June 15, 2010

In the realm of cooking, baking might very well be the more artistic of all places.

Not unlike poetry, it relies on carefully balanced ingredients, some well known themes, to which your personal twist is needed for the overall experience to become unique at best, pleasing at least.
Is the magic of baking contained in the waiting and fantasizing that begin the moment the oven door is closed?

Yesterday the urge came back. I *had* to bake. Mix, whisk, cook and eat; there was no escaping it.
And such was the need that I aimed for the simplest and fastest solution. Barely looking at the directions, I grabbed ingredients and only took enough time for a few photos.

And there I was, briskly chopping chocolate away, delicately slicing a banana and happily smelling the tantalizing aroma of cinnamon.

Let’s not forget flaked almonds, lots of them, which I roasted until some of them started to blacken.

15 minutes of oven later, I was satisfied. The bananas had a melting/firm consistency, and the chocolate’s presence was noticeable, but not overpowering.
And let’s not get started on cinnamon!

The D/C ratio

August 22, 2009

This voluntarily cryptic title hides a simple observation:
The D/C ratio stands for Difficulty/Contentment … which does not provide much more explanations, does it?

It is well known that the difficulty of preparation of a dish is not proportional to the pleasure of eating it.
Of course, a refined presentation, a marriage of colors, tastes and textures make an overall sensory experience.
But this is not always achieved by chef-level techniques or high end utensils.
Sometimes, crude preparation of simple products can reach the same level of … goodness.

That being said, I’m not going to brag about today’s preparation, or present it as an unrivaled delicacy.
If cooking taught me anything, that would be humility. You can be confident in your favorite technique, which you have mastered to the point that you can play it by heart, and with your heart (not unlike music, isn’t it?), but there is always a variation you never thought of, a spice you don’t know, an … interpretation you can fall in love with.
And so, simple things are not necessarily plain-tasting, and complex constructions need not be an unforgettable moment.
I wanted dead simple today, so I chose to bake cupcakes.
Flour, chemical yeast, ground almonds and the ubiquitous pinch of salt

Dry elements

On the moist front, we have butter and sugar

Butter and sugar

And two eggs beaten in, with almond extract (oh, the smell of that!)

Beating in eggs

Mixing everything with some milk leaves us with a simple batter

And milk even

Some nuts fall into the mortar: walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios.

The nutty mortar

They are no match for the hard stone pestle … “rock and hard place”, anyone?

The crushing truth

The smiling cupcakes are swiftly baked, we’re nearly there.

Ready to roll

I did a light syrup with honey and lemon, and used it to moisten the cupcakes, so that the crushed nuts would hold in place.


Of course, the lemon and honey’s flavors definitely added an extra information to process when eating these little things.
I’m satisfied with the results: friends I was baking this for were happy.

Isn’t that the primary goal of any cooking?


So obvious

August 21, 2009

The heat seems to be taking a break. Let’s hope it’s a permanent one.
Trying to exorcise its effects by cooking is fairly simple: lemon ice!

Thank you to Luiz for the recipe he posted a few days ago in response to my cry for help…
I tried it, and it worked perfectly!

Lemons … I had one regular lemon and a lime at the time I took the picture.
Then I found another lime … which I added to the mix of course.
Grating lemon and squeezing the juice out of them is a nice and easy task … until you discover you had a small cut on your hand!
Hard pressed

A syrup is prepared with water, sugar, lemon juice and grated peels


Egg whites are whisked vigorously, until thick and welcoming.
The syrup is then folded into the whites

Whisked eggs

Before using the “ice maker” (a simple slowly rotating plastic blade), I slowly add cream.

Of course there's cream!

And the result comes close to being ancient magic: as the coolness is conjured, the heat is repelled.
The communicants experiment an acidic and impossibly sweet flavor, and can’t help but close their eyes before such an awaited event.

I like it when you do that ...

I don’t have time for this …

August 20, 2009

We’re having an extremely hot summer, with the kind of heat that is able to drain me from any (good) intentions.
And cooking does not escape this generalized discouragement of mine.

And yet, the urge to cook is coming back, even after yesterday, our hottest day ever, with 31°C indoors, at 11PM (about 88°F).
The house can’t even cool down at night, and this morning’s fierce sun was announcing yet another tedious day.
That’s when I said to myself “Paella!”

The prospect of heating the kitchen with blazing fire, boiling water and feverish activity should have acted as a strong deterrent, but here you are, reading this post, meaning the deed is done!

I tried something new for this paella: replace the peas by courgette (or zucchini if you like).
Onion, garlic, tomato, spices (among which the almighty saffron) were invited of course.

Onion, what a surprise ...

And still I didn’t have shrimps, and going out with this heat was out of the question, I aimed for the freezer, and fished four big scallops.
Gentle thawing in warm water was followed by delicate drying (scallops don’t like rough manners)

Big ones

An olive oil/lemon juice marinade was their new environment for the next hour.


On the other hand, red peppers were savagely cut, sliced, and thrown in a devilish pan.
They did not escape from it unscathed …


Now the cooking begins …
Sizzling olive oil and chopped onions … not very original …

Show begins

Diced courgettes quickly joined the onions

Enter the magnificent Zucchini, aka Jean Courgette

Until the golden color and aromatic smell concluded a very interesting first chapter.


The tomato abruptly crashed this party, and started mingling …

It's just a can

Until it became everybody’s best friend.
The ‘sofrito’ is ready.

Yes it smells good

Once the veggies are set aside, some meat is unceremoniously cooked.

Second cooking

Nothing to see here (but the smell was mouth watering)

Predictable result

Now that cooked and spiced vegetables and meat are united, the chopped garlic is very much seen as an intruder

Mixing it all, with garlic

But the garlic is quickly assimilated, and we are ready for the last act.
Snow-white rice rains on the colorful scenery.

Rice jumps in

Spices and hot water do their best to help achieve the impossible mix

All spices aboard!

Bubbling and smelling, the pan is traversed by perfumed eddies

Hot bath

Remember the peppers, and never forget the scallops!

Marinated scallops, always late

Cooking is just a formality now, a matter of waiting for the rice to puff up, adjusting the heat level, or the water quantity.

Almost there!

Until, finally, my urge is satisfied, and yet another meal is ready to be served.
¡Buen provecho!

That wasn't so hard!

When worlds collide

June 1, 2009

The usual: I was looking for a vegetables recipe, and found my inspiration while idly clicking here and there.
One thing is clear: my cooking horizons have wildly widened since the Internet … from the BBS way back in time to cooking touch interfaces today, my culinary world never stopped expanding.

So, today, I’m making fried vegetables pancakes (similar to Latke, if I’m not mistaken).
The slim/fit/healthy vegetables meet the alluring/tempting/decadent deep frying pan …

I didn’t have turnips, so I used celery instead, next to the obligatory potatoes and carrots.

Grating and chopping is fun and risky (manual grater and big knife)

On the side, I mix flour, herbs, chopped onion, salt & pepper

Four beaten eggs (the other ingredient I wanted to use today)

Mixing everything produces a  colorful view.

And so it begins: the happy sizzle, the instant and immediately recognizable scent of oil in action … I’m salivating :p

And when I turn the pancakes over, I know this is just going to be a nice dinner.

As the batches are cooked, I use absorbent paper to … feel less guilty!

Overall a nice recipe, needing some time for preparation (vegetables peeling/cutting/grating), with a spectacular and tasty result.

E pur, sono buoni

May 30, 2009

Things don’t always turn out as you thought they would, even if you’re supposed to be in total control of the situation.
Cooking does not escape this rule…

My objective was to bake “Mazapanes”, little almond paste treats (a relative of marzipan) served at Christmas in Spain.
They are marvelous: the rich taste of almond, encased in a small soft and colored shape (animals or geometric).

So I started with the easiest recipe I could find (there are at least two variations of the mazapan, I’ll try the other one later). Almond powder, icing sugar, water. That’s all.

First, when opening the almond powder packs, I asked myself: “This could be finer … can I do something about it?”
Well, processing already powdered almonds does not really change the situation, so this is a step I’ll happily skip next time.

Adding the same weight of icing sugar, and just enough water is not a daunting task, and it’s quite funny: when mixing icing sugar, inhaling the dust that ensues causes your throat to feel … sweet, without having eaten anything.

There, a dough is rather quickly ready for some refrigeration.
Note: you could already eat the almond paste, everything from now on is just decoration!

Rolling, cutting shapes: always funny

Following the recipe, I lightly beated an egg white, and covered my little menagerie with it

That’s where I should have listened to my mummy followed the recipe: they say “introducimos la placa en el horno durante unos 2 minutos a 200 º C de temperatura”
And what to I do? I wait the prescripted two minutes, and check the color: still white!
Then I wait for two minutes … nothing … then two more … there!

It smells nice, and everything is promptly transferred to a rack

They look good, smell good, taste good …

But they’re not mazapanes at all!
– They are too thin: mazapanes should be thicker
– They are crunchy, when they should be soft
– The almond taste is not strong enough.

In a nutshell, I’m happy with my biscuits, but not with my mazapanes.
Oh well, a small defeat turned into a small victory 🙂

Cooking today: Zucchini, pasta, walnuts

May 29, 2009

After a full night sleep, my advance preparations are ready for the show.

First, I quickly slice and heat the cold grilled zucchinis with the garlic oil. Smells nice.

During this time pasta did their job as usual: easy, predictable, perfect.

Adding the veggies to the carbs gives a nice feeling of rightness … so different, and yet so compatible…

The mix is promising. I added some of the pasta cooking water to loose the mix. I think I didn’t put enough.

The roasted walnuts/grated cheese combination is eyebrow-lifting enough, but adding them to the pasta-zucchini melange creates an interesting variety of elements.

Verdict: it was really nice, I will do it again.
Some notes:
– The zucchini were great: still firm and just tender. It was dumb luck (I didn’t plan for this), but their texture was the best counterpoint to the pasta softness
– There wasn’t enough garlic sauce. I definitely could smell it, but the taste needed a little more punch. Maybe I’ll add some grated ginger next time