Sunday, February 28, 2010

Foodbuzz 24,24,24: James Bond Meets the Toaster Oven

I love dinner parties... that is, I immensely enjoy attending them, but not hosting them. Throwing a party is a whole different ball game. With all planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning and of course, stressing that is inevitably involved, a simple dinner party can quickly turn into a scene from Dante's Inferno. 

Yet, the problem solver inside me is determined to tackle this problem so when my good friend Laura moved into her first apartment (with no roommates—a true grown up apartment!), I started brainstorming for a less stress-filled housewarming party. After an intense session of research (aka surfing the web), the solution appeared, in the form of a toaster oven. Yes. A toaster oven.

It's all thanks to Eric Ripert, the legendary chef behind NY's celebrated Le Bernardin. Some of you may know he starred  in a PBS show called "Avec Eric," where he travels to the source of his culinary inspirations to showcase where great ingredients comes from, but few know of his brief online series called "Get Toasted." With a handful of fresh ingredients, a single toaster oven and a few minutes, Eric produces simple, fast meals—it is pure brilliance... like MacGyver or Q of cooking!

Suddenly, it just all flowed, with the toaster oven as a Q invention, why not make it a James Bond theme affair? A night with James Bond (not Roger Moore, but more of the Daniel Craig variety) and a few close allies, we would channel the high stakes poker game by screening "Casino Royale," shaking up expertly crafted martinis (Vesper) and cooking up sophisticated finger foods while sporting spy-chic wear. Thanks to the good people at Foodbuzz, we were invited to participate in their 24,24,24 event this month, which showcases posts from 24 Foodbuzz Featured Publisher bloggers, highlighting 24 unique meals occurring around the globe during a 24-hour period. Yes!

So in true espionage fashion, here is the debriefing.

The mission: 
To create a sharp 6-course menu from Ripert's repertoire that requires little time or clean-up, but of a 4-star caliber quality. Test and rate Ripert's recipes according to taste and ease of preparation. Extra credit given to introduce our hands-off friends to take a more active role in cooking by having them help out with the preparation. 

The Menu:
1. Mission figs wrapped in bacon
2. Quail eggs and smoked salmon toasts
3. Tomatoes Provencal
4. Zucchini Carpaccio with Parmesan and Balsamic
5. Roasted Butterflied Garlic Shrimp
6. Mango foster with rum and vanilla ice cream

Special Gadgetry: 
• 2 toaster ovens
• point-and-shoot camera with holster

The drink: Vesper martini 

"3 measures of Gordon's (we used Tanqueray), one of vodka (Stoli), half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well unitl it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel." —James Bond

Speaking as a non-martini drinker, I find the drink quite enjoyable with its initial dryness which ends with a slight floral note. Careful though as it packs a punch. 

Course 1: Mission Figs wrapped in bacon

The first snafu happened early on in the mission. Unbeknownst to us, figs were not in season (they start coming in at the end of March). When one of our agents called back after scouring several grocery stores with no avail, Plan B was needed. 

We quickly swapped out figs with plump Medjool dates, added parmesan cheese to create AOC's inspired bacon wrapped dates. With the savory bacon crisped by the toaster, contrasted by the sticky, sweet dates and nutty cheese center, course 1 became a major success. 

Bacon wrapped Medjool dates and parmesan (adapted from Ripert's Mission Figs Wrapped in Bacon)
Serves 4

12 Medjool dates, seeded
6 slices bacon, cut in half
12 tiny batons of parmesan
freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat toaster oven to Broil.
2. Stuff each date with a baton of cheese, then wrap them with strip of bacon and secure with a toothpick.
3. Bake for about 8-10 minutes until the bacon is crisp and the figs are tender.
4. Season with black pepper and serve immediately.

Taste: Can't stop at one!
Prep: Requires many trips to the sink for hand washing after deseeding the dates and wrapping the bacon. 

Course 2: Quail Egg and Smoked Salmon Toasts

A double whammy obstacle here.  Trader Joe's ran out of brioche and we couldn't find quail eggs anywhere in town—it seemed like we couldn't catch a break! A easy fix was at hand however—we replaced the quail eggs with medium eggs (smaller you can find, the better) and the brioche with a medium crumb filone bread. End product? Delicious and no one knew the better. 

Quail Egg and Smoked Salmon Toasts
Serves 4

8 quail eggs (or medium eggs)
8 1/4-inch thick slices brioche (or filone), cut into small rectangles
4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 teaspoon cut chives (optional)
Special Equipment: 1-inch cookie cutter, paring knife

1. Preheat toaster oven to 450°F.
2. Make holes in the brioche slices with a small cookie cutter or using a small knife. Place on a foil-lined and greased toaster oven tray.
3. Carefully pierce one end of the quail egg with a sharp paring knife and gently peel away the top. Separate the yolk from the white and place the yolk in the hole of the brioche. Repeat with the remaining quail eggs. *When using normal eggs, just crack and separate*
4. Bake for 3 minutes until the brioche is lightly toasted but the yolks should still be runny.
5. Top each toast with a slice of rolled salmon and garnish with chives.

Taste: Very nice, benefited greatly with freshly cracked pepper and a sprinkling of sea salt
Prep: Easy, yet looks impressive. 

Course 3: Tomatoes Provencal

This went through without a hitch. A simple preparation of roasted tomatoes elevated by the subtle lavender fragrance by herbs de Provence and an extra bite with the garlic. The fresh basil chiffonade brought a nice freshness to the entire dish. My friend, who normally abhors cooking said upon tasting she would be willing to recreate this dish at home—a major win for team Toaster!

Tomatoes Provencal
Serves 2

2 tomatoes, sliced into thirds
1 1/2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small clove garlic, sliced thin
fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
fresh basil

1. Heat toaster oven to broil.
2. Arrange the sliced tomatoes on a toaster oven tray, season with herbes de Provence, salt, pepper, and olive oil and garlic
3. Broil for about 4-5 minutes until the tomatoes are tender and a little caramelized.
4. Serve with fresh basil, making sure to pour the excess oil from the tray over the top.

Taste: Tangy and herby. Would go great on top of mixed greens and homemade garlic croutons for  a quick lunch. 
Prep: So simple anyone can recreate this... with their eyes closed. Ok, maybe not for the slicing part though. 

Course 4: Parmesan Zucchini with Balsamic

This dish was a surprising crowd favorite, which is surprising when we had some major carnivores attending. The genius of this dish is the crystal clear flavors coming from the zucchini. Usually, zucchini's natural taste is covered in dishes as it's usually a accompaniment to a main dish or filler for breads. Yet, when it's simply roasted in good olive oil and paired with a sprinkling of parmesan, you get its true taste, which is light, yet comforting. We made 4 trays since we couldn't get enough of it. 

Parmesan Zucchini with Balsamic
Serves 2

1 large zucchini
1/4 cup olive oil
fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan
aged balsamic vinegar

1. Heat the toaster oven to Broil.
2. Line the toaster oven tray with foil and brush with olive oil.
3. Peel a few slices of the zucchini skin off, trim the ends and slice crosswise into very thin slices.
4. Arrange the zucchini slices on the tray, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil.
5. Bake for 3-4 minutes until just tender.
6. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.
7. Arrange roasted zucchini on a platter. Sprinkle parsley and more parmesan on top and drizzle with a little aged balsamic vinegar. 

Taste: The perfect warm spring salad.
Prep: A bit time consuming having to arrange the zucchini slices in a perfect spiral, yet the final presentation paid off at the end, don't you think?

Course 5: Butterflied Garlic Shrimp

My poor fingers and Laura's dining table... the scalding hot (albeit delicious) butter sauce nearly did me in. The prep was benigh enough as we peeled and deveined the shrimps and made the wonderful compound butter with no incident. After they were finished baking though, I nudged the tray and golden magma made contact with my skin. My immediate response was to let go of the tray, which caused the tray of shrimp and its garlicy sauce to Laura's floral table cloth. 

We were able extricate all of the tasty morsels, yet the table cloth was a goner and so were the dish's rich sauce. Fortunately, we had a spare 2nd tray to which we used up all the leftover bread to sop up every last drop of the butter sauce. 

Butterflied Garlic Shrimp
Serves 1

1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 small shallot, minced
1/2 tablespoon parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons butter, softened
6 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 lemon

1. Heat toaster oven to broil. Line the toaster oven tray with foil.
2. Stir together the garlic, shallot, parsley, soft butter, salt, pepper and lemon juice.
3. Lay shrimp on the foil line tray and generously brush each side with garlic butter.
4. Bake for 3-4 minutes, depending on size until the shrimp just turns opaque.
5. Finish with additional fresh squeezed lemon juice. (optional)

Taste: Shrimp scampi taken to new heights. 
Prep: The most involved out of all the dishes, yet worth all the extra steps. Beware of the butter magma. 

Course 6: Caramelized Mango with Rum

We ended the night with bang with the caramelized mango with rum. I've always loved desserts with temperature differences and this did not disappoint. The sweet mango gets a turbo boost, not unlike Bond's Aston Martin, with the deep flavors of rum, and a caramelized sugar crust. My accomplices and I actually let it go for an extra minute too long because of a fierce photoshoot. The end product was a bit more caramelized from Ripert's recipe, but the burnt top added a favorable coffee undertone. 

Caramelized Mango with Rum
Serves 2

1 mango
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon brown sugar 
1/4 cup dark rum
Vanilla ice cream (or a flavor of your choice)

1. Peel the mango and cut into ¾  inch thick slices.
2. Heat toaster oven to broil. Line the toaster oven tray with foil.
3. Lay mango slices on the tray and brush soft butter evenly over the mango.
4. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top and broil for about 5 minutes or until soft.
5. To serve, place mango slices in shallow bowl, drizzle with rum and top with a scoop of ice cream (to avoid flare up, do not put rum in the toaster oven)

Taste: Wonderful. The simple recipe got me thinking of  all the different variations possible... such as figs, peaches, bananas, apple. Might have to bust out the toaster oven soon!
Prep: Can't get simpler than this. The hardest part for us was scooping the ice cream.

Mission Accomplished. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Caramelized Soy and Garlic Shrimp

I intensely dislike getting my hands dirty. 

Food that are meant to be eaten with hands, such as fried chicken, burgers, pizzas, etc., I eat with a knife and fork. In fact, while I suffered through 2 years of braces (a modern day torture device), I secretly relished the excuse it gave me to eat sans bare hands. I would say, "oh, I would eat this sandwich with my hands if I could... but you know, I gotta be careful with these braces. Yeah, dentist orders... so lame." Even now, although I've been braces-free for years, I still tell my dining companions I've been "conditioned" by braces to justify my eccentric eating habits. 

My strong preference against eating with hands started early. It was Play-doh that did me in. After a particularly robust arts and crafts session, I looked down at my fingers and saw the bits of doh stuck underneath my nails... And then there was that lingering noxious smell... Cringing just thinking about it. 

It affected me so much I remember skipping out on a fun class project in 4th grade. It was near Thanksgiving and my teacher surprised us with a recipe for Indian fried bread (not sure how authentic it is). I had no problem measuring out the precise amounts of flour, water and salt, but once we got to the mixing portion part of the program, I promptly batted my lashes at a nearby boy and asked him sweetly to help me out. 

Since then, I'm able to mix my own dough on my own, thank you very much. But, I jump at the chance whenever I could use a wooden spoon or another heaven-sent mixing instrument. During meals, I use my fork and knife whenever possible and I'm also particularly apt in using chopsticks to cut food down to size. 

Yet, there is one dish I'm willing to get my hands dirty for. Literally. Loosely translated to "Soy Sauce Shrimp Emperor," it's a homely Cantonese dish that is essentially plump shrimp, saute in their shells and glazed with a soy-garlic sauce (not unlike Kyo-chon's). My parents would make it whenever they saw a particularly fresh catch at the street market... which was quite often since we lived in Hong Kong. 

Since my parents were immune to my charm, they would set the plate piled high with glazed shrimp and start making their way through it—forcing me to fend for myself. Fearing the sauce would stain my fingers, I avoided the dish and opting to eat my rice plain instead. But the dish's fragrant garlic scent lured me in and I gingerly reached for one and I haven't looked back since. Yes, it's messy, but oh so finger-lickingly good. Salty, garlicky and with a just a hint of caramel, it is a fitting match for the free-swimming crustacean. 

Provided, the dish didn't cure me of my "condition," but I'd always make an exception to use my hands for the glazed shrimp. The best part is that it's incredibly easy to make. All you need is a few minutes, fresh shrimp, some light soy, black pepper, sugar and garlic. And if you like it tangy, a lemon. That's it. 

Just remember to wash your hands afterwards.

Caramelized Soy and Garlic Shrimp

1 pound shrimp (heads and shells intact)
2 tablespoon canola oil
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup light soy
1 teaspoon sugar
Black Pepper
1 lemon
1 stalk of green onion

1. Go out and buy a pound of the freshest shrimp you can find with their heads and shell intact. I get mine from the neighborhood Hong Kong Supermarket. Soak them in cool salted water for 30 mins or so to let them clean themselves out since we won't be deveining them. Drain and dry them thoroughly. 

2. Heat a wok or a skillet over high heat till it's smoking hot. Then, add 2 tablespoons of neutral oil with a high smoking point (this is not the time for EVOO)—canola or vegetable oil work great. 

3. When you see the oil ripple, you're ready to add the shrimp. *Note, make sure the shrimp are dry, unless you enjoy 3rd degree burns. Spread them in a even layer and let them brown on one side, around 2 mins. 

4. In the meanwhile, grate 3 big cloves of garlic over the shrimp. I prefer grating over to chopping them since it saves time, plus it really crushes the garlic's membranes which in turn releases more flavor. Lift one shrimp and check for color, when it's golden brown, flip them all over.

5. Once they're all flipped, add a 1/4 cup of light soy. My go-to is Lee Kum Kee's "Seasoned Soy Sauce for Seafood" as it's is more delicate and nuanced than regular soy. Lately, I've also been experimenting with Kikkoman's "Ponzu Lime" after receiving a bottle through Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program. It's got a zesty flavor that goes particularly well with seafood. 

6. Next, add a teaspoon of sugar and start stirring. With the high heat and the addition of sugar, the soy will take on a nutty, caramelized taste that is unparalleled and thicken to a glaze that will coat the shrimp.

7. When the shrimp are cooked and glazed, turn off the heat and add a fresh grinding of black pepper to taste (I like it with a kick). Next, zest half of the lemon over and combine well. 

8. Serve with a wedge of lemon, a sprinkling of sliced green onions and enjoy!
Related Posts with Thumbnails