S2E4 (Elimination Test) – Chicken

Employment Update: 1 Scheduled Phone Interview, 5 Job Applications, 3 LinkedIn Messages

24 contestants survived the apple slicing test and went on to the first cooking test of the season. To get the contestant field down to the Top 18, they had to create a great dish featuring chicken.

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Most individuals played it relatively safe – sticking to what they knew best. I cook with chicken all the time and have several go-to recipes. One of my favorites comes from Chrissy Teigen’s blog: Boursin and Bacon Stuffed Chicken Breast. I follow the recipe for the most part but I have experimented with stuffing it with roasted red peppers, onions, and spinach in addition to the bacon and boursin. Wrapping it in prosciutto is something that I don’t always do. And I also bake it with chicken stock in the pan to keep the chicken moist. Below is a picture of one of my versions of this recipe.

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First, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at breaking down a chicken so I used this tutorial: How to Break Down a Chicken. It certainly wasn’t easy but I was able to do it and the tutorial was hugely helpful. Although pausing and playing a video on your computer when your hands are covered in chicken goop is certainly an interesting trick. I may have used my nose and elbow at various points in the process. Regardless, I broke down the chicken relatively easily and didn’t get any salmonella on my laptop. I’d say that’s a win.

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In addition to breaking down the whole chicken, I knew I wanted to try something that I’ve never done before but always wanted to: Crispy Fried Chicken. I followed the recipe completely and the chicken turned out great! Although the entire time I was making it, this is what I thought about: Shake that! 

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For my side dish, I had this idea to do a potato, spinach and red pepper cake, but I had no idea if it would actually work. I thinly sliced 1/2 a russet potato and 1/2 a red bell pepper. Then, I made a butter sauce with 4 tablespoon of butter, a finely grated shallot, 3 cloves of garlic (also finely grated), salt, pepper, paprika, cumin and oregano. Then, I layered them (potato first, followed by butter sauce, spinach and peppers) in a small round dish and baked it in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes (until the potatoes were tender). When it was done, I turned it out onto the plate. It wasn’t very pretty but it mostly stayed together and it tasted great.

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While everything was really tasty, it definitely did not look gourmet. I also should have done a sauce to go with the chicken because I ended up using honey mustard to dip my chicken in (which was delicious… don’t judge). I doubt this would have played well with the judges but it was a great dinner for tonight.

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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.

S1E9 (Team) – Wedding

Employment Update: Sent 4 Follow-Up E-mails, Received 1 Potential Project, Identified 4 Potential Full-Time Opportunities

This week’s challenge had two teams catering two courses for a wedding reception. The first course was a simple Caesar Salad with Goat Cheese Tartlet, and the second course was Filet Mignon and Salmon with Steamed Vegetables, Mashed Potatoes, and Fried Onions. The Red Team served both courses to the Bride’s side and the Blue Team served both to the Groom’s side. Based on both judge and guest feedback about the dishes, the Red Team was declared the winner.

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The first course was really simple, especially since I cheated and bought pre-made pastry dough. But I did make the dressing from scratch by using this recipe: Caesar Dressing Recipe. And for the tartlet, I just brushed the pastry dough with olive oil, sprinkled the herb goat cheese over top, and popped it in the oven for 10 minutes. That really was it and it was pretty good. I wasn’t crazy about the dressing but I may have not whisked it enough because it was pretty thin. The tartlet was really good though and it worked well with the salad.

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The surf and turf dish was significantly trickier though. Each component was simple enough but there were many different components that needed to end up on the plate. To make this entree, I used the following ingredients (broken down by component):

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    • 1 6-ounce Filet of Atlantic Salmon
    • Salted water for brining
    • Juice of 1/2 a Lemon
    • Tablespoon of Butter
    • Pinch of Dill Weed
    • 1 6-ounce Filet Mignon
    • 1 Cup of Balsamic Vinegar
    • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • Steamed Vegetables
    • 2-3 Carrots, Diced
    • 1/8 of a Yellow Onion, Chopped
    • 1/4 of a Red Bell Pepper, Chopped
    • 1 Cup of Spinach (It was supposed to be zucchini but the zucchini I bought at the store was rotten on the inside so I substituted for spinach since I had it on hand)
    • 1 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
    • Pinch each of Oregano, Sage, Salt, Pepper
    • Olive Oil
  • Mashed Potatoes
    • 1 Pound of Russet Potatoes
    • 1/2 Cup of Skim Milk
    • 2 Tablespoons of Butter
    • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • Fried Onions
    • 1/4 of a Yellow Onion
    • 1 Egg
    • 1 Tablespoon of Skim Milk
    • 2-3 Dashes of Hot Sauce
    • Bread crumbs, Salt and Pepper
    • Oil for Frying

Since there were so many components and I went back and forth between all of them, the easiest way for me to explain how I did each is to go through each component one at a time.

Surf and Turf – First, I seasoned the filet with salt and pepper and put the salmon in some salt water to brine. Then, I started a balsamic reduction to go over the beef. I used this as a guide: How to Make Balsamic Reduction. Then, I pan seared the filet to brown it on all sides and popped it in the oven for a few minutes to finish it off. Then, I made a sauce for the salmon with some melted butter, lemon and dill, and pan seared the salmon (just a couple minutes on each side).

Steamed Vegetables – This was definitely the easiest part. I sautéed the onion, garlic, carrots, red bell pepper, herbs and spices in some olive oil until the carrots were tender. Then, I added in the spinach and let it wilt.

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. I didn’t measure the milk (which was stupid) and accidentally put too much in. They were still good but a little thin for my taste.

Fried Onions – To prep, I sliced up part of an onion, mixed egg, milk and hot sauce together, and stirred up the bread crumbs with some salt and pepper. Then, I just dredged the onions in the egg mixture followed by the bread crumb mixture and threw them into hot oil for a few minutes until they were crispy.

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Surf and Turf with Mashed Potatoes, Fried Onions, and Sautéed Vegetables

Overall, everything tasted great. My mashed potatoes were a little thin and the fried onions were too salty, but the steak and veggies were perfect. The steak with balsamic reduction is actually one of my favorite things I’ve made for this blog. All in all, a perfect Sunday dinner.