Do any of you watch Chopped on the Food Network. Chefs have limited time to make dishes out of surprise ingredients. It starts with four chefs each making an appetizer. One gets chopped so the remaining three move to entrees. The final two each make a dessert. The winner gets $10,000.
They don’t know in advance what each round’s basket will contain in terms of the ingredients they must use, supplementing them with a wide variety of other things in the pantry and refrigerator. I have to admit that the show often includes ingredients I’ve never even heard of, let alone eaten, and I sure as hell don’t think I could decide how to incorporate some of them into a tasty dish in twenty minutes. (That’s the typical amount of time for the entree round.) This competition fascinates me.
Tonight I sort of had a Chopped moment. This morning I remembered that I had a package of ground turkey in the fridge that I’d planned to make into meatballs for dinner. I knew I had to stop at the supermarket on the way home from work to get milk, an onion, and a green pepper for the meatballs, plus a few other things. I’m sure this would have been a perfectly tasty meal, but by the time I left the office, it all felt sort of boring.
I didn’t want to waste the turkey, however, so I tried to think of options. Chili maybe? Nah, that bored me too. Then I thought about meatloaf. Yes, meatloaf could practically pose as a synonym for dull and unexciting, but I wondered if I could jazz it up. For some reason, my recently discovered love for sauteed baby spinach came to mind. That might add something interesting flavor-wise to the meat mixture, I thought. It would also help me incorporate more vegetable matter into my diet.
At Publix I picked up some organic baby spinach and an onion, but opted out of adding green pepper. I got home, pre-heated the oven, and crushed some garlic into olive oil in the fry pan, heating it up before adding the spinach. While that cooked down, I opened the fridge to pull out the meat, an egg, and the milk. That’s when I spotted the fresh chunky salsa. Hmmm. What would that do if I added it to the mixture?
About this time, I heard the voice of the Chopped host, Ted Allen, in my head intoning the instructions he gives to the contestants each week. “Chefs, please open your baskets. For your entrees, you must use . . . ground turkey. . . baby spinach . . . and salsa! Your time starts now!”
I didn’t have the time pressure on me, but I dove into the preparation. I sauteed the spinach as the aroma of garlic infused the air. I broke the egg into a measuring cup and topped it off with some milk, then beat the two together before pouring it over the meat. Breadcrumbs provided binder. From the pantry cabinet, I randomly pulled out a variety of dried herbs. When the spinach was finished, I chopped it with a mezaluna and stirred it into the meat mixture, then added a couple good scoops of the salsa.
A quick spritz of olive oil spray prepared the pan and I patted and fondled my creation into a rough loaf shape and slid it into the oven. My dinner was officially cooking, but I had absolutely no idea how it would taste when finished. I hoped that the spinach and salsa would give it flavor and also keep the mixture from being too dry, but who knew if I’d be successful?
An hour later, it was time to find out. I let my loaf rest out of the oven for a few minutes. (Let my loaf loaf?) It looked okay, but the proof would be in the tasting. Eagerly, I cut off a slice and took my first forkful.
YUM! It was everything that I hoped for, and a little more. Moist, tender, and with a melange of flavors that made my taste buds smile. Or they would if taste buds had mouths and teeth and the ability to demonstrate facial expressions. Pssshaw — a technicality. The point is that my spontaneous creation was delicious. I savored every bite and then happily wrapped up the rest for leftovers that I will enjoy again this weekend.
It’s really cool to realize that only being able to eat a little bit doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy cooking. Experimenting isn’t ruled out. In fact, I think I’m encouraged to try out new ideas more often. With a little imagination, I came up with something that tasted good and was fairly healthy with reduced fat and calories, and nutritious veggies. Who knows what I might come up with the next time that I improvise?
So go ahead and play with your food. The results may surprise you!