I´m going to Paris tomorrow. Tonga plays again, you see.
J won´t be coming this time. He said that he doesn´t like Paris, thinks it a bit boring, doesn´t like paintings in museums, and isn´t all that concerned about Tonga.
Neat, uh? He could only have improved on the performance by spitting on the tomb of my ancestors while kicking some puppies.
Never mind, I´m going with my sister and parents. Coordinating the four of us is going to be quite a feat; I want to eat banh mi, my father has managed to find a hunting museum (?¿!), my mother will probably have to be dragged kicking and screaming from Laduré and goodness knows what my sister will want. It promises to be a lot of fun. Will report back.
Hasta el lunes.


More books (this is getting out of hand)

I don´t know wether J is fabulously entertaining, or else terribly high-maintenance. Whichever it is, the fact remains that with him out of town, I have masses of time to kill.
And so one lazy weekend morning I ran amok on Amazon and ordered a tall pile of cookbooks that have arrived in a steady trickle, keeping me very well amused.
(Strict Freudians, I know what you´re going to say, and beleive me, I hear you. But it was either the books or chocolate by the slab, and we don´t want to go down that road.)
I´m going to be lazy and not link to the books. I think if anyone´s very interested they can look for them, I´ve had a long long day, but here are some mini reviews.

The kitchen diaries, by Nigel Slater- I quite like Nigel, though he can sound a bit bossy in his slap-happy "I´m so unfussy way". This book is weird, because it has blog shape. The sort of stream of consciosness, rummage around the fridge, this is what I cooked yesterday thing, in book form. But good

Breakfast, lunch, tea by Rose Carrarini- This is the book of the Rose Bakery, and an odd one to have chosen. I´m not a finicky baker, nor a lover of chef or restaurant cookbooks. I can´t remember why I bought it, but I have to say that it looks gorgeous and certainly makes me want to go to the Rose Bakery, a lot.

Picnics, by Claudia Roden. I just had to have this. I love Claudia Roden, I love picnics, it just stands to reason. It´s what you might expect from her, snippets of history, fragments of memoir, and lots of recipes you want to make. And because the theme is more general, she comes out of her cumin-and-yogurt ivory tower, which is very interesting.

Good things, by Jane Grigson. I bought this because Laurie Colwin talks about it so much. It´s a classic, a proper English cookbook, full to the brim of love for French food, written before chillies and lemongrass swept the board. I think I´ll probably love it, although I´m annoyed by the cover, which looks much more modern than the inside and just makes no sense.

The River Café pasta book was a total impulse buy, but actually looks really good. The other books from the RC seem to me to be too full of stuff I´ll never make, quails and impossible Italian fish, but this is a compilation of all the delicious pasta recipes I think I might make. Looks very good.

The bowl in the picture held stewed plums and yogurt. Very nice it was, too.


Tomato crumble

We had what looked like a properly autumnal change of season this weekend, with a bit of rain, but now the sun is back, temperatures are pushing thirty, and we might be distracted into thinking this is high summer in Estonia. Lovely weather.
What this means: gather tomatoes while ye may.
It´s not too late. They´re still cluttering up the grocers´ stalls, selling at a euro the kilo. Go on, bake, roast, sauce, soup or chutney, you will be glad later.
If you´ve got more roast tomatoes than you know what to do with, because, say, you´ve been so overenthusiastic that your freezer holds nothing more, this is a great way to use them. It comes from my aunt Gabriela´s book and is her favourite recipe in the whole collection. And I can understand why.
You can´t go very wrong with roast tomatoes, but when you add a crumble with cheese and nuts it elevates the whole thing into the realm of the sheer genius. I dare you to leave enough of this to eat cold the next day.
You´ll need:
Two kilos of roast tomatoes, skinned, but never mind about the seeds. Why is everyone so het up about tomato seeds, anyway? They don´t bother me at all.
100gr. of flour
100 gr. butter
80 gr. fresh bread crumbs (not from stale bread, that is)
80 gr. parmesan or similar aged cheese
30 gr. pine nuts
5 tablespoons of olive oil
thyme, or oregano
salt, pepper.

Since this is a recipe from a Thermomix book, the method is tho grate the cheese with a few jolts of the turbo button, set it aside, and then put the butter, flour, breadcrums, half the cheese and two tbs oil, herbs salt and pepper in the machine. Give it 15 seconds on 6 until it forms clumps.
If you don´t have a processor, then cut the butter into the rest of the stuff in the traditional way, or rub it in with your fingers. It doesn´t take long.
Put this dough on top of the tomatoes in a baking dish, scatter the remaining cheese and pinenuts on top, drizzle with the rest of the oil, the herbs if you´re using them, and bake at 210ºC until golden, about 30 minutes.

I like this with a green salad, but Gabriela suggests anchovy ice cream. For that recipe you´ll have to buy the book, because it entails gelatine and whipped cream, two items that scare the hell out of me and make me think I won´t be making it any time soon.


Total laziness

I wish I could have something interesting to write about, but I´m deep in the throes of an attack of laziness. I´ve spent the better part of the afternoon reading a Barbara Cartland in the depths of the beanbag, and when that happens, it´s a sure sign that there´s nothing to be expected from me.
I am cooking stuff, but not even bothering to eat it. Chutneys, tomato sauce, storing up for the boring months. But dinner? Sandwiches, if I´m being active and interested in life. If not, fruit, or some yogurt. It´s terrible, I´m tellin´ ya.
Yesterday´s was very good, though. A perfect avocado, mashed with lemon and salt, topped with a ripe tomato and nestled inside a hot wheat tortilla. Yum.
The drawing has been picked at random. Such is my state, sorry.


Tomatoes in my quirky oven

I´m a daring baker

Well, not really. I mean, I´m not one of the select few who can make strawberry mirror cake at the drop of a hat. That is blog aristocracy, and they have my deepest respect (and a nice logo?!?)
I just mean that baking in my kitchen is an act of daring. It requires a lot of nerve to pull a cake off chez moi, and I say this with modest pride.
My oven is a museum piece, gas fired, and only heats from below, or from above, but not both. It has no temperature settings, merely an on and an off position. By some very delicate twiddling with the knob, I achieve what I like to think of as a medium oven, but which, actually, is anybody´s guess.
Since the heat is fierce from below, I never put things on a baking sheet, but rather in a pan suspended on two pieces of pottery equipment that make the heat slower to burn the bottom of cakes and biscuits.
I never really know what´s going on in there, and so usually spend the baking time hovering anxiously around, beaming it with a flashlight every now and then.
Did I mention, it has no light inside? I mean, really, you must agree, that´s pretty daring.
This summer I had occasion to potter around what may be the dream kitchen. In it, Pille had an oven thermometer. Even though her oven comes equipped with all the buttons, she still wanted to make sure of the temperatures, so there it was. She also told me her theory: "Everything bakes at 200ºC".
So I bought one and when I tried it, I realized how stunning my baking feats actually are. The oven is totally bonkers. It takes very long to heat up, and rarely, if ever, goes hotter than 200º. Once there, however, it never goes below until turned off.
So, actually, I´ve spent all my baking life proving Pille´s theory without knowing it. Makes everything so much easier. Not that I ever make complicated stuff, of course.
These tomatoes are something easy that cooks away all by itself, and is always handy to have around. They freeze well and are good with everything. When I bloged about them before , there was some imprecision in my explanation and method, which I´ll now try to redress. There are still good cheap tomatoes in the markets, go make the most of them!

Cut plum tomatoes in half and put them cut side up on a roasting tray. You won´t be able to get so many in, but they´ll cook more evenly and easily, so it´s worth it. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with herbs, salt and sugar, and put in a 200ºc oven for at least an hour. After that, they´re probably usable, but I like to leave them another hour in what I used to beleive was a slower setting but now know is also 200ºC.
Turn the oven off and leave them inside to cool. By then the skins will peel off easily, which is recommended before storing. You´ll be glad you did it.
If the toms were very juicy, make the world´s best possible tomato juice with lemon and worcestershire sauce.
(The colage is a page of my kitchen sketchbook. Notice the flahslight).


Flying frills to Marseilles

In The tummy trilogy, Calvin Trillin writes about spending the 35 dollars he saves on a "no frills" ticket to Florida on a luxurious and definitely frilly picnic. He makes a very good point.
Before, I used to love airline meals. And not because of the food, not at all, but because of the tray. All the little boxes and envelopes and tiny cartons and mysterious foamy tastless stuff in them. Fascinating.
Now that they no longer hand out trays, but sell the same foamy stuff at ridiculous prices, I usually pack a picnic. I always seem to fly at or around mealtimes, and airports are uniformly dismal and expensive, and full of idiot calories. Somehow I seem to think that food eaten while travelling doesn´t count, so everything´s allowed, even unto chocolate at odd hours. But still, I prefer to fill up with intelligent calories, that is, from food that tastes good.
A plane picnic must be small, as you don´t want to be full, but merely to ward off hunger until you come to good food. You don´t want to snaffle a desperate bag of crisps at the car rental counter and have it spoil your first local meal. So I´m taking this little metal tiffin box with some sweet little claudia plums, a couple of wedges of Galician cheese I´ve recently been given by a generous friend, and two raisin oatmeal cookies, baked by yours truly to crispy-chewy perfection (I´m not being vain, just surprised).
J will meet me at Marseilles, and tomorrow we drive to Montpellier to see the Tonga-Samoa match. It´s not so much about the rubgy as about the fact that Tonga will be so close. All those who thought my devotion to the Island Kingdom was a fad or a conversation ploy, think again. I have a big flag, and mean to make noise in the stands.
Also, a couple of days in the south of France never hurt anybody, I hope.


Some reviews

I´m far too taken up with my new cookbooks, and this cuts into my blogging time. In an ideal world, I wouldn´t have to work, go to the bank or buy washing up powder, but what will you. All I can say is:
I´m having scattered rice for dinner. I wish my husband were making it for me, but we can´t all be as lucky as S.
Also, quick reviews of the latest stuff:
Cocinar en casa con Ferrán Adrià y Caprabo, which came highly recommended, sucks. Don´t buy it. Spanish books are hardly ever worth it, being written in the same sort of literary spirit as Ikea instruction manuals. This one is worse than usual; it looks like they spent so much money getting FA to endorse it that there was nothing left over for copywriters, photographers or graphic designers.

How to cook the perfect...by Marcus Wareing. I was put off by the title. Perfection, moi? You gotta be kidding me. But actually, it´s not about finicky restaurant-style overachieving, but just chock-full of good tips. When I saw it in Fnac I opened it idly, and saw a trick for cooling gazpacho quicly: a freezer bag full of ice-cubes. Genius. I couldn´t resist it.

And last, but certainly first, Nigella express. I´m loving it. But don´t expect calm unbiasedness from me. I adore Nigella, think she´s the bee´s knees, and hope that some day she´ll be given the Nobel prize for literature.
As this one comes with some nifty retro art-deco-ish pink graphics, I was won over literally before opening it.
It´s not better than How to eat, and HTBADG, but then again, nothing could ever be. Lots of pictures, though, and plenty of bookmarks already.

The drawing makes little sense here, but I like it, and since I´ll be talking about rugby in the next post, it´ll serve as a little warm-up.


Too many cookbooks and a chocolate mousse

My cookbook habit has lately spiralled out of control. I´m unrestrained enough as it is when it comes to normal books, but with those at least there´s a reason. You read them from cover to cover, and that´s it. You don´t say "Here´s Kavalier and Klay, marvelous novel, try page 457, you´ll love it".
But how can you ever finish a cookbook? I firmly beleive that with four or five you could cook until the end of your days, but I have more than seventy. And still, I crave the smell of fresh ink every now and then. Preferably now.
I just love them. They´re ideal dip-into literature, relaxing and exciting at the same time, absorbing but allowing one to drift off in a reverie. The chattier sort, like Nigella´s, or the ones full of fascinating snippets of history and customs, like Claudia Roden´s, I actually read like novels. And even though they pile up all over my flat, I go on buying and ordering more, as if I didn´t have dozens of recipes for roast chicken already, because there´s always something you´ll end up using.
I often wonder, what makes a book worth your while? A high percentage of recipes you might use? Two or three you love? One that´s so good that you´ve actually memorized?
My copy of How to Eat is falling apart, and there are only two or three recipes that I´d never ever make from there. It was the first big cookbook I bought when I moved out of my parents´ house, and has shaped my whole kitchen outlook. Definitely wort it.
Then again, though I haven´t cooked a single recipe from it, Jake Tilson´s Twelve kitchens has altered my whole graphics-in-the-kitchen deportment - worth every penny.

When it comes to cooking, I don´t even have that much mentioned problem of having so many recipes to try out I only do each once. I´m actually pretty faithful to the tried and tested favourites, and if I love something once, it´s instantly enshrined as my official version. So that I mostly cook from my old books, somehow, which makes the habit more absurd. O well. It could be worse, I guess.

For another incurable addiction, here´s a recipe for chocolate mousse from the first cookbook I ever bought, aged fifteen; Chocolate, by Jill Norman.
I have never even tried any other. Why would I?, this is flawless. No butter, no oil, no sugar except the one in the chocolate make it dark and intense, just how I like it; worth the cover price, and more.

Chocolate Mousse
125 gr. darkest chocolate
4 eggs, sepparated
Melt the chocolate . I like to give it a minute in a medium microwave, and when some is melted and some is not, stir it so the rest melts. That way it´s cool quickly, and we go to step two, mix it with the yolks.
Now beat the whites til stiff ( I add a pinch of non-regulation sugar here, it makes them set better).
Fold into the chocolate carefully, without knocking air out. Pour into glasses or ramekins and chill for 12 hours.


Frozen berries

September is a wonderful month for fruit. Peaches and nectarines and plums are still at their glowing best, and the promise of sour oranges is just around the corner.
But I still keep a package of frozen berries in the freezer. A small handful transforms a bowl of dissappointing melon into something quite different. They add a lot of colour to stewed fruit compotes, fruit tarts and crumbles.
And when you come back, tired and unhappy from the airport, knowing full well that there´s nothing fresh in the house, they can turn your mood around.
Scattered over yogurt and drizzled with honey, then left to thaw, they become a wonderful combo, more than the sum of its parts. And so beautiful. Just to see the deep red and inky blue berries leave gorgeous pink swirls in the yogurt is uplifting. And it tastes so good.
I even fear it may be quite healthy, though of course this is not an aspect I like to think about, as it tends to tinge the whole enterprise with worthiness, and that would never do.
If you suspect that you´re thinking along those lines, crumble some oatmeal cookies in the mixture inmediately.


Le five o´clock

You know that thing Holly Golightly has with Tiffany´s, the feeling that nothing bad can happen to you there? I get that when confronted with an English afternoon tea.
Everything evaporates when they place that little silver tower before me, troubles fade before the delicious Christmas-morning indecision: where to start?
(The answer has to be the scone, of course, while it´s still hot and able to melt the clotted cream a little.)
To my mind, it´s one of the most sophisticated food creations around. A tasting menu, if you will, going through a whole gamut of different tastes and textures, and with the added bonus of no irritating waiters telling you "Chef suggests you start with the rice pudding, take a bite of the biltong tempura, and chase with the roast-watermelon bloody mary".
The UK seems like a crazily foodie place, all about Gordon Ramsay´s loss of a Michelin star, Nigella´s new program, or the launch of yet another line of Thai-prawn-bresaola crisps. But I spent the best possible hour in the very bourgeois and old-fashioned confines of Bettys Tea Rooms in Harrogate, nibbling on the little cakes to make them last.
You can take your Michelin stars and put them with your Tiffany´s diamonds, I´ll be perfectly happy with my cucumber sandwiches. Very cheap date, moi.