THE BLOG

Second Round of Challenges Comes to a Close With Truly Inventive Creations

10/10/2013 05:21 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

It's always interesting to see what others will do when given the exact same ingredients. In fact, in the professional world there are competitions officially referred to as "the black box". That was my final exam in culinary school in Paris long, long ago when cell phones were the size of milk cartons.

Although very nerve-wracking and intense, those exams did not factor in children's finicky tastes, gluten sensitivities and lactose intolerance. Again, I bow to all of you taking the time and making the effort to further your culinary marks by taking part in this challenge.

Breakfast challenge

Thien Hyunh, have you ever thought of auditioning for The Amazing Race?

I love your enthusiasm and never say quit attitude. It is true that doing a bit of work the night before renders making a morning omelet pretty easy. And even if you didn't want to add the turkey you could quickly scramble up some eggs with a little cheese and toss it into the pita or tortilla for a quick grab and go breakfast.

The only other suggestion I had would be to make a simplified version of the whole omelette the night before (I know this challenge asked you to use as many ingredients as possible). Ex. Turkey, sweet potato and cheese and wrap it chilled in a pita for the days that you don't have time. And yes, having a fuller breakfast with some protein starts the body off on the right foot for the day.

Lunch challenge

Eric Novak, your use of nine out of the twelve ingredients was very ambitious and impressive. I loved the creative idea of making a slaw out of the apples and bok choy. Nutritionally, you were right on the money with a very balanced meal. I might try to streamline the spread by using just sweet potatoes and squash that cook almost at the same pace. When I'm in a hurry, I always use orange lentils that add a creamy texture to almost any soup or stew.

There is hope, because although the kids weren't jumping up and down for all the new "stuff" they did concede with a" wasn't bad', which is a great start. Don't give up! You guys are rock stars and your kids will benefit from all your efforts.

Soup Challenge

Alison Rockwell, how much does your sous chef charge an hour? I suppose we all learned that a lot can happen in the kitchen in an hour. At the very least, this whole challenge was a way to introduce your family to bok choy -- a part of the cabbage family and highly nutritious and versatile, I might add. And a little side note on lentils: they don't need soaking but different lentils will cook for slightly different lengths of time and have a slightly unique texture.

Instead of keeping the bok choy in bigger pieces, I recommend chopping it up and adding it to the soup, off the heat at the end of the cooking process. It will just steam with the residual heat of the soup. I also see your creation as a huge success and having made this recipe once, you can now customize to your family's tastes. Please keep encouraging them on eating their vegetables! You are all developing the taste buds and home cooks of tomorrow.

Look on the bright side; now everyone knows what bok choy looks like, and you only have 11 more bok choy recipes to go!

Multicultural meal

Terri Coles, you guys are truly the modern family. Between your schedules and the different dietary needs, I can see why you are overwhelmed. Your instincts are really good and the recipe you chose is both versatile and flavourful. That's the great thing about Indian flavours- you can dial them up or down depending on your tastes.

Although not perfect, it sounds like this Indian inspired dish has a lot of potential and will be easy for you to make some changes to, so I don't want you to lose your momentum. Further to your point about salt and takeout food, the best way to limit your sodium intake and ensure your family is eating fewer packaged, processed and takeout foods, and more fresh foods like vegetables, fruit, and whole grains like brown rice.

Another tip that may be useful because your husband is a meat eater and you and your son are vegetarians is perhaps making a vegetable dish -- like the soup or stew or sweet potato, quinoa and edamame salad -- that everyone can eat and then just adding a piece of grilled chicken, fish, steak etc. for your husband. That way you can make that one dish that covers all bases at least to start. I would be happy to have any of you on my culinary black box team, so thank you for sharing your food stories and taking the time to open the black box. I trust you are inspired to continue to find the joy in cooking real food.