Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cook Like a Top Chef - Kate's Quickfire Rampage

Another season of Top Chef has drawn to a close, and it'll be a while before Top Chef Masters starts up again. In the meantime, All Top Chef thought it would be fun to feature you, our readers, doing Top Cheffy stuff - namely, cooking! This week, reader Kate Ralston has prepared a couple of dishes from Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook. Take it away, Kate!

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In my household, cooking used to be so easy, but over the past year we've gone through some changes. My son started school - hello highly processed foods, good bye, love for broccoli! I started counting calories - good bye, real cream, hello, mental math! And, finally, my husband entered a nearly vegan phase - so, good bye pretty much anything familiar.

Yet, we all love our Top Chef as well as the Quickfire book. Even though I only cooked from it once, a fish with veggies dish, which was quite tasty, but it has bee a long time. So, for this installment, I figured, we'll go with a nice soup and salad combo and, after getting a small pizza for the little man and a consent to use milk from the big one, I donned my chef's coat and went on cooking.

THE SALAD

For the salad I went with Mia's Bean Salad featured in Season 2, Episode 6 (you can find it on page 87, if you have the book). That particular challenge called to make something delicious using three canned foods. I am a big fan of cooking from my pantry, so I dug deep and found a couple of suitable cans and went shopping for the rest. I typically have dry garbanzos, not canned, but I had kidney beans and beats, so I just needed artichokes, green beans and greens.

First, make the dressing:

1 Tbsp Dijon Mustard (I used homemade coarsely ground kind)
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp capers (I love, no, LOVE capers, so i used about 2 TBsp plus a little brine)
1 Tbsp fresh mint
2 tsp ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup olive oil (I used about 1/4 and wished I used more, although this was still enough)

Combine all ingredients, whisk and set aside (I put mine to chill in fridge).

Now, make the salad:

1/2 cup fresh, blanched green beans*
1/2 cup garbanzo beans*
1/2 cup kidney beans*
1/2 cup cooked beets sliced into thin strips*
1/4 cup artichoke hearts cut into thin slivers*
4 cups of mixed baby greens

 *Drain if canned. For beets - to make sure they don't leak too much color I also rinsed them in cold water after slicing.

Tip: If you have to cook dry beans or wheat berries (like I do), forget the overnight soaking or rapid boiling  cycles. Take a crock pot, put your beans in, add water, about 4-5 cups per a cup of dry beans/wheat berries and turn on high. They will be done within a surprising no-sweat couple hours and you can drain the excess water or use it for soup, too.

I blanched my beans and the three extra minutes it took me truly paid off. Do not use canned beans for this beautiful salad: you want the combination of textures and nothing is better than a fresh, crispy, cold green bean. This is what you do: prep your beans, toss them into boiling water for a couple minutes, and then drain quickly and put them into ice, just like this:

Then, you combine your beans, beets and chokes in a bowl, cover with about half the dressing and set aside to marinade.

I used a container with a lid - makes it easier to make sure all ingredients are evenly coated with the dressing (shake it, baby!). Cool thing about this salad: you can make these steps in advance and leave your beans marinading in the fridge overnight. The mixture develops flavor and gets chilled, which makes this salad taste especially good.

At any rate, you serve this bean goodness on top of a heap of baby greens and drizzle with some additional dressing if needed.

While the salad is marinading and chilling, we are onto the soup.

THE SOUP

Jeff's Apple-fennel soup comes from season 5, episode 3 (or page 93 of the book). the challenge was to take a dish from Top Chef: The Cookbook and turn it into a soup. If you have any reservations about having an apple soup, reserve no more, it is a keeper! This is what you need:

3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 cup chopped fennel bulb, some fronds reserved for garnish
2 large shallots 
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
Leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme
Leaves from 3 sprigs of sage
3 fresh mint leaves

Changes and confessions: 
1. Since I am counting calories and Chris is trying to be vegetarian where possible (if not vegan), I used vegetable stock (I just went with a cube of Knorr) for him and 1% milk for me instead of cream;
2. We miraculously ran out of wine, so I used dry vermouth instead;
3. I had fresh mint, but used dry mix of rosemary, sage and thyme I had from my summer crop.
4. I used regular yellow onion instead of shallots, yes, lazy pedestrian me and, finally,
5. The original recipe calls for Granny Smith, but I went with what I had on hands, which were
McIntosh.

...and it - still - is delicious on all levels, so, go ahead and substitute without fear.

Anyway, this is what you do: chop your veggies (apples included) and sweat them in a medium-large pan. If you've never sweated  veggies before, heat up the pan on low-medium heat, add about 1 tsp oil to coat the bottom, add the veggies and saute them under cover until they turn soft and nearly translucent. Keep checking: your vegge should not caramelize or turn golden.

Add wine and cook to reduce liquid by about half. Then - add stock, reduce heat and cook to reduce liquid by about half again. Add cream and herbs and simmer until bubbles form on the surface. Then - transfer into a blender and puree until smooth. I swear by my immersion blender, and it didn't fail me:

 
Since I did my blending straight in the pan, I left it on the stove to simmer on an extremely low heat for a little longer. Meanwhile, here is your finishing touch that you absolutely must do:

French baguette cut into rounds and dabbed with olive oil
Bleu cheese, crumbles or small chunks
Chopped figs (I had dates, so I cut them into pretty, thin slivers)

While your soup is cooking, preheat the oven to 350 or even 400F, put the bread in for about 10 minutes (or until turns golden).

Arrange cheese and figs/dates on top of the toasts and float the toast on top of the soup when serving.  And, yes, you'll need [much] more than one toast: the combination of the light and floral soup, tart and earthy cheese and sweet fig/date is irresistible.

Now, time to arrange the fare and serve it to the fam. Check this out:

EXPERIENCE

Quantity:  Each recipe makes about 4 generous servings, so it is perfect for an adult lunch or dinner. On the pic, to my embarrassment, I am guzzling up about two servings worth. I would have had it all, have there been no witness.

Suitability: The combination is very filling and, despite having no meat, there is nothing emasculating about it. So, go ahead and invite girls or guys, although, more likely not toddlers or teens.

Quality: All flavors are very well defined and there is a variety of textures to make your palate happy. As you can see, it looks great, too!

Ease of making: A total no-brainer, especially if you are familiar with sweating and friendly with your blender. If not for taking pictures, the whole thing would have taken me under an hour (not counting the garbanzo prep that I did the night before).

CALORIES
If you are wondering what that meal would run your thighs [per serving, approximately]:

Salad dressing: about 70 cals
Salad itself: 94 cals

Soup: 150 cals

Now, the toast will get you, because you will ingest more than just one:
Bread: 40 cals per slice
Dates: 24 cal per date
Cheese: 94 cals per oz (an inch by inch cube)

Finally, if you are jealous of my soup-salad plates, you can hook 'em here.

e.n.j.o.y.

Posted on AllTopChef.com

1 comment:

Intuitive Eggplant said...

Great job, Kate! Love your tips and willingness to adapt recipes for your family! And besides, I'm a sister caper lover :)

Hope your guest spot here will inspire other Top Chef fans to step up to the plate and share their stories (if interested, email us at alltopchef@gmail).