The Chopped Challenge Dinner Party: A Fun Winter Diversion

The Chopped Challenge Dinner Party

The topic of today’s blog post has nothing to do with chickens or gardening. Let’s face it, it’s January in Iowa and there’s nothing much going on outside. Instead, I am writing about a fun winter diversion that all of you foodies and slightly-competitive home cooks out there may enjoy: The Chopped Challenge dinner party.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I love to get creative in the kitchen. I rarely follow a recipe exactly; I prefer to wing it with whatever I have on hand. In the summer, most of my meals are inspired by the garden. It becomes a game to whip up a great meal from whatever I harvested that day.

In winter, I have to resort to more extreme measures for a culinary challenge. That’s how the Chopped Challenge dinner party came to be.

The Chopped Challenge dinner party: The premise

I’ve already written the definitive guide on throwing a Chopped Challenge dinner party (see the link below), so I won’t repeat all of the details here. Suffice it to say that the party is premised on the Food Network program Chopped, in which contestants must make a three-course meal using baskets of mystery ingredients. In my dinner party version of Chopped, the dinner guests provide the mystery ingredients and do the cooking.

Here’s how it works: Three couples are assigned a course (appetizer, entrée, or dessert) for which they must bring a mystery basket of four ingredients. Each couple gives their basket to another couple, who must cook the assigned course using all of the basket ingredients as well as anything they want from the pantry or refrigerator.

Unlike the television program, which has strict time limits, each couple is allowed roughly 30 minutes of cooking time to plate their dish. After the course is prepared, everyone eats. The kitchen gets a quick cleanup, and the next course is prepared.

The entire meal can stretch out for several hours and makes for a really fun evening for all involved. Declaring a winner is optional. A few bottles of wine are mandatory.

Read more: Throw a “Chopped Challenge” Dinner Party

Chopped Challenge mystery baskets

Baskets of mystery ingredients waiting to be revealed.

My latest Chopped Challenge dinner party: A recap

A cold Saturday night in January seemed like the perfect time for a Chopped Challenge. We called in the usual suspects: Christine and Scott (my sister and brother-in-law) and Jen and Jeff (Bob’s sister and brother-in-law). The six of us have several Chopped Challenges under our belts, and we rotate the assigned courses every time we play. This time, Bob and I were responsible for providing the appetizer ingredients and cooking the dessert course.

Here’s a recap of each course:

The appetizer course

Ingredients by: Deb and Bob
Cooked by: Jen and Jeff

Mystery ingredients:

  • Easy-peel gulf shrimp
  • Broccoli slaw
  • Refrigerator cinnamon rolls with icing
  • Lemon Italian soda

Key pantry and refrigerator ingredients:

  • Fresh ginger
  • Garlic
  • Green onions
  • Olive oil
  • Variety of spices

The dish: Lemon poached shrimp on warm broccoli slaw with sweet and spicy croutons

Jen and Jeff came up with pretty much the same dish I had in mind for the course when I selected the ingredients. The shrimp were poached in the lemon Italian soda. The broccoli slaw was wilted with some fresh garlic, ginger, and green onions and tossed with lemon Italian soda vinaigrette.

The curve ball in this basket was the tube of cinnamon rolls. The icing went into the vinaigrette. The dough was transformed into probably the best element of the entire meal – sweet and spicy croutons. The rolls were unrolled and sliced into cubes, topped with olive oil, cayenne powder, garlic powder, and other spices, and baked until golden brown.

The verdict: I loved this dish, especially the croutons.

Appetizer course

Poached shrimp on warm broccoli slaw with sweet and spice croutons


The entrée course

Ingredients by: Jen and Jeff
Cooked by: Christine and Scott

Mystery ingredients:

  • Ground turkey
  • Bok choy
  • Ramen noodles
  • Gingersnap cookies

Key pantry and refrigerator ingredients:

  • Chicken broth
  • Panko breadcrumbs
  • Eggs
  • Garlic
  • Fresh ginger

The dish: Turkey meatball pho

Christine is a by-the-cookbook kind of girl who professes less confidence in the kitchen than the rest of us, but she didn’t hesitate a bit when she opened her basket of mystery ingredients. In no time at all, she had Scott chopping bok choy while she formed meatballs with the ground turkey and crushed gingersnaps. The bok choy was sautéed with garlic and ginger and combined with a can of chicken broth and the seasoning packet from the Ramen noodles. The cooked noodles, meatballs, and broth came together in a bowl of Vietnamese-inspired goodness.

The verdict: Okay, maybe the Ramen noodles could have been used more creatively, but this was my favorite dish of the night. It was so good that I had it half-eaten before I remembered to take a photo.

Entree course

Turkey meatball pho


The dessert course

Ingredients by: Christine and Scott
Cooked by: Deb and Bob

Mystery ingredients:

  • Fresh pears
  • Kettle-cooked potato chips
  • Blackberry jam
  • Mayonnaise

Key pantry and refrigerator ingredients:

  • Sugar
  • Butter
  • Gingersnap cookies (leftover from entrée course)
  • White wine
  • Templeton Rye
  • Heavy whipping cream

The dish: Jam-glazed pear tartlets with mayonnaise whipped cream

Dessert is not my forte, so I was a little nervous going into the night. I had a couple of ideas in mind, depending on what mystery ingredients the basket revealed. As soon as I saw the potato chips, I knew I could use them as the foundation for a crumb crust – one of my fall-back plans. (I also used the leftover gingersnaps from the entrée course.) Meanwhile, Bob cooked the pears in butter and white wine, flambéed them with some Templeton Rye, and glazed them with blackberry jam.

The most difficult ingredient in our basket was the mayonnaise. We ended up using it two ways. I added a little to the crust, while Bob mixed some in with the whipped cream topping (to the horror of everyone watching). We topped the whipped cream with the leftover potato chip/gingersnap crumbs

The verdict: Dessert was my least favorite dish of the night, but I’m not much of a dessert-eater to begin with. It wasn’t a bad dish by any means, and the mayonnaise whipped cream surprisingly was not bad.

Dessert course

Jam-glazed pear tartlet with mayonnaise whipped cream


Chopped Challenge outtakes

At the end of the night, we were all pretty impressed with ourselves. We were certain we made a better meal with our crazy combinations of ingredients than what a lot of people had dining out that night.

Here are a few more photos from the evening.

The Chopped Challenge Dinner Party

The appetizer mystery ingredients revealed

The Chopped Challenge Dinner Party

Plating the appetizer course

The Chopped Challenge Dinner Party

The mystery ingredients for the entrée course

The Chopped Challenge Dinner Party

Cooking the turkey meatballs

The Chopped Challenge Dinner Party

Bob and I with the dessert basket

The Chopped Challenge Dinner Party

Surveying the dessert ingredients

The Chopped Challenge Dinner Party

Making the crumb crust

The Chopped Challenge Dinner Party

Flambéing the pears (I love the Lucy photo bombs in so many of these photos)

The Chopped Challenge Dinner Party

Plating the dessert course

What would you have made with the mystery ingredients? Share your ideas in the comments section below.