Hey, everybody, it’s David and Karen from Twenty-Fingered Cooking, and we’re super-excited to host this month’s challenge! And we definitely have a challenge for you this month, because this month, there is no recipe for you to follow – it’s all about making something up on your own!
I’m pretty sure we just scared the pants off of about half of you, but no, you didn’t read that wrong; this challenge is all about creating a recipe that is entirely your own. It’s great to learn new techniques and new dishes, but there’s something really special about serving the best dish ever and knowing that it came out of your own head. So that’s where we’re headed with this challenge.
Download the printable .pdf file HERE
Not to worry, though! We’re not going to throw you completely to the wolves without giving you some tools and guidance. It can be pretty challenging to just make up a recipe on the spot, so to help with that, we’re providing some lists of ingredients from which you will create your meal. The goal is that these lists will spark an idea in your head which you then turn into a meal. Of course, we want to make this a challenge, so we’re requiring that you use at least one ingredient from each of our three lists – this will force you to think carefully about flavor combinations.
List 1: Parsnips, Eggplant (aubergine), Cauliflower
List 2: Balsamic Vinegar, Goat Cheese, Chipotle peppers
List 3: Maple Syrup, Instant Coffee, Bananas
Additionally, we’ve also provided three sample recipes using different combinations from the ingredient lists; if you are completely out of ideas, these recipes are fantastic starting places. Take one and modify it to suit your own personality! With each recipe, K and I have provided some notes on the thought process behind the recipe – where the idea came from, how we fleshed it out, what problems we had along the way, etc. Hopefully seeing our thought process will help you as you design your recipes.
Finally, the best way to get creative is to talk with other people; K and I will both be around the forums, and we’ll be happy to bounce ideas around for tasty new dishes.
Have fun and happy cooking!
Recipe Source: All three sample recipes are original. The barbeque sauce from the first is heavily modified from this Sunset recipe.
Blog-checking lines: Our April 2012 Daring Cooks hosts were David & Karen from Twenty-Fingered Cooking. They presented us with a very daring and unique challenge of forming our own recipes by using a set list of ingredients!
Posting Date: April 14, 2012
Notes: OK, so some of you are probably still have a lot of questions. I’ve compiled a list of common ones below, and tried to provide answers that will be helpful for you:
- AHH! I’m not creative at all! How am I supposed to make up an entire recipe from scratch? Actually, this is much less difficult than you might expect. The thing to do is to start with what you know. Is there a particular style of cooking that you are particularly familiar with? Take some dish from there, and figure out how to modify it so that it has your own personal touch (and also so that it uses the required ingredients). You’ll find that if you work in a genre of food that’s quite familiar to you, coming up with a new creation will be much, much easier.
Another approach that I’ve sometimes used is to try to emulate a dish that you’ve had in the past that you really enjoyed. Maybe this is a restaurant dish, or a dish that a good friend prepared. Sit down and try to figure out what ingredients might have gone into that dish, and then try to copy it (without looking at the original recipe). If you do this, you’re guaranteed to come up with something completely different, but probably pretty tasty.
- AHH! The lists you’re making us use are ridiculous! How am I supposed to combine these ingredients?! Once again, I think you might be surprised at how easy this actually is. The key to combining ingredients is to first know what they taste like in isolation – so if you haven’t ever had one of these ingredients, I encourage you to go get some and try it out. Figure out what the flavors remind you of. Then try pairing a few ingredients together. What happens when you dip parsnips in maple syrup? Cauliflower in maple syrup? What about eggplant with instant coffee? Some of these combinations will assuredly be gross, but I bet you like more of them than you think you will!Another thing to think about when combining ingredients – in most cases, you want ingredients that complement each other. In other words, if you’re using one ingredient that’s very sweet, if you use a second very sweet ingredient, your recipe probably will be overpoweringly sweet. Try instead to use something salty, perhaps, or spicy. Food scientists recognize primarily four different taste categories: bitter, salty, sour, and sweet (there’s also umami, and some others, but we won’t get into those here). Try to make sure that your recipe hits at least two of these taste categories.
- AHH! What if I make something and it’s totally disgusting? Order pizza. I’m serious! This happens all the time. You’ll mix some things together, and you think they sound good when you start, and it might even look good when you’re done, but it ends up just being gross. Don’t get discouraged! Just throw it out and go order pizza – you’ll feel better in no time, I promise. Then try something else the next night; food is all about experimentation, and a big part of experimentation is accepting the fact that your experiment might fail. Just, maybe don’t serve your recipe for important out-of-town guests until you’re sure it will be good.
Mandatory Items: You must create an original main course that uses at least one ingredient from each of the three lists below. If your recipe completely falls flat on its face, you must treat yourself to pizza (or some other enjoyable dish that you don’t have to make).
List 1: Parsnips, Eggplant (aubergine), Cauliflower
List 2: Balsamic Vinegar, Goat Cheese, Chipotle peppers
List 3: Maple Syrup, Instant Coffee, Bananas
Variations allowed: N/A
Preparation time: N/A
Equipment required: N/A
Slow-Grilled Chicken and Parsnips with Chipotle Barbeque Sauce
Last winter, I developed a fascination for parsnips – they have such a unique flavor, and they’re very sweet when cooked properly. For this recipe, I wanted some way to balance out the sweetness of the parsnips, so I opted for a spicy chipotle barbeque sauce. Of course, I had to use a third ingredient, and I thought that maple syrup would make a nice addition. This recipe has a very smoky-sweet-spicy flavor to it, and paired with the slow-grilled chicken is just delicious.
2-3 Chipotle peppers
1 Serrano pepper
1/3 cup (80 ml) soy sauce
1/3 cup (80 ml) red wine vinegar
1/2 cup (120 ml) maple syrup
1 cup (240 ml) water
1 pound (½ kg) parsnips, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 chicken thighs
1/2 teaspoon (2½ ml) (1½ gm) paprika
Salt and black pepper to taste
- Remove the seeds from the peppers, and finely chop.
- In a small saucepan over high heat, add peppers, soy sauce, red wine vinegar, maple syrup, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until thick, about 45 minutes.
- Sprinkle the chicken thighs with paprika.
- Grill the thighs in a grill pan or barbeque over medium heat until cooked through, about 40-50 minutes, turning occasionally. Mark Bittman recommends cooking chicken thighs to 160°F/71°C; the USDA recommends 165°F/74°C.
- When the thighs have about 20 minutes left, add the parsnips to the grill pan, along with the salt and pepper. As the parsnips cook, they will soften and increase in flavor – if you let them cook too long, however, they will become mushy, so if necessary, remove and cover the parsnips while the chicken finishes.
- Spoon the barbeque sauce over the chicken and parsnips and serve.
Coffee-Marinated Flank Steak with Balsamic-Cauliflower Purée
I’ve heard of cauliflower purée before, but never had it. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of cauliflower, but it does taste better roasted, so I decided for this recipe it would be good to roast the cauliflower and then pair it with some other strong ingredient to mask the flavors that I don’t like. Balsamic vinegar seemed like a good option (though we also tried the goat cheese, which made a very nice – but totally different! – experience). Then it was just a simple matter of figuring out a good flavor to balance the sauce, and I finally settled on a coffee marinade for a flank steak. This was probably my favorite of the three meals here, it has a wonderful flavor and looks super fancy! It’s also pretty easy to make.
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil, plus extra for drizzling on cauliflower (An alternate non-flavored or mild-flavored oil could be substituted here)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (4 gm) instant coffee
1/2 teaspoon (2½ ml) (1 gm) chili powder
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (8 gm) freshly-ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon (2½ ml) (1 gm) cinnamon
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 pound (½ kg) flank steak
4-6 cauliflower florets
1/4 cup (60 ml) milk, plus more if necessary
2 tablespoons (30 ml) balsamic vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste
- Mix the olive oil, coffee, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, salt and pepper in a gallon (4 litre) ziplock bag; add the flank steak, and make sure it is well-coated. Allow to marinate for at least an hour.
- Drizzle the cauliflower florets with oil, salt, and pepper, and roast in a preheated moderately hot oven 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6 until lightly browned, 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven.
- Remove the flank steak from the ziplock bag, discarding any excess marinade. In an oven-proof skillet over high heat, sear both sides of the steak (approximately 3 minutes/side). Then cook in an oven at 375°F/190°C/gas mark 5 for 15-20 minutes until done (rare steak is 145-150°F/63-66°C, well-done is about 170°F/77°C).
- While the steak is cooking, in a blender or food processor combine the roasted cauliflower, balsamic vinegar, milk, salt, and pepper. Purée until smooth, adding extra milk if necessary.
- When the steak has finished cooking, carve into thin slices, and serve with the cauliflower puree drizzled over the top.
Banana “Polenta” with Eggplant, Mushrooms, and Goat Cheese
My idea with this was to mimic a polenta patty with mashed bananas. The final meal was a nice balance of sweet and spicy, and the goat cheese complimented the eggplant and mushrooms perfectly. The amount and type of peppers can be changed to suit your preference for heat, but (as someone who doesn’t really like hot food) I found that a little bit of heat served as a nice contrast to the sweet of the banana. The egg white adds some additional protein to adhere the patty together, but it is not a critical part of the recipe.
1 serrano pepper (with seeds), diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
3 ripe bananas
1 tablespoon (15 ml) ( ½ oz/15 gm) corn starch (corn flour)
1 cup (240 ml) (4 oz/110 gm) dried bread crumbs + extra if necessary
1 egg white (optional)
1 cup (240 ml) (150 gm/5 oz) cornmeal (polenta)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 shallot (eschalot), diced
1 eggplant (aubergine), sliced
2 large Portobello mushroom heads
2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil, for pan frying
1/4 cup (60 ml) (55 gm/2 oz) goat cheese
- In a medium bowl, mash bananas and stir in peppers.
- Add corn starch, bread crumbs, and egg white and mix. The mixture should be fairly dry and easy to shape. Some additional bread crumbs may be necessary, depending on how ripe your bananas are.
- Prepare the vegetables. To do this, mix together the olive oil, garlic, and shallots. Brush the oil onto the sliced eggplant and mushrooms, then broil (grill) on each side for 5 minutes (10 minutes total), or until the vegetables are tender.
- While the vegetables are roasting, heat up olive oil in a frying pan. Shape the banana mixture into 3” (7½ cm) patties, coat generously with bread crumbs, and then fry for about 2 minutes on each side.
- Layer the vegetables over the banana and pepper patty, then top with goat cheese.
Freezing/Storage Instructions/Tips: N/A
A great web site that gives combinations of foods that go well together: Cook like Cuuks!
(All descriptions taken from The New Food Lover’s Companion, 4th Edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst)
Parsnips: Europeans brought the parsnip to the United States in the early 1600s but this creamy-white root has never become an American favorite. The first frost of the year converts the parsnip’s starch to sugar and gives it a pleasantly sweet flavor. Fresh parsnips are available year-round with the peak period during fall and winter. Look for small to medium, well-shaped roots; avoid limp, shriveled or spotted parsnips. They can be refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to 2 weeks. Parsnips are suitable for almost any method of cooking including baking, boiling, sautéing and steaming. They’re often boiled, then mashed like potatoes. Parsnips contain small amounts of iron and vitamin C.
Eggplant: Because the eggplant is a member of the nightshade family, it’s related to the potato and tomato. Though commonly thought of as a vegetable, eggplant is actually a fruit – specifically a berry. There are many varieties of this delicious food, ranging in color from rich purple to white, in length from 2 to 12 inches and in shape from oblong to round. In the United States, the most common eggplant is the large, cylindrical- or pear-shape variety with a smooth, glossy, dark purple skin. It’s available year-round, with the peak season during August and September. Choose a firm, smooth-skinned eggplant heavy for its size; avoid those with soft or brown spots. Eggplants become bitter with age and are very perishable. They should be stored in a cool, dry place and used within a day or two of purchase. If longer storage is necessary, place the eggplant in the refrigerator vegetable drawer. When young, the skin of most eggplants is deliciously edible; older eggplants should be peeled. Since the flesh discolors rapidly, an eggplant should be cut just before using. Bitter, overripe fruit can benefit by the ancient method of salting both halves and weighting them for 20 minutes before rinsing; the salt helps eliminate some of the acrid taste. Eggplant can be prepared in a variety of ways, including baking, broiling, and frying. It does, however, have a spongelike capacity to soak up oil so it should be well-coated with a batter or crumb mixture to inhibit fat absorption. Many other varieties of this versatile fruit are now finding their way into some markets. The very narrow, straight Japanese or Asian eggplant ranges in color from solid purple to striated shades and has a tender, slightly sweet flesh. The Italian or baby eggplant looks like a miniature version of the common large variety, but has a more delicate skin and flesh. The appearance of the egg-shaped white eggplant makes it clear how this fruit was named. It has a tougher skin, but firmer, smoother flesh. In general, these varieties can be cooked in many of the same methods as the large eggplant. They rarely require salting, however, and usually benefit from a short cooking time.
Cauliflower: In Mark Twain’s words, “cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” The name of this elegant member of the cabbage family comes from the Latin caulis (“stalk”) and floris (“flower”). Cauliflower comes in three basic colors: white (the most popular and readily available), green, and purple (a vibrant violet that turns pale green when cooked). All cauliflower is composed of bunches of tiny florets on clusters of stalks. Some white varieties have a purple or greenish tinge. The entire floret portion (called the “curd”) is edible. The green leaves at the base are also edible, but take longer to cook and have a stronger flavor than the curd. Choose a firm cauliflower with compact florets; the leaves should be crisp and green with no sign of yellowing. The size of the head doesn’t affect the quality. Refrigerate raw cauliflower, tightly wrapped, for 3 to 5 days; cooked for 1 to 3 days. To use, separate cauliflower head into florets and wash. Cauliflower can be eaten raw or cooked in a number of ways including boiling, baking, and sautéing. Whole cauliflower heads may also be cooked in one piece. Adding a tablespoon of lemon juice or one cup milk to the cooking water will prevent discoloration. Cauliflower, which is a cruciferous vegetable, is high in vitamin C and is a fair source of iron.
Balsamic Vinegar: Derived from the French vin aigre, “sour wine,” vinegar is made by bacterial activity that converts fermented liquids such as wine, beer, or cider into a weak solution of acetic acid (the constituent that makes it sour). Vinegar has been used for centuries for everything from beverages, to an odor-diminisher for strong foods such as cabbage and onions, to a hair rinse and softener. There are myriad vinegar varieties found in markets today… From Italy comes the exquisite Italian balsamic vinegar, made in and around the areas of Modena and Reggio Emilia. It’s produced from white Trebbiano grapes, the must of which is cooked and concentrated until deep, dark, and rich. The vinegar continues to gain its dark color and pungent sweetness from a lengthy period of aging in barrels of various woods (such as chestnut, juniper, and mulberry) and in graduating sizes, from larger to smaller as the vinegar ages over a period of years. It should be noted that many balsamic vinegars contain sulfites, which are primarily added to inhibit the growth of unfavorable, flavor-detracting bacteria. Balsamic vinegars range in age from young (3 to 5 years) to middle-aged (6 to 12 years) to the noble older versions, which can range from 12 to over 100 years old. By law, a vinegar labeled aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena must have been wood-aged for a minimum of 12 years. The word stravecchio on the label tells you the balsamic’s been aged at least 25 years. Older, high-quality balsamics are sometimes used as an aperitif or digestif after a meal.
Goat Cheese: French for “goat,” chèvre is a pure white goat’s-milk cheese with a distinctively tart flavor. Some of the better-known chèvres include banon, bûcheron, and montrachet. “Pur chèvre” on the label ensures that the cheese is made entirely from goat’s milk; mi-chèvre means that it’s comprised of at least 50 percent goat’s milk, with the remainder typically cow’s milk. The plural is chèvres, which originally referred to all French goat cheeses but is now widely used to refer to all goat cheeses, wherever their origin. Chèvres can range in texture from moist and creamy to dry and semifirm. They come in a variety of shapes including cylinders, discs, cones, and pyramids, and are often coated in edible ash or leaves, herbs, or pepper. Store, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks. Chèvre that is over the hill takes on a sour taste and should be discarded.
Chipotle Peppers: This hot chili is actually a dried, smoked jalapeño. It has a wrinkled, dark brown skin and a smoky, sweet, almost chocolaty flavor. Chipotles can be found dried, pickled, and canned in Adobo sauce. Chipotles are generally added to stews and sauces; the pickled variety are often eaten as appetizers.
Maple Syrup: The American Indians taught the colonists how to tap the maple tree for its sap and boil it down to what the Indians called “sweetwater.” Canada, New York, and Vermont are all known for their superior maple products. The maple-tapping season (called “sugar season”) usually begins sometime around mid-February and can last anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks. The “sugarmakers” insert spouts into the maple trees (a grove of which is called a “sugarbush”) and hang buckets from them to catch the sap. Some companies connect plastic tubing to the spout, running it from tree to tree and eventually directly to a large holding tank where it’s stored until ready to be processed. The sap is then taken to the “sugarhouse” where it is boiled until evaporated to the desired degree. Quite simply, maple syrup is sap that has been boiled until much of the water has evaporated and the sap is thick and syrupy. At the beginning of the sugar season, when the sap is concentrated, it only takes about 20 gallons of it to make a gallon of syrup, whereas toward the end of the season it may take up to 50 gallons of sap… Maple syrup is graded according to color and flavor. Generally, U.S. grades are: Fancy or Grade AA, a light amber-colored syrup with a mild flavor; Grade A is medium amber and mellow-flavored; Grade B is dark amber and hearty flavored; and Grade C is very dark with a robust molasses-like flavor. Since the processing of maple syrup is labor-intensive, pure maple syrup is quite expensive. A less costly product labeled maple-flavored syrup is a combination of less expensive syrup (such as corn syrup) and a small amount of pure maple syrup. Pancake syrups are usually nothing more than corn syrup flavored with artificial maple extract. Pure maple syrup should be refrigerated after opening. Warm to room temperature before serving.
Instant Coffee: Ethiopia is thought to be the motherland of the first coffee beans, which, throughout the ages, found their way to Brazil and Colombia—the two largest coffee producers today. Coffee plantations abound throughout other South and Central American countries, Cuba, Hawaii, Indonesia, Jamaica, and many African nations. There are hundreds of different coffee species but the two most commercially viable are coffea robusta and coffea arabica. The sturdy, disease-resistant coffea robusta, which thrives at lower altitudes, produces beans with a harsher, more single-dimensional flavor than the more sensitive coffea arabica, which grows at high altitudes (3,000 to 6,500 feet) and produces beans with elegant, complex flavors… The coffee plant is actually a small tree that bears a fruit called the “coffee cherry.” Growing and tending these coffee trees is a labor-intensive process because blossoms, unripe (green), and ripe red cherries can occupy a tree simultaneously, necessitating hand-picking the fruit. The coffee cherry’s skin and pulp layers are discarded, the beans are cleaned, dried, graded, and hand-inspected for color and quality. The “green” beans (which can range in color from pale green to muddy yellow) are then exported, leaving the roasting, blending, and grinding to be down at their destination. Coffee can be composed of single type of coffee bean or a blend of several types. Blended coffee produces a richer, more complex flavor than single-bean coffees. The length of time coffee beans are roasted will affect the color and flavor of the brew…
Instant coffee powder is a powdered coffee made by heat-drying freshly-brewed coffee. Freeze-dried coffee granules (or crystals) are derived from brewed coffee that has been frozen into a slush before the water is evaporated. Freeze-dried coffee is slightly more expensive than regular instant coffee, but is also reputed to be superior in flavor. Coffee concentrate is a liquid extract of freshly brewed coffee that’s diluted with water. It comes in many forms including regular, decaffeinated, and flavored (vanilla, chocolate, and so forth) and can be found in most supermarkets.
Coffee, tea, and cocoa all contain caffeine, a stimulant that affects many parts of the body including the nervous system, kidneys, heart, and gastric secretions. With the exception of the Madagascar coffee species – Mascarocoffea vianneyi – which actually grows beans that are decaffeinated, coffee beans must go through a process to produce decaffeinated coffee.
Bananas: Grown in the warm, humid tropics, bananas are picked and shipped green; contrary to nature’s norm, they are one fruit that develops better flavor when ripened off the bush. Banana bushes mature in about 15 months and produce one 50-pound bunch of bananas apiece. Each bunch includes several “hands” of a dozen or so bananas (fingers). There are hundreds of banana species but the yellow, arched Cavendish (or common) banana is America’s favorite. Choose plump, evenly colored yellow bananas flecked with tiny brown specks (a sign of ripeness). Avoid those with blemishes, which usually indicate bruising. Bananas that are still greenish at the tips and along the rides with need further ripening at home. To ripen, keep uncovered at room temperature (about 70° F). For speedy ripening, enclose bananas in a perforated brown paper bag. Ripe bananas can be stored in the refrigerator for several days. The peel will turn brown but the flesh will remain unchanged. Once exposed to air, a peeled banana will begin to darken. To avoid discoloration, brush with lemon juice or dip in acidulated water.
Now available in some markets are the squat, squarish 3- to 5-inch-long Burro, with its tangy lemon-banana flavor; the Blue Java (or Ice Cream) banana, which has a blotchy, silver-blue skin and tastes of ice cream; the chunky, 6-inch-long red banana, which turns bronzy-brown when ripe; the baby, dwarf, or finger banana, which is 3 to 4 inches long and sweeter than the Cavendish; the strawberry-apple-flavored Manzano (which turns black when ready to eat); the diminutive Mysore from India; and the Orinoco with its trace of strawberry flavor.