Spanish Rice with Shrimp

There comes a time in your cooking life when you realize that you’re attempting to prepare something significantly important. Something besides just the next recipe or adventure in the kitchen. Something that goes beyond just the food, the next blog post, or one self.

For me that realization came when I attempted to make Spanish Rice for the first time.

I’ll preface this right now: I still know entirely too little about traditional Spanish food. But I am learning. I am studying. I am in awe of the food history and flavors of these foods I am reading about. My journey continues of course, hopefully with a trip to Spain one day to experience these heavenly dishes I have dancing around in my mind.

Here I recount my 3rd time attempting to make Spanish Rice. When I began researching traditional Spanish Rice my mind was spinning. Every recipe I read was different. Some with garlic, some without. Some with water, some with chicken broth. Some with only red peppers, some with yellow and green. The confusion continued …

I continued reading and watching some recipes on YouTube about how some chefs were preparing Spanish Rice. While I cannot speak with any level of truth about what exactly is the correct way of preparing Spanish Rice – I concluded that there were many ways to prepare this dish. This is something that still doesn’t sit right with me totally – mostly because I want to get it right. I wanted to prepare the dish the correct way, not a modernized or modified way. Alas, my questions still remain and I hope to eventually learn (without any doubt) the correct way of preparing traditional Spanish rice.

For now, my recipe below is my best attempt at studying the dish, the different variations of ingredients and preparation – all in hopes I present the dish with the utmost respect is surely deserves. For those that may be reading that have experience with this dish – please feel free to comment if I’ve made any glaring and horrible mistakes!

Spanish Rice (My best attempt)

Ingredients:

2 cups long grain white rice

1 lb Fresh Jumbo Shrimp (Head on)

4 cups chicken brothe

Salt/Pepper

2 cans tomato sauce (no seasoning)

1 Green Pepper / 1 Red Pepper

Fresh Parsley

4 Cloves Garlic

White Pepper

1/2 Spanish Onion

Cumin

Adobo seasoning

Oregano

EVOO & Veg Oil

Preparation:

Heat a large sauce pan with 1/3 cup of EVOO.  Roughly chop 1/2 a green pepper and 1/2 red pepper. Roughly chop 1/2 your Spanish Onion. Finely chop your cloves of garlic.

Bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil. Carefully place your shrimp (head on) in the water.

While your shrimp boils add your fresh ingredients in the large sauce pan, allowing your peppers and onion to sweat down. Add a pinch of salt/pepper.

Remove your shrimp from the boiling water. Once your shrimp turn a bright orange color they should be finished. Remove the shrimp from the water and set aside.

In your large sauce pan, add your tomato sauce and chicken brothe. Bring to a rolling boil then add your rice. (General rule is for every 1 cup of rice, use 2 cups of water or liquid). For this recipe I used chicken broth instead of water.

Note: It is incredibly easy to burn the bottom of your pan with the rice. This creates a sticky messy disaster and your dish will taste of burnt rice. Not good. To avoid this keep close watch on the temperature and add 2-3 tbsp of vegetable oil to your pan. This helps prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Gradually add in the remaining seasonings. Add a pinch of white pepper, cumin, oregano and Adobo seasoning. Add your roughly chopped parsley.

Cover your pan half way, reduce the heat and keep careful watch. The rice should be absorbing the liquid visibly more and more as it continues to cook.

The rice should be fully cooked within 10-15 minutes typically. Once your rice is nice and has taken a somewhat thick consistency – add in your shrimp after you’ve removed their shells.

Continue to cook on low heat for another 5 minutes.

Taste your dish at this point – adjusting seasoning as you like. Add Salt/Pepper if necessary.

Finally, remove from the heat and let sit for 15 minutes to allow flavors to continue to evolve.  I’ve noticed the longer the dish sits the flavors become bolder and incorporate more overall.

And there you have it – my best take on Spanish Rice.

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Thai Hot Pepper Wings

Do you like hot or spicy food? Do you long for that seemingly never ending dull ache that lasts hours after you’ve finished your last bite of a spice infused meal? If so, we probably should be friends.

Spicy foods and flavors in my opinion should have its own food group. Its own section at the farmers market. It should be an exclusive club only set aside for those that have proven their prowess amongst the culinary gods – those that have survived a spicy dish so savory and painful the juxtaposition of flavors is both confusing and dizzying.

Well, maybe I’ve gone too far. But alas, the heat is going to keep you coming back for more. Today’s recipe is no less than a plethora of combined flavors that leave your mouth tingling long after your last bite. Let the madness begin:

Ingredients:

1-2 lbs fresh chicken wings – never frozen

Thai Hot peppers

Green chili peppers

Ginger

Garlic

Salt/Pepper

Adobo seasoning (optional)

Cayenne Pepper

Recipe:

Start off cleaning your chicken wings. It goes without saying that when working with raw chicken one should be highly attentive to avoiding cross-contamination. I cook a lot of chicken and I always am super careful of cleaning up properly afterwards from all surfaces, knives, etc – again in order to eliminate cross contamination with raw chicken.

For this recipe I boil the chicken wings for 15-20 minutes in a large pot of rolling/boiling water.

While your chicken wings are boiling begin prepping your other ingredients.

Thinly slice a generous handful of your Thai Hot Peppers. These are usually available at any decent farmers market.

Thinly slice a few green chili’s.

Finely chop 4-5 cloves of garlic along with 1/4 or so of a stalk of fresh ginger. Bring these two ingredients together to a fine mince.

Add your ingredients to a large sauce pan with 1/3 cup vegetable oil.

Set your sauce pan on high on the stove, brining all the ingredients to a boiling simmer.

By now your boiled wings should be finished. Remove from the water and carefully incorporate them into your saucepan, liberally spreading the ingredients allowing to coat the wings. Add a pinch of salt, black pepper and if you would like some Adobo seasoning for extra flavor. You can also add a touch of sugar to cut the heat if you want. Continue to stir until your wings have a nice coating and brown to them.

Plate with fresh parsley and enjoy.

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Linguine with Baby Octopus

Spring is finally here, officially anyways. I think it is? It’s been raining for the past four days straight here on the east coast so you wouldn’t know it to look outside. Nonetheless it hasn’t stopped me from making some favorite dishes that come back into season once the winter departs.

One of my favorite dishes is Linguine with Baby Octopus. Personally I think octopus gets a bad wrap. It can be heard in various dark culinary corners that it’s “too rubbery” or “it has no taste”. For those I direct people to the mastermind of Jiro and how his disciples carefully massage an octopus for hours to bring out the flavor and soften the tentacled beast.

Ok, so I don’t got that far. But I do believe octopus can be an awesome ingredient, especially to a pasta dish. Linguine with Baby octopus is an incredibly easy recipe to make and variations of it can be found in almost any pasta cookbook old and new.

I’ve taken my favorite aspects of preparing this dish from a few different recipes, combining the ingredients I feel work well and discarding others that don’t quite make the grade.

So, here we go:

First, and most importantly. You need to find fresh baby octopus that is preferably already cleaned and ‘de-beaked!’ (Yes octopus have little beaks inside and you do not want to chomp down on one in the middle of your dinner!).  The below recipe is for an average dinner that should easily feed 3-4 hungry people.

Ingredients:

1 lb fresh baby octopus (cleaned and de-beaked) (Usually can be found in any decent farmers market).

EVOO

6 scallions chopped into 1 inch pieces

About 3/4 cup of fresh mint roughly chopped

Course Black Pepper and Kosher Salt

3 Lemons

1 lb dry Linguine (Or any long pasta you prefer)

1 tablespoon of chili flakes

1 sprig fresh basil

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In a large metal bowl put in 1/3 cup EVOO, your scallions, mint, and the juice of 2 lemons (be sure to remove any pits that you might accidentally drop in). Season with salt and pepper. Incorporate well and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Once boiling add a dash of salt to the water and drop your pasta in cooking it until al dente.

While your pasta is cooking heat up a large pan with 1/3 cup EVOO on the stove. Drop in your baby octopus cooking them until they curl up and reduce down in size. Throw in a dash of salt and pepper for seasoning. Once your octopus are almost complete, put in your herbs from the metal bowl. Reduce heat to low, stirring every so often as to prevent anything that might stick to the bottom of the pan.

Your pasta should be finishing up around this point. Drain the pasta from the water, saving roughly a cup of pasta water in case you need to add later. Once drained pour your pasta into your sauce pan with the octopus and herbs. Incorporate thoroughly while adding your chili flakes. Your pasta should be coated nicely with the sauce but not drowning in it. Add more salt and pepper to for a bit more additional seasoning. Dress with a few fresh sprigs of basil for presentation.

The end result should be an array of tastes that combine the hint of lemon juice, mint, and subtle kick of the chili flakes. The octopus should be tender enough to have these ingredients latch on to all the flavors while the greens create a nice balance of texture.

The dish can be served hot or cold. Personally, I like to let the dish sit and incorporate its flavors for at least 15 minutes before serving.

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Funfetti Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Baking doesn’t have to be difficult. Many times it is. Many times I’ve stared thru the little glass door to the oven, nervously hoping I didn’t overfill the cake pan with batter. Inevitably when the batter pours over the edge of the pan I reconsider why I even attempted baking a cake in the first place (again).

But it doesn’t have to be difficult or nerve-wracking. After a few attempts and failures at making a layer cake I’ve managed to figure out some easy steps you can use also to bake your next cake.

Today I decided to give the all to popular ‘Funfetti’ cake a try. It’s all the rage on the foodie shows, and perhaps the funnest cake one can bake without too much hassle.

Here are a few easy steps to follow:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Buy 3 boxes of cake mix from the store. (You can make your own but remember – this is the easy recipe option!)

Follow the easy instructions on the cake mix box which usually is 1 cup water, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, cake batter and 3 eggs. If you have a stand mixer use that option, as it’s easier to mix together with a stand mixer rather than try to mix it together old school style by hand.

Once the batter is mixed thoroughly add up to 1/2 cup of sprinkles into the batter, allowing the mixer to get them well incorporated within the mix.

Take three 8″ cake pans and coat them liberally with either PAM cooking spray or Crisco.

Pour the batter into the cake pan being sure not to overfill the pan – a common mistake!

(Note: if you overfill the batter into the cake pan you will quickly have a mess in your oven and unfortunately might need to start over after cleaning up the mess)

Bake all (3) filled cake pans in the oven at 350 degrees for 18-23 minutes depending on your oven. (I check the center of the cake with a dry knife every 5 minutes or so after the first 10 minutes in the oven)

The next step is the frosting. Personally I am not a huge fan of over frosting. For this recipe I decided to make a Vanilla Buttercream Frosting – just enough to fill the layers of the cake.

In your clean mixer add 3 cups of confectioners sugar, 3 tbsp of Vanilla extract, 1/3 unsalted butter that is room temperature. Start the mixer allowing the ingredients to incorporate fully. Slowly add a tablespoon of whole milk as your mixture comes together until the texture is creamy and soft. (see photo below).  Put the frosting mix in the fridge while your cakes finish off in the oven.

Finally, remove your cakes allowing them to cool for at least 30 minutes before you remove them from their pans. I like to cut the the dome tops off the cakes so everything is nice and even. Take your frosting out of the fridge allowing it to return to room temp. It needs to be room temp to spread on the cake – if it’s too cold or stiff you will tear the cake very easily.

Liberally spread the buttercream frosting on the first layer, add the second layer, and if you choose to the top layer. For me, as mentioned earlier, I only like a little frosting so I decided to only incorporate frosting to layer the cakes but not to top the cake or for the sides. Plus I like the open top showing off the sprinkles!

And just like that – you have Funfetti cake. Enjoy!

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Pasta – The importance of tradition

This isn’t a post about how to make homemade pasta. It’s not a post about how much flour or water to add to make the perfect ball of dough. This post is about the importance of tradition when it comes to making things from scratch – in particular fresh pasta learned from those that have made it in their kitchens for decades before me or you ever came along.

So why is making pasta so important? Why not just buy dried pasta from the store? Why not just go out to eat? I think as a cook, at least a home cook, sometimes we ask ourselves “why do things the hard way?” When in reality the hard way is many times the correct way – especially when it comes to making and crafting a dish from scratch.

Bill Buford wrote so eloquently in his book HEAT about the art of making pasta. The art of learning how to make pasta from masters of the craft.  The art of basically fucking it up 1000 times before getting it right. Making food from scratch is indeed an art, probably more true with crafting pasta than any other food in my opinion.

With it carries responsibility. Tradition. The ownership of passing along the knowledge to those younger, those willing to listen and learn, those willing to fail time and time again in hopes one day they will get it just right. The cycle continues.

So I leave you today with not a recipe for perfectly made homemade pasta – mostly because I am still fucking it up myself. But instead a few images of the craft itself so beautifully displayed as pappardelle and garganelli.

Everything you see I owe to spaghetti – Sophia Loren

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Basted Sea Bass with Himalayan Pink Sea Salt

Spring is finally here and Summer seems just a few weeks away. With the warmer weather I always start to think about fresh fish and the adventures to be had at the local farmer’s market. Luckily I have access to a number of incredible farmer’s markets, authentic food stores and smaller grocery stores near me. I avoid shopping for ingredients at larger food chains at all costs if I can avoid it.

Last summer I was playing around with Sea Bass, in particular basting it with clarified butter to infuse the fish with a sweet and salty taste.

The result: Basted Sea Bass with Himalayan Pink Salt

Here’s what I did:

  1. Choose a fresh fish from your local farmer’s market or fish monger. It does not have to be Sea Bass. Go with a fish you like but choose a fish that will hold its integrity while cooking. Choosing a fish that becomes super flaky will be difficult with this recipe.
  2. Clarify half a stick of  unsalted butter in a small sauce pan.
  3. Cut your fish into chunks, large enough to hold their integrity.
  4. In your pan place the chunks of fish in the butter. Make sure the temperature is on low. High heat will ruin this dish quickly.
  5. Have patience. Slowly baste the fish with the butter until color begins to form on the top side. Flip and repeat.
  6. Plate atop a garnish of fresh spinach leaves or whatever you prefer.
  7. I made a homemade pesto sauce to accompany the dish but utilize any sauce that fits your flavor.
  8. After plating, sprinkle just a tiny bit of Himalayan Pink Sea Salt on top of the fish. Don’t use too much, just a touch to add a salty taste to accompany the sweetness of the butter taste.
  9. Enjoy.

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Lemon Lime Shell Pudding

If you’re looking to make a good impression on some dinner guests or simply test your culinary fortitude when it comes to presentation – this dessert might be for you!

A while back I started to play around in the kitchen with different presentations of desserts with the goal of making the aesthetics of the dish fun and new.  After many failed attempts with cakes, pies, cookies and an unfortunate incident with a creme brulee, I managed to come up with this little gem below.

This is a super easy (for the most part) way to impress your friends.

First: Make the lemon pudding. Here comes possibly your must crucial decision in this whole recipe – instant pudding or fresh made.

The answer to that of course is fresh made lemon pudding!  Here’s a quick recipe:

Food Network Lemon Pudding Recipe

After you’ve got the pudding made and it’s chilling in the fridge, start on your creme fraiche. I like this one:

Creme Fraiche Recipe

Next really comes the pain in the ass. When I first attempted to do this it did not turn out well. I wanted to present the lemon pudding in a hollowed out lime. Turns out hollowing out a lime is not the easiest of tasks. Word to the wise – be careful! I basically used a spoon to hollow out a lime, leaving a little bit of the pulp in the bottom.

Place a dollop of your Creme Fraiche on a 8″ circle plate, placing the hollowed out lime in the middle. Carefully spoon the fresh lemon pudding (which should be cold enough to hold its form) into the lime. Adorn with fresh raspberries and perhaps a sprinkle of crushed graham crackers.

And that’s it. A relatively easy and impressive take on lemon pudding.

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Lucky Peach – The End of a great culinary zine

A few months ago LUCKY PEACH announced on its Instagram account they were ending their beloved culinary magazine in print form. The result among the culinary believers has since been a tearful and frustrating farewell.

I discovered Lucky Peach a few years ago after picking up the issue on Chinatown. I consumed it as quickly as I do a bowl of steaming ramen. I quickly went online and purchased every back issue of LP that I could find, including the coveted Issue # 1 which I am not embarrassed to admit paying $125 for at the time.
(Current value steadily increasing since the news).

Since the news of LP’s magazine closure I have read a number of articles online all basically saying similar things. Culinary foodies outpouring their love in comments about the magazine while acclaimed chefs expressing their sadness for the end of what truly is the best culinary magazine available today. The EATER write up was especially good in my opinion and captured a lot of the sadness and gloominess we are all feeling currently.

EATER Article

For me the beautiful thing about LP was it proved if you are not heavily involved in cooking, the food world, or culinary news in general then you probably wouldn’t be someone to purchase the magazine. That solidified the magazines followers as the real deal and we knew that if you read LP then you most likely have a heartfelt love for food, cooking and all that accompanies it.

A casual culinary reader would typically not pay the $12+ an issue just to skim its pages for recipes.

As LP readers each new issue could not have come soon enough. Some of us (meaning me) would even have each issues release date on my calendar at which time I promptly went and bought my issue.  I never subscribed to the magazine as it was always more fun to go to the store and buy the issue.

Ugg … this sucks.

A week later after the announcement many of us mere mortals in the food world are left wondering what’s next? Where and how will we fill this now huge void in our collections of culinary literature? General consensus about the news is somber but hope remains that the creators of the magazine will  continue to make waves in the food world in other avenues. I sure hope so because the lasting effects of this magazine will soon not be forgotten among culinary circles and those of the like. The food scene had a magazine that ‘got it’ finally and wasn’t just about recipe after recipe but put thoughtful and interesting articles behind every new issue.

The release by LP had a witty write up on the end of the print form but indicated the online content will remain. For me I wanted more. I wanted to understand why the magazine was ending. Was it lack of membership or the cost of print media in general? Were the creators moving on to bigger and better things? Are they just going to focus on cook books now?

What?!

After reading the short release from LP I was a bit disappointed about the lack of information provided as to the reasoning behind the closure. Perhaps it is not for us readers and fans to know. And maybe perhaps more explanation will be given down the road from LP or its creators.

Anxious foodies await any updates I am sure.

The magazine in itself became a collectors piece with each new addition and one would suspect back issues now will increase in value as the news spreads. For a split second I thought about seeing what the entire collection would sell for but I wised up and realized I could not part with my issues no matter how bummed I was. Ultimately I would find myself buying them all back online for probably double what I paid for them.

As for me, sadly I always had a notion in my mind that this day might come. Print magazines at higher price points today just seem to have a limited shelf life unfortunately. I believe the magazine could charge double its cover price and still maintain its followers and sell issues. But alas the print gods had other ideas and for the time being we all await the next fresh new idea within the food world.

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