My original headline was, “My Fantasy: Chopped!”
But, as the headline suggests, it would be a highly unrealistic dream for me to be a contestant on “Chopped“, the Food Network program over which I’m pretty much obsessed.
Even so, I’m sort of embarrassed to admit that I actually had some foodie friends over recently for dinner and they indulged me by allowing me to stage my own little “Chopped” episode, all based upon their mystery ingredients.
It says a lot about my life’s level of excitement these days that my pretend “Chopped” event was just about the most fun I’ve had in a long time.
If you’ve not seen “Chopped,” the idea is that four chefs (professionals or amateurs) compete against one another to win $10,000. They are given 20 minutes to prepare an appetizer, 30 minutes to prepare an entrée and 30 minutes to prepare a dessert. It’s a wildly popular (to foodies) reality-based cooking show filmed in New York.
Here’s the catch: Each contestant opens an identical mystery basket that contains unlikely ingredients that they must use. I’ve seen episodes where the basket included sheep testicles, or a whole goat head, or an entire eel (“Chopped” showcases lots of whole fish), or cotton candy, or some exotic fruit filled with toxic seeds and rind, or the hottest pepper in the world. Literally. The hottest in the world.
In each round one chef contestant is eliminated by a panel of professional celebrity chef/judges, who say things like, “You did nothing to transform this rattlesnake,” or I cannot taste the blue jellybeans at all,” or (usually Scott Conant), “This dish is cloyingly sweet.”
To think that I’ve lived all these years without ever hearing the term “cloyingly sweet” and suddenly I hear it almost every week. For me, a week without hearing Scott Conant say “cloyingly” would be like a day without sunshine.
Speaking of the judges, I’ve developed crushes on all the male celebrity chefs, especially Aarón Sanchez and Scott Conant. Be still my beating egg whites.
And I’m completely in awe of the women chefs, Alex Guarnaschelli, Amanda Freitag and Maneet Chauhan.
When I can’t sleep, I imagine myriad weird ways to wow the judges with won ton wrappers, or conjure up what I’d do if faced with a mystery basket full of wild boar, Neccos, blood sausage and candy canes.
Just between us, I have applied to be a contestant on “Chopped” – though I know that getting a spot on the show is very, very long shot. Yes, I did mention in my application that I once interviewed and met Julia Child, as well as Michael Chiarello, and that I was chosen as a California delegate to attend the 2012 Slow Food Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy.
Time will tell whether I’ll be chosen to fly to New York for the show. But if I am, you’ll be among the first to know.
In the meantime, it’s time to remove my head from the imaginary “Chopped” clouds and get myself firmly on the ground for my weekly food column sponsored by Tops Markets, the north state’s premiere local grocery stores located in Redding and Weaverville.
I’ve looked over this week’s Tops Markets ads and was especially impressed with the seafood specials, such as wild halibut fillets for $15.99 a lb., and wild seabass for $12.99 a lb., and bay scallops for $6.89 a lb.
But I was also interested in the Cadia organic products featured this week, perfect for two particular recipes, first, the Croissant Soufflé with Blueberries, and second, the Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake.
Tops Markets features the Cadia Organic Sauerkraut this week for $3.99 for a 32-oz. jar, and the Cadia Organic Blueberries for $3.99 for a 10 oz. package.
The Croissant Soufflé with Blueberries is a super-decadent breakfast dish, perfect to make the night before, especially when you have company. It’s not the kind of dish you’d make every day, because it’s extremely rich, and not exactly a diet food. A friend shared this recipe with me many years ago. She was given the recipe by a woman who ran a B&B, and this was one of her guests’ favorite breakfast dishes.
The Sauerkraut Chocolate Cake is just a real surprise, because if you’re wrinkling your nose at the thought of sauerkraut in a cake, you will be shocked by what a delicious cake it makes, with a wonderfully dark, moist texture. The Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake is from an old newspaper clipping that I’ve had since high school. It’s undated, but it’s so old that the ad on the back of the recipe says strawberries are 69 cents a basket.
With any luck, sauerkraut would be in my “Chopped” basket, and if so, I know exactly what I’d make: Chocolate Sauerkraut Soufflé. And you can bet it would NOT be cloyingly sweet, either.
Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake1 1/2 cups sugar 1/2 cup butter 3 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 cups flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 1 cup water 1 cup sauerkraut, drained and chopped
Silky Chocolate Frosting (see recipe below)
Beat the sugar and butter together until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla.
Combine the dry ingredients in another bowl, slowly add the dry mixture to the creamed ingredients, alternately adding the water. Beat well.
Stir in the sauerkraut. Pour the mixture into 2 greased and floured 8-inch cake pans.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until the cake springs back lightly when touched in the center (or when a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out with just a few crumbs).
Cool on racks for about 10 minutes, then turn out the cakes from the pans onto racks to cool completely. (If you turn out the cakes immediately after removing them from the oven they may fall apart).
Fill and frost with the Silky Chocolate Frosting.
Silky Chocolate Frosting2 3/4 cups powdered sugar 2/3 cup butter, softened 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled 3/4 teaspoon vanilla 2 tablespoons milk
Combine all ingredients except the milk together. Using an electric hand mixer, blend on low speed while gradually adding the milk. Beat until smooth and fluffy.
Serves 10 to 12.
Croissant Soufflé4 large baked croissants, broken into small pieces 3/4 cream cheese, softened 1/2 cup butter, softened 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen blueberries (and some extra for garnish) 10 eggs 3 cups half-and-half 1/4 cup powdered sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla Powdered sugar for dusting
Lightly butter a rectangular lasagna-sized pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with the broken croissant pieces.
In a food processor, combine the cream cheese, butter, berries, and 1/4 cup powdered sugar. Blend well.
Spoon large dollops of the berry mixture all over the broken croissants.
Beat the eggs, vanilla and half-and-half. Pour the mixture evenly over the croissant and berry mixture. Cover and chill overnight. Bake uncovered in a 350-degree oven until the pudding-souffle is richly browned and the center barely jiggles when gently shaken, about 45 to 50 minutes. This dish will deflate, so time its exit from the oven for when you’re ready to eat. Dust the top with powdered sugar. Garnish with more berries, if you’d like.
Serves 8 to 10.
These recipes sponsored by Tops Market in Weaverville and Redding.
Click here to order a sandwich online from the Weaverville Tops Market.
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.