Confession: I love watching Chopped.
Not because the thought of whole chicken in a can or frog legs and lurid blue jelly beans makes my culinary toes curl, but because, well, it’s fun. The competition. The stories of why the chefs have come to compete, the varied personalities and cooking philosophies. The bad behaviour inherent in competitive settings.
I love living vicariously through their blast chillers (how many times have you thought “If only I could cold-microwave this?”). I drool over their enormous pantries and openly covet their gas stoves massive ovens. I swoon over the giant ice cream makers, entertaining torrid fantasies of what kind of naughty behaviour I might get up to with such a piece of equipment, a crate of fat red mangoes, and copious quantities of coconut milk.
I enjoy the snarky judges picking holes in the fancily presented dishes. True, eleven times out of ten, the food isn’t anything I’d ever eat myself, but the creativity is still kind of inspiring. Even those chefs chided for their slovenly presentation make meals several hundred times nicer looking than mine. It’s inspiring to see the care chefs put into meals put together in so little time.
So, every Tuesday night while I’m making dinner, on goes the TV. And while the professionals try to whip up something edible from freaky basket ingredients in 20 minutes to half an hour, my dinnertime prep gets stretched out by a good hour while I peer at the TV through the breakfast nook and curse the noisily simmering onions for drowning out the volume.
This past Tuesday, I thought I’d try to incorporate some of the fancy foodiness of catty cooking shows, without the snipe and creepy components. I decided to try and fancify dinner. Normally, my dinners are more like comfort food than gourmet fare. I decided to try my hand at pretty plates. Plates that were actually dished up in the kitchen, all delicate-like, rather than my usual style, which is to ferry pots and cast iron pans out to the table for easy serving and simple seconds.
I started with grits. A classic Bahamian staple, if not a classy one. I favour yellow grits; these come from the last of a batch lovingly brought home in my suitcase some time ago, before I realized I could by the same thing locally under the name “coarse ground cornmeal.” Live and learn. Back home, grits are generally a nice, cheap, hearty breakfast food. I wouldn’t usually think of grits as fancy fare, let alone dinnertime fare, but after hearing enough Food Network folks croon about its creamy texture, I figured, what the hay. Plus, they cook more quickly than hour-long brown basmati rice.
Next layer: black beans, sauteed up with onions and mushrooms, bay leaf, fresh rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutritional yeast.
The topping: roasted red pepper and roasted garlic coulis. At least, I’m calling it a coulis. Apparently, a real coulis is made from pureed and strained veggies or fruit. I cheated and did not peel the peppers, but coulis sounds nicer than “blended up stuff.” (Thank you, French.)
I roasted mini red peppers, since that’s what I had on hand and what was on special at the grocery store. In a perfect world, next time I’d use full-sized guys, as the minis proved far too tiny and delicate to peel anything, although they were plenty large enough to set the overly sensitive smoke alarm off repeatedly. The coulis–which I made by pureeing the pepper and garlic, adding a bit of almond milk, and seasoning with a touch of salt and a tiny bit of smoked paprika–was delicious nonetheless.
Finally, I garnished with fresh broccoli and a few slivers of raw carrots.
The verdict? I’d definitely do this dish again. The coulis was sweet and tasty, the black beans were hearty. The grits made for a nice change to the usual dinnertime starches of potatoes, quinoa, pasta, and rice. And the layering and fancy presentation was great for creating that “I get to eat pretty food!” smug sensation. I could get used to that.