It’s that time of year again where our KPC staff members prove that they aren’t just great on the page but also great in the kitchen.
This week, we took on another “Chopped” challenge for your entertainment, with four of our KPC staff members hitting the kitchen to whip up a dish inspired by four mystery ingredients.
If you’re not familiar with the Food Network cooking show, four chefs are each given mystery baskets containing four ingredients that must be used in some way in dishes they prepare. There are three rounds — appetizer, entree and dessert — and after each round one contestant who didn’t hit the right marks for taste, presentation and creativity gets chopped and sent home.
Granted, we’re not restaurant chefs around here, but it’s a fun challenge to take on at home and a chance to think of some creative ways to combine some random ingredients, including some you probably don’t normally use on a day-to-day basis.
Like the entree round, our chefs get 30 minutes to come up with a meal idea and execute it. And, like the show, they’re able to bring additional items from their pantry and fridge to the party to create a rounded meal.
So here’s what I threw at our amateur chefs this time.
The mystery ingredients
10 pre-cooked shrimp: Shrimp is great (for those who don’t have allergies) and it’s pretty flexible, but it presents a few problems. One, it doesn’t have a lot of flavor on its own. Two, these are pre-cooked, so they heat up extremely fast and are easy to overcook. And three, there’s not a lot of them, so making them count in a small dish is a challenge.
Red bell pepper: I’m not as cruel as the real “Chopped” crew, so I try to include a familiar ingredient and one that’s pretty flexible. Red bell peppers are milder and sweet than green peppers and therefore can be used as an ingredient in a variety of styles of cooking. They’re really flexible, and add some nice color to the dish.
Maple root beer: You gotta get a little weird in a “Chopped” basket, but root beer actually can be pretty flexible. It is sweet, but root beers have some deep kind of caramel flavors that you can impart into your food. They’re actually not a terrible base for making a sauce, but the soda does kind of eliminate some avenues that you might normally think to go.
Apple raspberry avocado baby food: Every good “Chopped” basket has one curveball, so this is where I threw it. Obviously babies eat baby food, but there’s nothing to say anyone outside of diapers can’t also eat it. Going with a fruit-based one (it would have really been cruel to put in creamed ham or something) can make it work down a variety of avenues without being super sweet or overpowering. That being said, the texture leaves something to be desired.
So, what did our cooks whip up?
Teriyaki shrimp lettuce wrap with toasted rice
By Herald Republican Editor Mike Marturello
Here we go with chopped lite again and just like the last time, the basket looked like a stinker (OK, it was a Kroger bag, not a basket).
Erika had to supervise, of course, and when we got going, I thought, “maybe this isn’t going to be so bad. It has shrimp.”
“It looks like that shrimp is cooked,” Erika said.
Sure enough, it was. Of all of the items in the basket I thought the root beer might be tough, but hey, cook it down. And the apple, raspberries and avocado baby food, well, it tasted kind of like tamarind paste to me. Lots of possibilities there.
But cooked shrimp? Really Steve? (I thought about getting raw shrimp from the freezer downstairs and cooking it but that would have been cheating, and you would have been able to tell that they were real shrimp, not those tiny things in the basket. They should outlaw that stuff.)
The first thought was get out the ketchup and make barbecue sauce. Then it was like a no-brainer. I have a fairly well-stocked Asian pantry so that’s the direction we headed.
We ended up with a teriyaki shrimp lettuce wrap with toasted rice.
The root beer went into a small sauce pan to cook down. It didn’t end up syrupy, but it did thicken. The baby food helped with that. To make it teriyaki, we did add some soy sauce, grated fresh garlic (one clove) and ginger syrup. (I did grate some fresh ginger then decided not to use it because it could have made the sauce a bit bitey.)
I cut chunks of the orange bell pepper that was part of the basket and added some onion chunks. (So, I have fresh lemon grass that ended up going back in the fridge. We have fresh ginger. We always have lettuce on hand to make homemade salads. And all I had was half of an onion in the fridge that would have been no onion to use in a couple days. What’s wrong with that?)
Back to the rubber shrimp, I mean pre-cooked shrimp. Skewers with shrimp and vegetables would have looked nice, but to cook the vegetables properly would have rendered the shrimp inedible. So I made two skewers, one with the vegetables and the other with nothing but shrimp. I didn’t put the shrimp on the grill until the vegetables were on their last turn. I basted with the root beer-baby food teriyaki sauce in the beginning and after each turn.
The vegetables had nice char thanks to the sweet root beer, baby food and the ginger syrup. Even though I had the Weber gas grill smoking hot, I still didn’t get marks on the shrimp, though you could taste a hint of this-was-cooked-on-a-grill flavor. Amazingly, the shrimp didn’t turn to rubber.
It went atop a bed of rice that had been toasted up in a saute pan and was placed on the lettuce wrap with the shrimp and vegetables side by side.
It was easy to fold up and eat like a wrap, and there was a fair amount of sweet, sour, and salt from the soy, crunch from the vegetables and rice and the cool and crispiness of the romaine.
Erika and I agreed that the dish had good flavor. But pre-cooked shrimp? I would not cook that by choice.
We can always count on Steve (or was it Ashley Garbacz?) for throwing something odd (or awful) into these friendly competitions.
Stuffed pepper with a side of grilled, glazed shrimp
By The Star Editor Andy Barrand
Thirty minutes to make an entry from peeled shrimp, a red pepper, maple root beer and organic apple, raspberry and avocado baby food, what could go wrong?
My first thought upon opening the bag was one that everyone might have had. These ingredients would work well as a quick and easy stir fry.
But instead I headed out on a different path to try a new dish never attempted in my kitchen: a stuffed pepper with a side of grilled, glazed shrimp.
With this path chosen I pulled a small portion of bacon from the refrigerator and caramelized it with the maple root beer, while the rice was cooking in preparation to stuff the pepper. I also set aside a small portion of the shrimp to saute to part of the stuffed pepper.
From there the ingredients were combined and placed into the oven and it was off to the grill with the cajun seasoned shrimp. A quick char on the shrimp was accomplished before one side of them was hit with a glaze of the organic baby food.
To finish off the pepper I stuck it under the broiler and topped it with mozzarella.
The finished product, I have to admit, can be refined as any dish can. The filling inside the pepper was overshadowed by the rice hiding all of the flavor of the caramelized bacon and shrimp. Working under the 30 minute time frame the pepper could have been cooked a little longer.
The glazed shrimp was probably the most successful part of the dish as it had a hint of sweetness along with a little kick.
All in all I probably would have been chopped as the maple root beer flavor was masked in the dish.
Shrimp skewer with root beer BBQ sauce
By News Sun Editor Steve Garbacz
I always take part in the “Chopped” challenge, although as the one buying the ingredients, I don’t get the surprise challenge that others do, since I know what it’s the bag and can think about it ahead of time.
Despite that, I realized I kind of put together a difficult bag. There’s not much body there — a handful of shrimp, a pepper and two liquids don’t really make a meal — so bringing the pantry is a must.
For me, I opted to go the route of a grilled skewer and decided to put most of my effort into making a homemade barbecue sauce to go with it.
I seasoned the shrimp with some garlic and herb seasoning mix from my pantry (I also made some chicken skewers since I had to also feed my wife and kid) and cut up the red pepper and added a chopped onion and made a nice skewer.
For the barbecue sauce, the rich root beer makes a great base, so I tossed that into a pot on blasting high heat to reduce. I wanted to boil off at least half of the root beer to thicken it a bit but also concentrate the flavor by removing some of the water.
Once that boiled down, I started building the sauce. I tossed in the baby food, admittedly kind of burying that ingredient, and then added ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, a little garlic, a little ginger paste, some liquid smoke and a bit of soy sauce as a way to get some more saltiness to balance out the sweetness of the root beer and baby food.
I mixed those together and put it back on the heat because it was a little thinner than I liked to try to reduce it a bit more.
I tossed the skewers on the George Foreman grill to get some char and cook them though and took them off when they’re cooked through. The shrimp skewer only needed a short minute or two, because, again, it’s already cooked so I didn’t need to blast it with a lot of heat.
I had tossed on a box of Rice-a-Roni for a base and laid down some rice, placed the skewer on top and then poured some of my barbecue sauce over the top. Voila, dinner.
All in all, my meal turned out OK. I thought my barbecue sauce came out alright, a little sweet, but my wife was not a fan. Luke was not impressed either and demanded a corn dog. Such is the life with a 3-year-old.