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Archive for the ‘Spanish’ Category


Yogurt, plain and simple

Throughout the two-plus years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve never dedicated a post exclusively to yogurt. I’ve used it as an ingredient here and there, sure, but it’s never played a leading role. That’s not acceptable. Not for a Mediterranean food blog, at least. I plan on changing that today.

On my recent trip to Aleppo I was reminded how important yogurt is in Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s everywhere. Cow, goat or sheep. Strained, plain or cooked. In the Levant there’s even a popular refreshing drink called Ayraan (عيران) that’s made from yogurt, but more on that later. Today I need to set things right. Today is all about yogurt.

Before we begin, I’d like to dispel the myth that suggests you should buy a fancy yogurt maker to incubate your milk. Please don’t. If you already have, I won’t hold it against you, but you really don’t need one. If the machine made the job any easier, I can understand, but the truth is, making yogurt is pretty simple.

While I was in Aleppo, Leila (my maternal grandfather’s brother’s wife’s sister), shared with me her way of making yogurt. Take a look:

Before I met Leila, I used to make my yogurt in the pot I heated the milk in. Not anymore. I really like her idea of dispensing the yogurt into smaller jars.

mise en place

Midway through the process (usually as the yogurt is cooling), I like to turn on my oven to the lowest setting and turn it off after 5 minutes. This helps keep my oven barely warm enough to properly incubate the yogurt — which is essentially what the yogurt machine does, except it doesn’t cost extra money and doesn’t limit how much yogurt you can make.

heating the milk

Once you heat the milk to 180 degrees F (a near boil), you need to cool it. I like to use a thermometer, particularly for this step, so that the yogurt starter has an ideal environment to initialize the incubation process. That temperature should be between 107 and 112 degrees F (41 and 44 degrees C).

nestled inside the oven

Since the pizza stone in my oven can retain lots of heat (as can the metal rails), I like to line the base with a kitchen towel before placing the jars of yogurt inside the oven. Then, as Leila mentioned in the video, you want to cover the jars with another towel so they remain warm throughout the incubation.

plain goat milk yogurt

Keep the jars overnight in the oven and move them to the fridge first thing in the morning. It’s that simple — saha wa hana (صحة و هنا)/bon appetit!

Homemade Yogurt

Makes 1/2 gallon

Components

  • 1/2 gallon milk*
  • 10g yogurt starter*

Putting them all together

  1. Heat milk to 180 degrees F (82 degrees C) over medium heat.
  2. Cool the milk between 107-112 degrees F (41-44 C) and slowly mix in the yogurt starter.
  3. Dispense the milk into 4-5, 16 oz. jars.
  4. Place the jars inside a barely warm oven lined with a kitchen towel and cover them with another towel to keep them warm throughout the incubation process.
  5. After 6-8 hours (or overnight) move the jars into the fridge and store until ready to use.

notes: If you don’t have yogurt starter you can use any plain yogurt that has live active cultures. Usually I like to go with the Organic Stonyfield Plain Yogurt. You’ll also get better results by using full-fat milk — 2% milk won’t get nearly as creamy.

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Roasted Potatoes and my trip to Aleppo

I don’t know where to begin. This is the problem with neglecting a blog for more than a week. It really is. If you have a blog, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Carelessness quickly turns into neglect and finally begins to fringe on complete abandonment. I would never let it get to that.

The last time I signed off, my camera was broken and I was eating gelato — lots of gelato — to diffuse the pain. It worked. Actually, my mom says that if there’s anyone who could get through to insurance companies, it’s me. I wasn’t about to abandon my camera. I called almost daily. In the end, after plenty of hoop-jumping and legal rigmarole, the hotel’s insurance settled and reimbursed me for the damages. It was a relief, sure, but there’s more.

Originally, my plan was to keep this next thing a secret. It was going to be a surprise, but I’m too excited not to blog about it. A couple weeks ago, I finally bought my plane ticket to go to Aleppo. My grandmother is there now, visiting her sister, and I will get to join them in just a few days. I promise to return with plenty of pictures, recipes and maybe even a few videos.

On that note, I will keep this post short. I’ve been strategically trying to use all my produce and perishables for the past couple of weeks. A lot of times the dishes that result from this don’t make it to be photographed, but my roasted potatoes are different. I realize I’ve never written about them before, but my roasted potatoes have gotten me through some difficult times.

mise en place

Preparation is simple. It makes a big difference to scout out good potatoes for this dish: small, firm and tight skin. I prefer reds simply because they have a higher sugar content, so they tend to caramelize better than other potatoes in the oven.

a quick rinse

Since potatoes grow underground, you’ll want to give them a quick rinse before you roast them. Make sure to pat them dry so that the outsides crisp up.

room to breathe

It’s also important not to crowd the potatoes in a pan, otherwise they will still steam, regardless of how well you’ve patted them dry.

my secret weapon

Although I usually use Spanish paprika, or pimentón, it’s a lot easier to find the Hungarian variety at my local grocery store. My inspiration for using paprika in my roasted potatoes came from patatas bravas — a classic tapas made from fried tomatoes covered in a spicy pimentón-base sauce. If you can’t find Spanish paprika near where you live, Amazon is where I usually buy from.

oven roasted red potatoes

Once they come out of the oven, they can be eaten hot or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Oven Roasted Potatoes

yields 4-6 side dishes

Components

  • 2 lbs baby red potatoes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp dried rosemary (double if fresh)
  • 2 tsp spicy paprika
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Wash potatoes and them pat dry.
  3. Cut potatoes into equal sized pieces (I usually quarter them, if they’re small enough).
  4. Mix together all the ingredients on a large baking sheet. Make sure the potatoes are not crowded so that they crisp evenly.
  5. Cover with foil and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until potatoes are slightly cooked.
  6. Uncover and continue baking for 30-40 more minutes, or until potatoes are golden brown and cooked all the way through.

notes:Sometimes the potatoes tend to stick to the tray because of their natural sugar content. I recommend lightly tossing them with a spatula a couple times while cooking.

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Mejillones in my new Kitchen

If you knew the kind of things I’ve been eating the past ten days, you’d be appalled. After I made the Moroccan chicken and olives dish a couple weeks ago, I carefully set aside some left overs and packed up my entire life into a 14-foot U-Haul. After that, my will to cook was nowhere to be found. I’m sure it was hidden somewhere behind the fortress of boxes that consumed my new apartment, but, for the time being, I was happy with my daily bowls of cereal and occasional sandwiches. A diet devoid of fruits and vegetables – like I said, appalled.

The unpacking process was just as painful because the towering boxes were the first things to greet me as I walked through the door after a long day at work. Slowly though, everything started finding it’s place. Since I do most of my blogging from my kitchen, I thought I’d show you my new digs; nothing fancy, but I made sure to find something spacious. My eat-in kitchen was transformed into an extension of the kitchen, where I created an additional 8 feet of counter space by simply propping a dining room table on top of bed stands.

my homemade countertop

Since the weather has been beautiful the past few days, my will to cook was still nowhere to be found – even though my apartment is now fully unpacked. On my first run to the grocery store, I saw some mussels out of the corner of my eyes that I knew I couldn’t pass up. 

mise en place

In Spain there’s a popular tapas called Mejillones a la vinagreta, or simply Mussels in a vinaigrette; and that is what I set out to make. It’s a dish that can be eaten cold and is extremely refreshing and simple to make. The base ingredients for la vinagreta are tomatoes, onions a splash of vinegar and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice, but none of this is set in stone. I’ve seen some people add hard boiled eggs, others add long green peppers, you get the picture.

wash & scrub each one

To avoid getting sick you’ll want to carefully wash your fresh mussels in cold water, remove their beard and toss out the ones that are open or chipped before cooking. They should also smell like the sea and not fishy. Once their cooked most of them will open up, but if you have a couple stubborn ones in the bunch, simply pry those open and enjoy. (Updated: 06/12)

don’t forget the bay leaves (like I almost did)

Once you’ve got all your mussels prepped, the cooking part is simple. You throw them in a large skillet with a glass of white wine you’ll be drinking that evening and a couple of bay leaves, cover them and let them steam in the wine for a 3-4 minutes, or until they all open up. Once they cook, I like to serve this dish cold, so I throw them in the fridge while I whip up la vinagreta.

bright summer flavors

In the end, after changing my mind a couple times of what should go in my vinagreta (after I took the mise en place photo), I decided to throw in some Italian parsley and garlic.

mejillones a la vinagreta

This month we’re in Spain for A Taste of the Mediterranean, being hosted by the beautiful Núria from Spanish Recipes. The theme this month is to make tapas – any tapas. I’ve neglected the contest a bit with my moving, but Núria has gone all out and prepared a post full of Spanish inspiration. Check out her blog, get inspired by how beautiful, simple and delicious Spanish tapas are and then venture to make your own. iGourmet is sponsoring this contest and is giving away a $50 gift certificate to the winning tapas post.

Mejillones a la Vinagreta

serves 6-7 appetizer portions

Components

  •  2 lbs fresh mussels
  • 1 glass of pinot grigio
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tomatoes, finely diced
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 1/3 cup Italian parsley, finely diced
  • 1 roasted pepper, finely diced
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • juice of 1 lemon and 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Clean mussels in cold water by removing their beard and make sure to toss any that are open before cooking.
  2. Add the cleaned mussels to a large skillet with the white wine and bay leaves, cover and cook for 3-4 minutes or until they’re all open.
  3. Toss any mussels that didn’t open and cool the rest in the fridge.
  4. Make the vinaigrette by tossing all the remaining ingredients in a bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  5. To serve, remove half the shell from each mussel and top each one with a tablespoon of the vinaigrette.

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signs of a good time

I’ve caught the Spanish bug

Spanish tapas have been on my mind ever since I made those croquetas the other day. They were a hit in the house and the leftovers treated me well (at least while they lasted). Once the last croqueta was gone though, my stomach went into what I’ve come to call, “pregnant woman mode.” Pregnant women may claim to have it bad, but a foodie-craving is no joking matter. I wanted more tapas, stat.

mise en place
mise en place

Champiñones al ajillo is exactly what I needed – literally garlic mushrooms. I set aside this weekend to be my relax/be-super-lazy weekend and so anything that took more than 10 minutes to make was out of the question. These mushrooms met all my stringent criteria, and the heaping mound of garlic only added to their appeal. If you don’t have the 10 5 minutes it takes to put these together, but you happen to be walking around Spain, you’re in luck. Any reputable tapas bar will gladly serve you up a plate of these mushrooms; although, if you want to blend in more with the locals, call them champis and don’t use their full name, champiñones al ajillo.

Spanish paprika
Spanish paprika

Recipes for this classic Spanish tapas will vary. Some will call for freshly squeezed lemon juice, while others want bread crumbs, but none of them leave out the Spanish paprika – a quintessential ingredient in Spanish cuisine. You can find this paprika in three varieties: sweet, smoked or spicy, but these champis pair perfectly with the spicy variation, which also happens to be my favorite. 

mushrooms cooked in lots and lots of garlic
champis al ajillo

From raw ingredients to what you see above takes no more than five minutes. If you don’t have Spanish sherry, a feasible substitute would be some marsala wine, but obviously, it won’t produce the same flavor. On the topic of substitutions, you can also substitute the mushrooms for some shrimp and you’ll end up with another classic Spanish tapas, gambas al ajillo.

champiñones al ajillo
champis al ajillo

OK, I’ve been rambling for way too long. You could’ve probably made two batches of these already but I’ve kept you, yet again. Go make some and enjoy!

Champiñones al Ajillo

serves approx. 6-8 people

Components

  • 1 lb button mushrooms, quartered
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp Spanish paprika, spicy
  • 2 tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 3-4 tbsp olive oil, extra virgin
  • 1/4 cup Spanish sherry
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Heat up olive oil, garlic, and paprika in a large skillet.
  2. Once it starts to sizzle, add the quartered mushrooms and sauté for 3-4 minutes.
  3. Deglaze the pan with the dry sherry and cook until most of the liquid has reduced into more of a sauce. 
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Toss with chopped parsley and serve.

notes: OK, this recipe might take all of 8 minutes, but I still claim they’re well-spent. 

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Worth Frying For

I hate frying; and I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I avoid frying like the plague. Don’t get me wrong, I can always enjoy a hearty batch of chicken wings or a few fried calamari, just not in my (tidy) kitchen. Whenever I do fry, which is rare, I make sure that it’s something completely worth the extra calories and additional cleanup at the end. These croquettes, my friends, are worth it – worth every single drop of splattering oil and all the calories in the world. 

mise en place
mise en place

If you haven’t had croquettes before, you’re in for a treat. They’re basically tiny nuggets of overly thick béchamel sauce that have been breaded and fried (pause: how can this not taste good?). Given its name, it seems as though the origin of this ingenious creation is French (surprise, surprise); but today they’re most commonly associated with Spanish tapas. Yep, the Spanish rock these bite sized treats usually with jamón serrano or chicken (or both, thanks Núria). Of course, I opted to blog about the ones made with jamón serrano (i.e. the pork variation).

filling update (09/14): You can also try tuna or spinach, thanks Nikki; or even use up all your leftovers, thanks Joey! For some extra ham flavor, just boil your milk with a jam bone and strain it before you want to use it, thanks Núria.

jamón serrano
jamón serrano

Jamón serrano is essentially Spain’s version of prosciutto. It’s actually one of the many varieties of cured hams native to Spain and the one most commonly used for making croquettes. If your supermarket doesn’t carry jamón serrano, you could always use prosciutto or swap out the ham entirely for some chicken. Be careful though not to confuse jamón serrano with jamón ibérico, which is Spain’s most prized variety of cured ham that runs between $52 and $96 a pound!

panko-breaded, ready to fry
breaded croquettes

These are the croquettes (breaded and ready to go into the hot oil). I coated mine with panko bread crumbs, which are Japanese style bread crumbs that I happened to have on hand. If you’re strictly going for an authentic taste and texture you should use regular bread crumbs; but either work just fine.  

crunchy on the outside; rich and creamy in the inside
a bite

This is the moment that makes the entire process completely worth it. After frying, the creamy inside becomes incased in a crispy, golden brown layer of fried deliciousness. If there’s any pearl of wisdom I can pass on to the readers of this post, it would be: beware of the extremely hot filling. It’s too embarrassing to admit how many times I’ve burnt my tongue trying to sneak a bite of these straight from the hot oil, but let’s just say I learned my lesson the hard way (multiple times). 

croquetas de jamón
croquetas de jamón

Like most tapas, croquettes are meant to be enjoyed with a glass of wine, in good company and in small portions (that’s the key to getting away with eating such decadent foods). If you’re craving some food trivia: the word tapas comes from the Spanish verb, tapar, which means to cover. Since tapas were traditionally served with a sweet wine at Spanish bars, people needed a way to keep flies from flying into their goblets. So bar owners started serving these small dishes called tapas for people to cover their drinks while having something to munch on – genius and definitely worth frying for!

Croquetas de Jamón

makes approx. 17-19 croquettes

Components

  • 1/2 lb jamón serrano, finely diced
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 50 g flour (4 heaping tbsp)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup flour, for breading
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • olive oil, for frying

Putting them all together

  1. Heat up the milk on the stove or in the microwave.
  2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the diced onion and sweat for 3-5 minutes (i.e cook over medium low heat so that the onion remains translucent). 
  3. Add the jamón serrano and flour and cook for a couple minutes until the dough turns a golden brown color. 
  4. Gradually add the milk, making sure to stir constantly. Cook until you get a very thick dough that comes away from the pan.
  5. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours (preferably overnight).
  6. Form the croquettes.  Bread them by coating them in flour, then egg, then rolling them in the bread crumbs.
  7. Fry until golden brown.

notes: You could freeze them before frying to fry at a later time. Or you could also fry lots of them, freeze them and bring them up to temperature in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes.

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