Recovering from the Easter brunch carb overload, I went looking for something interesting yet digestible to make for dinner. I ended up with an impromptu combination based on a couple of recipes in a Penelope Casas book. Two pork tenderloins cut into medallions, then marinated in a pesto of fresh parsley, garlic, salt and olive oil, and pan seared in a skillet, were easy and bright tasting. To go with I sauteed a bunch of Swiss chard in olive oil then added a little slurry of ground cumin in red wine vinegar. It was great – next time I might try the full recipe of sauteed bread mushed up with the cumin and vinegar.
A week or two ago I was looking for something simple to do with fresh local clams, and found this beautiful, very easy Galician soup. The secret seems to be the broth of sauteed and simmered shrimp shells, which gives a wonderful depth and flavor to the soup. There are all sorts of variations that could be made with this (greens? potatoes! fish of all sorts!), but it really was nice with the clams and shrimp, seasoned with sweet onions, fennel, bay and paprika. It’s a great excuse to eat fresh bread. With, say, green olive butter smeared all over it. For example.
Caldo de Pescado (Galician seafood soup)
Adapted from Casa Moro by Sam and Sam Clark
- 1/2 pound large shrimp, shells on
- olive oil
- 1 large tomato, quartered
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 2 quarts water
- 1 pound clams or mussels
- 2 onions, thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika
- 40 threads saffron (a large pinch), soaked in 6 Tbsp boiling water
- 1/2 cup basmati rice
- 2 Tbsp chopped parsley
- salt and pepper
Shell the shrimp and put the meat back in the fridge, reserving the shells. Heat 4 Tbsp of olive oil in a saucepan and add the shrimp shells, frying until they turn pink and begin to smell good. Add the tomato, thyme, fennel seed and water and simmer 20 minutes. Set aside (I might mash the tomato up a little at this point, for extra flavor).
In a soup pot, heat another 4 Tbsp of olive oil and add the onion. Cook on medium with a pinch of salt until the onions are soft and golden, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and bay and cook a minute more, then add the paprikas, saffron infusion, rice, and half of the parsley, then strain the reserved prawn stock into the pot. Bring to a boil and simmer 10-15 minutes, until the rice is cooked. Add the clams and cook just until they all open (discard any that refuse to open), then stir in the shrimp and the rest of the parsley. Simmer just long enough for the shrimp to cook through, and serve.
We ran up to Bellingham again recently to do some errands on a dark and rainy day, and decided to have lunch at Flats Tapas Bar in Fairhaven. One of the things I’ve really liked about Flats is that their menu has remained very dependable over the years, and I had spent the morning planning out my order. Imagine my dismay when we discovered that they had just rewritten their menu a few weeks before, and nearly all my favorites were gone! Argh. Still, we sucked it up and tried two of the new dishes, and were pretty pleased.
The first (“Gambas”) was a saffron risotto topped with incredibly garlicky prawns in a spicy paprika-sherry sauce. It was amazing, and the prawns were fresh and tender.
The other dish (the “Mareo”) consisted of two grilled chicken skewers on a bed of black quinoa with pine nuts, raisins and serrano ham. The chicken, which was apparently marinated in cava, was tender but aggressively bland – I thought they might do better with a brine. The quinoa was also restrained in its seasoning. The ham was crispy and made a great contrast, but couldn’t quite carry the whole plate. We might have liked this dish better if it had been served before the prawns, but the quietness of its flavors really suffered in comparison.
The real problem with a small-plates place like this changing their menu is that we no longer know how much food to expect with each plate, so it will take some trial and error before we know how to build a really satisfying meal here again (these two dishes weren’t quite enough food for the two of us). The new chef here is doing some nice work, I hope that eventually I will have the same feel for her cooking as I had for the previous chef’s.
Last week we went down to Gretchen’s to help with Knut Christiansen’s latest cooking class. Once again the theme was tapas and paella, but he mixed it up with some different dishes and approaches this time. Sadly for me, a lot of this meant almonds, but I was hardly in danger of starving.
As usual, Knut did his shopping on the way down to the class and arranged his ingredients as beautifully as possible. It almost seems a shame to chop the things up to cook them.
For some reason I was in the mood for clams last weekend. When I began delving into cookbooks to look for some new ideas, I stumbled across the exact same recipe in both 1080 Recipes and Casa Moro. Clams and white beans: so simple, but two ingredients I had never thought of combining. We brought back a bag of fresh clams from Taylor Shellfish after our walk on Sunday, and we were good to go.
I went with the Moro recipe, since it seemed a little more interesting, but it’s still not a complicated dish. Saute garlic in wine, add cooked white beans, saffron and parsley, add clams, done. I made it a little more work by using fresh cannellini beans, bought in the pod from Dunbar Gardens, but shelling beans is a very peaceful and philosophical activity – preferably with the aid of good music and a tasty beverage.
First off, can I just say that any restaurant that gives you crayons to draw on the table is a great place. You don’t even have to bring children, and if the staff really likes your doodles they’ll hang the table covering in the hallway. We amuse ourselves drawing pictures of the food, or trying to incorporate olive oil stains into our illustrations. Why be a grownup all the time?
Flats is one of our favorite local restaurants (local being a relative term around here, meaning less than an hour’s drive away). We first discovered it a few years ago – we had gone to Bellingham to celebrate my birthday at our then-favorite restaurant, Calumet, only to discover it had gone out of business. Disconsolate, we headed to the Fairhaven district, discovered a new tapas restaurant, and ended up having a wonderful birthday dinner – good food, great ambience, impressive wine list, fantastic service. We’ve been back many times since. Continue reading
Well, this was the big birthday weekend, and I do believe we did it up right. In honor of my birthday, my aunt’s birthday, my father’s 60th birthday and my parents’ upcoming 40th anniversary, we hired our friend Knut Christiansen of Paellaworks catering to come out and cook up a paella for us and about thirty friends and neighbors. Despite the annoyingly autumnal weather (wind AND rain, sheesh), everything went beautifully.
My parents put together this contraption for the paella pan – Knut said it was the best fire setup he’d ever used. The great thing about the metal rails was the way the pan could be slid onto the fire and off again. There was plenty of good fruitwood to burn, too.
The paella was built up gradually over the course of the afternoon. We all stood around and watched and got in the way while eating olive bread from the Anjou Bakery (thanks, Heather & Kevin!) and a wonderful goat cheese/pear/butter mixture that Knut had brought.
The first thing to go in was the chorizo, to render all that good pork fat into the pan. Continue reading
This is proving to be a mighty busy week. We kicked it off (after a full Monday back at work) with a cooking class featuring dishes from the Andalusia region of Spain. Brian Tolbert of the Dulce Plate did the cooking, we did lots of chopping and running around with plates.
To keep the guests from expiring from hunger right off the bat, Brian started with some fairly simple mussels cooked in a vegetable and wine broth. They were good, of course (fresh mussels, duh), but I would have liked a slightly heavier broth and a lot of bread to sop it up. Fortunately, there was more food coming…
The second course was quite solid: piquillo peppers stuffed with a mixture of yellowfin tuna and bechamel sauce, then dredged in egg and seasoned flour and fried in olive oil. Wowzers, these were good. I could eat a couple of these for a meal.
Another cooking class at Gretchens, this time focusing on one dish: paella! Knut Christiansen of Paellaworks catering brought his big pan and lots of good stuff to put in it, and Randy Finley of Mount Baker Vineyards brought wine to go along with it all. Paella is something Knut does especially well, even when he’s making it up as he goes along, so it was great fun to watch it all come together. And even more fun to eat it at the end.
Paella takes a while to cook, of course, so to keep people occupied and happy Knut put together some tapas to pass out. One was a leaf of Swiss chard wrapped around a tasty filling of cheese and sausage, paired with a salad of shredded asparagus, olives, chard stems and a tangy tangerine and cinnamon dressing. Everyone ate those immediately, so after that he toasted some crostini in the paella pan, I rubbed it with raw garlic and he swiped a bit of tomato sauce across it. Simple but good. We ate the tapas with two white wines, a blend called Rosetta Blanc and a Viognier (Mount Baker makes a really nice vio).
This was our first month as members of the local wine shop’s special wine club, and we had two bottles of beautiful-looking tempranillo calling out to be drunk as a result. I spent a couple of weeks unable to drink wine due to various medications I was on – not fun – but I am finally getting better. So this week, more or less drug-free, I was finally able to taste them. We had one dinner (roast pork and yams) where we opened both bottles and tasted them side-by-side, then planned meals to suit each for the following two nights. This first bottle, Mapema from Argentina, gave me a strong hankering for romesco sauce – which we happened to have some of in the freezer.
One of our favorite dishes from last summer was the grilled shrimp recipe from a 2006 issue of Cook’s Illustrated – we made it over and over again, and were very sad to see it go with the end of grilling season. J wanted to try it with the broiler to see if it could be had in the off season. In the original recipe, the shrimp are grilled until partially cooked, then finished in a warm sauce, so we figured it should adapt fine. Continue reading