challenge! Archive

Recipe Swap: Sweet Corn & Herb Hush Puppies

Oh, life is funny sometimes. And by funny, I mean this: Life is abolutely, positively never dull. Let me explain…

So, I’ve been thinking about this particular recipe/post for a few weeks now. As you may recall, CM (from Burwell General Store) and I did a recipe swap not too long ago, wherein we made our own interpretations of a recipe from Autumn Spiced Pudding from an old cookbook/hymnal called All Day Singin and Dinner on the Ground. We had such a good time with the swap, that we decided to do another – and this time we invited Toni at Boulder Locavore to join in on the fun. CM selected another recipe from the same cookbook, and we’ve had the last couple weeks to dream up ideas and interpretations.

For this swap, CM selected a very simple recipe: Fern’s Fried Apple Fritters.

She gave us no restrictions for our interpretations – the only stipulation was that our creations had to be somewhere in the fritter family (and that we had to have fun!). As soon as I heard that we were making fritters, I knew that I wanted to make Green Papata Fritters. I got the idea from one of Nich and I’s absolute favorite places to eat – The Whisky Soda Lounge. The WSL is the sister restaurant of the acclaimed Thai restaurant, Pok Pok. Originally created as an overflow space for Pok Pok, the WSL was designed to be a place for diners to get a drink and snack while waiting for a table across the street. However, Nich and I don’t even bother with Pok Pok anymore, we just go to the WSL for the Green Papaya Fritters. They are just so ridiculously good. That being said, I decided that since I love these particular fritters so very much, I would use this opportunity to make my own version of the beloved green papaya fritter.

And then, plans changed. On Friday night I ate some particularly spicy Chinese food…and let’s just say that it didn’t sit well with me. I will spare you the details, but it was a rough weekend. My original plan was to make my papaya fritters on Sunday night with my dear friend Mari, but my stomach had other plans. After a miserable day curled up in a ball on the couch, I couldn’t stomach the thought (no pun intended!) of eating anything remotely related to Asian food. Green Papaya fritters were out of the question.

So, then, I did what any other reasonable person would do when feeling ill: I went ahead and made fritters. I simply made a different kind of fritter. I needed a fritter that would be nice to my angry stomach; a fritter that was decidedly un-complicated; and a fritter that could be classified as ‘comfort food’. For me, that fritter was a classic cornmeal fritter — otherwise known as the “hush puppy“.

Since I didn’t have the energy to go to the store, my hush puppies were limited to what I had on hand. Thankfully, I had an interesting array of ingredients on hand and so I happily went about ‘inventing’ my version of this classic cornmeal fritter. In the end, I made Sweet Corn and Herb Hush Puppies with a Lemon Parsley Yogurt Sauce. They were everything I hoped for: simple to make, delicious to eat, and easy on the stomach. They may not be the fanciest fritters on the planet – but given the circumstances, I think they turned out rather well.

My fellow recipe swappers came up with some remarkable interpretations of the apple fritter. CM (Burwell General Store) made a “Trio of Truffle Fritters”, as she scored an amazing selection of truffles at her local farmers market. Toni (Boulder Locavore) decided to stay true to the apple portion of the original fritter recipe, and reinvented the fritter as Apple Pork Empanadas (and they’re gluten free!). I love that the 3 of us took a simple fritter recipe and ran in such different directions with it. Such is the beauty of a recipe swap!

So here’s to another successful swap. And even though life (aka my stomach) threw me a bit of a curveball this past weekend, I just had to roll with it. Sometimes culinary ‘accidents’ are the best kind! In this case, my haphazard, last-minute, illness-induced fritters were fabulous!

Sweet Corn & Herb Hush Puppies
(Makes 15-20)

1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup white flour
2.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
Black pepper to taste
Dash of cayenne pepper
1 small shallot, minced
1 baby sweet bell pepper, diced
1 small jalapeno, diced and seeds removed
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
3/4 cup corn kernels (I only had frozen corn on hand, as corn isn’t exactly in season right now. But if making this in the summertime, I could imagine that roasted corn would be delicious in this!)
1 tsp fresh thyme
Canola oil for frying

1. Mix dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder, cayenne, sugar, pepper) together in a medium sized bowl.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and the egg. Add corn, herbs, shallot, and peppers to the egg and milk mixture. Using a spatula, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, folding until completely combined. For best results, let this mixture sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before frying.
3. Next, heat 2-3 inches of oil in a heavy bottomed pan or skillet until it reaches 350 degrees.
4. Using a tablespoon to measure, drop spoonfuls of batter into the hot oil (I use a second spoon to scoop out the batter and keep its round shape). Fry until golden brown on all sides, turning every so often. Using a slotted spoon, remove from oil and transfer to paper towels. Let cool slightly, but they are best served warm! Serve with Lemon Parsley Yogurt Sauce.

Lemon Parsley Yogurt Sauce

1 cup Greek Yogurt
1/4 cup parsley leaves
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
A couple mint leaves
The juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt & pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons crumbled feta cheese

Method: Combine all ingredients in a food processor until well blended. For best results, chill for 1 hour before serving. Serve with hush puppies (and a dash of hot sauce!).

recipe swap: persimmon panna cotta

A few weeks ago, a fellow food blog buddy – Christianna Reinhardt over at Burwell General Store – came up with an ingenious idea. She came across an old cookbook at a swap meet (more on the cookbook on her blog. I will say this…its a hymnal and cookbook all in one. I love it.) and suggested that we use the old cookbook to inspire a recipe swap. Essentially this meant that we would take a recipe from the book and loosely re-interpret the dish according to our own tastes. Then, we’d post the results on our blogs and “swap” recipes. We gave ourselves time to locate ingredients, brainstorm, test, and post – and decided that today would be the great unveiling.

The recipe that she selected for our first swap was an Autumn Persimmon Pudding. The original recipe was quite simple and straightforward, and I imagine the end result was more of a British style “pudding” (bready: akin to bread pudding or figgy pudding).

I don’t often cook with persimmons (Read: I’ve never cooked with them) but I’ve had them before in various dishes and have always enjoyed them. That being said, I wasn’t entirely sure how to approach this recipe swap. My first thought was to make a persimmon curd, but after scouring the internet for recipes and ideas I couldn’t find anything that stood out to me. (The only persimmon curd recipe I found online looked a little bit gross, actually.)

But, then I came across this gem of a recipe: Persimmon Panna Cotta with Maple Glazed Pecans.

The recipe looked simple, straightforward, and it was still in the same vein as the original persimmon pudding. Oh, and did I mention that it sounded completely decadent and wonderful? I’ve never attempted a panna cotta before, and so I thought this would be a great opportunity to try it out.

So, I made the recipe with a few twists of my own. Right off the bat, I knew that I would scrap the maple pecan topping, and instead chose to “invent” a spicy caramelized hazelnut topping. Hazelnuts are an Oregon staple, and I wanted to be sure to highlight this local favorite. I absolutely adore hazelnuts, and I am fortunate enough to live in a region where they abound. Therefore, I had no choice but to highlight our regional ‘darlings’! For the actual panna cotta, I didn’t stray too much from the original recipe, as I wanted to ensure that the panna cotta set properly. I did fiddle a bit with the seasonings, and I used a combination of whole milk and cream (rather than all cream).

I must say: I was terribly pleased with the results. The panna cotta set beautifully, the flavors were simple and lovely, and the crunch and spice of the hazelnuts paired nicely with the sweetness of the silky persimmons panna cotta. This is a beautiful and seasonal dessert, and I will definitely make it again. The first recipe swap was a great success!

For those who are curious as to the other recipe in this “swap”, head over to Burwell General Store to see CM’s post. She made Persimmon Crème Brulee with Blackberries (!!!). I am so bummed that we don’t live in the same state, because I could really use a bite of persimmon crème brulee right about now!

(Fun fact from Wikipedia: apparently every year in Mitchell, Indiana there is an annual persimmon festival, complete with a persimmon pudding contest. CM – too bad we don’t live in Indiana? We would totally win.)

Anyway, the panna cotta turned out beautifully – I dare you to try it yourself. Here is the recipe:

Persimmon Panna Cotta with Caramelized Hazelnuts
(Adapted from Bon Vivant)

For starters, you’ll need to poach persimmons for this recipe:

Poached Persimmons
2 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
4 Fuyu persimmons, peeled and roughly chopped
1 cinnamon stick

Bring the water and sugar to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and add the persimmons and cinnamon stick. Make sure that there’s enough water to cover the fruit. Simmer, uncovered for up to 30 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave to cool until needed.

Persimmon Panna Cotta
14 ounces poached persimmons, pureed until smooth (*I found that 4 fuyu persimmons, after poaching did not quite equal 14 oz – it was more like 12 oz. but I just used what I had!)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
dash of ground cloves
2¼ teaspoons gelatin
3 tablespoons cold water
2 cups cream or half and half (I used 1 cup half and half, and 1 cup whole milk)
¼ cup granulated sugar

Stir the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves into the pureed persimmons, mix and set aside. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium sized bowl and let it stand while you prepare the rest of the panna cotta.

If you’re planning on serving the panna cotta in their molds, then skip this step. But if you’d like to serve them on a plate (“free-standing”) you will first need to oil 4 ramekins (or bowls) with a neutral-tasting oil.

Heat the cream and sugar in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved (it will only take a few minutes), remove from heat and stir in the persimmon mixture. Then pour the warm contents of the saucepan over the gelatin and mix until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Pour the mixture into molds and refrigerate for at last 4 hours before serving.

Caramelized Hazelnuts
1 cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped
3/4 cup sugar (all I had was light brown sugar on hand, but white sugar works as well)
dash of cayenne
dash of cinnamon
dash of black pepper
dash of nutmeg
a “bit” of water

Mix sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly (don’t burn the sugar!) until the mixture reduces to a thick syrup. Stir in the spices and seasonings (to your liking. I wanted it to be a little spicy!) and then add in the hazelnuts. Remove from heat, and spread nuts out on parchment or wax paper. Once cooled (and the sugars have hardened), sprinkle a healthy amount of the caramelized nuts over the panna cotta when you are ready to serve.

Lamb Dhansak: Pot Pie.

For this month’s Velveteer’s challenge, we were asked to make a traditional Parsi dish called Dhansak. This is only my second month participating in the Velveteers lovely cooking group, and both times have had me scratching my head. In October, we were asked to cook Laksa, and for November we were asked to make Dhaksak. These are two dishes I knew next to nothing about.

But that is the best part about being invited into such a diverse cooking group: it forces me to cook outside of my comfort zone. In just two months, I’ve now cooked two dishes that I had not previously heard of. And each time, I’ve been thrilled with the results.

That being said, I had to do some research before I attempted making Dhansak. I scoured the internet for recipes, variations, and tips. As I said before, Dhansak is a traditional Parsi dish, which is usually made of lentils, mutton or lamb, and pumpkin. Nich (my husband) and I are big fans of lamb, and so we knew that we wanted to stick to the traditional protein choice for our Dhansak. As for the rest of the vegetables and spices, I had to do a bit of thinking before I decided that we would make our version of Dhansak with sweet potatoes – instead of pumpkin, which is traditionally used. (Note: I did not know that it isn’t technically Dhansak without the pumpkin, but thanks to Asha and her post, I now know! But she posted this tidbit of information after I’d already made our Dhaksak!)

Since Dhansak had been described to me as a curried lamb stew, my brain immediately decided that I needed to make Dhansak into some form of a pot pie (or shepherd’s pie). I would make a relatively traditional Lamb Dhansak, but then I would cook it in individual ramekins and top it with buttery, flakey goodness: I was going to top my Dhansak with puff pastry.

So, I did just that. I made little individual Dhansak pot pies. Nich (my husband) and I holed up one particularly chilly weeknight, and set about making Dhansak. The whole meal took much longer to prepare than we originally anticipated, and by the time we finally ate dinner, it was nearly 9pm. I was starving (to say the least) by the time the Dhansak was ready, but it was well worth the wait. Every bite was complex, warm, comforting, spicy, and just so good. I had a ton of leftovers and I happily munched on Dhansak for days!

Lamb Dhansak: Pot Pie
(Adapted from Niya’s World)

1 lb lamb neck meat (or lamb stew meat)
1 large can (28 oz) crushed or chopped tomatoes
1 cup lentils
3 sweet potatoes, peeled & cubed
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup green peas (fresh or frozen)
1 package frozen puff pastry
3 – 5 cups Chicken stock (or water)
4 cardamom pods, squashed
1.5 tsp cumin seeds
1.5 tsp coriander seeds
1.5 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
4 garlic cloves, crushed
Thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced
2-3 green chilies (deseed if you don’t want it to be too spicy)

In a large pot, combine the lentils, sweet potato, onion, tomatoes, turmeric and a pinch of salt. Add stock or water to just cover, then simmer gently for about 20 minutes until the lentils are tender.

Meanwhile, toast the cumin, coriander and cardamom in a small pan over medium-high heat (no oil!) until fragrant. Grind in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

After you have toasted your spices, heat 1 tbsp oil in a pot, and add the lamb in batches and brown on all sides. Remove the lamb, and set aside. Add the toasted spices to the same pot (that the lamb was just in) and add in the ginger, garlic, and chilies. Cook for a few minutes (until garlic is tender) and add in the lamb, garam masala, and the lentil/sweet potato mixture. Add in a bit more stock or water (1/2 cup).

Cover and simmer for an hour and a half (remove lid for final 30 minutes) or until the lamb is completely tender and sauce thickened. When it is is nearly done, stir in the peas.

When the dhansak has cooked to your liking, scoop into individual ramekins (or other small oven safe bakeware). Cover each with one square of puff pastry and bake in the oven at 400 for 15 minutes, or until the puff pastry is golden brown.

And that is how you make this particular version of Dhansak. I had a lovely time making (and eating) it!


” The 4 Velveteers* was started by Pamela (The Cooking Ninja), Aparna (My Diverse Kitchen), Asha (Fork Spoon & Knife), and Alessio (The Recipe Taster), who are passionate about different cuisines and food in general. Each month, we will attempt a new dish and share our experiences and the recipes we used. If you’re interested in joining the Velveteers, please feel free to drop by our Google group. ”

Do, check out what the other Velveteers have created:

Aparna from My Diverse Kitchen made Vegetable Dhansak, Parsi Brown Rice and Kachumbar

Asha from Fork, Spoon, Knife made Traditional Parsi Mutton Dhansak

Sarah from Simply Cooked made Easy Chicken Dhansak

Veena from Veg Junction made Vegetarian Dhansak

Laksa: Curried Moules Frites

I am quite excited, as I am a new member of a group called The Velveteers. The group consists of several members, all from various corners of the globe, who are all passionate about cooking and challenge themselves to cook diverse and interesting dishes. (More on the Velveteers at the bottom of this post…)

Each month, the Velveteers take on a new cooking challenge. For example, last month, the Velveteers each made their own interpretation of the Sicilian classic, Caponata. This is my first month as a member of the group, and I must say that I was a little scared when I saw our assignment. We were asked to cook the a traditional dish from Singapore called Laksa. Laksa is a coconut curry soup, that is usually served with rice noodles and various other ingredients (cockles, fish cakes, shrimp, etc).

Upon reading the assignment, panic immeadiately sunk in: I had never heard of Laksa! I did a little research, and found that laksa can take many different forms and be made in a variety of different ways. Laksa looked so exciting and delicious, and so different from the cuisine I normally cook. And even though I was slightly hesitant to try my hand at laksa (mostly due to my recent and disastrous attempt at curry paste), I knew that this dish was special. And I knew I could redeem myself and make a beautiful curry.

My first thought when approaching this dish, was that I wanted to incorporate mussels into the laksa. I love mussels in any form, but I especially love mussels with a good curry broth. My next thought was to make a curried Moules Frites – (aka Mussels and Fries). My husband and I are slightly obsessed with moules frites, and order them whenever we get the chance. And while moules frites is one of my favorite meals, I have never made them at home. I’ve been meaning to do so, and this challenge provided a unique opportunity to make one of my favorite dishes with a twist. So, I set out to use a laksa broth as the base for my mussels and fries. And, I must say, it turned out beautifully! I understand that the dish is a far cry from a traditional laksa soup, but I did my best to make an authentic laksa curry paste and based the entire dish upon that. The flavor was unbelievably good, and the sweetness of the mussels worked so nicely with the spicy broth.

Here is my method for making my version of laksa (with mussels and fries):


For the Laksa Paste
(Adapted from Fat of the Land)
3 stalks of lemongrass (the “hearts” – soft inner white parts)
1/2 red bell pepper
3 – 5 hot chilis, stemmed and seeded to taste
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp
1 – 2 thumbs of ginger, peeled & chopped into thin slices (I used extra ginger as the original recipe calls for Galangal, but I could not get my hands on any)
1 – 2 Tbsps of Fish Sauce (The recipe also called for shrimp paste, and I did not have any – so I used a little extra fish sauce)
4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
1 tsp paprika
1 Tbsps brown sugar
4 Tbsps peanut oil

To make the Laksa paste: Simply combine all ingredients and blend together in a food processor until smooth. You may need to use extra fish sauce or peanut oil if the mixture is too thick. However, keep in mind – this is a paste! It is supposed to be quite thick.

For the fries:
4 russet potatoes, throughly washed and cut into thin wedges.
1 – 2 cups of peanut oil
*You will need some sort of thermometer or temperature gauge for this!

For the fries, I used the Geoffrey Steingarten method. Its super easy, and they turn out great every time!.

Wash and cut the potatoes into thin wedges and try to cut them as evenly as possible (so they will cook evenly). Rinse the cut potatoes in cold water and then pat dry with a towel. Place the potatoes in a pot or pan that has at least a 10″ diameter and is at least 4″ tall (I used my dutch oven). Pour the peanut oil over the potatoes, just enough to cover them. Turn the stove to high heat. Watch the temperature rise, and be careful not to let the oil heat over 370 degrees. Once the temp has reached 350 and the fries are looking golden brown, remove from the oil and let drain on a paper towel. Salt to taste.

For the mussels:
2 pounds fresh mussels, cleaned thoroughly (*Please see this site for instructions on properly storing and cleaning mussels. It is very important to do so!)
1 can coconut milk
4 cups chicken/veggie stock (or water)
1 carrot, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 cup laksa paste
1 Tbsp peanut oil

In a large stock pot, heat the peanut oil over med-high heat. Add in the diced carrot, onion and bell pepper. Cook for a few minutes, until tender (3-5 minutes). Add in the laksa paste, and stir to coat. Cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add in the stock (or water) and stir. Bring to a boil, and then turn the heat down and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk and continue to let simmer for another 5 minutes. Add in the mussels and cook for a few minutes, until each mussel opens. If there are any mussels that do not open, throw them away as they are no good!

Serve the mussels in a shallow bowl. Ladle a good amout of the laksa broth over the mussels. Top with fries, fresh cilantro and sriacha aioli (which is a fancy way of saying I mixed sriacha with mayo!). Feel free to sop up the delicious broth with some crusty bread.

So, there you have it! My first Velveteers challenge. I had a fantastic time making (and eating!) this dish.


” The 4 Velveteers* was started by Pamela (The Cooking Ninja), Aparna (My Diverse Kitchen), Asha (Fork Spoon & Knife), and Alessio (The Recipe Taster), who are passionate about different cuisines and food in general. Each month, we will attempt a new dish and share our experiences and the recipes we used. If you’re interested in joining the Velveteers, please feel free to drop by our Google group. ”

Do, check out what the other Velveteers have created:

Aparna from My Diverse Kitchen made Vegetarian Curry Laksa

Asha from Fork, Spoon, Knife made Laksa Lemak with Shrimp and Catfish

Alessio from The Recipe Taster made Fragrant Almond Laksa with Noodles

Sarah from Simply Cooked made Light Chicken Laksa

Food Challenge #5!

As many of you know, my husband and I participate in a little food challenge with our friends in California. If you’re new to the blog, the challenges are loosely based on the show, Chopped. We blindly pick 4 ingredients – a protein, a starch, a vegetable, and a ‘miscellaneous item’ – and we then have to create an interesting and delicious meal which highlights these 4 mystery ingredients. Nich and I cook our challenge meal (here in Portland) and Taylor and Brittany cook their meal (in California). We then post our creations on the blog, and ask you to vote on which meal you think was best (For reference, please see Challenge #1, Challenge #2, Challenge #3, and Challenge #4) . Granted, we understand that you cannot taste the meal, so voting is difficult. But we don’t really care about having a winner or a loser, we are honestly just curious about your thoughts on our creations. Did we use the ingredients creatively and cohesively? Would you want to eat either meal?

I can speak for all four of us when I say that we love doing these cooking challenges. The challenges push us to be better cooks, to think outside of the box, and to use ingredients in unique and exciting ways. Some of the best meals we have ever made are a result of these challenges.

This meal was certainly no different. For the fifth installment of the LBC vs. PDX COOKOFF CHALLENGE we had to work with the following ingredients: Duck, Kale, Brioche, and Plantains.

When I saw that we had drawn these ingredients, I was thrilled. There isn’t one bad thing in that bunch. In fact, Nich and I had a really hard time deciding what to make because the ingredients were too good; the options too limitless. Our brains went into overdrive, trying to figure out the best possible combination of these four ingredients.

And, this is what we came up with.

Nich & Lindsay’s meal was:

Cast Iron Grilled Duck Breast, served atop a Brioche Bread Pudding with Melted Leeks and Green Kale. Served with a Smoky Plantain Crema and Crispy Fried Kale Strips.

Our comments: “The bread pudding is a Thomas Keller recipe that we modified to include kale. We first made his Brioche recipe from scratch (which took 24 hrs total) and then made a savory bread pudding with it. We sauteed leeks & kale in butter until they ‘melted’ (i.e. were tender and delicious) and included them in the pudding. We seared duck breast in a cast iron skillet on the BBQ. We then went through the painstaking process of making a plantain crema. Nich thought the crema was akin to a ‘white mole’ – it had so many ingredients and such a depth of flavor. To make it, the plantains were cooked down in cream with tons of spices (chipotles peppers, vanilla bean, onion, carrot, cayenne, etc) and then pureed into a crema sauce. For the kale strips we cut black kale into a chiffonade (thin strips) and gave them a quick fry in very hot oil. We seasons with salt, pepper, and red chili flakes. In the end, the meal was like thanksgiving on steroids. Imagine the richest stuffing you’ve ever had (the brioce bread pudding) topped with a a moist and decadent duck breast (instead of turkey) with a smoky white plaintain sauce (instead of gravy) and topped with crispy fried kale strips. It was all so ridiculously decadent. Best meal ever.”

Taylor and Brittany’s meal was:

Whole Roast Duck (with a Hoisin Jerk Glaze), Plantains with Coffee Black Beans, Coconut Milk Kale, and a Rum Caramel Brioche Cake with Mint.

Their comments: “We decided to go adventurous and roast a whole duck. The whole meal took on a Caribbean theme, so after scoring it and turning over each hour for 4 hours, we brushed it with a hoisen jerk glaze. The meat came out so tender and flavorful, it almost made all the time worth it. For the kale, we sauteed it with some coconut milk, garlic and champagne vinegar. We finished it with some salt and pepper. It was so easy and sooooo yummy. The plantains we fried in some butter and sprinkled cinnamon on them and then tossed them with black beans that we sauteed with coffee. It was a colorful mix of earthy flavors. The plantains were just sweet enough to balance with the beans. Finally, we used the brioche as the basis for our rum cake. In individual ramekins we placed brioche cut outs to fill the sides. We made a rum caramel sauce that we drizzled over the brioche as well as poured into holes we pierced in the cake. We wanted the brioche to be completely immersed in the sauce. We baked them until they were warm and oozing with the glaze. These perfect little cakes were served with fresh mint and truly were amazing. Overall the meal was delicious and helped to broaden our culinary knowledge. We can’t wait to make it again.”

So there you have it, folks. Here are the incredible meals we dreamed up for our four star ingredients. What do you think? Which meal do you want to eat?

food challenge: #4 !

Let me just say, its been a crazy month.

And let me apologize to you (and mostly to the Springles) for slacking on posting our last food challenge. We literally cooked this meal eons ago. Literally. We cooked food challenge #5 this week (post to come soon-ish) and I am just getting around to posting #4. Shame on me.

Anyway, as many of you know – Nich and I have a friendly little cooking challenge with our good friends Taylor and Brittany, who live in Long Beach, CA. We blindly pick 4 random ingredients that we must incorporate into a coherent (and delicious) meal. We then post the pictures & descriptions of the meal here and have you tell us which one you think is best (and why). We wish that all of you could taste our meals, but alas…you can’t! So you’ll have to look and read and tell us what you think.

For this challenge, we drew these 4 ingredients:
Ground Turkey

Right off the bat, I will admit that I wasn’t thrilled about ground turkey. I don’t particularly like ground turkey, and I don’t often choose to cook with ground turkey. But, such is the luck of the draw. We pondered how these 4 ingredients could possibly work together, and this is what we came up with:

Nich & Lindsay’s meal was:

Blueberry Sausage & Spinach Benedict – For whatever reason, Nich and I immediately had the idea to do breakfast – we loved the idea of making our own turkey breakfast sausage. So, we made our own maple blueberry turkey breakfast sausage patties (seasoned with fennell seeds, cinnamon, allspice, salt&pepper, blueberries, and maple syrup). We set the sausage on a bed of sauteed spinach (with a hint of salt, pepper, cayenne and lemon) and used a seared polenta cake as our base (instead of an english muffin). We poached farm fresh eggs & whipped a zingy (homemade!) hollandaise sauce to top off the benedict. Overall, this had the classic benedict components (poached egg & hollandaise) but the blueberry turkey sausage, spinach, and polenta made it feel like a whole new creation. The sausage tasted as good (if not better) than anything you’d get at your favorite breakfast joint. It was grubbin. While it may not be the fanciest meal we’ve ever made, it definitely tasted great. Plus, I (Lindsay) felt like Julia Child – making homemade hollandaise. I whipped those yolks into perfection!

Taylor & Brittany’s meal was:
Grit Burgers- Our double decker burgers started with baked grits buns. They had ground turkey patties which were well seasoned. On each layer they had smoked gouda cheese and a blueberry-tomatillo aioli. One layer had fresh spinach leaves while the other had roasted banana peppers. The burgers were served with a fresh salad of spinach, apples, sundried tomatoes and a blueberry vinaigrette. They were yummy city! The combination of flavors was full, but light as there was a nice combination of spicy and cool.

So, now for your thoughts! Which meal would YOU want to eat…and why?

LBC vs. PDX: Food Challenge #3!

Taylor finally got his wish.
After two cookoff challenges that had seafood as the main protein (scallops, then salmon), our third challenge was: steak. And not only was there steak, there was also bacon.

For our third cookoff challenge with Taylor and Brittany (see challenge #1 and #2 for a more thorough explanation of what it is that we do for these challenges), we (blindly) picked a strong array of flavors. Our challenge ingredients for this cookoff were: steak, avocado, puff pastry, and bacon. We originally drew passion fruit instead of avocado (!), but after a little research we realized that passion fruit is not currently in season (and nearly impossible to get your hands on). So, we re-drew and got avocado. What luck!

Since I don’t eat much meat these days (and what meat I do eat…I’m very particular about), I must admit I was a bit taken aback by this challenge. Steak and bacon? Not one meat, but two? Don’t get me wrong, I know those two things go very well together. I just hadn’t this much meat in awhile. But Nich and I did our homework and bought some great meat from some great local farms and I felt good about the challenge. It was a great mix of ingredients to work with. Here is what we came up with:

Nich & Lindsay’s meal was:

Cast-iron seared flank steak, served over avocado mashed potatoes with an avocado chimichurri sauce. Puff pastry empanadas stuffed with bacon, blue cheese, avocado mashed potatoes and chipotle chalula. Spinach salad with strawberries, cayenne candied bacon, blue cheese, puff pastry croutons and a balsalmic vinaigrette.

Our thoughts on the meal:
Nich and I ended up going in an Argentinian direction with our meal. Nich had the brilliant idea to make empanadas with the puff pastry, which was our starting point for the meal. We knew immediately that we wanted to stuff the empanadas with bacon, blue cheese, and avocado. I thought that avocado mashed potatoes would be an awesome empanada filler, so we made those as well.

We chose flank steak as it is often used in Argentinian cuisine (and is often served with chimichurri sauce). We tenderized the meat slightly, and then let it marinate with just salt and pepper in the fridge for an hour (the salt really breaks down the meat). Nich seared the steak in a cast iron skillet with bacon fat and we served it with an avocado chimichurri sauce (a traditional Argentinian salsa verde). The sauce is traditionally made with parsley, garlic, lemon and various other herbs – we used a recipe that added mint leaves, avocado, and red chili flakes to this mix. It was bright, herby, spicy, and really delicious.

Since the flank steak was so rich (with the bacon fat), the tartness of the chimichurri really went nicely with it. We also served the steak over avocado mashed potatoes. I had originally made them just for a filler in the empanadas, but then we realized we had a lot of extras – and they were ridiculously delicious. I think the fattiness of the avocado really added an extra creamy factor to the mashed potatoes. It was awesome.

The empanadas were so fluffy and buttery and filled with the best combination of flavors (bacon! blue cheese! avocado mashed taters! chipotle chalula!). They were also really good dipped in the chimichurri sauce. The spinach salad worked really well as a palette cleanser. It was great to have a fresh vegetable element on the plate, and the puff pastry croutons and candied bacon tied in the secret ingredients once again. And, the candied bacon was ridiculously delicious. How can you go wrong with bacon cooked with brown sugar and cayenne? You can’t.

Once again, we invited friends over to eat our challenge meal with us. This time it was our friends Ryan and Melissa, who claimed that this was the best meal they can remember having in ages. So I think that means it turned out well! My only complaint about the meal would be that we used a little too much bacon fat to sear the steak, and so it didn’t get a nice crust on the outside. The meat was cooked to perfection (and really tender), but it just didn’t LOOK like you want a steak to look. It didn’t have that sear. But it tasted superb, so that isn’t much of a complaint. Overall, this was a seriously good (and rich!) meal.

This is what Taylor & Brittany whipped up (and their thoughts on the challenge meal):

We looked at the ingredients and brainstormed over all the different ways we could use them, and ended up wanting to do a Spanish flavored beef Wellington.  We are calling our dish Beef Conquistador. 
I was really excited to get to mess around with steak, a Texas staple of my childhood, i know my way around a good steak.  I would have been fine grilling up a seasoned NY Strip, but since this is a challenge involving creativity and puff pastry, we decided to go across the pond for our recipe.

We selected a 2lb hunk of rump roast (a very lean cut, important for this recipe) from our neighborhood butcher and seasoned it with Cumin, Chili Powder, and a dash of salt/pepper and gave it a quick sear on each side. We then covered it in fresh Parsley, Cilantro, and Garlic Powder and put in the fridge to cool for a few hours.

In a traditional Beef Wellington, pate or mushrooms are used as a binder between the pastry and the meat.  But as we all know, the English don’t know anything about food, so we looked to Spain for flavor influences.  We made a cheese blend of Ricotta, Cojita, and Queso Fresco and a dash of red wine, and coated the meat with it.  The wine was a great last second addition, adding a wonderful acidic bite to the creamy cheese. We wrapped the cheese coated beef in puff pastry and gave it an egg wash and put it in the oven for only 25 minutes.  (This type of beef is not meant to be cooked all the way through.  It should be brown around an inch around and red in the middle.)

Continuing with the wrapping theme, we wrapped our asparagus in bacon.  A delicious decision. And baked it in the oven until crispy.  We made the avocado into a creamy sauce to pour over the meat.  We blended avocado, yogurt, lime juice, milk, cilantro and garlic until creamy and then kept it chilled until served.

The meal was extravagant to look at and even better to eat.  The beef conquistador was rich and wonderful with such profound flavors and textures.  The puffed pastry was crispy and flaky, the cheese was rich and tart with the red wine, and all of this complemented the fresh herbed flavor of the meat and the wonderful texture as we bit into a mouth watering bite of steak.  The creamy avocado sauce was the perfect compliment as it was smooth and cooling to the tongue and balanced the flavors so well.  The dish was rich, but so good and we thoroughly enjoyed eating the leftovers.  The bacon wrapped asparagus was light enough to go with the meal, but still full of delectable flavors.

Overall, we loved the meal and can’t wait to make it again, this time for guests as it is a lot of food.

**So that was challenge #3! How do you think we fared? Which meal would you like to eat?!