Introducing… Mackin’ Cheese ~
I am beyond happy to introduce Elizabeth Baxter. I have known Elizabeth her entire life, literally. She is a remarkable young woman who is going to change the world with her style, intelligence and her love of cooking and traveling. She recently launched a blog known as Mackin’ Cheese and she has made a fan out of me. Elizabeth embraced the opportunity to study abroad, in Spain, and has generously shared her story with us. In the spring, Elizabeth will be traveling to China where she has vowed to eat a bug or two and I’ve asked her to share those gastronomic adventures with us, so stay tuned to hear more from Elizabeth, but in the meantime you can keep up with Elizabeth and Mackin’ Cheese at https://www.facebook.com/mackincheeseblog
Learning Spanish had always been difficult for me. I struggled with language through high school and felt like it never clicked. When I got to Northwestern University, I only needed to take one quarter of Spanish to test out of the language requirement, but I made the brave decision to keep going with it after that first quarter. Finally, after four and a half years of the language, magical things were starting to happen deep within my left brain. I was starting to enjoy Spanish.
I can still remember the first week of Spanish class winter quarter. My first optional quarter. My professor, Joel, sent us a YouTube link that was several minutes of fly-over landscapes across all of Spain. I emailed my mom, “I want to go to Spain and SEE these places!” To my surprise, we started planning a trip for that summer. The excitement of planning the trip fueled my enthusiasm for Spanish classes, and my success with the language really started to take hold.
We went on a two-week whirlwind adventure through Madrid, Cantabria, and the Basque region in the summer of 2010. It was the first overseas trip I’d ever taken where I was truly motivated to seek out the culture, embrace the food, and experience the lifestyle. Oh, and I was 19, so I could drink wine! That’s a very important part of Spain’s culture.
As we snuggled in for the long flight home, I knew that I would go abroad to Spain in the fall of 2011. Two weeks had been great, but deep down inside of me, I felt I needed to live there for several months to get a broader experience. There were many Spanish-speaking countries in South America that I could have applied to, but the centuries-old traditions of Spain coupled with the proximity to other European countries made it the right place for my adventure.
By the spring of the next year, my study abroad trip was all settled. I would be living in Sevilla, which is in the southern Spanish community of Andalucía. Through my program with Sweet Briar College, I would take classes at the University of Sevilla and live with a Spanish family. I was scared of the demands of living and learning entirely in Spanish, but I knew that was the only way I would ever truly make it to the next level of language.
I was off! There’s no denying it: study abroad was the greatest experience of my life. Classes were fun, but not too demanding. I had incredible friends, and I was surrounded by a city that never got old, despite dating back to Roman times. I had been in Sevilla for almost 3 months when my parents visited me. They’ve told me repeatedly that it was the best trip they’ve ever been on. Because I knew my way around, we could immerse ourselves fully in the food and culture.
The first restaurant we visited would end up being one we went back to three other times! And the first dish we tried, pollo en salsa de almendras, would be one I ordered every single time I returned. The restaurant was Taberna Coloniales on Calle Fernández y González. We looked over the menu and thought, sure, Mom likes almonds, why not? And it was incredible! Tender chicken smothered in a rich almond sauce. It was both creamy and nutty, packed with flavor, yet not too heavy. No sauce went to waste; we mopped the extra up with our side of patatas bravas (think Spanish French fries). We knew it was one we would have to re-create when we got home!
Spain was an important step in my love for food. They may not be world-renowned for their cuisine, but Andalucía is the birthplace of tapas and there are a LOT of good ones to be found. Tapas began as a free snack that a bar would provide when you ordered a drink. When they served you, a small plate topped (tapear) your glass to keep the bugs away. Order another drink, get another tapa. Granada is about the only place that will still provide free tapas with drinks (albeit their prices are higher than others…), but nearly every bar has at least some offering of tapas in their establishment.
One other fun fact: Seville has the highest number of bars per capita in Spain! Maybe the world. But take it with a grain of salt, because a sevillano told me that, and they love to boast about their city.
This recipe is an homage to Spain. It’s a thank you for the wonderful memories the country provided me. For opening my palate to new foods, my mind to new ideas, and my language skills to a new level. The dish is bold and unique, two qualities that capture the Spanish spirit. If you’ve been to Spain before, I hope this dish can help take you back for a few moments. If you’ve never gone, I hope that it brings a little bit of the Spanish spirit into your kitchen. Enjoy!
Chicken in Almond Sauce
From Bon Appetit
Total time: 35 minutes
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 cups cubed crustless white bread (I used leftover sourdough)
4 garlic cloves, whole
2 cups chicken broth
2/3 cups white wine
pinch saffron threads (optional)
salt and pepper
4 chicken legs (thigh and drumstick)
1 onion, minced
1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
note: I halved the recipe above. The only adjustment is to use a medium pot instead of a large pot, and check the chicken about 5 minutes earlier.
Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add almonds and stir until golden brown (watch them!!); transfer to paper towels. Place 1/3 cup almonds in a blender or food processor; save the rest for garnish.
Add bread cubes and garlic to the same pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the bread is golden brown. Place in the blender or food processor, along with chicken broth, white wine, saffron (optional), salt and pepper. Blend until mostly smooth.
Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in the same pot over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in the pot, cooking until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. The chicken does not need to be cooked through.
Reduce to medium heat and add minced onion to the pot. Cook until caramelized around the edges, about 6 minutes. Add sauce and chicken to the pot, making sure to spoon sauce over the chicken to cover it. Bring the sauce to a simmer, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes (check at 15 if halving the recipe).
Serve the chicken with remaining almonds and chopped parsley.