Welcome back to The Great British Baking Show: Walton Edition! Steakhouse Week was a scrumptious celebration of American indulgence, full of deliciousness and drama!
Morning in the kitchen started out on an ominous note, when I accidentally invented a new dish: Carbonized Jalapeño Poppers. I will share the recipe with you now in a new segment I like to call “Cooking With ADHD!”
CARBONIZED JALAPEÑO POPPERS
1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
2. Slice jalapeños in half lengthwise and remove the placenta and seeds.
3. Fill jalapeño halves with cream cheese.
4. Wrap ceam cheese filled jalapeño halves with bacon.
Place jalapeños on an aluminum foil lined tray and forget they are in the oven for 4 hours and 45 minutes. Be sure to sit in a well ventilated room with plenty of distractions where you cannot smell the jalapeños burning. Discover, to your surprise, that jalapeños, cream cheese, bacon, and aluminum, when subjected to extreme heat for very nearly five hours, do not create smoke. Instead they create an unbreakable substance that is harder than industrial diamond by several degrees of magnitude. As you will be unable to remove this mass from the metal to which it will have welded itself, allow the poppers to cool before throwing the entire tray in the trash for future archaeologists and metallurgists to discover and analyze.
When Mark suggested Steakhouse as the week’s theme, I knew I wanted to make a traditional British meat pie. The most broadly available steak pie recipes are for steak and ale pie and steak and kidney pie. Cooking with ale sounds somewhat unappealing, and, having eaten haggis in a very fine restaurant in the Scottish Highlands, I will never again willingly touch kidneys nor any other organ meats. My search for a simple steak pie revealed only this recipe, which comes from a cookbook printed in 1741. As you can see, the recipe is a bit… lacking. I decided to abandon steak pie recipes and instead alter a British game pie recipe to include steak and other more familiar American steakhouse fare.
My Steakhouse Pie was an attempt to Americanize a traditional British game pie. In order to fit the week’s steakhouse theme, I substituted pan seared steak smothered in mushrooms and sautéed onions for the venison, Italian herb chicken for the pheasant/pigeon, and smoked pulled pork for the boar. The crust is shortcrust with toasted sunflower seeds and a puff pastry lid decorated with an egg wash and mustard seeds. I’d never made a meat pie, nor a freestanding pie, and I absolutely love the way it looks, despite the fact that my sunflower seeds largely fell off the crust. I will need to work on that next time.
As nice as the pie looked from the outside, the issues became apparent as soon as I cut into it. The crust was baked through, but not flaky, and the puff pastry did not rise. The biggest structural problem by far was the size of the meats. I cubed the steak to tenderize it, but in order to achieve the layered effect of a game pie, I left the chicken breasts whole and did not chop the pulled pork. BIG mistake. As soon as the knife started to pull on the chicken and pork the crust broke and the lid separated. I should most definitely have cubed the breast and chopped the pork finely to preserve the layers when cut. Also, I vastly underestimated the amount of onion I would need. I used half a medium sized sweet onion and it completely disappeared in the mix. Next time I will use two onions. But my biggest problem by far was my decision to line the crust with smoked pulled pork. My hope was that this would have a binding effect and fill any gaps in the pie, but the reality was that I underestimated the power of the smoky taste. Individually, all my meats tasted great. But when I cooked them in the pie, everything tasted smoked. You could barely tell that there were any onions, and the herbs in the chicken were almost completely lost. After seasoning and searing it, I braised the steak and mushrooms with a little bit of finely diced carrot in a ginger beer reduction, which I was really happy with. The smoke obliterated almost all of those flavors. The ginger was lost entirely. All you could taste was smoke. I will absolutely use smoked pulled pork in a meat pie again, but I will DRASTICALLY reduce the amount. I think, for best results, I will use a single thin layer on the bottom of the pie in about ⅙ of the amount I used in this pie. One thing I absolutely loved was the seeded crust. The sunflower seeds add a light, healthy flavor to the short crust, and the mustard seeds looked great without altering the taste or texture in any adverse way. I will definitely be using both of those again.
Mandy was incredibly ambitious this week, providing us with both dinner rolls and TWO baked vegetable sides! Much like my pie, Mandy’s rolls looked great from the outside, but had internal issues. The dough had not risen properly, which meant that the interior was too dense to cook completely in the time the recipe called for. The taste was incredible, but the rolls were doughy. While Mandy, Mark, and I were discussing what we thought might have gone wrong with the rise, Mandy’s loving husband Dan decided his opinion should also be known. But instead of speaking directly to Mandy, which would have been worth a good chuckle, Dan opted to address the universe as a whole. Wearing a look on his face of a man being crushed by the weight of a lifetime of misery and broken dreams, Dan, in his best Paul Hollywood voice, dripping with abject disappointment, stared off into the distance and said, to no one in particular, “Uneven bake.” Mark and I laughed so hard I was honestly concerned I was going to get a nosebleed. Mandy, on the other hand, silently stared at Dan with a look that made it clear that she was the kind of woman who would skip divorcing her husband and jump straight to murdering him. After that look, Mark and I both grabbed the butter and ate our doughy rolls. Sorry, Dan, you’re on your own.
Mandy’s next entry was roasted Brussels sprouts with crisped cheese. I am not usually a fan of Brussels sprouts, but these were delicious! Mandy thought they were too salty, but I think maybe the salt has been what was missing in the past when I’ve had Brussels sprouts and didn’t care for them. The cheese was exactly what cheese should be in a vegetable dish: a garnish. It provided a little buttery flavor and added to the crispness without taking over the flavor of the dish. I thought they were perfect.
Mandy’s third and final entry was her beautifully roasted balsamic carrots, which were balsamic. Exceptionally balsamic. One might even call them aggressively balsamic. Powerfully, punitively balsamic. Balsamic in the extreme, one might say, were one inclined to find oneself completely in the right. Extraordinarily balsamic. Balsamic to a degree which could be reasonably compared to the degree to which the Pacific Ocean could be labeled “moist.” Balsamic in a way which caused real physical pain in the mouth and brought a momentary tear to the eye. If one were to ask, “Chris, what is the most overwhelmingly balsamic food you’ve ever tasted, up to and including drinking straight balsamic vinegar?,” I would have no choice but to reply, “Funny you should ask, old bean. It’s these carrots, which have clearly been sent by an angry god as a form of divine balsamic punishment.” Painfully, damagingly, hurtfully balsamic.
I did not care for them.
Although it was not baked and therefore ineligible for entry in the contest, Dan and Mandy’s daughter Evey made a tasty and refreshing salad. Kind of. I think. The first story we heard was that Evey chose and chopped the ingredients. Then Mandy said that Evey had not chopped all of the ingredients, and thus deserved no credit. Then Evey once again asserted that it was she who made the salad, despite Mandy’s claim to the contrary. I’m not sure what happened after that because Evey’s already squeaky voice shifted up to a frequency of high pitched petulance that was inaudible to humans. Whatever was said after that is between her, her parents, and the dogs that were baying all across the neighborhood. I don’t care who got final credit. The salad was delicious.
Mark’s contribution to steakhouse week was a potato dish I have named the Homewrecking Tart. Upon walking into Dan and Mandy’s house, I discovered Mark sitting by himself in the living room, seething. Mark had seen the uncooked salad ingredients strewn about the kitchen and incorrectly assumed that we were hours from eating. In addition to being hungry, Mark had failed to produce a crust for the Homewrecking Tart he felt was worthy of a casual, untelevised, amateur cooking competition between friends. His anger was palpable, and he was literally poking his head up at any mention of a problem which he could falsely decide was his breaking point. So, like any good friend, I offered my support and understanding in the gentlest, most nurturing manner I knew how.
No, I’m just kidding. I poked the bear.
Knowing what Mark’s reaction would be, I chose this moment to reveal that I did not make the puff pastry lid to my steakhouse pie. I calmly explained that I had been watching The Great British Baking Show: Master Class, and had followed the lead of judge Mary Berry, who revealed that she never makes puff pastry, as the machine made puff pastry available in shops is superior. And that was when the bubbling caldera of Mark St. Helens erupted. In the span of five minutes, Mark managed to lay the blame for all the ills and sins of humanity at my feet for daring to use store bought puff pastry atop my meat pie. Mark proclaimed that he had wasted the entire day and brought his home to utter ruin to produce this inedible failure of a crust. Flour was everywhere. His marriage was teetering on the edge of oblivion, and his children were somehow simultaneously suffering from abandonment and constantly underfoot. And all to compete with a filthy, lowlife bastard such as myself, who so flagrantly flaunts the rules willy-nilly whenever it suits him. And all he had to show for it was this humiliating, gritty disc of garbage. Mark vowed then and there that he would never again participate in The Great British Baking Show: Walton Edition. It had wreaked havoc with his psyche and unleashed a plague upon his house, and he was done with it! Done, I say! Forever! Finished! Kaput! And thus was born the Homewrecking Tart.
Mark was absolutely right, of course. His crust was grainy and unsound. And it was apparent what had happened. Concerned with making his dough too moist, Mark had failed to add enough water, producing a crust that never actually came together. The filling, on the other hand, was extraordinary. The potatoes were cooked absolutely perfectly, and the sauce complimented the potatoes without overwhelming them. Mark also supplied each slice with a dollop of sour cream, which elevated the tart. Despite the crust, the Homewrecking Tart was absolutely delicious, and would have won Mark the coveted title of Star Baker.
But then Dan brought out his desserts, and blew us all away.
While Mark, Mandy, and myself sat digesting our meal – both mentally and gastronomically – a silence fell over the table. An unspoken agreement had been reached: we had all underperformed. It was going to be hard picking out a Star Baker this time… until Dan served a mouthwatering dessert that stunned us all. Dan, in his wisdom, created not one, not two, but THREE different bakes, an effort which guaranteed his Star Baker win by providing enough flavors to wow each of us. I present to you Dan’s winning entry: a trio of absolutely stunning pizookies, each more delicious than the last!
I had never heard of a pizookie. The name is a combination of the words “pizza” and “cookie;” a simplistic portmanteau which belies the depth of flavors Dan was able to coax out of what were essentially the ingredients for normal cookies. This was Dan’s Chocolate Chip Pizookie, which he topped with a drizzle of chocolate sauce and what I believe was French vanilla ice cream. The pizookie was crisp, yet had an exceptionally soft, almost pillowy interior, which set it apart from a regular cookie. I think this was due to the dough having been cooked in a pan instead of on a cookie sheet. This was Mark’s favorite of the three, and for good reason. It had a rich butteriness which contrasted perfectly with the sweet sharpness of the chocolate sauce. But as good as this was, it was actually my least favorite of the three. Not because it was bad, quite the contrary. It’s because the others were just so much better.
Dan’s second bake was his Chocolate Pizookie. If you’re wondering if Dan decorated this decadent little marvel with Ghirardelli dark chocolate squares, he didn’t. They are not decorations, they were the sauce. As the squares softened and melted atop the hot pizookie, the chocolates and ice cream formed a smooth, rich sauce that perfectly complimented the half brownie, half cookie beneath. I don’t recall hearing what Mandy nor Mark thought of this treat. I was too busy eating it to pay attention. What I can tell you is that I can imagine no chocolate lover who could possibly find any fault with this bake… except that maybe there wasn’t enough of it.
And here we have it. The dessert I consider Dan’s pièce de résistance. Ladies and gentlemen, I present The Peanut Butter Pizookie. If Dan had somehow reached inside my brain and dug out the precise flavor to flood my neurons with the maximum possible endorphins, he couldn’t have come any closer than this. Usually I’m not a fan of my peanut butter being mixed with anything else. Peanut butter, particularly in cookie form, is too good to go culinarily slumming with lesser flavors. But I have to say, Dan nailed this. What I think was one of Dan’s smartest choices was to wait until the meal was almost over to finish his pizookies, so that they were served hot from the oven. The heat began transforming the chocolate ice cream into a milky sauce which melded well with Dan’s other sauce, a light drizzle of caramel. I never would have imagined caramel would compliment a peanut butter cookie, but every single thing about this absolutely worked. I loved this so much that Dan sent me home with the rest of it, and I can attest that this pizookie is just as flavorful and amazing after spending the night in the fridge as it was piping hot from the oven. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this may very well be one my favorite desserts I have ever eaten in my life.
Any of these pizookies could have rightfully won Dan the coveted Sar Baker status on their own, but as a trio they were absolutely unbeatable. Dan really went the extra mile with this one. Well done, Dan!
Until next time, bon appétit!