After hearing me talk about possibly auditioning for MasterChef, my boyfriend decided that the only natural thing to do was to create a hectic dinner challenge for me, complete with a list of strict rules and, of course, a timed trip to the grocery store. (This in and of itself is a perfect example of how awesome he is.) He was super secretive about this challenge, and wouldn’t give anything away no matter how many times I begged him for at least just a little hint of what I’d be cooking. When we finally arrived to the grocery store (after an obligatory trip to Starbucks to see if they had released pumpkin spice lattes yet [spoiler: they hadn't]), we parked our cart next to the dairy section and he informed me of The Rules:
- No pre-packaged, pre-made items. Everything must be from scratch.
- I would have twenty minutes to shop in the grocery store.
- I had a budget of $40.
Then, he informed me of what I’d be cooking: A beef and vegetarian version of an Irish stew, with a side of cornbread, and a strawberry parfait for dessert.
Now, you’d think that my first worry would be about the meat, but in actuality, my immediate fear had to do with the cornbread. Cornbread is something that I’d made once or twice before, and always followed a recipe. I had no idea what ingredients went in there, except I knew that cornmeal was one of them.
Nevertheless, I didn’t have a lot of time to think about this because Boyfriend grabbed his iPhone, started the timer, and told me to start shopping!
I am sure that other customers were really confused as they saw me rushing around, grabbing things off the shelves, etc, but I took this simulated challenge quite seriously. I was NOT going to run out of time. I was NOT going to go over budget. Etc.
Very serious indeed. I may or may not have knocked that kid over.
Anyway, about halfway through my shopping, Boyfriend amended Rule #1 and said that I was permitted to use some kind of faux-meat product in the vegetarian stew if I wanted to. This changed things.
Finally, and with nine minutes to spare, might I add, I decided I was done. After checking out, I was pleased to see that not only did I meet the budget, I came in UNDER budget.
Once home, however, things started to get interesting. I carefully lay all the ingredients out on our breakfast bar, put away dishes from earlier, while I started pondering my strategy. (Boyfriend tried to tell me that I wasn’t allowed to strategize prior to him starting the clock but my response to that was: You can’t control my thoughts!) Loophole. Score.
Being as it was nearing dinnertime and I wasn’t any more sure of a cornbread recipe than I had been in the grocery store, I decided there was nothing left to do but wing it and hope for the best.
60 minutes on the clock!
My first attack was on all baking items: cornbread and a vanilla pound cake for the strawberry parfait. Once I had both of those items in the oven (with fingers crossed that my proportions were correct), I turned my attention to the stew. Because I was making two versions, this required four pots, which was more clumsy than I would have liked, but it worked. Eventually, there were just two large sauce pots on the oven, simmering, enabling me to turn back to the dessert (while periodically checking on the cornbread.) I decided to cook the strawberries in some water, sugar, and a dash of balsamic, so they eventually got thick and gooey, like a syrup. To add to that, I had grabbed some heavy cream earlier on a whim, so I made a whipped cream with toasted coconut. By that point, I think I was just throwing random ingredients together and stacking them in a wine glass, but I think the finished product was decent.
Please note: Throughout the above, Boyfriend was calling out times, letting me know when I was down to 30 minutes, 20, 10, 5, etc. You know that feeling when you’re watching cooking shows and the contestants are nowhere near plating at the 2-minute mark? Yeah, that was me, and so not pleasant.
But I managed to pull through and by the time 60 minutes was up, I had my cornbread cut (and might I add, it was perfect), stews plated, and dessert ready to go. Utensils down, hands up indeed.
For a similar stew recipe, check out my post HERE.
My cornbread and strawberry parfait recipes follow!
You will need…
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 stick butter
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and grease an 8×8″ baking pan.
- In a large bowl, mix eggs, buttermilk, butter, sugar, and honey. In a separate bowl, sift cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry to the wet and mix until combined.
- Spread mixture in baking pan and bake in preheated oven approx 35 – 40 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before cutting into squares.
For the pound cake, you will need…
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 stick butter
- 1/4 cup vanilla greek yogurt
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/3 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
Method for the pound cake…
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a small loaf pan.
- In a large bowl, mix butter, brown sugar, eggs, yogurt, applesauce, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift flour with baking soda and salt. Add dry to the wet and combine. Spread into pan and bake in preheated oven approx 30 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.
To make the rest of the parfait, you will need…
- 2 cups sliced strawberries
- 1/3 cup water
- 2 tbsp white sugar
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 3/4 cup sweetened coconut
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup crushed almonds
- chocolate chips or chocolate drizzle, if desired
Method for making & assembling the parfait…
- In a medium saucepan, heat strawberries, water, sugar, and balsamic. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook approx 20 minutes, or until juices are thickened. Remove from heat and let cool.
- In a small saucepan, heat coconut over medium heat. Stir occasionally, toasting until golden brown. Remove from heat.
- Pour whipping cream into large bowl and beat with electric beaters until thickened and peaks form. Stir in coconut and dash of sugar if you want it sweeter.
- To assemble: layer pieces of pound cake, strawberries, whipped cream, almonds, and chocolate (if using) in two wine glasses or martini glasses. Repeat until glasses are at desired fullness. YUM ENJOY.
Lastly! One more quick reminder that the winner of the Moleskine Recipe Journal giveaway is Karyn (comment #18, on Aug 30, 2012 at 12:51pm EST). Congratulations!!! Karyn, please email cookingfortheotherhalf (at) yahoo.com to claim your prize. If I don’t receive an email by Thursday 9/6 at 5pm EST, I will have to select another winner. Thanks!