Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day & Don't forget to watch Top Chef

After a grueling challenge in which cheftestants had to endure extreme temperatures, ranging from the searing Texas heat to the freezing cold in Canada, local Texas chef Paul Qui of Uchiko, has cooked his way into the finale. Tonight he will compete against chef Sarah Gruenegerg of Chicago, which will be no easy task. Have you seen the pasta she makes? Unbelievable! As much as I want Paul to win, I realize that if he does, I might not be able to just walk into Uchi or Uchiko in Austin and just get a table anymore. Don't get me wrong, the recognition will be fabulous for him, after all he was just named a semifinalist for Best Chef: Southwest by the James Beard Foundation. The publicity would be fantastic for Austin, TX, by putting it on the foodie map, not that people from Texas didn't already know that. With that being said, Paul has cooked some amazing food during the competition and shown grace under fire. You go Paul! We are rooting for you. Now go kick some foodie butt! 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Seared Sea Scallops with Bacon Chive Risotto, Roasted Carrots with Fennel Pollen and Pea Puree

My husband and I prepared this celebratory meal for my parents in honor of their 46th wedding anniversary. We've made the bacon chive risotto and seared sea scallops before. This was the first time I've ever ventured out and made a pea puree. Maybe it was the spring like weather we are having in South Texas or maybe it was Top Chef season 7, episode 7 which provided me the inspiration. 

On a side note, if you were watching this particular Top Chef episode and were playing the drinking game (when a particular word is mentioned you take a sip of your libation in this case "pea puree" being that word), you would have been extremely intoxicated by the end of the show. The pea puree controversy was so scandalous that it was dubbed "Pea-Gate".

The pea puree, which was made with fresh herbs, paired nicely with the scallops. 
I also like the play on peas and carrots. Yes, I'm critiquing my own meal. The Apple Wood Smoked Bacon in the risotto worked well with the peas as well and gave the meal a textural component. Overall, our guest seemed to be pleased, which is always important. 

We served Snoqualmie, a Sauvignon Blanc from Columbia Valley, with our meal. This is my new, favorite wine. In my opinion, it is light, semi-sweet and reasonably priced ($8.99 at Central Market in San Antonio,TX). 

My version of a Pea Puree:

1 package frozen petite peas
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup chives or green onion, chopped
1/4 fresh mint, chopped
1/2 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste


Cook peas in boiling water for 5-7 minutes. Using a strainer, drain them and immediately blanch them in an ice bath. In a food processor add dill, mint, chives and peas (make sure the peas have completely cooled down before adding). Add 1/2 cup chicken broth and puree until smooth. 


Friday, February 17, 2012

Wild Rice Pilaf

This is a wonderful, light and versatile dish that can be served as a side dish or main entree. Serve it inside a baked acorn squash, on the side of a pork tenderloin or make it the main dish by adding some baked chicken. The original recipe called for canned mandarin oranges, but since oranges were in season, I thought fresh would be so much better. I also substituted dried cranberries for fresh grapes. I just love the sweet and tart flavor of dried cranberries.


1 8 oz. package wild rice, cooked according to directions on package
3 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 small oranges peeled and sliced

1/4 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
In a small bowl combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, orange juice and salt and pepper. Stir together. In a large bowl, combine wild rice, green onions, walnuts, oranges and dried cranberries. Drizzle dressing over ingredients in the large bowl and mix well.


Friday, February 10, 2012

The Rose Swirl Cupcake

Since Valentine's Day is right around the corner, I thought I would share with you my attempt at cupcake making. Actually, the cupcake is pre-made thanks to a chocolate cake mix. For me, decorating the cupcake is the fun part. 
To achieve the "Rose Swirl" effect, you will need a piping bag and a 1M or 2D tip. Starting at on a 90 degree angle, from the middle, pipe down and then around in a circle until you reach the outer edge. When you get close to the outer edge, ease up on the frosting and pull up on the piping bag. To get the two toned color on the frosting, paint strips inside your piping bag with food coloring with your outside desired color (pink in this case). Then line your bag with your second toned frosting. As you can see, I haven't perfected the rose swirl effect quite yet. It sure is fun to practice though. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Roasted Tomato and Fennel Soup


 I'm normally not a fan of fennel, but when used in small quantities, it can impart huge flavor to a dish. Roasting fennel seems to mellow the licorice taste. For this recipe, I cheated. I used canned Fire Roasted tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes. If tomatoes are in season, they would be great roasted and added to the soup as well.

Roasted Tomato and Fennel Soup:

1 large can (28 oz) Fire Roasted crushed tomatoes
1 small to medium bulb of fennel, thinly sliced
1/2 of a small onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
salt & pepper to taste


On a baking dish place sliced fennel, garlic (cloves left whole) and sliced onion. Coat with olive oil. Cook in a preheated (350 degree) for 25-30 minutes. In a large soup pot, melt one tablespoon butter over low heat. Add in the crushed Fire Roasted tomatoes and turn heat off. Once the fennel, onion and garlic are roasted, add them to the crushed tomatoes. Pour mixture into a food processor and puree or puree using a hand held mixer. Pour mixture back into soup pot if using a food processor. Add in chicken broth and cream and turn heat to medium low. Season with salt and pepper.

I garnished my soup with a goat cheese crostini sprinkled with fennel pollen and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My Fabulous Fabio Freak Out

What embarrassing thing do you say to your celebrity Chef crush if you are me? More on that later.

I arrived at the HEB Plus thirty minutes early for Fabio's cooking demo. I was surprised there were not more people there. I don't think the event was fully advertised. Hey, better for me to get up close during the demo. Fabio was his easy going, gregarious self. He definitely knows how to work a crowd. His demo lasted 45 minutes and after we were treated to a meet and greet. Meatballs and homemade pasta were on the menu. Fabio's secret to fantastic meatballs...Ricotta cheese and cooking them in pasta sauce. His challenge to the audience... Make pasta in 2 minutes. Really, It takes me more like 2 days!! For the pasta part of the demo, he enlisted two members of the audience. They were wonderful sports and unlike me were not shaking and able to speak in complete sentences. 

I have to say, I felt like a twelve year old girl meeting Justin Bieber. The first words I blurt out of my mouth, not approved by my brain of course, I LUUUUUV YOU FABIO!! What?!?!? Did I seriously just tell Fabio I "LUUUUVED HIM"? Now, My brain has to focus and recover. I try to regain my composure and ask him a question. "How was your Shot Ski experience on Jimmy Fallon?". After a mishap with my camera, Fabio snapped this photo of us. If I close my eyes, I think I'm back in Tuscany drinking red wine and eating pasta. Overall, It was a memorable experience. Luckily, I was not hauled off by security.