Monday, October 31, 2011

Barcelona Cuisine | El Poble Espanyol

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blogging to dedicate an entire week to the food consumed while on vacation in Barcelona! This first meal coincides with an afternoon spent at El Poble Espanyol, an open-air architectural museum village constructed in 1929 for the International Exhibition.
Inside the walled community lies a full scale reproduction of Spain's symbolic buildings and places, fused with artisan workshops and boutiques, as well as restaurants and tapas bars.
El Poble is definitely an attraction geared towards tourism, albeit a fantastic one! There is a a 9,50 entrance fee and audio guided tours are offered for an additional 3.
I had a feeling the restaurants "inside" would be slightly more touristy than traditional, but it was later in the afternoon and we were starving.

The spacious patio at L'Albi which offered reasonably priced Catalan fare, felt like the perfect fit. (Photo borrowed from the website, linked above.)

We started the lunch festivities with a pitcher of Sangria.No matter how much Sangria we consumed on an almost daily basis (lots!) I never seemed to tire of this luscious fruit infused red wine libation. After a basket of bread and bowl of potato chips the starter courses were delivered. I ordered a Queso Fresco y Chorizo. What I thought would be a simple platter of ham and cheese was actually a pottery ramekin full of melted queso, delicately torched and containing rolled slices of ham. While the thick melted cheese was tasty, it became overwhelming after about 5 bites. Or maybe I'm so used to tapas size portions, that switching back to a hearty dish had me thrown for a loop!
My entree of Tortilla de Patatas was Spanish comfort food at its very finest. A thick wedge of fluffy eggs is loaded with fried potatoes, onions, and topped with a spicy chile pepper. Alongside was a substantial salad of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and shredded carrots and a serving of white rice. This dish was very satisfying. 
For dessert, there was no going wrong with the Crema Catalana, essentially the Spanish/Catalan version of creme brulee. The base of a rich egg yolk custard is creamier than a typical U.S. version, with a much more substantial layer of burnt caramelized sugar on top. This was definitely my favorite course! Most of our meals in Barcelona (as you will see in the forthcoming posts) consisted of modern tapas, so this lunch of traditional Catalan cuisine was without any comparison. (Unfortunately!) It seems we barely scratched the surface of what this city has to offer in terms of amazing foods.We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon on the airy L'Albi terrace and exploring the narrow winding streets of El Poble Espnanol. Warm weather and sangria pitchers at lunch seems a distant memory; so it's nice to reminisce on those intensely hot and sunny, blue skied, carefree days in Barcelona. Stay tuned this week for more of what we ate. The food only gets better!!

P.S. Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Island Creek Oyster Bar

A little over a year ago, a group of 12 bloggers got together at Lord Hobo for Sunday brunch. The next month, that group just about doubled in size for a morning rendevouz at East Coast Grille. After that, the Boston Brunchers was officially launched, with dedicated founder Renee Hirschberg at the helm. Ever the brunch enthusiast, Renee began lining up exclusive events, beginning with an intimate gathering at KO Catering & Pies, followed by a grand scale buffet at Cafe Fleuri. The buzz about this community took off, and one year later the success is measured by all the fantastic new and re-discovered brunching options in Boston; among them countless eggs benedict and french toast, mimosas and bloody marys, blog posts and tweets. Brunching with this crew is always a wonderful way to begin a weekend morning, this was especially true for last Sunday's Birthday Bash held at Island Creek Oyster Bar. Located at The Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square, the welcoming modern meets beachy ambiance is clean and bright. White and gray tones define the Oyster-centric space; the back wall is constructed entirely of their shells encased in mesh wire, met by a photographic mural of farming cages and equipment. On the opposite side, driftwood-esque weathered boards act as shutters. Attendees scoring tickets were treated to coffee, cocktails, breakfast pastries and a main course, in addition to receiving awesome SWAG bags containing numerous goodies from our twenty some odd sponsors.I started with an effervescent libation titled McCarthy's Crossing an eye opening mix of Clear Creek Pear Brandy, spiced honey, Rose Vermouth, fresh lemon and bubbles. Others enjoyed Spicy Bloody Marys with house made "clamato." Tables shared baskets of Freshly Baked Pastries which included a blueberry muffin, doughnut muffin, cinnamon roll, butter croissant, raspberry coffee cake and a citrus scone. Sharing with my dining companions, I attempted to sample a bite of each. The raspberry coffee cake and the cinnamon roll were particularly memorable!
For my main course I chose Ethel's Lobster Roll, named after the owners Grandmother. The fresh lobster was generously dressed in a mixture of mayo and creme fraiche laced with crunchy celery and red onion, all of it piled high onto a soft rosemary roll.
Despite the bulkiness of the roll, the lobster meat was hard to contain. I made a mess of myself in the process, and after a loosing battle, succumbed to eating my delicious lobster with a fork. The delicate slivers of kettle chips were nicely seasoned and crispy, the accompanying cole slaw was zesty with a light crunch. I normally learn towards the breakfast side of brunch, wanting to start my day with an egg centered dish, but the lobster lover in me could not pass this up! Plus, this is a restaurant know for their seafood. (Of course, oysters in particular, which I must return for!)Just a few of the 40 attendees, pictured below, photo compliments of Megan. L to R, top row: Elina of Healthy & Sane, Bianca of Confessions of a Chocoholic, Melissa of The Foodies at Work, Michelle of Fun and Fearless in Beantown, Elizabeth of Free Food Boston; bottom row: me, Meghan of Travel Wine Dine and Megan of Delicious Dishings. Cheers my fellow brunchers - to a year of memorable morning meals and to delicious discoveries in the one ahead!

Hotel Commonwealth
500 Commonwealth Avenue
 Boston, MA 02215
Island Creek Oyster Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Favorite Fall Recipes & Seasonal Craft Beers

As I make my way back into the kitchen, I have been delightfully borrowing recipes from around the blogosphere. Here is a look at my foray into fall cuisine and the seasonal craft beers that have accompanied the dishes.
Click on the links for the step by step recipes!

Cake Batter and Bowl's BBQ Chicken & Cheddar Baked Potatoes with corn and roasted red peppers.
I made these awhile back when the weather was still warm, saying good bye to late summer corn before diving into the world of root vegetables. While the potato bakes, the chicken is poached, shredded and mixed in your favorite BBQ sauce. The extracted baked potato flesh is combined with butter, corn and roasted red pepper and scooped back into the potato skins before getting loaded with the BBQ chicken and some fresh grated sharp cheddar cheese.

These are hearty and filling, proving a fantastic way to spice up your regular old twice baked potato. Alongside I drank Sixpoint Sweet Action, a beer I had been enjoying throughout the summer. This dynamic golden amber colored ale is brewed in Brooklyn, NY. The sweetness from the barely malts nicely pairs with the juicy pops of corn kernels. The action is lent from the hops, a bitter spice that brushes your palate clean after every sip.

Delicious Dishing's Butternut Squash Soup with brown butter, sage, cayenne and blue cheese. The soup is made with roasted and sauteed squash, as well as leeks, carrots, onions, shallots and garlic. Filling, hearty, sweet, savory and spicy, I can't think of anything more you could want from a cold weather soup. Actually, the weather is not what I would describe as cold quite yet, the days are seeing beautifully crisp fall temperatures, but perfect for soups none the less.I did make one small change to Megan's recipe; I substituted the 2 tablespoons of honey for maple syrup. I also used a bit more cayenne pepper for an extra kick. The soft pungent sage and the sharp creamy blue cheese crumbles are ideal garnishes for lending even more contrast to the deeply flavorful soup.

From Cambridge Brewing Company, The Great Pumpkin Ale is now being sold in the bottle for the first time in 22 years of brewing! It's an unfiltered ale brewed with locally grown organic sugar pumpkins.

The pumpkin flavor is subtle but fresh, enhanced by autumnal spices. And much like the blue cheese and cayenne garnishes, the beer also served to balanced out the bold sweetness of the butternut squash. While I generally crave powerful flavors of sweet pumpkin in my pumpkin beer, (hello Shipyard Pumpkin/see below!) this brew was a nice contrast in general and a pretty perfect pairing with the soup.

Beantown Baker's Balsamic Roasted Vegetables I used Jen's recipe (which she actually borrowed as part of a recipe swap from another blog) as inspiration for the vegetables I had on hand. I adjusted the original recipe by adding olive oil, opening one of my California Olive Ranch bottles provided at the tasting dinner I attended a couple weeks ago. It's pretty amazing what a high quality extra virgin olive oil can do for your food; I'm a big fan of their product.

Here is what's in the mix:
- 1 potato
- 1 sweet potato
- 1/2 butternut squash
- 3 beets
- 6 garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper
I tossed the evenly chopped vegetables and whole garlic cloves in a large bowl with the balsamic, olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted on a tin foil lined baking sheet at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. This made enough for a hearty side dish for two, with a small amount of leftovers that Adam heated up in a saute pan the next morning and served for breakfast, homefry style with egg sandwiches. I decided to pair the vegetables with Shipyard Brewery Smashed Pumpkin Ale. Not to be confused with Pumpkinhead, but make no mistake, I've been drinking that like it's going out of style (oh wait, it is...) Smashed Pumpkin is an energetic, full bodied pumpkin ale, with a light coppery orange color and nutmeg aromatics. The natural pumpkin tannins are vigorous, playing off the vegetables sweet roasted flavors, one doesn't tend to overpower the other. The spiciness of the hops also lends balanced flavor to the ale.

What's all these savory fall foods and brews without a pumpkin dessert?!
Eat Live Run's Pumpkin Whoopie Pies are a breeze to make, even for a non baker like myself! You don't even need an electric mixer or anything fancy - even the buttercream frosting can be mixed by hand.
I would like to call mine Artisian Pumpkin Whoopie Pies, due to the fact that I have no patience for piping batter or frosting. I take comfort in the fact that I can haphazardly spoon batter on a pan, yielding varied shapes and size pies, that will all taste the same. These morsels are moist and fluffy, with bright pumpkin flavor and rich spices sandwiching sweet, creamy frosting. They impressed Adam, delighted my co workers and gave me a good excuse to use my recently obtained Silpat non-stick baking sheet liners.
If you have a recipe for fall that I absolutely must make, please don't hesitate to share! And then go bake these whoopie pies!!!