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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S2E6 (Pressure) – Ravioli

Employment Update: Scheduled 2 more interviews, Received another rejection e-mail

Having lost the previous team challenge, the blue team was put into a pressure test where they had to make a simple homemade ravioli with a spinach and ricotta filling in a butter sauce.

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The bottom three were Esther, Jennifer and Tony, with Tony ultimately being the contestant who was sent home.

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For my rendition of the challenge, I used this recipe as a guide: Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli Recipe. I pretty much followed it but I changed a few things up. First, I sautéed the spinach in some olive oil with garlic and shallots instead of boiling it to add some more flavor. I still strained it before mixing it with the rest of the filling ingredients in order to get the excess liquid out (which was definitely a necessary step).

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I also had to add a significant amount of water to the dough in order to get it to come together and the amount of effort I had to put in to get the dough to work made it end up a little tough. I had a pretty hard time getting the dough thin enough as a result (which meant that I did not get enough ravioli out of the dough in order to use the amount of filling that I made based on the recipe). No worries though – my mom had the brilliant idea of using the excess filling to make a spinach pie that is baking as we speak.

I used a small round cup this time around to get perfectly shaped ravioli, which made the ravioli look so much more professional than the last time I attempted it. I definitely recommend using this technique. I just wish that I had been able to get the dough thin enough to make more delicate.

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For the butter sauce, I used this recipe instead of the one given in the recipe above: Sage Brown Butter Sauce. It worked pretty well but I had to use dried sage instead of fresh. As a result, I think the proportions were slightly off so I ended up straining the sauce to make sure the finished dish didn’t get overwhelmed by it. After the ravioli were boiled, I put them straight into the butter sauce and allowed them to cook on low for a few minutes to let the flavors marry. Then, I garnished them with some shredded parmesan cheese.

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Overall, the dish was ok. The filling was really good but the pasta dough was so thick that you didn’t get that nice flavor as much as you should have. In the future, I really think that I need to (1) be careful about not overworking the dough and (2) get a pasta roller that is able to get the pasta thin enough to not overwhelm the filling. If I can get that figured out, I think I’ll be able to put out some really quality ravioli. While my ravioli was certainly not great, I do think that I would have been safe in this challenge given that I did not turn out anything that tasted bad (unlike the bottom three).

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.

S1E8 (Mystery Box) – Dungeness Crab

Employment Update: I started my job at Churchill Downs this week. Everything has been really great and I’m very excited to contribute to the team. I’m still continuing to apply and interview for full-time jobs in my free time though since this gig will end at the end of November. I have a couple pretty exciting leads but I’m not far enough into the process to have any feel for my chances yet. But things are all good right now – especially considering that THIS is the place I get to go to work everyday:

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This week’s Mystery Box challenge focused on one (live) ingredient: the Dungeness Crab. From what I could tell, it looked like the rest of the box consisted of: cucumber, apple, avocado, tomatoes, asparagus, prosciutto, peanuts, spinach, banana and a red jalapeño. There was some other stuff but those were the ingredients that I could identify from what they showed in the episode (and they were able to use the pantry as needed).

Lee (Crab Salad and Gazpacho), Sheetal (Tomato and Crab Curry), and Sharone (Crab Cucumber Roll), were declared to be the top three dishes with Lee being announced as the overall winner.

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For my rendition of the challenge, I decided to make crab tostadas with spinach, guacamole, cojita cheese, thai red chili sauce and crispy pancetta. (For some reason, I could not find any prosciutto at the store but this was a great substitute). All my ingredients are shown below. The only other substitute I had to unfortunately make was the dungeness crab. Even though I made a special trip across town to a store that I thought would have at least some form of Dungeness Crab, I had to resort to using canned jumbo lump crab. I was disappointed because I really wanted to do this challenge as it was meant to be, but alas, it did not work out.

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The first thing I did was make the guacamole. My guacamole recipe is something I have just come up with over the years so I do not have an exact recipe. I honestly just add stuff to the bowl until I think it tastes good. But I will tell you that I have received rave reviews (and one not-quite-joking marriage proposal) for it. Basically, I smash the avocados together with chopped tomato, diced onion, minced garlic, and finely chopped jalapeño. I also add either sour cream or plain greek yogurt to make it a little creamier. Then, I season it with lime, salt, pepper and some tomatillo salsa. My favorite salsa brand to use is Rick Bayless’s Frontera. It is AWESOME!

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I set aside the guacamole to allow the flavors to marinate. Then, I sautéd the crab in some olive oil, lemon juice, fresh cilantro, salt and pepper just to warm it up (as it was already fully cooked). Once it was heated through, I took it off the heat, let it cool slightly, and then added freshly chopped cucumber and red bell pepper. This was to give a freshness and a crispness to the warm crab salad so I didn’t want to cook it with the crab.

After that, all that was left was frying the corn tortillas and the pancetta in some olive oil. When that was done, everything was ready to plate. I put the fried tortilla on the bottom, followed by fresh spinach leaves, guacamole, and the crab salad. Then, I garnished the whole thing with shredded cojita cheese, crispy pancetta and a few dashes of thai red chili sauce. The finished product is below.

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This dish was delicious and it looked great. But it was REALLY difficult to eat. I eventually just put it in a bowl, smashed it all up, and ate it like a salad. I’m not a huge crab fan in the first place so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. But I doubt I’ll do this again unless I am able to get fresh crab.