Hay Hay It’s Donna Day #4

Now I won´t deny that I´m quite fascinated by the Donna Hay look. And by all the very talented people out there, who not only do the stuff but actually photograph it , and make it look just as good. Amazing.
I have a fair few of Donna´s books, and I love looking at them, but more in the spirit in which I read Vogue. I wouldn´t take Vogue into a changing room, and I don´t normally cook from Donna´s books.
It´s the gorgeousness, see. All that pristine whiteness, with the perfectly balanced colours, with just a tiny splash of sauce on the rim, to show the humanity.
But I do love them, and if there was a way to buy the magazine in this country, I´d have a stack.
Since the theme for the  Hay Hay it´s Donna Day #4, hosted by Bron Marshall, is bruschetta, and not some glorious baked good, beautifully iced and spiced, I´ve decided to give it a go.

Here in Spain the bruschetta, as toasted bread with a savoury topping, was always referred to as a tostada. Then at some point in the 80´s it acquired the more pretentious monicker "tosta", which slightly annoys me. Now places that want to sound honest-to-goodness call them "panes". Tostada is only breakfast toast now.

I don´t often make a whole baguette and serve it to a multitude. My bruschetta antics are more of the dinner for two or three variety, served with a salad and a bowl of soup.

My favourite ingredient for a tosta or bruschetta is  onion jam. Smeared on the bread,it will transform and elevate the lowliest leftover piece of beef, lonely roast tomato, or dried up bit of cheese.

The perfect quick lunch is a goat´s cheese and onion jam bruschetta.
You toast a slice bread, of a country loaf type, drizzle some olive oil, and spread some of the jam.
Two slices of goat´s cheese go on top, and are sprinkled with black pepper.
A quick flash under the grill and you have something crusty, golden, sweet-sour and totally marvelous whatever the season.

The other, Tosta de Piquillos y Ventresca, is a store cupboard standby.
This time the bread is rubbed with garlic, drizzled with a very little oil, and then piled with slippery smoky almost sweet piquillo peppers from a jar. On top go a few slivers of ventresca, that tuna conserve made from the fatty underbelly. The merest splash of balsamic vinegar, and you´re in business.
You can use any normal good canned tuna, of course, but ventresca is le dernier cri for this sort of mixture right now.


My latest crush

I never thought I could turn my back on my first love, the one singled out to be the love of my life. But it seems I can. I´m in the middle of a love-affair. It could be just a fling, but I don´t think so. Maybe I can juggle both loves?

See, I adore Nigella. She was the first, and the best. I bought "How to eat" when my cookbook collection numbered five or six volumes. The skies opened, angel voices floated down , I saw shining lights everywhere, and walked in a daze to the market to buy cartloads of chicken bones.

But now, well, I´ve got this huge crush on Lindsey Bareham. I can´t help it. I love N, but by now I know her books off by heart, and I need a little novelty. And Linsdey is not unlike Nigella, in that she´s British, and chatty. Her books are full of good old stodgy stuff like shepherd´s pie, but won´t let you down if you´re in the market for cous cous and tom yam soup. And they´re very well written, and entertaining, so you can read them for their own sakes, never cooking from them.

The first Lindsey book I bought was A celebration of soup . It´s one of those Penguin paperbacks that have no photos, and can be carried around in a pocket. There are recipes for every kind of soup you can think of, and many stews, and every sort of stock. That´s to be expected, but she ups the ante and also gives every sort of complement and addition. Dumplings, herb pastes, little pies and breads, there´s so much in there, you could cook for a whole year and not be bored.

I loved it straight away, but was a bit intimidated by the stern instructions on using aything other than home-made broth. However, I did one of the four or five mushroom soups listed using a cube, and it was totally perfectly delicious.

That book could have kept me occupied for ages, but you know how it is. One day you´ve worked very hard and are pretty bored, but still at the computer, waiting for an email. You click into Amazon because, well, why not? And then you run amok. Of course.

I bought three other of her books. This is where you can see I´m in the throes of a violent crush. You don´t need four books by the same author. Nobody can write that much without repeating things. But if you´re in love, you won´t mind hearing the same old story over and over. Maybe.

Of the three I bought, I thoroughly recommend The Fish Store.

It´s the book of a real home cook, rather than a cookbook author, with recipes that could suit every occasion. But here you get the feeling that the occasions are mostly friends and family tucking in after a long day out on the rocky beach.
And you feel that things are there because they´ve been done a million times for real people. Not in a test kitchen, and nothing included to round the thing off with the trendy ingredient du jour.

You can read more about it  here, and check out a couple of recipes.

There are plenty of shortcuts, and yes, cubes. Lindsey owns up to being a stock snob at the time of writing A celebration of soup, but to have mended her ways. That made me feel much easier.

Yesterday we had "Cheat´s pissaladiére".
It´s a tart, which is bad in this scorching weather. But it´s just as good cold as hot, so you can make it in the morning when you´re energetic and it´s not too hot, and then enjoy the fruits of your labour for lunch or dinner. And my oven was on, because of the brownies, so I figured, why not?
It´s as simple as this: pre-heat the oven to 200ºC. Roll out 350 grams of puff pastry to fit a baking tray. Prick with a fork so it won´t rise.
Spread over the 400gr can of fried onions ( this is what I found in my market, and it´s excellent).Cut the anchovies from a 50 gr. tin lengthways, so you have about 12/14 pieces. Distribute along the pastry, in x shapes if you can be bothered. Dot with about 20 black olives.
Leave in the oven for 20 minutes or so, until the pastry is puffed and golden.

It´s seriously good. Next time, I´ll try it with a proper home made pizza dough base.


Another burger

Long time readers of this blog may think they´re having a case of déjà vu.
True, this post is almost identical to  this one.
Well, bear with me. I don´t do these drawings because I have any lofty artistic aim. I do it to keep myself from going crazy while they take their time bringing the food. At Alfredo´s they don´t hold with the fast food thing, and they play 80´s music videos, non stop. Clearly, I need some occupational therapy while I wait. I´m bitchy when I´m hungry, and this is the result.
My BLT was as good as ever. Edu had the Bacon y queso. José went exotic with the Kofta burguer.
Very nice.
After, we walked to el Corte Inglés, where I bought Lindt 70% cocoa cooking chocolate. I need it for a brownie I´ll be making for  Le Blog´s terrace shindig tomorrow. Aren´t I a good friend, baking in this heat?


Berenjenas China Crown

China Crown used to be my favourite Chinese restaurant in Madrid. It´s good, unfussy, unexpensive, and did my favourite dish of aubergines in the whole world. I can´t remember what they were called, but they were hot and spicy and I loved them.
When they took them off the menu I stopped going. It´s a lovely restaurant, and I recommend it, but it´s way uptown, and what´s the point, without these aubergines?(Dim sum, actually. I really miss their dim sum. Will go soon)

I looked everywhere for a recipe, but couldn´t find anything that sounded exactly like it.
One day, last book fair, I bought a stack of cookbooks for the doubtful reason that they cost three euros.They didn´t look so good, and actually they really weren´t anything special. But. There was a recipe for Sechuan aubergine that looked quite similar. After some tweaking, I turned it into a very close approximation. You can imagine my happiness.

I´d always been a bit nervous of aubergines, having had a few disasters with them. But this recipe is foolproof, and entirely delicious.
The aubergines are chopped into chunky bite sized pices, and simmered with a sauce made of stock and a few condiments.
After twenty minutes, they turn smooth and silky, dark, slippery, so smooth they´re almost gooey, and dissappear in your mouth. Serve on a mound of the plainest steamed white rice, and enjoy the mix of the bland and the explosive.

The aubergines in the picture are some oriental ones I bought at the Mostenses market last week, but usually I do it with our
normal baloon shaped ones.

China Crown Aubergines

500gr. aubergines, cut in chunks
2 tbs. oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tbs. julienned ginger
4 spring onions, sliced
1 red chili, chopped
250 gr. minced pork

And for the sauce (which you mix first of all)
3 teaspoons garlic and black bean paste (original recipe calls for garlic chili paste but I´m a chili wimp)
2 tbs. sherry
2 tbs. soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons vinegar ( I use sherry vinegar)
250 ml. stock (half a cube and water)
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil.

Heat a wok or a deep saucepan with a lid. Add the oil, and sautee the ginger,garlic, chili and spring onions. After a minute, add the meat, break up the chunks and let it lose the pink colour.
Add the aubergines, stirfry for a couple of minutes. Add the sauce, bring to the boil and then reduce the heat , cover, and leave to simmer for 20 or so.
When the aubergines are soft, you´re done.
I usually add a little cornstarch at the end to thicken the sauce.
Be careful with the salt, leave it for the end, because the stock and the black bean paste are very salty.


Postcard event

I´ve never taken part in a blog event before. I have so many deadlines to meet that I feel that would just about do me in.
But then I read about this one on  Ivonne´s blog, and knew it was the blog event for me. Blogger Postcards from the World , organized by Meeta at  What´s for Lunch Honey .
It promises to flood the world with food blogger postcards zooming all over the place.
I love it when people leave comments on the box, but the idea of an actual tangible postcard, well, that is in another league altogether, almost up there with Christmas morning.
Be quick to sign up, because the final list has to be ready by July 28th.


Amsterdam panini

I´ve struggled against having a sandwich press for a long time. My kitchen is big and airy, but doesn´t have a lot of cupboard space, and what there is is very cluttered. There´s really no room for anything else, and it doesn´t help that I buy so many little gadgets and jars and tins of exotic ingredients.

But one day I gave in. There was a spare little press at my mother´s house, just begging to find a new home.It´s not the fancy kind with removable plates for easy cleaning, and it´s small, only for a single loaf-bread sandwich.

But already I love it.

There´s no end to the combinations. My golden rule was anything goes, as long there´s a lot of cheese to melt and go stringy. But even that can be ignored, as in these excellent  olive paste and tuna panini by the Wednesday Chef.

However, the house favourite is still what we call the Amsterdam Sandwich, which is as un-Dutch as you can go.
Last summer we spent a long weekend in Amsterdam, where we fell in love with a little hole in the wall italian sandwich bar. It was on a broad street in the museum quarter, and had a couple of benches where you could munch your food and watch the leisurely bicycle traffic roll by.
You made your sandwich to order, and of course J doesn´t know the meaning of restraint, so his usual was a delicious hotch potch of ingredients.
This is the approximation I make here, and a pretty good ersatz panino it is.

White loaf bread
serrano ham (doesn´t have to be the all-out amazing stuff), sliced very thin
fresh mozzarella (ditto about amazingness)
 roast tomatoes
 black olives

It´s quite a mess, but because this kind of machine presses the edges, nothing is allowed to escape from the sandwich. When you take it to the plate, you can´t tell what´s inside until you slice it, and the mozzarella oozes all over, and the basil and tomatoes aroma wafts up.
A winner.

The drawing is a sketch from a trip to Amsterdam in 1998.


A quick dinner for five

It´s not only I who am stressed and at my wit´s end with the heat of summer and the pressure of all the workload that has to be handed in before August.
My friends are all like that, too, or so it seems. We exchange a lot of emails that usually end with a hopeless "we really should get together sometime".
And then yesterday, magically, we decided to finally go ahead,and have dinner at my house. The decision was taken at 8, so there was just enough time to go to the market before they closed. I rushed out to buy ice , tonic and lemons, which would be needed no matter what, and ran over menu possibilities on the way there.
I´d have loved to try something new or spectacular, but there was really no time, so I opted for trusted warhorses ; focaccia, green beans in vinaigrette, and a pasta salad.
It´s a menu that can be done a few hours in advance. This time I didn´t have hours, but I did want half an hour´s quiet before they arrived, enough for a shower at least.
The first thing was to make the focaccia dough, and leave at least half an hour´s rising time. With the Thermomix that´s just a matter of pressing a few buttons.
While it rested, I boiled the beans, mixed the vinaigrette with some bottled mayo, sliced the tomatoes, and chopped the chalottes.
As the pasta boiled, I also found time to grate cucumbers and chop mint for a raita-ish dip with a bit of cumin and sesame thrown in.
Once all this was done, I put the focaccia in the oven and went off to breathe a little.
The dough didn´t rise as it should have. Maybe I didn´t leave it long enough, or maybe it was too hot in the kitchen. Probably the yeast was a bit old, having been in my freezer four months. So it was crusty and brittle, but tasted very good.
It was good to see everyone before we all disperse for the summer.
Btw, that drawing is nothing like us , of course, but the kitchen is very vaguely inspired on mine, which has red walls too.

Pasta salad
adapted from the Ballymaloe cookery course

250 gr. pasta in a smallish shape
2 big jars of beans, preferably dark, and if possible, two different kinds, for a prettier effect
200 gr. tuna in olive oil
Chopped parsley, and some other herbs if you like (chives are good)
Vinaigrette , as much as you like

Ideally, you should mix the vinaigrette some hours before, and leave the beans soaking in it. They will drink it up, and be very flavourful and very cold. When you add the hot pasta and toss them together, they both achieve the perfect temperature. Then all you do is throw in the chopped herbs and the tuna.
This can sit around for quite a while, but be sure to check for seasoning before you serve it. It seems to soak up vast amounts.


Bonito encebollado : white tuna in dark onion sauce

Lately my life is one of being tied to my desk all day. When I do leave the house in the daytime, it´s to run short errands. But I can never resist going into the market, just to see what´s there.
The other day I wandered in, aimlessly, just because I´d been to the bank and I had a vague idea of buying some fruit.
And then I saw the freshest, most beautiful looking bonito (white tuna, albacore). I had to have it.
Rashly, without thinking, I asked the fishmonger to cut it into chunks, as for marmitako.
Once home, I was sorry, because it would have been heavenly as a big slice,marinated in soy sauce and mirin, and then lightly grilled. But it was too late for that.
I was put off the marmitako, in a fit of pique with myself, so I had to think of another way to do it.
Bonito encebollado came to mind. It´s one of those brilliant ideas, a very simple dish that only requires a bit of patience to do, and pays back a thousand times.
It´s also pretty good for doing ahead. You can make the onion sauce in the morning when it´s still cool, and only do the fish when you want to eat.

You chop a ridiculous amount of onions. For 500 grams of fish, I´d say about 4 or 5 big ones. Peel and slice thinly, or chop. Heat a big skillet or sautee pan with enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Add the onions, and let them cook slowly. When they´ve been there for 15 minutes, I like to add a heaped spoonful of brown sugar.
After 30 minutes or so, they should be caramelized and dark. Add 200 ml of oloroso sherry, or some other generous wine that´s not very sweet. If it is, then don´t add sugar before.

Leave to boil away, and when it´s a dark syrupy mess, add the salted tuna chunks, and grind black pepper over. When they´re white on one side, that´s in seconds, turn them over, leave for a minute, and then cover and turn the fire off. The residual heat will cook the fish, and it will be perfect in five minutes. It´s important not to leave it dry.

Serve with plain white rice.

Quantities for two hearty eaters (aka outright pigs) or three normal people.


Icy drinks the size of a house

Can you beleive that only last year Starbuck´s was a relatively new and unimportant phenomenon in this town? You wouldn´t think so to see it now. There are like five of them in the Gran Vía alone. It´s kind of weird, and makes that bit in the Austen Powers movie about their taking over the world quite plausible.
When they opened, I thought , who will pay 5.70€ for a bucket of frozen milk? Well, who knew.
My sister Gadea says they´re so full because they´re the only places in Spain where it´s possible to sit sipping coffee without someone else very close eating garlicky chorizo and smoking cheap cigars. She has a point.
For me , these days their most alluring bait is the air conditining, by far.
I´m quite taken with their iced lattes. When I feel the urge for an ice cream but want to be mildly virtuous, I get myself an iced latte with skimmed milk.
The only thing I really hate is the whole palaver. You have to be so firm, otherwise you end up with lots of things you don´t want, like vanilla syrup, or extra shots , or the super gigantic size or who knows what.
The thing that´s quite fun is using my fake name of Maria Luisa. It´s so much quicker than going into a whole lengthy explanation of why I write Ximena with an x.


Let´s Do It

"In Spain the best
upper sets
do It

Lithuanians and Latts
do It
let´s do It
let´s fall in love..."

It takes a genius the size of Cole Porter to come up with a lyric that jumps all the way from Spain to Latvia in a sentence, don´t you think?

We´ve had a stroke of genius too, and for our holiday this year, we´re going to Estonia and Latvia.

After much mulling over, we came to the conclusion that it was the only place for us.
It´s different, even mildly exotic.It won´t break our bank. There´s plenty of coastline, but most of it is wild and empty-ish. The landscape is beautiful, but there are no hills, so I don´t have to throw hissy fits and refuse to climb. There´s plenty of history, and lots of old cities and castles, but none of the kind of museums that demmand setting up camp inside for a day, and make J groan.
I´m sure the food is great. My German blood is pretty submerged most of the time, but whenever I´m around rye bread or anything smoked, it bubbles up inmediately. I´ll be in heaven.

Yesterday, after shopping for mosquito repellent and road maps, we had a beer at  La ardosa . There, they serve a tapa that would do Cole Porter proud, in mixing the Mediterranean and the Baltic. A big pickled cucumber, sliced and filled with a bit of red pepper and an anchovy. They also have pickled herrings. The rest of the menu is fully Spanish, and very good.
It´s one of the oldest bars in Madrid, and very beautiful. One day I´ll have to go and draw it slowly, but for now, you can have a look at the tapa.


Facing my fears : wiener schnitzel

The other day, as I wrote my post about fried eggs, I thought maybe I was being a huge phoney. What are the ethics of slagging off a whole cooking technique when one has never attempted it? Surely "try everything once" applies to more than braving your way through a bowl of glutinous soy with raw squid ( that´s the one dish I have truly hated in my adulthood).

So today I decided I´d be brave, and at least know what I was talking about.

Because I love and adore schnitzel, escalope milanese, filete empanado or however you want to call it. For years and years it was the only thing I ordered in restaurants. And even now I still do, often. There´s nothing I like more, and today I wanted it. I thought, why deny myself my favourite thing?
So I faced my fears, refused to be a wimp, and bought two thin veal escalopes.

I blitzed stale bread to make crumbs. I pounded the meat wafer thin. I beat eggs, I floured, egged, breaded. I made a salad, I oven-fried the potatoes (well, I wasn´t going to fry everything ), and when the time came, I flung the meat in the hot oil. Like a little trooper. You should have seen me. Unfazed. I was so proud of myself.

And it was delicious. My favourite restaurant meal, there, on a plate, at home, so much better for having the salad just how I like it, and all the potatoes I needed. The meat so tender, the outside so crusty and golden...

But never again. That´s it. By the time I started to eat, I was a nervous wreck, I was flushed, sweating, and beginning to curse my wild idea.
José swears my hair doesn´t smell of fried stuff, but I can´t tell if that´s the truth or just a desperate attempt to make me fry again.

Today I am a stronger person, and I know I can face my fear , but also that I don´t want to.

The only thing I love more than schnitzel is being proved right, and I can say with all truth, and from first hand experience : Frying sucks. If you want something fried, let somebody else do it.


Gross whisky tomatoes

This is how hot it is:
Yesterday, I took a jar of roast tomatoes out of the fridge, with the vague intention of making some kind of salad for lunch.
But then I remembered the leftovers I´d brought from my mother´s tea party on Tuesday. So José and I had a quick lunch of salmon sandwiches, fruit salad, heart shaped sable biscuits and pickled cucumbers.
When I remembered the tomatoes, a few hours had gone by. I opened the jar to check if they were ok and they were bubbling! And smelling vaguely like whisky. My first thought was "how gross". My second "Now I´ll know what to do if prohibition comes". My third was "Let´s get the hell out and go somewhere with air-con".

We chose the cinema. I even loved the film, "Tiempo de valientes", from Argentina.

Once out of the deliciously cool cocoon we were faced with several options, but none seemed as enticing as diving into the first bar and asking for ice cold beers, calamares, and boquerones en vinagre.
If a day is too hot to work, blog, read or walk, it´s too hot to eat sensibly.

And if you´re wondering, what´s that picture got to do with anything? Well, nothing, really. I thought I´d do a neat tie-in somehow, but I couldn´t think of anything. But I quite like it , so up it goes. I promise not to be so shameless too often.

Oh and by the way, check out  Belly du Jour. They do a really good newsletter, and have had the amazingly good taste to ask me to contribute an illustration!


Mushrooms baked in vine leaves

Of all the stuff I picked over the weekend, the most exotic by far, for me, have been the vine leaves.
I´d never seen them used, except to make dolmades. And the mere idea of tackling something so time consuming is enough to send me into a swoon. I try not to roll and stuff too many things, for the sake of my mental health.
Then last year I read a recipe in Elisabeth David´s
 Of pageants and picnics (best title ever?), and was very intrigued. Sceptical , even.
She claimed that baking ordinary button or flat mushrooms with vine leaves would make them taste wild and woodsy and utterly different. Of course I deeply respect la David for the giant of gastronomic culture she is, but I thought here she was just trying to be cool and Mediterranean.
But since I happened to be in the country at the time, reading her book under an actual trellis of vine leaves, I thought, why not?

And I was instantly converted. It´s my kind of favourite recipe, the sort that is almost not a recipe but a set of recommendations. As long as you have vine leaves, the process is simple in the extreme, and the outcome, just as surprisingly good as was promised.

I´ve lost the book, since it´s one of those flimsy paperbacks that are easily swallowed by sofas, left on trains, or forgotten in the pocket of a winter handbag. But luckily I was so taken by the recipe that I wrote it down in my favourite recipes notebook.

Preheat the oven to 200º. Boil water, and blanch the leaves for about a minute. Drain.

Clean the mushrooms, and cut the stems off. Line the bottom of a baking dish with half the vine leaves. Put the mushrooms on top, the caps in one piece, and the stems on their own , and a few whole garlic cloves scattered in between. Add salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and cover with a second layer of leaves.
Cover the tray . I use an earthenware round dish that´s the same size as a cooking pot, and the lid fits perfectly, but you can cover it with foil.
Leave for about an hour.


Useful pursuits: herb gathering

Well, I´m back. Having spent a day and night in the bliss of a swimming pool. Now, the cup dashed from my lips, I prepare to battle the first serious heatwave of the summer inside this very hot city.

I´ve spent every available moment in the garden, which is lovely, very big and rambling, and half of it is very civilized and trim, and the other wild and prickly with pine needles.

One of the best things is foraging for goodies to bring back home.
I haven´t found any pine cones with nuts in them. Since the squirrels came back, they always get there first. But I forgive them, because I love watching them jump from impossible branches.
Thyme and rosemary grow wild on the hill at the back of the house. And a huge laurel bush by the kitchen door keeps all the family supplied with bay leaves for a year´s worth os soups.
There´s a bed of roses that always seems about to be smothered by mint bushes. It´s considered very helpful of me to cut huge swathes in it.
I also took a fair amount of leaves from the big climbing vine on the porch.
And, for the first time in years, I found a few wild oregano plants. That more than compensated for the absence of wild strawberries. Now I´m bragging. There are never more than a two or three berries, at the best of times, but still.

Last night, for dinner, we had fake pizzas with pita bread.
I put some roasted tomatoes on the bread, a few pieces of fresh mozzarella, and a lot of fresh oregano leaves.
The pita bread was frozen, which kept it from burning while the mozzarella melted and the tomatoes heated up.
Once out, a drizzle of olive oil and some black pepper, and some salad on the side, made it a perfect sunday night dinner, crisp and comforting.
I´m looking forward to a week of playing around with all my herby treasures.



It´s a little early to be posting on a Saturday morning, but actually, I´ve been awake for nearly two hours. Very much a five-year-old on the first day of the holidays.
I´m going to El Pantano, the house where I´ve spent almost every summer. I haven´t been in ages, and even though we´ll only be there for 24 hours, I´m so excited that I´m hopping about , pretending I don´t want to be noisy but actually hoping the kettle wakes José up so we can leave already.
I´ll lie on the grass, walk barefoot on the pine needles ( a point of honour, and just as stupid now as it was when I was five), throw sticks at the dogs, swim, read and chat.
There´s a good chance I might eat. I´ll keep you posted.


Stock options : cube , or no cube?

I´m a bit ashamed to admit it, but I resort to stock cubes every now and then.

I know they´re full of bad stuff, and that they´re nothing like the real thing, and that in two generations we´ll all sprout three heads.

I know all that. And I do make my own stock. I´m very fond of making vast vats of it, full of chicken bones, vegetables and herbs (and even pigs trotters, for extra jelly). I´m actually a bit addicted to the smug feeling of being on top of things I get when I ladle the golden liquid into containers that I then label neatly and put in the freezer. Which has its little problems, sometimes, but let´s not be reminded of them.

It just seems a shame to use it , sometimes. It´s so delicious, just as it is, with nothing more than a drop of sherry, or maybe a few noodles floating about. Something so whole in itself, to be suddenly whisked into a soup with very robust ingredients that will overpower it completely?

When it´s a clear soup, or a delicate risotto, then of course I want the real thing. I can really taste it there But in blended soups, or for dishes that are full of meat and vegetables anyway, I just don´t want to use it. I suppose I don’t have a very refined palate, but I can´t tell the difference in , say , a spiced pumpkin soup.

Sometimes I buy the kind of expensive, organic, fully healthful broth sold in cartons. But I can´t stock it, as my store cupboard is small. So cubes it is, for blended soups anyway.

And some points have to be given for speed and ease. And for graphic design. Isn´t this beautiful? Yesterday I had a nasty shock when I saw the new packaging. It´s awful, ugly, nondescript, and instead of the hen it has a bottle of olive oil. Because, if you please, each stock cube has 15% of every 8% volume made up of olive oil. Cheats and horrible people, I hope they bring the old box back. But I digress.

José is coming back today from Albarracín. The food there is of a decidedly robust type. They have the minimun temperatures in all Spain, so it makes sense to make the kind of casseroles that keep people on their feet while ploughing the rocky ground when it´s way below zero.
However, in summer, and minus the plough, it can be a little trying. I´m sure José will come back craving vegetables, and the kind of civilized food that some classify under “girl food”. He loves it, and it´s one of the reasons I love him so much. He´s just so easy that way, and so different from all the males in my family, firm meat-and-potatoes men.

Here´s a recipe for vichyssoise, his all-time favourite soup, that is fast, easy, delicious and failsafe. It´s a Thermomix recipe,slightly adapted from María A. Terry Muñoz´s book, but the quantities will be the same for a basic elemental version with a pan and an inmersion blender. The only advantage of the T is that it blends things to within an inch of their lives, and a chinoise is never needed.
Quantities are for four people, as long as one of them isn´t José, who will have three helpings if and when he´s allowed.

200 gr. Leek whites
100 gr. Potato
30 gr. Butter, 2 spoonfuls olive oil
1 small onion
1 stock cube
300 ml. whole milk
400 ml. water
100 ml. cream

salt, pepper,

Thermomix : while chopping the leek and onion, give the butter and oil 2´.100º, speed1.

Give the onion and leeks 5´, 100º, speed 1, with the lid and cup on

Add the potato, stock cube, milk and water. Slowly work up to speed 7, and program 12´, 100º.

Check for salt, and add cream.
Most times, I can´t be bothered with the cream and just make it 400 ml. milk.

For the normal method, sweat the leek and onion in the butter and oil for five minutes, and add the diced potato. The smaller the better, as that will be quicker. Add the stock cube, milk and water, and simmer until tender. Blend, and maybe sieve.

Serve chilled, with chopped chives.


The horror, the horror!!!

Today the Sanfermines kick off. Arguably, Spain´s most famous fiestas, thanks to Ernest Hemingway, and full of topics and archetypes.

With them begins the real summer, and the insult to taste and decency that takes place all over the country. Our very own little contribution to shocking horror.

And no, folks, I don´t mean bullfighting. That´s way too controversial a subject for this tiny blog.
I´m talking about calimocho. Or kalimotxo if you prefer.

It´s the Summer Hall of Horrors number one drink. Put it this way; if sangría and tinto de verano were Jedi knights, then kalimotxo would be firmly entrenched in the Dark Side.
It´s a mixture of red wine and Coca-Cola, and if that doesn´t make your stomach heave, I don´t know what will. It seems to produce that effect in the people who drink it, judging by the state of the streets the day after.

I wonder what Hemingway would have made of it. He seems to have had a good taste in drinks, so I´m guessing he´d have gone away in disgust, and written about some other popular festivity.
And now all the wild young backpackers out for a thrill would be jumping over bonfires in Menorca, or racing horses in Sanlucar.
And drinking kalimotxo, of course.


Forget the Lobster Squad, call the fire brigade!

This is what comes of trying to be a little martha.

This morning I was on the phone to my mother, while tapping away at the computer. So far, so usual.
But I started to notice a weird smell, something burnt. I freaked out, thinking it was my computer, and me without backups (also usual).
My mother inmediately jumped into a cab, with my sister María. That´s how things are in this family. All for one, even if they know nothing about computers. Moral support is all.

By the time they arrived, I´d Remembered All.

Here´s the reconstruction of events. Play C.S.I. music in your head.

Earlier this morning, I´d opened the freezer to take out some bread for toasting. I´d then spotted some beef stock I´d had for over six months. I´d been reading that stock keeps for only a few months, so I decided to boil it up and see if it was ok, before refreezing it.

I buttered and salted my toast, brought it over to the computer, munched away while tap-tap-clicking again.

And one hour later the Smell came. I decided it had to be the computer. Well, what else? It was the only piece of equipment in use in the house. I fretted and fumed, and sniffed , thereby managing to get a lot of dust into my nostrils. It didn´t seem to be the computer, but what else could it be?
In the end, I decided to drink some water to take my mind off things.

Oh, the smoke! Barbecuers, you won´t know what liquid smoke is until you´ve seen the sight of a pan totally engulfed in the thickest, most burblingly angry fog.

I recieved my mother and sister at the head of the steps with the smoking pan, looking like someone out of the Addams Family. I will never live this down, obviously.

And what´s worse, I now have to go back to Ikea to buy a new one. It was a very old and favourite pan. O well.
Livia turned up for lunch, and we had pasta with Godfather sauce, and it was a lot of fun, and the pasta didn´t taste burnt, even if the kitchen still smells disgusting.

Here´s my lesson for today. Never mind about freezed stock not keeping for months. Go back to square one and write 500 times "I shall not leave the stove unnattended".

My dinner

I´ve been a longtime fan of Keri Smith´s blog, Wish Jar Journal.
Sometimes I think it´ll be too cute for its own sweet self, but then I find it very heartfelt, and always inspirational.
It usually manages to give me a little jolt, and drives me to do things. Maybe an ambitious project of street art, maybe a little collage. Even when the impulse peters out, I always feel better for it.
My favourite section is 100 ideas. One of them is "draw your dinner", which I´ve always found hard to do. I´m far too greedy, and wolf things down.
Yesterday I managed to hold myself back , just.

I had cheese sandwiches, with slices of cucumber and some farmhouse pickle I brought back from England, on white bread with poppy seeds.
Normally I´ll drink water, but I felt the need for something carbonated to watch the football with.

The good news is, there are only two World Cup matches left, so I will not bore you for very long.


Fear of frying:eggs and chips

Sometimes I think frying is the national sport.
People love it. They fry letf, right and centre.
They fry fish, they fry meat, they fry dough. They stuff things and fry them . They layer fried things and bake them. They fry so much, sometimes you come out of restaurants or even people´s houses smelling like they fried you.

It´s supposed to be convenient, and widely assumed that things take seconds to fry. And they do, but only one. When you have to feed 4 or 6 people with things that have to be fried, that´s at least an hour of standing over a hot stove.

But people don´t mind that. I´ve seen this time and again. Someone turns up unexpectedly, and instead of being offered pasta, or soup, or a sandwich, preparations are inmediately started for chips and fried eggs.

Because if ever there was a love affair, it´s that of the Spaniard and his fried egg. They are the true national dish, and never mind paella. I dare you to find a bar that doesn´t have them on every plato combinado, nestling up to croquetas and russian salad.
It makes sense, in a way, since we do produce the best olive oil in the world, and olive oil is the best fat for frying.
Or so they tell me.
I don´t fry, myself. I´m too scared.

For the true fried egg of legend, the perfectly round, lacy crisp golden egg of platonic ideal, you need a pool of boiling oil. And the egg has to be dropped from a height, so it is full submerged and the oil can splash over it inmediately.

See what I mean? Only the brave. I just cannot do that. Things spit and hiss and splutter, and I lose my nerve.
You have to approach the fried egg with confidence. They smell your fear. If you don´t arrive at the stove with a masterful mind, the egg will sense it, and begin to sputter fiercely, and even maybe catch fire.

Not for me.
When I want a crisp potato, crunchy and golden, to break a creamy orange yolk, here´s my answer.


Preheat the oven on its highest setting.

Scrub 2 potatoes and cut them into wedges, without peeling.

Put them in a bowl with a spoonful or so of oil, a good pinch of pimentón (sweet or hot, as you like), plenty of black pepper, and salt.
Toss them so they´re slicked over with the oil, and put them on a baking tray and in the oven.

Wait till they´re cooked and crisp, around 20, but maybe more.
Eat them straight away, blowing on your fingers, breaking the yolks of the poached eggs, and making sure to scrape all the yellow goodness with more potatoes.

Breakfast therapy

Somebody seems to be killing a drainpipe in the flat below with a blunt instrument. The whole building is shaking.
To prevent myself from going down with a baseball bat and behaving like the neighbour you don´t want, I´ll be in the kitchen for a while.
Since I don´t even have a baseball bat, it makes more sense.
It´ll be toast with butter, honey and black sesame.
I´m in love with the stuff.
Sesame, tasting of sesame , but looking so pretty and dark, what´s not to like?


My week as a couch potato

José will be away all week, teaching some course on something that sounds very complicated but I suspect is a summer camp for grad students and university professors.

He´ll clamber over hills to his heart´s content, and be able to talk geomorphology until his hat drops.

Myself, I´ll be able to catch up with all the movies I want.

We´re not all that well matched when it comes to movies. I am an out-and-out fanatic, and love movies, love to watch them many times, and to quote from them. I love rom-coms, the odd blockbuster, and American Indie. But most of all I love classic Hollywood movies.
José is more of a man for "ethnic with a heart". You know, little iranian girl has to sell roses on the street to pay for her blind brother´s operation.
That´s at movie theaters. At home he´s very happy to tune in to whatever schlock is on TV, whether it´s Lethal Weapon VI , or some obscure game show he´s never even seen before. So it doesn´t make sense to rent out stuff, because it goes back unwatched.

So when he goes away I´m free to rent out early Hitchcock, Bette Davis vehicles, and all the Frank Capra I can take. Luckily there´s an excellent video store five minutes walk away. And even more luckily, a fantastically good french patisserie has opened right beside it.

They do all sorts of breads, but mostly I´m in love with their buttery pastries. They make the best croissant in Madrid, and anyone who doesn´t agree can name their seconds and prepare to meet me at dawn.

I´ll miss José terribly, of course, but for now I can look forward to evenings spent in the company of Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Jack Lemmon, Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly and Humphrey Bogart, while I sip iced tea with sprigs of mint, and nibble on the oh-so-amazing quiches.

Séptimo Arte
c/ Hortaleza 69
91 310 38 51

Deli Panific
c/ Hortaleza 75


Winding down on a friday evening : Pisto

On Friday I was pretty much beat. Totally and utterly tired out by a long week of non-stop deadline meeting.

José was pretty done up too. He decided to go out and buy some pizzas. He´s lately fallen in love with a new Italian takeout store.I decided to stay, too lazy even to chose a pizza topping.

But I didn´t want to sit still, either. What I needed was the kind of mindless, soothing task that would occupy my hands and feet, but hardly my brain. Something involving a good amount of easy chopping, a bit of stirring, which could then be left to cook away, when I´d had enough.
In short, pisto.

Pisto is the perfect do ahead recipe. You make it , it keeps well in the fridge, waiting it´s time for the day when you really don´t want to cook, at all.
It freezes perfectly. Apart from its time-honoured traditional use, with eggs and white rice, I love it on pasta. On pizza. In empanadas. With fish. With meat. On its own, straight out of the jar, standing in front of the open fridge.

What I like about it is that it has a very relaxed rythm. You only have to follow the order of ingredients, and throw them in the pan as soon as they´re chopped. There´s no anxiously waiting for something to be just right, no stressful wild chopping while something may burn. Things will happen while they must, and a minute up and down isn´t a big deal.

Another thing is that there´s one of each, so you don´t get bored. I love chopping veg, but can become restless at the third courgette.

By the time José was back with the pizzas, the pisto was on the simmer phase and I could sit back comfortably and watch Italy get through to the semifinals. Again. Dammit.

Pisto manchego

1 garlic clove, 1 big onion, 1 courgette, or two small ones, 1 red pepper, 1 kilo tin of tomatoes.

First, chop the garlic and onion. Cover the bottom of the pan with enough oil to coat it comfortably. When it´s hot, add the onion and garlic. While they soften, dice the red pepper. Green is the traditional, but I love the soft, almost creamy sweetness of the red. When it´s diced , add to the pan.
While that softens, cut the courgette into bite sized chunks. I like the courgette to remain recognizable. Add. Stir a little.
Open the tin of tomatoes, and squish them and remove the hard cores. Or grate the equivalent amount of ripe plum tomatoes.
Add them to the pan, with some salt, a couple of heaped tablespoons of sugar, a small dried chilli pepper and some oregano.
Lower the heat, and leave to simmer for forty minutes to an hour. You may need to use a heat diffuser if it starts to stick. When it´s thickened, the courgettes are soft, and the tomato tastes fully cooked, you´re done.

Bear in mind that this recipe is how I make it, and not the classical orthodox one. But it is the most comfortable, and I´ve never had any complaints. Tradition calls for a frying pan, but unless you´re devoted to cleaning tomato stains from the wall and ceiling, I advise a wide saucepan, the sort that´s not very high.
You can add aubergine after the courgette, but then it won´t be pisto but ratatouille.