Flavors of Spain

spainRecently, my friend and I decided to take a foodie road trip to  Williamsburg Virginia to visit one of my favorite online shops, La Tienda.

There is something about being able to see all of the merchandise in person displayed neatly in front of you on the shelves; it’s about being able to pick up the pretty jars, admire the colorful Spanish pottery, and yes, the possibility of samples while you shop.

La Tienda is primarily an online store , so when we arrived at the unassuming store front sandwiched right in the middle of a business park, we were not surprised. Once inside the shop we  were  greeted by a friendly clerk who made us quickly forgot we were in an office park, we were suddenly in a quaint little European shop. Our tour included a personalized and informative trip through the isles, with stories about how certain products were carefully handcrafted or  grown in specific regions of Spain.

We nibbled on  bread dipped in samples of olive oil, my favorite of which was Aceite Boletus, an aromatic oil infused with the flavor of  wild Boletus Edulis mushrooms (similar to truffles), and makes a wonderful addition to salads, soups, panini sandwiches, pastas  and sauces.

Here are the other products that happily found their way into my shopping basket:

Smoked Spanish paprika
Smoked Spanish paprika
Roasted Paquilla Peppers
Roasted Paquilla Peppers
Manchego Cheese
Manchego Cheese
Aceite Boletus olive Oil
Aceite Boletus olive Oil
Spanish Bamba rice for Paella
Spanish Bamba rice for Paella


Judion giant beans
Judion giant beans

Part of the enjoyment of cooking (for me) is seeking out the ingredients that make a dish special; whether it’s a trip to the farmer’s market,  talking with the local fish monger about what  looks spectacular that day, or in this case a visit to a unique shop…these are the things that inspire us in the kitchen.  Here’s my recipe for Paella with  Clams, Mussels and Shrimp,  which is also in my new book Friends at the Table . I will share additional recipes using the ingredients from my shopping basket in later posts…stay tuned… Do you have a favorite “foodie road trip”? Write and tell me about it!


Paella with Clams, Mussels, and Shrimp
1 cup bottled clam juice
1 large pinch of saffron threads(about 30)
1 cup white wine
3 cups water
1 ½ cups Spanish bamba rice (or) short grain rice
24 mussels, debearded, scrubbed clean
24 large shrimp, peeled, deveined, shells reserved
24 medium clams, such as little neck, cleaned
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 red pepper, seeded, chopped
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
10 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped Italian parsley; reserve some for garnish
Put shrimp shells in a large saucepan set over medium-high heat and cook, stirring,
until they are dry and pink, about 2-3 minutes. Add clam juice, water, wine, saffron.
Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Strain the broth,
discarding shrimp shells. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool; refrigerate. Rewarm
when ready to use.)
Return the pan to the stove and lower the heat to medium. Make a sofrito by sauteing
the garlic, onion, peppers, and tomatoes, and paprika; cook until the mixture
caramelizes a bit and the flavors meld; season with salt and pepper. Fold in the rice,
stirring constantly to coat the grains. Increase the heat to high and pour 4 ¾ cups of
the hot broth into the paella pan. Use a spoon to spread the rice evenly. Adjust the
heat to a vigorous simmer. Add the clams and mussels, tucking them into the rice.
Simmer 10 minutes. Lower the heat to a very gentle simmer and continue to cook 5
minutes. Arrange shrimp in the pan. Continue to cook until the paella looks fluffy and
moist; about another 5 minutes. The ideal paella has a toasted rice bottom called
socarrat. Remove from heat, cover with foil, and allow to rest, for 5-10 minutes, and
garnish with parsley. Serve with lemon wedges.
8 servings



Penne with Chicken Sausage, Roasted Vegetables, and Gorgonzola

Well, so much for the spring like weather we had earlier this week! We went from 82 degrees on Tuesday, to 37 degrees yesterday. It was a chilly, damp, gray day…as I headed to Whole Foods, I knew I needed to have something warm and comforting for dinner. I wasn’t sure what I was going to make, so I decided to walk around the store to see what inspired me. I began my journey in the produce section…I picked up some asparagus, baby bello mushrooms, and a red pepper; a perfect little medley for roasting. I found some lovely tomatoes; baby plum, exotic cherry, and yellow pear…color for my salad. I turned the corner from the produce section into the cheese area. Chilly days are prefect for wine and cheese. Hmm…gorgonzola would sure warm things up! Pasta with roasted vegetables and gorgonzola….that would be perfect for dinner….well, almost; add chicken sausage to the dish and we are set. I picked up a bottle of Joel Gott 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, which paired beautifully with the salt and spice of the gorgonzola. For this recipe, I am using whole wheat penne pasta, cooking it in a bath of white wine and chicken broth. This technique infuses the pasta with flavor…similar to making risotto, but without as much stirring.
Give it a try:

Penne with Chicken Sausage, Roasted Vegetables, and Gorgonzola

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil,  plus 2 tablespoons, divided

1 pound asparagus, trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces

8 ounces baby bello mushrooms, halved

4 cloves garlic, minced, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 pound chicken Italian sausage

1 pound whole wheat penne pasta

2 cups dry white wine

4 cups chicken broth

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 red bell pepper, seeded, roasted, seeded, chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 1/2 cups Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

2 large Roma tomatoes, diced

1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place asparagus, mushrooms, and 2 cloves of minced garlic on a baking sheet.  Add 1/4 cup olive oil, salt and pepper; mix thoroughly and bake for 20-25 minutes. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat  2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan. Remove chicken sausage from the casing and crumble into oil. Cook, breaking up clumps, for about 5-7 minutes(until chicken is no longer pink). Transfer to paper towel lined plate; reserve.  Add remaining 1/4 cup olive oil to a large skillet over very low heat. Add garlic, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the penne pasta, stirring well to coat.  Increase the heat to medium high and add white wine; bring to boil and cook until almost all of the wine has been absorbed by the pasta, stirring occasionally.  Add 2 cups of chicken broth, cook, stirring occasionally, until almost all of chicken broth has been absorbed by the pasta. Repeat with remaining chicken broth and cook until pasta is al dente. Add the lemon juice, roasted pepper, roasted vegetables,  chicken sausage, and tomatoes  to the pan; mix well. Add Gorgonzola and parsley; mix thoroughly.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Garnish with toasted pine nuts  and serve immediately.

8 servings


Green Tea Cheesecake with Fresh Berries

Green Tea Cheesecake

Spring is nearly here; the clocks have changed, giving us extra daylight at the end of the day, the trees are starting to bloom, and I’m starting to think about lighter flavors.

Next week I will be teaching cooking class. My menu is Asian themed:

Vietnamese Chicken Salad in Lettuce Cups

Orange Ginger Broth with Soba Noodles

Roasted Salmon with Hoisin Reduction

Wasabi Red potatoes

Green Tea Cheesecake

When I am working on recipe development (which is pretty much all of my spare time) I recruit my family, friends, and neighbors to be my guinea pigs. Once I have the recipe just right, it makes it into my cooking class menu line up. I tend to gravitate toward Asian flavors in the spring. I guess it’s the clean flavors of ginger root and lemongrass that cleanse my palate after a winter filled with the warmth of comfort food.
I’ve included a bit of crystallized ginger root in the crust for the cheesecake; adds a bit of interest I think. I use loose green tea, ground to a fine powder for this recipe. The flavor is subtle and gives the cheesecake a nice speckled effect. Some Asian markets carry green tea powder (which eliminates the grinding step) but it can be hard to find…

Give it a try:

Green Tea Cheesecake
1 ¼ cups ground shortbread cookies
2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger root
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
3 teaspoons finely ground green tea from about 5 tea bags
1 pint raspberries(golden if available)
1 pint strawberries
1 pint blackberries
Mint leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 325°F. Mix together cookie crumbs and crystallized ginger root in a medium bowl. Press cookie crumbs firmly onto bottom (not sides) of 8-inch-diameter springform pan. Wrap outside of pan tightly with 3 layers of heavy-duty foil. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, and sugar in large bowl until smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition. Beat in green tea powder until smooth. Pour batter over prepared crust in pan. Place cake in roasting pan; add enough hot water to roasting pan to come halfway up sides of springform pan.
Bake cake until set but center moves very slightly when pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour. Remove cake from roasting pan; cool 1 hour at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)
Cut around pan sides to loosen cake; remove sides. Place cake on platter. Garnish cake with some raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and mint leaves. Cut cake into wedges.
12 servings


Menus, recipes, and entertaining ideas for your next dinner party or supper club gathering