Closing Down + New Beginnings

Txurros y txocolate began as a blog to explore food culture in Spain, while I was living there.  But I returned from Spain two years ago, and so it became time to start a new blog…and I’ve finally done it.  This will be the last post in txurros y txocolate, but I’m closing this blog down to more actively focus on my new blog, little cosas.  Little cosas is about exploring the little things of life… with a healthy dose of food, culture, and recipes.  I’d love to have you join me over there.  


Update: Thoughts on San Francisco

Greetings!  I know it’s been forever; the truth is this blog has been for the most part abandoned (let’s not forget the last posts before this one were written in October & November, and the posts before that, a year before that).  But I’ve been busy, busy.  I’m working on a project which shall be unveiled shortly (suspense), and taking a photography class, learning how to use my new DSLR, which is great fun.  I plan to start a new blog this summer, so stay tuned.  😀

Shall I mention that it already feels like summer here?  Okay, maybe not summer, but certainly spring.  I spent last week in San Francisco, and Friday, an old friend of mine from college, David, and I sat in Dolores Park, with our cups of ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery in hand, and, for the first time in months, I actually felt the warmth of the sun. That week in San Francisco was just lovely over all, and I was a bit dreading returning to Chicago’s 30-degree days, but… it’s felt like spring, in the 60s all week, even supposed to get up to 70s tomorrow.  (For those who don’t know, springs in Chicago are basically just a continuation of winter, and it really doesn’t start warming up until May at the earliest.)

I first went to San Francisco exactly ten years ago, in 2002.  I was still in high school, and it was a trip with my family.  At the time, I swore that San Francisco was the place for me, and that I would move there some day.  In the intervening ten years, life has taken me everywhere but San Francisco — including living (briefly) in London, (twice) in Madrid, a summer in Mexico… everywhere but San Francisco.  Finally, I decided enough was enough, it was time to go back, so I booked a ticket.  I stayed with a good friend from college there, and hung out with other friends who had migrated out there.  

But a lot has changed in ten years; certainly my perspective has.  Back in Chicago, I walked down my tree-lined street that first night, and thought: This is exactly where I want to be.  I’m glad to be in Chicago and not San Francisco, as lovely as it was.  Right now, I feel that I am exactly where I should be.  

Buttermilk Pancakes + Sauteed Maple Apple Slices

I am a pancake lover, and yet, I’ve been having a pancake crisis for the past year or so. I just haven’t been able to make them right.

When I was in Mexico during the summer of 2010, I lived with a Mexican family, and the señora of the house would make pancakes for breakfast almost every morning. They were just from a box mix, but she had the magic touch. Every pancake was buttery, tender, melt-in-your-mouth perfection. As a result, I returned to the U.S. with a raging appetite for pancakes.

I tried box mixes. I tried Trader Joe’s pancake mix. I tried an organic mix from Whole Foods. I tried making them from scratch. I tried making them in the cast iron skillet for those crispy edges. Nothing hit the spot. Finally, I gave up on my pancake fever and returned to simpler breakfast foods.

I was off at my parents’ house over this past long holiday weekend, when the mood for pancakes hit me again. My mom was watching Food Network on Sunday morning, and I watched Bobby Flay make homemade crumpets and jam. I wanted homemade crumpets and jam, but that seemed complicated, so it was a small leap from there to settle on pancakes. I headed to the kitchen and searched through my mom’s collection of cookbooks, until I finally, finally found ONE pancake recipe from the Cake Bible. I started pulling out the ingredients and was delighted to find that we had everything — even buttermilk. It was only until I started making them that I realized how involved the recipe was. Separating the egg yolks and whites, beating the whites to a peak? Since when do you do that for pancakes? Nevertheless, I followed the instructions to the letter, and oh, I was glad I did.

It was only after biting into the first pancake that I realized I wanted to blog about this recipe, if only for posterity’s sake (to make them again!). I ran up to my room to grab my camera. When my mom wandered into the kitchen and saw me snapping photos, she got excited about it too. She started coming up with food styling tips. She thought whipping up some homemade whipped cream would be good, so she did. She artfully arranged the pancakes and added dabs of butter.

I also made an apple-maple topping for the pancakes. I wanted to use fruit to make it a little healthier, so I thinly sliced two apples (I used honey crisp because it’s what we had on hand, but my mom suggested macintosh would be excellent), I sauteed them in butter until they got soft, and then poured maple syrup on top (the real stuff, people). My mom sprinkled some cinnamon on top, which was a good call.

And this was the result:

Buttermilk Pancakes
adapted from the Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
(Adapted because her recipe was actually for blueberry buttermilk pancakes; I omitted the blueberries in mine.)

1 2/3 cups flour (dip and sweep method)
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks and buttermilk. In a third bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy, and then add the 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar. Beat until egg whites form a peak. Add yolk mixture to the dry ingredients and mix lightly with a fork (over mixing leads to tough pancakes), then add the cooled, melted butter. Fold the whites in with a rubber spatula. Cook on a griddle.

Top with sauteed apples and whipped cream for a gourmet treat!

Apple Crisp

I know, I know. It’s been forever. Almost a year exactly since I wrote my last post.

When I returned from my year abroad last August, I didn’t know what to do with this Spanish-themed blog. And then life happened; a new job, so many winter months with no fresh produce to inspire me. Then I talked about starting a new blog to more aptly reflect my life now (not in Spain anymore), but it just hasn’t happened yet. I’m still thinking of starting that blog. If you have a name idea, let me know. “Txurros y txocolate”, I understand, is kinda hard… (hint: the “tx” represents “ch” in Basque).

Anyway, fall it is again, my favorite season (though I do so love summer, too, but fall feels special). Last weekend I went apple picking with some friends at the Jonamac Orchard in Malta, Illinois, about an hour west of Chicago.

Me and Rebecca (you never realize how short you are until…)

I went home that evening excited to make something delicious, but rolling out pie dough after a day of apple picking felt too ambitious, so apple crisp it was. Do you have a spare half an hour? Some oats, brown sugar, flour and apples, of course? Then you can make apple crisp, too. It’s simple:

Mix the dry ingredients: six tablespoons flour with half a cup brown sugar.

Add six tablespoons room-temperature butter.

Add half a cup of oats.

I sliced three apples relatively thinly (with their skins on), and sprinkled cinnamon on top of each layer, as well as two tablespoons of maple syrup.

Sprinkle the oat mixture on the top, then bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or so.

Voila! I don’t need to tell you that this is extra amazing with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

Tomato Soup Series: Roasted Tomato Soup (from Michael Chiarello)

I love tomatoes, especially in soup or sauce: seriously, given the choice, I WOULD eat them in some form every day, and have gone through periods where I have. I’ve lately been really into eating tomato soups, and thus, dusted off this recipe. My mom made it a few years ago, and it is AMAZING. It’s a recipe originally from Michael Chiarello (of Food Network fame); his recipe includes fresh basil, I omitted it in mine.

I got these tomatoes, onions and garlic from the Andersonville farmers’ market, where, as luck would have it, I’ve ended up working at the past few weeks. My roommate had a friend working with Hillside Orchards, and she hooked us both up with jobs. The Andersonville market ended this last Wednesday, but the Division Street Market is still taking place every Saturday until October 30th.

You’ll need twelve tomatoes (about four pounds), sliced and quarted; twelve pieces whole, peeled garlic, and one yellow onion.

You also need 1/4 cup good-quality balsamic vinegar. This balsamic vinegar was a gift from last Christmas in Italy, and I’ve been treasuring it.

Toss the tomatoes and garlic with the balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup of olive oil, salt and pepper.

Roast in a very hot oven (500 degrees fahrenheit) for 35-40 minutes. Remove and let cool a little.

Saute the chopped onion until soft, 8-10 minutes.

Combine tomatoes, garlic, onions and two cups of water and simmer for ten minutes.

Blend with an immersion blender (alternatively, you could blend small batches in the blender).

Voila! Extra good topped with homemade croutons.

Salt-Roasted Beets

It’s fall in the Midwest!  According to the calendar, fall doesn’t start for another week, but it already feels like fall.  I dearly missed fall while in Madrid — I missed crunchy leaves in blazing colors, tree-lined streets exhibiting their autumnal foliage, crisp apples and apple-pie making… to name just a few of the wonderful things that this most delightful season brings us.

I also missed farmers’ markets while in Madrid.  Last year, in this entry, I commented on the lack of farmers’ markets in Spain; this fall, I’m back to farmers’ market, and Chicago doesn’t disappoint: almost every day there’s a market going on in some part of the city. Yesterday I went with my roommate to the farmers’ market in our neighborhood, Andersonville, which was teeming with late summer bounty. One of the many things I picked up was a bunch of beets. After taking them home and pondering it for a bit, I decided to test out salt roasting.

This article explains the science behind salt roasting:

Martina SABO of the Salt Institute, an industry trade group, says that’s about the size of it: The salt melts and forms a crust, making a kind of “oven within an oven,” she says. The effect is quite like steaming, but because salt is hygroscopic — meaning it absorbs any moisture — the surface of the food stays dry, giving a texture that is closer to roasted.

Sabo’s boss, Institute Technical Director Morton Satin happened to walk into her office when we were on the speakerphone and chimed in: “I have no idea how it works, but I can tell you that I lived in Italy for 20 years and always cooked fish that way. I know exactly what you’re talking about, but I never stopped to analyze it. It’s not steaming, and it’s not roasting, but it’s a kind of hybrid of the two. And it’s very, very good.”

Satin says the food doesn’t taste overly salty because of osmosis — the salt pulls the water out of the food and then before it can be reabsorbed and make the food salty, it bakes into a hard shell that can be easily removed.

I tried this method of salt roasting, with very favorable results, and it couldn’t be simpler to make:

1. Line a roasting pan with a thin layer of salt.
2. Wash beets and chop off their leaves, and lie them on the bed of salt. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.
3. Roast at 425 degrees for about an hour. Slice into them with a paring knife to test if they’re ready — they’re ready when the offer only a slight resistance.

4. When cooled, rub off the skin — it comes off easily, revealing the deep ruby color of the beet.

5. Slice and serve! In my book, they’re delicious enough to eat as is, and no worries, they aren’t salty at all.

Tortilla Española: The Tutorial

Pour a generous amount of olive oil into the pan.

Chop three potatoes and fry them in a generous pool of oil for about ten minutes. Add one chopped onion and fry for about another ten minutes.

Six eggs should do it (though I’ve seen recipes for as low as four to as high as eight eggs).

whisk, whisk, whisk

Drain excess oil from potatoes & onions.  Pour beaten eggs over potatoes & onions and let cook for 10-20 minutes.  Flip onto a plate and then slide back into the pan to cook for a few more minutes.  A cast-iron skillet may not be the best way to go, as they get hot fast and hold heat — I actually burned this tortilla and the egg was overcooked.

For more details, see my previous entry on “la tortilla española”.

Greetings from Mexico!

Sadly, this blog has seen little action over the past few months.

This is soon to change!  I’ve been in Mexico for the summer, but I’ve only got about a week left.  I’m excited to get in my own kitchen again.  I’ve got many recipes I want to try.

I’ve been thinking of where to take this blog from here.  My year in Spain is over, and thus this blog will no longer focus exclusively on Spanish food (although, did it ever?)  I’ve still got many Spanish recipes to make, including gazpacho (indispensable for the hot summer months), an incredibly rico recipe for Sopa de Ajo from Milagros, etc.  Other than that, we’ll see… “txurros y txocolate” is no longer a Spain-based blog.  Any ideas as to where to take it from here?

For now, I leave you with this.  Mexicans are fans of “botanas” — little snacks.  I, too, am a fan of botanas.  Mexicans believe in the holy trinity of lime + chile + salt.  I too believe in the holy trinity of lime + chile + salt.

The papá of the house where I am staying prepares a little “botana” for himself while watching TV, a “botana” that takes plain cucumbers to a whole new level.

Cucumbers + lime + chile + salt

He uses a powdered chile called “Tajín”, a popular brand in Mexico.  The spice is present but not too strong; “es para niños”, (“it’s for kids”), he said, as I hesitated to bite into the first Tajín-sprinkled cucumber.  The ingredients on the bottle are: ground chile, salt, dehydrated lime juice.  I’d imagine this would be a product readily available in the U.S., though I intend to pack a bottle or two in my suitcase.

So, this simple recipe is: slice cucumbers, sprinkle with sea salt, squeeze lime juice on top and dash with Tajín or ground chile.


Sangría, Tinto de Verano y Calimocho

Today it’s finally starting to feel like summer in Madrid – I mean, a nice summer, how summer should be – sun’s out, and it’s hot yet not too hot: about 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  Unfortunately, Madrid’s summer doesn’t remain like this.  The summer I spent here was insufferable, hovering around 100 degrees F (40 degrees C) during the months of July and August.

As such, drinks exist to quench the summer heat.

“Sangría” is one such drink.  It’s popular in Spain through the year, but especially so during the summer, and it is delicious.  It’s also very easy to make:

wine (since this is the principal ingredient, the better the wine, the better the sangria; however, a medium-quality wine will work just fine)

sugar (to taste)

pieces of fruit: slices of lemon and orange are very typical, as well as diced apples or peaches

Sangría is stronger than it seems and enters easily, so watch out. 😉

After finishing off the pitcher, disperse the pieces of fruit (the apples or peaches more so than the citric fruits) into individual glasses for each person present.  The fruit is the treat at the end of the drink.

“Tinto de verano” is another typical drink to escape the summer’s heat and consists of:

equal parts wine and sparkling water

serve over ice

“Calimocho” is an interesting drink that I was first introduced to by a group of Spanish girls in Bilbao.  It consists of equal parts red wine and Coca Cola.  Worth trying at least once. 😉  This isn’t necessarily a “summer drink” but is another variation on ways to prepare wine.

Coffee in Spain, Part II

My first entry on coffee in Spain had more to do with the theory behind coffee…this one will address more practical matters: the varieties of coffee available in Spain, as well as specific spots to visit in Madrid.

A café cortado is just like the Italian macchiato: espresso topped with a dash of steam milk.  The bitterness of the espresso is “cut” with the mildness of the milk.

Café con leche is just that: coffee with milk.  They start with espresso and top it with a more considerable quantity of steamed milk than the café cortado (about 1/3 coffee to 2/3 milk).  Still has a much stronger coffee taste than our milky “lattes” in America.  This is also my preferred coffee drink in Spain — as well as the preferred drink of most Spaniards.

Café vienés (literally, Viennese coffee) is the Spanish equivalent to the Italian espresso con panna: espresso topped with whipped cream.

Café bombón consists of sweetened condensed milk topped with espresso and is a very rich, dessert-like coffee drink.

I haven’t really been wowed by the coffee I’ve had in any place.  A lot of it is okay… some of it is downright awful (mainly due to the UHT milk, blech).  There are two huge institutions of coffee in Madrid… Café Gijón and Café Comercial.

At Café Gijón they basically live off of their famous tertulias and charge astronomical prices for middle-of-the-road coffee, just for the chance to sit in this old coffeehouse where famous intellectuals and writers used to congregate.  Five euros for a “cappuccino” that is no real cappuccino.  Some sort of sweetened, watered down espresso topped with a mound of whipped cream (“nata montada”).  No cappuccino that I’ve ever had.  The tortilla there, however, is very good.

Café Comercial (metro: Bilbao) is another huge institution, they serve many varieties.  Classic Spanish-style coffeehouse.

Faborit is an interesting chain…kinda like the “Starbucks” of Spain.  Juan Valdez is like the “Starbucks” of Colombia, and they have a few franchises in Madrid. If you can find them, they’re pretty good.

And that’s pretty much everything I have to say about coffee in Spain.  🙂