Barcelona’s Famous Mercat de la Boqueria And Kiosk Universal

If you are a lover of food, you must visit Mercat de la Boqueria, Barcelona’s most famous food market. Keep in mind that you won’t be alone, thousands of shoppers as well as tourists visit every day so plan a visit early in the day if you can. 

Mercat de la Boqueria

Entrance At Mercat de la Boqueria

My husband and I are traveling foodies and if you have been one of my readers for a while, you know that we appreciate good food whether we dine at a Michelin starred European restaurant or eat at a small clam shack along the coast of New England. When visiting a new city, one of the things we like to do is walk through local markets to learn about the culinary traditions that we might encounter during our stay.

When planning for our visit to Barcelona last year, we both knew that we had to visit the Mercat de la Boqueria. It is the city’s most famous food market where some of the top restaurants in Barcelona shop for their fresh ingredients for each day’s special offerings.

During my research on Barcelona, I read that the market gets thousands of shoppers and tourists visiting the market each day. From our visit there, I would suggest planning to go to la Boqueria between 10 A.M. and noon, 9 A.M. if you want to have breakfast there.

Click on any photo below to enlarge and see a slide show.

Wander up and down all the food aisles and marvel at the huge selection of carefully stacked fresh produce, tropical fruits, all kinds of seafood, meats including Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, thought to be the finest ham in the world, fresh baked pastries and sweets that are all beautifully displayed.

One of the pleasures of visiting la Boqueria, is being able to sample some of the wonderful food that you have admired like croquetas, empanadas and fresh fruit smoothies.

If you are like lots of the people visiting the market who plan to have lunch there, know that space is extremely limited at the small food counters. I would recommend trying to eat a little earlier than the regular lunch crowd. Check each of the small restaurants blackboards listing their daily specials and decide where you want to eat. If the restaurant’s counter is full, keep an eye out for people who are just finishing their meal and perhaps you can grab their stools as soon as they pay and leave.

On our visit, we decided that we wanted to eat at Kiosk Universal, which is located in the middle of the market. It specializes in grilled seafood such as Galician octopus, scallops, razor clams and baby squid. They also serve meat for those that don’t care for seafood. What also made us decide on the restaurant was the giant platter of seasonal wild mushrooms on display along with platters of fresh vegetables and potatoes that you could order as appetizers or sides.

Kiosk Universal has a very large counter with stools and a half dozen or so tall tables in a seating area just to the side. They will take your name and put you on a wait list if there are no seats available but we were lucky enough to get two stools at the counter when a couple stood up to leave right when we walked up.

Kiosk Universal has a large blackboard above the grill that lists their specials of the day in both Spanish and English which makes ordering easy. There is also a printed menu in both languages. What we thought was fun about sitting at the counter is that you get to watch the cooks preparing each order right in front of you. A lot of the fresh fish and vegetables are displayed along the counters and if you see something you like, you can just point to it.

The mixed grilled vegetables we had as an appetizer were great, the fresh seafood was simply prepared with olive oil, lemon and seasonings and cooked to perfection, the mixed grilled wild mushrooms had amazing flavors and they all went well with chilled glasses of white wine. While you may be able to eat cheaper somewhere else, the atmosphere and freshness of the food couldn’t be better…we think it is a must try if you love seafood.

Local Farm Stands Outside la Boqueria

Additional Local Farm Stands Outside Mercat de la Boqueria

The market can be very crowded at times with local shoppers as well as tourists but we throughly enjoyed our visit and lunch at Kiosk Universal. After all, where can you go nowadays and not find tourists and the Mercat de la Boqueria has become one of Barcelona’s top tourist attractions. The atmospheric market is a must see if you happen to be foodies like we are and want to get familiar with the culinary traditions of the region.

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There are nearly 40 wonderful food markets in Barcelona where locals do their shopping but if you are a first time visitor, you should try not to miss Mercat de la Boqueria which is also called Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boquería by the locals. The market is located just off Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most famous street which you will surely be visiting before the end of your stay. Note that the market is closed on Sundays and that during the week, some stalls close around 2 P.M. so plan your visit accordingly.

 

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Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad

Mini Avocado Toast with Lobster Salad is the ultimate party appetizer. It is easy to make, easy to eat and it is “the most popular appetizer” I’ve ever served. I guarantee that this elegant one-bite hors d’oeuvre will get rave reviews from your guests at your next cocktail party or special occasion.

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad, The Ultimate Party Appetizer

Avocado toast, one of the most popular trends for breakfast, lunch or dinner, can become the ultimate party appetizer when made in a mini version that is then garnished with lobster salad. If lobster isn’t available in your area, make it with crab salad or shrimp salad for an equally delicious appetizer. The toasted brioche is a light but study base for the avocado and lobster salad, adding to both the taste and texture of this elegant one-bite hors d’oeuvre that you should serve at your next cocktail party or special occasion. Just imagine the buttery goodness of brioche, the velvety richness of avocado and succulent lobster all combined in one little mouthful of decadent deliciousness. You must try it.

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad

Making the mini avocado toasts couldn’t be any easier. Toast the bread, mash the avocado and make a simple lobster salad…even the least experienced cook should have no trouble preparing this appetizer. The brioche toast and lobster salad can be prepared up to two days in advance. I would suggest preparing the avocado shortly before serving so that the avocado doesn’t turn brown. If you must make it a couple of hours in advance, smooth plastic wrap directly on the avocado mixture and refrigerate. To assemble, spoon about a teaspoon of avocado on the toast, top with a teaspoon of lobster salad and garnish with a little chopped chives, if desired.  I made mine 30 minutes before taking them to a dinner party. During the cocktail hour, they stayed crisp…but keep in mind that the longer the appetizers sit, the avocado may start to soften the crisp brioche toast.

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad, “The Most Popular Appetizer I Ever Served”

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad 

Makes 24 pieces, adjust the recipe accordingly

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Brioche Toast

  • 6 slices of brioche bread sliced 1/2 inch thick

Cut crusts off the brioche slices then cut each slice into 4 pieces and place on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven until lightly brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and cool.

Lobster Salad

  • 6 oz. pre cooked lobster meat, diced very small (I used 2 small Florida lobster tails)
  • 1 stalk of celery (a tender stalk from the heart), finely diced
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. tarragon, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. chives, finely chopped plus extra for garnish, if desired
  • a pinch of cayenne
  • salt to taste

Place the lobster, lemon juice, celery and mayonnaise into a bowl and mix. Add tarragon, chives, cayenne and salt then mix gently. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.

Avocado

  • 2 small avocados
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper or to taste
  • salt to taste

Slice the avocados in half, remove the pits and scoop flesh into a bowl. Add the lemon juice and mash with a fork until smooth then season with the white pepper and salt.

To assemble the appetizers, spoon about a teaspoon of avocado on the toast, top with a teaspoon of lobster salad and garnish with chives, if desired.

Tips:

  • When you buy your lobster or lobster tails, ask your market to steam them for you. Most fish markets will gladly do it at no charge.
  • When dicing the lobster and celery, you want to cut them very small as you will only be using about a teaspoon of the salad on each little toast.
  • Do not use too much mayonnaise, just enough to hold the lobster together yet not be dry. You may substitute one tablespoon of the mayonnaise with a tablespoon of crème fraîche, if desired.
  • The lobster salad can be made up to two days in advance, covered and refrigerated.
  • The brioche toast can be made up to two days in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
  • If you must make the avocado mixture a couple of hours in advance, smooth plastic wrap directly on the avocado mixture to keep it from turning brown and refrigerate.
  • Do not assemble the appetizers too far in advance so that the brioche toast stays crisp.

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The mini avocado toasts topped with the lobster salad were the most popular appetizer I’ve ever made and over the years, I can tell you that I’ve made a lot. I expect that when I entertain that one of the women might come up to me and talk about something I have prepared, perhaps even ask about the recipe. But when I brought the avocado toasts to a dinner party recently, everyone commented. One of the men said he could have eaten a whole plate full, another asked when was I planning to make them again. Enough said.

 

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Italian Lamb Lasagna

Italian Lamb Lasagna, a delicious layered pasta dish of flavorful lamb ragù and creamy béchamel sauce, is so good that it will be featured as the main course this Easter Sunday. A savory Italian Easter pie called Pizza Gaina will start the happy celebration.

For centuries Easter has been a feast day and the most popular main course in Italy, where the holiday is known as Pasqua, has traditionally been lamb, most often grilled or roasted with garlic, rosemary and olive oil. While delicious, I wanted to prepare something different this year.

Lamb Lasagna

Lamb Lasagna

A pasta course is also served on Easter but we are eating lighter now. With that in mind, I decided to combine two Italian traditions, pasta and lamb, and just make lamb lasagna. Lighter than lasagna made with lots of mozzarella, ricotta, and a thick Bolognese sauce, the Italian lamb lasagna I’m making will make a delicious Easter lunch.

Lamb Lasagna

Recipe serves 4, adjust accordingly

Lamb Ragù 

  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil plus additional 2 Tbsp.
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 c. red wine
  • 1 c. beef stock
  • 2 28 oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes (I used San Marzano)
  • 1 Tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 Tbsp. dried basil
  • l large bay leaf
  • a couple sprigs of fresh thyme
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • a pinch of sugar, to adjust the acidity of the tomatoes, if necessary

Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the lamb and season with salt. Cook until brown, about 5 min., stirring and breaking the lamb up into small pieces. Remove the lamb to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside. In the meantime, put the celery, carrots and onions into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Drain the lamb fat from the pot and add the additional 2 Tbsp. of olive oil and the butter. Add the vegetables and a pinch of salt and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the red wine and scrape the brown bits off the bottom. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by half then add the stock.

Puree 1 can of the tomatoes and add to the pot. Squash the other can of tomatoes with your hands until broken down then add to the pot. Add all the seasonings and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add the lamb back to the pot and let simmer until the sauce is the consistency you desire. Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Béchamel 

  • 2 1/4 c. milk
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 Tbsp. flour (I used Wondra)
  • 4 Tbsp. grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and ground white pepper to taste

In a saucepan, melt the butter on medium heat. Slowly whisk in the flour, making sure any lumps dissolve. Pour in the milk a little at a time and continue to whisk until it starts to thicken. Add the nutmeg, salt, pepper and cheese. Whisk until the cheese is melted and the béchamel thickens. If it gets too thick, add a little more milk.

Assemble the lasagna:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

  • 1 8 oz. box of oven ready lasagna (I used Ronzoni)
  • ragù, recipe above
  • béchamel sauce, recipe above
  • 4 Tbsp. of grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese

Start with a layer of ragù in the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch lasagna pan then place 3 pieces of pasta on top. Add a layer of ragù topped with a layer of béchamel. Repeat with pasta, ragù and béchamel two more times. Finish with the remaining 3 pieces of pasta. Spread the remaining béchamel sauce completely over the pasta, then sprinkle with the cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake until the top is golden about 10 minutes. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before cutting so the lasagna firms up.

Italian Lamb Lasagna

Italian Lamb Lasagna For Easter

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While the lasagna is baking, I’ll serve a small portion of an Italian Easter Pie, Pizza Gaina, you can find the recipe here. Similar to a quiche, they go by many names, Tarta Pascualina, Pizza Rustica, Pizza Chena, or Pizza Gaina and are made with ricotta cheese and sautéed greens or a variety of cheeses and cured meats. It is one of my husband’s favorite Italian Easter dishes that his mother always prepared. Served to celebrate the end of lent, it can be a meal all by itself.

Italian Easter Pie Called Pizza Gaina

Savory Italian Easter Pie Called Pizza Gaina

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Notes:

  • Lamb fat can have a strong taste, so I like to drain the fat after browning, and replace it with a mixture of olive oil and butter.
  • I like to use no boil lasagna in place of the traditional boxed noodles that you pre-boil, I find that they are thinner, more tender and I think much like homemade. Of course, you also have the option to use fresh sheets of pasta for the recipe.
  • The lasagna can be created ahead of time and not baked. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. When ready to cook, remove the plastic wrap, cover with foil and bake for  35 minutes, remove foil and bake 10 minutes to brown.
  • If frozen, bake the lasagna for about an hour and a half, remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  • You can also bake the lasagna a day ahead. Reheat covered at 400 degrees for 30 to 45 until hot and bubbly.
  • If you want to serve ragù on the side with the lasagna, add an additional can of tomatoes to the ragù recipe.

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I served the lamb lasagna to friends over the weekend and everyone enjoyed it. My husband said he now prefers the lasagna made with béchamel over one that is made with ricotta and mozzarella, saying it is much lighter. When I prepare the lamb lasagna for our Easter lunch, I’ll be serving a salad made with fresh spring peas and asparagus topped with sliced hard boiled eggs. Garlic bread and a good bottle of red wine and we will be happy. Whether you decide to prepare the lamb lasagna for your Easter meal or serve it for a weekend dinner during the year, I do hope you will enjoy it as much as we did.

 

 

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Party Antipasto Salad

This easy Party Antipasto Salad, loaded with a large selection of Italian meats, cheeses, olives and marinated vegetables, will seriously impress guests. Whether served at your own dinner party or taken to a potluck or backyard barbecue, this traditional Italian first course salad, with its variety of flavors, textures and colors, is always a crowd pleaser.

Party Antipasto Salad

Party Antipasto Salad

You will love the salad recipe as it can easily be cut in half if you are serving it to a small group of friends or doubled or even tripled if you are serving it to a large crowd at a party. If you don’t care for one of the Italian cured meats that I have suggested, substitute another cured meat, perhaps hot capicola. Want to add a pasta, by all means do so. One thing I would suggest though, save a bowl of the salad for yourself or your family for the next day, it is delicious. Served along with a loaf of crusty bread, I know that it certainly makes my husband very happy.

Party Antipasto Salad

  • 2 or 3 slices, about 1/2 in. thick of mortadella, cubed
  • 2 or 3 slices, about 1/2 in. thick of sopressata or other hard salami, cubed
  • 2 or 3 slices, about 1/2 in. thick of picante (sharp) provolone, cubed
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 pint carton cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 14 oz. cans baby artichoke hearts, drained well and cut in half
  • 1 12 oz. jar marinated mushrooms, drained
  • 1 c. pitted green olives
  • 1 c. pitted kalamata olives
  • 1 7 oz. jar cocktail onions, drained
  • 1 16 oz. jar deli sliced roasted red bell peppers
  • 1 15 oz. can garbonzo beans (chick peas), drained

Italian Vinaigrette

  • juice of 1 lemon or 1/4 c. red wine vinegar, whichever you prefer, adjusting to your taste, if necessary
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • a handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the Italian Vinaigrette by combining the lemon juice or vinegar, olive oil, garlic, dried oregano, basil, salt and pepper in a jar. Top with a lid, shake and taste to adjust for seasonings, if necessary. An alternative vinaigrette that you might prefer would be my Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette which you can find here.

Put all the remaining antipasto ingredients in a large bowl, mix gently then add the vinaigrette. Mix everything well and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours then serve.

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I made the antipasto salad to take to a party of 50 people. The hosts had prepared roasted pork tenderloins and eggplant parmesan. Other guests brought appetizers, salads, sides and desserts. When making a dish for a large group, please don’t feel that you need to prepare a serving for each guest. There are usually so many different dishes that everyone wants to try and each person will probably just take a small portion of each. When trying to determine how much to make for this group of 50, I felt the quantity in this recipe was appropriate…even keeping a little for my husband and I to enjoy the next day. That is what you see in the photographs. If I was serving this as a plated first course, I would say it would serve 8 to 10, perhaps with leftovers.

Antipasto Salad

A Small Bowl Of Antipasto Salad

I must admit that this can be an expensive dish if you are preparing it for a large crowd. You can certainly cut down on the amount of meat and add pasta such as tortellini or a sturdy green such as romaine. If you add greens to the recipe, make sure that you don’t add the salad dressing or toss until right before serving.

Antipasto Platter

Antipasto Platter

An antipasto platter like the one above, can be found at many Italian family gatherings, they make a presence on our table often. A trip to your local deli counter plus a stop at the produce counter can provide you with a delicious first course that is not only simple to put together but your guests will enjoy as well. The next time you entertain, for either a small gathering at your home or for a large crowd, think about a traditional Italian antipasto salad or platter, you can’t go wrong with either one.

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White Beans With Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

Warm white beans tossed with a homemade lemon parmesan vinaigrette is a simple dish with flavors that bring back memories from my travels in Italy. White Beans / Lemon / Parmesan / Anchovies / Garlic / Olive Oil / Herbs…simple ingredients that season the beans so well that they almost outshine whatever you happen to serve them with.

Chicken And Roasted Tomatoes On A Bed Of White Beans With Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

I have to thank my very best friend for introducing me to these delicious beans. She served them as a first course at a summer dinner party in Nantucket. Over the course of the years, I’ve tweaked the recipe depending on what I’m serving the beans with but most of the time I tend to serve them with chicken. I’ve pan sautéed chicken thighs and served them on a bed of the white beans along with oven roasted tomatoes. I have also served the beans as a warm salad with cherry tomatoes from our local market. On a busy weeknight, the bean and tomato salad and a store bought rotisserie chicken topped with a quickly made fresh green herb sauce makes for quick and flavorful Tuscan inspired dinner.

Warm White Bean And Tomato Salad Alongside Chicken With Green Sauce

When you have time, you can create this dish using dried cannellini beans that you cook with fresh herbs much like a cook in Tuscany would do. I’ve included the recipe if that is what you prefer. If you are short on time as many of us are, you can use canned cannellini, great northern or whatever white beans you might have in your pantry. Either way you decide to prepare the beans, I think you will find them to be a delicious side dish.

White Beans With A Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

Makes about 1 cup of vinaigrette, adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • juice of one small lemon, about 1/4 cup
  • grated zest of 1 lemon, about 1 tsp.
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. anchovy paste or 2 to 3 anchovy filets, finely minced
  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 Tbsp. grated Parmesan or Locatelli Romano cheese

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, zest, salt, pepper, mustard and anchovy until well blended. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking until emulsified then stir in the parmesan cheese. Taste and adjust for seasoning…it should be very flavorful. The vinaigrette can be made ahead and refrigerated up to a week. Bring to room temperature and whisk to recombine before using.

White Beans

Serves  4 – 6 as a side dish, adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • 2  19oz. cans cannellini beans or great northern beans, rinsed or 4 c. cooked white beans of your choice* (recipe below)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 c. chicken stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pint mixed cherry tomatoes, halved (If you are making a warm bean salad)
  • 1/4 c. chopped basil or parsley (If you are making a warm bean salad)

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large sauté pan then add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic, rosemary and thyme then cook for another minute. Add the stock and cook for an additional minute. Add the beans to the pan and simmer until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle the beans into a large bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over the warm beans and gently fold until the beans are well coated. Let sit for a few minutes as the beans gradually absorb the vinaigrette. Toss several more times, being careful not to mash the beans when tossing. If the beans appear too dry, drizzle in a little extra olive oil. If you wish to make a warm bean salad, add the tomatoes and the basil or parsley and carefully mix together. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary, and then serve.

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*Cooked White Beans:  Place 1 cup of dried cannellini beans in large pot and cover with cold water by 3 to 4 inches (about 6 cups) and let soak overnight. Wash and drain beans. Place in a large pot and cover with water again by about an inch or two. Add a half onion and  couple sprigs of rosemary, thyme and parsley tied together and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for an hour, stirring occasionally. Season the beans with salt and pepper to taste and continue to simmer until beans are tender, about 30 minutes to an hour longer. Add more water, if necessary, to keep beans covered with liquid. Cool beans in liquid for about 15 minutes then remove the onion and herbs. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beans to a large bowl and keep warm. If you are not using the beans right away, reserve some of the cooking liquid in case the beans appear dry when continuing the recipe.

White Beans With Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

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The homemade vinaigrette is light yet very flavorful and is what gives the beans such a terrific taste. It is so good that you might want to double or triple the recipe and serve it on salads made with fresh ingredients from your seasonal vegetable garden or from your local farmer’s market. Pour what you are not immediately using for the bean recipe into a jar and refrigerate up to a week. For the best flavor, bring what you need to room temperature and whisk or shake to recombine.

My girlfriend shared her recipe with me (which of course I’ve changed a little over the years) and now I’m sharing it with you. I hope you will enjoy the white beans with the homemade lemon parmesan vinaigrette as much as my husband and I do and perhaps you will end up sharing the recipe with one of your friends.

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Pimento Cheese, A Southern Staple

Pimento Cheese is one of the south’s most cherished staples and is often referred to as the “pâté of the South”. You will see it served at ladies luncheons, picnics, church potlucks, weddings, funerals and even at the Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National.

Pimento Cheese And Crackers, A Southern Snack

If you are not from the southern part of the U.S., you may have never heard of pimento cheese and might wonder why it is so popular. This creamy cheese spread is true southern comfort food made with a blend of sharp cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, roasted sweet pimento peppers and various seasonings. Ask any southerner for their recipe and it will probably be different from the next person you ask. They might make it with just cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and pimento like my mother did or they might add garlic, grated onion, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, jalapeños, pickles or even bacon.

Husk Is One of Charleston’s Most Well Known Restaurants

Husk, a well known restaurant in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, is noted for its farm to table meals. After entering through the front door, there is a huge chalk board that has a list of ingredients used in the days cooking and the farms they came from. When my husband and I visited for lunch one day, one of the signature items on the menu that we had to try was their “House Made Pimento Cheese, Grilled Crostini, Pickle Relish, Crispy Country Ham and Chives. It was different from what I’d had before and we both enjoyed sharing the appetizer to start our lunch. I knew then that one day I would have to try making their version.

Pimento Crostini With Sweet Relish And Bacon On Crostini

Chef Sean Brock, a James Beard Award winner for “Best Chef Southeast”, founding chef and now culinary advisor at Husk shared his very popular pimento cheese recipe in his cookbook called  “Heritage” and it was the inspiration for the pimento cheese recipe I’m sharing here.

Pimento Cheese

  • 7 oz. jar of diced pimento, drained well
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 – 3/4 c. mayonnaise (Duke’s is the brand I used)
  • 1/2 tsp. hot sauce such as Tabasco or to taste
  • 1/8 tsp. ground white pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 8 oz. block extra sharp white cheddar cheese (I used Cabot)
  • 8 oz. block sharp cheddar cheese (I used Cabot)
  • 1/4 c. finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles with some of the brine (I used Mt. Olive Simply Relish, deli style sweet)

Grate the cheese on a box grater or food processor and set aside. Place the cream cheese in a medium bowl and stir until softened. Add the mayonnaise, Tabasco, spices and mix well. Add the grated cheese and relish and mix until well combined. Fold in the diced pimento. Taste and  adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tips and Notes:

  1. I used jarred diced pimento but if your market has fresh pimento peppers, you can roast, peel, seed and dice them like Chef Brock.
  2. In the past, I used Hellman’s mayonnaise but Chef Brock and most southerners prefer Dukes. I bought it and am now a convert as the taste is more like homemade. Start with 1/2 cup of mayonnaise and if the mixture seems too thick add 1 or 2 Tbsp. more.
  3. Don’t use pre-shredded packaged cheese, it is too dry.
  4. I used two 8 oz. blocks of cheddar, one white extra sharp cheddar and one sharp cheddar but you can use 1 lb. of sharp cheddar if you wish.
  5. Chef Brock’s recipe called for 1/4 cup pickled ramps, chopped, plus 1/2 cup of the brine which I doubt anyone will find. He suggested to substitute finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles and brine. I only used a 1/4 cup of sweet relish that included a little of the brine in the measuring cup.
  6. Chef Brock used a 1/2 tsp. of salt and 1/4 tsp. sugar in his recipe but I didn’t add either to my recipe.
  7. If you want a creamier spread, blend with a hand mixer for a minute or two.
  8. For a more flavorful pimento cheese, prepare it several hours in advance of serving.
  9. When I had the appetizer at Husk, the pimento cheese was spread on grilled crostini and topped with sweet relish, crispy country ham and chives. I have served the pimento cheese in a similar fashion, using either toasted crostini or crackers and topped it with a sprinkle of the sweet pickle relish and crumbled bacon.
  10. The brands I mentioned are just personal preferences (not endorsements) and may not be available in your area. Use the best ingredients that you can find.

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I grew up eating pimento cheese sandwiches because my mother was trying to stretch a dollar. Now you can find various versions of pimento cheese on menus in some of the best restaurants in the country. You can have it as a starter at Husk in Charleston, in a sandwich at the Masters Golf Tournament or as an ingredient in the mac and cheese served at Churchill Downs. Whether you decide to have pimento cheese in a sandwich, as a snack with crackers or celery sticks or perhaps as a topping on baked potatoes or burgers, I think you will enjoy this recipe…it is true southern comfort food.

 

 

 

 

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Romesco Sauce, A Low Carb, Keto Recipe

Romesco Sauce is from the Catalonia region of northeastern Spain and is probably as famous there as ketchup is in other regions of the world. Like Italian pesto, this versatile Spanish sauce is raw, not cooked and is low carb, vegan, keto and paleo friendly. Healthier but just as flavorful as my original version, what is missing from this recipe is the bread which is used as a thickener in the traditional Catalonian version. Made from vivid roasted sweet red bell peppers, almonds and olive oil, it is delicious served with fish, chicken, and grilled meats and vegetables.

Romesco Sauce Made With Roasted Red Peppers

While usually made with dried nyora chilies, most people living outside of Spain use roasted red bell peppers. You can roast your own which I’ve done in the past but if short on time, use jarred roasted red peppers that have been packed in oil like I did for this recipe. I served this healthy, vivid roasted red bell pepper sauce on a chicken breast and the simple dish had me reminiscing about our trip to Spain last fall. While in Barcelona, we saw Romesco sauce served alongside several different tapas dishes.

Chicken With Low Carb, Keto Friendly Romesco Sauce

Romesco Sauce, A Low Carb Keto Version

  • 1/2 c. slivered almonds, toasted lightly
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 c. roughly chopped roasted and peeled red peppers or 1 jar (14 oz.) fire roasted bell peppers, drained
  • 2 Tbsp. red wine or sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper (I used an 1/8 tsp.) or to taste
  • 1/4 c. olive oil

Place the almonds in a food processor and pulse until chopped fine. Be careful not to process too much or you will end up with a paste. Add the garlic, peppers, vinegar, salt, pepper and cayenne to the food processor and pulse until a smooth consistency. Slowly drizzle in the oil while the processor is running. You should end up with a slightly thickened, creamy consistency. Taste and season with additional salt, pepper and cayenne, if necessary. If the Romesco sauce is too thick, drizzle in a little more oil while processing. If too thin, add a little more finely chopped almonds. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

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The romesco sauce added vibrant color and wonderful flavors to the simply prepared chicken breast that I served it with. While a slightly thinner sauce than the traditional version made with the addition of bread, I don’t think the bread adds much flavor but definitely adds carbs and calories that I was trying to avoid. If you have been making an effort to cut out carbs from your diet, I think this condiment will be a staple in your kitchen. This healthy romesco sauce has so many uses…serve as you would hummus, as a sauce, a salad dressing or even as a flavor enhancer for soups and stews.

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Savory Goat Cheese Truffles

Savory Goat Cheese Truffles were the answer to a delightful dilemma I had recently. My husband and I were invited to join five other couples on a sunset cruise and each couple was asked if they could bring an appetizer to share. We needed to make finger food that would be easy to serve and eat on our friend’s boat. Bite size savory goat cheese balls mixed with dried fruit and then rolled in nuts or seeds and skewered with a pretzel stick seemed like the perfect appetizer to take on board the boat. The goat cheese truffles are a one or two bite appetizer and served with the pretzel sticks for toothpicks, there is no trash left that might blow into the water.

Savory Goat Cheese Truffles

Savory Goat Cheese Truffles

  • 4 oz. goat cheese, room temperature 
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 – 3/4 c. finely minced dried fruit (I used apricots, cranberries and golden raisins)
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper or to your preferred level of spiciness

Add the two cheeses to a medium size bowl and using a rubber spatula, mix until well combined. Add the dried fruit, lemon juice and cayenne and mix until light and creamy. Refrigerate the cheese mixture until firm. Take about a teaspoon of the cheese and use your hands to form the mixture into a small ball. The recipe makes about 4 dozen balls, depending on size.

Toasted pecan and rosemary coating (this makes enough to coat about 4 dozen balls)

  • 1 cup pecans
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary

Place the pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat and shake to make a single layer. Cook, tossing often, until they have a nutty aroma. This will only take a couple of minutes. Remove from the skillet and when cooled, chop finely. Season with the salt and rosemary.

Za’atar coating: Za’atar is a spice condiment that is made from toasted sesame seeds, dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, sumac and salt. I bought mine at a farmer’s market and then added additional toasted sesame seeds.

Goat Cheese Truffles Can Be Prepare A Day Ahead

After forming all the cheese balls, roll them in the coating mixture and place on a platter. I rolled half in the pecan mixture and the other half in the za’atar toasted sesame mixture. Cover the truffles and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving for the flavors to meld. The savory goat cheese truffles can be made a day ahead and refrigerated. Take them out of the refrigerator 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Savory Goat Cheese Truffles

If you wish, skewer the goat cheese truffles with a pretzel stick. If you use the pretzel sticks, insert them just before serving so that the pretzels don’t become soggy. You can also serve them with decorative toothpicks.

Savory Goat Cheese Truffle With Pretzel Stick

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The savory goat cheese truffles are such an easy appetizer to put together, they take no time at all. What I liked most about this simple appetizer is that it is very versatile. The proportion of goat cheese to cream cheese can be changed to suit your taste. If you have guests that don’t like goat cheese, make them with all cream cheese or perhaps replace it with blue cheese. For a sweeter tasting cheese truffle, add a bit more dried fruit. Instead of using minced dried fruits, you could use sun-dried tomatoes or olives for a totally savory cheese truffle. Instead of using za’atar, you could roll half the balls in chopped pistachios or toasted black and white sesame seeds…the possibilities for these easy appetizers are endless.

I served the goat cheese truffles on a small platter and put the pretzel sticks in a small glass container next to them and let each guest decide how they were going to eat them. Some of our friends used the pretzel sticks to pick up and eat the savory truffles while others used their fingers and simply popped them into their mouths like grapes. They were the perfect one bite appetizer that everyone could easily grab at some point during our sunset cruise. Whether you want an easy appetizer to take to a party or want a little something to serve to guests with a glass of wine, I do hope you try the savory goat cheese truffles.

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Turkey And White Bean Chili

A pot of Turkey And White Bean Chili simmering on the stove is the perfect antidote for a cold or rainy day. Made with shredded turkey, white cannellini beans and spices, this recipe will make you forget about the gloomy weather outside. This chili also has an ingredient you might not expect and that is ground tortilla chips. Not only do they add flavor, they help thicken the chili as well.

Turkey And White Bean Chili

Turkey And White Bean Chili

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 of a large onion, chopped
  • 1 hot red chile (I used Fresno), seeded and diced
  • 1 green jalapeño chile, seeded and diced
  • 1 poblano chile, charred, peeled, seeded and diced * See Tips
  • 3 – 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. ancho chile powder
  • 1/2 tsp. chipotle chile power
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 c. cooked turkey, torn into bit size pieces (I used smoked turkey breast)
  • 1 large can of cannellini beans (19 oz.), drained and rinsed
  • 2 c. chicken stock (more if needed to thin chili)
  • 1/4 c. ground tortilla chips (made from a couple of hand full of chips)

Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent and just starting to color. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the spices, stir well and cook for another minute.

Add the turkey, beans and stock and mix well. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the ground tortillas to help thicken the chili and simmer for about 5 more minutes or until the chili reaches the desired consistency. If the chili is too thick, thin it with a little chicken stock or water. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary. Ladle the chili into bowls and serve. If you like, you can serve condiments such as diced jalapeños, sour cream, shredded cheese, chopped cilantro or tortilla chips as toppings for the chili.

Tips: This is a quick and easy meal to prepare and can be adapted to your taste.

  1. I like to char poblano peppers and peel them before cooking. I find the tough outer skin difficult to digest. I char them on the open flame of my gas stove then put them in a covered bowl to steam for a few minutes. When cool enough to handle, the skin slips right off. While this step is not necessary, I find that charring adds flavor to the pepper.
  2. Chipotle and ancho chile powders are dried, ground peppers and should not to be confused with chili powder, which is a blend of ground chilies and other spices. Ancho chile powder  has a moderately spicy but rich flavor. Chipotles are smoked jalapeño chiles and chipotle chile powder has a smoky, sweet, spicy flavor.
  3. The chili would be equally good substituting rotisserie chicken for the turkey.
  4. If you like tomatoes in your chili, you might add a small can of diced Rotel tomatoes, either mild or hot, depending on how hot the fresh chiles are that you use in the chili.
  5. To remove some of the heat from chile peppers, I like to take out the seeds and the veins.
  6. I suggest you uses gloves when working with chiles if you have sensitive skin and be sure to never touch you face or eyes while working with them. Wash you hands carefully after handling them.
  7. If you notice, I did not add salt to this recipe because of the chicken stock and the tortilla chips which are both salted. I taste right before serving, then add salt if needed.
  8. Lastly, you might notice I’ve used both spellings of chile and chili…it all depends on where you live. For this recipe, chile refers to the plant and its dried, ground peppers  and chili refers to this recipe which is turkey and white bean chili.

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The turkey and white bean chili is a very flavorful recipe although it is not very hot, spice wise. You can adjust the heat of the chili making it as mild or as hot as you like by the kind of chile peppers that you decide to use. The next time you have a gloomy or cold day, think about making a pot of this comforting and healthy turkey and white bean chili. Serve it in colorful bowls and think warm and happy thoughts.

 

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Red Wine Braised Short Ribs

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs Of Beef With Truffle Mashed Potatoes

Fall off the bone tender Short Ribs of Beef that have been slowly braised then piled on top of truffle mashed potatoes and drizzled with a red wine sauce is one of the most comforting meals you can imagine. Go into a nice restaurant this time of the year and you will usually see a dish like this on the menu. Thankfully the short ribs are so easy to prepare that you can make them in your own kitchen. Serve this meal for a Sunday supper or at a dinner party and make everyone at your table happy.

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs Of Beef With Truffle Mashed Potatoes

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs Of Beef

Serves 2, adjust the recipe accordingly.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

  • bone in short ribs, about 2 per person, trimmed of excess fat
  • salt and pepper (use salt sparingly)*
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil plus an additional 1 Tbsp.
  • 1 c. chopped onion
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. flour plus an additional 2 Tbsp. (I use Wondra)
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • several sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 c. red wine
  • 4 c. beef or veal stock (low sodium preferable)
  • 1 c. mushroom broth (made by soaking several pieces of dried porcini mushroom in a cup of boiling water, then strained through a coffee filter) OR 1 c. water
  • 2 Tbsp. butter

*Note: You will be reducing the stock, so be careful with how much salt you use in this recipe, particularly if you’re using beef stock with sodium in it.

Salt the short ribs lightly* and season with pepper on both sides. Heat oil in a ovenproof pot and when hot add the meat fat side down. Working in batches, if necessary, brown the meat on all sides then remove to a plate and drain rendered fat from the pot.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pot. When hot add the onions, celery and carrot and sauté until soft and just beginning to brown. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add 1 Tbsp. flour, stir well, then add the tomato paste and cook, stirring until tomato paste darkens. Add the red wine, scraping up all the brown bits and cook until reduced by half. Add thyme, bay leaves, beef stock and mushroom broth or water and stir well.  Return the short ribs to the pot, bone side up, with any juices. The liquid should almost cover the meat. Bring to a simmer, cover with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven. Braise for approximately 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until very tender. Check once or twice while cooking and if the liquid has cooked down too much, add additional water or broth.

(If you would like to prepare the short ribs a day ahead, you can stop at this point and refrigerate. The next day, remove the solidified fat on top and reheat. Then proceed with the recipe.)

Remove from the oven, set the short ribs aside and cover to keep warm. Strain the broth in a gravy separator. Discard the vegetables and herbs. Make a roux by melting the butter in the same pot over medium heat, add the remaining 2 Tbsp. of flour, whisk until a paste forms. Gradually whisk in the reserved broth, eliminating any accumulated fat in the gravy separator then simmer until it becomes a sauce consistently. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. If not serving the short ribs immediately, you can cover and keep them in a low oven for about 30-45 minutes.

Serve the short ribs on a bed of mashed potatoes, polenta or noodles and top with some of the reduced red wine sauce.

Truffle Mashed Potatoes

  • 1 russet potato per person, I used two, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • half and half or cream, enough needed for the consistency you prefer
  • butter to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • white truffle oil to taste

Cook the potatoes and garlic cloves in a large pot of boiling salted water until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and return to the pot. Stir in the half and half, and the butter then mash until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper then drizzle with a little white truffle oil.

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The tender short ribs that are braised in a red wine sauce are a comforting meal, especially during the cold weather season. Served on a bed of truffle mashed potatoes, you will think you are in heaven after the first bite. While I served the short ribs with truffle mashed potatoes, they are also excellent with creamy polenta or noodles.

Thankfully the short ribs are easy to prepare and can even be done the day before. Actually, if you have the time to wait, the flavor improves after a day in the sauce. This makes a meal which is perfect for entertaining your friends. Easy and delicious…it doesn’t get much better than that. Enjoy!

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