16 December 2011

Cooking in Camarma: A Kitchen Primer

If you're one of those people who enjoys cooking and baking, moving to Spain may complicate your hobby. Many household ingredients are not readily available here: chocolate chips, brown sugar, maple syrup, bagels, root beer. Recipes will require substitutions: plain Greek yogurt for sour cream, strange cuts of pork instead of home-grown beef.

However, as someone who has been in Spain for seven months and has yet to use the oven, I'm here to tell you that it can be done! Preparing food is easy with the proper absence of skills!

Below you'll find some of my favorite recipes, tweaked to use with the materials available. (Most of these ingredients are easy to find in the States, so if you're reading from home, get ready to cook along!) The prep time is notably less than required for traditional American meals (roughly 5 minutes per course), so you'll have plenty of daylight left over to do Spanish things, like spending time with family and...okay, so eating quickly isn't a Spanish thing, but you'll have double the time for post-dinner coffee! Also, you won't start eating until 8:30 or so, so you won't really have daylight left over. Whatever. Just a matter of semantics.

Besides saving time in the day, you'll also save time away from the kitchen. Most people go grocery shopping, then bring the groceries home, put them away, take them back out for meal time, slave away in the kitchen putting all the elements together, and then wash the dishes afterward. These recipes cut out that significant "slaving" step, providing you with more opportunities to check facebook.

Enough of this prelude--let's get to the food!

Phase I: The Appetizer

This dish is one of my favorites. It's easy and tasty, and if you need a quick Christmasy dish, the colors are right.

You'll need a couple of tomatoes and an avocado. (Quantities can be varied; a couple of avocados and a tomato are also acceptable.)

In a bowl, slice the tomatoes into small chunks.

Next, scoop the avocado from its shell and combine it with the tomato. If you want your salad to be extra-European, try chopping with a knife in one hand and a fork in the other at all times. If, however, you'd like to channel that all-American ingenuity, chop the avocado with the same spoon you used to scoop it, and then use that spoon to stir them all together. Efficiency!

Finally, eat. This dish stands alone, but a dash of salt or a vinegar-and-lemon-juice dressing will exemplify the flavors. I couldn't find salt in my cupboards, so I threw some cashews on top. Same principle, right?

The cashews have nearly the same effect if you just eat the salad first, then pour the nuts out of the bag and directly into your hand. That's the beauty of this recipe: it's so versatile!

Phase II: The Main Course

Okay, we're stepping up to "intermediate" level with this next recipe. It involves a variety of items from a variety of the food groups (which, by the way, have changed so much in the past 20 years that I can't really keep track of how much of what I'm supposed to eat each day. Either way, this meal clearly strikes the balance between dairy, protein, and fruit. If those are their real names.).

To begin, pour the juice into the glass. In case of exertion throughout the remainder of preparation, you won't have to worry about getting dehydrated. (Juice can also be substituted for water, wine, or any other beverage except boxed milk, which is disgusting.)

Next, peel the plastic off the tray of lomo. It may resist at first, but just keep pulling!

Consume those delicious slices one by one.

To balance out the beefy goodness, try alternating bites between meat and cheese. The small cheeses that come in packages work best. First, remove the plastic wrapping.

Ah, these cheeses are tricky! They're kind of like those Russian nesting babushkas, in that you'll have to go through several steps to get to the real prize inside. Peel back the layer of wax using the handy peel strips.

Once the cheese has been released from its waxy cave, take a bite! You've earned it!

The main course is rounded out with some smooth, creamy Greek yogurt. Unless you enjoy eating sour cream straight from the jar, skip the "natural" stuff and head straight toward "azucarado" (sugared). If your grocery store carries "fruta cortada," you're double lucky; that fruit on the bottom will nearly trick you into thinking it's dessert.

The Greeks had a lot to do with shaping modern civilization, and their yogurt should  not be underestimated, as it is one of those gastronomical wonders of the world. Consume with joy.

You may be wondering why none of the main course elements share a plate. It all hearkens back to the day of church potlucks, spaghetti and Jello running together into a watery red lake near the hotdish. I have grown up eating my meals in order and in sections: first all the lettuce, then all the noodles, then the bread, so that nothing mixes in terrible ways.

Also, that would require dirtying another plate.

Phase III: Dessert

Desserts are my favorite part of the meal, as they come in so many shapes and sizes. Therefore, I'm providing instructions for not one but two of the simplest, tastiest desserts there are.

Up first: peanut butter and Nutella.

Put a spoonful of peanut butter on the plate. (Peanut butter is expensive, so ration carefully.)

Next, put a spoonful of Nutella on the plate. (Fake Nutella will do, though the flavor doesn't quite match.)

Finally, mix them together.

Yes, that's it. I know, I know, how can something so delicious be so simple? Simplicity is the key, friends. This is the mantra behind all of my recipes. Simple cooking has simplified my life. But, wait, let's not get all sentimental while the creme de la creme is waiting.

This is Jello. Fresa and limon Jello.

One Jello by itself is good. But two Jellos of two different flavors living on the same plate? A taste sensation! Open the Jellos and pour them into a dish.

Ever so carefully, slice the Jello with your spoon (again with that American everything-has-multiple-purposes mentality), being careful to distribute the colors evenly around the dish.

This dessert ended up unintentionally being the colors of the Spanish flag, which makes it a great dessert to share on...Spanish holidays like Constitution Day? If your Spanish friends, like most Spanish friends, aren't particularly patriotic, you could try Jello in the colors of the coat-of-arms of their particular autonomous community instead. Integration!


That's it. My culinary secrets. All of them. All for you.

Next time you wonder, "How did Shar grow up to be so big and tall?" you can remind yourself that it's due to a balanced and proper diet...which my mother helped me maintain before I started cooking for myself. And lots of 2% milk. And probably some genes or something, too.

Thanks for joining us, and don't forget to recommend this blog to all of your bachelor friends who are intimidated by the prospect of cooking and are between the ages of 25 and 32. (So they can glean the cooking ideas, of course. What else would I be talking about?)


Nick, Amber & Aaron said...

Can I be frank? (well, not literally, because my name is not Frank). None of those foods look good to me, except peanut butter and nutella. Add a little vanilla ice cream and you're set!

sharbear said...

What?! You mean you actually eat real food?

(However, the avocado and tomato is decidedly delicious...even for the people who know how to cook. :)