Monday, November 30, 2009

La vie en chocolat

I literally dreamed of chocolate landscapes. So intricate, so inviting! From chocolate mulch to chocolate trees and bushes. It was magnificent! What pleasant tricks my mind plays on me at night! I went to sleep thinking about keeping will power this holiday season by pawning off on everyone else all that I bake. Talk about sweet dreams! Have you ever dreamed in chocolate?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Festival of Fennel at Sagra

1610 San Antonio St Austin, TX 78701
(512) 535-5988

A couple of Sundays ago, my friend Rachel and I decided to go on a girly date for dinner! Whilst trying to find a cozy place to catch up on our busy semester, I came across a local event coming up at Sagra (keeping tabs on food and art events happening in Austin is a much enjoyed pastime of mine). To my surprise, although it makes perfect sense, Sagra hosts a food festival twice a year where they offer a free dinner, fixed menu of course, to celebrate some produce of the season.

An excerpt form Wikipedia reads:

"A sagra is often dedicated to some specific local food, and the name of the sagra includes that food; the array of gastronomic specialties covered across Italy is amazing: for example, we find a Sagra della Rana (frog) at Casteldilago near Arrone, a Sagra della Cipolla (onion) at Cannara, a Sagra della Melanzana ripiena (stuffed eggplant) at Savona, a Sagra della Polenta at Perticara di Novafeltria, and so on. Among the most common sagre are those celebrating olive oil, wine, pasta and pastry of various kinds, chestnuts, and cheese."

I found out just in time to take Rachel to Sagra's Fennel Festival. Naturally, the reservations had filled up days in advance, but thankfully Sagra kept their back patio open to first come, first serve. We came about 30 minutes early and secured ourselves a lovely table out back on the covered patio, sheltered from the rain.

Dinner circa 4pm after a glass of wine at the bar...

Mixed green salad
fennel pollen, orange and fennel

Fennel Gratinati
layers of fennel and potato baked with cheese

mussels, shrimp, squid, clams and fish in a “little broth” of fennel, saffron and tomatoes
grilled sourdough bread

Apple Fennel Crostata (not included in the free dinner)

The entire meal was light, colorful, and pleasant. Sagra did not have a vegetarian option for the main dish, but I was able to enjoy the other 3 fennel-filled plates. The salad's citrus dressing complemented the fennel well, and the dessert, not overly sweet, had neat layers of apple and fennel a nice variation on the traditional apple pie. The white cheddar, potato, and fennel made a perfect combination...both were sliced thin and cooked till tender. Rachel especially like the golden crust of hardened cheese on top. Tasty, but I preferred the cream sauce within. Rachel did not care too much for the brodetto, though it smelled delicious and looked appetizing. However, she appeared to be frightened of shellfish in general and mostly used the broth as a dipping sauce for her bread. :)

If you'd like to send yourself on a similar fennel adventure, you can check out these tips from my bff Martha on selecting, preparing, and storing fennel: CLICK HERE
I was excited read some nutritional information on fennel. Fennel has very low glycemic index, which I try to be conscious of when preparing dinner for my mother.

I have since been back for brunch with some other friends and enjoyed Sagra again. We split the Polenta bowl, Rustic French Toast, and Steak Hash. I love ordering family style especially for brunch since I'm always missing Papa's Sunday breakfast when away from home. Andrew and I cherished the polenta bowl and eggs. Karina didn't touch it. She finds the texture of soft polenta unpleasant. I love polenta in all forms, but I think Andrew's spicy cheddar cheese broccoli and grits over poached eggs could rival it!! I feel like so many people settle for terribly ordinary and quite frankly soggy French toast, but I would definitely go back for Sagra's rendition, crisp and sweet!

I can't find any brunch pictures so I'll leave you with the menu. Pictures could very well turn up on my SLR which is currently accompanying my sister to her pedicure. On a brighter note, excitement for Thanksgiving has reached its height. Preparation starts tonight with some gnudi dumpling dough. Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Oh how you fill me up butternut squash and don't let me down or mess me around

I got together this week with some buddies I've had since the beginning of college. We call ourselves "The Blobby" after many nights of debauchery and very little studying in and around the Blanton Lobby, a study lounge in our residence hall. We celebrated Thanksgiving a week early with a potluck that sent us in such a dizzy food coma: sweet potatoes, green been casserole, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, deviled eggs, sangria, turkey, pumpkin mousse, steak, and more!

I brought a new dish I'd never made before: Scalloped Butternut Squash and Yukon Gold Potatoes. I followed a recipe I found on Epicurious with a few alterations. As a "starving" college student in love with food, I hardly have all the necessary kitchen tools I wish I had. (Thank God it's the season of giving. I have a tendency to accumulate cooking supplies around this time of the year). Anyway, I most certainly lacked a potato slicer so you can imagine the pain and suffering I went through in thinly slicing raw butternut squash by hand!

Thin slices is really the key to a successful scalloped dish. You want to achieve a tender bite, not too mushy or too firm.

Butter the pan well so you don't struggle in serving.
I decided to mix up the recipe and use half potato and half butternut squash. I think it really helped in preventing that heavy Oh God I ate too much feeling for my friends.
I enjoyed this recipe because of its buttery goodness, and do I need to mention how much I like thyme? I would, however, have perhaps used another cheese. The grated block of mild cheddar didn't melt into a creamy sauce associated with scalloped potatoes, but rather gave the consistency of cheese on a slice of pizza. The recipe suggests discarding the fresh thyme used to flavor the cream, but I recommend pulling off the leaves and sprinkling them on the top layer of squash just to give a little contrast.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I eat, You eat, We all eat for Meals-on-Wheels!

Everytime you go out to eat until November 30, review your meal online and Dishola will match it with Meals-on-Wheels!!

dish-for-dish challenge!

here's how it works

  1. You write a dish review on Dishola
  2. We donate a dish to Meals on Wheels & More
  3. Someone gets a warm meal thanks to you!
Sponsored by Dishola and Whole Foods Market

Thanksgiving Sneakpeak

You've probably heard me say I wish Christmas lasted all year long (I have been found watching ELF smack-dab in the middle of the summer), and so it must be no surprise I share the same affection for Thanksgiving. Honestly a holiday to reflect on the good times over a festive meal with loved ones should come around more often. I'd be pleased with a similar feast to celebrate each season.

I am thrilled to attend three Thanksgiving potlucks prior to my family's own Beastless Feast 2009, which of course gives me ample opportunity to test ideas on my friends. I could not imagine sending myself unarmed to my parents' home to prepare a dinner for their critical palates. I love my family dearly, but we are all a bunch of hungry, hard to please fools spoiled by our mothers' good cooking.

Anyway, I promise to catch you up on all of the "coming-soons" below, but first let me delight you with a sneak peak of the draft menu I've assembled from a few sources:
- the three latest issues of Bon Appétit
- American Way Magazine
(Papa pulled one from the airplane on one of weekly trips to Bloomington, IL.. I love their online version.. Papa flipped through his hard copy, while I browsed the interactive pdf!)
- Whole Foods flagship store Thanksgiving tasting (gave inspiration for the crostini)
- Times Online UK
- Primizie (One of my favorite dishes in Austin is Primizie's gnocchi, I'm talking I almost licked my plate clean... With my parents in Dallas, I hoped to create a similar version to share with them)
-Recipezaar (I don't usually trust this site, but wanted to use to give me some basic direction)

You'll notice a few notes throughout the menu. I emailed this draft menu to my parents because when it comes to Thanksgiving, everyone has to get a say on the menu!

LE MENU THANKSGIVING : another Vegetarian celebration of food and wine!

Crostini w/ Fig Spread and Brie

Savory Bread Pudding w/ Mushrooms
Butternut Squash & Cheddar Bread Pudding

Winter Greens & Shitake
Broccolini w/ smoked paprika & Almonds
Smashed Rutabagas w/ ginger roasted pears
Cranberry Sauce
Sage Potato Gnocchi w/ Chanterelle Mushrooms, Roasted Sweet Corn
Scalloped Potatoes and Fennel
Swiss Chard Ricotta Gnudi with Fall Mushrooms
Grilled Asparagus with Sesame Citrus Sauce

olive bread (an incredible olive loaf available at Tom Thumbs near our home.. brand to be mentioned upon recall... even I need a break sometimes!)
Chile cornbread
Fresh Cornbread w/ basil

Harvest Pear Crisp
Apple Goat Cheese Honey Tart
Lemon Tart

Pommeau (french apple wine) - first course
Pinot Grigio - 2nd course
Vin Santo (red wine from Santorini) - 3rd course.. For now I still feel a white wine goes best with the dessert. Papa is eager to open this bottle, however. Mother would be saddened without something to emulate her beloved apple pie.. Oh what a toss-up! Perhaps Papa will need to wait till I make something chocolatey later in the week.
Le Chocolat l'Africain a recipe from Michael Turback's "Hot Chocolate"

P.S. Did I mention I'm still mourning the loss of Gourmet magazine? Depression!

Coming Soon

Dining out in Austin:
Joe DiMaggio's Italian Chophouse- happy hour
Blue Dahlia Cafe - dinner
Primizie - brunch and dinner
Sagra - brunch and fennel festival
Thai Passion Lunch buffet

From my kitchen:
Pumpkin brownies
Scalloped Butternut Squash

Guest chef prepares dinner!

Thanksgiving dinner