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.

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