PITTSFIELD — Although it wasn't (hopefully) as daunting as the mystery box challenge Gordon Ramsey gives contenders on "Master Chef" — and we don't think we're anywhere close to being as intimidating as Ramsey is — we challenged four chefs in the area to create a dish for us.

The challenge: The meal had to feed a family of four, cost under $25, take 30 minutes or less to create and use only a deep frying pan. For the challenge, we reached out to Mark Thompson, executive chef of dining services at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.; John Morris, owner and chef at The Golden Eagle restaurant in Clarksburg, Mass.; chef Dana Markey and wife, Cheryl Markey, from Mistral's at Toll Gate, Manchester, Vt.; and Paul Michael Brinker, a well-regarded chef from Arlington, Vt., who is also known for his role as a director for the Dorset Players in Dorset, Vt.

Here is what they came up with:

Chicken mushroom artichoke stew

Thompson came up with "a simple quick autumn dish for those cool nights."


Pam as needed to lightly coat pan

4 bacon strips, raw and slice into small pieces     

1 1/4 pound chicken breast, washed, patted dry and diced into 1/2-inch chunks     

Juice of 1 fresh lemon

Dash of salt and pepper, to taste

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon canola oil

8 ounce onion, peeled and julienned     

16 ounces white mushrooms, washed and sliced

6 sun-dried tomatoes, julienned

24 ounces chicken stock or College Inn broth

2 tablespoons cornstarch, plus 2 tablespoons water to make a slurry

2/3 cup half and half

3/4 Parmesan, grated

7-count Cento cooked artichokes


Prep chicken on clean cutting board, dice into large 1/2 inch dice. Place in a bowl. Add juice of 1 lemon season with salt and pepper.

On a clean cutting board, prepare all vegetables as noted in ingredients.

Spray Pam in a heavy bottom saute pan for easy cleanup

Heat pan, add bacon and saute until brown not crisp, add butter and oil to melt

Dust marinated lemon chicken with flour, shake off excess. Add chicken to the pan and let brown light lightly, toss and lightly saute until light brown .

Fold in prepared vegetables and saute lightly. Add stock or broth, bring to a simmer for 10 to 12 minutes. Add cream and bring to simmer. Tighten with cornstarch and water slurry to desired sauce thickness. Add Parmesan and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Optional: For an unique flavor, try adding fresh tarragon leaves until wilted before serving

"It goes great over pasta. Other great ideas are steamed broccoli florets to garnish or toasted baguettes," Thompson noted.


Chicken Florentine

Morris shared with us a recipe for Chicken Florentine, a dish he said he used at the Golden Eagle Restaurant.


4 four-ounce chicken breasts

10 tablespoons olive oil

8 cups baby spinach

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic

4 tablespoons chopped scallions

1 cup heavy cream

2 cups sliced white mushrooms

4 cups Sauterne or any semi sweet white wine


Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the 12-inch skillet and add spinach, saut on high heat until wilted and distribute evenly on four dinner plates.

Pound the four chicken breasts with a mallet evenly, then dredge each breast in flour, add the remaining 8 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet and saut the breasts on medium heat for approximately 2 minutes on each side. Then add the white wine and reduce to half the amount, add shallots, garlic, mushrooms and heavy cream. Reduce the heat to medium and reduce that mixture by half.

Take each piece of chicken breast and place it on top of the saut ed spinach, then spoon the remaining sauce over each chicken breast evenly and top each plate with a tablespoon of scallions.


Midwest hamburger "fried rice"

Brinker sent us this recipe:

"I did not cost it out, but it is obviously cheap, especially if you are using leftover rice like my mom would," Brinker noted. "I don't know where this recipe came from, but it was a staple in my Ohio home growing up. My mother cooked for five kids and this really helped the budget and we all loved it. I make it to this day when I need some quick comfort food. I added the ginger to the recipe, just a hint of Asian spice, that my mother didn't use except for baking. Sometimes I drizzle with sesame oil and top with sliced scallions if I am trying to be fancy with it."


1 pound ground hamburger

6 eggs, beaten with 1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 cups cooked or leftover white rice

6 ounces frozen peas

1 small onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, minced or grated

1 teaspoon dried or 2 teaspoons fresh ground ginger

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste


Brown hamburger in skillet over medium-high heat. When half-browned and still slightly pink, add in onion, garlic, ginger, salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is translucent. Make a well in the middle of the hamburger mixture and pour in beaten eggs. Gently move eggs around to scramble, you can bring in some of the hamburger into the scramble as you go. When fully cooked, mix into hamburger. Add in rice and peas. Stir to incorporate completely. Cook till warmed through. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve hot.


Quickie Beef Stew

A recipe for quick beef stew was sent our way by the Markeys.

"For something quick and affordable, this recipe is for a beef stew but the time constraint might make the meat choice slightly pricier since it won't be simmering for hours to tenderize an inferior cut of meat. Pork or chicken could be used but that would also change the recipe a bit at the cook's discretion," Dana Markey noted


2 tablespoons oil

1 to 1 1/2 pounds of sirloin, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (can be top sirloin, N.Y. sirloin, rib eye — something with a bit of fat)

2 large potatoes, peeled, and sliced in 1/4-inch dice

1 large onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

2 large carrots, diced

2 cups beef or chicken stock

Slurry — 2 tablespoons flour mixed with water, not too thick


Season meat with salt and pepper over high heat, Sear meat, remove from skillet. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat.

Add vegetables to pan and cook on medium high heat for 2 to 5 minutes. Add meat to pan. Add stock and bring to a boil. Add slurry a little at a time until slightly thickened.

Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve in bowls with crusty bread.

Note: Cheryl Markey said, "I think maybe we should add a bay leaf or garlic, but that's my addition!"