Welcome to my world!

I've developed a passion for cooking since childhood, but in the past six years, that passion has grown into a geeky obsession. I love cooking, baking, and most importantly, sharing the love of food with family and friends. I invite you along on my journey of food discovery and passion.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Jazzing up home cooking, inspired from "twisted" comfort food

This post isn't as much about a recipe I've made as it is a celebration of turning tradition on its ear.  IceDaddy and I had the opportunity to dine at an amazing restaurant, Rathbun's Blue Plate.  This isn't our first time there, but it was good enough  the first time to have a date night this week and go back. 

Many people unfamiliar with the Dallas restaurant scene may not know how casual you can be when dining on fine cuisine.  Good food does NOT mean pretentious decor, snooty service, or tie/jacket required.  There are places known and celebrated for that level of expectation and service, but I think, especially in a down economy, casual atmosphere with five-star food is a smart twist on tradition.

Comfort food is iconic - almost anyone can name a classic comforting dish from chicken fried steak to collard greens to sushi (hey, if you grew up eating it, that counts as comfort food to you!).  The food is generally hearty, satisfying the soul and the appetite.  While I enjoy tradition, tastes have evolved and chefs draw influences from all over the world.  Blue Plate personifies this style.

What I hope you take from this blog postThe rest of the blog will be devoted to describing the food, and giving suggestions for how to turn tradition on its ear in your home kitchen.  While you may never make lobster and truffle risotto, you just might take a technique and jazz up your own rice dish.

Twist on tradition #1: Scallops with lobster and truffle risotto
Rathbun's Scallops with a Lobster and Truffle Risotto
I confess - I LOVE scallops passionately.  IceDaddy was still jealous from the phenomenal scallop dish I ate in Key West last May, so he attempted to best me by ordering the above entree.  Most everyone has a comfort dish with rice.  Risotto is an Italians' comfort food  rice dish, so it's natural to have it on a menu.  How did they "twist" it?  First, they used a rich lobster stock to cook the rice.  Second, big, buttery chunks of lobster were found mixed in.  Third, they added a lot (A LOT) of butter and cream.  Finally, they mixed in truffle oil, adding an earthy punch.

What lessons can we take from this?
1) Use stock when cooking!  Make your own, buy some, whatever.  It adds a punch of flavor.  That lobster added to the dish?  I bet the chef used the shells to make the stock!  I guarantee you, the next time I make risotto, it's with stock, not just broth.

2) Buy truffle oil.  Unless you're Tony Bourdain and believe it's an abomination, it's an inexpensive way to add some "gourmet" flavor to almost any savory dish.  What is a truffle?  Sparing you the scientific explanation, it's like mushroom flavor on acid.  Super earthy with some funk, restaurants shave delicate slices onto food as a garnish.  Truffle oil may not capture the full essence, but at $5 - $10 a bottle versus $200 a pound, it's an affordable choice.  A small drizzle at the end of cooking or when plating is all you need.

Twist on tradition #2 - Seared duck breast with white beans and greens

Tried duck?  If you haven't it's worth considering.  It's rich like dark meat chicken, but with a spicier flavor.  While I could make duck at home, I usually reserve the treat for eating in a restaurant.  That said, what I loved about this dish are the Asian-inspired flavors of the sauce.  Stewed white beans, toothy and tender, braised greens, tender and flavorful, and this rich brown sauce made with duck jus (read; pan drippings and essence) and star anise. 

What lessons can we take from this?
1) Experiment with proteins.  Like chicken? Try cornish game hens.  Have a hunter friend?  See if you can get doves.  Meat lover?  Try buffalo or venison.  Just changing the protein brings a whole different dimension of flavor

2) Spice it up - try spices that are somewhat unfamiliar.  Buy spice blends from the store or make your own.  Adding Chinese Five Spice powder to chicken breasts changes up the normal sauteed chicken considerably!

And finally, the absolute, "the best I ever ate" menu item that twisted up tradition....

Twist on tradition #3 - Duck confit mac and cheese

Duck fat rules!

OMG is this amazing!  I've heard the gourmet crowd praise french fries cooked in duck fat as one of the best foods you can get, but this mac and cheese elevates duck to another level.  Duck confit is a duck leg cooked slowly in duck fat until it's meltingly tender.  By iteself, it's rich, somewhat gamy, and flavorful.  With the mac and cheese, it adds a flavor dimension combined with the tang of aged cheddar and melt of gruyere.  I thought I might have to fight my sweetie for even one bite.

What lessons can we take from this?
1) Ok, aside from how good this was and that you have to try it for yourself, elevate your mac and cheese.  Add a specially aged cheddar, splurge on gruyere.  Use bacon fat to make the roux for the cheese sauce.  Incorporate flavor everywhere you can. 

2) Make your own pasta.  It's so simple - flour, eggs, salt, oil, and water.  30 minutes - that's it!  Try it and you'll always want fresh pasta.  Sauce clings to it and begs for more!  It makes that everyday dish more special.

I hope these ideas inspire you to think about how you can "twist" your favorite home cooking and comfort foods to make them different.  Happy eating!

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