Monday, November 29, 2010

Avocado Salad with Citrus Viniagrette

Avocado Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
Hi everyone! So this past week I was fortunate enough to have my entire family here in San Sebastián visiting me for Thanksgiving, and all the eating and site seeing cut into my blog time a bit.  I hope you all had a fantastic Thanksgiving filled with much turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie.  My family and I enjoyed a large plate of traditional spanish ham, a large tortilla de balacao or spanish omelette with salt cod, a steaming pot of fabana or bean soup, and topped it all of with an apple tart with rosemary whipped cream and vanilla gelato yummmmm.  Not the most traditional Thanksgiving I'll ever have but certainly a memorable one.  

However, all of the ridiculously rich spanish delicacies I ate over the past week made me feel just a teensy bit guilty... so here I am with Cook. Eat. Enjoy. Repeat.'s first ever salad! I don't know how they do it but the grocery store below us always seems to have ripe avocados, so I figured I'd take advantage of those.  And with one orange and a few strategically placed cherry tomatoes this salad is light and delicious!  I am of the Ina Garten school of thought that nothing used to garnish a plate should ever be inedible, thus, the tomatoes add another juicy element to the salad.

1/2 avocado
1/2 orange
1 tsp orange zest
2 tbsp fresh orange juice
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Cherry tomatoes to garnish

Using a fine cheese grater, or zester if you have one, zest the skin of the orange into a small bowl until you have 1 tsp of zest.  Only zest the outer most layer of skin because the white pith beneath it is bitter.  Orange zest smells just as good as freshly squeezed orange juice and adds color, flavor and fragrance to the dressing.  Next, thinly slice the top and bottom off of the orange so that it can stand upright. Balance the orange on one of the flat sides and use a knife to cut the rest of the skin off.  Once all you have left is the juicy center, use the same knife to cut the sections out of the orange and set the sections aside.  Squeeze what remains of the orange into the small bowl with the orange zest.  Make sure you don't get any seeds in there! Add the olive oil to the bowl, season with salt and pepper, and mix with a spoon.

Next, slice the avocado length-wise around the pit. Using good old fashioned elbow grease, twist each half of the avocado in opposite directions and pull them apart.  The pit will most likely still be stuck to one of the halves, in which case you should take a knife and whack it into the pit with a decent amount of force and twist until the pit pops out.  If the pit popped out after separating the avocado halves, lucky you. At this point, I find it easier to cut the avocado halves into thin slices and then remove the skin, otherwise you may leave some of the avocado behind if you remove it with a spoon first.  Once the avocados are sliced, remove the skin from each section and arrange on a plate or in a bowl with the orange slices.  Spoon the vinaigrette over the salad and enjoy!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hearty Vegetable Soup

Hearty Vegetable Soup

Two blog posts in one week?!? Unheard of during my abroad experience, and yet, here I am again!  This vegetable soup wasn't originally created with my blog in mind, but after making it my roommates and I agreed that it was just too good not to share with all of you!  And when I say hearty vegetable soup, I mean hearty.  I dare you not to feel satisfied after a bowl of this stuff.  This soup is also the easiest and cheapest way to feed four people...which is great for me considering that Europe is putting a serious dent in my bank account.  Another great thing about this soup is that it's pretty much a no-recipe recipe.  This means that, although I've made a version of this hearty vegetable soup three times now, it's never the same twice!  You can add just about any vegetables or beans you like and it will be just as delicious.  Feel free to add chicken or your favorite small noodle to make this soup just a bit heartier.  I'm going to give you the recipe for the latest version I made because it was especially good, and my favorite thus far.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 zucchini
1 eggplant
1 red pepper
3 carrots
2 celery stalks
2 tomatoes
10 button mushrooms, sliced thin
1 small bag baby spinach
1 cup garbanzo beans
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chicken broth
1 packet vegetable soup seasoning

In a large pot over medium high heat, place the two tablespoons of olive oil.  Mince the garlic and dice the zucchini, eggplant, red pepper, carrots, celery, and tomatoes.  Slice the mushrooms.  Once the oil is heated, add the carrots, garlic and celery to the pot and allow to cook in the oil for five minutes, stirring occasionally.  Next, add the rest of the diced vegetables, the beans, the chicken broth and the seasoning packet.  If you feel like using a seasoning packet is cheating then I guess you could add garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, parsley and bay leaves to suit your tastes but honestly, the seasoning packet is just easier and they've done all the measuring work for you.  Let the soup simmer for 25-30 minutes over medium high heat or until all the vegetables are tender.  Once everything is cooked through, add the spinach to the soup and stir until wilted, about one minute.  Ladle into serving bowls and garnish with grated parmesan cheese if you like. Enjoy!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cranberry Cornbread

Cranberry Cornbread
I wanted to make something reminiscent of the Thanksgiving holiday, considering that this will be the first Thanksgiving in my entire life where I do not inhale two heaping plates of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing.  When I asked my roommates which food items screamed "Thanksgiving!" to them, they said cranberries. I had been thinking of cornbread myself, so what better way to please all than to combine the two? Don't let the amount of butter in this recipe shock you.  I assure you, the calories are entirely worth it.  I adapted this recipe from Ina Garten's recipe for Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread, essentially taking out all of the savory ingredients of her recipe and replaced them with cranberries.  Good 'ol Barefoot Contessa never lets you down.


    3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white corn flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups skim milk
3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted
1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit and grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with butter. In a large bowl, combine the flour, corn flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, combine the milk, eggs and butter. Using a spoon, mix the dry ingredients into the wet until most of the lumps are dissolved. Don’t over-mix or else your cornbread will be flat instead of fluffy! Mix a little more than half of the cranberries into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared dish, smooth the top, and sprinkle with the remaining cranberries. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. You may not think the cornbread is done baking because of the bubbles of butter that may still be rising up the sides of the dish, but remove it from the oven and allow to cool.  The butter in this recipe is necessary because it almost rehydrates the dried cranberries so that they are plump, sweet and delicious.  Cut the cornbread into large squares, serve warm or at room temperature and enjoy!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pintxos and Paris

For the first time in my life, I had the pleasure of taking a real cooking course!  The course was centered around learning how to cook and assemble traditional Basque pintxos.  Pintxos, as I've mentioned in previous blog posts, are the Basque version of Spanish tapas.  Most pintxos entail some sort of meat or seafood, seasoned to perfection atop a slice of baguette and adorned with  some type of vegetable or cheese. Pictured above is probably one of the most common and traditional pinxtos you'll find in the Basque region.  It is serrano ham, goat cheese, and a roasted red pepper on a small toast.

In my pintxos course, we learned how to make ham croquettes, a perfect spanish tortilla, fried calamari, and a gazpacho avocado shooter among other traditional pintxos.  The same week I learned how to make pintxos of my own, I explored the wide array of pintxos bars here in San Sebastián. Among some of the most impressive were a perfectly cooked piece of sirlion topped with a thin slice of green pepper and a pinch of sea salt and a tiny dish of garlic risotto garnished with micro-greens and edible flora.  However, the pintxo that was certainly the most memorable was a cooked pigeon breast atop potato puree, with a rice paper sign reading "PUM!" and fake blood painted onto the plate, shown above.  Also in San Sebastián you may find a kangaroo taco, slow-cooked pigs ears, or fried anchovies with garlic confit.  The kangaroo is surprisingly delicious if only a bit chewier than the red meat we're used to. I'll get to the pigs ears eventually...

Paris, in my opinion, is the only city that compares to San Sebastián in terms of beauty, sights,  and food quality.  I made it my business to try each and every quintessentially french food item in existence.  These included macaroons, shown above, which are the famous french cookies that come in dozens of different flavors and fillings. I also made sure to ingest some authentically french roquefort cheese, crepes, eclairs, champagne, french onion soup and escargot!  Sweet or savory crepes are available at street-side vendors which seem to pop up every ten feet in Paris. Nutella, a creamy chocolate hazelnut spread is by far the most popular crepe filling.

One french dish that I unfortunately could not try due to my pesky shellish allergy was moules frites, or mussels and fries.  Moules frites are a popular lunch item also sold at street-side vendors along the Parisian streets.  There are baskets of fresh shellfish on shelves lined with lemons ready to be consumed. I conveniently forgot my shellfish allergy, however, while indulging in a plate of escargot doused in garlic butter. Whether snails are, in fact, shellfish is still up for debate.  But maybe the tiny shells they were served in should have tipped me off...either way, they were delicious and I didn't experience a hint of an allergic reaction!  Even though Paris was by far my most expensive trip, I couldn't have asked for a better experience.  Perfect weather, perfect company and perfect food made Paris a very memorable trip :)

La Tour Eiffel
La Joconde (The Mona Lisa)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Savory Baked Breakfast Cups

Savory Baked Breakfast Cups
I don't remember exactly what inspired me to make these but I know they've been on my list for quite some time now and I am verrrry proud of the final result!  I have been craving a savory breakfast item for a while since all breakfast in Spain is sweet.  They wouldn't dream of having ham or cheese for breakfast let alone spinach and mushrooms! These savory baked breakfast cups are like the quintessential savory breakfast combination all wrapped up in one.  The ham crisps up in the oven and the egg sets creating a nice bundle of deliciousness.  This recipe is fairly quick too so if you're looking to make an impressive breakfast for a small group, go for it!

12 slices serrano ham or prosciutto
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup finely diced mushrooms
1/2 bag baby spinach
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Over medium-high heat, place the one tablespoon of oil in a skillet and allow to heat up. Each breakfast cup uses two slices of ham to form the cup, therefore this recipe makes six breakfast cups.  You could use one 6-cup muffin tin but I suggest using two 6-cup muffin tins so that you can put the ingredients in every other cup and remove them from the tin much more easily.  

Taking two pieces of ham, lay them in a cross shape across one muffin cup and gently press them down so that they loosely form a cup shape.  Fold the tops of the ham slices outward onto the surface of the muffin tin. Finely mince the garlic and chop the mushrooms into a small dice.  Add them to the heated oil and allow to cook without moving them for five minutes.  After five minutes stir the mushroom and garlic in the pan, add the spinach and cover.  Check the mixture periodically after five to ten minutes and remove from heat once the spinach is fully wilted.  Once the spinach is wilted, add the half cup of parmesan and mozzarella cheeses and stir until well combined.  Spoon a large tablespoon of the cheesy spinach mixture into each ham-lined muffin cup. At this point, you should crack one egg over each cup.  The egg white will sink down and set in the oven and the yolk will stay on top of the vegetables.  I tried to gingerly crack my eggs so that I would have six nice whole yolks, one on the top of each cup.  However, that didn't work out as planned.  If your yolks stay whole, great.  If they don't, that's great as well.

Pop the muffin tins in the oven for twelve to fifteen minutes or until the egg whites are set.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.  Remove from the muffin tins by gently grabbing two of the ham corners and lifting it out of the tin or by using two spoons to scoop them out.  Season each with a tiny pinch of pepper over the top and enjoy!