Vegan Mofo issued the Chopped challenge: Make a brunch dish using our secret ingredients. I present to you my offering: Chopped Fall Parfait.
What were the secret ingredients? Butternut squash, fresh rosemary, apricot preserves and popcorn.
How'd I make them work? I thought introducing candied ginger and the sweet smokiness of ancho chili would pair well with the secret ingredients. I knew I didn't want to just toss the popcorn on as a garnish, so I started to play around with the idea of using all of the secret ingredients in a brittle or granola. The granola is my crowning achievement mixing butternut squash seeds, walnuts, popped white kernel popcorn with a glaze of apricot preserves, honee (vegan), candied ginger and rosemary. I didn't want to sell the butternut squash short by only using the seeds, but I knew I wanted something to brighten up roasted ancho chili spiced squash as the parfait filling. Pear's sweet yet bright notes mellowed by some roasting seemed just right. Finally, the "yogurt" cream had to balance the richness of coconut milk with the subtle sweet flavors of the apricot preserve, so I added in lemon juice/zest and some candied ginger and cut the coconut with some silken tofu.
Check out the recipes below (recognize I was winging this, so the amounts are my best estimates.)
Chopped Fall Granola
This stuff has all the secret ingredients in it by itself and it's mighty flavorful!
1/4 cup popcorn kernels
1 T peanut oil (any oil will do)
Seeds from the squash, rinsed and dried
3 T walnuts, chopped
1 T candied ginger, minced
1 T rosemary, minced
2 T honee
1 T vegetable oil
1 T apricot preserves
salt to taste
Heat your oven to 300 (if you're making this after the squash filling (recommended) turn down the heat.) Heat up the honee in the microwave for 10 seconds, add in the oil and apricot preserves and stir until mixed in a medium size bowl. Add in butternut squash seeds, walnut, candied ginger and rosemary and stir. Add the peanut oil to a cold medium-sized pan with a lid, toss in the popcorn and coat with the oil. Spread the kernels out across the base of the pan turn the heat on to medium and put the lid on. It'll take 3-4 minutes for the popcorn to start popping, you can shake the pan to help share the heat-love with the other kernels. Remove from heat when the popping slows or the smell is too good to wait, and remove the lid cautiously. Add the freshly popped popcorn to the granola mixture and coat. Reuse your squash cookie sheet with parchment/tinfoil and spread out the granola. Check on it after 5 minutes, but it could take as long as 15 minutes to get toasty brown. It will harden as it cools, but I liked mine warm and a little gooey.
Chopped "yogurt" cream
I took the challenge to do homemade to the yogurt and whipped this up. You could save time (5 minutes) and buy store bought vegan yogurt, but it won't be as tasty :)
1 can coconut milk, use the cream only (about half the can)
1/3 package silken tofu
1/4 c apricot preserves
2 T candied ginger, minced
2 T lemon juice
zest from half a lemon
Add coconut milk cream, silken tofu candied ginger and half the apricot preserves into a blender and blend on high until you stop hearing the ginger hit the blades. Pour into a container and stir in lemon zest, juice and remaining preserves. Refrigerate for a couple hours at least to let it thicken.
Chopped "fruit" filling
Pairing the butternut squash with roasted pear works really well and the spices are light but enhance the flavors.
1 medium sized butternut squash, blueberry size diced (save the seeds)
1 tsp fresh grated ginger (can use ginger powder or candied ginger)
1/4 tsp ancho chili (you can use more)
olive oil to coat squash
salt to taste
1 bartlett pear, diced like squash
zest from 1/2 lemon
Heat the oven to 400. Toss diced squash in olive oil, ancho chili, ginger and salt. Spread on parchment or tinfoil lined cookie sheet and cook for 15 minutes, stirring once. Add diced pear to the pan and cook for another 7 minutes, stirring once. Add the remaining lemon zest (from the other half of the lemon you used for the "yogurt" cream. Let cool before assembling the parfait.
I really like the way the parfait turned out and the presentation, but I was reading this blog about the difference between reality and pinterest photos (it's really cute and funny.) So I thought in honor of reality, I'd share the back story that led to that pretty looking parfait.
EPIC FAIL #1: Put the butternut squash in the oven to roast and promptly left for a dinner party. Remembering 2 hours later, I called my roommate who saved both the house and cat from an impending fire. Saving the day was my roommate and the fact I bought 2 squash. Whew!
NEAR EPIC FAIL #2: I had this idea for a butternut squash bread trifle that I couldn't shake despite reading how people in past years were disqualified for not following the instructions ... and making desserts. Thankfully, I read up on the difference between trifles (clearly a dessert) and parfaits (clearly suitable for brunch). Stumped at first, I think I ultimately came up with a better dish for catching this potential pitfall.
EPIC FAIL #3: Lazily attempting to cut the second butternut squash into cubes with too small of a knife, I nearly sliced my thumb fingerprint off. Ow! Don't worry the area was not contaminated, and I am alive. My generous fiance, who is prone to cutting himself while prepping food, valiantly stepped in and finished the knife work for me.
And... we made up 2 servings, not wanting to be wasteful if the dish totally didn't work, and only one was in a wine glass (I gave that one to the fiance for his help). The other one? I just used the tupperware that I stored the "yogurt" cream in... made clean up easier and tasted just as good.