The first Michigan tomatoes of the season are starting to ripen, and one of my favorite things to do with them is to make gazpacho, the chilled soup that’s a summery blend of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, garlic and bread, enriched with olive oil and spiked with sherry vinegar. In the States (or at least in my neck of the woods), our love of Mexican food has caused mutations to appear, usually in the form of adding cilantro, jalapeños or lime juice, making a tasty soup but one that is much more akin to salsa than a true gazpacho. The tendency here is also to serve gazpacho chunky rather than smooth. Although I don’t necessarily dislike these alterations, my one pet peeve is that many of these salsa-like creations don’t even include gazpacho’s signature ingredient (the bread!), often making them too acidic to eat a whole bowlful.
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
So, I know it’s Christmas Eve and you’re all probably running around doing your last-minute preparations. But I’ve been sitting on this post for a long while now and wanted to get it published- there’s a recipe for romesco sauce that you just might be interested in if you need a last-minute appetizer for a Christmas or New Year’s party.
There ain’t no party like a Detroit… sherry tasting!
Those of you who have been following this blog are familiar by now with the GU Detroit*, a loose collective of “food and drink professionals and serious enthusiasts”. A couple months ago the topic of sherry came up in the forums, and since no one was extremely knowledgeable, and because we all love an excuse to get together and imbibe, our friend and cohort Suzanne seized the occasion to host a sherry tasting.
*That’s “gee-you Detroit”, short for Gourmet Underground, not “goo Detroit”, in case you were wondering.
The GU Detroit gang being what it is, I shouldn’t have been surprised to walk in and see a large table groaning with the weight of what seemed like several tons of food- Spanish charcuterie, cheeses, olives, and tapas of all sorts were nestled in tightly, and I was challenged to find room for my contributions. Although I should be used to this kind of spread at a GUD event, it was still a bit overwhelming and I had that “kid in a candy store” feeling for at least the first hour I was there.
In addition to about 10 or 12 types of sherry, there were wines (including several bottles of Les Hérétiques, a GUD favorite that Putnam and Jarred turned us on to) and homemade cider my brother brought. The tasting was semi-organized in relation to the number of people there- someone (Evan or Putnam, I’m guessing?) had lined up the bottles in order from the pale finos to the darker, richer olorosos so that we could attempt some semblance of a proper tasting. However, due to the somewhat chaotic nature of the event, I can’t tell you much beside the fact that I preferred the lighter sherries; the intense raisiny flavors of the darker sherries were not as much to my liking.
I hadn’t had a chance to cook for quite some time, so the day of the party I decided to go all out and make three different tapas to bring. Flipping through The New Spanish Table, I came across a recipe for deviled eggs with tuna (which I blogged about in a less breezy post than this) that sounded perfect. I also made a batch of romesco sauce from the same book, a paste (although that word makes it sound less appealing than it is) made from hazelnuts and peppers and garlic and sherry vinegar that can be eaten with crudites. Last but not least, I sauteed some button mushrooms with garlic and parsley. I think I’m at my cooking-mojo best at times like these- when I have the day to consecrate to the task, and an event to prepare for.
I can’t wait for the next GU Detroit gathering, aka excuse for me to actually cook. I’m not anticipating doing much cooking to speak of in the next month (not counting lots of scrambled eggs/omelettes and salads for dinner), as I focus on packing and moving house and getting the new house in order, so unless there’s an event to kick me into gear it may be a while before you hear from me, at least regarding new recipes! But I’ll be around, regaling you with other food-related news and happenings.
For now though, here’s the romesco recipe. If you’ve never tried it, I strongly encourage you to do so- it’s a nice break from all the roasted red pepper hummus and cheese spreads and ranch flavored veggie dips so prominent around this time of year. In addition to using it as a dip, it has other applications as well- in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Judy Rodgers cooks shrimp in it (I’ve made this too and it’s uhhh-mazing!!) and I can picture it as a great sauce for chicken too.
Romesco Sauce (adapted from The New Spanish Table)
1 medium-sized ñora pepper or ancho chile
⅔ cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 ½ Tbs toasted breadcrumbs
1 small ripe plum tomato, chopped (if unseasonal, substitute 1 good quality canned plum tomato or 3-4 Tbs canned diced tomatoes)
1 Tbs sweet (not smoked) paprika
pinch of cayenne
6 Tbs fragrant extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs sherry vinegar (quality red wine vinegar may be substituted)
Notes: I could not locate a ñora pepper or ancho chile when I made this last time, so I used something labeled “chile California” which, although inauthentic, worked fine. Also, almonds may be substituted for the hazelnuts, or a combination used. The sauce will have a slightly different character but will still be delicious. If you want to gild the lily, fry the nuts in olive oil instead of dry-toasting them.
Soak the dried pepper in very hot water until softened, about 30 minutes. Remove and discard the stem and seeds and tear into small pieces, either before or after the soaking, whichever is easiest. Reserve the soaking liquid.
Place the nuts in a food processor and pulse a few times until roughly chopped. Add the garlic, pepper, paprika, tomato, breadcrumbs, cayenne and ⅓ cup of the pepper water and pulse until fairly smooth but retaining some texture. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil, processing until completely incorporated.
Scrape the contents into a clean bowl, stir in the vinegar, and season with salt to taste. Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature for the flavors to meld, then taste and season with more salt or vinegar as necessary.
Serve with crudités such as endive leaves, fennel or celery sticks, or use as a sauce for grilled shrimp, chicken or asparagus.
A couple of months ago I had some frequent flier miles burning a hole in my pocket, and decided to plan a trip to visit friends in Seattle. When my old college roommate Kathy heard I was going out that way, she insisted I swing by Portland and stay with her for a couple days. We hadn’t talked in about 10 years but had recently reconnected on Facebook… I have to admit I was a little hesitant about whether it would be awkward after all that time, but I noticed from her Facebook page that she was into cooking and good food in general, and she won me over with the promise of teaching me how to make her mom’s recipe for guo tieh(aka potstickers)! I was sold.
My first day in town Kathy had to work, so I trekked all over downtown Portland. My first stop was Powell’s Books, where I spent most of my time in their HUGE cookbook section (4 enormous, beautiful aisles…) I found a book on baking that I had been wanting (on sale, no less) as well as a handful of non-fiction food writing/ memoirs/ etc. It amazes me but even after working in a bookstore all those years, I can still find room on the shelves for just a couple more books…
Kathy had told me that due to the temperate weather, there were outdoor food carts in various spots throughout downtown (in at least one spot, they take up an entire city block!), some of which I saw but alas did not get a chance to sample. All types of nationalities and foods are represented and you can apparently get any number of great meals for cheap. One of many reasons to come back for another visit.
Kathy met me for lunch at the Bijou Café, a cute little breakfast/lunch spot on the Eastern side of the downtown area (132 SW 3rd Ave, to be precise). Apparently Portland is known for being a “breakfast” town (there are several websites and blogs devoted solely to Portland’s first meal), and with lots of competition there’s no room for slack. I chose an omelette that was on special, with chanterelles (a local product) and smoked gouda. The omelette was amazingly fluffy and came with great hash browns; my only issue was that the smoked gouda kind of buried the flavor of the delicate chanterelles. Kathy ordered a mushroom panini which looked fabulous; I was actually a bit jealous looking at her mushrooms since I couldn’t really taste mine. I couldn’t believe I ate my entire omelette plus the muffin it came with AND Kathy’s green salad, but I guess that’s what walking all morning will do for your appetite!
We had designated Friday as our “potstickers” night, so Thursday we decided to go out for dinner. Kathy and her boyfriend are fortunate enough to live mere blocks from what is known as “Restaurant Row”, a 3 or 4 block stretch of NE 28th St. just north of Burnside. After getting a haircut at the neighborhood outpost of Bishops, a local chain of hair salons whose gimmick is to give a free Miller High Life with your haircut, I was feeling good, and ready for a nice meal.
We decided to stick close to home since we had lots of good restaurants to choose from right in the neighborhood. We ended up at Navarre, a wonderfully authentic tapas restaurant at 10 NE 28th St. I always lament the fact that there are no “real” tapas places in the Detroit area; everything is more like small plates or appetizers, and usually priced so that you would have to spend an ungodly sum to sample more than a few items. Not so here!
The à la carte menu featured several items in the $5 range and it would have been completely do-able to assemble a filling meal for under $20 per person. As it was, we opted for the “We Choose” menu at $25 per person, where the chef sends out a variety of dishes. The wonderful thing about this is that if you have more than one person, they don’t duplicate dishes (at least not that I’m aware; there were three of us and we all ordered the “We Choose” and didn’t get two of anything). So, happily, I was able to sample many more items than if I had been dining solo or ordering à la carte. The only request we made was that the game bird paté (see above) be included in our menu, and they happily obliged. It was served with a country bread and a little dish of sweet pickled vegetables. Kathy and I had to restrain ourselves not to polish it off before Garrett arrived- it was one of the creamiest, most delicious patés I have ever tasted (outside of France, no less).
After the paté we were served a plate of beets and spinach, both lightly dressed and with toasted breadcrumbs for garnish. Those were followed by trout cooked in parchment paper, which would have been delicious had it not clashed with our wine
choice, a 2004 Andrew Rich Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley (my favorite region for domestic Pinot). After discussing this with our waitress, I was kindly informed by Kathy that the local pronunciation is “Wuh-LAMM-it” (rhymes with dammit), not “Will-uh-METTE”, as I’d been saying. (Weirdos.)
After the fish and veggies, there was a slice of meatloaf in a delicious sauce with an egg baked in the center, as well as two types of legumes: a dish of lentils and a dish of white beans with parsley. Both were very good, but I was running out of steam at that point. We sat and chatted and digested; then rolled ourselves out the door, but not before I tried to snap a couple last tipsy photos of the décor (in my defense, it was incredibly low lighting in there and difficult to shoot without flash!). I was glad for the walk home; the fresh air was refreshing and it was nice to feel like I was burning a couple of the calories off…
Stay tuned for Day 2 of my visit to Portland, and the potsticker recipe!
(Note: all photos in this post were taken by yours truly EXCEPT the Bijou Café photos, which I found on the world wide interweb.)