Thursday, December 9, 2010


I just got home from my black box practical exam and I am ready for a nap! Before I soak up some zzzzz's I have to tell you all about it -- yes, I know you've been anticipating this, right?

What is a black box you ask? Have you ever seen the show Chopped? It's very similar -- except there is no competition but yourself.

4 mystery ingredients
3 hours
2 bowls of soup
2 entree plates - protein with gravy, vegetable, and a starch

You MUST plate on time - no earlier, no later - you have a 60 second leeway either way.

We have 30 minutes to come up with a menu, on the 2nd hour we must have the soup plated, and the 3rd hour we plate the entree.

At 8:50 I started prepping my station: cutting board, sharpening knives, and cookbooks ready to go. At promptly 9:00 am, Chef comes to my station and pulls out my "black box"....

sweet potatos

Ok, I can do this. I started looking around in the reach-in and YES! there are apples! I decide to make the curried carrot apple soup we made for our buffet dinner. I've made it 3 times, so I should be great with this.

Now, for the rest. I decide to cut the pork into boneless chops and saute them. I will then make a pan gravy for my sauce out of the fond and incorporate the leeks. For the vegetable, I think sauteed zuccini and summer squash with some fresh herbs would be great. Starch -- well, yes I am a little crazy.........I decided to make sweet potato pierogi!

I started by getting the veggies cut up for the soup and then the sweet potatoes. I put some vegetable oil in a pan and sauteed the curry for a few minutes and added the carrots, apples, and onions with a little chicken stock. Then I boiled the sweet potatos and put them on an ice bath to cool. I gathered some basil and put it in vegetable oil for the pork to marinade in.

After the carrots and apples were cooked, I pureed them using an emursion blender. I then added the remaining chicken stock and moved it back to the stove. Once that was heated back up, I added some salt and pepper to taste.

I didn't want to start anything because I was about to plate the soup. I opted to get a few things ready to go, so that when I returned to my station I could quickly start working on the pierogi.

Soup bowls out of the oven, ladle the soup -- and I notice it has thickened up! UGH! Too late to do anything about that, so I proceeded to add the creme fraise for my garnish. Yea, well that melted right into the soup! Backup plan on hand -- I added some fresh chopped parsley.

I brought the soups over to the grading station, where Chef was waiting. Yes, he noticed that the soup was a bit thick, and also said my parsley was just under uniformly cut. I thought to myself -- "oh boy, he's going to be grading us pretty hard!"

Back to my station I proceed to get my mise en place in order for the pierogi. The dough doesn't take very long, but it is supposed to rest for 10 minutes. I don't think I let it go the whole time, my dough was slightly thick and I had a hard time rolling it with the wooden rolling pin. (I normally use a heavy marble one and I forgot to bring it with me!) I made smaller pierogi than normal because it was a starch -- not an entree portion.

Onto the pork chops. I grate the lemon peel and add it to the bread crumbs along with some parsley. I bread the chops and put them in the pan -- which was too hot -- and they browned too fast. UGH! Good thing I had 7 more chops cut from the pork! Now I am behind and I know it. I freaking out at this point, but I get the pierogi boiled and soaking in butter. I have the zuccini and squash chopped and ready to go. I decide I have to do everything at once or I won't make it to plate. So, I have the second set of chops, the veggies and the pierogi all going at the same time. I start plating the pierogi and the veggies. I set the pork on another plate and get moving on the pan gravy -- look at the clock and I have 5 minutes!! Oh no!! I grab some flower and make a roux with some of the clarified butter I have from the pierogi. I drained the oil from the pan, threw in some leeks, poured in some chicken stock, and last -- but not least the roux. I turned up the heat to reduce the sauce and it quickly thickened up. (THANK GOODNESS!!)

I honestly don't know if I was on time or not -- at that point I knew I only had about 1 minute. I put some gravy on the plates and placed the chops in the center and thought (screw the garnish-who has time?). It was so intense, but a big rush!!

It's time for Chef to critique: his piece of pork was a little tough (should have given him my piece!!) but he said the flavors of lemon and basil come through nicely. He thought the gravy was "ok" but I didn't blame him -- it was not what I intended to do. My zuccini were slightly over peppered, but uniformly cut, and my pierogi -- a little too doughy. (I thought they were FANTASTIC!!)

All my classmates were so impressed that I had made the pierogi and they all wanted to try them! Too bad our peers don't grade us, because they all liked them! They also liked my pork chops and gravy too! :) YAY! So happy!

Now it's time for a nap and then a glass of wine. I have earned it today......



colfin said...

I'm so glad you shared this! It sounds awesome and exciting! And I can't wait to hear your grade!!! Bravo!

Candice said...

Souns very ambitious and like you did a great job. I am sure no one was perfect. The chefs on Chopped alway have stuff they wish they did differently or ran out of time to do!

Amber said...

Thanks, ladies! I totally appreciate the support! :)