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updated: 10/2/2013 6:22 AM

Cook of the Week Challenge: 'Less is more' recipes get Monaco, Moytka into Round 2

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  • Judy Monaco's stuffed lamb loaf and red cabbage salad moved her into Round 2.

      Judy Monaco's stuffed lamb loaf and red cabbage salad moved her into Round 2.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Lori Motyka

    Lori Motyka

  • Judy Monaco

    Judy Monaco

  • Mediterranean cod with portobello and currant caponata moves Lori Motyka into Round 2 of the Cook of the Week Challenge.

      Mediterranean cod with portobello and currant caponata moves Lori Motyka into Round 2 of the Cook of the Week Challenge.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

By Deborah Pankey
Daily Herald Food Editor

Judy Monaco made the most of her second chance.

The Glendale Heights retiree who entered the inaugural Cook of the Week Challenge in 2011 and was out-cooked in the first round, this year impressed the judges with lamb loaf and red cabbage salad and will head into Round 2 of the competition. Monaco bested Buffalo Grove doctor Karen Grobman in a challenge that included lamb, honey and Now Foods sesame sticks.

She'll be joined at the dance by Lori Motyka, a West Chicago mom whose oat-crusted cod and currant-studded caponata outscored an ambitious Mexican-fusion spread by Batavia's Lynn Fors in the cod-Quaker Oats-portobello-dried currant challenge.

Let's see what the judges had to say:

Crusted lamb loaf

Chef John Junior: Very clean look on the plate with a refreshing light taste.

Penny Kazmier: The technique used in creating the stuffed meatloaf is clever and a great way to add ingredients and flavor to meatloaf.

Chef Suzy Singh:Brilliant job in using the sesame snack sticks from NOW Foods as a binder for your lamb mixture! Sesame snack sticks add a nice spice and adhesive for this recipe. My only suggestion for this innovative dish is to have a starch link these two recipes together. They seem delicious on their own but don't seem to make a complete dish together -- you need one more recipe to make this dish sing! Overall extremely innovative contestant!

Nate Sumner: First of all I can't wait to make that salad, it sounds great. Anytime you use anchovies, I'm in! However, I feel it could have been a bit more creative as using honey in a dressing is great, but pretty normal. Also I feel that there was a missed opportunity to use the sesame sticks in the salad. When it comes to the meat loaf I think that this contestant was on a good track. But just using ground lamb is not going to make for a great texture. I would have like to have seen some other meats combined, perhaps pork or veal, to give a better mouth feel to the dish. Also, I'm not sure what the ham is doing in there. I love the idea of the feta -- classic flavor combination. There were a few missed opportunities that would have taken this dish to a whole new level -- perhaps a kale and cabbage salad with honey sesame vinaigrette with broiled ground lamb skewers and feta cheese -- it would have been a home run!

Sweet and Zesty Asian Lamb

J.J.: Great family-style item to be shared among people.

P.K.: Creating lettuce wraps is a creative way to use the ground lamb and the sauce added during the cooking process sounds delicious.

S.S.: This contestant pulled out all of the stops! The currant sauce in the won ton wrapper for dessert is absolutely mouthwatering with the perfect combination of sweet, spicy, acidic and umami. I challenge this contestant if moving forward to the next round to use the staple ingredients in one dish instead of creating multiple dishes. That is the true challenge and where culinary innovation lies. Great job contestant and I hope you can take on this challenge!

N.S.: I love lettuce wraps! When I read the recipe title and saw the picture my mouth immediately started watering. I love ethnic spices and Chinese five spice is one of my favorite spice mixtures. However, as I dug deeper into this recipe I saw a few areas for improvement. There are so many components to this dish that it became quite complicated. I'm assuming that in an attempt to lighten the burden, the contestant resorted to using pre-made, processed foods and just embellished them with featured ingredients. This was also unfortunate as lettuce wraps that feature Heritage Prairie Farm honey, currants, sesame sticks and lamb could be a delightfully refreshing dish that would be super healthy. Instead this recipe is bogged down by processed food, sugars and preservatives and the like that really take away from the meal. If this meal was redone in a lighter, more simple way it would be on my dinner plate tonight!

Mediterranean Cod Caponata

J.J.: Nice use of the oatmeal as a coating for the fish (really helps to keep the fish moist). A very simple dish prepared well. Awesome job!

Andrew Moltz: The cod caponata recipe takes a traditional Sicilian preparation and transforms it into something that is actually very different. The picture looks rustic and delicious. The recipes have creatively manipulated the mystery box ingredients in a way where they can all harmonize to provide the proper dichotomy of sweet, salty and savory, and the cooking technique describes a method that, if followed properly, will yield a dish which is fully flavored as well as multi textural. The dish might benefit from the addition of eggplant, as caponata generally contains eggplant in the preparation.

Michael Pennisi: Grinding oatmeal into a flour is a great trick for adding texture and whole grains to cookies and breads. Now I'm curious as to how oats work as a breading when frying and I will be trying this myself. Overall, this dish reminds me of a Sicilian sea bass entree I once had at a restaurant. The cook made a terrific flavor choice to mix the currants with tomatoes, olives, and pine nuts. I question how the earthiness of the mushrooms will taste in the mix. It's a minor point but I wouldn't call this entree "caponata" without eggplant.

Nadia Tilkian: The dish is appealing to the eye. I think simplicity is the key. I thought it was a clever yet practical way to use the ingredients. The recipe itself is very user friendly. I think it is definitely a dish that most home cooks would attempt. I think the flavors are well balanced and not overwhelming the cod. Nice job.

AquaCODte Tacos, EnchCODas, etc.

J.J.: Nice twist on familiar dishes; I loved the use of the theme ingredient. Lots of fresh veggies really lightened up this dish.

A.M.: The recipes for cod tacos, enchiladas, wild rice portobello mushrooms, salsa, and mini lemon currant cups provide fun new twists to recipes that consumers are familiar with. While the dishes do sound as though they would be full of flavor, they are lacking somewhat in their comprehensive usage of the mystery ingredients. For example, it would have been more exciting to see how the oats and currants could be prepared with the cod and portobello mushrooms to create an exciting twist on a cod taco; the recipes tend to rely a bit too heavily on other pantry ingredients to drive the concepts. The dishes have been presented in a very traditional way, evoking the feeling of dining at a taqueria, which is very comforting.

M.P.: The cook has made an elegant restaurant-style 'small plate' presentation with this challenge. I like the Italian-Mexican fusion going on in the enchiladas. Mushrooms and wild rice make great partners and they would have welcomed the sweet contrast of the currants if the cook had added them. I'm a little disappointed to see the oats and currants only used for a sweet dessert and not in the savory portion of the entree.

N.T.: This dish had a lot of nice components. It was beautifully presented. The enchiladas however seemed to have a lot going on. It may be slightly time consuming for the average home cook to attempt on a busy day. The cod seems nice and crisp. The salsa is lovely. The rice balls remind me of my mom's home cooking. Comfort food. Nice job.

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