Saturday, December 26, 2009

pain perdu and an Austin adieu

My Christmas season has been full of busy work days, sparkling ornaments, luscious red wine, homemade stews, white poinsettias as well as planning an intimate, winter dinner party for my Private Chef service: Linguine and Dirty Martinis, Food for the Fabulous Life!

Within the thick of the bustling holidays, my client selected from my winter menu of offerings and settled on a hearty spread full of deep, roasting techniques, local ingredients and seasonal flair. The 5-course winter dinner party for 10 included:

Toasted Hazelnuts with Lemon Rind and Fresh Thyme

This was a Thanksgiving recipe I made a few weeks before- it couldn't be easier. My client isn't an orange fan so I substituted lemon rind for orange from the original recipe.

Curried Roasted Parsnip Carrot Soup with Pepitas

This dish is inspired from a quick soup I made "on the fly" in Culinary School. When given a mystery basket containing parsnips, I made a pureed soup with roasted parsnips, carrots, turmeric and curry. I refined this recipe a bit by adding fresh herbs, red pepper flakes, brown sugar, a cream finish and a pepita garnish. Not only is the soup quite pretty (a gorgeous yellow-orange) but insanely delicious and filling.

Red Cabbage Salad with Bleu Cheese, Pecans, Bosc Pears and an Apple Cider Vinaigrette

This salad sounded great in my head but I was nervous that the execution might lead to a too-bitter salad. I was pleasantly surprised with the combination of bitter, crispy cabbage, pungent Cabrales bleu, oaky, crunchy pecans, sweet pears and the vinegar-ridden presence of the dressing. Fresh ground black pepper was the perfect finish.

Maple Bourbon Marinated Pork Loin with a Cranberry Shallot Compote
To all of you "pork haters"...this is my gift to you. This pork dish was perfection! (if I do say so myself) My sous chef and I marinated the pork, crusted it with fresh woody herbs, coarse salt and pepper then gave the loin a hard sear. Right before serving, we finished it in the oven to a moist, juicy medium-well. While the pork rested, we finished it with a bit of brown sugar melted butter and serve it atop brussel sprouts with the cranberry shallot compote on the side.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon, Parmesan and Black Pepper
If you haven't noticed, I'm a brussel sprout nut- more specifically, a roasted brussel sprout nut. Although I don't personally fiend for bacon, I knew it was a smart choice to go with the brussels. To finish the duo, I sprinkled grated parmesan and fresh-ground cracked pepper atop. Wonderful, wonderful side dish.

Soft Polenta with Balsamic and a Tomato Basil Jam

This is an old-school dish of mine that I served as an hors d'oeuvre for a cocktail party in the past. The original appetizer was a firm polenta cut into triangles with tomato jam and a shaving of fontina. This polenta was served soft with fresh herbs, cream, butter and a dash of balsamic. The tomato jam was a mixture of stewed tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic- very simple, yet comforting and familiar to guests.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Crystallized Ginger and Crispy Sage

The ginger in this dish isn't quite recognizable until you take a bite with the buttery squash. This side is quite easy too- the hardest part is getting your knife through the dense skin of the winter squash. I sliced the squash into wedges with the skin intact and roasted them at a high temperature with whole sage leaves, salt, pepper and crystallized ginger. Remind your guests of the inedible skin before serving.

Red Apple Tart with a Fresh Tarragon Vanilla Chantilly Cream

When I am cooking an entire meal from scratch, I go for simplicity either with appetizers or dessert. In this case, I used a puff pastry shortcut for this festive and elegant dessert. To make, I layered thinly-sliced gala apple slices atop defrosted puff pastry with vanilla sugar. The whipped cream had a subtle-anise additive of fresh tarragon and vanilla bean paste. The guests were crazy about this whipped cream and started adding it to their coffee.

After a tiresome, yet fulfilling evening full of holiday cheer, I met Ms. Fort Worth Foodie and Ms. Eat This Fort Worth for an evening of mussels and pommes frites at Sapristi. The fries and aioli were addicting and perfect to sop in the savory broth from the mussels. Along with dinner, I was completely blindsided when Ms. Fort Worth Foodie brought me a simply-wrapped graduation present- an autographed copy of Ad Hoc at Home by the legendary, Chef Thomas Keller with a personal message from Chef Keller to me! I was ecstatic- what a lovely gift.

On the topic of gifts, especially lovely ones, my Christmas was one to remember full of delicious food, gracious gift-giving and times with family and friends. I celebrated two Christmases and cooked dinner parties for each. The party for Mom's side of the family featured simple, comfort food with a hit of spice. Dad's side boasted an Italian flare with simple, seasonal produce.
Christmas Eve Party Menu (Mom's side):

Cheese Board with Honeycomb and Fresh Berries

Fig Jam with Cream Cheese and Black Pepper Crackers

Boiled Shrimp with Homemade Cocktail Sauce and Spicy Honey Mustard

Orange Guacamole

Caesar Salad with Garlic Oil Croutons, Anchovy and Fresh Parmesan

Roasted Poblano and Jalapeno Grits with Sharp Cheddar

Roasted Tomatoes with Rosemary, Sage and Garlic Cloves

Pork and Sweet Corn Tamales

Christmas #2 Dinner Party Menu (Dad's side):

Cheese Board with Honeycomb and Fresh Berries

Antipasto Platter
Because the main entree was a vegetarian option, I wanted to offer some cured meats alongside cheeses with salty and briny accompaniments.

Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese, Currants, Orange Peel, Pine Nuts and a Honey Vinaigrette
The garnishes in this salad really pop against the emerald spinach. I was careful to lightly dress the salad and let the flavor-ridden garnishes speak for themselves. This is an appropriately light salad to go with the heavy pasta dish.

Roasted Root Vegetables with Crispy Capers and a Lemon Glaze
For this side, I chopped and roasted a variety of vegetables (mainly roots) including: rutabaga, sweet potatoes, celery root, turnips, butternut squash, red potatoes, red
onions and brussel sprouts with a bit of salt, pepper and olive oil. While still warm, I glazed the vegetables with a lemon butter mixture and tossed them with crispy, pan-fried capers.

Pappardelle with Wild Mushrooms, Fresh Herbs and Black Truffle Butter
I chose a variety of wild mushrooms to saute and toss in this pasta dish: portabello, cremini, oyster, shiitake and hen of the woods. The mushrooms were a perfect match with the wide, buttered pappardelle, bitter rosemary and finishing black truffle aroma.

Crusty Baguette

For dessert, my cousin Catherine made delicious chocolate pies with a subtly sweet whipping cream - perfect with a coffee ending.

After eating my heart out in Austin, I returned to Fort Worth for a New Year's Eve dinner at Grace complete with tender crab cakes, spicy seared tuna, filet with truffle butter, pain perdu, champagne and cappuccinos- a decadent meal fit for a queen.
The next evening, I made a celebratory New Years Day meal for two: (complete with a good luck charm)

Ground Pork Burgers with Marjoram, Muenster, Arugula and Apple Grapefruit Compote

Black-Eyed Pea Relish with Jalapeno, Garlic and Apple Cider Vinegar

When crafting this burger, I was going for the whole "pork chops and cinnamon apples" thing and decided to make a compote. To freshen the apple flavor, I added grapefruit for sweetness and ginger and fresh nutmeg for spice. This compote is great with pork but would also be a delicious spread on toast with a side of bacon for breakfast or atop a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream for dessert.

Apple Grapefruit Compote with Fresh Ginger

3/4 c dried apple rings, chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
rind of one grapefruit (peel rind with a peeler and slice into thin strips)
1/2 c sugar
1 tsp salt
1 T fresh ginger, grated
1/4 t fresh nutmeg, grated
1/4 t black pepper
2.5 c water

Combine all ingredients. Simmer in a saucepan on medium-low heat approximately one hour until liquid reduces by half. Serve warm with burgers or jar for later use.

Finally, how does everyone like the new look for the blog? The white background seems like a good start for the new year- please let me know.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

bûche de noël and a culinary school farewell

The time has finally come...I graduated from Culinary School!

The past 15 months have been exploratory, confusing, innovative, strenuous, stressful, relaxing, fun and exasperating all wrapped into one package. Not only did school teach me about food, but about personal relationships and a passion truly inherent within me.

I had my highs...
creative juices flowing with mystery baskets
perfectly-cooked custards in pastry class
nailing duck l'orange and quiche lorraine in classic recipes
being unusually comfortable with tofu, tempeh and soy products in healthy cooking

...and my lows:
an initial close to tears fear of raw chicken
lackluster beef stew in meat fabrication
overly-ambitious dishes in timed cooking
total breakdown in my pastry final

...but a lesson to remember from each.

After a sigh of relief after my final, my parents and aunts came into town for my delicious celebration of achievement. After a brief ceremony (I graduated with honors!), we headed to the reception (wine in tow) and enjoyed a delicious late-afternoon of cheeses, fruits, veggie tempura, pumpkin tamales, gingersnaps and a chocolate fountain with homemade marshmallows. Too nervous to eat, I personally celebrated with a bottle of red.
Later that evening, a big group of us trooped over to the newest locale on the 7th Street scene: Tillman's Roadhouse. The decor was funky, the cocktails were imaginative and the food was pretty tasty overall. Amongst a spread of truffled popcorn, peanuts, french fries with aiolis and fried pickles, we sipped on Blood Orange margaritas and attempted to chat in the bustling restaurant.

Entrees included a filet of beef with a chipotle demi glace, snapper with celeriac and sweet potatoes, Oaxacan quesadillas, airline chicken and chicken-fried steak that circled around the chic, oversized table. Dessert was an indoor campfire with fluffy orange, maple and coffee marshmallows, chocolate, grahams and a convenient tableside fire to roast away.

After my ravenous indulgence the evening before, I settled on a healthier comfort to make for dinner the next evening:
Turkey Lasagna with Whole Wheat Pasta

Substitutions and a subtle sweetness are the tricks in this recipe. I substituted ground turkey (lean, not extra lean) for ground beef or pork, part-skim ricotta for full fat ricotta and whole wheat pasta for plain. Fresh herbs, lemon zest and vanilla sugar added subtle depths of flavor as well as freshness. I also amped up jarred tomato sauce to add ease to the dish.

Yields 4 servings.
Turkey with tomato layer:
1 lb lean turkey
1 small jar tomato sauce (I used Newman's Own)
2 T fresh parsley
½ white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T vanilla sugar (plain sugar will do if necessary)
1 t herbs de Provence
1 t crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Start by sauteing onions, herbs de Provence and red pepper flakes with olive oil. When onions turn translucent, add ground turkey and cook until turkey crumbles and turns opaque. Carefully drain any excess fat (fat should be minimal). Add garlic, vanilla sugar, salt and pepper to combine. Finally, add tomato sauce and let mixture simmer and thicken while preparing remaining fillings.
Ricotta layer:
1 container part-skim ricotta
2 T fresh parsley, minced
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Stir ingredients to combine. Set aside.
Additional layers:
1 ball fresh sliced mozzarella
½ cup fresh grated parmesan
Oven-ready whole wheat lasangna sheets ( I found these at Target)
In a small casserole dish, layer turkey filling, whole wheat sheets, ricotta spread and fresh mozzarella. Continue for three layers. For the final layer, top with fresh mozzarella and grated parmesan. Bake casserole on a cookie sheet uncovered at 375 degrees for approximately 40 minutes. Serve warm with herbed baguette.

I spent the weekend preceding Christmas helping prepare baked goods, deliver and volunteer for the third annual Chef's Holiday Pantry held at Ridgmar Mall benefitting Tarrant Area Food Bank.
The mall was graced with colorful balloons, incredible ice carvings and cookie decorating with Young Chefs Academy. Christmas goodies for purchase were jam-packed tables full of Yule logs, gingerbread trees, croquembouches, cupcakes, cookies, candies, barks and layered cakes for all to purchase and share.
The delicious event was an affair to remember and a dinner plate on the table for those in need- another Christmas story soon to come!


Friday, November 27, 2009

pistachio macaroon and a turkey-filled afternoon

Thanksgiving in Austin, although a short-lived affair, was a holiday to remember full of culinary cheer. After a fully-pampering morning complete with facials and hairstylings (oh my!), my mom and I met my aunt at the quaint Walton's Fancy and Staple cafe and general store to fulfill all of our lunch-bound dreams.

We began staring in awe at the frosted clear case full of sweet delights, fresh-made salads and snacks. Mom opted for a freshly-made egg salad on wheat with a mixed field greens salad with pomegranate. My aunt chose deli ham on pretzel bread and soup of the day: Niman Ranch pork chili. I was craving a bit of spice- the spicybird sandwich with chewy whole grain, wood grilled chicken, roasted tomato and an avocado spread was the natur
al choice.

After our delectable sandwiches, my mom and aunt split an individual pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream- tender crust and not too sweet. I was eyeing the Parisian macaroons all afternoon- between vanilla pumpkin and pistachio blackberry, I went for the pistachio macaroon with blackberry buttercream- delish.

After an eventful day, I hit the hay early with visions of Thanksgiving delights (and a full day of cooking) lurking in my head. I awoke to begin the feast! First things first- getting our herb and garlic marinated turkey in the oven. After our valiant main course was roasting away, I created a flavorful, beautiful and "easy as pie" appetizer to prepare:

Toasted Hazelnuts with Thyme, Orange Rind and Garlic
1.5 c hazelnuts
julienned rind of 1 medium orange (To do this, peel your orange zest with a peeler careful not to include the white pith. Carefully cut portions into 1/8 inch thick slices.)
1 T olive oil
1 t red pepper flakes
1 T honey
1 T turbinado sugar
1 T fresh thyme leaves
salt to taste
Heat olive oil in a saute pan on medium heat. Add red pepper flakes, orange rind slices and thyme. Saute to release natural oils. Add hazelnuts and toast with aromatics until fragrant. Add honey, turbinado and salt- toss to combine. Spread warm mixture on a sheet pan to dry out, approximately 30 minutes.

Along with this simple hors d'œuvre, I made a rich, decadent side dish to dismiss any cravings for plain ole' mashed taters.
Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese with Smoked Gouda Sage Béchamel and Panko Breadcrumbs
For this rich cheese sauce, I first made a classic béchamelwith simmered whole milk, white roux and an onion piquet to impart a subtle flavor (onion half with a clove-pierced bay leaf attached). After my béchamel thickened, I added shredded smoked gouda, white cheddar, parmesan, salt, pepper and fresh chopped sage. This sauce was combined with al dente elbow macaroni and chunks of roasted butternut squash with crispy sage. I then spread the mixture in two casserole dishes and topped them with panko and shredded parmesan to bake until brown and bubbly.

After creating such a rich dish, I created my second dish with an attempt to impart flavors through cooking techniques and fresh ingredients with minimal fat:
Roasted Brussel Sprouts with a Balsamic Reduction and Pomegranate

This dish was so incredibly delicious! I cleaned and halved my brussels then tossed them in a light coasting of olive oil and salt. I roasted these at 400 degrees, tossing frequently for approximately an hour until crispy and browned. For the balsamic reduction, I reduced a cup of balsamic vinegar with salt and a bit of sugar until reduced my half and syrupy. To plate this dish, I spooned the reduction over the crispy brussels then topped them with sweet, tangy pomegranate seeds.

For dessert, I took the easy route and no one suspected! After running tight on time, I decided on using puff pastry for my pastry dough instead of a homemade, flaky tart crust.

Asian Pear, Candied Ginger and Maple Tart

The flavor combinations in this tart were quite nice. I'm not a fan of overly sweet desserts so the combination of tart pears, spicy sweet crystallized ginger, syrupy maple and buttery puff pastry was intoxicating!

I began by thinly slicing my pears, slicing my crystallized ginger and defrosting the puff pastry. After rolling out the puff pastry, I brushed the intended fruit area with maple syrup. Next, I carefully arranged my pears and topped them with slices of candied ginger and a sprinkling of turbinado sugar. Before hitting the oven, I brushed the crust edges with an egg wash. This tart baked at 375 degrees for approximately 40 minutes. While still warm, I glazed the tart with heated apricot preserves for shine. Voila!

After packing the car with our finished dishes (don't forget Mr. Turkey!), we headed to my Aunt and Uncle's home for a lovely evening. Along with my contributions, our incredible Thanksgiving spread also included:

Sweet Corn Pudding
Green Bean Casserole
Cranberry Orange Relish
Cranberry Sauce
Cornbread Stuffing
Waldorf Salad
Brown Sugar Pecan Sweet Potatoes
Ginger Orange Sweet Potatoes
Soft White Rolls
Parmesan Cheese Straws
Raspberry Cream Pie
Pumpkin Layered Cake
Lemon Pound Cake

What's Thanksgiving without taking advantage of hefty leftovers the next day? For an impromptu brunch with my parents, I assembled a quick fix that was nothing less than delightful:

Thanksgiving Turkey Melt with White Cheddar, Hot Pepper Jam, Cranberry, Red Onion and Carrots

On thick slices of wheat bread, I spread hot pepper jam and arranged turkey slices with white cheddar on top. These toasted at 400 degrees for about 5 minutes then were topped with jellied cranberry slices, thin-sliced red onion and shredded carrots. Yum!

That evening, my entire extended family was in desperate need of a post-Thanksgiving Tex-Mex fix! We met at Dos Salsas, a family-owned joint in Georgetown and waited for a table amongst space heaters and sweet margaritas with a splash of orange juice to also keep us warm.
Although I ordered a Tex Mex combo, I was instead content with my Aunt Becky's tortilla soup and pulled chicken flautas complete with ripe avocado slices. Everything was delicious- especially our honey-soaked sopapilla ending.

Once back to the real world in Fort Worth, it was time for my culinary school final! a notion that was so surreal to me until I finally accomplished it! After our written final, my class trooped into the kitchen for challenging-timed technique drills including: knife drills, roux making, whipped cream, french onion soup, eggs benedict, 45 second no-spatula omelette, risotto and a poached chicken tarragon entree complete with a stark white sauce.
The final went well and I was thrilled! Beside my hollandaise being a bit thin- everything else was fabulous! A champagne toast to celebrate was a perfect ending to our final and yet another big venture in my life.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

ravioli bites and an afternoon delight

I've definitely been burnt-out the past weeks of culinary school. Due to extreme time constraints and perpetually thinking on my feet, I've been anxiously awaiting a low-pressure class where I could simply have some fun doing what I love: playing with flavors.

Our Fusion class was just that- an assignment of random, crazy International cuisine partnerings with a course to pair it with.
My first drawing: French, Asian, Appetizer

Dish: Currant Brie Turnover with Garam Masala Sauce

I grabbed a wonton skin and delicately filled it with sliced, rich Brie, toasted almonds and currants soaked in fresh orange juice. After I sealed the dumplings, I deep-fried them while I concocted my sauce. For the sauce, I combined garam masala, olive oil, honey and orange juice in a food processor and spooned it aside the fried dumplings.

My second drawing: French, English, Dessert

Dish: Peppercorn and Raspberry Preserve Parfait with a Tarragon Cream and Bacon

For this dish, I wanted to do a play on an English trifle but forgot the necessary ingredient in a trifle: a layer of soaked cake. When I presented my mini-dessert, I referred to it as a parfait. The ingredients were sweet, salty and tangy.

My third drawing: Asian, Southwestern, Soup

Dish: Apple Celery Broth with Poached Apples, Green Cabbage and a Steamed Apple and Queso Fresco Dumpling

When I drew this dish, I immediately wanted to develop a broth-based soup pulling more of an Asian fusion with a touch of Southwestern. The base of the broth was a vegetable stock enriched with sauteed aromatics, celery and apples then strained to a clear, tasty broth. I finished the broth with the poached dumpling, poached apples and thinly-sliced green cabbage.

My fourth drawing: Russian, English, Amuse Bouche

Dish: Beer-Battered Fried Sausage with Capers, Beets and a Lemon Aioli

During our mise en place, my tablemate Eric made a delicious looking beer batter and suggested I coat a slice of sausage for this dish. Great idea- I paired the rich bite of sausage atop a thin slice of beet with a drizzle of tart, lemon aioli and briny capers.

My fifth drawing: Russian, Southwestern, Salad

Dish: Thin-Sliced Cucumber with a Jalapeno Dill Dressing, Lemon and Toasted Fennel Seeds

I liked the flavor combinations in this salad but I didn't execute it well. My dressing was under seasoned and the fennel seeds were too abundant.

Although we were only required to draw 5 pairings, I finished two more plates within the time constraint. I first rolled spring rolls with an Asian French influence and spicy dipping sauce. I was then handed Treacle by our head chef- a bitter, molasses-like British condiment. My final dish was:

Warm Treacle-Glazed Tomato Salad with Fried Basil

The cherry tomatoes in this dish were added to a scorching saute pan, quickly sauteed then glazed with a drizzle of Treacle. The basil provided color, flavor and provided a hit of fat in the dish.

Also this weekend, I was able to visit Z's Cafe in the Fort Worth Community Arts Center with Ms. Fort Worth Foodie and a friend from the Tarrant Area Food Bank. We met with Carlo, the adorable General Manager and son of head chef and owner, Janet Z. Capua. Amongst tarragon chicken salad, lovely peach sweet tea and brownies with fresh fruit, our al fresco afternoon lunch was calming and quaint.

After lunch, the three of us visited the brand-new eco-friendly boutique in Fort Worth: The Greener Good. Owned and operated by past co-worker of mine, Elizabeth, and her husband Bryan, this new local addition is fresh, chic and good for the environment. I left with a gorgeous silver bowl made from recycled plastics and hand-spun in a tiny village in Nepal- a perfect vessel for my beloved Cowtown Farmers Market produce.

In preparation for Thanksgiving, I took advantage of local spaghetti squash, delicata squash, onions and scallions to create a hearty homemade pasta dish boasting fall flavors:

Homemade Winter Squash Ravioli with Fresh Oregano, Crispy Pancetta and Ricotta Salata

For ravioli filling:

1 large spaghetti squash, seeds and skin removed, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 small delicata squash, seeds and skin removed, cut into 1 inch chunks
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/4 c brown sugar
1 T red pepper flakes
2 T chopped fresh oregano for roasting squash plus an additional T for filling
1/4 c cream cheese
salt to taste

Toss squash with oil, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano and salt on a roasting sheet pan until liberally coated. Roast at 425 degrees until browned and softened, about 45 minutes. When squash is cool enough to handle, mash with cream cheese, additional fresh oregano and salt with a fork. Set aside.

For pasta:

4 rolled fresh pasta sheets
approximately 25 wonton skins
egg wash to seal pasta or wontons

Lay pasta sheets out as shown and fill with about a tablespoon of filling. Or, fill an individual wonton wrapper with a tablespoon of filling. Seal either with a brushed egg wash. Refrigerate raviolis until ready to use.

Pan Sauce:

1/2 stick butter
2 T chopped fresh oregano
1 T chopped fresh sage


4 slices of pancetta, pan-fried to render fat and crisp
1/2 c ricotta salata, crumbled

To assemble the final plate, simmer ravioli (I boiled half and froze the remaining uncooked ravioli) for approximately 3 minutes and add to pan with melted butter, salt and herbs and toss to coat. Plate ravioli beneath crumbled pancetta, ricotta salata and a grind of fresh-cracked pepper.

Yield: Approximately 25 raviolis (I cooked 10 for recipe and froze the rest for later use)

These are perfect for a winter supper with crusty bread and a simply-dressed green salad. This definitely satisfied my Thanksgiving craving- a full Thanksgiving review soon to come!


Sunday, November 8, 2009

plentiful wine and an evening, divine.

Halloween...what a boisterous holiday! Along with a quirky DJ blasting vintage Madonna, a jolly couple dressed as ketchup and mustard and my lovely fellow "Food Fairies" Megan and Annie, my catered occasion for 100 proved delightful!

My approach to creating the menu was to fuse sweet with savory while upholding that inherent spooky playful charm that just "screams" Halloween.

Our "carnival" treat-inspired menu included:

Roasted Poblano Queso

Grilled Tomato Red Pepper Salsa with Tortilla Chips

Puff Pastry-Wrapped Chicken Apple Sausage

Tarragon Honey Mustard

Mango Horseradish Sauce

I found an organic chicken sausage at Costco (yes, Costco) and my mom swears by it! We seared the sausage, sliced it on the bias, and served it with two dipping sauces. Both sauces were inspired by yummy sauces we have made in culinary school.

Spicy Brown Sugar Sirloin Meatballs

Julienned Carrot and Red Onion Slaw

Meatballs are perfect for cocktail parties! I like to glaze them or add a fresh slaw. This slaw was light, refreshing, and matched my clients color theme. Perfect!

Artichoke Yellow Tomato Tart with Kalamata Tapenade and Pine Nut Pesto

I thought these vegetarian tarts would be a stretch but people loved them! The rich crust, salty tapenade and fresh veggies were a nice combination.

Curried Popcorn Balls with Homemade Caramel and Toasted Peanuts

Ok...technically these weren't balls because Ms. Annie and I had an interesting experience trying to make these darn things (with possibly a bit too much champagne involved). The caramel was entirely too hot to roll into balls immediately so we instead turned the mixture into a crumble.
Dark Chocolate Bark with Marshmallows, Dried Apricots and Pumpkin Seeds
This is the easiest dessert to make! Melt chocolate. Spread on parchment. Add toppings. Cool to harden. Break apart. Yummy.

After I recovered from our Halloween shindig, I started my week looking forward to the year anniversary together with my boyfriend! We celebrated with an evening of cocktails at Michael's and a fabulous, fabulous dinner at Lanny's Alta Cocina.

We arrived and were warmly greeted by the maître d’ and presented glasses of bubbles (my favorite!) to celebrate. It was then time for the feast:

Lobster Raviolis with Foie Gras Butter, Brussels and Jalapeños

I'm not a huge lobster fan (weird, huh?) but these were subtle, yet rich and a perfect way to start our meal. The only ingredient I didn't taste was the jalapeno.

Shrimp and Epazote Tamales with a Canela Scented Tomatillo Sauce

Cannelini Bean Soup with Chorizo

This soup was delicious! It tasted like a pureed corn tortilla with a salty chorizo garnish.

Lobster Bisque

I was expecting the traditional creamy, lobster bisque but this was much different. The chile base was rich, spicy and reddish brown in color with tender lobster chunks.

Prime Carne Asada, Gnocchi with Chipotle Brown Butter, Guajillo Demi

Perfectly cooked with incredible flavors. Not "hit you in the face flavors" but thoughtful combinations with a warming hit of spice.

Chocolate Souffle with Peanut Butter Ice Cream

I wanted to order the flan but took one for the team for Mr. Sweet Tooth. It was a nice dessert but would have been too rich without the tart raspberries provided.

A few days later, my work week ended early to catch a flight to Houston for a family wedding. I was SO excited to see my extended family, shop til I dropped and restaurant hop.

I arrived late Thursday evening and met my parents, aunt and uncle at Benjy's. I started with a glass of champagne then quickly ordered an appetizer. For dinner, we split:

Spicy Tuna Tartare on a Crispy Edamame Roll with an Avocado Emulsion

I could have eaten 20 of these...seriously. I was also successful convincing my mother to try raw tuna.

Special of the day: Seared Grouper with Prociutto-wrapped Polenta, Truffle Oil and Sauteed Fennel with Yellow Tomatoes

I enjoyed the sides with this entree but the grouper was somewhat blah to me. It was cooked nicely, but lacked seasonings and a certain crispness associated with searing.

Butterscotch Hazelnut Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce, Vanilla Ice Cream


The following evening, we opted for Italian fare at Prego. My mom and I started with a buratta and watercress salad with pickled yellow beets, hazelnuts, heirloom tomatoes and a citrus vinaigrette.

For my entree, I ordered the special of the evening: shrimp and lump crab scampi with rapini. I enjoyed the acidic aspects of the scampi with the bitterness from the rapini. The lump crab was buttery and was a nice contrast to the shrimp (a bit overcooked).

Finally, Saturday evening arrived and it was wedding time! Decked out in deep purple and burgundy (creepily matching my father), my parents and I set off for the joyous occasion. The ceremony was quaint and boasted gorgeous colors of dark amethyst, antique pinks, winter whites and grey greens. The reception appropriately matched and was complete with a traditional carving station, airy crab fritters and an almond-flavored Brides cake.

Back in Fort Worth, I anxiously awaited the yearly anticipated Wine Pairing class at Culinary School. Chef Jon Bonnell is the usual Chef Instructor for the Sunday class, but a Tuesday class was added due to a large number of soon-to-be culinary graduates. For the Tuesday pairing, our head chef invited the legendary Chef Walter Kaufmann of the The Old Swiss House and Sommelier, Mark Gruntz, of the newly revamped Cafe Aspen on Camp Bowie.

As a group, our class tasted about 10 wines (at 9 a.m., grant you), arranged them from light to heavy and deciphered tasting notes of each. We then were assigned three wines at random and given exact times in which to present for critique. I was assigned a Chardonnay (the heaviest white), a Malbec (a fruity red) and a Cabernet Sauvignon (the heaviest red). My dishes, wine tasting notes and critiques were:

Wine: Sonoma Chardonnay with herbal, vegetal, pear, honey and oaky notes
Dish: Turnip Leek Soup with Brunoise Pears, Marjoram and Pecans

I wanted to create a pureed soup with subtly-flavored vegetables (leek, turnips) and fragrant herbs (marjoram) to pick up the herbal and vegetal notes of the wine. The pears were to add sweetness and the pecans were added to complement the oakiness. I added lemon zest to enhance all aspects.
Critique: Both enjoyed the soup but thought the leek was lost with the tangy turnip and the turnip might have been too strong a choice for the chardonnay. Both also preferred a smoother texture- I went more rustic.

Wine: Argentina Malbec with notes of blueberries, raspberries, cherries, raisins and clove

Dish: Pulled Roast Chicken with Puff Pastry, Wine Raisin Reduction, Fried Tarragon and Clove Chantilly Cream

This was the "fruit loop" wine of the bunch. I wanted to create a play on sweet and savory for my dish. I plumped raisins in a wine reduction, whipped a cream with ground clove and vanilla and fried tarragon for a bite of anise.
Critique: Our guests enjoyed the dish with the wine but opted for less clove.

Wine: Colombia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with notes of vanilla, oak, berries, smoke and licorice
Dish: Salt and Pepper Crusted Filet of Beef with a Beet Blueberry Chutney and Fried Fennel

I also had the "big boy" wine of the group. I grabbed a beautiful filet of beef and simply crusted it with kosher salt and pepper. I wanted to prepare a chutney but I didn't want to kill the wine with sweetness. I roasted beets with olive oil and kosher salt then reduced them down with the wine, orange zest and fresh blueberries to form my chutney and complement the berry notes. After searing my filet and finishing it in the oven to medium rare, I topped it with a fried fennel garnish to add texture and an anise flavor.
Critique: Both thought the dish was executed well and paired nicely with the wine. One believed the salt content to be a bit salty but the other disagreed.
After class, I was so relieved, happy and honored to cook for our esteemed guests. With only three classes left before I graduate from Culinary School, I'm looking forward to finishing strongly!


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dried Chiles and Gluten-free

What do sliders, mini-desserts and noodle dishes all have in common? All were hugely impactful in restaurant trends of 2009. A few weeks ago, class at culinary school surrounded trends such as these then challenged us to recreate trends we selected. My five trend selections and dishes were:

Trend: Egg Preparations for Dinner
Dish: Eggs Benedict Putanesca with Fontina and Fresh Oregano Vanilla Yogurt

For this dish, I made a simple and quick putanesca sauce with crushed tomatoes, capers, fresh oregano and black olives. Melted fontina cheese coated the toasted english muffin followed by an over-easy poached egg and the putanesca spooned atop. The oregano yogurt sauce was creamy and sweet to pair with the salty, rich and briny flavors of the benedict.

Trend: Sliders
Dish: Shrimp Sliders with a Jalapeno Puree and Peanut Sauce

I wanted to make sliders but not your "run of the mill" ground beef mini burgers. Don't get me wrong- I love traditional sliders but opted for a seafood variation instead. I chopped raw shrimp and combined them with panko breadcrumbs, mint, cilantro, red pepper flakes, soy sauce, a touch of sugar and an egg to combine. I then formed the mixture into mini patties and seared them to brown and cook through quickly. I served the sliders with a toasted parker house roll, a spicy jalapeno puree and peanut sauce to act as ketchup or mustard.
Trend: Amuse Bouche Portions
Dish: Bleu Cheese Puff with Fennel, Orange and Chiffonade Basil

This was my "crap, I'm running out of time and still have two dishes to bust out" dish. Regardless, the chefs enjoyed it. I cut a round of puff pastry, browned it into a pillow-like puff and filled it with a fennel and orange slaw with a simple vinaigrette. The puff was topped with chiffonade sliced basil. Ehh...I can do better.

Trend: Noodle dishes
Dish: Garam Masala Beef Meatballs and Cold Noodle Salad with Maple, Black Sesame Seeds and Scallions

This dish combined the hot richness of meatballs with the cold sweetness of the maple noodles. I struggled with plating this dish because I ran out of time.

Trend: Mini Desserts/Dessert Flights
Dish: Dessert Trio
White Chocolate Bark with Pistachios and Cranberries
Coffee Shooter
Nutmeg Chantilly Cream

My dessert was to enjoy as a "flight" and components were meant to work together. The chef thought my concept didn't follow the trend but they enjoyed flavors and interactive aspects of the dessert. The nutmeg cream was shaped to spoon into the coffee shooter and sip with the white chocolate bark. The chefs instead dipped the bark straight into the coffee and were content. Ha...whatever works.

A few evenings later after a stressful work day, I met some girlfriends in the Hospital District and we "Magnolia hopped" for happy hour and dinner. For pre-dinner cocktails, we chatted amongst (very potent) frozen margaritas and frozen screwdrivers at Yucatan Taco Stand. For dinner, it was 1/2 off wine night at Lili's Bistro.

Perched around our bottle to share, we split a trio of traditional hummus, black bean hummus and baba ghanoush. Of the three, the black bean hummus was far superior smoothed over the warm pita points. For my entree, my girlfriend and I split the grilled veggie plate complete with grilled portabellos, asparagus, peppers, a perfectly grilled chicken breast and a side of smoked gouda creamed corn.

The next day, we spent the chilly Saturday late afternoon sitting by the fire pit and sipping wine on the outdoor patio at Winslow's Wine Cafe. Such an intoxicating combination- comfy chairs, blanketed with early fall scarves, glass of wine in hand and a gentle sizzle from the fire- perfect. We split a duo of hummus once again- truffle and roasted red pepper. The truffle was a bit salty but I partook regardless.

Class the next week concentrated on advanced nutrition and how to incorporate dietetic restrictions into fine dining preparations. After learning restrictions and beneficial food options for those with heart disease, cancer, gastric bypass surgeries, celiac disease, gluten-free diets and low-sodium diets, we were also given options for people who may be blind, smoke or with dentures....seriously.

Once in the kitchen, we drew to see who would act as Executive chef, Sous chef, line cook or prep cook. We then received a ticket and had 15 minutes per ticket to complete a dish in our specified roles.

Let me abruptly end this twisted tale with an example of a ticket we received:

15 minutes for an appetizer for a blind, one armed smoker with dentures

Mmm hmm...enough said. This class was hard as hell.

The next class surrounded the rich history and abundant flavors of Southwestern-style cuisine and cooking. We were presented with a plethora of ingredients to play with: dried chiles, cactus, prickly pear, tuna fruit, chayote squash, avocado, habanero, poblanos, etc. In our remaining class time, we were required to present five plated dishes to the chef along with homemade flour or corn tortillas and a homemade salsa of our choice.
My approach to my dishes was to use familiar ingredients and preparations and pair them with Southwestern ingredients to create a fusion-type dish.

Southwestern ingredients: Chayote Squash
Dish 1: Pureed White Gazpacho with Chayote, Green Apples, Toasted Almonds, Garlic, Lemon and Marjoram

Southwestern ingredients: Dried guajillo peppers, jalapenos
Dish 2: Savory beef pies with a Guajillo paste and Blueberry Jalapeno Radish Salsa with Pumpkin Oil

Southwestern ingredients: Homemade flour tortilla, queso fresco
Dish 3: Roasted Grapefruit and Asparagus Taco with Queso Fresco and a Grapefruit Vinaigrette

Southwestern ingredients: Cayenne, cinnamon, chocolate
Dish 4: Cayenne and Cinnamon-Dusted Puff Pastry Straws with a Chocolate Chile "Loose" Ganache for dipping

Southwestern ingredients: Homemade flour tortilla, pumpkin, smoked paprika
Dish 4: Fried Tostada with a Pumpkin Smoked Paprika Spread, Toasted Coconut and Fried Rosemary

Although I wasn't extremely knowledgeable with using Southwestern ingredients, I enjoyed this class. Next week will be the most challenging class for me: the recipes of Auguste Escoffier. Wish me luck!


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

duck two ways

I'm hanging in there with the savory kitchen and finally had a "Hallelujah!" moment in my Classic Recipes class a couple weeks ago. I'm a self-proclaimed "NO RECIPES" gal but the tables were turned with learning these classic recipes. Inventiveness was not a virtue in this challenge yet sticking to basics and staying true to quintessential recipes.

During our lecture before reaching the kitchen, I was dreading one recipe: Duck L'Orange. Guess what I got? Duck L'Orange. Oh yeah...AND quiche lorraine with a homemade pate brisee in a humid as hell kitchen. Perfect. Attitude aside, I was excited and the adrenaline was pumping.

Other recipes included: Beef consomme, bananas foster, chicken friand, pork piccata, beef wellington, mulligatawny soup and gratin dauphinoise.

Once in the kitchen, I ignored Donald and went straight for the quiche crust. Usually, I combine shortening (for flakiness) and butter (for flavor) but this recipe called for shortening alone. I combined my pastry flour (half cake flour with lower protein and half all purpose flour) with ice water and cold shortening. Dough was combined quickly, plastic-wrapped and thrown in the walk-in freezer.

Meanwhile, I made my custard: eggs, bacon, cream, swiss cheese and salt. After my dough was chilled, I (attempted) to roll it out. First attempt was unsuccessful: I rolled the dough too thick. Second attempt scared me: I had to re-roll the dough more thinly which is a HUGE risk to take...can inevitably end in tough crust. Regardless, I got my crust in the oven, blind baked it, filled my custard and baked it for an hour while I worried about Donald.

My Duck L'Orange recipe called for a whole duck but I only had a duck breast...obviously I couldn't accurately follow the recipe. So, I combined the essential ingredients of the orange sauce (orange juice, orange zest, lemon juice, brandy, champagne vinegar) and started reducing them down. I scored the duck fat down to the skin, dried it with paper towels and seasoned it with salt. Knowing that duck is traditionally served medium rare, I waited until the last minutes to sear Donald.

Once ready, I heated my pan (no fat!) and added the duck (fat side down) to the scorching surface. At this point, my sauce was thickened and ready to add a bit of duck fat. After the fat rendered down on the first side (about 5 minutes), I flipped the duck over in a different pan to finish in the oven. The brown remnants from my searing pan were added to my sauce, strained through a chinoise and reduced further.

While the duck finished, I removed my quiche lorraine from the oven to cool and hauled ass to plate before my deadline. With seconds to spare, I presented my dishes. Success! Great success! I was proud.

The next week, class was a complete 180 from classic recipes: timed cooking. Unlike the previous week, we had no restrictions on flavors but definite time restrictions. Every 20 minutes, our head chef handed each student a random ingredient and a course to adhere it to.

1st course: Amuse Bouche (one bite to "tantalize the senses")
Ingredient: full range
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Raspberry Jalapeno Quenelle, Chile Yogurt, Flash-Fried Corn Chip and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Critique: Overall, very good. Chef thought the pumpkin seeds could have been incorporated better.

2nd course: Appetizer
Ingredient: Arborio Rice...what?! 20 minutes to make and plate risotto? Ok...breathe, Callie. For a second I thought I should grind or fry the rice to make a coating but I quickly changed my mind and attempted a risotto within the time constraint.
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Orange Risotto with Sage and Goat Cheese
Critique: Ugh.........Chef thought risotto was too al dente (expected) and orange overwhelmed. He asked why I didn't do a spin on risotto and I was quickly frustrated. Moments later, I "grinned and beared it" and turned my frustration to aspiration for the next course.

3rd course: Soup or Salad
Ingredient: Shrimp...phew!
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Celery, Chickpea and Walnut Salad with Shrimp and a Tarragon Lime Vinaigrette
Critique: Shrimp cooked nicely, didn't like the celery
4th course: Entree
Ingredient:! "I'm not tasting this" I said to myself. As soon as I was handed the "bag o' spam", I sliced it, threw it into the deep fryer then straight to the food processor with scallions, lime zest and salt.
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Spam Wontons with a Cranberry Guacamole and Cilantro Oil
Critique: Flavorful
5th course: Dessert
Ingredient: Mango (under ripe)
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Fried Polenta with a Mango Molasses Whipped Cream, Julienned Mango and Sugared Bacon
Critique: Chefs loved the cream...confused by dish but enjoyed it

Surprise 6th course (announced as we were cleaning): Sandwich with side
Ingredient: anything goes
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Thyme two ways:
Open-faced Pumpernickel, Melted Brie, Roasted Tomatoes, Fried Thyme
Cantaloupe Shooter with Thyme
Critique: My best dish

Despite my busy cooking schedule in class, I also cooked a bit at home using the fabulous local fall produce and artisan breads from Cowtown Farmers Market.

Spiced Scallops with Butternut Squash Risotto and a Jalapeno Puree

After all of my "Risotto drama", I practiced classic risotto and paired it with classic fall flavors: sage and butternut squash. I roasted the squash with sage then added it when my risotto was at the perfect al dente. With the risotto, I seared scallops seasoned with salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin and a bit of cayenne and paired the dish with a jalapeno puree to give color, spice and add freshness.

After the weather turned rainy and chilly the past weekend, I had comfort food on my mind. For a late Friday night dinner for two, I braised short ribs with plenty of time to relax and drink wine in between.

I paired the braised short ribs with yellow corn grits turned upscale with the addition of mascarpone (Italian triple cream cheese) and fresh herbs. The non-traditional element of this plate was the lemon parsley pistou (literally muddled in my mortar in pestle). I formulated this recipe with a sauce meant to add a distinct acidity to the rich dish. It truly balanced it- an escape from your usual "meat and taters."

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Mascarpone Grits and a Lemon Parsley Pistou

1.5 lbs bone-in beef short ribs liberally seasoned with kosher salt, pepper and herbs de provence
3 parsnips, peeled and chopped in large cubes
2 carrots, peeled and chopped in large cubes
3 celery stalks, chopped in large cubes
6 shallots, peeled and halved
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 bottle of red wine (I used a Sangiovese)
2 c beef stock (I use Kitchen Basics, homemade is ideal)

In a hot Dutch oven, sear your short ribs with 2 T olive oil until browned. Remove ribs from pot and set aside. Meanwhile, add your vegetables to the hot pot to caramelize. Once browned, season your vegetables with salt and pepper and deglaze the pot with wine and beef stock. Add thyme sprigs and short ribs back in. The liquid should nestle the ribs but not submerge them. Cover and braise in a 375 degree oven for approximately three hours.

If desired, you can also make a sauce with your braising liquid. When ribs have completed cooking (they should easily slide off the bone), remove them carefully and strain your vegetables and thyme sprigs from the sauce. If sauce appears fatty, gently wipe the top with a paper towel to remove any excess fat. With your remaining sauce, reduce it over medium heat with 3 T brown sugar, 1 T chopped fresh thyme and rosemary and 2 T cold butter. Serve atop ribs and vegetables.

For grits:

4 servings of prepared yellow corn grits
1/2 carton Mascarpone
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 T fresh chopped herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme or oregano would all be appropriate)
salt and pepper to taste

Gently stir ingredients into warm, prepared grits. Serve immediately. Save leftovers in a plastic container to fry the next morning! :)

For pistou:

1/2 c chopped Italian parsley
zest of 3 lemons, juice of 1 lemon
1 T extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste

Muddle ingredients in a mortar in pestle or pulse in a food processor. Season with salt.

Recipe serves 2 with leftover grits.

Finally, I ended the cold and rainy weekend with a date night at Paco and John in the Hospital District. Armed with ice cold Dos Equis (BYOB!), my boyfriend and I arrived starving. Warmly greeted by co-owner Francisco Islas, we were seated in a warm corner and immediately brought sliced limes for our beers.

We started with the queso fundido con chorizo and were read the specials by Islas' son, Paco. We decided on the roasted duck enchiladas and the pechuga de pollo stuffed with queso fresco, avocado and banana with a poblano cream sauce. The chicken arrived piping hot, perfectly cooked and bursting with flavor. Served with a simple ratatouille and rice, it was a perfect portion. As I happily ate away, my boyfriend rampaged his rich and spicy duck enchiladas. The dish was robust and served with rice, black beans, avocado and radish slices (that I promptly moved over to my plate).

For dessert, we split the homemade flan- one of my favorite desserts. The flan was flecked with vanilla bean, creamy and simple. We could have done without the neon sauce accompaniments but simply pushed them aside and focused on the prize. Next trip- Saturday morning brunch for my beloved Breakfast Torta.


Monday, September 14, 2009

"I do" and the perfect roux

The good news: I'm finally back to the savory side of the kitchen.

The bad news? It's been a rocky start...

September not only brought impending rain and delish fall produce but also the start of my fourth and final course in culinary school: Chef Pro III.

After three trimesters surrounding technique, garde manger, international cuisine, flavors and pastry, the last course fuses together all aspects for students to perfect.

Our first class was a Chef Test based solely on technique. This is were my rocky road hands were shaking during knife skills, my French onion soup tasted nothing like its original and I was nervous as hell the entire 5 hours.

Knife drill: 5 minutes to brunoise a carrot (, small dice an onion and julienne a potato.

Sounds easy right? Wrong! You try making perfect 90 degree cuts in 5 minutes (which feels like 2) with minimal waste and perfect uniformity! (not to mention shaking hands and a scary head chef staring at your cutting board)

We were then required to make a traditional French Onion soup focusing on caramelizing and deglazing techniques. My flavor was fine (thyme, Sherry wine, beef stock, baguette crouton, gruyere) but my onions weren't caramelized enough...I really just ran out of time.

Also while making the soup, we had 45 seconds to make an omelette with no brown from the pan without a spatula. Doing this properly relies on a hot, non-stick pan, clarified butter and quick wrist movement to keep the omelette moving and turning over itself.

Although my omelette was finished within 45 seconds and contained no brown spots, it fell apart into two pieces at the end. Apparently, my wrist action was a bit brisk. I presented my omelette declaring it "scrambled eggs!" with a smile.

Part III included making the perfect roux (white, blonde or brown), hand whipping cream, searing a pork loin and making a pan sauce and finally, mastering a traditional eggs benedict with a poached egg and hollandaise.

I decided to tackle the benedict first because it had the most moving parts. Finally! I had a successful dish! The final product was an over easy egg, crispy browned English muffin and perfectly pale Hollandaise that wasn't overly acidic.

My roux was next...half clarified butter and flour (by weight). I cooked the flour down with the butter until I developed a blonde roux. The roux was successful- butter cooked out, proper texture...ready to make some gravy!

For the cream, I happily whisked away thanking my newly completed pastry course that allowed me to whip the perfect cream. Powdered sugar and vanilla? Yes, please!

Finally, the pork and pan sauce. I seasoned the pork with kosher salt, pepper then seared it until golden brown on both sides. While the pork continued cooking in the oven, I made a pan sauce with the crispy brown remnants of deliciousness, brown sugar, white wine, rosemary, thyme, garlic and lemon zest. Voila!

Week two of Chef Pro III concentrated on Recipe Development. After learning the "do's" and "dont's" of recipe writing, we were assigned a protein and specific recipe audience or magazine to appeal to. I was assigned bone-in pork chops or pork loin (I went with the loin) and had to appeal to a magazine concentrating mostly on teaching their readers the technical aspects of cooking. Visual appeal was equally important.

We then had an hour to execute, test and write our recipe. My recipe was:

Pan-Seared Pork Loin, Dried Cranberry and Shallot Pan Sauce with Herbed Polenta

My focus was on searing and deglazing techniques. My initial recipe was a bit of a disaster after I burned the crap out of my finger (damn you, convection oven), had to plate with my left hand and forgot to pan-fry my polenta to crisp it up. Regardless, I thought my flavors were pretty good overall.

After our first run, we drew from a basket and recreated another student's recipe. Although all the recipes looked delicious, I was gunning for a simpler one to save my finger. Prayer granted- I drew shrimp. A delicious shrimp dish I might add: prosciutto-wrapped shrimp crostini with a roasted jalapeno/red pepper pesto. Yum!

Later that week, I was fortunate to be a bridesmaid in one of my best friend's wedding. After a fun night on a Lake Austin party boat with fajitas, beer and fun, we spent the next evening in the gorgeous wedding complete with antique pink flowers, latte colored cocktail dresses and sparkly shoes. The reception was upscale Southern fare- braised brisket, airline chicken, grilled veggies, baked mac and cheese and Tito's Vodka- but, of course.

Back in Fort Worth, I came home to a dinner surprise from my boyfriend- one of the most delicious meals I've had in a while. After popping open a bottle of champagne, dinner was served:

Ratatouille-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Habanero

Homemade Potato Gnocchi with an Acorn Squash Cream Sauce and Nutmeg

The gnocchi was airy and heavenly. The hint of habanero in the ratatouille was really interesting with the pork and a hint of fresh mint smoothed the bold flavors. I'm a lucky girl.

Later in the week, I was a able to try Grady's Restaurant with Ms. Fort Worth Foodie. After sipping our cocktails of choice...dirty Grey Goose martini for me, Maker's Mark and 7 for her, we split the quail tostadas with a grilled corn salsa. No complaints from me.

For dinner, both of us had a weird craving for grease so we went for the chicken fried steak with scallion mashed potatoes and glazed carrots. Despite the potatoes and carrots not being hot, the steak was tender, crispy, piping hot and delicious. I would return to Grady's but only on a busier weekend evening. The locale was dead and the restaurant was freezing cold. At least I had my dirty martini to warm me up...

Finally, I am so excited that the Fall Issue of Fort Worth Foodie is out! This issue concentrates on local flavors and what eateries and vendors make Fort Worth, Fort Worth. For this issue, I wrote an article on Louise Lamensdorf from Bistro Louise surrounding her culinary studies and travels. Pick up an issue and support your local foodies!


Monday, August 24, 2009

Corn Cakes and Fresh Dates

What a treat these past weeks have been! Along with acquiring new foodie goodies for my apartment (pasta machine, mini food processor, bistro table, stemless champagne glasses and an adorable rainbow whisk!), it was time for the infamous Restaurant Week. I was only able to dine at Grace and Eddie V's but it was a fabulous time regardless!

Some friends and I started off the week with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres at Eddie V's followed by dinner from the Restaurant Week Menu.

Cocktails started in the notoriously dark and hip V Lounge with The Westsiders singing Frank Sinatra, a Dirty Belvedere in my hand and spicy fried calamari with wok veggies and cashews in my chopsticks. Although I think the appetizer presentation was a bit overkill, it still hit the spot!

After our "happy two hour" sesh, we were seated in the dining room and hungrily awaited dinner. To begin, we chose the hot rock with raw, thin-sliced filet to quickly sear and savor with a soy sauce and wild mushroom accompaniments. The mushrooms were lightly dressed, the filet tender and the sauce was addicting!

To begin our next course, I chose the heirloom mozzarella salad and my fellow diners opted for the butter lettuce salad with a fried egg, pancetta and lemon thyme vinaigrette. To my dismay, the salads were pretty awful. The cheese on my salad was definitely not fresh mozzarella and was topped with greasy fried onions- I pushed it aside. On the bibb salad, the anticipated fried egg was replaced with a fried, cold, overcooked hard-boiled egg....not a fan.

Fortunately, our second course, seared scallop with homemade gnocchi and sun-dried tomatoes was quite lovely. The scallop was seared to perfection, the gnocchi was airy and the sundried tomatoes provided a tart, salty contrast.

For our entrees, we each ordered a different offering: mango-stuffed Ahi for Ms. Annie, grilled chicken with jus for my lovey and New England Cod with corn and bacon for me. Although the Ahi was cooked well, it was hardly stuffed with mango (more like injected with a 1/8 inch cube.) The chicken was a bit overcooked but the sauce was delicious. My cod was cooked to perfection and paired nicely with the sweet corn and salty bacon.

For dessert, I anticipated key lime panna cotta from the on-line menu but received so-so vanilla creme brulee covered with powdered sugar instead. Ouch.

Later that weekend, my parents, a friend and I dined at Grace. Warmly greeted at the door, we were seated in the jam-packed green marbled dining room and welcomed by our fabulous server, Michael. As we scoured the menu, I ordered a trio of St. Caroline cocktails with St. Germaine, Prosecco, soda and fresh thyme.

For my first course, I chose the roasted eggplant soup with creme fraiche and rosemary. I know it's completely taboo to add salt at a fine dining locale but I had to do it. After the hint of salt, I was able to enjoy the wonderful flavors...the bowl was cleaned.

The second course was a seared scallop and Berkshire pork "surf and turf" with black eyed peas and tarragon....this course was cleaned as well.

My entree was a beef filet with stone ground grits and a squash medley with marjoram and roasted cherry tomatoes. The filet was a perfect medium with a sweet caramelization. Although my dad wasn't a huge fan of the fragrant "marjoramed" veggies, I was quite happy with the freshness of the squash and the sweetness of the roasted cherry tomatoes.

For dessert, our table shared chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and peaches with a cobbler-style biscuit. Both were understated and luscious.

Even though I was keen to try Restaurant Week menus around town, I was able to put some personal recipes together too.

This sandwich started with beautiful, sticky dates and went from there. I'm not trying to toot my own horn- wait, is that the phrase?!- but this sandwich was one of the best I've had....the salty bread with the woodsy rosemary, sugary dates, savory mushrooms, charred radicchio and creamy, tangy goat cheese.......agh! It was THAT good!

Dijon Chicken Breast on Open-Faced Rosemary Toast with Braised Dates, Cremini Mushrooms and Grilled Radicchio with Goat Cheese
serves 2

For dates:
1 c water
1/2 c brown sugar
salt to taste
1/2 cup dates, sliced in half with pits removed

Mix water and brown sugar in a saucepan. Simmer dates in sugar water until plumped (about 10 minutes.) Set aside and salt to taste.

For chicken:
1 large breast dijon-marinated boneless skinless chicken breast (I bought mine at CM)
salt to taste
1 T butter

Sear chicken in a saute pan with olive oil until brown color has developed. Finish in a 350 degree oven with a pat of butter until cooked through and juicy. Set aside to rest then slice in two portions for sandwich.

Sauteed mushrooms:
1 c creminis, sliced
1 T fresh rosemary, minced
2 T butter
salt to taste

Saute mushrooms in olive oil with rosemary and butter until browned but texture remains. Set aside and reserve leftover pan sauce to spoon over sandwich.

Grilled radicchio:
1/2 head radicchio
olive oil to grill
Grill radicchio on grill pan to develop grill marks. Set aside.
Additional ingredients:
2 slices rosemary bread, toasted
crumbled goat cheese as desired

To assemble sandwich, line toast slices with radicchio, dates, chicken, mushrooms then goat cheese. Spoon over reserved pan sauce.

Later that weekend, my folks came into town and I prepared:

Arugula Salad with Pistachios, Yellow Tomatoes, Avocado and Grapeseed Oil Vinaigrette

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Rosemary Oil and Nectarine Salsa

Corn Cakes with Scallions and Fresh Herbs

Blackberry Pie with Vanilla Sugar

serves 4

For chicken:
3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 c olive oil
2 T red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
2 T honey

Marinate boneless, skinless chicken breasts with other ingredients for 30 minutes. Grill chicken on grill pan to achieve grill marks, then finish chicken in 350 degee oven with a pat of butter until cooked through and juicy. Set aside to rest and slice before serving.

Nectarine salsa:
2 nectarines, diced
1/4 c minced red onion
1/4 c sliced yellow cherry tomatoes
zest and juice of one lime
1 t honey
2 T minced Italian parsley
1 clove shaved garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients and let macerate until ready to serve.

Rosemary oil:
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed
salt to taste
3/4 c extra virgin olive oil

Combine ingredients in food processor until blended well. Serve drizzled over chicken with nectarine salsa.

Corn Cakes with Scallions:

This recipe is an Epicurious recipe that I altered by using fresh corn and adding fresh herbs.

1 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2/3 cup milk
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
2 cups fresh corn kernels
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 tablespoons (or more) vegetable oil
1/4 c minced herbs (I used sage and marjoram)

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cayenne. Whisk together eggs, milk and vinegar and combine with dry mixture. Fold in corn, herbs and scallions to develop batter.

In a deep skillet, heat vegetable oil (1 inch deep) until flour sizzles in the pan. Add batter 1/4 cup at a time until browned on one side. Flip cakes until browned on opposite side then finish in a 350 degree oven on a baking sheet until cooked through (about seven minutes.) Serve warm and garnish with scallions if desired.

Arugula Salad with Pistachios, Yellow Tomatoes, Avocado and Grapeseed Oil Vinaigrette

3 c fresh spinach
1/3 c roasted pistachios
1/3 c sliced yellow cherry tomatoes
1/2 avocado, sliced and salted

For vinaigrette:
1 T honey
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 t dried lavender
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 c grapeseed oil

Combine first four ingredients then slowly whisk in grapeseed oil until an emulsion has developed. Toss with spinach, pistachios and cherry tomatoes. Top salad with avocado.

This meal was summery, light, yet comforting with the fried-deliciousness of the corn cakes. My Dad scarfed about four corn cakes...

Saturday morning, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed headed to Cowtown Farmers Market. After half an hour and a sore arm from my heavy bag, I left with fresh dates, baby okra, baby eggplant, gorgeous emerald basil and tarragon, goat cheese, breakfast bread and pesto bread from Artisan Baking Company.

With my pesto bread, I cut the bread into chunks and roasted them into croutons to dry the bread. I then combined the bread with a simple custard base (eggs and whole milk), sauteed baby okra, zucchini (salted to release moisture then dried), fresh basil, goat cheese, salt and pepper. I popped the mixture in my Le Crueset casserole and a delicious side dish was ready 30 minutes later. Paired with browned chicken sausage and caramelized onions, it was a hearty spread!