Rob and I are unfamiliar with Spanish wines in general. Oh sure we can pick out a decent Rioja but beyond that we are a little lost. We decided to cozy up an Ottawa winter evening by inviting a group of friends that enjoy red wine, food and travel. We sent out an invite to bring a tapas dish or a bottle of a favorite Spanish wine one might like to share. Our group of eight guests was more than up to the task and we had a fun evening trying new wines, comparing wines and enjoying the fruits of our friend’s kitchens. This is a great excuse to get together, weather be damned and learn about wine. Little or no coordination was done and so it was a true potluck with the tapas. Here’s a rundown for most of the food. As recipes show up, we’ll add them to the list.
Mediterranean Spiced Olives
Shrimp and Chorizo with Smoked Tomato Dip
Spanish Roasted Potatoes in Tomato Sauce (Patatas Bravas) – Simply Recipes
Tooma Cheese with Guava Paste
Mussels in Spicy Coconut Milk
Homemade Gooseberry Compote
Olives with Roasted Peppers
Whipped Potato, Fish and Olive Spread with Garlic Crostini
Tart with Gorgonzola, Fig, Watercress and Serrano Ham
Abby and Nico’s Quinoa Salad (Abigail Lixfeld and Nico Pham-Dinh )
– toast the quinoa lightly, then cook in duck stock until done
– chop snow pea leaves and then blanche in hot water for one minute, then shock in cold water
– coarsely chop and then saute vegetables in duck fat (e.g. carrots, leeks, bell peppers)
– mix quinoa, snow pea leaves and vegetables, dress and season to taste
Abby and Nico’s Grilled Mushrooms (Abigail Lixfeld and Nico Pham-Dinh )
– thinly slice king oyster mushrooms
– toss in a dressing of grapeseed oil, soy, agave, dijon mustard, tarragon, salt and pepper
– bbq, pan fry or grill until cooked through but still firm
Served with Nico’s Mom’s Ground Cherry Compote
Rob’s Shrimp and Chorizo
– Peel, clean and de-vein gulf-caught fresh shrimp
– Toss cleaned shrimp in spice mix (paprika, chili powder, garlic, salt, pepper)
– Slice Spanish-style dry chorizo into 1cm-thick coins
– Saute chorizo to render some of the fat. Remove from head when tender.
– Saute shrimp in same pan with chorizo-oil (augment with olive oil as needed) until just cooked.
– Take toothpicks and secure chorizo coins inside the curve of the shrimp
– Serve with your favourite dip, in this case, a smoky tomato jam. Sauces made with melted citrus marmalades are excellent as well.
Rob and Maureen’s Tart with Gorgonzola, Fig, Watercress and Serrano Ham
preheat oven to 400 degrees F
Brush flatbread with olive oil
Distribute sliced fresh figs, gorgonzola and watercress sprigs on flatbread
Bake in oven until crispy and golden, and topics are cooked and melted.
Top with slices of Serrano ham while hot (it will “melt” into the hot flatbread)
Cut into easy-to-eat squares.
Spicy Mussels (Courtesy of Jan and Patti adapted from 222 Lyon Street Tapas Bar)
Serves 2 (main course)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2-3 cloves chopped fresh garlic
¼ cup chopped Spanish onion
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
2-2½ cups chicken stock (use less/more depending on how much liquid you want)
¾ cup dry white wine (less if you want it less “winey”)
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Sprinkling of crushed red chillies (to taste)
2 lbs (one mesh bag) fresh live mussels, washed and scrubbed if necessary
1-1½ cups heavy (35%) cream (use less/more depending on how much liquid you want)
In a large pot, heat the oil until hot. Add the chopped garlic, chopped onion and parsley. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the chicken stock, wine, crushed red chillies and Dijon mustard. When heated, add the mussels. Cover the pot and cook until the mussels have opened, 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cream and stir well. Discard any mussels that have not opened. Serve immediately in a large bowl.
It’s over ninety degrees today in New Orleans. That’s about 40 in Canadian. It’s 3:30 in the afternoon and I am sitting rooftop and poolside at the Monteleone. Bliss. Perfect end to a perfect day that found us breakfasting and strolling in the French Quarter and and exploring the Treme district with a lunch stop at Willie Mae’s Scotch House.
Breakfast was at Cafe Beignet, a few blocks down Royal Street from our hotel. The Cafe is a quaint little place that is so very French Quarter, from the iron scroll tables and chairs, to the stripped awning, to the gold lettering on the door.
Inside there is a virtual trompe l’oeil garden painted on the plaster walls and curved ceiling. The floor is large shards of marble and cement cobbled together like a flagstone patio. The tables inside are awkward tiny affairs with a railing around the edges making it difficult to find space for everything. We opt to eat on the patio where the tables are larger and shaded by palms. Rob lines up and orders for me as well. He knows I want some famous New Orleans coffee and chicory. He brings me back grits and a crawfish omelette, creole hash browns and eggs for himself. We get an order of beignets to finish.
Breakfast was somewhat disappointing. The coffee is served in paper cups not ceramic and I definitely think this diminishes the experience of coffee. It is not how I remember coffee here. It is not Cafe Du Monde‘s coffee. The omelette was the star of this breakfast. It was perfectly cooked and the crawfish were delicate and nicely spiced. There could have been more though. The chunks of fresh green pepper and tomato were also satisfying. Swiss cheese added another layer of flavour. The accompanying white corn grits were bland and unseasoned. I didn’t eat them and if it was my first experience with this culinary delicacy, I would never eat them again. These grits are the reason northerners don’t eat grits. Rob’s Cajun hash browns and andouille sausage was good overall, with the sausage providing the abundance of flavour. The potatoes were run-of-the-mill cubed potatoes but were elevated by the peppers, onions and sausage.
The beignets were good but dense and did not possess the delicate airyness of the beignets at Cafe Du Monde. They also do not have a half pound of icing sugar dumped on them and this is quite fine with us.
The cafe boasts a number of friendly sparrows hoping to share your doughnut, but watch out overhead. We both got crapped on. We were also surprised by a visit from a sweet little tabby cat and judging by the size of the bowl of kibble nearby, she is not alone in frequenting the cafe.
After breakfast, we went hat shopping and explored the Treme district (which should be well-known to watchers of HBO’s excellent series of the same name) and the 9th ward. There was still a lot of flood damage and places in terrible shape, although I am sure we didn’t see the worst of it. There was also a large number of new housing areas under development, although we’re sure that they are not affordable to those who had lost their homes to Katrina’s destruction. Five years on, this seems to be more of a man-made humanitarian disaster than anything caused by Katrina’s wake.
One of the good-news stories of the region was about Willie Mae’s Scotch House, named after Willie Mae, a 90-plus year old woman whose restaurant was destroyed by Katrina and with her daughter’s and the community’s help re-opened her doors 4 years later. It is seen as one of the emblematic symbols of hope for many in the neighbourhood and has since been awarded a James Beard Award for southern cuisine and has been featured on Food Network’s Feasting on Asphalt.
Willie Mae’s is on an upswing and very busy this fine Saturday. It’s a sticky kind of joint. Tables are a little tacky to the touch and the floor, well… Anyways, we are here to eat some soul food and floors are not my concern for another two weeks. The staff is friendly and the crowd is mixed but mostly black. Posters adorn the walls featuring black cultural icons like Miles Davis appearing at the Apollo and Charlie Parker performing at Massey Hall, as well as movie posters advertising Spike Lee’s documentaries about post-Katrina life in this district.
Willie Mae’s is noted for its fried chicken and touted as the best in America by the Food Network. A blessing or a curse? The chicken comes in three pieces, a large breast, wing and leg. It is hot and moist, with a lightly crispy, delicate crust, well seasoned and with a mild bit of heat. It is truly excellent fried chicken. The best in America? Even with my limited experience in several Southern states I could not make this pronouncement. I’ve had some damn fine fried chicken in Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Memphis. I expect to have more on this trip as well.
Rob ordered potato salad on the side and I ordered the butter beans. We both ordered a cornbread muffin. Potato salad was yellow and creamy with a slight kick of heat. The butter beans and rice were mildly smokey and excellent. I would go back for those alone. We ended up splitting one muffin. They were sweet and moist but not exceptional.
We opted to skip dessert and head over to Hansen’s Sno-bliz. We discovered Hansen’s on our last trip to the city. Hansen’s is a barely nailed together affair on Tchoupatoulis Street. The flimsy screen door is propped open by a brick and the interior is not air conditioned. It is a family affair and always has been. You choose whatever combination of flavours, made in house, that your little heart desires and they grind the ice and flavour them in front of you as you wait.
Rob ordered a peach cream and blueberry and I opted for a more exotic orange, anise and condensed milk concoction. I won. I was going for creamsicle and tiger tail and I got it. Rob’s was just cold and sweet. This trip unfortunately was not as memorable as the last. Sometimes you should just live with the memory.
Today, we think the guy shaving the ice was pushing it through too fast because the line was long. This produced a less than feathery soft result with little chunks of ice in the mix. Not bad by any means but not the velvety smooth, melt-on-your-tongue goodness we have experienced here before. I’d still go back for a lime coconut ginger though.
Dinner tonight is a casual affair. We feel like some seafood so we head to a local favorite, Deanie’s Seafood.
We are seated after a short wait. As we are leaving we hear the wait is an hour and twenty minutes. After being seated, our waitress plunks the oddest “freebie” ever down in front of us. Boiled red skinned potatoes. Hmm. We cut one open each revealing perfectly cooked taters with really creamy, soft interiors. But still they are just boiled potatoes. After taking a bite we realize that they have been boiled in a seafood spice blend. Our waitress tells us they use Zatarain’s Crab Boil. It is different from the peppery east coast seafood boil blends and has a red spicy heat element. At any rate they are completely addictive.
We order beers and choose from the menu. Fried crawfish tails for starters and bbq shrimp pasta for Rob, flounder stuffed with crab dressing for me. My entree comes with a baked potato which I decline due to the fact that I have just eaten two and a half potatoes! It also comes with a salad. This is the anti-gourmet salad, simple, refreshing, crunchy and nicely dressed. It consists of the much maligned iceberg lettuce, grape tomatoes, cucumber rounds, some shredded cheddar and a really nice, sweet fig and balsamic dressing. The crawfish tails are perfectly fried in a corn batter with no greasy residue. They come with a classic horseradish ketchup based dipping sauce. Crawfish are crunchy with a snappier texture than shrimp but really are unidentifiable flavour-wise from deep fried shrimp.
Service is a tad slow for my liking but our server is pleasant and helpful. Our mains arrive and are placed steaming in front of us. Rob’s pasta was penne switched out for fettuccine, which was a nice choice for this dish. The star of the dish was the sauce. Deanie’s called it BBQ sauce, which it most certainly wasn’t == at least not any variety we were familiar with. It was a buttery, spicy sauce with a hint of tomato and would have gone well with any fish or seafood, It was not too thick, but coated the pasta and shrimp well. My dish consisted of two nicely broiled flounder fillets stuffed with a well seasoned crab dressing that had a hint of heat. A generous squeeze of fresh lemon brightens the flavours in this dish. All in all, Deanie’s has a medium sized menu of simple but well prepared dishes.
Tomorrow evening I will put on some heels and risk life and limb, ankles certainly, on the “sidewalks” of New Orleans and we will head to The Rib Room for a more upscale evening.
A while back Rob and I were discussing ideas for our blog and decided that a series about dinner parties might be fun. We were not sure what this would look like, but it would be very social and interactive.
I haven’t made Paella in years, and then only three or four times. I don’t have a special recipe but I do have a paella pan that I must have thought was an essential purchase at some point. It’s quite large and takes up a lot of storage space in the pots and pans cupboard. I spied it while rummaging around in the cupboard the other day, and, combined with the awesome sunshine filled days of this Ottawa summer, decided to make Paella.
Paella is not a dish for two and needs to be shared with friends. What a great way to get our new “Dinner Party” series off and running! In another impetuous moment we threw an invitation up on Facebook, casting a wide net out to family and friends. “We are blogging Paella. We need four guinea pigs to come to dinner. Who is in?” Within ten minutes we had our guest list complete. We usually try to choose dinner guests who either know each other or that we think will be a good match and enjoy each others company, but this time we threw caution to the wind and hoped it would not be an awkward evening. The experiment was a successful one, at least for this event and we will definitely do it again. From now on, we’ll send out random invites via our Facebook fan page. If you aren’t already a fan, go there NOW and click “LIKE”. We promise some good food, good company maybe even a surprise or two.
As usual, my wonderful guests always wish to contribute in some way. So when asked, “What can I bring?”, I decided to keep within the Spanish theme and requested tapas from the guests who enjoy cooking. We would be spending a couple of hours on the deck in the sun enjoying sangria and Spanish beer, while Rob and I tended to the paella. My guests were really up to the challenge and arrived bearing Serrano wrapped fresh figs, mini pork ribs, and grilled haloumi cheese. All I had to do was add a plate of mixed olives and voila! One guest even brought a small potted red rose for the outdoor table for all to enjoy. Their contributions made for a really enjoyable early evening as we waited on dinner. It was a very sociable “get-to-know-you” time.
We plan on hosting and blogging more of these dinner parties. If you would like to be included in the invitation (it will be on a first come basis), “like” us on Happy Mouth on Facebook. Future invites and details will be posted there.
(adapted from Ethnic Spicy Food And More)
6 tbsps. olive oil
1 pound large shrimp (I used wild) shelled and deveined, leave tails on
1 pound mussels
2 dozen littleneck clams
1 pound Spanish (dry) Chorizo
1 chicken thigh per person
1/2 pound calamari tubes, sliced into rings (I used frozen as I could not get fresh and they were fine)
4 cups shrimp stock*
2 cups pinot grigio (or any cheap white wine)
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 398 ml can of cherry tomatoes, drained and crushed with fingers
1 medium sweet onion, diced
1/2 tsp. saffron threads, crushed
3 cups Valenciano or paella rice
1/4 cup fresh parsley, rough chop
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, rough chop
3/4 cup frozen peas
1 bay leaf
1 cup roasted red peppers, cut into strips
1 tsp. salt, divided
juice of 1 lemon
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tbsps. of olive oil and cook the onions and garlic until translucent. Add the tomatoes, parsley and remaining 1/2 tsp of salt to the pot. Cook the mixture, covered, stirring occasionally for about 8 minutes. Add the shrimp stock, white wine, saffron, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then let simmer on low.
3. Place chicken, shrimp and squid in a large bowl. Squeeze the lemon juice over the the meat and sprinkle a 1/2 tsp. of salt. Toss and set aside.
4. Heat the paella pan over a medium heat. Add 3 tbsp. of olive oil and saute the chicken and sausage, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from pan, empty any liquid and saute shrimp and squid for about 1 minute. Remove from pan.
5. Heat the remaining 2 tbsp. of oil in the paella pan over medium heat. Add the rice, stir to coat and continue to stir until rice becomes translucent. Increase heat to high and add simmered stock to rice. Bring to a boil.
6. Reduce heat to medium and cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Bury the chicken, sausage, shrimp and squid in the rice mixture. Lastly, bury the clams and mussels into the rice.
7. Sprinkle the peas and cilantro over the top of the rice and arrange the red pepper strips on top of the dish.
8. Bake uncovered in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Turn oven off, tent paella with aluminum foil, and let sit in oven for 10 minutes.
* Shrimp Stock: When ever I cook shrimp, generally I buy them in their shells. When I de-shell them I toss the shells in a baggie and throw it in the freezer.
For this stock I use the shells from about two pounds of shrimp. In a medium pot, melt a good sized knob of butter. Cut a large onion in chunks, skin and all and throw it in the pot. Roughly chop up two carrots and a two celery sticks. Throw them in. Add a bayleaf and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. I also threw in a handful of parsley stalks because I had them on hand (you can use up any old veggies in you fridge for stalk except for starchy ones like potatoes). Add the shrimp shells and cook, stirring until shells turn pink, about 5 minutes. Add two tbsp. of tomato paste and stir to coat veggies and shells. Add 5 cups of water and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain. You now have shrimp stock. Stock freezes well. You could substitute Fish stock or clam juice for this recipe, but it won’t be as rich or flavourful. Shrimp stock is also awesome in seafood risotto and shrimp bisques.
A little over 20 years ago (gasp!), I was on a business trip to Los Angeles and was staying in a hotel in the middle of Canoga Park, a cross between an office park and strip mall hell. Coincidentally, my brother Jim was also in the same area at the same time for a business trip as well. We decided to meet up at a local chain restaurant (I won’t mention their name but it rhymes with “Cheesecake Factory“) for dinner.
If you go back 20 years and examine the dining options in Ottawa at the time, the Cheesecake Factory would easily compete with the best Ottawa had to offer – bad original theme restaurants (GuadalaHarry’s, I.P. Looney’s), snooty French restaurants without the quality to back it up and already-tired steak and roast beef houses.
I ordered a pasta dish that came with sauteed shrimp, southwestern spices and a hint of BBQ sauce and vowed to try and improve upon the dish when I got home. I’ve been making this dish since then and probably haven’t made it the same way twice (like chili, I go by whim and what’s on hand) but follow a basic framework that provides a consistently good result.
Spicy Southwest Shrimp Pasta
1 pound wild-caught gulf shrimp
Red pepper seeded and diced
1/2 large sweet onion, diced
1 cob of fresh sweet corn, cut off the cob or about a cup of frozen corn – NEVER canned!
1/2 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce
1 tbsp. Southwest spice mix*
1 tbsp. Olive oil
1 pound of long, thin pasta noodles
1. Peel and clean shrimp and toss with spice mix and set aside
2. Fill pasta pot with salted water and set to boil
3. Add oil to hot, deep-sided sauté pan and add onions and red peppers. Sauté until tender and slightly browned on the edges.
4. Add corn to pan. Add shrimp and after the shrimp is cooked, mix in BBQ sauce and let simmer for 10 minutes
5. Place pasta and water and boil until cooked. Drain pasta and add to sauté pan with sauce and toss well.
* Southwest Spice Mix
If you can’t buy some pre-made, use below as a guide. It keeps for a very long time in a cool, dry place
2 tsp. dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. paprika
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tsp. Chili powder
1/2 tsp. Cumin
1/2 tsp. Oregano
Click HERE for a printable version of this recipe.