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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S1E4 (Mystery Box Challenge) – Pork Chop

Employment Update: Identified 5 New Potential Positions, Received 2 Rejections, Sent 11 E-mails and 1 Desperate Tweet, and Accomplished LOTS of LinkedIn Stalking

For the first mystery box challenge of the season, contestants were given 45 minutes to prepare a dish using any or all of the following ingredients: a double-cut pork chop, a bunch of flat-leaf parsley, tomatoes, a granny smith apple, a head of cabbage, ciabatta bread, lemons, cinnamon sticks, cognac, chocolate, butter, eggs, flour and milk.

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Most of the contestants stuck with a pretty straightforward pork chop dish with only a few venturing out into dessert territory. The top three for this challenge were Sheena with a chocolate mousse, Jake with a country-style pork chop and Whitney (the challenge winner) with a southern-fried pork chop.

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I decided to go the traditional route and stick to doing a great pork chop. In addition to the pork, I chose to use the cognac, parsley, lemon, apple, cinnamon, tomatoes, flour, butter, egg, and milk out of the mystery box (excluding only the cabbage, ciabatta, and chocolate). The only other ingredients I used aside from these were salt, pepper and olive oil.

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My version of the mystery box (excluding the ciabatta, chocolate and cabbage).

The first thing I did was make a marinade for the pork using the following ingredients (measurements are approximations because I was just winging it):

  • 1/4 Cup of Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup of Cognac
  • Juice of 1 Lemon
  • 1/2 of a Granny Smith Apple, Skinned and Finely Minced
  • 20 Parsley Leaves, Coarsely Chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon each of Salt and Pepper

I covered the pork chop in this marinade, set the oven to 400 degrees, and then left it to marinate as I set to work on my next component. (See the marinating pork chop below).

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To accompany the pork, I thought spaetzle would work perfectly. I’ve never made it before so I used this recipe as a guide: German Spaetzle Dumplings. Because of the limited ingredients I had at my disposal and my self-imposed guidelines, I had to adjust this recipe significantly. The ingredients I used instead were:

  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons of Milk
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
  • Pinch each of Cinnamon and Black Pepper
  • 4 Parsley Leaves, Minced

I just mixed the ingredients together to create the spaetzle dough, and brought a pot of water to simmer. It should have been as simple as pressing the dough through a spaetzle maker (see below) and into the water. I used the spaetzle maker on the left, and I wasted a lot of time (and dough) trying to figure out how to put it together and use it the right way. But once I figured it out, the process was really easy. I left the spaetzle in the simmering water for just 5 minutes before taking it out.

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While the spaetzle was in the simmering water, I seared the pork chop on both sides (just a few minutes on each) and put it into the preheated oven. I also melted a tablespoon of butter in a skillet. When the spaetzle was done boiling, I transferred it into the skillet and sauteed it until the dumplings were crispy and golden.

After 10 minutes in the oven, I placed 4 thin slices of tomato on top of the pork chop, sprinkled them with salt and parsley, and put the entire pan back into the oven for couple more minutes. When done, I plated the pork chop and tomatoes on top of the spaetzle (as seen below).

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Pork chop marinated in cognac, lemon, parsley and apple with oven-roasted heirloom tomatoes on a bed of    cinnamon-parsley spaetzle

This dish was delicious. All of the components were great on their own and they worked even better together. The best thing was getting a little bit of everything in one bite. The only thing that I would say is that the pork chop was slightly overcooked. That was mostly due to the fact my meat thermometer wasn’t working and I’m definitely part of the “better safe than sorry” school of cooking. To get a perfect pork chop though, this is a wonderful resource: Tender & Juicy Pork Chops in the Oven.

This whole meal took me a little over an hour to complete. But without the spaetzle maker malfunction, I’m confident I could have completed everything in the challenge’s 45 minute time limit. And I definitely think this dish would have earned me some top three recognition.

That’s it for tonight but be sure to come back tomorrow for my next MasterChef challenge.