Thursday, June 28, 2012

The New Apartment and Memories of "Tres-T"

As of about three weeks ago, this new apartment in Barcelona became my home. Of course, the first week we had to make the obligatory trip to IKEA, which went as follows: write a list, don't forget the list at home, take out the list when you arrive at IKEA as a sincere gesture to follow it, proceed to ignore the list and buy only things that you previously didn't think you needed.

We ended up with a glass pitcher that just fits in the baby-fridge, and only at a certain angle; an awesome stovetop favorite under 10 euro purchase; a knife that actually cuts everything well, including fingers; various tupperware containers, which the Spanish call "Tuppers" and only with the most traditional pronunciation; and finally a fantastic cheese grater that collects the cheese in a resealable container...the convienience is beyond what I thought of as IKEA innovation.

Living without an oven really showed me how limited I was in cooking techniques outside of my three pillars: basic southern-fried, sautéed, and roasted in the oven. Of course I know how to steam, and boiling is fine for potatoes and rice, but really, besides making delicious sauces and frying, what will happen to my sanity without the miracle that is the oven? I honestly thought it was the most basic of necessities, like a toaster, or refrigerator. However, as with many many other things that you must adjust to while living abroad (primarily bureaucratic nusances), the absence of an oven and a full-sized anything have been made my challenge.

It just so turns out that I had a pretty decent preparation for this year (or more) to come, and that was called Tres-T. The Three Ts stood for Throw Together Thursdays, an event that happened every week, when we would gather the rest of the food we had stored in the fridge or pantry and try to make something delicious out of it. Because of a decent success rate, a series of wonderful evenings with my dear friend, Elizabeth, was born. We combed our cabinets for edible goods, making sure that we were well fed before our weekends out of town, exploring some other part of Spain. I love cooking without a plan, and I see it as an adventure to try to transform whatever I have into a sauce, a main course, a salad, a soup, a dessert, you get the gist.

In Memoriam of Tres-T, an event that unfortunately had to come to an end due to the end of our academic year teaching, and the subsequent moving to other sides of the world (the Mediterranean Coast and the US East Coast respectively), I threw together some rather tasty grillables right in my stovetop grill pan. I'll throw in some pictures and my first attempt at writing a recipe.

Disclaimer: as a natural cook and not baker, my attention to measuring is very small, if existent. I will do my best though to make some instructions that are meant to be read as if I was there in the kitchen with you. First the ingredients, then follows the prose.

Healthy Grillables and Couscous (Homage to Tres_T)
One awesomely large zucchini, or a few smaller ones
One bell pepper
Sea Salt
Chimayo Chili Pepper (the secret to my success)*
Extra-virgin Olive Oil (Spanish variety if you can find it)
Raw carrots

Okay, so to start, make sure that you wash everything well--if you don't wash your veggies before eating them, shame on time you're riding on the freeway and you see a Kroger truck, or even your local farm truck, think of what's inside and how dirty the Gene Snyder's air really is. Now you'll wash away.

Heat up that stovetop grill on high heat, without oil. Then you take a sharp knife and cut the zucchini at a diagonal, about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick to give it a good cooking surface. To check the temp of the grill, sprinkle some water on it and listen for a quick sizzle. You're all set to evenly distribute the zucchini and listen, smell, and watch them grill. I turned them with a fork, but tongs (my next investment) would be the wiser choice. As they are flipped, judged by their grill marks, and moved to a plate to rest, make up your seasoning. A mixture of chili powder and salt. Because you bought an awesomely large zucchini, you'll have to grill in batches, so season in between batches. Take a pinch in your fingers, hold it up high over the plate, and sprinkle--José Andrés taught me that if you hold the seasonings up high, you get a more evenly distributed you don't end up with one bland veggie and one that has so much chili powder on it that you lose salivary gland control.

Now that your seasoned zucchini are resting, you can rock out on the bell peppers. I used red bell peppers, you can go stoplight -red, yellow, green- if you're feeling it, or if they are on sale. I know, at least in the States, that bell peppers can get really pricey especially in the off season (that should tell you to eat seasonally). Cut that baby horizontally, so that you end up with bell pepper rings. Discard the white membrane and seeds, as well as the stem--I've been told that they don't really help out the digestive system...nor do they add flavor. Grill those rings on both sides, also without oil. They will grill up nicely.

Place the bell pepper rings on top of the already grilled zucchini and drizzle a little olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt before setting it on the table in all it's indoor grilled glory.

Now prepare the couscous. This delightful grain is so embarassingly easy, if you haven't tried it, you'll give me an extra big hug the next time we meet. Measure out a cup of water, bring it to a boil, measure out a cup of couscous, and add it to the boiling water. Decrease the heat to low, and it should be ready in about 2 minutes with a lid on, no kidding. Open that up, fluff it a bit and add chopped raw carrot, parsley, and salt to taste. I like the texture of the raw carrot, as well as its sweetness, so I serve it right away. If you popped it in the water right when you added the couscous, you would get a softer carrot. Do whatever makes you feel good.

To serve, make a bed of the fluffy couscous (a drizzle of olive oil helps here too) and top with the grillables. To garnish, you can zest a bit of lemon on top and sprinkle some extra parsley over everything.
Enjoy, my friends!
* Chimayo chili powder is from the chimayo chili, a native of New Mexico. It should be easy enough to find in a specialty supermarket, and of course online, the perpetual marketplace. It has a sweet, deep, and spicy flavor, which to me is just complex enough to lend itself to many uses in the kitchen.

Listening to Duke Meyers on WFPK streaming live

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

In the beginning...

Finally the chance to channel all of this creative energy has come to light. I should have been blogging this adventure all along.

Let me give you a little background...

My home is wherever I lay my head, but I am proudly from Louisville, Kentucky in the good ol' US of A. I have a healthy appetite not only for life and traveling, but for rich, delicious, and fresh food. I love the local food scene in Louisville, and I was a member of the Grasshopper Distribution farm cooperative--one of the greatest choices of my life. I moved to Spain last year, chasing love, and teaching little kids how to speak native English. I successfully caught my love, with whom I live now in Barcelona...however, I can't yet tell how successful I was with the little kids.

This year will be full of studying a Master's program in Arts and Cultural Management, tutoring the English-curious, and cooking up delicious sustenance to propel us through the ups and the downs.

Let's see where it will take us!