December 28, 2011

seafood paella

Once, on a New Year's Eve long passed, my husband's father made paella for family and friends. Though it's typically made in a paellera, a very wide, shallow pan with handles, instead my father-in-law used the large, deep steel pot he had available. The uppermost portions of paella were the best; underneath, the rice had become a bit too mushy due to the pan he used. Así es la vida. Despite the slightly mushy rice, there still was the socarrat, the savory caramelized rice crust that forms on the bottom of the pan. I remember the paella was excellent and I ate too much, but I still had room for the flan and turrón that was served for dessert.

In our own home, my husband and I have often made paella for ourselves or guests, holiday or not, in our own 14-inch enameled steel paellera. We don't have the outdoor fire pit that would make it really authentic, but we did purchase a portable propane burner that we'll hopefully use someday. In the meantime, even the electric stove in our rental house, though clearly not my first choice, is still no deterrent for us when we want to eat paella.

For this version of seafood paella, adapted from Spain: A Culinary Road Trip by Mario Batali, I've put a healthier spin on tradition by using brown rice. Since brown rice usually takes twice the time to cook as white rice, I steam the brown rice in seafood stock in a rice cooker until most of the liquid is absorbed, and then add the rice to the paella at the appropriate time. Sometimes as a cheaper option I use turmeric instead of saffron. The one thing you don't want to substitute is the smoked sweet Spanish paprika, a defining flavor for the dish. To make the seafood stock, I make use of the discarded shrimp shells, and have also included an adapted version of the book's recipe below.

It's hard to believe that it's the end of 2011, and that I've posted every week this past year as the musician, who cooks. I've learned much, but I feel like I've only opened the door to the endless creativity that is possible with food, and I find I'm even more excited to try new things than I was a year ago. I'm committed to pursuing what it means to empower people to return to the traditions of real food, and to join together in meals shared in the home and community. I want to support what will make us healthy as a nation. In our own backyard, I'll continue to explore the miracle of one seed, that when planted, can feed the world.

Thanks for joining me on this journey, and blessings to you and yours this new year. See you in 2012 on the musician, who cooks. Prospero año nuevo!

December 23, 2011

sweet potatoes with honey, orange zest & orange liqueur

For several years now I've made the same sweet potato recipe for holiday dinners. It involves roasting peeled and cubed potatoes in the oven with butter and salt and pepper until tender, then tossing with apple cider that has been reduced until it thickens into a syrup, and finally topping with toasted almonds. I've lost the original recipe and don't remember the source, so memory has served me for the last few years when making the dish.

This year I wanted to reduce the amount of sweetness in the dish, so instead of using the reduced apple cider, I made a quick syrup using a small amount of honey mixed with orange zest and an orange liqueur. The flavor was a really nice compliment to the sweet potatoes, but the cubed texture didn't quite let the liquids blend well enough with the potatoes. Then I decided to mash the potatoes after the fact. The smoother texture was better, but the potatoes weren't quite fluffy enough. What I needed was to find a good basic recipe for mashing sweet potatoes, and once again the trustworthy kitchen testers at Cook's Illustrated magazine came to the rescue.

Using Julia Collin Davison's "Mashed Sweet Potatoes" as a template, I cooked the tubers until tender, mixed in the syrup afterwards, riced everything directly into the casserole dish, and topped it off with toasted pecans. The dish can be made a day ahead of time and reheated, with the flavors becoming even more pronounced as it sits. Fragrant with the honey-zest-liqueur, the fluffy sweet potatoes work perfectly as part of a holiday feast. Even better, it's one of the easiest things to make, and in a busy kitchen, that's a nice little bonus for the cook.

"Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring..."1

...not even the cook. Merry Christmas to all!

December 14, 2011

spatchcocked turkey with butter, herbs, olive oil & lemons

As a curious home cook, I'm always looking for new ideas. One place that consistently provides great stuff is an online community for home cooks called Food52. The site is run by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, and has just published its first cookbook with recipes created by members of the community. One of the cooler ideas I've come across from Food52 is the method of removing the backbone of a chicken and laying it out flat in a pan to roast it. The method and recipe, posted by Merrill, produced a juicy, evenly cooked whole 4-pound chicken in less than an hour. Since then, every time I make a roast chicken I use this approach.

December 9, 2011

whole wheat rugelach with fig jam, almonds, and ruby port

When baking rugelach, there seems to be two schools of thought on how to approach the dough. And within those formulas, there is the crescent or roulade shape and a variety of filling combinations. Who knew rugelach had so many options? Well, here I am to throw in another-a rugelach dough made with white whole wheat flour, and freshly ground at that. I spent a week experimenting to get the dough I wanted, and even the less-than-perfect batches were still a sweet little treat.

December 2, 2011


I first spied the plants, off the beaten cement path beside a waterway, during the daily walks that Hiro and I take through the neighborhood. I couldn't help but notice that the plants looked edible, kind of like the chard and spinach I've been using lately to make soup. Finally, after passing by the plants for a couple of weeks and wondering, I returned to the spot with kitchen scissors and gloves and filled up a plastic grocery bag with my find. Then I tweeted a picture of the plants with a question to Hank Shaw, blogger and author of Hunt, Gather, Cook and waited for a reply. "Curly Dock," he tweeted back that same day, "Edible."