Thursday, January 28, 2010

Foodblogger Event: Carillon

I had the fortune to be invited to a special blogger event at the Carillon to celebrate their official "hard launch". I've been very curious about this place ever since the "soft launch" was announced about a month ago. The restaurant is located on campus over at University of Texas at Austin and seemed to be an unusual place to find fine dining. As an alum, when I hear UT and restaurant I instantly flash back to my dorm days eating in the dining hall, or the bevy of fast food cheap eats around campus. This was clearly *not* the case. The Carillon is located in the new AT&T executive education and conference center, which is actually a hotel, classroom, conference center and restaurant(s) all rolled into one. It was neat seeing fancy dignitaries intermixed with grungy college students.

This restaurant is a pretty classy place, far bigger than I had imagined, but they did a good job at segmenting the large area to make it feel more cozy, but it definitely still had the character of UT. Definitely a nice date spot right in the heart of Austin. I'll do a re-edit later and post pictures of the dining area for some reason I don't have them. Very open space with an open view of the kitchen, really cool arches full of quotes, as I said very university feel to it, but amped up with some upscale class.
EDIT got those pictures in.

Our hosts for the evening included Deliah Huang who does PR and Marketing and Keith Purcell who actually runs the entire Conference Center. Both extremely nice folks that eagerly made sure everyone was well fed and had a drink in hand. And I'm not kidding, there was *so* much food, if anyone left there hungry then clearly they were not standing in the same restaurant. Sorry about the fuzzy picture, but it was the only shot I had.

Chef Josh Watkins spent lots of time on the floor bringing out platter after platter of food. It's very clear he's very passionate about food and was very eager to share and talk about every dish. Super nice guy and seemed to be very in touch with his guests and making us feel very welcome. He happily answered my questions and seemed delighted that we all took interest in his careful preparation and skills.

I apologize (again) in advance for the photos, there weren't many places I could take pictures since it was pretty dimly lit except for this giant spotlight in the center of the restaurant, hence the dramatic shadows everywhere.

Eggplant caprese with Tomato Relish, this was a nice little bite. The relish was a nice balance to the fried eggplant and cheese, not greasy or oil at all. Best eaten as soon as served while warm.

Next we have a White Bean Soup with Smoked Scallops and oven dried grape. This went hit or miss on folks, I personally really liked it. The soup had almost a clam chowder like flavor that was a great complement to the smoked scallops. I was asking Chef Watkins whether or not he used some sort of clam juice or fish stock but he said that it was a purely vegetarian soup, no other seafood than the smoked scallops. Very tasty and I liked the dried grape it gave a hint of sweet/sour which was a nice accent to the rich flavors of the soup.

It's hard to see this one from the photo (it was the best of the ones I took) Steak tartare with White truffle, um wow, talk about a bite of heaven. The tartare was very flavorful on it's own, but the finishing flavors of the shaved white truffle really brings a whole progression of taste from the one little bite. I like a good tartare, but it can be hit or miss, sometimes not seasoned well enough it just taste like raw meat, but in this case all these little flavors poped right out.

Crisp Pork Belly with Diablo glaze and Asian Pear Salad: What's to say, it's pork belly and as I've said before you really can't go wrong with pork belly. The glaze was a nice sweet almost smokey taste to offset the richness of the pork. The pear salad was a nice texture change of crunch for the otherwise super tender pork. I think the one little bite is perfect and not too overwhelming.

Last but not least, Braised Beef Short Ribs, apricot glaze, asparagus, celery root puree with a black pepper Gastrique. Only one word for this one: YUM. This was in many books the favorite of the evening. A few of us were listening to the staff's description of the dish and I had to chase down Chef Watkins to confirm one small detail, they had mentioned it was braised for 24 hours! I was curious if had heard the details correctly, perhaps he meant four, it seemed like there would be no way that a short rib would still retain any type of shape after 24 hours of braising. I thought surely he is doing a Sous Vide method, which seems to be popular these days you see it all the time on Ironchef Amercia and Top Chef (heck even I wanna dabble in that but it's a bit too far out of my price range.) Chef Watkins confirmed that indeed he held the braise for 24 hours at a perfect 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Needless to say this thing would fall apart if you looked at it funny, but the flavors were extremely good, you got sweet, a little spicy, and all of the flavors in the braising liquid. Very visually pretty, lots of attention to detail was paid here for every one of the little dishes. Yeah I had seconds, and yeah there were folks that went after 3rd, 4th, 5ths.

I'm very happy that they chose to concentrate on a few dishes, it makes taking notes and recalling the tastes and event a lot easier. Besides, it really lets them put full attention to detail and bring forward their best. Although only five dishes, there was no lack of food, I mean folks were turning down pork belly towards the end of the night as they had so much to eat :)

As always great seeing all my blogger friends. A big thanks to The Carillon and their very nice staff for having us over, I had a wonderful time. I've already marked a few things on the menu that will require my return.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Thai Inspired Bento

Cooking for twelve presents it's whole new challenges than cooking for six. You can't do a recipe that calls for caramelized onions in one go, in my home kitchen you'd be steaming said onions not caramelizing them. Instead of one stock pot poaching chicken, now you have two. Sure cooking for six is easier than cooking for one, but cooking for twelve becomes cooking everything twice. Normally this is not an issue, I like challenges, unfortunately cooking for twelve has turned into standing for hours of prep, cook, plating, photos, and finally cleanup. This presents a challenge and is re-injuring an old injury for me that I'm not letting heal week after week. In a commercial kitchen you have staff, but here it's only little ol me. If I include soup that's 90 portions of food i'm preparing and since most of my folks have enough to eat over two days it's more like 180. I'm not whining, I'd do it in a heartbeat if not for being on crutches or my pimp cane (it's got a dragon head for a grip) for the rest of the week. So it is with great regret I must take a small hiatus until my doctor can give me direction on what to do. (two weeks so it's not really all that bad I'll try to put up some intermediate posts)

Today's bento came from a lot of Thai influences probably because I just went to a great local Thai restaurant last week. I love Thai food. the spices, the curries, and of course the fusion of cuisines from their neighbors makes this a fun one to cook. In the interests of not being on a cane or crutches tomorrow, I decided to fuse Thai influences on the easiest things I could produce. I still spread the work over two days to minimize injury but hopefully my humble offering still taste good.

We'll start with the pork tenderloin. I've said it in the past, this is possibly the most cuisine adaptable food on the planet. No exception tonight. I used soy sauce, fish sauce, galanga, and bevy of seasonings to produce a tasty Thai influenced marinade and dropped a few tenderloins in. The result was awesome. I did rotations in the oven to make sure that the pork was cooked consistently, the resulting pan sauce was a great balance between salty and sweet definitely an asian taste there. I can't speak highly enough of pork tenderloin, it's cheap, it holds up well under marinade, it takes no time to cook, and "it's the other white meat".

I had a nice pack of soba noodles that I had been meaning to do something with and today seemed like a good day to break it out. Problem is, soba noodles are Japanese in origin. A nice spicy peanut based sauce comes to the rescue. I used a peanut sauce I had for a satay dip and just expanded on it a bit with some soy, chili and sesame oil. I may have laid it on a bit thick, but the tasty sweet sauce was a great Thai splash to the noodles I think. If I had to do it over, I'd probably lighten up on the sauce, but if you eat it with the pork it'd be just right.

EDIT: This recipe was requested you can find it here

This is a dish I found on a Thai food blog that resembles the japanese dish Chawanmushi. This is a finiky dish to prepare, it's basically a steamed egg custard. Cook it too short and it's not done and too runny. Cook it too long and it over rises and falls like a bad souffle because you develop air pockets in the custard. I think I managed to get it just right with my new steamer. Usually in a traditional Japanese Chawanmushi you have shitake mushrooms dried shrimp and a dashi base. The Thai version called Khai Toon Puk, it includes Chinese long beans, carrots, and green onions cooked in a chicken broth base. I think next time a bit of fish sauce might have helped this one along.

Finally for dessert I pulled together a simple Mango pudding. It uses gelatin to get it's body, a simple mango puree and bit of sugar and we're done. Can't ask for simpler than that. I liked the fresh tastes that the mango puree brought. It has a fresher taste compared to what you think of as pudding. Upon tasting this morning, I think i'd forgo the gelatin, although it gives it more body, I simple puree with coconut milk to thicken is enough, still good but I'm not happy with the texture. I have a bit to share for left overs if anyone wants some :) This won't be the last thai based box to make, there's so much to explore that I'll have to do another.

This was indeed a simple box to create, I did spread it over two days, but at least I can still walk.
I'm bummed that my hobby is causing me pain. I'm hopeful that this two week hiatus will clear things up and I can return (with fewer eaters) to the blog. I've got a foodie event this week so there will be another post and I'm sure there's some amount of stuff I can yammer about to keep you all entertained.

Box Contents:
  • Thai Marinated Pork Tenderloin
  • Soba Noodles in Spicy Peanut Sauce
  • Khai Toon Puk
  • Mango Pudding

Monday, January 18, 2010

Luby's Bento

One of the more common gifts I get from friends and family are cookbooks. I have a huge wall of them and they're great! I glean cool new techniques, inspirations for new dishes, and just plain yummy stuff to try. I group them to a handful of categories: technique, ethnic cuisine, famous chefs, and restaurants. It's the last category that I chose to hit today.

Growing up with a family Chinese restaurant there are a few types of foods that, while most people hate, are a rare treat for me because there's only so many times you can eat "Happy Family" and "Kung Pao Chicken". This includes fast food of any type, dorm food (yeah I liked dorm food and I have a pictures to remind me why not to like it), and finally cafeteria food. That's right we dive into the Luby's Cookbook today. Saturday lunch we would sometimes pile into the family station wagon where I would look forward to my rectangular fried fish with tartar sauce and a side of broccoli and cheese sauce. Happy memories! So as a fun gift my sister got me a Luby's cookbook. Here's the thing, now that I'm a bit more aware of cooking healthy in order to qualify for a bento lunch I had to do some pretty heavy modifications and make some judicious recipe picks.

First up: Chicken (was) Piccata - traditionally this chicken dish is prepared flattened breaded and pan fried. I really couldn't abide by that so I prepared the chicken breast by first brining the chicken before cooking it "en papillote" (in parchment). This resulted in a nicely seasoned very moist and tender chicken. I went forward with the lemon wine sauce which was cooked together with the mushroom, artichoke, and capers. Since I had non-stick action going, I cut the oil to a small tablespoon, so got a sizeable fat/calorie savings there. For seasoning the chicken in the parchment I took the opportunity to break out that jar of "spice of life" from Zoe's Kitchen (thanks TastyTouring for hooking me up with their extra jar).

For some starch and I decided to go with this recipe for Spicy Red Potato Salad. Actually all told the only "bad" thing in the salad was the mayonnaise and for that I actually substituted for this new Olive Oil based mayonnaise which cuts some ridiculous amount of calories and fat and still tastes awesome! I think the dressing is a little bit too salty, if you have a sizeable bite of potato it all works out, the tabasco and cayenne add a nice heat to the dish. This will definitely make it into the next picnic/potluck I go to.

Ah the green bean, delightfully crunchy, how can you possibly make this go wrong? Well, let's start with a half a stick of butter and top that bad boy off with two cups of bacon. I liked the idea of carmelized onions, so I went with no butter, and half the bacon cut from my home cured bacon stash stuck in the freezer. Still very delicious and I'm very happy with the outcome. The sweet caramelized onions were something new for me to pair with the crisp snap of the green beans it definitely works.

For a soup course I went with the hearty vegetable soup recipe. The only thing I omitted here was the potatoes since I already had some starch in the bento. This is actually quite a healthy recipe that I'm glad I ended with plenty of extra for myself. The addition of tomato sauce and canned tomatoes added a welcome tang to the soup and the other fresh ingredients really gave this soup a good bit of substance. Unfortuneatly, I didn't snap a photo of the soup, so you'll just have to imagine, but I promise it was delicious.

Finally for dessert a tropical fruit salad. I'm not sure how the recipe could possibly only serve eight people. I cut out most of the fruits and stayed with cantelope, papaya, and kiwi and still had way more than could feed twelve. The recipe called for confectioner sugar to help draw some moisture and form a syrup. I only went with a quarter of the amount, I thought that the fruits were sweet enough on their own. I think the dish would have been more pleasing to the eye had I added the strawberries, but the addition of bananas and mango would have just made it more yellow. Maybe some purple grapes or something.

Yeah, so no rectangular fried fish, or liver and onions in fact I don't actually recall any of those items in the book. I suppose it's the healthier recipes of today's Luby's. Too bad I was hankering for some broccoli and unidentified cheese sauce and of course that single deviled egg.

Box Contents:
  • Chicken "Picatta"
  • Spicy Red Potato Salad
  • Green Beans with Caramelized onions
  • Hearty Vegetable Soup
  • Tropical Fruit Salad

Monday, January 11, 2010

Singapore Bento

First bento of 2010! Very excited to get back into the groove of things, I will say 2010 has started out quite bumpy for me, so having something familiar to come back to is nice. I've got loads of new themes that I hatched up over the holidays and I'm excited to be able to try them out.

So how do I kick of 2010? With a little trip to Singapore! Singapore cuisine is heavily influenced by it's neighbors and it's history. Many of the dishes I sifted through, I've had variations of growing up with just a few changes here and there. Many of the ingredient changes show heavy influences from Thai, Indian, and Malaysian cuisine. It is interesting to see these ingredients fuse together and taste the resulting dishes. There's easily several bentos worth of cooking I could do to explore further, but I gotta get on with this post!

Hainanese Chicken with Rice is probably the most common street food you'll find in Singapore, it's extremely popular and has several variations (mostly in the sauce). In this case I cut the rice since I already have a starch and went with a sauce more familiar to my tastes. It's an extremely simple dish and probably one of the first things I turn to when I get sick because you have a wonderful chicken stock after you're done. So here's how it's done: you take a whole chicken and poach it with garlic and ginger slice it up and mix up a simple sauce of vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and ginger. Voila done! It's often served skin on because fat just tastes good, but for health sake I removed the skin. To complete the dish as a meal you garnish with simple raw vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes and sliced carrots and cook up the rice with the resulting chicken stock.

Recipe requested: find it here

Singapore Style Noodles, ok I confess this might not authentically be of Singapore origin I have read it could be one of those European/American restaurants that labeled their dish for a foreign flare. However, it's not really a far stretch to believe that it might be something that is made in the restaurants of Singapore. All of the ingredients and cooking techniques are easily found in South Asian cuisine from the rice noodle to the use of basil and pork. The only odd ball out is the use of curry powder, not something indigenous to the cuisine. Curry powder is an invention of the British during colonial times, and since Singapore was at one point a British Colony I could see how the spice would have wormed its way into becoming part of a staple. Either way, the dish itself has an exotic spice-laden taste to it, and fish sauce provides the necessary salty component, when combined it's quite a tasty combo.

Recipe requested you can find it here

For some light palate cleansing I put together this Sweet and Sour Cucumber Salad. Very similar to the quick cucumber salad in past bentos, the changes here included the addition of garlic powder and my decision to include some Thai bird chilies. I think the sweetness really begged for some heat which is not uncommon to the cuisine. I only added two little chilies and got some notice that it was close to "too hot" and others that wanted me to "pile it on", next time, I'll just drop a few whole chilies on the side to let my eaters decide.

Last but never least is dessert we have a Sweet Green Mung Bean soup with coconut milk. Again, growing up I had this same dessert just without the coconut milk. The addition of the coconut milk adds a nice rich texture to what would normally just taste like mung beans in sugar water (exactly what it is). I think it's a solid improvement. Here mung bean is boiled for a while much like an Indian Dal but instead of savory we go sweet by adding sugar. Other variations include adding re-hydrated dates, lotus seeds, and tapioca pearls.

I really enjoyed making this lunch not just because it was fast to produce and the first for the year, but going through the various dishes I had in mind it was easy to see how in Singaporean cooking they took dishes from one nation and applied simple ingredient changes from other cuisines to really enhance or change the nature of a dish. It makes me want to turn a more critical eye to some of the things I'm use to producing and see what few foreign tweaks I can make to turn a dish on it's head.

Anyhow that's all for now, thanks for reading.

Box Contents:
  • Hainanese Chicken
  • Singapore Style Noodles
  • Sweet and Sour Cucumber Salad
  • Sweet Green Mung Bean soup with coconut milk