Friday, December 28, 2012

Chorizo and Mushroom Fideua

Last year's post: Tiny Pizzas

Fideua (FID-u-wah) is a pasta dish from Valencia, Spain that's somewhat similar to paella.  It typically contains seafood, paprika, tomatoes, onions, and peppers although this version contains Spanish chorizo and mushrooms in place of the seafood.  If you like paella and pasta, you'll like this dish.

It's very easy to make - you just keep throwing ingredients into a single pan and cooking until everything is done.  The pasta cooks in the broth mixture rather than separately, which infuses it with flavor.

By the end of the baking time all the liquid has been absorbed into the pasta but the dish is not at all dry.

A couple of thoughts about the ingredients - the recipe doesn't specify the type of paprika to use, so I use sweet paprika.  If you prefer, you could substitute half of the sweet with either half-sharp or smoked paprika.  And about chorizo - I've mentioned it before but it bears repeating, Spanish chorizo is not the same as Mexican chorizo.  Spanish chorizo is a dry, cured meat that looks a lot like pepperoni.

You can find it in most markets these days.  It comes in regular and hot (caliente) versions.  We prefer the hot (it's not really all that hot) which is why I use regular paprika instead of half-sharp.  It has a paper covering that needs to be removed before slicing.  I mention that specifically because the paper is pretty much the same color as the chorizo so it's not all that obvious until you start slicing, at which point it's a bigger hassle to remove from each little piece.

One last thought - I'm still slightly nervous about any recipe which you first cook on the stovetop, then put the pan in the oven to finish cooking ever since I took a skillet out of a 450d oven, turned away to do something else, then turned back and automatically grabbed the metal handle with my bare hand.  One quick trip to the emergency room later I had a rather spectacular bandage covering four fingers and my palm.  (The Lawyer drove me to the hospital because I was pretty convinced my hand was going to need some sort of dramatic procedure. Turns out it was just antiseptic ointment and lots of bandages.) Be sure to keep those oven mitts on!

* * click here for a printable recipe version * *

Chorizo and Mushroom Fideua
Serves 4 to 6

Note: because the angel hair pasta is cooked in the pan rather than boiled in water, it takes longer than stated on the package.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
½ lb mushrooms, quartered
2 teaspoons paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 large green bell pepper, diced
3 cups low-salt chicken broth
½ cup dry white wine
5 ounces Spanish chorizo, paper casing removed
¾ lb angel hair pasta
Minced fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 400d. Cut the Spanish chorizo lengthwise, then crosswise into half-moon slices. Heat the olive oil in a heavy deep paella pan or oven-proof sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until tender, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté 4 minutes. Add paprika and cayenne and stir just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and green peppers and sauté 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, wine and chorizo. Bring mixture to a simmer. Break pasta in half and add to pan. Cook until pasta is tender, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes. Set pan in oven and bake until all liquid is absorbed and pasta is crusty, about 25 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley.

Friday, December 21, 2012


Last year's post: homemade chicken noodle soup

Being the planner/organizer that I am, I've already got Christmas dinner pretty well figured out and have moved on to New Year's Eve.  The Lawyer and I make a point of not going out on New Year's Eve for two reasons.  First, it seems kind of odd that some people think the best way to welcome a new year is to drink too much, act silly and wake up feeling terrible.  Even if you avoid the clubs and go out for a nice dinner, your entree choices are more limited, the service is worse, and the prices are higher than any other day of the year.  It just seems more fun and relaxed to stay home, whether you choose a romantic dinner for two or a small party for close friends.  Fondue is the perfect choice either way.  It's unique, it's fun, it's casual and it's easy.  If you have a fireplace, put a coffee table in front of it and serve the fondue on the coffee table with everyone sitting on the floor.  No fireplace?  Try some candles or flowers for fun.  (Fondue also makes a great Valentine's Day romantic dinner!)

For a while I couldn't figure out how to make cheese fondue fit as a food category - it seemed too substantial for an appetizer, but too uni-dimensional as a meal.  I mean, there's only so much bread and cheese a person can eat.  It finally clicked for me when I read a suggestion to add veggies, apples, pears, dried apricots, cooked sausages, even olives, pickles and mustard to a fondue meal to round it out.  It makes it more like a picnic.  You don't have to dip the pickles in the cheese, they just add variety.  Same with the mustard - use it as a condiment for a piece of sausage in between things dunked in the cheese.  The sharp pickle and mustard flavors cut through all that cheesiness and the veggies and fruit round out the meal nutritionally.  Plus, the fondue will feed more people when there are other things to eat.  This platter had apples, bread, red pepper, olives, peppadews, pickles and cooked Italian sausages plus whole-grain mustard on the side.

There are many different cheese fondue recipes (I actually have a small cookbook of nothing but 125 fondue recipes), but I'm sharing the classic made with wine, Emmentaler (or other good Swiss cheese) and Gruyere.  I think it goes better with a wide variety of foods than, say, a chorizo fondue or a crab fondue.  Regardless of the recipe, most will tell you to toss the grated cheeses with flour or cornstarch prior to putting them in the fondue pot.  Why?  Because it helps prevent clumping.  How?  I have no idea.

If you're new to fondue, there are a couple of things you should know.  First, it's a good idea to actually make the fondue in a saucepan on the stove instead of in the fondue pot.  The reason is logistics - if you make it in the pot, that means the fire is already burning and you have to transport hot cheese and live fire from your kitchen to wherever you're going to eat.  Or equally bad, you have to make the fondue in your eating location and hope you don't make a mess.  If you make it in a saucepan, you simply add the finished fondue to the fondue pot, take it to the table, and then light the fire underneath it.  Much safer.

The second thing to know is that you should stir the cheese occasionally while it's in the fondue pot so the bottom doesn't burn.  The final thing is to provide everyone with a plate and table fork in addition to their fondue fork.   The fondue fork is used to spear the food and dunk it in the cheese, then the food is placed on the plate.  The other fork is used to pop it in your mouth.  For obvious reasons you don't want the same fondue forks repeatedly going from cheese to mouths and back into the cheese again.  Oh - one additional thing I just thought of - if you go out and buy a fondue set, check the instructions for what to use in the little burner.  I originally thought they all took a small candle, only to find out that mine wants a gelled fuel made specially for fondue sets.  That would not be a good thing to discover on New Year's Eve night 30 minutes before you want to eat.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday, and think about giving fondue a try for New Year's Eve!

click here for a printable recipe

Cheese Fondue
serve 4-5

For the fondue:
1 cup dry white wine
½ lb shredded Emmentaler (or other good Swiss cheese)
½ lb shredded Gruyere
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

cubed French bread
cooked sausages
apples, pears, dried apricots, figs
broccoli, bell pepper, zucchini
pickles, hot peppers, olives

Prepare the bread, fruits, vegetables, sausages and condiments of your choice and arrange on a platter prior to starting the fondue.

Thoroughly toss the cheeses and flour together in a large bowl.  Bring the wine to a simmer in a large saucepan, then add the cheese/flour mixture ¼ pound at a time, stirring constantly until the cheese is melted before adding more.  When add the cheese has melted, stir in the garlic powder, salt and nutmeg.  Transfer to the fondue pot and carry to the table.  Light the fire and place the fondue pot over it.  Stir occasionally while eating.



Friday, December 14, 2012

Greek Phyllo Wraps with Tzatziki

Last year's post: Cuban Paella

These phyllo wraps are a twist on a traditional Greek meat pie that usually contains lamb or beef called Kreatopita.   The wraps are a fun individualized version made fancy by adding herbs between the phyllo layers.  I learned this herb-layering technique years ago and also use it in a chicken recipe where the chicken breast is stuffed with cheese and wrapped with phyllo before baking.  (My Gourmet Club buddies still talk about that one occasionally.)  Anyway, it looks fancy but it's actually easy to do. 

The phyllo wraps have a delicious filling of ground turkey, onion, red bell pepper, lemon, feta, green onions, and an interesting combination of spices: oregano, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  (You could also substitute ground lamb or beef if you prefer.)  The wraps are very good but what makes them really great is the tzatziki (tah-zee-kee) sauce - a yogurt-based sauce with cucumber, garlic, and mint.  Don't skip the sauce.

Although the recipe takes some time to prepare the filling and assemble the wraps, the great news is that you can freeze the unbaked wraps and them bake them directly from frozen for a fast and easy weeknight meal.  If you haven't worked with phyllo before, don't worry.  The key is to keep the layers moist by covering them with a damp towel until you use each sheet, then brushing them with oil so they don't dry out and crumble.  Even if you wreck a couple of sheets, it's no big deal because a box has two bags of about 10 million sheets each. (And by the time they're all wrapped up no one can tell whether a corner split a little here or there.) You'll find phyllo in the freezer case at the grocery store. 

I've usually seen it spelled phyllo but on this particular brand they spell it fillo and then right underneath in small letters it says phyllo pastry sheets, apparently just to confuse us.  Anyway, it's pronounced fee-loh.

As I mentioned, each box has two bags of rolled-up phyllo sheets.  You certainly won't need more than one bag.  Just be aware that the phyllo needs to thaw overnight or for two hours at room temperature before using, so take one bag out and put the other one back in the freezer for another time.

Once the phyllo has thawed, slide the sheets out of the bag and gently unroll them on a cutting board.  Carefully remove one sheet and cover the remaining sheets with a damp towel.  Gently brush the phyllo sheet with olive oil, then place a dill sprig in the top middle of the sheet.  (Notice the operative terms here are gently and carefully. You'll still probably wreck a few but who cares.)

Remove another sheet from the pile (be sure to put the towel back) and place it over the first sheet, then brush with olive oil again.  Place the cooked and cooled filling centered on the bottom of the phyllo, leaving a 1" margin on the bottom and sides.

Start to roll up the wrap by covering the filling.
Then fold in the 1" side margins before rolling the wrap up entirely.

Place seam side down on a baking sheet and gently brush with olive oil, which keeps them from drying out and helps them brown in addition to showing off the herbs underneath.

Now all you do is bake the wraps or freeze them for later.  One last thought - this recipe makes 8 wraps.  If you have big eaters you can serve two per person, but I think one per person is perfectly fine (they're pretty big) along with a salad.  That's why the recipe states the number of wraps it makes rather than the number of servings. 

click here for a printable recipe

Greek Phyllo Wraps with Tzatziki
Makes 8 wraps

Note:  to freeze for later, assemble wraps and freeze, then place in a resealable bag.  To bake, place frozen wraps on a baking sheet lined with foil and bake in a preheated 375d oven for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.

For the wraps:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion, diced
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1.25 pounds ground turkey
½ cup red bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ green onions, chopped
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
16 sheets (9”x14”) phyllo pastry
Olive oil for brushing
Dill sprigs

 For the tzatziki sauce:
1.5 cups plain Greek yogurt
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
2 teaspoons minced fresh mint
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Stir all tzatziki sauce ingredients together and refrigerate to allow flavors to meld while making the phyllo wraps.

Begin the wraps by making the filling (can be made in advance and refrigerated).  Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat; sauté onion 3 minutes.  Add garlic, sauté 1 minute.  Stir in turkey, breaking up with a spoon, and cook 5 minutes or until brown.  Add bell pepper, lemon juice, and seasonings; cook 1 minute.  Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.  Stir in green onions and feta.

Preheat oven to 425d.

Brush 1 phyllo sheet with oil, keeping the remaining sheets covered with a damp towel.  Add a dill sprig in the upper center of the sheet.  Top with a second phyllo sheet; brush with oil.  Spoon ½ cup turkey mixture on the lower part of the sheet leaving a 1” margin on the bottom and sides. Fold the phyllo from the bottom up over the filling, then fold in 1” on both sides and roll up completely.  Place wrap seam side down on a baking sheet lined with foil; brush with oil.  Repeat with the remaining filling, phyllo sheets and oil.

Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Let stand 5 minutes to cool.  Serve with tzatziki sauce.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Rum Cake

It's Holiday Treat Day at The Lawyer's office today.  He always gets requests from his co-workers to bring rum cake, one of his signature recipes.  He also gets requests from relatives and friends for rum cake at this time of the year, which tells you just how good it is.  We found this recipe many years ago, and I remember that it was posted by flight attendant who collected plates from everywhere she traveled to use in giving rum cakes as gifts at holiday time.  The reason I remember the story is that her final warning was to bake only one cake at a time in the oven or you risk an explosion due to the alcohol.  It sounded impressive but I was doubtful that it would ever actually happen until a certain Gourmet Club incident involving peaches and brandy that produced a pretty healthy ka-bang.  Luckily the oven survived (although it did blow the door open) and it makes for a great story.

Anyway, back to rum cake.  Think about this for your office party, book club get-together, Christmas Eve dinner, or holiday open house where you've been requested to bring something.  It will make you famous.

It's really easy but you do need a 12 cup tube pan, the simpler the better since the pecans would hide an intricate design anyway.  Did you know that Bundt cakes have become trendy again?  I attended a cooking demonstration at our state fair last summer that was all about Bundt cakes.  (Yes it was the state fair but the demo was given by professional bakers.) And be sure to use dark rum rather than light rum - that's what gives it the distinctive flavor.

Glazing the cake is the most interesting part of the process, since it takes place in stages to allow the cake to absorb the glaze gradually.  Don't dump all of the glaze on right away or most of it will just run off.  Put a light layer on and allow it to absorb, then apply more layers over time until all the glaze is used up.

Rum Cake
Makes 1 large cake

1 cup chopped toasted pecans
1 (18.5 oz) package yellow cake mix (Duncan Hines recommended)
1 (3.4 oz) package vanilla or French vanilla instant pudding
½ cup cold water
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup dark rum, divided
4 eggs

½ cup butter
¼ cup water
1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 325d.  Grease and flour a 12 cup tube pan.  Sprinkle pecans over the bottom of the pan and set aside.

To make the cake, in a large mixing bowl combine cake mix, instant pudding, eggs, the ½ cup cold water, oil, and ½ cup rum.  Beat at medium speed 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl after 1 ½ minutes.

Pour batter over pecans in pan.  Bake cake until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes.  Remove cake from the oven and let cool in the pan 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the glaze:  in a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.  Stir in the ¼ cup water and sugar; bring to boil.  Boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove saucepan from heat and stir in remaining ½ cup rum.

Invert the cake onto serving plate.  Poke all over with a wooden skewer or toothpick, being careful not to dislodge the pecans.  Spoon hot glaze over the pecans and use a pastry brush to apply the glaze evenly to the rest of the cake.  Allow cake to absorb the glaze for 5 minutes.  Repeat spooning and brushing glaze and letting cake absorb the glaze until all the glaze has been brushed onto the cake; this takes about 40 minutes.

Wipe the edges of the serving plate before serving.