“Chopped” Challenge (Episode No. 5 – “A pinsa this, a pinsa that”)

With a few weeks to go before our kitchen shuts down for renovation, my husband, Les, and I are scrambling to use up all the random ingredients in our pantry, fridge and freezer. We decided to turn our adventures into a fun challenge, and it’s time for another episode.

Before we started our challenge, Les and I established and agreed upon the following rules for setting up each other’s baskets:

  1. Each basket must hold four mystery ingredients, found in our cabinets, fridge or freezer.
  2. The goal of the challenge is to use up our surplus food, with as little waste as possible. We will not be using some small portion of an ingredient and throwing the rest in the trash.
  3. Basket ingredients can be used in any course of the meal or broken into separate courses of a single meal, i.e.: cocktail, appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert. Cook’s choice.
  4. Basket ingredients must be transformed in the meal, not merely served as is.
  5. Pet foods may not be submitted as basket ingredients, even though Les says we have way too many bags of kitty treats (we do).

OK, let’s do this! Please press play on the video to see what kind if ingredients I had to work with for my third challenge!


It seems pretty obvious that I should make some kind of flatbread appetizer from these basket ingredients, right? And perhaps on another day, that’s what I would do. Les said himself that he might have made it too easy for me, and I tend to agree. Pizzas are such a regular entry for me, and I want to push myself out of my comfort zone, and that means—no pizza here today!

Artichoke and crab have become well-acquainted in other dishes I’ve made here on Comfort du Jour, including this creamy artichoke and crab appetizer dip and these crab and artichoke cakes that found their way to the top of a cobb salad. If you love these flavors together, please circle back to check out these recipes.


I wanted to try something different with these complementary flavors, and I had never paired them in a soup, nor had I even tasted them together in a soup. I was certain it would be delicious.

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful soup!

So that’s what I’ll be making from my mystery basket—soup! It was a tossup whether to take it in a smooth and creamy direction (think bisque) or rustic and chunky (as a chowder). Either would be tasty, and I decided to let the ingredients show me along the way which version would be best. The Kalamata olives don’t fit (at least not yet), so I set them aside. And then there was the matter of the pinsa dough, which is an interesting type of flatbread that is gaining some traction in the modern restaurant world. I like to think I am on the front of the curve with fun “new” foods, but I had only heard of pinsa very recently, so it has been a bit of a mystery to me. I will come back to that later.


To start, I rendered small cubes of bacon and set them aside to be a crispy topper for the soup, which would be delicious, regardless of whether I went creamy or chowder-y. Next, I sauteed a couple of leeks that were sliced thin, and that picked up all the delicious browned-on bacon goodness from the bottom of my pan. Diced baby red potatoes went in next, and it occurred to me that tossing them in there may have limited me to the chowder category, given that I’d have to puree the mixture to make it a bisque. I already had my doubts about pureeing the soup, because of the fibrous nature of the leaf part of the artichoke hearts. And now, potato skins, too? Hmm.


I cut up the artichoke hearts, reserving the tender “bottom” part of several, and tossing the rest into the pot, along with seafood stock, dry white wine and a bay leaf. After a good simmering, I would decide between bisque and chowder. I still had decisions to make about the Kalamatas and the pinsa.

The Kalamatas and artichoke hearts can play nice together, but the sweet lump crab has such a delicate flavor that I didn’t want the bold Kalamatas mingling with it in the same dish. Frankly, I was surprised that Les put the Kalamatas in the basket because he doesn’t really like their flavor. To balance them, I added in a couple of my favorite martini olives, which are a brighter flavor, soaked in vermouth and stuffed with preserved lemon peel. The result was a tapenade, an appetizer dip I had learned to make during my time in the catering kitchen. This version was delicious, but I was skeptical about whether Les would like it, so I added one more thing, a small handful of sweet sun-dried tomatoes, and that was perfect. I could serve this on the side of the artichoke-crab soup, but how?


Ultimately, it was the Kalamata olives—what I considered to be the red herring of this basket—that pushed me to my decision on the pinsa. I was confident that Les would like the balance of the tapenade mixture, and the pinsa dough would have to carry it. It helped to know a bit more about this interesting “new” bread product, so I’ll share what my research taught me.

Pinsa Romana dough

What is pinsa dough, anyway?

Imagine the result if focaccia and a cloud had a baby. That’s pinsa, puffy and airy and very different from pizza dough. Pinsa dough has a high water content, which makes it a little fussier to work with, but gives it those lovely air pockets. The dough has a cold-and-slow fermentation method that guarantees terrific flavor. And pinsa is traditionally made from a combination of flours, including typical wheat, but also soy and rice flours. This gives it higher protein, easier digestibility and supreme crispiness when baked. It is light, crispy and heavenly to bite into. And though it may seem like an innovative take on bread, a new discovery from some leading-edge chef, pinsa has been around for a very long time—some say back to ancient Roman days. Who knows where it has been hiding all this time, but as I have said here many times, all things old become new again, and pinsa is back in the game!

As Les pointed out during the unveiling of my mystery basket, this flatbread dough he pulled from our freezer for my basket was given to us by a friend in the restaurant business. Our buddy, Dave Hillman, is always on the lookout for interesting foods, and he has three local-to-us restaurants of his own to serve as testing grounds for the fun things he finds. One of them, Burke Street Pizza, has won the favor of my native New Yorker husband as a “real deal” version of N.Y. pizza, but that’s not where the pinsa came from. Another of his restaurants, West End Poke, offers a modern approach to healthy eating with poke, a native Hawaiian dish that has rightfully gained a lot of attention in the mainland U.S. in recent years. Dave’s third local restaurant, a casual tavern eatery called The Quiet Pint, could best be described as a gastropub, a term Dave says means they “serve up your favorite pub fare, but with interesting twists.” One of those recent twists is pinsa dough, the base for the Pint’s creative flatbread pizzas.

The pinsa dough is the most unusual ingredient in my basket, and I needed time to consider how to give it proper attention. My goal is to take full advantage of its crispy nature and also to make it the key that ties the creamy, silky soup with the chunky, savory tapenade. And though the dough was already par-baked, I still had options for transforming it to serve a new purpose with the other ingredients of my mystery basket meal. The pinsa would become breadsticks.

From that decision forward, it was all a bit of a blur. The potatoes and artichoke hearts had become very tender during the simmer, so I pulled out my trusty immersion blender and pureed it smooth. This was not a problem with either the fibrous artichokes or the red potato skins; it was quite lovely. I added heavy cream, another splash of wine and about a cup of the sweet lump crab and let it simmer to heat through.


The delicate pinsa was fully thawed by this time, and I used my kitchen shears to cut it into strips about 1 inch wide. I minced several cloves of fresh garlic and drowned them in melted butter, which I brushed onto one side of my pinsa sticks. A few minutes in the oven, then I turned them and brushed the other side. They emerged from the oven with an ethereally crispy, perfect texture.


I topped the creamy artichoke crab bisque with additional fresh crab, the crispy bacon and a broiled lemon slice. A quick smear of my artichoke and garlic hummus (a recipe I shared a few days ago here) went down on the plate, topped with the kalamata-artichoke heart tapenade, and accompanied by the pinsa breadsticks, which pretty much stole the show.

Who’s hungry?

I am super proud of the way I used these basket ingredients but, as always, the decision lies with our esteemed panel of culinary judges—Les. 😊

That crunch! 🙂


You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the brands and products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or merchandise in exchange for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀

Terrie


“Chopped” Challenge (Episode No. 4 – “Who you callin’ jerk?”)

As the start of our kitchen remodel gets closer, the competition gets tougher! Well, not really, because we are technically on the same team with shared desire for making the clear-out of cabinets and freezer less painful. This is our very own “Chopped” challenge. Thanks for playing along with us!

Before we started our challenge, we established and agreed upon the following rules for setting up each other’s baskets:

  1. Each basket must hold four mystery ingredients, found in our cabinets, fridge or freezer.
  2. The goal of the challenge is to use up our surplus food, with as little waste as possible. We will not be using some small portion of an ingredient and throwing the rest in the trash.
  3. Basket ingredients can be used in any course of the meal or broken into separate courses of a single meal, i.e.: cocktail, appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert. Cook’s choice.
  4. Basket ingredients must be transformed in the meal, not merely served as is.
  5. Pet foods may not be submitted as basket ingredients, even though we have way too many bags of kitty treats.

We’re tackling more pantry items and pushing each other out of our culinary comfort zones. Please use the play controls to reveal what Les is about to find inside his next mystery basket!

Nilla makes a cameo appearance during the basket reveal!

The basket ingredients in this second challenge gave me pause. After my first challenge, when I made a one-pan dish, I had potential to go casserole. Meaning another one-note dish. After more thought and a web browsing for ideas to use the sliced turkey Terrie gave me, I decided to go with two separate dishes: a jerk turkey wrap and a kugel dessert. Let me tackle the main dish first.

To start with, I love sauces. So when I think about how to use basket ingredients, I’m typically thinking about how to amp up the flavor, and turkey is perfect because it can go in so many different directions. The jerk seasoning rub in my basket was a natural. I added some peanut oil, chopped up the turkey slices and marinated for an hour before browning the previously cooked turkey in a cast-iron skillet.

A website called The Wanderlust Kitchen gave me a couple of cool ideas for dressing up my wrap. Its recipe called for a green cabbage slaw and an avocado aioli. I decided not to include a third suggested sauce, a mango chutney, because, to quote one of my mom’s favorite phrases (I love working her into these blog posts despite her cooking shortcomings), “it’s too much, Leslie.” And I ditched the ciabatta the Wanderlust site favored for a spinach wrap because I believed the bread of a ciabatta (or sub roll or similar) would absorb the flavors of the accoutrements. The green cabbage slaw included scallions, another of my basket ingredients, as well as cilantro, which gave a nice bite to the jerk turkey. The avocado aioli, meanwhile, added a tang thanks to its mayo and lime juice. I kept the recipe’s idea of a slice of gouda cheese, but to be honest, the wrap would have worked fine without it.

This was a relatively easy, healthy dinner, and I was proud to serve it up.

Jamaican Jerk Turkey Wrap with Green Cabbage Scallion Slaw and Avocado Aioli


The crunchy scallion cabbage slaw is the final touch on these easy wraps.

Once I made the decision not to try to force my basket’s egg noodles into the main dish, my heart and Jewish heritage led me to an easy choice. Kugel is a noodle dish popular on Jewish holidays, and although I didn’t exactly grow up having it frequently (if at all; did I mention my mom was most definitely not an adventurer in the kitchen?) I’ve had it enough to know how tasty it is when made well.

I decided to use Terrie’s go-to chef for Jewish foods—Tori Avey. Tori’s kugel recipe is a classic, using egg noodles (my final basket ingredient), six eggs, sour cream, cottage cheese, cream cheese, butter, sugar, cinnamon and raisins. I had a couple of add-ins for this dish because in one case I messed up and in another, I decided to empty our pantry of another item.

The dessert is not actually difficult to put together; you just need patience in gathering everything together and you also need to not boil the egg noodles too long; you want them softened but not fully cooked because of the hour they’ll spend in the oven becoming kugel. While adding my wet ingredients to the mixer, I realized I only had about half the sour cream called for in the recipe. And we were out of plain Greek yogurt, my first go-to as a substitute. But what’s this I found deep in the refrigerator? Why, it’s a Siggi individual Greek yogurt, coconut flavor. What a great complement for this dish!

Judge’s note: Technically, Siggi’s is skyr, which is not the same as yogurt but definitely has a texture worthy of this substitution. I am impressed with Les’s quick thinking on this!

In it goes (after first tasting it to make sure the “use by June 6” stamp hadn’t rendered it foul). The raisins, which first get a warm water bath before being added to the final mix of noodles and wet ingredients, emptied our pantry of another item. As I went to put the casserole in the oven, I had another brainstorm. We’ve had the dregs of a bag of brownie brittle from Costco on our counter for a couple of months; the recipe suggested possible toppings, and although brownie brittle wasn’t one of them, it did suggest anything crunchy (like corn flakes, which we don’t keep in our house). So I crushed what was left of the brownie brittle and sprinkled it on top, along with another dash of sugar and cinnamon. Into the oven went the kugel.

Classic Jewish Kugel


A couple of minutes later, I was disturbed by a “ding” sound. Turns out I’d warmed the butter in the microwave and forgotten to take it out and add to the wet ingredients. But not to worry. I opened the oven, poured the butter on top and used a fork to make little trenches and allow the butter to seep through. Problem solved!

This challenge overall made me happy because I used Terrie’s frequent advice to trust my instinct and feel free to substitute (as long as you are not changing ratios in recipes, especially liquid ratios). I also solved problems on the fly during the cooking process, like when I started our KitchenAid mixer and a chunk of product flew out and onto the counter, the floor and me. It wasn’t as bad as I feared, fortunately. And, most important, it didn’t affect the final product. Kugelicious!

This smelled amazing from the oven.

And now, the moment of truth; time for Terrie to judge my effort on this Chopped challenge basket!


Judge’s note: This kugel reminds me of a bread pudding, but with egg noodles rather than bread cubes. It is so delicious, I want to eat it again for breakfast!



“Chopped” Challenge (Episode No. 3 – “Holy Mole”)

Things are steaming up around here, as my husband, Les, and I count down the weeks til the kickoff of our kitchen remodel. We are doing our best to trim the pantry and freezer inventory before we get there, to help ease the pain that comes naturally with home renovation. I will admit that I have been nervous, not only for turning my own mystery basket into something special, but also for preparing baskets for Les. I don’t want to stump him, but I also don’t want to hand him a victory on a silver platter. As this challenge continues, we are certain to face weirder combinations of ingredients than either of us imagined.

Before we started our challenge, Les and I established and agreed upon the following rules for setting up each other’s baskets:

  1. Each basket must hold four mystery ingredients, found in our cabinets, fridge or freezer.
  2. The goal of the challenge is to use up our surplus food, with as little waste as possible. We will not be using some small portion of an ingredient and throwing the rest in the trash.
  3. Basket ingredients can be used in any course of the meal or broken into separate courses of a single meal, i.e.: cocktail, appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert. Cook’s choice.
  4. Basket ingredients must be transformed in the meal, not merely served as is.
  5. Pet foods may not be submitted as basket ingredients, even though Les says we have way too many bags of kitty treats.

It’s time for my second basket of mystery ingredients in our homegrown “Chopped” challenge, and I can hardly stand still.

Holy Mole.

My first reaction for this whole chicken is disappointment because I was planning to make soup with it, and now that plan is shot. But this also reveals one of my own personal shortcomings—I have wanted to make soup with the chicken since last August, and I still haven’t. My procrastination is part of the reason we have so much stuff! Les did us a big favor by putting that thing in my Chopped basket.

This was my chance to do something cool with the chicken, even more special than soup, and my first step would be brining it in a mixture that would include the Wicked Whiskey honey. After 11 months in the freezer, it probably needs a flavor boost and some assurance of retained moisture. I got that started and sent it to the fridge for five hours.


Let’s talk about this jalapeno sauce for a moment. This awful, one-note, ugly-to-look-at, disgusting jalapeno sauce. I’m usually all about the novel condiments at Trader Joe’s, but this product has been letting me down since Les first brought it home a few months ago. All I taste in it is jalapeno and heat. There’s no balance of acid or sweetness or even salt. It has a weird creamy texture, and I am suspicious of any product that tastes creamy without a speck of cream on the ingredients list. And that color—ugh.  


I’m going to bury the sauce by blending it into the broth used to make brown rice, and I’ll add my own complementary flavors, in the form of fresh jalapenos, scallions and grilled fresh pineapple brushed with more of the Wicked Whiskey honey. Basically, I’m trying to play up the jalapeno flavor while simultaneously hiding the sauce. Is that gonna work? We’ll see.


That leaves the mole, and although it seems like a random ingredient, it is something I was quite proud of when I first made it. Mole is a traditional, labor-of-love sauce, signature to the Mexican region of Puebla, where they love blending chiles with fruit and onions and nuts and seeds and (wait for it) dark chocolate! My guess about the origin of this mole was on point; I looked through my iPhone and found the photos I took while making this sauce for Cinco de Mayo—in 2019! My favorite part was melting in the dark chocolate. 😊


Despite having been in the deep freezer for two years, the mole still had exquisite layers of flavor. I blended it with a bit of olive oil and a touch of Wicked Whiskey honey, and I rubbed it all over the brined chicken, which I roasted over root vegetables on the convection setting of our oven for I have no idea how long, and lo and behold, it turned out beautiful!


The mole-rubbed chicken looks great, but how does it taste, and what about that rice made with disgusting jalapeno sauce? It’s time for judging.

Les is a very generous judge. In my own opinion, the jalapeno sauce-infused rice was decidedly not a winner, and not only because the sauce is gross. I overcooked it because I miscalculated the amount of liquid when I blended in the jalapeno sauce. It was edible, but not delicious.

But that chicken!


Thank you, dear reader, for joining us on this crazy culinary journey! The next basket is for Les. I’ll spring it on him tomorrow—stay tuned! 🙂


“Chopped” Challenge (Episode No. 2 – “One-dish Wonder”)

So here I am, doing my first “Chopped”-like challenge for Terrie’s blog as she and I continue emptying our pantry and refrigerator in advance of kitchen remodeling and who do I wind up stealing an idea from, of all people, on my first basket? My late mom.

Now, I loved my mom dearly, but her cooking was, shall I say, ummmm, well, it fed me. Mom’s favorite dish, and she was happy to share with anyone how “good” it was, was stuffed cabbage. I endured that dish twice a year for years. Bland ground beef balls with white rice (yuck, says 10-year-old me, in recollection) inside steamed (boiled?) cabbage and mom’s secret ingredient, which I’ll share more of later because, quite frankly, I’m getting ahead of myself. So let’s slow down and go back to the beginning of this challenge.

Press play on the video below to see what ingredients Les had to work with.

Chef Les seems a little hesitant about his basket ingredients.

The four mandatory ingredients in my basket (thanks, love!) were: hot Italian turkey sausages, dried cranberries, two sweet potatoes and cocktail onions. Now I have to tell you all that I am a decent cook, and I like being creative. But I’m most definitely not Terrie. Creative for me is putting things together in a way that allows me leftovers for lunch during the week.

With these ingredients, my first thought was to pair the cranberries and sweet potatoes in a sweet concoction (think Thanksgiving side or dessert), and then figure out a plan for the sausage and cocktail onions. But the morning of my day to cook, I was struck by one of the signature aspects of “Chopped.” You’re supposed to create a unified dish with the ingredients. Hot Italian sausage and a sweet side or dessert didn’t speak “unified” to me. And I’m both competitive and a stickler for detail; I wanted to get my first basket right.


Judge’s note:

Les is straying from the format a bit here, given that the previously agreed-upon rules for this Comfort du Jour challenge permitted multiple dishes made from the basket ingredients. Let’s review:

  • Each basket must hold four mystery ingredients, found in our cabinets, fridge or freezer. No sought-out, wacky ingredients for the purpose of stumping each other.
  • The goal of the challenge is to use up our surplus food, with as little waste as possible. We will not be using some small portion of an ingredient and throwing the rest in the trash.
  • Basket ingredients can be used in any course of the meal or broken into separate courses of a single meal, i.e.: cocktail, appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert. Cook’s choice.
  • Basket ingredients must be transformed in the meal, not merely served as is.
  • Pet foods may not be submitted as basket ingredients, even though Les says we have way too many bags of kitty treats (and we do).

Is Les a bit of an overachiever? Let’s find out, as he digs into his challenge.


Like Terrie, who often studies Pinterest for ideas, I turned to an outside source—Google. I plugged in sweet potatoes and Italian sausage and came up with quite a few recipes. I settled on one that, with some creativity and tweaking, just might work. Plus, it would incorporate all four basket ingredients and even clean out a couple of extra pantry ingredients. And, extra bonus, a one-pan dish! Now that’s my kind of meal: simple.

I peeled, diced and boiled the sweet potatoes (OK, technically, I guess I used a pot and one pan). I removed the sausage from the casings and browned it, setting it aside, and then using the fat left behind to sauté the cocktail onions, some leftover sweet onion (to counterbalance the sour in those cocktail onions), red and orange bell pepper, mushrooms and garlic.


Once the veggies were done, I added back the sausage and sweet potatoes, as well as the last jar of my canned homemade salsa (the recipe called for salsa, which was convenient because it rid our pantry of another item) as well as a can of diced tomatoes (not in the recipe, but that was my intuition, and it worked well). Along the way I seasoned every layer (thanks, love, for that simple cooking instruction that I follow religiously now, thanks to you)* * , also adding cumin. The meal came together in less than an hour.

**Is it me, or does it seem that Les is flirting with the judge for bonus points?


Ah, but I left something out, didn’t I? And I don’t mean the cocktail onions, which I almost omitted (cause for being chopped in the real “Chopped”) except that Terrie reminded me when she saw the jar still in the fridge after I’d started prepping (thanks, love!). Yep, he is definitely flirting. No, the part I left out is the completion of the story about my mom. It turns out the “secret” ingredient in mom’s stuffed cabbage was raisins, which she added to the pot as her dish cooked for hours. I despised those raisins. For me, raisins were meant to be as they came out of the little boxes, not as bloated, warm, soft “things.”


By now, I imagine I’ve done enough foreshadowing that you know I rehydrated the dried cranberries from the basket and as the final touch in my one-pan dish, added them to the sausage, sweet potatoes and vegetables.


The bloated, warm, soft cranberry “things” gave the dish a fine, sweet complement to the spice of the sausage and salsa. I may still have unfortunate memories of her stuffed cabbage, but I’m not embarrassed to say, “thanks, mom.”

Even the cranberries worked their way into Les’s dish!

Press play on the video below to see how Chef Les finished in his Comfort du Jour “Chopped” challenge.



“Hot Italian Sausage-Sweet Potato Slop”

The one-dish slop was not a flop, and that means we are two-for-two!
As the kitchen remodel gets closer, the basket ingredients are bound to get weirder.
Stay tuned for more frolicking fun, and another “Chopped” challenge!


“Chopped” Challenge (Episode No. 1 – “Mystery Meat”)

Planning and living through a kitchen remodel can be stressful business, and my husband, Les, and I are looking for fun ways to distract ourselves from the chaos that will undoubtedly ensue when our remodel begins at the end of summer. We both want to whittle down some of the excess pantry and freezer inventory in our kitchen (and the overflow in the laundry room and the garage) so that we don’t carry it over into our redesigned space. I will admit that I am a bit of a pack rat when it comes to foodstuffs—I cannot seem to resist purchasing unusual ingredients when I see them on a market run. I mean, one never knows when it might be handy to have an extra package of raw cacao on reserve. Or three. Yes, we have a lot of stuff.


Les and I are avid fans of “Chopped” on Food Network, and we play along vicariously, suggesting (OK, sometimes shouting) to the chef competitors how they might use the ingredients in their mystery baskets. We cringe when we see them do something that never ends well, such as putting cooked potatoes in a food processor (instant glue, coming right up!) or repeatedly opening the oven door to see if their dessert still isn’t baking fast enough. We feel the anxiety of the judges in the final seconds, and we often join their chorus, urging the competitors to “just get it on the plate!”

When I casually mentioned to a friend last week that I needed to get creative about using up our own kitchen surplus, she joked that she could imagine me doing my own version of a “Chopped” challenge and scratching ingredients off the inventory list as the weeks wear on for our kitchen work to begin. It was a brilliant idea, and we are off and running with our first episode!

Les and I will not be competing against each other, because we are on the same team. Also, we don’t have multiple cooking stations, ovens and deep fryers, and we certainly do not have a blast chiller or an anti-griddle or a salamander (professional grade broiler oven), as they do on the set of “Chopped.” We do not plan to enforce a time limit on completing the challenge, as our goal is simply to use up our stuff and, of course, eat and enjoy the meals we create through this experience. We are not going to record every moment (you’re welcome), but we will let you in on the fun of the challenge with the unveiling of the mystery baskets we prepare for each other. And, of course, the outcomes.


Before we started our challenge, Les and I established and agreed upon the following rules for setting up each other’s baskets:

  • Each basket must hold four mystery ingredients, found in our cabinets, fridge or freezer. No sought-out, wacky ingredients for the purpose of stumping each other.
  • The goal of the challenge is to use up our surplus food, with as little waste as possible. We will not be using some small portion of an ingredient and throwing the rest in the trash.
  • Basket ingredients can be used in any course of the meal or broken into separate courses of a single meal, i.e.: cocktail, appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert. Cook’s choice.
  • Basket ingredients must be transformed in the meal, not merely served as is.
  • Pet foods may not be submitted as basket ingredients, even though Les says we have way too many bags of kitty treats (and we do).

The first challenge was mine. Press “play” on the video to witness the unveiling of my mystery basket. Here we go!!!

I did not expect to feel so nervous!

The mystery meat was easy to identify, once I was able to stop laughing and remove the cover. It was leftover barbacoa, which I made back in February, and five months in the freezer did not do it any favors. It still had plenty of spicy flavor, but the texture was somewhat mushy. To transform it, I would need to combine it with something else, or put it inside something else to make the unpleasant texture less noticeable.

The brownie brittle is a crispy, chocolatey dessert snack that I picked up at Costco. It’s very tasty but in true Costco fashion, there’s just too darn much of it. We have tendency to buy products like this one, and we get bored with it about halfway through. As far as I’m concerned, the brownie brittle is the red herring in this basket. There’s no obvious way to use it, so I’ll set it aside for now.

The butternut squash, as Les pointed out, genuinely has been wearing out its welcome in our kitchen. I bought it near the end of winter, but then I got excited about cooking things for spring and I just kept putting it off. For better or worse, winter squash has a long shelf life. The biggest challenge with the squash is that it’s big, and so there’s a lot of it. My plan to use it up will be to incorporate it into our meal in multiple ways, and I might also try to slip a few pieces to my kitchen assistant, Nilla, who is always on standby and happy to help.


Finally, the poor, sad little apples that have been buried in the fruit drawer for a least a month. They aren’t even the same variety—one Granny Smith and one honeycrisp, although there’s nothing crisp about either of these tired fruits. They won’t mix with the barbacoa, so I will transform them into a dessert, and I’ll use some of the squash in it, too. This is the easiest part of the basket for me. Might as well map this one out; I pulled a box of puff pastry from the freezer (heaven only knows how long it’s been buried in there), and some simple dessert spices.

Add a few spices, some butter and sugar, and this can be dessert.

I cubed the other neck piece and tossed it into the oven to roast, with oil and a little salt and pepper. I love roasted squash, so the hardest thing for me will be not snacking on it while I figure out the rest of the basket. The remaining squash went into a saucepan to simmer until tender, and that’s when the rest of the dish came into focus for me.

Some of the tender squash could be worked into a pasta dough, and it would be a nice color as well as flavor! The barbacoa could be used as a filling for ravioli, but what about my red herring, the sweet brownie brittle? And that’s when it hit me that chocolate is used in mole, and Les always puts a little cocoa powder in a pot of his chili. There it was, I would crush up the brownie brittle and add those dark, chocolaty crumbs to the meat filling! This made sense to me, and when Les took a taste of the barbacoa-brownie brittle mixture, he confirmed it was working. He could taste the chocolate, and said it was good.

The ravioli plan had taken so much attention, I had put the squash and apple tart on the back burner. I thawed a sheet of puff pastry from our freezer, rolled it out to smooth the wrinkles, sprinkled brown sugar and cinnamon over it, then alternated rows of squash and the two kinds of apple, and another sprinkle of cinnamon. Then I folded up the edges, as if making a galette, brushed them with egg white and into the oven.


I also needed a quick sauce to drizzle on the baked squash-apple tart, because it was rather dry and plain from the oven. I melted butter with maple sugar, tossed a small handful of chopped walnuts into it, then more maple sugar and a splash of maple-infused balsamic vinegar. A little bit of tartness is usually exactly what any dish needs to feel and taste “finished,” and both Les and I were sampling this sauce beyond what was necessary. I wish I had made more because it would be great over ice cream. The squash and apple tart turned out tasty, even as leftovers the next evening.

Butternut squash and apple puff pastry tart, with a maple walnut dessert glaze. Winner!

Rolling the pasta didn’t take long (I have been practicing lately and will share more about that soon), and I was thankful to have my ravioli mold to make quick work of finishing that part of the meal. I made an easy “sauce” for my ravioli, using up a half onion from the crisper drawer, the last dregs of a bag of frozen roasted corn, some veggie broth and half and half, and some kind of seasonings but I honestly can’t remember! The finished dish seemed a little boring in color, and everything had a soft texture, so I chopped a handful of toasted pumpkin seeds and scattered them on top. And this one is done.


“Chef Les, I have prepared for you a spiced butternut squash ravioli with barbacoa-brownie brittle filling.
It is topped with a simple roasted corn sauce and caramelized butternut squash, and accented with toasted pumpkin seeds for a little crunch.”



“And that means, Chef Terrie, you have conquered the basket ingredients and chopped your way to victory in the first challenge!”

Will Les have what it takes to do the same? Find out next week, when we unveil his mystery basket ingredients!


Oh, and just for fun, I combined the final 1/2 cup of cooked butternut squash with some rolled oats, brown rice flour, a touch of cinnamon and the rest of the pasta egg mixture. Processed it, scooped it out and baked it up as cookies for my kitchen helper. 🙂 ❤