Saturday, November 29, 2014


Chicken chilindrón, with a heap of sweet red peppers.

Very large red peppers.
I’m still harvesting from the summer garden! We had a bumper-crop of pumpkins (Thanksgiving pies) and the green beans are still producing. At long last, my bell peppers are ripening. These are big red, thick-fleshed, sweet peppers, bigger than market-size bell peppers. They’re perfect for stuffing or for roasting and skinning.

In Spain, the regions of the Ebro river valley—La Rioja, Navarra and Aragón (inland north-central Spain)—are famous for sweet peppers. Here the best-known dish made with peppers is chilindrón, peppers stewed with chicken or lamb. I made chicken in chilindrón to celebrate my harvest-season peppers.

 Pollo al Chilindrón
Chicken with Sweet Red Peppers

Chicken stewed with red and green peppers, tomatoes, onion and wine.

Use a whole, cut-up chicken or all legs and thighs for this recipe. You will need 3 or 4 roasted bell peppers. Roast your own or substitute store-bought flame-roasted peppers. Patatas fritas—potatoes fried in olive oil—are the usual accompaniment. But rice or wide noodles would be great to soak up the sauce.

Serves 4-6.

3-4 red bell peppers
2 ½ pounds chicken pieces
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 green pepper, cut in 1-inch pieces
2 onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 ounces serrano ham, cut in thin strips (optional)
½ teaspoon sweet pimentón (paprika)
Red chile flakes (optional)
4 tomatoes, grated (about 2 cups tomato pulp)
1/3 cup white wine

Roast peppers over gas flame.

Roast the peppers on a grill over hot coals, over a gas flame or under the broiler, turning them until charred on all sides. Remove the peppers to a bowl, cover and allow them to cool. Discard stems and seeds and rub off the charred skin. Cut or tear the peeled peppers into strips.

Rub off the charred skin.

Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and allow to come to room temperature. Heat the oil in a cazuela or deep skillet and brown the chicken pieces on all sides. Remove them as they are browned.

Add the cut-up green pepper, onions, garlic and ham, if using, to the pan and sauté until onion begins to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the pimentón and chile flakes, if using. Add the grated tomato pulp and cook on high for 3 minutes. Stir in the wine, ½ teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper. Return the chicken pieces to the pan. Cover and let the chicken simmer 30 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces, add the reserved red pepper strips and uncover the pan. Cook until chicken is tender, another 20 minutes.

Chicken chilindrón, a dish famous in Aragón.

The sauce of sweet peppers is good with potatoes, rice or noodles.
Sweet bell peppers, roasted, peeled and cut in strips. Add olive oil, a splash of vinegar and heap them on toasts. Top with strips of anchovies for a delicious tapa.

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.

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).

Saturday, November 8, 2014


Look at these beauties! Purple carrots.
Carrots were not always orange in color. A vegetable from central Asia, carrots originally were purple-skinned. The Arabs brought the vegetable to Spain and, supposedly, the Dutch developed the orange cultivar in the 17th century.

Now the purple ones are being grown again in some areas of Spain. In Málaga province, the village of Cuevas Bajas is commercializing zanahorias moradas, purple carrots. I had seen them on TV, on my favorite chef program (Cómetelo, on Canal Sur). Then, the other day, there were purple carrots at my local market! Irresistible.

Purple carrots, washed but not peeled.
As you can see in the picture, the carrots are a dull purple color. Peeled, they reveal a bright violet color beneath the skin. Sliced, they show pale yellow flesh with a sunburst of purple in the centers. Wow.

Cut in half, the carrots reveal a purple rim, yellow centers.
Peeled, the carrots are a vibrant violet color.
The raw carrots are gorgeous in a salad. Cooked, the purple outer rings darken and somewhat stain the yellow interiors. Still interesting, but not as stunning as raw.

Sliced carrots and radishes with slivers of cheese in a salad.
The taste? The purple carrots are sweet and earthy, like any good carrot, but more so. Unlike regular carrots, the purple ones contain a powerful antioxidant, anthocyanin, also present in blueberries, black raspberries and other blue and purple fruits.

Cooked, the purple carrots lose some of the vibrant color, but taste wonderful

Carrots with Raisins and Pine Nuts
Zanahorias con Pasas y Piñones

Serve these carrots hot or cold.

Serves 4 to 6.

1 pound purple carrots, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon raisins
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves or parsley

Cook the carrots in boiling salted water until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and refresh in cold water. Drain.

In a small saucepan heat the oil and sauté the onion for 2 minutes. Add the pine nuts and garlic and sauté 2 minutes more. Add the carrots and raisins and sauté until the carrots are heated through. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and add the mint leaves or parsley.

Cooked purple carrots with pine nuts, raisins, garlic, onion and sprigs of mint.

Sunday, November 2, 2014


Black fondant spiders for Halloween, by Cati Schiff.
I had a Halloween with lots of tricks and treats. I attended a food photography class taught by photographer Julio Sevillano (he provided the tricks) at the Obrador Dulce & Salado ( ), a pastry and catering shop headed by Cati Schiff (she provided the treats).

Cati puts the final touches on food to be photographed.

Cati, who trained as a pastry cook, was chef of Restaurant La Hacienda in Marbella after the death of her father, Paul Schiff, who started the restaurant in 1969. It was the first restaurant in Andalusia to win a Michelin star, with a menu featuring modernized versions of Andalusian dishes, and the first to source luxury ingredients in southern Spain. (I cut my “haute cuisine teeth” at La Hacienda—the first place I ever saw a whole, fat foie and ate lashings of it!). La Hacienda closed in 2011 and Cati has since opened the new catering shop in Fuengirola (Málaga). 

For our photography workshop (which took place on All Hallows Eve), Cati set up a table with an autumnal theme—pumpkins, raisins, chestnuts, walnuts, red peppers, sprigs of rosemary—several savory plates, lots of sweets, a few “scary” Halloween treats (those black fondant spiders and peaked witches’ hats) and classic Spanish Day of the Dead sweets such as huesos del santo, marzipan “bones.”

Huesos del santos--"saints' bones" of marzipan.

Julio Sevillano, a professional photographer based on the Costa del Sol,  got the juices going by showing us food photos by different photographers, including Francesc Guillamet, who photographed chef Ferran Adria’s creations.

Julio is not first and foremost a food photographer, but he showed us shots he made while on other assignments or in his own kitchen (including a series of tapas eroticas from Fuengirola bars). Some of his pics were shot with a cell phone! This is where photography is headed, he said, especially as the technology improves. All of the people attending the workshop had serious DSLR cameras, while I use a Lumix LX5 compact, set on “automatic.”

Photographer Julio Sevillano (left) gives the class some tips on lighting.

Then he set us loose in Cati’s kitchen, where the dishes were laid out on a marble counter. “Move around, pick up a dish, place it where you want, shoot it,” he told us. We started off with the existing kitchen lighting (florescent—not bad for food, I learned). Then he turned on powerful focal lights and showed us some ways to use them.

Julio moved around between us, passing along tips to each as we worked. He encouraged me to try new angles, use the zoom—aha! That is a useful trick!

Puddings in cups. Julio suggests trying different angles.

Definitely more appetizing from this angle.

Later, when I complained that my photos are often underexposed, he said, “Raise the ISO.” Uh-oh. You mean, I have to set the camera on “manual” operation? Julio took my camera, found the settings, showed me how and why (it increases the light sensitivity). Now I need to practice this in my own “studio” (kitchen).

Cuttlefish and potatoes with a sauce made with black cuttlefish ink.

Sardine and roasted red peppers.

After we had shot all the plates, in different lights, different backdrops, we returned to the table, where Cati served us tiny plates of the foods, sweet and savory, that we had been shooting.

Sardine and peppers in a tiny dish.
Candy kisses for the treats bag?
Unwrapped, the kisses are rosemary-scented goat cheese "creams" with a crackly sweet almond topping.

Witches' brew--definitely not the way to photograph fine red wine.
Not deadly, but delicious.
Some of these photos were retouched--made brighter--by Julio Sevillano. Maybe my next lesson will be in using PhotoShop?