I’ve got a new wickedly fun weeknight activity for you: "Chopped" with friends. (For those who aren't familiar, check out this). We had been tossing this idea around for months with our friends Matt and Julie, and we finally hashed out the details and went for it! What ensued was a super fun night of cooking and experimenting that felt much more exciting than simply cooking dinner for ourselves.
Here’s how we did it
We decided together that the main ingredient that had to be used would be bacon. Our thought process was that bacon is very versatile, it shines as a protein on its own, and yet it can also be used with other proteins and in several different dishes. Perfect!
However, in addition to bacon, we also settled on the idea of each team supplying two mystery ingredients. Both teams, then, would be required to prepare a dish that had a minimum of five ingredients: bacon, plus the four mystery ingredients (only two of which would be a mystery to each team).
Matt and Julie let us use their kitchen as the “arena.” They stocked up on what could be considered pantry items (I’ll get into that later), and we brought other random pantry items from our own kitchen that we thought might come in handy. Therefore, anything in the kitchen arena was fair game to use. The only rule was that there had to be enough of any one pantry item for both teams to use, so that no one team was at an advantage with ingredients. This was easy—most things go pretty far when you’re only making two plates. And it’s important to note that fact—each time was required to make two dishes. That way, each team could share two dishes (one dish of their own, and one dish of their competitors).
GREAT PANTRY ITEMS TO MAKE SURE to HAVE ON HAND
Rice, pasta, potatoes
Fresh herbs and greens
Butter and olive oil
Onions, garlic, shallots
Bell peppers, celery, carrots, mushrooms, tomatoes
Mayo, mustard, vinegar, and other condiments
International flavors (Asian sauces, Mexican spices, etc.)
Breadcrumbs or Panko
Lemons, limes, apples, oranges
Beer and wine (which can also be enjoyed while cooking!)
Flour, sugar, salt, pepper
In terms of kitchen use and supplies—this was actually very low-stress! We decided to bring our own knife, cutting board, and frying pan, but we probably could have done without! We were all gracious about sharing utensils and space, and we both felt like we had more than enough room.
At the start of the event, we had the big reveal of the mystery ingredients. Jon and I learned that Matt and Julie had chosen gingersnap cookies and fennel as their mystery ingredients hiding under a kitchen towel, and we surprised them with butternut squash and a whole chicken in brown paper bags!
After some deliberation, both teams had some sort of game plan, whether strict or loose, and we set off prepping, cooking, and plating. Just as we had hoped for, each dish was entirely different.
We chose not to put a time constraint on the event, but instead just tried to cook as efficiently as possible, and we cooperated about timing so that we could produce the final dishes at just about the same time. It worked out perfectly!
I apologize for the sub-par pictures, but this was no time for photographs! I just wanted to be able to document the finished products.
We went with a Banh-mi inspired sandwich with pickled fennel and other veggies, gingersnap and panko encrusted chicken, duck bacon, gruyere cheese, and lots of cilantro-lime mayo. We served it with curried butternut squash soup for dipping.
Matt and Julie came up with chicken roulade with bacon, spinach, and Swiss cheese (and a gravy of pan drippings), alongside fennel and butternut squash gratin (with gingersnap topping!) and greens with beer candied bacon, goat cheese, and thinly sliced apple and fennel.
Each dish had awesome elements, and we all sort of decided the perfect meal would have consisted of our soup and sandwich with their salad on the side. We didn't focus on the judging—it was just so fun and interesting to try all of the different parts of the meal!
The entire event was so much fun. We are already scheming how to incorporate more teams (perhaps using a commercial kitchen), how to use independent judges (AKA friends who love eating but don’t care about cooking), and how to course out the competition to make it even more challenging!
I'm telling you—try this out with your friends who enjoy being in the kitchen! You don't have to take it very seriously or competitively—we just found it was a really fun spin on cooking weeknight dinner and having interesting leftovers as a result.