S2E19 (Mystery Box) – Chicken

For the final mystery box challenge of the season, the contestants were asked to demonstrate how far they had come. They had to create a dish featuring chicken with an open pantry, just like one of the first challenges of the season. Jennifer struggled, turning in a dish with overcooked and undercooked components (Bacon Wrapped Chicken with Apples and Jalapeño). Christian (Bacon Wrapped Chicken with French Onion Sauce) and Adrien (Braised Chicken Thigh with Acorn Squash, Asparagus and Rice) created better dishes, but the judges only offered high praise for Adrien, who won the challenge.

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For this challenge, I decided to do an “empty the fridge” type of dish. While that’s not really what I usually do on this blog, I thought that I had ingredients on hand to do a great stuffed chicken breast with ratatouille and truffle-butter potatoes. For the chicken breast, I made the stuffing out of feta, chopped bacon, minced garlic, chopped yellow onions, thyme, oregano, and crushed red pepper. After mixing all of this together, I pounded out the chicken breast, spread the stuffing evenly over the top of the chicken and then rolled it all up so that the chicken totally enveloped the stuffing. I seasoned the chicken with salt, pepper and paprika, and poured in enough chicken stock to cover the bottom of the baking dish. I baked this in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes, spooning the broth over the top of the chicken every 15 minutes.

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While the chicken was cooking, I started making the sides. While I did not have the ingredients to make a traditional ratatouille, I certainly had enough to create my own version. I simply sautéed some chopped zucchini, chopped red onion, diced tomatoes, minced garlic, and chopped red bell pepper in some olive oil and butter. I let the vegetables cook together for a little bit. Then, I added a couple tablespoons of arrabiata sauce and seasoned the whole mixture with salt, pepper, oregano, basil, cumin, and cayenne pepper. I let this all cook together on low until the vegetables were tender and ready to serve.

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For the potatoes, I simply fried the slices in some butter for a couple minutes per side, sprinkled them with truffle salt and then popped them in the oven on a baking sheet until they were fork tender.

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The final component of the dish was the red wine reduction. When the chicken was finished, I took the broth from the bottom of the baking dish and poured it into a sauce pan. To this, I added an equal amount of red wine (in this case, a pinot noir that I had on hand), a tablespoon of honey, and the juice of 1/2 a lime. I let this simmer until it was reduced by half.

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I plated the chicken breast on a bed of the truffle potatoes and ratatouille with the red wine reduction spooned over top. Overall, the dish came together pretty well. The ratatouille and potatoes were delicious. I easily could have eaten just those and been perfectly content. The chicken, on the other hand, was just ok. The feta did not keep the chicken moist like other cheeses I have used in the past to make this dish. And the crushed red pepper was too strong, giving the stuffing, as a whole, a bit of an odd flavor. The red wine sauce was very strong. I let it reduce too far and I used a fairly cheap wine, so the overall flavor was much too sharp. While there are definitely some tweaks that need to be made to improve this dish, I do think that it could be refined into quite a delicious meal.

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S2E15 (Elimination) – Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

As an advantage from her win in the previous challenge, Jennifer was able to pick the focus for the elimination challenge. She was able to pick from the three judges’ favorite childhood dishes of Joe’s Pizza, Graham’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese and Gordon’s Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese. She picked Gordon’s dish and the contestants had 45 minutes to turn it into a gourmet version.

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Suzy (Grilled Cheese with Red Pepper and Tomato Soup) and Tracy (Tomato Soup with Pancetta and Fontina Grilled Cheese) had the best dishes and earned the job of team captains for the next challenge.

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Ben (Roasted Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Onion), Christine (Heirloom Tomato Soup with Goat and Provolone Grilled Cheese), and Derrick (Gorgonzola Tomato Soup with Tomato and Bacon Grilled Cheese) were in the bottom three, with Christine and Derrick being sent home.

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When I saw this challenge, I knew that I wanted to use this as an excuse to try my hand at some homemade bread to use for the grilled cheese sandwiches. I have been trying to push myself to make items that I would usually just buy at the store. I did some research and found this delightful bread recipe: Potato-Rosemary Bread. I completely followed this recipe (including the roasted garlic, of course), and it turned out perfectly. It is a very time-intensive recipe but it was so worth it. Honestly, this is some of the best bread I’ve ever had and it worked really well with the other flavors in the dish. (Just a warning though: For those of us who are not regular bread makers and do not have biga just lying around, this recipe will take two full days to make).

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For the soup portion, I wanted to do a tomato and bacon bisque but I  had no idea where to start as I had never made one before. I used this recipe as an initial guide: Roasted Tomato and Smoked Bacon Bisque, but I changed and added enough components to make my own recipe.

The first thing I did was roast the tomatoes. I cut 5 pounds of roma tomatoes in half and removed the seeds from the center with a table spoon. Then, I sliced 2 shallots and minced 5 cloves of garlic. I tossed all of this in some olive oil in a large baking dish and put it into a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes (before and after roasting pictures are shown below). When the tomatoes were cool enough to touch, I removed the tomato skins and began my work on the soup.

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When the tomatoes were done, I browned 1 cup of chopped bacon in a large pot. Once finished, I poured off the rendered fat and added 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 yellow onion (chopped), 1 shallot (minced), 1 red bell pepper (chopped), 8-10 cloves of whole roasted garlic (which I roasted previously while making the bread), 2 large carrots (chopped), and 2-3 stalks of celery (chopped) to the pot. I seasoned this with salt, white pepper and black pepper and cooked this all together until the vegetables were tender.

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I then added the roasted tomatoes (without skins), shallots and garlic to the pot with 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock and 1 cup of white wine. I seasoned this mixture with 5 leaves of fresh basil (finely chopped), 1 bay leaf, 1/2 of a tablespoon of dried oregano, 1/2 of a tablespoon of dried thyme, 1 teaspoon of paprika, and some additional salt and pepper. I let this cook together for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Then, I added in a half pint of heavy cream and allowed this to simmer for 10-15 more minutes.

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Finally, I pureed the soup in a couple batches with a blender. I put the pureed soup back into the pot without straining it because I wanted a thicker soup. If you prefer a thinner soup though, I would recommend taking this step. I brought the soup back up to a simmer to ensure that it was still heated through (and to keep it warm while I was doing the grilled cheese), and then garnished it with a yellow cherry tomato (cut in half), a couple thin strips of fresh basil, and a few dollops of greek yogurt that I had mixed with some fresh lemon juice. This is completely unnecessary to enjoy the soup, but I did it to give it that “gourmet plating” look (and also to get a good picture).

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With the soup complete, it was time to make the gourmet grilled cheese. I wanted to go with some bold flavors for this component so I decided to create a grilled cheese sandwich with arugula, portobello mushrooms, prosciutto, gruyere and smoked gouda on thick slices of my homemade potato-rosemary-garlic bread. I lightly cooked the thinly sliced portobello mushrooms in some olive oil and then layered the sandwich components as seen below (with gruyere on one side and smoked gouda on the other). I then spread a generous layer of butter on both of the outer sides of the sandwich and grilled it on a hot griddle for a few minutes a side (basically until it was brown and crispy, as shown below).

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I cut the sandwich in half and served it in the soup. All together, this was delicious (and honestly one of my all-time favorites from this blog). The sandwich and the soup were both gourmet versions of the classic and tasted wonderful in their own right. But together, the flavors were magical. Ok… that might be overstating it a bit. But seriously, this was AWESOME! So good, in fact, that as soon as I woke up the next morning, I wanted the leftovers. (For the record, this is great for breakfast too). I certainly think this would have made a splash in the challenge and I definitely recommend trying this out for yourself.

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S2E15 (Mystery Box) – Surf and Turf

Employment Update: Still waiting to hear from a couple opportunities… 

This week’s mystery box contained a surf and turf theme in which contestants were asked to create a dish showcasing beef and seafood with the following ingredients as options to incorporate into their dish: live jumbo shrimp, alaskan king crab, live crawfish, buffalo ribeye, dry-aged porterhouse steak, and short ribs.

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Adrien (Short Ribs and Crab Salad), Jennifer (Risotto with Short Ribs and Crab) and Suzy (Prawn Bisque and Bison) landed in the top 3 but it was Jennifer’s risotto dish that gave her the win and the advantage of getting to pick the dish for the next challenge.

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For this challenge, I immediately decided that I wanted to do some sort of Thai recipe featuring beef and shrimp. After some intense Google-ing, I settled on this recipe as my jumping off point: The Best Thai Coconut Soup. I also enlisted my brother, the Grill-Master, and my mother, the maker of the best shrimp I’ve ever had, for assistance in this culinary venture.

The first thing we did was create a marinade for the porterhouse steak. In a small bowl, we combined 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons of peanut oil, 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, 3 cloves of smashed garlic, and some cracked pepper. We put the marinade and steak in a large Ziploc bag and put it in the fridge for almost two hours.

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Then, I cooked the shrimp using my mother’s flawless instructions. I brought a pot of salted water to a boil with a bay leaf in it. I then added 1 pound of frozen shrimp to the water and brought it back up to a foaming boil. (The foaming is the important part and this will take a while). After 1 full minute at the foaming boil, I removed the pot from the stove and drained the shrimp into a colander. Then, I rinsed the shrimp with cold water until the shrimp were cooled down to room temperature, and I let the shrimp stand in the colander until they were completely dry.

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Next, I started on the soup. In a large pot, I cooked 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of fresh grated ginger, 1 stalk of lemongrass (minced), and 2 teaspoons of red curry paste for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Then, I added in 4 cups of chicken stock, 3 tablespoons of fish sauce and 1 tablespoon of light brown sugar and let that simmer together for 15-20 minutes.

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Then, I stirred in 3 cans (13.5 ounces each) of coconut milk, 8 ounces of sliced Shitake mushrooms, and a small red bell pepper (thinly sliced) to the broth. I let this all cook together while the rest of the components were finished up.

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My brother grilled the steak for 5 minutes per side, taking it off when it reached 140 degrees. We let it rest for 5 minutes, and then I sliced it into thin strips for serving.

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While he was grilling, I made the jasmine rice. I brought 3 and 1/2 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil. Then, I added 2 cups of jasmine rice, stirred and covered, and let simmer for 15 minutes on low heat. When all of the water was absorbed, I removed the rice from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes while covered until we were ready to plate.

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Finally, I took the soup off the heat and stirred in the fully cooked shrimp, 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice, 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro (chopped), and several healthy pinches of salt (to taste).

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I plated the dish with a spoonful of rice in the middle with the soup surrounding it in the bottom of the bowl. I put three strips of steak over the rice, and garnished with a lime wedge and a cilantro leaf. This dish is definitely the prettiest plate of food I have ever made. It was pretty darn delicious too. The flavors worked together wonderfully, and it was a very filling and unique meal. I definitely think that this dish would have been a contender in this challenge due to its creativity and great taste. And even though it requires some unique ingredients, this is a very simple recipe that I suggest you try for yourself.

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