A couple of years ago, I was recruited by a friend who had sponsored a station at an Iron Chef fundraising event for All Children's Hospital to be his chef. Being a fan of the Food Network show and (in my mind, anyway) a pretty passable cook, I agreed. We were to compete against 14 other amateur chef teams, and would be tasked with preparing enough of three different dishes using the "secret ingredient" to feed the 300 event ticketholders (who would also be the judges). Participants had to select from 15 cooking styles prior to the announcement of the secret ingredient, and I chose Florida Keys cuisine. Sadly, I learned shortly thereafter that each dish would have to contain Marsala wine (which everyone knows, pretty much tastes like @$$ and never made any recipe taste better because of its inclusion). Ugh. We were each permitted to select two sous chefs to assist us, so I recruited UD and my good friend Karen #1 (who had a little catering experience and therefore some idea how to cook for a crowd of that size) and we put our thinking caps on.
After some test kitchen work, we decided on a revised version of an Almond Amaretto Grouper dish that was already a favorite of mine, substituting sweet Marsala wine for the Amaretto. I took another crowd pleaser (creamy shrimp, crab and artichoke soup) and dumped some dry Marsala wine into that. UD, who happens to be the best cheesecake maker in the ENTIRE world, made my idea of a sweet Marsala-laced orange cheesecake with a chocolate-ganache-layered macadamia nut crust a nirvana-inducing reality, and we plowed ahead.
Following a grueling Saturday of prep work including, but not limited to, making and baking 300 mini cheesecakes (a day that almost landed us in divorce court), we were ready to participate in the Sunday afternoon event. Despite an extreme lag in confidence upon arrival at the venue and seeing all of the beautiful dishes and presentation of our competition, we began frying and saucing grouper nuggets, ladling condiment cupfuls of soup, and pushing cheesecakes to our open-bar-boozy judges. Prizes were to be awarded in the categories of Presentation, Best Use of Secret Ingredient, and Best Tasting. I'm pretty sure that no one was more shocked than we were when Team Florida Keys was called to receive the award of Best Tasting...and UD even managed to avoid being strangled that weekend. It was all good. ;)
Team "Florida Keys Cuisine" Enters "Kitchen Stadium" for Battle Marsala
Somebody's Feeling Cocky
UD And I Brace Ourselves With Mimosas Just Before The Onslaught
Shocking (But Sweet) Victory
We decided to recreate our winning entries (sans Marsala, as God intended) for our friends Ed and Karen #2 last night. Photography was not so great after the consumption of mucho vino, but the recipes are the best!
Creamy Shrimp, Crab & Artichoke Soup
4 Pints Half & Half
2 TBS. Chicken Base
1/2 TBS Dried Basil
1/2 TBS Freshly Ground Pepper
1/2 Tsp. Salt
1/2 Stick Margarine
3/4 Cup Minced Yellow Onion
1/4 Cup Flour
1 (15 Oz) Can Artichoke Hearts (drained and coarsely chopped)
1 TBS Olive Oil
1 TBS Minced Garlic
1 lb. Small Shrimp, Peeled and Deveined
1 lb. Lump Crabmeat
1 Cup Whipping Cream
Warm half & half in a double boiler so as not to scorch. Add chicken base, basil, black pepper and salt.
In a separate saute pan, melt margarine. Add onions and sautee until translucent. Add to half & half mixture.
Remove 1 cup of cream mixture, and wisk in the flour until creamy and smooth. Add back to the soup pot to thicken.
In clean saute pan, saute artichoke hearts with minced garlic in olive oil over medium low heat so as not to burn the garlic for approximately 7 minutes. Add to half & half.
Stir in shrimp and crab meat, blend well, cover and simmer over very low heat for 25 minutes. Add heavy cream and continue to simmer for additional 10 minutes.
Almond Amaretto Grouper
Four 8 oz. Grouper Filets
2 TBS Shallots, pureed
1 Cup plus 3/4 Cup Amaretto
1 TBS Dried Tarragon
2-1/2 Cups Heavy Cream
Salt and Pepper to Taste
1 Cup Toasted Sliced Almonds (toast on a baking sheet at 350 degrees until golden brown)
In a small sauce pan, reduce the shallots, tarragon, and one cup of the Amaretto until almost dry. Add the cream, salt and pepper, and reduce until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.
Meanwhile, in another small pan, reduce the additional 3/4 cup Amaretto to half, and add it to the cream.
Dredge the grouper in breading and shake off the excess. Pan or deep fry until brown. Place the fish on plates, pour on the desired amount of sauce, and top with almonds.
Orange Cheesecake w/ Chocolate-Ganache Layered Macadamia Nut Crust
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 6.5 Oz. Jar Macadamia Nuts, ground fine in food processor
1/2 cup Butter (softened)
1 Egg Yolk
1/4 cup Sugar
4 (8 oz.) Packages Cream Cheese (Softened)
1 32 oz. Container Ricotta Cheese
1-3/4 Cup Sugar
3 TBS Flour
1/4 Tsp Salt
2 TBS Grated Orange Peel
4 TBS Premium Orange Juice Concentrate
2 Egg Yolks
1/4 Cup Heavy Cream
Chocolate Ganache Ingredients:
2 Lindt Dark Chocolate Orange Intense Bars
1/4 Cup Heavy Cream
Mix ingredients until well incorporated. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease 9" springform pan, and press crust mixture on bottom. Bake 8-10 minutes until golden. Cool, and then spread with the slightly cooled ganache.
Bring cream to boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate until smooth. Let rest and thicken for a few minutes.
Heat oven to 475 degrees. Beat cheese, sugar, flour, salt, orange zest, orange juice concentrate and two eggs in large mixing bowl until smooth. Continue beating, adding remaining eggs and yolks one at a time. Beat in the cream on low speed. Pour onto prepared crust.
Bake 15 minutes, reduce oven to 200 degrees, and bake one hour. Turn off oven. Leave cheesecake in oven for 15 more minutes. Remove and cool 1/2 hour. Refrigerate at least 12 hours. Serve with whipped cream and chocolate shavings, if desired.