Archive for ‘Culinary Challenge’

April 22, 2013

Fried Bhindi Masala with Spiced Tomato and Tofu

Bhindi Tofu

Another week, another culinary challenge from my friends: make something using okra, tofu, and cream cheese.

My immediate inclination with okra was to do something Southern. “Is there even another way to cook okra?” I wondered.

Yes, I learned after doing a little research. Yes there is.

Okra – also known in Hindi as bhindi – is actually a relatively common ingredient in Indian food, stewed or stir fried with spices and served with rice or lentils. And thus the idea for this bizarrely tasty recipe was born.

I opted to retain some of that classical Southern preparation and fry okra in beer batter – but only after stuffing it with a zesty garam masala-packed cream cheese filling. Served with a tomato and tofu sauce that is full of robust flavors and spices, and surprisingly filling, it made for quite a delicious meal.

This recipe is an odd fusion of Indian and Southern flavors and styles, but it totally works.

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April 6, 2013

Southern Quinoa-Crusted Chicken with Potato and Greens

Southern Quinoa Chicken

I have to say, when I got my latest culinary challenge, I was a bit stumped: make a dish that includes quinoa, eggs, leeks and whiskey.

They’re great ingredients, and each pair well it other in the group, but trying to put ALL of them into one dish was giving me chef’s block (a lesser known condition similar to writers block. It’s a thing.)

With some tricky uses of both eggs and quinoa, I managed to get all four into this recipe. And boy, am I glad that I did.

The flavors in this dish are absolutely dynamite. The chicken itself is smokey and spicy with hints of whiskey, while the crust retains much of the quinoa taste. Pairing it with leafy greens and earthy potatoes brings a delightful balance to the plate.

Not only is it balanced in flavor, but it’s balanced in texture as well. The contrast between the tender greens, crispy potatoes, and pan-seared, quinoa-crusted chicken adds a whole extra dimension to the dish.

On top of everything else, it’s actually reasonably healthy.

This was my first real foray into southern-style cooking. I’m sure purists would shudder at inclusion of this dish in their cuisine, but I thought it turned out reasonably well. Expect some more southern recipes in the future!

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March 3, 2013

Pulled Pork & Pickled Apple Sandwich with Horseradish-Chèvre Aioli


I started this blog – at least in part – to push myself to come up with new and interesting recipe to share. One of my favorite ways of doing this has been through a culinary challenge: combining unusual ingredients, putting a new spin on an old dish, or some other difficult task.

My last culinary challenge, however, was more than a year ago, and had less to do with creative ingredients and more to do with creative uses of a gas grill.

So when a group of friends offered a new challenge by picking three disparate ingredients for me to make a dish out of, I could barely contain my excitement.

Their selection? Apples, horseradish, and chèvre cheese.

And thus this new pulled pork sandwich was born! The homemade barbecue sauce is a bit more mild than most store-bought versions, which allows the flavors of the meat and other ingredients to shine through. The pickled apples are sour and tart, but still slightly sweet. The aioli is creamy and sharp with just the right amount of horseradish bite. All three components come together to form a creative and tasty new pulled pork recipe!

When I made this my pork wound up closer to stewed than pulled. I was using my awesome new pressure cooker and only cooked it for about 30 minutes, which didn’t quite do the trick. Regardless, I would recommend using a pressure cooker for this recipe (and buying one if you don’t have one) because it cuts the cook time for the pork by several hours.

Have a culinary challenge? Go to the Dear Chef tab and let me know!

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January 15, 2012

Deep Fried Waffle Salad

“You cook adventurous things? So like, a waffle salad or something?”

I do now. Culinary Challenge accepted.

The star ingredient in this dish, the deep fried waffle ‘croutons’, are absolutely delicious; delightfully crunchy on the outside with tender interiors. They’re sweet and doughy and buttery – honestly, they’d make a pretty perfect dish all by themselves.

But the challenge was a waffle salad, so I contrived a supporting cast to make the pairing of waffle and mixed greens less awkward. The balsamic vinegar, maple syrup reduction takes the place of dressing in this recipe, giving the dish tartness tempered with sugar. The walnuts provide texture and neutral notes to give context to the other flavors. Finally, the chèvre provides a perfect counterpoint to the sweetness of the other ingredients with it’s saltiness and creamy texture. All these different elements help bridge the gap between waffle and mixed greens.

So, does it work?

Considering that it’s a waffle salad – Yes. Yes it does. It tastes delicious, and the sweet elements of the dish actually pair well with the spiciness of the argula and other greens. The oddity of what you’re eating does interject at times, but that doesn’t make it any less tasty.

Make this dish for brunch and blow someone’s mind.

Deep Fried Waffle Salad

  • 2 freezer waffles, lightly toasted (I recommend blueberry)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 cup cooking oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch
  • 4-6 walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup chèvre
  • 1 1/2 cups mixed greens
  1. Cut or tear the waffles into 1/2 inch squares. Break the egg into a wide bowl and beat until mixed together. On a plate, combine the flour and brown sugar and mix until evenly distributed. Add the oil to a cast iron pan and heat to medium-high.
  2. Add the waffle sections to the beaten egg and toss until evenly coated. Remove and dredge in the sugar-flour mixture until lightly coated. Drop each waffle section into hot oil and cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Remove from heat and set on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil.
  3. In a small pot or sauce pan, combine the balsamic vinegar, maple syrup and corn starch. Bring the mixture to a simmer and reduce by half, roughly 6-8 minutes. The resulting mixture should have a syrupy viscosity.
  4. Pile the mixed greens on a small plate and top with the deep fried waffles, walnuts and chèvre. Drizzle the balsamic reduction over the top and serve.
December 26, 2011

Culinary Challenge: Christmas Edition

Question: What do you do when the power goes out just as your stepmom is about to put her Christmas pie into the oven?


You bust out the gas grill.

Anyone who has talked to me about Top Chef knows that I think many of the challenges they make the contestants perform are completely  ridiculous, not to mention a poor means of judging whether or not they are actually talented chefs. However, when the power went out on Christmas and I came up with the idea of using the gas grill to cook the pie, I felt like I had just landed in a surprise twist elimination challenge.

To achieve an oven-like cooking environment, I lit only the burners on one side and used a roasting rack and a baking tray to raise the pie away from the direct heat. After getting the temperature to about 475 degrees, I quickly popped the pie and closed it up. The cold air dropped the temperature just below 425 (proper pie-cooking temperature, or so I was told) but it came back up in short time.

The end result was almost identical to a proper, oven-cooked pie. The only difference was a hint of smokiness in edges of the crust – honestly not a bad flavor pairing with the sharp, tart cherry filling.

There’s nothing remarkable about barbacueing a pie per say, it just isn’t an option most people think of when their oven goes AWOL. That’s the beauty of cooking though: the principles are universal, and once you know that it’s easy to alter the ingredients, the structure, or even the environment that you cook in, to get the results you want.

I’ll be returning to regular posting soon now that the holiday season is beginning to settle down. Until then, remember to cook adventurously and think outside the box when you’re in the kitchen. Happy Holidays!

August 26, 2011

Bourbon, Nutella and Chocolate Mousse

I am, probably unsurprisingly, a big proponent of challenging myself in the culinary field. I love trying to make things I never have before or test new (sometime ridiculous-sounding) ideas in the kitchen.

Needless to say, when someone else challenges me, there’s no way I can turn it down.

This particular dish came about after a friend challenged to make a delicious, classy desert out of Nutella. While Nutella makes for a delicious addition to many sweet treats, rarely does it make an appearance in more upscale dishes. Challenge accepted.

The resulting Bourbon, Nutella and Chocolate Mousse was an outright win. The sometimes-overwhelming flavor of nutella is balanced by the chocolate, resulting in a sweet fusion of flavors that make up the base of the dish. After the initial taste, the bourbon comes to the forefront with sharp, oaken notes that form the perfect compliment. And of course, all of this comes in luscious mousse form with light and fluffy texture.

Overall, this is a decadent take on a classic desert that would be perfectly at home on the menu of a swanky restaurant. If you’re looking to show off a little – and willing to put in some work, whisking egg whites and cream isn’t easy – this dish will definitely do the trick!

p.s. when making this dish it is important to be mindful of the golden rule for any kind of cooking with alcohol: some for the recipe, some for you! (Since you have bourbon already, I might recommend the Southern Storm Cloud)

Bourbon, Nutella and Chocolate Mousse

  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup nutella
  • 6 eggs, separated into whites and yolks (how-to can be found here)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • Chopped almonds or walnuts, to garnish (optional)
  1. Set up a double boiler by placing a stainless steel bowl over a pot with 1 inch of water in it. Make sure the bowl does not touch the water. Bring to a simmer at medium-low heat and place the chocolate chips inside to melt. Watch them carefully and stir them regularly to ensure they don’t burn. Once they have melted, remove them from heat and add the nutella, mixing evenly.
  2. While waiting for the chips to melt, place the egg whites and sugar unto a bowl together. Whisk vigorously until the eggs double in volume and reach soft peaks.
  3. In another bowl whisk the heavy cream until it thickens and doubles in volume. Add the egg yolks to this bowl and fold them into the heavy cream. (It is important to be gentle during this process and fold rather than stir the mixture by scooping under to the bottom of the bowl and moving the contents to the side, up, then back over. Simply stirring it will result in the mousse losing its characteristic fluffiness.)
  4. Add the whipped egg whites, chocolate-nutella mixture and bourbon to the heavy cream mixture and fold until evenly distributed.
  5. Empty the mousse into a vessel of your choosing (Martini glasses are always a good choice) and allow to chill for at least three hours, preferably overnight)
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