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Calling All Cooks—Tell Us What You'd Make!

Test your own skills and abilitites this week.

Cooking seasonally will make your life easier as a chef, though the opposite will seem true at first.

In culinary school, my favorite class was the Advanced Cooking class. During each session, my colleagues and I were broken down into groups of three or four.

Every day we were given a "mystery basket" of ingredients to work with. The ingredients were infuriating at first, as they all almost went together, but not quite. As budding chefs we were expected to discern how to make them work in a single dish, and pair a beer or wine with said dish.

Oh and we had to complete all of the above in an hour and a half, two hours on pairing days, having never seen the mystery basket ingredients before that moment.

Easier said than done, right? Right, but it trained our brains to think creatively about food and understand how to work within certain parameters.

Seasonal cooking is the same way, but even more fun. Ask any great chef what the secret to his/her success is and the answer will be: start with fresh ingredients. Indeed each dish you make will be instantly elevated by doing so.

The secret about seasonal food is that there is an abundance of it at all times, though it might not always be what you're used to cooking. It stretches your creativity to think outside the box. Get away from using tomatoes in the winter - they're not in season! Instead try your hand at a robust pesto or rich cream sauce.

If you want to broaden your skill set and have some fun, get your best friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, wife/husband or kids to put together a seasonal mystery basket for you.

Here are some upcoming seasonal vegetables to work with in the state of Missouri.

September Harvest

  • Basil
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupes
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chard
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Garlic
  • Grapes
  • Green beans
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Pears
  • Peppers
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Late harvest tomatoes
  • Zucchini

Suggested proteins:

  • Scallops
  • Chicken
  • Sausage
  • Pork

Suggested herbs and seasonings:

  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Smoked paprika
  • Cumin
  • Coriander
  • Sea salt
  • Pepper, white, black, cayenne

What an abundance! But now I'm going to make it hard. Take a look at this mystery basket idea, think it through, and write me an email telling me what you would make with it. The winning dish will be featured in an upcoming 'Smarter Chef' article on Sunet Hills-Crestwood Patch.

September Mystery Basket

1 pound scallops

1 whole carrot

1 jar smoked paprika

1 head cauliflower

1 head cabbage

1 sprig rosemary

Mustard - your choice on this

1 bottle white balsamic vinegar

Olive oil

Sea salt

Black pepper

You don't have to use all of the ingredients, but it must be creative and you have to complete the dish in two hours. I will know if you cheat - Good luck!

Sandy Horrell September 03, 2011 at 02:32 PM
I would make seared scallops served over a flavorable warm wilted "salad". Should I submit a recipe also? And, am I permitted to add more ingredients? /horrellredhead@sbcglobal.net
Michelle Blodget September 05, 2011 at 05:34 AM
Hi Sandy! I'm so excited to read your response - I too would make seared scallops, but will reveal the rest of my idea in Wednesday's column. Yes, please do submit a recipe (if you don't have time to test it that's ok, just a general idea of the cooking methods, preparation, etc. you would do). Technically no other ingredients should be used (sorry), but it sounds like you have a great, creative idea anyway. Thanks again!

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