Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Daring Cooks' Challenge October '09 Part 2- Dessert Wonton

This month's Daring Cooks' Challenge consisted of two different parts. The second part of the challenge hosted by Jade of Steamy Kitchen was to make wontons, but on the condition that they had to be sweet. The filling could be anything, as long as it could be served as a dessert.

Hmm.. interesting challenge. The question, what to stuff them with? The basic recipe given by Jade was for chocolate, which got me thinking. Chocolate, the darker it is, generally is served as a sweet, but it can also be used in savoury recipes (think, Mexican mole). So vice-versa, probably other 'traditionally' savoury dishes could be used in sweet dishes.

It's an element that has been proved by numerous chefs as often sweet elements bring out the flavour in more salty dishes. Inspired by the range of gastronomic chocolates created by Cacao Sampaka (which includes or included dark chocolate truffles with parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, chili, black olive), I decided that the same goes for wontons..

Sticking to the basic recipe for chocolate wontons, E & I (well mainly E under instructions from the head chef) created a selection of wontons, each with their own individual flavour. Just like we tend to do when serving a box of Cacao Sampaka chocolates, we mixed up the wontons (although accidently this time) and were left to trying to identify the flavour by its taste.

The spices we used included: freshly ground cardamon, sweet chili sauce, curry, rosemary and more common, cinnamon; however I reckon the sky's the limit with this - pink peppercorns (whole), coriander, ginger, wasabi. As E started getting more enthusiastic about the idea, he made a few just for him: chocolate, banana and sweet chili sauce (well if they serve strawberries with pepper, why not banana with chili?).. According to him they were amazing - I'll take his word for it! I'm not going anywhere near bananas!

The result.. An interesting experiment, although I think it's only for the adventurous and for people who really like dark chocolate. I don't think my neighbours were too enamoured with the result.

The Recipe
Preparation time: 15 minutes + 15 minutes cooking time (for 12 wontons)
Servings: Makes 12 wontons.

1 large egg
1 tbsp. water
12 wonton wrappers, defrosted (keep wrappers covered with damp towel)
12 pieces or nuggets of chocolate (use any type of chocolate you like)
High-heat oil for frying (i.e., vegetable oil, corn oil)
Confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar) for sprinkling

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water to make an egg wash.
On a clean, dry surface lay 1 wonton wrapper down with a point toward you, like a diamond.
Place 1 piece of chocolate near the top end of the wrapper.
Brush a very thin layer of the egg wash on the edges of the wrapper.
Fold the bottom corner of the wrapper up to create a triangle and gently press to remove all air from the middle. Press the edges to adhere the sides. Make sure the wrapper is sealed completely.
Repeat with the remaining wrappers and chocolate pieces.
Keep the folded chocolate wontons covered under plastic wrap or a damp paper towel to prevent them from drying.
In a wok or medium pot, pour in 2 inches (5 cm.) of high-heat oil.
Heat the oil to 350º F (180º C) and gently slide a few of the chocolate wontons into the hot oil. Make sure you don’t crowd the chocolate wontons.
Fry the wontons for 1 ½ minutes, then flip over and fry another minute until both sides are golden brown and crisp.


Daring Cooks' Challenge October '09 Part 1- Chicken Pho

This month's Daring Cooks' Challenge was proposed by Jade of Steamy Kitchen. So what is Vietnamese Pho? It's a noodle soup.. but, in Jade's words "What makes Pho so different than any other type of noodle soup is the spices that go into the simmering broth. Warm spices like coriander, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fresh ginger transform an ordinary broth into a very authentic Vietnamese Pho."

Mmm.. the combination just sounds wonderfully warming, especially now that we're into the Autumn days where it's darker when you get up, and darker in the afternoon.. I don't know what it is, but suddenly my body has kicked into hibernation and is warmed by the idea of steamy soups and broths.

Jade recommended charring the onion and ginger beforehand to fully release the flavours and I think that's the key. I'd made noodle soups previously with similar spices but they never turned out as fragrant as this one. But I think the best thing about Pho is that it isn't at all spicy (unless you added dashings of Sriracha sauce, of course).

Having toasted all the spices on a griddle pan and charred the onion and ginger (unpeeled) under the grill until the edges were black, it's just a case of chucking all the ingredients into a saucepan and bringing to the boil. The
traditional recipe calls for stock made from chicken bones but since I was short for time to complete the challenge (we have had something on every weekend up until now), I took for the short cut, using a tetrabrik of chicken stock..
One thing that must be said, if it starts to form lumps - don't freak out! It's the normal process when boiling chicken.. It needs to brought to the boil (rapidly bubbling) in order to remove the 'bad' fats from the chicken. It's just a case of slowly skimming off these lumps and you'll end up with a completely clear broth. Amazing, especially since the stock used was cloudy! :-)

The rest of the process is a cinch.. I used vermicelli rice noodles, soaked previously in hot water until soft, but I reckon thinner, ordinary noodles would work much better (otherwise, it ends up that there's more noodles than actual stock).

As regards the accompaniments, I don't think they're really necessary.. The only one which I'd recommend is the Sriracha sauce (a Chinese/Vietnamese/Thai chili sauce).. a few drops just to give it a bit of a kick without being overpowering.

All in all, a success - toasting the spices is a bit time-consuming and requires organisation, but it's definitely worth the effort as it 'softens' the ginger so that it doesn't overpower the anise/coriander/clove combination.. And as you can see, the end result didn't turn out half bad.. Good start to the first of many challenges, although I know E is quaking in his boots - he hates when I start experimenting with new dishes and techniques.

The Recipe
Preparation Time: 45 cooking time + 15 minutes to cook noodles based on package directions
Servings: Makes 4 servings

For the Chicken Pho Broth:
2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 litres store-bought or homemade chicken stock
1 whole chicken breast (bone in or boneless)
½ onion
1 7.5 cm chunk of ginger, sliced and smashed with side of knife
1 to 2 tbsps. sugar
1 to 2 tbsps. fish sauce
1 lb. (500 grams/16 ounces) dried rice noodles (about ¼ inch/6 mm wide)

2 cups (200 grams/7 ounces) bean sprouts, washed and tails pinched off
Fresh cilantro (coriander) tops (leaves and tender stems)
½ cup (50 grams/approx. 2 ounces) shaved red onions
½ lime, cut into 4 wedges
Sriracha chili sauce
Hoisin sauce
Sliced fresh chili peppers of your choice

To make the Chicken Pho Broth: heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves and star anise and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately spoon out the spices to avoid burning.
In a large pot, add all the ingredients (including the toasted spices) and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface frequently.
Use tongs to remove the chicken breasts and shred the meat with your fingers, discarding the bone if you have used bone-in breasts.
Taste the broth and add more fish sauce or sugar, if needed. Strain the broth and discard the solids.
Prepare the noodles as per directions on the package.
Ladle the broth into bowls. Then divide the shredded chicken breast and the soft noodles evenly into each bowl.
Have the accompaniments spread out on the table. Each person can customize their own bowl with these ingredients.


Tuesday, 6 October 2009

End of the wedding season...

Last weekend we were at the last of the weddings this year down in Tortosa.. The last of five.. Joana & Paco, a cousin of E's dad... (there was 7 brothers and sisters in his granmother's family so there was a big difference between the oldest and the youngest - Joana's my age).

Regrettably, what was looking to be a fun event (was really looking forward to it - the reception was at Les Moles in Ulledecona), turned into One Wedding and a Funeral. E's granny fell into a coma on Friday night (passing away in the early hours of Sunday morning) so we were no more in the humour for going to a wedding the next day..

That being said, it was a wedding to remember - the food lived up to be everything that everyone said it would be..
Catering for large numbers tends to be a recipe for disaster - sorry folks, cooking fillet steak with foie gras for 200 people is just not possible. The steak most probably has been cooked at 9am that morning, so the probability that it will be as tough as boots is extremely high!

Joana & Paco got it 100% right - apart from the appertif hors d'oeuve, which were select and good quality, but pounced upon the moment the waiters loomed into view (it WAS 3pm, so obviously people were hungry), the rest of the meal made up for it..

Simplicity was the key, taking good ingredients and presenting them simply. It was certainly an example of a traditional Spanish wedding fair - the sign of a good wedding is the number of prawns/langoustines etc. that you get presented with! And this one, certainly turned up trumps..
Here you can see the Pumpkin soup, served separately (plated poached egg and langoustine, and then the pumpkin soup poured over the top)..

Dinner was topped off with a visit from Quico el Célio, el Mut i el Noi de Ferreries, a traditional band from the Terres de l'Ebre region, whose speciality is the traditional Jota originating from Tortosa. Joana's mother joined in to give her own ad-lib version dedicated to the couple (one of the features of the Jota is that people make up the lyrics as they go along, adapting them for the occasion).
They even played my favourite De Roquetes Vinc which has a special meaning for E's family, as it's a song that his Alzheimer-inflicted grandmother (Joana's aunt) still sings to this day on her more lucid days..

En fin.. a new beginning for some, a ending for others.. And so the circle of life goes on...


Here's the full line up:

Star-anise scented crisps
Iberian ham
Marinated anchovy and herring toast
Vegetable and foie gras coca pastry
Red pepper and courgette mousse cone
Langoustine and bacon brochette
Iberian ham croquettes
Griddled prawn brochette

Grilled langoustines
Pumpkin soup with langoustines and poached egg
Sea bass with calamar 'eel' and calamar ink 'caviar'
Blood orange and strawberry sorbet
Duck confit with muscatel and cinnamon scented apple purée
Textured rice pudding (with rice crispies!)
Wedding cake - Individual chocolate mousse cakes

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