Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chopped: Part 2

Its been a couple weeks since we did Chopped At Home, Part 1.  And now: I'm BACK!
This time it was my turn to be the Chef.   Once my man got home with basket items in tow, it was ready, set, cook!  And what were they?  I'll tell you!  My basket contained: Fresh swiss chard [reaction: Ohkaaaay] , Dried porcini mushrooms [Oh boy!], Aloe Vera Drink [What the …?!], and Veggie Balls [Double, What Tha?!…]. **Post disclaimer: Be ready to read the word 'balls' a lot.
Tisket a tasket- Check out my Chopped basket
I think the first thoughts running through my mind were, 'You've gotta be kidding me, my mom has made swiss chard about one million times and I've watched and I HONESTLY am not sure how to cook this stuff'.  That and 'What on earth are these veggie balls and what the heck does ALOE VERA DRINK even taste like?!'  So like any good procrastinator, I quickly opened the mushrooms, and threw them into a sauce pan with some canned chicken stock from the pantry, a shake of italian seasoning and let those start to reconstitute.  They smelled interesting right away- kind of smoky and very… shroomy, if you will.  **Edited to add: WINE!  Why didn't I put wine in this mix?!

My initial idea was something like, 'I'll bring these mushrooms back to life and do sort of a brown sauce with them & the veggie balls, and do kind of a swedish meatball thing with some broad noodles.  ::Cue record scratch sound.::  T HATES egg noodles.  I mean haaates.  A completely unreasonable thing to hate?  YES.  Its a NOODLE!  Sooo, I back burner-ed that idea (so to speak) and pressed on. 

Since I really couldn’t think of how to approach the chard in the proper way, I did basically what you do with any veggie you don't know what to do with.  I chopped it up and threw it in a pan with olive oil, some of the stock, and a shallot.  And that’s about the last thing that I did with it.

Next step was, be a big girl, open the Aloe Vera drink and find out what on earth it tasted like.  I was expecting: Sour?  Bitter?  Medicinal?… I got… YUM, sweet and a hint of peach.  Ever so slightly effervescent and strangely viscous.  Really, there was no way I could think to incorporate this into the savory meal, so I totally ripped the idea off T and decided I'd make a cocktail with it.  Put a few tablespoons of it in a shaker with a lil Smirnoff and poured over ice with some gingerale and a cherry garnish.  Done.

Back to the stove: I threw the veggie balls down into the mushroom sauce, which had come together pretty well.  I knew I had to come up with the 3rd component of the meal and it was back to the pantry for some fakey-fake mashed taters.  Those took all of 2 minutes to come together (Geoffrey Zakarian and Alex Guarnaschelli would have a stroke on the spot if someone tried to use fake mashed potatoes on Chopped but sorry, I was working in a no-egg-noodle-zone and really needed something I knew would at least taste good for sure).

I think my biggest fail came in the plating stage.  I really wanted to plate impressively.  I thought my artsy side would take over but instead my practical side was like, 'If this sauce turns out to taste gross and its all over everything, then this whole meal will be a bust', so I took a more pragmatic approach to the plating and just put each thing down. 

All in all, the chard was okay, except the stems were underdone.  (Mom later informed me that she boils it first… Duhh).  The balls in shroom sauce were actually totally delish and you can bet that if I ever got them in the store I would NOT have thought of this way of preparing them.  The drink- now that was kinda odd.  It was weird to drink something with clear globbiness to it and also not knowing what any of the benefits are to Aloe.  Web search later revealed that its actually VERY good for lots of things: digestion, skin, immune health, etc.

I guess in real Chopped world, I'd get points for the shroom sauce but I think they'd be underwhelmed with my lack of 'transforming' the veggie balls.  Eh- I did okaaay with them.  Its HARD to transform ingredients.  They also have a huge advantage with their expansive pantry.  Anywho, it was really fun.  I felt challenged and we were satisfied.  T had seconds and cleared his plate twice.  Woo hoo!

Oh, and in lieu of $10,000 or brownies, I was taken to Target and this happened:

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