Monday, March 16, 2009

Chop Shop

There's a show on Food Network called Chopped, and it's one of my new favorites. In it, four contestants get a mystery basket full of ingredients (it's a wicker picnic basket that looks like it's been spray painted black) and they have to make a dish. After each dish, a contestant is eliminated. Four people make an appetizer, and the worst one is "chopped." The remaining three make an entree using a new basket full of ingredients, then the last two standing make desert. The whole point of the show is that the chefs have to use some of each ingredient in the same dish, no matter how strange. They have access to a pantry and a fridge full of things, although the producers of the show have been known to dick with people and omit the very ingredient they might desperately need. Oh, and they have only a half hour to make the dish. And yes, that includes contemplation time.

(side thought: remember back before the reality show explosion, when game shows were actually games? I distinctly remember sitting in my grandmother's house in France somewhere in the mid-80's and watching a show about Japanese game shows where they had to do gross things, and I had a culturally chauvinistic moment of, "ewww, weirdos!" Turns out, they weren't so much weird as decades before their time. Or are we decades behind? Oh no... has anyone checked on what the Japanese are doing on tv lately?)

But I digress; back to Chopped. My husband and I watch the show, and play along with Einstein-esque thought experiments. Once they unveil the ingredient basket, we pause the show and discuss what we might do with it. Sometimes we're on the same page as some of the contestants, but the whole fun is that these ingredients are absolutely bonkers together and, therefore, boggle the mind. Sardines, watermelon and pepperjack cheese make for a pretty messed up appetizer. The show's writers also fond of throwing in savory curveballs in the desert basket, like bacon. And then they spend time slumming it, with canned creamed corn or boxed mac & cheese. (Come to think of it, it's sort of a snobby thing to do, isn't it? Sort of a snooty, tongue-in-cheek ingredient to make foodies cringe and feel superior to the people who eat boxed mac & cheese. Like putting a plastic flamingo in your yard to be ironic is cool, but if you're serious it's tragic.) The chefs' skill is to take bonkers ingredients and make them into something you might actually eat.

Ah, yes, but these people are professionals! Mere mortals could not possibly do this, of course!

...or could they?

Valentine's Day was our first foray into Chopped. We had arranged a babysitter for our beautiful angel in order to go on an unconventional date to a local, indoor waterpark. Said waterpark seems to be run by fascists who favor those who stay in their absurdly overpriced hotel and only allot a couple of tickets daily to allow the local peasants access to Valhalla. Not having fully realized this, we ended up all dressed up and nowhere to slide down a huge waterslide in an inner tube, so the saying goes. What did we do?

We did what husbands and wives do when they're pushing thirty and have a babysitter for their 7 month old. We ran errands. Sigh.

But then my brilliant husband had a brilliant idea. I dropped him off at Wegman's (a place of tranquility and joy and, incidentally, the best grocery store ever) and he chose my ingredients. When I picked him back up, he proudly handed me a shopping bag with...

Sea scallops
Dried Dates

What did I make? Go on, try and guess. See how much fun this show is? Think of this as the commercial break. Tune in next time, gentle readers...

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