Three Atlanta lesbian chefs tested their skills on episodes of “Chopped,” the popular Food Network cooking competition, during November and December, creating delicious dishes from the TV show’s mandatory — and often decidedly odd — ingredients.
Chef Ria Pell won her episode, which first aired Nov. 20. Chef Virginia Willis placed second after encountering an especially challenging ingredient during her Nov. 27 show. Chef Courtney Renn makes her debut Dec. 18, so tune in then to see if she also finishes among the top “Chopped” chefs.
In the meantime, we asked all of these culinary stars to share some of their holiday recipes to help keep you from getting “Chopped” this season.
And we promise, there are no “lamb fries” in the ingredient lists! (Check out Chef Virginia’s comments to find out what that delicacy really is).
Chef Ria Pell
Ria’s Bluebird and Sauced Restaurant & Lounge
Top three career highlights
• Bluebird’s review in the New York Times
• Working under Anne Quatrano
• Meeting Jane Fonda at my restaurant
When your “Chopped” episode aired: Nov. 20 originally [Ria won]
One “Chopped” ingredient you hope you never have to cook with again: Hot dog buns for sure
“Good Night St. Nick”
(an awesome cocktail for the Holidaze)
• 2 oz Sazerac Rye
• 2 oz orange maple syrup*
• 3 dashes whiskey barrel bitters
• 2 bar spoons of Allspice Dram liquor
• 5 fresh cranberries
Directions: Shake all ingredients in mixing glass and tin until cranberries are bruised. Serve on ice in a collins glass.
*Orange maple syrup recipe: Reduce 1 quart fresh squeezed OJ by half and cool. Whisk in 1 cup maple syrup and refrigerate mixture for later use.
(you don’t have to tell your family, but your girlfriend will love you for it)
• 2 1/2 # Idaho potatoes shredded on a box grater, rinsed well and squeezed dry
• 1 small white onion, also shredded on a box grater
• 2 tablespoons cornstarch
• 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
• 1/2 tsp black pepper
• 1 cup matzo meal
• 1 cup vegetable oil for frying
Directions: Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl and store until oil in cast iron skillet is hot. Fry in small batches; don’t flip them too early or have too much oil in the pan. Patience is a virtue.
Chef Virginia Willis
“Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company“ (Ten Speed Press)
“Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking” (Ten Speed Press)
My Southern Pantry artisan product line (www.virginiawillis.com)
Top three career highlights
• Cooking with and getting to know Julia Child
• “Bon Appétit, Y’all” being awarded and included on the list of “Books All Georgians Should Read” by Georgia Center for the Book
• “Bon Appétit, Y’all” being nominated for Best American Cookbook by the International Association of Culinary Professionals
When your “Chopped” episode aired: Nov. 27 [Virginia placed second]
One “Chopped” ingredient you hope you never have to cook with again: Lamb testicles. Hello? Seriously? This is a question?
Mama’s Pecan Tassies
Makes 2 dozen
• ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
• 1 large egg
• ¾ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
• ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
• ½ cup chopped pecans
• 2 dozen perfect pecan halves, for decoration
Directions: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Set out a nonstick mini muffin tin or grease a standard mini muffin tin.
To make the crust, in a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Add the flour and salt and continue to beat on low speed until a dough forms.
Divide the dough equally into 24 balls, each about the size of a gumball. Press the balls of dough into the muffin cups, using your thumb to press the dough against the sides to form a shell. Set aside.
To make the filling, combine the egg, brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt in a bowl. Sprinkle ½ to 1 teaspoon nuts into each shell. Top with a teaspoon of the egg mixture. Place a pecan half in the center.
Bake for 15 minutes. Then decrease the temperature to 325°F and bake until set, 10 to 15 minutes more. Remove to a rack to cool.
Reprinted with permission from ‘Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress them Up for Company,’ copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House. For more information visit www.virginiawillis.com. Book available for purchase at IndieBound.org and other online booksellers.
Chef Courtney Renn
Chef Courtney, LLC and 1875 by Chef Courtney
Top three career highlights
• Cooking for Whitney Houston
• Launching my new line of preserved goods using my family recipes called 1875 by Chef Courtney. Coming soon…
• Hanging out with Ben Stiller after filming “Chopped” in New York. A happy client became a supportive friend.
“Chopped” episode airs: Dec. 18
One “Chopped” ingredient you hope you never have to cook with again: I’ve been sworn to secrecy until the show airs. However, I’ve been holding this in since April! I will be answering questions on Twitter and Facebook while the show is on @ChefCourtney13 #chopped
• 1 cup self-rising cornmeal
• 1/2 cup self-rising flour
• 3/4 cup buttermilk
• 2 eggs
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 7 slices white bread, dried in warm oven
• 1 sleeve Saltine crackers
• 2 cups chopped celery
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 8 tablespoons butter
• 2 cups chicken stock
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon fresh sage
• 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
• 5 eggs, beaten
• 2 pints or 1 quart oysters, drained
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. To make the cornbread, combine all ingredients and pour into a greased shallow baking dish. Bake for approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
To make the dressing, crumble dried white bread slices, cornbread and crackers. Mix together and set aside. Saute chopped celery and onion in butter until transparent, approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Pour over corn bread mixture.
Add stock, mix well, and add salt, pepper, sage, and poultry seasoning. Add beaten eggs and mix well. Add oysters and mix.
Pour into a greased pan. Bake for about 45 minutes.
Top photo (left to right): Chef Ria Pell (by Robin Henson), Chef Virginia Willis (by Angie Mosier) and Chef Courtney Renn (courtesy photo)