Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fritattas & Crostadas

Summer has flown by, my pastry classes are winding down and I can't wait to get back to the savory side of the kitchen in September. I've been pretty impressed with my ability to practice my pastry-making at home without an electric mixer! Regardless, that mixer is the first thing going on my Christmas list this year. I've also been mixing flavors and creating new recipes for my blog. I hope you enjoy and happy eating!

Several weeks ago after a long day in the sun, I headed to CM for groceries. After planting myself in the produce area for a few minutes of inspiration, I settled on some pretty endive and black grapes that looked perfect for roasting.

My girlfriend came over and we shared an almost Vegetarian meal that can certainly be tailored for someone with that concern.

My menu was:

Endive Salad with Fresh Herbs, Candied Walnuts and Lemon Honey Vinaigrette with Red Pepper Flakes

Linguine with Ricotta, Fresh Parmesan, Asparagus, Braised Grapes, Black Pepper, Fresh Herbs and Crispy Prosciutto

For roasted grapes:
1.5 c black grapes
salt to taste (I used sea salt mixed with dried rosemary and lavender)
drizzle of olive oil
Spread grapes on baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, drizzle with olive oil and roast in a 400 degrees oven until grapes wrinkle and/or burst. Set aside at room temperature while preparing the pasta.

To blanch asparagus:
1 bunch of green asparagus
salt to taste
olive oil to later saute

In a pot of boiling, salted water, drop the whole bundle of asparagus in and blanch for 2-3 minutes. With tongs, remove asparagus from boiling water and submerge in an ice water bath to stop cooking and retain color.

Before serving the pasta dish, cut asparagus into 1.5 inch pieces and quickly saute with a bit of olive oil and salt. Serve with pasta components.

For pasta:
1/2 lb linguine
1/2 cup ricotta
2 T fresh chopped herbs (I used rosemary and lavender. Thyme would work nicely as well)
1/2 c shaved parmesan (I used a knife and cut my parmesan into shards)
8 thin slices of Prosciutto de Parma, crisped like bacon and crumbled
salt and black pepper to taste

Bring pasta to a boil, cook and drain. Return pasta to pot and add ricotta, herbs, salt and black pepper. Plate with roasted grapes, asparagus, crispy prosciutto, parmesan shards and some fresh-cracked pepper on top.

The meal turned out really lovely and surprisingly light. The pasta was one of those "gobble it up asap without losing your manners" type of dishes.

A few days later, I was craving banana bread so I decided to bake a classic and put a little spin on it. I'm a "no-nuts" girl when it comes to breakfast cakes and brownies, but walnuts can be added if desired. To amp the bread, I added vanilla bean paste and it was delicious! The vanilla flavor becomes more inherent as the bread sits a day or two.

Vanilla Banana Bread with Crème Fraîche

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs at room temperature for 30 minutes
2 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 cups coarsely mashed very ripe bananas (6 large)
1/4 cup crème fraîche
4 tablespoons vanilla bean paste (I use can get it at Central Market or Whole Foods)
1 1/3 cups walnuts (4 ounces), toasted and chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 2 (9- by 5- by 3-inch) metal loaf pans, then dust with flour, knocking out excess.

Sift together 3 1/4 cups flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a bowl. Beat together eggs and sugar in bowl of electric mixer at medium-high speed until very thick and pale and mixture forms a ribbon when beater is lifted, about 10 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add oil in a slow stream, mixing, then mix in bananas, crème fraîche, and vanilla. Remove bowl from mixer and fold in flour mixture and walnuts gently but thoroughly. Divide batter between loaf pans, spreading evenly, and bake in middle of oven until golden brown and a wooden pick or skewer comes out clean, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool loaves in pans on a rack 10 minutes, then turn out onto rack. Turn loaves right side up and cool completely.

Also that evening, I made a quick breakfast for dinner:

Fritatta with Asparagus, Crème Fraîche, Squash, Rosemary and Red Onions

6 eggs
1 T water or milk
2 chopped blanched asparagus spears
6-8 dollops crème fraîche
1/4 cup julienned squash
1 T chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup julienned red onion
1 T unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk eggs together with water, salt and pepper. Heat your skillet, melt butter and add eggs to start setting the fritatta. Add asparagus, squash, rosemary, red onions and dollops of crème fraîche. Place skillet in a 350 degree oven until fritatta is set- 3-5 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature.

The next evening, I continued my cooking spree and went to Central Market to make Asian-style turkey burgers. Once at home, I realized I forgot the burger buns so I quickly switched to Plan B:

Spicy Turkey Meatballs, Rice Noodles with a Peanut Sauce and a Watercress, Carrot, Radish Slaw

For vegetable slaw:
1/4 c sliced radishes
1/4 cup julienned watercress
1/4 c julienned carrots
1 T honey
1 squeeze lime juice
1 t olive oil
salt to taste

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

For noodles:
2 cups rice noodles, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
1 cup peanut butter
juice of 2 limes
1 T sriracha
1 T honey
1 T soy sauce
1 T sesame seeds

After noodles have soaked but still have a bite to them, saute them in a hot pan with peanut butter, lime juice, sriracha, honey, soy and sesame seeds. Serve noodles with turkey meatballs and cold slaw on top.

For turkey meatballs:
3/4 lb ground turkey (70/30)
2 T sliced scallions
1 t sriracha
1 T honey
1 T soy sauce
1 t olive oil
1 t salt
1 T plum sauce

Combine ingredients and form into 1 inch meatballs. Sear in a hot pan with olive oil until browned. Finish in a 350 degree oven until cooked through and juicy.

That next lazy Sunday, my boyfriend and I were brainstorming lunch options and finally settled on The Original- a childhood favorite of his. Surprisingly, I had never eaten at the Original but I knew the margaritas were potent and it had been there for ages.

We started with bean and cheese nachos with pickled jalapenos and guacamole. THIS is how I like my nachos! The chips were crisp, the cheese was perfectly melted and plentiful, the guacamole was smooth and creamy and the pickled jalapenos added a nice at first sight.

For my entree, I ordered the Roosevelt with a crispy taco, beef taco and a cheese enchilada with onions. The enchilada was good but I found myself eating my boyfriend's beef tamale instead. Not usually a "tamale person", this tamale was light and savory. Really great hole in the wall that I've certainly been missing!

Also that week, I headed to Fred's with some friends to get my greasy burger fix. I found something that really set Fred's burgers apart from the rest: sauteed fresh jalapenos. Don't get me wrong, I'm not dogging the pickled guys, but these were really outstanding and so simple. With one simple ingredient, my cheeseburger was elevated immensely.

Later that week, I attended the Lamb Throwdown at the new Love Shack So7 of Tim Love. After a 5am Sunday wakeup call and working brunch up at my Culinary School, I arrived ready for a cold beer and good company. The place was jam-packed with hundreds of people in outdoor tents sampling the imaginative lamb samplings of local Fort Worth Eateries. The beer and wine was flowing and the people were sweating. Special guests of the evening were Top Chef winner and finalist, Ilan Hall and Richard Blais who were battling off in the throwdown. Both were laid-back and welcomed Fort Worth with open arms- Ilan even drank with us for a few hours and shared storied from Top Chef.

After the throwdown crowd died down, friends and I tried out the delectable offerings from the shack. I was happy with the expanded menu and really liked the outdoor ambience. Between my two friends and I, we split the chicken nachos with a spicy queso and avocado, the infamous Dirty Love burger with bacon and a fried quail egg and the lobster roll.

Thankfully, I ordered the nachos and they were great! Meanwhile, the guys grubbed down on the burger with little discussion in between. Unfortunately, the most expensive food item on the menu, the lobster roll, was definitely lacking. There was little flavor and nothing to let the flavor of the lobster shine through...disappointing. All in all, we had a ball and will return. Next on my list to try...the jalapeno margarita.

On a special evening a few nights later, I made a "guy friendly" meal for my boyfriend and I. The menu was:

Fennel Avocado Salad

Sirloin Burgers with Jalapeno Muenster, Corn, Bacon, Scallion Relish and a Roasted Poblano Mayonnaise

Mexican Chocolate Brownies

These burgers were incredible! I cooked them on the grill pan then finished them in the oven to medium well with the muenster melted on top. I didn't mix the corn, bacon and scallion relish together until right before serving so the bacon would stay crisp and the scallions would stay green.

After the week flew by, I headed to Austin for my girlfriend's Bachelorette Party. After a whirlwind evening full with a lingerie shower, cocktails and a Hummer limo full with over 20 drunk girls, it was definitely an evening to remember. The next morning, I made breakfast for the girls. The menu was:

Fruit Salad with Honey, Mint, Sugar and Lemon Zest

Brown Sugar Bacon

Fritattas two ways:
Red Onion, Fresh Rosemary, Gruyere and Asparagus
Parmesan, Sundried Tomato, Artichoke Hearts, Pesto and Fresh Basil

Croissants with a Cherry Preserve Butter

After a long nap later that afternoon, my mom and I made cocktails with St. Germaine Elderflower Liquer, lime juice, lime zest, orange juice, Pellegrino and champagne- light and refreshing. The rest of the evening was spent on the patio in the rocking chair, grilling pork chops and slurping up homemade vanilla ice cream before it melted.

As I mentioned in my last post, we have been working on our "finished product" assignments in pastry class. The past three weeks, I focused on puff pastry, pies, custards and a cake. Below are my finished products!

Week One: Blitz Puff Pastry

Tropical Fruit Napoleon with Lime Pastry Cream, Mango, Kiwi, Starfruit and Passionfruit Sauce

For this dessert, I started by making a blitz puff pastry dough and rolling it out, cutting small circles, brushing them with an egg wash and baking them. The risen, flaky circles were the base of my napoleon.

For the lime pastry cream, I infused lime zest and juice into a basic pastry cream and piped it between the cooled puff pastry. The passionfruit sauce was a combination of passionfruit puree, sugar, orange juice and honey. To plate, I assembled the fresh cut mango, kiwi and starfruit with the pastry cream and puff pastry then finished the dish with the passionfruit sauce.

Tomato Tart with Blitz Puff Pastry, Caramelized Onions, Thyme, Goat Cheese and a Balsamic Reduction
I started my tomato tart with some gorgeous local tomatoes from Central Market and the same blitz puff dough I used for my napoleon. First, I caramelized onions with red wine, brown stock and thyme then set onions aside to cool.

Meanwhile, I reduced by balsamic vinegar with salt and sugar then set glaze aside to cool and thicken. To assemble the tart, I cut out my tart circle and traced a smaller circle within to lay the caramelized onions, large slice of tomato and goat cheese. I brushed the edges of the tart with an egg wash then baked until cooked through and golden. I plated the tomato tart with the balsamic reduction.

Week Two: Pies and Baked Custards

Plum Nectarine Crostada

I decided to make a free-form pie in an attempt to not screw up a traditional pie. I'm serious. Regardless, I was very happy with how this crostada turned out. For the dough, I used a pate brisee dough layered with fresh sliced nectarines, plums, lemon zest and a bit of sugar. Before baking, I brushed the crust with an egg wash and sprinkled it with finishing sugar. When the crostada was still warm from the oven, I brushed the fruit with an apricot jam and lemon juice glaze to keep it shiny.

Banana Creme Brulee with Toasted Almonds and Honey Cardamom Sauce
This was an evolving dessert idea for me. I originally knew I wanted to make a baked, banana custard but I had no idea how to go about it. The sauce came after I was able to taste my cooled brulee and tailor flavors to meld together.

First, I made my custard with bananas, vanilla, sugar, eggs, etc. After baking and cooling, I tried the brulee and it wasn't very sweet but very "banana-y". I decided on a honey cardamom sauce to add sweetness and dimension to the brulee then toasted almonds for color and texture.

Week Two: Cakes and Quick Breads

Pound Cake with Italian Meringue, Mixed Berry Jam and Candied Blueberries, Raspberries and Blackberries

This again was an evolving dessert. I originally wanted to layer my pound cake with a tarragon-infused whipped cream and garnish with sugared berries. My head chef advised my against an un-stabilized whipped cream "frosting" because the cream wouldn't hold and would weep quickly. So, I decided on an Italian meringue and making a fresh berry jam for the inner layers. I finished the top of the cake with fresh, sugared berries and plated with more of the fresh berry jam.

Profiteroles with Espresso Ricotta and Chile Ganache

For the profiteroles, I made a stove-top Pate a Choux batter, piped them and baked them until golden brown and airy. The ricotta mixture contained sugar, a bit of cream and instant espresso powder. The ganache was an equal weight mixture of simmered cream and dark chocolate with a hint of cayenne and chile powder. The ricotta mixture would have been better with something smoother like marscapone but my lazy butt decided against an early Central Market run for 15 more minutes of sleep that time.


Monday, July 13, 2009

tzatziki and chocolate ganache

Greek, Caribbean, Italian...oh my! The last few weeks I've piped, stuffed, blended, boiled, baked, creamed, chopped, fried, braised and oh yeah...eaten out incessantly. Story of my life.

People always ask me how I have enough money to eat out and drink out so much. People, that's all I do! Seldom do I go shopping (fortunately, my mother has impeccable taste), and my only other guilty pleasure is getting a pedicure.

All in all, I'd rather spend $200 on a fabulous dinner than on a fabulous dress. Agree or disagree...I'll be eating some fine foods.

A couple weekends ago, I headed to Austin for a fabulous Couples Shower in honor of my girlfriend from high school. The evening was spent with frozen margaritas, El Arroyo catered in, a mansion too fabulous for words and me trying to fit into a Bridesmaid dress that was too sizes too small...figures.

The next evening, I lounged on the patio drinking wine before I made dinner for the fam. When cooking at home, I always take advantage of the outdoor grill...most importantly, my Dad grilling my protein on the outdoor grill.

The Mediterranean-inspired menu was:

Greek Salad with Spinach, Red Onion, Black Olives, Yellow Cherry Tomatoes, Banana Peppers, Feta, English Cucumbers with a Fresh Oregano Vinaigrette

Red Potatoes with Lemon Butter and Fresh Dill

Grilled Chicken with Herbs de Provence

Grilled Pita

Tzatziki sauce

Espresso frozen yogurt (courtesy of my Aunt Becky)

I knew the meal was a success when my grandmother ate everything on her plate and took leftovers. She claims she "can't stand" fresh herbs so I sneak them in whenever possible.

Back in Fort Worth, I started my week off with Pastry class at school. This week focused on cakes- not necessarily types of cakes but methods of cake mixing to get the optimal texture, mouth feel, crumb structure, etc. Yes, there is more to cakes than just opening the Funfetti box.

In the swift 5 hours, we experimented with a creaming method, 2-step method and a dissolved sugar method on a basic white cake recipe. Although I prefer a moister cake and enjoyed the creaming method, the 2-step method was the most successful. Next, we had our choice between an assortment of cakes to make. I decided on a simple pound cake.

That weekend, culinary school friends and I had a themed dinner focusing on Caribbean food at my girlfriend's lovely house.

My contributions were:

Melon Salsa:

1/2 cantaloupe, seeded and diced finely
1/2 honeydew, seeded and diced finely
1/4 seeded yellow watermelon, diced finely
1/4 red onion, minced finely
1/2 cup cilantro, minced along with additional leaves for garnishing
2 limes, zest and juice
1 T honey
1 shaved garlic clove
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and minced
salt to taste

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until serving. Serve with plantain or tortilla chips.

Pappardelle pasta with Shrimp and a Serrano Cashew Pesto:

Serrano Cashew Pesto:
2 serrano peppers, stem removed
1.25 cup cashews, roasted
1/3 c cilantro
2 cloves garlic
1/4 shallot
zest of 1 lemon
1 T honey
1/3 c peanut oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in food processor. Stream in peanut oil until a pesto-like consistency is reached. Serve combined with pasta ingredients.

For pasta:
1.25 lbs 21/25 shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb pappardelle pasta
3/4 stick butter
1/3 c shaved Parmesan
Serrano Cashew pesto
Chopped cilantro and parmesan to garnish

Prepare pasta until al dente. Store in an ice bath to stop cooking and set aside. Meanwhile, saute shrimp seasoned with salt and pepper in olive oil until opaque. Toss in pasta, butter, serrano cashew pesto and parmesan until incorporated. Check for seasonings, garnish with parmesan and chopped cilantro and serve immediately.

Along with my dishes, there was a smorgasbord of delicious food including:

Frozen Cuba Libres, Mango Daquiris, Jamaican Jerk Chicken, Coconut Black-Eyed Peas, Coconut Corn Porridge, Plaintain Dumplings, Sweet Corn Cakes, Pulled Pork Butt, Cole Slaw with Walnuts, Tres Leches Cake with Strawberry Coulis, Coconut Cream Pie and Banana RumCream Pie.

The next few nights were spent restaurant-hopping, bar-hopping and catching up with girlfriends from my TCU days. Below is a run-down of our "feastivities".

Where: Ferre

Ordered: Crab cakes with Fuji Apple Slaw, Basil Vinaigrette, Scallion Puree

Baked Goat Cheese with Walnuts

Pizza with Carmelized Onions and Fennel Sausage

Pasta Campanelle with Tenderloin, Wild Mushrooms and Cognac Cream Sauce

Where: Lamberts

Ordered: Cheese Board with Pork Terrine, Lamb Sausage, Mustards, Gherkins, Brie, Smoked Gouda, Fruit and Walnut bread

Chicken Fried Steak

Where: Taverna

Ordered: Lump Crab Eggs Benedict

Where: Jazz Sunday at Lightcatcher Winery

Ordered: Chardonnay

Tenderloin Panino with Carmelized Onions, Mushrooms, Arugula and Horseradish Mayo

Out of all the meals, I was most impressed with our late Sunday lunch at Lightcatcher Winery. The afternoon was spent with Fort Worth Foodie Magazine's new "Table for 12" event. Although the day was rainy, the afternoon was calming and the food was impressive. The beef in my panino was extremely tender and the horseradish and arugula were perfect to cut through the rich meat and buttery bread.

After eating out to my heart's content, I vowed to cook dinner the next week.

Italian Garden Meal:

Tempura-Fried Squash Blossoms stuffed with Ricotta, Fresh Mozzarella, Fresh Marjoram, Fresh Lavender, Diced Squash, Rosemary and Lemon Zest with a Lemon Aioli

Hand-stuffed Canneloni with Braised Artichokes, Fresh Mozzarella and Lemon Butter Caper Wine Sauce

I was happy with the flavors in the squash blossoms, but a little unhappy with the texture and eye appeal. Although the tempura was a light batter, it was a little too heavy for the delicate flavors in the stuffing. The Canneloni had a complex sauce and the artichokes added an unexpected freshness to a typically heavy dish.

After a delicious dinner, I prepared for pastry class the next morning: Chocolate and Icings. Within our class time, we focused on using proper techniques- mainly tempering chocolate and making the perfect Italian and French butter cream. I made chocolate ganache and Italian butter cream, practiced piping and played with making chocolate filigrees- the gorgeous chocolate designs piped with ganache and used as decorative purposes for pastry.

The next three weeks, our Pastry Class will focus on our "Finished Product" classes using basic components we have learned to create plated dishes showcasing these techniques. Below are my dessert ideas...we will see what I change on the fly once I reach the kitchen.

Components: Laminated Dough, Stirred Custard
Dish: Blitz Puff Pastry Napoleon with Lime Pastry Cream, Fresh Mango, Starfruit and Kiwi with a Passionfruit Coulis

Component: Laminated Dough
Dish: Savory Blitz Puff Pastry Tart with Heirloom Tomatoes, Carmelized Onions, Thyme, Goat Cheese and Balsamic Reduction

Component: Baked Custard
Dish: Banana Creme Brulee with Salted Caramel Sauce

Component: Pie
Dish: Plum Nectarine Crostada

Component: Pate a Choux
Dish: Cocoa Profiteroles with Chocolate Chile Ganache and Cinnamon Espresso Creme Fraiche

Component: Cake
Dish: Layered Pound Cake with Tarragon Whipped Cream, Raspberry Coulis and Sugared Sweet Cherries, Blackberries and Raspberries