A Classroom Challenge

Three ingredients chosen:



Chipotle Pepper

Now create a dish that incorporates all three ingredients; whomever cannot succeed will be


Well actually no one would be chopped; this was just a school assignment after all and we weren’t competing for $250,000 even though I’m confident that my dish would be a strong contender for the prize.

So how did this entire challenge work? It was simple, we drew three separate ingredients from the classroom bag and then thought the way that the Chopped champions do: make a dish to win. I was content with what I had chosen, the chipotle and chocolate being an obvious pairing in my mind. The only ingredient throwing me off was the vegetable: the zucchini. Luckily for me, chocolate and chipotle can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. Then it was just a matter of deciding which way I wanted to go to complete the challenge to the best of my abilities.

I racked my brain, trying to think of different dishes that I could make that would not be too complex to tackle. From zucchini breads to brownies, the choice to head in the sweet direction was not something that I was finding to be inspiring me. It was then that I scrapped the idea of making something sweet. Besides, 99% of the time that I was in the kitchen I was baking something sweet, and this was supposed to be a challenge so I decided then and there that savory was the way that I needed to head with this.

When that had me stumped, I was ready to throw in the towel and comply with my earlier idea of making brownies when I thought of the Chopped episode we were watching in class earlier in the week. Thinking of the dishes prepared in the episode, I found my idea:

I was going to make empanadas.

Not that I had made empanadas before or anything; it was going to be a learning curve for sure. But armed with my cat apron and the drive to conquer the challenge I had set out for myself, I was ready to begin. Thankfully my mom was home and there to help me with the questions like how to properly prep the maseca dough and demonstrate how to properly fry them. She also served as the photographer, helping me to document all that was happening that day in the kitchen.

The entire prep work and cooking from start to finish took us a few hours to get right, stopping constantly to document each and every little detail I was doing for photography purposes and to write down steps and measurements for the end recipe. The vegetables cooking away on the stove and the chocolate simmering away in the double boiler I had going made the kitchen smell wonderful, a delicate balance of both savory and sweet. Herbs and spices were mixing together all around us making our stomachs grow more and more hungry as we prayed that these empanadas would turn out well.

Sure this was an assignment after all, but never once was I stressed out in getting something completely right. It was more about the bonding experience of my mom telling me stories about when she was growing up, about teaching each other how to add in or cook certain parts of the dish, and most importantly how to forget about all of the stresses going on currently that I was so worried about. Whether the pressures of finishing senior year on a high, the stresses of my retail job, or even just making sure I had enough time to write about my assignment in the end, all was forgotten for those few hours spent cooking alongside my mom.

Both she and my dad served as the official taste testers and I was proud to say that my all day affair cooking away and experimenting in the kitchen had not only proved successful in terms of the dish, but also successful in finally getting some time away from the stress of senior year and my retail job. The starchy flavor of the Yukon potato and rest of the vegetables combined with the sweetness and slight spice of the chocolate drizzle made the overall taste one that rivaled anything that I had made before; they were to die for. Just the right balance of savory and sweet, and exactly what I had set out to create.

Maybe it was the flaky, golden brown crust of the empanada as you bit into it, the savory vegetables that came forward from the inside, or the sweet and spicy kick that the chipotle-chocolate glaze gave to the entire dish to pull it together, but I can proudly say that I conquered this challenge and could properly call myself a classroom Chopped champion.



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