Monday, July 13, 2009

tzatziki and chocolate ganache

Greek, Caribbean, Italian...oh my! The last few weeks I've piped, stuffed, blended, boiled, baked, creamed, chopped, fried, braised and oh yeah...eaten out incessantly. Story of my life.

People always ask me how I have enough money to eat out and drink out so much. People, that's all I do! Seldom do I go shopping (fortunately, my mother has impeccable taste), and my only other guilty pleasure is getting a pedicure.

All in all, I'd rather spend $200 on a fabulous dinner than on a fabulous dress. Agree or disagree...I'll be eating some fine foods.

A couple weekends ago, I headed to Austin for a fabulous Couples Shower in honor of my girlfriend from high school. The evening was spent with frozen margaritas, El Arroyo catered in, a mansion too fabulous for words and me trying to fit into a Bridesmaid dress that was too sizes too small...figures.

The next evening, I lounged on the patio drinking wine before I made dinner for the fam. When cooking at home, I always take advantage of the outdoor grill...most importantly, my Dad grilling my protein on the outdoor grill.

The Mediterranean-inspired menu was:

Greek Salad with Spinach, Red Onion, Black Olives, Yellow Cherry Tomatoes, Banana Peppers, Feta, English Cucumbers with a Fresh Oregano Vinaigrette

Red Potatoes with Lemon Butter and Fresh Dill

Grilled Chicken with Herbs de Provence

Grilled Pita

Tzatziki sauce

Espresso frozen yogurt (courtesy of my Aunt Becky)

I knew the meal was a success when my grandmother ate everything on her plate and took leftovers. She claims she "can't stand" fresh herbs so I sneak them in whenever possible.

Back in Fort Worth, I started my week off with Pastry class at school. This week focused on cakes- not necessarily types of cakes but methods of cake mixing to get the optimal texture, mouth feel, crumb structure, etc. Yes, there is more to cakes than just opening the Funfetti box.

In the swift 5 hours, we experimented with a creaming method, 2-step method and a dissolved sugar method on a basic white cake recipe. Although I prefer a moister cake and enjoyed the creaming method, the 2-step method was the most successful. Next, we had our choice between an assortment of cakes to make. I decided on a simple pound cake.

That weekend, culinary school friends and I had a themed dinner focusing on Caribbean food at my girlfriend's lovely house.

My contributions were:

Melon Salsa:

1/2 cantaloupe, seeded and diced finely
1/2 honeydew, seeded and diced finely
1/4 seeded yellow watermelon, diced finely
1/4 red onion, minced finely
1/2 cup cilantro, minced along with additional leaves for garnishing
2 limes, zest and juice
1 T honey
1 shaved garlic clove
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and minced
salt to taste

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until serving. Serve with plantain or tortilla chips.

Pappardelle pasta with Shrimp and a Serrano Cashew Pesto:

Serrano Cashew Pesto:
2 serrano peppers, stem removed
1.25 cup cashews, roasted
1/3 c cilantro
2 cloves garlic
1/4 shallot
zest of 1 lemon
1 T honey
1/3 c peanut oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in food processor. Stream in peanut oil until a pesto-like consistency is reached. Serve combined with pasta ingredients.

For pasta:
1.25 lbs 21/25 shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb pappardelle pasta
3/4 stick butter
1/3 c shaved Parmesan
Serrano Cashew pesto
Chopped cilantro and parmesan to garnish

Prepare pasta until al dente. Store in an ice bath to stop cooking and set aside. Meanwhile, saute shrimp seasoned with salt and pepper in olive oil until opaque. Toss in pasta, butter, serrano cashew pesto and parmesan until incorporated. Check for seasonings, garnish with parmesan and chopped cilantro and serve immediately.

Along with my dishes, there was a smorgasbord of delicious food including:

Frozen Cuba Libres, Mango Daquiris, Jamaican Jerk Chicken, Coconut Black-Eyed Peas, Coconut Corn Porridge, Plaintain Dumplings, Sweet Corn Cakes, Pulled Pork Butt, Cole Slaw with Walnuts, Tres Leches Cake with Strawberry Coulis, Coconut Cream Pie and Banana RumCream Pie.

The next few nights were spent restaurant-hopping, bar-hopping and catching up with girlfriends from my TCU days. Below is a run-down of our "feastivities".

Where: Ferre

Ordered: Crab cakes with Fuji Apple Slaw, Basil Vinaigrette, Scallion Puree

Baked Goat Cheese with Walnuts

Pizza with Carmelized Onions and Fennel Sausage

Pasta Campanelle with Tenderloin, Wild Mushrooms and Cognac Cream Sauce

Where: Lamberts

Ordered: Cheese Board with Pork Terrine, Lamb Sausage, Mustards, Gherkins, Brie, Smoked Gouda, Fruit and Walnut bread

Chicken Fried Steak

Where: Taverna

Ordered: Lump Crab Eggs Benedict

Where: Jazz Sunday at Lightcatcher Winery

Ordered: Chardonnay

Tenderloin Panino with Carmelized Onions, Mushrooms, Arugula and Horseradish Mayo

Out of all the meals, I was most impressed with our late Sunday lunch at Lightcatcher Winery. The afternoon was spent with Fort Worth Foodie Magazine's new "Table for 12" event. Although the day was rainy, the afternoon was calming and the food was impressive. The beef in my panino was extremely tender and the horseradish and arugula were perfect to cut through the rich meat and buttery bread.

After eating out to my heart's content, I vowed to cook dinner the next week.

Italian Garden Meal:

Tempura-Fried Squash Blossoms stuffed with Ricotta, Fresh Mozzarella, Fresh Marjoram, Fresh Lavender, Diced Squash, Rosemary and Lemon Zest with a Lemon Aioli

Hand-stuffed Canneloni with Braised Artichokes, Fresh Mozzarella and Lemon Butter Caper Wine Sauce

I was happy with the flavors in the squash blossoms, but a little unhappy with the texture and eye appeal. Although the tempura was a light batter, it was a little too heavy for the delicate flavors in the stuffing. The Canneloni had a complex sauce and the artichokes added an unexpected freshness to a typically heavy dish.

After a delicious dinner, I prepared for pastry class the next morning: Chocolate and Icings. Within our class time, we focused on using proper techniques- mainly tempering chocolate and making the perfect Italian and French butter cream. I made chocolate ganache and Italian butter cream, practiced piping and played with making chocolate filigrees- the gorgeous chocolate designs piped with ganache and used as decorative purposes for pastry.

The next three weeks, our Pastry Class will focus on our "Finished Product" classes using basic components we have learned to create plated dishes showcasing these techniques. Below are my dessert ideas...we will see what I change on the fly once I reach the kitchen.

Components: Laminated Dough, Stirred Custard
Dish: Blitz Puff Pastry Napoleon with Lime Pastry Cream, Fresh Mango, Starfruit and Kiwi with a Passionfruit Coulis

Component: Laminated Dough
Dish: Savory Blitz Puff Pastry Tart with Heirloom Tomatoes, Carmelized Onions, Thyme, Goat Cheese and Balsamic Reduction

Component: Baked Custard
Dish: Banana Creme Brulee with Salted Caramel Sauce

Component: Pie
Dish: Plum Nectarine Crostada

Component: Pate a Choux
Dish: Cocoa Profiteroles with Chocolate Chile Ganache and Cinnamon Espresso Creme Fraiche

Component: Cake
Dish: Layered Pound Cake with Tarragon Whipped Cream, Raspberry Coulis and Sugared Sweet Cherries, Blackberries and Raspberries


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