Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Málaga and Sevilla

Shame on me. I've been very bad and neglectful of my restaurant reviews. I went to Sevilla and Málaga this summer. Yup, about a half a year ago, and took many pictures (of food, of course), and I went to Berlin in August and still haven't posted any of those, oh right, and there's some other city where I seem to eat a lot in...Barcelona. And of course there was Rome this month…So now, I'm going to attempt to get back on track, and this will include being up to date with my recipes too, as I've just had a Thanksgiving dinner at mine and don’t want to be posting about it in February. I’ll start with a quick montage of Sevilla and Málaga, and do other trips, and when I get to Barcelona the reviews will be more detailed.

Ahhh Southern Spain. I don’t think there’s anything I can say about it that hasn’t been said. It’s warm, loud, and fried. I lived in Málaga for a semester a few years ago, and I told my señora that I was a vegetarian (at first, then I succumbed) because I was afraid of Spanish meat. Afraid of things being served with the heads, feet, and tails still on. Afraid of ham legs hanging from ceilings of every restaurant and bar. Afraid of eating an entire fish (be it a tiny fish), bones and eyes and all. I’ve given in to the ham legs now and I do have to say I am a fan of jamón Serrano. It’s too bad I avoided Spanish food at all costs those few months in Málaga because they have some good stuff, and on my trip there this summer, I went to a wonderful restaurant I had never even noticed before.

We passed it walking down the street on the way to our hotel and Dan immediately stopped and took a look in at La Campana. After dropping our things off, we returned immediately. This place was more of a bar, standing room and a few bar stools around about 3 tables only, and it was all seafood and fish on the menu, except for the eggplant. The menu was just a list posted on the wall, something along the lines of: shrimp, whitefish, dogfish, etc. So we got some fish, some eggplant (good to have a veg in there) and these fritters called tortitas de camarones. I didn’t expect everything to come fried, including the eggplant. Silly me. But lucky me. They were eggplant French fries and they were delicious. Everything was good…even the tortitas which were made with popcorn shrimp—they were tiny, and, as Spain does, they were whole. They throw them into the fritter batter with legs, eyes, antennas and all. So it took me a few bites before I inspected closer and saw antennas sticking out, and little pairs of black eyes. I know, it sounds gross, but if you don’t look at it, they go down quiet nicely. The eggplant fries were so good, we went back the next day for a plate of them before going to my señora’s house for lunch.

For dinner that night, I took Dan to one of my old haunts, Lechuga in the Plaza Merced. Lechuga is not typical Málaga food, which is a nice break from the grease. We split a salad that was full of endive, cheese, yogurty-stuff, dates, and some sweet-red berry sauce. I remembered the salads from this place: they’re huge and have a nice range of ingredients on the already impressive salad menu. Most Spanish salads include mayonnaise and/or potatoes in some form, and when I think salad, I think greens, and so does Lechuga. Now if you go to Málaga, you might not want to go somewhere for a baked potato, but if you’re there for an extended time and missing them, you must go for patatas asadas at Las Papas stand by the Picasso museum. It comes with a variety of toppings, most of them atypical, but some ofthem good. I go for butter, cheese and corn.

Now the last touch in Málaga: the hot chocolate at Café del Viajero. This is actually not Spanish chocolate, which is thicker than American. This is the same consistency as regular ole American stuff, but they have all different infusions with the hot chocolate, like mint, orange, licorice, cinnamon, rum, and the list goes on. And it’s a whole pot of it, not just a cup-full. Love this place. I can never decide between cinnamon or mint or orange, so in two days in the middle of summer in southern Spain, I made two trips for hot chocolate.

In Sevilla, I was introduced to a couple new things. I had been before, but as part of school group trips, or with family, so choices were sometimes limited or already decided. The first thing: they serve short, stubby, crunchy breadsticks with everything. Dan and his brother affectionately refer to them as ‘dog biscuits.’ Second thing: there’s something similar to, but better than gazpacho and it’s called salmorejo. I don’t love gazpacho, I guess I’m getting used to it, but isn’t it just pureed tomatoes served cold? Well, salmorejo is cold too, but I guess this kinda stuff is necessary in Sevilla summers (none of the buildings there are taller than two or three stories, and with the sun burning down all day, it’s a great sight to see people walking down the streets in single file, hugging the sides of the building for any sort of shade). But salmorejo is thicker than gazpacho, made also with bread, so I find it more of a soup than just pulverized tomatoes, and it always comes served with jamón, because don’t forget, we’re in Spain. I also had my first ajo blanco (garlic and almond soup, also served cold), with a few grapes dropped on and it was quite tasty. This was at a place called Bar Europa which was more than your average bar, and frankly it reminded me of a place you could find in San Sebastian. It was still tapas style because the portions were small, but it wasn’t a plate of a mayonnaise-drenched salad or deep-fried something. It was like fancy tapas. We started talking to the bartender and apparently the owner was from Barcelona, and they were really friendly there. That’s another thing that’s different between north and south: I’m still waiting to strike up a conversation with a friendly bartender, waiter, shopkeeper here. I’d say at Bar Europa it was some of the best eating in Sevilla for a reasonable price. After the soups, we got more. A little snack turned into a big snack, and we had some meat and some fish. Everything was presented with fitting complements, like the grapes, or walnuts and sauce, and rather fashionably served(admittedly, I don’t think ‘fashion’ when I think of Sevilla, and I was later proved correct after seeing some of the clothing choices of the locals). We had in addition to salmorejo and ajo blanco: Quesadilla “los Balanchares” gratinada sobre manzana Granny Smith (Grilled Balanchares cheese served over Granny Smith Apple slices), Lomo de novillo Argentino con patel de patata y hongos (Argentinian beef with a potato and mushroom pastry), Cabeza de lomo mechada (fatty pork loin), and Lomo de Lubina sobre pure de batata (grilled sea bass served on sweet potato puree).

Unfortunately, I didn’t take my camera out to all the meals in Sevilla, which is a shame because we went to one place that was quasi-Mexican (I’ll let them say that, but unless you’re in Texas or Mexico, you don’t get very close to good, true, Mexican food). We had something there that was a Roquefort cake, and it was like a layered cake with Roquefort and some sort of sauce and was strangely sweet and savory at the same time. I do have a picture of one place we just stopped in quickly because they had these “tablas de queso” or plates of melted cheese on bread and you could get different toppings, so I had to go for the pesto. Cheese, pesto and bread, no question. I wouldn’t have expected this from Sevilla in a regular bar, but Andalucía was surprising in that manner. I could get my good ole deep fried everything, along with some cold soups and a cold drink (tinto de verano, or red wine with Fanta limon was my choice), alongside more refined and upscale food, or something that was just a bit out of the ordinary.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Vanilla Bean and Crème de Violette Cheesecake

I realize, cheesecake is nothing new to me, and you've seen a few pictures of my variations, but I'm going to have to come out and say it, you're about to see a lot more with this one. It's just sooo good looking, I can't help it. I took pictures from every angle, in all lighting, just to figure out which would come out best, and honestly I love them all. I'm like a proud parent of my little 9 inch, Vanilla Bean and Crème de Violette Cheesecake.
That top layer of Crème de Violette gave a brilliant, light blue color, and reminded me of Easter pastels or baby booties. And my favorite thing about using vanilla beans is seeing the little tiny seeds, a sign of authenticity. Not to say I don't swoon at the smell of a good vanilla extract. The combination of a thin layer of shiny blue and bean-specked cheese, against a buttery golden crust was a sight.
Enough about how it looks. How does it taste? I'm not gonna lie, it was good. Real good. So good Dan thinks it might've knocked my first, classic, reigning winner, plain Cheesecake out of the top position. So that's to say that the Vanilla Bean Cheesecake is up there. I think another key to getting a perfectly smooth textured cheesecake is taking it out about 5-10 minutes underdone. It will harden a bit in the fridge, but be just on the verge of melting if you take it out at the right time.
I only had one vanilla bean available (I've since taken care of that and ordered a whole pound, thanks to Traveler's Lunchbox), so I would've liked to see more seeds, but with a vanilla bean and extract the flavor was right on. I knew I wanted to do a vanilla cheesecake, and the top layer's always something fun you can play around with, and this time, I decided on crème de violette. So I strongly suggest you try a vanilla bean cheesecake, and think about some fun flavors you could add as the top layer, like rose essence.

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake

125 g butter
200 g maria cookies

600 g cream cheese
75 g butter
1 vanilla bean
2-3 Tbsp vanilla extract
150 g sugar
4 eggs

crème de violette layer
250 g quark
Lots of creme de violette (2-3 Tbsp)
Powdered sugar

First preheat your oven to 170 C, then crush up the maria cookies and melt the butter and mix well together. Then press into the bottom and sides of a springform pan and put in the oven for about 10 minutes until the cookies turn a little darker.
Now make sure your cream cheese is room temperature (it's easy just to leave it out for a few hours before cooking). Take the butter and melt in a pan over low heat. While it's melting, split the vanilla bean in half, scrape out the seeds into the butter and throw in the bean and continue to cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. Now stir the cream cheese around in a bowl until fluffy-ish, and pour in the butter, taking out the vanilla bean, and mix together. Add the sugar and stir well, then add vanilla extract to taste. Finally, stir in the eggs until everything is well mixed and you have a wonderful vanilla flavor and pour into the springform pan. At 180C, cook for 30-35 minutes, until the edges are set but it's still pretty wobbly in the middle.
Finally, you mix the top layer. Now I normally use crème fraiche or sour cream, but lacking that I went for quark (I'm not really sure what it is…a fresh cheese or something, consistency of yogurt) and it turned out great--I would use it again. So I mixed the quark with lots of Crème de Violette and powdered sugar until it was sweet and had an amazing baby blue color (as noted before). Then cook for 10-15 minutes (I can't even remember how long I did for, just keep an eye on it till it's bubbling and the edges are darkening). The only difference I noticed with the quark was that it came out a little firmer than the rest of the cheesecake, which is fine because the rest was silky and smooth...

Friday, November 9, 2007

Ay ay ay. Enchiladas

Grrr…technical difficulties. If it's not with blogger (which I've learned to let the little things go) then it's my whole computer. Actually my computer's running fine, but the cord is out of order temporarily, so it's taken longer than normal to get the use of a comptuer long enough for my next post. But here I am and I can tell you about enchildadas now.

As much as I love Tex-Mex, I'm not the biggest fan of the typical enchilada you see at lots of restaurants. You know the kind, filled with yellow cheese and covered with a thick red sauce, like ranchero or something. I much prefer enchiladas suizas, which are made with a green sauce and sour cream.

Upon one of my outtings to a latin foods store in Barcelona, I discovered some tomatillo sauce in a can, which consisted only of tomatillo…great, because you can't find the real ones here, but this was almost as good, with nothing else added, just pure, mushed up tomatillos. Perfect for that cover recipe on Bon Appetit from June.

I changed just a few things: first of all, I don’t want my enchiladas stacked. They're enchiladas, not lasagna, they should be rolled. Second, I like plain ole cheese enchiladas, so I took out the chicken. Oh, and there are no poblano chiles here, unfortunately, so we did without. And finally, to the filling, I added some mushrooms. I think they turned out really well, but I could've done with a little extra spice or flavor, maybe that's what the poblanos were for. I would play around with it next time and see what I could come up with.

Cheese and Mushroom Enchiladas with Salsa Verde
adapted from
Bon Appetit

salsa verde
3 pounds tomatillos (or about 3 15 oz. cans)
2 jalapeños, chopped
5 small garlic cloves, peeled
1 ½ tsp ground cumin
1 ½ bunches fresh cilantro
¾ cup Italian parsley
vegetable oil

Mix tomatillos and jalapeños in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Now in a food processor, or with a hand-held blender, mix with garlic and cumin. Now add cilantro and parsley and blend a bit more. Heat a bit of oil in a skillet over medium and simmer the salsa until thickened and reduced, about 10 minutes. Finally, add the salt.

vegetable oil
12 corn tortillas
¾ cup sour cream
6 oz cheese (Mexican is best, like Chihuahua, but I used Emmenthal)
15-20 button mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
fresh cilantro for garnishing

Heat up oil in a saucepan over medium heat and add garlic to pan. Once it’s softened after a few minutes, add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until soft but not mushy. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Preheat oven to 375°F. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tortilla to skillet; cook until slightly softened, about 15 seconds per side, turning with tongs. Transfer tortilla to paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining tortillas, adding oil to skillet as needed. Now you’re reading to assemble the enchiladas. Get a large casserole dish, and one by one, take a tortilla and fill it with a bit of cheese and some mushrooms, then roll the edges over and place edges-down in the dish. Remember to save some cheese to put on the enchiladas. When you've finished with all the tortillas, pour the salsa verde on, then sprinkle the cheese, and finally, pour the sour cream all over the top(the measurement is just a guide, put however much you see fit, in my case it was lots). Bake until the salsa is bubbling and it's browned on the top, maybe 35 minutes but could be sooner. Now throw on some cilantro and eat 'em, not that they come out of the dish perfectly, mine kinda didn't hold their rolled shape, but they still tasted just as good.