Sunday, February 15, 2009

Asian meets soul food

Wow...February has flown by so quickly! The past few weeks have been delicious ones.

Thursday evening started my bliss with Asian cuisine at culinary school. As with European cuisine from last week, we were assigned different Asian regions, asked to research the cuisine and then shared our newfound knowledge with the rest of the bunch. We were also given traditional Asian dishes and asked to recreate and serve them family style.

My dish was Phở, a legendary Vietnamese broth-based noodle and beef soup. I was ecstatic to recreate it. The great thing about Phở is it is more of an experience than a mere bowl of soup. The different elements work like a well oiled machine to create a well balanced meal based on many years of tradition.

For my version of Phở, I began by toasting peppercorns, a cinnamon stick, star anise and cloves to release their oils. I removed the spices, and added onion, ginger and garlic to the pan to char for a few minutes. I then added the spices back in, and filled my pot with homemade vegetable stock and let simmer for about an hour.

Traditionally, brisket, beef bones and thin, rare cuts of beef are added to the soup. Having to use what was available, I decided to make a meatball with ground pork instead. To the pork, I added salt, fennel seed, turmeric, ground clove, olive oil and cayenne and then formed my meatballs. Meanwhile, I soaked my rice noodles in hot water in 10 minutes to let them soften then set them aside.

After an hour plus of simmering (traditional Phở simmers for hours), I added my pork meatballs until cooked (about 10 minutes) then strained my broth through a chinoise to remove fat and the aromatic and spice remnants.

To serve the Phở, I arranged the rice noodles and pork meatballs at the bottom of my bowl. At the last minute, I poured the strained broth on top and served the Phở with sides of lime wedges, cilantro, basil and bean sprouts to add as desired.

After a long day of work Friday evening, I met a group of friends at Buttons- the new restaurant of Keith Hicks. I've always been a fan of Ovation's pot roast and fried-green tomatoes so I was looking forward to a taste of his gourmet soul food.

While I sipped my Button's Dirty Martini (Grey Goose with olive juice) I looked around and really started to people watch. Even in the early evening (6 p.m) the place was hopping- the waitresses were attractive and upbeat, the customers had smiling faces and the bar was jam-packed.

My boyfriend and I decided to split the pork chops with a prickly pear puree, caramelized apples, dijon apple butter and jalapeno cheese grits. The pork chops were perfection...crispy, charred crust with a moist, tender inside. The perfectly cooked chop went perfect with the smoky cheese grits and the apple butter.

I also snuck a bite of my girlfriend's pot roast with a beef jus, garlic mashed potatoes and veggies. It was quite tasty but had nothing on our pork chops. Also around the table were the infamous fried green tomatoes with andouille sausage, a fried egg and gravy along with homemade macaroni and cheese. The mac & cheese was gooey and comforting but had a slight overload of nutmeg.

Buttons satisfied on all and ambiance combined. On my next visit, I'm looking forward to trying the curried grilled lamb chops with chorizo, artichoke radicchio orzo and a fennel cream sauce- sounds amazing!

The next day was Valentine's day and I was looking forward to dinner ALL day at work. After arriving home to find beautiful roses, chilled champagne and a set was time for an outstanding dinner made by my significant other who just happens to be a chef...lucky me:)

The menu was:

Carrot saffron soup with turmeric

Heirloom tomato and spring mix salad with avocado, orange, braised onions, fleur de sel and a citrus vinaigrette

Homemade ravioli with fresh, steamed lobster, sage and a roasted butternut squash buerre blanc
(may I please mention the ravioli was cut into hearts? :)

Prime grilled filet of beef with Moroccan-spiced fingerling potatoes, asparagus and spinach with a braised pearl onion buerre rouge (red wine butter sauce)

After the truly fantastic meal (and about two hours to let our food settle), I was in charge of dessert and totally cheated with help from Central Markets' bakery.

Along with Häagen-Dazs vanilla bean ice cream and fresh berries, we split chocolate mousse cake with a raspberry coulis and chocolate ganache. I guess the saying is really is the way to my heart!

The next night, we decided to put our leftover pasta dough to good use. We rolled the dough out into 2-inch circles for ravioli and stuffed them with sauteed ground sirloin, red peppers, onion, garlic, rosemary, salt and thyme. With the additional stuffing, I deglazed my Dutch oven with red wine and let simmer to create a hearty sauce for the ravioli- nice "leftover" meal.

Tuesday evening I headed to the Covey for a late dinner with a friend. We started with the beer sampler and the sliders with a garlic mayo, smoked Gouda and fried onions. Although the fried onions were stone cold, the mini burger was delicious. The beef was nicely seasoned, the bread was soft and sweet and the smoked Gouda pulled it all together.

For our entree, we spilt the slow roasted chicken with green beans almandine, caramelized onion mashed potatoes and a Texas Wheat gravy. This dish was really delcious as well. The chicken was moist, the skin was crispy, the green beans were al dente and the gravy was icing on the cake- we just wished for a bit more.

Last evening, I played chef for a few friends to watch the Top Chef finale. The menu was:

Cayenne-cashew crusted chicken breasts with a raspberry jalapeno sauce

At first, I wanted to do a pecan crusted chicken but I found some spicy cashews at CM that looked really good. So, I made a crust in the food processor with homemade bread crumbs, the cayenne cashews and chopped Italian parsley.

Next, I started the whole "dredge station" process with seasoned flour (salt, pepper, cumin and paprika), whisked eggs and my cashew breading. I pan-fried the breaded chicken breasts for a few minutes each side then finished them in the oven for about 10 minutes.

For the sauce, I pureed raspberries, seeded and ribbed jalapenos, honey, olive oil, salt, lime juice and cilantro. Ordinarily, I would strain the raspberry seeds but I couldn't find the dang strainer! Next, I added the puree to my saucepan and let it simmer with a bit of red wine while the chicken cooked. Serve atop chicken.

Queso fresco mashed potatoes with cilantro and lime

Of course I can't make normal mashed potatoes:) These started with fork-tender boiled potatoes that I added warm cream and butter to. As I mashed, I added queso fresco, a bit of olive oil and salt. Right before serving, I added a quick splash of lime juice to balance with the rich potatoes and salty cheese. Serve potatoes under chicken with rasperry sauce.

There was a pretty great response with this meal. Next time, I'm definitely finding a strainer for the raspberry seeds!

1 comment:

sammyss said...

Have you figured out the recipe for the hot sauce at Tamale House # 3? My wife went there recently and thought it was quaint.