Tuesday, December 9, 2008

cocktail parties and an evening at craft

December- time for the cooking extravaganza. I've cooked more the past week and a half than I've ever done in one sweep. Please join me in my recent journey of culinary hits (and misses).

The journey started on a recipe-testing kick I went on. I tested personal recipes and tried some holiday delicacies from Food and Wine, Gourmet and Bon Appetit. Here were some of my favorites:

Meyer lemon and shrimp fritto misto with a blackberry horseradish

First, I made a tempura batter for the lemon and shrimp. I mixed equal parts of sparkling water and flour then added more water until I had a good consistency (less than a pancake batter).

For the lemons, I chose Meyer lemons (sweeter than regular) and sliced them as thin as possible. Then, I made the blackberry horseradish. Puree a pint of blackberries with a touch of sugar. Strain to remove seeds. Mix with horseradish and a touch of plain mayonnaise or yogurt. Season with salt and a touch of lemon juice.

Next, heat your frying oil to about 150 degrees. Dredge the shrimp and lemon slices in flour then add to tempura batter. Fry for a couple minutes until shrimp is pink then drain. Garnish with blackberry horseradish and cilantro.

Skirt steak salad with orange and fennel (December Food and Wine)

This recipe was shown as a uniform salad, I used the same ingredientss and preparation, just served it as a deconstructed salad with oranges, radishes, fennel, Israeli couscous (they used Fregola, a Sardinian pasta), an olive oil and Meyer lemon vinaigrette, grilled red onions, grilled skirt steak and a prepared olive tapenade.

Strawberry pistachio "Bon Bons" with a strawberry coulis

I saw a similar recipe for this in Rachael Ray's magazine a while ago and tried to re-create it. First, arrange Nilla wafers upside down on a plate. Top with a small scoop of strawberry ice cream on each wafer. Freeze to harden. Meanwhile, I melted dark chocolate and milk in a double boiler to make a chocolate sauce. Dunk each ice cream wafer into the chocolate then cover with chopped pistachios. Freeze again to harden.

These little desserts are festive and easy to prepare- there are also countless combinations. I'm going to make them with coffee ice cream and chopped hazelnuts for our Christmas Eve Party.

For breakfast the next morning, I tested my crepe-making skills and cleaned the fridge all in one sweep. I made crepes stuffed with pepper turkey and Swiss and topped it with the strawberry balsamic coulis I served with the bon bons.

This past week we had our "Mystery Basket " class at culinary school. In our groups of three, we were given a basket of goodies and required to make 5+ dishes.
Our basket contained:
Bone-in, skin-on chicken breast
Pork tenderloin
Purple potatoes
Wild rice
Bok choy
Red pears

Our dishes were:
Pan-fried cod with a romesco sauce
Zucchini ribbons sauteed with lemon and garlic

Spiced pork tenderloin atop fried plantain chips with a pear and currant chutney

Deconstructed Asian shrimp salad with bok choy

Baked chicken with a wild rice stuffing

Eggs Benedict trio with a traditional hollandaise and asparagus

Radish salad with cilantro, scallions, queso fresco and a spicy lime vinaigrette

I crafted the cod dish with romesco and zucchini ribbons, pork and chutney with the plantain chips, the Asian shrimp salad and the radish salad. The class was really fun for me because I would rather be given a blank palette to work with than a recipe any day.

Two nights later, my chef business partner and I had two personal cheffing events- two cocktail parties back to back (one for 100, one for 45).

The menu for the first event for 100 was:
Salmon mousse on crostini with chive

Skirt steak quesadillas with red onions, brie and a chimichurri

Spiced chicken kabobs with a romesco sauce

Assorted melons wrapped in prosciutto with a balsamic glaze

Vegetable spring rolls with a peanut siracha sauce and a wasabi aioli

Polenta with a tomato jam and fontina

The menu was delicious and so much fun to make. The spring rolls, in particular, were my favorite and are great vegetarian hors d'eouvres. For spring-roll-making first timers, the first few are the worst. Once you get a rhythm going, they are actually quite easy to make. Below is the recipes for my spring rolls.

Before beginning, have an assembly line ready with paper towels, veggies and spices to stuff the rice paper with. I chose julienned carrots, red cabbage, zucchini, blanched asparagus spears, a healthy dose of chopped cilantro, salt and red pepper flakes- that's it.

To get the hard rice paper pliable, soak it in hot water for a couple minutes then delicately dry between paper towels and lay flat. Arrange veggies, cilantro, salt and pepper flakes on the side closest to you. Then, carefully roll the end over the veggies, tuck the edges in like a burrito, then keep rolling to get the spring roll shape. The rice paper will seal itself.

Now, for the sauces...wasabi aioli and peanut siracha- so simple and flavorful. For the wasabi mayonnaise I mixed half a tube of wasabi paste (I like it hot), mayonnaise, a bit of olive oil, salt and chopped cilantro. For the peanut sauce....peanut butter, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, siracha, olive oil and soy sauce.

For our second cocktail party, we kept a few ideas from the night before, but most of our dishes were different. The menu was:

Salmon mousse atop cucumber rounds with chive

Roasted pork tenderloin with a pear mango chutney

Turkey croquettes with a cranberry jalapeno salsa

Pulled chicken and brie phyllo with a balsamic glaze

Vegetable spring rolls with a wasabi aioli

Prosciutto wrapped asparagus with a lemon mint vinaigrette

Profiteroles with a strawberry coulis

Chocolate fondue with cayenne and cinnamon

Both parties were so much fun and all guests were pleased- another Christmas party this Saturday!

Last week I also spent a night in Dallas dining at Craft in the W and staying the night with a group at Hotel Zaza. Craft was overall pretty delicious and the service was impeccable.

I started off with a dirty Belvedere martini and the braised octopus with a Meyer lemon vinaigrette and white beans. The octopus was so tender- it cut like butter and the vinaigrette was a perfect accompaniment with the creamy white beans.

Next, we ordered the shaved fennel and blood orange salad with a chive vinaigrette. For me, there was too much fennel, not enough blood oranges and the vinaigrette lacked salt. I love fennel though so I didn't really care.

For the proteins, we went with the roasted rack of lamb and braised lamb shoulder and the Wagyu skirt steak. The braised shoulder was perfection and definitely trumped the roasted rack (too fatty) and Wagyu steak (flavorful, but not medium-rare as we requested).
For our sides, we leaned toward the starches and carbs but it was well worth it. We shared the handmade gnocchi, chestnut ravioli with orange zest and the spaghetti squash gratin.

The gnocchi was so light an airy, it melted in my mouth and the cream sauce was perfectly seasoned. The chestnut ravioli wasn't very warm but had a light and citrusy aftertaste that I loved. The spaghetti squash gratin needed salt but had simple flavors and the squash really shined through.

We finished with some vintage port, hot chocolate with homemade spiced marshmallows and some gingerbread muffins to go- a perfect ending.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

turkey day and tikka masala

Thanksgiving weekend in Austin- a foodie's heaven.

The weekend started off Wednesday evening at 34th street Cafe with my lovely mother. We began with the mini lamb burgers with a mint pesto and feta. The lamb was nicely cooked and juicy and the pesto added the delicious mint element that everyone loves with lamb.

My mom ordered the maytag (bleu cheese) and tomato soup that was tangy and full-bodied. Finally, we ended with the Osso Bucco, mushroom risotto, haricot verts and a pan jus. The sauce was lacking but the pork was buttery and tender. The haricot verts were perfectly al dente with a delicious garlicky shallot glaze. The risotto was a bit gummy and heavy with the pork so I pushed it aside. Too full to finish even a third, we took the rest home to Dad.

Moonshine was the next dinner of the weekend with a group of my crazy girlfriends from high school. Underestimating the power of moonshine, we started with moonshine shots (they hit you where it hurts) and ruby slipper martinis (vodka, grapefruit juice, champagne float). We started with the "corn dog" shrimp with honey mustard and a blueberry swirl. It was ok...somewhat boring and not much flavor in the batter.

Adrienne and I then split the chile cured pork chop with bourbon apple sauce, a vegetable succotash and baked macaroni with pimento and bacon gratin. The pork and apples were a home run- perfectly cooked with a satisfying combination of sweet and heat. The macaroni was comforting and completely worth the addition to my slowly expanding waistline.

Thanksgiving dinner was a grand one- this year we had about 50 people. The menu was:

Roasted turkey and gravy
Becca's (my grandmother) famous cornbread dressing
Cranberry relish
Cranberry sauce
Squash casserole with bacon
Sweet potatoes with orange and ginger
Sweet potato casserole with brown sugar and pecans
Garlic mashed potatoes
Green bean casserole
Roasted butternut squash with sage and cayenne
Sweet corn spoon bread
Sauteed brussel sprouts with orange and pecan butter
Waldorf salad
Fresh rolls
I made the butternut squash and the brussel sprouts and my mom made the sweet potatoes with orange and ginger. All three dishes are simple with bold flavors.

Butternut squash with sage and cayenne
Dice the inards of the squash into uniform pieces. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, a bit of brown sugar and several good pinches of cayenne. Toss to coat evenly on a baking sheet. Roast on 350 for about 40 minutes (add minced sage halfway through cooking time). Garnish with leftover sage.

Brussel sprouts with orange and a pecan butter
Blanch brussel sprouts for 3 minutes then toss in an ice bath to stop cooking and maintain emerald color. Slice in half vertically. Meanwhile, chop and toast pecans in a saute pan. Add butter, fresh orange juice and sliced brussel sprouts. Saute until tender. Garnish with toasted pecans and orange zest. Viola! Fall sides in a flash.

My last dinner in Austin was spent at the Clay Pit for some contemporary Indian cuisine- it certainly did not disappoint. I ordered way too much food in an effort to submerge my palette into as many new tastes as I could at once.

We started with an order of samosas with a trio of sauces- a mint chutney, a tomato salsa and a tamarind sauce (my favorite). The fried delights were filled with softly curried vegetables and had a beautiful golden brown hue. I then inhaled the fresh-out-of-the-tandoori naan bread with garlic and basil. To me, there is nothing sexier than the aroma of garlic first hitting heat...the bread smelled sinful.

For out entrees, I wanted a taste of everything so I ordered the mixed grill complete with tandoori chicken (moist, dark meat on the bone), another skewer with white meat chicken in a creamy garlic sauce, a lamb kabob with herbs and yogurt and a sirloin kabob with ginger and spices. All skewers came with the infamous tikka masala curry sauce for dipping and were atop coconut scented steamed rice.

To my dismay, I was without criticism for this dinner. All proteins were cooked well and tender, the spices were robust and the traditional sauces were integral to all elements of my meal. We finished with the chai tea creme brulee (light and not over "chai-ed") and a wish to return quickly.

Monday, November 24, 2008

wedding cake shots and vichyssoise

My first trimester in culinary school is winding down quite quickly- my second trimester begins in January!

This past week was all about soups. Within my group of three, we were asked to make a split pea soup, beef and vegetable, New England clam chowder, vichyssoise (a cold, pureed soup of potato and leeks) and a peach yogurt soup (a cold, dessert soup).

I was determined to perfect the vichyssoise- a difficult task, at that. The difficulties of the soup are maintaining a white color, straining it thoroughly, seasoning properly, serving it cold and having a perfect marriage of the potato and leek flavors (the potatoes tend to overwhelm the delicate leeks).

So, of course I volunteered to make the vichyssoise with julienned, fried sweet potatoes and snipped chive. I was completely satisfied because it turned out really well. I also made the peach and yogurt soup with white wine and a roasted pistachio garnish with fanned peaches- great soup for a warm, Summer evening.

For the split pea soup, I made a garnish of croutons (leftover cornbread, cayenne, olive oil and salt) and crumbled bacon. For the beef and vegetable soup, I made a two-minute corn garnish with cream, butter, salt and pepper.

Two nights later I was having a Winslows craving. To start, we ordered the Lucas and Lewellen Pinot Noir (fragrant and light) and the vanilla-scented scallops with a mango cous cous and chipotle pineapple vinaigrette. The dish was fine, but the vanilla added an almost chemical aftertaste to the scallops.

Next course was soups- the spiced pumpkin with sage and the roasted yellow tomato with apple wood-smoked bacon, cream fraiche and a basil oil. Both were hot, smoky and delicious with the grilled ciabatta.
Finally, we split the roasted beef tenderloin pizza with caramelized onions, bleu cheese and tomato. The beef was cooked nicely and the homemade pizza dough was light. We skipped dessert and ordered a sweet Riesling to end.

Last weekend, we headed to Houston for my roommate's dad's wedding. On our road trip, we felt the need to do "road trip" type things like head to Dairy Queen for steak fingers and Oreo blizzard's in the middle of Buffalo, Texas. The picture to the right is the embarrassing memoir of our fast food feast between the two of us.

After the four hour drive, we arrived to the gorgeous house in Pearland and helped with all of the pre-reception details: lighting candles...ok, that was it. We beautified ourselves, opened a bottle of wine, lit the candles and bossed the caterers around. It was fun.

An hour later, the reception was in full swing and waiters in white passed around bacon-wrapped shrimp, meatballs, asparagus in phyllo and tenderloin croissant sandwiches with spicy mustard amongst others. We spent the rest of the evening taking wedding cake shots, blasting old school rap in the tent, taking over the bar and pretending like we were still in college.

The night ended with the new bride driving to Jack in the Box at midnight and spending $85 on chicken fingers and curly fries for all the high schoolers who drank too much- oh, how I love weddings.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

salmon, bleu cheese and capers...oh my!

It's only Wednesday and my week has been jam-packed! Juggling work, class, cooking for events and my personal life has definitely been a challenge the past few weeks. I also do know that everything in life happens for a reason and for that, I am thankful.

A few days ago, I was finally able to try out Fuego, the newly-replaced Duce of Tim Love. The reviews have been good and I was really excited to try it...it just didn't deliver for me. We went for lunch and started with the smoked chicken wontons in a truffle butter sauce. The sauce needed salt and the wontons were a bit soggy but it had a good balance of flavor.

My girlfriend then ordered the duo of soups (broccoli and roasted red pepper) with crab meat. First of all, the soups ran together (orange + green = brown) and had a gloppy appearance. When I tasted it, it was fishy. I'm not sure if it was the crab meat, the stock or a combination of both...regardless, it was unappetizing.

We both ordered shrimp with our entrees. My girlfriend ordered the spicy shrimp pasta with an arrabbiata-type sauce and I ordered the ensalada fresca (garbanzo beans, hearts of palm, sun-dried tomatoes, fontina) and added grilled shrimp. When I received the over-sized salad, it was without hearts of palm (the only reason I ordered it!) and like the crab, the shrimp was fishy. My overcooked meat curse is being replaced with fishy seafood.

Later that evening, I met with a client who is hiring us for two Christmas parties in January. We discussed the menu over dinner at P.F. Changs. Surprisingly, she had never been so I introduced her to some of the simple, P.F. Changs' favorites- Mongolian beef with scallions, crispy honey shrimp and moo goo gai pan. We finished with the banana spring rolls and coconut pineapple ice cream...heavenly.

The next day, I went on my weekly annual Central Market binge with a specific objective in mind. Although adventurous in my dining, there are a few "culinary delights" in the minds of others that I just can't stand: salmon, bleu cheese, pickles, capers, hard-boiled eggs...to name a few.
I'm determined to force my palette to like these things. Seemingly silly, I feel like I'm missing out on something great.

I decided to tackle the salmon first-(hence the CM binge) and left complete with a salmon filet, fresh parsley, a bottle of Scheurebe, chocolate with hazelnuts, Belgium black currant beer, veggie potstickers, pineapple chunks, hummus, whole wheat pita, tomatoes, haricot verts and scallions.

For dinner, I decided to keep the salmon simple and let its flavor shine through. I seasoned it with olive oil, salt and pepper and seared it on the grill pan with a mustard glaze...after some steamed haricot verts with orange and basmati rice with fresh herbs..I was completely satisfied.

The next evening, I made my favorite lazy-night-at-home dinner: pan-fried veggie pot stickers with steamed edamame. I'm pretty snobby about frozen food, but I'm addicted to these veggie pot stickers that I get from CM (white and green bag in Japanese). They are perfect with steamed and salted edamame and Lana's sweet and sour sauce available in the Asian section.
Now if only I could get my hands on some sake...

Friday, November 14, 2008

open wounds and a housewarming affair

Last Tuesday evening, a girlfriend and I went to Winslow's for some pre-dinner vino. I ordered the Viognier (really floral and sweet, similar to a Riesling) and she went for a Merlot. We then headed to the Keg to meet friends for dinner. I have never really been an avid Keg fan, but it was all really tasty.

We started with the traditional shrimp cocktail (nice cocktail sauce with a kick) and the baked Tiger shrimp for appetizers...I stuck with the sweet wine and ordered a Riesling. For my entree, I went for the bacon-wrapped filet (medium rare) with sauteed mushrooms and a twice-baked potato. The filet was cooked perfectly (I've had the overcooked beef curse for the past few months), the mushrooms were tender and well seasoned and the potato was the perfect, simple accompaniment.

The next night I went to the Covey for dinner. Usually a HUGE Covey fan, there were several disappointments. Pheasant quesadillas were our choice to begin. The menu paired it with Gorgonzola, caramelized onions, guacamole and pico de gallo...it ended up being with Monterrey jack, sans onions, a simple guacamole (eh...) and diced bell peppers. It was my first time to try pheasant and probably one of the few times I ever will. It was similar to chicken but with a strange aftertaste.

Next course was soups and salads...I ordered my favorite salad, the Southwestern Greek with feta and sweet peppers all atop a hummus crouton- so perfect paired with a fruity wine. My friend ordered the buffalo chili...unfortunately, the heat was so intense it was almost inedible.

Finally, we split the mustard and herb encrusted rack of lamb with roasted potatoes, asparagus and a spicy hollandaise...we also added sauteed shrimp and I really wish we didn't. The first bite of shrimp was awful...so tough and fishy tasting we sent it back. Fortunately, the lamb made up for the shrimp. It was cooked perfectly, tender and the sauce was so delicious- we wished there had been more. On the downside, the potatoes were under seasoned and dry and the sauteed asparagus was overcooked.

We skipped dessert and headed to Central Market for some Lindeman's Belgium Kriek beer made with fresh black cherries- YUM.

This past Saturday, we had out first private cheffing event for a housewarming party in Mansfield. We served everything buffet style and the menu included:

Julienned romaine with lemon, Parmesan and a homemade Caesar dressing

Mixed field greens with dried cranberries, crystallized ginger and a pomegranate vinaigrette

Beef meatballs with peppers, onions and brown sugar with a red wine pan sauce

Italian sausage sauteed with peppers and onions

Chicken mole skewers with cilantro pesto

Hand-made pasta and Alfredo sauce with sauteed shrimp

Poached apple and pear gallettes

It was my first event to help sous chef for and it was a huge success. The clients loved the food, we had plenty of it and they booked us for Christmas and New Years!

The next Sunday morning, I was up bright and early for brunch service up at school. As with the last brunch, I trudged in at 7 a.m. sharp and began prepping bacon, lemons and potatoes for various dishes. In my sleepless trance, I managed to slice two different fingers open within 3 minutes of each other. After some super glue to close the wound, band-aids and a couple finger cots...I was good to go. Seven hours later...it was time for a three hour nap. Whew...exhausted.

Monday, November 10, 2008

no spatulas allowed

I can’t believe it is already November. The past few months have been a whirlwind. I’ve been busy at work, out of town almost every weekend, busy blogging and trying to learn as much as possible in culinary school. This past week, I was given a wonderful opportunity to be the sous chef for a private chef in Fort Worth- I could not be happier. Although extremely excited and happy, I’m very nervous too…our first event is an engagement party for 50 this Saturday! More details after the event…

Along with my exciting news, this past week has been one of fun, new restaurants, inventive recipes and a weekend in Arkansas to see the boy. Last Tuesday afternoon on my day off, I discovered a really delicious Vietnamese restaurant off Belknap and Race here in Fort Worth. The restaurant is a definite dive in between a doughnut shop and an Ace Cash Express…a little daunting at first. Despite the first impression, the dishes were fresh, tasty and uniquely Vietnamese.

I started with the egg rolls…golden-fried filled with pork, cabbage and a mild ponzu-type dipping sauce. I then went for the flash-cooked beef and vegetables over crispy vermicelli. The sauce was mild and subtle with a beautiful bunch of bright green, spicy cilantro- perfect lunch for less than 10 bucks.

My afternoon continued with a hot-rock pedicure (my monthly guilty pleasure) and an election watching party at Wine Styles on Camp Bowie. Amongst bottles of buttery Merlot, we noshed on gourmet meatball pizza and enjoyed the friendly, political banter of the evening.

Wednesday night, my girlfriend made dinner at her place. The menu was a pea soup with cayenne, grilled chicken stuffed with pureed olives and capers in a mustard marinade and a red apple couscous with smoked paprika. It was the perfect pantry and freezer meal to make in a flash!

Friday afternoon, I packed my car, grabbed a café au lait and headed to Little Rock for a relaxing weekend with the boyfriend. Unlike our last trip of gourmet finds, we were completely content with a pizza delivery, wine and movies on USA. For our Sunday lunch, we did discover a quaint, Irish Pub in North Little Rock with really delicious and authentic fish and chips. The batter of the cod has a subtle beer aftertaste and was perfect with the creamy tartar sauce, slaw and malt vinegar.

I arrived Sunday night with a delicious dinner simmering away on the oven. Megan was making a chicken stew with onions, potatoes, tomatoes, lemongrass, coconut milk, turmeric, ground clove and cilantro. It was light and hearty at the same time with the wonderfully fragrant and spicy aroma of the lemongrass.

Tonight was culinary school week 11- egg cookery! It was actually one my my favorite classes we've had second to veggie cookery. At the beginning of class, we started on the line with two pans each and had to make made-to-order omelets, eggs sunny-side up, over medium, over easy, etc. The trick was, we weren't allowed to use spatulas- it was really fun and easier than I expected.

Next, we split into groups and were required to make:

Zabaglione sauce made with Champagne and Marsala

Shirred (another word for baked) eggs with ham and Swiss cheese

Scotch eggs (a disgusting concoction of hard-cooked eggs blanketed in ground sausage, dredged and then deep fried....hello, heart attack!)

Cheddar and grit soufflé

Orange chocolate soufflé

I was in charge of the orange chocolate soufflé and I was excited because I love to entertain and wanted to master the technique. The recipe called for orange juice, bittersweet chocolate and Grand Marnier for the overall flavor. I added coffee and cinnamon to give the chocolate a richer taste...unfortunately, I went a little overboard with the cinnamon.

But, the good news is my soufflé rose perfectly and was the right consistency. My soufflés are to the right...at this stage, they needed about four more minutes to be cooked through and get the perfect height.

Egg cookery was so much fun and next week we learn the art of soup making!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

trick or treat and mother sauces

Halloween weekend…a time for an overindulgence of sweets...sexy, provocative costumes... tricks and treats.

For me, it was the weekend of an 80-year-old. Halloween night, a group of us went to Uncle Julio's to fill our Tex-Mex cravings. Megan and I shared veggie fajitas with portabellos, peppers, onions and guacamole and sipped sangria-swirled margaritas. Halloween night ended up with a midnight bedtime and work all day Saturday.

The following evening, we decided to try Mac’s on 7th in Montgomery Plaza for dinner. Ignoring the mediocre lunch I’d had there three weeks prior, I thought the dinner menu might be a different story. We started with glasses of Pinot Grigio and the blue crab claws with some sort of citrus butter. Admittedly a crab snob, they were pretty tasty.

For my entrée, I chose the chimichurri shrimp with steamed rice and a “salsa fresco”. The shrimp was fine but the chimichurri was more like a sour salsa verde than a chimichurri. The salsa fresco translated into a runny pico de gallo with chunks of avocado. Megan ordered the cilantro chicken with linguine. The roasted corn sauce was tasty but the name was deceiving- I totally missed the cilantro part. For dessert, we ordered the toffee chocolate mousse. It was more like a dense piece of cake that had been sent pre-sliced and frozen- not very impressive. I liked the simple ambiance and bar area of Mac’s…maybe just appetizers and cocktails next time.

Sunday morning we had brunch up at culinary school. Groggy after the 6am wake-up call, I trudged in and began prepping jicama for the salad, tomato concasse for the minestrone soup and a trio of purple, Idaho, and new potatoes for the roasted potatoes. I waited tables for the next few hours and chatted with customers amongst quite the gourmet spread.

Monday night, it was “Mother Sauces” week at school. We were asked to prepare the five mother sauces (espagnole, béchamel, veloute, tomato and hollandaise) as well as an assortment of secondary sauces from the espagnole and béchamel, a homemade mayonnaise and a blender method for hollandaise. The night ended with tomato sauce covering my apron from the immersion blender- sauces were difficult and definitely tedious to perfect. Next week is egg cookery!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

the dreaded chicken and dinner for two

I have been dreading my poultry fabrication class since I started culinary school. Something about chicken really irks me. I'm very reluctant to order it in restaurants, I don't cook it much at home and I'm just not a big fan of it.

So....last night was poultry fab! Haha, it really wasn't that bad. We started off by learning how to fab the whole chicken into eight pieces...I got to break the backbone...then we used all eight pieces for our dishes of the night. We split into teams (as usual) and prepared:

Braised bone-in, skin-on chicken breast
Duchess potatoes

Poached chicken tarragon with steamed rice

Braised chicken thighs with curry vegetables, toasted almonds and steamed rice

Fried chicken wings with gravy
Salad of our choice

I was in charge of the fried chicken with gravy and the salad.

For the salad, I decided on a spinach salad with red onion, crumbled bacon, bleu cheese and candied orange peel with an orange vinaigrette (orange juice, lemon juice, orange zest, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper)

I dredged the fried chicken in buttermilk and seasoned flour then pan-fried it. After about 10 minutes frying on both sides, I finished it in the oven. Our team did really well this week...much better than meat fabrication. Maybe chickens aren't so bad after all...

Sunday night I went on a shopping rampage at Central Market...probably due to my depression of the weekend ending and my boyfriend flying back to Nashville. I wouldn't say it was compulsive shopping, but I was definitely just picking up what looked good.
Tonight I made dinner for my roommate and I. The menu was:

Brussel sprouts sauteed in a pecan butter
Blanch the brussel sprouts in boiling salted water for 4-5 minutes then transfer to an ice bath. Set aside.
Chop pecans and toast in a dry pan for a few minutes.
Add a few tablespoons of butter to the pecans and melt. Add brussel sprouts, salt and pepper if desired.
Saute to desired texture.

Roasted butternut squash with crispy sage
Half a butternut squash and scoop seeds out.
Cut inards into uniform chunks and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Drizzle with olive oil, a couple tablespoons of brown sugar, sea salt and chiffonade sage.
Roast at 350, turning often, for about 20 minutes.
Garnish with leftover sage.

Grilled ginger-garlic flank steak with caramelized shallots
I seasoned my flank steak with salt and marinated it with a ginger-garlic sauce from Central Market- so easy .
Heat your grill pan at medium-high heat. When water sizzles on the pan, add some olive oil and your steak.
Cook to desired doneness rotating at 45 degrees for hatch marks. I cooked mine at medium rare, about 6 minutes on each side.
When steak is cooked, transfer to a plate and let rest. In the same pan, add olive oil, white wine and sliced shallots to create a pan sauce. When meat has rested, slice against the grain and garnish with sauteed shallots.

CM wheat rolls

The finished product is to the right. A culinary school friend of mine suggested I take pictures of everything I cook for my blog...great idea! Happy eating everyone!

Monday, October 20, 2008

meat fab and the weekend I gained 20 pounds

Last week was a perfect week- I was off work for two days, my boyfriend was coming in for the weekend and we were road tripping together to go to Austin.

I also had a week of wonderful dining out and cooking. Monday morning began it all...

After a morning of Starbucks (hot green tea), Target and the bank, I met Cat at Central Market for lunch. I love the sandwich bar- so much to choose from.

I went for smoked turkey on sunflower bread (not on the menu but ask for it) with dijonnaise, provolone, cucumber, lettuce, tomato and avocado. I grabbed a side of pineapple and grapes and I was good to go.

Mine was tasty and simple but Cat's was definitely better...so pretty I had to take a picture. She got the oven-roasted turkey on ciabatta with an olive relish, sprouts, lettuce, tomato, oil and red wine vinegar. She also opted for fresh berries and blueberry lemonade. We sat outside...too beautiful to be stuck inside- great Monday.

Last Monday night was culinary class- meat fabrication. For me, it was a complete disaster. Maybe I'm just too hard on myself, but traditional beef recipes are just not my style. Within my group of three, we made:

Meatloaf with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and a horseradish, Worcestershire and ketchup glaze

Traditional beef stew with turnips, carrots and potatoes

Stuffed pork chops with a demi-glace

Pork shish kabobs with plum tomatoes, purple onions and rice pilaf

I was in charge of the beef stew, the rice pilaf for the shish kabobs and plating everything. The beef was tender, the vegetables were bright and the broth had good flavor but the stew never thickened to the right point, nor were the vegetables tender enough. The rice pilaf turned out ok. Sometimes the simplest things to cook at home are the most difficult to cook when you are in a industrial kitchen. So, in a nutshell...meat fabrication week was not my shining moment.

Thursday evening, my boyfriend Jared flew in from Nashville! By the time we got back from Love Field, most restaurants were closed so we hit up Boomer Jacks for some drinks and bar food.

Friday morning, we drove through Starbucks for a couple of hazelnut lattes, then headed to Austin to meet my Mom and my girlfriend Tyler for lunch at Blue Star Cafe. Amongst an appetizer of chicken quesadillas, we shared an Asian chicken salad, tarragon chicken salad sandwich, a maple-mustard turkey sandwich and a lemon cupcake. We returned to my parents house later for a quiet afternoon.

We had the whole family over for a Friday night cook-out. I was in charge of hors d'oeuvres, salad, sides and dessert (with my trusty sous chef, Jared) and Father James (good friend of the family) prepared the entree. The menu was:

Assorted beer and wine (La Crema chardonnay, Prosecco, Dos Equis and Shiner)

Roasted cashews with rosemary and cayenne

Roast unsalted cashews in a pan for a few minutes then toss with a few tablespoons of melted butter, minced rosemary and a few dashes of cayenne.
Garnish with a rosemary sprig in a pretty bowl.

Zucchini and shallot flat bread

Pre-made pizza dough is your best friend here- either get it raw from a pizza place or you can get the "dough in a can" stuff.
I rolled the dough into a rectangle, brushed the dough with olive oil and sprinkled fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt and pepper on top.
Top with thinly sliced zucchini and shallots.
Cook on 350 for about 15 minutes.
If the edges get too dark, cover with foil until the inside is fully cooked.
Cut into squares and serve on a rectangular tray or platter.

Arugula salad with fresh figs, crumbled asiago, toasted walnuts and a honey-garlic vinaigrette

Make the dressing...combine champagne vinegar, minced garlic, salt, pepper and honey and whisk in your extra virgin olive oil. I always eyeball my dressing proportions. If you do it and it tastes too much like vinegar, add oil...too oily, add an acid. Set dressing aside.
Toast your walnuts in a dry pan for a few minutes, slice figs and "crumble" your asiago wedge by taking off small chunks with a kitchen knife.
Toss all ingredients together with dressing, carefully not to bruise the figs. Garnish with more figs, asiago and walnuts on top.

Roasted new potatoes with rosemary

This doesn't get any easier. Slice red potatoes into uniform chunks (1.5 in x 1.5 in).
Arrange potatoes in a single layer on an edged baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt and freshly-ground pepper. Toss to evenly coat.
Roast at 350 for about 45 minutes (make sure you toss the potatoes around throughout cooking time and add minced rosemary halfway through to prevent rosemary from burning).
Serve on a large platter with string beans and chicken.

Haricot verts sauteed with butter and shallots

Snap the ends off the beans and blanch beans in boiling water for 3-4 minutes.
Immediately transfer to an ice bath to stop residual cooking and maintain pretty green color.
In a pan, heat olive oil and butter then add sliced shallots to saute.
After the shallots have become translucent, add the beans and coat evenly with the fat.
Add salt, freshly ground pepper and more butter if desired.
Saute until the beans are at your desired crispness.

Grilled chicken (marinated in a fig-chipotle sauce) stuffed with grilled portabellos, sun-dried tomatoes, prosciutto and goat cheese

I didn't make this one...but it looked pretty simple to to do.
Marinate boneless skinless chicken breasts in whatever sauce your desire. We used a fig-chipotle marinade.
Meanwhile, marinate two portabello mushrooms caps with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
Grill both the chicken and mushrooms (only par-cook the chicken. After you stuff it, it will finish in the oven)
Butterfly each chicken breast and stuff with sliced, grilled portabello mushroom, a slice of prosciutto di parma, a pat of goat cheese, and a couple of oil-soaked sun-dried tomatoes (the oil from the tomatoes will keep the stuffing moist)
Transfer stuffed chicken to the oven until breasts are fully cooked through

Apple tart with cinnamon and lemon zest

My mom and I would always make this on the weeknights when I was in high school. It is so simple and tastes homemade.
You can either bake your own apples until softened or use frozen apples. We baked them.
After the apples are baked and cooled, combine with cinnamon, sugar and lemon zest.
Using a refrigerated pie crust, spoon in apple mixture and fold residual dough over to seal the filling in.
Top with an egg wash and turbinado sugar for crunch.
Bake at 350 until dough is golden brown.
Slice and serve warm with homemade whipped cream or vanilla-bean ice cream.

Homemade brownies (a la my grandmother, Becca)

Everything turned out delicious and disappeared within minutes. After dinner, a group of us headed to Kenichi for some sake and Sapporo.

Saturday morning, my mom and I made breakfast for the boys while they were glued to watching football.

We made really simple migas:
Cut corn tortillas into slices, saute with a bit of oil until crispy
In a separate pan, saute onions and red peppers until softened, add beaten eggs and season with salt and pepper
When eggs are cooked, fold in tortilla strips and top with shredded cheese. Cover pan to melt cheese.
Serve with salsa and fresh avocado slices.

Saturday night, Jared, Megan, David and i went to the Covey for dinner. The boys opted for beer (Texas Wheat, Weiner Bock, Amber Ale) and Megan and I split a bottle of Pinot Grigio. Once again, we were starving so we ordered way too much (and ate it all). To begin, we split a southwestern Greek salad with sweet peppers, feta and a hummus crouton. Next, we ordered the Ta-Tanka pizza (shaved bison, spicy Asian dressing, caramelized onions, fresh mozzarella and cilantro). It was SO delicious...perfect flavor combination. The pizza usually comes with roasted red peppers but I substituted them for the onions and cilantro. Try it!

Next, we ordered the blackened halibut tacos with a jalapeno cole slaw and a black bean and corn salsa. The tacos were flavorful and light with the perfect amount of heat. The corn and black bean salad was pretty worthless to me- not much flavor. Finally, we ordered the chocolate souffle served with vanilla bean ice cream. It was warm and gooey and the ice cream was addicting. Perfect dessert to share for an evening out.

Our weekend eating binge ended with Sunday morning brunch at Gloria's...huevos con papas with guacamole- too full to walk.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

cupcakes and a lazy Sunday

This past Tuesday was Cat's 24th birthday and immediately a lunch date was planned. After venturing out to Northeast mall (in the pouring rain) we settled on a tiny French bakery called Vie a Paris! that Cat and her mom frequent.

Between the two of us and a tiny little table we munched on turkey and Swiss and chicken salad croissants with french onion soup, a fruit tart and a vanilla eclair- ooh la la!

Although we had dinner plans later that night at Taverna, we went to P.F. Changs for some pre-dinner drinks. While we sipped our Purple Haze hot sake with Chambord, we put our chopsticks to work on crunchy, chicken lettuce wraps and the lemongrass prawns with garlic noodles- my favorite entree!

For dinner #2, we finally arrived to Taverna and chatted amongst a bottle of Prosecco. The table choices were all tasty: risotto with Parmesan and truffle oil, seafood risotto with mussels, calamari and shrimp and a Gorgonzola and pear filled pasta with pears, arugula and walnuts. The seafood risotto was my favorite...great broth and the calamari was cooked perfectly.

Last night, my roommate and I headed to Winslow's for dinner. I've been a little under the weather all week, so I nursed a glass of Cava while Megan tried the Cava and a Merlot. We split the gambas al ajillo (shrimp in a spicy garlic butter sauce served atop grilled bread and fresh parsley) and cups of the roasted tomato soup with applewood-smoked bacon, creme fraiche and basil oil.

Finally, we split the gnocchi (due to my rave reviews), but it just wasn't as tasty last night. The gnocchi was a little heavier than usual and the pancetta made it too smoky...we still finished it. We skipped dessert because Megan had been on her weekly Cupcake Cottage trip earlier that morning. She had an assortment of mini cupcakes in a pretty, pink box- strawberry, chocolate, cookies and cream and my favorite... traditional white.

Today we grabbed a burger at Dutch's for a lazy, Sunday lunch. I ordered the Texana with avocado (of course) and Swiss...Megan always goes for the queso on her burger. The burgers are always good (a little over0cooked for my taste, but never greasy) and the rolls are always delicious (always fresh and slightly sweet). I'm now spending the rest of my lazy Sunday trying to decide what to cook for dinner tonight!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Wine galore and the "mystery" basket

I'm so excited the weather is starting to change and fall is on the way...most importantly, fall produce has some of my favorite flavors. Hearty mushrooms, squash, pears, eggplant, juicy figs...all so delicious to me.

Friday night, some girlfriends and I headed to Winslow's Wine Bar for some dinner and drinks. We sat outside on comfy, over sized chairs and enjoyed people watching. We split a Spanish Cava (similar to champagne) and the cheese board complete with an assortment of cheeses: a blue, a mild cheddar and my favorite- a smoked, Spanish cows milk cheese called San Simon. The cheese board came with sliced, Gala apples, pecans, red grapes, an assortment of olives, salted almonds and toasted baguette slices. My friend Jessica ordered the roasted tomato soup- it was rich and hearty.

After hors d'oeuvres, we opted for some red wine- an Australian Shiraz called Woop Woop...and sadly, repeating the name was our entertainment for the rest of the night. For dinner, we split the gnocchi with a butternut squash buerre blanc, chunks of pancetta, sage and trumpet mushrooms. I wanted to lick the sauce from the bowl...I declined.

Tonight we had Week 6 of culinary classes: veggie cookery! I was really excited because there is not a single vegetable I don't like...seriously. We were paired up (my partner was a fellow TCU grad, Jen) and given a "mystery basket" of veggies and we were required to use all of them. Ours contained jicama, rutabaga, fennel, eggplant and collard greens.

In a couple hours, we whipped up:

Tempura-fried rutabaga

(sounds weird but the rutabaga fried beautifully)

Stir-fried purple cabbage, jicama, and broccoli with a ginger, garlic and plum sauce (the exec chefs told us that jicama is a great, fresh substitute for canned water chestnuts...same texture and crunch

Collard greens wilted in bacon fat topped with an over-medium egg and chopped bacon all atop garlic toast

An pan-fried eggplant "Napoleon" with tomatoes, melted Brie and basil oil

Roasted fennel and pears with a brown sugar, butter, ground clove and lemon zest glaze topped with candied orange peel and toasted almonds

After all of the food was critiqued, the instructors made some tempura-fried fritters with pears and apples- delicious! Next week is meat fabrication for all you carnivores!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

hors d'oeuvres and new fall attire

Oh, how do I miss Austin. Last Friday night Megan and I met my mom and her coworker at Hyde Park Grill...a local favorite. The restaurant is located in central Austin's historical Hyde Park- where I grew up. I was craving the steamed dumplings with chicken, ginger, cabbage and carrots. It was accompanied by a spicy Thai sauce that was almost too hot to handle.

After wine and their delicious margaritas were passed around the table, Mom ordered the crispy crab cakes with spiced, roasted sweet potatoes. Megan went for the eggplant sandwich- lightly fried with Gouda and olive tapenade with Hyde Parks' famous buttermilk-dredged french fries and remoulade for dipping. I was in a veggie mood...I ordered the veggie plate with steamed, crisp broccoli, sweet corn and cheese tamales, green chile mashed potatoes and a corn and edamame saute.

During the meal, dessert was the main thing on my mind. We ordered Wom Kim's Peach pudding (my favorite growing up)- a lightly sweetened, warm, airy cake atop ripe peaches served with fresh cream and the banana cream pie with mounds of homemade whipped cream and sliced bananas.

My mom had a "purse" party on Saturday afternoon and Megan and I were in charge of food. Our finger-food menu was:

Bruschetta with fresh garlic, white beans, sun dried tomatoes and chiffonade basil

Watercress salad with roasted cashews, Bosc pears and an Asian vinaigrette
(lime juice, olive oil, fresh cracked pepper and a touch of soy sauce)

Manchego cheese drizzled with a honey brown butter sauce with fresh figs

The party was great and we snacked all afternoon. Around 5 p.m., Megan and I met the "girls" of my family at the legendary El Patio for some nachos and margaritas. There is something about the nachos there that is so addicting. We then hit up Anthropologie on Lamar and 6th for some funky pieces for Fall- I left with an embroidered sweater, satin hoodie, vintage earrings and a cream blouse- mission accomplished.

For dinner, we met my friend Megan Rother and her boyfriend Joel at Cuba Libre on 5th and Colorado. After a pitcher of mojitos, we split a platter of coconut shrimp with a honey sauce, chicken satay with guacamole and veggie empanadas with a saffron sauce. After dinner, we hit up West 6th for some beer, shots and camaraderie.

Sunday morning breakfast was back to basics: scrambled eggs, sausage, blackberries and creme fraiche, cinnamon rolls, orange juice and coffee. We were then off to the Domain to hit up Betsey Johnson, Free People, Barney's and but of course...my home away from home...the makeup counter at Neiman Marcus (my mom and I both share this guilty pleasure). After making friends at the Chantecaille counter...it was back to Fort Worth.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wine 101 and julienned carrots

The weekend has come and gone once again. Thursday night I had dinner with my good friend Cat. Luckily, she was as ready to drink as I was- it had been a pretty stressful day.

We headed to Mi Cocina for a Mexican remedy. To start, we ordered a couple glasses of pinot and an order of guacamole- delicious. Then I found my new favorite- the Asado de Pollo. It was fajita chicken underneath stir-fried veggies (zucchini, onions, jalapenos, cabbage) served with white rice, pico and (more!) guacamole. It was perfect to split and those veggies are addicting.

Saturday night was supposed to be a Taverna night, but my roommate got the Yucatan taco stand itch. We started with the yuca fries with chimichurri and a Serrano aioli. A little greasy, but crispy and delicious. Megan got the chicken pollo verde chimichanga and I got the plaintain-crusted Mahi Mahi with chipotle mashed potatoes, julienned veggies and a light slaw...I scarfed it down. Not as good as the chimichurri sea bass, but tasty. Megan was sipping on Caipirinha's while I stuck to the margs on the rocks with salt.

Sunday was my grocery and cooking day...I also needed to practice on my knife skills for culinary class. I bought bags of carrots, onions, celery, potatoes and onions and went to town with my beloved chef's knife. I literally sat for 45 minutes with a sack of carrots trying to julienne (1/8 inchx 1/8 inch x 2inches) them and make them perfect while my roommate made fun of me. They actually turned out really pretty...it's just a matter of time and practice to get the knife skills down.

A little later, I started dinner. A lighter version of chicken and dumplings made into a soup (credits to Cooking Light's October issue). The soup was pretty easy and turned out delicious. Brown some boneless, skinless chicken thighs and set aside. Add chopped onion, celery, carrots...let them sweat out and soften then add the browned chicken, chicken broth, a few parsley sprigs and a bay leaf. Simmer for half an hour. Then it's dumpling time. Combine flour, salt, baking powder and chopped parsley -that's it. The sticky dough is then spooned into the simmering soup and they cook almost instantly. Add some crusty rolls and there's dinner!

I got an iPhone 3G this weekend and I can't stop playing with it. For all of you fellow iPhone users, I found a really cool foodie application that I downloaded last night. It's called wineSnob and it's used to track every type of wine you drink! It also lets you record everything you taste, rate it, describe it and archive it. It also educates you on food and wine pairings, gives information on all wine varieties you could imagine, terminology, wine quotes and wine facts. I can't stop reading it. Perfect pocket-sized wine 101 class.

Last night was week three of culinary class- basic food techniques II. Last week was learning all of the basic methods (simmering, pan-frying, poaching, etc.) This week was applying everything: having multiple dishes ready at the same time, plating design and making the dishes look and taste beautiful.

I was in a group with two really sweet women, Gena and Shauna. Our four dishes were:

Roasted Cornish hen with a wild rice and mushroom stuffing
Red wine, tomato and mushroom sauce

Braised chicken legs with curried vegetables and roasted almonds
Steamed rice

Grilled Salmon with a soy, sake, brown sugar, garlic, scallion and ginger glaze
Mango and Papyaya salsa with jalapenos, garlic, cilantro and tomato

Pan-fried Orange Roughy
Crispy garlic, butter, parsley and lemon sauce

Gena took the Cornish hen and sauce (thank God...something about a little hen just frieks me out), Shauna took the braised chicken and steamed rice and I took the salmon and salsa and the orange roughy and garlic sauce. My roughy turned out great but I had a small problem with the salmon...in my attempt to multi-task I grabbed a metal pan instead of a non-stick and a third of the salmon stuck to the pan. Luckily, I was able to salvage it with the tropical salsa... lesson learned. Next week is starch cookery!