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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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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S2E10 (Team) – Appetizers

Employment Update: 3 Job Applications, 1 Interview, 2 Scheduled Interviews, 8 E-mails

This week’s team challenge had the two groups cater a high-end West Hollywood party with three appetizers each: one vegetable, one beef and one dessert. Both teams put out very similar menus so it came down to execution. The red team did a Duo of Gazpacho, Raw Beef Tartare, and a Puff Pastry Fruit Tart.

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The Blue team created a Tomato-Mint Gazpacho, Mini Beef Wellingtons, and a Kumquat Fruit Salad with Whipped Cream.

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Both teams struggled significantly with this challenge but the Red team ended up winning by putting out the better vegetable and dessert. This sent the Blue team into the elimination challenge.

For my rendition of this challenge, I decided to take on three fairly ambitious appetizers:

  • Vegetable: French bread crostini with fresh mozzarella, artichoke hearts, strawberry, and basil with a honey-lemon-garlic balsamic reduction
  • Beef: Thai-style beef with a mango, red onion, cucumber and red pepper salad served in a crispy endive leaf and garnished with chopped spanish peanuts
  • Dessert: Popcorn with salted caramel and mexican chocolate

Vegetable Appetizer

For the vegetable course, I was inspired by a recipe I found in Stephanie Izard’s cook book Girl in the Kitchen. She is one of my all-time favorite chefs and I have eaten at Girl and the Goat in Chicago more times than I care to admit. One of the recipes in her cookbook is an Artichoke and Strawberry Panzanella. I was intrigued by the flavor profile but I knew that I needed to compose a small, single-bite dish, so I decided to re-create it on a french bread crostini with a couple twists of my own (mainly the lemon-honey-garlic balsamic reduction).

The first thing I did was clean the artichoke by using this tutorial: How to Remove Artichoke Hearts. Then, I let the heart soak in enough cold water to cover it and the juice of 1 lemon. I let this soak for over an hour, which kept it from browning and made it tender before cooking. While this was soaking, I baked a loaf of french bread (which I bought at the store because I was too lazy to make it from scratch) and made one of the sauces for the dish.

In a small saucepan, I put 1 clove of garlic (minced), 1 tablespoon of honey, the juice of 1/2 a lemon and 1/2 of a cup of balsamic vinegar. I simmered this until the liquid reduced by about half, strained out the pieces of garlic and then let it cool while I prepped the other ingredients.

I thinly sliced the strawberries and the french bread, cut the mozzarella into appropriately-sized pieces and then sliced fresh basil leaves into thin strips (known by fancy people as a chiffonade).

Finally, it was time to cook the artichoke heart. I cut the heart into 8 pieces and then put it in a pot with 1/4 of a cup of olive oil, 1/2 of a cup of chicken broth, 1/3 of a cup of white wine (I used pinot grigio because that’s what I like to drink), 3 cloves of garlic (minced), the juice of 1/2 a lemon and a hefty pinch each of salt and pepper. I let this simmer until the pieces of the heart were tender (about 15-20 minutes). Then, I took the artichokes out with a slotted spoon and kept the liquid simmering until it reduced by half.

With that, all of the components were finished. All that was left was the plating. I laid out the crostinis on a serving dish and   brushed each with the liquid that I cooked the artichokes in (basically a garlic-white wine sauce). Then, I layered on the artichoke hearts, mozzarella, and strawberries. I drizzled each crostini with the balsamic reduction and garnished each with a strip of basil.

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This was definitely the prettiest-looking dish I made and I was a huge fan. Not only did it hold together wonderfully as a one-bite dish, the flavors paired together great. It was sweet and savory and creamy all at once. It was a lot of prep work but it was certainly delicious.

Beef Appetizer

For the beef appetizer, I also wanted to do something both savory and sweet. I had really been craving mango too (it’s one of my favorite fruits), so I thought that pairing these things together in a thai-style dish would be delightful. And I must say, I think I was right. While, I used this recipe as an initial guide: Thai-Style Stir-Fried Beef with Mango, I made enough changes to it that it definitely warrants its own recipe.

The first thing I did was make the mango salad. I finely chopped up mango, cucumber, red bell pepper and red onion, tossed it all together and set it aside. Then, I thinly sliced some sirloin beef and tossed it with 2-3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1-2 cloves of minced garlic, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. I let this marinate in the fridge while I completed the rest of the components.

The next thing I did was make a dressing for the mango salad. In a small saucepan, I combined 3/4 of a cup of water, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 tablespoon of lemongrass paste, 1 teaspoon of paprika, 1 clove of garlic (minced), 1/2 of a teaspoon of ground ginger and 1/2 of a teaspoon of sambal oelek. I let this simmer for 5-7 minutes, took it off the heat, and when it was cool, added the juice of 1/2 of a lime. (FYI – These proportions made a lot of dressing so you may want to adjust depending on how much you’re planning to make). I tossed the dressing on the fruit with a pinch each of salt and pepper, and let the flavors marinate until I was ready to plate.

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The final thing left to do was cook the beef. I simply stir-fried the beef in some olive oil and the leftover marinade until the beef was browned all the way through (about 5-10 minutes depending on how thick the slices are).

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Then, I  plated the dish by filling the endive leaves with the mango salad, placing a couple strips of beef on top of each and garnishing the beef with finely chopped spanish peanuts.

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This dish was definitely my favorite. The beef was really flavorful and it went really well with the mango salad. It was a little more difficult to eat than the crostini but it held together better than I initially thought it would. I also would have liked a little more spice in the dish but I held back so my mom would be able to eat it. If I make this dish I again, I’ll probably add some finely chopped jalapeño to the mango salad and up the amount of sambal oelek (or add another thai spice) to the dressing.

Dessert Appetizer

The idea for my dessert appetizer came completely from my brother, Andy. He is not really a fan of dessert (or sweet things in general), and he LOVES popcorn. We started talking about how he had been thinking that making some sort of caramel/chocolate popcorn would actually be a dessert that he would enjoy. Thus, this dish was born.

Since he is the popcorn expert in our family, I let him take reins on that component. (I mean, this is a team challenge, after all). He basically follows the recipe on the back of the Orville Redenbacher package for anyone that wants to try this but I also found this tutorial that works pretty well for those of us that usually go the microwave or movie-theatre route: How to Pop Popcorn on the Stove.

I made the salted caramel sauce using this recipe (just adding more salt to the mix): Easy Caramel Sauce and used Abuelita’s mexican hot chocolate tablets as the base for my chocolate sauce. I essentially just melted down two tablets in about 1/2 of a cup of half and half with a pinch of cayenne pepper and a dash vanilla extract, and it worked out great.

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Finally, I plated the popcorn on tasting spoons and drizzled a bit of the caramel and chocolate on it before serving. It was delicious and my brother definitely found a dessert that he enjoys.

Overall, these three appetizers were delicious and they would be a hit in any situation. They didn’t really go together but neither did the teams’ dishes on the show. Either way, I definitely suggest trying one or all of them!

S2E8 (Team) – Sausage Sandwiches

Employment Update: Well the dream job did not work out and now I am back to square one. It is really disappointing but I am getting back at it and trying my best to find the next dream job. Since my last post: 7 Applications, 8 E-mails.

For this episode’s team challenge, the chefs were split into a red team and blue team and given the task of making sausage sandwiches with a topping for 101 bikers. The main catch being that they had to make their sausages from scratch. The Blue team made a Spicy Italian Pork Sausage with Caramelized Onions and Molasses, and the Red team made a Beer Soaked Sausage Patty with Drunken Onion and Pepper Relish.

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The Red team had the most issues during the prep phase, having problems with the texture of the meat and the casings. They eventually decided to do patties instead and this allowed them to get an early lead. The Blue team’s sausage was deemed to be too sweet initially but they were able to adjust on the fly by adding the spiciness of banana peppers. This balanced out the flavors of their dish, and ultimately, gave them the win.

For my rendition of the challenge, I decided to push the boundaries a bit and create a mediterranean style sausage sandwich. My topping was sweet and spicy roasted artichoke, red peppers and onions. And my sausage was an uncased pork and feta sausage. I do not have a meat grinder or the ability to case the sausage so I had to cheat a little bit, but I definitely tried to do as much of the work from scratch as I could.

First, I created the topping. I prepped the artichoke heart, using this video as a guide: How to remove artichoke hearts. Then, I finely chopped up the artichoke heart and sliced up about 1/2 of a red bell pepper and  1/4 of a red onion. Next, I made the sweet and spicy sauce by mixing equal parts of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and honey mustard with a few dashes of thai red chili sauce, and salt and pepper. I whisked this together and then drizzled it over the chopped vegetables. (Picture below shows the topping before going into the oven). I mixed this all in order to coat the vegetables and then put them into a 350 degree oven until they were tender.

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Next, I created the sausage. After much research, I decided to use this recipe as a guide since it was designed to be a patty instead of encased: Simple homemade sausage patties. I made several changes to the recipe though to make it my own:

  • Doubled the amount of garlic, because garlic is the best thing ever
  • Added 1 slice of finely chopped bacon to add some additional fat since the ground pork I was using was very lean
  • Added oregano and crushed red pepper for additional flavor
  • Added some feta crumbles to keep the sausage moist and add to the mediterranean feel

I made thin, long patties to fit best on the hoagie buns that I got for this challenge. (I originally was going to make these from scratch using this recipe: Garlic Hoagie Rolls, but I just didn’t have enough time today.)

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When both components were finished, I lightly toasted the hoagie bun and then layered on the sausage and topping. Overall, the sandwich was great. The sausage was moist and perfectly spiced. The feta and bacon melded perfectly with the sausage and gave it great flavor. And the topping paired with the sausage really well. The only thing that I would have done differently was to make a little more of the sweet and spicy sauce. The vegetables soaked up the sauce, which gave them great flavor, but it left the sandwich as a whole a bit dry. I should have made more to drizzle on after the fact and maybe buttered the hoagie rolls to make it less dry as well. All in all though, this was a great sandwich that would work for breakfast or lunch and it is definitely something that I will try again soon.

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