Sorry about that

I hope not too many of you have been listening to dance music for an hour, like me. I don´t´know what happenned to the interview.

Radio reminder

Tonight´s the night. From 8 pm, Spanish time (that´s GMT+2), you can hear the interview I did on Hot FM.
It will be repeated on Monday, same time.
I´m off to the country now, to be woken at dawn by chirrupping birds instead of sycopath builders. I wish you all a very happy weekend.


Thermos therapy: Moroccan tea

I´m not so frantically busy these days. Everyone is shifting gears in September, and they let me alone, mostly. Maybe a couple of calls to say "be ready in october", but by and large I´m only doing magazine work, and that´s quick stuff.
Perfect, you´d say, for sleeping in, watching lots of dvds, and catching up with tomato preserving.
No way. Peace and quiet are out of the picture. They´re tearing the walls of my building to pieces. Ostensibly to install a lift, but mostly to drive me insane, I think.
Two builders start blasting away with a jackhammer at 8 in the morning. At 9 they stop, and spend the day randomly dissappearing for hours and hitting the walls with heavy bludgeons thatmake the building shake. After lunch they get the hardware out again, and drill away to their heart´s content, while you start to mutter darkly and wish bad things. This has gone on for a week now, and by the time a picture fell off the wall today, I´d had enough. I had to leave the house before it crashed about me, or I went on the rampage with a baseball bat.

This is the recipe for a calming yet slightly energetic afternoon.
First, make moroccan tea. Shredding the mint will soothe you enough to stop the murderous thoughts, and pay attention to the proportions.
500 ml. water, 3 tsp green gunpowder tea, a fistful of mint leaves, and 2 tsp sugar, which is less sweet than the usual. Make the tea first, don´t leave it more than 4 minutes or it´ll go bitter. Then mix everything inside a thermos that fits snugly inside your handbag.
Step two, walk briskly. The Retiro is a lovely park, and just thirty minutes away.
Step three, sit down on the grass, and enjoy the sunlight filtered through the trees. Sip your tea.
Step four, a good book. Today I had "Right ho, Jeeves!", by the great inmortal P.G.Wodehouse. All P.G. is the best thing ever, but this particular novel features Anatole the chef, a.k.a. God´s gift to the gastric juices, and is a neat tie-in for a food blog.
Within five sips of this treatment, you should be grinning like a Cheshire cat. Five minutes into the book, you´ll be laughing out loud.
By the time you´re back, the builders will have left, leaving only a trail of dust and debris, and you can enjoy silence until 8.01 a.m.


Not food

Here´s a bit of a silly post. This morning I finished this tube of toothpaste, and went to buy another one. And thought I´d write about it.
I really hate mushy toothpaste, you see. And I like the mint taste to stay inside After Eights. This brand, Lacer, is creamy, and the taste is, I don´t know, more like the liquorice chewing gum orbit does.
Not a very good description, but anyway, I love it, and there it goes.


Porra antequerana.

People all over are beginning to go autumnal, talking about apples and nuts and even mushrooms.
Here in Spain we´re still with the first rains after the summer, and the weather is beautiful and fresh, but doesn´t warrant full-on adventures into soups and stews, yet.
Plus, the markets are still full of gorgeous nectarines, and ripe, beautiful tomatoes are practically given away.
Here´s a recipe to suit the times. Summery in looks, autumnal in texture. Porra antequerana, a stodgy tomato-based dip, close cousin to gazpacho, and twin sister of salmorejo. But I´ll deny having said that. You know how touchy people are about their regional dishes. Let´s just say that it´s a gorgeous dip, and has a very pretty colour that will make your hummus/tzatziki/tapenade layout all the more pleasing.
I´ve had this recipe from Cecilia, who is one of the best cooks in the world, and that includes Ferran Adrià and your mother.
Having said that, I´ll admit to having tweaked the recipe just a little. My vanity knows no bounds.

The basic recipe is made by soaking stale bread with water, adding ripe tomatoes, some garlic and oil, and blitzing to make a salmon coloured paste, as thick as hummus or slightly less,as you like.

Cecilia told me to take equal weights of tomatoes and bread, and I started out with 200 grams of bread from a country type loaf, crusts off. Instead of soaking it with water, she recommends peeling the tomatoes directly over, and letting their juice soak the bread. Leaven them standing a little while, or not, depending on your patience. I didn´t.
Add half a clove of garlic, a 1/4 cup olive oil, and salt to taste.
Blitz away. Depending on how juicy your tomatoes were, it will be a very thick paste, or a rubbly mess of soaked crumbs.
The canons now are to water it down until it´s to your liking. I thought, however, that since we´d started without water, it made more sense to just add tomatoes. That way, it didn´t become so thin so soon, but the flavour, my friends...
In the end I used up about half a kilo, and achieved a bowl of the most glorious orange stuff ever.

It´s traditionally served with bread or breadsticks, but that makes it "pan con pan, comida de tontos", as my darling Escolástica says.
Personally, I think it cries out for crudités, cucumber and red peppers being especially suitable, carrots and cauliflower also very nice.


Mercamadrid field trip.

Here´s something I´ve signed up for, rather rashly. A visit to Mercamadrid, the huge wholesalers´market, the biggest in Europe, or so they say.
I´m very excited now, but have the feeling that at 5:45 am, on the day, I´ll wondering just what I was thinking of.
Maybe we´ll run into world famous chefs arguing over the price of red tuna. Maybe not. I bet it will be fun, and I bet I´ll enjoy my breakfast, once I´m back.
If anyone is in the ´hood and wants to come along, here are the details.


Celebrations vs. Heroes.

I just found this sketch, done exactly four years ago today.
I had just moved into this flat. My friend Katie was staying for a few days while she house-hunted.

Today that mug with the xxx is not with us any more, but Katie is. She came over for a short visit, and brought with her two boxes of chocolates that have kept us pretty entertained for quite a while.

They were´t designer chocs, you see, but honest-to-goodness bite-sized versions of chocolate bars. The kind where you think you´ll have one, and end up trying one of each. How can you not? You simply must know wether the new, beige version of Milky Way is better than the old one. The Malteser thing deserves discussion; why not just bung in a single Malteser, rather than that odd thing with the puffs inside? Does Galaxy stand up to being described as "chocolate doesn´t get much better than this"? Why does the Celebrations box weigh 460gr, plus 15 gr. of wrappers, when the Heroes has a whopping 20 gr. of wrappers? Is Katie the only fence-sitter in the world on Bounty, that love-it-or-hate-it bar?

Endless questions. It´s not that we´re greedy, you see, but that we find ourselves intellectually challenged by food.
We now have a table littered with at least 18 gr. of wrappers. I ain´t drawing that, you may be sure.


A radio interview.

People, let me blow my own trumpet. The moment of fame and glory has arrived.
I´m going to be interviewed on The main ingredient, a Gourmet/Lifestyle program in English that airs on Rem FM & Hot FM throughout the Costa Blanca, Costa del Sol and the Canaries, as well as live on the internet. On Friday the 29th you can hear me babbling away on the topic of breakfast (as usual).
I´ll post a reminder next week, unless I make a complete fool of myself during the interview. Thank goodness it isn´t live.
It´s all too exciting. I already have visions of "Lobstersquad: the movie".


What to do with surplus oil.

Here´s a problem I bet many people would love to have.
Every year, José´s father sends us a case of extra virgin olive oil. The best, fruitiest, green-molten gold stuff you can think of, straight off the presses, made with olives from their own actual olive trees.
Sometimes, in the mad Christmas rush of parcels, we even receive two, one from Oleoestepa and one from Torcaoliva .
And that is a lot of oil. Especially when you consider that I don´t fry.
I´m generous with the bounty, and give away bottles to deserving friends. I even take a bottle of oil rather than wine to parties.
I cook with it, and also splash it around freely for escabeches, for pestos, and to cover jars of roast peppers or tomatoes.
But there are still five 500 ml. bottles there, so I´m going to make a batch of aromatic stuff.
For starters, chili oil.
I´ll take a bottle over to my father. He treats pasta like a personal insult, and the only thing that makes it palatable for him is a good glug of oil and a liberal shake of Tabasco. So I´m making it easy for him, and making sure I have a good chance of eating spaghetti at home.

The recipe, from the  Ballymaloe cookery course , couldn´t be simpler. Take 500 ml. oil, and 25 grams of chili flakes or whole dried chilies. Bring slowly to the boil, turn off, and leave to infuse for an hour.
It will keep in the fridge for months.


The mollete heartland

Having survived the wedding festivities, we´re now about to go further east, and visit J´s grandfather. He lives in the countryside, outside Antequera. Which is a very beautiful town, full of natural and mandmade beauties. But mostly, for me, mollete central.
Mollete, the perfect bread for breakfast toast, is a specialty of a Antequera, and in the house there´s always a basket of them sitting by the toaster in the mornings.
When I make a spectacle of myself at the breakfast table, there´s always someone who says, wonderingly : "You know, molletes used to be the poorest type of bread, so bad and cheap it was only possible to eat it toasted."
And I always smile though the breadcrumbs and the oil, and nod, and think, well, these peasants sure knew their bread from their elbow, and put another piece on the toaster.


South again

I´m going to Sevilla. Yep, you guessed. Another wedding. I actually had two on Saturday, but a joke´s a joke, right? Still, barring unforseen shotgun activity, it should be the last of the year, which makes it slightly better.

I have to drive down all by myself. José will be flying in from Santiago. While I wrestle with sixteen-wheel trucks he´ll be stuffing his face with empanada.

I´m going to burn a lot of silly singalong cds, and try not to think about that, or I will get a serioius bout of road rage.
I hope y´all have a good weekend.


Hay Hay! It´s Tomato tarte tatin day!

Blog events...try one and you´re hooked. Just what I needed, another set of deadlines. But then again, such fun.

Which brings us to Hay Hay! It´s Donna Day #5, hosted by Tami of Running with Tweezers, who has come up with the great idea of savoury tarts.

I´m not a finicky cook. My signature dishes rely on punchy flavour and a working knowledge of ethnic shops around town. Not for me the exquisite little tarts with nuts in the pastry, the delicately aligned asparagus, the birds and flowers made with cutoffs. Sometimes I make a quiche, because J loves it so, but mostly my favourite tart is this, the Ximenita 30 minute special, also known as Roast Tomato Tarte Tatin.

If you don´t have roast tomatoes always at the ready (I´m looking smug right now), the cooking time is a little longer, but not much. Just start off by halving plum tomatoes, sprinking them with salt and sugar, drizzling them with olive oil and blasting them in a hot oven for 20 minutes. You can also use cherry tomatoes, or slices of salad ones.

If not, just preheat the oven at 230ºC

For the dough, you´ll need

2 cups flour
3/4 cup milk mixed with yogurt ( or buttermilk, if it´s easier)
2 teaspoonfuls of baking powder
50 gr. butter
1 teaspoonful of salt

You mix the flour, salt, and baking powder, and rub the butter in with your fingers. This takes a minute, I promise.
Then add the milk, and mix it with a wooden spoon. You´ll have a plastery, stringy, not very good-looking dough.
(This is biscuit dough, and one day I will blog long and hard about it, because it´s been a major culinary breaktrhough for me)

Take a cake pan (mine´s an Ikea non-stick 23 cm. metal one). Drizzle a little oil, sprinkle a little sugar. Arrange the tomatoes however you like. I´m not giving precise quantities, because it´s a pretty slapdash operation, and anything goes, but I´d say about a 8.

Grate some hard cheese over. I use manchego. Roll out the pastry, and tuck it over the tomatoes. If there´s leftover dough, make little balls and bake them alongside. They´re awsome.

Put in the oven, and wait about 20 minutes. The top should be golden, and sound hollow when tapped. I´m never sure, and usually break off a piece to try it. It´s an upside down tart, so it´s ok.

Wait five minutes, and turn it over. This is a risky business, but there´s no chance of bad caramel burns as with real tarte tatin, so it´s not too bad.

The result is crispy crust, a dense crumb, gooey cheese, and tomatoes that are intense, sweet, sour, dark red, maybe a little caramelized. I love it.

Eat warm, with some green salad. Leftovers can be reheated in the oven next day.


The best breakfast in the world.

I live in Madrid, as you know. But before, I lived in Sevilla. These two cities are 541 kilometres apart as the car drives, but light years in distance in matters of breakfast.

I´ll defend my home town, Madrid, to the death. I´ll argue that the traffic isn´t so bad, that the fish market is the best in Spain, and that Real Madrid is a team much hated by referees the world over.
But I won´t argue about the breakfast. I´m a breakfast exile. The best breakfast in the world is a thing of the south, and that´s that.

In Madrid, on any given weekday morning, if you go to a café and ask for toast, here´s what will happen : they´ll fling a piece of rectangular plastic bread on the hot-plate, smeared with margarine ( I guess; some kind of yellow fat, anyway), and bring it to you with a little butter and jam. It will be solid, greasy, crispy-soggy and oddly likeable. Or maybe I´m a native, and have built up an inmunity.

In Sevilla, if you ask for toast, you´ll be subjected to a volley of questions, and wonder if perhaps the waiter is a customs officer in disguise.
Will you have half , or a whole piece? Will it be a mollete, boba, pan de pueblo? Will you want it with oil? Will that be garlic oil, or regular? Are you one of those insane people who choose lard for breakfast? Do you want it white or red? Are you perhaps a wimp who favours butter and jam? (If so, I warn you now, it won´t be butter either.)Would you like some ham? Tomatoes?

That may seem like a lot to answer in the morning, but most people know what they want, and just order stacatto-style, like Starbuck´s customers. Mediomolletecontomateyaceiteyuncafeconleche isn´t such a chore to say, after all.

What you get is toast with oil, and maybe ham and sliced tomatoes. It may not sound too exciting, but beleive me, it will be outstanding. The bread is firm and doughy, bland and uninteresting when raw, but it soars above when toasted. It soaks oil, and of course the oil will be good oil, and the ham cut just-so, and in September tomatoes are to die for.

Since this was after the wedding, and I was feeling slightly under the weather (strictly from lack of sleep, of course), I paired it with a Diet-Coke-lots-of-ice-please.

The best breakfast in the world, I´m tellin´ya.

By the way, the drawing was executed on site. It´s a little stark, but you will forgive the blog-verité in view of the circumstances.


Another wedding weekend.

We´re off to Sevilla for a wedding.
I´m a little tired of the whole wedding thing. It´s not so much the actual party, which will be fun, and I love the bride and groom, and wish them all the best, naturally.
But I can´t help feeling that this rush of weddings is inevitably leading to a rush of other weddings, and then it will be baptisms, and first communions and who knows. It´s the law of life, I know, but I kinda miss the old days, when a party was just a party, and you brought a bottle of vodka, not an engraved cut-glass decanter.
O well.
At least I have a good chance of having the best breakfast in the world. I´ll let you know on Monday.


The most finger-lickin´chicken EVER

On Monday I did my shopping at the Corte Inglés supermarket. I go there once in a while, to buy the heavy stuff I don´t want to drag up my own stairs. Beers, washing powder, that sort of thing.
Of course, once inside, it´s very hard not to succumb to other stuff, and so the trolley ends up piled high with filo pastry, blueberry jam, flour tortillas, dark chocolate chips and the like.
Another thing I find hard to resist is the portioned organic chicken. At the market, if I don´t want a sorry-looking bird, I have to buy an animal the size of a young condor. I´m not averse to leftover chicken, quite the opposite, but really, for two, it can last for ever. And it would be silly to try out a recipe with enormous amounts. What if I don´t like it?

This was the perfect occasion to try out the Barefoot Contessa´s Indonesian Ginger Chicken.
Now, of course, I wish I´d used a mammoth champion chicken, and could eat it again today. It was the best thing ever. Moreish, lip-smacking, and literally finger-licking good. Even if it had been bad you´d have to lick your fingers, because it is sticky. I don´t know if my oven pan will survive the experience, but it´s totally worth it.
I entreat you, do this chicken. It is the platonic ideal of all roast chickens; crisp, glazed a deep golden brown, charred in parts, juicy and eye-poppingly flavourful.
I think it would taste very good cold, but sadly, I don´t know, because it all went in one go.
And did I mention, it practically cooks itself?

Indonesian ginger chicken,
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa cookbook
( and the quantities are scaled down. The original calls for three whole chickens. What sort of ovens do people have in the States?)

1 kg. chicken pieces
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 chunk of ginger, roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, smashed

Put everything in a freezer bag. Maybe it would be best to mix it in a bowl first, buy I just bunged everything in, and it was fine.
Marinade overnight.

Bake, skin down, in a 180ºC oven for thirty minutes. Turn the oven up to 230ºC, turn the chicken over, and leave it another half an hour.
Let it stand for 20 minutes or so, the better to tear it with your fingers. You really don´t want cutlery with this. And you might want to use one of those disposable trays, because the burnt honey and soy are a bit of a nightmare.


Stickler pandas

I´m reading Eats, shoots and leaves. It´s a book about punctuation. It may not sound like it, but it´s very funny. Terrifying, though.
I´d have enjoyed it so much, if only I didn´t have this blog.
Now, I´m very nervous, and the keyboard seems to be ready to snap my fingers off if I misplace a semicolon.
So until I find out what a semicolon is, I´ll post less. Or more guiltily.


A girl´s right to perfect white rice

I know I shouldn´t say bad things about my mother. She´s really a very good mother, all things considered, and has even managed to teach me to type, and to speak Italian, which are nice little bonus tracks.
So don´t judge her harshly when I say this.
She uses parboiled rice.
There, it´s out.
Parboiled rice sucks so much, I wonder there aren´t public demonstrations, and debates, and Decent Rice enforcement laws ( yep, still watching The West Wing 24/7, can you tell?)
Why anyone would voluntarily eat the stuff is beyond me. If you want rice, why not eat rice that tastes of rice? Why go for pebbly blandness? A mystery.

But anyway. I moved out, eventually, and struck out on my own, ricewise. I began to use the same method taught to me by same said mother 15 years before, but with good old Sos short grain rice, in the 2 parts water to 1 part rice ratio. My life improved

And then I saw in a Donna Hay book a different ratio, 1 part rice to 1.5 water. I tried it, and it took me 15 minutes to abandon my method of 15 years. The rice comes out much more separate and fluffy, perfect.
It´s the rice I make to go with Chinese food, or to go with pisto or beef stew.
I´m passing on the recipe, because I am full of evangelical zeal about this. Everyone´s entitled to good rice, regardless of their birth or upbringing.
P.s: te quiero mamá

Basic white rice
adapted from Donna Hay´s Modern classics

Take a pan with a glass lid, if possible.

Add a drizzle of olive oil. When hot, put your measure of rice, turn it a little for 30 seconds or so.
Add one and a half measures of water, and a pinch of salt. Turn heat up, and when it boils, inmediately turn the heat down to minimun.
When the rice makes those little chimney holes, turn the heat off, and leave to rest ten minutes more, without touching the lid.

If you don´t have a glass lid, give it ten minutes on low. Don´t peek, or the steam will escape.

For long grain rice, or basmati, use 1/1.


Brioche breakfast

I walked out this morning to see if the hairdresser´s will be open this afternoon. I have to go to a wedding, you see.
On the way, I passed Deli Panific, a.k.a. the new French bakery, a.k.a. The Ultimate Temptation, a.k.a. try not to walk down calle Hortaleza so much.
And they had a brioche there, just out of the oven. And I´d just read Melissa´s account of what an undertaking making your own brioche is.
So of course I bought it. We shared the still-warm strips of yeasty buttery gloriousness smeared with some Italian pear and nut jam J´s mother gave us. It was a pretty amazing breakfast.
I will just hold Melissa to blame if I don´t fit into the dress tonight.
Luckily, the hairdresser´s will be open, so at least from the neck up I´ll be fine.