Friday, March 31, 2006

Flavors of Spain I Adore You -- A Paella Variation

There are many reasons to go to Spain -- the people, the sights, the art, the music, the lifestyle, the shopping and the architecture -- but for me the compelling reasons always come down to the food. True, I travel the world on my stomach, but there is something special about the food in Spain. The paellas, the tapas, the chocolate. Lots of good things. I have lots of notes to turn into recipes and photos to download from my camera, most of which I haven't yet dealt with.

Within two days of coming home, before my jet lag had lagged, I already craved the flavors of Spain. So much so I had to make a paella for dinner. (The photo above is of my paella creation.) I adapted this recipe from a vegetarian paella I had in Madrid and several cookbooks, but I also was trying to use up some odds and ends from the fridge. There is no one kind of "correct" paella, but I do have some rules for paella making:

1. Use a Spanish short grain rice. There are lots of good kinds of rice from Valenica and other areas of Spain. If they are unavailable, use a Italian risotto rice such as aborio. You need a rice that will absorb a lot of flavor and give off a creaminess. If you don't have the right rice you don't have paella. You can make a lovely arroz con (rice with) whatever, but it won't be paella.

2. Invest in a paella pan. It doesn't need to be fancy. The shape allows you to brown your ingredients without crowding and helps the rice absorb the liquid correctly. If you don't have a paella pan, choose a pan that is wide and somewhat flat that can go into the oven and that is made out of a material that heats up quickly and cools down fast. Stainless or carbon steel are good choices. (The photo at left is of paella pans for sale in a Madrid market.)

3. Cooking a paella is a variable experience. You need to bite into the rice to judge where it is in the cooking process, don't just go by the clock. You need to gauge the soupiness of the broth. I can give you times, but it there are so many factors it is better to know what it is supposed to be like rather than depending on my telling you cook five minutes. Your rice may absorb liquid faster or slower than mine and you can end up with too much liquid in your paella or dry, tasteless rice.

For rice, pans and seasonings, I recommend the Spanish Table website but there are lots of other gourmet sites and stores that sell them, too. The following has been based on my own experience and ideas as well as recipes from Paella by Penelope Casas and The Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen. Both books are available from the Spanish Table, although the book and website are not affiliated.

Paella with Meatballs and Vegetables with Avocado Sauce

For meatballs
3/4 pound of ground turkey meat
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3 tablespoons of finely crushed bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons water
ground pepper to taste

Combine ingredients. Form into 1 inch meatballs. Set aside. (Can be made ahead and refrigerated, bring to room temperature before using.)

For broth
4 cups of homemade or good quality commercial chicken broth
10 cloves of garlic without peels
2 tablespoons of paprika, preferably Spanish smoked style
2 springs of parsley
1 dried sweet pepper, Spanish noras, mild New Mexico pepper OR 1 fresh red bell pepper, seeded and cored and cut in half
pinch of saffron threads
2 tomatoes, chopped

Combine all ingredients in sauce pan. Bring to boil. Simmer until vegetables are softened. Strain, pressing down on solids to extract liquids as much as possible. You should have three cups of broth. Add water or more chicken stock if need be to make up three cups. Return to a simmer to use in paella recipe. (Can be made ahead and reheated.)

For Paella
4 tablespoons olive oil
Small onion, chopped
6-8 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 red pepper, seeded, cored, chopped
2 medium size tomatoes, chopped
1/8 pound of white button or small brown mushrooms, chopped
1 pound of boneless chicken thighs or breasts or combination cut into large, bite size pieces OR 1 pound of sweet turkey Italian sausage, sliced into rounds. (Or do a combination)
1 1/2 cups of paella rice (see "rules" above)
Broth (see above)
Meatballs (see above)
Coarse sea salt to taste
About 3/4 cup of cooked artichoke hearts
About 3/4 cup cooked green beans
Chopped parsley to sprinkle on top of finished paella (optional)
Avocado sauce (optional, see below)

Heat oil in a 12 to 14 inch paella pan (measured at it's widest point) or a wide, shallow fry or saute pan over a medium high heat. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Add onions, saute until slightly softened. Add garlic. Saute until golden. Add chicken and sausage and brown (cook in batches if need be to avoid steaming). Add red bell pepper, mushroom and tomato chunks. Saute for a minute. Add rice, toss to coat thoroughly in the oil. Saute for a moment, then pour in the simmering broth. Stir everything to combine, cook at a boil for about five minutes, stirring every now and then. Add in meatballs. Continue to cook uncovered on medium high heat for about five minutes more, stirring occasionally.

The rice should be absorbing the liquid as it cooks. Since the pan is bigger than your burner, you may need to adjust its positioning to make sure the rice cooks evenly. If the rice seems to be drying out too fast in a particular spot, add a bit of water or chicken broth to it.

Bite into a grain of the rice. It should no longer have a raw taste, but still have some resistance or "crunchiness" in the center. While most of the broth should be absorbed, there should still be enough in the pan to seem a bit soupy. Taste also for salt and add to your taste at this stage if it is needed.

(If your paella rice is not at this stage, continue to cook it on the stove top, testing a grain of rice every now and then until it no longer tastes raw but has a "crunchy" center as described above. Then proceed as directed below.)

When your paella is at this stage, arrange the cooked artichoke hearts and green beans on top of the rice mixture, then carefully move the paella pan to the center of the preheated oven and continue to cook for 10-12 more minutes, or until most (but not all) of the liquid is absorbed and the rice seems cooked ALMOST all the way through when you bite into a grain. You want a bit of resistance at the core of the grain. Good paella is not mushy!

Remove the paella pan from the oven, cover with aluminum foil and let set for 10 minutes more, or until grain of rice is cooked all the way through and the rice mixture is moist but not liquidy or dry.

Scatter with chopped parsley, if desired, before serving. Serve with optional avocado sauce.

Avocado Sauce

This very untraditional sauce is based on a tapas recipe from The New Spanish Table. A spoonful or two on each serving of the paella really adds a bit of bite and richness, punching up the flavor. I used a mortar and pestle I bought in a past trip to Spain to mash everything together. You could use a bowl and the back of a sturdy fork as a substitute. Do NOT puree this in the food processor, it will pretty much liquify.)

Mash together:
2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt

2 small avocados, preferably Hass, pitted and cut into small bits
1 small, ripe tomato, cut in half and grated(you only want to use the mushy, grated bits, discard the skin).

Mash with the other ingredients until a rough puree, then add:
1 tablespoon sherry or apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine into a rough, slightly chunky sauce. Let sit about 15 minutes for flavors to mix. Taste and correct with additional salt and/or lemon juice as needed.

California Toffee Rush

Click on over to Sugar Savvy for my latest entry into The Chocolate Box -- California Brittle. Featuring chocolate, hard toffee and almonds, it is a treat that can't be beat.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I'm Home and Back in the Kitchen

I arrived home safe, sound and with only a minor leg cramp from the long trip back from Iberia. I am catching up on home and work. More soon. I promise. Honest. Really. For sure.

Friday, March 24, 2006

I Forgot to Mention ...

I wrote two posts on tasting See´s Candies chocolates before I left on vacation. You can check them out in The Chocolate Box at Sugar Savvy.

Hi From Breezy Madrid

Just a quick note to say I have not forgotten my poor blog. I have lots of things to share from Lisbon, Seville and Madrid. Look for more when I return next week.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Hi From Sunny Lisbon

I am writing this from Lisbon. Please forgive any typos since I am writing from an internet cafe with less than superior equipment and a Portguese keyboard.

I will not be posting very regularly during my trip, but I will try to check in.

Here is my first report:

This was written in my little travel notebook on the first leg of my trip to Lisbon and Spain. (Newark, here I come.)

The plane is pretty full, the seats are cramped and a baby is not so much crying but getting set off like a car alarm, sounding off for a period of time, resetting , and then setting off with the next stimulus.

I was actually served a hot mail on this flight, a rarity on transcontential flights these day. I meant to take a photo, but I realized too late the camera was in the overhead and I was trapped by the meal tray.

So imagine if you will a square plastic tray offering a samll white dish of fruit (2 red grapes, 3 oragne sections, 1 chunk of pineapple), a tiny, tiny muffin on indiscernable flavor, a cup of non-objectional raspberry yogurt and a steaming, clear plastic bag containing the mystery entree.

From a distance I couldn't make out what the flight attendents were plopping down to the pasengers in front of me. Needless to say, the entree looked better the further away it was from me.

About five rows away, I couldn't see, only smell.

"Something with eggs," I thought.

By three rows away I could make out the clear bag wrapping and make out a basic shape. A torte, a slice of quiche?

One row away, I could see it was scrambled eggs in pita bread. A sandwich. Okay, I thought. There's a lot of good things you could do with that.

Then it was my turn. I pulled apart the wrapping to discover rubbery pita and scrambled eggs. Nothing else. Just eggs and bread. No cheese, no veggies, no seasoning, no sauce to put on it, no nothing.

What I do? It was a long flight. I was hungry. In the tradition of generations of travelers before me, I just ate it, after liberally sprinkling it with the little packet of pepper that came on the tray. Oh, and think of how I would have made the same dish. I would have sauted some onions and veggies and scrambled the eggs with them as well as some cheese, seasoning (maybe cumin, maybe paprika, may French provencal dried herbs), and fresh herbs. And served some fresh salsa or similar on the side.


Monday, March 13, 2006

No Time for Purim

Tonight is a celebration of Purim. Purim is a celebration of Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai and how they triumphed over Hamman and his oppression of the Jews. One way to celebrate is to send food baskets to friends and family. (The Blog Appetit household will be sending a check to our local food bank instead.)

These Purim baskets often contain cookies named after Hamman, an ambitious king's advisor who wanted to punish the Jews. Middle Eastern Jews often make a puff pastry cookie shaped somewhat like a palm cookie. Eastern European Jews make hammantaschen, a yeast or cookie dough triangle filled with poppy seeds or prune, apricot or other jam or spread. The cookie is said to look like Hamman's hat.

Because of my schedule this year, I didn't bake any, but I received plenty from friends and neighbors. Here's a plateful from my friend Stacy.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Is That Spud a Dud?

My latest piece for Sugar Savvy is posted. Click on over to see if I roast See's Candies' St. Patrick's Day Potato candy or if I think it is one sweet potato.

Look for the candy's cinnamon-cocoa powder topping to inspire a future recipe here at Blog Appetit.

(After I wrote this I started thinking how the candy potato could work for other holidays if they just changed the box. Potato pancakes are a symbol of Chanukah, so how about a Chanukah Spud? Or potato salad is traditional for the Fourth of July, so maybe a Firecracker Potato with extra cinnamon? For Thanksgiving, maybe they could tint the inside orange and just call it a Sweet Potato? Or maybe not.)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I'll have a side order of angst ...

What have I been eating lately? Nothing too impressive. Leftovers (cheese, hummus, stuffed grape leaves) from a friend's memorial service I helped organize the food for. What have I been cooking lately? Nothing too impressive. What have I been writing lately? Nothing too impressive. I have lots of ideas but life keeps getting in my way!

Work has been busy. The high school freshman has batting and baseball practice and games and schlepping him around has severely disrupted dinner time unless you consider Panda Express and take out pizza gourmet. The high school senior is having his own version of "March madness" while we wait to hear from the universities he has applied to. In addition, I have donated my services to cater a wine tasting fundraiser a group I belong to is holding this coming Sunday.

I'd ask for your sympathy, but I really can't, since part of the pressure is getting the house, kids, husband and business ready for my absence. I leave next week for 12 days in Lisbon, Seville and Madrid. I look forward to riding the wonderous Lisbon public transit system (trolleys and funiculars), hearing fado music, seeing authentic flamenco, and much, much more, including of course food. Look for reports after I get back on what I saw and ate and experienced. If you have any recommendations for what to see, eat or do in these cities (or what to avoid), please leave a comment for me below.

I hope to post a whole bunch of stuff before I go away and to make a post or two from the road, so watch this space.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Custard French Toast

Click on over to White Trash BBQ to see my guest post for the most diet unfriendly breakfast treat ever -- Custard French Toast. You can see my write up and get the recipe here at White Trash BBQ or read the edited version of the post below.


Custard French Toast.

A breakfast dish so sweet and delicious is should be legally only be allowed to be served for dessert. A recipe that is absolutely ruined if you try to make it healthy by cutting back on the eggs or substituting whole wheat or multigrain bread. And one my now sons still promise their friends I’ll make for them if they come over. Eggs, sugar, milk, butter and challah or white bread. What’s not to like? Serve it with love, it really needs little else, although a drizzle of maple syrup is okay, too.

Custard French Toast
Serves 4-8 depending on age, cholesterol level and appetite

Loaf of unsliced French, Italian or similar bread; challah, brioche or other egg bread, or thickly sliced white bread (sometimes called Texas toast). Do NOT use whole wheat or multigrain bread. Stale or day old bread works well. (I think challah or other egg breads work best, though.)

Four eggs, beaten

One 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk. (It’s okay to use the fat-free kind of you want.) Tip: Open with a can opener and completely remove lid. Use a small spatula to get all the sticky contents out of the can.

24 ounces of milk (fat free okay)

1 tsp. of vanilla extract

Dash salt

Grating or two of nutmeg (or about 1/8 tsp if ground)

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Butter for frying

Cinnamon sugar (mix equal parts of ground cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl)

Powdered (confectioner’s) sugar, optional

Maple syrup, optional

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Slice bread about 3/4 to 1 inch thick. Lay sliced bread to dry out a bit. In a large bowl, combine eggs, milks, extract, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon. Mix well so all ingredients are well combined.In a large, flat pan (I use a glass lasagna pan), pour out about a quarter of the egg and milk mixture and swirl pan so it coats the bottom. Put down a layer of bread slices. Do not overlap. Top with rest of the mixture. If you have more slices then space, don’t use a second pan, just pour about half of your remaining egg and milk mixture over the first layer of slices, making sure you cover the tops of the bread. Put another layer of bread slices on top and pour the rest of the mixture to cover those slices. Allow to soak in the egg and milk mixture for five (for softer breads) to 10 minutes (for firmer ones), turning and rotating the slices to make sure the bread becomes really saturated with the custard mixture. Handle with care as the slices become very soft and soggy.

Preheat a large frying pan. Melt about 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon of butter in the pan as needed and carefully add the bread. Do not crowd the pan. Fry on a medium to medium hot temperature until golden brown on one side. Flip. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar on browned top of bread being careful not to get any in the frying pan (to avoid burning.) Cook until golden brown on other side. Remove finished slices and keep warm in a the oven while frying remaining slices, adding more butter to the pan as needed. Sprinkle with powered sugar and serve with maple syrup.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Is it Almond Joy?

Click on over to The Chocolate Box at Sugar Savvy to read my latest See's Candy taste drive. Honey marizpan gets its due here.