Spanish Chorizo

Memories of flaming sausage.

If you ask anyone in my family of origin, they’ll probably say the happiest time for us as a family was the four-year period we spent in Spain. My dad had shore duty, my parents had more money than they were used to, and the living was relatively easy.

I have mentioned some of my Spanish food faves already: Spanish tortilla, paella, etc.  Usually, when I mention these foodstuffs, people at least know what I’m talking about. Here in San Diego, though, mostly only foodies know what I mean when I say “Spanish chorizo.”

chorizo2

Spanish chorizo is very, very different from Mexican chorizo, which is what people are used to around here. Mexican chorizo is very loose — like ground meat at fridge temperature and practically liquid once cooked. Spanish chorizo is more the texture of pepperoni or other hard/dry sausages.

The really weird part to most people, though, is how we cooked it. Basically, mom would pour Everclear over it and light it on fire. Talk about a fun lunch! Besides the fun of watching it flame, it was a quick meal that didn’t heat up the kitchen, so it was mostly a summer food for us.

I almost didn’t post this because it’s really just a method and a memory, but it’s really good, and it’s nice to have some simple warm-weather meals to share.

chorizo1

The steps are so simple:

  1. Put Spanish chorizo on a heatproof plate or pie tin
  2. Douse it in Everclear or other highly alcoholic liquid (in a pinch, brandy is fine, but you don’t need anything expensive)
  3. CAREFULLY light it and let the alcohol burn off
  4. Let it cool for just a minute or two
  5. Slice the charred chorizo and eat it on good bread with as many sides as you want: veggies, olives, roasted red peppers, etc.

I’m a little sad that you won’t have the nostalgia to go with it. Or do you? Do you have foods like this in your history? I’d love to hear about them!

 

Sloppy Joes

Sloppy joes you can make with meat or without, with equal success.

When I first started this blog, I was telling my co-worker and friend Haydee about it, and the first thing she asked me after I described it was something like, “Oh, and then you’ll give the healthier versions of the foods, right?”

I looked at her like she had two heads.

If my mom’s food were made healthier, it wouldn’t be mom food.  I mean, make clam chowder with low-fat milk and less butter and you just change the whole nature of the thing.

But sometimes. SOMEtimes, it really doesn’t matter.

One example is food that’s already very good when it’s unadorned. The glory of a tomato salad made with tomatoes at peak season shines, whether you use a lot of olive oil or just a little. If it’s an exceptionally good tomato, olive oil is gilding the lily. Not that I don’t like a good gilded lily from time to time.

Another example is a certain class of food that I tend to call “trashy,” but I should probably find another term. Help me out here — casual? I don’t know. Fast food, I guess.

Anyway, sloppy joes fall into this category for me. Their essence is in the textures, the sweet-and-sour-and-a-little-smoky sauce, and the fun of trying to eat it without getting it everywhere. I found out when I was a vegetarian that sloppy joes can be made with anything from tofu to lentils to commercial veggie crumbles, and the experience is roughly the same.

Growing up, I had NO idea you could make sloppy joes yourself. It was a can of Manwich in our house, and never anything else. When I was a kid, that sauce had lots of chunks of green pepper and onion in it. Those are smaller and less plentiful, but the sauce is still passable, if sweeter than I like. As it turns out, though, you don’t need the can, because you probably have most or all of the ingredients you need at home, and when you make it yourself, you get to tweak it to be just how you like it.

What you need:

Something tomatoey: Ketchup, barbecue sauce, tomato paste/sauce/puree, whatever — I’ve even used V8 juice.

Something smokey: I’ve used smoked paprika, liquid smoke, chipotle peppers, and smoky barbecue sauce.

Something sweet/sour: Ketchup is already sweet/sour, and so is barbecue sauce, but if you use another tomato product, you’ll want to add some kind of sweet thing (sugar, honey, apple juice concentrate, etc.) and some kind of sour thing (usually vinegar, but lemon juice, citric acid, and tamarind paste all work). Also, if you like things tangy rather than sweet, you can cut down or eliminate the sugar, and you can add some mustard (powder and/or prepared).

Something crumbly: browned ground beef, veggie crumbles, crumbled extra-firm (drained/pressed) tofu, ground turkey, firm cooked lentils, smoked mushrooms, crumbled tempeh, even brown rice. When I could eat soy, tempeh was probably my favorite of these. Nowadays, I mostly use Quorn crumbles.

Onions and bell peppers, any color.

Below is a recipe of sorts, or click on the thumbnails in the gallery for step-by-step photos. The slaw you see is James’s adaptation of Bakesale Betty’s — we were customers at her shop on its first day, and we continued to go there a lot until we left Oakland. If you have a chance to go, you really should. The line is always long, but it moves fast, and you should get there early, because when she sells out of chicken, it’s all over. Our location was on the corner of 51st and Telegraph in Temescal, but there are other locations, or there were last time I checked.

Eventually, I’ll make a post about the slaw, because we eat it all the time.

Do you make your own versions of fast foods you had as a child? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Sloppy Joes
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 servings
 
This recipe is just a rough guide. Use what you have. Be flexible. These are sloppy, after all.
Ingredients
  • 1 lb of meat or veggie substitute (see post for ideas)
  • ½ onion, chopped finely
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped finely
  • 1 clove garlic, minced, or to taste
  • 1 to 1.5 cups ketchup or other tomato product (see post for ideas)
  • Something smoky (see post for ideas)
  • Something sweet/sour (see post for ideas)
  • Something spicy (optional -- I use either sriracha, chipotle, chili powder, hot sauce, or hot peppers)
  • 4 sandwich rolls
Instructions
  1. Saute onion, pepper, and garlic in about ½ cup water on medium-high heat until translucent, around 5-8 minutes.
  2. Add remaining ingredients except for rolls, along with about a cup of water.
  3. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened.
  4. Spoon ¼ of the meat onto each roll and serve.

 

Chopped liver

Chopped liver like my mom makes. Mainly because my mom made it with me.

To Mom and to me, cooking is like breathing. I know that cooking is a skill that has to be taught, but both of us have been cooking for so long that it feels like we’ve been doing it all our lives. So I understood what she meant when I walked in with my camera and notebook to learn to make chopped liver and she shook her head.

“People think making my own chopped liver is such a big deal, but it’s practically the easiest thing in the world to make.”

It never occurs to her how daunting a recipe with several steps, even easy steps, can seem to a non-cook, and before I started this blog in 2009, it really didn’t cross my mind much, either. For the blog’s sake, I take photos and jot down quantities, but I don’t remember when I learned how to tell how long to cook something or how much onion to use, and I don’t write those things down in my normal day-to-day life. Knowing how to achieve the taste and texture I want feels like a part of me, and that’s mainly because Mom has been letting me help with the cooking since I was able to stand on a stool in the kitchen.

When I was planning what to cook for my first recipe back after a long break from blogging, I looked over the list of Mom’s recipes, the ones I’ve already done here, and was surprised not to see chopped liver. I grew up on the stuff, and it’s one of those things that is never as good in a restaurant or store as it is homemade. I think many of us have those things that we only like done a certain way, and the livers are like that for me.

While we made these this morning, Mom told me about a time when a friend of a friend from Israel was visiting and Mom made chopped liver for her. The woman from Israel was so happy to have some food that reminded her of home, and today, I’m feeling that, too.

If you haven’t had chopped liver before, it may remind you of pâté. Pâté is delicious and fancy, but chopped liver is, well, chopped liver. It’s cheap and homey and casual and the perfect thing to eat on toast as an easy, quick meal. Mom likes it best on rye toast. I am more likely to use white toast or crackers (or just a spoon).

If you’re a novice cook and you like chopped liver, this really is a great starter recipe, and it’s something different to add to your hors d’oeuvres repertoire. There’s nothing difficult about it, and I’ll even help you with shortcuts and substitutions. Plus, the quantities are forgiving. Just make sure your livers are fresh and you’re good to go.

 

Chopped Liver

Equipment:

Either a meat/food grinder or a food processor
A frying pan (nonstick isn’t necessary)
A large bowl

Ingredients:

1 pound of fresh chicken livers
1/3 cup schmaltz. If you don’t have schmaltz, you can use oil or butter. There’s also a mayo alternative — see note
1 large onion, chopped (the pieces should be small enough to fit into your grinder chute or processor bowl)
3 hard-boiled eggs (if you’re not sure how to boil an egg, Elise will help you out)
2 or 3 good-sized slices of white bread. We used home-baked today; if your bread is especially soft, you might want to use an extra slice.
salt to taste

Directions:

Mom's antique grinder

If you’re using a meat grinder (also known as a food grinder), set it up with a coarse disk on it. If you’re using a food processor, a regular metal blade is what you want. If you have neither, this can absolutely be done by hand with just a knife, but expect it to take quite some time, and that’s really just a last resort.

frying chicken livers in schmaltz

Heat schmaltz in a frying pan over medium heat. Add chicken livers without draining. Cook and stir over medium heat until the livers are firm, around 5 minutes. Cut into one of the livers and make sure most or all of the pink color is gone. If not, cook a couple more minutes and test again until they’re cooked through. A tiny bit of pink is okay, but if the livers aren’t firm, they’ll end up soupy once they’re ground up.

chopped onions

Remove the livers from the heat and place all the ingredients near the grinder or food processor.

frying chicken livers in schmaltz

With a slotted spoon, remove the livers from the schmaltz and run through the grinder or pulse in the food processor until coarsely chopped.

running chicken livers through a grinder

Put the bread slices into the schmaltz to soak it up while you grind the onions and eggs.

Pan of bread soaked in schmaltz

Next, grind the rest of the items in this order: onions, eggs, soaked bread.

grinding the onions

hard-boiled eggs being ground in a grinder

 

bowl of ground ingredients for chopped liver

Mix everything together. Test the texture and salt to taste. I usually don’t need much salt, if any. Some people like it saltier.  Remember that the livers will firm up in the fridge, so you want the texture to be a little thinner and looser than you’re hoping they’ll be when they’re cold. If the livers are too soft for your taste, add more bread. If they’re too dry, add a little schmaltz.

Jar of chopped liver

Note: In a pinch, you can skip the schmaltz and use a good brand of mayo. In this case, cook the livers in a small amount of oil or butter, process all the other ingredients in the grinder or food processor, and then mix the ground ingredients with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of mayo, to taste. The flavor is similar, but not as good as with schmaltz.

Pork loin dinner (sorry, no pics!)

Dinners with mom, for real

I’m finally settled in at Mom’s. Well, for now. We moved here in October, and we’re here for good, because it was becoming hard to be of any help from five hundred miles away. We are staying in her guest room, which we renovated first, while our apartment is being renovated. It is SO nice to be near her, both to offer some help, and just to be closer and hang out with her.

I’ve been doing most of the cooking for the four of us: me, Mom, James, and my Uncle Ed, who moved in a couple years ago when my aunt died. I’m trying to make dinners that are homey, interesting, and diverse, so that everyone enjoys them and I have lots of veggies to eat. Tonight’s was a big hit with everyone: Very juicy roasted pork loin, mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, steamed carrots/squash, and a salad. Even better than the food was the feeling I was nurturing my family and having a good time doing it.

The roast was super-easy. Just rubbed it with olive oil and spices, then put it into a pan in a preheated 450F oven until my probe thermometer said 135F. Pulled it and let it rest a few minutes until it reached a safe 140F before slicing. Very good.

The gravy was also very easy:

1) Slice onions and mushrooms (however many you want) and take out a saute pan that will hold them all — but it doesn’t have to be a saute pan; you can use a big stockpot, even, if you have to
2) Put some butter (anywhere from a tablespoon to several) into the saute pan and heat the pan on medium until the butter melts
3) Add the onions and mushrooms to the butter, and sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the top. If you have it, now’s the time to add a teaspoon of garlic granules or a chopped garlic clove.
4) Let them cook on medium, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid cooks away, then add just enough chicken stock or water or heavy cream to barely cover, and let it come back to the simmer. If you used chicken stock or water, you’ll have to do step 5. If heavy cream, just continue to heat until it thickens a bit and you’re done.
5) In a little bowl, mix a tablespoon or two of cornstarch with a tablespoon or two of cold water. Add to the simmering gravy and stir constantly until it returns to the boil. As thick as it is now is as thick as it will be, so if you need to do it again (to make it thicker) or add water/stock (to make it thinner), do that now.

Bucatini and sausage casserole

bucatini casserole

One of the dangers of cooking the way my mom does is that using up leftovers sometimes makes more leftovers, in an endless cycle. Over the years, I have had to break myself of some of her habits. There are things I don’t do that my mother does. Some of them are:

  • saving a small amount of vegetables from a dinner
  • saving any amount of food that we don’t like or won’t want as leftovers (most fish, for instance, just doesn’t keep well, in my view)
  • saving any leftovers in the fridge that don’t get eaten within three days

Don’t tell my mom that, okay? (Mom, you didn’t hear that, okay?)

One thing I do that mom does, and I have to keep it in check, is make a new dish out of the leftovers from something else. This casserole is a good example. A night or two ago, I made bucatini with a simple sauce of Italian sausage, mushrooms, and a jar of good tomato sauce. Contrary to my habit (and completely in line with my mom’s principles), I made more than we would eat, on purpose, because my kid was coming over to dinner, and I wanted her to have plenty of yummy food (and even to take some home if she wanted). What that ended up meaning was way too many leftovers.

bucatini casserole

We could easily have eaten that same pasta, just heated up, but I was in the mood to cook, so I tossed the pasta in a baking dish, mixed in some green olives (stuffed with anchovies, but any olives would have worked), topped it with some French-fried onions (bought at Ikea) and a shake of grated Parmesan cheese, and baked at 350F until the top was brown and the pasta was heated through (I’d say about 30-45 minutes). Essentially the same dish, but the crunchy topping made it feel like a new thing. Fortunately, we were hungry, and there’s none of this dish to try to figure out what to do with tomorrow.