Mystery Box Cooking Challenge: Sohla Versus Stella

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik. Video: Serious Eats Team]

Today, we bring you our very first intra-office cooking challenge. The contestants: assistant culinary editor Sohla El-Waylly and pastry wizard Stella Parks. The premise: Each makes delicious food from a mystery box of ingredients chosen by the other. The stakes: The loser gets to eat a glorious meal (and, let’s be real, the winner probably does, too).

Sohla and Stella swapping groceries

To keep things interesting, we decided to lay down a few ground rules:

  1. They had to buy their ingredients for each other at the farmers market—and make use of them all. An Iron Chef–/most-cooking-shows-on-television-inspired challenge to see where the creative process would take them.
  2. They could spend no more than $80 each, lest Serious Eats go bankrupt.
  3. No supplemental shopping at the supermarket: They vowed to make do with whatever they were given, though they were permitted to make use of pantry staples from our (admittedly well-stocked) kitchen.
  4. Everything had to be done in a day. They’d shop, cook, and eat, all within an eight-hour window; more than any normal person would budget for a weeknight meal, but a fair day’s work for two full-time recipe developers. That meant no overnight doughs or marinades, no dry-aged meat or ripened custard bases; just simple recipes that could be taken from start to finish all in one go.

Here’s what they came up with:

Sohla’s Menu

buttered-bourbon old fashioned cocktail

Aperitif: I started us off with rounds of brown-buttered Old Fashioneds—the only acceptable way to end a long day in the kitchen. Fat-washing the bourbon with browned butter infuses it with nutty notes, while giving the butter a spicy kick from the alcohol.

Appetizer: I put together polenta pierogies filled with braised guinea fowl, caramelized onion, and a bloomy soft cheese. Then I sautéed them in the bourbon-infused brown butter and finished them off with crisp raw purslane.

Main course: I roasted the guinea fowl crown after giving it a quick dry brine of salt and baking powder for a better-browned crust. In the last moments of cooking, I pulled out the bourbon brown butter again to baste the guinea fowl.

Side dishes: On the side, I served seared and braised radishes finished with lemon from the pantry, and a country-loaf dressing tossed in concentrated guinea fowl stock that I’d whipped up in the pressure cooker.

Stella’s Menu

raspberry ripple gelato being scooped out

Dessert: I put the fresh goat’s milk to work in a riff on fior di latte gelato, which I swirled with a raspberry ripple.

More dessert: Next, I used my whole wheat gingerbread sheet cake as a blueprint for a cake made with goat’s milk, buckwheat honey, and Red Fife flour, along with butter that had been steeped with ashwagandha root as it browned.

And even more dessert: I crushed up slightly bruised strawberries from the market haul, then simmered them with anise hyssop, creating a base for a creamless white chocolate ganache. I sprinkled the plate with hollyhocks and blueberries for a bit of pink ‘n blue mid-’90s plating cheesiness.

In the end, they were both exhausted but well fed, and armed with some new recipes to share. (Don’t worry—they’ve made them a few times since, to iron out the kinks.)


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Post Author: Carmela

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