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So what does a girl from Northern British Columbia know about a Southern classic like biscuits and gravy.  Well, not very much until one glorious day in my early twenties when I discovered heaven on a plate.  Since then I have this decadent delight whenever I cross the border.  This is a truly ambivalent relationship.  This meal is not for you if you are counting calories, counting carbs, watching your cholesterol or eating only whole grains.  There is no redeeming nutritional value to this meal… buy that first bite of tender biscuit and rich gravy is all the redemption I need.

Beautiful, light and tender cream biscuits from Whole Foods

Biscuits have always been a part of my life.  They were on the table almost as often as bread in a household that always had bread and butter on the dinner table.  The baking soda biscuits were made according to my Great Grandmother’s recipe which was nothing more than an ingredient list and some proportions.  Eventually, the “recipe” was committed to paper with proper measurements.  It took away the guesswork but not the skill required to turn flour, lard and milk into a tender, flaky disk.  My earliest attempts were just as likely to resemble hockey pucks.  Fortunately, I did master the technique and serve them from time to time, most often with my Great Grandmother’s Baked Beans.   Sadly, I had very little time to get this meal on the plate.  Fortunately, Whole Foods makes a really good biscuit.  Problem solved.

Everything you need for a really tasty, if not figure friendly meal.

But this isn’t just about the biscuits.  This is Biscuit and Gravy Week.  In this context the biscuit is just a vehicle for the gravy.  Just like fries are to poutine and spaghetti to bolognaise.  The classic southern biscuit gravy is a cream gravy, sometimes chicken flavoured but often and best a creamy sausage gravy and that is what I decided to make today.  I did take a few liberties with the tradition.  I used fresh chorizo instead of a sweet sausage.  I think a little spice makes everything nice… too cheesy?  Okay, I think a bit of heat brightens the otherwise dense richness of the cream gravy.

The key to a good gravy is a good base, in this case fresh chorizo, onions and garlic.

I also took some liberties with the “cream” of the cream gravy.  I used whole milk instead.  I’m sure Paula Dean would call it pure blasphemy.  I’m sure Paula’s recipe would call for heavy cream and about a pound of butter.  But I think I can be excused for my lack of authenticity.  I do have a formal gala coming up and I would really like a good reason to buy a new dress.  And, “the old one doesn’t fit anymore” is a really good reason.   So I made it a bit lighter, but the reality is there is no way to turn this into a healthy meal.  So just enjoy it for what it is.  It’s creamy, it’s savoury, it’s delicious.

Sausage Gravy

  • 1 lb sausage – I used Chorizo, but use whatever you like
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons butter – this if just for flavour, if your sausages render enough fat you can omit the butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour – I like the gravy on my biscuits extra thick.  Reduce to 3 tablespoons if you like a thinner gravy
  • 2 cups whole milk – no skimmed.  You need a bit of fat.
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped fresh herbs to your liking

Saute the onions until soft.  Add the sausage and saute until cooked through.  Add the garlic and saute for a minute more.  Add the butter and flour and cook for at least two minutes.  If you don’t cook the flour the gravy will taste like school paste.  Add the milk and stir until thickened.  Add salt, pepper and herbs to taste.  The herbs you add will depend on the flavour of the sausage.  Thyme, sage and italian parsley are all good.

Pour the gravy over toasted biscuits and enjoy.

Dinner, or is it breakfast, or is it brunch. I'm not sure but I know it is really good.

Okay.  So I added some peas.  I couldn’t completely ignore the lack of nutrition. But you know, peas don’t seem so healthy when you dunk them in gravy.

Della

Every cuisine has one – a one-pot meal, a peasant dish that is the quintessential definition of that place and people. Louisiana has jambalaya. Chile has the cazuela. There’s Irish Stew and Pad Thai. And the Spanish? Well they have paella.

The roots of paella reach back to Valencia. The original Valencian dish was a mixture of meat, snails, beans and green vegetables. There two basic variations on the original. Seafood paella, as the name suggests, eliminates the meat in favour of all seafood, a popular meal for Friday observance. Mixed paellas are more akin to the original but usually include chicken instead of the traditional rabbit, and shellfish instead of snails. Perhaps, the most distinctive characteristic of any paella is the bright yellow rice, all thanks to a generous dose of saffron, or should I say azafrán? At its core, paella is a meal that makes use of what is at hand – local, fresh and available.

Prawns, mussels and clams

A successful paella is all about layering flavours. I start mine by browning some dry cured chorizo. The fat that renders out of the sausage is full of paprika and garlic and adds great flavour to the dish. After the chorizo, it’s time to brown off the chicken, (or rabbit, or pork). All those brown bits that come off the chicken add another layer of complexity to the final product. The fat left behind is the perfect medium for sweating the onions and garlic. Once done, it’s important to toast the rice which further deepens the flavour. I like to add my paprika at this point to toast the spice a bit as well. Then it’s time for the liquid. Wine is not essential, unless you want a really good paella. A cup of wine goes a long way to boosting the flavour quotient. For the stock, you can use chicken, shrimp, lobster or a combination of them. I prefer plain old chicken stock but it really is just a personal preference. Remember, you should be able to taste everything – nothing should overwhelm, nothing should fade away. When it comes to vegetables I keep it simple – peas and sweet peppers. The part that always changes in my paella is the shellfish. It all depends on what looks good at the market that day. Today it was clams, mussels and prawns. I was very tempted by the Dungeness crab, but there were only two of us eating tonight and it doesn’t reheat very well. For maximum flavour, leave your prawns whole – shell and head on. My husband prefers them peeled, despite the flavour loss, so you’ll see that ours are ready to eat straight out of the pot.

Chicken and Chorizo – I know I said use chicken thighs with skin on, and I maintain it makes a better paella. But, I’m going to be on a beach in Mexico in 5 weeks. The chorizo made the cut, the chicken skin had to go.

Once you’ve established the mixture of meat and fish you want in your paella, the only challenge is timing it right to make sure the rice is cooked and the shellfish are still tender and sweet. The chorizo will be cooked through after you’ve browned it, but it won’t deteriorate when it’s in the cooking liquid. The chicken requires a little more thought. I prefer thighs for paella because they are less prone to drying out during cooking. Let your rice cook for about three minutes before you put the chicken in and you’ll be fine. Add the peas, peppers and prawns after about 14 minutes. Let the rice cook for another 2 minutes before adding the shellfish. Add your shellfish to the pot with a splash of stock to create some extra steam. Cover the pot and leave it for 3 minutes. Your mussels and clams will open, your prawns will be bright pink and the rice tender.

Paella – it’s like a buffet in one pot with the variety of ingredients

The traditional recipe suggests you let the bottom of the rice brown to create a crust on the bottom. I don’t care for the crusty part, so I don’t do that. But again, it’s all a matter of personal preference. In my opinion, the perfect paella is the one you like best.

Bon appétit,
Della

Paella
(serves 6)
• 1 ½ cups Arborio or other short grain rice
• 4 cups chicken stock
• 1 cup white wine
• 1 large white onion, diced
• 4 cloves garlic, diced
• zest of one lemon
• ¼ pound chorizo, sliced in 1/4” rounds
• 6 chicken thighs, skin on
• 1 tsp smoked paprika
• 1 tsp crushed saffron
• 2 cups fresh or frozen peas
• 2 red peppers, thick julienne
• 1 pound prawns
• 1 pound mussels
• 1 pound clams
• juice of one lemon
• parsley, chopped

1. In a large sautee pan with tight fitting lid or paella pan, cook chorizo on medium heat until browned on both sides and fat has rendered off. Remove from pot and set aside.
2. Add chicken to the pan. Cook until deep brown colour on both sides. Remove from pan and set aside.
3. Add onions and sautee until translucent.
4. Add garlic, paprika and lemon zest and cook for another minute.
5. Add rice. Stir to coat rice with oil and toast for about 2 minutes.
6. Add white wine to deglaze pan, scraping off brown bits from the bottom.
7. When wine has almost been absorbed add 3 ½ cups stock and saffron. Let stock come to boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 3 minutes.
8. Bury chicken and chorizo in the rice/stock mixture. Cover and cook for 12 minutes.
9. Add peas, peppers and prawns. Cover and cook for another 2 minutes.
10. Add clams, mussels and remaining ½ cup of stock. Cover and cook for 3 minutes.
11. Remove lid. If shellfish haven’t opened, replace lid and let cook for another minute.
12. Squeeze lemon over paella and sprinkle with parsley.
13. Enjoy.

Soup – the gift that keeps on giving. It’s true. Think about it. When did you ever make a batch of homemade soup that only lasted for one meal? Never, right? But that’s okay because I’ve never met a soup that didn’t make great leftovers or didn’t freeze well and I bet you haven’t either. Well, as long as it was good soup to begin with of course.  I’m not going to go into the history of soup or fill this space with random factoids about soup, though there is plenty interesting on the topic to be sure and if you are interested, I urge you to type “soup” into your Google (or Yahoo or whatever search engine) search bar and browse at your leisure.  Today’s post is about sharing homemade soup recipes and celebrating homemade soup!

I do have one single-meal homemade soup recipe that I make from time to time. I don’t know how well it qualifies as homemade since one of the key ingredients is instant noodles but it also involves veggies and stuff so I think it does. Goes like this:

1. Put 3 – 4 c. water and one small handful each of mushrooms, chopped red bell pepper, and small broccoli florets into a medium-large saucepan and heat to boiling.
2. Add 2 tbsp. miso paste (I usually mash it up in a cup with hot water before adding it so it liquifies better), 1/2 – 1 tbsp sambal oelek and a couple squirts of soy sauce. Stir.
3. Add one package instant ramen noodles (with soup flavour mix if you want, or not), a couple handfuls of chopped spinach and/or bok choy and the juice of one lemon or lime. Cook 3 minutes or until noodles are tender.

Other optional add-ins include green onions, shrimp or other shellfish, an egg, kimchi, etc.  Serves 2 people, or 1 really hungry person.

I have a lot of favorite homemade soup recipes I make.  A couple of years ago I invented a Roasted Butternut Squash & Chipotle Cream soup.  Sadly, I never wrote down the recipe but here’s my best approximation based on my very weak recollection:

1. Slice 1 butternut squash in half (lengthwise), rub lightly with olive oil and place face down in roasting pan. Roast at 350 until tender. [Optional: can sprinkle some brown sugar and/or salt & pepper for additional flavour].  Remove from oven, scoop flesh out of skin and reserve.

2. In stock pot, saute 1 small sweet onion in butter or olive oil until transparent.  Add 1 tbsp. toasted ground cumin, 1 tsp. ground coriander & 1/2 tsp. turmeric. Cook for 30 – 45 seconds.

3. Add squash flesh and just enough hot chicken, turkey or veggie stock to cover.  Simmer for 10 – 15 minutes to allow flavours to coalesce.

4. Season with 1-2 (or more if you like it really spicy) chipotle peppers (the canned in adobe sauce kind) and s & p.  Cook for another 5 minutes and then blend the whole thing until smooth and creamy.

5. Serve with sour cream or yogourt garnish and fresh cilantro.

Many of my soups use homemade stock. I make giant batches of the stuff and keep it in my deep freeze for a variety of purposes. Usually it’s turkey or chicken, but last Easter I made a ham stock with the leftovers from the Easter Ham and it was really great so I recommend that as an option for those of you who like to make stock.  Eva and I once made a roasted vegetable stock for a vegetarian stuffing we were making for a Thanksgiving dinner for 100 or so people. We concocted this giant vat of roiling liquid chock full of a variety of roasted veggies and seasonings like Bragg’s and fresh thyme and brown butter sage.  The colour was great, the smell was great, the taste should have been great and it was mostly, but also … slightly bitter.  Maybe it was because we’d overroasted some of the veggies, or maybe we should have left out the green peppers.  Anyway, we solved our problem by adding Coca-Cola to it because that’s what we had on hand (it was a temporary kitchen). Which just goes to show that you can put anything in soup.

One of my all-time favorites is a soup my dad makes and it doesn’t even need stock. For some reason, I can never remember the recipe and I repeatedly call him for a recitation, so I thought it would be wise to immortalize it here.

(B’s Dad’s) Portuguese Kale Soup – the illustrated version

Saute 1-2 chorizo or linguica sausages in a small amount of oil.

Add 1 medium onion (diced) and cook on medium heat until onion is transparent.

Stir frequently, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

Add 3-4 Russet potatoes (diced) and cover with just enough water to cover potatoes.

Cover and cook on medium-low heat until potatoes are almost done (i.e. tender)

Season with 3 tbsp. Apple Cider Vinegar, 1-2 tsp. Molasses and 1 clove.

Add a can of beans. Preferably cannellini or white kidney beans but red will do.

Fill the pot with as much chopped kale as you can stuff into it. Mix it in, cover and cook until kale is tender (about 15 minutes).

Serve with a nice crusty bread.

For the vegetarian version:

To achieve a meatier taste without actually using meat, cook the onions a little more so that they just barely start to brown. You can use a little more oil or even butter to help encourage that browning – but, as my (Jewish) dad says, make sure that you are careful to cook them only until they are just starting to brown a tiny bit around the edges and no more, or else the soup will taste Jewish, not Portuguese.  Then add about 1 tbsp. of red pimento paste (the seasoning that is used to make chorizo or linguica; your choice whether you want to use spicy or mild), swirl it around in the oil and let it cook a bit, and then a little bit of red wine (because they also use that in making chorizo and linguica) and a couple of drops of liquid smoke (to give the smoked sausage flavour).  Let the wine sizzle just a bit to cook out the alcohol and then add potatoes and proceed as above.

I hope you take the very small amount of time to make this soup. It is truly one of the best soups I have ever had.  It’s easy and satisfying and pretty too.  I wish I could take credit for it, but I’ll give credit where credit’s due. Thanks Daddy-o!

xoxo  B.