Chopped is a Food Network show that pits 4 cheftestants against each other and a basket of mystery ingredients. I watch the show to take notes on the different ways the chefs prepare their various ingredients. Some of the baskets confound even the judges (one of whom is Aaron Sanchez, who we partied with on Quatro de Mayo). That's when you know it's good.
So fascinated have I been by the idea of "mystery ingredients" that I decided to host my own dinner party styled after the show. I've finally gotten comfortable enough in the kitchen that I think I can whip up something on the fly. Thankfully my guests didn't make it too hard on me.
|Erik, Katie & Adrienne|
|The goat cheese was camera shy.|
While I loaded them up on wine, cheese, and strawberry jellies, I set to work in the kitchen. Inspiration came from the buns I had anticipated using if ground meat had come through the door (hey, even burgers can be sexy!). I grabbed my favorite kitchen tool (the mini chopper attachment on my stick blender) and set to blending the shrimp, goat cheese and orange zest together. I didn't know what it would taste like, but it sounded like a good idea. My brother wandered in at that point to shoot some video and ask if we were having shrimp shakes. He was slightly disappointed when I said no.
At first I thought I'd make shrimp pâté burgers with the polenta rounds as the bread. Then I thought about doing Napoleons. But something was missing. We had yellow bases topped with orangey-pink goop. It needed greenery. And bacon, because everything is good with bacon. So out of the fridge came the bacon and a bag of spinach. Bacon fried up and then the spinach sautéed nicely in its drippings.
Finally it was time to plate. A diced Roma tomato added the final touch.
I waited cautiously for everyone's reactions. My brother was the first to speak up, saying he thought the orange zest added a really good, interesting flavor. The girls agreed and we all dug in with gusto. Erik went on to eat four Napoleons. So at the very least I know he really liked them.
It was a lot of fun and I can't wait to do it again. Maybe will become the new Saturday Night Test Kitchen! (As I was writing this, I realized that Napoleons are supposed to be stacks of repeated layers, and these weren't exactly that. But that's why artistic license exists, right?)
Polenta & Shrimp Pâté Napoleons
yields approximately 5 servings
1 pound of cooked baby shrimp (250-350 per pound)
3 ounces of fine herb goat cheese
1 tablespoon of orange zest
1 pre-made polenta tube
1 tablespoon of sunflower oil
8 pieces of bacon
1 six-ounce bag of baby spinach
1 roma tomato, diced
1. In a food processor, blend together the shrimp, goat cheese and orange zest. Pose for pictures.
2. Cut polenta into 1/4-inch rounds and sauté in the sunflower oil until a slight crust develops on both sides.
2a. Answer questions for the camera man when he wanders in asking about shrimp shakes. Give him more wine.
3. While the polenta is sautéing, cut the bacon in half cross-wise and fry in a separate pan. Remove to a dish lined with paper towels and reserve the pan drippings. Wilt the spinach in the drippings. Sauté just until the leaves wilt and turn slightly dark.
4. To serve, place the polenta in the center of the dish. Top it with the paté, spinach, a slice of bacon (or cut in half again to make the decorating process easier). Add a couple pieces of chopped tomato and serve.
5. Drink more wine.
My brother's funny little video of the night is available on our new Facebook page. Click here to Like Girl+Fire and watch a two and half minute recount of our Chopped-inspired night (Kevin Bacon may or may not make a cameo in the video...).