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Category: main dish

Autumn in Florida {Pumpkin Pottage with Kale, MahiMahi and Bacon}

Florida vs London

The rain was coming down in torrential buckets after the stifling heat of the day, enticing my curiosity to go outside and observe nature in the tropics. In Florida the rain is different to that in London, where moments before I had been transported by the prologue of the book I’ve just started, Capital. Here at this latitude, it is almost always accompanied by a fanfare of thunder and cracking that makes one realise the heavens can be quite ferocious and nature has no friends (as we say in Spain).

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Paleo Takeout {Book Review + Recipe, Plus a Giveaway!}

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I’ve been in a no-cooking rut lately … in all fairness life has been topsy turvy for over a year and especially this summer, where I have been travelling in Europe, and unfortunately it wasn’t for leisure.  During this time I have been playing musical kitchens (and musical countries), and at some points have had no kitchen at all … I’m so eager to be reunited with my kitchen appliances, gadgets and having the freedom to experiment again … but in the meantime, and to use the popular vernacular, I’ve fallen off of the Paleo bandwagon so many times, I have lost count…and probably have a few bruises as proof (for example, my hair has seen much healthier days).

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I’ve eaten bread. Because eating a sandwich has never been my thing but convenience got the better of me. Mea Culpa. Over the summer, I’ve eaten wheat-flour-coated fried seafood in Spain. I actually didn’t have a beer in Germany, but ate a breaded schnitzel. (But these are lesser evils as I was travelling. And that’s a valid excuse.) Mea Culpa. Returning to the US though has thrown me overboard: I’ve engaged in the art of rummaging through kitchen drawers seeking the perfect takeout menu. And worst of all, I’ve ordered and eaten the stuff. And not just once. A few times. Yes. And I had a kitchen, so there was no excuse. Except that takeout is so easy. So convenient … I’ve had pizza, filled with gluten and possibly a myriad of other things I generally avoid. I’ve eaten Chinese takeout (it’s better not to even go there). And Sushi takeout. Yes, I confess with remorse. But like I said, it was easy. It was convenient. And I couldn’t resist. Mea Culpa. I could keep ‘fessing up… but the important thing to take from the lesson that I have learned is that my stomach and digestive system can no longer take all the “junk”, no matter how irresistible the food may be or how lazy I am feeling or how convenient it may seem. I will regret for hours the few moments of pleasure these foods (and experiences) bring me.

Therefore, I must renounce the temptation of convenience in the name of trying to fuel my creative juices to encourage my return to a stable Paleo lifestyle and improved health. The problem is the juices are not really flowing and with a small kitchen, no appliances beyond a coffee maker and a toaster, I’ve been totally uninspired until this past week. The culprit source of inspiration is none other than takeout food!

carnitasWhat? How can this be? …

A couple of weeks ago, Russ Crandall offered his new cookbook Paleo Takeout: Restaurant Favorites Without the Junk for review and I jumped on the opportunity. I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into, but I did have a feeling that disappointed I would not be … what I didn’t know was how pleasantly surprised I would be and just what a great inspiration this book truly is! The creative juices are back and with a vengeance!

I have followed Russ, aka The Domestic Man, on Instagram for a couple of years now. I’m not sure how I discovered him, probably through one of the other Paleo/Primal big names, such as Bill and Hayley Staley from Primal Palate or maybe the Paleo Parents or Nom Nom Paleo…the point is that I have always found Russ’ approach to Paleo intriguing – Russ eats white rice; and I believe you will not find a single recipe for a dessert on his blog and definitely there are none in this cookbook! That to me is pretty awesome. (Ironically, I have not been following his blog regularly; something that now I’ve already changed by subscribing to the email list.) Russ is a doyen in his own right and a wealth of information and ideas! He is also what I would call a “common sense eater”.

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I have been Paleo/Primal since the end of 2012; and since then, I’ve learned, altered my template, and have seen a number of changes in the dogma (for example, white potatoes were still vilified when I started and are now widely accepted as a whole food and safe starch). What I love about Russ’ perspective is that it is not pigeonholed in strict theories. It’s an approach personally adapted to fit his health and lifestyle needs and those of his family; and it’s constantly evolving as he’s learning. Russ brings together in his “common sense” approach all of these concepts: Paleo/Primal, The Perfect Health Diet, Weston A. Price Foundation principles, A Whole Foods Approach and JERF – Just Eat Real Foods. As I mentioned, he and his family regularly eat white rice for example and include healthy dairy products. You can learn more about Russ and his philosophy here.

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He goes a step further with a formula he has created called “The Four Corners Plate”. This is described on his website and in Paleo Takeout and is a useful template for those starting off in this healthy and nutritious diet/lifestyle.

Paleo Takeout is Russ’ second cookbook (the first is Ancestral Table) and with which he just made the New York Times Bestseller list! (Congratulations Russ!) Russ’ story is amazing, having suffered a stroke at age 24, and fully recovering and then finding a healing path for his autoimmune condition through the Paleo diet. His blog is full of delicious recipes and health tips, presented in an elegant, no-nonsense fashion with an historical and international approach which makes reading it a pleasure and a learning experience.

And Paleo Takeout: Restaurant Favorites Without the Junk is a cookbook you will want to get now and keep forever! It’s a cookbook every respectable home cook must have. I kid you not. I’m not using a marketing gimmick. I truly and really mean it. It doesn’t matter if you are Paleo or not. This book is amazing. You’re going to want to make every single recipe out of it, and on top of that you’re going to want to experiment with your own ideas (kind of like I did below in the picture).

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Paleo Takeout is like a condensed and very easy to understand cooking course in Asian dishes and other extras. Included are tutorials on how to wrap Asian rolls, how to bread meats and use different batters for frying (all healthy and Paleo-friendly), how to make crispy fried chicken, and how to make Asian meatballs (beef, chicken, pork and fish too!). Essential techniques such as stir-frying, grilling and thickening sauces with starch slurry are explained and demystified. And there are recipes for pizza dough, flatbread and hamburger buns!

Most of the ingredients are readily available in most larger-metropolis supermarkets; and the harder to find ones (such as possibly the Chinese cooking wine, mirin or rice vinegar) can always be ordered on Amazon or via Thrive Market if you’re a member; or if you have access to a local Asian market, I’m sure you can find them there. Once you stock up on the basics, you will not be able to put this book down. Maybe even before stocking up, you’ll experiment with the things you do have on hand inspired by Russ’ scrumptious recipes, like I did last week when I opened the book to page 59 and saw the picture of Chow Mein. I had completely different vegetables in the fridge, but was so determined to eat Chow Mein that night (just like takeout), that I adapted it as you can see on my Instagram feed.

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All the recipes have easy to follow instructions, many of which are accompanied by suggestions for experimenting with more vegetables and different ingredients, encouraging the home chef to expand his/her knowledge and explore away, taking home cooking of our favourite and traditional takeout staples to another level!

And if you’re thinking you’re going to be stuck in the kitchen for hours prepping and cooking, think again! What makes Paleo Takeout even more amazing and a must-have cookbook is that the majority of the recipes can be made in record time! Forty-one (41) of the recipes can be enjoyed “Fridge to Face” in 30 minutes! Another 30+ recipes take between 30-60 minutes to throw together. The marinated dishes, although recommended to plan ahead for more intense flavours, can actually be enjoyed in less time. And lastly, there are about 40 recipes which you can make in batches, freeze and then quickly reheat for instant and very convenient satisfaction! You can’t beat that. Not even with real takeout! And remember, you’ll be cooking with wholesome ingredients, “giving you all the gratification and none of the regret”!

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At the back of the cookbook is the pictorial recipe index, which is captivating and reads like a Asian/American takeout menu that has me salivating for all of the dishes since I opened the book. It is here, in the index, where I am incited to discover the essence of this cookbook and where I find myself …

… transported to Chinatown in NYC about to order a bowl of Singapore Noodles. Or should I first start with a bowl of Hot & Sour Soup? I’m always intrigued by how the flavours are such a contrast between the slightly sour notes and the spiciness. And I rather would like something warm. There’s Egg Drop Soup. Egg Foo Young. General Tso’s Chicken. An American favourite. Moo Goo Gai Pan. Moo Shu Pork …

I flip to the next pages. OMG! Wait. Could it be that I’m back in Hanoi about to eat Pho and bite into a fresh and fragrantly sultry Summer Roll? My eyes are starting to get bigger than my stomach…make that pho, summer rolls and an exotic Green Papaya Salad. Yes, definitely. I’ve even made that one at home after my trip to Vietnam a few years ago. I know that will not disappoint.

Pad Thai. That’s it. I’m having that. I love pad thai. Can you tell I have a penchant for sweet, salty and sour tang?

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My eyes are quick though. I am back in Barnes (my neighbourhood of London) and about to order Chicken Tikka Masala from the little Indian restaurant down the street from my flat.  Or maybe I’ll have the Lamb Vindaloo. There’s Kare Kare too.

No… stop, there’s Pancit and Lumpia! I haven’t had those in ages! I used to eat them regularly when I was growing up in Spain and had what seemed like a gazillion Filipino friends. I remember learning how to wrap the rolls and selling the lumpia for our senior year fundraisers.

Alas! The takeout menu pages continue. Aren’t all takeout menus like being presented with a bunch of snippets of your favourite novels? There are more mouth-watering dishes. I can’t decide if I want to be American tonight. A bunch of crispy and juicy Fried Chicken in a Basket would be so delicious right now. Or maybe I could go for a pizza with extra garlic and a bunch of cool toppings like we get in Mystic… with this pizza I know I wouldn’t have a stomach ache afterward. Maybe I’ll have a Burger Party for two instead. And indulge in some Tzatziki Sauce to go with my burgers.

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No that’s for another occasion. I’m doing Mexican tonight. The succulent cilantro-topped Pork Carnitas with a flatbread that looks just like soft corn tortilla shells look divine. Ummm…but I think I saw something a couple of pages back that was more irresistible.

I flip backwards because that’s what I always do with a menu, especially a takeout one. I read through it once and then I go back through it again. I must make sure that I get the best meal. There’s so much from which to choose… and I’m not sure what tickles my fancy today, right now, because takeout is like that: I can have whatever I want. And tomorrow I can pick and choose something new, exotic and different. And I’m losing patience with myself as I’m getting hungry. And everything is enticing.

Paleo Takeout is like no other takeout though. What makes it unique is that you know the ingredients of this takeout are not going to upset your tummy. You won’t have heartburn. You can eat gluten-, chemical- and guilt-free. And your health will thank you for it….

I’ve never been to Japan or Korea. Sure, I eat sushi all the time. I’ve made kimchi. But there are more intriguing dishes on this menu in this cookbook. The Haemul Pajeon or Korean Seafood Scallion Pancake looks beautiful. The ingredients sound fascinating together. There’s Dashi too. Ramen and Miso. Gyudon and something called Okonomiyaki! Yes, let’s grab the chopsticks Russ the publishing house so graciously included and take a bite … but I have to go back to the first page again. There was something there that is calling me …

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I just landed on Gerrard Street and the neighbouring blocks. London’s Chinatown is boisterous and crowded, yet elegant and much cleaner than its NYC counterpart. Here one can find a range of very authentic Chinese, Korean and Thai food. I see myself walking toward the red arches and then my eyes stop at some crispy Spring Rolls. I love spring rolls. And there’s the Chow Mein that inspired my dinner last week. And there’s Vegetables in White Sauce. Honey Sesame Chicken. Szechuan Beef and Bam Bam Shrimp. Love that name. Oh my! There’s more…

Shrimp with Lobster Sauce. Now that I have never tried. “They say” it’s a Chinese-American dish and a takeout favourite. Lobster sauce. Are there lobster pieces in that? Or maybe some sort of lobster seasoning? Chinese soups and sauces are mysterious to me. How can there possibly be such sophisticated combinations of flavours in those sauces that are almost translucent yet so precisely thickened? … I’m having that. I could never replicate that at home, right? That makes it more tantalising.

But wait! I’m not on Gerrard Street. And I’m actually privy to the secret behind the sauce enigma. Shhh… you can be too… and you can make it tonight instead of having takeout! And you can’t beat the timing on this one. Twenty minutes from fridge to fork (and no lobster required)!

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Russ is letting me share with you a taste of what you can find in this amazing cookbook. Below you can find the recipe for Shrimp with Lobster sauce, which we’ve enjoyed now a couple of times and I’m sure you will too.

But wait, it gets better. You can be the proud owner of your own Paleo Takeout: Restaurant Favorites Without the Junk by entering my very first giveaway. However as there will only be one lucky winner, I would urge you to buy this cookbook as it will become a reference in your kitchen and you will never, ever want to rummage through your drawers again in search for a takeout menu, much less order from one!

Shrimp with Lobster Sauce

“To be honest, I had never heard of this dish until my family moved to the East Coast in 2008. I first ordered it out of curiosity; what the heck is lobster sauce, and why are they selling it for so cheap? … Turns out that lobster is a Cantonese-inspired dish made with broth and eggs, similar to other sauces that are poured over lobster dishes (there’s the connection!).”

~ Russ Crandall, The Domestic Man

Ingredients, for 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 10 minutes.

For the Slurry:

  • 3 tablespoons arrowroot starch (tapioca starch can also work)
  • 2 tablespoons cold water

For the Sauce:

  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup Chinese cooking wine
  • 2 teaspoons tamari
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 pounds (c. 1 kilo) raw shrimp, peeled and cut in half
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, rinsed in cool water and drained
  • 3 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, thinly sliced
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 green onions, sliced

Method

Stir together the arrowroot starch and cold water to create a slurry, then set aside.

In a stockpot, combine the sauce ingredients and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Once the sauce is simmering, add half of the arrowroot starch slurry and stir until thickened, about 1 minute, adding more slurry if needed. Add the shrimp, carrots, peas and mushrooms, return to a simmer, and simmer until the shrimp are just pink, about 1 minute.

Slowly pour the eggs though a fork into the sauce. Whisk gently with a fork to prevent the eggs from clumping, then allow to cook through, about 30 seconds. Stir in the green onions and serve.

Note: Dried shiitake mushrooms can be used in this dish; just soak them in warm water for 30 minutes before slicing.

Note from The Saffron Girl: I don’t like peas and I didn’t have shiitake mushrooms available. Instead, I used some leftover fresh cabbage that I had, slicing it julienne style and thinly sliced some brown button mushrooms. Because the cabbage is a bit tougher than the peas, I first allowed it to cook in the sauce’s liquid ingredients until almost tender (about 7 minutes). I then added the slurry and continued with Russ’ instructions. Also, I didn’t have Chinese cooking wine, and instead used half the amount stated in the recipe of regular (light) red cooking wine; hence the slightly darker colour. To compensate for the change of flavours, I added a bit more tamari than Russ calls for. 

This dish is really tasty and versatile. I used the leftovers as a sauce over some pork chops, as you can see in one of the pictures above. Delicious!

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G I V E A W A Y

To win your copy of Paleo Takeout: Restaurant Favorites Without the Junk, please follow these instructions:

  1. Sign up to receive The Saffron Girl newsletter (Email subscription).
  2. Follow me on Instagram.
  3. Follow me on Facebook.
  4. Follow me on Pinterest.

Please use Rafflecopter to log your entries and unlock extra bonus entries!

A Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: No purchase is necessary to win. This giveaway is open to everyone worldwide. However, it is void where prohibited by law. There are 3 mandatory entries and 4 optional/bonus entry opportunities. The giveaway will be open from Thursday, 3 September 12:00am until Saturday, 19 September 12:00am. 

A winner will be chosen randomly through Rafflecopter. I will announce the lucky winner on Monday, 21 September. The winner will have 48 hours to contact me with his/her full name, complete postal address and phone number (please include the country code). Please make sure to check your spam folder in case the email should go there. The email will be coming from thesaffrongirl [at] gmail.com. Should the winner not respond within this timeframe, a new winner will be chosen at random. The winner’s contact information will be forwarded to Victory Belt Publishing to send out the prize. The Saffron Girl is not responsible for lost, stolen or misplaced prize.

Good luck!

Ephemeral Time {Calves Liver à la Bordelais + Avocado and Radish Salad}

“This is the first time I’ve known what time it was…” Bree was ignoring both Mrs. Bug’s raptures and the [astrolobe] in her hands. I saw her meet Roger’s eyes, and smile – and after a moment, his own lopsided smile in return. How long had it been for him?

Everyone was squinting up at the setting sun, waving clouds of gnats from their eyes and discussing when they had last known the time. How very odd, I thought, with some amusement. Why this preoccupation with measuring time? And yet, I had it, too.

I laid my hand on [Jamie’s], where it rested on the box [of the astrolobe]. His skin was warm with work and the heat of the day, and he smelt of clean sweat. The hairs on his forearm shone red and gold in the sun, and I understood very well just then, why it is that men measure time. 

They wish to fix a moment, in the vain hope that so doing will keep it from departing.” ~ From The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon

Time is a precious, ephemeral thing. When you’re in the midst of something, it seems like it will last forever, you have time to say things, do things, and leave things for tomorrow, mañana, mañana…. But when time goes by, you see how quickly it evaporated before your eyes, as if it never existed. It never was.

When we arrived in Connecticut last June, the days were still warm and the evenings long, boat rides were still possible and enjoying the kaleidoscope of purples, reds, oranges, and blues of the setting sun brought memories of our times shared in the past when we all lived here. We had the whole world ahead of us, many dreams and hopes (and possibly some apprehensions). Slowly, but surely Fall inched upon us with its foliage exploding in all possible hues of reds, yellows, oranges and greens. A sight to behold with one’s eyes at least once in life, as nature surpasses all conceivable dreams.

Autumn gave way to the bareness of Winter, that would this year prove to be a long and bitter one, literally and metaphorically. Branches now serving as the framework to nature’s delicate and perfect snow and ice sculptures…Winter seemed endless this year. It was the coldest the North East has experienced in over 30 years. That last winter that all the natives over a certain age can recall and tell you about. They describe in detail how they used to walk across the Mystic River and how cold and raw it was.

And then as the snow reluctantly melted away and we approached the equinox of Spring, time fell silent and still. But only for a moment. A fleeting moment. But a definitive moment it was. Soon we could see patches of grass again, the daffodils timidly peeked up through the ground, the deer finally ventured out on the marshes, and a fox or two skirted by our front porch… everything was coming back to life. Nature’s annual renewal.

The bright yellow flowers of the forsythia came and went so quickly it seemed like a reverie, and the pink blossoms of the magnolias exploded one day and then all of a sudden the ground was covered in a blanket of pink. We are now coming back full circle to azure skies, calm seas, lazy afternoons and welcomed breezes… Summer is almost upon us. But as I write this, time is flying by. It’s slipping away…Where has the past year gone? Have I really spent almost twelve months in Connecticut?

All things must come to an end, and soon I will be departing for Europe to resolve my divorce and soon my father will return home as well. We won’t be leaving as we came. And my family staying here won’t remain as they were. We’ve changed forever, although nature will remind us with the seasons that change is inevitable. Only time will tell us what the future holds for us all. It’s been a tough year behind us, filled with a great, irreparable loss whose emptiness will last until the end of time, and yet we have also been afforded the time to be together as a family again, my father, my late mother, my brother, my sister-in-law, and my two lovely nieces and me. To enjoy each other’s company. Share tears, smiles and laughter. To give each other warm hugs that melt the heart. To cook and eat together. To be one.

It may be a long time before we have the chance to be one again. We will see each other separately I know. And technology will keep us connected even in the distance, even as many things will never be as they were. New times are ahead of us. And with hope and new illusions and a prospect of happiness or at least of peace, we go forward, holding on to time.

All the years I was living in Germany and later the two years in London, we travelled to Spain by car and traversed France from corner to corner, sometimes zigzagging, more often than not though in a straight line. I kept insisting we stop, take detours to see the historical towns and castles, but only a couple of times did we have the time. We were mostly on a schedule to get there quickly, squeese out as much time as possible being in the warm sun of Southern Spain, and then make our way back.

We did however, always make time to eat. And yet, with all those lunches and dinners (breakfasts don’t count for this dish), not once did I try calves liver à la Bordelais. Not once! That’s a very strange occurrence for me because whenever I’m travelling or in a new place, one of my first goal is to eat as much of the local cuisine as possible. My other goal is to see and experience as much as I can fit in within the limited time. I tend to exhaust every minute. My motto is that I never know when I’ll be back, and under such a premise, I cannot and will not waste time.

I discovered this recipe in Mimi Thorrison’s A Kitchen in France, A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse. Although I marked a number of recipes and read the book front to back in one evening, I’ve only made this dish, as I’ve not made the time to concentrate on others. I’ve made it now a number of times, changing things here and there and finally adapting it my way. My beautiful mom loved it the first time I made it for her; and my father and I have enjoyed it in the various adaptations I’ve experimented with. This last one, we both find the best. It’s less buttery and lighter.

It’s hard to source a good quality calves liver where we have been living. I find that essential and would suggest procuring organic, pasture-raised from your local butcher to get the full benefits of eating offal. And the type of butter is also important. I love Kerrygold salted (I could eat it with a spoon!).

The avocado-radish salad I put together on a whim because the radishes were so pretty and the avocado perfectly ripe. Add whatever toppings you like. I only used olive oil, lemon juice and salt and some pepper on the plate, as my father likes to keep things simple.

I hope you enjoy! Salud!

Calves Liver à la Bordelais

Ingredients, serves 2

2 filets of calves liver
4 shallots
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra virgen olive oil, plus some extra
2-4 slices of prosciutto
1/2 cup white wine
coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
arrowroot flower for dusting

Method

Rinse the calves liver filets and pat dry with a paper towel. Salt and pepper on one side and set aside.

Peel and julienne the shallots and the garlic. In a medium sized skillet, add 2 tablespoons of butter and the olive oil. Over medium heat, melt the butter and add the shallots and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes until the shallots are golden and tender. Add the white wine and reduce, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add 1 tablespoon of butter and stir well. Set aside, covered to keep warm.

In another skillet, add a drizzle of olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the prosciutto slices and cook, about 1 minute, turning over once. Remove from skillet and place on a plate.

Dust the calves liver filets with some arrowroot powder. And in the same skillet used for the prosciutto, add another drizzle of olive oil. Place the liver filets in the skillet and cook, about 3 minutes on each side.

To serve: place the liver filet on the plate, spoon some of the shallot sauce over each filet, and top with a slice or two of prosciutto. Garnish with parsley if desired.

Avocado + Radish Salad

Ingredients, serves 2

1 ripe avocado
1 radish
sea salt, freshly ground pepper
lemon juice
extra virgen olive oil

Method

Peel and slice the avocado. With a mandolin, slice the radish very thinly. Place the avocado on the serving plate and top with the radish. Drizzle some olive oil and lemon juice over top. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve.

Fish A-Flying {Halibut en Papillote, Fennel Mashed Potatoes, + Fennel Salad with Roasted Pine Nuts and Mustard-Oil Dressing}

Years ago, I was bitten by a flounder. It’s one of those stories that one can retell with a certain amount of humour and romanticise about, like we do with most of our myopic views of past events. I was working in the Education Department at the Mystic Aquarium and was asked to cover for one of the instructors on vacation. Part of the duties included feeding the fish and various other animals.

In the main education room, which was also used for birthday parties and special catered events, we had a large “touch and feel” tank with various crustaceans, some bivalves and a flounder or two, if I remember correctly.

Anyhow, I was feeding Mr. Flounder a plump and juicy shrimp placed on the tip of a long stainless steel stick whose purpose was to afford me a distance from Mr. Flounder’s teeth. Piece of cake I thought. What could possibly go wrong? Well, a lot it would seem. Don’t ever be fooled by an innocent and funny-looking fish I tell you, particularly one with two eyes on top. Mr. Flounder decided to forego the shrimp, jump out of the water and lunge himself towards me, taking with him a piece of the skin of my hand in the process. Needless to say, I was quite startled. Once I recovered my composure and Mr. Flounder had safely plopped back in the tank, I realised my ego was also slightly bruised. Who manages to get bitten by a fish, in an aquarium no less? My hand did sting a little and because it was a work-related incident, I had to report it and required a tetanus shot. But it’s a tale that got me a bunch of auntie-brownie points with my nieces back then – they thought their tita was just the coolest thing. Nowadays, they prefer to make fun of the incident and I get teased about it every now and then.

My nieces, one of them has already graduated university and the other is out of school for the Summer, work during the boating season, which runs from some weeks ago to sometime in the early Fall. They are extremely busy and finding time to get together and do things is not easy. But a week or so ago, my eldest niece called me and we spontaneously went out for lunch. I think unplanned outings are always the best. It was a miserable windy day with rain drizzling since the early morning and a thick fog that creeped in rather quickly and lingered way into the evening. But we still thought that venturing downtown Mystic was warranted instead of staying home. Mystic has a healthy population all year round, but it is in the Spring and Summer when it flourishes overflows with tourists and New Yorkers who own Summer homes in the area.

Yet the day we went out was still rather early in the season, so we were a little surprised to see that our first choice was closed for a private event and that the other choice nearby had a line of people waiting to get in. Not wanting to walk too far in the inclement conditions, we ended up at Anthony J’s. It’s a cosy little restaurant in a pretty wooden building parallel to the Mystic River. I had been there before, years ago and always liked the atmosphere. I’m not sure if it’s the same owner or not, but the food the other day was just as delicious as I remember. So in the end, as spontaneous things usually go, the end result exceeded our expectations.

We were seated at the far end of the restaurant, along the large stone wall, from where I could see part of the kitchen and the chef (who by the way was dressed in a rather unique outfit comprised of a white chef shirt and tomato-print trousers complemented by a tomato-print bandana). The warm ambience, the friendly waitstaff, and the elegant, yet simple dishes made with fresh, seasonal food reminded me of many places one finds in Ireland. New England is like that. Sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m in the United States. The buildings are old, some from the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s, mostly made of stone and wood with a quaint charm. And it also has similar weather and lots of lush verdant fields to match.

Anyhow, we enjoyed a lovely time together, a decent conversation although we were both tired and a delectable meal. I had a halibut filet with a Thai-style sauce over mashed potatoes and we shared a fennel, prosciutto and parmesan salad.

The following day when I was thinking about what to make for lunch (ironically I had put out the halibut to defrost the day we went out), I basically replicated my lunch with the ingredients I had on hand instead.

Halibut is a meaty, white fish. It’s the largest flatfish and the flesh is juicy and needs very little condiment to taste beautifully. I generally don’t like to put too much seasoning on fish, as I prefer to let the flavours work on their own. The orange-coconut amino sauce with scallions and tomatoes is full of taste yet is delicate and not over-bearing. And the mashed potatoes with a hint of fennel add a nice contrast to the fish. As I endeavour to always include more than one vegetable in a meal, I served the halibut and mashed potatoes with some steamed rainbow chard. And finally, the fennel salad with the roasted pine nuts is just simply the perfect accompaniment, light, crispy and crunchy all in one. A perfect meal for a Spring day (or any day)!

Halibut en Papillote with Orange-Scallion Sauce

Ingredients, serves 2

2 halibut filets (with skin)
juice of one orange
orange zest/rind
2 tablespoons coconut aminos (soy sauce replacement)
12 cherry tomatoes
3 scallions
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
parchment paper

Method

Preheat the oven to 375F (190C). On a cookie sheet or another flat ovenproof metal dish, place a piece of parchment paper and fold the edges. Rinse the fish and pat dry. Place on the parchment paper. Salt and pepper lightly. Cut the orange in half, and squeese the juice over the fish. Don’t worry if you get some pulp on the fish. Pour the coconut aminos over each filet and sprinkle some orange rind/zest over each as well.

Clean and cut the scallion diagonally. Cut 8 of the cherry tomatoes in half and leave the remaining 4 whole. Place the scallions and tomatoes over and around the fish.

Place another sheet of parchment paper over the fish and folding the edges into the bottom sheet, make a sack. Bake for 15 minutes or until fish is done.

Fennel Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients, serves 2

4 medium red potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
1/4 fennel bulb, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
milk
fine sea salt

Method

Put the potatoes and fennel in a medium pot. Cover with water and an inch or so more. Place on medium heat and bring to a roiling boil, and cook until tender, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.

Place the tablespoon or so of butter in the pot and allow to melt with the heat of the vegetables. Add a couple of tablespoons of milk (your preference) and smash with a potato masher to your desired consistency. Add some sea salt to taste.

Serve the halibut filets on top of the mashed potatoes.

Fennel Salad with Roasted Pine Nuts and Mustard-Oil Dressing

Ingredients, serves 2-4

1 fennel bulb
mixed salad greens: arugula (wild rocket), spinach, other greens
hard, cured cheese
handful of pine nuts
olive oil
wholegrain mustard
lemon juice

Method

Cut off the stems and the outer hard part of the fennel. Use the hard part of the fennel for the mashed potatoes. (See above recipe.) Slice the fennel crosswise very thinly.

In a pretty salad bowl, place the amount of mixed salad greens that you desire. Place the sliced fennel over top and mix it a little with your hands. Shave some hard, cured cheese over top. I used Dubliner cheese that we forgot about and left to harden. (It’s delicious like this.)

In a small skillet, heat some olive oil and pour in the handful of pine nuts. Fry until golden brown, stirring frequently, just a minute or so. Immediately remove from heat and spoon over the salad without the oil.

For the dressing: I used 3 parts extra virgen olive oil to 1 part wholegrain mustard and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Mix well and allow for each person to pour over their own salad.

If you have leftover salad, since the dressing is not on it, it will last a couple of days in the fridge.

Lemon Honey-Mustard Chicken Thighs

Inspiration can come from anything. Anything at all.

I’m such a reluctant planner, and oftentimes I have hardly any patience in the kitchen. I want to get in and out as quickly as possible. Sort of contradictory, as I love to cook and it relaxes me and makes me lose myself in creative thought.

But lately, with everything that we have going on, including an imminent move, it’s hard to concentrate for too long. Plus, I’m trying to prove to my father that he too can make all these dishes I’m making for us. They really are that easy and simple to make. We’ll see if I am actually successful in my endeavours and he’ll cook for himself…

So the other day, I made this chicken dish which couldn’t be easier to put together and make. I had leftover dressing from a salad (which I’ll share soon) and decided that was the going to be the flavour of the day! Instant inspiration! It includes a slight modification from the salad dressing with the addition of butter and honey to add a little bit of depth. And it uses ingredients that probably most of you regularly have on hand.

Simple. Easy. Quick. Delicious. Father Approved! No planning required. Keeper!

Lemon Honey-Mustard Chicken Thighs

Ingredients, serves 2 or 3

6 organic chicken thighs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
juice of 1/4 lemon
coarse sea salt
raw honey
2 scallions

Method

Preheat to 380F (190C).

Rinse the chicken thighs and place in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

In a bowl, with a spoon mix the olive oil, melted butter, lemon juice and mustard. Pour over the thighs. Peel and cut the scallion diagonally and place over the chicken. Drizzle with some raw honey.

Bake for approximately 50 minutes, turning over twice. Towards about 5 minutes before removing from the oven, slice another scallion diagonally and place over the top of the chicken things.

Serve with your favourite sides.

Revivals… {Pan-Seared Scallops with Nectarines and Balsamic-Honey-Mustard Reduction + Broccoli Rabe with Golden Garlic}

I drove into town the other day specifically to buy more yarn for the snood I‘m making just finished for myself. The woman at the yarn store said I would have enough with one skein, but well obviously I didn’t quite follow her instructions….

I’ve become completely obsessed enamored with the beautifully produced television series Outlander and its costume design. The Starz original (I sound like an advert) is very truthful to the books – I’ve read five of the eight already – and quite possibly better! While the executive producer Ron Moore is fastidious about keeping all the details from Diana Gabaldon’s novels, he’s also very astute and perceptive by incorporating the personality of the actors and making small modifications, as he did in one of the last episodes where Caitriona Balfe does a singing and dance performance to the tune of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, which was a very popular 1940s song. Apparently Cait does a lot of humming and singing when off the set and Ron thought it was a perfect way to include her own personality to enhance the drama. In the books, one knows what Claire is thinking because she’s narrating most of the story. But in the television series, there’s a lot less of that. So, by adding these scenes, we get to experience what it feels like for Claire to be caught between her two worlds, post WWII and the mid-18th century. In my opinion, the result is an improvement on this seductive and mystical story.

I won’t get into the storyline to not spoil the suspense for those of you who are watching the show and haven’t read the books, although I believe they were written something like twenty years ago. So, it’s really a revival. In fact, I read somewhere on the internet that when the story was originally going to be taken to Hollywood, they were thinking of casting Liam Neesen as Jamie. I’m so glad they waited… I have nothing against Mr. Neesen,  he’s a fantastic actor. But Sam Heughan is Jamie. He’s captivating, elegant, regal, yet rugged. And so beautiful to look at. And his acting is impeccable. Can you imagine that Diana Gabaldon thought he was grotesque when she first saw him? That’s simply scandalous. A sacrilege. And my nieces will find that tidbit of Hollywood gossip rather upsetting. They are completely obsessed smitten with Sam (and Jamie). In fact, they are rooting for Sam and Cait to get together!

Anyway, back to what I was saying. My snood. Claire’s wardrobe is fetching, even the every day outfits. And she wears a number of knitted pieces which are so in to-day. I have to say that the costume design is magnificent!

According to the Outlander customer designer, Terry Dresbach, the costumes for the series are as authentic as possible, including what’s underneath. “No Velcro, no zippers, not a lot of shoes, and kilts are worn as kilts are supposed to be worn – with absolutely nothing underneath. These are true Scots! What’s not authentic are the effects of war and journeying through the highlands. To achieve the look of well-worn clothing, the costumes are attacked with cheese graters, burned with blow torches, and aged by tying them up with string and baking them.”

We have a saying in Spain: el habito no hace al monje, which means that the habit doesn’t make the monk. Nonetheless, I do think that what we wear greatly influences how we are perceived, and more importantly how it makes us feel and act in a certain manner befitting of our ensemble. Think about it: You most certainly act and feel differently in a long, ballroom gown versus a pair of jeans or a mini skirt. There’s something magical about wearing a long dress. It’s grand. Feminine. Sensual.

To digress again a little, growing up in Spain, we used to go to an annual pilgrimage called El Rocío. Most of the two-week long event takes place outdoors, in nature, as pilgrims from all over Spain make the journey on foot, on horseback, in carretas, and aboard horse carriages or in 4×4’s, traversing the countryside and marshlands of Western Andalucía. We sleep out in the open, sometimes inside carriolas, sometimes in tents or sometimes on a blanket under a tree. Very Outlander-like. It’s like going back in time with no need of crossing any ancient stones! And as it’s a traditional Andalusian festivity, women wear flamenca dresses, which are typically long and more flowy than the style worn during ferias. Wearing a bata rociera or a flamenca dress transforms you. It makes one feel special, all women become extra pretty with their colourful dresses and flowers in their hair. And it also connects one with traditions and a simplicity otherwise unattainable in today’s frantic urban world. Preparing meals and eating out in the open nature is also transforming. One must keep things simple and organise dishes in advance, so that they can be quickly and easily prepared and cooked during one of the stops or at night for the evening meal. We rely on blocks of ice to keep things cool and we cook on charcoal, wood or gas stoves. There’s a camaraderie that develops from sharing one’s food with others, as happens every day during the Rocío. And although the hardships are different than in past times (civilisation if necessary is really only a car ride away in most cases), the experience of being outdoors surrounded by nature with none of the modern comforts is invigorating, relaxing, healing and restorative to the soul. It’s also a lot of fun!

So, back to Claire. And the snood. Inspired by the series’ costumes, I’ve already made myself a snood with the leftover yarns from a sweater my mother almost finished for me. It’s a special piece because the yarn will always remind me of my mother. But something happened as I was making it: I was reminded of how fulfilling it is to create something with one’s hands like people did in the old days, albeit then out of necessity. Knitting is making a come-back, even in unexpected circles. I’ve seen quite a few posh fashionistas sporting snoods on social media and encouraging their friends to knit. I think influences such as the Outlander series and a return to nature are the culprits of this revival of sorts. I learned to knit when I was a teenager in Spain. My mother taught me and throughout the years, I’ve made sweaters and scarves for myself, for family members and friends. So picking it up again feels natural, like coming home. And that’s therapeutic.

Revivals are a funny thing. We pick up something long forgotten and usually do so with more enthusiasm and sometimes more knowledge as well.

Home cooking is also making a comeback and with a vengeance I think. And so is healthy eating, something I’m very passionate about. I’ve recently discovered a number of websites and magazines that are dedicated to inspiring and encouraging readers to become home cooks and to realise that home cooking is not a daunting task, but something that brings us closer to our food and to nature. And that can be very fulfilling.

In the Outlander novels, I have a number of pages whose corners I’ve turned marking recipes or interesting pieces of information. Diana Gabaldon’s imagination is impressive, and so is her accuracy for details. One is truly transported into the 1700s especially with such things as food, food preparation and small tidbits about health and medicinal practices. We’ve come a long way from the 18th century, and now it seems like we are trying to recapture what we left behind and the forgotten positive aspects of life in the past.

Many are going back to learning how to grow our own fruits and vegetables and rearing chickens for pasture-raised eggs. We are learning to respect the environment and sustainable farming and fishing. And with all that, we have come to appreciate that it all ties together with home cooking. For me, that’s the definition of Paleo, sourcing and preparing one’s food. And nothing can be more satisfying than going to the market to buy seasonal produce and come home to invent a dish or create something traditional that is nutritious, healthy and pleasurable.

A couple of days ago when I bought the first skein of yarn for my new snood, I also picked up some seafood at our local fishmonger, Seawell on Mason’s Island. We’ve been patronising them since my brother recommended that we should. And it’s always an exciting experience. I love that they are trustworthy, one knows what they sell is the freshest of the fresh (we have insider information of course as the owner is a good friend of my brother’s), and I like that they label everything letting one know whether the seafood is wild caught, farmed (rarely, mostly the salmon when it’s out of season), and where it’s from. I also love to be surprised with what is in season and available on the day I visit. For those of you familiar with TJ Maxx (my favourite store), the surprise element is not disimilar. You know you’ll get something, but exactly what one will come home with is an exciting mystery to be uncovered only on the day of purchase. Farmer’s markets are also like that.

I only buy wild caught and try to stick to local as much as possible. On my last visit, I got some fresh Stonington mussels, which I made immediately, following a version of this recipe, as you can see on  my Instagram feed, halibut filets with skin, some wild-caught Gulf shrimp (the woman before me was lucky to buy the last of the Stonington red shrimp), and some beautiful sea scallops.

Scallops are lovely on their own. But today I wanted to enliven them a bit. I did so with some nectarines, whose season is just commencing. And I served them with broccoli rabe, a favourite of my mother’s and mine. I hope you enjoy! For other scallop recipes, please see here, here and here.

Pan-Seared Scallops + Nectarines with Balsamic-Honey-Mustard Reduction

Ingredients, serves 2-4

1 lb (approx. 500g) sea scallops
2 nectarines
1 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup raw honey
1 heaping tablespoon wholegrain mustard (I use Moutarde à l’Ancienne from Delouis fils, which doesn’t include sugar)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
olive oil

Method

Prepare the reduction first. Pour the balsamic vinegar, raw honey and mustard into a small pan. Over medium heat, bring to a bubble. Lower heat and cook until reduced to about half, stirring frequently.

In the meantime, rinse the scallops and pat dry with a paper towel. Salt and pepper on both sides. Set aside.

Rinse the nectarines and cut into 16 slices. Sprinkle with some freshly ground pepper. In an iron skillet, over high heat, add a drizzle of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, sauté the nectarines, stirring only to turn a couple of times, about 2 minutes. Remove the nectarines from the skillet and place on a serving dish. (If you have a BBQ, they are also delicious made that way.)

Now to cook the scallops. Make sure the skillet is clean. If needed, allow to cool, wash and dry (unless you have another iron skillet to use). Drizzle a little bit of olive oil into the skillet and heat over high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the scallops, cooking about 1-1 1/2 minutes on each side. I like my scallops almost raw inside. If you cook them too long, they will become dry and tough.

To plate: Place scallops over nectarines and drizzle with the balsamic reduction. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired. We ate them as lunch with broccoli rabe.

Broccoli Rabe with Golden Garlic

Ingredients, serves 4

1 bunch broccoli rabe (enough for 4)
8 cloves garlic, sliced
olive oil
sea salt

Method

Cut the ends off the broccoli rabe and rinse in cold water.

Pour water and a couple of pinches of sea salt into a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Place the broccoli rabe into the water and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.

While the vegetable is cooking, in an iron skillet or pan heat a drizzle of olive oil. Put the garlic slices into the pan and cook until golden, stirring constantly. Remove immediately from the skillet so as to not burn. (Burnt garlic turns sour and is not very palatable.)

To plate: Simply place the broccoli rabe on a serving plate, drizzle with olive oil and place the garlic over top.

*****

*Note: The images of Jamie and Claire of Outlander I have downloaded from the blog of Terry Dresbach. The images of El Rocío, I have taken off the internet. 

Spring with Kiko {Chicken a l’Orange + Patatas a lo Pobre}

“Hi little guy. Are you walking your mistress?” asked our friendly neighbour who was raking leaves and preparing his garden for the summer season ahead. Kiko and I were walking by, with the little guy rather dragging me down the hill behind him. (By the way being called mistress was fairly enchanting especially since I’ve been reading the Outlander series, whose story takes place in the 18th century.)

Kiko is my parent’s mini schnauzer. He’s a very affable little thing, although quite prone to being fearful of people. On the other hand, he loves other dogs. Being rather small doesn’t stop him from wanting to greet, sniff and play with all the hounds we encounter on our walks, no matter how large they are. And while he’s generally fun and loving, he is also stubborn. When he digs in his hind legs, there’s no budging him until he gets what he wants, which in most cases is just a stop for him to bury his nose in the ground and mark his territory. Marking his territory takes place what seems like every two seconds though.

One would think our walks are bonding; and maybe on some level they are, as he does look forward to going out and shows his enthusiasm by putting on a jumping performance, which seems to be a characteristic trait of mini schnauzers. He can jump very high for a dog that stands only about a foot off the ground. In fact, he can jump about two times his height. It’s really quite impressive, and may I add amusing to watch.

We take different routes almost every day, with me deciding the way… most of the time. If there’s a big bad monster (aka rubbish bin) lurking on our side of the road, Kiko makes a beeline for the other side, and consequently pulls me with him. Our walks are peaceful and invigorating. While he sniffs, stops, pulls and jovially prances ahead of me, I get to admire the pretty summer cottages (some are actually mansions), attractive gardens, eclectic architecture and the stunning water-views of where we are temporarily living.

Spring is definitely here, although the wind is still chilling, especially along the shore, and my hands feel like icicles on many days, by the time we arrive home. Daffodils are popping up everywhere even along the marsh where they have not been planted. I’m guessing it’s the result of birds dropping their seeds (or the winds blowing them over), just like the number of mussels and clams in their shells that we encounter scattered and broken along the path around the lagoon. The seagulls must be carrying them and dropping them on the ground.

The tulips are slightly more recalcitrant to come out yet, with only a few resilient ones actually in bloom. The magnolias are budding with the promise of their pink and white delicate blossoms coming soon. And the forsythia bushes are alive again with their bright yellow flowers. Everywhere one turns, there are signs of new life. I’m in awe of Spring; and I think I’ve never admired this season as much as I am doing this year.

I haven’t stopped to reflect why this is so, although my mind does a lot of wandering, soul searching, and de-stressing while we enjoy the outdoors. I sometimes think about food too. And how I want to develop the blog and bring a more enriching experience to my readers.

But since mom died, becoming enthusiastic about almost anything is terribly hard and finding motivation to cook has been full of obstacles and excuses. Fortunately for my father and me, I cannot fathom eating processed or junk foods. Therefore, I force myself to prepare healthy meals, even if rather rushed and haphazardly.

Making something quick, easy and effortlessly has become an obsession on most days. As Kiko and I were wandering around the other day, the bright sun and pretty flowers everywhere inspired me to make something that would echo this feeling of life, and I settled on chicken a l’orange (what says sunshine more than an orange?). In my native Spain, orange trees are now just starting to blossom, and the sweet fragrance of azahar will be permeating the streets with the intoxicating aroma. Having grown up on a farm with an orange orchard, we were lucky to have a number of varieties, affording us the benefit of having oranges almost all year round. Here in the US and almost everywhere now, oranges are available year round thanks to more tropical climates in such places like Florida.

To accompany the chicken, I made a traditional (and super easy) potato side dish, which my father loves and my mother used to make. Patatas a lo Pobre is something you’ll find in most family restaurants or ventas (roadside restaurants with home-cooked meals) in Spain. It’s an inexpensive dish, which requires only three or four ingredients and is very easy and quick to make. The traditionalists add green peppers, but as I don’t like this vegetable too much (or rather it doesn’t agree with me), I only use potatoes and onions, and sometimes garlic. And of course, olive oil. I also like to brown the potatoes a bit, which makes parts of them crunchy, adding to the texture of the dish.

Chicken a l’Orange

Ingredients, for 3 or 4

6 organic chicken legs
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large leek, rinsed and sliced (discard the green parts)
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
1 cup freshly squeesed orange juice
1 1/2 cups chicken or beef stock, extra if needed
sea salt and pepper, to taste
fresh parsley, finely chopped

Method

Preheat the oven to 400F (200C)*. Rinse and pat dry the chicken pieces. Sprinkle the chicken with freshly ground sea salt and pepper on both sides. Lightly dust chicken on both sides with cumin powder. Place the chicken legs in an ovenproof dish and drizzle some olive oil over all of them. Bake for about 40 minutes or until chicken is done, turning a few times, so the chicken browns on both sides. (This temperature works for my oven. You may need to adjust for yours.)

In the meantime, squeese the oranges and set the juice aside. In a deep saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and carrots and poach, stirring frequently about 10 minutes. Add the leek, garlic, coriander seeds and continue to poach, stirring frequently, another 10-15 minutes until all the vegetables are tender to an inserted fork. Reduce heat to low and add the orange juice and stock. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool, pour into a food processor (you may have to do this in two batches) and purée. Return to the pot and simmer. If the sauce is too thick, add more stock. Keep warm while the chicken finishes baking.

You can insert the chicken pieces into the sauce if desired or pour the sauce over the chicken once it is plated. Serve with patatas a lo pobre.

Patatas a lo Pobre

Ingredients, for 2

3 large/4 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
coarse sea salt, to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
fresh parsley, finely chopped

Method

In a deep and wide saucepan, pour the olive oil and add the potatoes and onions. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt (I used about three or four turns of the grinder, but a couple of pinches will also do). Over medium-low heat, allow to cook slowly, turning occasionally with a spatula, making sure you don’t break the potatoes in the process. I allow the potatoes to brown a bit before turning. Browning the potatoes is the trick to this dish, creating a combination of both crunchy and soft textures. Once they are tender, they are ready to be served. Sprinkle with fresh parsley on the plate.

*****

Muslos de Pollo a la Naranja

Ingredientes, para 3 o 4

6 muslos de pollo
1 cebolla grande, pelada y picada
2 zanahorias grandes, peladas y cortadas a rodajas
1 puerro grande, quitándole lo verde, se enjuaga bien y se corta a rodajas finas
2 dientes de ajo, en laminas
80ml aceite de oliva extra virgen
comino en polvo
1 cucharadita (de te) de semillas de cilantro, machacadas
250ml de zumo de naranja, recién exprimido
350ml de caldo de pollo
sal marina y pimienta fresca a gusto
perejil

Método

Precalentamos el horno a 200C. Enjugamos los muslos y los secamos con toallitas de papel. Salpimentamos por ambos lados y también espolvoreamos con comino en polvo por ambos lados. Ponemos los muslos en una fuente para el horno y le echamos un chorreón de aceite por encima. Horneamos unos 40 minutos o hasta que la carne este hecha, dandole la vuelta unas cuantas veces, para que se doren los muslos por ambos lados.

Mientras se hace el pollo, exprimimos varias naranjas hasta obtener 250ml de zumo. En una olla sobre fuego medio-lento, calentamos el aceite de oliva. Añadimos las cebollas y las zanahorias y pochamos durante unos 10 minutos, removiendo frecuentemente. A continuación agregamos el puerro, los ajos, las semillas de cilantro y seguimos pochando unos 10 o 15 minutos adicionales hasta que las verduras estén tiernas cuando se pinchan con un tenedor. Reducimos el fuego a lento y echamos el zumo de naranja y el caldo de pollo. Removemos bien y dejamos cocer unos 10 minutos, sin que llegue a la ebullición. Retiramos del fuego y dejamos enfriar. Echamos todo en la batidora y lo hacemos puré. También se puede hacer con la mini-pimer. Lo vertimos otra vez a la olla y lo ponemos a fuego muy suave para mantenerlo caliente mientras se termina de hacer el pollo.

Cuando los muslos estén hechos, se pueden poner dentro de la salsa de naranja o se le puede echar la salsa por encima una vez en el plato. Se pueden servir con patatas a lo pobre u otra guarnición a gusto.

Patatas a lo Pobre

Ingredientes, para 2 

3 patatas grandes o 4 medianas, peladas y cortadas a rodajas finas
1 cebolla grande, pelada y cortada a rodajas
sal marina gorda
120ml aceite de oliva extra virgen
perejil fresco, picado

Método

En una sartén amplia y onda sobre fuego suave a mediano, echamos el aceite de oliva, las patatas y la cebolla. Le echamos un poco de sal a gusto. Dejamos que se vayan haciendo las patatas poco a poco, dándoles la vuelta con cuidado para que no se rompan. El truco de estas patatas esta en que queden entre fritas y cocidas, ligeramente doradas (o mas si os gusta) y que su textura sea que se deshagan en la boca. Se sirven con perejil picado.

A Day of Fennel

At the risk of publicly seeming a bit unstable and disorganised, I’ve decided to split the post about my mother in two separate entries. For the inconvenience, I apologise.

I was feeling a heaviness and a certain weight about including recipes with a post about my mom, but this is a food blog and I didn’t want to separate the two, especially since my mother has been my greatest influence in my life and in my cooking.

But she deserves her own space. I struggled with myself about sharing everything I did, yet not writing about her, not sharing with all of you such a huge part of my life, was in many ways not acknowledging her and her life. We are living a fragile time… there are days it’s unfathomable to believe and understand cognitively that she’s gone. And then there are those brief moments when I question myself how could she exist and not be here now.

I don’t recall going through this pensiveness when my grandmothers passed away. It was painful then and I still miss both of them and think of them often. But trying to grasp a little bit of them was different, and maybe because I still had my mother as my biggest support. And she had me.

Now, the stark loss is distinct, unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. Thankfully, my father and I have each other and my brother and the rest of the family. And life must go on…will go on…

And in continuation of my last post, here are the two recipes that I share with you:

To fuel my passions and inspire myself, sometime after arriving in the US, I purchased a subscription to Bon Appetit. I’ve only opened up one magazine. The rest are patiently waiting that I peel away the pages and explore them… but in that one issue, I found a recipe that I’ve done over and over again, and have changed a few times. My mom loved it. In fact, she requested it several times, when she had her appetite back.

As I’ve tinkered with it, it has evolved into something that my father praises and we both enjoy (and is now quite different from the original). He loved everything my mother used to make and usually likes everything I make too. But he doesn’t like experiments. And now, this soup recipe is ready to be shared, as is the special ingredient.

Fennel is something that I grew up seeing in Spain but have rarely eaten. Snails like to feed on fennel and those in the know say that they acquire a special flavour from the vegetable. And that was my main association with this intoxicatingly fragrant flowering plant, who’s bulb is not the only part that can be savoured and used in cooking.

As I’ve rediscovered fennel here in the US, I’m enamoured with it and buy it almost every week. Cutting up a fennel bulb is a feast for the olfactory senses. The burst of anise is fresh and inviting. And I could hold the bulb and the leaves up to my nose all day long….It was one of my mother’s favourite scents (she loved anise candies and would buy them on every trip to Spain). The leaves are delicate and the perfect whimsical garnish (and they can also be eaten). And the flowers, with which the bulbs are not sold in the market, are pretty and edible as well. And then of course, there are the seeds.

In addition to the delicate and delicious soup, today I’ve made a quiche as well. I hope you try and enjoy both!

The soup is made with the bulb only. But don’t throw away the leaves yet.. they are part of the soup too. Read on and find out how I’ve incorporated them.

Besitos,

Debra xx

PS: Please excuse my photo format. My computer went kaputt about a month ago; and I had to reinstall the operating system and lost all of my programs and files (therefore, Photoshop for the moment is gone, as is any attempt at graphic design). I hope to be reunited with them soon, as I do have an external hard drive waiting for me somewhere in Europe. Also, I’ve made this soup twice specifically to photograph (so we may be getting slightly tired of fennel). The first time, I used bacon bits, which my father and I concur is the best accompaniment, but I only took pictures with my iPhone and in the sun and on a bench! The second time, I roasted some diced carrot but ate them all at breakfast. 😉

Fennel & Potato Soup

Ingredients, for 6 servings:

  • 1 large fennel bulb and leaves
  • 1 large red onion
  • 3 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium chunks
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 6 cups of water
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • garnish and accompaniment ideas: bacon pieces, fennel leaves and edible flowers

Method:

Cut the leaves off the bulb and set aside. Rinse the bulb and julienne. Peel and julienne the onion. In a medium pot, over medium heat, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the fennel and onion.  Stirring occasionally, poach the vegetables for about 20 minutes until tender.

In the meantime, place the fennel leaves in another pot and add 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes, covered.

Once the fennel and onion are tender, add the wine and reduce for 3-4 minutes. Add the potatoes and 4 cups of the fennel-infused water. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes until the potatoes are tender to an inserted fork.

Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool, puree with an immersion blender (or food processor). Add sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Stir and heat up. Add the lime juice and serve.

Garnish with some bacon pieces, fennel leaves and edible flowers, and a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.

Fennel and Onion Quiche (Strictly speaking, it’s Primal, as it has feta cheese)

Ingredients, for one 8-in pie pan

  • 1 large fennel bulb, no leaves
  • 1 large medium red onion
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, and some more if needed
  • 3/4 cup feta cheese, diced
  • 5 large eggs
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill leaves or fresh if you have them

Method:

Rinse and julienne the fennel. Peel and julienne the onion. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Reduce heat and add the fennel and onion and poach for about 20 minutes until tender, stirring frequently so the vegetables do not burn, but brown slightly. Add more olive oil during cooking if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 365F (185C).

In a bowl, beat the eggs well and add the feta cheese and dill and mix well. Set aside. When the vegetables are done, remove from heat and allow to cool, about 10 minutes. Add the cooked vegetables to the egg mixture and stir well. Taste for salt and if needed add some sea salt, to taste. Also add some freshly ground pepper to taste. Pour into an 8-inch pie pan, spreading evenly.

Bake for 25 minutes and allow to slightly cool before cutting and serving.

Hoy os traigo dos recetas con hinojo, algo que he re-descubierto aquí en EEUU.

Sopa de Hinojo y Patatas

Ingredientes, para 6:

  • 1 bulbo de hinojo con hojas
  • 1 cebolla roja mediana
  • 3 patatas medianas, rojas, cortadas a gajos medianos
  • 60 ml vino blanco, seco
  • 60ml aceite de oliva
  • 2 cucharadas “soperas” de mantequilla
  • 1,5 litros de agua
  • sal marina y pimienta fresca
  • 1 cucharadita de zumo de lima
  • como guarnición: taquitos de jamón serrano, taquitos de beicón frito, zanahoria al horno cortada a taquitos, flores comestibles y un chorreón de aceite de oliva, si se desea

Como hacer la sopa:

Cortamos las hojas del hinojo y las apartamos. Enjuagamos el bulbo y lo cortamos en juliana. Pelamos la cebolla y la cortamos tambien en juliana. En una olla mediana, sobre fuego mediano, derretimos la mantequilla con el aceite de oliva. Agregamos el hinojo y la cebolla. Pochamos las verduras, removiendo ocasionalmente, hasta que estén tiernas, unos 20 minutos.

Mientras tanto, ponemos las hojas del hinojo con 1,5 litros de agua a hervir en otra olla. Cuando rompa el hervor, reducimos el fuego a bajo y cocemos unos 20 minutos, tapando la olla. (Esto lo llamaremos “agua de hinojo”.)

Una vez que las verduras estén tiernas, le agregamos el vino y reducimos unos 3 o 4 minutos. Agregamos las patatas y 1 litro del agua de hinojo. Reducimos el fuego a lento, tapamos la olla y cocemos unos 30 minutos hasta que las patatas estén tiernas al pincharlas con un tenedor.

Retiramos del fuego y dejamos que se enfrie. Después, hacemos un pure con la mini-pimer. Salpimentamos a gusto. Ponemos la olla otra vez sobre fuego medio y calentamos la sopa. Le echamos la cucharadita de zumo de lima, removemos bien y servimos.

Se puede acompañar con trocitos de jamón serrano, beicón, zanahoria cortada a dados y horneada, flores comestibles y un chorreoncito de aceite de oliva, si se desea.

Quiche de Hinojo y Cebolla (Tecnicamente hablando es mas bien Primal, que Paleo, porque lleva queso)

Ingredientes para un “pie” de 20cm de diametro:

  • 1 bulbo grande de hinojo, sin hojas
  • 1 cebolla mediana, roja
  • 2 cucharadas “soperas” de mantequilla
  • 2 cucharadas “soperas” de aceite de oliva, y algo mas si hace falta
  • 3/4 taza queso feta, cortado a daditos
  • 5 huevos, grandes
  • sal marina y pimienta fresca
  • 1 cucharada “sopera” de hojas de eneldo secas (o frescas si las tenéis a mano)

Como hacer el quiche:

Enjuagamos y cortamos en juliana el bulbo de hinojo y la cebolla. En una sartén onda, derretimos la mantequilla con el aceite de oliva sobre fuego medio. Bajos la lumbre y añadimos el hinojo y la cebolla y pochamos unos 20 minutos hasta que esten las verduras tiernas, removiendo frecuentemente sin dejar que se quemen las verduras, solo que se doren. Agregamos algo mas de aceite de oliva si hiciera falta.

Precalentamos el horno a 185C.

En un bol, batimos los huevos y le agregamos el queso feta, ya cortado a daditos, y la cucharada de hojas de eneldo secas. Cuando las verduras estén pochadas, apartamos la sartén y dejamos enfriar unos 10 minutos. Incorporamos las verduras a la mezcla de huevo y salpimentamos a gusto, removiendo bien. Echamos la mezcla dentro de un plato para pies de un diametro de 20cm, asegurandonos de que este todo bien distribuido.

Horneamos durante 25 minutos. Y dejamos que se enfrie un poco antes de cortar y servir.

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My breakfast, where the carrots ended up with the quiche!

A Frog in Boiling Water & Lamb Shanks

2014: My Annus Horribilis

I will never forget this year. From the beginning to the end, there has been little respite from health and personal issues. But all in all, I’m grateful that my mom is still with us, improving, albeit slowly, and things are moving forward (although currently she’s still in hospital and still in ICU once again). I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time with my parents than I have in the last 10 years, for which I’m grateful. Yes, unfortunately it’s been under a very stressful, painful and heartbreaking situation, but still I’m thankful to be able to be by their side and be able to help them every day.

This year has also marked the end of my 10-year relationship with an abusive husband. I am somewhat apprehensive and embarrassed to share this because there’s always the stigma attached to these type of relationships, where not only do I blame myself but I believe others think I’ve been blind, stupid and at fault as well. When I finally made the decision and shared my story with family and friends, a number of friends surprised me and told me about their same stories. I’ve come to realise that it was never my fault and that domestic violence doesn’t distinguish between levels of intelligence, education, social-economic status, backgrounds, nationalities, “races” if you will… it can happen to any one of us alike. And we all have one thing in common: we cover it up because it’s viewed in society as something shameful. We may not all be as lucky as Nigella Lawson to have the money with which to get out and reinvent ourselves quickly, but even in her case it would appear her decision also took time. And she’s an intelligent, beautiful, successful woman.

I compare the story of all of us who have endured this scourge of society with the tale of the Frog in Boiling Water. If you place a frog in boiling water, it will instinctively jump out. Naturally, it senses the danger. But if you place a frog in cold water and turn up the heat gradually, by the time the water is boiling, it will be too late for the frog to realise the deadly predicament it is in and it will be unable to jump out. Victims of domestic violence become trapped into these relationships in a complex array of psychological, emotional, and oftentimes financial abuse. The less fortunate also endure physical abuse. I was lucky. He never hit me although he threatened it often…

But that’s history now. I look forward to a new year and a new life, one where I will succeed Deo Volente because I am determined to so do. And this past experience both with my relationship and with my mother’s health situation has only made me stronger, more resilient. I’ve learned that I have a fortitude that I never thought existed or was possible. And I’m going to take advantage of that realisation to keep going forward.

My HERO

Since June, when my mother had her open-heart surgery to replace two valves and repair two arteries, we have been in and out of hospitals in NYC and Connecticut. My mother has endured multiple complications from a near death episode right after her first discharge to pleural effusions to mistakes made with medications to a sternal wound infection, which is now being treated. Throughout the whole thing, she’s been a trouper, showing all of us that her strength is admirable even to the doctors and nurses who care for her. They are constantly telling us this.

My mom was already my hero before this year. She is the most wonderful person I know. Yes, I am biased like most of you are with your parents and children. But my mother is the most selfless, kind, compassionate, empathetic, loving, understanding and honest person I know. (My father comes in a close second ;)). She has endured other hardships in life which could have made her a bitter person, yet she focused that energy in being a good person and ensuring my brother and I grew up in a loving environment never burdened by her previous suffering. For that I am grateful and for that she has my utmost admiration. And for that, she is my hero and always will be.

2015

I welcome this new year with open arms and am hopeful the tides will change for the positive in health and in happiness. I know we are not the only ones suffering for our loved ones. I have a number of friends battling cancer and other problems. I pray for them and for us so that the new year brings us all good health. 

I want to THANK YOU all for being here, for accompanying me on my journey through a Paleo lifestyle, and for not giving up on me when I’ve not been able to interact with you on a regular basis in the past year.

I wish you all a very healthy, happy, prosperous and love-filled New Year 2015!

With love,

Debra xx

PS: I was able to go on one walk in the past months. I now share with you some images of where we are staying in Connecticut and of my parents little buddy, Kiko, who cheers us up every day when we come home from hospital.

*****

In the last few months, I’ve “gone back to basics” in a lot of my cooking because that’s what my parents mostly enjoy. I share with you now a dish that they both love and have asked me to make a number of times.

It couldn’t be easier and simpler to make. It’s takes a little bit of planning to ensure you have 2 to 2 1/2 hours for cooking the meat, but other than that, there’s little else to it. (I’ve actually gotten up early to make this before leaving for the hospital.)

The natural flavours of the lamb, enhanced by the wine and a little bit of rosemary, don’t require more than some sea salt to come out. And the resulting sauce which is turned into a rich gravy is the cherry on the pie. You can swap the vegetables for others that you may like or that are in season.

Roasted Lamb Shanks with Vegetables

Ingredients (for 2-3):

  • 2 lamb shanks
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 6-7 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons grassfed butter or ghee
  • 250ml (1 cup) red wine
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary or 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 liter (4 cups) filtered water
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4-5 medium mushrooms, cut in halves, or 10-12 small button mushrooms whole
  • 1-2 tablespoons tapioca flour/arrowroot powder
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:

Rinse the lamb shanks and season on both sides with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Set aside while you prepare the vegetables.

Preheat the oven to 200C (390F).

In a large pot that is ovenproof, place the olive oil, butter/ghee, onions, garlic, carrots, and lamb shanks. Over medium heat, cook stirring frequently until the shanks are golden brown. Make sure to turn them the shanks over a few times. I like to use a spatula-like wooden spoon, so I can scoop from the bottom and not break the vegetables in the process.

Once the shanks are browned, add the red wine and simmer for 2-3 minutes to reduce. Add the rosemary, water and potatoes and give it all a good stir. Place the ovenproof pot in the preheated oven. Roast for 2-2 1/2 hours, checking every once in a while and turning the shanks over a couple of times.

Remove from oven and take the shanks and vegetables out of the pot. Set them aside on serving plates and cover, to retain the heat.

For the Gravy:

Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a bubble. Scoop out a few tablespoons of the juices into a glass and add the tapioca/arrowroot flour. Mix well so the flour is completely dissolved. Pour this mixture into the pot and stir well. Add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring constantly until the sauce is thickened and a gravy is formed, about 5-7 minutes. (I used 1 1/2 tablespoons of tapioca flour for a medium thick gravy. Adjust to your liking.) Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.

Uncover the shanks and the vegetables. Pour some of the gravy with the mushrooms over the lamb shanks and the remaining into a gravy bowl. Garnish with some sprigs of thyme if desired. Serve the shanks and vegetables immediately.

*****

Jarretes de Cordero al Horno con Verduras

Ingredientes (para 2-3):

  • 2 jarretes de cordero
  • 2 cebollas medianas, peladas y cortadas a trozos medianos
  • 6-7 dientes de ajo, enteros sin pelar
  • 3 zanahorias medianas, peladas y cortadas a trozos medianos
  • 60ml aceite de oliva
  • 2 cucharadas (soperas) de mantequilla de vaca o ghee
  • 250ml de vino rojo
  • unas espigas de romero fresco o 1 cucharada (sopera) de romero seco
  • 1 litro de agua
  • 3 patatas medianas, peladas y cortadas a trozos medianos
  • 4-5 champiñones grandecitos, limpios y cortados a cuartos, dejad aparte; o 10-12 champiñones pequeños enteros
  • 1-2 cucharadas (soperas) de harina de tapioca o harina de arrurruz
  • sal marina y pimienta fresca, a gusto

Como hacer los jarretes al horno:

Enjuagamos los jarretes y salpimentamos por ambos lados. Dejamos los jarretes apartados mientras preparamos las verduras.

Precalentamos el horno a 200C.

En una olla grande que se pueda meter al horno (como un Le Creuset por ejemplo), echamos el aceite, la mantequilla o ghee, las cebollas, los ajos, zanahorias y los jarretes. Sobre fuego mediano, salteamos moviendo frecuentemente hasta que los jarretes estén bien dorados.

Un vez que los jarretes estén dorados, agregamos el vino rojo y hervimos a fuego lento unos 2-3 minutos para que se reduzca. Añadimos el romero, el agua y las patatas y removemos bien. Ponemos la olla dentro del horno y asamos todo unas 2 a 2 1/2 horas, dandole la vuelta a los jarretes un par de veces.

Sacamos todo del horno y sacamos los jarretes y las verduras de la olla. Ponemos el jarrete en un plato para servir y las verduras en otro plato. Cubrimos los dos platos para que no se nos enfrie nada.

Para el Gravy/Salsa:

Ahora ponemos la olla sobre la hornilla a fuego mediano hasta que empiece a hervir. Sacamos un poco del jugo y lo echamos en un vaso. Le agregamos la harina de tapioca y removemos hasta que la harina este bien disuelta. Echamos esta mezcla dento de la olla y movemos todo bien. Agregamos los champiñones. Cocemos, removiendo continuamente, hasta que obtengamos una salsa espesa, como gravy. (Yo use 1 1/2 cucharadas-soperas-de harina de tapioca para un gravy de espesor mediano. Ajustad a vuestro gusto.) Salpimentar a gusto.

Destapamos los jarretes y las verduras. Echamos un poco del gravy con los champiñones sobre los jarretes y el restante gravy lo ponemos en una salsera. Decoramos con unas espigas de tomillo fresco, si lo deseamos. Servimos los jarretes y las verduras inmediatamente.

Only Count the Happy Hours & Rustic Tomato Soup w/ Seared Scallops

A Particularly Nonfacetious Summer with Musical Houses

Summer has come and gone, and I’ve barely noticed. First, “just the beginning” of the scorching summer heat came upon us in Sevilla from one day to the next. Once that happens, it’s generally hot (by hot I mean 40s and 40+ Celsius) for the rest of the season until the end of September. But I left in June, so I guess that I was lucky to escape the torture. Then, the humid air, fetid odours and exciting rapid lifestyle of NYC I had forgotten about enveloped me on my daily journeys to New York Presbyterian Hospital, all of June and July. And lastly, the serene and peaceful breeze of the Southeastern Connecticut shore, where we have been graced with some gorgeous Indian Summer days in the past few weeks, has finally brought the summer of 2014 to an end.

Although we’ve had an intense season, not necessarily delightful and recharging as we all would’ve hoped, time has also flown by and I barely noticed the weather most of the time, or better said, I didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy it much. As summers go, mine has been chilly and basically without sunshine. In fact, I’ve been wearing sweaters most of the summer since I was indoors at the hospital taking care of and accompanying my mother, who had open heart surgery in June. After numerous complications, an almost near-death episode, transport in helicopter from New London to Yale, New Haven and then back to NYC, rehab a number of times, and another stint in the hospital in August, she’s finally home in Connecticut with us and doing much better. She’s still convalescing and there are still issues, but she’s thankfully getting stronger with each day.

Connecticut has welcomed us again. It’s like a second home for me, as I’ve spent the most time here after Spain, and my brother and his family live here. And after some house-hopping (truly it’s felt like musical houses) since March for me and since June for my parents who have been living in Florida until now, we are finally in a house which will be their home until next June. They are renting a place on Groton Long Point, where winter rentals come furnished and one can can have the beach to oneself, a luxury which I love since my days growing up in Chipiona, Spain. The seashore in Connecticut is highly sought-after in the summer months and rentals can go for as much as $20,000 a month. Thankfully, in the winter the prices are much more reasonable. This is our third time renting on GLP. The first time we were here, we had just arrived from Spain when my father retired. I decided to join them and look into graduate schools, as well as help my mother get over the sorrow of losing my grandmother. Spanish families are very tight-knit, and in my case, my parents are probably my best friends; and although I’m not an only child, the age difference between my brother and me is big enough to make me feel like one oftentimes. And maybe because I’m the “baby”, I’m also closer to my parents. So, it felt rather natural to accompany them.

I was still living with my parents when they decided to get a bespoke house in Mystic made and once again, we rented during the winter months in GLP while the house was being built. It was on that occasion that I recall witnessing the crazy tradition of the New Year’s dip in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. I discovered that it’s not only the Dutch and Scandinavians who do this, but that there are also brave souls in America who enjoy an icy dip to welcome the new year.

I’m hoping the third time on this peninsula is a charm and brings us all good luck, which we need. I won’t be staying with them the whole time, but for now I’m still here helping my mother recuperate from the operation. She’s finally walking with more confidence, although still with the walker. And she’s also less depressed. This house has a good vibe, with lots of light and open spaces, which afford her the room to exercise.

Rainy Days, Scallops, & Happy Hours 

After the gorgeous Indian Summer, which the locals were cautiously praising, the rains finally arrived.  The day we moved into this house, it was pouring and my mother and I had to wait in the car until it was less intense to be able to maneuver the stairs.  Such ordinary things as a step or stairs are huge obstacles for someone who needs to learn how to walk again. We never thought that the aftermath of the surgery would be so difficult for her and us.

A few days ago on one of our medical outings, we made a small detour and visited Sea Well near Mason’s Island. Mason’s Island is an island on the Mystic River and part of the town of Mystic. It’s an exclusive community, maybe not quite as private as Groton Long Point, but also very beautiful. It’s here that Meryl Streep’s parents had their retirement home. And it wasn’t unusual to see the actress around town, although I never had the pleasure. Mystic is very popular with the NY crowd and one can sometimes spot a famous or well-known person camouflaged amongst the locals. I remember one day walking on Main Street and bumping into the talented Mexican soap opera star Nailea Norvind at one of the shops. She was with her mother, who I learned that day lived in NYC back then, and the two were speaking in English. So in an unusual gesture for me, I approached her to let her know I admired her acting skills.

Sea Well is a local fish and seafood shop. They have two stores, one in Mystic on Mason’s Island Road, and one in Pawcatuck. The seafood is delivered fresh daily from the Stonington docks and the last commercial fishing fleet in Connecticut. My brother and his family are patrons of Sea Well and sometimes even suppliers. My brother’s passion and main hobby is fishing. And he goes out often during the warm months and usually comes back with tons of tuna, some of which in turn he sells to the owners of Sea Well.

So, when my sister-in-law and nieces recommended buying seafood there, I didn’t hesitate. And naturally, we went for local scallops. I could only purchase three quarters of a pound, as that’s all that was left on Wednesday afternoon. And if I hadn’t arrived just in time, the lady who followed me in would’ve snatched them up. She seemed as disappointed as I would’ve been when the shopkeeper told her there were none left, that I had just taken the last bunch. I love scallops. And my parents do too. (By the way, Sea Well has delicious smoked bluefish and salmon that they prepare and smoke themselves. I highly recommend both.)

It has been an ordeal to get my mother enthusiastic about food. She’s been eating only for nourishment and she’s been forcing herself at best. The only food she has requested has been sushi! We’ve therefore had take out from some local restaurants a number of times… the rest of us savouring it as much as she has.

She simply has not been enjoying any of her meals. But with the move to this house, things have started to change in a positive direction and not only with food. The house as I’ve mentioned gives off a good vibe. It’s clean, with lots of white, blue and green furniture in a coastal decor, and tons of light. There are windows everywhere. In fact, at night I’m sure our neighbours are checking us out from their homes, until I remember to put the shades down. The owners have a number of watercolour paintings from local artists and many little wooden signs in pastel colours. Some are rather cute, like the one in the bathroom that says, “If you’re not barefoot, you’re overdressed.” The entrance of the house has a lovely sunroom, surrounded by windows on all three walls, again with the blue, green and white decor, and a bunch of rustic wooden signs, a few stating that life’s better at the beach, another welcomes the visitor and let’s us know we are on the porch, yet another says there’s no vacancy. And then there’s the one over the front door that reads, “Only Count the Happy Hours.” I like that, especially after the rough year we are having. I can’t wait to meet the owners as I already like them from how the house has influenced my mother’s mood.

My mother is walking on her own (albeit with the walker) and is more engaged in her rehab exercises. She’s talking more. And she’s been helping me peel and cut things in the kitchen. She’s a keen and excellent cook from whom I’ve learned most of what I know; and she keeps wondering out loud when she’ll be able to make meals for my father and herself again.  Thus her voluntary (and enthusiastic) involvement with the preparation of our meals is a good sign in her continued recovery.

She is also finally taking pleasure in eating and she’s cleaning off her plates! We had the scallops we bought at Sea Well yesterday. I dry-pan seared them and served them with oven-roasted rosemary and garlic potatoes (I must share the recipe when I make them again) and some broccoli. And today, I used up the remaining scallops with a light, tomato soup which was very appropriate for the wet and chilly day. My mother cleaned off her bowl and kept saying how delicious it was, which very pleasantly surprised my father and me. We are taking one day at a time, or maybe even one hour at a time, and counting only the happy ones…and relishing in each other’s company, sharing healthy and delicious meals and sobremesa (after-meal) conversations.

*A few days after writing this post, my mother had to go back to the hospital due to complications with her medications. Thankfully, after only a week this time, she’s back home and much stronger.

*****

With all the attention my mother needs and all the stress I’m going through right now, I cannot concentrate on one of my dearest hobbies, reading books, and I have a few new ones patiently waiting for me to pick them up and immerse myself in their stories. Instead, I’ve been able to muster just enough patience to read food magazines. This recipe is inspired by one in the August 2014 issue of Bon Appétit. My sister-in-law and nieces swear by this magazine and the owners of the house had a copy laying around. So, I am putting it to good use.

I like roasting vegetables and fruits, as the flavour is intensified and it gives any dish a rustic feel. For the recipe today, I roasted tomatoes, which I especially love to do for soups and sauces. When one adds roasted garlic, it becomes even more delectable. And if my mother wanted seconds, I think you will too…

This soup is very easy to make and can even be made ahead of time. It’s light enough for a starter yet filling enough for a main course, depending on how many scallops (or fish) you want to add.

RUSTIC ROASTED TOMATO SOUP & PAN-SEARED SCALLOPS

Ingredients:

(serves 4)

16 small scallops (4 pp, or more or less according to your preference)
4 medium organic tomatoes, cut in quarters
8-10 garlic cloves, unpeeled
4-6 fresh basil leaves for roasting, plus 4-5 additional for the soup and garnishing if desired
1/2 tablespoon dried basil
sea salt & pepper, to taste
1 ñora (or other dried, sweet pepper), soaked in water for about 20 minutes
olive oil, about 3-4 tablespoons, plus more for drizzle
2 cups water
raw milk goat’s cheese, crumbled

Method:

For the soup:

Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).

Place the tomatoes, drained ñora, and garlic cloves on an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with dried basil and add 4-6  fresh basil leaves, season with salt and pepper, and pour olive oil over top. Mix with hands so everything is well coated. Bake for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from oven and discard the ñora. Separate the garlic cloves and peel; this is easily done by holding down one end and with a fork pushing the clove out of the peel. Transfer the peeled garlic cloves and the remaining ingredients including the juices into a pot. Add two cups of water. With a potato masher, mash to crush the tomatoes and cloves a bit further but not too much. Add additional 4-5 fresh basil leaves. Over medium heat, bring to a slight bubble, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and season with further salt and pepper, if necessary.

For the scallops:

Rinse the scallops and pat dry them with a paper towel. Sprinkle some sea salt and freshly ground pepper over the scallops.

While the soup cooks, heat over medium-high heat an iron pan. Grease the bottom with olive oil and a paper towel, and sear the scallops briefly on each side, about 1-2 minutes. Set aside. The scallops can also be made in advance.

To assemble:

Pour the soup into four bowls. Add 4 scallops to each bowl and sprinkle with crumbled goat’s cheese. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and some freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately.

*****

SOPA RUSTICA DE TOMATES HORNEADOS CON VIEIRAS A LA SARTEN

Ingredientes:

(para 4)

16 vieiras pequeñas (4 por persona, o mas o menos según guste)
4 tomates orgánicos, cortados a cuartos
8-10 dientes de ajo, sin pelar
4-6 hojas de albahaca fresca para hornear, mas unas cuantas adicionales para la sopa
1/2 cucharada sopera de albahaca seca
sal marina & pimienta fresca, a gusto
1 ñora, puesta en remojo unos 20 minutos
aceite de oliva, unas 3-4 cucharadas soperas, y un poco mas para rociar la sopa
500ml de agua
un poco de queso de cabra, desmoronado

Metodo:

Para la sopa:

Precalentamos el horno a 200C.

Ponemos los tomates, la ñora, los dientes de ajo, y las hojas de albahaca en un recipiente para el horno. Espolvoreamos con la albahaca seca, salpimentamos y echamos el aceite de oliva por encima. Removemos con las manos para que todo quede bien cubierto. Horneamos unos 30-35 minutos, removiendo unas cuantas veces.

Cuando saquemos la bandeja del horno, nos deshacemos de la ñora y pelamos los dientes de ajos. Pasamos los ajos pelados y los demás ingredientes, incluyendo el jugo, a una olla. Agregamos el agua y con un machacador de patatas, machacamos para deshacer un poco mas los tomatoes y los ajos. Agregamos unas hojas de albahaca fresca. Sobre fuego medio, llegamos a una ebullición, bajamos la lumbre y cocinamos unos 5 minutos a fuego lento. Probamos el caldo y salpimentamos de nuevo si fuera necesario.

Para las vieiras:

Enjuagamos las vieiras y las secamos con un papel de cocina. Salpimentamos.

Ponemos una sartén de hierro a calentar sobre fuego medio-alto. Cuando este bien caliente, engrasamos el fondo con un papel de cocina y un poco de aceite de oliva. Doramos las vieiras, 1-2 minutos por cada lado. Apartamos las vieiras y las conservamos en un plato, sin tapar, hasta servir con la sopa.

Para presentar:

Dividimos la sopa en cuatro porciones. Colocamos 4 vieiras por persona en cada plato sopero, y espolvoreamos con los trozos  del queso de cabra. Rociamos cada plato con un poco de aceite de oliva, y echamos un poquito de pimienta fresca a cada plato. Servimos la sopa inmediatamente.

Lust for Life Reclaimed & Honey-Roasted Rosemary Pork Chops

A few months ago, I started reading Paradise Reclaimed, an Icelandic novel by Halldór Laxness.  I have yet to finish it…but today, made me think of the moral behind the tale in Laxness’ novel.

I was thinking about how sometimes we must take a long journey to get us where we want or should be and to give us that depth of palette, that we would not have achieved otherwise and with which we paint our canvas of life.  At times for some of us, the road can be tumultuous, full of bumps, twists and turns, and paths that maybe we wished we had not taken but from which we cannot turn around. And then other routes appear that we are afraid or unable to take; and yet, when we actually take the leap and grab the proverbial “bull by the horns”, we are lead down a path to magical places…places we have longed for…places that provide wings for our souls to soar…

I haven’t written on the blog since 14 February. Since then and some time towards the end of 2013, I have lived through some intense experiences and mixed emotions, which finally propelled me to take a decision that I should have taken long ago. But as we say in Spain, “agua pasada no mueve molinos” (water past does not move the mill), so regretting the past will lead me nowhere useful.

Today, I write from my lovely Seville, the city where my mother grew up, where many of my aunts, uncles and cousins live, where I am rekindling old friendships, and rediscovering wonderful treasures.  I have been here since the beginning of March, when my cousins went to London to bring me home to ensure I would be in a safe and protected environment.

At first, I experienced some culture shock. Yes! Truly! It’s a strange sensation feeling like an ex-pat in the country that saw me grow up. Plus my mind and body were fighting the idea of being forced into a situation that I had not planned. But slowly, just like the heat of the sun has warmed up my skin, the comfort and warmth of my family and friends have let the light shine in my soul anew. And I have fallen in love with life all over again. I’ve found the lust for life, which long ago dissipated and slipped through my hands, slowly, like the melting snow in the Spring sun.

I’m getting divorced.

I cannot and will not go into why now. Maybe one day I will be able to; and when that day comes, I know that I will be able to assist other women who are in similar situations to the one I have endured. In fact, I am thinking of setting up a foundation.

But for now, all I can say is that the path in front of me, although filled with uncertainties and a few more foreseeable twists and turns, as well as bumps, is also filled with enchanting and magical surprises and a lot of life’s little pleasures.

And maybe it’s very possible that Sevilla has been the perfect medicine for me! I guess things do happen for a reason…

And speaking of Sevilla, I am trying my utmost best to don the glasses of a tourist here. It may seem like an easy task.. but it’s actually a daunting one for me. And maybe it’s my state of mind and emotions. Or maybe it’s simply the fact that it’s hard to incorporate a freshness to my view that is only really attainable when something is new and untapped. Either way… I’m on a mission to rediscover old places and discover those I’ve yet to experience.

One of my new discoveries is El Mercado de los Jueves, on Calle Feria. It’s not a new market. In fact, it’s the oldest running market in Sevilla, dating from the 1400s. My mother was very excited when I shared with her that I intended to go. She used to work as a teenager on Calle Correduria and made a point every Thursday after work to head that way and explore the market. But I had never been. And now, I’ve been twice. And I’m beginning to feel an addiction…

And quite possibly, I don’t exaggerate (exaggeration is a very typical Andalusian trait by the way). As the fact is that I plan on going back again. The market is full of interesting, and oftentimes valuable, antiques, handmade crafts, books, old flamenca dresses, collectible items, and embroidered linens. There’s also a spattering of quite a bit of junk from the 1980s and 1990s. But if you skip over that (unless that’s your thing), there are some good finds to be had.

On my second visit, I went with two friends from high school who are revisiting Spain after many years. So, we toured the market together and even bought some antique goblets and a primitive coal iron (for only 8 euros!) from a sleek but rather nice gypsy and some pan de oro mirrors (although these I think were just painted instead of made with gold leaf as we kept being told) from two artisan brothers who were arguing that they couldn’t offer us a deal on three mirrors because each brother sells his own wares, although they display them together. Sometimes Spaniards are as square-minded as Germans are known to be! 😉

We also saw quite impressive Meissen plates (the dealer said they dated from the late 1800s, but unless you’re an expert, who knows?), antique pieces from church altarpieces, old wooden picture frames, silver and alpaca ware…and the vendors are just as colourful as what they sell. There are gypsies, Portuguese art collectors, some hippies, a few pijos, and a lot of bohemians…you may even get a whiff of some hashish around a few of the stands! Overall, it’s a really fun and interesting way to spend a Thursday morning in the city.

From there, we ventured off into the Mercado de la Calle Feria, the street’s namesake food market, where one can purchase fresh, daily local produce, meats, seafood from Huelva and Cádiz, and specialty items.

As we exited the market through the back entrance, we were greeted by the beautiful mudéjar (Moorish) casa-palacio from the Marquess of La Algaba. The entrance is free, so we ventured in.

It was constructed during the XV and XVI centuries and although it’s gone through various owners and some periods of decadence, it is now fully restored to its original splendor and houses the Center for Mudéjar Art. As with all moorish palaces, the sensation of peace and tranquility, as well as exquisite quality of life, transpire through the pores of the ancient stone walls and sun-drenched interior gardens, offering a magical oasis to the visitor.

In Andalucía, the influence of Islamic and posterior Mudéjar and Mozarabe art, architecture, and culture still permeate today in our way of life, our food and even our language…. it creates that allure, the enchantment, and the duende that we all have a hard time describing, but which captures us all upon our first experiences. And it has recaptured me now and given me back that lust for life long gone.

Of course, my family and friends have been a huge catapult and essential part for reclaiming that joie de vivre too.

And anyway, today I wanted to share with you the reason why I have been absent, the current course of my life and to let you know that Inshallah – God willing, Ganesha willing, Santa Angela & San Nicholas willing ;), I’m here (whether that is London or Sevilla or another location only time will tell) to stay and will soon be sharing more Paleo recipes with all of you…

…the black cloud lingering over my head is not entirely gone yet, although the winds of change have started to blow it away and allow some rays of light to shine on me.

I’m going through a metamorphosis, which I hope and pray will allow me to come alive again with more strength, new ideas and above all, a much happier and healthier state of mind and body that will all positively influence my work and the things I share with all of you.

In the meantime, please bare with me, have a little patience, and don’t give up on The Saffron Girl… 😉

Love, Debra

PS: The following recipe is inspired by my Andalucía, and it’s equally good or even better made with lamb.

HONEY ROASTED ROSEMARY PORK CHOPS WITH OVEN BAKED POTATOES, A 30-MINUTE MEAL

Ingredients, for 2:

4 pork chops or more, if using lamb chops instead
3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and roughly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil, about 1/2 tablespoon
rosemary, about 1 1/2 teaspoons
raw honey, about 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons
coarse sea salt, to taste

Method:

Preheat oven to 180C (350F). In an oven proof dish, place the rinsed pork chops.

With your hands, add a few dollops of raw honey to each pork chop. Sprinkle with rosemary, the minced garlic and sea salt. Add the potatoes to the dish and drizzle olive oil over everything. Add some additional sea salt over the potatoes, as well as a sprinkling of additional rosemary.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. Serve with another vegetable if desired.

*****

CHULETAS DE CERDO, AL HORNO CON MIEL Y ROMERO, Y PATATAS, UN PLATO HECHO EN 30 MINUTOS

Ingredientes, para 2:

4 chuletas de cerdo
3-4 patatas medianas, peladas y cortadas a gajos
2 dientes de ajos, picados
aceite de oliva, como 1/2 cucharada grande
romero, como 1 cucharadita y media
miel cruda, como 1 cucharadita y media a 2 cucharaditas
sal marina, a gusto

Como hacer las chuletas al horno:

Precalentamos el horno a 180C. En un recipiente para el horno, ponemos las chuletas, ya enjuagadas. Con las manos, le echamos unas gotitas de miel cruda por encima de cada chuleta. Espolvoreamos con un poco de romero, le echamos un poco de sal y los dientes de ajos, previamente picados.

Agregamos las patatas al recipiente y echamos un chorreón de aceite de oliva por encima de las patatas y las chuletas. Espolvoreamos con un poco mas de romero y sal por encima de las patatas.

Horneamos unos 25 a 30 minutos. Se puede servir con otra verdura, si lo deseamos.

Cream of Pumpkin Soup aux Herbes de Provence

The butternut squash had been laying on the counter for a couple of weeks and I kept moving it closer to the preparation area near the sink as a reminder to myself to do something with it. I love pumpkin almost anything, but I really wanted to avoid making another soup.

As I’ve not been too inspired lately or have been blogging frequently enough, I wanted to create something special… but I ended up surprising myself with soup. Sometimes the quick and easy wins over; and as it was so tasty, I decided it’s worthy of sharing.

Hope you enjoy!

CREAM OF PUMPKIN SOUP AUX HERBES DE PROVENCE

Ingredients, for 4:

1/2 large butternut squash (the whole squash was about 750g), roasted
3 cloves garlic, sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
3 medium tomatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 medium onion, julienned
1/4 cup butter (I used Kerrygold)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups filtered water
1 tablespoons herbes de Provence
sea salt, to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste if desired

Method:

I roasted the pumpkin split in half, shell side facing up, for almost 50 minutes at 180C (350F). You can do this in advance to have ready for the soup or other recipes. With the shell facing upwards, you avoid browning the flesh and have better tasting pumpkin meat.

Place the butter and olive oil in a large pot and melt over low heat. Add the garlic, onion, and celery and poach for about 8-10 minutes until tender. Add the tomatoes and cook an additional 3 minutes so the flavours blend. Add the meat of 1/2 pumpkin and give it a good stir to blend well.

Add the coconut milk and stir well. Remove from heat and with an immersion blender, puree all the ingredients. You can do this directly in the pot. Return the pot to the stove and add the filtered water.  Add the herbes de Provence and sea salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and allow to warm through on low heat.

If desired you can serve with pieces of hard-boiled egg, sautéed shrimp or other seafood.

*****

SOPA DE CALABAZA A LAS HIERBAS DE LA PROVENZA

Ingredientes, para 4:

1/2 calabaza (tipo butternut squash de unos 750g entera), horneada
3 dientes de ajo, cortados
3 pencas de apio, cortadas finamente
3 tomates medianos, pelados y cortados a cuartos
1 cebolla mediana, cortada en juliana
1/4 de la taza de mantequilla (como unos 30g, yo use de la marca Kerrygold)
2 cucharadas soperas, o un poquito mas, de aceite de oliva
250ml de leche de coco
500ml de agua
sal y pimienta a gusto

Como hacer la sopa:

Hornea la calabaza a 180C unos 50 minutos. Yo la puse en la fuente con el lado de la piel hacia arriba, así se hornea sin quemar la pulpa y tiene mejor sabor.

En un olla onda, ponemos la mantequilla y el aceite de oliva a derretir sobre fuego lento. Agregamos los ajos, el apio y la cebolla y pochamos unos 8-10 minutos hasta que esten tiernos. Añadimos los tomatoes y pochamos unos 3 minutos mas para que se mezclen los sabores.

A continuación, echamos la pulpa o carne de la media calabaza dentro de la olla. Le damos una vuelta con una cuchara de madera para mezclar bien. Añadimos la leche de coco y volvemos a mover bien.

Retiramos del fuego y con una mini-pimer hacemos un puré. Esto se puede hacer dentro de la misma olla. Volvemos a poner sobre fuego lento y agregamos el agua, la hierbas de la Provenza, y salpimentamos a gusto. Dejamos que se caliente bien para servir.

Podemos acompañar la sopa con algo de guarnición, como un huevo duro picado, unas gambas salteadas o algún otro marisco.

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