I was allowed to go back into the store to shop for whatever else I'd need for dinner. I have to say, it was a little intimidating. Probably the biggest problem for me was I had too many ideas, felt torn in too many directions. Making decisions is not my strong point. Then, there's the fact that I'm not a huge fan of blue cheese.
I started off by simmering some of the dates in white wine. Dry, they looked like petrified burgundy olives... but also somehow sweet, like hard candy. I had high hopes for them. Softened, I thought they'd look like, well, like burgundy olives. Plump, firm, dark and dusky, I thought. I was not prepared to peek in at them five or so minutes later to see they had turned into bloated, sickly cockroaches.
Not actually cockroaches, of course, though they might as well have been. All the skin had peeled back from the hole where, in an olive, a pimento might be jauntily tucked. The flesh itself was a weird, pinkish, sort of... well, let's put it this way. It looked like actual flesh. I cannot tell you how unappetizing these things had become. I tried stripping off the skin with a knife, and it came off in stringy, broken segments that clung to knife and fingers like scotch tape. Great, I ruined dinner before it's begun. Where the hell am I going to stash these things?
I turned my attention back to the other ingredients. Fennel, frankly, scared me. I had never prepared it before, and vaguely remembered not liking it as a teen. At the same time, I felt a frisson of excitement, of a road not taken. I very bravely sliced it thinly and was quite pleased when I tasted it. It tastes like licorice, which ought to be gross in a vegetable, but it isn't. It's good the way Sambuco is good. Sauteed with apples, onion and sage sausage, it's phenomenal. I poured the date infused white wine into the pan with the fennel mixture and let it braise.
Then I used the renderings from the sage sausage to sear the scallops, having first dusted them in searing flour. (I got it from Wegman's--their own brand. Amazing stuff.) I put the crusted scallops over a watercress salad with Gorgonzola and diced apple.
The cockroaches? I mean, the dates? I was too freaked out to use them as I had originally intended, stuffed with Gorgonzola. Instead, I chopped them up and smeared them on the cutting board with the edge of my knife until the dates formed a paste, which I whisked into olive oil and apple cider vinegar as a dressing for the watercress. They tasted almost sickly sweet, so it was a nice pairing with the sour vinegar, the peppery watercress, the rich cheese and the sweet scallops. I served the fennel/apple/sausage mixture on the side. It was all lovely, even if I do say it myself.
I had a couple of left-over dates, sitting forlornly in my tiny saucepan, huddled together for company. I didn't save them.
So our first Chopped experience went well, and we were encouraged. It was my turn to pick out ingredients for my darling husband. A protein, a veggie, a flavoring, a curveball...
Pork country ribs (boneless)
Passion fruit nectar
Puff pastry sheets
I'd like to say he was stumped, but he had his dish in about 3 minutes...