After the Pie

Man, what a week. I feel like I need another juice cleanse to get back in the swing of eating non-crap. Of course, everything eaten over the past 7 days has been fantastic (and not literally crap..), but as we all know, it adds up pretty quickly.

But that’s what the Holidays are for, right?!

I don’t have many Thanksgiving pictures to share with you all this year, but imagine a smallish San Francisco condo packed with 14 hungry people, and empty bottles of beer, wine, and cava all over the place. Imagine plates of tasty food, from appetizers to the main feast to a table full of fresh made ice cream and 8 pies at the end of the night. And of course, a little bit of Rock Band (though not nearly enough, in my opinion) was certainly part of the fun.

It was a good day, and while there wasn’t nearly as much chillin‘ as we normally like, it was a nice long holiday week/weekend and we were, as Chris would say, über happy to have our favorite people with us for so long. Next year, we’ll do it all over again, except we plan to make the trip to Minnesota this time around, giving up control of hosting duties for the first time in 7 years.

I can’t wait.

Like the two of us, perhaps you’re filling your dinner menu with light items for the next couple of weeks? Have you eaten so much pie, stuffing, and sweet potato casserole that you broke out your fat pants again? If so, another fish recipe will most definitely fit the bill. Surprisingly, I’ve actually done a decent job of keeping up with the early weekday fish tradition, so this is one made a few weeks back.

It’s pretty perfect for Fall, even though a fish dish isn’t normally something I think of during this time of the year. I think it’s the saffron, which seems to invoke all sorts of feelings of richness and decadence. Who knows.

Either way, it’s a pretty easy dish to toss together in under an hour, and it’s all sorts of good for you. It might make you feel better about all that pie, but I’m not making any promises there…

Cod with Tomato Sauce & Fregola
Adapted from Food & Wine, September 2011; serves 4

time commitment: ~50 minutes (30 minutes active)

printable version

4 T extra-virgin olive oil
5 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 t crushed red pepper
3 lbs tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/8 t saffron threads, crumbled
5 marjoram sprigs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Zest of 1 orange, in short, thin strips
5 bay leaves
3 whole cloves
2 c toasted fregola*
Four 4-oz skinless cod fillets
Chopped parsley, for garnish

*fregola is a toasted semolina pasta that looks like Israeli couscous. If you can’t find it, you can easily use arborio rice instead (which is what F&W uses). Also, the fregola isn’t gluten-free, so if you need that you’ll definitely have to sub the rice in.

In a large, deep skillet, heat olive oil. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook over moderate heat until the garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and saffron and cook over moderate heat until the tomatoes just begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the marjoram and season with salt and black pepper. Cook the sauce over moderately low heat, stirring and crushing the tomatoes with a spoon, until the sauce is thickened and the liquid is reduced, about 35 minutes. Discard marjoram.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, combine the orange zest strips, bay leaves, cloves, and fregola and cook until the fregola is al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain the fregola, discarding the zest, bay leaves and cloves. Return to pot and season with salt and pepper.

Nestle the cod in the tomato sauce and cook, turning the fillets once, until just opaque throughout, about 10 minutes.

Spoon the fregola into bowls or plates and top with the cod and sauce. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Balls to the Wall

You’ll note that this site is a little skimpy on the appetizers. Well, sorta. Here’s the deal: there’s a direct correlation between the length of the snack section and the number of dinner parties I either host or attend. Aside from Iron Chef, they’re sadly few and far between. As a result, the stack of ‘to make’ appetizer recipes is rather long, often from way-old magazine editions, and even those recipes often get tossed out before they get their chance to shine.

Every so often though, I hold onto one for dear life, desperately hoping for an excuse to try it out, and to share it with some well-deserving friends. Sometimes it just takes a while, but those recipes eventually surface, and then I wonder why I waited so long. I mean really, appetizers can be shared among two people, right?!

Sure they can, but sharing them is much better because that often means that you get to partake in some of their goodies, too. Even so, while toiling over what to make for a recent dinner party with a bit of an Italian theme, I still almost skipped over one of the oldest recipes in my stack – a classic Italian appetizer called arancini. Sure, it seemed perfectly appropriate, but I questioned the richness, the heaviness, and the carb load, not to mention whether or not I truly had the time to churn these puppies out. But in a fit of genius, I realized none of it mattered and they absolutely, positively had to be made.

It was one of my moments of superior thinking; those, my friends, don’t come along nearly as often as I’d like.

What are arancini? Let’s pare this down a bit: fried risotto balls, although that doesn’t really do this intensely awesome appetizer much justice, to be honest. You start out with a simple version of risotto, spiced with saffron, and you let it cool until you can play with it, er, divide it into 16 pieces and roll each into a ball. I made the risotto the night before and rolled them the following morning, since I was already pressed for time. That’s actually perfect; in fact, the Italians supposedly make arancini out of leftover risotto, since the quality of risotto diminishes so much when it’s no longer fresh.

Then you open ’em up and stuff ’em with cheese, or cheese and nuts, or in this case – cheese, nuts, and peas. You stitch them back together into their newly rotund selves, treat them to a bath of egg and breading, and await the heating of the oil – their final destination. Final, of course, until they get in your, er, you and your friends’, bellies.

Worth the work? Hands down, yes. Once fried, they are served warm (or rewarmed) – the outside crunches and sounds like a crisp bite into a potato chip, the smell makes you wonder if this is what paradise smells like and if so, why you haven’t been to Italy again in so long (or ever). And do I need to describe the taste of risotto? I hope not, but after the crunchy exterior comes that creamy ricey goodness and a string of mozzarella oozes out of the epicenter, which is dotted with the crunch of a pistachio. You practically kick yourself for waiting so long to make this, and then you seriously kick yourself again when you realize that, not only did you wait almost a year to make arancini, but now you have to share the damn things.

Sharing sucks, sometimes.

Pistachio-Cheese Arancini
Adapted from Food & Wine, December 2009; makes 16

time commitment: 2-2.5 hours, most active

printable version

2 1/2 T unsalted butter
1 small onion, minced
1 1/2 c carnaroli rice (about 10 ounces; arborio works well, too)
1/2 c dry white wine
Pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 c chicken broth, warmed
3 T freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 T all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 c plus 2 T milk
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
4 oz fresh mozzarella, finely diced
1/4 c plus 2 T chopped salted pistachios
2 T frozen baby peas, thawed
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 c panko bread crumbs
canola oil, for frying

In a large saucepan, melt 2 T of the butter. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, 7 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until well coated with butter. Add the white wine and saffron, season with salt and black pepper and cook, stirring, until the wine is absorbed, 2 minutes. Add the warm chicken stock 1/2 cup at a time and cook, stirring constantly between additions, until it is absorbed. The risotto is done when the rice is al dente, 25 minutes total. Stir in the grated cheese, transfer to a bowl and let cool.

Melt the remaining 1/2 T of butter in a small saucepan. Add the 1/2 T of flour and whisk constantly over moderate heat for 1 minute. Add the milk and cook, whisking, until thickened. Season with the nutmeg, salt and black pepper and transfer to a bowl to cool completely. Stir in the mozzarella, pistachios and peas.

Line a large baking sheet with wax paper. Put the eggs, panko and flour for dusting in 3 shallow bowls. Using lightly moistened hands, shape the rice mixture into 16 equal balls. Working with one ball at a time, make an indentation in the center with your finger and press the sides to make the hollow larger. Spoon a T of the pistachio filling into the hollow and press the risotto around the filling to enclose it. Transfer the ball to the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining risotto and filling. Dust the arancini with flour, tapping off the excess. Coat them with the egg and roll in the panko.

In a large, deep skillet, heat 1 inch of vegetable oil to 350 F. Fry the arancini over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until golden and heated through, 8 minutes. Drain the arancini on paper towels and serve hot. If prepared in advance, reheat arancini in a 350 F oven for about 10-15 minutes.

B’stilla My Heart

In the way of birthdays, it seems the older you get, the less exciting they become. It’s true, no? My last one was pretty cool, what with the mail-order pork and venture to Takashi, but we surely didn’t do anything off the wall, and I prefer it that way. In fact, with a very special birthday on the horizon (whatever 12+18 comes to, as if I’m really being mysterious here), I’m hoping for low key gathering and not the big ol’ surprise party Hubs got last year for his special three decade extravaganza.

And so, after said soiree for Hubs’ big 3-0, he’s now another year older and unfortunately for him, this one is much less exciting. He fenagled a lil’ shindig this past Friday at Piece (which was nice because last year he was a bit saddened by the fact that no one wanted to come out and celebrate with him; those same people were all hiding out at our place for him when we returned after dinner, much to his embarassment and surprise), and we took it easy after that, aside from an impromtu dinner at Xoco Saturday night.

Nonetheless, I felt it only necessary to make one of his favorite dishes, because even if the rest of the day was nothing short of lackluster, at least he’d remember dinner this year, and what’s a birthday if you can’t remember what you ate? Certainly no birthday at all, in my meager opinion.

There really was no question at all in terms of what we’d eat. Since the first and only time I made it, he has incessantly babbled about this Moroccan pie I made almost a year ago, and surely before I started this blogging thing because I have no proof in the way of photos that it even existed, other than his constant reminders of said dish. I mentioned it here once before, when waxing poetic about my love for baklava, despite my fear of making it.

B’stilla. Pastilla. Pigeon pie, or whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it-when-you-decide-to-call-it-something. I prefer the former, because I like words with apostrophes in them and probably because calling this one a pigeon pie would be untrue, since there are no pigeons to be had here. And because the letter ‘p’ ranks 26th in my list of favorite letters of the alphabet.

So, b’stilla it is, or at least a take on it. A delightful composition that’s crunchy on the outside, thanks be to the ground almond and cinnamon-studded buttered phyllo, but contrastingly chewy and rich on the inside. A delicate balance of savory chicken, turmeric, saffron, and herbs interlaced with sweet cinnamon, golden raisins that plump to resemble their former lives as grapes only to pop in your mouth with each and every bite, and exotic ginger to round it all out – somehow. If you’re into that sorta thing, this is what you want for dinner.

If you’re not into that sorta thing, Hubs will surely eat your share. Better yet, he may come to your house and steal your share, beating you over the head all the while, if you don’t like this sorta thing. Heck, even if you do like it – because just like the first time it crossed his lips many moons ago, it left him breathless, heart thudding crazily against his chest. A birthday he’ll remember, if only for the Moroccan pie.

Moroccan Chicken Pie
adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2009; serves 6 (or 4 if it’s your very favorite)

printable recipe

despite the multiple steps, this dish is definitely worth the fuss. The best part, other than delighting your guest, of course, is that you can prepare this well in advance. the filling is best made a day to two in advance so the flavors have time to merry together. the whole dish? you can put it together earlier in the afternoon and whip that thing into the oven without a snag.

2 T olive oil
1 lg onion, chopped
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground ginger
1/2 t turmeric
1/8 t crumbled saffron threads
1 T all purpose flour
2 c low-salt chicken broth (I used homemade turkey stock)
1 1/2 lbs skinless boneless chicken thighs
1/4 c chopped golden raisins
2 T chopped fresh cilantro
2 T chopped fresh Italian parsley

1/2 c slivered almonds
3 T powdered sugar
1/2 t coarse kosher salt
1/4 t ground cinnamon
10 sheets (about 17×12 inches) fresh phyllo pastry or frozen, thawed
1/2 c (about) unsalted butter, melted (for brushing)

For filling:
Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Mix in cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, and saffron; stir 1 minute. Sprinkle flour over; stir 1 minute. Add broth/stock; bring to simmer. Sprinkle chicken with salt; add to broth mixture. Gently simmer chicken uncovered until cooked through, reducing heat if necessary to prevent boiling, at least 20 minutes. Stir in raisins. Set skillet aside until chicken is cool enough to handle.

Transfer chicken to plate. Shred chicken coarsely (or chop into small pieces) and return to skillet. If sauce is thin, simmer over medium heat until sauce coats chicken thickly. Stir in cilantro and parsley. Season filling with salt and pepper. Cool filling completely. Cover and chill.

For phyllo:
Finely grind almonds, powdered sugar, 1/2 t coarse salt, and cinnamon in mini processor.

Stack 10 phyllo sheets on work surface. Invert 9-inch glass pie dish onto stack. Cut around dish through phyllo, making ten 10-inch rounds. Remove dish. Cover rounds with plastic wrap and damp kitchen towel.

Brush same pie dish with melted butter. Brush top phyllo round with butter, place in buttered pie dish and sprinkle with scant 1 tablespoon almonds. Top with another buttered phyllo round and sprinkle with scant 1 tablespoon almonds. Repeat stacking with 3 more buttered phyllo rounds and almonds. Spoon filling evenly over 5 phyllo rounds. Repeat procedure with 4 more rounds and almonds. Top with remaining phyllo round. Tuck in edges. Drizzle more butter over top. Cut 4 slits through top phyllo stack to allow steam to escape.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place pie on rimmed baking sheet. Bake uncovered until phyllo is golden and filling is heated through, about 40 minutes. Cool 15 minutes. Cut into wedges.

Fishy Alternative

Cod with Chorizo Mussels and Saffron Aioli

By now you’ve eaten just about all the turkey, or roast, or whatever it is you eat over the holidays – that you can stand, right? I mean, I do love me some sweet potato casserole, and I thoroughly enjoy being torn in three over all the pie choices. I can’t imagine skipping Aunt Faye’s chicken pastry, cornbread, and homemade buttermilk biscuits although I easily skip over the collard greens, as I have managed to do for 29 years now. Our families could feed a small village with all the sweets they prepare (not to mention the biscotti I made which is only slightly addictive), and let’s just say that the amount of treats I consume is no small accomplishment either.


But when it comes right down to it, as good as the holiday food is, for me there’s no better feeling than whipping up a special meal at home. And after all the poultry and beef I’m sure we’ve all consumed these past few weeks I have to admit I’m more than ready to veer away from the land animals for just a bit. (And I mean just a bit). That being said, I think it’s time to take a lil’ dip into the ocean. I found the perfect dish for you – one I’ve been meaning to share for quite some time now.

'imported' Spanish chorizo
Not to worry – ocean creatures are very friendly with chorizo. And where there’s Spanish chorizo, there’s usually some saffron floating around too. This here folks, this is no different. And it’s mighty fine. Mighty fine indeed.

saffron-infused lime juice

I know many of you will scoff at the dishes that have multiple components. This is totally one of them. But wait! I’m sure you’ll change your mind when I tell you one of those components is a few big fat egg-soaked sourdough croutons and one of the others is saffron mayo. Yes, saffron! and, mayo! and croutons! You’ll forget you’re eating fish – not that eating fish is a bad thing, but it isn’t pork stew, that’s for sure :). But this fishy dish? This one is rich and hearty enough to make you think you’re eating that stew again – a perfect seafood recipe for the cold nights.

awesome sourdough croutons
You know what’s also awesome about the croutons and mayo? They can both easily be used again, so you’re really doubling up on the fantasticness. The croutons are great in any soup or stew I can think of and can sop up those juices with grace. The mayo – oh boy – a perfect addition to a sandwich or burger – especially a chickpea-pesto burger with arugula. The rest of the dish is fairly easy, so if you remind yourself of the wonderful recycling properties of croutons and saffron mayo, you’ve got yourself one great meal and a whole lotta repeat variety to boot.

cod with aioli

Cod with Mussels, Chorizo, Fried Croutons & Saffron Mayonnaise
Adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2009; serves 4

printable version


saffron mayo
1.5 t fresh lime juice
pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 T evoo
1/4 t hot pepper sauce

2 T olive oil
1/4 c chopped shallots
4 garlic cloves
1 t dried crushed red pepper
pinch of saffron threads
1/2 c dry white wine
2 lbs mussels, scrubbed and debearded
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 c smoked Spanish chorizo, diced
1/4 c finely diced seeded tomato
1/4 c finely diced roasted red pepper from jar
1 T chopped fresh parsley

fried croutons
2 large eggs
1/2 c low fat milk
1/4 t cayenne pepper
12 1-inch torn pieces sourdough bread (5 oz)

1 8 oz bottle clam juice
1 c dry white wine
1 12-oz cod fillet, cut into 4 equal pieces
2 T olive oil

saffron mayonaise
Mix lime juice and saffron in small bowl. Let stand 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Whisk in mayonnaise, oil, and hot pepper sauce. Cover and chill at least 4 hours to allow flavors to develop. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic, crushed red pepper, and saffron and sauté 4 minutes. Add wine; bring to boil. Add mussels and thyme; cover and cook until mussels open, about 5 minutes (discard any mussels that do not open). Strain mussel broth into large saucepan; add chorizo, tomato, roasted pepper, and parsley to liquid. Remove mussels from shells. DO AHEAD: Mussels and cooking broth can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover separately and refrigerate.

fried croutons
Pour enough oil into heavy large saucepan to reach depth of 3 inches. Attach deep-fry thermometer to side of pan. Heat oil to 350°F. Whisk eggs, milk, and cayenne in large bowl. Add bread; stir to coat. Let soak 2 minutes. Drain off excess liquid. Working in batches, add bread to hot oil and cook until brown, turning as necessary, about 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels and drain.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bring clam juice and wine to simmer in small saucepan. Pour into 7×5-inch baking dish. Add cod pieces to dish; sprinkle with salt and drizzle with oil. Bake until fish is opaque in center, basting with poaching liquid twice, about 8 minutes.

Bring mussel broth to simmer. Add mussels and heat through. Divide mussels and broth among 4 shallow soup bowls. Top each with piece of cod, 3 croutons, and dollop of saffron mayonnaise.

Viva Barcelona


The other day I was trying to wedge a freshly made container of fig & sour cream ice cream onto one of the shelves of my too-small-for-my-liking-and-definitely-too-narrow freezer section of my side-by-side fridge. In my opinion, these sorts of fridges are stupid. Who wants a fridge that can’t even hold a box of take-out pizza? And the freezer – don’t get me started. It’s not like I’m some crazy person who freezes everything I can get my hands on ….. I mean, geezz… can’t a girl put ice cream in the freezer without having to clear off an entire shelf, meanwhile rearranging all the other shelves to do said clearing!?

To top it all off – as if it couldn’t get worse than not having room for ice cream – it’s really shameful when my ice cream runs low (which happens often with a human Dyson named Chris in the house) and I can’t even put the part of the ice cream maker that has to get frozen before making more ice cream into the stupid freezer without first eating the rest of the other ice cream. What’s so bad about planning ahead? So I’d come to a conclusion – my freezer is out to get me. And no – these are not paranoid delusions. The feeling was real.

spanish chorizo

But moments after cursing at the freezer and whining about how bad we need a brand new energy efficient fridge with a bottom-drawer freezer, the damn thing redeemed itself. Momentarily. In the midst of moving about items in the freezer, out popped a lil’ nubbin of Spanish chorizo. All of a sudden, all was good in the world and I loved my freezer for being so full that it nudged the chorizo out and into view. I felt as if that nubbin o’ sausage were a direct trip to Spain, and I immediately stood there, freezer door wide open, and started drooling. I was drolling because I knew what that chorizo-action meant – it was time for another round of paella.

making paella

I’ve made this dish a handful of times. That one sentence should automatically tell you something about its tastiness. If you’re clueless, here’s a hint: I rarely make something twice. There are just too many recipes out there to stick around and keep making the same thing. The only other dish I remember recently repeating is Pad Thai. And that’s because I can make it at home and have it taste just as good as the restaurants’ versions, but healthier and not loaded with oil. And then I can order all the other Thai dishes at the restaurants.
Paella is different. It’s loaded with veggies – tomatoes, peppers, peas – and the only oil used (in this recipe) is the oil from the chorizo, which gives an extra boost of flavor. For non-Spanish folk, it’s considered the national dish of Spain. But to the Spaniards, it’s considered a regional Valencian dish (a region of Spain on the east coast). Nevertheless, go to Spain and you won’t have a problem finding paella. Your problem, my friend, will be deciding what type of it to consume.

paella - almost there!

Perhaps you’re not heading over to España any time soon. Sadly, I know I’m not either. But last year, I did smuggle purchase some lovely Spanish chorizo from La Boqueria in Barcelona. And that nubbin that jumped outta the freezer isn’t the last of it – I have a whole unopened link hiding somewhere in the trenches of that horrible favorite freezer of mine. If you can locate some Spanish chorizo and a pinch of saffron, you’ve done the hardest part of making this dish. And you might ask, “well what about that Mexican chorizo in the g-store? Can I use that?”, and my answer is, “not no, but holy heck no”. It doesn’t taste anything like its’ magical smoky Spanish cousin, and it damn sure isn’t studded with hot paprika. Read below for more info:

paella up close and personal

More about Paella: There’s three primary types: Valencian, seafood, and mixed. Valencian is the traditional paella with white rice, green vegetables, meat, snails, and beans. Seafood paella omits beans and green veg’s and replaces meat and snails with seafood. Mixed? yeah, that’s both, like a “kitchen sink” paella. But there’s many iterations aside from these three. The word ‘paella’ is Catalan (one of Spain’s many languages other than Spanish) and comes from the Latin word, patella, which means pan. Some people have special pans just for making paella – they’re typically round, shallow, and made of polished steel with two handles.

Tips: First, read here for a good chorizo review. Click here to buy Spanish chorizo online if you can’t find it in your area. If all else fails and you just can’t find it or you want to make paella without waiting for your mail-order shipment, substitute kielbasa. But next time, get the real thing. For realz.

Seafood Paella w/ Chorizo
Adapted from Cooking Light, June 2008; serves 4

1/2 c dry white wine
1/4 t saffron threads, crushed
3 oz Spanish chorizo sausage, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices*
1 c coarsely chopped onion (~ 1 medium)
2/3 c coarsely chopped red bell pepper (~ 1 small)
1/2 t hot paprika
1/4 t salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 c uncooked short-grain rice
1 c low sodium chicken broth or chicken stock
1 8 oz bottle of clam juice
1 c chopped plum tomato (~ 1 tomato)
1/2 c frozen green peas
12 littleneck clams
1/2 lb medium shrimp, peeled & deveined

Combine wine and saffron in small bowl and let stand 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a large nonstick skillet over med-hi. Add chorizo and cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove chorizo from pan. Add onion and pepper and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in paprika, salt, garlic and cook 1 minute. Return chorizo to pan. Add wine mixture, rice, broth, clam juice and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and cook 15 minutes or until most liquid is absorbed. Stir in tomato, peas, clams, and shrimp. Cover and cook 5 minutes or until clams open slightly. If any clams do not open, discard them.

*No – don’t do it! do not substitute Mexican chorizo here as it is totally different. If you don’t have or can’t find Spanish chorizo (which isn’t sold in most grocery stores, including Whole Foods, at least last time I checked) use kielbasa