Monthly Archives: March 2015

Eating and exploring in Spain

Every time I have a chance to visit Spain it reminds me of a  cuisine  that is not often experienced in the US, especially in the northwest. I had the opportunity to travel with a few girl friends arriving in Barcelona on a clear cool afternoon. We checked into “Grand Hotel Central” , Via Laientana 30. This is a very nice boutique hotel with a beautiful roof top deck and pool for those hot summer days. The location is great since the cathedral and old city is just across the street. We headed across the old city working our way through the maze of streets to the Boqueria. It is always the first place to start your visit by sitting at the counter at El Quim tapas bar for a snack of shrimp, razor clams and a big plate of peppers fried and dress with course salt.

After a nap we headed out for dinner, since our reservations were for 9pm we had time to stop at V.O. on Ferran 38 for a plate of beautiful fresh oysters and a glass of local white wine. With new energy we were ready for dinner at “Bohemic, located at Manso, 42 . Bohemic was written up in the NY Times last year as a hidden jewel. This is a true old family run small restaurant with the mother checking to make sure each dish was perfect. We shared several dishes my favorite was a risotto made with a pasta instead of rice with a couple of shrimp on top. It was perfect! Bohemic is a bit out of the way but worth the walk.

Up early for our visit to Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s cathedral that has been under construction since 1884. Be sure to order tickets in advance because the lines can be very long, especially in the summer months. Allow an hour plus and it is good to get one of the recorders so you understand the points of interest. When we left the cathedral we decided to walk back along de Garcia. This is one of the best shopping streets in Barcelona. We walked a couple of hours shopping along the way. We stopped at a fun place called Txapela were we took a seat in the outdoor area so we could watch all the people while we shared plate after plate of tapas. Start with the tomato toast, plate of white anchovies,  local Iberico ham and crisp croquets. This is not innovative food, just traditional tapas made modern. If you have time stop at the Oriental Hotel for their tea in their Bistreau restaurant, it is just down de Garcia as you head back to your hotel.

Dinner at Roca Moo in the Hotel Omm was a great event. We went around 8:30, early for Spain, but since we wanted to sit in the bar and listen to the late night music it was perfect. Order with care since the servings were very rich and the flavors complex. Their Iberico ham was sliced with perfection and their version of onion soup was like rich velvet stock infused with the onion and diced crisp iberico ham. We shared the mediterranean flounder and saved room for desert. After dinner we sat in the bar and listened to great music from a singer until 1:30 am.

We woke up early and ventured out to explore the unique shops in the old city. Two good finds, one was Kokua a local shoe company that has leather shoes with rubber soles. The shoes come in 100 different colors and are offered at several of their own stores. They also had beautiful leather bags that are offered at a good price if you are buying shoes. Then a stop at La Basilica Gallery found at C/Sant Sever 7, http://www.labasilicagaleria.com, this is a store offering fun jewelry made by local artists.

Back to the Boqueria to claim a seat at the counter of Barcentral la Boqueria. This tapas bar is located towards the back of the market and worth the wait. We shared grilled shrimp, more thin razor clams, grilled vegetables and nice local white wine. Back to the hotel for a massage and a rest before we walked down the narrow street close to the hotel for late dinner at Taller de Tapas. Taller is on L’Argenteria, 51. and easy place to hang out,  summer in the court yard or on cool evenings inside. This tapas bar offers all the basic dishes to share plus good meat and fish dishes for a bigger fare.

Barcelona offers so many amazing works by Gaudi but we did not have time to visit them all so we chose to tour Casa Batilo, a house with a slanted roof of green tiles and hand carved wood rails along the stairs as you climb up the narrow house from floor to floor. Then off to Park Guell while the sun was shining.  As you wind your way up the paths through the park you will see so many of the sculptures that Gaudi created like lizards with colorful mosaic that cover the bench that is like a wave that surrounds the open square. From this square you can look down on the entire city.

If it is a nice day you can walk back to the hotel since it is all down hill. We walked back over to Garcia street and along the street are so many sidewalk cafes with outdoor seating. We chose QuQu at –passeig de Gracia 24– great choice of little plates. One of the group went to the water front and ate seafood at Cal Pinxo, the area is Palau de Mar. The afternoon was spent at the Picasso museum, be sure to get tickets on line since the line went around the corner. I have been to several of the Picasso museums but tis exhibition shows the young Picasso and his real talent even at age 15, worth the stop.

It was our last night and dinner was a real surprise at a small restaurant called Montiel, Flassaders 19,  behind the Picasso museum. Just a few blocks from the hotel and only  about 30 seats. They offer 2 pre set menus, we chose the gastronomic which was 7 courses each one better than the last. My favorite was a simple soup called green caviar,  clear broth and fresh petite peas dropped in the hot broth and 2 very tiny octopus dropped in at the last minute, AMAZING. We also shared a very interesting Spanish wine called Dido, a Montsant.

Monday we took the new speed train to Spain. We bought the tickets on line and it was a quick 2 hours 45 minutes in pure luxury.

Arriving in Madrid we checked into NH Collection in the old district on San Sebastian 2, off Santa Anna Square. After checking in we walked down to Mercado de San Miguel just off Calle Mayor. This great market offers plenty of high stools to sit and enjoy small plates of ham, cheese and fresh oysters. There are several wine and beer bars to pick your favorite beverage. Since the sun was shining we headed out to the large park outside the Palace and had a cava at Cafe de Oriente next to the opera. This is a fun restaurant for lunch or dinner and the square is always beautiful. Around the corner from the square is a fun kitchen store owned by a friend of ours called Alambique. The store offers cooking classes and fun tools used in Spanish cooking.

Dinner was at “La Paella de la Reina,” Calle Riena 39. This is a very good place to experience rice dishes, paella with different ingredients, and Fideua, a paella type dish made with a short noodle instead of the traditional Bomba rice. The noodle is like a short spaghetti noodle,  but should be hollow in the middle.  Since the group wanted to go to Flameco we headed back to the hotel and about one block away to Casa Patas, Canizares 10, They do a good Flameco starting at 10 pm. in a small area so you are close to the dancers.

One of my favorite places for lunch is at “Palacio de Cibeles”. This roof top restaurant is taken care of in the hands of Javier Munoz, the son of Adolfo, and his amazing staff. The famous Iberico ham is served here with the greatest of care. The wild dear, venison in the US, was perfect in flavor and texture. Give yourself time to dine and have a drink on the deck for the amazing view.
After a 4 hour lunch we really didi not need much for dinner so just a glass of wine at 9pm and a few olives took care of us.
We woke up to rain so a perfect day for the museum Thyssen. We did hire a guide so we would have the chance to see the best of this huge museum, one of the largest private collection in the country. Quick lunch at Estrado Puro, an upscale tapas restaurant across from the Prado in the NH Hotel. Expect some new twists on the old favorites, croquets served in a paper cone, octopus served with potato foam in a small plate was good to share.
We had dinner at a friends house, since they did not start until 9:30 and we did not get back to the hotel until after 1am we had a slow start the next morning. We met our guide at 10:30 the next morning for our tour of the Prado. Our guide was Manuela Carrasco–info@sertur.es or her phone number +34630858094, Manuela was a great guide and walked us through the collections and did not miss anything and had all the answers to our many questions.
Since we never wanted to miss a chance to eat we headed to a late lunch in the Plaza de Oriente. We started at a new fish restaurant on the corner called LA Lonja. This beautiful new restaurant has a raw bar on the ground floor and one of the most beautiful dining room on the second floor with an open kitchen. The chef at the helm is Jose Luis Mora—- http://www.lalonjadelmar.com. Try the scallop and artichoke at the raw bar then have the manager Sara escort you upstairs.
As I said we did not miss a chance to eat and since our trip was drawing to an end we went to A&G, Ayala 27 or phone for reservations 917026262. This is a change from most of the Spanish meals we had been sharing. Tonight we were dining on Peruvian cuisine with a Spanish twist. We loved the duck with rice and radish, also shared the prawns with the best ever red and black Quinoa. There was a menu with small plates and the other side with full plates. Our server gave us good suggestions to share and even the small plates are large enough portions.

The last day we took the train to Toledo to tour the town and the cathedral before our 1:30 lunch at the famous restaurant Adolfo.    The train is $18 and takes 30 minutes, then you can either walk up to the village or take a taxi.
Adolfo’s daughter Veronica is now at the front desk and welcomes each guest and checks in with them as the enjoy the amazing food that the team creates. Allow at least 2 hours to enjoy all the perfect dishes. We started with tartar from sea bass and petite peas, artichokes and shrimp with a banana chutney, duck liver with spices and a little toast, we ended with wild duck that was perfect. If possible make time to go to Toledo for the wonderful experience, Adolfo has a small bed and breakfast if you want to go for dinner and spend the night. We took the 5:20 train back to the city and just drank tea and stayed in the hotel that evening. Time to leave the next morning, so it was the perfect end to a great food and wine adventure.

 

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Sweet biscuits

Last night for a family dinner I prepared  a crisp biscuit from an old Bon Appetit magazine and the whole group loved them. They have a sweet taste compared to a baking powder biscuit. They could even serve as a biscuit for Strawberry shortcake.

Serve them hot is the thing that really matters!

This recipe makes about 24 small biscuits.

Preheat the oven to 350

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar

2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter  cut into small pieces, ( sometimes I cut into pieces ahead of time and put back in the refrigerator until I am ready to assemble)

3/4 cup chilled buttermilk

6 Tbsp melted butter for brushing the tops of biscuits

 

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Add chilled butter and toss to coat Work butter into flour mixture with your fingers until it resembles coarse meal.

Using a fork gently mix in buttermilk and knead just until dough comes together  ( do not overmix)

If the butter softens while working you can place in the refrigerator to chill dough until firm ( 15 to 20 minutes. You can also use this method if you want to make ahead and then bake when needed.

Make each biscuit about 1″ by gently rolling into balls and place on a lined baking sheet, space a couple of inches apart, you should have about 24.

Bake until golden brown 25-30 minutes. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with a little salt. (If you are going to use for a desert I omit the extra sprinkle of salt)

SERVE WARM

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