Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Family Style Iron Chef

My Dad and his wife were recently in town from Maine to visit and one night we held our own family-style Iron Chef evening.  

Let me step back and say that I credit my Dad for introducing me at a young age to the enjoyment of food.   I definitely had a “foodie” upbringing.  When I was in 4th grade he taught my sister and I to make homemade egg rolls and then a couple years later he started taking us to a nice restaurant (The River Crab) occassionally and would explain that we would be taking our time and not rushing through dinner while we indulged in 3-4 courses with our white napkins placed neatly on our lap.   I will forever cherish those moments and am thankful to him for instilling in me a passion for food that has continued to grow like wildfire over time.

With that preface, we decided to do an Iron Chef type of an event while cooking at home one night.  We let my husband pick the ingredients and my Dad, his wife Donna, and I got to work deciding on new recipes to make using our ingredients.  We made the rule that we could only make recipes we’d never made before.  

The ingredients my husband chose were as follows:

What is it with men and bacon???  Anyway.... we brainstormed throughout the day and planned our menu.   Our grocery list took us to multiple stores and once in the kitchen we started things off with a refreshing cocktail to kick off the cooking festivities.

Blackberry Martinis

Blackberry Martini
  • Muddle fresh blackberries in the bottom of a martini glass (this could work with lots of different fruits - blueberries, raspberries, etc..)
  • Add vodka, Grand Marnier, and some Light Pomegranate/Cranberry Juice in a shaker with ice.  
  • Shake and pour. 
  • Garnish with a lemon peel (I didn’t have any)
My Dad and I kicking off the cooking with a martini.
For the salad we decided on a beet salad with asparagus ribbons and a lemon vinaigrette.

Beet Salad with Asparagus Ribbons, Shaved Parmesan, and a Lemon Vinaigrette
Beet Salad

  • Soak 12 large asparagus spears in hot water for 4-5 minutes.
  • Dry off the asparagus.
  • Use vegetable peeler to shave spears into long, thin shavings (tips will snap off as the spear get thinner – set tips aside to use to top the salad.)
  • Drizzle the asparagus with olive oil and salt and pepper to marinate. 
  • Slice the roasted beets thin and fan out on one side of a plate (We bought already roasted beets at Trader Joe’s to save us some time).
  • Toss the salad (use mixed greens or arugula) and asparagus with the vinaigrette (recipe below).
  • Top with shaved parmesan and fresh-ground pepper.
Asparagus Ribbons Marinating
Lemon Vinaigrette

Combine the following:
  • Lemon juice
  • Oil (I use half olive oil and half grape seed or canola oil for a lighter taste)
  • Mustard (I like creamy Champagne mustard)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Minced shallots
  • Minced garlic and dash of honey is also good too.  
Whisk together well (it should get a little thick).  

Play with measurements by tasting as you go.  The general rule is one part acid (vinegar or citrus juice) to three parts oil.    
Our Sous Chef, Donna
For our entrée, we decided to do a surf and turf theme.  Bacon wrapped filet mignon and pancetta wrapped tiger shrimp over an avocado risotto.     The timing can be tricky on this.  You need to start the risotto first and then do the protein.  You can always keep the meet warm in the oven on low or hold the risotto if your timing doesn’t line up perfectly.
This is what happens when you cook with bacon in a house with dogs.
 Avocado Risotto
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil (or butter)
  • 1 Tbsp. Garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. Shallots
  • 2 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 6 cups chicken stock
Risotto Preparation
  1. Sauté shallots and garlic in olive oil/butter for 1-2 minutes.
  2. Add the rice and sauté for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add wine and stir until absorbed.
  4. Add enough stock to just cover the rice. Simmer and stir frequently. Once the rice has absorbed most of the stock, add more stock a small amount at a time and let it absorb into the rice while stirring frequently. Continue to add stock, stirring frequently, until it is all absorbed, about 20 minutes.
Once the base risotto is done, add the following:
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels (we used Iowa sweet corn from my uncle that I had in my freezer- YUM)
  • 2 cups ripe, Fresh Hass Avocados diced
  • 1 cup parmesan
  • Season with salt and pepper (and cayenne)
  • Stir the above gently.
  • Divide out into flat bowls or plates (a good risotto is a little runny with some texture to the rice).   
  • Garnish with avocado slices and more grated parmesan.
  • Top with the filet and then stack some shrimp on top of that.
(NOTE: I found a recipe that called for brie in the risotto; I added some and couldn’t really taste it so I don’t think I would add it again, with the avocado, it was rich and creamy enough.)

Bacon-wrapped Filet Mignon
  • Let the steak get to room temperature.
  • Season both sides with salt & pepper (and cayenne – I always like a little kick)
  • Wrap the filet with bacon – you might need a toothpick to hold the bacon in place
  • Grill to medium rare – about 4 minutes each side depending on thickness.
  • We ended up browning the side with the bacon in a sauté pan on high really quick after grilling to make the bacon crispy.
Seasoned Steak
Bacon Wrapped Beef
Pancetta-wrapped Tiger Shrimp
  • Let the shrimp get to room temperature.
  • Season both sides with salt & pepper (and cayenne – I always like a little kick)
  • Wrap the shrimp with thin slices of pancetta.
  • Grill on high till the pancetta gets crispy - about 3-4 minutes each side.  Once the shrimp starts to curl turn it – don’t overcook.  
Seasoned Shrimp

My Dad manning the grill and the risotto! 

The finished dish
The risotto was amazing!   We all loved it.  And it worked really well with the bacon-wrapped shrimp and steak.   I would definitely make this again.   

For dessert we picked a recipe I had ripped out of a Bon Appétit in September and had been wanting to make; caramel budino with salted caramel sauce.   (FYI – Budino is basically Italian for pudding.) We started it early in the afternoon because it needed to chill for 4-5 hours.    Well, we chilled it long enough, and it looked pretty, but it did not set.  It was completely runny, and a complete fail.   I am going to have to try it again sometime but for now my heart is broken from it not turning out because it looked so good and I couldn’t wait for that first creamy (not runny) bite.

Our dessert certainly LOOKED good!

Here is the recipe (which we followed exactly – I’m still not sure what went wrong???)

Caramel Budino with Salted Caramel Sauce
Makes: 8


Cookie Crust

  • 1 cup finely ground chocolate cookie crumbs (such as Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers; about 20 cookies)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt


  • 3 cups whole milk, divided
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons dark rum
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Salted Caramel Sauce

  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Lightly sweetened whipped cream



Cookie Crust

  • Mix cookie crumbs, butter, and salt in a medium bowl. Place 2 tablespoons in a small bowl; cover and chill for garnish. Press 2 tablespoons cookie mixture onto the bottom of each of eight 8-ounce mason jars or ramekins.


  • Whisk 1/2 cup milk and cornstarch in a small bowl; set aside. Heat remaining 2 1/2 cups milk in a small saucepan just to a simmer; set aside. To make caramel, stir sugar and 3/4 cup water in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; cook without stirring until an instant-read thermometer registers 210°–220°
  • Line a sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth and set over a large pitcher. Whisk egg yolks in a large bowl. Gradually whisk in hot milk, then cornstarch mixture. Slowly whisk in caramel. Return mixture to saucepan. Whisk constantly over medium heat until mixture thickens and a thermometer registers 175°, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in butter, rum, and salt. Pour through prepared sieve.
  • Pour 1/2 cup budino over crust in each jar. Cover; chill until set, 4–5 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.

Salted Caramel Sauce

  • Place cream in a small pitcher. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Set aside.
  • Stir sugar, corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons water in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high; boil, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until deep amber color forms, 5–6 minutes. Remove from heat; gradually add vanilla cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Whisk over medium heat until smooth and thick, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in butter and salt. Strain into a heatproof bowl. Let cool slightly.
  • Spoon 2 tablespoons caramel sauce over each budino. Top with whipped cream. Sprinkle some of reserved cookie crumbs over each.
Photograph by Stephen Lewis
At Barbuzzo in Philadelphia, Marcie Turney serves this budino in small mason jars.

* If you try the dessert, please let me know how it turns out.   And if it does turn out, please share.

We scored pretty well and, most of all, we had a complete blast with our own home-style Family Iron Chef.   It was fun cooking with a group in my kitchen.  I learned that I delegate well - although I'm wondering if that might translate into controlling or bossy???  I definitely have a particular way of doing things, but am always open to learning something new.  

I’m sure you could try the home-style Iron Chef a number of different ways and with a number of different rules.   I strongly encourage you to try it with friends or family - it is a great bonding experience.   For sure a tradition was born for us and it is something we plan to do every time we get together.   After all, a family that cooks and eats together stays together.   Cheers to that!   

PS – you can also do prizes and awards.   

Let me know if you’ve done something like this before or if you plan to do it soon.  I can’t wait to hear all about it.


1 comment:

  1. Ok, that looks amazing! How about a meal that serves an 8 year old, 7 year old and is easy enought to prepare while your 8 month old is screaming in the backround, and then here's the kicker...everyone actually eats it with out it being stuffed down their throat???? What do you think? Just sayin'''