Things are steaming up around here, as my husband, Les, and I count down the weeks til the kickoff of our kitchen remodel. We are doing our best to trim the pantry and freezer inventory before we get there, to help ease the pain that comes naturally with home renovation. I will admit that I have been nervous, not only for turning my own mystery basket into something special, but also for preparing baskets for Les. I don’t want to stump him, but I also don’t want to hand him a victory on a silver platter. As this challenge continues, we are certain to face weirder combinations of ingredients than either of us imagined.
Before we started our challenge, Les and I established and agreed upon the following rules for setting up each other’s baskets:
- Each basket must hold four mystery ingredients, found in our cabinets, fridge or freezer.
- The goal of the challenge is to use up our surplus food, with as little waste as possible. We will not be using some small portion of an ingredient and throwing the rest in the trash.
- Basket ingredients can be used in any course of the meal or broken into separate courses of a single meal, i.e.: cocktail, appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert. Cook’s choice.
- Basket ingredients must be transformed in the meal, not merely served as is.
- Pet foods may not be submitted as basket ingredients, even though Les says we have way too many bags of kitty treats.
It’s time for my second basket of mystery ingredients in our homegrown “Chopped” challenge, and I can hardly stand still.
My first reaction for this whole chicken is disappointment because I was planning to make soup with it, and now that plan is shot. But this also reveals one of my own personal shortcomings—I have wanted to make soup with the chicken since last August, and I still haven’t. My procrastination is part of the reason we have so much stuff! Les did us a big favor by putting that thing in my Chopped basket.
This was my chance to do something cool with the chicken, even more special than soup, and my first step would be brining it in a mixture that would include the Wicked Whiskey honey. After 11 months in the freezer, it probably needs a flavor boost and some assurance of retained moisture. I got that started and sent it to the fridge for five hours.
Let’s talk about this jalapeno sauce for a moment. This awful, one-note, ugly-to-look-at, disgusting jalapeno sauce. I’m usually all about the novel condiments at Trader Joe’s, but this product has been letting me down since Les first brought it home a few months ago. All I taste in it is jalapeno and heat. There’s no balance of acid or sweetness or even salt. It has a weird creamy texture, and I am suspicious of any product that tastes creamy without a speck of cream on the ingredients list. And that color—ugh.
I’m going to bury the sauce by blending it into the broth used to make brown rice, and I’ll add my own complementary flavors, in the form of fresh jalapenos, scallions and grilled fresh pineapple brushed with more of the Wicked Whiskey honey. Basically, I’m trying to play up the jalapeno flavor while simultaneously hiding the sauce. Is that gonna work? We’ll see.
That leaves the mole, and although it seems like a random ingredient, it is something I was quite proud of when I first made it. Mole is a traditional, labor-of-love sauce, signature to the Mexican region of Puebla, where they love blending chiles with fruit and onions and nuts and seeds and (wait for it) dark chocolate! My guess about the origin of this mole was on point; I looked through my iPhone and found the photos I took while making this sauce for Cinco de Mayo—in 2019! My favorite part was melting in the dark chocolate. 😊
Despite having been in the deep freezer for two years, the mole still had exquisite layers of flavor. I blended it with a bit of olive oil and a touch of Wicked Whiskey honey, and I rubbed it all over the brined chicken, which I roasted over root vegetables on the convection setting of our oven for I have no idea how long, and lo and behold, it turned out beautiful!
The mole-rubbed chicken looks great, but how does it taste, and what about that rice made with disgusting jalapeno sauce? It’s time for judging.
Les is a very generous judge. In my own opinion, the jalapeno sauce-infused rice was decidedly not a winner, and not only because the sauce is gross. I overcooked it because I miscalculated the amount of liquid when I blended in the jalapeno sauce. It was edible, but not delicious.
But that chicken!
Thank you, dear reader, for joining us on this crazy culinary journey! The next basket is for Les. I’ll spring it on him tomorrow—stay tuned! 🙂