Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Back and a Night of Basque

Remember my mention of Vertebrae.Fail? Well, just shortly after that, I went into Epic.Vertebrae.Fail. No need to go into details. Just suffice it to say that cooking was not an option.

If you cook on a regular basis, at one point or another, you get to the point where you’re sick of your own food. Or at least feeling like you’re just regurgitating the same recipes over and over (hmm… maybe not the best choice of words there). Well, after 3 weeks of take out, rotisserie chicken and rice, and Eggo’s, I can tell you that I was just DYING to get back in the kitchen.

I ended up having to cancel a scheduled monthly dinner with G & C, much to my frustration. Since they were available the following weekend, we decided to reschedule, and there was just no way on earth I wanted to miss that.

We did manage to pull off another stellar dinner. However, what we didn’t manage to do was take much in the way of photos. As a matter of fact, I have photos of very little of the dinner. ACK!

So you’ll just have to take my word when I tell you we had incredibly yummy fare, and I’ll share with you some of the recipes, along with the few photos I did get (some of them taken the following day with the leftovers).

Our theme for the evening was Basque cooking - something I was completely unfamiliar with. Carley had had it on a number of occasions. Once again, those Mediterranean type of flavors struck a chord with me.

Carley contributed a chicken dish nestled in a bed of spinach and topped with onions and roasted (?) peppers. So moist and delicious. There was also a potato ‘salad’ of sorts with crab (mmm….), and a cassoulet type of dish using chickpeas (ok, so I may have mentioned before that I’m not much into legumes, but these were really tasty - and I caught hell from Offspring 2 the next morning for not taking a larger portion as leftovers). But I could write sonnets about the olive bread she bought. The day after our dinner, I was kicking myself for not asking if I could keep a slice or two. Then I opened up the fridge and found she had left me about half a loaf! I’d like to say that I was generous and shared.

But you probably know better.

I wasn’t sure what my limit was going to be for standing and decided to make a number of small dishes that I could make ahead of time. That gave me two days to take it easy and put everything together a bit at a time. So if you’re looking for some make-ahead dishes, these are some good options.

The first item I put together was dessert (priorities, right?), and I wish I had a photo because it was pretty to look at once it was all dressed for the ball. It was a cake made with olive oil and semolina and then drizzled with a citrus/honey sauce and pistachios. And it was dressed with a side of Greek yogurt and strawberries. Good in theory. However, in converting the recipe from metric measurements, I don’t think I got everything quite right. It was dense as it should have been, but a bit on the dry side, and my sauce didn’t sink in like I wanted it to. I seem to have problems with glazes.

Anyway, next up was this very simple tomato salad….

Chorizo and Tomato Salad

3 tomatoes, cut into chunks (I used 2 Romas and an heirloom variety of some kind)
1 green onion, thinly sliced
About 4 Tbs good quality olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbs Sherry vinegar, divided
1 Chorizo sausage, casing removed and thinly sliced (make sure it’s more of a firm sausage, rather than the kind that kind of dissolves when you cook it)
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced

Add tomatoes and green onion to a bowl. Pour 2 Tbs olive oil and 1 Tbs vinegar over tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir and allow to sit.

Meanwhile, add remaining 2 Tbs olive oil to a skillet and heat over medium heat. Add chorizo and cook and stir until chorizo is browned. Add garlic to the skillet and stir just until garlic begins to take on color. Add remaining vinegar to the pan and remove from heat. Stir mixture, scraping up any bits from bottom of the pan. Pour over tomato mixture.

Another easy (super easy) make ahead dish were these stuffed piquillo peppers. You could really add so much to them and customize them however you want. I actually had some nice green olives I was going to add, but the next day I realized I had forgotten all about them. I included them in the recipe, anyway.

Stuffed Piquillos

1 jar roasted piquillo peppers
1 Tbs olive oil
¼ cup onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin
1 cup fire roasted tomatoes
½ cup chopped green olives (mine were Moroccan, I believe)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups cooked rice
½ - 1 cup shredded Manchego cheese

Heat oven to 375º. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Lightly oil the bottom of a glass (square) baking dish.

Add onion to skillet and sauté just until translucent. Add garlic and cumin. Cook and stir until cumin is fragrant and garlic softens. Add tomato, olives, cooked rice and seasoning. Remove from heat and stir in half of the shredded cheese.


The next item on my little tapas lineup were these meatballs. The sauce reminded of me of one of my favorites (Romesco). And again, super simple.

Albóndigas en Salsa de Almendra
adapted from Williams-Sonoma

½ lb each ground pork and beef
2 slices bread, soaked in water and squeezed dry
¼ cup onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 Tbs Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste

2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup slivered, blanched almonds
2 Tbs Italian parsley, roughly chopped
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of saffron

2 Tbs olive oil
½ cup onion, finely chopped
½ cup white wine
2/3 cup chicken stock

In a large bowl, combine the meat, soaked bread, onion, garlic, parsley, egg, paprika and cinnamon. Season to taste. Mix all ingredients until combined, but do not overmix, or the meatballs will be tough.

In a skillet, heat (medium heat) enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Make ping-pong sized meatballs and place in skillet, giving them room in between so that they’re not crowded. Cook, turning the meatballs as they brown, until they’re cooked through. Remove to a paper towel lined plate. Pour out any remaining oil from pan.

In a mini chopper or mortar and pestle, add the 2 cloves garlic, almonds, parsley, paprika, pepper and saffron. Chop or crush until mixture is well combined and almonds are broken down into a paste.

In the skillet you cooked the meatballs, add additional olive oil and heat over medium. Add onions and sauté just until translucent. Pour in white wine and chicken stock, add meatballs, and then stir in the almond mixture. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes. Pour into serving dish and serve immediately.


This next dish I’d like to try out when our weather improves and it’s time to head outdoors and do some grilling.

Prawns with Garlic Chips and Preserved Lemons

1 lb large prawns, peeled and deveined
2 Tbs olive oil
½ tsp paprika
2 Tbs sliced garlic
2 tsp finely chopped preserved lemon
2 tsp finely chopped Italian parsley
Fleur de sel to finish

Heat a skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat and add olive oil. When the oil begins to smoke, add the prawns. Cook on one side for 2 minutes, then flip over and cook for another 2 minutes on the other side. Remove prawns to a serving dish. Add paprika and garlic to still hot oil and cook until garlic begins to brown. Remove from heat. Pour mixture over prawns, add lemon and parsley, and stir to combine. Finish with fleur de sel.


I had two more dishes, and of course, got no photos. I know it sounds like a lot for someone having a tough time standing for any given length of time, but each dish went together VERY fast, and I just kind of swept in, threw one together, and then camped out with a heating pad.

I made some no-frills roasted baby fingerling potatoes and served them with a garlic-saffron aioli. Very simple. And because you can just never have too many potatoes, I decided to throw in these Croquetas as well…

Apple and Shallot Croquetas

1/2 TB butter
2 1/2 tsp flour
1/2 c milk
salt & pepper

1 c leftover mashed potatoes
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 c dried apple, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 TB lemon juice

2 eggs, beaten
2 c panko breadcrumbs
1 Tbs dried parsley

vegetable oil for frying

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Once melted, using a wooden spoon, blend the flour into the butter, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Slowly pour in the milk, continuing to stir. Turn up the heat to medium and begin whisking vigorously until all of the lumps are removed and the sauce thickens. Let boil for 1 minute while stirring and remove from heat. Season with the salt and pepper to taste.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the mashed potatoes, shallot, apple, cumin and lemon juice. Pour in béchamel mixture and stir until thoroughly combined.

In a skillet, add vegetable oil to about ½” depth. Heat over medium heat. Meanwhile, add 2 eggs to a bowl and beat thoroughly. In another bowl, add breadcrumbs and dried parsley.

Make small (about ping-pong ball size) balls from the potato mixture. Dip each in beaten egg and then roll in breadcrumbs. When oil is hot, add croquetas to the pan. Cook and turn as each side browns. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.

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