What do Shakira, Salma Hayek, Amal Alamuddin (alias Mrs Clooney), Elie Saab (couturier to Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts and Kate Middleton) all have in common? They’re all Lebanese, as have been former presidents of Jamaica, Colombia, Ecuador (3!) and Brazil.
The Lebanese are an entrepreneurial nation and many Beirutis I have met are proud of the commercial spirit that comes from their innovative and enterprising Phoenician merchant heritage; those ancient founders of coastal colonies all over the Mediterranean, not least in Cádiz.
In 2019 we decided to see Beirut for ourselves. After a fascinating peak at the local cathedral, mosque and recently-excavated Roman ruins my ice cream fetish started to override any more thoughts of culture and our 11 and 6 year olds’ eyes flickered with increasing interest. Having seen a particular ice cream parlour on one of Rick Stein and Nigel Slater’s UK BBC cookery programmes it had long been my ambition to try the Hanni Mitri ice cream for myself. So armed with former INC member Linda Talluto’s picture of the place we embarked on a monumental five-hour treasure hunt …on foot. There’s nothing like roaming through the streets of a city on a mission to savour superlative ice cream to really get to know it. If only our map had also marked the contours of all those steep hills that abound in Beirut.
After 5 hours I got very excited as we turned a corner and spied a very unassuming bullet-ridden corner shop at the end of a narrow road that I recognised from Linda’s photo. The children had virtually melted en route but were immediately revived and miraculously ordered strawberry and lemon flavour in fluent school French.
The family-owned business has been going since 1949 and has seen a few bombs in its time. There are no seats and no frills. The shop has since moved temporarily followed the Beirut blast in 2020 and the all the ice cream continues to be made on site daily.
Mr Mitri and his diminutive mother were both expecting us to order and leave their minuscule premises but there was no getting rid of us. Buoyed up by fragrant iced perfumes and the cooling freezers we weren’t going anywhere. Copious ice creams and Mr Mitri’s family history later (he ditched banking to take on his father’s ice cream business) we finally re-emerged into the burning sun. As Mr Mitri isn’t coming here anytime soon I urge you all to book a flight just to try his ices.
Mother Mitri uses plastic gloves to literally thumb the different flavours into narrow biscuit cones or down into a plastic cup that literally defies any normal physics of mass and volume. So you end up with rainbow ribbons of zingy oranges and lemons nudged into a corner by the heady aromas of rosewater sorbet and all tempered by a snow-white coating of clotted cream or “ashta”. In addition to the more traditional flavours, you can find mulberry, watermelon, mango and amareddine which is an apricot paste sorbet filled with crunchy toasted pine nuts.
There is clearly no need to fix up the bullet holes (one of them is actually embedded inside his ice cream machinery) as people are more interested in what’s in their hand than on the wall.
Now, you might think that 3,500 km is a long way to fly, albeit on a direct flight, for an ice cream but actually when you factor in all the ancient culture and the boundless hospitality on tap in Beirut it´s definitely worth it.
However, if you do find yourself on an authentic ice cream mission in Madrid here are a few of my favourites closer to home:
Heladeria Gioelia is a favourite amongst our treasurer, Shalini. Particularly the Cremino flavour of white chocolate with hazelnuts and chocolate praline cream. Most importantly, they also deliver!
Heladeria Los Alpes is one of Madrid´s oldest ice cream parlours, since the Tuscan founders arrived here in 1933 and has a few branches across the city and suburbs including Las Rozas and Pozuelo de Alarcón.
Meanwhile if alchemy is more your style, head to N2LAB where liquid nitrogen is the star ingredient and the resultant creamiest of creams are served up by staff in scientific overalls and protective glasses in Calle Gravina, 5 (Chueca).
After a gander round the Retiro I usually make a beeline for Maison Glacée which also doubles up as an innovative pastry shop. Ecological milk from the Comunidad de Madrid is used to ease out what for me is the most authentic Italian style ice cream in the capital in Calle Alcalá 77 and Calle Ibiza, 42
Italian INC member, Tiziana is rather partial to Gelateria Sienna on Calle Narváez and I´m inclined to believe her so I shall be heading there on my next trip into the city.
Finally, there is ubiquitous global brand, Amorino whereby exotic ices are fashioned with a spatula into the shape of a rose. Each flavour forming a different petal. My favourite branch is in El Corte Inglés Gourmet section in Callao from which you can admire spectacular views over Madrid´s rooftops.
Piquant food and exquisite cocktails are always a winning formula for my seasoned palate. So I´ve found myself being lured by promises of Penang curry washed down with Pisco Sours at Baan Asian Emphasis restaurant off Paseo de Recoletos on more than one occasion since it opened last year. Apparently, Baan means house which is somewhat misleading as this is definitely not your traditional spartan Thai abode but rather a very plush velvet dining experience complete with a cocktail bar upstairs and a DJ spinning discs as fast as you can say otro Mai Tai por favor.
The food however, is authentically Asian and guides your taste buds through an exotic gastro graze round Vietnam, Thailand with a pit stop in India, Korea, Japan and China. Whilst rice might be the recurring theme, the dishes themselves reflect large regional variations in the gastronomy of the Orient.
The former French rulers, succinctly summarised their colonies in the area as follows: “The Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow, whilst the Laotians listen to it grow”. Personally, I found Laos to be the ultimate in laid back, as exemplified by their eponymously-named local currency: the Kip*.
We start with the Tiradito de Atún Rojo, which for me is the star dish. Shimmering slivers of tuna line up in rows under dollops of creamy white mounds of miso topped with emerald strands of kimchi and sprinklings of crispy sesame seeds.
My fellow guests insist on the Nem ran de pollo (Vietnamese rice paper rolls) so two over-sized fried batons arrive bursting at the seams with spiced chicken, Pyrenean blood pork sausage and skinny noodles, neatly camouflaged under a jungle of lettuce and mint. The dish is rustically presented inside-out as ordinarily the greenery would be tucked inside the wrapping. Our reedy bamboo chopsticks lacked steel reinforcements so we resort to our hands and make a very satisfying sticky mess of it all.
Baan´s executive chef, Víctor Camargo has been on my watchlist for a while now as I was a regular at his former fusion culinary residence: Sudestada. He´s even brought one of his succulent culinary renditions with him, and a personal favourite of mine: pork cheeks in vindaloo sauce.
It´s a well-known secret that the Brits have banished Roast Beef off the bestseller lists of their staple dishes in favour of Chicken Tikka Masala. However, what many people don´t know is that in 2002, British supermarket chain, Asda, provoked an outcry from the not insignificant local British Asian population when it launched its own mega spicy readymade version of this Goan dish and called it Findaloo. Needless to say the jocular reference to the secondary effects of the chillis resulted in the curry being hastily removed from the shelves.
Ironically, the origins of Vindaloo are much less spicy, as the dish was introduced to Goa by their Portuguese colonisers. The name derives from “vinha de alhos” and denotes the Portuguese practice of tenderising and preserving meat in wine vinegar and garlic. The Indians didn´t have vinegar so the resourceful Portuguese set about making some from coconut toddy. Baan´s version is an unctuous spicy sour sauce; the perfect foil to the natural fattiness of the pork cheeks. It is very much a triumphant marriage between Iberia and the Sub-Continent.
The rest of the main dishes follow in the same vein of pan Euro-Asian cooking with marked aplomb and originality. Baked octopus is added to staples such as Pad Thai and Amontillado sherry mousse and dill-doused potatoes partner up with wasabi roast beef. Maybe that gutsy version of the bovine dish will reinstate the Holy Cow to its former glory in the British popularity stakes in time for the Queen´s Platinum Jubilee on June 5th.
As for pudding, mine is almost always a Pisco Sour or three but if you´re looking for more solid refreshment Baan do a mean Lychee “Slush Puppy” with baked banana and cassis ice cream.
It looks like the veroño (verano-otoño) we were enjoying is truly over so now that there are a dearth of Halloween pumpkins in the shops we can enjoy the hearty health properties of these orange orbs.
Originally known as “gros melons” in 1584 by French explorer Jacques Cartier, “pompions” as they were named in English eventually became known as pumpkins.
These colourful spherical superfruits have recently gained huge popularity here and Spain is now the number one producer of pumpkins in the EU. Having first arrived on Iberian shores in the 15th century from the Americas (via Asia) they are now cultivated largely in Málaga and Valencia.
Officially classified as a fruit, due to their seeds, pumpkins belong to the gourd family along with courgettes (zucchini), cucumbers, watermelon and regular melon. They are unique as you can eat the skin, leaves, flowers, pulp, seeds and even the stem!
With a composition of 90% water and three times fewer calories than their orange counterparts, the sweet potato, pumpkins rate high on the health scale. Shame the same can´t be said of pumpkin pie though. They have more fibre than kale, more potassium than bananas and are full of heart-healthy magnesium and iron. Frequent night time drivers will be interested to know that the high beta-carotene content can also enhance your nocturnal vision so you might spot those canny cameras before you get a speeding ticket.
The Moorish influence on Spanish cuisine can still be tasted today in numerous pastries such as ensaimadas and tarts that are filled with Cabello de Ángel (Angel´s Hair) which is essentially a caramelised fibrous paste of gourds and sugar. With the fibres resembling filaments, this Spanish version of pumpkin pie is one of many puddings that owes its heritage to 700 years of Muslim rule.
So if you´re fed up with waiting for your pumpkin to transform into a coach to take you to Prince Charming´s Thanksgiving Party you could consider the following enchanting recipe guaranteed to ensure you will remain the fairest¹ of them all for years to come.
Pumpkin Ravioli stuffed with mushrooms – serves 4
1 small pumpkin
Stuffing – 250 g various mushrooms, 2 cloves garlic, ½ onion
Sauce – 125 ml vegetable stock, red or white onion, 125 g various mushrooms, 25 ml white wine, 175 ml vegetable stock, 25 ml cream (or vegan cream), 1 sprig of rosemary
Salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil
To garnish – 1 cup of toasted hazelnuts
Cut the pumpkin into thin slices using a mandolin. You will need 16 slices at least.
Filling – Finely chop the garlic, onion and mushrooms. Sauté in olive oil for 5 minutes. Add vegetable stock and keep on a medium heat until the liquid has evaporated. Season accordingly.
Sauce – Sauté onion in olive oil until golden in a saucepan. Add chopped mushrooms for 2 minutes. Add white wine and turn up heat until all the liquid has evaporated. Add stock, Rosemary and cook for 10 minutes.
Liquidise the sauce and return to the pan. Add the cream and boil on a medium heat for 2 minutes.
Fill the pumpkin slices with the stuffing and pin together.
Steam for 3 minutes so that they remain al dente. Remove the pins (especially from the ones your mother-in -law is going to eat) and serve on top of the sauce, sprinkled with black pepper, fresh rosemary and the toasted hazelnuts.
Send me photos of any that you have made or do an over “lasagne” version with sheets of pumpkin instead of pasta.
¹Reference to the evil vain queen in Snow White “Mirror Mirror on the wall who is the fairest one of all?”
Last Saturday I went to Peru. Or at least it tasted like it. No PCR´s, no jet lag. Just a quick trip over to the Barrio de Salamanca to find Cilindro. The night didn´t get off to the best start. Finding a parking space in the street is akin to looking for an honest politician so we headed to the nearest carpark. Ten minutes later I was on the phone pleading with the restaurant not to give away our table as it turned out the so-called Parking was only fit for contortionists in a Fiat 500. After 65,000 manoeuvres and a few prayers we managed to squeeze the car into a space the size of a shopping trolley.
We then legged it round the block to the restaurant, past the outdoor terrace and the indoor high tables down to a welcoming cavernous dining room below decks.
Cilindro is the brainchild of Mario Céspedes and Conchi Alvarez. Mario hails from Lima and later emigrated to Asturias which adds an alluring layer to his international melting pot of fusion flavours at both Ronda 14, his original restaurant and Cilindro.
Within minutes a Peruvian waiter with Mensa-brain capacity memorised our order of half portions of numerous sharing plates or “piqueos” as they´re described and was able to divulge the ingredients of each dish with precision and enthusiasm.
We start off with one of my favourite dishes of all time: Ceviche. Husband tucks in heartily mumbling that this must be a synch to make, considering he can barely fry an egg I´d be very interested to know how he´s going to come up with cubes of firm-fleshed raw fish marinaded in lime and rocoto chilli in a creamy sauce.
As usual I feel compelled to request some spicy “ají” salsa on the side to authenticate the food. A generous dish of crimson red gloop appears. I promptly decide this must be spicy ketchup and start to bathe my seabass in it. Next thing I know Volcán Ubinas is in full scale eruption in my mouth and starting to spue smoke out of my nostrils. Husband snorts with laughter.
We order some Pisco Sours to ease the pain, the Peruvian national drink, although don’t mention that to any Chileans as also they claim it to be theirs. The heated dispute over the heritage of this colourless distillate makes the clash over Gibraltar look like child´s play. Either way, Pisco was by far the hardest drink for me to give up in pregnancy. The combination of grape brandy and a frothy bubble bath of raw egg white sprinkled with Angostura Bitters was much more tempting than pineapple pizza for some reason.
The restaurant takes its name from the “cilindro”, a traditional Peruvian cylindrical oven-grill for smoking and grilling. Céspedes has resurrected this Criolla contraption to great acclaim as I witnessed. Not a regular fan of “casquería” (offal) I happily gobble up every last morsel of the slow roasted tripe basted in cumin and paprika with black pudding: “Callos rachi al cilindro con morcilla asturiana”. Likewise the exquisitely-seasoned miniature Beef heart cube (“anticucho”) Gyozas with chilli and coriander slip down with unmeasurable ease.
The cilindro also exuded its magic on the silky smooth smoky pulpo which was so delicious I had to blank out the more emotional scenes from the docu-movie: My Octopus Teacher from my mind. Oozing with unctuous squid sauce, Peruvian olives and “olluco”, a vitamin-rich Andean root vegetable, this was a cracker dish.
We rounded off our savoury South American jaunt with the ubiquitous Bao, this time of “Rabo de Toro”; shredded stewed oxtail trapped between a delectable chewy bread bun that had been flashed over the griddle pan, a welcome original touch. Just the sort of sneaky snack I like to sink my teeth into mid-morning when the post-porridge munchies set in.
Puddings beckoned in the shape of “Cilindro de chocolate”, an intense chocolate mousse with perfectly ripe headily-scented mango ice cream which soothed the volcanic chilli craters forming on my tongue. We also tried the creamy lucuma fruit blancmange with tart strawberry sherbert. Lucuma is a centuries-old superfood known as the “Gold of the Incas”, famed for its age-retardant antioxidants and fertility properties. I was tempted to smear it over the wrinkles round my eyes as opposed to ingest it and risk a geriatric pregnancy. Although…watch this space in 9 months´ time…
Being confined over the winter months has led a lot of us to re-examine our pantry and explore other ingredients outside our regular weekly shopping bag. As a result many of us have been experimenting with all sorts of flours which, like toilet paper, became very scarce at one point!
Chickpea flour with its high protein and fibre content is one of those superfoods that hits the low carbohydrate spot and tastes deliciously crispy on the outside with a nutty chewiness on the inside.
As some of you know, I am a hopeless pizza-holic and as the summer heat subsides we can now switch back into oven and stove cooking without wilting in the process.
Broccoli & Cheddar Skillet Pizza
Makes 1 thick-crust pizza (serves 2-4) Notes: If you want a thin crust, use a larger pan or make two pizzas using half the chickpea batter for each pizza. In this case, you may need to adjust the amount of toppings. The recipe calls for tomato sauce. Use your favourite one here. Some have been cooked down with olive oil, herbs, garlic and onion. But if you use plain tomato sauce I suggest stirring through a crushed clove of garlic, salt, and pepper along with the lemon zest called for in the recipe. Please don´t use my pet hate ingredient: tomate frito – or if you do, don´t tell me about it.
Chickpea flatbread (recipe below)
3/4 cup (180 ml) tomato sauce
Zest 1/2 lemon
1 small head of broccoli
Large handful sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
½ red onion, thinly sliced
Red pepper flakes, to taste (optional for some, essential for me)
Make chickpea crust following recipe below.
Preheat oven to 425F/220C. Chop broccoli head and tender stem into bite size pieces. Place on foil baking tray and toss with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and drizzle of oil. Roast in oven for 10 minutes, or until broccoli is crisp tender and browning around the edges.
Stir lemon zest into tomato sauce.
Once chickpea crust is cooked, layer over tomato sauce, spreading evenly to the edges. Scatter around roasted broccoli, cheese, and onion if using.
Set oven back to broil and return skillet to top third section of oven to melt cheese (for 4-6 minutes).
In a medium bowl whisk chickpea flour, salt, and cumin. Add warm water and 2 Tbsp. oil and whisk well until very smooth (it should be the consistency of pancake batter). Set aside on counter for 30 minutes so flour has time to absorb the water. Alternatively make batter 6-10 hours in advance and leave on the counter, covered with a clean kitchen towel, until ready to use.
Turn oven to broil, set oven rack in the upper third section of the oven, and place a 10-in (25 cm) cast-iron skillet (or other heavy non-stick pan) in oven to preheat for 10 minutes.
Remove skillet, pour in 1 Tbsp oil, tilting the pan so the entire surface has a generous coating.
Give the batter one last good whisk and pour into the pan, tilting pan so entire surface is evenly coated with batter. Place in oven and cook 7-9 minutes, or until edges are golden brown and curl up slightly.
Loosen flatbread by running a thin spatula around the sides and underneath. Proceed with pizza
Any trip to the Centro Cultural Conde Duque should be synonymous with Panic. As featured in Gywneth Paltrow´s website, Goop, Panic is one of Madrid´s best artisanal bakeries.
Two years ago I stumbled across a huge queue of people enveloped in steam emanating from the ovens of a bakery known as Panic on Calle Conde Duque, off Calle Alberto Aguilera. Always on the look out for good quality bread I decided to join the line and 15 minutes later I got to the front and a flustered lady brandishing a large notebook was asking me my name. Rather non-plussed I explained that I´d come to buy bread, not to attend an interview. Confusion shortly gave way to panic as she explained that loaves had to be pre-ordered in advance. By this stage my gastric juices were close to causing a terminal ulcer in my stomach after spending so long inhaling tantalising aromas of freshly baked bread in the queue. Much coaxing ensued and I was issued with a few leftovers from the morning batch. Therein the panic gave way to today´s addiction.
This week, having been thwarted by the opening times of the Mats Staub video installation I end up fortuitously in “Emigrantes Invisibles” in the same Centro Cultural Conde Duque. This is a small boutique exhibition of photographs from the tens of thousands of Spaniards who emigrated to the US between 1890 and 1945. Many ended up in factories such as steel and tobacco in Ohio and Florida. Whilst Andalucían agricultural workers were granted free passage to Hawaii to continue their expertise in the sugar cane plantations. Once the railroads were built many moved again within the US and reputedly one of the first bars on the Lower East Side of Manhattan after Prohibition was opened by a Spaniard.
Owing to the Civil War in Spain from 1936-1939, many immigrants realised that the US offered a more stable future and many first generation Spaniards resolved to integrate seamlessly in their new habitat, hence the adjective “invisible” in the exhibition´s title. However, the Spanish continued to observe and re-enact their traditional customs, fiestas and sports from the mother country including La Fiesta de San Roque, putting together frontón teams, participating proudly in annual Spanish parades in places such as Canton, Ohio, setting up numerous active Spanish Societies around the country and the organisation of countless annual Spanish picnic celebrations.
All those photographs of Spaniards enjoying their culinary fare round the States ignited a monstruous appetite so I turned my attentions to exploring the myriad authentic tabernas in maze of streets and squares around Calle Limón, San Vicente Ferrer up to Malasaña where I clocked Casa Macareno, 44 for a future visit. Ten minutes` stroll later, on Calle Dos de Mayo, I found myself in front of a hole in the wall emitting giant wafer-thin 2€ pizza slices loaded with toppings ranging from a simple Margarita to BBQ sauce and pepperoni. Ever faithful to my culinary conviction that less is more (regrettably that rule doesn´t apply to money…) I order rocket and mushroom from the female pizzaiolo who is deftly stretching and kneading the next order. The symphony of springy dough with just the right ratio of tomato and cheese inspires me to inquire if the owners are Italian. “No,” she replies with a wry grin, “Not at all, This is New York style pizza! ” 2€ is a definitely a recommendable bargain if you´re looking to be teleported to NYC any time soon. You´ll get there a lot faster than the emigrantes invisibles.
Looks like the weather is hotting up so maybe we need to keep our cool with some homemade ice cream. Now, this cheat’s recipe has long been a carefully guarded secret of mine…so if you’re reading this I will have to warn you about 3 potential consequences:
You will now be blacklisted from any of my dinner parties lest you divulge the secret recipe publicly to the other guests thus ruining my reputation as an industrious chef who toils tirelessly in the kitchen for 6 hours before having any friends round.
I may also have to kill you in case you tell other people I might know or meet in the future that in actual fact Susannah is a culinary fraud and has no idea how to make “proper” ice cream at all.
You will now join the official Cheat’s Ice Cream Addiction Club which costs 3 cm extra to your waist per year.
Provided none of the above concern you, you may read on totally carefree……..except if you’re a dentist.
The only part of this recipe that I’ve ever been honest about is its origin. It was passed onto me by the elder sister of a friend who now lives in a remote corner of Western Scotland ………….. presumably so that she can spoon in large chunks of instant ice cream without any irritating interruptions. So imagine my horror whilst I was watching the BBC when renowned doyenne of British cuisine, Mary Berry cheekily announced that the recipe was hers. Absolute nonsense ……… it’s mine and now it’s yours.
NO CHURN HONEYCOMB ICE CREAM
Ingredients – serves 8 people or 6 servings if you’re bingeing on Netflix simultaneously
200g Crunchie bars (use Twix or Oreos if Great Auntie Nora can’t send you any Crunchies in the post from Liverpool)
260g condensed milk (just leave a couple of tablespoons in the standard 397g can………it’ll probably “evaporate” quite quickly..)
500 ml whipping cream which you will have to have previously chilled
Whip the cream to gentle peaks. Fold in condensed milk.
Crush the Crunchie/Twix/Oreos into chunks, don’t vent out too much rage (on the Twixes or Oreos if Auntie Nora didn’t want to pay the postage) and fold into the cream and condensed milk mixture.
Place in the freezer for three hours. I usually use a cake tin mould and serve it up in slices with a fruit coulis oozing down the sides. Err….my version of a coulis is a bagful of liquidized defrosted berries or even mango squirted on top of the ice cream.
Enjoy the heavenly reward for your 5 minute labours whilst you remember my 3 conditions………….you have been warned………..
Last month Brigitte, INC’s very own Fairy Godmother, treated us to a very special Chinese Tea Ceremony with some original add-ons of intrigue and healthy palate-teasers at family-run Tienda Amaté near Colón. I was half expecting a tiny, dark, musty and mysterious shop bulging with tins of tea on precarious bamboo shelving. Instead, I stepped out of the chaotic Madrid traffic into a bright, white serene oasis of calm as pastel-coloured partyware jostled next to beautiful artisanal Easter decorations, aromatic candles, detox products and stunningly-packaged selections of tea. As if by magic the Chinese Tea Master, Ling Long, appeared and after lighting some heady incense sticks he soon had us completely bewitched as he proceeded to mix, infuse, pour and infuse again tea upon tea in complete silence. It was rather like someone massaging your eyelids as you soaked up the aromas and felt the stress of Madrid’s nearby business district ebb away from you. I soon learned that I’d been steeping my tea for too long, thus over-enhancing the bitter tannins and that I’d probably also been making it with water that should be allowed to cool for a 1 minute or so beforehand.
By now I was casting around for some galleta María´s (Spain’s Rich Tea biscuit equivalents) to dip into my heady brew as I might do at home when the kids aren’t looking (except my lot were born with 360 degree vision) when suddenly bubbly Badajoz Chef Valentina (as in Valentina Mandarina delicious-but-still-healthy Catering) stepped forward to proffer quite the most delectable mini homemade vegan sweet and savoury breads and cakes that my taste buds can ever recall. Beaming Valentina is a culinary gluten and lactose-free Goddess who uses natural sweeteners such as dates, perfumed flowers and lots of rich nut butters including macadamia in ingenious concoctions that will smash through any vegan sceptisicm.
Over the course of a very happy morning we sampled all manner of green teas, black teas and even chocolate teas as Paula, the General Manager explained that tea is the most consumed drink in the world after water (and there was me thinking it was whisky) and is also at the heart of many Chinese herbal remedies.
By way of a fascinating aside Inmaculada Gómez stepped up and introduced her new crime novel, “En-red-@da” (Enrededa or Trapped in a web) about a fortysomething shop assistant who becomes heavily dependent on seeking male approval and avoiding potential loneliness through social media to the point of putting her own life in danger and therein commences the thriller. Whilst the softly-confident Inmaculada assured us that hers wasn’t an autobiographical tale her emotional summary certainly struck a chord with many of us present.
Finally Paula’s mother, Flor, brought our attention back to tea and we agreed that Amaté are also rather clever marketeers as, in addition to importing the well-known US tea brand, Harney & Sons, they produce their own labels with wonderfully playful names such as Anímate, Cuídate, Relájate and Mímate (Get up and go, Look After Yourself, Relax and Spoil Yourself). So I suggest you get yourself down to Calle Argensola, 6 smartish if you’re looking for a haven of peace and tranquillity or maybe the odd treat for oneself (park the guilt ladies). If I’d known my dear husband was going to forget all about Mother’s Day I’d have gone back again to treat myself……………….
How can I get my hands on some of that?
Tienda Amaté at Calle Argensola, 6. Madrid for first class teas, partyware, tea ceremonies and gift ideas (that means lots of lovely presents I actually like). Tel 913 198 934. Open Monday to Saturdays 1100 -1430 and 1700-2030. Closed Monday mornings.
valentinamandarina.com for mouthwatering vegan, gluten & lactose-free chef, courses and caterer extraordinaire
Which could easily all be indulged with a riveting novel in hand such as the first in a trilogy, “En-red-@da” by Inmaculada Gómez available at bookshops and Amazon.es
Whilst Sushi is internationally recognised all over the world as one of the key elements of Japanese cuisine, few people know how to make fun, simple versions to enjoy and prepare en famille at home. I was immediately struck by the value of this collective food preparation concept in a world where we increasingly live disconnected from each other, yet under the same roof. In the same way that all national dishes are subject to regional and even personal interpretations that vary from family to family, Lucia Shimizu and Nobuko Crook gave us a unique glimpse into their own tweaks on Japanese family favourites. Lucia grew up as part of the Japanese community in Sao Paulo, Brazil whereas Nobuko hails from the port of Yokohama on Tokyo Bay. Both of our hosts come from families of keen gastronomes where recipes have been handed down for generations.
First up was the all-important sushi rice mixed with Japanese vinegar, salt and sugar while the salmon sizzled under the grill. Lucia stressed the importance of adding the miso paste to the soup without letting it boil and thus eradicating the natural nutrients. Nobuko then deftly laid out a number of cooked ingredients such as smoked salmon, shredded green beans, carrot flower shapes, and coriander on top of the rice for the pressed, weighted down Oshi Sushidish. We were also shown how to make stunning mini decorated sushi balls with prawns which we agreed would appeal immensely to children. Sushi balls are stuffed with whatever ingredients you have to hand and then wrapped in cling film to maintain their circular shape. Japanese mothers will typically pop a few into their kids’ lunchboxes with homemade faces on them as an affectionate maternal gesture which certainly beats the ubiquitous packet of potato crisps and a squashed banana. I can imagine squeezing a little note inside my kids’ sushi balls “Try handing in your homework on time for a change”.
Finally Lucia shared her technique for cooking a Japanese style omelette which is similar to a giant conical French crêpe that is then rolled in the pan and layered up bit by bit by the addition of more beaten egg until it forms a rolled egg log similar in size to a swiss roll or yule log! Quite an art and Lucia admitted that in some households they were apt to resort to western style scrambled eggs which are a lot faster to cook. Although there are still plenty of mothers rising before dawn to lovingly cook an egg roll which would await the rest of the family in all its golden glory when they finally appeared at the breakfast table…
Both Lucia and Nobuko hinted at the diplomacy required when a new wife is cooking for her husband as she may be tempted to cook some dishes according to her own family’s traditions whereas her new spouse will expect her use his family’s style. Personally I’m a great advocate of “you eat what you’re given mate or else you can go and cook it yourself…”
My poor husband has lost most of the sensation from his palate and has had toxic smoke emissions emanating from his ears from the moment we met as I do rather enjoy my spices. Yet, so far, he still hasn’t opted for the “cook it yourself” route.
Anyway, back to our sushi lesson as by now our dining table was a feast for the eyes as well as for the palate and much merriment was had as we concocted our own Temaki sushi cones with a square sheet of Nori (Japanese seaweed). I particularly enjoyed Lucia’s ingenious tip on using a piece of sticky sushi rice to fasten down the two sides of the seaweed sheet to maintain the perfect cone shape. It’s tempting to see if sticky rice will glue people’s lips together too…just imagine no whining kids at the table………..although they could probably still grunt.
Thank you Lucia and Nobuko for demystifying sushi preparation at home and for all your fascinating anecdotes that illustrated authentic Japanese culture. We all benefitted from your pearls of gastronomic wisdom and can now pass on your culinary skills so that our families and friends will be all the richer for the bonding experience of preparing our own sushi together.
Eight of us arrived at Elaine’s apartment with our aprons, ready to start and take her expert instruction on Muffins, Scones and Biscuits. She quickly organised us into pairs in her kitchen and allocated us to our stations – chopping, grating, measuring and following the recipes for the first items on our list of baking tasks that day – multitudinous muffin types: breakfast sausage, ham and cheddar, bran and cranberry corn. Despite a lot of chatting, laughter and mistakes, Elaine kept us on task and we were rewarded with a coffee break and the fruits of our labours – we were proud to agree that all of the muffins were delicious!
Elaine quickly had us busy again on making 5 different kinds of scones – English cream tea, cheese and herbs, orange and yogurt and oatmeal and pecan. She started by explaining how a basic scone mix could be adapted using different flours and additions of fruit, nuts amongst other ingredients and warned that over-handling of the dough produces a heavy scone – so a light hand is needed!
We moved straight on from scones to biscuits, though it soon became clear that the definition of biscuit varies from country to country and as we were a group of 6 different nationalities it was a lively discussion! We made shortcake biscuits with strawberries and buttermilk, whole wheat and scallion versions also.
Elaine had prepared lunch for us, a chicken and dumpling stew which we enjoyed with our biscuits, scones and muffins on the terrace. It was such an enjoyable and informative morning, and we were in awe of Elaine’s organisational and teaching skills. She had a tremendous amount of patience with such an unruly class and we are so grateful to her for her time and generosity.