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!


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