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5 days in Andalucia, Part II: Day 2 Córdoba.

17 Sep

I am circling back around to finish 5 days in Andalucia and then I’m going to try to catch up with my other travels since then with 1 post per day this week.

Day 2 Córdoba was all about the Mezquita and the Alcazar, followed by a very good lunch!

So, I wake up after a long nice sleep in my very comfortable bed and grab a quick breakfast (included in the price of the hotel) of jamon iberico, manchego, scrambled eggs, fresh squeezed oj, and few biscuits for the road.

It’s 9:30 a.m. and I know I need to get to the Mezquita rather quickly before all the other tourists descend on it. So, here’s a quick history of the church turned mosque turned cathedral – named the Mequita – depending on whose history you want to believe.

The cathedral literature says “It is a historical fact that the San Vicente Basilica was destroyed during the Islamic period in order to build the subsequent mosque.”

Other literature just picks up at the year 785 when the construction of the mosque began. It underwent 4 stages of construction in different eras according to who was in power at the time. It was the social, cultural, and political center of the town.

Here are some pics of the outside as I moved around it.

This is the outside wall consisting of 19 original doors that are now closed. These doors were important sources of light way back when.

Here’s a close up of one of the doors. They were spectacular.

You enter the Mezquita through a rather unimpressive courtyard compared to what is next. Immediately inside the main building, you see the alternating red and white brick and double arches all about which “were modeled on the Hispanic-Roman tradition”, according to the brochure. See the first pic, above.

Throughout the whole inside you can also see the work of Byzantine artists. The mosaics were incredible.

Here are a few more pics:

And, here’s a shot toward the ceiling of the now Christian part of the Mezquita:

So, after several hundreds of years, King Ferdinand II reconquered Córdoba and he was eager to claim the mosque as a Christian space. So, inside you’ll see plenty of Christian symbols, chapels, and a treasury composed of pieces used during prayer time.

It’s all pretty stunning.

After the Mezquita, I went over to the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (castle of the Christian Monarchs). It began as a palace and fort for Alfonso X in the 13th century. From 1490 to 1821 the Inquisition operated here. Today, it has some beautiful gardens surrounding it. Not sure if they want to make you forget the atrocities that were committed here, but it worked on me for a few minutes when I came to the rose section. Such sweet smells. I know I’m cheap at times.

Here’s a pic of the Alcázar, from the top looking back over the city.

Here’s a pic of the gardens:

After going to mosque and church, I decided it was time to head to the Jewish temple. I’m an equal opportunity learner when it comes to religions 😉 No pictures here, but it was cute.

Of course sightseeing works up an appetite, so I headed to a restaurant called Ziryab Taberna Gastronomica. I was the first one there at 12:30 because that’s super early to eat lunch, but that’s how I roll these days.

From the moment I walked in, I was greeted by a darling waiter named Luis. He was all smiles and very happy to assist me. He suggested the menu del dia and that’s usually a good choice. I asked what choices in each section he liked and he steered me onto my favorite salad I’ve had in the past 6 months. It was a very simple salad, yet the ingredients were perfectly fresh and ripe, which they needed to be to execute this mostly tomato salad.

Here are the ingredients: tomatoes, hard boiled egg yolks, capers, sliced pickles, fresh basil, sweet onions, sherry vinegar and olive oil. Then, on the side, there were endive leaves with basil oil on them. Perfect, delicious. I love basil oil. I think there’s nothing better on a salad in the summer.

Here’s a quick recipe if you want to make it at home:
Basil Oil

Ingredients and items you need to get started:
1 bunch basil, stalks removed
boiling water
bowl of ice water
non-terry towel
blender
good extra virgin olive oil
salt

Directions:
1) Bring a pot of water to boil (just enough to submerge your basil leaves)
2) Drop the basil leaves in for 10-15 seconds, just enough so that they are barely wilted but still super green
3) Take the basil out with a slotted spoon and immediately submerge into the ice water bath. This helps retain the color and the freshness and is a necessary step. If you skip this step, your oil will be an ugly color.
4) Remove basil from ice bath and squeeze out excess moisture in a non-terry towel.
5) Throw basil in a blender with some good EVOO and puree until it has a fine consistency. Use that day or the next. Keep in a covered container in the fridge.

Next came the main course. Again, I was hesitant to order fish, but the waiter talked me into it mostly because I was curious about the almond sauce underneath.

Nice dish! The tuna was cooked perfectly – seared on the outside and rare on the inside. The sauce was excellent. I asked the chef, who the waiter was nice enough to bring out the Chef to talk with me, and she – Claudia – said the sauce was made of toasted almonds, toasted bread, saffron, soy sauce, black pepper and stock. She also studded the outside of the plate with more basil oil, which the dish really needed as the sauce was smoky. So, basil was a great compliment to it.

Finally, dessert: brownie with yogurt ice cream. Well, the brownie was very mediocre and I’ve made way better, but the yogurt ice cream was probably some of the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. It was incredibly smooth, with just a hit of sweet, and it had the great tanginess of really fresh, plain yogurt. Me encanta!

Here’s a pic (I already took several bites before I remembered to take a picture, per usual when someone puts something sweet in front of me. Usually, I forget who I am and what I’m doing for a few seconds as I’m so excited to see chocolate).

And the bread. Hot, crunchy outside, soft inside. The 18 euro lunch was fabulous. And, the nice waiter served me a glass of Pedro Jimenez (good, dark sherry) and a café solo on the house. Great service, thanks!

Well, I had to take a nap after that, and actually for the night. Although I had a few stomach issues yet again (damn fish), I had another nice long sleep and awoke to a beautiful day to go to Seville.

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Day 1 in Galicia: A Coruña

23 Aug

I just arrived back in Barcelona this afternoon after 5 nights on the road in Galicia. I didn’t have internet connection much of the time, so I’ll be posting 4 different blog entries, one for each city I visited, over the next several days. Here’s post 1 (with a picture of the harbor in A Coruña, at top).

My journey was suppose to begin on Thursday, August 16 in the morning. However, Wednesday night, I ate a bad mushroom (no, not the psychedelic kind, although that might have been preferable to what I went through) and ended up in bed for 24 hours. I had some horrendous intoxicación alimenticia = food poisoning. After 6 hours of rapidly expelling the contents of my system and then moving into the “I can’t walk because all my muscles are severely cramping in my legs” phase, I decided to call a doctor. This was a great idea as the hand and arm cramps started shortly thereafter.

So, some folks in the U.S. tend to hem and haw over socialized medicine, but I’m here to tell you I think that was some of the best medical care I’ve ever received. It surely beats the care from most of the yahoo doctors I’ve seen in Hawaii (save 1 or 2).

I Called. Doctor arrived within 30 minutes. We talked. He decided the offending food was likely the mushrooms and he gave me 4 ccs of something potent in the butt. Whatever the contents of the shot, it stopped the barfing within 30 minutes and took away some of the stabbing pain in the stomach. The next few days were still rough as I would have random spasms, bathroom runs, and long lasting cramps in my legs, but I decided the best thing to do was to “just get over it”, as my mother says and always has done.

So, Friday, I boarded a train to Madrid. About halfway through the 3 hour journey I was thinking I had made a mistake, but then I just kept thinking of my mom and how tough she is and I decided to stick with the day’s journey. I got off in Madrid as planned, transferred to the other Madrid train station, and I was off on another 6 hour train ride to A Coruña. From the A Coruña train station, I taxi’d straight to my hotel and went to bed that night, to awake to a fabulous day and me feeling a bit better.

Here’s a map of Galicia for a reference point:

A Coruña is in the north of Galicia on the Atlantic Ocean. And, the region of Galicia is just north of Portugal, so it’s on the opposite side of the country from Barcelona.

My hotel in A Coruña was fabulous and the best deal ever. For 38 Euros, which included a bad looking breakfast which I passed on, I had a beautifully clean, modern and very large room. It had a mini bar, fabulously quiet and efficient A/C system, modern t.v. and great wifi. The bonus: super quiet. The hotel is called Attica 21. It’s a bit outside of the ciudad vieja (old town), but for the accommodations and the peaceful sleep, I would have expected to pay double, at least.

Here’s a pic of the room:

I checked out early and asked the front desk if they could hold my luggage so I could explore the town. The woman at the front desk motioned for me to just put my luggage behind the front desk. No tags, no nothing. It took all I had to not ask for a receipt, but I didn’t want to seem rude. I definitely could’ve been more cautious considering I left my computer and peripherals in my suitcase, but I decided to trust the hotel staff as I wasn’t really up for carrying any extra weight that day.

So, I caught a taxi to Plaza de Santa Maria Pita. It was 10:00 a.m. and I was the first and only one there. Huh. Guess people sleep late in A Coruña.

Here’s a pic Plaza de Santa Maria Pita:

And here’s a picture of the lady herself:

She’s simultaneously beautiful and a bad as_, too right?

After snapping some photos, I went to the tourist office in the plaza to get a map and ask: if I have 5 hours only, what should I do? I was directed to tour the old town, walk to the lighthouse, and eat some pulpo gallega, the last part of which I had already planned. So, I toured the old town. It was a gorgeous little town, and again pretty deserted for the hour, I thought. Here are some pics:

Here’s a pic of a convent:

Here’s a picture of the front of a closed cafe. I just thought it was cute:

Then, I started to walk along the pier to get to the lighthouse. Bless the good Spanish people who always try to estimate distances and always underestimate them. A woman told me it was a 30 minute walk from old town. Well, I walk extremely fast (got that from my dad) and at 30 minutes, the lighthouse was nowhere in sight. I was predicting it was at least another 30 minutes from where I was, and my legs were not quite back to my normal running/walking shape. Plus, I was getting hungry and everyone who knows me knows what that means… if I don’t get food in me quick, I’m going to ruin someone’s day.

But, along the way I was temporarily distracted from my hunger by the darling art on the lamp posts that are about every 100 yards along the walkway. They were each hand-painted, all with an ocean theme. Here are a few of my favorites:

And, a picture of the lampposts along the ocean walk:

I loved them! We should do that in the U.S.!

After several minutes of picture taking, I turn back because I want to be sure I can make it back to my eatery of choice before I have a meltdown. I go to the famed “street of wines”, which is a narrow alley, lined with restaurants, in front of the Plaza de Santa Maria. I took a clue from my hit or miss Lonely Planet guide book and stopped in at a pulperia (a restaurant specializing in octopus), called Meson de Pulpo.

Okay, so here’s the part about good food. I ate the best octopus of my trip and of my life at this restaurant! The octopus was done in the traditional Galician fashion, which is sautéed in olive oil and sprinkled with hot paprika and a touch of maldon sea salt. It was incredibly tender and fresh. It was a perfect dish. It didn’t seem fussy, but I’m here to tell you after having worked with octopus that either you have to be a bit fussy with it to get it that tender or there’s some secret I’m missing.

Here’s the pic of the dish:

My waiter was awesome and served me a great glass of Albariño wine because I asked for one since I was in Albariño country. Albariño is the grape and it’s used to make a dry, white wine that can either be fairly complex or really simple and something close to a Portuguese vinho verde. I guess this makes sense, since Galicia is just north of Portugal.

Also, requisite with the pulpo is crusty bread to dip in the olive oil. Me encanta! I loved this meal, so far. I should have stopped there, as I was pretty full after the ½ racion (1/2 portion) of pulpo, but another popular dish in Galicia is the fried calamari. I thought if the octopus is this fresh and this tender, I should definitely try the calamari.

Well, the calamari had perfect breading on it. It was super delicate and light and the seasoning and salt was subtle and proper if you want to taste the fresh calamari. But, it was tough! Darnit! I don’t like tough, unless it’s a quality in my friends and family 😉

I told the waiter I was a cook from the U.S. and asked him what was the secret to their perfect pulpo? He told me to go ask the chef. So, I did. She – yes, she (awesome, since I don’t see very many if any female chefs in restaurant kitchens in Spain) – looked at me weird. What do you mean, she asks? My reply: How is it not tough? Her answer: We get it in fresh, we massage it a bit. Then we drop it in hot water for a bit and then we fry it in hot olive oil. Then we put paprika and salt on top. Me: ummm, okay. Can you be more specific? Her: no. That’s what we do. Me: Vale, gracias. (okay, thanks).

Well, by this time, I’m a bit drunk off of ½ of my glass of Albarino, as I have 0 tolerance for alcohol right now and I’m thinking my liver is still a bit in shock from the toxic mushroom. So, I go to sit down in a plaza for a bit before I catch a cab back to my hotel to grab my luggage and take another train to Santiago.

While I’m smiling and thinking that I have the alcohol tolerance of a 10 year old, I’m also remembering the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and a quick snapshot of one of his apprentices massaging octopus in a white liquid. I’m wondering if it is cornstarch, although I’m not sure that’s used in Japanese cooking. It didn’t look like daikon, as it was a smooth white liquid and I tried massaging my octopus with daikon which I don’t think did a thing to tenderize it as some chefs have suggested. Hmmmm, I’ll have to do more research on that.

I don’t know why I’m so stuck on making the perfect octopus dish right now. But, I have been ever since I came to Barcelona. Someone told me it was cruel to eat octopus because they’re intelligent. Really? Is it more cruel than eating pigs? Isn’t their DNA very similar to that of humans? How about what we do to baby cows in the name of eating veal, or how about force feeding birds so we can eat foie? These are all moral choices and those of us who have the choice probably should contemplate these things more often, as that means we’re lucky and wealthy enough to be eating them.

Maybe it’s because I don’t want to limit what I eat right now in the name of culinary research, but my current thought is everything in moderation. Cop out? Maybe. But, I do make choices along the way, such as eating vegetarian some days (or for 8 years, at one point in my life). It’s mostly for health reasons, but I also want to believe that what we eat – en masse as people who have choices of what we want to eat – affects what commercial farmers choose to grow, which in turn affects mother nature’s ability to restore depleting clean water supplies and to rejuvenate abused terra.

Okay, back to the travels. I picked up my suitcase and backpack and boarded another train for Santiago de Compostela in the late afternoon. I checked into a hotel converted from a darling 18th century home on the outskirts of old town called Virxe de Cerca. It oozed charm. Here are a few pics:

My room:

The garden:

The tables in the cute bar nook:

Instead of going out that night, I decided I was satiated from the terrific pulpo I had eaten earlier (plus my system still was a bit wrecked from the offending mushrooms) and all I needed was a few pieces of fruit to restore some vitamins, some water and a comfortable bed. Since I had no wifi connection, I decided to watch a campy, cult classic on the tube: Stripes. It’s basically Bill Murray, John Candy and Harold Ramis being goofballs. Just what I needed.

Night 1, and full day 1 in Galicia were a huge success!

Stay tuned for more excellent food reviews and pictures of Santiago de Compostela in the next post!

Another few days at El Quim de la Boqueria

11 Aug

Ahhh, back where I started this journey – en el Mercado de la Boqueria con my jefe, Quim. It has been fun to be back in the kitchen at El Quim’s with the guys, and super busy! Summer is their busy time, of course, as it’s tourist season. Many people in Barcelona take off for the month of August, so other restaurants are closed. Quim’s smart and he stays open. So, I think he gets even more traffic because of it.

I introduced 2 new dishes to them this week, for which I’ll write the recipes below. They are not my inventions as I took components from other recipes I’ve read, but they are California-esque which Quim and clan wanted to learn, and they are great for hot summer days. There are really fresh, citrus components to each. Today, it was in the upper 80s/lower 90s fahrenheit. In the market, which is open air, it was even hotter.

Thursday, I made a monkfish, which is a very common fish from the Mediterranean, surrounded by 2 salsas. On the bottom was a cooked tomato fondue and on the top was a fresh summer squash salsa. For this recipe at home, I would choose a firm, white fish, but just about any white fish – fresh or salt water – will work great. If it’s really fresh, get a fish that you can leave just a bit raw/crudo in the center. For friends/family in Hawaii, I do not think tuna would be a good pairing for this. Instead try opah or one of the other local, white fishes. Halibut would be nice, as well.

Here’s the recipe for monkfish with 2 salsas (serves 4):

Ingredients:
1 kilo/2 pounds white fish that you can cut into four, 2 x 3 x 2 inch thick pieces
1 small green zucchini
2 cloves garlic
6 roma tomatoes
1 small shallot
1 lemon
1/2 of a handful of blanched, no skin almonds. This means they are the white-ish kind, without skin, and they are not roasted or salted. You can substitute Marcona almonds here, but if they are salted, you’ll want to omit or reduce the salt in the salsa. Always taste, taste, taste, before salting.
fresh thyme
fresh basil

Directions:
Start the tomato fondue first. Here’s how it goes:
1) Score the bottom of your tomatoes with a small “x”, remove just the top part of the stem and then put the whole tomatoes into boiling water for 1 minute. The object here is to get the skin just loose enough to peel away from the rest of the tomato. A traditional French tomato fondue has a silky mouth texture so you don’t want the skin. But, if you like the skin or you’re lazy, just skip this step.
**While you’re bringing your water up to a boil, clean your fish if your fishmonger has not done it for you. Then, put it in the refrigerator for later.
2) Throw the tomatoes in ice water for another 2 minutes and then peel away the skin. Cut the tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds, so you have just the outer layer of the tomato without the fine skin or the seeds.
3) Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pan. Mince 1 clove garlic and the small shallot. If your shallot is big, cut it in half and mince only half of the shallot. Throw the garlic and shallot in the hot oil for 30 seconds to one minute.
4) Dice tomatoes. Throw diced tomatoes in the pan and stir up with garlic and shallots. Turn to low and let simmer until the liquid is almost gone and the tomatoes start to turn a deeper red. Add a pinch of salt and 1 sprig of fresh thyme leaves toward the end of the process. The taste should be sweet and it should be almost like a thin jam. Be sure to watch it so you don’t burn it. This should take no more than 20 or so minutes.
5) Also, while the fondue is cooking, make the salsa. Grate 1/2/-3/4 of the zucchini. Then, mince 1/2 of the other clove of garlic and put some salt on it to sweat it a bit.
6) To the zucchini, add the zest of your 1 lemon and thyme leaves from one sprig of thyme. Then, add the salted garlic. Mix. Add lemon juice to taste.
7) Heat up your pan our grill. While it is heating, make sure the fish is already out of the refrigerator. You should let it sit on the counter for 5 minutes or so before you put it on hot heat. As with most proteins, you don’t want it to seize up because it’s too cold when it hit the heat. That’s why people say put meat on the counter before grilling or searing.
8) Sear or grill your fish until slightly underdone. While fish is cooking, finish salsa. Mince the almonds. Chiffonade or mince fresh basil and add both to the zucchini mix. Add salt and adjust seasoning if necessary. This should be a lemony-crunchy-basil-thyme salsa. If you add the almonds too soon, they will get soggy. If you add the basil too soon, it will turn black. So, make sure those are the last ingredients you add.
9) To assemble: Put the a round of tomato fondue onto the middle of each plate. Then, top with the fish. Finally, top with 1-2 tablespoons of zucchini salsa. Drizzle very good extra virgin olive oil on top, if you have it. It’s going to kind of look like the Italian flag, with red, white and green layers, but it will be lovely.

The whole process should not take longer than 1 to 1.5 hours to prepare. Sorry, I don’t have pictures. I was a dunce and forgot to take them.

The second dish I introduced was a pintxo or tapa. It’s super simple. It’s a great appetizer to do at a bbq, as you can prepare everything ahead of time except for cooking the shrimp which can be done on a grill or in a hot pan in 2 minutes right before service.

It’s essentially shrimp, guacamole and grapefruit on a crostini. But, the key here is that you must use fresh prawns and you must use fresh avocados, since those are the stars of the dish. If you use store-bought guacamole, it probably won’t be the end of the world, but it’s neither going to look as nice, nor will it be as fresh, which is what you’re going for with this dish (unless you buy the very expense, made-daily guacamole at Whole Foods – it is delicious and fresh).

This recipe, with a few of my adjustments, is courtesy of Tasting Table, which is a great foodie blog. The idea here is to build on top of a crostini or piece of fresh baguette, whichever you prefer. It should be like 2 bites.

Ingredients:
Fresh large/jump shrimp with shells on – buy enough for 2 per person. do NOT get the cooked, frozen ones. they will be too soggy for this recipe.
1 ripe avocado – this will be enough for 8-10 shrimp
1 fresh baguette
dried chili flakes
1 ripe, red grapefruit – this will be enough for 8-10 shrimps
fresh cilantro
lime
olive oil for cooking shrimp

Directions:
1) Peel and clean the prawns. Set aside until ready to grill or sear.
2) Make guacamole: half and score the insides of both the avocado(s). Scoop out with a spoon into a bowl. Mince some cilantro, and add in some fresh lime juice and salt to taste. If you like some heat, I would mince some serrano pepper or use red chili flakes and add them in, as well. Also, if you like garlic, you could put a small amount in, but remember, you’re having fruit with this and I don’t really think garlic works here.
3) Supreme a grapefruit. The idea is to have lovely segments of grapefruit to put on top, that does not have the pith or any white stuff on it.
4) Shell some pistachios and coursely chop them.
5) Heat the grill or stove. While it is heating, cut your baguette into thin rounds. If you like your bread toasted, turn on the broiler at this point. If you’re grilling, you can simply throw the bread on the grill whiel you do the shrimp, which is the next step.
5) Throw shrimp on a hot, oiled bbq and flip after 30 seconds. If you’re grilling the shrimp, toss the shrimp in a bit of olive oil before they go on the grill. Or, if you’re doing stovetop, heat some olive oil in a pan and throw the shrimp in when the oil’s hot. Turn after 30 seconds. Cook maybe 20-30 seconds more and remove while still a bit crudo in the middle. Remember, it will continue to cook and you don’t want overdone or rubbery shrimp. If it’s really, really fresh, you can eat it crudo anyway. The cooking time will depend on your heat and the size of your shrimp, so you’ll just have to watch it. Right before the shrimp is done, sprinkle on some maldon sea salt and chili flakes.
6) Assembly: lay out toasted baguette pieces on a plate. Spread a teaspoon or so of guacamole on the bread, then top with 1 large prawn per toast. Then, put a grapefruit segment on top of each shrimp. If you like more salt, add just a few flakes of maldon sea salt on top of each grapefruit segment. I really like the combo of just a bit of salt with grapefruit. Finally, top with crushed pistachios. Serve.

Time: This shouldn’t take you more than 30-40 minutes to prepare.

Okay, off to meet friends to go to Sitges today and then to a meditation workshop at a Buddhist temple tomorrow. Some people think I need to meditate and/or do yoga. We’ll see how this hyper woman does in meditation – ha!

Buen Provecho!

My last 2 nights at Osmosis and eating at Tickets

3 Jul

My last day at Osmosis was Friday, June 29. Frederic cooked a beautiful family meal with some of the best beef I’ve tasted in Spain – perfectly marbled, seared on the outside, rare on the inside. I’m such a meat eater! My last week was a blast and my last night was the busiest of them all, with around 50 people seated within an hour. We had a table of 16, which means it’s a challenge to get hot plates to everyone all at the same time. But, we did it.

The last week’s menu was as follows (with the Lamb confit dish featured at top – yummmmm):

Following are the pictures of the plates, minus the fish dish (I can’t seem to find that pic).

The potato cream with crayfish and jamon iberico:

This is a very easy recipe:

Boil some waxy, not starchy potatoes, until they are fork-tender but not falling apart. Leave the skins on. Then, put them in a very hot pan with hot olive oil and roast until they are brown. Take all roasted potatoes and throw them in a thermomix (or good food processor) with some heavy cream, some chicken stock, a little butter, and a little salt and pepper until you get a thick soup consistency. Put all through a chinois or china cap. This step is important, as it you want the soup to be smooth and you’ll only get it this way by straining out the potato skins.

Then, either keep the soup warm for service or put in fridge until you’re ready to re-heat and serve. You might need to adjust/thin out the consistency with more stock. Just before service, get the grill hot and throw on some raw crayfish that are de-shelled. Cook until just under-done. They will continue to cook when you take them off the heat and also put them in the hot soup. So, don’t overcook.

Add 2 crayfish to the middle of each bowl of soup. Add some finely diced iberico ham or cured meat around the crayfish. Top with your favorite micro green or herb, more fresh cracked pepper and a drizzle of your favorite, very good extra virgin olive oil (this is not the one you use for cooking).

Carnet notes that this is an extremely rich dish, which is true. So, it might benefit from some sort of acid in it.

The rice with foie gras, candied ginger, asparagus and baby squash:

The cheese plate with 3 different marmalades (delicious!):

Dessert #1 – the Pina colada, which is pineapple sorbet over pineapple-rum “soup”, served with baby coconut macaroons, fresh grated and dried coconut, and a spray of rum:

Finally, tres chocolates (but I forgot to take a pic before I ate the first bite, which was baileys ice cream over crushed mocha cookies):

Here’s the crew, including another stage and 3 servers, minus Nacho, who is the other owner of Osmosis:

Here’s Little John (sous chef) and Chef Frederic in the kitchen:

And, here’s Frederic, C and me, on Saturday night. I didn’t work that night, as C flew in, so Frederic treated us to dinner in our own private room, with scrumptious wine pairings which Nacho put together. Fantastic!

Muchas gracias, Frederic, Nacho y John, para todo. He aprendido mucho y fue muy divertido!

Going back a few days, Thursday night, I went to Tickets which is an Albert Adria restaurant. My friend Diana gathered 8 of us and it was a 5 hour dinner! The company was perfect. Everyone was so interesting, so different, and incredibly nice. The food was super fun, some even whimsical, and most of it was excellent (very few items were just “good”). People try to get into Tickets 6 months in advance, but Diana called Quim and asked for a favor, so we were all very lucky. And, it was nice that Albert came to speak to our table at the end of the meal.

I won’t post all of the pics from dinner, as there are too many. I’ll just post some highlights. First, the menu cover and what the restaurant looks like inside:

Next, the really fun “olives” made by spherification. They weren’t really olives, but rather a thin membrane over liquid that tasted like green olives.

Spherification is a process through which a liquid is mixed with sodium alginate, and dripped into a cold solution of calcium chloride or calcium carbonate. Reverse spherification, for use with substances which contain calcium, requires dripping the substance into an alginate bath. Both methods give the same result: a sphere of liquid held by a thin gel membrane, texturally similar to caviar. The modern adaptation of this technique to food was developed by Ferran and Albert Adria.

At Tickets, the spherification technique was also used for the olive oil and other liquid “caviars” and pearls that were served atop the oysters and other tapas. You’ll see more, below.

The oysters were good, but I thought were more visually stunning than they tasted, other than the pearl itself, which was filled with seawater. But, then again, I’m a picky oyster eater, and I’m remembering fondly the weekend earlier this year when Bob and Steph flew into SF and 4 of us (C,too) went oyster eating in Tomales Bay. Yummmm.

The aged beef was beautiful, as was the lobster, both in appearance and taste.

Yep, we eat the coral and roe and all in Spain.

The smoked sardines were great and again, I loved the presentation:

But, by far my two favorite dishes of the evening where the navajas (razor clams) and the “cheese puffs with olive oil caviar”. Wow, wow, wow. Both in appearance – the plates were perfect – and taste, these knocked my socks off. Here they are:

The desserts didn’t blow me away, but that’s hard to do these days 😉

But, the company more than made up for that. Here’s the crew, with Mariane holding up the bonita chips.

And, Diana and me:

Yep, my life is grande!

Tonight, I’m off with dad, Maren and C to roam and see what food we can find…something a little more simple, I think.

Buen Provecho!

A fun weekend and now eating uber healthy

26 Jun

S and F were in Barcelona for 3 days before heading back to HI. So, they had an eating “line-up” that rivaled any I’ve ever experienced. Friday: Alkimia into Dos Palillos. Saturday: El Quim into CalPep into Osmosis. Of course, I joined them on Saturday for all of the eating and festivities.

The picture at top is a pastry from Cal Pep. I used that as my feature pic because it was one of the best pastries I’ve had in Catalonia. Most of the pastries of this sort are way too sweet and the dough is not flaky and light. This one… wow, it was perfect. The custard inside was not too sweet and it had this very airy quality about it. The pastry was light and flaky and the contrast was delicious!

Now, compared to the San Joan pastries that I had and which everyone around town buys and eats for the celebration, you can just go ahead and throw the sorry San Joan pastries in the trash. Think: bad fruitcake. Now, that seems like an oxymoron to me, as I think all fruitcake is horrendous, but the San Joan pastries managed to beat out fruitcake as the worst pastry I’ve ever eaten. They were like day old, stale white bread with candied fruit on top, all covered with simple syrup that hadn’t even soaked into the bread. Even my hamsters (when I had them) – and they were sugar fanatics – wouldn’t have eaten those.

I digress. Back to good food! Cal Pep is Shannon’s favorite tapas restaurant in Barcelona. To be sure, it has good tapas – very “clean”. I don’t think they were the best I’ve ever eaten (because I’m spoiled and have eaten so many in Barcelona), but I understand why she loves the place. It’s the atmosphere, it’s the chef, it’s the other cooks. They are all very festive. I will take my dad and Maren there when they visit.

Here are few pics of the tapas that were executed perfectly:

Clams in olive oil and lemon (these were the highlight, along with the pastry, for me):

Padron peppers (if you can’t execute these perfectly, you’re not Spanish):

And, of course the thing that many tapas restaurants love to give us when we say “chef’s choice”, even though we’re from Hawaii and eat poke all of the time, is the tuna tartar:

We also had jamon iberico, excellent fried artichokes, fried calamari (which was actually pretty bad – rubbery and cold), and a succulent beef dish.

The chef loved Shannon, as everyone does, so here’s a pic of the signed artwork he gave her:

Here’s a pic of half of our party in Cal Pep. I was, along with 3 others, at one end of the bar, so you can see that the place is not very big. That’s why it’s necessary to get in line about 1 hour before it opens. We did. There are a lot worse things than waiting with friends you love and drinking a couple of bottles of cava while you wait 😉

Man, everyone looks awesome in that pic!

Okay, back to food. So, after CalPep, we went to a wine bar. Then, I had to detox and take a nap for a few hours before a rich dinner at Osmosis. The biggest hit of the evening at Osmosis, in addition to the baby pears with pop rocks in them, was the foie micuit. I have given the recipe in a prior blog post, but I don’t remember posting a pic of the presentation. Here it is:

After dinner, 6 of the 8 of us decided we needed to see what the San Joan celebration was all about, so we went to El Born for an after dinner cocktail (for me: Hendrick’s and Fevertree with a cucumber) – at 1:00 a.m. We wanted to sit outside, but most of the bars had closed their outdoor seating by then. I wasn’t sure if it was because there were random fireworks – and some pretty big and scary – being lit indiscriminately, or if they just closed the outside seating at a certain hour. No matter, we found a cute bar. We went up this windy staircase and sat at “kids tables” with kids chairs. Seriously, I think they were from kids’ playrooms as everything was miniature. I loved it, of course. I think it also had to do with scaling. The ceiling was very low and the room wasn’t very big, so it was genius in a way.

Here’s a pic of the stir sticks I love. The bar was called Pitin Bar.

Sunday, I went to the beach with Quim and to Escriba, a seafood restaurant on the beach. There are 2 Escriba brothers who are friends of Quim. One of the brothers is a chocolatier and the other is a chef/owner of the Escriba seafood restaurant. At the restaurant, we had delicious paella Valenciana, a yummy tomato and onion salad, great clams, and my favorite dish – this puffy, hollow flat bread with jamon iberico on top, served with a side of tomato fondue. The presentation was fun! Here’s an iPhone pic:

It was a gorgeous day – mid 80s fahrenheit – and Escriba is a fabulous venue in which to eat. It’s open air and you can stare at the ocean. I learned that there was no beach there before the Olympics. Obviously, there are lots of “improvements” to cities who win the Olympics, but I am learning just how much Barcelona – and its tourists – benefitted from the Olympics. Beaches and public transit were either non-existent or in a bad way prior to the Olympics.

So, after such an indulging weekend, it’s not a surprise I had a horrendous stomach ache all Sunday night and Monday. After work on Monday, I went to the health food store and bought some aloe vera designed to drink (it coats the stomach and aids in digestion) and decided to eat healthy for a few days. Dinner was a bowl of miso soup with shitakes and tofu (I made at the apartment). Breakfast this a.m. was a bowl of quinoa cooked in milk, honey and cinnamon, topped with raisins, walnuts and fresh pear. Here’s breakfast:

I think this hot cereal would be ideal on a cold winter day and it’s super simple. Quinoa Breakfast Recipe: Heat 2 cups milk to a simmer, add in 1 cup quinoa. Simmer for about 1/2 hour or until quinoa is cooked. Add in 1 tsp. good honey and cinnamon and stir. Top with raisins, walnuts, and fresh cut pear. You can top it with anything you like, but I like the combo of nuts, dried fruit and fresh fruit. You can also use water instead of milk, or switch it with another “milk” that is a non-dairy option.

Buen Provecho!

Week 3 done at Osmosis, 1 more to go

22 Jun

So, this is my third stage and next week will be my 4th and final week at Osmosis. I was thinking about all that I’ve learned over the last 3 months (much Spanish not being one of them) and what I would tell people like me who are interested in career changes to the culinary world and what I would tell any person who went to culinary school about doing stages. So, below, here’s a quick list of what I’ve learned in regards to staging (if you’re not interested, scroll to the bottom for some pics of the Osmosis kitchen and a quick recipe for making foams):

1) Age helps, in terms of experience and confidence. I was thinking about why I got so lucky to have my picks of the stages I wanted (including at Can Fabes, which I turned down) and I do think my resume, although very weak in the restaurant department, helped. Luck was a factor, of course, but I know the chefs who offered me stages looked at my resume and could tell I was older than the average stage. I was super nervous when I embarked on this journey that my age was going to be a negative factor in people wanting to give me a shot in the kitchen – and it still may be in the U.S.- but so far, it hasn’t been an issue in Spain. And, for as conservative and male-driven this culture is in many ways (and in restaurant kitchens), I would have thought both my age and gender would have been a factor. Surprise! I think they take me more serious. And, I think a good cover letter (emails, in my case) which was full of confidence I don’t think I really had at the moment, really helped open the doors, as well. So, being “a little older” helped, in this instance 😉

Can you do what I’ve done if you’re in your 20s and fresh out of culinary school? Absolutely! But you’ll be competing with all of the other 20-somethings doing the same thing. So, you’ll need to stand out. Be #1 in your class, enter some competitions and win (young chefs do that a lot in Spain), do something that shows your maturity or skills that make up for your lack of experience and young age. Go meet chefs in person and network. Then, when you get the stages, be quiet, listen, and work your butt off, which leads me to my next point.

2) Don’t be cocky in the kitchen when you’re not the chef. I’ve worked with other stages and the chefs talk behind their backs, especially about the young ones who are cocky, and the cocky ones have been yelled at and put in their places way more than I have. And, it’s not because I haven’t screwed up just as much – I have forgotten some crucial things, I have dropped plates, I have run into people, I have done all the things in a restaurant kitchen that every single person will do at one time or another. But, I say mea culpa (my fault, my bad), I try really hard to not make the same mistake twice (which means I write stuff down!), I ask questions, I’m silent when I need to be and I never brag. If you’ve learned something that you think is a “better” way, say something like, “what do you think if I did it this way?” and demonstrate. You might surprise the chef or s/he may tell why s/he prefers her way. It’s all good learning from that conversation, no matter what.

3) And, watch EVERYTHING. Do your work as fast, as meticulous, and as well as you can, keeping one eye on your knife, of course, and one eye on what everyone else is doing. If all you ever do is work on your own stuff, you’ll never truly understand how a restaurant kitchen runs. If being a restaurant chef is your goal, then you need to watch what everyone else is doing. You need to put it altogether in your head. Ask questions. If you don’t, they likely won’t tell you what they’re doing, as you’re a grunt and many times everyone else is super busy. But, you’re there to learn, so watch everything.

4) If you are working 12-16 hours a day for free as a stage and you can’t manage to watch anyone else, ask questions or learn anything other than how to prep for mis en place or clean, you’re in the wrong place. Staging is definitely about you gaining experience. Expect to prep, expect to clean, but after a week or two, expect to start doing recipes on your own and to plate. I politely backed out of a stage at a 2 star Michelin restaurant in the U.S. (which shall remain unnamed) when, early on, I was told to scrub jerusalem artichokes for 6 hours with steel wool. No one gave me gloves, and when I suggested that there were other ways to clean them equally as well and more efficiently that wouldn’t rip my hands up, they weren’t interested. If all the restaurant is interested in doing is getting free prep labor, you’ll learn that in the first week and that place isn’t for you. Here’s where I give cudos to Commonwealth in San Francisco. I had a short run of staging with them during culinary school and it was awesome. They encouraged me to get involved from day 1 and jump in, help plate, actually make recipes. This set the tone for my expectations of other stages. This is the type of stage you want. They’re out there. That leads me to my next thought…

5) How do you know if a restaurant is right for you? Do some research, ask people if they can put you in contact with prior stagiers at that restaurant (assuming the restaurant has had any), and when you approach the restaurant make sure to set your expectations clearly at the beginning, in a cover letter, on the phone or in person. That means, know what you can handle and what other commitments you have in your personal life that may impact the hours and days you can work. For example, “Here’s what I know how to do, here’s what I’d like to learn, here’s how many hours I can work and on what days.” Some restaurants, especially Michelin-starred ones, will likely have contracts that they’ll ask you to sign saying the hours and days you’ll work. Have a conversation and tell them what you’d like to do. If they say it’s the same for every stage and they’re unwilling to accommodate your schedule, ask for details. If it’s 12+ hour days without breaks, pass. There are so many things wrong with that, but the main thing is that it’s a sign that all they are interested in is free labor and that’s not the environment that you’re going to thrive in, no matter your age. Times are tough all over and that means that any employer is going to try to get free labor where and when they can, but don’t take the place of what otherwise should be paid position, or at least not for long. Have some dignity!

6) It’s about the people you work with and networking, so never ever blow a connection. If you quit a place, or quit it earlier than you told them you would, find a way to politely get out of the situation. It’s inevitable that you’ll find yourself in a situation you hadn’t expected (like me), but then think hard on what is the proper approach to leave. I always say thank you for the opportunity to have learned from you – always! What else to say? Ask a trusted friend, another chef/cook, your confident. But, bounce it off someone before you just quit and walk away. Sometimes the truth doesn’t need to be said e.g. “I’m working 16, *#@$)#@(! hours a day for free with no breaks. You’re understaffed. Your cooks don’t like you.” None of that needs to be said, as much as one may want to say it 😉

Having said all that, 2 of my stages in Spain have been amazing. 2 chefs are incredible teachers, are interested in teaching, are respectful, share all recipes and are super psyched that I ask questions. Actually, I’ve had such great learning experiences at all my restaurants, just not all fun learning experiences. Fun is part of it. Never forget that. I don’t! After all, at the end of the day, if you’re rich and lucky enough to choose your own food and to cook it for other people, it should make you and others smile.

Okay, enough advice for the moment. Here a couple pics of the Osmosis kitchen. I have learned a ton about how to work in small kitchens and how to make “do”. For 3-5 people working in the kitchen at once (depending upon the day), the Osmosis kitchen is not all that small. But it’s all about being able to plate 15-20 plates at the same time, sometimes. And, they don’t have a ton of counter space to do that. Nonetheless, it all works because after a certain amount of time, the chef and all the cooks just gel and it’s like an orchestra, with each person moving in synchrony with the rest, each using his/her own instruments.

Kitchen view 1 – the 6 burner stove and the only oven – it’s an all-in-one convection/non-convection:

The chef’s counter for plating, along with the fridges (the stoves and oven are 4 feet directly behind the plating station):

If you look at the head just beyond the chef’s station, that will be where “the pass” is. The pass is where the waiters pick up the food. Just to the left of the pass is the cold apps, dessert, and prep station.

The cold apps, dessert station, and prep station:

Here’s where I start my day. As an example, this morning I blanched and shocked the tomatoes and peeled them to make tomato juice and also tomato confit for under this week’s fish. I cleaned (no water) the rustiñol, which are chanterelles, which I do every morning. It’s kind of a zen thing and I ask to do it, especially on hang-over mornings. I peeled and confit peaches, I made flat bread to hold the foie in place on the plate, I trimmed the fat and other ukie parts off the ox tenderloin, I scraped the peal off the roasted red peppers for this (and last) week’s pepper cream. Then, I moved to the burners and did the razor clams a la plancha; blanched and shocked the baby carrots; and did basically whatever else the chef asked. Sometimes I don’t understand a thing Frederic says because he says it in a mix of French, Castilian and Catalan. So, when he asks “Vale”? (okay) and I shake my head not and say “no entiendo”, he points and makes gestures with his hands. Thank goodness for kitchen sign language!

At top are my chanterelles and the tomatoes ready for me to play with at the prep station.

Oh oh, the Greece-Germany futbol game just started, so I’m wrapping this up. One quick recipe and a shot of today’s favorite chocolate…

I talked about fresh tomato juice foam on top of fish. Here’s the fast and super simple recipe, if you’re into foams. Some may criticize and say foams are so 1985. Okay, you haters. Try this with fresh tomato juice from excellent tomatoes and tell me you don’t like it.

2 cups fresh tomato juice. If you get it from the store, it’s too thick and you’ll either need to add some water or strain it. Add to it about 2 tablespoons soy lecithin. You can get this in any health food store. It comes in powdered form. Hand blend with your hand blender right before you serve it. Take a tablespoon or soup spoon, fill it up with just the top of the foam, and push the foam off with your finger onto the vegetable or fish or meat of your choice.

Here’s the soy lecithin. Scroll through my prior posts to see me blending it:

And, the chocolate…

Buen provecho!

More things I’ve learned at Osmosis and windows and doors of BCN

17 Jun

This was breakfast: garlic spinach atop organic eggs atop pan con tomate. Sencillo pero perfecto before my 2 hour walk today through Gracia, a barrio I had not yet thoroughly explored.

As I was eating breakfast I was thinking about how many beautiful doors, windows and building facades there are in Barcelona, and I decided to see how many gorgeous-to-me doors I could count in a 10 block radius. Well, I got distracted by the gorgeous windows and churches, as well, so I gave up on counting. But, below are a few that exemplify how amazing they are. The doors are all at least 12 feet tall and most have ornamental decorations above and around them.

And, then the windows…

Okay, enough of my being enamored of the architecture here. Onto food and what more I’m learning!

Summer is here and that means amazing produce. Although I didn’t think baby carrots were in season, they are on lots of menus and they are sweet! Baby carrots here are not what “baby carrots” are in the U.S. Here, they are young, thin carrots with the green tops still on them. In the U.S., they are the bite-sized ones that are about half as long as our pinky fingers and ready to eat out of the sealed plastic bags they come in. Don’t get me wrong – I scarf up those types of baby carrots all the time in the U.S. They are my go-to snack with some hummus or eggplant dip or a dill-yogurt sauce.

But, if you get a chance to buy the young carrots with the green tops on them, buy them. Don’t throw away the tops. I’ll tell you what you can do with them after I suggest 2 simple ways to clean them. But, cut the tops off the carrots, leaving about 1 inch of the green top still on the carrot “for show.” Save tops.

Onto cleaning…. How do you clean the young carrots without losing half the carrot? Well, put away the peeler. You’ll lose half the carrot if you use the peeler on it. Instead, use one of these 2 equally effective methods.

First way: buy a clean sponge at the store with a soft scrubbing surface. They are the dish sponges in which one side is just sponge and the other has a scrubby side to it. They make sponges that have softer scrubby sides, so buy one of those. They are the ones marketed in the U.S. to use on teflon surfaces. Use the soft scrubby side of one of those to gently remove the fine hairs and any dirt on the young carrots. No need to wash the carrots first. Gently scrub and then run under cold water to remove anything remaining and to refresh the carrot.

Second way: Put a few ice cubes in water and throw the carrots in the ice water for 2 minutes. You’ll see the dirt and some of the fine hairs start to fall off in the water. After 2 minutes, take the carrots out one by one and use a clean dish cloth (not terry) to rub off any remaining dirt or hairs.

Then, if you want to cook them, I suggest slicing them in half lengthwise, throwing them in a hot pan with some spicy olive oil and searing them for no longer than 1-2 minutes until slightly browned and caramelized but still crunchy. Throw in some mushrooms at about the 1 minute mark, take off the heat 1 minute later and top with fresh cracked black pepper and rosemary salt. This is a very simple side or topper to a nice pork medallion or steak. Or, stir fry the carrots with some summer peas and mushrooms, and top with edible flowers. If you keep just a bit of the green on the top of the carrot, it still looks like a carrot should 🙂

What to do with the green tops of the carrots? At Osmosis, we use the very tops as “herbs” or micro greens to garnish different dishes. They are edible, and if they’re really fresh, they taste like carrots. Do an experiment. Close your eyes and take a small taste of the carrot top greens (not the stalks, just the leaves) and see if you like them. If they are bitter, they may be too big or a bit old. If they’re smaller and more delicate, use them in salads, on meats or as a pretty, edible garnish.

Other things I learned at Osmosis:

1) With seafood, it’s always best to get it live and kill it yourself, when possible. Por ejemplo: Navajas (razor clams). Just like any shellfish, they should be “live” when you get them. If they are not, there’s a chance you’ll poison your customers or friends and family. And, that’s bad. So, at Osmosis, this past week, I have been the one to play with the razor clams first thing when I get in. The razor clam guy delivers them alive and fresh, and then I wash them (to get the algae and whatever else off of them), then I throw them on the plancha (flat top grill) that is smoking hot – literally – with some olive oil. After 1-2 minutes, all the clams stop wiggling, presumably because I’ve killed them, and all of their shells open up. I take them off the grill, use one side of the razor clam shell to carefully slide the clams out of their shells and that’s how they are served. No salt, no nothing else is needed. They are placed on top of the soup, or on top of whatever else we’re serving them with, and that’s how they are best. Incredibly fresh. Barely cooked. Sweet and salty at the same time.

2) Honeydew melon and fresh ginger is a stunning combo. To make a cold summer, dessert soup, run a very ripe melon through a juicer, or put the melon in the food processor and then put it through a metal sieve to get rid of the pulp. Juice some fresh ginger and mix just a bit of the ginger juice in with the melon. You can always add more ginger juice, but it gets spicy quickly, so add a bit at a time. I also think this would make a great cocktail mixer with some vodka over the rocks. I might throw a splash of lime in with it, as well.

3) Gelatin is your friend (not jell-o). I haven’t met a chef in Spain that doesn’t use sheet or leaf gelatin for their desserts. I haven’t asked why, but I’ve learned that sheet gelatin is a handy and efficient ingredient for setting things up quickly without needing much refrigeration. I’m not sure why gelatin as an ingredient became so favored here, so I’m going to take a few guesses. It may have its origins from not having access to much refrigeration. Or, it may have its origins from the fact that this is the “old world” and they use every part of everything here, and gelatin is a byproduct of bones, cartilage and fat. When you cook meat or boil bones for stock and then refrigerate them, you can see the gelatinous qualities after the fat has “set up.”

Or, maybe it’s about the mouthfeel. The upper melting point of sheet gelatin is below body temperature, so it makes for an interesting mouthfeel when combined with almond milk (as in the flan I made at Dos Palillos), cheese (as in a passion fruit no-bake cheesecake made at El Quim), or fresh fruit pulp/juice (as in the melacotón gelatin square made at Osmosis that melts when it hits your tongue).

I did a little research on gelatin today to learn more about it. I knew that gelatin is derived mainly from pork skins, pork, horse, and cattle bones. I had always heard that is was made from other parts of horses but, contrary to popular belief, horns and hooves are not used, if you believe the Gelatine Manufacturers Institute of America (could be propaganda, I know).

4) Caña is beer in Catalan, but it also means “cane”, as in sugar cane. I learned how to make a killer Jamaican pepper sauce for beef or ox using concentrated sugar cane. I asked Little John to show me what they used for the sauce and he brought out a bottle of concentrated caña. I tasted it and said, “ahhh, molasses.” Apparently, molasses is a very “American” thing. They use sugar cane here. And, this concentrated sugar cane was not blackstrap molasses which is a highly processed molasses that is an American “invention” from the 1920s that has little original sugar cane from being highly processed. But, blackstrap molasses does have more minerals and vitamins in it. Go figure.

Anyway, I also didn’t know what Jamaican pepper was, but I asked him to show me. I smelled it and then guessed from the scent, flavor and looks of it that it was allspice. At home later, I confirmed with the help of the internet that I was right. I’m actually quite surprised that I didn’t know what “pimiento de Jamaica” was. I should probably be embarrassed but it’s all about the learning!

5) One of the big keys to Chef Frederic’s incredible sauces is his amazing beef stock. It is rich in vegetables and black pepper. Chef Frederic is a big fan of fresh cracked black pepper. Finally! A chef who likes black pepper as much as I do. Although he cooks with a lot of French influences, he’s not afraid of the pepper. And, when one uses top shelf peppercorns and everything is freshly ground, it makes a world of difference. So, if you have a pepper “shaker” at your house with already ground pepper in it and it has been on your shelf for quite a while, go ahead and throw it out. That pepper is probably years old (as it’s old by the time you buy it off the supermarket shelf), and it has a high dust content which will contribute to your allergies. Go to a good spice shop, smell the peppercorns, and buy a grinder. It’s not a big expense and it makes all the difference. Then make sure to throw out old peppercorns (or use them in a short amount of time!). You’ll be surprised at the taste.

End of Week 1 at Osmosis

9 Jun

I’m loving it! Oooohh, I’m so mad McDonald’s uses that as a tag line, as I’ve always used it and now it sounds gross when I say it. Anyway, I AM loving my new stage, the chefs, and the food we produce. I’m also loving my weekends that are now free after early Sat a.m. (after the late night Friday shift is over). At top, here are a couple of pics when i was meandering the streets of Barcelona today.

I tried a new fruit yesterday called mispero – it looks like an apricot but tastes like a starfruit to me. I had never had it before. It’s light, refreshing, and best when soaked in ice water, which I’m now getting hooked on. Every day at Osmosis family meal there is a bucket of seasonal fruit (for past few days, it is peaches, mispero and cherries) in ice water (easier for peeling, as well). I know you’re not suppose to ice fruit as it changes the flavor, but when you’re in a hot kitchen this is a great thirst quencher and a refreshing treat.

Toward the end of the week, it was much busier at lunch and dinner, as it will be through June when the tourists start to flock in. It’s locals for lunch and mostly tourists at night. I’m feeling useful, and, as usual I get a chance to be really useful when it comes to translations. 2 nights ago, 2 darling young blond women from Australia were eating upstairs and Chef Frederic came down to the kitchen and asked me to go translate. He couldn’t understand their accent. Apparently, I have a very good “English” accent 😉 All they wanted was more Bailey’s ice cream, so that was an easy one.

I like that there’s nothing Chef Frederic or Sous Chef John won’t let me do in the kitchen. Last night, I made the apple-foie dish (see recipe below, if you like foie, and even if you don’t, it’s a pretty spectacular dish), I plate everything, jump in and make things when they need it, work side by side with Chef when he’s in the kitchen and little John when Chef is not. John is a great teacher, so much so that he even says to me, “taste this, it is bad.” I say things like, “no thanks. if you you think it’s bad, it’s bad.” Then, he insists that I taste it off of the same spoon that he just tasted it. It’s not a wonder i get “colds” and my stomach turns somersaults from working in kitchens in Spain. I love that he wants me to understand the difference between the old product we’re surely not going to serve to customers and the very new one, but I got that one 😉 I had that one a long time ago: don’t serve rank food to anyone, period. Taste everything that is not brand new, even if you made it yesterday, as some bacteria could have spoiled it or something could have gone wrong with it overnight. Now, if these kitchens, including Dos Palillos, could get used to the concept of labeling and dating what they make and refridge or freeze, this would definitely help with knowing what’s old and what’s new. But, Osmosis at least markers “antiguo” and “nuevo” on the “film” (plastic wrap) that covers everything.

Apple Vanilla Foie Bar with caramelized sugar, sea salt, and balsamic reduction. Foie – get good quality foie, if you’re not in CA or one of the other states that has banned it. Make sure it was as humanely treated as possible, although I still argue that force-feeding anything until its organ(s) are several times the natural size is probably not humane under any circumstances. But, I digress. Chop it up into small chunks. Brunoise approximately 2/3 the amount of peeled, green apples as there is foie. Brunoise is a very small cut. Saute the apples in butter and put whole vanilla beans in the pot to scent it. Sprinkle in some salt. When the apples are caramelized a bit and before they start breaking down too much, add them into the foie (remove vanilla bean). Stir everything together for several minutes, as the hot apples help “cook” the foie. Then, put into small rectangular molds and freeze. When frozen, top with sugar, caramelize the sugar with a torch, sprinkle on some maldon sea salt, put a drizzle of balsamic reduction on the side for garnish, et voila! So simple, so decadent, and it has some “wow” factor.

Here’s a second recipe which I’ll probably use, although it employs the use of lots of film, which is obviously not great for the environment. It’s the perfect 6-minute poached egg. I’ve seen chefs who can poach an egg perfectly and make it look oh so lovely on the plate, but it takes some skill, and when you have 5 other burners going with 5 other things in them at the same time you’re trying to make perfect poached eggs, the error factor is high.

Here’s a preview of the first steps:

Use some some flan cups or small plant pots, line them with plastic wrap, paint the inside of the plastic wrap with olive oil, carefully crack and drop one egg into the pot, top with a little pinch of salt flake and cracked pepper, carefully squeeze the air out of the plastic wrap (make sure to twist the wrap right at the point where the white meets the “air”), and seal with scrunched plastic wrap made to form a twist tie. Double knot it. Refrigerate until ready to use. Then, when you’re ready to poach, drop the plastic bundle in simmering water, set the timer for 6 minutes, and then after 6 minutes put it in a nearby ice water bath for 30 seconds or so. Finally, carefully cut the twist tie off, carefully peel away the plastic and invert the egg so the round side is up in a bowl or on a plate or on top of rice or soup or whatever.

So, the idea is to make these little egg bundles ahead of time so all you have to do is drop the bundle in the water. No mistakes, all uniform little bundles on the plates, or in our case in the bowl in the center of the squash cream.

I have always said the mark of a good restaurant is the bathroom. That may sound silly, but I think you need to look at how the owner/chef treats every aspect of the restaurant. If it’s gross and dirty and the bathroom is disgusting, your food is probably not handled quite as nicely and is not as “clean” as it should be. So, this is the employee bathroom at work. Yep, fresh flowers, cloth hand towels, very clean. It has a shower, which the cooks use in between shifts as it’s bloody hot in the kitchen and it’s not even mid-June.

Here it is:

And, here is a pic of one of the 4, small dining rooms to choose from. The restaurant is a converted 3, story flat in an apartment building. It’s pretty cool. It gives intimacy and tranquility to the place, and in the event there’s a party of around 20, they get a room all to themselves (we had a party of 24 the other day) so they don’t disturb other clients. We call restaurant patrons “clientes” in Spain.

One last parting thought before I stop blogging for a few days (I’m going up to Cadaques to meet Shan, Fred and their kids)… I think good chefs don’t mind sharing their recipes. This question of to share or not to share isn’t new, and many great chefs whom I have had the pleasure to meet or hear speak have said they have no problems sharing their recipes. Why? Because it’s about endless reinvention. You share and someone “plays” off of it and makes it different or maybe even better. The idea of putting eggs in film is not new, but it was new to me and I love the idea because of the way the egg looks and for the ease of cooking. The idea of putting foie with apples isn’t new, but the Osmosis twist makes it excellent. Would I change something about each recipe? I might, and maybe I will if I use either. It’s about sharing ideas to keep pushing the envelope. And, people go out to dinner because they don’t want to make the food at home, even if they have the recipe. So, I will always share my recipes (and those of others whose I have, unless I’m specifically forbidden not to, of course). Please, try them, experiment with them, have fun with them. That’s what making food and cooking is all about!

First Day at Osmosis (I’m on a break until dinner service)

5 Jun

So far, amazing and good!  I like my chef Frederic a lot, except that he has threatened to put “cinco kilos” on me before I leave at the end of the month.  Translation: he thinks I’m skinny and wants to put 10 pounds on me by the end of June.  No problem. I’ve already eaten his sweetbreads and artichokes with truffle sauce, tasted some of their cheeses from their cheese plate, and tasted the sour cherry and vanilla dessert  – all delightful.  Yep, I even liked the sweetbreads, but of course that was because they were fried and smothered in a delicious sauce on top of a fried artichoke.

I also like “little Joan”, the lunch chef. He is muy tranquilo (very calm) and he is a very good teacher. He explained everything and showed me how to plate everything. Granted, lunch service was not busy.  They tell me that as of next week, it’s going to get packed because that’s when tourist season officially starts.  Then, I don’t know how tranquilo things or chefs will be, but right now, it’s mellow.  And, of course, it’s my first day so everyone is ultra patient and nice.

I did a fun micro greens tasting and they made me guess at what I was tasting. Unfortunately, the first micro green I tasted was a cross between an onion and garlic, so that kind of blew my palette.  I was bad at guessing the rest, although I could use descriptive words such as “picante” to describe the pepper micro green.  I couldn’t guess mustard green for the life of me, although I knew what it was because I had tasted it before.  I think visually they were throwing me off, as well, as I hadn’t seen these versions of micro greens.  They really do add another dimension to the food, and they are all selected with particular dishes in mind.

I got an introduction to a new-to-me mushroom. It’s called a rollevones, or in Catalan, robellones.  It kind of looks like an egg. Here’s what it looks like whole:

Rollevones grow for only 2 weeks in the spring and they are something else. We use them in the risotto dish, but they are also commonly used in egg dishes, I am told. The meaning translates into “golden fungus of the gods.”

Here’s the English translation version of this week’s tasting menu (I crumbled it up and put it in my pocket, so that’s why it looks terrible):

The lunch menu starts with the Lobster salad. The lobster salad is poached lobster pieces underneath a micro green salad next to a slice of potato topped with fresh cow’s milk cheese, which is almost like a creme fraiche consistency, and then topped with salmon roe. Next to it is a big swoosh of mango vinaigrette. Here is the picture:

The recipe for the Mango vinaigrette appears very simple, but it’s all about the best ingredients:

2 ripe mangoes
1/2 tall, shot glass full of aged balsamic vinegar
4 tall shot glasses full of a very fruity olive oil
pinch of salt at the end

Directions: puree the mangoes and slowly drizzle in the balsamic, then the olive oil until it’s an emulsion. Strain through a fine sieve. Add salt to balance out the fruitiness. Delicious!!!

The second course on the lunch tasting menu is the Pumpkin cream with poached egg and sobrasada balls. The egg is poached in plastic for 6 minutes so it comes out this darling roundish ball. The sobrasada (spicy sausage) is rolled into balls and then fried. Then the oil from the sobrasada balls is used as a garnish on top of the pumpkin cream. Here’s a picture:

The third course is the mushrooms risotto with setas (mushrooms), in this case the rollevones and another mushroom that looks a lot like chanterelles, and fresh figs:

Fourth course: a mini terrine of caramelized onions, topped with fried artichoke hearts, topped with fried sweetbreads, topped with a truffle, cilantro sauce, and finally topped with a drizzle of miel de caña. Miel = honey. Caña is beer, so I’m missing something in translation on what type of honey it is in actuality. I’ll get clarification on that later. Here it is:

The finale at lunch is the cherry and vanilla dessert. It’s a sour cherry puree with liquor on the bottom, then a small spoonful of sour cherry marmalade, one fresh cherry, and one dried sour cherry triangulated around a cross section of bizcocho (cake) soaked in a cherry juice reduction, topped with vanilla ice cream and a vanilla “wafer”. Beautiful. The sour cherries are expertly complimented by the sweet ice cream. Here is the dessert:

The foie course and the second dessert course of 3 chocolates are added to the dinner tasting menu.

I’m about to run back to work for dinner service. I’m told it will be a lot more chaotic than lunch. We’ll see how I do trying to remember orders, since there is no ticket system. The waiters just run to the kitchen and quietly shout out how many orders of each thing they need when they need it. Can’t wait to see how this goes when it’s busy.

Thursday and Friday at Quims

27 Apr

Thursday for lunch, Quim made us a delicious muscle and pea soup with a saffron and leek broth. The recipe is really simple:

1) Add 1 c. h2o, 1/2 c. of sweet vermouth, and 2 fresh bay leaves to a pot
3) dump in fresh muscles
4) steam muscles until all are opened (discard any still closed at the end)
5) strain muscle broth through a fine chinois and put in a small pan to simmer and reduce a bit
6) remove muscles from shells and cut in 1/2
7) In a saute pan, melt some butter and sauté some julienne leeks (white and pale green parts only)
8) add a large pinch of saffron
9) pour in reserved muscle broth and boil for 2 minutes; add in 5 or whole muscles. set aside to cool
10) Use hand blender to blend muscle broth.
11) strain through a fine chinois, to capture the muscle parts, saffron and leeks. you should now have a nice, smooth broth
12) put broth back into a pan and simmer for a few minutes. add reserved muscles and fresh peas (frozen will do if that’s all you can get) and cook for 1-2 minutes more, if using fresh peas. if using frozen peas, take off heat almost immediately, so peas still have a bit of crunch to them. serve hot with baguette.

It’s amazing how little you need when you have super fresh ingredients, especially seafood.

I met some more lovely, new friends this week. I really loved Christi and Matt from Florida:

They are total foodies, so it was very fun to talk with them. They reminded me of my good friends Shannon and Fred who live to travel and eat. Christi and Matt, if you read this, I hope you open a food truck!

I also got a kick out of the two gorgeous and very smart women from New York (hope you had nice journeys in the Pyrenees), the four Brazilians, and the two super fun women from the cruise ship.

Last night, I decided to make a green curry chicken a la “Tailandia” (Thailand, in Spanish). I brought the finished curry in for the guys today (thanks, C, for bringing to me the good paste all the way from San Fran). The chicken curry was way too picante for some, but others like Yuri, Marcos and Joan liked it. I was surprised that Joan ventured to put into his bowl a few more pieces of freshly chopped red Thai chilies. Go Joan! Most Spanish folks do not eat a lot of “heat”. But, I think it was fun for them to try it, even if most of them were sweating after a few bites. On the Rachel scale of heat, this was about a “4” out of 10. On the Carnet scale, this was about a “2”.

My lunch today: Quim’s creamy gazpacho with fresh lobster claws, and wagyu with patatas. See pics below.

This is Jordi with the dualing, live lobsters:

This is a lobster that clamped onto Antonio’s shirt:

This is the delicious, final product: gazpacho with lobster claws

And, finally, the excellent wagyu:

Yuri was impressed with the amount of food I consumed today. I had breakfast at the apartment at 6:30 a.m., then I ate second breakfast at Quim’s at around 9, then some curry, then some gazpacho, and finally some beef and potatoes. What? My stomach was feeling good today, so I went for it.

Tomorrow is my last day at Quim’s. I’m sad! It has been a blast. This is the best non-paying job I’ve ever had 😉 Incredible people, incredible food, incredible atmosphere. Wish I could take them all home with me.