Saturday, April 25, 2020


Do you try to read the titles on the bookshelves behind the talking heads on TV? During lockdown, newscasters, doctors, scientists, historians, actors, authors, now come to you from their homes, usually with a backdrop of bookshelves. 

Over my shoulder: My home office is a corner of the bedroom. Here are shelved Spanish cookbooks, guidebooks and histories that I use as reference in my writing. 

This shelf is out-of-reach in the kitchen. Cherished classic cookbooks that I never use anymore. The photo of me balanced on top of the books was taken by Arturo Macias for a Mijas town hall project about "working women of the 60s and 70s". 

My rule is to discard cookbooks that I never cook from. But, on the highest shelf in the kitchen, totally out-of-reach, are some “classics” that I can’t bear to dispose of, even if I never use them anymore. In that category are Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, by Shizuo Tsuji; Diana Kennedy’s My Mexico; Great Italian Cooking, by Luigi Carnacina (I cooked my way through this tome back in the late 1960s); The Joy of Cooking; The Spice Cookbook by Avanelle Day and Lillian Stuckey (seven recipes for potato salad!); two volumes of Julia Child.

The most used books--global cuisines.

Closer to hand are old favorites, books I use regularly. They once provided me with an introduction to cuisines of many countries—Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery, Paula Wolfert’s Moroccan Cuisine; George Moudiotis’s Traditional Greek Cooking; The Original Thai Cookbook, by Jennifer Brennan; Good Food from Mexico by Ruth Watt Mulvey and Luisa Maria Alvarez; Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table by Mai Pham, and A Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden. Now, I tend to open to a single recipe that has become a favorite over the years.

Next to the dining table, more cookbooks. Many were gifts from authors and editors. (If you don't see yours, it's probably on a different shelf.) I've been delving into many of them during these days of "kitchen quarantine."

This long period of lockdown has been a great opportunity to delve into more of my cookbook collection.

Here’s a recipe from The Philippine Cookbook by Reynaldo Alejandro (Perigee Books, 1985). The book was given to me by my Filipina sister-in-law, Rosa Gereña Mendel. Leafing through it, I am amazed to find, along with exotic Asian ingredients, many Spanish dishes—adobos, estofados, even paella!

Not so surprising when I am reminded that, in 1521, Ferdinand Magellan explored the Philippines for the Spanish crown. They were named las islas filipinas, in honor of King Philip II. The Spanish colonial influence lasted until 1898 and had a lasting and monumental effect on the Philippines.

Chicken pieces cook in a rich savory sauce of soy and vinegar with garlic and pepper. A similar process to Spanish adobo, but with different flavorings.

Serve Filipino adobo with white rice.

Chicken Adobo (Adobong Manok Sa Gata)
Pollo Adobado Estilo Filipino

I love the simplicity of this recipe. It requires little prepping, no browning of chicken or sauteeing as for a sofrito. All the ingredients simmer together, creating a dish of tender chicken and flavorful sauce.

If the amounts of soy sauce and vinegar seem excessive, be assured that they mellow in cooking, finishing with a subtle sweetness. While you probably won’t need additional salt, neither will the chicken taste too salty. The whole peppercorns are a matter of taste. I find them thrilling, like chile. But, if biting into a whole peppercorn is not to your taste, use ground black pepper instead. 

My Filipina sister-in-law, Rosa, uses coconut vinegar for her adobo. The recipe in this cookbook calls for apple cider vinegar. I used white wine vinegar. Rosa, who lives in the Los Angeles area, is from the Visayas region of the Philippines. She says she has modified her traditional recipe to use less salt, sugar and fat. 

I love foods with coconut milk, so I chose to make the enhanced version in the cookbook.  

(Recipe adapted from The Philippine Cookbook by Reynaldo Alejandro.)

Serves 4.

2 ½ pounds chicken legs and thighs
½ cup soy sauce
2/3 cup white vinegar
12 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 bay leaves
½ tablespoon peppercorns
½ cup coconut milk (optional)
Sliced green or red chilies (optional)
Steamed rice to serve

Marinate chicken before cooking.
Combine the chicken pieces, soy, vinegar, garlic, bay and peppercorns in a deep pan. Marinate 2 hours.

Place on high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook the chicken 20 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces and cook 15 minutes longer or until chicken is tender.

Preheat broiler.

With tongs, remove the pieces of chicken. Place them on a sheet pan or rack. Place the rack under the broiler until chicken is browned and lightly glazed, 10 minutes.

Broil chicken to brown the skin.
Add the coconut milk, if using, to the remaining sauce in the pan. Raise the heat and boil until the sauce is reduced by half.

Return broiled chicken to the adobo sauce.

Cover the broiled chicken pieces with the sauce. Garnish with sliced chilies, if desired. Serve hot accompanied by rice.

Some Spanish adobo recipes:

Saturday, April 18, 2020


Orange, saffron and Sherry are the subtle flavors in this olive oil cake. 

There are loads of recipes for olive oil cake out there. But, as someone as dedicated to cooking with olive oil as I am, I wanted my own cake. 

Traditional Spanish home cooking has myriad pastries and other sweets using olive oil. Think Andalusia’s famous frutas de la sartén (“fruits of the frying pan”) such as pestiños, or anise-spiked cookies such as tortas de aceite. But cakes, not so much. I wanted to create a cake with a real Spanish accent.

Beyond olive oil itself, what could be more Spanish than oranges or saffron or Sherry? Putting them all together, I came up with this gorgeous cake that can go plain or fancy. Serve it simply, with fruit, for breakfast, or split it into layers and tart it up with a favorite frosting for special occasions. For a birthday celebration at my house, I served the cake with an easy orange marmalade pouring sauce.

Serve the cake plain or fancy.

Orange blossoms for a springtime touch. Use orange flower water in the cake too.

Serve with orange wedges---

or with orange marmalade pouring sauce---

or with strawberries. Breakfast? Maybe it needs a dollop of Greek yogurt?

Olive oil makes a moist cake that keeps well.

Orange-Saffron-Sherry Olive Oil Cake
Bizcocho de Naranja con Azafrán y Vino de Jerez

What oil to use? Any extra virgin olive oil is fine. The Arbequina variety, usually from Catalonia, is exceptionally mild, slightly almondy. Manchegan Cornicabra is noticeably spicy when picked early and sweet for late harvest oil. Picual from Jaén has a peppery edge. Hojiblanca from Málaga is fruity. The olive oil I use is not single-varietal, but a blending of several extra virgins produced in Andalusia.

Use any Sherry you prefer. I used a dry fino, but a medium-dry or even sweet Sherry would work too. If you use sweet Sherry, you might want to decrease the amount of sugar.

Zest from one orange.

One large orange makes the quantity of zest and juice called for in the recipe. Orange-flower water is an optional addition. You can buy the fragrant distilled flavoring ingredient in small bottles. Or, if you happen to have orange trees in bloom, try infusing them in the hot milk with the saffron. 

If you can get it, use saffron with denominación de origin La Mancha, Spain. (Most saffron, even in Spain, comes from Iran.) Crush the threads of saffron, then infuse them in hot milk before incorporating in the cake batter.

Measure saffron threads.

Measure saffron threads loosely (1/2 teaspoon), then crush them in a mortar or in a small bowl with the butt end of a knife. 

Saffron, Sherry, orange juice.

½ cup milk
½ teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 ¼ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ cups sugar
4 medium eggs
1/3 cup dry Sherry
1/3 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon orange flower water (agua azahar) (optional)
Confectioner’s sugar
Orange segments, to serve (optional)
Orange Marmalade Sauce to serve (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lightly oil a 9-inch springform pan and line it with baking parchment. 

Place the milk in a microwave-safe cup and heat on medium-high in the microwave for 30 seconds. Add the crushed saffron and orange zest to the hot milk and allow to cool.

Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and soda.

In a mixing bowl beat together the oil and sugar until light. Beat in the eggs one by one. Beat in the saffron-milk, Sherry, orange juice and orange flower water, if using. 

Fold in the dry ingredients and mix well. 

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a tester comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes. 

Cool cake before removing from pan.

Set the cake on a rack to cool completely before removing it from the pan. Place it on a platter to serve. Sprinkle the top with confectioner’s sugar. Decorate the cake with orange segments, if desired. Serve sauce alongside.

Orange Marmalade Pouring Sauce
Salsa de Mermelada de Naranja

Easy pouring sauce, for cakes or fruit compote--orange marmalade and cream.

½ cup orange marmalade
2 tablespoons Sherry
½ cup heavy cream

Place the marmelade and Sherry in a saucepan. Heat to melt the marmelade. Add the cream and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook until the sauce is reduced by one-quarter, about 5 minutes. 

Allow the sauce to cool before pouring in a small pitcher for serving. 

A different sort of cake with Sherry: Tipsy Cake.

More cakes and cookies with olive oil:

Happy Birthday, Benjamin. 

Saturday, April 11, 2020


I´m a bit of a recluse, so, as long as I’ve got plenty of food, drink, reading material and wi-fi to connect with friends, social distancing is no real hardship. (I’ve finally cleaned up two years of photo files!) 

But, my son Ben, a surfer, is suffering under lockdown. The beaches are closed and police patrol the access roads. On days when the live webcam shows good surf, I steer clear of him, knowing he’s on edge.

His edgy mood has some benefits. One day he pulled up all the onions from a small huerta (vegetable garden), dug up the plot, hauled manure to dig into the soil, planted out several dozen tomato seedlings and cut cane to stake them up.

Which is how I came by this basket of onions.

Freshly harvested onions are exceptionally sweet.

Someone on the Facebook group, KitchenQuarantine, posted a photo of fried onion rings. Don’t they look good!  I haven’t made onion rings in donkey’s years. I just happen to have some leftover frying batter (see last week’s post for fried cod).

The next day, after Ben had cleared another huerta of kale and chard (for me to process and freeze), turned the soil and planted bean seeds, I rewarded him with a platter of batter-fried onions. His mood improved perceptibly, but that may have been because the surf had receded and the digging was done.

Batter-fried onion rings. A touch of saffron in the batter gives them a golden hue.

Batter-Fried Onion Rings
Aros de Cebolla Rebozados

Slice onions crosswise.

A dusting of flour on the onions absorbs excess moisture and helps the batter adhere. Use any favorite frying batter (see below for links to several recipes for batter).

Fried onions can be reheated in a hot (400ºF) oven until they start to sizzle and crisp up.

2 large onions
Batter (recipe is here )
Olive oil for frying

Dust rings with flour.

Remove outer skin from onions. Cut them crosswise into ½ inch-slices. Gently push the slices to separate the rings. Spread them on a sheet pan and dust them lightly with flour.

Best fried in olive oil.

Heat oil in a deep pan. Dip onion rings, a few at a time, in the batter, letting excess drip off. Fry them, turning once, until golden-brown. (It's not necessary to use a fryer with wire basket.)

Regulate the heat so onions don’t brown too quickly. Skim them out and drain on a rack over sheet pan lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. 

Drain onion rings on a rack.

More frying batter:

More recipes with onions:


Saturday, April 4, 2020


Semana Santa (Holy Week) won’t be the same in Spain this year, without the solemn religious processions wending their way through the streets and the tapa bars thronged with people, both devout and not, seeking refreshment while the drum beat and mournful trumpets resound. It’s all cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis.

My own observance of Holy Week is also constrained. Every year I try out a different recipe for bacalao, dry salt cod, the most emblematic food during Lent and especially for Viernes Santo, Good Friday. I didn’t have the foresight to buy the cod several weeks ago, before lockdown (it keeps long periods without refrigeration). But I do have in the freezer a package of fresh-frozen cod fillets.

So, I’m making a tapa bar favorite, Soldaditos de Pavía, batter-fried salt cod, subbing the frozen fish for the dry salt cod.

"Little soldiers" of batter-fried cod. Typically, they are served with strips of roasted red peppers.
Soldaditos de Pavía means “little soldiers of Pavía.” The “soldiers” are strips of batter-fried cod. The saffron in the batter turns the fritters yellow and they’re usually wrapped in a strips of red pimiento, so they are named, depending on which story you prefer, either for the color of the uniforms worn by the Spanish Hussars who occupied the Italian city of Pavia in a famous battle of 1525, won by Emperor Charles V, or else for the troops of General Pavía, who wore red waistcoasts when in 1874 they stormed Parliament and forced its dissolution at bayonet point, marking the beginning of the end of Spain’s first republic.

I’ve got canned piquillo peppers, a pantry must-have. Instead of topping the fried fish with bands of the red peppers, I made a piquant sauce with them.

If you want to know how to prepare real salt cod, see this blog post.  At the end of that post are links to many recipes using bacalao.

I've used piquillo peppers to make a piquant, pungent alioli sauce to accompany the fried fish. (Photo by Ben Searl.)

Saffron in the batter gives the yellow color.

Soldaditos de Pavía are typical of tapa bars, especially in Sevilla and Madrid.

Inside the crispy coating, fish is moist.

“Little Soldiers” (Batter-Fried Cod)
Soldaditos de Pavía

If you are using dry salt cod, de-salt it by soaking in water for up to 3 days, changing the water several times a day. If using fresh fish, salt it lightly and allow it to stand for 30 minutes. Do not salt thawed frozen fish. Hake can be substituted for cod.

Can’t find yeast? Try the recipe for beer-battered fish instead. See the link to the recipe below.

Serves 4.

Thawed fillets of fresh (not salt) cod.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
Pinch of saffron threads, crushed
Hand-hot water
¾ cup + 1 tablespoon flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 ¾ pounds cod fillets
Olive oil for frying
Strips of roasted red pepper or canned pimiento
Piquillo pepper alioli, to accompany (recipe follows)

Place the yeast in a small bowl and the saffron in another small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons hot water to each. Let stand 5 minutes.

Batter with yeast for coating fish.

Place the flour in a bowl and combine with the salt. Make a well in the center of the flour and stir in the oil, yeast and saffron. Stir in enough additional hot water (6 to 8 tablespoons) to make a smooth batter about the consistency of thick cream.

Cover the bowl with a dampened cloth and let the batter stand for 1 hour. Stir in the parsley and garlic.

Cut the cod into strips of approximately 4 X 1 ½ inches. Pat the fish dry with paper towels.
Place oil in a deep skillet to a depth of 1 inch. Heat until the oil is shimmering, but not smoking (about 355ºF). 

Fry in olive oil. (Photo by Ben Searl.)

Dredge the strips of cod in the batter, letting excess drip off. Carefully place cod in the hot oil, without crowding the pan. Fry the pieces of cod, turning them once, until golden on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with a skimmer and drain on paper towels. 

Serve the cod hot with a strips of red pimiento and the piquillo pepper sauce

Piquillo Pepper Alioli
Alioli con Pimientos de Piquillo

The piquillo variety of pepper is bittersweet and mildly piquant. If desired, add a little hot pimentón (paprika), cayenne or Tabasco to the sauce to give it more punch.

Piquillo peppers in a can.

2 cloves garlic
½ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup drained and coarsely chopped piquillo peppers (about 4)
Salt, to taste
¼ teaspoon hot pimentón (optional)

Finely chop the garlic in a food processor. Add the mayonnaise and process until it is smooth. Add the oil, piquillo peppers, salt and pimentón, if using. Blend until smooth. 

Alioli (garlicky mayonnaise) with piquillo peppers is also good with baked potatoes, beans and grilled chicken.

Another recipe for batter-fried fish:

The view from my kitchen window--splendid isolation. Lockdown in Spain has been extended to April 25. I'll need to get out shopping before then.