!Adios, Espana!

We’re saying goodbye to Spain and counting down to our next country of the month. Here are some clues:

  1. One of the biggest cities in this country was named after a famous scientist.
  2. Before gaining its current name, this country was named “New Holland.”
  3. A particularly wild and “devilish” Looney Tunes character was based on an animal native to this country and named after one of its regions.
  4. This country has over three times more sheep than people.
  5. This country is famous for strange animals, two of which are featured on its coat of arms.
  6. The world’s largest living structure is located here.
  7. An estimated 22% of people born in this country had an ancestor who was a convict.
  8. This is the world’s only country-continent.
  9. It is the world’s 6th largest country, has the 3rd largest ocean territory, and has more beaches than any other nation in the world.
  10. The first surfing world championship was held here.

Can you guess what country it is? Leave your guesses in the comments!

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Spain masterpost

Missed a Spain post? Want to relive the month? Here’s a comprehensive list of all of our Spain posts:

Country reveal

Our story

Monday recipes

Patatas bravas

Beef and potato empanadas (video)

Gazpacho 

Spanish tortilla con chorizo (video)

Paella

Tuesday travel tips:

Barcelona

Learn some Spanish

Planning you Spanish vacation

Wine Wednesdays:

Spanish wine regions and cava

Sangria

Cultural Thursdays:

Music and literature: The birth of the modern guitar

Art and architecture: Dali vs. Picasso

Foodie Fridays:

Fusion: Rice pudding (arroz con leche)

Food history: The Moorish influence on Spain’s culinary history (with bonus Moorish lamb kebab recipe)

Sweet Saturdays:

Almond cake (pasta de almendra)  (video)

Flan

Lemon-orange granita

Sunday brunch:

Churros con chocolat

Patatas bravas

First of all, we apologize for the state of the site these last few days! Thanks to the wonderful Happiness Engineers, we’ve got it all sorted out now.

With the month drawing to a close, we’re about to wrap up our exploration of Spain. But of course, we can’t move on before talking about one of the most popular tapas dishes – patatas bravas! This was Jen’s favorite dish while we were there, and it’s one that any self-respecting tapas restaurant should have. It’s a hearty side dish with a spicy seasoning that gives the potatoes a memorable kick.

The dish’s name means “fiery potatoes ” or “angry potatoes” (no, not “brave potatoes,” as many websites bizarrely claim – not every word is a cognate, guys!) Also note the use of the word “patatas;” if you’re an American who took Spanish in school, you probably know the word “papas” instead. This is one of the many subtle differences between Latin American Spanish and continental Spanish. If you’re planning on taking a trip to Spain, do a little research on the differences before you head over – though most people will probably still understand you, it’ll definitely make things easier.

This recipe from Serious Eats is the closest to what we ate in Spain. It has lots of dry spice and a little bit of sauce to balance the starch, but it isn’t smothered in sauce like so many Americanized versions. It’s possible that heavily-sauced versions are eaten in other parts of Spain, but this is what we ate in Barcelona.

PATATAS BRAVAS

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds russet potatoes, cut into 1- to 3/4-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, grated on a microplane (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups peanut or canola oil for frying
  • 2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika

Procedures

  1. Place potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with 2 quarts water. Add vinegar and 2 tablespoons salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 7 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, combine egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, and 2 teaspoons water in bowl of food processor. Run processor until homogenous, about 5 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl. With processor running, slowly add canola oil in thin, steady stream, stopping to scrape down sides as necessary. Sauce should thicken and come together. Transfer sauce to a large bowl set in a heavy pot lined with a towel. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Season to taste with salt, lemon juice, and black pepper. Set aside.
  3. Heat oil in a 12-inch non-stick or cast iron straight-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat to 350°F. Add potatoes in single layer and cook, shaking the pan and flipping the potatoes with a spatula or tongs occasionally until golden brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Using slotted spoon or wire-mesh spider, transfer potatoes to bowl lined with paper towels. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4.  Pile potatoes in a large bowl, drizzle with allioli, sprinkle with paprika and scallions, and serve, passing extra alli-oli tableside. Extra alli-oli will keep in the refrigerator for at least 1 week.

As the comments say, there is some debate over whether or not this is classic patatas bravas. However, I can confirm that it’s the dish we had (with that name) while in Spain: Here’s a photo we took in Barcelona right before devouring the whole thing. Delicious!

bravas

The birth of the modern guitar

Of all of Spain’s contributions to the world, one of the most important is its gift to music: the modern classical guitar. Without the modern classical guitar, music as we know it would be drastically different, and many argue (I tend to agree) that rock and pop could never have been invented. We owe much of our musical heritage to a Spaniard named Antonio Torres de Jurado, the 19th century carpenter who revolutionized the guitar and brought it into the modern age.

Lute image from Savannah Lute

Guitars have been around in various forms for centuries, though there is some debate about their origin. The likeliest direct ancestor is a similar, fretless instrument called the oud, which the Moors brought with them into Spain. Like many other ancient stringed instruments, the back of the instrument’s body was rounded, like a bowl, and the neck was very short. Medieval Europeans added frets to the neck, thus creating one of the most important instruments of the Middle Ages, the lute (of which the mandolin is a type). The shape of the instrument changed  from a circle or teardrop to the more familiar peanut-like outline during the Renaissance, and the 17th century Italian innovation of six strings eventually became the standard. However, the instruments, now called “guitars” or “guitarras,”  were still considerably smaller and thicker than what we know today, with rounded backs.

Image via Wikipedia

In the 1850s, trained carpenter Antonio Torres de Jurado began to work on improving the guitar. Jurado increased the guitar’s size, changed the proportions to modify its sound, and designed a new bracing system (called the “fan” system) that allowed for the use of lighter materials. He flattened the back, arguing that it was the front of the guitar, not the back, that impacted its sound. To prove his point, he built a playable guitar with the sides and back made out of papier-mache. This guitar has been fully restored and now resides in Barcelona’s Museu de la Musica. His design revolutionized the guitar’s sound, and has been virtually unchanged to this day.

Read more on the guitar here.

Wine Wednesday ~ Spanish Wine Regions & Cava

Map of Spain's Wine Regions from WineFolly

Map of Spain’s Wine Regions from WineFolly.com

Spain produces some amazing wine.  There are 7 different “wine regions” in Spain and each region produces unique, and relatively inexpensive varieties.  When I went to Spain, I only had 3 days there and definitely did not get a chance to explore all of the different types of wine the country has to offer.  Honestly, I stuck with trying a few different house wines and then enjoyed the Sangria.  I also tried Cava, sort of.

There is plenty of great information out there if you would like to learn more about Spanish wine.  My favorite source is the “Wines From Spain” website.  They break the wine regions down as follows:

  • Green Spain:  Located in the Northern and Northwest part of the country, this region enjoys cooler temperatures and a wet climate.  Dry or Tart white wines from the region are popular and quickly gaining prominence around the world.
  • North Central Spain: The vineyards in this region are generally found at very high elevations and near the banks of the Duero River.  Producing wine in this region can be difficult as the weather can prevent grapes from ripening properly, however in good years, the wine from this region is excellent.
  • The Ebro River Valley:  Rioja, arguably one of Spain’s most famous wines, is produced in this region.  Some of Spain’s most important red grapes, Tempranillo and Garnacha, are also prevalent in the region.  The variety coming from this region is due, in part, to the different climates present in this region.  My advice – try the Rioja!  You can find it in most grocery store wine sections and it is a true Spanish wine.
  • The Meseta:  This arid region boasts almost two thirds of Spain’s vineyards, but has only recently begun to be respected as an area capable of producing great wine.  This region’s focus on varietals may soon help it’s wines to become some of the more common Spanish wines.
  • The Mediterranean Coast:  The Eastern coast of Spain produces some truly high-quality wines.  While the region produces many delicious white wines, it is easily most known for Cava.  Cava is a sparkling wine, similar to champagne.  Cava is typically crisp and dry and has become quite popular in the US over the last few years.  Want to hear my Cava story?  I promise I will tell it at the end of this post!
  • Andalucia:  This region is hot.  The temperatures easily soar above 100 degrees (F) in the summer.  As a result, some excellent fortified wines and dessert wines come from this region.  This region gives us many varieties of Sherry, which are definitely worth a try!
  • The Islands:  While the Canary Islands and the Balearics produce some very unique white wines, very few of them leave Spain.  Many don’t even leave the islands!  I have never had any wines from this region, but they are supposed to be great.  I guess we will all need to take a trip to the Islands and find out!

My Cava Story…  I know I promised you the Cava story, and it’s not so much the story that’s great as it is the picture that accompanies the story.  When Sarah and I went to Spain everyone told me I had to try the Cava.  This seemed like a pretty reasonable thing to tell me since I like wine and Cava is produced right outside of Barcelona, where I was headed.  I hadn’t heard of Cava, so I did some research to find out what was so special about it.  I found out it is a dry, white, sparkling wine, like a champagne.  I guess this is where I should tell you that I like sweet white wine, the sweeter the better.  I’m not a big red wine drinker, and while I do like drier white wines now, I still find some to be too dry for my tastes. Two years ago, I really only liked sweeter wines.

Sarah and I found a wonderful chocolate shop near our hostel and they had some cava filled chocolates.  Since we were traveling on a student budget, and I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to spend 6 Euro on a glass of wine I wasn’t likely to like, I thought trying the chocolate would be a good way to get an idea of what Cava tasted like.  Luckily for all of you, and not so luckily for me, Sarah was on hand to capture my reaction to trying the Cava chocolate.

Trying the Cava

Trying the Cava

Clearly, I do not like it!

Clearly, I do not like it!

Needless to say, I didn’t like it.  It was definitely too dry for me, and I ended up sticking to Sangria and some other sweeter whites while out to dinner.  I will still be giving it another shot on my next trip to Spain.  I know my tastes in wine have changed over the last couple of years, and, who knows, I might like it now!

Tuesday Travel Tips ~ Barcelona!

I can sum my travel tip for this week up in two words:  Visit Barcelona!  Barcelona has something for everyone.  Whether you prefer the beach or the city, history museums, or modern shopping, you can find it, and, of course, you can also always find delicious food!

Inside La Sagrada Familia

Inside La Sagrada Familia

Visiting La Sagrada Familia is a given if you visit Barcelona.  It is easily the most famous landmark in the city, and definitely worth the cost of admission.  When you visit, one of you ticket options will include a trip to the top of the one of the towers.  There are two towers.  You take an elevator up to the top regardless of which one you choose, however for one you have the option to take the elevator back down, and for the other you must walk down a steep spiral staircase.  Sarah and I chose to pick the one where you walk down the stairs.  It was definitely a steep staircase.  I don’t like heights so the walk down was a little interesting, but the visit to the top is definitely worth it!

If you are looking for the beach, head down to Barceloneta.  You can take the metro straight there, or it’s about a 20 minute walk from the end of La Rambla.  Since Sarah and I visited Barcelona in December, we didn’t make it to the beach.  We did make it down to Port Vell one night, completely by accident.  That turned into one of our favorite travel memories.  We decided to have a little dance party on the bridge and take stupid pictures.  It was great.  We even got to see another “surprise road” of Barcelona.  A car drove down the sidewalk/road – I swear it was not meant to be driven on! – and we were convinced he was about to drive into the water.

If you want high-end, modern shopping, head over to Passeig de Gracia.  This street is Barcelona’s equivalent of New York’s 5th Avenue, or LA’s Rodeo Drive.  You will also find Casa Batlo and La Pedrera on Passieg de Gracia, so you can get some museums in in between shops!

There is so much to do in Barcelona, and you should definitely customize your trip to suit your tastes.  My Barcelona “Must-See” list is below!

Barcelona Must Sees:

La Rambla at Christmas

La Rambla at Christmas

  • La Sagrada Familia
  • Casa Batlo
  • La Pedrera
  • Port Vell
  • La Rambla
  • Montjuic
  • Santa Maria Del Mar
  • La Boqueria
  • Parc Guell
  • The Chocolate Museum
  • Parc de la Ciutadella

There are also a ton of other great cities to visit in Spain.  Next on my list are:

  1. Madrid
  2. Valencia
  3. Salamanca
  4. Seville
  5. Granada

What are your must-see’s in Barcelona?  Are there any other Spanish cities I should add to my list?

Beef & Potato Empanadas

This is definitely my most successful recipe this month!  Empanadas are meat-filled pastries, sort of like a Spanish meat pie.  While I made my crust from scratch, you can also use pre-made refrigerated pie crust.  I had tons of leftover filling and ended up using pre-made pie crust to make more empanadas with it.  If you are going to use a pre-made crust, just roll it out like you would any dough, and follow the same steps I used with homemade dough to finish up your empanadas!

Here is my crust recipe from Food Network, and my filling recipe, adapted from The Candid Appetite!

Empanada Dough: (You will probably need to double this recipe to have enough for all the filling)

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine

Directions :
Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor. Cut in shortening, mixture should be sandy. Add the egg and wine, pulse until dough comes together in a ball. The dough should be pliable; if not add more wine.

Assembly: Separate the dough into 3 balls. Roll the first ball out until it is 1/4 inch thick. With a 6-inch round cutter, cut circles out of all the dough. Remove the edges and save for the next roll. Fill each circle with about 2 1/2 tablespoons in the center of the dough.

Dip a small brush in room temperature water, run the brush around the edge of the dough. Close 1 side to the other forming a half moon shape. Close the edges pressing lightly with the back of a fork.

Filling
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 to 4 yukon gold potatoes, or red (about 1/2 pound), peeled and diced
  • 1 teaspoon granulated onion
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
Preparation:

Place a large skillet over medium flame. Add the ground beef, and cook, stirring for 5 minutes, until the meat gets browned. Add the onion and garlic and continue to saute until the onions sweat and become translucent. Add the diced red pepper, green bell pepper, and diced potatoes. Cook for another five minutes stirring occasionally.

Season the mixture with the spices.  Mix thoroughly and cook and stir for 5 minutes, until the mixture is soft. Pour in the broth and simmer for 3 minutes. Allow the filling to cool before stuffing the empanadas.

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes and serve with salsa!

Sweet Saturday: Almond cake (pasta de almendra)

This dish is probably my most successful one so far this month! This cake is delicious – very dense, but with a wonderfully subtle citrus flavor and the perfect touch of sweetness. My only note (as I say in the video) is not to test it with a toothpick, as the top of the cake forms a hard crust that will not rebound back into shape like traditional, spongy cakes do. I’ll definitely be making this one again! Here’s the recipe, from The Vintage Mixer:

Spanish Almond Cake

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound (1 3/4 cups) whole almonds, preferably blanched
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 1 1/4 cups superfine sugar
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 drops almond extract
  • Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Instructions

  1. Finely grind the almonds in a food processor.
  2. With an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with the sugar to a smooth pale cream. Beat in the zests and almond extract. Add the ground almonds and mix very well.
  3. With clean beaters, beat the egg whites in a large bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold them into the egg and almond mixture (the mixture is thick, so that you will need to turn it over quite a bit into the egg whites).
  4. Grease an 11-inch springform pan, preferably nonstick, with butter and dust it with flour. Pour in the cake batter, and bake into a preheated 350°F for 40 minutes, or until it feels firm to the touch. Let cool before turning out.
  5. Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with confectioners’ sugar. Or, if you like, cut a St. James cross out of paper. Place it in the middle of the cake, and dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar, then remove the paper.

Fusion Friday: Spiced rice pudding (arroz con leche)

I have to admit, trying to find a Spanish fusion recipe for today has been nothing but trouble. For weeks I’ve been scouring the internet for a decent-looking recipe that fused Spanish cuisine with another that was actually recognizable to no avail. Spanish-Italian? Paella with tomatoes in it. Spanish-English? Chorizo bangers ‘n’ mash. Chinese tapas? Quit lying, internet – that’s straight up dim sum and you know it.

Finally, I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason there are no good fusion recipes is that Spanish cuisine, in and of itself, is already a fusion. It mixes ingredients and flavors from such a wide variety of styles that I’m not sure there’s that much left to mix it with. Sure, there’s no Spanish borscht (thank God), but by and large, most flavors are represented.

So, with that in mind, I’ve decided to feature a recipe that showcases some of that mixing of flavors. This recipe from Girl’s Guide to Spain combines the traditional Moorish ingredients of almonds, cardamom, citrus and rice into a delicious dessert (plus, it suggests topping it with mango – my favorite fruit!)

Rice Pudding with Coconut Milk and Cardamom

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 45 mins
Total time: 55 mins
Author: Lauren Aloise
Ingredients
  • ¼-1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (freshly ground if possible)
  • 2 cups of full fat, high quality coconut milk (I find Goya to be poor quality for this recipe and here in Spain I buy the brand sold at Corte Inglés)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (you can always add more)
  • ¼ cup basmati rice
  • Pinch of salt
  • Lime zest
  • Toasted almonds
  • Toasted coconut
  • Fresh fruit (optional, but I like mango or berries)
Instructions
  1. In a saucepan bring the coconut milk, whole milk, and sugar to a bubble (stir to make sure the bottom doesn’t stick or burn).
  2. Add in the rice, cardamom, and salt. Stir well and lower the heat to a simmer. Let it reduce over the next 45 minutes until it is a thick and creamy pudding consistency. Make sure to stir every few minutes so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom or burn.
  3. Taste the pudding, add more sugar if necessary and let it cool. You can serve it warm, or spoon it into serving bowls and refrigerate until cold.
  4. In the meantime, toast slivered almonds and sweetened coconut in a hot oven (don’t let them burn!). Top the rice pudding with the toasted almonds and coconut, grated lime zest, and mango or other fresh fruit.
  5. Enjoy your very own rice pudding with coconut milk and cardamom!

Tuesday Travel Tips ~ Learn Some Spanish!

¡Hola! ¡Bienvenidos a Martes Sugerencias de viajes! ¡Hoy es el momento para aprender un poco de español!

Hi!  Welcome to Tuesday Travel Tips!  Today it’s time to learn some Spanish!

When I travel, I like to learn a few basic phrases in the language spoken wherever I am going.  Being an English speaker, it is very easy to take for granted the fact that English is spoken throughout the world.  Throughout my travels, I have never had any major issues communicating.  Okay, sure, trying to read the menu, printed in German, at the Chinese restaurant near my building when I was living in Linz, Austria was an adventure, but then we were given the English copy of the menu and ordering became easy.

While I’ve never had any major problems, I have also seen how much a simple “thank you,” even when you butcher the pronunciation, in someone’s native language can do.  People will understand that you are not a native speaker, and they will appreciate your effort.  I have found that this is especially true in smaller cities and towns where there are fewer tourists.

I started studying Spanish in Middle School, or elementary school if you add learning colors and how to count, so visiting Spain was a wonderful opportunity for me to practice my Spanish.  Below you’ll find some key phrases and their Spanish translations!

English – Spanish

  • Hi/ Hello – Hola (oh-la)
  • Goodbye – Adios (ah-dee-os)
  • Please – Por Favor (Pour fah-Vor)
  • Thank You – Gracias (Grah-see-ahs)
  • You’re Welcome – De Nada (Dey Nah-dah)
  • I don’t speak Spanish – No hablo español. (No ah-blow ehs-pahn-yol)
  • Do you speak English – Habla inglés? (ah-blah ing-lace)
  • Where is: – Donde esta:  (Don-dey estah)
  • -the bathroom  -el baño  (el bahn-yo)
  • -the metro  -el metro
  • -the airport  -el aeropuerto (el arrow-pwertoh)
  • How much does this cost? – Cuanto cuesta?  (kwantoh kwestah)
  • In English – En inglés (en ing-lace)