Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Dank Recipes: Seafood Wontons with Cilantro Vinagarette

I cook a fair amount and I like to take pics of the finished product. Why? I have absolutely no idea. I found this recipe for Seafood Wontons with Cilantro Vinagarette in an Asian cookbook awhile back and its damn good. I decided to make it again this past weekend so I thought Id share. Its a light meal that I serve on top of a salad even though the recipe doesnt call for it. The cilantro vinagarette makes a killer salad dressing. The water chestnuts inside the wonton filling provide an awesome crunch and add a really fresh and clean flavor, while the green chili gives a subtle kick. This recipe is pretty easy to make, it just takes time to fill and seal all of the wontons. Another thing I like about this recipe is that you can boil the whole bunch, eat what you want, and then save the rest in an airtight container in the fridge. When you want leftovers, you can either nuke em in the microwave or boil a pot of water and drop the wontons in for a few minutes (this is how I roll...) and they still taste great. This is key when you live alone and travel a ton for work. I imagine that you could go the less healthy/more flavorful route and pan fry the wontons too. Adding them to a soup broth would probably kick ass as well, especially if youre sick like I am right now (...wontons boiling as I type).

Here's what you'll need to get your wonton on...

(Serves 4)

8oz raw shrimp, peeled/deveined
4oz white crabmeat, picked apart
4 canned whole water chestnuts, diced fine
1 scallion, chopped fine
1 small green chili, seeded, chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 egg, separated (white for filling, yoke for sealing wontons)
20-30 wonton wrappers
salt, fresh ground pepper
cilantro leaves

For the cilantro dressing:

2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped pickled ginger
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons diced red pepper

Time to get it on...

1.) You could either go the slow route finely dicing the shrimp or the fast route in the food processor on pulse - you only need to pulse it once or twice. Ive done both and they each work. Dicing gives you bigger chunks, processing is waaaaaay faster and makes stuffing the filling a helluva lot easier. Either way, add it to a bowl along with the crabmeat, water chestnuts, scallion, chili, ginger, and egg white. Season with salt & pepper and stir/fold all the ingredients together.

2.) Lay down a wonton wrapper on a board, paint the edges with the egg yoke, and drop some of the filling in the middle (a little ball about the width of a quarter). Then fold one corner over its opposite to form a triangle and seal the wonton but make sure to press out all the air as best as you can. Then, bring the 2 side points up over the filling and pinch them together to get a tight wonton shape.

3.) Fill a pot halfway with water and bring to a boil and add the wontons, a few at a time. I get about 12 or so in a fairly large pot. Most will sink, while the ones with a little air inside will float a bit. Remind you of anything else? When they are ready, they all start to float and the wontons become translucent, showing the cooked seafood on the inside (this is usually about 3-4 minutes). Remove with a slotted spoon and keep them warm while you drop in the next batch.

4.) Make the cilantro vinegarette by whisking all the ingredients together in a bowl. Plate the wontons on an empty plate or on top of mixed greens or baby spinach, then drizzle with the dressing and top with some cilantro leaves for looks.

5.) Chow down!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Restaurant Review: Whisk Gourmet Food & Catering

One thing that I really find annoying when going out to eat is a boring menu. Items like "Steak & Potatoes", "Chicken & Rice", and "Seared Tuna & Salad" are way too safe and are also things I could easily make at home with minimal effort. I like food that combines different ingredients, sauces, and/or spices that make you think, "I like all of these things on their own, but can they really work together?", before you realize that they can and do very well. Its funny because when I was a kid I used to hate that my mom couldnt just make plain food. Her dishes would always have some spice, sauce, or twist to them and my unrefined palate wanted plain just like all the other kids had when I ate at their house. These days, when I dine out I want creativity, dammit. Luckily, I stumbled upon a restaurant that chants that same mantra. Its a little slice of heaven known as Whisk Gourmet Food & Catering and the food is anything but ordinary.

Whisk is located in a tiny strip mall on Le Jeune Road in Coral Gables, just off of US1. Owned and operated by the brother/sister tandem of Brandon and Kristin Connor, this tiny eatery really makes the best use of what little dining space it has. The layout of Whisk consists of 3 glass top tables with wicker chairs as seats along with a tiny stainless steel countertop with a few stools to sit on. The walls are creatively decorated with pictures of actual Whisk menu items, a chalkboard lists daily specials, and there are also shelves filled with supplies, though most are hidden from view by white curtains. Its cozy and inviting, and for those claustrophobic diners, orders can be called/faxed in for pickup.

The menu offers home style, gourmet dishes with ingredients obtained from local and organic purveyors. There are lots of healthy sandwiches, salads, and entrees, all of which sound delicious on paper. While looking over the daily specials last Friday, I found myself making the same sound in my head that Homer Simpson makes when he thinks about chocolate covered bacon. Its sort of an "Mmmmm..ahhhhhgggg" followed by some drooling. On my visit, I decided on one of the house specialties - Dry Marinated Skirt Steak with Caramelized Onions, Gorgonzola & Sliced Avocado Salad. I opted to have the meal without the onions since I have never really been an onion fan. This is where things got interesting. I got my entree and was told that the chef, Brandon, was going to give me some of the onions in a little cup on the side because they were so good that I HAD to at least try them. I chuckled and said, "Ok, I'll give it a shot." I figured if someone was that confident in his food that he would make a ballsy statement that a non-onion eater should try his caramelized onions, then the least I could do was give it a shot. I took the first bite without the onions and it was great. The steak was cooked to a spot on medium rare, which is a big deal to me. It was nicely marinated and the hefty portion of gorgonzola allowed me to take enough while ensuring I would have enough left for each remaining bite. After a few bites of the avocado salad, which had a killer mustard dressing, I decided it was time to try the onions. I piled a few on a bite of steak, added some gorgonzola, and took my first bite. The gorgonzola was the first thing I tasted, followed by the steak, but then there was this great flavor from the onions that was a perfect compliment. I sat there in disbelief as I chewed... I was eating caramelized onions! Up to this point, just looking at them made me shudder. Abandoning all of my inhibitions, I piled the rest on the steak and chowed down like it was my job to leave nothing but traces of steak juice on the plate.

Damn, that was good. The bill, including my iced tea, came to about $19 and I left a $6 tip because I was on a high from liking a vegetable that I had previously loathed. I will definitely be returning to try other menu items and I recommend this place to anyone looking for dynamite food made with fresh ingredients. Be sure to visit their website as well for catering and other services. Bon Apetite!

Whisk Gourmet Food & Catering
4702 S. Le Jeune Rd.
Coral Gables, FL 33146

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bacchus Wine Bar - South Miami

I was visiting my old stomping grounds in South Miami on Wednesday to do some shopping and decided that Id grab a bite somewhere new. I had heard about Bacchus Wine Bar from a little publication that South Miami puts out to promote area businesses and keep people informed about ongoings in the community (I wish the Grove would do something like this...) and a friend had also recommended it after attending a wine tasting there. So, I headed over to check it out.

Bacchus Wine Bar is located on the "corner" of US1 and Sunset Ave. I say "corner" because its really not on the corner, but the building it shares with other tenants is. Basically, its next to Origin Bistro and you can access the parking lot by driving on the street that Deli Lane is on. They have free valet if you remember to get your ticket validated, which I thought was pretty sweet even though I had walked there from Sunset Place. Upon entering, I was greeted by the 2 owners - a husband and wife tandem whose names Ive apparently forgotten and I dont happen to have the business card they gave me, so we will just call them "Mr. & Mrs. Bacchus" for now. They were extremely friendly and offered me a seat at the bar. The inside of the wine bar is decorated with purple ceilings, a black granite bar, couches, tabletops, and a stage where live music plays on Thursdays (also their wine tasting day) and Fridays. Various paintings and mirrors decorate the walls and give the spot a homey type of feeling. The place is pretty new, so I wasnt surprised to be the only person at the bar. There were a few people sitting at a table on the other side of that bar, but other than that it was empty. Mr. & Mrs. Bacchus said that Thursdays and Fridays draw a big crowd and I was surprised when they said that a lot of UM kids go there as well. They said the UM crowd is mostly the intellectual type and that many of them follow the band that plays there on Thursday.

I sat down and looked over the wine menu. I didnt see many I was familiar with, but Im no wine expert so that didnt surprise me. There were a few glasses in the $8-$9 range, but for the most part, the wines were $11+ and $32+ for the bottle. Its definitely way more worth it to grab a bottle at those per glass prices, which I thought were a tad high. The bottle prices were very competitive and marked up about 50%, which is pretty standard. Anyways, Im a big Pinot Noir fan so I settled on a glass of Sideways which, according to Mr. Bacchus, was one of their most popular wines and had experienced a lot of popularity due to its connection with the movie Sideways. I was hungry as well, but I didnt see anything on the menu that really jumped out at me. The menu is filled with appetizers, all of which have a Greek myth themed name to them like "Theseus Shrimp". Pricing on the food was a tad high I thought as the aforementioned shrimp came to $20. Not knowing what the dish looks/tastes like though, I guess its unfair for me to judge, but $20 for an appetizer is going a bit overboard. Who knows, maybe it is the size of an entree? I settled on the small Bacchus Platter which was a plate with assorted meats, fruits, and cheeses for $10 which, at first glance, seemed small but definitely was well worth it in the end. The quality of the food and the assortment justified the price and surprisingly left me somewhat full after I finished the plate. Now, reverting back to me not being a wine expert, I will not attempt to describe Sideways Pinot Noir outside of saying this: Its damn good, very smooth with what I would call a slight buttery taste to it, not too fruity, not too high on the acidity, and goes great with a meat/cheese/fruit plate. I enjoyed it so much that after dinner last night I went and picked up a bottle for $16 at the liquor store.

Mr. Bacchus and I engaged in conversation about various wines and how we both will get hooked on a type of wine but like to be open to trying new ones. He then poured me a few different types of red wine to taste, which I appreciated and enjoyed. Its always nice to find a place that has knowledgeable owners who get you interested in trying new things based on their passion for food or wine. I finished up my last sample and asked for the check as I was headed to Town to meet a friend for a cocktail. Mrs. Bacchus gave me 50% off on my glass of wine as a kind gesture which I appreciated and they didnt charge me for the tastes I had with Mr. Bacchus either. I would definitely recommend checking this place out with friends, or heading over for their wine tasting nights on Thursdays. Food and wine are both great for bringing people together and its nice to have a cozy little place like Bacchus Wine Bar as a venue for enjoying a nice bottle of wine while listening to some live jazz and blues.

Bacchus Wine Bar
5904 S Dixie Hwy
South Miami, FL 33143
(305) 663-3368