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One year after his graduation from high school, this blog post is for my son Ethan. I wanted to choose a dessert recipe to go with it, something sweet, because that’s how he is. I chose my recipe for lemon mousse tart, a light dessert I’m sure you will love as much as we do at home.

If you ask Ethan, he will say you don’t owe me anything, because it’s in his very nature to be grateful. But one of my first blog posts on Mama Ía blog was about Matthew, his older brother’s high school graduation. Ethan graduated last year, and don’t ask me why –– maybe being busier than usual with other projects––, time came and went and I never dedicated Ethan the graduation post I had done for his brother. So here it is: from high school graduation through his first year of college, a review of a year to honor him like he deserves.

Ethan is a middle brother, and like many middle brothers, he is very sweet and accommodating, choosing to never ruffle any feathers. He’s compassionate and sensitive and a joy to be around. He’ll bite his tongue rather than say something that might upset anybody. But don’t take this the wrong way: Ethan is by no means a pushover, he’s simply the definition of kindness.

It was no surprise to me that, when it came time to organize his graduation party, he wanted the bare minimum, to just have his friends over, like any other Saturday evening, for a bonfire and some food and laughs and fun. We had to persuade him that his graduation from high school was a milestone, something to celebrate with a bit of fanfare, not just with his friends, but with his friends’ families, with relatives and with teachers that had seen him grow and flourish to this point in his life. Moreover, he had accepted the offer from the University of Miami to study architecture, so this party in a way also served as a send-off.

Ethan‘s graduation party ended up being very similar to Matthew’s, and a fun, celebratory occasion. One big difference on my part: I didn’t cook all the food, as I had done for Matthew‘s party (that had been a huge endeavor and I learned my lesson) so we ended up catering it, which gave me a respite and an extra level of relaxation. Ethan‘s party reunited all of his piano, band and music teachers, a number of other high school teachers, and people that had been in his life for one reason or another, at one time or another, all of whom had left an imprint in his life. It was a beautiful, celebratory event, and at the end, I’m sure Ethan liked how it turned out, not too flashy or pretentious, just very special.

My summer internship!

Weeks after the party, we left for our annual summer in Spain. But throughout the summer, Ethan felt a bit restless. Something was not quite right. Ethan is, in a way, a very private person, and has a hard time sharing his feelings. It was not until a couple of months later that he relaxed, and then shared his fears, the worries that had been tormenting him during the summer, and that could be summarized in his move to Miami, far away from home. What if he didn’t like living in Florida? What if he missed home too much? What if the school wasn’t the right fit for him? What if he didn’t like architecture, his chosen area of study? What if any of those fears came true and he had to waste a year of his life, or worse, his parents financial and emotional effort to send him there?

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Culinary Diplomacy Spain took place at the Joseph Decuis farm on March 22, 2019. A lot has happened since then (I published a book!), but now it’s time to talk about that great evening, and share with you one of the recipes the guests enjoyed, mojo picon with wrinkly potatoes, mojo picón con patatas arrugadas.

Joseph Decuis restaurant, located in Roanoke, Indiana, is a farm to fork restaurant that has been voted for years in a row as the best restaurant in Indiana. The restaurant itself sits inside an old bank, with its huge safe serving as the wine cellar —very fittingly, its wine list holds many jewels. The restaurant comprises various dining rooms, one of them open air, in an indoor patio, another one in the conservatory, each one of them with their very own flair, all of them equally inviting. If you want to plan your special event in the Fort Wayne area, this is the place.

Joseph Decuis is particularly known for being the only restaurant in the United States raising its own Wagyu cattle with traditional Japanese husbandry practices — all natural, humane, drug-free and stress-free (Wagyu is arguably the finest tasting, healthiest beef in the world). They also raise Mangalitza pigs and Rainbow Dixie and Naked Neck chickens, and grow their own produce.

What an honor it was for me, then, when its owner, Alice, invited me to share the food of my country, Spain, through the masterful hands of its chefs.

Have you ever done something you know you want to do, but scares you? This is what I felt when I accepted Alice‘s invitation, but I’m glad I did —saying yes to what scares you is usually the best choice.

I went through many cookbooks in preparation for the event, but mostly through my blog and my mom’s recipes, and came up with a long list of Spanish dishes I thought guests would enjoy. Chefs Marcus, Eric and I met on various occasions and eventually settled on a tasting menu. It was not easy for me to leave out many of the dishes, even it the final menu included quite a few of them.

What an amazing experience the whole event was, from beginning to end! But I have to admit, the highlight for me was to cook in their professional kitchen, alongside chefs and sous chefs, to experience what it was to cook at a restaurant (and not just any restaurant) kitchen. The Joseph Decuis team was helpful and supportive in every way, and the jokes, laughs and camaraderie never deterred from professional, fully packed days of cooking.

In the meantime, reservations started to come in, and soon it was realized, as potential diners were turned away, that a new venue was needed. The event was moved to the Joseph Decuis farm —a farm with a tuxedo, as they say on their website, and once you visit it, you understand why. The venue holds large parties like weddings and fundraisers, inside the barn or outdoors, in a familiar yet sophisticated atmosphere.

On the night of the event, I dined, and partied, and danced, and got to talk to the guests about what they were eating, about the culture of my country, and a bit of its history, as it relates to its gastronomy. Meanwhile, the cooks whipped up their magic bringing out tapa after tapa, main dish after main dish, desserts, Spanish wines and cocktails, all deliciously made and gorgeously presented, while Spanish music played in the background and the many guests mingled and enjoyed the ambience.

I’ll be posting the recipes for many of the dishes we enjoyed at Culinary Diplomacy Spain, so stay tuned. For today’s post I chose one of my favorites, mojo picon with wrinkly potatoes, mojo picón con patatas arrugadas.

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The article started with this paragraph:

“Spain has many attractions —delicious cuisine, a balmy climate, sublime music and a fascinating history. And now it can add another accolade: it has just been named the healthiest country in the world.”

I thought it appropriate to share the recipe for this powerful salad, barley and kale salad with pine nuts and cherries, to accompany this news —I will explain why later.

The 2019 Bloomberg report, crunching numbers from the UN, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization, scored 169 nations on a range of factors from life expectancy to obesity, air quality and access to clean water, among others. The results showed that Spain was the number one ranked country as healthiest in the world. The list placed Italy in second place, followed by Iceland and Japan.

Image: Bloomberg

The ranking showed a correlation between health and wealth, with high income nations in Europe and the Pacific rim dominating the top of the table. But it went on to say that although income was a strong indicator, a glance at the list showed that there were clearly other factors that played, given that, for example, the US, where life expectancy has been dropping partly as a result of opioid overdoses and suicides, only ranked 35th on the list, in part due to a diet rich in processed foods and large portions. The US in fact ranked five places lower than significantly poorer Cuba, which has a long history of investment in publicly funded healthcare and emphasis on preventive medicine. The article mentioned the healthcare system as the most important factor in determining the health of a country, and more specifically how, rather than how much, money is spent on healthcare. Spain’s healthcare system is predominantly publicly funded by taxes, and operates on principles of universality, free access and financial fairness. Essentially, everyone is entitled to the same level of care no matter how much money they have. Its primary care is particularly praised, with specialized family doctors who provide preventative services, and who act as the gatekeepers to the health system. Spain’s spending per capita is actually below the OECD average, and just one third that of the US.

The second main factor mentioned in the article was the Mediterranean diet. Popular in Spain and Italy, the two highest ranked healthy countries in the world for 2019, the Mediterranean diet is plant-based, rich in nuts, fruit, fish and healthy grains, and also rich in fat, the healthy fat that is, that comes from olive oil —or liquid gold, as we like to call it in Spain. Numerous studies have shown that such a diet has many medical benefits, particularly with respect to heart disease and diabetes. The report also stated that by 2040, it is predicted that Spain will overtake Japan and boast the longest life expectancy in the world, with its inhabitants reaching nearly 86 years of age. Wow.

I thought it interesting to mention all those facts to support my advocacy for the Mediterranean diet. But what is the Mediterranean diet, anyway? The Mediterranean diet is the food and recipes eaten by those who live in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. This includes the countries of Southern Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa, although the heart of the Mediterranean diet is often considered to be in Spain, Italy, and Greece, together with the islands in the Mediterranean. Even though the recipes vary widely from country to country, the base ingredients are the same. The Mediterranean diet, however, shouldn’t be hard to follow in non-Mediterranean countries. In fact, I do, even though I live in the US! —because the Mediterranean diet is not only the best diet in the world (according to US News and World Report) but it’s also the easiest diet to follow.

I will leave you with a short checklist of the Mediterranean diet, to get you started:

  • It’s high in fat, 40% of the daily calories come from fat, but the majority of that fat comes from extra-virgin olive oil, rich in antioxidants.
  • It’s a plant-based diet, rich in fruits and vegetables.
  • The number one source of protein comes from beans, nuts and seeds.
  • Whole grains are eaten every day in the Mediterranean, in the form of bread, pasta, or rice, with lots of vegetables and olive oil.
  • Protein from fish is favored over that from meat (maybe because we have it in abundance!)
  • A glass of wine with meals is a widespread custom.
  • Above all, the Mediterranean diet is more than a gastronomic recommendation: it’s a way of life that involves preparing food traditionally and enjoying it with friends and family, in a calm and relaxed environment. This is why it has been awarded the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage designation.

The recipe I’m sharing today, barley and kale salad with pine nuts and cherries, clearly encompasses the elements of the Mediterranean diet: pine nuts (nuts), kale, basil, shallots, cherries, garlic and lemon (plants), barley (grain), and extra-virgin olive oil (fat). This lemony, green salad, is hearty enough to be eaten in small amounts, which is also the beauty of the Mediterranean diet: rich in fiber and rich in flavor. I hope you enjoy it!

KALE AND BARLEY SALAD WITH PINE NUTS AND CHERRIES Ensalada de Col Rizada y Cebada con Piñones y Cerezas Ingredients: 1 cup barley 5 cups kale, stems discarded 2 Tbs pine nuts 1 shallot 1/2 cup dried cherries 1/2 cup basil 3 garlic cloves 3 Tbs lemon juice (about 1 medium lemon) 2/3 cup olive oil Salt to taste

Cut the kale into very small pieces.

Fill a medium saucepan with water and add the barley. When it starts to boil, add 1 Tbs salt. Cook for 30 minutes or until al dente. Drain well and transfer to a large bowl.

Mince the shallot finely. In a small skillet, heat 2 Tbs olive oil and cook the shallot and the dried cherries, about 3 minutes. Add to the bowl with the barley.

In a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over low heat, shaking the pan until golden, 3 or 4 minutes. Add to the bowl with the barley. In a food processor, add half of the kale, the basil, the garlic cloves and the lemon juice. Pulse until finely chopped. With the machine running at low speed,..

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Rice stuffed red peppers, pimientos de arroz, is one of the dishes of my childhood and young adulthood (or the period prior to my moving to North America after I married). Medium grain Valencian rice, seasoned and cooked in a tomato based thick broth, bakes to perfection inside sweet red peppers that roast until almost caramelized.

As I write this I am deep in the middle of planning and working with the chefs at Joseph Decuis restaurant on the menu for the upcoming event I am collaborating on, Spain as part of their Culinary Diplomacy Series. I have to admit, I’m excited and nervous in equal parts. Excited to share a taste of Spain with the guests that will be attending, dishes they probably have never tried or heard of, and that are part of the Spanish cuisine and culture. Nervous because, let’s admit it, I am a home cook with a food blog, who will be cooking alongside professionally trained chefs, and not just any chefs, but the pick of the crop, at Indiana’s best restaurant and one of the 50 best in the country.

But when Alice, owner of Joseph Decuis, presented and proposed the idea to me, I could not refuse, despite my initial fear. I took it as a challenge and I am very happy that I did. Working with chefs Marcus and Eric has been a pleasure, they make it look so easy! The event will be in two weeks, so I will be able to tell you more about how it went then.

Working for this event has made me revisit many recipes of my homeland, and recipes of my youth, cooked at home or in my region of Valencia. It also has made me realize that many of the recipes I cook at home are not even on the blog! To me, they are so obvious, because I made them so often, that they stay buried in the back of my head. Some of those recipes will be on the Spanish tasting menu at Joseph Decuis, but many more of them will not, as it is impossible to encompass the richness of the Spanish cuisine in one meal. However, I hope diners walk away feeling that there’s more to the Spanish cuisine than paella and sangría (much as I love them both!).

Today I am bringing you the recipe for rice stuffed peppers, a dish I cook relatively often, that hasn’t made it to the blog yet. As with most rice dishes in Spain, it’s particularly typical of Valencia —the Spanish region where rice grows—, and even more specifically, the Alcoy-Onteniente area, where I come from. My grandma made them, in a very large casserole where she could fit 10 or 12 peppers, and would invite the grandchildren over whenever they were on the menu. My mom, who comes from Sevilla, learned to make them from my grandma, and it’s therefore, through my mom and my grandma, one of the dishes of my youth. The next generation, (my sisters and I) inherited the recipe, and it’s one of the first dishes I cooked for my husband when we married. Just one more of the many rice dishes we cook in Valencia. I hope you like it as much as we do!

RICE STUFFED RED PEPPERS Pimientos Rellenos de Arroz Ingredients: 5 medium red peppers 1/3 cup olive oil 3/4 lb pork (I used 5 pork chops) 2 heads garlic A few sprigs of parsley 1 1/2 cups Bomba rice (or a good medium grain rice, but not arborio) 5 cups crushed tomatoes 1 pinch saffron 1/2 tsp pepper 1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven at 400ºF.

Chop the pork into very small bits (I slice the pork chops into 1/3 inch strips, then the strips into 1/3 inch squares). Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Mince the parsley. Peel the garlic cloves and slice them into very thin slices.

Trim off the tops of the bell peppers, remove the seeds and save the tops with the stems to use as lids. Place the peppers in an earthenware casserole, making them stand on their bottoms.

In a skillet, heat the oil. Sauté the garlic slices on medium-low heat until translucent. Remove garlic slices from the oil and set aside. Add the pork pieces and sauté until cooked on all sides. Add the garlic and parsley and mix. Add the tomato and stir. Season with some more salt and pepper, cook for a couple of minutes and add the rice. Cook for a few more minutes, until some of the tomato is absorbed.

Remove from the heat and, using a spoon, fill each pepper with the rice mixture. Place the “lids” on the peppers, add a bit of water to the bottom of the casserole (about 1/4 cup) and place in the oven. Bake for about 50 minutes. Cover with aluminum foil and cook for an extra 10 minutes. Remove the foil and cook uncovered for an extra 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve.

The post Rice Stuffed Red Peppers, Pimientos de Arroz, From Alcoy to Onteniente Via Sevilla appeared first on MAMA ÍA.

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It is a fact that many families in Spain make an effort at Christmas time to buy a leg of ham, and not just any ham, but the best ham they can afford. That might seem like a strange concept for my American audience, but most Spaniards would understand it. In Spain you can buy jamón serrano, cured serrano ham, of various qualities, all the way up to the crown jewel, what is considered a luxury product, a leg of Iberian ham.

The pigs this kind of ham comes from have been fed acorns exclusively, in large pastures in farms called dehesas, and free range. The dehesas are lightly forested pastures doted with stone oaks and cork trees, spread mainly throughout the regions of Extremadura and western Andalucía, and south of Castilla and La Mancha. The ham that comes from the Iberian pig, or black pig, also known as pata negra, black trotter, is probably Spain’s most famous delicacy.

Jamón serrano, on the other hand, comes from pigs that are grain fed, and grow mostly in Aragón and in Granada. Just like with the Iberian ham, after the pig is slaughtered, the serrano ham will be covered in coarse salt for two weeks, then rinsed off and hung to dry for a minimum of eight months and up to twenty, depending on the different grades of quality.

When on one of my trips to our local Costco a few days before Christmas I saw, among the generous Christmas offering, a few large, perfectly aligned boxes that read serrano ham from Spain, I almost fainted. I didn’t care what kind of quality it was. I read the tag, they were in fact legs of serrano ham from Spain, and I snatched one. In all the years I’ve lived in the United States, I’m sure I could have bought a leg of serrano ham online. But seeing it at a local store is something that had never happened before.

Needless to say, the leg of serrano ham has been enjoyed in all forms and dishes since it entered our kitchen. But first, I had to learn how to slice it, which I did, thanks to some YouTube videos and also thanks to my brother-in-law Jorge, who sent some directions. Memory also kicked in, as I remembered the many Christmases spent at home in Spain, where a leg of ham was always on the counter.

We have enjoyed it as a tapa, all on its own, slicing a few slices as we walk by it. We’ve enjoyed it in sandwiches, in stews, in pasta, and pizzas, and in a variety of tapas. Various packages of sliced serrano ham have been sent to college. And, as we reach the end of the leg, I’m looking forward to the soups, stews, and cocido (the famous Madrilian dish) that I will make with its bone.

Today I’m sharing one of my family’s favorite dishes, one that can be enjoyed as much as an entrée as a tapa, as it is the perfect finger food, croquetas de jamón, serrano ham croquettes. Croquetas are one of Spaniards beloved dishes or tapas. Think of a very thick bechamel to which you add any kind of meat, even fish or vegetables —ham, chicken, turkey, crab, shrimp, cod— diced or shredded very finely. Breaded and fried in olive oil to perfection, I dare you to stop at just one. You can’t.

Croquetas are entertaining to make, because, just like with meatballs, you will have to form them one by one. But it is so well worth it. Croquetas the jamón are a dish many Spaniards make after Christmas, as they finish up what’s left of their leg of serrano ham. And that is exactly what I’m doing.

SERRANO HAM CROQUETTES Croquetas de Jamón Serrano Ingredients: 1 small onion 2 1/2 cups flour 4 cups whole milk 8 Tbs butter 1 cup finely chopped serrano ham (if unavailable, substitute with prosciutto) 2 eggs 1/2 tsp salt Pinch nutmeg 1 cup good quality breadcrumbs (I like to grind my own bread) About 2 cups olive oil, for frying

Chop the onion finely. Dice the serrano ham slices into small pieces.

Melt the butter over medium heat and sauté the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups of flour and mix. Cook for 7-8 minutes, stirring energetically, making sure the flour is cooked through and takes on a slight golden color. Add the milk to the flour mixture and stir continuously for about 2 minutes, until it forms a thick bechamel (make sure it’s not too soft or sticky, as the croquetas will be too hard to handle and might break when frying them).

Add the ham and season with the salt and nutmeg. Cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat source and let cool (ideally you would form the croquetas and cook them the next day).

Form the croquetas: I like to use two tablespoons to do it, grabbing a small amount of mixture and rolling it between the two spoons. The size shouldn’t be too large nor too small, an ideal size is slightly larger than that of a wine wine bottle cork. Alternatively, you can rub your palms in a few drops of olive oil and form them by hand, rolling the dough between your palms.

Place the remaining 1 cup of flour in a shallow bowl. In another bowl, beat the eggs well. Place the breadcrumbs in a third shallow bowl. Place these three bowls side by side. Roll the croquetas in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs. Line them up on a cookie sheet.

In a small to medium skillet, heat the oil to 375ºF. Add the croquetas in small batches, making sure the oil covers them to at least two thirds. Fry, turning them, until they acquire a golden color. Remove them from the oil and place them in a previously prepared colander placed over a medium saucepan, then transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Let them rest there while the next batch fries. Transfer them from the paper lined plate to a serving plate. Repeat this process until all the croquetas are fried. Serve immediately.

The post Croquetas de Jamón Serrano, Serrano Ham Croquettes, the Last of the Leg of Ham appeared first on MAMA ÍA.

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MAMA ÍA by Natacha Sanz Caballero - 4M ago

I know, I know, two posts in a row with recipes for fish. Not only fish, but mollusks, so popular where I come from, Spain’s Mediterranean coast, but not so where I live, Indiana. There’s an explanation, I’m still on detoxification mode from sweets after Christmas, and hard on the Mediterranean diet, the tried and true. But don’t fret: Valentines is around the corner, then a number of family birthdays, and soon after, Easter. Lots and lots of opportunities for sweets. So tag along with me, follow the Mediterranean diet, and your heart (and your waist) will thank you.

For years I thought I couldn’t make arroz negro, black rice, where I live. In fact, I didn’t make it, even though it’s one of my family’s favorite. If you are not familiar with it, it might look strange, its name even stranger, as it is, well, black. But even as children, while in Spain, my sons ate it with delight, and as I said, it has always been one of our favorites. The thing is, the rice ends up tasting very similar to a seafood paella, with other deep flavors that will keep you guessing where they come from.

After doing an online search and finding out that I could order the squid ink, I did a happy dance —a new discovery that I’ve started to take advantage of! I ordered it from Amazon (where else!), squid ink from Spain; it comes in 4 gr. (0.14 oz) pouches that can be stored in the fridge, or freezer. And it’s very inexpensive (less than $7 for 8 pouches). So there’s no going back: arroz negro, black rice with squid, is on our family’s menu.

Arroz negro is pretty simple to make, and quick, particularly if you plan a bit in advance and have all the ingredients ready. It includes recipes for sofrito, picada, seafood or fish stock, and aiolli, all of which can be made in advance —and you have all those recipes right here, on Mama Ía blog.

For this recipe I used lobster stock, because that’s what I had: I had made black spaghetti with lobster a few days before (there’s a theme here), and used the discarded heads and bones to make the stock. That’s the beauty of fish stock: whenever you cook with shrimp or lobster, making stock is very simple. You can click here for a more detailed recipe, but basically all you have to do is sauté the shells with some olive oil and salt, add the vegetables and sauté, add the water, adjust for salt, simmer, sieve through a colander, and presto, your seafood stock is ready.

Arroz negro, black rice with squid, is a showstopper in its looks, and I encourage you to make it. You’ll be happy also with all the preparations and leftover recipes: you can use the leftover sofrito for many other dishes (pasta, rice dishes, stews, braises), and the fish stock for paella, or any kind of seafood stew. I love having those recipes always on hand, so this is a recipe that keeps on giving.

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The anticipation of Christmas break is always special, no matter what one’s age. As a child, it was a magical time in every sense —the miracle of the birth, the visit of the Three Magi, loaded with toys, and the school vacation! As an adult, the excitement doesn’t wane, but new layers are added: this year was the first one we had two of our children away at college, and therefore back home for Christmas. What better opportunity than to celebrate with special dishes they don’t usually eat?

Octopus with potatoes was one memorable dish we enjoyed. Octopus was the unexpected guest at our Christmas table, and it all came about thanks to two very special people, Alice Eshelman and chef Marcus Daniel of Joseph Decuis restaurant in Roanoke, Indiana, who provided me with the octopus (an octopus from Spain!), and my brother-in-law Jaime, who shared his recipe, my favorite by far, with tips and advice on every aspect, from the ideal weight and size of the octopus, to the way to clean and discard the non-edible parts. Thank you both for making octopus with potatoes the highlight of our Christmas table.

Speaking of chef Marcus and Joseph Decuis restaurant, I am very excited to share that I will be working with them on a Spain night that will take place March 22nd, as part of their Culinary Diplomacy Series. Stay tuned! And as for my brother-in-law Jaime, he’s a brilliant and talented home cook in his own right, and a master of Spanish dishes, with a specialty in rice dishes (among them, arroz con bogavante, soupy rice with lobster, is a masterpiece).

Octopus are funny creatures. Looking at one live, or even ready to be prepared to be cooked, from the point of view of an American at least, they may not seem like the kind of thing you want to eat. They are jelly-ish, and slippery, and over all weird. Cook it, though, and its texture changes completely. Take a bite, and you’ll convert into a fan. So I dare you to not be discouraged by the look of an octopus before it transforms into a delicacy, and not even get squeamish when you hold it in your hands and think there’s no way you can handle it. Venture out of your comfort zone and you’ll find out octopus not only is easy and fun to prepare, but it’s a dish you’ll want to keep having as often as you can. Tell it to the Spaniards, particularly the Galicians! Octopus is their dish, they are famous for it, and there are festivals around it. I hope I can keep finding octopus, because there’s no going back: my family wants more.

Some notes before you start: my octopus was 5.4 pounds and 43 inches long from head to the tip of the tentacles. Quite a piece! When cooked, though, it shrunk considerably. Octopus has a high water content, and that’s what happens when you cook it. However, a small portion goes a long way, and this dish fed 10 to 12 people (next day leftovers were just as delicious!)

As in many households, gearing up to Christmas is a whirlwind of activity, involving the planning of meals, the shopping for all the ingredients, alongside present shopping, and wrapping, and shows, events, and parties to attend. I love it all! Now though, early January, it is the start of two months that most people dread, but I enjoy to their fullest. Two months of free, almost uninterrupted creativity and productivity, and void of strict deadlines. Is that you as well? I would think, for all of us who work tirelessly to make the Christmas break unforgettable for our family and guests, January and February offer a respite, a time to regroup and refresh. Enjoy your time!

OCTOPUS WITH POTATOES Pulpo con Patatas Ingredients: 1 large octopus (mine was 5.4 Lbs) or 2 small ones 5 lbs potatoes 6 bay leaves 2 Tbs whole peppercorns 2 tsp sea salt 2 Tbs pimentón de la Vera About 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Don’t be intimidated by a fresh octopus! They are weird looking animals, but they don’t bite, and are delicious when cooked. Their look and texture changes completely

If you buy a fresh octopus, place it in the freezer. This will tenderize it. The day before cooking, take it out of the freezer and place in the fridge to defrost. Make sure you place it in a large enough container, as the octopus will release a generous amount of water as it defrosts.

Method:

Clean the octopus well, tentacle by tentacle, to remove any residue.

Chop the octopus, making sure to discard the beak, the eyes, and the innards. For this, separate the head from the legs. The innards are inside the head —turn it inside out to remove them and wash the head thoroughly. To remove the eyes, slice the head into rings about 1 inch wide, then cut the rings into 1-inch pieces. Discard the two 1×1 pieces that contain the eyes. You’ll find the beak where the legs join, below the head. Cut and discard the beak and the cartilage that surrounds it.

Separate the legs and chop them into pieces about 1 inch long. As you’ll expect, they are very jelly-like! Don’t fret, their texture changes completely when cooked. Place the pieces in a colander and rinse them well. Let drain well in the colander while working on the potatoes.

Peel the potatoes and cut them in half.

Place the potatoes and the octopus pieces in a pot large enough to hold them. Add the bay leaves, the salt and the peppercorns, and add water to cover. Place a lid on the pot and bring to a boil. Remove the cover, reduce the heat to medium and cook for another 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally and removing with a large spoon any foam that might form on the surface.

Check for doneness by gently inserting a fork into a piece of potato. Remove the octopus pieces with a slotted spoon and place in a colander. Remove the potato halves from the boiling water and place them on a cutting board. Dice them into about 1-inch pieces.

Prepare two high side serving dishes: add about 1/2 cup olive oil into each of them (or about 1/2-inch high in the dish) and 1 Tbs pimentón de la Vera into each of them. Mix well, until the oil becomes red-ish in color. Add the octopus pieces into one of the dishes, add about half of the peppercorns and bay leaves from the pot and toss to coat the octopus generously. Don’t skim on the oil and add 1 or 2 more Tbs if necessary.

Pour the pimentón and olive oil mix from the other serving dish into the bowl with the potatoes and gently toss to coat. Don’t worry if some potato pieces break slightly. Then return the coated potatoes to the serving dish and add the remaining peppercorns and bay leaves from the pot. Discard the cooking liquid.

To serve, place one serving spoonful of potatoes on a plate and top with one serving spoonful of octopus.

Notes:

  • When cooked, the octopus shrinks considerably
  • This dish can be enjoyed as a tapa or as a main dish, but even as a main dish, a small serving goes a long way

The post Octopus with Potatoes, the Unexpected Guest at our Christmas Table appeared first on MAMA ÍA.

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Another birthday, yay! I’ve learned to embrace them, feeling blessed to be counting one more (thank you, Byron!) because what’s better than adding one more year of experience to your biography? Spending one more year with your loved ones? Live life fully no matter what your age? So happy birthday to me, and to everyone who can count one more.

And while I should be baking Christmas cookies, I have a December birthday, and I baked a cake. But to compromise, I decided to bake a festive looking cake, decorated with the most Christmassy of all cookies in my books, the gingerbread man. Doesn’t it look cute? I had to keep quite a steady hand to decorate the cookies, but I think it worked out.

This is a bit of an elaborated cake, like most layer cakes are. But I’ve learned to make the task more manageable by baking the cake one day, then making the frosting and putting it all together the next. this method works very well, because the cakes have to cool down completely before covering with the buttercream. Simply wrap the cakes in plastic wrap until ready to use the next day. Also, in this case, even though I could have baked the cookies, I decided to go with store-bought ones, to lighten the work. The cake, surprisingly, is lemon, with a lemon curd frosting. I simply thought a gingerbread cake with gingerbread cookies was a bit too much, and since I love lemon, and it’s my birthday… I took another shortcut, store-bought lemon curd. Why not? There are some very good brands out there, and anything to make the task of an elaborated cake a bit easier. I wanted to spend more time decorating it, and the shortcuts I took were ones that didn’t lower the quality and flavor of a homemade cake. It turned out not only beautiful, but delicious —light and decadent in equal measure.

So go ahead, don’t be intimidated and make your own cakes. You’ll be surprised how fun they are to make, how much easier it is than you thought, and how hard it will be to go back to store bought birthday cakes.

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We are talking turkey today. I know, not a very typical Spanish dish. But like many others I have been cooking for years, this one had to be on the blog, because even though we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Spain, we do celebrate Christmas. And I have been eating turkey for Christmas since middle school. Seriously!

My aunt Isa, who lived in Puerto Rico for many years before moving back to Spain, brought the tradition of turkey to our Christmas Eve dinner. It was always celebrated at our house and, between delicious appetizers and desserts, my mom would have prepared the seafood and lamb, while my aunt Isa would bring the turkey, with the dressing (stuffing) and gravy. In fact, her turkey dressing is about the best one I’ve had in my entire life. Christmas Eve was full of laughter, carols and cheerful noise, and we always had a hard time getting to midnight mass on time, the feast still in full swing at home.

I will not give you a recipe for turkey dressing today, first, because there are many (although I will eventually share my pear, nut, and winter fruit dressing recipe). But also, because I want to post the recipe for my unstuffed turkey with sherry gravy so you have it in time for Thanksgiving.

Like with every non-Spanish dish that I cook, I introduce my twists: I use olive oil instead of vegetable oil, as well as port or sherry, in my gravy. Infused with a few sprigs of thyme, it gives it a distinguishable taste that you will love.

Turkey, as you can well imagine, requires a bit of preparation. It’s not hard to make, not at all, but you have to be aware of certain timing that has to be strictly followed for food safety from beginning to end —from the moment you take the turkey out of the fridge to temper, to the cooking times, to the time you take the turkey out of the oven and start making the gravy. In fact, preparing Thanksgiving dinner is all about perfect timing, and a good dose of balance between oven and stovetop cooked dishes to maximize the limited oven real estate.

I like to prep for Thanksgiving dinner a few days before T-day, starting with the list making of dishes and ingredients, then the shopping, and the peeling and prepping the day before. On Wednesday, I have this tradition of watching Gone With The Wind (I can’t tell how many times I’ve watched the movie!), as I am busy preparing the dressing, peeling, cutting and chopping, and getting some dishes ready as well in advance as I can . Then on Thanksgiving morning, it’s all about the bird. I wake up early to temper it and prepare the herb butter. Once it’s in the oven, I start preparing the dressing and other vegetables. When the roasted turkey comes out of the oven, there’s room in it now to put in the dressing and vegetables, while I’m busy on the stove with the gravy and other vegetables that are stove cooked.

Ah! The first thing I do to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner? I set the table! It puts me in the holiday mood and gives me some sense of accomplishment before I even get on with food preparation.

Happy Thanksgiving, and happy cooking!

Some notes:
  • Amount per person: about 3/4 lb. turkey per person (more if you plan on having leftovers, which is almost a must!)
  • Size: Choose a turkey larger than 10 lbs but no bigger than 20 lbs (that is my preference for better maneuverability)
  • Type: Choose a fresh, organic turkey for more tender meat. If choosing a frozen turkey, thaw it in the refrigerator, taking into account that it may take 3 to 4 hours per pound to thaw, or from 2 to 5 days depending on its size
  • Basting the turkey won’t produce more tender meat, but it will allow for a more evenly browned turkey, and more importantly, a tastier gravy
  • Pan: Place the turkey on a metal rack inside of a roasting pan. Elevating the turkey from the bottom of the pan will produce clearer pan drippings, and will allow the turkey to brown more evenly
  • Other parts: Unless you grow your own turkey, the neck and giblets will come in the turkey cavities in a store bought turkey. Remove them to use in other recipes, or to make stock
  • Roasting times: 15 minutes per pound (2 1/2 hours for a 10 lb turkey, 4 hours for a 16 lb turkey, and so on)

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This post could be a continuation of my last one, as I am still trying out recipes for side dishes for Thanksgiving. So I will not expand too much, as you can refer to my last post to find out a bit more about how our family spends Thanksgiving.

With this recipe, I think I got another winner! This one, in fact, is so versatile! Shelby was fancying fennel, and we needed some orange color on the plate, so I decided to combine fennel and carrots. But I think that turnips, baby onions, or beets, would marry fantastically if you want to add more vegetables to the dish. I like baking no more than two or three vegetables together, but there are no rules. Experiment with the seasonings and spices! Be creative! Be inventive! And above all, have fun in the kitchen.

ROASTED CARROTS AND FENNEL WITH DIJON DRESSING Zanahorias e Hinojo al Horno Ingredients: 1 lb carrots 1 fennel bulb 6 tablespoons unsalted butter 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 1/2 Tbs coriander seeds Kosher salt and pepper 1 Tbs fresh dill

Preheat the oven to 425°F

In a mortar, or in a pepper mill, grind the coriander seeds. Soften the butter to room temperature.  In a small bowl, mix together the butter, the ground coriander, and the mustard. Season with salt and pepper.

Scrub the carrots and half them lengthwise. If they are too long, cut them in half and, for the thicker part of the carrot (the leaves end), quarter lengthwise. Cut the fennel bulb into wedges. Arrange the vegetables on an oven dish, dollop with the butter mustard mixture and thoroughly mix with your hands to coat on all sides. Season with salt and pepper.

Bake for about 40 minutes, rotating the dish halfway through baking.  Remove from the oven, drizzle with olive oil, and garnish with the minced dill when ready to serve.

The post Roasted Carrots and Fennel with Dijon Dressing, More for Thanksgiving appeared first on MAMA ÍA.

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