Monday, August 30, 2010

pasta water ladles & emerald basil

I've been engaging in inescapable daydreams.

Lately, when sleep-deprived and in a daze, I've caught myself engrossed within ink-rampant doodling...ahem, "food-aling."

My past humdrum sketches of
dots, flowers & hearts
have switched to
trifles, burgers & steaming cups 'o joe.

When engaged in daydreams, clouded sighs from high school crushes swiftly switched to college loves then to true culinary passion.

Even without an ingredient in sight, my recipes and menu ideas always stem from internal brainstorming and outside inspiration.
Citrus candles in the ladies room may spur a desire for lemon bars. Texas gulf shrimp could create an urge for po-boys and made-from-scratch remoulade. Browning bananas create a sudden need for what else? Banana bread.
To plan a dish, I always start with one component that provides inspiration:

fresh mint from the garden,
a handful of dried plums,
homemade tortillas from the market,
local garnet tomatoes,
or stand mixer dreams of almond cake.

I then build ingredients similar to layering clothes in chilly weather.

Dark meat chicken will start to braise
with mirepoix undergarmets,
fresh herb accessories
& a blanketing of brandy...
...a tender treat perfect for a crisp evening.
For this oh-so-simple layered salad idea, I began with local cucumbers envisioning an hors d'oeuvre.

First stop: A cooler/pantry search.
Ripe avocado? Perfect.
Green onions? Maybe...
Portabellas? Too heavy.
Cilantro? Basil would be better.

After I assembled a chosen few, I glanced at my newest bottle of Sevillano Olive Oil and nodded to myself in agreement.

Emerald Salad with Layered Local Cucumber and Basil with Ripe Avocado
No recipe needed for this stunning emerald treat. So delicious you may even forget you're eating quite healthily.
In a small bowl, I dressed fresh, sliced cucumber from local Carter Farms with a dash of Sevillano Olive Oil, a sprinking of kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper.
I next fanned dressed cucumbers in a circle on serving plate then topped with impeccably-hued local sweet basil leaves from B&G's Gardens. Top with ripe avocado slices, also arranged in a circle, and another sprinkling of kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper.
Finally, finish dish with a few slices of cucumber, a leaf or two of basil and a drizzle of olive oil.
A flute of champagne with this anise-ridden, buttery salad and you'll soon be floating on clouds!

After some sips of bubbly, I prepared a rustic pasta dish for two in an effort to utilize some precious local eggplant and a whole wheat pasta gem from Lucido's Pasta and Herbs discovered at Keller Farmer's Market.

After shavings of buttery pecorino
(I always keep salty blocks of aged parmesan or pecorino in my cheese drawer)
and a sprinkling of tangy olive oil, Sunday supper was ready in less than 20.

Whole Wheat Angel Hair with Prosciutto, Fairy Tale Eggplant, Pecorino and Meyer Lemon Oil

Serves 2 with hefty appetites.

1/2 lb whole wheat angel hair
6 thin slices prosciutto di Parma
1 c eggplant, diced large
(I used small Carter Farms Fairy Tale eggplants sliced in half)
1/4 c shaved pecorino plus additional for garnish
2 T unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c Meyer Lemon olive oil
(I used oil from Olivada Olive Oil Tasting Room)
kosher salt and coarse black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425. Arrange eggplant on a baking sheet with a sprinkling of olive oil, kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper. Roast approximately 15 minutes until browned and cripy on top.
Meanwhile, heat a small skillet with a dash of olive oil and prosciutto lined evenly. Heat over medium heat, flipping occasionally, for approximately 10 minutes until crispy on all sides. Drain on paper towels and set aside with roasted eggplant.
Set on a large pot of water to boil for pasta. Boil pasta according to package directions or until al dente is reached. Drain reserving 1/2 cup pasta water and return to pot with pasta.
Add oil, pecorino, butter, garlic, eggplant and rustic tears of prosciutto. Season with kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper to taste then garnish with shavings of pecorino.

Oversized bites of swirled pasta were a joyous occasion spent with pours of red wine on my comfy slate-hued area rug.

If interested in an appetizer instead of main course, omit pasta for a unique antipasto. Crisp prosciutto, shards of pecorino, bitter eggplant bites and a drizzle of olive oil would be sublime for a cocktail affair!


Friday, August 27, 2010

bridal hearts aflutter & honey butter

Entertaining and party-hosting can be tricky business.

Whenever I'm flying solo entertaining for a large party, I believe it is integral to make no-fuss dishes that are perfectly delectable awaiting the first guest that walks through the door.

Who has time when you're all glammed up to be searing meat, finishing sauces or perfecting a delicate dessert? Not I.

A simple tip when composing a last minute dish for an event is to
judge your audience.
With close family, "throwing together" a last minute ravioli dish could be an unspoken invitation to gather 'round, sparkling cocktail and all, for some Pasta 101.
A quaint affair for foodie friends last winter turned into an impromtu rustic dinner at my tiny abode.

On the menu: Leek Risotto with Mascarpone and Marjoram that I casually prepared with a glass of vino in one hand and a wooden spooon in the other while chatting with guests. Oversized charred baguette crostinis with gruyere stayed warm in the oven and were dunked in risotto bowls right before serving.

A past holiday party for 30 with family and friends was to designed to be "hands-free" for me by mixing supermarket shortcuts with made-from-scratch comfort foods.

On the menu:

Cheese Board with Honeycomb and Fresh Berries
Assembly only, honey!

Fig Jam with Cream Cheese and Black Pepper Crackers
All found on the shelves of your favorite market.

Chilled Boiled Shrimp
Homemade Cocktail and Spicy Honey Mustard
All kept chilled until just before guests arrived.

Roasted Poblano Yellow Corn Grits
Prepared and simmering with a wooden spoon in a large, alabaster Dutch oven perfect for self-service.

Roasted Tomatoes with Rosemary, Sage and Garlic Cloves
Roasted ahead and kept warm in the oven.

Pork and Sweet Corn Tamales
Local, purchased tamales steamed and kept warm until guests arrived.
Invited to a backyard barbeque? Go chilled. Panzanella, macerated fruits, spiced dips or ceviche would all be pleasing baked bean alternatives. I doubt an eagerness to reheat food in these sweltering temperatures, anyway.

On the other hand, when a group of long-lost sorority friends and champagne is involved, assembly-only preparations would definitely be the ideal option. This August, I co-hosted a Bridal Shower for my gorgeous friend Lacey complete with:

piping-hot hazelnut coffee,
whimsical umbrellas,
foaming champagne punch,

clever wedding-themed loaded questions,
bright butterfly cakes,
and camaraderie with sweet friends.

I eagerly volunteered to contribute food and designed my menu to be assembly-friendly and perfectly tasty served room temperature or cold. I also used seasonal and local influences when pairing flavors
(as I always strive to do).

My charming shower menu was:

Aged Chorizo Corn Muffins with Manchego
(photo courtesy of Lauren Williams)

Makes 12 large muffins.

1 c corn meal
(I used Lamb's Stone Ground Yellow Corn Meal from Converse, Texas)
1 c AP flour
1 t salt
2 eggs
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 t baking powder
2 T sugar
1 c whole milk
1/2 c aged Spanish chorizo, small diced*
1/4 c manchego cheese (6 month aged), grated*

*reserve additional for garnish if desired

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix all the dry ingredients in one bowl and toss with chorizo and manchego. Combine all wet ingredients in another bowl. Combine dry and wet ingredients until just mixed. Using an ice cream scoop, divide equal batter portions amongst muffin pan, about 3/4 full.

Bake approximately 12 minutes until slightly browned and firm to the touch. Set on a cooling rack.

Whipped Honey Butter

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
6 T honey (I used local Weatherford honey)
1/4 t kosher salt
Sprinkle of ground cardamom

Whip ingredients together in a food processor or with a spatula. Transfer to serving container of choice. Garnish with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkling of ground cardamom. Chill to harden then pull an hour before meal service to soften for spreading.

Nectarine, Bocconcini and Basil Skewers with a Balsamic Reduction (photo courtesy of Lauren Williams)

Makes approximately 20 skewers.

1 nectarine, sliced to wedges then halved
1 container cherry-sized bocconcini (fresh mozzarella)
20 fresh basil leaves, sliced in half (approximately 1 bunch)
1 cup fine balsamic vinegar
20 small wooden skewers

Reduce balsamic over medium heat in a small saucepan approximately 10-15 minutes until reduced to a syrup consistency. Meanwhile, assemble skewers beginning with basil, bocconcini, then nectarine to finish.
Cool balsamic reduction then transfer to a squirt bottle. Right before serving, drizzle reduction atop skewers with squirt bottle or a spoon.

Heirloom and Local Tomato Salad with Avocado, Fleur de Sel and Sunflower Oil

The trick to this salad is perfectly ripe ingredients and just-right seasoning. I chose sunflower oil for its delicate flavor careful not to overwhelm the tomatoes. Avocados add the perfect buttery addition and fleur de sel melts right in.

On a large platter, I arranged:
heirloom tomatoes (red and yellow with bursts of pink),
local yellow plums,
assorted cherries,
perfectly-ripe avocado,
fresh-cracked pepper,
fleur de sel
and a drizzle of sunflower oil.

Serve room temperature or slightly chilled for optimal flavors.

Roasted Hatch Chile Chicken Salad with Toasted Almonds
(photo courtesy of Lauren Williams)

Simply roasted boneless, skinless chicken breasts are pulled then combined with diced, roasted hatch chiles, fresh jalapeno, celery, red onion, fresh cilantro, fine mayonnaise, kosher salt, dried pineapple and toasted almonds.

Serve chilled in a pretty bowl garnished with fresh cilantro and toasted almonds.

The right-before-party prep was simple:

Warm foil-wrapped muffins in the oven, bring butter to room temperature, slice avocados and assemble platters.
Easy as pie!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Introducing Linguine and Dirty Martinis, LLC!

I am so very excited and proud to announce the launch of my new business,

Linguine and Dirty Martinis, LLC
Food for the Fabulous Life!

The goal of this company is to provide clients with a truly exceptional experience through my love of food and culinary training, experience and expertise.

My services will include:

private chef for families

Gluten-free for your teen,
low fat for your hubby,
and Asian-inspired for you?
No problem.

gourmet cooking classes

"Crepes 101" for a bridal shower?

One-pot risotto lessons for newlyweds?

Just my thing.
plated multicourse meals

Champagne tasting dinner for the new year?
Dinner party with a Southern flair?

Count me in.

cocktail and appetizer parties

Tuna tartare and canap├ęs?

Sliders and skewers?

I'm your gal.

I arrive with everything I need, "do my thing," and leave your humble abode cleaner than before.
Of course, all meals, pairings and dishes will be imaginative original recipes from yours truly unless clients have a request for an ole' classic.
I can and will provide vegan, vegetarian, and special diets, each with international influences, should you wish.
And now, my special requests will begin:

spread the word.
book an event.
visit my new website:
email me:

Let's talk some fabulous food, y'all.

And most importantly,
look forward to a bright and healthy future.

Monday, August 9, 2010

prosecco flutes & dusty boots

August has been a constant cry for icy, cool air.

Despite my cold-flowing wishes, I seem to have fallen in sweat-ridden situations the past weeks involving:

gravel-filled ranches,
sun-beaten lakes,
horse-stomped stockyards
& cocktail-ridden patios.

Equipped with my SPF 30, I took it upon myself to fully take advantage of good eats along the way.

The whirlwind began on a charming Saturday morning filled with farmers market finds, fresh fudge and burgers at Fred's when family was in town.

After perusing Cowtown Farmers Market for fresh-baked peach muffins, a green tea and peppermint blend, hot pepper jams and local yellow tomatoes, we whisked on down to the Fort Worth Stockyards for a brief rendezvous.
First stop: the Candy Shoppe then an intermission to The General Store for homemade fudge. As the 107 heat index began to slow us, we trudged to the SUV in need for a greasy lunch revival: Fred's Texas Cafe!
After a classic lunch of burgers and Shiner, we opted for an upscale dinner that shined in the elegant atmosphere of Grace.

We were seated at an oversized table for six and sipped pre-dinner cocktails [St. Germain, soda, prosecco & thyme] as we hungrily awaited a delectable meal to come:

First Course:
Fried Texas Gulf Oysters with Wilted Spinach & Black Pepper Butter
[salty, crispy, peppery]

Salad Course:
Arugula Salad with Lime Vinaigrette, Avocado, Prosciutto & Grilled Watermelon
[an intense vinaigrette with the perfect buttery sides]

Main Course:
Diver Scallops with Shallot Potato Cakes and American Caviar Sauce
[luscious and rich with a lovely texture]

Also memorable:
Mashed Potato Trio: Lobster, Creme Fraiche & Horseradish

After a decadent evening finished with dirty martinis and fine tequila, I relieved my hangover woes with the fried egg "Blunch" sandwich at Tillman's Roadhouse followed by a bellini grande at Patrizio's.

Dinner for one was a simply-prepared summer supper perfect for the final detox.

Local Tomato Tart with Walnuts and a Hot Pepper Glaze

This tart is an acidic, textural bite perfect with a lightly-dressed salad or grilled vegetables.

2/3 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
1 cup plum or cherry tomatoes (I used yellow cherry tomatoes from Carter Farms)
1 T walnuts, roughly chopped
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 T hot pepper jam
(Central Market has a delightful
Hatch Pepper Jalapeno Jelly that would be ideal)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay puff pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet. With a knife, create an equal border indentation around the tart. Within the border, pierce holes all over with a fork to prevent rise when baking.

Brush the entire pastry with olive oil and line tomatoes in your inner-fork pierced area. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and walnuts. Bake approximately 15 minutes until border is puffed and browned.

Slide on a baking rack to cool. Meanwhile, heat hot pepper jam to a liquid stage and delicately brush atop tart and crust. Cut into squares and serve warm.

Days later, I took a quick jaunt to Austin for pedicures with Mom, comforting dining and a massive family affair on the ranch. After soaking our gams in warm, rose petal basins, I was blissfully dressed with bright pink polish and off for Chianti and comforting Northern Italian fare at NoRTH in the Domain.

To begin: flutes of prosecco with fresh berries and the oh, so simple trio of spreads:

eggplant + feta
goat cheese + pesto
hummus + olive oil

with perfectly-grilled baguette and salty olives.
Our salads were mixed green-based perfect with their smooth avocado, buttery marcona almond and golden raisin toppings. Round three was the simplest: wood fired pizza with arugula, fresh wild mushrooms and pecorino. Perfetto!
The sun-drenched weekend came to an end with a road trip to Temple, Texas for a Southern fest at its' finest held at the legendary Oscar Store for a family wedding bash.

Amongst dusty shoes [cowboy boots for him, gladiators for her],
beers by the bottle,
margarita machines,
smoked fajitas,
live Texas tunes
& coconut cream cakes,

we two-stepped the night away...