Living on an island in the north Atlantic makes for some interesting moments when it comes to the weather. Hurrican Gonzalo was all the talk the last few days and after being ramped up to a category 4 hurricane when it attacked Bermuda on Friday, Newfoundlanders were all getting ready to hunker down and wait Gonzalo out as he headed our way. Luckily, Gonzalo had been downgraded to a category 1 storn when it hit the southeastern tip of Newfoundland overnight. Over 60cm of rain fell in Ochre Pit Cove, and wind gusts of 108 km/hr were recorded along with 10 to 12 metre waves on Newfoundland's southeast coast. On a brighter note, accompanying Gonzalo's wrath came record high temperatures with St. John's breaking a 66 year old record when the temperature peaked at 18 degrees Celsius yesterday. Newfoundland isn't exactlly known for such balmy fall weather, but hey? Never a dull moment here on what we affectionately call 'The Rock'!
With Gonzalo on everyone's mind including mine, I decided to infuse last night's Date Night at Home with a little Spanish flair. "A mal tiempo, buena cara'! (To bad weather, good face.). Three things immediately came to mind: tapas, paella and sangria. Tapas are a wide variety of appetizers or snacks designed to encourage conversation because people are not so focused upon eating an entire meal that is set before them. Paella is widely regarded as Spain's National Dish, although most Spaniards consider it to be more of a regional Valencian dish. Sangria is a typical beverage of Spain and Portugal normally consisting of wine, chopped fruit, a sweetner such as honey, with a small amount of brandy added. I knew paella was going to be my main course - it would just seem wrong to go in any other direction. But what about the tapas? There are so many, many options when it comes to tapas. I wanted to do something with bread, something like bruschetta but not bruschetta. I remembered reading somewhere about Escalivada which is a traditional dish of Catalonia, an autonomous community on Spain's east coast. Escalivada consists of smoky grilled vegetables typically consisting of roasted eggplant and bell peppers with olive oil, and sometimes onion, tomato, garlic and salt. Having wanted to try this yummy sounding dish, I decided Escalivada would be 'tapa' number one. But what else could I serve? Tapas aren't always fancy and usually they're just a few simple ingredients, prepared well. Looking in my refrigerator I spied a large container of fresh, organic button mushrooms and decided I was going to do something special with them as tapa number two.
First up would have to be the Escalivada on Crusty Bread. I lined a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and preheated my oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. I cut a medium size egg plant in half lenghtwise, brushed the cut side with extra virgin olive oil and placed it cut side down on the baking sheet, making a few small slits in the skin of the eggplant so that it didn't split as it cooked. Next I halved a red bell pepper and removed all of the seeds and membrane, brushed it with extra virgin olive oil and placed it too cut side down on the baking sheet. I did the same thing with a medium size Vidalia onion, after removing the peel, and placed several cloves of garlic onto the pan too. I placed the sheet into the oven and after 30 minutes, rotated the vegetables, and continued baking them for another 30 minutes before adding two medium, firm tomatoes to the baking sheet and letting all of the vegetables roast for another 20 - 30 minutes. When they were done and cooled, I removed the skins, roughtly chopped them up, combined them in a bowl with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and added 4 or 5 anchovy fillets, finely chopped. I spooned this mixture on to slices of crusty bread, topped each slice with a little grated parmesan and placed the bread onto a baking sheet. When I had my paella cooking away on the stove, I placed the baking sheet of Escalivada on Crusty Bread in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for about 10 minutes. The aroma that filled the house while the vegetables were grilling was absolutely magnificent and I'm fairly certain, Escalivada on Crusty Bread could easily serve as a meal itself! No one in this household is particularly fond of anchovies but you hardly know they're in this recipe although they do bring the 'umami' to the plate!
Sherried Mushrooms were next on my agenda. These mushrooms are made with cream sherrry which is a fortified wine made from white grapes that are grown near the town of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain, that is commonly used to flavour sauces. Opened bottles of sherry will keep in a cool, dry place for months. I love mushrooms done just about any way but these Sherried Mushrooms are really incredible and so delicious. Very simply, I took a pound of white mushrooms, trimmed and cleaned them with a damp paper towel and then cut them in half, or quarters depending on the size, sauteed them in extra virgin olive oil for about 10 minutes and then stirred in 1/2 cup cream sherry (I used Harvey's Bristol Cream) and 3 cloves of minced garlic. After about 10 minutes, when most of the liquid had evaporated, I stirred in a tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice and seasoned the mushrooms with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper. Just before serving, I mixed in a tablespoon of freshly chopped parsley. These Sherried Mushrooms can be made ahead, covered and refrigerated for up to one day, and only need to be brought to room temperature before serving.
At this point, I had my vegetables roasting in the oven, my mushrooms were simmering away, candles were lit in the dining room, a little Spanish guitar music softly playing in the background and honey was in the shower, so I started in on my Seafood Paella. Some people think paella is too much of a challenge but the recipe I use is easy and foolproof, yet full of flavour! First, I pan seared some shrimp in a little olive oil and when they were pink on both sides, I transferred them to a plate and set them aside to add back into my paella just before serving. I then satueed a sliced leek in a little extra virgin olive oil and when they were softened, after about 5 minutes, I added in a 1/2 cup of chopped chorizo sausage. When the chorizo had released it's oils, I stirred in turmeric and long grain brown rice, making sure that all of the rice was coated in the oils before adding in my no salt added chicken stock. After bringing this mixture to a boil, I reduced the temperature and let everything simmer for about 15 minutes before adding in my mussels and 3/4 cup frozen green peas. I covered the pot and let the mussels cook until they were open, then added my shrimp back into the skillet to heat through before transferring my Seafood Paella to a serving bowl.
I should note that paella is traditionally seasoned with saffron but, at over $100 for a 1 ounce jar, saffron is a little rich for this small town girl's wallet so I decided to use turmeric instead. Turmeric is the bright yellow of the spice rainbow that has a peppery, warm, slightly bitter taste and a mild fragrance reminiscent of orange and ginger. It may be the most effective nutritional supplement in existence. Many high quality studies show that it has major benefits for the body and the brain. The yellowish-orange pigment in turmeric, known as curcumin, is a strong anti-inflammatory so powerful it matches the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs including hydrocortisone, phenlybutazone and Motrin without any of the toxic effects. It's bioactive substances fight inflammation on a molecular level and dramatically increases the antioxidant capacity of the body. Turmeric is effective in the treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases such as Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis, provides relief for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, provides help for people with Cystic Fibrosis, it's powerful antixodiants protect colon cells by helping destroy mutated cancer cells, enhances liver function, inhibits cancer cell growth and metastases, reduces the risk of childhood leukemia, lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol, and provides protection against the progression of Alzheimer's, depression and may even block the progression of Mutliple Sclerosis.
The only thing left to make this Spanish Date Night at Home meal complete was something cold and refreshing. I wanted to make a Sangria, but I didn't want to use red wine, which is a bit of a contradiction given that sangria is named for it's blood-red color. But hey...nothing wrong with a little 'artistic licence' right? Not to worry...once you taste this festive thirst quenching White Sangria, it won't matter a bit that it's made with white wine instead of red. I put 3/4 cup of a mixture of bite size pieces of cantaloupe and honey dew melon into a glass pitcher and added 1/4 cup of sugar, stirred it about and let it sit for about 15 minutes to draw the juices out of the melons. I then added 375 ml of Gazelo Vinho Verde white wine, 1/8 cup brandy and 1 Tbsp of Triple Sec, and 1/2 cup of sparkling water and mixed it all up. I added some ice to each glass and spooned in some of the fruit from the sangria, and then filled each glass, and garnished it with a slice of fresh lime and a couple of mint leaves. I had wanted to garnish with slices of starfruit but there wasn't any available at my local grocery store so I went with lime instead. This White Sangria was truly a delcious, crisp, refreshing cocktail to have with our Spanish fare.
There's something to be said for being a newlywed when you're 50. Both my husband and I have learned a lot over the years and perhaps the most important thing is that sometimes, even the best relationships deserve a little attention and effort. Both of us really enjoy our date nights at home and last night's Spanish Date Night at Home was particularly fun! While Gonzalo was spilling rain and blowing the leaves all around our yard, we dined by candlelight on scrumptious food with Spanish flair, sipped on White Sangria and danced to the Gipsey Kings, (who although from Arles and Montpellier in the south of France, perform in Spanish with an Andalusian accent), all in the comfort of our own home. It doesn't have to be complicated to be good!
Between all of the vegetables in the Escalavada on Crusty Bread and Sherried Mushrooms, using only extra vrigin olive oil, low sodium broth, brown rice and turmeric, not only was our Spanish Date Night at Home successful, it was easy, healthied-up, inexpensive AND delicious!