Tonight the season premiere airs and I decided that as a still faithful Top Chef fan (yes, even after the BS the producer pulled) I'd celebrate with my own home version quick fire challenge.
Here in central Texas we have the benefit of a local organic grocery delivery service called Greenling. Anyone who knows me has heard me sing their praises time and time again. I discovered this company surfing the web one day while ranting about the limited variety of farm grown local produce in my area. Since then, I now have regular Greenling boxes of delicious farm grown goodness delivered to my
house weekly and a bunch of local farmers markets have sprung up in town. My attempts at living the SLO (sustainable, local, organic) life are made so much easier with these aids.
My Greenling box arrives on Wednesdays. Top Chef airs on Wednesdays. My new weekly dinner routine has arrived!
Here's the self imposed challenge rules:
- Each week I will order my normal Greenling box which includes a "Surprise Me" item. If you order from Greenling this is the best $2 you can spend (only rivaled by my favorite of "tomato seconds") The Surprise me item has been a key component of my weekly box since I started the service and I am always excited to see what I get from week to week. Sometimes it's a run of the mill fruit or veggie staple. Sometimes it's something I've never seen or tried (and they are always awesome about providing instructions or ideas for those)
- The dinner prepared for each Wednesday evening will focus on the Surprise Me item (whatever it is they send).
- I will allow myself to use other Greenling box items, as well as any other unprepared ingredients found in my pantry or fridge.
- No trips to the grocery store allowed.
- No skipping a Surprise Me dinner if a Season 9 Top Chef episode is airing.
- No cheating by putting the item on top of an outside prepared meal. Luckily for me my kitchen is pretty well stocked for any foodie :)
- The only other restraint I put on myself is time. Dinner must be on the table at least an hour before Top Chef airs - I don't want to be rushing through the meal just to get to watch an episode. I like to enjoy my food.
So here's the first (hopefully of many) Greenling Surprise Me Top Chef Quickfire challenges!
Episode 1: "Cucumber Melon"
Ever since I got this idea (about a week ago) I've been awaiting the arrival of my box to my doorstep. I'm usually not home when it arrives and the nice people at Greenling do such a great job packing and keeping items chill that I normally never get a chance to see my delivery guy. But today I made it home early as I couldn'twait any longer!
The box arrived and there it was, my QuickFire ingredient. The
cucumber melon! I love cucumbers and melons of all types, so at first thought this one should be easy right? But how do you make an entire dinner out of a cucumber melon?
Step One - Inspiration
I wasn't sure how sweet this one would be and what I should pair it with so I figured there was only one way to find out. Yum!
It was at this point that I started to panic. I'm not a professional chef. I would never make it in a real quick fire challenge without breaking some cardinal rule of the kitchen. I don't measure, I don't follow instructions very well. How in the world would I make dinner for my family? What had I gotten myself into?
And then I remembered this is all just for fun - and I took another bite - more yum. I was ready to start cooking.
Step Two - look for more inspiration
I sorted through the rest of the box and came across this beauty. Remember my comment about my second most favorite thing from Greenling being the "Tomato Seconds"? This was one of those! The "seconds" from Greenling are great buys especially if you go through apples or tomatoes like I do. They only have slight physical defects and most of the time I can't even find those. This heirloom tomato was begging to be added to my challenge (it almost became a chef snack ;)
I wonder how much food gets eaten by the chefs during a quick fire challenge?
Step Three : I sliced up the tomato and cucumber melon and added some rice wine vinegar for good measure. I love a refreshing sunomono salad and figured I could play a little with some of the same flavors.
It's at this point that I wanted to add some feta cheese, but
there's no feta to be found in my house tonight, and that's when I remembered that I had a Lamb Feta sausage link from
Kocurek Charcuterie in my freezer that I had picked up at the farmer's market a few weeks ago.
WIth no feta, it seemed like the logical next best thing!
I adore Kocurek Charcuterie. And not just because they added delicious breakfast treats to the Pearl Farmers Market that are waiting for me when I come up from my run each Saturday morning. Their meat selections are simply amazing and this was no exception.
Step Four: "Cook" the Sausage
So like I said I really don't follow instructions well, but I know what works for me. I'm sure some chef out there would cringe if they watched me do this, but I've found that it's a fantastic way to prepare frozen sausages in minutes (instead of properly thawing, grilling, etc)
The "technique" I use is to fill a sauté pan with just enough water to cover the bottom. Throw in the sausage and turn every minute until it thaws. Once thawed (and slightly cooked), slice up the sausage and return to the water which by now is usually starting to coagulate. Is that even a cooking term?
The result is a caramelized sliced sausage infused with tons of flavor - and in this case it was a fantastic lamb and feta :)
The smell in my kitchen was simply divine!
If I would have known ahead of time I would have thawed it and grilled it, but sometimes the workarounds make for a really delicious meal. Tonight was no exception!
I'd love to know if this is a proper sausage cooking technique or if I am blaspheming the amazing work done by the talented folks at Kocurek Charcuterie.
Step Five: Make a starch
After the smells of lamb and feta wafted by my nose I wanted to make couscous - but guess what I was also out of...
So I looked in the fridge and found some chicken stock and then in the pantry I found some sumac in my spice wall (yes the rack takes up an entire wall - you can never have too many spices!)
I decided to cook up a quick whole grain rice with the stock and sumac.
Step Six: Butter!
It wouldn't be a meal from my kitchen if I didn't find a way to add butter into it. Butter is the number one used daily ingredient in my kitchen. I don't allow margarine in my house and if you start talking crap about butter I will kick you from my dinner table.
Butter is food of the gods.. and I also put some in the rice :)
I finished up the cucumber melon and tomato with some Maldon Sea Salt (I love their salt!) and fresh black pepper and dinner was done!
The finished masterpiece for my Episode 1 Greenling Surprise Me Top Chef QuickFire Challenge is a cucumber melon, heirloom tomato salad, lamb feta sausage and sumac rice.
I served this for dinner and was given an "A" rating by my family. (They grade all my dishes) While I would have loved an A+ I am happy with tonight's meal and it's secured me for this round and given me immunity into the next.
So Greenling - What do you have in store for me next week?
Side note: So I've been asked - do I have a favorite to win this season? And the answer is undoubtedly yes. I'm rooting for Chef Paul Qui from one of my most favorite restaurants in the continental United States which happens to be close by in Austin, Texas! - Uchiko
I'd be rooting for my other favorite chef - Jason Dady from right here in San Antonio, but the Bravo producers didn't get him on their show. I wonder if Flock of Seagulls producer was behind that huge mistake too? I simply cannot wait for tonight's Texas showdown!