Sunday, December 27, 2015

Just like that, a weird family tradition was born

You know how sometimes people look at the families of their origin and think, "There's no way I belong here"? 

I do not have that dilemma. You see, I come from a family that, when I say, "We should do Chopped for Christmas!" the response is, "Yeah, OK." And there is zero sarcasm.

Here's what we did: each of us filled a box with four ingredients, for an appetizer, side, main dish and dessert. This was over Thanksgiving. This morning, after we opened the expected packages, we opened up the exciting boxes: Chopped! We drew dishes to make sure we each got boxes that were not our own. Mom and I wanted dessert. Josh did not. Guess what he drew?

Appetizer (box put together by Josh, cooked by Heidi)

Ingredients: Chipotle Cheddar Gardetto's snack mix, chorizo, Funkmeister (pronounced with a throaty German deep U sound like "foonk") and jalapenos

After much back and forth, which included stuffed jalapenos, twice baked potatoes, some sort of tower that included a hash brown base and fried cheese balls (I should add that this cheese was very strong. I love a good, sharp cheese, but this was foonky.), I settled on a variation of sausage balls. the balls were made of grated sweet potatoes (partly because sweet potatoes have a mild, sweet flavor that will go nicely with spicy sausage, hot peppers and foonky cheese, mostly because sweet potatoes are delicious and I eat them whenever I can), chorizo, a little bit of jalapeno and some cheese, then rolled in crushed Gardettos. My initial plan was to bake them, and I did, then was seized with the horrifying remembrance that these bake for 45 minutes and we were eating appetizers in less than 30.

Plan B: Fry them, partly because frying is quicker and will give them a nice crunch and mostly because frying is delicious and I do it whenever I can). So while half the balls baked, the other half became nice little sweet potato sausage patties that Mom insisted in calling croquettes. The hard part was knowing if the chorizo was actually cooked, since it blended into the sweet potatoes. The good news is we all ate them and it's two days later and no one's thrown up yet, so it was cooked!

The other good news is sausage balls actually take 20 minutes to cook, not 45, so everyone got two baked balls and one fried patty and a Funkmeister-jalapeno cheese dipping sauce that definitely made my mouth burn.

It was seriously good. I don't want to brag, but Josh did drink the cheese sauce when he was done with the yam-sausage bites.

Main dish (box by Mom, cooked by Rachel)
Ingredients: pork tenderloin, chestnuts, forbidden rice and red wine (I feel like Mom would want me to mention that Josh brought the wine at Thanksgiving and left it here; she did not buy it or otherwise do anything with it but enjoy it when she ate Rachel's dish.)

We all agreed on the pork tenderloin beforehand so everyone could do a little mental preparation beforehand, since wrongly cooked pork is a little more problematic than wrongly cooked brownies or vegetables. (This was Rachel's first time cooking pork tenderloin, or any pork that's not bacon or sausage.) We also all looked up instructions for a red wine reduction sauce, except for Mom, who kept talking about how she really wanted to do her own box and kept being told no.

After roasting chestnuts in a closed oven, she made forbidden rice pilaf with roasted chestnuts and walnuts and dried cherries, beat the pork, stuffed it and roasted it, basting with red wine reduction. (Fact: When a bunch of Mormons cook with alcohol, you hear lots of comments about how strongly said alcohol smells. Really strongly, in case you were wondering.) The dish, like the photo I took, came out dark but tasted quite good.

Side dish (box together by Heidi, cooked by Josh)

Ingredients: Nori seaweed crunchy peanuts, Vermont cheddar chesse, stir fry noodles and grapefruit

Our one rule in putting together these boxes was, "Don't be a jerk." Obviously we want it to be a little challenging and we wanted some unique dishes, but this is Christmas dinner and we are all eating it, so chicken-in-a-can is a no-no. I couldn't decide if sticking cheddar cheese into this box was a jerk move. The other three have kind of an Asian persuasion; you can definitely make a sauce out of grapefruit juice and toss some peanuts in there with the noodles. But the cheese? When I thought of what I would do with my box I came up with a stir fry served atop a cheddar cheese biscuit of some kind.

Josh went another direction. He made salad with lettuce, cabbage, avocado and cheese with a grapefruit-peanut vinaigrette and paired it with peanut stir fry noodles topped with lamb meatballs. If all ramen noodles tasted like these ramen noodles, more people would eat ramen noodles. (I even ate a bite of salad with avocado to get the full experience. Then I eschewed the rest of the avocado. I do not do avocado.)

Dessert (box by Rachel, cooked by Mom)

Ingredients: brown rice, blue cornmeal, cream, crystallized ginger, chocolate graham crackers

Mom opened her box last. When Rachel saw what the rest of us had done, she said she thought she was the nicest in putting her box together. We did not agree. Pre-cooked, vacuum-packed brown rice? Cornmeal? 

Fortunately, since we had all day and were all eating together there was a fair amount of picking of other people's brains going on. Mom initially thought of a pie. Rachel's plans for it included ginger ice cream with everything being built around that. Somehow we landed on the idea of brittle or toffee made with brown rice and a parfait. After a somewhat failed attempt at cornmeal shortbread (cornmeal is delicious, but it does not soak up/adhere to liquid quite the same way flour does), another attempt at cornmeal cookies and very long brittle-making process, Mom put together a parfait with ginger custard, with chunks of graham cracker/brown rice brittle in it, topped with a cornmeal cookies, whipped cream, crystallized ginger and cocoa nibs. She definitely won on presentation, and the weird flavors and kind of funky parts actually came together in a way that worked. 

And that was Chopped Christmas 2015! I'm responsible for acquiring an apron and writing the year and my name on it. (I won.) The next time we do it I'll pass it on to the next winner. 

Now if you'll excuse, I only have 364 days to figure out ingredients for my box next year.