Saturday, December 26, 2009

pain perdu and an Austin adieu

My Christmas season has been full of busy work days, sparkling ornaments, luscious red wine, homemade stews, white poinsettias as well as planning an intimate, winter dinner party for my Private Chef service: Linguine and Dirty Martinis, Food for the Fabulous Life!

Within the thick of the bustling holidays, my client selected from my winter menu of offerings and settled on a hearty spread full of deep, roasting techniques, local ingredients and seasonal flair. The 5-course winter dinner party for 10 included:

Toasted Hazelnuts with Lemon Rind and Fresh Thyme

This was a Thanksgiving recipe I made a few weeks before- it couldn't be easier. My client isn't an orange fan so I substituted lemon rind for orange from the original recipe.

Curried Roasted Parsnip Carrot Soup with Pepitas

This dish is inspired from a quick soup I made "on the fly" in Culinary School. When given a mystery basket containing parsnips, I made a pureed soup with roasted parsnips, carrots, turmeric and curry. I refined this recipe a bit by adding fresh herbs, red pepper flakes, brown sugar, a cream finish and a pepita garnish. Not only is the soup quite pretty (a gorgeous yellow-orange) but insanely delicious and filling.

Red Cabbage Salad with Bleu Cheese, Pecans, Bosc Pears and an Apple Cider Vinaigrette

This salad sounded great in my head but I was nervous that the execution might lead to a too-bitter salad. I was pleasantly surprised with the combination of bitter, crispy cabbage, pungent Cabrales bleu, oaky, crunchy pecans, sweet pears and the vinegar-ridden presence of the dressing. Fresh ground black pepper was the perfect finish.

Maple Bourbon Marinated Pork Loin with a Cranberry Shallot Compote
To all of you "pork haters"...this is my gift to you. This pork dish was perfection! (if I do say so myself) My sous chef and I marinated the pork, crusted it with fresh woody herbs, coarse salt and pepper then gave the loin a hard sear. Right before serving, we finished it in the oven to a moist, juicy medium-well. While the pork rested, we finished it with a bit of brown sugar melted butter and serve it atop brussel sprouts with the cranberry shallot compote on the side.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon, Parmesan and Black Pepper
If you haven't noticed, I'm a brussel sprout nut- more specifically, a roasted brussel sprout nut. Although I don't personally fiend for bacon, I knew it was a smart choice to go with the brussels. To finish the duo, I sprinkled grated parmesan and fresh-ground cracked pepper atop. Wonderful, wonderful side dish.

Soft Polenta with Balsamic and a Tomato Basil Jam

This is an old-school dish of mine that I served as an hors d'oeuvre for a cocktail party in the past. The original appetizer was a firm polenta cut into triangles with tomato jam and a shaving of fontina. This polenta was served soft with fresh herbs, cream, butter and a dash of balsamic. The tomato jam was a mixture of stewed tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic- very simple, yet comforting and familiar to guests.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Crystallized Ginger and Crispy Sage

The ginger in this dish isn't quite recognizable until you take a bite with the buttery squash. This side is quite easy too- the hardest part is getting your knife through the dense skin of the winter squash. I sliced the squash into wedges with the skin intact and roasted them at a high temperature with whole sage leaves, salt, pepper and crystallized ginger. Remind your guests of the inedible skin before serving.

Red Apple Tart with a Fresh Tarragon Vanilla Chantilly Cream

When I am cooking an entire meal from scratch, I go for simplicity either with appetizers or dessert. In this case, I used a puff pastry shortcut for this festive and elegant dessert. To make, I layered thinly-sliced gala apple slices atop defrosted puff pastry with vanilla sugar. The whipped cream had a subtle-anise additive of fresh tarragon and vanilla bean paste. The guests were crazy about this whipped cream and started adding it to their coffee.

After a tiresome, yet fulfilling evening full of holiday cheer, I met Ms. Fort Worth Foodie and Ms. Eat This Fort Worth for an evening of mussels and pommes frites at Sapristi. The fries and aioli were addicting and perfect to sop in the savory broth from the mussels. Along with dinner, I was completely blindsided when Ms. Fort Worth Foodie brought me a simply-wrapped graduation present- an autographed copy of Ad Hoc at Home by the legendary, Chef Thomas Keller with a personal message from Chef Keller to me! I was ecstatic- what a lovely gift.

On the topic of gifts, especially lovely ones, my Christmas was one to remember full of delicious food, gracious gift-giving and times with family and friends. I celebrated two Christmases and cooked dinner parties for each. The party for Mom's side of the family featured simple, comfort food with a hit of spice. Dad's side boasted an Italian flare with simple, seasonal produce.
Christmas Eve Party Menu (Mom's side):

Cheese Board with Honeycomb and Fresh Berries

Fig Jam with Cream Cheese and Black Pepper Crackers

Boiled Shrimp with Homemade Cocktail Sauce and Spicy Honey Mustard

Orange Guacamole

Caesar Salad with Garlic Oil Croutons, Anchovy and Fresh Parmesan

Roasted Poblano and Jalapeno Grits with Sharp Cheddar

Roasted Tomatoes with Rosemary, Sage and Garlic Cloves

Pork and Sweet Corn Tamales

Christmas #2 Dinner Party Menu (Dad's side):

Cheese Board with Honeycomb and Fresh Berries

Antipasto Platter
Because the main entree was a vegetarian option, I wanted to offer some cured meats alongside cheeses with salty and briny accompaniments.

Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese, Currants, Orange Peel, Pine Nuts and a Honey Vinaigrette
The garnishes in this salad really pop against the emerald spinach. I was careful to lightly dress the salad and let the flavor-ridden garnishes speak for themselves. This is an appropriately light salad to go with the heavy pasta dish.

Roasted Root Vegetables with Crispy Capers and a Lemon Glaze
For this side, I chopped and roasted a variety of vegetables (mainly roots) including: rutabaga, sweet potatoes, celery root, turnips, butternut squash, red potatoes, red
onions and brussel sprouts with a bit of salt, pepper and olive oil. While still warm, I glazed the vegetables with a lemon butter mixture and tossed them with crispy, pan-fried capers.

Pappardelle with Wild Mushrooms, Fresh Herbs and Black Truffle Butter
I chose a variety of wild mushrooms to saute and toss in this pasta dish: portabello, cremini, oyster, shiitake and hen of the woods. The mushrooms were a perfect match with the wide, buttered pappardelle, bitter rosemary and finishing black truffle aroma.

Crusty Baguette

For dessert, my cousin Catherine made delicious chocolate pies with a subtly sweet whipping cream - perfect with a coffee ending.

After eating my heart out in Austin, I returned to Fort Worth for a New Year's Eve dinner at Grace complete with tender crab cakes, spicy seared tuna, filet with truffle butter, pain perdu, champagne and cappuccinos- a decadent meal fit for a queen.
The next evening, I made a celebratory New Years Day meal for two: (complete with a good luck charm)

Ground Pork Burgers with Marjoram, Muenster, Arugula and Apple Grapefruit Compote

Black-Eyed Pea Relish with Jalapeno, Garlic and Apple Cider Vinegar

When crafting this burger, I was going for the whole "pork chops and cinnamon apples" thing and decided to make a compote. To freshen the apple flavor, I added grapefruit for sweetness and ginger and fresh nutmeg for spice. This compote is great with pork but would also be a delicious spread on toast with a side of bacon for breakfast or atop a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream for dessert.

Apple Grapefruit Compote with Fresh Ginger

3/4 c dried apple rings, chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
rind of one grapefruit (peel rind with a peeler and slice into thin strips)
1/2 c sugar
1 tsp salt
1 T fresh ginger, grated
1/4 t fresh nutmeg, grated
1/4 t black pepper
2.5 c water

Combine all ingredients. Simmer in a saucepan on medium-low heat approximately one hour until liquid reduces by half. Serve warm with burgers or jar for later use.

Finally, how does everyone like the new look for the blog? The white background seems like a good start for the new year- please let me know.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

bûche de noël and a culinary school farewell

The time has finally come...I graduated from Culinary School!

The past 15 months have been exploratory, confusing, innovative, strenuous, stressful, relaxing, fun and exasperating all wrapped into one package. Not only did school teach me about food, but about personal relationships and a passion truly inherent within me.

I had my highs...
creative juices flowing with mystery baskets
perfectly-cooked custards in pastry class
nailing duck l'orange and quiche lorraine in classic recipes
being unusually comfortable with tofu, tempeh and soy products in healthy cooking

...and my lows:
an initial close to tears fear of raw chicken
lackluster beef stew in meat fabrication
overly-ambitious dishes in timed cooking
total breakdown in my pastry final

...but a lesson to remember from each.

After a sigh of relief after my final, my parents and aunts came into town for my delicious celebration of achievement. After a brief ceremony (I graduated with honors!), we headed to the reception (wine in tow) and enjoyed a delicious late-afternoon of cheeses, fruits, veggie tempura, pumpkin tamales, gingersnaps and a chocolate fountain with homemade marshmallows. Too nervous to eat, I personally celebrated with a bottle of red.
Later that evening, a big group of us trooped over to the newest locale on the 7th Street scene: Tillman's Roadhouse. The decor was funky, the cocktails were imaginative and the food was pretty tasty overall. Amongst a spread of truffled popcorn, peanuts, french fries with aiolis and fried pickles, we sipped on Blood Orange margaritas and attempted to chat in the bustling restaurant.

Entrees included a filet of beef with a chipotle demi glace, snapper with celeriac and sweet potatoes, Oaxacan quesadillas, airline chicken and chicken-fried steak that circled around the chic, oversized table. Dessert was an indoor campfire with fluffy orange, maple and coffee marshmallows, chocolate, grahams and a convenient tableside fire to roast away.

After my ravenous indulgence the evening before, I settled on a healthier comfort to make for dinner the next evening:
Turkey Lasagna with Whole Wheat Pasta

Substitutions and a subtle sweetness are the tricks in this recipe. I substituted ground turkey (lean, not extra lean) for ground beef or pork, part-skim ricotta for full fat ricotta and whole wheat pasta for plain. Fresh herbs, lemon zest and vanilla sugar added subtle depths of flavor as well as freshness. I also amped up jarred tomato sauce to add ease to the dish.

Yields 4 servings.
Turkey with tomato layer:
1 lb lean turkey
1 small jar tomato sauce (I used Newman's Own)
2 T fresh parsley
½ white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T vanilla sugar (plain sugar will do if necessary)
1 t herbs de Provence
1 t crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Start by sauteing onions, herbs de Provence and red pepper flakes with olive oil. When onions turn translucent, add ground turkey and cook until turkey crumbles and turns opaque. Carefully drain any excess fat (fat should be minimal). Add garlic, vanilla sugar, salt and pepper to combine. Finally, add tomato sauce and let mixture simmer and thicken while preparing remaining fillings.
Ricotta layer:
1 container part-skim ricotta
2 T fresh parsley, minced
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Stir ingredients to combine. Set aside.
Additional layers:
1 ball fresh sliced mozzarella
½ cup fresh grated parmesan
Oven-ready whole wheat lasangna sheets ( I found these at Target)
In a small casserole dish, layer turkey filling, whole wheat sheets, ricotta spread and fresh mozzarella. Continue for three layers. For the final layer, top with fresh mozzarella and grated parmesan. Bake casserole on a cookie sheet uncovered at 375 degrees for approximately 40 minutes. Serve warm with herbed baguette.

I spent the weekend preceding Christmas helping prepare baked goods, deliver and volunteer for the third annual Chef's Holiday Pantry held at Ridgmar Mall benefitting Tarrant Area Food Bank.
The mall was graced with colorful balloons, incredible ice carvings and cookie decorating with Young Chefs Academy. Christmas goodies for purchase were jam-packed tables full of Yule logs, gingerbread trees, croquembouches, cupcakes, cookies, candies, barks and layered cakes for all to purchase and share.
The delicious event was an affair to remember and a dinner plate on the table for those in need- another Christmas story soon to come!