Olive Bread

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My first experience with yeast was not using it, even though I was supposed to. I’d followed a recipe in the Betty Crocker Boys and Girls cookbook, except not really. It was my thing to do when I was 11-12 years old, to get up early on Sundays and bake some kind of coffee cake.

I chose a recipe for yeasted cinnamon buns that morning, but when it came time to the yeast, being that I didn’t know what is was, I ignored it. I also noticed this kneading thing, which seemed like it would take too long, so a win-win for me.

Until my mother came downstairs and I proudly announced that I’d made these buns, and would she do the honors of removing them from the oven. Well she almost dropped that baking dish. What should have been cinnamon buns were round, heavy bricks. And then I learned about yeast.

When I started teaching myself to cook, I learned how to bake bread by following recipes. When you do it on your own, there’s no fear, even though I have memories of my mother not even letting us walk through the kitchen if she had bread rising. Heck, we were hardly allowed to exhale.

But it seemed pretty easy to me, a few ingredients, some kneading, and I even walked around my kitchen while my breads rose. It’s just not hard to bake bread.

Then a cookbook entered my life called Supper Club chez Martha Rose, which was published in 1988. This book wasn’t extraordinary by any means, but it was a fun read, because it was Martha Rose Schulman’s actual experience with her supper club in Paris that she started in 1983 after she moved to France from Austin, Texas.

Her supper club menus are organized by months, which I love. Some menus reflect her love of Texas, but most all as a Francophile, and lover of Mediterranean flavors. But what got my attention was what she did with her yeasted breads. She added stuff to them!

I’d always made whole-grain bread, because I believe that bread should be nourishing, not just pretty, but when I first saw a pesto bread recipe in her cookbook, it was my Hallelujah moment! It was Martha Rose Schulman who changed my path to creative bread baking. And I’ve never looked back. (I’ve mentioned this cookbook before when I made her Sourdough Country Bread.)

So for all the years my husband required bread, for all of the years I catered and was a private chef, I put stuff into the breads I baked. It could be nuts, it could be grated zucchini, tomato paste, onions and cheese, or chili powder. It all works!

Ms. Schulman has a country bread with olives recipe in her cookbook; today I’m making my version of olive bread. Because, you really don’t need a recipe to bake yeasted breads.

Olive Bread

2 ounces warm water
2 teaspoons yeast
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
8 ounces whole milk, warmed
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
Extra white flour, for kneading
5 ounces mixed olives, drained

Place the water in a large, warmed bowl and add the yeast and sugar. After the yeast softens stir the liquid, then set aside.

After the yeast bubbles up, about 5 minutes, add the warm milk. Then add 1 cup of white flour and whisk well.

Cover the bowl and place in a warm place for one hour. Meanwhile, chop the olives coarsely and make sure they’re free of any liquid; set aside.

Add one cup of whole wheat flour to the slurry, and whisk or stir in well.

Place a generous amount of white flour where you’re going to knead, and remove the dough from the bowl. Begin kneading the bread, using only as much flour as needed. Knead for about 5 minutes. The dough should be smooth.

Grease the bottom of a large clean bowl, put the dough in it, then turn the dough over so the top is coated in the grease. Place this bowl, covered with a towel, in the warm place for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the chopped olives where you knead, then “pour” the dough over the top. Using only a little flour as necessary, gently force the olives into the dough until they’re evenly incorporated.

Form a ball with the dough and place it on a greased cookie sheet. Set it in a warm place for 15 minutes, then put it in the oven.

Bake the bread for at least 25 minutes. Times and ovens vary. If you want to check on the internal temperature using a thermometer it should be at 195 degrees F. Anything much less than that and the bread will be doughy on the inside.

Let the bread cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

I served the bread with a soft goat cheese; the slices can also be toasted.

If you love olives, this is a great bread. And it goes so well with cheeses and charcuterie.

This actually posted in October of 2018. For some reason, this and a few others showed up as scheduled to post in 2021. I have no idea how this happened, but sorry if you’ve already seen it!

Tongue, as a Cold Cut

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Let’s face it, they’re not pretty. They look like huge, well, tongues. So just don’t think about it being a tongue. Think of it as a culinary delicacy. Tongue is soft, tender, and lean, with a unique texture.

With very little work, you can turn this piece of cow into a fabulous “cold cut” for hors d’oeuvres. All you need to do is poach the tongue, just like you were poaching a chicken.

Not intended to offend anyone, but this is a tongue!

Beef Tongue

1 beef tongue, about 3 1/2 pounds, at room temperature
1 onion, quartered
3-4 stalks celery, quartered
10 baby carrots
1 leek, cleaned, quartered
1 bunch parsley
5 bay leaves
1 head of cloves, sliced horizontally
Handful of whole black pepper corns
2 teaspoons salt

Place all of the ingredients in a large pot. Add enough water to cover everything. Bring it all to a boil on the stove, then simmer, covered, for about 2 – 2 1/2 hours.

You could heat the broth ingredients first, and then add the tongue, but this way works well, and you do end up with a great meat plus a good broth. After cooking, remove the lid and let the mixture cool a bit, then remove the tongue and set on a plate to cool completely.

Remove the fatty chunk at the base of the tongue, but don’t discard it. Peel the tongue – especially the top part of it where you can see the taste buds. It doesn’t all work with the pinch and pull method; a paring knife comes in handy.

Slice the peeled tongue crosswise into 1/4 to 3/8″ slices. Tongue is good at room temperature, or cold. I love it with Dijon mustard and good bread.

The slices are wonderful as part of an charcuterie platter, along with cheeses, olives, and cornichons.

If you don’t want the tongue as a cold cut, sear the slices instead in hot skillet with a teaspoon of olive oil. Add salt and pepper after turning. I sliced up that piece I cut off the tongue to make these non-uniform strips to sear.

I like to put these in flour tortillas and eat with onions and cilantro, and you can make a more involved filling like Rick Bayless’s creamy zucchini and corn. Or, serve the hot seared tongue with crispy potatoes and a couple over easy eggs.

Tongue is also good with pigs’ feet, but that’s another post!

Make sure to use this wonderful broth in another recipe! I added potatoes and leeks for a quicky soup!

Potted Ham

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I love all forms of charcuterie, but I’m especially enamored with pâtés, terrines, and rillettes. It’s something about their rustic, picnic-like nature.

On my sister-friend’s cooking blog a while back, I saw something I’d not made before – potted ham! I knew I’d love it. It’s a simple recipe, not much different than making rillettes. And to make it simpler I used my food processor.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Linda Duffin, whose blog is Mrs. Portly’s Kitchen, you are missing out. First of all, besides being a professional cookery teacher, recipe developer, and writer, she’s a hoot!

I often read her blog posts out loud to my husband, mostly because we can’t figure out what she’s saying, with all of her Britishisms, but we still laugh out loud!

Here is Linda posed by her infamous Aga, and a shot of her beautiful English kitchen.

A post of Linda’s from May 3, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, had us rolling on the floor. You can read it here. My favorite line from the post is, “Get me a lobster thermador or I’ll cough on you.”

Potted Ham
Printable recipe below

5 ounces unsalted butter, softened
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 small garlic clove, peeled
14 ounces lean ham, trimmed
4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
Clarified butter or duck fat

Add the butter, cream cheese, and garlic clove to a food processor. Run until the garlic is well dispersed. Chop the ham and add it to the mixture in the food processor, along with the parsley and spices. Pulse until combined, but not lose texture. This should be spreadable, but not baby food.

Taste for salt.

Add to crockery jars and top with clarified butter.

I considered getting fancy with mustard, but then just decided on a whole grain Dijon.

Serve at room temperature with toast and cornichons.

Lift off the chilled butter and dip into the wonderful ham spread.

Personally my adaptation of Ms. Duffin’s recipe is perfection. I’m sure hers is perfect as well, I just went a little fattier and a bit spicier.

Potted ham is basically ham rillettes. Add butter, spices and parsley to a meat and that’s what you get.

The potted ham would be fabulous with cheeses as well. Especially on a picnic by a creek in the Cotswolds. But for now I’ll just enjoy my potted ham in quarantine.

 

 

Puttanesca Relish

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My mother gave me this lovely book simply called Charcuterie, published in 2014. “How to enjoy, serve and cook with cured meats.”

For the blog I’ve already made an eye catching and incredibly tasting salad – chorizo and red cabbage.

This little book is full of surprisingly unique recipes using charcuterie, making charcuterie, or for charcuterie.

Case in point, puttanesca relish caught my attention. Being that pasta puttanesca is my favorite pasta dish, I could easily imagine all of the puttanesca flavors together, served as a relish.

From the book, “This relish is quite like tapenade, but it’s lighter and not as rich. It can be used to add to sandwiches and recipes, but it’s also lovely served with a charcuterie board and spooned onto the meats.”

I couldn’t wait to make it. It’s as easy as making a tapenade, because you can use your food processor.

Puttanesca Relish
Slightly adapted

2 ounces pitted Kalamata olives
2 anchovy fillets, drained
2 teaspoons capers, drained
Big pinch of fresh chopped parsley
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons olive oil
7 ounces canned San Marzano tomatoes, seeded, drained
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sprinkle of cayenne pepper flakes

Place the first six ingredients into a food processor and whizz until the pieces are nice and small and the texture is relatively smooth.

Add remaining ingredients. Leave some small chunks, don’t let it become a purée.

Transfer the mixture to a small sterilized jar or an airtight container and cover, if not using immediately.

I served the relish with soft bread, Parmesan, and soprasetta. It is outstanding.

This relish will keep for a week in the refrigerator, and is suitable for freezing.

If you freeze it, make sure to test the relish. It might need a boost in flavor.

I will definitely be making this again and again.

I used a new product for this recipe – capers in olive oil. Excellent.

Whipped Mortadella

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There used to be an food blogger, Chicago-based realtor-by-day Peter, whose blog, The Roaming GastroGnome, was inspiring and entertaining. “I cook, she eats, we travel!”

But Peter’s blogging began dwindling as he began a professional career making sausage. I kid you not. This guy is a charcuterie expert.

His company is called SAUSAGE KÖNIG. Unfortunately, delivery at this time is only in Chicago. but for you lucky folks who live in Chicago, Peter is now catering, and runs the League Secrete des Gourmands dining series as well.

I’ve saved some of Peter’s recipes in my “pile,” waiting for a rainy day, which finally arrived. One of his recipes was whipped mortadella. Intrigued? I certainly was!

From Peter: “Such a snap to make and overall this dish shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes. Basically take all of your ingredients and process in a food processor. The whipped mortadella is spreadable and great on crostini. It is the richest bologna you’ll ever have. Drizzle a little balsamic vinegar, or some mostarda for a touch of sweet acidity and oh my! A plate of these will definitely impress your guests, and you don’t need to tell them how simple it really is to make.”


This is the mortadella I purchased from my local deli Amazon.com

This recipe uses regular mortadella, not the variety containing pistachios.

Whipped Mortadella
Spuma di Mortadella

8 oz mortadella, cubed
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 c grated parmigiano reggiano
Small pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of black pepper

Place the cubed mortadella in a food processor and process until chopped up and fine. Slowly add the cream in and process into a smooth paste, then blend in the cheese, pepper, and nutmeg.

Once you add the cream make sure you process the mixture well so it’s smooth. You may need to add a little more cream in order to achieve the desired consistency. Spoon into a ramekin and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serve at room temperature with crackers or crostini.

This stuff is fabulous, and way more fun to eat this way.

I did end up adding a little more cream. It has a bit of a crumbly texture.

The only change I’d make is adding a tablespoon of soft butter to help the spreadability factor. Or, perhaps I could have processed the mortadella mixture longer.

I tried a cracker with a bit of balsamic drizzle and it was truly wonderful.

I will definitely be making this again, and doubling the recipe!

Chorizo and Red Cabbage Salad

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This lovely book was gifted to me by my mother. She knows what I love, and I love all forms of charcuterie.

The book was published in 2014, and written by Amanda Ballard. It is a guide to make your own cured meats, smoked sausages, salamis, and so forth.

I have since realized that much of the home-made charcuterie I’d love to make by hand, I cannot, due to the fact that I live in a very humid region. So no hanging whole jamons in my basement. (insert sad face.)

However, there are so many fun recipes in this book, utilizing purchased charcuterie and meat varieties. Like, coppa and spring onion frittata, and dried cranberry and brandy Christmas pâté. But I zeroed in on a chorizo and red cabbage salad.

From the book, “This salad is stunning due to its vibrant red color. It’s a lovely way to make cabbage exciting, as just a small amount of chorizo lends superb depth of flavor.”

Where I live, I can only find Mexican chorizo, which is soft and greasy. It’s important to find real Spanish chorizo for this salad. There are two basic kinds of Spanish chorizo, and I’m generalizing here.

There are sausages in links that need to be cooked; they look similar to Italian sausages, below left. And there is chorizo that is more similar to salami or pepperoni, that you’d see on a charcuterie platter. They come in a variety of shapes and made of different meats, depending on the origin in Spain, lower right.

This recipe utilizes the latter variety of chorizo, which is another reason I was so intrigued by this recipe.

Chorizo and Red Cabbage Salad
Serves 2 for a light lunch

Salad:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 red cabbage, cored, sliced or shredded
5 ounces chorizo, peeled, diced

Dressing:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon garlic purée or crushed garlic
Big pinch freshly chopped parsley
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice

For the salad, heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat, then add the red cabbage and fry until soft, stirring regularly.

Add the chorizo and keep stirring for 2-3 minutes, so that the chorizo starts to cook and release its oils.

Remove from the heat and let cool.

Meanwhile, put all the ingredients for the dressing into a bowl and mix together well. Once the cabbage and chorizo mixture has cooled, pour over the dressing.

Toss to mix well.

Serve. I personally liked serving the salad still warm.

I loved the dressing, but I’d change the ratio to a 50-50 mixture of olive oil and red wine vinegar. The chorizo does let off a lot of greasiness, so I prefer a bit more vinegar.

I’d definitely not serve this salad cold.

I can also see a dollop of crème fraiche served on this salad! Plus, I could also throw in a few golden raisins for a touch more sweetness, but that’s just me!

Country Game Terrine

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A terrine is a fabulous food from the charcuterie family that I enjoy making when my husband brings home pheasant or quail from his hunting trips in November, December, and January.

I love including slices of terrine on an hors d’oeuvres spread, for aprés ski time by a fireplace. Not that I ski, but I will put on a warm sweater and enjoy a terrine with good bread, some accoutrements, and of course wine.

So what is a terrine? Well, it’s not liver. To this day, my husband will not eat my terrines because he is sure I have snuck liver into them. There’s NO liver in a terrine, unless of course you want there to be.

It is a mixture of ground meats, flavored and seasoned and cooked with lots of fat so that although dense, they’re moist and flavorful.

You can make layered terrines with multiple meats, or place sausages in the middle, or even cooked eggs, so that the slices are pretty. I don’t do anything artistic, but I do sometimes adding nuts and dried fruits to the meat mixtures so that the terrine is texturally interesting.

What sets a terrine aside from say, a meat loaf? First, there’s a substantial amount of fat incorporated into the terrine mixture to prevent dryness. Secondly, the mixture is marinated in herbs and spices, plus Cognac and Madeira, before cooking begins.

Terrines are cooked slowly in a Bain Marie, and afterwards are weighted down to help create the dense texture. See how well they slice?


In other words, this ain’t no meat loaf!

Terrines are best served at room temperature, but cold is good too. Some people turn leftover slices into yummy sandwiches.

Country Game Terrine

4 tablespoons butter or duck fat
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 pounds fatty pork shoulder or butt, coarsely ground
1 pound mixed game meat or pheasant only, coarsely ground
1/2 pound ham, diced
Large handful chopped parsley
4 tablespoons Cognac
3 tablespoons Madeira or white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 egg yolks, beaten
1/2 cup dried cranberries or diced dried cherries
1/2 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped
Bacon slices, about 36 ounces
3 bay leaves

Heat the butter over moderate heat in a medium skillet, and sauté until soft. Stir in the garlic, thyme, salt, black pepper, white pepper, allspice, and nutmeg and remove the skillet from the heat.

In a large bowl place the pork, game, and ham. I had to grind the pork first, a coarse grind, followed by a more fine grinding for the quail. The hardest part for this step is remembering how to put the damn meat grinder together.

Add the cognac and the Madeira to the meats, plus slightly cooled onion and spice mixture and parsley. I also went ahead and added the cranberries.

Give everything a good stir, cover the bowl, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, test the terrine mixture for seasoning by frying up a little bit in a skillet and taste. Adjust seasoning accordingly. The parsley, allspice, thyme, and cognac are extremely important flavors.

Then stir in the heavy cream and egg yolks until well combined. Fold in the pistachios.

Line a loaf pan generously with bacon slices, allowing them to hang over the loaf pan.

Fill the terrine firmly with the meat. Place the bay leaves on the top of the terrine mixture, then fold over the bacon slices to cover completely.

You don’t have to have as much fun as I did with the bacon, because you’re going to be removing it in any case.

Bring the terrine to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, and prepare a large, deep pan with water in which to cook the terrine.

Cover the pan with foil tightly; a double layer would be ideal. Place the loaf pan in the water bath and let it bake for about 1 1/2 hours. But many different factors would change the time. So ideally, use an oven probe thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the terrine.

After the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F, remove the pan from the water bath and place on a counter top. Remove the foil to let any steam escape. Leave it alone for about one hour.

Notice I forgot the place the bay leaves under the bacon…

Place clean parchment paper over the top of the loaf pan, and cover with another loaf pan that fits inside it, with weights on top. These can be canned goods or bricks. If you think some of the remaining juices will overflow, cover the bottom with foil topped with paper towels.

Leave it like this until the terrine cools completely, then place in the refrigerator and chill it for 24 hours.

To serve, remove the terrine from the loaf pan carefully, remove the bacon strips and bay leaves, and slice crosswise into 1/2” slices.

The terrine is best served at room temperature.

The cranberry and pistachio combination make this terrine more festive. But just about any dried fruit and nut combination can be used, like diced dried apricot and hazelnuts.

Whatever meat you use, just make sure there’s fat inside, or the terrine will be dry. I learned that the hard way.

Nuts and dried fruits are fun, but not a necessity. And hopefully you can see that no real recipe is needed for a terrine. Just have fun!

Savory Biscotti

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The cookbook by Martha Stewart, called Martha Stewart’s Hors D’Oeuvres Handbook, was published in 1999, pretty soon after I started catering.

It’s a beautiful book, even if you’re not a Martha Stewart fan. Her ideas for hors d’oeuvres are, not surprisingly, creative and unique. Sometimes they’re on the crazy end of the spectrum – completely impractical and unreasonable.

One thing always got my attention – savory biscotti. She served them like fun crackers, but they could be used for canapés.

When I think of biscotti, I always think sweet, like my Christmas biscotti. But these are savory varieties, and include ingredients like nuts, seeds, cheese, olives, and other goodies. I imagined them to be really good served alongside cheese, with prosecco or rosé.

I decided it was time to make a variety of savory biscotti for a fun get-together, to have something unique on hand!

The following recipe is the base recipe. What I actually used in my savory biscotti is below.

Savory Biscotti
by Martha Stewart
printable recipe below

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 8 pieces
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk

Place the flour, pepper, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Combine on low speed.

Add the butter and beat until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the eggs, and milk. Gradually pour the milk mixture into the dough and mix just until combined.

This is the base dough for savory biscotti. Before chilling the dough and proceeding with baking, add various combinations of savory items and make sure they’re well distributed.

I kneaded the dough a bit before folding in my add-ins, which are listed below, along with Martha’s suggestions.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet with the remaining olive oil and set aside.

Divide the dough into 4 equal parts. (I halved the dough to make 2 logs.)

Roll each piece into a log measuring 1 1/2″ thick and about 7″ long. (I formed a log about 12″ long, then flattened it to about 1/2″ thick. (I am pretty sure MS meant 1 1/2″ wide, not thick.)

Transfer the logs to the prepared baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Brush each log with an egg wash (1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water and a pinch of salt). I didn’t do this. I did make sure there was a bit of grated cheese on the top of the biscotti, however.

Bake until the logs are light brown and feel firm to the touch, about 30-40 minutes. Reduce the oven to 250 degrees F.

Using a serrated knife, slice the logs crosswise on a long diagonal into 1/4″ thick slices that are 3-4″ long. Arrange the slices cut-side down on a wire rack set over a baking sheet and bake, turning the biscotti halfway through cooking time for even browning, until crisp, about 40 minutes.

Cool completely and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

These biscotti really are fabulous, and perfect on a cheese platter. Charcuterie would be a fabulous addition.

Today I simply paired them with Cambazola, but they’d be crazy good with a soft goat cheese or any spreadable herbed cheese.

You can really go crazy with all of the ingredient choices. Martha Stewart’s orange zest suggestion was really tempting but I didn’t have any oranges on this day.

Instead of all olive oil, you could use a flavored or infused oil, or even a little truffle oil.

I’ll definitely be making these again, and will enjoy switching up the ingredients.

Ingredients I used in addition to the above recipe:
Dried parsley
Garlic powder
White pepper
About 3 ounces coarsely chopped walnuts
About 3 ounces pitted Kalamata olives, sliced lengthwise
Grated Grana Padana, about 1 1/2 ounces

Martha Stewart’s savory biscotti suggestions:
Lemon zest, capers, parsley, and browned butter instead of olive oil
Orange zest, pistachios, and black olives
Parmesan, fennel seeds, and golden raisins

Chorizo and Scallop Skewers

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My mother gave me the cookbook Charcuterie for my birthday. She knows me so well!
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The book is mostly recipes, but also contains a chapter on making charcuterie from scratch. I’m in awe of people who make prosciutto and pancetta, but I live in too humid of a region in the U.S. to hang hams in my basement.

The recipes are wonderful, mostly focusing on Spanish, French, and Italian cured meats. The first recipe that caught my attention was a simple skewer of scallops and chorizo. Simple yet total perfection!

If you can’t get your hands on Spanish chorizo, check out my favorite website, La Tienda, for chorizo and all other Spanish foods. If you scroll through chorizo, and you will discover so many different varieties – some for slicing, some for cooking, some for grilling.

The recipe in the book just referred to cubes of chorizo, but I got carried away and purchased Ibérico de Bellota Butifarra Sausage because it intrigued me.

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It is sausage made from Iberian pigs, which are supposedly fed acorns as babies. This raw sausage wasn’t quite firm enough to cube, and not red like authentic chorizo, but it was really good!

When we were in Spain many years, my husband and I would order both jamon Serrano and Ibérico (similar to Prosciutto) and we could not tell the difference. Maybe they just knew we were Americans and didn’t bother giving us the real stuff, I don’t know! But we gave up after a few tries, and stuck to the fabulous but much less expensive Serrano.

In any case, in spite of not having used real chorizo, these scallop and sausage skewers were wonderful. I will paraphrase the recipe from Charcuterie because it’s so simple.

Chorizo and Scallop Skewers

12 – 1″ cubes chorizo or firm spicy sausage
12 scallops, approximately the same size
Olive oil
Ground paprika
Coarsely ground pepper

Heat a small amount of oil in a cast-iron or other heavy skillet. Brown the cubes or slices of sausage on all sides, then lower the heat and cook thoroughly. Place them on paper towels to drain.

Using the same fat from the olive oil and sausage, sear the scallops in the hot oil, then lower the heat to cook through. Place the scallops on paper towels to drain.

Let the chorizo and scallops cool, then skewer them together, with the scallop first, followed by the chorizo.

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Sprinkle on a generous amount of paprika and ground pepper.

I used a mixed peppercorn combination.

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These hors d’oeuvres are best served warm. They could be prepared ahead of time if they were gently re-heated so as not to overcook the scallops and dry out the chorizo or sausage.

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I will definitely be making these again with real chorizo, but I can really see the scallop pairing with just about any kind of sausage!

note: For a handy comparison chart on Spanish vs. Mexican chorizo, check out this website.

Growing Up Foodie

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With my grandmother at her home in Charmes-la-Côte, France

With my grandmother at her home in Charmes-la-Côte, France

Growing up, I lived an interesting foodie life without realizing it. I didn’t love much of anything in the early years; it took years to cultivate my taste buds. But compared to other American youngsters, the gastronomic history of my life is fairly unique.

One reason why my upbringing was different than others born in the 50’s is that my mother is French. She came to the U.S. a couple of years before I was born, bringing with her a cultured palate, kitchen savvy, and a great knowledge of gardening and harvesting.

During my early years, when we lived in Carmel, California, my mother taught French to American students for some extra money. One student rewarded her with a giant, hardback Betty Crocker cookbook. I doubt she opened it up more than once. Understandably, she didn’t have much of an appreciation for American cooking or for its measurement system. This was at a time when Americans were making some major changes in the way they prepared and presented food. This was also the beginning of the frozen dinner and fast food phase, which fortunately my mother never embraced.

Being that my mother is a bit on the stubborn side, she did not change her ways. She cooked how she was taught to cook, and how she wanted to feed us. Being that it was California, fresh produce was fortunately abundant, and my mother’s garden flourished.

I remember fresh artichokes, avocados, persimmons, and pomegranates at a young age. And I picked oranges, lemons, and kumquats right off of our trees.

Plus, Carmel had a wonderful deli called Mediterranean Market right on Ocean Avenue, and so we never lacked for various charcuterie, German sausages, and stinky cheeses.

Then we moved to north central California. Occasional day trips to San Francisco piqued my mother’s curiosity about Asian cuisines. She loved Chinatown, and would bring home Chinese candies that were gelatinous cubes wrapped in plastic. When you put them in your mouth, the plastic would dissolve! There were also pastel-colored plastic chips, that when deep fried, would bubble up similar to Cheetos, except that they were fishy. And, addicting.

But her fascination with all things Asian was why my mother got a little crazy when we moved to Seattle, Washington. Somehow she became good friends with Mrs. Chin, who had a grocery store and cooking school at the famous Pike’s Place market.

Mrs. Chin was tiny, adorably chubby, and I couldn’t understand a word she said. But she and my mother were two peas in a pod.

Soon after moving to Seattle my mother became a certified scuba diver, so she and Mrs. Chin struck up a deal. In exchange for cooking lessons, my mother supplied Mrs. Chin with sea cucumbers. They are a Chinese delicacy, so this was quite a coup for Mrs. Chin.

My mother and I both tasted one once. The texture was that of a shoe sole, but I don’t remember the flavor. Figuring as I was about ten or so, I probably spat it out and made a big fuss. But I remember that my Mom was not very fond of it, either. Here’s a picture of one on the sea floor. They’re not very attractive.

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So my mother collected these sea animals in the Puget Sound for Mrs. Chin, and took cooking lessons. Mind you, these lessons were not about stir-frying meat and vegetables and putting them all together over rice with a little soy sauce. This was intense, authentic Chinese cooking.

Mrs. Chin had published a cookbook, as well. My mother collected woks, spoons, bowls, sieves, steamers, cleavers… but then we moved again.

We left the Northwest and moved to the Northeast – Long Island, to be specific. We lived in a somewhat rural area across the bay from Cold Spring Harbor. The beach was pretty there on one end, but of course to my mother, it was an opportunity to catch fish and shellfish on the walled end of the bay. She built her own crab trap, of course.

One day, Mom came home with a giant eel. By this time I was about 13, and I was mortified just seeing it. Without thinking, my mother chopped the head off and stuck the neck of the eel in a vice grip. Mind you, it was still wiggling. I’m pretty sure it was about 6 feet long, without its head. My mother propped one foot on the counter next to the vice grip, and with pliers, proceeded to skin this monstrous thing. And, we had eel for dinner. Tasted like chicken.

During the summer months on Long Island my mother foraged the nearby river and local hills for anything edible. We called her our “Euell Gibbons,” who probably no one remembers except Americans my age or older.

My mother picked different species of mushrooms for fabulous omelets, harvested watercress from the river for salads, made shakes from wild strawberries, picked dandelions for making wine, and countless other things – some of which I’ve probably blocked from my memory. She also stirred up interesting herbal concoctions that cured everything from rashes to stomach aches.

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The worst experience for me, however, was when she cooked Tiger Lilies – yes, the flower. This was one of her Asian dishes. I can still remember the texture of them. To this day, I can’t look at Tiger Lilies. I won’t even plant them. That’s the last weird thing my mother ever cooked. (My husband has a different story to tell!)

Interspersed throughout my formative years were times I spent in France. My food memories from there are vivid. I loved “Les Petits Suisses,” and the fabulous bread and real butter. I remember the sweetness of just picked cherries and Mirabelles and the smell of wild onions in the woods. I remember walking to the little shops with my grandmother – first buying bread, then buying cream and cheese, then buying chocolate. It was the daily ritual.

The first beer I ever drank was in France. (I was older then.) It was called Champigneule, or something like that. I later learned it was the Budweiser of French beer, but I had it with a crusty baguette with le jambon et beurre, while waiting for a train, and it was delicious. It was years before I drank a beer again, but American beer just didn’t taste the same.

Just like that incredible wine that you have on a picnic, that doesn’t taste as good in your dining room a week later. Someone I knew once called this “experiential wine.” It’s not just the flavor of the wine you’re tasting, but the whole experience. That was my beer.

My mother used to make Baba au Rum, and Crepes Suzettes, which are incredible French desserts, but I couldn’t eat them. She also loved to make brandied fruit in her Rumtopf pot and serve it over ice cream, but that also was too strong for me.

But it was during dinner at my mother’s family home in France where I had my first glass of wine! I announced that it was very good, and my aunt got mad because I had accidentally drunk the everyday wine – le vin du maison – instead of the wine for guests. I can’t even imagine how good that must have been! I still remember the meal, which seemed to last days to me. Now I treasure leisurely meals, of course!

When I was in high school we moved west to Utah. My mother once again kicked into high gear, resurrecting her love of all things Chinese. Our kitchen smelled like an Asian grocery store, and my mother began testing all of her Chinese culinary expertise on us. Me, with my yet undeveloped palate, my sister with a more sophisticated palate but much less patience as she was older, and my step-father who wanted nothing more than to leave the table and not talk to anyone.

But what I got to experience were unforgettable dishes. Wintermelon soup, steamed buns with pork filling, whole cooked fish with vegetables, chicken in fermented black bean sauce, and so much more.

The Chinese hot pot nights were really fun, and probably the only times we all got along. My mother had a heat-proof table custom made just so we could hot pot! A hot pot is essentially an angel food cake pan over a bed of coals. The seasoned broth goes into the angel food pan, and the hole in the middle serves as the chimney for the coals. This thing got hot. Here’s a picture of one.

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During these years when I was still at home, my mother would also cook a different country’s cuisine often. She explored Indian food, Ethiopian food, even Russian food. I thought everyone ate Coulibiac and Doro Wat, and Rojan Josh.

My mother didn’t like all foods. On a trip to Corsica to visit her aunt, we were served Casu Marzu – pecorino covered with maggots. Live maggots. Nope. Neither of us tried that.

At 17 I went off to college, and had to make my way feeding myself. It would be way easier to say that my French mother had taught me how to cook, but she really didn’t. I knew how to make crepes, I’d helped make brioche and croissants, and I knew how to clean shrimp, but that’s about all. My mother always chased us out of the kitchen while she was cooking. She needed to concentrate.

The most important thing I learned from my mother, however, is that no matter what you’re cooking, use the best, freshest, and highest-quality ingredients. My mother never ever took shortcuts. There was no onion dip powder, cake mix, fake cheese, no bottled or canned this or that. This probably explains why I have to make everything from scratch.

Once I got married, I taught myself how to cook. Without realizing it at the time, all of the years of being introduced to different foods from around the world definitely benefited me. I knew what good food tasted like, even if I hadn’t cooked it yet. And I was familiar with a lot of non-traditional ingredients.

I’m not nearly the cook my mother once was. I don’t have the patience, for one thing, and I don’t have the artistic flair. She was also a perfectionist in the kitchen. My mother would never add a tomato to a salad without first peeling it. And if I have company, I’d much rather throw something together before-hand and have fun with my guests than be in the kitchen fretting. That’s just me.

But looking back at my childhood at all of my foodie experiences, and at all of our travels, I lived quite a food-rich life. It’s no wonder I am and always will be obsessed with great food. But I must honor my mother for introducing me to all of that lovely food along the way, and for all of her hard work in the kitchen. All of my experiences growing up inspired me to be the best home cook I could be.