Competition is fierce in Riverdale's version of 'Chopped'

Riverdale High School students faced final exams in their first trimester classes two weeks ago. Students in the always-popular Food For Thought class had a little added pressure; their final exam was a competition a la the television show “Chopped.”

This year the class is being taught by parent Laurie Wolf. A professional chef and cookbook author, Wolf has focused the curriculum on teaching culinary skills rather than on addressing social issues of food, which the course addressed in previous years.

“Everyone needs to eat,” Wolf said. “We’ve learned many of the basics of cooking. The students all had to study for and earn their food handler’s license. We’ve learned to sear meats, make a vinaigrette. They’ve learned about cooking as a career.”

For the final, Wolf divided the class into four teams and prepared bags of secret ingredients with which the teams would prepare a meal.

The secret ingredients were chicken breasts, sweet potatoes, apple cider, Brussels sprouts and raisin bran. The students also had access to a well-stocked pantry and spice cabinet.

Judging the competition were Riverdale parent Graeme Parkin, teacher Laura Pridmore-Brown and me. We were to base our evaluations on six factors: Good taste, both literally and figuratively, creativity, team work, good use of time, use of the secret ingredients and presentation.

The students went right to work as we watched. Most chose to bread the chicken in the raisin bran, most roasted the sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts. All created beautifully plated and delicious dishes. All gave Wolf the thumbs up signal when she asked if they were optimistic about how their dishes would turn out.

One of the most striking tastes was a sauce made of sweet potato puree and yellow mustard. You might experiment with that combination — it has huge potential! The same group that presented that sauce with their chicken presented their Brussels sprouts in phyllo dough nests, which we all found delightful and delicious.

Every student gained confidence in their ability to cook.

Forrest Parker said he had gained many new skills and was cooking more at home as a result of taking the class.

Senior Quinn Mendon said she was much more appreciative of food now, and was happy to have cooking skills under her belt as she heads off to college.

Wolf would love to expand the Food For Thought class and include a service component in it, in which students prepare food for a shelter or other community center.

But, as with all schools, Riverdale’s budget is tight and Wolf is exploring the possibility of grants. Those wishing to donate to the program should contact Riverdale High School directly.

Which team won the “Chopped” competition? It was pretty tight, but in the end the three judges agreed that the dishes made by Isabelle Gilges, Tiffany Puterbaugh, Alex Perrin, Zach Sherman and Elizabeth Berry most closely came to perfection and none of the teams deserved to be chopped.

So what would you make with chicken breasts, sweet potatoes, apple cider, Brussels sprouts and raisin bran? Play around a little — you might discover something new and wonderful to eat.

To give you a nudge you get two tried and true recipes. The sweet potato recipe is one I’ve used for many years. The second is Gourmet Production’s Brussels sprouts recipe. Both are sure to become your favorite method of cooking these vegetables.

And to really push you over the edge into the realm of inspired eating, you need to get Wolf’s cookbook, “Portland, Oregon Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from the City of Roses.”

The book celebrates more than 40 of Portland’s best restaurants and eateries with recipes and photograph and profiles signature “at home” recipes.

It’s a keepsake cookbook for tourists and locals alike, a book that celebrates Portland’s farm-to-table way of life. Just google the title to order it online.

Bon Appetite — eat something wonderful!

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Lime Syrup and Chives

Makes 8 servings

3 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2- inch cubes (10 cups)

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lime zest

2 tablespoons finely choppepd fresh chives

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 450ºF.

Toss potatoes with butter, salt and pepper in a bowl until coated well, then spread in one layer in 2 shallow rimmed baking pans and roast, uncovered, switching position of pans halfway through roasting, until potatoes are tender and undersides are browned, 15 to 20 minutes total.

While potatoes roast, bring water, sugar and lime juice to a boil in a very small saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then simer until reduced to about 3 tablespoons, 3 to 4 minutes.

Toss potatoes with syrup and zest in a large bowl, then sprinkle with chives.

Cook’s note: Potatoes can be roasted and syrup made one day ahead (without tossing together).

Chill separately in airtight containers. Reheat potatoes in a single roasting pan in oven, and heat syrup in a small saucepan until hot. Toss together, then toss with zest and sprinkle with chives.

Adapted from Gourmet, November 2005

Gourmet Production’s Brussels Sprouts

1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts

1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

5 or 6 slices cooked bacon

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

Cut sprouts in half.

Toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread sprouts on oiled sheet pan, cut side down. Roast in 375ºF oven for about 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool sprouts and place them in a medium-sized bowl. Add chopped bacon and Parmesan cheese. Dress with lemon juice and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Gourmet Productions

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281, ext. 101 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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