It all started several years ago with the alphabet game. We get the kids working their way through the alphabet following a theme. So, one child names a fruit that begins with ‘A’ – Apricot; the next child names one that begins with ‘B’ – Blackberry, and so it goes until hopefully you complete the alphabet and move on to another category.
One day at the kitchen table one of the kids pointed out that chicken, chocolate and cheese all begin with the letters ‘CH’. I asked them to think of other foods that begin with the same letters. We compiled quite a long list, both of individual food items, and of specific dishes. As we did so it got me thinking about producing a gourmet meal in which every ingredient began with those same letters.
Every year when my mother-in-law’s birthday comes around I make a celebration meal for her. In case you wonder why I don’t do this for my own mother I’ll just say that she passed away thirty years ago. She was an excellent cook, and I think she would approve.
After nearly two decades of meals for mom, I’m always looking for new and creative ideas. So, this year the ‘CHef’s CHallenge’ is to make a five course meal using only ingredients that begin with ‘CH’ to make recipes that themselves begin with ‘CH’. Well, not quite: certain basic staples are admissible. In this case I have chosen to use cream, flour, oil, sugar, and of course, salt and pepper, and water.
The meal begins with a Chowder. I love a good New England clam chowder. The combination of clams, bacon, potato, and onion in a creamy soup, is an excellent comfort food on a cold winter day. There are of course other varieties of chowder including ham and potato, whitefish, and corn. For my chowder I have chosen to use Char, an Arctic freshwater member of the salmon family, along with Charcuterie, a fancy French term for a variety of smoked or cured pork meat. Thinking about vegetables that fit the criteria led me to Chayote, a green member of the gourd family. Chayote has a shared quality with potato in that it tends to take on the flavors of the other ingredients it is cooked with. I found a Puerto Rican seafood chowder recipe that uses Chayote as the vegetable complement to shrimp and mollusks, so I figured I could use it in my recipe. A cream sauce and Chive garnish completes the Chowder.
I continued with a Char-grilled salad. Salads are usually served cold, however there is no reason why they should not be served hot. I love Chard. This leafy green vegetable with a red stalk is not only colorful, but delicious served steamed and doused in a cream and nutmeg sauce. For this recipe I grilled the chopped stalk over a high heat with Chickpeas, Cherry tomatoes, and sliced Chestnuts, along with some very finely sliced Chorizo and Chilies. I added the shredded Chard leaves at the last moment to wilt them and give a vivid green contrast to the red. To complete the Char-grilled medley I contemplated using a champagne vinaigrette but, scouring the supermarket salad dressing aisle, I came across a Chipotle Cheddar sauce which added a smooth but tangy addition to the vegetables.
For my entree I thought about a chuck roast, but settled on Chicken Chasseur, made with Chibols, the white bulbs from scallions; Champignons, another fancy French word naming a blend of mushrooms and other edible fungi; Choncasse, or, in other words, Chopped tomato flesh; simmered together with the Chicken, in a Chardonnay cream sauce flavored with Chervil. I served the dish over Chow mein noodles to create a fusion of French and East Asian cuisine.
Dessert was easy. Going south of the border I fried up some Churros, added some Cherries and topped the dish with Chocolate Chantilly cream sauce.
Of course the meal would not be complete without a Cheese board. I put together an aged New York Cheddar with English Cheshire and French Chèvre for a hard and strong through to creamy and sour combination. I served Cheddars, the English cheese flavored crackers with the ensemble.
For bread with the meal I chose Challah, the sweet Jewish Shabbat bread, and of course to drink we had a choice of Chicory coffee and a Chamomile Chai. And lastly for those who would like some wine with their meal, Chardonnay, Chablis and anything beginning with Chateau fulfill the criteria.
If the above five courses are not enough to satisfy the appetites of your guests, you might consider some appetizers along with the Chosen wines as aperitif. Anything with Cheetos, Cheezits, Chex mix, Chips (the American potato snack), Chipstix, Choc-Chip cookies could be made available.
Of course there were plenty of ingredients remaining on our list that did not make the cut: Chalupas, Champ, Chana Dahl, Chapatis, Chat Masala, Cheeseburger, Cheesecake, Cheese curds, Cheese fries, Cheese grits, Chelsea buns, Chilchen, Chili, Chimichangas, Chimmichurri sauce, Chine of beef, Chinese leaves, Chipolatas, Chips (the English fried potato variety), Chitterlings, Chokeberries, Chop Suey, Chopped steak, Chops (pork or lamb), Choux pastry, Chow Chow, Christmas Cake, Christmas pudding (indeed, anything Christmas), Chrysanthemum leaf, Chub, & Chutney. I am sure there are others.