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.

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S1E13 – Finale

Employment Update: 1 Job Application, 4 E-mails, 1 Phone Call

It has all come down to this for Season 1: Whitney vs. David in three rounds: Appetizer, Entrée and Dessert. The chefs were given two hours to impress the judges with three dishes, and they definitely did. However, Whitney impressed them a little more and took home the crown as the first MasterChef winner.

Round 1: Appetizer

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Round 2: Entrée

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Round 3: Dessert

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For my first course, I decided to do a seared scallop on a mini-tostada with mango salsa and avocado cream. I first made the mango salsa, which is a recipe that I have developed over the years. It is really simple. I just threw together 1 mango (diced), 2 medium tomatoes (diced), 1/2 of a small red onion (diced), 1 jalapeño (finely chopped), the juice of 1/2 a lemon and 1 lime, 10 fresh cilantro leaves (finely chopped), 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. I mixed it together and let it marinate in the fridge while I worked on the other components. (See finished product below).

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I fried a couple of corn tortillas (cut into fourths) in some vegetable oil for a couple minutes on each side. Then, for the avocado cream, I mixed 1 avocado, 2 tablespoons of sour cream, the juice of 1/2 a lime, 1 tablespoon of tomatillo salsa and a pinch each of cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. I mixed it up as well as I could but, unfortunately, I do not currently have a food processor to get a nice, smooth consistency. It was a little lumpy, but it tasted good and that’s all that really matters.

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Finally, I seared the scallops, using this as a guide: The Perfect Scallop. I followed it exactly and the scallops came out perfectly as a result. The completed dish (below) was DELICIOUS! The flavors went together really well. It was kind of difficult to eat, but it was so good that I didn’t care. This is definitely one of the best things I’ve made this far.

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For the entree, I found some great lamb at the store and decided to serve it with mashed potatoes, green beans and mushrooms in a garlic and thyme red wine sauce. Everything with this was really simple. For the mashed potatoes, I skinned and boiled the potatoes until they were cooked through. Then, I mashed them with milk, butter, salt and pepper until smooth. For the green beans and mushrooms, I mixed them with olive oil, shallots, garlic, salt and pepper and roasted them in a 400-degree oven until they were tender. For the sauce, I reduced some red wine by half with a sprig of thyme and a clove of garlic. For the lamb, I seasoned it with salt and pepper, seared it on both sides and put it in a 400-degree oven for 10-15 minutes. The completed dish is below and it was really tasty. The red wine sauce could have been more flavorful but everything went together really well. And the lamb was tender and lovely.

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Finally, for the dessert, I decided to make pumpkin bread with chantilly cream, melted chocolate and caramel. I used these recipes to create the dish: Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread, Chantilly Cream, and Easy Caramel Sauce. While its not really a typical dessert, it was SO good! I love pumpkin and have been wanting to make some sort of pumpkin dessert for a while. This just sounded good to me today and I’m so glad I made it.

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Every dish I made today was really good. I think they certainly could have been on par with David’s and Whitney’s dishes. The only thing is I’m not sure how well these dishes work in a progression. Perhaps, that is something I can work on during the next season of challenges. Season 1 has come to an end, and I have already learned so much and tried so many new things. I am excited to undertake the next season’s worth of challenges so stay tuned!

S1E10 (Elimination) – Dessert: Vanilla

Employment Status: 1 Job Application, 6 Follow-Up E-mails

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As the winner of the Mystery Box challenge, Sheetal was able to pick the main ingredient for the dessert challenge. She selected vanilla for all of the chefs to work with. Sharone (Mille-Feuille with Mixed Nuts) and Whitney (Profiteroles with Chantilly Cream) were in the top two, with Whitney’s dish being declared as the winner.

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The bottom three were Sheetal (Vanilla Custard), Lee (Bourbon Pain Perdu) and Mike (Poached Pear Trifle), with Mike being the chef to be sent home for serving raw eggs to the judges.

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For my rendition of this challenge, I decided to do a Vanilla-Coconut Panna Cotta with a Mixed Berry Compote and Candied Lemon Zest. Since I have never made any of these components, I used these recipes as my guide:

Vanilla Panna Cotta

Mixed Berry Compote

Candied Lemon Zest

Aside from halving the recipes, I pretty much followed their directions exactly save for two key things: I substituted coconut milk for whole milk in the panna cotta recipe, and I added a splash of pineapple juice and a pinch of sea salt to the berry compote.

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Vanilla-Coconut Panna Cotta with Mixed Berry Compote & Candied Lemon Zest

Everything worked out with this really well, but the lemon zest could have been cooked a little more. It was a little chewy for my taste. Aside from that though, this dessert was delicious. The one downfall for me was how closely I had to adhere to the recipe. However, seeing how poorly most people did in this challenge, I think I would have been safe.

S1E10 (Mystery Box) – Venison

Employment Status: Had a really positive conversation with the hiring manager of a super exciting opportunity that encompasses pretty much everything I’m looking for. I’m really hoping it works out but I’m still keeping my options open. 

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For the last mystery box challenge of the season, the chefs were given several unique ingredients to work with. The box contained a rack of venison, bacon, red cabbage, fingerling potatoes, blueberries, quail eggs, beets, hazelnuts, brussel sprouts and red wine. Sheetal (Roasted Venison), Whitney (Venison with Southern Gravy) and Sharone (Pan Seared Venison with Blueberry Puree) were declared the top three with Sheetal having the best dish overall.

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As soon as I saw this challenge, I knew that I would have to come up with a substitute for venison. After some research, I settled on grass-fed, free-range flank steak. It is clearly not as tricky to cook as venison, but the flavors are similar enough to test out flavor profiles. With this in mind, I decided to do a pan-seared flank steak on a bed of roasted vegetables with a red wine-balsamic reduction.

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My Mystery Box

This dish was really simple with most of the work coming in the prep stage. I first seasoned the flank steak with salt and pepper and marinated it in some red wine. Then, I started with the vegetable component. I cleaned and chopped up the potatoes, beets, brussel sprouts, onions, garlic and jalapeño. Then, I tossed this with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, basil and thyme, and finally, added some small pieces of bacon. (See below  for the compiled dish before it went into the oven). This dish just went into a 425 degree oven until the vegetable were tender (about 30 to 45 minutes depending on how small you chop the vegetables and how well done you prefer your vegetables to be).

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While the vegetables were roasting, I started the red wine-balsamic reduction. I put about 1/2 of a cup of red wine and 1/2 of a cup of balsamic vinegar in a saucepan with a sprig of rosemary and let it simmer until it was reduced by half. With 10 minutes left on the vegetables, I pan seared the steak in some hot olive oil for just a couple minutes on both sides. I plated the flank steak on top of the vegetables and drizzled the entire dish with the red wine-balsamic reduction. (See below for the finished product).

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Pan-seared flank steak on a bed of roasted brussel sprouts, beets, and fingerling potatoes with a rosemary-red wine balsamic reduction

This dish was delicious! It is definitely one of my favorite things that I have made for this blog. The roasted vegetables were AMAZING and the steak was tender and tasty. I have no idea how I would have done with the venison, but everything else was so good, I think I could have made an appearance in the top three for this challenge.

S1E8 (Elimination) – Romance Theme: Passion Fruit

Employment Update: I’ve had two more Skype interviews since my last post for a full-time role in Chicago with a really cool startup. I’m really excited about it but we will see what happens. In the meantime, I’m just enjoying my time in Louisville and exploring the city (when it’s not raining outside – I thought I left Oregon…).

After the Mystery Box challenge, Lee (the winner) was able to choose which ingredient he wanted the chefs to base a dish around in order to create romantic dishes. His choices were chocolate, passion fruit and burrata. He, of course, picked passion fruit (which is crazy difficult to get around here and I’ve never even tried one before).

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A lot of the chefs did prawns or steak with some sort of fruit salad or sauce. The judges did not appear to be impressed with many of the dishes except for those put out by Sharone (Porcini-crusted Tenderloin) and Lee (Tenderloin and Prawns).

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Slim and Whitney were the bottom two dishes this week. Whitney made passion fruit glazed shrimp, which she overcooked. Slim did a really weird fruit and meat fondue dish and ended up being sent home – mostly because she thought her plate was really good even after a terrible critique.

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For my attempt at this challenge,  I decided to do a Thai-inspired passion fruit risotto with chilean sea bass and roasted asparagus. Tragically, I was unable to find any passion fruit in Louisville. I went to three different stores and all I was able to come up with was passion fruit juice. To make two portions of this dish, I used:

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  • 2-3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
  • 2-1/2 Tablespoons of Butter
  • 1 Tablespoon of Olive Oil
  • 1 Cup of Arborio Rice
  • 1/4 Cup of Red Wine
  • 1 Tablespoon of Ginger Paste
  • 1 Tablespoon of Lemongrass Paste
  • 1 Tablespoon Fresh Cilantro, Coarsely Chopped
  • Several dashes of Thai Red Chili Sauce
  • 1/2 Cup Passion Fruit Juice
  • 2-1/2 Cups of Chicken Broth
  • 1/2 Cup of Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 6-ounce Filets of Chilean Sea Bass
  • Bunch of Asparagus
  • Lime
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • Olive Oil for Cooking

The first component I focused on was, of course, the risotto. I sautéed the onion and garlic in the butter and olive oil until the onions were translucent. Then, I put the Arborio rice in and cooked it for a few minutes. I then mixed in the red wine to add some color to the rice, followed by the ginger, lemongrass, cilantro and thai red chili sauce. Then, I started the process of adding the broth into the rice mixture. I had heated the chicken broth and passion fruit juice to a boil before starting the risotto so I could slowly add the warm liquid a little bit (about 1/2 cup) at a time. I continued to do this until the rice had absorbed all the liquid and finished it by mixing in the parmesan cheese.

The other two components were simple. I placed the asparagus in a roasting pan, drizzled the spears in olive oil and seasoned it with some salt and pepper. Then, I just put it in to a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes.

I seasoned the sea bass with salt, pepper and lime and pan seared it (just a few minutes on each side). With all of the components complete, I plated the dish with the risotto on the base, followed by the asparagus and the chilean sea bass. (See finished product below).

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The dish was delicious and very unique. I’m not sure that I’ve ever had anything quite like it before. Everything was cooked perfectly but it got a little oily and some crunch would have been nice to have in order to break up the similar textures. I also would have liked to add a little more red wine to get a richer color to the risotto. Overall though, it tasted great and I definitely think I would have been safe this time around.