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updated: 9/25/2013 10:55 AM

Cook of the Week Challenge: Rich, Baron advance to Round 2

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  • Mike Baron of South Elgin created pasta with cream sauce and shrimp meal with frozen peas for the Cook of the Week Challenge budget dinner challenge.

    Mike Baron of South Elgin created pasta with cream sauce and shrimp meal with frozen peas for the Cook of the Week Challenge budget dinner challenge.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Nick Brenkus made Smokey Risotto with Peas for his dinner for $20 challenge.

      Nick Brenkus made Smokey Risotto with Peas for his dinner for $20 challenge.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

By Deborah Pankey
Daily Herald Food Editor

Two former Cooks of the Week got bumped from the competition this week by two men who work in the service sector.

Curried salmon and corn fritters created by Dan Rich, superintendent of public works in Elgin, beat out former Cook of the Week Carrie Shawala, a teacher, and her salmon-topped risotto-style farro.

In the $20 dinner challenge, Mike Baron, an HVAC sales engineer from South Elgin, created a creamy pasta, shrimp and pea dish that edged passed West Dundee retiree Nick Brenkus, a former Cook of the Week, and his bacony pea risotto.

Next week Rich and Baron will find out who they will face in Round 2 of the competition.

Which recipes did reader's like best? Turn to page 5 to find out who won the fan favorite voting. Vote each week at

Here's what the judges had to say about the Week 3 recipes:

Curried Salmon Fritters

John Junior: I grew up in crab country (Maryland) but I ate a lot of canned salmon growing up, and I'm quite fond of its taste and texture because it can be manipulated with different spices and cooking techniques like this cook did, anything fried (these look crispy and delicious) with a nice cool and refreshing cucumber sauce. A nice touch with the farro.

Penny Kazmier: The use of farro in a varnishkas is very clever.

Beth Peterson: I love this dish! Crunchy and tasty with the dipping sauce. I want to dig right into it. Great idea.

Suzy Singh: Let's talk about the delicious details to the recipes given for this dish. Can we say spectacular! I only have two suggestions: 1) You created way too many recipes using these signature ingredients; when you can condense the number of recipes to a single dish that is where the culinary creativity truly lies. 2) When sauteing onions, once you add butter to the pan there is no need to add another fat (olive oil) to the pan. Let the delicious butter do its job in caramelizing these onions. Otherwise excellent job!

Farro Italiano

J.J.: Great use of a theme ingredient with multiple applications on the plate, especially the farro cooked in a risotto (nice). It may be a little on the sweet side with the great garnish, however this dish looks really healthy, and visually appealing.

P.K.: Preparing farro in a risotto style sounds very interesting, especially with the incorporation of V-8 as part of the broth.

B.P.: The flavors all go together well in this dish. Could use more of a creative flair, although colorful and appetizing. Nice use of the farro.

S.S.: Great job in using the farro two ways. If you are creating farro risotto-style, you gotta do it risotto-style. I'm desperately needing the base of shallots, deglaze with a white wine, the warm stock that you are ladling into the farro, and most importantly the constant stirring and attention of the farro. Let me tell you risotto is like one needy ex-girlfriend -- you have to pay attention to it. Also, let's give some more love and attention to the salmon -- parmesan will not transform this canned fish into an edible product. In the future treat every ingredient with utmost importance and give it the attention it needs to be the best dish possible. Great ambition contestant!

Campanelle with Shrimp and Sweet Peas

Andrea Dembinski: The recipe steps make sense and are easy to follow, but because of the multiple steps and the skills required to complete I would consider this moderate difficulty. The items purchased with the $20 are mostly solid ingredients and bring the frozen peas to a higher level cuisine, however, aside from the color I question how the mint enhances the dish's taste, hard to know without tasting it though. A yellowy slice of lemon would also be pretty on the plate. The descriptions and suggestions for pastas is nice.

J.J.: I love campanelle pasta it eats well and as this cook stated the pasta really holds the sauce well, but I didn't see much sauce. I like the idea of extracting that additional flavor from the shrimp shells, and the toast points looked very rustic and where creatively garnished. A simple dish made well, but give me some sauce for my toast points.

Mario Portanova: I liked the use of lemon in the cream sauce; it compliments the shrimp. Good choice of pasta; it lets you savor the taste of the cream sauce. This is an easy meal to make on for a family during a busy week. A wonderful dish on a $20 budget!

Michael Pennisi: Pasta sauce and peas are a classic combination and this dish looks like it will deliver classic flavors. I really like that this cook develops depth in the sauce by using the shrimp shells to make a stock-like liquid when so many people would just discard them. When I look at the ingredient list and see those two cups of cream I can't help but think "wow that's really rich." There must be a way to lighten this dish up possibly by replacing some of the cream with a chicken stock and flour sauce?

Smokey Risotto with Peas

A.D.: The recipe steps are easy to follow and make sense. The items purchased pair well with and elevate frozen peas to an elegant and satisfying side dish or entree. I imagine the overall flavor to be enticing with bits of crunchy bits of bacon against the golden reddish hues of textured yet creamy arborio rice, flecked with the green peas and the yellow bite of a good parmesan cheese.

J.J.: Risotto was once considered peasant food, but not with these ingredients, this dish looks awesome and who doesn't like bacon. My only concern would be the saffron in this dish; it's very floral. And be careful with the rich mouth-coating bacon can give a dish -- sometimes they fight each other. In my humble opinion, forget the saffron. To really bring out that pea flavor (since this is our theme ingredient), thaw half the peas throw them in a blender and create a purée and add it toward the end of your dish along with the remaining peas, not only will you have a dish that screams peas, it will be visually appealing with that crispy bacon garnish and grated parmesan.

M. Pennisi: It was a great economical decision to make a dish with peas and rice and a great choice to look to Italian cuisine because Italians love peas and rice! Preparing rice in the style of risotto brings elegance to what would otherwise be a very humble dish. Bacon is a tasty, cost-effective choice over the more expensive pancetta or prosciutto and so I'm a little sad all of that delicious bacon grease was discarded. I would use it during the softening of the onions and garlic. Also I would like to share a tip: when making risotto it's best to simmer the liquid you are adding to the rice in a nearby pot, otherwise the temperature of the rice will fluctuate when you add cold stock and the risotto will not only take longer to cook but the texture will change.

M. Portanova: Seems like a tasty dish, but not easy preparation. Creative dish using arborio rice, bacon and saffron threads. Nice way to incorporate a variety of ingredients (i.e. saffron threads) on a $20 budget.

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