However, if there's one movie to watch to get you out of a food rut, that would be Julie and Julia. This movie is the new darling of the food world; I saw the Food Network promoting a related event and contest a few days ago. It has also sparked interest in French cuisine; Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" shot to #1 on Amazon's bestseller list soon after the movie's release. It has also created some rather terribly pun-y critics' reviews, which mention the film "leaving audiences hungry for more" or Nora Ephron concocting "the perfect recipe" for a great movie.
Cliched reviews or not, I knew I had to see it as soon as I heard about it... I mean, it is about cooking and blogging. Or, as it turns out, much more than that. Ephron tactfully translates the passion that many foodies have for cooking and eating onto the big screen. And just as seeing a Broadway show makes me want to dance, seeing all the incredible looking food blown up on a giant movie screen made me want to cook.
And cook I did. I'm not really a fan of French food. Maybe it's just my limited experience with it, but it all seems too fussy and too buttery. But the movie made me want to cook something rich and wine-y. This speedy dish has flavours reminiscent of Julia Child's famed Boeuf Bourguignon. It was also inspired by my favourite scene from the movie, which I will only here describe as "the onion scene."
This was rather satisfying to make; the onion slicing and wine deglazing made me feel "just like Julia." Now, I'm just waiting for that book contract.
Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Wild Mushroom Ragout
1 large russett potato
2 cloves roasted garlic, minced (see Note)
1/4 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups assorted wild mushrooms (I used portobello and shiitake)
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons butter, cold
Peel the potato and cut into large 1 inch chunks. Drop into salted boiling water and cook until tender (about 10 minutes). In a small saucepan, heat milk and butter until hot. Mash the potato with the roasted garlic and add milk mixture until desired consistency is reached. Season with salt and pepper.
In a medium saute pan, slowly caramelize the onion in olive oil until browned and sticky (about 20-30 minutes). Stir in the brown sugar until melted and remove from the pan. Wipe out the pan and in another good splash of oil, brown the mushrooms. As Julia said, don't crowd the pan or the mushrooms won't brown. Once the mushrooms have given up about half their liquid, add the garlic and thyme. About a minute later, return the onions to the pan. Deglaze with red wine and reduce until little wine remains. Stir in the butter to finish the sauce.
Serve the mushroom ragout over the mashed potatoes. Bon appetit.
Note: To roast garlic, slice the top off of a head of garlic. Drizzle olive oil over the exposed cloves. Wrap in foil and roast in a 400F oven for abour 30 minutes, or until browned and meltingly soft.
Recipe and image property of beets and bites
I used cucumber, mango, and grape tomatoes here. Other tasty things to throw in:
-cooked, shredded chicken
-toasted sesame seeds
-fried noodle/wonton strips
I like to use fresh ramen noodles, but they're a little hard to find. You can substitute capellini (angel hair pasta) or whole-wheat spaghetti (as in the recipe) instead. It'll be just as delicious, promise.
Asian Peanut Noodle Salad
- Coarse salt
- 12 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti
- 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
- 3 tablespoons dark-brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
- In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook spaghetti 3 minutes less than al dente. Drain pasta.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together peanut butter, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, oil, garlic, and red-pepper flakes. Add hot pasta and vegetables; toss to coat, thinning sauce with a little pasta water, if necessary. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Image property of beets and bites
I don't think this sandwich requires a recipe... rather "Instructions for Construction":
Best Beef Sandwich:
1. Caramelize onions (see below for recipe), place to the side and wipe out pan.
2. Saute 6 large mushrooms, sliced into 1/4" slices, in a good swish of olive oil. Don't crowd the pan or the mushrooms will boil rather than brown. Add a clove of minced garlic when the mushrooms are half done. Cook until most of the water has evaporated and mushrooms are soft and browned. Place to the side.
3. Prepare the bread: I used a baguette. Split it in thirds and the halve each roll to open it up. Brush the inside with some olive oil (garlic and herb oil is really nice...see below for recipe). Toast in 375F oven until lightly browned.
4. In a lightly oiled pan, cook the beef (thinly sliced; you can buy it or slice it off a partially frozen steak if you like) until nearly all the pink is gone. Season with salt and pepper and a splash or worcestershire sauce.
5. Spread a few teaspoons of dijon mustard on your toasted bread. Layer a few slices of beef, the mushrooms, and then the onions. Serve with a side salad. Squish down and enjoy (sans fork and knife, of course).
Caramelized Balsamic Onions:
1 large onion
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Halve the onion and thinly slice (~1/8") into half-rings. In a medium saute pan, melt a tablespoon of butter and a good splash of olive oil. Cook onions over medium-low heat or until very soft, translucent, and starting to brown (at least 15 minutes). Season with salt and pepper, add dark brown sugar and stir until sugar is melted and onions are coated. Add balsamic vinegar and stir. Cook one minute more until onions are beautifully, stickily glazed.
Garlic and Herb Oil:
So great for sandwiches and quick croutons.
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 sprig rosemary, bruised with the back of a knife
A few stems of thyme
1/3 cup olive oil
Combine everything in a small saucepan. Heat slowly over low heat until small bubbles start forming. Turn off the heat and allow to infuse for an hour or two. Store excess in a jar in the fridge (keep garlic and herbs in the oil) for up to three weeks.
Recipe and images property of beets and bites
The base is a devil's food cake. This is an old family recipe that makes a very dark, moist chocolate cake very quickly. You can see that the directions pretty much read like they do off a box of cake mix. The terribly difficult part is measuring everything into one big bowl. If you've got measuring equipment, there's no reason to make cake out of a box when this is SO easy.
Chocolate ganache should be simple. It has two ingredients: chocolate and cream. This magical mixture can be made into truffle centers, poured as a glaze, whipped into mousse, or piped as frosting. It all depends on the ratio of cream to chocolate. I was faced with a challenge though when I chopped up a half pound of good 70% dark chocolate and made it into ganache, only to find out that there really is such a thing as "too dark." The ganache was not sweet at all, and almost offensively bitter. I looked online to determine how to sweeten ganache that's been made and cooled, but no luck.
I believe that food can sense your fear, so if you take charge, things tend to turn out better. Still, chocolate can be quite temperamental: add a drop of water to melted chocolate and it will seize, heat it too much and it'll split. So I was hesitant to beat in a few tablespoons of corn syrup, but was relieved to see that it worked. Adding a dab of raspberry preserves to the center of the cupcake resulted in a delicate balance of bitter and sweet, creamy and cake-y, chocolately and fruity. Adorn the tops with fresh raspberries and present with a flourish.
Raspberry-filled Chocolate Cupcakes with Whipped Chocolate Ganache
1 recipe Devil's Food Cake, baked into cupcakes
1 recipe Whipped Chocolate Ganache
1/2 cup seedless raspberry preserves
Fresh raspberries for garnish
Make a hole in the center of each cupcake: Use a large metal star tip (from a piping bag); push into cake and twist. Remove the center of the cut out.
Use a piping bag to fill each hole with raspberry preserve. Use a large star-tipped piping bag to pipe a swirl of ganache on each cupcake. Decorate with raspberries.
Store in the fridge, up to 3 days. Serve at room temperature.
Makes 20 cupcakes
Devil's Food Cake
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
Heat oven to 350F. Grease and lightly flour 2 8" cake pans (or 20 lined muffin tins). In a large bowl blend all ingredients at low speed until moistened. Beat 3 minutes at medium speed. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes (20 minutes for cupcakes) or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes before removing from pan.
Yields 2-8" layers or 20 cupcakes.
Whipped Chocolate Ganache
2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped (~60%; anything higher and the ganache gets very bitter)
Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. In a medium saucepan, heat whipping cream to a boil. Boil for one minute (important to evaporate some water). Pour cream through a sieve over chopped chocolate. Do not stir; allow to sit for 2-4 minutes. Use a spatula to gently stir in concentric circles (start in the center of the bowl and stir outwards) until thoroughly mixed.
Place plastic wrap directly on top of ganache to stop a film from forming. Allow to cool to room temperature, about 3 hours.
Whip at medium-high speed until lightened in colour and fluffy. Do not overbeat or ganache will get grainy (to fix grainy ganache, melt the whole thing down, cool, and beat again).
Makes about 2 1/2 cups; enough to frost 24 cupcakes
Note: To fix ganache that's too bittter, beat in 1-2 tablespoons of corn syrup
Ganache recipe adapted from marthastewart.comCupcake and cake recipe and image property of beets and bites
Pangrattato is the crunchy breadcrumb topping sprinkled on right before serving. I remember hearing that it was created out of frugality long ago as a substitute for cheese. This stuff gives the dish an unusual kick (it's great on risotto too).
While the plate looks plain, there are many complex flavours and textures swirling around. There's the intense aromas of garlic, wine, mushrooms and thyme, then the salt of the proscuitto, the velvet silkiness of pasta and sweet leeks, and the crunch of the pangrattato. There's tons going on but it's somehow both contrasting and harmonious at the same time. Need I say more to convince you to try this? No?
Well, here's the recipe...
But one more note on leeks. They're one of the dirtiest vegetables you can buy from the produce stand. To clean leeks:
-cut off the dark leaves and take a thin slice off the root end. Peel off the tough, dark outer layer
-split the leek down lengthwise
-rinse under running water, leaves side down, opening the layers up to get most of the grit out (so you don't ruin your knife trying to chop through sand)
-slice into ribbons (or as your recipe calls for them)
-soak in a bowl of cold water, separating the layers. This will allow and remaining sand and dirt to fall to the bottom
-remove the leeks with a strainer
Cheat's Pappardelle with Slow-Braised Leeks and Crispy Porcini Pangrattato
- 5 big leeks, outer leaves trimmed back, washed
- Olive oil
- 3 good knobs butter, divided
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
- A few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
- A small wineglass white wine
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper (Omit the salt if the ham is salty)
- 1 pint good-quality vegetable or chicken stock
- 12 slices ham, preferably Parma
- 2 (8-ounce) packages fresh lasagne sheets (I cooked dried pappardelle instead)
- All-purpose flour, for dusting
- 2 handfuls freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
- 1 small handful dried porcini mushrooms
- 1/2 ciabatta bread, preferably stale, cut into chunks
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
Halve the leeks lengthways and cut at an angle into 1/2-inch slices. Heat a wide saucepan, add a splash of oil and a knob of butter, and when you hear a gentle sizzling add the sliced garlic, thyme leaves and leeks. Move the leeks around so every piece gets coated. Pour in the wine, season with pepper and stir in the stock. Cover the leeks with the slices of Parma ham, place a lid on the pan and cook gently for 25 to 30 minutes. Once the leeks are tender, take the pan off the heat.
To make the pangrattato:
Whiz the mushrooms and bread with a pinch of salt and pepper in a food processor until the mixture looks like bread crumbs. Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a frying pan. Add the garlic cloves and the rosemary and cook for a minute, then fry the bread crumbs in the oil until golden and crisp. Keep shaking the pan - don't let the bread crumbs catch on the bottom. Drain on paper towels, discard the rosemary and garlic and allow the bread crumbs to cool.
Bring a big pan of salted water to the boil. Lay the lasagne sheets on a clean working surface and sprinkle with a little flour. Place the sheets on top of each other and slice into 1/2-inch strips. Toss through your fingers to shake out the pappardelle, then cook in the boiling water 2 minutes or until al dente.
Remove the Parma ham from the saucepan, slice up and stir back into the leeks. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then stir in the Parmesan and the rest of the butter. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water, and add the pasta to the leeks. Add a little of the cooking water if need be, to give you a silky, smooth sauce. Serve quickly, sprinkled with some pangrattato, extra Parmesan and any leftover thyme tips. Serve the rest of the pangrattato in a bowl on the side.Recipe courtesy of Food Network and Jamie at Home
Image property of beets and bites
Spanakopita is Greek spinach pie. Here, crispy phyllo is wrapped around a filling of spinach, onion, feta cheese, and egg. It's a tasty way to get your veg and its portability makes it a good picnic candidate too.
This is one of hundreds of different versions. I take a shortcut by using frozen spinach; if you want to cook and drain a couple pounds of fresh spinach, then by all means go for it. There are also recipes that call for dill, parsely, or green onion. Some are built in a pan and then served in slices. I like to make mine this way because you get more crunchy pastry per serving.
I made this with some feta that I had frozen (gasp!) (A note on frozen feta: some people say never to do this, but I thought it tasted fine after it thawed. Just put it in something rather than eating it plain in, say, a salad because the texture changes a little.)
10 sheets of thawed phyllo dough
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2x 10 ounce packages of frozen spinach, thawed
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspooon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
In a medium sized saute pan, onions in olice oil until translucent. Add garlic and continue to cook another 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
Drain the spinach well. (Really well, until no more liquid comes out when you squeeze it. I like to squeeze a bunch between two plates.)
In a large bowl, beat eggs with pepper and oregano. Add onion mixture, spinach, and feta cheese and stir until combined.
Brush one filo sheet with melted butter (cover the others with a damp towel so that they don't dry out). Place another sheet on top. With a pizza cutter, split the sheet in three (so you have three short rectangles). Place a scant 1/4 cup of filling at one end of each rectangle and roll as you would a tortilla wrap (fold the sides in when the spanakopita is half rolled).
Place on a baking sheet and brush the tops with melted butter. Bake at 375F for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Makes 15 egg roll-sized spanakopita.
Recipe and image property of beets and bites
I was surprised at how well it turned out. The eggs made the cake very flavourful and it was very tender. It's not what North Americans would call a "sponge cake"; it's more of a cross between butter cake and pound cake. Traditionally, jam and cream is sandwiched between two tall layers, but I had other plans instead...
One of my favourite English desserts has to be the trifle. I also think it's the perfect dessert to bring to potlucks for several reasons:
It's "make ahead" and tastes better the day after it's made.
It's assembled in a bowl so transportation is easy (a buttercream layer cake sliding around in the car in the summer heat=tragedy waiting to happen).
It looks pretty and pretty impressive.
It's not too heavy and rich after a big meal.
It can be adjusted to serve a few or many people.
And nobody can resist cake, berries, and cream.
There is much debate over what goes into the trifle bowl. Generally speaking, trifle consists of cake, cream, custard, spirits and fruit. There are hundreds of recipes and combinations out there, but in the height of summer, I like to make a simple, lightened version with tangy lemon curd and lots of fresh berries. However, the Victoria Sponge cake made it a little heavier than usual. If you try making trifle with chiffon or sponge cake and don't sog it down too much, the dessert could just float away...
Lemon Triple Berry Trifle
1 pint each: strawberries (halved and then sliced), blueberries, raspberries
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons icing sugar
1 recipe of Victoria Sponge (or pound cake, or sponge cake, if desired)
1 recipe lemon curd (about 1 1/2 cups), thinned with a tablespoon of whipping cream if necessary
In a large bowl, combine berries, sugar, and lemon juice. Stir and macerate at room temperature for 30 minutes.
In a large chilled bowl, whip cream on high speed with an electric mixer until billowy and soft. Add vanilla and sift in icing sugar. Continue whipping until soft peaks form.
In a deep glass bowl, place a layer of cut up cake. Top with half the berries and drizzle juice on top. Make sure some berries are pushed to the side of the dish so you can see them through the side. Drizzle with lemon curd and then cover with a layer of whipped cream. Repeat layers, ending with a layer of whipped cream.
Decorate the top with whole berries (toasted flaked almonds are nice too). Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours.
Victoria Sponge (http://www.howtomakecakes.co.uk/2007/09/back-to-victoria-sponge.html)
285g Self-raising flour
2.5 teaspoons (12.5ml) Baking powder
285g Caster Sugar
Raspberry or Strawberry Jam
150g Softened Butter
340g Icing Sugar
3 tablespoons (45ml) Warm water
2 greased 8-inch sandwich tins
Large mixing bowl
- Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large bowl
- Add all the other ingredients into the bowl
- Using an electric whisk beat the ingredients together, starting slowly then medium until you get a smooth, creamy consistency
- Divide the mixture between the two sandwich tins and bake at 170 degrees centigrade (340 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30-40 minutes. The cake should be springy to the touch.
- When cooked immediately turn out onto a wire rack.
- Soften the butter and beat until smooth
- Gradually add the icing sugar, beating well
- Add the water and beat until smooth
Spread some jam on one half of the sponge and buttercream on the other and sandwich together. Sieve icing sugar on top
My tips for a good Victoria Sponge are:
1) Use good quality 8-inch sandwich tins. Line them with greaseproof paper to avoid the cake sticking
2) If you have a fan oven, do not use the fan feature. Cakes cook much better on the traditional oven setting
3) Be careful not to use too much jam or buttercream otherwise the cake may slide apart when sandwiched together. Do however spread the jam and buttercream to the edge of the sponges as this will enhance the appearance of the cake
4) When turning out the cakes onto the wire rack, try turning one out onto a solid surface (like a chopping board) and then put it on the wire rack so that the top of the cake does not get the marks from the wire rack. This will make it look much better.
Yields 1 1/2 cups
3 large eggs
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely shredded lemon zest
3/4 cups sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cool and cut into small pieces
In a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and lemon juice until blended. Cook, stirring constantly (to prevent it from curdling), until the mixture becomes thick (like sour cream or a hollandaise sauce) (160 degrees F or 71 degrees C). This will take approximately 10 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately pour through a fine strainer to remove any lumps. Cut the butter into small pieces and whisk into the mixture until the butter has melted. Add the lemon zest and let cool. The lemon curd will continue to thicken as it cools. Cover immediately (so a skin doesn't form) and refrigerate for up to a week.
Victoria Sponge recipe courtesy of Mark Sanford and How to Make Cakes
Lemon Curd recipe courtesy of Joyofbaking.com
Image and trifle recipe property of beets and bites
Pork tenderloin is lean and relatively inexpensive. It can also be dry and a little bland. This recipe takes care of all those possible glitches. The pork gets a huge boost of flavour from dried fruit, herbs and mustard. The tenderloin also gets wrapped in proscuitto (in a procedure called "barding"). This not only also adds flavour, but keeps the meat extremely moist (not overcooking it helps as well, of course). In fact, the meat gets so juicy that I had an issue with a slightly soggy bottom crust.
I will admit that I tried to use filo pastry here. This is one of those occasions when you just need to suck it up and splurge on the puff pastry; the buttery layers will help to "waterproof" the roll.
Staying with the "meat n' potatoes" route, I made some roast potatoes to go with the pork. Classic, simple, delicious.
- 1 whole egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1-ounce dried apple rings (I didn't use these, but I'm sure it'd be delicious)
- 1 whole pork tenderloin, approximately 1 pound
- 4 1/2 ounces thinly slice prosciutto ham
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
- 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed completely
- 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and heat to 400 degrees F.
Whisk the egg and water in a small bowl and set aside. Place the apple rings into the bowl of a mini food processor and process for 30 to 45 seconds or until they are the size of a medium dice. Set aside.
Trim the pork tenderloin of any excess fat and silver skin. Slice the tenderloin down the middle lengthwise, creating 2 separate pieces. Lay the tenderloin pieces next to each other head to tail, so when laid back together they are the same size at the ends.
Lay out a 12 by 16-inch piece of parchment paper on the counter and arrange the pieces of prosciutto in the center, overlapping them enough to create solid layer that is as long as the tenderloin. Top with a second piece of parchment, and using a rolling pin, roll over the prosciutto to help adhere the pieces to each other. Remove the parchment paper and sprinkle the prosciutto with the pepper, and thyme. Set the tenderloin down the middle of the prosciutto. Spread the dried apples in between the 2 pieces of tenderloin and push back together so the apples are held between them. Using the parchment paper to assist, wrap the prosciutto around the tenderloin to completely enclose in a package.
Sprinkle the counter with flour and roll out the pastry to 12 by 14 inches. Spread the mustard thinly in the center of pastry and lay the prosciutto wrapped tenderloin in the center of the pastry on the mustard. Fold the puff pastry up and over the top of the tenderloin, then roll to completely enclose, brushing the edges of the pastry with the egg wash in order to seal. Turn the tenderloin over so the side of the tenderloin with the double thickness of pastry is underneath. Pinch the ends of the pastry to seal.
Brush the entire pastry with the egg wash. Place the tenderloin on a parchment lined half sheet pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the pork reaches an internal temperature of at least 140 degrees F.
Remove the tenderloin from the oven, transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
Golden Garlic and Herb Roast Potatoes
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 sprigs rosemary, bruised with a knife
2 sprigs thyme
1/3 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
I prefer to parboil the potatoes first so they cook as quickly as the pork (above). To do this, halve the potatoes and drop in boiling water. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until barely tender.
Meanwhile, combine garlic, rosemary, and oil in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat until fragrant and small bubbles appear. Turn off heat and allow flavours to infuse (preferably at least 1/2 hour)
Drain potatoes and cut into 1 inch cubes. Toss with flavoured olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread potatoes, garlic, and herbs on a foil lined baking sheet.
Roast at 400F for 25-30 minutes (1 hour if the potatoes were not previously cooked). Stir potatoes once halfway through cooking to brown evenly.
Pork Wellington recipe courtesy of Alton Brown and Food Network
Potatoes recipe and images property of beets and bites
But I think I'm still in vacation mode because there was no way I was going to trudge out into the downpour to buy vegetables to patiently simmer for an hour or two.
Bless canned soup.
Luckily, though, there are some things that are always hanging around the house, like ingredients for cornbread. This is a very old recipe that my mom has made for years. I don't remember where it came from, but it makes a sweet bread with a pleasantly crumbly texture and crunchy top. And even better, I'm pretty sure the recipe is foolproof. In less than a half hour, I had a nice hot pan of cornbread to go with my soup. Let it rain, let it pour.
Yields 1 8" square pan (9-16 pieces)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup oil
1 egg, slightly beaten
Heat oven to 425F. Grease an 8 or 9-inch square baking pan. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in remaining ingredients, beating by hand just until combined. Pour batter into pan and bake for 18-22 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Image property of beets and bites
Visit the Museu de la Xocolata
That's right, an entire museum devoted to chocolate. This small museum covers the history of chocolate and exhibits many mouthwatering displays. It's pretty much guaranteed that you'll be needing a bit to munch on afterward, so there is a well stocked "gift shop" in the main lobby. Oh, and the entry ticket itself is a nice surprise too...
Visit a market:
Mercat de Santa Caterina
One of the focuses of this market is the colorful undulating roof, which was built during the market's renovation in 2005. The market is not as famous as the Boqueria, but gives a slightly more local flavour to the market experience. Eat at La Torna for great, fresh tapas.
Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria
A site humming with tourists, this is the most famous market in Barcelona. Officially opened in 1840, it boasts everything from fruits to fish to nuts and candies. The displays close to the main entrance are gorgeous and beg to have their photos taken by the thousands of tourists that pass through daily. The prices are more reasonable the further into the market you go. I was able to get a container of tiny wild strawberries for only a euro. They were the most strawberry-tasting strawberries I'd ever had! The market may look like chaos at first glace, but the market is actually well laid out into fish, meat, and produce sections.
Take a Cooking Class: Cook and Taste Barcelona
If you've got the time, I cannot recommend this more. The classes are 60 euros per person and offered in Spanish, French, and English. They last about 3.5 hours and the class size is roughly 10 people. They're appropriate for any level of experience in the kitchen; everyone has the chance to pitch in.
Cook and Taste also offers a guided trip to the Boqueria market to get ingredients (for a 12 euro supplement). I though that it really worth it. When else would I have the chance to actually buy and cook cuttlefish or farm fresh eggs from the market? I also learned things that I wouldn't have known otherwise. (Apparently, there is a stall selling cuts of meat from the, um, losers in local bullfights...) Seeing all the fresh produce makes you really want to cook, and that is exactly what you will get to do afterward.
The lady who taught the class, Theresa, was very friendly and knowledgeable. The class was well organized and the menu consisted of traditional Catalan dishes: gazpacho (modernized version), potato tortilla with tomato bread, paella, and crema catalana (and all the wine you can drink). It may sound biased for me to say that these were the most delicious versions of each dish I had on my trip (especially the paella), but it's true! I highly recommend this experience.
This wraps up the Barcelona portion of this "Where to Eat" special edition. Stay tuned as we return to our regular programming...
Museu de la Xocolata
Mercat de Santa Caterina
Francesc Cambó, 16
Mercat de la Boqueria
Plaza de la Boqueria, Ramblas
Cook and Taste Barcelona
La Rambla 58, 3rd floor
Reservations at: www.cookandtaste.net
Images property of beets and bites
Located right on the bustling La Ramblas, this beautiful bakery is a must visit for all pastry lovers, if not just for the gorgeous exterior. The Escriba family bought the location in 1986 and it has since become one of the most highly regarded bakeries in Barcelona. They make an especially delectable Coca de Llardons.
These beautifully decorated treats beckon from their glass cases, reminiscent of a display at a jewellery store. I sampled a delicious pistachio macaroon and a "parfait" of sorts. Layers of green tea mousse, orange marmalade, streusel, and tangerine "caviar" make for a zesty dessert (I got to keep the glass too!) There's a Bubo Bar serving savoury food next door, in case you need to curb that sugar rush.
Attention adventurous chocoholics: If you're looking for chocolate that's a little "different," head to Cacao Sampaka and sample their "Innovaciones Gastronomicas" collection. Expect to find Hot and Spicy, Balsamic Vinegar, Parmesan Cheese, or Soya chocolates. I thought they were all pretty good, although the parmesan one was pushing it a little. If you just want a good ol' bar of solid chocolate goodness, they've got that too. They also have a small cafe in the back serving, of course, all things chocolate too.
Things to eat:
There are lots and lots of Catalan sweets, but sadly I didn't have time to sample all of them. Here are just a few:
Coca de Llardons
A pastry (made with lard. Mmmm) sprinkled with sugar and pine nuts. It's super crunchy with a "crust" of sugar. And at around 2 euros, it's the perfect thing to munch on as you roam.
A cross between flan and creme caramel. It's got a creamy custard base and a crispy caramel crust. It's a little lighter tasting because it only uses milk, although it makes up for that fact by only using egg yolks, too.
Torta de Santiago
A traditional almond cake. It's dense and crumb-y, with an icing sugar St. James cross stenciled on top. My slice was served with a sweet wine to dip each tasty morsel into.
Bubo and Bubo Bar
Consell de Cent, 292
Images property of beets and bites
If you walk through any tourist-packed area you will notice that nearly all the restaurants boast two things: traditional tapas, and paella. I definitely had my fill of both, and I found that these are places of note:
Tapas 24 is run by Carles Abellan, the chef of Comerç 24 (read below for more on Abellan and Comerç 24). Here, they serve tapas with a twist, like a spanish omelette with a potato and chorizo center, and a "bikini comerç 24," which is a thin grilled sandwich with mozarella, Iberian ham, and black truffle. You will pay a little more than average for these kicked up tapas, but the food at this popular spot is well worth it.
This is a tourist-oriented restaurant. Placemats have images of all the offerings printed on and they have multilingual menus. Its convenient location, speedy service and extremely reasonable prices make it a hotspot at night. You can get all the traditional plates here from a Russian salad to a (mediocre) paella.
This small tapas bar is located in the Mercat Santa Caterina (more on this market later). The food is fresh (straight from the market, I'd reckon) and excellently prepared. It's popular with locals and tourists alike. Although the menu is in Spanish and the staff don't speak English, you can always just point to what looks tasty to you. For me, this resulted in some of the best grilled asparagus I've ever had.
I have saved the best for last. This is a "must visit," and if you walk by around dinner time, you will see why. This place is packed with locals and tourists alike, all drawn in by the impeccably prepared tapas. The prices are reasonable like at Tapa Tapa, but you get so much more bang for your buck. Of note: veal with roasted pepper and tomato bread, and brochette with mozarella and bacon-wrapped date. They don't take reservations, so if you walk in around dinnertime, expect to wait at least an hour. They are open all day though, so maybe try late afternoon.
Okay, so I didn't actually eat here because it was closed when I got there. The best paella I had will be discussed in another posting, but according to my sources, this place serves paella the way it should be served: at room temperature, with a toasted bottom, and not dyed a ghastly yellow that many restaurants assume people expect from paella. I will say that most restaurants in the main tourist hub serve paella. I will also say that many of them aren't well made, so I thought Can Solé was worth a mention.
And under the "miscellaneous" category:
This casual joint opened in 1970 and it still has its pop art murals to show for it. Its menu presents over 70 flavours of tortillas (omelettes, not flatbread). The food is simple, well-prepared, and at a reasonable price. Their delicious bun-less hamburger has a mouthwatering mystery seasoning in it. They're served medium-rare and I had mine with a side of fried shredded zucchini. Delish.
By the middle of the week, I didn't think I could handle another potato filled tortilla. Thankfully, I had a reservation at Comerç 24, which I suppose could fall under the tapas category, but only in the most general sense. Indeed, I dined on many (many, many) small plates, but the meal was more like enjoying a performance than getting plain simple nourishment.
I had planned on visiting the restaurant as soon as I started compiling an itinerary for this trip. The chef is Carles Abellan, who trained under superstar chef Ferran Adrià. Adrià runs El Bulli, a small three Michelin starred restaurant of enormous fame. It is regarded as one of the best restaurants in the world, serving innovative dishes featuring techniques in molecular gastronomy. They only serve about 8,000 diners a season (and they only open for 7 months of the year), but they receive over 2 million requests a year. I don't plan on setting foot in that hallowed dining room any time soon, but Comerç 24 was a taste of this kind of food that is brought beyond its simple function to both visual and performance art.
It is apparent to diners how much thought Abellan and his team put into every detail of the meal. One of the most interesting dishes was a soup. The dish with the six different "bubbles" is presented first and you are left to ponder them while the waitress goes and gets a jug of steaming consommé to pour over top. She then explains that the small spheres now bobbing in broth are truffle, parmesan, and egg. Bite into one of the pockets and the flavorful liquid center imparts its essence into your spoonful of soup. The flavours are all so pronounced that each spoonful tastes distinct; it's like three soups in one bowl.
The desserts were no less stunning. They progressed from a tangy, palate cleansing mint soup with tangerine foam, to a refreshing yogurt with some very intriguing popped wild rice. The little dishes got richer, chocolatier, and more decadent, making for a very satisfying ending. I discovered how good chocolate ganache, salt, and olive oil taste together.
Passeig de Gracia, 44
Francesc Cambó, 16 (inside the Mercat Santa Caterina)
Carrer de Mallorca, 236
Calle Sant Carles, 4
C/La Granada del Penedes 25
Images property of beets and bites