Among the many tourist sites we visited on our trip to Andalusia, the Alcazar in Seville (above) was one of my favorites. Just steps from the twisting passageways of the Barrio Santa Cruz (left), where we were staying, the Alcazar has some of the same amazing Moorish architectural detail (right) of the Alhambra in Granada, along with some incredible gardens that we didn’t have nearly enough time to explore. (For full set of photos, see my facebook page.) I suppose we could have lingered longer, but after getting up early and spending a few solid hours there, we were ready for some lunch. We headed toward the Calle Mateos Gago, where we had heard there were some good tapas bars. This was pretty much the rhythm of many of our days: get up early, put in a few hours of sightseeing, reward ourselves with tapas and beer or wine, take naps, repeat the cycle after the naps.
As we wandered down the street, we spotted a microscopic bar with a bespectacled stuffed boar’s head on the wall and a brash, gesticulating bartender, and decided right away that it was our kind of place. This was Bar Àlvaro, which I wrote about in my last post. After our lively experience there, we decided to go next door to Bar Tomate to chill out and order more food to soak up the alcohol. Although we had eaten a few tapas at Àlvaro’s, walking around the Alcazar the whole morning and then walking to lunch had worked up our appetites. According to Lonely Planet, Bar Tomate is known for their plump and delicious gambas al ajillo, shrimp poached in olive oil with a few red chiles and copious quantities of chopped garlic. Sold. If there’s anything better than that oil for dipping bread in, I don’t know what it is. Along with a couple glasses of crisp Verdejo, we were in heaven. The atmosphere at Tomate was much more subdued than that of its neighbor, but cool in its own way, with Art Nouveau posters and weird marionettes with currency from dozens of countries pinned to their clothing. And of course, the obligatory hams hanging from the ceiling! Continue reading
Last year I had the rather brilliant (if I do say so myself) idea to host a soup swap for myself and some girlfriends. The concept was simple: do the work of cooking one soup, but wind up with a fridge full of 4 or 5 different soups. This was mostly born from the fact that while I love to cook big batches of things to take in my lunch for the week, I don’t exactly want to eat the same thing 5 days in a row. So, in what I hope will become an annual tradition, we got together and traded soups (and stories of youthful indiscretions, but that’s for another blog… or not!).
Once again I made two soups, this Cheese Soup with Caramelized Onions & Cumin (sooo good!!), and an “African-inspired” carrot soup from Moosewood Daily Special that had peanut butter, lime and chili sauce. The carrot soup sounded like a good idea at the time, but I had to majorly tweak it to get it to taste good to me. I added a pretty significant amount of brown sugar, upped the peanut butter, and also added coconut milk. It ended up tasting like peanut satay sauce, which I guess was not a bad thing, but the fact that I altered it so much makes it pretty impossible to give a recipe. (But make the cheese soup- that turned out great!)
This year’s batch of soups were no less delicious and satisfying than last year’s. So without further ado, here are my “tasting notes”. For the recipes, just follow the links.
French Lentil Soup
First of all, the “French” refers to the type of lentils used, not the style of the soup, so don’t worry- it’s not some heavy-cream-and-butter bomb! French green (Puy) lentils are so great in soup; they are much firmer than regular brown lentils and have a nice chew to them. This soup is seasoned with mint and cinnamon, among other things, which gives it a delightful Middle Eastern feel. There is an optional garnish of thick Greek yogurt. I would up the suggested salt content a tiny bit, but other than that I found it to be just right as-is. Oh, and there are greens in it too so it’s super healthy. Thanks Kate, this is definitely going into the rotation!
Caldo Tlalpeño (Chicken, Chipotle & Chickpea Soup)
The soup for those who like to eat alliteratively! Amanda says she makes this for weeknight suppers on a pretty regular basis, and it seems pretty straightforward and simple. The only thing that might throw you off is finding fresh epazote, but I believe she made this batch without and it was still delicious. I tend to prefer dark meat so I would probably sub out an equal weight of bone-in, skinned chicken leg quarters, but that’s just a personal preference and it was certainly good (and probably a bit healthier) with the breast meat. Although it’s not in the recipe, I couldn’t resist adding some chopped cilantro when I reheated mine.
Shrimp & Corn Chowder with Fennel
Shrimp, corn, fennel, bacon… what’s not to like about this soup? Some of the commenters on the Real Simple site (where this was taken from) were pretty harsh, saying it was very bland. I could definitely picture a dash or two of Tabasco, and just a wee bit more salt, but it was far from being as bland as they implied! (You’re probably starting to think I’m a salt freak at this point, but a pinch of salt can be the difference between bland and just right. Taste and add as you go… everyone’s taste buds are different!) Michelle made this with the suggested (optional) bacon and I would too, but I would maybe crumble it in just before serving. The only other tweak I would consider is adding a bit of cornstarch to give it a thicker, more “chowdery” feel (dissolve cornstarch in cold water before adding to the soup).
African Curried Coconut Soup
This vegan soup was delightful and looks really easy to make. The rice is listed as “optional” but I would definitely include it- not only does it make it a bit more filling, but it’s beneficial to eat rice and legumes together, especially for non-meat eaters. Sarah added some spinach at the end of the cooking (not in the recipe) and it was a nice touch.
Thanks again, ladies… Can’t wait for our next swap!
A few weeks ago I posted a challenge to come up with a $2-per-serving menu to challenge the notion that healthy food is “too expensive” or that you need to resort to convenience foods to have time to sit down with your family for dinner. Ironically, what with trying to run holiday-related errands after work most days, and having a plethora of parties, shows, rehearsals and other stuff, I haven’t been cooking much! (I did make a big batch of lamb & bulghur stew last weekend and have been pretty much subsisting on those leftovers all last week, but it wasn’t particularly blog-worthy.)
The other night I was staring at the fridge with the glazed-over and rather desperate look of a person who hasn’t been to the grocery store in recent memory, when inspiration struck. I had a bag of frozen shrimp in the fridge, a package of pasta, and enough pantry items to make said shrimp and pasta into a quick and very flavorful dinner. Crisis averted.
Let me detour here to say that I do regret that my $2 meal was not more local– apparently there is a shrimp farm in Okemos but my shrimp were from Trader Joe’s. I don’t eat a ton of shrimp because of the overfishing issues, but as a person who lives alone, there is a great advantage to a food which you can keep in the freezer and remove a few at a time for a single serving. This recipe may also not fall under some people’s definition of “healthy”, but it does use all natural ingredients and that’s my usual guideline. As I had not been to the store I didn’t have any fresh vegetables in the house, but I would certainly encourage adding a green veg to make this a more balanced meal.
Here’s my cost breakdown: Shrimp: ½ bag @ $8.99/1-lb bag= $4.50; butter: 2 oz @ $2.89/lb= 36¢; 1 lb spaghetti= 99¢; 1 lemon= 50¢ (mine actually cost less since I had bought a bag of them, but I think that’s how much they are if you buy a single one); 4 cloves garlic= approx. 25¢; 1 tsp red pepper: negligible, but let’s say 15¢ (or get it free next time you order pizza!). Total= $6.75 and serves 4, so $1.69 per serving. That leaves $1.25 to spend on 4 servings of the veg of your choice- a plain green salad, some sautéed zucchini, or some steamed broccoli, perhaps?- and still keep it under $2.
Garlic Shrimp Pasta
1 lb. dried spaghetti or linguini
½ lb. shrimp (should yield 4-6 shrimp per serving depending on shrimp size)
4 Tbs butter
4 large cloves garlic
1 lemon, halved lengthwise
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 handful chopped flat leaf parsley, optional
kosher or sea salt
Notes: Feel free to embellish and throw in other random items you may have in your pantry or refrigerator… a spoonful of capers, perhaps, or some grated Parmigiano. I happened to have some parsley in the fridge so in it went. This recipe is also very easily divisible/ multipliable- I originally made 2 servings, not 4- so it’s a good recipe if you’re just feeding 1 or 2 people. The dish can be prepared in about 30 minutes, and 10 of that is just waiting for the water to boil. You’ll want to work very quickly to get the sauce on the pasta before anything gets cold.
Directions: Put a large pot of well-salted water to boil. Rinse and pat dry the shrimp, salt lightly on all sides and set aside. Mince the garlic. Juice half the lemon; cut the remaining half into four wedges. Chop the parsley, if using.
When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook according to package directions, probably 8 minutes or so. You’ll want to try to time it so the pasta and shrimp are just getting done at the same time.
Select a saucepan in which the shrimp will just fit in one layer. Melt the butter over low heat. Add the garlic, keeping the heat as low as possible. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring and making sure the garlic does not brown. (If the butter is foaming too much, add a splash of olive oil.) Add the pepper flakes and stir.
Add the shrimp to the pan in one layer. Cook gently until they appear opaque halfway up the sides, then flip and continue cooking until fully opaque. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a covered dish on the stovetop (so they remain warm).
Meanwhile, drain the pasta when done, reserving about ¼ cup of the cooking water. Add the juice of half the lemon and a little of the pasta water to the butter/garlic mixture and increase the heat slightly, stirring. Cook for 30 seconds or so, stirring to emulsify. Toss the sauce with the cooked pasta. Add any other ingredients at this time such as the parsley, capers, etc. Taste the pasta for salt, adding as needed. If it seems too dry, add a bit more of the pasta cooking water, and/or a little olive oil.
Plate the pasta in warmed shallow bowls or plates, garnishing with the shrimp and a wedge of lemon.
I recently finished reading Russ Parsons’ How to Pick a Peach for our first book club discussion, and thought it would be fitting to cook a couple of his recipes to enhance the experience. Since the book is sectioned by season, I flipped through the “Spring” recipes for ideas. Right off the bat there was a recipe that appealed to me in the Onions chapter for a grilled cheese with onions. Like me, I’m sure most of you don’t need a recipe for grilled cheese; for me the recipe was more a reminder of how great a simple combo like cheese and onions can be. He dresses it up a bit by using a fancy cheese, and dressing the onions in a little champagne vinegar and parsley. The other recipe I chose, Asparagus-Shrimp risotto, was dictated by the fact that asparagus is just about the only seasonal Michigan produce you can get in the farmers’ markets right now (with the exception of rhubarb, which was not in the book).
Parsons’ grilled cheese is meant to be cut into strips and served as an appetizer with wine or (as he suggests) Champagne. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to eschew an opportunity to drink Champagne, but the only chance I had to make this was at lunch, alone, and seeing as how I had other chores to do that day, the Champagne was not an option. Anyhow, the basics are: white bread with the crusts trimmed (I left mine on), very thinly sliced sweet onions (Vidalia, Walla Walla, whatever) marinated in a splash of Champagne vinegar (I used white wine vinegar), chopped parsley, and some soft cheese (he suggests Taleggio, Brie or Taleme; I used Fontina). Something I learned from the book is that sweet onions aren’t any “sweeter” than cooking onions; they just contain much less of the sulfurous compound that makes onions taste oniony. It’s really kind of pointless to even cook with them, since what little onion flavor they have dissipates with cooking. My Vidalias were so mild that I put an entire 1/2 onion on my sandwich and for my taste, it still could have used more onion flavor. I was also a little disappointed in the Fontina; despite the fancy Euro name, it tasted almost exactly like Monterey Jack (but of course cost more). I think a slightly more assertive cheese would be my preference if I made this again. Either that, or I’d put a little Dijon mustard on it. I also added a sprinkle of salt and pepper to my onions before putting them on the sandwich. With a green salad, it was a simple but satisfying lunch, if not altogether nutritious.
The Asparagus-Shrimp risotto was also familiar ground, but I thought I would try his method of making a simple, light stock out of the trimmings rather than use the usual chicken stock. I have to say, though, 1/4 lb shrimp does not make for a heck of a lot of shrimp shells, so don’t expect a pronounced seafood flavor. I actually save shrimp shells in the freezer for occasions such as this, though, so I was able to amp it up a little. (I used more than 1/4 lb shrimp, too- more like 1/3 or 1/2 lb.)
You probably know the drill with making risotto, but to sum up the recipe: 2 cups arborio rice, 1 1/4 lb asparagus (skinny works well for this recipe), 1/4 lb shrimp (or more), 1 onion, 9 cups H2O, 1/2 c dry white wine, 4 tbs butter, a few tbs Parmigiano. Trim the asparagus, reserve the tips and cut the stems into 1/3-inch rounds. Dice the onion and shell the shrimp; put the trimmings from the above ingredients into a stockpot with the water and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Melt 3 tbs butter in a large skillet and add the asparagus stems and onion and cook until onion begins to soften; add 2 cups arborio rice and cook another 5 min or so. Add wine and cook until evaporated. Start adding the hot stock, about 3 ladles’ worth at a time, ladling it through a strainer, stirring as it cooks down, repeating the process as the stock gets absorbed. Before the final addition of stock, add the raw shrimp and asparagus tips. I like to cut each shrimp into 3 or 4 pieces, so that it’s more evenly distributed through the risotto, but also so it cooks in the same time as the asparagus tips. Since the stock is unsalted, you’ll need to add a fair amount of salt, which you can do at this stage. According to Parsons, your result should be fairly soupy (it does tend to thicken up a bit as it sits). Add the final tbs butter and the cheese, and enjoy with a green salad (I made a lemon-Dijon- Parmigiano vinaigrette) and a crisp glass of white.
Ah, risotto… is there anything more comforting than a big plate of warm, creamy, starchy goodness? The other night I was craving risotto and knew I wanted to include some shrimp and scallops that had been hanging around the freezer, but I wanted to take it to the next level and try something a little different. Typical me, I had bought some saffron several months ago without any specific recipe in mind, and it has sat on my spice shelf ever since, making me feel guilty. Now was the time to delve into that precious little vial! (I have since come to the realization that spices as an impulse purchase, even with the best of intentions, is not such a smart idea.) I consulted the Flavor Bible to see what other flavors might be viable- I wanted to compliment the saffron, not compete or cover it up. I was thinking something citrus, and finally settled on citrus zest with the notion that straight-up lemon juice would be too aggressive. My risotto was just right: the mineral tones of the saffron and the bright citrus zest perked up the dish and kept it from being too heavy on the palate. And since it was a seafood risotto, I didn’t use any cream or cheese (and only a small amount of butter). Hey, I’m not saying it’s diet food, but as risotto goes, it’s lighter than most. Oh, and as a side dish, I made some sautéed spinach with garlic, lemon and pinenuts. I do need a little something green on my plate if I’m going to eat all those carbs!
Saffron-Citrus Risotto with Seafood
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
4-6 cups water, seafood stock / fish fumet if you have it, chicken stock, or some combination thereof (see notes)
1 shallot, minced
1 celery stalk, diced small
a large pinch of saffron threads
1 tsp citrus zest (orange, lemon, and grapefruit)
1/2 lb uncooked shrimp, scallops, or a combination
4-6 tbs butter
1/2 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)
salt and white pepper to taste
Notes: I used a combination of chicken stock and water, since I wanted to add some flavor but didn’t want it to taste overly chicken-y. A good option if you’re using shrimp is to peel the raw shrimp and simmer the shells in a bit of lightly salted water to make a quick stock (strain before using). For the citrus zest, a Microplane is the best option, but if you don’t have one, use a zester and then mince the zest. I really loved the combination of all three types of citrus zest, but feel free to just use one or two, or to substitute different types of citrus (with the exception of lime, which I think would be too bitter).
Directions: Put the stock and saffron in a saucepan and turn the heat to medium; when it reaches a simmer, turn it to low. Put 2 tbs butter in a medium sized heavy-bottomed saucepan or stock pot over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the shallot and celery and cook for 3-5 minutes or until the onions soften. Add the rice and cook for another 2 or 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little salt and white pepper, and the wine. Stir and let the liquid bubble away.
Continue cooking over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup of the warmed stock. When the stock is nearly evaporated, add the next 1/2 cup, continuing the process until the rice is fully cooked. The mixture should be neither soupy nor dry. Stir frequently, making sure the rice is not sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tbs butter in a skillet for the seafood. If you’re using both scallops and shrimp, give the shrimp a head start of 2-3 minutes before adding the scallops to the pan. Cook gently until opaque, taking care not to overcook.
Begin tasting the rice after about 20 minutes of cooking. You want it to be creamy but still a tiny bit “al dente”. This could take up to 30 minutes or more. When it reaches this stage, stir in the seafood and its pan juces along with the citrus zest, and stir. If you want to take it over the top, add an additional 2 tbs butter. Taste for salt, and serve.