Spanish Tapas

October 30, 2015

“A Spanish tapa bar is one of mankind’s inspired inventions . . .”
— James Michner, Miracle in Seville

Tapas bar in Seville

Tapas bar in Seville

With their late lunches (2:30 – 4:30) and very late dinners (9:30 – 11:30), how do the Spanish not faint from hunger during the day?  The answer is tapas.

“[A] tapa, a word derived from the verb tapar, which mean ‘to cover.'”
— Talia Baiocchi, from Sherry: The Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret

” . . . tapas originated . . . in the nineteenth century, when bars and taverns used to keep saucers over glasses of sherry to both keep the flies our and preserve the wine’s aroma. . . . on top of the saucer, barkeepers would generally offer a small slice of jamon, either alone or on top of a piece of bread, as a welcoming gesture.  This, as it’s told, eventually evolved into a collection of small dishes meant to be consumed in bars, with wine.”
— Talia Baiocchi, from Sherry: The Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret

Carol and I loved sharing two or three tapas and calling it a meal.  We were novices at making selections.  Even when the menus included English descriptions, the arrival of the small plates to our table was invariably a surprise.

Chicken with potatoes

Chicken with potatoes

Once, for example, we ordered chunks of chicken on a skewer for one dish, beef with mushrooms for our second, and a tapa of potatoes brava.  We did not know that each of the meat dishes would come with its own side of potatoes, so our meal was very heavy on the starch!  The potatoes were so delicious, though, braised and crusty on the outside, warm and soft on the inside.  Hard to resist.  Total cost, including two small beers: 10 euros.

After that, we tried to include at least one vegetable dish for a more balanced meal, which was a good strategy!

We ate at this Seville tapa bar twice.  We loved the artichokes tapas.

We ate at this Seville tapas bar twice. We loved the artichokes tapas.

Another time we ordered a tapa of shrimp fried in batter.  We were expecting something like a dish of popcorn shrimp.  Instead, what came to our table were four large shrimp fritters, thin pancakes fried to crispy perfection.  Delicious.

We stopped here for tapas, a quick pick-me-up

We stopped here for tapas, a quick pick-me-up

IMG_5115

Our tapa from Quimet & Quimet

Our tapa from Quimet & Quimet

“Nobody drank without eating — it would have been thought uncivilized . . .”
— Laurie Lee, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

Of course, you could not eat tapas without drinking, so if you stopped in a tapas bar for a late morning pick-me-up, you might actually find yourself drinking a small beer before noon.  (It’s been known to happen.)

Alejandro, one of the chefs on our Al Andalus train

Alejandro, one of the chefs on our Al Andalus train

We had the chance to see a tapas-making demonstration during our Andalusian train tour.  Alejandro, one of the Al Andalus chefs, made three batches of tapas, which we got to sample:  a cold tomato soup called salmorejo; a melon, tomato and cheese salad; and a pate of black olives on toast rounds.  Yum!

 

 

The Food of Spain

October 26, 2015

” . . . it cannot be denied that you get more enjoyment out of visiting a famous town if you are well housed and well fed.”
— W. Somerset Maugham, “Somerset Maugham’s ‘Spanish Journey’: Interlude at Oropera,”  Chicago Tribune, March 3, 1985

One of many meat shops in the Mercat de la Boqueria in Barcelona

One of many meat shops in the Mercat de la Boqueria in Barcelona

I returned from Spain very well fed.  Truly, the food of Spain was one of the highlights of my trip.

A ham shop in Madrid

A ham shop in Madrid

Busy slicing ham, through a shop window

Busy slicing ham, through a shop window

Ham seems to be emblematic of Spain, and it is a delight to still see so many small, independent butcher shops in the residential neighborhoods.  Many of the tapas bars displayed hams hanging from their ceilings.  We even saw ham-flavored potato chips for sale!

Ham-flavored Ruffles potato ships

Ham-flavored Ruffles potato ships

“One of the glories of Spain is her bread, which the Romans remarked upon a thousand years ago, and which is said to be so good because the corn is left to last possible moment to ripen upon the stalk.  It is the best bread I know, and its coarse, strong, springy substance epitomizes all that is admirable about Spanish simplicity.  It is rough indeed, and unrefined, but feels full of life . . .”
— Jan Morris, Spain

Spanish bread

Spanish bread

My friend Carol had forewarned me that Spain has the best bread in the world, so we both threw diets to the wind and took every opportunity to partake.  Bread was offered at every meal.  When I was in Baeza, I saw a man selling bread from the back of his van parked in the church square.  I imagine this was a regular stop, because the town women steadily approached to fill plastic bags with their purchases.

Selling bread from the back of a van in the church square, Baeza

Selling bread from the back of a van in the church square, Baeza

The bread man

The bread man

While we were on our week-long train tour with Al Andalus, all meals were provided, and we were fed very well indeed.  Lunches and dinners were served either on the train or at a fine restaurant at one of our stops.  Each lunch and dinner was a four-course meal, and the menus were predetermined — everyone was served the same dishes.  It was a relief to leave the food selection to our expert hosts; each dish was a surprise and utterly delicious.  Here is an example of one such lunch, which we ate at the parador in Ronda:

Appetizer: tomato mousse tartlet and priced bread with cheese and quince spread

Appetizer: tomato mousse tartlet and spiced bread with cheese and quince spread

First course: fish and shellfish puff pastry with mushroom sauce

First course: fish and shellfish puff pastry with mushroom sauce

Main course: beef tenderloin with cheese and potatoes

Main course: beef tenderloin with cheese and potatoes

Dessert: wild fruits custard with white truffle and almond cake

Dessert: wild fruits custard with white truffle and almond cake

When we were on our own (not on the train tour), Carol and I usually ate more casually.  We found a perfect way to sample lots of savory dishes by sharing two or three small plates of tapas.  The selection was varied and not at all simply snacks; tapas were rather like down-sized portions of complicated or savory dinner dishes.  One of our favorites was a plate of roasted artichokes, which I finally had the presence of mind to photograph after we had already eaten (inhaled) five of the six beautifully prepared artichokes on the plate.

Artichoke tapas

Artichoke tapas

Other tapas: potatoes brava, and beef with roasted potatoes

Other tapas: potatoes brava, and beef with roasted potatoes

Truly, I cannot imagine going hungry in Spain.  I was so impressed that Spain has not lost the tradition of small, independent shops and restaurants to cookie-cutter chain stores.  Each shop had so much individual character and many were cluttered with abundant and varied inventory.  How I wish that towns and cities in the United States could replicate this way of living.

Sandwich shop in Barcelona

Sandwich shop in Barcelona

A fresh fruit and vegetable shop in almost every residential neighborhood

A fresh fruit and vegetable shop in almost every residential neighborhood

A store and deli in Ronda

A store and deli in Ronda

Bakery

Bakery

One experience that Carol and I were determined not to miss was eating churros and chocolate.  After walking through a festival and street fair in Alcala, we decided churros and chocolate would provide a much-needed energy boost.  My oh my!  The chocolate was nothing like the hot chocolate we drink at home.  This was on the order of a thin pudding, perfect for dipping sugar-glazed churros into.

Churros and chocolate

Churros and chocolate

Churros and chocolate in Catalonia

Churros and chocolate in Catalonia

Food was such a pleasurable part of my trip to Spain, that I will be revisiting the subjects of tapas and Barcelona’s Mercat de la Boqueria in future blog posts.  For today, I want to mention one more Spanish food surprise:  Nespresso!  All the hotels we stayed in, the Al Andalus luxury train, and many shops and restaurants offer espresso drinks made on Nespresso machines (or similar k-cup-type machines).  It makes me wonder if the barista’s art of hand-crafted espresso drinks is dying in Spain.  I don’t see the same trend in Seattle where the barista still rules the coffee shops here.

 

 

 

 

 

Making Paneer and Aloo Gobi

September 24, 2015

Vegetarian dinner: basmati rice with aloo gobi and paneer in sauce

Vegetarian dinner: basmati rice with aloo gobi and paneer in sauce

My friend Carol hosted another cooking lesson at her house.  Once again she invited our colleague, Jarnail, to demonstrate how he makes more of his Indian dishes.  This time he made paneer (homemade cheese)  and aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower).  Jarnail served the paneer in the same sauce he uses to make Butter Chicken, and he also whipped up some basmati rice.  (You can find the latter two recipes in an earlier blog post at this link.)

Straining the curdled milk in a cotton cloth

Straining the curdled milk in a cotton cloth

Paneer

1 gallon whole milk
1/2 c white vinegar

Bring milk to a rolling boil (taking care not to let it boil over) and then add vinegar.  Let the milk sit on low heat for about 10 minutes.  It should look very curdled and separated into clumps. Then strain through a cotton dish towel, squeezing out as much liquid as possible.  Using your hands,  press the paneer — still inside the towel — into a ball.  Tie the towel off, and press the paneer under a heavy weight for about 2 hours.  (We set a plate on the ball of paneer and weighed it down with a large heavy pot of water.)

IMG_3746

IMG_3747

While the paneer is draining, prepare the sauce.

In a large pot, heat a bit less than 1/4 c oil and 1/2 Tbsp cumin seeds until sizzling.  Then add:
1 (28 oz.) can tomato sauce
2/3 c water (from rinsing the can)
1 pint whipping cream (not heavy)
About 1 Tbsp salt (more or less to taste)
1 Tbsp garam masala
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp ground ginger

Heat to simmering.

Finished paneer

Finished paneer

IMG_3751

IMG_3752

IMG_3753

When the paneer has finished draining (Jarnail did not have time to let it drain for two hours, so he pressed it  — really hard — to remove all liquid), cut it up and add the pieces to the sauce.  Cook another 10 minutes or so.  Serve over rice.

Aloo Gobi

4 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped (not too fine, chunks are okay)
1 medium cauliflower, cut into pieces
1/4 c oil
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
2 Tbsp turmeric
1 medium onion, diced
8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 Tbsp salt (more or less to taste)
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp garam masala

In a large pan, heat oil and add cumin seeds.  Heat to sizzling.  Drop in potatoes, onions, and 1 Tbsp turmeric, cover and continue to cook on medium for about 10 – 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.  Add tomato sauce.  Cover, and stirring occasionally, cook on medium high heat until the potatoes are about half done.

Add cauliflower, another Tbsp turmeric, the salt, garlic, ginger, and garam masala.  Add just enough water to steam (or add a tad more tomato sauce and water, mixed) and prevent sticking.  Cover and cook on medium heat until cauliflower is tender, about 7 – 10 minutes.

IMG_3748

IMG_3749

Enjoy!

Carol's table

Carol’s table

 

 

 

Chicken a la Trash

September 11, 2013

Chicken a la Trash from Pati's Mexican Table

Chicken a la Trash from Pati’s Mexican Table

I’ve been feeling a bit listless lately — always a good reason to introduce something new into my daily life.  This time it was a new recipe that I found in Pati’s Mexican Table by Pati Jinich.  I’d never cooked poblano peppers before — they took some work with the charring and sweating.  But they weren’t too spicy and they added a savory flavor to the dish.

Poblano

Poblano

Watercolor sketch of poblano

Watercolor sketch of poblano

Charring the poblanos (I don't have a gas stove, so I used a cast iron skillet)

Charring the poblanos (I don’t have a gas stove, so I used a cast iron skillet)

Here’s the recipe:

1-1/2 pounds red potatoes, cut into small cubes (about 4 cups)
1/4 c hulled raw pumpkin seeds
1/4 c raw sunflower seeds
6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (I used chicken drumsticks instead)
1/4 c vegetable oil (I used less)
2 c coarsely chopped white onions
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 pound (3 – 4) poblano chiles, charred, sweated, peeled, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1 x 1/2-inch strips
2/3 c coarsely chopped pitted prunes
1/3 c water

Cook the potatoes in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, about 4 to 5 minutes; drain.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a heavy skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the pumpkin and sunflower seeds and cook, stirring and taking care not to burn them, until you hear popping sounds and the seeds begin to brown lightly, 4 to 5 minutes.  Transfer to a small bowl.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste.  Heat the oil in a heavy skillet, and add and brown the chicken, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.  Add the onions, stirring often, until they are completely softened and beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute.  Add the poblanos and cook for another 3 minutes.  Add the potatoes and then the prunes.  Add 1/2 tsp salt and the water, cover, and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring once or twice until stewy.

When the chicken is ready, sprinkle with toasted seeds, gently toss, and serve.  (Serves 6)

Toasting pumpkin and sunflower seeds

Toasting pumpkin and sunflower seeds

Diced potatoes

Diced potatoes

Browning the chicken

Browning the chicken

Chicken a la Trash

Chicken a la Trash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Let the sky rain potatoes.”
— William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor

Rows of purple potato blossoms

Rows of purple potato blossoms

I love road trips for their unexpected, accidental findings, such as this field of purple in the Skagit Valley.  Now, I’ve gone many times to the Skagit Valley to see daffodils and tulips in bloom, but those fields of color are April splendors, not mid-summer spectacles.  So what was this purple field that stopped me in my tracks?

Potatoes!  How fortunate to be passing by when the potato fields were in blossom.  This field was one of 2000 acres one farming operation put into Skagit Valley potatoes this year.

Deep mounds, home to a new crop of potatoes

Deep mounds, home to a new crop of potatoes

View from the end of the row

View from the end of the row

I'd never really looked at potato blossoms before.

I’d never really looked at potato blossoms before.

Skagit Valley potato field with red barn

Skagit Valley potato field with red barn

Skagit Valley potato field in blossom

Skagit Valley potato field in blossom

I leave you with one poet’s ode to the versatile potato:

A New Potato
by Ted Kooser

This is just one of the leathery eggs
the scuffed-up, dirty turtle of the moon
buried early in spring, her eyes like stars
fixed on the future, and, inside its red skin,
whiteness, like all of the moons to come,
and marvelous, buttered with light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Rain and Potatoes

December 10, 2012

“Let the skies rain potatoes.”
— William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor

Winter rain

Winter rain

Winter in Seattle most often means rain, not snow.  The chilly, dark, dampness heightens the pleasures of comfort food.  Today’s recipe for Crispy Smashed Potatoes certainly meets the definition of comfort food.  Last week my friend Bonnie sent me a link to this blog where she found the recipe, and I’ve already made it twice!

Small red potatoes

Small red potatoes

I used some red potatoes that I had on hand — about two- or three-inches in diameter.  First you cover them with salted water, bring to a boil, and cook on the stove top until just done.  Drain.

Preparing the potatoes for the oven

Preparing the potatoes for the oven

Then pre-heat your oven to 425-degrees F.  On a flat baking sheet with sides, pour a small puddle of olive oil for each potato.  Place a potato in each puddle, then smash slightly with a potato masher.  Now drizzle, each potato with some more olive oil and then season to taste.  I used sea salt, freshly ground pepper, fresh rosemary bits, and a clove of cooked garlic.  Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown and crispy on the outside.

Crispy Smashed Potatoes

Crispy Smashed Potatoes

These are yummy!

Rhubarb Festival

May 17, 2012

Ingredients for Cafe Flora’s Chef Nat and his rhubarb cooking demonstration at the Columbia City Farmers Market

Seattle’s Columbia City Farmers Market held a Rhubarb Festival yesterday afternoon, and I headed down there on the Light Rail to check it out.  Part of the festivities included a cooking demonstration by Chef Nat of Cafe Flora, and he made a rhubarb compote served as an accompaniment to nettle ravioli with cashew cream sauce and sautéed vegetables.  He also made Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble and a cordial called Strawberry Rhubarb Fizz.  After his cooking demonstration, we got to sample all the recipes — I loved them all.

Jar of Rosemary-Rhubarb Chutney

There was also a Sweet vs. Savory Rhubarb Contest, and I entered a jar of Rosemary-Rhubarb Chutney using the recipe from one of my earliest blog posts.  (You can link back to it here.)  My entry won the Savory Division!  (I was awarded a subscription to Edible Seattle Magazine and a $15 farmers market gift certificate.)  Other contestants made rhubarb ceviche, rhubarb shortcake, rhubarb ice cream, tarts and quiche, pies, cakes, chutneys and compotes, etc.  The winner of the Sweet Division made rhubarb pop tarts, and the Best of Show was a rhubarb cardamom cake.  The staff at the Columbia City Farmers Market said that the winning recipes would be posted to their Facebook page.

Here are some photos from my day at the Columbia City Farmers Market:

The bell that opens the market at 3:00 p.m.

Flower vendor

This is a well-attended neighborhood market, one of several in Seattle.

Shopper

Another shopper

Mushrooms for sale

Vendor arranging produce

Another shopper

Potatoes for sale

Cooking demo: rhubarb compote with homemade nettle ravioli, cashew cream sauce and sautéed vegetables

Rhubarb Contest entries

Contest judges Leslie Kelly (food writer) and Jill Lightner of Edible Seattle Magazine

Judge’s taste test

Another look at the contest table

Columbia City Farmers Market

Green Velvet Soup

I like the idea of a cookie exchange for the holidays, but I really don’t need a lot of sweets around the house.  So when I read about a Soup Swap in an old issue of Edible Seattle, I thought this sounded like a great alternative.  There is actually a Soup Swap website with how-to tips and recipe ideas.

When I mentioned this to a colleague, she was not really interested in swapping quarts of soup, but she did the next best thing and gave me a copy of one of her favorite soup recipes.  I made a batch, and it really is delicious!  I used leftover turkey broth from Thanksgiving, but you could make a totally vegetarian version with vegetable broth.  I’ve been missing fresh greens, and this is a healthful alternative for winter.  Here’s the recipe:

Green Velvet Soup

1 onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, diced
3/4 c split peas, rinsed
2 bay leaves
6 c water or vegetable stock

2 medium zucchini, diced
1 medium stalk broccoli, chopped
1 bunch fresh spinach, chopped
1/2 tsp basil
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt

Place the onion, celery, potatoes, split peas, and bay leaves in a large pot with water or stock and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat, cover, and simmer 1 hour.  Remove bay leaves.

Add the zucchini, broccoli, spinach, basil, and black pepper.  Simmer 20 minutes.  Transfer to a blender in several small batches and blend until completely smooth, holding the lid on tightly.  Return to the pot and heat until steamy.  Add salt to taste.

Vegetables for Green Velvet Soup

More green vegetables

Ingredients with leftover turkey broth in soup pot

Good to the last drop

Peeling a Potato

November 9, 2009

IMG_3567

The comfortable fit of a potato in my hand

IMG_3568

Peeling a potato

Peeling a Potato
by Ted Kooser

Pablo Casals should see me now,
bowing this fat little cello,
peeling off long white chords.

I am not famous like Pablo,
not yet.  The amphitheater
of the kitchen sink is nearly empty.
As the notes reel out,
I hear only the hesitant clapping
of a few moist hands.

I am playing the solo variations
of J. S. Bach. Wonderfully,
I sweep with my peeler.  See me lean
into the work, tight lipped,
the light in my hair.  Inspiration
trickles over my handsome old hands.

IMG_1651

Varieties of potatoes at a farmers' market

“Let the skies rain potatoes.”
     — William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor

 

Potato Salad

June 7, 2009

Washing red potatoes for salad

Washing red potatoes for salad

Dicing the raw ingredients for potato salad

Dicing the raw ingredients for potato salad

Assembling the final ingredients for salad

Assembling the final ingredients for salad

Ready to serve and enjoy

Ready to serve and enjoy

It takes just a few consecutive days of hot weather (it’s been in the high 80s and low 90s here lately) to start thinking about barbecues and picnics.  I find it handy to have a good potato salad recipe for these occasions.  I’ve been making my favorite potato salad since 1980 when I got the recipe from my housemate shortly after I moved to Seattle.  It’s good warm (right after you make it) or cold.  I sometimes add pickles or raw cucumbers, depending on what’s in the refrigerator. I usually make a half recipe for our small family of three.

Danish Potato Salad

1/4 c vinegar
1/4 c water
1/3 c honey
1/4 tsp salt
dash of pepper and garlic powder (I often saute raw garlic)
1 tsp prepared mustard
2 eggs, well beaten
1 c prepared salad dressing
4 c cubed, cooked potatoes (about 2 lbs)
4 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
1 Tbsp minced onion
Choppen cucumber, pickle, green onion, pepper, bacon bits (optional)

In a small saucepan, combine vinegar, water, honey, salt, pepper, garlic and mustard.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and gradually mix in well-beaten eggs.  Cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened (about 5 minutes).  Remove from heat and beat in salad dressing.

Toss together remaining ingredients in a large bowl.  Pour dressing over top and toss.  Serve immediately for warm potato salad, or keep refrigerated for cold potato salad.

 

1