Owen from Tomatilla recently came out with an online blog cooking event that adds yet another exercise to a bevy of excuses for getting together--albeit virtually--and cook a little more.
The gist of it was as follows: Owen announced a list of four ingredients that must be used, to make a dish and then write about it on the following Monday by noon PST. "An impartial guest judge will pick the best sounding recipe to them and the winner will be awarded" the "Paper Chef" title for a month.
For the premiere installment the ingredients to cook were:
Though I had read about this event I totally forgot about it until earlier today when, through Food Porn Watch I saw that Owen had updated his site, with, what else, but his own entry to Paper Chef.
Although I love cooking and blogging and all these food events are by definition very exciting, the thought of an impromptu dish being submitted for a "contest" did not really appeal to me. However, in my head, I could already hear Chairman Kaga screaming Allez cuisine!
There was the added bit of finding time to create, cook, plate, take a picture of the soup while there was still a nice & natural light out and post the entry before noon Monday. We were invited for dinner at a friend's restaurant tomorrow and had planned to go to Buenos Aires Grill tonight for supper.
Ack! What to do? It had to be today for me if I wanted to support this effort. Well, we could always go to the restaurant any other day, right? Besides, this sounded like too much fun--not to mention a time sensitive challenge-- for me to skip.
Since I happen to love squash, ginger and cilantro and it is a little grey in Seattle today I thought about using this opportunity to perhaps create a new dish altogether. Perhaps use the opportunity to come up with something completely original, in this case, a soup recipe that could be had for both a late lunch and dinner today and any other day. With most of the ingredients around it was a matter of checking the pantry for the almonds and broth.
The idea was to come up with a dish in which to utilize not only all the required ingredients in a palatable manner but also to incorporate one of my favorite citrus fruits, one I have been waiting all year to have again around the kitchen--and yet another very seasonal ingredient for the soup-- Meyer Lemons.
I had a few Meyers in the refrigerator that had been calling my name this week, begging to be used up in a creative way. My squeezing them in teas and marinades had become quite tiresome for the poor babies. How could I ignore their plea when they are so cute, soft-skinned, fragrant and with that beautiful orangy-yellow hue?
Ginger and lemon called out for yet another one of their friends, Mr. Garlic. Garlic, it seems, tends to hang out a lot with Ms. Onion (a Roscoff) around these parts. As there were no compromises to be made or time for negotiations, they all jumped happily into the pot to keep squash, ginger and cilantro company.
For my soup I chose a variety of Winter Squash called Delicato (also known as sweet potato squash) which has a long cylindrical shape and it is a lovely pale yellow color with orange and green stripes. Delicatos have a subtle caramel undertone that added a little depth to the dish. It also works very well for dishes where you want the squash to be tender but not to dissolve or become too soft or puréed.
And the rest, mesdames et monsieurs, as they say, is history. The soup turned out a lovely yellow color which is, at least in my book, the perfect shade for brightening up any day but especially a cool Sunday afternoon. The Meyer Lemon lent the dish a fantastic citrusy burst--not bitter or harsh-- and subtle tartness that no regular lemon can achieve, while the cilantro and sliced almond garnish added a nice flavor spark and crunchy texture contrast.
The trial by fire of this experiment was to be Mr. C's palate. He loves all the ingredients on this soup except for the Curry powder and Turmeric. Not only is he not the world's biggest fan of Indian food--he does not know what he is missing out-- but bright colored foods scare him a bit.
After an initial apprehension, followed by much encouragement on my part--short of force feeding him a ladle of the stuff--he not only declared the soup a success but also got himself a bigger bowl and went for seconds. The soup is a snap to make, the ingredients easy to find and it was produced for less than $20 USD. As far as he and I are concerned, this soup won our contest already. ;-D
Curried Winter Squash & Chicken Soup With Meyer Lemon & Ginger
1 pound winter squash, diced
1 pound chicken breast, diced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small Meyer Lemon (zest and juice)
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons minced ginger root
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro (more for garnishing)
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups good chicken broth
Maldon salt (if necessary)
Sliced almonds(for garnish)
Dice chicken and squash and put them into a pan with oil, garlic and onion. Sautée until squash has softened slightly and both onion and chicken are opaque. Stir in the lemon juice, zest, cilantro, curry powder, garlic, turmeric, ginger and broth. Check the seasoning. Simmer uncovered until the squash is tender. Garnish with cilantro and slivered almonds. Serves 4.
*I used Pacific Foods Natural Free Range Chicken Broth