Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bacalao-bakaiļao- bacallà -baccalà -bacalhau

Bacalao (Spanish), bakaiļao(Basque), bacallà (Catalan), morue (French), baccalà (Italian), bacalhau (Portuguese), klippfisk/clipfish (Scandinavian), saltfiskur (Icelandic), bakalar (Croatian), and Saltfish (Caribbean).

This is one popular hunk of hard, leathery-to-almost-wooden, salt encursted, smelly, preserved fish. How come? Well the age old need for food preservation before refrigeration. Althought phenomenally popular in all the above countries (and a few more such as Macao and other PORTUGUESE COLONIES) the main sources of the fish have always been Newfoundland, Scandinavia and Iceland. They say there is at least one different recipie for saltcod for every day of the year n Portugal. Over here it features too, but not quite so obsessively. I've tried it and was quite impressed. It has a slightly sticky and gelationus quality. Before using, it is soaked in water for 24 hours, changing the water every 3 hours.

Bacalao with Chickpeas
Ingredients - serves 4 people

400g bacalao, large fillets
Virgin olive oil
200g jar chickpeas
1 onion
1 clove garlic
1 bay leaf
2 tsp Flour for thickening
Vinegar, 1tbsp

Put the de-salted bacalao in a pan of water and simmer gently for 15 minutes. After fifteen minutes, remove the fish to a plate, but keep the water.
In another pan put the peeled and finely chopped onion and cook gently until it begins to brown.
Add the garlic and chopped parsley, stir and cook for another minute.
Mix with the vinegar and the flour to make a paste, then add to the onions with the bay leaf and several tbsp of the reserved fish water.
Simmer for five minutes then add the chick peas and heat through for another five minutes.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Interesting Reading Test

Given that my typing is quite prone to errors I was fascinated to read that apparently the brain can decipher words that are misspelt or even completely jumbled as long as the first and last letters are correct. Read the passage below to see what they mean. It's quite amazing!

I cdnuolt blveiee
taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The
phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at
Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the
ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the
first and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a
taotl mses and you can still raed it wouthit a porbelm.. This
is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by
istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh?

Emperor's New Clothes! Is Spain falling into the gastro trap??

I stumbled across this video (click the link below) of a cookery demonstration by a top level chef and am now very, very scared for Spain's gastronomic future. It's in Spanish and I'm afraid it's a bit long winded with lots of rabbiting on by the chef about being an inventor and giving twists to classic dishes and surprises to the diners. Please bear with it if you want to see the car-crash that is his final dish.
His mission is to change, innovate and surprise. I thought we all just wanted excellent food?
Anyway......the first dish involves wrapping an egg yolk and a piece of ham in pizza dough and then deep frying it. He says the objective is that the yolk should be warm, the ham, melting and the bread crunchy. I haven't eaten it so can't really comment, but I suppose it sound reasonably pleasant. My real problem is with the second dish. Let me explain.
He cooks an egg for 30 minutes at 65 degrees. Ok....whatever! (this is so irrelevant when you see what happens to it later)
He shells it and puts in a bowl. He drizzles oil and adds salt.
He pours on an infusion of squid and explains that the dish is trying to put a TWIST on a Spanish noodle soup (sopa de fideus). He then adds a big mound of deep fried rice noodles. ( a cheap, gimmicky trick with a so-what-ish result)
It's now starting to look ridiculous.
He says he wants the diner to be reminded of childhood memories of bowls of popcorn.
What's the point? Am I at the cinema or in a fine dining reastaurant?
And how do you eat it?
He explains....and demonstrates.
"As the diner eats, the dish changes. Dishes should change during the eating."
(He starts to mash the noodles into the soup in a way that children do when they don't want to eat something).
"It will start to mix together and by the third mouthful it will start to ressemble a traditional noodle soup."
I don't know about you, but I don't want what I ordered to mutate into something different. I want it to stay deliciously-the-same until it's finished.
¡Ostia!. If this is the future, Spain's cooking is in great danger of self destructing in the way French Nouvelle Cuisine did in the 80's, when 'wannabes' lost sight of the truths and just ran with the gimmicks. It will become a parody of itself. Such extreme pushing of creative boundaries should be done by a few geniuses, the rest need to remember just to cook good food. He has indeed 'twisted' and 'surprised' thereby achieving his stated objectives. But twists for twists' sake are pointless, and a seagull shitting on your shoulder can be a surprise, but not necessarily a pleasant one. PLEASE GET A GRIP AND STOP MESSING WITH THE FOOD!

Friday, January 15, 2010

They do Christmas....twice!

Spain spreads the Christmas celebrations over two different days. The usual 25th of December and what they call Reyes (Kings) which is on the 5/6th january. Kids get presents on BOTH days. (doesn't that concept just make your wallet shiver?) I caught the night celebrations of Reyes on 5th and it consisted of floats depicting the Kings and Nativity figures being paraded through the centre of town with the usual marching bands an d fireworks. many of the floats had loads of kids on them in costumes and they would throw handfulls of sweets to the packed crowds in the streets. It was a great family event.
The traditional cake of Reyes is the 'roscon' a flat, oval shaped cake made of a sort of heavy brioche which is stuffed with a sweet preserve made from a spaghetti squash and decorated with candied fruit. It is very sweet and fragrant, with slightly middle eastern notes....a bit rose water-ish, a bit quince-ish. Nothing close to the cinnamon/clove flavours of England. It's actually quite delicious and I find more appealing than UK Christmas cake. Inside are hidden a dried broadbean and a toy king, with the usual promises of fortune and luck to those who find them. Of course you risk breaking a tooth or choking to death in your quest,,,,,but then most people readily accept stress, depression, addiction, duplicity, lying, cheating, back-stabbing, heart disease, eating disorders and divorce in their quest for fortune so what the hell............

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cultural difference.....not a turkey in sight.

The Christmas menu here bears little resemblance to the UK. I didn't see a single turkey for sale. But these equally cute little critters seem to be quite popular. There is actually a particular suckling pig appelation which comes from Segovia where they produce these babies to strict quality guidelines which define breed, and diet of the mother let alone the baby, and of course age. They cannot be older than three weeks. When I looked at this picture I couldn't help feeling that there was something slightly surreal about it, yet I couldn't put my finger on it. Then it came to me.....the baby pigs still look alive. They are almost like waxworks. The second from the left is positively smiling, the one at the back had the loins and torso of an olympic swimmer. There's something very healthy and alive about this collection of piglets. Or is it just me...........? (double click on the picture to enlarge it)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Cultural Difference....(not) lost in translation

Varoius interesting cultural differences have been encountered on this, my first Spanish December ever. Of course I had to address Christmas traditions in my language classes. The kids told me about one of theirs. A Cagatió. Now when I heard my 8 year old pupil saying this I thought I must have been mistaken.....because the literal translation is 'a shit log'. Cagar is slang for going to the toilet, and tió means log. They were explaining it to me and all I could understand was that there was this kind of tree trunk with a face on it that looks a bit like a dog, which is full of sweets and when you hit it with a stick and shout "Cagatio" ( 'do a poo for me') it releases some sweets from its rear end, as if going to the toilet. Of course I was angry, angry with myself that at this stage my Spanish was still so bad that my comprehension resulted in such a load of gibberish. I was quite disappointed that I couldn't undertand an 8 year old explaining a simple Christmas tradition. So I mentioned it to my boss. I said that the kids had been trying to explain to me what a Cagatio was and I had clearly misunderstood. I was too embarassed to tell him what I thought they had said so I just asked him to enlighten me.
He said:
'it's a kind of tree trunk with a face on it that looks a bit like a dog, which is full of sweets and when you hit it with a stick and shout 'do a poo for me' it releases some sweets from its rear end as if going to the toilet.'
I guess it's the Catalan version of a Yule log in more ways than one! And I also suppose that my Spanish isn't too bad after all. It's a Catalan tradition so not universally known in Spain, and illustrates the regions' bizzare interest in things scatalogical.

Winter Sun

Back in Tarragona after Xmas break in Bristol to be with family. It's definitely cold here, and all the surrounding hills are dusted with snow.....and we've had a fair bit of grey and rainy days, but today was beautiful......reminded me of the Alps......very cold, but crystal clear blue skies and sun. Makes you feel alive!! Who needs summer if winter is like this! (only kidding.....really looking forward to the summer, but have forgoten how hot it will get and how unpleasant it can be arriving at work and feeling like you need to change your shirt before you start).
Anyway here's a taste a perfect winters day. Click on the start arrow on the video window below.