Andalusian Gazpacho

I made several trips to Spain the year I was an au pair in Germany. I had a good friend from college au pairing in Madrid and a couple of other friends teaching English in southern Spain, oh and there was a hen weekend to Barcelona in there too! One of the trips I did started in Malaga, and wound up through Andalusia stopping in Granada, and smaller towns like Cabra and Antequera, making my way up to Madrid.

Among the many memorable things from the trip is a meal that my friend (who I was visiting) and I had in Antequera, a meal prepared for us by and in the home of the director of the school my friend worked for, a meal I’ll never forget. She so easily whipped up a shockingly simple and delicious lunch including an amazing gazpacho simply of tomato and bread, and she delivered some of the best fried artichokes I’ve had. I have remembered it all this time and it’s funny to go back to my blog from that year and see how the soup they made is exactly what I saw in this month’s Spain issue of Food & Wine magazine.

From Adventures in Deutschland: “they made us this amazing Andalusian soup thing for lunch. It is raw tomatoes blended with some garlic, pepper, olive oil, vinegar and bread. It is eaten kind of like soup, and you dip a lot of bread in it as well…”

From Food & Wine: “Salmorejo is a classic soup made primarily with tomatoes and bread. It’s best with a splash of sherry vinegar, but Andalusian tomatoes pack a good hit of acidity, so they often omit it in Spain.”

Yum Yum.

Obviously after all the Spanish inspiration in the September issue, I now want to have a Spanish dinner party, but for now I’ve started with this soup as a way of using my pounds of tomatoes that just keep coming. It’s refreshing and spicy with the raw garlic, and so so smooth, this ‘soup’ is hard not to love. I topped it with a corn & poblano salad/salsa and a poached egg, which was delicious. I loved the contrast that the texture of the raw veggies provided against the creaminess of the soup. I made it in the morning and let chill to have the whole thing for lunch. It took me right back to Spain and got me so excited about traveling, trying new foods and the endless tomato possibilities that await.

 

Salmorejo (Andalusian Gazpacho), serves two (originally from Food & Wine) Continue reading

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Last Minute Gift: Smokey Spicy Honey Roasted Peanut Butter

It’s the weekend before Christmas, y’all – are you ready?

I am totally prepared this year, actually. I did all my shopping online, and my coworkers think I’m a shopaholic as a result of all the boxes delivered to me over the past few weeks, but let me tell you, it was the most painless Christmas prep I’ve done.

Because I know most people are not crazy planners like I am, I’m sure there are more than a few of you scrambling for one last gift. I’m here to help. I made this peanut butter right before my Brazil trip for a food swap that I’ve participated in a couple of times.  To toot my horn a bit, it felt like EVERYONE wanted to trade with me. I swapped honey roasted peanut butter with cayenne and smoked paprika. Yup. Let it sink in.

Anyhow, I would highly recommend this as a gift for anyone on your list. In an evening you can have several servings that look great and are awesomely tasty – obviously sweet, but not overly so, with a little spice and smoke. I hope you’ll give it a try.

Peanut Butter photos courtesy of Vanessa Vichit-Vadacan, a fellow food swapper. Her blog here and photos here.

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Smokey Spicy Honey Roasted Peanut Butter

  • 8oz peanuts, dry roasted, no salt
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne, or more

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix sugar, paprika and cayenne in a small bowl. In a bigger bowl, add peanuts and drizzle honey over. Mix thoroughly to spread honey over all peanuts. Add sugar/spice mixture and mix to cover all the peanuts.

Distribute evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment or silpat. Bake for about 20 min, mixing up peanuts a few times. Let cool.

Break apart peanuts into a food processor. Start processing and slowly add 2 tbsp light oil. Process until smooth or your desired peanut butter texture. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Gifting Bread

I was chatting with my dad last weekend and already being caught up on my news, he asked what was new with my friends. I went through one by one, telling the updates of my different girlfriends that are now collectively spoken about with their boyfriend or fiance, the weddings that are fast approaching, the move ins that are happening, and the new jobs being learned. It was nice to get my dad up to date, but at the same time there’s something a little sad in talking about all the things that are moving forward with your friends, yet realizing that you are pretty much in the same place that you’ve been for the past couple of years.

I think that’s part of why I’ve been trying something new every day the past couple of Junes, the reason I got a cat and the reason I look at buying a house (well let’s be clear – it would actually be a small condo)… At the end of the day, I am not the same person I was a couple of years ago either, there’s just not a big life moment to show for it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m terribly happy with my life and am confident that I have made all the right choices for me, but I have to admit that growing up is sometimes kind of a lonely process.

So what do to about this feeling of disconnect? Go forth. Continue doing things that excite me, challenge me, engage me, and make me happy. Continue finding new things to try, continue spending time with my closest friends (and their partners), continue traveling, dating and cooking.

There is something immensely comforting and homey in the smell of fresh-baked bread, which I think also makes it a very appropriate moving day present. I helped my friend and her boyfriend unpack their kitchen in their first shared apartment this weekend and arrived with half a loaf of bread and a bottle of champagne in hand – my kind of housewarming present! This bread is good! I’ve been wanting to make a no-knead bread for a while and finally got around to it this weekend. This one is just a little sweet and chewy because of the oats, but it makes great toast and I’d definitely recommend giving it go. It’s so easy and how could you not want to make your house smell AMAZING one weekend morning.

It was a perfect something new to help me realize that at this point in my life, my days are filled with simple pleasures and little new things, rather than one big thing on the horizon. Eventually I’m sure I’ll be caught up to the other people in my life, and until then I’ll continue to find joy in sharing their joy and find joy in my own little moments.

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Maple Oat Breakfast Bread recipe here

Blackberry Syrup & Then Some

I couldn’t really tell you why I haven’t been motivated to blog this year… I haven’t been nearly as diligent about going to the grocery store, cooking for one on a weeknight has be come a bit less appealing, and if I’m really honest, I’ve just been prioritizing other things. I’ve been keeping busy by having dinner with friends, pretending to eat healthy, going to the gym a bit, you know usual life things. The usual life things that I am out experiencing, rather than documenting and blogging about.

At the end of the day, I don’t think it really matters because I feel like most things in life wax and wane at some point, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’ve still been enjoying cooking and food and as I downloading the pictures from my trip to Seattle last weekend, I realized I have a lot of things to share with you!

I believe I’ve mentioned before my dad’s epic skills in the garden. The thing that he’s been growing the longest and what we all count down to every year are blackberries. He’s continually trying new recipes and methods to make the most of the fruits of his labor – and because of his diligent efforts we’ve enjoyed some of the best pies, jams, sauces and syrups. Of course, not every recipe comes out just right the first time, but we have experienced some happy accidents, like jam not setting and becoming an equally delicious ice cream topping!

This year he gave me some delectable jam and syrup. Since I don’t usually keep ice cream in the house, I have been eating the syrup on all sorts of morning treats like french toast and pancakes – yum! He’s got this recipe just right and I am using is sparingly hoping that it will tide me over until the next blackberry season.

IMG_4577I made bread in June! Loved my pain de mie with its crisp crust and soft lofty center.

IMG_4584It also made the most delectable french toast. Slice thick. Add a splash of almond extract to the egg. Coat in almonds. Fry!photo-20mmm… fresh blackberry syrup on buttermilk pancakes

Blackberry Syrup (adapted from Joy of Cooking)

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup blackberries (pureed and pressed through a fine mesh sieve)
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon port

Bring the sugar and water to a boil. Add berry puree, lemon zest and port. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes or until thickened.

Russell’s Tips:

  • Be sure to strain your pureed blackberries, as the seeds are not so pleasant in a smooth syrup.
  • The recipe called for a cinnamon stick, if you want more of a spiced syrup you can add the stick to the simmering or a bit of cinnamon powder
  • Most importantly – TASTE TASTE TASTE! Every batch of berries is a little different, so be sure to taste as you go and adjust to the sweetness of the fruit you are using.

Greek Green Beans

One thing that I didn’t realize about bloging when I first started this one a couple of years ago was that there is an entire blogging community. I didn’t anticipate that by blogging I would become so compelled to read others’ blogs, admire their work, become friends with them and find inspiration in them as well.

Of course, the blogs I read on a regular basis are ones that I look up to and find pleasure in following; however, in the effort to find what I think are great blogs, I’ve also come across some interesting ones… It’s great that people are cooking, creating and putting it out there, but if I’m totally honest, sometimes I do wonder where exactly people are coming from.

A while back, I read the title of a post that was ‘Greek Green Beans’. Instantly I envisioned bright crisp green beans, loads of salty feta and tart Kalamata olives. When I clicked through what I found were sad, dull, overcooked green beans in some sort of tomato sauce! This is why I ask so many questions when I eat out because you say one thing,  and as a person who loves food I have a vision, so I ask questions to know exactly what I’m getting into. Needless to say I was disappointed with what may have been more authentic Greek green beans, but didn’t live up to my vision – do I decided to make my own.

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It was exactly what I wanted. Crisp and fresh, creamy and salty and tart. I dressed the beans in a lemon vinaigrette with fresh oregano and shallots. The textures and colors are marvelous and every bite is loaded with flavors reminiscent of the Mediterranean. I also roasted a chicken with lemon and olive/oregano butter under the skin to tie it all together. Just delightful. And let me tell you, the fact that whenever you roast a chicken, you get to make GRAVY which is kind of like a little Thanksgiving treat any time of the year.

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Greek Green Beans:

  • 16 oz green beans
  • 1/2 cup feta, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
  • 2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1 tbsp shallot
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tbsp champagne vinegar
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • olive oil, about 1/4 cup

Bring a pot of water to boil. Trim the ends of the beans and blanch until slightly tender but still crispy, no more than 5 min. Meanwhile prepare an ice bath, and then beans are done remove from boiling water and place in ice bath.

While the beans cool, mix lemon juice, vinegar and mustard in a large bowl. Slowly drizzle in olive oil until thick, emulsified, and as tart as you like it. Mix in shallot and oregano. Season with salt and pepper.

When beans are cool, remove from ice bath and blot dry. Toss with dressing in the bowl. Pile bean on the serving plate and top with feta and olives.

Roasted Chicken: same prep as here. Add lots of oregano and finely chopped olives to the butter.

Potato & Artichoke Salad

I have a new man in my life, and he’s been taking up a lot of time. Here are a few things about him: He loves pate and steak. He’s a ginger. He LOVES to play. He also loves to share my bed and couch, and cuddle really close to my face in the middle of the night… Any ideas? Anyhow, I’m hosting a partying in a couple of weeks to introduce him to my friends, so I’ll have some photos for you soon, but until then, photos of this potato and artichoke salad will have to suffice.

I love all sorts of potato salads from creamy, like this one, to vinegary and tart like German Potato Salad. I had intended to make a German style potato salad a while ago, but it never happened and I was re-inspired after having one at Heyday (this new awesome lunch spot by my office) that added artichokes to the mix. I’d picked up some smaller spring artichokes at the farmers market and did a little research about how to make a true German potato salad. I loved the sound of the recipe in Luisa Weiss’s My Berlin Kitchen (great read BTW, I highly recommend it) but it was a little more complicated than I had time for on a week night, so I simply made a salad dressing. I know. Go figure.

The result was GREAT. Nice and vinegary, with a touch of mustard and sweetness coming from every bite of artichoke. Be sure to dress the potatoes and artichokes while they are still warm so they absorb all that goodness. The salad is great both warm and cold.

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Potato & Artichoke Salad:

Those of you who have been reading for a while, probably know I’m not the best recipe developer or direction-hand-holder so I hope you’ll bear with this ‘recipe’ as it’s really just a list of recommendations.

  • Prep your artichokes, I used about 3 medium sides one and quartered them. If yours are smaller buy more and just halve them. Great prep advice from Bon Appetit here
  • Cut and boil a handful of baby red new potatoes, until tender. I love the flavor, texture and color contrast of these.
  • Saute the artichokes until tender – use a medium heat and keep and eye on them, as you don’t want them getting too dark. I would do this while the potatoes are cooking because it’ll take a little while 15 min or so.
  • Make your dressing! You know the drill: Vinegar+Dijon mustard+shallot+herbs+oil – I used champagne vinegar, but white wine, red wine, apple cider, or whatever is your go to would work well! Though I do feel that balsamic would be out of place here. I used oregano too, because it’s what I had on hand.
  • While the potatoes and artichokes are still warm, dress with the salad, salt and pepper and taste for adjustments. YUMMY!

Spring Crostini with Burrata, Snap Peas and Asparagus

Oh Spring! It’s when the farmers’ markets start to get exciting: berries, peas, asparagus, artichokes… the bounty is plentiful and I so enjoyed going this past weekend. I was reminded of what a nice way it is to start my Sundays and how much fun it is to be inspired by seasonal offerings when creating a meal. I had signed up to bring an appetizer to dinner club, and was originally going to make stuffed mushrooms, but when I saw what was at the farmers’ market I knew right away that I would be changing my dish.

A while back I had a similar appetizer to this at The Tipsy Pig and was inspired to try it on my own. I’m pretty sure there was mint and some salad mixed in, which would be a nice twist to this dish as well, and I was further reminded this was a good combination of flavors, when Bon Appetit featured a recipe for Snap Pea Salad with Burrata from April Bloomfield in the May issue. I was pretty sure that I couldn’t go wrong making these Spring crostini with out using a specific recipe.

They were a HUGE success. Everyone at dinner club loved them (because let’s be honest, who doesn’t love something with burrata on it?!) and I loved them too. If you don’t know already, burrata is mozzarella with a cream and cheese mixture inside the ball. In this dish it is the perfect creamy texture and rich flavor against the crispness of the toasts and fresh veggies. Next time I would use a little more balsamic reduction and maybe rub a little raw garlic on the toasts when they come out of the oven, but for the most part, the simplicity and freshness of this dish is what makes it amazing.

crostini

Spring Crostini:

  • 2 smallish handfulls snap peas
  • 1/2 bunch asparagus
  • 4-6 scallions, thinly sliced or mandolined, white and light green parts
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped oregano (or mint, if that’s your thing)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 12 slices baguette, sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 ball of burrata

Snap off the end of the peas, and slice diagonally into 3-4 slices. Cut through the outer shell and peas all in one. Snap of fibrous ends of the asparagus and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute unit bright green and barley tender. Slice into 1 inch pieces on the diagonal.

Mix peas, asparagus, thinly sliced scallions and oregano. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Simmer balsamic vinegar in a shallow pot or pan, until it starts to thicken slightly. I just used a couple of tablespoons because it was all I had, and it only took a couple of minutes. I don’t imagine it would take that long for 1/4 cup, but keep an eye on it!

Place baguette slices on a baking sheet. Bake or broil until lightly toasted, approx 3-4 min on each side. The dinner club oven was set at 400 and I did 4 minutes on each side, so really you can just pop in with whatever you are already cooking for dinner- if you have garlic, you could cut a clove in half and rub the cut end on the warm toasts when they come out of the oven. This is common practice with most bruschettas and would have been a great added flavor here.

Cut the burrata into 12 wedges. Place one wedge on each crostini. I left the creamy side up so I could press the peas/asparagus on and they would stay. Top with pea/asparagus mixture. Drizzle with balsamic reduction, to taste. Season with more salt if needed.