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!

S1E11 (Pressure Test) – Chocolate Soufflé

Employment Status: Had a friend reach out to me about a potential opportunity and refer me to the employer, Am finally getting in the groove at work 

For the final pressure test of the season, Whitney and Sharone had to produce a perfect chocolate soufflé in just 90 minutes.

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Whitney spent all of her time perfecting the batter and only had time to bake one soufflé (which she did with a hint of orange zest). Sharone, however, tinkered with several different recipes, and was pushed to the brink of the time limits. Because of this, his soufflé (which he seasoned with a bit of sea salt) did not cook all the way through, which ended up with him being sent home.

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As I have said before, I AM NOT A BAKER. So this challenge was particularly intimidating. I followed this recipe completely: Chocolate Soufflé. And I also used this helpful tutorial for beating the egg whites: How to Beat Egg Whites. I did not have my stand mixer, a double boiler or a proper ramekin so I had to get very creative when it came to creating this dish. Thankfully, everything worked out decently enough and I was able to turn out a somewhat respectable attempt. (See finished batter and baked soufflé  below).

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For my first try, I’d say it turned out well. I had a hard time getting the egg whites to stiff peaks so I just added the egg whites at the soft peak stage. The soufflé rose well and it was light, airy and delightfully chocolatey. However, it did not look as good as it should have. I’m not sure if it was an egg white problem or my makeshift (way too big) ramekin that caused the issue, but I will definitely try again soon (once I have the right kitchen equipment,  of course). This is definitely a challenge that I could have gone home for, but thankfully, I am not actually in any competition and I will be able to rebound with my next dish.

S1E4 (Elimination Test) – Chinese Theme: Mandarin Oranges

Employment Status: 1 Job Application, 1 Scheduled Phone Interview, 1 Phone call, 14 E-mails, 1 Sign-up for a Volunteer Opportunity in hopes of Networking

For the first elimination test of the season, contestants were asked to produce a Chinese-themed dish including mandarin oranges (the ingredient selected by last challenge’s winner, Whitney) in just one hour. Most of the contestants stuck to the cliched, americanized version of “Chinese” stir-fry and things shook out like this:

Faruq (Stuffed Chicken), Avis (Orange Chicken), and Sheena (Warm Mandarin Salad) were in the bottom three.

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And Sharone (Crispy Sesame Chicken), Tracy (Ginger Madarin Chicken), and Mike (Nutty Orange Chicken), were in the top three.

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In the end, Avis and Sheena were eliminated and Mike was declared the winner.

For my rendition of the challenge, I was determined to do more than just a stir-fry, but having been to China just last year, the only food I remembered that would not qualify as such was peking duck, dim sum and hot pot – all of which did not exactly fit into the challenge. So I decided to do a spin on one of my favorite dishes: Lettuce Wraps. When I’ve done this recipe before, I’ve used this tasty and simple recipe: Asian Lettuce Wraps. But I knew I wanted to try something a little bit different so I decided to do some orange-sesame chicken lettuce wraps with coconut-infused jasmine rice.

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To create the lettuce wrap filling (enough for 2-3 servings), I used the following ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon of Olive Oil
  • 3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
  • 2 Green Onions, Chopped (I used a third one for garnish so I went ahead and chopped all three at the same time and just saved some for later)
  • 4-ounce Can of Water Chestnuts, Minced (I had to mince them by hand but you can usually find cans where they are already minced for you)
  • 5 Ounces of Shitake Mushrooms, Coarsely Chopped
  • 1/4 Cup of Chopped Yellow Onions
  • 1/2 of a Green Bell Pepper
  • 30 Slices of Mandarin Oranges, Chopped (I unfortunately had to use canned mandarin oranges but definitely use fresh if you can)
  • 2 Chicken Breasts, Cut into Small Chunks
  • 1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons Hoisin Sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons Duck Sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 2 Teaspoons Dark Sesame Oil
  • 1 Teaspoon Toasted Sesame seeds
  • 1 Teaspoon of Ground Ginger
  • Pinch each of Anise, Cinnamon, Cloves
  • 1 Teaspoon Sambal Oelek or your choice of Chili Paste (This will make the dish a medium-level of spicy. Use more or less depending on your preferred level of spiciness)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

I just threw all of this in a wok and cooked until it was finished. It only took about 10-15 minutes to cook (See Before and After pictures below). The majority of the work with this is definitely in the prep stage.

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For the coconut rice, I used:

  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup of coconut milk
  • Juice of 1/4 Orange (I had to use a regular orange for this because my grocery store does not sell fresh mandarin oranges, but if you can get them, use that)
  • Pinch of Coarse Sale
  • 1 cup of jasmine rice

After completing the prep work involved in the filling, I filled a pot with the water, coconut milk, orange juice, and salt. I brought that to a boil, then stirred in the jasmine rice. Then, I just covered the pot and let it simmer for 20 minutes. (This is when I started cooking the chicken filling). After 20 minutes, I took the pot (still covered) off the heat and let it rest 5 more minutes.

Then, everything was ready to plate. I placed the lettuce leaves on the serving dish (I used Romaine but you can use whatever your favorite lettuce is). Then, I put a layer of coconut rice followed by the orange-chicken. Finally, I garnished the dish with mandarin oranges, green onions and toasted sesame seeds.

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Lettuce wraps with orange-sesame chicken and coconut-infused jasmine rice

Even though I tried to avoid making a stir-fry, that’s actually exactly what I did – just dressed up a little differently. It took me just about an hour and it tasted delicious – probably my favorite thing I have made so far. Given that most people received negative feedback in the challenge, I think this dish would have fared pretty well. I’ll have another dish tomorrow so be sure to come back then to see what happens next!

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.

S1E3 (Boot Camp: Skills Test + Cooking Challenge) – Onions and Eggs

This Week’s Employment Status: 7 Job Applications, 10 Unanswered E-mails/Phone Calls, 2 Rejection E-mails, 0 Prospects

To begin my MasterChef adventure, I skipped the audition rounds and jumped right into the very first challenge episode: the first boot camp. Contestants were first asked to slice and dice (literally) a truckload of onions in order to demonstrate their knife skills. After eliminating the contestants that managed to confuse their own fingers for onions or thought cutting onions in half classified as a coarse chop, we got to the real cooking challenge: making a dish that showcases a perfectly cooked single egg.

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So for my first dish, I decided to combine the two challenges and make a really great meal that showcased onions and a perfectly cooked egg. When I think onions, I think of French Onion Soup. And I have always wanted to try poaching an egg. So combining the two seemed to be the logical choice.

I have never made either dish so I needed some assistance. I looked at these recipes for help:

Tyler Florence’s French Onion Soup

How to Poach an Egg

But, as my rules stipulate, I have to make the dish my own, which I decided to do through herbs, spices, and, of course, bacon. So here’s what I used to get one very generous serving of soup:

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  • 2 Tablespoons of Butter
  • 1 Medium Onion, Sliced
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced (Full Disclosure: I LOVE garlic so I alway put 2-3 times the amount that a normal recipe would call for. So if you do not share my love of garlic, you may want to minimize this amount)
  • 2 Strips of Thick-Cut Bacon
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1 Teaspoon of Sambal Oelek Chili Paste
  • 1 Teaspoon of Thyme
  • Pinch each of Cumin, Basil, Oregano, and Crushed Red Pepper
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1/4 Cup of Red Wine
  • 1 Tablespoon of Flour
  • 2 Cups of Beef Broth
  • 2 Thin Slices of Baguette
  • 1.5 Ounces of Gouda
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 Tablespoon Vinegar
  • 0.5 Ounces of Parmesan
  • Hot Sauce

And here’s the steps you need to recreate this dish for yourself:

1) Heat butter and olive oil in a medium pot. Add sliced onion, minced garlic, chopped bacon and all the herbs and spices to the pot. Cook until onions are soft and caramelized (like the second picture below).

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2) Add the red wine. Simmer until the wine has evaporated. Take out bay leaf. Sprinkle flour over onions and stir to mix. Cook for a few minutes until the flour is cooked.

3) Add beef broth. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Additional salt and pepper to taste. (Finished soup below).

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4) While soup is simmering, preheat the broiler and prep the cheesy croutons. Cut a couple thin slices of baguette and place on a cookie sheet. Brush with garlic olive oil and cover with gouda (or cheese of your choice). Broil 3-5 minutes until golden brown. (See finished cheesy croutons below).

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5) Now it’s time to poach the egg. Fill a pot with 2-3 inches of water and heat until it is barely boiling. Add a tablespoon of vinegar at this point. (This is key – I tried it the first time without the vinegar and the egg white went everywhere). Break the egg into a ramekin or small cup and then gently transfer the egg into the hot water. Use a spoon to move the egg white around the yolk. Turn off the heat, cover and let set for 3-4 minutes until the egg white is done.

6) While egg is poaching, arrange croutons on top of soup. When done, transfer egg using a slotted spoon and place on top of cheesy croutons. Sprinkle with pepper, hot sauce and parmesan cheese. Finished product is below.

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Overall, I would say the dish was a success. It tasted great but the presentation could have been better. It was pretty easy but it took over an hour and I needed two eggs to get the poaching right. Given that fact, I probably never would have made my way to the top 14. But I’m going to choose to ignore that fact and solider on. Stay tuned for my next MasterChef endeavor.

But until then, here’s a bonus egg and onion dish that I straight up stole from Chrissy Teigen’s blog: So Delushious. I did a Caprese version for breakfast today with Tomato, Mozarella, Fresh Basil, Garlic, Onion, Balsalmic Vinegar, and Olive Oil. See her blog for instructions but here are the before and after pics from my attempt:

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