We´re packing up to leave for the south of Spain until after reyes. I wish you all a very fun evening of the 31st, a hangover free 1st and all the best for 2010.


Winter Caprese

I know, I know. Oximoron, right?
It´s just that after eating so much rich food every day I need a rest. The tons of smoked salmon and stuffed meat and roast potatoes and caramelized onions and the chocolate and polvorones, they´re great, but need some balance.
And since I found my favourite cherry tomatoes, pear cherry tomatoes from Pascual, in Murcia, practically given away at a Chinese grocer´s the other day, I simply had to do this.
It makes for a perfect dinner for two. A bag of fresh mozzarella, the tomatoes, sauteed, topped with either the last of some home made frozen pesto or a sprinkling of dry oregano.
Toast bread, or a few flour tortillas and you´re laughing.


Top 9 of 2009

I love a good end of the year best of list, so here is one: best things I have learnt to cook this year.

1- Bread. Tips that have meant I bake every week. One, that as long as I have a packet of gluten in the cupboard I am free of the whims of bakers who may or may not sell me strong bread flour. Two, that dough can sit around in the fridge happily for days, and be pulled off to make a small bun or a flatbread in a few minutes. Three, that this method works beautifully and can be taken in many directions, and makes for a fast, easy way to avoid turning on the oven or having leftover pizza luring you into the kitchen for dangerous snacking.

2- Korean pancakes. Wonderful stuff, the sort of thing to be knocked up for a quick dinner for two or a starter for a bigger dinner.

3- Brownies- I didn´t know that all you need for a hard, crusty top is to beat the hell out of the eggs, which will form a sort of meringue on top. Also, that you can bake a few spoonfuls of the batter and so have a quick chocolate hit in no time.

4- Yogurt. Easy to make, much better than any store bought stuff and quite fascinating, in a science project kind of way.

5. Poached fruit- Sally Schneider´s trick: poach it in white wine sweetened with honey and aromatized with cinnamon or vanilla. Right now I´m on a wintry kick of dried apricots, prunes, and eating apples.

6- Stock- I´ve always tried to have some on hand, but since my baby eats real food, I couldn´t be without it. Throw some frozen chicken stock, a couple of florets of broccoli cut really small and a handful of pastina, and while Pía has her bath, her dinner cooks.

7- Peanut butter- an unsual ingredient in Spain, but one I´m learing to love. It can stand in for tahini in a batch of hummus (ok purists, leave me alone, it really can) and give oomph to one of my favourite second-breakfast treats: a flour tortilla smeared with a teaspoonful of peanut butter, filled with poached fruit and lightly warmed/toasted in a pan. Yogurt also very good here.

8- Knife skills.Learn how to keep your knives sharp, and it´s a world of difference. If you can chop quickly prep time is whittled away to nothing, and so are cooking times.

9- Cooking makes me happy- I used to have tons of time to lounge around in the kitchen. Now I have less, what with a job and a baby who has learnt to open drawers and bang doors, and is only weeks away from lighting matches, I dare say. But I still cook all I can, and any five minutes snatched to make a batch of dough, or throw some bones into a pot, or mix a jar of dressing to have on hand in the fridge are relaxing and make me feel in control (as if!).

If only shopping were so easy and adaptable...


Asparagus soup

It´s a previously published recipe, and you can find it here, but I feel it is very appropriate now. Like every year, tins and jars of asparagus are flooding the shelves of shops, and turning up in every single Christmas gift basket, so you might welcome some ideas.
Of course if the asparagus are the real thing and come from Navarra or La Rioja and are the thick, good ones, just have them with mayonaise or vinaigrette, please. But upstarts from China or Peru masquerading under labels that look charmingly rustic and Spanish, they are perfect candidates for a quick warming soup.


Big cuts

Today is a holiday, and we´re struggling with a 6 kg front leg of pork (paletilla) that´s been in the oven for three hours already. It´s a test run for a pre-Christmas dinner we´ll have on the 20th. I´m too selfish to want to eat this amazing stuffed bird four days before the day, and then again, after having waited all year, so I´ve convinced my mother to let me try this.
Let me tell you, it´s alarming to manouver around a cut of meat that looks so utterly huge, but I have high hopes for this one.
The inspiration for the big one comes from this article. In the meantime, a reminder of a less unwieldy piece of meat, slow roast pork shoulder.


Empanada gallega

Empanada gallega is a pie from Galicia. It has a top and bottom crust and traditionally it´s a vehicle for leftovers; any bits of meat or small pile of seafood can become a gorgeous pie with some dough and a lot of slippery slow-cooked onions.

Being one of those traditional homely dishes, there are as many versions as there are grandmothers. The dough can be yeasted, use baking powder, or nothing. You can use the oil of the sofrito in it, or not. Liquids for the dough can be orange juice, white wine, beer, or milk. Strong words are sometimes exchanged on the subject of putting tomatoes inside. And so on.

As for the filling, anything goes, but make sure you use more onions than seem reasonable. It´s all about the onions, really. And my mother´s trick: a couple of hefty spoonfuls of sugar. Classic combinations are tomato sauce and tuna or sardines(from a can); peppers and onions with pork (pimentón optional); onions, salt cod and raisins; squid in its own ink sauce; peppers and onions with any shellfish or any of the more esoteric tins manufactured in Galicia.

I have been trying several versions, based on the instructions of several of my empanada instructors, and at last have decided on this. It´s an adaptation for the Thermomix, but is easily done by hand, and responds well to tweaking to suit what there is in the pantry. Although it seems to be a big production at fiest sight, like most things it comes down to experience: once you´ve made it a few times you realize that it´s easy, and impressive.

The filling:

The first thing you have to do is sautee a lot of onions and peppers, slowly. This takes the longest, but isn´t hard, as you know. However, if you´re in a hurry and need to get the pie off the ground quickly, a tin of Hida fried onions and a bottle of piquillo peppers, or a tin of Hida pisto will be great. I won´t tell anyone, just take out the trash before the guests arrive.

Mix this with the tinned seafood or meat and let it cool a little.

The dough (enough for a pie for 4/6. If you want a big one that takes up the whole oven tray, make two batches in the Th or a double batch by hand)

You need 80 grams of oil and 3 tablespoons of another fat. The oil can be from the tins of fish you´re using, or it can be fresh olive oil. The fat can be butter, lard, or bacon fat. Mix these with 80 ml of white wine, and heat them a little so the fat melts. In the Th. this is 50ºC 1 minute speed 1.

Now add approximately 450 grams of all purpose flour. You may also want to use yeast, in which case 1 sachet is what you want, plus a good spoonful of salt. I don´t bother with the yeast any more, and it cuts down on waiting time not to.

Either mix in speed 6 for 20 seconds until it forms a ball and then give it 2 minutes of kneading speed in the Th, or do it by hand. You want a dough that is smooth and soft and warm, very nice to the touch. As ever with dough, you might have to add a bit more liquid or more flour to get where you want.

Give it a rest while you preheat the oven to 200ºC. This usually coincides with the onions finishing cooking.

While they cool a little, divide the dough in two. Make a big rectangle, stretching the dough as thin as you can, and spread the filling evenly. Roll out the other half of the dough, cover the bottom crust with it, and them crimp the filling shut. Use the stray cuts to make decorations, make a few cuts to let the steam escape, and brush with beaten egg.

(Here´s a post with step by step photos. That pie is nothing like mine, but illustrates well the point I make about there being no two alike.)

Bake for about half an hour, until golden all over.

Do not, EVER, serve this piping hot. Warm is best, cold second best. Leftovers possibly best of all, and if you take it to a picnic you will receive ovations.