31 December 2016

Fog and frost

When I went out for the walk with Callie yesterday afternoon, I took my camera with me. I wasn't optimistic about any photos I might take because it was so gloomy outdoors, and it was freezing cold. But it was worth a try. As always, you can click or tap on the images to open them at full size.

I didn't go out into the main part of the vineyard. I just walked around the hamlet, which is often my afternoon route. Part of the walk is through our neighbors' yard, because they are in Blois most of the time in winter.

Their big plot of land drops off steeply toward the south, and the downward slope is fairly thickly wooded. After the dog and I walk around there, we go back out onto the road and then turn off to the left to walk around the two parcels of vines that lie to the east and north of our property.

My fingers didn't freeze, and I took about 100 pictures! A lot of them turned out blurry, and some were so out of focus that I just deleted them immediately when I looked at them on my computer last night.

So here I am posting just 5, or 6 really, since one is a composite. Maybe they will give you an idea of what our freezing fog looks like as it settles on plants all around the are.

In a few minutes I'll be going out again — Callie needs her walk. I'll go out into the main vineyard. But it will be too dark for photography. We go as early as we can, at daybreak, and on recent mornings we've walked for 30 to 35 minutes and are back at home before the sun even comes up. The temperature is well below freezing right now, and I imagine it's still foggy.

30 December 2016

Two more café classics

The Larousse Gastronomique defines the term « café » — the establishment, not the beverage — this way:
Débit de boissons (café, mais aussi bière, vin, apéritifs et jus de fruits), où sont également proposés quelques plats rapides (croque-monsieur, sandwichs, salades garnies, assiette anglaise).
“Drinking establishment serving coffee (but also beer, wine, coctails, and fruit juices) where a small number of quick-to-prepare foods (croque-monsieur, sandwiches, composed salads, cold cuts) are also on offer.”

To get more elaborate food, you have to go to a brasserie or a bistrot. However, many Paris cafés also serve lunch nowadays, including dishes like the one above. It's called « gratin dauphinois » and it's thinly sliced potatoes oven-cooked in the oven in milk with garlic and nutmeg. I posted a recipe with photos back in 2007. This time, I forgot to take a photo of the finished gratin before we started spooning it out of the dish and eating it.

I made a gratin dauphinois — scalloped potatoes — earlier this week to have with the leftovers of our Christmas capon. I put cheese on top, but that's optional. Walt sliced the potatoes on the mandoline, so they were uniformly thin and perfect. That's powdered nutmeg and black pepper that I sprinkled on before pouring in the hot milk and putting in in the dish in the oven.

Another brasserie classic — a brasserie is a German/Alsatian-style café-restaurant where food and drink are served all through the day, not just at standard French mealtimes — is the steak au poivre (above), or beefsteak seared quickly in a hot frying pan and then dressed with a cognac cream sauce with a lot of crushed black pepper in it. We make steak au poivre at least once a year, for Walt's birthday (December 21), and sometimes another time or two in spring or summer. This year, our steak was filet de bœuf, beef tenderloin, so it was especially tender.

Today, I'm making another classic. It's gratin de chou-fleur — cauliflower au gratin — comfort food for a cold winter day.

29 December 2016

Classics of the French café menu

Yesterday for lunch, we made one of the classics of the French café menu. It's a sandwich called « un croque-monsieur », which is a mysterious name. The verb croquer means to bite into and make a crunching sound, as in croquer une pomme (an apple, not a potato). So in this case, the monsieur, whoever he is, makes crunching sounds while eating a ham and cheese sandwich that has been toasted in a hot oven.

If you've ever had lunch or a snack in a French café, you've probably eaten a croque-monsieur, or its sister sandwich, the croque-madame. The latter is the same sandwich but with a sunny-side-up egg (un œuf sur le plat) perched on top of it. They're both good with some pommes frites (French fries) or a salade — or both.

To make the sandwich, you need grated cheese, a slice of ham, two slices of bread, some butter, and a little bit of béchamel sauce. That's a white sauce made with butter, flour, and milk. What you do is butter a slice of bread and then lay it butter-side down on a pan that you can put in the oven. Spread some béchamel on the upward-facing side the way you might put mayonnaise on a cold sandwich. Sprinkle on some grated cheese (Comté, Cheddar, Swiss) and lay a slice of sandwich ham (jambon de Paris) on top of that. Sprinkle on a little more grated cheese over the ham.

Now spread some béchamel on the second slice of bread and put it béchamel-side down on top of the grated cheese to close the sandwich. Finally, spread a little more béchamel on top of that slice and sprinkle on a last layer of grated cheese. Bake the sandwich in a hot oven until it is golden brown and the cheese is all melted. Voilà. Croquez ça, monsieur.

I mentioned salad, and we also had a classic French café salad with our toasted ham and cheese sandwiches yesterday. It's made with sliced Belgian endive (endive, chicon), cooked and dressed red beets (betteraves), and, optionally, some toasted walnuts. Salade d'endives aux betteraves is a standard, and walnuts give it... well, croque-salade, you might say.

By the way, this was yesterday's sunrise, seen from the kitchen window when I cranked up the roll-down shutter between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m.

28 December 2016

Ten years ago...

In late December 2006, we were experiencing an episode of freezing fog. It made for some beautiful backyard landscapes. We had been here just over three years, so we were still learning about local weather patterns and phenomena.

I don't yet know what this morning's sunrise will look like. The sun doesn't come up until about 8:45 right now.

The weather woman on Télématin just said that the Champagne and Burgundy regions are enveloped in thick fog, with little or no visibility, this morning. She warned people to be careful driving.

She didn't mention freezing fog, and she didn't mention the Touraine or Berry regions of France, where we live. But the temperature outside is below freezing, according to our thermometer.

It was 1.7ºC inside the greenhouse at 5:45 a.m., when I got up. I hope the plants in there can tolerate that kind of cold (about 34ºF).

We need the cold weather. It more or less cleanses the environment, killing off or controlling the populations of all kinds of pests. But it isn't even January yet, and sometimes February is our coldest month.

27 December 2016

“Sea fruits” (and eat them)

Seafood in France goes by the plural name « fruits de mer » — sea fruits. At least shellfish, including shrimp and squid, and crustaceans (crabs, lobsters) are called that. Fish (poissons) is a separate category. Evidently, the terms « fruits de mer » was borrowed from the Italian « frutti de mare » around the time of the French Revolution.

Fruits de mer are, along with poultry, some of the most popular holiday foods in France. Winter is their season, anyway. Remember the old saw about eating oysters and other shellfish in months with a R in their names. We'll be having oysters on New Year's Eve. We get them from the fish and seafood vendor at the open-air market on Saturdays in Saint-Aignan. They are brought in overnight from the coast near the town of Marennes and the Ile d'Oléron, as in the ad above. Brittany and Normandy, also not far from here by car or truck, are also famous for their oysters. I like them raw, on the half-shell — or lightly steamed (mi-cuites), the way we ate them in N.C.

In fact, no part of France is very far from the sea, compared to the central parts of continent-size countries like the U.S. and Australia. Even the areas that are farthest from the coast like Burgundy or our region, called Le Centre, are at the most a four- or five-hour drive from the sea. For comparison, cities like Asheville in North Carolina are farther from the coast than any place in France, and west of N.C. you have Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and... well, thousands of miles of territory where seafood is not, or used not to be, readily available. People out there don't have a seafood culture the way French people do.

Walt and I eat a fair amount of shrimp (crevettes). I grew up eating them on the North Carolina coast, back when shrimp were abundant and cheap. They were so inexpensive that we used them as bait to catch little fish that most people nowadays wouldn't even bother fishing for, much less cleaning or cooking and eating. Those days are gone. Most shrimp in France are sold already cooked, which I don't really understand in this cold climate. Once in a while you can find affordable raw shrimp on the markets or at the supermarket, mostly frozen. We get them from Asian grocery stores in up in Blois and over in Tours. I like to clean and cook them myself, not buy them pre-cooked.

In the ad above, queue de lotte is monkfish, which until the past few decades was not really popular, even along the coasts. Queue means tail. Have you ever cooked and eaten monkfish tails? Saumon is of course salmon, most of which is farmed nowadays — Scotland and Norway are big producers. Dos de cabillaud means the dorsal part (the back) of the codfish (cabillaud). It's the thickest and most sought-after part of the cod fillet. Back in the early 1980s, when I lived in Paris, cod was considered an ordinary, run-of-the-mill fish choice. It was cheap. Nowadays the prices are sky-high. It's not as expensive as scallops — noix de Saint-Jacques — though.

26 December 2016

Cornbread for stuffing (or "dressing")

The first step in making cornbread stuffing, as a stuffing or side dish for a roasted bird or pork roast, is to make cornbread. In the U.S. of course, you can buy ready-made mixes or bags of cubed cornbread, so you don't need to bother. But your own bread is always better. It's simple.

This recipe is in U.S. cups, and a cup is 8 fluid ounces. A set of measuring cups is a handy tool to have.

Cornbread for stuffing

1 cup fine cornmeal
¾ cup quick-cooking polenta
2 or 3 Tbsp. plain flour (optional)
1½ tsp. baking soda or powder
1 cup plain yogurt (or buttermilk)
½ cup milk (or more for consistency)
1 egg, beaten

Mix all ingredients together to make a fairly stiff dough. Add more milk to thin if you want. Pour (or spread) the dough into a generously oiled and heated baking dish. Bake at 425ºF (220ºC) for 25 to 30 minutes.until brown.

Let the dense cornbread this recipe produces cool and dry for 24 hours and then cut it into small cubes — say half an inch or 2 cm. For extra flavor, spead the cubes out on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for a few minutes before mixing them with the other stuffing ingredients.

The range of ingredients you can use in the stuffing is, well, endless. Sauteed mushrooms and onions; bell peppers; cooked sausage meat, pork lardons, or poultry; cranberries or raisins; pecans, walnuts, or pistachio nut; herbs. I posted a list of ingredient ideas yesterday.

After you've tossed the cubed cornbread (or white bread, which works just as well but gives a different taste and texture), moisten the stuffing with hot broth or water. Add in a few tablespoons of melted butter or duck fat, for example, or some olive or other oil. Finally, stir in two beaten eggs to bind everything together.

My stuffing had enough liquid in it so that you could see it just below the surface of the bread cubes. That was okay — it all boiled away as it baked in a hot oven for 30 to 45 minutes, until browned. To serve the stuffing or dressing, you can spoon it out of the dish, or you can try to slice it. It's easier to slice once it has completely cooled down.

25 December 2016

Dressing for the bird

So here I am up at 6 a.m. on Christmas morning making "dressing" — that's what I call stuffing when it is not stuffed into the bird. I'm probably insane on some important level, but there you go.

This year we'll again have a cornbread dressing, cooked in a casserole dish separately from the Guinea fowl capon we are planning to spit-roast in a couple of hours. Both the bird and the dish of dressing won't fit into our oven at the same time, so we have to juggle.

Yesterday I made a list of ingredients for my dressing, so I wouldn't forget anything this morning. Giblets, sausage, mushrooms, bell peppers, cranberries, sage, pistachios, thyme, onion, garlic... 

I also started preparations by doing what I could do ahead. Shell out a bowl full of pistachios, for example. Peel, chop, and sauté some onions. Wash, slice, and cook some mushrooms.

Actually, I made the cornbread base for the dressing on Friday. Yesterday all I had to do to it was cut it up into little cubes.

Then I'll toss it with the other ingredients — those mentioned just above plus some cooked sausage meat, the cooked Guinea fowl liver, some dried cranberries that Walt re-hydrated yesterday, some sliced bell peppers from the freezer, and so on.

I'll try to get this organized into a recipe later today or tomorrow — including a recipe for the cornbread. At this point, it's pretty free-form. Moistened with broth and duck fat, bound together by a couple of beaten eggs, it will all become a savory (corn)bread pudding.

Merry Christmas to all. Et bon Noël.

24 December 2016

Fondue day

And capon day as well. I have to go to the open-air market in "downtown" Saint-Aignan this morning to pick up and pay for the Guinea fowl (chapon de pintade) that Walt ordered last Saturday for our Christmas dinner. We'll cook it tomorrow on the rotisserie (tourne-broche) in our oven. We don't know how much it will weigh, but I'm guessing about five pounds (2 kilos).

Of course it's raining outside. Figures, right? Oh well, the only thing I have to do outside today is the run to the market. After that, we'll be making today's lunch, a cheese fondue, which is called fondue savoyarde in France. The Savoie is an old province high in the French Alps, on the Swiss and Italian borders. So you use Alpine or so-called "Swiss cheese" in a fondue. The ones we'll use are pictured below, and they are all French. They all came from the supermarket. Each carries its own special "quality badge" — IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée), AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protégée), or Label Rouge.

I guess I should have kept the cheeses in the same position for the two photos, but I neglected to do so. So below you have Comté on the left, French Gruyère in the middle, and Emmental on the right. All are made with raw, unpasteurized milk, which is supposed to mean that they have the best possible flavor. Don't expect to find anything labeled as "Swiss cheese" in France. Oh, you can get cheese made in Switzerland, but it will probably be labeled as either Gruyère or Emmental, not with some generic name. Dairies in both France and Switzerland have the right to use those names for their cheeses.

My recipe for fondue savoyard is one that was given to me more than 40 years ago by a friend who had lived in eastern France, in the province called Franche-Comté, which is where both Comté and French Gruyère cheese is made. It's just north of Savoie. The recipe calls for using at least two different cheeses in the fondue mix, and I often use three. Here's the recipe. I guess I should really call it « fondue franc-comtoise » because that's where my friend lived all those years ago.

Fondue savoyarde

• 200 grams of cheese per person
• 1 liter of white wine for 2 kilos of cheese
(use a mix of 2 or 3 Alpine cheeses)
• small amounts of garlic, cornstarch, kirsch, black pepper, and nutmeg

Prepare the sauce pan or fondue pot by rubbing it with 2 cloves of garlic. Set the pot containing white wine on a very hot flame or burner on the stove. Gradually add grated cheese while stirring the mixture in a figure-eight pattern.

When the cheese has all melted, add half a teaspoon of cornstarch mixed into a little kirsch (or other clear brandy). Grate in some nutmeg and grind in some black pepper. Then set the fondue pot on its stand, over a flame, at the table. Serve the fondue with cubes of French bread and chunks of fresh apple.

The proportions are kind of complicated, but Walt has made a spreadsheet giving specific amounts of cheese and wine adapted to serving different numbers of people who will be partaking of the fondue. To serve four, for example, you'd want about 2 lbs. (800 to 900 grams) of cheese and about 500 ml (2 cups) of dry white wine.

P.S. A few years ago we bought an inexpensive electric fondue pot, and it is great. The fondue stays evenly hot and smooth during the meal, and there's no burned spot on the bottom of the pot like what you get with "sterno" (alcool à brûler).

23 December 2016

Tout un fromage

Ou plusieurs, en l'occurrence. What would a holiday meal in France be without cheese? Here's a page out of a different supermarket's Christmas advertising flyer. It's from SuperU in Saint-Aignan, where I went shopping yesterday. By the way, tomorrow we will be enjoying a lunch of what has become our "traditional" Christmas Eve cheese fondue. The three cheeses we'll be using — Comté, Gruyère, and Emmenthal — are made from unpasteurized milk.

Above,clockwise from the top left, you have these cheeses, all made with raw (unpasteurized) milk — lait cru. For the prices, divide the one listed by 2 to see approximately what the cheese sells for by the pound in U.S. dollars.
  • Roquefort, a cave-aged cheese made with ewe's milk in southern France
  • Beaufort, an Alpine cow's milk cheese
  • Chevrot, made from goat's milk in three styles (plain, ash-coated, or low-salt)
  • Cœur de Neufchâtel, a heart-shaped cheese made in upper Normandy from cow's milk
  • Saint-Nectaire, a soft cow's milk cheese from the Massif Central (Auvergne)
The AOP designation on some of the labels means Appellation d'Origine Protégée, which replaces the older AOC label. It is a guarantee that the cheese is produced according to traditional methods in the place named on the label — the genuine article, and not just a knock-off. Cheddar cheese, for example, can be produced anywhere in the world and still be called Cheddar, even though Cheddar is a place in England and "real" Cheddar comes from there.

And here are a few more, all but one made from cow's milk, including a couple of cheeses made from pasteurized milk:
  • Comté, from eastern France and one of the country's most popular Swiss-style cow's milk cheeses
  • Laguiole, an aged cow's milk cheese from the southern part of the Auvergne
  • Etorki, a cheese made in Basque country from pasteurized ewe's milk
  • Brie, sold under the brand name Le Roitelet, made from pasteurized cow's milk
  • Morbier, a medium-soft cow's milk cheese from eastern France
The full French meal always includes a cheese course with a selection of cheeses, bread, and sometimes green salad. It comes after the main course and before dessert and coffee. Hundreds of different cheeses are produced by farmers and in dairies all around France.

In each case, the cheese labels above tell you what percentage of milk fat (MG or matière grasse) the cheese contains, as sold. That's a new labeling convention. In the past, French cheese labels specified the amount of milk fat that would remain in a specific cheese if it was completely dried out and all the water was gone. That meant that a Camembert, for example, was described as having 45% MG instead of the 25% the cheese really contains when you eat it. For comparison, French butter contains 82% fat, the rest being milk solids and water.

22 December 2016

On sait qu'on est en France...

...when the biggest ad for holiday foods in the whole supermarket flyer is for escargots. N'est-ce pas ?

"An Enchanted Christmas" with snails — two dozen of them for 10 euros, with a 3€ rebate in store credit. It's tempting. Walt and I ate snails, actually, as the appetizer course for his birthday dinner yesterday, just because we like them. The frozen ones above can be had à la bourguignonne (that's what we had: snails in garlic-parsley butter, like the ones in the picture above), or au Chablis (the famous white wine of Burgundy), or aux morilles (morel mushrooms). If you can't decide, there's an assortment package available as well.

Besides snails, there are other choices. How about some canapés? Or a few petits fours? They'd go well with a glass of champagne.

Because of this ad, I learned the difference between these two classic French treats. Canapés are little pieces of bread, sometimes toasted or fried, garnished with things like foie gras, pâté, cheese, mushrooms, or anything tasty you want. Chicken liver paste, anchovies, or smoked eel , for example. The ones on offer here include Christmas specialties (canapés de Noël), regional treats (canapés régions de France), or fish and seafood flavors (canapés marins). You pays your money...

Petits fours, meanwhile, are (according to the Grand Larousse Gastronomique encyclopedia) little bite-size pieces of baked pastry with a garnish. They can be savory or sweet. Their history goes back to the 18th century, when such delicacies were cooked in masonry or stone ovens at low temperature — « à petit four » was the expression meaning "in a slow oven", which was cooling down after the big roasts or loaves of bread had already been cooked. Described in the ad are petits-fours to serve with cocktails or wine, and others to serve at a reception or party. The difference is not obvious to me. But I really like knowing that some are called « saucisses costumées » — "costumed" or "disguised" sausages — in other words, "pigs in a blanket".

21 December 2016

Chickens and capons for Christmas

As I think Walt and I have both said, we've ordered a « chapon de pintade » — a Guinea fowl capon — to cook for our Christmas dinner. We'll probably cook it on the rotisserie in our oven, and we plan to make cornbread stuffing with dried cranberries and walnuts to have with it. We'll also have winter squash (sucrine du Berry) and some garden greens (kale).

Locally, we have a really good poultry vendor who sets up at the Montrichard market on Fridays and the Saint-Aignan market on Saturdays and offers very competitive prices. But even if we didn't, we wouldn't lack for choices in picking a bird to roast for the holidays. Here are ads I've scanned from one of the advertising flyers we got from local supermarkets for this week. It's from Intermarché, which is about four miles from us by car. The store was recently taken over by new management and has experienced a kind of renaissance.

First, you probably know what a capon is, and maybe you can find capons for Christmas where you live. They are male chickens (or other fowl) that have been sterilized (castrated, either surgically or chemically) and fattened. Like neutered dogs or cats, they gain weight easily. On the right in the panel above, you see a Guinea fowl capon for 10.90 €/kg. That would come to about $5.20/lb. in American money. The ad specifies that the capon had lived at least 154 days before being killed and prepared for market, and that it weighs about 2.3 kilos (5 lbs.). It carries the Label Rouge, which is a good indication of superior quality.

Then you see two ordinary quality chicken capons that go for about half the price of the chapon de pintade, weigh about 3 kilos (6½ to 7 lbs.), and don't carry the Label Rouge. No minimum age is specified, but I'm sure they would be younger birds than the more expensive Guinea fowl capon. And I'm sure they would be very good too, if cooked correctly.

On the left in the panel above, you see what is called « une poularde ». What's that? Well, it's the female equivalent of a capon. A Wikipedia article I just glanced at says the poularde [poo-LARD] is a laying hen that is fed a special diet and environment to delay the onset of egg-laying and also is fattening. Such birds are killed after a minimum of 120 days of existence, and their meat is reputedly white and tender with a very fine flavor. This one sells for about $3.75/lb. and weighs about 4½ lbs. When you buy it, you also get a flat 5€ discount on each poularde in the form of credit against future purchases at Intermarché.

If you don't want a chapon or a poularde, you can get a "regular" Guinea hen — farm-raised outdoors and corn-fed for a minimun of 94 days (above left). It weighs about 3 lbs. and goes for close to $3/lb. at today's exchange rate. (By the way, the U.S. dollar is worth nearly a full euro right now.) Or you can get an ordinary turkey (une dinde) weighing just short of 7 lbs. and selling for about $2.30/lb. I actually bought one of these for the freezer yesterday; we'll cook and eat it in January or February, when whole turkeys are not usually available around here.

Again above, you have a 7 lb. chicken capon (well, rooster, of course) raised for 150 days, fed a diet of at least 80% grain, and selling for about $5/lb. These birds can come from one of two well-known producers, St Sever or Loué — both carry the Label Rouge — and you get a full 15€ discount for each one you purchase. On the right is a more affordable 7 lb. Douce France chicken capon that has been raised for 140 days, fed 70% grain, and includes a 4€ discount. I'm sure you wouldn't be disappointed.

Finally, here's a turkey capon, Label Rouge, farm-raised for 150 days (above left). There's no information about the average weight for this one. And on the right, a farm-raised poularde (is there not an English word?), 120 days of age, 75% grain-fed, no weight specified. When the label or ad says « prêt à cuire », it means there are no "giblets" or abats (liver, gizzard, etc. removed). By the way, these are just the whole birds in the Intermarché flyer. There are other, fancier choices in the flyer too, for rolled-and-tied poultry roasts, and so on.

20 December 2016

Champignons farcis

Do you find huge "stuffing mushrooms" where you shop? I bought some a few days ago and made champignons farcis. Here's a photo of one of the champignons à farcir next to a normal-size button mushroom. I bought eight of these gigantic specimens, grown in Holland, at Intermarché.

When you get such huge mushrooms, you can pull out the stems and chop them finely to start your stuffing. Sauté the chopped mushroom with some diced onion and garlic and then let them cool. Mix them with some herbs, bread crumbs, and grated cheese, and finish with cream and an egg. Optionally, add some chopped cooked ham, bacon, or chicken — whatever you've got or like. (I had little cubes of cooked ham and leftover chicken.)

Then blanch the mushroom caps for five minutes in boiling water, turning them over a couple of times. Pre-cooking them means they'll be tender when they come out of the oven and not hard or tough — because after you fill the mushrooms with the stuffing you've made, you bake them in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, to cook the egg and melt the cheese. I used some goat cheese, and it was good.

I had a little more stuffing than I needed for eight mushrooms, so I also filled two big zucchini rings that I had in the freezer. They had been blanched and frozen last fall. Above are a photo I took before baking the blanched and filled mushroom caps and one after they had cooked in the oven.

Tomorrow is Walt's birthday. We have to go shopping for some birthday dinner foods today, and Callie has an appointment with the vet for a booster shot of some kind. The dog doesn't get rabies shots because there is no rabies here, but she does get vaccinated against diseases carried by ticks and other pests.

19 December 2016

Tortilla à l'espagnole — sunshine for a foggy day

Fog is still all the news. Today will be our third in a row of being completely socked in. It's bad in England too. I read yesterday that more than 150 flights had to be canceled at London's two big airports over the weekend. I haven't heard of cancellations in France, but I wouldn't be surprised if some planes have been grounded, given the poor visibility around here.

So with no sun in the sky, I found a substitute in the kitchen. It's a Spanish "tortilla" — a potato omelet. I had four or five steamed potatoes in the refrigerator from a lunch I made a few days ago. I sliced those up thinly, and I chopped a small onion and a big clove of garlic. All that went into a frying pan with some olive oil, on low temperature so that the onion would soften but the potato would heat up but wouldn't actually brown.

Then I cracked five eggs into a bowl and beat them together lightly with a fork, just to break the yolks up. I deviated from the purely Spanish recipe by adding not only salt and pepper to the eggs, but also about half a cup of grated cheese and a pinch of dried thyme. When the potatoes were good and hot, and the onion was cooked, I poured that mixture into the beaten eggs and stirred everything around gently. The hot potatoes start cooking the eggs. Don't stir too hard because you don't want to mash up the potatoes too much.

Pour the tortilla mixture back into the frying pan and set it on low heat to cook the bottom of the omelet. Now you have two choices. You can do it the traditional way by sliding the partially cooked omelet out onto a plate and then sliding it back into the pan with the uncooked side facing down. (Good luck!) Let the other side cook. Or you can cheat as I did and just set the pan in the oven on low and wait for the top of the tortilla to brown a little. Then slide it out onto a serving dish. Don't burn your hand on the hot frying pan handle the way I did. Ouch.