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The Great Three Dish Challenge

February 14, 2010

A few weeks ago, Evan and I came up with what we’re calling the ‘Three Dish Challenge’. The idea is simple, make a three-course meal following a few simple rules: 1. Keep within a $20 budget and 2. Photograph your process and end result.  Some side rules include being able to use the ingredients we already have at home as long as they aren’t a main ingredient. Judging would be based on the following criteria: 1. Taste 2. Concept and Originality and 3. Photography. Evan and I both love cooking almost as much as we love eating and we’re coming down from a fine dining high after heavily indulging in LA Restaurant Week so the ‘Three Dish Challenge’ is our way of keeping the fine[ish] dining experience alive.

Since we were cooking and judging for each other, Evan’s strategy was to create foods he knew I loved. I’m a sucker for seared scallops. He upped the ante by wrapping them in crisp bacon and then drizzling them with a wonderfully surprising lemon cream sauce made with white wine and turmeric. These were among the best scallops I’ve ever had. He then proceeded to woo me by roasting some of my favorite vegetables, tossed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper (I love any and all roasted veggies). His savory foods were great but he knew the way to my heart would be with dessert. I love, absolutely LOVE chocolate hazelnut/Nutella anything. I can’t resist at least a taste (if not a big old super-sized portion) when I know there’s a chocolate hazelnut dessert around. He made his mother’s recipe for fudge and added hazelnuts to it just for me. Mert’s Fudge (aka Pudge) is simply amazing! She’s famous for it. Mert’s been making her famous fudge for over 20 years and friends and family still request it by the batch-load. I love that Evan made dessert directly targeted at my taste buds, but I love it even more that he used his momma’s recipe.

I based my three dishes on foods that have left a lasting impression on me. My all time favorite restaurant meal I’ve had to date was the heirloom tomato salad and flank steak with parmesan truffle fondue at Animal. On one of my first dates with Evan, we enjoyed a superior lobster bisque that we both still recall vividly. A few Thanksgivings ago, Evan’s sister, Erin, made the most amazing Brussels sprouts I had ever tasted. Until then, I didn’t even like Brussels sprouts. My dessert was based on one of the only foods my father cooked, apple turnovers on Sunday mornings. These were the dishes I used as inspiration for my three-course meal.

I love soup+salad combos for any meal so I made just that for my first course. I couldn’t afford lobster for my bisque, so I used shrimp instead. This soup was absolutely amazing. Both Evan and I were in total bisque hypnosis as we ate in complete silence. The heirloom salad is very simple yet so flavorful. I used baby heirloom tomatoes because they were cheaper. At Christmas, I received a really nice aged balsamic as a stocking stuffer so I combined 2 tablespoon of olive oil with 3 tablespoon of the vinegar and seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. I tossed the tomatoes with the vinaigrette and served chilled. I couldn’t afford the flank steak I wanted, so I had to settle for a top round steak that was on sale. I realize now, that I probably should have sacrificed in other courses to save my main dish. I seasoned the steak with salt and pepper and pan-fried it in olive oil. I tried to recreate the amazing parmesan truffle fondue sauce served at Animal and while I’m sure it doesn’t compare, it was quite delicious. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fondue sauce, I don’t think the steak would have been enjoyable. I seared the Brussles sprouts in butter and braised them in chicken stock until they were tender. They were wonderful. We happened to have a few very ripe pears in the fridge today and I knew I could use them in a dessert. I decided on a tart when I found pastry dough hiding in the freezer. I caramelized my pears and layered the cooked pears on the baked pastry dough, topping it off with caramel sauce from the pan and a generous scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. I wasn’t going to make a dessert at all (I already had three dishes) until I realized our pears were going but I was so happy I did, it was fantastic.

We have a pretty impressive wine collection thanks to the BevMo five cent sale so part of our rule was to pair one of our house wines with our meals. I chose the Coppola Petite Sirah (for no particular reason, while I am quite the wino, I am by no means a wine connoisseur) and Evan chose what may be my new favorite red under $15, an Australian Shiraz by Wyalla Cove.

Both Evan and I agree that the meals we ate over the last two evenings have been some of our finest work. While we both had some issues (Evan’s potatoes were under cooked and my steak was on the chewy side) our meals, as a whole, were incredibly delicious and well planned. We each had a favorite dish from each others meal. I loved the scallops, they were perfectly cooked and delicious. He gushed over my shrimp bisque and even ate the leftovers later on in the night. We agreed on a draw. I think he was just being nice. Either way, we had a great time, cooking, eating and experiencing fine dining from the comfort of our own home. We’re already looking forward to our next challenge.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. Theresa permalink
    February 14, 2010 8:47 pm

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this idea AND your recipes! SOOO fabulous, Paola and Evan! AWESOME!

  2. Erin permalink
    February 15, 2010 9:49 am

    You guys are too cute!

  3. Momma Mert permalink
    February 27, 2010 1:02 am

    What a wonderful idea! I think you are both pretty inventive cooks, and the meals look amazing. Can we have the scallops when we come down??? And shrimp bisque sounds absolutely scrumptious! I’ve been meaning to ask about the balsamic vinegar and oil that you mentioned getting in you Christmas stocking. Is that the same as what we got? That stuff is amazing, and we want more! :-) Where did it come from, and can we get some more when we come down? See you guys soon! Love you, MM, fudge maker!

  4. Momma Mert permalink
    February 27, 2010 1:03 am

    PS – I love all the little quilt squares by the comments!!

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