Last night I was hungry- it happens to me most nights. I couldn’t decide what to make. After a lot of going back and forth, I decided to use up some fresh basil from my garden to make a fresh spaghetti in a simple olive oil sauce. I went to the store to get a few ingredients. My trip to the grocery store was uninspired. I returned home un-excited to cook. I thought that maybe cooking in real-time “against” the contestants on MasterChef Season 3 would be fun… Could I pull off a fresh extruded pasta in an hour? The question was exciting, but the more I thought about it, I just didn’t want to cook.
I had tweeted about live tweeting an hour of cooking and there seemed to be some interest so I thought it would be fun to do eventually. But not that night… I ate leftovers last night.
Tonight I was ready to cook. A long day at work and I wanted to unwind- cooking relaxes me. I decided to up the ante and shoot for three courses in one hour. They would be simple(ish) courses, but all three in an hour from scratch would be aggressive to say the least. Spoiler: Dinner was excellent. But it wasn’t smooth sailing, here’s what happened along the way (and a few tips that can help speed up your cooking).
Fresh basil pasta with lemon, garlic, and basil flowers.
Peach Galette inside Masa Pastry with Sweet Corn Ice Cream.
Here we go- this should be fun!
I returned from the grocery store and did not unpack anything. I placed all that I would need on a counter inside my small kitchen. I took some time off the clock to set up a stable cutting board and 2 knives. (That seemed fair) I set a timer for one hour and tried to make a game plan.
I waited nervously for the clock to strike 7pm. I’ve never been nervous to cook in my own kitchen before, like ever. The last time I was nervous to cook was the Chicken Challenge on MasterChef. Even then, I wasn’t nervous cooking, but rather during judging. For some reason, I was really nervous. Did I still have what it takes to hang around in the MasterChef kitchen? This should be telling…
Disclaimer: Cooking in the MasterChef kitchen is a little different. Usually we didn’t get a second chance at the pantry so if you forgot a key ingredient you were screwed. My kitchen also has a few tricks we didn’t have on set- for this dinner I made use of an electric pressure cooker (thanks Fagor), an induction burner (thanks again Fagor), and a supply of Liquid Nitrogen… Seriously, it should be in every kitchen. I also have a Vitamix blender which is considerably better than what we had on set. (You need one of those too). But to offset my equipment advantages I was cooking three courses. Again, it seemed fair. The only time MasterChef contestants are asked to compose an entire meal is the finale – and they’re given 2 hours to create their three course menu. Anyway, this was for fun. No money on the line.
Back to the cooking. I tweeted a few pictures of the kitchen as I waited for the clock to strike 7.
First, I shucked two ears of corn and took the kernels off the cob. I broke each cob into three pieces, and placed it all into a pressure cooker. I added a quart of half and half, a pint of heavy cream, about 1/2 Cup sugar, and a large pinch of salt. This went into the pressure cooker for 20 minutes on high pressure. Pressure cookers are great because they speed up cooking. It might take an hour to make a corn stock traditionally… pressure cooking cuts the time by two thirds. Ask anyone from Season 2- I was always saying “Pressure Cook that shit!”
While that was cooking, I started a pasta dough. About 2/3 semolina, 1/3 AP flour. Approximately 3 cups total. Then I separated two eggs and put their yolks, along with one whole egg into the Vitamix. I heavy pinch of salt and a large handful of basil went into the Vitamix with the eggs and everything was turned to a fine puree.
I used a standard “Well Method” to pull the pasta dough together. I set the dough aside and wiped down my counter.
Next, I began the pastry. In a small sauce pan, I put about a liter of Liquid Nitrogen and a half stick of butter. While the butter was freezing I put about 1.5 C Masa (nixtamalized corn flour… the same stuff you use to make corn tortillas), 1 Cup AP flour, a heavy pinch of salt, and a half cup sugar.
Once the butter was completely frozen, I cryo-shattered it… more on that here. I tossed the frozen, crumbled butter with the flour mixture. I added 1/2 Vodka 1/2 water until the dough came together. Vodka helps to make a tender crust because it dosen’t form gluten when it moistens the flour. Boom, super cold fat for your dough, ultra quick. Perfectly evenly dispersed.
To speed up the resting process for both the pasta dough and pastry, I vacuum sealed them. This forces the water into the starch granules- speeding up the rest time. These were placed in the fridge to rest for about 5-10 minutes.
Next I started my pans. A pot of salted water for the pasta, a large skillet for my mussels, and a saute to finnish the pasta in. The sauté started sweating half a diced onion and two cloves of garlic in olive oil (and salt) over medium high heat. Note the induction burner on the far end. Induction burners use magnetic resonance to heat the pot very efficiently (Much more efficient than electric or gas) With the Fagor induction burner, water boils in just a couple minutes. This is the only burner I use for making pasta.
While the onions were sweating, I started the pasta extruding, rolled out the pastry and cut some peaches.
Twenty Eight minutes left! The pastry went into the fridge to rest again, and I continued to extrude the pasta. Once the onions were translucent, I added a can of san marzano tomatoes.
Next, I opened the pressure cooker (after releasing the pressure, of course!), removed the cobs, and transferred the corn and cream into the Vitamix.
What happens next is NOT pretty. (Scroll)
On the lid of a Vitamix, there is text that reads “place center cap in lock position when blending hot foods” There are also two rubber grabbers that secure the lid to the blender cup. Not sure which one I ignored, but I flipped on the blender and this happened:
As you can see it was a disaster! I contemplated quitting. But I decided the show must go on. So I clened up enough to continue working and proceeded with making dinner. I threw the pastry into the oven at sixteen minutes left.
Fortunately, there was enough corn/cream mixture still inside the blender (and not exploded all over my kitchen) to make the ice cream. I pureed it on high and passed it through a fine mesh strainer.
While the corn cream was straining, I blended the onions and tomato to make a chunky sauce.
I put the strained corn cream into my stand mixer on low to cool down and selected some plates for my dinner.
I boiled the pasta for about 2 minutes. While the pasta was boiling, I warmed some olive oil and a clove of crushed garlic in the sauté. I also started frying a table spoon of tomato paste in the skillet for the mussels.
After cooking the tomato paste for a minute or so, I added the tomato/onion sauce and a few handfuls of PEI mussels. I threw a lid on and checked on the pasta.
I finished cooking the pasta in the sautee pan (with the garlic), and added the zest and juice of a lemon. It was placed on the plate, garnished with basil flowers, oilve oil, and a few flakes of sea salt.
I quickly checked the pastry in the oven which needed a few more minutes. I looked at the mussels which were mostly opened. I killed the heat on the mussels and let them rest on the hot burner.
While those finished cooking, I began freezing the ice cream using my standard technique for ice cream.
After all the pictures and tweeting were done, I had three seconds left on the clock.
I guess I still got it! I’d serve any one of these dishes to the MasterChef judges. The pasta was bright, al dente, and silky. The mussels were delicious, sweet, and briney. The combination of corn, masa, and peaches was fabulous- one of the best deserts I’ve made– ever. I ate the desert first so the ice cream wouldn’t melt… and because life is uncertain.