Then I'll say (in my mind), "Well, Ted, when I saw that the basket of mystery ingredients included a box of pasta, and a jar of pasta sauce, I immediately decided to make some pasta with pasta sauce."
Or I'll put a pizza in the oven, and go sit at the computer, and I'll imagine Ted coming up to me and asking, "Do you think it's a good idea to leave your food unattended like that?"
Then I'll say (in my mind), "Well, Ted, I'm pretty comfortable leaving a frozen pizza in the oven for 25-28 minutes. If you'll look at the side of the box, you'll see that's the recommended cooking time on it. Besides, there's an interesting flame war going on right now on reddit."
The best part is when the cooking is done, and I have to present my dishes to the judges. Geoffrey Zakarian is always impressed with the way I incorporated the mystery ingredients in the dish, by using only the mystery ingredients in the dish, since the mystery ingredients are whatever I happen to have on hand.
"I like what you've done here with this Hungry Man meal," he says. "You put it in the microwave, then removed the brownie, just like the instructions say, then you put the meal back in the microwave to complete the cooking process. That was definitely a good move."
Chris Santos is similarly impressed: "This is maybe the best Hungry Man meal I've ever had."
"Thank you," I say.
"The chicken is really -- what did you put on it, I saw you putting something on it just after you brought it out of the microwave...?"
"That was black pepper."
He nods. "A wise choice. The pepper definitely gives it a kick. And the mashed potatoes are definitely recognizable as potatoes. I mean, they have the same coloring as potatoes."
Where I always get tripped up is with the sour and irritating Alex Guarnaschelli. She takes one bite of the Hungry Man and scowls. "I'm not impressed," she says. "I found a small bone in the chicken," she says.
"Oh, I'm sorry," I say, even though I'm really not. I don't like her.
"And, there's too much liquid in the corn. And the brownie is too dry."
"Now, hold on," Geoffrey says. "He cooked the brownie exactly as it should be. Those are tough to pull off..."
But Alex isn't having any of it. "I think he left it in the microwave too long," she says.
By this time, I'm generally finished eating my meal, and I've moved on to other things. I'm not sure if, in my fantasy, I ever actually end up winning "Chopped," but I like to think that Santos and Zakarian outvote Guarnaschelli, and I walk away with 10,000 imaginary bucks.
Would the Hungry Man Classic Fried Chicken Meal be enough to earn me the title of "Chopped Champion"?
Hungry Man photo swiped from frozenfoodjournal's flickr stream.