Tuesday, June 30, 2009

crab fest and PB&J's

The first of July has been exciting, stressful, busy, crazy, and of course, HOT! This was the first Fourth of July away from my family, the beach or the lake. Fortunately, I was surrounded with good friends from culinary school, a new experience at Rahr Brewery and of course, good food!

Before I start reliving my culinary "adventures", I wanted to give short disclaimer for those who recreate my recipes:

The recipes I provide are approximate guides but are by no means exact. I come up with my menu ideas, prepare them, then sit down to approximate the recipes.

A good rule of thumb when tasting food: If something seems too acidic or bitter, add a sweetener (I swear by honey). If something is too sweet, add fresh herbs, oil or an acid- whatever seems appropriate with what you are preparing. If you taste something that is under seasoned, add salt! Salt is a flavor enhancer and will make flavors more inherent. Finally, be wary with black pepper. When added too liberally, it actually changes the flavor of dishes and can make them bitter.

Now back to the food...

On a beautiful Friday evening, I dined with fellow "Fort Worth Foodies" at Ellerbe's Fine Foods promoting fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. The restaurant was very simple, almost plain, with starkly pressed servers and an anxious dining crowd. We sat outside, started with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc then shared:

Brazos Valley Feta and Moxia Peach Salad with Arugula, Citrus Vinaigrette and Toasted Pecans

Shrimp with Preserved Lemons and Celery Root Slaw

Bacon-wrapped Copper River Salmon with Scott Farms New Potatoes and Tarragon Creme Fraiche

Baseball Steak with Herbed Fries

Bread Pudding

Fruit plate with Amaretti cookies

The next week, I headed with work friends to Yucatan Taco Stand for happy hour followed by Nonna Tata for dinner. I'm going to skip straight to Nonna Tata because my experiences at Yucatan are just not worth mentioning anymore- It's one of those "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all" situations. Thanks, Dad.

Forgive me, I digress. Nonna Tata was delicious as always. Our table of 5 decided on an antipasto to share then split:

Tortolli with Goat Cheese
Veal Osso Bucco with Arborio Rice
Chicken Lasagna with Pesto

All three were delicious, but I couldn't stop eating the chicken lasagna. It was surprisingly light, yet rich at the same time. Our evening ended with a little too much wine and shots of Limoncello- much fun until I awoke the next morning...

Later that weekend, my partner and I had a Private Chef Event: A Summertime party for 45!

On our menu:

Lime and Mint Punch with Club Soda
(mint simple syrup with fresh lime juice, lime rounds and club soda for sparkle)

Roasted Red Salsa with Peppers, Tomatoes, Onions and Jalapenos
Roasted Green Salsa with Tomatillos, Orange and Lime

Traditional Guacamole (with chips galore!)
(Avocado, cilantro, garlic, jalapeno, lime juice, lime zest, olive oil, a bit of honey and orange zest)

Pulled Chicken Quesadillas with Queso Fresco, Red Onions and Roasted Tomatoes

Roasted Shrimp Skewers in a Harissa Marinade with a Fennel Orange Slaw

Veggie Spring Rolls with a Wasabi Aioli
(rice paper, asparagus, cabbage, cilantro, red pepper flakes)

Crostini with Walnut Pesto, Roasted Sliced Beets, Summer Squash and Fresh Mozzarella

Meringue Cups with Lime Curd, Blackberries and Lime Zest (shown at right)
This party was fun- complete with a margarita machine, beautiful bright decorations and lovely people. We take pride in making everything homemade (ok, I cheated with the mayo for the aioli) and I think it really shows in our finished product. The salsas were deep roasted and simmered away all day. The veggie spring rolls were wrapped, the lime curd stirred and the meringues piped then baked by yours truly.

My partner really shines at sauce work and flavor building. The seared, then pulled chicken for the quesadillas was extremely moist with an apparent depth of flavor. Same idea with the shrimp- start with a flavorful marinade and finish with a flavorful sauce and/or textural accompaniment (fennel orange slaw) for full flavor to stand up to the spicy salsas.

After a busy weekend and work week, I was finally able to try Fort Worth's Eddie V's on a warm, Thursday evening. I've always dined at my hometown Eddie V's in Austin and Fort Worth didn't fail to impress. Our dinner was lovely but we ordered way too much food- all of it being extremely rich due to my boyfriend's "I hate veggies" syndrome. On the menu:

Calamari with Roasted Cashews, Julienned Veggies and Spicy Ginger Soy Sauce
(Well cooked and spicy but overkill on portion size for two)

Soft Shell Crab with Watermelon Citrus Vinaigrette
(I liked the crab but the vinaigrette tasted like oil to me. I tasted no citrus or watermelon. Maybe we got the wrong vinaigrette?)

Pan-Fried Cod with Dijon and Morels
(earthy complex flavors, perfectly cooked fish, gorgeous plating with deep red micro greens)

Bone-in Filet of Beef
(like butter)

Truffled Macaroni and Cheese
(sinful...complete with truffle oil and shaved truffles)

Lump Crab Fried Rice
(always been a favorite of mine, delicious as always)

Often overlooked, the bread really stood out to me! It tasted sweet but I couldn't put my finger on the sweet flavor. Brown sugar? Honey? Nope... it was cardamom and it gave the bread a subtle sweetness that I loved.

On the eve of fourth of July, I had a girlfriend over for a movie, wine and some (semi) healthy chicken burgers. Although I seldomly grill burgers without some type of cheese, these were perfect without. The avocado added a simple buttery texture, heirloom tomatoes added tang and the tarragon mayo added an anise flavor surprise.

Herbed Chicken Burgers with Heirloom Tomatoes, Avocado, Tarragon Mayo and Micro Greens

For Chicken Burgers:

1/2 lb ground chicken
1 T olive oil
1 T kosher salt
1/2 t pepper
1 T chopped sage
1 T chopped tarragon
1/2 T lemon zest
1 garlic clove, minced

For Tarragon Mayo:
1 c mayo
1/3 c tarragon, minced
1/2 T lemon zest
salt and pepper to taste

For burger building:

2 heirloom tomatoes- yellow and red, sliced thinly with kosher salt
1 avocado, sliced with lime juice and salt
1 package micro greens
2 whole wheat buns, toasted on grill pan with olive oil

Serves 2.
A few evening later, I decided to make a Surf and Turf-style dinner with a fresh-baked sweet for dessert. Although I love shrimp, I chose to work with lump crab for my surf element. For the turf, I chose a gorgeous prime ribeye from Central Market.

Lump Crab Napoleons with Fried Wontons, Braised Granny Smith Apples, Spicy Corn Salad, Pepitas and Cilantro Oil (shown at right)

Braised Apples:
1 granny smith apple, cored then thinly sliced in rounds
2 cups water
1 cup white wine
2 cups sugar
sprinkle of salt
1 large squeeze of lemon juice

Bring water, white wine, salt and sugar to a simmer in a sauce pan. Add apple slices in liquid and cook until tender. Set aside.

Spicy Corn Salad:
2 ears of fresh corn, cut off cob
1/2 jalapeno, minced with ribs and seeds removed
2 T red onion, minced
1 T butter
Olive oil to saute
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Saute corn, jalapeno and red onion in butter and olive oil for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper, keep warm until ready to serve.

Lump Crab:

1/2 lb fresh jumbo lump crab meat, picked over for shell remnants
2 T minced fresh basil
2 T minced fresh cilantro
1 thinly sliced scallion (dark green ends removed)
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
1 T honey
1/2 T lemon zest
1 squeeze of lemon juice

Combine all ingredients and chill until ready to serve.

For Cilantro Oil:

3/4 cup cilantro
3/4 cup olive oil
1 T honey
1 squeeze of lemon juice
salt to taste

Combine honey, lemon and cilantro in food processor. Slowly stream in olive oil until desired consistency is achieved. Salt to season. Set aside.

For building napoleon:
handful of pepitas to sprinkle on each plate (toasted and salted)
6 wonton squares, fried in vegetable oil until golden brown and crispy

Drizzle a bit of cilantro oil on plate followed by one of the wonton squares. Begin layering the spicy corn salad, lump crab mixture and braised apples with remaining two wonton squares. Top with pepitas, another drizzle of cilantro oil and remaining fresh herbs if desired.

Serves 2.

Seared Prime Ribeye with Sweet and Spicy Glaze

1 ribeye steak (approximately 1 pound)
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to "crust" the steak

30 minutes before cooking, remove steak from refrigerator to bring to room temperature and remove chill. Crust the ribeye liberally with salt and pepper. In a hot grill pan, add olive oil and sear ribeye on both sides until a brown crust develops.

Drizzle glaze on steak and finish it a 350 degrees oven until desired temperature is reached (I cooked mine to medium rare). Drizzle with additional glaze if desired and a sprinkle of kosher salt before serving.

For the glaze:
Combine brown sugar, honey, sriracha, lemon juice, lime juice, lime zest and salt and whisk to get the flavor of your liking.

Serves 2.

Chocolate Chile Brownies with Cinnamon Vanilla Ice Cream
I used an Epicurious recipe for these brownies and although I was happy with the texture of the brownies, there was a bit too much Chile powder that actually overwhelmed the rich chocolate. Despite cutting down the Chile powder from 1/4 of a cup to an 1/8 of a cup, it was still a bit much- I'm thinking a tablespoon or two will be plenty next time.

I served the warm brownies with vanilla ice cream mixed with a drizzle of vanilla bean paste and cinnamon. The ice cream was fantastic with the rich brownies.

Monday, June 22, 2009

panna cotta and potstickers

It's too hot to cook! That's my story and I'm sticking to it. The sweltering past weeks have been my excuse to overindulge myself, grub at new locales and stick to simple cooking and clean flavors while entertaining at home.

Last week, my boyfriend and I dined at the Vault and got a preview at the upcoming menu from Chef Gabe Ochoa who just recently returned to the downtown Mediterranean eatery.

The menu displayed lovely textures (foie gras, chickpea polenta) and abrupt flavors (harissa, habanero) that really opened up my taste buds!

The menu was:

Cocktails: Peach Habanero Martini, Champagne with Hibiscus Flower Syrup

Tomato Consomme, Brie "Grilled Cheese" and Provencal Potato Salad with Kalamata Olives and a Basil Vinaigrette

Seared Foie Gras with Truffled Cream Corn, Demi Glace Reduction and Fried Thyme

Morroccan-Spiced Lamb Loin with Harissa-Spiced Chickpeas and Chickpea "Polenta" with Garlic Sauteed Spinach

Dessert Medley: Baklava with Coconut, Strawberry Sorbet and Tiramisu with Homemade Ladyfingers

Unimpressed with prior Vault visits, this meal really blew me away. The foie gras surprised me- although seemingly rich with the truffled cream corn, the sweet, fresh corn was a beautiful accompaniment. I also was quite impressed with the technical aspects of the meal- the lamb temperature was perfection, the chickpea polenta had a surprising velvety texture and the foie gras was seared impeccably with a perfect crispy crust.

After a hectic work week, my parents came in for Father's Day weekend. On the schedule for the weekend: Food, food and more food!

Saturday evening...we finally were able to try Lambert's: Seafood, Steak and Whiskey. Once at Lambert's, the environment immediately soothed me. The decor was cowboy chic and snappy yet unpretentious. We started with lemon mint martinis (Dad ordered coffee) then scoured the simple menu. Between the table, we shared:

Fried Green Tomatoes with Lump Crab Salad and Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette
(perfectly light fried batter, buttery crab and smoky vinaigrette)

Fried Catfish with a Hushpuppies, Slaw and Garlic Tartar Sauce
(catfish perfectly fried as well, hushpuppies were so-so)

Chicken-Fried Steak with Green Chile Grits and Sauteed Broccolini
(yum....all I can say)

Roasted Chicken with Lemon Herb Pan Jus
(chicken was moist)

Dessert: Lemon Pots de Creme
(presentation was lacking)

Lambert's was fun, the food was tasty and everyone left in a great mood. Next time, I'm skipping dessert and ordering an extra appetizer instead.

The next morning, my parents dined at the Culinary School of Fort Worth for a special Father's Day Brunch. Amongst the spread of soups, salad, desserts, a made-to-order omelette station and entrees- my folks left stuffed. Their picks were:

Spinach Salad with Fennel, Oranges, Toasted Walnuts, Red Onions and Mint Orange Vinaigrette

Celery Root Soup with Granny Smith Apples, Bacon and Chive Oil

Chicken Piccata with Homemade Fettucine and Lemon Buerre Blanc

Ricotta and Spinach Ravioli with a Ham Saute, Garlic Cream Sauce and Poached Egg

Desserts: Lime Mango Curd Tarts with Blueberry and an Ice Cream Sundae Bar

Two nights later, I raided my freezer, pantry and veggie drawers for insiration. While playing in the kitchen, I made a fun dinner-for-one (with leftovers).

The menu was:

Pan-Fried Edamame Mint Potstickers

16 wonton wrappers
1/2 c ricotta
1/3 c julienned arugula
1 T chopped mint
1.5 c cooked edamame, coarsely chopped
1 t lemon zest
1 T honey
salt to taste
1 t red pepper flakes
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced

Saute red onion and garlic in olive oil. Add edamame, red pepper flakes, salt and honey and saute until flavors meld. Remove from heat and fold in mint, arugula and ricotta. After mixture has cooled, add one tablespoon of edamame filling into wonton wrappers. With your fingers, "paint" the edges with water to seal wrappers when folded. Fold over wrapper to form a triangle then attach triangle ends to form the potsticker.

Heat vegetable oil until water sizzles if added to the pan. Pan-fry potstickers a couple minutes per side until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve hot.

Sriracha Soy Dipping Sauce

1 large squeeze of lemon juice
1 T sriracha
1/4 c Lana's Sweet and Sour sauce
4 T soy sauce

Whisk together all ingredients. Serve with potstickers.

Lemon Ginger Brown Rice

1 T lemon zest
.5 t minced ginger
3 c prepared brown rice (warm)
salt to taste
chopped parsley for color

Add lemon zest, ginger, salt and parsley to warm rice. Serve with potstickers and dipping sauce.

The next day, I spent my morning making custards galore during pastry class at school. We were put in pairs and required to make an array of baked and stirred custards. The custards I made were:

Stirred Creme Brulee with blackberries and blueberries

Creme Anglaise

Panna Cotta

Chocolate Mousse


I was most anxious to create the panna cotta and the end result was nice- not too sweet, silky and simple. Although the flan was tedious and time consuming (water bath, hot convection, playing the waiting game), I enjoyed tasting the smooth texture and reminiscent flavors I received. Although custards seem daunting, I left relieved with a newfound confidence in pastry.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

breakfast tortas and baklava

My life in culinary school has surrounded baking and pastry-making the past two months. Obvious to head chefs and fellow pastry makers...the pastry side of cooking really frustrates me. Although there have been several semi breakdowns- everything has turned out better than I expected. I'm looking forward to upcoming classes including: laminated doughs, chocolates, fillings, syrups, icing and cakes.

Our pastry doughs class was fun because I was somewhat familiar with the procedures and I was able to play around with flavors. In the swift five hours, we:
made meringue and piped meringue shells
mixed pate a choux and baked them off for cream puffs or profiteroles
practiced the delicate art of crepe-making
assembled a huge pan of baklava with phyllo dough
played with flavors and baked popovers

Everyone made their own flavor combination for the popover batter and then we tasted. My combination was: strawberries with black pepper and balsamic. Other yummy flavor combos included: goat cheese, sauteed jalapenos and lime zest and cheddar and bacon popovers. After the batter-mixing was complete, I made some strawberry butter (a la Neiman Marcus) for the warm-from-the-oven popovers.

Later that week, I took my boyfriend to try Aventino after being so impressed the first time I dined at the sleek, revamped eatery. We started with Stella Artois, a Prosecco mojito, the chef's Tuscan shrimp amuse-bouche, pasta fagioli soup with mussels and the caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes and black olive salt.

The chef then sent out linguine with concasse tomatoes and mussels. The seafood broth was complex, yet light and the mussels were cooked nicely. For our entrees, we ordered the Chicken Milanese and sous-vide lamb orecchiette with goat cheese and mint. Unfortunately, the Chicken Milanese was dry, tough and lackluster. T
he lamb pasta was far superior. The lamb was robust, tender and delicious with the tangy goat cheese.

Dessert was an array of panna cotta with rhubarb, olive oil cake with balsamic strawberries and a flaky chocolate tart. All were unique and the flavor combinations were intense.

Aventino was a hit once again- the service was impeccable, the menu was thoughtful and the food was refined.

I was also able to try Thai Tina's for the first time this week. Amongst the table, we shared the sampler appetizer platter with shrimp spring rolls, crab rangoons and cilantro egg rolls. My favorite treat was the cilantro egg rolls- so addicting!

To share, we tried the massaman curry with peanuts, potatoes, onion, pineapple and cashews and Tina's grilled steak with jalapeno avocado fried rice. I wasn't crazy about the steak dish but the massaman curry was just what I was craving. The tender potatoes, thin-sliced chicken and crunchy cashews were divine with the subtle, yellow curry sauce.

For dessert, Tina brought us a light and yummy dessert of sliced mango, sticky rice and rice with sweet red beans. I liked Thai Tina's and will definitely stick to the curry dishes next time!

For Saturday brunch a few days later, I tried Paco and John with my girlfriend Crystal, also editor of Fort Worth Foodie Magazine. The place was packed and too warm inside but thankfully, the food made up for it.

We started with fresh guacamole and chips. The guacamole was spicy with nice hints of cilantro and lime but was too smooth of a consistency for my taste. For brunch, Crystal went with traditional migas and tropical fruit (canned) and I ordered the Breakfast Torta with egg, poblanos, bacon, queso fresco, pickled jalapeno and avocado on a fresh torta bun. It was great! After a little salt and a bit of salsa for heat...I was in breakfast food heaven!

The Summer Issue of Fort Worth Foodie also came out this week! The issue concentrates on Fort Worth "hole in the walls" and I'm published in articles about Artisan Baking Company and Aduro Bean Micro-Roasters! Visit
http://fwfoodie.com/home/Foodie-Magazine/for a delish on-line version.