Saturday, 24 April 2010

The New Pi

You know my pork pies are fabulous (because I keep telling you they are), but just for a change, last night I invented the chicken and ham pie, and, oh my God, it is stupendous! Really, unbelievably fab. It's not the sloppy beige mush in pastry that you'd get from your local bakers. My chicken and ham is alternate layers of solid meat, seasoned with black pepper and fresh cilantro (coriander). Stuffed into a raised hot-water pastry case, surrounded by savoury jelly and designed to be eaten cold. Drool. I'm starting to sound like a marketing dude, but hey, these pies really are something else.

First of all, make the pastry and put it in the fridge to rest. Then prepare the filling - here I've packed it into glasses that are the same diameter as my glass mould. Press the meat down as much as you can (it won't stick together at this stage - that happens as the meat cooks and also the jellied stock helps to bind it).

Assemble the cases. Notice, I now put a tinfoil collar around the outside of the case - this stops the pies bulging too much during cooking, and also makes it much easier to release the glass former. I remove the collars about twenty minutes before the end of cooking.

Stick the lids on, paint with beaten egg, bake for an hour and a bit at 210 C. When cool, spoon the liquid jelly stock through the hole in the top. Chill in the fridge, and eat slowly. This is the best pie you're ever going to get (well, actually, sorry, you're not going to get one unless you come to Madrid and beg).

Monday, 19 April 2010

It's Sausage Day!

MamaDuck rushed home from her knitting group last Friday night and hid in the bedroom. Ten minutes later she emerged with a bright orange-gift-wrapped parcel with my name on it! It was about the right size to be a pair of cowboy boots, but she wouldn't let me open it till the next morning.

[The following is unsuitable for vegetarians - but if you want to send cowboy boots: size 44 (UK 8.5)].

Next morning came (and being basically a kid, I'd hardly slept), and I opened the package. Woot! A meat grinder / sausage stuffer! So I rushed up to the market, got me a kilo of pork shoulder and asked the guy for some tripas para hacer salchichon (casings for to make sausage). He said he didn't have, but pointed me to an offal stall. The lady there did indeed have tripas, but these were the whole things (chitterlings, in English - bleucch), not the skins. Dang. So I traipsed round every butcher in the market, a butcher's shop nearby, and finally a sausage shop near our house. Nada.

Not to worry. I'd been talking to a friend about my banger-making ambitions, and she said she sometimes makes them. She got her tripas from the butcher across the road from her flat in Malasaña, so I went there. No joy. But I remembered seeing a place mentioned on the blog of two guys who make their own bangers in Madrid ( Sadly, I couldn't remember the address or even the area, so I abandoned the search and went home.

Yesterday I assembled the meat/rusk/herb/spice mix, and this morning I went to the shop (c/Atocha 95, if you're interested). They wouldn't sell me less than 25m (€6), but apparently it'll keep for a year or two in the fridge.

I don't know quite what I was expecting, but I was surprised to see I'd apparently bought a bag of dead worms. It was a plain bag - no branding, no info, no nuffin. I opened it and pulled out this hank of shrivelled guts packed in rock salt. I pulled out a couple of metres of it (not unlike unravelling a skein of wool, but a bit smellier, obviously), and put it in lukewarm water to soak.

I've seen a YouTube video where somebody rinses water through it, so I tried that and it worked!

After a couple more hours of soaking, I steeled my nerves, assembled the equipment (half of which had spent the last 30 minutes in the freezer because colder is better for this kind of work), and threaded the casing onto the nozzle of the machine. Then I popped some of the meat mixture into the tray, switched on the machine, pushed with the pestle and waited for stuff to emerge. It took a while, but eventually, sausage extrusion began to occur, and I tried to ease the casing off the nozzle while manipulating the sausage into a regular shape. I stopped the machine after a bit, because the first eight inches were just way too thick. I cut that off, tried to twist it into two links, and broke the skin. Ho hum, try again.

This time I got the sausage down to a reasonable diameter, squeezing, teasing and coiling as I went. When all the meat mix had gone through the machine, I twisted the coil into links, and made nine fat juicy bangers. Looking at the original two, I decided to scrap them and try again. I pulled the casing off the nozzle much faster this time, and finished up with six narrow-gauge sausages. For a first attempt, I am pretty damn chuffed, and I know they're going to taste great because I fried off a bit of the meat mix this morning and had it in a sandwich for my breakfast.


UPDATE: Guess what we had for tea? Bangers 'n' mash. MamaDuck cut into a sausage and took a bite. 'My God! It's so meaty!' she said. Yep. Absolutely fabulous.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Doctor, Doctor

I haven't been to see a doctor since we arrived in Spain, but MamaDuck and I have decided well (well, okay, she told me) that I need to have a checkup and see if they can do anything about my nocturnal nasal conciertos (being on the wagon doesn't actually make much difference, so we're prolly looking at a bit of surgery in the sinus department).

So yesterday, I went and registered at our local clinic - I was chuffed that I managed it entirely in Spanish without a single 'que' or 'no entiende' from either side, and that I had managed to bring the two bits of documentation required (tarjeta sanitaria (health card) and empadronomiento (don't ask, but see other posts)). She asked me if I wanted a morning doctor or an afternoon doctor. I said it didn't matter, I just wanted the one who spoke the best English. She said none of them spoke any English (and why should they? How many English doctors speak Spanish?), so I opted for a morning one.

After that I went home and made myself an appointment online to see my new doctor. 10.40 this morning, no problem.

Got to the clinic this morning, sat outside his room, and was surprised not to hear my name called at any point. At eleven, the doctor emerged from his room, switched off the light and locked the door. I stood up and asked him if he was Dr Xxx. Yes, he said. Well, I have an appointment. With a sigh, he opened the door and got his list. He showed it to me, and I'm not on it.


Buggered if I know what happened, but I did think it a bit odd that the online system didn't send me a confirmation email or give me a chance to print anything out. Hmm. Got another appointment for tomorrow morning.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Lost In Translation

Patatas Bravas is a fairly common dish in Madrid. It consists of chunks of fried potato topped with a spicy tomato-based sauce. We've been to the café that claims to have invented them, but nobody seems to know why they bear this name ('brave potatoes'). Sometimes, you'll see patatas written as papas. Papa also means father, and there's a Holy Father in the Vatican who is known as El Papa.

So I couldn't resist a little giggle the other day when I read a menu that had English translations. The translation of papas bravas was 'brave Popes'.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Semana Santa in Ocentejo

We're just coming to the end of Semana Santa - Holy Week in Spain. The week leading up to Easter is as important as Easter itself, and MamaDuck had a week off work. We were invited to spend the week with some friends of ours at their place in Ocentejo, a tiny village (permanent population 25, but weekend and holiday population somewhat larger) about 150 kms north of Madrid. We've been there several times, but usually only for an overnighter, and usually as passengers in someone else's car. This time, our friends were already there, so we took the twice-daily coach as far as Cifuentes, about half-an-hour from Ocentejo, and they picked us up from there.

With spring teetering on the verge of sprunging, there is a lot of work to be done in the garden, and MamaDuck was eager to do some of it. I had been enlisted to make pork pies for general nibbling through the week, and a big steak and kidney pie to share with the family of José-Luis (the chef/owner of the only bar/restaurant in the village), and Espe, who just happened to be around. I spent a very happy morning in the kitchen constructing these pies, and they were a great success.

The pattern of our days at the house goes something like this: get up some time between 9 and 10, sort yourself out with breakfast, then get down to thinking about writing a new novel / actual work / dig the garden / make pies / go for a walk / paint the walls of the living room / try to draw a picture or do whatever it is you want to do. Sometimes there's a mid-morning coffee at the bar. At about 2.30, we knock off and go for an aperitivo at the bar. José-Luis is very canny, and will appear with a superb bit of food just as we look to be on the point of going back to the house for lunch. As we're eating this, we will of course order another round of drinks, and on more than one occasion we would be too full of J-L's creations to actually have or need any lunch. Some of the things he made for us: codornices (quails); migas (a southern Spanish dish of breadcrumbs and meat with a chopped-up fried egg stirred in - it sounds weird, but José-Luis makes the best migas I've ever had); beans (not Heinz); red peppers stuffed with a cheesy cod sauce; lomo (pork loin); patatas bravas (sauteed chunks of potato with a hot sauce); and many other goodies.

Then, back to the house for lunch (or not), usually followed by a snooze, and then whatever was planned for the evening. One night this involved trooping down to the Mayor's* house to watch Atléti vs Real Madrid (el Derbi, and a truly crap match it was), and a few days later a drive to the next village, Sacecorbo, to watch Atléti vs Valencia. The reason for all this mooching around to watch footie is that Castilla La Mancha switched off their analogue TV broadcasts last weekend. Now, this has been planned for years, and everyone now has a TDT (Terrestrial Digital Television) adapter. But Ocentejo (actually, the beloved Mayor of Ocentejo, who is the only person in the village who has satellite TV), forgot / didn't bother to tell the authorities they would like to have whatever doohickey is required to transmit digital signals. So, blank screens in Ocentejo.

And then back to the house for a nightcap, and sometimes staying up talking till stupid o'clock.

Sigüenza Cathedral

Some days we'd have a trip out of the village - MamaDuck and lady friend went to a garden centre in Guadalajara one day. We all went to Siguenza a few days later - it's quite a pretty place with an astounding cathedral and a castle that has been restored and is now a Parador.

Castle / Parador

And finally, the culmination of Semana Santa - el viernes Santo (Good Friday). There were lots of events organised by the village, starting with a competition to see who could make the best torrijas (a bit like a cross between French toast and bread-and-butter pudding). MamaDuck and I had been co-opted onto the judging panel, along with one of our friends and the mayor's wife. After that there was a concert of classical music given by a violinist and a guitarist, followed by the church-goers parading their little statue of Christ on the cross around the village. And then a bonfire in the square, which was supposed to be accompanied by roast potatoes. But they didn't put the spuds in until about 11pm, and by midnight they were still not ready, it had turned seriously cold, and us poor little Brits buggered off to bed.

Yesterday our pals gave as a lift into Guadalajara and we caught the train back to Madrid, where it promptly started to rain. But it was such a pleasure to be out of Madrid and plunged into a proper little Spanish pueblo where, of course, almost nobody speaks English and so you absolutely have to inflict your appalling Spanish on them.

*It's always amazed me that such a tiny village as Ocentejo has a Mayor and a town hall, but it turns out that the municipality is actually the largest in Castilla La Mancha in terms of land area.