Almendrina (lazy almond peach tart)

One of my father´s more winning characteristics is that, working as he does in the food business, he often turns up with boxes of good stuff under his arm. And since these things are presents from the people who make them, they usually come in industrial sizes. My mother takes exception to them, saying they clutter the pantry, so I´m always kindly ready to lighten the load when I find a box of 24 jars of anchovies from Santoña, or several kilos of the best tiny brown lentils, or a huge can of duck confit.
This morning, rummaging around in the clutter of odds and ends in the terrace shelves I found two kilo tins of Almendrina. This is a sweet almond paste with a gorgeous old-style design, and I´d always been curious but never to the extent of taking one of those massive tins home.
Having one already there, though, I had to open it and start playing around. Apparently you can use it to make an almond drink, and as a sweetener in all sorts of things (try it instead of sugar with rice pudding) but here´s what I did:

Almond and peach tart for very lazy people with a couple of good tins to hand

This is a killer pudding, sweet and rich but not cloying. The almond paste isn´t too almondy, but provides a creamy undertone, almost like creme patissiere. I´ll try it with fresh stone fruit when it´s in season.

Ready made puff pastry
Peaches in syrup
Slivered almonds

Preheat the oven to 200ºC
Roll out the pastry. Smear some of the almond paste until just shy of the edges. Place the sliced peaches prettily or as you will. Pinch the edges of the pastry so that they´ll hold the juices when they start to run. Scatter slivered almonds on top, and bake until golden.


Spring is here

And aren´t we glad, after a rainy, cold, long winter.
One of the last things I did before Pepe was born was this banner for The Perfect Pantry, one of my favourite blogs. As always, it was a pleasure to work with Lydia, and I´m very proud to see my work on her blog as part of a springlike overhaul.



I meant to do a post about Lenten chickpeas and spinach soups, but you know what? The lovely Deb was just before me, with this version of the Spanish classic. You can try my slapdash method or her more beautiful one, but do try it because it´s sooo good.
As for me, I´ll just reflect on shapes and sizes. Isn´t it odd that things taste different if they´re cut different? I hate carrots cut in coins. They remind me of the flabby, overcooked, tasteless stuff I refused as a child. If I´m having them sauteed or roasted or plain steamed, or they are to go into a stew, it has to be thick batons. I grate them for salads, or make long slivers with the peeler, and these are the shapes I like in a stirfry. For soups I favour the small cube, or the very small cube for my baby. And if I´m in a tearing hurry, I grate it with a microplane so it cooks in her soup truly fast. Long sticks are my favourite snack (never mind that they´re healthy, I just love them).
Here´s a quick side dish preparation for carrots:
Take a couple of carrots cut in thick batons, and put them in a small non stick frying pan with water to come half way up (this is very little water) and a small piece of butter, the size of a hazelnut, no more. Salt, fire it up and get on with the rest of dinner. When it comes to boil, cover it and let them steam. In a few minutes they´ll be quite soft, and the liquid should have evaporated, but if it hasn´t, take the cover off and let it bubble up.
Sometimes I add french green beans too, straight from the freezer, and they cook at the same time.


Lobstersquad made it to a Forbes list (and a pressure cooker risotto)

Here are two things I never expected to happen: one, the most amazing, is to find my name on a Forbes list. Not the one headed by Oprah, but deeply exciting all the same; I can now paraphrase all those Oscar winners and say how honoured I am to be named alongside such talent, etc, etc.

The second thing is that yesterday´s pressure cooker rice was excellent. Call it risotto or call it arroz caldoso, it was just unbeleivable, as in, hard to beleive: creamy, perfectly cooked rice, full of flavour, in less than fifteen minutes from the minute I turned on the hob to sitting down? I was deeply sceptical, but figured it worth a try, and so it was. Risotto, long banished from my kitchen except as an occasional treat, comes back as a weeknight dinner staple.

The rice cooker reigns supreme for white rice and for truly hands off restful cooking, but for quick and incredibly delicious results, this is the one. Here is what I did yesterday with what I had, but of course onions can take the place of leeks, chorizo for bacon if you´re so inclined, any other vetetable for the peas, and aromatics can vary: saffron, herbs, etc.

Pressure cooker arroz caldoso, or risotto
adapted from Lorna Sass

Sautee two chopped leeks and bacon until the bacon releases its fat and the leeks begin to look floppy. Deglaze with some white wine, let it bubble up and add 1 1/2 cups short grain rice. Stir, add 3 1/2 cups of stock and cover the pressure cooker. Let it come uo to high pressure and count five minutes (five!!! seriously, aren´t you in love already?).
Now release the pressure and have a look. You might want a bit more broth, or you might want to let some of it evaporate. I thought it was just fine with those meassures. Add butter and parmesan and there you are, risotto for three hungry people or four staid ones.


Feeling the pressure

I´m a gadget-driven cook. It´s all very well to extoll the virtues of unplugged cooking, and wax lyrical about pesto lovingly made in a pestle and mortar, but for day to day food-on-the-table purposes, I´d be lost without a Thermomix, a rice cooker, a blender and a radio.

I thought a slow cooker might be a good thing, since my favourite stews are off the radar. The idea of leaving an oven on for hours in the vicinity of a danger-seeking toddler makes me pale. Plus, with two children in the world I´m beginning to feel guilty about our fuel consumption.

But slow cookers are hard to come by in Spain, and I have had a pressure cooker sitting in a cupboard since I got married almost six years ago, so yesterday I had my pressure baptism. Chickpeas in minutes convinced me in seconds, and I´ve been playing with it ever since.

My first solo flight was based on this ragù. I did´t lock the pressure valve properly, and scorched the bottom, but all the same, I had a really tasty chunky sauce that´s made a great filling for empanada. So far, so good.

The chicken stock is what has me lost in wonder. I was convinced it would come out cloudy, but tried it anyway, thinking Pía wouldn´t mind. But amazingly, in 45 minutes I had a pot of golden, beautiful, clear broth. I did skim it before locking the lid, mind you, but it didn´t take so long. So now, instead of making a giant 5 litre batch of stock every month or so, I´ll make a amaller 2 litre batch all the time. It´s magic!

I have a chunk of pork shoulder marinating even as we speak, waiting to be turned into melt-in-the-mouth shreds of aromatic meat for tomorrow´s lunch.

I´ve only been using the pressure cooking for 24 hours, so maybe it´s just a coup de foudre and I´ll drop it in a week. But I don´t think so. I think I´ll be making a lot more beans and curries and stews, and can´t wait for Lorna Sass´ book to arrive. In the meantime, it´s risotto tonigth with this morning´s chicken stock. And if that works, well, then I can see myself becoming the official pressure cooker bore, as well as the official rice cooker bore.


Not your basic elemental Pepito

After months of bot being allowed to eat rare red meat, I´m craving a burger bigtime. But I think burgers are best left to professionals, and are best had in greasy, smoky places, and I´m not about to take my precious new baby there, yet, lest he come back smeared with ketchup. A good home alternative? A Pepito.
Ask for a pepito anywhere in Spain and you will be given a steak sandwich.
If you´re lucky, it will be a thin, juicy paillard type thing, and the oil and meat juices will soak into good, crunchy bread. If you´re not , which is more often the case, you will receive a slab of grey cardboard hunkering between two slabs of nothing bread.
This is sad. This is not the sort of sandwich one wants as the namesake for a son and heir. It is a sad testament to the terrible lack of imagination most of Spain gives it sandwiches.
To my mind, a proper pepito should have something sharp, like mustard or horseradish. Something crunchy, like cornichons. Greens, like ruccola. Butter, if J isn´t looking. And some slippery onions, either just made, or in the lovely form of onion jam.
As for the meat, I favour a thick steak, salted, then marinated overnight in whatever´s around. This time it was olive oil, two smashed cloves of garlic, a sprinkling of thyme, a splash of sherry and some fish sauce, but anything goes.
Sear it so it´s black outside and pink within, let it rest while you assemble the sandwiches on a good fresh baguette, and open a couple of beers. Slice the meat thin, and sneak a few slices as you put it inside the bread.
You´ll have to agree that this is a beautiful thing, and I for one would be more than glad to share a name with it.



Here´s a very good reason to stop the rather infrequent postings on this blog: Pepe, two weeks old today. He was born three weeks early and so overset all my plans to stock my freezer, get a haircut and write a few posts to have as backup.
It´s a pretty blissful life; sure I don´t sleep much at night, but thanks to J and my family I´m allowed to take naps at odd times, eat all sorts of delicious things practically nonstop and enjoy my beautiful babies.