Sometimes dinner comes around, and let’s be honest, you don’t really have a plan. You look in the fridge, scour the freezer, tear through the cupboards and wonder how in the world these random items might taste together.

It’s like Chopped, you know minus Ted Allen, the $10,000 prize and, thank goodness, the inevitable jawbreaker or marshmallow spread the contestant is supposed to incorporate into a tasty entree. These are not things I keep in my pantry, so no worries there.

What I did discover was some cauliflower rice on the verge of expiration, four ears of corn nearing a similar fate, and oddly enough, the only protein I had was a bag of scallops from Target that are surprisingly tasty. Ok, I can work with this, right?

I decided to make the cauliflower rice into every Italian’s nightmare, a faux risotto (at least I admit it’s not risotto authentico right?). I sauteed an onion and bell pepper with olive oil and toasted “the rice” and seasoned everything with salt, pepper and a little smoked paprika. Then I plumped up the rice with chicken stock and a little butter until it was softened and creamier in texture. For a varying texture, I roasted the corn in the cob in the oven at 400 degrees with olive oil, salt and pepper for 30 minutes, and when I cut it off the cob after it cooled a little, I squeezed a little fresh lime juice over it.

Last but not least, I seared the scallops in my cast iron pan. When the pan is screaming hot and wafting enough smoke to set off your fire alarm, you place your scallops in the pan that has a bit of olive oil in the bottom. Now here’s the secret to a perfect scallop that I learned from Alton Brown…are you ready?

Here it is: You leave the little darlings alone. For a full minute and a half.

You will want to be a helicopter Mom and check and see how they’re doing, but resist the urge. You’ll be so much happier when they’ve got all that beautiful color on top. Baste them with a bit of butter like the restaurant chefs do after you’re finally allowed to flip them over and let them cook for a minute and a half more without disturbing them. Then you are done.

You’ve achieved scallop perfection and didn’t even have to pay 30 bucks for it like you do in many restaurants. I’d say that alone should earn you the title of Chopped champion for the evening, wouldn’t you?

Now how about you, have you ever channeled your inner Chopped contestant and made a dinner that you actually enjoyed quite a bit? Spill your secrets below. 🙂