Tuesday, March 24, 2009

spring fever and a date with grace

Spring is here and as with fall, I'm extremely excited for in-season produce, herbs, and most importantly, restaurant menu changes to complement the climate.

One of my favorite thing to make is salads. Although seemingly simple, I love to experiment with different fruits, veggies, homemade vinaigrettes, cheeses, nuts- you name it! Specifically in the summer months, a watermelon goat cheese salad or a caprese with off-the-vine heirloom tomatoes would beat a burger anyday.

This past warm Sunday afternoon (tank top, flips flops and all), I went on one of my frequent trips (better yet, rampages) to Central Market. After a date with the floral department (you can't beat the orchids and hydrangeas), I grabbed ingredients for dinner along with my staples- organic skim milk and kashi cereal for breakfast along with some Pam's pimento cheese from the sauce bar (my new guilty pleasure).

For dinner, the menu was:

Whole wheat angel hair in a lemon cream sauce with minted peas, sauteed chicken, shaved asparagus and pecorino

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 small carton heavy cream
3 Tbl butter
juice of 5 lemons
zest of one lemon
1 bag frozen peas
1/2 bunch chiffonade mint
1 bunch thick asparagus (shaved into long "ribbons" with a peeler)
1/2 package whole wheat pasta
shards of pecorino toscano as desired
olive oil
salt and pepper
3/4 cup CM celery Greek dressing for marinating

First, I marinated my chicken with some of CM's celery Greek dressing, salt and pepper. Usually, I would make my own marinade for an upscale occasion but this works just as well. After letting it sit for half an hour, saute the chicken in olive oil until browned then finish in the oven until cooked through. After chicken is cooked, let it cool then shred to later add to pasta.

Meanwhile, boil pasta water with salt and make the lemon cream sauce. For the sauce, I simmered the lemon juice, lemon zest, cream, salt and pepper and let reduce.

At the last minute, boil your angel hair and make your peas so they stay bright green when serving. In a saute pan, add your frozen peas with a bit of olive oil, lemon zest, salt, pepper, butter and chiffonade mint. Saute until peas thaw and flavors meld.

Right before serving, add your chicken to the lemon cream sauce and with tongs, add the cooked pasta to the sauce as well. To serve, place the pasta atop the shaved asparagus (the hot pasta and sauce will cook it slightly) with the minted peas on top. Garnish with fresh mint, fresh ground pepper and shards of pecorino.
Serves 2-3

A few nights later, dinner was more on the rustic side but equally delicious.

The menu was:

Grilled pork chop with salt, pepper and thyme
Red wine gastrique with brown sugar
Roasted garlic mashed potatoes

2 pork chops
1/2 cup fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 cups red wine (something you would drink)
3 peeled and quartered Idaho potatoes
1/2 head roasted garlic
1/2 cup milk
3 Tbl. butter
1/3 cup sour cream
olive oil
coarse salt and pepper

First, marinate the pork with a wet rub of olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme. Wrap bone with foil to prevent burning on the grill. Wrap half a head of garlic with olive oil in foil and roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. For the potatoes, add your chopped potatoes to cold water with salt and boil until fork-tender.

Next, start your reduction for the gastrique. Combine wine, brown sugar and a bit of salt then let reduce for about 20 minutes.

When potatoes are tender and gastrique is thickening, grill your pork chops on the outdoor grill on both sides to get grill marks and a nice crust. Finish in the hot oven until pork is just cooked through and juicy. To finish the potatoes, add the roasted garlic, milk, butter, sour cream, salt and pepper. Serve hot with pork chop atop the wine gastrique.
Serves 2

This week I was also finally able to try Grace- modern American classics- in downtown Fort Worth. For my meal, I chose the "wine me, dine me" 4 course wine pairing special so I could try a bit of everything.

The menu was:

Pork terrine with lemony watercress, rye bread and stone ground mustard
2007 Viognier

Chicken fried artichokes with meyer lemon aioli
2007 Austrian Gruner Veltiliner

Housemade jumbo shrimp ravioli in a roasted shrimp broth with julienned vegtables
2006 Sauvignon Blanc

Pecan Pie sundae with butter pecan ice cream, salted caramel, pie crust and candied pecans
10-year-old Tawny port

The standouts of the meal were definitely the beginning and the end. The pork terrine was outstanding and had all elements cohesively working together. The artichokes were ok; although they were battered well and the aioli was nice, some were too tough to chew.

My favorite thing about the shrimp ravioli was the balance of textures. The soft, pillowy ravioli sat in a fragrant broth with raw, crunchy brussel sprouts, red onion and spinach slivers. Although the plate was a bit cool from sitting, the flavors were spot on. For dessert, the pecan pie sundae was orgasmic (sorry, Dad). But seriously, I can't think of a better word to describe it. I took one bite with the tawny port and was in complete La-La land. Yum.

While I was enjoying my own meal, my boyfriend ordered the clam chowder as an appetizer, filet of beef and spaetzle and cheese for his entree. The clam chowder was pretty delicious and the knifework of the veggies was really superb as well. The filet of beef arrived undercooked (rare when we ordered medium) but when it came back, it was juicy and the pepper crust was tasty. The spaetzle and cheese was baked in a ramekin and came out piping hot and cheesy.

I enjoyed Grace. Along with the simple, yet modern ambiance, the food was overall delicious and the service was impeccable (ask for Sam). We will return soon.


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