Oysters: In the Middle of Mexico

Every Saturday I go to the local Organic Farmer’s market here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.  I buy coffee, vegetables, eggs, avocados (Yum!), cheese, bread and fish.

A local store, La Isla, has fresh fish flown in twice a week – Wednesday and Friday. The fish that arrives on Friday is brought to the market. If I want a special order, I can call him on Wednesday and he’ll bring it to me on Saturday.

For the last month or so, he has had oysters at the market. I haven’t bought any for a number of reasons. The major reasons being that Mark doesn’t like raw oysters and I don’t want to shuck the oysters myself.

However, last week I spoke with Miguel and he said that he can shuck the oysters for me. His wife, who is French and sell quiches at the market, said I can make “snail butter” and grill the oysters. Now that’s something both Mark and I would like.

As most things go in San Miguel, we decided to make a party of it. I decided to make a seafood happy hour party for a “small” group of nine. I made shrimp scampi, baked clams, and oysters, two ways.

baked clams

The first way I cooked the oysters was pretty straightforward. Place the shucked oysters on a baking sheet, top each oyster with “snail” butter, and bake at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes. They came out perfect!

The second way I cooked the oysters was similar, except that I topped each oyster with puff pastry.  I cooked them a bit longer – about 15 minutes so that the pastry was golden brown. They were delicious.

oysters with puff pastry1

It was a great party with good friends and wonderful food. How could I go wrong?

oyster table

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Readings and Celebrations

Once a month, the Literary Sala in San Miguel de Allende presents two writers who read from their work. This month, on June 13, I read a chapter from my book, Kosher Sutra, and a chapter from my next book, Entertaining Food.

Reading1

I love doing readings. Really. I could do a reading every week.

After the reading, a group of us walked across the street and had drinks and dinner at Hecho en Mexico, a local restaurant. I was excited about the reading so I had two (!) martinis. After dinner, we piled in the car and drove home.

To continue my celebration, I decided to make a special dinner on Sunday.

We live in the center of Mexico, 64000 feet in the mountains. We are not near an ocean, but due to modern technology, we get fresh seafood flown in twice a week.

I can get fresh clams, mussels, oysters, salmon and various white fish (flounder, grouper, sea bass).

I’ve always considered San Miguel de Allende, where we live, a paradise and now that we can get fresh seafood – great quality seafood, I might add – I know we are in Paradise.

A couple of weeks ago, some friends invited us out with them to dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant here, Café Firenze. We declined because I was going to cook clams in a tomato sauce with grilled bread.

The next day we found out that the restaurant offered a similar dish as a special:  Mussels in tomato sauce on a bed of polenta.  Everyone raved about it.

So, I had to try making it myself.

Mussels with Polenta

Truth be told, I’ve never made polenta. This was a good excuse to try. I bought a kilo (approximately 2 pounds) of mussels on Saturday. I would have preferred clams since I hate cleaning the mussels, but they were sold out.

(This is a very usual occurrence in Mexico. If you see it and want it, buy it. It may be awhile before it appears again. Usually, if I need/want clams for a special dinner, I’ll call the fishmonger and order it. Then I usually get it.)

On Sunday, I made a quick tomato sauce. I just sautéed some garlic in olive oil, added some sliced Spanish chorizo. When the chorizo was cooked, I added a can or two of diced tomatoes, a glug of red wine, and a tablespoon or so of tomato paste. I let it heat up a bit and then added the mussels. I covered the pan and let them cook for ten minutes or so.

In the meantime, I made the polenta, which took me longer than I was expecting. But it was delicious.

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The Julia Child Supper Club: The Mexican Version

Like many people, I felt that I had lost a personal friend when Julia Child died in 2004. To help with my loss, I got together with friends and together we cooked a Julia Child dinner. We each took a course from one of her books – I chose appetizers since that’s my favorite course – and met for dinner. We ate the appetizers and watched a couple of episodes of The French Cook and then went into the dining room for a lavish, multi-course dinner. There were ten of us and the menu included Vichyssoise, sautéed scallops, rack of lamb and dessert. We each brought a wine to complement our respective dishes.

This original homage-feast turned out to be the birth of the Julia Child Supper Club (JCSC), a group of food-loving friends that would meet every couple of months at someone’s house for a special dinner. We only had a couple more JCSC dinners before leaving Portland for Mexico.

When we moved back to Portland, an initial reaction from friends was: “Let’s get the dinner club together again.” And so, we did.

We met approximately every two months, rotating houses, and cooked a different cuisine every time. But every November, we returned to our roots and prepared a Julia-style French dinner and always dressed up for the occasion.

For every dinner, people would send their menu choices to David, who translated the courses into the appropriate language and designed the menu. Mark drew a cartoon cover illustration for each menu. These were always printed in color and became nice keepsakes.

JCSC_Provencal

When we returned to Mexico in 2011, we thought it would be fun to have a similar group in Mexico. And it has been.

We recently had a Northern Italian dinner. I brought the appetizers – cold meats (salami, proscuitto and mortadella), along with a bean dish topped with shrimp and marinated mushrooms.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After appetizers, we had mushroom risotto, followed by chicken marsala and then three (!) desserts (homemade coffee ice cream, panna cotta with whipped cream and homemade cherry and nut biscotti).

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Pasta

Seafood Pasta on a Plate2I could live on pasta. At one time I thought I’d write a book about pasta called, My Life in Pasta, because pasta has been such a big part of my life.

It has been getting easier to find good, fresh seafood here in the middle of Mexico. There are a number of stores that have it flown in weekly and a number of restaurants that have good seafood dishes.

I buy my seafood from a vendor at the Saturday Organic Market here in San Miguel de Allende. He has the fish flown in twice a week – on Wednesdays and Fridays – so I can pick it up on Saturday.

A few weeks ago, I bought frozen sea scallops from him and cooked it with pasta. My husband, Mark, went crazy for it and asked me to make it again. So, I did and here it is. I’m calling this dish Seafood Pasta because I actually think that this dish would be even better with shrimp.

Unfortunately (for Mark) I’m not a big shrimp eater so poor Mark has to “settle” for scallops. Life can be so tough for an eater

Seafood Pasta
My husband LOVES this dish so I thought I’d better write it down so I can replicate it! You can substitute almost any fish, even salmon. If you don’t have/want/like peas, use asparagus.

Serves 2-3

1 lb. scallops (you can also use shrimp, if you prefer)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 -1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes Note: I used 1/8 teaspoon and it was hot enough for us!
½ lb. spaghetti
Peas, fresh or frozen, about ¼ cup
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 tablespoon chives, chopped (optional)

Cook spaghetti according to package directions.

In the meantime, heat the oil in a medium skillet until warm. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Sauté for approximately one or two minutes. You don’t want the garlic to get too brown.

Add the scallops (or shrimp) and sauté for another couple of minutes.

When spaghetti is done, add to scallops, along with a ladle of pasta water. Boil the peas in the pasta where (yes, where you cooked the pasta) for about a minute or two. Add the peas to the spaghetti.

Swirl a bit to combine and then add the heavy cream. Swirl again. Add chives, if using.

Serve.

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Paella Party

To celebrate the publication of my book, Kosher Sutra, we decided to have a paella party. It is a strange feeling to have finally completed the book and hold it in my hands. Anyway, you can order it from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Or ask your local bookseller to get it for you. It is available in paperback and all the usual e-book formats.

But that’s not what this blog post is about. It is about paella. Living in Mexico, we are surrounded by not only Mexican cooking, but Spanish cooking. And, to me, Spanish cooking is all about paella.

I’ve made paella in a skillet on the top of the stove, but I wanted to make it the “real” way – on the grill. Our friends brought over their very well-used paella pan and we had a party!

The day before the party, I grilled the chicken thighs and the shrimp. About an hour before our friends came over, I steamed the mussels and clams in chicken broth laced with saffron.  While we sat in our courtyard, having cocktails and marinated mushrooms, we got the grill going.

Finished Paella on the Grill

This was so much fun that we’re buying our own paella pan next week and we’re planning a neighborhood party.

Paella on the Plate

Paella on the Grill
Serves: 8 -10

8- 10 chicken thighs
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
18 medium to large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 pounds clams, scrubbed
2 pounds mussels, de-bearded and scrubbed
8 cups chicken stock
1 large pinch saffron
1 large Spanish onion, finely chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, finely chopped, divided
1 pound Spanish chorizo, thinly sliced
4 cups short grain paella rice
1 cup peas, fresh or thawed
1 jar piquillo peppers, thinly sliced (6 or 8 peppers), or fresh red bell peppers
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

The Day Before or the Morning of the Paella Party

Note: I guess if you have two grills, you can grill the chicken and shrimp as the rice cooks. We are a one-grill family so this is how I do it!

Grill the chicken and shrimp. Brush the chicken with some of the oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the chicken skin-side down on the cooler part of the grill (the outer rim), to cook indirectly and slowly, and put the lid on. Cook the chicken until golden brown on both sides and completely cooked through, about 15 minutes. Remove to a sheet pan.

In the meantime, marinate the shrimp in olive oil and garlic for a few minutes. Put the shrimp on skewers and grill for about 1 minute per side.

Let the chicken and shrimp cool and refrigerate for the next day. 

One Hour or so before the Paella Party

Combine approximately 1 cup chicken stock and saffron in a medium saucepan. Add clams, cover and bring to a boil. Cook until the clams open, about 5 minutes. Remove the clams to a bowl. Add the mussels to the broth, cover and cook until the mussels open, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Discard any shellfish that don’t open.

Add the rest of the chicken stock to the clam/mussel broth. Heat the broth until warm, but not boiling.

During the Party, when having cocktails

Light coals. When very hot, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large paella pan over direct heat. Add the onions and cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the chorizo and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and crisp, about 5 minutes.

Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, for a few minutes. Begin adding the stock, about 1 cup at a time and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice is al dente, about 25 minutes.

Arrange the chicken, clams mussels, shrimp, peas, and piquillo peppers in the rice. I covered the paella for a few minutes, just to heat everything up again. Scatter the parsley over the top. Stir gently to bring some of the rice up from the bottom, and serve.

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Welcome to The Knish Chronicles

A blog is a big responsibility. And I am one who takes on too much responsibility at the same time I stress and rebel against it.

But, after many people – you know who you are – told me, begged me, nagged me to start a blog, here I am.

This blog is about food and home cooking because I love to cook. It is about community because without a community who are you going to cook for? And it is about my life, here in the central highlands of Mexico.

My husband, Mark, and I moved to Mexic0 – San Miguel de Allende to be exact – in December 2005. We left and returned to the States – Portland, Oregon, to be exact – in September 2007. Our time was horrible; we arrived at the very start of the Great Recession and watched our investments and nest egg dwindle away.

We returned to Mexico – San Miguel de Allende, again – in March 2011. We are happy to be back. For me, San Miguel is where my heart is and where I love to be. They call this part of Mexico the City of Eternal Spring. To me, it is the place where I am the person I always I thought I was.

I hope you enjoy this blog. There’s some of Mexico in it, some of Portland, Oregon, and of course a lot of New York where I grew up.

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