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!


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