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).


  1. Blog was fun to read and photos are good, as well....Your students should love to see their portraits and have the blog as a reminder of their experience in your busy kitchen......

    1. Charlotte: The blog is another "souvenir" for the students. Course, now everybody shoots dozens of pics with their iphones, so they've got their own reminder.