Paneer Burgers… or “Indian Cheeseburgers”

A while back, one of my prison buddies MasterChef friends – Duckie – posted a photo of her dinner on Facebook. While that in itself isn’t anything special – my FB news feed has been FLOODED with dinner pics, since coming home from this MC adventure – man, that photo was the stuff that dreams are made of. Well, most of her photos are – they always have everyone drooling – but this really stood out to me.

It was a burger that featured not a meat patty, but a big chunk of paneer that had been breaded with corn flakes! As she described it on her blog, Duckie’s Dine-asty:

“Paneer Burger! Fried paneer on a garlic roll with cabbage, carrot, and a sweet and spicy tamarind chutney…accompanied by sweet potato fries and curried ketchup!”

… I knew I’d have to do my own version, and SOON. The idea of just frying a big patty of paneer as a burger just seemed so hedonistic, it kind of made me giddy to think about it. I don’t usually get like that over something… vegetarian. LOL!

So, I thought about which direction I’d want to go with it. I decided that, rather than a cornflake breading, I’d go for a giant version of a paneer pakora. Rather than using my cilantro-mint chutney with it, I’d make a mayo based on that idea, for a creamier texture. Then, to top it off, a mess of quick pickled veggies for some color, brightness, and acidity!

YES. It was every bit as awesome as it looks. My husband claims “I could eat that again and again!”, and that it ranks right up there with my Apple Chicken Burgers with Basil and Gouda. Given how completely buts he is about THOSE.. that’s saying something!

So freaking good. Yum!

Duckie is ALL kinds of awesome, even beyond her cooking. She was one of the first people I met in LA, very friendly, outgoing, hilarious, and .. inclusive. On a personal note – she even publicly ripped a bully a new one on my behalf! I mean… in a spectacular fashion. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone do that for me. This whole thing has been filled with unique experiences for me, but I digress – Duckie is awesome. That is all. 🙂

Paneer Burgers with Quick Pickle and Cilantro-Mint Mayo
(Makes two big burgers)

1/3 cup mayo
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
2 Tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped

1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 – 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 green onion, thinly sliced on a long diagonal
1 small carrot, peeled
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Oil, for deep frying
1/2 cups garbanzo (chickpea) flour
2 Tbsp cup rice flour
1 1/2 tsp hot curry powder
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp salt
pinch tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1/2 cup water
12 oz brick of paneer, room temperature
1/4 cup additional garbanzo flour

2 burger buns of choice

Mix together mayo, cilantro, and mint. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Place sliced peppers and green onions into a bowl. Using a vegetable peeler, peel long strips of carrot into the same bowl, until you have as much carrot as you would like (I used about as much carrot as I did red pepper). Whisk together vinegar, sugar, and salt. Pour over the vegetables, tossing to coat well. Cover and set aside.

Start heating your oil to 375F – you’ll want at least 2-3″ of oil in your pot or deep fryer.

In a large bowl, combine flours, spices, salt, baking powder, and cilantro. Add water, stir well to form a thick batter. All batter to sit for 5 minutes or so, to soften the bean flour.

Slice your paneer into two “patties”. Sizing will depend on what shape your paneer loaf is in – we got two square patties, and a couple of extra sticks as a “side”. Toss patties with additional garbanzo flour, then dredge in the batter.

Carefully transfer paneer patties to the preheated oil. Fry for a few minutes on each side, until golden brown. Use a slotted metal spoon to transfer fried paneer to paper towels.

To construct the burgers:

Split the buns, toasting if desired. Spread cilantro-mint mayo on bottom half of each bun. Top with burger, and a generous helping of quick pickled veggies. Crown with top bun, enjoy!

MasterChef Dreams

Being a wedding industry veteran, I’m well aware of how working towards a big, stressful situation brings out the WEIRD in our dreams. Whether from brides or vendors, I’ve heard every sort of bizarre pre-wedding dream you could imagine!

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I started having some weird dreams before flying out to LA for MasterChef… or while I was IN LA for taping… or when I came back.

*****

The Sushi Dream

Now, for the most part, pre-LA dreaming was strictly for problem solving/creating time. I’m a very lucid sleeper, and generally use sleep time to work through problems, create lists of what to do / how to do it, etc. (Those that wonder how I work so fast… now you know!). Most of that was pretty run of the mill… I’d go to bed thinking of fish, for instance, and would wake up with a ton of ideas to add to my study book.

1 week before leaving for the show, however, one of those “create” dreams turned out spectacular: It was a dream about competing on a sushi challenge on the show, and I was WAY ahead of everyone. I had some leftover salmon and decided to do something unique to add to my plate.

You know sushi art, like the stuff found at this link? I decided – mid challenge – that THIS was the time to attempt something like that, so I thinly sliced the salmon, wrapped it in nori and rice, and made a set of MasterChef logo sushi. Won the challenge.

I woke up thinking it out, and thought “you know… that could actually work. If given the opportunity, I think I WILL do that!”. Two of my “Aspie Superpowers” are being able to easily figure out how *anything* is made… and being able to easily reproduce something after seeing it demonstrated only once. Amazingly, these also apply to myself, as seen in my own dreams, LOL!

Porter and I differed on how I should go about doing it. He thought I should practice it ahead of time, I thought that I should NOT, because that first time happening in a challenge? That’d be MAGICAL!

Well, I ended up making sushi rice minutes after waking up that morning, and by 7 am – and on the first try – I had a batch of beautiful MasterChef logo sushi!


My first and only ever attempt at art sushi!

I’d elected to color some of the rice, as we didn’t exactly have sushi grade salmon laying around! It all went very smoothly, like I’d done it 100 times before. I’ve been meaning to get more into art sushi, but that logo sushi roll is still the one and ONLY time I’ve ever done art sushi!

*****

The “Taking Things Literally” Dream

This was a few days before I left for LA… It was another competition dream, and we were making pastries for some bigshot food writer. He was using all sorts of words that were painfully awkward for him, basically coming off as a desperate attempt to sound smarter than he was. (Common with food writers, I hate to say.)

So he goes to taste mine, and whines that he was hoping for it to be more “unctuous”. I don’t remember what I had made, but it was something where “unctuous” would be totally inappropriate.

So I dropped my jaw and asked him if he was serious, he wanted “unctuous”, and he confirmed… so I dumped like a cup of vegetable oil over it. We both stared at each other, completely confused, and then I said “Um… maybe that word doesn’t mean what you think it means”.

I told a couple friends about it, and was told in NO uncertain terms that if anything similar came to pass while competing, I MUST respond that way. I agreed 🙂

*****

The “Roommate from Hell” Dream

I actually wrote this out in a notebook while still in LA. Let me just type that entry out:

“Day 2 in LA. Woke up at 4am from a stress dream. Well, that’s not entirely true, I woke up at 1, then 3ish, then gave up at 4. Anyway, stress dream:

Dreamed that someone told me the name of my roomie, then acted shocked when I didn’t recognize the name. She hadn’t yet arrived, so this person whipped out their phone so I could google it… I guess so I could see for myself.

She was famous for being a very rich, very VERY right wing socialite. I’m talking like a young Ann Coulter … Canadian-hating and all! She was the daughter of a politician, and a beauty queen from some politically-oriented pageant. I don’t remember the full name of the pageant title, but it involved “Confederacy” in the title, and had the rebel flag stitched on to her sash. WTF?”

… that was the day my roomie was due to arrive. I’m happy to be able to say she was nothing like what my mind had conjured up. She was kinda nuts, for sure… but in the fun, TOTALLY acceptable way that the vast majority of my friends are!


Alexandra & Elden McFeron

*****

I must say, I was relieved to hear that I wasn’t alone in this! Here are a few weird dreams from my fellow contestants.

Speaking of my roomie, Alexandra Jones had a dream of her own:

“I had a dream I had to shop at home depot with Gordon because we had to replace a piece of the set. He was in a three piece suit and I had to wear a “MasterChef Snuggi”. He started to get angry with me because we couldn’t find anything we needed and just kept walking in a circle. Eventually, we left and went to this pub by my house in Portland and had a few pints.

Then Joe and Graham showed up and the three of them left… and left me to pay for the beer…and it wasn’t even happy hour! ”


Matt Orsini
From Matt Orsini:

“This dream happened before I left for LA…

All the top 100 was at the hotel and it was my morning to cook. They told me to get dressed and all I remember is getting all the way to set and right before I was cued to cook I looked down and had absolutely nothing on!

Before I knew it, Gordon walked out and told me to fuck off so I ran back to the hotel to get dressed knowing that this was do or die for me. I was so embarassed and all the contestants were laughing at me.

By the time I got back to the set I had all three judges waiting for me and they told me that regardless of what I was going to cook it was going to be a no! I was pissed off and that’s the last thing I remembered. In my dream I was so frustrated!

It was an awful dream. I woke up sweating after it, I thought it was real!”

From Christine Kim:

“I had a crazy dream before I knew I got accepted to top 100.

In the dream, I was hanging with my friends. Then a MC lady appeared out of nowhere and said to me, “Congratulations! You have been accepted in the top 100 of Masterchef! You have an hour to shop for your ingredients in this store, and to prepare you food for the judges. Good luck!”

So I was like “Holy shit what?” And I ran to the grocery store, and I had no idea what to make, and I had no idea what was in this grocery store. So I bought a bunch of random ingredients that I knew how to use and then I woke up really nervous and stressed because of my limited time to prepare.

It turns out that we shopped at a Ralphs that looked EXACTLY like the one in my dream, aisles and everything. I have this thing, where my dreams give me MAJOR Deja Vu, more often than not.”


Christine Kim! (Photo courtesy of Christine)

… Just a handful of the crazy dreams we had!

Are you a past or current MasterChef contestant? Would LOVE to hear what kind of crazy dreams you had about the experience – post a comment below!

Cocktail Recipe: The “Drinking in LA”!

So, as I mentioned in an earlier entry, I ended up creating a cocktail while out in LA, “competing” on MasterChef. Well, more accurately, I created it while being holed up in my hotel room!

Anyway, a few days after arriving, we were allowed to go to a nearby mall… it was like getting sprung from jail! We were allowed to roam free for a couple hours, no babysitters, no need to ask permission to go to the washroom. It was kind of awesome, even if I hate malls. FREEDOM!

You know what else is awesome? The fact that you can buy booze at Target in LA.

Now, I’ve seen booze for sale in grocery stores before – in Chicago. Wish it could be that way here in MN, but apparently buying booze on a Sunday means you’re going to hell, soo… yeah. Anyway, seeing booze on a random endcap in a Target was just so novel, I had to giggle. Then, I HAD to buy something, just to say I did.

I settled on a bottle of Malibu. It seemed appropriate, between all the palm trees everywhere, and the general atmosphere of the whole experience. I imagine that this is what college feels like (I wouldn’t know!), and to me, Malibu = young drinking, haha!

I’d already had some UV Pink Lemonade Vodka in the hotel room from an earlier grocery store run, along with various mixers and everyday drinks. Sure, there was a hotel bar, but I am cheap.. AND a poor tornado victim, so was not going to be paying hotel cocktail prices. Best to plan ahead! Let’s be clear – there was a LOT of drinking happening out there. I’ll never look at a hotel room disposable coffee mug – or boxes of wine – the same way again.

As you already know, I like my drinks to basically be “diabetes in a glass”. Sweet, fruity, and fairly girly… and the Drinking in LA certainly fits the bill. It’ll also sneak up on you, so be careful. Very easy to get thoroughly trashed on this, without even realizing it. Just the other day, my LA roomie asked me if I had slipped MDMA into our drinks, LOL!

Anyway, in honor of my MasterChef experience, I am eschewing our typical professionally styled drink photography setup – and proper glasses – to show the cocktail in its original form. Sure, there were the small rocks glasses available in our hotel rooms… but the disposable coffee mugs afforded us portability. Not only were we able to bring our paper cups out to the pool area (no glass allowed, naturally)… but we could put the plastic lids on and proceed to drink our asses off in the main hotel lobby – even in the bar area – undetected!

A neat trick, and something to keep in mind for conventions, haha! I have no idea why this never occurred to me before.

Drinking in LA

2 oz Malibu Rum liqueur
1 oz Pink Lemonade vodka
2 oz Limeade
2 oz Sierra Mist

Measure ingredients into a shaker*. Add a handful of ice, shake a few times, strain into disposable coffee cup.

*Or, if you’re away on a reality show and sequestered without proper bar equipment: skip the shaker, skip the ice. Pour everything into your coffee cup without TOO much regard for measurements, swirl it a little and you should be good!

Ok, hubby won’t let me get away with NOT posting a proper drink photo…

Interested in boozy culinary experiments? You’ll LOVE my first cookbook, The Spirited Baker!

Combining liqueurs with more traditional baking ingredients can yield spectacular results.Try Mango Mojito Upside Down Cake, Candy Apple Flan, Jalapeno Beer Peanut Brittle, Lynchburg Lemonade Cupcakes, Pina Colada Rum Cake, Strawberry Daiquiri Chiffon Pie, and so much more.

To further add to your creative possibilities, the first chapter teaches how to infuse spirits to make both basic and cream liqueurs, as well as home made flavor extracts! This book contains over 160 easy to make recipes, with variation suggestions to help create hundreds more! Order your hard copy here, or digital edition here.

What the Hell am I Doing, Drinking in LA?

“I know that life is for the taking, so I better wise up, and take it quick.” – Bran Van 3000

I have had some pretty wild adventures, done some crazy things in my lifetime.

– I had my own custom wedding gowns featured in a major regional wedding show at the age of 18.

– I packed up my car and moved across the country (to a province I knew NOTHING about) on a whim at the age of 18.

– I proved doctors wrong (“You’ll never walk properly again”) after a car accident wrecked me, eventually going on to figure skate again.

– I’ve been snuggled up with a Playgirl model, keeping his half naked body warm under my cloak on a cold, rainy March swimwear shoot in a broken down old barn. (On another occasion, I’ve waded barefoot into a VERY cold, partially frozen lake Ontario to fish a photographer’s reflector out during an early february photoshoot for my ready to SWIMWEAR line!)

– I picked up and moved to a foreign country and married a guy I’d only known a few months (5 before the move, 6 before the marriage!)

– I created a product with the specific intent of having it sold on ThinkGeek … and they picked it up! (Since discontinued).

– I’ve watched Klingons cut one of my cakes – a 4′ Bird of Prey – with Batleths, and I’ve made a TARDIS cake for Wil Wheaton.

– I convinced my husband that we should buy the first house that caught my eye in an ad… and then we battled massive stress and repairs after it was destroyed by a tornado just a few short months later!

– I designed and created a gorgeous Neopets inspired gown in just 4 days as a gift to someone I’d never met, on the other end of the country. This brought together almost 30 other people, who donated cash (to buy fabric) and goods to make Homecoming VERY special for one teenage Aspie.

… the list goes on. Yep, life has taken me on some pretty weird paths.

This spring, the list grew. I did the wildest, most ridiculous, LEAST “me” thing ever – I went and competed a major reality TV show.

Those of you who know me well, go ahead and pick yourselves up off the floor now.

Yes, I am one of the 100 people presenting our signature dishes to Gordon Ramsay when MasterChef Season 4 debuts on May 22. It was a completely bizarre and traumatizing experience, and I came out of it with ton of VERY diverse new friends! More about friends and trauma in coming posts.

Anyway. You’re probably wondering “WTF?!” … and I have to admit, so am I – still! – to a degree. So, let me explain.

Money has been awfully tight since the tornado. We hemorrhagged money over the repairs – we blew past our insurance coverage by over $60,000 instantly, and we’re *STILL* working to fix everything. We took out a mortgage, have a disaster loan, and are generally overextended in every direction – definitely NOT the debt load we had anticipated when we bought the house just a few months before the tornado.

When you’re that over extended, it forces you to take a good hard look at what you’re doing.

Now, my cookbooks are great – you should totally buy them! – but the cookbook market is super saturated. I’m not getting rich off them by any means. I certainly don’t have any advertising budget to help that along, so I have to rely on social media and word of mouth, for the most part – doesn’t exactly pay the bills. The sewing manuals bring in a bit more money, but again… no advertising budget, PLUS we’re talking about extremely small, niche markets – I’m not even making minimum wage, at this point. Couple all of that, with the fact that I’m completely unemployable? Ugh.

So one day I was trying to think my way out of this financial pickle, and I noticed a tweet about how that Snooki person is a TWO TIME New York Times BESTSELLING AUTHOR. Can’t find any reference to it now, but at the time… man, it broke me. I really, truly weep for humanity.

Anyway, within minutes of THAT, someone forwarded me a link to a casting announcement for MasterChef, telling me that I should try out. I’d never heard of it (I can’t stand reality TV, and don’t watch cooking shows!), but it was going to be casting here in Minneapolis. I looked at my finances, I looked at my unemployability, and I looked at that stupid tweet about stupid Snooki, and in that moment, I sighed and resigned myself to “if you can’t beat them, join them”.


My audition video… kinda dorky, I know!

I put on a brave (and somewhat social!) face, and sailed through the initial audition. In the months that followed, there were many more interviews, requirements to be filled, dozens upon dozens of contract pages to be read and signed… and SO much preparations to be made.


Can you find me in this screen cap?

All the while, I looked at this as being a last ditch effort at making a go of the cookbooks. That maybe I could build enough of a name for myself – that when people see what I can do – that I’d be able to compete against the massively flooded cookbook market and earn a living at it. That if that didn’t come to pass, I’d face the facts and move on to some other line of work, rather than continue to tread water.

So, you see… this was a business decision, and a matter of “desperate times call for desperate measures”. I still think that “reality” TV is the bane of society, and I know that a lot of you guys feel the same way. I just really hope that I haven’t disappointed you by going down this path!

For what it’s worth, I conducted myself with honor the entire time. I did not have drama with anyone at all while I was out there, and told the producers from day one that I would NOT be engaging in such antics. Hell, I even had a plan – before I even arrived in LA – on how I’d deal with the inevitable “who do you think will be next to get eliminated?” drama induction questioning.

…. I’d look around for someone dressed appropriately, and single them out. When asked for clarification, I’d say they’d be next to go, as they were wearing a red shirt! LOL! I was VERY determined to not embarrass myself, the autism community, or my homeland – Canada!


New Friends!

Anyway.

In the months leading up to the show, I went from being resigned to doing this as a huge personal sacrifice (I was dreading it!) that needed to be done, to kind of looking forward to it. At some point along the wait, I actually started being excited for it, and couldn’t wait to leave for LA. I started to look at it as a chance to… how do I put this?

When I was in my teens, I took up speed skating as a way to cross train for figure and roller skating. I enjoyed it, and it was good to finally have a use for my massive quads. Anyway, I had the opportunity to represent my province at the Canada Winter Games – kind of a mini Olympics experience for youth back home. You get team uniforms, live in an “Olympic Village” type setup, and compete. Would have been awesome, but I missed it by ONE SPOT.

(To add insult to injury, I’d slipped, fell, and got passed by the figure skater that *I* had encouraged to join me in speed skating… and had to listen to her stories from the games forEVER after she got back!)

So, to me, this was going to be like having a second chance at that… I’d be flying to somewhere I’d never been, given a roomie, and be holed up in a sequestered situation with a bunch of strangers that I’d be “competing” with. I LOOOOOOVE competing. Love it!

So, I started to look at it less like “I’m selling my soul and going on ‘REALITY’ TV!” , and more like I was getting ready for a competition. It awakened that part of me that’s been dormant since I had to stop skating, and … I liked it. I really missed competing, and I prepared for and trained for going to compete on MasterChef like I was training for the actual Olympics. It became a full time job for me.

I could go off on a million tangents, at this point – SO much has happened since the day that I decided to try out. It feels like a lifetime ago…

Anyway, for the next while, there’s going to be a fairly heavy amount of MasterChef content on here, so I’m sure I’ll cover everything eventually. I may not be able to say how I – or anyone else – fared on the show, but I can share this: I’m happy to say that I finally did fulfill a minor “bucket list” item I’ve had for a long time!

As soon as I was told that I was going to LA, I automatically adopted “Drinking in LA” as my theme song for the whole adventure. I’m Canadian. You say “LA” to a Canadian of my age, there’s a good chance they’re going to get it as an earworm. You couple “LA” with some pretty heavy feelings of “WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?!”, and… yep. Perfect theme song.

I am proud to say that I finally had the chance to drink in LA. I even designed a cocktail named for it … will blog it eventually! I may not have been 26 when it happened, but hey… it was a once in a lifetime adventure.

More later!

In the meantime, now that Fox has finally released the cast list… Click here to view my MasterChef USA Season 4 cast directory. It includes the 5 names left off the Fox release (???), plus a ton of blog, website, and social media links!