craving potatoes, so this was the perfect solution.  I found this tutorial: How to: Duck Fat Fries, and followed it completely (including the soaking and two-step frying processes).

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When they came out of the duck fat the second time, I seasoned them with truffle salt, paprika and grated parmesan cheese. And they were DELICIOUS!!! Seriously, far and away the best thing I that last night, and I can’t wait to make some more soon.

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S2E14 (Pressure) – Cheese Soufflé

The Blue Team’s loss sent Christian, Jennifer, Derrick and Adrien into the pressure test. The chefs were given 90 minutes to cook their best cheese soufflé.

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While all of the chefs had some minor issues, they all performed well enough that the judges decided to not eliminate anyone.

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I have never even tasted a cheese soufflé before, let alone made one. Needless to say, I was a little nervous about this challenge. I decided to just stick straight to a recipe and I decided on Alton Brown’s version to guide me. The only change I made was to substitute 2 ounces of cheddar for 2 ounces of gruyere to add another layer of flavor. Since I pretty much stuck to the recipe without really putting a new spin on it, I thought I would just take this opportunity to do a picture representation of Alton’s recipe, which is copied below:

1) Use room temperature butter to grease an 8-inch souffle mold. Add the grated parmesan (2 tablespoons) and roll around the mold to cover the sides. Cover with plastic wrap and place into the freezer for 5 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2) In a small saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of butter. Allow all of the water to cook out. In a separate bowl combine the 3 tablespoons of flour, 1 teaspoon of dry mustard, 1/2 of a teaspoon of garlic powder, and 1/8 of a teaspoon of kosher salt. Whisk this mixture into the melted butter. Cook for 2 minutes.

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3) Whisk in 1 and 1/3 cups of hot milk and turn the heat to high. Once the mixture reaches a boil, remove from the heat.

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4) In a separate bowl, beat the 4 egg yolks to a creamy consistency. Temper the yolks into the milk mixture, constantly whisking. Remove from the heat and add the cheese (in this case, 4 ounces of sharp cheddar and 2 ounces of gruyere). Whisk until incorporated.

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5) In a separate bowl, using a hand mixer, whip 5 egg whites, 1 tablespoon of water, and 1/2 of a teaspoon of cream of tartar until glossy and firm. Add 1/4 of the mixture to the base. Continue to add the whites by thirds, folding very gently.

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6) Pour the mixture into the soufflé. Fill the soufflé to 1/2-inch from the top. Place on an aluminum pie pan. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes.

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For my first stab at a cheese soufflé, I think it turned out great. It rose perfectly and tasted delicious. I don’t really have much of a baseline though, so I don’t have the slightest idea about how it would have compared. But since they didn’t send anyone home, I’m just going to assume that I would have been safe with the rest of them.

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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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S2E11 (Elimination) – Aphrodisiac: Truffle

Employment Update: So sorry it has been so long since my last post but I have been traveling a lot and have been quite productive: 2 Weekend Trips, 6 Interviews, 6 Job Applications, and 25+ E-mails. 

Having won the last challenge, Jennifer was able to pick the main ingredient to be featured in this week’s aphrodisiac-themed elimination challenge. Jennifer decided to skip the oysters and artichokes and picked the black truffle for the chefs to cook with. She was then given the option of cooking or drinking champagne while watching the others cook. She foolishly decided to cook, and then paid for that decision later.

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Tracy (Truffle and Corn Soup) and Giuseppe (Tagliolini) were the top two and named captains for the next team challenge.

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Erryn (Truffle Steak), Adrien (Seared Filet) and Jennifer (Coddled Eggs and Truffle) landed in the bottom 3. Luckily, Jennifer’s hubris did not cause her to be sent home with Erryn’s dish being declared the worst.

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I immediately decided that I wanted to attempt a truffle risotto for this challenge. In thinking about a protein to serve with it, I knew that I wanted to try something a little different. One of my favorite things to order in restaurants is duck confit so I decided to make an attempt at my own version. While it is typically done with duck legs, I was only able to find duck breasts (even after a couple trips to different stores). I followed this recipe: Duck Confit, with the only difference coming at the end. I quickly pan seared the breasts on both sides before serving instead of cooling and storing the duck. The pictures below show how the duck was seasoned and stored the night before, the duck in the melted duck fat before and after cooking, and the duck breasts being pan seared after cooking.

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While the duck was cooking in the oven, I worked on the risotto. The first thing I did was heat 5 cups of chicken broth in a pot on the stove. Then, I sautéed 8 ounces of baby bella mushrooms and 1 cup of english peas (which I had previously shelled and blanched in salted boiling water for 2 minutes) in 2 tablespoons of black truffle oil until tender. When these were done, I removed them (and the juices) from the pan and set aside for later.

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Next, I put 2 more tablespoons of black truffle oil in the pan with 4 cloves of garlic (minced), 1/4 of a small yellow onion (finely chopped), and 1/2 of a medium red bell pepper (diced). I cooked this until the onions were translucent, and then, added 1 and a 1/2 cups of arborio rice. I let this cook until the rice became golden, and then added 1/2 of a cup of white wine. Once the rice absorbed this, I added the chicken broth to the risotto 1/2 of a cup at a time (stirring constantly) until the rice had absorbed all the liquid. Then, I mixed in 1 tablespoon each of fresh finely chopped parsley and chives, 1/3 of a cup of parmesan cheese, 4 tablespoons of butter, a pinch of black truffle salt, the cooked peas and mushrooms with their liquid, and salt and pepper to taste.

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I plated the duck breast on top of the risotto and served. This was a great dish. The duck was tender and juicy. The risotto was cooked perfectly and had excellent flavor. The only issue was that the truffle flavor was very subtle. For a challenge that needed to showcase truffle, that was definitely an issue. Although, had I been able to work with real truffle instead of simply truffle oil and truffle salt, I think that I could have gotten a richer truffle flavor throughout the risotto.

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S2E6 (Pressure) – Ravioli

Employment Update: Scheduled 2 more interviews, Received another rejection e-mail

Having lost the previous team challenge, the blue team was put into a pressure test where they had to make a simple homemade ravioli with a spinach and ricotta filling in a butter sauce.

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The bottom three were Esther, Jennifer and Tony, with Tony ultimately being the contestant who was sent home.

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For my rendition of the challenge, I used this recipe as a guide: Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli Recipe. I pretty much followed it but I changed a few things up. First, I sautéed the spinach in some olive oil with garlic and shallots instead of boiling it to add some more flavor. I still strained it before mixing it with the rest of the filling ingredients in order to get the excess liquid out (which was definitely a necessary step).

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I also had to add a significant amount of water to the dough in order to get it to come together and the amount of effort I had to put in to get the dough to work made it end up a little tough. I had a pretty hard time getting the dough thin enough as a result (which meant that I did not get enough ravioli out of the dough in order to use the amount of filling that I made based on the recipe). No worries though – my mom had the brilliant idea of using the excess filling to make a spinach pie that is baking as we speak.

I used a small round cup this time around to get perfectly shaped ravioli, which made the ravioli look so much more professional than the last time I attempted it. I definitely recommend using this technique. I just wish that I had been able to get the dough thin enough to make more delicate.

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For the butter sauce, I used this recipe instead of the one given in the recipe above: Sage Brown Butter Sauce. It worked pretty well but I had to use dried sage instead of fresh. As a result, I think the proportions were slightly off so I ended up straining the sauce to make sure the finished dish didn’t get overwhelmed by it. After the ravioli were boiled, I put them straight into the butter sauce and allowed them to cook on low for a few minutes to let the flavors marry. Then, I garnished them with some shredded parmesan cheese.

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Overall, the dish was ok. The filling was really good but the pasta dough was so thick that you didn’t get that nice flavor as much as you should have. In the future, I really think that I need to (1) be careful about not overworking the dough and (2) get a pasta roller that is able to get the pasta thin enough to not overwhelm the filling. If I can get that figured out, I think I’ll be able to put out some really quality ravioli. While my ravioli was certainly not great, I do think that I would have been safe in this challenge given that I did not turn out anything that tasted bad (unlike the bottom three).