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'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 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!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

chocolate dip cones and BBQ

Although embarrassing enough to admit, I have to comment on my roommate and my dinner selection this evening. To start, we headed to the sketchy Dairy Queen on Montgomery for a chocolate-dipped cone then finished with sliced beef sandwiches, potato salad and coleslaw at Railhead. What could be better?

braised thighs and an Arkansas weekend

This past weekend was spent in Little Rock for a weekend with the boy. The 5 hour drive was actually quite serene and downtown Little Rock reminded me a bit like Austin.

Saturday night was spent at Loca Luna the self-proclaimed "bold, Arkansas bisto" that has received numerous awards and appeared on Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels..(and of course I remember that episode). Although a bit pricey for its final result, it was pretty good.

We started off with a shrimp and brie quesadilla with a pineapple mango pico. I would have preferred four times the pico but it had good flavor. The drinks of the night were a dirty Ketel One and top shelf margarita on the rocks- good, strong drinks. I ordered the bacon-wrapped aged filet with parsley-shallot butter, garlic mashed potatoes and steamed sugar snap peas. I was cursing myself afterward for ordering it medium because it was definitely over-cooked...should have gone for the medium-rare. The veggies and potatoes were tasty though. My handsome date ordered the pork Osso Bucco and it was just delicious. It was falling off the bone with the most delicious Pinot Noir definitely made up for my filet.

Dessert was the standard crème brûlée...I've had better. Criticism aside, Loca Luna is a funky place with fun, inventive food if anyone is ever in the area.

Last night was week three of culinary school-basic cooking techniques I. In a swift five hours we managed to "master" all of the techniques. We sautéed diced onions, peppers and sliced mushrooms, shallow-poached orange roughy, deep-poached eggs, simmered pasta and rice, steamed julienned carrots and shrimp, pan-seared pork shops, grilled zucchini (we went for those beautiful hatch marks), deep fried batonnet-sliced potatoes (a fancy name for french fries), pan-fried panko breaded chicken tenders, braised chicken thighs with rosemary and white wine and roasted chicken legs with cayenne and paprika and carrots with dill.

Whew..yes, I was exhausted. The only technique that I had trouble with was the pan-sear on the pork chops..note to all learners...don't mess with a pan sear. Put it down in a screaming hot pan with cool oil and walk away...this is when that bottle of wine comes into place!

Dinner last night was Central Market salad bar (romaine, cabbage, broccoli, green peas, edamame, blanched almonds, walnuts, dried cranberries with their celery Greek dressing) and their vegetarian lentil soup. Another really good vegetarian soup is their asparagus basil soup when they have it! Also, you can't get CM soup without a sunflower roll!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Easy tomato sauce and skimming stocks

Instead of expanding my knowledge of skimming stocks, braising and making a mirepoix...I'm dumbing myself down and surfing YouTube. Here's a good basic tomato sauce recipe from the cleavage queen, Ms. Giada DeLaurentiis.

Caipirinha's and a new set of Wüsthof's

A few weeks ago, the ladies from work and I had a "Girls Night Out" at the newest wine bar in town. Filled with Fort Worth's most desperate housewives, the decor was simple and wine bottles laced the walls. Bottles of pear Cava were emptied within minutes as we scoured the menu. The menu was impressive.... as was the food. I ordered the gnocchi with fresh basil, Parmesan and matchstick summer vegetables in a vegetable jus- light and delicious.

Last Saturday, some friends and I discovered the Yucatan Taco Stand and Tequila Bar. Don't let the title fool you- although you wait in line and order at the front à laPei Wei, the food is upscale, the decor modern, the plating and dishware artful along with a full bar and drink menu complete with traditional Caipirinha- a Brazilian favorite. I immediately went straight for the banana leaf wrapped Chilean sea bass with chimichurri, fried plantains and rice. Megan opted for the vegetable plate with black beans, fried rice, crispy yuca fritters, a matchstick medley, fried plantains and a cilantro aioli.

As with most brand-new restaurants, there were a few kinks. Instead of my expected accompaniments to the sea bass, it came with chipotle mashed potatoes and a simple cabbage slaw flavored with lime juice and a bit a sugar- unexpected, but delicious. The fish was cooked perfectly, the potatoes had the perfect amount of heat and the slaw was light. Megan's was equally good and the aioli was addicting. We returned again last night to try something new. I ordered a tempura fish taco and a cabrito (lamb) taco both on a soft corn tortilla with cabbage, cilantro and a garlic sauce. Megan ordered a bowl with tequila lime chicken, rice, black beans and matchstick vegetables...the spicy food was perfect with the slushy (and strong!)margaritas. Next time I'm going for the braised short ribs.

Tomorrow is week two of culinary school. Last week was pretty nerve-racking-first day jitters all over again. Last week concentrated on knive skills. You know- chiffonade, brunoise, julienne, small dice....I never realized what a science something as elementary as dicing could be. It really does highlight the food and make it that much more beautiful. Our brand new Wüsthof's were put to good use as we went to town with carrots, parsley, onions, garlic, oranges and tomatoes. Tomorrow is equally stimulating- stocks!!!