Friday, November 27, 2009

pistachio macaroon and a turkey-filled afternoon

Thanksgiving in Austin, although a short-lived affair, was a holiday to remember full of culinary cheer. After a fully-pampering morning complete with facials and hairstylings (oh my!), my mom and I met my aunt at the quaint Walton's Fancy and Staple cafe and general store to fulfill all of our lunch-bound dreams.

We began staring in awe at the frosted clear case full of sweet delights, fresh-made salads and snacks. Mom opted for a freshly-made egg salad on wheat with a mixed field greens salad with pomegranate. My aunt chose deli ham on pretzel bread and soup of the day: Niman Ranch pork chili. I was craving a bit of spice- the spicybird sandwich with chewy whole grain, wood grilled chicken, roasted tomato and an avocado spread was the natur
al choice.

After our delectable sandwiches, my mom and aunt split an individual pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream- tender crust and not too sweet. I was eyeing the Parisian macaroons all afternoon- between vanilla pumpkin and pistachio blackberry, I went for the pistachio macaroon with blackberry buttercream- delish.

After an eventful day, I hit the hay early with visions of Thanksgiving delights (and a full day of cooking) lurking in my head. I awoke to begin the feast! First things first- getting our herb and garlic marinated turkey in the oven. After our valiant main course was roasting away, I created a flavorful, beautiful and "easy as pie" appetizer to prepare:

Toasted Hazelnuts with Thyme, Orange Rind and Garlic
1.5 c hazelnuts
julienned rind of 1 medium orange (To do this, peel your orange zest with a peeler careful not to include the white pith. Carefully cut portions into 1/8 inch thick slices.)
1 T olive oil
1 t red pepper flakes
1 T honey
1 T turbinado sugar
1 T fresh thyme leaves
salt to taste
Heat olive oil in a saute pan on medium heat. Add red pepper flakes, orange rind slices and thyme. Saute to release natural oils. Add hazelnuts and toast with aromatics until fragrant. Add honey, turbinado and salt- toss to combine. Spread warm mixture on a sheet pan to dry out, approximately 30 minutes.

Along with this simple hors d'œuvre, I made a rich, decadent side dish to dismiss any cravings for plain ole' mashed taters.
Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese with Smoked Gouda Sage Béchamel and Panko Breadcrumbs
For this rich cheese sauce, I first made a classic béchamelwith simmered whole milk, white roux and an onion piquet to impart a subtle flavor (onion half with a clove-pierced bay leaf attached). After my béchamel thickened, I added shredded smoked gouda, white cheddar, parmesan, salt, pepper and fresh chopped sage. This sauce was combined with al dente elbow macaroni and chunks of roasted butternut squash with crispy sage. I then spread the mixture in two casserole dishes and topped them with panko and shredded parmesan to bake until brown and bubbly.

After creating such a rich dish, I created my second dish with an attempt to impart flavors through cooking techniques and fresh ingredients with minimal fat:
Roasted Brussel Sprouts with a Balsamic Reduction and Pomegranate

This dish was so incredibly delicious! I cleaned and halved my brussels then tossed them in a light coasting of olive oil and salt. I roasted these at 400 degrees, tossing frequently for approximately an hour until crispy and browned. For the balsamic reduction, I reduced a cup of balsamic vinegar with salt and a bit of sugar until reduced my half and syrupy. To plate this dish, I spooned the reduction over the crispy brussels then topped them with sweet, tangy pomegranate seeds.

For dessert, I took the easy route and no one suspected! After running tight on time, I decided on using puff pastry for my pastry dough instead of a homemade, flaky tart crust.

Asian Pear, Candied Ginger and Maple Tart

The flavor combinations in this tart were quite nice. I'm not a fan of overly sweet desserts so the combination of tart pears, spicy sweet crystallized ginger, syrupy maple and buttery puff pastry was intoxicating!

I began by thinly slicing my pears, slicing my crystallized ginger and defrosting the puff pastry. After rolling out the puff pastry, I brushed the intended fruit area with maple syrup. Next, I carefully arranged my pears and topped them with slices of candied ginger and a sprinkling of turbinado sugar. Before hitting the oven, I brushed the crust edges with an egg wash. This tart baked at 375 degrees for approximately 40 minutes. While still warm, I glazed the tart with heated apricot preserves for shine. Voila!

After packing the car with our finished dishes (don't forget Mr. Turkey!), we headed to my Aunt and Uncle's home for a lovely evening. Along with my contributions, our incredible Thanksgiving spread also included:

Sweet Corn Pudding
Green Bean Casserole
Cranberry Orange Relish
Cranberry Sauce
Cornbread Stuffing
Waldorf Salad
Brown Sugar Pecan Sweet Potatoes
Ginger Orange Sweet Potatoes
Soft White Rolls
Parmesan Cheese Straws
Raspberry Cream Pie
Pumpkin Layered Cake
Lemon Pound Cake

What's Thanksgiving without taking advantage of hefty leftovers the next day? For an impromptu brunch with my parents, I assembled a quick fix that was nothing less than delightful:

Thanksgiving Turkey Melt with White Cheddar, Hot Pepper Jam, Cranberry, Red Onion and Carrots

On thick slices of wheat bread, I spread hot pepper jam and arranged turkey slices with white cheddar on top. These toasted at 400 degrees for about 5 minutes then were topped with jellied cranberry slices, thin-sliced red onion and shredded carrots. Yum!

That evening, my entire extended family was in desperate need of a post-Thanksgiving Tex-Mex fix! We met at Dos Salsas, a family-owned joint in Georgetown and waited for a table amongst space heaters and sweet margaritas with a splash of orange juice to also keep us warm.
Although I ordered a Tex Mex combo, I was instead content with my Aunt Becky's tortilla soup and pulled chicken flautas complete with ripe avocado slices. Everything was delicious- especially our honey-soaked sopapilla ending.

Once back to the real world in Fort Worth, it was time for my culinary school final! a notion that was so surreal to me until I finally accomplished it! After our written final, my class trooped into the kitchen for challenging-timed technique drills including: knife drills, roux making, whipped cream, french onion soup, eggs benedict, 45 second no-spatula omelette, risotto and a poached chicken tarragon entree complete with a stark white sauce.
The final went well and I was thrilled! Beside my hollandaise being a bit thin- everything else was fabulous! A champagne toast to celebrate was a perfect ending to our final and yet another big venture in my life.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

ravioli bites and an afternoon delight

I've definitely been burnt-out the past weeks of culinary school. Due to extreme time constraints and perpetually thinking on my feet, I've been anxiously awaiting a low-pressure class where I could simply have some fun doing what I love: playing with flavors.

Our Fusion class was just that- an assignment of random, crazy International cuisine partnerings with a course to pair it with.
My first drawing: French, Asian, Appetizer

Dish: Currant Brie Turnover with Garam Masala Sauce

I grabbed a wonton skin and delicately filled it with sliced, rich Brie, toasted almonds and currants soaked in fresh orange juice. After I sealed the dumplings, I deep-fried them while I concocted my sauce. For the sauce, I combined garam masala, olive oil, honey and orange juice in a food processor and spooned it aside the fried dumplings.

My second drawing: French, English, Dessert

Dish: Peppercorn and Raspberry Preserve Parfait with a Tarragon Cream and Bacon

For this dish, I wanted to do a play on an English trifle but forgot the necessary ingredient in a trifle: a layer of soaked cake. When I presented my mini-dessert, I referred to it as a parfait. The ingredients were sweet, salty and tangy.

My third drawing: Asian, Southwestern, Soup

Dish: Apple Celery Broth with Poached Apples, Green Cabbage and a Steamed Apple and Queso Fresco Dumpling

When I drew this dish, I immediately wanted to develop a broth-based soup pulling more of an Asian fusion with a touch of Southwestern. The base of the broth was a vegetable stock enriched with sauteed aromatics, celery and apples then strained to a clear, tasty broth. I finished the broth with the poached dumpling, poached apples and thinly-sliced green cabbage.

My fourth drawing: Russian, English, Amuse Bouche

Dish: Beer-Battered Fried Sausage with Capers, Beets and a Lemon Aioli

During our mise en place, my tablemate Eric made a delicious looking beer batter and suggested I coat a slice of sausage for this dish. Great idea- I paired the rich bite of sausage atop a thin slice of beet with a drizzle of tart, lemon aioli and briny capers.

My fifth drawing: Russian, Southwestern, Salad

Dish: Thin-Sliced Cucumber with a Jalapeno Dill Dressing, Lemon and Toasted Fennel Seeds

I liked the flavor combinations in this salad but I didn't execute it well. My dressing was under seasoned and the fennel seeds were too abundant.

Although we were only required to draw 5 pairings, I finished two more plates within the time constraint. I first rolled spring rolls with an Asian French influence and spicy dipping sauce. I was then handed Treacle by our head chef- a bitter, molasses-like British condiment. My final dish was:

Warm Treacle-Glazed Tomato Salad with Fried Basil

The cherry tomatoes in this dish were added to a scorching saute pan, quickly sauteed then glazed with a drizzle of Treacle. The basil provided color, flavor and provided a hit of fat in the dish.

Also this weekend, I was able to visit Z's Cafe in the Fort Worth Community Arts Center with Ms. Fort Worth Foodie and a friend from the Tarrant Area Food Bank. We met with Carlo, the adorable General Manager and son of head chef and owner, Janet Z. Capua. Amongst tarragon chicken salad, lovely peach sweet tea and brownies with fresh fruit, our al fresco afternoon lunch was calming and quaint.

After lunch, the three of us visited the brand-new eco-friendly boutique in Fort Worth: The Greener Good. Owned and operated by past co-worker of mine, Elizabeth, and her husband Bryan, this new local addition is fresh, chic and good for the environment. I left with a gorgeous silver bowl made from recycled plastics and hand-spun in a tiny village in Nepal- a perfect vessel for my beloved Cowtown Farmers Market produce.

In preparation for Thanksgiving, I took advantage of local spaghetti squash, delicata squash, onions and scallions to create a hearty homemade pasta dish boasting fall flavors:

Homemade Winter Squash Ravioli with Fresh Oregano, Crispy Pancetta and Ricotta Salata

For ravioli filling:

1 large spaghetti squash, seeds and skin removed, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 small delicata squash, seeds and skin removed, cut into 1 inch chunks
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/4 c brown sugar
1 T red pepper flakes
2 T chopped fresh oregano for roasting squash plus an additional T for filling
1/4 c cream cheese
salt to taste

Toss squash with oil, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano and salt on a roasting sheet pan until liberally coated. Roast at 425 degrees until browned and softened, about 45 minutes. When squash is cool enough to handle, mash with cream cheese, additional fresh oregano and salt with a fork. Set aside.

For pasta:

4 rolled fresh pasta sheets
approximately 25 wonton skins
egg wash to seal pasta or wontons

Lay pasta sheets out as shown and fill with about a tablespoon of filling. Or, fill an individual wonton wrapper with a tablespoon of filling. Seal either with a brushed egg wash. Refrigerate raviolis until ready to use.

Pan Sauce:

1/2 stick butter
2 T chopped fresh oregano
1 T chopped fresh sage


4 slices of pancetta, pan-fried to render fat and crisp
1/2 c ricotta salata, crumbled

To assemble the final plate, simmer ravioli (I boiled half and froze the remaining uncooked ravioli) for approximately 3 minutes and add to pan with melted butter, salt and herbs and toss to coat. Plate ravioli beneath crumbled pancetta, ricotta salata and a grind of fresh-cracked pepper.

Yield: Approximately 25 raviolis (I cooked 10 for recipe and froze the rest for later use)

These are perfect for a winter supper with crusty bread and a simply-dressed green salad. This definitely satisfied my Thanksgiving craving- a full Thanksgiving review soon to come!


Sunday, November 8, 2009

plentiful wine and an evening, divine.

Halloween...what a boisterous holiday! Along with a quirky DJ blasting vintage Madonna, a jolly couple dressed as ketchup and mustard and my lovely fellow "Food Fairies" Megan and Annie, my catered occasion for 100 proved delightful!

My approach to creating the menu was to fuse sweet with savory while upholding that inherent spooky playful charm that just "screams" Halloween.

Our "carnival" treat-inspired menu included:

Roasted Poblano Queso

Grilled Tomato Red Pepper Salsa with Tortilla Chips

Puff Pastry-Wrapped Chicken Apple Sausage

Tarragon Honey Mustard

Mango Horseradish Sauce

I found an organic chicken sausage at Costco (yes, Costco) and my mom swears by it! We seared the sausage, sliced it on the bias, and served it with two dipping sauces. Both sauces were inspired by yummy sauces we have made in culinary school.

Spicy Brown Sugar Sirloin Meatballs

Julienned Carrot and Red Onion Slaw

Meatballs are perfect for cocktail parties! I like to glaze them or add a fresh slaw. This slaw was light, refreshing, and matched my clients color theme. Perfect!

Artichoke Yellow Tomato Tart with Kalamata Tapenade and Pine Nut Pesto

I thought these vegetarian tarts would be a stretch but people loved them! The rich crust, salty tapenade and fresh veggies were a nice combination.

Curried Popcorn Balls with Homemade Caramel and Toasted Peanuts

Ok...technically these weren't balls because Ms. Annie and I had an interesting experience trying to make these darn things (with possibly a bit too much champagne involved). The caramel was entirely too hot to roll into balls immediately so we instead turned the mixture into a crumble.
Dark Chocolate Bark with Marshmallows, Dried Apricots and Pumpkin Seeds
This is the easiest dessert to make! Melt chocolate. Spread on parchment. Add toppings. Cool to harden. Break apart. Yummy.

After I recovered from our Halloween shindig, I started my week looking forward to the year anniversary together with my boyfriend! We celebrated with an evening of cocktails at Michael's and a fabulous, fabulous dinner at Lanny's Alta Cocina.

We arrived and were warmly greeted by the maître d’ and presented glasses of bubbles (my favorite!) to celebrate. It was then time for the feast:

Lobster Raviolis with Foie Gras Butter, Brussels and Jalapeños

I'm not a huge lobster fan (weird, huh?) but these were subtle, yet rich and a perfect way to start our meal. The only ingredient I didn't taste was the jalapeno.

Shrimp and Epazote Tamales with a Canela Scented Tomatillo Sauce

Cannelini Bean Soup with Chorizo

This soup was delicious! It tasted like a pureed corn tortilla with a salty chorizo garnish.

Lobster Bisque

I was expecting the traditional creamy, lobster bisque but this was much different. The chile base was rich, spicy and reddish brown in color with tender lobster chunks.

Prime Carne Asada, Gnocchi with Chipotle Brown Butter, Guajillo Demi

Perfectly cooked with incredible flavors. Not "hit you in the face flavors" but thoughtful combinations with a warming hit of spice.

Chocolate Souffle with Peanut Butter Ice Cream

I wanted to order the flan but took one for the team for Mr. Sweet Tooth. It was a nice dessert but would have been too rich without the tart raspberries provided.

A few days later, my work week ended early to catch a flight to Houston for a family wedding. I was SO excited to see my extended family, shop til I dropped and restaurant hop.

I arrived late Thursday evening and met my parents, aunt and uncle at Benjy's. I started with a glass of champagne then quickly ordered an appetizer. For dinner, we split:

Spicy Tuna Tartare on a Crispy Edamame Roll with an Avocado Emulsion

I could have eaten 20 of these...seriously. I was also successful convincing my mother to try raw tuna.

Special of the day: Seared Grouper with Prociutto-wrapped Polenta, Truffle Oil and Sauteed Fennel with Yellow Tomatoes

I enjoyed the sides with this entree but the grouper was somewhat blah to me. It was cooked nicely, but lacked seasonings and a certain crispness associated with searing.

Butterscotch Hazelnut Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce, Vanilla Ice Cream


The following evening, we opted for Italian fare at Prego. My mom and I started with a buratta and watercress salad with pickled yellow beets, hazelnuts, heirloom tomatoes and a citrus vinaigrette.

For my entree, I ordered the special of the evening: shrimp and lump crab scampi with rapini. I enjoyed the acidic aspects of the scampi with the bitterness from the rapini. The lump crab was buttery and was a nice contrast to the shrimp (a bit overcooked).

Finally, Saturday evening arrived and it was wedding time! Decked out in deep purple and burgundy (creepily matching my father), my parents and I set off for the joyous occasion. The ceremony was quaint and boasted gorgeous colors of dark amethyst, antique pinks, winter whites and grey greens. The reception appropriately matched and was complete with a traditional carving station, airy crab fritters and an almond-flavored Brides cake.

Back in Fort Worth, I anxiously awaited the yearly anticipated Wine Pairing class at Culinary School. Chef Jon Bonnell is the usual Chef Instructor for the Sunday class, but a Tuesday class was added due to a large number of soon-to-be culinary graduates. For the Tuesday pairing, our head chef invited the legendary Chef Walter Kaufmann of the The Old Swiss House and Sommelier, Mark Gruntz, of the newly revamped Cafe Aspen on Camp Bowie.

As a group, our class tasted about 10 wines (at 9 a.m., grant you), arranged them from light to heavy and deciphered tasting notes of each. We then were assigned three wines at random and given exact times in which to present for critique. I was assigned a Chardonnay (the heaviest white), a Malbec (a fruity red) and a Cabernet Sauvignon (the heaviest red). My dishes, wine tasting notes and critiques were:

Wine: Sonoma Chardonnay with herbal, vegetal, pear, honey and oaky notes
Dish: Turnip Leek Soup with Brunoise Pears, Marjoram and Pecans

I wanted to create a pureed soup with subtly-flavored vegetables (leek, turnips) and fragrant herbs (marjoram) to pick up the herbal and vegetal notes of the wine. The pears were to add sweetness and the pecans were added to complement the oakiness. I added lemon zest to enhance all aspects.
Critique: Both enjoyed the soup but thought the leek was lost with the tangy turnip and the turnip might have been too strong a choice for the chardonnay. Both also preferred a smoother texture- I went more rustic.

Wine: Argentina Malbec with notes of blueberries, raspberries, cherries, raisins and clove

Dish: Pulled Roast Chicken with Puff Pastry, Wine Raisin Reduction, Fried Tarragon and Clove Chantilly Cream

This was the "fruit loop" wine of the bunch. I wanted to create a play on sweet and savory for my dish. I plumped raisins in a wine reduction, whipped a cream with ground clove and vanilla and fried tarragon for a bite of anise.
Critique: Our guests enjoyed the dish with the wine but opted for less clove.

Wine: Colombia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with notes of vanilla, oak, berries, smoke and licorice
Dish: Salt and Pepper Crusted Filet of Beef with a Beet Blueberry Chutney and Fried Fennel

I also had the "big boy" wine of the group. I grabbed a beautiful filet of beef and simply crusted it with kosher salt and pepper. I wanted to prepare a chutney but I didn't want to kill the wine with sweetness. I roasted beets with olive oil and kosher salt then reduced them down with the wine, orange zest and fresh blueberries to form my chutney and complement the berry notes. After searing my filet and finishing it in the oven to medium rare, I topped it with a fried fennel garnish to add texture and an anise flavor.
Critique: Both thought the dish was executed well and paired nicely with the wine. One believed the salt content to be a bit salty but the other disagreed.
After class, I was so relieved, happy and honored to cook for our esteemed guests. With only three classes left before I graduate from Culinary School, I'm looking forward to finishing strongly!