In the last of the semifinal challenges, Teresa Fiocchi of Mundelein met Craig Brannan of Lake Villa in Challenge 11 and Martha Garmon of Palatine faced off against Christina Anderson-Heller of Wood Dale in Challenge 12. The judges made the call and Fiocchi and Garmon won places in the 2016 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge live cook-off finale.
Mike Pennisi, 2012 Cook of the Week winner, concluded that both Challenge 11 cooks showed that they know their way around the kitchen. Cooks had to create a dish using bourbon, courtesy of Binny's Beverage Depot; smoked paprika; boneless beef chuck; and pearl onions. Pennisi thought Craig Brannan's bourbon sauce stood out as the highlight of his dish.
"I would make that sauce in big batches just to have around and maybe eat with a spoon," he joked. The judge noted that although most of us like the look of alternating meat and vegetables on a skewer, they don't cook the same way and separate skewers of each might be better.
"I like that the cook suggested using a Jaccard tenderizer but, even so, chuck is a very tough, chewy meat when grilled but the Spanish rice is a classic side and is made well."
Joanna Miller of America's Baking and Sweets Show found layers of flavor on Brannan's skewer and saw his use of the ingredients as well thought-out. "I like how the vegetables, especially baby Bella mushrooms, are incorporated as this is a favorite of mine along with the challenge ingredients. Although I see this dish more as an appetizer rather than a main dish as presented, I very much would enjoy the combination of flavors and depth," she decided.
Becky Wait of Binny's Beverage Depot thought the skewers looked appetizing and appreciated the creative plating. "It looks like a very complicated recipe, perhaps something a beginner cook like me may not be able to handle, but I look forward to trying!" she said.
Wait raved about the appeal of Teresa Fiocchi's Bourbon Beef & Dumplings. "It looks absolutely amazing and I can picture curling up with a bowl of this and a glass of bourbon on a cold night," she said.
Mike Pennisi agreed wholeheartedly. "This is a very hearty, satisfying dish perfect for cold fall nights," he said. "The cook described the browning process well; I love all the vegetables included in the stew; the cook was careful to add them later on in the cooking process. The biscuit dumplings really stand out to me with the cornmeal, cheese and smoky paprika in them." He might have gone with less bourbon in the recipe, however, so that woody and bitter notes would not intensify.
Joanna Miller found the cooler fall weather and Fiocchi's stew a perfect match, too. "I like this twist on a pot roast recipe with the added challenge ingredients, especially the bourbon, squash and dumpling," she surmised. "This dish also has great color from the squash and peas, different textures, and the dumpling is a great complement to the entire dish." Thus, Fiocchi's comforting recipe moves her into the final round.
In Challenge 12, Chef Suzy Singh raved about Christina Anderson-Heller's use of ingredients in her Asian Roasted Salmon & Eggplant with Soba Noodle Salad. "I absolutely love how clean this dish is," the corporate chef of NOW Foods said. "The preparation is quite easy and the marinade sings with a balance of flavor, pairing the mystery box ingredients perfectly." Singh hoped, however, for a different sauce instead of using the marinade as both the flavor enhancer for the salmon and eggplant as well as the sauce. Cooks found salmon, courtesy of Zeigler Chevrolet; white miso, soba noodles and eggplant in their boxes of secret ingredients.
Judge Lindsey Cassin of Ziegler Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram noticed how the radish added a fresh finishing touch and thought Heller's use of Asian pear in the marinade offered a nice balance of sweetness. "I love that the chef suggested a wine pairing that complements the dish, too," she added.
Interesting ingredients also attracted judge Jamie Andrade, "My husband recently introduced me to gochujang and I love it," the 2014 Cook the Week winner noted. "Seeing it as an addition to the marinade makes me want to try it and sounds like it'll give it the bit of heat it needs." Andrade appreciated the recipe's straightforward preparation and presentation, "though the use of the bowl leaves me wanting some broth in that bowl!"
Andrade finds texture a huge component in a dish, so she was keen on Martha Garmon's idea to fry the soba noodles to add crunch. "It was a great use of the ingredient and sophisticated -- great job," she praised.
Chef Singh went in another direction, wanting the contestant to sauté the noodles with the dip to create a complete dish.
Cassin gave a nod to Garmon's grilled Meyer lemon for its visual oomph. "The eggplant fries are a creative touch, and the use of the jalapeño adds a nice touch of heat," she noted.
Chef Singh thought Garmon did an "incredible job on creating a dish to showcase all of the mystery box ingredients." Singh was extremely impressed with the use of sake in the dipping sauce and found miso really bringing a Japanese theme to Garmon's dish. "Great use of miso in the salmon marinade, but I do wish the miso was also used in the dipping sauce to add more flavor as well as in the eggplant fries. Overall great conceptual dish!"
Garmon's Citrus Grilled Salmon with Crispy Soba Noodles and Eggplant "Fries" won Challenge 12 by a sliver.