Stuffed Summer Squash

I enjoy strolling through the local farmers market to get recipes inspiration. I love that you could learn so much by the growers, and they are eager to answer your questions about their seasonal vegetables. In my recent trip to the Union Square Greenmarket, I was drawn to the abundant of summer squash available at Lani's Farm; specifically, the Asian Cousa Squash. They are the cutest as they are about 5 inches long. I thought it's best to stuff them; maybe it's because I really enjoyed the stuffed squid I made recently; plus I thought it would be great to make the squash as the main course rather than as another side dish. I also want to try a recipe without having to cook the stuffing separately. As the season of summer squash is here, I hope you'll try this recipe.

Stuffed Summer Squash
6 Asian Couza Squash (Halved lengthwise)
1 pound of sweet pork sausage (taken out of its casing)
1/2 dozen cremini mushrooms (chopped)
1 small onions (minced)
1 egg (beaten)
2 gloves of garlic (minced)
1/4 cup of basil (minced)
1/4 cup of grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Clean and dry each squash. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the squash meat and leave 1/4 inch border, set aside in an oiled shallow baking pan. Season the squash with salt and pepper then set aside. In a large bowl, mix well all other ingredients, season with salt and pepper. Spoon mixture evenly to the squash. Drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 45 minutes. Sprinkle with more grated parmigiano-reggiano and basil, serve immediately.

Stuffed Squid with Mushroom, Shallots and Cellophane Noodles

I felt in love with stuffed squid when I had my first at an Italian restaurant decades ago. It was stuffed with bread crumbs and herbs, cooked in a pomodoro sauce over linguine. It was really delicious, and I wandered at the time how to make that dish. Fast forward to decades later, I made that dish in culinary school. I learned that with squid, you either cook it in minutes or braise for longer period of time, otherwise it'll get rubbery.

Since then I went to Vietnam and had their version of stuffed squid. It was stuffed with a pork mixture, and then sliced into rings. I love how tendered the squid tasted, and the meat mixture went well with the squid. I've wanted to make that dish for some time; so when I saw the beautiful squid at PE & DD Seafood at Union Square Greenmarket this past week, I thought I should finally make it myself. I have some fresh shiitake mushrooms and tomatoes at home so I decided to stuff the squid with a mushroom mixture, and cook them in a tomato sauce, using Vietnamese seasoning.

Stuffed Squid with Mushroom, Shallots and Cellophane Noodles

Mushroom Stuffing
1/2 lb. of shiitake mushroom (minced)
1 medium size or 2 small shallot
2 gloves of garlic (minced)
2 ounces of dried cellophane noodles, aka bean thread or mung bean noodles (softened with hot water and chopped)
1/4 cup of fresh cilantro
1 tbsp. of fish sauce
1 egg white
1/2 tsp. of brown sugar

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl then spoon mixture into each squid body. Do not over stuff each squid. Leave at least 1/4 inch from the top and seal it with a toothpick. 

6 medium to large squid (cleaned and leave whole)
1 shallot (diced)
1/2 lb. of cherry tomatoes (halved)
1/4 cup of water
1/2 tbsp. of fish sauce
1/2 tsp. of brown sugar
1/4 tsp. of red chili flakes
1 tbsp. of vegetable oil
Sprinkle of chopped cilantro for garnish

Once all the squid are stuffed, heat a large skillet. When the skillet is hot, add oil. Saute shallot for a few minutes until softened. Add the stuffed squid; saute each side for a couple of minutes. Then add tomatoes, fish sauce, sugar, chili flakes and water. Cover and let it braised in low heat for at least 30 to 40 minutes. Garnish with cilantro, and I recommend serving it with rice as you wouldn't want to waste a drop of the sauce. Enjoy!

Ramp and Ginger Sauce

I have become somewhat obsessed with ramps. I simply can't get enough of these wild leeks that are available in Spring. I visit the Berried Treasures Farm at the Union Square Greenmarket often to stock up on this sought after pungent vegetable. Other than using ramps in a variety of dishes as I did in my previous posts. I also want to use it in a versatile sauce that would go well with the meals I like to prepare.

I always love ginger and scallion sauce. You may know this sauce as the complimentary dipping sauce that comes with Chinese White Cut or Soy Sauce Chicken. When I was a child, I remember being excited when my parents come home with takeout chicken not because of the chicken, but because of the sauce. I would pour it all over my white rice, and I could eat a bowl of it. To this date, I ask for the sauce even when I'm ordering wonton noodle soup or congee. I make this sauce sometimes which is super easy, but getting them in the little plastic containers somehow makes it tastier. For the short ramp season, I made a version of it with ramps. I didn't use as much ginger as I would to make the ginger scallion sauce. I want the ginger to enhance the ramp flavor and not overpower it.

Ramp and Ginger Sauce
One bunch of ramps (8-10 bulbs with leaves)
4 inches of ginger (peeled and cut into large pieces)
1/2 cup of neutral oil that has a high smoke point such as vegetable, corn or peanut oil
Salt to taste

Peel the skin of the ginger by lightly scraping it with a spoon. Separate the bulb from the leaves of the ramps. Add the bulb and the peeled ginger into a food processor. Pulse the processor until the mixture is finely minced but not puree. Put the mixture into a heat poof bowl. I like to mince the ramp leaves myself so they're not bruised too much. Add that to the mixture, Heat oil in a sauce pan until it is almost smoking hot. Then slowly pour the hot oil to the ramp and ginger, be careful when you pour as the mixture would sizzle. Stir well then season with salt.
I put this sauce on everything, from my homemade pork and ramp dumplings to rib eye steak. It goes well with chicken, shellfish and fish too. You could also use this sauce to saute vegetables or simply put it on white rice and noodles. For me this sauce is good with everything!

Beer-steamed Clams with Ramp and Goat Cheese Bruschetta

Here's another delicious dish I made with ingredients I purchased at the Union Square Greenmarket. Once again it's being featured by The Feed Feed on its Grow NYC page. As mentioned on my last post, the page promotes green market eating, and recipes are shared within the community who shops at the green markets. The following are vendors from the Union Square Greenmarket I visited to make this dish: Clams from Blue Moon Fish. Ramps from Berried Treasures Farm. Demi baguette from Bread Alone.

Thanks to all the vendors for the wonderfully fresh and local ingredients you provide us, but I want to give a special thank you to Franca Tantillo of Berried Treasures Farm. Aside from always being there to make suggestions and answer questions about her delicious products, she is such a sweet person. As a fan of ramps, I keep going back to Berried Treasures to get more. When I was there last week, I didn't have enough cash and the lovely Franca told me not to worry, she'll get me the next time. I was embarrassed, but so thankful she trusted me enough to let me walk away without paying. She told me she'll see me next week, and of course she did.

Other than getting my hands on as many ramps as possible while the season is ending, I've also been craving fish and seafood as the weather gets warmer. I love shell fish especially clams. I remember when I was a teenager; my mom and I would eat dozens and dozens of raw cherry stone clams from Randazzos in Brooklyn. I couldn't get enough of them, always fresh and delicious. In addition to being delicious, clams are probably one of the easiest things to cook so it makes a good week day meal too. The most important part is to make sure they are clean. There are many ways to cook them, but this time I decided to steam them with beer since I happen to have a couple of bottles in the fridge. If you don't have beer, you could use wine or stock. I also have some leftover ramp sauce and goat cheese in my fridge so I decided to do a ramp and goat cheese bruschetta, but you could easily serve this with some garlic toast.

Beer-steamed Clams with Ramp and Goat Cheese Bruschetta - Serves two
2 dozen of little neck clams
1 bottle of pale ale
3-4 cloves or crushed garlic 
1/2 tsp. of crushed red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. of olive oil 
1 tbsp. of cold unsalted butter

Soak clams in cold water for at least 1/2 hour to an hour prior to cooking. Change the water a couple of times during soaking. Scrub each clam individually with a brush and rinse thoroughly; then set aside. Heat a large pot with lid, once the pot is heated add olive oil, sauté the crushed garlic until fragrant, add red pepper flakes, then clams and beer. Cover the lid until liquid comes to a boil, about five minute open lid keep it at a rolling boil until the clam starts opening. Take each one out as they open some will open sooner, be patient; but if there is any unopened one, be sure to toss those out. Reduce liquid in half, swirl in cold butter and spoon on top of the clams. Serve with garlic toast or the ramp and goat cheese bruschetta (recipe below).

Ramp and Goat Cheese Bruschetta
1/4 cup of ramp sauce (see recipe for the ramp sauce in my previous post)
2 ounces of softened goat cheese
1 demi baguette cut in 3/4 inch slices

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Mix the ramp sauce with the soften goat cheese, spread onto the baguette slices and toast for a few minutes in the oven then serve with the clams. 

This recipe is super quick and easy. It's great to have it during the week, and also great for entertaining too. Enjoy!

Skate with Spring

As you may know, I post a lot of food photos on Instagram. I was recently notified by The Feed Feed that the above photo is selected to be featured on the Grow NYC page of its website. The page promotes green market eating, and recipes are shared within the community who shops at the green markets. The following is a list of vendors I got my ingredients from at the Union Square Greenmarket. Skate from Pura Vida Fishiers. Ramps and Fiddlehead Ferns from Berried Treasures. The pea shoots are from Bodhi Tree Farm. Thanks to all the vendors for the wonderfully fresh and local ingredients your provide us. Hope you enjoy this recipe!

Pan-fried Skate with Sauté Ramps, Fiddlehead Ferns, Pea Shoots and Ramp Sauce - Serves two

Ramp Sauce
Ramp leaves chopped (save ½ tsp for garnish)
1 cup of vegetable or chicken stock
1 tbsp. of cold butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive Oil for sauteing

Make the sauce first, sauté the ramp leaves with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, then add a cup of stock reduce by half. Puree the sauce with an immersion blender. Return the sauce to the sauce pan, then swirl in cold butter to thicken, keep warm.

Ramps, Fiddlehead Ferns and Pea Shoots
1/2 pound of fiddlehead ferns (if you can't find this, you can substitute with asparagus)
1/4 pound of ramp bulbs split in half (approx. 8 - 10 bulbs with leaves) save leaves for the sauce
1/2 pound of pea shoots
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil

For the fiddlehead ferns, soak in water and rinse a few times. Be sure to trim off any dry ends.  Heat a skillet, once it’s heated, add olive oil. Add the ramp bulbs, season with salt and pepper. Sauté until it’s transparent, add the ferns, season with salt and pepper cooked for at least 3-4 minutes until the ferns are tendered, finally add the pea shoots until it's wilted for about 2 minutes and keep warm.

Pan-fried Skate
2 skate wing fillets (approx. 6 – 8 oz each)
1/4 cup of flour for dredging 
1/4 cup of canola oil
2 tbsp of butter
Juice of 1/2 of a lemon
Salt and pepper to season

Rinse the skate fillets then pat dry with paper towels to ensure there's no excess moisture before dredging in flour.  Season each fillet with salt and pepper.  Put a pinch of salt in the flour so it is also seasoned.  Dredge the fillets with flour and shake off excess.  Heat a large pan in medium to high heat, add the oil and heat the oil until hot but not smoking. Add butter until the oil and butter mixture starts to bubble, then carefully add each fillet to the pan and use a fish spatula to gently press down the fillets in the pan to be sure the fillets are laid flat and that they are cooking evenly.  Cook the fillets until golden brown (about 4-5 minutes) on the first side.  Once you see the first side is cooked and almost cooked through to the side that's facing up (you'll see the edges start to brown), gently flip over to the other side and cook for another 2 minutes.  Once the fillets are done, add lemon juice and serve with sauce, vegetables, garnish with ramp leaves.

Thai Style Chorizo and Tomato Nachos with Homemade Avocado Crema

I can't believe May is finally here. Other than celebrating the arrival of Spring and the warmer weather, we also want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with lots of great Mexican eats and drinks.

So when the good people at Food Should Taste Good reached out and asked me to share a recipe to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with their tortilla chips, I agreed since I am such a fan of their products. They sent me a variety of chips made with wholesome and all natural ingredients. Their chips are verified gluten free with no trans-fat and kosher which makes it a guilt free snack.  Check out the many differnt flavors

Since I've wanted to make nachos and homemade crema (Mexican sour cream) for a while, this is the perfect opportunity to do that. With the delicious tortilla chips in hand, I was ready!

As some of you know, I like to incorporate Asian flavors to my recipes. This time my inspiration came from a Thai dish (Nam Prik Ong) that I love. Traditionally this dish is made with ground pork, and it serves with fresh and boiled vegetables. I thought this spicy, sour, sweet and savory dip would be perfect for nachos, and I couldn't wait to get started. First I had to start making the homemade crema. It takes about two days to make, but it is so worth it!  You could skip this step if you don't have time, and buy some at your local Mexican markets, though I highly recommend making fresh crema.  I love the light and creamy consistency which is not as thick as the traditional sour cream. Also by making it yourself, you know exactly what's in it. It's super easy and you'll be glad you did. I followed Alton Brown's recipe (without the chipotle) but since I don't have a microwave, I heated it in a pot instead.
Avocado Crema (sour cream) 
1 cup of heavy cream
1 tbsp of buttermilk
1 ripe avocado puree

Heat the heavy cream slightly to get the chill out, but do not heat over 100 degrees, then add the buttermilk. Place the crema in a glass jar, cover and leave out for 24 hours, then put in the fridge to chill for at least 12 more hours. After chilling the crema, smash the ripe avocado into a puree then combine it with the crema. Season with salt and chill in fridge until ready to use.

Next, make the dip which goes really well with the many delicious flavors of the Food Should Taste Good tortilla chips. I paired it with the Lime, Jalapenos and Guacamole flavored chips.

Chorizo and Tomato Dip or Nachos
5 dried Chile de Arbo (you could use 2-3 Chile for milder taste)
1 medium size shallot chopped
3 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp of canola oil
1 tsp of shrimp paste (available at your local Asian Market)
1 tbsp of fish sauce
1 tsp of brown sugar
1 pound of fresh chorizo sausage (remove casings)
9 ounces of cherry tomatoes quartered (approx 15, 16 tomatoes)
Handfuls of Food Should Taste Good tortilla chips

Toppings for the Nachos
1 cup of shredded cheese (Mexican blend of Monterrey Jack, Colby and Sharp Cheddar or at least 2 out of 3)
1/2 cup of shredded purple cabbage
1 cup of Avocado Crema (recipe above)
1/4 cup of cilantro

Soak the dried chile in hot water for at least 30 minutes then combine it with the shallot, garlic cloves and grind to a paste by using a mortar pastel. Heat a skillet, add the canola oil then add the chile, garlic and shallot mixture, Once the paste is caramelized after a few minutes of cooking, add the fish paste. Cook a few minutes more, then add the chorizo. Make sure you break the chorizo up with a spoon or spatula. Once the chorizo are browned, add the tomatoes. Season it with fish sauce and sugar. Cook until the chorizo are cooked through and the tomatoes are softened and release all its juice. Add a little water if necessary to help cook the tomatoes.

At this point, you could easily enjoy the chips with the dip and crema, but turning this dip into a fully loaded tray of awesome nachos is the way to go.  Here's how!
Set the oven for 425 degrees. Cover a 9 x 13 sheet pan with the tortilla chips, add the sauce to the chips, top with the shredded cheese. Repeat the steps to add another layer. Bake it for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Sprinkle the shredded purple cabbage on top. Top with avocado crema then garnish with cilantro.

The spiciness of the chorizo and tomato sauce mellows with the addition of the avocado crema and the raw cabbage. The fish paste adds a nice savory depth of flavor. You may want to double the recipe as this nacho dish will be devoured in minutes.

Thanks again Food Should Taste Good for the fantastic tortilla chips. I can't stop eating them! So glad I got a chance to develop this recipe for all to enjoy. Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Hello, Good Morning!

It's been a while since I've posted an entry. I have been working on some personal issues specifically in the past year. I haven't spoken about it here as I'm not one who could air my personal matters for the world to know. Even though, we live in a social media obsessed world, I included, we only tend to post things that are happy.  We leave the ugly and unhappiness behind for ourselves to deal with behind closed doors. There are many who are able to talk about their private lives in public without any hesitation, and I admire those people. I admire them for their courage to stand up and tell everyone their business good and bad. I'm not there yet; maybe I'll never get there. Maybe it's part of my culture, I was taught to never air out our dirty laundry. We don't share and discuss how we feel especially in public. Maybe, hopefully, I could share more private things in my blog in the future? I don't know for sure yet.

What I know for sure is that I am grateful for the friends and family that I have who have been there for me. I'm finally starting to live my life fully. I have been able to start traveling, something that I enjoy tremendously, but haven't done in a long time. I'm completely immersed into doing things that I haven't done in a while. I felt like I had been asleep for a very long time, and finally waking up to a whole new world of things that I want to try. New friends I want to make, new places I want to visit, and new recipes I want to test. It's been a great experience to learn how to live again. Some people don't ever get a chance; for that, I'm grateful as I have finally awakened.  So bear with me and stay tune, I hope to be able to share more of me, my recipes and my adventures with you.

Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America 2014

Photo by Niko Triantafillou
On Monday, I attended the 2014 Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America awards selected by Dessert Professional Magazine presented by Guittard ChocolateKitchenAidBeurremontNielsen-Massey, and hosted by Institute of Culinary Education ("ICE"). Each year Dessert Professional Magazine crowns the top 10 pastry chefs in the country.  I look forward to this event each year as the most accomplished pastry chefs are being recognized and honored.  It is a great recognition to their achievement.  Though the most exciting part for me and probably for all the guests is we get to enjoy an array of amazingly creative and delicious plated desserts throughout the evening.  I was fortunate to be able to sample these tasty morsels prepared by the best in the country.

Check out the impressive list of this year's top ten below.  These talented chefs are masters of their trade. As a savory cook, I'm in awe of these extremely creative and skilled pastry chefs.  I also attached photos from the event so you could feast your eyes on their unique pastry creations. 

This year’s Top Ten:
Georges Berger, MOF
Owner, Chocolate Fashion
Miami, FL
Ebow Dadzie
Pastry Chef, NY Marriott Marquis
New York, NY
Pastry Instructor, Monroe College
New Rochelle, NY    
Della Gossett
Executive Pastry Chef, Spago
Los Angeles, CA
Katzie Guy-Hamilton
F&B Director and Corporate Pastry Chef, Max Brenner
Cher Harris
Executive Pastry Chef, The Hotel Hershey
Hershey, PA
Joshua Johnson
Executive Pastry Chef, Vanille Patisserie
Chicago, IL
Ghaya Oliveira
Executive Pastry Chef, Restaurant Daniel
New York, NY
Derek Poirier
Ecole du Grand Chocolate Pastry Chef Western USA, Valrhona USA
Rudi Weider
Master Pastry Chef, Hilton San Diego Bayfront
San Diego, CA
Jennifer Yee
Executive Pastry Chef, Lafayette
New York, NY
Assorted Eclairs: Coconut, Lemon Meringue, Cherry Pistachio, Espresso and Chocolate
Chef Jennfer Yee, Lafayette, NYC
Coconut Lime Dacquoise with Mango Olive Jelly, Coconut Mousse, Mango Pineapple Compote, Banana Lime Sorbet
Chef Ebow Dadzie, Marriott Marquis & Monroe College, NYC
Corn Macaron with Corn Panna Cotta, Jalapeno Gelee, Goat Cheese Dressed Arugula
Chef Joshua Johnson, Vanille Patisserie, Chicago, IL    

Mandarin and Chocolate Hazelnut Sponge, Ginger Caramel Macaron, Smoked Hazelnut Crumble
Chef Cher Harris, Hotel Hershey, Hershey, PA
Lychee Panna Cotta
Chef Ebow Dadzie, Marriott Marquis & Monroe College, NYC 
Hazelnuts, Prailaines, Opaly's Bahibe Chocolate
Chef Derek Poirier, Valrhona USA

Suntory Chocolate Torte with Toasted Matcha Pistachio Gelato, Coconut Shaved Ice, Cherries
Chef Katzie Guy-Hamilton, Max Brenner
Cherry Tarte, Rosemary Cherry Compote, Chocolate Financier, Tainori Bavaroise
Chef Ghaya Oliveira, Restaurant Daniel, NYC
Chocolate Expresso Creme Brulee with Bourbon Vanilla Gelato, Salted Caramel Sauce
Chef Rudi Weider, Hilton San Diego, San Diego, CA
Pistachio Brittle & White Peach Mousse
Chef Georges Berger, Chocolate Fashion, Miami, FL
White Chocolate "Crottin" with Surinam Cherry Preserve
Chef Della Gossett, Spago, Los Angeles, CA

Circo - Bollito Misto Week

Is it old man winter or return of polar vortex that is causing this unbearable weather?  Another snow storm arrived Tuesday evening.  As much as I don't like the bitter cold and threat of snow, I'm getting fed up with it.  As the winter months grow longer, I'm feeling braver to venture out in a snow storm.  I don't want the weather to stop me from enjoying a good meal with good company especially when I'm craving comfort food such as hearty stews and soups.  I simply can't get enough of it so when I was invited to Circo for their preview of Bollito Misto week; I was excited to try this rustic Italian comfort dish.  I braved the storm to join my fellow food troopers (Arlyn Blake, Jackie Gordon, Jean Lee, Judy Kim and Matt Bruck) for a delightful meal.

If you're not familiar with Circo, it is an Italian restaurant in midtown owned by the Maccioni Family who owns Le Cirque.  Bollito Misto is one of Sirio Maccioni's favorite dishes. Every winter they offer it on the menu at Circo.  Bollito Misto means 'mix boiled' which is a very traditional northern Italian dish. It consists of various cuts of meat simmer in a vegetable broth until the meat becomes tender.  Then it's usually sliced thinly then serve with a variety of condiments such as mostarda, coarse sea salt and salsa verde.  This year Circo is launching Bollito Misto week which starts Monday, January 27 to Friday, January 31.  They will be celebrating this comfort dish by offering a 5 course dinner for $49 per person.  Don't miss your chance to taste some of the traditional Italian dishes that are favorites of the Maccioni family.  Most of these dishes are prepared using Mamma Egi's recipes, and I was delighted to meet Mamma Egi.  Marco Maccioni, one of the sons and owners, also joined us while we previewed the five course tasting dinner.

The highlight of this menu for me was of course the Bollito Misto, but I also really enjoyed the Antipasto Platter specifically with the house made panzerotti bread and Mamma's Tortellini.  Mamma Egi told us other than the brisket and capon, she also added house made chicken and beef sausages to the Bollito Misto. The sausages were so tender and delicious.  The broth was flavorful and well seasoned.  Chef Alfio Longo, the Executive Chef, is offering five condiments to pair with the Bollito Misto which includes mostarda, coarse sea salt, salsa verde, mustard and spicy tomato sauce which I love since I love a little spiciness in my food.  I also enjoyed the mostarda with the sea salt (a little savory and sweet).  Marco also told us his favorite condiment which is the salsa verde; so there really is something for everyone.  He also proudly told us that he is a big fan of his mamma's tortellini which I too enjoyed very much.  They are the cutest and tastiest little dumplings ever.  I could eat bowls of those too. To pair with the whole meal, we tasted some delicious Lambrusco. We started out with the lighter Lambrusco di Sorbara then the bolder Reggiano with the Bollito Misto.  Finally, for dessert, we had a sweeter wine of Brachetto d'Acqui which I also enjoyed very much.

All in all, it was a fabulous way to spend a cold snowy evening.  You could experience this tasty 5 course menu for a limited time starting Monday, January 27.  I highly encourage you to take advantage of this great price, and warm your heart and soul with this delicious five course dinner.  Enjoy and Buon Appetito!

Antipasto Platter of Culatello di Zibello, Mortadella di Bologna, Parmigiano, Panzerotti and Mostarda
Mamma Egi's Tortellini with Broth
Pumpkin Cappelaci with Butter Sage and Saba Wine Sauce
Bollito Misto of Capon, Beef and Housemade Sausages with 5 condiments

Red Wine Pached Pear and Zabglione
Group Photo op missing Jean Lee who is taking the picture featuring: Bruno,  Matt Bruck, Mamma Egi, Chef Alfio Longo, Marco Macchioni, Judy Kim, Me, Arlyn Blake and Jackie Gordon
Disclaimer:  The dinner was hosted by Circo.  All opinions are my own, and I did not receive any compensation for this post.

Fennel Flower Crystals Dusted Shrimp, Roasted Fennel with Saffron Vanilla Sauce

Sweet to Savory is the recipe contest that Marx Foods (a specialty fine food store based in Seattle) is hosting.  They reached out to me to ask if I would like to participate.  I have entered a few of their previous contests and always had a great time so naturally I said yes.  Days later I received a box of ingredients.  It contained vanilla beans, granulated honey, coconut sugar and fennel flower crystals.  The rule is to at least use two out of the four sweet ingredients to make a savory dish.  I've heard about fennel flower crystals, but have never used it before so I tasted it and it's got a slight sweetness. It has a concentrated anise flavor with a floral component.  It has a crunchy texture.  I figure I would use it in a marinade as well as to finish a dish.  I also thought I would use the coconut sugar, but then I realized I've already used it in the Coconut Caramel Pulled Pork Empanada recipe in a previous contest.  The vanilla is a tricky one because not many savory dishes contain vanilla unless it's used in a sauce.  I remember making a saffron vanilla sauce in school, so I decided that I'd use the vanilla and fennel flower crystals together.

As to the protein I chose shrimp because I think the shellfish would go well with the sauce besides I already have some in my freezer.  I often have shrimp in my freezer because I love shrimp plus it makes for a quick weeknight meal.  I also like to save shrimp shells to make shrimp stock.  I just love the intense shrimp flavor you get from the shells.  If I'm making shrimp I often use some shrimp stock to make a sauce to add another layer of the shrimp flavor.  If you don't have shrimp shells to make stock, you could substitute it with some store-bought seafood stock.  To tie the dish together with the fennel flower crystals, I also made some roasted fennel to give it another element of the fennel flavor and texture.  

Fennel Flower Crystals Dusted Shrimp, Roasted Fennel with Saffron Vanilla Sauce - Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as main course

Fennel Flower Crystals Dusted Shrimp
12 colossal shrimp shelled and deveined
1 tspn of fennel flower crystals divided (use half in the marinate then half to finish the dish)
1 tspn of salt
1/2 tspn of black pepper
Juice of a lemon

Roasted Fennel
2 fennel bulbs cut in quarters
6-8 gloves of garlic
3-4 springs of thyme
2 tspn of fennel fronds reserve for garnish
Salt & pepper for seasoning

Saffron Vanilla Sauce
1 1/2 cup of shrimp stock (recipe to follow)
1 vanilla bean
4 tbsp of unsalted butter (cut to small pieces)
1 tbsp of heavy cream
1/2 tspn of saffron threads

Shrimp Stock (optional as you can substitute with store bought seafood stock)
3 cups of water
2 cups of shrimp shells
3-4 pieces of ginger cut 1/2 inch thick
3 pieces of scallion (green part cut in 2-3 inch pieces)

Put all the ingredient for the shrimp stock and let it simmer for about 45 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Let it reduce then strain.  It'll yield approximately 1 1/2 to 2 cups of stock.  This can be made ahead and set aside for the sauce.

Preheat oven to 350.  Cut off the stalks from the fennel bulb, save about 2 tspn of the fronds for garnish.  Trim off the outer tough parts of the bulb.  Cut the bulb in half then trim off the core as it could be too tough to eat, then cut the rest of the bulb in quarters.  Season with salt, pepper, drizzle with olive oil then add the garlic and thyme and roast it for 30-40 minutes until fork tender.

For the sauce, split the vanilla in half then scrape the seeds into a small saucepan.  Add the vanilla pod, shrimp stock and saffron.  Simmer and reduce to half.  Strain the sauce then add the heavy cream.  Simmer for a few more seconds then whisk in the butter a little at a time over medium heat.  Keep whisking until the sauce thickens.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Keep warm until it's ready to serve.

Season the shrimp with salt, pepper and fennel flower crystals.  Add olive oil to coat and let it marinate for 15 minutes.  Heat a skillet until it's hot, then add olive oil to coat, then sear the shrimp 2-3 minutes on each side until the flesh turns pink.  Turn off the heat then add lemon juice.

To finish the dish, spoon the sauce onto a plate, then put the roasted fennel and shrimp on top.  Sprinkle more fennel flower crystals and garnish with fennel fronds.

I really love the sauce as you can taste the vanilla flavor, but the saffron gives it a great balance of the savory element as well as the vibrant color of the sauce.  The fennel flower crystals give a burst of anise flavor and floral note to the dish.  Thanks again Marx Foods for thinking of me for this contest.  As always I have fun with the ingredients.  Until next time...

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