Andalucía Calling

 

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Several weeks ago, we joined our friends Gina and Raphael, along with Gina’s parents, Ricardo and Anna Maria, for an evening at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network. That night, Valeria “La Chispa” Montes and Company performed the music and dance of flamenco. La Chispa and Company are a local flamenco group based in Detroit and were in Ann Arbor for a one-night special performance. We felt really lucky to catch this group as flamenco is something both Pierre and I love. Sometimes, I walk around the house with my arms in the air while stomping my feet, saying “Eso!!!” Actually, we both do.

La Chispa truly rocks because she embodies all the things I love about artists and dancers — the fire within, the physical strength and balletic grace. She and her company of guitar players and guest dancers will be performing this summer in Detroit’s Concert of Colors on July 19 at 2pm. You won’t regret seeing them at this great event and, who knows, you might even spot in the audience a very small Asian chick struttin’ around with castanets.

Below are photos of La Chispa and Company taken by Pierre.

 

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While watching their performance, I really felt transported to Spain, even if it were only a short while. Although I’ve never traveled to Andalucía or any part of Spain, I somehow felt a bit homesick for this part of the world I’ve only known through its food, music and dance. I was this close from booking the next flight to any city on the Iberian peninsula. Luckily, my good friend Carmen had gifted me some dried Chufa nuts (aka tigernuts) that she brought back from her last trip to her home country. I used them to make one of my favorite drinks – horchata.

 

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In Spain, chufas are used to make a lovely and refreshing drink – Horchata de Chufas, a Valencian specialty. This nutty, milky drink is just what I needed. With this hot, humid spell we had, it was an even better treat. Horchata is also made all over Latin America with various ingredients like rice, almonds, sesame seeds, to name a few. Horchata made from chufas has this unmistakable earthy scent and nutty flavor that is very different than horchata made from other ingredients. If you travel to Spain, you can purchase them at candy shops that sell frutos secos. Here, in the States, one place I’ve found selling chufa nuts is La Tienda, where you can order them online. The recipe below is from their site.

 

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HORCHATA DE CHUFAS – SPANISH TIGERNUT MILK

recipe from La Tienda

INGREDIENTS (approx. 1 liter)

  • 250 grams chufa nuts (about 7 ounces)
  • 1 quart (liter) of water
  • one cinnamon stick (optional)
  • 1 tsp grated lemon peel (optional)
  • about 1 cup of sugar (try the recipe with less the first time – you can always add more!)

STEPS:
For one liter of Horchata, soak 250 grams of chufa nuts in water for 24 hours. In a blender, grind the nuts, water, cinnamon, sugar and lemon until you have an even, smooth mixture. Let it sit in water for a half an hour. Press and strain the paste to obtain horchata. Refrigerate for at least an hour – then finish it in the freezer for 20 minutes until slightly slushy (optional).

 

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Another Spanish item that I’ve enjoyed at my friend Carmen’s home was Tortilla. Not the flat, round disks made from flour or corn but a thick potato and egg omelet. It really is amazing how a dish of three simple ingredients of potatoes, eggs and onions can be so good. Served with a plain green salad tossed with salt, olive oil and vinegar, it’s the perfect dinner. Cut into small wedges or squares, tortilla is great for parties or picnics too. The recipe I used is from Gourmet Traveller. You can get the recipe I used and watch a video on how to make Tortilla here.

 

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TORTILLA

recipe from GourmetTraveller

INGREDIENTS: (6 servings)

  • 1/3 cup (80ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced into thin rings
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 lb (½ kg) boiled potatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 6 Piquillo peppers, drained

STEPS:

To make tortilla, heat 1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil in a 10-inch (25cm) non-stick frying pan over medium heat, add onion and sauté for 3-5 minutes or until softened. Using a slotted spoon transfer to a small bowl, leaving any residual oil in the frying pan.

Meanwhile, lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl and season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add potatoes, onions and paprika and combine well. Let mixture marinate for a couple of hours in the refrigerator, preferably overnight. Remove tortilla mixture from refrigerator 30 minutes before planning to cook it.

To make tortilla, heat the frying pan again, adding remaining 1 tbsp olive oil, over medium heat. When oil begins to smoke slightly, add tortilla mixture to pan, shaking pan vigorously so that egg mixture amalgamates in bottom of pan. Reduce heat and cook for 4-5 minutes or until mixture all but sets. Place a plate over the frying pan and carefully invert the frying pan so that tortilla is on plate uncooked side down. Return frying pan to heat, carefully slide tortilla back in and cook for a further 4-5 minutes until tortilla is firm to the touch.

Transfer to a serving plate and allow to cool before serving. Cut into wedges and serve with Piquillo peppers and alioli if desired.

¡Buen Provecho!

 

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You like Kabocha, dontcha?

 

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I think a lot of people like to press the Shuffle button on their MP3 player to mix things up and hear a variety of songs. Not me. If I like a song, I’ll put in on Replay for-ev-er. Sometimes, I’ll listen to the same dang song like, 100 times before I move on to another.

Am I obsessive? Compulsive? My answer to that fluctuates. What is constant is my attachment to a good thing once I find it. This is how I am now with Kabocha pumpkin. Kabocha muffins for breakfast. Kabocha soup for lunch. Kabocha-stuffed pasta for dinner. How ’bout Kabocha pumpkin pie, anyone?

It was the same with Butternut squash a while back. And there was that winter-long fling with Meyer lemons – which, late at night, I still think of. Oh, and let’s not forget my fixation with pomelos.

Nowadays, my fancy turns to Kabocha. Can you blame me? Kabocha, with its deep, emerald skin flushed against this intense, orange flesh is like Butternut’s sexier, curvier, non-surgically altered and intellectually superior cousin. And, it doesn’t need a ton of makeup to look good, either. I mean, who would you rather go home with???

That’s what I thought. So next time you’re at the market, look out for Kabocha. Cook responsibly.

 

Soupe au Potiron – Kabocha pumpkin bisque

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INGREDIENTS: (4-6 servings)

  • 1 medium-sized Kabocha pumpkin (approx 3-4lbs)
  • 1 Tbl. of canola oil + more for coating pumpkin
  • 3 medium shallots, finely diced
  • chubby piece of ginger (approx 1 inch length), peeled and minced
  • 1/2 tsp of freshly ground star anise + a tiny pinch for sprinkling
  • 1/2 tsp of freshly ground cassia cinnamon + a tiny pinch for sprinkling
  • 1 quart of homemade or quality store-bought chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup half & half or whole cream
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper

STEPS:

  • Cut the Kabocha pumpkin in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Rub the cut sides with oil and sprinkle with a tiny pinch of the star anise and cinnamon. Place the pumpkin, cut-side down on a foil/parchment-lined cookie sheet.
  • In an oven preheated to 350F, roast the pumpkin for about 35 minutes (or until a knife can be inserted with little resistance).
  • Set aside to cool for about 15 minutes. Then scoop out the flesh.
  • Meanwhile, set a large saucepan to med heat, add the oil.
  • Next, add the shallot and ginger. Cook (sweat) the shallots and ginger until the shallots are softened and translucent, being careful not to add too much color.
  • Add the cooked pumpkin and spices and cook for another minute.
  • Add the chicken stock and stir to combine and heated through.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Using an immersion blender or regular blender, purée the soup until smooth.*
  • Stir the cream into the soup.
  • Check seasoning again and add more S+P if necessary. Serve warm.

*If you use a regular blender, please use extreme caution as the hot liquid will explode everywhere if you try to blend too much at a time. Fill only up to 1/3 of the blender at a time. Bon appétit!

 

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