Cook of the Week Challenge 2019 off to a competitive, yet tasty, start

  • You'll see just what the original eight home cooks came up with this week.

    You'll see just what the original eight home cooks came up with this week. Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

 
 
Updated 10/9/2019 8:04 AM

Challenge No. 1 is under the belts of our original eight contestants in this year's Cook of the Week Challenge 2019.

The cooks picked up grocery bags with the unique ingredients included in the first challenge: liquid monk fruit from NOW Foods, lamb and beef burgers from burgerIM Oak Brook, green beans from AMITA Health and pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas. From those ingredients, the challengers came up with intriguing dishes that leaned heavily toward the flavors of the Mediterranean, but they were all different.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Each cook had four days to create a recipe using these ingredients to present to our panel of guest judges. This week's judges are Suzy Singh, the R&D Corporate Chef at NOW Foods; Syed Shah, owner of burgerIM Oak Brook; Rachael Curotto, Director of Food and Nutrition at GlenOaks Hospital, AMITA Health; and Penny Kazmier, the first Cook of the Week Challenge winner from 2011.

Because the judges don't taste the dishes in the first four challenges, recipe writing is vital for the contestants.

Judges evaluated each recipe on the use of ingredients, creativity, appearance (from a photo) and perceived taste. There are 25 points possible in each category, for a total of 100. The tallies were close, but Roberta Fahey of Arlington Heights won't be advancing to Challenge 2. In the next three challenges, one cook will be eliminated, leaving four cooks to face off at the live finale on Nov. 11.

For this week's efforts, we hear from the cooks themselves and you can get a look at the dishes they created. Find the recipes at dailyherald.com/lifestyle/food.

Here's what the judges had to say about each set of recipes.

Rob Benes

Rob Benes
Rob Benes
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Rob Benes created Shepherd's Pie with a cauliflower mash topping, served with blanched green beans dressed with mustard vinaigrette and garnished with toasted and chopped pepitas.

The judges were generally impressed.

"Good use of ingredients," Shah said. "This was a good effort, though I feel you could have stretched on creativity."

Singh thought Benes could have combined the ingredients better, saying, "I wish Rob used the mystery box ingredients throughout his recipe. It would have been really nice seeing the green beans, pepitas and monk fruit in the shepherd's pie," she said.

Curotto was impressed with Benes' use of the monk fruit to balance out the vinaigrette, naming this "a great fall dish."

Kazmier said the idea of making a shepherd's pie with the ground lamb was a good one. "I like that you added the cauliflower mash, instead of potatoes, and use of the liquid monk fruit in the vinaigrette was a smart move. This is a dish I would welcome on my dinner table," Kazmier said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Kim Bradley

Kim Bradley
Kim Bradley

Kim Bradley used the secret ingredients to create Beef and Lamb Sliders with sauteed green beans and tomatoes topped with roasted pumpkin seeds.

Singh was impressed, saying, "This was a very in-depth recipe that incorporated all of the mystery box ingredients in multiple applications. I am very impressed with the use of organic monk fruit in the pickled green beans, hummus and tzatziki sauce." But she cautions, "This contestant will need to work on the ease of preparation. In the next round, try to cut down the number of recipes and really try to showcase the mystery box ingredients as the star of the dish."

While Shah said the dishes overall showed great style and looked sumptuous, Curotto was impressed with the homemade sauces. "And I loved that you gave recipes to make the sauces and said they can be bought to save time as many families have time restraints but like to still cook for the family."

"What a pretty plate," exclaimed Kazmier. "Every component of your meal sounds delicious, although, at times, I found some of the instructions a bit confusing."

Lulu Chapa

Lourdes "Lulu" Chapa
Lourdes "Lulu" Chapa

Singh calls Greek Lamb Beef Lettuce Wraps with Mediterranean pico de gallo and green bean salad from Lulu Chapa, "The perfect dish that any home cook can execute in their kitchen."

"I love that you used the organic monk fruit to balance the acidity in the pico de gallo," she said.

Shah said this effort is a good one -- simple and wholesome.

Curotto liked the addition of the green beans with the salsa to give extra crunch and color to the dish. She hailed the light and healthy preparation as perfect for a quick lunch.

Kazmier said the plate is very appealing. "The pico de gallo sounds tasty, but I found myself wanting to find a way to add more flavor to the meat mixture," she said.

Lisa Eberhahn

Lisa Eberhahn
Lisa Eberhahn

Singh said she loves the multiple uses of mystery box ingredients in Lisa Eberhahn's Grilled Lamb Kabobs with Pepita Salsa and a side of green bean celery salad with mustard vinaigrette and sweet-salty pepitas.

"I would suggest adding a starch to the lamb kebabs so that it stays together on the grill," Singh said.

Curotto said this was a great use of the lamb and the pumpkin seeds. "I would've liked to see more creative use of the green beans, but look forward to trying this with my kids," she said.

"The use of pepitas in salsa is very clever and something I have not seen very frequently in homemade preparations, although I have seen it in restaurants," Kazmier said. "I wish I could taste the kebabs, as I am a bit concerned two tablespoons of mustard powder might be too much. Your sweet and salty pepitas sound like a perfect topping to your green bean salad."

Roberta Fahey

Roberta Fahey
Roberta Fahey

The Greek-inspired Flatbread with green beans and a balsamic monk fruit glaze and pepita pesto from Roberta Fahey elicited positive remarks, but there were concerns about the amount of monk fruit called for in her recipes.

"This was a unique recipe that incorporates the mystery box ingredients for this challenge," Singh said. "I would suggest using eight drops instead of cup of the organic liquid monk fruit in the balsamic reduction. This is a high potency sweetener; a little goes a long way for this unique and delicious product."

Kazmier was wowed by the pepita pesto. "And the addition of lemon zest to the flatbread toppings, along with the garlic mint sauce, shows this cook knows how to balance flavors. I am concerned about the balsamic glaze being overly sweet with the addition of cup of monk fruit sweetener, but would still welcome the opportunity to taste this submission."

Alex Marsalek

Alex Marsalek
Alex Marsalek

Singh calls Alex Marsalek's Sweet and Spicy Asian Stir Fry a very interesting Asian-inspired dish. "I love the creative direction Alex went with making a tempura batter for the green beans," she said. "Next round, I would suggest simplifying the dish and making the mystery box ingredients the star."

Curotto said she loved the tempura-fried green beans. Kazmier said while the Asian twist on the ingredients looks to be tasty and creative, frying the green beans maybe a bit too labor-intensive. "It is a twist that adds texture and uniqueness to this dish," she said.

Leslie Meredith

Leslie Meredith
Leslie Meredith

The Keftedes in Lemon Sauce with Tzatziki and a Mediterranean green bean salad are the creations of Leslie Meredith, and she got high scores across the board for her "superb presentation" and Mediterranean theme.

Curotto said she loved how the cook incorporated the monk fruit to tweak the dressing for the green bean salad. "It's a great dish to pull together for entertaining friends on an upcoming cool fall night. I would've liked to see you use the lamb meat more creatively," she said.

"Kudos for the creative use of pepitas in the meatballs," Kazmier said. She also added that an entire tablespoon of cumin might be a bit much for her taste, "although it may be balanced by the lemon sauce containing the lemon juice and zest."

"This plate looks to be both refreshing and substantial at the same time, and could easily be served at a restaurant," Kazmier said.

Ann Wayne

Ann Wayne
Ann Wayne

"This dish is wooing my palate," Singh said of Ann Wayne's Lamb and Green Bean Curry with candied pumpkin seeds. "Ann, you created a very famous Indian dish called Keema! The use of toasting the Indian spices in ghee before adding the lamb is the right technique to incorporate tons of flavor to this dish! I love the use of organic monk fruit to create the perfect level of sweetness in the curry without adding sugar. Using the organic monk fruit to 'candy' the pumpkin seeds was pure genius."

Curotto said it was a creative move to integrate the ground lamb with Indian spices. "They are both bold flavors that complement each other nicely, and the candied pumpkin seeds will add a nice texture and balance the heat of the spices in the curry," she said.

Kazmier liked using pepitas in both the curry and topping, as well as part of the spice blend. "Part of me wants more green beans in this dish, and I wonder if perhaps the addition of carrots or cauliflower would have been a nice addition as well. I would still like to taste if given the opportunity," she said.

• The cooks' comments and recipes are available at dailyherald.com/lifestyle/food.

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