the big cook-off

well, it’s over.

last night was stressful, exhilarating, surprising, and a bit terrifying. all the planning, making schedules, researching recipes, practicing dishes on the weekends…it all culminated last night in our big, final cook-off. and while everything didn’t turn out exactly as i’d planned, it’s a real relief to have it over and done with.

the idea for this final was that it would be an educational version of chopped – we got a list of three ingredients on monday night, and on
tuesday we had to prepare a three course meal using the items. i really lucked out, because i was hoping to do ceviche and a taco, and our mystery ingredients turned out to be shrimp, raspberries and chicken – absolutely perfect for my fantasy menu. it was important to me to try and balance dishes that we’d done in class with recipes i’d prepared on my own, so that i could work in my comfort zone (namely, mexican food) but prove that i’d grown in the class. armed with empty plates, a stack of recipes and a very optimistic schedule for how to prepare my meal, i set up my knives, put on my chef coat, and took a few deep, cleansing breaths.

the kitchen was a madhouse. as soon as we got the “go” signal, everybody started running – grabbing equipment, prepping stations, trying to find the perfect set of spices. the first few minutes, i was ridiculously calm – i just stuck to my schedule, followed my recipes, and tried not to think too much. but after a little bit, my brain jumped into high gear and i had trouble focusing. it was a little scary, after all. but after three and a half hours of careful cooking, i served all three courses, with varying levels of success. i brought my camera in hopes of getting shots of each course before i served it, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. i did, however, sneak in a few shots at the end, while the judges were assessing all three courses together.

the appetizer – i prepared ceviche, using shrimp along with lots of onions, cilantro, jalapeno peppers, and of course, fresh lime juice. alongside it, i made flour tortillas for my main course, but cut some into chips and grilled them a bit longer for tostadas. i also made fresh salsa, a simple recipe of chopped tomatoes, garlic, onions, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice, and served it on the side in a little dish. i put a bit too much food on the plate, and my ceviche really could’ve used another 20 minutes marinating, but it came out all right.

the entree – soft tacos, stuffed with creamy chicken with spicy greens, and topped with a little more fresh salsa. i served two side dishes with this guy, mexican rice (this is not the recipe i used, but it’s similar) and a simple grilled corn salad with grilled jalapenos, chopped after grilling and sauteed quickly in oil. this came out really well – the tortillas were soft and pliable, the chicken was creamy and tender, with a kick of spice, and the side dishes had just enough heat to compliment the tacos without overwhelming them. i think that this was my best course.

and finally, the dessert – raspberry margarita granita, which was a real problem. granita is supposed to be separated crystals of ice, flavored with whatever you want and offering serious refreshment in a crunchy, cold dessert. i’d made this several times at home, fiddling with the recipe until i had it how i liked it, but it always took forever to froze. i placed a little too much confidence in our kitchen’s blast freezer, hoping that it would freeze faster…but it didn’t. i put this guy in first, around 5:40, and by 8:00 it was still completely liquid. bad news. i was stumped – the appetizer course had to go out at 8:00, the entree at 8:30, and the dessert at 9:00, which didn’t leave me a lot of time to come up with and assemble a brand new dessert. in a bit of a panic, i threw together a simple, non-alcoholic granita, blended it with some ice, and threw it in the freezer. miraculously, it was at least partially frozen by the time i had to serve it, so i tossed it in a salt-rimmed margarita glass, topped it with tequila, and brought it out to the judges. not my best work, but better than not serving a dessert at all…and we got to eat the boozy one in the kitchen afterwards.

i am really going to miss this class, but it’s hard not to really anticipate a break – i haven’t had time off from classes since january, since even my spring break had to have make-up classes from some of our snow days. i’m beyond exhausted. time to wander around with my camera, write more, get to some reading, and start seriously working on my thesis.

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3 thoughts on “the big cook-off

  1. Woot woot! Congrats on being DONE! No Top Chef-like contest can ever go off without a freezer issue, right? But you prevailed! Fabulous.

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