This time of year I’m always thinking back to the last month of culinary school ~ I graduated 7 years ago ~ and how happy I was to be through. The last few months are very hectic and stressful as the final project comes to an end: the restaurant project. For our major, cannot~graduate~without~this project, we have to develop a business plan for a restaurant, starting with a theme, name, menu development, costing, and design, Sounds like Top Chef, right? You know how the contestants are given a brunch of ingredients and a theme and they have to crete dish that fits? Well, here is the challenge. What do mushrooms, chocolate, and Southwest cuisine have in common?
Other the course of 3 quarters, students have to plan, create and cost out menus and recipes, design the restaurant, equip the restaurant, figure out how much everything will cost, from the sinks, ovens, and cooktops to the dish ware, napkins, and silverware. Knowing that I never intended to work in a restaurant or own a restaurant, I sometimes felt that all this work wouldn’t be of much benefit. But I have to say, it did force me to learn Excel and knowing how to cost out recipes has helped in my cooking school business.
And yes, I did graduate ~ with honors! How do you like the toque? Graduation is the only time I’ve ever worn one.
Of course, the most fun was creating the recipes and developing the menu. That I could do and loved to do.
And that brings us to the answer to today’s post.
What do mushrooms, chocolate, and Southwestern cuisine have in common?
For starters, I love Southwestern cuisine – how could I not, being from Texas? My restaurant for culinary school was called Bluesky Bistro (there’s that bluesky again), based on modern Southwestern cuisine using French techniques. This is not chuckwagon cooking, more like the Alamo moves to Paris. My culinary inspirations were Stephan Pyles (Dallas), Robert Del Grande (Houston), Barbara Pool Fenzel (Phoenix), and Jeff Blank (Austin).
Some of the recipes for Bluesky Bistro were based on ones from these iconic Southwestern chefs plus ones I adapted from other sources.
Gazpacho, one of my very favorite summer soups, was on the menu.
Other favorite dishes on the menu were
Tortilla-Chile Crusted Chicken Breasts
Annatto Rice with Wild Mushrooms and Queso Fresco (there’s those mushrooms)
Asparagus with Chile Glaze
Chipotle Brownies (check on the chocolate)
Since Sweet Shark says the Annatto Rice is his very favorite rice dish, I’m sharing that with you. This dish could become a one-dish meal with the addition of grilled shrimp or chorizo or other sausage. Its orange-red color is very pretty and the flavors are complex and deep. Easily doubled and made in a large Dutch oven, it can be made ahead and reheated. Annatto seed is also known as achiote. It is used primarily in Mexican and Caribbean cooking to impart a rich yellow/orange color. Annatto seed makes a good substitute for saffron’s golden coloring, at a fraction of the cost. You have to buy them in bulk at a Mexican grocery or spice store.