Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tapa Hopping and Adventures Abroad

Ahh, Home Sweet Home.

We have just arrived back to the states after an 8 day trek through Southern Spain and London for our two year anniversary. Where do I even begin with this one?? This was such a much needed trip for both of us. It couldn't have come at a better time - our lives have been running at 500 mph lately between work and school and dogs and owning a home (and we don't even have kids yet...). So as you can imagine, it doesn't take long to feel completely drained and stressed running at that pace constantly.

Our main goal was to relax and eat really great food and drink some really great wines. Check, check, and check.

We start in Sevilla, Spain. Tapas GALORE!!! I was in heaven. This city really knows how to do things. The people are beautiful, the food is outstanding, marinated olives are aplenty, and the siesta is still alive and well! Even the streets are good looking - lined with orange trees and spotted with old cobblestone. We got used to wandering from one plaza to the next, tasting tapa after tapa at the sidewalk cafes.

Typical Street in Sevilla

Jamon and Tomato Bread

This is the typical set-up in the restaurants in Sevilla...lots of jamon

Olives, spicy and garlicky deliciousness

Our absolute favorite meal was at this little restaurant right next to the Alcazar Gardens called Vineria de San Telmo. There are no words to describe this meal, I'm salivating just writing about it. We ordered the tasting menu that consisted of 5 different tapas selections from the main menu. Below was my favorite - Black Spaghetti with Sea Scallops and Garlic Pesto. The flavors were so rich and the sea scallop tasted like it had just been pulled out of the ocean. Enough said. Just look.

We ended the evening with a traditional Flamenco show. So cool.

Sevilla is also home to the world's oldest cathedral. The size of this thing is indescribable. It's a sight to see at night. It just lights up the entire city.

We left Sevilla and headed south to the ocean to a city called Marbella. It was January so the weather was cool, but we soaked up the sun and truly relaxed to the sound of the waves pounding the shoreline day and night.

The view from our room

Vino blanco on the Mediterraneo

Our culinary tour of Spain came to end, so it was time to head north to London. I lived in London for four months during college. I loved it and have missed it since I left 8 years ago. I was so excited to take my husband around and show him where I lived and ate and shopped. First stop: Muswell Hill, north London.

This is the house I lived in while abroad in London. Gosh, a whole flood of memories came back when I was walking down that street - I thought of the times I walked back with my luggage after traveling for the weekend, or all the times we'd head to different pubs around the city and create memories of laughter and meeting new people, or the times I walked that street while talking to my family and friends back home in the states on my cell phone, and even the time I took my parents to this house so they could see where I lived when they came to visit. Such a bittersweet walk for me. And it seemed as though nothing had changed in 8 years.

And what would a visit to Muswell Hill be without a stop at Toff's - voted one of THE BEST places for Fish 'n Chips in all of London for the past decade. We ordered the cod - so light and flaky and full of flavor. The batter is just right and the chips are twice fried. Not the best in terms of nutrition but it's a MUST. Thank goodness for all the walking we did...

The one thing I never got to do when I lived there was take a ride on the London Eye. So, this time I had to. We booked the champagne flight - highly recommend. The views of the city are amazing - and what better way to enjoy than with a great glass of champagne. We went at sunset- stunning.

I'm slowly but surely learning about living La Dolce Vita - it's so hard in our society today to really slow down and enjoy the little things, the good things - a meal, a friend, a garden, a cup of coffee. We're always in such a hurry. But when I was in Spain, I didn't feel that pressure. No one seemed stressed out or anxious. They ate toast and jamon for breakfast and savored an espresso AT the coffee shop or restaurant BEFORE they went to work. There was no "take out", unless you went to Starbucks (yes, they're everywhere). I envied their style, and vowed to myself that I needed to make a much more concerted effort to breed this lifestyle in my home. Is this possible? I don't know. All I know is that I'm thankful I have the opportunities to experience different cultures and learn from them.

It's back to reality - but I'm feeling restored and energized. And I sure have a whole lot of new inspiration for meals and flavor sensations that I hope to share in the coming weeks.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pasta, Pasta, Pasta!

I'm on a pasta hangover....big time.

4 kinds of pasta, 4 different sauces, and lots of chopping and kneading. I took a class at the renowned Kitchen Window here in Minneapolis last night. It was hands-on, literally. We made everything from gnocchi to sweet potato tortellini, to manicotti, to linguine with clams. Oh my! Can you see why I'm a little sluggish today?? Uffda. It was all so fabulous. If only I could eat like that everyday and not gain a would be good. Really good.

Now I have this incredible wealth of knowledge and some fabulous recipes to try out the next time I want to impress anyone that comes over for dinner. Here's what we made:





We made the pasta dough with semolina flour - I've never used it before. It does take much more kneading than if you were to use AP flour, but it gets so silky and rolls out pretty well, too. I like it both ways - really haven't formed a strong preference for one way yet.

Classes are such a great way to learn new things - and they're fun!! Perfect for a birthday, a date with your loved one, an anniversary, girls night out. You name it, classes are perfect. I usually try to take a couple cooking classes a year to expand my horizons and learn some new recipes. They always seem to inspire me and get the creative juices going. I love that!

Prep ingredients, and wine, of course

We started with Gnocchi. So flavorful and light, surprisingly. The pan tomato sauce this paired with was a star as well.

Then we tried our hand at making Tortellini stuffed with Roasted Sweet Potato. This was by far my favorite. The key to making tortellini is to make sure you get all the air out of the little pocket so when you boil them they don't explode in the water. We were pretty successful. The pistachio cream sauce was divine as well. I could drink that stuff. But my derriere probably wouldn't appreciate that.

We move on to the Manicotti. Instead of boiling the noodles first and then filling them, we took the fresh pasta, cut into rectangles, piped in the ricotta filling, and rolled like a cigar. Then, we basically steamed them in the sherry sauce. - much, much easier than the traditional way. I would definitely try this one again.

We're not done yet...honestly. There's more. I was stuffed at this point but was anxiously holding out for the last dish - the Linguini with Clams. A classic dish, this one hit the spot. It had some heat and great flavor from the slow roasted San Marzano tomatoes. We used littleneck clams.

Chef Royal did a great job putting this menu together, and helping us through all these pasta-making techniques like a true professional. I can now shape a tortellini like a champ!

Now if you'll excuse me, the treadmill is calling my name.

** I am in no way affiliated with the Kitchen Window. I'm simply a patron that loves the products and classes they offer.**

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Soup for the Soul

The mercury continues to drop....wah, wah, wah...

So, when mother nature gives you cold weather, you make soup. Spicy soup. And pretend you're sitting on a white sand beach while eating it in the hot sunshine. Oh wait. I mean white SNOW. Sooorrryyyy.

Remember that chicken stock I made last week?? Well, that left me with the meat from 2 whole chickens. I decided to shred up a whole bunch and throw together a soup with it. This one is really easy guys! There's not much that can beat a hot bowl of soup on a cold winter day.

It's definitely good for the soul.

Spicy Bean Soup with Shredded Chicken
Recipe and Photos by A Toast to Taste

Ingredients Needed:
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15oz can diced tomatoes
1 15oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen whole kernel corn
2-3 cups shredded chicken
8 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup chili powder
2 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp garlic powder
couple shakes of Tabasco (optional)
salt to taste

Heat olive oil in small dutch oven over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook for 3-4 minutes or until soft. Add garlic, stirring constantly, and cook for 1 minute.

Then add the tomatoes, black beans, and kidney beans. Stir and cook for a minute.

Next, add the corn (frozen is just fine), shredded chicken, and stock. Stir everything together. Season with chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and Tabasco sauce. Simmer on low heat for one hour, stirring occassionally.

Garnish with sour cream, tortilla chips, shredded cheese, cilantro, or a squeeze of lime juice.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mom Says Eat Your Veggies

I have found a new love. Sorry, honey. I just cannot get enough of the green, leafy goodness of Kale. I know what you're thinking - Kale? Really Aanya?? Yes, really. It's sooo good. And not only that, but it's one of the healthiest green vegetables for you. High in antioxidants, chock full of Vitamins K, C, and calcium, Kale is known to have anti-cancer properties. Why aren't we all eating this everyday??

When I was a kid, I wasn't hot on vegetables, like most other kids. I remember my mom telling me I HAD to eat my asparagus (or whatever the veggie of choice was that night) before I could leave the table. Ugh. I got pretty good at coming up with excuses as to why I couldn't eat them. Never worked. Ever. Today, I love the stuff. It's that whole tastebud development deal - thank goodness for it because vegetables are delectable. And healthy.

I like to saute my kale in olive oil with garlic and crushed red pepper. But there are many different ways to prepare it - boil, roast, steam, stir fry, etc. Stick it in a pan of lasagna, or a pot of soup. Get creative - top a homemade pizza with it, make a salad with it.

It's so important that we all start consciously thinking about what we're putting in our bodies these days. If you put bad in, you'll get bad out. It's no surprise that we live increasingly stressful, fast lives. I've tried to make changes in my own household over the past couple years - more whole foods, no more processed junk, less red meat, more fish, lots of whole grains, and MORE VEGGIES!! Last summer we signed up for our first CSA share. Best thing ever. There is a double benefit to a CSA, too - the food is locally grown, and there are no pesticides used during the growth process. I will spare you my soapbox on pesticides and toxins for now, but let's all start to change our train of thought. Visit your local farmer's market more often. Get in your kitchen, learn your way around, and make some real food. It's worth it, I promise.

Memories are made in the kitchen, so try it. And start out with some kale on the menu. Your mother will be proud.

Sauteed Kale with Garlic
Recipe and Photos by A Toast to Taste

Ingredients Needed:
1 lb Kale, ribs and stems removed, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 tsp crushed red pepper
salt and pepper to taste

Place olive oil in large saucepan along with thinly sliced garlic. Let the garlic hang out for about 10-15 minutes without any heat. This will let the garlic flavor soak into the oil for additional flavor. Remove garlic and set aside.

Turn heat to medium high and add chopped kale. Season with crushed red pepper, salt and pepper. Saute for about 5 minutes. You don't want the kale to completely wilt down. You want it to maintain some of its shape. During the last minute, add the garlic back to the pan, stirring to incorporate.

Remove from heat and serve.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Winter Bliss

Is there really such a thing as winter bliss?? Maybe to those that enjoy the cold and snow, but not for a girl like me that yearns for warm sunshine and green grass 24/7/365. Needless to say, these six month Minnesota winters are a little brutal for me. I'd honestly rather be here:

Thank goodness for this recipe - Ina Garten's Homemade Chicken Stock. This, my friends, is winter bliss. I can't begin to tell you how wonderful your home will smell. Not only that, but you will have enough stock to last you at least a couple months, so bring on the soups and cassoulets. My mouth is watering just thinking about the possibilities.

If you didn't already know, homemade stock is sooo much better than store bought. The flavor it adds to dishes is unparalled in comparison to the stuff in the box. Sure, store bought does the job, but you have no idea what you're missing until you try it homemade. Heaven on Earth.

As with everything else in cooking, this is only as good as what you put in it. I usually try to use all organic ingredients when making this, especially the chicken. In the summer and fall, I use the veggies from our CSA. Throw it all in the pot and let it simmer away for hours on the stove top.

I seriously hope you try this. It warms the heart and soul on a cold winter day when you can't be basking in the sun on the beach.

Chicken Stock
Original Recipe by Ina Garten
Adapted by A Toast to Taste
Photos by A Toast to Taste

**I have adjusted this recipe down to the amount of ingredients that would fit in my 11qt stock pot. Adjust as needed for your own stock pot. I also omitted the parsnips.

Ingredients Needed:
2 5lb organic roasting chickens
2 large yellow onions, unpeeled and quartered
4 stalks celery, with leaves, cut into thirds
6 carrots, unpeeled and halved
3 parsnips, unpeeled and cut in half (optional)
20 sprigs fresh parsley
15 sprigs fresh thyme
15 sprigs fresh dill
1 head garlic, unpeeled and cut in half crosswise
2 Tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp whole black peppercorns

Place chicken, onions, celery, carrots, parsnips, parsley, thyme, dill, garlic, salt, and pepper in a stock pot.

Add enough water so there is about a half inch left at the top of the pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 3 hours.

Remove the chickens from the pot and place in separate bowl. Then, strain the remaining contents through a colander into a very large bowl (one that can withstand high heat temp) and discard the solids. The chicken can be saved for future use - shred it for tacos, cube it for soups and salads, etc.

Then, with a small wire strainer, scoop any remaining follicles of herb or chicken that may still exist in the stock.

Using a ladle, pour stock into storage container/s of your choice. Chill stock overnight and remove surface fat the next day. Use immediately or freeze for up to 3 months.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Easy Like.....Saturday Morning

I awoke this morning to the sun glistening off the white snow. A crisp, peaceful morning in winter.....filled with the whines of a puppy who needs to get outside. NOW. As I opened the door to freedom, I felt the cold air slap me across the face. I quickly shoved her out, closed the door as fast as I could, and thought to myself that cereal is not going to cut it for breakfast this morning. All I wanted to do was curl up on the couch with a blanket and turn the fire on. Brrrrr.

I surveyed the pantry, the refrigerator, and my fruit bowl to see what I could conjure up. I had a few bananas that were well on their way to rotten. So, I perused my Joy of Cooking cookbook and found this recipe for Banana Nut Muffins. I thought they would be good with a crumble topping.

As they cooked, these muffins filled the house with nothing but goodness....cinnamon, sugar, gosh, I couldn't wait until that timer went off.

And again, people, there are ways to change this recipe up - add some coconut, or blueberries, or pecans instead of walnuts (toast them for added flavor). I decided to make these in my giant size muffin tin instead of the regular size muffin tin. That was fun. Use whole wheat flour instead of AP if you want to be a little more healthy. Want to add some sweetness? Chocolate chips are the answer. I will always encourage you to use your imagination with these recipes - use what you've got in your pantry. That is what I LOVE about cooking.

The next weekend morning you don't feel like eating the usual bowl of cereal - make these. You'll thank yourself. And so will your family.

Banana Nut Muffins with Crumble Topping
Recipe Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Photos by A Toast to Taste

Ingredients Needed:

For the muffins
1.5 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3-4 almost rotten bananas, mashed
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup melted butter
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup walnuts

For the crumb topping
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease your muffin tin or line with muffin liners.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a separate mixing bowl, mash the bananas. Then beat in the sugar, egg, melted butter, and vanilla.

Fold the wet ingredients and nuts into the dry ingredients until just mixed. Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups.

In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and melted butter, until crumbly. Top each muffin cup with the mixture.

Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool for 2-3 minutes before serving.