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.

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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S2E4 (Skills Test) – Apples

Employment Update: 5 Job Applications, 2 E-mails, 4 LinkedIn Messages

Another season of challenges begins with a straightforward skills test in which the contestants must prove their precision knife skills by skinning and thinly slicing granny smith apples.

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I have never had great knife skills, mostly because I’ve never really had great knives to work with. I did my best but my cuts were a little jagged. The slices were sufficient but definitely not perfect.

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Even though this was only a skills challenge, I decided that I wanted to make a dish with the apples I sliced, and nothing goes better with apples than pork. I have been wanting to attempt carnitas and thought that this would be the perfect excuse. So I made carnitas tacos with an apple slaw and tomatillo cream. I cut up just under 2 pounds of boneless pork loin in to large chunks and browned it in a pan with some olive oil and chopped red onion. Then, I put the Frontera carnitas sauce with a little over a cup of water in the pan. I simply covered the pan and let it cook for around 2 hours in a 325 degree oven. When the pork was done, I shredded it with a fork and let it simmer on low while I finished the rest of the dish.

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I used the granny smith apple that I had sliced before and julienned it. Then, I mixed it with some chopped fresh cilantro, the juice of 1/2 a lime and some salt and pepper. Next, I mixed some sour cream and tomatillo salsa to make the tomatillo cream, and thinly sliced a vine-ripened tomato.

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With everything complete, I compiled the dish by spreading the tomatillo cream on a corn tortilla and then layering on the tomatoes, apple slaw, and carnitas. Finally, I garnished it with quesadilla cheese and fresh cilantro. (See finished product below).

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The tacos were great! The carnitas mix was a little spicier than I’d anticipated but the apples paired perfectly with the pork. Aside from the dish being time consuming, it was really simple. And it would have worked well in a crock pot too.

I’m very excited to see what season 2 will bring. It definitely seems like the home cooks are a step up from last season so it will be interesting to see if I can keep up this time around.