Saturday, October 29, 2011

Iron Chef at Home - Battle: Cheddar!

Hey there!

I'm sure most of you have caught an episode or two of the TV show Iron Chef America. I watch it nearly religiously (well, whenever I'm home at 8 pm on a weekday); I really enjoy the way the competing chefs put together super-neat meals apparently out of thin air.

The basics of the program are this: A professional guest chef challenges one of the "Iron Chefs", the secret ingredient is revealed (each course needs to feature this ingredient as the central feature), then the chefs have an hour to whip together 5 courses. Once time has elapsed, the meals are served to a panel of judges who then score the meals based on taste, presentation and originality. The winner is the one with the highest score. And that's it!

Now, adapting this to the home cook is pretty much impossible, but I've heard of a variety of methods folks have made their own "Iron Chef" competition for fun. Good example: some campers at the Blue Skies music festival did a "Battle: Potato" after leaving a dozen spuds cooking in the campfire the night before.

So, sure enough, Kari and I gave it a go in our own way on . It really stemmed from her talking about making Broccoli-Cheddar Soup and my responding by saying "I could make mine and we'll compare". And from there the idea blossomed to do a "Battle: Cheddar". So, for a couple of days we set about cobbling our ideas, recipes (very much a departure from the TV show) until that Friday it was "go" time!

A big hunk of "secret ingredient"

We fleshed out the details to be that we would each make 4 dishes at the same time, then eat them in turn (one of mine, then one of Kari's and so on) and generally compliment how good we are at cooking. I had the insane notion of using the 1-hour time limit, but luckily Kari talked me out of it, especially since it took us about 2 and a half hours! And Kari skipped making her dessert, so we only had 7 dishes in the end. To be fair to ourselves, the people on Iron Chef are professionals, have 2 sous-chefs and their own kitchen set-up. Kari and I had to do it all ourselves while using only one kitchen (there was some close-calls in the running-into-each-other department).

That being said, it was really, REALLY tasty food and we had a blast making it. Now, Kari and I have very different cooking styles. She likes to find really interesting recipes on the Internet or in cookbooks and try them out, tweaking as she goes. Me, I like to make stuff up on the spot (or shortly before) and fix it as I go. This sometimes leads to ruined dishes, but I guess I have to be true to my rebellious nature. So, in the name of simplicity, and accuracy, I'm going to present my recipes as I conceived them, while linking the recipes Kari made to the original online resources.

If you're going to cook 7 dishes at the same time, you might want to unplug this!


First Dish - Potato-Bacon-Cheddar Frycake with Spiced Honey

This one started as a conceptual nod of the hat to the Czech fast food juggernaut known as smazeny syr, which is a breaded patty of Edam cheese deep fried, put on a bun and topped with a glob of mayo. Well, I didn't really think that would be a proper use of our "secret ingredient", so I started wondering what might make a good "patty"-like appetizer. And slowly, I conceptualized having a hash brown-type potato cake on the bottom with melted cheddar on top all breaded together. And then, naturally, I decided to throw in some bacon. I don't think further explanation is required. Well, of course, when it come together, not all the elements were working well - the potatoes weren't quite right and I'd chopped the bacon too coarsely. So, with my usual "frak it" attitude, I went ahead and made the "frycake" as best as I could. What I lost in best texture and presentation, I made up for in flavour. The idea of garlic-and-sriracha-spiked honey drizzled over top helped in that department.

The recipe below describes more what I should have done rather than what I actually did.
Serves 4



Boiling potatoes for the Frycake
- 2 potatoes, finely diced
- 4 slices smoked bacon, cooked and finely chopped
- 1/2 cup old cheddar, grated
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- fat for frying (bacon fat, butter or vegetable oil)

- Boil potatoes until tender and drain.
- Add milk and butter and mash potatoes to desired consistency (thicker, but not lumpy).
- Stir in bacon and cheddar and form into patty.
- Heat fat for frying in a fairly large frying pan.
- Fry until both sides are golden brown and crispy and cheese has melted.
- Serve drizzled with Spiced Honey.

Spiced Honey on the left, Cheddar "Chips" on the right.
 Spiced Honey

- 3 tbsp honey
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp butter or olive oil
- 1/2 tsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp sriracha sauce


- Melt butter/heat oil in a frying pan and fry the garlic until golden (be careful not to burn it - discard any burnt pieces)
- Add cooked garlic, syrup and sriracha to honey and let sit for 30-60 minutes.

Here's how it looked on the plate (sorry for the failed crop job) - it could definitely use some refinement to the presentation, but MAN was it tasty!

Giving it a try...

She likes it!

Second Dish - Beer-Broccoli-Cheddar w. Egg Salad "Crouton"

Kari got this one from the Food Network and stripped it down. There was no "Bavarian wheat beer" but rather a Creemore offering, but I don't remember which variety. Here's the original recipe post:

Broccoli and beer - how could you go wrong?

The result was terrific and my gal tweaked the recipe for the egg-bacon mixture that topped the "crouton" to include some super-tasty smoked paprika. It gave it an extra element of smokiness that was just awesome...

... And what a gorgeous presentation!

That's one helluva crouton!

Mmmm, slurpy goodness!

 Third Dish - Shrimp "Gratinée"

Alright, I don't really know if the term "gratinée" (or gratin) quite applies to this recipe, since most "gratin" involves topping a kind of casserole with cheese and breadcrumbs for browning. I didn't do that here. Really, this was a kind of shrimp and veggie sauté that I transferred to a pie dish, covered with cheese and set under broiler until the cheese was bubbling and golden. OK, so maybe "gratinée" is accurate... Either way, I had fun making it and thoroughly enjoyed eating it!

Shrimp "gratinée"


- 1/2 pound thawed and peeled medium shrimp
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red pepper, finely chopped
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
- 1 cup (200 g) white or cremini mushrooms, quartered
- pinch dry basil (or 1 tsp fresh basil, chopped)
- pinch dry oregano (or 1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- handful baby spinach leaves, rinsed clean
- 4 kalamata olives, sliced (optional)
- 1/2 cup grated old cheddar
- 2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped


- In a large frying pan, heat oil on medium heat
- Once hot, add garlic, onion, red pepper and celery and sauté for about 10 minutes.
- Add shrimp, mushrooms, salt, pepper, basil, oregano and wine and sauté for another 10 minutes.
- Add spinach and olives (if using) and stir-fry until spinach has wilted.
- Turn on broiler
- Transfer mixture to an oven-proof dish and place under broiler until cheese is bubbling and golden.
- Top with parsley and serve.

You kind of need a glass of white wine with this dish

Fourth Dish - Cheddar Dumplings in Tomato Sauce

This tasty bit of cheesy goodness was Kari's and, unfortunately, it was the plate that broke our bellies' back. It also was a bit overdone. But the non-burnt parts were lovely!

Here's the recipe Kari originally used, but she used her own tomato sauce recipe, which is her secret, but the dumplings were super-tasty. Unfortunately, they were pretty dense and after 4 dishes full of cheese, that was about all we could handle.

Fluffy goodness!


And, after all that feasting, the inevitable outcome was:

Full of cheddary goodness and snuggling a cat. Life is sooo hard!

Now, there are still three dishes that we made but didn't get a chance to eat. I'll present those in a subsequent post.

So, the lesson learned from Iron Chef at Home? Well, for me, it's that the best part of kickass cuisine is always the preparation! Although the eating part isn't too shabby either...

Until next time, make sure your kitchen is the second most exciting room in your home!

No comments:

Post a Comment