Friday, October 28, 2011

Back to Reality

With a jolt. What I didn’t mention here was that my father-in-law’s wife passed away the week before we left for Spain, necessitating a quick trip to NYC before our departure. We returned to find Henry’s father in the hospital; sadly he passed away last week, so we headed to NYC yet once again. While we are saddened by these losses, we take comfort in the fact that they both had very long and satisfying lives.

Now you know why the hiatus lasted longer than two weeks. I’ll try to get back on track…

The athletes.  Yeah, right.

As you know, we went to Spain to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. (I’ve no idea how we’ve made it this long without killing each other but somehow we continue to have a wonderful marriage and we still actually like each other). The first week was spent hiking in La Costa Brava and the Pyrenees (can you say “unrelenting rocks and elevations?”) and the second was in Barcelona where we undid the benefits of all that exercise by eating way too much foie gras. Needless to say, we had a glorious time. See for yourself.

We hiked here

And here!

Gaudi.  Genius.

La Sagrada Familia.  Still unfinished.

And the food.  Oh, the food!  Foie gras, razor clams, Jamon Iberico, gazpacho, paella and lots and lots of Cava!

The color of the figs was unreal.  Local cheese didn't hurt, either.

Local honey tasting in the Pyrenees

Goat Cheese "Mata" thickened with artichoke flower

Straight from the chef's garden

Tomato bread and Jamon Iberico

Breaking the fast (I'm not kidding) with foie gras and egg
at Bar Quim in La Boqueria

Naturally I returned home full of resolve to hone my Catalan cooking skills. I unearthed my old copy of Colman Andrews’ Catalan Cuisine and set to work. About that time, a friend showed up with a stash of locally grown apples. It looked to me like Pomes Farcides amb Crema Catalana (Apples Stuffed with Catalan “Burnt Cream”) was in order.

I made the recipe. Since I now have to work even harder at becoming a skinny cook, I made it as written (serving 4), but gave half of it away when our 12-year-old next-door neighbor unexpectedly showed up. This kid is wise beyond his years and he has a pretty sophisticated palate to boot. He’s picky, too. I wondered what he would think of this not-too-sweet dessert.

I didn’t have to wait long. Ten minutes after he left with the apples, he was back. He was beaming, but chose his words carefully – “the custard was runny, so it made a good sauce. The baked apple was juicy and sweet, but also crunchy. It was perfect.”

Alrighty, then. I take that as high praise. Apples are in season now, so it’s a good time to make this.  Hope you enjoy it as much as Gabriel did!

Pomes Farcides amb Crema Catalana  (Apples Stuffed with Catalan "Burnt Cream") from Colman Andrews

4 large baking apples
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
Crema Catalana (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Core the apples, being careful not to cut through the bottoms, then pare a 1-inch strip around the top of each.  Place apples in a lightly buttered baking dish just large enough to hold them.

Bring 1/2 cup of water to a boil and add 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar.  Stir to dissolve, then spoon liquid over the apples.

Bake uncovered, for 30 - 40 minutes or until apples are tender, basting occasionally..  Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, continuing to baste occasionally.

Fill each apple with the Crema Catalana, then sprinkle the tops with the remaining sugar.  Use a blow torch (or broiler) to caramelize.  Cool slightly before serving.

Yield:  4 servings

For the Crema Catalana:
2 cups (1 pint) half-and-half
Peel of 1/2 lemon
1 small cinnamon stick (3-inches)
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar

Heat the half-and-half, lemon peel and cinnamon stick in a saucepan over medium heat until just boiling, then remove from heat immediately.  Allow to cool, then discard lemon peel and cinnamon stick.

Beat the egg yoks and sugar until thick.  Temper with 1/4 cup of the half-and-half mixture, then blend in the rest.  Transfer mixture to a heave-bottomed saucepan.

Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.  This will take approximately 20 minutes.  When thickened, remove to a bowl and cool slightly.  Press plastic wrap directly over the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until ready to use.

Yield:  approximately 2 1/2 cups

Yet again, I have a few comments.  So, what else is new?

*  This recipe makes more Crema than you need.  You could cut it in half (1 1/2 egg yolks, anyone?) or you could just make the recipe as written and enjoy the spoils.  A spoonful here, a spoonful there - when consumed in such small amounts, calories don't count, right?

*  If you are looking for an active vacation, look no further than Backroads.  This is the second trip we have taken with them and they are just flat-out stellar.  I fell in love with our guides, Vincent and Chema.

*  Do you need a travel agent?  If so, I have "the travel agent extraordinaire."  Send me a message if you want her info and I will happily share it with you.  Doreen, you rock!

*  Two major cakes are in my immediate future.  One is a wedding cake and one is a BIG birthday cake.  Oy veh!  Once I recover, I will give you all of the dirty details.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Four Words

No mas jamon Iberico! For that matter, no more foie gras either. I have OD'd on both since I've been in Spain. A recent dinner entree was a hunk of foie gras the size of a small filet mignon. It's served here with just about anything you can think of ... fried eggs, risotto, steak, salad and probably even cardboard. Oh, my arteries!

Headed home tomorrow and not a moment too soon. If I was something less than a skinny cook before, I am even less so now. (Can you say "porker?")

Nonetheless, I am returning with some great ideas and lots of inspiration. See you in a few days after I get over my jet lag and utter exhaustion from a week of vigorous mountain hiking.

Hasta luega! Headed out for one last dinner...