Wednesday, April 22, 2009

appetizers-to-go and the curry explosion

I've been the cooking Queen this week!

Yes, I'm a dork but I seriously feel like that's all I've done. I've even started to get the "chefs callous" from my knife...pretty exciting stuff.

On Monday, I spent my day making cold and room temperature appetizers to deliver for an all-women cocktail party. The menu was:

Cubed watermelon skewers with cucumber, mint, plum tomatoes, feta and a lemon mint vinaigrette

1/2 inch cubed watermelon
1/2 inch cubed seedless cucumber
mint leaves cut in half
plum tomatoes cut in half
1/2 inch cubed feta

for dressing:
1 cup mint
zest and juice of one lemon
1 tbl honey
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil
Assemble cubed watermelon, cucumber, plum tomatoes and mint leaves on skewers (save feta for the end of the skewer so it doesn't crumble apart).

For dressing, combine first four ingredients in the food processor until smooth. Slowly drizzle in olive oil until desired consistency is reached. Drizzle skewers with vinaigrette and cool.
Roasted chicken salad with a tarragon mayonnaise, toasted pecans, green apples and celery served with toasted baguette

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (seasoned with salt, pepper, olive oil and herbs de provence)
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup minced fresh tarragon
1 cup toasted pecans (coarsely chopped)
1 cup chopped green apple
1 cup chopped celery
3 tbl honey
juice and zest of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste

First, roast your chicken at 350 degrees until just cooked through- do not overcook or your chicken salad will be at the point of no return! Set chicken aside and let cool.

When cooled, cut into bite-sized chunks and combine with mayonnaise, pecans, tarragon, apples, celery, honey and lemon. Taste before seasoning because the chicken will already add saltiness. Serve with toasted baguette.

Asparagus and white bean hummus tarts (courtesy of Vegan YumYum)

I got inspiration for this dish from Vegan Yum Yum on-line.

1 sheet defrosted puff pastry
1 bundle blanched asparagus, ends trimmed
1 can white beans (rinsed and drained)
2 gloves garlic
1/2 cup basil leaves (reserve several for garnish)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbl olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon

Make white bean hummus. Combine white beans, garlic, basil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil in food processor. Combine until smooth. Spread on puff pastry leaving an inch border all around. Arrange asparagus side-by-side on top rotating tops and bottoms. Brush pastry edges with olive oil and sprinkle tart with salt. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes until asparagus is tender and puff pastry is golden brown. Let cool, garnish with basil leaves and slice into squares (my tart is shown at right).

Vegetable spring rolls with a wasabi aioli

I've made these guys more times than I can count. You can find the recipe in older posts.

Later that evening, I had a fabulous dinner at the newly-reopened Piola for some Italian fare. We started with the antipasto platter complete with fried green olives, ricotta-stuffed fried artichokes, capicola, Italian sausage, herbs de provence coated goat cheese, fontina, manchego, red grapes and pears. I piled the pears atop the goat cheese and herbs de provence...great sweet/tangy/salty combination.

Next course was soups- lobster bisque with grilled shrimp and scallop and the leek, beef and potato soup with truffle oil. Although both were well balanced, the lobster bisque was my favorite- smooth, intense and full of cream I'm sure:)

For my entree, I tried the special of the night- grilled sea bass with a putanesca sauce, shrimp and an herbed polenta. I really enjoyed the mild fish, spicy sauce and firm polenta but I could have gone without the shrimp (underseasoned and seemed like an afterthought).

A few nights later, I met some foodie friends at Grace for cocktails. My current favorite is the St. Caroline cocktail made with Prosecco, St. Germain (elderflower liquer) and soda. After finally deciding where to go for dinner, we headed over to Zambrano's Wine Bar for wine and pizza.

We started with a light, white wine variety and the tomato bruschetta with serrano ham, tomato, melted brie and balsamic. I loved the wine but the bruschetta didn't deliver- I didn't get the salty ham flavor and the brie was lacking.
Next, we shared the caprese salad with field greens, mozzarella, basil and a balsamic reduction. The salad was beautifully presented and had nice flavors. Finally, we shared the traditional pizza with serrano, pepperoni, artichoke hearts, peppers, olives, red onions served with fresh parmesean and red pepper flakes. The pizza was delicious- the crust was thin and flavorful with herbs baked right in. I'll definitely be back for the extensive wine selection and flavorful pizza.
The next evening, I used leftover groceries from my catering event and helped make a delicious dinner. The menu was:

Artichoke stuffed chicken with roasted potatoes, sauteed brussel sprouts with lemon and pecans and a roasted yellow pepper sauce (shown at right)
The sauce was my favorite part of the dish- roasted yellow peppers, sauteed onions, garlic, salt, pepper and a bit of honey and butter at the end...well balanced and great to sop the chicken and potatoes in.
Also this week was the end to my second trimester in culinary school :( This was sad for me because I learned so much and felt like my skills grew drastically as well.
Fortunately, I still have two trimesters left and I will start pastry classes in May.
For our final, we had 3.5 hours to create a tasting menu using all components of a mystery basket we recieved minutes before. My mystery basket contained:

Cod filet
Sirloin steak
Bone-in, skin-on chicken breast
Pork tenderloin
Sugar snap peas
Mini purple potatoes
Purple grapes
Sesame oil
After 3.5 hours, a blender of hot soup exploding on me and a few other roadblocks I finished with six solid dishes:

Pureed roasted carrot and parsnip soup with curry, turmeric and saffron garnished with grilled shrimp and mint
This was my favorite dish. Even in my time crunch, I really worked to layer flavors by roasting the carrots and parsnips with curry and turmeric, then added them in with my aromatics, vegetable stock and saffron.

Pan-fried chicken and scallion wontons with a cabbage, sugar snap pea and sliced grape slaw with grapeseed oil and lemon

For the filling, I roasted then pulled my chicken and added a touch of sesame oil, chopped scallions, honey and salt then filled the wonton wrappers and pan-fried them. I liked the savory wontons with the fresh slaw.

"Steak & frites"- an open-faced grilled sirloin sandwich with toasted baquette, smoked gouda, wasabi key lime mustard and mini-fried purple potato chips

Asian "nacho" with sesame-crusted cod, fried wonton, grilled asparagus and a cucumber salad

Braised pork tenderloin with a quinoa, herb and mango salad

Vegetarian taco with fried white beans, thyme and a braised red grape salsa

After the final, the rest of my weekend was spent moving into my new downtown apartment, fufilling my curry craving at Bombay Grill, catching up with friends and having brews at the Ginger Man and most importantly, a delicious and event-filled evening at the Taste of Fort Worth at the Hilton downtown.

Benefiting Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the event celebrated 30 years of "fine wine and culinary excellence" with a plethora of local wineries, restaurants, a silent auction and great company. After tasting wines and falling in love with honey flavored vodka from 42 Below Vodka, we tried to sample as much food as possible.

My favorites were:

Buttons- Seafood gumbo
Eddie V's- Halibut with microgreens and saffron tomatoes
Fort Worth Boat Club- Lamb "lollipops" with a mint jelly and peppercorn gravy
Grace- Corn panna cotta with lump crab
Lambert's- Chili grits with braised lamb shoulder and radish slaw
The Culinary School of Fort Worth- delish chocolate chip cookies

The evening was lovely, the food was incredible and the company kept me smiling all night!


Friday, April 10, 2009

whole salmon and modern Italian

How is it almost May???

Not only is my impending 24th birthday around the corner but Easter has flown by and my second trimester of culinary school is sadly coming to an end. May begins a fresh start with my new apartment, the world of pastry unfolding in front of my eyes and time for me to refocus on future career plans.

Last week we had our seafood class in culinary school and it was a week to remember for me. The class started with a lecture from the head chef about seafood varieties, preparation, safety practices as well as seafood sustainability.

After the lecture, we saw a demo fileting a whole salmon and learned how to boil lobsters. In our remaining couple hours, we had to present at least five complete dishes to be critiqued using any ingredients we pleased. The available fresh seafood to use was orange roughy, halibut, lump crab, sea scallops, whole salmon, American caviar, shrimp, squid and catfish.

My dishes were:

Chilled lump crab salad with citus zest, grapefruit supremes, mint and crispy corn tortilla strips

Fresh grilled salmon with a lime compound butter, herbed white rice and a red jalapeno pan sauce

Hazelnut crusted orange roughy pan-fried with a spinach and asian pear salad with an allspice vinaigrette

Sauteed shrimp linguine with ginger, peas, mint, butter and lemon

Asian lobster salad atop fried baguette crostini (lime, soy, ginger, scallion, fresh boiled lobster, salt)

Sauteed lobster and rice with dill, butter and lemon

Two nights later, my beau and I headed to Austin for the Easter weekend. On Saturday we headed to central Austin for a crawfish boil in honor of my girlfriends birthday. The crawfish, shrimp, potatoes and corn turned out tender, spicy and delicious with a cold beer.

Later that evening, we took advantage of my parents new state-of-the-art kitchen and made dinner at their new house. The menu was:

Spinach salad with goat cheese, candied almonds, apples and a blackberry vinaigrette

4 cups fresh spinach leaves
1 ounce crumbled goat cheese
1 cup slivered almonds
2 tbl. unsalted butter
2 tbl. honey
1-2 apples (sliced or juilenned)
1 pint blackberries
1/2 cup sugar
juice and zest of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

For the dressing, combine blackberries, sugar, lemon juice and zest and salt in pepper in food processor. After combined, slowly drizzle in your olive oil to emulsify. Strain to remove seeds.

To candy almonds, toast almonds with butter, honey and salt until almonds are coated. Set aside to cool then break apart.

To assemble salad, combine spinach with apples, almonds and goat cheese. Drizzle with vinaigrette before serving.

Pan-fried polenta with fontina

This recipe is so easy! You can make homemade polenta and cut it into circles or use tubed polenta. My mom had tubed polenta in the fridge so thats what we used.

1 tube prepared polenta
1/3 cup fresh thyme leaves
1 wedge fontina cheese
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Slice tube polenta into 3/4 inch wide circles. In a small boil, combine thyme with olive oil, salt and pepper. Lightly coat polenta in the mixture then pan-fry to brown polenta then set on a baking sheet. Top polenta rounds with shaved fontina then broil until cheese is melted and you are ready to serve.

Seared pork loin with a pear red onion chutney

Dinner was delicious even though we didn't eat until 11 p.m. The next morning, we made an Easter Sunday breakfast of blueberry pancakes and omelettes with cheddar, salsa and avocado to hold us over until Easter dinner. Meanwhile, we went to work slicing pears and zesting lemons for our homemade pear crostada.

Later that afternoon, we arrived at my uncles house who had definitely put his smoker to good use. Dinner was a smorgasbord of smoked whole chickens, brisket, ribs, baked beans, cole slaw, corn on the cob, potato salad, rolls, green bean casserole and fruit salad. We left Austin stuffed for the ride home to Fort Worth.

Back in Fort Worth, I was finally able to try Aventino on Camp Bowie with two fellow Fort Worth foodies. Walking in, I immediately admired the decor- simple, modern and quite beautiful. Before we were seated, I started with the lemongrass martini with Tuaca. The martini was light and you could really taste the lemongrass. I assumed the lemongrass was soaked in a simple syrup but the bartender said they used a sous vide method (cooked in airtight bags) for optimal flavor.

After our cocktail, we were seated and shared an array of small plates, cocktails and desserts from the menu:

Lychee martini with prosecco

Peach sangria

Beef carpaccio with parmesean, caper berries, arugula and a black pepper caper aioli (shown at right)

Tuscan shrimp with chickpeas, grape tomato confit and walnut arugula pesto

Housemade pappardelle with an almond cream sauce, asparagus, oyster mushrooms, toasted almonds and a chervil garnish

Pan seared red snapper with a spicy putanesca (capers, tomatoes, mussels), artichokes, braised fennel, carrots and angel hair pasta

Olive oil cake with blood oranges and mint

Panna cotta with marscapone, lemon gelee and crushed peppercorn (shown above)

My favorite dishes were the carpaccio, pappardelle and the panna cotta. The carpaccio was sliced paper thin, was beautifully presented and suited the accompaniments well. The pappardelle was extremely subtle- I was expecting a bold almond flavor from the sauce and was suprised with the delicate flavor. Lastly, the panna cotta was to-die-for. The tart lemon curd off-set the creamy marscapone and the bitter peppercorns added a bite at the end. I will definitely be back to Aventino- hopefully this week

This week was our food production and service class in culinary school. We learned basics of the restaurant business and prepared quick "mystery item" appetizers for the entire class to share and critique.

My dishes were:

Sauteed shrimp atop puff pastry with a mint, feta and lemon relish with a passionfruit vinaigrette (shown above)

Lemon ricotta-filled crepes with candied almonds and a raspberry coulis (shown at right)

Polenta napolean with sauteed ham, granny smith apples, parmesean and a chive oil (shown at right)

Class was fun but I felt similar to a chicken running around with its head cut off. Although my dishes weren't perfect, I was content. Next week is finals week and more mystery ingredients to come!


Friday, April 3, 2009

greasy enchiladas and tofu galore

A couple weeks ago, I was finally able to try Tim Love's Love Shack in the Stockyards. Our trip was on a cool, windy weeknight but the food distracted me away from my goosebumps.

I ordered the Love burger (1/2 prime tenderloin, 1/2 prime brisket) with love sauce (mayo, ketchup and pickle relish), lettuce, tomato and cheese AND the Shack dog with chopped onion and pickle relish so I could try some of each.

The dog was pretty yummy but I was wanting more onion and relish...the toppings kind of soaked into the bun and I didn't get the crunchiness I was craving. The burger was one of the best I've had in Fort Worth. The burger was cooked well, seasoned well and I liked the sauce. Next time I want to try the Boom Boom burger with portabello mushrooms.

This past (lazy) Sunday was spent at Joe T's for a very special 21st Birthday. The day was gorgeous- clear skies, nice breeze and margaritas of course. I usually split fajitas with a girlfriend, but today I went for the enchilada dinner with cheese enchiladas, guacamole, rice and beans. Although the enchiladas were greasy, they tasted great to me! I think that's the glory of Joe T's- even though the food is ok, the ambience, company and margaritas make it an event to remember.

I was so excited for culinary class this week- healthy cooking, vegetarian and Vegan cuisine. Although I've never been a strict vegetarian, I was raised with little red meat and tons of fresh fruits, veggies and healthy cooking. My aunts always teased my mother when I was little because she would give me rice cakes to snack on and they would sneak me to get french fries at "Old McDonald" instead.

Long story short- I enjoy healthy and more specifically, vegetarian cooking...the Vegan part is where it got tricky. For those who need a quick lesson on Vegan fare- Vegans exclude animal products in their lifestyle. In terms of food, that means no meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, even get the drift. It's challenging but forces you to be inventive especially in a time rut.

In class, we were given orders with specific dietary needs then given twenty minutes to create and present our dish for critiquing. This class went well but I definitely had a couple blonde moments.

Order 1: Healthy appetizer

Dish one: Grilled salmon with cinnamon, clove and an orange glaze with herbed couscous

Order 2: Evo-lacto vegetarian entree (eggs and dairy are ok to eat)

Dish 2: Fried vegetarian chicken patty with a radish, blackberry and spinach relish with a brown rice and candied walnut pilaf with grilled asparagus

Order 3: Vegan entree

Dish 3: "PB & J" with grilled baquette, peanut butter, macerated strawberries and blackberries, lemon zest and spiced peanuts with cayenne and cinnamon (before I presented this dish, I thought milk would go well too so I presented it then quickly remembered "Vegans don't drink milk, Callie"...this was blonde moment #1)

Order 4: Vegan breakfast

Dish 4: Parfait with a coconut milk, mango and lime zest yogurt with a candied ginger, dried apricot and walnut crumble with an orange, green apple, blueberry and strawberry fruit salad

Order 5: Use something with tofu or tempeh (fermented soybeans in a cake form)

Dish 5: Soy/lime marinated tofu grilled then deep fried over pickled veggies with chopped peanuts and scallions

Order 6: Healthy appetizer

Dish 6: Homemade fried corn chips with a strawberry, jalapeno, avocado and lime pico

Tonight is our seafood class in culinary school then I'm headed to Austin for the Easter weekend. More food adventures to come...