jambalaya

There were some Silvana Meats hot links left over after my birthday party (along with several pounds of coleslaw, enough hot dog buns for an army and an embarrassment of macaroni salad – guess what I was eating for breakfast all week), so the obvious next step was to make jambalaya. I’ve had great success with the gumbo from James Villas’ wonderful book The Glory of Southern Cooking, so I looked up his jambalaya recipe. I ended up following it almost exactly, except for substituting a pound of large shrimp for the crawfish (and not putting it in until the very end – why does he tell you to cook seafood for twenty minutes?) and adding two hot links, cut into small dice.

Holy moly, it was good. The rice absorbed all the wonderful flavors of the hot links and clam juice, and the texture was perfect. There really isn’t that much difference between this and a paella, except for the lack of saffron or a bottom crust. And it was really, really easy to make.

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green apple risotto

dinner

A month or two ago, at dinner at a friend’s house, we tasted an apple risotto for the first time. I had never heard or thought of such a thing before, but I can’t think why not. The risotto was served as a first course, with a small piece of seared foie gras on top, and it was astonishing. I don’t generally have foie gras on hand, but I thought that there must be other flavors that would go well with the risotto. I tried it out last night, making up the risotto recipe as I went, and serving it with seared kielbasa slices and some sauteed escarole with garlic.

shallot

All I did for the risotto was chop some shallot and saute it in butter…

green apple

…then I added diced Granny Smith apple…

green apple risotto

…then tossed in a cup or so of Arborio, sauteed it briefly, then ladled in chicken stock until everything was done. A bit of grated Parmesan finished it off. It was nice, although I couldn’t help feeling I might have preferred having the apple in large slices, simply seared in butter and served on the side. Also, the escarole (which I love) was perhaps too strong a flavor here, overwhelming the delicate apple (although it went splendidly with the smoky kielbasa). Live and learn; maybe next time I’ll try serving this with scallops. And maybe a pinch of fresh thyme in the risotto? We shall see.

modern Mexican

carne asada and tamales

The theme for our latest supper club was “modern Mexican.” It was another remarkable meal, made up of a series of composed small plates and some amazing flavors.

evening on the bay

It didn’t hurt that the weather was gorgeous that day, and dinner was held at a house right on the water. It set the tone nicely for a very summery meal.

margarita fixings

tamarind margarita

We started out with tamarind margaritas. I love tamarind-based drinks, it gives a tartness that’s very distinctive.

ceviche

Jenise made a batch of ceviche for us to nibble on while we set up for dinner. I know there was shrimp, halibut, corn, green olives and peppers, and it was one of the best ceviches I’ve ever had. It was hard to resist filling up before we even sat down.

avocado soup

Jon and I brought several dishes to share. The first of these was a chilled avocado soup garnished with pepitas. I liked the flavor of this, but it was extremely rich and creamy. If I ever make this again I think we’ll just serve it in tiny portions, like a shooter glass. The pepitas were toasted and tossed with ground chipotle pepper, which gave them a nice smokiness.

scallops in agavero sauce

Roger contributed the next course, based on a dish from a favorite restaurant. Sea scallops in an agavero butter sauce with capers, rolled into flour tortillas. This was fantastic, and I’d never even heard of agavero before, so it was a new flavor experience.

chalupas

Next came our chalupas (little “boats” made of masa, toasted on a griddle, molded by hand, then fried), topped with hot vinegary Mexican chorizo, sauteed pineapple, and a dab of tomatillo-chipotle salsa. We were going to add crema, chopped onion and cilantro but we sort of ran out of room – each of these was only about two bites. I liked the chalupas a lot, but they were best fresh out of the pan; the few that were left over we ate the next day, and they had really hardened up. The chorizo was a huge success – we used to be able to buy locally-made chorizo at our neighborhood grocer but couldn’t get it this time, so we made our own and it was fabulous. The recipe is from a nifty little cookbook called Antojitos, and I’ve reprinted it at the bottom of this post. Adding pineapple was an inspiration we got from Calle, a lovely Mexican restaurant in downtown Mount Vernon – they top their chorizo tacos with grilled pineapple and I’ve really liked it.

duck pomegranate tacos

Linda and Mike brought duck tacos with pomegranate seed salsa, pickled cabbage, a peanut-arbol salsa, and charred corn tortillas. This was just beautiful. I particularly loved the crunch of the pomegranate seeds with the tender duck meat.

tamales and salsa

Jenise and Bob cured flank steak with salt, sugar and hibiscus flowers and then grilled it, and Jenise made two kinds of tamales: black truffle and goat cheese/mint. The tomatillo salsa went with everything.

lime ice

Georgiann’s lime ice, totally refreshing, with mint and strawberries.

Mexican chocolate pots de creme

Pots de creme infused with Mexican chocolate and cinnamon. I made this from a Thomas Keller recipe, adding pulverized Ibarra chocolate and a stick of cinnamon to the warming milk and cream. It was the reverse of refreshing: rich and deadly.

There was also plenty of Mexican beer and a selection of wines that went surprisingly well with the food. I think we did very well with this theme!

chorizo

Chorizo

From Antojitos: Festive and Flavorful Mexican Appetizers by Barbara Sibley and Margaritte Malfy

This makes a very potent chorizo, spicy and vinegary. It works best as a seasoning, rather than a main dish, as a little goes a long way (we made tacos from the leftovers and they were very hot and rich). Yes, there is a ton of ground cloves in this, but don’t skimp!

  • 3 dried arbol chiles
  • 7 dried guajillo chiles (we substitued puya chiles, which are very similar)
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 ½ tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ground pork

Layer the chiles, onion and garlic, add the bay leaf, and pour the vinegar over. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set aside for one hour.

Discard the bay leaf. Put the mixture in a blender and process to a rough paste. Add water to thin if necessary. Scrape out into a bowl.

Mix the chile paste with the salt, cumin, oregano, cloves and pepper. Add the pork and mix thoroughly.

Put a dab of the sausage into a skillet and cook to check seasonings, adjusting as necessary. Refrigerate the sausage for at least 12 hours or up to 5 days. To cook, heat a small amount of oil in a skillet and add the sausage, stirring until the meat is cooked through.

If adding pineapple: dice about a cup of pineapple finely. Put in a nonstick skillet and fry until the liquid cooks off and the pineapple starts to brown. Add the cooked chorizo to the pineapple and stir them together until everything is hot.

puya chiles

homemade chorizo

chalupas

gumbo!

gumbo

Despite the fact that my husband adores gumbo and orders it frequently in restaurants, I had never made it myself until yesterday. I can’t imagine what I was waiting for.

peppermaking gumbo

I followed three different recipes simultaneously, all from James Villas’ Glory of Southern Cooking, a used copy of which we recently acquired. He includes one seafood gumbo thickened with roux and okra, one with boiled chicken, sausage, roux and file powder, and another with seared chicken and some remarkably overcooked seafood but no roux at all. I wanted to include chicken, andouille sausage and prawns, and I had okra but no file powder, so I sort of combined them all.

sausage and bacon!

making gumbo

First of all, I fried chopped bacon and sliced raw andouille sausage together, then scooped them out into a bowl, leaving the spicy fat behind. Then I fried pieces of boneless chicken thigh meat in the pork fat, taking it out when just cooked through. When the chicken was cooled enough, I shredded it and put it aside with the bacon and sausage. Then I added a quarter cup of white flour to the fat to make a roux, and cooked that for a while on low heat. Chopped onion, celery and bell pepper were mixed into the roux, then a bag of frozen okra. After all that had cooked for a bit, I put in chopped parsley (and a few celery leaves, since I had them), dried thyme, a bay leaf, a quart of chicken stock, and two cans of tomatoes. I let that simmer for about an hour, then put the meaty bits back into the pot. After another 30-45 minutes, we put on rice to cook, then added a pound of raw peeled shrimp to the gumbo and let it simmer quietly until the rice was done. I served the gumbo ladled over heaps of hot rice.

It tasted exactly like gumbo, and a really, really good one, too. This may have just taken up permanent residence in our cooking repertoire.

Friday night pasta

pasta with sausage and bitter greens

This pasta had a lot of things going for it. First, a pound of the newly available and awesome hot Italian sausage from the Skagit Co-op (we are very excited about their new line of housemade sausages). Next, a large bag of Blue Heron Farm’s braising mix of tender bitter greens, which I’ve been very much missing since they stopped coming to our local farmer’s market. Thirdly, a ladleful of bay- and garlic-flavored white beans left over from a previous dinner. Mixed up with gemelli and some fresh olive oil this was a really delicious dinner to eat in front of Jeeves & Wooster on a Friday evening at home. And, perhaps, even better a day or two later with a dollop of ricotta stirred into it.

city ingredients

dinner

We recently indulged ourselves in a Big City hunting and gathering trip, stocking up on supplies not commonly found in our neck of the woods. Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry from the Spanish Table, Sichuan preserved vegetable from Ping’s (finally identified by learning the Chinese words for it, cha choy), gochujang, curry leaves, Indian bitter melon, sea beans (also called samphire or glasswort) and noodles from Uwajimaya, and Toulouse sausage from the Paris Grocery. The bitter melon molded within a day and had to be composted (darn it), so the night which had been slated for curry suddenly had to be re-planned.

The main dish I came up with was simple – farfalle pasta tossed with garlic, chile, white beans and the sausage, which I seared in a skillet and cut into rounds. For the sea beans I took a flavor concept from the Zuni Cookbook, sauteeing them in butter and finishing them with a splash of sherry vinegar. Sea beans are so salty no other seasoning was needed, and the vinegar was a perfect complement. I think this was my favorite way of eating sea beans so far.

sea beans

kale sausage soup

soup

This Portuguese-style soup has been one of our go-to dinners for years, and was one of the first soups I ever made that really worked. The original recipe was from the dearly departed magazine Kitchen Gardener, and while I occasionally muck around with different ingredients (white beans are particularly good), I always come back to the basic formula: kale, sausage, tomatoes, and garlic. And it’s not just delicious – it’s stuffed full of vitamins, and low-carb to boot. Whenever I make it we wonder why we don’t have it more often.

kale

sausages

pot o' soup

Kale-Sausage Soup (an approximate recipe)

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 large bunch curly kale, cleaned, stemmed and roughly torn or chopped
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 lb hot Italian sausages (if your sausages aren’t spicy, I’d suggest adding red pepper flakes to the carrots and garlic)
  • salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot and saute the carrots and garlic until sizzling and beginning to turn golden. Add the kale and a good pinch of salt and stir well until it wilts. Add the stock and tomatoes, bring it to simmer, cover and cook about 20 minutes on low heat, or until the kale is limp but still green.

In the meantime, cook the sausages in a covered pan with a little water, then fry them in their own fat until they brown nicely. Slice them into rounds.

When the kale is tender, slip the sausage into the pot, stir it up, and taste the broth for salt. Grind in plenty of fresh black pepper and turn off the heat.

Monday soup

hot soup

I often make soup on Mondays, a holdover from when I worked late shift and we needed a quick re-heat sort of dinner. I like the tradition, though – if I make the soup in the morning it gives me a chance to putter around the house doing laundry and paying bills and the like, occasionally wandering through the kitchen to give things a stir. And most soups, especially bean soups, are better if they’re made ahead and given a chance to sit and meld in the fridge.

soup

This soup, a variation of my favorite pasta fazool, was intended to celebrate the very last of the season’s fresh cannellini beans from Dunbar Gardens. I love fresh shelling beans with a passion, and never get to eat quite as many as I’d like before the season is past, so I was glad to get one final bag. And while we were at the farmstand I also picked up a bunch of curly endive – I thought it was escarole but I was wrong – to toss into the soup.

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chorizo with clams

clams with chorizo

So when we were at The Swinery the other day we just couldn’t resist buying a piece of dry chorizo. There was no question as to what we would do with it – Portuguese clams and sausage!

chopping

I had a little trouble finding a recipe for clams and chorizo, to my surprise – it’s a fairly common restaurant dish, but it wasn’t in any of my Portuguese or Spanish cookbooks. When I did finally find one (in Bruce Aidells’ Book of Pork) I ended up mostly ignoring it, but I did follow his general idea. I chopped some garlic and sauteed it in olive oil, then added the diced chorizo. I cut up a rather spicy little pepper that I picked from one of my plants and tossed that in along with a good handful of fresh tomatoes (mostly Stupice, with a few Sungold and Sweet Million). Some chopped parsley and a sprig of thyme, also from my garden, then a half glass of white wine and some chicken stock to make a nice broth.

clams

When all that had come to a good sprightly bubble, I put in the clams and let them open, stirring gently to make sure they all came in contact with the other flavors. It was particularly charming how the clamshells collected little piles of sausage and pepper and tiny tomatoes. With a few pieces of Breadfarm potato bread to soak up the broth and a glass of chilled Verdejo, this was a dinner I’d be delighted to eat in any restaurant.

lentil sausage soup

lentil soup

Learning to make good soup has been a lot of trial and error for me. When I started out I would make the rookie mistake of just throwing everything into a pot and covering it with water. Now I know you need to build a soup gradually, nurturing it along, adding each item at just the right moment to let the flavors layer onto each other for just the right amount of time.

lentils

My lentil soup recipe is very representative of this philosophy. When I started making lentil soup, it was – well – depressing. Brown and gloppy, and overwhelmingly lentil-y. Even when I added chopped ham it was far from inspiring. Then I discovered French green lentils, which helped tremendously. Then I discovered adding enough stock to let the lentils dance around in the bowl instead of binding into mush. Then the addition of noodles and chunks of spicy pork sausage crowned the rendition. I still vary the soup considerably, but I seldom veer from the basic formula. It works.

chicken stock

chicken stock

First, the broth. Every time I roast a chicken I make a simple stock from the carcass, and freeze it in variously sized containers. I will often just thaw a quart or so of stock, then add water to fill out the pot. Every bit of extra flavor helps, but don’t feel the need to use nothing but stock, especially if the other ingredients are assertive. Get the stock and any additional water warm and ready to go before you start cooking.

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