December 11, 2012

Photo Excursion to El Ermitaño

This past Saturday, the English edition of El País (sold as a supplement of the International Herald Tribune) published my article on Restaurante El Ermitaño in Benavente, Zamora. Though the full article can be found here, Tasting Autumn in Castilla y León, I though I would share a few more photos from this fabulous dinner, despite the fact that the image quality might not be up to snuff. Enjoy!

Amuse-bouche of goat’s cheese cream with Reineta apple .

Cecina rolls with foie gras and quince paste (Canutillos de cecina rellenos de higado de pato con dulce de membrillo).

Aora Mil Cien pale ale, brewed the town of Cacabelos, in nearby Bierzo (Leon).

A free-range egg on a bed of creamy leeks topped with three types of wild mushrooms, thin slices of black truffle and flavorful mounds of shaved marinated tongue (Huevo de corral con setas silvestres, lengua adobada, parmentier de puerros y trufa negra).

This photo was unfortunately taken before the amazing, almost sweet gravy was poured on this venison loin that had been rubbed with wild mushroom salt, cooked over wood smoke, and served with Boletus risotto, Zamorano cheese and the venison’s sweet gravy .

The plate of cured Zamorano cheese that had been grated, cubed and sliced into a variety of formats.

Chef Pedro Mario in his huge kitchen.

The castle at Medina del Campo.

Bridge crossing the Duero River in Toro.

The beautiful, walled town of Urueña.

Restaurante El Ermitaño
Ctra. Benavente-Leon, Km 1,2
49600 Benavente, Zamora 
980 632 213

November 20, 2012

Pre-Prepared Pre-Thanksgiving from Cascajares

I was greeted with an agreeable surprise the other day when a messenger showed up at my door with the new Thanksgiving Day Turkey made by Spanish company Cascajares - experts in the field of gourmet pre-prepared fare like roasted suckling pig and stuffed capons. Their latest adventure, in collaboration with USA-based Spanish chef José Andrés, is a Thanksgiving turkey, pre-cooked and ready to pop in the oven for half an hour, and accompanied with all the fixings (stuffing, chestnut puree, cranberry sauce, apple sauce, gravy and mashed potatoes). Still a work in progress with only 1,000 turkeys being sold this year, I was super excited when the company offered to send me one to get an authentic American point of view on the product. Anxious to do my part, I dutifully invited some true blue americanas around this weekend to size up this new design. While I am still in the midst of constructing my full report, I thought I could get a jump on the whole thing with a few photos and first impressions.

While the box is enormous, everyone's first thought was that the photo of the plate doesn't do justice to the typical American portion sizes on Thanksgiving - a day when it's all about heaping it on. We were dubious as to the 8-10 portion serving size indicated on the box and worried we might not have enough. I made another tray of stuffing just in case. In the end, while the sides might not be sufficient for 8 people, the turkey had more than enough delicious meat, and three days later I am still enjoying the last of it (there were 5 of us at lunch).

The turkey and the gravy were the best part and truly tasted just as they should. I really have no complaints other than the fact that the meat might have been slightly dry (which happens to my turkeys as well from time to time), and maybe we would have benefited from more specific cooking instructions (30-45 minutes at no specified temperature). The bird comes with some gravy in the cooking package and I confess that I did rub the whole thing in butter and pepper before chucking it in the oven...once an American. It really was good and has now turned into an absolutely wonderful and flavorful turkey stock.

The most disappointing aspects were undoubtedly the sides, which lacked a bit of oomph and texture in terms of presentation and quantity. The gravy was delicious, especially when I mixed it with the juices that came off the bird in the oven. The cranberry sauce was good flavor-wise, but was completely pureed and needed some whole berries (and maybe gelatin) to give it some texture. The apple compote was fine and the chestnut puree correct though really sweet, but neither one seem necessary to me and don't add much in terms of presentation or texture either as they are both similarly toned brown purees. The stuffing was flavorful, but with basically only onions, celery and bread, it was kind of boring and lacked color and herbs. I have never had a stuffing without sage, or at the very LEAST thyme. And my least favorite were the mashed potatoes which were very runny and also needed more structure and texture. In any case, they are on the right track and hopefully will continue to tweak the products during the year to come. The product is intended for an American audience (the company has a newly minted factory in Canada), but also for people all over the world.

Cascajares President, Alfonso Jiménz Rodríguez-Villa carving the turkey at the US Embassy (the Ambassador is pictured directly across from him). Other guests included the President of Castilla-Leon, Rafael Ansón (the President of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy and José Andrés).
On a side note, Cascajares held a press conference in the American Embassy last Friday with José Andrés and the American Ambassador Alan Solomont and his wife Susan. It was lots of fun to watch them explain to the Spanish press about the meaning of Thanksgiving (my hands-down favorite holiday) and the significance of the turkey and the meal. Then they dove into a turkey lunch with about a million reporters snapping photos around them.

Despite any misgivings I have about trying to replicate this home cooked favorite, I truly admire the company for what they are trying to do and think that they are well on their way to achieving it. Oh, and for 120 Euros a box, it's not a bad deal at all - especially if you can't cook and it saves doing the shopping and cleaning.

More information to follow and also on

(Acción de) Gracias!

November 13, 2012

Tasting the new Valdeorras

Godello grapes on the vine. Photo: D.O. Valdeorras
I wish it could have been a Designation of Origin Valdeorras tasting in Valdeorras itself (a lush area in the northeastern corner of the province of Ourense in Galicia), but I'll settle for trying these crisp, mineral whites made with Godello grapes and fruit-forward Mencía reds in Madrid. We all have a cross to bear.

My favorite Godello wines are the ones that are super crisp and deeply mineral, reflecting the slate soils, and casting a more metallic than earthy mineral quality. They also tend to give of stone fruit aromas and at times can be almost spicy, thanks to the common practice of briefly aging them with their lees. This can temper the acidity of the wines and impart them with complex aromas.

Although I did not, by a long shot, try all of the wines that were on-hand last night, and nor were all of the wineries represented, here are just a few of my favorites in varying price ranges:

Adega A Coroa
Crisp, clean, very mineral and highly aromatic without any touch of cloying fruit. I could drink this by the bucketful (10-12 Euros).

Bodega Carballal
Slightly spiced on the nose, lots of fruit but with an acid/bitter ending on the palate that gives it a crisp ending. Unctuous texture and metallic minerality (6 Euros). 

Pezas de Portela
Bodega Valdesil
This well known winery makes several different Godello wines, all of which are very good and great value. This is one of the more expensive ones (20-25 Euros) and yes, it is very delicious.

Oh darn, we drank it all!
As far as the Mencías were concerned, alas, I didn't get very far as I kept getting sucked back into whites. But I did quite enjoy the very earthy, fruity and complex Pagos del Galir by Bodega Virxen de Galir.

November 3, 2012

Bar Amor: the Spanish bistro at its best

Delicious salad special made with mache, jamón de pato (duck ham) and habitas (baby lima beans).

Bar Amor must have been wondering, "where did all the love go?", and I hope it hasn't kept them up at night.

Every time I go to dinner at this wonderful neighborhood bistro, tucked snugly on a corner in Madrid's epic Malasaña neighborhood, kitty corner from my old apartment - which incidentally was next door to a bar called Diplodocus that served a drink called Brontosaurus Milk -, I fall in love all over again and invariably spend the whole night raving rapturously to anyone who will listen about anything and everything. Then I take a bunch of photos, promise to write about it and then drink too much delicious wine and forget.

Let me rectify this immediately. I love this restaurant. The owners are charming and their place is a wonderfully restored old local that has maintained its original granite block walls and bricks, to which they then added beautiful dark wood and a new, retro tile floor. There is a tiny bar where just a few people can squeeze together and sit in the shade of the giant chalkboard that is covering one wall, and only space for around 20 diners. With its large windows open onto the street in the summer and the cozy warmth and gentle lighting in the winter, it's hard to decide which season is the best at Bar Amor - oh yes, that's right, all of them.

The menu is as equally well thought out and tasteful (or maybe tasty) as the decor, with a good balance between traditional Spanish favorites like croquetas, huevos rotos and salmorejo (all extremely well executed with contemporary touches),

A half order of ham and delicous boletus croquetas - we were feeling indecisive.
and more innovative ideas like the mango ravioli stuffed with foie gras and served with a PX reduction, or last night's special of a Wakame seaweed salad with radishes.

Photo doesn't do justice to the 'ravioli', which are actually thin slices of mango. On a side note, I really hate cutting mangoes.
Then of course there are other dishes that defy pigeonholing and are just well-cooked, honest and delicious. I really love the simple, delectable secreto Ibérico (pork belly) that is perfectly grilled and served with a sort of prune chutney and (on this occasion) sweet potato chips.

Whichever way your fancy floats, I don't think you'll be disappointed with this charming neighborhood restaurant. But should more convincing be needed, I will also mention the frequent use of excellent Spanish foodstuffs, such as anchovies from Cantabria, peppers from Lodosa, Cecina de Leon, etc. as well as the changing selection of locally made microbrews and a fantastically varied and well-priced wine list that contains a special selection of Madrid wines - my favorite of which is almost always the Tagonius Crianza.

Prices range from about 20-30 Euros a person for dinner with wine, dessert and lots of good food. It's tiny, so reservations recommended.

Bar Amor
C/ Manuela Malasaña, 22
Madrid, 28004
91 594 4829

November 1, 2012

Wild mushrooms, Castile-Leon and an edible crush

Wild mushrooms burrow in piney forests
There is something about Castile-Leon that makes my heart pound. Though a cultural and neurological center of Spain for centuries, boasting some of the country's finest universities, palaces, museums, restaurants and cathedrals, I'm drawn to this vast area for its great unknown and the sense of wildness that I feel when I'm here.
I want to get to know its darkest forests and rugged, changing landscapes; the long expanses of green that are interrupted by neither town nor fence - with the exception of a crumbled down wall or stone farmhouse here and there - the idea that you can drive for hours and still discover corners, valleys and rivers that you've never seen before.
And mostly, I want to eat, everything I can - from the more classical slow roasted meats and cured hams and sausages, to gamier meats like boar, venison and partridge; and not forgetting the area's wonderful cheeses, produce and legumes. But what I want most of all are its wild mushrooms - those secrets from the forest that can only be found in the autumn and that for me can't be replicated anywhere else but in this magical place.

Fortunately, I'm a lucky soul. Lucky enough to have just gotten back from the third edition of "Soria Gastronómica", the International Mycology Conference that's held in the Castilian city of Soria every two years. This congress, dedicated to all things relating to gastronomic applications for wild mushrooms, is a feast for the senses and a challenge to the waistline. This year's edition, which was held on October 29-30th, hosted presentations by over 20 chefs - mainly from Castile-Leon, but also representing Madrid, Cantabria and a few far flung countries like Sweden, India and Canada - was no different, featuring cooking demonstrations, round-table discussions, tasting opportunities, and hunger-inducing talks on topics such as: The Sweet World of Wild Mushrooms (Elena Lucas Gonzalo, Restaurante la Lobita in Navaleo, Soria), Sensations: Mycology in its Habitat (Pedro Mario and Óscar Pérez, Restaurante El Ermitaño in Benevente, Zamora), Gastromycology in Bierzo (Lydia Álvarz Marqués, Parador de Turismo in Villafranca de Bierzo, Leon), and Avant-garde Techniques Applied to Wild Mushrooms (Óscar García Marina of Baluarte in Soria), to name just a few.

Elena Lucas of La Lobita
Óscar y Pedro Mario Peréz of Restaurante El Ermitaño
And while I am slowly picking away at my full report on this fascinating conference for Foods From Spain, I will leave you with just a few photos of some of the nibbles I was able to try as part of this amazing trip. Most are from Soria's Restaurante Trashumante or the Convento Espacio Grumer in nearby Almazán. More to come.

Black trumpet mushrooms on seared red tuna. It sounded strange but really worked. At Trashumante.

Wonderfully simple and flavorful, at Trashumante

Boletus carpaccio with pistachios at Trashumante. Delicious and the best wild mushroom carpaccio I've ever had.

Duck ham, strawberries, sprouts and wild mushrooms at Convento Espacio Grumer. I love that succulent leaf in the background.

October 25, 2012

Broken with all the fixings

I'm back......and I just realized that this was my 100th post, fortuitous for new beginnings I suppose.

For the first time since I broke my leg about six weeks ago, I woke up this morning feeling a little bit like my old self. Without even meaning to, I suddenly started shuffling around my small apartment without the aid of even one crutch, let alone the customary two. And while my mother-in-law might call me RoboCop for my herky-jerkyness, having two hands free to pick up a cup of coffee and a magazine, my computer and the charger, a glass of wine and my cell phone, my socks and my purse - oh my but aren't the possibilities endless - is a source of joy that I have never before fully appreciated.

But for me the true sign that I am starting to get back, even slightly, to my old self is that I actually feel like cooking, and eating for that matter, something more complex than a can of tuna mixed with steamed broccoli. It has been even worse since E left town on a three week trip to South America. My days and nights that I used to spend perusing through cookbooks to relax after a long days work or dreaming up dishes at the market, have been transformed into wondering how I can make myself feel full on a carton of yoghurt, a can of artichokes and a rotten avocado that I bought from a gypsy on the street. I have eaten oodles of noodles, campbell's soup (cream of mushroom, good; tomato, much worse than I remembered), pre-prepared gazpacho and whatever other 'easy' thing I can order from the Corte Inglés supermarket that is literally in the basement of my apartment building, but that charges me eight Euros to deliver it upstairs - oh, to have two hands again! In any case, it is strange to suddenly have to discover ready-to-eat, processed foods that are appealing, healthy and require a minimum of effort, after shunning them for so long.

At least I haven't been feeling sorry for myself (despite what it may seem). If this were the case I would have given up and ordered 50 kilos of fresh pasta and Parmesan cheese to match. Oh, and potato chips, I do love potato chips.

For someone who loves to cook and equates the first chill of the year with a mad dash to go buy things like collard greens, legumes and wild mushrooms, it has been strange to not care about eating, but even stranger, to not care about cooking. So today, on the first day that I have physically felt a little bit like a me again, I also felt like cooking something good again, with my own TWO hands.

A celebratory (huge) tender chunk of solomillo, some asparagus (that accidentally broke in half when I dropped them) and a delicious glass of Malbec that my Argentinean friend Facundo asked me to try from his uncle's winery in Mendoza - fruity at first, and then velvety, smoky and spiced - perfect for a rainy autumn day like today.

Oh, there will be some things I'll miss: being able to turn the TV to the perfect angle with the end of my crutch or catching up on the last ten years of Law & Order; but to feel oneself again is a precious thing and to get my hands back into the kitchen...well, there's just nothing like it.


September 20, 2012

50 Shades of Chicken to Titillate the Culinary World

There's no doubting that food has always been erotic, but mystery food porn writer FL Fowler has taken the words right out of my mouth.

Every time over the years that I have stuffed my arm into the cavity of a turkey or chicken, or trussed its limbs together in an elaborate form of poultry bondage, I have felt a tenderness in my loins - which is to say my pork tenderloins - to see if they are done brining so I can put the chicken in.

Published by Clarkson Potter and ready for release this November, according to yesterday's rundown in the Huffington Post and today's review in People, this naughty cookbook features fifty recipes with filthy titles, my personal favorite being Chicken with a Lardon

And to think I spent my whole summer coming up with a different parody entitled "Fifty Shades of .....".  I'll never tell. 


September 11, 2012

Restaurante In Situ: in position to succeed.

I feel like it's been a while since I've gotten excited about a restaurant.

I'm not talking about a specialty restaurant, one that costs half your paycheck but creates an experience of a lifetime: eating gambas rojas (red prawns) straight out of the sea on a beach in Denia, or dining under the Michelin starlight; but rather a cozy neighborhood eatery that falls under the triumvirate of Spanish restaurant classification: Bueno, Bonito, Barato (good, pretty, cheap).
In fact, both times that I dined at In Situ, I not only found that prophesy fulfilled, but perhaps even exceeded.

Located on Madrid's Calle Valverde, between Malasaña and Gran Vía, the local itself is welcoming, with high ceilings, mismatched wooden tables and chairs, and a Swedishy, simplicity of lines, funky lamps and calming tones. A highlight is the large mural wall in the front room, painted and drawn over in a way reminiscent of chipping frescoes in Venice where humidity has taken its toll on the paint and imposed its own charming, faded pattern. This sounds strange, I know, but it really is lovely (you can catch a glimpse of it in the background of this photo). I wish I had a wall like that in my house. Up the small staircase, there are two back rooms with more tables. It may be slightly gloomier during the day, when the sun is cheerfully streaming in the restaurant's front window, but it is very cozy and romantic at night.

The food is a mixture of recognizable, international bistro fare, but each dish is prepared with its own arrangement of flavors and ingredients that makes it remarkably surprising: risotto with edamame, artichokes (real ones) and balsamic vinegar; sea bass ceviche with melon, alfalfa sprouts, pumpkin seeds and radish sauce; salmon in papillote with lime, ginger, cilantro and asparagus and raisin couscous; homemade potato gnocchi with sauteed fennel, crispy sage and shaved Idiazabal cheese; and the excellent roasted tomato and mozzarella salad with green olive romesco sauce. The dish in the photo, a creamy and flavorful foie mi-cuit, was accompanied by pumpkin jam preserves, nut bread and ground pistachios. Best of all, most of these carefully thought-out and equally as carefully prepared dishes are priced between 8 and 12 euros apiece - almost unheard of in the city these days. Both times I ate here I walked away paying just under 20 Euros, including wine.

My only complaint the restaurant's insistence in calling the whole thing "Fusion food" - oh for the love of anything sacred, when will that expression just die already?!!!  Your food is better than that, In Situ!

I digress. There is also a brunch menu on Sundays, which I have yet to taste although it looks promising (I am so tired of Madrid restaurants saying that they have brunch when often it is nothing of the kind, and then charging a fortune and serving industrially made muffins), because it opens earlier than most (at 11:30 - don't laugh, Americans), and the food is a la carte, with dishes like pancakes and delicious sounding scrambled eggs for around 4 or 5 Euros.

It's nice to finally have a neighborhood go-to again!

In Situ Restaurante
C/Valverde 40
+ 34 915 226 845

September 5, 2012

Rocambolsec - Ice cream for the last days of summer!

Sheep's milk cheese with guayaba sauce, dulce de leche and cotton candy.

Oh yes, I have been lazy.

I did work through plenty of my summer holidays, but if I didn't necessarily look lazy, then I definitely felt it. But what is summer for if not for banishing feelings of guilt and indulging in a little hedonism?

At least that's what I told myself as i prepared to eat this monster of an ice cream cone from haute-gelatería Rocambolesc, the new ice cream parlor recently opened in the Spanish city of Girona by the three-Michelin star, second-best restaurant in the world, El Celler de Can Roca

This cutesy, retro and somewhat whimsical shop offers six flavors of soft-serve style, natural ice cream that is made in the world renowned restaurant and transported to the shop by bicycle. As indecisive as ever, I tasted the sheep's milk cheese flavor (delicious, like a fresh yoghurt), baked apple (uncanny how it exactly recalled the flavor of the fruit), and the rich Tahitian vanilla. The other three flavors were chocolate, apricot and cherries. Decisions, decisions!

The best part of all was in trying to choose three toppings from the massive selection of homemade sauces, cookies, brownies, chocolates, candies and, everybody's favorite, freshly whipped-up cotton candy!

Tahitian vanilla with chocolate sauce, coconut clouds and caramelized hazelnuts.
More info about this fun and tasty shop can be found here at The "Sweetest" Roca Unveils Rocambolesc, on Foods From Spain.

May 2, 2012

Eating in Cadíz / Comer en Cádiz

Over the past year, I've been to Cadíz a handful of times and so I've written about the city's great food before: the sumptuous tapas at favorite El Faro del Puerto, the thin crispy churros and the traditional tortitas de camarones; but given that there are many other fine establishments that warrant mentioning, I thought I would put the information out there in this (mostly) photographic guide to finding good food in Cadíz.

The first stop should definitely be the newly renovated municipal market. It boasts some of the best fish stands that I have ever seen in terms of freshness and price, and the selection of locally caught fish is unbeatable.

Bluefin tuna is everywhere and so CHEAP. Makes me a bit sad, but looks delicious!

These squid look like they're having a conversation
Cazón, or dogfish, is ironically a kind of catshark. It's used to make the typical, spiced Cazón en adobo.
Cigalas, carabineros, gambas and other delicious shellfish.

Moray eels are colorful and kind of spooky looking.
A little old lady outside the market was selling bags of caracoles, or snails.
Everytime I visit the market I curse myself for not renting an apartment with a kitchen here. Fortunately, it is easy to taste these amazing products all over the city.


I love Taberna Casa Manteca for tapas, drinks or a before lunch aperitivo. The old-fashioned decor, plastered with old photos and bullfighting posters, is authentically dusty and charming and complete with antique scales and butcher-paper plates. The menu consists mostly of embutidos (cured meats), pates, conservas (excellent canned fish and shellfish), and some traditional guisos (stews). The guys who work here are also a lot of fun.

One afternoon they were slicing open fresh sea urchins on the outside patio.

Taberna Casa Manteca
Corralón de los Carros, 66
Tel. 956 213 603

Near Casa Manteca is another favorite, the slightly touristy (in the best sense of the word) but very authentic El Tío de la Tiza, which is located in the plaza of the same name. Most of the tables are outside, but in the winter there are heat lamps and this tiny plaza is as cozy and local as can be. The portions are huge, so it's better to order a couple of media raciones (half-rations - like big tapas) if you're sharing, which cost around 6 euros each. The food is simple and absolutely delicious.

Chocos are fried strips of broad, flat calamari.
Similar to cazón, but a slightly larger type of shark called Marrajo (see below).
The shark (see above).
Langostinos a la plancha (grilled with rock salt).

El Tío de la Tiza
Plaza del Tío de la Tiza

One of my favorite places in Cádiz is one that I've been going to for a before-lunch aperitivo since I was a student in Sevilla, a million years ago, and my program director took me here during Carnival. Taberna la Manzanilla is a traditional, family owned sherry bar that has been open since the turn of the century. The great casks offer a range of different sherries from manzanilla and amontillado to oloroso, and many varieties in between - all with Designation of Origin Jerez-Xérès-Sherry or Manzanilla de Sanlucar de Barrameda. The best thing is to let Pepe, the friendly owner, recommend one for you. Be sure to buy a bottle or two to take back with you to wherever you're going, and also, get a bottle of the incredible and aromatic sherry vinegar that has been aged in amontillado casks. As with other traditional places, your bill is tallied on the bar in chalk.

Not a great photo, but you get the idea.

Taberna La Manzanilla de Cádiz
Feduchy, 19
Tel: 956 285 401

Right across from the stunning cathedral there is a tiny restaurant de toda la vida with a big outdoor terrace that is appropriately called, La Terraza. The menu is extensive and slightly pricier than El Tío de la Tiza, for example, but the food is well-prepared, the fish delicious and the view unbeatable.

Delicious almejas (clams) with garlic, parsley and smoky paprika?
Whole, fried boquerones (sardines).
Chopitos fritos (baby squid).
Piononos de Santa Fé, a typical dessert from Santa Fé, Granada. Very tasty.
Bar Terraza Cádiz
Plaza de la Catedral, 3
Tel: 956 265 391

This was a particularly beautiful glass of tricolor salmorejo in Divino Restaurant and wine bar in the Plaza de la Candelaria made with avocado and beet puree.

DiVino Restaurante
Plaza de la Candelaria

I never go to Cádiz without having lunch at La Marea Restaurant in Playa Victoria (although I think there are other locations). Although it's out of the historic city center (just a long walk, quick taxi or city bus ride away), its location right on this broad, sandy beach is a great place to enjoy the cold cold Cruzcampo beers, incredible rice dishes and other seafood and fish dishes. Get there early on weekends to get a prime seat on the outside terrace.

Arroz el Señorito

Almejas "La Marea" with shrimp.

Pulpo a la Gallega

And finally, although there is much more to eat and do in Cádiz, before you go, make sure to enjoy some of the city's special, thin churros on the outdoor terrace at Cafeteria La Marina in the lovely Plaza de las Flores. I like dipping them in coffee and then a bit of sugar.

So sinful, but delicious!
Plaza de las Flores
Cafeteria La Marina
Plaza Topete, 1 (Plaza de las Flores)
Tel: 956 22 23 97
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