A Cooking Day in Málaga: Preparing Spanish Dishes in Andalucía

Spain is a country that’s easy to get lost in. I don’t mean the culture or the romanticism – I mean, GPS systems are absolute crap, and it’s easier to end up on the wrong road than it is to arrive to your destination calmly and on time.

Stuck in our constant chatter, Mickey and I missed our exit, had a local forget we were following him to Almogía, and ended up on a dirt road. I called Mayte, one of the women behind A Cooking Day, and she told me she hadn’t heard of the town we’d just driven through.

“There will be wine,” Mickey soothed. “There is always wine on a Spanish table. Don’t stress.”

 As it turned out, we were in Mayte’s driveway, but wouldn’t find that out before turning around again. But Mickey was right –  as soon as we’d sat down in the airy courtyard of her country house, dripping with Bougainvillea and antique lanterns, I felt at ease and over my road rage.

Mayte and Keti announced the menu before anyone had been introduced – ajoblanco, a citrus salad with cod and spring onions, fideuà and quince pastries, plus homemade bread. As with any Spanish weekend meal, we’d snack our way through the process, eating olives they’d marinated and malagueño cheese with homemade fig marmalade.

Prepping our meal

After meeting fellow blogger Robin Graham and his partner, as well as locals Ute and Sergio, wicker baskets were distributed and we went into the small huerto to pick fruit. Oranges, persimmons, figs and lemons are ripe at this time of year, and we’d be using several in our recipes.

Once back in the house, we donned aprons. Robin and I set to peeling shrimp while Mickey and Sergio pounded almonds using an iron mallet and a stone, a traditional method. As an American used to my fish coming headless and my chicken breasts cleaned, it was refreshing to know that we were truly making farm to fork food.

Mayte’s kitchen is spacious and modern, blended seamlessly into a century-old farmhouse that’s full of interesting pieces from her travels around the world. She and Keti, a longtime friend, set up the cooking classes in both English and Spanish earlier this year. They cater groups of two to just six, ensuring that everyone will get their hands dirty.

There would be blanching, chopping and stirring, but not without a glass of Rioja and a few stolen almonds.

Making our Food

First up? Kneading the bread and preparing it to rise. Mine refused to cooperate with me, and coupled with my lack of kitchen skills, I was toast. Ha. The day was a bit damp, causing the bread to need more time to bake and rise. I took another sip of beer.

We focused on the ajoblanco next, peeling away the case and chopping garlic – it was a dish I’d surprisingly not tried before. Mayte dumped everything into the blender and turned it on, and we were sipping it a short time later between nibbles of our baked bread and organic olive oil (Mayte’s recipe is below).

As we peeled the oranges we picked and chopped them, along with the ripe spring onions, the shrimp shells we’d discarded and the monkfish boiled in separate pots to serve as brother for the fideuà noodle dish that would be our main plato

Keti showed us a family secret – frying the noodles with a bit of oil and garlic so that they’d not get too hard later. As a last-minute addition, we made a simple alioli sauce of egg whites, garlic and olive oil to accompany this traditional noodle dish that resembles paella. 

La sobremesa

Nearing 4 o’clock, we  sat down to eat. The fireplace crackled as Mayte served us the salad. While I didn’t think I’d be too keen on mixing salted cod with oranges and onions, the malagueña salad was surpassingly good and felt layered, despite its simplicity.

Our bellies were happy and in good company around the table. Sobremesa is a Spanish term that refers to the conversation and camaraderie that always seems to happen around a table. In fact, the work for striking up a conversation is entablar, which perfectly encompasses sobremesa chat. I chose to bring Mickey because I knew she’d be right at home. Like me, she loves wine, food and good conversation.

As Keti finished the fideuà, we drank up, a rich Rioja that blended well with all of the flavors on the table. The noodles were cooked perfectly, creamy and with the right amount of flavor. Again, I was taken back at how flavorful something so simple could taste.

The Takeaway

For someone who loves food and dabbles in cooking, the outing was a fun was to spend a day. We rolled up our sleeves and got to see the process through, from picking the fresh fruit to taking the quince pastries out of the oven. Perhaps by my own election and in the name of art (and Camarón), I didn’t cook as much as I expected.

Mayte and Keti are personable, helpful and patient, and they make great company. I appreciated that they came up with a menu that pleased palates from five different countries and our two vegetarian counterparts, and the food was simple enough to repeat, yet filling and delicious.

Ajoblanco
Print
Ingredients
  1. 150g almonds
  2. 2 cloves of garlic
  3. 2 slices of bread (crust optional)
  4. 1/2 glass of extra virgin olive oil
  5. 1 litre of water
  6. salt and white wine vinegar to taste
Instructions
  1. Blanch the almonds blanching hot water until the skin peels off easily. Peel and chop the garlic cloves into fine bits. Soak the bread in water to soften it, then break it apart into smaller pieces. Put everything in the blender with the olive oil, a bit of vinegar and salt, and blend until you get a fine paste, adding some water if necessary. Add a litre of water and the salt and vinegar to taste.
Notes
  1. Tip: day-old bread works best for this recipe.
Adapted from Adapted from A Cooking Day Blog
Sunshine and Siestas http://sunshineandsiestas.com/
 Mickey and I were gracious guests of Mayte and Keti of A Cooking Day, but all opinions belong to me. A Cooking Day is available to speakers of English, Spanish or French for 50€ a head, which includes the materials, food and drink, plus company. Mayte’s cortijo is located just off the A-7, right outside of Málaga. For more information, consult their website.

Picking Winter Fruit in Southern Spain

In the winter months, citrus fruits, figs, mushrooms and chestnuts are ripe and ready to be picked. Olive oil harvests begin, and crops like pumpkins, avocados and leeks begin to pop up in supermarkets.

As a kid growing up in the icy Midwest, we’d often have raspberry and tomato plants, which only came around in the summertime. My grandpa lived in Orange County and would send us navel oranges as holiday gifts – without fail, there’s always one at the very bottom of our stockings on Christmas morning.

Coming from a country that pumps horomones into everything we consume, Spain is a breath of fresh air. Horomone-free, that is. I have learned to live with seasonal products. Strawberries comes in the early spring, sardines are best eaten in the months without an R in the name, and tomatoes are available year-round, thanks to greenhouses in nearby Los Palacios. Winter means fig jam, roasted chestnuts and zucchini soup.

As part of our day in the malgueño countryside, Mickey and I searched a small orchard for the ripest figs, lemons, and oranges. Honeybees continued to flit around the fruit that had fallen to the ground and smashed open. Sergio crushed a few ripe olives, showing us how oil was traditionally extracted from Southern Spain’s star crop. Mayte explained how to pick the best fruit, which had been victim to little rain this year.

Later that day, our hand-picked lemons would dress up our fideuà, the oranges formed the base of a fresh salad with spring onions and cod, and the fleshy part of the figs were devoured, turning our lips red.

My experience at A Cooking Day was offered to me for free by Mayte and Kety. My opinions, and the extra calories, are all mine.

Seville Snapshots: The Life, Death and Rebirth of an Orange Tree

A round lump rests each year at the bottom of my stocking. This gift, a California orange, is something we get every year from my grandfather, who signed us up to get a huge crate every December, even though he’s been gone for years.

It’s hard not to think of him when I see the beauties growing on the trees just outside my door. A dull smack, and one hits the ground rolling. While they’re not to be eaten in Seville (they’re used to make bitter marmalade), we often pick them up and make a cheap air freshener out of them. Just like a bullfight is characterized by three acts, culminating in the final faena, so is the life and death of the naranjas, whose final rebirth is a fragrant flower called azahar.

Orange trees enjoy the temperate, rainy winters in Seville. Come mid-February, the thunks become more frequent as workers use metal poles to dislodge the naranjas from their trees. The fruit is then gathered into large crates or burlap sacks and shipped off to Merry Old England.

Within days, the springtime rains bring along the small, silky buds that pop out amongst the waxy leaves. Sometimes they open early, filling the nighttime with a clean scent. My Irish friend claims they always come up around St. Patrick’s Day, so my nose has been upturned for the last few days, waiting.

Like all things springime in Seville, the azahar petals fall to the street within a few weeks, and the tempratures shoot up into the high 20s. The azahar is overpowered by incense from the Holy Week parades, and then by fried fish and sherry during the April Fair.

My friend told me that if I liked Seville during the Autumn and Winter, I’d swoon in the springtime.

She was right.

Seville Snapshots: Patio de las Doncellas

Camp is just about over, and I’m not thinking of Seville, but of corn on the cob, fireworks, boating and all things American (after two days in Madrid with the Novio, I’m flying back to Chicago de la Frontera). But special pictures like this one, from Toby, keep the memories of my second home strong when I’ll be away for two months.

The jewel in Seville’s crown is the triangle of sites that lie in Plaza del Triunfo: the massive cathedral, Archivo de Indias and the royal palace, the oldest still in use. The center of the complex, which includes architectural hallmarks from Seville’s 2000-year history and one of the city’s largest gardens, is the Patio de las Doncellas. The Maiden’s Courtyard is said to have been named for the 100 virgins brought in every year for the Moorish kings living in the palace, and its upper courtyards are still used by the Royal

Toby writes: I spent my junior year of college in Madrid and fell in love with Spain.  But it took me nearly 30 years to return and I brought my husband and then 10-year-old daughter on a two-week trip through Spain and had a fabulous time!  We started in Barcelona, then onto Madrid. We spent several days in Madrid and took one day trip to Toledo. Afterwards we spent time in Sevilla, Malaga and Granada.  10 months later my husband and I returned to celebrate our 20th anniversary.  Now hubby has also fallen in love with Spain and we hope to retire to Malaga.  We shall see what happens (a ver lo que pasa).  I started my blog to document both trips to Spain as well as future travel plans: http://travelswithtoby.wordpress.com/

If you’d like to contribute your photos from Spain and Seville, please send me an email at sunshineandsiestas @ gmail.com with your name, short description of the photo, and any bio or links directing you back to your own blog, Facebook page or twitter. There’s plenty more pictures of gorgeous Seville on Sunshine and Siesta’s new Facebook page!

Seville Snapshots: Beware the Falling Oranges!

Camp is moving along smoothly, save a few bumps (literally) in the road, so I appreciate all of your contributions to Seville Snapshots. Today’s takes us to the chillier winter months, where the orange trees that dot the city become one of the city’s most important symbols.

Says Sam: I’ve been loving looking at your photos of Sevilla and reading your blog! I wanted to submit one of my own photos from my most recent trip there in March. It was taken with my phone, so it’s nothing fancy, but I love how it sums up what it’s like to walk around Sevilla at that time of year. Anyone who has spent time there knows the familiar resounding “splat!” of an orange hitting the sidewalk, usually just narrowly missing your head. This was the first time I’d seen a bunch of the oranges cleaned up off the ground in one bag. And to think, they look both harmless and delicious when they’re packaged up like that. There’s nothing about them that suggests that they’re just tiny little bombs, waiting to knock you out or obliterate your tapas and vino!

Image

Many thanks to Sam Ley from wiesagtman.wordpress.com !!

If you’d like to contribute your photos from Spain and Seville, please send me an email at sunshineandsiestas @ gmail.com with your name, short description of the photo, and any bio or links directing you back to your own blog, Facebook page or twitter. There’s plenty more pictures of the gorgeous Seville on Sunshine and Siesta’s new Facebook page!

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