Food Challenge: Four Friends, Four Ingredients, Four Recipes


Have you ever watched Chopped on the Food Network and wondered what you would cook with a basket of four ingredients that don't necessarily go together? The InDependent team recently had that opportunity, and you'll find four of our creations below.

Recently, Tara over at An Aiming High Wife, put out a request to see if anyone wanted to participate in a Chopped-inspired challenge. I have watched Chopped, and I love to write about food, so even though I don't know Tara personally, I enthusiastically volunteered to participate. Tara had enough participants to break us up into four groups of four. You can see what the other participants made over at the Chopped-Inspired Challenge linkup.

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My group was assigned ginger, coffee, chicken, and summer squash. I'm a lifelong vegetarian so using chicken was definitely out for me. But, I wanted to fully represent the challenge so I invited some of my InDependent teammates to play along. This was a way for us to have fun with food and connect on a different level than we do in the ordinary course of our business. We're all stationed in different places, so it was nice for us to be able to participate in a challenge together, and we all eagerly awaited the submission of everyone's creations. This was also a way for us to connect with other bloggers who are passionate about food.

I had a ton of fun participating in this challenge and I'd like to offer this idea up to you as a way to connect with people in your local community or with friends and that are far away. Choose four ingredients, get creative in the kitchen, and share the results with the other participants. Bonus points if you come up with a healthy dish!

Curious about what we made? Here you go!

Creamy Summer Squash Soup with Chai-Spiced Tofu

Creamy Summer Squash Soup with Chai-Spiced Tofu

by Kimberly Bacso

My idea for this dish came together right away. I don't drink coffee, but I love chai tea, so I decided to make a chai-inspired coffee marinade. Tofu is an easy substitute for chicken. Many people are put off by the texture and the lack of flavor, but tofu takes on the flavor of whatever it's cooked with, making it a perfect candidate for a marinade. In fact, I was delighted that the tofu ended up tasting like barbecue potato chips. Yum! If you choose extra firm tofu, and cook it well, it is not soggy at all. The secret is to cut the tofu into small cubes and let them marinate overnight. That way they soak in all of the yummy flavors.

For the soup, I used really fresh, seasonal produce, and added some coconut milk that tied in really nicely with the marinade spices. The lemon and basil made the flavor really bright.  But, can you imagine what color summer squash and basil make when blended together? Then plop down a handful of tofu in the middle of that? Yeah, not so appetizing. So, to pretty things up, I added some avocado, tomatoes, and basil which is always a winning combo.

This dish was a hit in my house!

Please note that for full flavor you must marinate the tofu overnight.

Serves 4

Tofu Ingredients

  • 6 ounces strong-brewed coffee

  • 3 green cardamom pods, ground

  • 3 thin slices fresh ginger

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 1 piece star anise

  • 1 pound extra firm tofu, pressed dry and cubed

  • 1 cup coconut oil

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

  • 3 tablespoons honey

  • 4 cloves garlic, pressed

  • 1 tablespoon ginger, freshly grated

Soup Ingredients

  • 1 cup vegetable broth

  • 4 cups summer squash, roughly chopped

  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped

  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

  • 1 cup coconut milk + extra to taste

  • juice from 1/2 lemon

  • handful fresh basil, roughly chopped

  • sea salt

  • freshly ground pepper

Garnish Ingredients

  • 1 avocado, diced

  • 1 tomato, diced

  • handful fresh basil, finely chopped


Combine smashed cardamom pods (I used a mortar and pestle, but you could also use the side of a knife), ginger slices, cinnamon stick, and star anise in a small saucepan. Add 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for several minutes until fragrant.

Separate the liquid from the spices into a medium container (preferably one with a lid) using a fine strainer or a nut milk bag.

Whisk in brewed coffee, coconut oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, garlic, and freshly grated ginger. Stir in tofu cubes, making sure all are covered with the marinade.

Cover the dish and place in the refrigerator to marinate overnight. If you only marinate for 30-60 minutes, your tofu will take on a slightly sweet flavor, but will not get the impact of the spices.

Once marinating is complete, remove a tablespoon or two of the solidified coconut oil (no animal products were used, so no worries about cross contamination) and heat in a large skillet on medium-high. Using a slotted spoon to leave marinade behind, add tofu to hot skillet, taking care to avoid splatters. Fry until golden brown on all sides. This is a really important to give your tofu a nice texture.

While the tofu is frying, begin preparing the soup.

Heat broth in a large pot. Add onion, garlic, and squash and cook until tender.

Add coconut milk, lemon juice, and basil to a blender. Add vegetable mixture. Blend until smooth, adding salt and pepper to taste. Add more coconut milk to reach desired consistency.

Combine avocado, tomato, and finely chopped basil in a medium bowl, allowing it to become a bit creamy.

To serve, ladle soup into wide, shallow bowls. Mound tofu in the middle. Top with tomato/avocado mixture.

Coffee and Ginger Spiced Chicken with Zucchini, Jicama and Red Onion Slaw

Coffee and Ginger Spiced Chicken with Zucchini, Jicama, and Red Onion Slaw

By Elaine Heirigs

"I'm bored," my eight-year-old stated as I was prepping for dinner. "You can either play outside or help me with dinner," I explained. He then eagerly washed his hands and helped me prepare and refine today's recipes.

Overall the recipes were a success! All four of my children loved the chicken and asked for leftovers later that evening before bed and even for lunch the next day. I could tell my one-year old was surprised by the bold flavors of the coffee and Chinese Five Spice blend in the chicken recipe, but after his initial nibble, he devoured it!

By the way, the green runner in my picture is from our wedding. All of our tables had those green table runners at our reception. My aunt was sewing like crazy before the wedding to get to the reception site in time. Our 10-year anniversary is in a few days! Being a military spouse is the last thing I wanted as a young 20-something because I have a cousin whose husband is in the Navy. I thought this life was not for me. Turns out, it was the best decision I ever made.  

Coffee and Ginger Spiced Chicken Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce, tamari, or coconut aminos

  • 2 tablespoons honey

  • 1 ½ cups brewed coffee

  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped ginger

  • ½ teaspoon Chinese Five Spice

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • 4 chicken breasts


Combine ingredients and marinate for at 1 to 3 hours.

Grill for approximately 6 minutes per side depending on size of your chicken breasts. Make sure you spread your chicken out on your grill so it cooks up nicely with grill marks and doesn't steam from the liquid marinade.

Zucchini, Jicama & Red Onion Slaw Ingredients:


  • 1 pound zucchini

  • 1 pound jicama

  • 1 medium red onion


  • 1 garlic clove, minced

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon minced ginger

  • ½ teaspoon Chinese Five Spice

  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

  • ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon honey

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon pepper


Shred zucchini and jicama. Place in a colander or strainer over a bowl and let liquid drain off in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

While vegetables are draining, thinly slice the red onion and make the dressing for the slaw.

Whisk together dressing ingredients then fold drained vegetables and red onion in a bowl. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Coffee-Rubbed Chicken with Ginger-Garlic Summer Squash

Coffee-Rubbed Chicken with Ginger-Garlic Summer Squash

Coffee-Rubbed Chicken with Ginger-Garlic Summer Squash

By Leslie Brians

With my husband deployed, I'm cooking for one these days, so it's easy to sink into a rut of eating the same thing every day. There's no ceremony and no one expecting a meal at home. As a result, there's no pressure to be creative in the kitchen. That's why this challenge was fun - it made me break out of my comfort zone and actually make something as opposed to looking in the fridge and pulling out leftovers, again. This is a quick meal that honestly didn't call for too much outside of the four assigned ingredients.

Chicken Ingredients:

  • 4 chicken thighs (boneless, skinless)

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coffee

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon chili powder

  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or tallow

Summer Squash Ingredients:

  • 1 clove garlic

  • 1/2 medium white or yellow onion

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil or tallow

  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger

  • 2 7-ounce summer squash, sliced or thick ribbon spiralized

  • 1 tablespon fresh cut cilantro


Preheat oven to 325 F.

Combine spices and mix with oil to make a paste. Place the thighs in a mixing bowl and add the spice paste mixture. Toss to coat evenly.

Place the chicken thighs (evenly spaced) on a foil or parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

Roast the chicken thighs for 30 minutes. While chicken cooks, make squash.

In a skillet over medium heat, melt oil. Add sliced onions and ginger and sauté until onion begins to soften. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add squash, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash begins to turn bright yellow. Veggies are done when hot, slightly soft but still firm. Remove from heat and mix with cilantro before serving.

Remove the chicken from the oven and serve with squash.

Blackened Ginger Chicken with Spiralized Summer Squash

Blackened Ginger Chicken with Spiralized Summer Squash

Blackened Ginger Chicken with Spiralized Summer Squash

By Meg Gotheridge

The challenge of combining chicken, ginger, summer squash, and coffee was a hard one for me. It took me a while to figure out what kind of dish I wanted to make and for the dinner to taste decent. After several visits to Pinterest, I finally developed Blackened Ginger Chicken with Spiralized Summer Squash. I was pretty skeptical of using coffee for seasoning at first, but it turned out better than expected. My husband liked the blackened chicken so much that he had a second helping, even though he was eating the chicken on a sandwich and opted out of the summer squash. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as my family and I did.


  • 1 package chicken thighs

  • 4 tablespoons coffee

  • 1 tablespoon shredded ginger

  • 1 tablespoon cayenne

  • 1 tablespoon cumin

  • 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder

  • lemon juice

  • salt

  • pepper

  • 2 spiralized summer squash


Place chicken thighs on a plate. Squeeze lemon juice over both sides of chicken. Then season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste. In a small bowl combine cayenne, cumin, cinnamon, chili powder (adjust amount of seasonings depending on taste if need be) and stir them together. Cover the meat with the combined seasonings, coating each side. Depending on the size and amount of your meat you may need to add additional seasonings (my chicken thighs were small).

Then coat the chicken with coffee, pressing the grounds gently into the meat. Next, lightly shred ginger of the chicken (I only did this for one side of the chicken). After you have done this, then heat a heavy based pan (I used a cast iron pan) with your choice of oil (coconut or just regular butter works too) over medium heat.

Once the pan is heated you can begin cooking the chicken. Make sure to cook the chicken thoroughly on both sides. While cooking the chicken you can also boil the spiralized summer squash to your preference (I like to cook mine for 3-5 minutes). Once both are done to your liking you will have a delicious meal.

What is your favorite way to get creative with food and friends?