The results are in, and judges were, mostly, impressed with the recipes our eight home cooks created.
For the first of our Cook of the Week challenges, our cooks were tasked with using canned mackerel courtesy of King Oscar Seafood, green beans courtesy of Tony's Fresh Market, oranges courtesy of Northern Illinois Food Bank and rice cakes. Our guest judges rated their recipes on creativity, use of the secret ingredients, ease of use, appearance and perceived taste.
In the home challenge portion of this contest, recipe writing and organizing are paramount. It's a task not everyone's keen on, but it's essential here where judges rate the recipes, not the actual taste of each dish.
While the judges praised all of the first challenge recipes, the tallies show that Tim Schmitt will not be going on to Challenge 2.
Our judges for Week 1 are Angelica Murillo of Tony's Fresh Market, John Engle of King Oscar Seafood, 2016 Cook of the Week Challenge winner John Hampson and Jennifer Bucko Lamplough of Northern Illinois Food Bank.
Here's what the judges had to say about each entry. See the full recipes on dailyherald.com/lifestyle/food.
Murillo: The dish looks appealing, and it's a dish I would try. I think the sauce on the green beans is too much. Love the green beans on the rice cakes. They look very tasty, and he could have done the beans on the side in the same style as on the rice cakes.
Hampson: The average cook might have trouble with the number of steps, but it would have a nice layering of flavor. I'm a big fan of Thai and other Asian cuisines. Maybe rinse the mackerel if you are adding fish sauce. Don't want one flavor coming on too strong.
Engle: Who doesn't love a good chili sauce? This sounds like a must-try. The combination of Orange Chili Sauce on the Mackerel Cakes complemented with Szechuan Green Beans. Wonderful combination.
Bucko Lamplough: Looks delicious, love the different flavors and textures. Seems like a lot of ingredients for a home cook recipe and may be hard to follow. Ingredients out of order on directions and the recipe seems a little time intensive.
Murillo: This looks appealing and something that I would order if I were to see this on a menu in a restaurant or make at home. Nice size in portion.
Engle: There is nothing wrong with simple and direct, and I feel this recipe is just that. A great combination of spices that maintain the taste integrity of the core ingredients.
Hampson: I fear that this would be overly fishy and lack layers of flavors. I was hoping for something more transformative with the beans. Maybe a puree?
Bucko Lamplough: There are a lot of steps to this recipe, and it may be hard for a home cook with less experience to replicate. A little bit overwhelming for a home cook. Sounds yummy though.
Tempura Mackerel with Fried Rice and Orange Ginger Dipping Sauce
Murillo: I was impressed by the cook's use of all the ingredients. I like the creativity on the smaller size of the mackerel cakes (something different) and the side of rice. Looks appealing.
Engle: This is the most creative use of the mackerel that I have seen. Wow!
Bucko Lamplough: I love the idea of this but worry that mackerel is very fatty and might be overwhelming battered and deep fried. The sauce sounds great and will cut through all that richness. A lot of ingredients and a little confusing maybe for home cooks since ingredients are out of order from directions. Very fun and playful though, and flavor profile sounds yummy.
Hampson: Instructions were not complete. When do I add the rice and rice cakes to the fried rice? Not really sure how it would taste, but I imagine the dipping sauce would be tasty.
Murillo: It looks appealing, and something that I would order as an appetizer, not as a main dish, due to the portions are too small. The appearance looks great and is something that I would try out.
Engle: Yum! This recipe looks good enough to plate at my favorite seafood restaurant. It's a must-try. It's nicely done with the mackerel and the "firecracker" green beans.
Bucko Lamplough: Love the presentation. Green beans are very creative, and the sauce sounds really yummy. The recipe itself is not overwhelming from an ingredient standpoint but is a little confusing in the directions, and ingredients are out of order from the directions. Might be hard for a home cook to follow. Sound delicious and very fun.
Hanson: Seems to be a little complicated for the average home cook but would be spicy and full of flavor. I am seriously considering stealing the rémoulade recipe.
Mackerel Croquettes with Green Bean Spinach Pesto, topped with Pickled Navel Orange and Red Onion Slaw
Murillo: This looks appealing and is something that I'd try out. I don't see the use of the ingredient as the fresh oranges or fresh green beans. That is why I gave you a 10. Overall, great job.
Engle: There are a lot of great flavors going on here. Kudos for the creative Green Bean Spinach Pesto and Pickled Naval Orange and Red Onion Slaw. It will pair well with the mackerel cake.
Bucko Lamplough: Love the pesto idea with the green beans, very creative and unique. Some ingredients are not in the same order as the directions and might be a little confusing. Seems easy for a home cook to replicate. Like the instructions on plating.
Hampson: This would appear to be easy to make. Would have nice layering of flavor. I like the direction she chose with the beans. Way to swim upstream.
Green Bean and Orange Salad topped with "Mack" Cakes
Murillo: This is something that I would not mind to try. I don't see the use of the orange juice, soy sauces or rice vinegar. Overall the dish looks great; love the touch of the wine on the side.
Engle: I'm a huge fan of crabcakes and salmon cakes. Now I have to dig into some mackerel cakes. It is a nice combination of healthy salad and vinaigrette with a beautiful mackerel cake on top.
Bucko Lamplough: Missing some directions on oven temp for croutons. The presentation looks very dry. Would recommend drizzling some of the dressing over the mack cake in addition to the salad. I love cilantro, but it doesn't seem to fit with the other ingredients here. Basil or parsley seem like they'd be better with the flavor profile of the other ingredients. A lot of ingredients in this recipe might be overwhelming to a home cook.
Hampson: It would appear to be easy to make, and the flavor would be good. Especially the Mack Cake. While the Mack Cake would have been tasty, I was hoping for more creativity with the other ingredients.
Mackerel Fish Cakes with Orange Rice and Green Bean, Orange and Arugula Salad Topped with a Citrus Aioli
Murillo: This dish looks great. Something that I would order in a restaurant or make at home. Love the creativity on the dish with the sauce. All ingredients are being used. Appearance is being presented very well and looks very easy to make.
Engle: This sounds great. I really like the citrus aioli and arugula, which complement the mackerel fish cakes in orange rice.
Bucko Lamplough: Directions are very clear and precise, very helpful to home cooks. Flavor profile sounds delicious. Simple ingredients and plating are very appetizing.
Hampson: I give her points for applying one of the mystery ingredients to all elements of the dish. However, I think that the orange flavors would dominate the dish. A very eye-catching dish. Not to beat a dead horse, but I am looking for a more creative use of the beans and maybe ease back on the orange usage.
Murillo: This looks great. Looks very easy to prepare. I think Joe could have done more on the creativity.
Engle: Very simple and quick to prepare and different from the many "mackerel cake" style recipes.
Bucko Lamplough: Love the simplicity of both the preparation and the appearance of this dish. The flavors are very appealing, and the directions are clear and concise. The pickled vegetable is perfect with the fatty mackerel and would be a very nice balance.
Hampson: This would be very easy to make with clean flavors, yet lacking complexity. To win this competition, you really need to push the envelope with the mystery ingredients. It is an attractive dish, but there just isn't any wow factor.
Next week: See what our seven cooks create using secret ingredients: dark chocolate from Morkes Chocolates, boneless pork chops using the $25 Tony's gift card, broccoli raab from AMITA and Smoked Ghost Pepper Coconut Infusion courtesy of NOW Foods.