Shake and I love watching competition cooking shows. Shows like Knife Fight and Top Chef take us 3 hours to watch because we’re always pausing it and discussing the food and chefs and Padma’s outfits. I find the shows really inspiring-if two chefs can break down and cook an alligator in an hour, I can probably throw together a decent pasta from the frozen shrimp and linguine in my pantry. Playing armchair quarterback is also fun, but Shake and I decided to challenge me by setting up our own mystery basket experiment. Shake put the basket together and I didn’t compete against anybody, but Salty helped taste and judge the dishes I made. Since it was the first time I’d ever done anything like this, Shake picked ten ingredients and gave me two hours to cook at least three dishes. I cooked five dishes in an hour and 27 minutes, and I used every ingredient at least twice except the pastry dough because I kind of forgot it until the end. Some dishes were better than others, but it was a great creative infusion and I can’t wait to try it again.
Mystery Basket Items
Newport Steaks Saucy Note: Newport steaks are individual tri-tip steaks. I’d never cooked them before, but they were easy to get right.
Artisan Garlic Salt
Canned Artichoke Hearts
Rainbow Baby Carrots
Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
Dish #1: In-N-Out Salad
Challenge Ingredients Used: Butter Lettuce, Artichoke Hearts, Boursin, Chives, Naan, Garlic Salt
Other Ingredients: White wine vinegar, olive oil, pink salt
This dish was never intended emulate California’s most popular burger, but I somehow achieved an oddly similar taste in a vegetarian salad. To start, I finely chopped the artichoke hearts and fried them in a little olive oil until crispy over medium-high heat. While the artichoke hearts crisped, I chopped the naan into bite size pieces. When the artichokes were finished, I removed them from the pan and added the naan with a little more oil and some garlic salt. I added them to the pan in one layer, shaking them occasionally until they were toasted and crunchy like croutons.
To make a salad dressing, I combined ¼ cup each of olive oil and white wine vinegar with about a third of the Boursin cheese and a pinch of pink salt. The result was delectably creamy without being overwhelmingly rich-I’ll definitely make it again for other salads since it was so easy.
To plate the salad, I overlapped three leaves of washed Boston lettuce in a bowl. I piled the artichoke hearts and croutons in the center and drizzled the mixture and lettuce with the dressing. I topped the salad with chopped chives and garlic salt.
Dish #2: Newport Steak Sliders
Challenge Ingredients Used: Naan, steaks, cheese curds, Boston lettuce, carrots, Boursin
Other Ingredients: white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt
For this dish I used the naan and steaks to make tiny delicious sandwiches with a side of rainbow carrot “fries”. I think all three of us agreed it was the best dish, and it was definitely the best composed. To start, I julienned the baby carrots and put them in a pan over medium heat with a little butter. To cook the steaks, I rubbed one of the steaks with olive oil and salt. I seared it on both sides in a hot griddle pan-I flipped it once the meat easily released from the pan. I finished the meat in the oven under high-broil for about 2 minutes, and then let it rest while I arranged the rest of the slider. I sliced the naan into square “buns” and spread each with a small amount of the dressing from the salad. Then I thin-sliced a few cheese curds and melted them on the buns under the broiler for about 30 seconds. I also sliced the steak very thin and piled it on half the buns. I topped the sliders with a small piece of Boston lettuce and another piece of bun.
Dish #3: Artichoke Cheese Dip
Challenge Ingredients Used: Naan, cheese curds, Boursin, artichoke hearts
Other Ingredients: salt
Artichoke dip is a thing I make all the time anyway, so I tried using the Boursin and cheese curds to make some. I cut the naan into strips for dipping and toasted them while the cheese melted with the artichoke hearts in the oven. This was not my favorite preparation, but the Boursin is a good component and the naan is an excellent vessel for melty cheese (I can see why chefs on TV struggle to balance good overall taste while still highlighting special ingredients – even with something as seemingly simple as cheese) . In the future I would add a little crème fraiche or mayo to up the creaminess, as well as some mustard, lemon, or other acidic element.
Dish #4: Steak Roll-Ups
Challenge Ingredients Used: Crescent rolls, steaks, cheese curds, Boursin
Other Ingredients: white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt
This dish could have been better, I’m just going to say that up front. I used to love Pillsbury rolls as a kid, but as with many of our favorite junk foods, they just don’t taste quite as good anymore. I rolled the crescent rolls around strips of beef, chopped cheese curds, and the Boursin dressing, and then baked them for about 8 minutes in a 400° oven. There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with them, I just felt uninspired by the dish as a whole.
Dish #5: Tri-Tip Dinner
Challenge Ingredients Used: Naan, steaks, carrots, garlic salt
Other Ingredients: chicken broth, sherry
I ended this little culinary experiment with dinner for Salty and Shake, since that seemed like the nice thing to do after they helped me with this fun challenge project. Since we had been snacking for a little while, it was on the lighter side, but I came up with a really yummy carrot pan sauce that I will definitely make again. I cut the carrots into ½ inch pieces while I melted butter in a large sauté pan. When the butter was foaming, I added the carrots to the pan and sautéed them until the butter had cooked down and the pan was almost dry. I deglazed the pan with a splash of sherry, and then added about a cup of chicken broth and gently boiled them, uncovered, until the sauce was reduced and the carrots were tender. The flavor was surprisingly deep for such a simple combination of ingredients. I poured a spoonful of the carrots over each steak and served it with a side of naan and garlic salted butter.
I’m so excited to try doing a challenge basket again. Shake made me a pretty easy one and gave me extra time for the first round, but from now on it will be more difficult. Required ingredients can be surprisingly uninspiring, but overcoming that tedium and making something awesome is very fulfilling.