Chopped; Bahneman Edition

I am not a cook.  Certainly not a chef.  In fact, I hate cooking.  That’s not to say I can’t cook, I can!  I can follow a recipe like it’s nobody’s business but I am not someone who just throws a little of this and a little of that into a pan and whips up an amazing meal.  I’ve actually ruined a few meals trying that, in the past.  Somewhere along the line, though, after 12 years of doing Once a Month Cooking and learning about flavors and recipes, I have evolved…at least a little.

One of my favorite shows on T.V. is Chopped.  The concept at it’s most basic is that 4 chefs have to create an appetizer, a main course and then a dessert using all of the items presented to them in their mystery basket.  The ingredients should be used creatively, be transformed yet still be featured (able to be tasted) in the final product.  They do this under very intense time constraints.

We decided to do our own version of Chopped just to add a little fun and mystery to dinner time.  It was decided that our 12 year old son would choose the 4 mystery ingredients for a main course only and that he would judge the meals.  We opted to throw out the time limits since we have limited kitchen space and have to share appliances, but kept the rule that you cannot use any research materials.

As the night of our event approached, I found myself excited yet nervous.  What if I couldn’t think of anything to make?  What if it tasted terrible?  Oh well, there was always McDonalds (and a part of me was sure we’d end up there).

At 5:30pm, my husband and I were each allowed to view the mystery ingredients, with a camera running to record our reactions.  The ingredients were:

  • Chicken breast
  • Cumin
  • Huckleberry Honey
  • Navel Oranges

As I sat and considered these ingredients, I was thrown off by the cumin.  I could probably make a sauce using the oranges and huckleberry honey…maybe even a play on honey mustard, but what about that darn cumin!  Then I reminded myself that I could do a side dish as well.  You aren’t required to use all of the ingredients in just one dish.  I settled on a chicken enchilada (where I could use the cumin) and a spinach salad with a navel orange and huckleberry honey vinaigrette.  I’ve never made a vinaigrette without a recipe, but figured it couldn’t be too hard.

I started out cutting my chicken into small pieces and then fried it up with a little oil, some onions, garlic and cumin.  Then I added a splash of white wine.  Why?  No idea.  I think I’ve made an enchilada recipe before that had wine in it.  After tasting it, I realized it needed more flavor, so I added salt, pepper, more cumin, some onion powder and garlic powder.  Yum.   I mixed the chicken into some sour cream and added some grated cheese.  The chicken mixture was then placed into some tortillas, placed in a baking pan and baked with cheese on top.

Chopped judges often ding the contestants for lack of sauce.  I needed a sauce for my enchiladas but I also wanted to tie it together with the salad.  I decided to make the sour cream sauce often used on quesadillas, which is primarily sour cream and lime juice.  I added a little orange juice too, to tie it to the orange in the spinach salad dressing that I had yet to make.  After the cheese was melted, I drizzled the sauce on top and sprinkled green onions for garnish.

Moving on to my salad, I first peeled one of the Navel oranges and cut it into pieces to add to the salad (thinking of those salads where you have tangerine pieces).  I also zested an orange and then juiced it.  I decided to zest a lemon as well.  Next, I added some canola oil to the blender.  Now, I needed to figure out which vinegar to use.  I wanted something a little sweet but not too sweet.  I tasted the white wine, red wine and mirin vinegars and decided on red wine vinegar.  I added some to the blender, poured in some of my navel orange juice, added orange and lemon zest and finished it off with some huckleberry honey.  I blended and tasted.  Good, but too tart.  I added more of the huckleberry honey and blended again.  Almost there.  It really needed a slightly savory component so I added a little onion juice and went for one more blend.  Perfect.  The dressing was poured over some baby spinach.  The orange pieces were sprinkled in and then I topped it with some almond slices for crunch and complexity (I sound like I know what I’m talking about, right?).  My dishes were finished.  I presented Chicken Enchilada with a citrus sour cream sauce and Spinach Salad with a Navel Orange Huckleberry Honey Vinaigrette.

I didn’t see everything that my husband did, but here is what I did catch.  He added soy sauce to his fresh orange juice for a sauce of some sort.  He breaded his chicken in a flour and cumin combination.  He sauteed a lot of vegetables. Something stunk to high heaven for a few minutes, until he added wine and saved it.   His final dish was presented as Orange Chicken with Naval Orange Huckleberry Honey  & Wine Reduction

To finish off the competition, we divided the food up and everyone judged, with our 12 year old being the final say on who won the competition.  Everything was, surprisingly, edible!  The final consensus was that while Liem’s dish was edible and even good, it was a little bland and could have used a tad more sauce.  My enchiladas were very good, but may not have needed the additional sauce drizzled on top.  They were already tangy, adding the sauce ramped up the tang just a bit too much.  The salad was awesome.  Cohen crowned me the winner.  I actually cooked a meal without a recipe!  Wow.

Having had a day or two to replay my work in my head, I think there are two things I’d change.  I’d of added red onions to the salad and I would have tried a sweeter sour cream sauce to top my enchiladas, to offset the tang.  Maybe something tomato based or maybe some honey added to the sour cream and lime.  Experiments for the next time I make this dinner (it’s already been requested by my son to include in our regular rotation).

We had so much fun doing this that we’ve decided to make it a monthly or bi-monthly occurrence.  If your family decides to give it a try, I’d love to hear how it goes!

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