Thursday, January 29, 2009

sultry reds and the Vegan-ista

I've eaten entirely too much this week.

Between being off work from the ice storm and having too much time on my hands I took it upon myself to do what I do best and...well, eat. Along with my excessive eating out spree, my beloved (and crazy) college friend came in from NYC- she was a part of my gluttony.

To start off the week, a group of us met for an early dinner at Winslow's. Eager to try the revised menu, the meal had its ups and downs. Always a fan of the cheese board, it didn't fail to please. We also started with the garlic-truffle oil hummus. It was full of flavor and perfect with the grilled bread.

After our appetizers, my girlfriend ordered the wedge salad (bacon, tomatoes, bleu cheese dressing) and it was a complete disappointment. The "wedge" was tiny, the flavors were lackluster and the presentation was amateur- definitely not worth $8.

For our entrees, we ordered the lobster ravioli, spinach and goat cheese pizza, spicy shrimp with angel hair and the buffalo short ribs with a rosemary goat cheese mashed potatoes. The lobster ravioli was fishy and chewy. I didn't even finish my bite. The shrimp with angel hair was missing the flavors of the two main ingredients- the only things I tasted were olive oil and red pepper flakes. The goat cheese and spinach pizza was ok. The crust was nice but the abundance of goat cheese masked the bechamel and vegetables.

Thankfully, I ordered the best dish of the night- the buffalo short ribs. They were perfectly tender, fell off the bone and had rich flavor. The mash was a nice accompaniment although the rosemary overwhelmed the goat cheese. Nice dish- my Dad would love it.

Dessert had its ups and downs as well. We shared the chocolate ganache "ravioli" with blueberry Creme Anglaise and chopped mint. I couldn't get past the appearance- the blueberry anglaise was unappetizing. After a bite, the chocolate ganache was overwhelming, the puff pastry was packaged and I couldn't taste any hint of the blueberries.

Although the meal had its disappointments, I'll be back to prove myself wrong.

For lunch the next day, I took my NYC lover to Spiral Diner- notorious for its innovative, homemade and simply delicious Vegan fare. We started with some iced black tea and hummus dusted with paprika and lime juice. After I added a bit of salt, it was very tasty

I then ordered the "Sweet Luv'us" hummus wrap with sweet potato, hummus, broccoli, cucumber, avocado, salad greens and spicy walnuts with a tahini dressing. The flavors were great, I just wanted a little more texture- perhaps more spicy walnuts to offset the creamy consistency of the hummus, sweet potato and avocado.

NYC ordered the hot hummus wrap with grilled broccoli, black olives, carrots, corn, green peas, black beans, pine nuts and avocado with ranch dressing. Although I liked the flavor of my wrap, I preferred the texture of this one- delicious!

A few days later, my roommate and I returned to Spiral Diner for Sunday brunch. Although my mouth was watering looking at the "all you can eat" cranberry walnut pancakes, I ordered the seitan wrap with seasoned seitan grilled with red bell pepper, black olives, tomato, corn, carrot, avocado and a chipotle mayo. The marinade for the seitan was great- the waitress told me their secret was liquid smoke. I also liked the heat coming from the chipotle mayo.

The roomie ordered the "big taquito" with a tofu "scramble", diced "sausage", onions, red bell peppers, potatoes, avocado and salsa. Although the consistency of the scramble irked me a bit, the flavors were nice as well.

Later in the week I stopped by WineStyles on Camp Bowie to scour through the bottles of wine for an extended happy hour with the girls. Out of our purchases, my favorite was a 2006 red blend called Hey Mambo Sultry Red. With flavors of blackberry, plum, espresso, dried herbs and chocolate; this wine was inexpensive, yet decadent and will appear on my table again.

After our afternoon of decadence, the dinner choice was the fun, laid-back locale on Bluebonnet Circle: Ocean Rock. Amongst the table, we ordered top shelf margaritas, Fat Tire-battered halibut tacos with chipotle and a cabbage slaw, seared ahi tuna with a pineapple mango salsa and fish tacos with a mango habanero sauce.

The halibut tacos had a good texture, smoky flavor and weren't greasy. The tuna was served rare, although ordered medium rare, but was still tasty. The other fish tacos fell flat while the mango habanero salsa overwhelmed.

My final stop on my gluttonous journey ended with a lax dinner and brews at Boomer Jacks in Montgomery Plaza. Although our guy friends prefer Hooters, we came up with a (somewhat) suitable replacement. Even though the skin-tight orange booty shorts were lacking, the food, cold beer and attentive service made up for it (for me at least).

The Cajun chicken wings were crispy, saucy and spicy- perfect with ranch dressing. The bacon on the bacon cheeseburger was crispy and delicious- perfect with the juicy, medium-well chuck patty. Finally, the chicken fingers were hand-battered, moist and crispy- perfect with the well-seasoned, hot and crispy french fries. Sorry guys, this place totally trumps Hooters.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

pot au choux and mutton busting

After surviving the weekend with an unpleasant stomach virus, I was finally able to stomach real food. No more Gatorade and applesauce, thank goodness.

Monday night, friends and I met for an early dinner at Fortuna for some Italian fare. Normally, I would have started with some red wine, but I stuck with an iced tea. To begin, we were brought warm, soft garlicky rolls with an infused olive oil for dipping. Between the table of three, we polished off two baskets.

For dinner, we chose lasagna, chicken parmigiana and tortellini alla rosa with a pink sauce...ok, and a small pepperoni pizza. Can you tell we were starving?

I ordered the traditional lasagna with ground beef. It had good flavor, but was a bit runny. The chicken parm was pretty simple and extremely cheesy. My favorite was the tortellini. The sauce was light, the cheese filling was flavorful and the pasta was so yummy. The pizza was good too, perhaps the best of the bunch. Next time I return I'm going to make it a pizza and vino night.

The next evening was a quick dinner and margs at Uncle Julio's then Bulls Night Out at the stock show. Amongst the too-full table of queso, guacamole and chicken quesadillas we sipped sangria-swirled margaritas and a couple shots of Tres Generaciones. After a few hours of bull riding and some XL Coors lights, we finished the night a Poag Mahones (old Shamrock) on 7th.

This week was hors d'oeuvre and canapƩ week in my culinary classes. We started the class with a few dozen fresh herbs, dried herbs, seeds and spices that we tasted, smelled and were asked to identify. The only thing that tripped me up were some of the seeds...damn you, caraway.
Next, we went to the kitchen and were asked to prepare an array of hors d'oeuvres- tea sandwiches, salsas, fritters, pot au choux puffs and an individual creation using either phyllo or puff pastry.

Our group put a little twist on the tea sandwiches and they were so fun to make! My favorite two were:

Cucumber ribbons atop rounded white bread with a sour cream, marscapone, dill, lemon juice and salt spread
Cream cheese with orange marmalade atop rounded white bread with crushed cocoa beans

For my individual recipe, I knew I would be on a time crunch so I chose to work with the puff pastry- no time to layer and brush 10 sheets of phyllo with melted butter! My dish was:

Puff pastry rounds stuffed with lemongrass and ginger pulled chicken with avocado, lime and fried scallion

First, I began to simmer coconut milk, whole milk, one stalk of lemongrass and grated ginger over a medium-low heat to infuse the milk. Next, I poached a boneless, skinless chicken in the milk mixture by adding the chicken to the shallow mixture and covering it with buttered parchment paper. After the chicken was cooked, I removed it to cool and raised the temperature of my infused milk to thicken.

Next, I shredded the chicken and added it back into the infused milk to marry the flavors back together. Next, I cut my puff pastry into 2 inch rounds, brushed the tops with an egg wash and baked them in the convection for about 5 minutes. While the pastry baked, I chopped some scallion and flash fried them in hot olive oil for a few seconds and sliced my avocado.

To assemble, I split my puff pastry and filled them with a spoonful of the shredded chicken with lemongrass and ginger. Then, I added a slice of avocado, some fried scallion, sea salt and finished it with lime juice.

The end of my weekend was spent with icy cold Dos Equis scooners and fish tacos at the Fuzzy's opening in Arlington (right by UTA). The place looks awesome- same great food but this locale has more of a hip, sports-bar feel- check it out!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

curse of the club sandwich

My woe to Central Market...the reason my paycheck disintegrates so readily. But truthfully, CM is my savior specifically for its produce and protein freshness. My beloved sandwich bar has been revamped and no longer supplies my favorite bread- the sunflower bread. But, on my most recent adventuresome visit, I went for the Greek hoagie on rosemary bread.

The bread was great- rosemary baked in with a salty crust- then came the good stuff...oven roasted turkey, feta, cucumbers, tomatoes, pepperocinis, red onion, arugula and a Greek yogurt with dill...the salty, crisp, creamy, savory, juicy deliciousness was overwhelming. Great sandwich.

Although the holy sandwich was the main event, it needed a sidekick. Enter, soup bar. My favorites are the rustic chicken noodle and the asparagus basil. Both were m.i.a. so I went with the vegetarian vegetable and it definitely packed a punch. After reading the extensive ingredient list, I found the robust culprit...Serrano chiles. Who knew?

On a more recent visit, I wandered to find something comforting for a Sunday dinner. What could be better than burgers? My menu was:

Sirloin burgers with shallot, rosemary, lavender and pecorino toscano
Rosemary roasted potatoes

With the ground sirloin, I added olive oil, grated shallot, grated ginger, honey, olive oil, salt, pepper and my new fleur de sel with dried rosemary and lavender. I sauteed them on the grill pan, 2-3 minutes per side, then finished in the oven until medium-well. Right before serving, I melted the grated pecorino toscano on top and piled it high on a whole wheat roll with carmelized onions, pan-fried avocado, a horseradish crema and a gorgeous heirloom tomato slice- delish.

For the potatoes, I tossed halved new potatoes with fresh chopped rosemary, olive oil, sea salt and pepper then roasted it- so simple.

The next night, I made a quick (but yummy) spaghetti and meatballs with the remaining marinated ground sirloin. First, I seared the meatballs to get all the juicy brown bits of deliciousness at the bottom of my Dutch oven. Then, I removed the meatballs, and deglazed the pot with red wine, chopped onion, garlic, fresh rosemary and parsley. I added bottled plain tomato sauce (don't tell), sliced mushrooms and my meatballs back in to simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, I got my water boiling for my whole wheat angel hair and my girlfriend made a great side- broiled brussel sprouts with Parmesan. It was so easy- even I was amazed. No blanching, no boiling, no ice bath! First, she removed the stalk and sliced the brussel sprouts horizontally. We tossed them on a sheet pan with salt, pepper, olive oil and Parmesan to broil- they were ready in minutes.

The next evening was my first night back at culinary school! The night concentrated on "garde manger" also referred to as the cold side of the kitchen. Although this has infinite possibilities, our evening concentrated on salads, salad dressing, sandwiches and sides. Seemingly simple, those sandwiches got to me a bit.

In groups, we were required to make a Caesar salad, salad niƧoise, a traditional club, a Reuben, a monte cristo served madame style with a fried egg and an individual sandwich or salad of our choice.

To be completely honest, I wasn't too excited about this one. I've never made any of these (except the Caesar) nor would I ever order them in a restaurant....just not appealing to me. But, I sucked it up and went for the Caesar, monte cristo and the club. Excuse my bluntness, but the club was complete crap....we will skip that one.

The monte cristo turned out well. I layered white bread with Dijon, muenster, Swiss, ham and a fried egg. Then, I dredged the sandwich with egg (french toast style) and pan fried it. When I've had a monte cristo, It always comes with some sort of raspberry preserve. So, I decided to make a spin on the sweet, tart sauce.

I made a pan sauce with raspberry preserves, red currant jam, horseradish, cayenne and red wine. I wanted the spice from the sauce to complement the richness of the fried sandwich- turned out well.

When it was finally time for me to create my own sandwich, I had run out of time. So, I decided to make a crostini-type appetizer instead. First, I toasted baguette slices in the oven then topped them with a mixture of cream cheese and balsamic. After a spoonful of apricot marmalade, I finished them with toasted sliced almonds and a salted orange segment. The instructors really liked it so I was happy.

Screw the club.

a partridge in a pear tree

This Christmas was a special one with my family in Austin. It has been a stressful past month but cooking and food are constants in my life that keep me motivated, engaged and creative.

Christmas Eve I raced from work in Fort Worth to my parents house in Austin for our annual family Christmas Eve party. Unable to help with dinner, my mom took a simple approach and served rustic food; buffet style.

In her cherry red boullibase pot, she served velvety corn chowder with white cheddar and cilantro. Homemade tamales were served with salsa verde and a moist, succulent and smoky roast turkey was served with fresh rolls and fig chutney. The dessert table and decor was gorgeous- homemade sugar cookies, rich coconut cake and a vanilla spice cake were all nestled together resembling a whimsical, winter wonderland.

Not to brag (ok, a little), but I was spoiled silly Christmas day. For my culinary-related goodies, I was given:

Blue Le Crueset Dutch oven, teal square baking dishes and a white skillet
Basil-infused extra virgin olive oil
The most delicious balsamic I've ever tasted

Fleur de sel with rosemary and lavender
Funky multi-colored salad utensils
Stainless appetizer flatware
White, square serving dishes
Keurig one-cup coffee maker (ingenious! makes teas and cocoa as well)
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics Cookbook
A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis
The Food of Thailand cookbook (gorgeous photographs)

Wine glasses (stemless for red, with stems for white)

Christmas Day, after opening gifts with Mom and Dad, we headed out to my grandmothers house for a huge breakfast of scrambled eggs, pigs in a blanket, egg casserole, sausage, bacon, grits, cinnamon rolls, orange banana punch and coffee...I look forward to this breakfast every year.

The next day, I was cooking for my Dad's side of the family Christmas dinner. My morning started with breakfast tacos from the infamous Taco Shack and scouring the aisles at Central Market. Happy with my purchases, I headed back to start cooking.

The menu for 18 was:

Spiced glazed cashews, walnuts and pumpkin seeds
I started off by melting 1/2 stick butter in a large skillet. Toss nuts to combine (any assortment would be great, we already had this combo). I then added 1/2 cup honey, several shakes of cayenne, 4 tsp of minced rosemary and salt to taste. Saute until nuts are toasted and all ingredients are combined.

Cheese platter with Brie, Gouda, Stilton, honeycomb with rosemary lavender fleur de sel, berries, apples, pears and assorted crackers

Grapefruit and blood orange salad with a star anise syrup (December Gourmet)
I supremed an equal number of grapefruits and blood oranges and squeezed the juice from the leftover pulp. Meanwhile, I made a simple syrup with equal parts water, granulated sugar and 6 star anise cloves. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer to thicken. Set aside to cool then drizzle over citrus segments.

Fennel and avocado salad with a citrus lime vinaigrette
First I made the vinaigrette with the juice of two limes, one lemon and one orange. Add the zest of 1 lime, one lemon and 1/2 orange. Pulse in the blender with two garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, honey, salt and pepper. When combined, slowly add olive oil to emulsify and finish vinaigrette. Serve with shaved fennel, sliced avocado and endive spears.

Fresh corn succotash with a jalapeno butter
Saute fresh corn, chopped onions, minced garlic, chopped bell peppers (I used orange, yellow and red), and minced jalapeno with butter, olive oil, salt and pepper. Finish with chopped parsley and/or cilantro.

Next, make the compound butter. Take two sticks of room temperature, unsalted butter and combine with a touch of olive oil, minced jalapeno, chopped scallions, chopped cilantro, salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture into plastic wrap and form into a cylinder shape. Freeze to harden then slice into individual pats. Serve over succotash.

Grilled surf and turf with a chimichurri
We chose New York strips and 21-25 shrimp. I marinated the steak with a dry rub of paprika, cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper. The shrimp was marinated with olive oil, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper. Grill steak, shrimp, lime halves brushed with olive oil and red onions brushed with olive oil until desired doneness is achieved.

I also made a recent trip to Dallas for a friends birthday. The occasion called for rooming at Zaza and sushi and cocktails at Nobu. Amongst the table of girls (already full of sake) we split the spicy rock shrimp, yellowtail and jalapeno sashimi, spicy pequillo peppers, spicy tuna rolls, miso marinated cod and enoki mushroom, Japanese pumpkin and avocado tempura.

Our (hungover) breakfast the next morning was popovers with strawberry butter and the Austin tacos with a chipotle cream sauce at Dream Cafe.

Once back in Fort Worth, I had dinner at Winslow's Wine Cafe. To begin, my mom and I shared the dungeness crab cakes with a garlic aioli and a blueberry and blackberry salsa similar to a pico de gallo. I liked the crab cakes and the salsa was could tell the crab cakes weren't pre-frozen and the crab wasn't fishy tasting.

Next, we split the spinach salad with apples, pecans, goat cheese and an apple cider vinaigrette- it was perfect. The dressing wasn't overwhelming nor was the salad overdressed. Finally, we split the Jim Bowie pizza with chicken, barbecue sauce and fresh jalapenos. The crust was nice and the flavors were good but there was entirely too much barbecue sauce.

The next day we headed to Northpark and lunched at the Mermaid Bar in Neimans. I ordered the soup of the day (chicken and white bean) which was nice and surprisingly light. Next, I ordered the Love salad with chicken, avocado, artichoke and tomatoes with a lemon oregano vinaigrette. The boiled chicken completely lacked flavor- not worth $11 . My mom ordered a slice of the coconut cake and I had to sneak a bite (even though I'm not a huge coconut fan). Good idea on my was heavenly.

That evening, we dined at Brix Wine Bar for a late dinner. Accustomed to the Brix menu, I hadn't returned because the food was simply mediocre. My visit back changed my mind. The wine list was more extensive and the menu was revised.

My mom and roommate Megan ordered a "make your own" pizza and chose eggplant, onions, jalapenos and roasted red peppers. A seemingly bizarre combination, it was perfect. The vegetables were cooked perfectly and you could taste all elements of the pizza in a delicious cohesion while the jalapenos added a mellow heat.

I ordered the vegetable plate and added grilled chicken. The plate came with grilled eggplant, romaine hearts, zucchini, tomato and chicken all beneath a drizzle of sweet balsamic and crumbles of salty feta. Despite the eggplant being a bit overcooked, the dish was so incredibly simple and flavorful...I'm back to being a Brix believer.

Last night, friends and I cooked dinner. After discovering we were stripped dry of salt (how does that happen?!), dinner was still delicious.

Spinach salad with orange, toasted hazelnuts, Camembert and a simple lemon juice and olive oil vinaigrette with red pepper flakes

(The salad turned out fine, but the Camembert was a bit rich with the buttery hazelnuts)

Pan seared halibut with lemon, pepper and white wine
Rosemary tomato polenta
Sauteed artichoke hearts and onions

Great, light dinner for all those trying to lose the LBS for the new year!