Monday, March 30, 2015

Hearty Lentil Soup with Chorizo and Potatoes

Hearty Lentil Soup with Chorizo and Potatoes

More like a chili than soup, this is a hearty, satisfying dish. Good for a chilly day.  We are still waiting for Spring to spring around here.

I added chorizo sausage and small potatoes to make it a Sunday dinner. And served it with cornbread.

What makes this lentil soup extra special is the sofrito of almost-carmelized onions, carrots and garlic and tomatoes.  And the addition of the sherry in cooking and the vinegar at the end.
Hearty Lentil Soup with Chorizo and Potatoes
(adapted from Claudia Roden's The Food of Spain)

Serves 6 to 8

Note:  I only recommend making this soup with the French green lentils which are firmer and earthier than yellow or brown lentils which would become mushy.  

2 1/2 cups green lentils (French), picked over and rinsed
6 cups of water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 to 4 ounces prosciutto, chopped
1 large beefsteak tomato or 2 smaller tomatoes, chopped
1 t. sweet paprika
4 cups chicken broth or stock
1/2 cup dry sherry
3 bay leaves
salt -- a big pinch, and then taste, as needed
12 ounces precooked chorizo sausage, sliced lengthwise, then crosswise, into crescents
12 - 16 ounces firm small white or yellow potatoes, cooked, cooled, quartered
2 T. white wine or champagne vinegar
Fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped (optional)

Microwave the potatoes or boil until cooked, but on the firm side.  Drain, salt lightly, and cool, set aside.  Once cool, quarter them, to add to the soup at the very end.

Pick over the lentils, rinse them and place then in a large casserole or pot, add 6 cups of water.
Bring to a boil, skim off the foam, and simmer for 15 minutes. Uncovered. Don't boil the lentils, cook them gently on low.  Turn off until you have completed the next steps.  Keep the liquid, don't drain the lentils.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, saute the onions and carrots in the olive oil on medium low to low, until they are soft and yellow.  This takes a while, plan 15 - 20 minutes.

Add the garlic and prosciutto, and stir well, add the tomatoes, paprika, and cook until the tomatoes soften.
Pour this into the pan with the lentils. add the stock, sherry, bay leaves, salt, and pepper.
Cook, covered, 20 to 30 minutes, until the lentils and vegetables are soft, adding water if needed.  Watch that it doesn't boil.  Cook gently on low heat.
Add the chorizo and cook for another minute or two.  Then add, the potatoes and stir them in.  And cook until they are warmed through, another minute or two.

Turn off the heat, then add 2 T. of white wine or champagne vinegar --and fresh parsley, if desired.
Ladle into bowls.
Serve with cornbread -- a big spoon.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pan-grilled Halibut with Spinach and Raisins and Pine Nuts

A delicious combination of flavors.  You need a firm white fish for this dish.  I splurged on wild caught halibut.  The boiled potatoes and spinach with raisins and pine nuts paired well with the fish's delicate garlic chili dressing.

Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts
(Espinacas con Pasas y Pinones)
(adapted from The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden)

Serves 4

1.5 pounds spinach (I used a 16 oz. bag of flash frozen spinach)
2 T. pine nuts
1/4 cup olive oil
2 T. raisins, soaked in water for 20 minutes and drained (mine were fresh so I didn't soak them)
Salt and Pepper

Defrost the spinach if you are using frozen, and drain off any extra liquid.  If using fresh spinach, wash thoroughly and remove any thick stems -- or if using baby spinach, don't bother with removing the stems.

If using fresh spinach, cook it down in a large pot, by covering it and cooking on high.  The water remaining on the leaves from washing it will be enough.  Lower the heat and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until it is completely wilted.

If using prewashed spinach, add about 1/4 cup water (to create some steam) before cooking the spinach down.  The beauty of the frozen, drained spinach is you can skip this step and go right to sauteing.

In a large skillet, add the olive oil on medium high, then saute the pine nuts, just until they start to brown --- watch them carefully!  --  add the raisins and then the spinach, and mix well.  Season with salt and pepper, and cook on medium, for about 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally.

Pan-Grilled Fish with Garlic and Chili Dressing
(Pescado a la bilbaina - Basque country)
(adapted from The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden)

Serves 2

2 thick fillets (6 to 7 ounces), skin left on,
monkfish, hake, bream or other firm-fleshed fish (I used halibut)
4 to 5 T. extra virgin olive oil (2 for pan grilling, and 3 for the dressing)
5 large garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 to 1 small dried or fresh chile pepper, seeds removed, finely chopped (I used dried flakes)
2 to 3 t. white wine vinegar (I used champagne vinegar)
1 T. chopped flat leaf parsley (I used lots)

Season the fish with salt.  Grease a large heavy skillet or plancha (a flat griddle) with 1 to 2 T. of oil and heat just below the smoking point.  Place the fillets skin side down and cook over medium heat.

The fillets will gradually cook through, but may need to be turned over for the last 2 to 3 minutes. This can take up to 15 minutes.  Watch to see the fish fillets turn opaque and you will know when they are done.
Meanwhile for the dressing, very gently heat the remaining oil with the garlic and the pepper flakes in a small pan until the garlic is very, very soft but not browned at all.  (Do not let it brown,)
Take it off the heat and add the vinegar and the parsley.

Serve the fish hot from the pan with the dressing poured over it.

Note from B:  I should have cooked dressing longer, and used fresher garlic (or removed the green inner layer) which would have made for a more delicate dressing.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Spanish Meatballs

Spanish Meatballs
(Albondigas en Salsa con Picada de Almendras)

With the end of the month nearing, and with March Madness on TV around the clock (it seemed), I decided to go "all out" and cook a bunch of Spanish dishes yesterday for Tom and David to sample at dinnertime.

The kitchen was a wreck afterwards, but it was fun.  I felt like a mad scientist.  Envision bubbling pots everywhere and many experiments going on simultaneously.

I made Spanish meatballs with the almond sauce, a rice/chickpea dish in an earthenware pot, and a winter vegetable medley.  And a loaf of rustic no-knead bread.

The meatballs are really good.  I can see why they are so popular.

I used Claudia Roden's cookbook, The Food of Spain.  The information she conveys is excellent, but I am not sure that her recipe writing style or the layout of the book would be ranked as excellent.

There is an art to writing a good recipe --- and especially the layout of a book.  It drives me crazy when the pages don't flow well when you are cooking and you have to keep flipping the pages.  Reminds me of how hard it is to flip pages while playing a piano piece.  But I digress.

Back to the meatballs, and how unusual the almond sauce is but how good it is!

Here's what I wish I had known ahead of time:  the picada for the almond sauce can be made ahead of time.  So I separated it out as a separate step.  And put it first. And then elaborated on the steps, so that making them will be easier.

Spanish Meatballs
Albondigas en Salsa con Picada de Almendras
(adapted from The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden)

Serves 4 to 6

For the meatballs:
1 large egg
1 pound ground pork/veal mix
4 slices firm white sandwich bread (4 ounces), crusts removed, soaked in water, and squeezed dry
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste
1 T. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
salt and pepper
flour for dredging (optional)
Olive or sunflower oil for frying

For the almond sauce:
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup fruity dry white wine
A good pinch of saffron threads
grated zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
2 t. sugar

For the picada:
1 thin slice firm white sandwich bread, crust removed
1/4 cup blanched whole almonds (or slivered)
3 to 4 garlic cloves
3 T. olive oil
Make the picada:  In a small skillet, fry the bread, almonds and garlic cloves in the oil until golden brown.  Lift them out, let them cool a little, then grind to a paste in a mini-food processor (or you could use a mortar and pestle).  Set aside until you make the almond sauce.
Make the meatballs:  In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg, add the meat, the bread, the onions, garlic and parsley and salt and pepper.  Using your fingers, mix it all together until homogeneous---almost a paste, according to Claudia.  Still using your hands,  shape into balls the size of large walnuts  -- and, if desired,  roll in plenty of flour.  (I skipped the flour and they turned out fine.)

Fry the meatballs:  In a skillet, add plenty of oil (she says 1/2 inch but I used less) and heat until a small piece of bread sizzles.  (I used leftover crust to test how how the oil is.)   Add the meatballs, in batches, and fry briefly, turning to brown them all over, then lift them out and drain.   I like to use a non-stick wire rack with paper towels underneath.  They do not need to be cooked through as they will cook further in the sauce.
Make the sauce:  In a large skillet, add the stock and wine and bring to a boil.  Add the saffron, lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste, and then the sugar.  Stir the picada into the sauce.
Cook the meatballs in the sauce:  Add the meatballs, and simmer, covered, over very low heat, turning once, for about 20 minutes, until cooked through, adding a little water if necessary.
Turn them out into a serving dish or separate them into smaller dishes as tapas, and coat with the sauce.



Friday, March 20, 2015

Bordeaux Shortbread by Colleen

This is a really satisfying cookie. It is brown sugar shortbread frosted with milk chocolate and butter ganache and dipped in chocolate sprinkles.   It looks inviting with the sprinkles, and the texture of the cookie, the frosting and the sprinkles hits all the right notes.  

They are incredibly easy to make and don't require eggs.  I almost always have all the ingredients on hand in the pantry, plus you don't need to refrigerate the dough - although you can ball the dough and bake later if you want.  Just take the balls out of the fridge and put on cookie sheet while you are waiting for oven to heat up.  

I've road tested these with adults and kids and everyone loves them.

Bordeaux Shortbread
(inspired by See's popular candy: milk chocolate bordeaux)

Makes about 36 cookies

2 cups butter, softened
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups flour

For the frosting:

2 cups milk chocolate chips (good quality)
1 stick butter (8 T.)

Chocolate Jimmies (I use DeRuijter Dark Chocolate)

Cream the butter and sugar together.  Add the vanilla and then the flour and mix until smooth.  With a small sized ice cream scoop, scoop balls onto a cookie sheet.  The cookies will spread so leave room (I can get 12 on a half sheet).  

Bake at 325 degrees for 19-23 minutes - they can brown a little at the edges, but you basically just want the cookies to set, but still be soft, not crispy.

Remove from oven and let cool on the cookie sheet. 

Melt one bag of good quality milk chocolate chips with 1 stick butter and stir until smooth.  Frost each cookie and then dip in sprinkles in a pie plate.   


Monday, March 16, 2015

Why is saffron so expensive?

Spanish Saffron

A key ingredient for Spanish cooking is saffron.  It creates the earthy flavor and yellow color in Spanish paella. (It is also used in Italian risotto Milanese, Indian curries and the French seafood stew bouillabaisse.)

So, I bit the bullet and bought some at Wegman's.  I knew it was going to be expensive, but $500/ounce seems crazy!

I spent $17.99 to get .06 ounces (1.7g) for this month's exploration into Spanish cooking as an investment in learning something new.

I felt the same way when I ponied up for matcha powder during Japan month, but I was glad I did.  I would never have discovered Green Tea Financiers if I hadn't.

Sometimes I have trouble spending money on something that seems extravagant, so I remind myself how much it costs to be in college these days.  $17.99 is spent in a few minutes.  So, why am I hesitating in investing in my own education?  After all, I pride myself in being a lifelong learner.

(Photos,thanks to Wikipedia)

Saffron are the stigmas (the female portion of the flower --- the three red threads in the photo above) of a cultivated crocus.  Crocus are those tiny little flowers which come up from bulbs in spring.  But the ones we can harvest for saffron bloom in the fall.

So, why is saffron so expensive?

  • It is a labor intensive process to harvest.  The threads are hand-picked and it has to be done in the morning just after they have bloomed.
  • There are only three threads per plant! So, it takes a lot of flowers to create even a pinch of saffron.  

Saffron from different producer countries, picked and dried in different ways gives rise to different end qualities.  Spanish is one of the best.

According to Penzey's Spices, there are roughly 450-500 saffron stigmas, or threads, to a gram of spice, which is about 1/24 of an ounce. It only takes a pinch to color and flavor a normal recipe to serve 4 to 6.

The good news is a little goes a long way.


P.S.  I was curious about growing it.  And White Flower Farms says "Yes, you can. (Zones 6-8)"  and offers saffron crocus bulbs for the home gardener.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

New Orleans to Memphis Interlude

A Sign of Spring Someday -- Magnolias in New Orleans

We have been on vacation --- to New Orleans and then driving to Memphis before flying home --- and thought we would be escaping the bad winter weather ---but no, it was bitter cold and windy in New Orleans, and rained most of the time we were in Memphis.

Nonetheless, we had fun and learned a lot about New Orleans's culture and Memphis's role in music history as well as eating some tasty food along the way.

Our best meal was at Le Petite Grocery in New Orleans.  We also dined at Bayona (twice) and Herbsaint. The reason we went to Bayona twice was we were so turned off by the way we were treated when we arrived at Domenica that we left and snagged a precious reservation at Bayona on the spur of the moment.

We stayed in the French Quarter at the Soniat House and since they don't have breakfast we found a nice little bakery cafe called Petite Amelie.

On one of the mornings we enjoyed beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde, a tourist trap, but the beignets were really, really good.  Excess powdered sugar and all.

Tom is an avid Tripadvisor participant so you can check out all of his reviews if you so desire at his "handle":  TommyBulmer.  No, that's not a typo.  It's a nickname he likes which was given to him when traveling with his golf buddies in Ireland where there is an Irish cider named Bulmers.

We are glad to be home again and will be back to cooking and posting once we get the laundry done and get the fridge restocked.

You know you have had a nice vacation when you are happy to be back in your old routine.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

David Lebovitz's Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cookies by Tom

Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cookies by Tom

This past weekend we went to Buffalo to visit our daughter and her family.  Not wanting to go empty-handed, especially with young grandchildren, we found this chocolate chocolate-chip recipe in David Lebovitz's cookbook "Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes".  Although this month's culinary tour is the foods of Spain, this recipe was just too good to not share it.

If you like chocolate, you will LOVE this cookie recipe.  I guarantee it!


Chocolate Chocolate Chip cookies
(from David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes)

Makes about 40

1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used the Guittard organic chocolate wafers that come in a resealable bag.  These are very easy to use for melting the chocolate in a double boiler arrangement.  I used 1/2 pound of the bittersweet and 1/2 pound of the semisweet.)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips (I used semisweet)
1 cup chopped nuts, walnuts or pecans (I skipped this ingredient)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and insure that your racks are in the upper and lower one-third of the oven.

Add the chocolate wafers and butter to a large heat-resistant bowl.   Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is melted and is smooth.  With the wafers, it only took a couple of minutes to fully melt.  Once melted, remove the bowl from the heat.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla on high speed until the mixture forms a well-defined ribbon when the beater is lifted.  This will take five minutes or more.

Now with the mixer running on low speed, mix in the melted chocolate-butter mixture until it is well incorporated.  Use a spatula to stir in the flour mixture and chocolate chips.  Add the chopped nuts here as well, if you are using them.

Cover and refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes to get it firm.

You can follow one of two paths at this point. 

The harder path is to roll the dough into two logs, each about 1 1/2 inches in diameter by 10 inches long.   You can then slice "cookie patties" about 1/2 inch thick.  This will give you a uniformly finished cookie after baking.
I followed the easier path.  That is, after refrigerating the dough, using two tablespoons plop (a technical baker's term) about a tablespoon full of dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  Make sure you have some space between each spoonful of cookie dough.  The cookies will not be as uniform, but that is part of the allure of home baked cookies.  Fill two cookie sheets with this method.
Place the parchment lined baking sheets into the oven in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.  After 5 minutes, rotate the baking sheets.  Continue baking for another 5 minutes or so.  The edges of the cookie should be just slightly firm.

Remove from the oven after the 10 minutes of baking time, and let cool on the baking pans for about 10 more minutes.  Once firm enough to handle, transfer to a wire rack either with a spatula or your hands.  Let further cool.

David Lebovitz says the dough can be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for up to a month.  The baked cookies will keep in an airtight container or bag for about 4 days.  But if you are like us, they will not last that four days as they will be all eaten up.

The grandkids loved them!  These are very rich but surprisingly light cookies.  You will be surprised at how filling two of these actually are.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Lemony Arugula Salad with Olives,Tomatoes & Manchego

Arugula Salad with Olives, Tomatoes and Manchego

I must admit that I am looking forward to having Mediterranean flavors after eating Japanese food all of last month. I have missed eating crusty bread and using olive oil and enjoying tomatoes, especially in salads.
So, the first thing I did was update our traditional winter salad with a Spanish twist.  I bought Spanish olive oil at Wegman's.  And then got out the sherry vinegar to make a Spanish vinaigrette.
There was lemony arugula sorrel mix at the store --- which was new to me.   (If you can only find regular arugula, then I'd suggest you add a little grated lemon rind to the salad to get the lemon accent.)
I added chopped olives to our usual windowsill tomatoes.

Instead of Grana Padano, I used Manchego -- a Spanish sheep's milk cheese.

Arugula Salad with Olives, Tomatoes, and Manchego

Serves 2

3-4 ounces lemony arugula and sorrel mix , 2/3 of a tub of prewashed greens
10 olives, mix of green and black, pitted and coarsely chopped or smashed
1/2 pint of very ripe, cherry tomatoes, halved, about 12 tomatoes in total
2 T. sherry vinegar
3 T. (or 4 T. if you like) olive oil
salt and pepper
grated Manchego cheese

In the bottom of your salad bowl, add the olive oil and vinegar, and salt and pepper and mix well, until the olive oil is emulsified.

Layer the greens on top, then the tomatoes, then the olives.  Grate the cheese on top.

At the table, toss the salad.

Delicious!  Salty and sweet, peppery and bright, and a little funky from the sheep's cheese.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

March: Spain

March is Spain

I've never been to Spain, so I am looking forward to learning more about Spanish food and culture during March.

On the tablescape for Spain are

  • paella:  a popular rice dish mixed with either seafood, or meats, and uses saffron 
  • gazpacho:  a soup made of raw vegetables
  • tapas:  small dishes-- a wide variety of snacks and appetizers, cold or hot
  • sangria:  served cold by the pitcher, wine with chopped fruit, a sweetener, and brandy
  • papas arrugados:  "wrinkled" potatoes with a pepper sauce
  • banderillas:  no-cook skewers of colorful, pantry items like roasted peppers, cornichons, etc.
  • leche frita:  a northern Spain dessert of fried cream
  • horchata:  in Spain, it's made of tigernuts or almonds, sugar and water.  In other countries like Mexico, it is cinnamon rice milk.
I am familiar with the first four but had to look up the rest.  

The cookbook I am going to use this month is Claudia Roden's The Food of Spain, a 600-pager, filled with recipes and history of the food in Spain.  It came out in 2011. 

There is an interesting article on her and the cookbook in the U.K.s The Guardian:
She says she resisted Spain at first, and that the cookbook took her 5 years to complete.