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updated: 10/24/2012 8:30 AM

Cook of the Week Challenge: Contestants learned about themselves, new ingredients

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  • Mary Beth Thornton

    Mary Beth Thornton

  • Ronald Nunes

    Ronald Nunes

  • Michelle Abraham

    Michelle Abraham

  • Anthony Barone

    Anthony Barone

  • Bill Babiarz

    Bill Babiarz

  • Marie Evangelista

    Marie Evangelista

  • Gary Midkiff

    Gary Midkiff

  • Rachel Hencz

    Rachel Hencz

  • Jamie Andrade

    Jamie Andrade

  • Joe Moninski

    Joe Moninski

  • Mary Miske

    Mary Miske


Michelle Abraham

Throughout the competition I realized I actually am a pretty good cook. I always knew I was inventive, and after making hundred of cakes and cookies I knew I could pair sweet things together in a creative manner, but I didn't realize I was just as inventive with the savory side until I roasted salsify.

After making my harvest glaze in round two, I am contemplating shaking up our usual Thanksgiving menu. It wasn't difficult to add a sweet and spicy twist to the chicken and I want to see what I can come up with for the turkey. I'm definitely more adventurous in the vegetable aisle. I also turned my parents into celeriac lovers!

I was pleased I didn't get fish or tofu, due to my lack of experience with the two, but was jealous when a combo was given out that I felt that I could've tackled. Luckily, I got ingredients that I was comfortable with and immediately had ideas regarding how to make them meld.

My favorite recipe of the bunch was from the blueberry pork chop challenge. That was definitely one I wish I was part of and both recipes make my mouth water. Aside from being beautiful, Sherry-Sherry Blueberry "Q"'d Kale- and Feta-Stuffed Pork Chops, sounds simple and delicious. You all know by now I love sweetness, so blueberry sauce is right up my alley. Which also explains why the sound of that week's Blueberry Pork Chop Confusion with Kale, Blueberry and Walnut Toss, delighted my taste buds too! They are definitely on my to-cook list.

Jamie Andrade

I learned that anything in your pantry can become a gourmet dinner. I never really thought about using peaches in a savory dish, but it worked out well. I would have loved the tomatillos, those are a staple in our house.

Anthony Barone

I had to learn to leave my comfort zone. I typically use ingredients I am comfortable with. I certainly use new ingredients but ones I am still familiar with and have eaten before. Here I had to use new ingredients like freekeh and peanut butter in a dish, I enjoyed being forced to be creative.

I will use different ingredients and expand my horizons; I'm already looking at recipe books for new ideas and flavors.

I wanted the pizza dough as an ingredient. I loved the contest and would like to try all the baskets. I even have a fantasy basket with bacon, garlic, Italian bread and steak.

Marie Evangelista

The Challenge reaffirmed that I have a tendency to be creative, that I shy away from nothing and like to take on challenges.

The only new ingredient that intrigues me is the salsify. I have yet to look for it in any produce aisle but I know it is a root vegetable. This time of the year is perfect for making stews or even hearty vegetable soups, so I plan to use it very soon in my Argentine beef stew. Some people say it has an oyster taste to it, others artichoke taste. Interesting. I love both, so I will definitely give salsify a try.

I'm glad I didn't get the tofu. Tofu is actually very easy to work with and even be creative with -- you can scramble it, fry it, deep fry it, bake it and even use in smoothies/shakes, but no matter what, I just don't like the taste of it.

I hope to try the Sweet Harvest Glazed Chicken Atop of Rustic Quinoa sounds interesting, especially since I love all types of grains, and love the taste of Celeraic.

Rachel Hencz

I learned that to some people, technique is more important than how the food tastes.

I like challenging myself, so new ingredients are always fun.

Gary Midkiff

The Challenge confirmed that I can create a recipe from scratch, that other people will like it and will cook it in their homes.

The contest introduced me to tomatillos which I plan to use in other recipe variations. I was already adventuresome so there was no change there.

Since the contest ended I have using my own recipes or a few from Julia Child. In fact I will be using Julia's recipe for beef Wellington (though in her cookbook she calls it by the French name of filet de boeuf en croute, for a dinner party Carol and I are hosting this month.

Mary Miske

I learned that I am more interested in food that I would actually eat rather than following the guidelines of the contest.

I'm curious to try Ron Nunes's East Meets Midwest Surf 'n' Turf Kebabs.

Joe Moninski

I learned that I had enough confidence to share some of my culinary efforts with a broader group of people (as opposed to just family and friends). I found some strengths and weaknesses, which I continue to work on even after the challenge was over for me. Frankly if I didn't have a long-standing career in engineering, and 37 years with my employer, I could see myself doing some of this more professionally. At the very least, I'll keep on cooking!

Based on the stuff we got for the first challenge, I probably would never have tried cooking tofu. And I've enjoyed looking at the other ingredients contestants have been given and thought about what I would do with those. Since, I've rearranged our kitchen and pantry, making things better organized and accessible. In the process of doing that, I've come across things I didn't even know we had, and that had me thinking, "What new thing can I do with this?"

I began following the TV show "Chopped", which I had never watched before entering this contest. I'm thankful for two things -- that we didn't get ingredients as challenging as theirs, and that I had some time to "research" an ingredient to understand it better.

I haven't tried any of the other recipes, though I think I've been inspired by some. I have thought about if I were to do mine over again, what would I do differently? I plan to experiment with making some "creative" pierogies (we make a big batch around Christmas time every year), like adding the rice krispies crumbs to a dough, and filling with either a tofu/chutney filling or a broccoli cheese filling. We'll see how that turns out.

Ron Nunes

I learned that no matter what the ingredient if I take time to think about what the challenge ingredients are and how to pair them, that I can cook almost anything.

The contest showed me ingredients that I have never heard of, sent me to the Web numerous times to see what the ingredient was, what its most useful for, and how to pair and compliment the other ingredients, I found myself walking around the grocery store looking for ingredients that you gave to cooks. The items I keep in my pantry are all items I am familiar with, now I find myself buying things I never heard of, and daydreaming what I can make with them.

I was really amazed that the ingredients I received were in a my comfort zone. On the days the other cooks presented their dishes my wife and I would look and tell each other how lucky we were. Frozen ravioli, tater tots, etc., I actually felt sorry for some cooks that got some of the ingredients. I would have used anything you threw at me but I thank God for what I got. And for the second challenge to be told I could only use a grill made me smile for a week.

There were a number of recipes that I am curious to try, but more curious to use the ingredients my way. I used the ground turkey in enchiladas, I used the tri tip (which I love) in a smoker (a real Texas treat). I have to be honest, my wife and I did make my competitor's Water Melon Field Goal bites -- they were amazing.

Mary Beth Thornton

I learned that I can cook outside of the box and that when a person really loves to cook, like I do, they will take chances with trying different things to make a meal taste good.

Some of the ingredients were items I would not have purchased in the past. I will be more adventurous at the store now buying different items. I have and will continue trying things I normally wouldn't try.

I was pretty happy with almost all the ingredients that I received. I was relieved I didn't receive ingredients like seaweed or some weird ingredient I never heard of. However if I had, I would have welcomed it. I am always looking to expand my horizons when it comes to my culinary skills and adventures.

To be honest, I saved all the recipes and will be trying them here and there. I think that all of the challengers have some talent in cooking and feel like each recipe would be good.

• Sarah Lee and Bill Babiarz did not respond to the questionnaire.

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