August 19, 2010

Eating American

I´m back from my travels in the USA, land of sensual ribs so tender that the meat slides off the bone; jalapeño burgers slathered in cheddar cheese with jaunty American flags waving out of the top buns; spicy tamales with soft yielding corn meal, salsa prepared at the table with a stone mortar and pestle; bison burgers, bison steaks, bison bourguignon; corn on the cob, husked on the back porch and finished on the grill; ghost chili chimichurri slathered on roasted pork belly; scallop-tilapia ceviche with tostones and hearts of palm; frijoles antioqueños, dripping in lime, cilantro and roasted tomatoes with scallions; clam chowder whipped into a frenzy by the August wind of San Fransisco Bay; coffees as big as your head; Chicago hot dogs, topped with shockingly green relish; Prince Edward Island mussels and happy hour; my brother's homemade jerky, sausages, kimchi and pickles; fried chicken and waffles; polenta with sauteed kale and blue cheese; lemon meringue pie; Enrique's celebrated gnocchi, the best I've ever tasted them; jalapeño-cheddar Cheetos, toxic-orange stained fingers; American breakfast! grits, biscuits, bacon, Hollandaise, the inevitable bison sausage, burritos; the elusive Vietnamese pho, that still haunts me with a craving; micro-beer in every flavor and color; wine from every state; cappuccino from an ancient machine that still only my parent's know the secrets to; bagels with vegetable cream cheese, lox and capers; champagne on the top of Chicago; seltzer in a mason jar; pan-fried lake perch; bourbon; eating crisp yellow squash and digging purple potatoes from my parent's garden; lemonade stands; ice tea...
Thank you everyone, it was glorious!

photo: roasted pork belly, tostones, kimchi and homegrown purple potatoes

June 22, 2010


I just spent a weekend in Sigüenza, a charming medeival town in northern Castilla La Mancha surrounded by incredible countryside and beautiful trails, not that the town´s tourist office has ever heard of them. There is also an incredibly restored castle that has been turned into a four star Parador, a national, publicly owned chain of hotels located in restored monasteries and other historic monuments. Unfortunately, the hotel staff at Sigüenza´s Parador had the personality of monuments - just as stiff and just as cold.
Fortunately, there were other more agreeable and delicious places to dine in Sigüenza, including Gurugú de la Plazuela, a lovely, family-owned restaurant that occupies a beautiful stone building on a corner overlooking a plaza, with the green hills of La Mancha just beyond. A specialty here are the wild mushrooms, of which there is an ample selection of around ten differnet varieties, each prepared in a way that best suits their individual characteristics, but mostly just sauteed with a little olive oil and garlic or onion. If you are less than fungally savvy, there is an option of trying three different kinds of mushrooms, selected by the friendly waiter´s aunt and uncle depending on the season. Another specialty is the rabo de toro, bull´s tail that is slowly cooked into a tender stew with red wine, carrots, onions, garlic and cloves, among other things. Unfortunately, I kept forgetting to take photos of my food before eating, all I ended up with was a photo of a plate with a pile of bones, a poor example of the deliciousness that was the dish.

Gurugú de la Plazuela
Travesaña Alta, 17 (Plazuela de la Cárcel)
19250 Siguenza
+34 949390134

June 1, 2010

Parad-rice (insert groan)

There is some debate as to whether this delectableness was actually paella or arroz a banda, as the authentic Valencian rice-maker Boris would have us believe (similar to paella but only cooked with all of the delicious things, which are then removed before serving).
This debate became heated in nature only in that it took place under a hot Ibiza sun, and drawn out only by the copious glasses of wine and full bellies that had caused our brains to gloriously dim. As far as this article is concerned, I preferred to willingly accept the arroz a banda assertion, given that its author had just produced one of the most delicious rices that I have ever tasted.
The journey began on a surreal note when the DHL delivery man showed up with the perfect sized paella pan for 14 people. It seems they take their rices very seriously here.
Boris then spent the next hour sitting on a dusty driveway in front of an old stone shed, scrubbing out the pan with lemon juice while the occasional lagartito gracefully scurried past. The pan was finally positioned just right over a gas grill, which was moved, and then moved again, until ending up out of breeze's reach at the top of a staircase so that the gas flames would lick the pan uniformly and the rice cook evenly. I believe I was in the swimming pool while this went on, but please don´t tell the chef that.
The first step is to make the sofrito, sauteeing a head of garlic with some grated tomato, fresh diced sepia (squid), and whole, unpeeled langostinos (or shrimp if available). Then add the fish stock and a bit of sweet paprika (which shouldn't be burned or it turns bitter), saffron (either in threads or powder), and ñora, a type of pepper that has been dried in the sun. It must first be soaked and then opened, and the soft insides scraped away from the hard outer shell.
Then finally add the short-grained paella rice, which Boris poured in the form of a cross before spreading it out in all directions so as to achieve even disbursement. I have never had much of a hand with rice, either using too much or too little water, or making way to much or little for the quantity of hungry people, but he seems to be blessed with the opposite skills, and when the rice was cooked he served it to all 14 people, one at a time, and completely fearlessly - a Robin Hood of rice if you will. He tried to share some of this wisdom with me, and even told me how to measure the proportions, but I can't even trust myself to do the math. All I know is that 4 liters of stock and 2 kilos of rice, will serve 14 people the most delicious arroz a banda they have likely ever tried, especially when Boris is making it. The flavor was at once rich and delicate, the texture of the rice perfect, the chef delightfully calm, and the servings more than generous although I imagine we all would have gladly eaten more.
Serve with alioli, freshly squeezed lemons, and a beautiful wooden table, surrounded by lovely people and buganvilla - preferably in Ibiza.

(gracias a Juan por las fotos)

May 27, 2010

Roasted Sea Bass in Ibiza

This week is special meal Ibiza edition. I can sit at the very edge of the garden and steal internet from across the way, while looking out over a rocky cove and lazily crashing waves. Not that I´m showing off.
Dinner last night was thanks to María. Beautiful whole sea bass or lubina, cleaned of guts and such and laid over a bed of peeled thinly sliced potatoes, tomatoes, green peppers and onions (not for me). Roasted whole in the somewhat iffy oven for about 35-40 minutes and covered with slices of lemons and crushed garlic. According to María, the objective is for the potatoes to cook through without the garlic burning too much, but I confess that the crunchy brown garlic goodness was so darn delicious. Easy and tasty, particularly when accompanied by an almost full moon and soft wave soundtrack.

May 18, 2010

Happy Birthday Gran Vía, We got you PIPAS!!


This weekend, Madrid's emblematic boulevard Gran Vía celebrated its 100 year anniversary. Not actually on the real anniversary, this celebration kind of seemed like a silly waste of money, but anyway. I love Gran Vía, it is a beautiful street and deserves every bit of recognition that we give it, but whoever had the genius idea of carpeting the entire street in blue carpeting (ahem, Telefonica) and then encouraging thousands of people to trample on it all night long, obviously doesn't understand the true volume of the nation's addiction to eating PIPAS (sunflower seeds)! Pipas are obviously a national pastime. Go to a futbol match and your feet will be swimming in the shells long before halftime. In a bar, the park, on a train...but you just can't grasp the quantity until you see these shells highlighted against a ridiculously blue carpet that covers Madrid's main thoroughfare - uniformly, perfectly spaced out EVERYWHERE - and this was at the beginning of the night's activities.
According to the program issued by Madrid's city hall, this massive carpet is going to be reused for the White Night event in September. Hope they get an army of squirrels in to clean it first.

May 16, 2010

Fried Egg + Avocado = Breakfast

This is my current breakfast of choice. I love it so much that I couldn't wait until after the photo to take a bite. I assume that it is a great way to start the day because it more or less keeps me going until lunch which isn't until 2 or 3 in the afternoon here. Our next door neighbors gave us a whole bag of avocados from the trees around their house, which I believe is near Granada. I would put avocado on my list of top five favorite foods in the world - as in raw materials. Here, the avocado is sliced or smushed directly onto the toasted bread and then sprinkled with rock salt, which I can find a use for on just about anything. The fried egg makes me think of my mom, although on a side note, egg yolks are a different color here than they are in the States. In Spain they are a deeper more golden-orange yellow, and in the USA much paler and more lemon colored. Oh, and by the way, I recently read somewhere that the thing about keeping the seed in the avocado so that it doesn't turn brown is totally bunk. Just cover it tightly with plastic and/or a bit of lemon juice. Or just eat the whole thing in one sitting. For other uses for that leftover piece of avocado, please see the Aquodka post from July 2007 (where does the time go?).

Seriously, do not make this

But let's just throw another photo up because it is so very pretty.

(ps. thanks for this plate Myra)

Do Not Make This TUNA

We're not eating blue fin tuna, or is it yellow fin? Ack! I don't remember, but I do know that we're not eating it because of the overfishing (sobre pesca in Spanish, overfishing just sounds weird) issue and the fact that I would actually prefer that this majestic fish survive. I haven't made my favorite tuna tataki with a black toasted sesame seed and rock salt crust (my brother's recipe) in at least two years, and so when I waltzed into Carrefour of all places early last Saturday morning and saw the amazing fish selection, and more specifically the glistening tuna steaks at 2,50 euros each, I couldn't resist - nay, something came over me. I didn't have sesame seeds at home, so ended up making the crust with crushed dry red pepper corns and rock salt. Basically, just rinse the fish in cold water, dip in the mixture of crushed pepper or sesame and sal gorda, and then sear on each side. Make sure that the pan is hot, and use a drop of either olive oil or sesame oil. Hold for about 1-3 minutes on each side (depending on how raw you like your tataki and how thick it is), and if you are unsure, there is nothing shameful about cutting into it and checking. When it's finished, slice the tuna into 1 cm slices and throw in the fridge for a few minutes to chill, or you can eat warm, whatever floats your boat. In any case, the inside should be raw and cool. My brother drizzles the tuna with spicy sesame oil before serving, and sprinkles it with thinly diced scallions, which I am allergic to. I'd like to think that he wouldn't do that if I were eating over.
This time I made a little dipping sauce from equal parts soy sauce and lime juice, about a teaspoon of sugar and some sliced fresh ginger, and served with steamed asparagus and roasted sweet potato.
It's heaven, but please don't make this dish. Just think of those poor tuna.

May 6, 2010

1960´s chicken plate

This lunch cracked me up because it looked like something straight out of the 1960´s; Leave it to Beaver, but in color. I think it must be the peas; they always give a meal that vintage appeal. Really the only unique component of this meal were the peas, believe it or not, as fresh peas are not very common in Spain and cost an arm and a leg in the market. Feeling nostalgic for the snap peas from my mom’s garden, I plunked down close to 5 Euros for a small tray of already shelled peas and I have to say that they were such a disappointment, with none of the sweet summery pea flavor that I was remembering. Anyway, stuck with these disappointing peas, I boiled them for just a second with a pinch of salt and then threw them in a sauté pan with a little olive oil, diced garlic and the leftover portabella mushrooms from yesterday’s dinner. I added a splash of a bottle of light white wine (un-oaked Chardonnay from Navarra) that had been open for a couple of days and some salt and pepper.
Then, I made a space in the vegetables and plunked my chicken breast down in the middle, put a top on the whole thing, and let it cook for about 10 minutes until the chicken breast was cooked through (not pink, not transparent shiny). This was a mistake. What I should have done was not be so lazy and cut the raw chicken into bite-sized pieces before sautéing it. It would have cooked uniformly and stayed juicy and delicious. What I found instead was that the whole thick breast was chewy and overcooked just about everywhere but the inside (which took forever to cook), and none of it had absorbed any of the flavors of the wine, garlic, etc. As you can see in the photo, I could barely cut the thing and had to resort to ripping it apart like a savage beast just to get my fork in it. Luckily, the mushroom mixture tasted wonderful – sweet peas or no – and I had roasted some slices of sweet potato (batata in Spanish) in the oven with a little bit of sea salt and olive oil, which is always absolutely perfect. Just peel, slice, and lightly coat with olive oil in a glass or metal dish. Let roast on whatever temperature suits for about 20-30 min. I was in a hurry, so I turned the oven way up to 200 C (around 430 F), but had to keep a close eye on them so they didn’t burn. 170 C would have been more appropriate.
And voila! “Lunchtime, Beaver!”

May 4, 2010

Duck Magret with Portabella Mushrooms

I bought a beautiful magret de pato (duck magret) last night for dinner. E loves it and has been working so hard that he needed a gastronomic pick-me-up, and I like it because it gives me a valid excuse (not that I REALLY need one) to open a bottle of wine on a Sunday night. It was also on sale, and for a mere 5-6 Euros a smallish magret, about the size of a large potato, is plenty for two or three. I feel like people turn to duck as a special-occasion, restaurant type food that is really too much trouble to cook at home, when actually it really couldn’t be any easier, and can be accompanied by whatever you have on hand. I used to spend large amounts of time following this delicious, but ingredient heavy, recipe for Duck with Blackberry Sauce, except that I used raspberries and used every clean item in the kitchen to pull it off. Yesterday I just decided to wing it. There are about a million different ways to cook the duck and I usually end up doing a combination of several (sear on stove, roast in oven, etc.), but the easiest way really seems to be the following, and my duck turned out juicy and delicious.

Prepare the duck by trimming any excess fat (I use scissors) that is hanging loose off the sides. Then, cut a crosshatch pattern in the fat about half an inch apart, being careful not to cut into the meat underneath. If you do cut the meat accidentally, as I did, patch it up with some of the fat that you have trimmed off the sides. I don´t know if this helps, but it made me feel like I was a culinary genius.
Salt and pepper the whole thing and heat a pan on medium for about a minute or two and then chuck the duck on fat side down and cook on medium low for about 10-12 minutes. The fat will render (seep out into the pan) and slowly get brown and crispy, when it is nice and brown, flip it over and cook on the meat side for 3-4 minutes, depending on the thickness and how rare it is.
Take it off the heat and let it sit for a few minutes while you pour the delicious fat into a jar to use later to make homemade popcorn.
Slice the duck and serve with whatever you like. I had portabella mushrooms on hand which I sauteed with garlic and some of the fat. Duck is always good with something slightly sweet, and so I dumped a spoonful of Amaretto in the mixture and plenty of salt and pepper. Brandy, sherry, or even maple syrup would have been good too. Then I steamed some broccoli on the side so that I could feel virtuous and healthy.

May 2, 2010

Tacos al Pastor (pork tenderloin tacos with pineapple)

So I had corn tortillas, lime and cilantro left over from last night's steak fajitas and I had bought a pork tenderloin (solomillo de cerdo) at the market the day before which I had intended for an entirely different purpose, but things happen...
On a side note, pork tenderloin is about the easiest, most delicious, and cheapest no-fail dish that you can prepare. At the market in Spain it costs about 4 euros for a pork tenderloin (in Spain they are about the size of a 350ml bottle of watter, a corncob or an old school mobile telephone sans antenna), that can feed anywhere from 3-4 people. I like to roast it, sear it, grill (pan) it, whatever I have in the fridge-it, and it always looks fancy and well-thought out.
In fact I have a fool-proof plan for any whole pork tenderloin, which I promise to get into at a later time.
In this case, leftovers in hand and pork cooking scheme adapted, I used this recipe that I found in for Tacos Pastor as a guide. I had pretty much everything on hand but the pineapple, and May 1 being a holiday in Spain, I ran down to the closest convenience store and bought a can of pineapple in syrup/almibar. This turned out to be the one thing that I just couldn't get over. It would have been so much better fresh, but at the very least I rinsed the pineapple to get the sugar water off and then chopped a couple of rounds up into small pieces and tossed them into my tiny (mini-primer blender) with two cloves of garlic, a couple of Tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, some oregano, rock salt, cumin, chili powder and a few drops of some weird mixed berry antioxidant drink that I found in the fridge. I sliced the tenderloin into half-inch slices and chucked it all in a newly purchased IKEA zip lock (emphasis NOT on the lock part) bag and left it on the counter for a couple of hours.
In general, meat or fish marinates faster out of the fridge, so if you are limited on time and can't do the overnight marinate in the fridge, an hour outside is better than nothing. Of course, if however, you are planning on marinating something for several hours, it is probably better to keep it cold to prevent any kind of bacteria. It is also always better to cook any meat at room temperature, rather than cold. Take my word for it.

Anyway, marinated the pork, heated the grill pan and tortillas and then grilled the four or five remaining pineapple slices for a couple minutes each. Then, I threw the pork on, let it grill on each side (around 2-3 minutes each) and then took it off, chopped it roughly, mixed it with the grilled pineapple and scooped it onto the warm, corn tortillas. While I was waiting for the pork, I diced some tomatoes into a bowl, added a half-lime squeeze, salt, cumin, cayenne, and the leftover chopped cilantro, to later use as a salsa on top of the taco.

The pork was amazing, tender and really juicy, although not as spicy as I expected given the massive amounts of Chipotle that I added to the marinade.

In the end, the meat had an entirely different flavor than the steak the night before, but at the same time it felt really satisfying to use the leftover ingredients and create such an unique dish.

May 1, 2010

Steak Fajitas

This is a good everything dish that more or less works with whatever vegetables you have on hand. I used red peppers and tomatoes, but zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus, yellow squash, fennel, carrots would all work, in addition to a number of other veggies. Really the most important things needed to turn your "fajitas" into "fajitas" and make them acceptable cargo for a couple of corn tortillas is lime and cilantro - although cumin and any chili peppers (cayenne, chipotle, Korean chili, jalapeño, Turkish smoked something that we were given as a gift, serrano) really add to the dish, and are good things to have on hand at all times anyway - dried, while they may lose some of their kick, they really last forever.
Squeeze the juice from a couple of limes into a bowl with a dollop of olive oil, couple of shakes of cumin, crushed clove or two of garlic, four finger pinch of chunky rock salt and a dash of the chili of your choice. Take your two relatively thin steaks and throw them in the mixture, either whole or already sliced into thin strips (it will marinate faster already cut if you are in a hurry). Let marinate for anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your rush. And if you have to go out and accidentally leave the steak marinating for two hours while you have a glass of wine with a friend or go to Pilates, don´t worry. It will be fine.
When you´re ready to cook, chop whatever vegetables you will be using into thin slices or strips and heat up your grill pan (I live in a 60m city apartment, this is as close to a grill as I am going to get). Take the beef out of the marinade and dry it off. When the pan is good and hot, throw on the sliced beef for a minute or two and then take it off and throw on the veg. for another minute or two. Mix the whole lot together and divide between already heated (I grill them on a pan with a drop of oil for 30 seconds on each side) corn tortillas. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro, diced tomatoes and a little crumble of fresh cheese,if you like (feta works well with this dish). Serves two or more (depending on how much beef and veg you used) and really the most difficult part in making this dish is cleaning the grill pan later.

January 11, 2010

la Palma 60, Bar de Tapas. Best of Madrid

I am almost reluctant to mention this tapas place, given that I am so very taken with it and that it is not very big and I am afraid that it will become impossible to find a table.
However, I do believe that restaurants and bars that go out of their way to serve up a great product in a pleasant setting do actually DESERVE to be mentioned, and of course, I do believe in Karma.
Palma 60 is the latest establishment to strike and hold my fancy, and I really like it, a lot. Located on Calle Palma (60) on the Conde Duque side of San Bernardo, this corner bar/restaurant is almost entirely taken up by a long curving bar that extends all the way to the back of the space where there is one long communal table that can seat around 12 people comfortably. Otherwise, there are a couple of tall bar tables and then comfortable stools along the length of the rest of the bar.
The decor is simple and agreeable. Modern and clean, while still retaining a pleasant coziness that can be so hard to find in this illumination-challenged city. White tiles painted brick , marble countertops, wooden chairs and tables, plants!, chalkboards and a glowing red wine fridge that is especially handy for the heat that it gives off on these cold cold winter days.
The place is run by the charming Charo (on the floor) and chef Alberto (in the kitchen), both incredibly friendly and accomodating people who have obviously paid close attention to detail and are delighted to be where they are.
The food can best be described as international, creative raciones that have been molded into a menu that deftly combines some traditional Spanish ingredients and dishes such as chipirones en su tinta, with surprises like pad thai with chicken and shrimp, all for very reasonable prices ranging more or less around the 10 euro mark for dishes intended to share. Some of my favorites are the boletus and truffle risotto, the mini-hamburgers with ruccola and onion confit, the wild mushroom parmesan croquetas, the crispy sun dried tomato cannelones with fresh mozzarella, and the piping hot mini tortilla española that they give you as a tapa.
The wine list isn´t terribly long, but it is very well thought out and varied, and definitely surpasses anything that you would find in the vincinity. It would be hard to go wrong with any of the wine choices, and I particularily love the mineraly elegance of the Cepas Viejas from Dominio de Tares, D.O. Bierzo. I believe we may (unfortunately for our heads) have drunk all of their bottles of crisp and delicious white Rueda when we were there last Friday night, but I imagine they will have been replenished by now. The cocktails are also a high point. Artfully made with particular high marks going to the gin tonics and rum.
In all, great food and drinks, nice decor and a great ambience that slides effortlessly between an extremely pleasant and civilized restaurant/bar to a great place for an after dinner drink, packed with fashionable thirtysomethings from the barrio and beyond.

la Palma 60
c/la Palma 60, Madrid
91 521 3106
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