Saturday, September 6, 2008

Iron Chef Competition

For labor day, we decided to throw an iron chef competition. It was a pain organizing, but luckily Siva took the lead and organized everything. Basically we split up into two teams, team soy sauce (all asians) and team honkie (non-asian).

At 2 PM our secret ingredient was announced, and we were given 4 hours to plan, shop, and cook. Much to my surprise, our three judges chose beer as the secret ingridient. I had thought of a few different secret ingridients and beer was not one that came to my mind. So we started thinking through the first items that come to mind when we think of beer: cheese fondue, beer bread, beer chicken (a whole chicken cooked on the grill with a beer up its ass), beer batterred shrimp/chicken. The problem we kept running into was beer was always in the food, but it was never a prominent part that came through in taste.

At any rate, after looking up recipes in some books and online, we settled on a few of them, substituting beer for as many things as well could.

First up was beer, garlic soup. To make it more gimmicky, we served the soup in a cup and made some foam by beating some egg whites. The soup was mostly made with beef broth, beer, garlic, and some other spices.

I tried some, and it was definitely unique. The presentation was pretty awesome, but I don't think the taste was there. The judges seemed to agree with this :-) I think the garlic wasn't sauteed enough before the broth was thrown in, so the soup had a little bitter taste from the uncooked garlic.

To go with the soup, we decided to serve some beer, onion bread.

This was something I made, and I think it turned out really well. The texture was a little chewy compared to professional breads, but it tasted quite good.

For the entree, we decided to cook some champagne shrimp pasta. Basically we were struggling to come up with a good entree that captured beer flavor. I feel that beer can chicken and beer battered chicken (or shrimp) don't really catch much flavor form the beer. They definitely taste good, but I've always felt it's not much beer flavor (after tasting beer battered apple crisps, I think I feel a little differently because I did taste the beer, but anyways, this was my logic at the time). A long time ago, I had cooked some champagne shrimp pasta. So we decided to replace the champagne the recipe called for with "the champagne of beer", miller high life.

Overall the dish turned out pretty well. The shrimp was cooked in beer and the sauce was basically all beer and some heavy cream. Despite all this, the beer flavor was pretty weak--it's just hard to do.

There were some problems with the dish: notably, someone forgot to wash the parsley, and a judge noticed some crunchiness (i.e.-sand) in her entree. Also, one judge mentioned the pasta was a bit overcooked. I tasted the pasta and know it wasn't overcooked at first, but then I put the pasta in with the sauce and kept cooking it. Then I ended up reheating it twice for the judges, so because of that, it might've been cooked a little too long. Moreover, I totally forgot to top it with parmesean, gorund pepper, and red pepper flakes as I had planned to.

To serve with the entree, we made some country time lemonade (yeah, we're lazy), and poured htem half beer, half lemonade. I remember this drink being popular in Europe (I can't remember the name). The judges seemed to like it overall.

For dessert, we were made a guiness chocolate cake. Paul came up with a great idea of making bailey's irish creme frosting to acompany the cake, makign it a dessert irish car bomb. It was a great idea, but execution wasn't so good.

Everyone loved the cake, but I think Paul and Siva double salted the icing (i.e.-each of them put the salt in that the recipe called for). Unfortunately, no one tasted it until it reached the judges table. It's weird how an extra half teaspoon of salt can make so much of a difference.

Team asia cooked in Siva/Inbae's kitchen and then brought their food over to our place to serve to the judges.

Their first dish: crab and lobster stuffed mushrooms. For the sauce, they reduced beer and sweetened it a lot using brown sugar and some other techniques.

I liked the mushrooms. The sauce was a little too sweet for my tastes and didn't really complement the mushrooms too much.

The next course they had was beer marinated, roasted lamb with mashed potatoes and onions.

Ok, so I've got to admit, I don't really like lamb much. I like gyros and a few other lamb dishes, but I honestly don't like the taste that much. But this lamb was really good. It was cooked perfectly and quite tasty. The sides were good overall, not as good as the lamb, though.

For dessert, they fried up some beer, marinated apples and served it with ice cream and whipped cream.

I didn't get to taste any of the well cooked ones, but the "test ones" were pretty good. I was surprised I could taste the beer with the apple fritter. I'd imagine with the ice cream, it's be pretty good.

Overall the iron chef competition was a lot of fun. Unfortunately team asia was declared the victors. They had good execution, the lamb was amazing, and their presentation was outstanding. I think our food was more unique, the beer flavor a little stronger, but utlimately we had a few executation flaws that cost us the win.

If I had to do it over again, I'd probably replace the beer soup with a beer stew. I think the pasta would've been better if we did make those mistakes, but I might try something different instead of the pasta, but I still don't really have any great ideas for this one. The dessert was good--just too much salt in the icing. I'm sure we'll do it again, but probably not for another 6 months. In the meantime, I may push for a potluck competition, where one ingridient must be used.

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