Ahhh... Chopped. The panic-inducing, time-crunching, totally-bizarre-ingredient-having televised cooking competition. I watch it. Frequently. And, frequently I can even come up with a dish right off the top of my head, just as the infamous basket is thrust open to unveil a collection of ingredients that you would never think of combining. Other times... I sit scratching my head, and thinking, "What the...?"
Episode #3 in The Next Food Network Star was all about Chopped. Dessert Chopped, to be exact. Each team got a mystery basket, then had to compete against the other members of their team to come up with the best dish. Here's the synopsis per Food Network:
The 13 remaining finalists meet Chopped judges Alex Guarnaschelli, Scott Conant, and Marc Murphy and are given their Star Challenge: desserts. But it's not just any dessert challenge. Each team must use a basket of ingredients to create their best sweet concoction in a head-to-head inter-team battle -- Chopped style!
This go-round, rather than drawing from a hat, I allowed the Mr. to select the mystery basket components. This could have gone horribly wrong in my favor. But, lucky me (or maybe he was just feeling generous)... he picked the one basket I actually had a GREAT idea for!
The contents: Pineapple, Hershey's chocolate, pasta dough, and black lava salt.
First off, pardon me while I excuse myself for a few minutes to attempt to contain my laughter at the thought of the Mr. actually being able to procure black lava salt anywhere near Fayetteville, NC.
Okay. I'm back. Oh. You've never had the priveledge of visiting what one old friend lovingly coined "The Armpit of America"? Well, let me tell you... I had visions of the grand ol' south when we first moved here six years ago. Gorgeous, historic churches on every street corner. A mile-long list of mom and pop Carolina BBQ and home cookin' joints to choose from. Living in a turn-of-the-century home with a wrap-around porch that went on for days. Fragrant magnolia trees and hydrangeas dotting the yard.
Reality check: Church is mostly held in run-down double-wides. There are more restaurants of the chain variety than any city should be allowed to contain. And, those gorgeous old homes? Not unless you're Bill Gates. Fayetteville is one of the very few cities in the US where the housing market never completely bottomed out. Not even close. Good luck finding a crappy two-bedroom apartment that doesn't run you $900 a month. So, where culinary delights are concerned? This is the anti-foodie mecca. No black lava salt. Not here. But, I did have some Italian sea salt that I have been hoarding for a year. Good enough.
As soon as they unveiled this basket on the show? What a cinch! I immediately thought of one of our favorite "Chinese" treats: crab rangoon! So, let's get to chopping!
1/2 C pineapple, chopped into 1/4" pieces
8 oz Philadelphia pineapple cream cheese
Frozen sheets pasta dough
6.5 oz can crushed pineapple
1/4 C, plus 4 fl oz water
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Italian sea salt
2 Tbs brown sugar
3 Tbs sugar
6 oz. Hershey chocolate bar
2 Tbs butter
5 Tbs heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
First off, fill a deep fryer with canola oil, and set to 350*. While the oil is heating up, let's start with the pillow filling. Empty the cream cheese into a skillet over med-low heat. Stir frequently until melted. Add the chopped pineapple.
Stir until combined, then remove from heat. Get your pasta dough ready. It will, most likely, come in long rectangular sheets folded into thirds. The fold marks should mark 3 squares along each length of dough. Use a sharp knife to cut dough into squares.
Spoon 1 1/2 Tbs of the cream cheese and pineapple filling into the center of each square of dough.
Fold the dough in half along the diagonal, and pinch around the filling to seal it in.
Fold the right and left edges in towards the filling.
Finally, fold the top edge over. It will look like an envelope, or... a PILLOW!
Repeat until you have all of your pillows. This recipe makes 8. Set aside. Now, let's start on the pineapple compote. Empty the crushed pineapple, 1/4 C water, cinnamon, brown sugar, and some ground sea salt into a small saucepan. Heat over med-low heat, stirring occasionally. This will form a warm, syrupy compote while we're working on the chocolate sauce and frying our pillows.
For the chocolate sauce, bring 4 fl oz of water plus 3 Tbs sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and butter, broken into chunks, stirring until smoothly combined. Then, add cream and vanilla; stir to combine. Let cool slightly.
While chocolate is cooling, and compote is working away, go ahead and drop your pillows into the hot oil. Fry until they reach a nice, golden brown. Remove pillows from fryer; place on a plate lined with paper towels to drain for a couple of minutes.
Spoon some of the compote onto a plate, and top with one of your scrumptious pineapple pillows...
Drizzle with chocolate sauce, and enjoy!
Admittedly, I am not a huge sweets fan. Give me a good savory dish any day! But, this dessert... this one I am proud of. The tangy cream cheese filling, combined with the comforting, sweetly cinnamon compote, and that drizzle of decadent chocolate... heaven! This is a sweet that I would make an exception for any day!