Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tortellini Tikka Masala : Gastro-remix Inspired by hitRECord

I'm probably one of the biggest procrastinators out there. Just sit me in front of a computer (with internet access) and I'll be happily occupied for days if not forever. 

It always starts innocently enough, with a quick log-in to gmail to check messages (estimated time: 5 minutes)—you know, just a quick in-and-out maintenance. 

Fast forward to 2 hours later and I'm furiously trying to figure out the typeface to a Logan Walters' redesign of Wu-Tang Clan album. Productive night fail.

Once in a blue moon, procrastination can produce some fruitful results, such as creating a new recipe for tortellinis. 

Strangely enough, it started with watching an interview with Joseph Gordon Levitt on Team Coco's website after being stuck staring at a plate of uncooked tortellinis and deciding to take a break. Mesmerized with the plain red button that JGL was wearing, it led me on a google search. Turns out it is the logo for his production company, hitRECord… interesting.

After a quick stroll through the site and finding out it's for artists collaborations, I then sign up and proceeded to spend the next hour checking out projects—this one is a goodie (To warn you, clicking on the link may lead to your own procrastination odyssey!) 

While I was going through all the remixes on JGL's site, it clicked. Tortellinis doesn't have to be prepared with a classic Italian sauce and accompaniments, why not take a page from hitRECord and remix it with a different cuisine? After all, I often wish I could pair sauces from one restaurant with main courses of a another.

With that way of thinking, everything fell in place. Three-cheese trifecta tortellinis on a play date of a lifetime with the spicy and sassy tikka masala—tastes like a Vespa ride on the set of a Bollywood feature or JBL's mismatched Badtz Maru socks. Ok, definitely not that, but you get the idea. 

Give it spin and let me know what you think!

Tortellini Tikka Masala
Serves 6

1 package Barilla Three Cheese Tortellini

Tikka Masala
2 tb canola oil
1 small onion, diced (around 1 1/2 cups)
2 tsp ginger, minced 
2 gloves garlic, minced
1 pinch pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 tsp garam masala (or curry powder if you can't find it)
1 tsp paprika 
1 tsp cumin
1 jar Classico marinara pasta sauce (any brand is fine)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

1/4 cup silvered almonds, toasted
1 tb lemon zest
Cilantro sprigs
Olive oil

1. Prepare the tortellinis according to package directions. It should take around the same amount of time as the sauce.

2. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat, add oil, onion, ginger and garlic and cook until the onions essentially melt. Around 10 minutes. This is the flavor foundation on which the sauce builds upon so don't skimp on the time spent here!

3. Add the pepper flakes, garam masala, paprika and cumin to the onion mixture and stir for a few minutes to let the flavors meld and bloom in the oil. 

4. Add the sauce and let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes. Once that's finished, turn off the heat, stir in the cream, cilantro and salt to taste. 

5. To plate, pour a healthy ladle of the tikka masala sauce on a plate, add as few (or as many) tortellinis as you like and garnish with a sprinkle of almonds, cilantro, and lemon zest. Top with a peppery olive oil and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Billionaire Bacon Palmier : My Plan to Impress Gordon Ramsey

I have a confession to make: I once tried out to be on reality television last year. More specifically, to be on Gordon Ramsey's MasterChef series (season 1). 

It's actually quite uncharacteristic of me as I am cursed with the worst possible stage fright. Stuttering, clammy hands, tomato complexion—the whole nine yards. Just thinking about the experience gets my heart pumping at full speed. 

However, I'm a devoted Gordon Ramsey fan. I was willing to battle my affliction for the slim chance of meeting the infamous chef and who knows, maybe even impressing him with my culinary creation! And so, on an early Sunday morning, I set out with my good friend to my first casting call at The Grove.

To enter, we had to fill out an application akin to the mammoth packets to apply for college as well as to create our signature dish in front of a panel of judges. Knowing there were no stoves nor refrigeration, I create a plate of cookies as my entry dish. A risk since everyone were preparing extravagant masterpieces. 

The producers actually stopped when they walked by my station as I simply unwrapped my plate and said I was ready to present while everyone else scrambled to assemble their elaborate dishes. Looking back, I think they were a little miffed as they thought I didn't take their prompt seriously. However, I presented it as a dish that was uniquely me. 

Merging the French palmier (my Francophile side coming out) with the goodness of bacon, it was the matrimony of the two loves of my life. I called it the Billionaire bacon Palmier. 

In a way, it's like the perfect man of the cookie world. It combines the French sophistication of buttery pastry layers, the complexity of caramelized brown sugar, the manliness of smoky bacon and just the right amount of spice from the black pepper to keep things interesting. A wonderful blend of sweet, salty and spicy to keep you wanting just a little more. Best of all, he's, I mean, it's low maintenance too—the whole process got me in-and-out of the kitchen in no time.

Perhaps they thought I was crazy to describe a cookie in such depth or that they too saw the light after eating the palmiers (I hope it was the latter), I got the golden (green) ticket to go on to the next round! 

Needless to say, I never got on to the show as I was cut after the third round (which involves a cooking video that will never see the light of day). However, it was worth it to see them cast the Housewives of Beverly Hills, not to mention it was a memorable month to say the least! Perhaps one day, I too can make a beef Wellington for Chef Ramsey… 

Billionaire Bacon Palmiers
Yields 20 cookies and serves 5

1/2 package or 1 sheet of Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets 
1 cup brown sugar
2 thick slices of apple smoked bacon
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

First, render the bacon slices in a skillet on medium heat till golden brown and crispy. Drain the cooked bacon on paper towels and crumble to tiny pieces  (the smaller the better) when cooled to the touch.

Next, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Unfold the sheet of thawed puff pastry on a clean work surface and sprinkle 1/2 cup of brown sugar evenly on top. Use a rolling pin to gently press the sugar into the dough.

Carefully flip the pastry over and scatter the crumbled bacon all over the top. Do the same with the black pepper. Take the remaining 1/2 cup of the sugar and sprinkle over evenly and lightly press the toppings in with the rolling pin. 

Now comes the fun part! Roll the left vertical side to the center and then repeat with the right side. Gently press the two sides together and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate the pastry log for an hour or so till it's firm and thoroughly chilled. This step is imperative because it enables you to slice the palmiers easily later on and also ensures even baking.

Once the pastry is chilled, slice the log crosswise into 1/2 inch medallions. Place them on a parchment lined baking sheet (silpat works wonders as well) with plenty of space in between as they will spread and expand in the oven.

Bake the palmiers for 8-10 minutes till they are golden brown on top. Flip the cookies over and bake for a 3-5 minutes longer till the bottom is caramelized as well. Let them cool for a short while and enjoy responsibly!

Monday, April 11, 2011

My New Trader Joe's Addiction : Peanut Butter Goodies

Girl Scouts better watch out. The cookie syndicate may have the thin mints and Samoas market cornered, but they may soon be losing foothold on the Tagalong business. 

Yes, Trader Joe's is encroaching on GS's sacred peanut butter cookie territory with their newest substance, the Peanut Butter Goodies. 

Being a long-time loyal GS user, um, supporter, I was skeptical of this product, thinking no way will it ever be as good as the original. But, at under $3 a box (25% cheaper than the real deal), it warranted a try. Besides, I was jonesing for a cookie fix at the time.

So, I rush home with my new purchase, hands slightly trembling as I dissembled the box. Under the fragile cellophane jacket, 16 ravishing chocolate-covered discs grinned at me with their peanut freckles. 

I already knew this was going to be some good stuff. 

Taking my first bite, my senses were assaulted with a symphony of flavors and textures: crunchy cookie, smooth peanut butter mousse with just the right amount of salt, all concealed by a thick layer of rich milk chocolate. To make them extra lethal, TJ's laced the PB goodies with crushed peanuts on top for even more texture. 

Suddenly, Tagalongs with their feeble chocolate coating, seems diluted compared to TJ's wares. What's more is that these PB Goodies taste so much more substantial and real with contrasting textures and striking the delicate balance of sweet vs. salty. Hmm, better have another one just to make sure it's not a fluke. 

1/4 box after, consider me a convert. Now, if you would excuse me, I'll just ride out this sweet sugar high, thank you very much. 
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