Saveur Magazine Classic Recipe No.19 – New England Clam Chowder

 

I had high hopes for this recipe.  Being one of my favorite chowders and all.  (Ok, my super-duper favorite is Conch Chowder, but conch is hard to come by here.)  Paolo chose this recipe, he was really excited, loving clams, loving New England.  He also had never tried this and was super intrigued.   Alas, I have to say it was a total disaster.

As I mentioned in my first Saveur Magazine post,  I am going to prepare the recipes exactly as it states in the magazine.  I’ve prepared this dish from another recipe of mine and it has been a complete success.  I have eaten this dish a gazillion times too.  The problem that I found with this recipe, is that it was extremely watery.  A little red flag started waving wildly as I read the recipe calling for 6 cups of water to 2 cups cream.  And no thickener.  And, I would highly advise to place the clams in water to rid them of the sand, because I was straining and straining and straining.  But, anyhoo, I proceeded to recreate it in complete trust and experimental nature.

Needless to say, my two co-judges were not pleased at all.  Another recipe bust, another lunch that we ended up eating mainly bread and the sautéed porcini I had made as a side.  But, tastewise it was delicious.

So, without further ado, the rankings:

Overall points:  4.6/10

Difficulty:  Medium, as it has numerous steps and a wee bit time-consuming

Availability of ingredients:  Easy, if you can’t find fresh clams, frozen will do in a cinch.

10 lb clams in the shell, preferably cherrystone, scrubbed

4 oz. thick-cut bacon, finely chopped

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 tbsp finely chopped thyme leaves

2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped

2 bay leaves

2 1/2 lb. new potatoes, cut into 1/4″ cubes

2 cups heavy cream

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Oyster crackers and hot sauce for serving

1. Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a 6-qt. saucepan over high heat.  Add clams, and cover pan;  cook until clams are steamed open, about 10 minutes (discard any that do not open).  Remove from heat, and let cool.  Remove clam meat from shells, and roughly chop;  set aside.  Pour cooking liquid from pan though a fine strainer into another bowl (you should have about 6 cups; if not, add enough water to make 6 cups); set aside.

2.  Heat bacon in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium heat, and cook, stirring, until its fat renders and bacon is crisp, about 10 minutes.  Add butter, thyme, onions, and bay leaves, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 8 minutes.  Add reserved cooking liquid and potatoes, and bring to a boil;  reduce heat to medium low, and cook, stirring until potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes.  Add chopped clam meat and cream*; cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper;  serve with crackers and hot sauce on the side.  Serves 8.

* I suggest you lower the heat to minimum, if not your cream is going to curdle.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

 

Tele Pescaito: Andalusian Delights in the suburbs of Madrid

Tele Pescaito

 

Hello all my lovely friends!  I am so sorry for being away for so long, the last few weeks have been madness I tell you!  Two weeks ago I spent all my days packing up and shipping my things to Madrid, our future new home as of 2013!  And then unpacking them, and last week was work work work and then my big birthday bash on Saturday!

I have eaten and cooked in between, but just did not have any time to post.  Now, I have a whole month with no telly, a couple of pans and some plates and cutlery, a sofa, a bed and a teeny little table.  I have now started “Survival Mode”.  So, it will be interesting to see what I can come up with, now that I don’t have my barrage of culinary utensils.  I kind of feel like when I was in university.  The basics only.  Oh, how spoiled I have gotten since then.  Nary a cookbook, I tell you!

After having unpacked TWO whole households, we needed to eat, and not use any energy whatsoever.  We are completely unfamiliar with our new surroundings, but luckily my cousin lives in Madrid and she clued us in to a fantastic place down the block from our new house.

Tele Pescaito.  Literally translated to: Phone Fishy.  Yup.  Not a very glamorous name, but basically they are telling you that they deliver.  See, the pizza delivery in Spain is called Tele Pizza.

What a great surprise though, on the outside it is really nondescript.  Inside, it’s like you’ve walked into another world.

With all of four tables, this place is tiny.  But, it was packed!  People come and go, eating a couple of bites and then mosying off to another bar for another bite.  The walls are covered with photos of bullfighters and ceramics, the chairs are hand painted and so are the tables.  The service, well, it was like being in your friends bar.  We were welcomed as if we had known each other forever.  That was  a really nice change to Barcelona, where service is bare minimum bordering on rude.

Once we were settled and the drinks were ordered, our server brought out our cutlery, with a really nice surprise.

 

As our drinks were put on the table, so was this:

Beautiful Boquerones (white anchovies) over Salmorejo, which is a thicker version of gazpacho.  This is a real treat, that I am staring to get used to every time I go to Madrid.  When you order a drink at a bar, free of charge, you’re brought out a tapa.  Life is good, friends, life is good.  Topped with some lovely parsley garlic oil, it was a perfect start to a very rustic afternoon of  delights!

The menu to me was mostly incomprehensible.  I have never travelled to Andalucia, therefore, things like panochas, parrochas, puntillitas, chopos, pijotas and the like were all lost in translation.  I look forward to discovering all of these things at my soon to be new local digs!

We ordered some ham croquetas, because I am a croqueta freak.  I was really happy when they arrived, none of them being the same size or shape as the other.  This is the true test of their freshness, and that they just weren’t taken out of a box and dropped in the oil.

 

These have to be hands down some of the best that I have tried.  They were luscious without being heavy, full of meaty bits of jamon.  Then I decided on having something that I had no idea what I was ordering and I was in for another happy surprise!

 

I cannot for the life of me remember what they call them, but they are battered and fried squid tentacles.   I love tentacles, always grabbing the legs first when I order calamari.  I was struck by the sheer size of them though, this was a massive squid!  They were chewier than squid rings, but I tend to like that.  Meatier also.  I am sure my blogger friend Chica Andaluza could help me out on the name though!

We also ordered some Flamenquines.

Flamenquin

 

Yes, I admit it looks like a bread coated hot dog.  But looks can be deceiving!  What this is, basically, is Chicken Cordon Bleu’s Badder, Bolder and more Rebellious cousin!  It is a thin steak, stuffed with Iberian ham and manchego cheese!

 

It was ridiculously delicious!  I can’t wait to have some more soon…..and then I will need to get myself some cholesterol medicine, but hey, you only live once!  By the way, the chips (fries) were pretty spectacular too!

Now, we moved on to dessert.  This also was something that I had never heard of, but I will never forget.

Piononos

 

The Pionono.  WOW.  LUSCIOUS.  LIGHT.  MOIST.  RICH.  It’s all of those things all rolled up into one tiny little cake.  This hails from Santa Fé de Granada.  It is a little cake, that is soaked in a light syrup, then topped with cream and lots of cinnamon.  Paolo was triply excited, because he absolutely loves these.  And to think it is only about two minutes walk from our house. We are definitely going to have to up our workout schedule.

Then, the server brought us out a glass of Pedro Ximenez, a truly decadent Sherry, on the house with these delightful little bread sticks!

 

These are fried bread sticks covered in cinnamon sugar and anise seeds.  I love anise seed.  We dipped them in our sherry, and stroked our full bellies.  What a wonderful afternoon.

Conclusion.  They eat a lot of fried food in Andalucia.  But, it is damn good.  We will be back, in fact, I think Paolo has already been back a few times.

So, if you’re ever in Madrid and want to get off the beaten path, take a trip to Tele Pescaito.  Or you can just get some delivered! It is totally worth it!

Tele Pescaito

Taberna Andaluza

Av. de San Luis, 166

28033 Madrid  –    Tel. +34 91 7670513

 

Enjoy!

Carla

 

 

 

Buckwheat Polenta with Gorgonzola Cream and Toasted Walnuts

 

Buckwheat Polenta

 

The first time I tried Polenta I was 11 years old, my first year in Switzerland.  I remember seeing these enormous vats of polenta, being stirred constantly by a mechanical arm.  To tell you the truth, it really didn’t look very appetizing.  It looked like a big mass of yellow mush.  Then I tried it.  I’ve been hooked since.

I love the versatility of polenta.  It can be eaten soft, or left to harden then baked or fried.  It allows you to top it with an infinite nuber of possibilities, savory or sweet.  Buckwheat Polenta, or as they call it in Italy, Polenta Taragna, is quite different.  It has a saltier and denser quality, and usually it is eaten only with savory, and with a final addition of Bitto cheese.  In Lombaridia, the region where Milano is capital, there is an area called Valtellina.  This is the northern alpine area, and buckwheat is used in many recipes, two of the most famous being this polenta and a type of pasta called Pizzocheri.  They are both some of my favorites, but for my belly it needs to be quite cool to eat this since it is much more filling than normal pasta and polenta varieties.  That said, it is also a heck of a lot more nutritious too!

On my last trip to Lugano, I brought back some of this polenta, and finally the weather cooled down enough for me to make some.  I have a few friends here who are die-hard fans of polenta, so I wanted to introduce this variety to them.  I chose to top it with a creamy gorgonzola sauce, and some toasted walnuts.  If you are so lucky to find some, make sure you get the express variety, which cooks in about 5 minutes.  If not, you will have to stand over the stove and CONTINUOUSLY stir the polenta for 40-50 minutes!  (I haven’t had an arm workout like this in years.)  But, the end result is well worth the exercise, and throughout the process, I was channeling my inner nonna.

So, here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 6

500 g Polenta Taragna (or regular polenta if you can’t find it)

250 g Gorgonzola Dolce Cheese

200 ml cream

Salt, Pepper and Freshly Grated Nutmeg to taste

100g Walnuts, toasted

Cook polenta according to package directions.   In a small saucepan over medium low heat, add the cream and gorgonzola cheese, stirring until it melts.  Take off heat and add the salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Keep warm.

In a small frying pan, toast the walnuts until darkened and fragrant.  Take off heat.

On a plate, heap some polenta on it, then drizzle as much cream sauce as you want ( I like a lot) and top with the toasted walnuts.

It’s that easy and it’s even more delicious!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Saveur Magazine Classic Recipe No. 83 – Elvis Presley’s Pound Cake

Elvis Presley's Pound Cake

Hello my friends, I am very sorry for not posting in a week…..I have been bombarded at work, staying up until 5 am to watch the US elections, and then, my fantastic computer (not) decided it needed a break too and wouldn’t work.

Finally, after many restarts and uninstalls and installs, it decided to be nice and let me post!

This dish was a petition from my daughter,  as I mentioned before, we each get to choose a recipe to be done for the week.  My daughter was intrigued, thinking this would be more of a bread, obviously from the aspect.  I was very wary, because I remember pound cakes being these incredibly moist, buttery things you got in a white box that read Entenmann’s.  I remember getting that said box, tearing it open with my grandmother, and having her cut the middle slice, where the loaf separates, and gobbling it down with a glass of milk.  Other pound cakes I had tried didn’t come close in comparison.

Except for now, I can proudly say, this recipe is a MILLION times better than those pre-prepared confections.  Spongy, moist, dense without being dry.  All in all, this is one pretty amazing pound cake!

Imagine, 3/4 of the loaf was promptly eaten straight out of the oven.  And the next day, after resting in the fridge, it was even better.

I hope you get your mojo on and make this cake.  Fairly easy to make, no rocket science involved.  And my daughter gladly lent me a hand in preparing it.

Overall taste points: 8.7 / 10

Difficulty: Easy, but you need a stand up or hand-held mixer

Availability of ingredients: Super easy

16 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans

3 cups cake flour, sifted, plus more for pans

3 cups sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 tsp kosher salt

7 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

 

Heat oven to 350F (180C).  Grease and flour two 9″ x 5″ x 2″ loaf pans; set aside.  Beat butter, sugar, vanilla and salt in a bowl on medium – high-speed of a hand mixer until pale and fluffy, about 6 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each, until smooth.  Add flour and cream alternately, beginning and ending with flour, beating until smooth.  Increase speed to high;  beat batter until smooth and light, about 5 minutes.  Divide batter between prepared pans, and smooth tops with a rubber spatula; bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a couple of crumbs adhering to it, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Let cool 30 minutes, and then unmold onto a cooling rack; let cool completely before slicing and serving.  Serves 10.

Saveur Magazine Classic Recipe No. 32 – Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garclic

Saveur Magazine Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

This is a recipe I have been so intrigued to try for a long, long time.  It is in one of my old cookbooks, and I just never got around to it.  When we started this challenge, we decided that each of us would get to pick a recipe for the week.  This was Paolo’s choice, and I was really excited because I was finally going to be able to try it.

As a dish, it is fairly easy to make.  The smells as you cook the chicken, then the garlic, are absolutely wonderful.  Now, as for the finished dish…..hmmm.  We all decided that it was much too garlicky.  My daughter was not so pleased, and Paolo isn’t such a huge fan of garlic as I am.  Honestly, we were all not as impressed as what we were expecting.  I had high hopes for this. But I think if you switch it up a bit and follow my other cookbooks recipe, it would be less pungent and more velvety.  In the book it calls for you to leave the garlic unpeeled and bake the chicken in the oven for an hour and 45 minutes.  That said, onto the recipe and our rankings!

Overall taste points: 5.6 / 10

Difficulty:  Easy

Availability of Ingredients: Easy to find

3 tbsp olive oil

1 3-4 lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces

Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

40 cloves of garlic, peeled (you can use up to 100 cloves)

1/2 cup dry vermouth

3/4 cup chicken stock

1 tbsp. chopped tarragon ( I used parsley because I couldn’t find tarragon yesterday)

Heat oven to 350F.  Heat oil in a 6qt Dutch oven over medium high heat.  Season chicken with salt and pepper; add to pot and cook, turning once, until browned, about 15 minutes.  Transfer to an 8″ x 8″ baking dish; set aside.  Add garlic to pot; cook until browned in spots, about 6 minutes.  Add vermouth; cook, scraping bottom of pot, until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes.  Add stock; boil.  Transfer 1/4 of the garlic to baking dish; mash remaining into stock.  Pour over chicken, bake until chicken is glazed and tender, 15-20 minutes.  Garnish with tarragon.  Serves 6-8.

 

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Restaurant La Estrella – A fantastic surprise in Barcelona’s Borne Neighborhood

Restaurante La Estrella

I have lived in Barcelona for 10 years.  Currently, I live in the Borne neighborhood, in the heart of the city’s old town, where tourists out number the locals.  Restaurants in this area generally cater to the former, so as a local it is almost impossible to find some place that isn’t completely overrun by snappy waiters bringing you over priced and totally under-whelming food.

Not so in this case.  Tucked in a side street next to La Estacion de Francia, you would pass by this place and not even give it a second thought.  I myself have passed by about a thousand times, and only because a very good friend of mine, whom I trust completely when it comes to food and restaurants, told me that this was a pretty spectacular place.   Last night, Paolo and I decided to try it, because it was close to home and we really didn’t feel like cooking.  From the look of it on the outside, I honestly expected very normal food, more like these places you go to that have some salads, some croquetas, some beef, some fish but nothing out of this world.  One look at the menu, and boy, how wrong I was.

The first thing I realized, that if you like cod, this is the place to go.  Barcelona is a city that adores its cod.  You can find it in so many different ways, from fritters to salads, to croquetas and then more than 20 main dishes.  Stuffed with foie, “a la llauna” which loosely translates in the can, but that just means it’s braised in sauce in an earthenware dish, al pil pil….the list goes on.  La Estrella had about 6 different dishes paying homage to this humble yet delicious fish.

The Maitre, Jordi, came to our table, and started to explain all the dishes that were off the menu that night.  First of all, let me tell you it is a true joy to go to a restaurant that has no Michelin stars and find such impeccable and truly passionate service.  You can tell that this is what he loves to do, and it comes through.  After he explained the aforementioned, we chose 3 dishes off menu.  How could we not?  We were completely enthralled and practically salivating at the descriptions.  And I kid you not, they surpassed our expectations.

After we placed our order, I chose one of my favorite white wines.  Vallegarcia Viognier, from Castilla- La Mancha.  He replied that it was an excellent selection, and promptly brought out a very large decanter on ice.  I was incredibly thrilled, because not many restaurants decant white wine for you, and I thought it was a wonderful touch.

Vallegarcia ViognierJordi explained that he loves decanting this wine, because it changes as it breathes.  I wholeheartedly agree.

We were brought out an amuse bouche of Codfish Brandade, very popular here in Catalonia and also in Southern France, it’s a smooth mousse of cod baked in cream and spices.  Rich, decadent and delicious.

Codfish Brandade

 

It’s more common incarnations is actually stuffed in piquillo peppers, but I love the stuff, and was very happy that it was schmeared on some buttery toast.  Perfect small bite that was a harbinger of the rest of our amazing meal.

Our first appetizer was razor clams from the delta of the Ebro river with walnuts sautéed in olive oil.

Razor Clams

 

Our maitre explained that these razor clams from the delta, are much smaller than the ocean variety that you find here.  Also, being much sweeter and fatter on the inside, the one very big difference is that they contain no sand.  We were pleasantly surprised to find he was right, not a trace to be found.  The walnuts were a perfect match, giving it umami, and not even salt was necessary since the razor clams were super sweet and tender.  I personally devoured about 8 of them in the matter of minutes.

Next up is one of the house classic specialties, Gratineed Asparagus with Cabrales cheese and sautéed walnuts.

Gratineed Asparagus with Cabrales Cheese and Walnuts

 

Cabrales cheese is a very strong blue cheese from Asturia.  On its own it can be overwhelming in taste.  Combined with the nuttiness of the asparagus and the walnuts that tempered it, it became softer and more nuanced.  Something that needs to be mentioned, is that the asparagus were cooked to perfection.  Perfectly crispy.  There is nothing more horrible than limp watery asparagus.  This dish is meant to be eaten with some bread, because you will be mopping up the cheese after you’ve eaten all the asparagus.

Now on to our main dishes.

I went for another reiteration of “Surf and Turf”, this time with something that I just started eating this year.  Pigs trotters.

Pigs Trotters with Porcini mushroom and shrimp sauce

 

What a fabulous combination!  Completely de-boned pigs trotters, lightly crusted with bread crumbs, with porcini mushrooms and a shrimp sauce.  This is Catalan food at its best.  Taking one of the most unassuming and honestly peasant like foods and pairing it with royalty, the porcini and a smooth veloute of shrimp.  The layers of flavors is amazing, the brininess of the shrimp veloute, then you get a punch of the smokiness of the trotters, lastly being rounded out with the earthy umami of the porcini’s.  I was glad that we chose off menu.

The star of the night, in my and Paolo’s opinion was the tuna.

Yellowfin Tuna with smoked salt and tomato confit

 

The über fresh (brought it at 9pm that night) Yellowfin Tuna, with a touch of smoked sea salt and tomato confit.  One bite and fireworks went off in our mouths.  The tuna, being so fresh, was treated like any fresh fish should, let it sing on its own.  The smoked salt elevated the tuna, and the tomato confit was the perfect partner in this amazing duo.  I secretly wished I had ordered this, not because mine wasn’t amazing, but I just know that tuna this fresh and perfect is hard to come by.

Now, on to our desserts.  By this time, I realized that the chef, a.k.a, the Maitre’s wife, had attended the same culinary school that I did.  That basically means, the desserts are going to be spectacular.

Tiramisu with chestnut ice cream

 

Tiramisu with home-made Chestnut Ice Cream.  It was delicious.  One of the best tiramisu’s I have tried here in Barcelona.  The Mascarpone was creamy and light, the biscuits soaked in espresso were dense and moist without falling apart.  The addition of chestnut ice cream was an excellent choice.

Paolo chose the homemade Salted Caramel ice cream.

Salted Caramel ice cream

 

Whoa Nelly!!!  I love caramel.  I love salted caramel.  I kept on going back between the two and uttering “Oh my God, it’s so good.”  Honestly, they were both amazing.   I can’t wait to go back because they have all these other desserts that I want to try, like a six layer homage to chocolate in different textures, a cactus and lemon sorbet, goat cheese ice cream….and a few more that I can’t remember but I know that when he mentioned them, I wanted to eat them all.

This is an absolute “must go” restaurant in Barcelona.  Service, food and wine all impeccable.  Go with an empty stomach, you won’t want to leave a thing on your plate!

Restaurant La Estrella

www.rst-laestrella.com

Calle Ocata, 6

08003 Barcelona

+34 93 310 2768

 

Shiitake Croquetas

Shiitake Croquetas

 

I LOVE CROQUETAS.  Croquetas are croquettes, usually made with leftover ham, but now a days, you can find them filled with anything your heart desires.  I have had cheese, spinach, pine nuts and raisins, beef, onion, fish…..the list goes on.

I have eaten croquetas since I was a kid, and I think my obsession started because my parents really didn’t buy or make them.  In Miami it is a Cuban thing, and the only time I would get to eat them is when I went to sleep at my Uncle Ernest and Aunt Myra’s house.  We used to have them for breakfast.  Sooooo good.

Now, call me stupid, but I had no idea that croquetas was a Spanish thing.  When I first landed in Spain, and saw that every single restaurant had a croqueta on the menu, I had an “A-ha!” moment.  Croquetas originally are made with left over chicken or pieces of Jamon mixed with a thick béchamel, then coated with breadcrumbs and fried.  The ham ones are still my favorites.  I’m not so sure about the chicken.  I decided to make them with some shiitake, because I had some dried in my fridge, kind of just staring at me every day.

Croquetas are fairly easy to make, but they are laborious and time-consuming.  This is probably something you might want to do on a rainy Sunday, (as I did) and make a lot.  They freeze really well, and as all things, the home-made versions are much better than store-bought, which usually has a very low ham to béchamel ratio, favoring the latter.  And once you get the knack, then the possibilities are endless!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

2 handfuls (sorry, I didn’t measure other than that) dried Shiitake mushrooms, soaked and strained, reserving 1 cup soaking liquid, then minced

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, finely minced

4 tbsp butter

4 tbsp flour, more for dusting

2 cups milk

Salt and Pepper to taste

2 eggs, beaten

Breadcrumbs, for coating.  In this recipe, I used Panko (Japanese Style Breadcrumbs)

In a sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil, shiitake and onion.  Saute until the mushrooms and onions are softened, about 20 minutes.  Make sure all the water from the mushrooms has evaporated too.  Take off heat and set aside.

In a stockpot over low heat, melt the butter and add your flour and mix well, to make a roux.  Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes.  Mix the milk with the cup of soaking liquid, and in a slow stream add to the roux, whisking constantly.  Stir until very thick, about 25 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper and mix well.  Spread out on a plate, and let it cool to thicken even more.

Now, on your counter line up the plate with the filling, the bowl with the beaten egg, the bowl with the breadcrumbs, and a baking pan to place them on.  Dust your hands with flour, and grab a bit of the mushroom filling, roll into a ball or a log shape, dip them in the eggs, and then roll them in the breadcrumbs.  Continue to do that in order until all your filling is gone.  If needed wash your hands in between.  If you are not using immediately, you can freeze them in an airtight container for up to a month.

Heat a large non-stick frying pan with olive oil, when it is hot but not smoking, fry your croquetas about 4-5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.  Turn over and repeat.  Place on a plate lined with paper to soak the excess oil.  Serve hot.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla