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!


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