Saturday, December 3, 2016


Part way through my kitchen renovations, I am panicking. We just set the new oven in its niche and I realize it’s almost at floor level. What to do now? Find another location? Raise the stovetop? How did I miscalculate so badly?

Luckily, I’ve got my revamper-in-chief, Peter Nielsen, to help me solve this and some other problems. Peter is an artist who earns a living by doing electrical work, plumbing, carpentry, masonry, and much more.

Peter placing new counter top in my kitchen.

My kitchen in Spain, 1972, with original small Spanish gas stove. (Yep, that's me in the mini-skirt, making a salad.)

When I built my house in 1972, I custom-designed my kitchen to the specifications of the times. I had a dinky little Spanish gas stove, so I built my counter tops to line up with it, only 34 inches high and 19 inches deep. That, I soon realized, was not enough counter space to roll out a pie crust. Peter built me a center island to house a dishwasher and extend the counter space.

My kitchen, with American range converted to run on butane gas and a center island with enough counter top for kneading bread, rolling out pie crust.

Ten years later, I acquired a big American stove, a MagicChef, purchased second-hand from an American military family leaving the US naval base at Rota (Cádiz, on the Atlantic coast of southern Spain). That necessitated knocking out some cabinet tops. The new stove stuck up much higher than my counters.

That stove has served me well through the years—family meals, dinner parties and recipe testing for eight cookbooks.  When the thermostat stopped functioning, I got an oven thermometer so I could regulate temperatures. Clogged gas valves can’t easily be cleaned, as the tubing becomes brittle. That means I can’t get burners hot enough for good wok cooking. And, some invasive varmint ripped most of the insulation out of the oven, so it’s seriously inefficient to heat.

Adios to my big American oven. A whole chicken, apple crisp and beets roast on one rack.

Peter at work in my kitchen. I've alerted him that Monday we're going to have to make some changes.

Panic! The new oven is almost at floor level. It's not wired in yet, so I'm looking for a new plan.

Cooking with gas is swell--but, as I get older, lugging butane gas tanks is a pain. (I got rid of gas hot water heater when I installed solar hot water system.) The new electric oven is way smaller than the old one. But, gone are the days when I roast whole turkeys with all the trimmings for eight to ten people. The induction cooktop only has three “burners.” But, hey, I can’t remember when I last needed four burners at the same time.

During the renovations, we’ve moved the clunky gas stove into the dining room so I can still put meals on the table. With the kitchen en obra, in the works, I’m not doing a lot of cooking.

My favorite soup pot for 50 years--aluminum with copper bottom--is soon to be  decommissioned, as it won't work with induction cooktop.

Peter Nielsen’s web site shows samples of his art and photography. His fix-it and build-it artistry is on show in many homes in my area. My neighbor, Jan, wants to clone Peter. That's how important he is in our lives.

Saturday, November 26, 2016


Holiday meals go better with pickles! Something tangy to prickle the taste buds and contrast with rich foods. I like to make small batches of pickles and relishes and keep them in the fridge, ready to accompany a special dinner.

Pickled onions and marinated mushrooms are good accompaniments to a selection of pâtés.

The mango chutney I made a few weeks ago was the perfect foil for turkey sandwiches. Thinking ahead to a drinks party—wine, cheese and pâté—I’m fixing some new pickled vegetables to go with it. One is marinated mushrooms. The other, scarlet-pickled onions, will also look festive with Christmas menus.

Pickled oyster mushrooms in the center and two kinds of pickled onions. These are not true conserves, meant for long keeping, but small-batch pickles to keep in the fridge for several weeks.

Bright flavors and colors provide contrast for holiday meals.

Mushrooms marinate with garlic, peppers, onion and herbs.

Red beets color the small onions.

Pickled Mushrooms
Setas en Escabeche

Pickled mushrooms go with grilled foods and make a tangy addition to salads.

Country folk who forage for wild mushrooms have various ways of preserving them, by drying, by pickling. This recipe is not a real preserve, but it keeps well, refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks. Spoon the marinated mushrooms over grilled steak or add them to salads or soup.

Oyster mushrooms work especially well, but you can use any variety of wild or cultivated mushroom. Slice or pull apart large ones.

1 pound oyster mushrooms
¼ onion, sliced from stem to root
2 cloves garlic, slivered
¼ cup slivered red bell pepper
1-inch piece of dried red chile
Strip of lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
Pinch celery seeds
1 bay leaf
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup Sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons salt

Wipe the mushrooms to clean off any soil. Trim away hard stems. Cut large ones into 2 or 3 pieces.

Place in a pan onion, garlic, bell pepper, chile, lemon zest, peppercorns, thyme, celery seeds, bay, oil, vinegar, salt, and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the mushrooms to the pan. Bring again to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, about 30 minutes.

Let the mushrooms cool in the liquid 30 minutes. Ladle mushrooms into a glass jar or other non-reactive container. Add enough of the pickling liquid to completely cover them. Cover the container and allow to marinate, refrigerated, at least 24 hours. Keeps up to 2 weeks.

To serve, drain the mushrooms from liquid and serve at room temperature.

Scarlet-Pickled Onions
Cebolletas Escarlatas

Pickles complement rich pâté.

In La Mancha (central Spain) I enjoyed the partridge pâté, a regional specialty. There the pâté usually comes garnished with scarlet-pickled onions. Colored with red beets, the onions make a nice contrast to smooth and unctuous foods such as pâté, but they also add pizzazz to salads or burgers.

Soaking the whole onions in brine makes it easier to slip off the skins—and fewer tears, too.

1 ½ pounds small (1 ½-inch) yellow or white onions (about 32 onions)
1 ½ tablespoons coarse salt
1 medium beet (5 ounces), peeled and quartered
4 cloves
1 cup wine vinegar

Sprinkle the onions with ½ tablespoon salt and cover with water. Let soak for 3 hours. Drain the onions. Peel them, trim root ends, and cut a thin slice off tops.

Place onions in a non-reactive bowl and add water to cover. Sprinkle with ½ tablespoon of salt. Allow the onions to soak for 24 hours. Drain and rinse them.

Combine in a saucepan the remaining ½ tablespoon salt, quartered beet, cloves, vinegar, and 2 ½ cups water. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes. Add the onions and cook gently for 10 minutes.

Skim out the beets and reserve them for another use.

Ladle the onions into sterile jars and pour the pickling liquid over them. Allow the jars to cool.

Refrigerate the jars of pickled onions. The onions are ready to eat in 5 days. They keep, refrigerated, up to 3 months.

More recipes for pickles and relish:

Saturday, November 19, 2016


Wildlife comes with the territory. Where I live, on a hillside at the edge of protected sierra pine forests, at the head of a steep arroyo where a trickle of water runs year-round, I have become accustomed to various sorts of birds and beasts. Foxes, genets, mongooses, martens, rabbits, an occasional mountain goat. Plenty of geckos. Oh, and to the distress of some of my guests, field rats that gorge on wild figs.

From my kitchen window. Much wildlife in the steep arroyo below me--including wild boar.

But recently I have had a new invader. Something digging up the damp earth under a woodpile, trampling the vegetable garden, even overturning big flower pots on a side patio. This was something considerably larger than your standard mole or marauding dogs.

One night, just outside my bedroom window, I heard loud grunting and snorting sounds. The next morning I discovered my plot of newly-planted onions had been rooted up. My invader was a wild boar. Maybe several of them. They root for grubs in damp earth beneath stones, woodpiles and in gardens. (But, they don’t eat the plants!)

Boar have become a real nuisance in this region of southern Spain. They’ve left their wilder habitats to forage in greener pastures, in the lush golf courses of this resort region. Organized hunting and trapping help to control the populations. Unfortunately, these swine have migrated to my hillside.

Initially, I was a little fearful of coming face-to-face with a wild boar in my garden. But it seemed to roam only at night. My son constructed a trap, a pit covered with brush, but we caught not a thing. I hate to think what we would have done if one had been ensnared!

While shopping recently at HiperCor, the supermarket of El Corte Inglés, I found a selection of wild boar meat. Fantasizing the demise of my neighborhood boar, I bought a chunk of lomo, boneless loin. Pretty expensive, €24 per kilo ($11.50 per pound).

Boar loin braised with wine and onions is tender, but not juicy. The onion sauce is fantastic.

Boar meat with a side of parsnips crushed with olive oil. Chestnut puree would be good too. A reserva red wine.

How to cook it? Red wine and autumn wild mushrooms? Sweet-sour flavors (Sherry vinegar and PX sweet wine)? Chestnuts? In memoriam of my destroyed onion patch, I decided to cook it encebollado, in a red wine-onion sauce.

Wild boar is somewhat like pork, but a little gamier and a lot leaner. Tender cuts such as loin and tenderloin can be cooked quickly and served slightly pink, while cuts from the shoulder or leg need long braising.

I maybe made some wrong choices. After marinating, I slow-cooked the loin. Although it was tender, it was awfully dry.  I probably won’t buy boar again. I used the rest of the delicious onion sauce to cook a chunk of pork loin. Delicious! And, should I ever catch a boar, I’ve got some recipes waiting.

The meat I bought had been soaked in a salmuera, a light brine, so it would keep, refrigerated, for a longer period of time. For this reason, I did not add salt to the marinade. If using fresh meat, add about 1 teaspoon of salt to the marinade.

Loin of Boar in Onion Sauce
Lomo de Jabalí Encebollado

Serves 4.

1 ½ pounds boneless loin of wild boar or pork
1 ½ cups red wine
2 slices orange
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
2 cloves
1 teaspoon juniper berries (enebro), optional
1 sliced leek
3 large onions
¼ cup olive oil
1 carrot, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped

Red wine and herb marinade for wild boar.
Place the loin in a glass or earthenware bowl just large enough to hold it. Add the wine, bay, orange slices, peppercorns, cloves, juniper berries and sliced leek. Cover and refrigerate 12 to 24 hours, turning the meat at least once

Remove the meat and pat it dry. Strain the marinade and save the liquid. Discard the solids.

Cut the onions in half, then slice them crosswise. Heat the oil in a heavy pan. Add the onions and cook slowly, stirring frequently, until they are deep golden brown, about 15 minutes. Tilt the pan so the oil drains to one side and lift out the onions and reserve them.

Slowly brown sliced onions, then brown the meat.

Lightly dust the meat with flour on all sides. Place it in the pan and brown on all sides. Add the carrot, garlic and browned onions. Add the strained red wine marinade. Cook the meat, covered, turning occasionally, until it is tender, about 1 hour. If liquid cooks away, add a little water or meat stock. The onion-wine sauce should be quite thick, almost jammy.

Let the meat rest 10 minutes on a cutting board. Slice it crosswise and serve with the hot onion sauce.