Thursday, May 27, 2010

Spanish Birthday Fiesta

It’s almost June, wow time has flown by since the new year! I’ve been 30 for almost three months now and have been so busy that I haven't had a chance to write up my wonderful birthday party with friends and family.

My 29th year, the “power year” as my friend Megan calls it, was packed. I started blogging, started my masters program, became an aunt for the fourth time, started writing for Local in Season, witnessed some wonderful weddings, spent time with family and friends, and more!

To kick off my 30th year, the hubby (who would like me to say he's still 29 for another week) was in charge of planning the birthday festivities. Not just picking the date and place, but the menu, drinks, food, the whole works. In a nod to our vacation we planned to Spain, he decided on a Spanish themed birthday fiesta to get us in the mood for the trip.

The hubby called up our family culinary resource, my brother, for some menu consultation. My brother spent a summer abroad in Spain and has been cooking Spanish cuisine since he returned. He also put a call into our personal sommelier about some wine pairings. Well, little did I know that besides the surprise of the party details, my mom and brother came to town for the party!

We started the party day with a trip to the Wayland winter market to interview Vic Tirrito, the Pasta Man. My brother picked up a few last minute ingredients and we headed back home. While we were at the market, the hubby and my mom picked up the Party Favors cupcakes we ordered for the party. The three of them spent the rest of the day preparing a Spanish Feast. Nobody left the party hungry!

(my brother)

The menu for the evening, in photos.


The Big Meal

Potato with Garlic Sauce
3 pound small (new) potatoes
30 Garlic cloves (individual)
1.5 cups olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Add potatoes to a saucepan of boiling salted water and boil until tender (10-15 minutes)

While potatoes are cooking, make the sauce:
Using a mortar and pestle, crush garlic with a little salt
Work in oil a few drops at time
As the sauce thickens, the oil can be added more quickly
Season with salt and pepper

Drain potatoes well
As soon as they are cool enough to handle, cut into bite size pieces and toss with salt and the sauce
Serve warm

Serves 12-15 hungry people

Tortilla Espanola
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound potatoes, diced
1 Spanish onion, chopped
5 eggs
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in a large, heavy nonstick skillet over low heat
Add potatoes and onion to the skillet
Cover and cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft but not brown
Drain off and reserve oil
In a bowl, lightly beat eggs
Mix in potatoes and onions
Season with salt and black pepper
Let stand for 10 minutes

Wipe out skillet with a paper towel, then add enough of the reserved oil to cover the bottom of the skillet in a thin film
Add egg mixture, spreading it evenly
Cook over medium, shaking occasionally until the bottom is starting to turn brown and is set
Cover the skillet with a large plate and flip upside down to get tortilla out
Slide tortilla back into the skillet, cooked side up
Cook until lightly browned on the bottom
Slide onto a serving plate, cut into wedges and serve

This serves four as a main dish, 8 as an appetizer. We had 2 of these for our party.

Chicken in Safina Sauce
1/2 Cup olive oil
6-8 pounds chicken (breasts, legs, thighs, whatever you prefer, skin on may be best)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 green pepper, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
1 orange pepper, sliced
3 eggplants, cut into strips
2 pound beefsteak tomatoes peeled and seeded (we used canned whole tomatoes)
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 bay leaf, 1 thyme sprig, 1 parsley sprig (to be removed after cooking)
Parsley for garnish

In a large, heavy pan, heat oil, add chicken and fry until lightly browned (about 10 minutes)
Using a slotted spoon, remove chicken and reserve
Add onions and garlic to pan and fry for 1 minute
Add peppers and eggplants and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes
Stir in tomatoes, wine, stock, herbs, salt and pepper
Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat so liquid barely simmers

Return chicken to the post, spooning sauce over it
Cover pan and simmer about 45 minutes until chicken juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a sharp knife, and sauce is slightly thickened
Discard herbs
Taste, adjust seasoning as need
Garnish with parsley and serve

Rice with Chickpeas
24 ounces chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
Olive oil for frying
6 garlic cloves finely chopped
2-2/3 Cups short grain white rice
2-1/2 cups chicken stock
Chopped fresh herbs to garnish

Simmer chickpeas in a large pot of water for 1.5 to 2 hours, until just tender
While they are simmering, make the rice
In a saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil
Add garlic and fry for 2 minutes
Stir in rice and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes
Stir in 1.25 cups of stock, simmer for 10 minutes, then add another 1.25 cups of stock
Continue cooking 10-12 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender
Cover and keep warm

Drain chickpeas
In a skillet, heat about ½ inch layer of oil
Add chickpeas and fry, stirring frequently until golden-brown
Stir into rice, then transfer to a warmed serving dish
Pour tomato sauce over chickpeas and rice

Tomato sauce topping
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 Spanish onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove , chopped
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
6 cups peeled seeded tomatoes (we used canned)
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in a skillet
Add onion and cook over low heat for 5 minutes
Stir in garlic and pepper and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally
Stir tomatoes into the pan and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes stirring occasionally
Process in a blender or food processor until pureed

Our friend Angel provided the Spanish wines for the evening (I snuck in one Oregon wine). We had all reds – all delicious. Here's a look:

My contribution to cooking was a fruity sangria, adapted from a recipe from Chris over at the Half Hour Music Hour. I skipped the suggested brandy (none on hand), but followed the rest of the recipe. I made my own simple syrup (I can’t find the actual method I used) and it was delicious!

3/4 Cup(s) simple syrup
1 1/2 Liter(s) 2 bottles of Rioja wine, red
3/4 Cup(s) brandy
1/2 Cup(s) triple sec
3/4 Cup(s) orange juice
2 sliced thinly orange
2 sliced thinly apple, green
2 sliced thinly lemon

Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher and refrigerate, covered, 2 hours or up to 2 days. Serve over ice.


When the hubby asked what I wanted for dessert there was no question - cupcakes! He picked out some adorable cupcake themed invites and we decided to have a cupcake decorating contest. I can remember a great birthday party I had when we I was little where we all got aprons and chef hats and decorated cakes. We love Party Favors cupcakes - but they won't sell them without any icing. So we ordered some with flat topped white icing and bought an arsenal of decorating supplies and icing.

After enjoying the homemade sangria and a few bottles of wine, cupcake decorating fun ensued! They were all so great that we declared an all-around tie. Designs ranged from the Israeli flag to the Olympic torch, to uhh....I'm not sure what a few of them were supposed to be. Here's a look at the contenders.

We had a wonderful time; it was so nice to celebrate with friends and family! This year I look forward to many fun adventures with new and old friends and a great time with family!

Beth from Denver: Scrumptious Simplicity

Another installment from Beth from Denver! Beth cooks up delicious and easy vegetarian meals. Enjoy!

I’m not allowed to have a grill at my condo complex, so I have recently invested in a George Forman Grill. It doesn’t feel the same as grilling on the patio, but it is easy to use, easy to clean and does a great job! When I wanted something simple and healthy a few nights ago, I decided to set up George to grill some tofu and asparagus. I completed the meal with some quinoa.

Grilled Tofu, Asparagus and Quinoa
1 bunch of asparagus
1 package of extra firm tofu
3 teaspoons Target brand South American Style Grilling Paste (or any preferred seasoning)
1 cup quinoa

Open and drain the tofu
Place in a strainer in the sink with a saucepan on top in order to squeeze out as much water as possible
Preheat the grill to medium-high
Cut the ends off the asparagus and then cut the stalks in half
Grill for about 5 minutes, rotating halfway through (unless you are using a George Forman with a grilling plate on top
While the asparagus is cooking, combine the cup of quinoa with 1 cup of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil
Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until water has been absorbed (10-15 minutes)
Cut the tofu into half inch slices
Spread the grilling paste on both sides of tofu slices before placing on grill
Cook for about 10 minutes (depending on how firm you like the tofu), making sure to flip in order to cook both sides

Enjoy your simple and healthy meal!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Weeknight Dinner: A Trip to Vietnam

At my day job, our students (Executive MBA) headed off to Vietnam for their international trip. While I didn't get to travel with them, I did do some culinary research for them. I also put together a list of spices that I was interested in having, just in case they happened upon a spice market. To pretend that I was sharing in their adventure I decided to make an at home version of one my favorite Vietnamese restaurant dishes.

My favorite dish to get at local places like Pho Viet's (at the Super 88) and Le's is bun with grilled beef. It is a giant serving of vermicelli noodles with thinly sliced grilled beef and ground peanuts. On the side is a fresh cucumber, carrot, and cabbage salad and nuoc chom. To finish it off, I usually throw on some extra peanut sauce from the fresh rolls we order as an appetizer.

As I usually do, I looked to a cookbook for inspiration before creating my own take on the dish. In a previous post, I mentioned the cookbook I checked out from the library called Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I found a recipe for grilled beef and got to work creating.

I wanted to make my own sauce, and there was an easy recipe for vegetarian nuoc chom. I didn't have all the ingredients but this did give a chance to use the lemongrass I recently purchased!

This was a fairly quick and easy meal to prepare. It was flavorful and tasted almost exactly like the number 10 with beef that I usually order! You could also make this with sliced chicken breast or even some grilled extra firm tofu slices. Enjoy!

#10 with Beef and Vegetarian Nuoc Chom

Vegetarian Nuoc Chom
Adapted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet

3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried lemongrass (1 finely chopped teaspoon if you have fresh lemongrass)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 hot chile minced (I skipped this, the hubby doesn't like hot chiles)
1 teaspoon sesame oil (the recipe calls for peanut oil)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, mix the soy sauce and rice wine vinegar
In another bowl, or on the mixing board, work the garlic into a paste
Mix the paste, lemongrass, cinnamon and chile (if using) into the soy sauce and rice wine
Add oil, sugar and salt and stir well
Can be refrigerated for up to 3 days

Quick Cool Veggie Salad
1 broccoli crown, cut into florets
1/2 English cucumber, cut into 1/4 inch matchsticks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch matchsticks
Rice wine vinegar
Sesame oil

Mix the cut vegetables in a serving bowl
Add enough rice wine vinegar to coat the veggies
Add about 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
Sprinkle with salt
Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to serve meal

Grilled Beef
Inspired by Grilled Lemongrass Beef Recipe in Hot Sour Salty Sweet

1.25 pounds flank steak
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bird chile finely chopped (or hot chile), optional
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil

Mix the marinade ingredients together and add to a bowl or large plastic food storage bag
Cut the meat against the grain into 1/8 inch slices, then cut into 1.5 inch lengths
Place the meat in with the marinade in the bowl and cover, or in the plastic bag and seal
I only marinated the beef for about 30 minutes at room temperature (You could marinate for up to 1 hour at room temperature or up to 8 hours in the refrigerator)
Prepare the grill pan (or grill)
Grill the meat for about 1-1.5 minutes per side for medium-rare/almost medium

Cook Time:
Sauce: 5 minutes
Veggies: 10 minutes (depending on how fast you chop)
Meat: 10 minutes prep, marinating time, 5 minutes cooking

Cutting board, knives, mixing bowls, grill pan (or grill), serving bowls, utensils

Serve with vermicelli noodles (make according to box). I like mine a little spicy, so I added a generous dollop of sriracha on the side.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Daring Cooks May Challenge: Stacked Green Chile & Grilled Chicken Enchilada Bake

The hubby and I had just tried a new (and very delicious) locally owned Mexican restaurant over the weekend. I’m excited to have a source for great margaritas in the suburbs. Check out Viva Mexican Grill in Wayland if you are in the neighborhood. I enjoyed a delectable flank steak accompanied by a chicken enchilada with green chili sauce. The hubby had enchiladas with a trio of three different moles. When I came home to check out the May challenge, I was delighted that it gave me a chance to try making the enchiladas at home!

Our hosts this month, Barbara of Barbara Bakes and Bunnee of Anna+Foodhave chosen a delicious Stacked Green Chile & Grilled Chicken Enchilada recipe in celebration of Cinco de Mayo! The recipe, featuring a homemade enchilada sauce was found on and written by Robb Walsh.

I have been enjoying learning more about Mexican cuisine and cooking at home. I used the recipes provided in the challenge and made a tasty mess out of my kitchen!

When I went to buy the ingredients, my store only had four Anaheim chiles in stock (who knew they were so popular!). I evaluated the other options and decided to use poblano peppers for the other half of the chiles called for in the sauce. I picked up the rest of the ingredients that I didn’t have at home – tomatillos, onions, and 6-inch corn tortillas. Luckily I had frozen some of the homemade chicken stock from the risotto challenge, and I was able to use it for the sauce!

Once I got home and got organized, I fired up the burners under my cast iron grill pan to start roasting and grilling. I underestimated the time I needed to char those chiles and peppers on the grill pan. It probably would have been more efficient to pop them under the broiler, but I had committed myself to using the grill pan. After scraping, scraping, saying a few choice words, and scraping some more, I finally got the skins off the chiles and peppers. While I scraped, I also cooked/roasted the tomatillos on the grill pan.

Once those were pureed in the food processor and the chiles were chopped, everything went into the pot for the sauce. Instead of the oregano called for in the recipe, I substituted the epazote I recently purchased (see the KC Culinary post). It has a more lemony scent than regular oregano. At this point, the hubby was getting a little antsy so I put him to work grating some Monterey jack cheese for the dish. I grilled the chicken on the grill pan and prepared the tortillas for assembly.

After what seemed like hours (and much longer than expected), it was time to assemble. I used my 9x13 glass baking dish so I could see the layers. Into the oven it went and dinner was finally served. We love cilantro at our house, so we generously garnished before serving.

This was just as good (and more gratifying) than the enchilada I had at the restaurant. Next time I’d like to make it a little spicier, use all Anaheims chiles, and maybe use a traditional Mexican cheese.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Slow Braised Beef ... Easy, Flavorful, and Melt in Your Mouth Good

I've got a line up of about five posts, but tonight's dinner was so good I wanted to write it up right away!

A few weeks ago I was a lucky winner of some delicious pesto courtesy of one of my favorite food bloggers, Alicia at The Clean Plate Club Blog. Lauren from Pestos with Panache was nice enough to let me pick my choice of the tasty flavors to try. I've been really into spicy chocolate recently, so I chose the Decadent Dark Chocolate & Ancho Chili Pesto. According to their website:

"Decadent Dark Chocolate & Ancho Chile Pesto marries some of the New World’s flavors—70% dark chocolate, ancho chilies, clove and vanilla—with the Old World’s fresh basil Genovese pesto. Hovering in the background is just a touch of smoky cumin to form a truly complex flavor."

I wanted to make something interesting with the pesto and had been tossing ideas around for a week or two. I had decided to make a roast beef this weekend to use for lunches during the week. When I got home from the store with my chuck roast, I went to my cookbook shelf for inspiration. I found a recipe for a slow-braised lamb (or goat!) Jalisco-style in my Mexican Everyday (Rick Bayless) cookbook. What I love about this cookbook are the riffs that follow each recipe. Following this recipe was a riff called Northern Mexican Barbacoa - using a beef chuck roast and potatoes. I had bought a yucca, so I swapped that in for the potatoes.

This was the easiest roast I've ever made - thanks to using the pesto in place of the marinade. When the roast was done, it was so tender it just melted in your mouth. The yucca held up to the long slow braise and the leftover juice made a great sauce. Delicious!! This is getting added to the favorite recipe/cooking method list.

Good Cook Doris' Riff on Rick Bayless' Riff on Slow Braised Lamb (or Goat) Jalisco-Style
1 3-3.5 pound beef chuck roast, tied
2 tablespoons Decadent Dark Chocolate & Ancho Chili Pesto, thawed
1-3 medium yucca, peeled and sliced into 1 inch rounds
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Enough water to cover the yucca and about a quarter of the roast
An extra tablespoon of pesto for the sauce

I used my 5-quart slow cooker for this.

Cover the bottom of the slow cooker with the slice yucca
Sprinkle the salt over the yucca
Massage the pesto into the roast - making sure to cover all sides evenly
Place the roast on top of the yucca
Pour in enough water to cover the yucca and about a quarter of the roast
Turn on the slow cooker to the High - Six Hour setting
Go about your day!

The hubby is very proud of this aerial photo.

When the roast is done, take out very carefully (mine practically fell apart) and remove the string
Remove the yucca and put into a bowl
Carefully ladle out (or pour) liquid into a dish
I made my roast in advance, so I let it cool and then put in the fridge for tonight

To prepare the juice
Scrape off any fat that has gelled on the top of the juice
Pour the leftover liquid into a sauce pan and add the additional tablespoon of pesto
Bring to a boil
Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the juice has reduced and concentrated

Reheat the meat and yucca with some juice in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes
Serve, ladling more juice on top


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