Glenn Sasveld had never eaten polenta before, and here he was faced with it as an ingredient for the Cook of the Week Challenge. Jay Deihs of Arlington Heights was in the same boat when it came to one of his challenge ingredients: chorizo. Read on to see how they and their competitors came up with the recipes for this week's challenges.
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Week 4 recipe challengesHolland House Red Wine Vinegar, Polish sausage, sweet potato and plums
Bob Conidi of Itasca vs. Penny Kazmier of South Barrington
Old Havana Foods Sofrito, canned tuna, mango and refrigerated buscuit dough
Judy Monaco of Glendale Heights vs. Antonio De Pau of Palatine
Black Swan Barbecue Sauce, ground beef, brussels sprouts, polenta
Mark Clemens: When I got the ingredient list I was excited. I tend to love all food stuffs. In my case, even the brussel sprouts. Then I started thinking, "How the heck am I going to put this together in a visually appealing way?"
I like nice presentations on the plate and kept thinking of neutral tones in my ingredient list (polenta, barbecue sauce, ground beef). The only color was brussel sprouts. I was also confused as how to stay true to the four ingredients. I know that your original directions allowed the cook to create a "harmonious" combination, but felt that limiting myself to the four ingredients in one recipe was more in the spirit of the contest. I only added one other major ingredient (cheese).
I did go to the Epicurious site as I felt I could use some ideas to make the polenta ingredient more interesting than the traditional soft presentation. At first, my preference was not to tell everyone the list of ingredients, as I wanted the recipe effort to be fully mine. I found everyone was willing to offer a suggestion usually on the last night of trying to perfect the recipe.
On the final night, I got my wife some Chinese takeout as I was risking her good graces on another bite of ground beef and polenta. I did bring some to my neighbor who likes to cook and, thankfully, he gave it his thumbs up.
Glenn Sasveld: I first saw the barbecue sauce in my box and was excited. I then saw the ingredient card and was not sure about the polenta, as that is something I've never had, let alone made. I figured ground beef would be easy to incorporate and I enjoy brussel sprouts, so at first I was intrigued and thought of a few ideas immediately.
I then went to Whole Foods to see their selection (of polenta) and purchased some to try. They had instant and pre-made in a tube. I bought both and brought them home to taste. Not much flavor. I tried making some from scratch using corn meal as well. I came up with three recipes. I invited some people over to help prep and taste. I tried a take on cabbage rolls substituting polenta for rice, substituting the barbecue sauce for tomato sauce, and substituting brussel sprouts for cabbage. I layered (the ingredients) and baked them in a casserole dish. The barbecue sauce overpowered all the other flavors.
My next attempt was a take on an open-faced pulled pork sandwich. I took the pre-made polenta and tried to bake, fry, deep fry, broil ... anything to make it be used as a base, similar to a bun. I then mixed cooked ground beef with BBQ sauce as a topping and then made a "coleslaw" using brussel sprouts instead of cabbage to top the meat. The brussel sprouts were too chewy, but the flavor was good. I steamed the brussel sprouts and that was better, but no "crunch" like a fresh cabbage.
I settled on the recipe I submitted after several different variations. It was a tough challenge.
Rose Packing Co. chorizo, spinach, won ton wrappers, yogurt
Jay Deihs: My first reaction was that this will be interesting since I had never cooked or eaten chorizo.
The hard part was figuring out which direction to go with the won ton wrappers. I had three ideas. 1) use the wrappers as layers of pasta and make a chorizo lasagna. 2) use the wrappers and make chorizo ravioli and 3) use the won ton wrappers to make mini-egg rolls. I talked about all three ideas with my wife who is also a great cook. I pulled up chorizo on the Internet to see the different uses. I ruled out the lasagna because I thought it might be too strong of a flavor for the whole lasagna. I then thought of other items to add to the four ingredients and decided that I could make the mini-egg rolls unique and went that route. I had my family and neighbors test the mini-egg rolls and to see how they looked as I have only made egg rolls with full egg roll wrappers. After several attempts, I was able to get them rolled correctly and decided that was the way to go.
Mary Beth Riley: My first reaction was not too panicky. (After seeing the paper on (Aug. 31), kohlrabi would have panicked me!!)
I immediately thought of a purse- or triangle-type appetizer filled with the chorizo and spinach and using the yogurt as a dipping sauce perhaps flavored with chipotle or something. I also thought of a type of chorizo napoleon, but thought it might not photograph too well or be very easy to eat. I didn't want to go with my initial thought, because I thought this would be my competitor's gut reaction also.
I thought of a ravioli about six hours after picking up the ingredient list. I made a few ricotta raviolis first to see how the wrappers held up.
I came up with the chorizo filling and got it right the first time. I bounced ideas off a friend of mine who is an excellent cook. She approved of all my initial ideas, but she came up with the idea to pan fry the ravioli. I had boiled them; they were good, but didn't look very good on the plate. The pan frying gave them so much more depth of flavor.
It was fun and I'm pretty proud of my final recipe. But I won't be too sad if I don't see chorizo and won ton skins for a while!