September 15, 2011

amuse #4: southwestern pork puff pastry cups

After the third amuse I rotated into the main kitchen to produce mass quantities of soup (for both PCR and the cafeteria). But for my birthday my family was going to come eat in the PCR so I wanted to be there. So I switched with someone for the day and got to do amuse again!

This time my inspiration was simply what I felt like eating - and I thought of ground pork with grilled corn and roasted red bell peppers. And I wanted to put it in puff pastry, because I love puff pastry - one of my favorite creations was a Thanksgiving puff pastry dumpling I did years ago, where I basically wrapped leftover turkey, sweet potato and cranberry sauce in puff pastry and baked it.

pork puff ingredients

So anyway, this was supposed to be an easy amuse - I would stir-fry the ground pork, and lay the corn and red bell peppers on the grill until they charred. Which is what I did, but first I made the sauce.

cilantro yogurt sauce

Since I pictured the pork puff pastry as a dumpling/samosa like thing, for the sauce I thought about the green sauce that accompanies samosas. But I didn't want all the Indian flavors so I just kept it simple, cilantro and yogurt and garlic, seasoned with lemon juice and cayenne. I put in too much garlic, so I tried to adjust by putting in more cilantro and yogurt, but that only made it slightly better.

grilled corn

While I was busy adjusting the sauce, Tishara stepped in and cut my corn kernels for me. Maybe she just wanted her grill back, but I was really glad to have some help.

The red bell peppers I put into a tin and covered with foil after they got all charred up - the trapped residual heat softens the peppers even more and allow for the charred skin to be easily peeled off (which I did, in some cold water).

The bell peppers and the grilled corn were added to the pork - which I stir-fried with red onion, ginger, vinegar and paprika (the seasonings were a product of googling "pork corn red bell pepper", finding a recipe for pork chop with bell pepper and corn relish, and stealing the idea).

pork filling and puff pastry sheets

Once the filling was done I got to wrapping the dumplings, and somehow I had gotten only a dozen in the oven when it came service time. And guests were being seated in the PCR and I had nothing ready. So I started freaking out and pulled the dumplings from the oven and deep-fried them instead. And they looked ugly and not what I wanted them to look like (hence no pictures of those).

Meanwhile I was also freaking out because my family didn't show up and I didn't have my phone and I had to get my phone and I had all these messages about meetup mishaps, and it really was too much stress.

finished pork puff

In the end I bought myself some time with the deep-fried puffs, and decided to make my life easier by not making any more dumplings. Instead I just laid down puff pastry squares in muffin tins and spooned filling over that and baked - and what came out were more like pork puff pastry cups. And they actually looked much better. And I regained my ability to breathe.

amuse #3: chicken peanut satay & green papaya salad

My favorite cuisine is Thai, so I had to do a Thai-style amuse. This one was especially ambitious because besides trying new things without a recipe, I was also doing two things at once: chicken satay AND papaya salad. Thankfully each involved a marinade/sauce that I was able to make the day before so that cut down on prep time.

green papaya salad ingredients

I love green papaya salad but have never worked with it before, so it was interesting to shred and taste it plain. It actually tastes like... not very much.

shredding green papaya

To the shredded papaya I added halved cherry tomatoes and chopped green beans (you can also substitute Chinese long beans). The salad dressing involved olive oil, shrimp paste, fish sauce, lime and honey. Although it tasted okay, I thought it could be better but wasn't sure how to make it better - it just didn't taste authentic. Maybe I need my grandma's nuoc mam (cooked fish sauce)...

For the chicken satay I used the leftover diced chicken cubes from the Chinese chicken lettuce cups and marinated them in peanut sauce (peanut butter + soy sauce + lemon juice + brown sugar + garlic + curry powder). But honestly this peanut dressing is far superior and I wish I would've used it instead. I sauteed the chicken cubes and browned them in the broiler to get a little char since the cubes were way too small for me to grill.

chicken peanut satay and green papaya salad

This amuse bite had no chance of being held together by a skewer, so I used Asian soup spoons for the presentation. The skewers for the chicken were unnecessary but I just liked how they looked, especially since the soup spoons were plain.

green papaya amuses

As you can see I made a lot! But they all got eaten, and that made me happy.

amuse #2: grilled peach salad bite

For my next amuse I wanted to do something Asian-inspired again, but I thought it would be better to take a break and do something fresh. Again I thought about things I had eaten recently and this grilled peach salad with goat cheese and arugula came to mind.

grilled peach ingredients

Because there's only two hours to prepare, getting all ingredients in one go was very important.

grilling peaches

I cut the peaches in half and basted them with melted butter + brown sugar + cinnamon. They grilled until they got soft, and then I put them in a pan and covered them with foil to retain heat.

grilled peach mise-en-place

The goat cheese log was crumbled by hand, and the arugula was tossed in a simple vinaigrette (olive oil + balsamic vinegar + salt + pepper). Again I wanted a crunch element to offset the softness of everything, so I opted for toasted almond slivers.

To assemble, I scraped off the charred bits on the grilled peaches, cut them into cubes, sprinkled some brown sugar on, then topped with a pinch of arugula, some bits of goat cheese, then adhered some almond slivers to the cheese, and skewered the bite with a mini-skewer.

grilled peach amuse

Excuse the poor lighting, but this is how it turned out. As my PCR teammate Dustin deadpan-ed: "It was like an orgasm in my mouth." I didn't believe him at first, but he really did mean it. It was that delicious.

amuse #1: chinese chicken lettuce cups

So in my stint as Student Chef of the PCR, I did the whole logistics/butchery thing, but when the restaurant opened for service I was the communication point between the front of the house (servers, food runners, etc.) and the back of the house (kitchen). I was also in charge of expediting, or otherwise keeping track of orders (in the form of tickets) and getting food out on time. Here was my view:

during service

While that was fun and allowed me to feel self-important, I was itching to get in on some of the food action. When my time was up I was able to choose what station I went into, and I chose to go into amuse. Not only are little bite-sized portions of food cute (to eat, look at, and also make), I was also excited by the fact that every single guest would get a taste of my creation, not to mention all the samples I would be doling out to fellow students. To me this meant that whatever I made had to be good.

For inspiration I thought about appetizers I had eaten and liked, and also thought a bit about something I was culturally familiar with. One of the things that came to mind were Chinese Chicken Lettuce Cups, which I had remember eating perhaps first at a PF Changs, but also in legit banquet-style dinners. Usually you would wrap heaping spoonfuls of diced up chicken in a whole lettuce leaf and eat it like some kind of spring roll, but my version would have to be smaller.

cutting lettuce cups

So I used a cookie cutter to make small, perfectly round lettuce cups.

As for the chicken filling, I knew it was supposed to be a mixture of things. But unsure of what to include, I researched a bunch of recipes online and ended up doing what I always do, which is to write down the parts of each recipe/ingredient list that I like. This came out to diced chicken, onions, ginger, shiitake mushrooms and water chesnuts.

The chicken I marinated in a equal parts mixture of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, and also minced garlic. After that was stir-fried and set aside, I stir-fried the diced vegetables (onions first to soften), then re-added the chicken and flavored with oyster sauce and red pepper flakes and mixed in scallions.

chicken filling

So far both the chicken and lettuce cups were rather soft-textured (since I chose to use butter lettuce for color instead of the usual iceberg), so I thought of crunchy toppings. Cashews came to mind (which I crushed), as did black sesame, but I also wanted the crispy fried noodles I had eaten in restaurants previous - the problem was just that I had no idea what kind of noodles they were and how they were fried. As a last-ditch experiment I grabbed some Chinese vermicelli and dunked them in the deep fryer. They poofed up immediately and were exactly what I wanted (disclaimer: experiments, especially last-ditch ones, almost never work out like this).

finished lettuce cup

So this was the lettuce cup, all assembled and finished with a cilantro leaf for color. The prep time of two hours was just enough for me to turn this out, sans experience, and I think people liked it despite the spice!