Chopped Box

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I am obsessed with the show chopped, where chefs compete with mystery ingredients in appetizers entree and dessert rounds. After each round a contestant is chopped, leaving one fewer until only a champion remains.
I have been asking MTT to make me a chopped box so I can try my hand at such a game.
He did, in fact, make me a 2 round chopped box.
Round 1 : entree. Lamb chops, broccoli cheddar soup mix, Italian bread, pesto sauce, cheese spread.
I marinated the lamb chops in pesto, made a pesto-cheese spread on bread, and a broccoli cheddar sauce. Photo above. It all went well…so I got to go to round 2.

Round 2: dessert. This box was absurd. Honey-chipotle BBQ sauce, boboli pizza crust, chocolate flavored peanut butter, and plums. Oh and turtle flavor ice cream I freak out. I mix BBQ sauce, peanut butter and light cream to make a spread for the pizza….it’s sweet but with a spicy bite to it bc of the BBQ sauce. I use plums as a pizza topping. I figure I will serve hot pizza w a scoop of cold ice cream. It’s all in the oven when he tells me to close my eyes and prepare for another mystery ingredient. I think, oh well, I will just throw it on the pizza.

I couldn’t throw it on the pizza, seeing as how it was a diamond ring…which I just sort of whimpered at for a few minutes…

Dessert wasn’t very good but I still didn’t get chopped….MTT has signed on for a lot of food experiments and has promised to never chop me…

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I want pizza…no pasta…no both…

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When I was a kid, I had a nanny who knew how to make homemade pizza. I thought it was the coolest thing, because if it weren’t for her, the only pizza we’d ever have was PizzaHut. Now, there’s nothing wrong with PizzaHut, especially because they offer a lot of food for not a lot of money and that’s important when you’re a new immigrant family…but let’s just say the home made pizza was a-mazing.

In fact, it was so good that we reserved it like a treat, on select Fridays. One Friday, my brother, who was an adorable child, said to my nanny as she went for a second slice…”auntie, I think you’re getting fat…”. He said this with the goal of snagging that slice of pizza, but oh my…what a way to do it….

Fast forward to my adult life…pizza isn’t just from PizzaHut. I’ve learned that pizza ca. Be gourmet, that there are pizza snobs in the world, and my colleagues and friends all compare their favorite places to get pizza.

So when I first start cooking on a daily basis, of course I decide to try my hand at pizza. MTT quickly remarks that pizza needs to go into the steady rotation…

So, the night before MTT’s big test, I knew I had to work late but I also wanted to have a fun, hearty dinner for him.

Of course, I think pizza.

I am inspired by the fancy options at the local pizzerias…and I think of the penne and vodka sauce I have in hand.

Presto! Penne-a-la-vodka Pizza.

Needless to say, it’s a hit.

Hope carbo-loading is as good for tests as it is for marathons… 😉

Nectarine Cake

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My mom had given me some nectarines long ago, and now they were sticky-sweet ripe and ready to consume….however I just didn’t feel like eating them au natural…especially not 5 of them! So I sliced them up and put them on top of a yellow cake mix batter…during the cooking process they sank to the middle of the cake and kept the middle of the cake in a super-soft, barely-baked state that at first I was undecided on…but when MTT said he loved it, I decided I did too. I’m highly suggestible, especially when it comes to MTT’s opinion 🙂

I only meant to eat one…but…

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I recently acquired a mandolin slicer and am obsessed! And by obsessed, I mean I talked incessantly about it, and proudly showed it to MTT, who didn’t get it at all, of course, until I said “pakoda” (pronounced pakora). A tasty Indian fritter made of various vegetables fried in a graham flour batter, these treats remind me of parties my mom used to throw growing up because she would usually fry these fresh for her guests.

You can make pakodas out of potatoes, onions, chilis, eggplant, cauliflower…lots of options exist.

Today I tried slicing potatoes in my new mandolin slicer and I was very pleased with the results. So of course, I made pakodas. I was nervous because I didn’t have the traditional kadhai (wok) to fry in but the result was surprisingly…appropriate. Reminiscent of the fritters I used to eat when I was a kid, even. MTT and I took turns dunking the golden fried disks in cold ketchup while watching tv…and before we knew it, they were all gone. Oops! I had only meant to eat one…

Still tweaking….not quite right yet

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Palak paneer….spinach paneer…that Indian dish in restaurants with that creamy spinach and fried cheese….for me it is the one who got away.

My first attempt to make palak paneer was when MTT lived with his roommates with limited kitchen supplies….I tried to blend the spinach with a hand mixer I brought from my house. The result was less than ideal, but MTT was kind enough to say “it’s just the texture that’s off…the flavor is there”

I now have both a food processor and a blender in our small but stocked kitchen; so, today I decided to try again.

The result: again the flavor is there, but the texture is problematic. Much improved from the first try, but I maybe put too much water in (which now seems to be separating slightly). Also, I will probably never have restaurant texture creaminess as I won’t ever add that much heavy cream to a weeknight meal….

But, for the corners I cut in the name of calories and considering it’s only my second try, the results aren’t bad. But I still think I will keep working on this recipe a little more….

You Put the (Lemon) in the Coconut and Shake it All About

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MTT has a big test that he is studying for so I’ve been thinking of making a special dessert for him. His favorite thus far has been cheesecake. However, I am short on fridge space so I opted for something more fresh and summery…that does not need to be cooled in the fridge 🙂

I wanted to make something easy but fun…I am not a purist in that I am ok with using cake mix as a base and actually think that yellow cake mix is fantastic for recipes…and I’m not good at making frosting from scratch, unless it’s cream cheese…so I used a canned frosting base as well.

Lemon-Coconut Cupcakes use both cake mix and canned frosting, but modify each enough to make me feel like I’m really making the dessert home-made.

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Ingredients:
Yellow Cake Mix and all the ingredients it calls for (3 eggs, 1/3 cup oil and 1 cup water)
2 lemons
1 can whipped white frosting
Coconut extract
Sweetened coconut flakes

Method:

Start by toasting the coconut
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I do this on a cookie sheet at 350 for 5-10 minutes until just some flakes are browned
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Meanwhile…
Mix cake mix with the zest of 2 lemons and juice of 1/2 a lemon

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Add the rest of cake mix ingredients and beat per box directions

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Fill cupcake tin as per usual 🙂

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Bake per box directions

Meanwhile…
Mix frosting with 1/2 tsp coconut extract

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Cool cupcakes and then frost.
Dip frosted cupcakes in toasted coconut topping and enjoy!

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MTT enjoyed these a lot…claims he likes it even better than cheesecake! But, he rightfully remarks that this may not store as well as cheesecake over several days…I guess he better start eating!!!

Worth All the Dirty Dishes: A South Asian Adventure

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Two days ago, I decided it was time to go back to my Indian roots. So, I mixed up a malai marinade (yogurt and spices) in a bowl, added some chicken breast tenderloins, and put the covered bowl away in the fridge for two days.

Yesterday, I thought fondly of the chicken marinating in my fridge and started the next step of preparation: I soaked some rice in water.

Today, I was finally ready to make my meal.

Indian cooking is very simple, though it can require some preparation. Over the years, I’ve watched my mom make quite a few meals like this. Sure, you can marinate chicken right before you cook it and boil rice without the pre-soak. But when you plan ahead you can really elevate the meal.

The Indian tradition of yogurt marinades was referenced recently in Top Chef Masters when the acclaimed chefs were asked to contribute to an Indian Buffet…without the proper ingredients of course. Anyway, the eliminated contestant actually made an “Indian-Spiced Chicken” whose most salient critique was “it wasn’t marinated in yogurt….one of the strengths of Indian cooking is using a yogurt marinade always makes Indian chicken so tender and flavorful…” I felt a sense of pride at that critique; as the most frequently cooked meat in my kitchen, I relish the idea of making chicken soft and tasty.

The perfect accompaniments to this malai chicken is a nice spicy rice pilaf and MTT’s favorite: raita.

Raita is a yogurt side spiced with roasted cumin and other items per personal preference. Today’s went with dill and paprika. I also added tons of grated cucumber like my mom always did when I was little. MTT loves raita. So much so that the man can out away almost an entire container-full. In fact, we discovered his lactose intolerance through his love for raita, because he needs to down a lactaid before he can eat it to his heart’s content.

I served this meal with some lightly sautéed red onions and lemon…a very Indian thing to do indeed.

As we ate dinner, I looked over to MTT and said… “I’m sorry about all the dishes tonight…”. Like a good sport, MTT replied “This food is worth it!”

I asked if he wanted some Rooh Aftza for dessert (more on this later…but suffice it to say it’s a very Indian, summery drink). MTT replied “no, tonight is more of a frappucino kind of night…there are so many dishes, might as well use the blender too!”

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“Warm Goodness”

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I worked all day today, but while I was working MTT was good enough to go to the grocery store and buy some staples…like milk. As a reward, I decided to make some fresh-baked dessert.

I promptly offered to make graham cracker muffins…a quick and easy breakfast/dessert that doesn’t require a lot of ingredients…not even flour…but it does need some (unexpired) milk 🙂

I whipped up a batch as we watched Olympic track and field heats, marveling at Bolt’s speed learned all about the triple jump…which I have to say is strange the first time you watch it…. “the walking wounded” according to the commentators.

Anyway, by the time the fastest man on earth finished his heats, we were eating muffins. As I turned to MTT and asked him how he liked them, he managed to get out between bites “warm goodness”

Yum!

Not a side dish…not a dessert…

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There are very few occasions in life I wish I had a dog…or other pet that could consume the occasional debacle to come out of my kitchen…

Today I really wanted to purée something. I had settled on cauliflower…then I realized that the head of cauliflower perhaps had outstayed its welcome in my fridge and would be better suited for the trash can.

I then realized I had barely any fresh veggies at my disposal…but a nice bag of baby carrots called out to me. I did a quick internet search and realized that people do in fact purée carrots. I dutifully boiled my carrots in seasoned water. This, in retrospect, may have been my downfall. At the suggestion of a MasterChef website recipe I added some vinegar to the water….the result was an oddly tangy flavor to the carrots that I hoped would just…disappear as the cooking process continued….

When it came time to purée, I pulled out my blender because I have no faith in my tiny, weak food processor that vaguely starts to smell of burning when I keep it on too long. However, as MTT was quick to say “why aren’t you using the food processor? That’s what it’s for. To process foods”.

I hate to admit it, but he was right. The carrots at the bottom of the blender were puréed alright, but the ones on the top stayed in their boiled cylindrical glory. I then broke out the food processor and added some sour cream and tasted. Still some weird twang…either the vinegar was holding tight or the carrots were just plain bad to begin with. I added some sugar to counteract the vinegar. I thrust a spoon into MTT’s mouth and he asked what the goal was…I meekly remarked “side-dish?”

Clearly that wasn’t gonna fly. So I tried to salvage the labor-intensive purée and make a custard. I mixed my purée with eggs, sugar, vanilla extract and some other things and baked. This time when I forced a spoon into MTT’s mouth, he said “Now it tastes like a side-dish!”.

Fail!

We both decided that the taste just wasn’t there and we’d just have to count this as a loss and feed the garbage can. But not until after I took a picture for this post 😉