Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Challenge #1...

Or Challenge #4 if you want to get technical about it. My Mr. has some misguided idea that I should send in an audition for Next Food Network Star. Personally, I think he's nuts. I watch the show religiously. And, for 90 minutes every Sunday I sit in awe of some of the amazing things the contestants come up with. Let's totally set aside the fact that 95% of the individuals on that show are actually trained chefs. Sure, they will throw in a food blogger, or a food critic, or just some random person that has some talent for cooking with a side of crazy personality. But, those people are few and far between. It's not being in front of a camera that intimidates me. It's not even the fear that my cooking wouldn't measure up (okay, maybe a little). I find the time constraints that they work under to be the most disconcerting. 30 minutes to think up a brunch recipe, prep, cook and serve it? Ummmm... I don't know about that.

But, when the Mr. suggested that I play along with the challenges at home? That, I could handle. I don't work in a fully stocked kitchen with everything that I need right at my fingertips. I have to go shopping. And, my kitchen is seriously lacking in counter space. I couldn't do anything in 30 minutes, aside from scramble some eggs and make toast, if I tried. But, this isn't TV. This is my house. I can take my time... to some extent. So, game on! 

I know that I am a few episodes behind. Thanks to my kids, and their busy little fingers with the DVR settings... I lost the first handful of shows. But, last Sunday morning I sat down and watched them all. Normally, I will post my version of the past Sunday's challenge on the following Sunday's blog. So, the challenge from just this past Sunday, I will work on this week and post this Sunday. However, until we are caught up, I will post on Wednesday too. Those will be my catch-up days. And, we're going to work backwards. So confusing, but not. Tee hee. There's a method to my madness. They have aired 5 episodes thus far. Episode 5 will be Sunday's blog. Today, we're going back to episode 4.

Here's the episode synopsis according to Food Network's Next Food Network Star page: 

"It's Fashion Week in New York and the finalists are thrilled to learn that, as potential stars, a "makeover" is essential ... but THEY aren't being made over; it's a food "makeover!" Each finalist will have to "make over" a bland dish, making it look (and taste) good for the most fashionable crowd on the planet. Ted Allen will be on hand to judge the fashion shows, plus an extra prize is announced for the winning finalist."

I wrote down, on little slips of paper, each of the dishes that the contestants were assigned on the show and drew out of a bowl. What did we end up with?

Awesome. Couldn't have picked a better dish! And, shockingly enough... my brain immediately started churning out an idea. And, even more amazing... I had everything I needed already in my kitchen. Huh. Maybe I wouldn't be so bad at this after all. I know this looks complicated, but it all goes together really fast. Make sure you read through the entire recipe first. Most of the steps can be worked through simultaneously. 

Chicken Bowl Pie

(For the chicken)
3 chicken breasts
1 (750 ml) bottle dry white wine
3 1/2 C. chicken stock
1 1/2 C. water
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tsp salt
2 sprigs fresh thyme

(For the spinach)
1 Tbs olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bunch baby spinach, stems removed
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 Tbs unsalted butter

(For mushrooms)
8 oz baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
Olive oil

(For filling)
1 can artichoke hearts, drained & chopped
2 (8 oz) pkgs. cream cheese
1 1/2 C. chicken broth
2 lg. shallots, chopped
Freshly ground pepper

(For bread bowls)
2 tubes crescent rolls (I used Pillsbury)
1 Tbs butter, melted

Start with the chicken breasts. We're going to boil them. But, not in just plain old water. That's boring, and does no favors in the way of flavoring the chicken. We're going to make that chicken yummy enough to eat on its own. And, boiling is better than baking for this. It keeps the chicken deliciously moist. Add the chicken and all remaining ingedients into a large soup pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, cover pot and adjust heat to medium-low. Allow chicken to simmer 15-20 minutes, or until it is cooked through. When it's done, pour pot into collander set over the sink. Remove the chicken breasts, and discard the rest of the goodies.

Slice the chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces.

Backtracking to while the chicken is still boiling away, start to saute your spinach. Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, and saute for 1 minute making sure it doesn't brown. Add the spinach to the pot along with the salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Put the lid on the pot, and allow spinach to cook for 1 minute. Remove lid, adjust heat to high and stir spinach constantly for 1 minute. Use a slotted spoon to remove the spinach from the pan. You will end up with a bowl of yumminess that looks like this:

Now, start on the mushrooms (the chicken is still working away on its flavorful magic). Add a thin layer of olive oil to the bottom of a skillet, and heat over med-high. Add mushrooms to the pan. Make sure not to crowd the mushrooms. They won't brown properly. I worked in two batches, and they came out wonderfully. Saute the mushrooms until nicely browned. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl.

While the mushrooms are browning, go ahead and chop up your artichoke hearts. By the time the chicken is done, you should have two bowls full of veggies and one full of mushrooms to add to your filling...

Now, let's prepare our bread bowls. Take 4 small glass bowls, and grease the outside of them generously. Roll out one crescent square rectangle. Lay it over the bottom side of the bowl like so...

Pinch together that perforated line in the middle. Take another rectangle of dough, and lay it crosswise over the top of the first one, and mold the dough until it is conformed to the bowl...

Using a basting brush, brush the tops of the pastries with the melted butter like so:

Bake in the oven at 350* for 10-15 minutes, or until nicely browned. While the bowls are baking, put together the filling. Start by melting the cream cheese in a large saucepan over med-high heat, stirring frequently so the cheese doesn't burn. Once melted, slowly whisk in chicken broth. I added maybe 1/4 C. at a time. This will thin out the cream cheese to give a consistency more similar to pot pie filling, but still slightly thicker. Stir in the chicken, chopped shallots and pepper. Fold in the mushrooms, artichoke hearts and spinach. 

Now, remove your bread bowls from the oven. Allow to cool slightly, and remove bread from bowl molds. If it doesn't readily come off, slide a knife around the edge of the bowl to loosen the pastry. Fill your bowls with the chicken filling. Voila! You're done!

I might not be serving this to a panel of Food Network big-wigs, but the Mr. can be quite the tough customer. I was a little nervous to serve this to him. It's the first time I've created something under such pressure. But, it received rave reviews. He even went so far as to say that it was absolutely, hands-down the best thing I have ever cooked. And, trust me... he's eaten hundreds of meals cooked by these hands. I can tell by the food coma that he is currently in while lying in bed next to me... he ain't lying! WIN! 

It is a tasty, creative, modernized spin on the traditional comfort food of chicken pot pie. Now, as far as the fashionable part of the challenge? I think it's prettier than a regular old pot pie. Was I to serve it to a panel of judges, however, I would have used one triangle of dough on cupcake molds and make tartlets out of them. Cuter. More fashionable. But, I'm feeding a big, hungry man here. That wasn't really practical. 

These are intensely rich, and not on the lower end of the calorie spectrum. But, they make for a deliciously decadent dinner every now and then! Thanks for stopping by! Stay tuned for the Episode #5 Challenge on Sunday!

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