Iron Chef Basil was held on a hot and stormy night, after a hot and stormy week, so we were all looking forward to some nice light and summery basil dishes. What we got instead were really delicious, but uncomfortably filling dishes. By the end of the night we were each miserably full. Luckily, the company kept our spirits light, even if our scales begged to differ.
Our evening started out with visual fireworks courtesy of Jen. She brought her typical level of presentation craftiness, which is somewhere between over-the-top and miraculous, and earned herself a second place finish. Not an easy feat for a drink, but this one was pretty amazing. Jen dyed her own sugar (I mean, come on!) to rim the glasses and even made ice cubes with basil leaves nestled inside. The drink itself was a strawberry basil concoction with citrus vodka and the sugar rim helped cut the slight tartness. Plus, it looked gorgeous! Jen also brought a delicious dipping oil for bread that most of us blame for our fullness later on in the night.
Kim was up next with the sole appetizer of the evening. She made a crostini with goat cheese and a strawberry basil topping. We tried it with and without a basil leaf on top and the consensus was that it was best with the leaf. The strawberries made it a little sweet but the basil and the goat cheese brought it back to savory. Probably the only dish of the night that was actually a good portion for an Iron Chef event, so of course we ate multiples.
The first entree of the night was from an Iron Chef newbie, Jess. She fixed a really tasty tomato basil soup, and a grilled cheese panini with basil and tomato. This one was a meal in itself, but it was so good we couldn't help cleaning our plates. I predict that Jess will be some tough culinary competition in future Iron Chefs.
Chelyen's dish was technically a side but could certainly have passed for an entree, and again it was so tasty that we stuffed ourselves on it. With basil as our secret ingredient I was hopeful someone would do a Thai dish and Chelyen delivered. Her Thai Basil Macaroni and Cheese was creamy and delicious with a kick of heat from Thai chiles and a crispy Panko topping. This is me officially begging for the recipe!
Time for another main dish! Picture us all grabbing our full bellies and groaning. Poor Emily made a really fantastic breaded chicken cutlet with a basil and sundried tomato cream sauce, but we were all so full that no one could finish it. The chicken was cooked perfectly, nice and crispy and it would definitely be a great meal on a night when you're not eating lots of other things. I'm sure Emily will be posting the recipe, so be on the lookout!
I think this might be the first Iron Chef when we've had a duplicate, but it was bound to happen. Shu, our wonderful hostess for the evening, also made a tomato basil soup. The flavor profile was different though, and went in the creamier direction of a bisque. She also made her own bread (with basil of course!) to go with it. So even though it was another soup it felt very different. Another really delicious offering, which made the judging even more difficult than normal.
You know how people say, "There's always room for dessert?" There's not. There's really not. But we all had to loosen our belts and try. I served my chocolate cake with basil buttercream next. I wasn't sure how it was going to taste because basil buttercream sounds awfully strange, but it turned out pretty tasty. Probably not enough basil flavor for Iron Chef but it did get stronger over time.
Last but definitely not least. In fact, Cara's Lemon Basil Ice Cream was the Iron Chef Basil winner! It was a refreshing end to the evening, light and citrusy with great basil flavor, like summer in a cute little dish. I never thought I'd like basil ice cream, but this one was really good! Cara definitely redeemed herself from her last ice cream (at Iron Chef Spicy). Pairing it with blueberries was also an interesting, but yummy, choice.
And at this point we were all happy that the food portion of the evening was over and we could get to the digesting and gossiping portion. Even though we practically rolled home at the end of the night, Iron Chef Basil turned out to be full of flavorful, delicious food and, as always, good company. Thanks again to our hostess Shu, and congrats Cara and Jen on your wins!