Squid, Almond Biscotti, Edamame, Brie



Joe has quite a skill for stumping me with ingredients. Save for an omelette I made once with a little Brie in it, I had never cooked with any of these ingredients before. Back in Indiana, our friend Adam, an educated and fantastic chef, made a seafood stew for Joe before he left for Seattle. At the market, we found a whole squid and having watched Adam clean it, I knew I wanted to buy it ready to cook. It can be pretty gruesome and knowing that I had to eat what i was making, it just made more sense. Joe made it abundantly clear that breading and frying it would be a cop out, so had to come up with something else. 

What really bogged me down was coming up with a way to incorporate the squid and the Brie onto the same plate. So I stared with the other two ingredients. I came up with the idea for two different sauces. With the edamame, I made a pesto with some basil, olive oil, garlic, and some parmesan and Brie cheese. To use the almond biscotti, I had to be a little more creative. A Romesco sauce is a red sauce originating in Spain that has almonds, peppers, and tomato and is typically thickened with bread. My idea was to substitute the bread and almonds with the almond biscotti. Maybe a bit of a stretch, but it's kind of like bread and has almonds in it. Along with roasted red peppers, ancho chili powder, and tomatoes, my second sauce was complete.

To pull it all together, I made a flat bread pizza. The romesco served as the sauce with quickly sauteed squid rounds and caramelized onions as the toppings. I finished it with basil leaves, Parmesan and Brie cheeses, with a drizzle of pesto. 

Lima Beans, Porter, Scallops, Doritos



What a difficult challenge! I spent a few days reeling, unable to come up with anything at all cohesive. I had considered lima beans as a challenge to Jason earlier, and doing so, considered what I would do with them, which would be to replace chickpeas in something Mediterranean. I stuck on that train of thought for a bit and realized all I had to do was make a falafel sandwich. The biggest challenge then became the scallops.

My porter went into a beer flatbread recipe that I modified slightly to conform to a pita bread recipe. I literally danced around the kitchen when my preliminary test actually worked. Then I threw blanched lima beans, raw onion and garlic and a handfull of fresh parsley into the food processor and pulsed it around until it was a chunky paste, then pulsed up a bunch of Cool Ranch Doritos (the only kind I could find without cheese in them, which I thought would be weird). I folded the Doritos into the bean mix and threw a patty of it into a skillet of hot oil to test it out. It came out tasting pretty good, but came apart in the oil. I remedied this by adding an egg.

Three ingredients down, one to go. Since I had been cleaning and butchering sea food every week thus far, and I had had such a rough time with the crabs, I wasn't in the mood to seek out and then learn the specifics of how to clean live scallops. I'd seen it done before, and it's gross. I just bought half a pound from the grocery store, already cleaned.

The two ideas I had were making a scallop salad similar to seafood salads you find in stores, but with a Mediterranean theme, or stuffing the falafel balls with them. I opted for stuffing, since I knew Jason wasn't a fan of creamy salads. I just rubbed them with a little dry rub and pan seared them before cutting them into smaller pieces and fitting them into the falafel balls before frying.

To finish, I simply stuffed the pita with the falafel and some arugula and onions tossed in a tahini dressing.

Okra, Lychee, Cashews, Sarcone's Roll



I had never seen a fresh lychee before going to the Asian market down on 6th Street and Washington Ave. A quick google image search gave me a general idea of what I was looking for, but when I found them, I was still surprised. The exterior looks like the outside of a nut, and the texture is hard and very rough. As soon as I got home from the store, I cut it open and found the white fleshy fruit inside. The taste is like a cross between a grape and a peach and my thought was that it's sweetness would go well with some chilies to make a sauce. A take on a Veloute, stock thickened with a roux, I cooked shallots with beef broth, added the roux, and processed with the lychee fruit. 

Now for those outside of Philadelphia, Sarcone's is a bakery that makes, among other things, the greatest hoagie rolls ever. They are made fresh daily and used two stores down in their deli. Since the Sarcone's roll is so delicious, I wanted to use it two ways. I dried out some of the bread in the oven and threw it in the food processor with the cashews to make a crust for the okra. I dipped the okra in egg wash, dredged it in my Sarcone's and cashew breading, and fried them to add some crunch. I also wanted to make a garlic bread. To give it a better garlic flavor, I cut a whole bulb of garlic in half, drizzled some olive oil and some salt, and roasted it for about 20 minutes. When it's done, it practically falls out of the husk and has a sweet aroma.  Mixed with a little butter, it made a spread for the baguette. 

To round out the meal, I cooked some jasmine rice and some skirt steak to go with the Lychee Chili Veloute and crispy fried okra with cashew breading. Here's how it turned out...

Softshell Crabs, Brioche, Arugula, Plantains



With the crabs in season I mentioned how they would be a great ingredient for our then un-blogged challenge. Lo and behold, they popped up the very next week, on my turn.

Since I wanted to continue to do this 100%, I wanted to get live crabs and clean them myself. After half a dozen Youtube instructional videos, I felt confident enough to let the crabs, whom I had let get too comfortable on my cutting board, have it. Apparently, one of the things that I didn't pay attention to, being more interested in the visceral aspects of the endeavor, was that the crabs start to revive quite a bit if you let them warm up too much. Instead of the easy and conscience-sparing project I saw depicted online, I had headless and flayed crabs thrashing all over the place.

Here's what I did with them when they finally stopped moving: pan fried in brioche crumbs. My original idea was to serve a twist on the typical tempura fried Spider roll you find in sushi joints. I had designs on a Vietnamese style summer roll (with a South American twist) stuffed with arugula salad tossed in a honey lime vinaigrette. The plantains were going to be served in the form of crispy potato pancakes topped with black bean dip and sour cream, based on a few recipes I found online for fried plantain, called pisang goreng.

Unfortunately, no matter how I wrestled and forced and tried to crush the crabs into the rice paper wrappings, the rolls kept tearing open, so what I ended up serving was much less ambitious. I put the salad (which contained arugula, red onion, avocado, cucumber, thai basil, jalapeƱos and cilantro tossed in the previously mentioned honey lime vinaigrette) on top of the crispy pancake and put the crab on top of it with a dollop of the bean dip in the middle.

Get a load of that thumb print on the side! Damn professional presentation.

Tuna, Bok Choy, Root Beer, Kidney Beans



Now unlike week one I don't dislike any of these ingredients. But putting them together into one dish would be the problem. The bok choy and the tuna would go nicely together with the tuna seared and the bok choy sauteed. With some citrus and soy sauce, I made the root beer into a teriyaki marinade for the tuna. The last thing to figure out was the kidney beans. 

Wanting to keep with the Asian theme of the other ingredients, I cooked the kidney beans down with some ginger, root beer, and soy sauce and added in fresh garlic. I mixed the beans in with some thin noodles, chilled them, and tossed it with sesame soy dressing that includes:

Sesame Soy Dressing:
Tahini (sesame seed puree)
Red chili paste
Rice vinegar
Soy sauce
Sesame oil
Black pepper

I crusted the tuna with sesame seeds and seared it. Along with the bok choy sauteed in soy sauce and ginger, it turned out like this.

Grapefruit, Clams, Pretzels, Radishes



My first question was whether or not there was a specific radish I had to use. I bought a myriad of different varieties before I got my indifferent response. I ended up using daikon.

I started by thinking about how I could incorporate the pretzels into some kind of dough. I considered clam meatballs made with pretzel breadcrumbs over some kinda horrible grapefruit and radish ragout. I never went farther than just thinking about it.

My next idea was clam pot pie with pretzel crust. I opened up a few clams and chopped up a few potatoes and radishes and a few other veggies and made a small bowl of clam stew. But the radishes did not fit well at all and I decided to take them out of the pie. At this point I still hadn't come up with any grapefruit ideas and that was bothering me.

While researching pot pie crusts, I happened across a simple biscuit recipe that I could easily incorporate ground pretzels into. And grapefruit marmalade came shortly after.

I thought a soup and salad combo with a biscuit on the side would be great. I pickled the daikon with some carrots, beets and onions and tossed them all up in a homemade aioli for cole slaw, splashed bourbon into the marmalade to tone down the grapefruit tart and whipped up a classic new england clam chowder.

Portabella Mushrooms, Green Grapes, Smoked Gouda, Baker's Chocolate



I hate green grapes. So of all the ingredients, this was going to be the most challenging. The other three ingredients were ones that I have used and enjoyed before. But the grapes...it took me a day or two to come up with anything at all. My preliminary ideas were:

     -Grape and White Wine Reduction
This turned out way too sweet. Granted, I used terrible wine. But all in all, pretty awful.

     -Grape and Balsamic Reduction
This seemed like it would be a little more promising. I thought the sourness of the balsamic would cut through the sweetness of the grapes. But alas, it ended up tasting strange. It was very rich but left a bad taste in my mouth.

After these failures, I decided to focus on a different ingredient. When I think savory chocolate dishes, a mole stands out. I had never had a mole before. But after doing a little research, I found that it often has raisins in it. Substituting grapes for raisins didn't seem like to big of a stretch.  I roasted tomatoes and grapes to remove some of the moisture and pureed them with cooked down ancho and chipolte chilies, some pecans and sesame seeds, and the bitter chocolate.

I melted the smoked gouda into the polenta and cooled it down. Once it set, I cut it into strips and made polenta fries. Topped with portobella mushrooms roasted in olive oil and garlic and spicy shrimp, it came out like this: