Thursday, December 26, 2013


Deeply flavorful quail broth with wild mushrooms and sautéed quail breast.

In Spain, New Year’s Eve is an occasion for la cena de noche vieja, a late supper with the whole family. After the midnight bells, when it’s customary to swallow 12 grapes to assure good fortune in the new year, the younger ones go out to party until the wee hours.

The festive menu might include a platter of mariscos, shellfish such as shrimp, crayfish, crabs, clams; a special soup, such as a consommé or a crema, cream soup; a meat dish such as pork tenderloin; a tart or parfait for dessert, and, of course, more turrón, almond nougat and marzipan, accompanied by cava, Spanish bubbly.

This deeply flavorful quail and mushroom consommé just might fit the bill for your party menu. I have served it as a welcoming libation for a holiday buffet party on a blustery winter day. In lieu of canapés, I passed the soup in demitasse cups with the sautéed breast meat and mushrooms speared on toothpicks. I’ve also served the soup as a starter for a smaller dinner party. It’s satisfying without being filling and you can vary the garnishes.

Serve consommé in cups as an apperitif.

Begin preparations for the consommé at least one day and up to 3 days before serving. Any wild or cultivated mushroom can be used—cêpes are divine, oyster mushrooms are fine. “Clarifying stock” maybe sounds like a cheffy thing to do, but it’s pretty simple and the results are really satisfying. A short-cut, if you don’t want to bother, is to bring the carcasses to a boil, drain them and rinse in running water to remove impurities that will cloud the broth, before putting them to cook.

Boning out the quail breasts is fast and easy. Use a small sharp knife to slit down along the ridge of the breastbone. Cut through the skin at the neck and release the half-breast where the wing is attached. Cut away the other half-breast in the same manner. Leave the skin attached to the breasts.

Brandy de Jerez (brandy aged in Sherry casks in Jerez de la Frontera where Sherry is made) lends a deep, mellow flavor to the soup. Dry fino or amontillado Sherry could be used instead. Sherry is the perfect wine to accompany the consommé.

Vary the garnishes--here with a poached quail's egg.

Consommé of Quail and Wild Mushrooms
Caldillo de Codorniz y Setas

Serves 12-16 as an appertif or 6-8 as a soup course.

Quail--easy to remove breasts.
6-8 quail (2 ¼-2 ½ pounds), breasts removed
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ yellow onion, unpeeled
12 ounces wild or cultivated mushrooms
12 cups chicken stock
1 sliced leek
2 sliced carrots
1 stalk celery
½ cup chopped tomato
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Sprig of thyme or ½ teaspoon dry thyme
2 bay leaves
Sprigs or stems of parsley
2 egg whites and crushed egg shells to clarify the broth
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup Brandy de Jerez
1 ½ tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Optional garnishes
1 cup shredded baby spinach leaves
Poached or hard-cooked quail eggs
Chopped scallions

Preheat oven to 400º.

Wrap the boned quail breasts in plastic wrap and refrigerate them until shortly before serving. Spread the remaining quail carcasses in a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil. Place the unskinned onion in the pan with the quail and roast, turning quail occasionally, until well browned, about 45 minutes.

Transfer quail and onion to a large soup pot. Add ¼ cup water to the roasting pan and scrape up all the drippings. Add them to the soup pot.

Set aside 2 ounces (about 1/3 cup) of mushroom caps or slices to finish the soup. Chop the remainder and add them to the soup pot with the chicken stock, leek, carrots, celery, tomato, salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaves, and parsley. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam that rises to the top. Cover and simmer the broth 1 ½ hours. Remove and cool slightly.

Strain the broth in a colander, pressing on the solids to extract all the liquid. Discard the solids. (You may want to separate the legs and serve them with vinaigrette.) Cool the broth, then refrigerate, covered, at least 12 hours or up to 2 days.

Skim off and discard the fat from the top of the broth. Strain the broth into a clean soup pot and add the egg whites and crushed eggshells.  Place on a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the broth begins to simmer. Lower heat so it barely simmers for 15 minutes, without stirring, rotating the pot a quarter of a turn at intervals. Keep a close watch so the broth never boils. As the egg white cooks and floats to the top it will carry along solids that cloud the broth. Remove from heat and allow to stand 10 minutes.

Line a colander with 4 thicknesses of damp cheesecloth and place it over a clean pot. Gently push the egg-white froth to one side and carefully ladle the broth into the colander. Discard the foam.

Shortly before serving, place the pot of clarified broth on a medium heat and add the brandy. Bring to a simmer.

Sprinkle the quail breasts with salt and pepper. Heat the virgin olive oil in a skillet and sauté the breasts, skin side down, on a medium heat until browned, about 1 minute. Turn and sauté 1 minute on the other side. Breasts will be pink in the center. Remove and keep them warm.

Sauté the reserved mushroom caps or slices in the same oil, about 1 minute on each side.

When the broth begins to boil, lower heat so that it simmers and add the shredded spinach. Cook 2 minutes until spinach is wilted.

Serve the consommé in small (½-cup) cups with the breast and mushroom cap speared on a toothpick or in shallow soup bowls with the sliced breast and mushroom placed in the bowls. Add poached or hard-cooked and peeled quail eggs, if desired.

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Cardoons for Christmas. (I should have tied a big red bow on it!)

Not cartoons! Cardoons, a vegetable that turns up at the festive Christmas Eve meal in Spanish homes. Known as cardo in Spanish, the cardoon and its close relative, the artichoke, are thistles. Of the artichoke, it is the flower bud that is eaten; of the cardoon. it is the tall stalks. The first time I ever saw cardoons was in the still-life paintings by Juan Sánchez Cotán (early 17th century). Structurally interesting, but are they edible?

Cardoons are grown in the northern regions of Aragón, La Rioja and Navarra, so that is where this vegetable is most popular at Christmas. But, last week when I spied the stately stalks at a local grocery store, I couldn’t resist having a go.

Remove strings from stalks.
Like artichokes, cardoons require quite a lot of prepping—stripping off prickly leaves and trimming away fibrous strings (much like celery). Next time I want to serve this unusual side dish, I’ll buy the cardoons en conserva, in jars, cleaned and cooked, ready for saucing.

Cardoons are delicious in almond sauce; in bechamel sauce with cheese gratin, with clams, wine and parsley in “green sauce.”

Another traditional vegetable at the Spanish Christmas table is col lombarda, red cabbage. Years ago, when I was doing a magazine article about how Spaniards and foreigners celebrate the holidays, I interviewed a Danish woman married to a Spaniard. With Christmas customs, she said, red cabbage was their only point of convergence—traditional for Christmas dinner both in Denmark and at her Madrid mother-in-law’s table. This vegetable is easy to prepare and adds festive color as well. Red cabbage goes especially well with roast pork, venison or goose.

Red cabbage adds festive color.

Cardoons with almond sauce, a side dish for Christmas.
Cardos en Salsa de Almendras
Cardoons with Almond Sauce

Serves 6-8.

2 lemons
1 ½ tablespoons flour
2-3 pounds cardoons
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup skinned almonds
2 cloves garlic
1 ½ cups chicken stock
Pimentón (paprika) or saffron to finish

Place the juice of 1 lemon in a bowl with about 4 cups of water. Cut the other lemon in half. Stir 1 tablespoon of the flour into ½ cup of water and add it to a large pot with 8 cups of water and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Squeeze ½ lemon into the pot of water and add the lemon too.

To prepare the cardoons: Discard hard outer stalks. Separate all the stalks from the base. Use a knife or vegetable peeler to remove the strings on the outside of each stalk of cardoon and the thin skin on the inside of the stalks. Rub each stalk as it is peeled with the cut lemon. Cut it into 3-inch pieces and drop them into the bowl with lemon juice.

When the cardoons are prepared, bring the pan of water with the flour and lemon juice to a boil. Add the cardoons, cover and simmer until the cardoons are tender when pierced with a knife, 45 to 60 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool in the cooking liquid. If cooking the cardoons in advance, refrigerate them with the cooking liquid. Drain well before proceeding with the recipe.

Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the almonds and garlic until they are lightly toasted and golden. Skim them out. Set aside a dozen almonds to use as garnish. Place the remainder in a blender with the garlic and some of the chicken stock. Blend until smooth.

Stir the remaining ½ tablespoon of flour into the oil in the skillet and let it cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the drained cardoons, the almond mixture from the blender, the remaining stock and ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste (if stock is salty, take care not to over-salt the sauce).

A few threads of saffron top the dish.

Cover and cook the cardoons gently about 30 minutes. Place in a serving bowl and scatter the reserved almonds on top. Serve hot sprinkled with pimentón (paprika) or, for an opulent touch, a few threads of golden saffron.

Red cabbage with prunes, another good side dish for a holiday meal.

Lombarda a la Castellana
Red Cabbage, Castillian Style

Red cabbage needs an acid ingredient—wine, citrus or vinegar—to keep its vibrant color while cooking. Adding sweet fruit such as raisins or prunes balances the acidity.

Serves 6.

½ red cabbage (1 ½-2 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup white wine
4 prunes, pitted and sliced
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Cut out and discard the core. Shred the cabbage and set aside.

Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the onion for 3 minutes. Stir in the shredded cabbage and let it sauté 1 minute. Pour over the wine and mix well. Add the prunes, water, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is cooked to taste—20 minutes for slightly crunchy, 40 minutes for very tender.

Good with turkey, goose, pork or venison.

Looking for more about what Spaniards eat for Christmas? Have a look at Kaley’s blog. She’s a young American married to a Spaniard and living in Madrid.

¡Felices Fiestas! Happy Holidays. I hope you enjoy all the wonderful foods during this festive season.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Just when I was supposed to be slaving over a hot stove, preparing a recipe for this week’s blog, I got a phone call from Shawn Hennessey, “tapas queen,” my guide to tapas in Sevilla  (see her web site and also my recent  blog post from Sevilla). She has been visiting Málaga and revisiting her favorite tapa bars there.

“I’m coming to Mijas! Can we meet at lunch for tapas?” I’m so excited that Shawn is meeting me on my own turf! (I live in Mijas.) So, of course, I drop everything.

Mijas is a small hill town overlooking the Mediterranean on Spain’s southern coast. It once had a dozen tapa bars in the casco antiguo, the old center. Of those, only two remain. But it has a dozen new bars, some mainly serving the day tourists, but others with ambitious wine lists and menus.

Bar Porras in the central plaza of Mijas.
We meet at the Bar Porras, on the Plaza de la Libertad, smack-dab in the center of town. Bar Porras is one of the original bars, where I learned Spanish cooking some 40 years ago.This is where I have coffee and read the newspaper most mornings after my aerobics class.

Shawn arrives with Victor Garrido, an independent tour guide who does in Málaga what Shawn does in Sevilla ( ).

A plate of ham to begin our tapas lunch tour.
Having learned the tapa-tour-guide plan from Shawn, I immediately order a plate of ibérico ham and glasses of Manzanilla (fino Sherry). We are off to a good start.

We continue on to the Museo del Vino, just a short stroll up Calle San Sebastian. A historic village house was converted to be an enoteca, a wine museum, shop and bar with wine tastings. Seated at a big wooden tasting table, we are cozy on a nippy December day. In summertime, the little enclosed patio is the cool place for sipping. ( )

Cheese and a glass of Botani.

Shawn is delighted to find here her favorite white wine, the light and floral Botani, from Bodegas Jorge Ordoñez. The Museo del Vino specializes in wines from Málaga province. The wine pairs perfectly with a nutty, semi-cured cheese. We are served bread rolls and bread sticks and a dish of organic olive oil for dipping.

Grilled scallops and cherry tomatoes.

We share a tapa of grilled scallop brochettes with cherry tomatoes. A sprinkling of pimentón (paprika) and olive oil complements the sweetness of the shellfish. Likely the scallops are frozen—but they are, nevertheless, delicious.

A last stop before Shawn returns to Málaga to catch her train back to Sevilla. We perch on stools (not very comfortable) at Bodega El Placer, just off the central plaza. Touted as a “wine bar,” it seems to specialize in red wines and does not have Shawn’s favorite whites. 

Black squid croquette.

We sample several tapas here. I love the squid croquettes with a squid-ink alioli sauce. They are black and crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside. Think I will try this recipe myself one of these days.

Solomillo (pork tenderloin) is—in my opinion—too sweet with a fruit compote. The crispy langostinos tempura—jumbo shrimp, crisply fried—are divine, but again, a little too sweet in the saucing. Morcilla (blood sausage) doesn’t show any evidence of the raisins and pine nuts that  supposedly accompany it. The bacalao—salt cod—gratin is, uh, interesting, with its dusting of curry and turmeric, but again, with a layer of sweet compote that overwhelms the other flavors. What's with all the sweet sauces? They are not really traditional in Spanish cooking.

Ham, egg and crispy fried potatoes. Terrific!
The best dish of all? A perfect—perfect—fried egg. Estrellado—crispy around the edges, with straw potatoes, hot and crispy, and some meltingly tender scraps of fine ham. How to share this amongst three? Shawn, with enormous experience, proceeds to mix the egg, ham and potatoes all together.

Oh my god, that is so good. Thanks Shawn. Come back soon.

And, here's "tapas in Mijas" from Shawn's angle:

Starting the tapas tour (photo by Shawn Hennessey)

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Exoticica--sweet cherimoyas, ready to eat.
I once lived in an old house in the village with a big, overgrown garden behind it. Stone dry walls divided the sloping garden into terraces, on which were planted many trees. Olive, fig, both orange and lemon, peach, pear and apricot, all those I could identify. Others, such as the pomegranate with its flamboyant red flowers, were new and exotic to me.

Photo ©Pilar Esteban Ordorica
One tree with broad, swishy leaves in early winter produced large green, heart-shaped fruit with a faceted surface that made them look like hand grenades. My neighbor, who pointed out the fruit to me, said they were chirimoyas. Eventually, I learned that the fruit actually comes from South America and that, in English, it is called cherimoya or custard apple.

Highly perishable and with a short season—November to January—cherimoyas are not widely commercialized. Best to enjoy them where they grow. And, where they grow is right here, the southern coast of Spain, from Gibraltar to Almuñecar (Granada). Cherimoyas from the Granada coast have DOP—protected designation of origin—Chirimoya Costa Tropical.

Inside the thin green skin, the flesh is creamy-white with shiny black seeds throughout. It tastes like a really sweet and creamy lemon-pineapple pudding. The aroma is “tropical”—banana, papaya, mango, all rolled into one, but subtle. The texture, like some pears, is slightly grainy. Did I say? really sweet.

When ripe, the skin and flesh darken.

Buy (or pick) cherimoyas when they are still firm and allow them to ripen until the green skin begins to darken in patches and the fruit, when gently squeezed in the palm of the hand, shows a little give (just like you test an avocado for ripeness).Small ones, as shown at left, ripen very quickly (two to three days).

Spoon the flesh from the skin.
The best way to eat this fruit is to cut it in half and spoon it right from the shell. The tongue and teeth easily deal with seed removal. Just spit the seeds out. Nothing simpler.

Yet, such a fabulous fruit certainly deserves something fancier. And, so, this season, I began seeking the perfect cherimoya dessert.  I’ve done sorbet, I’ve done mousse. Looking through online recipes, I liked the ideas of Pavlova with Cherimoya (meringue layers filled with fruit puré and whipped cream); Cherimoya Smoothie; Cherimoya Soufflé. The chef on Cómetelo (Canal Sur TV) made a scrumptious looking cherimoya flan  with white chocolate sauce. I loved his clever idea of dipping almonds in melted dark chocolate and scattering them around the finished dish so that they looked like shiny black seeds from the fruit.

I wanted a festive dessert in which the fruit could shine all on its own. A creamy tart? As the cherimoya pulp is so smooth and creamy, I needed something crunchy or crisp as contrast. How about a crumb crust? Yes! And some melted chocolate to dribble over the top to add a luxurious touch for the holidays.

Seeds are not easy to remove.

Now, about those seeds again. Each one is enclosed in a fleshy cell and does not easily separate from the flesh. I tried rubbing them through a sieve and that didn’t work either. You pretty much have to use a knife or fingers to extract each seed. Yeah, that’s a drag. But, once a year, worth the trouble. I did find that, the riper the fruit, the easier to squeeze out the seeds. Add lemon juice to the fruit pulp to prevent its oxidizing.

Because the cherimoyas are so very sweet, you will need very little sugar to make the tart filling. I used none at all. Taste the pulp and add sugar to suit yourself.

Cherimoya tart, a festive holiday dessert.

Tarta de Chirimoya
Cherimoya Tart

The tart filling, which is set with gelatine, can be made a day in advance of serving. It also freezes well. If frozen, allow to stand at room temperature at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Serves 6 to 8.

2 pounds ripe cherimoyas
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds
1 tablespoon medium Sherry
½ cup Greek yogurt
¼ cup sugar, or to taste
¼ cup milk
2 ½ teaspoons unflavored gelatine
1 cup whipping cream
Baked crumb crust
Dark chocolate, melted over hot water (optional)

Cut the cherimoyas in half and scoop out the flesh. Remove and discard all the black seeds. Puré the flesh in a blender or food processor with the lemon juice. Place in a bowl and stir in the lemon zest, cardamom, Sherry, yogurt and sugar.

Put the milk in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatine into it. Allow to soften for 5 minutes. Dissolve the gelatine in a microwave or by placing the bowl in a pan of hot water and stirring. Whisk the gelatine into the fruit mixture.

Beat the cream until it holds soft peaks. Fold the cream into the fruit mixture. Pour the mixture into the spring-form mold lined with baked crumb crust. Refrigerate the tart for at least 8 hours.

Run a knife around the edges of the pan and remove the sides from the pan. Carefully loosen the crust from the bottom and place the tart on a serving dish.

If desired, dribble melted chocolate over the top.

Chocolate adds a luxurious touch to cherimoya tart.

Almond Crumb Crust

Use any favorite crumb crust recipe. I invented this one because I had some leftover pieces of marzipan (almond-sugar paste).

1 ½ cups crushed crumbs
4 ounces marzipan
1 egg white

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a food processor, grind the crumbs finely. Add the marzipan and process until combined. Add the egg white and process to a paste.

Spread the mixture in the bottom of a spring-form pan that has been lightly greased with almond or olive oil. Bake the crust until golden around the edges, 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely before adding the filling.

Cherimoyas make good stocking-stuffers!