Wednesday, December 24

Holiday Foods, with an Asian influence

I was assigned Christmas Eve dinner at the Tarr household (my standby locale for the winter holiday season). Growing up, Christmas Eve meant going to church and then eating clam chowder, so my mind automatically went to the happy soup-and-salad place. I like light food the day before Christmas, and even when my night in the kitchen got bumped from Christmas Eve to the night before the night before Christmas, I stuck with that idea.

I meant to serve minted goat cheese (with a hint of lemon zest) on whole grain baguette with pomegranate seeds as an appetizer, but that ended up paired with the second/soup course (see below). It was delicious -- I highly recommend you start mashing fresh herbs into your goat cheese on a regular basis.

Instead, we started with the salad. I have no photos of this salad because I was too busy making a three-course meal for five to document the results, but I am going to tell you about it anyways. I've never told you about my obsession with poached eggs, have I? Pity. It is real and it is encompassing, and it is largely unsatisfied. I have yet to poach an egg well. Still the quest continues, and the interest has yet to wane. So as I was planning this Christmas Eve-Eve salad, I started with the idea of a perfectly poached egg resting on top of some lightly dressed bitter greens (in this case, frisée, watercress, and a bit of arugula). After considerable deliberation I also threw in some edamame, roasted shitaake mushrooms, kalamata olives, and fontina croutons.

The dressing was the real star but I can't exactly tell you what was in it. I'd like to pretend that's because it's top-secret, classified information, but in fact I put so many ingredients into it that I don't exactly remember all of them. I know there was sherry vinegar, olive oil, tahini, pumpkin butter, black sesame seeds, and tamari, and that I may start a new love affair with the humble whisk.

The soup was a pile of roasted tomatoes, garlic, red peppers, and sage, pureed and simmered with a bit of vegetable stock, a splash of almond milk, and plenty of cajun seasoning (cayenne, smoked paprika, lemon pepper, onion powder, and sea salt). I left a little surprise of roasted chickpeas in the bottom of each bowl, and finished it off with a few more fontina croutons and some parsley.

And finally, for dessert I made almond meringues, which were perfect for dipping in Mexican hot chocolate (a favorite) made with almond milk, lactose-free cocoa powder, cinnamon, cardamom, chipotle powder, and brandy.

And now I hang my metaphorical apron until Friday. I find it fortunate that although I despise Christmas, my ladyfriend's day of birth happens to be the day after the big day. As long as I can find crab and artichokes there should be a stellar post coming your way this weekend...

Wednesday, December 3


Every other Monday night Lady and I stay in, so this week instead of a restaurant review I have a probably-more-exciting synopsis of my attempt at pescatarian-friendly paella. I've never made paella before, and was mainly excited that I finally had an excuse to purchase saffron. Saffron is one of those foods that should be given as a gift (along with, in my opinion, organic mangoes, avocados, chestnuts, truffles--chocolate or more preferably fungal, whole nutmeg pods, really incredible coffee, really bitter chocolate, marcona almonds, and anything grown in a windowsill or backyard).

I started with this recipe but tweaked it quite a bit and came up with something closer to this:

1 bag Trader Joe's frozen seafood blend (16 oz of shrimp, calamari rings, and scallops)
Olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1+ tsp sweet paprika
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
4 + 2 +1 garlic cloves, crushed
2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
1 1/4 cup frozen green peas
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 vegan sausage (I used Italian-style because I like the sun-dried tomatoes in this)
16 littleneck clams
1 can artichoke hearts, halved, liquid reserved
3+ cups vegetable stock simmered with 1 tsp saffron threads
1 1/4 cup beer (I used an IPA; a saison or pale ale would also do nicely)

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large paella pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add seafood blend (not defrosted); saute 3-5 minutes with 2 cloves garlic, cayenne, and paprika (the seafood mixture will not be cooked through). Set aside, reserving liquid.

Add onion and bell pepper to pan, and saute 5 minutes. Add the remaining cayenne and paprika, crushed red pepper, and 3 garlic cloves; cook 5 minutes. Add rice and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in broth, beer, seafood liquid, parsley, 4 cloves garlic, half the lemon juice, and peas. Bring to a low boil and cook 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

In a separate pan, brown sausage in a bit of oil, adding drained artichoke hearts, 1 clove garlic, and a bit of paprika near the end of cooking time.

Add clams to paella pan, nestling into rice mixture. Cook 5 minutes or until shells open; discard any unopened shells. Stir in the seafood and the sausage mixture. Add more liquid (from artichokes or extra broth) as necessary until rice is tender. Sprinkle with lemon juice (or rice vinegar), fresh parsley, salt (we used Tony Chacery's, but that's for another post), and plenty of cracked black pepper. Remove from heat; cover with a towel and let stand 10 minutes.

We were going to pair a crisp Spanish white or even a tempranillo blend with our paella, but really we both love beer and that makes more sense to my palate anyways. I deliberated between saisons and tripels in the grocery store, but ended up with North Coast Brewery's Le Merle. This is a truly excellent California saison, with just enough spice and hops to stand up to our flavorful meal, but still light enough that you would never guess it rings in at 7.9% ABV.

Next conquest: gluten-free vegan pizza. That tastes good. I know I've got you on the edge of your seat...


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