Posts Tagged ‘Daring Cook’s Challenge’

Here in New England, most of April and May felt like March; perpetually cold and rainy with an occasional snow squall and an even less occasional day of sunshine. But finally, heading into Memorial Day weekend, the weather shifted and the sun came out with a vengeance and suddenly it felt like summer. The timing couldn’t be better as far as the Daring Cooks challenge because Jami Sorrento was our June Daring Cooks hostess and she chose to challenge us to celebrate the humble spud by making a delicious and healthy potato salad. The Daring Cooks Potato Salad Challenge was sponsored by the nice people at the United States Potato Board, who awarded prizes to the top 3 most creative and healthy potato salads. A medium-size (5.3 ounce) potato has 110 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium and includes nearly half your daily value of vitamin C and has more potassium than a banana!

Potato salad is the perfect summer food, particularly good to take to a potluck or have as part of an outdoor barbeque. Fortunately, I had both on the calendar so I made two different potato salads (recipes at the end of this post) but I’m not sure I’ll be considered for the competition because my recipes aren’t particularly healthy or low fat. Sadly, I’m a firm believer that the creamier and fuller of fat something is, the better it will taste! Thus, I suppose, my constant battle with the bulge.

For a Memorial Weekend potluck, I made a creamy curried potato salad and it was a fantastic addition to a truly delicious and gorgeous meal where each dish was prepared with love and care and shared with some of my favorite people on the planet.

Curried potato salad and my sesame roasted  veggies 

It was a gorgeous potluck with yummy food and yummy people!

Awesome potluck (from left to right) black beans w/ basmati rice, sesame roasted veggies, curried potato salad, baked chicken, massaged kale salad, fresh baked bread!

The following weekend I decided to do a bacon and egg potato salad as one of the sides to go along with a whole barbequed rack of baby back ribs. What a perfect accompaniment to compliment the smoky, long cooked flavor of all that porky goodness! Asian slaw, grilled Tuscan bread and coconut chocolate mousse cake rounded out this special birthday meal for our good friend Bob.

Bacon and egg potato salad

Check out these ribs:

Dry rub on the raw ribs of paprika, ancho chili, brown sugar, salt and black pepper

They smelled amazing cooking on the grill!

Nice rack!!!

Barbequed baby back ribs ready to eat!

Dessert was great too!

Chocolate coconut mousse cake with chocolate dipped strawberries


With summer off to a roaring good start, I’ve officially fallen off the diet band wagon and not sure I’ll be ready to climb back on any time soon. Given the choice between all the succulent tastes of summer or looking lean in my bathing suit,  it’s shaping up (or not shaping up!) to be not much of a choice. A good rich potato salad is just too good to resist and next it’s strawberry shortcake time, soon followed by native corn on the cob (of course slathered with butter) and then corn and native tomato pie and then…

Maybe I’ll skip the beach this year.


5 lbs red new potatoes
1 C diced celery
½ C diced red bell pepper (drain on paper towels to absorb extra moisture)
1 C chopped dried cranberries
1 ½  C mayo (I like Miracle Whip but that’s a debate for another day. Use what you like. You can use lite mayo or Miracle whip as well)
¾ C non-fat plain yogurt
½ C regular or lite (not fat free) sour cream
Juice of 1 lemon
1 C cilantro
4 scallions
2 TBSP curry powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper

Cut potatoes (with skin on) into small bite sized chunks and boil in salted water until just tender, 5-8 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop cooking. When cool and well drained, place in a large bowl with the celery, red pepper and cranberries. Puree remaining ingredients in a food processor or blender, scraping down sides, until a smooth dressing forms. Pour over the potatoes and gently stir until all the potatoes are well coated. Let rest in the refrigerator for an hour or so to let the flavors meld.


3 lbs red new potatoes
1 C diced celery
½ C diced red bell pepper (drain on paper towels to absorb extra moisture)
½ C chopped flat leaf parsley
4 slices well cooked bacon, drained and crumbled
4 chopped hard cooked eggs
1-1 ½  C lite or regular mayo (I use Miracle whip)
Scant ¼ C bacon drippings
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
fresh ground pepper, to taste

Cut potatoes (with skin on) into small bite sized chunks and boil in salted water until just tender, 5-8 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop cooking. When cool and well drained, place in a large bowl with the celery, red pepper, parsley, and most of the bacon and eggs (save some for garnish.) Gently stir in mayo and bacon drippings. Garnish with extra bacon and eggs.


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It’s that time of the month again (no, not that time!) for the Daring Cooks challenge. Our May hostess, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.

I’ve never made gumbo before, probably because I’m not a big sausage fan, nor have I ever enjoyed the slimy goo that okra seems to add to any dish. Since both are primary ingredients of most gumbo recipes, I’ve just never considered it as something I’d take the time or make the effort to cook up. But I suppose this is why it’s called a challenge, so I rose to it and decided to go all out and make a big pot to bring to a party. I’m happy to report that it was a huge success, even though I, myself, didn’t enjoy it enough to ever make it again.

Gumbo is a lot of work! It involves numerous time consuming steps, especially to do it well. Because timing is so important with gumbo, all the vegetables and the meat need to be carefully prepared ahead of time and ready to go, so this isn’t a one pot meal where you toss everything in and simply forget it for an hour or so as it cooks. You’ve got to be dedicated to the process, which means you want to love the results so that all the attention and time is worthwhile.

There are hundreds of gumbo recipes out there containing every kind of meat, sausage and seafood available. There’s even a green gumbo that’s completely vegetarian. I chose to make a chicken and sausage gumbo using my butchers store made chorizo and smoked Andouille sausage, as well as organic, air chilled chicken thighs. I made a rich, homemade chicken stock, mixed up my own Cajun spices and spent almost an hour stirring the roux as it browned, first on its own and then with the addition of the “holy trinity” of chopped onion, green pepper, and celery. And yes, I eventually added the dreaded okra, which fortunately cooked away to almost nothing and the goo simply added thickening power to the gumbo.

The Cajun food "Holy Trinity" of onions, green peppers, and celery (plus garlic and the dreaded okra!)



The roux after about 15 minutes of cooking


Here's the roux after adding the veggies and cooking for another half hour or so


Good quality, well seasoned meat is key


A big pot of gumbo ready for the party


Served over white rice it was a tremendous hit at the party but for me, the ratio of work to enjoyment simply wasn’t there. I’m glad I tried my hand at it but it’s not a recipe that I’ll be adding to my regular repertoire.

The finished gumbo, served over white Lousiana rice


1 cup rendered chicken fat, duck fat, or canola oil
1 cup flour
2 large onions, diced
1 ½ lb chicken thighs, bone in
2 tablespoons Basic Creole Spices (recipe follows), or store-bought Creole spice blend
2 ½  lbs sausage, sliced ½ inch (15mm) thick
2 stalks celery, diced
2 green bell peppers (capsicum), seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 quarts good chicken stock (or canned chicken stock)
1 bay leaves
1 cup sliced fresh okra, ½ -inch thick slices (or frozen, if fresh is not available)
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Tobasco to taste


Season the chicken pieces with about 2 tablespoons of the Creole Spices while you prepare the vegetables. Make sure all of your vegetables are cut, diced, chopped, minced and ready to go before beginning the roux. You must stand at the stove and stir the roux continuously to prevent it from burning. 

In a large cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pan, heat the chicken fat, duck fat, or canola oil over high heat. Whisk the flour into the hot oil – it will start to sizzle. Reduce the heat to moderate, and continue whisking until the roux becomes deep brown in color, about 15 minutes. Add the onions, celery, green pepper and garlic. Switch to a flay spatula and stir the vegetables into the roux. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue stirring, scraping the bottom of the pan until the roux becomes a glossy dark brown, about 10 minutes.  

Add the chicken to the pot; raise the heat to moderate, and cook, turning the pieces until slightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the sliced sausage and stir for about a minute. Add the thyme, chicken stock, and bay leaves. Bring the gumbo to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, skimming off the fat from the surface of the gumbo every so often.

Add the okra. Season with salt and Tabasco, all to taste.  Simmer for another 30 minutes, continuing to skim the fat from the surface of the gumbo. Remove the bay leaves and take chicken of the bones and return meat to the pot. Serve in bowls over rice.

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It’s time for another post on the Daring Kitchen’s cook’s challenge and it was a fun one! Renata of Testado, Provado & Aprovado! was our Daring Cooks’ April 2011 hostess. Renata challenged us to think “outside the plate” and create our own edible containers! Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 17th to May 16th at http://thedaringkitchen.com! (If you do this, you better vote for mine!!)

We were encouraged to do as many as we liked and if I weren’t so obsessed with trying to stop that extra 5 lbs from taking over my poor old body, I would have gone crazy with creativity. Most of the edible containers that I envisioned involved deep fat frying to make something firm and crisp enough to hold a creamy and delicious filling. How about bacon baskets filled with creamy mac and cheese? Or fried potato cups filled with scallion cream cheese scrambled eggs? Maybe I’ll give these a try after I’ve really come to terms with my post-menopausal bod!

In an attempt to have just a bit of balance, my first go at the challenge were polenta cups filled with my home made chili.  Polenta is quick and easy to make and such versatile stuff, it’s a regular staple at my house. And of course, corn and beans together make for a complete and healthy protein so polenta paired with vegetarian chili is a naturally low-fat, super healthy meal. But personally, I’m not at that interested unless the chili is topped with plenty of sharp cheddar cheese and sour cream, which is probably why I can’t seem to keep those extra few lbs away!

To make polenta it’s 4-1, water to cornmeal. Bring the water to a gentle boil and slowly whisk in the corn meal and cook, whisking continuously, until thickened (about 3-5 minutes.) Stir in a bit of butter and whisk until melted. You can also stir in some whole kernels of corn if you want added texture. Pour the hot polenta into whatever molds you’re using.  I used a lightly oiled muffin tin and then pressed in oiled glasses to form the cups. They set up very firm in an hour or so and popped right out of the tins. The I just trimmed the tops and whallah! Beautiful, edible cups that canbe  filled with the chili recipe of your choice. My recipe is included at the bottom of this post

The polenta cooling in the muffin tins. The drinking glasses were the perfect size to make a the polenta cups!

The polenta cups were delcious filled with my homemade chili!

For my second edible container, I made parmesan cheese bowls and filled them with spring vegetable risotto. Parmesan bowls are easy to make but look great and add so much crunch and flavor to whatever you fill them with. Simply make 4 inch circles of shredded parmesan on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for about 10-12 minutes, or until bubbly and beginning to be golden brown. Remove from the over and carefully drape them, while still hot, over small inverted bowls. Once they cool they will harden and crisp up. The trick is to use non-stick aluminum foil, both to line the baking sheet and to cover the bowls you use to drape the baked cheese over. Then the baked parmesan is easy to handle and will pop right off the bowls and are ready to hold your choice of delicious filling.

Crispy parmesan bowl waiting to be filled

I just love risotto because it satisfied my craving for a creamy carbo treat without the need for any actual cream and it’s incredibly versatile in terms of flavors. You can add meat or seafood for a whole meal in one dish or keep it simple and use it as a side dish. Chicken, beef or fish stock will enrich and influence the flavor as well as an acidic (wine, lemon juice, or balsamic vinegar.)The starch in the Arborio rice thickens the risotto and the aromatics (onions, garlic, shallots etc) provide great flavor. Some butter and/or cheese added at the end will put it over the top but it isn’t necessary if you’re really trying to curb your calories.

The parmesan bowl was fantastic filled with spring vegetable risotto

Edible containers are nothing new (think baked stuffed potatoes or soup in a bread bowl) but it is fun to stretch the imagination and imagine new and creative ways to eat your bowl. I encourage you to try this fun project and share about it here! And if you’re more disciplined about the fat and calorie counts than I am, you can always go for lettuce cups!


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 dried chipotle peppers, reconstituted by simmering in 2 C water for 30 minutes, chop fine
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder                                                                                                                                                                                                           1 1/2 tsp  salt
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with their liquid
3 cups cooked red kidney beans, drained
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans, drained

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed sauce pan and add the first five ingredients and sauté the vegetables until softening but not browned ( about 10  minutes). Add the chopped chipotle, salt and spices and stir. Add the tomatoes and 2-3 cups of water and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Add the beans (and more water if necessary) and simmer another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve in polenta bowls with sharp cheddar and sour cream if desired. The chili will get spicier the second and third day. Enjoy!

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