Breaking Bread in Ecuador

8 Jun

Meeting your spouse’s extended family can be a dizzying experience, especially when you happen to be in a country you’ve never visited and there is a slight language barrier. There are so many new faces, names and relationships to navigate.  Last September, my husband and I, along with his parents and aunt, visited Ecuador for a family trip. We visited many of his family members and I was enchanted by their warm and welcoming demeanor. Although I have many fond memories from that trip, one will always stay especially close to my heart.

We visited my father-in-law’s oldest sister, Lidita, at her home outside of Quito. She and her husband, Felix, have a beautiful home on a large plot of land, with rolling green lawns and fruit trees everywhere. In the corner of the property they had a great wood-burning oven and I was delighted to hear we were going to be making bread and using that oven for baking later in the day. After lunch on the lawn, we traveled to the patio where the oven was awaiting us. The fire was lovingly tended to until the flames roared then subsided.  A large, oval, wooden bowl was brought outside and the bread dough was kneaded by hand in that vessel. It was heartwarming to see all the children intently watching how the dough turned from a wet and soggy mass to a soft and pliable dough. Once the dough was rested and ready, everyone helped to form it into different shapes. Some were filled with cheese or jam and others just rolled into balls. I loved seeing all the flour-covered hands and laughing faces.They were brushed with a wash and placed in the oven, near the fiery logs. When they emerged they were perfectly golden brown, and everyone could hardly wait to enjoy the soft, pillowy rolls.

I didn’t write down any recipes that day, but that memory will be one I won’t soon forget. Instead I have a recipe for a bread dough that has the same characteristics and can be made in a electric standing mixer. Soft and slightly sweet, they are perfect alongside coffee in morning or can be eaten as dinner rolls. Whenever you choose to make them, be sure to have a few people nearby to spread the love (and flour) around.

Pan de Familia (Family Bread)

Makes about 12 rolls

1 package of dry active yeast

3/4 cup of warm milk (body temperature)

1 tablespoon of sugar

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

1 large egg

2 large egg yolks

1 stick of melted butter (unsalted)

milk, for brushing

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast sugar and milk. Let sit for 10 minutes or until it gets foamy. Meanwhile combine the flour and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine.

Place 2 cups of the flour mixture in the mixer and begin to beat on a medium low speed for 2 minutes. Combine the egg, yolks and melted butter in a small bowl and stir to combine. Add the egg/butter mixture to the flour in the mixer and beat for 3 minutes. Add the 3rd cup of flour and beat on medium speed for 8-10 minutes or until the dough collects around the hook and is smooth to the touch. Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and let it rest for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Tear off pieces of the dough (about the size of a lime) and roll them until they are rounded. Place them on greased baking sheets and allow to rest in a warm place for 15 minutes. Brush the rolls with a little milk and bake on the center oven rack until golden, about 18-20 minutes, being sure to rotate the pan half-way through to ensure even browning. Remove from the oven and enjoy immediately or transfer to wire racks to cool.

Hello world!

31 May

A week and a half ago my husband, Mike and I had a dinner party at our apartment. But this wasn’t just any dinner party…it was my 30th birthday dinner party. After a week of waffling back and forth trying to get over my mild depression over the subject, we decided the best solution was to surround me with friends and family. And I couldn’t have been happier!

Now most people would think cooking for your own birthday party sounds like torture, but it was one of the things I was most looking forward to. I thoughtfully created a menu that could be assembled with minimal preparation. Here’s how the game plan played out: Mike and I made cinnamon-cumin spiced meatballs early in the day, which simmered slowly in a tomato sauce throughout the afternoon. Easy! Then we simply cut up some store-bought fresh chorizo sausages and laid them out on sheet pans to quickly roast off before eating. In a jar, I shook up some sherry vinegar, olive oil, a generous squeeze of honey, salt and pepper for a vinaigrette that would dress our salad of spring greens, blackberries and shavings of parmesan. Not too bad. Couscous was made and set aside waiting to be tossed with lemon zest, juice and parsley just before serving. Lastly, my mother and I rinsed off a combination of clams, mussels, and shrimp for my Seafood Roast. It essentially cooks itself in the oven, all the flavors of the sea mixing with a little white wine, and finished with a few scoops of herb butter. It is sooooo good!

Along with our cocktail of the evening, Paloma’s Punch (lovingly named by my parents), and a bakery bought cake, we had a fabulous night catching up with loved ones and even sharing some cooking tips. I don’t know if anyone could have asked for more…except maybe a recipe for Seafood Roast? 🙂

30th Birthday Seafood Roast

Rinsed and ready to roast…

Serves 6-8

1 pound of manila or littleneck clams

1 pound of mussels

1 pound raw shrimp, deveined

Olive oil, for drizzling

1 cup of white wine, (something delicious!)

salt and pepper, as needed

1 stick of softened butter

1/4 cup chopped soft herbs (any one or combination of parsley, chives, basil, cilantro, dill or mint would be just fine)

1 lemon, zested and juiced

When you get your shellfish home make sure you rinse everything and drain very well. Take a look at the clams and mussels, if there are any that don’t close when you tap them on the counter, throw them away (they’re already dead). For the mussels, pull out the hairy beards and discard them.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle a large roasting pan with olive oil and dump all the seafood onto it. Drizzle the top of the seafood with more olive oil to coat and season with salt and pepper. With your hands toss gently to combine. Add the white wine. Place in the oven and roast for 15 minutes, or until the clams and mussels have opened and the shrimp have curled slightly and turned pink.

Meanwhile, combine the softened butter, chopped herbs, lemon zest and juice in a bowl. If using unsalted butter, be sure to add 1 teaspoon salt.

When the roast comes out of the oven, dollop a few scoops of the herbed butter over the hot seafood. With a large spoon, stir to combine and allow the butter to melt into the roast. Serve and enjoy immediately!

Ready to enjoy!