Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Let's get creative and have some fun!.......

Hi! Yesterday was Mother's Day in Mexico. We usually have fixed date holidays vs. the "floating" ones held in the US, so Mother's Day is always on the 10th of May. It was a lovely day tinged with a bit of sadness since it also used to be my Dad's birthday (q.e.p.d.). We decided to spend the afternoon in Chinatown (I love shopping there!) and of course, once we were there we HAD to eat so our holiday meal was spent at one of the local "dive's"..... a small noodle house (they make fresh noodles daily..) called the Noodle Palace. A funky place with 98% Asians as customers and the place looks a lot like the cafeterias in Shanghai with modern chairs and tables, lots of plastic and the typical Buddah and good luck cat statues all over, but that didn't detract from the awesome noodle dishes we had, it was fabulous!

I got the chance too look into several stores in Chinatown and if you're familiar with the Chinatown in Las Vegas you know that it now covers from the Strip all the way West via Spring Mountain Rd. almost to the park on Durango, miles and miles away; filled with shopping plazas on both sides of the street giving you everything you'd possibly want in things Chinese, from clothing, jewelry, food markets, specialty shops, fish monger's, even a temple in the middle of the largest plaza. I've gotten those great soup spoons and serving platters and all my hanging lamps are rice paper. It's not too popular with non-Asians even though it's been here for a long time. Two of our favorite places in the main plaza (Seafood House and Emperor's Garden) don't even have menu's in English and the wait staff hardly speaks it. I'm sure you can imagine sign language being practiced and we've always had amazing meals there.

Anyway, while shopping there I remembered that I needed to get Wonton or Egg Roll Wrappers since you can find fresh one's here that can be frozen and be ready to use quickly. I'm sure your local market probably stocks these now and I'll give you some great ways to use them not only to create fabulous meals but for great snacks and even desserts! Once you begin using them you'll be able to envision many other ways to put them to work too. How about some quick Ravioli's or fancy Napoleon's? Yep, they're quick and easy.....

So let's see what we can come up with, shall we? Here we go......

Parsley Shrimp Wontons with a Soy Vinegar Sauce.- A little spin on a classic dish that will be a wonderful appetizer or part of a light meal, in either case it's lovely!

1 lb small shrimp, chopped rough
1/2 cup minced parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbl sesame oil
1 egg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Thin wonton wrappers
2 parts rice vinegar
1 part organic tamari sauce or light soy sauce
1 small finger ginger, peeled and cut very thin
2 tbl sliced scallions for garnish

In a large bowl, combine shrimp, parsley, lemon zest, sesame oil and egg. Season and combine well. Note: Test flavor by stir frying small portion and adjust if needed.

Form wontons: Place 1 wonton skin on a flat surface with corner nearest you. Place about 1/2 tbl filling in center, fold the bottom half over the top half to create a triangle. Bring the left and right sides under the dumpling, pinch together to seal. Repeat with remaining skins and filling.

Meanwhile, boil water in a pot; Add wontons and boil wontons until filling is cooked about 5-6 min, then remove and place in individual bowls. Meanwhile, make sauce of rice vinegar, tamari, ginger and scallions. Ladle on top and serve.

Shiitake, Pork and Parsley Dumplings.- Another version of a classic dish that is easy to prepare and wonderful to share!

1/2 lb ground pork
1/4 cup dried shiitake mushrooms (or any kind of mushroom you like)
2 tbl chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tbl sesame oil
1 tbl rice wine
1 tsp oyster sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 package wonton wrappers, corners cut off to make a circle kind of
Banana leaf or parchment paper sprayed with cooking spray

Prepare a steamer lined with banana leaf or parchment -- if using parchment, spray lightly with cooking spray. To make filling, combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Form dumplings by holding the pasta in your palm, add about 1 tbl of meat and then bring the ends up, gather the ends all around so they hug the filling which will be visible on the top and steam for 10 min. To serve, garnish with chopped parsley.
NOTE: I've used turkey and chicken for these and any and all kinds of mushrooms too. If using dried mushrooms, put in warm water for 10-20 min before and then chop.

Squash and Sage Butter Tortellinis or Raviolis.- A different way to use the wonton skins but very tasty! (This one's for Jim...... he loves pumpkins!)

1 butternut squash, approximately 2 pounds, cubed (about 3 cups) or your choice
2 tbl extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tbl
1 1/2 tsp herbs de Provence or mix thyme, basil, fennel, savory and lavender, mostly thyme
1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 large shallots, chopped (about 1/2 cup) or onion
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup milk ricotta cheese
4 small amaretti cookies, crushed (about 1/3 cup) or other type cookies
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 package small wonton wrappers

Brown Butter Sauce: (can be used with any pasta dish if you like)
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
2 tbl fresh sage leaves, torn
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries, or chopped dried cherries, or mixture of both
1/4 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

To make the tortellini, preheat the oven to 375 F. On a foil-lined baking sheet toss together the squash, 2 tbl of olive oil, herbs de Provence, salt, and pepper. Bake in the oven until soft and golden, about 25 min. Meanwhile, heat the rest of the olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic until lightly golden, about 3 min. In a food processor, combine the squash mixture, the shallot mixture, and the ricotta cheese and pulse a few times to blend. Add the crushed amaretti cookies, the nutmeg, and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pulse until smooth. The tortellini filling can be made one day ahead, covered and kept in the fridge.

To make the tortellini, lay out 6 wonton skins, keeping the remaining skins inside the package or under a lightly dampened paper towel. Place 1 tbl squash mixture in the middle of each skin. Dip your finger in a little water and wet the edges of the skin. Gently fold the square wrapper into a triangle, making sure the edges are securely closed and there are no air pockets inside. Dampen the two bottom corners of the longest side of the triangle and gently bring them together, pressing lightly to secure. Place the formed tortellini on a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Before laying out another 6 wonton sheets, be careful to dry the work surface. This will help keep tortellini from sticking to the baking sheet. Continue until all the squash mixture is used. There should be approximately 36 tortellini. (The tortellini can be formed, frozen on the baking sheet, transferred to a tightly sealed plastic bag or container and stored for up to six months. To cook, simply toss the frozen ravioli into the salted boiling water and cook for 4 min.)

To make the sauce, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet over med heat. Add the sage, walnuts and cranberries and let cook until the butter starts to brown, about 3 min. Turn the heat off and season with salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Then, gently place the tortellini in the boiling water and gently stir. When they begin to float they are done, about 3 min. Using a slotted spoon, gently spoon the tortellini onto a serving platter, top with the brown butter sauce, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Ricotta and Spinach Ravioli and Pesto.- An easy dish the whole family will love!

2 cups fresh ricotta (or use cottage cheese mixed with 1 egg)
1 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped, divided (any kind of nut you like)
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 package wonton wrappers
1 egg white, lightly beaten
4 cups spinach, loosely packed (can use frozen)
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil

In a small bowl, mix together ricotta, 1/4 cup hazelnuts, nutmeg, lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste. Lay several wonton wrappers on a work surface. Scoop a generous tbl of the ricotta (or cottage cheese mix) filling into the center of each wrapper, and brush outside edges with egg white. Lay another wonton wrapper on top of each, and press firmly with fingertips to press out air and seal ravioli. Transfer ravioli to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining wonton wrappers and filling, making 18 to 20 ravioli total. Cover baking sheet with a damp paper towel and transfer to refrigerator to set up, about 30 min.

To make the spinach pesto: In a food processor, combine remaining 3/4 cup hazelnuts, lemon juice, spinach, garlic, parmesan, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste and puree until smooth. Fill a large pot with water and add salt, and bring to a boil. Cook ravioli in three batches, until they are cooked and float to the top, about 2 to 3 min. Strain and transfer to serving bowls with a dollop of spinach pesto.
NOTE: This is a basic ravioli preparation you can use with ANY filing you want and ANY sauce you decide to use.

Salmon Napoleon with Roasted Garlic.- An elegant presentation for an amazing appetizer!

1 whole head of garlic, roasted in oven (350 F for 1 hr wrapped in foil with some olive oil)
1/2 cup picked parsley leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
1 tbl organic soy sauce
juice of 1 lime
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 8-ounce center cut piece of salmon, sliced into 1/2-inch strips
8 wonton skins, crisped up in a pan with some oil, set aside
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Canola oil

With a mortar and pestle or processor blend the garlic and parsley with a pinch of salt until smooth. Mix in soy sauce, lime juice and whisk in extra virgin olive oil. Season salmon with salt and pepper. In a saute pan on med heat coated lightly with oil, sear salmon for 1 min, keeping the middle rare. Plate by dolloping garlic puree in center of plate to anchor crispy wonton. Top wonton with 2 pieces of salmon, then dollop puree on salmon. Top with parsley leaves and a second crispy wonton. Build another layer repeating process. To finish, top wonton with puree and garnish with parsley leaves.
NOTE: You can also fry some veggies along with the salmon if you like. Any sauce that you like can be substituted as well.

Hazelnut Dessert Raviolis.- A fantastic take on these, you'll love them!

16 wonton wrappers
1 egg, beaten to blend
1 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread (this means Nutella, YUM!)
Vegetable oil
16 fresh mint leaves
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Granulated sugar, for dredging

Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap. Place 1 wonton wrapper on work surface. Brush the edges of the wrapper lightly with egg. Spoon 1 tbl of hazelnut spread into the center of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper diagonally in half over the filling and press the edges of the wrapper to seal. Place the ravioli on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining wonton wrappers. Preheat the oven to 200 F.

Add enough oil to a heavy frying pan to reach a depth of 2 inches. Heat the oil over med heat to 350 F. Working in batches, carefully add the ravioli to the hot oil and cook until they are golden brown, about 45 sec per side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ravioli to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Then, transfer the cooked ravioli to another baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven while frying the remaining ravioli. (The fried ravioli can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool them completely, then cover and refrigerate. Before serving, place them on a baking sheet and rewarm in a preheated 375 F oven just until they are heated through, about 7 min.) Spray the top side of the mint leaves very lightly with nonstick spray. Working with 1 leaf at a time, dredge the coated side of the leaves in sugar to coat lightly. Arrange 2 fried ravioli on each plate. Dust the ravioli with powdered sugar. Garnish with the sugared mint leaves and serve.

Buffalo Wontons.- A great snack for gametime or anytime at all!

1 lb boneless chicken
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Oil, for coating pan, plus more for frying
1 (8-oz) package cream cheese
1 package blue cheese
1 cup buffalo sauce
1 package wonton wrappers
1/2 cup sweetened balsamic vinegar
Ranch dressing

Dice the chicken into small cubes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Heat a med pan over med heat and coat the bottom with a little oil. Add the chicken and saute until cooked through. Put the cream cheese, blue cheese and buffalo sauce in a food processor and process until combined. Add the chicken and pulse to combine but still coarsely chopped. Lay out an even number of wonton wrappers (10 should be enough). Spoon 1 tsp of the cheese mixture in the center of a wrapper and brush the edges with water. Cover with another wrapper and crimp the edges so they are tightly sealed. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. Pour enough oil, about 1 1/2 inches, into a heavy-bottomed pot. Once the oil is hot add the wrappers, in batches if necessary, and fry until the outside is light and crispy. Remove to paper towels to drain. Arrange the bites on a serving platter and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Serve with ranch dressing and enjoy.

NOTE: If you don't want to use bottled Buffalo Wing Sauce, here is a recipe to make your own:

Buffalo Wings Hot Sauce.- Spicy and hot, this sauce is a winner!

2 cups of dry cayenne peppers (50 grams) or Chile de Arbol dried chilies
1/2 cup of water
1/3 cup of chopped onion
1 chopped garlic
1/3 cup of chopped tomato
1/2 cup of white vinegar
1 stick of butter
1 bottle of Lousiana Hot Sauce (or add your choice of salsa if you want more heat) optional
1/2 of the juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon of honey
1/4 cup of ketchup

Start by roasting the cayenne peppers on a pan over a med high flame. Toss them around inside the pan for a couple of minutes and make sure you don't let these get burned. Add enough water to cover the peppers and bring water to a boil. Let them cook for 10 min. Drain water and place them in blender. Add 1/2 cup of water, 1/2 cup of vinegar and salt. Blend on high and allow to liquify. If any seeds left and you don't want them, run through a sieve.

Place butter on a pan over a med flame so that it melts. Add onion, garlic, tomato and the whole bottle of Lousiana Hot Sauce if you're using. Let all cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Immediately pour into blender and add the cayenne pepper sauce. Blend on high for two min. Add the lemon juice, honey and ketchup, and blend again for a few seconds. Pour back into the pan where you melted the butter, and let it simmer for a good 20 min. What I usually do, is fry the chicken wings until they’re golden brown and very crispy and put them into a bowl, pour the sauce over them toss and serve.

Strawberry Napoleons.- A very easy and elegant looking dessert you can make quickly.

Vegetable oil for frying
16 wonton wrappers
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups whipped cream (you can use thawed whipped topping too)
2 pints strawberries, 1 pint sliced and 1 pint to be mashed
1 pint fresh raspberries
4 fresh mint sprigs (optional)

Pour enough oil into small saucepan to come 1/4 inch up sides of pan. Heat oil over med heat. Using tongs and working with 1 wonton at a time, submerge wontons into hot oil, frying until golden brown, about 15 seconds for first side and 10 seconds for second side. Transfer fried wontons to paper towels to drain (wontons will continue to color slightly as they cool). Sprinkle fried wontons with cinnamon. Cool completely.

Take the pint of the nicest berries and slice these. The other pint is put in a bowl along with 1/2-1 cup sugar and mashed 4-5 min until it becomes jam like and the berries loose their juice. Set aside.

To Assemble: Place 4 fried wontons on work surface. Spread 1 tbl of whipped cream over each. Put 1 tbl of the berry mash, then arrange 1 sliced strawberry and 2 to 3 raspberries over this topping on each wonton. Spoon 1 tbl of whipped topping over berries on each wonton. Top with another fried wonton. Repeat layering 2 more times. Spoon dollops of remaining whipped topping atop each cake stack. Garnish napoleons with remaining strawberries and raspberries, and mint sprigs (optional). Serve immediately.

NOTE: You can also simply fry the wonton skins in some oil, drain and then serve as a chip, as dipping crackers or with any topping you'd like. If you want it sweeter, sprinkle with powdered sugar from a sieve or regular sugar with some ground cinnamon or even syrup. Use in place of potato chips and build your perfect Nachos. You can also fry these up and top them with fish, chicken or veggies and serve as a party appetizer or with guacamole! The more you use them, the more applications you'll find for these.

How about it? Can you see yourself making them? I always keep wonton skins in the fridge since they are easy to use in so many ways. So whether you serve them as Raviolis, Wontons or Dumplings it doesn't matter, the only limitation you have is your imagination, so go ahead and dream something up! You'll be glad you did!

To all my Merida and Mexico friends: Our heat went away once the winds arrived and we've still got great weather but we hear about the high temperatures all over Mexico and hope you will keep cool since this is just the start of the warm weather..... Always thinking of you all!

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