Archive for May 2011


Ennui and Risotto

May 31st, 2011 — 4:39pm
Shrimp Risotto

Shrimp Risotto

I really hate being good. Since the first of the year I have been walking three miles every day. This led to a loss of twenty pounds, aided by having to work two jobs. Then when I lost both my jobs I decided to be extra good (ugh) so last week I quit drinking and decided that after all the walking I could start jogging again. In my rush to sobriety I went out and bought a pair of running shoes complete with the correct orthotic inserts and now I am not only building up my endurance running I am stretching and doing all sorts of other exercises contorting my body into poses it has not taken in about ten years. The good news, my waist is now down to a 33, and I can wear the slim-fit shirts. The bad news, all of my clothes look kind of baggy. Despite the fact that my gluteus maximus is firmer it is buried under a bunch of extra fabric so nobody really sees the difference. I went out and bought some new clothes this weekend just to make myself feel better. I even bought a pair of the skinny leg pants that all my 20-something friends wear. I look good in them, if a bit ridiculous. I think I can pull it off if I leave my shirt untucked.

It only gets worse. I have also been eating better. Not that we ate poorly before. I tend to eat more lean meat, if any at all, portion size is reasonable, without much fat and, well God help me, all this being good is just boring me to death. Yesterday I could not face another steak, lean pork or chicken breast. I went out and bought some shrimp without any idea what to do with them. I found a risotto recipe from my old girl friend Lidia Bastianich which cut out the butter and cheese and just used canned tomatoes, salted water, and some seasonings with the shrimp. It sounded too good, as in good for you, to be true but I went ahead with it anyway.

The concept was interesting; use pureed tomatoes for the main ingredient in the risotto. Water was used instead of broth. The only real seasoning included shallots, some onion, a bit of salt and pepper, shrimp cooked with a bit of garlic and finished with some fresh Italian parsley. I am sorry Lidia this dish was not working for me. It tasted too bland. So I went back to my old risotto friends butter and cheese. I know you are not supposed to mix cheese and fish in Italian cooking. We will call this a French-stye risotto then. The outcome was decidedly more to my liking. And since I have been so good for so long a little butter and cheese was not going to kill me for one night. You can go with Lidia or you can go with me on this one. With this shrimp risotto the butter and cheese is optional. But not as far as I am concerned.

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The Pantry Meal

May 27th, 2011 — 10:27am
Penne Pasta with Grilled Sausage

Penne Pasta with Grilled Sausage and Broccoli

Every once in awhile I do not plan ahead and all I have are some odds and ends in the refrigerator or pantry available to cook a meal. I suppose if I was ambitious enough I could actually make a run to the store. But running to the store around dinner times is one of my most dreaded experiences. So I make do with what I have.

Last night I had a couple of choices of sausage, some broccoli, some penne pasta, some kale from the garden and the usual assortment of chicken broth, olive oil, and lemons. It did not seem like a likely assortment to make a meal. However, there was no way I was going to run to the store at the last minute to be able to make something else. First I grilled the hot italian sausage. I then thought, with the grill hot, I might as well grill the broccoli. I tossed the broccoli spears in a bit of olive oil and lemon and just threw them on the hot grill for about 3 minutes per side.

I set the penne to boiling and sauteed some onion. I threw in the sliced grilled sausage and the kale. I poured in a bit of chicken stock, white wine, and lemon juice. Reduced the sauce and wilted the kale. At the very end I drained the pasta and threw some into the pan with the grilled broccoli. Of course I can never leave well enough alone. I finished the whole thing with a drizzle of olive oil and some parmigiano reggiano cheese. I have to say the pantry meal turned out really good!

The bitterness of the kale and broccoli were offset by the heat of the sausage and the brightness of the lemon juice. The grilled broccoli and sausage gave the whole dish a bit of smokiness. It was a great mix of flavors. More importantly, I did not have to run to the store. So if you ever have this improbable mix of ingredients I would suggest penne pasta with grilled sausage and grilled broccoli.

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Saucy Condiment

May 21st, 2011 — 10:51am

Sauce Provencale over Pasta

Many years ago I came across a recipe for cod provencale. A fancy sounding name for a dish where the cod is poached in a tomato-based sauce with lots of fennel and leeks. The emphasis in flavor was definitely on the fennel with fresh fennel and crushed fennel seed both being used. It was a pretty good dish and while I have not posted the recipe here I am sure I will get around to it one of these days.

The sauce is something I have played with over the years. Once you get the basics, some fennel, some leeks, some onion and some fennel seed you can run with this is many directions. The final version is pictured above and is cooked to the point where the sauce is very thick, rich and almost like a condiment. Not just being happy with the basics I have added capers, some olives, and for those of you with a penchant for the last bit of over-the-top, a shot of Ouzo is added (optional of course).

The tendency is to serve this with pasta as pictured above. I do think it would be a good condiment for most any chicken on fish dish. It adds just enough interest on its own to stand alone. So herewith my version of sauce provencale.

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Cocoa & Lavender

May 18th, 2011 — 9:06am


If you were following me a couple of weeks ago I went on a seven day road trip through El Paso, Tucson and on to Phoenix and back. I was able to spend some time with my favorite people, in my favorite guest bedroom, eating incredible food every night. I am referring to my friends David and Mark in Tucson.

In addition to being a great cook, David is also an incredible photographer (something of which I will never be accused based on the pictures here). He goes to a lot of time and trouble to get the perfect shot. In his case patience is a virtue; a virtue of which I possess very little.

He has been writing a food blog for awhile now and I wanted to highlight it for all of you and provide you with the links. He was kind enough to send me the recipes for some of the meals he cooked while I was in Tucson. They include an Apple Crostata, Chocolate Pots de Creme (made in the microwave of all things), and Grilled Pork Medallions in Agrodolce. I am adding the recipes to the recipe section of the blog.

If you want some great recipes and great pictures of the actual food and events at which they are served I highly recommend his blog Cocoa & Lavender. While our cooking skills are on a par with one another. He definitely wins the photography contest.

Buen provecho!

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Evening Cocktails

May 17th, 2011 — 8:14am

Casual Patio Cocktails

The most recent posts were about restaurants. Places we can to go to enjoy our friends or just dine alone. They can often be a great dining and entertainment experience. Although the requirement to maintain some sort of decorum in front of the rest of the dining public can be somewhat inhibiting. You do not want to blurt out your bawdiest jokes in front of a room of dining Mormons.

We are lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where the informal get together is still in style. It is usually over cocktails and comes with a variety of dishes mostly from whatever any wanted to whip up an hour before the event. We recently went to one at our neighbor across the street. Metta is a great cook, a good story teller, and generally all around good fun if you want to have one of these soirees.

I especially liked the informality of the event. While we had met many of the people for the very first time somehow sitting on the back patio drinking cheap wine and eating good food lends to a great deal of relaxed and interesting conversation. Something that is truly missing in this day where everyone wants to take sides about some issue while you are trying to enjoy dinner or a drink. It was relaxing, fun, and all too brief.

Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad

Metta made an interesting version of a caprese salad. I would never attempt one before the tomatoes are ripening in the garden. She used a version where you roast the tomatoes and make them almost taste like those coming off the vine in the summer. So when you have a hankering for a caprese salad in January this one just might fit the bill.

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Los Jalapenos

May 8th, 2011 — 8:00am

Pechuga Rellena

It will probably seem strange talking one day about one of the best and priciest restaurants in Dallas and the next time talking about one of the best bargains around with some of the best Mexican food. One restaurant housed in one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in Dallas, the other in a strip mall in Carrollton. I am a believer that a review should be based on the value received. If the food is expensive it had better be over-the-top good much like Abacus. If it is less pricey you can give a bit of leeway for cutting some corners as long as the food is still good. At Los Jalapenos the food is very good. The value received remarkable given the price.

I have done a lot of griping about Tex-Mex not really being authentic Mexican food. I will not go into that again here. Although the menu at Los Jalapenos says that the Mexican food has a Texas influence, I think that is more because they do not want to scare any gringoes away by telling the real story. That the food is about as Mexican as you can get. The only ingredient missing is the total chaos of a real Mexican restaurant. Perhaps things are more organized the further away we get from the border.

Pollo Poblano

The menu has the usual suspects enchiladas, tacos in a variety of formats. However, for about a dollar more you can get something from the Especialidades de la Casa menu which will bring you into the authentic Mexican territory. I highly recommend the Pollo Poblano, which is a chicken breast in a poblano cream sauce and topped with monterrey jack cheese. And I enthusiastically recommend the Pechuga Rellena a rolled chicken breast filled with ham, cheese and pico de gallo covered is what is called Francis’ special sauce. There is just enough heat in the sauce to match up with the cheesy filling. If you want some satisfying food this is a great choice. While I have not ordered anything else from this part of the menu everything looks very authentic and freshly made.

The good news is unlike Abacus you will not need an abacus to tally up the bill. For about $8 to $10 dollars you can get a great, filling, satisfying meal. And if you add a couple of glasses of wine like me, you may get your bill up to about $15. Not a bad deal considering the quality of the food.

Los Jalapenos
3615 N. Josey Lane (at Rosemeade)
Carrollton, TX 75007
972-394-7600
www.los-jalapenos.com/

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Abacus

May 6th, 2011 — 7:59am

Happy Birthday Menu

There are those restaurants you hear about that you approach slowly. The rave reviews seem a bit overwhelming. In Dallas you are never sure if it is the fad of the month or something really good. And at a certain price point you worry is there enough there to make it worth a sizable investment. In Dallas, let’s face it, you can spend a lot of money on some not so very good meals. Luckily the worrying was taken away from me when Will took me to Abacus for my birthday. The investment was his problem at that point.

I am very happy to report that the rave reviews are correct. The service was of a level not seen anywhere else in Dallas, except perhaps at the French Room. The great food, and the the great service, were complemented by some very wise wine pairings. All I can say is “Wow.” Let’s dig in.

We opted for the six course tasting menu. We put our evening in the very capable hands of Scott (ask for him he does some magic tricks with the wine), we sat back and just relished the whole experience.

First course: Wood grilled Hawaiian Walu, with sugar snap peas, and Wagyu beef dumplings in a white soy and lemongrass broth, served with the Pine Ridge Viognier-Chenin Blanc. I always enjoy creative fish and meat pairings. This was just an incredible combination. With the wine, it was a perfect first course.

Second Course: Pan roasted Alaskan ivory salmon, sweet corn puree, spring peas, grilled ramps, drizzled with a Tahitian vanilla maple syrup, served with the Franciscan chardonnay. When I thought about this the whole maple syrup and salmon idea really did not thrill me. When I tasted it I finally got it. It was an interesting combination of sweet and savory leaning way over to the sweet side. All I can say is that the whole dish works well. Another remarkable course.

Third course: A bit or sorbet to cleanse the palate.

Fourth course: Niman Ranch pork tenderloin, ancho honey glaze, grilled jalapeno-potato hash, cilantro pesto broth served with a MacMurray pinot noir. Pork tenderloin is not something I would usually order at a restaurant. This was perfectly cooked (pink is a good color for pork) and the touch of sweetness with the bit of heat worked very well.

Fifth course: Spiced buffalo with fava beans, wild mushrooms, white asparagus, and spicy carrot puree served with a Rombauer Cabernet. I guess every Dallas tasting menu has to have that piece of meat. While this was the least remarkable of the courses it was perfectly cooked and the carrot puree was great.

After the first five plates the dessert was a very simple custard with a raspberry sauce served with a bit of sherry. It was wonderfully simple yet still a bit decadent.

I have to admit the whole evening was definitely a wonderful dining event. And I do mean event. With all the plates and different wines and not one person missing a beat in the kitchen or dining room it was really a treat to see it all unfold. There was minor pause in the service which Scott graciously filled with a bit more wine. Who can complain about that.

You will need an abacus to tally up the bill. Such food and service does not come without expense. For a special occasion or event this is really an investment well worth making.

Abacus
4511 McKinney Avenue
Dallas, TX 75205
214-559-3111
www.kentrathbun.com/abacus/dallas/index.php

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Stuffed with Goodness

May 4th, 2011 — 7:11am

The Table Stuffed with Stuffed Chicken Breasts

I am a bit famous in my cooking circles for my chicken oregano. It is a chicken breast pounded thin, breaded and browned in some butter and olive oil, topped with

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some cheese and oregano and finished in an oven until the cheese is nice and brown. It is one of the simplest dishes to make and it looks like you spent a lot of time on it. I was thinking about the old chicken oregano last night when I came across some chicken breasts that were especially thick. I thought there was no way to really pound them thin enough. I sliced them in half, pounded them thin, and then thought maybe a little bit of salami in between the two halves would make an even better dish.

Inside The Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Although it is largely the same concept, without the oregano, the salami gave the chicken a more interesting flavor and richness. Not to mention the flavor from the gobs of cheese on top, both mozzarella and parmigiano reggiano. Served with a bit of marinara it was a very complete satisfying meal. So the chicken breasts stuffed with salami was a great idea and about as time consuming as the chicken oregano.

I finished the meal with a bit of salad to make sure we had enough time to finish the bottle of wine. You would not want to leave any wine laying around now, would you?

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