February 26, 2011

Restaurant Review: Marks American Cuisine

Seven years!  Each year, we go out for a nice dinner and this year, we went to Marks, which also happened to be where we went for our first anniversary.  It was even better that I had a $50 gift card.  Yes!

Marks is a darling restaurant in a 1920's renovated church with beautiful architecture - from the side rooms, vaulted ceilings to the spiral staircase leading up to the Alcove for a private dining room. Even better, Chef Cox' food never disappoints us.  So, let's get one with the dishes!

Duo of Foie Gras: If you don't already know, Marks introduced me to foie gras several years ago. I have tried it before, but it was never appealing...until Marks.  For dinner one night, they brought out a free appetizer of foie gras - I actually wanted to decline but am so glad we didn't because now, I always want it when I go to Marks.  Thank you!  The duo was a seared hudson foie gras with a pear and cherry compote and the other was a black pepper scented tourchon with pear butter and apples. Both were divine, but the seared hudson foie gras - hands down my favorite. I wish I had more...

Roasted Wianno Oysters with a ragout of jumbo crabment, shrimp and leeks in a truffle aioli vinagrette. These four oysters were lightly fried but the combinatio of the crabmeat and shrimp made a great combination.

Now, on to the entrees.  I, of course, was tempted to get the duck but that night, I resisted and tried something new.  The lamb was happiness in my mouth.   
Grilled Medallions of Veal with vidalia onion risotto and asaparagus in a Marsala field mushroom sauce. I love risotto, a little too much. At times, seeing risotto complement a main dish will sway me into choosing that. There's just something about perfectly cooked kernels of creamy rice.  Let's not forget the main star of the dish, the veal, which was perfectly cooked, tendor and flavorful.
Walnut crusted Rack & Loin of Colorado Lamb with three color potatoes, roasted squash and zucchini with a basil maderia sauce. One word. YUM!  Perfectly cooked and seasoned. The best part is taking a piece of lamb, scoop it with the basil sauce and add just a bit of the purple potato mash - can't really think of another perfect combination on a fork that gives you such happiness. Comparing this to the veal, I'd go for this dish.  Since the lamb was encrushed with additional seasoning on the outside, it gave it a boost of extra flavor that the veal did not have. 

As for dessert, I think this was the first time we passed.  We were just TOO full.  I desperately wanted their chocolate cake but I knew that I phsyically could not eat another mouthful. 

Hands down, there is a reason Marks is my favorite restaurant in Houston. It never disappoints us - from the service to the food to the atmosphere.  I absolutely love it. If you have not had the opportunity to go, please do!  You won't be disappointed.

February 24, 2011

Sun Dried Tomato Pasta with Shrimp

This was recommended by one of my favorite ladies, Liz. It was a very simple recipe yet very delicious with the added cream. And honestly, who doesn't enjoy a good pasta that takes 20 minutes max to make and seems like you spent way more time? Even better, I bought an enormouse container of sun dried tomatos at Costco and this was a perfect recipe to make sure you really tasted the flavors.

The original recipe is from Giadda and I made something very similar to this in the last year but it definitely needed an extra kick. I bumped it up with a little more with the cream, shrimp and I also altered the amount of ingreditents and seasoning. I was tempted to add my Tony's seasoning but I resisted!

Also, sorry for the lack of pictures. I was a tad too busy preparing dinner and only remembered to snap a picture at the very end. Also, this pasta is best consumed the day you make it. The next day I had it, it became a tad too dry and while you can add a little more cream to get it back to that silky consistency, I felt too guilty for adding more cream....

Enjoy! I'll definitely make this again.

Sun Dried Tomato Pasta with Shrimp
Serves 6
Recipe adapted from Giadda

8-10 shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 box of small pasta (pick something that can hold the yummy sauce like orecchiette)
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
3/4 cup sun dried tomato
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated parmesan
dash of garlic powder
1/2 cup heavy cream
dash of dried basil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Quickly toss shrimp with a little bit of olive oil, garlic powder and S&P. Place on baking sheet and cook for 8 minutes or until pink and opaque. Boil water and cook pasta according to box.

2. Using a chopper, quickly blend the sun dried tomatoes, garlic, oil and 1/2 of the parmesan cheese. Heat a pan big enough to hold the pasta and put the pesto mixture into the pan on medium high. Let it cook and you'll start smelling the yummy garlic.

3. Add the cream and incorporate well. Take a quick taste and add necessary S&P. I didn't have fresh basil so I added in dash of dried basil and garlic powder here. Add in the shrimp.

4. Drain pasta and put directly into the sauce pan. Incorporate well. Sprinkle well with the other half of parmesan cheese. Serve immediately!

February 21, 2011

Smoked Salmon on Puff Pastry

For the potluck I hosted for Twinkie and the bridesmaids, I made a super quick appetizer.  I recently discovered puff pastry and I've seen the Barefoot Contessa use it often, claiming you can simply buy it in the grocery store rather than spend the time to make it fresh.  The frozen stuff is good enough!  For some ridiculous reason, I imagined the puff pastry to live with the frozen pie crust section of the grocery stores, and since I couldn't find it there, I figured my store didn't carry.  It wasn't until I was strolling along the frozen food section near the frozen veggetables and frozen whole pies that I found it.  Ugh. I can't tell you how annoyed I was with myself.  I instantly felt like that lame guy that won't ask for directions.  Why didn't I just ask someone earlier?  Anyways, puff pastry is a freezer staple now. 

This is a simple recipe that is easy to put together.  I love smoked salmon but instead of just serving it plain, I wanted to put them on cooked mini pastry to give it a little more substance without taking away from the great flavor of the fish. 

Smoked Salmon on Puff Pastry
1 pkg smoked salmon
1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed
extra virgin olive oil
4 large spoonfuls of creme fraiche
1 lemon (zest and juice)
1/2 small orange (juice only)

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out puff pastry and cut into small rounds or triangles, whichever you prefer.  With a fork, poke holes throughout each piece.  Put cut-outs on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Put another sheet of parchment paper on top and another baking sheet on top.  This is so the puff pastrys cook but don't rise significantly.  Bake for 10 minutes.
2. Once the puff pastry is done, let it sit and cool to room temp.  Take the creme fraiche and quickly whisk so it's smooth.  Add zest and juice of one lemon and half of a small orange.  Add some S&P and mix well.  Set aside. 

3. Assembly time! Take a puff pastry and pile on some good smoked salmon. I like to spray with a little bit of olive oil and sprinkly with S&P.  Put a small dollop of the creme fraiche mixture on top and then top off with a few capers and small squeeze of lemon juice.  I also like to sprinkle a little of the caper juice for a little extra acidity.  Serve immediately!

February 06, 2011

Basil Pesto Pasta

My first experience with making pesto was some sort of a disaster and hungry disappointment.  I didn't have enough basil, was using a blender and ran out of olive oil, and this sadly kept me from making it again.  My second time was a great success, and I'm happy to say, yes, I can make pesto!

Very simple recipe, took only a few minutes and the majority of cooking time was waiting for the pasta water to boil and pasta to cook!  We had this with steaks and it was a delicious combination. Although, not a perfect as steak and corn on the cobb... 

Pesto Pasta
Serves a Gazillon. I have a pint of pest left in the freezer

8 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 cup olive oil
4 cups fresh basil
1/2 cup parmesan (cut into cubes)

1. Have a large pot of boiling water, add a handful of salt and olive oil.  Add in the bowtie pasta and cook until done.

2. Put the basil leaves, garlic, and pine nuts into a food processor.  Let it run until it's a chunky pebbly mixture.  Add in the parmesan cheese.  When combined and with the processor running, slowly pour in the olive oil until it becomes a smooth mixture.  Add a dash of salt and pepper to taste.  Done!  Can you believe?  (Seriously, the longest part of this process is peeling the darn garlic and washing the basil!)

3. Pour the pesto sauce over the pasta and mix.  Add in freshly grated parmesan cheese and enjoy!  Oh, even better, have it with a nice ribeye steak =).