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Bright and warm winter vegetable puree

As the cold temperatures of December set in, I felt eager to share a childhood recipe that’s warmed up many a lunch and dinner throughout the years. During the winter months, a variety of vegetable purees were often served as the first course for lunch at home, and were always very welcome and appreciated. But I had my favorites, and the one I was set to showcasing here was undoubtedly king of my heart. It’d been a while since I’d last had it, too, increasing my urge to make it. A couple of National holidays combined with accomodating professors meant I was class-free for the week, which I took advantage of to visit my parents; this was perfect timing to make the recipe with my mom, who’s always glad to lend a hand for my blogging endeavours.

Green bell pepper

Vegetables

I got out my props, made everything pretty, chopped away and shot and stirred. After a morning full of cooking and styling, we finally sat down to lunch (at 4 p.m. This is Spain, folks) and I earnestly raised the first spoonful of bright orange belly warming concoction to my mouth with a smile of jovial anticipation. The moment it passed through my lips I knew something was off, and joy turned dissapointment as it went down my throat.

Served puree

I inmediately knew what was amiss: we added about half a zucchini that didn’t belong there. This really brought me down. The puree tasted fine, and it had a nice texture and was perfectly alright, but it was not what was in my mind; not what I wanted to share. I know that, in the big scheme of things, this was a rather meaningless glitch, but it felt like a really stupid mistake that would send all the work down the drain (and I’m a real newbie in this field, so it takes me forever to make up my mind about how to style stuff in order to make it look blog worthy and decide on what props to use and then take acceptable pictures of it and so on and so forth).

IngredientsVegetables

So my first reaction was obviously to throw everything away and start from scratch. But then I decided it would really be a shame to not use what I already had just because there was a quiet inoffensive zucchini taking up some room in the pictures. I guess a lot of the time we tend to be too hard on ourselves so I decided to cut myself some slack; we just made another batch of puree, this time without the zucchini, to make sure that it turned out the way it should (it did), and I’m just using the pictures I had of the first batch, although of course giving you the actual directions to the original unaltered version (sans zucchini), hoping that it might help warm you up some chilly December night or brighten up your day with its festive luminous shade and pure pleasing taste.

Served puree

Served puree
Served puree

Winter vegetable puree:

  • 3 carrots
  • 2 medium/smallish potatoes
  • one big yellow onion
  • half green bell pepper
  • 400g (14 oz can) of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 l (about 4 cups) water
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 ts sugar
  • salt, garlic and parsley (you can make it as the link suggests or just mince garlic and parsley separately)

All ingredients

Pour some olive oil into a big, tall pot (enough to lightly cover the bottom, maybe 2 Tb or so) and set it over high heat.

Oil in pot

While the oil is heating up, slice the onion (it doesn’t need to be too thin).

When the oil is hot, but not yet smoking, dump the sliced onion into the pot and stir around to distribute oil evenly.

Slice the green bell pepper and add it to the pot; stir some more. If it begins to smoke a lot and/or the vegetables start to brown, lower the heat, as we don’t want this to happen.

Peel and slice the carrots, add them to the pot and keep stirring for a bit.

Vegetables in pot

Peel and dice the potatoes (not too small, maybe roughly 1.5 cm (1/2 to 3/4 inch) cubes).

Keep stirring the other vegetables and, when the onion and pepper feel rather soft, add the potatoes and season with the salt, garlic and parsley to your liking (I guess I added about 1 loosely packed Tb).

Softened vegetables
With potatoes

Keep cooking, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or so. Then add the crushed tomatoes and a big pinch of sugar (about 1/2 ts), stir to combine, and add the water, which I measure with the can of crushed tomatoes so I get all of the tomato into the pot. If you want to do it this way, use 2 and 1/2 cans of water. If not, just add about 4 cups.

Vegetables and tomato
Everything into the pot

Bring to a boil, turn the heat to low and let cook until the potatoes are very, very tender, falling apart if you pierce them, maybe 1 hour and a half or more.

Puree before blending

Use an inmersion blender to turn into a puree (or whatever kind of blender you have. I like inmersion blenders because they are inexpensive, take up very little space and do the job for an incredible variety of uses).

Serve and dive right in. It’s also very good with some grated cheese sprinkled on top.

Served puree

Since there’s only vegetables in it (no cream or other more quickly perishable ingredients) it will keep for several days in the fridge. It also freezes nicely, in case you want to save up some for later use.

Movie love and hot chocolate

Didn’t you just love to go on fieldtrips as a kid? Fieldtrips are, without the slightest doubt, some of my fondest, most treasured memories from my school years, from kindergarden all the way through until I sadly had to say goodbay to them in college. Back in high school, we used to get two daytrips to the International film festival in Gijón, one with our English teacher, to watch a movie in English, another with the French one, to watch a movie in French. I always looked forward to those movie trips, and that might be why every year I get so excited about the festival. I’m currently living in Gijón, so of course the gent and I got tickets for a few features, which I find is usually a hit-or-miss situation, since most movies look good on paper and you don’t know what you’re actually gonna find, but I’m glad to say we made mostly good choices.

Jovellanos theatre

San Lorenzo church, Gijón

I ended up attending 8 movies in a pretty varied and eclectic selection, including films such as Youth in revolt, a juvenile comedy taken up above others of the kind by Michael Cera’s characterization of the nerdy hopelessly in love guy, the appearance of Steve Buscemi in a smaller role and overall fine performances by the whole cast;  Un amour the jeneusse, which combined greater-than-life adolescent infatuation Splendor in the grass-style with some Paris and architecture, and I found rather moving, or Megacities, documenting several gut-wrenching stories of survival in some of the Earth’s hugest metropolis.

Theater surroundings

Last Saturday was the last day of the festival, and since we were going downtown for a couple of movies that evening, we decided it was a great time for hot chocolate. We went to a pastry shop named Balbona; they make all kinds of sweet creations and have a catering business too, we entered the shop to several tempting vitrines showcasing line upon line of delicious looking confections, chocolates and petits fours. We picked our battles quickly, as we didn’t have too much time before heading to the theater (which was really close) if we wanted to get good seats.

Sacher and chocolate mousse ball

Sacher torte and chocolate mousse ball covered in chocolate ganache for him.

Sacher and chocolate mousse ball

Chocolate-hazelnut cake and a chocolate mousse ball covered in white chocolate ganache for me.

Chocolate-hazelnut cake and chocolate mousse ball

Chocolate-hazelnut cake and chocolate mousse ball

And hot chocolate for the two of us.

Hot chocolate and pastries

Hot chocolate

Finished hot chocolate

Demolished.

It was really good hot chocolate indeed. As we say in Spain, let things be clear and chocolate thick. This one was not only thick, but you could also tell it was made with fine chocolate, for its taste was truly exquisite.

The other stuff was really good too; supple ganaches, soft, creamy mousses punctured by crunchy and cakelike bases for some texture and support, and deep flavored chocolate cake layers. There isn’t much more one could ask for. Except maybe a good movie afterwards, so we levitated our way out of there and into the theater, where we watched “No et moi“, a film about a 13 year old really bright, kind of lonely girl who, after doing a school paper on homelessness, ends up giving shelter to a young girl she meets while doing some research. I liked the movie overall, although I couldn’t stand the homeless girl character and found her extremely nerve-racking.

We had a short break, of which we took advantage to eat a chocolate palmier.

Chocolate palmiers

(that picture is just for reference, as those aren’t the ones we ate that day. There’s quite a bit of chocolate palmier love in our lives).

Jovellanos theater at night

And back into the theater we went, to top off the night with the one movie I liked best of all the ones I saw (which was pretty lucky, if you ask me); “Miss Bala“. Loved the story, the photography, the atmosphere… only complaint was I couldn’t make out half of what was spoken and would have really needed some subtitles. I seriously had a much harder time understanding the dialogues than I did with the previous one (which was obviously in French). But anyway, Miss Bala seems to have been featured at several big time festivals this year, and I would recommend it wholeheartedly.

And then, after a long round of applause, the curtain was drawn for the night, and until next year’s edition which would make for the festival’s respectable 50th birthday.

Theater curtain

So I’d say this was a pretty sweet Saturday night. Hope to be back soon with a recipe…

Theater surroundings at night

Are you a film festival lover/goer? Any amazing findings you’d like to share? And, more importantly, do you believe in hot chocolate and pastries as the perfect pre movie warm up? I most certainly do!

“Ten ton hammer” chocolate birthday cake

Last Saturday my dear gent turned 24. It might not seem like a big number, but I can vividly remember wishing him a happy eighteenth birthday and suddenly whoa! 24!, which not so long ago sounded like a totally grown up age to be. Turns out it’s not.

(Special mention to also last week birthday gals my mom and my sister-in-law!)

Cake with candles

Every year I bake the most chocolaty cake I can come up with to celebrate, but we had kind of a busy schedule for the weekend,  since on Saturday we were going to Bilbao to see these guys live (by the way, we were at the show on that video too, and it was one of the most amazing ever) and Friday night we were going out to a movie at the Gijón International Film Festival (of which I’ll talk in my next post), so I decided to keep it relatively simple, which didn’t mean that almost a pound of chocolate was not involved in the making, for it absolutely was.

We enjoyed the first slice after coming back from our movie on Friday night (since it was after 12 am so Saturday already), and then another one for breakfast the following morning before hitting the road. There was a piece left that we gave to my parents-in-law, so I’d say the cake yields 5 very nice portions, but I guess more moderate people could easily get 8 or 10.

It’s a dense cake, not too dry and not too moist with a soft texture and a pronounced chocolate flavor, topped with a thick layer of silky ganache that melts in your mouth embracing each bite of cake, just like 1000 thread count sheets would embrace your body and lull you into sweet chocolate dreamland. And in honor of the guys who would later make us sweat off the last drop of butter in the cake (and share said sweat with about every other assistant, which is the not so pretty side of musical events held indoors), I’m naming it after one of the night’s hits, for both of them were pretty powerful and shared the ability of putting you in a state of blissful elation.


Ten ton hammer cake

  • 250 g (9 oz) dark chocolate
  • 150 g (5.3 oz or 1 stick plus 3 Tb) butter
  • 150 g (5.3 oz or 3/4 cup) white sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 50 g (1.8 oz or 6 Tb) all purpose flour

Preheat your oven to 175ºC (350º F) and grease a 24 cm (9-inch) cake pan.

Separate the eggs. You’ll be whipping the whites later, so put them in the bowl of your mixer or in a big bowl if you’re doing it with a whisk, like I did. Look at the pretty shiny yolks.

Yolks

I know you can only see five of them, but I added another one later.

Put the chopped chocolate (or unchopped if you’re using chips or the like) and the butter in a medium saucepan/pot (keep in mind you’ll have to fit the whipped egg whites later in it) and set over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter and chocolate are melted and smooth.

If you’re unsure about putting chocolate in direct contact with heat, you can melt the butter first, and then add the chocolate. I use cookware that is appropriate for melting chocolate and have never had a problem with it.

Chocolate chips

Remove the pot from the heat. Add the egg yolks, two at a time, stirring well after each addition until no orange traces remain. Next dump in the sugar and stirr it in too, and last, add the flour, and stir energetically for a bit.

Whip the egg whites until they form peaks that hold their shape.

Whipped egg whites

Fold the whites into the batter, in several additions, until you get a mostly homogeneous mixture, and scrape into the prepared pan.

Cake pan with batter

I was starting to lose light at the time, hence the reach-for-the-sun pile of books, which didn’t really help much.

Put the pan into the oven and bake for about 25 min, until a skewer or knife inserted in the middle comes out almost clean, but the cake still feels quite tender in the middle.

Cake in pan

Mine was slightly overbaked, becuase I was busy with the ganache and let it bake for 30 min.

While the cake is baking, prepare the chocolate ganache:


Chocolate ganache (adapted from Chocolate Desserts by Pièrre Hermé, by Dorie Greenspan):

  • 50 g (1,8 oz or 3 Tb plus 1 ts) butter, at room temperature.
  • 180 g (6,3 oz) dark chocolate
  • 180 ml (3/4 cup) heavy cream

Place the chopped chocolate or chocolate chips in a bowl that can hold all ingredients.

Put the heavy cream in a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil.

While the cream is heating up, work the butter with a rubber spatula until it’s very creamy.

When the crem reaches a full boil, pour over the chocolate, and stir with the rubber spatula in widening circles.

Making ganache

Be patient since it will take a while, but eventually all the chocolate will be melted.

Add the butter in two additions, stirring in the same fashion as before both times, until you get a glossy, smooth ganache.

Ganache

Finished ganache

When the cake pan is cool enough to handle, run a knife around the cake edge and invert it onto a plate (or, if you didn’t plan ahead and suddenly realise that you didn’t bring any of your serving plates from your parents’ house, use a big chopping board instead. That’s the route I took).

Give both the cake and the ganache some time to come down to room temperature and just go about your business. When the cake doesn’t feel warm to the touch anymore, it’s frosting time. Or ganache-ing time. It was already pitch-dark so artificial light was in order, which was obviously not ideal for the picture taking.

Cake and ganache

You’ll have about 1 and 1/2 cups of ganache, which is just the perfect amount to cover the cake and eat a couple spoonfulls yourself. So don’t be afraid, just pour the whole thing on top of the cake, and then spread it around with a tool of your choice (I just used the back of a spoon, but I guess it’d make more sense to use a knife or spatula). The spoon worked fine for me, however, since I was not going for a polished finish, but more like swirly messy fun.

Cake and ganache

Pouring ganache onto cake

Pouring ganache onto cake

Pouring ganache onto cake

Spreading ganache

As for the finished product:

Finished cake

Finished cake

Finished cake

I kept it in the fridge so the ganache would get some consistence, and then just pulled it out a few minutes before serving. I don’t have any experience freezing it, but I’m pretty sure it would be alright frozen in plastic containers.

Hope you enjoy!

The metric system, exposed

Ok, so I wanted to make a really didactic post explaining all about the metric system, since I’m aware that a large portion of the food blogging community comes from the United States where it isn’t generally used, and so they might not be familiar with it, which is a shame because it is actually such a convenient and user friendly tool, a piece of cake to learn and, if you are capable of dealing with the incredibly intricate imperial system (which is no walk in the park!), the metric one will seem so easy in comparison.

Measuring tape

The thing is, as I started to write down and explain all the important concepts, lots of other things came up that needed explaining too, since I wanted it to be as unassuming about mathematical knowledge and easily approachable as possible, and I kind of found myself writing something that was turning into a textbook because I didn’t want to leave any loose ends and wanted it to be very comprehensive and methodical and thorough. But no one comes to a mostly food blog to read The Big Book of the Metric System, so when I got to the point where I was getting into explaining the concept of multiplication I gave up and decided to just kind of wing it and write a rather casual post about it instead, sticking to the parts that are more relevant to cooking and hoping that, if you’ve never used it before, you’ll get some basic understanding of the whole concept. So here we go:

First off, let us begin with the meter (which symbol is the letter m). The meter is the main unit of length and, as our 3rd and 4th grade teacher made us learn by heart (threatened by the fact that she’d knock the top of our heads with the humongous rhinestone from one of her various rings if you failed to say it right, cause she was old school like that), is the ten-millionth of a quarter of an Earth meridian, or the length between two marks on a certain platinum and iridium bar kept in the museum of weights and measurements in Paris or, as the far less romantic current definition goes, the distance that light travels in a 1/299792458 of a second in vacuum, but you’re probably much better off knowing that it’s just a little bit bigger than a yard, so it’s quite easy to fathom coming from the imperial system.

When we want to measure little things in our everyday life, we use centimeters (cm) and milimeters (mm). You might be familiar with those prefixes and may have guessed that there are 100 centimeters in one meter (just like there are 100 cents in one dollar) and 1000 milimeters in one meter, so there are 10 mm in each cm. A milimeter is about the width of a thread of yarn, or the thickness of a small coin, whereas a centimeter is about the width of one of my fingers because I have pretty small hands. Keep in mind that an inch is about 2.5 cm, so picturing a cm shouldn’t be too hard.

measuring tape

I am 160 cm or 1.60 m tall, which equals 5 ft 3” and a 9 inch cake pan is about 23 cm for some reference.drawing tools

When you want to measure longer distances, you normally turn to kilometers (km), being 1 km equal to 1000 meters, and so 1 mile = 1.61 km. The speed limit in Spanish highways is 120 km/h, which would translate to 74.6 mph.

highway sign with kilometric distances

But the great thing about the metric system is that everything is easily related. Let’s see. If you take 10 cm (roughly 4 inches) (which is called a decimeter (dm) because 10 dm make 1 m), and you make a cube which side measures that, then the volume that fits into that cube equals 1 liter (l) (which is about a tiny sip less than a quart), but wait! It gets better, because the amount of water it takes to fill that cube weights exactly 1 kilogram (kg) (which equals 2.2 lb, or 35.27 oz).

I weight around 55 kg (121 lb), and things like flour, rice, sugar and dry beans come in manageable 1 kg packages, whereas I like to buy my chocolate chips in bulk, and they come in 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) wonderfully big bags.

chocolate chip bag

Also, if you take that water we were talking about, the temperature at which it freezes is 0 ºC (degrees Celsius or centigrades) (which would be 32 ºF), and the temperature at which it boils is 100 ºC (or 212 ºF). Easy, right? Today it is around 15ºC here (59 ºF), and you’ve got a fever if your tempreature is over 37 ºC (98.6 ºF) so you get the idea.

thermometer

And, for some diversity, just like with meters, centimeters, etc, other widely used units are the mililiter (ml) and centiliter (cl) for volume, and the gram (g) for weight (and yes, I know it’s mass and not weight, but I think we all understand what I’m talking about). We don’t normally use anything smaller than a gram since, being 1000 g equal to 1 kg, you’re not likely to weight anything lighter (28.35 g make 1 oz, and 454 g make 1 lb), but you might want to know that 1000 miligrams (mg) make up 1 gram.

Soda, for instance, comes in 330ml (11.15 fl oz) cans (instead of 12 fl oz, or 355 ml, like in the US) and wine in 75 cl (25.4 fl oz) bottles.

So, recapitulating, here’s what you’ll be using more:

1000 mm = 100 cm = 1 m = 0.001 km
1000 ml = 100 cl = 1 l = 1 dm³
1000 g = 1 kg

And, since American recipes heavily rely on volume measurements that are specific to cooking and baking, I made a little table (click on it to enlarge it and make it actually readable) with volume equivalents for gallons, quarts, pints, cups, ounces, tablespoons, teaspoons and mililiters that I hope will come in handy. To read the table: the number that’s on the same column as one of the units on the top row tells you how many of those units are in the one that’s on the first column of the same row the number is. This sounds incredibly complicated, so here’s an example: If you want to know how many tablespoons are in one pint, you look for the word “Tablespoons” on the first row, then for the word “Pint” on the first column, and if you go down from “Tablespoons” and right from “Pint”, they’ll meet “32”, so there are 32 Tablespoons in one Pint. Hope that makes sense.

table with volume conversions

Click on the table to see full size

Note: I’ve slightly rounded up a few numbers for simplicity’s sake, and because the difference was so tiny that nobody would be able to measure it with regular measuring tools.

So, what measuring system/units do you use/prefer? Do you use volume or weight measurements for ingredients in cooking/baking?

Xatinos and Russian Steaks

Asturian veal. Pride and glory of our prairies. The most extensively consumed kind of meat around these lands. Just look at’em cutie pies.

CalfCalfsCalf

They’re not grass fed. They’re grass-eating freaking machines.

Calf eating grassCow grazing

Graze graze graze all day long. Unless, of course, they’re still getting their nutrients from their mommy:

Calf with its mother

Calf feeding from cow's milk

Which, just like mommies all over the world, will always see them as babies, and take care of them accordingly (even when they’re probably nearing 1000kg):


Cows - mother and daughterCows - mother and daughter

This one was kind enough to stop grazing and pose for the camera:

  Calf

And how’s this for an overdose of uber cuteness? Just look at those itsy-bitsy tiny perfect feet!

Calf

Xatín. That’s what we call a little calf in Asturian.

So yeah. Enough with that. I’m actually giving you a recipe, not only a bunch of relatively random pictures.

Today’s concoction is what we call, for whatever reason, “Filetes rusos” (which means Russian steaks). They’re easy as pie, except actually waay easier that pie (unless you use a premade pie crust and pie filling); you can whip them up in about 10 minutes and they’ll make a great weeknight dinner. They’re one of those meals that have “kid-friendly” written all over their faces, but I don’t know of any grown-up who doesn’t enjoy them just as much. Oh, and although I’ve listed veal as the meat of choice, they turn out great also with a mix of ground veal and pork. I’ve never tried them with beef but I guess they’d be fine too.

Filetes rusos:

  • About 450 g (1 lb) of ground veal or other meat
  • 10 Tb finely chopped onion
  • 1 Tb minced garlic
  • 1 sprig of parsley, chopped very finely
  • 1 egg
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Ingredients ready to use

Put the meat into a big bowl. Chop the onion, garlic and parsley very finely (I use the food processor) and add them to the meat, along with about 1/2 ts salt, about 2 Tb breadcrumbs and the whole egg. Stir everything together with your hands (à la Jaimie Oliver) or using a fork if you don’t want to dirty your hands. At this point, you could put this mixture in a sealed container and store in the fridge for later use (and it will last for a few days, since it’s already seasoned).

Ingredients in bowlMixed up ingredients

Form patties with the mixture (make a ball and flatten it using the palm of your hand). I think I got about 8 patties with this amount, but the size is totally up to you. Sometimes I even make a big one that takes up the whole frying pan.

Formed pattiesFormed patties

Sprinkle some more breadcrumbs on a dish or paper towel and coat each side of the patties in them. Tap off any excess, as you don’t want a thick layer of breadcrumbs. At this point yo could also wrap your patties in film and keep them in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for quite a long time.

Breadcrumb covered patty

When you’re ready to eat them, heat a little olive oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. You’ll want enough oil so that when it gets hot there’ll be a thin film all over the bottom of the pan.

Pan with oil

When the oil is hot, put some patties into the pan. Just fry as many as you’re eating, and keep the rest in the fridge. When the bottom looks golden brown and done, flip and cook on the other side till it looks the same.

Cooking the pattiesPatties  in pan closeupTake out to a dish and serve. If you need to fry them in several batches, and a little more oil as needed if the pan gets dry.

Finished "steaks"Finished "steaks"Finished "steaks"

And don’t let them get cold as I did! (Although they’re still super tasty and juicy, I’d know after taking like a hundred pictures before finally sitting down to lunch…).

El Desarme

served dishSo. This is not at all how I’d envisioned things happening when I wrote my last post. My way back last post. My I-can’t-believe-almost-two-months-are-gone-by-already-since-I-posted-it last post. But you all know and understand that sometimes life just gets in the way. Stuff happens. My original intention was to come back from my lovely week-long trip around Tuscany and fill you in about its magical cities, romantic countryside, delectable food and enticing wine. Which I evidently didn’t do, and have decided that it’d be kind of out of place now that we’re all back to our non-vacational routines and hence I’m not as inspired anymore to recount it. Plus I don’t like wine so I wouldn’t know about its enticing-ness anyway (I know, I know… I’m such a terrible Spaniard).

chickpeas and salt cod

There’s also the fact that I have something special to share here today which, as the title of the post suggests, it’s called “el Desarme”. El Desarme is a food-related celebration (what celebration isn’t?) which takes place every October 19 in Asturias ever since a little over a century and a half ago. There was this civil war in Spain, the Carlist war, going on at the time. The country was divided between those who wanted Isabel, daughter of the deceased king Fernando VII, to take over the throne after his death, as he had stipulated and arranged for, which would lead the country towards a more liberal political direction (those were the liberals), and then a more conservative faction advocating for the king’s brother, Carlos (hence the name Carlist war) and his more totalitarian approach to governing as the rightful successor (being a man scored you big king points way back when) (and those were the Carlists).

cod pieces

Some of you may have guessed that “el Desarme” translates as “The Disarmament”. Now I’m sure we all agree that laying down your arms and taking conflict to an end is a wonderful concept, but putting the idea into practice, that’s a whole ‘nother story. Armed people are not usually very keen to putting down their guns and making peace when told to do so. You can’t disarm people by just yelling “Hey! Let’s put our guns down now and stop fighting, shall we?”, you gotta work your way around it. You need to lure them and beguile them, make use of your most subtle and refined persuasion techniques. And that’s just what the liberal crowds in Asturias did to the Carlist army that was trying to bully them; they disarmed them by stuffing them silly. The fact that they were at war against each other didn’t mean the Asturians shouldn’t be good hosts and feed up the Carlists, right? No one wants to battle on an empty stomach. But this wasn’t just a few sandwiches to get them going. Word has it that the Carlist troops were served a menu consisting of chickpeas with cod and spinach as the entrée, then callos (a very rich stew made with cows tripes) as the main dish, and some rice pudding for a sweet finishing note. Which is pretty hardcore, even for an army of hungry soldiers. So while they were stuffing their faces with obscene amounts or food (or maybe it was during the siesta that most likely ensued), guns resting behind their backs so they wouldn’t get in the way while eating, the Asturian soldiers took them away without the Carlist troops even taking notice. But hey, can’t really blame them. I’m sure the Carlists were competent soldiers that would’ve stood up to anything in the battlefield, but this meal? You could have taken Charlton Heston’s NRF membership card after this meal and he wouldn’t have batted an eyelash.

cod pieces

So you’ll have to agree with me that yeah, peace and cease-fire are great, but peace by being too full to even realize you’re being ripped off? C’mon, that’s the stuff world peace dreams are made of. So go ahead and celebrate with us, by preparing this delicious dish for your friends and family (or for your enemies, it just might turn things around!) and making a toast to happy bellies and non-fighting armies.

ingredientschickpeas and spinach

Chickpeas with cod and spinach

  • 500 g (17,6 oz or 1 lb plus 1,6 oz, but it really doesn’t have to be exact so you can go ahead and use just 1 lb) dried chickpeas
  • 400 g (14,1 oz but again, it won’t make a difference if it’s a little bit less or more) salt cod fillet
  • 200-300 g (about 7-10 oz) spinach
  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 sprigs of parsley
  • 1 egg
  • some flour (around 6-8 Tb)
  • smoked paprika
  • a few saffron threads (optional)
  • olive oil
  • salt

The first step is to desalt the cod, so cut the fillet into a few stripes (about an inch wide), place them in a big bowl and fill it with cold water. Soak for 18 to 24 hours, changing the water 3 or 4 times.

Place the chickpeas in nother big bowl, add cold water that comes at least an inch above the chickpeas (no need to rinse them first since we’ll be throwing that water away later) and soak overnight (about 10 to 12 hours).

Discard chickpea water and place chickpeas in a big pot.

Chop onion, garlic and parsley finely (I do this in the food processor) and add to the pot. Sprinkle with about 1 Tb of smoked paprika.

pot with ingredients

Add the saffron if you wish.

Generously drizzle with olive oil (2-3 Tb) and sprinkle with flour (about 3 Tb).

Fill the pot with cold water that goes up to 1/2-1 inch above the chickpeas.

Add a big pinch of salt (about ½ ts. You’ll probably need to add more later but I prefer to be on the safe side just in case the cod is still a bit salty in spite of the soaking).

Cover the pot with a lid and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the chickpeas are tender, which can take up a varying amount of time depending on the chickpeas, heat, pot, etc, but probably a little short of 2 hours.

cod pieces

While the chickpeas are cooking, prepare the cod: cut each stripe into 2 or 3 pieces, beat the egg in a little bowl and have some flour ready in another bowl or on the counter. Dredge the cod pieces in the flour.

floured cod

Add some olive oil (1-2 Tb) to a frying pan and turn the heat to high. When the oil is hot, take a piece of floured cod, dip it in the beaten egg and place in the pan. Repeat with the rest (you can do this in batches if you need to, adding more oil as needed). Flip the pieces several times so every side gets cooked. When all of the pieces are done, set them aside.

ready to fry the cod

dipping cod in egg

fried cod

Wash your spinach. If you’re using baby spinach, just chop them up a bit. If you’re using the regular kind, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook them for a minute, then rinse them in cold water and roughly chop them.

When the chickpeas are tender, add the cod and spinach, and let cook for a couple of minutes, then turn the heat off and let it rest, covered, for a few minutes. Taste it and add more salt it needed (and/or more paprika) and serve.

served dishserved dish closeupserved dish

Coming to an end

As my mother likes to put it “Summer is ten minutes long”, and it seems that those ten minutes are almost up. Even though it won’t be officially over until September 21, one can most certainly feel it already fading away, August’s lazy blurry light starting to give way to the much crispier, more nitid September atmosphere. La Liga is finally back, and my beloved Barcelona just scored a whopping 5-0 against Villareal. Oh yeah. Tourists are going back home and I do no longer have to wait 45 minutes in line at the fish monger, or fight my way through the crowded streets downtown, which is relieving. Soon we’ll be able to take the dogs to the beach again, and to have it all for ourselves. Now that’s the description of luxury, if you ask me.

Apple treeI’ve been trying to enjoy what’s left of the summer as much as I can since classes start back on September 12 (I’m a college student) and fall will come to take away the festive atmosphere that reigns over the estival months. The gent and I are going on a week long trip to Tuscany, of which we’ll hopefully come back all geared up to tackle the back to school frenzy (including appartment hunting – not fun).

Last Thursday my parents and I went on one of the guided hikes the National Park of Picos de Europa offers for free (props to the guide for making it an awesome experience, it almost feels like going with a group of friends except one of them is incredibly knowledgeable about all things mountain related, including flora, fauna, histoical background…). We hiked from the village of Sotres to the summit of Peña Maín, on the Central Massif of the Picos.

View of the Picu Urriellu
View of the Picu Urriellu, flagship of the Picos de Europa

View from the summitThen after toting my camera all the way up, the battery died before I could capture the view of the sea behind the mountain range.  Bummer. It didn’t bother me all that much though; it’s hard to get upset when surrounded by so much beauty. And it was a little cloudy anyway, as you can see, so it wasn’t as impressive as it would be had the sky been clear.

Saturday morning we were hungry for more, so we went to the Pienzu, a nice leisurely hike well suited for those not used to  doing a lot of walking, easy but very rewarding.

Start of the hikeView along the hikeAlso during the weekend one of the best festivals of the summer took place: the Mercáu de Porrúa (traditional market held yearly in the little village of Porrúa) where dozens of artisans of very diverse trades set little stalls to show their craft, along with many food stalls offering our typical delicacies, live music and juggling performances. Porrúa is a small town of only 400, but they’ve managed to put together – throught their cultural association, El Llacín – a wonderful event that draws in 20,000+ people each year, which is pretty amazing. We woke up Sunday morning to beautiful weather and blue skies, which was perfect for my picture taking purposes since the crowds would probably be enjoying what might be their last day at the beach. Porrúa is a little over 2 miles away from Llanes, so walking seemed a better idea than taking the car.

Road to PorrúaRoad to Porrúa2Apple trees

Once there, we started wandering through and snapping away. There was weaving and spinning…

Women spinning wool and weavingBalls of yamGirl spinning wool

Wool of different colorsWoman weaving on a loom

All kinds of handmade objects… (although many of the artisans had a no picture policy after having issues with people copying their designs…)

Leather notebooks and pouchesWool shoesCastanetsLeather briefcase

Even a “pimp my bike” sorta thing.

Pimped up bike

Bagpipe playing and dancing…

Bagpipe playingDancing

Including some funny fellas…

Man dressed up as hunchback

And animals that little kids could ride.

OxenLittle donkey

Then on the food department, there were lots of different embutidos:

Embutidos stallEmbutidos stallHanging chorizos

Picadillo to go on tortos or into a sandwich:

Woman frying picadilloPan with picadillo

And you know it wouldn’t be Asturias without all those cheeses

Cheese from PorrúaGoat cheeseAfuega'l pitu cheese

There was café de pote, which is coffee made by boiling it in water and then straining it through a cheesecloth before serving.

Café de poteCoffee pots

And also traditional cider making:

Boys making cider

Grilled sardines were pretty popular too.

Man grilling sardines

But most of the action was going on at the parrilla (barbecue grill) where the costillas (ribs) were cooking and smoking away:

Racks of ribs at the barbecue grillRacks of ribsCutting up the ribs

Not to forget the boroña preñada, a very dense (even fudgy) cornbread filled with embutidos. Utter deliciousness.

Boroña preñada

So all in all, a very fun festival that I come back to year after year. And I think that’s pretty much it for now. I’ll be back after my trip with a Tuscan treats galore post :)

So what are you doing to take advantage of the last days of summer?

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