There was no question in my mind that "Cook from a mystery basket" would be on my list of 40 Things. We decided I'd be competing solo and that I'd be doing the entree round. I would have 60 minutes (or longer if needed, since whatever I made would be our dinner and we wouldn't eat anything that was dangerously undercooked). Steve and Trevor would work together to select the mystery ingredients.
When the competition was set to begin, I donned Trevor's toddler-size toque from the dress-up corner and posed with the basket of secret ingredients. I was dying to know what was inside!
Finally, the ingredients were revealed! I needed to make an entree using boneless pork loin, radishes, 2 unripe plums, and Pepperidge Farm Lemon Cookies. AAAAAACK!
OK, I didn't actually scream. I actually stood there doing nothing for a very long time. Finally, I went to the pantry and started pulling out random things- Corn Nuts, dried cherries, croutons, trail mix... anything that might tie these ingredients together. With no plan, I decided to buy time by breaking down the required ingredients. I experimented with grating radishes and plums, then crushing cookies. I zested and juiced a lemon (in hopes that it would emphasize the lemon of the cookies). I sliced the pork into strips.
As I was prepping, I started developing a plan. I decided that I would coat pork slices in a crust of crushed lemon cookies and Corn Nuts, then cook them on a griddle. The pork would sit on a bed of greens and sliced radishes. I'd make a salad with the unripe plums, oranges, and grated radish. I'd tie everything together with a sauce of grated plums, dried cherries, lemon juice and, um, whatever else I could find.
As I worked, I kept thinking about what would go into my sauce. I decided to make it Asian-inspired. In addition to the plums, cherries, radish, and lemons, I added soy sauce, sesame oil, and grated ginger. It actually tasted good!
I dug through the trail mix and pulled out all the peanuts and cashews I could find. I toasted them lightly, then chopped them and added them on top of the pork.
Finally, time was up. "Hands up and utensils down!" as Padma says on Top Chef. I don't think Ted says the same thing every time.
I presented my dish to the judges. "You have in front of you slices of pork loin, crusted in lemon cookies and Corn Nuts, served on a bed of greens and shaved radishes. I've added toasted peanuts and cashews for crunch. The sauce is made from grated plums, radishes, dried cherries, lemons, soy sauce, ginger, and sesame oil. On your right you'll find a salad of unripe plums, oranges, and radishes. Enjoy."
The judges were introduced... Steve, Trevor and Jonna. I breathed a sigh of relief that there wasn't a pork specialist or Asian cuisine expert on the panel. It was a tense moment as the judges dug in. I waited to hear what they thought. What a relief to see them smiling and to hear that they all liked it. I anxiously awaited the results. The judges were unanimous- I was declared Chopped Champion! And all three judges cleaned their plates!
Goal #12 achieved!