Category Archives: Food

Of pans and eggs, the cooking thereof

I’m not entirely certain that there are health risks associated with Teflon coated pans. It might well be that the amount of Teflon we eat over the years pales in comparison to the plastics that seep into our food when we microwave Tupperware containers, drink from water bottles or inhale in the street. So I’m making no crypto-scientific claims about our plan to rid our house of them. I mean, I’m not this guy.

What I will say is that I’m sick of changing pans every two years. Even apparently high quality non-stick pans don’t seem capable of surviving regular use (or my mother in law scrubbing them with wire scouring pads).

So a few months ago, I bought a couple of cast iron pans, and last week a couple of stainless steel ones. The cast iron pans are good for cooking meat: pork chops and steaks in particular always turn out perfect, while it was difficult to get the temperature high enough in a non-stick pan (which are predominantly made of aluminium, with a copper core designed to make them work on our induction hob). Cast iron needs to be ‘seasoned’ – effectively burning a thin layer of oil onto the metal at high temperature, though god knows if that’s any healthier than eating Teflon – in order to make it less sticky. Once seasoned, you wash it with hot water only (never any soap), dry thoroughly and then rub on a few drops of olive oil to help preventing rusting.

I haven’t used the stainless steel pans as much yet, but made a decent vegetarian couscous the other day and had no real problems. But this morning, I ventured into dangerous  territory: frying eggs. Or I thought it was dangerous territory anyway. It turns out that common sense – using a little more oil and not getting the pan too hot – prevailed. In fact, it was bloody easy. It makes me wonder why Teflon pans ever caught on in the first place. I can only imagine that Colette Grégoire was an abysmal cook. Stainless steel pans, incidentally, need no seasoning and don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. I still apply a drop or two of olive oil after washing and drying, to protect the metal.

How I resolve to live in 2012

New Year resolutions are generally just a list of regrets from the year before: “actually quit smoking”, “lose weight”, “find a man”. A litany of past failures presented as optimistic hurdles that will ruin the year to come. Here’s my list of non-regret-fuelled resolutions for 2012.

  1. Learn Jazz. I’ve been listening to jazz for years and feel like I need to spend some quality time this year learning its history and how it works so that I can better enjoy it in years to come.
  2. Do poetry. I used to love reading and writing poetry and realised recently that it had been out of my life for a decade or more. I should fix that.
  3. No smoking indoors. While I haven’t yet smoked a cigarette this year, I now pledge not to do so in our flat. I will smoke in bars if Rajoy leaglises it, though.
  4. Read at least one book in Catalan and one in Castilian too.  2012 marks 10 years since I moved to Barcelona. I ought to progress beyond shoddy newspapers.
  5. Find new living quarters in Gràcia (or even Poblenou); swim regularly; eat less meat; visit Paris and Lisbon… (these items are perhaps the regret-laced resolutions I warned of).


Have a fun, safe and happy 2012.

Volcanoes, peak oil, food and the changes we’ll all need to accept

The skies over London and most of the rest of northern Europe are quiet this weekend. Eyjafjallajökull’s ash stopped my poor sister from going to New York (a trip she’d been looking forward to for months) and has stranded several friends and colleagues. After the initial ‘wow, they’re really stopping all the flights!’ reaction, the press has now reverted to their usual scaremongering. Apparently, the UK might soon suffer shortages of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Sorry, I’ll say that again: the UK is apparently at risk of fruit and veg shortages. This is the UK, which has some of the finest and most fertile farmland in Europe. Obviously, it has been a pretty tough winter but to me this is a symptom of everything that has gone wrong in our modern world: we’ve stopped growing and eating the vegetables we can produce in March and April in England and instead we fly pineapples in from Ghana and baby sweetcorn from Thailand. This links in to everything: we’re no longer in anyway self-sufficient, we encourage poorer countries to produce food for foreign markets instead of their own, and we fly food in from all over the world: wrong, wrong, wrong.

It’s likely that the volcano’s influence on Britain’s supermarkets won’t last too long. But that doesn’t mean things will be fine forever and ever. With the US military warning that we’ll have passed peak oil production by 2015 (though we must bear in mind that this might just be some kind of move in a game we can’t see, like trying to invade Iran or something) – it seems to be totally undeniable that we’re all going to have to accept some pretty significant changes to the way we live.

Whereas in recent years, eating local, seasonal food cooked slowly has been a sort of retrospective pleasure of the wealthy middle class food snobs in Europe, I reckon that in a few years, that’ll be basically the only way to eat. We might have to accept too that baby sweetcorn and pineapple become birthday treats to be longed for and savoured. What we can’t grow fairly locally, or ship in the old fashioned way, we shouldn’t be eating.

But that’s not the only change I can see happening. As it’ll become more difficult and expensive to transport goods, most European countries will need to start looking once again to local manufacturing and industry. We’ll have to rely less on plastics and other polymers which are also sourced from the petrochemical industry: look around you right now and see if you can identify any item from the last 50 years which definitely didn’t rely on petrochemicals at some point in its production. We’ll have to accept changes in the quality and the quantity of goods that are available.

OK so this post may well sound a little paranoid and rambling. I suppose I’m still trying to organise my thoughts. But my point is that I think it’s very likely that we’ll all have to accept some pretty massive changes to our lives over the next few years and decades. In a way, this volcano is something of a gift because it can remind us of how unsustainable our happy European lives have become.

My Mongetes a la Catalana recipe

Catalan food, as observed by my friend Sebina, can be a little heavy sometimes. This mainly comes down to a love of recipes involving beans, especially in conjunction with lots of pork products. A classic combination is Botifarra amb Mongetes, sausage and beans… but that’s a tad dull if you ask me. Instead, I prefer ‘Beans a la Catalana’, made with either mongetes (big white beans) or fabes (young green broad beans). This is my made up recipe for Mongetes a la Catalana, another great rustic dish for wintry days and evenings. The measures are based on serving four or five people.

What you will need:

About 700g of good Mongetes blanques. Go for ‘ganxet’ type as these seem to be better. When I say 700g, I mean when they’re still in their water, in the jar. Strain them but do not wash them.
3 strips of good panceta/cansalada/pork belly, cut into large postage stamp-sized pieces. Not too large, mind
Sausage. Go for about 400g of botifarra sausage (chopped up as well). I used some mini chipolatas with black truffle but I don’t know how easy these are to come by
2 cloves garlic, minced (or whatever you call it)
Handful of chopped parsley
Dash of white wine
Good olive oil
About 15 mins

What you need to do:

Heat a nice amount olive oil to medium-high temperature (around level 5 on my cooker) in a large, heavy frying pan. Add the panceta, making sure to add plenty of salt (it’ll be a bit tasteless otherwise). After a minute or two, add the sausages. Fry the meat for 5-10 minutes, until it browns. Ensure the oil doesn’t get too hot and that the meat doesn’t burn. It might well spit a bit at this point (the fatty panceta does like to ‘pop’ from time to time). When browned, remove the meat with a slatted device, and place in a bowl.

Let the oil cool down a little bit before continuing. Get the heat down to medium/medium-low.

Now throw the garlic and parsley into the pan. If you got the oil temperature right, it’ll fry but not burn immediately (that happened to me the first time I tried this). Fry for about a minute. Now add the strained beans and stir together for another minute. Here, I like to add a dash of white wine, just to provide a bit of liquid to the dish. Don’t add more than a glass. When the wine has reduced down, add the meat again. Cook it all together for about four or five minutes (keeping the heat really low), and that’s it.

Serve a fairly small portion in a bowl with pa amb tomaquet and a glass of decent red wine. This dish is filling, warming and really yummy. Hope you enjoy it!

My spicy Mediterranean lamb stew recipe

So in a month, Christmas will already be gone and New Year’s Eve will be looming over us. Tonight we have El Clásico, it’s getting dark early and it’s pretty cool outside. In other words, today’s the perfect day for my spicy Mediterranean lamb stew: a warming, filling classic that’s perfect for late autumn. I’m no Keith Floyd but I’d bet anyone who,likes lamb and spicy stuff would love this. It’s a bit of a mishmash of different bits and bobs. It’s probably not as good as a proper caldereta Manchega (a dish so good, it seems to be banned from restaurants), but paired with a bit of mash or even half a baguette, it’s a spicy-yet-rural heart warmer.

What you need for the recipe:

500g lamb neck (this recipe is perfect for the stronger-tasting lamb we normally get here in Spain. Bulkier, milder Devon or Welsh lamb is delicious but better for roasting, in my opinion)
1 onion
1 large red pepper
Some white wine (1/2 a bottle – I used cheap 2005 Raimat Chardonnay)
The best golden-coloured olive oil you can afford (I use Veá extra virgin olive oil from Lleida. It’s utterly exquisite.)
400g cooked chickpeas (in a jar, normally)
2 cans of chopped tomatoes
2 small red chili peppers
Salt, pepper and bay leaves
About 2 hours

How to make it:

Chop up the meat, onion, pepper and chilli. Heat a generous portion of delicious golden olive oil in a decent, heavy-based saucepan or casserole and throw the lamb into it. Seal the lamb and then take it out of the pan with one of those spoons with holes in. Put it in a bowl so you don’t lose precious juices.

You may need to add a drop more of your terrifyingly expensive oil here. That’s fine: never be afraid of using a bit more oil. Now throw the onion in, fry it then after a few minutes chuck the pepper and chili in too. Fry them all together for a few minutes. Season them a bit too. Then put the lamb (and any juices) back, adding two bay leaves and a splash of Worcestershire sauce. Stir it up.

Next, pour in about 1/3 to 1/2 of a bottle of white wine. Keep the heat high. Reduce the wine for about 15 minutes or so. Pour yourself and your partner/friends a glass at the same time: you must use wine you’d be able to drink normally, so here’s your chance to prove that you’re not cheating.

Now you add the canned chopped tomatoes (you could use fresh: I do for bolognese but Can Rot-Xardá brand tomatoes are v. good – just stay away from supermarket own-brand crap). Give it all a good stir, cook on a high heat for about 5 min and then reduce heat, cover and simmer for approx 1 hour. Stir it from time to time if you like.

After 1 hour, add the drained (but not washed) chickpeas. Cook for another hour (you could reduce this to 30 min without losing too much quality).

Serve with aforementioned mashed potatoes, parsnips, peas, baguette, rice or whatever you have lying around that needs finishing. A decent red wine will accompany it well. Força Barça!