Monday’s Photo: The Great Mosque (cathedral) of Cordoba, Spain

Kris and I went to Spain for our honeymoon in 2009.  We focused on the southern state of Andalucia.  One of my favorite stops was Cordoba, a city whose prestige traces back to Ancient Rome.  Cordoba during the 10th and 11th centuries was a bustling religious center for Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  It is the birthplace of several influential Islamic and Jewish philosophers.  The Great Mosque of Cordoba, now a cathedral, shows the mixing of Islamic and Christian influences in Spain.  Wondering around the old Jewish Quarter, we saw the prolific Jewish cultural and religious tradition that ultimately was forced to go into hiding, expulsion, or conversion after 1492.

These are 3 of my favorite photos from Cordoba’s Mosque/Cathedral.

 

Please forgive the Mondays’ photo on a Tuesday. 😉

Monday’s Photo: No Poodles Allowed

I know.  It’s Tuesday, not Monday, and I have been missing for about a week now with zero, zip, nada.  I’m actually in the process of making a career transition from working in secondary education (high school) to working in higher education (post-secondary).  I will let you know how things work out.  In the meantime, please enjoy this photo from Granada, Spain.  In my humble opinion, it means, no poodles, but any other kind of dog would be fine.

P.S. Doesn’t it look like the poodle is wearing high heels?

Gazpacho- the Perfect Antidote to August Spanish Heat

Wanna skip the story and get to cooking?  Printable Chilled Gazpacho with Garlic Croutons

If you’re getting ready to travel to Spain, everything you read will say, don’t go in August when the heat is near unbearable.  So, of course, that’s exactly when Kris and I go for our honeymoon in 2009.  Yes, I read all those warnings, but for for some reason the dozens of times I saw that warning in print didn’t register.

Spain in August is hot.  An understatement.

Spain in August is a constant wrestling match with the sun who always wins.  Even if you are going half of a block, the sun is fixated on you like a child cooking a bug under a microscope.  It shows no mercy, just like that masochistic little child.

Here’s another thing.  In Spain, as in most of the world, they use Celsius for temperatures.  Like most Americans, I’m not familiar with the conversion factor and so walked around much of Andalusia in a state of heat that I couldn’t give a number to or rather that was numbered in what seemed like a foreign language.

My husband, on the other hand, is  a scientist and familiar with both Fahrenheit and Celsius temperature equivalents.  He knew what the temperatures were in Fahrenheit but for his own safety didn’t release the information until the end of the day in our air-conditioned hotel room.

As you go inland in Spain, the temperatures increase.  Logical.  The further you get from the ocean, the more intense the heat.  Sevilla is an inland Southern city in Spain, truly one of the most beautiful.  I loved Sevilla for its Alcazaba (pronounced, Al-ca-tha-ba, the Spanish way) castle and gardens especially.  When we made our tourist stop there, on the hottest day, of course the day we do the most walking, the temperature was 42 degrees Celsius.

“Forty-two degrees,” I mention, sweat accumulating on every known and unknown surface of skin.  “That’s definitely the highest we’ve seen here, huh?”

“Uh-huh,” says my husband cautiously, and then he steers the conversation to the points of interest we’re checking out for the day.

I maintain my cheerfulness (I am on my honeymoon, right?) until about 1 or 2 pm, just after lunch, what should aptly be siesta (nap) time.  Something in me snaps and a monster rises from the dead.  I truly cannot go on walking another step in this heat.  I drag us back to the hotel and, like the locals who obviously know how to live in this heat, take a siesta.  Once the hottest part of the day has passed, we continue our tour of Sevilla.

For Americans (like me) 42 degrees Celsius is 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit.  We were walking around for miles in 42/107 degree heat, checking some of the most fascinating historical and artistic remnants of Moorish Spain.  It was one of the most insane things I’ve ever done.

Lucky for us, the Spanish, who’ve had to survive this heat for sometime now, have created the perfect antidote for it: Chilled Gazpacho Soup.  It is also one of the best ways to use up summer produce including tomatoes, cucumber, and sweet peppers.  Chilled gazpacho is the only way to combat heat waves that make psychedelic pictures around your face.

Don’t close your eyes, you might miss the making of this ingenious respite from the heat.

We’ll start with the ingredients: 4-5 tomatoes, 1/2 large English cucumber (or use a regular one, just peel off the waxy skin), 1 bell pepper, a little less than half an onion.

And of course, the secret ingredients: a couple of tablespoons of roasted garlic olive oil and 1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar which will give a sweet acidic taste to the Chilled Gazpacho.  If you don’t have sherry vinegar you could substitute apple cider.

Do try to go all Spanish on this recipe if you can.

We’ll also need 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper.

Some people insist on a clove of garlic.  I err on the side of caution and rely instead on garlic infused olive oil.  Since everything about gazpacho is raw and raw garlic has a big ego, I feel it will generally try to predominate the taste of the soup.

Roughly chop up everything and place in in a fabulous blender, tomatoes on the bottom for their liquid.  Puree until you reach a smooth consistency.

Love that pinky-green color.

Now- you must, must, must chill gazpacho.  Every single Spanish grandmother is in agreement about this.  It’s written into the Spanish constitution.  We’re trying to fight the summer heat; the soup must be cold.  Put it in the fridge for at least an hour for desperate cases, more if you have patience and forethought (ahem).

When you’re ready to serve, make garlic flavored croutons out of bread and roasted garlic olive oil.

Pan fry 1 inch cubes of the bread in a generous amount of Roasted-Garlic olive oil.  My favorite used to be called Consorzio, a brand I found at Costco; they are now Annie’s Naturals.  Crisp the croutons up by cooking each side for 2-3 minutes until golden, brown, and delicious.

Then flip each bread piece over and golden-brown-delicious the other side.

Drain the croutons on a paper towel and sprinkle 3-4 croutons on top of each soup serving, maybe add a little Parmesan, Manchego if you are a Spanishophile (I just made that word up).

Croquettas

While honeymooning in Spain, I discovered croquettas, called croquettes in English.  Delicious pan fried ovals of potatoes and creaminess.  What I originally thought was an addition of cheese, turned out to be a rich bechemel or basic white sauce.

Perhaps the best croquettas were from this busy local bar we found around our hotel in Sevilla.  We ate there 3 times in a 2 night 3 day stay, thinking that since we’d found a place we both loved, we might as well stick with a good thing.  Kris and Spanish food had not been the best of acquaintances in other cities.

The bar’s name eludes me after a year and a half, perhaps somewhere I’ve kept a sentimental napkin, but it was always busy.  The first evening, after snaking our way for several hours on the bus from Ronda to Sevilla, we were famished.  This was the first and so far only food serving location in the 4 or 5 blocks that we’d walked, better yet, it was full at 10 pm.  Spanish people, like many Europeans have a different dinner time than we Americans are used to.  This place was so popular that a woman even squeezed in her entire baby and stroller between the packed guests in order to sit up at the bar and have tapas at 11 pm.  She passed mordaditas, little bites, to her daughter who in turn gleefully asked for “Mas.”

Croquettas should be creamy, firm and crunchy on the outside, melt in your mouth goodness on the inside.  Though simple in flavor, they are deliciously savory.  I tried my first attempts to make croquettas last night to bring to a Superbowl party today.  Last night, the first 3 tasters were not as flavorful as I remember them being.  I had combined ideas from 2 different recipes, one from Edward Schneider of the New York Times.  Since his recipe made no mention of potatoes, I found another that recommended a 2 to 1 ratio of potatoes to bechemal.  Lackluster in flavor, Kris suggested that I add Manchego cheese to the mix tomorrow, and a little more salt.

Today I cooked up the rest of the batch after adding about 2/3 cup of shredded Manchego.  Always hesitant to add salt, I refrained, thinking the cheese would bring enough salty flavor.  The croquettas still do not have the waterfall of creaminess that I remember from Spain, but they are pretty good accompaniments to more flavorful foods.  That is a nice way for saying they are still bland.  Next time I will try cream instead of 2%, maybe even more cheese, and honestly, I have to get over my slight fear of adding salt to recipes, for the sake of all involved.

Kris says the lesson here is that Spain cannot be recreated.  Well…I can sure as hell keep trying.  Until next time, I leave you with a good but bland croquettas (Spanish Ham Croquettes) recipe.  

UPDATE, post-Superbowl party: the croquettas were a hit, all eaten just as rapidly as the BBQ chicken wings.  Everyone said they were so creamy and delicious.  Is my memory playing tricks on me with how croquettas tasted?