Spanish Tapas Night!

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.

The Menu:

Mediterranean Spiced Olives
Shrimp and Chorizo with Smoked Tomato Dip
Manchego Cheese
Spanish Roasted Potatoes in Tomato Sauce (Patatas Bravas) – Simply Recipes
Tooma Cheese with Guava Paste
Mussels in Spicy Coconut Milk
Grilled Mushrooms
Homemade Gooseberry Compote
Quinoa Salad
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

– grapeseed oil, reduced sodium tamari, garlic, cracked pepper, agave

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.



Dinner Party #1: Paella

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.


Our paella pan – empty and lonely.

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)

Serves 6-8

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.







Miami & Surrounds Pt. 2

One of our main thoughts upon choosing Miami as a winter get away this year, was having a feed of stone crab. Joe’s Stone Crab, with its tuxedoed waiters, fine white linens, silver tableware, and valet parking, is another iconic South Beach establishment located near the end of Ocean Blvd. The cavernous dining room has several outdoor seating areas as well. Bobby Flay chose the stone crab at Joe’s as “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”, on the show entitled “Obsessions”.

Rob and I tried one evening to dine here but found a two hour wait for a table. Unbeknownst to us it was a holiday in the US and everyone was out on the town. Despite having paid for valet already, we opted out this particular evening and spent the next two hours trying to find a place that was serving stone crab. No luck. They had either closed their doors or were too far away.  Sigh. “Another day.”, we hoped.

As I said earlier, it is difficult to relax ocean-side in South Beach. We decided to spend a day driving down the Keys as far as Marathon and then returning. On a previous “boys” trip, Rob had gone deep sea fishing and wanted to share with me a place he had visited where they cooked your catch for you. I was looking forward to getting some stone crab.

So on yet another beautiful, warm February day in Miami, we set out down the Florida Keys, buoyed by the sight of turquoise ocean on either side of the highway. This is a really pleasant drive. Each Key is cluttered with casual places to eat fresh food, marinas, and quaint mom and pop resorts. The Key’s own radio station plays easy-going rock classics and reports on daily events. With tunes cranked and windows down, we set out to enjoy the salt air, sun, and blue, blue waters. The island lifestyle is very seductive here.

He looked lonely.

Inside the Fish HouseAbout lunchtime we came upon the Fish House and Seafood Market in Key Largo. It is a typical seafood place with a ramshackle, weathered appearance strung with netting and starfish. You enter into a large, fresh seafood sale area and are led back to the dark eating area, again cluttered with classic seaside debris and heavy wood furniture. Classic and immediately comfortable. No pretension here.


We order conch fritters to start and discuss the stone crab situation with our server: the boats are not in yet and she has only jumbo claws served hot or cold. We decide to start with a pound of hot with drawn butter. At $40 per pound (three to four claws) we figure we will order a second if we are still hungry. Gone are the days of all-you-can-eat stone crab. We ended up ordering a second pound, cold, served with an excellent mustard remoulade. Stone crabs for those of you who have not experienced them, are meaty, sweet and succulent. Only the claws are served. Stone crabs regenerate lost limbs, so they are caught, harvested of one claw and returned to the ocean. I’ve yet to ever see them in Ottawa.

Stone crab served cold - with a creamy mustard dip

After a fabulous albeit pricey feed of stone crab, we headed further down the keys to Marathon where we stopped to enjoy a Landshark and enjoy the Marina view at Porky’s BBQ before making the return trip to South Beach.

Espanola Way is an historical district that comprises three blocks in South Beach.  It was a two block walk from our hotel and we thought it would be a lovely way to spend an evening and have dinner. The Way turns into a pedestrian only walking mall at night. It is lit with old fashion lamps and the trees around some establishments have strung festive lighting giving the area a happy glow. The street is lined with Spanish style buildings housing small restaurants, patios and one-of-a-kind shops.


Espanola Way

After walking the length of the Way, we decided on Tapas y Tintos for dinner. Their inviting patio, dark-haired waitresses complete with flowers in their hair and excellent tapas menu sealed the deal on a warm Miami evening.

Tapas y Tinto: Our table - dead centre.

Sangria was ordered and it arrived in a cold, crockery jug with inviting condensation dripping little puddles. Red wine, fruit juices and fruit. Excellent and refreshing. We put in our order for five dishes and sat back and enjoyed the gentle breeze on a warm night. The evening was approaching, the palms were silhouetted in the sky, and the festive strings of lights began to twinkle.

Peppers, a bravely-done potato, sangria and some asparagus.

The first dish, Sepia a la Plancha, calamari grilled with garlic and paprika, arrived first, followed quickly by Asparagus dish, Patas Bravas, bravely done potatoes in spicy tomato sauce, Garbanzos con Chorizos, and Pimientos, green and red bell peppers roasted and marinated in extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. Plain, home grown cooking done well. The calamari was expertly grilled. The potatoes were perfectly tender and soaking up the spicy fresh tomato sauce. The garbanzo beans were garlicky and a nice starchy accompaniment to the spicy chorizo sausage, and the grilled peppers subtly marinated, added to the sweetness of the red and the sharpness of the green which played nicely on the tongue.

Garbanzos with chorizo

Dessert was a shared plate of Queso de Tetilla con Membrillo, slightly salty, medium soft cheese, mild in flavour, and sandwiching a slice of firm guava paste. The perfect end to a wonderful meal.

Soft, fresh cheese with fruit paste. Creamy and sweet/tart.

Still determined to have a last feed of stone crab at Joe’s before heading back to Ottawa, we figured lunch time would be a less busy option. We guessed right and were seated immediately. The elegant dining room at Joe’s was quite the contrast to the dark, sea-salt atmosphere of the Fish House in Key Largo.

Our chatty waiter brought a basket of excellent breads and took our orders. Stone crab, cold, the only way it is served at Joe’s. We order their signature string sweet potato fries on the side. They come sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Tasty, but the extra sugar is really not needed. Sweet potato fries, lightly tossed in cornstarch and expertly fried are perfection in themselves. Best sweet potato fries ever? Fathers Office. We finish our meal with good coffee and a decadent, not too sweet slice of key lime pie to share, which I think is the first time I have ever had this classic where it was invented.

We’d love to show you pictures of this meal, however for some reason they are missing. We don’t know why. We’ve checked cameras, computers, flash drives, archives, backups and we’re stumped. So as a diversionary tactic, here are some pretty pictures from Miami and environs.

Wild flock of parrots. Man, they're loud.
Rainbow Eucalyptus at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
The Male Banana Flower - From Fairchild
Variety at Fairchild
He wasn't timid.
Piggy's BBQ on the Keys Highway near Marathon. Open air, and plenty of um...character..
Marina near Marathon, FL.
Art Deco hotels in South Beach
Edison Hotel, South Beach
Goodyear Blimp over the Ft. Lauderdale beach
Miami Beach at Dusk

That concludes our whirlwind visit to Miami. Lots of sun, fun and good eats were had. Ottawa and two kitties awaited our return. It is amazing what a little sun in February can do for the spirit. Stone crab too.

All content and photography copyright (c) 2010 by Robert and Maureen Rose. All rights reserved.