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ready for the ridiculously delicious?

February 25th, 2011 | 11 Comments »

Once again, Marx Foods tempted me with unique goodies to develop an original recipe for their Ridiculously Delicious Recipe Challenge. This particular challenge was open to anyone who won a prize in the previous year through any contest sponsored by Marx Foods. My second place finish in the Iron Foodie Contest last December earned me bragging rights to join in the fun.

This time, what was sent from Marx Foods offered up some very interesting items; Grains of Paradise, Szechuan PeppercornsDried Tepin Peppers, Juniper Berries, Coconut sap sugar, Dried Tart Cherries, Iranian Saffron Threads and Dill Pollen.

The only item I’d worked with before was the Szechaun Peppercorns. I’ve had a small amount of these for several years and love their tingling heat. Of course I was familiar with saffron, dried cherries and coconut sugar, but the rest were a bit of a mystery, and produced some copious head-scratching. For the first challenge I was required to use two of the eight items sent to me, and right away, two thoughts became very clear; I was either going to have to go with a sweet recipe, or with savory. But I had to determine which was the best to start. You see, if you advance in this challenge, the next step is to take one of the 15 recipes that advance and re-make it on your terms, with three of the remaining ingredients from the mystery box. So do I use up the easy sweet items first? Or go with the harder savory, leaving the sweets for last?

Ultimately, I knew I had a lot more leverage with the sweet options; already I could determine a half dozen options for utilizing those dried cherries, the coconut sugar and even the saffron into something delectably sweet. So after consulting several top-notch food loving friends of mine (you guys know who you are…. many thanks for your input) what I came up with was this amazing Szechaun Shrimp Cake with Chili Mango Dipping Sauce.

If you’re a fan of crab cakes, these will certainly appeal to you. Chopped fresh shrimp, bread crumbs, spices and brown rice are mixed with an egg and several heaping teaspoons of ground Szechuan peppercorns to create a mouth tingling cake that’s dredged through panko bread crumbs before being seared in oil. The outside is crunchy and crisp, the interior moist and tender and the whole thing leaves your mouth bathed in the subtle citrus heat of the peppercorns. Szechaun peppercorns aren’t an actual peppercorn; they’re called a flower pepper and are one of the five ingredients in Chinese 5-Spice Powder. They’re also known to work well with hotter spices, which seemed a no-brainer to pair with the Dried Tepin pepper in making a killer sweet-spicy dipping sauce with mango.

Dried Tepin peppers, also known as a birds-eye pepper, or a chiltepin, are tiny berry shaped peppers with a Scoville heat unit in the 40,000-70,000 range. If you aren’t familiar with the Scoville scale, it’s a measure used to determine the heat of chilies. For reference, jalapeno peppers are around 2500-8000 range; Habanero and Scotch Bonnet peppers are from 100,000-350,000 and law enforcement grade pepper spray runs in the agonizing 5,000,000-5,350,000 range. Yeee-ouch. So yeah, the tiny little Chiltepin pepper may sound like it packs some heat, but it’s a subtle warming heat that’s intense but brief, and not at all unpleasant. Paired with the sweetness of mango, it provided just a perfect balance of sweetly spice that was lovely smeared on the hot crispy Shrimp cake.

Szechuan Shrimp Cakes

1/2 pound raw shrimp, finely chopped
1/2 c. fresh bread crumbs
1/2 c. cooked brown rice
2 T. minced fresh cilantro
2 t. ground szechuan peppercorns
1 t. each garlic and onion powder
1/2 t. sea salt
1 T. fresh lemon juice plus 2 t. lemon zest
1 egg, lightly beaten

Panko bread crumbs for dredging.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix gently with your hands until incorporated. Place bowl in refrigerator for 30-60 minutes to allow flavors to blend.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat with oil of choice. Place panko on a shallow plate. The shrimp mixture will make 3 good sized cakes, or up to six smaller ones. Determine which size you wish to make and scoop the amount out with your hands. Form the cake and dredge both sides with panko crumbs. Place in skillet and cook until golden brown, then flip and cook the other side, covering the pan, until the shrimp is fully cooked, about 15-20 minutes. Serve with dipping sauce.

Chili Mango Dipping Sauce

1/2 ripe mango, diced
6 Dried Tepin Chilies
1 T. chopped cilantro
1/2 c. water
1 c. plain greek yogurt
2 T. honey

Combine all ingredients except yogurt and honey in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally until fruit is very soft and the peppers collapse, about 10 minutes. Add a little more water if it evaporates. You’re looking for a thick syrupy texture, with the fruit still intact when it’s ready. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Place contents in a blender or small food processor, add the honey and blend until a thick puree forms. It can be as smooth or as chunky as you desire. Blend about 1/3 of a cup with the plain yogurt and whisk smooth. Add more puree if you like a fruitier flavor.

a ridiculously delicious challenge

February 7th, 2011 | 1 Comment »

Hey everyone…. remember the Iron Foodie Contest I entered last December? I made an amazing Warming Winter Soup with soba noodles, porcini mushrooms, fennel pollen seared tofu….. it was a mob of flavors in my mouth and it was good enough to earn me 2nd Place in the contest. And that distinction then paved the way for me to participate in yet another cook-off with fellow bloggers, sponsored by Marx Foods.

This, folks, is a complex and involved contest that yet again, like the Iron Foodie, offers us a chance to utilize some of Marx Foods gourmet products to create original recipes. The first part, however, is a short essay on which three of the following products you would like to have, and what ridiculously delicious thing would you do with them if you won?

The Goodie List
Kobe Beef Sliders
OR Kobe Beef Burgers
Whole Quail
OR Semi-Boneless Quail
Wild Boar St. Louis Spare Ribs Pink Salmon Fillets
Kangaroo Burgers
OR Ground Kangaroo Meat
Wild Mushroom Sampler
(contents may change)
Live Oyster Sampler Ultimate Chile Head Sampler
10lb Specialty Burger Sampler Mega Pantry Sampler
Pekin Duck Breasts Fresh Blood Oranges
5lbs Frozen Wild Huckleberries 20lb Heirloom Potato Sampler
1lb Fresh Daruma Wasabi Specialty Sausage Sampler
14lb Dried Bean Sampler 1lb Bourbon Vanilla Beans
Superior Spanish Saffron Threads Live Geoducks
Edible Flower Assortment &Microflower Blend

Selecting three of these was no easy task, made more complicated by the fact that if indeed you are the last one standing in this elimination type contest, those items you select in this stage will be the ones that you win. I have to be prepared to accept these items in my kitchen if I’m clever enough to rise above the other bloggers and sweep up the competition.

So my choices are the Specialty Sausage Sampler, the 20-lb Heirloom Potato Sampler and the Pink Salmon Fillets. And with these three choices, the ridiculously delicious thing I would do with them if I won would be to host a food sampling party and showcase these amazing items for anyone who attends. Simple, yes, but what a feast that would be!! How could you lose with 9 pounds of sausages made from Buffalo, Duck, Venison, Lamb, Boar, Pheasant, Elk and Rabbit? Imagine those luscious links, grilled to a crackling crisp, split along their sides from the heat to reveal the juicy meat inside? I’d pop open a jar of my homemade Roasted Garlic Mustard, break out the spicy dill pickles, add a crunchy slaw and make sure we had plenty of napkins for the lip-smacking goodness that would ensue from such a feast. Along side those delectable sausages would be served delicate, tender Pink Salmon in a variety of flavorful options such as Lemon and Fresh Herbs, and then seared with either Sweet Sesame, Orange Cranberry or my Spicy Maple glazes. I’d slice the potatoes and roast them to browned and tender perfection so that everyone can sample to their hearts content. Of course, we’d need some good micro-brewed beer for the sausages and several wine selections to sip alongside that salmon. It would be an utterly hedonistic feast to help usher out Winter and welcome the coming Spring. Mmmmm…. I can just about TASTE it!!

Our entries are due by Monday February 7th for consideration by judges at Marx Foods. Should we be selected to move to the next round, by the following week we’ll receive a mystery box of ingredients from Marx Foods. Two of those ingredients will be utilized for an original recipe of our choice. From there, it gets a bit more complicated. So first things first, I’ll send this in for consideration and cross my fingers.