Monday, May 30, 2011

Chopped Basket!

I learned via Facebook that the store Zzest in Rochester was having a Chopped challenge. If you've never seen the show Chopped on Food Network, the basic premise is a group of chefs are given "mystery baskets" with three surprise ingredients. They have to make a certain course using all three ingredients (and can also use basic "pantry" items.) Their dishes are judged and the loser of each round is "chopped", leaving the remaining contestants to move on to the next round.

Zzest kicked off their Chopped challenge with an entree basket that contained sardines, dried beans, and pepper sherry. That seemed a bit off of my motivational scale, being a weeknight cook and all. But when I heard they were doing dessert baskets, I jumped at the chance. The recipes and pictures were due on Saturday, May 28, and as I write this they have yet to post the competitors' pictures. I'm waiting on edge--I'm sure mine won't win, but I'm fascinated to see what other people did with the mystery ingredients.

So, without further ado, here were the ingredients in my mystery Chopped basket:

Hibiscus flower vinegar

Wine crackers

Zzang! Wowza bar

Interesting, no? I thought and thought about what to make, and finally decided to go with a modified version of my Fabulous Fudge Brownies, made with ground-up wine crackers instead of flour and part of the Wowza bar instead of chocolate chips. I'd use the rest of the candy bar and mix it with ice cream, and top it all off with a reduced balsamic vinegar sauce.

The first thing I did was start the brownies. Like I said earlier, it's basically my Fabulous Fudge Brownie recipe, but with wine crackers instead of flour, dark chocolate instead of semiseweet, and chopped-up candy bar instead of chocolate chips. Oh, and I added a little extra cocoa powder.

Here's what the candy bar looks like on the inside. It's a raspberry-spiked nougat with a layer of raspberry jam and then covered in chocolate.

I melted the chocolate and the butter together in the microwave and then stirred until they were combined.

Then I added brown and white sugars.

And two eggs.

I threw some of the wine crackers in my food processor.

They got a very, very thorough blending until they were ground to a flourlike consistancy.

Six tablespoons of the cracker flour went into my brownie mixture.

Cocoa powder. Can't ever have too much cocoa.

A little vanilla will help bring out the chocolate flavors.
Then in went the candy bar. It was hard to cut--nougat sticks to everything!

Into a pregreased 8x8 or 9x9 brownie pan it goes.

I also decided to snazz things up a bit by adding fresh raspberries. This increased my baking time by 10-15 minutes, but it was worth it.

Brownies went in the oven. So next is the balsamic sauce.

Here's what the vinegar looked like. Basically it's just white balsamic vinegar with hibiscus flowers in it. It had a very fruity, yet tangy smell. Balsamic vinegar and vanilla actually work quite well together, and when they're combined the vinegar takes on some chocolatey qualities. I was banking on this to make my sauce work.

I poured a cup of the vinegar into a small, nonreactive (not copper!) pot. Hibiscus always makes me think of tea, so I sweetened it with a little honey.

To deepen the flavors, I cut a vanilla bean in half.

I scraped the "caviar" from the inside of the bean and added it to the pot. I also threw in the scraped bean.

I scraped the other half of the bean and put that in my sugar bowl for my coffee in the morning.

I turned the pot on low and let the vinegar reduce. You don't want to let the vinegar boil--you want it to reduce slowly and easily. I reduced the vinegar by half.

Oh, um, also. It's going to smell really good, and you're going to want to get a better smell, but don't hold your face over the pot and breathe in deeply. Your sinuses will not like it. Believe me. I did it three times. Be smarter than me.

Now that the vinegar is reducing and the brownies are in the oven, you can work on the ice cream! I cheated and used already-made ice cream.

I left it out on the counter for 5-10 minutes to soften it. I used about half a pint.

Then I chopped up the rest of the candy bar. Super messy. But yummy.

Yeah, that's right. I totally licked my fingers. Nobody else but me and Mr. Kim Chee were going to be eating it. So there.

I had a few raspberries left over from the brownies, so I added them, too. I gave them a good smush while mixing them in.

Then it got popped back into the freezer to re-freeze.

So at this point, my brownies are done.

My vinegar is reduced.

My ice cream was, uh, sort of re-frozen. Okay, I was totally impatient to try this. So here it is: the results of my Chopped challenge basket!

Raspberry Fudge Brownies with Wowza Ice Cream and Vanilla Vinegar Sauce
For the Raspberry Fudge Brownies:

½ c. butter
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate
½ c. packed brown sugar
½ c. white sugar
2 eggs
scant ½ c. OTC wine crackers
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
½ Zzang Wowza bar (reserve remaining candy bar for ice cream)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 c. fresh or frozen raspberries (about ¾ of a pint. Reserve remaining raspberries for ice cream)

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a microwave-safe bowl (or double boiler), melt butter and chocolate and stir until smooth. Add brown and white sugar and stir until incorporated. Add eggs and mix well.

In a food processor, pulse wine crackers until very finely ground. Measure and add 6 tbsp. of ground crackers to brownie mix.

Add cocoa powder to brownie mix and stir until just combined.

Chop Zzang Wowza bar into rough chunks and gently fold into the brownie mixture. Add vanilla extract and stir until just combined.

Grease an 8x8 cake pan. Pour in brownie mix. Top brownie mix with raspberries.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until toothpick inserted into center of brownies comes out clean. Cool completely before slicing.

For the Wowza Ice Cream

½ pint high-quality vanilla ice cream
¼ pint fresh or frozen raspberries
½ Zzang Wowza bar

Let ice cream sit at room temperature until softened. Lightly mash raspberries. Roughly chop the Wowza bar. Fold both raspberries and candy bar into ice cream.

Re-freeze ice cream until it reaches the desired firmness.

For the Vanilla Vinegar sauce:

1 c. hibiscus flower vinegar
½ vanilla bean
1 tsp. honey

Pour vinegar into small, nonreactive pot. Halve vanilla bean and scrape out caviar. Add vanilla bean, vanilla caviar, and honey to the vinegar.

Let vinegar mixture reduce over low heat until reduced by half. Let cool completely. Drizzle cooled sauce over brownies and ice cream.


  1. How did it taste?? Looks delish! : )

  2. I saw the Chopped challenge on FB but had no idea what it was about since I haven't watched the show, so thanks for explaining it! I love chocolate and raspberry together so this looks super yummy!

  3. This looks incredible. You are a creative kitchen force of nature!

  4. It tasted pretty good--the vinegar sauce was definitely tangy! Like, sinus-clearing tangy. A friend and I were talking about what else you could do with the vinegar sauce, and we discovered that it tasted really good with lemon cake! (Who knew?) I'm really excited to see what other people did.

    Christa, it's a pretty fun show. They start with four chefs. The first round, they have to make an appetizer. Then they eliminate one chef, and the next three move on to main dishes. Repeat, and the remaining two make a dessert. The basket ingredients change for each round.

    I hope they do this again, I'd love to try it when I have more time (we picked up the basket on Saturday, but didn't get home until Sunday night, and it was due the following Saturday.) Trying to get everything done on a weeknight, and also make dinner, is a little challenging!