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.


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