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Friday, August 9, 2019

Mélange: Basque Cuisine

4. Basque Cuisine

Mom and I share some Basque heritage. The likelihood is that it comes from her maternal side. From there, it is a crap shoot whether it is from my great grandmother’s family or my great grandfather’s. And then again it could come from her paternal grandmother’s side. We don’t know. We may never know, and that’s okay. We like a good mystery!

To be sure, the Basque are a mystery themselves. Established scholarship says they descend from early farming settlers from the northwestern region of Spain to parts of southwestern Francefrom Bordeaux to Bilbaostraddling the Pyrenees and nestled in the Bay of Biscay. And both bordering and within Basque country there are several forests—all of this influences a vast and rich mythology which survived the arrival of Christianity and even the Franco years.

Although geography allowed them to remain relatively isolated they were not exactly hiding either. The Romans found met them in the northern Iberian peninsula as far back as 200 B.C. The Basque had been in the area long before. Theories as to their origin are interesting―from claims that they are the 13th tribe from Israel to refugees from Atlantis.

One thing has always been clear. The Basque are different. Their language is one that matches no other. And while they live in a so-called autonomous region, the politics of it is a little more complicated, but no matter how you define it, it is unlikely that the Spaniards will ever truly rule them. The Basque are not prone to submission as such. They do what they want.

Basque contributions to the world have included luminaries from Ignatius of Loyola to Pablo Picasso, from Balenciaga to Saint Francis Xavier to Miguel de Unamuno… But perhaps the biggest contribution that the Basque have gifted the world is their amazing cuisine.

Basque country is blessed with coastal waters leading to the north Atlantic and fertile lands on her valleys—so the seafood is plentiful and the produce are magnificent. From Basque tapas (pintxos) to my beloved salt cod a la Vizcaína, to bacalao al Pil-Pil to the heavenly torrijas (French toast elevated to an art form).

A traditional Basque dish, which is easy to make and is also very adaptable is merluza en salsa verde (hake in a green sauce). You can have a simple and elegant meal on the plate in 20 minutes!

Hake is a lean white fish, part of the cod family, and relatively easy to find (including certified sustainable). You can substitute with fresh cod if whiting is unavailable. The seafood is lovely, but for my money the sauce is the real beauty of this dish. Certainly, this green sauce can be found in several dishes from the region—it is easy to make, very hard to foul up, relatively cheap, and it feels fancier than its preparation suggests.

Merluza en Salsa Verde (Basque Hake in Green Sauce)

2 fresh hake steaks
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp flour (plus extra for dredging steaks)
½ - ¾ cup fish or vegetable stock (see note)
1-2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
Sea salt to taste

Lightly dredge fish steaks and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil on medium high flame. Cook steaks 2 minutes per side (lightly browned to a golden hue). Remove fish and set aside.

Add remaining oil and chopped garlic, one garlic begins to crackle in the pan remove chili (if used), lower heat to medium low and add flour to pan, stirring constantly, and cook for about 1 minute.

Gradually add stock to pan and whisk until you get a smooth and velvety sauce. This may take a couple of minutes – make sure flour is completely incorporated and there are no lumps in the sauce. Adjust for seasoning and add salt to taste (a dash will do).

Add the fish steaks to the pan and cover to heat fish through for about a minute.

At this point, depending on your personal taste, you may add the parsley over the fish or you can add to the sauce as you serve (remove fish to plate, add parsley, mix into sauce over low heat. Pour sauce over fish and serve immediately.

1. Hake steaks can be substituted with haddock, grouper or mahi mahi. Each substitution offers a slightly nuanced change to the dish but they all work well.

2. Typically the dish can be made with clams, but shrimp are not an unusual addition. The dish may also contain kokotxas (pronounces co-co-chas and literally the fish throat—and I realize it may be a delicacy that some of you can live without).

3. This recipe does not include any heat element, but you may add white pepper to the garlic as it cooks—this will keep your sauce silky and smooth with just a little bit of heat. I’ve also seen recipes include thinly sliced dried chili (which may also be substituted with dried pepper flakes).

4. You can use ½ cup of stock (fish or vegetable) plus ¼ cup of white wine (use a good dry). Add the wine first to let the alcohol evaporate as it cooks.

5. If available, and if you wish, you may add about ½ pound of clams (buy cleaned, if possible, or soak at least 20 minutes to expel any sand). Add the clams as you have the sauce at about the right consistency and let them open over the sauce (remove from pan as soon as they open). Then add the hake and heat through before serving. The same principle applies if using shrimp (¼ to ½ pound of small/medium).

6. While this dish can accompany a nest of cappellini, rice, or couscous; it is also served with potatoes or with bread to soak up the delicious sauce.

¡Buen provecho!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Air Fryer Whole Chicken

Roasted chicken is an art form, truly. I mean, you do remember the hoopla caused by Meghan Markle mentioning Prince Harry proposed after she made him a roasted chicken and women of all ages (who cook and have at some point read Glamour Magazine or saw versions of it on Martha Steward, the Food Network or such) were quick to shout in glee, “Engagement Chicken works!” Because of course it does. 

Chicken is magic, y'all!

And I have to admit that there are few things I find more offensive, in a culinary sense, than someone ruining a simple roasted chicken. There’s just no excuse for bad chicken.

As I mentioned last year, we received a small Air Fryer as a gift and it is perfect for the two of us. I’ve been playing around and have come up with the perfect combination. It not only yields a great dinner, but there is enough left-over for healthy sandwiches the next day, and the carcass and innards become the base for a bitching chicken soup the day after that.

Air Fryer Whole Chicken
3 ½ lbs chicken fryer
1 Tbsp 21 Seasoning Salute
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp three onion rub
½ Tbsp freeze dried shallots
½ Tbsp poultry seasoning
½ Tbsp garlic and chili flake seasoning
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon

(see notes below for specific information about spices used and alternatives)

In a glass jar, mix all the dry seasonings and stir with a fork to mix well. Add olive oil and stir to mix. Close jar and let stand for a few hours (I let mine sit overnight). You want the garlic, shallots and onions to rehydrate and bloom in the oil.

Remove innards package from chicken cavity and reserve for later use (for stock). Using your finger or the back of a wooden spoon, loosen the breast skin to create a pocket and spoon a couple of teaspoons of seasoning mix under the skin on both breasts. Rub about two or three teaspoons of the seasoning inside the cavity. Using a fork, make punctures on the lemon and stuff inside the cavity**. Rub the remainder of the seasoning all over the chicken.

At this point, you may start cooking, if you wish. I placed the chicken in a container and refrigerated overnight. If you refrigerate, make sure you take the chicken out 15-30 minutes so that the meat is closer to room temperature when you are ready to cook.

Preheat Air Fryer. Place chicken in basket and Air Fry at 360-degrees for 30 minutes, breast down. Air Fry for another 30 minutes breast side up. Let it rest for 10 minutes and carve—the chicken should come right off the bone and the meat will be juice and tender. Remove lemon from cavity and press down with spoon to squeeze out juices, and combine with pan juices to drizzle over chicken. The skin will turn not only golden brown, but extra crispy!

Notes (*some Amazon affiliate links below, if you want to help a girl out with a click or two):

1. I used McCormick’s minced garlic, though if I’d been using fresh garlic, I’d suggest at least three cloves.*

2. Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute is a salt free blend of onion, black pepper, celery seed, cayenne pepper, parsley, basil, marjoram, bay leaf, oregano, thyme, savory, rosemary, cumin, mustard, coriander, garlic, carrot, orange peel, tomato, lemon juice and lemon oil.*

3. I used Pampered Chef’s three onion rub, a gluten free blend of yellow, red and green onions (contains 40 ml sodium).

4. Penzeys offers freeze dried shallots and poultry seasoning (a salt free blend of sage, white pepper, bell peppers, lemon peel, savory, rosemary, dill weed, allspice, thyme, marjoram and ginger).*

5. Brandless has a great, organic garlic and chili flake seasoning blend.

6. The combination of spice blends used makes the addition of salt and pepper unnecessary.

** As the lemon is not exactly “stuffing”, there’s no need to secure it inside the cavity—but I still use two or three toothpicks to close the flap over the top and allow the lemon to steam and also to get an even crisp on the skin all around.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Mélange: Sardinian Cuisine

3. Sardinian Cuisine
Mom has a trace of Sardinian ancestry. Although at this point we’d be guessing, it is a safe bet that this is form her maternal side—specifically her maternal grandfather’s side of the family.

I half expected Corsicans, but Sardinians caught us both by surprise. Admittedly, I know very little about Sardinia. The fact that there is a Catalan connection is news to me, and I found the Wikipedia entry fascinating and a gateway to all sorts of knowledge I did not possess before and now I must have! Every hyperlink lead to another epic page of fascinating facts—including an aside to the page about the giants of Mont’e Prama who reminded me of The Iron Giant.

From its ancient history to its beautiful architecture to the beautiful beaches, Sardinia is immensely interesting. But, of course, it is the food that we wanted to know more about…

It actually turns out that we already have a dish in our repertoire that is very much the ringer for one of Sardinia’s national dishes. According to Sardinia Unlimited, a “typical [S]ardinian pasta” . . . fregola is made of semolina and rolled into balls, and one of the most delicious ways to serve it is with seafood in a saffron broth. To me, the Sardinian delicacy looks very much like my Mom’s seafood medley with pearl couscous. The difference, apparently, is that fregola is toasted—but Mom actually toasts the pearl couscous before cooking it, so I expect we’ve already achieved the taste profile for the dish (toasting the pasta makes it taste a little nutty).

I am toying with making malloreddus (Sardinian gnocchi) with sausage. In one of the recipes I consulted, it was suggested to substitute with cavatelli—though specialty shops will likely have malloreddus. There are two recipe variations that I want to play with, in each you’ll cook the pasta to al dente in salted boiling water to package instructions. Always reserve ½ cup of pasta water to add to the sauce at the end of cooking.

Malloreddus del Pastore (Sardinian Gnocchi with Sausage and Ricotta)
½ lbs whole milk Ricotta
¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino (recipe calls for Sardinian Pecorino, but in a pinch Romano will do)
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
½ lbs spicy pork sausage, casings removed
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 TB extra-virgin olive oil

In a bowl, mix cheeses and pepper, and beat until smooth.

Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat and cook sausage. Crumble with the back of a spoon or spatula, and turn to make sure pork browns and cooks through evenly (between 8-10 minutes). Add garlic and mix in for about a minute. Fold in pasta, the pasta liquid, and the cheese mixture stirring to coat pasta with sauce. Remove from heat and serve.

Note: there is no salt in the sausage mixture because there’s enough salt content in the cheeses and the pasta. To serve drizzle extra virgin olive oil over pasta.

Malloreddus alla Campidanese (Sardinian Gnocchi with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Saffron)
½-1 lbs fresh tomatoes
½ cup of grated Pecorino
½ tsp saffron threads
½ cup water
1 onion
2-3 garlic cloves
1 lbs pork sausage
Extra-virgin olive oil
Basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Have a bowl of ice water on the side. Heat up water to a boil. Score the bottom of tomatoes with a knife and add to boiling water for about 30 seconds. Remove from pot and immediately add to ice water. Reserve ½ cup of warm water, add saffron, and set aside.

Mince onion, garlic. Peel tomatoes (see note), chop into small pieces and set aside.

Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium-high heat, sauté garlic and onion until onion is translucent. Add sausage, brown lightly for 4-5 minutes and crumble. Add tomatoes and basil leaves, the saffron water, and salt and pepper to taste (it’s safer to under-season and adjust at the end). Stir and simmer on low heat for 30-45 minutes.

Note: peeling the tomatoes is not absolutely necessary, and if you are skipping that step then do not boil or immerse in iced water. To serve, fold in pasta and Pecorino, stir to coat pasta in sauce and remove from heat. Drizzle with olive oil, garnish with fresh basil leaves and additional cheese and freshly ground pepper.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Mélange: Senegalese Cuisine

2. Senegalese Cuisine

Both my mother and I have a trace of ancestry shared with folks from Senegal. It is difficult to determine whether this is entirely from my maternal side or if I also share a little bit from my paternal DNA. But then, the African ancestry is problematic because all the multicultural mixing means we strayed far from the motherland in many ways.

Senegal is the westernmost point in continental Africa (a nice swim across from Cape Verde). A base of operations used by the Portuguese, Dutch, and British slave traders; Senegal was eventually taken over by the French. Whether any Portuguese and French ancestry is attached to Senegal is unclear—we’ll never know!

Because of its colonial history, Senegalese cuisine is influenced by Northern African, French and Portuguese culinary traditions. And because Senegal is one of the most ethnically diverse nations in the African continent, regional variations of dishes abound.

Popular ingredients range from chicken and lamb (which make up for plenty of stew recipes). A coastal nation, Atlantic fish is also an important part of their diet. Their biggest crop is peanuts, and certainly there are plenty of peanuts sauce recipes in their repertoire. They also grow couscous, white rice, yams, lentils and peas. I like all of this, which adds to the mystery of why I don’t have more Senegalese dishes in my own catalogue. Because they are predominantly Muslim, though, they have no pork in their diet. Other than that, their food seems pretty tasty.

While it is entirely possible, I don’t specifically recall having any Senegalese food. I have had my eye on a recipe for a few years but it still hasn’t made the rotation: chicken stew (poulet yassa). My interest has not waned but we have encountered a problem: Mom seems to have developed an allergy to mustard and this means rethinking the marinade.

The beauty of Chicken Yassa is that it is such a versatile dish:

1. it can be made with thighs, legs, breasts or a whole cut up chicken,
2. it can be in winter or summer (grilled or in the oven), and
3. there are enough variations that adaptations are easy to conceive.

Chicken Yassa requires four important steps: (1) marinade (for taste as well as tenderizing), (2) brown meat, (3) sauté onions, and (4) simmer. The marinating can be done overnight, and the dish requires light hands-on work. You won’t have to stand watch over the stove while it cooks. So, if you make this for guests, you can enjoy their company—plus it can be made ahead and reheated.

And while the recipe and its taste profile seem familiar enough, what distinguishes this dish is the onion marinade. It gives it a nice kick. The dish is said to have originated in Southern Senegal, but I suspect a Northern African influence because the marinade resembles scabetche (or escabeche for my Latino cousins).

Poulet Yassa (Senegalese Chicken Stew)

For marinade:
4-6 onions thinly sliced
½ cup vegetable or peanut oil (divided)
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
½ cup lemon juice (approximately 4 lemons)
½ cup red wine vinegar
1 chile pepper (or a jalapeño) chopped* (see notes)
2 tablespoons Sriracha mayonnaise* (see notes)
Salt and pepper to taste* (see notes)

1 whole chicken cut in serving pieces or 3-4 lbs in chicken thighs, legs, and breasts (skin on)
½ cup water (or low sodium chicken stock)

One large carrot cut in ¼-inch slices
¼ cup of salad olives

Mix ¼ cup of oil and all ingredients together to create marinade and rub onto chicken. Refrigerate overnight.

Remove chicken from marinade. Grill chicken 10-15 minutes per side (brown but do not fully cook).

Heat ¼ cup of oil in pan on medium and sauté onions until soft and translucent.  Add rest of marinade, carrots and olives (if using), and water (or stock), bring to a boil. Cover and cook for 5-8 minutes.

Add chicken to pan, reduce heat to simmer. Cook until chicken juices run clear (20-30 minutes).


1. To make the Sriracha Mayonnaise: mix 1 cup of mayonnaise, 2 teaspoons of powdered garlic, 1 tablespoon of Sriracha, 1 lemon juiced (if you have no lemons, you may use limes for a slightly different tartness, or substitute with a tablespoon or two of vinegar), and a pinch of sea salt (alternatively, you may substitute salt with a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce). This can be made ahead and keeps well refrigerated.

2. If using Dijon mustard (or my Sriracha mayonnaise alternative) you may wish to curtail additional salt—especially if you’ll also add olives at the end. The same can be said for pepper—it depends on how much heat you enjoy. Taste the marinade before adding to chicken, do not over-season.

3. Most yassa recipes include a cube of Maggi or chicken stock, but we omitted and used water instead to keep the sodium content relatively low.

4. You can use bell peppers, if you prepper a milder taste.

You may serve with additional lemon slices (if you like it tart). Serve over rice (white or brown) or couscous. Bon appétit, mon ami!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Mélange: Native American—Andean Cuisine

Those of you who know me, or who read Volume 2 of The Food Goddess cookbook, know that I am the product of several generations of interracial/multicultural marriages. And I have tried to incorporate dishes from all the ethnic groups and national regions that I knew about. I always loved the idea of having a global cultural heritage and making it my own.

After taking Ancestry’s DNA testing, we were surprised about what we each inherited but also what we both lacked that we expected to find in our personal maps. There were some surprises, and what I want to do is combine Mom’s and my results and add recipes for each country of origin we didn’t know about. And we have lots of choices because my people liked to travel and mix it up!

There are three goals here:
1. To expand our culinary repertoire,
2. To learn a little more about our ancestors and honor them in doing so, and
3. To inspire me to blog more regularly.

So this is the first in a series which I’ll call “mélange”—mostly because that’s just a medley and often a delicious one, so it seems appropriate. I’ll be exploring cultural entries from our collective DNA map and coming up with the most interesting recipes I find (and there may be some rumor, speculation and innuendo thrown in, maybe a fact or two, but mostly an excuse to cook!).

Countries and cultures will be chosen at random and will not appear in any preset order, except whatever whim drives me that week… To start us off, I will try to choose cultures and regional cuisines I haven’t covered yet, and then revisit those I am well versed in (and that I’ve shared with you already).

1. Native American—Andean Cuisine
Both Mom and I inherited a trace of Andean heritage, which in my mind translates to New World Highlander! And while I am not aware of whether this is a trace of my mother’s paternal grandmother or an older ancestor, modern day relatives appear to be spread out around the western coast of South America from Ecuador to Chile (see map).

And while I will certainly revisit each of these countries' cuisines, I wanted to start with Andean food in general. I love the idea of starting with something pre-Columbian. We could easily to lump it into some sort of Incan ancestor, the truth is that there are several cultures in the area--including the Atamaca, Aymara, Kichwa, Quechua and Uru people (not including the Colombian indigenous folks along the Andes).

The gifts Andean culture bestowed on civilization include the domestication of squash around 8000 BCE by the Las Vegas culture from present-day Ecuador. These mountain folks, through the centuries, mastered agriculture and had consumable crops that still exist today, and some of which I have indulged in with careless abandon—some even led me to criminal behavior and it is not the obvious one!—from potatoes to tomatoes, chile peppers, pineapples, peanuts, several varieties of beans, cotton and coca.

Andean cuisine is replete with vegetables, especially tubers, so the vegetarians and vegans will find great options here (just steer clear of anything that says cuy and ask no questions about it).

When we make a large batch soup--as opposed to a quickie wonton soup--on one of its leftover iterations, it is likely to get an infusion of cornmeal to thicken it (especially nice with a chicken asopao). And while soup and stew season is about to end here, we do have several rainy days coming our way so that cornmeal soup sounds awesome. The word chochoca is Quechua for a type of maize flour (cornmeal). The soup is generally made with beef or pork (spare ribs), but it works as a filling and satisfying vegetarian dish as well. Here’s an easy version to get you started.

Caldo de Chochoca (Cornmeal Soup)

½ cup of cornmeal
1 cups of water

2 tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil
1 ½ lbs of beef (for stew, in bite sized pieces)
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 leek, chopped
1 medium to large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of aji colorado* paste
6-8 cups of water
2 or 3 medium potatoes, cut in pieces
½ cup of shredded white cabbage
1/8 cup chopped mint
Salt to taste

Lightly season meat with salt and set aside. Heat oil in a Dutch oven under medium low flame. Sautee garlic and onion (until translucent but not so long that garlic browns). Add the aji colorado (see note below), and stir until well mixed.

Add meat, celery, leek, until meat is browned on all sides. Add water and bring to a boil.  Add potatoes, cabbage and half the mint leaves. Cover and cook until the potatoes are tender (at least 20 minutes).

Add the cornmeal and stir until fully incorporated (the broth will thicken and gain a velvety finish). Add salt, if needed, and cook for another 5 minutes.

Serve hot and garnish with remaining mint leaves.

1. You may make your own aji colorado paste (panca pepper paste). If you want to make your own, there is a recipe here. If you have a good international section in your market, you may purchase any of these: Inca Food’s Aji Panca, Doña Isabel’s Panca Pepper Paste.

2. I saw a recipe that includes daikon, though I don’t know that this is a traditional ingredient. I saw another recipe that included corn on the cob, cut in one-inch pieces, added at the end as you add the chochoca.

3. You may use spare ribs, though this is best left for a lazy Sunday when you have time to let the broth simmer for an hour or more.

4. You may also make your own cornmeal, and there is a great piece about it here.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Trader Joe's Run: Seafood Extravaganza

We have been eating healthier since my medical emergency last summer. Of course, as most of you know, taste has not been sacrificed in any way. And there is something absolutely delicious in the idea that you can eat well and lose weight in the process.

Of course, for those of you following the Twitter weekend feed for #KaliFoodGoddess, not everything there is exactly healthy – because you should detour to culinary treats every once in a while. Ain’t nobody gonna give up bacon or fried chicken (but we have new ways to achieve the effect without clogging our hearts).

We did a Trader Joe’s run yesterday, to refill our pantry and fridge with goodies in anticipation of the coming snowstorm. If we end up home-bound for a few days, we’ll need for nothing in the food department.

We were sorry to hear that they’ve discontinued the crab meat, but we still managed to get a few seafood products from their frozen selection. Mom’s favorite, the seafood blend is still available and it is always a good meal. A mix of small shrimp, calamari rings and bay scallops, she usually adds a handful of medium sized shrimp (or lobster balls). And our go-to recipe includes their Asian stir fry veggie bowl which contains a generous amount of already cut baby corn, bamboo shoots, bok choy, broccoli, carrots, water chestnuts, mushrooms, onions (white and red), peppers (green and red), snap peas and snow peas—every once in a while somebody throws in celery, basil… Mom always adds garlic, because of course!

Last night’s version included freshly squeezed lemon juice and its aromatic zest. But because there is no salt content beyond what the seafood contains naturally, you can splurge and use a little soy sauce here, or fish sauce, or Worcestershire sauce. A little Old Bay seasoning wouldn’t hurt it either.  

In all, the seafood blend totals about 80 calories per serving and the veggies add about 25 more, and this gives you some wiggle room if you choose to add carbs to the mix. 

We usually have it with rice, but it's just as lovely with couscous or risotto or noodles. At the same time, there is enough here so that, if you prefer, you could let the stir fry be the entire meal. It will be still be delicious and filling.

One of these days, I want to see if I can pull off seafood fajitas with the blend.

We also got mahi-mahi, tuna, and salmon burgers. While we sometimes make these as lunch on small multi-grain flatbreads; we also make them the protein in our dinner, with at least one salad and vegetables. We’ve forgone rich sauces for the time being, and instead will occasionally use a dollop of Sriracha mayo.

To round up our seafood bounty, we got a couple of packages of the lobster ravioli and two small tubs of their fresh pesto sauce. I know, it’s predictable, but it is so good, we simply trust it will be delicious every time we make it! (And for those interested in such things, the calorie count is a lot lower than you’d expect: the ravioli totals 290 per serving and the pesto 260.)

I know some of you have started the year trying to move towards healthier choices, and I’d like to point to you a great website/app that rates consumer food products for their nutritional values, has a forum (I haven’t explored this feature because I’m not really a joiner), diet and fitness trends, and even recipes: Fooducate   

So, bring on the snow, Mother Nature! We will be pretending we are seaside somewhere warm having fresh seafood and loving life.

 [In the meantime, I experiment with our new AirFryer (currently making a turkey breast—which I will tell you about it later). And whatever is leftover will be the base for a soup. Snow soup is as much fun as rain soup, and I am looking forward to that as well. To those on the path of the coming snowmageddon: stay warm and safe.]