Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The 'Master Chef Challenge' - 10 hours, 5 teams, 10 dishes and 1 experiment

        It's been a hectic two weeks since I last blogged. Ryan built me a new computer since then which we had to work through and tweak out all the little glitches. Then I had to reinstall all my programs and transfer all my files over from my back up hard drive which took a while too. Yes, my boyfriend can cook and build computers too - arn't I a lucky girl? ;) We're also travelling overseas for 4 weeks in August so I'm too super excited to do much other than google places to go, things to eat etc (especially in Paris - THE food capital of the world). I had to decide on what to blog about next and thought that this is way overdue on my list of things to blog about.
        Over the Easter break some friends of ours were getting together for a 'Master Chef' challenge of sorts of their own and Ryan and I were invited along. We were all split into pairs and the 'rules' were as follows:
  • Couples were split - it was deemed that all the couples knew how to cook so would have unfair advantage as not everyone knew how to cook
  • Names drawn out ‘randomly’
  • Each team was assigned a ‘secret ingredient’randomly: Eggplant, Spinach, Carrot, Pumpkin, Tomato
  • 2 hours to cook two dishes, your own recipe
  • The hosts decided last minute that they wanted dessert too so each team had to cook one savoury and one sweet dish (secret ingredient only had to be used in 1 dish)
  • All ingredients were bought beforehand and BYO kitchen utensils/serving apparatus if the
    host could not accommodate
  • All prep and cooking had to be done in the 2 hours allocated
  • Only one team cooking in the kitchen at a time (limited space)
  • Dishes to be tasted at the end of each session
  • Each team had to wash up after they finished cooking
        Ryan and I were absolutely excited about the challenge. We cook well as a team but have never really had a challenge like this where we were going to compete head to head. And being assigned a theme ingredient got us thinking more creatively as to what we wanted to dish up. We discussed our ideas for weeks, and had a bit of friendly rivalry going on between us.
        But rules are made to be broken right? Well we never ended up judging the food. And there was a particular team who had made their cheesecake the day before (because it needed chilling) and bought a pre-prepared roast. Some of us also went overtime and some of us required a little help from other teams. There was only a small handful who had cooking experience - some more than others, and some who wouldn't know the difference between a spatula and a wooden spoon. Some teams did a dish each, and some teams collaborated and worked together on both dishes.
        I was very impressed with everyone's efforts. We started at about 10:00am and the last dishes were served up about 8 hours later. It was an epic day full of food which had us constantly grazing every 2 hours with snacks in between. And to top it all off, we had a late night Maccas run for Chicken Nuggets too - crazy I know.

Team 1 - Eggplant

How many guys does it take to watch a pot?

        Poaching pears in a cinnamon syrup, a first time for the person responsible for this dish.

        There was a fair bit of liquid in the pot and I was asked how to thicken it. I just told them to keep it simmering until it reduces. Came out beautifully.

        Cinnamon poached pears served with (Blue Ribbon) Caramel Swirl ice cream. I was impressed.

        Hint on how to get uniform looking eggs in the pan, break them into a small bowl first then pour into the saucepan. That way you can control the way the egg falls better.

Grilled eggplant and proscuitto with egg sunny side up and toast soldiers.

Team 2 - Spinach

        These two never cook, but I am very proud for what they dished up. Even if I was in the kitchen for the entire 2 hours guiding them along.

Some apple and crumble from the night before.

        She says she wasn't following a recipe as such, that she just read a few recipes and then memorised all the good bits and put them all together to make her dish. Kind of sounds like me sometimes =).

        She looks so proud of her creations. Even though the oven switched itself off for about 15 minutes before we realised it, they still came out okay.

Spinach and Ricotta pastries.

        This guy sends me a text the day before asking me if I knew where he could buy Marshmallow Creme/Fluff from. I knew straight away that it was an American product which I'd never ever heard of before and wouldn't exist in Australia. I ask him for the recipe to see what and how it is used. He found the recipe by googling something along the lines of 'easy no cook recipe'. Here's the recipe he found.

        My only advice was to try and melt some marshmallows to get the same effect. But not really knowing how the recipe would turn out by doing this. It was as simple as blending together the ingredients once we managed to melt down the marshmallows. And soften the cream cheese after we started processing it. They also don't sell strawberry flavoured cream cheese here but we figured the strawberry flavoured marshmallows was enough.

        Marshmallow Fluff Fruit Dip with fresh fruit. It was definately an interesting tasting dish this one. Suprisingly the little bit that I tried with a piece of pineapple was quite tasty. And Ryan agrees that it went well with the pineapple too.

Team 3 - Carrot

        This was my team! I wanted to think outside the square a bit and challenge myself here. I also wanted to do a dessert with carrot. Even though we only had to use the ingredient in one dish I was ambitious and wanted the challenge of cooking two dishes, sweet and savoury which both included carrot. I thought I'd leave it up to my partner to think of a savoury dish but I think her creativity was a bit limited when it came to food *Edited: When she pointed out previous statement I realised how bad it sounded. Her idea of creativity was stir fry or korean potato noodles which included carrot in it already (not that that's a bad thing). My idea of creativity was to take something well known and take it in a new direction, or to think outside the square a bit so I adapted a recipe I found on the taste website so that it featured our secret ingredient. I wanted to win! This was before I found out that we wern't even being judged for our dishes. If I had known this was the case, I wouldn't have worried too much about what we cooked.
        I knew my audience, so I wanted to make a dessert that was special and unique to them. And I also wanted to show some creativity using the secret ingredient. What I came up with was a carrot cake souffle, a souffle that featured all the elements of a carrot cake. It was pretty much a basic souffle recipe but I added some processed carrot and the same spices that were in a regular carrot cake.

        I served my souffle with some cream cheese frosting on the side and some walnut brittle - to keep with the elements of a carrot cake but with a bit of a twist.

        I was very happy with what I plated up, even though I knew we wern't being judged anymore. It certainly got the reaction I had hoped for. Though upon tasting, my souffle could have done with an extra 5 minutes or so in the oven. We were already pushing overtime with our 2 dishes. Ryan had to step in and help us with the cooking. My cooking partner was struggling a bit and  I was busy getting my souffle on the go.

        Our savoury dish was Carrot Samosas with a Cucumber and Mint Raita. We cheated and used store bought puff pastry. They are traditionally made using potato as the main ingredient but I added carrot to the mix and had more carrot than potato. I made a basic dipping sauce of yogurt, finely chopped cucumber and mint. These were a huge hit. My cooking partner insisted that we make them that little bit spicier which was a great match with the refreshing sauce.

Team 4 - Pumpkin
        Ryan's team! As soon as Ryan found out who his cooking partner was he knew he was a bit disadvantaged. Let me rephrase - HIGHLY disadvantage. I mean, this guy replied to an email revealing our ingredients with 'boiled pumpkin'. He had absolutely no cooking knowledge/skill at all. He did make a very good sous chef/kitchen hand though. *** Edit: Due to a comment made below on this blog post I would like to add that I was in no way putting down our friend, the 'annoymous' commenter has taken my comments/thoughts way out of context. Ryan's team mate acknowledges that he is lacking in cooking skills but learnt alot from cooking with Ryan on the day.

Ryan's sous chef getting the potato mash nice and fine.

Mmmm chorizo.

        As Ryan has been on a bit of a gnocchi making frenzy and is getting very good at it he wanted to try and make a pumpkin gnocchi again. The first time we made it, we ended up with a stodgy dumpling but he insisted that he had a method to get the most perfect pumpkin dumplings. The trick was to actually mix the pumpkin with some potato. After boiling them he finished them off in a saucepan to seal them off.

Pumpkin gnocchi with chorizo, sauteed pumpkin and sage.

        Ryan originally wanted to make a pumpkin and sage pannacotta but I told him 2 hours would not be enough time to make and chill it. (If we knew we could bend the rules I think it would have been awesome). He decided to do what he is good at - a creme brulee. And it was a pumpkin creme brulee to incorporate the theme ingredient. We didn't try it straight after the 2 hours though as we needed to try and cool it down substantially before it could be eaten.
        Unfortunately I still didn't have any gas in my blow torch so tried to put one under the grill but the sugar was too thick and the direct heat melted the custard. Ryan wanted to be a bit creative and made a layer of toffee to place on top of the creme brulee. It didn't quite work as he had imagined it to. It was just too thick to break through. They did vote between Ryan's dessert and mine and Ryan got crowd favourite. I thought it was okay at the time but when I tasted the leftovers the next day - OMG it was absolutely DEVINE. I'll have to get Ryan to recreate it again some day.

Team 5 - Tomato

        Now this is a bit of a biased pairing I reckon ;) Both ladies have at least basic - medium cooking skill but yet we have a cheese cake that was pre done the night before, a pre-prepared store bought roast and a simple pasta dish. If we were being judged I think they should have been penalised highly for that =p.

        Some pretty good cheesecake. Everyone kept asking what the PJ stands for - it's the first letter of the name of each team member.

Some cream and strawberries for a finishing touch.

Master Chef Kitchen Rules?

        Even for a store bought roast this was pretty tasty. We all thought it was beef though when it came out of the oven a little pink. Then we realised it was pork so into the oven again it went.

The secret ingredient was almost left out, then added on in the last minute.

        Pasta with sausage and tomato, was a bit of a heavy ending to a day of feasting but after constant small meals and nibbling all day I think we wanted some real food.

The Experiment

        We had a few extra people show up to eat the food we cooked but wern't in any of the teams and didn't contribute to any of the cooking. Except this so called experiment. Deep fried McDonald's Cheeseburger and Oreos. Not all of us were fond of this idea of  'cooking'.

Battering the cheeseburger.

Crispy shards on the bottom of the burger.

Would you eat this?

I've read about deep fried Oreos but was not game to try it.

Looks a bit like Mickey Mouse?

Guinea Pig # 1.

Guinea Pig # 2 - mastermind of the fried Oreo.

Guinea Pig #3 - master of the batter.

        Ryan had a bit of the fried cheeseburger. There were a few disgruntled moans but apparantly it didn't taste too bad. 'It just tastes like a regular cheeseburger' I heard someone say.

        We ended the night just veging out in front of the TV, followed by a couple of drinking games (though Ryan and I didn't drink) it was fun just watching them make fools of themselves. Even though I wasn't under the influence I had a sudden urge for something friend - hence the late night almost midnight run to the local Maccas for Nuggets. There were 40 nuggets, 2 large fries and a double cheeseburger between the 7 of us who were left by the end of the night. I think we had eaten enough food for a week in just one day. But it was a great day of food and fellowship.


OohLookBel said...

That's an impressive amount of food! Your souffle looks amazing, too. By the way, I've always wondered who does the washing up on Masterchef. Maybe the person gets eliminated comes back later to clean up??

penny aka jeroxie said...

So much fun! What a great idea...and what a great way to spend the day and night.

Maria @ Scandi Foodie said...

That looks like great fun Angie! And so much food! :-D

chocolatesuze said...

your souffle looks fantastic and hehe i would totally try the deep fried cheeseburger :P

Tina@foodboozeshoes said...

That's one hectic food/eating day. Carrot souffle is a genious idea! I'd eat the Oreos, not the cheeseburger.

Wendy @ Obesebaby said...

wow love that cooking idea espcially love the M table cloth!

Anonymous said...

You guys know how to have fun! I love the idea and presentation of your souffle, and absolutely hate the look of that deep-fried cheeseburger :)

sugarpuffi said...

crazyyyyyy!!! looks like so much fun

betty said...

wow this was a great post to read and funny as well thanks for sharing angie the poached pears look delicious!

muppy said...

That looks like sooooo much fun! i love your souffle, perfect!

Sticky Penguin said...

Such a huge effort - brilliant! Especially good to see a mix of different levels of cooking ability all giving it a go - really motivates me to try more new things. Like that carrot cake souffle of yours - love the idea of buttercream on the side, too. Any chance you'd share the recipe in a future post?

Dolly said...

aww that looks so fun!!!

i tried doing this with another couple.. didnt turn out well us girls ended up cooking :(

Von said...

Wow! This looks like so much fun!! :D You must have had so much food by the time you were all done! Your souffles look really impressive ;) The deep fried cheeseburger and oreos sounds like a really fun thing to make!!

mademoiselle délicieuse said...

Oh my, those souffles look perfect! And I love how the dessert incorporates all the elements of carrot cake.

Now, for the deep-fried stuff...Would definitely try it at least once =p

Ladybird said...

Wow what a giant challenge, and what a feast as a result! :)

Phuoc'n Delicious said...

What an epic day of cooking! I loved how you and Ryan incorporated veggies into desserts, especially how you re-created carrot cake into a souffle! Well done!

But omg at the deep-fried cheeseburger! That's insane

LOL at the "Master Chef Kitchen Rules" cheesecake! Mix up of cooking shows much? :p

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Haha what fun! Great idea for a night in with friends :) And hehe I would give the deep fried goodies a bite but I don't know if I could have more! :P

Vivian - vxdollface said...

haha this looks like loads of fun!! btw you can buy marshmellow fluff from coles :) it's usually in the jam/nutella/vegemite section

Gastronomy Gal said...

oh my gosh- this sounds like an awesome day Angie. You must have amazing friends.

Anonymous said...

Looks like heaps of fun when you can get together and cook with your friends like that. Great food and great company. Well done with ur partner. But...
Comments where abit harsh don't you think? These are your friends aren't they?(highly disadvantaged?) I don't think such criticism is necessary towards your friends, they are just starting out as you and I once did. I wouldn't have been too impressed with your comments if I was there.
My thoughts....

Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said...

Why is it that people who like to give negative comments always do so annonymously? Can't even give a name and contact?

You are welcome to your thoughts but if you read properly all my comments and thoughts in this blog post on are balanced out. Yes my bf was 'highly disadvantaged', he was paired with someone who had absolutely no cooking skill whereas he can actually cook quite well. But I did say that this friend learnt alot from the experience and was a great aid to him did I not? This post was purely my recount of the day, how I saw it, and that includes the good and the bad.

Did you actually read the whole blog post? Or did you just skim through and pick out things to criticise me on?

I was always looking for feedback good and bad when I started out cooking in order to improve myself. And I still do, I have such high expectations of myself that I am my own worse critic. You don't learn in life if no one tells you your downfalls. How you take it and use it to make you grow is up to you.

Thank you for your comment Anonymous.

Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said...

Also, just to add we're having another 'Masterchef' event next weekend, except that we're actually not going to cook the food there but pre-prepare our dishes and bring them along(or buy for those who really don't want to cook).
This event actually helped inspire some of them to learn more in the kitchen, especially those with no cooking skill at all. If my thoughts and comments were really hurtful I am sure I wouldn't be coming along to this one.

Gianna@TheEmptyFridge said...

Hey ange, there's nothing like a fun day with friends and food! I really don't think you were being harsh at all :/

But I have to say - you know I love my Maccas but I don't know if I'd be game to eat a whole deep fried cheeseburger! Xx