Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Auditioning for Master Chef: Chicago What's it Like?

I have been a fan of Fox's "Master Chef "since day one. My hubby always tells me that he thinks I can win. I love him! This is the first time I have tried out for the show. My family and I traveled to Chicago via the Metra on Friday and  stayed at the Homewood Suites.  They have a  kitchen in the suites. (Which I later found out didn't have a oven) The auditions were held at the hotel we had our honeymoon at 17 years ago, the Congress. The Congress lobby is beautiful but the rooms need work. There is no place to heat up your food either at the audition..They tell you to bring something that will travel well and not to worry about the temperature of your food. I purchased a insulated bag from Walgreens that I stocked up with goodies. We got in from the Metra and a pretty good walk to the Homewood Suites and then headed off to Whole Foods which was a few blocks away.
chicken roulade with spinach and sun dried tomatoes

I got back to the hotel and could hardly sleep. I ended up getting up at 5:30AM to prepare my dish. One problem, there was no oven to bake my dish  like I practiced. I ended up  poaching my Chicken Roulade wrapped in Saran Wrap. Don't worry! I researched what plastic wraps were BPA free. I put all of my ingredients in Zip loc tubs and into a hot bag and then into the thermal bag.

I was running late!  By the time we got to the Congress, it was 8AM. The line was down the hall but not as bad as I expected. I had to finish my application again because I left the one I had filled out back home. I printed one out at the Business center in my hotel.  Next step was a table where they look over your application and then into a large room to sit and wait. My number was 172. Our group was called to go down to some waiting busses. We weren't sure where we were going. At first I thought the auditions were being held somewhere else. We were being chauffeured to Grant Park right across the street. The crew shot some outside shots where we marched chanting "Master Chef" and held up signs. There were also some chosen people that got to shout out what their professions were. That was judged on unusual looks. There was a paratrooper in a kilt and others with bright colored hair. I was close to the camera and hope to get in some shots. Seriously I was sweating buckets and getting sun burned. I am very fair skinned.

Then back to the auditions. We had to wait again. Our group was about 24 people. I somehow got in the first spot in our group. When our group got called  we waited on a ramp for the room doors to open. The nervousness was palatable. There was much fidgeting and moving around. Finally after a 25 minute or so wait, we were let in the doors.

It was in a beautiful ball room. There were tables in a rectangle and we had to race around to find our spots. I had secured the number one spot. We weren't allowed to take any pictures at all. I did set up my dish again at the hotel so you could see what it looked like. We were given hand sanitizer and told we had three minutes to plate our dish. We were allowed to set up all of our ingredients on the table first. I had forgot my plate and knife back home so I was using hotel borrowed plates. My heart was pounding really hard and then the time was up. A chef came around to taste my food. I couldn't hear him. I think because my heart was pounding in my ears.  He asked me to describe my dish and tasted it. He asked me what methods I used too. Then a casting director, Kristen came around and talked to us. Alas, my number was not called at the end. My number was 172 and they called 171. Another person won for making brownies. I think they were looking more for stories and certain looks. Finally I got to leave around 2PM.

I may not have won but  I feel proud I tried something new. I started cooking at age 12 out of necessity. I, like many, was a latch-key kid.  My first experience cooking something from scratch wasn't a good one. I made green beans. I thought you could us a regular zip loc as a boil bag and I ended up burning my stomach pretty bad. That didn't stop me from cooking though! I moved out when I was 18 and became the cook for my roommates. My grandma was a wonderful cook but very crabby. I learned some of her dishes. My Mom only made about 7 different dishes. I became very adventurous and a food porn addict. I would see something on TV and then try to make it myself. I haven't always been a perfect cook but I never gave up and  keep on learning.  Well, there is always next time! This experience has made me love food even more. I don't need a judge to validate how good my food is. As long as my loved ones and friends love it, that's all that matters!

Tips for Auditioning:

1) Bring something to eat. You will be there 5-8 hours. We only got free water.
2) Show up early. Auditions were at 10AM. Plan on getting there 2-3 hours early. I was told that if you aren't in line by 12 Noon, you won't be seen.
3) Have a story. The guy next to me had a amazing story. I thought mine was amazing too lol
4) Know your food. Don't make something you have never made before. I make mine for about 5 weeks straight. Be sure you know you prepared it.
5) Make some friends. I made a lot of new friends standing in line.
6) Be as perky and bubbly as humanly possible.
7) Have fun! Enjoy the moment. You are lucky to have the chance to audition.
8) Wear comfy clothes. This salesperson was walking in the mud at Grant Park in her heels. She got on TV too! I was smart and wore tennis shoes. You might be standing for a few hours.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Better than Starbucks Iced Coffee

Starbucks is raising their prices again! I am a Starbucks gold card member but had to cut back due to

being out of work with my surgery injury. Here is a very inexpensive way to make the recipe at home. I store my batch of concentrate in the fridge (for up to a week) Use some of the iced  coffee concentrate to make coffee ice cubes. This way your flavor won't get watered down. I save on calories by adding skim milk instead of creamer. You could also make it like an Americano and substitute water for cream. I use 3 packs of Splenda but again use sugar to your liking.

Iced Coffee

12 TBSP  ground coffee
water up to the 8 cup line in your coffee pot

That's it! Easy peasy right? Brew the coffee as normal. Cool down the coffee and store in a picture or mason jar. Add coffee ice cubes to a bar glass. Pour the coffee concentrate halfway up the glass. Add water, creamer, or milk up the glass the rest of the way. Sweeten with your choice of flavorings or sugars. Enjoy!
coffee concentrate

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Korean Beef Tacos and Garlic Spiced Green Beans

I love to experiment and try different foods. This is a combination of a few Korean Spiced Beef that I have researched and combined together. The result was delicious! I had also canned about 10 lbs of green beans. I thought they would be the perfect accompaniment to the delicious taste of the Korean Spiced beef tacos. You could also eat this over rice with some veggies stir fried in if you didn't want to use the tortilla.  We grilled the

Korean Spicy Beef Tacos


1/4 cup sesame seed oil
1 small onion
1 Asian Pear cored
1/2 cup  soy sauce
1 TBSP sesame seeds
5 cloves garlic minced
1 TBSP minced ginger
3 thin cut rib eye steaks cut on the bias

I stuck my rib eye steaks in the freezer for about 15 minutes. This makes them easier to cut. I cut against the grain and make the pieces thin. You could fry these in oil or do what we did. We lined the grill with tin foil and grilled the pieces for 5-10 minutes.

This is probably the most money I spent on dinner all week at $14.00. You could use a tougher cut of meat like round steak or flank steak. In the food processor I added the onion, and Asian Pear and minced it very fine. The Asian Pear adds a different kind of sweetness to the dish. Marinate for 3-24 hours.
Remove thee meat from the marinade and either grill or fry. The meat should not turn gray. Just light brown. Serve over rice or with soft shell tacos, cucumber, radishes, and bib lettuce. I also served Siracha on the side. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds before serving.

Garlic Green Beans

1 1/2 lbs green beans
2 TBSP oil
4 cloves garlic minced
2 TBSP soy sauce

Toss the green beans in the oil and stir fry until crispy tender. Add the garlic and soy sauce. Toss to coat.Top with sesame seeds. Season with additional salt if necessary.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lemon Meringue Pie

I have been ill due to a complication with my gall bladder surgery. Since I have been cooped up in my house I felt well enough to do some baking and experimenting yesterday. When I was growing up my  Mom made the best lemon meringue pies ever when I was a kid. I have a feeling she used the boxed lemon meringue filling. Mine is a different recipe. I did sub bottled lemon juice for squeezed. I also have perfected my meringue and got to pull out my stand mixer. You can use a hand held mixer, but I found this saves the wrists.

Lemon Meringue Pie

1 premade, pre-baked pie crust (I used Martha Stewart's recipe)
3/4 cup lemon juice
3 TBSP corn starch
2 TBSP flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
4 eggs separated (yolks for the filling)

4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 pinch cream of Tartar
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Poke holes and prebake the pie crust using parchment paper loaded with pie weights or beans to weigh the pie crust down. If you don't do this the crust separates from the pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove the pie weights and bake for another 5 minutes or until the pie crust is baked through. .

Add the water, corn starch, flour,  and sugar to and sugar to a medium sauce pan. Stir with a whisk until boiling. Add in the lemon juice. Stir and remove from the heat. Add the egg yolks one at a time and continue to stir. After all have been added, return to the heat and continue to mix for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for 20 minutes. Stir the mixture periodically. Put the whites in the fridge.

Use a fine mesh strainer to pour the pie filling through. Use a spoon to push it through and into the pie crust. This assures there are no lumps in the filling. Refrigerate pie for 2 hours. Remove the whites from the fridge and place in a clean metal bowl. I used a stand mixer. I began beating the meringues on low. I added the vanilla and sugar with a pinch of Cream of Tartar slowly until the whites became glossy and formed peaks. Cover the pie with the meringue and use a knife to lift the meringue up and form peaks. Place under a broiler for 5 minutes until browned. Cool for a few minutes and back to the fridge if you can wait that long!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Honey Dipped Fried Chicken

Who doesn't like fried chicken?  On Monday's at Woodman's they put all the weekend meat on
Honey chicken with mango-corn salsa.
clearance. Score for us! I got a thick ham slice for $1.50 and a whole chicken fryer for around $3.00. Again, nothing wrong with them. They were at their due date. If chicken is frozen it's good for up to 9 months. If you are using it you want to try to make it no later than 2-3 days afterward. Throw away if you notice any fowl smell or slime.

This chicken was perfect. I have this way I like to bread my chicken. I normally use a grocery paper bag. It saves the mess. I use 2 cups flour to 1/2 cup corn starch. This recipe is different using a dipping batter. Still the same principle: dip the chicken into the cornstarch and then into the wet batter. To keep the skin krispy, this recipe called for removing the chicken and letting rest half way through cooking. I didn't like this method at first. I had to rebatter some of the chicken half way though. With the bag method, you shake and fry. The wet batter only had salt and pepper. I like to add Cayanne and Thyme to my dry batter.

 But before all that I brine the chicken for a few hours first in 2 quarts water, 1/2 cup salt, and 1/2 cup sugar. Mix the sugar and salt until dissolved. You could also use buttermilk. This helps break down the fibers and makes the chicken moist.

2 cups flour (1/2 cup reserved)
1/2 cup corn starch
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2  cups water

Honey Coating:

3/4 cup honey
2 TBSP hot sauce

Remove the chicken from the brine patting dry with paper towels. Prepare the batter mixing in a little water at a time. Fill a cast iron skillet half way with canola oil. Heat to 350-375 degrees. Use a thermometer to verify temp. Coat the chicken in the reserved flour on both sides. dip into the batter and into the hot oil. I fit all of my chicken in together. You can also do this in batches. Fry for 7 minutes a side. Remove the chicken from the oil and let rest for 7 minutes. (Or fry the next batch)

Return the chicken to the hot oil. Fry the breasts 20-25 minutes or until the internal temp is 160 degrees. Thighs take 15-20 minutes, smaller pieces like drums and wings may be done at 14 minutes. Drain oil off chicken on paper towels, season with salt,  and make the honey dip. Dip each piece of chicken in the honey and serve!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Roasted Marshmallow Strawberries

Roasted Marshmallow Strawberries

These are as easy as can be for a quick dessert or campfire treat during the summer. I didn't make my own mallow but used the store kind in the jar. Make sure to wipe all the water off your berries to make the mallow stick I used a spoon to get the mallow on the strawberries and then a metal skewer over the stove burner. If you are really fancy, you could use a blow torch for more control. I am a love burnt marshmallows though!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Homemade Gnocchi

We love gnocchi here and usually end up buying the dried kind from Woodman's. Today I gave making my own from scratch. Lydia Bastianich makes it look so easy. How hard could it be right?  I got a new toy today too, a potato ricer. I boiled 3 lbs or so of potatoes on the stove and they are cooking. I am going to peel them rice them, and then let them cool before I attempt this dough. You can make your own pesto like I did in this recipe (my herbs just started to grow)  or you could buy the Classico brand like I did today.

Lydia's Gnocchi

6 lg potatoes
2 TBSP plus 1 tsp salt
3 eggs beaten
3 cups flour
grated Parmesan approx. 1/2 cup
Classico Pesto sauce or the sauce of your choice

Peel and rice the potatoes. (I got my potato ricer at Bed Bath and Beyond for $12.99)  Let them cool completely and make a large circle with the flour and potatoes. Leave  a well in the center. Place the eggs, a tsp of salt,  and a pinch of pepper. Move the flour from the outside of the well into the eggs. Incorporate until the dough becomes to come together. Flour hands and divide dough into 6 portions. Roll each portion into a rope 1/2 inch thick. Cut rope into smaller portions and mark with a fork. This helps the sauce adhere to the dough. Boil a huge pot of water, add two TBSP of salt. Add the gnocchi and boil until the gnocchi float to the top 2-3 minutes. Drain and top with your favorite sauce.