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Dec 25, 2010 11:20 AM

Very impressive recipes and ideas needed!! Cooking competition ahead...

Over New Years I'll be taking part in an amateur 'Chopped' type competition. Each contestant has to bring a secret ingredient that everyone must use. We're staying at a rental house with a super limited kitchen and what we cook, we'll be serving to the whole house.

I'm the youngest and least experienced, going up against some pretty gnarly competitors 20 years my senior.... I am determined to prove my worth.

Anyone have any ideas as to what I should bring for my secret ingredient?

Anyone have any good suggestions for recipes that can easily be modified to fit different proteins/veggies/mystery items?

No ideas too ambitions. Please help!!!

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  1. How much time will you have to cook and can you have exclusive use of the oven and/or stove burner(s)? How are your knife skills? Will you have pantry items and spices? Does everyone just get a bite, a dish, or are there judges (to know how much to make and how to plate)? Is it one big competition where you have to use all 20 of the special ingredients?

    5 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      Details are still being worked out. We're all bringing pantry items to share... but it will be limited. We're from LA and spending NYE in Big Sur, so everything we bring is being packed up and driven five hours.

      I believe there are four of us competing, maybe five. Ten diners. The goal of this is to feed everyone dinner, so not just a bite. All the diners will be judging. Not sure yet about courses or how we'll be cooking, if we take turns or what. We're all ambitious cooks, so I know it will get fierce.

      As far as knife skills are concerned... I'm an advanced home cook with some professional experience (high end catering... Not restaurant rush cooking). Same goes for my competition. I'm comfortable with basically any cooking method and my knife skills are my strongest asset.

      1. re: mollymolly

        Ps: I'll definitely be sticking to fresh, local, seasonal. Shouldn't be too hard since I'm in California...

        1. re: mollymolly

          If I were one of the diners, I would wish that the secret ingredient was crab.

          If I were a competitor trying to stump the competition I might choose an obscure root vegetable from an ethnic grocery. Or maybe something readily available but not used much such as black soy sauce.

          'Tis the season to enjoy winter squashes in the northeast. Maybe find an unusual variety of something very common like squashes or potatoes or apples. If would be fair to all the competitors and test their skills at turning something common into astonishing.

          I hope you report back on what different competitors made and what the mystery ingredients were.

          1. re: dfrostnh


            Sorry, just a thought after reading your post. :)

          2. re: mollymolly

            With winter squashes, I think ravioli or gnocchi (w/ sweet potatoes). But, it's hard rolling out pasta dough to the right thickness w/out a machine or rolling pin, even. There's something impressive about home made pasta.

            If you're playing to win, then for a secret ingredient, I'd pick a more obscure protein that can't easily be tasted first, like geoduck or sea cucumber. And, spend this week learning how to prep it best. But, it all depends on how much time there is. Or go w/ black rice or glutinous rice something people might be familiar with but not know how to cook well w/out recipes/directions. Then again, they'll probably try to throw that hardball, too. Or, really throw them and use Twinkies for your secret ingredient.

      2. MM, what a fun yet stressful way to spend New Years! As others have mentioned, the rules should be ironed out quickly. Do two contestants go head-to-head over appetizer, then two more over main, or is everyone in on appetizer, main, and dessert and elimination is held off until the end of the meal? Do the contestants eat as well, just not judge? If you need to feed 10, amount of food becomes an issue. Do you have to use each ingredient at least somewhere? Seriously, it's only fair to the contestants to let them know how it's going to work.

        This should be a lively thread!

        1. Ooo I love the idea of homemade ravioli or gnocchi. I've been thinking of sort of taking one for the team and not bringing anything too crazy... Something like chanterelles (which are gorgeous at my neighborhood green grocer right now) or duck fat or even just beautiful potatoes. I might not win with this strategy, but I've realized I'm more concerned with providing a delicious meal.

          Maybe a wild mushroom ravioli? Would chanterelles shine in this, or would it be a waste? Maybe served with a few spoonfuls of some kind of outrageous broth... Though a broth might be hard with a limited pantry.

          11 Replies
          1. re: mollymolly

            the ravioli is a great idea, because you may be able to incorporate some of the other mystery items into it as well. i assume you're only cooking one course...?

            the gnocchi idea has me thinking you could bring ricotta from a California dairy (or make it yourself with local milk) and use it to make some killer gnudi - i'm sure that would knock their socks off.

            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              Good God, I love gnudi. A local chef here does a gnudi dish with house-made ricotta and makes a "nest" out of spaghetti squash and tops it all off with a sage brown butter sauce. Mm, mm good.

              1. re: lynnlato

                Oh. Man. That sounds amazing. And impressive. I've never made..... Actually, I've never even tried gnudi. Is it hard to make?

                1. re: mollymolly

                  Okay, so, I've never made it myself, but from what I understand it's very rustic and not at all difficult to make. I have made my own ricotta and it's stupid easy. You can do it, Molly Molly!!! ;-)

                2. re: lynnlato

                  FYI, I should give credit where credit is due - Executive Chef Marc Jacksina of Halcyon Flavors of the Earth is who conceptualized that dish.

                  1. re: lynnlato

                    But gnudi's off the table now. Someone else is making it. Any other ideas?

                    1. re: lynnlato

                      not only does the gnudi dish ("The Nest") sound fabulous, i'd say pretty much everything on that menu is drool-worthy. i'm so impressed that i'm even willing to overlook the fact that they misspelled gnudi ;)

                      but to get back on topic, i agree that homemade ricotta is stupid easy...and SO much better than anything you can buy. once you try it, you'll wonder why you waited so long!

                  2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    What about making a lot of ricotta and bringing that for the secret ingredient. The contestants could do awesome things w/ home made ricotta (thinking of the diners) from savory to sweet. And, gnudi would be a great option.

                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        Yes, sorry, I missed that part. Great idea!

                        I would love to see an iron chef like challenge with home made ricotta.

                        1. re: chowser

                          Battle Ricotta aired on March 25th of this year! Cat Cora defeated Julieta Ballesteros from Crema Restaurant in NYC.

                3. This recipe based on the Spotted Pig gnudi looks promising. Especially because I could put any number of things in it.... Only if we can start prepping the day before though. Fingers crossed.


                  2 Replies
                  1. re: mollymolly

                    no need to refrigerate uncooked gnudi overnight. i know the Spotted pig recipe calls for it, but it's not a requirement for the basic/standard preparation.

                    Mario Batali's method:

                    and a recipe for baked gnudi:

                    1. re: mollymolly

                      I had The Spotted Pig's gnudi and it was.... "take your pants off" delicious!!!! So simple but definitely had that WOW factor.

                    2. If I wanted to be mean I'd bring whole fish to eat up prep/cleaning time or a really hot chile (How many brought gloves?!). But, I'd go with something simple that puts more emphasis on technique - A green banana.

                      Thinking it's not a good idea to lean on recipes, since many just require ingredients x, y, and z. I'd use my time reviewing techniques, especially on things like relish/chutney, salsa and sauces. Basically, things that you change a lot of things to, can also use to highlight or hide an ingredient., and just about go with anything.