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.


Rented house cookery: escalibada

"The kitchens of holiday houses (...) usually have a stony bleakness in common. However adequate the beds or satisfactory the view, the kitchen equipment will probably consist of a tin frying pan, a chipped enamel saucepan, one Pyrex casserole without a lid, and a rusty knife with a loose handle."
Elisabeth David, people. Marvel at this. She knew, to the letter, what would be the contents of the cupboard in our little cottage in Saaremaa, Estonia, in the summer of 2007. Pretty impressive. I love finding proof that some things never change.
Not that one really wants to cook in summer. At most, one will grill a few burgers, or make a batch of pancakes for a long lazy breakfast. The rest will go in sandwiches and ice cream, and happily so.
But when that´s not enough, here´s a summer staple that can be done in even the most basic rented kitchen, provided there´s an oven.
Escalibada is a salad of roasted peppers and aubergines, dressed with olive oil and vinegar, and chopped raw garlic. Some recipes also have tomatoes roasted alongside, and even the garlic and some onion, too. (I prefer this. Raw garlic and onion are sociopathic, in my opinion).
Here´s the recipe, with a suggested holiday timeline.
Start with 3 red peppers (bear in mind that in Spain peppers are very big, the size of an outstretched hand) 3 aubergines, 1 quartered onion, three whole garlic cloves.
In the morning, put everything in a 180ºC oven, unpeeled, whole, easy, while you prepare coffee. The vegetables will roast while you have breakfast and read the papers.
After 45 minutes or so, take them out, put them in a bowl, cover it with clingfilm, go and get dressed.
When you come back, they´ll have sweated a little and become cool enough to handle. Peel peppers and aubergines, deseed the peppers, and make your dressing. I like to squeeze out the garlic and make it into a paste that makes the basis of my vinaigrette.
If it´s not too hot, put it in the fridge, and go to the beach.
When you come back, you´ll have a beautiful, punchy salad. If you´ve picked up some fresh fish in the market on your way back, then of course you´re in business for grilled fish with escalibada, which is one of the best things possible. If not, it will still be great with tuna from a can, boiled eggs, a cheese sandwich, or even some pizza.
It lasts quite well for a few days, too, so you can make it as an investment or a just-in-case dish.
(And yes, I know, this is a very Mediterranean dish, and no, I didn´t make it in Estonia. I stuck to local cucumbers and apples and berries and mushrooms, no great hardship.)


The joy of useless information

One of the few times we managed to tear ourselves away from our lovely little cottage by the sea in Saaremaa, we went to Kuressare public library. José wanted to check his mail and work a little in a place of suitable scholastic silence. So I went along, and kicked my heels for a while, until I found a corner full of American books. All the classics were there.
Do you think I plumped for Wharton or Faulkner? Think again. I went home with The joy of cooking. Norman Mailer or John Updike didn´t have a chance.
And what do you think I found, on idly turning the pages? This text:

"About ground meat for hamburger.
Merchants of the German port of Hamburg, through centuries of trade with Estonians, Latvians and Finns, had cquired the Baltic taste for scraped raw beef; but it was not until the St. Louis World´s Far in 1904 that broiled, bunned beef was introduced to the rest of the world by the Germans of South St. Louis as hamburger."

Who knew? I never thought to find a mention of Estonia in The joy of cooking, which just goes to show that thumbing through the classics always pays out. Maybe I should try and see what I can find in Moby Dick, next time.


Northern exposure, 01

Getting back into normal gear is proving pretty impossible. August in Madrid can be so nice. Nobody´s at work, and the ones who are are just want to stay quiet, and let the dogs sleep til September. And the weather is beautiful, balmy and breezy. We might almost be in Estonia.
J and I agree that this has been our best holiday ever. No contest. It was perfect.
The cottage we rented was even better than the description on the website. The garden was huge, the forest was lush, the wayside was peppered with wild raspberry, the sea right in front was full of swans lazily swimming about, and once a moose ambled out of the forest and over a field, right before our eyes.
Best of all, we´ve had the best times with Pille and Kristjan. I can´t think of anyone who could have shown us Estonia in such a beautiful light. We couldn´t have hoped for better hosts, more fun or more generous.
And of course, being food bloggers, perfectly happy to spend hours talking about food.
As soon as we arrived we had dinner at one of the best places in Tallinn, the famous Old Hansa restaurant in the old town. And that was great. But everything paled to insignificance before the next day, which I think was the perfect Saturday.
It started with Kristjan making a batch of pancakes, light and lacy and golden (J, take note). Later, we met his mother, Vaike, a wonderful lady with the brightest blue eyed and the springiest step I´ve ever seen. We were cautioned against trying to follow her during the mushroom and berry hunt, as there was little hope of us ever catching up. I agreed, wistfully. I can never keep up with anyone, ever, since I´m lazy and easily distracted by any passing insect.
Still and all, let me tell you that with some careful guidance from our hosts, we were able to keep our end up pretty well. I was the first to fill my basket. Sure, it was the smallest, but still, I´m very chuffed.
We found lots of stuff that those of you who follow Pille´s blog will already have seen. Also the goodies made with them. A scroll down her blog is best here, since I can´t do justice to the situation, plus, I have no photos.
I was too taken up with the excitement of it all. Here in Spain we have mushrooms, but in October and November. And no berries, ever, so that the idea of a forest sprouting little red edible beads seems too wonderful. K&P reckon picking a lemon from your backyard tree must beat everything, but I don´t agree. Maybe I´m blasé about citrus, but after all, you don´t hunt down lemons, so how can that be exciting?
Anyway, we came back tired but happy, with heaping baskets and buckets. I very sneakily left the prepping of the mushrooms to the rest, and after making a quick batch of gazpacho, retired to draw the day´s findings, helped by K in the identifying.
More friends came for dinner. We tried the three types of mushrooms, perfectly sauteed by Pille, couldn´t decide which was best, so came back for more and more, and then for a crowning touch, had a pudding consisting of cloudberries with squeaky cheese. An exotic and wonderful end to a wonderful day.
(Thanks so much, again, Pille and Kristjan. I hope we may show you as good a time here in Spain soon.)


Back from Estonia

What does a person do on returning from the perfect holiday? If you can´t look out at the garden that ends in the sea, or watch the birds as you eat your just-picked wild raspberries?
The best trick is to go straight to normal life, and do things you couldn´t do during the perfect holiday.
With that healthy idea in mind, I´ve gone straight to the market and bought peaches, little sweet green plums, and half a melon. Doesn´t quite make up for paradise lost, but does make one happy about being so far south.
And I was very good, and didn´t burst into tears when I say the little punnet of overpriced, tasteless raspberries.
Still and all, glad to be back. This is just to promise watercolour sketches of Estonia, and details about berries, mushrooms, moose, and more.


We´re off to the Baltic

J and I are currently surrounded by suitcases, boots, swimming costumes, maps, rain-gear, books and towels. Tomorrow we´re leaving for Estonia, and we couldn´t be more excited.Last year we loved it, but it was a whirlwind tour. This time we´ve rented a cottage by the sea in Saaremaa, one of the islands. I think pretty much anyone would find them beautiful, but to us, in a Madrid that is dry and baking and just downright unpleasant, it´s paradise, pure and simple.People always ask me, how on earth did you hit on the idea of going there? I think, maybe, blame it on Carl Larsson . Yes, I know he´s Swedish, but to us here on the tip of Africa, it´s all one same world of pine forests, icy lakes and "beware elk" signs.

Also, I´ll be meeting one of my favourite bloggers, Pille of Nami-nami. She´s without a doubt the most hospitable person I know, and will not only be putting us up in Tallinn, but actually taking us on a wild mushroom and cloudberry hunt on Saturday. See what I mean? About paradise? The mere idea of a berry or a mushroom in August is like jumping into a pool. As for J, he is beside himself, and once again taking on an uncanny resemblance to a spring lamb on acid.

And the food there? For that you´ll have to go to Pille´s blog. I can´t tell you too much from past experience. This is no fault of the local cuisine, but of what may be called SAS or Spaniard Abroad Syndrome. It goes something like this.
Your average Spaniard wakes up somewhere averagely foreign, somewhat later than usual. She (or he) is confronted by a buffet breakfast. He (this is definitely a he) will pile his plate with three types of eggs, several sausages, some strips of bacon and seventeen croissants. She will painstakingly go trhough every pastry/bread/cereal/fruit/juice tray, and try every single one.
They will emerge with somewhat dazed expressions and begin to tour, as tourists will. Now it so happens that everywhere else lunch is at 1230 or 1. But in Spain it is 230 or 3. And since they´re so full anyway, these two will say, oh, never mind that now. But of course by mid-afternoon they´re very hungry. And of course by then no restaurants are open.
And so your sufferers of SAS will most likely end up at around 5 in some café, wolfing down pancakes or pastries or whatever they can find. And when the foreign dinner time rolls around, it´s the same old story. By the time they want food at 10, what´s open? These SAS idiots have several beers, go to bed hungry and tipsy, and you better beleive that they won´t be skipping breakfast.

I hope that this year we´ll adapt to local custom. For one thing, we´ll make our own breakfast in the cottage, and for another, I´ve been learning a lot about Estonian food in Pille´s blog, so I have a list of stuff I want to try.
I might post from there, but probably I´ll be too busy with the dolce far niente thing, so if I don´t see you til August 20, have a great time.