Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Dish from "Back Home": Fried Green Tomato BLT

{This is a contribution to the Tomato love recipe exchange, organized by Gimmie Some Oven and Bake Your Day, and supported by Hamilton Beach Can't say no, right? Even better, the recipe exchange is spreading awareness by supporting the International Justice Mission's Recipe for Change, which is working towards eradicating labor slavery within the United States, especially on tomato farms.}

Lately, all I can think about is down home Southern food. I have dreams of fried catfish, encrusted in that crunchy corn meal breading, golden with specks of black. Sauces a plenty, mostly involving mayonnaise and some sort of spice. I want barbecue until the sun goes down and a blues band starts playing. Soon I will be eating enough corn cobs to refill the cornfields. You know what I mean...it is summer in Louisville and these are the things we can all share.

I'm starting the "back home" tour with a Fried Green Tomato BLT, inspired by Lynn's Paradise Café. Lynn's is easily one of my favorites to have breakfast/brunch in Louisville (next to Highland Morning!). Their lunches are fabulous as well. The ambiance is playful, unique, colorful, and super fun. Then you talk about the great service and you have a complete package, including a fun little store with hard to find gifts right when you walk in. Anyways, I am enamored with their Fried Green Tomato BLT, and I decided to make my own version for the Handsome Spaniard before I left BCN. It turned out amazing and I can't wait to make it again.

Some notes on my experience: I fried the bacon on the grill pan because I thought it would be a good idea--and I was very very right! The bacon did not curl up on itself and I was able to reserve the drippings without a ridiculous mess. I reserved some of the drippings and used them to grill-toast the bread for the sandwich. I used fresh spinach leaves for the lettuce part. The fried green tomatoes were made with breadcrumbs (European-style), but I would traditionally go with my Nana's recipe using corn meal, of course. I also modified the mayonnaise into a sandwich sauce because I was making my own anyway. Okay, enough of this, let's just teach you how to make it!

Fried Green Tomato BLT 
with a 
Spicy Sandwich Sauce
Green tomatoes
Corn meal (breadcrumbs work too)
Black Pepper
Spinach, rinsed and stems removed
Slices of hearty bread (we used a multi-grain, but just use your favorite sandwich bread!)

Olive oil
Vinegar -or- Lemon
Chili powder (yes, I used Chimayo)
1 Garlic clove

I'm going to recommend preparing the sauce first, so you can chill it while you are assembling the rest. The base of this recipe is basically the Aïoli sauce that I made in a previous recipe exchange post. Get out the immersion blender, crack a beautiful orange-yolked egg in the bottom, fill it up with quite a bit of olive oil (as much as you want mayonnaise...if you want a ton you can use two eggs, but one should definitely be enough for these purposes), the garlic clove, and a splash of vinegar. Whizz that until you have a beautiful mayonnaise. To keep it from breaking, start the blender from the bottom and slowly blend up as it turns to a creamy mayonnaise--this technique is nearly break-proof and it has never happened to me before (knock on wood).

When your mayonnaise is ready add a few tablespoons of ketchup, until you get a light salmon color. Add chili powder, black pepper, and salt to taste. I mixed it with a spoon and it turned out beautiful.

Next, fry up your bacon until it is crispy. Don't argue with me on this one, you must have crispy bacon on any version of the BLT or you are committing a gastronomic crime. Let them drain on paper towels until you are ready to assemble your sandwich.

Toast the bread on the grill with or without bacon drippings. Alternatively you can also toast them naked in a toaster or in a pan or.... let's be honest--we prepare things with whatever we have. If your spinach is washed, dried, and stemmed then set everything aside for the main event...Fried Green Tomatoes!
Set up an assembly line. First set a frying pan with about 1/2-3/4 inch oil on med-high heat. Prepare a shallow bowl with buttermilk and another shallow bowl with your breading, be it breadcrumbs or corn meal and season it with salt and pepper. If you don't have buttermilk, you can use a mixture of vinegar and milk or lemon and milk to sour it, you just have to wait about 10 minutes for it to get nice and thick--however real buttermilk is always better if available. Dip the slices of green tomato in buttermilk first and then flip them around in the breading until they're well covered. Then, you can start frying them. You know the oil is ready when you flick some of the breading in the oil and it sizzles away. Fry until golden brown on both sides, you can do multiple flips, don't worry. Drain the finished beauties on plenty of paper towels. When they're all finished, you are ready for sandwich assembly!
B=Bacon, L=Spinach, T=Fried Green Tomatoes...S=SAUCE!

On the toast, spread your beautiful Spicy Sandwich Sauce. Top the sauce with the fried green tomatoes. Top that with bacon and spinach and the other slice of toast. All layers are accounted for and your taste buds are about to have the time of their lives!

Mmmmm Fried Green Tomato BLT!
This is not a meal to have everyday, for obvious reasons, but it is a fantastic treat--especially if you have been craving a little piece of southern-fried heaven on your plate. Enjoy with a fresh salad or cole slaw and a tall, frosty glass of iced tea.

Listening to WFPK Radio Louisville with Kyle Meredith

Monday, July 30, 2012

Fresh Memories: Mountain and Sea Flavors

As of now, I am back on domestic soil, soaking in all of the glory of Louisville to assuage my worries. I am happy to be home, to taste the familiar flavors, to smell that sweet humidity, and to see so much beautiful green again. My friends and family welcomed me with open arms and a table full of goodies, and I did pretty well fighting off a 16-hour trip to enjoy it! Now it is back to the grind, searching for a big girl job (career?!?!?!), keeping up with the Handsome Spaniard, and checking out what I've missed for the past year in L'ville.

I've managed to sit down and gather my thoughts for this post, a reflection on the fruits of the Mediterranean region: delights from the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. Today we'll be preparing a Wild Mushroom Risotto and Whitefish a la Plancha (seared fish).

When you are working with dried mushrooms, which I was, make sure that you rinse them off to remove any dirt and grit, then give them a quick soak for good measure (5 minutes). Drain that water and rinse the mushrooms again. Heat a pot of water to boiling and remove from heat, add the mushrooms, and in 30 minutes they should be re-hydrated enough to cook. Reserve the mushroom soaking water for the recipe, and if you have any leftover you can put it in vegetable stocks and stir-fries--just don't throw it out!!!

Wild Mushroom Risotto
1 C Dried mushrooms
1 Onion, chopped
4 Cloves garlic, minced
1/2 C White wine (pick one you would actually drink)
2 C Short-grain white rice, rinsed well!
1 C Beef stock
1 C Mushroom stock
2 T Butter
2 T Olive oil
Black pepper
1/4 C Parmesan cheese

After you have re-hydrated your mushrooms, set them aside and prep the rest of your vegetables. Also prep your broth by boiling a pot of the beef stock and mushroom stock together. When it reaches a boil, take it off the heat. 

Once the onions and garlic are chopped sauté them in a pan with the already heated butter and olive oil. When you combine the butter and olive oil it protects the butter from browning and burning, which is a nice security measure for your entire dish. Sauté the onion and garlic together on medium heat until translucent but not browned. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the rice. Cook the rice until it turns white and a few of them start to get a little toasty. When that happens, throw in that beautiful white wine and and mushrooms and stir up the bottom of the pan (the deglazing is very important for the flavor).

The next step is the star technique of the risotto, and that is stirring in the broth one ladle at a time. Have your pan on the back burner and the pot on the burner in front of it with a ladle at the ready. When the white wine has reduced and soaked into the rice, it is time to start adding the beef/mushroom broth. The idea is: Ladle of broth, stir until soaked in, ladle of broth, stir until soaked in, etc. When you're about finished, and you have about 2 ladles left, add in your seasonings to taste and then finish up your risotto. It will be creamy and beautiful. When all the broth has been added, stir in the cheese and you have a glorious dish waiting for you. It is earthy and comforting, and a surprisingly good accompaniment to Whitefish a la Plancha!

One of the last things I did in Barcelona was visit the incredible Ferran Adrià exhibit about his career and work at El Bulli. I actually went back and took notes on the museum--it was so well done. I especially loved the part where they had a table set with two chairs and a projector over top that would show you the different dishes, announce them, and they would demonstrate how they ate them. I was enamored, seriously enamored. Anyways, in my notes was to mix the mountain flavors with the sea--and the balance of comforting and warm with fresh and light are just astonishingly beautiful. I highly recommend trying it with any other similar combination...just think, mountains meet sea! On to the Whitefish a la Plancha!

Whitefish a la Plancha
2 Fresh whitefish fillets (have your fishmonger clean it up, but leave one side skin-on)
Olive oil
Chili flakes (we used Turkish chili flakes)
Black Pepper

If you already had your fishmonger prepare your fillets, the hardest part is over. Clean up the fillets, pat them dry and set them on a plate. Oil and garlic both sides of the fish. Season both sides with a mixture of salt, pepper, and chili flakes, and let them sit for about 10 minutes to gather that delicious flavor. Heat up a pan on medium-high heat. Sauté first skin side down for about 4 minutes, then flip over until cooked through. That's seriously all you need to do!

Enjoy my friends! From the mountains and from the sea, bring those flavors back to me!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Adeu Barcelona

Today is going to be a quick post just to let you all know that I'm still functioning!

The Louisville Lady Gourmet Abroad is moving back home, so it will take a few days to get back into things. I have lots of recipes and photos to share with you when I get the chance to catch my breath. For now, I can say that I have enjoyed my time in Spain very much. I am lucky to have met such lovely people, to be surrounded always by love, and to be challenged to grow as much as I have. I am sad that I have to leave, but there are great things coming up in the future, I know! The Handsome Spaniard and I will be reunited as soon as we can, and now we just have to find another solution, which means another adventure!

Look forward to some food from the mountains and from the Mediterranean when I return, as well as some classics from Louisville. I had a lot of fun making them up, and I can't wait to share them with you all!!! I'll leave you now with a few pictures from my activities from the final weeks.

Un fuerte abrazo <3
Music from a recent concert: http://laiaia.bandcamp.com/album/les-ratlles-del-banyador
University of Barcelona free outdoor concerts in the courtyard garden! La Iaia (Catalán band..awesome!)

Delicious homemade flatbreads from Manduka, Gràcia, Barcelona.

Barcelona Blues Festival 2012, featuring Rocky Lawrence

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fresh Catch of the Day? How about Ceviche?

This post is going to come off bittersweet. I normally just talk about food and my memories associated with preparing/consuming delicious food, but today gets a little personal. Louisville Lady Gourmet Abroad is heading home, albeit against her will. I ran into a wall with the Spanish bureaucratic system and it is too expensive and time-consuming of a problem to alleviate at the moment with my resources--so it is back to the drawing board. This also means that I have to go back to my home, Louisville, where my heart certainly is if you can't already tell. I have very supportive friends and family waiting for me, and I can't wait to dive back into the always exciting Derby City life.

I will be leaving behind a very loving family in Spain, and the Handsome Spaniard and I will have to do some work before we can figure out our next step. It is funny how these long-distance things work out--I feel like we've been met by so many challenges crossing oceans, countries, governments, and we always end up together. I am happy to have had the experiences I have for chasing love, and I look forward to the new adventures that come to us. For now, we have to see what comes along! Now I am the Louisville Lady Gourmet Abroad At Home.

Okay, now let's get back to FOOD!

For my final week in the Mediterranean, we have decided to seize the fruits of the land and create all of the fresh-deliciousness that we possibly can. The first on the list is not necessarily a Mediterranean recipe, but rather it has Latino roots--Ceviche. We started off by going to our favorite fishmonger in our neighborhood fresh market, and let me tell you--she is amazing! There were so many different fish and at sushi-grade quality, which is helpful because this involves raw fish. The first thing that caught our eye was the ruby-red colored Mediterranean tuna. I will admit my naïvete at never thinking that tuna was in the Mediterranean Sea, but you learn something new everyday (even when you're a know-it-all like me >.>), and I am so glad we learned this! We bought 150g of tuna and we bought another whole fish (the species of which I forget, but it was delicious too) for a ridiculously low price, but such is life next to a plentiful body of water.

In addition to the fish purchase, we also bought limes and avocados, which were not so fairly priced due to import pricing, but it was totally worth it. I opened with guacamole and tortilla chips (I actually found stone-ground tortilla chips in Europe!!!!) and we reserved some of the avocado to mix with fresh tomatoes. This is the bed for the Ceviche. Because we are using tuna, this is more traditional of the Mexican Ceviche. The Peruvian Ceviche uses white fish like Mahi. After my first attempt, I would say throw any kind of super fresh fish into some citrus juices and you will thoroughly enjoy the outcome! Let's get started:

Guacamole Dip
1-2 Very ripe avocados
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp Cilantro (be careful not to overdo it with this)

Guacamole is the simplest and most rewarding of appetizers. It could be used as butter, as in you can eat it on anything. I made a killer toast appetizer the other day with guacamole, queso fresco, chili pepper, and a tiny bit of olive oil <<life changing>>. Anyways, here is the basic idea:
Scoop out the avocado from its shell and mash with a fork. Finely chop a few leaves of cilantro and sprinkle them in, throw the lime juice in, add salt and....the most important part, TASTE. Guacamole is a taste as you go recipe. I recommend that you start with a little cilantro and a little lime juice and adjust as you go--if you add too much cilantro, you can't go back, and that is a crying shame for the beautiful, happy avocado. When you've finished tasting (if there is anything left) you are ready to serve! Easy as can be! Serve with hearty tortilla chips.

Raw tuna, skinned, and cubed into 1/2 inch or 1 inch cubes (the size will determine how they "cook")
1T Minced onion
Fresh lime juice (enough to cover the tuna in whatever container you will be marinating them in)
2 Tomatoes, diced
1 Very ripe avocado, mashed
Fresh cilantro

This Ceviche is a 3-step process: fish prep, base prep, assembly. First, grab a bowl and throw in your cubed ruby-red tuna, then add the onion and lime juice until the pieces of tuna are covered. The citrus juice will "cook" the tuna, or any fish you try this with. It is not actually cooking the meat, but rather it changes the firmness, so it is absolutely important that you use very fresh fish (sushi-grade if you can find it). The longer you keep the tuna in the juice, the more firm it will become. I prefer my fish to be on the raw side, so we kept it in there for 15 minutes. You can marinate the tuna up to a half hour depending on the doneness you desire. The size of the cubes will also affect the time necessary to marinate the fish--the smaller the cubes, the faster they will firm up, the bigger the cubes, the more you can control texture and doneness.
Tuna marinade with lime juice and minced onion.
While the tuna is marinating you can prepare the bed. Mash up the avocado like you are going to make guacamole, then add the diced tomato, a little salt, and cilantro. Resist the urge to eat it all with your leftover tortilla chips.

Now that all of your parts are ready, it is time for assembly! You can neatly spoon the avocado-tomato mixture onto a plate, or if you want to get fancy, you can oil a round or square cookie cutter and spoon the avocado mixture inside, it will hold the shape and you can gently lift the cookie cutter off. Top the avocado-tomato base with the marinated tuna and a little of the lime juice--don't go crazy with it, a drizzle will do. Garnish with lime and cilantro. And you're all set! You are ready to dive into a beautiful dish from the southern hemisphere. The fish is delicately flavored and has a wonderful texture--you do NOT detect "fishiness" of any kind, and I guarantee satisfaction if you're up to the challenge!

I hope that you enjoy, let me know if you try any other flavor combinations. Other citrus juices like lemon or orange could work out as well--I think the high acidity is preferred to cook the fish.

Stay tuned for some more dishes before I set sail! For all those in L'ville, see you soon!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Season of Stone Fruits Part II: The Need for Cheese

The markets are full of this incredible sweetness--the smell of sweet sticky gold, piled high in pyramids of fuzzy sunset-colored globes. I've already talked about my love for peaches in P'cahns (Pecans) and the Season of Stone Fruits, so I won't bore you with what you already know (and probably already knew). A friend of mine has recently returned to the sweet land of Texas (where all of my family lives, so I have a great love of the Texan cuisine as well) and she was telling me a pretty funny story about a peach cobbler gone bad. Now, I know that it seems impossible, at least in my world, to have a bad peach cobbler, but a peach-butter swimming pool coming out of the oven with a dumpling-like bottom and some dough-y floaters doesn't sound like a winner. Good news, you could spoon out the peaches and put that happiness over ice cream; also, with the liquid, I suggested frying it up with some pork chops--right? Problem solved!

Today is full of problem solving, and our next one has to do with the fact that I don't have an oven here in Bella Barcelona. I believe I've already been on a tirade about the basic rights of owning an oven and preparing baked, roasted, broiled goodness as an everyday ritual. There are different realities all over the place, and I actually kind of like the challenge of living well in this new, albeit limited, world. As a result, I am tackling the world of no-bake desserts!!!! First task: No-bake cheesecake. I'll call it Cheesecake Fresquito, or cool, refreshing cheesecake with a delicious peach-mint topping. We're going all out today!

I wanted to find a cheesecake that doesn't taste like a tub of Philadelphia cream cheese, and is fluffy and can still hold up as a shape and go with whatever topping I put on it. To meet these parameters, I used a mixture of cream cheese, whipped queso fresco (ricotta, if you can find it), sugar, and vanilla. The crust is the basic graham cracker crust made with crushed crackers and melted butter, also with a little sugar. Let me know what you think in the comments section--my cake turned out really nice and we're still enjoying it, even after sending a few pieces up to our neighbors!

Let's get rockin'!

Cheesecake Fresquito (No-bake Cheesecake) with Peach-Mint Sauce

Cream cheese
Ricotta cheese
(you can use powdered sugar for the filling if you want to be fancy/a correct baker)
Pure vanilla extract
Graham Crackers, crushed -OR- Digestive crackers, crushed and cinnamon added
A stick of butter
4 Beautiful, just ripe peaches

Let's get started with the crust. It is really basic, and my favorite pie crust. If you have graham crackers, crush those babies up--I think that one sleeve will do, maybe two. If you are using digestive crackers, one sleeve will do and I like to add a little cinnamon and sugar to try and get closer to grahams. Melt enough butter (I used about 3/4 stick) and add to the crushed crackers in order to moisten them. Depending on how big your crust is, you can play with the measurements. You want the consistency to be crumbly, but when you press it into your pan, it should make a solid crust. Press the mixture into your pan, making sure that the bottom is even and the sides are an even height. Because the crust has plenty of butter in it, I have never had a problem with it sticking--but if you're into it, you can grease the pan beforehand. Cover the crust with plastic wrap or foil and put it in the refrigerator to rest until you're finished making the filling.

For the filling, take some softened cream cheese (I used a big tub, which is probably like 98 oz in the States now...but here the big tub is more like 12 oz. or 300g) and whip it up with a whisk in a bowl--but really whip it, don't wimp out on it. Add the same amount of ricotta and whip the cheeses together. The 1:1 ratio worked out for me. Add about a half cup of sugar and a two teaspoons of vanilla and whisk well. That's your filling! Taste and make sure you like it, adjust to your gusto. You can also add lemon juice instead of vanilla if it makes you feel good. Fill the pie crust and replace the plastic wrap or foil lid and return to the fridge (2-3 hours).

Moving on to the magical peach-mint sauce I came up with. I cut up those lovely peaches and I had been thinking the whole day about what herb I could use to accompany peaches, all while singing Shake Your Groove Thing (you're a jive turkey if you get that reference). I came up with peach-mint, peach-basil, and peach-lavender. I am sure I'll try them all eventually, but today we went for peach-mint. 

In order to avoid having little specks of mint cramping the style of the soft peaches, I made a mint syrup by infusing the mint leaves into 1/2 cup of water and dissolving 1/2 cup of sugar after the mint was finished infusing (3 minutes). Bring the syrup to a boil and take off the heat. Set aside. Now wash, peel, and dice the peaches. Add the last 1/4 stick of butter to a pan and heat until melted but not clarified, add the peaches, and cook that down a little bit. It will be creamy and full of joy. Add the mint syrup and cook down for about 10 more minutes. Cool to room temperature or throw into the refrigerator until you're ready to top the cake.

After about 2-3 hours of chilling the cheesecake should be set and ready to cut and serve. I topped it with the peach-mint sauce and sprinkled some crust crumble on top. I actually dove into this slice before I took a picture! Haha, I hope you enjoy it just as much. The peach-mint sauce is smooth and refreshing and the cheesecake is a cool contender with it's baked relative, especially with that great crunch on the bottom. It is a great, light dessert for these hot summer days.

Listening to the Stuff You Should Know Podcast on Geysers: Nature's Innuendo.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A little bit of this, a little bit of that...

We passed a nice weekend on the Costa Brava up in Girona, Catalonia. A little escape from the city and the mayhem we experienced this week with the Spanish bureaucracy. All things considered, it's still the good life.

Now when I think of the beach, I still have fleeting memories of lime flavors, black beans and rice, flour tortillas til you cry, salsa that is actually picante, and fried plantains. I don't really know why I think of those delicious things, for I've never been to a Latin American beach, but it is something I am swept away to. Here in Spain, it is all about the flavors of the Mediterranean: olive oil, sea salt, tomatoes so sweet you can eat them like apples, fresh and crispy vegetables, fresh whitefish and mountains of clams, mussels, razor clams, escargot, and various other shelled fish that I cannot translate. I have a little bit of both worlds to share with you today.

My recipe for Garlic Rice and Fried Plantains was in anticipation of this beach trip, and then a Mediterranean Couscous Salad was the welcome home meal upon our return. Both are as simple as can be, and could be used as a side dish for stewed pork (the plantain rice) or some baked Mahi with lemon (the Mediterranean salad). We had them as light lunches with this famously delicious European bread I finally bought at this bakery I have been salivating over for weeks. If you ever find a bakery that actually bakes their bread with all the healthy goodness of whole grains and has pumpkin seeds on the bottom (!!!!!!yesyesyesyesyes!!!!!!!) then go for it and live the good life!

On to the recipes!

Garlic Rice and Fried Plantains

5-6 Cloves of garlic
1/2 Medium onion
1 cup Long-grain rice
2 cups Chicken broth or water
2 T Olive oil

Let's prep first--it will just take a minute. In order to remove the garlic skins easily, smash them when the side of your knife--they'll slip right out of their skins and you can get on to chopping them. Alternatively, you can also throw them in whole-crushed, it just depends on what kind of texture you want. I personally like the surprise of a decent-sized clove of garlic in my mouth, but it might not be for everyone. If you want everything to look uniform, slice the garlic into slivers and you're all set. Chop the onion into a fine chop. Measure out the cup of rice and rinse in a mesh strainer until the water runs clear. You're ready to go!

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until it starts to shimmer. Pop the onion in there and listen to the beautiful music as the onions skip around doing their flavor dance. When they are fragrant and have gone transluscent, add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Next, add the uncooked and rinsed rice and toast it up with the onions and garlic. Keep stirring to prevent burning. Also cook until fragrant and a few rice grains are changing color to a light beige.

Add water or chicken broth and bring to a boil. Continue to cook as you would with normal rice! Part I, finished.

Now to make the plantains. I like to cut mine into chips. The skins of the plantains are different than bananas, so you can't just peel it off like you do for breakfast. What I do is score the skin on four sides and I peel it off in sections. Then I cut the plantain in half to have more manageable pieces. Set the flat side of the plantain on your chopping board, so that it is standing vertically. Take a knife and cut off slices from top to bottom. If you find it easier to do this horizontally, be my guest--whatever makes you feel good (or safer).

Now, normally I would cook these babies up in peanut oil because it brings out a nice flavor from the sweetie plantain, however I only had olive oil and that works just fine. Heat the oil to frying level and slide those plantain chips in the oil and cook until they turn yellow and eventually golden. They are very fun to watch cook. They start off as a sort of orange dreamsicle color and then they fry to bright yellow and then they start to brown. If you aren't careful they will brown to black, which you don't want, but it isn't the end of the world, just keep at it. Fry them up and sprinkle a seasoning mix over them, or simply salt them. I mixed chimayo chili powder, pimentón smoked paprika, and salt.

I topped the Garlic Rice with the Fried Plantains and it was a great combination. It is a good quick meal and is full of flavor.

Mediterranean Couscous Salad
Ripe tomatoes
Lettuce (butter lettuce would be better than the romaine that I used)
Olive oil
White wine vinegar

This recipe requires a little bit of assembly, but it is a salad, so it will all inevitably end up in the same bowl. Start by caramelizing the onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil, when they start browning you can squirt some vinegar in and when that has reduced, throw a little water in there to deglaze the pan. The water will also help make a more uniform caramelization, so if some onions are burning then the water will take care of that problem. Set aside.

Cook down the couscous as per the instructions and turn off the heat when they're ready. Stir in some chopped tomatoes, but don't turn on the heat again, I like that they remain raw. Season with oregano, salt, and black pepper, and now your couscous is all set.

Wash and chop your lettuce and make a bed of lettuce for each salad bowl. Drizzle some olive oil, vinegar, and a little salt on the lettuce and mix with your hands (don't worry your hands are washable, and once you mix a salad and its dressing with your hands, you'll never do it any other way again) Top the lettuce with the couscous and tomato, and on top of everything the caramelized onions. You can also feel free to add toasted almonds or pine nuts or queso fresco (which we added after I took this picture). Nom Nom!

Eat up and feel good!!

I'm listening to all the goodness of Forecastle 2012, and I'm missing Louisville during the summer! Listening to WFPK Radio Louisville with Kyle Meredith.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Happy cumpleaños! TORTILLA DE PATATA Celebration!

Today is the Handsome Spaniard's birthday and we celebrated it with a very early breakfast and a big lunch just now. I love birthdays, I think they are so much fun, and for a single day out of the year, someone can feel really loved/appreciated/special/insert necessary adjective. So, I decorated the house, wrapped some presents, and went to town on some of his Spanish favorites. In light of that, perhaps the only Louisville reference will be to De La Torres, the Spanish restaurant on Bardstown Rd. and one of the only Spanish restaurants in the region. They have great tapas and actual sangria. 

However, I promise you will learn a traditional recipe that you can keep in your culinary repertoire for whenever! I made what they call here a "Tortilla de Patata". Anyone who has been in Spain for more than 24 hours knows what a Tortilla de Patata is. It is a staple of the diet here, and consists of onions, potatoes, eggs, olive oil, and salt. We're going for simplicity here people. It isn't anything like the tortilla us Americans are used to (the Latin American export), but is more like a fat omelet that you flip 180º! That's a spectacle, so get ready for some acrobatics.
Later we will cover the simple dessert that I came up with out of the fruit bowl and cupboard. Chocolate covered pears. They really are amazingly delicious and they are fun to eat! Let's get going...

Tortilla de Patata (Spanish potato omelet)
6-8 small potatoes
4-5 eggs depending on the size
1/4-1/2 onion, also depending on the size
a ton of olive oil

To start the tortilla de patata, you must do some prep work. One of my favorite scenes in a typical Spanish home is a table full of people peeling potatoes and slicing them into uniform, relatively-thin disks. So, make your home a little Spanish for the afternoon or evening and you won't be sorry. 

First you need to peel all of those potatoes. If you're handy with the knife you can slice those babies up while the onion is transferring its amazing flavor to the oil--if not, then you should prep the potatoes completely (directions following). While you're heating about 2-inches of oil over med-high heat, mince that onion...you don't want a ton of onion, but you want enough to distribute well in the oil. The olive oil will take on the sweetness of the onion, and that's what we need to get that traditional flavor for the tortilla. The onions should not be browning, but waltzing around in the glorious oil, so watch the heat!
Now for the potatoes. Cut them in about 1/8-inch slices if you can manage it (between 1/8 and 1/4 inch is acceptable). Depending on whom you ask, you can cut them super thin or you can be a bit lax--everyone has their own way to prepare a tortilla de patata....and they'll let you know, trust me. When the oil has been hanging out with the onion enough to merge flavors, add the potatoes and slow-poach them in the oil. You DO NOT want the potatoes to get brown either, so let these percolate over medium heat...stir and keep and eye on them, okay? This will take the longest out of all the steps, maybe 20 minutes, maybe more--just until they are soft.

Okay, it's time to get a little tricky. You have to muster up some courage for this part (but not nearly as much for the last part). As my mom told me when I first started cooking, don't be afraid of the hot oil or else you won't be frying anything...I don't know if it is physically safe advice, but confidence is your best friend in the kitchen--and if you end up burning yourself, that's why you have an aloe vera plant at hand...right? Take the pan off the stove and strain the potato and onions from the olive oil (we save this oil for frying potatoes or making more tortillas later on...you can use this oil a couple more times because it wasn't violently fried and messy).

As the potatoes are straining precariously over a container in the sink (that might just be my contraptions...call me Mcgyver), you can beat the hell out of those eggs. I'm serious. Get a whisk, and go crazy on those eggs until they are homogenous and a few bubbles veil the top. Add a little salt to the egg mixture. Then, take the potato mixture and add it to the eggs. You can then mix this up into the happiness that is your tortilla batter. Return the pan to the stove on medium heat with enough olive oil to keep the batter from sticking (usually the oil that you didn't pour off with the potatoes is enough).

Stay brave my friends, this is the part where things get a little precarious--but it is fun after your first time! It really helps to have about 7-8 Spanish friends cheering you on...but friends of whatever nationality will do. Hah! Take a plate, or if you happen to have a tortilla de patata flipper (yes, they are on the market), or other rimless flat-bottomed lid that will work. Make sure that the egg mixture isn't sticking (spatula or pan-shimmying works) and then set your lid on top of the pan. To minimize spillage, make sure the plate is larger than the pan and doesn't just fit inside--don't be a hero. Okay, now that you have the top securely in place, hold it tightly on top with your left hand, right hand on the handle (reverse obviously if you're stronger on the left side), envision its successful 180º flip, and then MAKE IT HAPPEN! Flip the omelet onto the plate in your right hand-holding it waiter-style (don't let it fall on the floor) and shimmy it back into the pan so the other side can cook. Physics has a phenomenon called centripetal force--if the movement you make is complete, the tortilla flip will be a success; if you hesitate and get scared, you will be covered in a warm egg, potato, and onion mixture. I guess there could be worse things...

I think the fact that you invested all that time in beating the eggs and peeling and cutting all those potatoes is enough to make your body and mind work together to make this a smooth transition. If you're weak in the upper body dept, get someone stronger to help you out--make them feel like they're useful since you're dominating the kitchen. If you have some left over egg and potatoes that didn't make it into the pan on the smooth slide that was your first attempt (fingers-crossed), you can just spread it on top and then you do the flip-trick once again. Don't worry, you'll be a pro in no time. If it failed and you made an epic mess, cut up some bread and eat it off of the counter, just make sure your kitchen is clean. No pasa nada. No worries!

Now you can cut it in triangles, pizza-style, or in cubes and eat them with toothpicks...great party appetizer. Also good for dinner, lunch, cold for breakfast, etc. The tortilla de patata can sit out on the counter if you have leftovers and it will be delicious the next day (I have never had one last that long, but cold tortilla is great). Now enjoy that rich egg with the silky potatoes and sweet olive oil flavor. Bienvenidos a España//Welcome to Spain.

Finally a little quickie for dessert. You have to eat your fruit now...why not smothered in chocolate?

Chocolate Covered Pears
2 pears, washed, skin-on
1 Chocolate bar, 70% dark chocolate is what I had

Take a teaspoon and scoop out the core from the bottom. Then you can cut the bottom a little so that the pear stands flat on its own.

Heat the chocolate over super low heat if you don't have a double boiler, like me. If you do, melt the chocolate over a double boiler (bain marie//baño maría). If you have enough chocolate, you can just dip the pears inside the chocolate. If you aren't so wasteful and just used what you needed, then you can teaspoon it on, and I think that is a nicer presentation--you can make layers and pretty ripples, etc. I used a coffee spoon, so it was the same contour as the pear, which was cool. Whatever leftover chocolate you have, that you aren't licking out of the bowl, you can use as an edible decoration! Let it set in the fridge for about 10-15 minutes. Eat with a spoon. It is so much fun!

Now I'm off to go plan some more events for the Handsome Spaniard's birthday!
¡Que aproveches amigo!
Listening to Kyle Meredith on WFPK Radio Louisville.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tomayto, tomahto recipe exchange

As I am a newbie to the blogosphere, I thought I would get involved with the community by contributing to the Tomato love recipe exchange, organized by Gimmie Some Oven and Bake Your Day, and supported by KitchenAid. Can't say no, right? Even better, the recipe exchange is spreading awareness by supporting the International Justice Mission's Recipe for Change, which is working towards eradicating labor slavery within the United States, especially on tomato farms. Through my volunteer work at Oxfam, an organization for fair trade, I am already a vehement supporter of human rights and the fairness of labor and trade practices all over the world. So, let's join all of the efforts of international fair trade, labor fairness on US soil, and absolutely delicious food and we'll see what we can muster up as a contribution.

As a side note: if you are interested in these issues, go and educate yourself about them, involve yourself, and volunteer if you can sacrifice the time. There are so many ways to stop and reverse the injustices we hear about and often see everyday all over the world. Just beginning to learn about them and start the conversation with others is a step closer to widespread awareness and real change. Your contribution is greater than you know.

Today's recipe will be a double-whammy! We will be preparing two Spanish recipes, which I think are choice for using that scrumptious summer fruit, the tomato. First is a recipe from Catalonia, the region of Spain where I live now, called Pan amb Tomaquet (Catalán for: Bread with Tomato). Second is a recipe from all over Spain called Patatas Bravas (Potatoes Brava, and oh yes, they deserve a BIG brava for their immense flavor). Both of these can be served as appetizers, which is how I am going to submit them. However, Pan amb tomaquet is generally served as breakfast, much as we would toast. Patatas bravas is also a typical tapa...the Spanish answer to appetizers, and can be devoured throughout the day.

Pan amb Tomaquet//Pan con Tomate (Bread with Tomato)
Two delicious red-as-you-can-get-them tomatoes, washed and cut in half at their equator
High quality olive oil (Spanish is my recommendation)
Sea Salt
One whole baguette, halved lengthwise and crosswise
Garlic (optional*)

First, take the pieces of baguette that you've prepared and either toast or grill them. I love the taste of grilled bread, and because it is summer and the grill is probably rockin' out in the backyard anyway, just throw the bread on for a few minutes and you'll have something beautiful. If not, the toaster works as well, and so does a pan heating on the stove. However you do it, you need that bread to have a nice golden toast (or black char, if that's what you're in to). Drizzle as little or as much extra-virgin olive oil on the toasted bread and let it soak in.

Now we have two approaches to distributing the tomato!

Option 1:
While the bread is basking in its golden oil, prepare the tomato. I use a cheese grater to make my tomato spread, and it works like a dream. An immersion blender or other blender/food processor would work too, but it just doesn't achieve the same texture as with the cheese grater. You want that semi-rough pulp and you want some of that juice. Half the tomatoes and grate them like that, the flesh will grate straight from the skin, and you should be able to get most, if not all, of that juicy goodness out. To the tomato, add a teaspoon or two of olive oil and salt to taste. Spoon this mixture on top of the baguettes as you would butter and jelly (but you can go crazy with this one because it isn't so high in sugar).

Option 2:
Also while the bread is basking in its golden oil, prepare the tomato. Cut the tomato in half on its equator, but this time, instead of grating it, press the tomato half onto the sliced baguette and rub the juices and flesh into it. The bread will soak up a lot of the juice, so don't be afraid to squish and squash all the goodness on there.

As per Spanish tradition, I currently have the liberty to put nice slices of Jamón (Spanish cured ham from pigs that are only fed truffles and acorns...not lying) on my tomato bread. And so I did. These products are slowly making it into the American market, so keep your eyes open. At least in Louisville, I know that Fresh Market sells Spanish cured meats, and I saw it at 732 Social, when it was still open. I bet if you go to any other upscale cafés or restaurants you should be able to find it featured with the charcuterie.

*You can also rub a clove of garlic on the bread after it has been toasted and before you put on the tomato, or if you're into infusing oils, throw a garlic clove into the oil before you use it for this bread.

Next is a recipe for:
Patatas Bravas 
(recipe adapted from José Andrés, my Spanish culinary hero...look him up!)

Bravas sauce:
Fresh tomatoes
Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
Bay leaf
Pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika)
Chili powder or cayenne (I used Chimayo, of course)
Sherry vinegar (I used white wine vinegar and it was fine)
Bravas potatoes:
Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
Potatoes (I used about 8-9 smallish Yukon golds) peeled and cut into cubes
Aïoli sauce:
1 Egg
Olive oil
1 Clove garlic
Lemon juice

Start with the sauce. The tomato needs to be grated on a cheese grater, much like the tomato bread up top. However much tomato you grate will be however much sauce you get out of them. Just know that the amount will need to reduce down by 2/3 in order to make the ideal bravas sauce. I myself used 3 tomatoes that were a bit larger than my fist. To the tomato, add about a teaspoon or so of sugar, a bay leaf ( I used one plus a little baby one), 2 teaspoons of pimentón, and a teaspoon of chili powder. Heat some olive oil in a saucepan over the stove. When it is hot, add the tomato mixture and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat at that point to a simmer and let those flavors waltz around for about 20 minutes. In 20 minutes the sauce should be reduced and take on a beautiful deep red color. Stir in your healthy splash of vinegar and salt to taste. Reserve this sauce for the potatoes!

The potatoes should be cooked in a good amount of oil, as if you were going to deep pan fry them. Let the oil get hot enough to cook, but not hot enough to brown the potatoes. This is called oil-poaching, and the potatoes are done when you can stick a fork through them. If you prefer browned potatoes, heat up the oil at the end and brown them a bit. The oil-poached come out fine enough for me. Drain them on a paper towel.

Now it's time to whip out that immersion blender. Mmmm MmmmmM! Pop an egg in the bottom of the measuring container that came with your blender. Add about 3 inches of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and a clove of garlic, peeled. Now stick your blender head right over the yolk and go to town whirring that olive oil and egg into creamy heaven. Start blending at the bottom and slowly move up as the mayonnaise is formed. In a matter of seconds, you will have the most incredible aïoli sauce you have ever tasted.

Okay, let's put this all together:

Put the potatoes in a bowl that already has bravas sauce in it. Toss and coat the potatoes until they're covered in that ruby red glory. Then, put a dollop of aïoli sauce on top (or on the side if you want to mix as you go). This is a great tapa for party appetizers, and you can eat the cubes with toothpicks if need be. Tiny cocktail forks are the way to go in Spain, though :)

Enjoy these appetizers with lots of friends, and enjoy the summer bounty of fresh tomatoes. I liked to get mine from my Grasshoppers farm share, and the Douglas Loop farmers market was always abundant with such wonderful picks, not just tomatoes!

 Listening to the Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! Podcast on NPR

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Coq au Vin: Just Like the Frenchies! Promise...

I couldn't bring myself to post on the 4th of July because I wasn't grilling up brats and homemade hamburgers while endangering my life with fireworks, instead I was trying my hand at an old French favorite: Coq au vin. We had a couple of half or quarter-full wine bottles left over from when our visitors stayed with us (we have had 7 people visit so far this summer!). So, I decided it was high time to get those into a sauce reduction, a syrup for chocolate cake, or something more robust like a Coq au vin. I'm happy I made that choice (mostly due to the fact that I don't have an oven to whip up a chocolate cake with wine sauce), because it turned out phenomenal, and it is a great meal for a large lunch. Here in Spain the largest meal of the day is lunch at about 2-2.30PM, and dinner isn't until 10.30 or 11PM; knowing that, we can't really welcome a couple of delicious drunken chicken breasts into our stomachs before sleeping.

We buy our wine from a local bodega, which serves up its wine, mixed or unmixed straight from the barrel into whatever container you bring. It's pretty nifty, and really thrifty at about a euro for 1.5 liters...yes, cheaper than water. The people are really nice too, which reminds me of home. The place my roommate and I used to go to is called Old Town Wine and Spirits on Bardstown Road. They are great people, with a solid knowledge of their products and good taste--I know this because I went in on more than one occasion for recommendations on food and wine-pairings. If you get the chance, stop on in!

For this recipe, I would normally recommend a pinot noir or your favorite full-bodied wine, which still has some sweetness in it. We used a 2007 Rioja and some sweet wine we had left over from the bodega, so it all worked out. Yeah, a few of you probably let out a gasp just then, but mixing wine for drinking or cooking is nothing new, especially if it's not with bottles of $40 wine...take a look at the next bottle you drink, I bet you it is a combination of cabernet, pinot, syrah, etc, etc. Some of the best wines I've had aren't purely from a single grape (although those are to be celebrated as well), rather they have complexity through mixing. I respect both approaches to wine-making--it's all good!

Okay, so why Coq au vin and why now? I would say that this is a great dish to prepare in the autumn and winter because it is so hearty, but we needed a dose of protein and as I mentioned before, we had a surplus of wine. I did some studying on epicurious, one of my food research sites, but I rarely follow the recipe exactly, so here are some changes I made from the Quick Coq au Vin recipe on epicurious.com. In place of onion I used leeks and celery, which added a delightfully soft sweetness.The mushrooms I used were called "Setas de flor" or flower mushrooms. I'm not entirely sure which kind of mushroom they were, but pick up a mushroom that has some flavor and texture, not those bland white caps that they put on Papa John's pizzas. I also had tons of carrots and I picked up some parsnips and a daikon radish, all of which I pureed into a happy, creamy side. Isn't using the flavors you have lying around in a new made-up recipe just so much fun? Now, let's get started!

Relatively Quick Coq au Vin with Creamy Pureed Root Vegetables

Coq au Vin
4 Strips of your favorite deliciously smoked bacon, chopped
4 Chicken breast fillets, cleaned and trimmed
1 Leek (green and white parts), minced
4 Cloves garlic, finely sliced*
1 Celery stalk, finely chopped
8oz. Flavorful Mushrooms, rinsed and rough chopped if necessary
3 T Fresh parsley, chopped
1.5 cups Red wine
1.25 cups Water (divided)
4 t flour
Sea salt
Black pepper
Pinch of thyme
 *I slice my garlic as recommended by Tony Bourdain. I think it adds nice aesthetic and the flavor is really conserved compared to mincing. Smashing is the best though if you can manage it...I'll take the whole garlic chunks if you don't want them!

Creamy Pureed Root Vegetables
2 T butter
2 Parsnips
5 Carrots
1 Daikon radish
Sea Salt

To begin, prep everything on the list because it will just make your life easier. Because this recipe has multiple steps, it's nice to have your "mise en place" -work station- all set out and then you can just pick and choose what you need for each step. I arrange my meat and my vegetables separately in order to avoid cross-contamination ( I know, sounds serious doesn't it?), and if I'm using a bounty of herbs and spices, I'll set those up separate, around my vegetable prep or close to the stove. That isn't the case in this recipe!

First, you chop up the bacon and set aside. Then you need to season the chicken: salt, pepper, and parsley the fillets on both sides. When you've done this, start frying up that bacon until its crispy. Oh, how I love anything with meat and vegetables cooked in bacon fat...the French brought that beautiful technique to Louisville, and now we're eating bacon and pork right and left. Just look how beautiful it is! Wait until you smell it...
Remove the crispy, but not yet burnt bacon from the pan and set aside. Add the seasoned chicken fillets to the bacon drippings on medium heat and watch magic happen. I cooked them for about 4 minutes each side to brown them. If you have larger chicken breasts, just worry about browning them for now, 8-10 minutes should do them, and later we'll be simmering them in the gorgeous wine sauce. Remove the browned chicken and reserve, covered, or if you're lucky, throw them covered in a low-heat oven to keep them warm. I'm not convinced this part is necessary, I just reserved them on a plate with an inverted bowl on top and they came out juicy as ever.
Chicken fillets browning in bacon drippings

Do not drain those juices from the pan!!! Now you are going to sauté the celery and leeks in the pan (can you see why it is useful to have everything prepped?) until they are soft and fragrant. Then, add in the mushrooms and cook until they start browning. Add those garlic cloves at then end and toss around quickly, just like I taught you before...they are delicate and their best flavor comes when sauteed last.
 The exciting part comes next...add about a tablespoon of parsley (you should still have some left over at this point), the reserved crispy bacon, all of the wine, and about a cup of water. You'll hear that wonderful schwoo sound from the wine deglazing the bottom of the pan. Take this opportunity to stir around on the bottom and make sure that nothing is sticking, this also gets the pieces that might be a little stuck, but are carrying a deep caramelized flavor into your sauce. Simmer this concoction for 10-15 minutes. During this frame of time you can make up your sauce thickener: 4 teaspoons of flour with 1/4 cup water, stirred up until the lumps are worked out and seasoned with a tiny bit of salt and thyme.

When the wine has reduced down, you should add the flour mixture and in about 3-4 minutes you'll see your sauce thicken. At this point, you can uncover the chicken breasts and nestle them into the sauce to simmer for another 20-30 minutes, covered and on low. I turned the breasts over about 10 minutes in, so the other side could soak up some sauce too.

Right when you put that chicken in to simmer, start up on your side dish!
Creamy pureed root vegetables are very simple to make. Clean, peel, and rough chop those root vegetables. I really really love parsnips, so I threw a couple in there with the carrots and I wanted to see if a daikon radish would work too, even though it probably doesn't need to be cooked. It really did add a cool flavor and helped make the texture more smooth and uniform. I bet a sweet potato would be killer in this!
Anyways, all you have to do is pop those vegetables into boiling, salted water until they are soft. Strain them from their water, add 2 tablespoons of butter, salt, and some of that leftover fresh parsley. Take out that immersion blender, or food processor, or the back of a fork, and puree that beautiful mixture until it is as gold as the Kentucky state flower, the Goldenrod. Serve it in a side bowl.

By the time all that is done, your chicken should be ready to come out of its sweet simmer and onto your plate. Ladle a small amount of sauce into the plate or shallow bowl that you'll serve it in, then put a couple fillets on top and ladle more sauce on top. Garnish with parsley and fresh cracked pepper. A nice, crackly, mouth-watering baguette would go nicely with this meal. We followed it up with a bowl of fresh cherries...that's what life is after all!

Bon appetít!

Listening to Marion Dries on WFPK Radio Louisville