Foodiva's Kitchen: May 2012

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cajun-Vietnamese Dessert - Vietnamese Mint and Lemongrass Ice Creams in Praline Cookies, with Chocolate Chili Truffles

I'm pretty sure many of you did a double-take when you read my post title above. *What could she have been thinking?* No, I haven't completely lost my mind because this is the way I always think, especially when there is a cooking challenge involved. Our regular, monthly 5-Star Makeover Challenge hosted by the dynamic Lazaro and Natasha has been taken over by a special 5-Star Restaurant Wars Challenge, starting now!

How it works is that members of this online cooking group are divided into teams and each team would come up with their own restaurant name and thematic key ingredients for their dishes or choose to feature a regional cuisine. The teams have all pushed their creativity to the limit, starting with their restaurant names, names such The Pink Goat, Le Morel, Marishky, Ciao Fiore! and Raphanus.

I am teamed with the fearlessly-talented Trix and Jessica and together we are pleased to welcome you to our sunny, little restaurant: Voodoo!

As the name probably leads you to conclude, the type of cuisine we have chosen to feature is from Louisiana. It was a natural and easy choice because Jessica is the author of Cajunlicious, a gorgeous cookbook featuring all-Cajun recipes while Trix had gotten married in New Orleans (by a Voodoo Priestess, no less) and is majorly enamored of the place, its people and cuisine. So how do I fit into all this? Well, I'm Asian and there is an unusual twist to Louisianan cuisine in that in recent times, Vietnamese food and culture have started to hold sway over its menus, alongside the historical influences of the French, Spanish, English, Native Americans and African Cultures. If you've ever had Cajun-Vietnamese fusion dishes such as the delicious Cajun lemon-grass chicken, garlic shrimp noodles and crawfish eggrolls, you'll get where I'm coming from.

We have divided the task of producing the restaurant courses into three, with Jessica kicking off the above menu with her beautiful and refreshing appetizer using Creole tomatoes and Trix making her delicious, bad-ass main course (with a name I don't even know how to pronounce properly!).

Dessert fell into my very willing hands. I knew a lot about Vietnamese desserts and flavors but very little about Cajun desserts. After consulting my two knowledgable team mates, I decided to put my own spin on the famed New Orleans Praline Cookies and Creole Cream Cheese dessert. I couldn't produce my own Creole cream cheese but I can certainly make those praline cookies and some Asian-flavored ice creams, and that was how my cookie-encased Vietnamese mint and lemongrass ice creams came about. And since chili is used profusely in both Cajun and Vietnamese food, what better than to serve that up in the form of a beautiful parcel of chocolate truffle?

L to R: Appetizer, main course and dessert
(simply click on the above links to see the other posts)

The two most used herbs and flavorings in Vietnamese dishes are easily lemongrass and Vietnamese mint. Vietnamese mint is native to Southeast Asia and is also known as hot mint, laksa leaf, rau ram, Cambodian mint and Vietnamese coriander. It's not related to the mint group of herbs though, but is more closely related to buckwheat and rhubarb. It's a key ingredient for cooking laksa, as it provides the typical sweet fragrance to the spicy noodle dish. In Vietnamese cuisine, it is often served raw and as a salad (as with Pho). Flavor-wise the herb is strongly pungent, with powerful citrus and pepper overtones. The lemongrass and Vietnamese mint together added a fresh flavor and depth to this iced dessert, with their subversive savory elements working really well to lift the sweetness. 

Vietnamese mint and lemongrass from my garden

For the chocolate chili truffle, I added powdered Thai chili flakes to spike up the heat on the plate. A mere 1/4 teaspoon mixed into 1/2 a cup of ganache proved spicy enough for me, but if you're feeling adventurous, you might want to add a bit more! Well, you're already eating at Voodoo, so what have you go to lose?

Chocolate chili ganache balls immersed in melted chocolate

At Voodoo, we have attempted to represent the long and colorful history of Southern Louisiana through each of our dishes. The appetizer represents the cuisine as an integrated whole; the main course pays homage to African and Caribbean influences; and the dessert, containing Vietnamese flavors and ingredients, tells the story of an evolution in Creole cuisine. Since history is an ongoing phenomenon, you know it wouldn't just end here. If I choose to relocate to Louisiana someday, you would surely see my stamp on the food there too. :)

We hope you've enjoyed your 5-star dining experience at Voodoo. If you're someone who eats dessert first, remember to check out the other two fabulous courses by my fellow Culinary Priestesses here and here!

The round-up of the 5-Star Restaurant Wars restaurants and dishes can be found here.

Vietnamese Mint and Lemongrass Ice Creams in Praline Cookies, with Chocolate Chili Truffles

Lemongrass Ice Cream
4 lemongrass stalks
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup caster sugar
2 egg yolks

1. Cut the lemongrass stalks in half lengthwise (use only the white part in the middle, 4-6cm from the base) and bruise them with a rolling pin. Place in a saucepan, add the cream and coconut milk and bring to just below boiling point. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for about half an hour. Strain to remove the lemongrass.
2. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl with the cornstarch until pale. Gradually add the cream mixture, whisking constantly.
3. Return mixture to the saucepan and heat gently, stirring until the custard thickens. Remove from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature.
4. Churn custard in an ice cream machine until thick (about 15-20 minutes). Pour into a flat-bottomed container and press down top with the back of a spoon to flatten. You need the ice cream to be about ½ inch thick.

Vietnamese Mint Ice Cream
1 cup chopped Vietnamese mint leaves
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds

Follow the same method as for the lemongrass ice cream above, but add the black sesame seeds at the end of the churning process and before freezing completely.

Almond Praline Cookies
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 egg
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup sliced almonds

1. In a medium bowl, mix together butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla.
2. Gradually add flour and gently stir in almonds. Optional: Refrigerate dough for about 1 hour to make it easier to handle.
3. Preheat oven to 180C/375F. Roll dough out thinly, about 1/8 inch thick on a cookie tray lined with silpat or parchment paper. Slice into even rectangles using a pizza cutter and bake just until the edges begin to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight container until ready to use.

Chocolate Chili Truffles
170g/6oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons butter, softened and diced
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp Thai chilli powder (very hot!)
100g/3.5oz extra chocolate, melted and cooled

1. Combine chocolate and butter in a bowl.
2. Microwave cream on high heat for about 1 minute until bubbly. Pour over chocolate bowl and mix until smooth. Stir in the chili powder and leave to cool to room temperature. Cover and chill in the fridge for several hours or overnight until ganache is set.
3. Working quickly, scoop a teaspoon of ganache and roll in between your palms to form a small ball. Make several of these, place on a lined plate and return to the fridge to chill and harden again (about 30 minutes). 4. Spoon melted, cooled chocolate into flexible silicon molds. Gently place a truffle ball into the middle of the mold and top with more melted chocolate. Let the outer chocolate coat harden completely before turning out. Use immediately.

1. Slice the two ice creams into rectangular slabs slightly smaller than the dimension of the praline cookies. 
2. Work quickly and stack the ice cream and cookie layers in this order: cookie-lemongrass-cookie-Vietnamese mint-cookie-lemongrass-cookie. Turn the whole stack on its side so it’s standing upright and serve immediately with the chocolate chili truffles. Enjoy!

Friday, May 18, 2012

French Fridays With Dorie - Double Chocolate Nutella and Banana Tart

I don't have many interesting banana stories to share in relation to this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe, Double Chocolate and Banana Tart, but here are two. Growing up in the tropics, I was always exposed to many different varieties of bananas. Some, like plantains, are the size and length of my arms, while bananas like manzanos, are short, stubby and sweet. Some bananas are red-skinned, some are only good for boiling while others are better for making fritters and baking. When I went to Europe to study, however, I was amazed to discover that there was usually only one type of banana sold in the regular supermarkets there - the Chiquita banana. It didn't take me long to get sick of eating that particular banana and I then started craving for the different ones we could have at home.

Speaking of Chiquitas, my mother grows this variety in her garden and frequently refers to them as her 'Cannabis' bananas (I'm too scared to ask about her bohemian past!). Of course, what she actually means is 'Cavendish' which is really the same type of bananas that the global company, Chiquita, grows and exports. My mother has her own special way to deter the wild monkeys from stealing her beloved bananas while they're still ripening on the tree, which is to drape an inflatable plastic snake around the bananas. To date, the monkeys have stayed away so yes, it does seem to work!  

Spot the pumped-up slithery grey creature!

So why all this banana talk when this tart also contains nutella and chocolate? Shouldn't I be regaling you with sexy tales of chocolate instead? Aha, I'm trying to detract your attention away from the chocolate because mine here doesn't look very pretty. You see, by the time I had gotten round to baking and assembling the tart, it was already evening so I had to leave it the fridge overnight. Then when I took it out for the photoshoot the following day, the hot weather had made the chocolate 'sweat', making my job arranging the banana topping that bit more difficult. 

Here, look at these bananas!

I toyed with the idea of adding a layer of peanut butter somewhere in between the chocolate crust, nutella, caramelized bananas and chocolate ganache layers, but I decided there might be slightly too much going on already. So I left it as a four-layered tart and it was no less delicious, very rich and decadent...I would know because at the time of writing this post, I had eaten 4 slices all by myself. Plus, there is half a tart left and I can't possibly, ahem, let the banana topping go bad now, can I?

As a rule, our online cooking group doesn't post any of Dorie's recipe but you can find this one in her award-winning cookbook, Around My French Table. I also came across a published recipe of a better version of this tart than mine that you can refer to here. I'm sure the other members of this cooking group will be rocking their own versions of this scrumptious tart and to find out how they did it, click here

Have a fabulous weekend!

Friday, May 11, 2012

French Fridays With Dorie – Provençal Olive Fougasse & Almond Flounder Meunière

The internet connection in our home has gotten so bad lately that I haven’t been motivated to post anything over the past two weeks. Of course, that may just be a convenient excuse because truthfully, I’ve been in a bit of a blogging funk. The truly bad news is, the funk started in January... it’s now May and it hasn't completely gone. Does anyone know if there is a therapist one can talk to for this sort of thing? 

Anyway, while I haven’t been blogging, I’ve been up to a few things. Most notably, I’ve been turning myself into a fitness monster. True, there is that need to lose a couple of pounds around the crucial areas…it’s either that lose the clothes that I can no longer fit into. The second option is a smidgen unbearable to think about so a few weeks ago I signed up for Zumba (ie. crazy fast Latin dancing) classes 4 times a week and cycle around 60 miles twice a week, resting my body on Sundays. Yes, I’m toned and tanned and feel really good about myself, but blogging? Meh…too darn tired. 

Despite not having the energy or focus to string a few words together to form a decent blog post, I have been busy in the kitchen. I’ve been cooking and baking and making ice cream and photographing them all for, fingers crossed, future posts. Like last week's French Fridays With Dorie recipe, Almond Flounder Meunière, for example. You may have noticed that I hadn't managed to post it up at all. But not so this week's Provençal Olive Fougasse, a bread recipe that I had really wanted to try. Well, you all know my personal history with yeasted dough...

In Dorie's instructions, the dough should be rested for at least 6 hours or overnight but I didn't do that. Not for lack of time but more due to my bad habit of speed reading recipes... yes, I skimmed through the page once and forgot all about this step until the dough was shaped and ready to go into the oven. Too late! I'm not sure whether the overnight resting time will make much difference to the gluten-icity of the dough or bread texture, but my fougasse turned out just fine. It was delicious, with a crisp crust outside and soft on the inside. Although I've seen many fougasse recipes over the years, this was actually my first time making it, and the recipe was such a gem to follow that I wondered why I hadn't done it earlier!

Flavorwise, I had no oil-cured black olives (or any olives) to mix into the dough so I used dried figs instead. I figured the figs would go better with the orange zest than the lemon one, so I went with orange. The sweetness and fragrance of both the figs and orange played off of the savory profile created by the fresh rosemary. I decided to sprinkle the top with pink gourmet river salt which was lightly instead of overly salty. A quick, spicy olive oil dip infused with Thai chilis (snipped at the ends) rounded off the sweet-salty-savory and spicy experience. We all loved it, and I would definitely make these again for when we have guests round to the house.

Above is my plate for last week's recipe, Almond Flounder Meunière. Like many of the other Doristas, I couldn't find any flounder sold here so I substituted that with seabass instead. Not that I wasn't secretly happy about it, as I didn't really fancy the thought of frying up Ariel's helpless little friend in my pan. It was served simply with lemon wedges, cherry tomatoes and artemisia greens. This was also a big hit at home, and so delicious, light and easy to make I couldn't quite believe it. 

As usual for FFWD, the recipes can be found in Dorie Greenspan's award-winning cookbook, Around My French Table. However, I found an online version of the fougasse recipe on Serious Eats that you can refer to.

Do hop over to the other Doristas' sites (links here and here) to see how they fared with these two recipes. Have a lovely weekend!

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