Saturday, April 28, 2018


In Spain, cakes, pastries and sweets are not traditionally served as dessert (postre) following a meal. Rather they turn up at any time of the day or night, as an accompaniment to coffee or tea for merienda, with decanters of sweet wine and anise liqueur when guests come calling and as special treats on fiesta days.

Many typical sweets have saints’ names and are made only once a year, for festivities to honor a village patron saint. Some are so local that they’re found nowhere else. Others are made in many regions, but often with different names. To confuse things even more, the same name might be used in different regions for completely different sweets.

These honey-glazed buns are made with an easy choux paste dough.

That seems to be the case with these little buns. Called almojábanas in Spanish, they turn up in the Alicante and Murcia regions as a pâte â choux pastry (made with oil instead of butter) and baked, while in Andalusia, they are fried doughnuts.

In Murcia, these pastries are served for saints’ day festivities. There is no sugar in the pastry dough, but the finished buns are glazed with sugar or honey syrup. They’re lovely split open and filled with whipped cream or cream cheese.

The name, almojábanas, comes from the Arabic al muyabbana, meaning  “mixture with cheese.” But, curiously, the current-day recipe for the pastry doesn’t include cheese. I’ve put the cheese back into the pastry dough, using queso fresco, fresh goat’s cheese, mashed. Fromage frais or well-drained ricotta could be used.

Lots of eggs give the pastries a lovely golden color.

Buns are spongy on the inside. They can be split open and filled with cream or cheese.

Honey-Glazed Buns

Makes 16 (3 ½-inch) buns

1/3 cup olive oil plus more for shaping the buns
1 ¼ cups water
Pinch of aniseed (optional)
2 ½ cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 eggs
3 ounces queso fresco, mashed
For the honey glaze
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup water

Flour with oil and water makes stiff dough.

Combine the oil, water and aniseed, if using, in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour and salt. Use a wooden spoon or paddle to mix the flour until smooth. Dough will be very stiff. Return the pan to a low heat and cook 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Let cool 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment.

Mix one egg at a time.
Dough absorbs egg.

Break one egg into the dough. Use the wooden spoon to mix in the egg until it is completely absorbed. Continue to add one egg at a time until all are beaten into the dough. Stir in the mashed cheese.

Dip a tablespoon into a small bowl of oil. Use it to drop spoonfuls of the batter onto the baking sheets, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Dip a finger into the oil and make holes in the center of the mounds of batter.

Drop spoonfuls of dough on baking sheets. Dip finger in oil and make holes in center of the mounds of dough.
Bake the buns until golden, about 25 minutes. Remove the buns from the baking sheet and let them cool completely on a rack.

Let buns cool on a rack so they dry thoroughly.

Dip buns in honey.

Combine the honey and water in a small saucepan. Bring it to a boil, reduce heat and simmer the honey 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Pour the honey into a shallow pan. While honey is still warm, dip each bun, topside down, into the honey syrup. Use a wooden skewer to lift them out. Place on a rack to dry.

Bun sprinkled with powdered sugar.

More recipes for pastries and buns:

Saturday, April 21, 2018


Springtime harvest.

Carrots are so versatile! We tend to think of them as winter vegetables, stored in the root cellar, essential to hearty cold-weather soups and stews. But pulled from the damp spring earth, carrots are bright and sweet, delicious raw or cooked.

This sumptuous carrot soup, vegan or not, with subtle spicing makes a lovely starter for a spring meal. It can be served hot or chilled, so will take you right into summer menus.

A creamy carrot soup with no cream, thickened with almonds and rice.

Chopped fresh mint gives carrots a springtime flavor.

This is a creamy soup without the dairy cream. Ground almonds and rice are the thickeners and olive oil gives richness. For a vegan version, use a well-seasoned vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.

Fresh goat's milk cheese.

The soup is good with a swirl of queso fresco or Greek yogurt. If you prefer the vegan version, just omit the cheese. Garnish with chopped fresh herbs—mint, fennel, parsley, tarragon or cilantro are all good with carrots. Chopped scallions add a sprightly touch.

Carrot Cream Soup
Crema de Zanahorias

Serves 6 to 8.

3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup blanched and skinned almonds
5-6 carrots (12 ounces), chopped
1 leek, chopped
1 clove chopped garlic
¼ cup short-grain rice
Strip of lemon zest
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch of ground cloves
Freshly ground black pepper
8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Chopped fresh herbs and scallions to garnish
1 ounce queso fresco (soft cheese) (optional)
2 teaspoons hot water

Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the almonds and fry on medium heat until they are toasted. Skim them out and reserve.

Add the carrots, leek and garlic to the oil. Sauté until vegetables just begin to turn golden, 5 minutes. Don’t let them brown.

Carrots and rice cook til tender.
Stir in the rice, lemon zest, ginger, cardamom, cloves and pepper. Add the stock and salt to taste. Bring the soup to a boil, cover and simmer 20 minutes.

Place the fried almonds in a blender with 4 tablespoons of the liquid from the pot. Blend to make a smooth cream. Stir it into the soup and cook until carrots and rice are very tender, 10 minutes longer.

Remove and discard the lemon zest. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender. Add the lemon juice and reheat the soup before serving. Garnish with chopped herbs and scallions. If desired, mash soft queso fresco with hot water to serve as an accompaniment. 

Garnish soup with chopped scallions and herbs. Serve softened queso fresco on the side.

Fresh goat's milk cheese is softened and mashed.

Swirl the soft cheese into the soup.

Next year perhaps I will try growing purple carrots. I bet they would make a pretty soup.

More vegetarian recipes with carrots:

Saturday, April 14, 2018


Where does pasta come from? No, it wasn’t brought from China by Marco Polo in 1292, as the story goes. Pasta, as a cooked paste made of flour and water, may have originated in Persia and migrated throughout the Middle East along with Arab traders. Although the Romans had some sort of pasta, it was Moorish invaders who introduced hard durum wheat to Sicily—a toehold in Italy—and to Spain. 

Pasta in medieval times wasn’t made in the varied shapes and calibrations that we know today. It was more like a poor folks’ stand-in for bread—unleavened balls of dough, hand-rolled and dropped into the cooking pot.

Pasta "rags" cook in a stew with chicken and artichokes.
Spain’s traditional cooking still has some of those kinds of pastas. This is one, andrajos, which means “rags,” so-called because the cooked pieces of pasta look like tattered old clothes. Originally it was a simple soup made by field laborers, consisting of foraged vegetables and greens stewed with garlic and olive oil to which hand-made pasta was added. Filling and sustaining.  

If hunters supplied rabbit, hare or partridge, meat would be added to the pot as well. Shepherd’s might have added pieces of lamb. On church days of abstinence, the stew is cooked with bacalao, salt cod. Today andrajos is made with chicken.

Pasta soaks up the savory liquid and thickens the stew.

Raggedy Pasta

1 ¼ cups flour + additional for rolling out
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water + additional to make a soft dough

Knead to make soft dough.
Place the flour and salt in a bowl. Add 1/3 cup of water and mix until all the flour is dampened. Add enough additional water (approximately 2 tablespoons) to make a soft dough that can be formed into a ball.

Turn the dough out on a lightly floured board and knead it until smooth and stretchy. Cover with a cloth and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

Roll dough out thinly.

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and roll each into a ball. On a lightly floured board, roll out each ball of dough as thinly as possible into a disk approximately 9 inches in diameter. There's no need to make perfect circles, as the pasta will be broken up in cooking. Place the disks on a clean cloth until ready to add to the chicken stew, at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

Cook the pasta disks in the stew or in a pot of boiling salted water, using two forks to tear them into “rags.”

Saffron gives the broth a golden hue.

The stew is easier to serve if chicken skin and bones are removed.

Chicken Stew with Pasta “Rags”
Guiso de Pollo con Andrajos

The chicken thighs can be left whole or, for easier serving, stripped of skin and bones and the pieces returned to the pot with the pasta.

Trim the artichokes and add them to the pot immediately, so they don’t need to be soaked in acidulated water. To eat the artichokes, pick them up by the tips and bite off the meaty heart, discarding the leaves, or use a knife and fork to separate the heart from the (inedible) leaves. Frozen artichoke hearts can be used or substitute another vegetable such as chard, asparagus or fava beans.

Serves 4-6.

1 ¾ pounds bone-in chicken thighs
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
½ teaspoon saffron threads
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
1 clove
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
½ teaspoon cumin
6 ¼ cups water
Sprig of thyme
Sprig of mint
1 bay leaf
2 medium artichokes
Pasta dough for andrajos rolled in disks
Chopped mint to serve

Sprinkle the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Let them come to room temperature.

Heat the oil in a heavy pot. Brown the chicken pieces slowly, 10 minutes. Add the onion and carrot and continue sautéing until onion begins to brown.

Crush the saffron in a mortar with the peppercorns, clove and coarse salt. Scrape it into a blender with the garlic, parsley and cumin. Add ¼ cup of the water and blend until smooth. Add the spice mixture to the pot with the remaining 6 cups of water and 1 teaspoon more of salt. Add the sprigs of thyme, mint and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, 30 minutes.

Cut out the fuzzy choke.

Cut away artichoke stems and snap off outer leaves. Use a serrated knife to cut the artichokes in half. With the tip of a knife, cut out and discard the fuzzy choke. Add the cut artichokes immediately to the pot with the chicken. Continue cooking until artichokes and chicken are tender, 30 to 40 minutes more. 

Put disk of pasta into bubbling liquid.

Remove chicken pieces and artichokes to a serving bowl. With the remaining liquid bubbling, place one of the pasta disks into the pot. Gently push it down with the back of a wooden spoon. Add a second pasta round in the same manner, then the remaining two disks. Use two forks to tear the pasta into raggedy pieces. Let it cook until tender, 10 minutes.

Remove and discard skin and bones from the chicken. Return the pieces of the meat to the pot with the artichokes. Reheat.

Serve the stew with chicken, artichokes and pasta rags sprinkled with chopped mint.

Chopped mint enhances the flavors of this stew.

Another recipe for hand-made pasta:

More pasta recipes:

Saturday, April 7, 2018


Have you finally used up all the colored Easter eggs? At my house, I set out to make an old favorite recipe for using hard-boiled eggs—huevos dobles, “double” eggs, so-called because they have eggs on the inside and eggs on the outside. They are stuffed, napped in croquette batter, dipped in beaten egg then coated in crumbs and fried.

Something went wrong. I think the coating batter (béchamel) was too thick, because it just didn’t adhere to the eggs. Believe me, I tried various remedies before I walked away from that fiasco, leaving lumps of stuffed eggs and congealed béchamel in the fridge overnight.

Next day, I didn’t even try to start over, but turned my ingredients into a completely different dish. I put the deviled eggs in an oven dish and spooned thinned-down béchamel sauce over them. A little grated cheese and under the broiler for a few minutes.

Eggs are stuffed with ham and spinach, deviled with hot pimentón. Coated with béchamel, they are browned under the broiler.

Those eggs were delicious! Definitely worth cooking up some eggs just to make them. I served them as a starter with salad greens. A day later, I reheated remaining eggs on a bed of spinach with a thinned-out blob of béchamel and called it lunch.

“Deviled” is the terminology for spicy flavorings, such as mustard and/or cayenne. These stuffed eggs have, not cayenne, but spicy-hot pimentón (paprika). You can use either smoked or unsmoked pimentón. Caraway seeds are a brilliant addition to the egg stuffing. Use either serrano or cooked ham in the mix. For a vegetarian version, omit the ham and increase the chopped onion and spinach.

Serve these stuffed eggs bubbling hot or room temperature.

Serve eggs as a starter. Or, maybe, brunch?

Stuffing has chopped spinach and ham.

Stuffed Eggs Gratin
Gratinado de Huevos Rellenos

6 hard-boiled eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion or scallions
2 tablespoons finely chopped ham
½ cup chopped spinach
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon hot pimentón (paprika) or pinch cayenne
Pinch of caraway seeds, coarsely crushed
1 tablespoon milk
Bechamel sauce (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons grated cheese
Additional pimentón to finish
Additional olive oil to drizzle on top of eggs

Peel the eggs and cut them in half. Remove yolks and place them in a small bowl. 

Stuffed eggs.
Heat the oil in a small skillet and sauté the onions 2 minutes, until softened, but not browned. Add the ham and spinach. Cook, stirring, until spinach is wilted and any liquid is cooked off. Scrape the mixture into the bowl with the yolks. Add the salt, mustard, pimentón, caraway and milk. Mash the yolks until fairly smooth. Press the mixture into the hollows of the egg whites, mounding it slightly.

Preheat broiler. Lightly oil a shallow oven dish.

Place the eggs in the dish, separating them slightly. Spoon béchamel sauce over the eggs. Sprinkle the tops with bread crumbs and grated cheese. Sprinkle with a little pimentón and drizzle oil on top of eggs.

 Minutes under the broiler to gratin the eggs.
Place the eggs under the broiler until the sauce is bubbling and browned on top, about 4 minutes. Serve the eggs hot or room temperature.

For the béchamel sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons flour
1 ¼ cups milk
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of hot pimentón

Combine the oil and flour in a small saucepan. Cook it, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the milk until mixture is smooth. Return to the heat and cook, stirring, until the sauce is smooth and thickened. Season with salt, pepper and pimentón. Cook the sauce, stirring, 4 minutes. 

Here are the "double eggs," that didn't work out this time.

More recipes for stuffed eggs: