South Austin Citrus Battle

16 02 2009

Though the journey was not far in terms of miles, the world of tastes we experienced Saturday night was vast.  On Valentine’s Day we came together for a culinary adventure — the second Iron Chef Challenge with our friends, Abe, Erin, Rob, and Amanda.  This time, the theme ingredient was citrus — perfect for February.  Each couple offered an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert showcasing the theme ingredient.  Our gracious hosts, Abe and Erin, set the stage beautifully.

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Rob and Amanda presented the first appetizer — a seared scallop encrusted with lemon, lime, and orange zest served with a grapefruit gastrique. 

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The scallop was cooked perfectly and the citrus flavors were nicely balanced.  It was a delicious start to the night.

Next, Chris prepared our appetizer —  a small piece of sashimi-style tuna topped with a green apple, wasabi, lime, and ginger mixture, and then a small dollop of yuzu kosho mixed with chopped roasted onion and miso paste.  It was one perfect bite, full of flavor.  Delicious.  My camera does not do justice to the dish.  I must work on this.

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The third appetizer of the night was Abe and Erin’s — olive oil-poached shrimp with avocado and cucumber, lime, and grilled poblano pepper salad.  The shrimp was cooked perfectly and very well-balanced by the creaminess of the avocado and cool tartness of the salad. 

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Round one — a strong three for three.

Next came the entrees.  Rob and Amanda presented their dish first and it was spectacular.  Two citrus-crusted lamb chops served with a blood orange polenta heart and a blood orange and fennel relish.  Outstanding!

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After this course, I suppose I was too excited by all of the great food to continue shooting.  You’ll have to imagine what the next several dishes looked like. 

I presented the next entree — beef carpaccio served with arugula and a naval orange, red onion, and kalamata olive salsa (with paprika, cayenne pepper, and cumin).  I encrusted the beef with crushed black peppercorns, crushed white peppercorns, coarse salt, and crushed fennel seeds and let it sit for one hour.  I seared the beef on all sides for one minute, then chilled it and put it in the freezer for an hour.  I then sliced the beef as thinly as I could and pounded it out even flatter.  I poured the juices from the salsa on the arugula and tossed, then mounded a small bed on each plate.  I topped the arugula with a scoop of the salsa, then surrounded it with slices of carpaccio, a few Parmesan shavings, and a few blood orange “fillets.”  I paired this dish with grapefruit-rosemary daquiris. 

Abe and Erin presented the next entree — kobe beef in a lime, soy, and brown sugar crust served with fresh green beans.  The beef was heavenly…sweet and tangy, though not so much so that it masked the flavor of the beef in any way.  This dish, by the way, won a side-award for “best masking of citrus flavor, thereby giving the chefs a break.”

And finally, the desserts.  In this round, Abe and Erin went first.  They served a delightfully tangy lemon sorbet served in a hollowed out lemon, topped with a raspberry sauce, and two lemon shortbread cookies.  Oh my.  It was fantastic.  I remembered to photograph this one a little late…

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I did, however, get this shot of the cookies when I first arrived…

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Rob and Amanda served dessert next — individual lemon budinos topped with freshly whipped cream.  The texture of each pudding was sublime…on top, almost like a souffle, and creamy and soft on the bottom.  The lemon flavor was mellow and comforting, and the cream added just the right balance.  Wonderful.

Finally, we presented out dessert — two small lemon cakes served on a lemon and rosemary syrup topped with freshly whipped cream. 

All in all, the night was just fantastic.  We all mastered the art of the portion size and were able to enjoy each dish to the fullest.  We explored the tastes of lemons, limes, oranges, blood oranges, sour limes, Meyer lemons, and yuzu with scallops, shrimp, tuna, beef, and lamb with, in my opinion, exceptional results.  We will be hosting the next challenge, and I must (a) remember to shoot each dish, and (b) more importantly, work on my macro shooting. 

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