Sunday, November 23, 2014


As promised last week, here is the recipe for the luscious almond torte—Torta de Santiago—that we made on the cooking course for Hanna’s birthday.

For me, this cake is special for the harvest season, when I pick basketsful of almonds. It’s perfect for Thanksgiving or other holiday meals.

Santiago de la Compostela is a town in Galicia in northwest, green Spain, where the pilgrimage site of the shrine of St. James is located. (Curiously, almonds do not grow in this region of Spain.) The torte usually is decorated with the cross of St. James picked out in powdered sugar, as pictured on the cover of the cookbook in the photo. If you are thinking that's an odd way to spell cocina, you're right--the book is in the Galician language, not castellano Spanish. After I bought the book, I had to order a Spanish-Galician dictionary in order to translate the recipes. For our version, we used a fig leaf for the template instead of the pilgrims' cross.

Hanna pegs a fig leaf to the top of the baked torte, then dusts the top with powdered sugar. When the leaf is carefully removed, it leaves a pattern on the torte.

For the holidays, I accompany the torte with quince sorbet that’s easy to prepare from dulce de membrillo, ready-made quince paste or quince jelly. It’s also delicious with fruit puree or compote. Nothing wrong with a dollop of whipped cream either.

Almond torte.

Almond Torte from Santiago de la Compostela
Torta de Almendras de Santiago

Buy ground almonds—unsweetened almond meal. Spread them in a baking sheet and toast them in a preheated 375º oven, stirring frequently, until they are lightly colored.
The recipe calls for a 10- or 11-inch springform mold. If you use a smaller pan, the torte will require longer baking time.

My tastes have changed since I tested this recipe for a cookbook some 10 years ago. This time, I reduced the sugar, from 2 3/4 cups to 2 cups, and liked the torte every bit as much.

Serves 10-12, cut in thin wedges.

500 g / 1 lb almonds, blanched, skinned and finely ground (or about 6 cups ground almonds)
150 g / 5 ¼ oz (2/3 cup) butter
500 g / 1 lb 2 oz (2 ¾ cups) sugar
7 eggs
150 g / 5 ¼ oz (1 ¼ cups) plain flour
1 tablespoon lemon zest
icing (confectioners’) sugar

Spread the ground almonds in an oven tin and toast them in a moderate oven, stirring frequently, until they are lightly golden. Take care they do not brown. Cool.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the flour, ground almonds and grated lemon zest. Pour into a 10-inch buttered spring-form mold and bake in a preheated moderate oven (180º C / 350ºF) until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

Cool the torte 10 minutes, then remove from the mold and cool on a rack. Before serving dust the top with icing sugar. If desired, place a template of the Santiago pilgrim’s cross on the torte, sprinkle with sugar, brush sugar off the template and remove it.

Almond torte and quince sorbet, a lovely combination.
Quince sorbet

Quince Sorbet
Sorbete de Membrillo

Quince is a full-flavored, old-fashioned fruit that looks like an over-sized, knobbly apple. Somewhere between apple and pear in flavor and texture, the quince has a leathery skin rich in pectin. Cooked with sugar, the fruit sets up as a stiff jelly (also called quince paste) that can be cut into slices.

Quince paste
Quince paste (look for it in the cheese section of your grocery store or gourmet shop) is an easy starting point for this sorbet. Although the fruit has a pleasing graininess, the pectin makes a creamy ice without any fat.

Serves 8.

1 ½ cups quince paste (14 ounces/400 grams)
2 ½ cups water
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Pinch of ground cloves

Allow the quince jelly to come to room temperature.

In a saucepan combine the water with the sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer 2 minutes. Add the quince jelly to the water and stir over low heat until it is dissolved. Stir in the orange zest, lemon juice, and cloves.

Cool the quince mixture, stirring occasionally, then puree it in a blender. Chill the quince mixture. Place in an ice-cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s directions. Or, freeze the quince mixture, then beat it until smooth and return to the freezer.

Place the frozen quince sorbet in a container with a tight seal and freeze at least 2 hours.

Soften the sorbet before serving.


For holiday gifts or for yourself. Special low prices on two of my cookbooks.

Santana Books, my publisher in Spain (specialists in books about Spain in the English language) is having a clearance sale on books in stock.  You can order books direct from the publisher on the  Santana Books web site. Shipping is available worldwide (see below for costs).

COOKING IN SPAIN, by Janet Mendel (2006). €6.00 (+ shipping)

TAPAS—A BITE OF SPAIN, by Janet Mendel (2008).  €5.00 (+ shipping).

Shipping prices for the cookbooks:
Spain €1.50 for one book
Europe €7.00 for one book
Rest of the world €14.00 for one book
If ordering more than one book, add €1.00 for each additional book.

Would you like a signed copy of COOKING IN SPAIN or TAPAS--A BITE OF SPAIN? On the Santana Books Checkout order form, leave your request for author's autograph in the box at the bottom for "Comments." If you want the book dedicated to a special person, tell me that person's name.

Friday, November 21, 2014



 Cookbook Sale!

For holiday gifts or for yourself. 

Special low 

prices on two of my cookbooks.

Go to .

Santana Books, my publisher in Spain (specialists in books about Spain in the English language) is having a clearance sale on books in stock.  You can order books direct from the publisher on the  Santana Books web site. Shipping is available worldwide (see below for costs). 

COOKING IN SPAIN, by Janet Mendel (2006). €6.00 (+ shipping)

Take a cook’s tour through the culinary regions of Spain. Savor slow-simmered stews, delicately spiced sauces, honeyed sweets. Learn how to make an authentic paella. Put together a menu for a tapas party. Here are recipes for Spain’s most famous dishes as well as many more of the world’s most interesting preparations for seafood, meat, vegetables and desserts.
First published in 1987, COOKING IN SPAIN is the classic book on Spanish cuisine. The sparkling new edition (2006) has a fresh format (433 pages) and new photos,  ensuring that it continues to be the best and most complete book in English about Spanish cooking.

Key features include
  • More than 300 recipes with in-depth information on regional specialties.
  • Tips on how to buy the best at the market and how to prepare it in the kitchen. 
  • Complete Spanish-English glossary with more than 500 culinary terms. 
  • Handy conversion guide and easy-to-use index to recipes and ingredients. 
  • Striking full-color photographs by J.D.Dallet.

TAPAS—A BITE OF SPAIN, by Janet Mendel (2008).   
€5.00 (+ shipping). 

An exciting and visually striking treatment of a favorite Spanish subject—tapas. This book will get you right into the tapas experience.
I’ll take you tapa-hopping round Spain and show you how to enjoy tapas in the tascas and tabernas. Recipes for authentic Spanish tapas make it easy to  to translate those great dishes to your own kitchen.

Key features include

  • A tasting guide to regional tapas 
  • 140 kitchen–tested recipes (292 pages)
  • Tapa-party menus 
  • Guide to choosing wines to accompany tapas
  • Handy Spanish-English glossary 
  • Full-color photographs by Michelle Chaplow.
Shipping prices for the cookbooks:
Spain €1.50 for one book.
Europe €7.00 for one book.
Rest of the world €14.00 for one book.
If ordering more than one book, add €1.00 for each additional book.

Would you like a signed copy of COOKING IN SPAIN or TAPAS--A BITE OF SPAIN? On the Santana Books Checkout order form, leave your request for author's autograph in the box at the bottom for "Comments." If you want the book dedicated to a special person, tell me that person's name.

Holiday sweets. (Photo J.D.Dallet)
Cinnamon Lard Biscuits

This recipe is taken from COOKING IN SPAIN. Measurements are in metric weights. (Biscuits are cookies or small cakes. Icing sugar is confectioner’s powdered sugar. An oven tin is a baking sheet.)

Mantecados along with polverones and roscos are beloved Christmas pastries. These are called mantecados because they are made with manteca, lard, a by-product of winter’s hog slaughtering. Butter can be substituted, but they are not as authentic. If desired, the biscuits can be wrapped individually in a square of tissue paper, twisting the ends to enclose them.

270 g plain flour
30 g ground almonds
170 g lard
130 g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
icing sugar, for dusting

Spread the flour in an oven tin and toast it in a hot oven until lightly coloured, stirring so it browns evenly. When the flour is cooled, mix with the ground almonds.

Beat the lard until very creamy. Beat in the sugar, egg yolk and cinnamon with salt and 2 teaspoons of water.

Add the flour-almond mixture a little at a time with the sesame seeds. Turn the dough out on a board or marble work surface. Combine the dough by kneading it with a few squeezes. Gather into a ball and let it rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

Roll or pat the dough to a thickness of 2 cm Cut into rounds about 5 cm in diameter and place on an oven tin.

Bake in a moderate oven (180ºC/350ºF)  about 10 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Dust with icing sugar. Makes about 20 biscuits.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Chad and Hanna  prepare meatballs for a tapas party.

“Great meatballs,” says Chad, stirring them into the saffron-almond sauce. “I’ll make these at home using moose meat with a little pork.” Moose meat? “Well, I wouldn’t buy beef if I’ve got the freezer full of moose.”

Chad and Hanna live in Whitehorse, Yukon (Canada), where moose is more common than beef. Somehow, via many Google searches, they have found their way to my kitchen in Spain for a four-day cooking course. The meatballs (here, a mixture of ground beef and pork) are part of our grand finale tapas party.

The kitchen sojourn is part of Chad and Hanna’s first-ever trip to Spain. Chad is a Canadian federal fishery officer (sort of like the salmon police) for Yukon and northwest British Columbia. Hanna is a big game outfitter ( who operates a hunting camp in northern British Columbia. A world away from the Mediterranean.

Nevertheless, they are pretty savvy about olive oil. (Hanna wonders if her bottle of olive oil, left in the kitchen at base camp, will still be good after being frozen during the winter. Not a question I can answer.) They have heard of smoked pimentón (paprika) and saffron. But, it’s for me to introduce them to many more Mediterranean foods.

Pine cones bearing pine nuts.
We pick almonds from the tree to crack, to use in the almond sauce and to toast for snacking—perfect with Sherry. I show them where the pine nuts come from—the Mediterranean stone pine that towers over my patio (pine nuts go into the chard with raisins side dish). Hanna gathers some of the pine cones bearing the tiny nuts to take home to her kids.

Home-cured olives with herbs.
They taste my home-cured olives. I show them which trees I picked them from (fat manzanilla variety) and describe the simple process of soaking in water then placing in a brine with garlic, thyme and fennel. For our cooking, I fill a bottle with new olive oil from the mill, received in payment for the 50 kilos of olives I picked.

Málaga raisins.
At the market Chad and Hanna buy Málaga moscatel raisins still on the stems, local dried figs (we’ll use them in a pumpkin-quince compote). I introduce them to membrillo—quince fruit and delicious quince jelly made from the fruit that we use to make an autumnal sorbet. From the spice vendor we get a mix of spices for our Moorish pinchitos (mini kebabs), saffron (unfortunately, this is not the finest La Mancha saffron), pimentón, and nutmeg, from Indonesia, but essential in Spanish meatballs. Hanna has never seen whole nutmegs before.

At the fish monger’s, Chad, who monitors wild salmon runs on Yukon rivers, is not too impressed with the Atlantic farmed salmon on sale here. We buy squid, shrimp and mussels for paella. He’s pleased to see that shrimp come with their heads on, which we’ll use to make a simple stock for cooking the paella.

Sizzling shrimp pil pil.
Later, Chad says the shrimp they trap off their trawler in southeast Alaskan waters is so much sweeter than the ones we have bought here. “No comparison.” But, he is crazy for gambas al pil pil, shrimp sizzled in olive oil with garlic in small cazuelas. “That’s amazing. I can’t wait to try it with our shrimp. We have to get some proper cazuela dishes for the boat.”

Gazpacho for a sunny fall day.
Back in the kitchen, on a sunny fall day, we decide to make gazpacho as well as a hearty chickpea, chard and pumpkin soup. Hanna suggests adding sliced radishes from the garden to garnish the gazpacho. Nice.

Hanna chops pumpkin for soup.
Chard and pumpkin go into a hearty fall soup with chickpeas.

Chad shows expertise in flipping his first real Spanish potato tortilla. We finish lunch with a sampling of several Spanish cheeses, all with denominación de origen.

A selection of Spanish cheeses to sample.
Olive oil lights.

For Hanna's birthday we have a gorgeous almond torte (recipe next week), bubbly cava and "candles." Hanna is charmed by the floating wicks of my olive oil lamps.

Links to recipes that are mentioned in this blog :
Soup with chickpeas, chard and pumpkin (berza de acelga).
Paella with Chicken and Shellfish
Sizzling shrimp (gambas al pil pil).
Meatballs in almond sauce (albóndigas en salsa de almendras).
 Moorish mini-kebabs(pinchitos morunos).
Pumpkin-quince compote (arrope con calabaza).
Chard with raisins and pine nuts (acelgas con pasas y piñones).