Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp)


I recently divulged details about a fun Spanish tapas party I hosted in honor of my sister's birthday. Today I'd like to share another recipe from the event! Gambas al Ajillo (or garlic shrimp) is perhaps one of the most popular tapas dishes out there. There is a version of this recipe in almost all 5 Spanish/tapas cookbooks I own. You can't really go wrong with shrimp and garlic.

I selected this version over the others because I liked the idea of using the sweet Sherry to create a thickened sauce for the shrimp. The other recipes didn't include this ingredient, but I figured it seemed pretty Spanish and actually softened up the garlic flavor for the shrimp. It was sweeter/softer than most garlic-based dishes. The Golden Sherry reduces and is emulsified with butter to create a beautiful delicately garlicky glaze with a slightly sweet edge.

This preparation for shrimp is so simple that I can see myself whipping this together on a whim since all of these ingredients (minus the shrimp) are ones I now have on hand. It cooks in just minutes and has a lovely dynamic flavor.

Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp)
Serves 4
(Adapted from The Barcelona Cookbook)

20 medium shrimp (21-25 count), peeled and deveined, with tails left on
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
1 cup Christian Brothers Golden Sherry (I used Taylor brand instead)
2 pinches hot red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Lightly rinse the shrimp under cold running water. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Lightly season the shrimp with salt and pepper.

In a saute pan, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add the garlic and shrimp and sear for about 3 minutes, turning once or twice, or until the garlic is lightly browned. Add the sherry to the pan, being careful in case it ignites (if it does, remove the pan from the heat and the flames will subside quickly). Stir in the pepper flakes and cook for a few minutes longer, or until the shrimp is cooked through and pink.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to a serving dish and leave the sherry in the pan. Still over high heat, reduce the sherry for 7 to 10 minutes, or until it becomes a glaze.

Add the butter to the pan, swirling it over medium heat until melted. Return the shrimp to the pan, toss with the glaze, and serve immediately.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Patatas Bravas (Fierce Potatoes)


In honor of my amazing sister's birthday last week, I created a fun and festive Spanish tapas meal to celebrate. Tapas are one of my favorite styles of small plate meals (along with dim sum) and can always get on board for enjoying tapas with family or friends whether at a tapas bar or in my home.

Along with a pitcher of fruity sangria (a tapas meal without sangria is just sacrilegious) I created a spread of dishes that included an Empanada with Marinated Pork Roasted Red Peppers, Shrimp with Garlic, Mussels on the Half Shell with Escabeche (served cold and prepped in advance), Patatas Bravas, and Roasted Broccoli (not exactly traditional tapas, but we needed some green veggies!).

Empanada with Marinated Pork and Roasted Red Peppers

Shrimp with Garlic

Mussels on the Half Shell with Escabeche

I also fulfilled my sister's only menu request (luckily she gave me free reign over the rest of the menu) for the birthday cake. A couple years ago, I posted the recipe for the famous Hollywood Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake, and this is the cake my sister desired on her birthday this year.

Hollywood Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

It's a personal favorite as well, light and spongey with a slightly tart grapefruit-infused cream cheese frosting and fresh supremes of grapefruit in the filling and to garnish. It's truly timeless and reflects back to the olden days of Hollywood's Golden Age.

I won't be sharing recipes for all of the dishes I made, but instead just a couple (at least for now). Today I'm highlighting my favorite tapas dish of all time: patatas bravas (or fierce potatoes). I'm not sure I've ever attended a tapas meal without ordering this popular tapas staple. Typically it begins with fried potatoes (usually cubed) and is served with a smokey, slightly spicy tomato sauce and a mellow garlic allioli (the Catalan version of aioli).

It's magical... seriously. In this particular case, instead of frying the potatoes, I boiled, halved, and then roasted red-skinned fingerling-style potatoes. They weren't quite as crisp as their fried friends, but they had wonderful flavor from the olive oil and were nicely golden around the edges.

The sauces are truly what take these "patatas" from ordinary to extraordinary. The bravas sauce is a slightly spicy, smokey, garlicky tomato sauce. I've actually seen this sauce served at a tapas bar with croquettes, so there are really many ways it can be utilized.

The second sauce is a traditional allioli, which much like an aioli (the French/Provencal version) is a garlic mayonnaise. The garlic in this recipe is olive oil-poached and thus results in a soft and mellow garlic flavor than if using fresh garlic. It's super tasty and would be a lovely spread or dipping sauce on its own. Married with the smoky tomato-based bravas sauce, the allioli takes the "patatas" to a delicious dimension where potatoes reign supreme.

Patatas Bravas rule my tapas universe, and I'm so thrilled to finally create them in my own kitchen (after so many delicious experiences in restaurants). Stay tuned for future posts with more fun tapas creations.

Patatas Bravas
Serves 6 to 8
(Adapted from The Barcelona Cookbook)

3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or just enough to cover
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Juice of 1/4 lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bravas Sauce:
1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small Spanish onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch ground cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
9 ounces (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) canned diced tomatoes with their juices
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar (I have used Champagne and white balsamic vinegars on different occasions)

3 pounds waxy potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, red-skin, or fingerling potatoes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil

To make the allioli: In a small saucepan combine the garlic cloves and olive oil and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the garlic is tender and honey gold (occasionally tilt the pan as needed to keep the garlic submerged--even off the heat the olive oil should be hot enough to keep cooking it). Watch the garlic carefully so that it does not overcook. Life the garlic cloves from the oil with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels to cool. Reserve the garlic oil for another use (1 1/2 teaspoons will be used later for the allioli).

In a small food processor fitted with the metal blade, puree the garlic cloves, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the garlic oil. Taste, season with salt and pepper, and pulse to mix. Scrape the allioli into a lidded storage container and chill for up to 3 days. You should have about 1/2 cup allioli.

To make the bravas sauce: In a large saucepan, heat the extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for about 10 minutes, or until they soften but have not colored. Add the garlic and cook gently for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the garlic is tender and aromatic. Stir in paprika, the cumin, and the cayenne.

Add the tomatoes, and the vinegar to the saucepan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for about 20 minutes, covered, or until the sauce is heated through and the tomatoes have begun to break down.

Let the tomato sauce cool a little and then, working in batches if needed, puree in a blender until smooth. As one batch is pureed, transfer it to a bowl or a container with a tight-fitting lid. Adjust the seasoning as needed. Use the tomato sauce right away, refrigerate it for up to 3 days or freeze it (like you would with any other tomato sauce).

To make the patatas: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Put the potatoes in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover by an inch. Season generously with kosher salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until just fork tender. Drain the potatoes and set aside to cool. The potatoes can be boiled and cooled a day in advance (be sure to refrigerate them if you do this in advance). When cool, cut the potatoes into wedges, cubes, or if using fingerling potatoes, cut them in half lengthwise.

Season the cooled potatoes with salt and pepper and toss them with a generous drizzle of olive oil in a shallow baking pan (you can use some of the leftover garlic-infused olive oil as well). Spread out the potatoes in the pan so they are an even layer, and not overlapping. Roast for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are nicely browned on one side. Rotate the pan and turn the potatoes over. Roast for another 8 to 10 minutes, or until browned and crisp on the other side (I actually roasted mine for a total of 30 to 35 minutes).

If you prefer fried potatoes, heat about 10 cups of canola or another vegetable oil in a deep, heavy pot until it registers 375 degrees F on a deep-fry thermometer. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 250 degrees F and line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towels.

Fry the potatoes in batches so that you don't crowd the pan. Carefully submerge them in the hot oil and let them cook for 4 to 6 minutes, or until crispy and browned. Lift the potatoes from the oil with a slotted spoon and let them drain on the paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and keep warm in the oven while you fry the remaining potatoes.

Serve the potatoes with the bravas sauce and the allioli drizzled over the top.

*Update 2/10/18* recipe updated for correct ratio of sauces to potatoes.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Fish Pie


Fish pie. It never really sounded appealing to me until recently. It seems like overnight I suddenly had the urge to create this classic dish. It's mostly British in nature, but I've also seen it described as Irish fish pie, and since there's a lot of crossover for food (shepherd's pie vs cottage pie, for example), I figure this is another case where you can call it either British or Irish depending on your mood.

I'd normally call it British, but today I'm going with Irish just for the sake of celebrating St. Patrick's Day, which is just around the corner. It seems like as good an excuse as any!

Recently, I invited a friend of mine over to watch The Fall, a Northern Irish crime drama starring Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan. We are both huge Jamie Dornan fans--he was also on Once Upon a Time, another show I love, and is playing the coveted role of Christian Grey for the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey movie. He's a Northern Irish actor playing a twisted serial killer in this Northern Irish show. I thought making something Irish/British would be apt for our marathon watching of the first season of the show (which is awesome by the way--can't wait till season 2).

Jamie Dornan in BBC's The Fall

The fish pie was a lot better than I expected. The filling is creamy with a nice brightness from the lemon zest. It's smoky from the smoked salmon with a nice seafood flavor without being too fishy. The cod is a nice delicate fish choice especially next to the more assertive smoked salmon.

I would normally think it's crazy to put cheese anywhere near fish, but I've seen this fish pie made with a mashed potato topping either with or without cheese. I decided to take the plunge and add some nice Irish cheddar (see the Irish theme here?). It adds a sharpness and richness to the mashed potatoes. Even in conjunction with the fishy filling, it really works. It simply adds more flavor, and more flavor is never a bad thing.

I'm happy to say that fish pie was more impressive than I expected. It's almost like shepherd's pie meets a pot pie... made with fish. It's comforting, creamy, flavorful, and a pretty balanced meal. No side dish necessary, expect maybe a light, green salad for freshness.

Whether you create this dish for a St. Patrick's Day supper or for an Irish-themed television marathon starring a former Calvin Klein model nicknamed "The Golden Torso" (and yes, that label fits him perfectly--wink wink nudge nudge), this fish pie is whole lot of comfort!

I broiled the fish pie between taking the majority of the photos and serving it--hence why the topping is so much more browned here than in the other photos. Yummy either way!

Fish Pie
Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
Kosher salt
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream
5 ounces cheddar cheese, grated (optional)

2 cups milk
1 bay leaf
1 pound white fish fillets, such as cod or haddock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter or olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup peas, fresh or frozen
8 ounces sliced smoked salmon, cut into bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Grease a 2-quart baking dish, place it on the foil-lined baking sheet and set aside.

To make the topping: put the potatoes in a pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Boil until the potatoes are tender and drain. Mash the potatoes with the milk, sour cream, and cheddar cheese. Adjust seasoning with more salt, if needed. Cover and keep warm until needed.

To make the filling: Heat the milk and bay leaf to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cod and poach for about 5 to 7 minutes or until it is cooked through and begins to flake (the time is dependent on the thickness of the fish). Carefully strain out the fish and set aside, breaking it up into large bite-size pieces. Discard the bay leaves, but reserve the hot milk.

In a large pot add the butter or olive oil and heat over medium-high. Add the onions and saute until they begin to soften, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Mix in the flour and stir to coat all of the onions with it. After another minute, gently begin whisking in the hot milk (from poaching the fish). Whisk until smooth and then simmer for about 5 minutes or until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

Stir in the peas, parsley, and lemon zest. Fold in the smoked salmon and poached cod gently, then pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Carefully top with the mashed potatoes, sealing in all the edges first (to prevent the filling from bubbling over the edges too much) and then cover the remaining filling with the remaining mashed potatoes. Use a fork to draw lines over the mashed potato topping to give it texture.

Bake the fish pie for 30 to 35 minutes or until the filling is bubbling (it may bubble out of some of the edges) and the topping starts to brown. At this point, you can broil the fish pie for an addition few minutes to brown it more, if desired. Serve immediately in wide individual bowls.

Monday, March 10, 2014

trEATs: Oatcakes with Pink Peppercorns


There's nothing quite as personal and thoughtful for gift-giving as something homemade. I honestly find that a gift for that person who already has everything, something with a personal touch is the most well-received. This is even more true when it comes to edible gifts.

I recently received a review copy of trEATs by April Carter (Hardie Grant Books). The entire premise of this cookbook is to create edible delights perfect for gift-giving. There's a short blurb in the beginning of the book discussing how to present your creations, but I would have really loved if each recipe had a little note with suggestions for that particular recipe for how to package it best.

Regardless, I think this book is creative and playful. It only has about 50 recipes but they range from savory to sweet, and simple to more complex. Everything from jars of salted caramel sauce and flavored salts to cupcakes, cookies, and even baked doughnuts fill these pages with fun and festive ideas.

I had narrowed down my options for what to try first to a savory one and a sweet one: Oatcakes with Pink Peppercorns and Neapolitan Sandwich Cookies.

I decided to go with the savory option, especially since it looked like the perfect vehicle for enjoying cheese (one of nature's greatest wonders), and it seemed to be a oatmeal-based variation on a cracker, which intrigued me.

The "dough" for these oatcakes can be a bit difficult to work with; it can be crumbly, but be sure to really press the dough together and work it on the board for a few minutes (add an extra splash of boiling water or a bit of flour if needed to help bind it more) until it comes together and then roll it out immediately on a well-floured surface before it starts to dry out. Once it was rolled, it was pretty easy to cut out the circles.

The flavor once baked can simply be described as oaty and peppery, exactly what you'd expect. It has a delicate and mild flavor which is perfect with thin slices of sharp cheese. I served my oatcakes with a chunk of Pecorino Romano cheese, but any assertive cheese would be a nice compliment to these oatcakes.

These would be a very sophisticated and unique contribution to a wine and cheese party. You can wrap up the oatcakes in a pretty container and gift it along with some nice cheese from your favorite cheese shop and a bottle of vino.

Oatcakes with Pink Peppercorns
Makes about 30
(Adapted from trEATs)

75 g (2 1/2 oz) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons boiling water
200 g (7 oz / 1 cup) oatmeal
50 g (2 oz / 2/5 cup) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 to 3 teaspoons pink peppercorns, crushed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C / Gas 4) and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Heat the butter in a large saucepan over low heat until it melts, then add the boiling water and mix together.

In a clean bowl, mix the oatmeal, flour, salt and peppercorns to combine. Add this flour mixture to the butter and mix together. Turn out the mixture onto a floured surface and squash the mixture together with your hands to form a dough (you may need a splash more of water or a bit of flour to get it to really stick together well). Working quickly (the mixture becomes dry as it cools), roll out the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness and cut out circles with a 2-inch cutter. Transfer the circles to the prepared baking sheets, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until firm.

Allow the oatcakes to cool completely on the trays, store in a tin or an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Buffalo Chicken Pasta Salad


Once again, my love of Buffalo chicken should not shock anyone on this blog. It's probably my favorite thing in the world, and I can't stop making different dishes inspired by Buffalo chicken. I've created everything from quiche to macaroni and cheese, dumplings to enchiladas and so much more. Today, I'm sharing yet another dish which is perfect for everything from picnicking to tailgating.

This Buffalo chicken pasta salad is crazy easy to make. Even the homemade blue cheese dressing that I use is a cinch, and therefore I highly recommend it to store-bought. You can use any short pasta shape. I used gemelli here because it's such a playful shape that maintains a lovely chewy texture. Rotini, shells, elbows, penne, or even farfalle would be excellent choices as well.

Using leftover chicken (from a roasted chicken) is the perfect way to extend the life of your leftovers while creating a crowd-pleasing dish. Finishing up with some crunch from sliced celery, this pasta salad is spicy, blue cheesy, and the perfect plate of comfort for any Buffalo chicken-loving occasion.

Buffalo Chicken Pasta Salad
Serves 8 to 10 as a side

1 pound short pasta (such as gemelli, rotini, shells, elbows, penne, or farfalle)
2 1/2 cups cubed, roasted chicken breast
3 stalks celery, sliced thinly on the bias
3/4 cup blue cheese dressing, preferably homemade
1/2 cup hot sauce, preferably Frank's Red Hot
3 scallions, thinly sliced

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta and rinse well with cold water to shock the cooking process and cool the pasta.

Add the drained pasta to a mixing bowl and add the chicken, celery, blue cheese dressing, hot sauce, and about two-thirds of the scallions. Mix thoroughly and transfer to a serving dish. Top with the remaining scallions and serve.

The pasta salad is best the day it is made, before it begins to absorb too much of the dressing.


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