Wow. I’d been going through withdrawal the last few months. You regular readers might remember those Iron Chef Battles? We hit the ground running, and our first event, Battle Basil
, was super successful. The group decided to host monthly battles, and so the competitions, er, friendly powwows that involve cooking (potluck style) around a secret theme ingredient, continued. Next up was Battle Coconut
, and after that, Battle Strawberry
. Things were looking good for those monthly gatherings. And for me especially – I was pumped and ready for battle 4 since my strawberry pizza and strawberry-balsamic tart won first and second place at Battle 3.
But then Summer happened. And since over half of us are genetic counselors
in our ‘real’ lives, summertime for many of us has translated to spending hours indoors in the confines of a smelly office or overcrowded coffee shop cramming words and concepts like “isovaleric acidemia” and “uniparental disomy” into our brains in hopes of obtaining board certification. Fortunately, I wasn’t one of them – this time. I took my exam two years ago, but I remember it because I remember what a horrible summer it was. And if you live in or have been to Chicago in the summer, it really sucks to miss out on the festivals, concerts, outdoor dinners, and tourist-watching.
Needless to say, we’ve been sans-Battle for the last two months, and I’ve been utterly saddened by that fact. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had an amazing summer, with trips to Hilton Head
, and the occasional visitor and thousands of concerts. But this past weekend, we finally pulled it together and managed to have a large enough group to battle it out (meanwhile those saddened studyholics still had to miss out due to the fast-approaching exam this week
). And thanks to the the folks at FoodBuzz and Smirnoff, I got to host the event as part of the Smirnoff Summer Entertaining Extravaganza. To make it a smidge more entertaining, we invited the boys along this time since they’ve practically begged us to be invited (yes, begged. Pleaded. Whined. All of the above), simultaneously hoping one of them wouldn’t come through with a win. And so here goes – Allez Cuisine!!
Having won that last battle, I had the high honor of choosing the theme ingredient and given our previous cancellations, there were months to decide. That being said, there were countless permutations. I finally settled on Figs, a great late summertime fruit that goes well in both sweet and savory dishes. Having cooked with figs only once (in making ice cream, if that counts) I was in new territory as were many of the rest of the challengers.
For details on the rules of the IC Battles, click here
All enthusiastic challengers arrive at 7. The first half hour is always a bit chaotic – people bust out their tupperware and fancy platters to construct their dish. Some dishes are ready as is, other need polishing, garnishing, even continued baking. Some need to be cleaned from transport leakage. For the host/previous winner, they have the upper hand and get to prepare on site, but they also have to organize the dishes and get them ready for scoring. No doubt though – we are in business mode for a bit. But by 7:30/8, we’re all drooling, listening to each other’s stomachs growling, and ready to put down our drinks and run to the food.
Battle Fig was, as the others, amazing. By the sites of the dishes, you’d never know most of us haven’t cooked with figs. Some grilled their figs, some served them alongside cheese, and some smothered them in chocolate. Every dish was unique with 12 total entries from 8 competitors. I made a couple of dishes, Moroccan Chicken Thighs and Eclairs w/ Almond Butter & Homemade Fig Preserves and also provided the cocktail, which was a Tuscan Lemonade Tea
Tuscan Lemonade w/ fresh-brewed iced tea).
Secretly, or not so secretly, we girls had hoped for a win against the boys. But in judging, we remained unbiased and judged according to the rules, reminding ourselves that we’re judging on taste in support of figs, and not taste just because it’s good. Or because a girl made it. After a couple of hours of tasting, scoring, re-tasting and re-scoring, in addition to socializing, getting to know one another, or just catching up, the scores were in and the Reigning Iron Chef was announced.
Sadly enough, I was unable to keep my title and had to give it up for a second time. In giving up my title, I am relinquishing control – control to choose the next ingredient. But waiting in suspense, waiting those days before the next Battle for the Iron Chef email is like being a child and going to sleep Christmas Eve. Anticipation, and that feeling of excitement we thought only kids experienced during the sleepless nights waiting for Santa – the other side of the competition isn’t a bad feeling either.
But in addition, my next month will be spent with my husband casually (or not so casually) entering snide remarks into our everyday conversations. That’s because Chris, the ‘dishwasher’ in this household and seldom ‘cooker’, is the Reigning Iron Chef
. He won it fair and square with his Lamb & Fig Skewers (recipe below). Those skewers, grilled to perfection and basted with a sauce of pepper, mint, and homemade peach preserves (ahem…) were worthy of the win. He is definitely the grill master in this house. And I may not have won, I may not have even placed, but at least that Iron Chef title is staying in the family. And there’s something to be said for that.
1st Place: Chris’ Lamb & Fig Skewers (above left)
2nd Place: Jim’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream w/ Fig Compote (not pictured)
3rd Place: Christina’s Fig, Apple, and Fontina Cheese Crostini (above right)
[the three photos above are courtesy of my friend, genetic counselor, fellow blogger and Iron Chef-er, Lindsay. Her camera is clearly nicer than mine, and she’s a better photographer to boot. Her husband, Jim, is the ice cream machine]
Grilled Lamb & Fig Skewers w/ Mint-Pepper Glaze
Adapated from Epicurious, 2007; serves 6 as a main dish
2/3 c peach preserves
1/3 c red wine vinegar
1 T red pepper flakes
1 T lemon zest (~1 lemon)
1/4 c fresh mint, chopped
1 T whole cumin seeds (or ground)
1 T whole coriander seeds (or ground)
3 lbs boneless leg of lamb, fat trimmed, cut into 1-inch cubes (you can decrease amount based on your needs)
12 fresh figs, halved vertically
1/4 c olive oil
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 T kosher salt
1 T black pepper
~30 skewers (less if using less meat). If using wooden skewers, soak in water 30 minutes prior to using.
In small saucepan over moderate heat, stir together preserves, vinegar, red pepper, and lemon zest. Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool 5 minutes. Stir in mint and set aside.
Preheat grill to high with hood closed 10 minutes, then turn down to moderately high.
Grind cumin and coriander in coffee grinder (or use ground). Toss lamb, figs, and olive oil in bowl and add garlic, spices, salt and pepper and toss to combine. Thread onto skewers.
Arrange skewers on grill. Cook lamb to slightly less than desired doneness, turning once and brushing with glaze during last 30 seconds of grilling on each side, about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare.
Hooked on Iron Chef now? You should be. To keep up to date with our Battles, join this Blog, subscribe to posts, or shoot me a message in the comments that you’d like updates. Battle 5 is scheduled for September 26 and who knows what that husband of mine will pick. With summer and exams over, it should be a big one!
If you’d like to start your own Iron Chef competition in your area, let me know and I can help with the details and provide templates. Or, if you’re in Chicago and want to cook for and eat with a bunch of strangers who love food, we’re happy to have you!