Use What You’ve Got to Cook Something Great
If you’re not familiar, “Chopped” is a competition cooking show on the Food Network. The ground rules are deceptively simple; four chefs square off and have to prepare an appetizer, entree and dessert, using a basket of preselected and often bizarre ingredients, plus anything else available in the Chopped pantry of staples. They get 20 minutes to create an appetizer, then comes judgement from a rotating cast of preeminent chefs. The chef who prepares the least accomplished dish gets “chopped,” leaving the remaining chefs to compete. They get 30 minutes to prepare an entree, and so on. Whoever survives to the end wins $10,000.
In my opinion, this is one of the most entertaining yet difficult cooking competitions on TV. Creativity is a must, as is speed. Who hasn’t had the fun of sticking your head in the fridge and trying to figure out what’s for dinner? That was the inspiration for the show and this book.
The cookbook foregoes the bizarre ingredients, “fish heads and gummy worms,” and instead tries to help the home cook put together a quick dinner based on ingredients you might actually have. There are quick tips with many of the recipes, like this tip for “ultra-crisp chicken and potatoes” for the Greek-Spiced Wings and Potatoes with Yogurt Dipping Sauce; “preheat a roasting pan to jump-start the process.” Simple, effective and delicious. Or to wrap a stack of tortillas in a clean dish towel and steam for five minutes, or microwave for 1-2 minutes to help make them pliable for the Marinated Tilapia Tacos.
Some of my favorite sections in this book are the “Go-to Guides,” for Cooking Grains, Getting Good Vegetables, Vinaigrettes & Salad Dressings, and Ten Fun Pan Sauces. Using a simple chart method, these few pages can help turn standard home fare into really delicious restaurant quality food. Sauces include Mustard Pickle, Sweet Vinegar Garlic, Mexican Beer, and so forth, with recommendations for coordinating proteins, i.e. Creamy Apple Dijon is recommended for chicken or pork. Vinaigrettes are broken down into a couple of simple steps and then flavors such as the Classic, Herb and Ginger-Sesame, for example.
I love that they offer up basic pantry ingredients to keep on hand, but stress that “you definitely don’t need every single thing on this list.” The book is divided into traditional sections with whimsical names like “Completely Fun Ways to Cook Vegetables,” “Fishing for Compliments” and “Chickens Gone Wild.” The recipes are clearly laid out and easy to follow. I found this to be an inspirational and truly useful cookbook.
Oh, and try the Warm, Salted Caramel Banana Pudding – delicious!
9/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
THE CHOPPED COOKBOOK by Food Network Kitchens. Clarkson Potter; First Edition edition (April 8, 2014). ISBN 978-0770435004. 240p.