Thursday, February 26, 2015

Barcelona trip - part 1 Barcelona and Penedes

Sunset from Hotel Rey Juan Carlos I

I love planning new trips and adventures - I even sometimes joke that I have more fun in planning the vacation than I do in actually taking it! There is just something I love about getting to research a new place. When I am going to take a trip, I spend time looking at all the local activities and searching for the perfect restaurants. To me, trying to figure out the perfect off the beaten path locations makes visiting a new place even more fun.

This trip to Catalonia, Spain was no different. Even though it started out as a work trip I was quickly able to extend it into a bit of fun. My husband joined me at the end of my work conference (definitely work but still a lot of fun too!) and we had a chance to check out some of the areas outside the city of Barcelona. We both visited Barcelona years ago but we needed to take a quick peek at the progress on Sagrada Familia. The basilica is due to be completed in 2026, one hundred years after the death of Gaudi.

Nativity Side of Sagrada Familia 

After a few days of working, it was finally the weekend and time to get our vacation started. My husband and I decided to rent a car to journey both to the North and South of Barcelona. We even lucked out and got to spend not only Valentine's Day there but also Carnival! It was a fun coincidence to be traveling for Valentine's Day again like our trip to Copenhagen back in 2008 (also on a work trip extension) - why is it always so cold when we travel!


  

Prawns in Garlic (Paco Meralgo) 

 
Our first night we tried a restaurant suggested by his co-worker who lived in Barcelona for over a year.  Paco Meralgo was pretty popular and unfortunately we couldn't get a table but lucky for us there was room at the bar when we arrived. For Spain, we eat very early (9 PM) so we were one of the first to sit down but by the time we left there wasn't a seat in the house! This time we were so impressed by all the local seafood in the fresh display on site. We started with Grilled Razor Clams, Fried Baby Squid, Prawns in garlic sauce, and ended with the Bomba, a spicy fried meatball. Even the desserts, a Catalan Custard were amazing. This was a fabulous start to our week! To cap off the night, we also stopped for a drink at the Dry Martini. With the cozy banquettes to cuddle up on and excellent freshly made martini and mojitos, we were able to watch a lot of other couples with the same idea! 
Unused Cork at MasTinell

The next day was actually Valentine's Day so we took our first adventure out of the city to the Cava producers in the Penedes Region. After a late night out we were a little slow to get moving but when we got to Sant SadurnĂ­ d'Anoia we were glad that we had made the trip. The first stop was the Codorniu Cavas. We explored their old caves and the underground labyrinth which still holds some of their most aged (and expensive!) cavas. We topped that off with a visit down the road to the tasting room at Friexnet. While they mainly export lower priced cava in the US, their premium products on site were really delicious! We tried the Reserva Real and it was so unexpected as it was blended with the more minerally and bready taste of their aged wines.
Yeast swirling around a bottle of cava during en rima process 

Our last stop was in Vilafranca about 15 minutes away at the Mastilnell Cava and Hotel. This winery is much younger than the others at about 25 years and they have a gorgeous modern hotel on site to stay for the night. We took our third cava tour here and saw a more modern approach to doing things. It was interesting to see how some of the processes are still pretty much the same, while others are helped by modern machinery (like forklifts instead of hand turning bottle after bottle) Since this was an actual working winery we saw Cava bottles in the many different stages and were able to taste quite a few options. Surprisingly our favorite tasting wasn't a Cava at all but their muscat Clos Sant Pau! It wasn't overly sweet or cloying - just the perfect balance to end a day of tastings! We ended up sneaking home a bottle of this through customs and can't wait to enjoy it.


Front of Cava & Hotel MasTinell

We ended the day at Mastinell with a seven course tasting menu at the onsite restaurant En Rima. This name is taken from a process during cava making where they have to store the bottles for at least 9 months to age it properly. The special menu was so good (and cheap!) that we were able to taste a few more of the products from the winery. I really appreciated the chef being able to sub out one of the tasting dishes for me. 

Beet Risotto (En Rima) 

We started with a artichoke soup with truffle oil then a salad (modified from the original menu). We moved on to a beet risotto served with lobster and Iberian ham that had a great earthy sweetness to it contrasted to the salty brine of the ham.  Next was Turbot with sea urchin sauce for the fish course and then finally the lamb chops with a celeriac and truffle cake. We finished off with a warm molten chocolate cake which the chocoholic in me will never turn down! We were also lucky enough to have breakfast included the next morning with their fabulous house made juices and jams



Roasted Turbot with Sea Urchin Sauce (En Rima) 

I really loved the restaurant and wish that we could have been there in the spring or summer. The whole region was so pretty but I missed all the green grapevines covering every inch of land. Next time we will have to be sure to come during the growing season! This was such a great place to visit and I really hope to get back to this hotel again. 


View from breakfast table to vineyard (En Rima)

Next post will be the rest of our trip which headed over to the Carnival celebration in Sitges and then heading north to Girona and Figueres
.



Sunday, February 16, 2014

Recycled DVD rack for Laundry Storage

After so many years of not having laundry in my apartments I am so happy that I have not only a washer/dryer in my condo but a really nice new stacking one! The only problem is the furnace and water heater are right by its side which doesn't leave room for my detergents. I up-cycled  a CD/DVD holder that was from IKEA into a laundry tower that fits in the smallest spaces. You could probably even fit this in most of those laundry "closets" that are found in many city condos.

I do have some additional space in my laundry/utility room but I still need to work on downsizing a bit more. I am going to be working on the shelving unit that is mounted on the wall (but one shelf is broken from too much weight!).  For now I do have a whole bunch of tub containers stacked up 2 high to make a work surface for my laundry baskets on the other side of the washer/dryer. It isn't perfect but its better than it was before this weekend.

This was a simple re-purposing that just took a few minutes to finish but makes a big impact in saved time every day. I just changed the shelf height to accommodate the height of the different detergents,  dryer sheets and other cleaning items. It was just lucky that the large detergent bottles fit perfectly in the unit! This eliminates the need to open and close the washer and dryer to pass by them and get to my supplies which just makes something that is already a chore just a little bit easier to get done.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Restaurant Review: Union Republic - Jersey City

**update 12/8/13** A return visit to Union Republic confirmed my suspicion that the noodle issue was based on the large volume of customers on opening night I am happy to say the noddles are now delicious and well cooked and the ramen is piping hot (as it should be especially in the winter!)

There is no doubt that I love to make a home cooked meal but not everything is really suited for home cooking. For me, ramen is one of those things. Between the complex, rich broths and little bits of everything thrown in that make each bowl a little treasure hunt it seems to be a little more trouble than its worth. Just tonight a new restaurant opened and I am so excited to report its only two blocks from us! Over the summer we moved to a new condo and while its only a few blocks further away from the PATH station (that is the subway here in Jersey City) those few blocks can be enough to make you stay home and order takeout when those first few really cold nights have arrived.

 Nose to Tail Ramen


We arrived about five minutes before the doors to Union Republic opened and used that time to run over to the small liquor store and grab a few beers. Once we were inside we were talked through the ordering process (you check off the items you want with a marker) and took a seat. While its definitely a casual dining atmosphere (you order up front but have the food delivered to your table) the space inside is really beautifully designed and looks quite modern. There is no typical Asian theme or look to the space and they do serve a variety of food so don't expect a traditional ramen from Union Republic. There is also a lot of open space still yet to be filled... when I questioned the man who was working the front of house he said that they will be using some of it for their pre-packed items and perhaps a band in the future. The room filled pretty quickly and by the time we left the large communal style table were rapidly filling as well.

 Shot of the communal table from their facebook

We had scouted out the menu online and have to admit the ramen burger sounded pretty good but unfortunately tonight was not the night for that! But it does give me a very good excuse to go back very soon. We started with the roasted pork tea sandwiches and the BBQ lamb ribs. The tea sandwiches came out in typical tea style cut into four little triangles (though I did spy a few orders going by later that night just cut into larger triangle halves). The pork was cubed up and the pickled onions were very nice, however they were a bit hard to eat without loosing all of the meat when you picked up the sandwich though I think that the larger cut probably helped that. The lamb ribs were perfectly sauced and seasoned. My only complaint there is that one thin little napkin that was on the table wasn't going to stand up to that sauce! But luckily we were able to flag a waitress down and get a stack before I had to resort to finger licking.


Next up was our ramen.... he tried the "Nose to Tail" and I had the "A Hen Full". I personally enjoyed the Hen Full more as the lighter Shoyu broth is more to my taste but the Nose to Tail was filled with a lot more fun little bits. I did really enjoyed the chicken meatballs in the Hen Full - they had the perfect amount of texture. I would have preferred the soft egg to be a bit more to room temp instead of cold as it was served and actually think that the entire bowl of ramen could have benefited from being a few degrees warmer. Instead of starting out so hot that you have to barely pick around while inhaling all that delicious broth flavored steam it was just warm when served and cooled down to room temp before I could finish. I think that this is a case of first night issues though as our waitress mentioned that she was suppose to be in the back so it seems that maybe they were still working out some kinks.  Sadly, the noodles were lacking. Most were clumped up and stuck together which made slurping just about impossible and they needed a bit more cooking as they were still very "al dente" in my Hen Full (lucky for my husband the Nose to Tail bowl was a bit better).  On our walk out we noticed at least one bowl full of noodles abandoned which isn't a good sign when the noodles are suppose to be the star of the show.

The verdict? I am definitely going to give UR another chance as they seemed to be a little overwhelmed with the large turnout and I am very interested in seeing how things work out in another few weeks. I am especially excited about their to go section as it could be a nice alternative for a no-cooking night (a line of refrigerations that were just about empty tonight but I am hoping will be filled with ready to heat/eat meals in the future) 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Infusions: Buddha Hand Citron and Grapefruit Rosemary Vodkas

This post has been a long time coming. Months and month ago I got this great idea. I was going to make all this infused alcohol for my friends and family for Christmas. Well I did a bit of the research and bought some nice bottles with stoppers and little book of infusion ideas. And then nothing.... I stored the bottles in the back of our spare bedrooms and for months they were covered over in gifts, then blankets and wedding accessories and then finally one day I saw it in the store. Christmas had come and gone but citrus fruit season was finally here and the Fairway near my work had one of the most interesting looking fruits I has ever seen...A Buddha Hand Citron




The book actually had a recipe for a vodka using this exotic citrus fruit but to be honest you don't really need much of a recipe as much as flavor pairing skills. One of my favorite "cookbooks"  The Flavor Bible is actually not really a cookbook at all but its a great one for making infusions. This book just lists different ingredients that compliment each other and that is the secret to a well balanced drink. The method of infusing vodkas is usually quite simple just add a flavorful item and let it sit for a bit. Its very important to carefully strain the vodka after flavoring as any debris left in the flavored vodka can go bad and really ruin your creation. For strong flavors - like hot peppers - use less time but for subtle flavors like fruits you can give it a bit longer.


For the Buddha Hand Citron I washed then cut up the fruit I left most of the white pith because its not very bitter in this fruit its actually the part you eat. Then I added it to a large clean airtight jar and added 1 L of vodka. As far as the quality of vodka, I usually try to find something moderately priced and fairly clean - Svedka is usually my go to since it is five times distilled and has a very low taste profile. Each one of my jars took just about a full 1.75L bottle.



My next flavor combo was grapefruit and rosemary. This is a little strange to some people but I had fallen in love with a cocktail (similar to this) featuring the duo and was confident that it was going to be good..... and it was! Because the grapefruit pith can be a bit stronger I took care to only use the skin and as little white as possible - I used the skin of three grapefruits. The rosemary I was able to use whole and put in three as well. I have also been experimenting with some other flavor so more options and some cocktails will be coming up soon....


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Cooking fun with OXO! Peppermint Cheesecake minis

This winter I was super lucky to get a chance to check out the cutest new measuring set from OXO. For those of you who read this blog and are close friends you may know that I used to be a chemistry teacher. This is why I totally freaked when I saw this new set from OXO that is little beakers. I was so happy to have them because when I was making these adorable little cheesecakes I had to use some funky measurements because I was making 3/4 of a recipes. I know that sounds crazy but sometimes when you have a party to go to and you forgot to buy enough cream cheese and your amazing finance runs to the store but buys the wrong type and you have to get it in the oven because you still need to shower and your ride will be there in less than an hour....its a  3/4 of a cheese cake kind of day!




Luckily it was so easy to adapt the recipe and by making smaller cupcake versions not only was less messy to eat (with no cutting or serving to worry about) but no one missed the other 1/4 cake. I have seen many version of this with crushed peppermint candies but I have to be honest I think that they either have to be crushed into dust then it isn't pretty or its too chunky and I choke on them. I also didn't add the topping since I was already in a bit of a rush but these little cakes were done so fast that I never got an after shot! Filling the cakes was no fuss because I poured all of the batter into a zip top bag then cut off the corner. Using a baggie as a disposable pastry bag just makes clean up a breeze.


Recipe at Epicurious  Peppermint Twisted Cheesecake


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Beef Stew

I posted about my Moroccan Chicken Stew a while ago but now I am going to give you the other half of that fun chilly weekend. Even though the weather seems unsure of where it is going I am still up for snuggling on the sofa with a warm cup of soup. This recipe is another one that I started on the stove but finished in the crock pot. For this one I decided to head out with some friends and leave dinner at home cooking for me while I enjoyed myself!



I just crave hearty stews like this once the temperature starts to go down. There is something about a cup of soup that just warms your whole day up. Luckily I haven't started to feel the winter sniffles and coughs but if you are this is a low maintenance way to enjoy some really tasty homemade soup. This soup was inspired by a new line of organic beef that was made available at my super market and was on sale... don't need to ask me twice!


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Balsamic Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Crostini

There is something special about caramelized onions. Its not that its expensive and it doesn't take a special pan or knife or anything really.... just time and attention. Its dishes like these that truly show off your cooking skills - its easy to make $40 a pound prosciutto taste good but how does the $0.99/lb onion fare.  I have to admit that this idea was totally ripped off from a friend... she served it at her Christmas party this year and I have been thinking of it ever since! She served brie with her crostini and that was a perfect pairing as well.



This is a simple and low cost appetizer that can either be assembled or just put out for guests to serve themselves. The most expensive part of the whole dish was the splash of aged balsamic I used to deglaze the pan at the end of the cooking. If you don't have the time (or inclination) to make the crostini yourself you can always get pre-made rounds at most stores - the store near me even sells them pre-seasoned which is even easier.

Follow the link for the directions


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Roasted Butternut Squash Coconut Soup

I try really hard to pack lunch for Jeremy in the morning before work. Eating out in NY City every day can be not only expensive but really unhealthy! Not only is packing lunch a good savings but it gives you the ability to use your lunch hour for something fun too. When he doesn't have a pre-packed lunch one of the places he loves to go is Num Pang. Its a few subway stops from his work but they have one of the best bahn mi sandwiches in the city and they also have a soup that he just loves. We unfortunately don't know the recipe (and to be honest I haven't tried it since I work in NJ). But I did find a little info online about the ingredients though! The soup was listed as Roasted Butternut Squash Coconut Soup with Basil Croutons on a few Yelp reviews so that was was where I started.


Luckily I had a few cans of coconut milk sitting in my cabinet along with some fun herb cubes (that I keep meaning to post about! sorry) and a squash to roast. What could be easier? I asked a friend to bring over a crusty loaf of french bread and got to work... Roasting squash can be done one of two ways - either half the squash and scoop out of the skin after cooking or peel and cube before hand. It can be annoying to peel squash but I find that my oxo peeler actually does a great job and then I don't have to burn my hands when its out of the oven (I have to admit I never wait long enough!) I just sort of made this up as I went along but he was pretty happy with it. It wasn't exactly the same but it was a good start... I was hoping to get a chance to taste it so I could get a bit closer. but unfortunately it looks to not be on the menu any more.


keep reading for my recipe


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wine Braised Short Ribs

I have another stove top to crock pot recipe to share! This is one of my favorite ways to make dinner in the winter when coming home is often in the dark and I often am just not in the mood to get cooking. Starting on the stove top doesn't really speed up the cooking but it helps to get some of the fat out before you braise the ribs.  This helps to decrease some of the calories though to be honest this dish is far from diet friendly. Short ribs are however a delicious choice for a hearty, dinner and can be served many different ways. I find you can't go wrong with this simple but effective herbed wine braising liquid.




I first came to love short ribs when I visited David Burke's Townhouse with a friend. I easily found some attempts at the recipe online and went from there. This is a little less complicated and that's great when you have a million errands to run every weekend! I started this dish in the afternoon before I left to go out to the gym and then enjoyed them when I finally got around to sitting on the couch.



Sunday, October 28, 2012

Moroccan Chicken Stew

As a New England girl, I am use to crazy weather so when the temps dropped this past week after a long weekend in Vegas I was ready for some soup. I tried to grab some at lunch but everyplace I went was expensive or watery - I just had to make it myself. I knew that my schedule was going to be a little crazy so I wasn't going to be able to hang around for hours simmering but I needed a little more than just stick it in the crockpot. I made a compromise that did leave me with a few extra dishes but dinner much faster and easier than either of the other ways!



The easy secret to this soup is the spice blend. I have mentioned them a hundred times before (and I do not get paid to say this) but I just love my spice blends from Spices Inc. it just makes getting dinner together a little easier. Also the hardest part can be getting the ratio of the spices correct - when using a blend that's already done just add to your desired intensity. Plus its a lot easier to put everything away with just one bottle to take out.

Keep reading for the recipe