Sweet-salty Canadian Salmon

My bottles of Canadian maple syrup tended to last forever. I used it only in the very rare occurences of making pancakes. Now, however, the thing just dissappears as fast as I can buy it. Which isn´t all that easy, as it´s not the sort of condiment to make it to the shelves in my market. Still, I find it, because now that I´m the Pancake Queen of Apodaca, it just wouldn´t do to make do with anything else.

And if that weren´t enough, I´ve made a recent discovery, which I like to call sweet-salty Canadian salmon. Or just Kickpleat Salmon, after the owner of the blog where I read about it. The original recipe is for a noodle soup on which pieces of grilled salmon float like lordly pink icebergs.
But of course you can just use it any time you want grilled salmon, which, as far as I´m concerned, may well be any time. I like it with rice and steamed vegetables. I sometimes grill the vegetables, too. I think that paired with cold soba noodles it´s priceless. Also, if you´re careful to cook more than you think you´ll eat, and manage to not wolf it down at a sitting, you may have some leftover. In which case it´s the best thing in the world for filling rice paper pancakes, with cucumber and carrots and mint. Works pretty well inside a flour tortilla with yogurt and cucumber, too. In fact, it just works pretty well everywhere, basically, so here´s the recipe:

Salmon: I like to ask for a tail piece, wheighing around 600 gr. I ask the fishmonger to take out the bones, sometimes the skin too.

Mix the marinade of maple syrup and soy sauce. I think you have to trust your judgement for the qantities, since the salmon pieces I get are never the same size. Just make enough to coat the fish, and remember this rule: double soy sauce to syrup. Add a couple of dashes of sesame oil, some hot sauce. Kickpleat says the juice of one lime, but I like a dash of vinegar and a splash of sherry. Maybe a squashed clove of garlic, if I´m in the mood, and ginger if there´s any in the fridge. Leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes at least, but it can be longer, to suit your convenience.

Now here´s my grilling method, developed carefully over time with the intention of avoiding the intensely fishy and sticky fug that grilling salmon in a pan can produce. I just hate making breakfast in a kitchen that smells of yesterday´s salmon. Ugh.
So listen: turn on the grill/broiler in your oven. Let it heat up for a few minutes. Put a pan that can go under the grill on the normal fire and let that heat up. Meanwhile, take the salmon out of the marinade and pat it dry on the skin side. When the pan´s hot, put the fish in, skin side down, and put it quickly under the broiler.
In about five minutes, depending on the thickness of your salmon, you´ll have a beauty. Slightly charred on top, it will be juicy inside, as the skin will protect it from drying too much with the contact of the hot pan.
If you prefer, you can ask your fish guy to skin it, in which case you´ll have two browned sides. You´ll just have to be careful that it doesn´t cook too much, but even that´s ok, as salmon is a very forgiving fish, being so oily.

And of course this method works perfectly with any other marinade, or with plain salmon.


Daring clients

Clients. Can´t live with them, can´t live without ´em. I sometimes feel that. But every now and then some clients pop up who tell me "do what you like". Or "have fun with it". Nice clients, yes, very, you´re few and far between, andt I love you.
Doing a jamesbondesque composition, working title "attack on meringue mountain" is one of those tings I assumed I´d only ever do for my very own self, so it´s a double joy to do it for someone else. There are more people in the world who are amused by turning kitchen appliances into helicopters! Great.
My thanks to Veronica, who patiently acted as go-between, and to all the others. Here´s a link to her blog, and there you can see links to all the other Daring Bakers , and check out all the stuff they´re doing. I now really really want to make red velvet cake, which is odd, since I am the most timid of bakers.

Also, I´ve updated the blogroll, finally, and though I´ve probably forgotten something important and will have to tinker with it again soon, which I hate, here are the newcomers:Homesick Texan, Smitten Kitchen, Food on the food, Habeas Brulee The perfect pantry, The frayed knot,
Veronica´s test kitchen, and Culinate, which isn´t a blog, so it goes last in the list .


Breakfast pancakes

I used to think that breakfast stacks of pancakes, dribbling maple syrup down the sides, were things that only happen to Americans, like junior proms, or the right to bear arms.
Sure, there are plenty of recipes for the things, and I´ve even tried my hand at them now and then. But they seemed like a big deal. No matter that they always begin with some words about how easy it is, and how it takes less and no time, and how you can do them for a weekday breakfast. I always ended up a nervous wreck surrounded by bowls and scales and meassuring devices, with bits of flung about pancake in my hair. The things themselves would be unrecognizable in their shape, and either black or milky white.They still dissappeared fast into J´s mouth, but that´s nothing. The man will eat anything.

I decided they were a myth. From now on, I´d only have them when going seriously cold turkey, and it would be the Spanish way. Three big pancakes, with whipped cream and caramel, in the afternoon, at Vip´s.

Mark Bittman saved the day again. He did a column, and one of those videos, and I must say it looked easy. Very. Specially because there was precious little meassuring involved. Which is all to the good if it´s breakfast we´re talking about, when one is groggy and carefully tipping flour into a bowl until it reaches the 125 gr. mark can be a bit much.
I was still a bit sceptic, though. It couldn´t be as easy as it looked, surely? Well, beleive me, my European friends and neighbours, it was. Wonderful.
So, here´s the video. And the recipe, so easy that it can be memorized:

One cup of flour, one of milk, one egg, one teaspoon of baking powder, one tablespoon of sugar, one pinch of salt.
Mix it in a bowl ( maybe the milk and egg first in another, it´s no big deal), easy does it, with a whisk. No electric devices needed, they´ll only make the thing gluey later. In a few seconds the thing looks like a real batter, it´s magic. Then, here´s my favourite bit, cut a knob of butter and spear it with the point of a knife. Smear the pan with it, so it melts, and there´s perfection for you, a think film of butter on which you now pour the batter. Use a spoon or a small ladle to put it in the pan, where it will make neat little circles all by itself! And in a few seconds they´ll bubble up, and now is when you turn them. A little flip should be enough. In a couple of seconds the other side is done, and voilá.
Go on like this and in a few minutes, I promise, you have your very own stack, just like in the movies. And there won´t be a shoot-out in the diner.
You won´t have free refills of coffee, though, because that is a thing that really only happens to Americans.



I´d been wondering how I´d blog about torrijas, since they´re deep fried, and you know, I never say this, but...I don´t fry. Luckily, Mark Bittman has done the job for me with yesterday´s column in the New York Times. Big sigh of relief.
Bittman forgot to say that they´re very much a seasonal thing, always served around Easter. Usually eaten cold, usually dripping honey and oil all over. And beware of the very traditional versions made with wine.
And what´s with all the mice? Well, I have to have one hundred and fifty of them done by tomorrow, so you´ll appreciate that I really don´t have time to write. Back to my rodents, enjoy the torrijas.


Asparagus, take two

A rather lovely trait of spring is its unpredictability. Last Saturday, I was picnicking in the shade of an almond tree, barefoot. Today it snowed. Which brings us to take two in the great green fest : cream of asparagus soup, piping hot.

One of the best thing about these babies is how, when you bend them, they snap at the exact spot where they begin to be edible.
It used to riddle me with anxiety, the cutting of asparagus. Once I let in a fearful amount of fibrous horrid bits into a risotto, and from then on I regarded a bunch of green spears as a minefield.
Once I learnt that trick, however, I breathed again. It´s the work of minutes to prepare a bunch and steam or grill them. Eating them, of course, is the work of seconds.

But what about the inmense amount of debris? You pay a fairly hefty quantity of your hard-earned for a bunch, and to have a good 60% go in the bin rankles a little. Enter the soup.

What you do is this. Make trhee piles. One, a very small one, for the tips. Another, large one, for the middle bits, which you´ll cut in sections of about an inch. A third, smaller, of the really bad looking woody bits. Clean them, especially the woody ones, which might be muddy as well.

Now put the horrid pile in a pan with some stock (a cube, of course!) and let it boil for twenty minutes or so, then strain it well. Now you have asparagus infused stock.

Meanwhile, sweat an onion in butter or olive oil or both. Add the middle bits, sautee them for a couple of minutes, then add the stock and let that boil away for ten minutes or so, until the asparagus are tender. Then blitz, and blitz well. You´ll be left with a bright green chunky looking slop, that you´ll strain, pressing with the spoon.
Now is the time for frustration, when you realise that a good third of the volume is staying in the strainer, leaving you with a very thin green consommé that you´re beginning to think you don´t really want.
Don´t worry. Just add a couple of rice cakes, or some left over rice you thoughtfully froze for just such an occasion, and thicken it a little. Then add some lemon zest, salt to taste, and cream. About 100 ml. if you were starting with a litre of stock.

This is will leave you with a delicate, elegant light green soup that can be served hot or cold. The thing to add to it, of course, are the lightly steamed tips of the asparagus you started with, but let´s face it, there´s a good chance that you may have eaten those while the soup cooked. In which case I have one word for you: croutons.


Best hot dog in Madrid

I am so happy. So very happy.
I had a hot dog at Nebraska the other day, and it was wonderful. Ring the bells.
You see, Nebraska is a Madrid institution. It´s a bar, coffeeshop, restaurant, whatever, built on the lines of the diners one sees in American films of the 50´s. There are booths, the ceiling is a treasure of patterns in plaster, the waiters have been around since the good old days when you´d run into Ava Gardner or Hemingway staggering in for their six o´clock churros and cognac. And if they haven´t, they look like they have, which is just as good.
I used to go with my father, after the movies, for a nourishing hot dog. This was in the early 80´s, when one would be coming out of Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, or The Goonies. Mythic times, mythic hot dogs.
I never stopped going back for them, but frankly, they weren´t so good. If it hadn´t been for the massive doses of nostalgia, I doubt I could have even swallowed them. The rolls were flabby, they came with chips out of a bag, and to add insult to injury, the ketchup in the little satchets wasn´t Heinz.
Still, I kept at it, because the hot dog was only an excuse to sit and look at the ceiling, the waiters and the milkshake machine, probably smuggled out of Cuba by some sugar-king fleeing Castro in ´59 (and again, if not, who cares?). The clientele, too, is priceless, being a good mix of trendy young types in sunglasses, careful to make it clear that they´ve been partying for 36 hours and need some pancakes to go on ; serious looking old men, widowers, one hopes, treating ladies who work in the streets just behind Gran Vía to sandwiches mixtos ; old ladies having their merienda of coffee and ensaimadas ; a few tourists ; people loaded with bags after trips to Zara and H&M, much in need of restoration. All the world, in fact.
So anyway, I´m now very pleased to report that the hot dogs are as excellent as they ever were, if not better. The rolls are just that blend of chewy and soft, the sausage is cut in two, grilled lightly, and goes with a slice of bacon or ham, some pickles, and their bravas sauce, plus some mayonaise-mustard combo that´s the signature of the place. I always ask for them without the bravas sauce, with ketchup instead, and, yes!, this time it was Heinz. The fries are real fries, hot, and what´s great, it´s not very big, so you can either have two, or, better still, have a milkshake on the side.
Nebraska. Gran Vía 55, 91 547 16 35


Asparagus, take one.

Forgive me for going off on a sort of Julie-Andrews-as-Fräulein-Maria two skips and a twirl.
I can´t help it. Spring is here!
I know, the astronomical will take a few days yet, and the trees haven´t quite woken up. But the asparagus have arrived. Lovely fat green spears, tied in bunches, going for only €1.20 the bunch! O my. And, better yet, the thin ones, sitting in an untidy heap in a box, practically given away at €2.80 the kilo!!!
For a while now it´s going to be asparagus every day, I can tell.
I´m much too caught up in the joy of the moment to do more than steam them and dip them in my so-delicious vinaigrette. Time enough for soups and risottos and quiches and quesadillas.


Kids´ stuff

I´m rushing everywhere lately. Life is pretty crazy but any day now the long list of projects will be ticked off, and then maybe I´ll be able to have a proper siesta. In the meantime, I think now is the time for this, which isn´t a recipe, not really, just my usual impromptu, unplanned, anything goes pudding.
It´s gorgeously unsophisticated, sweet enough to make your head ache, and really should be given only to children. And yet it always goes down a treat, maybe even more so than things that I´ve actually slaved over. It takes about three seconds to make, with things that come out of packets, and thank heavens for that.
Even people who never ever cook can make it, which is why I always make it for people who don´t cook. I like to make converts if I can, and nobody stays away from the stove if they know that something golden, crunchy, gooey and mouthwatering is theirs for the making. And once there, who knows, they may climb to other things, slowly.
It works on the quesadilla principle, in which a wheat tortilla is filled and then toasted in a non-stick pan, no oil needed, until it turns crispy and golden, while the cheese melts. The filling is as simple as a good spoonful, be generous, go on, who cares, of Nutella, and some chopped nuts. If your guests include under twelves, or teens studying for their exams, you might as well bung in a few pieces of marshmallow.
Put them in the pan, turn them when one side is golden, and when both are, caution everyone that it will be hot. Bite away, try not to mind the fact that your chin will get chocolate all over, and enjoy.
You´ll start taking good care not to be out of tortillas or Nutella, ever again, trust me.


Another me me me meme

I´ve been tagged by Asmo for a meme in which you tell what´s been going on in your life in leaps of five years, that is, the years ending in 2 and 7. So here goes.

Since I was born in December of 1975, I don´t remember 1977, but I have it on the best authority that I was a farily decent baby, all things considered. I learnt to talk before I could walk, which makes a lot of sense, in view of my sedentary and anti-sporting life later. My favourite breakfast was strawberries and yogurt.

1982 is the year my religious feeling suffered a severe knockup, and not even a convent school and later another one run by Catholic Talibans could bring me back to the fold. And why? Because the Pope´s visit meant they cut short my favourite TV series, a cartoon featuring some woodland fairies. I never found out what happened after the main character, who wore an acorn top for a hat, jumped into a river and almost drowned. My favourite food then was schitzel and chips.

In 1987 I was sent to England for a year, to learn the language. This meant that from then on I could read all the books in the house, and that I was almost a grownup. That irritating trick my elders and betters had of switching to English when discussing matters not fit for my innocent ears stopped working. Foodwise, I´m still grimacing from the first toast with Marmite I had. I spread it thickly, as though it were jam. Ugh.

In 1992 I decided to start preparing for the entrance exam to the Academy of Fine Arts. It came as a bit of a shock for everyone, since my mother wanted me to be an architect, and my father saw me as a captain of industry, whereas I myself favoured advertising or journalism. But a friend of mine had started, and so I joined up, and look at me now. The friend studied chemistry after all, which just goes to show. I´m not sure what, but something, surely. I had a waffle for the first time, at the Expo ´92 in Sevilla.

1997 I went to Leeds Metropolitan University in an Erasmus exchange. I ended up staying, and finishing my degree there. I was introduced to chip butties, naan bread, and taught to cook pasta with broccoli by an Italian flatmate.

2002 saw me signing the morgage for the flat I live in now, and acquire a boyfriend in the shape of J, my longtime best friend. I think we can safely say it was a momentous time in my life. Since I had my very own kitchen, I started really cooking just around then. The usual method would be to have a couple of friends and cook something while we drank something. Some things were succesful, some weren´t, that was the fun.

Now in 2007 everything´s much the same, except that we´ll be going to Oxford in September for a few months, which will probably change things, but I don´t know how yet.

Apparently this is a meme that has been doing the rounds of French non-food blogs, and it´s up to us to get the ball rolling, so here goes. I´m tagging, and I sure hope they don´t mind:



Fish-on-friday tuna sandwich

It´s Lent, it´s Friday, it has to be fish. I could enthuse over the baked mackerel we had on Wednesday. Or talk about my favourite salmon rice. But not today. I have a poltergeist cold that refuses both to go away and to manifest itself clearly. I have deadlines. I want something simple and comforting, and even the thought of defrosting some chicken stock seems like a challenge, so I´ll go with that old friend, the tuna sandwich. And before anything else, please let´s agree to not give the holy name of tuna sandwich to those pale foamy wet flabby sacrilegious things that lurk in chill-cabinets.

Recipes for sandwiches aren´t really recipes, but only lists of quirks and fads and phobias masquerading under the name. There´s a lot of sandwich hectoring, plenty of huffy condemnation of certain ingredients, and always rules. Everyone has them, and they can be as weird as my father´s firmly held belief that pork and mustard don´t go together.
The only answer to this is a Rule to end all rules : Do it yourself. It´s the only way to avoid nasty jolts like finding mayonaise and cheese nestling under the same slice of bread, which I, for instance, hate, and my sister Gadea loves.

My version, which is, naturally, the best in the world and the one and only one for me is as follows:

Wholemeal loaf bread, crusts off.
One small can of tuna in olive oil.
Mayonaise from a jar, tricked out with a drizzle of olive oil and a good squirt of lemon juice.
Several drops of tabasco.
A couple of gherkins, the sweet and sour Polish or German kind, chopped very small.
A whole lettuce leaf, cut to the size of the bread, but not chopped or sliced.
I am not averse to some boiled egg going in, but I think it has to be the sort of forlorn boiled egg that comes back uneaten from a picnic. If you have to start boiling eggs the simplicity of procedure is broken and the whole experience ruined.

Serve with potato chips, preferably salt and vinegar, and either ice-cold beer or ice-cold Diet Coke. I think the bubbles complement it nicely. Must try it with Champagne sometime.


A present

Look what I got! All the way from Portland, Oregon, a present from those lovely people at  Culinate.
Perfect for my beverage lifestyle, with its couple of mugs of tea in the morning, the one or two of rooibos in the afternoon and the after-dinner poleo-menta.
All part of the wild, bohemian lifestyle that is the lot of the freelance illustrator.


Festive sausage rolls

An engagement party in Spain is a very ceremonious thing. It´s actually called the asking for the hand party, which imparts a whole courtly love atmosphere of solemnity from the word go. Everybody sends flowers to the bride´s house, where the families of both parties meet, maybe for the first time. There´s an exchange of presents, given by the parents of the knot-splicers. Appropiate oohs and ahs are proffered by all and sundry as the groom flashes his new watch/cufflinks, and the bride extends her right hand to show off the rock. Corks are popped, healths are drunk, nosh is noshed. Everybody is quick to point out how good looking the other family is, and how perfectly marvelous the children of the new DNA merger are going to be. Singles are asked when they´ll find a mate, ungengaged couples when they´ll get married, the recently married when they´ll have a child, the proud parents of one when they´ll have another, and so on, until smiles are stretched thin and some hands itch to reach for the unopened champagne bottles and crack some heads. The usual.

This particular pedida was José´s sister´s, and we did the catering at home, with yours truly directing operations. I accepted in a moment of absentminded hubris, but at the risk of sounding conceited, I´ll say it´s pats on the back all around, for a mostly pretty good meal. There were some sticky moments, but a couple of aunts rallied round to help, one plying me with wine and the other directing the rice-heating opperations, and all was well.

I didn´t eat anything, which in me is ve-ry rare indeed and a true sign of my frazzled nerves. Until the puddings, which I hadn´t made, arrived, and I gratefully collapsed on a cushy chair, to eat strawberry pavlova and watch the eclipse. Terrifying ordeal. My hat off forever to proffessional caterers, and a word of advice to you young and feckless things : stick to the pros.

I´ll now give the recipe for one of the more popular canapés of the evening, adapted from Jamie´s Dinners.

Split the casings of some butcher´s sausages. Add plenty of pepper, some salt, chopped apple, chopped parsley, grated lemon zest, and some of that fried onion that comes in packets ( or chop and sautee it yourself). I suspect sage would work a treat here, as would orange zest. Play with it.

Roll puff pastry very thin, dusting with flour as needed, and cut long strips that are about 6 or 7 cm wide. Fill with stuffing, close the long roll, seal by pressing with the tines of a fork, and then slice into whatever size you like. For this party we made them bite sized. Brush with beaten egg.

Bake at 220ºC until they´re puffed up, deep gold outside, pinkish inside. They reheat reasonably well, but what you´re aiming for is to eat them as soon as is bearable, straight out of the oven. You might dispense with the guests, actually, and have a round dozen of them yourselves. They´re too good to share.

Quantities are rather vague, but it´s not so bad. If you have too much stuffing, fry it up, add the egg left over from washing the rolls, and eat it on toast. If too much pastry, cut in strips, egg wash it and dust it with cheese or sesame.