S2E9 (Elimination) – Crispy Catfish

Employment Update: 2 Job Applications (each with an abnormal amount of essays required)

Jennifer was given three dishes cooked by last year’s Masterchef winner, Whitney Miller, to choose from for everybody to cook. She chose her Crispy Catfish with Dill Tarter Sauce, Homemade Slaw and Sweet Potato Fries. The contestants had to recreate the dish with no recipe while Jennifer was given a basket of all 29 ingredients needed to cook the dish.

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Christian and Ben had the best recreations and were named captains for the next challenge.

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The bottom three were Alejandra, Adrien, and Jennie, with Jennie being the one who was sent home.

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Since I obviously was not able to taste the dish that I needed to recreate, I instead tried to find Whitney’s recipes online. While I was able to find these: Whitney Miller’s Oven-Fried Catfish with Fresh Dill Tartar Sauce and Sweet and Spicy Cole Slaw, neither was a perfect replica of what was shown on the episode. So I used these as a basic guideline for what flavors she usually incorporates and took notes of everything that was said about the dish by the judges and chefs. With all of this info, I think I was able to get a pretty solid recreation of the dish. (Note: I was really just winging all of the components so all measurements are really just approximations).

The first component that I tackled was the cole slaw. In a large mixing bowl, I combined 3/4 of a small head of red cabbage (coarsely chopped) , 20 brussel sprouts (coarsely chopped), 1/4 of a yellow onion (finely chopped), 1 small granny smith apple (julienned), 1 jalapeño (finely chopped), 4 small carrots (julienned), and 2 handfuls of pecans (finely chopped). Then, I made the dressing by whisking together 1/2 of a cup of apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1/2 of a cup of olive oil, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, 2 tablespoons of honey, and salt and pepper to taste. I tossed this all together and then let it marinate in the refrigerator until the rest of the components were ready.

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Then, I put together the dill tarter sauce for the fish. For my sauce, I combined 1 cup of mayonnaise, 2 teaspoons of ground mustard, 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, the juice of half a lemon, 2 teaspoons of fresh dill, 1 teaspoon of fresh chives, 1 teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of black pepper. I originally did the sauce exactly as her recipe called for but I thought it tasted like nothing more than mayo so I added salt and doubled the amount of lemon and dill to get more flavor.

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Next, I prepped the sweet potato fries. I simply cut the sweet potato into thin, long strips and tossed the strips in olive oil, salt and pepper. When I started frying the fish, I put the fries into a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes. I know the original dish called for fried instead of baked sweet potato fries, but I am a novice fryer and thought that I might get a bit overwhelmed with frying more than one component.

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Finally, it was time for the catfish. First, I let the filets soak in buttermilk for 5-10 minutes. Then, I coated each fillet in a mixture of panko, corn meal, salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder and chives. After fully coating each filet, I fried them in crisco for 2 minutes on each side. This completed the dish and I plated it just like Whitney did (since that was a major issue with the judges).

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All in all, the dish came together well. The cole slaw was surprisingly delicious and the dill sauce paired perfectly with the catfish. The breading on the catfish got a little dark so I maybe should have fried it a little less. And I should have fried the sweet potatoes because the baked fries were not as crispy as I was wanting. Overall though, everything tasted great and I think it was a pretty decent recreation of the dish.

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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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S2E7 (Mystery Box) – Lamb

Employment Update: 4 Interviews, 6 Rejection E-mails, 10 E-mails and LinkedIn messages 

This week’s mystery box challenge asked the contestants to create a dish including some of the following ingredients: Rack of New Zealand Lamb, Peaches, Romanesco Cauliflower, Fava Beans, Feta, White Rice, Thai Chili Peppers, Tarragon, Créme Fraîche, Pie Crust, Heavy Cream, Eggs, Walnuts, Mollasses, and Blood Oranges.

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Jennifer struggled again with this challenge and she was declared to have the worst dish of the challenge, having plated raw lamb for the judges.

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Alejandra (Curried Rack of Lamb), Adrien (Farmers Market Lamb) and Tracy (Sweet and Salty Lamb and Feta) though had the judges’ favorite dishes with Adrien winning the chance to select the focus of the next challenge.

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Before I get started on my rendition of the challenge, I first want to apologize for the long delay between posts. Between the holidays and job stuff, I have been slacking a bit. But while I have been slacking on challenges, I have definitely not been slacking on cooking. Since everyone in my family likes to cook (as well as eat and drink), my dad came up with the idea of creating a fun eating and drinking tradition on the days leading up to Christmas, which he dubbed Bill’s 5 Days of Christmas. The basic idea is to have a special drink and appetizer pairing on each of the five days before Christmas Eve. It was really great fun and all of my cooking energies were redirected into assisting with that. For those of you interested in how it all turned out, I have posted the pictures of each of the five different pairings below (Fruit cake with port, Pigs and Apples in Blankets with Brown Ale and Red Wine, Pork and Pear Chutney with Pomegranate Mimosas, Candied Bacon with Bloody Marys, and Shrimp with Mojitos).

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Now on to my MasterChef challenge! I decided to make a Walnut, Feta and Tarragon crusted rack of lamb with sweet and spicy cauliflower. My side dish was inspired by a delicious sweet and spicy roasted cauliflower dish that I once had at Ox, my favorite restaurant in Portland. I had no idea how to make it but I felt like I had the ingredients in the mystery box to do it.

I first made the sauce for the cauliflower. In a sauce pan, I cooked 1 clove of minced garlic, 1 slice of finely chopped yellow onion, and 1 finely chopped small orange habanero (my substitute for the thai red chili) in some olive oil. After a couple minutes of cooking, I added 1/4 cup of pinot grigio and the juice of 1/2 an orange. I let that cook down for a few minutes and then added 6.5 ounces of canned peaches (without the syrup). I had to substitute both the blood orange and fresh peaches due to availability issues but I think this same recipe would work well with any combination that you can get. I then added a pinch each of salt, pepper and ground ginger as well as a few dashes of thai red chili sauce. While it was cooking, I used a large fork to mash up the peaches, which I did until the sauce was, more or less, a smooth consistency. Finally, in a large baking dish, I drizzled olive oil, salt, pepper, and the sweet and spicy sauce over the cauliflower (1 head the regular kind because I couldn’t get any romanesco). I tossed this whole mixture in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes, stirring the mixture twice in order to completely coat the cauliflower with the sauce.

The pictures below show the cauliflower dish before and after baking. Overall, this was wonderful! It was a little too spicy for my mom but I thought it was really flavorful. It started out as sweet and finished spicy. And while the habanero taste grew as you ate the dish, it never got to be too much for me or my dad and brother. This is definitely a unique and delicious twist on classic roasted cauliflower and I definitely recommend trying it out (as long as you’re not a spice wuss).

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For the lamb, I first had to make the crust, which I did by finely chopping the walnuts and tarragon and mixing the feta in until everything was evenly combined (see below). I then browned the rack on all sides in a cast iron skillet.

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Then, I put the rack on a lined baking sheet, where I spread some greek yogurt (my substitute for créme fraîche) on the fat side of the rack and then pushed the crust into lamb and yogurt. I put this into a 400 degree oven until it was medium rare and the crust was golden (about 20-25 minutes). The pictures below show the rack before and after cooking.

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Finally, I sliced the lamb and served it on a bed of the sweet and spicy cauliflower. The entire dish was really delicious. The crust didn’t stay on the lamb as well as I would have wanted and there some fatty parts of the lamb that were really difficult to eat. But overall, I think everything worked really well, especially since it was a pretty out there dish. It was definitely a great meal for Christmas Eve Eve, and I will definitely be making the cauliflower again soon.

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S1E11 (Individual) – Sculpin

Employment Status: 3 Follow-Up E-mails and LOTS of working 🙂

The final five were taken on a fishing trip to catch the fish, in this case Sculpin, that they would cook with later that day and serve to three top food critics:  Jeffrey Steingarten of Vogue magazine, Tanya Steel of Epicurious.com, and Barbara Fairchild of Bon Appetit magazine.

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The chefs were scored on a scale of 12. David (Saffron Butter Sculpin) had the best dish with a score of 11.5. Lee (Braised Sculpin over Fennel Couscous) came in second place with a score of 8 followed by Sheetal (Tomato Curry Sculpin) in third place.

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Whitney (Pan Seared Sculpin), with a score of 5, and Sharone (Spring Asparagus Citrus Salad), with a score of 4, were declared to have the worst dishes of the day, which resulted in both of them being sent to the pressure test.

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This challenge was yet another one that I had to make substitutions for. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to get freshly-caught California Scorpion Fish in Louisville, Kentucky (Go figure…). I did some research though and saw that it is mostly just a mild-falvored white fish with a medium texture. So I figured that Tilapia (which is readily available almost everywhere) would work well.

I decided to do an Asian-inspired dish that was both sweet and spicy. This took the form of sweet-chili tilapia with baby corn and sugar snap peas over pineapple sticky rice. To make 2 very significant portions of this dish, this is what I used:

  • 1 cup of water
  • 20131031-192622.jpg3/4 of a cup of pineapple juice
  • Splash of coconut milk
  • 1 cup of jasmine rice
  • 9-ounce filet of tilapia
  • 3/4 of a cup of Thai sweet chili sauce
  • 1/2 of a yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 of a red onion, chopped
  • 35 sugar snap peas
  • 8 baby corn, cut in small chunks
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of ginger paste
  • Several tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Pinch of toasted sesame seeds
  • Salt and pepper to taste

This dish is REALLY easy to make. I first cut the tilapia filet into small pieces and marinated them in the Thai sweet chili sauce. Then, I started the rice.  I brought the water, pineapple juice and coconut milk to a boil and then added the rice to simmer for 10-15 minutes (until rice was done).

Next, I sautéed the onion, pepper, garlic, peas and baby corn with some olive oil, soy sauce, ginger, salt and pepper until the vegetables were tender. (See 1st photo below). After that, I added the tilapia and thai sweet chili sauce to the pan and cooked for a few minutes until the fish was cooked through. (See 2nd photo below for finished component).

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 Then, I plated the fish and vegetable component over the sticky rice and garnished it with toasted sesame seeds. (See finished product below).

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Sweet-chili tilapia with baby corn and sugar snap peas over pineapple sticky rice

This dish was really easy and straightforward. It was very tasty (although a little on the spicy side) but the presentation was pretty basic. While I thought it tasted great, I’m not sure how it would have fared with the critics given how simple the dish was. But since I didn’t serve canned tomato sauce or “disgusting” fish liver, I think I would have been safe from the pressure test.