Wednesday, February 25, 2009

antipasto and the crab cake snob

Our "journey around the world" in culinary school came to an end last week with our Mediterranean class. After researching the cuisine of these regions (mine was Egypt) we were assigned two traditional dishes to recreate along with a dish of our choice reflecting our region.

I was assigned chicken saltibocca from Italy and tabbouli from Greece for my traditional dishes to recreate. I've had tabbouli many times and it's a pretty simple process to make. First, I soaked the bulgur wheat in a bowl of boiling water and set it aside to cook and soften. After it softened, (about 45 minutes) I squeezed the residual liquid from the bulgur and added the dried grain to a bowl. To the wheat, I added chopped tomatoes, cucumber, mint, fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper as desired....easy, healthy and delicious.

For the saltimbocca, I decided to make a chicken version instead of veal. I started by pounding out my boneless, skinless chicken breasts to about 1/8 of an inch. Next, I lined the breast with fresh sage leaves and a slice of prosciutto on top. I then floured the breast "package" pun intended....and pan fried the breast prosciutto side down. Because the chicken was pounded so thin, it took mere minutes to cook. After the breast was brown on both sides, I added sliced fontina on top and let it melt in the oven.

Next, I created a pan jus with the brown bits left in my saute pan. I added red wine and more sage and let the sauce reduce to thicken. To plate, I drizzled the jus on my plate followed by the chicken and topped it all with fried sage leaves.

For my individual dish, I did a dessert reflective of common spices used in Egypt. First, I toasted walnuts with turmeric, cardamon, paprika, cayenne, honey and salt. Then, I added the spiced nuts to the food processor with some Mediterranean apricots to make a thick "paste". I then cut puff pastry into 2 inch squares and baked them in the convection oven. After they were browned, I stuffed the puff pastry with the spiced walnut and apricot paste and finished the dish with a sweet mint and honey yogurt.

The next evening, my girlfriend and I spent a quaint evening at Nonna Tata for dinner. Although we arrived early, we were faced with the inevitable wait. Fortunately, we spent our hour wait blanketed outside and sipping wine.

Once inside, we were greeted with an "amuse bouche" of pureed white beans, olive oil and thyme with crispy pita-type chips. It was light, pleasantly salty and perfect with our bottle of sweet Riesling.

To begin, we ordered the antipasto #2 served on a wood carving board complete with:

bresaola (air-dried, salted beef)

grana (hard, mature Italian cheeses similar to a Parmigiano-Reggiano)
riccota salata (similar to a dried, Italian feta)
goat cheese crostini
fritatta with leeks
grissini (crispy bread sticks)
mini puff pastry tarts stuffed with sausage and tomato
lemon soaked arugula

The board was delicious with our Italian cab...we were in heaven. Soon after, our salads arrived- lettuce, corn, cabbage and carrots with a raspberry chipotle or balsamic vinaigrette. We tried both dressings and I enjoyed them both.

For our entree, we split a pasta dish with penne, sauteed shrimp and a green olive pesto with cherry tomatoes and leeks. I was literally sopping up the delicious pesto with every instrument I could find. The shrimp was well cooked, the pasta was al dente and the green olive pesto was a perfect balance.

The worst part of the dinner was being too full to order dessert.

Last Saturday, my partner and I had to feed a crowd of 30 for an afternoon party. Our menu was a collaboration of requests from the clients and our own ideas.

The menu was:

Skirt steak atop crostini with mango tomato salsa
Chorizo stuffed sweet peppers
Spiced shrimp in a butter herb sauce
Asian style crab cakes with a roasted red pepper sauce
Skirt steak with pears, onions and herbs de Provence
The crab cakes were my "creation" and I was really happy how they turned out. First, I picked over my fresh lump crab for any shell remnants and gently combined it with thinly sliced scallions, cilantro, an egg to bind, homemade baguette crumbs, ginger, soy, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
On a side note- I'm a HUGE crab cake snob. I can't stand when restaurants serve a deep fried pile of breading instead of letting the crab shine through. As a result, my crab cakes had just enough breading and egg to keep them from falling apart when hitting the deep fryer.
After I formed the mini crab cakes, I gently fried them in the deep fryer for a couple minutes. To plate, I garnished them with cilantro, scallions and the red pepper sauce.

For the sauce, I roasted two red bell peppers and removed the blackened skin and seeds. Combine the roasted peppers in the food processor with olive oil, lime juice, cilantro, honey, red pepper flakes and soy. This is a great fiery combination for the sweet crab.

Two nights later, we had an impromptu "dinner party" courtesy of my significant other. The menu was:

Pork loin stuffed tart apples with rosemary and wine
Roasted red pepper mashed potatoes
Quick sauteed brussel sprouts with a balsamic glaze

Although it was all delicious, the brussel sprouts were my favorite. I drizzled them with this incredible balsamic I bought from a fantastic food boutique in Dallas (Snyder plaza) called Flavors from Afar. Very delicious- and quite healthy- dinner.

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