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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.

Market Street in Coppell Opens

16 Jan

It’s official! As of Wednesday, Market Street in Coppell is open for business. I’ve been envious of McKinney and Allen residents who have easy access to this grocery chain which combines gourmets and organics with more basic grocery items as well as home needs (toothpaste, laundry detergent). Now there’s one near my ‘hood!

On a different note, my laptop has completely died after a month or so of technical struggles. Apologies for the lack of posting, hopefully I can recover everything off of the hard drive and get back into the swing of things in a week or so.

Weekend Gluttony Wrapup

29 Sep

Well, I did it.  Three different food festivals in one weekend.  I also managed to log 7 miles on my running shoes but I don’t think that burned off even 10% of the calories I consumed.  Onto the food!

First up is the opening night of State Fair, starting with the much publicized chicken fried bacon, the winner of Best Taste in the Big Tex Choice Awards.

I mentioned earlier that I feared this deep fried treat would be soggy due to the fatty grease of the bacon soaking through the batter.  Turns out that was the least of my worries.  It appears that the bacon strips are precooked before being dipped in batter and refried.  At least that’s the only reasoning I can gather up for these dry and overcooked bacon strips coated with a thick layer of cornmeal batter.  I imagine that Beggin strips have a similar texture.  It was hard to eat and you can barely taste the bacon.  Early reports from other state fair goers reflect positively on this item.  However, even my bacon-loving companion who had never met a piece of pig he didn’t like had to force himself to finish the last two strips.  Maybe we’re just too in love with pork belly to accept any form of it that doesn’t ooze with richness. 

Disappointed, we wandered over to the car show and found this year’s winner for Most Creative fried item, the fried banana split.

The fried banana split comes in two sizes, mini (shown above) and regular.  The description on the State Fair website describes it as “a mixture of banana and honey peanut butter rolled in balls, battered and deep-fried and topped with assorted, delicious fixings, including powdered sugar, caramel and chocolate syrups, chopped peanuts, whipped cream and banana split flavored ice cream bites then fittingly crowned with the traditional cherry.”  This would be my description: “Fried peanut butter ball topped with powdered sugar, generic brand syrup, chopped peanuts, whipped cream, and a few banana split flavored Dipping Dots.”  It’s not that the fried banana split didn’t taste good, it just didn’t taste anything like a banana split.  By far, the dominating flavor was the peanut butter.  Am I missing something here?  I don’t remember banana splits having peanut butter on/in them.

Thank goodness the our next course, the fried cake, veered us away from an evening of deep fried train wreck.

Wait, is that a deep fried chili covered corn dog?

That was our initial reaction, too.  No, it’s deep fried chocolate cake on a stick.  It’s the only fried item we tried on opening night that didn’t have that “we use the same grease to deep fry your chicken and your dessert” taste.  Perfectly moist chocolate cake inside a fluffy blanket of light, not too greasy, batter. 

That was the same fluffy batter blanket I was looking for on my Fletcher’s corny dog.  However, though the outside of the batter was fried to a perfect crunch, the middle layer of corn bread “fluff” was missing… just crunch, then hot dog meat.  This was my first Fletcher’s corny dog, are they all like this or was I just unlucky?

Next, we went for a favorite from a State Fair visit two years ago, the fried S’more.

It was tasty, but there seemed to be a thicker coating of batter (detracting from the ooze of the marshmallow) this year than two years ago. 

We rounded out the night with a caramel covered apple.  When almost everything else fails, this sweet and crunchy classic saves the evening.

The next morning, I shook off my fried food hangover and headed to the Greek Food Festival for lunch.

The $10 plate lunch (includes admission to the festival) features oregano chicken over rice, meatballs, spanakopita (spinach pie), Greek salad with feta and olives, and pita.  The crackly skin on the oregano chicken and the flaky phyllo pastry shell on the spanakopita were lovely.  However, the Greek salad was grossly overdressed and the pita bread tasted store-bought. 

A la carte items fared better.

Grilled Greek sausage (loukaniko) with its crisp casing is always a delight.  Pork souvlaki was tasty but a little overcooked (dry).  A few swigs of Greek Aris beer helped that situation, though.

Moussaka presented itself in a monstrous serving.  The rich dish was well seasoned with melt-in-your-mouth tender eggplant.  The thick layer of bechamel topping had good flavor, but was a bit overwhelming for the casserole. 

For dessert, loukoumades, honey balls, never fail to impress.

Take note, State Fair vendors, this is how you do a killer deep fried dessert.  These golden globes sport a crunchy exterior with an unbelievable light interior.  Honey sweetens the pot but doesn’t overwhelm like generic brand syrup or mountains of powdered sugar.  I think this is what funnel cake wants to be when it grows up.

We also tried the baklava sundae.  Unfortunately, the delicate flavors of the nutty baklava was overpowered by the nagging sweetness of the cheap vanilla ice cream it topped.  Thankfully, my box of take-home baklava I bought from the marketplace won’t have that same problem.

Oh we’re not done yet ;)

Sunday lunch was all about Akimatsuri, the Japanese Fall Festival.

There were many teriyaki chicken bowls and shrimp tempuras to be had, but we were here for the less common stuff.  Starting with the elusive takoyaki, which is normally only available in on Sushi Yama’s menu, but served by Sushi Sake at the festival.

These plump little spongy balls of batter and octopus covered in okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, aenori, dried fish flakes, and pickled ginger pieces are more fulfilling than the version Sushi Yama serves, which makes me wonder why they’re not on the regular menu at Sushi Sake. 

Next up, a mystery bowl labeled “Japanese stew” from Ino Japanese Bistro.

Oden is a cheap, popular Japanese winter street food (often sold in convenience stores) consisting of fish cakes, daikon radish, eggs, and Japanese yam stewed in a light dashi broth.  Not exactly appropriate for the hot September Texas weather, the tasty stew still stood out as one of the best items we tried at the festival.  Though the textures of the various gelatinous and chewy and spongey ingredients can be challenging for the crunch-loving Western palate, it’s easy to imagine how satisfying this flavorful bowl of steaming hot broth with so many nutrients can be during a cold Japanese winter.  My favorite part?  Brushing the boiled egg with the nostril-stinging karashi (Japanese mustard) served on the side.  That’ll clear up those cold weather sinus issues.

One of the more interesting vendors at the festival was Totoya (no, that’s not a mispelling of the Prius producer), a soon-to-open Japanese restaurant in north Dallas that featured environmentally conscious choices like free range chicken teriyaki and wild shrimp tempura at its booth.  We tried their gyoza, which featured a great thin skin and the pungent flavor of Chinese chives.  Sadly, some of them had broken by the time they reached the serving plate.

We finished the weekend of feasting with a deliciously sticky and savory eel bowl from Tei Tei Robata Bar, with the shiny individual rice grains gleaming under the sun. 

I think I’ll be logging a few more miles on those tennies this week.

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