Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dried Chiles and Gluten-free

What do sliders, mini-desserts and noodle dishes all have in common? All were hugely impactful in restaurant trends of 2009. A few weeks ago, class at culinary school surrounded trends such as these then challenged us to recreate trends we selected. My five trend selections and dishes were:

Trend: Egg Preparations for Dinner
Dish: Eggs Benedict Putanesca with Fontina and Fresh Oregano Vanilla Yogurt

For this dish, I made a simple and quick putanesca sauce with crushed tomatoes, capers, fresh oregano and black olives. Melted fontina cheese coated the toasted english muffin followed by an over-easy poached egg and the putanesca spooned atop. The oregano yogurt sauce was creamy and sweet to pair with the salty, rich and briny flavors of the benedict.

Trend: Sliders
Dish: Shrimp Sliders with a Jalapeno Puree and Peanut Sauce

I wanted to make sliders but not your "run of the mill" ground beef mini burgers. Don't get me wrong- I love traditional sliders but opted for a seafood variation instead. I chopped raw shrimp and combined them with panko breadcrumbs, mint, cilantro, red pepper flakes, soy sauce, a touch of sugar and an egg to combine. I then formed the mixture into mini patties and seared them to brown and cook through quickly. I served the sliders with a toasted parker house roll, a spicy jalapeno puree and peanut sauce to act as ketchup or mustard.
Trend: Amuse Bouche Portions
Dish: Bleu Cheese Puff with Fennel, Orange and Chiffonade Basil

This was my "crap, I'm running out of time and still have two dishes to bust out" dish. Regardless, the chefs enjoyed it. I cut a round of puff pastry, browned it into a pillow-like puff and filled it with a fennel and orange slaw with a simple vinaigrette. The puff was topped with chiffonade sliced basil. Ehh...I can do better.

Trend: Noodle dishes
Dish: Garam Masala Beef Meatballs and Cold Noodle Salad with Maple, Black Sesame Seeds and Scallions

This dish combined the hot richness of meatballs with the cold sweetness of the maple noodles. I struggled with plating this dish because I ran out of time.

Trend: Mini Desserts/Dessert Flights
Dish: Dessert Trio
White Chocolate Bark with Pistachios and Cranberries
Coffee Shooter
Nutmeg Chantilly Cream

My dessert was to enjoy as a "flight" and components were meant to work together. The chef thought my concept didn't follow the trend but they enjoyed flavors and interactive aspects of the dessert. The nutmeg cream was shaped to spoon into the coffee shooter and sip with the white chocolate bark. The chefs instead dipped the bark straight into the coffee and were content. Ha...whatever works.

A few evenings later after a stressful work day, I met some girlfriends in the Hospital District and we "Magnolia hopped" for happy hour and dinner. For pre-dinner cocktails, we chatted amongst (very potent) frozen margaritas and frozen screwdrivers at Yucatan Taco Stand. For dinner, it was 1/2 off wine night at Lili's Bistro.

Perched around our bottle to share, we split a trio of traditional hummus, black bean hummus and baba ghanoush. Of the three, the black bean hummus was far superior smoothed over the warm pita points. For my entree, my girlfriend and I split the grilled veggie plate complete with grilled portabellos, asparagus, peppers, a perfectly grilled chicken breast and a side of smoked gouda creamed corn.

The next day, we spent the chilly Saturday late afternoon sitting by the fire pit and sipping wine on the outdoor patio at Winslow's Wine Cafe. Such an intoxicating combination- comfy chairs, blanketed with early fall scarves, glass of wine in hand and a gentle sizzle from the fire- perfect. We split a duo of hummus once again- truffle and roasted red pepper. The truffle was a bit salty but I partook regardless.

Class the next week concentrated on advanced nutrition and how to incorporate dietetic restrictions into fine dining preparations. After learning restrictions and beneficial food options for those with heart disease, cancer, gastric bypass surgeries, celiac disease, gluten-free diets and low-sodium diets, we were also given options for people who may be blind, smoke or with dentures....seriously.

Once in the kitchen, we drew to see who would act as Executive chef, Sous chef, line cook or prep cook. We then received a ticket and had 15 minutes per ticket to complete a dish in our specified roles.

Let me abruptly end this twisted tale with an example of a ticket we received:

15 minutes for an appetizer for a blind, one armed smoker with dentures

Mmm hmm...enough said. This class was hard as hell.

The next class surrounded the rich history and abundant flavors of Southwestern-style cuisine and cooking. We were presented with a plethora of ingredients to play with: dried chiles, cactus, prickly pear, tuna fruit, chayote squash, avocado, habanero, poblanos, etc. In our remaining class time, we were required to present five plated dishes to the chef along with homemade flour or corn tortillas and a homemade salsa of our choice.
My approach to my dishes was to use familiar ingredients and preparations and pair them with Southwestern ingredients to create a fusion-type dish.

Southwestern ingredients: Chayote Squash
Dish 1: Pureed White Gazpacho with Chayote, Green Apples, Toasted Almonds, Garlic, Lemon and Marjoram

Southwestern ingredients: Dried guajillo peppers, jalapenos
Dish 2: Savory beef pies with a Guajillo paste and Blueberry Jalapeno Radish Salsa with Pumpkin Oil

Southwestern ingredients: Homemade flour tortilla, queso fresco
Dish 3: Roasted Grapefruit and Asparagus Taco with Queso Fresco and a Grapefruit Vinaigrette

Southwestern ingredients: Cayenne, cinnamon, chocolate
Dish 4: Cayenne and Cinnamon-Dusted Puff Pastry Straws with a Chocolate Chile "Loose" Ganache for dipping

Southwestern ingredients: Homemade flour tortilla, pumpkin, smoked paprika
Dish 4: Fried Tostada with a Pumpkin Smoked Paprika Spread, Toasted Coconut and Fried Rosemary

Although I wasn't extremely knowledgeable with using Southwestern ingredients, I enjoyed this class. Next week will be the most challenging class for me: the recipes of Auguste Escoffier. Wish me luck!


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

duck two ways

I'm hanging in there with the savory kitchen and finally had a "Hallelujah!" moment in my Classic Recipes class a couple weeks ago. I'm a self-proclaimed "NO RECIPES" gal but the tables were turned with learning these classic recipes. Inventiveness was not a virtue in this challenge yet sticking to basics and staying true to quintessential recipes.

During our lecture before reaching the kitchen, I was dreading one recipe: Duck L'Orange. Guess what I got? Duck L'Orange. Oh yeah...AND quiche lorraine with a homemade pate brisee in a humid as hell kitchen. Perfect. Attitude aside, I was excited and the adrenaline was pumping.

Other recipes included: Beef consomme, bananas foster, chicken friand, pork piccata, beef wellington, mulligatawny soup and gratin dauphinoise.

Once in the kitchen, I ignored Donald and went straight for the quiche crust. Usually, I combine shortening (for flakiness) and butter (for flavor) but this recipe called for shortening alone. I combined my pastry flour (half cake flour with lower protein and half all purpose flour) with ice water and cold shortening. Dough was combined quickly, plastic-wrapped and thrown in the walk-in freezer.

Meanwhile, I made my custard: eggs, bacon, cream, swiss cheese and salt. After my dough was chilled, I (attempted) to roll it out. First attempt was unsuccessful: I rolled the dough too thick. Second attempt scared me: I had to re-roll the dough more thinly which is a HUGE risk to take...can inevitably end in tough crust. Regardless, I got my crust in the oven, blind baked it, filled my custard and baked it for an hour while I worried about Donald.

My Duck L'Orange recipe called for a whole duck but I only had a duck breast...obviously I couldn't accurately follow the recipe. So, I combined the essential ingredients of the orange sauce (orange juice, orange zest, lemon juice, brandy, champagne vinegar) and started reducing them down. I scored the duck fat down to the skin, dried it with paper towels and seasoned it with salt. Knowing that duck is traditionally served medium rare, I waited until the last minutes to sear Donald.

Once ready, I heated my pan (no fat!) and added the duck (fat side down) to the scorching surface. At this point, my sauce was thickened and ready to add a bit of duck fat. After the fat rendered down on the first side (about 5 minutes), I flipped the duck over in a different pan to finish in the oven. The brown remnants from my searing pan were added to my sauce, strained through a chinoise and reduced further.

While the duck finished, I removed my quiche lorraine from the oven to cool and hauled ass to plate before my deadline. With seconds to spare, I presented my dishes. Success! Great success! I was proud.

The next week, class was a complete 180 from classic recipes: timed cooking. Unlike the previous week, we had no restrictions on flavors but definite time restrictions. Every 20 minutes, our head chef handed each student a random ingredient and a course to adhere it to.

1st course: Amuse Bouche (one bite to "tantalize the senses")
Ingredient: full range
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Raspberry Jalapeno Quenelle, Chile Yogurt, Flash-Fried Corn Chip and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Critique: Overall, very good. Chef thought the pumpkin seeds could have been incorporated better.

2nd course: Appetizer
Ingredient: Arborio Rice...what?! 20 minutes to make and plate risotto? Ok...breathe, Callie. For a second I thought I should grind or fry the rice to make a coating but I quickly changed my mind and attempted a risotto within the time constraint.
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Orange Risotto with Sage and Goat Cheese
Critique: Ugh.........Chef thought risotto was too al dente (expected) and orange overwhelmed. He asked why I didn't do a spin on risotto and I was quickly frustrated. Moments later, I "grinned and beared it" and turned my frustration to aspiration for the next course.

3rd course: Soup or Salad
Ingredient: Shrimp...phew!
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Celery, Chickpea and Walnut Salad with Shrimp and a Tarragon Lime Vinaigrette
Critique: Shrimp cooked nicely, didn't like the celery
4th course: Entree
Ingredient:! "I'm not tasting this" I said to myself. As soon as I was handed the "bag o' spam", I sliced it, threw it into the deep fryer then straight to the food processor with scallions, lime zest and salt.
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Spam Wontons with a Cranberry Guacamole and Cilantro Oil
Critique: Flavorful
5th course: Dessert
Ingredient: Mango (under ripe)
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Fried Polenta with a Mango Molasses Whipped Cream, Julienned Mango and Sugared Bacon
Critique: Chefs loved the cream...confused by dish but enjoyed it

Surprise 6th course (announced as we were cleaning): Sandwich with side
Ingredient: anything goes
Time: 20 minutes to cook, plate and present
Dish: Thyme two ways:
Open-faced Pumpernickel, Melted Brie, Roasted Tomatoes, Fried Thyme
Cantaloupe Shooter with Thyme
Critique: My best dish

Despite my busy cooking schedule in class, I also cooked a bit at home using the fabulous local fall produce and artisan breads from Cowtown Farmers Market.

Spiced Scallops with Butternut Squash Risotto and a Jalapeno Puree

After all of my "Risotto drama", I practiced classic risotto and paired it with classic fall flavors: sage and butternut squash. I roasted the squash with sage then added it when my risotto was at the perfect al dente. With the risotto, I seared scallops seasoned with salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin and a bit of cayenne and paired the dish with a jalapeno puree to give color, spice and add freshness.

After the weather turned rainy and chilly the past weekend, I had comfort food on my mind. For a late Friday night dinner for two, I braised short ribs with plenty of time to relax and drink wine in between.

I paired the braised short ribs with yellow corn grits turned upscale with the addition of mascarpone (Italian triple cream cheese) and fresh herbs. The non-traditional element of this plate was the lemon parsley pistou (literally muddled in my mortar in pestle). I formulated this recipe with a sauce meant to add a distinct acidity to the rich dish. It truly balanced it- an escape from your usual "meat and taters."

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Mascarpone Grits and a Lemon Parsley Pistou

1.5 lbs bone-in beef short ribs liberally seasoned with kosher salt, pepper and herbs de provence
3 parsnips, peeled and chopped in large cubes
2 carrots, peeled and chopped in large cubes
3 celery stalks, chopped in large cubes
6 shallots, peeled and halved
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 bottle of red wine (I used a Sangiovese)
2 c beef stock (I use Kitchen Basics, homemade is ideal)

In a hot Dutch oven, sear your short ribs with 2 T olive oil until browned. Remove ribs from pot and set aside. Meanwhile, add your vegetables to the hot pot to caramelize. Once browned, season your vegetables with salt and pepper and deglaze the pot with wine and beef stock. Add thyme sprigs and short ribs back in. The liquid should nestle the ribs but not submerge them. Cover and braise in a 375 degree oven for approximately three hours.

If desired, you can also make a sauce with your braising liquid. When ribs have completed cooking (they should easily slide off the bone), remove them carefully and strain your vegetables and thyme sprigs from the sauce. If sauce appears fatty, gently wipe the top with a paper towel to remove any excess fat. With your remaining sauce, reduce it over medium heat with 3 T brown sugar, 1 T chopped fresh thyme and rosemary and 2 T cold butter. Serve atop ribs and vegetables.

For grits:

4 servings of prepared yellow corn grits
1/2 carton Mascarpone
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 T fresh chopped herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme or oregano would all be appropriate)
salt and pepper to taste

Gently stir ingredients into warm, prepared grits. Serve immediately. Save leftovers in a plastic container to fry the next morning! :)

For pistou:

1/2 c chopped Italian parsley
zest of 3 lemons, juice of 1 lemon
1 T extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste

Muddle ingredients in a mortar in pestle or pulse in a food processor. Season with salt.

Recipe serves 2 with leftover grits.

Finally, I ended the cold and rainy weekend with a date night at Paco and John in the Hospital District. Armed with ice cold Dos Equis (BYOB!), my boyfriend and I arrived starving. Warmly greeted by co-owner Francisco Islas, we were seated in a warm corner and immediately brought sliced limes for our beers.

We started with the queso fundido con chorizo and were read the specials by Islas' son, Paco. We decided on the roasted duck enchiladas and the pechuga de pollo stuffed with queso fresco, avocado and banana with a poblano cream sauce. The chicken arrived piping hot, perfectly cooked and bursting with flavor. Served with a simple ratatouille and rice, it was a perfect portion. As I happily ate away, my boyfriend rampaged his rich and spicy duck enchiladas. The dish was robust and served with rice, black beans, avocado and radish slices (that I promptly moved over to my plate).

For dessert, we split the homemade flan- one of my favorite desserts. The flan was flecked with vanilla bean, creamy and simple. We could have done without the neon sauce accompaniments but simply pushed them aside and focused on the prize. Next trip- Saturday morning brunch for my beloved Breakfast Torta.