Hungry & Grumpy? Try a Spanish Tortilla

Recently I came home later than usual only to discover I had not planned dinner. A big blank mist settled over me and my refrigerator as I poked about, looking for morsels and tidbits to satisfy the hungry, grumpy diner in me. Harrumph. It looked like eggs and maybe a potato.

Memories of Spain’s fantastic potato tortillas – frequently served as a tapas treat, came filtering back. Ah, yes, that’ll do ‘er! With a nod to the Spanish version which requires plenty of oil for frying, artful tossing in the pan, and attentive baby sitting, I instead opt for a gentler approach – one with the least effort and room for error. I begin by preheating my oven for an easy finish.
On further reconnaissance I unearth an onion, a few straggling cremini mushrooms and a couple ever present jalapeno peppers. This is looking more promising! Also there’s just enough marinated salad to round out the plate, along with a slice or two of dark bread – and a couple a spoonfuls of Romesco Sauce, gratefully salted away for such an occasion.

I can’t say enough about Romesco Sauce, if you haven’t tasted it, you owe yourself the distinct honor and pleasure of giving it a try. I treasure my supply of smoked paprika, which as far as I’m concerned, makes this a world class sauce. Similar to the French rouille, I actually prefer romeso for its depth and assertiveness. It’s all purpose at my house; I even use it as a base for pizza!

In the amount of time it takes to preheat the oven, the onion, garlic and veggies are sautéed, the potatoes are nicely pre-cooked and ready for their addition to the pan. I give my old standby quiche dish a light spritz with oil and begin assembling the tortilla. Done! Into the oven with just enough time to clean up the counters, handle a couple of odd chores, and return for a quick adjustment to low broil – and a gorgeous finish.

A recreational dining stalwart, I find the Spanish Tortilla extremely adaptable. Instead of mushrooms try sausage and/or other fresh vegetables. Serve it hot – or at room temperature, the Spanish preference. It’s good anytime, breakfast, lunch, dinner or in-between, and of course it’s the perfect candidate for brunch, picnics or potlucks. For that extra pizzazz, don’t forget the Romesco Sauce.

Dinner won’t be a mystery tomorrow night!

Spanish Tortilla with Potatoes and Mushrooms
Highly versatile and good anytime

2-3 medium potatoes, peeling optional, cut into 3/4″ chunks
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium green pepper, or 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded chopped
10 cremini mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 3 slices each
½ tsp. each dried sage and oregano
salt and pepper
6 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 cup each grated cheddar and jack or meltable cheese of choice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; spray a quiche dish, pie plate, or similar ovenware. Place potatoes in small pot, cover with salted water, bring to a boil and simmer about 10 minutes, until tender when poked. Drain. Combine eggs and milk, season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile in a sauté pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil, add onion and toss til fragrant; add garlic and green pepper, cook about 2 minutes, then add the mushrooms and cook to soften. Toss in the potatoes season with sage and oregano or 1/3 cup fresh parsley if available, and heat to combine flavors.

Spread the potato mixture into the baking dish, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and pour the egg mixture even over the potatoes. Sprinkle with the cheddar and jack cheese. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the eggs begin setting around the edges. Change the heat to broil setting, about 400 degrees for possible. If not, lower the rack to move the dish further from away heat source. Broil for about 5 minutes or until center is set and the top begins to brown. Serves 6 ~~.

Romesco Sauce
An all purpose standby, good with vegetables and any earthy grilled foods

1 slice country bread, trimmed, toasted or dried, 1/3 cup crumbled
½ cup water
1 cup red peppers, roasted, cut into chunks
1/2 cup almonds, whole, blanched and toasted
5 cloves garlic, minced fine, about 1 T
2 tablespoons Spanish paprika, smoked
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or lemon juice
1/3 cup water (approx.) or any pepper liquid if available
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup olive oil

Soak the bread in about 1/2 cup water to soften, squeeze with hand to remove liquid and form a smooth dough-like panade.

In blender combine red pepper, nuts, garlic, paprika and pepper flakes and pulse to puree. Add the bread and sherry. With motor running, gradually add 1/3 water of pepper liquid to incorporate, then add the oil slowly, process until smooth and thick.

Adjust seasoning with salt and additional vinegar as needed. It should have a slight edge from the vinegar, but not overpowering. If too thick, thin with more liquid.

Chill and let flavors mellow. Stored in fridge, it will keep for 4 -5 days or longer. Can be frozen up to 1 month, by why bother? Yield: approx. 2 ½ cups.

Note: If Spanish paprika is unavailable: soften 1 dried mild pepper – New Mexico or pasillo chile along with chile pequin, in boiling water for 5 minutes, drain and reserve the liquid for later and cool, remove any stems + dash smoke flavoring. ~~

Olé, Posole!

I wish you could smell this burbling cauldron of Posole. Succulent pork bites, onions, and assorted peppers all melding together in a spicy sauce heady with chilies, garlic, oregano and cumin. Shades of chili con carne, no beans! It’s almost time to add the pièce de résistance: hominy, and perhaps later a light sprinkling of cornmeal for extra thickening.
Simmer away my beauty: a tour de force worthy of Super Bowl Sunday or any other spectacular occasion!

For me, it’s all about the hominy aka posole or pozole – there’s something here that pushes my buttons. From the nutrition angle it’s sadly lacking: corn kernels that have been stripped of their bran and germ.

Hominy is addictive, while living in South Carolina I couldn’t get enough of it. Grits, or ground hominy, is standard fare there – at breakfast, lunch or dinner it’s used very similar to potatoes. In a sense, hominy plays well with others. It’s compatible, durable, has its own strength and character, but does not dominate.

I’ll let the Posole rest overnight. As with many hearty dishes, it’s even better the next day. Then, I’ll have plenty of time to set out a selection of toppings for dressing up the Posole according to personal whim and fancy.

There will be chopped tomato, green onion, cilantro, some avocado or guacamole, grated cheese and lime wedges to perk it up, and my old standby, Cabbage Salsa. Of course there will be chips and salsa and flour tortillas for ripping and wrapping. Oh, zippity do dah!

Red Chile and Pork Posole1 cup water, boiling
4 dried chilies, pasillo, jalapeno, ancho any combo
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, more if needed
3 lb boneless pork shoulder, cut – into 2″ cubes, or tenderloin
4 c hominy , yellow or white, two 16 oz cans drained, rinsed
1 medium onion, cut into small chunks
1 small anaheim chili pepper, cut up
2 tablespoons cornmeal, optional
1 1/2 cups shredded lettuce, or Cabbage Salsa (see Condiments)
3/4 cup sliced radishes
3/4 cup sliced green onions
1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese

Combine the boiling water and chilies and allow to soften about 20 minutes. Reserve the soaking liquid. Stem and seed the chilies. In a blender or food processor, puree them with the reserved soaking liquid along with garlic, oregano and cumin, salt.

In a large pot, heat the oil over moderately-high heat. Add the pork and cook until it begins to brown. Add onion and 1 or more anaheim or any other pepper type preferred. Stir in the chile puree and water to barely cover. Bring to a simmer over moderately-high heat, reduce the heat and cook at a bare simmer, partially covered, until the meat is falling-apart tender, 1-3 hours, depending on cut. Half way through cooking process add hominy. If desired thicken with cornmeal if desired, stir occasionally to avoid burning.

To serve: Ladle Posole into bowls and offer accompaniments.
Offer toppings: Cabbage Salsa or shredded lettuce, sliced radishes, sliced green onions, tomato, cilantro, lime wedges, avocado, grated jack cheese. Serves 6 ~~

Note: substitute equal amount of fresh chicken pieces and cook until tender

Rice Pudding Encounter

Rice Pudding has been pinging me from all over the planet. It wants my attention, and I resist.

First, I begin with my apologies to Rice Pudding. I’ve had an attitude that it’s bland, mundane, it takes too long to cook, and it has far too few healthy attributes. So why bother? There are more interesting things to think about. Like custard. I adore anything with custard.

This avoidance must go back to the egg-thing: that deprivation of eggs we were all tied up in knots over for so long. Way too much cholesterol and fat! And now, even women of a certain age are caught up in the need for more calcium – must take care of those bones! I’m consuming more milk, yogurt, and cheese than ever.

Ah, echoes of comforting custard, the sublime solution! Not too long ago, I even toyed with the idea of developing a custard cookbook. I’ve collected untold ideas, recipes, photos – all related to custard. You can rest easy; there will be plenty of those unctuous treats woven thru the entries here. Clafoutis, don’t get me started!

Not too long ago I had a container of leftover rice sitting in my fridge. Hmmm, Rice Pudding is calling, but I’m not answering. Instead, enter previously mentioned Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, an excellent decision. Shortly after that, while rooting through a cupboard; I noticed an abundance of rice – 3 or 4 different types. Of course, thoughts went to risotto, paella, maybe soup, surely not Rice Pudding.

Then the brain storm. Why not try making Rice Pudding in the microwave??! I consulted Barbara Kafta’s authoritative book, Microwave Gourmet and was intrigued. The door was open.

Even from Kafta’s perspective, pre-cooked rice is the way to go. As a footnote in that regard, I find it easier to boil my rice instead of steaming it. It’s a snap to simply add about 1/3 the prescribed amount of cooked rice in its raw form to plenty of boiling water and simmer away for about 20 minutes. When it’s al dente, pour the rice into a sieve or strainer and allow it to drain and cool until needed.

Wouldn’t you know, it took me two rounds to get Rice Pudding right? Round one, I let it cook away in the microwave, unsupervised. Don’t. Be wary until you know how Rice Pudding with get along with your microwave. Ignored, it boiled over and I had one sorry mess on my hands. Fortunately, it was retrievable and edible, just not smart.

Round two, I watch Rice Pudding like a hawk, nodding and smiling diplomatically; an occasional stir, I murmur appreciatively as it transforms into a creamy, dreamy delight. Yes, Rice Pudding, you have me convinced and I will share you with my friends.

Divine Resolution, worthy of a visual record, Rice Pudding is a success… except for dropping my sticky camera on the floor and traumatically jamming the telephoto lens. Ah, Rice Pudding, joy upon joy.

Simple Pudding, Simple
Ready in under 30 minutes. Inspired by Barbara Kafta’s Microwave Gourmet

3 cups cooked white rice (1 cup rice cooked yields about 3 cups)
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups milk
1/2 cup raisins
pinch salt
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a 4-quart glass measurer combine cooked rice, sugar, milk, raisins and pinch of salt. Cover with plastic wrap and cook in microwave for 5 minutes. Watch carefully towards end of cycle for boil over.

Remove wrap and stir well. Cover and cook 2 minutes longer, again watch carefully towards end of cooking cycle to avoid boil over. Repeat another 30 seconds longer, until it begins to boil.

With a fork beat remaining 1/3 cup milk, 1 egg and vanilla. Temper this with about 1/3 hot milk from rice mixture, and slowly add to rice, stirring to combine thoroughly. Cover and return to microwave for about 1 minute 30 seconds, avoid boiling. The milk custard should just coat the spoon. Serve warm or room temperature. Serves 6 ~~

Hi Ho, Silver!

It’s time to get back up on that pony and ride again. The holidays are over and I’ve simply run out of excuses. I have been away from the Blogosphere too long and I’ve dearly missed my favorite therapeutic indulgence, the enduring challenge of writing about food and sustainability.

It was easy this past summer and fall. The discoveries and revelations spun from the heady abundance of fresh, luscious produce created a sense of urgency worth sharing. Now, with winter in full thrust, thoughts and experiences surrounding comfort food seem far less compelling. Whatever!

I’ve noticed my style of eating (and yes, weight, too) has changed greatly with my shift in locales and seasons. When it was blazing hot outside, salads and lighter meals made sense. These days I have to work at my vegetable intake. The solution lately has been cabbage, a good thing since the markets are full of it. In my fridge, there is typically one rolling around, forgotten and patiently waiting for its number to come up. It’s especially handy in slaw form, a great crunchy addition to tacos and burgers.

A bit of further digging on the merits of cabbage tells me that it is high in vitamin C – a nice winter benefit. Also, the generic green cabbage will store 1 to 2 months in a cool place; a positive addition to soups and stews. I’m reminded of the French expression of endearment, ma petite chou, or ‘my little cabbage’. Very classy, indeed.

In this colder climate, I’m eating more, and thinking about foods I haven’t considered for years: cassoulets and chowders, and of course, things with cabbage… like Golabki, or Polish stuffed cabbage. I like making these little rolls when the need to play with my food emerges. This is a great social activity with kids or just a wonderful meditational exercise. The bit of brown sugar and raisins on the finish is reflective of the Polish influence.

Polish Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

1 cabbage head
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground turkey
1 cup cooked long grained rice
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp. salt and pepper, approx.

14 oz. can tomatoes, crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
salt to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar, approximate
2 tablespoons raisins, approximate

Separate and blanch cabbage leaves briefly in boiling water. Drain and set aside. Reserve @ 1 cup water. Pre-cook the rice, if not readily available.

Oil 9×12″ casserole dish or dutch oven. Place unusable leaves on bottom of dish, with a bit of available sliced onion, an additional light sprinkling of dill and salt and pepper.

For the rolls: combine filling items. Place heaping tablespoonful of stuffing at largest end of leaf, roll and fold sides in, and finish roll. Place one layer of rolls close together, seam side down in dish. Add reserved water to moisten bottom of dish.

Top rolls with crushed tomatoes, and season with dill and salt and pepper. Sprinkle lightly with sugar and raisins. Cover the dish with foil and bake at 325 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours. Serves 4-6~~

Rainy Days and Tamale Pie

It was raining, cold, damp and miserable, with no let up in sight. I was content to remain indoors enjoying the rain as it pelted away outside; perhaps a bit of puttering, catch up on a stack of reading, take a deep breath and contemplate life. I built my first fire of the season and snuggled in for an easy, relaxed day.

By mid afternoon anticipatory thoughts of dinner begin to surface: something warm and satisfying, easy comfort food… a survey of the fridge offers no such solutions. In the freezer, however, I spot a small container of lentil chili, leftover from a previous feast.

My thoughts drift to cornmeal… ever since South Carolina I have been a big cornmeal and grits fan. I can’t get enough of it. I love grits for breakfast, polenta in the evening topped with almost anything, I love cornmeal in cakes, biscotti; you name it.

Not long ago, a friend shared a delicious handmade tamale purchased at a small downtown Mexican mercado. It reminded me of Costa Rica and the fabulous banana leaf wrapped tamales I enjoyed there for breakfast: a simple vegetable filling encased in creamy masa. Superb.

I flash on the tamale pie I labored over years ago for special company. According to others, it was a disaster. Perhaps it was a bit heavy on the cornmeal mush border… but what’s wrong with that? Nevertheless, it has been the brunt of endless family jokes and I haven’t made tamale pie since.

Well, why not? A quick search on line and I get a few good ideas and proceed with my simple, satisfying and highly enjoyable Tamale Pie. Note to self: continue saving those yummy lentils! I’ll be making this one again!

Since I adore anything with chilies in it, I tend to have a cabbage on hand for such occasions. This version of cabbage salsa, a salad or slaw of sorts, is the perfect accompaniment, and is equally as good with fish tacos to posole.

Rainy Day Tamale Pie
Easy comfort food

2 cups Chilified Lentils (see index)
1 cup cooked chicken, shredded (optional)
10 whole black olives
1 tomato, sliced, then halved
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded, divided
4 1/2 cups water, divided
1 cup cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup yogurt

Spray 7×11″ casserole and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cornmeal Layer: In medium pot, bring 3 1/2 cups water and salt to a boil. Combine remaining 1 cup water and cornmeal together and gradually whisk mixture into boiling water. Reduce to medium low, cover loosely and simmer til thick and very tender, about 14 minutes; stir regularly to keep from sticking on bottom. Remove from heat and stir in yogurt.

To assemble Tamale Pie: Spread about 2/3 of cornmeal evenly over bottom of casserole dish. Combine chili and chicken and spread evenly over the cornmeal layer. Press the olives evenly into the mixture. Top with sliced tomato
and sprinkle with half of the shredded cheese. Spread remaining cornmeal in an even layer on top and sprinkle with remaining cheese. (Can be done ahead and refrigerated to this point)

Bake 30-40 minutes until golden. Let stand about 15 minutes before cutting. Serves 4

Cabbage Salsa
Excellent accompaniment with pork, chicken, or fish
1/2 head cabbage (8 cups) core, very thin slice and cut in half again
2 teaspoons salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 green onion, chopped
3 jalapenos, seed, minced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 teaspoon pepper or red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar, or lime juice or to taste

Place cabbage in large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let stand about 20 minutes then drain off any liquid.

Add remaining items and toss to combine. Chill until needed. Makes about 3 cups. This lasts very well. ~~

172′ Peel Revealed: World Heralds Apple Record

All the current political rancor and financial upheaval has me starved for any shred of enlightened, positive news. OK, the fact that our headline here stems clear back to 1976 may seem a bit dated or desperate to some. In truth, the prized peel was actually 172 feet, and 4 inches long – an understated bit of whimsical levity for these depressing times. (Hurrah!)

Another pleasant, non-controversial tidbit: October is National Apple Month. How reassuring to know that America’s revered apple is suitably honored with more than a sensational and fleeting 15 minutes of fame!

It seems that the ubiquitous apple is always around, so what’s the big deal? Thanks to cold storage technology, come those dreary days of winter, the apple is a frequent and welcome addition in many households. Once October appears again, we are blithely reminded how little comparison there is between a crisp, juicy, sweet apple fresh picked from the tree and last year’s mushy and flavorless counterpart.

And so with renewed gladness in our hearts and happiness abounding, it is time to embrace a new crop of apples – and this year they are excellent! But wait, there are so many varieties to select from, deciding on the right apple can be tricky. Fortunately, many markets now provide plenty of product information ranging from the state or country of origin to their flavor profile and suggested usage. Generally speaking, I tend to rely on the eye ball approach: apples for eating have wrinkles on their blossom end while apples that are good for cooking are smooth on the blossom end.

As stocks tumble and leaves fall, it’s comforting to remember that everything has its season, and the simplest pleasures are often the most rewarding. How appropriate, and what better reason to celebrate everyone’s pal, the humble and versatile apple. With apple cider, apple butter, apple pie…

Apple Oatmeal Cake
Moist and flavorful

3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup oats
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup light-brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large golden apples, core and chop
1/3 cup shredded coconut
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line and spray 8×8″ pan.

Combine dry ingredients and oatmeal and set aside. Chop the apples and set aside.

In mixing bowl, beat the butter, add the eggs one at a time. Add the sugar and beat til cream, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla.

Stir in the dry mixture and mix well. Add the apples and coconut and mix to combine.

Spread into prepared baking pan and bake for about 35 minutes, or until bars tests done. Remove to rack and cool thoroughly.

Cut and sift with confectioner’s sugar. Serves 9 or more.

Apple Ginger ChutneyA nice accompaniment to roast pork, venison, duck, turkey or curries
6 medium Granny Smith apples, peel, core, chop
1 large onion, chop
1 clove garlic, mince
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup orange juice
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons ginger root, peel, grate
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, mince
3 medium red jalapeno chilies, or 1 red pepper, seed chop
1 tablespoon mustard seed
3/4 teaspoon each salt, allspice, cinnamon, celery seed, red pepper flakes or to taste

In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally over moderate heat til thick, about 40 minutes.

Cool and store in refrigerator. Will last at least 2 weeks or longer. Makes 6 cups. ~~

Running on Empty: Morning Fixes

I love breakfast, or more correctly, I love the idea of breakfast.
I visualize myself commencing my day stylishly savoring a favorite selection of morning foods: beautifully presented fresh fruit, wholesome breads enfolded in a lined basket, eggs one of a thousand ways, excellent coffee, all the trimmings.

For many years my schedule was so crazy erratic it was far easier to pass on breakfast altogether and deal with it later, perhaps on the weekend. I had the attitude if I couldn’t sit down and calmly enjoy my meal, I’d rather not; a bad habit and counter productive: running on adrenaline and coffee.

The breakthrough came when I finally made the correlation between my eating meals regularly and achieving optimum performance. I started recognizing that I didn’t fade unexpectedly, my mind was sharper, and my physical stamina improved. I began making an effort to eat something in the morning, and for a long time Raisin Bran was my uninspired, yet highly satisfying solution.

While living in Florida where fresh fruit is abundant year round, I got in the habit of cranking out a smoothie for a morning pick me up. Orange juice was usually part of the equation and whatever fruit happened to drop from the sky. I’d take a break with my smoothie, sit under my queen palm and watch the lizards chase each other.

Since I’ve been working from home much more this past year I’ve taken to preparing ahead a pot of a dried grain – such as oatmeal, along with some dried fruit for a quick warm up in the microwave when the urge hits.

Recently, I had one of those amazing ah ha! moments when I contemplated couscous as a breakfast option. Why not, indeed! The new crop of apples and pears coming into the markets make this the perfect time to include them as well.

Couscous with Honey and FruitFrom Herb and Honey Cookery
by Martha Rose Shulman

1 cup couscous
1 1/2 cups boiling water, pinch salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 apple, core and chop
1 pear, core and chop
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 tablespoons raisins
3 tablespoons apple or other juice
1 tablespoon honey

Topping: yogurt and honey

Place couscous in bowl, add salted boiling water, cover and let stand while preparing fruit, about 10 minutes.

Heat butter in sauté pan, add apple and pear, sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. Sauté a few minutes, add juice and raisins. Cook stirring 3-5 minutes. Stir couscous with fork to separate grains and add to the pan; heat thoroughly, stirring occasionally. Serve topped with yogurt and more honey if desired. Serves 4-6.~~

Fruit Smoothie with Yogurt

1 cup orange juice
1 large banana, in pieces
2 tablespoons wheat germ, optional
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon honey, (opt.)

Place all in blender and process for @ 30 seconds.