The first Michigan tomatoes of the season are starting to ripen, and one of my favorite things to do with them is to make gazpacho, the chilled soup that’s a summery blend of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, garlic and bread, enriched with olive oil and spiked with sherry vinegar. In the States (or at least in my neck of the woods), our love of Mexican food has caused mutations to appear, usually in the form of adding cilantro, jalapeños or lime juice, making a tasty soup but one that is much more akin to salsa than a true gazpacho. The tendency here is also to serve gazpacho chunky rather than smooth. Although I don’t necessarily dislike these alterations, my one pet peeve is that many of these salsa-like creations don’t even include gazpacho’s signature ingredient (the bread!), often making them too acidic to eat a whole bowlful.
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
So, I know it’s Christmas Eve and you’re all probably running around doing your last-minute preparations. But I’ve been sitting on this post for a long while now and wanted to get it published- there’s a recipe for romesco sauce that you just might be interested in if you need a last-minute appetizer for a Christmas or New Year’s party.
There ain’t no party like a Detroit… sherry tasting!
Those of you who have been following this blog are familiar by now with the GU Detroit*, a loose collective of “food and drink professionals and serious enthusiasts”. A couple months ago the topic of sherry came up in the forums, and since no one was extremely knowledgeable, and because we all love an excuse to get together and imbibe, our friend and cohort Suzanne seized the occasion to host a sherry tasting.
*That’s “gee-you Detroit”, short for Gourmet Underground, not “goo Detroit”, in case you were wondering.
The GU Detroit gang being what it is, I shouldn’t have been surprised to walk in and see a large table groaning with the weight of what seemed like several tons of food- Spanish charcuterie, cheeses, olives, and tapas of all sorts were nestled in tightly, and I was challenged to find room for my contributions. Although I should be used to this kind of spread at a GUD event, it was still a bit overwhelming and I had that “kid in a candy store” feeling for at least the first hour I was there.
In addition to about 10 or 12 types of sherry, there were wines (including several bottles of Les Hérétiques, a GUD favorite that Putnam and Jarred turned us on to) and homemade cider my brother brought. The tasting was semi-organized in relation to the number of people there- someone (Evan or Putnam, I’m guessing?) had lined up the bottles in order from the pale finos to the darker, richer olorosos so that we could attempt some semblance of a proper tasting. However, due to the somewhat chaotic nature of the event, I can’t tell you much beside the fact that I preferred the lighter sherries; the intense raisiny flavors of the darker sherries were not as much to my liking.
I hadn’t had a chance to cook for quite some time, so the day of the party I decided to go all out and make three different tapas to bring. Flipping through The New Spanish Table, I came across a recipe for deviled eggs with tuna (which I blogged about in a less breezy post than this) that sounded perfect. I also made a batch of romesco sauce from the same book, a paste (although that word makes it sound less appealing than it is) made from hazelnuts and peppers and garlic and sherry vinegar that can be eaten with crudites. Last but not least, I sauteed some button mushrooms with garlic and parsley. I think I’m at my cooking-mojo best at times like these- when I have the day to consecrate to the task, and an event to prepare for.
I can’t wait for the next GU Detroit gathering, aka excuse for me to actually cook. I’m not anticipating doing much cooking to speak of in the next month (not counting lots of scrambled eggs/omelettes and salads for dinner), as I focus on packing and moving house and getting the new house in order, so unless there’s an event to kick me into gear it may be a while before you hear from me, at least regarding new recipes! But I’ll be around, regaling you with other food-related news and happenings.
For now though, here’s the romesco recipe. If you’ve never tried it, I strongly encourage you to do so- it’s a nice break from all the roasted red pepper hummus and cheese spreads and ranch flavored veggie dips so prominent around this time of year. In addition to using it as a dip, it has other applications as well- in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Judy Rodgers cooks shrimp in it (I’ve made this too and it’s uhhh-mazing!!) and I can picture it as a great sauce for chicken too.
Romesco Sauce (adapted from The New Spanish Table)
1 medium-sized ñora pepper or ancho chile
⅔ cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 ½ Tbs toasted breadcrumbs
1 small ripe plum tomato, chopped (if unseasonal, substitute 1 good quality canned plum tomato or 3-4 Tbs canned diced tomatoes)
1 Tbs sweet (not smoked) paprika
pinch of cayenne
6 Tbs fragrant extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs sherry vinegar (quality red wine vinegar may be substituted)
Notes: I could not locate a ñora pepper or ancho chile when I made this last time, so I used something labeled “chile California” which, although inauthentic, worked fine. Also, almonds may be substituted for the hazelnuts, or a combination used. The sauce will have a slightly different character but will still be delicious. If you want to gild the lily, fry the nuts in olive oil instead of dry-toasting them.
Soak the dried pepper in very hot water until softened, about 30 minutes. Remove and discard the stem and seeds and tear into small pieces, either before or after the soaking, whichever is easiest. Reserve the soaking liquid.
Place the nuts in a food processor and pulse a few times until roughly chopped. Add the garlic, pepper, paprika, tomato, breadcrumbs, cayenne and ⅓ cup of the pepper water and pulse until fairly smooth but retaining some texture. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil, processing until completely incorporated.
Scrape the contents into a clean bowl, stir in the vinegar, and season with salt to taste. Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature for the flavors to meld, then taste and season with more salt or vinegar as necessary.
Serve with crudités such as endive leaves, fennel or celery sticks, or use as a sauce for grilled shrimp, chicken or asparagus.
Hey there. Just a friendly warning, if you’re here for the recipe you may want to scroll down; the following may not be of interest to many of you, and that’s fine, but it’s something I felt I needed to write.
I had a post all written and ready about how my friend had this great sherry-tasting party last month, with all of this amazing Spanish food, lively conversation, etc. but I had this nagging feeling and it just didn’t feel right to post it. Although the party was beyond lovely and I had a great time, the evening was marred by the fact that I completely and totally flaked out on a good friend. I was supposed to text her the address of the party, and even after having said out loud to my brother as we were walking in the building that I needed to do just that, a few seconds later I was distracted by a conversation and the thought left my mind. I then proceeded to leave my phone in my coat pocket in the bedroom all night, so I didn’t hear any of my friend’s calls or texts. To make matters worse, she had already driven over 20 miles and was in a bar nearby awaiting contact from me.
Of course, as soon as we walked out of the building to leave the party, it triggered the memory that I was supposed to have contacted her, but by then it was too late. I called and offered frantic apologies, but the damage was done. Of course she felt, as I would have, that it was simply unimportant to me and that my other friends had taken precedence. I was so frustrated- how to explain that that was not the case; that I just hadn’t “pictured” her at the party (she decided to go at the last minute) so it didn’t seem “off” that she wasn’t there? Although it was the truth, it sounded like a lame excuse even to me.
I’ve been doing some research lately to try to understand why my mind works the way it does and why I’m often frustrated by my forgetfulness, inability to be organized or to accomplish certain tasks. I came across the following and it was like reading a summary of my life story: frequently losing things, trouble completing routine or mundane tasks, academic underachiever, short temper, low stress threshold and several other characteristics that were uncomfortably familiar.
These are some of the manifestations of a certain type of ADD. Now, I haven’t been officially diagnosed, but based on a laundry list of symptoms which I won’t bore you with here, it’s exceedingly probable that this is the explanation to years and years of figuratively banging my head against a wall wondering why I couldn’t seem to be motivated to accomplish as much as my peers of similar intelligence and education, why my house is frequently a mess, and why I feel disproportionately stressed out by life’s day-to-day tasks. Apparently it’s common for the condition to go undiagnosed in high-functioning girls/women, because they often don’t exhibit the hyperactivity and disruptive behavior that boys do. Because the hyperactive form of ADHD is so much more prevalent in the general discourse, I never knew that there were different types and it never occurred to me that it could be an explanation.
I couldn’t help but get emotional reading the list of symptoms and feeling this overwhelming sense of recognition, after literally decades of feeling that something was “wrong” with me but not knowing what (Am I just lazy? Why is it so hard for me to be organized? etc). Even my blog posts, which I enjoy, often take me two to three weeks after the fact before I am able to post them, and those of you who are regular readers have probably noticed that I often sound harried or overwhelmed even though I don’t have any kids and have a lifestyle with (relatively) few responsibilities.
Lest this post be a total drag, I did want to share with you this most excellent recipe for Spanish-style deviled eggs that I took to the sherry party. Just about everyone likes deviled eggs, and a couple people at the party said these were the best they’d ever had. They come from a colorful and well-put-together cookbook called The New Spanish Table, and although they’re no more difficult to make than any other deviled eggs, they pack a lot more flavor thanks to the inclusion of tuna and some other goodies.
2011 is going to be a huge year for me with the new house and the wedding, so I’m hoping that getting better informed about this condition will allow me to better manage these seemingly monumental events and enjoy them rather than feel freaked out and stressed. Wish me luck. As for you, I wish you all the best of holidays, and a healthy and happy New Year!
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved lengthwise (I recommend making one or two extra in case you have a couple that don’t peel cleanly)
1 6-oz can tuna in olive oil, tuna drained and flaked
2 Tbs capers, rinsed and drained
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 small or half a large shallot, minced (about 1 heaping Tbs)
2 Tbs mayonnaise
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
piquillo or roasted pepper, cut into thin strips for garnish
handful of chopped parsley
Mash the yolks well in a bowl. Stir in the mayonnaise, lemon juice, shallot and capers until well incorporated. I like to mix the tuna in at the very end so it retains a bit more of its texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mound as much of the filling as possible into the halved egg whites (you may have a bit left over). Garnish each egg with strips of pepper, and scatter the plate with the chopped parsley.
On the weekends, I am all about those hours-in-the-kitchen types of dishes; trying new things; looking at cooking as a “project”. During the week, however, because of my schedule, I’m lucky if I can make myself a big salad or scramble a couple eggs and call it dinner. Much has been made lately over “having time” to cook- Michael Ruhlman wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post “calling bullshit” on people who claim not to have the time, and others have been recycling the quote (I think it was originally attributed to Marcella Hazan) that “saying you don’t have time to cook is like saying you don’t have time to bathe”. I could go on at length about this topic*- the short version being that I mostly agree with Ruhlman but think he comes off as elitist and unrealistic (uh, he’s a writer, he makes his own hours, most of us do not!). But instead, let me tell you about someone who does live up to what I’ll call “the Ruhlman Standard”.
My friend Amanda is a role model for all of us who would aspire to prepare homemade meals on weeknights. Despite having two jobs (a full-time office job AND giving music lessons after work in the evenings), she manages to put together amazing weeknight dinners on a regular basis. Take Monday night, for example. She invited me for dinner and I was treated to a simple but amazingly flavorful dish of chorizo and potatoes in a garlicky, sherry-spiked broth. A salad, bread and good cheese rounded out the meal, and a bottle of rosé from Provence was the perfect foil to the spicy chorizo.
As if this all wasn’t enough, she was generous enough to let me take some home! I hadn’t brought my camera to her house so I have no shots of her lovely table with the cheeses, salad and wine, but I got to snap a few shots of the leftovers- I love the way the creamy potatoes look in the bright red sauce, with a scattering of cilantro for contrast of flavor and color. If you’re in need of an uncomplicated but decidedly un-boring after-work recipe, look no further: all you have to do is chunk up some potatoes, chop a little onion, and you’ll have this simmering on the stove in no time.
*Anita over at Married with Dinner had a very thoughtful response to this which pretty much sums up my feelings. She is doing a series called Dinner on a Deadline, in an attempt to provide realistic solutions for people who want to find time to cook after work. Hop on over there for more ideas. I also have a Fast and Easy category here where you might find inspiration for after-work meals.
Chorizo & Potatoes in a Sherry Broth
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
4 oz bacon or pancetta, cut in small strips or cubed
12 oz Mexican (fresh) chorizo (see note)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry sherry
1 ½ lbs small waxy potatoes, scrubbed and skin-on, halved or quartered depending on size
4-5 cups boiling water (a tea kettle is handy for this)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped fresh cilantro (if you can’t abide cilantro, substitute parsley)
Note: This recipe was originally intended to be made with Spanish chorizo, a cured, dry sausage. However, Amanda made it with fresh, and as fresh chorizo is much more easily obtained (not to mention less expensive) here, I have adapted the recipe accordingly.
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400°. Put water on to boil. Heat a Dutch oven or other large oven-safe pan over medium-low heat. Add the bacon or pancetta and cook until it begins to render a bit of its fat. Add the onion and garlic. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened.
Raise the heat to medium-high and add the chorizo by squeezing it out of its casing in bite-size pieces (think small meatballs/coins). Let the pieces of sausage “set” for a moment so they don’t break apart when you stir them. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring gently. Add the bay leaf, sherry, and about 1 tsp salt; stir. Add the potatoes and pour over enough boiling water to cover the potatoes about ¾ of the way.
When the liquid has come to a simmer, put the dish, uncovered, in the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes. Check it half way through that time to make sure it hasn’t dried out too much, and give it a stir (if the liquid looks low, add another splash of water and sherry).
Remove the dish from the oven and taste the broth. Season with salt and pepper if needed, or if it tastes at all watery, you can further reduce the cooking liquid by simmering on the stovetop. You’re not really looking for it to be a soup, but you definitely want several spoonfuls of the flavorful broth with each serving. Ladle into 4 shallow bowls, and garnish with some chopped cilantro.