I just can’t help myself.

I really can’t. I don’t exactly know when this happened, but I can’t pass up a contest these days. I never thought of myself as the ‘competitive type’. Although my friends have scary stories involving me, a Taboo deck, taunting and blocking the exits. I really have no idea what they could possibly be talking about. But here we are. Again. Entering another cooking contest.  Gulp.

I just submitted an entry to the Today show, I have a list of other contests I’m working on, but then it happened. I got an email from The Foodie Blogroll, see their badge down on the right? Earlier in the year I participated in their Foodie Joust, which were so much fun. And now they are partnering with Marx Foods–do check out that website, it’s a foodie’s equivalent to George Clooney… HOT! They are toying with my emotions and my Shun knives and opening the doors to an Iron Chef style cooking contest or Chopped, complete with a basket filled with secret ingredients. Swoon.

Yep. I’m in. I need to tend to the business part and answer a few questions. You get to see those answers too.

Why do you want to compete in this challenge?
It seems I’m a natural born competitor, I just didn’t get the graceful loser gene. I’m an Iron Chef/Chopped/Top Chef junkie and wannabe. I play this game at home but call it What’s in the bag.

Limitations of time/space notwithstanding, whose kitchen would you like to spend the day in & why? Julia Child, Thomas Keller, Ferran Adria, James Beard, Marie-Antoine Careme, or The Swedish Chef?
May I split my day with all of them? Except for the Swedish Chef, the Muppets give me the creeps. If I really must pick only one, I’ll go with Julia. I know you’re probably thinking of the Julie/Julia Julia, but that’s not why. I grew up watching Julia Child cook, or rather, love and dote on food. I loved to see her ‘just whip up’ a dish effortlessly, all the while letting you know that the worst thing you could do was not try to recreate it yourself. To me Julia was a version of my mother on TV. Cooking up a storm of decadent, delicious and involved meals without breaking a sweat and convincing you that you could do it too.

What morsel are you most likely to swipe from family & friends’ plates when they aren’t looking?
Fatty bits of pork, ripe plantains and properly made rice. Oooh, seafood, especially le shrimp.

Sum your childhood up in one meal.
Seriously? I’m from Panama and my mom loved to cook, I can’t do one meal! My mom was an incredible cook, but I’ll go with the basics. Some stewed chicken, coconut rice with pigeon peas and tajadas (ripe fried plantains). That can be my last meal any day of the week.

The one mainstream food you can’t stand?
This response is rated R for violence and strong language. Mango and coconut flavoring. I should say artificial flavoring. I don’t know who came up with the recipe for either one, but I don’t really think they had a real mango or coconut;  like EVER. Even the scent of the artificial stuff nauseates me. And the thing that saddens me the most about it is how many people have formed a negative opinion about these 2 delicious items without ever tasting the real thing. YUCK! Oh, let me add fake crab to that. Ok, I’m ok now.

This should be interesting. Stay tuned.

Competitive cookingly yours,


What’s in the bag? Part 1

I admit it. It was Sunday, I couldn’t decide on dinner and I was slightly bored. My dear friendster Cindy had given us a gift card to Whole Foods when we got married (we’re still newlyweds!) and so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to make use of those plastic dollars.

I cozied up to hubby, batted my eyelashes and said, in my most sultry voice: ‘Let’s play a game. You go to the store with this money and buy anything you want and I’ll cook it. I get no input. I’ll cook whatever you bring, even if I’ve never tried it before’.

Yes, I was feeling brave and daring. I imagined myself a contestant in my show: a cross between the Next Food Network Star, Chopped and Top Chef.  When he wasn’t back almost an hour later, I began to worry. Then he showed up with 2 HUGE bags from WF…! yeah, it was time to panic.

He produced lamb chops (virgin territory), pears, long-stemmed artichokes (never seen those before), potatoes, NY strips, ciabatta bread YUM! bok choy, pasta, and some other goodies. Definitely more than one meal. I paced, drank wine, paced some more and finally came up with a menu!

I would try my hand at the lamb chops and I would serve them over pasta with a Putanesca-ish sauce. I would also try making a pear tart. The deal was I had to do as much as possible without looking for recipes. I was able to do so except for the tart; baking is, after all, science. Here’s how the chops went down.

Arent they beautiful?

Aren't they beautiful?

Grilled Lamb Chops
1 lb of lamb chops (whole)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed
First we scored the fatty side of the rack, then we marinated it.
Marinate: Then I threw the rest of the ingredients into a Ziploc bag, got the salt incorporated and added the chops. I let them hang out there for about 2 hours, turning them every so often.

Preheat oven to 375
Cook: In a very hot oven proof skillet, heat up some olive oil and place the rack fatty side down. You want to sear it about 3 minutes on each side (be sure not to burn it). Keep turning until you get all sides browned, then turn it so the fatty side is on top, and put it in the preheated oven for another 15-20 minutes depending on how you prefer to cook it.

After searing before hitting the oven

After searing before hitting the oven

Salsa Putanesca-ish
3 slices of bacon, cubed
1 white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
8 crimini mushrooms, diced
1/4 cp Italian parsley, chopped
3 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 can roasted tomatoes
1/2 cp assorted olives, chopped
2 tsp anchovy paste
2 cp good beer
salt & pepper to taste

Saute the bacon to render some of the fat, but keep it soft. Add onions and cook until translucent; then add garlic and mushrooms. Once the mushrooms begin to soften, add the tomatoes, parsley and olives, stir in. Then add the anchovy paste and beer, bring it to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow the flavors to cook in for about 30-45 minutes, stirring constantly. You may not need to add salt, but check at the end of the cooking time and adjust seasoning.

Serve: Remove chops from oven and allow to rest for about 10 minutes before slicing. In the meantime, cook, drain and serve your pasta onto a plate. Top with sauce and place a few chops over that, sprinkle with fresh parsley if desired.