Archive for the 'food' Category

Winter shots

Lest you think I’ve abandoned ship, I’m coming back to you with a photographic representation of 2013 so far on the Iberian peninsula. The crisis is deepening, but life goes on.

Winter holidays were in Portugal. We ate incredibly well, thanks in no small part to places like Cervejaria Ramiro and the generally amazing seafood and sweets the country has to offer.

cervejaria ramiro

Lisboa continues to enchant me.


And there are so many other parts of the country to explore. We spent time in the hills and villages of the Serra da Estrela before heading back to España.

serra da estrela

This winter was cold and snowy, to my complete delight. There’s nothing like being in the Parador de Gredos during a good snowfall

parador de gredos

and exploring the surrounding area without even getting in the car.

gredos snow

Hiking trips in Madrid were frequently foiled by bad weather (not for lack of snow!), but trips elsewhere proved successful. The Sierra de Aralar was in full splendor before the rains of March set in (and we escaped the continent!).


A nearby Navarran village provided an unexpected lesson in cheese-making at the hands of an artisan.

cheese-making in navarra

We were also rewarded with a spectacular weekend in the Montaña Palentina, where we could see over the whole expanse of the Picos de Europa from the top of Peña Prieta

desde la cima de peña prieta

and even got a bit of culture with an excellent guided tour at the ruins of a Roman villa in Saldaña.

villa romana la olmeda

Here’s to spring.

Why I don’t tire of Asturias

Mountains: The central massif and the Naranjo de Bulnes from the Puerto de Pandébano in Picos de Europa.

Food: Fabada asturiana. And that’s not to fill this post with pictures of everything we ate.

Coast: Playa de Torimbia, west of Llanes.

These photos are from a four-day trip we took to Asturias at the beginning of the month.

Madrid mornings

This weekend I had a strong hankering to hang around Madrid, get stuff done, and do some madrileño things. Above you can see nine images from the two mornings I spent out and about in the barrio. (I mean morning in the Spanish sense, that is from when you get up [pretty late] until when you have lunch [earliest 2 p.m.]).

A number of those are taken in the Mercado de San Fernando, where we enjoyed cañas and tapas and window shopping Saturday morning before heading, via the gone but not forgotten Centro Social Okupado Casablanca to Bar Benteveo for their delicious lomito.

Sunday morning included an errand at the Rastro, where I spotted a banner citing the current fight over public education, and a walk through nearby streets before some tapas at one of Madrid’s oldest tabernas.

Spanish breakfast

Recently I went on a day trip to the countryside with a bunch of people. The meeting place was across town and I timed my arrival so that I could there walk from my house and grab breakfast en route. I did not know the area where we were meeting particularly well but I was sure there’d be a bar humming with a breakfast crowd in the vicinity. This hypothesis rarely fails, so when I finished eating and met the rest of the group and told them, a bit giddy with caffeine and warm, fried dough, that I’d just had breakfast in the bar on the corner, one, a madrileño said, “Ahhhhh, Espanish breakfast.” Yes, I said, I love it.

The practice goes back to my early days in Madrid. I might have been initiated in the Spanish breakfast by an American friend who’d lived in Spain longer than I and relished the tradition of a café con leche with whatever light, sweet fare was on offer in the midst of noisy locals and rushed barmen. Back then I didn’t even drink coffee, but I knew that when my parents first came to visit, in 2006, I’d have to find a spot to get them their caffeine fix first thing in the morning. Enter Herza. From then on, there was no looking back; it didn’t become a daily routine, but an eagerly awaited treat for out-of-town visitors or early morning meetings.

I should admit that I am a breakfast lover in general, which makes my love for the Spanish breakfast somewhat confounding. I was raised on hearty breakfasts—not bacon and eggs, but hot and cold cereal, weekends of pancakes or waffles, or bagels with cream cheese. The Spanish breakfast is simple and, like many tasty things, without great nutritional value. Kids grow up on Cola Cao and galletas María. In bars, you can get coffee with a bollo (breakfast pastry) or tostada (toast) for anywhere between two and two-and-a-half euros. In Madrid, it’s especially common to have churros or porras with your café. Pastries are so-so, the toast is white bread, and I have a theory that people eat their croissants a la plancha because they’re generally not that good plain. But Spanish breakfast has its gracia. What I’ve grown to like most about it is the functionality: for most, it’s not a special treat, just something that one does every day to get things going.

And now, unlike back in the day, we don’t have to have our breakfast and smoke a pack simultaneously. The Spanish breakfast has only improved with the prohibition of smoking in bars and restaurants. On my bike commute there are three breakfast spots that I picked out while riding by in the first several weeks. Now I’ve tried them all and every couple weeks I stop by one to engage in what’s becoming something of a tradition.

Last Friday at Bar Rubí (corner of Castelló and Diego de León), a tiny elderly woman walked in around 7:30 and the barman immediately set upon preparing her order, but she corrected him, “I’m going to have my tostada for the first course, and the churros as the second.” Now that’s a Spanish breakfast.

Why the end of summer isn’t so bad

And that was just the top layer. Underneath were eggplants, zucchini, onions, baby potatoes, and apples. Via Recapte.

The tortilla story

The tortilla española was a great mystery to me for the first few years I lived in Spain. At first I just couldn’t understand all the hubbub about a thick omelette with potatoes. Later, when I grew to love it, it took me a while to learn how to actually make it. Since it’s something you can count on finding in virtually every bar in the country, I never really made the effort. The prospect of deep-frying all those potatoes and the fact that so many people make good ones seemed to make my learning how to do it rather redundant (see photo below: the amazing tortilla con cebolla confitada at Juana La Loca).

I remember watching my Spanish roommates (most of whom had recently started living away from la cocina de mamá) make their first tortillas in my old flat. Once they had a little practice, they debated the virtues of slicing versus cubing the potatoes, using onion or not, and how to get the salt right. Tortilla-making, I learned, is actually something of a science. I made my first tortilla in that kitchen that had seen many an amateur tortilla maker and it was pretty bad. I had grown up in a household where salt was a no-no because of my father’s health and used little (or no?) salt in the omelette. I also hadn’t used enough oil to fry the potatoes and had sliced them too thick to cook well or to lie flat (see lumpy tortilla above).

Ultimately it was my American roommate in my new “grown up” flat who taught me the secrets of making a good tortilla—four years after my arrival in Madrid. She moved in to our completely unfurnished new place with a key utensil: a heavy, deep pan with rounded sides, almost like a wok, with a good quality non-stick surface (see left). Tortilla lesson number one: the pan is very important. Non-stick is great, and if not, you really need to make sure your pan is well-oiled (we lightly oiled the non-stick).

The way you slice the potatoes is also key. She’d cut them in half lengthwise, and then each half again lengthwise, and then slice them as thinly as possible. The size of the slice doesn’t matter much as long as they’re just really thin. If you’re going to fry the potatoes, you need to make sure to use plenty of oil. Cover the potatoes with it. Yeah, it’s a lot (more on this below) but you can do as the Spaniards do and reuse it. My roomie’s rule of thumb was to use a tablespoon of salt, which taught me not to be afraid of it, though now I don’t use quite that much. Another of her tricks was to cover the tortilla with a plate while it was cooking.

The tortilla I now make is a slight variation of my roommate’s, though she also invented the genius of the variation: boil or steam those thinly sliced potatoes. Eliminates the excess-oil conundrum and, at least to our American palate, you don’t lose too much in taste. And leave the skins on for crying out loud! They’re good for you. Spaniards will call me a heretic, but my Spanish friends love this tortilla. Here’s how I do it:

Tortilla de patata a la Katie (with steamed skin-on potatoes and caramelized onions)

1. Take anywhere from 3-5 medium onions and caramelize them. I use this method, with just the oil and salt.

2. While the onions are working their magic, get your potatoes ready. You need 4 or 5 medium-sized potatoes. I just use the ones that come in my veg box, and I’m not sure what kind they are. Cut them as I explained above: first lengthwise, then again (so you have quarters), and then slice their width as thin as you can. Boil or steam the sliced taters until they’re soft enough that they break when you stick a fork into them (15-20 mins).

3. While you’ve got the veg going on the stove, break four eggs into a large bowl. Add anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon of salt, depending on your preference. Grind some black pepper in there, too, if you fancy. Whisk it all together.

4. Pour your caramelized onions and cooked potatoes into the bowl with the eggs. Stir to mix and let sit while you get your pan ready. Put a little oil on the bottom and get it over medium-high heat. When it’s warmed up a bit, dump the raw tortilla into the pan. Use a spatula to get it all together and then rest a plate over the spatula so that the tortilla is covered (and you can later remove the plate with the help of the spatula). The plate should be the size of the pan if possible.

5. Cook on the first side until you can see that the eggs on the bottom have cooked and you can slide the tortilla around in the bottom of the pan (the top half will still be very raw), about five minutes or so—I usually have time to wash some of the dishes I’ve gotten dirty. Remove the spatula so that the plate rests on the raw top of the tortilla, put a potholder over the plate (it will be very hot!) and flip the pan over the plate in a swift, sure motion (this might take a little practice, but it’s really not hard). Put the pan back on the burner, add a little oil if necessary, and then again, in a swift motion, slide the tortilla (raw side down) back into it. There’ll be a little goo left on the plate, but there shouldn’t be lots of chunks.

6. Cover the cooked side now with a clean plate with a (clean) spatula under it. Cook another 5 minutes or so. You can stick a knife in the middle to check how cooked it is. When it slides freely around the pan when shaken, you’re golden. Flip it onto the plate and let sit a few minutes before serving. Or even better, let it get to room temperature. It’s also really excellent after it’s been refrigerated (mmmm, tortilla leftovers).

Note: the last two photos are of the tortilla I made this afternoon and that inspired me to finally blog again. The green stuff is chopped spring onion greens that I had and threw in with the eggs. And yes, I did eat half of it for lunch.

Lunch epiphany

It was three-thirty in the afternoon on a rainy Monday. I was hungry and in Malasaña with a dear visitor from the States. We’d intended to go to a vegetarian restaurant recommended by a friend, but, it we’d found it shuttered. We weren’t especially tempted by any of the nearby offerings (though there are some good ones), and, all of a sudden I spied a plaid-shirted lad heading into the Hare Krishna center. I’d been by many a time and heard rather vague information about inexpensive vegetarian meals served there. Let’s check it out, I said. And in we went, rather tentatively, though we were soon reassured by the line of people waiting to pay and shiny trays of colorful food they got in exchange. We removed our shoes—no biggie, that’s how it works in my house and at yoga class—and joined the line.

Six euros and ten minutes later we were seated on mats on the floor digging into some delicious, filling vegetarian food (green salad, white beans, vegetable curry and rice, homemade whole-grain bread, and dessert), surrounded by plenty of other relaxed- and content-looking diners. People got seconds, people stayed and chatted, we asked one of the men serving food about the whole thing. Every weekday you can go and eat at 15.15. They sing at 14.45 (just our luck to have come after). Lunch is at 15.00 on Saturday, and on Sunday it’s an evening meal and it’s free. And they sell loaves of their awesome bread for two-and-a-half euros. Totally recommended.

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