Pecan-Crusted Salmon with Roasted Carrots & Jasmine Rice
vs.
Peanut Butter & Sunflower Seed Smothered Chicken with Mashed Potatoes

vs.
Broiled Cheddar-Thyme Crab Dip with Toasted Baguette
vs. 
Sesame-Seared Tuna with Flash-Fried Kale and Avocado

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

Ken's Ingredients:

1) Salmon
2) Jasmine Rice
3) Pecans
4) Carrots
5) Coconut Syrup

Jared's Ingredients:

1) Chicken Breasts
2) Sunflower Seeds
3) Peanut Butter
4) Mushrooms
5) Mashed Potatoes

Kyle's Ingredients:

1) Sushi-Grade Tuna
2) Sesame Seeds
3) Kale
4) Avocado
5) Lemon

Liz's Ingredients:

1) Crab legs
2) Six-year aged cheddar cheese
3) Mayonnaise
4) Fresh thyme
5) Crusty bread

Let's get cookin'!

The Completed Dishes:

Pecan-Crusted Salmon with Roasted Carrots & Jasmine Rice (Ken):

Ken crushed pecans tossed with coconut syrup and pressed them into the salmon filets.  He baked the salmon alongside baby carrots topped with the pecans syrup mixture.  Meanwhile, he cooked jasmine rice.  The complete dish was a great fall meal: aromatic, slightly sweet, and comforting.
Peanut Butter & Sunflower Seed Smothered Chicken with Mashed Potatoes (Jared): 

During the last cookoff, Jared was a spectator and judge.  Not much of a cook himself, he decided to give the cook-off a shot for fun.  He seared the chicken breasts in butter and oil before smearing them with peanut butter and sprinkling them with sesame seeds.  He topped them with raw mushrooms and popped them into the oven to bake.  While it baked, he whipped up a batch of mashed potatoes.  Jared’s approach was to take raw ingredients he likes on their own and to try to combine them to create a dish.  I have to say, his peanut butter chicken was yummy.  Indulgent.  Rich.  Comforting.  Cloying.  In the best way.  Strange, but tasty.
Broiled Cheddar-Thyme Crab Dip with Toasted Baguette (Liz): 

I started by boiling the crab legs; meanwhile, I grated the cheddar cheese, stripped off a fistful of thyme leaves, and sliced the crusty bread.  After the crab was cooked, I picked the meat from the shell and tossed it with the cheese, a hefty dollop of mayonnaise, salt and pepper, and the thyme.  I put it in the over to cook until brown and bubbling.  I heated butter in a jelly roll pan until melted, coated the sliced bread in the butter, sprinkled it with salt, and baked in the oven until crisp.
Sesame-Seared Tuna with Flash-Fried Kale and Avocado (Kyle): 

Kyle coated his tuna steak in sesame seeds and seared it in oil until the seeds started to brown and crisp.  Meanwhile, he flash fried kale in water, butter, and lemon juice until slightly wilted.  Lastly, he sliced avocado, sliced the tuna, assembled the plate, and squeezed fresh lemon juice over the top.

What We the Critics Say:

PRESENTATION:

Pecan-Crusted Salmon with Roasted Carrots & Jasmine Rice (Ken): The pecan crust on the salmon looked browned and crispy, and the carrots added a nice pop of color to the plate.  

Peanut Butter & Sunflower Seed Smothered Chicken with Mashed Potatoes (Jared): The chicken looked a bit cloying with all of the peanut butter smeared on, and it was.  The mushrooms weren’t thoroughly cooked through from the baking, and probably could have been sautéed first to remedy this.  But it still tasted good: a guilty pleasure.  The mashed potatoes looked a bit dry; same issues with the mushrooms being a little underdone.

Broiled Cheddar-Thyme Crab Dip with Toasted Baguette (Liz): The dip had a golden brown crust over the top from broil and the toasted bread slices looked crispy and buttery.

Sesame-Seared Tuna with Flash-Fried Kale and Avocado (Kyle): The avocado was a little over-ripe and looked a bit messy on the plate, but both the tuna and kale looked appetizing.  The tuna was nicely seared on the outside with browned sesame seeds while still medium-rare in the middle.  The kale looked nicely cooked without being too limp, or, on the other side of the spectrum, scorched.



FLAVOR:

Pecan-Crusted Salmon with Roasted Carrots & Jasmine Rice (Ken): The sweet coconut syrup and roasted carrots paired beautifully with the salmon and jasmine rice.  Every component of the dish was flavorful, and as a whole, the flavors were cohesive. 

Peanut Butter & Sunflower Seed Smothered Chicken with Mashed Potatoes (Jared): The peanut butter and sunflower seeds went well together and brought a nuttiness and saltiness to the chicken.  The biggest issue was that there wasn’t anything to cut through the denseness and heaviness of the potatoes and the peanut butter.  But because I liked the chicken, peanut butter, and sunflower seed flavor combination, I might use this dish as inspiration for a chicken salad.  I might marinade the chicken in a peanut satay sauce, bake it, slice it, and serve it over greens topped with a sprinkling of sunflower seeds.  A basic olive oil and vinegar dressing would keep it light and fresh.

Broiled Cheddar-Thyme Crab Dip with Toasted Baguette (Liz): I had been craving these exact flavors for weeks.  It’s only within the last month or so, with the help of Gordon Ramsey using the ingredient repeatedly on “The F Word”, that I’ve started cooking with fresh thyme.  One of my new favorite, fast appetizers is sliced baguette topped with sundried tomatoes, shredded swiss cheese, garlic, fresh thyme, and olive oil, broiled in the over.  It was that new love of time and the desire for a hearty, cheesy crab dip that brought this dish into being. 

I was worried because I’d never seen crab paired with thyme.  I wondered if it was because the herb is so rustic and better suited to heavier meats or cool-weather dishes.  But I didn’t want a light, summery crab dip.  I wanted to bring crab into the winter months and I thought the thyme would bring some heartiness to the dish.  I was right!  We all loved it.  I can’t wait to make it again, especially as a party appetizer.  I wonder if it would be as good (okay, almost as good) with canned crab?  It would save me a lot of money and effort, that’s for sure!

Sesame-Seared Tuna with Flash-Fried Kale and Avocado (Kyle): The toasted sesame seeds lent such a warm, flavorful crunch to the tuna.  The tuna was incredibly flavorful because it was seared and still medium-rare.  Cooked too much, it dries out and loses a lot of flavor.  I like kale, so I though it provided a bright contrast to the toasty tuna.  The avocado brought another flavor and texture to the dish with its creaminess.  I think this is a fast, easy, weeknight dinner that’s healthful and flavorful.


EXECUTION:

Pecan-Crusted Salmon with Roasted Carrots & Jasmine Rice (Ken): The salmon was moist, the pecan crust had a light crunch, the carrots were cooked well, and the rice was moist without being sticky.  I wouldn’t have changed anything about the execution.  Perfecto!

Peanut Butter & Sunflower Seed Smothered Chicken with Mashed Potatoes (Jared): While the potatoes were a bit dry and the mushrooms weren’t cooked enough to truly bring out their flavor, the chicken was tasty and moist.  The potatoes needed cream or milk or sour cream, but that would have required using more than five ingredients.

Broiled Cheddar-Thyme Crab Dip with Toasted Baguette (Liz): Next time, I might use a lighter hand with the thyme, but the crab dip was hot throughout and had a golden crust on top.  Ken and I both would have prepared the bread differently: he wanted it less crunchy; I wanted it more crunchy.  But I guess that’s just a difference in taste.  When (not if!) I make the dip again without the five-ingredient restriction, I might toss in some diced tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms, onions, or caramelized fennel.   

Sesame-Seared Tuna with Flash-Fried Kale and Avocado (Kyle): I might have cooked the tuna a little less for a rarer, moister steak.  The avocados were over-ripe, but that’s what Kyle had to work with.  While Ken and Jared weren’t big fans of the kale, I thought it was tasty!  Sometimes that bagged kale leaves too much of the stems on though, and you should really go through the pieces and cut off the tough stems.  That’s not supposed to be an issue with the bagged kale, but it sometimes is.  It might just be easier to buy the whole leaves and chop it yourself.

The Winner?

Me!  I would have picked Ken because I loved his dish and it’s something I’ve never made but will totally make now that I’ve seen him cook it.  I always thought pecan-crusted salmon would be really hard or time-consuming or something, but we whipped up his entire dish in a half-hour.  I would have picked my own dish for second place, but my competitors crowned me the victor.  The whole cook-off was great fun.  My favorite part is sitting down to eat as friends: reflecting on the experience and enjoying the fruits of our labor.
Megan
12/5/2012 07:38:38

Interesting dishes! I think the dip sounds amazing, but aren't you supposed to make entrees? As for the crab, I don't know about canned crab, but my in-laws always use imitation crab. It seems a little tougher on it's own, but the flavor is there, so I think it would work well in a dip.

Reply
12/5/2012 09:11:24

The Top Chef rules might be that you have to make entrees, but for us, so long as it's a complete dish, then it counts. So really, you could make an appetizer, entree, or dessert. I'll try the imitation crab, too. Maybe I'll buy a can and a package of krab and make smaller portions of each dip and compare them. Thanks for the tip!

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Grandma
12/5/2012 22:44:07

I am amazed...again! Costco has canned crab (real) that's not too pricey and eliminates a lot of work for you.

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12/5/2012 23:20:39

Kyle and I haven't been to Costco in forever...maybe we can mooch off of one of our mom's accounts and head with her to the store to stock up on some cheap goods. I miss their dried mango and jumbo cereal boxes. Yeah, I think Kyle and I are going to have to schedule a visit soon...

Reply
Ken
12/8/2012 07:39:46

Just seeing the crab dip I want more. You are right about the Salmon, it is way easier to make then I expected. My first try and it turned out perfect.

Reply
12/8/2012 09:46:54

Thanks for reading, Ken! Kyle and I still need to go grocery shopping for next week, and I think I'm going to buy ingredients to make your dish. Thanks to your dish, I also regret having always bought plain white rice. Oh, jasmine rice, what I've been missing in my life!

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