Sunday, October 22, 2006

Judging Paper Chef 22, the Slow Edition

Owen is amazing–he manages to elicit the most creative dishes from sometimes humble and oftentimes obscure ingredients–and he always throws in a curve at the last minute! But cooks from around the world always come up with combinations that fit in both home-style and haute cuisines. This month’s edition drew barberries, pumpkin, spinach and slow ingredients and when Own emailed me the writeup, my mouth immediately began to water! Eye-popping haute dishes and earthy, unctious home-style casseroles–now the dilemma–how to decide!

First the home category . . . Noodle Cook prepared a smoky dish of grilled and carmelized vegetables–one a capsicum pepper [too hot for me!]–and deglazed the pan with slow-aged balsamic vinegar served over couscous. My kids would eat this dish up before the cook could get a taste!

The Laughing Gastronome introduced me to Middle Eastern cooking and a new use of yoghurt. Her Chicken Barberryani was a spinoff from a famous traditional Iranian recipe using a rice mixture as the “container” of a finished casserole. Emma served it with a beautiful combination of greens and caramelized pumpkin.

Jonskifarms, even though laboring with a broken arm, turned out a complicated and winning entry in the Home category, complete with an interesting history of the dish–again using a slow-cooked rice and yoghurt crust, Oven-baked Rice with Barberries and Butternut Squash on a bed of spinach, also of Persian influence. This dish would bubble merrily away in the back of my fireplace tucked in among the ashes. Congratulations!

Haute category’s entries begin with Columbus Foodie’s fresh-looking salad of goat cheese, blueberries, and crunchy pumpkin seeds dressed with balsamic vinegar. This was her first entry and her salad would certainly do any restaurant proud–her plating was very appetizing and colorful.

Anita’s entry of Parsee Dhansak made me want to lift the lid and dig right in–I could fairly smell the toasted spices and richness of the lentils and pumpkin wafting through my kitchen. She was concerned that the plating did not do the dish justice, but served in an earthen crock with crusty bread this main dish could happily grace any harvest table in the richest restaurant.

Congratulations to our Haute winner, Bron, whose Pumpkin Tortellini stuffed with spinach and cheese served with a berry-wine sauce was a stunner! The colors alone shout Haute cuisine and the tart-sweet taste combination make this a winner in any category. Her plating and photos were superb.

Kudos for a job well done for all of the entrants–your dishes look wonderful and should taste even better. Thanks, too, to Owen for hosting such a fun competition. This edition’s entries would certainly compare to any TV competition–great job.

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