Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mercat Del Clot: An amazing market and culinary experience in Barcelona


As you know, I took a little vacation to Spain this year and as usual, I took the chance to make my vacation into a culinary trip. I made a point of tasting all the local foods, visit supermarkets, try out some restaurants and even giving it a go at cooking some of the local dishes. I spoke to as many people as possible to get the tips and tricks and directions to the best places to eat and enjoy the fantastic food Spain has to offer.

Very close to our hotel in Barcelona, there was a churros van, which we eagerly adopted as our breakfast spot everyday (no kidding). While eating our yummy churros, I noticed people coming up the street with bags full of amazing vegetables and fresh bread. It hit me - "Farmers market! there must be one very close by". So I took my daughter for a little adventure down that road. And success! less than a block down the street was the most amazing market I have seen - Mercat del Clot

The  market, is a mix of fruit, fish and meat market. It is amazingly clean, bright, colorful and what struck me the most is that even though we were surrounded by fish mongers, there was not a hint of fishy smell in the air.




As you enter the market, you were greeted by 2 huge fruit and vegetable stalls. It was amazing to see the color, the freshness and the variety. I had the greatest time showing my daughter all the different fruits and vegetables, some new to her. (During the whole trip we played a game with my kids every time we went to a supermarket: we had to go to the produce section and find a fruit that they had never seen before, we will then proceed to buy it and eat it - true culinary discovery for my kids!!! They loved it and so did I.) Anyhow, she found many new fruits in here to inspire her.



Then there were a series of olive vendors, there were many different varieties. I tried them all! I love olives. My daughter, well, she was not that impressed so I could not hang out there long enough, she kept pushing me to the fish counters, and I know why. Right there in front of her were all these fish staring at her! Literally!



Remember this is Barcelona, so you can't get any closer to the sea and the quality of the fish was bar none. I was in heaven!





From there I had to stop on the ham counter.



I truly spend my 2 weeks vacation eating a different Jamón Ibérico everyday. I bought a little of each one of the hams on display and about a pound of the most amazing fuet (a type of salami that it is to die for)!



On our way out we went to the meat counters and my daughter stopped very suddenly in front of one of the glass counters pointing at a small animal. It did not take me long to recognize the little rabbits. I am glad that she had the same reaction I did when I was 6 years old and was shown a perfectly skinned rabbit, ready to be cooked:

Why would anybody eat such a nice fluffy little animal?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Homemade Chimichurri Sauce


One of my favorite steak sauces is chimichurri. Quite popular in Argentinian barbecues, chumichurri is a herbs and olive oil sauce. Salty and delicious, it is the perfect addition to any grilled piece of meat.

Today I was serving ham to the kids and I thought a chimichurri could give it a nice kick! Well, my kids approved it! My son claims is the best sauce I have ever made (and he is my picky eater). I will be making it again for him as it packs a lots of nutrients in a single delicious bite!

So here it is, my quick easy version! As you know I cook with what I have available, so I used what I have in my garden. This may not be a 100% traditional Argentinian chimichurri, but a fantastic chimichurri it is!



Ingredients (makes 1 cup):
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped mixed herbs: Lemon thyme, Oregano, Chives
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a blender, put the vinegar, garlic and all the chopped herbs, start to blend. Take your olive oil and slowly pour it continuously on the blender. You will see how the herbs will start to blend into the oil and it would turn light green. Once the herbs are blended to your liking, season it with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve on top of your meat, or like in tonight's dinner, on top of ham.

Enjoy!


Friday, August 17, 2012

Yours truly on the local paper! Thank you Judy!



This morning I woke up as normal and took the kids to the bus stop. When I got there my neighbor said:
 - Hi, I can see you are a celebrity now!

I was confused, a celebrity? me? did she get the wrong person? then she told me she just saw me on the papers and it all came back to me!

About 2 weeks ago I was interviewed by Judy Buchenot - a freelance writer for the Naperville Sun. She runs a column there called Naperville Eats in where she interviews local cooks and shares their recipes and culinary tips.

Judy and I met on a Sunday, late in the morning. I had just made Mozzarella cheese with my friend Deb the day before. I had never been interviewed for a paper before. I truly enjoyed talking to Judy, she asked me questions about my background and the cheese making and the blog.  I made a quick Caprese  Salad (my own version of it) for us to eat (I was starving!). We talked for over an hour.

I want to personally thank Judy for such a wonderful opportunity and for writing about me on the paper. The article was published online too - here is the link (Naperville Sun Article)

So now, you must be curious about that Caprese Salad. A few people asked me today about it. I made my own version by adding avocados and a few different herbs than the traditional Basil.

Ingredients:

  • Fresh Tomatoes
  • Mozzarella Cheese
  • Avocados
  • Balsamic Must
  • Olive Oil
  • Chopped Fresh Thyme, Oregano and Basil
  • Sea Salt and Freshly ground pepper
Cut the tomatoes, the mozzarella and avocados in slices. Place them in layers in a dish. Drizzle the balsamic must and olive oil.  Sprinkle the herbs on top and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper to taste.

The avocado gives this salad a fantastic creamy texture that combines very nicely with the fresh mozzarella. Try it, it is refreshing and comforting at the same time.

Enjoy!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Making butter is so easy, you can do it with your eyes closed!!! Homemade butter and Latino American Nata recipes

I cannot believe how easy it is to make butter – your kids can do it with their eyes closed! Mine did! I have learned so much on my recent visit to Spain that I truly wish I could have stayed there longer. Some of the things I learned are that butter can easily be done with only 1 ingredient, that it can be done in less than 15 minutes and that is the perfect task to give to small kids to do while you are making dinner! They have fun, the stay out of your way and they are contributing to dinner.
Another wonderful discovery is that as you make butter, half way to the process you end up with Nata – Nata is a traditional Latino American salted cream that we use in variety of dishes. It is so delicious and you use it almost as butter – on top of toast, on boiled potatoes, on top of tacos…. You get it!
Also as you make butter, you will have a secondary product made: Buttermilk! It is great to make pancakes and cakes.
So here it is – Butter (and Nata) in 15 minutes or less!
Ingredients:
Heavy whipping cream
Salt (optional – you can do it without. I used Sea Salt)
Equipment:
Mason jar with lid (for adults)
Plastic Mayonnaise Jar with lid (for kids)

Preparation:
For Nata:
Pour cream into your jar until it is half full, put salt to taste, close the lid and start shaking! That is it! Shaky shaky shaky…




At around the 6 minute mark, you will see that as you shake you will not feel any liquid moving inside the jar, open your jar and if you see a thick cream stuck to the outside of your jar, you are done – You have nata! It will keep for week (if it last that long before everyone in your household demolishes it!)

For butter:
Pour cream into your jar until it is half full, put salt to taste, close the lid and start shaking! That is it! Shaky shaky shaky….
Keep shaking that jar for about 12 minutes or so – you will pass the nata stage and then you will start feeling a liquid move again in your jar.



Open your jar and you will see a clump of nice sweet yellow butter swimming in white buttermilk.


Pour the buttermilk out into a container and strain your butter. Squeeze it a little with your fingers to take all the buttermilk out of it.





Make a ball with it and put it on a container or if you want to shape it, put it on a plastic wrap, cover it and shape it to your liking.


You can also do a compound butter – simply add herbs or garlic to taste to your freshly made butter and mix.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

How to make homemade mozzarella cheese in about 1.5 hours!



I have been wanting to make home made cheese for as long as I can remember. I just finally did it! I had not been able to find rennet close to where I live and the prices online had discouraged me before, but in a recent trip to the Canary Islands, I found it! They have rennet there or cuajo as it is called in Spanish in every pharmacy. It looks like it is very common for people in the Canaries to make their own cheese. That was very lucky for me! I have been holding to my little bottle of rennet until today.

So no more waiting for you - Here is how to make mozzarella at home in about one hour and a half!

Ingredients:

1 gallon of milk
2 tsp citric acid
1 cc liquid rennet
1/4 cup of bottled water
Sea salt to taste

Equipment:

1 big pot enough to hold 1 gallon of milk (not made of aluminum)
2 glass bowls - a big one and a small one
1 cheese cloth
1 metal sieve
1 food thermometer
Cling film
Thread

Preparation:

Dissolve 1 tsp of citric acid in 1/4 cup of water.


Pour the gallon of milk in the pot and start heating it, stirring constantly to prevent the milk from sticking to the bottom.


Pour the dissolved citric acid and sprinkle another tsp of citric acid into the milk pretty soon, before it gets to 50F. You will noticed the milk will start to curdle a bit.


Continue heating and stirring until the milk reaches 90F. At this time, turn the heat off and put the rennet in the milk. Stir it for a few seconds to make sure it is distributed evenly. (if you are using rennet in a tablet or powder form. First dissolve it in a little water before you stir)


Cover the pot and let it rest for 20 to 25 minutes.

Check to see if the curd has formed. If you put your finger in the curd, it will separate cleanly and you will see clear whey to the side. At this point, cut the curd with a sharp knife making a grid (horizontal and vertical lines).

Heat the cut curds once more until it reaches about 100F - you will see the curds separating - stir a few times very gently. Turn the heat off.


Put a sieve over your big glass bowl and a double layer of cheese cloth over the sieve.


With a small sieve or a spoon with holes, start taking the curds from your pot and put them on top of your cheese cloth. Be gently and try not to break the curds too much.


Reserve the whey, you can make ricotta cheese with it and then drink it in milkshakes or soup. Much cheaper and healthier than the expensive whey protein powders!


Gently lift the four corners of your cheese cloth and make a little pouch. You will see the whey starting to pour out of the cloth. Gently squeeze until you get almost no liquid coming out of the pouch. Put your whey back in the pot for your ricotta!



Open the pouch, you will see that your curds have formed a ball of cheese (at this moment you have queso fresco).


Take your cheese ball and cut it into pieces with a knife and put the cut cheese in your small glass ball.


Here the fun begins, make mozzarella! The traditional way calls for boiling the whey and adding the cheese back to the whey and knead it and stretch it there. But I was not about to burn my hands. So we will do it the modern way - using the microwave.

Salt your cheese to taste if you want salted mozzarella. I put about 1.5 tsp of sea salt in mine (you can use regular salt). Put the bowl in the microwave for 1 minute. Take the cheese out of the microwave.
You will see how some whey has separated form the cheese, and the cheese starts to melt together.


With your hands squeeze the cheese until all the whey comes out (careful cheese is hot). Drain the whey. Put the cheese in the microwave again, this time for 30 seconds and repeat the squeezing and kneading. Do it one more time for 15 seconds.


At this point the cheese already looks like mozzarella and you can start kneading and stretching.



If the cheese gets too cold, put back in the microwave for 15 seconds and keep stretching. The more you knead the harder your final cheese will be. Once you are happy with the texture, you can form your cheese.

You have 2 options, make individual balls by hand, or do a ball braid.

To do individual balls. Take a bowl with salted cold water and put it at your side. Take the cheese in your hand and squeeze. Make a small ball with your thumb and index finger.



Drop the ball in the cold water so it retains its shape. Make as many balls as you can with the cheese. The balls will keep in the fridge in water for a week (replaced the water daily)


To make a ball braid, cut a long piece of cling film and set up flat on your table.


Stretch your mozzarella until you form a long roll. The diameter of the roll will determine the size of your balls (mine was small as I wanted mini balls of about 2 inches).



Make sure that there is extra cling film to the right of your roll as the cheese will squeeze to the right as you tight the balls. Roll the cheese into the cling film, making a sausage.

Cut a long thread, and with one of the ends, tight a knot on the left hand side of the cling film. Now you will start making the little balls. Hold the thread on top of the sausage at the length you want for your ball. While holding the top of the thread, put the other end under the sausage and thread it  under the one you are holding (making a knot). Tighten it. Repeat for the length of your cheese. Make a double knot at the end of your last ball.


You are done!!! Let the mozzarella cool down by putting it in cold water. -


It is ready to eat. It will keep nice and soft for about 12 hours. After that you will need to refrigerate - if it last that long!! I bet you will eat it all before that.
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