Sunday, October 23, 2016

Fried Chickpeas with Chorizo and Spinach

I was having a hankering for chickpeas and since we still had some Dona Juana chorizo Bilbao in the freezer, Mark Bittman's New York Times Cooking recipe that combined them with spinach quickly came to mind. I've been meaning to try it for some time now so here was my chance. The video that accompanies the recipe on the page proved helpful to me so I'd recommend watching it if you decide to try it yourself. This is my take on the dish.
First I'll just mention one of my pet peeves with recipes that call for chorizo; I rarely if ever see a distinction made between the Mexican and Spanish versions in listed ingredients. Of course they are closely related but there are important differences both in the spices and flavorings used and in how they should be prepared. This article from thekitchn web site may help to alleviate confusion. Chickpeas and garbanzo beans are interchangeable terms, however. I rarely used them canned: I can taste the can 'flavor', there are sodium issues to consider, I love the resulting broth from when I cook soaked dry ones, and I've gotten into the habit of always having either soaked or cooked ones zip-locked and ready in the freezer to use. Check out this earlier post for a good chickpea recipe if you've never cooked them yourself.

Dicing the chorizo

Chickpeas frying

Chickpeas w chorizo

I always make my own bread crumbs using whatever bread I have, stale or fresh.

Fresh chopped spinach

With the bread crumbs before broiling

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, as dry as possible
Fresh-cracked black pepper
2 links Spanish chorizo, casings removed and diced
1 pound fresh spinach - stemmed, washed, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup Amontillado sherry, or one that isn't too dry
1-2 cups bread crumbs

If you are using canned chickpeas, make sure to thoroughly wash and drain them. For either canned or cooked, get them as dry as possible, even patting with paper towels to make sure they aren't retaining any moisture. This will help the chickpeas to get a good amount of crispness.

Heat the broiler.
Put three tablespoons of the oil in a skillet large enough to hold chickpeas in one layer over medium-high heat. I used my 14" cast-iron skillet. When it’s hot, add chickpeas and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until chickpeas begin to brown, about 10 minutes, then add chorizo. Continue cooking for another 5 to 8 minutes, or until chickpeas are crisp; use a slotted spoon to remove chickpeas and chorizo from pan and set aside.
Add the remainder of the 1/4 cup of oil to the pan; when it’s hot, add spinach and sherry, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook spinach over medium heat until very soft and any liquid has evaporated. Add chickpeas and chorizo back to the pan and toss quickly to combine.
Top with bread crumbs, drizzle with a bit more oil and run pan under the broiler, about 3-4 minutes, to lightly brown the top.
Serve hot or at room temperature.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

White Bean Stew (Alubias Blancas)

We had a small cooking class in my home kitchen this past week that was more or less a get together to learn knife skills and techniques. In order to fill out the lunch we shared, I'd prepared a stew from a wonderful cookbook I picked up at Powell's last winter - The Basque Table. The recipes are amazingly simple and prepares dishes differently than I've seen from other sources but each dish I've made so far has been nothing less than wonderful. I've tailored this recipe just a touch for a smaller crowd.
Note: I'd recommend using Spanish pimentón if you can get it as it lends a wonderful smoky flavor to the stew that paprika doesn't have. But paprika will do fine if that's what you can get or prefer.

1 pound dried navy beans (any white beans will do)
1 leek, white part only, cleaned well and halved lengthwise
2 bell peppers, seeded and sliced lengthwise into quarters
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon pimentón dulce (sweet/mild) or sweet paprika

Soak the beans overnight in a large bowl covered by 1-2 inches of cold water. Drain the beans in a colander or strainer and discard the soaking water.
Put the drained beans in a large pot and add the leek and peppers along with enough cold water to cover everything by 2-3 inches. Bring the contents of the pot to a boil over high heat and cook rapidly for 2-3 minutes carefully skimming any foam from the surface as it appears over the next several minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 2 hours or until the beans are fork tender. You can add about 1/4 cup of cold water to the pot every 30 minutes or so while cooking to help promote softness in the beans.
About 15 minutes before the beans are done, heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the chopped onion and sauté for about 10 minutes or until the onion is soft but before it colors. Add the pimentón (or paprika) to the skillet and cook, stirring to fully incorporate it into the onion, and allow to cook for about 2 minutes. Take the skillet off the heat and add the contents to the pot with the cooking beans.
Once you have stirred in the onion mix into the pot, remove it from heat. At this point, you can decide to either leave the cooked leek and pepper or fish them out of the pot before serving. Allowing the stew to sit for an hour or two in order to marry the flavors is ideal but you can also serve right away. This is also a great dish to cool and reheat to serve at a later time.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Potaje de Garbanzos y Calamares

I'm currently enrolled in a class with 18 Reasons to become a health promoter certified to run Cooking Matter classes as a chef instructor. This week we were in a store tour where we teach/learn about how markets are laid out and how to make the most of purchases in terms of value and nutrition. Once we've been through a tour of a store and have gained some knowledge of how to make the most of our money when shopping, we take on a $10 challenge i.e. select ingredients to create a meal for 4 people to incorporate with whatever we happen to have in our home pantry.
I decided to make a Spanish stew of squid, chickpeas, and potatoes as local squid tends to be rather inexpensive, has lots of protein without much saturated fat, and chickpeas contain lots of fiber and flavor. I also included a side dish of sautéed spinach with raisins and pine nuts.

NOTE: When cooking squid, you either want to cook it quickly - a couple of minutes on a hot grill or in a hot pan - or cook it for a good length of time - stewing it for 45-60 minutes. Anything in between will result in a very rubbery substance.

I got this recipe from a wonderful cookbook with which I've been consulting since our recent trip to Spain, Penelope Casas' La Cocina de Mamá. The printed recipe uses cuttlefish but I substituted squid which is much easier to find in these parts.

In the fish display

The $10 purchase

Chickpeas, garlic, parsley, onion, and tomato stewing

The raw uncleaned squid

Squid post-cleaning

1 pound dried chickpeas
1 pound uncleaned squid
1 whole unpeeled head garlic
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Bunch of fresh parsley branches
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet pimentón
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
1 small whole onion, peeled
1-inch piece guajillo pepper
2 bay leaves
3/4 pound new, Yukon, or fingerling potatoes cut into 1-inch chunks
Kosher salt

Soak the chickpeas overnight.
Clean the squid, separating the body and tentacles. Cut the body crosswise into 1 inch widths.
In a large saucepan or pot the chickpeas, 5 cups cold water, the garlic, oil, parsley, 1 teaspoon of the pimentón, the tomato, onion, guajillo, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
Add the squid and potatoes, season with salt, and continue cooking for another 30 minutes, or until the chickpeas, potatoes, and squid are tender. Squeeze the garlic flesh into the stew and discard the skin. Stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon pimentón. Cover and let site for 15 minutes before serving, reheating if necessary.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Working as a chef instructor with 18 Reasons in Oakland and Berkeley, we tend to lean on oatmeal as a healthy go-to for breakfast ideas when teaching classes. Invariably I'll come upon the cookie recipe inside the cap for Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats so decided to make it a few times. The only tweak I've made to the recipe is replacing the 1/2 cup of butter with 45% leaf lard and 55% butter to get a slightly richer mouth feel to the cookies. I've heard that lard actually contains *less* saturated fat than does butter so I suppose that's a win, right? Also note that I add the sugar into the fat gradually rather than all at once and combine the dry ingredients separately prior to adding into the wet.

Silpats are great if you plan to bake a lot but parchment works fine too

Softened butter and leaf lard

'creaming' the fats and sugars

Brown and white sugars

Rolled oats and raisins

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
6 tablespoons leaf lard softened (or substitute butter completely)
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins

Heat oven to 350°F.
In a large standing mixing bowl, beat butter (and leaf lard if using) at medium-high speed. Once it is soft, gradually add in the sugars while still beating until incorporated and creamed - i.e. the consistency of wet sand.
Reduce mixing speed to medium and add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt through a sifter or sieve then whisk together to combine.
Add the dry ingredients into the bowl with the wet ingredients then stir in the oats and the raisins. Lay out parchment paper or a silpat onto cookie sheets then drop the batter by rounded tablespoons onto them.

Put the sheets into the pre-heated oven and bake 8-12 minutes, until light golden brown. Remove from oven to cool for about 5 minutes then cool completely on a wire rack. Store tightly covered. This should make about 4 dozen cookies.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Smoked Herring and Potatoes

When we were in France a couple of years ago, there were quite a few dishes on various restaurant menus we had never experienced but found a great affinity for once we ordered and tasted them. One of the most memorable was smoked herring and potatoes. When we returned to the US I quickly set out to recreate a good version with whatever ingredients I could find. Luckily Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley happened to carry a smoked herring so I started buying it when hankering for the dish.

I based this version on a couple of recipes, including one that came on the herring package itself but mostly on this one here.

*NOTE: Although you could use the herring straight from the package, I find it best to marinate it in the frig over a day or three in sunflower oil.

(1-3 days ahead)
1/2 pound deboned smoked herring
1 cup sunflower oil

1 small onion, diced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 pound fingerling potatoes, scrubbed left unpeeled
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Handful of fresh summer savory, chopped

A day or three ahead of making (see *NOTE above), marinate the herring in the frig submerged in sunflower oil. When ready to prepare the dish, remove from the herring from frig and from the oil, chopping into 1-inch pieces
In a medium salad bowl, combine the onion, salt, mustard, and lemon juice. Let rest to take the edge off the onion.
Place the potatoes in a pan of cold water. Cover, bring to a low boil, and cook for 12 minutes, or until cooked through and tender (test with the tip of a knife). Drain and let rest until just cool enough to handle, then slice into 1/2-inch rounds.
Whisk the olive oil into the onion mixture. Add the potatoes and toss to coat. Add the fish and herbs, and stir gently to combine. Serve immediately for a warm dish; any leftovers can be eaten cold the next day, with the optional addition of butterhead lettuce.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

I've had more than several variations of spaghetti alla carbonara over the years but this version which I found in an Italian cookbook is by far my favorite. One of the reasons is that is uses guanciale rather than either pancetta or bacon for the meat which lends the dish, to my taste, a more authentic Italian quality. Guanciale can be hard to find here in the States but lucky for us there is a local butcher who makes a great one and always has it on hand.
Regardless of the meat used, all of the good versions I've had or made is careful about adding the cooked meat and pasta into the eggs and cheese. The heat of the meat and pasta is what cooks the egg giving the dish its creaminess with no actual cream ever added.
A note about using guanciale: it is from the jowls of a pig and has more fat than meat from the belly. When using it keep an eye on it as it can be quick to burn. Pull it from the heat just when it starts to color and crisp up.
A note about the cheese: any of Parmigiano-Reggiano, pecorino Romano, or Grana Padana is great for this dish but use the real deal and grate it yourself. Don't use a pre-grated or boxed 'parmesan' - the flavor is not even close. Any of them can be expensive but a very little goes a long way and if you store it correctly can last quite a while in the frig.

1/2 pound spaghetti
3 eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (or pecorino Romano or Grana Padana)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 pound guanciale (or pancetta) cut into thick cubes
sea salt
fresh cracked black pepper

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta to cook.
While pasta is cooking, beat the eggs in a bowl then add the fresh grated cheese.
In a skillet, heat the oil then add the guanciale cubes. Cook until colored and crisp then remove from heat.
When the pasta is cooked, drain while reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Bring the skillet with the guanciale back to a medium-low heat then add the drained pasta along with the pasta water to a simmer. Let the pasta and meat cook until the water has been completely reduced. 
Remove the pan from the heat and empty the contents into a serving bowl. Add the egg-cheese mix into the bowl with the pasta and immediately stir quickly and thoroughly in order to prevent the egg from coagulating into scrambled eggs. 
Add plenty of black pepper, add salt if needed, and serve with cheese to be grated at the table as needed.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Nutella Cookies

As I'm starting to get into making cookies, I thought this recipe might be interesting to tackle. I came across this on a friend's Facebook post and trailed it back to the original site, Cook n ' Share. I took the recipe and made some tweaks on it following tips on creaming fats and sugar I learned a while back.

Lately when baking I've been substituting leaf lard for a little less than half of the amount of butter called for in recipes that use it softened for creaming or alternately ice cold for pie crusts. It adds a mouth feel and texture that is hard to describe but definitely distinctive - and addictive!

4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoons softened unsalted butter
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons softened leaf lard (or substitute 1 stick butter for all of the fat)
⅔ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
½ cup of Nutella

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Follows is the creaming method I've been using regularly for a while now. I find it results in a better dough than simply throwing all of the sugar and butter in together before beating.
Add the softened lard to bowl of a kitchen mixer. Beat at medium speed until the lard is smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Stop the mixer and add the softened butter. Beat again at medium speed until the butter is well incorporated and smooth.
As the mixer is running, drop the sugar in a bit at time until well incorporated, then add the eggs one at a time until also well incorporated then add in the vanilla.

If you're only using butter, beat the butter first until smooth then add the sugar and eggs as described above.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking soda. Whisk them until they are well incorporated.
Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and fold them together. Add in the chocolate chips and use a spoon to mix them into the batter.

Scoop out about a tablespoonful of the batter and flatten it out into the palm of your hand. Add about ½ a teaspoon of Nutella into the center. Gently fold the cookie dough back up so it entirely seals and covers the Nutella.

The dough proved to be rather sticky for me but washing my hands a couple of times through seemed to help. It took me a few cookies to get this part down but everything turned out well regardless.

Place the cookies on a greased cookie tray or a Silpat and place them in the preheated oven for 12 -14 minutes. Remove them from the oven and place them on a wire rack to cool.