Time out

After a week of revelry, my liver is sitting up and begging for mercy, and right not all I want is to sit still, stare at the wall and maybe have a little white rice, with possibly a touch of miso soup.
New Year is coming up, and there´ll be some serious eating to do then, so it´s best to take it easy for a day or two. And then, maybe, I can tackle the post about stuffed capons. Right now, I can´t even look at the cookbooks I was given for Christmas.


Merry Christmas

The Lobster Squad wishes you all a very happy Christmas. I´ll be back on Monday, and hope to be posting soon the recipe for my mother´s famous Christmas Stuffed Bird. Ciao


Preparing for Christmas: shortbread

The blogosphere seems to be awash with shortbread, and that´s all right and proper, given how easy it is to bake and how baking seems to go hand in hand with winter holidays.
My recipe won´t contribute anything in the way of originality, since it´s for plain old shortbread, but I think users of the metric system will love me for it.
It´s from one of my favourite cookbooks, Joanna Weinberg´s "How to feed your friends with Relish".
I´ve only had this cookbook for a couple of months, but I love love love it. Why? Because it´s chatty and well written, beautifully designed, has gorgeous photos and lovely little line drawings, and, because the recipes I´ve tried so far have not only worked, they´ve worked without alteration. Gasp. I´m telling you, Weinberg, she´s the one.

The shortbread recipe is one of those you can memorize, thereby possibly cooking it while away from home, while staying with somebody. If you can produce this, you´ll be getting a lot of invitations, I think.

You´ll need
100 gr. of sugar
200 gr. of butter
300 gr. of flour

a generous pinchh of salt, and whatever you like in the way of aromatics (simple stuff, like chopped pecans, or lemon zest).

Thermomix users, you will love me even more when you know that I´ve adapted the recipe for you. Just put everything in, flour first, butter cold, and pulse 20 seconds, speed 6. Pat the rubbly dough into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.

Rest of the world users, please begin by creaming the butter with the sugar, adding flour and salt, and making a ball which will rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

After this, you can either press it into a tin with a loose bottom, or you can cut out shapes after rolling it out. It´s easier if you let it come to room temperature, but still, it´s not easy to cut out shapes. If you cut, stay with small uncomplicated shapes.

Bake at 170º for about 20 minutes. You want it golden at the bottom but creamy yellow at the top. Remember, like all cookies, they will harden as they cool, so let them cool in the tin for 5 minutes and then lift them out. If you´ve done it in a tin, cut it while it´s hot and soft and lift them out after five minutes.

It keeps perfectly in a tin, and also freezes very well. I find it´s easier to keep my paws off it if it´s frozen, because the 5 minute defrosting wait helps. But maybe you´re strong.


Compota navideña: poached fruit for a crazy month

Life in December is too hectic for me. I just want to crawl into the sofa and let it roll by.
My mind is beginning to boggle at the thought of all the dinners and lunches and drinks parties that are coming. And I like food, mind you, but so much of it, in such close succession, and all so rich, I don´t know. And then the awful shopping. No. It´s all too much.
My favourite antidote is this fruit compote. Many people make it as a traditional holiday pudding, but I like to make a batch and eat it for dinner or breakfast, as the case might be. It´s very healthy and soothing, and while not bland, it´s definitely some of the least exciting food available. Which is just what you want after a lunch of jamón, foie, steak tartare and chocolate bombe.

It´s so easy I feel kind of silly writing the recipe, but anyway, here´s my favourite version. Qantities are for one person, as J hates poached fruit.

1/2 a kilo of cooking apples, peeled and cored
100 gr. dried apricots
100 gr. prunes

first, cover the apricots and prunes and let them soak for about an hour.

Then, tip the dried fruit with its water and the apples into a pot, cover it, bringt it to a boil, and let it simmer on a heat diffuser for about half an hour.

After that time it´ll be a sludgy golden mess, studded with the dark prunes. You might have added a cinammon stick at the beginning, but other than that, it will taste fruity and sweet, but not too much. When it cools, it will be sweeter, but never cloying (which means, of course, that you might want to add some sugar at the beginning, if that´s the sort of thing you like).

I love it with yogurt, just like that, or maybe with a bit of brown sugar. It goes very well with oatmeal, can be pressed into service as pudding with some good biscuits or cake (bought, of course!) and will even make an impressive side dish for roast pork or duck.



Ok, ok, jeez. Apologies, yes, my last recipe was sloppy to the point of madness. But come on, people. I was mostly concerned with the icing. And anyway, you know how to adapt a set of ingredients to a method you know from another recipe, surely? I got that one from the Thermomix sect book, and the set of instructions as I know them will be no use to anyone without one. If you really want to make it, then use my ingredients with this recipe.
See, how hard was that?
I promise to be more precise from now on, if I can, but please remember, I´m learning as I go along, and burning cookies hard and fast, too.


Lemony tea biscuits

Of the two batches of cookies we made last week, this recipe is the less stellar of the two. But it´s still very good. They´re crisp and buttery, are easy to cut, and hold their shape resonably well. So they´re a good starting point if it´s decorating you want to do.
The recipe is from the Th official book, and the method is the same as for a rich shortcrust pastry, which it resembles. So I´m going to give the quantities and assume that interested bakers will know how to deal with these ingredients. If you don´t do the pulsing, sandy dough thing, you can do the creaming the butter, etc process, I think.

300 gr. flour
170 gr. butter
100 gr. ground almonds
1 egg
125 gr. sugar
lemon zest, or vanilla for flavour
a pinch of salt

These are nice enough biscuits, but it´s the icing I was excited about. Every time I´ve tried to make icing, it´s been a liquidy, dribbly disaster. I blame the recipes. "One cup icing sugar, the juice of one lemon" is misleading. It all depends on the lemon, duh.

This time we were careful. The cup of sugar went into the bowl, and I added the lemon juice drop by drop, literally, until I had a stiff paste, and then I added a little more, but not much. I´d say the ideal consistency is between Nutella and thick cream.
I added more lemon zest, and P went artistic and added drops of food colouring. It hardened perfectly, set into a pretty lacquered finish, and, as a plus, it tasted lemony, which I enjoyed.
The biscuits have lasted a week in a tin. I don´t know if they´d have lasted more, but they´re over.
All in all, I´d say they´re the perfect cookie to make as a present. And I can´t wait to begin icing cupcakes and cakes.


Tiny roast potatoes, the perfect snack

Last Saturday J and I went over to P&S´s for a giant cookie bakeoff. P&S plan to make a whole lot, decorate them, and give them out as Christmas gifts. Me, I just planned to eat a lot of cookies.
I usually cook on my own, with music for company, so hanging out in a kitchen full of people was really fun and quite an event. The cookies turned out great, but I´ll blog about them next post.
Because the first thing we made, to keep the pangs of hunger away, was a tray of roasted new potatoes.
This is going to be one of those cheeky non-recipes, because all we did was toss the potatoes in a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil, some crushed salt and a few sprigs of rosemary from the garden, and then blast them in a hot hot oven for twenty or thirty minutes. The beauty of this particular batch was that I´d bought them in Málaga central market, and they were amazing, tiny and delicate, with the thinnest skins.
I´ve never seen potatoes like that in Madrid, so next time I´ll just have to go with the basic recipe, and cut wedges, skin and all, of normal potatoes. It´ll still be very good, of course. The trick is not to fill the tray too much, and to shake them about a couple of times, so that different sides have the opportunity to brown and crisp up.


New blog header for Rose

There´s a new member of the little community of blogs that have one of my illustrations as a header. Check it out, Rose´s "64 sq ft kitchen " is really great. You´ll find lots to cook, beautiful photos, and for you francophones, it´s a bilingual blog. Pretty impressive.
The lemon tart is one I´ll be making soon, as I have a sack of lemons I picked myself on Monday. After having risked the fate of Absalom, I think I deserve a treat.


Cazuela : seafood-pasta-fish soup from Andalucía

I´ve often heard people complain about Spanish food, particulary the food in the south. My knee jerk reaction to this is "bollocks/idiot tourists/you don´t like food anyway". But on cool reflection, I can see their point. If you´re a tourist in Spain, you´re often at the mercy of the sort of people who serve every single thing floating in a pool of orangey oil. You might not see a vegetable for days on end, or else you´ll be subjected to the "ensalada mixta" world of iceberg lettuce and shredded carrot from a jar. I know. I´ve had that, and it sucks. 
But of course that´s not real food, right?
There are a lot of simple  homely dishes, full of vegetables even, that never make it to restaurant tables, and so tourists go away with a lot of bad ideas in their heads and some inferior jamón from the duty free shop in their bags. No wonder they badmouth us.
Here´s one of these,  a warming, beautiful chunky soup of fish, vegetables and pasta, deep yellow from the saffron. 
Cecilia gave me this recipe, but I´ve adapted it. She is a wonderful cook, and I could never hope to rival the real thing, so I might as well take a few shortcuts. The beauty of it is that it´s a blueprint, so you can change any of the main ingredients to suit what you have to hand, and tailor it to the season or your stores.

For four (more or less) you´ll need 2 litres of light fish stock. I make this by buying a block of la Sirena frozen fish fumet and dissolving it in two litres of water instead of the recommended one.

250 gr. of pasta, some short thick noodles, or the ones shaped like rice
or rice, about a cup, or 500 gr. of potatoes cut in chunks. Whatever you have, but remember that the cooking time will be different, so adapt accordingly.

Likewise, the fish is your choice, but I normally go with frozen prawns (250 gr) and a piece of desalted cod, or maybe some frozen hake. But mussels, clams, and any other white fish are more than fine.

The veg is again a matter of taste, but keep it in the range of asparagus, artichokes, spinach, that sort of thing. Not too many, this is a Spanish dish after all, it won´t do to make it all green.

For the sofrito, a small tin of plum tomatoes, an onion, a clove of garlic and a green pepper.
Start with this first, sauteeing the onion, then adding the pepper, then the tomato and garlic, and letting it go sweet and soft ( a spoonful of sugar is always a good idea).
Add the stock and a pinch of saffron threads, or a teaspoonful of paprika, or both.
Let this simmer for a few minutes, then liquidize it if you like ( I don´t often bother).
Add the pasta and vegetables. The fish should go in when the pasta is about five minutes away from being ready.
This is not a dish that needs to be exactly al dente, in fact the tradition here is to serve it pretty soggy, and the fish won´t be mortally dry with all that liquid around. But still, watch it carefully, taste for salt and pepper, and serve with lots of nice doughy bread and a big green salad.
See, that wasn´t so bad, surely?


Last week´s picnic

Five days spent chiefly walking around olive groves or sitting by a roaring fire are great. However, when you come back there´s so much to do that you forget it was so lovely. Almost.
Just a week ago I prepared a picnic. For one, because I love that little Habitat lunchbox. And for another because the bars along the Andalucía road serve abysmal food, at three star prices.
So I packed two stories with those old time classics of the Spanish picnic: deep fried breaded meat (stolen from my mother´s fridge) and two empanadillas from the market.
The remaining two held thick sandwiches made from loaf bread from La Tahona in Santa Engracia, filled with roast tomatoes from my freezer and mashed avocado.
I´m a big fan of tricked out mayo from a jar, and it has plenty of moments, but for a sandwich that combines good looks with a vitaminic kick, plus all the gorgeous fattiness you really need in a proper sarnie, it has to be avocado.
A couple of tangerines and you´re all set for the rest of the drive, with maybe a stopover for coffee and one of those really bad chocolate bars that you´d only think of eating when inside a car.


Hearty soups and an Anglo-Sherry condiment.

Here´s the hearty potaje I promised. A potaje is a thick soup/stew made in one pot and containing a variety of vegetables, some kind of bean and various assorted cured bits of pork, anything from a few rounds of chorizo to a whole pig´s ear.
And yes, I wrote about it a year ago. It can´t be helped, soups have a habit of turning up again and again. They´re never exactly the same, of course, but they´re pretty much sister soups, and I can´t justify whole blog posts about each one. All potajes are more or less the same, in spirit if not in deed, and they benefit from being prepard to fit a general pattern rather than a strict recipe, I think.

All I can say is:

1-make your life easier, and use tinned or jarred beans or chickpeas (not lentils). It´s the one sure and painless way of knowing they won´t be hard, or mushy, but just right. If you´re cooking for a crowd, look out for the 3kg. tins. They´re so cool, I´m longing to buy one, but haven´t yet found the right occasion for it.

2- Start with a sofrito. It doesn´t matter what it is, wether the Italian onion-celery-carrot or the Spanish onion-pepper-garlic-tomato, a mixture or the two, or whatever you have around. This isn´t traditional here, but it helps things along so much that:

3- you don´t really need so much pork floating around. It´s good, yes, but it will also make the thing heavy, and you´ll either have to restrain yourself to a single bowl (impossible) or spend the rest of the afternoon in a dazed stupor.

4- instead, mix lots of vegetables in. My last success had onion, carrot, celery, cabbage, potato, tomatoes, green beans and spinach, as well as chickpeas. Even my father, that notorious carnivore, had a big bowl.

5- Finishing touches in a contrasting colour make it so much prettier than the usual sludgy brown. Consider spinach, peas, parsley, or even cherry tomatoes.

6- I always have the second bowl mixed with salad. I love the crunch and the vinegary touch.
If you can´t be bothered to make a salad, some hot peppers in brine will do nicely, or failing that, just a dash of vinegar or lemon juice.

Or, you can do what J´s mother tells me is an old Anglo-Sherry* tradition:

Put a garlic clove and a hot chili pepper in a jar and fill it with dry sherry, sherry vinegar or a mixture of the two. Leave it to seep for a week, and use it to drizzle over your lentejas/garbanzos/judías.

I´ve never tried it, but will make a jar today so it´s ready by the time I return on Monday. We´re going to Málaga. Will report back. Happy Thanksgiving or just plain old weekend.

*Anglo-Sherry is the affectionate term for the descendants of the English, Irish or French winemakers and exporters who came to Jerez in the XVIII century and made the town and the wine famous.


Fame and glory

Bring out the champagne. Lobstersquad has had its moment in the sun, being mentioned alongside five other seriously Big Blogs in this article of Kate Salter´s . It appeared in Stella, a supplement of the Sunday Telegraph, and I´m still recovering from the excitement.
But expect some heartwarming dish tomorrow. It´s raining in Madrid at last.


Spanish classics: 1080 recetas y macarrones con chorizo

When I wrote this post about why I don´t like Spanish cookbooks, there was a certain mini buzz. Some agreed, some didn´t. Some pointed out that las milochenta, as 1080 recetas de cocina is usually known, is a really good book, really, really.
Now that it´s out in English, I´ve had occasion to rethink all that I said, and you know what? I stand my ground. Spanish books are no good, folks, sorry, but that´s how it goes.
The 1080 recipes as published by Phaidon is amazing. It´s so beautiful that I almost bought it yesterday, and in fact I probably will buy it. And why? For the text? No. I already have a copy of the text, the pretty boring text, one recipe after another, solid, old fashioned and in places quaint (margerine? drenching pasta in cold water after cooking it?). So the text is the same
It´s the book that´s gorgeous. The paper, the glue, the cardboard, the ink. The photographs, which made me drool over merluza en salsa verde, one of the dishes I´ve groaned most over all my life (that´s my thing. It´s very delicious; I just have merluza en salsa verde issues). And the illustrations...well. 
Kill me. Seriously. Tear out my heart and feed it to wolves.
Why hasn´t this book been published in Spain? Because Spanish publishers are too stingy to pay Mariscal to make hundreds of drawings, that´s why. Why hire the most famous illustrator/designer in Spain, when you can make a perfectly soporiferous edition with some XIXth century clip-art etchings? Why would you want to make something as pedestrian as scrambled eggs come alive with a bunch of squiggly colourful lines? This is a book, after all, and it practically sells itself, no need to spend money on it.
So you see, if I were in an apocalyptic mood, I´d say this is the Armada all over again. But I´m not. I´m in a good mood. This book makes me see Spanish food as it should be seen, as people abroad see it. When I read "potaje de garbanzos" I don´t see the mock-horror pallid version I was served at school, but something else. It´s the Mediterranean dream, the orange blossom, lace mantilla, donkey at the door, guitars and geraniums version of garbanzos. Which is great.
And because a good mood and 4ºC entitle one to a certain calorific leeway, here´s a recipe for the standard comfort food classic, macarrones con chorizo, our mac n´cheese. It´s not the one in 1080, but the one we make at home.

Macarrones con chorizo
500 gr. penne rigate
2 cooking chorizos
1 big jar (about 500 gr.) of good tomato sauce
1 onion, minced
1 clove of garlic, if you like
maybe a dash of cayenne
Manchego or gruyère, grated, as much as you like

Boil the pasta, and preheat the oven to 180ºC.
In a wide frying pan, heat some olive oil and sautée the chorizo and finely chopped onion. The idea is to make this as the pasta cooks, so it has to be a strong fire. Ideally you´d do this slowly, but this isn´t a dish for finesse.
Once they´re cooked and orange from the pimentón in the chorizo, add the tomato sauce and give it a good stirring bubble. Add some sugar, chili, etc, to taste. Maybe even a dash of ketchup (shh).Toss the pasta with the sauce. It might not look too well coated, but that´s ok.
Put it in a gratin dish, dot with the grated cheese, and leave it in the oven until golden and crusty.
Try to sit next to the person who picks out the chorizo and leaves it on the side of the plate (me).



Some people hate leftovers, and I don´t know why. Cook once, eat two or three times is my motto.
Some meals beg to be used that way. It´s just plain good sense to make a beautiful salad out of lentils and the last cuts from a joint of roast beef, or build high roast chicken sandwiches.
Which is fine the second time. But if you should have to dish things up a third time, which does happen in a household of two like mine, then we´re up against the deja vù factor. It´s not that you hate the food, not at all. It´s just that you´ve been seeing it every time you open the fridge, and it´s beginning to seem like it´s been there for a whole ice age.
There are classics like ropa vieja or hash or revueltos or fried rice that are a great way of recycling things. But you can still see whatever it was that was bugging you. And the question will be aired. "Isn´t this the cabbage from Saturday?" they´ll say. And even though it tastes good, you´ll start to like it less,
Layering is the answer. Lasagna, or pie, will hide the offending morsels and turn them into the savory heart of something new and exciting. If it´s nestling between dough and cheese, and you can´t see it, who cares what it is?
However, it will also make them go further, which might mean more leftovers.
The way to stop this from turning into a Tantallus circle is to go with empanadillas (the oven kind, as of course I don´t fry).
This recipe makes enough dough for 12 pasties, and they´ll go fast, between dinner and breakfast. And if not, they freeze well, and are perfect candidates for a lunchbox.
It´s a cocarrois dough, and apart from leftovers it can hold the raw filling cocarrois, or the quick and sneaky spinach filling here (don´t forget the garlic and pimentón).
When I did it on Monday, it took me thirty minutes to heat up the oven, rummage around for the ingredients, make the dough, spill pints of olive oil on a new cashmere jumper, curse a lot, try to wash it off, make the filling with the leftover meat and vegetables and a can of fried onions, some raisins and a dash of Old Bay spice (thanks, Heather!), roll out the balls, fill them and pop them in the oven.
Provided you are less clumsy than I, you can count on at least eight minutes less than that, which isn´t bad going. I don´t count the half hour in the oven, because that isn´t actual work.

Masa de empanadillas para horno

Preheat the oven to 180ºC
In the Th, mix 50 gr. butter (or lard), 50 gr. oil, 100 ml. water, one egg and half a teaspoonful of salt. Add 340 gr. or so of flour, and mix 20 seconds on speed 6.
The dough should be soft and supple and easy to work with. Make 12 balls, roll them out, and don´t overfill.
Bake approx. half an hour, until golden.
They´re better lukewarm, good luck waiting.


The art of breakfast: Thermomix porridge

The cold has finally kicked in, so I´ve had my first bowl of porridge this morning. I went for it without looking up the recipe, because I thought that, having made it dozens of times over last year would have ingrained the thing deep in my brain.

Not so. I realized, five minutes into the process, that I´d skipped a couple of the steps in this recipe . But when it came out perfecty, I realized I´d actually simplified the whole thing so much that it´s now a no brainer, easier than ever, omigod unbeliable return on investment.

No bringing the water to the boil, no scattering of the cereal. Because the Thermomix stirs as it heats, you can bung in a cup of rolled oats, pulse number 6 a couple of times so they´re steel cut, add two cups of water and then either leave the thing 8 minutes at 100º, or start with Varoma for 3 minutes and then turn down to 90ºC.

Instant oats, but the real thing. The perfect breakfast, with brown sugar and milk. I´m so happy to have discovered this, and also this blog, which I´m loving already. My drawing is a kind of sketchy homage.


Frozen spinach

Eek!, you say.
Do I want curses beating about my head? Haven´t I seen the River Cottage DVDs a million times? What am I thinking?
Well, I´m thinking that in real life it´s not always possible to have the fresh stuff to hand. It´s not practical to have whole bunches of spinach in danger of wilting lying around your fridge. Sometimes you just want a few leaves to provide a green note in a bowl of soup. Or you´re in a hurry and can´t really stop to trim and clean a whole lot of leaves. Or you can´t be bothered, and what´s wrong with that? It just makes sense to have some spinach (and peas, and green beans) stashed in the freezer, however many times a week you go to the market.
I grew up in a house where frozen spinach is boiled and then sautéed. But here´s how I do it which is quicker, and only uses one pan. If anyone thinks this is a dodgy method and I´ll die in convulsions pretty soon, please don´t tell me. I think it´s just great.

All you need is a heavy skillet with a lid. Heat a little olive oil in it and add your frozen spinach. It helps if it´s in pieces the size of undernourished golf balls, which is of course the lowly kind of frozen spinach, and if you think this is going from bad to worse, that´s too bad.
Add salt, cover the pan, turn down the heat. Wait maybe five minutes, dduring which time you can shake it a little. That´s it. Your perfectly serviceable spinach, without having to wait, drain, or do anything boring.
You can add cream and let it bubble down, of course. And before adding the spinach you can brown a little garlic, and add raisins. Pimentón will go well at the end, if you´re so minded, or nutmeg. Anything, really.
It´s not spectacular, but when there´s a lunchbox to be filled, or a lasagna/spanakópita to be assembled at a moment´s notice, it´s pretty good.


East wind in the kitchen

I´m rushed off my feet, so all the posts about interesting Spanish stuff will have to wait. When not working, I´m reading Fuchsia Dunlop´s "Land of Plenty" and "The Revolutionary Chinese cookbook". And the work is about a little Singaporean girl who loved food (not the one in the picture, which is from a guidebook of China). So it´s all East is east around here for the time being.
We´ll be having this for dinner. It sounds like the sort of comforting one bowl dish that´s just perfect for a Tuesday evening when you´re in the throes of a nasty cold.


Nigella´s chocolate-chocoalte chip cookies

The chocolate choclate-chip cookie has always seemed to me a rampant case of gilding refined gold and painting the lily.
Provided you use enough real chocolate chips, you don´t really need the extra boost from cocoa in the dough.
But then again...there´s something very seductive in an all chocolate cookie. It´s unapologetic, which I appreciate.
Take these, from Nigella Express. She doesn´t just bump up the chocolate content with cocoa, but with chocolate as well, so that even the raw dough is irresistible. And the end result? To quote the Domestic Goddess herself, they are chocolatey to the point of madness. Yes, they are insane. But you don´t have to have all twelve at a sitting, you know. Have one (ok, two) and freeze the rest.
That way, if you suddenly decide to have a couple of friends over for coffee, you can defrost them quickly. The chips will melt every so slightly, as will your friends. And most likely, they´ll ask for the recipe, so here it is:

125 gr. dark chocolate
150 gr. flour
30 gr. cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
125 gr. soft butter
50 gr. brown sugar
50 gr. white sugar
1 egg, cold from the fridge
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250 gr. dark chocolate chips ( I use Valor 70%)

Preheat oven to 170ºC.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave in a couple of minute bursts at medium strength so that it doesn´t melt too fast.
Cream the butter and sugars ( I use the Thermomix.Follow sect book rules)
Add the melted chocolate, the vanilla and the egg. At this point it´s the most delicious mousse ever.
Add the flour and the chips.
This amount makes 12 mammoth cookies of the icce-cream scoop and spoon size. They´ll take about 15-18 minutes to cook.
Watch them like a hawk, and take them out the minute the bottom´s dark.
After five minutes on the baking sheet they´ll be hard enough to transfer to a rack to cool.


Washing up

I don´t really like washing up. Some people do, or at least they say they do.
I don´t, and I think the only downside to loving cooking is the surplus amount of washing up it entails.
You see, we don´t have a dishwasher (gasp!). My kitchen looks so sweet as it is, and I´d have to redo it entirely to fit one, losing all its Amélie charm. So I´ve convinced myself that we don´t really need a big clunky machine.
Today I was actually glad not to have it. I´d been having a rough morning, grappling with the impossible request to produce "edgy" drawings based on Stravisnky, and with a language textbook. By noon I was feeling murderous, and would gladly have shouted at Igor, had he been alive and available, or at the editors of the textbook, had I forgotten that I have a mortage to pay.
Who took the brunt of my rage? The pots and pans. Bless ´em.


First batch of soup

I made my first batch of proper wintry soup yesterday.
Monday isn´t a good market day, but I went in for some butter, and was inmediately sidetracked into buying carrots. And once there, why not go for the celery, cabbage and pumpkin? They´re not the sort of thing to suffer from being bought on a Monday.
And I happened to walk by the chicken stall, and there was a special on free range thighs. Now, I cannot resist a bargain, but I´m also a price snob, so I decided these legs were probably best used in a pot of stock.
So there I was, happy as anything, not minding at all that it was dark by six thirty. The windows on my kithen were steamed from all the chickeny vapours, and I was assured of a light and sustaining dinner.
And many more.
This soup started with onions, celery and carrot, simmered in olive oil. To which a potato was added, diced small, and some squashed, diced bigger. A handful of pre-soaked barley was tossed in, a bay leaf, Marigold bouillon powder, and a litre of water.
After half an hour, more water and some finely shredded cabbage, which simmered for fifteen minutes.
To serve, I nicked a bit of chicken from the stockpot, added a tiny shot of PX sherry, and it was a perfectly wonderful dinner, soft and unexciting but just what I wanted.
There´s a lot left, and it will have to be born again if I´m not to be bored. One option is a ladleful of the proper chicken stock. But the consomé is so good on its own that I tend to save it for just that.
So it´ll probably be some cheat´s stock and a bit of frozen spinach, with some lemon juice at the end.
Or a chunkier version, roast tomatoes from my freezer, with some chickpeas and pasta.
The list of variations is endless, but by then this batch will be finished, and another, different one, started, and so on, like this, until May, when soup season will be over, and gazpacho season starting over.


New books andnoodle soups

It´s arrived! Finally, at last, it´s a bit chilly and I can feel entirely excused for spending whole evenings without leaving the sofa, tucked inside a rug and even, sohelpme, watching "Friends".
After a few weeks of reading Andrea Nguyen´s "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen" , I´ve ventured into making some bastardized versions of her soups, light and savoury and full of herbs. Perfect for this weather.
And a completely shameless peg on which to hang the Weekend Herb blogging tag. This week Pille´s host, and I didn´t want to miss out.
Your best bet for Vietnamese recipes and tips are in Andrea´s own blog, Viet World Kitchen .
Chock-a-block with herbs, I promise.


Showcasing pimentón

Recently San San from Singapore and I have started something of an impromtu spice-route. She sent me sachets of bak kut teh and instructions for making a lovely soup of long-simmered por ribs. I sent a tin of pimentón, semi-sweet, from La Vera, but, no instructions. This is remiss of me, but the thing is, I don´t use pimentón all that much. A bit of it goes into my espinacas con garbanzos, sometimes. Cocarois have a dose, too, and a dusting on hummus is lovely. But you won´t see me scattering it happy go luckily around, on migas, poached eggs, soups or salmorejos. And never, ever, in marinades. The classic Spanish adobo of oil, garlic and pimentón, delicious as it is, tends to make all meats into a sort of ersatz chorizo, I think. For fish, with some lemon thrown in, maybe. In fact, yes please, but only south of Despeñaperros.

That said, I do like its smoky depth, and the Altamira rust colour it makes on boiled potatoes that have been drizzled with oil. This mixture is usually seen on plates of pulpo a la gallega.
But pulpo is bar food, really, to be eaten with toothpicks you throw on the floor, with lots of beers and preferrably some salty sea breeze disarranging perfect coiffures (although there are plenty of Galician bars in Madrid, too).

So what I do at home is arrange the potatoes, cut in chunks (cachelos) and then boiled. Then some short, cut hand slices of boiled ham or lacón. Then the drizzle of good oil, and at last a sprinkling of pimentón. It lifts the whole from the bland to the mildly exciting. And it´s quick, easy, homely and, for all its robustness, actually quite light.


What they ate at the wedding of the year

Here´s a very very Spanish vignette.
Last Saturday one of the most famous bullfighters got married in a big splash wedding that was the social event of the year. Everyone was there, my dear, including my parents. In the excitement of table hopping and celebrity spotting, my mother forgot to bring me the menu, so it´s paraphrased. But still and all, a foodie scoop of sorts, and here it is, in case you ever have to entertain a to a crowd of toreros, flamenco dancers and it girls.

Cream of escalibada soup.

Creamy shrimp rice (arroz caldoso, a Jerez specialty).

Quails with truffles, chestnuts and sauteed plums.

Three chocolate millefeuille, ice cream (mother not sure what kind) and meringues, mango coulis.


Autumnal plum tart

I´m confused. The calendar tells me it´s oficially autum, has been for some weeks, in fact. My favourite fruit stall at the market has attractively arranged piles of pumpkins and cabbages and the first oranges and clementines.
But there´s no rain. No wild west wing, no long dark afternoons, no falling leaves. They´re not even yellow. What to do?
I jumped the gun last week and made some beef stew, and it was very nice and beefy and warming, but as it was warm already, the potatoes and salad were a bigger hit.
The plum tart proved more popular. It´s definitely autumnal, but fruity and sweet and not heavy. There are still plums going around, although they´re not the luscious jammy ones of a few weeks back. So it makes more sense to cook them. Anyway, this recipe can be used with many other fruits, so don´t despise those bedraggled peaches and nectarines.
It´s a very simple and easy recipe, taken from Trish Deseine´s "Food for friends". All you do is line a tart mold with sweet shortcrust pastry ( I use the recipe from the Thermomix sect book, which gives enough for two 23 cm. bases, but please proceed with your favourite literature).
It needs no blind baking or other flim flammy stuff. While the dough rests in the fridge you stone the plums. If they are sweet and juicy you´ll eat some, and it may take you a while to set aside enough of them, but you´ll get there eventually.
As the oven heats up you´ll arrange the plum halves, cut side down. I´d tell you to do this in a nice pattern, but who am I kidding?
The plums are then dotted with butter and sprinkled with sugar (amount depending on sweetness of said plums) and you´ll know when the tart is done by the golden look of the pastry rim and the heavenly smell wafting through the house. I strongly advise leaving the kitchen door open while making this. The plums will have collapsed a little, and their juice will have made some of the pastry soggy but in a good way. Serve lukewarm with greek yogurt in this weather, or cream later on.



One of the nicest things that can happen is to get peresents by post. Especially if you weren´t expecting them.
Lately I´ve been so lucky as to be given a copy of what looks like becoming one of my favourite books, "Into the Vietnamese kitchen" and the so beautiful "Paris" by Sasek. I´ll post about these later because it´s a long story, and also, I´ve been cooking from the Viet book, so there´s much to tell.
Today, out of the blue, I received a package from Chicago with the book "Dinner party diasters" by Annaliese Soros. The flyleaf blurb begins with " what do you do when the lobsters in your lobster bake pull a crustacean Houdini and escape into the ocean?". Clearly I just had to have this book. Thanks, Edu, I owe you bigtime.
I´m off now. I have to stock up on pork ribs, and read some stuff, and catch up on some sleep too.


Al Green curry

This is not about Thai food, about which I know nothing, but a song of love to the long gone and much missed mix tape.
Don´t get me wrong, I´m not a machine smasher. I´m very glad to have Mp3s, and technical advances, and how much awsome music is only a click away. But in the flurry of new things, the ability to choose went away, I think. Mix tapes had twenty songs, and those twenty were chosen with care. Now that you can have everything, 20Mb in your phone, even, why choose?
Playlists just aren´t the same. They´re ok, they´re great, but they don´t have the love that used to go into a tape.
Yesterday I dug out an Al Green tape I´d made long ago. Ten songs, one side, was all it took me to make a beautiful chicken curry for tonight´s dinner.
The tape had been well made, and went from slow tracks that helped along meditative and tearful onion chopping, to more sprightly ones that allowed for some wooden spoon flourishing and mike-miming. It was fun.
By the time the first side rolled to its clunky end, the onions had softened, the spices had been added, the chicken more or less browned (de-pinked would be more precise) and the coconut milk and tomato sauce poured in. It just needed to simmer very very slowly for another half hour. Instead of setting a timer, I just turned the tape. See? Easy.
iPods are great, like a big pot of stock, but a mix tape is like a well-reduced, long-simmered sauce.


Acquired tastes


blue cheese


porridge (and oats in general)


membrillo (quince paste. very sweet)

mojama (dried tuna. very salty)

These are some things I didn´t use to like very much, or not at all, and that I now love. If asked, I´ll probably say that there´s nothing I don´t like. Altough I don´t much like cilantro, I´ll eat it. And I don´t love chewy textured things like tripe, but I´ll very happily dunk any amount of bread into the sauce of a plate of callos.
I think it´s more fun to like everything, and try everything. Even if what happens is a battle of wills with a waiter at some foreign restaurant, and that mettle-rising "You won´t like it". You´re brought a plate of glutinous soy (didn´t like) or duck´s feet (ditto). And you lose face, but at least you´ve tried.
I used to have rules, like "no ice cream and sorbet together". But I found out that J will routinely ask for chocolate and lemon, together. So now I think it´s rather charming, in a slightly childish, can´t-choose way. Even do it myself, sometimes, so add to the list

ice cream next to sorbet

Basically, now I think there are no rules and no set-in-stone dislikes. As long as it´s well cooked, that is. I´d much rather eat snake, if it´s lovingly and well prepared and I´m in the Mekong delta and carried away by the whole daredevil experience, than a packaged-ready-frozen and then badly fried croqueta.

There, that´s my philosophical input for Monday morning.


Cocarrois, the recipe

Ok my ladies, here goes.
These cocarrois are one of my all-time most favourite things. We first had them in Mallorca, where the cook of the house we were staying at, Jerónima, aka Jeroni, introduced us to the mouthwatering island cuisine; tumbet, pa amb oli, cocas with various toppings, and these babies, which are a pastie filled with various vegetables. They go raw into the pastry, and cook inside, which makes it meld beautifully but not overcook.
She very kindly gave us the recipe, and we brought it back home, where it´s been a staple ever since. Cocarrois make the perfect picnic fare, but usually we´d have them as a cold lunch or dinner, alongside a bowl of gazpacho.
Because they´re filled with cabbage and cauliflower, in the beginning my father and sisters refused to touch them. Which meant that Escolástica, my mother and I had them all to ourselves, and I could be sure of finding one nestling in the oven that I could take to school the next day. Sadly, they´ve all caught on to the fact that they are irresistible, and of course J loves them, so nowdays it´s a sad-to-see scramble at the table.
The only quibble I have with Levantine cuisine is the salt in the dough thing. They don´t put salt in breads or pastries, and this baffles me profoundly. I don´t see why ever not, and I miss it, so even though I´ll give you the real thing as I heard it, know that I salt the dough, and always will. Silly not to. Authenticity is all very well, but there´s a limit.
So. This quantity makes about 12 or 14 pasties. If you have leftover filling, it makes a surprisingly good salad, a sort of Mediterranean coleslaw.

For the dough

1 cup olive oil
1 cup water
1 tablespoonful of lard (you can use butter, we often do, but lard is the real thing and makes them flakier)
As much flour as it needs.
This is the sort of instruction that drives me nuts, but I´m sure you are all very experienced bakers and will know when the thing has come together. It´s approximately 700 gr., and the dough should be slightly sticky but definitely compact.
Let it rest while you make the filling with:

half a cauliflower
half a white cabbage
1 mild onion ( I use spring onion)
2 ripe tomatoes , deseeded and diced (you don´t want them to make everything waterlogged)
Chop everything very finely. Mandoline or processor is best for the cauliflower and the cabbage. Dress it with olive oil, black pepper, salt and pimentón, the sweet kind. Go easy on it, you don´t want it to taste like chorizo, just to give it a hint.
Heat up the oven to 200 or so.
Take the dough and pull of pieces the size of a fattish golf ball. Roll them, then flatten them til they´re 12 cms in diameter.
Lay a couple of spoonfuls of the filling and dot with four raisins, then close them to make a shape like the drawing.
Bake them for 30 or 40, until golden. Try to resist them, they´re best at room temperature, not hot.
I like them even better the next day, when they´ve lost their crispness but the flavours have had time to settle in. And may Majorcans forgive me, I always slather them with chutney.


Cocarrois (almost)

This is a teaser post. Tomorrow I will make a better one, with a new drawing, and I´ll write down the recipe for cocarrois, those beautiful little Majorcan vegetable pasties.
What you see now is a page from my 1994 cooking sketchbook.
Anyone who doesn´t want to wait can click on the image to make it larger, and brave the Spanish language, my not-so-decipherable writing, and the baffling lack of instructions.
Even though tomorrow is a national holiday, I´ll be up early, when the military parade planes wake me as they zoom overhead, so it won´t be long until the proper recipe is up. And when it is, you´ll love me all the more.


Fall picnics

I´ve haven´t been near the computer for days. José has been visiting, so it was an occasion for an unofficial holiday.
And a picnic.
After the hot summer, it´s picnic season again. It´s still a little early, because everything is bone dry and prickly, with every kind of thistle and thorn yellow and ready to sting the minute you sit down to eat your sandwiches.
But we have a good blanket, and the flies and nasty bugs seem to have succumbed to last week´s rains, so I consider the season has begun.
The picnic was simple, just cheese and bread and plums, with a bottle of cold beer we bought in the village, and some walnuts we picked from the trees by the old mill.
All very nice and bucolic, and we managed to keep our crazy dogs from coating the cheese with scattered earth, which is quite a feat.


Grilled cheese sandwich

The article in yesterday´s New York Times was a lot of fun. It may have been that which made have grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. Or maybe it was the sight of three small mishappen abandoned lumps of cheese in my fridge, and the knowledge that there was some seriously good bread nestling in the freezer.

Out came the panini grill. This is a gadget I try to use as little as possible, for obvious reasons. But every now and then, when it´s raining and you´ve had a long day, why not?

The beauty of these sandwiches is that bread and cheese are a blank canvas for anything you might think of. The versatility is infinite, as long as the contents of your fridge are.

Mine were not too good, but not too bad. I settled for the nearly defunct bottle of caramelized onion chutney, dolloped on the sliced cheese. Once the sandwiches were out, I prised them open, burning my fingers, of course (as the article says, sweetest pain) and put in a layer of thinly sliced plum tomato.

That way I had crispy bread, gooey cheese, a sweet-sour kick from the chutney, and freshness and zing from the tomato. I don´t butter cheese sandwiches. It´s enough for me to see them oozing fat from the cheese when they come out of the grill, thankyouverymuch.


My personal opinions

I got my first insulting comment message yesteday. How perfectly thrilling, a baptism of fire! Now I really feel I can call myself a blogger.
A reader took exception to my saying that Spanish cookbooks are almost never worth buying, being written with the literary flair of an Ikea manual.
Please believe me, I didn´t mean to insult Ikea manuals.

Aside from the fact that I did use the word almost, let me explain. I just mean that I, personally, me, myself, don´t think we can thump our collective chests in pride at the state of cookbook publishing in this country.
Here cookbooks have always been seen as reference books. Something to have in the kitchen, under the sewing basket and an empty jam jar containing a button, some twine, a couple of nails and a buy1get1free coupon from the supermarket.
A book you turn to when you want to cook bacalao al pil-pil, or be reminded of the quantities for making pound cake.
They never have a little text above the recipe explaining what it is and what it´s good with. So if you know what pil-pil is, good for you. And if you don´t, you´ll have to read the recipe through and try to imagine what it is. This sounds like a lot of hard work.
Also, and this really does drive me up the wall, the indexes are pathetic. If you´re looking for something, you have to remember the exact name, or you´ll never find it. Not for us the kind of comprehensive cross-indexing, all the chocolate recipes being listed under chocolate, as well as under their given names.
As for the look, well, it´s utilitarian, for the most part. When there are photographs, they´re not very good, or even, as in José Andrés´s latest book, taken directly from a TV program. Nice look, don´t you think, each picture with a 625 line fuzz?
Not all books are like that, of course not, but many are. In my opinion (all mine), the best are those El País Aguilar makes. Yes, I´ve illustrated a couple, but don´t let that fool you, I illustrate a lot of stuff I wouldn´t touch with a ten foot pole.
Rosa Tovar´s Las claves de la cocina, for example, is excellent, and has a lot of additional information to each recipe. But it´s contained in blurbs, which is annoying. And the book is organized according to the pots or pans in which dishes are made. You can imagine that without a proper index, it can be a little trying.
Also, these are paperbacks, tall, narrow and very heavy. They can´t be made to lie flat on a counter while you´re cooking. Cutting boards and pickle jars have to be balanced on top to keep them open, which results in a cluttered working space.
Furthermore, they´re prized at 21€ and over. So that I can understand why someone might choose a glossy edition of Donna Hay in translation over them. Cuts of meat are different, you probably won´t find many ingredients, and not everyone has measuring cups, but at least you´re assured of a book that´s beautiful to look at and is user-friendly.
For my money (mine, all mine, hard-earned by yours truly) the best cookbooks are made in England and the USA. Some people say that´s because people there can´t cook, and need all the instruction they can get.
If they´re happy with that, well, let them, who cares? As long as I can complement my trusty, boring, dependable 1080 recetas de cocina with the Moro cookbooks, I´m very happy too.


Paris steak frites

This has been a whirlwind trip, so I haven´t been able to do the things I had on my list. La grand Epicérie, G.Detou, and banh mi sandwiches will have to wait for the next time.
But we went to L´entrecote.
This is where I say, very offhand, "every time I´m in Paris
I go to L´entrecote". Which would be true, technically. But this is only the second time I´ve been in Paris, so I don´t think it counts. Still, it´s so great, I´ll probably return, so I guess it´s true, in the end.
Anyway, this place was recommended by a savvy friend, who just told me the name and that it was on the street off St. Germain where the Café Flore is. Nice geography, and all the info you need to find it.
It´s a bistro, just the kind of place you imagine you´ll go to when in Paris. It´s crowded and noisy and friendly, woodpanelled and upholstered in red velvet, with little tables nestling together and the odd potted palm or two. And just the place to take someone like my father, who redefines the term "meat and potatoes man".
The beauty of it is that once you´re in, you are free of the weighty responsability of choice. The thing to eat is steak frites, and that´s all. After a morning spent walking in a daze, trying to choose what monument to see next, you really don´t want to have to grapple with a menu. So you just tell the nice brisk waitress "I´ll have the menu".
First, to get you in the mood, they bring a salad of green leaves and walnuts, dressed in a hot mustard dressing.
Once this is cleared away, you´re brought your steak, as you asked it, and a golden mound of frites, thin and crispy. Over the meat some creamy greenish tarragon sauce is spooned. Silence descends, as the flavour starts hitting you, and a slow but sure elevation to heaven begins.
The real beauty comes afterwards. When your plate is cleaned, thewaitress suddenly arrives with a serving dish on which rests more steak. And when that is on your plate, a vision of paradise arrives in the shape of a second serving dish, piled high with more frittes. Be still my heart. This is seriously wonderful, comfort food with a chic French twist, and just what you need to sustain you through a long afternoon of sightseeing.
And if that were not all, it´s very close to Ladurée. Talk about my kind of town.



I´m going to Paris tomorrow. Tonga plays again, you see.
J won´t be coming this time. He said that he doesn´t like Paris, thinks it a bit boring, doesn´t like paintings in museums, and isn´t all that concerned about Tonga.
Neat, uh? He could only have improved on the performance by spitting on the tomb of my ancestors while kicking some puppies.
Never mind, I´m going with my sister and parents. Coordinating the four of us is going to be quite a feat; I want to eat banh mi, my father has managed to find a hunting museum (?¿!), my mother will probably have to be dragged kicking and screaming from Laduré and goodness knows what my sister will want. It promises to be a lot of fun. Will report back.
Hasta el lunes.


More books (this is getting out of hand)

I don´t know wether J is fabulously entertaining, or else terribly high-maintenance. Whichever it is, the fact remains that with him out of town, I have masses of time to kill.
And so one lazy weekend morning I ran amok on Amazon and ordered a tall pile of cookbooks that have arrived in a steady trickle, keeping me very well amused.
(Strict Freudians, I know what you´re going to say, and beleive me, I hear you. But it was either the books or chocolate by the slab, and we don´t want to go down that road.)
I´m going to be lazy and not link to the books. I think if anyone´s very interested they can look for them, I´ve had a long long day, but here are some mini reviews.

The kitchen diaries, by Nigel Slater- I quite like Nigel, though he can sound a bit bossy in his slap-happy "I´m so unfussy way". This book is weird, because it has blog shape. The sort of stream of consciosness, rummage around the fridge, this is what I cooked yesterday thing, in book form. But good

Breakfast, lunch, tea by Rose Carrarini- This is the book of the Rose Bakery, and an odd one to have chosen. I´m not a finicky baker, nor a lover of chef or restaurant cookbooks. I can´t remember why I bought it, but I have to say that it looks gorgeous and certainly makes me want to go to the Rose Bakery, a lot.

Picnics, by Claudia Roden. I just had to have this. I love Claudia Roden, I love picnics, it just stands to reason. It´s what you might expect from her, snippets of history, fragments of memoir, and lots of recipes you want to make. And because the theme is more general, she comes out of her cumin-and-yogurt ivory tower, which is very interesting.

Good things, by Jane Grigson. I bought this because Laurie Colwin talks about it so much. It´s a classic, a proper English cookbook, full to the brim of love for French food, written before chillies and lemongrass swept the board. I think I´ll probably love it, although I´m annoyed by the cover, which looks much more modern than the inside and just makes no sense.

The River Café pasta book was a total impulse buy, but actually looks really good. The other books from the RC seem to me to be too full of stuff I´ll never make, quails and impossible Italian fish, but this is a compilation of all the delicious pasta recipes I think I might make. Looks very good.

The bowl in the picture held stewed plums and yogurt. Very nice it was, too.


Tomato crumble

We had what looked like a properly autumnal change of season this weekend, with a bit of rain, but now the sun is back, temperatures are pushing thirty, and we might be distracted into thinking this is high summer in Estonia. Lovely weather.
What this means: gather tomatoes while ye may.
It´s not too late. They´re still cluttering up the grocers´ stalls, selling at a euro the kilo. Go on, bake, roast, sauce, soup or chutney, you will be glad later.
If you´ve got more roast tomatoes than you know what to do with, because, say, you´ve been so overenthusiastic that your freezer holds nothing more, this is a great way to use them. It comes from my aunt Gabriela´s book and is her favourite recipe in the whole collection. And I can understand why.
You can´t go very wrong with roast tomatoes, but when you add a crumble with cheese and nuts it elevates the whole thing into the realm of the sheer genius. I dare you to leave enough of this to eat cold the next day.
You´ll need:
Two kilos of roast tomatoes, skinned, but never mind about the seeds. Why is everyone so het up about tomato seeds, anyway? They don´t bother me at all.
100gr. of flour
100 gr. butter
80 gr. fresh bread crumbs (not from stale bread, that is)
80 gr. parmesan or similar aged cheese
30 gr. pine nuts
5 tablespoons of olive oil
thyme, or oregano
salt, pepper.

Since this is a recipe from a Thermomix book, the method is tho grate the cheese with a few jolts of the turbo button, set it aside, and then put the butter, flour, breadcrums, half the cheese and two tbs oil, herbs salt and pepper in the machine. Give it 15 seconds on 6 until it forms clumps.
If you don´t have a processor, then cut the butter into the rest of the stuff in the traditional way, or rub it in with your fingers. It doesn´t take long.
Put this dough on top of the tomatoes in a baking dish, scatter the remaining cheese and pinenuts on top, drizzle with the rest of the oil, the herbs if you´re using them, and bake at 210ºC until golden, about 30 minutes.

I like this with a green salad, but Gabriela suggests anchovy ice cream. For that recipe you´ll have to buy the book, because it entails gelatine and whipped cream, two items that scare the hell out of me and make me think I won´t be making it any time soon.


Total laziness

I wish I could have something interesting to write about, but I´m deep in the throes of an attack of laziness. I´ve spent the better part of the afternoon reading a Barbara Cartland in the depths of the beanbag, and when that happens, it´s a sure sign that there´s nothing to be expected from me.
I am cooking stuff, but not even bothering to eat it. Chutneys, tomato sauce, storing up for the boring months. But dinner? Sandwiches, if I´m being active and interested in life. If not, fruit, or some yogurt. It´s terrible, I´m tellin´ ya.
Yesterday´s was very good, though. A perfect avocado, mashed with lemon and salt, topped with a ripe tomato and nestled inside a hot wheat tortilla. Yum.
The drawing has been picked at random. Such is my state, sorry.


Tomatoes in my quirky oven

I´m a daring baker

Well, not really. I mean, I´m not one of the select few who can make strawberry mirror cake at the drop of a hat. That is blog aristocracy, and they have my deepest respect (and a nice logo?!?)
I just mean that baking in my kitchen is an act of daring. It requires a lot of nerve to pull a cake off chez moi, and I say this with modest pride.
My oven is a museum piece, gas fired, and only heats from below, or from above, but not both. It has no temperature settings, merely an on and an off position. By some very delicate twiddling with the knob, I achieve what I like to think of as a medium oven, but which, actually, is anybody´s guess.
Since the heat is fierce from below, I never put things on a baking sheet, but rather in a pan suspended on two pieces of pottery equipment that make the heat slower to burn the bottom of cakes and biscuits.
I never really know what´s going on in there, and so usually spend the baking time hovering anxiously around, beaming it with a flashlight every now and then.
Did I mention, it has no light inside? I mean, really, you must agree, that´s pretty daring.
This summer I had occasion to potter around what may be the dream kitchen. In it, Pille had an oven thermometer. Even though her oven comes equipped with all the buttons, she still wanted to make sure of the temperatures, so there it was. She also told me her theory: "Everything bakes at 200ºC".
So I bought one and when I tried it, I realized how stunning my baking feats actually are. The oven is totally bonkers. It takes very long to heat up, and rarely, if ever, goes hotter than 200º. Once there, however, it never goes below until turned off.
So, actually, I´ve spent all my baking life proving Pille´s theory without knowing it. Makes everything so much easier. Not that I ever make complicated stuff, of course.
These tomatoes are something easy that cooks away all by itself, and is always handy to have around. They freeze well and are good with everything. When I bloged about them before , there was some imprecision in my explanation and method, which I´ll now try to redress. There are still good cheap tomatoes in the markets, go make the most of them!

Cut plum tomatoes in half and put them cut side up on a roasting tray. You won´t be able to get so many in, but they´ll cook more evenly and easily, so it´s worth it. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with herbs, salt and sugar, and put in a 200ºc oven for at least an hour. After that, they´re probably usable, but I like to leave them another hour in what I used to beleive was a slower setting but now know is also 200ºC.
Turn the oven off and leave them inside to cool. By then the skins will peel off easily, which is recommended before storing. You´ll be glad you did it.
If the toms were very juicy, make the world´s best possible tomato juice with lemon and worcestershire sauce.
(The colage is a page of my kitchen sketchbook. Notice the flahslight).


Flying frills to Marseilles

In The tummy trilogy, Calvin Trillin writes about spending the 35 dollars he saves on a "no frills" ticket to Florida on a luxurious and definitely frilly picnic. He makes a very good point.
Before, I used to love airline meals. And not because of the food, not at all, but because of the tray. All the little boxes and envelopes and tiny cartons and mysterious foamy tastless stuff in them. Fascinating.
Now that they no longer hand out trays, but sell the same foamy stuff at ridiculous prices, I usually pack a picnic. I always seem to fly at or around mealtimes, and airports are uniformly dismal and expensive, and full of idiot calories. Somehow I seem to think that food eaten while travelling doesn´t count, so everything´s allowed, even unto chocolate at odd hours. But still, I prefer to fill up with intelligent calories, that is, from food that tastes good.
A plane picnic must be small, as you don´t want to be full, but merely to ward off hunger until you come to good food. You don´t want to snaffle a desperate bag of crisps at the car rental counter and have it spoil your first local meal. So I´m taking this little metal tiffin box with some sweet little claudia plums, a couple of wedges of Galician cheese I´ve recently been given by a generous friend, and two raisin oatmeal cookies, baked by yours truly to crispy-chewy perfection (I´m not being vain, just surprised).
J will meet me at Marseilles, and tomorrow we drive to Montpellier to see the Tonga-Samoa match. It´s not so much about the rubgy as about the fact that Tonga will be so close. All those who thought my devotion to the Island Kingdom was a fad or a conversation ploy, think again. I have a big flag, and mean to make noise in the stands.
Also, a couple of days in the south of France never hurt anybody, I hope.


Some reviews

I´m far too taken up with my new cookbooks, and this cuts into my blogging time. In an ideal world, I wouldn´t have to work, go to the bank or buy washing up powder, but what will you. All I can say is:
I´m having scattered rice for dinner. I wish my husband were making it for me, but we can´t all be as lucky as S.
Also, quick reviews of the latest stuff:
Cocinar en casa con Ferrán Adrià y Caprabo, which came highly recommended, sucks. Don´t buy it. Spanish books are hardly ever worth it, being written in the same sort of literary spirit as Ikea instruction manuals. This one is worse than usual; it looks like they spent so much money getting FA to endorse it that there was nothing left over for copywriters, photographers or graphic designers.

How to cook the perfect...by Marcus Wareing. I was put off by the title. Perfection, moi? You gotta be kidding me. But actually, it´s not about finicky restaurant-style overachieving, but just chock-full of good tips. When I saw it in Fnac I opened it idly, and saw a trick for cooling gazpacho quicly: a freezer bag full of ice-cubes. Genius. I couldn´t resist it.

And last, but certainly first, Nigella express. I´m loving it. But don´t expect calm unbiasedness from me. I adore Nigella, think she´s the bee´s knees, and hope that some day she´ll be given the Nobel prize for literature.
As this one comes with some nifty retro art-deco-ish pink graphics, I was won over literally before opening it.
It´s not better than How to eat, and HTBADG, but then again, nothing could ever be. Lots of pictures, though, and plenty of bookmarks already.

The drawing makes little sense here, but I like it, and since I´ll be talking about rugby in the next post, it´ll serve as a little warm-up.


Too many cookbooks and a chocolate mousse

My cookbook habit has lately spiralled out of control. I´m unrestrained enough as it is when it comes to normal books, but with those at least there´s a reason. You read them from cover to cover, and that´s it. You don´t say "Here´s Kavalier and Klay, marvelous novel, try page 457, you´ll love it".
But how can you ever finish a cookbook? I firmly beleive that with four or five you could cook until the end of your days, but I have more than seventy. And still, I crave the smell of fresh ink every now and then. Preferably now.
I just love them. They´re ideal dip-into literature, relaxing and exciting at the same time, absorbing but allowing one to drift off in a reverie. The chattier sort, like Nigella´s, or the ones full of fascinating snippets of history and customs, like Claudia Roden´s, I actually read like novels. And even though they pile up all over my flat, I go on buying and ordering more, as if I didn´t have dozens of recipes for roast chicken already, because there´s always something you´ll end up using.
I often wonder, what makes a book worth your while? A high percentage of recipes you might use? Two or three you love? One that´s so good that you´ve actually memorized?
My copy of How to Eat is falling apart, and there are only two or three recipes that I´d never ever make from there. It was the first big cookbook I bought when I moved out of my parents´ house, and has shaped my whole kitchen outlook. Definitely wort it.
Then again, though I haven´t cooked a single recipe from it, Jake Tilson´s Twelve kitchens has altered my whole graphics-in-the-kitchen deportment - worth every penny.

When it comes to cooking, I don´t even have that much mentioned problem of having so many recipes to try out I only do each once. I´m actually pretty faithful to the tried and tested favourites, and if I love something once, it´s instantly enshrined as my official version. So that I mostly cook from my old books, somehow, which makes the habit more absurd. O well. It could be worse, I guess.

For another incurable addiction, here´s a recipe for chocolate mousse from the first cookbook I ever bought, aged fifteen; Chocolate, by Jill Norman.
I have never even tried any other. Why would I?, this is flawless. No butter, no oil, no sugar except the one in the chocolate make it dark and intense, just how I like it; worth the cover price, and more.

Chocolate Mousse
125 gr. darkest chocolate
4 eggs, sepparated
Melt the chocolate . I like to give it a minute in a medium microwave, and when some is melted and some is not, stir it so the rest melts. That way it´s cool quickly, and we go to step two, mix it with the yolks.
Now beat the whites til stiff ( I add a pinch of non-regulation sugar here, it makes them set better).
Fold into the chocolate carefully, without knocking air out. Pour into glasses or ramekins and chill for 12 hours.


Frozen berries

September is a wonderful month for fruit. Peaches and nectarines and plums are still at their glowing best, and the promise of sour oranges is just around the corner.
But I still keep a package of frozen berries in the freezer. A small handful transforms a bowl of dissappointing melon into something quite different. They add a lot of colour to stewed fruit compotes, fruit tarts and crumbles.
And when you come back, tired and unhappy from the airport, knowing full well that there´s nothing fresh in the house, they can turn your mood around.
Scattered over yogurt and drizzled with honey, then left to thaw, they become a wonderful combo, more than the sum of its parts. And so beautiful. Just to see the deep red and inky blue berries leave gorgeous pink swirls in the yogurt is uplifting. And it tastes so good.
I even fear it may be quite healthy, though of course this is not an aspect I like to think about, as it tends to tinge the whole enterprise with worthiness, and that would never do.
If you suspect that you´re thinking along those lines, crumble some oatmeal cookies in the mixture inmediately.


Le five o´clock

You know that thing Holly Golightly has with Tiffany´s, the feeling that nothing bad can happen to you there? I get that when confronted with an English afternoon tea.
Everything evaporates when they place that little silver tower before me, troubles fade before the delicious Christmas-morning indecision: where to start?
(The answer has to be the scone, of course, while it´s still hot and able to melt the clotted cream a little.)
To my mind, it´s one of the most sophisticated food creations around. A tasting menu, if you will, going through a whole gamut of different tastes and textures, and with the added bonus of no irritating waiters telling you "Chef suggests you start with the rice pudding, take a bite of the biltong tempura, and chase with the roast-watermelon bloody mary".
The UK seems like a crazily foodie place, all about Gordon Ramsay´s loss of a Michelin star, Nigella´s new program, or the launch of yet another line of Thai-prawn-bresaola crisps. But I spent the best possible hour in the very bourgeois and old-fashioned confines of Bettys Tea Rooms in Harrogate, nibbling on the little cakes to make them last.
You can take your Michelin stars and put them with your Tiffany´s diamonds, I´ll be perfectly happy with my cucumber sandwiches. Very cheap date, moi.


Weekend away

I´m going to England tomorrow. J is currently working there, shuttling back and forth between various universities. Since he appears to be still for three consecutive days in Leeds, there I´ll be.
I studied there for a year, so it´ll be fun to see what it looks like now. What will I make of my old haunts now? Will I be able to locate my favourite Indian restaurant? Will I still think it so good? What interesting new chocolate bars will have come out?
You´ll know this next week, and hopefully more.

Ferrán Adrià´s bag-of-chips tortilla

Yes yes. Don´t read it again, you got it right the first time. I always thought this was an urban legend, the bag of chips tortilla. As for the attribution to FA, risen to fame on a bed of foam, like Venus? Impossible, surely?
Well, it´s true. Adrià created a restaurant version of tortilla española that has to be eaten with a spoon, and consists of several layers of soft, bubbly stuff. It´s unveliabably good, complicated, and not what I´m talking about.
This here is the quick, cheat´s tortilla, from his "Cocinar en casa" book. (Which sounds pretty silly, kind of like "Drive your kids to school like Fernando Alonso", but they say it´s good.)
I´ve changed the proportions, and added onions to it, in the humble, unassuming way one changes the recipes of a three-star wonder chef. Because let me tell you, his version pretty much sucks. And if you don´t believe me, see Pim´s review.

In case you´re wondering, why don´t I make tortilla the real way? Because it´s a hassle, takes forever, and gets one no thanks. Not in Spain, anyway.
Not that one cooks for the recognition and the pats on the back, of course not, but you know- I kind of do. And going to all the trouble to make tortilla de patata, only to be told that everyone elses´s grandmother makes the best tortilla, though yours ain´t so bad, no way.
I prefer to turn up at potlucks with some Indonesian ginger chicken ; fifteen minutes work, lots of kudos.

There are those who´ll tell you that a proper tortilla takes so little time anyway, that they can have one up and running in half an hour. Just know this: they lie in their teeth.
Sure, you can get some kind of tortilla in half an hour, but not one with dark caramelized onions, in which the potatoes have slowly poached their way to magnificent oily sogginess. Maybe the laws of physics don´t apply in other people´s kitchens, but in mine, all that takes a loooong while.
I´m not claiming this is the best tortilla you´ll ever have, but it´s very good, much better than many I have eaten, and it really is quick; ten minutes, tops, most of it waiting time.. You can make a batch for a party, or a picnic, in less time than it would take you to peel potatoes for one real one. With some good crusty bread, a bit of mayonaise and a salad, it´s a perfect after work dinner. Next morning, cold, it makes the best possible breakfast, balanced on tomato bread.
It goes without saying that you must start out with good eggs, but mostly good chips. Sour cream and onion Pringles just ain´t going to do the job here.

Tortilla de patatas de bolsa de Ferrán Adrià

You´ll need :
A small non stick frying pan, base diameter approx. 16 cm, 20 at the mouth.
a bit of olive oil
4 eggs,
100 gr. of chips, preferably fried in olive oil, broken inside the bag
and (here´s my contribution, the touch of genius, if you like)
1/2 a cup of fried onions from a bag, the kind you can find in Ikea

Take a bowl, beat the eggs, salt them very lightly, and trow in the broken chips and the onions.
Leave it till they´re soft and soggy, about five minutes.
It will look fairly revolting, and like there´s not enough egg, but stick with it.

Pour a little bit of olive oil in the pan, just enough to coat the bottom. Get it hot, and proceed with the tortilla turning instructions of the last post.
Let it cook slowly, you don´t want a crispy outside, just a firm, golden one. And if it´s slightly runny inside, so much the better.


Turning tortillas.

Omelettes, our tortillas (nothing like their mexican namesakes), are one of the most popular dishes for dinner. The most common noise you´ll hear drifting on the wind of an evening is the clickety clack of a thousand forks beating ten thousand eggs in their bowls.
Potato omelette (of which more another day) is the most famous, and the one that has the name of Spanish omelette, but it´s just one of many.
The difference with fritattas and omelettes is that tortillas require nerves of steel. Blood must be summoned, upper lip stiffened, oven mitts worn, and prayers said. Please understand that the Italian method of starting on the stove top and ending under the grill is strictly for little girls. Likewise the French sissified folding thing. A true tortilla is round, and golden from contact with the well oiled pan on both sides- which can be tricky.
If you have what it takes, you can do the Spanish machote thing and flip the tortilla in the air.
If you don´t (needless to say, I don´t), here´s the normal method.
(I know this is a pretty silly post, being mostly self-evident, but I wanted to try my hand at step by step instruction drawings. Bear with me.)
First,(1) get your filling ready. This can be the classic potatoes and onions, or it can be sauteed courgettes, spinach, artichokes, tuna, peppers, anything you like, basically. Mix it with beaten eggs.
(2)Pour the into an oiled pan. Let it set, on low heat, shaking it a little so it doesn´t stick. When you see it´s golden underneath,(3) transfer it to a plate.
Now,(4) with oven mitts, put the frying pan on top, and do the next step over the sink. (this is also for spineless little girls, but I find it makes for easier breathing).
(5)In one swift, resolute movement, turn the tortilla.
Put the pan back on the hob, and set the other side. It will take less time than the first. You want the inside to be still juicy, jus this side of runny.