December 20, 2011

Tapa Hopping the Nation's Best Tapas and Pintxos

Incredible "Jabón de pato" pintxo at Los Zagales Restaurant in Valladolid
This past November I again had the opportunity to attend the incredible National Pintxos and Tapas Competition that is held annually in the city of Valladolid, in Castilla Leon. While the competition itself is absolutely amazing, this year I focused my experience on visiting the local bars and restaurants that were hosting the competing chefs from all over Spain and providing the opportunity to taste their winning creations. Not only does the city boast a lively nightlife and ample tapas scene, but also, being able to actually taste the competing pintxos added a level of complexity to my understanding of the event itself.

Read more in Small Wonders in Valladolid on Foods From Spain.

December 15, 2011

Puckering up to Spanish grapefruit

One of my favorite winter treats has always been grapefruit. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that my father's from Florida, but as children we used to eat half a grapefruit on winter mornings slathered in our own honey. I love the fact that the fruit makes its own handy breakfast bowl and the utilitarian beauty of the serrated grapefruit spoon.
When the magazine asked me to do an article on Spain's growing grapefruit, or pomelo, industry, I was completely shocked. I had never seen people eating grapefruit here the way that they do in the States (or at all really) and had no idea that it was such an important crop. Of course it's not surprising given the importance of other citrus crops such as oranges and lemos along the Spanish Mediterranean coast.
A four-hour train trip down to the beguiling and tropical town of Murcia, with it's ridiculously good vegetables and tapas scene, revealed the extent to which this delicious and tart fruit is blushing its way across the countryside.

Read more in Pulp Non-Fiction: Grapefruit, Spain's Other Citrus, from Spain Gourmetour Magazine on Foods From Spain.

December 14, 2011

Tis the Season for Turrón

Turrón de Jijona being made in the traditional boixet at El Artesano
I confess that I personally have never really developed a taste for true Spanish turrón. I want to, I really do. In fact, every year I make E give me a bite of his to try, but to no avail. This method worked with patxaran, a somewhat bitter and sweet (but interestingly, not bittersweet) Spanish liqueur - I tasted a sip from my friend Josh's glass for years and now can't get enough of the stuff.
Of course I have never had much of a sweet tooth, and so the honeyed sweetness of turrón is too much for me. I do like it, but just have never felt the intense love that most of my adopted countrymen have for this holiday treat. I can however, appreciate the history, tradition and incredible ingredients of this classic Spanish sweet, whose origins trace back several hundred years.
This appreciation is especially true now that I've visited the town of Jijona, Alicante, a delightfully smelling town that lies at the heart of Spanish turrón.

Read more in Turrón Temptations, Tasting the Holiday All Year Long, from Spain Gourmetour Magazine on Foods From Spain.

December 11, 2011

Now This is Grilled Octopus!

While on the subject of octopus, I thought it might be nice to give people a 'taste' of what a real grilled octopus dish looks like. This photo was taken on the island of La Graciosa, off the coast of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. Grilled octopus is a specialty in Lanzarote and I have to say it was the most delicious pulpo I had ever sunk my teeth into. The outside was crispy and smokey, as if almost caramelized by the heat from the grill, and the inside was soft and tender. While the Canaries do tend to be cheaper than Madrid, if I recall correctly, this plate cost around 8 Euros. Amazing.

December 8, 2011

Clarita: Overpriced Octopus Category

I can't remember the last time that I went out to dinner and my greatest regret of the evening was not having had taken a photo of the octopus.

The pulpo, or octopus, dish was tasty, I'll give it that, but it was also so incredibly overpriced and ridiculously tiny (think 1-2 bites a person for a group of four) that I kept expecting it to jump up and sing Dixie, just to get my money's worth.

Truly anyone would have been shocked and appalled to pay 16 Euros for the one (small) tentacle of grilled octopus that came out on a massive plate accompanied by four, lackluster acorn-sized boiled potato cubes and a squirt of mango cream. This was hardly the fancy sounding dish that was advertised on the casual sounding menu for 16 Euros, but then again this was hardly a fancy enough place to be able to get away with this kind of blatant customer abuse either.

Fortunately, my guilt at bringing the outrageous price and quantity of the dish to the waitress' attention was assuaged by her surly attitude and uninterested, dismissive response. It seems that Clarita, a cozy looking cafe/restaurant squeezed between the edge of Malasaña (neighborhood) and the iconic avenue Gran Vía, is nothing if not consistent: small portions complemented by soaring prices and heaps of bad attitude. Welcome, neighbors, to the first candidate for the Worst of Madrid Dining in the Overpriced Octopus Category.

Corredera Baja de San Pablo, 19

November 25, 2011

Maker's Mark, maple syrup and duck fat - oh joy!

Yesterday, I went from roasting a chicken for 4 people to making an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner for 8, for which I purchased the turkey at around 5 pm (luckily we eat late in Spain). There is something about eating Thanksgiving on the actual day that gets me every year. Of course it is more of a challenge than you might think given that we don't have the day off from work. Actually, the main event is tonight at my friend Sarah's house and her turkey promises to be absolutely stellar. One of the few fortunate people to have a real barbeque in the Madrid city center, she brined her organic turkey in apple cider and spices overnight and is going to plunk the whole thing on the charcoal grill this afternoon to roast.

In any case, my nearly 8 pound bird was so cute and easy to handle that I really went to town doing all sorts of fun things to it (I normally have to sit on the ground in front of the oven with plastic bags over my shoes and literally kick the large turkey into the oven to make it fit). After slathering it with butter and fresh herbs, I decided to try the injector bottle that my ex-intern/chef Cassie gave me years ago. I filled the bottle with a mixture of Maker's Mark bourbon, maple syrup and the duck fat left over from a magret that I made earlier in the week, and then injected this deliciousness into the turkey's breast and thighs. This was supposed to make the turkey juicy, but what I really wanted to do was inject this mixture directly into my mouth. Anyway, my digital thermometer broke halfway through the cooking process, so I think I overcooked the whole thing to be safe,  but it still came out juice-tastic so I'm figuring that this injector bottle may be the nectar of the gods. Now off to make the pies for tonight!

November 23, 2011

Thanksgivings Remembered

In 2007 I wrote a post about my first Thanksgiving in Spain. It was a wonderful debacle of a meal - the memory of which has never ceased to make me smile. Once again, on the eve of another Thanksgiving and just hours from rolling up my sleeves to start on the stuffing, pies, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce (my friend is doing the turkey on her grill), I think back to that first Thanksgiving and all my subsequent years in this country, and I am eternally grateful for the friends, family, good fortune and richness of my life. The wonderful illustration is by Chris Ware for the New Yorker

Spanish Cured Meats in Outer Space!

This is a fun and interesting news item about the Spanish company Campofrío that is doing experiments on launching their products into outer space with an eye towards NASA's future missions to Mars. Read the full article, Campofrío Launches Products Into Space on

November 14, 2011

Sherry Tasting Sampler in Madrid (at the Mercado de San Miguel)

The Sherry Corner at the Mercado de San Miguel offers a tasting menu of six glasses of sherry and a pairing of six different Spanish tapas. I thought a nice way to try this tour would be to send two middle-aged American ladies to experience Spanish culture first hand and report back on the results. The following is their report, as written by my mother, Susan.

The tasting began with a Fino sherry and progressed through Palo Cortado, Amontillado, Oloroso, Moscatel and finally the very sweet, dark Pedro Ximenez. Glasses of sherry were poured and arranged in a brass holder which could be carried around the market fairly easily-although with six glasses of sherry it was easier to find a table in the center of the market and use that as a base of operation. With two people at the tasting, one could guard the sherry and the other dart forth in search of the tasty tapa samples that complimented the various sherrys. Tapas included bacalao, cheese, olives, nuts and sushi. An audio-guide was available (in eight different languages) which clearly explained history and process of sherry making and the importance of sherry in the Spanish culture. This audio-guide was easy to understand, but we recommend visiting the market at an off-time as when the market is packed, it’s a bit hard to hear. Carrying the wine tray and the headset and controller did make us look a bit unusual in the market. The brass tray itself was the start of several conversations with other patrons of the market-what was it and where did one get it? As the sherrys were consumed our Spanish improved immensely and we were able to answer many of the questions we were asked about the tasting and direct people to The Sherry Corner. The small table we shared was with a group of Belgian tourists who were greatly interested in our progressive tastings. As we were leaving, we invited them to a glass of the Pedro Ximenez from The Sherry Corner, and left these tourists happily trying a new aspect of Spanish culture. For more information and a discount coupon: Photo complements of The Sherry Corner.

November 10, 2011

International Tapas Champ!

More news from Valladolid, but this time from the International Tapas Competition for Culinary Students. 15 students from all over the world competed to produce the best tapa! Read more about the winners at Foods From Spain, 2011 International Tapas Competition in Valladolid.

Valladolid Pinchos Competition

I just got back from a few days at the amazing National Pinchos and Tapas competition in Valladolid. The level of culinary talent was mind-boggling and the bite-sized morsels came in all different shapes and sizes, each more stunning than the last! Read more about the winner of this fantastic competition at Foods From Spain, Best Pincho in Spain 2011.

October 26, 2011

Talentos Design by the Talented Designer

Another great reason to go to one of my favorite Madrid museums, the Museo del Traje (costume museum) is to stop by the Talentos Design exhibit that opened last night. Sponsored by the Fundación Banco Santander, the exposition displays work submitted to this sustainable design competition by aspiring young designers from Iberoamerica in the categories of Spaces and Interior Design, Industrial or Products, Fashion and Textiles, and Graphics. In addition to the work itself, the most exciting aspect of this expo (in my completely unbiased opinion) was that it was designed by architect Enrique Bordes. Made using sustainable and recyclable materials, it is apparent that the geometric forms and shapes that make up the backdrop for this expo were individually tailored to each of the submitted pieces. All in all, it makes for a truly unique and breathtakingly fresh approach and a striking exposition. Whoever this guy is, he ought to give me a commission! No ham this time, rather chocolate and cava.

October 25, 2011

The Measure of Time

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the inauguration of an exhibition entitled The Measure of Time - The Kings' Clocks in the 18th Century Spanish Court (La Medida del Tiempo - Relojes de Reyes en la Corte española del siglo 18), which is being held in Madrid's Royal Palace until January 15th. In addition to the added delight of going to see something in such a majestic setting, the contents of the exhibition are breathtakingly lovely. This collection of eighteenth century clocks, which is managed by the Spanish National Heritage organization (Patrimonio Nacional), is one of the most significant and complete of its kind in Europe. Each piece in the collection, which was begun by the first of the Spanish Bourbon kings, Felipe V, and continued by Fernando VI and Carlos III, is a unique and fascinating timepiece adorned with intricate gold, lacquered wood, enamel, marble, glass or bronze. Additionally, the exposition, which was designed by my favorite architect and museographer, Enrique Bordes, is beautifully arrayed on a innovative structure that not only displays the clocks to the best possible advantage, but that also evokes the shadows cast by a sundial, marking the passage of time.
On a side note, I would highly recommend going on the hour, to hear the wonderful chimes. Oh, and as this is a food blog, I'll say, that we ate some delicious ham!

October 22, 2011

Sweet Sliders

I spotted these tasty looking sliders at the recent Millesime Madrid gastronomic event and just had to try them. Much to my surprise, what I expected to find - a meaty and juicy little burger topped with delicious cheddar cheese - was in fact a sweet brioche with a chocolate 'patty' and an Andalusian orange square that melted tangily on the tongue. Read more in Sweet Sweet Burgers on the Trans-Iberian blog from El País.

October 19, 2011

Las Recetas de El Comidista

Last night I had the great pleasure of attending the release of the new cookbook by Mikel López Iturriaga, better known as El Comidista for his fantastic culinary blog published in El País. To be perfectly honest, I crashed the book presentation, thanks to an invitation from a mutual friend, but I could not have enjoyed it more. Not only is the book appealing, organized into sections such as Exploiting your family´s recipes, Humiliate your colleagues with your Tupperware, Post-alcoholic meals and For you, because you're poor; the presentation itself was a delightful, even sidesplitting event that reached its highest points of hilarity during the author's gleeful reading of some of the comments made by his most fervent critics (trolls). The recipes are straightforward, easy (classified as being accessible to varying levels of morons), interesting and accompanied by musical suggestions - what else. Compralo! Read more in Las Recetas de el Comidista at Foods From Spain.

October 3, 2011

Jamón Ibérico Fair in the Plaza Mayor

The latest gastronomic fair in a welcome, but nonetheless never ending stream of them, is the recently announced Jamón Ibérico de Bellota Fair that is scheduled to take place in Madrid's Plaza Mayor in late October. Read more in The Seven Flavors of Ham. yum.

September 30, 2011

Cheesecake for Breakfast

It's 8:30 on Friday morning and I'm having a slice of lime cheesecake with a coconut crust for breakfast. Normally, I would be having a poached egg on toast, my newest obsession, but I used all the eggs making the cheesecake last night and my refrigerator is so small that in addition to the cheesecake, it fits little else. I'm not much of a sweets person and I would really almost rather be eating something salty, like Chinese dumplings or potato latkes, but I do make an exception for cheesecake. I also figure that this one, the result of trying to be über prepared for tonight's subsequently aborted dinner party, will just languish in my fridge if I don't do something about it, hence, cheesecake for breakfast. Anyway, the most important thing about this treatise is that it turned out delicious. I used the recipe off of Epicurious for Key Lime Cheesecake with Tropical Dried-Fruit Chutney. I usually have to piece together a variety of different scraps of cheesecake advice from different recipes (seriously, how can there be so many different techniques for making cheesecake), but this time I more or less followed it exactly, taking into account just a few of the suggestions in the comments section, which is truly the most fun part of the site to look at anyway. I also made a few modifications of my own: there are no key limes in Spain so used regular ones, skipped the weird-sounding dried-fruit chutney, reduced the sugar slightly, used plain yoghurt instead of sour cream (or crème fraiche), cooked the crust (with unsweetened coconut flakes) for about 18 minutes and put a little oil under it so it wouldn't stick to my spring-form pan. Anyway, it was incredibly easy to make, especially the crust, and took about 9 minutes in total to prepare plus a night in the fridge to settle. Just a tip, take the foil off from around the pan before sticking it in your fridge, mine was slightly flooded this morning - must have been from the wine I drank while cooking the cheesecake last night. Overall, delicious, although maybe a bit rich for breakfast. I may have to trade it for a breakfast bowl of gumbo (also on the menu for tonight's cancelled soiree). Please excuse the poor lighting on the photo, the sun's just come up.

September 22, 2011

Lusting for limpits

The first time I was lucky enough to try a lapa, or limpet, at a restaurant on the Canary Island of Tenerife, I was also unlucky in that it was the very last limpet left in the whole restaurant. In fact, after waiting for over an hour for our table and watching plate after plate of these hot, sizzling mollusks go by, bathed in mojo verde sauce made of garlic, olive oil, vinegar and fresh parsley or cilantro, when we finally sat down and were told us that there were none left, I was only able to get my hands on one of them by begging the kind gentlemen at the next table. Yes! They are good enough to tell a tall tale to a group of total strangers about having traveled all the way from the USA to fulfill my lifelong dream of tasting these delectable mollusks. Now, recently back from ten glorious days on the stunning Island of Lanzarote, I can gratefully say that I ate myself silly with limpets. I bet you never heard that before. Read more in "Stuck on Limpets" on the Trans-Iberian blog from El País.

August 24, 2011

Eating Spanish in Delhi

While I may have indulged in a glass (or three) of Spanish wine at the Instituto Cervantes, I confess that on my recent trip to Delhi, I didn't eat any Spanish food at all. I mean, why would I? The food in India was amazing: succulent wood-roasted tandoori chicken, dahl, korma, tikka masala, etc. And after all, I only had a week to taste it all. But if I could do it all over again, I would take the time to try the food at Chef Saby's incredible restaurant, the Olive Bar and Kitchen, which I unfortunately only heard about on my last day in the city. In any case, I couldn't help writing about this culinary gem and some of the other Spanish gastronomy that is making its way to Delhi.

Read more in "India Savors Spain" on

August 4, 2011

Bluefish Revisited

Last night I finally fulfilled a request made a couple of years ago by my dear friend Pepe, the ex-waiter from my ex-restaurant, to reprise his favorite dishes from Bluefish: Plato Beirut, Roasted garlic with brie and Apple pie with vanilla ice cream.

I have to admit that the cooking part was pretty fun. Considering how big my own kitchen is, I almost felt like i was back at Bluefish. I knocked off the prep work for these three dishes in about an hour - one hand making the apple crumble, while the other boiled water, drizzled olive oil, peeled garlic and diced parsley. It was as automatic and speedy as it used to be and the ingredients flowed into each dish without a moments doubt. At the same time, I realized that despite how much time has gone by, I still don't particularly feel like eating any of these things. So, in order to spice up the routine a bit I decided to pickle some carrot sticks using an easy recipe from Gourmet.

They were delicious: crunchy, slightly spicy from the garlic, dill and pink peppercorns that I added on a whim. Truly, the photo doesn't do them justice.

The whole thing was pulled together by a limonada or white sangria that I made with white wine, lemon fanta, fizzy water, lemon juice, peaches, pineapple and cherries and a splash of cherry liquor that I bought during a recent trip to Valle del Jerte in Extremadura. I should point out that, here in Spain, people really NEVER drink sangria. It is strictly tourist fare. However, this was a delicious and satisfying beverage anomaly meant to deal with a particularly hot day and alcohol-infused week - but it was delicious!

July 28, 2011

Food and Theater in Almagro

At first glance, Almagro (Castile-La Mancha) exudes a decidedly traditional feel. This preciously maintained town is made up of impeccably whitewashed houses and cobblestone streets arrayed around a 16th century, porticoed Plaza Mayor. Its cultural heritage is also reflected in the annual Classical Theater Festival that attracts spectators from all over the world. At the same time, the town’s rich gastronomic heritage is often represented by the pickled berenjenas (eggplants) de Almagro that are everywhere and were first introduced by the Moors in the 10th century. Therefore, expecting to become immersed in this air of classicism, I took the train to Almagro last weekend for the festival’s final days and was pleasantly surprised to find that from the theater to the table, Almagro does tradition, with a twist.

Read more at the Trans-Iberian blog from El País: "Almagro, tradition with a twist"

To Market in Madrid

I spent the greater part of yesterday at two very different types of Madrid markets. In the morning, I made my way over to the second edition of the “Días de Madrid” farmer’s market, which is now being held on the first Saturday of every month in the Recinto Ferial Casa de Campo.

Keep reading on the Trans-Iberian blog from El País: "Madrid Markets - Rural Meets Urban"

June 29, 2011

Grilled Seafood at Madrid's El Boquerón

With the way that I have been sluggishly getting through this heatwave, I almost feel like I've met the same fate as the delicious gambas (shrimp) and cigalas (like salt-water crayfish) that are grilled and served piping hot with sea salt at El Boquerón, Lavapiés' local seafood haunt. This traditionally tiled bar has been a neighborhood favorite for decades and has all of the elements of one of those classic and treasured Madrid locales that you hope to frequent for years to come: grouchy but charming old waiters, delicious food, perfectly poured cold cañas (little glasses f draft beer) endless glasses of vermouth on-tap and a shrimp-head scattered floor. The best time to come is the aperitivo hour (around 1pm), before lunch on a Saturday or Sunday, although El Boquerón is always busy. In fact people actually begged me not to write about it, so as not to attract more crowds.

Shrimp and cigalas are weighed on an antique scale before being gracefully laid on the smoking griddle. And while I have tried many a grilled crustacean in my time here, nothing quite prepared me for the wood-smokey flavor of these exquisitely grilled delicacies.

For a palate refreshment, try the small, sweet oysters from Northern Spain that are being shucked to order just behind the counter.

And, as always, remember that the best places to eat in Madrid are those with the most (but right kind of) trash on the floor. Just try not to slip on a shrimp head.

El Boquerón
C/ Valencia 14, Madrid
+ 34 91 527 6380

June 22, 2011

What's on the menu for the revolution

Just the other day we were discussing the fact that so many expressions and sayings in Spanish have something to do with food. Mala leche (bad milk) is for someone with a bad attitude or intentions, while a mendrugo (piece of hard bread) is a way to call someone stupid, and the list goes on and on.
And of course the food expression of the hour in Spain is calling your least favorite politicians chorizos, which, in addition to a famous Spanish pork sausage, also means "thieves". So it seems only fitting that Spanish protesters have been using food to express their feelings. Here is just a taste of the Spanish revolution.

Buen provecho!

June 14, 2011

My Father's Daughter - Gwyneth Paltrow's Cookbook Speaks From the Heart

I asked my recently visiting parents to bring me a copy of Gwyneth Paltrow's new cookbook "My Father's Daughter: Delicious, Easy Recipes Celebrating Family & Togetherness" from the States. I was curious and, I confess, have always felt a bit guilty for writing a petty blog entry years ago expressing my jealously over the PBS series "On the Road" about eating around Spain. (I think I inexplicably felt that I held the market on loving Spanish food and culture - don't bother looking for it on the site, I removed it years ago in shame). I had also heard quite a bit about the book and its recipes and can closely relate with equating my love for cooking with my love for my family and the wonderful times that we have shared around the stove and the table.
My own father, who I am incredibly fortunate to say is healthy and wonderful, is a great scientist in the kitchen, making breads, pizza doughs and other dishes that depend heavily on strict measurements and a number of external factors such as oven temperature, type of dish, altitude, humidity, exact timing etc. It surely has something to do with his training as a marine biochemist, but I think mostly revolves around a type of intense culinary satisfaction - of being able to solve the riddle of a dish and recreate it the same way every time. My own culinary satisfaction manifests itself in a different way, from the challenge of being able to invent an amazing meal from the remains of the refrigerator or the dwindling contents of my spice cupboard. I like inventing, mixing and matching and making every dish my own.
It is the combination of these things that makes Paltrow's new book so enticing. Her philosophy on cooking is one that I share - use good-quality, fresh ingredients to make simple and delicious dishes (and, drink while you cook) and the recipes themselves are simple, interesting and intentionally leave a lot of room for adaption (for kids, vegans, main dishes, dinner parties, etc.), which I appreciate as I like to take inspiration from recipes, but rarely follow them to the letter. She even includes a couple of recipes from the time she spent in Spain studying abroad, which is also something I can relate closely to. This is, in fact, partly what led me to buy the book in the first place. About a year ago I saw the recipe for Pan Tumaca on her website (Goop) and thought, "13 years in Spain and it never occurred to me to grate the tomato - what a fantastic idea!". I have been using this technique ever since.
I should confess that I have yet to actually try any of the recipes. I meant to, I truly did, but I sat down with the book to find some inspiration for dinner and ended up reading the whole thing cover to cover with a glass of wine - forgetting about eating altogether. I can't remember ever doing this with a cookbook before.
In short, I found everything about it be refreshingly clear, tenderly nostalgic and an overall delightful read, lacking in any of the pretension that sometimes invades celebrity-chef cookbooks. Quite on the contrary, Paltrow's writing exudes a straightforward love of cooking, gastronomy and family that makes it easy to enjoy and relate to. Of course the fact that both she and her kitchen are absolutely beautiful doesn't hurt either.

June 8, 2011

(Not Spanish) Tortilla Making 101

First off, I should mention that I don't mean Spanish tortillas (egg and potato omelets), but rather the delicious corn tortillas used in the cuisine of so many other places all over Latin America.

I absolutely love corn tortillas, especially those small fresh ones that I have stuffed my face with in Guatemala and Mexico so many times. In Spain it is now easy to find brands like Old El Paso and other similar versions, but these poor imitations (Old El Paso only contains 29% corn flower) lack the toasty corn taste and the soft yielding texture of real tortillas, and so I decided to make my own.
Years ago my roommate Alison and I made corn tortillas in the apartment that we shared in Madrid. She is a great cook and showed me how easy it was to press the tortillas flat by putting the ball of dough between two plates, pressing the top one firmly down in the center. Now a much lazier, and more gadget happy, version of myself asked a chef friend to buy me a tortilla press in Milwaukee and bring it to me at a wedding that we both attended two weeks ago in Chicago. Oh no, I just remembered that I never paid her back!

Anyway, I have been using it like mad since I got back to Madrid and I have to say that yes, my tortillas are indeed delicious and incredibly easy to make. The only ingredients are (instant) masa corn flour (which is now available at El Corte Ingles department store), water and salt. Masa is essentially a corn flour made out of corn that has been treated with lime and made into dough that is dried and powdered. The recipe on the back of the Maseca brand Masa that I bought (which is also used for tamales, pupusas, empanadas, etc.) calls for two cups masa, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 3/4 water, to make 16 small corn tortillas.

This is the process, as carried out in my tiny kitchen by me and my Dad, and captured on film for eternity by my Mom (visiting from Colorado). I should note that my dad has decades of experience frying up tortillas, ever since he and my mom would visit her family in San Diego and bring an empty suitcase along to fill up with tortillas straight from the best factory in Los Angeles. They would freeze them in our massive basement freezer in Michigan to last the year, during which snowy Midwestern Saturdays were perked up by my Dad's quesadilla lunches.

First, mix the Masa, salt and water together for about 2 minutes until forming a soft and smooth dough. You can add a bit more water if it feels dry, only about a Tablespoon at a time. It worked best to mix with our hands.
Then, to divide the dough up evenly into 16 parts, my father, the scientist, came up with this wonderful circular - Aztec looking - disk technique:

Then you roll each of the sections into balls, which you should keep under a slightly moistened cloth so that the dough doesn't get dry.

Lighting not a special effect
The next step is the tortilla press, just slip each of the balls of dough between two pieces of plastic wrap or wax paper (papel de horno) and press down. This is captured in this scintillating video.  Music by Al Green.

Voila! The last step is the cooking. About a minute on each side in a very hot, UNGREASED pan. This cooks the tortilla dough. Then, if you are going to use them for tostadas or tacos or the like, let them cool a bit and then fry in a bit of olive, or other, oil.

We had ours with chicken and vegetable fajitas during the Spain - USA soccer match. Unlike the game, the food made everyone happy!

June 6, 2011

Anto's Family Recipe For Tortitas de Camarones!

I confess that yesterday's post on food in Cádiz made me hungry for some of those delicious, crispy-fried tortitas de camarones. I asked my friend Anto who is from Cádiz, but lives in London, if he would ask his parents or grandparents for a family recipe for this local favorite.
Before I go into the recipe, I should note that in Spain, camarones are teeny tiny shrimp about the size of a normal paperclip (it took me a really long time to think of something that size) that are eaten whole - head, peel and all.

Anto's Parents and Grandmothers' Recipe (translated directly):
Flour, onion or chive, parsley, camarones (it sounds cruel but it's better if they're alive) and a pinch of salt. Add water (some people also use beer) a little bit at a time and stir until you get a relatively liquid batter. Heat olive oil and when it is very hot, add a spoonful of the batter in the oil, spreading it out so that it is wide enough and very thin. (One spoonful = one tortita). Cook until golden, remove and drain oil with absorbent paper.
As I am personally averse to measurements, this is my kind of recipe. However, I will try to define it a bit better for anyone who is interested once I have made it. Off to the market to buy camarones (I hope they sell them in Madrid), but I will leave you with this blurry photo of tortitas from El Faro del Puerto.

I was so excited to eat these that I didn't wait for the camera to focus!  Blurry tortitas de camarones - sorry!
Mil gracias a Anto, padres y abuelas!!

June 5, 2011

El Faro del Puerto, Cádiz

There is plenty of great food in Cádiz, with particular emphasis on wonderful things like different types of crispy fried fish and tortitas de camarones (thin pancakes made with tiny whole shrimp, garbanzos, eggs, onions, garlic and parsley). One of my absolute favorite places to eat here is Gonzálo Córdoba's, El Faro del Puerto, a classic restaurant dedicated to traditional and delicious "gaditana" (from Cádiz) cuisine, using local and seasonal ingredients. The restaurant is actually divided into two areas, a large circular bar and a more formal, sit-down dining room, which is connected to the bar through a door at the back. To be perfectly honest, in all of my visits here over the years, I´ve never even set eyes on the dining room,  I´m sure the food is wonderful, but, as locals will tell you, the secret to this restaurant is to dine at the bar. Here, you can not only can you order anything off the moderately expensive regular menu, but also chose from a huge menu of incredibly priced and delicious tapas and raciones (slightly larger plates of food) - a small price to pay for the lack of stools or any other seating. The best and most typical thing to do is to order a variety of different dishes to share.

Here are some of my favorites from a recent visit (I actually went twice in two days):

Alcachofas confitadas con boquerones en vinagre y jugo de pimiento amarillo (Artichokes with vinegared sardines and yellow pepper juice - 2.65 Euros / plate)
Brocheta de alcachofas y vieras a la plancha con jugo de pimientos asados (Grilled artichokes - I love artichokes - and scallops with roasted pepper puree - 5.25 Euros)

Albondigas de Marisco al Jerez Fino en Salsa de Almejas (Seafood balls with Fino sherry and clam sauce - 16.60 Euros)
Fried eggplant "flower" and charming waiter
In the center of the bar behind the counter there is a huge cold storage box piled with the local fresh fish of the day, ready to be prepared to order in any variety of ways. Other specialties include incredibly rich and perfectly cook rice dishes and a long list of meats.  The wine list is long and varied, but I always start with a glass of crisp, dry Manzanilla (sherry) that the bartenders line up along the bar in cold buckets of ice at the beginning of the shift.

And if this doesn't convince you. This is the photo that I took around the corner from the restaurant.

El Faro de Cadiz
C/ San Félix, 15
+34 902 211 068

May 18, 2011

Spain in Denver

One of my favorites, Ortiz tuna, on a shelf in Peppercorn in Bouler
Several weeks ago during a visit to see my family in Colorado, I decided to try to follow the trail of Spanish products found in Denver restaurants from their source on the other side of the Atlantic. The article proved to be much more involved than I ever imagined, and opened a wealth of other ideas relating to how food gets from point A to point B and how the products that are shipped from one place to another are even found in the first place. I think that the most fascinating thing to consider is how it would feel for a farmer from a tiny town in Andalucia to know that their olives are being served with gusto on a table in Boulder, Colorado, and particularly the other way round.
Here is just a taste of what I discovered.

Denver goes Spanish -

May 10, 2011

Churros in Cádiz

I just spent a long weekend in Cádiz, a charming city in the south of Spain, founded by Hercules incidentally and thought to be the oldest in Europe. It is one of my favorite places in Andalucía and in Spain in general. Nice people, wonderful ruins and charming plazas, great food, lots of fried fish, sherry and beautiful beaches. I took about a million photos of the food which will be popping up in posts little by little. I thought it best to start chronologically, however, with breakfast.

We had heard that the churros in Cadíz were thinner than in other places in Spain, and since E is a venerated Madrid-born expert on all things churros, I ventured up the street from the hotel with directions from a couple of complementary elderly gentlemen to the famous Cadíz freidura (fry-shop), Las Flores. Connected to a cafeteria-style restaurant, in the morning this fry counter is all about churros, while in the early afternoon it is where people from all over the city come to pick up an assortment of the delicious and typically fried fish and mollusks that has made this establishment famous. It is fried fish to-go in its most wonderful form.

a cuarto of churros
The churros here were indeed thin, and made in crisp, golden loops of fried dough, which are then cut into strips. They are ordered by weight and so, unsure of how much we needed for two people, the helpful churrero suggested I get a cuarto, which I took to mean a quarter kilo. The whole order cost 1.80 Euros. Needless to say I couldn't believe that there were plenty of individuals at the bar ordering medio for themselves. Despite the fact that they were probably the best I had ever tried, we could only get through about half of the cuarto of incredible crisp and toasted treats. My recommendation is that they are best eaten dunked in coffee and then dipped in a bit of sugar while looking at the Atlantic Ocean.

Freidura Las Flores
C/ Brasil, S/N
11009 Cadiz, Spain
956 289 378

May 3, 2011

The Rural Juror

                                                       Idiazabal Cheese in the Ordizia Marketplace

Last summer I was generously invited to sit on the jury of the annual Idiazabal Cheese competition held in the Navarran town of Uharte Arakil. I had met some of these wonderful cheese-loving folks in the Spring, while researching an article on this incredible and traditional cheese which is artisinally made from Latxa sheeps' milk (I never can decide where that apostrophe goes) on the Guipuzcoan side of this cheese-making region. Most particularly, it was the enthusiasm, kindness and delightful charm of the President of the Designation of Origin Queso Idiazabal, Jose María Ustarroz, that made it all such a wonderful experience (and, of course, my cheese-loving cousin K and friend J who drove me around during both adventures). I am incredibly excited as I've just been invited to again become a Rural Juror in this summer's event. 

Both original articles were written and published for

Link to Queso Idiazabal Article
Link to the Rural Juror Article

April 28, 2011

The Gingerbread Michigan

Speaking of going global. This is a shot of the gingerbread cookies that I recently prepared using my only cookie cutters, which as you can see, are in the shape of the great state of Michigan - upper AND lower peninsula. Unfortunately the lower peninsulas kept snapping in half.
As you can imagine, they caused almost as much of a stir among locals as when I brought a tray of paper cup Jello shots to a "BBQ" here so many years ago that turned out to be a fancy cocktail party for the Spanish upper crust. Which is not to say that there wasn't any grilling going on, only that the burgers flipped by a staff of white-glove wearing butlers.

If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you!
 (and thank you J, L, L and K)

April 26, 2011

Forbidden Pleasure Goes Global

When you own a restaurant and do all the cooking, you get to the point where you would rather eat just about anything but the food that you yourself prepare there on a daily basis. Instead of making myself one of the healthy salads or other dishes on the menu, I would think of everything in terms of "ugh! If I eat that, I will just have to make more of it later".  The only days that I truly stuffed myself while working were Sundays, when we brought the miracle of Sunday brunch to the center of Madrid...and with it, the forbidden pleasure: smoky bacon dipped in maple syrup. This treat was stuffed into our mouths at a feverish rate while passing through the kitchen - and often washed down with a Bloody Mary. My business partner B was the first to give it this name, a term that we later introduced to many a regular client, "So, Juan, have I told you about the Forbidden Pleasure?".
Well, it seems that many years later this treat (or a slight variation of it) has finally made it to the realm of Spanish "Avant-garde" tapas, as illustrated in this article/recipe that came out yesterday in Gastronomía y Cia. They don't seem to know that it's forbidden, however...
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