Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chopped: Chiles de Arbol, Kumquat, Nopales, Sage, Ice Cream Cone, and Marshmallow!

Chopped round 2 was so much better than Chopped round 1!

Nate chose 6 secret ingredients this time, although I think 4 is what they usually do on the show. I had to talk him out of including a jar of green been pickles I made months ago, and some plum-vanilla brandy that is still steeping in a jar in the cupboard.

The Chopped ingredients were:

 Stale gluten-free marshmallows and stale ice cream cones from the cupboard:


Nopales, aka diced cactus paddle:

Dried Chiles de Arbol:

And a bunch of fresh sage.

I knew that the kumquat and chiles would go together well, but I was honestly just pissed off about the marshmallows. They were stale and gross and sickly sweet, and I didn't want their flavor to taint anything! But rules are rules.

I immediately knew that I would throw the ice cream cones into the blender and use them as a crunchy crust for some beef we had in the fridge. I toasted them up a bit (which consisted of me putting them in the toaster over, looking in with dismay to see that they had started melting, then letting them cool until they were extremely crispy) then blended them to a coarse meal, and set aside.

I wanted to make an Asian-flavored dipping sauce for the beef tenders, so I minced some garlic and ginger and threw it into a sauce pan with about 5 Chiles de Arbol and a dash of canola and sesame oil. I then added about 10 thinly sliced kumquats, 2 TBSP of peach-jalapeno jam, about 1/4 cup soy sauce, and a splash of white wine, and brought to a simmer. I cooked until the flavors had melded and the sauce was slightly thickened. It had a great salty, garlicky, sweet and spicy flavor. 

In the mean time, I needed to do something with the nopales! Nopales are sort of acidic in flavor. The thing that makes them really challenging to cook with is that they are mucilaginous, like okra or aloe. I blanched the nopales in boiling water, then rinsed with cold water. 

I decided to make a light, refreshing salad, since the tempura was all fried and heavy. I added a few tablespoons of rice wine vinegar and a sprinkle of sugar to a bowl, then added the nopales, a cucumber cut into chunks, some diced yellow bell pepper, some sliced kumquats, 2 sliced scallions, and about 1 T chopped fresh sage. I mixed it all together, then put it into the fridge so the flavors could meld while I worked on the other ingredients.

I had gotten some asparagus, purple "green beans", and yellow bell pepper at the farmers market. I decided to make some tempura to go along with the dipping sauce. 
Ready for the batter...
The tempura batter consisted of 1 cup flour, 1 1/2 cups sparkling water, and 1 TBSP cornstarch. Super simple, the batter makes for an ultra light, crispy crust. 

I sliced up some chicken, then in batches, dipped the veggies/chicken in tempura batter and fried in about 1-2" canola oil, turning once, until crispy and slightly golden. I drained them over some metal cooling racks that I usually use for cookies. 

Then I salted and peppered the sliced beef, dredged it in a beaten egg, and coated it in ground ice cream cone. I fried the beef in oil until crispy on both sides, then drained over a cooling rack.

With all of the secret ingredients used up except the marshmallow. I knew what I had to do...I threw the marshmallows in what was left of the tempura batter, then fried them on either side for about 30 seconds. 
Deep fried marshmallows..."YUM".... :(

The Results

With the exception of the sickly sweet, oily marshmallows (part of your balanced American diet), the rest of the meal was pretty good!

I would definitely make the dipping sauce again, and the tempura batter worked perfectly. The only problem was that a lot of it was cold by the time we ate, since I had to fry everything in very small batches thanks to my teeny tiny stove. Surprisingly though, the batter was still crispy once cold!
Dipping Sauce
Tempura! Chicken, purple green beans, yellow pepper, and asparagus.
I would make the refreshing side salad again too, only without the nopales. Their texture is just too funky for me... I would sub in some green bell pepper. Apparently nopales are used in a lot of soups/stews, where their mucilaginous qualities melt into the broth and help thicken it. In the salad, they were just kind of gooey and unappetizing, although their tangy citrus-like flavor worked well with the rest of the ingredients. The chopped sage actually complemented the other ingredients in the salad perfectly - it has a sort of bitter, piney flavor that helped tone down the acidity of the kumquat and nopales. 

For Nate, the real stand out was the ice cream cone crusted beef. The sweetness of the cone complemented the beef nicely, and it had a nice crispy crunch to it. 
Ice cream cone beef tenders...who knew!
When all is said and done, Chopped is super fun and I can't wait to do it again! There's something so satisfying about taking a random group of ingredients...
And turning them into a tasty meal!

(again, fried marshmallows not withstanding!) 

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