Cook of the Week Challengers face tough ingredients in round 2

  • COURTESY OF Leslie MeredithFor the second entry in the 2019 Cook of the Week Challenge, Leslie Meredith made Thai Fish Cakes (Tod Man Pla) with Cucumber Dipping Sauce and Broccolini Pad Thai

    COURTESY OF Leslie MeredithFor the second entry in the 2019 Cook of the Week Challenge, Leslie Meredith made Thai Fish Cakes (Tod Man Pla) with Cucumber Dipping Sauce and Broccolini Pad Thai

Updated 10/16/2019 10:48 AM

Going into round two of the Cook of the Week Challenge 2019, seven home cooks were faced with creating dishes using bags of unusual ingredients.

In those bags they found: King Oscar Royal Fillets Mackerel with Lemon from King Oscar Inc., broccolini from Chandler's Chophouse, whole wheat pasta and hemp seeds. You can see and read more about what our seven home cooks came up with here.


Each cook had four days to craft a recipe using these ingredients to present to our panel of guest judges.

Judges for the second challenge are Penny Kazmier, the first Cook of the Week Challenge winner from 2011; Ahmed Azizy, executive chef at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca; Christopher Blackburn, chef at Chandler's Chophouse & Grille in Schaumburg; and John Engle, CEO of King Oscar Inc.

The judges' score is based on 100 points total, 25 points per category: creativity, use of ingredients, ease of preparation and perceived taste.

The cook with the lowest score each week is eliminated. This week, out of a tight race, Kim Bradley will not advance to round three. One cook will also be eliminated in the next two challenges, leaving four cooks to face off at the live finale on Nov. 11 at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca.

The scoring was tight, and the judges were impressed by the creativity shown in all the recipes entered. Here's a little of what they had to say.

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Rob Benes

Benes created Pasta with Mackerel, Tomatoes, Olives and Herbed Breadcrumbs served with oven-roasted broccolini with creamy hemp seed dressing.

And while Azizy said that this is a straightforward dish, he added it would have benefited by a boost in creativity.

"This is what I consider a classic pasta and seafood combination," said Engle. "Outstanding use of ingredients and seasonings, particularly the use of the Kalamata olives combined with the mackerel. Sensational."

Kazmier said she likes the way this cook used the hemp hearts in the salad dressing on top of the roasted broccolini.

Kim Bradley

Lemon Mackerel and Broccolini Spaghetti with pasta and hemp seed breadsticks and green salad is the dish Bradley came up with.

Azizy said this recipe showed good use of the ingredients, especially in the creation of the breadsticks.

"I really enjoyed this dish," Blackburn said. "Adding the bacon for a smoky element is a smart idea to cut through the strong flavor of the mackerel."


Engle said the separate recipes look wonderful and inviting but somewhat labor-intensive. "But this one would take me an extra minute or two to prepare, but I suspect the result would be well worth the time. I really like the creative use of ingredients."

"These recipes photograph nicely," Kazmier said. "The breadstick technique intrigues me, but I am confused by the pasta recipe as I cannot figure out what to do with the stick of butter listed in the ingredients. I like the addition of lemon juice and white wine, as the acid will brighten this dish."

Lulu Chapa

Chapa came up with Spaghetti Carbonara with Broccolini and a side of lemon Royal Fillets Mackerel and hemp seed pate on rustic toast.

"The use of the mackerel as a pate on the bread toast is a good idea," Azizy said.

Engle said the simple preparation of Chapa's recipe would make it a must-try at home. "Nicely done. I like the use of the mackerel and the oil with lemon."

Kazmier praised the interesting twist on a carbonara, adding it sounds tasty. "I am not sure how to envision the blended hemp seeds, as in the ingredient list, it says blended, but in the instructions, it says raw shelled hemp seeds. Regardless, the pate sounds good, as the capers should taste good with the mackerel, dill and sour cream."

Lisa Eberhahn

Mackerel Pate on Spaghetti with hemp hearts and red pepper coulis and pickled broccolini is Eberhahn's creation.

Azizy said Eberhahn's Mackerel Pate was a well-executed dish, "very colorful, nice presentation."

Engle said Eberhahn found the way to his heart (via his stomach) with the creativity of her dish. "It made me want more. I love the visual presentation, the use of vinegar, and ingredients in the pickled broccolini," Engle said. "And the seasoning with the mackerel for the pate is so unique that my mouth started to water. Outstanding."

Kazmier said this dish was creative, from pickling the broccolini to making pate with the mackerel. "I'm not sure about the cold pate on top of hot pasta, although it may add a creamy touch. I believe I would definitely enjoy each one of the components of this dish," she said.

Alex Marsalek

Marsalek created Hemp Encrusted Mackerel with pasta in a cream sauce for round two of the Cook of the Week Challenge.

Azizy thought this was a straightforward and safe dish, but it could have benefited from a little more creativity.

Blackburn called the effort a smart idea. "Something simple by crusting the fish and serving with a heavy pasta with cream brings a home feeling to me," he said.

Engle said, "I love pasta, I love fish and I love a great cream sauce. This recipe is outstanding, and I would look for it on any Italian restaurant menu. Well done."

"This is a straightforward, creative use of this week's ingredients," Kazmier said. "Browning the broccolini is a great way to add extra flavor and texture. I appreciate how this cook used the oil from the canned mackerel instead of bottled for extra flavor, but I worry there may be so much it may overpower the fresh herbs."

Leslie Meredith

Thai Fish Cakes (Tod Man Pla) with cucumber dipping sauce and broccolini pad thai is what Meredith created from her bag of secret ingredients.

Azizy thought this was a very colorful dish. "And a good choice of Thai flavors which will give the dish a very good taste if it's executed properly," he said.

Engle found this to be an outstanding recipe. "I have to try this for dinner. I sincerely appreciate the creative use of the ingredients," Engle said.

Kazmier thought the recipe sounded delicious. "While there are a lot of ingredients in these recipes, likely requiring a special trip to the grocery store, I think it would be worth it. Very creative," she said.

Ann Wayne

Wayne made Spaghetti and Fish Balls with roasted broccolini in a pesto sauce for this week's judges.

Azizy praised the idea of making fish balls.

Blackburn said he thought the presentation could use refining, but the "flavor sounds very warming and tasty," he added.

"I like the concept of toasted hemp seeds on the fish balls," said Engle. "The combination sounds delicious … and fish balls are a Norwegian classic, albeit typically made from white fish."

Kazmier called Wayne's recipe creative. "I love that this cook made pesto with the hemp hearts and appreciate the thought of using the lemon olive oil from the fish to season the broccolini. I will admit, I'm not sure about the texture of the fish balls. I wish I could try this dish," she said.

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