Still, the mackerel trumps everything because smoked mackerel is truly amazing. It feels luxurious and decadent, even though it's cheap, and sustainable, and healthy, and you don't even have to cook it. The win-win fish product, all the way up there with good Galician tinned sardines.
I usually have it on toast, with avocado and lemon juice, for an omega 3 double whammy.
Or with a beet salad, rye bread and butter with crushed caraway seeds.
If I'm feeling elegant, I make a paté, with cream, lemon zest, pepper and hot sauce. Blitzed for a few seconds in a processor, sprinkled with chives or parsley, it's a great starter or appetizer.
If you don't have smoked mackerel, well, sucks to you, but don't despair. You can make this with the aforementioned sardines, and it is also wonderful, although the colour is less pretty.
It also works with yogurt instead of cream, for you nervous waistline watchers.
We in Scotland need all the calories we can get hold of, which is another thing I kind of like.
On with the winter salads, then. Everything I said in the other post about shredded cabbage goes just as well with red cabbage, of course, but also with carrots, and with celeriac if you like it (I don't, very much) and even with parsnips, if they're small.
All of those are things that keep for ages, so there's no reason not to have at least one or two around. But they do spoil, eventually. Vacuum packed beets, on the other hand, are something you can count on having around when you come back from holiday, or have forgotten to go shopping, or whatever smallish crisis hits.
The problem with beets is that many people don't like beets, which may be one of the reasons why those packets are always there. My own J, who eats anything and everything and has never been known to complain, is not enthusiastic about beetroot. But he is being brought round, because It really is delicious, as long as you take a little care.
First, don't be shy with the salt. No silly stuff now. It's the ready made foods that hide the nasty salts. If you don't salt it well you won't be able to eat it, and will miss out on all those nutrients.
Likewise, vinegar is a must, and it's better be strong. Beets are usually called earthy but what people mean is that they often taste like ducking your head in a muddy puddle. And we want to avoid that.
Also, slice them thin. Mandoline or food processor thin. No grated beets, they are horrible.
Add carrots, or apple, or orange segments, or a few shreds of cabbage, for contrast of colour. They'll go bright pink, which is the whole point of eating beets, really.
Also, some herbs, parsley, or chives, or both. And a finely chopped dill pickle too.
The dressing must be vinegary and oily and have a spoonful of horseradish.
And for great effect, you should scatter something crunchy on top, like chopped nuts or toasted pumpkin seeds. It's a cooked vegetable, after all, so the interesting texture must come from somewhere else.
I love this as is, but if you add smoked mackerel, and serve it alongside rye bread, with cold sweet butter and caraway seeds, you have yourself a beauty. Vodka optional, cold beer if not.
I have also received a beautiful present that means I might just have to ignore my no-frying rule and break out the oil and the strainer to make some oldschool buñuelos for All Saints.
This illustration is a proof from a book I've just illustrated, "101 plats de la cuina catalana que has de tastar".
Summer is coming to an end here in Scotland. How sad. All the more reason to make the most of it, and spend every possible second outdoors. And to pick the last raspberries, and freeze or jam a few.
I also have to empty a bulging freezer that needs a good clean. There is so much stuff there: lamb's liver, red braised oxtail, bags of prawns, tubs of stock, packets of iberico ham bones, boxes of fish fingers, frozen spinach, beans...Endless list. Happy task, but harder than it sounds.
Yesterday we had the bright idea of buying some fish and chips and having an impromptu picnic at a nearby park. The shop was famously good. The sun was shining. The fish and chips was as greasy and crunchy as I remembered. And as I had, stupidly, forgotten, it knocked me out with a blinding migraine that lasted all afternoon.
This is what old age will do to you. Sad, but true. And now I still feel a little frail, so congee it is. Here's a blog post from the LA times that will tell you all you want to know about it, and another one from Use real butter, in case you want to use a pressure cooker to make it.
(How do Scots survive frequent ingestions of the stuff? Must go see Brave and find out)
People go mad for this, I tell you. Even if there are dainty looking cupcakes of utter prettiness on the table, cakes with this icing are devoured, and the recipe is always requested.
Yes, if salad is going to be the meal, it can't just be a sliced tomato. I know it's too hot to cook actual food, and it makes sense to make the most of fresh summer produce and a couple of tins. Fine. But that doesn't mean it should have seventeen ingredients. It just looks messy and tastes messy, too.
Why don't you make two, or even three, salads instead? I looks beautiful, lavish, fills you up just looking at it, and takes a little more time to prepare, but much longer to eat.
A combination I like is a bowl of green lettuce and ruccola, perhaps. Tossed with this dressing, with perhaps a tiny bit of raw garlic and some chopped nuts.
In another bowl, tomatoes, just like that, with a drizzle of oil and some salt. If they´re good tomatoes, they need nothing more.
A third can have the heavy duty stuff: the boiled eggs, tuna, olives, asparagus, etc. Placed side by side, drizzled with a simple vinaigrette, or perhaps one that you have made creamy by adding some mayonaise.
Doesn´t that look pretty? Toast some bread, open some wine, enjoy the summer. And if you´re somewhere northern and blustery, have a hearty pudding afterwards. See the advantage where you can.
Why is it that when it comes to ecquipment cookbooks either assume that you cook in a primitive, empty kitchen, or else devote the whole thing to squeezing every possible use out of one particular gizmo?
I wish sometimes they'd include pressure cooking instructions. And I have no wish to bake a cake in a rice cooker, thank you very much.
It gets really annoying when it's all embraced in a spirit of simplicity, back to a happier time before we were the slaves of electrical machines. Machines that turned up in kitchens just as servants were exiting them.
Except from restaurants. Funny, that.
So I'm not impressed by entreaties from chefs to use volcanic rock pestles and mortars. As for mayonaise by hand...well. Really. Mayonaise was the very first thing I learnt to make, ever. It is ridiculously easy, as long as you have a blender. Crack an egg, add salt and vinegar, pour over a cup of oil, lower the stick blender into the mess. Pulse as you slowly raise it. In a few seconds, you have mayonaise.
Although these days I just use bottled mayo and add lots of lemon juice and a bit of good oil, and it's excellent.
So anyway, here is a song of praise to the humble hand held stick blender, hero of countless gazpachos, pureed soups, smoothies and milkshakes. And if you get one of those with a small bowl with a fierce chopping blade, also home to hummus, small chopped vegetables for sofrito or soup, spice pastes, and pesto.
And since we're on the pesto theme, don't be blinkered by the classics. The Genovese version, heady with basil and peanuts is wonderful, and certainly, make it in a mortar if that's your thing. Myself, I take the broad, sweeping view. Cooked vegetables, or even fresh tomatoes, or ruccola, or leftover pisto, blended with a bit of garlic, a handful of nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, or pine nuts) a bit of parsley, some cheese and a good glug of oil...that's a pesto. And it's not just great on pasta, but on sandwiches and in soups and quesadillas
So I'm very happy with my blender. I could live without it, yes, but why would I?
The calendar says I should be going for the salads and the first gazpachos, the bowls of cherries, the lightly grilled fish, the ice cream. But my eyes see clammy fog, and my stomach says to hell with all that. I want stodge.
If you do the normal method then it´s the stirring, adding stock, etc. A very soothing, gentle way of relaxing after a long day and enjoying a glass of wine, if you must.
Empanada gallega, an imposing pie.
Empanadillas, little pies that fit in any lunchbox or picnic basket.
Tortilla española, that old standby.
Venus is in transit, enjoy!
You can never tell when summer will hit Scotland, and when it does, it's best to drop everything and enjoy it while you can.
Which is to say, blogging will resume as soon as the clouds and icy winds come back. It's bound to be soon, never fear.
Still, the recommendations are good: For tapas, bar Laredo in c/Menorca, 14
For old fashioned beer and chips, bar El Doble, c/Ponzano at the corner with José Abascal.
The rooftop terrace of hotel Ada, overlooking the beautiful skyline (this is new to me, and my favourite place, ever) for coffe or whatever.
my trip to Sicily, but it's hard to know where to start. I´m still taking it all in, and somehow homesick. It sounds silly, since it´s not my home, but we were make so welcome by Fabrizia that it felt like it.
I thought I would mention a few dishes, and maybe round it off with one of the recipes, but I couldn´t choose. We went through such a whole lot of stuff, from deceptively simple fried vinegary sardines to the baroque multilayered fantasy of cassata to potatoes in saffron that were just like the papas en amarillo I know from home. Every kind of food, in every note accross the scale. What would I write?
Then it occurred to me that a common theme in all those meals was the salad. There was always a salad of some sort, served on a moon shaped plate. We never had the same salad twice, I'm pretty sure, but the point of them was always the same: to provide a crunchy, fresh, almost discreet relief from the fireworks in the main, round, plates. Like the clowns in the circus, coming between the high wire acts.
Of course these salads were all made from whatever there was in the kitchen garden. Right now, in early spring, that means fennel, frisée, wild radish greens, perhaps, and citrus: oranges, or some special salad lemons, or both.
Now, I live in Aberdeen, which puts me very, very far from that horticultural idyll. When I say "whatever I can find" I don't mean whatever there is in the garden, but whatever they have in the supermarket. And let me tell you, that can often mean, "not much".
So when I made myself a salad of just oranges and fennel, with some some parsley leaves added for colour, I though, this is never going to cut it . But you know what? It was beautiful. Fresh, and sweet, and crunchy and yes, it took me straight away to Sicily. So if you'll forgive me resorting to the clichéd quote, it was a case of changing things so they would stay the same, and it worked.
I will be blogging more about our trip to the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school, but also be sure to check out what Béa, Nicky and Oliver, Melissa, Keiko and Chika post. Prepare to swoon at the pictures, and to develop strong cravings for ricotta in all its forms.
Nostalgic Sicilian salad, for one
Half a fennel bulb
A few parsley leaves
Olive oil, salt, pepper
Shave or slice the fennel as thin as you can. Cut the orange over it, so not a drop of juice is lost. The shape doesn't really matter (to me, anyway , since I have the advantageof drawing my food). Leave the parsley leaves whole.
Now sprinkle with salt, drizzle with oil, crack a bit of black pepper and that's it.