Saturday, January 30, 2016

Reinventing a Classic- Pork a L'Orange

Well I don't think I have to clarify to anyone that I absolutely love pork. After all, I am a long-time Iowa girl and I often choose pork as my preferred protein when creating new recipes. What's not to love about pork- it's lean, delicious and juicy, and right now one of the most affordable meats on the market. A far cry from the days of pork chops fried to the point of old shoe leather, today's pork is nearly foolproof. It's no wonder I've taken such an interest in adapting classic vintage recipes to a new pork twist. Take this classic French dish, A L'Orange, the timeless roasted duck with orange sauce. Citrus goes so perfect with pork, I'm sure you will love this dish as much as I do.

Widely known as a classic French dish, Duck a L'Orange has a foggy history. Many Italians claim it was stolen from them. Asian cooks all have their own interpretation of the dish as well, with warm spices. Food historians claim the dish may date back thousands of years to regions of the Middle East, where pairing citrus fruits with fatty meats like duck was quite common. Regardless of where and when it was first created, it enjoyed a huge surge in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s in Europe and the United States. I can remember my dad, the original seventies-era foodie, roasting duck on Christmas Day, slowly rendering out all that lovely fat, crisping the skin, and then lovingly basting on the orange juice mixture until the duck was a deep golden brown and more fragrant than any other dish I ever remember him cooking. Growing up in a family of Minnesota hunters and anglers, wild duck and pheasant were more often than not part of the holiday menu and duck was without a doubt my favorite.

As an adult I've grown quite attached to traditional French recipes. Of course, that does not mean that I am going to prepare them "by the book"- I am way too much of a rebel for that! So I set about perfecting the orange sauce so that it accompanies pork in just as a delicious a fashion as the original duck, and comes together quickly with readily available ingredients and I think I've hit it with this recipe. I pored over numerous recipes before coming up with what I think is the best adaptation, and because I used so many recipes for reference, I honestly can't claim this as "mine" except for the super simple sauce. After all, roast pork is a kitchen standard every cook should master.

Make this recipe on a heavy baking sheet with a rim. If you use a large sheet you can make a one-pan dinner, which is a pretty popular trend right now- sheet pan suppers.

Pork A L'Orange

1 boneless pork tenderloin roast, 2-3 lb
salt, pepper, meat seasoning of choice
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
cooking oil
baby potatoes, scrubbed
1 lb haricots vert, or fresh green beans, trimmed

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Use a heavy rimmed baking sheet. Spread a couple tablespoons of oil in the baking sheet. Pat the roast dry with paper towels. Season well with salt and pepper or your favorite meat seasoning or rub. I used both Montreal Steak Seasoning and Feiny's Everything Rub. Place the roast on the baking sheet. Combine the marmalade, lemon juice and mustard. Spoon over the roast.

Add the baby potatoes to the baking sheet, rolling around in the oil to coat the potatoes. Sprinkle with additional seasoning. Roast for 30 minutes.

On a second baking sheet, spread another tablespoon or so of oil. Add the haricots vert and toss in the oil. Sprinkle liberally with the seasoning. Place in the oven with the potatoes and pork. Roast until the meat registers 145 degrees. This should be 15-30 minutes more. Check the temp of the meat at 15 minutes. Remove from oven, place the meat on a board and tent with foil. Allow the meat to rest ten minutes. Slice the meat on the diagonal and serve with roasted potatoes and beans, drizzle with pan juices if desired. Sprinkle with freshly chopped herbs, such as thyme or parsley, if you like. 

Rest your roast! You'll keep the juice in the meat and off
your board
Right now pork is such an affordable option and this recipe really dresses up what can sometimes be a boring cut of meat. It's elegant enough for dinner guests or date night, and quick enough for a weeknight dinner. No need for a fancy sauce either- this roast makes its own with the pan juices and the orange marmalade. The juices melt the kinda-burned spots of the marmalade on the pan and create a rich caramelly drizzle that's really really good stuff.

Even the leftovers look delicious. Drizzle any leftovers
with a little of those caramelly pan juices.
The best time for making a roast is when it's cold and nasty outside. If I described the forecast for Des Moines right now you would be just as disgusted as me- snow and lots of it. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE winter, just not two feet of it. I might as well crank up the oven and throw in a pork roast, whip up some orange sauce, roast some baby potatoes and haricots vert and daydream about having lunch on a sunny day in a Parisian cafe. Sure beats the view out my window- swirling piles of snow.

Friday, January 29, 2016

On my bookshelf

I don't know why I haven't talked about this subject before! You would think this would be one of the first things I've ever blogged about. I am an avid reader. Love books.....LOVE books. I love the library, I love book stores. I love lots of different kind of books. I love reading text books of subjects I am interested in. I love silly Danielle Steele romances, Stephen King horror novels and biographies of all kinds of interesting people. I love reading about World War II, history, and I am hopelessly addicted to the "Prey" series of novels by John Sanford. My dad, also an avid reader, calls me regularly to ask what I'm reading, talk about what he is reading, and he sends me home with books he has finished with. My dad has always been the biggest influence in the things I study and am interested in, ever since I was a kid. You see, like me, my father is a cookbook collector.

The Chef says I am a cookbook hoarder and with the internet there is no longer a need for buying actual books. That may be, and my concession there was to stop buying cooking magazines every month (but I still buy one occasionally....shhhhh). My daughter and son-in-law gave me a Nook for Christmas last year- a wonderful and very thoughtful gift, as my kids know me oh so well and knew that I'd always wanted one, and would use it all the time (and I do). But when it comes to cookbooks I still need the feel of the paper, the weight of the book in my hand, the smell of the pages. I need an actual book. 

I have cookbooks of all sorts. I have many many many of the "thin" Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks. They aren't much bigger than magazines but are hard-covered and single subject, such as Meals in Minutes, Barbeque and Salads. I have three of the classic red-checked-covered Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. I have old church cookbooks. Ladies' Auxiliary cookbooks. Celebrity chefs, some autographed and some not, and the classics like The Joy of Cooking and Julia Child's most famous book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I have cookbooks you might never have heard of. I have cookbooks many of you probably own. Some are worn from years of reading and reference. Some are taped back together and the dust covers long gone. I even have a cookbook compiled by Mary Kay consultants- their favorite recipes.

But why cookbooks? Well, to me, as a young woman years ago, I had no earthly idea what to do with food. I never cooked until I was on my own. I never had to. Never took home ec or any of those life skills classes in high school, preferring to take French and art and sciences instead. Back in those days Meredith Publishing used to have an annual book sale. Cookbooks were dirt cheap and I just started getting a few every year, and reading. Meredith Publishing, for those who may not know, is the company that publishes Better Homes and Gardens and happens to be headquartered in Des Moines- how awesome is that? Reading the recipes, seeing all the beautiful pictures, and growing tired of pizza, burgers and those boil in bag frozen meals (before microwaves were common), I began to experiment with cooking. 

At first it wasn't pretty. Those early meals were not often successful but I never gave up. Moving to England for several years and raising a family in a tiny English town with no drive thrus meant Mommy had to figure it all out, and I did. Quite successfully! I won my first recipe contest in 1983 at the ripe old age of 21, thanks to all those cookbooks.

These days my style of cooking is very diverse. Home cooking to nouvelle cuisine. Home canning to a luxe gourmet dinner for two. I still look to my cookbooks for inspiration. Of the 400plus I own I do have some definite favorites. Let's talk about some of them.

Chez Bonne Femme Cookbook- One of my very favorites is also one of my newest. The Chez Bonne Femme Cookbook by Wini Moranville has landed a spot on the top ten list immediately. I will definitely wear this one out, undoubtedly. Getting to meet Wini in person was a real delight- and if you follow either of my blogs you have seen at least a couple posts about Wini or the cookbook or a recipe of hers. Unlike Julia Child all those years ago, Wini brings French cooking into the American kitchen with some recipes that are incredibly easy and delicious, no obscure ingredients and techniques most of us are already accustomed to. If you don't own this book, you simply must get it.

Anything by Ina Garten- How can you NOT love Ina and her beautiful kitchen, the big glass "Ina Jars" on the counter (yes I have Ina Jars of my very own), and her outstanding recipes? Seriously, besides this incredible life story she has, she lives in the Hamptons and owned that gorgeous little shop The Barefoot Contessa. Ina's recipes are simply amazing. She makes everything look so easy and perfect. Her Perfect Roast Chicken is something everyone should master. Pot pie goes gourmet when it is Seafood Pot Pie. Her Lemon Loaf Cake is the perfect picnic dessert. She masters everything from bechamel sauce to roasted potato wedges, and you can too.

The Quarterback Killer's Cookbook- Of course I would own this one. I can't say for sure if I bought it as a Viking fan or a cookbook collector but regardless, it's turned out to be one of my favorites. Former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen is much more than a sports figure. He is a hunter, supporter of veterans, restaurateur, and surprisingly, a pretty amazing cook. His book is FUN- stories and pictures from his childhood, his father and grandfather- his idols- and recipes from ducks and pheasant to fish to bears, elk and deer. How about some Ostrich Steaks with Piperade? Venison with Blackberry and Horseradish may be more up your alley? I'm big into braising.....wonder if I can track down some bear meat for Braised Bear Steaks?  Even if I don't get to cook too many of the recipes, this cookbook has been a fun addition to my collection and is very treasured, If only it were autographed........

Nadia G's Bitchin' Kitchen Cookbook- Speaking of autographs.....If you don't know who Nadia Giosia is, you need to get out more. The Cooking Channel's star of Bitchin' Kitchen is a ball of fun- she reminds me so much of myself as a younger woman- all high heels and heavy metal attitude. Pepper Crusted Teriyaki Tuna with Wasabi Smashed Potatoes is just one of the recipes in her cookbook that YES !!! sports an autograph *insert happy face* Her cookbook is arranged as complete meals, rather than chapters on meats, vegetables, appetizers, etc., and have silly titles such as Break-up Bonanza, consisting of Splitsville Salad with Caramelized Figs, Reverse BLT, Mascarpone Honey Toast; The Single Life, which is Crispy Salmon with Leek Sauce, Mac & Cheese and Perfect Spinach Salad with Grilled Pears. Fun stuff, great recipes and lots of useful information laid out in a wacky rock girl style this is one awesome cookbook, or as Nadia G might say "Bitchin!!"

The 150 Best American Recipes- Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens did a fantastic job compiling recipes from all kinds of sources- cookbooks, magazines, newspapers, and so on. The Appetizers section contains some truly delightful tidbits. Vodka-spiked Cherry Tomatoes with Pepper Salt sounds like a bite-sized Bloody Mary. Lots of delicious soups and interesting salads made the cut, and entrees from Black Bean Burgers to Shrimp and Grits to Braised Short Ribs make me want to cook everything!! The cookbook includes breakfast and brunch recipes, breads, and an awesome selection of desserts. Lots of gorgeous photos fill the pages of this fantastic collection of recipes. I think this cookbook was actually a gift, and couldn't have been a more perfect gift for me.

I really have way too many books to really pin down the absolute favorites, and what I am loving changes from season to season, year to year, as I learn more techniques and discover new foods and ingredients. You could say........I've never met a cookbook I didn't like!

Note: Almost all of the above books are available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble- except for the vintage and community cookbooks. Those I have collected over the years from book sales, garage sales, thrift shops and even a few on Ebay. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

FoodieLife- Iowa Taste of Elegance

One of my foodie resolutions for 2016 was to attend more foodie events this year, and thanks to the awesome people at Iowa Pork I am kicking the year off with a foodie event in January- the Iowa Taste of Elegance culinary competition. Every year the Iowa Pork Producers hold this competition where chefs from all over Iowa battle it out for prize money and bragging rights in this invite-only event focusing on pork and some of the most fantastic dishes imaginable. This event not only give the chefs a chance to show their culinary skills, but highlights the hard work and dedication of Iowa's pork farmers, and their commitment to safe, wholesome and budget-friendly fresh pork. Held on January 25, 2016 at the Downtown Des Moines Marriott, this is some serious competition with some serious recognition-
  • Chef Par Excellance wins a trip to the National Pork Summit at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California and a $1,000 cash prize.
  • Plaque and cash prizes for Top Three Chefs and Peoples' Choice
  • Evening reception to celebrate the dishes, present awards and select the Peoples' Choice
This event is also a very important fundraiser for the Food Bank of Iowa's Back Pack Program. Matt Unger,  program manager for the Food Bank of Iowa shared the story of Iowa's hungry children and how important the Back Pack Program is. The statistics he shared about hunger in my home state were truly shocking, and the Back Pack Program helps fight childhood hunger by sending needy kids home over the weekends with a back pack filled with nutritious food. Listening to him talk about how some kids literally survive on the weekly school lunch program broke my heart.

The Chefs- photo courtesy of Jenny Unternahrer
from In the Kitchen With Jenny
This is not the first time I have sat in the comfort of the Marriott's elegant banquet hall, enjoying food the likes of which some people will never experience. The story of the Food Bank of Iowa's program reminded me of the previous year's Culinary Fight Night, which benefited Des Moines' homeless and also brought a lot of awareness to the suffering around us.

For this 30th year of the event, the folks at Iowa Pork invited a group of Iowa bloggers to attend. Many of us were invited to attend the Iowa Pork Tour last July- you might remember the two day event that featured a tour of a modern pork producing farm, an exclusive multi-course pork dinner with wine pairing, and a day of cooking and food styling classes. I made some great new friends over those two days, and I am so looking forward to seeing them again at this event! I asked my very good friend Vivian to go along. She and I went to the Cooking With George class a year ago and had a wonderful time, and we share so many things in common, not the least of which is our appreciation for good food, good conversation and good wine and beer. We had a great time sampling all the goods and chatting with Shawnee, from the Iowa Pork Board, other Iowa bloggers Jenny Unternahrer, Cristen Clark, Jenni Ward and Erin Brenneman from Brenneman Pork.

Who is competing? Let's run down the chefs for 2016-

Brian Pomerenk from the Iowa Machine Shed restaurant prepared his pork dish, Country Harvest, a tender juicy roast pork with a homestyle sage stuffing and two sauces. 

Chad Myers, Dubuque Golf and Country Club's dish was Wickham Farms Red Wattle Pork Shoulder with Sausage and Pork Tenderloin Roulade. This dish was stunningly beautiful and surprisingly, served cold. It made me think of a a French style picnic.

Daniel Dennis, from Lion Bridge Brewing Company also used Red Wattle pork in his Red Wattle Torchon in Four Seasons. The torchon was a headcheese type sausage, thickly sliced and garnished to celebrate each season, with flavors ranging from bring green arugula puree to pickled Hubbard squash. Another beautifully prepared dish, but one that just didn't do it for me.

The Wood Fire Grille in the Diamond Jo Casino in Northwood, Iowa sent Chef Jon Nelson to share his Ad Porc de Trois. This was one of my favorites. Handcrafted pork sausage, grilled and sliced, along with a hunk of roasted pork and a jerky-like thick cut cured pork served on a white bean puree with greens, presented in a paper thin wooden canoe.

Chef Carina Fleetwood from the Calypso Isle Casino prepared a beautiful Latin dish- Citrus Barbacoa Sopa with Smoky Tomatillo Salsa and Pickled Relish. Served on a thick masa cracker the pork was spicy and tender, the spiralized veggies made a gorgeous accompaniment. This was a favorite too.

Barry Greenwood, Executive Chef at the University of Iowa had MY vote, and my friend Vivian's vote too! His skewer of smoked pork shoulder, handmade chorizo, and hominy fritter draped with green chile sauce was my absolute favorite dish of all. The hominy fritter nailed it for me- creamy, crunchy, spicy and sweet all in one perfect bite. The pork was tender and perfectly smoked and the chorizo was so delicious. The sprinkle of pepitas brought some salty crunch. Perfection!

Anthony Valvoda of Bata's Restaurant in Cedar Rapids crafted the Duo of Pork Shoulder. Roasted pork shoulder and handmade mortadella spiked with pistachios and aronia berry reduction was an interesting and creative combination.

Des Moines' chef Aaron Holt, of RoCA, brought his Root Beer Braised Pork Shoulder Sliders with Crispy Sriracha Onions and Aioli in a root beer reduction is the restaurant's top selling pork entree, and I could see why. Homey, delicious, just the right amount of "messy" this sandwich would be equally at home in a trendy restaurant and a Super Bowl party. Definitely a crowd favorite.

The West Des Moines Marriott's Donald Garrett had another one of my very favorites. It was hard to decide who to vote for....... and when the chef offers up Mulled Apple Butter Bacon Wrapped Barbeque Pork with a crunchy slaw and corn muffin on the side, the stakes get raised significantly. This was comfort food hands down but a LOT more upscale than grandma's country kitchen.

Pam Oldes, from Eat on the Green in Oskaloosa created an Asian Pulled Pork Taco with Kimchi Slaw and spicy mayo. Yum yum YUM!!! The wonton shell was super crispy,light and not greasy AT ALL, the filling had the perfect kick of spicy heat. This one almost had my vote.....if not for that hominy fritter.

The chefs are judged on their entree recipe, but not the sides and accompaniments. Points are awarded on taste, appearance and originality with a total of 100 points possible. After the judging each chef will have a booth so they can meet the guests, share info about their restaurant and offer samples of their dishes. Guests vote on the samples and select the Peoples' Choice at the end of the reception. The evening's entries were judged by Chef Brad Scott, culinary instructor and head chef of Scott Community College; Chef Jonathan Cook, Executive Sous Chef of the Iowa Events Center, and Matt Unger. And the evening's results were.......

Peoples' Choice- Aaron Holt from RoCA

Premier Chef- Daniel Dennis from Lion Bridge Brewing Company
with the 2015 Iowa Pork Queen Christy Calderwood

Superior Chef- Anthony Valvoda from Bata's Restaurant
with 2015 Iowa Pork Princess Emily Cook

Chef Par Excellence- Jon Nelson from Wood Fire Grille

Several Iowa wineries and breweries were represented at the event as well..........which meant lots of fantastic beers and wines, from many new wineries I have never visited. I have several new favorites to hunt down, so look for some Happy Hour features in the future!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received passes to attend the event with no expectation of providing a written post- my post is entirely voluntary. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Shopping for Flavor- Penzey's

The catalog comes in the mail every few weeks. The temptation is there all over again, that insatiable need to use that free coupon. When I walk through the door all my common sense goes out the window and is replaced with a need to buy all the things. All the things.

Where exactly is this place that immediately turns me into a helpless soul wandering about, filling my basket with amazing tastes and smells? Penzey's of course! 

If you have never been inside a Penzey's store you really need to find one. They have everything you need to fully stock a kitchen with herbs and spices. They also carry a large selection of Penzey's blended seasoning mixes, many of which are salt free. From the French classics like Fines Herbes and Herbes de Provence to Penzey's favorites like Forward and Northwoods Seasoning, Bicentennial Rub and Rocky Mountain Seasoning, you will find exactly what you're looking for to make your recipes perfect.

It's been a few years since I signed up for the catalog. It's my favorite thing to get in the mail. There is always a coupon for a free product, often times it's a brand new product like a new seasoning blend, and once in a while it's Pick Your Favorite. This time around it's your choice of four different spices/blends in a new larger 3/4 cup sized resealable bag. The catalog is filled with all the amazing products they carry and interesting stories about folks who cook with the herbs and spices, including recipes. I've made many different foods from these recipes and enjoyed them all.

This trip to Penzey's I made a shopping list ahead of time. I needed a few things to complete some recipes I'm working on. Mustard seeds, for the new mustard recipes I have been playing with and can't wait to try, chipotle peppers for a home canned version of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, and of course a few things that accidentally ended up in my basket. How did that happen?

Now the recipes in the catalog are really great. From a very simple grilled chicken to more complicated curries and baking recipes, there is something for every skill level and they are all from other Penzey's users so every month it's more cooking magazine than catalog, plus the stories are very interesting and fun to read. In this current catalog there is a super fast chicken recipe that anyone can make, and the so mouth watering!

Grilled Northwoods Chicken
recipe from Penzey's

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Northwoods Seasoning
2 tsp olive oil or cooking spray

Pound the chicken breasts evenly until they are about 1/4 inch thick, Sprinkle liberally with Northwoods Seasoning on both sides. Cover and refrigerate up to an hour.

Rub the grill lightly with olive oil or spray with cooking spray. Heat the grill to medium high heat. Place the chicken on the grill and cook until lightly browned, about 3-5 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook until browned on the other side, another 3-5 minutes. Serve with grilled aspargus.

Isn't that easy? What a great weeknight dinner when you're just too tired to do much. I like making these chicken breasts, slicing them, and keeping them on hand for tossing on a salad for a quick lunch. Grilling also means a lot less cleanup, but if you don't have a grill you can saute these chicken breasts just as easily in a skillet. Now head over to Penzey's! They offer online shopping if you don't have a store nearby.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, January 23, 2016

It's cold out there!! Warm up with some soup!

It's my favorite time of year. Soup season. I mean come on, what could possibly be better on a cold winter day than a warm bowl of soup, some fuzzy slippers, and a warm kitty on your lap? Not much folks, not much.

Now that I am back in the city and working a sort of weird work schedule, getting home after 6 pm every night, cooking a full meal is often an overwhelming proposition. That is where soup comes in. With the right ingredients in the pantry I can come up with a bowl of wonderful that tastes like I've been cooking all day. I have been trying to expand my cooking horizons as much as possible and trying new things and squash soup is one of those expansions. There are so many wonderful flavors that go with squash I can't wait to try as many as I can.

Lately I have seen a growing trend of ready-made meal recipes for canning, like stews and soups, something people can just heat and eat. I have never been that kind of canner. I enjoy cooking too much and prefer to can the ingredients for a meal and spend time creating. This soup is going to make great use of something I canned an excess of- winter squash. Silly me, besides the normal pumpkin, acorn and butternut squashes I got for putting up, on a visit to an apple orchard one day I fell in love with a Blue Hubbard. If you have never seen a Hubbard squash these things are massive- weighing as much as 40-50 pounds even. I guess I learned my lesson the hard way- dozens of jars of canned squash chunks later I had way more than a family of two can reasonably use. 

I didn't learn my lesson when it came to apples either. When a couple friends offered apple trees for free picking, as much as we wanted, we picked about 25 grocery bags full. Cases of jars of apple butter, applesauce (we don't really like), apple pie jam and loads of pies I still had more apples. Time to can some apple slices to use in something else! 

I was browsing Saveur's website and came across a recipe for a winter squash soup that looked really delicious, and used a couple things I have more than enough of- squash and apples. So by switching up a few ingredients to utilize what I had on hand I was able to create a warm and filling soup, perfect for a cool autumn night. With cooler weather in the forecast it's time to bake some homemade bread and cook up a pot of soup!

Little Lake House Winter Squash and Apple Soup
adapted from 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
  • 3 cups mashed Hubbard squash (2 quart jars of cubes)*
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced apples (2 pint jars)*
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • homemade garlic croutons
Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Add ginger and garlic. Cook and stir for one more minute. Add spices and stir a minute, then add remaining ingredients (except butter, mint and paprika).

Allow to simmer for about 15-20 minutes to meld the flavors. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Puree using an immersion blender or food processor. Return to pot, heat through.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the mint and paprika. Remove from heat and allow to steep. Make the croutons using crusty bread and garlic olive oil.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls, drizzle with a bit of the mint butter and top with croutons.

Being a home canner I also had plenty of chicken stock on hand for this recipe, but store bought is just as good. You definitely want to make the croutons too. Get a good crusty French baguette, cut into nice size cubes and toss with melted butter and olive oil and toast them up in a cast iron skillet instead of in the oven. They retain a chewy texture that is just perfect for this creamy soup. Paired with a fall salad of mixed greens, toasted pecans and chopped fresh pears you have a delicious dinner in no time.

*You can also substitute 3 cups canned squash or pumpkin puree from the grocery store, and a little less than 1 1/2 cups of applesauce if you have it on hand- you're going to puree the soup anyway right? If you use fresh sliced apples you will want to simmer the soup until the apples are tender, which may be a bit longer.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Eat The World- Paella

Living back in the city definitely has its benefits, like great big grocery stores with everything I could possibly want to cook, for one thing. Book stores, because there is always room for more cookbooks, right? Gourmet shops and spice stores with literally hundreds of spices. All this access to ingredients and inspiration is really helping to drive my Eat The World theme and getting me to cook, and eat, foods from cuisines I have never tried before, like Spanish cuisine. Sure, I have had tapas before, who hasn't? I really wanted to get into something traditional and paella is widely regarded as the national dish of Spain. Rice has been a staple food in Spain since the 15th century, and with beautiful coastal regions, it's just natural that the Spanish combined rice with seafood and other meats in this delicious one-pan dish that gets its name from the vessel it's cooked in.

I highly recommend slicing your leeks lengthwise and then
rinsing under running water to remove all the grit. They can
be quite sandy and gross inside.
Back in the 18th century a typical paella might consist of rice, chicken, snails, duck, rabbit, beans, tomatoes, artichokes, fresh herbs and of course, saffron. In coastal regions there was usually more seafood and less meat in the dish. Modern paella is usually made with chicken, shellfish, and often a sausage such as chorizo. Regardless of region, there is one constant in all paella- good olive oil. 

A mezzaluna makes quick work of mincing herbs and it's
a fun little gadget to have around.
When I finally decided to go with paella, I started researching recipes. Paella can easily be a hundred dollar dinner, if not more. Imported rices, imported olive oils, and pricier seafood can drive the price up in a flash. I wanted to find ingredients that fit not only into my budget, but into the average family's budget as well. I also thought that the techniques and equipment needed to prepare the dish should not be too "cheffy" and should be so that the home cook can easily prepare this dish. Substituting chicken for more pricier fish options was a no brainer, especially since many Spanish cooks also use chicken. Choosing shrimp was a fairly reasonably priced option for seafood and using kielbasa instead of chorizo kept some of the flavors familiar but not too far from the original. As for the traditional paella pan, from which the dish gets its name, I don't own one, but I do own a wok-like pan from IKEA that will work perfectly. The lid has been broken but I've used a pizza pan many times for bigger skillets, and it did the trick again this time as well. I also did not need to stock up on exotic spices. Most cooks have paprika on hand, right? Saffron was the only spice that not everyone has on hand, but small bottles are relatively affordable. I've had a bottle of saffron on the shelf for a while, waiting to find the right dish. This version of paella is quite modern and I FINALLY get to use that saffron I have been hanging on to. 

Looks like a "big pinch" to me! Saffron has a very unique
fragrance and brings a gorgeous color to your recipe.
Easy Paella

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound medium shrimp, cleaned
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts or 3 thighs, cut into chunks
salt and pepper
8 oz kielbasa, sliced
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups rice 
2 tablespoons butter
generous pinch of saffron
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
small bunch scallions, sliced
handful chopped fresh Italian parsley
lime wedges

In a large skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium high heat. Cook the shrimp until pink and cooked through. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add more oil to the skillet if necessary. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to skillet, cooking until browned on all sides. Remove from skillet. 

Add the sliced kielbasa. Cook and stir until browned. Add the leeks and cook for one minute. Add the garlic and paprika and return the chicken to the pan.

Take the skillet off the heat and add the wine; return to high heat and boil until almost evaporated. 

Add the rice, butter, saffron and chicken stock. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook about 30 minutes until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Stir the shrimp, peas and sliced scallions into the rice; sprinkle with parsley and serve with lime wedges and crusty bread.

Now that I have one paella under my belt, I plan to try several versions. Many of the recipes I've seen had ingredients such as lobster, claims, snails, duck, legumes such as butter beans and other similar beans and vegetables of all kinds. Maybe a vegetarian version? Marinated and seared tofu as a protein? Scallops? This is going to be fun!