Smothered Chicken Breast with Roasted Potatoes
vs.
Beer-Braised Brats with Cabbage-Beet Slaw

vs.
Spicy & Smoky Grilled Cheese with Cracked Black Pepper Potato Chips

For take two of our 5 Ingredient Face-Off, our friend Ken joined in.  We headed to Plum Market yet again, each armed with our own cart, and set off down the aisles.  Same rules as before:

1) You can't make something you've made before
2) You're confined to 5 ingredients and you have to purchase all of them here
3) You can only use butter, oil, salt, pepper, and sugar from home to prepare and season your dish
4) You can't spend more than $30
5) It has to be a complete dish, not just a protein or vegetable

Thirty minutes later, arms loaded with bags, we headed back to our house to cook.  Three cooks in one single-family kitchen?  You’d think it’d be disastrous, but it was functional.  Just every space in the kitchen and dining area was covered with ingredients and cutting boards and mixing bowls.

Ken’s Ingredients:

1) Chicken breasts
2) Baby spinach
3) Comte – a nutty, oaky, buttery, creamy, earthy cheese
4) Yukon gold potatoes
5) Baby portabella mushrooms

Kyle’s Ingredients:

1) Bratwurst
2) A pilsner to braise the brats in
3) Red cabbage
4) Beets
5) A red-apply balsamic to flavor the cabbage-beet slaw

My Ingredients:

1) Mexican chorizo sausage
2) Red peppers
3) Yukon gold potatoes
4) Italian bread
5) Mahon – a smoky, nutty, salty cheese

Let’s get cookin’!

The Completed Dishes:

Smothered Chicken Breast with Roasted Potatoes (Ken):

Pan-sautéed chicken breast topped with sautéed spinach and mushrooms, finished in the oven, topped with a thick slice of comte cheese, and baked until bubbling.  Served alongside Yukon gold potato wedges tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted until slightly crisp.  Paired with a mildly oaky Torrontes with flavors of apple and pear.
Beer-Braised Brats with Cabbage-Beet Slaw (Kyle): 

Bratwurst seared in a cast iron skillet and then braised in a light, crisp pilsner.  Served alongside a cabbage-beet slaw flavored with a red-apple balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar.  Paired with the same pilsner used to braise the brats.
Spicy & Smoky Grilled Cheese with Cracked Black Pepper Potato Chips (Liz):

Italian bread topped with browned ground chorizo sausage, a smoky red pepper harissa sauce, and grated mahon cheese.  Fried up in butter and olive oil and browned, crisp, and hot throughout.  Served alongside fried Yukon gold potato chips smattered with cracked black pepper.  Paired with Short’s Brewing’s “Spicie Nicie”, a wheat beer spiced with orange zest and coriander.

What We the Critics Say:

PRESENTATION:

Smothered Chicken Breast with Roasted Potatoes (Ken): Nicely plated with the spinach, mushrooms, and cheese layered on top of the chicken breast.  It was cohesive and melded the flavors together.  The potatoes were cut into bite-sized chunks, were slightly browned, and looked nicely seasoned.

Beer-Braised Brats with Cabbage-Beet Slaw (Kyle): Plating was kind of boring: meat and a side on a plate.  The slaw was really colorful.  The bratwurst was nicely browned.

Spicy & Smoky Grilled Cheese with Cracked Black Pepper Potato Chips (Liz): Lots of brown and orange.  Not a lot of color on the plate.  The bread was fried well and the chips looked browned and well-seasoned. 

FLAVOR:

Smothered Chicken Breast with Roasted Potatoes (Ken): The cheese was incredibly flavorful and married well with the chicken and spinach.  The mushroom flavor was lost to the spinach and cheese.  The potatoes could have been a little crispier on the outside, but the insides were soft and well-cooked.  The oakiness of the off-dry Torrontes paired well with the cheese, and the fruit notes kept the wine refreshing  and helped in stand up to the strong cheese and spinach flavors in the dish.

Beer-Braised Brats with Cabbage-Beet Slaw (Kyle): The brats were crispy on the outside, and a little tough on the inside, but very flavorful.  They paired nicely with the cabbage-beet slaw that was seasoned well with the balsamic.  The slaw had good texture: the beets still had a little bite which contrasted well with the softer cabbage leaves.  The beer didn’t pair well, though.  It took on an acidic, metallic taste against the brats and slaw.  Next time, Kyle would use a

Spicy & Smoky Grilled Cheese with Cracked Black Pepper Potato Chips (Liz): Biting into the sandwich, there was an explosion of flavors, all of which melded together into a spicy, smoky indulgence.  The smokiness of the red harissa mirrored the smoky, melty cheese.  The spicy chorizo added another flavor element on top.  And the sandwich fried up in butter and oil made it the ultimate, comfort-food meal.  The potato chips were seasoned well with the pepper but were either burnt or soggy.  The spice notes in the beer paralleled the spices in the chorizo and harissa and made the perfect beverage pairing.

EXECUTION:

Smothered Chicken Breast with Roasted Potatoes (Ken): The chicken was perfectly cooked: juicy and tender.  The potatoes could have stood another few minutes in the oven to roast longer but were cooked and seasoned well. 

Beer-Braised Brats with Cabbage-Beet Slaw (Kyle): The brats may have been a little overcooked but were full of flavor.  There was a lot of textural contrast on the plate: the crispy, meaty brats paired with beets you could sink your teeth into and finished with the additional textural element of the cabbage.  The slaw was flavored perfectly.  The balsamic and sugar mellowed the beet flavor and wasn’t too vinegary or acidic or sweet.  Nicely balanced.

Spicy & Smoky Grilled Cheese with Cracked Black Pepper Potato Chips (Liz): Had I left the dang potato chips off the plate, I might have been the winner.  I didn’t get the oil temperature right; I couldn’t master how long to cook the potato slices.  I ended up with brown crisps that tasted like grease or burned oil, or I got soggy, greasy slices doused in pepper.  Maybe five chips in the whole batch ended up as imagined.  The sandwich, though: perfection.  Next time I make it (so next week, sometime), I’m pairing it will a salad of greens, tomatoes, avocado, and a cool ranch to cut through the spicy sandwich flavors.

The Winner: 

Ken!

I will be making his dish for dinner sometime soon.  I can’t wait until the next face-off…using just a few simple ingredients to make super-yum dishes that are way more than the sum of their parts.
 
 

Feisty Cheetah Prints from Lane Bryant

This dress is from Lane Bryant Spring/Summer 2011.  I originally bought the dress in black, and it has become my perfect LBD.  I love the fit of the dress and being able to swap out one colored cami for another and then accessorize accordingly.  I ended up buying the cheetah print version a couple of months later on super sale – not because I loved the cheetah print – but because I loved the fit.  I’ve ended up getting decent wear out of the cheetah print as well, and wearing it so frequently and comfortably has made other animal prints more approachable.  I recently received LB’s fall catalog, and cheetah print is one of their trend picks for this season.
In their catalog spread, LB goes beyond the typical pairing of leopard with black and tan, which is typically how I pair the print as well.  Instead, they contrast the leopard with pops of red and mustard yellow.  I love that choice because the bold colors mute the leopard print, making it less intimidating to wear.

MY PICKS:
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Leopard Print French Terry Jacket - $79.95
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Fierce Boy Short PJ Set - $29.99
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Faux Fur Vest with Belt - $69.95

The Flared Caraz Dress from Anthropologie

I purchased the purple printed version of Anthropologie’s “Flared Caraz Dress” early in the summer and have gotten my wear out of it already: with and without belts, tights, cardigans, statement jewelry, etc.  I went to Anthro in July to cash in on my birthday coupon, and as birthday bonus to me, found that Weston Wear launched another color-print of the dress.  It has more of an autumnal look in navy and brown and pair well with white, cream, and chocolate, so I think a pop of red or mustard (which would also work with Lane Bryant’s new leopard pieces!) would liven it up a bit. 
 I like this version of the dress as much as the original purple print, and apparently it’s a good seller, because Weston Wear has released a similar dress, the "Frothed Dots Dress", which is receiving strong reviews as well.    
 
 
 
 

Coconut Curry with Jumbo Shrimp and Lobster Mushrooms 
vs. 
Crispy Chicken Thighs with Chanterelle-Truffle Risotto

Watching re-runs of Top Chef the other night, the Quick Fire challenged the chefs to buy five ingredients from the farmer's market on a budget of $20 and cook a tasty dish using just those five ingredients and oil, salt, pepper, and sugar if needed.  Kyle and I turned slowly to one another, looked into one another's eyes simultaneously threateningly and on the defensive, and it was on.  Saturday, we would do our own five ingredient face-off.  And so we did.

We weren't allowed to plan out meals in our head before time, nor were we allowed to begin consulting recipes for inspiration or guidance.  We drove to Plum Market, each grabbed our own cart, and outlined the rules:

1) You can't make something you've made before
2) You're confined to 5 ingredients and you have to purchase all of them here
3) You can only use butter, oil, salt, pepper, and sugar from home to prepare and season your dish
4) You can't spend more than $30
5) It has to be a complete dish, not just a protein or vegetable

And off we went.  And it was really hard.  And overwhelming.  So many vegetables and fruits: mango, donut peaches, avocado, basil, sprouts, kiwi, bok choy, tomatoes of countless varieties, and on and on.  So I ventured to the fish counter.  Beautiful sushi-grade ahi tuna.  Mahi, swordfish, oysters, clams, shrimp, shrimp, and SHRIMP!  And not just any shrimp.  Huge, succulent, dark grey and red veined monsters.  And that is where it began.

I ran into Kyle several times, both of us running back-and-forth between produce and meat and canned aisles.  And 30 minutes later, we regrouped - ingredients set, paid, and headed for home.

On the drive home, we talked about our frustrations and panic attacks
I ran into Kyle several times, both of us running back-and-forth between produce and meat and canned aisles.  And 30 minutes later, we regrouped - ingredients set, paid, and headed for home.

On the drive home, we revealed our dishes:


Mine: coconut curry with jumbo shrimp and lobster mushrooms. 

Kyle’s: crispy chicken thighs with chanterelle-truffle risotto. 

We talked about our frustrations and panic attacks… (Mine: Why did I pick curry?  I can't make a curry base with only 5 ingredients.  I am an idiot.  Kyle: How do I make a risotto creamy?  Cream?  Cheese?  Both?  Neither?  Argh!!!)

…and our glory moments (Mine: I can use a jarred curry sauce!  It might suck, but at least it will be a curry!  Kyle: Oh my god…salty cheese with truffle shavings?  I win.) 

Once home, we unloaded our bags in the kitchen and got to work.  We didn’t really speak to one another during the entire preparation.  We were too focused, pulling our dishes together on the spot.

My ingredients:

1) 6 Monstrous crustaceans masquerading as shrimp

2) 2 Lobster mushrooms (kiwi-sized, salmon-colored, tough, knobby, and with a strong, woody, reedy, earthy smell [though you could describe most mushrooms as smelling this way.  I need to start developing my mushroom palate like my wine palette so I can articulate the distinct flavors of a particular varietal of mushroom])

3) Panko bread crumbs (to dust on the shrimp for crunch)

4) Cherry Tomatoes (to both cook in the curry and serve raw with sea salt for a cool, refreshing counterpoint to the rich, creamy curry)

5) Coconut Curry Sauce (kind of a cheater move, I know.  But we didn’t outlaw prepared foods.  Plus, curries can be really hit or miss.  In fact, we’ve never bought one before that we’ve bought a second time, so it was a real risk.  Thankfully, this one was super-yum and married well with the other flavors.)

Kyle’s Ingredients:

1) Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (bone-in for flavor and skin-on to crispify in a hot skillet of butter)

2) Arborio rice (the best for risotto and paella….basically, it’s just the best in general)

3) Fresh chanterelle mushrooms (stems diced and fried up with the chicken and caps sautéed and stirred into the risotto)

4) A hard, salty cheese with truffle shavings (for the unique and luxurious truffle flavor)

5) Chicken stock 

The Completed Dishes:

Coconut Curry with Jumbo Shrimp and Lobster Mushrooms (Liz): 

Shrimp marinated in curry sauce, coated in panko bread crumbs seasoned with salt, and fried in a mixture of butter and olive oil.  Skewered with raw cherry tomato halves sprinkled with sea salt.  Lobster mushroom caps roasted in olive and oil and sea salt and finished at a slow simmer in the curry sauce.  Plated with a drizzle of curry sauce and topped with raw cherry tomato halves and a sprinkling of sea salt.  Lastly, Accompanied by a coconut curry with olive oil-sautéed lobster mushroom stems and burst cherry tomatoes. 
Crispy Chicken Thighs with Chanterelle-Truffle Risotto:

Chicken thighs and diced chanterelles cooked in hot olive oil, salt, and plenty of cracked black pepper until browned and crispy and topped with pan sauce.  Accompanied by a creamy risotto made with chanterelle caps, chicken stock, and salt-truffle cheese.  
Picture
We paired the risotto with a dry, appley riesling. The curry we paired with a light, crisp beer.
As we tasted one another’s dish and our own, we critiqued our workmanship using three criteria:

PRESENTATION:

Curry: Colorful with the pops of red, though some fresh green basil would have brightened up both the flavor and color of the dish.  Too many things going on in terms of plating: curry in a bowl, shrimp on skewers, mushroom on a plate.  Plating was not cohesive.

Chicken & Risotto:  Nice textural contrast of the crispy chicken and creamy risotto.  A lot of beige on the plate, though.  Like the curry, adding a green vegetable like a salad or asparagus would brighten up the dish.

FLAVOR:

Curry: Amazing.  Tangy curry sauce is mirrored in the shrimp; you can taste just a hint of the marinade on the shrimp.  The shrimp is juicy and succulent with a nice crunch with the panko.  The cherry tomatoes brighten the creamy sauce and the woodsy mushroom lends earthiness and depth to the plate.  Yum yum yum.

Chicken & Risotto: So good.  Comfort food at its best.  The salt-truffle cheese gives the dish depth but doesn’t overpower the chanterelles or chicken.  The chicken skin is perfectly crispy and flavored.  The risotto is flavorful thanks to the mushrooms and cheese.  The chicken is tender and juicy. 

EXECUTION:

Curry: The mushrooms didn’t come out like rocks!  Yay!  I cooked the hell out of them: the sauté pan, roasting pan, sauce pan…I had to soften those suckers up.  The shrimp was perfectly cooked; the breading was browned a crispy. 

Chicken & Risotto:Unfortunately, we cut into the chicken and it was not cooked.  So, Kyle had to nuke it before we could eat it.  That was a bummer.  Otherwise, the risotto, which can be tricksy, was pretty dang flawless.

The Winner: 

 Me!!!  I mean…the curry!!!

Coming down off of our culinary high, we agreed that it was super fun and challenging and that it got us to try dishes we might not have otherwise put together.  And most importantly, we have two new recipes to add to our repertoire that we’ll make time and time again, I’m sure.  Of course, with an additional green vegetable to combat the beige. 
 
 
 
 
Kyle and I have been long overdue for a visit to the Kerrytown Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings in Ann Arbor.  Well, we finally paid a visit and stocked up on whatever veggies were plentiful and sounded tasty.  We typically hit the grocery store with a list in hand, all of our meals planned out for the week.  Not this week.  Instead, we picked up a variety of veggies from the market and are using them to inspire the week's meals.  It's been just over 24 hours since our visit to the market, and we've put together some pretty phenom meals.  If what we make over the course of the coming weeks compares to what we've made during the last 24 hours, I'm looking for to cooking the rest of the week - no going out!

Lunch Day 1:

We picked up a jar of pickled beets and cabbage from the Brinery.  We first had some of their fix-ins at Gallery Project for an exhibition opening.  We'd held onto their brochure ever since but never sought them out.  When we spotted their tent at the market, we knew we had to pick something up.  We spooned a dollop onto toasted baguette: crispy, chewy, briny, and vinegary.  
We paired the crostinis with squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta and a sprinkling on gray sea salt.  We dipped them in a batter of flour and water and fried them in a thin coating of olive oil.  Crunchy, creamy, salty, and toasty.  A nice balance paired with the sauerkraut crostini. 
Dinner Day 1:

For din-din we had a not-so farm-fresh meal: frozen salmon and shrimp.  The veggie sides were fresh, though!  My mom saw the shrimp recipe on Pinterest, tried it out using salmon as well, loved it, and passed the recipe onto us. You slice half a lemon and lay the slices in the bottom of a casserole dish.  Add several dollops of butter and pop in the over at 325 degrees to melt the butter.  Once melted, scatter on the defrosted shrimp and top with a large salmon fillet.  Sprinkle a bag of dry italian dressing on top of everything, pop in the over for about 20 minutes, and enjoy a delicious scampi-style dish.  For our first side, I tossed some fresh okra with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted it for about 15 minutes until crispy.  I sauteed kale in a little butter, water, and lemon juice with salt and a hefty dose of black pepper.  Lastly, I sliced some tomatoes and topped them with basil leaves and a pinch of sea salt. 
Breakfast Day 2:

For breakfast the next day, I made a recipe from Fine Cooking August/September 2012.  I roasted peaches in a cast iron skillet and serve it with burrata cheese, fresh basil, baguette, and a chunk of honeycomb.  I'd never had burrata before and wasn't sure what to expect...something like a mozzarella, I suppose.  Well, it's much soft and creamier and tastes like fresh milk.  It's not at all salty like mozzarella is.   
Lunch Day 2:

For lunch I made a smoked whitefish spread from some fish we picked up at the market.  It has a cream cheese base with diced red pepper, sliced scallions, toasted fennel seeds, and salt folded in.  I spooned a heap onto endive leaves, squeezed on lemon juice, and ground fresh black pepper on top.  
Dinner Day 2:

Finally - our dinner on Sunday night: lamb brats on pretzel buns with heated sliced green olives and mayo.  Super filling and flavorful and delish.  We spread some of the "storm could zapper" on cucumber rounds with a dash of sea salt and finite! 
All-in-all, an incredible 24+ish hours of food.  It was a fun detour from our typical routine of planning out meals and picking up the ingredients at our everyday grocery store.  More expensive: yes.  But the freshness of the produce, supporting local farms, the flavors, and the enjoyment of creating and cooking together made it all worth it.