Washing up

I don´t really like washing up. Some people do, or at least they say they do.
I don´t, and I think the only downside to loving cooking is the surplus amount of washing up it entails.
You see, we don´t have a dishwasher (gasp!). My kitchen looks so sweet as it is, and I´d have to redo it entirely to fit one, losing all its Amélie charm. So I´ve convinced myself that we don´t really need a big clunky machine.
Today I was actually glad not to have it. I´d been having a rough morning, grappling with the impossible request to produce "edgy" drawings based on Stravisnky, and with a language textbook. By noon I was feeling murderous, and would gladly have shouted at Igor, had he been alive and available, or at the editors of the textbook, had I forgotten that I have a mortage to pay.
Who took the brunt of my rage? The pots and pans. Bless ´em.


First batch of soup

I made my first batch of proper wintry soup yesterday.
Monday isn´t a good market day, but I went in for some butter, and was inmediately sidetracked into buying carrots. And once there, why not go for the celery, cabbage and pumpkin? They´re not the sort of thing to suffer from being bought on a Monday.
And I happened to walk by the chicken stall, and there was a special on free range thighs. Now, I cannot resist a bargain, but I´m also a price snob, so I decided these legs were probably best used in a pot of stock.
So there I was, happy as anything, not minding at all that it was dark by six thirty. The windows on my kithen were steamed from all the chickeny vapours, and I was assured of a light and sustaining dinner.
And many more.
This soup started with onions, celery and carrot, simmered in olive oil. To which a potato was added, diced small, and some squashed, diced bigger. A handful of pre-soaked barley was tossed in, a bay leaf, Marigold bouillon powder, and a litre of water.
After half an hour, more water and some finely shredded cabbage, which simmered for fifteen minutes.
To serve, I nicked a bit of chicken from the stockpot, added a tiny shot of PX sherry, and it was a perfectly wonderful dinner, soft and unexciting but just what I wanted.
There´s a lot left, and it will have to be born again if I´m not to be bored. One option is a ladleful of the proper chicken stock. But the consomé is so good on its own that I tend to save it for just that.
So it´ll probably be some cheat´s stock and a bit of frozen spinach, with some lemon juice at the end.
Or a chunkier version, roast tomatoes from my freezer, with some chickpeas and pasta.
The list of variations is endless, but by then this batch will be finished, and another, different one, started, and so on, like this, until May, when soup season will be over, and gazpacho season starting over.


New books andnoodle soups

It´s arrived! Finally, at last, it´s a bit chilly and I can feel entirely excused for spending whole evenings without leaving the sofa, tucked inside a rug and even, sohelpme, watching "Friends".
After a few weeks of reading Andrea Nguyen´s "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen" , I´ve ventured into making some bastardized versions of her soups, light and savoury and full of herbs. Perfect for this weather.
And a completely shameless peg on which to hang the Weekend Herb blogging tag. This week Pille´s host, and I didn´t want to miss out.
Your best bet for Vietnamese recipes and tips are in Andrea´s own blog, Viet World Kitchen .
Chock-a-block with herbs, I promise.


Showcasing pimentón

Recently San San from Singapore and I have started something of an impromtu spice-route. She sent me sachets of bak kut teh and instructions for making a lovely soup of long-simmered por ribs. I sent a tin of pimentón, semi-sweet, from La Vera, but, no instructions. This is remiss of me, but the thing is, I don´t use pimentón all that much. A bit of it goes into my espinacas con garbanzos, sometimes. Cocarois have a dose, too, and a dusting on hummus is lovely. But you won´t see me scattering it happy go luckily around, on migas, poached eggs, soups or salmorejos. And never, ever, in marinades. The classic Spanish adobo of oil, garlic and pimentón, delicious as it is, tends to make all meats into a sort of ersatz chorizo, I think. For fish, with some lemon thrown in, maybe. In fact, yes please, but only south of Despeñaperros.

That said, I do like its smoky depth, and the Altamira rust colour it makes on boiled potatoes that have been drizzled with oil. This mixture is usually seen on plates of pulpo a la gallega.
But pulpo is bar food, really, to be eaten with toothpicks you throw on the floor, with lots of beers and preferrably some salty sea breeze disarranging perfect coiffures (although there are plenty of Galician bars in Madrid, too).

So what I do at home is arrange the potatoes, cut in chunks (cachelos) and then boiled. Then some short, cut hand slices of boiled ham or lacón. Then the drizzle of good oil, and at last a sprinkling of pimentón. It lifts the whole from the bland to the mildly exciting. And it´s quick, easy, homely and, for all its robustness, actually quite light.


What they ate at the wedding of the year

Here´s a very very Spanish vignette.
Last Saturday one of the most famous bullfighters got married in a big splash wedding that was the social event of the year. Everyone was there, my dear, including my parents. In the excitement of table hopping and celebrity spotting, my mother forgot to bring me the menu, so it´s paraphrased. But still and all, a foodie scoop of sorts, and here it is, in case you ever have to entertain a to a crowd of toreros, flamenco dancers and it girls.

Cream of escalibada soup.

Creamy shrimp rice (arroz caldoso, a Jerez specialty).

Quails with truffles, chestnuts and sauteed plums.

Three chocolate millefeuille, ice cream (mother not sure what kind) and meringues, mango coulis.


Autumnal plum tart

I´m confused. The calendar tells me it´s oficially autum, has been for some weeks, in fact. My favourite fruit stall at the market has attractively arranged piles of pumpkins and cabbages and the first oranges and clementines.
But there´s no rain. No wild west wing, no long dark afternoons, no falling leaves. They´re not even yellow. What to do?
I jumped the gun last week and made some beef stew, and it was very nice and beefy and warming, but as it was warm already, the potatoes and salad were a bigger hit.
The plum tart proved more popular. It´s definitely autumnal, but fruity and sweet and not heavy. There are still plums going around, although they´re not the luscious jammy ones of a few weeks back. So it makes more sense to cook them. Anyway, this recipe can be used with many other fruits, so don´t despise those bedraggled peaches and nectarines.
It´s a very simple and easy recipe, taken from Trish Deseine´s "Food for friends". All you do is line a tart mold with sweet shortcrust pastry ( I use the recipe from the Thermomix sect book, which gives enough for two 23 cm. bases, but please proceed with your favourite literature).
It needs no blind baking or other flim flammy stuff. While the dough rests in the fridge you stone the plums. If they are sweet and juicy you´ll eat some, and it may take you a while to set aside enough of them, but you´ll get there eventually.
As the oven heats up you´ll arrange the plum halves, cut side down. I´d tell you to do this in a nice pattern, but who am I kidding?
The plums are then dotted with butter and sprinkled with sugar (amount depending on sweetness of said plums) and you´ll know when the tart is done by the golden look of the pastry rim and the heavenly smell wafting through the house. I strongly advise leaving the kitchen door open while making this. The plums will have collapsed a little, and their juice will have made some of the pastry soggy but in a good way. Serve lukewarm with greek yogurt in this weather, or cream later on.



One of the nicest things that can happen is to get peresents by post. Especially if you weren´t expecting them.
Lately I´ve been so lucky as to be given a copy of what looks like becoming one of my favourite books, "Into the Vietnamese kitchen" and the so beautiful "Paris" by Sasek. I´ll post about these later because it´s a long story, and also, I´ve been cooking from the Viet book, so there´s much to tell.
Today, out of the blue, I received a package from Chicago with the book "Dinner party diasters" by Annaliese Soros. The flyleaf blurb begins with " what do you do when the lobsters in your lobster bake pull a crustacean Houdini and escape into the ocean?". Clearly I just had to have this book. Thanks, Edu, I owe you bigtime.
I´m off now. I have to stock up on pork ribs, and read some stuff, and catch up on some sleep too.


Al Green curry

This is not about Thai food, about which I know nothing, but a song of love to the long gone and much missed mix tape.
Don´t get me wrong, I´m not a machine smasher. I´m very glad to have Mp3s, and technical advances, and how much awsome music is only a click away. But in the flurry of new things, the ability to choose went away, I think. Mix tapes had twenty songs, and those twenty were chosen with care. Now that you can have everything, 20Mb in your phone, even, why choose?
Playlists just aren´t the same. They´re ok, they´re great, but they don´t have the love that used to go into a tape.
Yesterday I dug out an Al Green tape I´d made long ago. Ten songs, one side, was all it took me to make a beautiful chicken curry for tonight´s dinner.
The tape had been well made, and went from slow tracks that helped along meditative and tearful onion chopping, to more sprightly ones that allowed for some wooden spoon flourishing and mike-miming. It was fun.
By the time the first side rolled to its clunky end, the onions had softened, the spices had been added, the chicken more or less browned (de-pinked would be more precise) and the coconut milk and tomato sauce poured in. It just needed to simmer very very slowly for another half hour. Instead of setting a timer, I just turned the tape. See? Easy.
iPods are great, like a big pot of stock, but a mix tape is like a well-reduced, long-simmered sauce.


Acquired tastes


blue cheese


porridge (and oats in general)


membrillo (quince paste. very sweet)

mojama (dried tuna. very salty)

These are some things I didn´t use to like very much, or not at all, and that I now love. If asked, I´ll probably say that there´s nothing I don´t like. Altough I don´t much like cilantro, I´ll eat it. And I don´t love chewy textured things like tripe, but I´ll very happily dunk any amount of bread into the sauce of a plate of callos.
I think it´s more fun to like everything, and try everything. Even if what happens is a battle of wills with a waiter at some foreign restaurant, and that mettle-rising "You won´t like it". You´re brought a plate of glutinous soy (didn´t like) or duck´s feet (ditto). And you lose face, but at least you´ve tried.
I used to have rules, like "no ice cream and sorbet together". But I found out that J will routinely ask for chocolate and lemon, together. So now I think it´s rather charming, in a slightly childish, can´t-choose way. Even do it myself, sometimes, so add to the list

ice cream next to sorbet

Basically, now I think there are no rules and no set-in-stone dislikes. As long as it´s well cooked, that is. I´d much rather eat snake, if it´s lovingly and well prepared and I´m in the Mekong delta and carried away by the whole daredevil experience, than a packaged-ready-frozen and then badly fried croqueta.

There, that´s my philosophical input for Monday morning.


Cocarrois, the recipe

Ok my ladies, here goes.
These cocarrois are one of my all-time most favourite things. We first had them in Mallorca, where the cook of the house we were staying at, Jerónima, aka Jeroni, introduced us to the mouthwatering island cuisine; tumbet, pa amb oli, cocas with various toppings, and these babies, which are a pastie filled with various vegetables. They go raw into the pastry, and cook inside, which makes it meld beautifully but not overcook.
She very kindly gave us the recipe, and we brought it back home, where it´s been a staple ever since. Cocarrois make the perfect picnic fare, but usually we´d have them as a cold lunch or dinner, alongside a bowl of gazpacho.
Because they´re filled with cabbage and cauliflower, in the beginning my father and sisters refused to touch them. Which meant that Escolástica, my mother and I had them all to ourselves, and I could be sure of finding one nestling in the oven that I could take to school the next day. Sadly, they´ve all caught on to the fact that they are irresistible, and of course J loves them, so nowdays it´s a sad-to-see scramble at the table.
The only quibble I have with Levantine cuisine is the salt in the dough thing. They don´t put salt in breads or pastries, and this baffles me profoundly. I don´t see why ever not, and I miss it, so even though I´ll give you the real thing as I heard it, know that I salt the dough, and always will. Silly not to. Authenticity is all very well, but there´s a limit.
So. This quantity makes about 12 or 14 pasties. If you have leftover filling, it makes a surprisingly good salad, a sort of Mediterranean coleslaw.

For the dough

1 cup olive oil
1 cup water
1 tablespoonful of lard (you can use butter, we often do, but lard is the real thing and makes them flakier)
As much flour as it needs.
This is the sort of instruction that drives me nuts, but I´m sure you are all very experienced bakers and will know when the thing has come together. It´s approximately 700 gr., and the dough should be slightly sticky but definitely compact.
Let it rest while you make the filling with:

half a cauliflower
half a white cabbage
1 mild onion ( I use spring onion)
2 ripe tomatoes , deseeded and diced (you don´t want them to make everything waterlogged)
Chop everything very finely. Mandoline or processor is best for the cauliflower and the cabbage. Dress it with olive oil, black pepper, salt and pimentón, the sweet kind. Go easy on it, you don´t want it to taste like chorizo, just to give it a hint.
Heat up the oven to 200 or so.
Take the dough and pull of pieces the size of a fattish golf ball. Roll them, then flatten them til they´re 12 cms in diameter.
Lay a couple of spoonfuls of the filling and dot with four raisins, then close them to make a shape like the drawing.
Bake them for 30 or 40, until golden. Try to resist them, they´re best at room temperature, not hot.
I like them even better the next day, when they´ve lost their crispness but the flavours have had time to settle in. And may Majorcans forgive me, I always slather them with chutney.


Cocarrois (almost)

This is a teaser post. Tomorrow I will make a better one, with a new drawing, and I´ll write down the recipe for cocarrois, those beautiful little Majorcan vegetable pasties.
What you see now is a page from my 1994 cooking sketchbook.
Anyone who doesn´t want to wait can click on the image to make it larger, and brave the Spanish language, my not-so-decipherable writing, and the baffling lack of instructions.
Even though tomorrow is a national holiday, I´ll be up early, when the military parade planes wake me as they zoom overhead, so it won´t be long until the proper recipe is up. And when it is, you´ll love me all the more.


Fall picnics

I´ve haven´t been near the computer for days. José has been visiting, so it was an occasion for an unofficial holiday.
And a picnic.
After the hot summer, it´s picnic season again. It´s still a little early, because everything is bone dry and prickly, with every kind of thistle and thorn yellow and ready to sting the minute you sit down to eat your sandwiches.
But we have a good blanket, and the flies and nasty bugs seem to have succumbed to last week´s rains, so I consider the season has begun.
The picnic was simple, just cheese and bread and plums, with a bottle of cold beer we bought in the village, and some walnuts we picked from the trees by the old mill.
All very nice and bucolic, and we managed to keep our crazy dogs from coating the cheese with scattered earth, which is quite a feat.


Grilled cheese sandwich

The article in yesterday´s New York Times was a lot of fun. It may have been that which made have grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. Or maybe it was the sight of three small mishappen abandoned lumps of cheese in my fridge, and the knowledge that there was some seriously good bread nestling in the freezer.

Out came the panini grill. This is a gadget I try to use as little as possible, for obvious reasons. But every now and then, when it´s raining and you´ve had a long day, why not?

The beauty of these sandwiches is that bread and cheese are a blank canvas for anything you might think of. The versatility is infinite, as long as the contents of your fridge are.

Mine were not too good, but not too bad. I settled for the nearly defunct bottle of caramelized onion chutney, dolloped on the sliced cheese. Once the sandwiches were out, I prised them open, burning my fingers, of course (as the article says, sweetest pain) and put in a layer of thinly sliced plum tomato.

That way I had crispy bread, gooey cheese, a sweet-sour kick from the chutney, and freshness and zing from the tomato. I don´t butter cheese sandwiches. It´s enough for me to see them oozing fat from the cheese when they come out of the grill, thankyouverymuch.


My personal opinions

I got my first insulting comment message yesteday. How perfectly thrilling, a baptism of fire! Now I really feel I can call myself a blogger.
A reader took exception to my saying that Spanish cookbooks are almost never worth buying, being written with the literary flair of an Ikea manual.
Please believe me, I didn´t mean to insult Ikea manuals.

Aside from the fact that I did use the word almost, let me explain. I just mean that I, personally, me, myself, don´t think we can thump our collective chests in pride at the state of cookbook publishing in this country.
Here cookbooks have always been seen as reference books. Something to have in the kitchen, under the sewing basket and an empty jam jar containing a button, some twine, a couple of nails and a buy1get1free coupon from the supermarket.
A book you turn to when you want to cook bacalao al pil-pil, or be reminded of the quantities for making pound cake.
They never have a little text above the recipe explaining what it is and what it´s good with. So if you know what pil-pil is, good for you. And if you don´t, you´ll have to read the recipe through and try to imagine what it is. This sounds like a lot of hard work.
Also, and this really does drive me up the wall, the indexes are pathetic. If you´re looking for something, you have to remember the exact name, or you´ll never find it. Not for us the kind of comprehensive cross-indexing, all the chocolate recipes being listed under chocolate, as well as under their given names.
As for the look, well, it´s utilitarian, for the most part. When there are photographs, they´re not very good, or even, as in José Andrés´s latest book, taken directly from a TV program. Nice look, don´t you think, each picture with a 625 line fuzz?
Not all books are like that, of course not, but many are. In my opinion (all mine), the best are those El País Aguilar makes. Yes, I´ve illustrated a couple, but don´t let that fool you, I illustrate a lot of stuff I wouldn´t touch with a ten foot pole.
Rosa Tovar´s Las claves de la cocina, for example, is excellent, and has a lot of additional information to each recipe. But it´s contained in blurbs, which is annoying. And the book is organized according to the pots or pans in which dishes are made. You can imagine that without a proper index, it can be a little trying.
Also, these are paperbacks, tall, narrow and very heavy. They can´t be made to lie flat on a counter while you´re cooking. Cutting boards and pickle jars have to be balanced on top to keep them open, which results in a cluttered working space.
Furthermore, they´re prized at 21€ and over. So that I can understand why someone might choose a glossy edition of Donna Hay in translation over them. Cuts of meat are different, you probably won´t find many ingredients, and not everyone has measuring cups, but at least you´re assured of a book that´s beautiful to look at and is user-friendly.
For my money (mine, all mine, hard-earned by yours truly) the best cookbooks are made in England and the USA. Some people say that´s because people there can´t cook, and need all the instruction they can get.
If they´re happy with that, well, let them, who cares? As long as I can complement my trusty, boring, dependable 1080 recetas de cocina with the Moro cookbooks, I´m very happy too.


Paris steak frites

This has been a whirlwind trip, so I haven´t been able to do the things I had on my list. La grand Epicérie, G.Detou, and banh mi sandwiches will have to wait for the next time.
But we went to L´entrecote.
This is where I say, very offhand, "every time I´m in Paris
I go to L´entrecote". Which would be true, technically. But this is only the second time I´ve been in Paris, so I don´t think it counts. Still, it´s so great, I´ll probably return, so I guess it´s true, in the end.
Anyway, this place was recommended by a savvy friend, who just told me the name and that it was on the street off St. Germain where the Café Flore is. Nice geography, and all the info you need to find it.
It´s a bistro, just the kind of place you imagine you´ll go to when in Paris. It´s crowded and noisy and friendly, woodpanelled and upholstered in red velvet, with little tables nestling together and the odd potted palm or two. And just the place to take someone like my father, who redefines the term "meat and potatoes man".
The beauty of it is that once you´re in, you are free of the weighty responsability of choice. The thing to eat is steak frites, and that´s all. After a morning spent walking in a daze, trying to choose what monument to see next, you really don´t want to have to grapple with a menu. So you just tell the nice brisk waitress "I´ll have the menu".
First, to get you in the mood, they bring a salad of green leaves and walnuts, dressed in a hot mustard dressing.
Once this is cleared away, you´re brought your steak, as you asked it, and a golden mound of frites, thin and crispy. Over the meat some creamy greenish tarragon sauce is spooned. Silence descends, as the flavour starts hitting you, and a slow but sure elevation to heaven begins.
The real beauty comes afterwards. When your plate is cleaned, thewaitress suddenly arrives with a serving dish on which rests more steak. And when that is on your plate, a vision of paradise arrives in the shape of a second serving dish, piled high with more frittes. Be still my heart. This is seriously wonderful, comfort food with a chic French twist, and just what you need to sustain you through a long afternoon of sightseeing.
And if that were not all, it´s very close to Ladurée. Talk about my kind of town.