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 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 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 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 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 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 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, 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!