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Old 05-28-2011, 01:33 PM   #1
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GCC - The 4 seasons challenge Sprout

4 Seasons menu:
Summer- Appetizer: Seared Yellow Squash with Roasted Red Pepper Aioli
Spring- Salad: Fried Spring Onions and Dandelion Blossoms over Spring
Mix with Strawberries

Fall- Entree & side: Autumn Tacos with side of Lentils
Winter- Dessert: Spiced Gingerbread and Vanilla Icecream Sandwiches

I had a summer drink planned with the summer appetizer, but ran out of cash. I limited myself to things I already had in my pantry or could work into other meals as part of my usual grocery budget. In the end, I just couldn't justify spending money of fresh limes and mint when the money was needed elsewhere. Just for fun, I'll describe the drink I would have made in my appetizer post, since it's a drink I've made many times and is one of my favorites for summer.

Just as a heads up, I only have exact measurements for a few things here, but I'll list my ingredients and how I combined and prepared them. I apologize for the picture quality. DD broke our camera a few weeks ago,
so they were taken with a phone and I didn't have strong natural light for anything but the Spring and Fall courses.

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Old 05-28-2011, 03:19 PM   #2
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Appetizer: Summer

Seared Yellow Squash with Roasted Red Pepper Aioli
One of my favorite parts of summer is the fresh produce. Summer squash, sweet bell peppers...Also, When it's
hot I want something light and fairly clean-tasting, but not boring. This idea popped into my head almost
immediately, though I'll explain the modification I made.

Aioli:
1 red bell pepper roasted, cleaned, and stored in vegetable oil
3 medium cloves garlic, coursely chopped
2/3 c Hellman's mayonnaise
Cayenne to taste
Salt to taste
about 2 tbsp oil from stored pepper

Squash:
1 medium yellow squash
equal parts lime juice & water to just cover speared squash
1 serrano chile, minced
Paprika
Cayenne
Salt

I'm fortunate that this dish turned out well, considering I started preparing it one night, planning to finish it the following day, but then life happened and I didn't get to actually make the dish for several more days.
The first night I roasted the pepper under my broiled, removed the skin, seeds, and stem, and stored it in oil in an air-tight container in the refridgerator.
I cut the quash into spears, about 3 in long and 3/4 in square,
placed in a container with the serrano chile, just covered with lime and water, covered and set in the fridge to marinate overnight. When I finally got back to it several days later, the lime had preserved it, but I had something much more like pickles than what I wanted. I pulled out the squash, cut the other one I fortunately had, and put it in the same marinade for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, I pulled out the roasted pepper, chopped coursely, and placed in the blender with the garlic and a bit of the oil. I blended it until it was smooth, then added the mayo and blended to mix. I then added salt and cayenne pepper (just enough to give it a hint of heat) to taste and added a touch more oil to thin it to my desired consistancy.

After the squash had marinated for 30 minutes, I seasoned it with cayenne, paprika, and salt and seared in a very hot skillet until it was browned and warmed through, slightly softened, but still firm. I then plated it and drizzled it with a bit of the aioli.

I loved this. My husband doesn't like squash unless it's in baked goods, so he wouldn't try it, but if it's worth anything, my toddler loved it also! I'm glad the finished product had only marinated for 30 minutes. It had a hint of lime flavor and heat that brought out the sweetness of the squash, which was complimented very nicely by the aioli. It was juicy but still firm enough to eat as a finger food. It definitely made me think of sunshine.

If I could change one thing, I would have grilled the squash instead of searing it. This would have been ideal, but since our apartment complex doesn't allow grills, my hands were tied. I will still definitely make it again,
especially if I have the opportunity to borrow a grill!

If I'd had the funds available for the ingredients, I would have made my favorite summer mocktail, a faux-jito. Freshly squeezed lime, muddles mint leaves, simple syrup, and club soda over ice. I tend to keep it on the lighter side, so it's cold, refreshing and delicious. I wish I'd been able to make it and serve it with this app!
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Old 05-28-2011, 03:24 PM   #3
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Salad: Spring

Fried Spring Onions and Dandelion Blossoms over Spring
Mix with Strawberries

What could be more spring-like than a lawn full of dandelions? And what could be more satisfying than showing the little buggers who's boss and deep frying and eating them? I realize that in some areas strawberries don't
ripen until summer, but since we picked our own for this last weekend, I'm considering them a spring crop here.

Onions and dandelions:
handful of dandelion blossoms, checked for bugs and soaked in cold water, then dried on a napkin
1 spring onion (I belive they said these ones were vidalia), just the green, sliced into 1/4 in rings
flour seasoned with Chili powder, cumin, and salt
1 egg
2 tbsp water

Salad:
Spring mix, washed & dried
Strawberries,cleaned and cut into wedges
Kens's Steak House Lite Honey Mustard Dressing
Cayenne pepper
Paprika

I beat the egg and water to create a light egg wash, and seasoned my flour in a shallow bowl. A small handful at a time, I added the spring onion rings to the egg wash, then tossed in the pan, and deep fried in vegetable oil until crisp and light golden brown. I reapeated the same process with the dandelions.

I topped the spring mix with the fried onions and blossoms, sprinkled the strawberries around the outside, drizzled
with honey mustard, then seasoned with a pinch each of cayenne and paprika.

The salad was great, though a bit over-dressed due to a slip of my hand. The fried onions and dandelions were exactly what I'd hoped for, very light for something deepfried and crisp, not crunchy. The onions were incredible, almost like freshly made french-fried onions, but with a wonderful freshness to the flavor. It may sound like this has a bit too much going on for a salad, but the bitterness of the dandelion, slight saltiness and spices of the coating, and the sweet tartness of the strawberries and dressing worked very well together, all carried nicely by the spring mix. I kept the spices subtle, so they wouldn't overpower.
DH wouldn't touch the dandelions, he said it was just weird to eat flowers, but he loved the rest of the salad, though agreed with me that it was a bit overdressed. DD didn't complain at all except when she had trouble picking up the greens with a fork. Despite that setback, she still devoured hers.

If I could change something, obviously I'd be more careful with the dressing. Because of it, I can't quite call this one a complete success. DH said he liked it with the honey mustard, but also wanted to try it sometime with a raspberry vinegarette. The fried spring onions were my favorite part. I called my sister after and we spent almost 20 minutes just brainstorming other things they could be used to top. They're one of my new favorites (and incidentally, were also delicious on their own with the aioli from course 1.)
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Old 05-28-2011, 03:33 PM   #4
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Entree & Side : Fall

Autumn Tacos With side of Lentils
I'm amazed and delighted that the butternut squash I bought in the beginning of December is still good in my pantry. Fall makes me think of warm flavors, and butternut squash and corn, so I thought of this almost immediately. It's also the time of year I start cooking things that take long enough to heat up the house again, hence the braised meat and the side of lentils. I actually made almost this exact dish a few months back and posted a thread asking people to help me come up with a
name. For the purposes of the this theme, I stuck with autumn tacos, but replaced the ground beef I'd used previously with braised beef. I have to confess, I have no idea what cut of beef I used. It was in an unmarked vaccum pack in my freezer. If I were to take a guess based on looks, I'd say maybe round steak, but I can't remember buying round steak,
so I'm not sure. I have no idea why I didn't label it, but I promise, it was beef.

Autumn Tacos:
Beef braised in the crockpot with onions and black peppercorns, and water until tender, liquid reserved
Roasted butternut squash, cut into 1 in cubes
yellow onion, finely chopped
Cumin
coriander
nutmeg
cloves
ginger
cinnamon
salt
fresh cilantro, chopped
Greek yogurt
Sriracha

Lentils:
1/2 c green lentils
cumin
coriander
nutmeg
cloves
liquid from braised beef
water
chopped fresh cilantro

Roasted red pepper Aioli from course 1

I braised the beef overnight in my crock pot, then cut across the grain, about 1/3 in, and more or less crumbled the meat. I heated 2 skillets and added a touch of olive oil to each. I seasoned the beef and squash seperately with the 6 spices and salt, using a light touch so they wouldn't become overpowering. I added the onion to one pan and cooked until nearly translucent, then added the beef and some of the liquid from the crockpot. While the onions cooked, I added the seasoned squash cubes to the other, very hot skillet and turned as each side browned. When the beef was hot and the squash browned, combined both into 1 pan and added the cilantro (setting some of the meat aside for DH since he doesn't like squash, as mentioned before), cooking until just wilted. I removed from heat, covered, and set aside.
In a small skillet I heated a thin layer of vegetable oil. Individually, I fried corn tortiallas until soft, turning once, and then fried the last one until just starting to crisp.I served the filling in the hot tortillas with greek yogurt and sriracha.

While all of this was going on, my 1 extra burner was occupied with a pot of green lentils in about 3/4 cup of the braising liquid, 1/2 cup water, and spices. I added a bit more water once, because there was very little liquid left and the lentils were still too firm inside. Here's where my happiest accident of the meal came. Because I was focused on the meat and quash cooking, I accidentally let the lentils scorch to the bottom of the pan. I quickly scooped the unburnt lentils off the top into a bowl (thankfully they were cooked through) and tasted them to see if they could be salvaged. Instead of having the bitter burnt flavor of the ones now stuck to the pan, they took on a lovely smokey flavor that I would never have though to try for. Happy accident indeed! I just tossed in the chopped cilantro and it was done.

I plated 2 tacos, 1 with a completely soft shell and one still chewy but crisp on the outside, for comparison's sake, with a side of the lentils, and garnished with more Sriracha, some roasted red pepper aioli, and a sprig of cilantro.

I loved the whole thing. I preferred the crispy tortilla. I love contrast, and the crispiness contrasted beautifully with the soft quash. The sweet corn tortillas, buttery squash and sweet spices were wonderful. The cilantro freshened the flavor, the beef and savory spices deepened it, and the heat of the Sriracha added an excellent accent. The smokey flavor and spices in the lentils worked very well as a side, especially when I mixed in a bit of the aioli. The lentils were a bit dry, so the aioli was necessary for them. A dab of aioli was nice with the tacos, but not necessary. Dh liked his version without the squash, but said his meat was a little dry (his didn't get covered, since I discovered the scorched lentils at about that point) and added sharp cheddar. "They're tacos. They have to have cheese." He tried the lentils and then said, "Hmmm. I don't like lentils." DD, true to form, gobbled down everything.

If I could change something, I would have cooked all of the tortillas until crispy, I was just curious to see which would be better
here. Also, I think it would be safer to add smoked paprika to the lentils next time, instead of risking the scorching and wasting
the bottom layer!

I assembled one taco for a photo open, to display the filling, then I took a picture of the finished plate.
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Old 05-28-2011, 03:39 PM   #5
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Winter-Dessert

Spiced Gingerbread and Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwiches

I used the "Gingerbread Cookies" recipe from The Great American Cookie Cookbook, but altered it to incorporate some of the flavors from
the previous course, for a better transition. The recipe called for 1 tsp of cinnamon, which I decreased to 3/4 tsp, and I added 1/2 tsp
cloves and 1/2 tsp nutmeg. I prepared the rest of the recipe as directed. Once the cookies cooled, I used Breyer's natural vanilla
ice cream to make a sandwich with 2 cookies.

DH: "It's cold."
Me: "Yeah. It's ice cream."
DH: "It's good, but it's kinda hard to eat. Can you make them softer?"

I agreed that it was hard to eat, so I decided to use the manufactured ice cream sandwich method. I stuck it in a sealed container, put it
in the freezer, and let the moisture in the ice cream soften the cookie. The next day, it was softened enough to be much easier to eat, but
still crisp. I liked it. DH said he'd rather the cookie was all the way soft, but apparently liked it enough that he rejected my idea of putting it back in the freezer for another day or two and finished it off right then.

Honestly, this was my least favorite course. It was good, but not that exciting. The spice cookie was yummy, but Sweetzel's does it better.
If I know of a mass produced product that turns out better than my home-made cookie, it's not a success. It tasted good with the ice cream,
but wasn't quite as strong as I'd have liked with the ice cream. A bit more sugar, spice, and maybe even a little more salt next time around, I think. That was it. It was good. Not good enough to hold up to the rest of the meal, though. Then again, I've never been a huge gingerbread girl.
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Old 05-28-2011, 03:48 PM   #6
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So that's my meal! I tried to make sure every course worked well in it's place. I didn't want to just throw a bunch of dishes together that represented 4 seasons, I wanted them to be a great meal together. I think I succeeded, though it would be a lot of food to eat in one sitting! I only wish I could have put the seasons in order, but the squash needed to come before the salad, and once I had thought of courses that would work together and use ingredients that I could work into my food budget, my pregnant brain took over and I started craving those dishes! Oh well. I had a lot of fun with this and learned a few new things.
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Old 05-28-2011, 04:28 PM   #7
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It all looks fantastic...it was fun wasn't it? Good job!
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Old 05-28-2011, 05:55 PM   #8
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Everything looks great! The first thing I want to try is your dessert!
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Old 05-28-2011, 07:36 PM   #9
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It looks really good and everything flows well as a meal!
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Old 05-28-2011, 10:13 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sprout View Post
Spiced Gingerbread and Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwiches

I used the "Gingerbread Cookies" recipe from The Great American Cookie Cookbook, but altered it to incorporate some of the flavors from
the previous course, for a better transition. The recipe called for 1 tsp of cinnamon, which I decreased to 3/4 tsp, and I added 1/2 tsp
cloves and 1/2 tsp nutmeg. I prepared the rest of the recipe as directed. Once the cookies cooled, I used Breyer's natural vanilla
ice cream to make a sandwich with 2 cookies.

DH: "It's cold."
Me: "Yeah. It's ice cream."
DH: "It's good, but it's kinda hard to eat. Can you make them softer?"

I agreed that it was hard to eat, so I decided to use the manufactured ice cream sandwich method. I stuck it in a sealed container, put it
in the freezer, and let the moisture in the ice cream soften the cookie. The next day, it was softened enough to be much easier to eat, but
still crisp. I liked it. DH said he'd rather the cookie was all the way soft, but apparently liked it enough that he rejected my idea of putting it back in the freezer for another day or two and finished it off right then.

Honestly, this was my least favorite course. It was good, but not that exciting. The spice cookie was yummy, but Sweetzel's does it better.
If I know of a mass produced product that turns out better than my home-made cookie, it's not a success. It tasted good with the ice cream,
but wasn't quite as strong as I'd have liked with the ice cream. A bit more sugar, spice, and maybe even a little more salt next time around, I think. That was it. It was good. Not good enough to hold up to the rest of the meal, though. Then again, I've never been a huge gingerbread girl.

This sounds so winter and sooo good.!
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