Forever Disqualified

Blake and I love the show Chopped on Food Network. When Lottie was in the “she-is-cute-to-look-at-but-does-absolutely-nothing” stage, we always looked forward to cooking dinner. We had tapped out our baby staring-o-mometers and we needed something else to entertain us. We cooked every night. Soon, we became bored with that  as well. One night when we were engaged in the highlight of our week, the new episode of Chopped, it hit me! We can play our own version of the show.

For those of you who are not familiar with the show. Four chefs from around the country compete in a culinary challenge. Each of them are given a “mystery basket” filled with four ingredients. They are given a short limit of time to create a restaurant-worthy dish to present to judges. The worst dish gets “Chopped”, and the remaining chefs move to the next round until there is one winner.

“Foster Chopped” is a little different. At first, Blake and I competed. He gave me a basket, and I gave him one. We made one small plate each, and made honest judgement and against one another. This form of “Foster Chopped” was ended abruptly when I almost put my precious “cute-to-look-at-but-does-absolutely-nothing” infant in the ER.

Blake opened his basket, and I treated him with flank steak, black beans, gnocchi and grapes. He hit me with Kielbasa sausage, pineapple, peanut butter and habenero peppers. At the time, Blake and I were living in a condo on the lake. Outdoor grills were not allowed so we had an indoor grill pan. Definitely more dangerous. I envisioned myself creating an Asian grilled meal with Thai peanut sauce. I just knew I was going to win.

My plan was simple: heat up the grill pan and start grilling. I always saw the likes of Emeril and Bobby Flay grilling up pretty much anything. They always found a way to get that delightful char on the outside of their peppers. I was going for this. The sausage, coated in its Asian style marinade, went on without a hitch. I cut the pineapple into unique shapes just to show off. “Boom” they hit the grill. On to the peppers…

I decided to skewer a few of them. I knew that Habeneros were hot peppers, but I didn’t know how hot. After skewering them up, I tossed them on the hot grill pan inside our less than adeqautely ventilated condo. I immediately turned to finish my peanut sauce ensuring I make every item in the mystery box a stand out. Within 30 seconds, Blake and I were tearing up and coughing, and Lottie went from a peaceful siesta to a screaming rage. I thought for sure we had been gassed. It was the end of the world. This wasn’t just happening to me, but to everyone in the world. “What do we do? Where do we go? Hold your loved ones tightly people.”

“Meredith, are you serious?” I heard my passive and overly kind husband say to me with an unheard of brusque tone. At the time, I am still running through my memory book, and I am cupping my palms over my sweet girls air passage ways to protect her from the deadly fumes. Blake raced over to the grill pan, turns it off, takes my skewer of peppers to the deck and promptly tosses them into the receeding water levels known as Lake Lanier. He walked back in coughing and grabbed Lottie from my arms. He grabbed my hand, nearly ripped my cooking shoulder square out of the socket and guided our little family upstairs and out the front door.

In my still oblivious mind, I am picturing my neighbors racing out their doors in a panic from the world-wide gassing. I was shocked to see it was just Blake, Lottie and me. I peek over at Blake who is looking into our helpless infant’s eyes to make sure she is ok. She is calm at this point. He looks up at me. His look is abnormally unplesant. “Are you serious about grilling whole Habeneros with the seeds?” he asked me in a belittling tone. I peek behind him, then behind me hoping to see others evaucating. Still just us. “Bobby Flay grills peppers all the time,” I say as I run through my Boy Meets Grill Episode schema hoping to picture him grilling a hot pepper. All I see in my mind of memories is green pepper, red pepper and poblano….nothing hot. “Whoops” I say to my disappointed husband and zoned out infant. I knew I had really messed up. The house was a danger zone. Blake went in to turn on the fans and open the windows. I followed him in thinking for sure things would be fine by now. SIX HOURS later, we were able to return to living within the walls of the condo.

From this point on, I have stayed out of the kitchen. I opt for shopping, finding deals and creating challenging mystery baskets for Blake to prepare. I am forever disqualified from “Foster Chopped”. Blake on the other hand has made some amazing dishes. Here are the recipes from the highlights of each basket.

Last week he was given:

Trout
Brazil Nuts
Brussel Sprouts
Apple Sauce

Boom!!! He busted out Bacon Wrapped trout on jalapeno-apple grits and sauteed brussel sprouts. It was amazing!

Chopped Round 1

Bacon Fried Skin-On Trout

Ingredients:

  • 2 skin-on trout filets
  • 4 slices bacon
  • Pinch of salt, pepper, garlic powder/salt

Directions:

  1. Pat the trout dry with paper towels.
  2. Season the trout on both sides with a little salt, pepper, and garlic.
  3. Place 2 slices of bacon on each trout filet on the side without skin, covering the filet.  Bacon should be trimmed to evenly cover the trout in a single layer, let rest for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Heat a saute pan on the stove over medium-high heat.
  5. Place the trout bacon side down in the oil, it should sizzle.
  6. Cook until the bacon is cooked through and a crispy golden brown, about 4-5 minutes.
  7. Flip the trout and cook skin side down in the bacon grease until crispy and golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.

The next night he was given:

Pork Chops
Potatoes
Apricots
Pimento-Jalapeno Cheese

He created Pimento Cheese scalloped potatoes with a saffron, yes real saffron, cream sauce, fried pickles and okra and grilled pork chops with apricot compote. Really dude? How awesome are you?

Foster Chopped Round 2

Fried Okra and Pickles:

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Pinch of pepper, garlic powder/salt, cayenne, and paprika
  • 12-16 okra halves
  • 4 pickle spears
  • Oil for frying

Directions:

  1. Mix eggs and milk with a pinch of salt, garlic, cayenne, and paprika.
  2. Place okra and pickles into the egg and milk mixture and toss.
  3. Mix flour, panko, 1 tsp salt, pinch of pepper, garlic, cayenne, and paprika.
  4. Place the soaked okra and pickles into the flour mixture(let excess liquid drain), and toss.  Let sit and set up for 5-10 minutes.
  5. Heat oil to around 375 degrees, until a okra piece really bubbles and sizzles when it is dropped.
  6. Drop the okra and pickles and let fry until they are floating and are a deep golden brown.
  7. Remove the okra and pickles onto a plate or in a bowl lined with paper towels and let sit for 2-3 minutes before eating.

Apricot Balsamic Sauce:

Ingredients:

  • 3 Diced Apricots
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter

Directions:

  1. Heat butter over medium-high heat in a saute pan.
  2. Add in diced apricots and brown sugar, stir.
  3. Cook mixture until it is nicely browned and set, about 3-5 minutes.
  4. When the mixture is cooked and the pan is nice and hot add in the balsamic vinegar, it should sizzle and simmer rapidly.
  5. Let the sauce cook together and reduce by about 1/3rd.  Add more balsamic if it gets too reduced or thick. 
  6. Serve over meat of choice.

For the final night I thought Blake deserves a really tough basket. I gave him:

Filet Mignon
Mushrooms
Anchovies
Nacho Cheese Doritos

He created Grilled Filets with Caesar Broccoli and zuchini stuffed mushrooms topped with crushed Doritos.

 Dorrito Stuffed Mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • 8 mushrooms caps
  • 1 slice bacon diced
  • 1/2 zucchini and/or squash julienned (cut into thing strings like pasta)
  • 2 tbsp crushed Nacho Cheese Doritos

Directions:

  1. Hollow out mushroom caps, drizzle lightly with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper, set aside in a pan lined with olive oil.
  2. Heat diced bacon over medium-high heat until lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add julienned zucchini and cook with bacon until entire mixture is browned, about 4 minutes.
  4. Spoon zucchini and bacon mixture into mushrooms.
  5. Preheat oven to 375.
  6. Place mushrooms into the oven and cook until they darken and moisten, about 6 minutes.
  7. Sprinkle crushed dorritos over the mushrooms and cook another 3-4 minutes.
  8. Serve hot.
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Thai-ing The Knot

Blake and I honeymooned in Thailand. It was beautiful, romantic and much more than I ever imagined. It was a long trip, but we would both gladly make it again to be in such a unique place with friendly people. We had the most wonderful and extravagant cabana all to ourselves. We felt like modern-day movie stars.

We didn’t do too much touring, but we did ride elephants, play with monkeys, made curry with all ingredients from the jungle and ate many local dinners and lunches. All of the tours and excursions were fun and we felt fairly safe EXCEPT the zipline tour. Needless to say, I thought our marriage was going to be a short one. At many points on this zipline tour, I was completely sure our lives together were going to begin and end in Thailand.

When we arrived back at our hotel, we had Authentic Spicy Basil Chicken to celebrate not dying. For the whole story, continue past the recipe and keep reading. It was quite a day!

Spicy Basil Chicken

Serves 4

Spicy Basil Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 1 Bunch Thai Basil (at asian market, not normal basil)
  • 2 Bell peppers
  • 1 Vidalia Onion
  • 2 Jalapeno pepper
  • Small handfull of sesame seeds
  • 5-8 Cherry Tomatoes (optional)
  • 2-3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
  • 1 lb. Chicken breasts
  • 1-2 tbsp low sodium chicken stock
  • Sesame Oil

Directions:
1. Deseed and dice jalapeno peppers or leave in seeds for more heat
2. Cut bell peppers and onions into desired size and set aside
3. Cut cherry tomatoes in half
4. Cut up chicken into desired size (1 inch long strips or so) and set aside
5. Heat 2 tbls oil in wok (1 tsp sesame oil if available)
6. Add onions, peppers to wok and saute for 5-6 minutes
7. Add cut up chicken to wok or large pan and stir fry for 2-3 minutes until white edges start to form
8. Turn up heat, add sesame seeds, and continue to stir fry, add drops of sesame oil (regular if no sesame) as needed to keep from sticking
9. Once everything is sizzling loudly and starting to get a fried color add chicken stock and soy sauce in small amounts to create moisture and steam as needed (this is not a very wet dish it should be moisturized but mostly dry)
10. Continue stir frying
11. Add pulled basil leaves, halved cherry tomatoes
12. Add lime juice, shrimp if using, cherry tomatoes if using and turn heat to low or off while continuing to stir fry with remaining heat
13. Let sit for 2-3 mins stirring ocassionally and serve over rice. We always like to add a fried egg to our meals.

Honeymooning in Thailand was like being on a bipolar vacation. Within the walls of the resort, it was magical. The staff, dressed in their pristine uniforms, stopped and bowed at us as we walked by. After walking through a lobby of luxury, we passed several pools overlooking a crystal blue ocean. The property was lined with lush green plants, orchids and simple trickling natural streams of water which enhanced the sounds of paradise. After meandering down the most beautiful path, we engaged on our personal gate which enclosed the most romantic and private cabana steps away from the gently crashing waves.

We arrived to a bottle of delicious champagne on the lip of our own personal pool whose surface was covered in local flowers. I literally felt like I was in a story book. I opened my 10 foot glass french doors and walked across the mahogany hardwood floors and fell face first onto a pile of rose petals on my four-posted king sized bed wrapped in the freshest, 1000 thread count white sheets my body has every made contact with. Blake brought a special bottle of wine for me, but I didn’t have a glass. He pressed “0” on the phone, mentioned a wine glass and before he hung up, a polite gentleman was at our gate with a crystal wine glass on a tray waiting for my arrival. Story book…I know.

We settled into our cabana with a dip in the pool, a few chapters in my easy-to-read Nicholas Sparks’ book and a midday nap in the previously mentioned extravagant sheets. After a well worth it 26 hour travel day, we were pretty tired. Unfortunately when we woke up it was 4:30 am Thailand time. Hmmmm…. we had to figure out how to kill an hour and a half before the obnoxious breakfast buffet opened.

I could get used to this.

We decided to walk in the ocean as at low tide in front of our resort you could walk a mile toward the horizon and only become knee-deep in water. It was a wonderful time in our memory book. When we returned, the buffet was opened. We walked up the stairs to the open air octagonal dining room surrounded with ocean views. Before entering, we were greeted by the staff. We were presented with every fresh fruit on the island upon a bed of crushed ice, waiting to be chosen to be our juice of choice for the morning. I typically chose watermelon and lychee and Blake opted for kiwi and mango. We waited briefly while our fruit was transformed from one state of matter to another. 

The juice bar

Needless to say, we were living a dream. If people hadn’t noticed my abundant freckles, 5 foot 3 frame and bushy eyebrows, and people hadn’t noticed Blake’s asymmetrical face, narrow backside and knob knees, one may have mistaken us for Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Wait….I just got a little caught up in the dream.

Anyway, the bipolar begins when we stepped outside the front door of our resort. This doesn’t mean that Thailand was not nice outside the doors, it was just a different world. A world of Muy Thai boxing where boys aged 10-18 beat the ‘you know what’ out of each other on a homemade wrestling ring, with a non-educated referees who were more into  a good fight than keeping the children safe. The likes of blood, saliva and teeth were flying everywhere. My vision of a honeymoon night: looking at stars and having Chardonnay on the shoreline. Blake leaned more towards Muy Thai and Red Bull and Vodka. I guess he won 1/14th of the time. This was a night to remember. Romantic….not so much.

Date night under the not-so-romantic lights of Muy Thai Boxing

One afternoon, we decided to go for a walk around the island. It was scary but memorable for sure. Along the way, we were convinced by a nice local fella to book a tree top zipline tour. “This seems fun” we thought. He told us he would pick us up at 8:00 in front of our resort. Since we were rising at 6:00 most days, 8:00 seemed perfect, plenty of time for a pre zipline nap and consumption of local fruit juice.

7:30 am hit, and we had finished our overly extravagant breakfast, walked passed several bowing staff members who knew us by name at this point, jumped over the flowing waters that encompassed the lobby and waited on the bamboo chairs by the breezeway where guests were picked up for such tours.

Blake and I watched as several European couples were whisked away for their jungle tours, beach tours and waterfall trips. Each couple being picked up in a white vans or buses with very authentic logos decorating the sides. 8:10 rolls around and all of the other parties have been picked up. Blake and I begin to think we booked the wrong day. In the distance, we see a small 1990 Suzuki Sidekick ripping down the gravel drive. The vehicle is so small that the dust from the gravel covers the windshield.

“Beep, beep, beep!” Blake and I look behind us thinking for sure the 15-year-old driver is coming to pick his girlfriend up from the night shift on duty at the resort. We continue to sit, waiting on our white van with an authentic logo. “Beep, Beep, Beep!” Blake and I both instantly look behind us to see who this local teen was honking at. Said teen approaches with his hand out saying “you Mr. Bake? Bake? Mista Bake?” I turn to my new husband and make the “there-is-zero-percent-chance-I-am-getting-in-the-Suzuki-with-this-child” look at him. He looks at me and passively says to the teen, “Yes, that’s me.” My feet concrete themselves into the luxurious lobby floor as I grip onto the bamboo chair. The whiteness in my knuckles tells Blake that I am not on board, but he and his non-confrontational ways grabs my hand and pulls me towards the two-door, logoless Suzuki. “Get in” the local teen says as he pushes the front seat forward for us to load up. Blake jubilantly jumps in the back, reaches for my newly blinged left hand and looks me in the eye for what I thought was going to be the last time.

Twelve miles of careless, bumpy, off-road driving later, we arrive at anything but a licensed and insured zipline tour. The teen straps on our harnesses and pulls out his Nokia flip phone. After exiting the home screen which was decorated with a naked woman with blonde hair and delicious fake breasts, he began to give us the ziplining “demo”.

He flipped up the screen and began to play a self-made video of himself and his friends doing this zipline tour. This was our safety video/training. Then he let us strap into a non-name brand harness and “practice” ziplining on a 6 foot wire where our feet still hit the ground. Training complete. “Let’s go” he said.

Notice our ride in the background

Hesitantly,Blake and I climb up a tree 75 feet on a homemade ladder to a homemade platform to stand and overlook Thailand before we delve into what I think it my adventurous honeymoon death. I pictured Monica Kauffman on Channel 2 Action News saying “Two newlyweds from Atlanta ziplined to their death yesterday in Thailand. The company was a group of teenagers who were attempting make a few extra dollars. The fled the scene. One was found with a local prostitute in a pub and the other three are still on the loose.”

If I had only known how to slow down

Pretty far fall

Blake commits and follows our non-english speaking, adolescent leader who gives us hand signals to instruct us. He makes it safely to the next platform. I am so in love with my husband that I drop as well. I did not understand the sign language instruction which told me to use my hand to slow down. Instead I went full speed into an off brand spare tire which was attached to the tree for”cushioning”. Yeah, that’s going to be a bruise. Aside from the direct danger we were in, the views were to die for. We did snap a photo hoping those who found our bodies would see that we were happy in the moment.

A moment where to pros outweighed the cons

We got the hang of it and went from platform to platform. We landed in the middle of the course when I noticed that there were no ladders along the way. It was zipline to the end or jump 150 feet to the bottom of the jungle. Miraculously, but we made it to the end. ‘Teenage ring leader’s mother’ was waiting for our arrival with juice boxes and fresh lychee-esque fruit to curb our appetites. We ate, spoke different languages, smiled and I gripped Blake’s hand until my knuckles where white as we drove back to our little “Yuppie Paradise”. I took a deep breath as I arrived back at my cabana. Needless to say, the staff knew to follow me with a wine glass and a bottle of the finest chardonnay. For the next two hours, I relaxed by my personal pool (vacation bipolar at it’s best).

I told Blake that for dinner I wanted a classic. Spicy Thai Basil Chicken. We went to the city and had ourselves some local cuisine. Every month or so, I ask Blake to recreate this meal for me. It always reminds me how precious life is. For this reason, we always grow our own Thai Basil. Life is good and Thailand is my favorite place on Earth. Enjoy a recipe from our memory book and celebrate the fact that Monica Kauffman is still not familiar with our names.

Life is Sweet

My Saturated Fat Costs How Much?!?!?!

Wendy’s makes me so mad. If I am going to consume a generous amount of saturated fat, sodium and sugar, I expect it to be cheap. Blake and I always treat ourselves to fast food on road trips. Wendy’s used to always be in the running for our choice of meal. I absolutely love the Chicken Club with bacon and mayo only (picture of health, right?), and Blake loves the option of chili for dipping his sandwich. The last time we went to Wendy’s the lady on the other side of the static-laden speaker said, “That will be $20.09, please pay at the first window.” I politely ask her to repeat herself as I was sure the static had interfered with that total. “That will be $20.09, please pay at the first window.”

Needless to say, against Blake’s pleading for me not to, I told the kind lady that we would like to cancel our order, and I moved onward to the next saturated fat jungle. Blake gets so mad at me when I change my mind on things at the last minute based on price.

The one that makes him the most mad is when we decide to shop at Whole Paycheck Foods. I absolutely love Whole Foods. I love the way they set up the produce with such design and pattern. I love the crushed ice where the fresh fish are displayed, I love the free floating wine selection, and I love the olive oil tasting bar. Not to mention, the deli guys always seem to be incredibly good looking with their tattooed forearms and wide ear piercings. For all of these reasons, I always find myself loading my basket and heading toward check out. It is almost guaranteed that every time I round the corner past the salad bar and fresh baked breads, I begin doing the grocery cart math in my head. $5 for this plus $8 for this plus $17 for this plus $3.50 for this…… $75 for one meal! Blake glances over and sees the color in my face quickly fading. Instantly, he takes the cart, begins putting all of the collected groceries back on the shelves and tells me he will meet me at the car. Off to Kroger we go.

One day, one of the women on my tennis team told me about Luciano’s, a small yet elegant Italian restaurant near my house. I was anxious to go. Blake and I walked up to the door and it looked beautiful. I opened the door and saw the dreaded white tablecloths. Don’t get me wrong, I love white tablecloth restaurants, but not with my 3 year old who has no concept of volume when speaking. In the corner of my eye, I noticed a take out menu….Bingo! Blake went in and ordered us two sandwich and sides, and we waited to pay. “That will be $16.16” the beautiful and polite hostess said. Being that there was no static to interfere, I simply assumed she had not done the math correctly. I asked her if that total was correct and she printed me a receipt showing me that she had in fact computed the total correctly.

Here I stand in a beautiful restaurant with an open grill, granite top bar, fresh herbs growing in the foyer and chefs in white coats, paying $4.00 less than I would at Wendy’s.

This little experience led us to the creation of our dinner last night. Luciano’s makes an Italian Chicken BLT. It is on Ciabatta bread with a pesto aioli and pancetta instead of regular bacon. They serve it with house made truffle and Parmesan potato chips. Blake recreated it last night with home cut truffle french fries. It was amazing!

The Sandwich

Image

Ingredients

– 2 chicken breasts

– 2 ciabatta rolls
– 6 slices of pancetta, cut thick
– lettuce
– tomato, home grown when possible
– 2 tsp pesto aioli
– italian seasonings and salt and pepper to taste
 
Directions

1. Slice rolls
2. Slice tomatoes into sandwich sized slices
3, Cook pancetta (cook just like you would regular bacon)
4. Season chicken with a little salt and pepper and Italian seasoning of choice
5. Grill chicken
6. Grill bread
7. Put a layer of aioli on both slices of bread
8. Add chicken, then stack with tomato, lettuce, and pancetta
9. Cut the sandwich in half and spear the two halves together with a toothpick or skewer
 
The Aioli
 
Ingredients 

 
– 1/2 cup of mayonnaise
– 1 1/2 tbsp premade pesto
 
Directions 
 
1. Mix two ingredients
 
French Fries
 
Ingredients
 
– 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut
– Frying oil of choice
– Pinch of truffle salt (this can be expensive but lasts forever. We get ours at William Sonoma)
 
Directions
 
1. Peel baking potatoes, or leave skin on if you like skin on fries
2. Slice your potato into french fry sized slices, or use a mandolin for quick and perfect sized fries
3. Heat oil to 350 degrees and drop in 1 potato worth of fries
4. Cook each set of fries for 8-12 minutes depending on desired doneness
5. Remove fries and place in a bowl lined with paper towels
    (Fries can be fried a 2nd time for extra crispy, or one time for more mushy fries depending on what you are going for)
6. Repeat for each potato
7. Sprinkle with a few pinches of truffle salt and toss, serve immediately