Wednesday, February 4, 2009

upscale burgers and a date with trouble

My new favorite place to waste time (and money) is World Market. I ventured there this past week and for under $50- I found an array of culinary goodies. For myself, I bought a nice bottle of Australian Shiraz and a square, white serving platter with 12 little "compartments" within it for sauces, spreads, olives, etc.

For my girlfriend with a birthday coming up, I filled a basket with jarred honey, Nutella, champagne, water crackers, marmalade, balsamic vinegar, chocolates and cheeses for entertaining. I told her to hope I don't keep them for myself :)

Culinary class last week began our new found "journey" of cuisine from around the world- this week was Europe. Prior to class, we were assigned regions in which to study and everyone shared in class. Amongst my pick (Ireland), there was Germany, Hungary, England, Sweden and Belgium.

Within our groups, we were required to recreate a traditional dish from these regions as well as prepare an individual dish of our country made with potatoes. My group was assigned Russian pierogies, Shepherd's pie and Irish coddle. Of course I took the coddle- an Irish casserole traditionally served with layered sliced potatoes, bacon, sausage and onions.

For my play on the dish, I first fried some bacon and used the reserved bacon fat to saute sliced onions, apples, thyme sprigs and rosemary with a bottle of Guinness. After a dash of caraway seeds and some salt to taste, I let the saucepan of yumminess simmer away.

Meanwhile, I sliced and fried my own potato chips with salt and fried thyme. I then chopped my reserved bacon and grilled a link of pork sausage on the grill pan. When the sausage was finished, I sliced it on the bias and added it to the onion, apple and Guinness mixture.

My Irish "coddle" was plated with the the onions and apples beneath the sliced sausage topped with the homemade chips, crumbled bacon and was garnished with reserved fried thyme. Next week is Asian cuisine- I'm extremely looking forward to this one.

After work the next evening, I was off to Austin for a weekend of much needed merriment and partying for my bestie's Tyler 24th birthday blowout- it was a blowout indeed. After my 3 hour ride it was time to dress to impress and meet my girlfriends at Kenichi for a night on the town.

Fashionable late, I arrived to find chilled champagne and spicy edamame already on the table. Who could want more? We were then presented with an array of rolls and sashimi- my favored was sea bass sashimi served with paper-thin apple slices and crushed macadamias.

After an evening of antics on West 6th, I awoke early with a yearning for breakfast tacos. With my mind on my beloved Taco Shack on Lamar, my dad swayed me into trying the Tamale House on airport.The tacos were SO worth it. My dad ordered a simple choice of bacon, eggs and cheese while I went for chorizo, eggs and cheese with a homemade guacamole.

When we finally arrived home to inhale the tacos, I was more concerned with figuring out everything in the homemade salsa. The salsa was extremely fresh and had an almost sweet and salty flavor combination. After dousing my taco with salsa, I dove in and the flavors were extreme. The guacamole was a thinner and smoother puree than the guacamole I'm accustomed too- perfect accompaniment.

After my breakfast taco and orange juice pick-me-up, I headed to the Central Market on Lamar to find things to make for my girlfriend's cocktail party later that evening. I decided to make spring rolls with wasabi aioli and spiced to make, fun to eat and able to sit out at a cocktail party without wilting or ruining.

For the spring rolls, I layered napa cabbage, blanched asparagus, cilantro, pickled ginger and salt atop soaked and dried rice paper. I sliced the spring rolls on a bias and served them sitting up. For the sauce, I made a wasabi aioli with tubed prepared wasabi, mayonnaise, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and chopped cilantro.

After rolling spring rolls for a couple hours and chatting with Mom, I cleaned up and "glamorized myself" for the cocktail party. Running out the door with the spring rolls, wasabi aioli, rosemary spiced nuts, a bottle of pinot and Ty's birthday gift- I was good to go.

The night was one to remember- fun people, interesting conversations, bar hopping until 3am...blah, blah. Let's get to the food:)

The spread was great...especially at 3am after a night of partying. We had the infamously delicious Thundercloud party platter of sandwiches, mini-quiches (homemade of course), munchies from Moonshine (shrimp "corn dogs" and chile bacon mac and cheese...upscale comfort food at its finest) and a delicious vanilla butter cream birthday cake a la Central Market.

The next morning, a group of us struggled to recover from the previous nights events and headed to the Counter Cafe on Lamar for a delicious organic breakfast in a diner-style setting. I ordered the breakfast tacos (I'm addicted) but my favorite was the eggs benedict. Eager to take part of nonconformity to its predecessor, this benedict ousted the english muffin for a dense, yet fluffy homemade biscuit and the typical Canadian bacon for perfect slice of spiced salami. After two perfectly poached eggs and a drizzle of hollandaise, this was a bite worth waiting for.

A few hours later, I met the fam at Galaxy Cafe in the Triangle to celebrate my Uncle Jack's birthday. The food here is pretty straightforward and always delivers for me. I ordered the fresh mozzarella, roma tomato and basil sandwich served on ciabatta with a drizzle of olive oil. I wasn't shouting from the rooftops about it, but it was pretty good. I was more concerned with the delicious sweet potato fries and stealing my little cousins homemade mac and cheese from his child's plate (sad, i know).

After the meal, my Mom brought out the gorgeous coconut cake we ordered from Texas French Bread and my uncle Jack blew out his candles. Although I'm not a huge coconut fan, the cake was so pretty that I was happy staring at it.

After too much food and a long nap, I awoke to start prepping dinner for the evening. Eager to please a long-time friend from high school, the menu was:

Blood orange mimosas and rose Prosecco

Sirloin burgers with arugula, avocado, rosemary-sauteed onions , heirloom tomatoes and a horseradish aioli or grilled eggplant "burgers"

For the burgers, I added minced ginger, olive oil, honey, salt, pepper, garlic and red pepper flakes to the ground sirloin. The eggplant was sliced and seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper. The eggplant, burgers and whole wheat buns were all grilled on the outdoor grill.

For the accompaniments, I used sliced heirloom tomatoes with salt and pepper, sliced avocado with lime juice, fresh, peppery arugula and onions sauteed with salt, olive oil and minced fresh rosemary.

For the aioli, I combined horseradish, mayonnaise and lemon juice for a quick sauce.

My "grown-up" fruit salad

This delicious fruit salad is compliments to my cousin Catherine. I used her idea, then put a twist of my own on it. First start with any fruit of your choice- I used blackberries, blueberries, red grapes, Asian pears and oranges. The trick is to dice everything uniformly small so every bite has a piece of everything. For smaller fruits and berries, I left my berries whole and sliced my grapes in half.

After combining the diced fruit, I added lemon juice, lemon zest, chiffonade mint, sugar and a healthy douse of champagne. Let the mixture macerate and cool in the fridge while preparing the rest of the meal.

Cabbage slaw

Baked sweet potato fries

Gingerbread cake with caramelized ginger and Meyer lemon curd

Ok...who is obsessed with Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) as much as I am?
No don't even try it. Her boxed desserts are marvelous for all of you "non-bakers".

My mom picked up her gingerbread mix with crystallized ginger and served it with Meyer lemon curd from was a knockout dessert.

After a great (and tiresome) weekend in Austin, I was glad to be back to Fort Worth. A couple nights later, my girlfriend Cat and I headed to Cafe Aspen. Although it was my first time to dine there, I had heard positive things about the food.

We started with Chopin and Belevedere dirty martinis and a couple appetizers- quesadillas with candied walnuts, brie, caramelized onions and bacon with a mango salsa along with fried calamari with a marinara sauce. Surprisingly, I had no complaints...I'll be back.

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