Sunday, August 17, 2014


Cooking class: tapas and Sherry.


Come along on a cooking class and learn how to make tortilla and more great dishes from Spain!


“You can do it, Sarah,” I coach her. “Hold the plate tight on top of the tortilla, let some of the oil drain off into the bowl, then turn it right over.”

¡Olé! Sarah flips the tortilla and eases it back into the pan.

But, oh no!, some of the egg-potato mixture is sliding into the bowl too. We decide to put the tortilla back over a low flame and let it cook just a tad longer. The next try, Sarah turns the golden-brown tortilla onto the plate and slides it back into the skillet to cook on the reverse side. ¡Olé! Well done.

This is Day 1 of a three-day cooking course in My Kitchen in Spain with Sarah and Rosemary from Bristol, England. The tortilla is a variation on the classic one with just potatoes and onions. This one has diced chorizo (“everything can be improved with chorizo!” declares Sarah) and chopped chard as well.

We’ve already prepared three different gazpachos—traditional tomato, white-garlic with almonds and watermelon-yogurt—and put them to chill.

For the white gazpacho, we gather the almonds in the garden, crack them, blanch them to slip off the skins, then grind them in a food processor. That’s eating local!

The tomatoes, too, are from the garden. We do a taste-test—“long-life” supermarket tomatoes, all of them stamped out of the same mold, identically red and unblemished; big, misshapen beefsteak tomatoes from the market, and ones from my garden. The supermarket tomatoes, Sarah and Rosemary say, are considerably better than the ones they get in England. The market tomatoes are way sweeter and more flavorful. Lastly, the homegrown, organic ones—wow! What a difference!

That gazpacho, with no cucumbers or peppers in the blend, is one of the best ever to come out of my kitchen.

Day 2, we are off to the local market in the morning to get everything for a paella dinner today (the paella shopping list and recipe appear here) and a tapas spread tomorrow.

Disappointment at the fish stall—“No quedan boquerones,” we are told. The  boquerones, fresh anchovies, to prepare al natural, in a vinegar marinade, are all gone. We compensate with some tiny clams to cook with wine and garlic, a la marinera.

At the butcher’s shop, we get chicken for the paella, pork to make pinchos morunos, spicy mini-kebabs; and sliced serrano ham to go with sweet melon. Later, I discover I’ve forgotten the ground meat (mince, as the English call it) for the albóndigas, meatballs in almond sauce, one of my favorite tapas. I stop at the supermarket later in the afternoon when I pick up Sarah and Rosemary who have stayed in the village to shop for gifts.

Sarah mixes white sangría.
Back in the kitchen, we make a white wine sangría with orange slices, peaches and melon to sip while we prep the paella. “Not too sweet,” says Sarah. “Just right.”  They choose not to dilute it with fizzy water.

Rosemary enjoys a sangría.

Prepping for paella. Artichoke!

We’ve already prepared leche merengada, meringue ice milk, and put it in the freezer. A sweet and cold finale to our meal.

Day 3, Sarah and Rosemary enjoy leftover gazpacho for lunch by the pool and we start our cooking class in the late afternoon. Lots to do today!

The “lesson plan” for our tapas class is my cookbook, TAPAS—A BITE OF SPAIN (the book, with photos by Michelle Chaplow, is available from Santana Books). Rosemary is looking ahead for ideas for a party she is planning for her husband’s birthday. I show them how to adapt tapa-bar favorites to home entertaining.

Because tapas in their origin—Sevilla, Jerez de la Frontera—are so closely associated with Sherry wines, our tapas party will also be a Sherry tasting. So, to get us rolling, we make dessert (or, as the Brits say, “pudding,” even if it’s not pudding)—Tipsy Cakes, squares of sponge soaked in Sherry syrup.

Here’s our tapas menu.

Manzanilla fino from Sanlucar de Barrameda with gambas al ajillo (sizzling shrimp), toasted almonds, regañas (crackers), manzanilla olives.

Pinchos morunos- pork kebabs.

Fino Sherry from Puerto de Santa María with serrano ham, figs and melon; pork kebabs (pinchos morunos) and Málaga salad with oranges.

Ensalada malagueña with oranges.

Oloroso seco Sherry from Jerez with meatballs in almond-saffron sauce, potato salad with lemony dressing and fried eggplant (aubergine) drizzled with molasses.

With tipsy cakes, in theory, we should have had an accompanying PX Sherry, but we are happy to keep sipping the mellow oloroso seco with dessert. Sarah and Rosemary have a scoop of the remaining meringue ice milk too.

Meatballs in almond sauce.

Potatoes with lemon dressing.

All of the mentioned recipes, except for the tortilla with chorizo and chard, have previously appeared on this blog. To find them, go to the “Search” window at the upper-left corner and enter the recipe name.

Would you like to join me for cooking classes? Go to this blog post,, and follow the link there to send me an inquiry.

Tortilla de Patatas con Chorizo y Acelgas
Potato Tortilla with Chorizo and Chard

Tortilla with potatoes, bits of chorizo and chard.
Makes 20 tapas or 4 main dishes.

1 kg / 2 ¼ lb potatoes (about 4 large)
120 ml / 4 fl oz / ½ cup olive oil
150 g / 5 ¼ oz chard leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped onion
85 g / 3 oz chorizo, cut in ½ cm / 3/8 in dice
1 teaspoon salt
6 eggs

Peel the potatoes, cut them in half lengthwise and slice thinly crosswise. Heat the oil in a 28-cm / 11-in no-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the potatoes, turn them in the oil, then reduce heat and let them cook slowly, without browning, 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, blanch the chopped chard in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain well.

Add the onion, diced chorizo, chard and half of the salt to the potatoes in the pan. Continue cooking potatoes until they are completely tender, 15 minutes longer.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl with the remaining salt.

Place a large plate on top of the pan of potatoes. Tilt the pan so the oil runs to one side. Holding the plate tightly, carefully tip the pan and drain the oil into a small heatproof bowl. Stir the potatoes, chard and chorizo into the beaten eggs.

Return a spoonful of oil to the pan over medium heat. Pour in the egg-potato mixture. Spread it evenly. Reduce heat and cook, without stirring, until the tortilla is set on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Do not allow the bottom to brown too much. You can shake the pan occasionally to make sure the tortilla doesn’t stick on the bottom.

Again, place the plate on top of the pan. Working over a bowl to catch any drips, hold the plate tightly in place and turn the pan upside down, reversing the tortilla onto the plate. Slide the tortilla back into the frying pan. Let it cook on the bottom, 2 minutes.

Lift the front edge of the tortilla and carefully slide it out of the pan onto a serving dish or cutting board. Cut into 5-cm / 2-in squares to serve as a tapa or into wedges if serving as a lunch dish. Serve hot, warm or cold.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


Perfect summer dessert--frozen torte with whipped cream and squiggles of chocolate.

I remember my mother making “ice-box cake,” put together with layers of vanilla wafers and pudding. Yeah, ice-box. Back in the late 40’s, in the Midwest town where I grew up, the ice man delivered chunks of ice that cooled the insulated box for storing milk, butter, meat.

Spain has its version of this summertime dessert, tarta helada, or frozen torte. Here it’s put in the freezer, not the fridge. It comes out much like an ice cream cake.

Retro, sure, but a really good idea for a hot weather dessert to serve to guests when I certainly am not going to turn on the oven. Nope, not even for pie, something else I remember fondly from Midwestern summers.

Tarta helada has lots of variations. Add a layer of chopped fruit, such as peaches or dried figs that have been soaked in brandy. Add a spoonful of coffee to the milk for a mocha flavor. Substitute sweet Sherry or a liqueur for the brandy or, if serving to children, omit the alcoholic flavor completely. Sprinkle toasted almonds or hazelnuts on top. Because it's so rich and sweet, this torte makes enough to serve a crowd. Prepare it days ahead of a party and have it ready in the freezer. Add it to last week's menu for summer dining.

Cookies for layering the cake.
I used rectangular galletas tostadas, a type of plain, not-too-sweet cookie. Each cookie measures 2 ¼ inch X 1 ½ inch. I needed about 45 cookies, about 9 ounces, to fill a 11 ½ X 4-inch loaf pan. To substitute graham crackers, use 1 packet, or about 11 sheets. It’s fine to break them up to fit the pan. Don’t soak the cookies in milk—just quickly dip them, in and out. Otherwise they turn totally soggy before you get them placed.

I found the buttercream filling to be so sweet that I didn’t want more sugar added to the whipped cream frosting. I suggest you taste as you go. This recipe calls for raw egg yolks—if that is a health problem in your area, just omit them.

Tarta Helada
Frozen Torte

Freeze the cake days before, then slice and serve.
Serves 12.

For the torte:
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
½ cup cream
6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
Plain cookies, graham crackers or galletas María, about ½ pound

For the frosting:
¾ cup whipping cream
½ tablespoon confectioner’s sugar (optional)
Drop of vanilla extract

For the chocolate glaze:
2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil

Cream the butter in a mixer at medium speed. Beat in  the confectioners’ sugar, little by little. Beat in the egg yolks, vanilla and pinch of salt. Set aside.

Put the cream in a small pan and bring to a boil. Add the chopped chocolate. Remove from heat and allow the chocolate to soften for 5 minutes. Stir the chocolate until it is completely smooth. Set aside.

Prepare a loaf pan (approximately 11 ½ X 4 inches). Oil it lightly. Line it with a sheet of plastic film.

Spread a layer of the buttercream mixture in the bottom of the loaf pan.

Place cookies on a layer of buttercream.
Combine the milk and brandy in a shallow bowl. Dip cookies, one by one, into the milk-brandy and place them in a single layer onto the buttercream. Spread ½ of the chocolate on top of the cookies. Add another layer of cookies dipped in milk, then buttercream. Continue with cookies, chocolate, cookies, buttercream and finish with cookies. (Five layers of cookies.) Fold the plastic wrap over the top and place the mold in the freezer for at least 8 hours.

Prepare the frosting. Chill the beaters and bowl before whipping the cream. Whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. Beat in the sugar and vanilla.  

Slather the torte with whipped cream.
Remove the torte from the freezer. Let it set about 4 minutes. Loosen edges with a knife and unmold the torte onto a platter that will fit into the freezer. Remove the plastic wrap.

Working quickly so the torte doesn’t melt, frost the torte with the whipped cream. Return it to the freezer for 1 hour.

Prepare the chocolate glaze. Combine the chopped chocolate and oil in a small saucepan. Heat gently until chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and beat the chocolate until smooth and glossy.

Again remove the torte from the freezer. Drizzle the chocolate over the frosting. Return to the freezer.

When the frosting and glaze are frozen, remove the torte from the freezer and wrap it in plastic wrap and foil. Store it in the freezer until serving time. 

Cold and luscious.
To serve, dip a sharp knife in hot water and cut the torte into slices. For easy serving, the torte can be pre-cut and individual slices wrapped in plastic wrap and returned to the freezer.

Saturday, August 2, 2014


Fish pâté, a cold dish for a summer's night.

A gentle evening breeze has come up, bringing the sweet scent of jasmine over the garden wall. A full moon rises over the hill. The table is set on the terrace. Candles are flickering, chilled wine is poured. What better place for a dinner party than on the terrace in the coolth of the evening? This is surely what Spanish summer nights are all about.

But—gasp—how  to entertain in such beastly hot weather without slaving over a hot stove?  This is a most important aspect of the “Mediterranean diet”: adapt your meals to the climate. The trick to summertime’s easy living is: don’t even try to serve a “hot meal.” Cook foods in advance and serve them cold or room temperature.

Gazpacho--a cool starter.
Starters: Chilled gazpacho with all the garnishes (that recipe is here) or gorgeous ajo blanco (recipe here), white almond gazpacho garnished with grapes that are ripening on the parra, the grape arbor that shades the terrace.

Main dish: Cold Fish Pâté, made the day before, with bonito and sliced ham, studded with red pimiento and olives. Serve it with greens and sides of sliced boiled potatoes, fresh green beans, quartered eggs and a sharp vinaigrette.

Dessert: Sweet melon, store-bought ice cream or Frozen Torte (stay tuned—that recipe next week).

Fish Pâté

Bonito (sarda sarda) is related to tuna and mackerel.

Bonito is a meaty blue fish, related to tuna and mackerel. You will need a whole fish weighing at least 1 ½ pounds to make ¾ pound of skinless, boneless flesh. Other fish could be substituted. Though I haven’t tried it, I’m guessing salmon would work really well. This is an easy recipe to double. The pâté keeps well, refrigerated. Serve it sliced, slathered with mayo, topped with sliced garden tomatoes for great sandwiches!

Use a food processor to grind the fish, to chop onions and parsley and to make breadcrumbs. 

Serves 6-8 as an hors-d’oeuvre; 3-4 as a main course.

12 ounces skinless, boneless  bonito
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons dry Sherry or brandy
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Pinch of dried thyme
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne
Grated lemon zest
1 egg, beaten
3 slices bacon (optional)
2-3 slices cooked ham
1 roasted red pimiento, cut in strips
3 tablespoons sliced pitted olives
4 cups water
1/3 cup white wine
½  onion
1 carrot
Bay leaf, thyme, parsley, celery
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Cut the fish into chunks and grind it in a food processor or meat grinder. Place in a bowl and add the breadcrumbs, Sherry, chopped parsley, thyme, lemon zest and ½  teaspoon salt. Let the mixture set for 30 minutes.

Add the egg. Use a fork to mix the fish thoroughly. Divide the mixture in thirds. Spread cheesecloth or a dampened clean cloth on work surface. Arrange the strips of bacon, if using, in the center.

Spread a layer of fish paste.
Layer ham, olives, pimiento.

Spread a third of the fish paste in a layer on top of the bacon. Arrange half of the sliced ham, strips of pimiento and chopped olives on it. Spread with another layer of paste and repeat with the ham, pimientos and olives. Spread the remaining paste.

Wrap the layered pâté.
Simmer with wine and herbs.

Wrap the layered pâté tightly in the cloth, forming a rectangle, and secure it with string or sew up with thread.

Place the water in a deep pan with the wine, onion, carrot, herbs, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Add the pâté and cook very slowly for 45 minutes.

Drain well, then place the pâté on a board with a weight on top and let it cool completely. Refrigerate. Unroll from the cloth and cut in slices to serve cold or room temperature.

Cold fish pâté is a fresh entrée for summer dining.