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The Jalapeño cheese and Mango yogurt challenge

Updated: May 3, 2021

Jalapeño cheese and Mango yogurt? What could I possibly make using these ingredients? It was a fun exercise to create a popular dish by improvising with non-traditional ingredients.


Basket ingredients:

  1. Shrimp

  2. Jalapeño cheese

  3. Buttermilk biscuit dough

  4. Mango yogurt

  5. Kale

The challenge:

  1. Prepare a meal highlighting the basket ingredients

  2. Use any pantry ingredients as needed

  3. Cook within the time constraint of one hour

Judging criteria:

  1. Creativity

  2. Presentation

  3. Taste

 

First reactions:

When I opened the basket and started taking the ingredients out, I wasn't too thrilled to see the biscuit dough and the mango yogurt. This would be the first time I’d be using the pre-made biscuit dough and I just didn't know what to expect.


A couple of ideas popped in my mind:

  1. The first idea was something along the lines of a pizza. I could make a flat bread out of the dough, and top it with a sauce made out of jalapeño cheese and mango yogurt. Kale would make a nice addition to this before it went into the oven. Once the flat bread is baked, the idea would be to serve garlic shrimp cooked separately with mango from the yogurt over the bread like a pizza. I liked this idea but didn’t feel like it was challenging enough. I moved on to explore another idea.

  2. The second idea would be a play on Shrimp & Grits. I could incorporate kale into the biscuits and make them slightly healthier than what they would be out of the box. For the gravy, I could use jalapeño cheese to make it savory and also fold mango yogurt into it. I had a vague sense of the final dish at this point and I decided to move forward with the idea (fingers crossed).

The process:

  1. Biscuit dough: I honestly didn't know how this would turn out and I took a leap into experimenting.

    1. I started by cutting kale into a fine chop for the biscuits. I felt like onion would be a nice component to boost up the flavor of the store bought dough, and decided to grate half an onion.

    2. I then got the dough out of the packaging and laid it on a cutting board dusted with flour to prevent it from sticking.

    3. I started adding in kale and onion into the dough while kneading it. Once everything came together nicely, I rolled it into a log and cut it into slices to reshape into biscuits. I made rustic shapes of biscuits, laid them out on a pan, and put them into a 350° F oven to bake for 15 minutes.

  2. Crispy kale: This was the one familiar thing that I had made many times before and I felt very comfortable making it. This would add a nice texture to the dish. I dressed some kale with olive oil and popped it into the oven while the biscuits were baking. Once the kale was done, I added some sea salt to flavor it.

  3. Gravy: Next, I started to make a roux for the gravy.

    1. I melted half a stick of butter in a sauce pan and added in 2 tbsp of flour. I stirred the flour into the butter until the flour turned into a golden brown paste, and then added in whole milk and whisked everything together.

    2. While the pot was coming to a boil, I asked my husband to explain to me how gravy tastes like since I’d never had it before. He told me that gravy is savory, usually with some sort of sausage incorporated into it. From the information I’d just gotten, I started thinking about strategies to up-level the flavor.

    3. I then added a spoonful of jalapeño cheese, a little bit of the mango yogurt, a good amount of black pepper, some oregano, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and chicken bouillon to get that savory flavor. I let it all come to a boil before turning the stove off and setting the pot aside, and I started praying that my fake gravy tasted ok compared to everything my judges had tasted before.

  4. Grits: I wanted to make grits but I didn’t have corn meal in my pantry. Being from South India, semolina is a pantry staple at my house and I decided to use it instead.

  5. Shrimp: I’d washed the shrimp and set it aside right after putting the biscuits in the oven, and they were nice and dry at this point for me to use. I melted some butter in a pan and added minced garlic to it. I then added shrimp to the pan and seasoned with creole seasoning and worcestershire sauce. Once the shrimp was ready, I set it aside and got ready to plate.



Plating

I'd seen beautifully plated grits and shrimp on cooking shows before, and I felt like this would be a no brainer.

  1. I started with a layer of semolina grits right in the center of the plate and added a layer of crispy kale. Over the kale, I started placing garlic shrimp in a circle. The plate looked clean at this point.

  2. It was time for biscuits and gravy! I placed two biscuits on one side of the plate and immediately felt like the food was off-centered. I went ahead and added the gravy as there was no going back now.



Final dish:

Semolina Grits & Shrimp with Kale Biscuits and Jalapeno cheese & Mango yogurt gravy


What I could have done differently:

There are a few things that I could’ve done differently this week.

  1. Grits, sigh! I’ve had many successes recreating dishes with non-traditional ingredients, but this wasn’t one of them. Semolina grits tasted creamy because of all the jalapeño cream cheese and parmesan cheese I’d added, but still lacked flavor. If I could do over:

    1. I’d use 1/4 of the amount of semolina, and cook it in stock with more herbs.

    2. Ideally, I would use corn meal. [Adding it to my shopping list!]

  2. A big learning this week was plating composition. I prioritized plating of grits and shrimp over biscuits and gravy and the final result shows that. If I could do it again, I would start with a pen and paper before actually plating. It would’ve been a better composition if the grits were off centered giving enough space for the biscuits & gravy to shine too.

  3. I also would serve a little less gravy if I could do over.

Verdict:

  1. Nathan's feedback (as husband and Judge #1) was a bit mixed. On the one hand, he felt like the shrimp turned out great. The store-bought biscuits were a bit too sweet, even with the added onion and kale, but he felt the "faux gravy" turned out surprisingly well and redeemed the dish. Note to self: make real gravy and figure out how it actually tastes... He mentioned that the grits, on the other hand, left taste and texture to be desired.

  2. The very critical judge #2 wasn't thrilled to see the bed of grits on the plate. Or the gravy. He gravitated very quickly to the plain parts of the biscuits and the shrimp and gave them both a passing -- albeit uninspired -- thumbs up.

All in all, this week was a satisfactory experience both in terms of the new things I got to experiment with and learn, and also how the final output came together.


As intimidating as opening the basket of surprise ingredients each week is, I’m enjoying the opportunities these challenges are providing me to improvise in the kitchen. :-)


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