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!

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S1E8 (Elimination) – Romance Theme: Passion Fruit

Employment Update: I’ve had two more Skype interviews since my last post for a full-time role in Chicago with a really cool startup. I’m really excited about it but we will see what happens. In the meantime, I’m just enjoying my time in Louisville and exploring the city (when it’s not raining outside – I thought I left Oregon…).

After the Mystery Box challenge, Lee (the winner) was able to choose which ingredient he wanted the chefs to base a dish around in order to create romantic dishes. His choices were chocolate, passion fruit and burrata. He, of course, picked passion fruit (which is crazy difficult to get around here and I’ve never even tried one before).

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A lot of the chefs did prawns or steak with some sort of fruit salad or sauce. The judges did not appear to be impressed with many of the dishes except for those put out by Sharone (Porcini-crusted Tenderloin) and Lee (Tenderloin and Prawns).

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Slim and Whitney were the bottom two dishes this week. Whitney made passion fruit glazed shrimp, which she overcooked. Slim did a really weird fruit and meat fondue dish and ended up being sent home – mostly because she thought her plate was really good even after a terrible critique.

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For my attempt at this challenge,  I decided to do a Thai-inspired passion fruit risotto with chilean sea bass and roasted asparagus. Tragically, I was unable to find any passion fruit in Louisville. I went to three different stores and all I was able to come up with was passion fruit juice. To make two portions of this dish, I used:

  • 1/4 of Red Onion20131019-183951.jpg
  • 2-3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
  • 2-1/2 Tablespoons of Butter
  • 1 Tablespoon of Olive Oil
  • 1 Cup of Arborio Rice
  • 1/4 Cup of Red Wine
  • 1 Tablespoon of Ginger Paste
  • 1 Tablespoon of Lemongrass Paste
  • 1 Tablespoon Fresh Cilantro, Coarsely Chopped
  • Several dashes of Thai Red Chili Sauce
  • 1/2 Cup Passion Fruit Juice
  • 2-1/2 Cups of Chicken Broth
  • 1/2 Cup of Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 6-ounce Filets of Chilean Sea Bass
  • Bunch of Asparagus
  • Lime
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • Olive Oil for Cooking

The first component I focused on was, of course, the risotto. I sautéed the onion and garlic in the butter and olive oil until the onions were translucent. Then, I put the Arborio rice in and cooked it for a few minutes. I then mixed in the red wine to add some color to the rice, followed by the ginger, lemongrass, cilantro and thai red chili sauce. Then, I started the process of adding the broth into the rice mixture. I had heated the chicken broth and passion fruit juice to a boil before starting the risotto so I could slowly add the warm liquid a little bit (about 1/2 cup) at a time. I continued to do this until the rice had absorbed all the liquid and finished it by mixing in the parmesan cheese.

The other two components were simple. I placed the asparagus in a roasting pan, drizzled the spears in olive oil and seasoned it with some salt and pepper. Then, I just put it in to a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes.

I seasoned the sea bass with salt, pepper and lime and pan seared it (just a few minutes on each side). With all of the components complete, I plated the dish with the risotto on the base, followed by the asparagus and the chilean sea bass. (See finished product below).

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The dish was delicious and very unique. I’m not sure that I’ve ever had anything quite like it before. Everything was cooked perfectly but it got a little oily and some crunch would have been nice to have in order to break up the similar textures. I also would have liked to add a little more red wine to get a richer color to the risotto. Overall though, it tasted great and I definitely think I would have been safe this time around.