The master talks lobsters again

As you know, this blog takes its name from "Annie Hall".

I worship Woody Allen films, and never miss one when it comes out, every year. Sure, some of the latest ones have been a little less amazing than we´re used to, but his worst is better than most people´s best. I think so, anyway.

And now, aren´t we lucky, he´s also written this very funny piece for the New Yorker, about food and philosophy.

Here´s to the foremost maestro, man-superman, and Honorary High Chief of the Lobstersquad. All rise.


Life is a peach

Yesterday I felt as squashed as these peaches. Downtrodden. Head bloody AND bowed.

The french team did to ours things that I blush to repeat. It was terrible.

I came back dejected, so dejected that I wasn´t even hungry. This is a bad sign. I never, ever, lose my appetite.
I walked into the kitchen, by force of habit. And remembered these peaches I´d bought.
I don´t know what they´re called in English. Here they´re "paraguayas", though my mother always says in Paraguay they call them "japonesas". Whatever.

When they´re really ripe, you can peel them with your hands. They´re best eaten standing at the kitchen counter. If they´re good, and beleive me, these were, the juice will dribble down your chin, and also down your arm. It´s messy, but so good.

I went to bed feeling a little better. Still squashy, but uplifted by the thought that our football players aren´t much good, but when it comes to fruit, we can show the French what´s what.

And then this morning I saw that Food&Wine has selected one of these posts in its Blog Watch as one of the top five.
Sensation, in brackets.
Now I feel like a full-blown velvety golden Calanda peach.
Ever so happy.


Ten minute food: Sesame noodles

I have the feeling that I´m not being very patriotic and loyal to the culinary traditions of this great country in my posts,
but, what can you do? I read an awful lot of food blogs,and you can´t blame me for wanting noodles, like everyone else.

I tend to cook less in summer. It´s too hot to have the oven on, too hot to shop-peel-chop-sautee. But it´s also too hot to go out and eat, at least at midday. So I have a few summer specials that are satisfying without weighing one down, cook very fast, and are eaten cold.

One such are sesame soba noodles, and you can read about them in Nigella´s own inspiring prose.
I like them with baked salmon and soy-doused spinach.

And that means staying within the ten minute range. Don´t you hate it when cookbooks give a recipe for a five minute grilled fish and then say, very straight-faced, "serve with a lovely home-made creamy mash"?


Wedding food

I know it´s cheating to post a picture and a tiny text and pretend it´s a proper entry. At least, I saw that on mattbites the other day, so now I know I´m being guilty of bad net manners.
But this doesn´t merit much more than a brief comment.
Yesterday evening I went to a wedding reception. It was a very grand wedding, they´d pulled out all the stops. The venue was a XVI century royal palace, the garden was amazing, the band, the piano recital at the beginning, everything was tip-top.
As was the food, which was highly delicious. But in that Spanish-caterer way.
First you´d be offered a mini pastela, redolent of cinammon . Then would come a shot of gazpacho. Then a tiny square of something that looked like cheese but turned out to be foie d´oie dipped in white chocolate. Then would come chorizo.

See? Hot and cold. Übertrendy one minute, comfort food the next. I was blown this way and that, as I sipped my daiquiris and said hi to my relations.Dazed and confused, you could say.

And the balsamic glaze. What´s with the balsamic glaze?
Is everything drizzled with balsamic glaze all over the world, or is it just us, going trough a phase, and it will stop?


Summer survival skills: stock syrup

It´s hot. Not just hot, but baking. Madrid heat is dry, which I prefer. But still, when the thermometer is close to the forties, who cares? All I want to do is crawl under a whirring fan and feel sorry for myself.
I don´t have air con , you see. I don´t like it. I find it unnatural and , well, cold. It´s essential in public spaces , restaurants, museums, tube stations, shops. But for the home I prefer the oldfashioned method. Once the first morning cool breezes are over, close every window and shutter. Turn on the fan, but no lights, as they bring up the temperature too. Tv allowed.

And have plenty of lemons around.
I find slicing a lemon is instant refreshing aromatherapy.
And lemon drinks are refreshing, there´s no denying that. Home made lemonade comes tops, but a slice of lemon peel and a squirt of juice will do wonders for commercial iced tea.

One thing I find very useful to have around is a bottle of syrup in the fridge.
Having the sugar already dissolved makes it very easy to make just a single glass of lemonade, by squeezing a lemon, or a lime, and mixing it with the iced syrup, the ice, iced water, and mint leaves.

None of that very sour lemony water taste and the undissolved sugar floating around at the bottom. Instant satisfaction, a much needed hit of vitamins, and icy cool liquid down your throat.

And need I say, it´s perfect for mojitos?

You make it by bringing 600 ml of water to boil, and dissolving 450 grams of sugar in it. Leave it to cool, and keep it in the fridge.
Remember, it´s very sweet indeed, one splash is as much as a big spoonful of sugar.


2nd Ave. Deli

I´m scanning stuff from old sketchbooks to put on my new website. And I found this drawing I did while waiting for lunch at the 2nd Avenue Deli, in New York City.
That was in 2000. It´s closed now, which makes me sad, even though I´ve only ever been once, and don´t know NYC at all well. But it was a great place. So here goes.
At least the bottles of Heinz ketchup still look as good as ever.


In praise of Sardines

This is all because of Brett, who did such a nice piece about me on his blog In praise of sardines. I´m still blushing slightly. Thank you very much, Brett.

I´ve been wanting to make a sardine related post ever since, but it hasn´t been easy. Every time I go to the market I stop at the fishmonger, and look over the fish. And the sardines look beautiful and glossy, and I know the season is beginning. And they´re cheap and plentiful and full of all manner of things that are good for me. But for all that, I usually fall for the red tuna. Or the mackerel. Or the cod, or the salmon, even.

The fact is , as far as I´m concerned, sardines are outdoor food. I need a lot of fresh air t, and if possible, a beach and a sea breeze.

And so, even though the possibility of an emapanada made with raw sardines that cook inside the pastry intrigues me, I´ve resorted to that old standby, the sardine tin. The greatest convenience food of Spain, beloved of bachelors and boy scouts. And very delicious, too, with a little oil and vinegar drizzled over, on a tomato salad, or pretty much anywhere.

And lately I´ve discovered this sardine paste. It makes a great dip, and I adore it on very dark rye bread sandwiches, with thinly sliced cucumber.
It´s from Trish Deseine´s "Celebrating with friends" , and there aren´t any specific quantities, really. Just indications.

Take the sardines out of the tin. Drain off the oil, more or less. Add lemon juice and zest, cayenne or tabasco, black pepper, and a couple of tablespoons of cream cheese. Mash it with a fork. There you are.


Basic everyday stuff

I love a kitchen gadget. Leave me alone for five minutes in a hardware store, and I´ll have bought something silly I´ll never use, like a mezzaluna, or a garlic grating credit card, or an odd looking boiled-egg-top slicer.

There are worse habits, I guess. And some of the things are a lot of fun, even if I´ll never ever use them.I´ve never actually sifted any flour with the flour sifter, but it makes a clickety clack noise that guarantees instant annoyance for anyone within earshot.

Then there´s the kind of thing that has no glamour, costs practically nothing, and you´ll use every day, all your life. Like this grater.

It´s in constant use ever since I saw José Andrés grating tomatoes for sofrito on his show. What a brainwave! Never again the blanching or peeling of tomatoes. Or , more likely, the sifting pieces of tomato skin out of sauces. Good ´un.

In summer it comes into play a lot to grate carrots for my favourite salad.Not very exciting, like the grater, but very useful when the thought of lighting a match seems like too much effort. Or when I need something refreshing to lighten up a slice of pizza.

Quantities are for a bowl for one, or a side salad for two.

1 big ripe beautiful summer tomato
1 cucumber
2 smallish carrots

oil, vinegar, salt, lots of pepper, pinch of cumin

That says it all, more or less, but I like to do this in this order:

First, the cucumber, peeled and either cubed in small pieces, or sliced very thin goes into the bowl with the salt. Then the tomato, cut into wedges directly over the bowl so not one drop is lost. Then the carrots are peeled and grated.
It doesn´t need a lot of oil, a mere splash will do, because the tomato and the cucumber will make a lot of juice. Be generous with the vinegar, and go crazy with the black pepper. Cumin is optional.

By far the best thing of all is to drink all the peppery juice that collects at the bottom of the bowl. I know, bad bad manners, but try it.


A dash of Angostura

I don´t know if you folks saw the uplifting spectacle of the epic match Trinidad and Tobago versus Sweden last Saturday.
It was beautiful, but it was also nerve racking.
Therefore, for the match today against England, I think the stakes have to be raised. Tinto de verano is all very well, but for moments of higher emotional stress, Gin&Tonic has to come into play.
And for this occasion, of course, it has to have Angostura bitters, the single most famous product of Trinidad.
Angostura was first marketed as a tonic. Like tonic water, I guess. This may explain why G&Ts are such a wonderful elixir.

If I make my own, the glass has to be big, but not enormous. At home, Ikea´s Bistro line does just fine. The ice, big cubes from the shop, not home-made, which melt faster. First, a strip of lemon peel. Then, lemon juice squirted onto the ice, so it crackles and pops and absorbs some of the juice. Then, the gin. Whatever good one´s around.
The tonic has to be Schweppes, non-negotiable. I love the taste, I love the look, and I love that Coca-Cola just can´t beat them, no matter how hard they try.
The couple of drops of angostura I usually add after the gin and before the tonic. And if I remember, I rub the crushed lemon over the rim of the glass.

Before that, to soak up the liquor and to show that we´re not mindless hooligans but simply interested in food and drink from different cultures, I´ll try out a Trinidad curry from Madhur Jaffrey´s Ultimate curry bible.
If it turns out well, I´ll share the recipe, in time for the third match.
And by the way, Spain were so totally awsome yesterday that I now eat my words, one after the other. I tremble like a leaf in the anticipation of Monday.


The it soup

What is the starter you will find literally everywhere these days? A chilled soup that everyone is dishing up?
Chic hostesses will serve it in double handled consommé cup. If you go to a wedding, you will be given shot glasses with the concoction. At high end creative michelin starred restaurants you will be given it as foam. The old fashioned great eateries will give it to you as a palate cleansing device between your fresh foie and the partridge in chocolate sauce. Your cousin who just got married and at whose wedding you drank it, will give it to you a her first ever dinner party.
And it´s not gazpacho.

These days the new and trendy soup du jour is chilled melon soup with ham.

Mind you, it´s become so very ubiquitous, that it will soon be as old hat as gazpacho.But in the meantime, please welcome the great summer dinner-party solution, the no-need-for-a-recipe soup.

Basically it´s just melon , blitzed in a blender with a bit of lemon juice, chilled, and served with a few slivers of good iberico. But just a few pointers.

At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, I have to say that the ham should of course be iberico, not Parma. Parma ham is all very well in its way, but wouln´t look very good in this. What you want isn´t a pale flesh coloured slice, but a dark wine red tangle of Iberico or serrano shavings. They look beautiful against the elegant very pale green of the "soup".

Also , the melon shouldn´t be galia or canteloupe, but the rugby ball shaped, dark green mottled skin ones, called Piel de sapo, or toadskin (nice!), from Villaconejos. As my uncle Ramon says, at least once every summer, canteloupes are all pretty much ok, you won´t go far wrong, they´ll never be bad.But when you come across a really good Villaconejos melon, there´s no competition.They can be a little inconsistent,though, and that´s the reason for the lemon juice.
If you should find one of them slightly cucumbery underripe melons, the lemon juice will make it better. If it´s ripe and pefect, then leave it of course.

That´s it.

By the way, excuse me if my links are often in Spanish. It´s not always easy to find links in English. We´ve got a long way to go in self promotion yet.


The World Cup and tinto de verano

The World Cup begins today, and it has me in a fever of excitement.
I´ve always loved it, from earliest infancy, when I wouldn´t watch the matches, but would collect the stickers and toys inside cereal boxes and kinder eggs.
Later, it being june, it would usually catch me revising for exams, and provide a very welcome distraction.
Now that I work, I´ll have it on in the background if it´s just some match. But for the ones that really count, I´ll either have friends over, or watch it in a bar.
Since the Spanish team has a habit of being very dissapointing, this year I´m with Trinidad and Tobago. They´re the smallest country in the whole tournament, and it´s amazing to me that they´re there at all, so I´m all for them.

During matches, instead of the usual, but laddish, beer, I´ll be having a couple of glasses of tinto de verano.
It is similar to sangria, but it isn´t quite. I´m sorry, but for me, sangria is forever associated with the tourist resorts of the coasts. High rise apartments, and guiris who turn crab red and drink sangria from gallon buckets.
Whereas tinto de verano is just a very refreshing drink that comes in a pretty pink colour. It´s just as misleading as sangria, in that you can drink loads and not feel a thing until you walk into a lampost.

Basically it´s red wine with lemonade, either a flat lemon , or a fizzy transparent one that we call Casera and is similar to Sprite.
The world is divided into two camps, the tinto con limon or the tinto con casera people. I´m a fence sitter, and think both are just as good.

If I make it at home, I like to add a wedge of orange, a slice of lemon and a generous glug of red vermouth.

I wish you all a very happy World Cup, and may the best Brazil win.


Early morning worries


Here´s where my marriage totters. This may sound overdramatic, but it really makes me wonder who I married.
José is a great guy, don´t get me wrong.
I love him, an´all. He´s too fabulous for words, and useful when heavy shopping has to be brough home, stubborn jars opened, and high closet doors opened. He chats to my mother on the phone, he´s polite to my aunts, my dogs love him, he does the washing up. Perfect, you´d say.


He doesn´t have breakfast.

He just won´t have breakfast. Isn´t that weird? Am I not right to worry? What kind of person leaves the house on an empty stomach? Many, I know, but then they have breakfast, later. They do here in Spain, anyway. It´s a popular sport on weekday mornings, and makes employers ever so happy, when their employees spend a gainful three quarters of an hour stuffing themselfs with churros and cafe con leche.

But not José. No.

And worse.
On weekends, when he has all the time in the world, and the smell of toast wafts through the whole house? Nothing. He might chat to me a little, as I go through the steps for a proper pa am tomaquet. And not take one single crumb from my plate.

This is clear psycho behaviour. Am I nursing a viper in my bossom?Can I make him change his ways?

Oh well. Here´s a kitchen sketch of an egg breakfast. Very rare occurence, and duly recorded for posterity, on a lazy Sunday morning.


The muses are heard

Here´s some marginally lobster related material, in the shape of the mayonesa Musa jar.

I love it because it looks fabulous,but also, of course, because it has a lobster.

And because it´s soo so fifties.

It promises at once the old-world lustre of the belle-epoque signature dish, and at the same time, the convenient, pre-packaged foods available from then on.
On one hand, the lobster, meaning high life and luxury, and on the other, the bottled mayo, ease and speed for the modern housewife.
The name, muse, hints at inspiration, divine empowerment and good ideas. The dark blue and the gold lines ( you can´t see those, because I did this in the kitchen with some colouring pencils I bought when I was ten) would not be out of place on a sheik´s Rolls Royce.

It´s very sweet. I´m glad that even though they´ve moved with the times, and do a very good olive oil mayonaise, and several other sauces, they keep the old label. I always keep a jar around, because it makes me smile.

I´m not blind to the defects of bottled mayo, and much prefer home-made. But sometimes you only want a dollop for a sandwich. Or someone around has a thing about raw eggs ( just hiss "chocolate mousse" at them, they´ll usually shut up).
Here´s what I do to perk the commercial product up: to two generous tablespoons of mayo, I add a glug of the best olive oil, and the juice of half a lemon. Maybe a drop of vinegar, maybe a little more lemon. Taste as you go. It makes a world of difference.


Onion Jam

I´ve just come back from a very fascinating weekend in Albarracín, Teruel, and was all fired up to tell you about it. But since popular demmand wants onion jam, and since Albarracín is beautiful, but hardly the gastronomic highlight of all Spain, here goes.

I´ve come across several similar recipes of this. My favourite is from the "Ballymaloe Cookery Course", a fantasticly encyclopedic book by Darina Allen that I tote from the kitchen to the sofa and back, all the time.She calls it Onion Marmalade, but I like the word jam. And in Spanish, "mermelada de cebolla" rolls off the tonge very nicely too.

I made it the first time because I had half a bottle of red wine lying around, and wanted to use it. Since I did, I´ve never been without a batch in the fridge. It´s delicious, it´s very useful for millions of things, and it´s addictive.Unless you have your own home-made, it will set you back 5€ for a tiny jar and you will curse yourself for a lazy idiot.
The even better news is that it keeps for weeks in the fridge, so you don´t have to go into all the preserving palaver. It can be fun, but isn´t it nice that it´s optional?

I´ve adapted the recipe slightly, with a bit less sugar and using half butter half oil.And must point out that I use a Thermomix food processor to make it. It´s wonderful machine for cheating, as it heats and stirs, so there´s no danger of things sticking. You may have to keep your eye on the pot a bit more, but really, it´s worth it.

700g white or red onions (It´s usually four)
50 g butter 50 gr oil
130g caster sugar
1 and a half teaspons salt
1 and a half teaspoons pepper, freshly ground
7 tablespoons sherry vinegar
250ml red wine, or oloroso
2 tablespoons cassis (you can use brandy, but it won´t have such a deep burgundy colour)

Peel and slice the onions thinly(I prefer a mandoline to a processor).Melt the butter in the saucepan, with the oil, and let it brown (I usually skip this step, too impatient).Toss in the onion and sugar, salt and pepper and stir well. Cover the saucepan, and cook 30 minutes over a gentle heat, stirring from time to time with a wooden spatula.

Add the sherry vinegar, red wine and cassis. Cook for a further 30 minutes uncovered, stirring regularly. Don´t let it reduce too much. At the end,if butter has risen to the surface, skim it off.

This makes about two cups, and is wonderful on sandwiches, tarts, with cheeses, pates, and even in pasta, and of course scrambled eggs.

And if anybody out there has a Thermomix, here are the timings:
3 min,speed1,100º with just the oil, then 30 min on 100º, speed1, for the first step, and 30min on varoma, speed1 ,uncovered,for the second.


Scrambled egg epiphany

Yesterday I was alone for lunch. Usually I go over to my mother´s, very much in the Spanish way. Can´t stay away from la Mamma, y´know.
But anyway, I was very busy,having to meet millions of deadlines, and I couldn´t even find the time to go to the market and buy a slice of tuna.
So I decided to have scrambled eggs. Nothing exciting there. But I added, on an impulse, some home-made onion jam from an almost finished jar, and a pinch of cumin.
I´d only ever used the jam on sandwices and goat´s cheese tarts. Or with chicken liver paté.I assumed it was too sweet to be put alongside normal food.
But these eggs were oh-amazing. Sweet and delicate and for once I managed to keep them runny. I also had some roast tomatoes, and nuked a couple of wheat tortillas. It was a sissified version of huevos rancheros, and made me ever so happy.
Masses of self-pats on the back for this one. Only drawback is I´m out of onion jam, and that will not do. I´ll be making another batch inmediately.

All dressed up

And ready to go. Isn´t the new banner beautiful? Oh I´m proud of my banner. Thanks, David!