Sunday 16 March 2014

Mystery Ingredient Challenge - Winter 2013

Well guys, our third mystery ingredient challenge this weekend was quite successful. We were presented with seven ingredients this time. To make it more interesting, they decided to throw us a curve ball. Halfway through preparing the courses, we were given an additional eighth ingredient and we had to use a specific method while preparing it. As usual, the event was a lot of fun. There were a couple of setbacks though. More on that in a bit. My aunt and I ended up putting together some very crowd pleasing courses. Let's get right into it.

Our list of ingredients for this challenge was:

  • Yogurt
  • Red Split Lentils
  • Panko Bread Crumbs
  • Maple Syrup
  • Walnuts
  • Spinach 
  • Eggplant

At first I thought this set of ingredients was our easiest yet, but there were a couple of concerns. Firstly, I don't like eggplant. It's something I didn't grow up eating ever and never grew a taste for as an adult. I do however quite like baba ganoush which is a Middle Eastern dip quite similar to hummus where roasted or grilled eggplant is used instead of chickpeas. I like it because it's creamy and garlicky and doesn't really taste like eggplant, lol. The other concern at this point was the panko bread crumbs. It was the one ingredient my aunt and I had the most trouble incorporating because it didn't seem to fit in at all with the other ingredients. We both decided to do a panko shrimp. 

My idea was to make an app with homemade walnut bread with baba ganoush, red split lentil hummus and tzatziki. Then we added some pickled olives, chilies and garlic with it for a Mediterranean meets Middle East course everyone could share. My aunt came up with the idea of adding crispy pita chips that people could use to dip as well. By doing that, we got to use four of the seven ingredients right off the bat (yogurt, red split lentils, walnuts and eggplant). My aunt suggested that we do a pork tenderloin for the main entrée which I agreed to, but we still didn't have a spot for our panko shrimp. I recommended scrapping the shrimp idea and using the panko to make schnitzel with the pork tenderloin (breaded, fried pork cutlets). My aunt already had shrimp on hand and we both liked the idea of panko shrimp so we decided not to do that schnitzel idea. Then I suggested that we serve the panko shrimp along with the pork tenderloin as a cheeky version of surf and turf. My aunt wanted to add it to the app but I didn't think it went with the Middle Eastern theme. In the end, we ended up adding a whole extra course just to incorporate the panko. lol!

So we added a second app course with an Asian theme. We served the panko shrimp with vegetarian salad rolls and seared scallops. Since we had three dips with our Midldle Eastern app, we decided to do three sauces for our Asian app: hoisin, sambal and an Asian vinaigrette. I've made Vietnamese salad rolls before on the blog which was the inspiration for their role in this course. We decided to omit the fried tofu in this version to benefit a couple of people in the group who don't like it. Hoisin is a sweet and salty Chinese sauce that is dark, thick and glorious. Sambal is a common Asian chili paste with a hint of sweetness within its fiery flavour. For the vinaigrette, I mixed soy sauce, rice vinegar, a little water, sesame oil and some finely chopped green onion.

Since we ended up with two apps (the first of which being kind of heavy) we decided to lighten the main entrée by serving a simple salad with the pork. For the tenderloin, we decided to stuff it with spinach, feta, figs and onions. For the salad we decided to combine spinach, candied walnuts, crispy bacon and shallots. To tie the salad in with the pork, we made a maple-balsamic dressing and split it in two parts. One part was used to dress the salad, the other was reduced on the stove into a sauce for the pork. 

At this point we had used all of our ingredients but we still had to incorporate one of them in a dessert course. We originally thought about making small individual tarts filled with yogurt and fresh fruit. After scanning the faces of our audience we decided to go for something a little more indulgent instead. So we made a custard tart and topped it with maple-cinnamon apples. 


We were happy with our menu and out of all the cook off challenges we've had so far, obtaining the groceries for this one was the easiest with the fewest stops and time spent gathering items. We thought this was going to be a walk through the park. Little did we realize that in one day we were going to make fresh bread from scratch, prepare three dips, turn pita bread into crispy chips, sear scallops, make salad rolls (which is easy but requires a lot of prep), bread and bake shrimp, make a vinaigrette, make a pâte brisée pastry for our pie, blind bake it, make a custard, finish baking the tart, butterfly the pork tenderloin, pound it out, make a stuffing, stuff the tenderloin, wrap in prosciutto, roast that, make a salad, candy walnuts, fry bacon (or pancetta to be more accurate) make a salad dressing, make a sauce, make an apple topping for the tart, plate everything and we still had an extra ingredient and method to incorporate. We took our simplest list of ingredients and overcomplicated everything. It took about ten hours to pull everything off and the oven was on for pretty much the entire time. It might be the most cooking I've ever done in one day in my life! 

Luckily, everything turned out to be successful, fun and well worth it in the end. The craziness of it all just made my aunt and I kind of slaphappy and had us laughing all day. Good memories for sure. All the standing and running around literally made us sore by the end of it. What an experience.

Well, let's start off with some photos! The walnut bread turned out great. I admit, the bread was mostly my aunt's work. I helped with some of the kneading and shaping but it was her recipe. Baking isn't something I do much but it is a lot of fun. I'm feeling rather inspired now to do some artisan bread making on the blog...

We made the tzatziki, red split lentil hummus and baba ganoush ourselves. Neither of us had ever made baba ganoush before so that was experimental. We had to play with it quite a bit until we were satisfied with the result. The tzatziki was great and the lentil hummus was my favourite of the three. 

The Asian canape course was also a big hit. It's all about having a variety of sauces. lol

Then it was time to get on with our pastry for the dessert and start on our main. It was around this time that we were presented with our curve ball ingredient...

Sweet potato! The added catch was that we had to use a piping bag in some way with the sweet potato. At first my thought was mashing the sweet potato and piping a design onto each plate. Then my aunt thought of doing a stuffed sweet potato. I loved the idea so we decided to incorporate that with our stuffed pork and salad dish. We baked the sweet potatoes then halved them lengthwise and scooped out the flesh. We puréed the flesh with a little maple syrup then added some caramelized onion and fresh chives. Our filling was done. My aunt had some professional piping bags that we could use but the only tips available were intended for icing so they were all too small and would not have allowed the bits of onion and chive through. So we had to go no tip and just cut a plain hole out of the tip of the bag. Unfortunately when we piped the mixture back into the potato skin it resembled something you might find at a dog park left by a careless dog owner... only orange. After we all had some hysterical laughter and maybe a couple of tears we decided to use a fork to alter the appearance, thus destroying any sign of it being piped. Oh well. You live and learn, right? 


The stuffed pork turned out amazing and completely made up for the sweet potato side. The sauce was awesome too. The only thing about the completed dish that I didn't care for was that it was sweet, on sweet, on sweet. There was just too much of it. But hey, this kind of snags are to be expected with the mystery ingredient challenges. 

Then we finished it all off with a comforting custard tart with a warm and buttery maple-cinnamon apple topping. 

It was great to put all this together, to see everybody and have such a good time doing it all. Since I last saw my aunt and uncle at Christmas time they got a new puppy, so I got to meet her for the first time. She is 15 weeks old. She's a half New Foundland and half Bernese mountain dog. She is a young puppy but already very big. She's going to be a very big girl when she's full grown. Her name is Keeva. Isn't she cute?

lol, I just had to throw that in there.

Well guys, I hope you enjoyed this post. I am hoping that we will get to have our summer cook off. My cousin (their daughter) is getting married this summer so there are a lot of other things going on. I hope we can make it work. If not, no worries. There will be lots of other fun stuff on the blog any way.

Sorry to wrap this up so briefly. Have a great week everybody!


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