This week the contestants on Chopped Junior were faced with some interesting beverage ingredients in the mystery baskets, like cream soda in the appetizer round and horchata for dessert. In case you’re not familiar with horchata, it’s a super-refreshing Mexican drink that is made from rice, sugar and cinnamon. The rice is soaked in water and then blended with sugar and sometimes almonds into a very fine pulp. It’s then strained, mixed with water and served chilled, usually over ice.
This week our young contestants on Chopped Junior met a prickly opponent during the entree round, in the form of prickly pear cactus leaves or nopales, which are native to Mexico. Once the stickers and outer edge are removed, the flesh of the cactus can be cut up and grilled or sauteed until tender. Nopales taste vaguely like an asparagus-green bean hybrid and can also be found already sliced and cooked in jars.
We decided to add them to a burrito for a perfect vegetarian lunchtime option:
The wildly popular show Chopped films here, in New York City, right next to Food Network Kitchen in a giant studio that houses a chaotic frenzy of mystery baskets, eager cooks and expert judges. But there’s an entire behind-the-scenes crew of incredibly talented people who keep the machine that is Chopped well oiled. There are a million moving parts to the show, and rarely is there downtime on set, so I took advantage of one of their small breaks and took some photos of the eerily quiet kitchen (I hope they don’t mind!). Take a look at these insider photos below.
The young contestants on this week’s episode of Chopped Junior were faced with some pretty tough ingredients in their mystery baskets, like barbecued-flavored larvae in the appetizer course. They also faced off with broccoli rabe (aka rapini), which is similar to broccoli, though it’s thinner, with smaller crowns and longer stalks. It can also be bitter and should be blanched first to help mellow its flavor.
In case you missed it, last week FoodNetwork.com and HGTV.com came together in the Scripps Lifestyle Studios to host the ultimate live holiday cookie party on Facebook (watch the three segments here, here and here). Justin Warner hosted the event, and I had the pleasure of nerding out with him and Michelle Buffardi, from FoodNetwork.com, on chocolate chip cookie recipes.
One of my favorite parts of the day was the unveiling of the gingerbread house that recipe developer Melissa Gaman and FoodNetwork.com’s Eric Kim (with special help from Mory Thomas and Miriam Garron) worked on ALL DAY! Viewers had a ton of questions about the construction of the house, so here are some of their building tips:
The Secret Roof Compartment (pictured above): Melissa cleverly turned our house into a surprise cookie jar. Here’s how she did it: She cut one of the roof sides into two pieces and “glued” the bottom piece, with royal icing, onto the house. The removable piece simply sat on top without needing to be affixed to the house. Then the whole roof was decorated in almond shingles that covered the seam to the secret panel!
There was definitely a holiday vibe in the Chopped Junior kitchen, and our contestants were thrown some pretty tough curveballs, like gingerbread houses and snowmen made from doughnuts. But we were mostly interested in using potato pancakes, an ingredient in the entree basket, as a bun for an easy sandwich perfect for a boxed lunch.
I wish you could actually smell the photos here. We had nearly 700 speckled bananas in the Food Network Kitchen walk-in just a couple of weeks ago, and their intense perfume almost knocked my socks off. They were that perfect kind of ripe, ideal for banana bread (which these guys were destined for). Culinary Purchasing Manager Jacob Schiffman had ordered about 100 unripe bunches nearly a week before and had patiently let them ripen at room temperature. But measuring out the ingredients for 200 loaves of banana bread, for a special event, takes time, so to keep them from overripening he moved the bananas into the cold to slow down the process.
Jacob also shared a great tip for keeping your bananas from ripening too fast: Break them apart as soon as you get them home, since a single banana can ripen the whole bunch (he’s got a million handy produce tips like this). And unless you’re planning on making banana bread, it’s a great tip for getting more life out of your fruit.