March 30, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine

I thought I’d take advantage of my two-week trip to the US to post some of the traditional Spanish recipes that I’ve been accumulating. This latest one comes from Carolina – resident Spanish expert on flan. Hers is the gold standard, and the best flan around as far as I’m concerned! Here’s what you will need:

    4 eggs
    1 can of condensed milk (14oz)
    Just under 3 1/4 cups (exact measurement is 3/4 liter) of non-fat or 1% milk (do not use whole milk)
    5 spoonfuls of sugar
    Flanero (special pan for making flan)

Begin by heating up your milk in a small pot. You will want to watch it closely as once your milk starts to boil and rise, you will want to remove it from the heat. Once you remove it from the heat and the milk simmers back down, put it back on the heat until it does it again – you will repeat this process three times. (If you are a fan of coffee flavored flan, you may also want to add a splash of coffee to the milk at this time as well.) While your milk is boiling, cover the top with cinnamon (you can add more or less depending on your love for cinnamon – more for me!).

While your milk is heating, mix your eggs and your can of condensed milk. Once your regular milk has boiled three times, you will add it to the eggs and quickly use a hand blender to mix your eggs and milk (to of course prevent the eggs from cooking). Now you will add another several more shakes of cinnamon, mix and set aside.

Now it is time to make the caramel for your flan. In your flanero, add the majority of your sugar so that it covers the bottom, then set on medium heat. Let the sugar melt, moving it regularly so that the bottom doesn’t burn. Add the rest of your sugar as the existing sugar melts. Once all the sugar is fully melted, move it around the flanero so that it covers all sides. Now you can fill the flanero with your egg/milk mixture. Set aside.

In a pressure cooker, or a very large large pot, heat up enough water so that it reaches a couple of inches high in the pot (so that you can create a water bath – or Mary bath, as they call it in Spanish!). Once your water starts to steam, but not boil, put your closed/locked flanero into the water and cover your pot.

From here, if you are using a pressure cooker, you will wait until the water boils (steam is exiting from the top of the pot) and from there you will leave the flan closed inside for another 5 minutes. In a regular pot, it will be more like 15 minutes, once the water has begun to boil.

After this, you will need to remove the flanero and the hot water in the pot, and replace with cold water where you will then place your flanero again so that it may cool. Once the flanero has cooled in the water a bit, put it in the refrigerator so that it may cool thoroughly (and harden) over the course of a couple hours.

Once cooled, you will just need to remove the top from the flanero and replace it with a shallow bowl (you will need a bowl rather than a plate in order to hold the liquid from the caramel) and then flip over your flanero so that the flan can be served.

Thank you Carolina for sharing your delicious recipe!

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March 22, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Madrid, Travels in Spain

Last weekend, on our road trip to Cantabria, I asked (for probably the millionth time) about the quaint pueblo off to the side of Spain’s A1 freeway, which runs between Madrid and Burgos. Jacobo reminded me that this wasn’t the first time I’d asked and that it was still indeed Buitrago del Lozoya. So of course, my next question (rhetorical) was regarding why we hadn’t yet gone there. Considering its close proximity to Madrid (about an hour), I began my campaign to head there the following weekend.

This weekend arrived and the campaign was still on. Since I’m leaving tomorrow for a short trip to the US, it only seemed right that we have a little going away lunch in a sweet little pueblo like Buitrago del Lozoya, right?!

We left Madrid around 1:30pm with our tummies already rumbling and visions of homemade pueblo specialties dancing in our heads. Stepping out of the car just after 2:15pm, our noses were immediately tickled by the warm scent of firewood. Absolutely nothing says cozy pueblo like the smell of firewood and the scent of yummy things being cooked on a cold, overcast day. I was already keeping my eyes peeled for unsuspecting locals that might want to befriend us and invite us in.

We found our way to what looked like a popular spot in the city’s small little plaza – the restaurant Asador Las Murallas. As any good pueblo restaurant should do, it boasted its wood oven expertise and delicious beef, lamb, fish, and homemade desserts. Walking in, we did some table window shopping, taking note of what the locals had opted for as surely they’d know best. By the time we sat at our table, I think our order had already been made, mentally – setas a la plancha (grilled mushrooms cooked with magical olive oil and garlic – I can’t really think of any other way to describe something so simple, but so delicious), chuletillas (pork chops) and sopa castellana (a broth with egg, bread and a little meat). When it came time for dessert, the key to us saying “yes” is the word “casero.” This means “homemade,” and is the only reason I need to justify dessert. So, we finished our meal with a little dish of natillas (a custard made of milk, egg and sugar, and often served with a cookie on top and a sprinkle of cinnamon).

It was time to walk off lunch, so we ventured into the pueblo. Amazingly, the smell of firewood seemed to follow us wherever we went, making me certain that this pueblo wouldn’t likely have the same charm during the summertime.
Hiding behind the city wall we discovered an 11th century castle built of stones and brick, and with Moorish arched windows. Circling the castle we found the large, eerily still, Lozoya river, which was nestled up against the city on one side and a lush forest on the other. I suppose if I could build a castle, this wouldn’t be a bad place (particularly considering all the lovely neighbors with blazing fireplaces!). Around every turn was a new impressive site – ancient walls, an old church, a yard full of hens.

So that was my “going away” lunch and now it’s off to the States. In the meantime, I’ll be posting some new traditional Spanish recipes, so save your appetite!

March 16, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Travels in Spain

View of Santander from Hotel RealThe cows and sheep seem happy, the dogs seem especially happy, and I’m pretty sure I’d be happy there too – in Cantabria that is. Wandering around the community of Cantabria’s capital city, Santander, you can’t help but turn your head sideways at its citizens happily walking along the beachfront, even going for a morning jog, or kayaking out in the bay. It’s a different kind of Spain – one that reminds me very much of home. A breath of fresh air.

The bigger cities in Spain that I haven’t visited are few, and for some reason, Santander had been on my to-do list for quite some time. So this last weekend we finally set out for a road trip to Cantabria – land of green hillsides filled will sheep and cows, and inviting pueblos around every corner. And I should emphasize that happy livestock equals very happy food – veggies, milk, cheese, meat, etc. This trip would be a good one!

Our first stop was Santander, to unload our goods at the hotel before setting out for some pueblo hopping. We pulled up to a palatial mansion soaring over all the buildings on the peninsula around it (yes, our palatial mansion even towered over the other palatial mansion in the picture above) – it was the Hotel Real, built in 1917.

ComillasBefore exploring Santander, though, we had more road-tripping to do. So we got back on the road to carry on with our drive, heading first to the town of San Vicente de la Barquera. The city has its own little harbor, bordered by a historic quarter that is topped with a small castle. Before exploring its hilly streets, we first stopped for lunch at the restaurant Augusto where I had my first taste of one of Cantabria’s specialties, crema montañesa – like the famous crema catalana (which you will find in Barcelona/Catalunya) in that it is an egg-based custard with burnt sugar on top (and I think we can all agree that that is a very, very good thing).

After walking off our lunch (well, maybe I hadn’t yet really walked off the crema montañesa, but let’s pretend), we headed for the next stop on our Cantabrian tour – the pueblo of Comillas. Home to an expansive university sitting on a mountaintop overlooking the city’s historic quarter, where you will also, strangely enough, find a palace designed by Antoni Gaudí in 1883, called El Capricho de Gaudí. A little touch of Barcelona in Comillas. Otherwise, the buildings in Comillas, and in Cantabria in general, always seem to be characterized by rocky walls, the most darling wooden balconies with intricately carved railings that match the framework of the house, and are all topped off with overflowing flower boxes (even in this cold weather!).

Our last pueblo for the day was Santillana del Mar, a pueblo far more rustic and rural than the other two. Walking its streets you are accosted by the smell of burnt sugar, reminding you that you are in the home of such lovely desserts as arroz con leche, crema montañesa, and especially local treats like sobaos (a yellow cake) and quesada (made with cheese, yogurt, eggs, sugar, milk and flour, and which admittedly doesn’t taste as good as I’d hoped – you can pass on this one and double up on arroz con leche instead!).
That night we set out for tapas in the historic quarter of Santander, a city that sadly lost much of its historic quarter to a massive fire in 1941. Traversing the streets, we were on a mission to find good seafood, and ultimately some great arroz con leche. We accomplished both. I couldn’t have been more delighted to receive my bowl of arroz con leche with a separate bottle of cinnamon so that I could season it to my heart’s desire – I’m not sure if this is a tradition of the north, but if it isn’t, it should be. Our exploration of the city continued in the morning when we returned to the historic quarter to experience it by day. I fell in love. The fresh air, the people, the colorful buildings, the hilly streets – I see a pattern in the places I love, and somehow they all seem to bare a resemblance to San Francisco (which isn’t a bad thing, right?). Before leaving Santander, we passed by the Parque de la Magdalena, then the famous casino, and by then it was time to hit the road for one more stop before heading back to Madrid.

Our next stop would be Bárcena Mayor – a pueblo nestled deep within the mountains of Cantabria. The drive there was simply awe-inspiring – it was a sea of peaceful rolling green hills, only interrupted by the occasional rocky and rustic pueblo, each which was more picturesque than the last. It then only made sense that the last and most quaint pueblo on the road happened be Bárcena Mayor. Upon arriving, we first went to find ourselves some lunch and quickly (largely because the town is so small) found a little restaurant perched on the edge of a river. There we had cocido montañes (a bean-based stew, which you can find versions of elsewhere, particularly in Madrid) followed by another divine arroz con leche. If it isn’t clear by now – traveling Spain is as much about the food, if not more so, as it is about the sites!

Barcena MayorWhile I’d been to Cantabria before, this trip absolutely won my heart over, and has put both Andalucia and Galicia in jeopardy of losing their positions as top spots in Spain. Cantabria just seems to have a little of everything. If you’re looking for a good two-day road-trip in Spain, definitely consider this as one of the best options!

March 8, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Madrid, Travels in Spain

P1000148Often times when you go out for a drink at a tapas bar or cafeteria in Madrid, your drink will be accompanied by a small free tapa as well. It could be a little bowl of olives, or maybe a little toast – something small though. This last weekend though, I went to Alcalá de Henares, a city which basically puts Madrid’s version of tapas to shame.

Alcalá de Henares is located about a half an hour northeast of Madrid. The city, which is home to one of Spain’s most famous universities, and is also the birthplace of Cervantes, has a historic quarter with wide pedestrian streets bordered by balconied buildings.

As with any visit to a new Spanish pueblo, the best way you can get to know the city is through the food. So, after taking a quick jaunt through the historic quarter, we set out to find our first restaurant. We popped into a cozy little spot where we each ordered a drink and were then quickly greeted with our tapa, which was a full sized plate of migas (migas meaning crumbs, but the concept is much closer to our version of Thanksgiving stuffing – I LOVE stuffing!). Two drinks served with a full plate of really good food!?! We figured that we must have just gotten lucky with our restaurant selection.

After finishing our drinks and tapa, we left to wander the city a bit more, and largely just to find our next tapas stop. At the next stop we ordered ourselves two more drinks, expecting once again to receive the usual bowl of olives or plate of chips. But this time we were served yet another full plate of migas (this one even more yummy than the last), in addition to a plate of prawns. Hmmm. Why do I get the sense that one could have a full meal just by having a few drinks? What a dangerous and yet brilliant concept!

P1000168After scratching our heads and inhaling the generously portioned tapas, we stepped out to continue our stroll through the city. We stopped in front of the birthplace of Cervantes, and even stepped inside what apparently was the oldest hospital in Spain. Then we stumbled upon a little bakery – which I suppose isn’t at all hard to do in these little towns. My eyes were as wide as Spanish galletas! Tartas, chocolates, cookies and more, all glimmering and perfectly stacked one on top of the other like a real life candyland! It was the most darling little bakery filled with the most perfect little delicacies (the bakery’s name is Salinas, and located at Plaza Cervantes 21). We ordered some chocolates, some huesos de San Expedito (only to prove to ourselves that Jacobo’s mom’s are a million times better) and lastly, some rosquillas de Alcalá (rosquillas can only most closely be compared to donuts, although I think their only similarity is the hole in the center). Sampling our goodies would have to wait, though, until we made one more stop for another drink (and by drink, I mean unexpectedly large plate of something yummy). I would be lying if I said that I’m not heavily considering changing careers to work at a pasteleria…I’m serious about this.

We found our way to another restaurant, which looked similar to the first in that it had a high skylight ceiling, inner balconies decorated with flower boxes, and vintage street lamps – almost reminiscent of New Orleans (in fact, the whole city strangely reminded me of New Orleans…which I suppose makes sense since the French Quarter of New Orleans was built while under Spanish control). We ordered our drinks, and at this point we were hardly surprised when a few moments later we were served mini-paelleras (paella pans) filled with fideua (similar to paella, but made with pasta instead of rice). I think it’s fair to say that going for drinks will never quite have the same meaning after this experience (although I hear that Granada out does Alcalá de Henares!).

Arriving at the car, we’d nearly already unwrapped our treats – mentally that is (I was already imagining the order in which I would be doing my pastry-tasting). One bite of those rosquillas and Jacobo sincerely declared them the best sweet he’s ever had, and I think I might have to agree. Given that Alcalá de Henares is on the way to the monastery where we will be getting married, I think a stop there will be in order on our wedding day.

Outside of our trip to Alcalá de Henares last weekend, I managed to whip up a mean batch of croquetas – I’m bound and determined to become an expert! Next weekend we’re off to Santander, so stay tuned!

March 1, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travels in Spain

This last weekend brought with it our first road trip in awhile. Our drive took us to the city of Valladolid (located in the community of Castilla y Leon) for a Criado del Rey family reunion. I spent the drive ooh-ing and ah-ing over each little pueblo we passed, begging to stop. For some reason I never tire of getting to know new little Spanish towns. I suppose after enough whining to stop at each place along the way, I finally made a breakthrough with Jacob. We stopped in the city of Simancas, a city famous for being the site of a bloody battle between the Moors and the Christians in 934. From the highway I could see it had a castle and an old church, so needless to say, I was already convinced of its charmworthiness (not a word, I know, but it should be).

We parked and were making our way through its narrow medieval streets when we came across a shop selling local goods. Now this is the very best part of traveling around Spain, much less stopping in little pueblos – buying local goodies. The little shop was packed full of fresh veggies, lentils, chorizos and cheeses, so we picked up a little of everything, naturally. Then, we didn’t get far before coming across a little panaderia – the only thing better than shops with local goods, are shops like this that make bread and pastries unique to the city. So of course we collected an assortment of everything in site, again – little pastas (no, we’re not talking about spaghetti, but instead Spain’s little cookies that you see below), muffins, and a big slab of bread.
Now that we had stocked up enough food to feed this small village, we headed to the far side of town to take in the view of the river. The expansive Pisuerga River, which also passes through the city of Valladolid, was gushing to the brim due to recent storms, so much so that its medieval bridge seem virtually submerged in water.
Pisuerga River
From there we headed down the road only a few minutes to Valladolid where we joined some 80 Criado del Reyes for lunch (translation: 7+ hours of eating and gabbing). Our first course was served at 3:00pm, by which time I was of course starving and therefore had been stealing croquetas off of the kids’ table (with the help of Jacob´s mom – LOVE her), and no, I´m totally not above that. The meal started with a salad of salmon and cheese, followed by pimientos rellenos (one of my favorite Spanish dishes, and not to be confused with the Latin American version), and then a third dish of seafood crepes. I was marveling at how our meal had not included any meat – how could this be, Spain with no meat? At that moment, though, I noticed the unused steak knives at each of our place settings. Before I knew it, we were all being served solomillo wrapped bacon – yes folks, that’s pig wrapped in pig. Mentally, I’d already finished my meal after dish #2, so I’m afraid the solomillo wasn’t in my future.

Below is a picture of Jacob’s great grandparents – the reason for all of us reuniting. This picture was actually taken on their wedding day – apparently the wedding dresses used to be black! I only wish I had a waste like hers…I think.
Criado del Reyes
After coffees and champagne toasts, the group moved to the bar to continue the 10 years of catching up. While many were staying in town for the night, we had the drive back to Madrid to make, so it was time for us to go. So, we said goodbye the French way (a saying in Spanish that means without actually saying goodbye – go figure) because really, if we had to kiss everyone goodbye, then there´s a good chance we´d still be there doing so. Before heading home though, we took a stroll through Valladolid. I was pleasantly surprised by its bustling historic quarter full of colorful buildings with intricate balconies that reminded me much more of Northern Spain than anything I’d seen in awhile. I would liked to have stayed longer as it definitely seemed like a city worth getting to know better (particularly because I just learned it is where arroz con leche is from – now that is something that needs to be discovered!). Next time….