Gourmet chicken salad at Mobile’s Spot of Tea

Calvert's Gourmet Chicken Salad
For truly ambitious eaters, the state of Alabama has come up with a handy list of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die.” It’s a big undertaking, but I got a start when I partied in Mobile during Mardi Gras. Located across the street from Cathedral Square, Spot of Tea (310 Dauphin St., 251-433-9009, www.spotoftea.com) is right in the middle of the festivities and is also one of the few restaurants in the state to be recognized for two standout dishes. In this case, it’s two breakfast dishes: Bananas Foster French Toast and Eggs Cathedral (a variation on Eggs Benedict featuring local seafood). Locals are just as likely to stop in for lunch and it’s a good bet that they will order the “gourmet chicken salad,” either as a sandwich or atop a salad. The recipe, which uses only white meat chicken, was passed down from the grandmother of owner Ruby Moore (That’s Ruby below.)


CALVERT’S GOURMETRuby at Spot of Tea
CHICKEN SALAD

This is the version as served at Spot of Tea in Mobile. I prefer using 1 teaspoon of ground celery seed in place of the celery salt, as it lets me adjust the seasoning more carefully. I also prefer using roast chicken breasts to poached breasts, though that’s truly a matter of taste. Finally, I sometimes substitute fresh goat cheese (chèvre) for part or all of the cream cheese. It makes a slightly drier, more tangy chicken salad.

Serves 10

Ingredients
3 lb. boneless chicken breast
8 oz. cream cheese
8 oz. mayonnaise
4 ribs celery, chopped fine
celery salt
salt
black pepper
4 oz. pecans, chopped fine

Directions
1. Poach chicken until fully tender. Cool under cold water, pat dry, and dice.
2. Add cream cheese, mayonnaise, chopped celery, and chopped pecans.
3. Adjust to taste with celery salt, pepper, and salt. Blend well. If not creamy enough, add more mayonnaise.

25

04 2014

King Cake for Easter

king cake top
If Mardi Gras has a signature food, it has to be the king cake, which is actually more like a big, braided cinnamon roll than a cake. It’s topped with white icing and dusted with colored sugar, usually in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold. The cake was originally served at Epiphany, but was so tasty that cooks kept making it through Mardi Gras.

I found a knockout version this year at Sweet Olive Bakery (251-990-8883; sweetolive.co), a European-style artisanal bakery in Fairhope, Alabama. It’s located in the Windmill Market (85 N. Bancroft St.), an old car dealership and service garage that has found new life as a foodie destination (other occupants include a great barbecue joint and a locavore market). The Windmill is only 18 miles from Mobile, where the first Mardi Gras in America was celebrated in 1703. Mobile still puts on a great party with 65 balls and 35 parades in a three-week period.

I have no idea how many king cakes are consumed during that time, but many of them are made by Jennifer Haffner, the owner and head baker at Sweet Olive. She was kind enough to share her recipe and since I don’t want to wait a year to try it, I thought that a king cake would add a perfect festive note for Easter brunch.

By the way, tradition calls for inserting a small plastic baby (representing the Baby Jesus) into the cooked cake. Whoever gets that slice has to host next year’s party—or at least bring the king cake!

KING CAKE

Jennifer’s recipe makes three cakes. She stresses that all the ingredients must be cold since the mix time for brioche is quite long. Be sure to start this recipe far ahead to allow for the dough to rise.

king cake jenniferCake
1 1/2 cups butter
5 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup cold water
6 cold eggs
1 tablespoon salt
6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast

Filling
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Glaze
1 lb. confectioner’s sugar
5 tablespoons milk

1. Flatten the butter with a rolling pin until it is pliable and place it in the refrigerator until needed.

2. Place all ingredients for the cake except the butter into the bowl of an electric mixer. Begin mixing on lowest speed until the ingredients are just barely incorporated. Turn the mixer up slightly and mix for 5 to 7 minutes, until the dough is well developed.

3. Add the butter in pieces, while the machine is mixing, until all the butter is incorporated. Mix for an additional 8 to 10 minutes.

4. Place dough in a bowl lightly sprayed with oil or pan spray. Cover dough with plastic wrap, tucking the plastic around the dough. Let it stand at room temperature for an hour. Fold the dough over on itself, cover bowl with plastic wrap, refrigerate at least 4 hours.

5. Divide the dough into 3 pieces.

6. Using 1 piece of dough, roll into a rectangle about a quarter inch thick. Brush the dough with egg wash. Combine cinnamon and sugar for filling in a small bowl. Sprinkle the mixture over the dough.

7. Cut the rectangle into 3 long strips. Braid the 3 strips and attach the ends to form an oval. Spray with oil or pan spray and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for 2 hours.

8. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden. Let sit until completely cool.

9. Put confectioner’s sugar in a small bowl and add milk a tablespoon at a time until desired consistency. Glaze should be thick but should drizzle easily off a spoon. Drizzle glaze over cooled cake and decorate with colored sprinkles of your choice.

15

04 2014

What to eat at the airport in Málaga (AGP)

Bull burger
Until last year, international travelers at Terminal 3 in Málaga’s airport servicing the Costa del Sol were pretty much stuck with international fast food like Starbucks, Burger King, and England’s Soho Coffee. So we were delighted to see that Michelin-starred local superchef Dani García had opened Dani García DeliBar. Much of the menu overlaps offerings in García’s Manzanilla tapas bar in downtown Málaga, which is one of our favorite spots in a city that has belatedly but enthusiastically embraced contemporary Spanish cuisine. One of García’s strengths has been the reinvention of some classic sandwiches by giving them a distinctly Andalucían twist. His bacalao (salt cod) sandwich with tomato sauce and chipotle mayo is heads above the best filet-o-fish. His Burguer Bull (pictured above) has brought him a lot of attention from other chefs as well as fast food aficionados. Created in 2008, the burger is a patty of slow-braised oxtail, aka rabo de toro. It’s served on a bun spread with mayonnaise made with beef juices instead of oil, then topped with some arugula and a melted slice of Havarti cheese. It has all the taste depth of the classic dish of rabo de toro with the form and flourish of a great cheeseburger. If you’re staying over in Málaga, be sure to eat at Manzanilla at Calle Fresca, 12 (tel: 95-222-6851; www.manzanillamalaga.com). If you’re staying on the Costa del Sol, take a train into the real city. It’s only 23 minutes from Torremolinos to the Alameda stop in Málaga on the C-1 line. That’s just down the street from Manzanilla.

11

04 2014

A prawn by any other name

Shrimp strip 1
Few things are as quite as confusing as the wonderful array of crustaceans available in southern Spain. When we were in El Puerto de Santa María in February, we photographed some of them at the Romerijo fish market (www.romerijo.com). The same crustacean (per its Latin name) may have two or three different common names, depending on size and where it is caught. The six images here, for example, only show four different species.

Here they are, from left to right, above:
Camarón (Palaemon serratus) is the common rock shrimp (common prawn to the Brits) found in abundance at the mouth of the Río Guadalquivír. When they are small like this, they are comparatively inexpensive. In Andalucía, they are often fried up, shell and all, in a paper-thin omelet called a tortallita de camarones.

Langostino Sanlúcar (Penaeus kerathurus) is not what the French call langoustine or the Italians call scampi. In Spain it’s a large brown prawn with hints of red. Those from Sanlúcar are especially prized because they are sweeter and more tender than langostinos from other waters. They are usually steamed or grilled with olive oil and garlic.

Gamba blanca (Parapenaeus longirostris) is the North African white shrimp, which is often found in the Bay of Cádiz. It’s an especially meaty shrimp and is served in lieu of the carabinero (red prawn, scarlet prawn) fished in a different season.

Shrimp strip 2
Here’s the second group, from left to right, above:

Cigala (Nephrops noreugicus) is the French langoustine or the Italian scampi. It also goes by such monikers as Norway lobster or Dublin Bay prawn. It’s actually a member of the lobster family. In Spain, it’s usually cut in half lengthwise and grilled (a la plancha).

Langostino rayado (Penaeus kerathurus) is the same beast as the langostino Sanlúcar, but barely half the size. These were actually fished off the coast of Mauritania in northwest Africa. At this size they’re often used in baked rice dishes, such as paella de mariscos.

Quisquilla is a name applied, alas, to a couple of different shrimp or prawns. Often it’s the small brown shrimp that is mixed into rice dishes or into soups. Here it is a much bigger version of Palaemon serratus, the camarón and would be served steamed or pan-fried with garlic.

As confusing as the nomenclature may be, they all make terrific eating. At Romerijo, you can order them by weight and have them cooked immediately to eat on the spot. The fish market cum restaurant is located at Plaza de la Herrería, 1 in El Puerto de Santa María. The local telephone is 956-54-12-54.

26

03 2014

What a great thing to do with an egg!

pisto manchego with cod a pil pil
We’ve been lucky enough to visit Sevilla’s Taberna del Alabardero every few years over the last few decades, but it’s possible that our most recent meal was the best yet—even though it was off the modest bistrot menu instead of from the haute cuisine fine-dining menu. Now with sites in Madrid and in Washington, D.C., Taberna del Alabardero began as a social-work program launched by a priest to teach marketable skills to boys from the streets. It’s evolved into one of the top hospitality schools in Spain. The original location in Sevilla near the bullring is the laboratory where all that hospitality training is put into practice. The townhouse mansion has fine dining rooms upstairs with a menu that would have made Escoffier smile. (The third level has elegant bedrooms for the small hotel.)

Taberna del Alabardero

Frankly, we’re just as happy to eat off the bistro menu in the tile-encrusted dining room downstairs that adjoins the central atrium café. The dishes are simpler and everything is prepared—and served—by the faculty and students of the hospitality school. (Note the students standing by, waiting to serve.) Dishes tend to be Spanish rib-stickers: the hearty potato and sausage stew known as Riojanas, or cod a pil pil served with pisto manchego (Spanish ratatouille) topped with a poached egg (above). Here the pisto and poached egg constituted a side dish, paying second fiddle to the cod. But we think it will make a great light lunch this summer when we’re swimming in tomatoes, squash, and eggplant.

The three-course bistrot menu at Taberna del Alabardero is a steal, costing 12.50 euros on weekdays, 17.50 euros weekends. Here’s the contact information: Calle Zaragoza, 20. The phone is (+34) 95-450-27-21, and the web site is www.tabernadelalabardero.es. The restaurant is closed in August.

13

03 2014

One tapa with the entire taste of Spain

Taste of Spain
While all the tourists are milling around the Mezquita and the Alcázar in Córdoba, the Córdobans are getting together over tapas at the first gastronomic market in southern Spain. Mercado Victoria (www.mercadovictoria.com) was installed in May 2013 in a feria pavilion in the Jardines de Victoria, just northwest of the Judería’s Puerta de Almodóvar. The 30 food stalls cover all the bases of a conventional fresh food market—fish, meat, produce, baked goods, and beverages—but most also offer food for immediate consumption on the premises. There’s also a kitchen workshop for classes and demonstrations. By early evening, the entire glassed-in pavilion is jammed with people eating and drinking, making it one of the most lively tapas scenes in town. But we were especially amused to spot this tapa. It’s a slice of Manchego cheese, topped with a piece of roasted red pepper, and an anchovy. That pretty much captures three of the essential flavors of Spain on a single toothpick.

Tags:

07

03 2014

Casablanca puts a deft twist on tortilla española

Casblanca tortillaIn 2005, Tomás and Antonio Casablanca opened Bodeguita Casablanca on a busy little corner near the Puerta de Jerez in Sevilla, Spain. Their creativity with traditional dishes has made them the darling of chefs all over Spain. We first encountered their tortilla al whisky at Dani García’s La Manzanilla tapas bar in Málaga, where he acknowledges Casablanca right on his menu. So our first order of business on getting to Sevilla was to eat lunch at Bodeguita Casablanca. And the first thing we ordered was a tapa of Tortilla al Whisky, shown above. The sauce is made fresh, and carefully cooked so it retains some of the alcohol from the Scotch. And the roasted cloves of garlic on top are both pungent and sweet. This is a dish we hope to replicate, once we’re past the deadlines for the new Frommer’s Spain books. Meantime, you can find Bodeguita Casablanca at Calle Adolfo Rodríguez Jurado, 12, in Sevilla. The phone is 95-422-4114.

27

02 2014

Sunday lunch in Sevilla

Sunday lunch in Sevilla After a week of rain in Sevilla, the sun came out on Sunday, and so did all the Sevillanos. Here they gather on Plaza San Salvador for a tapas lunch.

17

02 2014

Tapa to try at home – stuffed peppers

pimientos rellenos de melva We’re in Sevilla at the moment, researching what’s great and new for the new Frommer’s Spain. Part of what’s new is the completely re-done public market in Triana, just across the river from Sevilla proper. This tapa of sweet red peppers stuffed with king mackerel (melva, to the Spanish) was a bargain at 2.80 euros at La Casa Fundida (stall #46A). It’s topped with mayonnaise and grated cheese and baked in a hot oven. It tasted as good as it looks. It’s one in a list of tasty bites we hope to replicate when we get home. This was made with canned fish, which makes it even easier. It doesn’t hurt that the Spanish make the best canned fish and shellfish in the world….

14

02 2014

Saffron shortbread cookies for festive season

Shortbread and coffee
Peggy Regan of Salon de Té le Gryphon D’Or (www.gryphondor.com) in Montreal is the absolute mistress of shortbread, which you can enjoy at her tea room or order through the mail. When she gave us a shortbread recipe for Food Lovers’ Guide to Montreal (see SOME BOOKS), she casually mentioned how the recipe could be adapted to add other flavors. She had in mind flavors like maple and almond.

We happen to love shortbread cookies as an accompaniment to Spanish sparkling wine, or cava. So we wondered how another signature Spanish flavor — saffron — might taste in shortbread. Since we travel often to Spain, we tend to buy saffron when we come across a good deal or when we’re in Consuegra, the premier saffron town. And roughly once a year we purchase a full ounce (that’s 28+ grams) of premium saffron from Afghanistan from Vanilla Saffron (www.saffron.com) in San Francisco. So we almost always have a lot of saffron on hand.

Saffron extractWe experimented a bit to perfect this shortbread. Saffron gives up its color and flavor sparingly to fat, so to get a lovely golden color and intense flavor for the dough, we had to make a saffron extract using grain alcohol. (Overproof rum or vodka works just as well.) The shortbread recipe takes hints from a number of chefs and bakers. Grinding the sugar (we use a coffee/spice grinder) speeds the absorption of sugar into the butter. The use of a blend of cake flour and all-purpose flour is a trick many bakers use for a more tender shortbread. The optional crumbled saffron creates little flecks in the cookies and makes the saffron flavor even more intense.

And if you don’t want to open a bottle of cava, the shortbread is great with hot coffee.

SAFFRON SHORTBREAD COOKIES

Makes 3 dozen cookiesShortbread cooling vertical

Ingredients

1 cup (2 sticks) butter at room temperature (230 grams)
1/2 cup granulated sugar, ground in blender or food processor (100 grams)
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon homemade saffron extract (see below)
1 cup all-purpose flour (140 grams)
1 cup cake flour (120 grams)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled (optional)
extra granulated sugar for sprinkling

Directions

Using power mixer and large bowl, beat butter until fluffy. Add sugar and beat for 5-10 minutes until fluffy and mixture no longer feels gritty between thumb and forefinger. (Scrape down bowl often.) Beat in egg yolk and saffron extract until well mixed.

In a separate bowl combine all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, salt, and crumbled saffron threads (if using). Whisk thoroughly to blend.

Add flour mixture to butter-sugar mixture a little at a time, mixing in with wooden spoon or spatula. When flour appears to be fully incorporated, beat with mixer on low for 15 seconds to ensure uniform dispersion in the dough.

Mixture will be very soft. Turn out onto parchment paper and top with a second layer of paper. Press into disk and roll out about 1/4 inch thick. Place rolled-out dough in refrigerator for 30 minutes until firm.

Set oven for 325F (165C). Cut cookies into desired shape. (We use a 1 3/4-inch fluted circle.) Work quickly before dough softens. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and sprinkle each cookie with granulated sugar. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until cookies just barely begin to brown on bottom.

Remove to wire racks to cool.

SAFFRON EXTRACT
1 teaspoon saffron threads
2 tablespoons neutral spirit (150 proof or higher)
Combine in small bottle. Extract can be used immediately but gains potency after a day of steeping. In tightly sealed bottle kept away from light, extract should retain its potency for a month or more.

22

12 2013