Thursday, February 26, 2009

Spanish Stuffed Squid

At this moment, as I look out of my living room window, I can see three people jogging along the greenway-a dedicated bicycle and pedestrian path that runs through Minneapolis. It is twenty degrees outside but these runners are dressed for it, with a striking resemblance to Kurt Russell in The Thing

This is one of the most outstanding traits  about Minneapolis: there is a huge emphasis towards health. Winter does not stop these people from venturing outdoors; in fact, it serves as an additional medium for sports. Cross country skiing, snowboarding, ice fishing. And when the condition get unbearable, the gyms the packed. Summers transform the city from a brownish-grayish frozen tundra to a lush green, bustling, cycling, running, wind sailing, metropolis. Being the city of lakes, people here seem to congregate around them as soon as the temperature reaches above fifty degrees. 

As dedicated as people here are to their outdoors and their health,  Minneapolitans are zealous about the local restaurant scene.  New restaurants spring up on a regular basis. Unfortunately, possibly due the current economic situation or the fact that ninety percent of restaurants fail within the first two years, the city is seeing many new restuarants close their doors. Temple, Indio and most recently, La Bodega, a small tapas restaurant at the corner of Lyndale Avenue and Lake Street. How ever others may have felt about the restaurant, I personally felt that the best tapas here were the gilled eggplant slices and the stuffed squid. 

So, what's a girl to do when the restaurant food she wants is no longer available? Make it herself of course! La Bodega's version was stuffed with raisins, breadcrumbs, garlic and I assumed the underlying spanish flavours of extra virgin oilive oil, olives or capers, and herbs de provence.  Here is what my version of stuffed squid looks like and how to make it. 

Spanish Stuffed Squid 
Serves 4 to 6

10-12 whole squid with tentacles on 
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup diced onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, diced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup raisins
1 tbsp capers
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 bay leaf
1 bell pepper
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

1. Remove the tentacles from the rest of the squid and finely chop them. Place the squid and chopped tentacles in separate bowls and refrigerate until ready to use. 
2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil, onions, garlic, bell pepper, thyme, and bay leaves. Saute until onions soften, about 6 to 7 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Coarsely chop capers and stir into onion mixture; cook for another two minutes.  Turn of the heat and stir in chopped squid tentacles and chopped parsley. Mix well and remove skillet from over the heat. (The residual heat will slightly cook the tentacles, which will then finish cooking once stuffed in the squid and placed in the oven. )
3. Using a small spoon or your fingers, fill each squid body three quarters full with filling mixture. Secure the top with a toothpick. Place stuffed squid into a greased baking dish and brush lightly with extra olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees F for 25 to 30  minutes, turning occasionally. Serve immediately. 

Monday, February 9, 2009

Pomegranate Series Part 1: Poached Pears

It has been almost four years since I have modified my eating habits and the way I cook. My belief is that healthy food does not have to be boring or taste bad. And a healthy lifestyle does not mean absolute restrictions. I allow myself to indulge sometimes, sometimes maybe too much. Nonetheless, I have tried to reflect these beliefs here. I was humbled that the people at POM Wonderful, specifically Diana, recognized my efforts and offered to send me a case of their one hundred percent pomegranate juice to help with this endeavor. Now, let me tell you, pomegranates are rock stars in my kitchen so you could imagine how thrilled I was to receive this gift. I could not wait to begin cooking with it. This is part one of a series of dishes made with pure pomegranates (the juice and fruit forms.) I will try my best to present them consecutively but don't hold me to that.

Pomegranate juice can be used for more than the occasional cocktail. The health benefits are also spectacular. A slew of clinical studies has been conducted on the medicinal properties of this juice with positive results in the areas of cardiovascular health, prostate health, erectile function, and antioxidant potency.

Antioxidants are molecules found in our bodies and in food that slow the process of cellular oxidation. Basically, when cells use oxygen , they release highly reactive atoms or molecules called free radicals. Some free radicals are important in biology but there are others whose side reactions can be detrimental to our health. For example, free radicals are thought to function in some cancers, and diseases such as atherosclerosis and Parkinson's disease.

Antioxidants function to neutralize some of these harmful free radicals. While there are natural antioxidants in our bodies, many come from the types of foods we eat. Green tea, red wine, grape juice all contain some form of antioxidants. However, pomegranates contain higher concentrations than any of those. If that alone is not a reason to indulge in this fruit, I don't know what is.

For more information on the many health benefits of pomegranates, click here.

Pomegranate Poached Pears
Serves 4

4 bosc pears
2 cups 100 % pomegranate juice
1/4 cup sugar
2 whole star anise
1 piece of cinnamon stick (about 3")
1/2 cup sherry

1. Peel pears, being careful to retain the stem.
2. In a large pot over medium heat, combine the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and add the pears. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, turning occasionally. Cook until the pears are tender, not soft and mushy.
3. Remove pears, cinnamon stick and star anise from the liquid. (Refrigerate pears in an air tight container until ready to serve.) Increase heat to medium high and allow to cook until the liquid has thickened to a syrupy consistency, being careful not to burn.
4. To serve, arrange a single pear and a scoop of mascarpone cheese (optional) on a serving plate, and drizzle with two tablespoons of syrup. Alternatively, pears can be served on a mixed greens salad with goat cheese and pomegranate seeds as pictured below.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

One Year of Healthy and Gourmet

I started this blog as a means of keeping my family and friends (in the Caribbean and Canada) abreast with my life in the US. My travels, my thoughts, new interests, and my cooking. I have been cooking since the age of ten so they knew that this was part of who I am, a part that was not going. 

Today, Healthy and Gourmet is one year old. Over the past twelve months, this blog has morphed into primarily a food blog, a transition which I thoroughly welcomed.  It has also become more than just a project or a hobby. It is now a purpose. While I am very careful not to be defined by it, H&G is now part of my routine. I have learnt a tremendous amount about what I am capable of, both psychologically and culinarily.  My cooking skills have improved as well as my skills in patience and perseverance. One of the best lessons was learning how to deal with negative and sometimes hurtful criticism. I have learnt to persevere when faced with this sort of criticism and during bouts of zero motivation. 

While my family and friends are still avid followers, I have met many new and fascinating people, people whose generous comments and suggestions make blogging even more enjoyable. Some share my interests and some have interests that are as far from mine as Britney Spears is from great acting but whose pursuits and opinions keep me intrigued and inspired. Thank you everyone! 



Tuesday, February 3, 2009

San Diego: Photos and Reviews

Last month, I spent ten glorious days in sunny San Diego. Everything was perfect: the weather, the hotel, the food, even the traffic - there was none. The one thing I would have changed, if I could, would have been the ocean temperature. I grew up just thirty minutes from the Atlantic ocean in Trinidad, where in my early years, my family spent every Sunday on the beach. Coming from that background, it takes an enormous amount of self control for me to be on a beach and not go into the ocean. Enormous self control, and a fifty degree Fahrenheit ocean tempeature. That being said, it sufficed only to have my toes touch the shore, such was the idyllic atmosphere of this city in the west. Plus, there were so many beautiful distractions. San Diego zoo, Wild Animal Park, catching sunsets, spying the seals on La Jolla shores, and, needless to say, Shamu.

On Pacific Beach

Wild Animal Park

Of course, the food was an experience in itself. Now, I can boast of having some of the freshest sushi available in the country. The biggest food crave for me, however, was tacos. Fish tacos are as San Diego as Torrey Pines or even Balboa Park. A little more than two decades ago, tacos were found in small, little known Mexican taquerias. Today, there are travel guides dedicated to this San Diego staple. A quick Google search alone lists four hundred thousand results for the best fish tacos in the city. So where can one find the best? In my opinion, two places: Mariscos German, and Bay Park Fish Company.

Mariscos German (pronounced mariscos erman) is a small, boat shaped building which looks like a ruined ode to old key west. Do not be turned off by this because, while the building may be lacking, the food surely is not. Once you have eaten here, you will never again settle for another generic fish taco. El pescador is what might be considered the regular: fried pieces of fish with slaw and white cream sauce. Then there is el pulpo; translation: octopus. But the grand daddy of all is el gobernabor: the governor. A highly seasoned mix of seafood, grilled perfectly, served with Mexican cheese and grilled vegetables. I bet you can't have just one.

El Gobenador (mixed seafood tacos) at Mariscos German.

Like most good restaurant finds, we stumbled on the Bay Park Fish Company by chance. While catching the last sunset before we left, I decided I had to have one last taco. According to City Search, the taco shop closest to Pacific beach (one worth the fuss) was seven minutes away. The Bay Park Fish Company is a restaurant and fish shop all in one. Our server that night happened to be the owner, Jeff. He explained that he had recently taken over the reigns as the new owner, focusing on service which according to him, had been lacking the past. Whether or not his goal was accomplished, I cannot tell. What I can say, however, is the present service is top notch. Courteous, punctual, flexible, extremely friendly. Most importantly, the food is worth going back for. By adding sides of re-fried beans and seasoned rice, a single order becomes a meal that can easily be shared between two people. You also have the option of getting your fish grilled or fried. Besides the catch of the day, you can choose from all of the offerings available in the fish shop. Their clam appetizer is also worth trying. . Again, this easily serves more than one so order accordingly.



It was just ten days but this trip felt much longer. There was so much to see and do all the while never feeling rushed, tired or stressed. The epitome of a great vacation.