April 24, 2012

Chocolate Cupcakes

I don't have much of a sweet tooth, space in my kitchen or fridge to store things like cookies and muffins, or much of a desire to ingest all that sugar.

That being said, once and a while the baking vein hits me and I take advantage of an invitation to someone else's house to make something sweet - thus guaranteeing that I don't eat the whole thing myself. I particularly love to make cupcakes - mostly because whenever I go to the States I am uncontrollably drawn to buying huge quantities of those super cute cupcake papers (muffin cups?). This time, I decided to go for chocolate cupcakes, given the massive bar of it that had been sitting in my cupboard for months.

Finding a good cupcake recipe is kind of like deciding which chocolate cake recipe to use. When you try to look up something simple, the variations seem endless: flour, flourless, cream, sour cream, cocoa powder, baking chocolate, etc. After spending a morning browsing recipes, I finally decided on this one featured on the joy of baking website, mostly because I thought the entry was thoughtfully written and informative. I admit, I was too lazy to watch the video, but it looks promising.

For once I followed a recipe to the letter and the cupcakes were scrumptious; moist, tender, chocolatey and not too heavy. The only thing I didn't do that I should have, was follow the suggested times for beating the powdered sugar and butter for the icing and so mine came out kind of grainy - nothing that a few well-placed sprinkles couldn't fix (especially for the two 3 year olds in the audience).

April 17, 2012

Calçotada!! Sweet Onion Lovers Rejoice!

Some of the 100 kilos of organic calçots awaiting their fate
As my friends, the waiters where I frequently dine and particularly my poor husband know all too well, I am allergic to onions in all of their marvelous forms: onions, scallions, leeks, shallots, chives and of course, calçots.
I love them all, I really do, but I have a genetic allergy that was charmingly passed to me by my mother before I was born. Needless to say, after many years of not being able to eat onions, she was delighted to get rid of it.
In Spain, land of all things onion, this often translates to a having an allergic reaction all the time. Some waiters are convinced that I just don't LIKE onions and so they often LIE to me. Other times I just want to eat something so badly that I pretend I don't see them and save the suffering for later. This makes said husband insane.
So imagine the willpower that it must have taken for me to attend the last two annual calçotadas hosted by some dear friends and gastronomes. These green scallions from Cataluña are considered the best of the best, and their consumption is based around the kind of event that I like the most: an all-day party centered on food!

My sad string of asparagus ready for roasting with delicious butifarra sausage

Last year I tried to make myself a sorry imitation consisting of grilled asparagus, so as not to feel left out. This year I went crazy and tasted the very tip of a calçot. It was as tender, mild and slightly sweet as I had been led to believe. I can see why these seasonal vegetables cause such a gastronomic frenzy.

Read more about these daring adventures with calçots and calçotadas in "Calçots Sweeten Winter Gastronomy" on the Trans-Iberian blog from El País.

April 11, 2012

Delicious Egyptian Lunch at Samara

Shawarma combination plate. Heart tahine included!

I always turn to local Egyptian restaurant Samara for lunch when my fridge is bare, I can't stand the idea of cooking or I have to get out of the house (working from home syndrome).
Located next to the Glorieta Bilbao, Samara offers a great weekday menu that consists of several different platos combinados for the great price of 8 Euros each (with drink)!
I usually get the delicious charcoal grilled chicken plate, while E always orders the roasted lamb shawarma which is mixed with diced tomatoes, onions and lots of fresh parsley. Both come with Egyptian rice (with tiny brown noodles), salad and tahine, and are wonderful. There is also a kofta plate (minced grilled beef) and a great vegetarian taamella (similar to falafel) option that comes with hummus and Baba ghanoush.

In addition to the combination plates, there are other special dishes that rotate daily.
The most popular by far is the delectable couscous that has people practically lining up outside for a table on Thursdays and Saturdays. I absolutely love the vegetarian version (there is also chicken or lamb), which is piled high with cabbage, roasted pumpkin, carrots and other flavorful root vegetables. The accompanying broth is simply incredible.

The restaurant recently moved to a much larger and brighter corner space. And while the waitstaff can be slow, the owner is charming.

Restaurante Samara
C/ Cardenal Cisnero, 15
Madrid 28010
914 48 80 56

April 4, 2012

Taberna La Dichosa

Photo of Chupa chups by Javi Martínez

I don't know how it's possible that I haven't written a review of Conde Duque's Taberna La Dichosa before now. This friendly neighborhood restaurant and tapas bar has become one of my go-to places in Madrid for delicious food and a great selection of wines in a relaxing atmosphere. The owner, Eva, exudes a sense of no-nonsense pride and passion for good food that is demonstrated in the traditional, yet innovative dishes on her menu, all of which are prepared with an enormous attention to detail and focus on good quality products and ingredients. The Ventresca (tuna loin) salad has house roasted red peppers; the croquetas change frequently and might have anything from wild mushrooms or artichokes to jamón, among other things; the pulpo (octopus) is grilled to perfection and served with a fresh mango puree; the chupa chups (named after the lollypops) are in fact quail drumsticks which have been covered in a perfectly spiced light batter and fried to perfection, and the list goes on and on, with everything homemade and prepared with a clear love for good food. On top of all this, the prices are fantastic.

In choosing a wine, the best thing to do is put yourself in Eva's capable hands for a recommendation. Her wine list represents a truly astonishing variety of Designations of Origins and she delights in stocking bottles from lesser known regions such as Ribeira Sacra and Utiel Requena. This is one of my own personal passions as well and I love the fact that her wine list never ceases to be both interesting (at the very least) and very reasonably priced.

La Dichosa has a simple but pleasant dining area with low stools and benches and a lovely bar area, both of which make it the ideal place to enjoy a glass of wine or a full meal.

I usually end up doing both, and often.

Taberna La Dichosa
calle Bernardo López García, 11
91 541 88 16
e-mail: eva@ladichosa.es

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