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California Avocado Dinner at Abacus

20 May

The California Avocado Commission sponsored a dinner at Abacus earlier this week to celebrate the peak of California avocado season, which runs roughly April through October.  Chef Kent Rathbun creatively showed off the ripe, luxurious fruit in each dish of the five course dinner.

We started with a mound of California avocado and king crab salad in a yellow tomato lemongrass soup.  With Texas’ smothering summer heat just around the corner, the gazpacho-like soup was the perfect choice to show off the rich, silky texture of the mashed avocado against the sweet king crab.  Thai sambal and green chiles added a little kick to the cold soup, which instantly turned into a lovely, lingering slow burn when it hit the back of the throat.

Moving northeast in Asian influences, the next course featured California avocado and rock shrimp tempura in a creamy tofu yuzu sauce.  Fluffy, crunchy tempura batter provided just the right contrast to once again show off that unique velvety texture of the ripe avocado slices.  The addition of tofu gave subtantial body to the creamy yuzu sauce, leaving the slightest impression of grit on the tongue that added textural interest to the complex sauce.

Maple black pepper glazed duck breast roulade filled with California avocado and dried peach wrapped in chipotle Niman Ranch bacon was the highlight dish of the evening for me.  The already rich texture of the perfectly cooked duck is further accentuated by the subtle moisture and sweetness of the avocado.  An earthy, mustardy sauce took the flavor profile of this fiery yet sweet dish to another level.  And just when you think the next bite couldn’t possibly get any better, the refreshing crunch of the fresh spring peas in the pearl cous cous plays up the cool side of this hot dish.

Seeking southwestern influences, the next course featured cumin cured hanger steak and grilled onion guacamole atop a perfectly textured sope drizzled with queso crema.  Grilling the red onions gave an alluring smokey flavor to the well seasoned guacamole.  Though the hanger steak was cooked to perfection, I could have just eaten the guacamole with that impressive sope, with a thin crunchy crust and a soft and supple interior that can hold its own against the best of Mexican street vendors. 

We finished the avocado-centric evening with a blackberry sage crisp topped with Meyer lemon-California Avocado ice cream and blackberry coulis.  The subtle avocado flavor in the ice cream balanced out the sharp acidity of the Meyer lemon, making the ice cream more approachable on its own and with the blackberry crisp.

 

The five courses demonstrated five great seasonal ways to feature avocados.  For those looking for creative ways to incorporate avocados into their home cooking, the California Avocado Commission’s website features recipes from their spotlight chefs, including Chef Rathbun’s California Avocado Roast Corn Nachos.

Lastly, I want to leave you with this interesting tidbit that I did not know about avocados before this dinner: The greatest concentration of phytonutrients is in the dark green fruit of the avocado closest to the peel.  Thus, to ensure you get the nutrient-rich part of the avocado just under the peel, peel the avocado directly instead of spooning the fruit out from its peel.

First Annual Saké Festival at Kenichi

18 Mar

Wine aficionados, beer nerds, want to learn about saké?  Kenichi’s 1st Annual Sake Festival offers up to 50 sakés to taste (including rare and new to Texas brews)  and light nibbles from Kenichi’s sushi bar and kitchen in a self-paced walk-around tasting format for $25/person.  Hung Nguyen and Adam Faraizl, the only Level II saké experts in Texas, will be on site to conduct continuous information seminars.

Verdict: Skip your regular Thursday happy hour and do this instead!  For reservations, call 214-871-8883.

“MasterChef” Dallas Casting Call

8 Dec

Gordon Ramsay is at it again.  If you’ve been following Kitchen Nightmares or Hell’s Kitchen and want your own chance of working with Chef Ramsay despite being an amateur cook, here’s your chance.  FOX is launching a new reality cooking show where Chef Ramsay attempts to turn amateur hobbyists with no professional kitchen experience into MasterChefs.  According to the press release,

Contestants on MASTERCHEF (working title) will be put through the paces with various challenges as they compete head-to-head to create delicious dishes. The series will serve as a unique platform for people from all walks of life who want to follow their dream of working as a professional chef. These everyday at-home cooks will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show their passion and excitement for food as they are put to the test and judged by world-renowned chefs.”

The show is already a hit in the UK and Australia, and now casting directors are looking for contestants for the US debut season.  Open casting calls are scheduled on January 10 for Dallas.  For a chance to audition, follow the instructions in this flyer.

One thing is for sure, this is a once in a life time opportunity for amateur cooks to learn from an accomplished professional chef, even if means surviving Chef Ramsay’s signature explosive outbursts along the way.

Thomas Keller Book Signing at Northpark

4 Dec

Want to meet arguably the most influential American chef in history?  As the only American chef with two Michelin star restaurants, you wouldn’t expect The French Laundry chef to be associated with accessible cooking for the home cook.  However, Thomas Keller’s new cook book, Ad Hoc at Home, is intended to do just that with recipes inspired by the more casual menu at his Yountville establishment, Ad Hoc.  Chef Keller will be at the Northpark Williams-Sonoma on Friday, December 11 at 2:00pm to sign copies of the new cook book, full details here.  A note to Amazon.com fans (like myself), the announcement has emphasized that he will only sign copies of the book purchased at Williams-Sonoma.

Romanian Food Festival

8 Nov

The growing food festival scene in DFW presents wonderful opportunities to sneak a peek at foreign cultures. This weekend, St. Mary’s Romanian Orthodox Church in Colleyville hosts the fourth edition of their annual DFW Romanian Food Festival

Invited by Romanian hosts anxious to show off their native food, drink, and culture, we arrived on Saturday night to witness packed grounds with season appropriate pumpkin decor, festive folk music, and the distinct smell of grilled meats in the air.  There’s no waiting around with this crowd, and after a few brief introductions, we were off to the food lines.  Items can be ordered a la carte or through a variety of combo plates.  The three combo plates ($15), with names reflecting various geographic regions of Romania, all included common dishes like samarle (cabbage rolls), mititei (Romanian skinless sausage), and coleslaw.  We started off with the Moldavia combo plate, hoping to try the lamb pastrami, but to our disappointment the popular item had run out.  However, the substitute, an oven baked chicken quarter, was still juicy, tender, and tasty.

Moldavia Plate with Chicken Substitute

It’s hard for an outsider to detect the subtle differences between various brands of eastern European cuisine, but I enjoyed all the familiar yet foreign offerings on my plate.  The pickled cabbage contrasted nicely with the smooth rich ground pork filling in the cabbage rolls.  The grilled skinless sausages had the same succulent texture as Vietnamese bo moi chai (ground beef rolls), and when dipped slightly in the sharp mustard, became the perfect companion to my Warsteiner.  The polenta generously covered in crumbled feta rounded out a hearty autumn plate.

The night was getting chillier and our hosts were growing excited for us to participate in the festive dancing.  Naturally, this was the perfect cue for my rhythm challenged self to get back in the food line and conveniently avoid the dance circle.  The cleverly named “Romanian Flu Shot” soup booth caught my eye.  The two soup offerings were the innocuous Romanian wedding soup (with pork meatballs) and the more alarmingly named Truth or Dare soup (sour tripe soup) at $3 for a cup and $5 for a bowl.  Forgive me, I’m a texturally challenged Asian who passed the dare on the tripe soup and went for the steaming hot bowl of wedding soup.

Romanian Wedding Soup

Think Italian wedding soup plus vinegar/lemon juice and tomato; a tangy, soothing cure to your flu season afflictions.

For dessert, we tried a couple of slices of cozonac (a sweet, but not too sweet, bread with stuffed with swirls of ground walnut and golden raisins) and gogosi (a lemony fried donut covered in powdered sugar that is a like the fluffier and less greasy cousin of funnel cake).

Cozona and Gogosi

Feeling full and toasty, I was ready for the church tour to mark the end of my evening.  But as the often sitcom-esque timing of my life would have it, the performers on stage had expanded their dance circle into the audience as I was bolting to the trash can.  Caught in the circle and no way out, no outburst of “opa” to distract the attention from my clumsy feet, it was four steps forward and four steps back until the end of the song, and the end to a fun, festive, and culture-filled evening.

The festival runs until 7:00pm tonight, so it’s not too late to check out the action for yourself.

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