It's Almost New Years

& we're on a break. Not much blogging being done at this point.

In any case... Happy New.

Family Foto

Group Photo on Christmas Day

Sorry that everyone is squinting - - it's just that it was so very very sunny out.

No Snow Here

The weather´s fine. That picture above is a live shot so when you see this it might or might not be.
It's Christmas Eve so… happy holidays to you all.

Snowing in Madrid

Season's Greetings from Madrid - where, at the moment, it's snowing. Bah,
This is happening only because tomorrow I have a 600 km (400 mile) drive through the mountains and high country of Spain; to go visit relatives for xmas.
So, despite the adverse, for me, weather conditions I'm wishing you all the weather that you prefer.

Fried Tomato Sauce: Sofrito

Today's effort takes a fair amount of elapsed time but is really quite simple to execute. And the result is like nothing you get from a can or a jar.Aceite

Turn on the heat - high. Start with 100% pure virgin olive oil in the pan; cover the bottom. Don't be afraid - it's olive oil so it's actually good for you.

Brunoisse (dice) a medium onion. Size doesn't really matter here but if the pieces are smaller they'll cook a little faster (not that we're in a hurry; after all, we're making this by hand). Put it in the pan. Turn down the heat to medium.

Smash 2 cloves of garlic. No fancy chopping required 'cause they'll be cooking a while. Toss into the pan. Stir a little.

I have way too many shallots in the house so I toss one of these in too.

One Szechuan red pepper, a pretty good sized one at that. These actually were purchased in China and gifted to me.

Rip off the cap, split it open and dump out the seeds (they can be rather hot when you leave the seeds in). Toss the skin into the pan and immediately go wash your hands. Do not touch your face, eyes or go to the bathroom. Get that pepper oil off of your fingers.
Do not omit the pepper; it's a subtle but important factor in the taste.

Stir very occasionally. The profession cook does not hover over their dishes as a rule; me, I go off and blog some. Keep cooking until the onions are soft and some are turning brown.

The onions, while sautéing, reach a point where they suddenly start reducing in volume/shrinking. This happens once the excess water in them has cooked off and at that point they really start cooking. You'll notice that something "different" is happening.
In my case it took about 10 minutes and they looked like the picture above.

Add 800 grams (net) [30 oz] of jarred (canned) whole tomatoes (or the double amount of fresh ones). Seeds and all. I used organic ones. Canned/jarred tomatoes are usually cheaper, more flavorful and better color than fresh ones. It's one of the things that is often superior as a packaged product rather than fresh. These ones are peeled but that's not important.

Dump into the pan.

Smash them with your wooden spatula and turn up the heat until they're starting to boil a little; turn down to a good simmer.

Go look for your vegetable mill. This is what it will look like.

Or use a Cuisinart and a colander to filter it afterwwards.

Add 1 tsp of sugar (needed to counteract the acidity of a pound or so of tomatoes) and ½ tsp of salt.

Taste this mix. Right now, before it's really cooked. You'll need this taste-memory later in the process. It tastes like bland tomatoes.

Go read a magazine; come back in 15 minutes. (the whole cooking time will be about 45 but you need to check on it along the way).
By now you will need to turn it down a little because it's thickened up.

Taste it again. Still taste too much like tomatoes. Time to clean the bathroom. Give it another 15 minutes (that's 30 so far).

Check it again. Probably needs a little more salt. Add a pinch (just a pinch). Adjust the simmer so that the sauce is not splashing bubbles all over the place.
Taste it. It starts to have a little bit of interesting flavour. Go check your email. 15 minutes more.

That's 45 minutes. Stir, check the salt, taste again. Maybe it's ready or it needs a little more time (mine took 55 minutes). But you'll know it's done when the taste suddenly gets sweet and lovely; maybe with a hint of the pepper. You'll notice the difference; really you will. Like with the onions earlier there will be a noticable change at a certain point.

When it's cooked it might look like this. Pretty lumpy.

So we run it through the mill (or the cuisinart and then strain it).

And we get this. A wonderful smooth tomato sauce like none you will find in a shop.
Sofrito - Done

Oh, what to do with it? I have a few ideas. For starters, try an egg sunny side up and place a dollop of this on it. Beats ketchup all to hooey.

I believe I'll be cooking/poaching cod in this and garnishing with roasted red peppers.

Meme of Three

Inflicted by Shalee

  1. things that scare you

    • electricity
    • really really severe, unprotected, heights / cliffs
    • loneliness

  2. people that make me laugh:

    • Jon Stewart
      (or smile)
    • Peter Sellers
    • Nicole

  3. things I hate the most:

    • hate
    • not a lot else though
    • and not even hate all that much

  4. things I don't understand:

    • religion
    • calculus
    • wimins

  5. things I'm doing right now:

    • cooking
    • blogging
    • drinking tea

  6. things I want to do before I die:

    • eat durian
    • [not for family viewing]
    • live

  7. things I can do:

    • program a computer
    • cook
    • be happy by myself

  8. ways to describe my personality:

    • dry
    • funny (kind of contradicts the first one though)
    • irritable

  9. things I cannot do:

    • hmm

  10. things I think you should listen to:

    • country music (but... really listen)
    • the other point of view
    • LeAnne Rimes / The Beatles

  11. things you should not listen to:

    • your parents
    • siblings
    • the voice in your head

  12. things I'd like to learn:

    • Japanese
    • tolerance for bad driving
    • -

  13. favorite foods:

    • a really good steak
    • foie gras
    • pizza

  14. beverages I drink regularly:

    • wine
    • beer
    • milk

  15. three persons to tag:

    • nope; that's not going to happen

Harold McGee: The curious cook: Exploring the alchemy of food & an On-Line Reader

This is an interesting article about colored garlics - - very interesting; in and of itself.

Also interesting is that this same article was in the New York Times and is available from them, online, for a small fee. In the link above I went to the same article in the International Herald Tribune and it's free.

The really really interesting part is that on this International Herald Tribune page you can look at the article in several different formats, or email it, print it, or listen to it! Extraordinary! Technology is starting to get useful after all. Imagine that you're a little bit hard-of-seeing; this would be a great help.

Steak: Entrecôte: Solomillo de Buey: Filet Mignon

A quick lunch today. Fast; and easy cleanup.

Set the oven to 200 C (395 F)
Put a oven-proof pan on a burner, on high; with a touch (2T) of olive oil. Wait for it to start "smoking". This is gonna be hot. Not bacon wrapping of this filet is required. It will be cooked fast and hot and it won't be drying out; not to worry. Of course this does require a pretty thick piece of meat.

Lay the meat in the pan [tied with kitchen string to keep the shape]. Lower heat to medium-high. Wait for one full minute. Don't touch it. Surprisingly, even in a not non-stick pan, it probably won't stick. You want a real decent touch of colour.
You want a real decent touch of colour.
Turn over. One full minute on this side too.

Do the edges. This will take about 3 or 4 parts at maybe 30 seconds apiece. This is more for color than anything.

Into the oven. This is the part where professionals do it different than home-cooks. Usually at home you would just cook (sauté) it longer in the pan but that runs the risk of burning the surface. This finishing it in the oven bit helps you avoid that.

Five minutes for the first side. Turn over & do the other side. Remember… the pan handle will be VERY very hot. Use a towel. In fact it would be good to get into the habit of always touching metal handles only with a towel. This avoids the need for later skin grafts. - ouch.

Poke at it to determine doneness; give it a pretty good poke if it's a thick piece like this.. If it feels squishy it's (still) rare.

Which, in this case with a top-quality piece of meat, is exactly what you want. Not blood-runny but a good solid type of rare.

Serve with horseradish and Dijon mustard.

Blogger Beta and New Templates

I've moved over to the Beta Blogger system and a new template generator. It looks pretty much the same as before, I think. My favorite part is that I can (easily?) add a list of stuff; such as my cookbooks. I've been wanting to do that for a while.

I've started the list with the one, in English, that I grab for most often.

Now It's Really Winter

It was freezing this morning. Literally. Minus 1 degree Centigrade, 30 Fahrenheit. So, for me, it is officially winter and I break out the puffy jacket. I do not like cold weather (so why did I live in Toronto for 7 years one might ask? Where some months never rise above freezing.). I also, mistakenly, thought that Spain was always warm. Some parts are. This is not one of them. brr.

Luckily the truckload of wood arrived yesterday and we have a new wood pile. That's a lovely thought at the start of winter - - the prospect of many cozy nights in front of the fire.

Space Walk

foto credit: NASA
It's fascinating to be watching the NASA TV broadcast - live - while the astronauts try to fix things with the solar array panels up there. Technology's a wonderful thing.

Meanwhile: dinner was a mushrooms , tomato and green pepper stewy soup kinda thing. Taking whatever was in the fridge that has to get used up before the holidays. Cut in brunoise. Fry them up individually, really well - in 100% pure virgin olive oil; add a light meat stock; salt, pepper - done.

Water; It's Good to Have Enough

After this year's spring and summer droughts we have been getting a heck of a lot of rain in October and November. Happily the reservoirs all over the country are now running at about 69% full; as compared to the 35% a year ago and about 20% at the end of the summer.

Water reserve levels are of enough general interest that they are published daily in the newpapers - and have been for years; not just during the recent drought.

The really good part is I won't have to feel so guilty every time I run the dishwasher; although it's worth noting that washing dishes in the machine is generally considered to use less water than doing dishes by hand. Hurrah!

Cold & Tired

I woke up this morning - disoriented, cold and tired. I didn't warm up even with a cuppa hot tea (my gramma would be horrified). At some point thereafter, while tidying the kitchen, I realized that the cause was that I had eaten nothing yesterday except a ½ bowl of granola and some bites of what I'd been cooking. Basically, I was undernourished.
It seems that when I cook I neglect to eat. Perhaps I should publish a diet book - - since seriously starting to work in kitchens (August) I've lost 15 pounds (7 kilos).

Done - The Dinner

This is a corner of someone else's kitchen; which I did not destroy. And, below, a close up of one of the appetizer trays. No other photos 'cause I was working and actually forgot about pictures.

The client was happy - and the guests seemed to be ; everything on every single plate was thoroughly and completely eaten (and drunk-up for that matter). And these weren't little nouveau cuisine sized meals. There was a load of food: 7 ounce entrecote steaks (+ sauce), a similar amount of rice&mushrooms, a whole mess of 3 different vegetables. That was on top of appetizers, a spanish tortilla, salad with foie - and later, dessert.So, that's a good sign. Oh, and a couple of folks made inquiries about doing private dinners for them (not serious inquiries at this point, just casual interest/curiosity).Way too much time spent planning and prepping; due to my nervous energy no doubt. I've got to figure out how to do one of these with less time&effort investment on my part on the front end. Now, I have to go and tidy up the mess in my kitchen.

The Dinner - Today

The nerves have settled somewhat; especially since I started prepping food this morning. I find time in the kitchen to be zen-ish; soothing (albeit stressful getting everything done & remembering not to forget anything).
Looking at the $/time-investment ratio this doesn't really pay all that well. But hey - it's great fun.

Incidentally - this was the week that the hot water heater decides to go on the blink (dead). I've been doing the hand-washing for dishes using hot water from the electric kettle. The repairman showed up today and the (repaired) tank will have heated up at just about the time I leave the house this afternoon to go to the gig. Ya gotta smile.

Too Many Posts in One Day

I'm frantically messing around in the kitchen and taking breaks to write posts about it. Oddly enough it seems more productive to be blogging and cooking at the same time. Blogging gives me breaks from cooking and cooking gives me something to blog about.
That, and nervous energy.
It's midnight:30 and I'm in the kitchen peeling vegetables. I should go to bed instead.
Actually, a wee whisky would go down okay right about now.

Kitchen Explosion

No, not really. It only looks like the kitchen exploded. In mid recipe-testing / hacking around (and making dinner too) I thought I'd commemorate The Dinner preparation with this photo.

Butterflies in the stomach; tomorrow's the big day. But I figure I'm ready.
Well... I hope I'm ready.

Morcilla Tart; Black Pudding; Blood Sausage

Yup, lots of people would pass on this one too. These are little Morcilla Tarts. Made from boudin / black pudding / blood sausage - - plus a little apple and cinnamon.

Open up a Morcilla (use the onion version; not the ones with pimiento); remove the skin (which is actually a pig intestine. Fry it up for about 5 minutes; use no added fat because it's got loads of its own. Chop up an apple; brunoisse . Take one part diced apple to two parts of sausage; add a dash of cinnamon. Blend really well but you still want to see some slivery pieces of apple. I used a sort of mini cuisinart that came with a Braun Stick Mixer (which are wonderful toys for the kitchen and a good Christmas gift).
Put the resulting muck into tiny tart shells and top with ground roasted pine nuts.

Sort of like a meatmeat tart - but different.

This, by the way, is post the only place on the entire web where the phrase "morcilla tart" occurs.

Anchovy Toasts

Anchovy Toast
Originally uploaded by willsong.
For The Dinner one of the appetizers is little toasts with (left) red pepper foam, (right) quark (a sort of creamy cheese), topped with a sliver of roasted red pepper and an anchovy.

Pretty creative - and very Mediterranean.

Lots of people seem to not like anchovies but here in Spain they're very popular.

The Dinner - Stuff

The thing about this Personal Cheffing business is that it's not just cooking; there's a whole lot of just plain work; like lugging all this stuff up to the client's apartment; who happens to live in an area with parking conditions somewhat more difficult than midtown Manhattan.

Lotsa Stuff
Bottom to top: a case of wine, my knife case, a box of stuff (non food items), red cutting board, food cooler, and my decorative chef's toque. Not pictured: the suitcase for the pots & pans I have to take along.

I hope there's an elevator.

Le Cordon Bleu - Class Photo

I was browsing through my recipes from culinary school, prepping for The Dinner and came across the class photo. Here it is; just for laughs. One of these handsome people is me. Location: the student hall of Le Cordon Bleu Academy of Culinarty Arts - Paris, August 2005.

Dinner for Eight

The client's accepted the proposal - which amounts to lots of appetizers, a really serious steak of the very very best quality (I have a wholesale restaraunt supplier), a ton of wine, and a bunch of other interesting eatables.

The way this works is that as a Personal Chef I cook the menu in their kitchen (it's something along the lines of in-home catering); doing everything from the planning and shopping to washing up the final dishes. This is going for $54 per person (8 people). Sounds like a real good deal. For them it beats the price of an equivalent dinner in a restaurant all to h*l*.

Now, I have to actually do the work --- bah. Planning is easy; it's execution that's difficult.

A Dinner Menu

I'm proposing something simple and vaguely SpanishMediterraneanFrench style but not super luxe.

8 people, plated, table service, with the host & guests helping to retrieve from the kitchen.


A wine flight. All from the bodega Enate in the region of Somontaño . A Chardonnay, a young red, a 'regular' red and then a Reserva red for the main meat course.


  • Morcilla tarts (bite size; black sausage)
  • Anchovies with Roasted Red Pepper foam on toasts
  • Onion Spanish Tortilla (basically just an egg and onion spanish omelette)


  • Rocket (arugula) with grated Foie and Raspberry Vinaigrette (wish I could get dandelions instead)

Intermezzo - a sip of lemon ice something or other


  • Entrecote (serious quality steaks) in a Madeira Sauce (French style)
  • Rice with Mushrooms (it's mushroom hunting season here; I'll use Bomba type rice [round rice kernels])
  • Glazed Vegetables Julienne (carrots, turnip, leeks maybe)


  • Chocolate Mousse

That Was Supposed to be a Draft

Oops. Sorry about that. Someday the risotto post may reappear. After I actually make some.

Dinner Party for Eight: Professional Cheffing

The trouble with being a chef (cook) is that occasionally people ask you to actually perform as a chef - professionally.  It's easy when being a chef more or less amounts to exercising it as hobby or when working in a restaurant in a kitchen with a bunch of other cooks; but I find gigs as a private chef somewhat intimidating.  It comes from a  lack of confidence I suppose.  And going it alone.

So.. an acquaintance (the friend of a friend sort) needs a dinner for 8 (or maybe it'll be 6 or 10) at his place.  This entails preparing a menu, pricing, negotiating, testing a couple of recipes, buying (food & wine), pre-preparing a bunch of things, schlepping a load of stuff to his apartment in Madrid (where there's no free parking spots for miles), cooking in someone else's kitchen and serving the results.  Not to mention clean-up and schlepping things back home.

But hey! It's paid work so there is an up-side.

Nanaimo Bars: Before and After

This, by the way, is the Nanaimo Bar (which I have written about previously). A famous Canadian treat (on the Pacific coast).

Here's the before photo.

And this is the after picture:

Cookie, nuts, cocao, coconut bottom; vanilla creamy icing center; dark chocolate top.

Lots of chocolate, sugar and butter; the ideal holiday treat.

Recipe to follow.

Mauviel Copper Double Boiler

I was actually doing some cooking today! Well, sort of, Nanaimo Bars (the whole story to follow later - they're actually a type of fridge-bar).

Step 1 is to melt butter, sugar and cocoa in the microwave or a double boiler. I'm lucky enough to have been gifted this Mauviel copper double boiler and I just love having a reason to pull it

Isn't it just plain pretty? All brass and copper and porcelain just like stuff back in the (good) old days. Quality. Weighs a ton too.

Quality comes with a price though. Amazon has these listed at $257 ouch (I mean... each) [list price is about $360]. Mine was bought (for me) in Paris, back before the price of copper rose and the dollar dropped; for substantially less.

Spice Shop

photo credit:

I'm still checking out the photo collection.

This is the 1st food-oriented pic from the trip to Egypt. A spice shop. Approximately 89% of these spices travelled home with me.

This was not in a real touristy area. It's just a regular shop for regular people on a regular street. No self serve; a fellow behind a counter. You wait your turn (while talking to the neighbors who are waiting as well); then chat with the shopkeeper (who is your neighbor too) about what you want.
It takes a while to get the shopping done but there's more people, more community, involved. maybe not such a bad thing.

Snow in Vancouver and Kelowna Too

Looks like the Pacific Northwest is having fun today. Hi to more of the gang.

These are (probably) live webcam shots of 1) Vancouver & 2) Kelowna - who are also enjoying (?) snow.

Big White

Snow in Campbell River

A big Hi to the family in Campbell River. Hope you are enjoying the years first snowfall. Maybe the kids will get a "snow day".

Technical note: Above is a screenshot of Sunday.
Below is a test to try and imbed a live shot of a Campbell River web cam.

The Great Pyramid of Giza: Egypt

Finished around the year 2560 B.C. (4566 years ago) the Great Pyramid of Egypt is the last of the original seven wonders of world that still exists. Some date it as being up to 10000 years old; opinions vary.

The sides are unexpectedly irregular.

We were in Egpyt a year or so ago. I went with a group of (Spanish) belly dancers. There were 3 guys and a whole mess of women; who spent much of the time wearing veils and dancing at the drop of a hat. A most interesting trip.

I've been sorting through my picture galleries, trying to get them in some sort of order (using free software called Picasa [from the Google folks]). And I discovered that I have not one single picture of food from Egypt. Very odd. I do have a picture of around back of a restaurant that we ate at. Maybe it would have been better not to look.

Places like Egypt might sound pretty exotic but from a European perspective it amounts to a low-cost vacation destination that has decent weather in the winter. Comparable to going to Mexico back when I lived in New York.

My Old Hometown

This is the town where I was born & raised. Not bad. I rather liked it. Still miss the place somewhat. My aunt & uncle used to live on a sailboat in this very harbour.

Pizzeria Positano: Paris

Next time you're in Paris, France, try this one out. As far as I'm concerned the best pizza in Paris. Hand made, wood oven, small place, great atmosphere. Seemingly authentic.
It's in the 6th - 15, rue des Canettes. Metro Station: Mabillon, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, or Saint-Sulpice [my preference is St. Suplice]. I don't think they take reservations and it's usually pretty busy so be prepared to be a little bit patient (although I never have had to wait more than 5 minutes for a table at lunch).

And if you're not going to Paris anytime soon you can remember this anyway and recommend it to your friends who do go to Paris.

Stress Test

It's a simple test designed to indicate whether people have too much stress in their life.

It's a picture of two dolphins. The two dolphins appear normal when viewed by a stress-free individual. This test is not accurate enough to pick up mild stress levels.

It's quite simple. If there is anything that appears different about the dolphins (ignore the fact of the slight color differences) it is often an indication of potential stress related problems. Differences, if any, may also indicate the source of your stress.

Sit upright and viewing the screen head-on, take a deep breath, breathe out and then look directly at the picture.

If there is anything out of the ordinary then you should consider taking things a little easier..

Yes, this has been around the web for a quite bit and I should attribute it; if I could find its originator.

China Banquet

This is chinese food. Literally. The pic was taking in Pingyao. This is the leftovers from a 2 person chinese banquet that my S.O. enjoyed while on a recent visit to China. The leftovers.

Deadly Cute

Nyah, Nicole & Naomi (who was 2 days old in this pic)