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Tag: Soup

Borscht with Beef, From Russia with Love

If there’s one place in the world that I could say is on my proverbial ‘bucket list’, that’s Russia, that land that was once prohibited to Westerners, the land shrouded in mystery and spy stories, the land of an intensely resilient people who have survived hardships most of us cannot even imagine, and the land of snowy Siberia.

The mere thought of standing in the famous Red Square in Moscow and seeing St. Basil’s Cathedral with its colourful onion-top domes and Byzantine architecture and being feet away from the Kremlin, I know will one day make me giddy with glee. I will have to pinch myself to believe what my eyes will be seeing.

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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.

4corners

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?

japarec

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 …

shrimplobsta

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!

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!

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.

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.

Roasted Pumpkin Vegetable Potage

We are currently travelling through parts of Europe. My husband has to be in Austria a few days and asked me to come along so we could visit family and friends and maybe squeese in a day of early-season skiing as well. (The snow conditions in Austria are supposed to be perfect for skiing… we’ll see.)

So, once again, we are on one of our crazy road-trips, which always turn out to be a lot of fun and which we love. We usually end up seeing a number of cities and sometimes even can fit in a visit to a museum or a tourist site. On this trip thus far, we visited family in Maasland and managed to see a lovely museum. Maasland is a village in the province of South Holland and it has a long history, since about 925AD. It was also an important area, where Willem van Oranje, in 1574, finally defeated the Spaniards with an interesting strategy of flooding the lands. Most of the Netherlands is below sea level, and this area in particular is very low. One can see the old dikes and polders, part of the engineering system of sea and water management for which the Netherlands is famous.

The museum in the center of town is an old farmer’s house with 19th century period furniture. The house has a storefront filled with replicas of lots of traditional stock of Dutch candies, cacao, cigarettes, pharmaceutical drugs, cleaning utensils, cooking oils, and canned foodstuffs. They still sell some varieties of sugary sweets by weight and there were a number of children lining up to get their few euros worth of treats. I remembered my youth in Sevilla with my cousins where we used to go the corner kiosk to buy a handful of candies and chewing gums for only 5 pesetas!

The house also has a cellar, where the original family made homemade butter, buttermilk and cheeses. It’s very interesting to see all of the wooden and iron equipment used for the process of making these dairy products. What a lot of work all that was, but how healthy to make it at home! There are still many farmers who make and sell their own dairy products. In fact, our family shared with us some farmer’s cheese they had purchased especially for our visit. The taste and texture are unique and so wonderful.

My favourite part of the house was the kitchen of course. It was stocked with all kinds of beautiful enamelware.. all of which I wanted to take home! There were the traditional Dutch ovens, which can be stacked on top of each other, ladles and spoons, pots and pans, a poffertjes pan (something like “full” pancakes), teapot, coffeepot…

As we continue our trip, we are having a short break today so my husband can visit his dentist and I’m taking advantage of this time to write this post and share the recipe with you.

On Friday, the day we left London, I made this soup with some leftover roasted pumpkin from this recipe, so we could have something warm in our tummies for lunch and to hold us over until we arrived in France for dinner. It’s very easy to make and is a nice soup to serve as a starter for a full meal. You can use other vegetables, depending on your taste and what you may have on hand.

Enjoy!

ROASTED PUMPKIN VEGETABLE POTAGE

Ingredients, makes about 5 cups:

2 cups roasted pumpkin meat (I used butternut squash at roasted in the oven at 180C (350F) for about 40 minutes)
3 cups filtered water
2 leeks, finely sliced
6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved
3 medium red onions, julienne or chopped
4 stalks celery, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
sea salt and black pepper, to taste
3-4 tablespoons duck fat
bacon bits or jamón serrano bits

Method:

In a pot over low heat, melt the duck fat and poach the onions until soft, about 6-8 minutes. Add the rest of the vegetables, excluding the pumpkin, and the spices. Cook until the vegetables are tender. Add one cup of the filtered water and the pumpkin meat and mix well. Add the remaining two cups of water, mix well, and season with sea salt and pepper, to taste. Warm and serve with pieces of bacon or jamón serrano.

*****

SOPA/POTAJE DE CALABAZA AL HORNO CON VERDURAS

Ingredientes, hace como 5 tazas de caldo :

2 tazas, como unos 500ml de carne de calabaza previamente hecha al horno (a 180C unos 40 minutos)
750ml de agua
2 puerros, cortados en rodajas finas
6-8 tomates cherry, cortados por la mitad
3 cebollas medianas, rojas, cortadas en juliana
4 pencas de apio, en rodajas finas
3 dientes de ajo, en rodajas a lo largo
1 cucharadita de hierbas de la Provenza
1/2 cucharadita de cúrcuma
salt y pimienta negra, a gusto
3-4 cucharadas grandes de grasa de pato
taquitos de beicon o jamón serrano, de guarnición

Como hacer la sopa:

En una olla sobre fuego lento, derrite la grasa de pato y pocha las cebollas, como unos 6-8 minutos, hasta que esten tiernas. Añade el resto de las verduras, excepto la calabaza, y las especias. Cuece hasta que esten las verduras tiernas. Agrega una taza de agua (250ml) y la calabaza y remueve bien. Ahora agregale el resto del agua, mezclando todo bien, y sazona a gusto con sal y pimienta negra. Calienta la sopa y sirve la con taquitos de beicon o jamón.

Sweet Potato & Zucchini Soup with Quatre-Epices

Since moving back to Europe, we make a point of doing an annual road trip to Sevilla, Spain usually in the summer or autumn. We have three important reasons for driving so many kilometers each year: one, we get to enjoy a lot of quality time together and see many beautiful things along the way, both in France and in Spain; and two, we have the opportunity of seeing family and friends, whom we wouldn’t see otherwise because of where they live, Bayonne and Vitoria; and three, we stock up on Spanish goodies, such as various 5-liter olive oil bottles, whole legs of jamon serrano, and other things we miss, that we couldn’t possibly pack into a suitcase. On the last trip, we even brought back some delicious salted cod!

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Now that we live in London, we are in France more often than when we lived in Germany. Now, we must cross the north of France every time we visit the Benelux and Germany. Consequently, we have gotten to know Calais and the surrounding region quite well. During the summer months when we arrive around lunchtime, our first stop in France is always for moules frites in Gravelines at Le 116. Gravelines is a rather sleepy little town on the River Aa; but it does have a beautiful beach, and the historical, hexagonal-shaped bastion, Grand Fort Philippe, is worth visiting. The area can be confusing for the first-time visitor as the culture, the landscape and even the names of towns are a mixture of French and Dutch. The area was part of Flanders and still has many similarities with Belgium and The Netherlands. (By the way, another very interesting and beautiful hexagonal fort town is Bourtange, near Groningen in The Netherlands.)

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Eating in France can be a hit or miss experience, we’ve discovered. Arguably one could say that can happen in every country; but when eating in France, we’ve come to expect top quality and cuisine, and it’s not always the case. Aside from our moules frites passion, we have stopped for every meal during one trip or another, and have had varying degrees of satisfaction. And some of the best meals have been when and where we least expected them.

We once had a delightful breakfast in Neufchâtel. We arrived in town just as the farmers’ market was opening; in fact, it was still slightly dark out and the morning air was quite brisk, adding a very pleasant atmosphere with which to start our day. At the market, we purchased some pungent local cheeses (Neufchâtel, of course!) from a very helpful cheesemonger and a large baguette at the nearby boulangerie (France and Spain are the only two countries in which I make an exception to eat bread, and only occasionally), which we consumed with a cafe au lait, before continuing our journey. I love visiting farmers’ markets, and I’ve found the best ones in France, The Netherlands and Germany. The only downside of travelling and visiting markets is not being able to purchase all the fresh seafood, meats and produce!

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Another memorable meal was our stop in Conty for dinner. The area is famous for le Tour de France going through it and the little restaurant at which we ate had a number of cycling memorabilia. But the best part of dinner was the cookery book, Cuisine d’Hiver, laying on a shelf behind me. I took a gazillion pictures of the recipes with my iPhone and later saved them on my computer to never look at them again. I do this a lot. In fact, I take pictures of menus with the intention of using the ideas for inspiration and later always forget to revisit them.

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So, when my duck fat arrived in the mail the other day, for some reason I thought of France. And no, I still haven’t used any of the recipes from the cookery book in Conty, although I’ve placed them all in a folder to have them printed. That’s a step in the right direction, I think. In the meantime, I came up with this French-inspired soup recipe to use up the sweet potatoes I had on hand.

I went to grab some quatre-épices and found out I was out of the spice mix. This is another food item I tend to purchase when travelling through France, that and herbes de Provence. The spice mix usually includes pepper (white, black or both), ginger, nutmeg and cloves. For the soup, I created my own combination by using equal parts of black pepper, nutmeg and cloves and adding some freshly grated ginger.

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To add some kick, which my husband tends to appreciate, I included some chili powder, as well. And I added turmeric for the health benefits and for a more intense colour.

As the duck fat was not enough fat for my interpretation of a healthy meal, I garnished the soup with some chopped, hard-boiled eggs and pieces of jamon serrano, along with some chopped chives for additional flavour. You can omit these, but if you want a more well-balanced dish, I wouldn’t. (Of course, bacon or ham can be substituted for the jamon serrano.)

The sweet potato and zucchini soup is my homage to our trips through France… if I can’t be in France on a daily basis, I can bring a little bit of France to me by way of the very healthy and delicious duck fat and quatre-épices. I hope you will also enjoy!

Bon Appétit!

Sweet Potato & Zucchini Soup with Quatre-Epices
Author: The Saffron Girl
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Makes about 10 servings.
Ingredients
  • 900g (just shy of 2lbs) sweet potato, peeled and roughly cubed
  • 2 medium zucchini, partially peeled and roughly cubed
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 medium leek, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/4 cup duck fat
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 7-8 cups filtered water, or if you have chicken or duck broth, much better
  • 3 teaspoons coarse sea salt (adjust salt if you use broth and/or to taste, of course)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, optional
  • For garnish, if desired:
  • hard boiled eggs, chopped
  • jamon serrano or bacon pieces
  • chopped chives
Instructions
  1. Place the duck fat, onion and leek in a large pot. Poach over low heat, about 8 minutes until the onion is almost translucent.
  2. Add the garlic, zucchini pieces, and the spices and stir well.
  3. Cook about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the sweet potatoes and 4 cups of filtered water or stock.
  5. Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
  6. Remove from heat and allow to slightly cool, enough to handle safely.
  7. With an immersion blender, puree until smooth.
  8. Add 3-4 cups of additional filtered water.
  9. Add sea salt, adjusting to taste.
  10. Add chili powder, if desired.
  11. Stir well.
  12. Heat through over low heat to warm enough to serve, about 5-7 minutes.
  13. Garnish with hard-boiled egg, jamon serrano and chives, if desired.
  14. (The soup freezes well for later use.)

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Limoncello Pumpkin Soup

I love it when the lack of ingredients provokes a stroke of creativity. This happened to me when making this soup. I was looking for my white wine, of which I didn’t have any left, and saw the limoncello. And it just seemed like a cool flavour to add to this soup. Some friends of ours, who used to live in Italy, brought over a couple of bottles of limoncello when they visited us in Germany. We obviously are not drinkers (since that was over two years ago), and much less of liquors, so both bottles are almost intact.

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We keep the pretty bottles in the fridge, as it’s supposed to be served chilled. I sort of see them every day, and they are almost like a decoration inside my fridge. The limoncello is made from lemons and has a beautiful, sunny yellow colour that seems unreal. When opened, the aroma that permeates from the liqour is both refreshing and delicate; but don’t be fooled, it has quite a punch when you drink it straight.

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However, in the soup is was undetectable, although I think it may have enhanced the overall flavour, since it turned out delicious. Of course, you can substitute with a white wine, which was my original idea.

It’s very easy to make, especially if you’re in a hurry. Just make sure you either roast the pumpkin first; or I guess canned pumpkin could also work. I garnished it with some finely sliced spring onions and crumbled Stilton cheese; however a little bit of lemon zest would probably bring out the limoncello flavours and be a nice contrast to the pumpkin.

Limoncello Pumpkin Soup
Author: The Saffron Girl
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 3-4
Serves 3-4.
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups roasted pumpkin meat
  • 2 small red onions, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely sliced
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil, butter or fat of preference
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup limoncello, or white wine
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • spring onions, finely sliced, for garnishing
  • Stilton cheese, crumbled, for garnishing and extra flavour (optional, but very tasty)
Instructions
  1. Roast your pumpkin in the oven for about 45 minutes at 180C (350F). I split mine in half and place them in an ovenproof dish. Facing up or down really doesn’t matter much.
  2. In a pot over low heat, poach the onions, garlic and celery with the olive oil or fat of choice, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the limoncello or white wine and reduce, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the pumpkin meat, giving it a good stir.
  5. Pour in the filtered water, and cook about 5 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat, and with an immersion blender, very roughly blend to puree a bit, but leaving chunks of the celery and other vegetables.
  7. (Alternatively you could puree the pumpkin with the water first and leave the rest of the vegetables whole.)
  8. Return to the stove and heat until warm to eat.
  9. Season with sea salt and pepper, to taste.
  10. To serve, garnish with spring onions, Stitlon cheese or whatever you desire. The cheese, if you do dairy, adds a delicious flavour, as does the spring onion.

 

Not Quite Icelandic Fish Soup

I have been mesmerised for days in the world of other bloggers and websites. One could almost say I have become obsessed; I’m doing research for changes that I want to make to this blog and the more I look, the more confused and overwhelmed I seem to get. My mind is doing summersaults, I go to bed thinking about layouts and wake up thinking about designs…and then there is the price factor. You have choices from a full-design by a web designer (which can be a lot of money but would save me all the hassle and time) or do-it-yourself options that would give me great satisfaction to produce, but that are not free in most cases, as there’s never a perfect template or platform to accommodate my needs. I want it all! A pretty site, a functional site and one that engages all of us, you and me.

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You may ask why I’m seeking out other sites when I’m also a graphic designer. But as we say in Spain, «en casa de herrero azadón de palo», which translates to “in the house of the metal-worker, a wooden hoe is used” because he either doesn’t have the time to attend to his own matters or doesn’t have the creativity to do so. Well, I’m way too subjective and am having trouble deciding on so many items, that I needed to do the research and also reach out to other designers.

In the midst of all this information overload and what I am sure is driving a number of designers and people crazy with all my questions and indecisions, I  haven’t been taking care of myself in the Paleo way. I feel like an artiste on a mission, who forgets to eat, wash or comb his/her hair… I can just envision myself like a Jack Pollock or a slightly entranced Da Vinci… thankfully, my husband is travelling and not witness to any of this!

However, on this journey through cyberspace, I’ve discovered some blogs that are simply gorgeous. And I don’t just mean their look, but the content. One of these such blogs is Mimi Thorisson’s Manger.  Over the past few days, I’ve come to know Mimi and her life, which is truly enviable. Her stories are enchanting, soothing and have a “je ne sais quoi” about them.. maybe because she’s half-French, is living in Medoc in the countryside, and everything seems so idyllic.

Her husband is a professional photographer and apparently takes all of the photos for the blog. They are impressive and inviting. And her recipes are simply delightful. One in particular caught my eye because of the title: Icelandic Fish Soup. Mimi’s husband is Icelandic.

I have been to Iceland twice, but I think I sort of travelled there before then as a child in my dreams. My father used to go there often because of his job, and brought me back a hand-made cloth viking doll, which I treasured for years. It’s still somewhere to be found at my parent’s house, I’m sure. Reading Mimi’s post brought back childhood memories and real memories of my trips to this island-country.

I always imagined the “land of fire and ice” to be a cold place, up in the northern hemisphere with inhospitable people… but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Well, partially wrong. It is a cold place. But it could be colder actually if it weren’t for the currents of the gulf stream, which bring warmer air from Africa up to Iceland.

The two times I visited were in November; so it was dark most of the day. The sun rises about 10:30 in the morning, although it really never goes far above the horizon, and it goes back down around 3:30 or 4:00pm. The play of light is surreal and magical, just like Iceland itself.

There’s so much I could write and describe about my experience in this intriguing country, one where people do not really have last names. Okay they do, but in order to find them in a phone book, you need to know the father’s first name, then know if the person is a man or a woman which determines the ending of the “last name”, plus they are listed by first names! For example, Thorisson is the son of Thori, but Thori’s daughter’s last name would be Thorisdottir (with a little accent on the “o”). It’s a country to which I’d love to return, this time during the warmer months to see the different colours of summer.

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Whilst reading Mimi’s blog, I came across this recipe for Icelandic fish soup and felt like it was just the right thing to bring me out of my artistic reverie and trance.

Below is my version of the soup, which has warmed up my tummy and brought me back to life….

 

Not Quite Icelandic Fish Soup
Recipe Type: Main
Cuisine: Icelandic
Author: The Saffron Girl
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4-6
Serves 4-6
Ingredients
  • 4-5 tablespoons butter (I used Kerrygold)
  • 2 medium red onions, julienned
  • 3 cloves garlic, quartered lengthwise
  • 1 celery stalk, finely sliced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup moscatel or sherry
  • 6 cups filtered water
  • 2 small tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 4 parsnips, peeled and chopped (about 1-inch pieces)
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon saffron powder or a few sprigs of saffron, plus a few additional sprigs for garnishing
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, or sea salt to taste
  • some freshly ground pepper
  • 6 hake steaks, cubed (I used frozen fish, about 4 cups cubed)
  • thyme for garnishing, optional
Instructions
  1. In a large pot over low heat, melt the butter with the onions, garlic and celery. Poach (cook on very low heat) for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
  2. Add the white wine and moscatel/sherry and reduce about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes, filtered water, saffron, vinegar and parsnips. Cook for 20-25 minutes until the parsnips are tender.
  4. Add sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. I added 1 teaspoon of salt, but needed a bit more on my plate later.
  5. With a potato masher, very slightly and roughly squash the soup a bit, so that the parsnip pieces are not whole. But do not puree the soup.
  6. Add the fish pieces and cook 8-10 minutes until the fish is done.
  7. Serve immediately, garnishing with some saffron sprigs and thyme, if desired.

 

Cream of Swede (Rutabaga) & Turnip Soup with Kale-Cashew Pesto & Scallops

Living in the United Kingdom gives me the possibility of exploring the countries which are part of it, enjoy the unique opportunity of experiencing London as a local, and also have the chance to try what for me are new vegetables and fruits… quite a comparison contrast, but all three are high up on my list.

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For me, trying new food is always interesting and fun. Such has been the case with the swede, or rutabaga. Before arriving in England, I believe I had never even seen or heard of it. In fact, I remember the first time my husband, who many times does the shopping, brought it home. I had to take a picture of it and send it to a friend, who had already been living here longer and is an avid gardener and foodie, to see if she knew what this strange white and purplish thing sitting on my counter was!

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The inspiration for this recipe came to me last night, as I was trying to fall asleep… I am starting to feel slightly obsessed! 😉 This actually has an explanation that is more logical: the turnips were starting to go soft and I needed to use them. So what better than a creamy soup for a chilly and wet day?

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I purposely kept the soup’s flavour a bit neutral, not adding too many spices so that it would pair well with the kale-cashew pesto I had planned. The addition of the scallops came a bit later to me, as I wanted to include some protein in my dish.

I’m in love with the combination and hope you will be too! If not, I hope you are at least inspired to come up with your own mix.

Cream of Swede & Turnip Soup with Kale-Cashew Pesto & Scallops
Author: The Saffron Girl
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6
Soup serves 6.
Ingredients
  • For the soup:
  • 1 swede/rutabaga, about 600g (1.3lbs), peeled and cut into cubes
  • 2 turnips, about 400g together (1lb), peeled and cut into cubes
  • 1 large leek, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 3 cups filtered water
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups filtered water
  • 2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard seeds
  • For the pesto:
  • 1/3 cup cashews
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 cups kale, chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • For the scallops:
  • 2 scallops (or more if desired), per bowl
  • olive oil
  • fresh thyme sprigs, as garnish
Instructions
  1. For the soup:
  2. In a large pot, place the swede, turnip and leek pieces with 3 cups of filtered water.
  3. Cook over low heat, for about 25 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
  4. Set aside to slightly cool.
  5. With an immersion blender, puree until smooth.
  6. Add 3 cups of filtered water (or more if too thick for your taste) and stir well.
  7. Add the salt, turmeric and mustard and place over low heat to warm up.
  8. In the meantime, make the pesto:
  9. Roast the cashews in a dry skillet until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Stir frequently so they do not burn.
  10. Combine the cashews and garlic in the food processor and process until very finely ground.
  11. Add the kale leaves, sea salt and pepper and process again until well chopped.
  12. Continuing processing, while adding the olive oil in a steady stream, until you have a creamy paste. (You can refrigerate or freeze, if not using all of it.)
  13. For the scallops:
  14. Place about 1 tablespoon of olive oil per 4 scallops, in a pan. Over medium heat, cook the scallops, until golden brown on each side, about 2 minutes each side.
  15. For serving:
  16. Pour two ladles of soup into each bowl.
  17. Drizzle with the kale-cashew pesto (the amount desired) and place two (or more) scallops into each bowl on top of the pesto.
  18. Finish with a sprig of thyme for each bowl.

 

Roasted Pumpkin-Carrot Soup

What happens to pumpkin that is about 1 month old? not much really.. it’s still usable and edible! At least mine was. Before our USA/Mexico trips, I had cleaned out the fridge and frozen some vegetables in preparation. But some other things I had left out, like the butternut squash on the counter and carrots in the fridge. The carrots were limp, but still good enough for making soup. So, that’s what I did.

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I roasted both the squash and the carrots together; and I used half the squash to make waffles (a recipe I want to remake before I share) and used the other half for the soup.

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The curry mix can be used for any of your favourite recipes, and if you don’t like the seasoning, simply use your preferred spices to add flavour to this soup.

Enjoy!

Roasted Pumpkin-Carrot Soup
Author: The Saffron Girl
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Ingredients
  • 1/2 smallish butternut squash (or 1 heaping cup roasted pumpkin meat)
  • 5 medium carrots
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 2 cups filtered water (or 3 cups water and no milk)
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons curry mix*
  • cooked bacon bits or jamon serrano pieces
  • cooked asparagus tips
  • drizzle of olive oil for garnishing
  • For the Curry Spice Mix:
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground fennel
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).
  2. Cut the butternut squash in half and place in cut-side up in an oven proof dish.
  3. Rinse the carrots, and without peeling, place next to the squash.
  4. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until squash is tender.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to be able to handle.
  6. Remove seeds from the squash and remove the meat. For the soup, you’ll need 1 heaping cup of pumpkin meat (or a little more if you prefer).
  7. Peel the roasted carrots by carefully tearing off the skin with a knife. Cut both tips off, as well.
  8. Place the pumpkin meat, carrots and 1 cup coconut milk in a blender or food processor (or you can puree using an immersion blender as well).
  9. Puree until smooth. Add 2 cups of water and mix well.
  10. Add the seasoning and spice mix and stir until all is well incorporated.
  11. Place the soup in a pan and warm up over low to medium heat.
  12. In the meantime, cook some bacon / pork back rashers. Cut them into pieces. (If using jamon serrano, simply cut up some pieces, enough for the number of servings.)
  13. To plate: pour the soup in the bowls, sprinkle with some bacon bits/jamon serrano pieces and the asparagus tips, and drizzle with olive oil.
  14. For the Curry Mix:
  15. If your spices are “whole”, simply grind them up in a coffee grinder.
  16. Mix all the spices together for the curry.

 

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