May 27, 2010
This week is special meal Ibiza edition. I can sit at the very edge of the garden and steal internet from across the way, while looking out over a rocky cove and lazily crashing waves. Not that I´m showing off.
Dinner last night was thanks to María. Beautiful whole sea bass or lubina, cleaned of guts and such and laid over a bed of peeled thinly sliced potatoes, tomatoes, green peppers and onions (not for me). Roasted whole in the somewhat iffy oven for about 35-40 minutes and covered with slices of lemons and crushed garlic. According to María, the objective is for the potatoes to cook through without the garlic burning too much, but I confess that the crunchy brown garlic goodness was so darn delicious. Easy and tasty, particularly when accompanied by an almost full moon and soft wave soundtrack.
May 18, 2010
BEFORE and AFTER
This weekend, Madrid's emblematic boulevard Gran Vía celebrated its 100 year anniversary. Not actually on the real anniversary, this celebration kind of seemed like a silly waste of money, but anyway. I love Gran Vía, it is a beautiful street and deserves every bit of recognition that we give it, but whoever had the genius idea of carpeting the entire street in blue carpeting (ahem, Telefonica) and then encouraging thousands of people to trample on it all night long, obviously doesn't understand the true volume of the nation's addiction to eating PIPAS (sunflower seeds)! Pipas are obviously a national pastime. Go to a futbol match and your feet will be swimming in the shells long before halftime. In a bar, the park, on a train...but you just can't grasp the quantity until you see these shells highlighted against a ridiculously blue carpet that covers Madrid's main thoroughfare - uniformly, perfectly spaced out EVERYWHERE - and this was at the beginning of the night's activities.
According to the program issued by Madrid's city hall, this massive carpet is going to be reused for the White Night event in September. Hope they get an army of squirrels in to clean it first.
May 16, 2010
This is my current breakfast of choice. I love it so much that I couldn't wait until after the photo to take a bite. I assume that it is a great way to start the day because it more or less keeps me going until lunch which isn't until 2 or 3 in the afternoon here. Our next door neighbors gave us a whole bag of avocados from the trees around their house, which I believe is near Granada. I would put avocado on my list of top five favorite foods in the world - as in raw materials. Here, the avocado is sliced or smushed directly onto the toasted bread and then sprinkled with rock salt, which I can find a use for on just about anything. The fried egg makes me think of my mom, although on a side note, egg yolks are a different color here than they are in the States. In Spain they are a deeper more golden-orange yellow, and in the USA much paler and more lemon colored. Oh, and by the way, I recently read somewhere that the thing about keeping the seed in the avocado so that it doesn't turn brown is totally bunk. Just cover it tightly with plastic and/or a bit of lemon juice. Or just eat the whole thing in one sitting. For other uses for that leftover piece of avocado, please see the Aquodka post from July 2007 (where does the time go?).
We're not eating blue fin tuna, or is it yellow fin? Ack! I don't remember, but I do know that we're not eating it because of the overfishing (sobre pesca in Spanish, overfishing just sounds weird) issue and the fact that I would actually prefer that this majestic fish survive. I haven't made my favorite tuna tataki with a black toasted sesame seed and rock salt crust (my brother's recipe) in at least two years, and so when I waltzed into Carrefour of all places early last Saturday morning and saw the amazing fish selection, and more specifically the glistening tuna steaks at 2,50 euros each, I couldn't resist - nay, something came over me. I didn't have sesame seeds at home, so ended up making the crust with crushed dry red pepper corns and rock salt. Basically, just rinse the fish in cold water, dip in the mixture of crushed pepper or sesame and sal gorda, and then sear on each side. Make sure that the pan is hot, and use a drop of either olive oil or sesame oil. Hold for about 1-3 minutes on each side (depending on how raw you like your tataki and how thick it is), and if you are unsure, there is nothing shameful about cutting into it and checking. When it's finished, slice the tuna into 1 cm slices and throw in the fridge for a few minutes to chill, or you can eat warm, whatever floats your boat. In any case, the inside should be raw and cool. My brother drizzles the tuna with spicy sesame oil before serving, and sprinkles it with thinly diced scallions, which I am allergic to. I'd like to think that he wouldn't do that if I were eating over.
This time I made a little dipping sauce from equal parts soy sauce and lime juice, about a teaspoon of sugar and some sliced fresh ginger, and served with steamed asparagus and roasted sweet potato.
It's heaven, but please don't make this dish. Just think of those poor tuna.
May 6, 2010
This lunch cracked me up because it looked like something straight out of the 1960´s; Leave it to Beaver, but in color. I think it must be the peas; they always give a meal that vintage appeal. Really the only unique component of this meal were the peas, believe it or not, as fresh peas are not very common in Spain and cost an arm and a leg in the market. Feeling nostalgic for the snap peas from my mom’s garden, I plunked down close to 5 Euros for a small tray of already shelled peas and I have to say that they were such a disappointment, with none of the sweet summery pea flavor that I was remembering. Anyway, stuck with these disappointing peas, I boiled them for just a second with a pinch of salt and then threw them in a sauté pan with a little olive oil, diced garlic and the leftover portabella mushrooms from yesterday’s dinner. I added a splash of a bottle of light white wine (un-oaked Chardonnay from Navarra) that had been open for a couple of days and some salt and pepper.
Then, I made a space in the vegetables and plunked my chicken breast down in the middle, put a top on the whole thing, and let it cook for about 10 minutes until the chicken breast was cooked through (not pink, not transparent shiny). This was a mistake. What I should have done was not be so lazy and cut the raw chicken into bite-sized pieces before sautéing it. It would have cooked uniformly and stayed juicy and delicious. What I found instead was that the whole thick breast was chewy and overcooked just about everywhere but the inside (which took forever to cook), and none of it had absorbed any of the flavors of the wine, garlic, etc. As you can see in the photo, I could barely cut the thing and had to resort to ripping it apart like a savage beast just to get my fork in it. Luckily, the mushroom mixture tasted wonderful – sweet peas or no – and I had roasted some slices of sweet potato (batata in Spanish) in the oven with a little bit of sea salt and olive oil, which is always absolutely perfect. Just peel, slice, and lightly coat with olive oil in a glass or metal dish. Let roast on whatever temperature suits for about 20-30 min. I was in a hurry, so I turned the oven way up to 200 C (around 430 F), but had to keep a close eye on them so they didn’t burn. 170 C would have been more appropriate.
And voila! “Lunchtime, Beaver!”
May 4, 2010
I bought a beautiful magret de pato (duck magret) last night for dinner. E loves it and has been working so hard that he needed a gastronomic pick-me-up, and I like it because it gives me a valid excuse (not that I REALLY need one) to open a bottle of wine on a Sunday night. It was also on sale, and for a mere 5-6 Euros a smallish magret, about the size of a large potato, is plenty for two or three. I feel like people turn to duck as a special-occasion, restaurant type food that is really too much trouble to cook at home, when actually it really couldn’t be any easier, and can be accompanied by whatever you have on hand. I used to spend large amounts of time following this delicious, but ingredient heavy, recipe for Duck with Blackberry Sauce, except that I used raspberries and used every clean item in the kitchen to pull it off. Yesterday I just decided to wing it. There are about a million different ways to cook the duck and I usually end up doing a combination of several (sear on stove, roast in oven, etc.), but the easiest way really seems to be the following, and my duck turned out juicy and delicious.
Prepare the duck by trimming any excess fat (I use scissors) that is hanging loose off the sides. Then, cut a crosshatch pattern in the fat about half an inch apart, being careful not to cut into the meat underneath. If you do cut the meat accidentally, as I did, patch it up with some of the fat that you have trimmed off the sides. I don´t know if this helps, but it made me feel like I was a culinary genius.
Salt and pepper the whole thing and heat a pan on medium for about a minute or two and then chuck the duck on fat side down and cook on medium low for about 10-12 minutes. The fat will render (seep out into the pan) and slowly get brown and crispy, when it is nice and brown, flip it over and cook on the meat side for 3-4 minutes, depending on the thickness and how rare it is.
Take it off the heat and let it sit for a few minutes while you pour the delicious fat into a jar to use later to make homemade popcorn.
Slice the duck and serve with whatever you like. I had portabella mushrooms on hand which I sauteed with garlic and some of the fat. Duck is always good with something slightly sweet, and so I dumped a spoonful of Amaretto in the mixture and plenty of salt and pepper. Brandy, sherry, or even maple syrup would have been good too. Then I steamed some broccoli on the side so that I could feel virtuous and healthy.
May 2, 2010
So I had corn tortillas, lime and cilantro left over from last night's steak fajitas and I had bought a pork tenderloin (solomillo de cerdo) at the market the day before which I had intended for an entirely different purpose, but things happen...
On a side note, pork tenderloin is about the easiest, most delicious, and cheapest no-fail dish that you can prepare. At the market in Spain it costs about 4 euros for a pork tenderloin (in Spain they are about the size of a 350ml bottle of watter, a corncob or an old school mobile telephone sans antenna), that can feed anywhere from 3-4 people. I like to roast it, sear it, grill (pan) it, whatever I have in the fridge-it, and it always looks fancy and well-thought out.
In fact I have a fool-proof plan for any whole pork tenderloin, which I promise to get into at a later time.
In this case, leftovers in hand and pork cooking scheme adapted, I used this recipe that I found in Epicurious.com for Tacos Pastor as a guide. I had pretty much everything on hand but the pineapple, and May 1 being a holiday in Spain, I ran down to the closest convenience store and bought a can of pineapple in syrup/almibar. This turned out to be the one thing that I just couldn't get over. It would have been so much better fresh, but at the very least I rinsed the pineapple to get the sugar water off and then chopped a couple of rounds up into small pieces and tossed them into my tiny (mini-primer blender) with two cloves of garlic, a couple of Tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, some oregano, rock salt, cumin, chili powder and a few drops of some weird mixed berry antioxidant drink that I found in the fridge. I sliced the tenderloin into half-inch slices and chucked it all in a newly purchased IKEA zip lock (emphasis NOT on the lock part) bag and left it on the counter for a couple of hours.
In general, meat or fish marinates faster out of the fridge, so if you are limited on time and can't do the overnight marinate in the fridge, an hour outside is better than nothing. Of course, if however, you are planning on marinating something for several hours, it is probably better to keep it cold to prevent any kind of bacteria. It is also always better to cook any meat at room temperature, rather than cold. Take my word for it.
Anyway, marinated the pork, heated the grill pan and tortillas and then grilled the four or five remaining pineapple slices for a couple minutes each. Then, I threw the pork on, let it grill on each side (around 2-3 minutes each) and then took it off, chopped it roughly, mixed it with the grilled pineapple and scooped it onto the warm, corn tortillas. While I was waiting for the pork, I diced some tomatoes into a bowl, added a half-lime squeeze, salt, cumin, cayenne, and the leftover chopped cilantro, to later use as a salsa on top of the taco.
The pork was amazing, tender and really juicy, although not as spicy as I expected given the massive amounts of Chipotle that I added to the marinade.
In the end, the meat had an entirely different flavor than the steak the night before, but at the same time it felt really satisfying to use the leftover ingredients and create such an unique dish.
May 1, 2010
This is a good everything dish that more or less works with whatever vegetables you have on hand. I used red peppers and tomatoes, but zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus, yellow squash, fennel, carrots would all work, in addition to a number of other veggies. Really the most important things needed to turn your "fajitas" into "fajitas" and make them acceptable cargo for a couple of corn tortillas is lime and cilantro - although cumin and any chili peppers (cayenne, chipotle, Korean chili, jalapeño, Turkish smoked something that we were given as a gift, serrano) really add to the dish, and are good things to have on hand at all times anyway - dried, while they may lose some of their kick, they really last forever.
Squeeze the juice from a couple of limes into a bowl with a dollop of olive oil, couple of shakes of cumin, crushed clove or two of garlic, four finger pinch of chunky rock salt and a dash of the chili of your choice. Take your two relatively thin steaks and throw them in the mixture, either whole or already sliced into thin strips (it will marinate faster already cut if you are in a hurry). Let marinate for anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your rush. And if you have to go out and accidentally leave the steak marinating for two hours while you have a glass of wine with a friend or go to Pilates, don´t worry. It will be fine.
When you´re ready to cook, chop whatever vegetables you will be using into thin slices or strips and heat up your grill pan (I live in a 60m city apartment, this is as close to a grill as I am going to get). Take the beef out of the marinade and dry it off. When the pan is good and hot, throw on the sliced beef for a minute or two and then take it off and throw on the veg. for another minute or two. Mix the whole lot together and divide between already heated (I grill them on a pan with a drop of oil for 30 seconds on each side) corn tortillas. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro, diced tomatoes and a little crumble of fresh cheese,if you like (feta works well with this dish). Serves two or more (depending on how much beef and veg you used) and really the most difficult part in making this dish is cleaning the grill pan later.