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Monday, April 22, 2013

Making Baked Eggplant Boats for a Cooking Contest

I was a member of a cooking group on Facebook where people share interesting, delicious recipes and recipe photos with others that love to cook. Every week there is a cooking competition where participants must create a dish that has a secret ingredient that is chosen by the previous week's competition's winner. The photo of the end product (the prepared/served dish) must be submitted to the competition along with the name of the dish and what ingredients go into it. Once all the entries are submitted the admin of the group posts all the photos (without mentioning the chef's name) and members are asked to Like their favorites. The photo with the most Likes wins. No actual prizes are awarded but the winner gets to choose the secret ingredient for the following week's competition and his recipe photo is displayed as the cover image of the group for one week.

I had never entered the competition before but after hearing that the secret ingredient would be eggplant I became inspired to enter. After pondering about what new dish to create I came up with an idea of doing baking stuffed eggplant and called the dish baked eggplant boats, which I thought was very creative since the eggplant resembles a boat shape-wise. I already had eggplant in the fridge waiting to be cooked and I already had other ingredients that I could use for stuffing. There was no need to go shopping, which saved me time. 

The ingredients I used for the stuffing included eggplant (of course), red bell pepper, carrots, onions, Kumato tomato, Enoki mushrooms, Basmati Rice, dried basil, Ketchup/Aji Mirin mixture and a mix of four shredded cheeses (Mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Parmesan). 

It was fun making this dish and also challenging at the same time as the most important part of the recipe was to remove the flesh from the eggplant so that I could stuff the shell with all these great ingredients. I had never done this before so it took a bit of time to get this done so as not to break the eggplant shell or make holes in it. After finally mastering this step everything else that followed in the recipe was a breeze. It still took a fair amount of time though but that was okay. I couldn't wait to try the end product and to present it in a beautiful way on a plate for the competition. 

I used two eggplants for this recipe that were medium-sized. After I removed the flesh from the eggplant, made the stuffing and placed it inside the eggplant shells along with the four shredded cheeses I popped the tray in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes or so. Once done cooking I turned off the oven and removed the tray onto the table. To create the competition photo I used two halves of the eggplant and laid them out on a square plate, putting a bunch of Chinese basil leaves in between them and garnishing the plate with crushed dried parsley flakes. 

Baked eggplant boats stuffed with Basmati Rice,
eggplant, Enoki mushrooms, Kumato tomato, onions,
organic carrot, red bell pepper, and four shredded cheeses
(Mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Parmesan)

For the full recipe including instructions and recipe photos head to this link: Baked Eggplant Boats.

After I laid the eggplant out for the photo and snapped one, I dived right in and found myself in heaven. The baked eggplant tasted so good that I ate one whole half of the eggplant in one sitting. I was so happy that the dish turned out delicious (especially since it was my first time making it) and was excited to enter it into the competition.

The deadline for the submissions was Sunday 10pm. I emailed mine on Thursday. I waited to get a reply email letting me know that the submission was received but never got any email. At first I thought about emailing them to see if they got my submission but then I thought that perhaps they don't reply to submission emails so did nothing about it. On Sunday, when less than an hour was left to submit recipe photos I decided to ask if mine was received just to be sure. Their reply was no. I couldn't believe it. After I had spent so much time preparing this dish and working on its presentation the last thing I wanted was to not be a part of the competition. After communicating back and forth with the admins of the group and resending them my submission it turned out that my email was in SPAM. Out of everyone else's entries mine was the only one that made it into spam, which frustrated me big time. Why the heck was it in spam? I certainly wasn't spamming anyone! Thank God I asked the admins if my submission was received. Had I not asked the them about it I would have never been part of this competition, which would have been quite a disappointment. Turns out they do reply to submission emails, so from now I know that if I take part in this competition again but don't receive a reply email that means my email never went through or went straight into spam. I hope that doesn't happen again!. 

I will not lie, I was so sure I would be the winner of that week's competition. I envisioned my recipe photo being displayed for all to see as the group's cover image. I imagined all the praise comments and likes I would get and lots of people asking for my recipe. In the end though my dish didn't win, getting only about 59 Likes. But people wanted to know my recipe, which made me feel proud. 

The dish that won had double the amount of Likes. I was bummed that I didn't win but was still proud of myself for entering the competition and for creating something new and delicious that I know I will be making again and that others want to make too. 

After finding out that I lost to someone whose dish (a set of three separate dishes in one) was made from recipes Googled online instead of being made from the chef's own imagination/creativity, which was revealed only after the dish had won, I became pissed off big time. It is unfair to the other participants when one of them enters the competition by Googling recipes online instead of creating ones from his/her head even if they are slightly altered. They should be disqualified from the competition if they do that. But I guess in this group entering someone else's recipes into the competition is allowed.

Learning that the winner "cheated" left me with no desire ever to compete again if I would be up against people like that. But I have changed my mind. I will enter again, if the secret ingredient will inspire me. I want people to see my creations and to hopefully try creating them on their own. I am not a professional chef, in that I don't do this for a living, but I do have the talent and the passion for cooking and I want to showcase it to the world. No one can take that opportunity away from me, not even those whose creativity means going online and Googling recipes, and then making them. That's considered "cheating", even if it doesn't seem that way to those doing it and shouldn't be allowed in competitions. 

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