THE BLOG

First Round Of Challenges Wraps Up With Inventive and Entertaining Results

08/28/2013 06:28 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

I'd like to thank everyone for their entries in the first in a series of ingredient challenges over the next few months. It was both very entertaining and insightful to see how families across the country dealt with using my 12 ingredients in the various -- and often rigorous -- challenges we put them through. It's one thing to read a recipe and say "Oh, I think this might be a good recipe for dinner one night," but it's something totally different to try use a set of pre-determined ingredients and follow a plan knowing that your family may completely refuse your offerings.

I was very impressed with what was presented and I'd like to recap the entire challenge and offer some thoughts on how everyone fared. The first challenge of the 5-, 10- and 15-minute meals was designed to mimic real life and how we have little time for meal preparation. That doesn't mean we have to opt for the fast food delivery brochures or drive-thrus. In fact, I have a no drive-thru rule!

Shelley White, I think your choice of trout with yogurt was a great way to introduce your twins to a new option without sacrificing the parents' dinner. This is such a versatile recipe that will work with a variety of other fish and also chicken. Serving it with a spinach salad and basmati rice was a wise choice and I would encourage you guys to keep making at least two vegetables for dinner as the twins might just be going through a phase and it may take them longer to be open to sweet potatoes or broccoli, for example.

For the dessert Challenge #2, which is difficult for anyone to accomplish, I opted to take breakfast and repackage it as dessert. Of course you can change the fruit, add some nuts, use a bit more honey or maple syrup and it will feel like a satisfying after-meal treat. Remember those massive cakes I mentioned in my post? Reducing frequency and portion size are great ways to control excess fat and sugar -- the usual culprits in our dessert regimes. Using smaller plates or bowls is a great trick to keep portions smaller by creating the illusion that your plate is actually full, even though you are eating a smaller portion.

Alison Rockwell, to your family with one picky child and another with severe allergies, I say "Wow!" I have to champion your incredible patience and enthusiasm, as your case is really a challenge. Your addition of the lettuce, avocado, and berries right into the pancake batter is very inventive. As you mentioned, the consistency of the batter was difficult to control, mostly from the water in the fruit and lettuce. I thought of an additional option of perhaps making the pancakes into crepes instead, filling them with half the fruit, baking the oats with a teaspoon of butter and brown sugar, and sprinkling that on top. Then you could take the rest of the berries, blend them with avocado, lettuce, milk, and some ice to make slushies and serve them in little shot glasses alongside the crepes. The kids might find that a neat option.

For summertime, the no-cook challenge was a way for us to change the way we view "cooking" and a complete meal, which sometimes does not require any cooking at all. I purposely prepared a very colourful meal that was filled with so many nutrients and satisfying flavours to show that vegetables are a must for everyday meals, not the last thing we should consider.

Yuki Hayashi, I loved your beet and broccoli carpaccio idea, especially since you said you disliked those vegetables raw. I too refuse to eat raw broccoli, although I love fresh beets. Overall, your combination of ingredients was fantastic and I would like to have a plate right now. To help make the preparation easier -- especially for people who don't have a mandolin (the utensil, not the instrument) -- I suggest slicing the veggies on a slicing attachment of a food processor. I would also caution the use of too much smoked fish, as it can be loaded with sodium.

For the final challenge, I just wanted to see what everyone could come up with when they had a bit more time and could plan out a few different recipes. I always keep things nutritious in my kitchen, but given that we always eat with our eyes, meals should also be appetizing.

I'll be honest: I laughed my head off reading Thien Huynh's very entertaining post. Your house sounds like a great place to have dinner. Perhaps I'll get my husband to try eating topless, as he is known to spill the most colourful sauces on his shirts and wants me to immediately work my stain-removing magic. I love that you created dishes that have some assembly required tableside where Luke could participate and start building great habits around dinner time. It's great to see that your dressing was two parts lemon juice and one part olive oil, illustrating that a little bit of good quality olive oil goes a long way. When you roast your peppers, try putting them onto a piece of dry parchment or foil, without any oil, then directly into a bowl, covered with plastic wrap. That way they will steam and be easier to peel. Your homemade baked broccoli tempura idea is genius!

Coming up next, look out for a whole new set of 12 ingredients ideal for the start of fall. So, who's ready for school?