Blue cheese

Just saw this recipe at the Toronto Sun online newspaper:

BAKED ASPARAGUS

One of the happiest combinations is blue cheese and asparagus. Serve as supper or an appetizer for a dinner party. The prosciutto is optional and without it the dish is suitable for vegetarians. Crusty bread is side-wise, de rigueur.

1 bunch (1 lb/500 g) asparagus 2 Tbsp. (25 mL) extra virgin olive oil 4 slices prosciutto 12 slices Rosenborg Noble Blue Cheese, about 125 g

Break off and discard tough butts from asparagus spears. Rinse, dry on a towel.

Pour oil into a 13- x 9-inch (3.5L) metal cake pan or shallow pan or gratin dish. Add asparagus and roll pan to coat spears with oil.

Roast in centre of a 400F (200C) oven until spears are just tender, about 8 minutes. This time will vary as it depends on the thickness and freshness. Remove pan from oven. Shake pan to rearrange spears. Divide spears into 4 nice-looking piles; top each with a slice of prosciutto, 3 lightly crumpled cheese slices. Bake until cheese melts, about 4 minutes. With tongs, transfer to warmed plates.

Serves 4.

Sounds very yummy. I bet it would be heavenly with a good jamón serrano and crumbled cabrales or stilton cheese…

Paella Day

Thursday is Paella Day here in Barcelona (maybe in all of Catalunya?). Every bar and restaurant that serves a menu del dia (those lovely three-course meals with drink and bread that one can get for as little as 7 euros) has paella on the menu on thursdays. Nobody really knows when/how the tradition started but it’s been around for as long as people can remember.

Paella is one of those emblematic foods that became the gastronomic symbol for a particular country, much like feijoada in Brazil and curry in India. Like the curry it’s a pretty general dish rather than a particular recipe (it basically mean rice cooked in a paella – a wide, flat dish) and like the feijoada, despite being known internationally as the country’s national dish, it hails from a specific region and it is better known (or better period) in some regions than in others. I don’t think I would go for a paella in Madrid (as I wouldn’t go for a feijoada in Manaus), but I wouldn’t miss one in any Catalan or Valencian seaside town.

In Barcelona, there’s paella for all tastes. There are expensive ones at the seafood restaurants around Barceloneta, there are crappy, horrible ones at touristy restaurants across the city (stay as far away from restaurants with a placard in front with several pictures of paellas saying “El Paellador” or some such name), and homey, honest ones at bars & restaurants for lunch. I tend to favour the latter. So on thursdays Alan comes to meet me at the archives, we go over to one of the many bars & restaurants nearby and have lunch together. Today’s paella had seafood (shrimp, bits of calamari, mussels, clams…) and meat. I had a salad to start – they call is a ensalada verde but it resembles very little the green salads we eat in canada; the lettuce (that’s the green part) comes covered in tuna, cucumber, carrots, tomatoes, olives, onions, corn nibblets, bits of pickles, chicory, endives, etc… – followed by the very juicy and fresh paella, acompanied by peach juice and finished with yogurt. All for the modicum price of 7.50 euros. Hmmm, as Borat would say – I LIKE, very MUCH. Long live Paella Day!!

Here’s a picture of Sebastian and Patxi making paella & black rice when we first met:

Chefs at work

I have to get him to teach me how to make it….

It all started with a BBQ chicken…

Nothing like having fesh, wholesome ingredients to feel inspired to cook! Judging by the number of times I mention restaurants on this blog, you might think I don’t cook very often. But I do. I love to cook. I love coming up with new things in the kitchen. But I have to feel inspired and this week, a BBQ chicken did it!

It all started on wednesday when I picked up a BBQ chicken for lunch. I had onions and garlic at home, so I picked up a few tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, carrots and celery as well since I wanted to make a broth with the carcass afterwards.

I wanted a moist rice to have with the chicken but since I was too hungry to take the time to make risotto, I opted for some basmati rice with some nice tomato sauce instead.

Basmati rice with tomato sauce

  • 1/2 cup basmati rice
  • 2 tomatoes, finelly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 cup water, boiled
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste (I used herb salt)
  • paprika/red pepper powder to taste

Heat a small sauce pan. Add the olive oil and stir fry the onions for about 5 min. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another 1-2 mins. Mix in the chopped tomatoes and let simmer until you have a nice sauce, about 5-10 mins. Season with salt, pepper, paprika, red pepper powder. Add the basmati rice, mix in thoroughly. Pour the hot water and let the rice cook – it will take about 10 mins.

The result was nice and moist, exactly what I wanted to balance the dryness of the chicken.

After we finished lunch, I cleaned the rest of the BBQ chicken off the carcass and put it the way. Since you can’t let a good chicken carcass go to waste, I decided to make some chicken broth. So I put the chicken bones in a pot, added a couple coarsely chopped carrots, one large onion, 2 celery sticks, 2-3 bay leaves, some dried herbs (I only had parsley), poured about 2-3 litres of water and let it all simmer for about 3 hours.

Now that I had some nice homemade both, I had to use it, so I decided to make a soup. I looked through the cupboard and found some Puy lentils. I also had about a cup of tomato rice from lunch. It wasn’t enough for another meal, so I decided to use it in the soup. Here’s what I came up with:

Lentil & rice soup

  • 1/2 cup Puy lentils
  • 1 cup left-over tomato rice (you could use a little bit barley or 1/4 cup basmati rice)
  • 1 onion, chopped finelly
  • 2 small carrots, chopped in small cubes
  • 1/2 zuchini, shredded
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1tsp turmeric (curcuma)
  • red pepper powder
  • 1l chicken broth
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a medium soup pot and stir fry the onions and garlic for a couple of minutes. Add the carrots and stir fry for a few more minutes. Combine the dry spices and let it fry for another minute. Blend in the lentils, add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. When the lentils are almost done (15-20 min), mix in the rice and let it simmer for a few more minutes.

It was delicious and a nice meal in a cold night. It tasted even better the next day.

But I wasn’t done with the chicken broth or the left-over BBQ chicken yet. I wanted a single-plate dinner so I decided to make a paella. In Spain, I have learned that a paella is not really a specific recipe, but rather short grain rice cooked in a paella (pan, in Spanish) like these:

Paella

So here is what I came up with:

Paella de pollo con vegetales

  • 200g short grain rice
  • 1-2 cup leftover BBQ chicken, chopped
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 1 small green pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 cup shredded zucchini
  • 1/2 inch fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 500 ml chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • paprika
  • red pepper powder
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley

Heat the paella (or a medium casserole, if you don’t have one) over medium heat. Stir fry the onions for a few minutes and then add the garlic and ginger. Cook for another minute or two. Add the tomatoes & green peppers. Season with the dry spices, salt & pepper. Simmer for about 10 mins. If the tomatoes are of the acid kind, add 1/2 tsp of sugar. Stir in the white wine and let it evaporate, another 2-3 mins. Add the BBQ chicken and let it simmer in the sauce for a few minutes. Combine the rice & zucchini, add the parsley and mix thoroughly. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Correct the salt & pepper, cover and let it cook until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, about 10-15 mins depending on the kind of rice. Once cooked, let it sit for 10 mins and serve. It will look something like this:

Chicken paella

All in all, a fun cooking week with a few ingredients!

Speaking of ingredients, the choice of spices on these dishes weren’t random or dictated solely by taste. I believe in the medicinal properties of food, and often keep that in mind when choosing how to season a dish.

Turmeric, for instance, is a root from the ginger family and is mostly sold as a powder made from the dried root. Also used as a dye for its bright yellow colour, it is one of the main ingredients of yellow curry and very mild in taste. It’s a strong anti-carcinogen (helps prevent the growth of cancer cells) and has a protective effect on the liver. Look here for more information. Because of its attractive colour – I love yellow – and mild taste, it goes well on any dish and I tend to use it often. Turmeric and oregano are probably the spices I use most often (btw, a USDA study found that, gram for gram, oregano has the highest antioxidant activity of 27 fresh culinary herbs.; I didn’t use it in any of the recipes above because unfortunately, I have run out of it).

Paprika/red pepper powder/chili powder – All of these are related and contain capsaicin, whose anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects may lower the risk of cancer.

Garlic – also has anti-carcinogenic effects and improves the immune system, helping fight colds & other sicknesses. I also it for almost everything.

Ginger – It has been used in Asian, Indian and Arabic medicine since Ancient times. It aids digestions, helps ease stomach ailments, bowel problems, eases the symptoms of the common cold or flu, nausea, etc.

Catalan food: Origens 99’9%

Origen

Today we went for a late lunch/early dinner with our friends Matt, Elena, and a couple friend of theirs from Toledo, with their two little kids (Luz and Olmo). The chosen restaurant was Origens 99’9%, a small chain here in Barcelona that specializes in rescuing traditional Catalan food. Some of the recipes go back to the Middle Ages! The restaurant is also partly a gourmet store and you can buy many of the wines they serve and artisan cheeses, mermelades, desserts, and chocolates at their store.

InsideThe menu is in form of a cooking magazine, with nice pictures of the dishes, a little history on the produce or the cooking technique involved, some recipes, which you can take with you as a souvenir or to try some of the recipes at home. All the courses are half-sized (and priced accordinly) so you can try more of them and eat as little or as much as you’d like.

ceba farcidaI started with a ceba farcida (stuffed onion). Accompanying the recipe in the menu was a little history: “Stuffing vegetables with meat is a common characteristic of the Mediterranean region. Onions already used to be cultivated in Sumeria in the year 6,000 BC, and then it reached Egypt, where it passed over throughout the majority of Mediterranean towns. This dish is prepared in the area of Anoia.” This onion was stuffed with a mix of pork, veal and pinenuts and covered in a pesto sauce. It was delicious!

cim-i-tombaFor my second course I chose cim-i-tomba, a fish casserole typical of the Costa Brava. According to the menu, “it receives its name due to the way of shaking and moving of the pot when cooking takes place, in order to move the ingredients from top to bottom.” I had head of cim-i-tomba before and couldn’t pass the opportunity of trying it. It was served with lots of broth, with potatoes and onions and was very tasty. The fish was very fresh and clean.

cremaFor dessert, I couldn’t pass on the crema catalana… It’s similar to the French crème brulée, but with a creamier custard. Very nice.

Others had salad with nuts and goat cheese (amanida de fruits secs amb formatge), coca with escalivada & romesco (a slice of bread with roasted vegetables), lentils with cuttlefish and sausage (llenties amb sipia i salsitxes), pupkin and chestnut soup (sopa de carbassa i castanyes), penne with sausage and carreretas (macarrons amb salsitxa i moixernons), pork chops with chestnuts (costella de porc amb castanyes), stuffed apple of l’Empordà (poma farcida de l’Empordà), meatballs with cuttlefish (mandonguilles amb sípia), small squid with chocolate (popets amb xocolata), beef with eggplant (vedella amb albergines)…

You can download their magazine-menu here . All in all, a very good meal! We’ll definitely go back soon…

International feast

Friday night we were invited to our friends Sebastian’s & Jaquie’s house for an amazing party. It was a dinner party with a twist. Each of us had to bring the ingredients and cook something from our country of origin. I made bobó de camarão, my favourite brazilian dish, and Alan made tarte au sucre, a Quebec specialty. You can read about the feast at Alan’s blog.

Anyways, a lot of people asked me for the recipe for my bobó so here it goes:

Ingredients:

1 kg yuca (or mandioc, manioc…)

1 1/2 kg of shelled shrimp, the larger the better (if you buy them with shells, by about twice as much)

8 tomatoes

1 green pepper

1 large onion

1 litre chicken stock (you can use chicken cubes as well)

3 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp dendê oil (palm oil) – you can buy it at latin american food stores; it must be brazilian since the african variety won’t work.

2 cups coconut milk
some parsley & shallots

Instructions

Clean and shell the shrimps. Season to taste – I add lime juice, black pepper and salt. Reserve.

Peel and cut the manioc and put in a pot with the chicken stock. Boil it until tender, drain and reserve both the cooking stock and the manioc. Mash the manioc coarsely with a fork or potato masher, adding some of the liquid to help in the process. Once the manioc is mashed, add the coconut milk and mix through.

While the manioc cooks, blend the tomatoes, peppers and onion in a blender. Heat the oils in a large heavy-bottomed casserole and add the tomato mixture. Let it simmer until it is well cooked, about 30 mins.

When the manioc pure is ready the tomato sauce should be done, so add the shrimp to the tomato sauce. Let it cook for about 10 mins, that is until the shrimps are thoroughly cooked. Add in the manioc pure and mix well. If it’s too thick, add some of stock used for cooking the manioc. Keep mixing until it boils – the manioc is heavy and will stick to the bottom and burn unless it is stirred. Add some parsley & shallots (optional) and serve over white rice.

Note: this is a very forgiving dish, so don’t worry too much about being perfectly exact on measurements. I added way too much liquid and didn’t have enough time to boil it off and yet, everybody loved it.