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Lessons and insights as I prepare for a live crazy cooking competition

With a cooking competition looming, it’s a great excuse to buy more gadgets. These cutters are fun to work with in the kitchen while other major equipment is failing. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Kitchen Circus tests you in more ways than one

As my fellow competitors of Kitchen Circus practice and some even compete this coming week, I’m reminded of the lessons I’ve learned already in this cooking competition. I have to prepare an amuse bouche and create a three-course menu soon and chef Thierry Rautureau will pick one course I have to prepare at Rover’s Restaurant for 45 people as well as an amuse bouche. I don’t compete until Nov. 20, but as I tear up my kitchen and run my dishwasher every night I’m reminded this live-cooking contest is no easy task. This isn’t about copying some recipe from Bon Appètit magazine or Betty Crocker’s finest cookbook. This is about creativity, a collective cool head under the heat and pressure of a professional kitchen and FUN.

My kitchen is covered in white flour and equipment like this is barely keeping up with my food challenges. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Here are just a couple of insights I’ve learned the hard way recently:

1. Old appliances don’t hold up to the rigors and testing for a cooking competition. Those Goodwill super finds (blender, mixer and other tools that look like your grandmother’s kitchen gadgets) that I discovered in the back of the store and bought several years ago were there for a reason. I dug those out to use occasionally for massive parties, but as I tried multiple recipes in a row I faced groaning motor noises and the smell of burning plastic. I fear major equipment failure will be fast approaching. I better check the smoke alarms and that fire extinguisher in the hallway closet to make sure they’re ready for my potentially flammable courses. And flour has covered my kitchen cabinets and counters more than once. It brings a new meaning to my house being dusty.

Butter makes the food world go around. I eat pretty healthy so I was shocked to realize how much butter is needed for desserts and sauces. No wonder they are so good. Photo by Christine Willmsen

2. Kitchen Circus gives me the excuse to buy new gadgets. I bought these cutters and have had so much fun with them. But I’m not sure they’ll be useful for my final idea for a dessert. I hate surprises but I love planning them. You’ll just have to wait and see.

3. Butter, cream and eggs. That’s really what makes the food world go around. I’m shocked at how much butter is put into desserts and other courses. I love it BUT.

4. That brings me to my next insight. BUT really is BUTT, which is a result of BUTTER. A friend told me to be leery of the competition because I may gain a few extra pounds as I test my concoctions. I shrugged it off, and then that night I shocked myself as I licked spoons of raw batter and sucked down extra portions and leftovers. I didn’t want to waste anything, and the little girl in me was suddenly cleaning the utensils, folks and spoons with my tongue. Even though I’ve given much of my trial food items to friends or coworkers, my friend was right. I have put on a little padding during the practices. Damn butter.

It is my responsibility to clean up the kitchen including the utensils, so like any smart resourceful home cook, I lick the cake batter off. But my butt is paying for it. Photo by Christine Willmsen



Compound butter adds a boost of flavor

Butter it up Babe

Compound butter incorporates herbs like parsley, thyme and oregano.

Who doesn’t love butter? It’s fantastic to cook with and tastes great on just about anything.  But guess what – you can jazz it up by making compound butter. This is great for single people who don’t know what to do with the extra herbs from the store and those who want to add something quick and rich to a dish.

You only need a couple of herbs to make compound butter.

A compound butter, also known as buerre composé in French, basically incorporates herbs or other ingredients to flavor it. Compound butter saves a single person the hassle of always finding herbs to cut and add to a dish. This time-saving method allows you to have flavor-packed butter ready anytime.  I hate it when I buy expensive herbs from the store for one recipe, and then they go to waste days later because I never did anything with them. Next time you have extra parsley or any other herb, make compound butter.

Hot in the Kitchen

Finely chop two tablespoons of fresh herbs like parsley, thyme and oregano.

Making a compound butter is easy. Just let a stick of butter, 8 tablespoons, soften by taking it out of the refrigerator. In the meantime, chop two tablespoons fresh herbs like parsley, thyme, chives or oregano and any combination of them. Be creative by adding other spices and herbs to your compound butter.

Mash herbs into soften butter with a fork.

Mix or mash the herbs and butter together with a spatula or fork. Use wax paper or plastic wrap to mold the butter into a cylinder, covering the butter and twisting the ends.

Wrap butter in wax paper or plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.

The butter can last for months in the freezer and weeks in the refrigerator. Anytime you want to cook with it, just pull it out of the refrigerator and slice a couple pads off.

I love a dab of compound butter on my steak or mixed in with garden vegetables. The compound butter I added to my green beans made them glisten and taste rich.

The dinner below uses only one pan and is perfect for one. I sautéed green beans with garlic and topped it with compound butter. After I removed the beans from the pan, I cooked tilapia (you could use any white fish) for about three minutes until translucent.

Next week I’ll highlight a Hot Spot restaurant for singles.



Sautéed green beans with melted compound butter is a great side to white fish like tilapia.