Tuesday, January 31, 2012

So I guess I'm Competitive...Thai-Korean Fusion Fried Rice

So this is a pretty big week for me in my culinary career: competition week! You may recall my post last year about a competition I was in (check out the post!)? Wellllll I'm at it again! With an awesome team this time! I can't wait to share allllll about it, but that's going to take a while and since the competition is THIS WEEKEND and we'll be meeting for practice all week...I may not have the time and energy to give it a good posting. Plus it will be more fun to talk about it afterwards when I can relay the whole story! So stay tuned!
Now you're wondering "What IS this post all about? Just a teaser?" Well actually, there is aNOTHER competition I've just entered that I AM going to tell you about! (Who knew I was such a competitive person???) This competition is through the American Culinary Federation (
learn more), which I am a member of through my school. This is the "What's in Your Wok? Fried Rice Competition". The challenge was to submit a signature fried rice recipe with these rules:
1) Must create four entree servings using either white, brown, or minute rice

2) The rice must represent NO LESS than 50% of the recipe
3) Limit of 15 ingredients
4) Must take no more than 20 minutes to cook.
5) The only permitted cooking vessel is a Browne Foodservice 12" Stainless Triply Induction Wok with natural finish

Doesn't sound too hard, right? Well here's where this gets interesting...First of all, I didn't find out about this competition until about a week before the recipes were due, so I had to work fast not only to write down my recipe and fill out the forms, but also to COME UP with a signature recipe and take pictures and all that jazz. Did I mention I'd never made fried rice before? Yeah....so what did I do? I stalked around my favorite inspiration sites and wrote down all of the components and plating designs that I liked best so I could see what I wanted MY signature dish to be. I wrote down all kinds of ingredient ideas from mangoes to fish sauce, but in the end, my favorite came from two popular versions of fried rice: Korean and Thai.
My next step was to design my own recipe, something I've only done a few times. I wrote down how many servings it needed to make, how large I wanted each serving to be, and then broke down the ingredients into what seemed like reasonable portions. The next step was simply to get the ingredients, take an afternoon to cook and experiment and photograph, and then cross my fingers that SOMETHING would come out, because by then I only had one day to get my submission in!

I was SO shocked and pleased!! Not only did my first batch come out GREAT, I only had to make 1 small change to my recipe and I had a winner! Even my mom, who is a wonderful food critic of mine, said she would order it at restaurant (and there were ingredients in there that she doesn't even like!) I personally was also very satisfied with how it came out tasting and looking. Not too crazy, not ordinary, balanced, simple method, complex flavors. :) Totally Skylar. 
Now that my recipe is in, it's a waiting game of sorts. Only 4 competitors from my region will be selected to prepare their recipes at the ACF Regional Convention in New York this April, from which the winner will receive $250 and the change to compete again in July at the National Convention in July, taking place in Orlando to compete for $1,000! Woah how cool would that be?! Pretty AWESOME! Not that I'm expecting to win or anything (did I mention both the CIA (New York) AND Johnson and Wales (Providence) are within my region of competitors?? - these are two of America's greatest cooking schools FYI) But that's okay with me, I just have satisfaction in submitting something I'm proud of :) Besides, if I DID get selected, I don't know what I'd so since I've already put down $50 to go on a retreat with friends that same weekend as the competition would be....that just goes to show how little faith I have in my chances of being selected  :p haha
But even if I am not chosen, and I don't get to win this time, I think you guys will like the recipe and I hope some of you give it a try (including the kimchi! I got my kimchi-prejudiced mom to love this stuff, remember?). Hope everyone has a fannntastic week, I'll be in the kitchen, cooking, practicing, cleaning, preparing, and thoroughly wearing myself out, but that's what the passion's all about, right? Hope to talk to ya soon, POST-competition! :D

Thai-Korean Fusion Fried Rice

§  4 large eggs
§  2 Tablespoons and 2 teaspoons sesame oil, separated
§  1 Tablespoon peanut oil*
§  ½ cup minced shallot or onion
§  1 Tablespoon minced garlic
§  2 teaspoons fresh ginger paste
§  2 cups cooked long-grain brown rice, at least one day old*
§  2 Tablespoons tamari or soy sauce*
§  1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
§  1 cup roughly chopped kimchi*
§  ½ cup shelled, cooked edamame*
§  ¾ cup small-diced fresh pineapple
§  ½ tsp fresh lime zest (to garnish)
§  ½ tsp dried red pepper flakes (to garnish)
§  4 half slices of fresh lime (to garnish)

1)      In a wok, heat 1-2 Tbsp of sesame oil over medium-low heat (see Notes below). Gently drop the eggs into the hot oil and fry eggs sunny-side up until the whites are cooked through, leaving the yolk liquid.
2)     Gently remove the eggs from the wok and place on a separate plate. Set aside.
3)     Add the peanut oil and the remaining sesame oil to the wok and bring to medium-high heat. Add the shallots, garlic, and ginger, and sauté until the shallots are translucent and soft.
4)     Add the rice and fry it for a minute or two, stirring constantly. Add the tamari and lime juice and continue stirring to coat as the liquid cooks into the rice. Add the kimchi and stir to combine as the liquid cooks into the rice. Turn off the heat, add the edamame and pineapple and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
5)      To plate: Fill an 8oz measuring cup with the fried rice, pressing to compress it and hold it together. Quickly, with some force, turn the measuring cup over onto serving plate and remove so that a mound of rice is formed. Top the rice with a fried egg and pierce the yolk so that it pours down over the rice. Sprinkle a few red pepper flakes and a bit of lime zest over the top to garnish and place a slice of lime on the side for squeezing.  

Serves 4

- YOU'RE RICE MUST BE OLD. If there is one thing fried-rice experts DO agree on, it would be this statement. In order to make even decent fried rice, the rice needs to have at least a day to sick and get kindof dry and hard so that it actually fries and doesn't turn into a big mushy MESS. This is annoying as it means you can't have this as a last minute quick meal ANY time, but it is also an awesome way to use up left-over rice that is dry and blaaaah otherwise. More than one-day old is fine, I've done 3 days, and tomorrow my rice will be like week old and I've got no worries. So make big batches of rice and you can make fried rice to your hearts desire!
- I used a non-stick frying pan to make my rice, I only put "wok" in the recipe to fulfill the requirements. I don't even OWN a wok, so feel free to use whatever pan you think will work best!
- Kimchi, an extremely important food in Korea, is a strong-flavored, usually spicy, fermented cabbage condiment that takes some getting used to, but isn't too scared when eaten in combination with other foods as done here. It comes in glass jars usually and can be found in most grocery stores with good international sections.
- You can buy peanut oil or do what I did and just use the layer that has formed on your homemade natural peanut butter that's been sitting on the shelf, unloved for far too long.
- Tamarigluten-free and usually lower in sodium.
- Edamame are fresh soy beans, which are green and resemble lima beans. You can usually find them shelled in the frozen section or sometimes fresh and unshelled in the produce area. The shells are indigestible so only eat the beans.

Mmmmm so good! I hope to recreate this tomorrow using different ingredients since I have run out of some and want to try throwing in some other fun stuff :)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Daring Cooks Challenge #8: Tamales!

Wow!...it's been a long time. I mean a reeeeally long time. Anybody miss me in the blogging world? I know I've missed connecting with everybody :( I know being busy is no excuse because ALL bloggers are crazy busy and I was busy before! It has been really hard for me to get back into posting in the last few months though...it was strange. I'd start a new post, get about half-way through and come to a block. My writing sounded dull and confusing and not at all like what I wanted my friends to have to read. I feel even guiltier thinking of all the fun cooking adventures that I've had in my absence that I have SO wanted to share and I think you all would have enjoyed, even if my writing skills are blah. I really am going to try to do better, but these next few months are going to be some of the craziest EVER (not exaggerating) so bear with me, send me messages of encouragement, and enjoy the pictures, since I'm better at keeping up with those! :)

Okay! Enough of the past, we're moving right along here. I'm determined to finish this post! I saw a few too many DC challenges slip through my fingers recently, but maybe it when I saw the January challenge was tamales, I knew I COULD NOT allow it to pass me by! I'd never made tamales before, and only eating them once, so I was eager to try my hand at making some. Ironically enough, when I went to the store and got all my ingredients and I excitedly walked to the place where I had seen bags of corn husks being sold and had many times longed to find a use for them, now that I was actually going to buy some...they were gone! Wouldn't you know? The only choice I had was to buy a tamale kit, which I wasn't too pleased about, but I decided it would just have to be part of the fun and the challenge.

I used the recipe given by our host, Maranda from Jolts & Jollies, and, as usually, added a few touches of my own. They really were quite fun to make. Even though I did a horrible job of mentally-scanning the extra tips and directions at The Daring Kitchen, it was a peaceful afternoon and I had the house (and kitchen!) all to myself and I just put on some music and got to work, tasting, feeling, smelling, taking it all in. It had been far too long since I had cooked. REALLY cooked (as in, besides my usual salad, smoothies, and veggies). The tamales really were quite simple and easy to make, but they would have been a whole lot easier if I'd read the folding instructions thoroughly instead of just guessing and assuming I could figure it out. I got through them, but my less-than perfect corn husk origami did hold up very well in the steamer and I only ended up getting one or two nice looking tamales from the batch of 12. All the same, they tasted mmmm so yummy and it was a successful first attempt :) My other mistake was forgetting to buy avocados for guacamole and chilies for a spicy sauce which would have MADE this dish, but like I said, next time...next time :)

Just a few notes before I give you the recipe so that you hopefully won't have as many challenges as me! :p
  • DO NOT FORGET that the corn husks need to soak for 3hrs-overnight or else they won't be flexible enough for you to easily work with! I totally forgot this step, but luckily my tamale kit had pre-soaked husks (imagine that!).
  • If you cannot find/do not have enough corn husks, the other authentic option is banana/plantain leaves, buuuut those are often even harder to find, SO, you can ALSO use parchment paper or plastic wrap (I personally haven't tried any of these though).
  • Don't let your steamer boil dry - not good. If you don't have a steamer, I've also seen these grilled...give it a whack!
  • You can use cut strips of corn husk to tie your folded tamales, but you need them to be fairly long so if you only have small husks, just use sting. It will hold better and be much less of a pain.
  • I'm usually use cooking in the kitchen as my time of peace and aloneness, but if you're more the party type, this is a great activity to do with friends, kids, neighbors, etc. You can talk and laugh and get the work done quickly all at once! :) (just make sure you have a large enough steamer to hold all the tamales that you plan to feed your helpful guests!)
  • If you anticipate being busy (ha, like we're not ALWAYS busy :p) you can help yourself out by making the filling a day or two ahead and just letting it keep in the fridge (or freezer depending on the type of filling)
  • Did you know tamales can also be for dessert?? Chocolate, banana, caramel fillings...oh yeah. Tamales for dinner AND dessert - DELICIOUSNESS!
  • Depending on how much/little you fill your husks, you may have extra masa dough or tamale filling. The solution? Make it into soup and eat it, like me, ooorrr make tamale pie. I'm totally doing that!
Spicy Black Bean Tomato Tamales

§  1 bag dried corn husks (at least 13 for this recipe) or see notes for other options
For the masa dough:
§  4 c masa harina (corn tortilla mix, not the same as cornmeal or polenta)
§  ½ c olive oil
§  1 tsp salt (season to taste, use less or none if your stock contains salt)
§  2 ½ c vegetable stock
For the filling:
§  1 15.5 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
§  1 14oz can diced spicy red pepper tomatoes (or fire-roasted or other), drained well
§  1 10oz can diced green chilies, drained well
§  3 chopped scallions or ¼ c minced onion
§  3 cloves garlic, minced
§  1 tsp salt (taste to season)
§  1 tsp cumin
§  ½ tsp chili powder
§  A few dashes of hot sauce (if desired)

1.       Before you start cooking: soak your corn husks for at least 3 hrs or overnight. You can also make your filling ahead if you want to have it out of the way. You can also set up your steamer at this time.
2.      To make the masa dough: Whisk together the masa harina, olive oil, and optional salt in a bowl (or use mixer if desired) until smooth. Gradually whisk in the vegetable stock. You can add more stock or water if your dough seems dry. It should be somewhere between cornbread batter and cookie dough, if that helps. Let the dough sit for a few minutes to thicken-up.
3.      Meanwhile, in another bowl, combine all of the filling ingredients and gently mix. (You don’t want it to be wet and runny, so drain excess juices as needed)
4.      To form the tamales: take one of the longest corn husks and cut it into strips about ¼ - ½ inch in length or cut lengths of string for tying the tamales. Take a soaked corn husk (or parchment paper or banana leaf) and cover it with the masa dough, about ¼ - ½ inch thick, leaving about an inch or so of border (I don’t know the exact amount of dough used, but you can do more or less to taste and you’ll start to get a feel for it after you do a few). Spread a thick strip of fillings in the center of your dough and then gently fold the sides of the husk towards each other so that the masa dough folds over the filling. Keep the tamale in the folded cylinder shape and then take the thin, open bottom and fold it upwards. Secure this end with a strip of corn husk or string and leave the top open.
5.      Repeat this process until you run out of husks for dough or filling and then place the finished tamales in a tall steamer, open ends facing up so that they are all standing and nestled in with each other. If you need to fill in spaces, you can used crumpled foil.)
6.      Keep covered with a lid and let steam for 40-50 min, until the dough as deepened and color and easily pulls away from the husk (my tamale kit instructions said 1 hour. I think I went about 50 and they were fine.)
7.      Serve the tamales hot or warm or store them for later, they reheat quite nicely. There is no one condiment to go with tamales as they are eaten all over the world and made with all kinds of ingredients, so you can do some research and pick a country you want to represent, or just go with your favs like I did: fresh tomatoes, cilantro, plain yogurt, hot sauce. Mmmm :)

Not my ideal choice, but still a fun experiment

Using veggie stock over water, was def a good choice.
HUGE flavor enhancer!

This is a corn husk...in case you didn't know...

This is the amount of dough/filling
I used for mine and it worked well.
Like I said, you get the feel for what
works and what you like.

Unfortunately....I didn't pay very close attention
to how to fold these correctly. I tried to seal them
up like burritos, but really, the top should be open.
This will make your like SO much easier.

It's not that burritos aren't cute, buut
this was the only one that really worked out,
plus it's just a pain in the butt to fold a corn
husk more than you need to.

I don't know how steaming masa dough turns it
into this cool cooked substance that is really yummy,
but whoever thought of it was pretty genius.

It's like Christmas all over again! Did I
mention my brother ate like 4 or 5 of these in
one sitting? - my brother who just got back
from Costa Rica and ate tamales made my
locals?? He said these were gooooood.
He could have been lying. Or just hungry
like most army boys, but for messing
around with these and not doing them
quite right I'll take what I can get :)

Thanks for reading, it's good to be back :) happee cooking!