Archive for February, 2010

Sustenance for the long walk to Santiago de Compostela

Full disclosure first: We did NOT walk one of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. But last spring, when we were in northern Spain to research a guidebook, we did see pilgrims everywhere.

Guess we shouldn’t have been surprised. Pilgrims have been walking across Europe to Santiago de Compostela, ever since the tomb of St. James the Apostle was discovered around 814 A.D. Pilgrims often carry walking sticks with scallop shells, the symbol of Santiago. Alas, they also often throw rain ponchos over their backpacks. There’s a good reason the north is called “green Spain.” It rains a lot.

Two of the main routes from France (the Camino del Norte and the Camino Aragónese) converge in Navarra and La Rioja, continuing west across the rugged northern mountains to Galicia. The pilgrimage routes are marked with a scallop shell, and in some places the path parallels the modern paved highway. Many towns along the route were founded as way stations for the pilgrims, like the colorful Santo Domingo de la Calzada, and they usually have hostels where pilgrims can spend the night. Generally, though, the pilgrims are required to hit the road by 8 a.m., rain or shine.

Santiago cathedral

Many bars and restaurants, naturally, have special discounted pilgrim menus of hearty, earthy dishes to give them the energy to keep going. Whenever we would stop at one of these pilgrim restaurants, we’d feel a little guilty after a day in the car, but we couldn’t resist the food either. One of the most sustaining dishes is called patatas a la riojana, or Rioja-style potatoes, and we still find our adaptation the perfect bowl to lift body and spirit on a cold and rainy day.

More in the next post…

25

02 2010

Summer’s bequest: blueberry bread pudding

Please forgive the shameless plug, but the second edition of our locavore book, Food Lovers’ Guide to Massachusetts, has just been published by Globe Pequot Press. We love researching the farmstands, restaurants, bakeries, fishmongers, chocolatiers, and cheesemakers that are featured in the book. Food people are some of the nicest and most generous folk in the world, and they remind us that we don’t have to go to exotic locales for wonderful tastes. We are already at work on the next edition.

Of all the great places in the book, Tower Hill Botanic Garden (11 French Drive, Boylston, MA 01505, 508-869-6111, www.towerhillbg.org), home base of the Worcester County Horticultural Society, is one of the best places to learn about New England heirloom apples. The society maintains one of the most comprehensive collections of New England heirloom apple trees in its orchard and even sells scions for grafting in the spring.

Ironically, the delicious recipe that Cecile Collier, chef at the botanic garden’s Twigs Cafe, shared with us for Food Lovers is for blueberry bread pudding. Craving a little taste of summer, we made one this week with our last cup of frozen berries.

With apologies to Massachusetts, we confess to being Maine wild blueberry chauvinists. David grew up in coastal Maine, and spent many backbreaking summer days raking wild blueberries for the local cannery. We’re both convinced that the flavor of one tiny wild blueberry is greater than the flavor of a half dozen larger cultivated berries. So during the brief season from late July into mid-August, we drive up to Maine and buy them from enterprising pickers who sell along the side of Route 1. What we can’t eat immediately, we save by spreading them in a single layer on a baking sheet and freezing. Within an hour they’re ready for heavy-duty freezer bags. When we pulled them out six months later for this recipe, they were as tasty as they were in August.

Blueberry Bread Pudding

Ingredients

4 eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
7 to 8 slices of stale bread, crusts removed
1 cup blueberries
Nutmeg to taste

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine and blend eggs, half-and-half, milk, 3/4 cup sugar, and vanilla.

2. Tear up bread and mix with blueberries. Place in a 9-by-5-inch bread pan. Pour egg mixture over bread and berries in pan. Sprinkle with nutmeg and 2 tablespoons sugar.

3. Place loaf pan into a larger baking pan that has been filled halfway with hot water. Bake for 60-75 minutes, until pudding is set and top is browned.

4. Serve pudding warm, pairing each dish with a small sidecar of vanilla ice cream.

Serves 4.

20

02 2010

French Chocolate Mousse for Valentine’s Day

We have been racking our brains for something special to conclude our Valentine’s Day dinner. We simply lack the skills to reproduce our all-time favorite dessert from Fauchon, the amazing gourmet shop, tea house, and patisserie on Place de Madeleine in Paris. That would be Megève cake—perfect thin layers of crisp meringue with chocolate ganache and chocolate mousse.

But we did recall a dynamite, foolproof version of chocolate mousse given to us by a French housewife, Madame Picavet. Given that Monsieur Picavet was very fond of Burgundy, it made the perfect companion to the last glass in the bottle. She used dark chocolate, but we’ve had good luck using an American bittersweet chocolate like Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips.

French Chocolate Mousse

Ingredients

6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup of whole milk

Directions

Place ingredients through vanilla extract in blender jar.

Heat milk until nearly boiling. Add to blender jar and blend two minutes. Pour into six cups and chill for at least three hours. Serve topped with sweetened whipped cream.

Serves 6.

12

02 2010

Super Bowl arroz con pollo

We were surprised to read recently that Super Bowl Sunday is the second biggest eating holiday in the U.S., close on the heels of Thanksgiving. Since our own team, the New England Patriots, is not part of the action this year, it’s a diminished holiday for us. But we thought we could console ourselves with a good meal, and realized that the one dish we’ve probably eaten most often while watching football is arroz con pollo.

Of course, the football in question is what we Americans call soccer, but the Spaniards are every bit as obsessive about it. As in the U.S., tickets to the games are expensive, and the matches are typically broadcast on premium cable. If you want to see a match in Spain, you go to a bar.

According to Madrileños, Real Madrid is the best known team in the world, and we’ve watched them play in smoky flamenco bars, in Moroccan couscous joints, in burger palaces, and in “bars deportivos,” or sports bars. We drink beer and eat bar food, which as often as not includes arroz con pollo, a sort of poor man’s paella of saffron-paprika rice studded with pieces of chicken and sausage. This is our stand-by recipe the way we learned to make it on our first long trip to Spain in 1983.

We have tweaked it over the years, using all sweet red peppers instead of the standard mix of red and green, and going with boneless chicken. (Spaniards take a whole frying chicken and cut it into 16 or more pieces, often cutting right through the bones. Boneless chicken is splinter-free.) Spanish recipes also call for chorizo, which we usually use. This year we decided we would root for the New Orleans Saints, so we are substituting a smoked Louisiana andouille sausage. The Spanish version is more rice than meat. Feel free to add more protein.

Serves 4 hungry eaters or 8-10 if used as one of several game time snacks.


Ingredients

4 tablespoons fruity olive oil
2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into 16 pieces and sprinkled with sea salt
6 oz smoked andouille or chorizo sausage, cut in 1/4 inch slices
3 red sweet peppers, roasted, peeled and cut into 1-inch squares
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1 28-oz can of diced tomatoes (drained-use the juices as part of the stock)
2 teaspoons sweet Spanish paprika (pimentón a la vera dulce)
2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika (pimentón a la vera ahumado)
big pinch of saffron
2 cups Valencian rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 1/2 cups strong homemade chicken stock

Directions

Heat olive oil in paella pan with 15-inch base or in 17-18-inch shallow, ovenproof skillet. Sauté chicken and sausage until lightly browned. Remove meat from pan and reserve.

Add red peppers, onion, and garlic to pan and cook until onion softens (about five minutes.) Stir in tomato and cook until juices reduce (5-7 minutes). Stir in both kinds of paprika and the saffron, then the rice, turning well to coat rice with oil. Pour in wine and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook on stove-top until rice is no longer soupy (about 7 minutes). Do not stir.

Remove from heat and stir in sausage and chicken. Pat down until even, then place uncovered in 325F oven and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven, cover with foil, and let sit 10 minutes before serving.

06

02 2010

Finding seeds for the taste of Cayman

Even in Massachusetts the days are starting to get longer and we are suffering garden fever. In just a few weeks, we will be starting our spring sets indoors. It’s not that we expect Cayman peppers to grow entirely true to form in New England, but we have had some surprisingly good luck with various Central American and Caribbean peppers before. It’s worth a try.

We have some Caymanian seeds for the country’s traditional seasoning pepper (don’t ask), but we will hedge our bets with some commercial seed stock.

A little research identified the Cayman seasoning pepper (as shown in the bowl) as a local variant known elsewhere in the Caribbean basin as ají dulce. Puerto Ricans abbreviate the name to ajice and use them extensively in sofrito and recaíto (sofrito without the tomato). The low-heat pepper is a variety of Capsicum chinense, as are the hotter habañeros, Scotch bonnets, and Datil peppers. Looking around at sources, we settled on Tomato Growers Supply Company
in Florida, which grows seed originally from Cuba. We’ll see….

02

02 2010