Monday, 28 October 2013

Barcelona – The Secret Tapas Session

Before I launch into Granada I pin in a blog that technically belong to our Barcelona Adventures. I do this because this was a very special dinner and definitely has a place amongst our memories from Spain.

We were invited by our Spanish friends to a tapas dinner however even after my constant questions and nagging we still weren’t told what dishes we are going to sample, hence the name ‘secret’. We were therefore extremely curious and very excited when we turned up on Juan Carlos and Meritxell’s doorstep with two bottles of wine (we knew one won’t be enough.)

Maybe you remember that I have mentioned that Juan Carlos is a master chef in disguise (read about the infamous paella making here). He didn’t just flipped up a book of recipes and made something from that, oh, no. He studied us both during our time together, our likes and dislikes, personalities and quirks and based the menu on his findings. All the dishes of course were spot on, not to mention the presentation! He came up with a range of dishes that we sampled one after another. It actually took us four hours to get through all of them making it the longest but also most unique dinner of our lifetime and the great company made it even better.

As each and every dish had a little history behind it I asked Juan Carlos to help me with the explanations. Here is the list of the tapas we ate.

Cena con Edit & Paul. Barcelona, Regás, 28 Junio 2013
Menú 7+3

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Pica Pica de bienvenida: Aceitunas con mojo canario, altramuces, fuet
(Welcome nibbles)

Pica Pica: I usually like to serve a little “picoteo de bienvenida” because I don’t want the guests to quell their hunger with unimportant things. This is a moment in which having a drink is important to prepare you for “the real” dinner. It’s a moment of preparation for the guests, and a very stressing moment for the cook!
I wanted you to try something very typical from the Canary Islands. The “Mojo” is a typical Canary sauce made with paprika, garlic, cumin and a type of chilli. I also wanted you to try something that you had never tried before, the “altramuces” (those orange small blobs that look like giant corn pieces and you had to peel). And of course, a very typical Catalan cold meat called the “fuet”.


Tapas 7+3
In my opinion, the longer a Tapas session is the more you enjoy it, provided the meal and the company is worthy, obviously!! Nevertheless, I think that 7 tapas with 3 deserts is a good amount of food for a dinner, don’t you?

1: Chupito de Vichyssoise con fondo de pesto de pistachos y polvo de pistachos servido en copa de Martini
Nothing better for open a meal in summer than a cold Vichyssoise! It’s a very refreshing plate, and its combination with the freshness of the basil pesto is perfect. I wanted to do a different pesto and as an ingredient, the pistachio instead of the pine nuts was a new idea. I also like the intensive green color of the pistachios on the surface of the vichyssoise!!

2: Barquillos de mango y anchoas
It’s also a very fresh dish. I really like the great contrast between the salty of the anchovy and the sweet and aromatic flavour of the mango. The presentation of this plate is also very funny and colorful. 

3: Palitos de queso brie con mermelada casera de ciruelas y de fresa
This one is the first hot dish of the meal. Freshly fried brie cheese, previously breaded with eggs and breadcrumbs… Mmm, delicious!! The marmalades were handmade by a friend that brought them from Las Palmas.  

“3 bis”: Tiras de berenjenas fritas con miel de caña
I wasn’t sure about making this tapa because Edit told me that she doesn’t like aubergine but then I took it up as a challenge: could it be possible to do a plate with aubergine that Edit tastes and likes? Yessss, it is!!! Edit tasted it, liked it and… she didn’t know, obviously, that it was aubergine. This is a recipe that I took from a restaurant in Las Palmas whose name is “Allende”. They are very thin fried aubergine slices with some salt flakes and molasses.

4: Pimientos del Piquillo rellenos de brandada de bacalao con salsa de pimentón y miel
This was a “strategic” tapa. First of all, it was the number 4, just in the middle of the dinner. Secondly, it was a transition from the sweat to the salty taste. From now we would start the “serious” dinner, I mean, fish, shellfish, meat… This plate, therefore, combine the saltiness of the cod with the sweetness of the sauce (the ingredients of the sauce are: olive oil, red pepper, paprika and honey). It’s a perfect option to serve before some shellfish.
The “brandada” is kind of cod cream (it’s simply cod with olive oil and cream). I think it’s typical in the Basque country.

5: Chirlas a la marinera
This is a very simple dish; you put the baby clam in a pot with garlic, parsley, and when they begin to open you add a little drizzle of sherry.
But for making of this dish you have to have a little ‘music’. Let me explain myself. If there is only one baby clam with sand left inside it, it could ruin the whole plate because when the sand comes out and it’s an awful experience to chew on it. Therefore we have to make sure that there’s no sand left inside them. The way to detect “potential sandy baby clams” is to throw them one by one over the sink, and depending of the sound it makes, you select it (when sound is a light/soft), or you eliminate it (when it produces a heavy/compact sound). However, I don’t know anybody else who does this same ritual, je je.

6: Gambas confitadas al ajillo
This is a very typical Spanish tapa: prawns, garlic, a little bit of chilli and olive oil. To make it a bit different I introduced a variation in the cooking technique: instead of frying the prawns I cooked them in a clay pot with a candle. Yes, you’ve read well. With a candle you can cook below 60-70º Celsius, and it makes it possible that the olive oil doesn’t boil. So the prawns cooked very slowly (it takes about 1 ½ hours), and all the juices of the prawns come out changing the olive oil into an intense orange-red color.

0: Mini chupito de Gin Tonic (para preparar el cuerpo para el plato de cierre!!!)
At this moment of the dinner, after two hours of eating, it was very important to have a break in order to prepare the body to the last plate. Nothing better for that than a tinny shoot of gin and tonic. It gives you a powerful boost to continue with the next and last dish: The meat!

7: Secreto ibérico con patatas paja y salsa de piña
It already sounds incredible, but when you bring this plate (Iberian pork meat, sliced in juicy portions over a wood) the guests usually get all excited, as if they were Cro-Magnon people that had been days without eating!!  This is a real pleasure for the cook to see this, because it means that the dinner mustn’t have been that bad.
The pineapple sauce gives an exotic touch to the dish. It’s kind of mayonnaise, but instead of egg you put the fruit in it. Actually the texture wasn’t very good but I think the taste was acceptable.

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Los 3 Postres:
Well, when you arrive at this moment of the dinner and tell the guests that there are 3 options of dessert and they choose all the three you feel like you were floating in the sky!!!

1: Higos con nata montada y toque de canela y menta
As a first dessert I wanted to offer something from the season, simple and unsophisticated. A nice fig with some cream and a little fresh mint with a touch of cinnamon could be a good option to tell your body that the dinner was just about to end.

2: Tempura de manzana con toque de miel, sal en escamas, canela y ralladura de lima
Fried stuff is always welcome especially when they are freshly fried. The apple tempura is delicious, and its combination with a lime touch is perfect. I served this dessert over a small slate plate, and the contrast between the small salt flakes over the darkness of the plate looked like it was a starry night sky. I have to admit that by that time I was a little drunk, je je.

3: Frambuesa escondida bajo helado de vainilla con nueces
The closure of the dinner was dedicated to Edit’s niece, whose name is Frambuesa.  A raspberry is a dessert itself, and I suppose Edit’s niece has to be a good one. I only had to put some vanilla ice cream and some powdered nuts over raspberries hidden at the bottom of the bowl.

And that’s it!! Everything was done with lots of love, but always insufficient for the high of the guests. Our friends Edit and Paul are two excellent diners, conversationalists and their permanent smile makes everything easy.

Special thanks for the hospitality of our friends.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Madrid from above

As Madrid is quite flat it's worth seeking out high places to see the city from above. There are many towers and roof terraces that are perfect for this so you are spoilt for choice. 

One evening we went to walk around the city during the night. This is when I first saw the Palacio Cibeles. We only saw it from the outside but I vowed to myself that the next day I will somehow get in to see the building from the inside, too. 

The next morning I went inside with the excuse of some free exhibition. 

After I took some photos of the gorgeous ceiling I noticed that the Palace actually has a mirador, a viewpoint! I quickly bought my 2 euro ticket and shot up to the 7th floor of the building. I had a half an hour slot to look around. This is what I saw.

I wanted to show the city from above to Paul as well, but the last entry to the Palacio was at 7 and it was too early for us to get there. I had another look on the internet and I found another place very close to the Palacio, the Museo de Belle Arte, or the Museum of Fine Arts. Here there's a rooftop bar where you can lie on one of the many comfy beds or seats with your cocktail and enjoy the sweeping view over the city. 

We stayed there long enough to admire the beautiful sunset.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Castilla - La Mancha - Toledo II.

During the rein of King Alfonzo IV the city allowed the coexistence of all three religions: Arab, Jewish and Christian. There are examples of all of them through the city.

The Cathedral of Toledo. We only had a few hours in the city so we didn’t go inside.

Cristo de la Luz Mosque
The Mosque of the Christ of the Light is a very old and curious building. It was built in 980 by a Moorish architect then later in the 12th century it was remodelled to become a Christian church. 

It’s fascinating to see both religions represented inside the building.

The view from its walls also worth the entry fee.

The Puerta del Sol is a gate of Muslim origin. It got its name from its central decoration.

Did you know that the book that sold the most copies ever in Spain is a book by Cervantes? His main character, Don Quijote de la Mancha, comes from this region, as his name states (together with the famous Manchego cheese). We found his statue on the street.

It was too soon that we said good bye to Toledo. I would definitely recommend visiting it for a whole day, a few hours are just not enough to see half of what it has to offer. 

I’m ending my blog with a few street photos.