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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.

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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