Sunday, January 23, 2011

Thai favorites Bento

Thai, who doesn't like a good curry? Coconut milk, fresh ingredients and simple preparation makes Thai food an easy favorite to include as a theme. To make things even easier I even had a sous chef and taste tester to help things along. Ok, running short on time so no more yammering.

Panang Curry. Thai curries all have a start point of the basic curry paste, whether that be green, sour, red, massaman, yellow, or panang. They all have the same thing in common, a lot of work on a mortar and pestle. Savvy cooks and restaurants know that the best bet is to use some canned curry paste as a base. Yes I've made my share of homemade paste and I have the giant mortar and pestle to prove it, but a good canned paste is the home cook's best friend. The curry is pretty simple, I fried up the paste in some coconut cream and added the rest of the ingredients. And you can put pretty much anything in, I went with beef and bell pepper, but I've seen onion, bamboo shoots and baby corn. I served this over some fragrant jasmine rice.

Pad Thai a very common dish and a fan favorite for anyone that's been to a Thai restaurant. Most restaurant versions I've encountered seemed to be a lot more oily, I think they use that so that the noodles don't stick together after the soak in the water and first enter the wok, but careful cooking and diligent mixing can help you reduce the fat and focus on flavors.

Tom Kha is another favorite for most restaurant patrons. This is possibly the easiest dish to put together, you're heating up some chicken broth, coconut milk, adding some basic aromatics and finally adding what you want for filling. The aromatics come in the form of galanga (Thai ginger) and lemongrass. This again is a soup that I've seen different restaurants add different stuff in this case my Tom Kha is a Tom Kha Gai (for chicken) but you can have seafood, mushroom etc.

Bubor Pulot Hitam or black rice pudding is a dessert I've done in the past but not for this audience. The "forbidden rice" is so named because once upon a time the emperor of China was the only one allowed the luxury of black rice. It's high in fiber and low in starch. The dessert is cooked with galanga for flavor and a bit of sugar (brown and white) and finished with coconut milk to give it a hint of richness. The dessert has a very nutty flavor, and the "soup" has a light sweetness to it, and the texture is brown rice like.

A very tasty effort I hope my diners agree with me. I may have a break next week, I got family coming in and it's hard to do a bento when my house has been invaded.

Box Contents
  • Panang Curry
  • Pad Thai
  • Tom Kha Gai
  • Bubor Pulot Hitam

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Foodblogger Event: Trace at the W hotel

It's been a while since I've been to one of these blogger events, and I was really excited when I took a look at the menu and started reading up on the restaurant. Trace restaurant is located at the W hotel here in downtown Austin. It's a beautiful restaurant featuring four different themed "lounge bars". It has a nice and quiet atmosphere. Trace takes great pride in sourcing as much of their food from local farms. I spoke with Valerie Broussard their resident "forager" (pictured below) and she explained that they worked with the Sustainable Food Center on a token system which enables farmers to quickly get paid and bills the restaurant and hotel which pays on a more regular business cycle. Sounds like a win win proposition there. The menu changes a bit depending on what and where they can source various items. For instance our winter garden salad came from Springdale farms, where as on the website menu it says Animal Farms. And a few of the items we did taste didn't appear on the web menu at all. Chef Paul Hargrove was our creator tonight, unfortunately we didn't get a chance to meet him, but Valerie did a great job hosting us and representing the Chef.

There were plenty of fancy cocktails to be had. The one pictured above was a strawberry with black pepper nice and refreshing without being overly sweet. There was another that I had at the bar which was scotch with pear necter which is one I'll definitely go back for.

We were treated to six mini courses, above you see the winter's garden salad. It was very interesting, the Chef stylized this much like a mini garden. He used crumbled rye bread as "soil", and bit of tapioca, and baby carrots all in a nice hazelnut vinaigrette. The lettuce was sourced from Springdale Farm. The second course is the Heritage Farms Beef Tartar. Extremely well seasoned and very tender. The quail egg was soft cooked sous vide and accompanied with a light lemon based sauce. Delicious and I think it qualified as my favorite for the evening.

Next up Braised Pork Belly (from Richardson's Farm) it was served with a banana puree and a pineapple confit. The sauce had a nice sweet and smokey flavor and the dish was delicious, the big surprise for me was the pineapple, apparently it was steeped in with jalapenos which gave it a nice kick and fermentation which I believe gave it a zing. To go with the turf we had some surf in the form of this Crispy San Miguel Snapper. They served this skin side up and seared (the little spiky looking things at the top were the scales) with a bit of Preserved Oregon Truffle. This was quite delicious the fish was fall apart tender and the cauliflower foam was very interesting. It was definitely a nice counterbalance to the heavier pork.

Last "main" dish was the Banh Mi, which featured short rib from Niman Ranch and Charred Cilantro Creme Fraiche. The meat was extremely tender and juicy and I loved the creme fraiche. I definitely didn't expect to see Banh Mi on the menu and looking on the web menu it just so happened to be something the Chef whipped up with what he had. Finally dessert was the Chocolate Cherry Stout Cake. It was very nice looking dessert, the chocolate sauce had a beautiful gloss to it. I had expected the cake to be dense and very chocolaty it turned out to be quite a bit lighter and the sour cherry sorbet was a good pairing with the sweet chocolate cake.

I had a great time, got to talk to some of my blogger friends and catch up even met some new friends. Thanks so much to the staff at Trace for being such wonderful hosts. Everyone was super nice and knowledgeable. I'm going back Monday so I'll post up updated pictures of the food I will order.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

New Years Resolution Bento

Sorry for the lack of posts, the holiday season and some other issues cropped up. In fact this week's bento was suppose to be for last week. (the theme made a little more sense since everyone was just returning to work) I figured everyone probably made the same new years resolution of eating healthier and losing a bit of weight, so I decided to help everyone off to a good start with New Years Resolution Bento. I was inspired by a slew of nice and healthy recipes a little bit of tinkering and I came up with this menu.

First up, a DIY Chicken Pita sandwich with Salsa Verde. I saw a neat recipe for grilled chicken breast and another for a pita sandwich. I liked the idea of fusing the two together as the flavor for the salsa sounded like a nice burst of flavor. I sous vide'ed the chicken breast for maximum moisture and finished them on an indoor grill to get a bit of char. Eating lean doesn't mean losing a great tasting meal, the trick is to substitute fat for flavor. Yeah it's not the same, but a tangy sauce over chicken breast does a lot more for staying with your resolution. I treated the chicken with just a bit of salt and pepper and opted for a spring greens mix to get some of the vegetables into the diet.

Creamy vegetable pasta. This was a really interesting dish, the recipe uses yogurt to fake a cream sauce. Although I was not completely fooled it was an interesting substitution that saved a ton of calories. Mashed garlic with salt turned the yogurt into a very savory sauce. The dish normally calls for shrimp, but since I relegated it to a side dish, I added more bell peppers (for color) and even more asparagus and peas (because you can't have enough veggies). This turned out to be a very tasty dish. A gentle re-heat and you'd swear it was a cream based pasta. Wheat pasta was called for to lower the GI count, I didn't realize how far 12 ounces would go (was cooking for nine today). I've certainly learned a new trick in my keep healthy arsenal.

Recipe Requested see it here.

Ok yes, I cheated, I slotted in a dip and used the last slot for carrots to dip with. The last dish is a Ginger Edamame dip, it's prepared like a hummus (the only common item is the Tahini and garlic). I used a bit of Sriracha to spice things up. The ginger lent a very tasty accent. I packed baby carrots to dip with and a few rice crackers (trying to save on the carbs). Very simple dish to get people to eat veggies and even more veggies. It definitely had a less rich and heavy feel to it than hummus, hopefully it proves filling.

I'm very glad to be back! There's a food blogger event happening Monday so I'll have a post up on that as well.

Box Contents:
  • Build your own pita, chicken breast with salsa verde
  • Creamy vegetarian pasta
  • Ginger Edamame Dip