Tag Archives: Spain

Cooking with Jesus

I have a passion for Spanish food. I really think it must be in my blood, because it’s not like I grew up eating this stuff everyday.

Living in Madrid, I found it hard to believe how CHEAP things were. A draught beer at an outdoor cafe could run you 1 euro, a glass of wine is a little more. They like to mix their beverages here too: beer+lemon Fanta=Una Clara (or like an English style Shandy), wine+sugared club soda=tinto de verano. Don’t knock ’em till you’ve tried ’em. In this heat, anything cool and refreshing is welcome.

Drink is just the accompaniment to the food, of course. Chorizo and queso Manchego, which are not easy to find at home, are staples of dishes here. Chorizo is like the best sausage you’ve ever had, full of lots of spices and flavors. It can be eaten right off the stick or cooked into a dish or soup. There are lots of cheeses here, but when you say “queso” in Spain, it’s assumed your talking about Manchego. I like mine extra sharp.

I had decided to take a cooking class in Spain, but when I showed up for my first day, I was so appalled by the fact that one of the attendees didn’t even know how to beat eggs, that I beat it out of there quickly. Talk about not having any huevos…(that’s a Spanish joke/yolk for those of you in the know). (sorry, couldn’t resist the puns)

Instead, I made a deal with my friend Consuelo’s husband that, in exchange for him teaching me a few traditional Spanish dishes, we’d speak in English, so he could practice what he was learning in a class. I’m no dummy. I knew I got the better end of the deal.

So, that’s how I started Cooking with Jesus (Consuelo’s husband Jesus, that is). We made a bunch of delicious dishes, that if you haven’t tried them, well, if you’re lucky, I can be persuaded to cook them for you.

That's Jesus there, 2nd from the left and me holding up my first tortilla

That’s Jesus there, 2nd from the left and me holding up my first tortilla

Spanish tortilla I grew up eating, but it’s a tricky potato, onion omelette that needs just the right proportions and consistency to get right. Apparently, you can no longer find a traditional tortilla in a restaurant in Spain, because now, after hundreds of years eating this dish, they’re afraid of salmonella or some such nonsense.

Following were croquetas, empanadillas (small empanadas) and the very Madrileño pisto, which is a caramelized vegetable dish with peppers, onions tomatoes and zucchini. Throw in some bacalao (cod) dishes and a huge Galician style cod empanada that my other friend Gloria taught me how to make, and you’ve got one happy American!

Empanada de Galicia. RICO!!!

Cooking an Empanada de Galicia with my good friend Gloria. Que rico!

Now, all this food I could eat more than made up for the food I wasn’t supposed to eat. The more time I spent in Spain, the more rules I discovered. The one that upset me the most was vermouth.

Vermouth on ice with a side of olives. My kingdom for a vermouth!!

Vermouth on ice with a side of olives. My kingdom for a vermouth!!

They have these incredible sweet vermouth bars with vermouth on tap. I know: dream come true. BUT, you could only drink vermouth before lunch, so even though I searched for a vermouth at 7pm, and even 1pm, no luck.

Also, it seems that paella isn’t the only thing not eaten at night. I would innocently suggest something to eat, and looks of horror would cross my friends’ faces. Consuelo would go so far as to say, “We don’t eat that at night because it’s too FUERTE.” That’s too heavy, for us gringos and gringas. This does make sense, because the Spaniards eat dinner at around 9:30 or 10, so no one wants to go to bed with a stomach full of fried food. Some things just didn’t make much sense to me, though.

Lentils? Not at night.
Dessert? Depends on the person, but most men say “no”
Heavy meat? Need you ask?
Melon? Too fuerte. What, really? Melon?

Killer Spanish melon? Who knew?

Killer Spanish melon? Who knew?

This one stumped me, but there’s even a rhyme for it: Por la mañana oro. Por la tarde, plata y por la noche mata. (In the morning, gold. For the afternoon, silver and for the night it kills). If that’s not a deterrent, I don’t know what is.

Finally, I wanted to try Cocido Madrileño, a hearty dish that is just NOT eaten in summer, because it’s too FUERTE. But I was determined. The complete meal starts with the stock that the whole dish is cooked in. This is a meal in itself and so full of flavor, you want to cry with joy after tasting it. Then, the remaining ingredients follow on a platter: pork belly, chorizo, ham, onion, potato and one of the main ingredients: chick peas.

It was delicious, and I have the before and after pictures to prove it, but Consuelo was right after all!

Before picture: Cocido broth, a nice piece of bread and a glass of wine. I can't wait!

Before picture: Cocido broth, a nice piece of bread and a glass of wine. I can’t wait!

After cocido. I. Cannot. Move. Too fuerte!

After cocido. I. Cannot. Move. Too fuerte!

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutubeby feather

Living the life

I got this crazy idea a couple of years ago that I wanted to live in Madrid for awhile, like I did when I was a junior in college. Now that I’ve been here for a few weeks (and in my own flat for 1.5 weeks), I realize that, when your gut tells you to do something, as crazy as it may sound to others, it’s the right thing to do.

The Gran Via in the center of Madrid

This city is incredible in so many ways. The architecture is gorgeous. I have to keep myself from gawking up at the centuries old buildings that line the neighborhood where I live. They are majestic and classic and this city knows how to strut its stuff at night. Madrid is a city, for sure, but it differs from any city I know in the States. It’s sprawling and the neighborhoods of all stripes flow easily from one to the other, but the people are warm and friendly. Ask for directions, and you’re likely to be personally shown which way to go.

Puerta de Alcala, at the edge of the Retiro park and the calle Serrano.

It’s September now, and the heat is still packing a punch, with temperatures in the 80s up to over 100. The city has accumulated centuries of grime, slime and smell, so along with the beauty comes the stench. It’s got its own special mixture of smells, just like NYC. It’s a combination of metro station, jamon serrano, old musty buildings, garlic and pee. It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the place.

I cannot get over a couple of things about the people here. The women dress beautifully. Anyone over about 60 years of age is dressed impeccably and all have a pronounced respect for others. I just discovered that my friend’s 14 year old son gets etiquette lessons in school and it shows. The youth are very polite and not only know how to talk to adults, but are not rude, overly loud and threatening as some can be in the US. I witnessed a conversation in the Retiro park my first week here. A guy of about 20 was on roller blades playing one on one hockey in the middle of a large, pedestrian-only avenue. An older lady in her 70s stopped him to tell him she thought it was dangerous, because a passerby could get hurt. He replied that the park was for everyone, and when I looked back after walking about 50 paces on, there they were, still discussing the matter. It’s stunning to me that a city this big can still retain such a sense of decorum and respect.

The Spaniards also have a healthy respect for family. Go out on the street any time of day and you see children with families. Shopping together, having tapas at night with the family, and very late at night, since that’s the coolest part of the day. I love the fact that the kids look like kids. I’ve seen so many little sisters dressed alike and it makes me smile still. I honestly haven’t heard one screaming child in a store, restaurant or metro station. It could be dumb luck on my part, or, maybe not? I’m not sure exactly how this respect and civility have been cultivated, but what I do know is most families eat together and that for the most part, kids live home into their 20s or until they get married. Adult children are also expected to care for their parents, as is the case with my two girl friends here.

To me, this just feels like the way the world should be, but this could be because I was raised in a similar fashion (except the staying at home until I got married part). I spent 10 months here when I was a junior in college, and every time I’ve come back to visit, I get a sense of peace, as if this is the way the world is supposed to be.

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutubeby feather