The first Iron Chef competition of the year started off on a high note as the last guest to arrive made quite the entrance. In our short history of competitions, we’ve seen some pretty amazing presentations. In Iron Chef Bacon, we were wowed by pig-shaped chicken. For Iron Chef Melon, a watermelon hedgehog took home the prize. And there have been a myriad of beautiful and delicious desserts that looked too good to eat (almost). Jen’s drink, served in a coconut, continues that tradition of going the extra mile for presentation. She sent her new husband all over town to find the coconuts, then they drilled holes and etched cute little phrases on the outside, and rigged a funnel system to get the drink inside. Made with Frangelico (a hazelnut liquor) and an endless list of other ingredients, the drink was tasty, sweet and fit for a day on the beach. Even if a coconut isn’t really a nut (which is still up for debate).
We moved on to two delicious appetizers. The first, prepared by our hostess for the evening, Greta, was a nutty mixture of fruits and pecans wrapped neatly in a phyllo packet. Once again, the number of ingredients was staggering, but it all came together to make a sweet little appetizer that could work for a dessert as well. It was also fun to watch people eat it and get phyllo all over themselves.
In contrast, Kim’s appetizer was deceptively simple. Red grapes, covered in goat cheese, and rolled in crushed pistachios. They were delicious little bites that went quickly and looked beautiful as well. Kim earned the second place prize with her creativity and this is one dish that I’m sure we will see again at other parties.
While the main and side dishes were being prepared, it was time for me to mix up the second drink of the night (with a far less impressive presentation). I also made my drink with Frangelico because believe it or not, the nut liquor world is quite small. I rimmed the glasses with Nutella and crushed almonds, then poured in the drink: the Nutty Irishman. Quite simple, it’s equal parts Frangelico and Bailey’s Irish Cream served over ice. Tasty but not mind-blowing (unless you drink a LOT of them.)
Laura’s side dish came with a glowing recommendation: “It’s probably not good.” It was cleverly made with butterNUT squash and served in a beautiful bowl engraved with nuts, but the star of the dish was the chipotle pepper. Needless to say, it was spicy. In every competition there is usually one dish that doesn’t turn out the way it was intended (like my “cucumber” melon soup). It’s a side effect of trying new recipes, and it only serves to make us better chefs. I’m sure Laura will bounce back with something delicious at the next competition.
The main course was the Iron Chef Nuts winner. Morgan made a delicious macadamia nut topped tilapia that melted in our mouths. You could taste the nuts (straight from Hawaii) yet they didn’t overpower the delicate fish. In the photo the topping got a tiny bit burnt but it didn't affect the taste at all. This is definitely a recipe we are all going to be hounding Morgan for, so don’t worry—you will see it here! Great job, Morgan and congrats on your win!
We ended the evening with two delicious desserts. The first, from Cara, was a nice cheesecake with a macadamia nut crust and a caramel topping with mini chocolate chips and nuts. Though she had some trouble serving it, we all had no problem eating it. This one definitely disproved the theory that you eat with your eyes.
Emily also had trouble serving her dessert, as the bottom of three layers was crispier than the rest. But her intricate powdered sugar design on top made the presentation quite beautiful (and on theme for February a week before Valentine’s Day!). The nutty flavor came through well and everyone had her favorite layer (mine was the top!).
Overall the evening was successful and everyone was very creative with her use of nuts. We covered a lot of ground in the nut world like pistachios, almonds, macadamia nuts, pecans and hazelnut liquor. We even had a few puns with the coconut and butternut squash. And I may be mistaken, but I don’t think anyone used the easy out—the peanut. Here’s hoping our next competition will be just as delicious. The date hasn’t been finalized, but we are hoping to go with a “green” theme for our March competition. In the meantime, good luck to all the chefs out there, iron and otherwise.