When traveling, I always have mixed feelings about relying on guidebooks for restaurant and bar suggestions. On the one hand, when you’re in a strange city and have no idea where to go, you might not want to spend limited funds taking a chance on a place that could be a dud. On the other hand, you might miss out on the opportunity to discover something wonderful that you wouldn’t have come upon if you were blindly following a book’s suggestions. Not to mention that guidebook-endorsed restaurants are often full of all the other tourists who bought the same book!
In Seville, as it happens, we came upon a microscopic bar (you can see pretty much the whole place in the top photo!) that we later learned was listed in our Lonely Planet. Happily, its charm was in no way diminished as a result of its having been recognized in print, and it ended up being one of our favorite bars of the entire trip. Bar Àlvaro, in the Calle Mateos Gago, is a quirky family-owned bar open since 1904 (as was conveyed to us in chalk; see photo). Its current owner is Àlvaro Peregil (translation: Oliver Parsley, hehe), who is hands down the most enthusiastic bartender I have ever seen on either side of the Atlantic. He presides over his domain with an infectious energy that makes you feel as if you’re privy to an impromptu celebration for no other reason than that it’s great to be alive. Tall for a Spaniard, he dominates the postage-stamp-sized space with his booming voice and animated gestures, taking orders one minute and grabbing a rhythm stick the next to demonstrate his percussive prowess. We knew instantly that this was our kind of place, and settled in for some drinks and tapas. Continue reading
Confession time: I’m not much for TV food personalities (I don’t even have cable!), but when I was first really getting into cookbooks, I was pretty into Nigella Lawson. There was just something in her breezy “if I can do it, anyone can” manner that was very appealing, and I enjoyed reading her cookbooks as much as I did cooking from them. Nowadays, I’m at a point where most of her recipes (with the exception of baked goods) are things I could whip up on my own without having to consult a cookbook. But there are a few dishes that have stuck with me and become part of my regular repertoire.
This soba noodle salad is one such dish. I’ve made it for countless potlucks and barbecues, and almost always get asked for the recipe. The two great things about it are that it’s ultrafast to make, and that it’s pretty healthy as far as “pasta salad” goes. The original just calls for noodles, scallions and sesame seeds (in addition to the dressing), but I’ve taken to add-ins such as the peapods pictured, or carrot matchsticks, or any raw veg you see fit, really, to make it a bit more salad-y and substantial.
Soba noodles are made with buckwheat flour, which can also make this salad a good gluten free option if you substitute tamari or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos for the soy sauce (I’ve been told tamari usually does not contain wheat gluten, but check labels!). It’s also vegan. I’m not gonna lie, it’s not really substantial enough to have as a main dish, but it makes a great component to an Asian-style meal. We had it the other night as part of a Japan-esque motley dinner of salmon sashimi with yuzu juice, an heirloom tomato, tofu and shiso salad from the Momofuku cookbook, and a mess of stir-fried purple-tinged leafy mystery greens we bought from one of the Asian produce vendors at Eastern Market.
8 oz dried soba (buckwheat) noodles
¼ cup sesame seeds
3-5 scallions, sliced thinly on the bias
6 tsp soy sauce (or sub Bragg’s Aminos for gluten free)
2 tsp honey (non-honey-eating vegans, just sub brown or regular sugar)
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp toasted (dark) sesame oil
optional: 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
optional: additional vegetables, such as peapods or julienned carrot pieces
Notes: The soba noodles I buy come in little 3.5-oz bundles (see photos), so I just use two bundles- close enough. The ginger is optional but a nice touch if you have some on hand. If you’re using additional vegetables, depending on quantity you may want to lightly salt them or toss them in a bit more soy sauce prior to adding them to the salad. This recipe doesn’t make a huge quantity of salad, but it can easily be doubled if serving more than a few people.
Directions: Put a large pot of water on to boil. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry nonstick skillet over low heat, taking care not to burn them. Remove from heat when toasty and fragrant, and allow to cool. Combine all the dressing ingredients (including the ginger, if using) in a large bowl and mix well.
When the water reaches a rolling boil, add the noodles and stir them so they don’t clump. The noodles will cook VERY quickly- test for doneness after 3 minutes. The package instructions (and Nigella, in her version) say 6 minutes but in my experience this yields gummy, overcooked noodles. As soon as the noodles are cooked through, drain in a colander and immediately rinse with cold water until thoroughly cooled. Shake to remove excess water. Toss the noodles in the bowl with the dressing. Add the sesame seeds, scallions, and any other vegetables and toss again to distribute. If you have time, allow the salad to sit for 30 minutes or so before serving for the flavors to develop.
I had seen this “Daring Baker” logo around a few different blogs I frequent, but wasn’t sure what it was all about, so I decided to check it out. For those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s basically a group of food bloggers who all make the same recipe once a month and post about it on a pre-determined day. I had seen some of the completed challenges on fellow MLFB blogger Maggie‘s site, and they looked pretty difficult, but I thought it would be fun to challenge myself. I signed up at the end of January and almost laughed out loud when I got the challenge recipe- a flourless chocolate cake. Ironically, flourless chocolate cake is my “ace in the hole” dessert, the one I can make in my sleep, when I need something that is simple but tastes like a million bucks, and for which I will likely have all the ingredients without having to make a trip to the store. It’s probably the only recipe for a dessert that I have memorized. I like to switch it up by adding different flavors such as cinnamon and cayenne for a “Mayan” cake, espresso powder, or a little orange oil or hazelnut oil. Since the top of the cake caves in and is not much to look at, I usually pile billows of lightly sweetened freshly whipped cream on top. People go into ecstasies at this cake, and it’s only a few ingredients. Once you master the knack of folding the egg whites into the chocolate, you’re golden.
(We’ll pause here for a word from our sponsors: “The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.”)
I was intrigued by the recipe given to us since it varies from mine in that it uses no sugar, less butter and an entire POUND of chocolate!! If you’re feeding a crowd, maybe this is the recipe for you, but this is an extremely rich cake as it is, and I’ve never met anyone who could eat more than a small-to-moderate size piece. But, I was curious to see how the DB recipe stacked up to the one I was used to using. The final product was pretty similar to what I was used to, and may have even been slightly more chocolatey. (My recipe yields a smaller cake, and is a little lighter, less fudgy and more “crumbly” on the edges.) I didn’t make it for Valentine’s Day, but Marvin had invited a couple friends over for dinner last night so I decided that would be as good a time as any. And hey, it wouldn’t be in character for me to make anything more than a day before the deadline!
For the ice cream, our hosts provided a couple recipes for vanilla, but were gracious enough to let us pick our own flavors if we so chose. I was going to do hazelnut ice cream, until I got to the store and found out that hazelnuts were $7.99 for an 8-oz bag. Boo!! I changed tack and chose raspberry instead, seeing as how a bag of good quality frozen raspberries can be had for a few bucks.
If you’d like the Daring Bakers recipe for the cake, it can be found on either of the host blogs linked above. I’m going to give “my” recipe below. If you’re a chocolate lover, make them both and do a taste test and let me know what you think. I have a slightly sentimental attachment to my recipe, as it comes from the first cookbook I ever owned, a tome entitled France the Beautiful Cookbook. In the book, the cake bears the somewhat un-politically correct name “Le Nègre”, but if you can move past that, it’s a good recipe. The ice cream recipe comes from Nigella.
Flourless Chocolate Cake (aka “Le Nègre”)
7 oz best quality bittersweet chocolate
7 oz unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
Directions: Preheat the oven to 375. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Or, do what I always do and nuke them on really low power. I do 5 minutes at 30% power, give it a good stir and then another 3-5 minutes at 20% power. Set aside to cool.
While the chocolate is melting, separate the eggs, putting the whites in a metal bowl if you have one (I use my stand mixer). It’s important that the bowl be very clean and grease free, or the whites will not attain their full potential. (If you get any yolk in with the whites, start over, like I had to do, and save them for scrambled eggs.) Whisk the yolks with half the sugar (you can do this by hand) until mixture becomes pale in color. Whip the whites, gradually adding in the rest of the sugar, until glossy and forming stiff peaks. (This is another difference in my recipe- because the whites have sugar added, they are sturdier when beaten, and I think easier to fold in to the chocolate.)
Once the chocolate has cooled, stir in the egg yolks. Take a large dollop of the egg white and beat it into the chocolate to lighten the mixture. Gently fold the chocolate into the egg whites until completely incorporated and no white remains. The way I go about this is to pour the chocolate a little at a time down the side of the bowl and then stir with a spatula with a scooping motion, down the side, along the bottom of the bowl, up and over.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool on a rack. The cake will fall considerably, but c’est la vie. If you want to decorate it, you can turn it out on a plate so the flat side is on top and use a stencil and powdered sugar to do a design.
Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream (adapted from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson)
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups half and half
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups raspberries
1 1/2 tsp best quality balsamic vinegar
Whisk together egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar. Heat the cream until almost boiling, then pour the hot cream into the egg mixture, whisking. Return to the stove over medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the custard thickens. Let cool, and freeze in an ice cream maker according to instructions. (If you don’t have an ice cream maker, the Daring Bakers hosts give instructions with their recipes.)Make the raspberry sauce by putting the raspberries, balsamic and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a blender and pureeing until smooth. (The balsamic may seem like an odd ingredient, but it really amps up the raspberry flavor.) If desired, put through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the seeds. When the ice cream is almost frozen but still soft enough to stir, put it into a container a little at a time in layers, drizzling the raspberry sauce in as you go. Use a skewer to swirl the sauce through the ice cream. Freeze for another 1-2 hours until firm. I made extra raspberry sauce to drizzle over the top of the cake.
Many of you in the Detroit area may be familiar with the bakery Sugar Kisses in Royal Oak- it’s an all-natural bakery specializing in vegan and gluten-free treats. For any of you out there with these “special needs”, you can appreciate the niche this fills in our community. And even if you choose to/are able to eat “regular” goodies, it’s nice to know that all-natural ingredients are being used.
The owners of Sugar Kisses just found out that the building they’re occupying (on South Washington in Royal Oak) has been sold. The new owners are forcing them out before the end of the year, which is a logistical nightmare as well as disrupting their business at their busiest time of year. Please visit their website to get more information and see how you can help. My band may take part in a benefit concert; stay tuned for details, and be sure to pass this info along to anyone you know who is vegan, has wheat allergies, or just likes yummy baked goods!
Update: My band, Scarlet Oaks, is participating in a benefit show for Sugar Kisses this Thursday Dec. 11 at the Woodward Avenue Brewery, located on the corner of Troy St. & Woodward in downtown Ferndale. Please come out and support this valuable asset to our community while enjoying some good beer, music, and treats from the Sugar Kisses kitchen! The event starts at 9pm and there is a $5 suggested donation that will go towards helping Sugar Kisses finance their move to Berkeley.