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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.

This month’s challenge was all about the wonderful world of gumbo. Our hostess gave a great (and very thorough) lesson on all the components that go into making a traditional gumbo, and challenged us to prepare our own pot, using one of the provided recipes, a variation thereof, or any other gumbo recipe that might tickle our fancy. We were also encouraged to make our own stock and Creole Spice Blend. I wasn’t ambitious enough to make my own stock, but I did throw together my own spice blend based off of the one I found on Chow.

In addition to the two main gumbo recipes provided (Chicken & Smoked Sausage and Seafood), our hostess provided a link to a vegetarian Gumbo Z’herbes recipe. This is the recipe I opted for. While it may not look very attractive (and I know, the terrible cell phone picture doesn’t help its case), it definitely did not disappoint. It is a powerhouse of flavor with fragrant spices and delectable greens. My husband and I both enjoyed it, and I think it will be a recipe that I keep around for a long time to come.

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!

Ugh. You would think that by now I would remember when the posting date is for these challenges, but apparently I don’t have a clue. I was thinking it was tomorrow, when it was in fact yesterday. Sigh.

Well, posting mishaps aside, I have to say I really enjoyed this month’s challenge. We were challenged to make a savory edible container. Our host provided several ideas along with a link to a fantastic edible container round-up article she had written. We could choose any recipe provided or create something totally new as long as it was a container that was edible and had suitable content.

I played around with some different ideas, but the stand-out winner for me where these black bean cups. I got the recipe from Cake, Batter, and Bowl. My only adaption was to bake the cups in a regular sized muffin tin rather than a mini one. This will yield about 7  bean cups. If using a regular sized muffin tin, just place about 2 tablespoons of dough into each muffin cup and spread the dough up the side of each cup (I found that pressing the bottom of my tablespoon measure into the dough helped create nice, fairly uniform sized cups). Then bake the bean cups at 350ºF for 18-20 minutes or until set. Cool completely.

For the filling I used the Mexican Couscous Power Bowl recipe found at Healthy. Happy. Life. I just adapted it to what I had on hand and decreased the amount of beans since I would be serving them in the bean cups. She provides a recipe for an optional Gave-Rika ‘dressing’ for the dish, and I would highly recommend you go ahead and make it to serve over the bean cups. To me, it really brought the whole dish together. One more note, the couscous dish makes a lot, so if you are making it to serve in the bean cups you may want to halve the recipe or just be prepared to have leftover filling to munch on for lunch the next day – which of course, isn’t an entirely bad thing.

Kathlyn of Bake Like a Ninja was our Daring Cooks’ March 2011 hostess. Kathlyn challenges us to make two classic Peruvian dishes: Ceviche de Pescado from “Peruvian Cooking – Basic Recipes” by Annik Franco Barreau. And Papas Rellenas adapted from a home recipe by Kathlyn’s Spanish teacher, Mayra.

This month’s challenge provided the Daring Cooks the opportunity to dish up some exciting Peruvian cuisine. The first option was to try our hand at making ceviche. Ceviche is typically made with fresh fish or seafood that is marinated in citrus juices. The citric acid in the juice “cooks” the fish – either partially or completely, depending on how long it is marinated. The second option was to create papas rellenas. This traditional Peruvian dish is comprised of a potato “dough” that is stuffed with a filling (usually made with beef) and then deep fried. The dish is also usually accompanied with a “salsa criolla.”

For the challenge we had to make at least one of the aforementioned Peruvian dishes. Always a fan of the carbs, I opted to make the papas rellenas. For the filling I used a vegetarian recipe that was provided by our hostess. The recipe for the vegetarian filling was really wonderful, and would be great just served as a dish on its own. I also chose not to fry my papas rellenas and baked them instead. I was really nervous about having to bread all of these little potato balls; breading and I have not always meshed (use the tempura challenge as a case in point). I usually end up with globs of gooey breading on my plate and fingers, so this time around I read up on some breading techniques, and I’m happy to report that they worked brilliantly. I am now a breading master (at least more so that I was before this challenge). I do have to admit, these little guys are truly a labor of love. It took me a very long time to stuff, shape, and bread all of the dough balls, so if you plan on making these be sure to allot yourself plenty of time. In the end though, I have to say they were definitely worth it. I loved the crunchy outer texture, and as our host recommended, they are definitely best served with the salsa criolla.

This challenge certainly provided a great introduction to Peruvian cuisine, and I hope to have the opportunity explore some more Peruvian dishes in the near future.

You can view the recipes used after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

The February 2011 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She has various sources for her challenge including japanesefood.about.com, pinkbites.com, and itsybitsyfoodies.com.

This month’s challenge was super exciting because I love, and I do mean loooove, eating Japanese food! So when I saw soba noodles and tempura were on the menu I was through the roof. For this challenge we were to make Hiyashi Soba, a popular soba noodle salad reserved primarily for summer. Soba noodles are a thin Japanese noodle made from buckwheat flour. They are usually served cold with a dipping sauce (as in this dish), or in a hot broth as a noodle soup (which is how I’ve normally had them up until this challenge). We were also challenged to make tempura. Tempura is a Japanese dish of seafood or vegetables that have been battered and deep fried. A light batter is made of cold water (sometimes sparkling water is used to keep the batter light and soft) and wheat flour (cake, pastry or all-purpose flour). Eggs, baking soda or baking powder, starch, oil, and/or spices may also be added. I don’t do any deep frying in my kitchen, so I opted for a baked version of the tempura. While still tasty (and a whole let healthier), it really doesn’t hold a candle to the traditional deep fried version.

I must say that after this challenge I have completely fallen in love with cold soba noodles, and the provided spicy dipping sauce recipe is definitely a keeper! I love the fresh flavors and simplicity of this dish, and can definitely see a lot more Hiyashi Soba on the menu come summer!

You can get the recipes and learn how to serve Hiyashi Soba after the jump.

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Vegetarian Cassoulet

Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.

While a cassoulet isn’t totally new to me, I was pretty shocked to see the sheer amount of work that goes into a traditional cassoulet recipe. A traditional cassoulet recipe will typically contain pork, sausages, and white beans as well as a duck or goose confit and a nice topping of fried bread crumbs or cracklings and – get this – can take up to three days to prepare! I have made a couple of “cassoulets” in my day, but they have been nowhere near as labor intensive as this – I’m talking 30 minutes to prepare tops!

A confit on the other hand, was totally new to me. I have seen the term on menus, but never actually really knew what it was. Turns out it’s actually one of the oldest ways to preserve food. A confit is basically any kind of food that has been immersed in any kind of fat for both flavor and preservation. When stored in a cool place, confit can last for several months. Typically meats (most often waterfowl) are preserved in fats, while fruits are preserved in sugar.

For this challenge we had to make a confit and incorporate it into a cassoulet. We could choose any combination of meat or protein source that we wished, and we were encouraged to soak our own beans. There was an added challenge to make our own sausages as well. Three cassoulet recipes were provided: a traditional recipe, a vegetarian recipe, and a quick 30-minute cassoulet recipe. There were also various meat and vegetable confit recipes provided. I opted for the vegetarian cassoulet recipe along with a provided recipe for garlic confit.

The garlic confit came together rather easily. Most of it is really down time while it cooks in the oven. I only did half a recipe though – I couldn’t imagine having 65 garlic cloves sitting around in my fridge! I wasn’t really sure how to incorporate the confit into the cassoulet, so I just used it anywhere the recipe called for garlic or olive oil.

Since the challenge had been thrown out there to make our own sausages I decided I would also try to make the seitan sausage recipe that had been provided as part of December’s poaching challenge. I have only made seitan once before, and that was a baked recipe, so I was looking forward to trying out this method of poached seitan. It was certainly a bit of a process and where the bulk of my time was spent in this recipe. My sausage shaping skills are definitely lacking, and sadly they were no replacement for those tasty Field Roast sausages. In fact, they were rather bland. My husband and I both felt like they could’ve benefited from the addition of a little more salt and that might reflect a poor choice on my part in using a low sodium broth for my poaching liquid.

I also feel like my cassoulet was a little less than stellar. I’m not sure where I went wrong here because everyone had been saying great things about this recipe. Admittedly, I did have to replace the leeks in the cassoulet with onions because the two places I shop were out of the leeks that were called for, but I’m not sure if that would’ve made that much of a difference as far as flavor. Maybe it was a bad choice to use the garlic confit in place of the raw garlic in the recipe? Despite its drawbacks, I did like how the cassoulet recipe called for mashing a portion of the beans for a thicker broth; I really enjoyed that thicker consistency of this cassoulet from previous ones that I had made.

You can view all of the recipes used after the jump.

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Poached Egg

Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.

So I was a little apprehensive when I saw this month’s challenge. First, I am not much of an egg eater so there was that hurdle to overcome. Second, I was plagued with flashbacks from Julia & Julia when Julie went through almost an entire carton of eggs trying to poach them for a recipe. My nerves were getting the better of me. Luckily, the holidays have been keeping my crazy busy, so I couldn’t obsess too much about all the in’s and out’s of poaching eggs and really just stuck to the advice from our hostesses and dove right in.

Amazingly, I didn’t have to go through a whole box of eggs to get three poached eggs. There were actually no real issues at all. I don’t know if they were the most beautiful poached eggs ever created, but they tasted good so I was happy. Chalk it up to beginner’s luck or some really good advice from our hostesses. but the process of poaching eggs was not nearly as frightening as I had been imagining it to be.

For the challenge we were provided with two recipes, but we were also given the option to use another recipe of our choosing, as long as it involved the technique of poaching. I settled on a Root Vegetable Hash with Poached Eggs and Parsley Pesto recipe that I found on Epicurious. Let me just tell you, this recipe is out of this world!

Poached Egg

Now, you may be looking at these pictures scratching your head and wondering where the pesto is. Rightly so. Unfortunately, in my rush to get some pictures taken before the meal got cold, I completely forgot to dress the plates with the pesto. Then I was so consumed by what an awesome meal I was eating, and I totally forgot about the pesto until we were halfway through the meal. Doh! But, that just goes to show that with or without the pesto it was still an amazing dish! The pesto not only added an additional depth of flavor, but also provided a much needed pop of festive color on this otherwise monotone plate.

Crab-Artichoke Souffle

Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose Soufflés as our November 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge! Dave and Linda provided two of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflé recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe found at the BBC Good Food website.

When it was announced that we would be making soufflés for this month’s Daring Cooks challenge I was quaking in my boots. I have seen my fair share of cooking shows featuring soufflés that never rise or if they do rise totally deflate before serving. With this culinary disaster stereotype in mind I was rather nervous to give this challenge a go. I did a lot of reading up on soufflés and tried to get as many soufflé baking tips in my arsenal before I actually attempted baking my own.

Dave and Linda provided us with three recipes, which we were free to use, but they also allowed us to substitute a recipe of our choosing as long as it was a proper, baked soufflé. We were also allowed to choose between making a savory or dessert soufflé.

When I told my husband about the challenge he immediately requested a savory soufflé, so that is where my recipe hunt began. Of course, I couldn’t help but take a peek at a few dessert soufflé recipes as well, and luckily, I had the time to try my hand at both a savory and dessert soufflé recipe before the posting deadline.

For my savory recipe I went with a crab and artichoke soufflé (pictured at the top). This was my first savory soufflé (to eat or bake), and I must say it is quite a tasty dish! They had a pretty good rise coming out of the oven, but they definitely began to deflate as I was removing the collars and trying to rush them to the table.

Banana Souffle

For the dessert recipe I chose a banana soufflé. I still have an abundance of Halloween candy lying around that I am trying to get rid of, so I decided to add a roughly chopped peanut butter cup to the recipe. This was a very good move; in my book, there are few things finer than the combination of bananas, peanut butter, and chocolate – and bonus, when combined in soufflé form, the combo gets all warm and deliciously gooey. Also, these babies rose sky high and held their shape considerably longer than the savory soufflés, which was pretty exciting.

All in all, I am really happy Dave and Linda challenged us with soufflés this month. Based on my previous notions of them I probably never would have dared to try baking one on my own. I would have most likely kept tossing them off as overly complicated or too finicky to mess with, but boy was I wrong! You definitely have to be on your toes when making them (have all those ingredients ready to go beforehand and be ready to serve immediately!) but the results are nothing short of spectacular. It is a pretty awesome feeling to pull out a pair of beautifully risen soufflés from the oven – something every cook should experience at least once!

You can view both soufflé recipes after the jump.

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Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

This month’s challenge was to make a filling and roll it in grape leaves. I’ve tried stuffed grape leaves a few times before at various restaurants, but have never really been a huge fan of them. They often have a very “briney” taste that is a little off-putting to me. Nonetheless, I was excited to try rolling some from scratch.

The filling for the grape leaves was totally up to each individual cook, but whatever filling was chosen had to include rice. Lori provided two recipes for inspiration – one with meat and one without. I opted to go the meatless route and followed Lori’s Cold Stuffed Grape Leaves recipe with a few additions.

I knew that rolling the leaves was going to be the most time consuming part, and I also knew that I wanted to go all out with a tasty Greek feast to accompany the grape leaves. Taking those things into consideration, I enlisted the help of a fellow daring cook to knock these babies out. That was definitely a good decision – having someone to help stuff and roll the leaves not only helped make the time go faster, but I think it also helped me my maintain my sanity. The smaller the grape leaf, the more difficulty I had in getting it rolled and stuffed without splitting. I got desperate near the end and started layering the smaller torn leaves in creative ways to try and produce enough grape leaves to fill the pan tightly.

Despite all the difficulty rolling, I have to say that the end results were fantastic. These were by far the best stuffed grape leaves I have ever tasted. And while they probably won’t be in my regular rotation of cooking, I am so glad I had the opportunity to make them and enjoy the company of good friends while doing so!

You can view the recipe for the Cold Stuffed Grape Leaves after the jump.

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The July 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. Their sources include Better with Nut Butter by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online.

I have to admit, I was pretty stoked when I read about this month’s challenge. I am a huge fan of almond butter and manage to figure out a way to get in a tablespoon or two everyday – whether it be in my morning bowl of oatmeal, a smoothie, or a sandwich. Despite my great love of almond butter (and for that matter, peanut butter), I have never managed to venture out beyond those two household staples, and was thrilled that this challenge would finally make me do just that.

So what do you need to know about making your own nut butters at home? Here are a few of the great pointers provided by our hosts:

  • The process for making various types of nut butters is essentially the same. Pour nuts into bowl of food processor. Grind the nuts in the processor until they form a paste or butter. The nuts first turn into powdery or grainy bits, then start to clump and pull away from the side of the bowl, and finally form a paste or butter. The total time required depends on the fat and moisture content of the nuts; grinding time will vary from roughly 1 to 4 minutes (assuming a starting volume of 1 to 2 cups [240 to 480 ml] nuts).
  • You may add oil as desired during grinding to make the nut butter smoother and creamier or to facilitate grinding. Add oil in small increments, by the teaspoon for oily nuts like cashews or by the tablespoon for dryer/harder nuts like almonds. You may use the corresponding nut oil or a neutral vegetable oil like canola.
  • The inclusion of salt in the nut butters is optional and to taste. If you make nut butters from salted nuts, peanuts or cashews for example, you will not need additional salt.
  • Roasting the nuts before making nut butters is optional according to your preference. To roast nuts in the oven, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C/Gas Mark 4). Spread nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until nuts are fragrant and a shade darker in color. Allow nuts to cool before grinding.
  • Homemade nut butters are more perishable than commercial products and should be stored in the refrigerator. The nut butters harden & thicken somewhat upon chilling.

For this challenge we were to make our own fresh, homemade nut butter and then use it in at least one savory recipe. Four savory challenge recipes were provided for us to choose from and there was also an optional challenge to include a homemade nut butter in a sweet recipe of our choice. With a fridge stocked full of various nuts and the desire to try as many nut butters as I could, I made a total of four dishes that incorporated some type of nut (or seed) butter.

For the savory challenge recipe, I chose to make the Asian Noodle Salad with Cashew Dressing.

I was not disappointed – the cashew dressing component of this recipe is absolutely amazing! In an effort to not just eat the leftover dressing by the spoonful, I used it over the next day or two in every way I could think of until the last drop was finished. The leftover cashew butter that didn’t make its way into the dressing found its way into my morning bowl of oatmeal and provided a nice change of pace from the usual almond butter.

For my next nut butter adventure I decided to try another savory recipe using a different type of nut butter. Our hosts provided us with a link to recipes using nut and seed butters from Futters Nut Butters for further inspiration. I visited the site and found a recipe for a Walnut Hummus that sounded too interesting not to try.

For this recipe I made a roasted walnut butter to use in the hummus recipe. I decided to serve the hummus in bite sized cucumber cups with crumbled walnuts sprinkled on top. The combination of cucumbers and hummus was quite refreshing and served as a perfect snack for a hot summer day. I will definitely be hanging on to this recipe for future use. Once again, any remaining nut butter went into the next day’s morning bowl of oatmeal.

For the optional sweet recipe I tried out the Maple Pecan French Toast recipe from the Go Dairy Free cookbook by Alisa Marie Fleming (the recipe can also be found in Vegan Bites by Beverly Lynn Bennett).

For this recipe you essentially soak your bread in a homemade pecan cream (that is sweetened with maple syrup) for about 1-2 minutes before cooking. For the french toast topping I macerated some strawberries with maple syrup. The end result was delicious, but a little heavy on the maple syrup flavor. If I were to do it again I may opt for a non-maple syrup topping so that the pecan flavors could come through a little more.

For my final recipe I went back down the savory route and tried my hand at Roasted Wasabi Chickpeas.

I had been wanting to try this recipe for awhile but didn’t have any tahini on hand or enough sesame seeds to make my own.  I decided to make my own roasted sunflower seed butter and use it in place of the tahini called for in the original recipe.

You can view the recipes for most of these dishes after the jump.

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Our hostesses this month, Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eatz, and Valerie of a The Chocolate Bunny, chose delicious pate with freshly baked bread as their June Daring Cook’s challenge! They’ve provided us with 4 different pate recipes to choose from and are allowing us to go wild with our homemade bread choice.

This month was my first foray into the Daring Cooks, and I was excited to get the chance to try my hand at making pâté. Traditionally, pâté is meat-based, and often includes liver, or gizzards, or other animal parts. Luckily, our hostesses also included recipes for fish and vegetable varieties. Since pâté is not usually eaten on its own, we were also required to make a bread to accompany our pâté. While we were required to use one of the three pâté recipes provided, we were given free range to choose any bread recipe we wanted. The only other restriction was that the pâté had to be baked or refrigerated (or both) for a significant amount of time, so that it would have to be unmolded into a serving dish.

I chose to make the Tricolor Vegetable Pâté that was provided. The pâté is comprised of three different layers – a white bean layer, a red pepper layer, and a pesto layer. I decided to halve the recipe since there would only be two of us eating it. The recipe was fairly straight forward and the only trouble I ran into was when it came time to assemble the various layers for the pâté. The red pepper layer completely absorbed the pesto layer! In a moment of panic I quickly threw together the other half of the pesto recipe, thinking maybe I could just add that on top of the little pesto that was still showing. I really wanted to get the tricolor effect when the final pâté was unmolded. Unfortunately, this pesto pretty much got absorbed too, so I didn’t really achieve the tricolor presentation that I was going for. Although once the pâté was sliced, you could get a little glimpse of the tricolor action.

The bread recipe I chose to make was the 100% Whole Wheat and Flaxseed Bread recipe from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I’m happy to say that this recipe was a total success. I actually think it was my best loaf of bread to date, and was a great accompaniment to the pâté.

You can check out both recipes after the jump.

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