Friday, August 29, 2008

Spanish Cravings


I’ve seriously been craving Spanish food lately. I think my wanderlust is flaring up again. Paella takes me away to the Mediterranean coast, if just for dinnertime.

Chicken & Seafood Paella
Printable Recipe

1 tablespoon sweet Spanish paprika
6 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt
3 ¼ ounces Spanish chorizo, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 14 ½-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 ¾ quarts chicken broth
Generous pinch saffron
2 cups paella, Bomba, or Calasparra rice
Freshly ground black pepper
½ pound mussels
1/3 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ cup thawed frozen peas

Combine the paprika, about a quarter of the garlic, and 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large zip top bag. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Season generously with salt. Seal the bag, letting out all the air. Marinate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight in the refrigerator.

Heat a paella pan over high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the remaining ¼ cup of oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken and cook without disturbing for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it releases from the pan and is crusty and brown. Using tongs, turn the chicken and continue to cook over high heat another 2 to 3 minutes, or until brown.*


The chicken should not be cooked through at this point. Remove the chicken to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the chorizo to the pan, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until rendered.


Remove the chorizo to another plate.

Increase the heat to medium, add the onion to the pan, and sauté for 6 to 7 minutes, or until soft. Add the remaining garlic and stir for a minute or so until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the mixture resembles a paste.


Meanwhile, combine the broth and saffron in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.

Return the chorizo to the paella pan. Add the rice and stir until coated with the oil.


Add enough hot broth to cover the rice by about half an inch, season to taste with salt and pepper, and simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes.


Add more broth as necessary, any time the rice looks dry but isn’t cooked through.


Arrange the chicken over the rice and simmer for another 6 to 7 minutes, or until the rice is nearly cooked through. Arrange the mussels and shrimp over the rice, scatter in the peas, and simmer, covered, for 6 to 7 minutes more, or until the rice, chicken, and seafood are all cooked through. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6 people. Use a large, heavy sauté pan if you don’t have a paella pan. Do not stir the paella once the broth has been added. The trick to cooking perfect paella is to add only the amount of broth that the rice can absorb by the time it is cooked through. You can add plenty of broth at the beginning, but to ensure that the paella doesn’t end up soupy, add just a ladleful at a time toward the end of the cooking time. If you like, add a few clams to the paella along with the mussels. Purchase live mussels and/or clams the day you intend to cook them. When you bring them home, the shells may be open, especially if they’ve been stored on ice. Tap them gently and see that they close; discard any that do not close. To prepare them, scrub with a stiff-bristled brush and de-beard the mussels. Discard any mussels or clams that do not open once cooked. The smokey and earthy flavor of Spanish paprika makes it one of my favorite spices. Spanish chorizo, which is a cured sausage, saffron, Spanish paprika, and short grain paella rice are all available from La Tienda.

*Searing the chicken in this manner adds tons of flavor to the finished dish. For everything you ever wanted to know about searing, plus dozens of fabulous searing recipes, look for my book Seared to Perfection in stores in the fall of 2010.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Date Night

My husband took me out for Mexican food at Autentica last night. No sooner had we sat down than he leaned in to whisper, “You’re not my favorite person in here right now, the tortilla lady is.”


He’s a hopeless romantic.

But in all honesty, I couldn’t compete with the tortilla lady. Her corn tortillas are light and moist and earthy, in one word, perfect. I haven’t perfected my corn tortillas yet. Anyway, I didn’t really care about his thing for the tortilla lady, my enormous prickly pear margarita was so big, I didn’t have a care in the world.


Also, I was too distracted by the frenzy of activity in the kitchen. Autentica has an open kitchen, and we had the best seats in the house, right at the pass. The wait staff and line cooks were in constant motion.


Like whirling dervishes.


It was edge-of-your-seat dinner theater, and all of the beautiful dishes coming out of the kitchen passed right in front of me.


Oh the temptation, I could hardly resist stealing a taste from every plate.

Every dish looked so good that, as each whizzed by me, I couldn’t help but second-guess my order. The queso fundido looked amazing and so did the enchiladas. Or maybe I should’ve gotten the mole? But when my food arrived, I knew I had ordered wisely. I got one traditional taco al pastor as an appetizer.


For my main dish, I ordered the roast chicken special.


It was served on a pool of salsa and topped with sautéed onions and a tangle of cilantro. Black beans with chorizo came on the side. My husband ordered the pazole, which arrived with an entire platter of garnishes and snacks, including queso, avocado, Serrano chiles, cilantro, house-made tortilla chips, a taquito, and an absolutely delicious chile relleno. A trio of incendiary salsas as well as a generous stack of the tortilla lady’s handiwork accompanied the meal.

Autentica was fantastic. And who needs romance when there’s good food?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Okra

People either love or hate okra. I happen to love it.

Stewed Okra & Corn
Printable Recipe

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
½ pound okra, cut into ¾-inch pieces
3 cups corn kernels
1 14 ½-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large, heavy sauté pan over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onion and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the okra and sauté another 1 to 2 minutes, or until it turns bright green. Add the corn and sauté 2 to 3 minutes more, or until it turns bright yellow. Add the tomatoes and oregano, reduce the heat to low, and cook covered for about 15 minutes, or until the okra is tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper, transfer to a bowl, and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a side dish. Perfect in the summertime, when okra and corn are in season. Select small okra, no larger than your pinkie finger, as it’s the most tender. Fresh corn kernels are best, but you can use thawed frozen kernels in a pinch. One ear of corn will yield about a cup of kernels.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

So Surprised

It had been a while since I’d been to the Vancouver Farmers Market. It was never my favorite market. But I decided to give it another chance since I was feeling too lazy to drive all the way into Portland, and I’m glad I did. I was so surprised by how it has grown!

My usual approach to farmers market shopping is to do two laps. I walk through the market once to take it all in and see what looks good, and then I do a second round, this time to actually do the buying. The Vancouver market took three passes.

That’s because everything looked so good, I just couldn’t decide. The variety of ethnic snacks was unbelievable. There were Greek, Asian, and German food stands. The gumbo was tempting.


My husband cast his vote for the tamale stand.


The aroma of the paella almost lured me in.


But I just had to go with the Uzbek food, since I happen to be from Uzbekistan.

It was the ambiguous sign that first aroused my curiosity.


But I didn’t really count on anything interesting as I wandered toward it. I most certainly didn’t expect an authentic array of the foods that I had grown up eating. I just couldn’t believe my eyes! The Vancouver Farmers Market has a vendor (Pavel & Family, 360-253-6827) specializing in Uzbek food!

I’m not sure I can really convey in words how unusual this is. I was in complete disbelief, stunned, shocked, so surprised. It’s just that most people would be hard pressed to locate Uzbekistan on a world map, let alone spend some hard earned cash to try the food. I mean, when I tell people I was born is Uzbekistan, they just look at me quizzically. They almost always respond, “Pakistan?” I explain that Uzebkistan’s a country in Central Asia. So they try again, “Afghanistan?” Needless to say, the only place other than Uzbekistan I’ve ever seen Uzbek food is at home.

But I digress. The Uzbek food looked good. Shashlyk, skewers of marinated beef and pork, were sizzling on a grill.


I was told that the father of the family of cooks was a welder and made it himself. They had an enormous authentic kettle, called a katol, full of plov, a lamb and rice pilaf.


They proudly explained that they had ordered the katol directly from Uzbekistan and that the shipping had cost $1,500 (ironically, the pot itself was only about $40). They even had an authentic babushka, lending credibility to the entire operation.


I ordered the combination plate, with shashlyk, plov, and salad.


A tasty and satisfying lunch for about $7.

With a belly full of comfort food, I was finally ready to do my shopping. I bought some okra, tomatoes, and corn. Then the stone fruit caught my eye.


I’ve had donut and Saturn peaches before but never flat nectarines.


So I had to get some just for the novelty factor.

And then the huckleberries called to me.


The friendly vendor had just picked the wild berries himself at Trout Lake on Mount Adams. They were rare perfection, with jewel-like shiny skin, an intoxicating fragrance, an even more intense flavor, and also a very steep price of $4.50. I bought just one half-pint. On the way home, I agonized over what to do with the huckleberries, would they be destined for fresh eating or a pastry transformation? Concluding that a special treasure deserves a special treatment, I tossed them with a single tablespoon of sugar, divided them between two ramekins, topped them with rolled-out scraps of Pâte Sucrée Tart Crust from the freezer, and baked them into cobblers as soon as I got home.


A dollop of vanilla whipped cream, and my tongue was blissfully happy. What in the world was I thinking when I bought just one half-pint? Now I find myself in the preliminary stages of planning a huckleberry picking expedition. I think I have a new favorite berry, at least for the rest of huckleberry season.

And did I mention, I also have a new favorite farmers market?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Some Days

Some days, I just can’t figure out what to do about dinner. I don’t know what I’m in the mood for, nothing’s calling my name, and I plain don’t feel like cooking (yes, it's true, sometimes even I don’t feel like cooking). On days like that, I just throw together a chicken sandwich.

Now I know what you’re saying, “A chicken sandwich? Snore.” But I don’t mean dry, tasteless chicken slapped between two slices of white bread. What I’m talking about is a tasty and satisfying sandwich that may not even need a side of chips. For some reason, a chicken sandwich always brings out my creative side.

I’ll make paninis with thinly sliced roasted chicken, provolone, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red bell peppers, and pesto mayo. I might whip up chicken, tomato, and cheddar melts on sourdough. Or I try smoked chicken salad on a bun. I really like to build grilled chicken and Guacamole BLTs. And I just created a new favorite, a sandwich with grilled chicken breast, Swiss, lettuce, tomato, and Smokey Mayo on a ciabatta roll.


The Smokey Mayo is so good, you almost don’t need the chicken.


Smokey Mayo
Printable Recipe

½ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sweet Spanish paprika
1 clove garlic, grated
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt

Blend together the mayonnaise, paprika, garlic, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt.

Makes enough for 4 to 6 sandwiches. Keeps for a day or two tightly sealed in the refrigerator. Delicious on any type of sandwich, not just a chicken sandwich. Also fantastic as a dip for French fries or crudités and as a substitute for rouille in bouillabaisse.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fancy


I didn’t have company over, and it wasn’t a special occasion. But do I really need an excuse to break out the caviar? I just had some leftover Leek & Potato Soup in the fridge, so I decided to dress it up.

It’s easy, you should try it. Everyone will be so impressed!

Vichyssoise Shooters
Printable Recipe

2 cups chilled Leek & Potato Soup
2 tablespoons crème fraîche, whipped to soft peaks
1 to 2 tablespoons black caviar

Divide the Leek & Potato Soup among 10 shot glasses. Top each with a small dollop of the crème fraîche and a small spoonful of the caviar. Serve immediately.

Serves 5 to 10 as an hors d’oeuvre. Use a pitcher or measuring cup with a spout to pour the soup into the shot glasses neatly and easily.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Find

Like most women, I love to shop. But I don’t love to shop for clothes or shoes or handbags. Forget fashion, my sprees are for gourmet ingredients and cookware. I go out of my way to explore the latest and greatest foodie shops. Yesterday, I discovered The Meadow, and it’s great. It’s a tiny space, but it’s packed with so many goodies, I managed to spend nearly an hour browsing. There’s a huge, and I mean huge, selection of salts from around the world.


Now, I’m a bit of a salt freak, I was into finishing salts before they became all the rage, but even I’ve never seen such a mind-boggling assortment anywhere. And the variety of peppercorns at The Meadow is so vast, that I had to get a guided tour.


This fun little store also stocks Himalayan pink salt blocks (for use as serving platters), wine, and gourmet chocolate. Although I was tempted to buy much, much more, I left with only a small bottle of fine quality white peppercorns. I’m sure I’ll find an excuse to go back soon, those salt blocks sure do sound intriguing…

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Food Fight


Last night my husband and I treated ourselves to dinner at Carafe, a popular French bistro. We looked at the menu and decided to share. We would split a salad and trade our entrees half way through.

I don’t know why we think sharing is a good idea. Some lovers may linger over a meal, delighting in feeding each other tender morsels. But for us, sharing always results in a food fight. Not the kind where food gets thrown around (who would waste good French food like that anyway?) but the kind where we race. We race for the tastiest bites, we race for any bites. I just want my fair share. And my husband wants my fair share, too.

Everything was civil as we enjoyed our frisée aux lardons.


Then the main course arrived. The waitress put the bifsteak frites in front of me and the duck confit in front of my husband. Everything looked delicious. I closed my eyes for a moment and imagined we were in Paris.


But only for a moment, there's little time for romance if you have to focus on a race.

As I enjoyed my steak and my very perfect French fries, I was watching him with the rest of my meal. I know he ate more than half of the crunchy, golden duck skin. If I had gotten the confit first, I would have eaten up all of the skin, every bite of it, without leaving any for him. Then there really would have been fisticuffs.

My husband has an advantage, he’s a much faster eater. And he likes to say that since he’s bigger than I am, he should get more than half of the food. He even thinks he’s entitled to eat off my plate when we don’t have a prearranged sharing agreement. Since we’ve been married, I have learned that a fork doubles nicely as a defensive weapon when another diner makes unwelcome advances on my food.

We must have been satiated, or giddy with wine, because as we ate dessert, a blueberry tart with vanilla ice cream, he said, “No, you have the last bite.” So I did.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Soup Weather

August has just begun, but, here in the Pacific Northwest, it already seems like fall’s creeping in. It’s been cool and cloudy and a little rainy out, and I’m in the mood for soup.


Leek & Potato Soup
Printable Recipe

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 leeks, pale parts only, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
1 yellow onion, diced
3 ½ quarts chicken broth
7 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 5/8-inch cubes
1 sprig thyme
1 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large, heavy pot over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the oil and butter and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the leeks and onion and sauté for about 12 minutes, or until soft.


Add the broth, potatoes, and thyme and bring to a boil. Simmer for about half an hour, or until the potatoes are cooked through. Discard the thyme sprig and stir in the cream. Remove from the heat and puree with an immersion blender until smooth.


Season to taste with salt and pepper, ladle into bowls, and serve immediately.

Makes a lot, enough to serve about 10 to 12, which is good because you’ll want leftovers. Leeks tend to be very dirty, so rinse them thoroughly after you chop them. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender but remember: never fill a blender more than half way with hot liquid. This means you will need to blend the soup in batches and reheat it before serving. For a perfectly smooth texture, strain the pureed soup through a fine mesh sieve. Garnish with minced fresh chives or a few drops of truffle oil. If it’s still summer where you live, know that I’m jealous and serve it chilled. Leek & Potato Soup served chilled is commonly known as vichyssoise.

Click here for Vichyssoise Shooters, a fun and fancy way to serve Leek & Potato Soup.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Taste


Once upon a time, I worked for a very wealthy family as a private chef. What they liked to eat never failed to surprise me. One night they would ask me to make boxed macaroni and cheese and the next night they would eat an entire beef tenderloin roast. They liked stuffing mix from a box and canned tomato soup and also lobster tails with garlic butter. Mostly, they just had beer taste on a champagne budget.

Now, I probably shouldn’t tell you about my time as a chef for this family. I probably shouldn’t even admit that I ever worked for them, they had me sign a strict confidentiality agreement. So, the names have all been changed to protect…well, me.

The Holiday’s went through a lot of chefs in the couple of years before I went to work for them. But they kept me around because, for whatever reason, the kids seemed to like me. Also, they said they liked my cooking.

Anyway, like I said, I didn’t always appreciate what they asked me to cook. I mean, I don’t know about you, but if I could afford a private chef, I most certainly wouldn’t ask her to make foods that come out of a box. So when Mercedes, the teenage daughter, came into the kitchen after dinner one night looking for cheese powder to sprinkle on her popcorn, I groaned inside. I’m just not a big fan of fake food. I bet you can tell.

“I don’t have any cheese powder, but I do have some truffle oil.” I waved the little bottle under her nose. A smile slowly spread across her lips. I knew there was hope for Mercedes, she leaned toward the gourmet, at least more so than the rest of her family. So I microwaved some popcorn and showed her how to drizzle it with the truffle oil. It went over great.

The next day, Mercedes asked me to make her a truffled grilled cheese sandwich for lunch. Grocery store white bread, a slice of American cheese, and a few drops of truffle oil, I had my work cut out for me.

Truffled Popcorn
Printable Recipe

¼ cup popcorn
½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Several drops truffle oil
Kosher salt

Toss together the popcorn and olive oil in a small bowl, making sure that the popcorn is evenly coated. Transfer to a brown paper lunch bag. Fold the top inch of the bag over a couple of times and staple once or twice to secure. Microwave for about 2 minutes, or until the popping slows. Transfer the popcorn to a bowl and drizzle with the butter and truffle oil, tossing to coat. Season to taste with salt and serve.

Serves 1 or 2. This is so much better than store-bought microwavable popcorn. If you want more, make 2 batches. Don’t double the recipe, believe me. I tried it and the bag exploded. And, yes, it's OK to use a couple of staples in the microwave.

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