Thursday, February 26, 2009

For cooking club we went to Spain

not really but it almost felt like it with our spread of the Spanish food. Our club has been cooking together, monthly, for 3.5 years and although there are many cuisines we haven’t tried, there are some that are highly favored and repeated. Spanish is one of them. In the first few months after the birth of the club, I hosted a Tapas night and everyone brought all sorts of little bites. Some of the things we gorged that night were cheeses (Manchego, Idiazabal, Mahon), tortilla de patatas, coffee flan and sangria.

This month someone else hosted and picked Spanish cuisine as the theme (they are going to Spain in couple months, lucky them!)

The Spread (olives on the bottom left corner, aioli in the middle, turkey and mushroom croquetas on the bottom right and croquetas with piquillos on top right corner, Spanish style crostini with Fig preserves and Manchego cheese in the middle, Spanish beer, Romesco sauce (next to the beer))

a closer look at the Spanish style crostini with Fig preserves and Manchego cheese, made by MD

Crostini with mushrooms and serrano ham, meat filled croquettas and romesco sauce all made by EB

Olives on the ends from Jungle Jim's and Seasoned Marcona Almonds by MD

After researching and browsing the internets, I finalized my menu: Gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), Pollo en Pepitoria (chicken with egg yolk and nut sauce; I don’t know the precise translation of Pepitoria but from creating the dish I am translating it as egg yolk and nut sauce), Espinacas con Garbanzos (spinach with garbanzos, or chickpeas), and a classic Sangria.

Those that know Spanish food know that Gambas al Ajillo is a feature dish that’s offered in many coastal cities of Spain. I made this the first time for cooking club and I made it again. The key to a successful dish is the garlic and flavorful Spanish olive oil.

Gambas al Ajillo

50- 60 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/4- 1/2 cup Spanish olive oil
1 teaspoon Spanish Paprika
3 dried red chilies, broken in half
Freshly squeezed Lemon Juice
1 tablespoon Parsley, chopped

Marinate 50- 60 medium shrimp with garlic, olive oil, paprika, salt, and dried red chilies. On a grill pan or non stick pan, heat some of the olive oil from the shrimp on medium heat. Cook as many shrimps (with garlic and seasonings) as the pan can fit in one layer. Before serving, drizzle with chopped parsley. Serve hot with cooked garlic, olive oil and red chilies. (red chilies are for garnish, do not attempt to eat them). Serve with a soft bread to mop up the extra olive oil and garlic.

This was a good shrimp dish but not the best. I preferred the taste from the first time over this one because of salt and paprika. The flavors of garlic and Spanish olive oil were well rounded and made this dish; but unfortunately I oversalted the shrimp. It didn’t taste salty but the salt definitely stood out as did the paprika. When I made this the first time 3 years ago, I didn’t add paprika and I now know to skip paprika altogether in Gambas al Ajillo.

Pollo en Papitoria (adapted from a few recipes)

1/2 cup Spanish olive oil
1/2 cup all purpose flour, seasoned with salt and black pepper
3 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
4 split chicken breasts, bone in and skin on
2 slices bacon, cubed (Spanish Serrano ham is preferred but I didn’t find it in the local shops)
2 medium or 1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves
3 bay leaves
2 cups Spanish Sherry, I used Amontillado
4 cups chicken stock, homemade preferred
Pinch of saffron threads
Pinch of nutmeg, freshly grated
Salt and Freshly ground black pepper

4 ounce Almonds, blanched
3 cage free eggs, boiled (yolks separated from whites)
Pinch of salt
2- 5 tablespoons of water

Dredge both sides of the chicken in seasoned flour and shake off the excess. Heat a 7 quart Dutch oven (d-o) on medium high heat. When the d-o is hot add the olive oil. Add the chicken to the hot oiled d-o; it should sizzle when it first touches the d-o. Brown and cook for 4-6 minutes per side. Once it’s placed do not try to move it, when it’s ready to turn it’ll come off easily. After it’s browned on both sides, remove the chicken. Repeat the process if all of the chicken doesn’t fit in one layer. There will be browned/burned pieces of skin and/or meat in the d-o, that’s good stuff do not wash the d-o.

Add cubed bacon and brown for 1 minute, then add onions, garlic and bay leaves. Cook the mixture until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the sherry and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon; be sure to get all the browned bits. When the alcohol has evaporated, after about 3 minutes, add chicken stock, pinch of saffron, freshly grated nutmeg, salt and pepper and bring the mixture to a rolling bubble on high heat. Then stir in the chicken pieces and all its juices. When the liquid bubbles, turn heat down to low, cover and cook for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend blanched almonds, egg yolks, salt and water together. Once blended, it should be a wet sand consistency. After cooking the chicken for 30 minutes, add the sauce to the chicken and cook on low for 20 minutes more, uncovered.

The meat and skin will fall off the bones. For presentation, remove the bay leaves and serve the white and dark meat with sauce. You can leave the skin and bones in the pot for the flavor. (I am usually the one that gnaws on the bones for the meat in the comforts of my own home when no one’s watching).

I was skeptical about the egg yolk and almond sauce but ultimately it turned out to perfection. The chicken was moist from stewing in the liquids for 60+ minutes and flavorful while the sauce was creamy and rich. It was a hit with everyone; I would make it again any day.

Espinacas con Garbanzos(adapted from here, here and there)

1/4 cup Spanish olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups dried chickpeas (soaked overnight and slow-or-pressure cooked)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of saffron
1/2 can of tomatoes, stewed or diced
3 cups vegetable stock or water
2 cups fresh spinach, washed and drained
Pinch of nutmeg
Juice of half of lemon
Salt and Pepper

In a large saucepot on medium heat, add olive oil, onions and garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cooked chickpeas and cook for 6 minutes. Add ground cumin, salt, black pepper and saffron. After few minutes, stir in the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. Add stock or water, turn the heat up to high and bring to a bubble. When boiling, lower the heat and cook for 20 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add spinach, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cook for 5- 8 minutes, until the spinach has wilted. In the last couple minutes of the cooking, add lemon juice. Serve hot or warm.

With all its bold flavors from the cumin and saffron this was good. However I was disappointed in the beans. Actually I need to complain to the Indian grocer where I get my dried chickpeas. After soaking the little suckers overnight, cooking them in the crockpot for 5 hours and on the stove with onions, garlic and other seasonings for 2.5, they were still a little underdone. Hopefully with better luck on the beans, this will be just as good if not better next time. Overall it’s a great dish for entertaining guests or a quick weeknight meal (with precooked or canned beans).

Note: When using dried chickpeas (or any beans), do not add salt or acid until the beans are completed cooked. I don’t know the truth behind this but I’ve read that salt and acid keep the beans from cooking thoroughly.

And finally the best part, the alcohol, Sangria. I used this with one change, instead of peaches I used nectarines.

With a homemade flan or a quick dessert, this is a perfect meal for entertaining close friends and family. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all the Spanish cooking and eating it’s that they really treasure their relationships and time with each other. Try some of these recipes or any Spanish dishes, invite some friends and drink sangria. And on that note, I’ll stop writing sappy stuff so I don’t get booed off the blogosphere.

Monday, February 23, 2009

the search for Best Pizza in Cincinnati continues....

This is a first for this blog, we have a guest blogger; please welcome Avani of Cincinnati Imports who shares her opinion of the best pizza in town.

BEST PIZZA IN TOWN: The home of Liberal Foodie and her Husband

So when I heard that Liberal Foodie and Get in Mah Belly were going to be evaluating the local pizza joints of Cincinnati, my first reaction was: “Good luck and Godspeed.” I have had pizzas from several establishments in the area and overall I have found no places that I crave pizza from, with the exception of Deweys. Now mind you, Deweys is recommended for those of you who enjoy gourmet pizzas with toppings that you don’t find at most hole-in-the-wall, speed-dial pizza places. But I am not here to review Deweys, I am sure Liberal Foodie and Get in Mah Belly will do that soon enough (I hope). I am here to review the best homemade pizza I have had in years, which occurred this past weekend at the home of Liberal Foodie and her Husband. I will attempt to use the rating scales that were used in their prior review for consistency.

Where to start….well, I think it has to be the crust. Oh, the delicious and crispy crust provided via raw dough from my favorite grocery store, Trader Joe’s. It was a garlic and herb dough that needed to be rolled out or as Liberal Foodie’s husband did, pressed out by hand. This resulted in a weird pizza shape, one that was somewhat rectangular and oblong and diamond – I can’t really describe it and unfortunately, we ate the pizza so fast, there are no pictures, but I digress. The dough instructions stated that we needed to let the dough sit for 20 minutes, which was also recommended by the check-out girl at Trader Joe’s. Well, as a result of drinking too many mimosas that morning and afternoon, we let the dough sit for probably 1 hour. After pressing it out, we placed it in the oven for 6-8 minutes (a necessary step for the penultimate crispy crust we experienced). CRUST RATING: 5.

Then we topped it with Liberal Foodie’s homemade pizza sauce. Like her, I am not a big fan of sweet sauces but this sauce was not sweet at all. It was light and tasted of fresh tomatoes and herbs. I am not sure what she put in the sauce to be honest (hopefully she will blog about that recipe soon), but the sauce was divine and I am sure had a bit of crack in it (SAUCE RATING: 4.5 out of 5). One of the guests at the house was a vegetarian so we decided to do a Veggie Supreme pizza. After spreading the sauce on the pizza, we added toppings, which included Trader Joe’s mozzarella cheese, fresh onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms. I have to say, this pizza could not have turned out more perfect. The cheese was perfectly melted, the kind that is somewhat stringy when you cut it and melts in your mouth upon first bite (CHEESE RATING: 4.5 out of 5). The toppings had cooked perfectly too with the vegetables being crisp-tender (TOPPING RATING: 4 out of 5 but only because I like fancy and/or meat toppings typically).

Trust me when I tell you that this was one of the best pizzas I have had in Cincinnati. Now all we have to do is convince Liberal Foodie and her husband to open up a real pizza-joint in this city.