Tomato and Chorizo Salad and 11 Things I Learned in Sevilla

Mr. F and I spent the beginning of 2011 fulfilling our dream of travelling around Europe. We spent a lot of our time in different parts of Spain – hitting the major cities like Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia and spending a larger chunk of time in Sevilla and San Sebastian.

This time last year we had just arrived for a month-long stay in the Southern city of Sevilla in Andalucía. Not knowing much about the city or the region, our 5 weeks there were full of new discoveries.

11 (mostly food-and-drink-related) Things I Learned in Sevilla:

  1. Sevilla is the hottest city in Europe. Don’t go there in summer, the Old City is essentially an oven and will cook you.
  2. You will never regret spending money on jamón.
  3. Siestas are totally necessary. By 3pm, the sun is at its hottest and the only thing you will want to do is nap. Plus, everyone else is doing it.
  4. Sangria is for tourists. Don’t order it unless you want to drink straight sugar with a hint of cheap wine.
  5. Don Simon pre-made sangria is one of cheapest alcoholic beverages you can buy in a Spanish supermarket.
  6. Shop for food at the mercado not the supermercado.
  7. The tapas crawl is a spectacular invention.
  8. Do not buy Spanish wine that is not D.O. or D.O.C. certified. If it doesn’t have the Denominación de Origen Calificada stamp on it, it is very possible that you are drinking vinegar that may or may not get you drunk.
  9. City-wide bike hire systems are awesome when properly executed. (Sevilla 1, Brisbane 0.)
  10. I can pack a mean picnic.
  11. Chorizo should be involved in most things. (Technically not learned in Sevilla, but reinforced.)

Jamie Oliver, bless him, prepared this salad in an Andalucian field. I made it in my kitchen and it still turned out pretty well.

For some bonus authenticity: pronounce it choreetho like the Spaniards and Jamie do!

Tomato and Chorizo Salad
adapted just slightly from Jamie Oliver’s recipe.

- 3 cups chopped tomatoes (I used cherry)
– 1 small red onion, finely chopped
– 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
– 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, divided
– 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
– 1/4 cup basil, chopped
– salt and pepper
– 1 chorizo sausage, sliced into rounds
– 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

Combine chopped tomatoes, onion, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar, parsley, half of the basil and a bit of salt and pepper in a large bowl. Set aside.

Heat remaining olive oil in a large pan over a high heat. Add chorizo and cook, tossing occasionally until the chorizo it deeply browned and the natural, orange oils have been released. Add the garlic to the pan and toss quickly. Turn off the heat and let the garlic sizzle for about 20-30 seconds. Finish off the pan with the last tablespoon of white wine vinegar and let simmer in the pan for another minute.

With a slotted spoon, remove the chorizo and garlic from the oil and pour over the salad. Reserve oil for later use (Jamie suggests using it with some chicken.) Scatter salad with remaining basil and serve with crusty bread.

Jamie also suggests serving this with a small glass of sherry, I say a large glass of Rioja, D.O.C. of course.

Vegetable Ricotta Schmear

I’ve had many amazing summers in my life, but the summer I turned 17 was a stand-out. Post-SATs and pre-college applications, it’s a time when teenagers really begin to experience freedom. It’s a kind of freedom unique to this period of life, bringing constant excitement without the tethers of real responsibility. I loved every minute of it.

My job that summer, while it didn’t bolster the vibrancy and zest for life I felt, didn’t detract from it either. I worked at a bagel shop. A Long Island bagel shop – the real deal. I learned how to cook a perfect bacon, egg and cheese sandwich (BEC) and slather on just the right amount of cream cheese. I burned myself on many a baking tray and reeked of garlic and onion bagel by the time I left each day. It was the opposite of glamorous, but it left my afternoons and nights free for shenanigans.

The two most valuable and lasting things this job bestowed upon me were 1.) a deep, deep love of coffee and 2.) the self-given right to call myself a bagel connoisseur.

Travelling only reinforces the established fact that good bagels are only found in New York and New Jersey. Of course there are exceptions, but by and large – this is truth.

I selfishly rate a bagel establishment by its ability to produce a perfect everything bagel and a flavorful vegetable cream cheese. That’s my bagel jam.

While I have been able to find good bagels here in Oz (wut up Iggy’s) I have been hard-pressed to find a decent schmear (schmear = cream cheese spread, for those of you not down with Yiddish.)

Good veggie cream cheese can be hard to come by in New York, let alone Australia. Matters, as usual with this sort of thing, have to be taken into my own hands.

This recipe was a ricotta experiment. Hypothesis: I can capture that favorite vegetable cream cheese flavor using ricotta in the place of cream cheese.

Why ricotta? Well, I love the mellow creamy flavor and whipped-like texture AND I bought a big tub that goes off on Sunday…

To call this a schmear, I realize, is all kinds of sacrilege (ricotta! baguettes!) – but probably no more so than some shiksa using the word schmear repeatedly.

And from a connoisseur, it hits all the right spots.

Vegetable Ricotta Schmear
– 1 cup ricotta, strained
– 1/3 cup grated carrot
– 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
– 2 tablespoons roasted red peppers, finely chopped
– 2 medium scallions/spring onions, white and light green parts finely sliced
– 2 teaspoons fresh lemon thyme
– salt and pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix with a fork until everything is well combined.

Serve with bagels, baguette, whole wheat toast, or crudites.

Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 2 days.

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Lunch Today: Chard, Quinoa, Chickpeas and Pomegranate

This was what was in my lunch box today.

It’s another travel-friendly salad that keeps well when made and dressed a few hours in advance – the chard, in particular, really benefits from some marinating.

It’s kind of a bastardized version of tabbouleh – with refreshing parsley and cucumber, and the quinoa standing in for bulgur. I have dreams of topping this salad with crispy, spicy falafel – but alas, it was not in the cards for today. Instead, we have chickpeas and some feta for a salty flourish.

I added toasted coconut flakes because I’m addicted to them. True Life: I’m a toasted coconut flake fiend.  Yup. But here they add a nutty sweetness and a little crispy-crunch factor that works surprisingly well.

And the pomegranate. The pomegranate brings that tart crunch and a sassy pop of pink – it totally makes this salad a babe.

It’s all topped off with a honey lemon dressing that highlights the zesty parsley and salty feta.

Chard, Quinoa, Chickpeas and Pomegranate
(Serves 2)
– 3 cups Swiss chard, cut into thin ribbons
– 1/2 cup chickpeas
– 1/2 cup cooked quinoa*
– 1 small cucumber, pealed and diced
– 1/4 cup chopped parsley
– 1/4 cup crumbled feta
– 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds, divided
– 1-2 tablespoons toasted coconut flakes, for garnish (optional)

Honey Lemon Dressing
– juice from 1 lemon
– 1 tablespoon honey
– 3 tablespoons oil of your choice
– pinch of salt

Whisk together ingredients in a small bowl or combine ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake well.

Combine the first 6 ingredients and 1 tablespoon of the pomegranate seeds in a bowl. Pour dressing over this and mix well to combine.

Let sit covered in the fridge  for at least 1 hour. Top with remaining pomegranate seeds and toasted coconut to serve.

To cook quinoa: Place 1/2 cup dry, rinsed quinoa in a medium saucepan with 1 cup water or vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook covered for 10-15 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed and quinoa is puffed. Let stand covered for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve. Makes 1 cup.

Carrots and Peppers Roasted with Harissa and Lentils

Every now and then, I have ice cream and popcorn for lunch.

I know from where you’re sitting it probably looks all like salads, roasted vegetables and legumes over here. And I love all that stuff…that’s why I write this blog. I make them taste good and they make me feel good. It’s a love-love relationship.

But sometimes (usually on a Saturday) a late lunch ends up being two scoops of the silliest flavors you can think of (No joke, I had a gingerbread flavor called Hansel He’s So Hot Right Now this weekend. It was marvelous.) and some salty popcorn to balance it all out.

Ain’t no thing.

Part of me likes to think I’m doing 7-year-old me justice and living the dream of ice cream whenever I want. I kind of am.

My goal when I make a salad is to make it as alluring as ice cream for lunch can sometimes be. I like to give it an edge, (read: cheese) a little extra flair (harissa) and implement some lazy, but effective technique (roasting) – together those things make a lunch that I would pick over ice cream 6 days out of 7.

Carrots, Peppers and Lentils
– 4 large carrots, cut into rounds
– 1 large red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
– 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 tablespoon harissa
– 1 cup cooked French lentils*
– 1/4 cup goat or feta cheese for serving
– salt, to taste

Pre-heat oven to 220 C/430 F.

Combine carrots, peppers olive oil and harissa in a large bowl. Mix well until the vegetables are well coated with oil and harissa.

Spread vegetables out on a baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes, tossing half-way through, until golden brown.

Combine lentils and vegetables in a bowl. Add a touch more olive oil if the vegetables are a little dry. Sprinkle with salt and cheese and serve warm or at room temperature.

For cooking lentils: Place 1/2 cup dry lentils in a medium saucepan with 1 1/2 – 2 cups water and a whole garlic clove. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook covered for 25-30 minutes until tender. Drain well to serve.

Good Things in March

Every day I try to reflect on what I am grateful for.

What topped my list this week:
having things to look forward to
friendly people
date nights
buying a treat for someone else
feeling momentum
rainy Sunday mornings with nowhere to be
warm evenings

Nesting dolls, Fitzroy Melbourne

Stellar croissant at Monsieur Truffe, Collingwood, Melbourne. The raspberry jam was awesome too!

Street view St. Kilda, Melbourne

Savory oatmeal (with avo and mushrooms) and Gourmet Traveller. A cure-all.

Some new additions to our record collection. We scored some deals!

Passion fruit! Be still, my heart.

Dinosaur cutting board, piadina crumbs and two glasses of red. At La Piadina, Bondi

Impromptu Saturday night picnic featuring aged Gouda and my favorite guy.

Egg Bakes with Mushroom, Potato and Sage

Five minutes before I leave for the grocery store I review my list of things like dish soap, paper towels, shower gel, tissues…you know, boring non-food things.

30 minutes later I return with: two types of herbal tea, one Cadbury Creme Egg, a medium-sized jar of Nutella ($2 off!), Romaine lettuce and some marinated feta.

See what I did there? I completely ignored the boring list and skipped right to all the good stuff that we may or may not actually need.

What happened over that period of time, you might wonder, in which a normally clear-headed person completely glazed over and abandoned all responsibility in favor of childish, irrelevant purchases?

I don’t have a good excuse. All I can say is I love to food shop.

I deplore things like shoe shopping, furniture shopping, or anything in a department store. Give me a specialty cheese shop, a farmers market or a huge Whole Foods any day.

I slowly pace up and down each of the aisles (except the ones with cleaning supplies. Who needs that shiz?) making sure I don’t miss a good bargain or something totally crazy that I didn’t even know about. (Reese’s Ice Magic Shell! Feta marinated with preserved lemon and herbs?!)

Sometimes all this excitement gets in the way of the task at hand as I am left powerless to all of the enticing produce.

For serious shopping excursions I try to organize the supervision of Mr. F. Luckily, he’s good at remembering boring cleaning items and encouraging chocolate purchases. Add in the fact that he tolerates my borderline crazy food obsession and that’s what I call a happy partnership.

In order to clear room in our fridge for all the impulse-buys, I like to use leftover cooked vegetables to make individual egg bakes. A little ramekin with a perfect just-set egg nestled on top gives the leftovers a total makeover.

Technically the veggies don’t have to be leftover, but just a little pre-cooked.

I had leftover roasted potatoes, so to those I added mushrooms sautéed with shallots, sage and rosemary and sun-dried tomatoes, then cracked an egg on top. A sunny egg yolk makes everything more awesome. Fact.

Mushroom, Potato and Sage Egg Bakes
(Serves 2)

- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for greasing
– 1 shallot, finely chopped
– 1 cup button mushrooms, sliced
– 1 cup leftover roast potatoes, diced into small pieces*
– 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, packed in their own oil, drained
– 1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
– 1 teaspoon rosemary, finely chopped
– 2 eggs
– salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 200 C/400 F. Lightly grease the ramekins with a little bit of olive oil or butter.

Heat olive oil in a large pan over a medium high heat. Add shallot and cook for about 2 minutes until translucent.

Add mushrooms, sage and rosemary and cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are soft and slightly golden, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in potatoes and cook an additional 2 minutes to heat through.

Remove from heat and stir in sun-dried tomatoes.

Divide the mixture between two 1-cup ramekins, making a slight well in the center. Crack an egg over each.

Bake for about 10 minutes until egg is just set. Serve with good crusty bread.

I used leftover roasted potatoes. You can cook your potatoes quickly by cutting them into very small cubes and cooking them in the large pan before you add the mushrooms. Heat olive oil in the pan over a medium-high heat and cook potatoes covered for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Continue the recipe by adding the mushrooms and cooking with the potatoes, until they are soft and golden brown.

Banana Coconut Bread

I would like to:

Incorporate more bourbon into my cooking and cocktails (preferably in combination with maple.)
Braise meat more often.
Use more bacon.
Have 6 different types of cheese on-hand at all times.
Host a meatball party.
Add all-natural coconut flakes to every single dish and have it taste good.
Make more bread.

It’s officially autumn in Sydney and I am so ready. As you can see, the majority of my goals in the kitchen involve increased oven/stove usage, lots of extra fat and meat, and brown liquor.

I’ve been chasing summers for the past year and half and it’s beginning to catch up with me. I want cooler weather that’s prime for getting cozy and slow-cooking pork! I know I know, big time first-world problems. I would totally tell me to shut up.

Let’s talk about banana bread instead.

I have been searching for the perfect banana bread recipe for a while. I love loaves packed with banana flavor and studded with nuts and seeds. But not too sweet either. You should also have the option of adding any array of fun things to it: chocolate, blue berries, peanut butter, raisins, coconut…

Above all (and even though I try my best to avoid this word) it needs to be super moist.

It should really be more of a cake than a bread. But the kind of cake that you can eat for breakfast, as a snack and as a dessert.

After tweaking a recipe for Mom’s Banana Bread from Saveur, I’ve landed on my personal perfect banana bread recipe. I decided to half the amount of sweetener needed, and I used muscovado sugar instead of refined white sugar. I tossed in whatever nuts and seeds I happened to have (walnuts and sunflower seeds) and I added large coconut flakes for extra texture. (I love love love these coconut flakes.)

The result is a moist, yes moist, bread with heaps of banana flavor and toasty coconut chunks weaved throughout.

Banana Coconut Bread
adapted from Saveur
Butter, for greasing pan
1 1/4 cup flour, plus more for pan
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar or muscavado sugar
1 ⁄2 cup canola oil
1⁄3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
3/4 cup chopped walnuts and sunflower seeds, plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 cup coconut flakes
2 very ripe large bananas (or 3 small), mashed
1/2 tablespoon oats

Heat oven to 350 F/180 C. Grease a loaf pan with butter and dust with flour; set pan aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

Whisk together sugar, oil, buttermilk, vanilla, egg, and egg yolk in a medium bowl until smooth.

Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and whisk until just combined.

Add nuts, seeds, coconut and mashed bananas and whisk gently to combine.

Pour batter into prepared pan and scatter top with oats, sunflower seeds and a few coconut flakes.

Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean, 60–65 minutes.

Let cool for 30 minutes before slicing and serving.