If making dinner has gotten to be a bore, try turning it into a competition. Due to my obsession with the Food Network’s Chopped—a timed competition where chefs must create dishes using mystery ingredients—my friend and I recently held our own mini-Chopped challenge at home.
On the prime-time version of Chopped, professional chefs race a clock to create three dishes; appetizer, main entree, and dessert that incorporate a set of mystery ingredients presented at the start of every round. All items must be used. These question marked ingredients run the gamut from dill pickles to bull testicles to cough drops. Judges critique the dishes based on creativity, presentation, and taste. The chef who survives all three rounds wins a cash prize of $10,000.
In our version of Chopped there was no cash prize and the rules were not quite as strict. The competitors had to create only one course using the mystery basket selected by my boyfriend. On the prime-time version, chefs can use pantry items to help flesh out their meals so we followed suit and stocked my pantry with cooking essentials like onions, cream, eggs, flour, rice, butter, oils and fresh herbs.
When competition began, it was soon discovered our mystery basket included ground turkey, plum tomatoes, baking potatoes, and a bag of the chewy candy Swedish Fish. Knowing how potatoes take a long time to cook, I quickly shredded mine to make some pan-fried latkes. I took the ground turkey and started cooking it on low heat while adding cumin, chopped tomatoes, and onion for flavor. I later decided to incorporate a soft cheese in hopes of creating a queso con carne dip. Meanwhile, my opponent cubed the potatoes to downsize cooking time during the making of her mashed potatoes. She roasted the tomatoes and used the turkey to make panko-crusted meatballs.
The candy was trouble for us both. I thought I had it in the bag with my genius idea of incorporating small pieces of the Swedish Fish into an apple chutney drizzled on the latkes. My opponent went for a reduction sauce using Reisling to extract the flavors of the chewy candy later used to flavor the meatballs.
In the end, I was chopped. The judges found my latkes to be “cloyingly sweet” and my overall appetizer to lack a cohesive theme. Being meat and potato men, they were won over by my opponent’s meatball and her mashed potatoes topped with roasted tomatoes. As disappointing as it was be eliminated, the challenge of cooking creatively and under pressure was fun. It is an awakening of the senses, even if the senses did not necessarily appreciate apple- Swedish Fish chutney.