California Tapas

I’ve been on a blog vacation since I arrived home two weeks ago. This, of course, does not mean that I have not consumed blogworthy foods or that I have not been cooking. On the contrary, my friend! I’ve been enamored yet again by all of the fresh delicious foods available in California. Whole Foods’ produce and cheese sections alone…it’s like heaven. Heirloom tomatoes! They represent summer for me and I think that in two weeks I’ve already consumed 10 pounds of them. I’m told to choose two cheeses because we are having guests over and need an appetizer and I struggle with commitment issues in the cheese section. So, when my parents suggested I make dinner for some friends I got a little ahead of myself and decided that a variety of tapas was the way to go. And this is the story of how I ended up the most full I have been since my uncle in Spain challenged me to eat a one pound steak…

First course: Grilled Pizzas

Three varieties to be exact.

Number 1: Olive tapenade with red onions, finely shaved zucchini, cherry tomatoes and goat cheese.

Number 2: Mushrooms and leeks with brie.

Number 3: Fig jam with figs, mozzarella, and prosciutto.

Trader Joe’s dough – why make your own when you have this (and you know I like to make my own stuff!) – on the grill is just phenomenal. The heat you can’t quite get in the oven, you’ve got on the grill. Plus, fire! It’s pretty simple to do – just stretch the dough on a lightly floured surface, lightly oil the grill, and toss it on there. After about 5 minutes, take it off, flip it and put your toppings on the grilled side. Then put it back on the grill, off of the direct heat, for about 10 minutes. When making three it’s super helpful to have plates with the ingredients all cut and ready to go for each pizza.

Can’t forget the wine! Alban Vineyards: a California Syrah with rich dried fruit flavors.

Alban

Second course: Caprese salad with Heirloom Tomatoes, Burrata cheese, and Basil

I’m having a love affair with Burrata. I used to think that fresh mozzarella was the best thing ever…and then I met Burrata. There isn’t much more to say about that. So, heirloom tomatoes, basil, olives, and a balsamic reduction. THE summer salad.

Third course: Gambas al Ajillo (Shrimp with garlic)

This is a typical Spanish tapa. Olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes are heated to cook peeled fresh shrimp. The sauce is as good as the shrimp and this dish must be served family style with some bread to soak up the sauce. An all time favorite in my home and my Dad made this one.

And another bottle of wine, of course! This time from the land I currently call home, Castilla y Leon.

Fourth course: Chicken Satay and Seared Scallops wrapped in Prosciutto

The pictures are getting a little dark as the night progressed. This chicken satay recipe is from foodandwine.com and it’s a winner. It’s super easy and, most importantly, delicious. Shallots, garlic, lemongrass, jalapeño pepper and fresh ginger get ground into a paste in a food processor and then soy sauce, fish sauce, ground coriander, brown sugar, and ground pepper are mixed in until you’re left with a thick paste. Half of it goes to marinading the chicken strips and the other half you cook in a little bit of oil and then add coconut milk and peanut butter to create a thick sauce. Here’s the link to the original recipe: Gingery Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

I’m getting hungry… These scallops are wrapped in a thin slice of prosciutto and seared in a bit of butter with sage leaves. After taking them out of the pan, we deglazed the pan with a couple tablespoons of white wine (the one we were drinking) and poured the sauce over top. Scallops are one of my very favorite creatures from the sea and their natural sweetness goes perfectly with salty prosciutto. The key here is not to overcook them, just a couple minutes on each side on a high flame so you get that beautiful brown sear.

Last, but certainly not least, dessert: Individual Peach Crumble

I had to do something with all the incredible peaches that are around right now. These little dishes got filled with sliced peaches that had been tossed with sugar and  cornstarch. I borrowed these measurements from a recipe for Peach Cobbler.

I baked them just like this for 10 minutes at 425º F (218ºC) and then topped them with a crumble topping. Then they went back into the oven for 15 more minutes until the tops were golden brown.

So delicious. The crumble topping is one I borrowed from my aunt’s apple pie – 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/2 cup flour, 1 tbsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup cold butter cut into cubes, and 1 cup of sliced almonds. You have to mash the butter into it until the chunks are small and all the ingredients are mixed well and then you sprinkle this topping over the peaches. It all spreads out as it cooks to make a uniform topping.

As the month goes on, I’ll bring you more from the land of sunshine. It feels good to be home! And on vacation!

Pasta Salad with Cilantro Shallot Dressing

It’s hot out. I love it, but it’s true. And when it’s hot, I like to eat food that is not. Pasta salad is one of my favorite meals – sometimes I’ll be eating pasta salad for lunch for like 5 days in a row. So I’ve been looking at a lot of summer salad and pasta recipes online lately and nothing feeds cooking inspiration like an empty fridge, so off to the market I went. And here’s what I came up with: lots of fresh veggies with a cilantro and shallot dressing (which I borrowed from the corn relish from the Calabaza Soup recipe I posted back when a hot soup was an essential part of my diet).

You could totally change/substitute the veggies I’ve used for any you prefer, but this is a good combo that’s readily available in the summa time.

First, mix the dressing so that it has plenty of time to get good flavors going. One shallot, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoon); fresh cilantro, also finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons); 1/4 teaspoon of salt; a pinch of sugar (or a dollop of honey); about 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice; and last but not least, about 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Mix all of this together and let it sit while you prepare the salad.

Also, while you prepare the salad you should get a pot of water boiling for the pasta.

Now for the salad. First, cucumber: about 1/2 of a cucumber, peeled and cut into 1cm square cubes.

Then, one avocado.

Then, some cherry tomatoes, quartered.

Next, cheese. I used a fresh cheese that I’m not sure I’ve seen outside of Spain, but it’s very mild and very soft. Maybe a fresh mozzarella would be a good substitute, or even a soft goat cheese. You could even go a creamier route and use ricotta.

And, corn (a small can, well drained). I love corn in salads… It’s a fact.

Next, some arugula. I love the peppery taste arugula gives salads, but you could also use mixed baby greens or baby spinach too. And last but not least, the cooked pasta. This was one cup, uncooked.

Right before you’re ready to eat, toss it with the dressing. I made this for two people, though my proportions got away from me a little bit, so probably 3 people could have eaten this… Anyway, the point is, adjust your proportions of veggies and pasta according to how many people you’re making it for.

Enjoy!

Lemon Squares

I’m officially in “summer mode”. Classes are winding down and I only have to work a few hours each afternoon. I’m at the point where I have to remind myself several times a day to remember that I have to go to work. So today after sleeping in, having a leisurely breakfast, going for a run, and still finding myself with nothing in particular to do, I felt like baking something. Only problem: I really did not feel like going out to the store – you know how that is, right? After a quick look in the pantry and the discovery of a whole lemon and some butter in the fridge (two things I rarely have!), I confirmed that, yes, I did have all the ingredients necessary to make some Lemon Squares!

The first step is to mix 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter with 1/4 cup of sugar – use a fork or a mixer – until they are creamed together. Then add 1 cup of flour little by little. I used half whole-wheat and half all-purpose, not for any other reason than that I didn’t have enough left of either type to do all one (seriously, summer mode). Keep mixing these with a fork or mixer until it looks like fine crumbs, but still holds together when you pinch it. Spread this mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased pan – the recipe called for a square 8in x 8in, but I used a rectangular one and just reduced baking time a bit. Press it down and bake at 350 ºF (or 176 ºC) for 13 minutes.

You have to let this cool before pouring in the topping, so while you wait you can make that. First, beat 3 large eggs until they get frothy.

Then, add 3/4 cup of sugar, 2 teaspoons of lemon zest, 1/3 cup of lemon juice (this is approximately the entire zest and all of the juice of one large lemon – good thing, because that is all I had!), 3 tablespoons of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Mix together well and when the crust has cooled, pour it over the top and bake at the same temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, until it’s set.

Once the Lemon Squares are cool, sprinkle them with 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar and cut into 15 squares.

So, these are delicious. Like really, really delicious. And I was excited about them because they are only 120 calories each, but now I’ve eaten two already! These are not going to last long…

Anyway, I love lemon desserts in the summer, so this is a winner!

Ingredient List:

Crust:

  • 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of flour

Topping:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

*Recipe from Cooking Light (link)

Homemade Raviolis: Caramelized Shallots, Mushrooms, Goat Cheese

I thought you could only make fresh pasta if you had one of those fancy machines…or some kind of attachment for another fancy machine. I have none of those things unfortunately, so when Cooks Illustrated sent me a weekly newsletter entitled “Fresh Pasta Without a Machine”, I was like, oh, ok!

I knew this would be a “weekend recipe” when I read that after mixing the dough you have to let it rest for 1-4 hours… So, I let the week fly by, while I dreamed up my ravioli creation. And when Sunday finally arrived, it went a little something like this:

Start with 1 egg and 3 egg yolks whisked together with, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Then add 1 cup of all purpose flour and mix well. The dough should end up a little sticky but not so much that it sticks onto your fingers – I believe “tacky” is the word.

Lightly flour the work surface and knead until the dough is smooth. You might have to add a little more flour if it’s too sticky. Roll it up into a little log shape and cover it with plastic wrap. This has to rest, like I said, for 1 – 4 hours, so I made it in the morning and then went about my life until about an hour before lunch.

The dough doesn’t rise or change in any visible way, however, according to Cooks Illustrated the resting makes the dough less elastic, so rolling it out is easier because it won’t shrink back. Without really understanding the chemistry of the “why?”, it’s true – I poked it before and after to see for myself. Probably has something to do with gluten and whatnot…

Next, I made the filling. I started by caramelizing 4 thinly sliced shallots in a little bit of olive oil in one pan and in another sautéing some garlic and sliced mushrooms.

When I finished cooking, I removed the garlic, chopped the shallots and mushrooms together, and then began on the ricotta mixture.

I used 1 cup of ricotta and about 1/2 cup of goat cheese (the kind that comes in a roll). I used an immersion blender to make a smooth mixture to which I added the mushroom and shallot mixture, as well as 1/4 cup of chopped toasted walnuts, a teaspoon of honey, and a couple of pinches of salt to taste.

At this point I realized that this could also be a delicious spread for crackers or on bread… In fact, that’s exactly what I did with the leftover filling that didn’t fit in my raviolis.

Now it’s time to roll – get that dough and divide the log into 3 equal pieces. Start with the first, stretch it in your hands into a 3×3 inch square. Then use a rolling pin, rolling out from the center, to make a big, super thin rectangle. It should be so thin you can see the outline of your fingers through it (or in my case, that fabulous black and white marble I’ve got in my kitchen). As you roll it, be sure to lift it from the surface to be sure it’s not sticking – dust more flour on it if it is.

At this point, you have 3 sheets like this and you could choose to cut this into fetuccini or form some shaped pastas if you prefer. I cut it in half and then into squares about 3×3 inches (kind of big raviolis, but I really didn’t feel like spending the next 15 years of my life filling tiny raviolis…)

Fill a little bowl with water and use your finger to wet the edges on both the top and bottom squares. Then put a little spoonful, about 1 tablespoon, of the filling in the center and put the top over it, sealing the edges with your fingers and trying to not let any of the filling escape. Don’t over fill them or else the filling will get everywhere and you’ll get irritated and end up scratching the whole thing and eating the filling with a spoon…

The 3 sheets made about 15 raviolis in the end, which I would say is perfect for 3 people (you could serve it with a small salad and make a nice dinner of it). Also, see what I’ve done here, arranging them nicely on a plate? Don’t do this! Lay them separately on a towel or tray, but don’t overlap them – they are moist and WILL stick together and when you unstick them, if you don’t do it super incredibly carefully, they WILL rip open and you WILL cry. Learn from my mistakes, friends.

Give them a minute to seal well while you bring a big pot of water to a boil. Gently drop them in, one by one, and let them cook for 3-4 minutes. If you do more than 15, you might need to do them in batches so they don’t stick.

I didn’t want a sauce that would cover up the flavor too much of the filling, so I just heated some cream in a pan with some chopped basil and a bit of salt (to taste) to make a light basil infused cream. Once the raviolis are cooked, I added them to the pan and tossed them until the were coated. If the sauce get’s too thin, just let them all cook there for a minute or two until the sauce thickens a bit.

Ridiculously delicious…

So, feel free to fill them with whatever your little heart desires. Or don’t fill them, cut them into strips and make a nice bolognese or a carbonara. Or what about leaving them whole for lasagna… While making raviolis are a bit of a labor of love because you have to fill them and close them all, actually making the dough took all of 10 minutes (resting period aside) and rolling them about another 10, so I think I’ll be making fresh pasta again!

Here’s the ingredient list and a link to the fresh pasta recipe (they have good trouble shooting tips and demos of how to make bow-ties and other fun stuff!)

Pasta:

  • 1 egg plus 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all purpose flour

Filling:

  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup goat cheese
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 4 shallots, finely sliced
  • 8 mushrooms (small), thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • salt to taste

Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 5-6 basil leaves, sliced
  • salt to taste

*Fresh Pasta without a Machine: Cooks Illustrated (link)

Whole Wheat Pizza

I’m a bit delirious today. Monday there was a high of 55 degrees and from Tuesday on it’s been 85 degrees by noon. I’m never one to complain about hot weather, but when you’ve spent the last six months desperately trying to stay warm, 65 feels like a day at the beach, so this is turning my brain to mush. Sorry spring jackets, I guess you’ll have to hang out and wait until fall… Now, with my tinto de verano in hand, aka cheap red wine and seltzer water over lots of ice, I will tell you about my latest culinary creation.

So, pizza. It’s my favorite. Especially homemade pizza. I can’t get enough of it. And since I got my hands on some yeast (finally! I had been looking for it everywhere!) and some whole wheat flour (see my post about Whole Wheat Cinnamon Bread), I have been excited to try incorporating it into some other meals. Granted, this only makes pizza marginally healthier, it’s definitely better for you than Dominos (which I also eat a lot of because my boyfriend currently delivers their pizzas…I’ve never seen anyone more excited to finish college…)

Anyway, here’s Whole Wheat Pizza and an attempt to use up all the odds and ends in the fridge.

It starts with 1/2 cup of warm water with 1/2 tablespoon of sugar and 1 and 1/8 teaspoons of active dry yeast. Mix these gently in a large bowl and let them sit for about 10 minutes until the yeast starts to get frothy (that’s how you know it’s working!)

To this, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 of the flour, which is 3/4 cup. Mix this up until it’s fully incorporated.

Now, little by little, add the remaining 3/4 cup of flour until the dough is slightly sticky, but it doesn’t get stuck to your fingers. If you are lucky, you have a big ass mixer that will do all this for you, but if not, you’ll burn some calories so you can eat more pizza! Yay!

Once you’re at that point, put it on a floured work surface and get ready to knead.

Knead for about 6 minutes, until the dough gets elastic. It will easily form a smooth ball when it’s ready.

You can just see all that whole wheaty-ness! Now this little guy goes into a lightly greased bowl, covered with plastic wrap, and placed in a warm corner of your kitchen for 1 hour or so, until it doubles in size.

Yeah, that’ll do it…

Now, get your oven preheating up as high as it will go. Mine goes up to 220 C (425 F). If you have a pizza stone, more power to ya. Since conventional ovens don’t heat up as high as the professional ones do, I use a trick I learned from my mom – I bake the crust by itself for a few minutes and then add the toppings and pop it back in to finish it off. This guarantees that the bottom won’t get soggy or be uncooked.

So, spread it out onto a baking dish to the thickness you prefer (I like mine thin thin thin) and put it in the oven for 7-8 minutes, until you start to see it get golden brown in some places.

Now for the toppings, which I leave to your imagination. Here’s my medley of veggies and even a sliced up turkey hotdog (yeah, I know, but I just had one left over from one of those “nostalgic” meals and I didn’t know when I would use it).

A little tomato sauce, some grated cheese, and on they go!

Voila!

Another day we can talk about creative toppings. But, when I am feeling uninspired and want a pizza that’s out of the ordinary, I like to go onto The Cheese Board in Berkeley or Arizmendi Bakery in Emeryville‘s websites – they post a calendar of their pizzas (they make one unique one per day with all seasonal local ingredients) for some good ideas. Back in the day, when I was fortunate to have Berkeley’s amazing food all around me, I quite enjoyed their pizza and I make it a point to visit when I’m up there (or is it out…or over…I’m not sure anymore).

I’m getting confused with prepositions, so I’ll just stop and give you the ingredient list:

Makes one 12 inch pizza:

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar (or honey)
  • 1 & 1/8 teaspoon dry active yeast
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 & 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (divided)

Until next time, au revoir! (I’m learning French…)

Black Rice with Squid

How did it get black? It’s made with squid ink. This is another recipe from the traditional Spanish kitchen, often made as a “Black Paella” or just served over white rice. I love trying to master typical Spanish meals, and this is one I’ve gotten down to perfection. Personally, I think it’s amazing and incredibly flavorful. But, I can understand if some of you might be a little unsure about whether squid ink is something you want to try. This is one of those things you must try before you make a judgement. And I guarantee you will love it.

I’m not sure how easy squid ink is to get your hands on in the US, but probably a fish shop will at least know how to help you. Here in Spain, they sell it in packets in the frozen foods section.

Start by cleaning about 1 pound (500g) of squid. You can use large or small ones; I used frozen ones which I left overnight in the fridge to defrost. If you get whole ones, it’s important to remember to remove the “backbone”, which like of looks like a clear plastic strip that’s runs up the body. It’s pretty easy to remove (nothing like cleaning shrimp!). Then give them a rinse and slice them into 1/2 inch (1 cm) rings.

Next, saute one small onion chopped finely in about a tablespoon of olive oil. When the onions start to soften, either add one chopped tomato or 1/2 cup of tomato sauce. I opted today for tomato sauce because the tomatoes are pretty hard to come by right now (it’s been a looong winter). Anyway, keep sauteing until either the tomato is soft and breaking apart or the sauce has thickened.

Now, add 1/2 cup of white wine and 1 cup of boiling chicken or fish broth. Add the sliced squid and bring to a simmer. Then add 1 package of squid ink and stir until the ink has mixed with the liquids. Cover the pan and let it cook for about 30 minutes, until the squid are tender.

The last step is to add 1 cup of rice, 2 more cups of boiling chicken or fish broth, and one more package of ink. Keep the mixture simmering, uncovered now, until the rice is fully cooked. There should be some liquid left, as this is supposed to be a more soupy rice dish.

This makes four servings and you should serve it right away so that the heat from the pan doesn’t keep cooking it and absorbing the liquid. If you want to keep leftovers, put them into a tupperware right away.

I’m hoping that if no one else feels brave enough for squid ink, that at least my Dad will feel that this dish is less daunting and is inspired to make it!

Ingredient list:

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tomato chopped or 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 3 cups chicken or fish broth, boiling (divided)
  • 1 lb (500g) squid, cleaned and sliced into 1/2 inch (1 cm) rings
  • 2 packages of squid ink, 4 grams each
  • 1 cup rice, rinsed

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Sugar Swirl Bread

Now that warm weather is finally on the horizon (It has rained here the whole month of April, and I am not exaggerating. Also, I’m fairly certain that every person I have contact with regularly is aware of how much I hate rain), it’s time to think about Operation Bikini, as it’s not so fondly referred to as here. I’m trying to do more exercise, eat more fruits, veggies and trying to incorporate whole grains where I can. Sadly, my morning oatmeal with chopped up fruit doesn’t really make for good blogging material… However, I came across a recipe for cinnamon swirl bread on a blog and that made me remember how much I’ve always loved that cinnamon raisin bread toasted with a little butter. So, to The Pioneer Woman, I give credit where credit is due.

Though I have never made bread, I can’t leave any recipe alone and I made some changes to it so that it fits in with my attempts to be healthy. First, I started by using whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose. Also, I reduced the amount of sugar and butter. Oh, and I used brown sugar in the swirl. Anyway, it turned out so well I did a little happy dance. Bread conquered!! Now my mind is already wandering to savory combinations I can make next time.

Start by warming one cup of low-fat milk with 4 tablespoons of butter in a bowl in the microwave. You want the butter to melt and mix in with the milk, but not get too hot. You shouldn’t get burned if you stick your finger in it. Add 2 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast. Stir to combine and let it sit for about 10 minutes while you take care of the next steps.

In a large mixing bowl add 1/3 cup of sugar and 2 eggs and beat well. Then add the yeast mixture to it.

Then mix in 1/2 of the flour (total 3 1/2 cups) and 1 teaspoon of salt.

Then add the remaining half of the flour and mix. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. It will be sticky, so you will have to keep adding flour to the work surface until it’s not sticky anymore (about a 1/4 cup more).

Knead this by pushing into it and forward with the palm of your hand and continuously folding it over itself until you start to feel it get really elastic. It takes about 10 minutes.

See the difference?

Now this goes into a lightly oiled bowl. Flip it over a couple times so that the dough is coated with the oil. Cover it with plastic wrap and leave it to rise in a warm place in the kitchen.

Then I went out for a run and an hour and a half later, this is what I found…

Yeah, I’d say that’s the “doubling” we are looking for.

This gets flopped out onto a lightly floured work surface and stretched out into a long rectangle about 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick. I got to use my new rolling pin finally!! I got this rolling pin as a Christmas gift from my boyfriend’s sister after I invited her to Thanksgiving and she saw that I was rolling out my pie crusts with and empty wine bottle…

Use your bread mold as a guide for how wide the rectangle should be so that it fits when you roll it up.

Mix together 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and sprinkle it evenly over the whole rectangle. (Here I omitted additional butter and reduced the amount of sugar from 1/3 cup to 1/4 cup. Not huge changes, but everything counts!)

Now, roll it up.

And place it into the bread mold.

I don’t know if these silicone molds are popular in the rest of the world, but a lot of cooking stores here in Spain are selling them. I mentioned them in my last post about Banana Bread Cupcakes, and now I have a brand new silicone bread mold. They are pretty cool because they don’t stick, so you don’t have to grease/butter them and they are super easy to clean afterward.

Anyway, let that rise for another 1-2 hours.

I think my bread mold is a tad small…

This goes into the oven at 350 degrees F (175 C) for 40 minutes on a lower rack. Once it’s done, let it cool for an hour or two (if you can!) before slicing into it. You’ll see a pretty little swirl.

Serving suggestion: toast and spread a little butter.

Now, I won’t lie to you. This doesn’t taste like that sweet cinnamon roll bread that I remember. It’s still whole wheat bread, which means it’s a bit denser. But this turned out beautifully. It’s light with this yummy brown sugar cinnamon sweetness. Perfect breakfast!

Ingredient list:

  • 1 cup low-fat milk
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

*The original recipe (link)

Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips & Walnuts

Banana Bread muffins to be exact. It’s not the kind of thing you can plan to make. It has to happen because you got carried away and bought more bananas than you could eat, and then you went out of town for a couple of days, and then came back to bananas that looked like this:

And that’s when you know that special time has come. It’s pretty exciting. In my own humble opinion, banana bread is a bummer without chocolate chips. We had a neighbor when I was growing up who made us a loaf one time and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Over the years I’ve tried various recipes, and finally, it’s happened – I’ve found the best banana bread recipe ever. So, check it out – it starts with 1/2 cup (100g) of unsalted butter at room temperature and a cup of sugar. Cream them together ’til they’re that nice light yellow color. Then add 2 large eggs, one at a time, mixing each one.

One. And Two.

Then mash up those over-ripe bananas (minimum 2, but I used 4 for extra moisture, sweetness, and all around banana goodness) using a fork, or a potato masher. Add it into the butter, sugar, egg mix. Also, add 1 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Now it’s time for the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix 1 1/2 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Add the dry to the wet and mix until fully incorporated.

Now add semi-sweet chocolate chips (about a cup).

And chopped walnuts (or not – up to you – about half a cup).

Now you can put this into a loaf pan – you’ll probably need two, but I’m not sure because I always make them in cupcake molds. I have these super cool silicone cupcake molds shaped like hearts. They are good because they are reusable and don’t stick, so you don’t have to put any cooking spray in them.

These go into a 350ºF (176ºC) oven for 12-15 minutes until they are golden brown on top. Like this!

This mix made 16 muffins. That’s a lot of yummy muffins to have around tempting me…

Anyway, now you know what to do when your bananas get too ripe. Try it, you won’t regret it.

Now, here’s the ingredient list:

  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup ripe bananas, mashed (more makes it more moist!)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

*Props to epicurious.com for this one (link)

Steamed Mussels with Saffron Cream Broth

I just came home from a wine tasting at the Escuela de Hostelería de Salamanca which is the local hotel management school. In addition to actual degrees, they do short courses, in this case 2.5 hours, for aficionados like myself. We did a “vertical” tasting of Protos Crianza wines, which are a well known Ribera del Duero wine. Vertical refers to the fact that instead of tasting a variety of wines from one year, we tasted the same wine from several years, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008, to be exact. So you get to taste how they have aged in the bottle over the years.

It was pretty fun. We started out by trying to identify some smells from these little bottles – the teacher was pretty impressed that I got 4 of 7 right, more than any of the other students, but I’m not getting too excited because I have to recognize that I was the youngest, only non-smoker and one of only two females (and everyone knows the ladies have a better sense of smell) in the class of 8. 2008 was my favorite and I have confirmed what I have always known, I prefer fruitier, younger wines with less tannins. But it was fun to learn how to look at, classify, and correctly taste wine.

Yesterday I spent the morning with my dog at the doggy hair salon turning him from the rastafari man to a little french poodle.

Before:

After:

OMG he has eyes!! And spaghetti legs… But I’m so in love with him right now!

Anyway, back to those delicious mussels. I bought a kilo (or 2.2 lbs) of fresh mussels at the supermarket yesterday, mainly because they were 1.50 euros, and made them for lunch. It was raining and I’m on semi-vacation, so it was like, yeah, I’m going to eat a pound of mussels and drink some white wine!

It was a pretty simple endeavor, which I had always been a little hesitant about, not sure why. I finely chopped half an onion and sautéed it for about 5 minutes in a little bit of olive oil with a couple cloves of garlic. Then I added a pinch of saffron and then a half cup (120ml) of white wine and a cup (240ml) of broth (fish broth would probably be best, but I only had chicken on hand). Then I added about 3 tablespoons (45ml) of heavy cream, mixed it up and brought it to a boil. Once I had it at a simmer, I added the mussels, which I had previously cleaned, covered the pot and let them steam in the broth for 5 minutes. After checking to see that they had all opened, I took them off the heat and served them up with all that nice broth and a huge hunk of french baguette to soak up that yum. Don’t add any salt to it, other than what’s in the broth and if you get it “low-sodium” it’s probably better. The mussels are sea salty enough!

After eating up all these mussels and dunking my bread in the broth, I ate, or drank, the rest of the broth like a soup. Then I took a nap. Haha. Vacation is awesome.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs (1 kilo) fresh, LIVE!, mussels, washed and de-bearded
  • 1/2 of a medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic (whole or finely chopped, depending on your feelings about garlic)
  • one pinch of saffron
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) white wine
  • 1 cup (240ml) fish or chicken broth
  • 3 tbsp (45ml) heavy cream
  • white wine for drinking and a baguette for dunking and soaking

 

Spaghetti with Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Happy Easter everyone (a tad bit late)! It’s been a good week because it’s included 2 whole days of vacation! And now I’m on semi-vacation because the majority of my students have gone back to whence they came for the vacation. I’ve encountered a curious problem though with this free time. I have so many things I want to do and haven’t been able to do because of work that now I can’t decide where to focus my energy first. It’s making me almost less productive than when I am working full time… How can that be?

Ok, so I’m focused now and have decided that step one is to update my blog because on my two little days free I encountered some pretty enjoyable food. We went to Zamora on Friday with the intention of seeing Holy Week processions for which this city is famous, but also to visit with family members who I haven’t seen in ages. Unfortunately, it rained the whole day and no processions were seen, so instead we had ourselves a fantastic homemade meal and a marathon of card games accompanied by an assortment of liqueurs and firewater. Procession? What procession?

When we finally emerged, the rain had ceased and a little fresh air was needed. We took a ride into a nearby village where their underground bodegas are famous. Zamora is wine land, and these bodegas is where the wine was made and stored, deep in the ground where it’s cool and dry. Nowadays, most of them are restaurants that serve an assortment of meats grilled over an open flame, or parrilla, family style. There’s not even a menu – the waitress just comes up to the table and tells you which types of meat they have and do you want some wine.

Chorizo, pork ribs, and wine in a pitcher…

To finish it off, a little sweet flan (sadly, not homemade). By now, you’re ridiculously full and your only real option is to sip on a shot or two of firewater (it’s on the house after all) to help digest this meal fit for some type of burly lumberjack.

Only three of us were eating all of this, by the way…

But it is an interesting place to eat. It’s down in the depths of a cavern paved in stone. So you have to remember, while drinking your firewater, that you have to make it back up these stairs…

Back at home the following day (which commenced with a brutal headache from that pitcher of rural wine) two things happened. It was a holiday and supermarkets were closed and overconsumption led to a need for a lighter meal. Enter spaghetti with creamy red pepper sauce. I had a jar of roasted piquillo peppers in the pantry, so I tried out this recipe I had bookmarked a few months ago, but hadn’t gotten around to trying.

Slowly sauté a whole medium onion, sliced thinly, and a few cloves of garlic in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. As always, I leave the cloves whole so I can remove them later… When it’s soft and translucent, add a whole jar (250 grams/a cup or so) of roasted red peppers or roasted piquillo peppers (these are the smaller triangular ones). Drain them and give them a rough chop first. If you’re super ambitions, roast your own, but then this will cease to be the super fast and easy meal that it is…

Give them a couple minutes more, just to get heated through, then remove the garlic (if you want to) and put the mixture into a blender or tall cup (if you have an immersion blender) and puree until completely smooth.

The finished product. This is now ready to be poured over your favorite pasta. The original recipe called for feta, but since I don’t care for feta, I decided to omit it and see what it tasted like on its own before deciding whether or not to add some kind of cheese or cream. Turns out its delicious all on its own! This is a great substitute to tomato sauce. So much so, in fact, that the next day I used the leftovers as  the base for a veggie pizza.

So there you have it! Another one of those fast and healthy meals – and this one is versatile too!

Ingredient list:

  • one medium onion, finely sliced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (whole or roughly chopped)
  • 250 g/1 to 1 1/2 cup roasted red peppers/piquillo peppers, roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a few tablespoons of parmesan cheese for topping

This makes enough sauce for 4 servings of spaghetti.

*Recipe adapted from Elli Krieger (cookingchanneltv.com) (link)