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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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S2E17 (Mystery Box) – Ground Meat

This week’s mystery box gave the contestants three types of ground meat to build a dish around: ground veal, ground pork, and ground beef. The mystery box also included: celery, corn, carrots, peas, mushrooms, lemon, tomato, bell peppers, garlic, eggs, milk, potatoes, red onion, worcestershire sauce, rice, mango, tomato paste, several fresh herbs, 3-4 different types of cheeses (among others).

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Jennifer (Meatloaf), Adrien (Trio of Meatballs) and Ben (Shepherd’s Pie) were named the top three with Ben winning the chance to pick the focus of the next elimination challenge.

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When I saw the ingredients available in this mystery box, I thought that I could put together one of my favorite dishes: stuffed peppers. I have never actually made these myself, mostly because my mom’s version is pretty well perfect and I didn’t want to create a poor impression. So I decided to find a recipe online that would be different enough to avoid the comparison. I settled on this as my guide: Stuffed Peppers with Ground Beef and Rice.

I essentially stuck to the recipe, except for few minor changes and additions, mostly dealing with the tomato sauce. I substituted fresh vine-ripened tomatoes (which I diced) and tomato paste for the canned diced tomatoes and tomato sauce that the recipe called for. I also added 2 cloves of minced garlic and 1/2 of a banana pepper (minced) to the bell pepper, onion, and celery mixture. This made the sauce very chunky but it definitely added a lot of nice flavor.

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Everything else from the recipe was the same (including the sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese towards the end of the cook time). Overall, the peppers turned out great but they were definitely not as good as my mom’s. (I’m going to have to ask her for her secret). I really wanted more tomato sauce throughout the beef mixture. When I make this in the future, I might put some sauce in the bottom of the pepper before adding the beef and rice mixture or maybe layer the sauce throughout. Either way, I will want more tomato flavor!

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To serve as a side, I went for this recipe: Delicious Corn Dish Recipe. I saw this on buzzfeed a while ago and I have been waiting to work it into meal until now. I followed the recipe completely with just a couple exceptions. I had to substitute banana pepper for jalapeño because my grocery store was out. (This would be a good substitution for people that don’t like spicy foods though). I also added some minced garlic to the corn when sautéing it in olive oil (because I have to add garlic to everything). Finally, I used equal parts of lemon and lime juice instead of just lime.

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I served the stuffed pepper on a bed of the manchego-lime corn, making a very colorful plate. Overall, the corn and the stuffed pepper worked well together. It was a pretty solid dish but nothing super special. The corn was awesome though. I will definitely do that again. The stuffed pepper was just ok. It really needed some more flavor but maybe I’m just spoiled by my mom’s version.

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BONUS RECIPE: The same night I did the stuffed peppers and corn, I also decided to try my hand at some duck fat fries. I had some extra duck fat lying around from this blog post and I was really craving potatoes, so this was the perfect solution.  I found this tutorial: How to: Duck Fat Fries, and followed it completely (including the soaking and two-step frying processes).

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When they came out of the duck fat the second time, I seasoned them with truffle salt, paprika and grated parmesan cheese. And they were DELICIOUS!!! Seriously, far and away the best thing I that last night, and I can’t wait to make some more soon.

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S2E15 (Elimination) – Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

As an advantage from her win in the previous challenge, Jennifer was able to pick the focus for the elimination challenge. She was able to pick from the three judges’ favorite childhood dishes of Joe’s Pizza, Graham’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese and Gordon’s Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese. She picked Gordon’s dish and the contestants had 45 minutes to turn it into a gourmet version.

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Suzy (Grilled Cheese with Red Pepper and Tomato Soup) and Tracy (Tomato Soup with Pancetta and Fontina Grilled Cheese) had the best dishes and earned the job of team captains for the next challenge.

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Ben (Roasted Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Onion), Christine (Heirloom Tomato Soup with Goat and Provolone Grilled Cheese), and Derrick (Gorgonzola Tomato Soup with Tomato and Bacon Grilled Cheese) were in the bottom three, with Christine and Derrick being sent home.

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When I saw this challenge, I knew that I wanted to use this as an excuse to try my hand at some homemade bread to use for the grilled cheese sandwiches. I have been trying to push myself to make items that I would usually just buy at the store. I did some research and found this delightful bread recipe: Potato-Rosemary Bread. I completely followed this recipe (including the roasted garlic, of course), and it turned out perfectly. It is a very time-intensive recipe but it was so worth it. Honestly, this is some of the best bread I’ve ever had and it worked really well with the other flavors in the dish. (Just a warning though: For those of us who are not regular bread makers and do not have biga just lying around, this recipe will take two full days to make).

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For the soup portion, I wanted to do a tomato and bacon bisque but I  had no idea where to start as I had never made one before. I used this recipe as an initial guide: Roasted Tomato and Smoked Bacon Bisque, but I changed and added enough components to make my own recipe.

The first thing I did was roast the tomatoes. I cut 5 pounds of roma tomatoes in half and removed the seeds from the center with a table spoon. Then, I sliced 2 shallots and minced 5 cloves of garlic. I tossed all of this in some olive oil in a large baking dish and put it into a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes (before and after roasting pictures are shown below). When the tomatoes were cool enough to touch, I removed the tomato skins and began my work on the soup.

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When the tomatoes were done, I browned 1 cup of chopped bacon in a large pot. Once finished, I poured off the rendered fat and added 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 yellow onion (chopped), 1 shallot (minced), 1 red bell pepper (chopped), 8-10 cloves of whole roasted garlic (which I roasted previously while making the bread), 2 large carrots (chopped), and 2-3 stalks of celery (chopped) to the pot. I seasoned this with salt, white pepper and black pepper and cooked this all together until the vegetables were tender.

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I then added the roasted tomatoes (without skins), shallots and garlic to the pot with 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock and 1 cup of white wine. I seasoned this mixture with 5 leaves of fresh basil (finely chopped), 1 bay leaf, 1/2 of a tablespoon of dried oregano, 1/2 of a tablespoon of dried thyme, 1 teaspoon of paprika, and some additional salt and pepper. I let this cook together for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Then, I added in a half pint of heavy cream and allowed this to simmer for 10-15 more minutes.

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Finally, I pureed the soup in a couple batches with a blender. I put the pureed soup back into the pot without straining it because I wanted a thicker soup. If you prefer a thinner soup though, I would recommend taking this step. I brought the soup back up to a simmer to ensure that it was still heated through (and to keep it warm while I was doing the grilled cheese), and then garnished it with a yellow cherry tomato (cut in half), a couple thin strips of fresh basil, and a few dollops of greek yogurt that I had mixed with some fresh lemon juice. This is completely unnecessary to enjoy the soup, but I did it to give it that “gourmet plating” look (and also to get a good picture).

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With the soup complete, it was time to make the gourmet grilled cheese. I wanted to go with some bold flavors for this component so I decided to create a grilled cheese sandwich with arugula, portobello mushrooms, prosciutto, gruyere and smoked gouda on thick slices of my homemade potato-rosemary-garlic bread. I lightly cooked the thinly sliced portobello mushrooms in some olive oil and then layered the sandwich components as seen below (with gruyere on one side and smoked gouda on the other). I then spread a generous layer of butter on both of the outer sides of the sandwich and grilled it on a hot griddle for a few minutes a side (basically until it was brown and crispy, as shown below).

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I cut the sandwich in half and served it in the soup. All together, this was delicious (and honestly one of my all-time favorites from this blog). The sandwich and the soup were both gourmet versions of the classic and tasted wonderful in their own right. But together, the flavors were magical. Ok… that might be overstating it a bit. But seriously, this was AWESOME! So good, in fact, that as soon as I woke up the next morning, I wanted the leftovers. (For the record, this is great for breakfast too). I certainly think this would have made a splash in the challenge and I definitely recommend trying this out for yourself.

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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 (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.

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.

S1E5 (Team Challenge) – Feed the Marines

Employment Status: 2 Job Applications, 8 E-mails, 1 Phone call

For this season’s first team challenge, the chefs were asked to feed 400 U.S. Marines with the two different teams serving one entree, two sides and one dessert each.

The Red Team made barbecue steak, potato gratin, roasted root vegetables and apple turnover (the first dish below), while the Blue Team made stuffed pork loin, garlic mashed potatoes, roasted corn and berry napoleon (the second dish). Even though the Red Team’s food was declared better overall, they underestimated the necessary portions and ran out of food. The Blue Team essentially won by default.

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Since I am obviously not going to feed 400 Marines, I decided to use this time to share some of my favorite recipes that could easily be scaled up to meet the needs of the challenge.

For the entree, I LOVE the Pioneer Woman’s Peach Whiskey Barbecue Chicken. I’ve made this dish multiple times and it is always a winner. I pretty much just follow the recipe (with the one exception being that I use breasts instead of thighs) so go there for instructions.

For the first side, I highly suggest my Mom’s mac-and-cheese recipe. I have adapted it over the years and made it my own and it is totally delicious. I had one friend even say that he thought he didn’t like mac-and-cheese… until he tried this. Even today, he says that this is the only mac-and-cheese he likes. If that doesn’t convince you how good this is, I don’t know what will. To make 4 servings of this awesome mac-and-cheese, this is what you’ll need:

  • 2 Cups of Uncooked Pasta (You can literally use any type of pasta for this but I prefer to use Penne, Orecchiette, or Fusilli)
  • 1/4 Cup of Butter
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon of Pepper
  • 1/4 Teaspoon of Garlic Powder
  • 1/4 Cup of Flour
  • 1-3/4 Cups of Milk
  • 4 Ounces each of Sharp Cheddar, Gouda, and Gruyere, Cubed
  • 4 Ounces of Sharp Cheddar Cheese, Shredded
  • 2 Ounces Parmesan, Shredded
  • Seasoned Bread Crumbs

To make this dish:

  • Cook pasta as directed, drain and set aside.
  • Melt butter over medium heat (with salt, pepper, garlic powder and any other herbs and spices you like – I have been known to throw in Sambal Oelek or White Truffle Oil depending on my mood).
  • Blend in flour, stirring constantly until mixture is smooth and bubbly.
  • Slowly stir in milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly.
  • Boil and stir for 1 minute. Turn down heat and stir in cubed cheese until melted.
  • Place pasta in casserole dish. Stir cheese sauce into pasta. Top with shredded cheese and seasoned bread crumbs
  • Bake uncovered for approximately 30 minutes at 375 degrees.

For the second side, I made this Tomato Zucchini Tart for a party recently and everyone loved it. It was time intensive but it was super easy with a mandolin slicer (which you can get fairly inexpensively at Target). You can also spice this up and add yellow squash and/or eggplant as well.

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I have to admit: dessert is not really my thing. A pastry chef, I am not. So I really only have one go-to dessert recipe that I can share with you. As an Ohio native and an Ohio State Alum, this, of course, is Buckeye Candies. The ingredients that you need to make around 36 pieces of candy are:

  • 1 Cup of Smooth Peanut Butter
  • 1/8 Cup of Butter, Softened
  • 2 Cups of Powdered Sugar
  • 2 Cups of Chocolate Chips
  • Toothpicks

Mix the peanut butter and butter until creamy then slowly beat in powdered sugar – just a 1/3 of a cup at a time or else powdered sugar will fly everywhere. Shape into small 1-inch balls, place toothpicks in the center of the candy and freeze for at least one hour. Melt chocolate chips using a double boiler and dip candies one-by-one into the chocolate. Store in the fridge until ready to serve.

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I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I do. I’ll be back with another challenge soon.

S1E4 (Mystery Box Challenge) – Pork Chop

Employment Update: Identified 5 New Potential Positions, Received 2 Rejections, Sent 11 E-mails and 1 Desperate Tweet, and Accomplished LOTS of LinkedIn Stalking

For the first mystery box challenge of the season, contestants were given 45 minutes to prepare a dish using any or all of the following ingredients: a double-cut pork chop, a bunch of flat-leaf parsley, tomatoes, a granny smith apple, a head of cabbage, ciabatta bread, lemons, cinnamon sticks, cognac, chocolate, butter, eggs, flour and milk.

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Most of the contestants stuck with a pretty straightforward pork chop dish with only a few venturing out into dessert territory. The top three for this challenge were Sheena with a chocolate mousse, Jake with a country-style pork chop and Whitney (the challenge winner) with a southern-fried pork chop.

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I decided to go the traditional route and stick to doing a great pork chop. In addition to the pork, I chose to use the cognac, parsley, lemon, apple, cinnamon, tomatoes, flour, butter, egg, and milk out of the mystery box (excluding only the cabbage, ciabatta, and chocolate). The only other ingredients I used aside from these were salt, pepper and olive oil.

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My version of the mystery box (excluding the ciabatta, chocolate and cabbage).

The first thing I did was make a marinade for the pork using the following ingredients (measurements are approximations because I was just winging it):

  • 1/4 Cup of Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup of Cognac
  • Juice of 1 Lemon
  • 1/2 of a Granny Smith Apple, Skinned and Finely Minced
  • 20 Parsley Leaves, Coarsely Chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon each of Salt and Pepper

I covered the pork chop in this marinade, set the oven to 400 degrees, and then left it to marinate as I set to work on my next component. (See the marinating pork chop below).

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To accompany the pork, I thought spaetzle would work perfectly. I’ve never made it before so I used this recipe as a guide: German Spaetzle Dumplings. Because of the limited ingredients I had at my disposal and my self-imposed guidelines, I had to adjust this recipe significantly. The ingredients I used instead were:

  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons of Milk
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
  • Pinch each of Cinnamon and Black Pepper
  • 4 Parsley Leaves, Minced

I just mixed the ingredients together to create the spaetzle dough, and brought a pot of water to simmer. It should have been as simple as pressing the dough through a spaetzle maker (see below) and into the water. I used the spaetzle maker on the left, and I wasted a lot of time (and dough) trying to figure out how to put it together and use it the right way. But once I figured it out, the process was really easy. I left the spaetzle in the simmering water for just 5 minutes before taking it out.

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While the spaetzle was in the simmering water, I seared the pork chop on both sides (just a few minutes on each) and put it into the preheated oven. I also melted a tablespoon of butter in a skillet. When the spaetzle was done boiling, I transferred it into the skillet and sauteed it until the dumplings were crispy and golden.

After 10 minutes in the oven, I placed 4 thin slices of tomato on top of the pork chop, sprinkled them with salt and parsley, and put the entire pan back into the oven for couple more minutes. When done, I plated the pork chop and tomatoes on top of the spaetzle (as seen below).

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Pork chop marinated in cognac, lemon, parsley and apple with oven-roasted heirloom tomatoes on a bed of    cinnamon-parsley spaetzle

This dish was delicious. All of the components were great on their own and they worked even better together. The best thing was getting a little bit of everything in one bite. The only thing that I would say is that the pork chop was slightly overcooked. That was mostly due to the fact my meat thermometer wasn’t working and I’m definitely part of the “better safe than sorry” school of cooking. To get a perfect pork chop though, this is a wonderful resource: Tender & Juicy Pork Chops in the Oven.

This whole meal took me a little over an hour to complete. But without the spaetzle maker malfunction, I’m confident I could have completed everything in the challenge’s 45 minute time limit. And I definitely think this dish would have earned me some top three recognition.

That’s it for tonight but be sure to come back tomorrow for my next MasterChef challenge.