Iron Chef potluck: battle winter squash

A La Cuisine! That's usually the phrase hailed to officially begin the challenge of Iron Chef America on the Food Network. Translated, it means 'to the cooking' and is the big hint that begins the furry of running at mach speed in the kitchen to make award-winning cuisine.

A few weeks ago I received an Evite invitation to an Iron Chef potluck. How inventive and fun, I thought! We would be provided with the secret ingredient just a few days before the party, as well as the specific dish we were to prepare. I will admit, when I first received the invite, I was a little nervous. True, I had done my own Iron Chef (Black Box) at school, which served as the final test in my formal culinary education, but it's been a while since I've cooked for competition reasons. Would there be more pressure given the fact that I am actually a culinary school grad? What level of creativity did I expect of myself? Or should I just go with the 'simple is best' scenario?

Iron Chef potluck, battle: winter squash.

We received the secret ingredient Wednesday evening (the potluck was scheduled for Saturday). Winter squash? Lovely. I love squash as there is such a huge variety available, and throughout all seasons. And, my dish was a soup or salad. I thought soup was sort of the obvious and, to be honest, what most people would turn to. I decided on a salad as I thought it would lend itself to a more colorful, interesting presentation.

My squash of choice? Acorn. I love the deep green, sometimes green with orange mixed in, outside of this member of the gourd family. And the orange inside makes for a gorgeous site roasted or grilled.

I immediately thought back to a recipe I once saw for an Acorn squash and Gorgonzola pizza by Giada de Larentiis. What she did with her Acorn squash for the pizza was my inspiration for how I would cook mine for the salad. Note: as this was something I was putting together on a whim, some of the measurements below are estimates.

My ingredients-
For the squash:
2 1.5-lb Acorn squash
4 Tbsp Sugar-free maple syrup
2 Tbsp Olive oil
TT Kosher salt
TT Freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:
7 oz Baby romaine lettuce
1/3 C (or desired) Black currants
1/3 C (or desired) sliced almonds
1 ea Fennel bulb, cut lengthwise into paper-thin slices
1 C White truffle balsamic glace
1/2 C Good olive oil
1/4 C White wine vinegar
1/4 tsp Granulated sugar
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp Freshly ground black pepper

For the squash, preheat over to 375 degrees. Take the Acorn squash and cut it lengthwise in half. Scoop out the insides to make a hollow center. Lay the squash flesh side up and cut crosswise making 1/2-inch half-moon slices. In a bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, olive oil, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Place the sliced squash in a large bowl and drizzle the maple syrup mixture over the. Gently toss with a spoon, or the best kitchen instrument; your [clean] hands. Lay the maple mixture-covered squash flat on a non-stick baking sheet and bake for 20 - 25 minutes.

While the squash was baking, I prepped the other ingredients, which quite honestly, did not take too long. With the fennel bulb, I cut off the green roots and sliced the white part lengthwise into paper-thin slices. I set those in a bowl of cold water and kept them in the fridge until I was ready to dress the salad. I made the vinaigrette by combining the white truffle glace, olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper and whisking while I drizzled in the olive oil. The salad was rinsed and spun dry in a salad spinner and the almonds were store-bought sliced.

Once the squash was ready, I removed them from the oven and let them rest until they were cool enough to pick up. I removed the flesh from the delicious insides and cut each piece into roughly 1-inch chunks.

Once the squash cooled even further, I began to assemble the salad. The squash was absolutely wonderful warm, but I was hesitant to add all of it as I thought it might contribute to wilting the salad greens. Also, I planned to not add the dressing until just before serving for the same reason.

VoilĂ ! Iron Chef potluck salad acorn squash ready to go!

I arrived at the potluck 30 minutes late, of course, but was somehow not the only one behind schedule. There were other courses already cooking in the host's stove and the house was smelling absolutely amazing. We were all so eager to see what each had done.

Upon taking our seats and a graciously assembled and decorated set of tables dressed to hold a party of 15, we were immediately provided with score cards. Wow, this is serious! Each dish will be scored one by one.
Below are some shots of the other dishes. Sadly enough, I failed to confiscate my scorecard back, hence my lack of remembering what each dish was.
The Amuse Bouche

The Appetizer

The Salad

The Main Course

The Desert

And the winners of Iron Chef potluck were...
3rd Place...potluck Appetizer!

2nd Place...potluck Amuse Bouche

And 1st Place went to...potluck Acorn squash salad! I was too excited, couldn't believe it and was so honored.

Me and my prize: a HUGE tub of margarita mix and two freezer-bound mugs!

It was fun getting back in the kitchen again for what was a friendly competition. The potluck was a riot and such a great idea for a fun dinner party. I'd highly recommend creating a version of it for your next home get-together.



Jenni said...


Jennifer said...

Thanks, Jenni!

Stacy said...

I love the blog!!! So cool! thanks for coming Jennifer

TJ said...

Well said. Thanks for the good time and great salad.

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