Paying my bets, or how does gnocchi sound?

24 04 2009

I’m not writing about travel today, but I am going to get to food.  I’m paying off a bet this Saturday night, and I’m actually looking forward to it.  A few weeks ago some friends and I competed in a 10k challenge, taking place during the 32nd running of the Capitol 10,000 in Austin.  It was a boys vs. girls throwdown.  Only four guys stepped up to the plate to compete, while eight girls came ready to run.  The total time of the boys would be compared to the total time of the four fastest girls, and the losing team would have to make dinner for the winning team. 

I’m always up for a challenge…I’m a competitor on many levels.  Just last night I got into it with Chris trying to name the three different types of rocks (for some reason I was convinced a “conglomerate” was a “type” of rock, but alas, I was wrong on that one).  I played volleyball in high school and college.  I absolutely LOVE games.  Trivia Pursuit?  I’m down.  Rock Star?  I’m on drums.  42?  I’ll shake.  So when the idea of a boys vs. girls challenge was thrown out there, I was definitely up for it.  For the most part, the attitude of the girls was just to have fun, it’s not about winning (I had to suppress my inner competitor to agree with that one).  Besides, we girls knew going into the contest it would be tough.  One of the participating boys (the guy who’s idea this whole thing was in the first place, actually, hmmmm….) runs 6 minute miles and recently qualified for the Boston Marathon.  Another of the boys averages about 7.5 minutes miles, and Chris can do around 8 minute miles.  Me?  I run 9ish minute miles, which, by the way, I happen to think is really fast.  The other seven girls who ran the challenge all run about the same.  We’re consistent, if nothing else.  Our only hope was that my brother-in-law, the one remaining member of the guys’ team, would be so slow, we might have a chance.

The morning of the race was pretty chilly for March.  I think it was actually in the 30s (though highs would probably reach the 60s).  Chris and I got up, dressed, and drove around the corner to pick up my brother-in-law, who was covered from head to toe…running pants, long sleeve shirt under a t-shirt, hat, gloves…I start thinking, okay, we may have a chance.  He’s going to get so hot, he’ll have to walk…right?  Well, no such luck.  He did get hot, and he did not run all that fast, but run he did, and he finished in plenty of time for the boys to pull off the easy victory.

The day after the race, the results circulated: 

Boys’ total time — 3:21:36

Girls’ total time — 3:51:25

Almost a half hour slower!  Next year I’m going to suggest doing it the way certain Olympic events are judged…toss out the fastest and slowest times and use what’s left.  Maybe that will help.

Anyway, all this is a lead in to what I think should be a delicious feast tomorrow night.  A few of the girls and I met for lunch earlier this week and planned the menu.  I’m making potato gnocchi with a basil pesto and homemade baguettes.  Amanda is bringing a huge salad, Carrie is doing steaks and dessert (we’re thinking something along the lines of a tres leches but with more of an Italian feel), and Mary is preparing an antipasti plate to munch on while we finish up dinner.  And everyone (boys included) is to bring a bottle of wine.  A simple, classic Italian dinner that I think is going to be delicious and sure to please everyone.  Besides, I’m *really* excited to get to use my ricer again…





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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Buenos Aires Empanada Quest

4 01 2009

After reading several articles on empanadas in Buenos Aires, and looking at the city map trying to figure out the easiest and cheapest way to make our way around town, we selected seven spots to try.  The rainy weather and Chris’s fever made our quest a bit of a challenge, though, and we had to cut out a few stops.  Here are the results or our abbreviated (but still so tasty) empanada quest.  Overall, we both agreed that we liked fried better than baked, though one spot we tried had a deliciously light and flaky baked empanada.  As far as fillings go, we liked almost anything…as it turns out, savory filled pastries are delicious.  Some were a bit more delicious than the others, though…

1.  La Americana — 3 1/2 stars.  We had one criolla frita (meat, eggs, unpitted olives) and one verdura frita (creamy spinach, though Chris thought it could have been creamier).  Great texture, good flavor.  This is the self-proclaimed “reina de las empanadas” located at Bartolome Mitre and Congreso.

2.  Minga (from the other night) — 4 stars (beef and olives, fried).  Located on Costa Rica in the Palermo.

3.  La Querencia — 4 stars.  We had one carne (meat is chopped, not ground, with onions — great flavor) and one “del tambo” (7 different cheeses, including blue cheese…gooey goodness).  These were on the small side though…  This place is on Junin at Juncal in the Recoleta neighborhood.

4.  El Sanjuanino — 3 1/2 stars.  We had the carne picante (spciy meat, green olives, peppers, oninols — we loved that spicy really was spicy) and one neopolitano (mozzarella, tomato, basil).  These were baked instead of fried — best baked crust yet.  Very flaky.  On Posadas in Recoleta.