September 25, 2014

Review: Grain Restaurant Provides Local Farm-to-Table Menu

Originally featured on Dallas Food Nerd.

We were invited to attend a menu tasting at Grain Restaurant located in Hilton Dallas Park Cities Hotel.  Chef James Music and his team at Grain have developed a farm-to-table menu showcasing fresh produce & meats produced and provided by several local sources.

Their menu is updated seasonally to reflect what is currently available and fresh from the farm.  The next menu change is planned for mid-October to feature fall flavors and it’s bound to impress just as this menu did.

During our tasting, we were provided with a couple of dishes from each of the 3 courses of the dinner menu.   They also serve breakfast, lunch and brunch so you can stop by for something delicious at any mealtime.

BEGINNINGS

Texas Watermelon & Feta Cheese – Seedless Red & Yellow Melon, Feta, Aged Balsamic Glace, Mache

The colorful presentation definitely screams summer.  I enjoyed the bite-sized cubes and how the flavors & textures between the melon and cheese paired well together. The tang of the balsamic glace tickled the taste buds.

Heirloom Tomato Salad – Proximity Farms Organic Heirlooms, Dallas Mozzarella, Basil

I’ve never been a fan of tomatoes.  Until now.   I’m not sure if it was the thick tender slices of the plump produce, the local companion of melt-in-your-mouth mozzarella or the fresh basil.  But it all worked for me.

Buffalo Chili – Ground Buffalo, Caramelized Onions, Redneck Cheddar

A couple of tasters playfully shamed Chef Music for adding beans to the chili AND not mentioning the taboo ingredient in the description on the menu.  He just smiled while he continued to entertain and humor us with stories. 

Some of us know that most Texans don’t approve of beans in chili, let alone black beans.   It was spicy but tasty and the buffalo meat melted in my mouth.  I enjoyed it but I’m also not from around these parts.   I myself, add things to my chili that most likely wouldn’t be approved by others such as cocoa powder.  I say just go with whatever works for you.

MIDDLES

Crab Cakes  - Texas Blue Crab, Red Pepper Jam

These were the most crab-filled cakes I’ve ever had.  And that’s a good thing!  The red pepper jam didn’t stand out to me as much as I wanted but I enjoyed the crab cakes nonetheless.  Some chefs tend to add too much breading and/or seasoning that it overshadows the already little amount of crab it contains.  These tasty cakes were seasoned just right in my opinion and I believe I showed my love for them by eating several more when no one was looking.

Bacon BBQ Shrimp – ‘Po Boys’ Gulf Shrimp, House Made BBQ Sauce

The BBQ sauce had a nice bite to it and the shrimp were huge.  Other than that, this dish wasn’t anything special to me.  I’ve never thought to pair shrimp and BBQ sauce.  I joked that this could be called “Redneck Shrimp”. 

Being from a huge family of Oklahoma rednecks, I’m allowed to joke about it.  They love to put barbeque sauce on pretty much anything.  I’ll have to call mom and suggest she try it but I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already been there, done that.

Tenderloin Tips – Ft. worth Light, Asadero Polenta, Tobacco Fried 1015s, House Made BBQ Sauce

Ok ya’ll.  Seriously. This is comfort food at its finest.  A couple of us enjoyed more than enough bites of this dish.   The tender beef tips and creamy polenta are a dream team for your mouth.  Asadero is a rich Mexican-style melting cheese and added a great flavor and creaminess to the polenta.  The crispy 1015s (aka onions) on the top were a tasty treat.  Now I know why Chef Music mentioned it was one of the house specialties.  I get it.


MAINS

Born & Braised Short Ribs – Tobacco Fried 1015 Hash, Farm to Table Vegetables

Another comfort food dish done right.   The thin, crispy hash on the bottom totally gives this a sinful dimension of flavor.    Who doesn’t love a 13-hour braised meat!  And the delicious sidekick of Texas shitake mushrooms were grown on logs in Denison, Texas.  That’s ruggedly local cool in my book!

‘Line Caught’ Gulf Red Fish – Creamed Corn, Lime Butter


The fish dish didn’t disappoint.  The thick slices were delectable and served over a sweet thyme cream corn and topped with lime butter.    The sneaky addition of the thyme in the corn enhanced the dish. I don’t normally order fish at a restaurant but I would definitely order this again and enjoy every last bite.


September 19, 2014

Weekly Produce Prep and Easy Veggie Salads

We all try to eat more vegetables.  But how easy has it been for you to eat them at home?   For me, not so much.  I realized it takes a little work to get them ready to grab on the go or when searching for a light snack.  If veggies aren't easily available, I find myself leaning towards not so healthy options.

However, I'm proud to say that I haven't bought as much junk food over the past couple of years. And also I try to limit our processed foods to items such as canned beans, tomatoes, condiments and a few others. But for the most part, we eat freshly prepared meals daily.  The meals I try to make consist of a protein with a fresh or frozen vegetable side or maybe just a vegetarian meal once or twice a week.

Anyway, I've been more diligent about purchasing more produce during my weekly grocery shopping.  The issue I came across was that I didn't have (make) time to cut up or prep any for snacking or lunch.  I decided to just pick a day to cut and portion out veggies for the week.  I guess normal people would probably do all the work the day they actually buy the groceries.  Meh.  I'll try but grocery day is usually the day I plan to accomplish a million other things on my to do list.

I recently discovered Sprouts and how many awesome deals they have.  Now I mainly get my produce there.  Wednesdays are awesome because you can get last week's ad prices AND the new week ad prices.  That's great to know so I can compare veggie prices and get everything in one trip.

It seriously only took me about a half hour to get everything washed, cut, portioned, packed. AND I also thought it would be a good idea to make quick lunches such as Caprese salad and pickled cucumber salad while I was at it.  I feel pretty good about myself right now.  Let's see if I can continue this each week.

*I had more veggies and forgot to take photos of those and the salads. Boo.  I took a photo before I used some of the prepped veggies for dinner.  I had cut carrots into sticks for snacking and just diced them up for a dish for dinner.

CAPRESE SALAD

4 oz mozzarella, balls or cubed
1 medium tomato, sliced
Fresh basil leaves (*I had 4 little leaves. You can use more to your liking but that's all my little in-home herb garden had at the moment)
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Balsamic reduction (1/2 c balsamic vinegar boiled in small saucepan until reduced to half. Takes about 10 minutes.)

While balsamic vinegar is reducing, prep mozzarella and tomatoes and place in a small bowl.  Thinly slice basil and add to salad.  Add a small pinch of salt and pepper and drizzle a little olive oil.  Taste and add more seasonings as desired.  If serving right away, drizzle a little balsamic reduction on top.  I would keep reduction in small container separate from salad if serving for lunch or snack the next day.

*Balsamic reduction will make more than you need for this one dish. It takes just a small drizzle to add flavor.  It keeps forever so store it in a tightly covered container to use later.  Drizzle on steaks, salads, brie and more.

PICKLED CUCUMBER SALAD

1 large cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced then halved
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper, to taste
red pepper flakes, to taste

Whisk rice vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Taste and add more seasonings to your liking.  Add red pepper flakes for a kick.

September 16, 2014

Seasoned Roasted Potatoes - Recipe Recommendation

I have a super quick recommendation for you.

I was searching online the other day for an easy side to make with a couple of russet potatoes I bought for a steal (.49/lb).  I haven't had potatoes in so long and I wanted to try something different. I came across this SUPER easy recipe on Pinterest.   It was just what I needed.  I highly recommend trying it out.

Head on over to Kristin's page and check out her other tasty recipes as well.  I creeped through her website and have a few on my must-try list.

Note: I forgot to take a photo because I was too busy shoving the goodness in my mouth.  The photo below is Kristin's delicious photo so you can see why should try her recipe.

Seasoned Roasted Potatoes by Iowa Girl Eats


September 15, 2014

Restaurant Review: Urban Rio

Originally featured on Dallas Food Nerd

Mexican restaurant, Urban Rio, located in Historic Downtown Plano featured a Margarita Dinner on August 19th.  We were invited to attend and enjoy five refreshing margaritas paired with five drool worthy courses.

As we sat down, we immediately received salsa, black bean dip and chips.  After one bite of the black bean dip on a tortilla chip, I had a feeling everything else would be just as amazing or better.  There was a spice I couldn’t identify but made me want to keep eating more and after each bite my mind was filled with possible spices.  Coriander?  Turmeric?  It was familiar and delicious but what the heck was it? 

When our cheerful, attentive and informative waiter, Cody, stopped by to check on us, I finally gave in and asked him what that mystery spice was in the bean dip.  I give props and have a higher respect to waiters who know how dishes are prepared at the restaurants they work in.  He smiled and happily claimed it’s not a surprise as that is the popular question from diners since day one of opening. It’s known as canela in Mexico, or “true” cinnamon as a Google result stated. It’s milder than our American cinnamon and tastes more of vanilla and floral flavor with just a hint of heat.  I’m not surprised I was drawn to love it, as cinnamon is one of my favorite spices to use, especially in savory dishes.

Our first course was a light and refreshing Pear Salad.  A blend of mixed greens, thin cucumber and pear slices tossed in house-made pear vinaigrette.   This was a perfect dish for a hot summer day.  It was paired with a delicious FlowerRita made with Lanique Rose Petal Liqueur, pear nectar and edible flower garnish.  The margarita was light like the dish and had hints of floral and fruit flavors.





















The second course was one of my top favorites of the night with the Mango Beef Skewers and Chipotle-Mango Margarita.  The skewers were made with tender strips of chipotle beef skewers grilled and served with a simple chunky mango salsa.  The margarita was made with a puree of chipotle-mango with a chipotle salt rim.  I loved the sweetness of the mango and the spicy kick from the chipotle in your throat after each sip.  I could totally eat a lot of the beef (and drink a couple more ritas).  The strips of grilled beef would be great on top of mixed greens and served as a salad.



Another favorite of mine was the third course, which was the Agave Salmon.  The salmon was marinated with agave and mint, sautéed and topped with mint and cherry remoulade and a roasted medley of brussel sprouts, corn and red bell pepper.  The added crunch of the roasted veggies paired well with each bite of the tender salmon.  I loved all the textures and flavors of this dish.   It was paired with a summery MojitaRita which is a Mojito made with tequila, agave nectar and mint.





















The fourth course was the Jalapeno Chicken and CJ Rita.  The succulent chicken breast was marinated in onion, jalapenos and herbs and served with cucumber salad and apricot relish.  The CJ Rita was made with fresh cucumber and jalapeno-lime juice.  This was another favorite margarita of mine.  (I must like a spicy kick in my drinks.) It was more mellow than the chipotle—mango  margarita but still delicious all the same.  The cucumber and lime made a refreshing flavor combo. This drink, in a pitcher, poolside equals summer fun in Texas.


The fifth and final course of the evening was the Raspberry Ancho Lava Cake.  An airy lava cake infused with ancho chili, drizzled with raspberry fudge sauce with a side of Grand Marnier spiked frozen raspberries and whipped cream.  The perfect accompaniment of the Lemon-Berry Smash made with raspberry liqueur, limoncello, mixed-berry puree served with a frozen berry garnish ended the dinner on a high note.  The drink reminded me of a delicious fruit smoothie and I had to remind myself it contained alcohol so I wouldn’t slurp it down so quickly.  Plus, icy head rushes are no fun.


We had the privilege of meeting the executive chef, Fernando Torres.  At the end of the night, when he stopped by again, we were basking in the afterglow of dessert so I was extra giddy and expressed my delighted surprise of how the lava cake melted in my mouth.  He mentioned it contained less flour than most cakes so it makes it much lighter.  I let him know it was ‘heavenly’.  Chef Torres even said he’d be happy to provide the recipe. (I need to follow up on that stat!)

I noticed they have a brunch menu as well so I guess that means I have to go back and taste test soon.  

(Disclaimer: The meal and drinks were complimentary but the reviews and thoughts are my own.)