S2E19 (Mystery Box) – Chicken

For the final mystery box challenge of the season, the contestants were asked to demonstrate how far they had come. They had to create a dish featuring chicken with an open pantry, just like one of the first challenges of the season. Jennifer struggled, turning in a dish with overcooked and undercooked components (Bacon Wrapped Chicken with Apples and Jalapeño). Christian (Bacon Wrapped Chicken with French Onion Sauce) and Adrien (Braised Chicken Thigh with Acorn Squash, Asparagus and Rice) created better dishes, but the judges only offered high praise for Adrien, who won the challenge.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 2.08.52 PMScreen Shot 2014-04-12 at 2.06.11 PMScreen Shot 2014-04-12 at 2.07.33 PM


For this challenge, I decided to do an “empty the fridge” type of dish. While that’s not really what I usually do on this blog, I thought that I had ingredients on hand to do a great stuffed chicken breast with ratatouille and truffle-butter potatoes. For the chicken breast, I made the stuffing out of feta, chopped bacon, minced garlic, chopped yellow onions, thyme, oregano, and crushed red pepper. After mixing all of this together, I pounded out the chicken breast, spread the stuffing evenly over the top of the chicken and then rolled it all up so that the chicken totally enveloped the stuffing. I seasoned the chicken with salt, pepper and paprika, and poured in enough chicken stock to cover the bottom of the baking dish. I baked this in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes, spooning the broth over the top of the chicken every 15 minutes.

20140412-201656.jpg   20140412-201705.jpg

20140412-201725.jpg   20140412-201732.jpg

While the chicken was cooking, I started making the sides. While I did not have the ingredients to make a traditional ratatouille, I certainly had enough to create my own version. I simply sautéed some chopped zucchini, chopped red onion, diced tomatoes, minced garlic, and chopped red bell pepper in some olive oil and butter. I let the vegetables cook together for a little bit. Then, I added a couple tablespoons of arrabiata sauce and seasoned the whole mixture with salt, pepper, oregano, basil, cumin, and cayenne pepper. I let this all cook together on low until the vegetables were tender and ready to serve.

20140412-201746.jpg   20140412-201759.jpg

For the potatoes, I simply fried the slices in some butter for a couple minutes per side, sprinkled them with truffle salt and then popped them in the oven on a baking sheet until they were fork tender.

20140412-201806.jpg   20140412-201822.jpg

The final component of the dish was the red wine reduction. When the chicken was finished, I took the broth from the bottom of the baking dish and poured it into a sauce pan. To this, I added an equal amount of red wine (in this case, a pinot noir that I had on hand), a tablespoon of honey, and the juice of 1/2 a lime. I let this simmer until it was reduced by half.

20140412-201813.jpg   20140412-201841.jpg

I plated the chicken breast on a bed of the truffle potatoes and ratatouille with the red wine reduction spooned over top. Overall, the dish came together pretty well. The ratatouille and potatoes were delicious. I easily could have eaten just those and been perfectly content. The chicken, on the other hand, was just ok. The feta did not keep the chicken moist like other cheeses I have used in the past to make this dish. And the crushed red pepper was too strong, giving the stuffing, as a whole, a bit of an odd flavor. The red wine sauce was very strong. I let it reduce too far and I used a fairly cheap wine, so the overall flavor was much too sharp. While there are definitely some tweaks that need to be made to improve this dish, I do think that it could be refined into quite a delicious meal.

20140412-201903.jpg

S2E17 (Elimination) – Gordon Ramsay Signature Dish

Employment Update: I have held off on including these updates for a couple posts, because I have had several things still up in the air, but I can now announce that I am back at Churchill Downs and will be working on the Events Team until the end of June. I am really excited because I will be working on the Taste of Derby, the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby. This will definitely be an awesome experience and I am very happy to have the opportunity. 


Ben, having won his first mystery box challenge, was able to pick which one of Gordon Ramsay’s signature dishes that the chefs had to recreate for this elimination challenge. He was given the following three dishes to choose from:

  • Pan Roasted Filet of Halibut with Crab, Crushed New Potatoes and a Basil Vinaigrette
  • Roasted Duck Breast with Honey Glazed Baby Onions, Minted Peas and Madera Sauce
  • Roasted Loin of Venison on a bed of braised Red Cabbage with Parsnip Puree, Beets, Mushrooms, Parsnip Crisps and a Red Wine Sauce

Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 5.06.40 PM   Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 5.07.38 PM   Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 5.10.25 PM

Feeling confident in his ability to cook venison, Ben selected that dish. He was also given the advantage of asking Gordon 3 questions about the dish to help guide him in his recreation. From those questions and everything that was said about the dish throughout the challenge, I was able to glean the following information about the dish:

  • To cook the venison, warm the loin in butter (no higher than 140 degrees) and then sear the loin on all sides.
  • The parsnips should be cooked with a couple tablespoons of milk and cream.
  • For the puree, the core of the parsnips should not be used.
  • The beets should be roasted.
  • The mushrooms should be poached in butter and then finished with thyme and olive oil.
  • The red cabbage should be slow braised with some vinegar and lemon juice.

Even though Ben had several advantages over his competitors, he made too many mistakes and was sent home. Suzy (who had the judges’ favorite recreation), Christian, Adrien and Jennifer moved on to the top four.

Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 5.22.01 PM   Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 5.24.35 PM Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 5.26.46 PM   Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 5.28.23 PM Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 5.23.16 PM


This was a difficult challenge because there were so many different components that required techniques that I had never really attempted before. There was also a lot of equipment and different types of ingredients that I did not really have access to. I did my best to recreate the dish but it was definitely the hardest dish I’ve ever done on this blog. For ease of explanation, I’m going to take this one component at a time.

“Venison”

I knew that I was not going to be able to get any venison loin at the grocery store, so I decided to do the same technique that Gordon described to grass-fed beef top sirloin. I decided to warm the steak in clarified butter with smashed garlic cloves and shallot slices. I put the burner on low, covered the pan and moved on to other components. Everything that I read and saw on the episode said that this process would take an hour or more. But when I checked it after 20 minutes, it was already completely brown. I did not have a thermometer so I don’t know how hot the butter got, but it was obviously much too high.

20140405-123717.jpg   20140405-123831.jpg

Just before serving, I seared the beef on both sides for a less than 2 minutes a side. But when I cut into it, it was almost completely brown in the center. There was some pink still left but it was clearly overcooked. And the meat was really tough as a result.

Butter-Poached Mushroom Cap

For this component, I melted enough butter to cover a portobello mushroom cap. Then, I allowed the mushroom cap to bathe in the butter on low heat until the mushroom was tender (about 15-20 minutes).

20140405-123812.jpg   20140405-123819.jpg

Just before serving, I seasoned the mushroom cap with salt, pepper and fresh thyme and then pan seared it in some olive oil about a minute per side. Finally, I trimmed the cap into a square for plating.

20140405-123825.jpg

Parsnip Puree

For this component, I simply followed a recipe that seemed the closest to what Gordon described. The recipe that I used was Tyler Florence’s version: Parsnip Puree. The only issue I had with this was that I did not have a food processor or a blender so I had to hand mash the parsnips. The flavor was great but the texture was not as smooth as I would have wanted. Overall though, it was a great and tasty component.

20140405-123726.jpg   20140405-123854.jpg

Parsnip Crisps

This is another component in which I used a recipe as a guide. I used Alton Brown’s recipe for this: Parsnip Crisps Recipe. In terms of presentation, the one thing not shown in this recipe that needed to be done for the dish was to make the parsnip strips in a spiral shape. To get this effect, I just twirled the parsnip strips around my finger before putting it into the oil. This sort of worked but I’m sure there is a much better way to get this to work and look uniform.

20140405-123733.jpg   20140405-123740.jpg

I also fried the crisps in crisco instead of peanut oil, and it worked great. I’m sure any oil would work fine. The crisps turned out perfectly. They were actually my favorite component of the whole dish, oddly enough. I will probably just make these again to keep around as a snack.

20140405-123749.jpg   20140405-123805.jpg

Roasted Beets

Definitely the easiest component of them all, I simply sliced the beets, tossed them in some olive oil, salt and pepper, and put them into a 400 degree oven for around 30 minutes (until they were fork tender). As always, roasted beets are simple and delicious and one of my favorite things to make.

20140405-123841.jpg   20140405-123847.jpg

Braised Red Cabbage

I used this recipe as a guide for this component: Braised Red Cabbage with Vinegar. I made a couple substitutions and changes though. First, I used beef broth instead of chicken broth. I also did not use caraway seeds. And I added the juice of half of a lemon. The cabbage turned out pretty flavorful but the vinegar flavor was very strong. If I do this again, I’ll probably hold off a bit on the that ingredient.

20140405-123904.jpg

Red Wine Sauce

And for the final component, I used this recipe to create a complimentary red wine sauce: Red Wine Reduction. I followed this recipe completely with the one exception being my use of beef broth instead of chicken broth. Overall, I think this is a great recipe but I lost track a bit at the end and I let it reduce a little too far. The flavor was a little too intense as a result, but that is something that is easily fixed.

20140405-123916.jpg


The final dish came together great in terms of plating. Just as a picture, I was able to recreate Gordon’s dish reasonably well. However, I fell into the same trap as Ben Starr did and overcooked the meat. The other components were decent enough but there were definitely some oddities in the flavors. Since I did not taste the original dish, it is hard to say if I made a reasonable recreation of the dish in that sense, but I definitely did my best at a complicated dish with limited resources.

20140405-123934.jpg

S2E12 (Team) – Three-Course Menu

Employment Update: 10 Follow-Up E-mails, Way too much waiting to hear back form interviews…

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.31.18 PM

This week’s team challenge had the Red Team (led by Giusseppe) and the Blue Team (led by Tracy) conceptualize and create a three-course meal (an appetizer, an entree and a dessert) to impress the judges’ mothers. Each team captain was given two minutes to determine the mothers’ likes and dislikes to help guide their teams. From what they showed on the episode, here is the information that the chefs were given:

  • Joe’s Mom loves fish and vegetables
  • Gordon’s Mom does not like Sea Bass or Tuna
  • Gordon’s Mom and Joe’s Mom love fresh pasta (Graham’s Mom says it’s just “fine”)
  • Joe’s Mom loves fruit tarts (Gordon’s Mom does not)

I’m sure the mothers gave more direction than that but that was all the producers decided to show the viewer. The Red Team served a Mixed Green Salad with Crispy Polenta, Spaghetti Carbonara, and Apple Pie.

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.39.48 PM   Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.44.42 PM   Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.48.55 PM

The Blue Team served Carrot Ginger Soup, Pan Seared Turbot with Caramelized Fennel, and Poached Pear with Mascarpone.

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.39.38 PM   Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.44.25 PM   Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.49.24 PM

Even though the Blue Team took a risk serving the fish, they served the best entree and dessert and won the overall challenge. This sent the Red Team into the pressure test.

Since the instructions for the challenge were so vague, I decided to just try out some recipes for the appetizer and dessert portions, and use the entree portion to incorporate the mothers’ likes and dislikes. The menu I decided on was as follows:

  • Brussel Sprout, Pomegranate, Avocado and Orange Salad
  • Lamb with Kale and Butternut Squash Pasta in a Garlic, White Wine Butter Sauce
  • Beignets with Raspberry and Chocolate Dipping Sauces

Appetizer

The brussel sprout salad idea came from this recipe: Brussel Sprout Pomegranate Citrus Salad. It was a decent amount of prep work (this tutorial helped with the pomegranate though) but the result was great. It was really fresh and light, but you have to like the texture of pomegranate seeds to enjoy the dish.

image

Entree

For the entree, I knew that I wanted to do a fresh pasta since that was one of the few things all of the mothers seemed to like. (And I have a pretty decent recipe that I have used before on this blog). I found some nice kale and butternut squash at the store so I thought that I could incorporate that into a really nice dish. The first thing I did was roast the squash using this recipe: Simple Roasted Butternut Squash. I let it cool and then cut it into cubes. Then, I prepped the kale (using this as a tutorial since I’d never worked with it before).

Next, I started to prepare the sauce. I put 6 tablespoons of butter, 4 cloves of garlic (minced) and 1/4 of a yellow onion (finely chopped) into a pan, cooking it until the onions were translucent. I then added 3/4 of a cup of white wine, 1 tablespoon of sage, 1/2 a tablespoon of thyme, salt and pepper to taste, and a splash of half-and-half. I let that all cook together for a few minutes and then added the kale into the sauce. I covered this and let it cook for a few minutes until the kale cooked down. I then added in the butternut squash and pasta (once it was cooked through in boiling water), and let that cook together for a few minutes until the lamb was done.

image   image

For the lamb, I simply followed this recipe: Basic Sear-Roasted Lamb Loin Chops. Overall, this dish worked really well. The pasta got a little overcooked and the kale was still a little chewy, but the flavors were great. The lamb was cooked perfectly and all the components tasted great together. I would definitely do this again, but I’d cook the kale before adding it into the sauce and I’d make the noodles thicker or boil them less.

image

Dessert

For dessert, I decided that I wanted to try and make beignets using this recipe: French Quarter Beignets. I followed the recipe completely and made Chocolate and Raspberry Dipping Sauces to go with them. I pretty much followed all of the recipes, with a couple exceptions. We experimented with the sugars that coated the beignets, ultimately coming up with 4 different variations: powdered sugar, granulated sugar, plain, and brown sugar with cinnamon. I also didn’t have enough raspberries for the sauce so I supplemented with blueberries and pomegranate seeds. I also used lemon juice instead of orange juice, which was great because it definitely added some more tang to the sauce.

image   image

Overall, the beignets turned out great. My favorite was definitely the granulated sugar with the raspberry-blueberry-pomegranate dipping sauce, but they were all very tasty. The only thing was that the recipe made SO MANY beignets. We decided to freeze about half of them, and according to this recipe, they can be reheated by simply putting them into a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. I have no idea how they will work out but I’ll definitely let you all know.

Also, as a bonus recipe, I recently tried my hand at these: Homemade Fig Newtons. They turned out great but the dough is VERY difficult to work with. While the results are great (I mean seriously delicious!), the hassle is probably not really worth it. 

image

Note: The Pressure Test challenge that followed this Team challenge was a repeat test: the chefs were asked to make a perfect eggs benedict in 30 minutes. Giuseppe, Derrick and Alejandra were the chefs that had to compete in this challenge, and Giuseppe was ultimately sent home for plating severely undercooked eggs. I do not repeat challenges on this blog but here is my attempt from Season 1: S1E12 – Semi-Final 2.