Saturday, March 9, 2013

Madrid - Tapas Anyone?

The first thing I observed upon arriving in Madrid was the immaculate and gorgeous architecture of the city.  Stunning. The city was full of tastefully colorful and interesting buildings and of course charming European cobblestone and tree-lined streets. Spain’s wealth and power of the past was immediately evident and a stark contrast to that of Portugal.  The feel of Madrid was interesting, sleek and fast paced city yet at the same time easy going and relaxed – quite a different feel.

So my good friend Molly had studied abroad in Spain for a semester and gave me a fabulous list of things to eat and places to visit – let’s just say this served as the official tour guide for Madrid.

First up – the Gourmet Food Market San Miguel Market – aka a foodie’s paradise.It’s an all glass building covered in gorgeous ironwork – a sight for the eyes as well the stomach.  As you enter, you are immediately torn about which direction, which stall to visit first – all the food looked incredible! There was a seafood stand with actual octopus, sea urchins, and giant fish with huge teeth- so cool! And of course, tons of tapas and wine bars – so incredibly hard for me to settle upon some!  I ultimately settled upon 2 tapas on bread. One was a nice rustic white bread topped with perfectly caramelized onions and goat cheese. The other was also on a toasted piece of rustic bread topped with a slice of cooked eggplant, smoked salmon, and a petit hard-boiled egg. And a glass of Spanish red wine to go – a Montalvo Wilmot Syrah Roble from Finca Los Cerrillos. It was a delicious lunch! And for dessert, (well one of my two desserts I had for lunch), I got a mixture of fresh yogurt mixed with Amaretto cherries and caramel – mmm so good. Then, on the way out of the market, I saw my absolute FAVORITE gelato place I had found in Paris 2 years ago – AMORINO’S! I was so excited and being that gelato is my downfall, I had to get a scoop or two. Oh it was delicious, coffee, hazelnut, and amaretto. 

After lunch we went on a great free walking tour – 2 ½ hours and lots of info and history about Madrid – and fantastic way to meet people and that’s just what I did. I meet some other American girls who, like me, were fellow foodies and traveling around Europe. We all went around together the rest of the day and visited the gorgeous city of Madrid in the brilliant sunshine!
Ellie et Kristen! Fantatic gals from the states!!

First up after the tour, a stop at the famous San Gines Chocolateria – open since 1894 – and open 24 hours a day. Basically the Café du Monde of Spain and for the famous Spanish dessert of Churros and hot chocolate. So basically the churro is a long piece of fried dough that you dip in a mug of hot melted chocolate. Quite a tasty little afternoon snack if I say so.

From there, we visited what I probably enjoyed the most about Madrid  - the incredibly splendid Retiro Park.  This park belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the 19th century when it became a public park and man was it magnificent – 350 sprawling acres filled with immense green space, a peaceful lake, immaculate flowers, sculptures, musicians, and even a stunning glass building. There are two experiences from this park that I will not forget. The first was sitting next to the lake, basking in the sun, people watching, and listening to a Spaniard play peaceful music on his guitar. It was a picturesque moment that was incredibly soothing and like right out of a film. The second was watching the sun set behind the immaculate glass building next to another lake. I could not have asked for a better view of the sunset. Such a fantastic afternoon.

Oldest oven in World
Oldest Restaurant in World
The weather the next day was not as favorable, but oh well, c’est la vie! We decided to visit what is classified as the oldest restaurant in the world – Restaurante BOTIN.  It was founded in 1725 and has been in business ever since. I absolutely loved the interior of this restaurant – exposed bricks, spiral staircase, ambient lighting – fantastic atmosphere. Plus, the owner and workers were incredibly hospitable to us! One offered to take our picture in 3 different locations and the owner gave us free bread, hot from the oven, postcards, and made sure that we saw the world’s oldest oven (still in use, mind you)! It was an absolutely fabulous tour of the restaurant!

From there, we just meandered the streets of Madrid, discovering little nooks and crannies full of charm. We even happened upon this little unassuming outdoor market where I found some great items on the cheap! Gorgeous sterling silver and amber stud earrings for only 5 euros and a darling genuine leather purse for only 15 euros after a little haggling (love it)!

For lunch, we went back to the gourmet market – so many delicious options.This time I settled on two tapas again. One was toasted bread topped with Spanish smoked ham, huge chuck of fresh mozzarella, roquette lettuce, tomato, and a red pepper chutney. The other was a traditional Spanish tapas of toasted bread topped with homemade salsa and a fried egg. Both were absolutely delicious and quite fresh. For dessert, I had another traditional Spanish dessert of a palmier dipped in chocolate.

Considering that all the museums are free from 6-8 every night, we decided to visit the famous Prado Museum, which contains one of the largest collections of European fine art – Goya, Rubens, Velaquez, Titian, and the list goes on and on just like the museum. Not only was the artwork stunning, the building itself was gorgeous as well!

All in all, I had a lovely time visiting cultures different than that of America and of France. I love discovering European cities!

Thanks for reading!

Here are some more photos from Madrid:

Legumes at market

Amazing looking olives at market

Street shaped like elbow and named elbow street

Lake in the park

Inside Bodin

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Porto - An Unexpected Find

Never in my life did I think that I would ever travel to Portugal, but man am I glad I did.  However, getting there was quite an experience. I flew the budget airline, Ryan Air, and let me put emphasis on the word BUDGET – the entire cabin clapped when we hit the tarmac – not even kidding.
Anyway, I was so happy to have the opportunity to explore Porto – the city of Port wine, sangria, and codfish. 
The first thing I noticed was that Portugal was definitely unlike any other European country I have visited. The best way I have found to describe Porto is that it is a “lived-in” city, full of charm and character of ages past.  The lack of wealth is quite evident, but it was as though the city and the people did not seem to mind and neither did I. I thoroughly enjoyed meandering along the picturesque maze of little streets – so many darling little nooks and crannies.  And although a lot of the buildings are run down, the orange roofs of all the buildings gave the city a warm amber glow in the sunshine that was truly magnificent. 

So on my first full day in Porto, my 2 travel buddies and I thoroughly explored (aka walked) basically the entire city – it was so fantastic getting to walk around not only in warmer weather but also with SUNSHINE! I had missed it so much!!

 So my favorite activity that day was visiting the SANDEMAN Port Wine cellar. It was hard to actually decide which cellar to visit – the entire side across the river was just port wine cellars and of course the river was lined with boats carrying barrels of Port Wine. So cool!
For only 5 euros, I received a 30ish min long tour of the cellar (in French, I might add) and a tasting of 2 port wines – good deal!  First, I must emphasis the immense size of this cellar – wow. It was a giant building all filled with wine!  The guide was dressed up in the Sandeman cape and hat – pretty amusing. The tour was rather interesting and she even showed us vintage port dating back to 1904!  They gave us 2 rather good-sized Port wine tastings – white and red. The white was the Sandeman Porto Apitiv White. Personally, the white was extremely too sweet and a tad difficult to drink – perhaps if mixed or pair with something it would be better. The red was the Sandeman Porto Twany, which is a lighter red porto wine and has the aroma of vanilla and dried fruits. I much preferred this one to the white.  I ultimately settled on purchasing the Sandeman’s Founder’s Reserve Porto – can’t go wrong with a classic. 

As I was told that I had to try the traditional fish of Porto – Bacalhau – aka Codfish, I was determined to find a restaurant that served this fish. Finally, I found a darling little place that served several varieties of codfish. As a Southern at heart, I ordered the codfish prepared with cornmeal and a variety of vegetables with a side of puréed spinach. And man oh man was it tasty! The lightness of the fish paired so nicely with the cornmeal texture. Mmmmm. For dessert, we headed to a cool bakery with old wooden wine box planks for the floor. I ordered a traditional Portuguese dessert called a Nata, which was kinda like a crème brûlee in the flavor – but a completely different texture. Nothing extraordinary, but I love discovering the food of a culture. 

Coffee at Majestic Café

The next day, we had a coffee at the famous Majestic Café, which is a restaurant decorated in art nouveau style and has been open since 1921.  Even the chairs were lovely – gorgeous leather booths and chairs. It was a nice atmosphere.  Then we headed to another “top tourist activity,” visiting the Lello and Irmão bookshop, famous for its exquisite staircase and ceiling! Plus, it is known that JK Rowling visited this bookshop quite a bit when she was living and writing some of her Harry Potter books. It was a beautiful store, filled with tons of charm and the smell of books!
After the bookshop, off to the beach! The beach of Porto was unlike any beach I have ever visited. Huge rocks and waves, violent water, and not much sand. It was quite a difference experience – cool, but different. I greatly enjoyed getting to feel the ocean breeze, smell the salt water, meander about 5 miles along the coastal boardwalk, and watch groups of old men gathering to play their weekly card game. Although it was not sunny at the time we visited the combination of the vivid grey skies with the white spray of the waves was majestic, plus going to the beach is always a relaxing and renewing experience! Then by the time we returned to the center of the city (the beach was about 30 min bus ride away) the sun was out and why not “profiter du soleil” and drink some sangria! For only 6 euros, we shared a pitcher of freshly made sangria that even came with ice! It was a perfect cap to the trip. 

One final experience I have to share about Porto is the WILD bus ride I took from the hostel to the airport.  So our plan was at 6:30 that morning and it was necessary to take the 4am night bus to the airport – about a 45 minute ride. If you have ever seen the Harry Potter film with the scene of the wild bus ride Harry takes I think in the 4th or 5th movie – this was EXACTLY like that and I think JK Rowling was definitely inspired by the buses in Porto! This bus driver was going about 100 mph on a one way street, flying over speed bumps, and one time almost got hit by another car. It was insane and I have personally never been so happy to get off a bus. Haha whew!
Up next, my post about Madrid!

Wonderful pottery shop I found right next to the water called SOL

The entire city is peppered with builidings covered in this blue and white tile

Porto Boats

Darling little park area in main sqaure

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sirha et Percée du Vin Jaune

Christa and me in Lyon
So first of all, sorry for the long hiatus from blogging. Life has been a whirlwind ever since my wonderful friend Christa came and visited me over the Christmas break and we travelled all over Europe and France – Colmar France, Freiburg Germany, Basel Switzerland, Dole, Lyon, Annecy, and little towns sprinkled here and there! We had the most marvelous time and I hope to update y’all about those soon. 
Visiting Annecy
But for now, I have to discuss to major food events I went to this past week – Sirha in Lyon and the Percée du Vin Jaune in Voiteur.

robot barman 
 So Sirha is a 5 day food event that takes place every 2 years in Lyon France aka the gourmet food capital of France. ( I just went on Monday the 28th) Let’s just say this was like the Olympics of food! There were people from all over the world and the expo hall was beyond immense. I was there for about 5 hours and didn’t even see everything – 6 grand halls filled with all products relating to food – we had breads, pastries, cheeses, hams, kitchen uniforms, new kitchen products, restaurants, wines, cheeses, sushi, blown sugar, sugar monuments, chocolates, the list goes on and on and on.  Since I went with my professors from my hotel and catering school they hooked us up with some fabulous samples – I ate quite well at the event.  I tried all sorts of different chocolates from the well-known brands of Barry and Valrhona and they even had these fabulous chocolate sculptures up for show – simply remarkable. 
Drink I had at Massenez

Mont Blanc at Grand Marnier
Then we had a little stop at G.E. Massenez, which is a company that produces several types of l’eau de vies (strong liquors) like cherry, blueberry, cassis, etc. But since we were with the bartender teacher, we all received a delicious cocktail mixed with cranberry juice, cherry juice, and several other fruit juices and topped with cherries soaked in Griottine cherry liquor. Man, it was good! I picked up some recipes if anyone is interested ;) Then we went and visited the booth of Boiron, which produces a lot of top quality fruit and veggie purees – the school and Didier use them all the time. They actually sat down with us at a bar table and served us several little tasties. I had a cucumber puree topped with caviar and a petit egg and a tomato and bell pepper gazpacho soup as well as tasting several fruit and veggie reductions and purees like grated coconut – which was rather potent and good!  Next we headed over to Monin, which produces a lot of syrups for drinks and desserts or just for cooking. We had this delicious little sandwich of curry, mayo, smoked salmon, and mango puree- so good – we all snuck two! We were also served a refreshing iced tea with an infusion of lemon and rosemary – mmmm.  Along the way, I tried a white wine from Romania – quite sweet and would be good as an appéro or dessert wine.  Lastly, we went to the Grand Marnier booth and I have to say I ate quite a bit here – I mean what can I say, desserts infused with Grand Marnier – can’t go wrong can ya? I had a Mont Blanc cookie with Grand Marnier, sable Breton cookie, confit of orange, almond paste, vanilla cream, and chesnut cream – wow so good. I also had several dark chocolates infused with Grand Marnier with cherry and orange. 
Coupe de Monde

      Lastly, I have to mention probably the most important part of this event – the competitions. Coupe de Monde de la Pâtisserie (World Cup of Pastry) and the Bocuse d’Or (really high honor for chefs named after the famed Paul Bocuse). I was primarily interested in the Coupe de Monde seeing as I love the art of pâtessierie and I actually got to see part of the competition the day I went!  So basically teams from all the world compete for spots to even compete. Unfortunately America didn’t make the cut…but oh well. Anyway, the teams are composed of three members – one for sugar, chocolate, and ice sculpture. They have 10 hours to create a masterpiece and a presentation using sugar and chocolate and one ice sculpture. The work these teams create is quite remarkable. Takes my breath away.
Chocolate sculpture at Valrhona
 France won and Didier’s cousin actually was the team member who created the ice sculpture!  Plus, France was the first team ever to combine sugar and chocolate for the final masterpiece – quite exquisite! France has won for the past 7 years and for good reason.
      As you can probably tell, I had a foodie heaven day – I saw everything a foodie’s heart desires and ended the day on a good note with a free espresso from Malongo coffee and trying some apple ice wine from Canada – the juice is extracted from frozen grapes!  I’m so glad that I came to France this year  - perfect timing!

Carolyn and Me at Percée
Now onto food event number two – same week  - 5 days later – Saturday February 2 – the Percée du Vin Jaune! ( I can’t resist saying that as I type this, there is lovely blanket of snow on the ground and the snow is softly falling , I love France!)
Percée when it was sunny
So the Percée is the major wine event of the Jura and occurs every year to celebrate the piercing of the Vin Jaune.  So the Vin Jaune is the special and most well known wine of the Jura - literally translated as yellow wine. It is derived from the Savagnin grape variety and is a specialty of Château -Chalon, a small village quite close to me and is on the list of the most beautiful villages in France. The grapes are picked late and they undergo a very slow fermentation, and age for exactly 6 years and 3 months – and as for us here in the Jura, those 3 months are rather important haha. The vin jaune has a very strong nutty flavor and is a gorgeous amber color. It is wonderful, especially when served at a temperature a little less then room temperature and served with comté cheese and walnuts or chicken or white fish. The vin jaune along with the vin paille are most expensive wines in the Jura.  The vin jaune comes in a unique, square 620 ml bottle called a clavelin.
View of Voiteur
My portable wine glass
      The percée is literally the piercing of the barrel of the vin jaune after 6 years and 3 months. People from all over Europe come to this event – this year about 40,000 people over 2 days. The percée takes places in a different village in the Jura every year and this year was Voiteur (a village right next to Château–Chalon).  Wine makers from all over the Jura are stationed in various garages and caves (cellers) around the entire village.  After I pay my entry fee of 13 euros, I receive a real wine glass that I wear around my neck – yes only in France would that be possible- and 10 tickets for a dégustation (tasting) of wine at the various caves.  In addition to the caves, there are booths for food, music playing, and a spectacle of drunks – it is a fun atmosphere! Carolyn, Pascal, Andrew (a fellow American living in France), and I went around to different caves tasting several types of wines from the Jura – just hold up your glass and the vendor pours. One of my favorite wines was the Vin Paille from Château de L’Etoile ( It’s a sweet wine, but full of body and character – man it was good. I also really enjoyed the Vin Jaune from Domaine de la Pinte in Arbois ( – nutty, rich, and full bodied. That day, I also tried a chardonnay, crémant, Savignon, and a MacVin.  I had a fantastic day! The only slightly unpleasant part of the day was the wacky weather. So on the way to the event, it was snowing. When we arrived, sunshine and blue skies. Then about 1 hour later, sleet and ice. Then cleared up, and on the way, windy and ice. It was a cataclysm of weather elements – whew! Nevertheless, fantastic time!

One a final note, I tried frog’s legs! DELICIOUS! Especially cooked in butter, garlic, and parsley. TRY IT!

 Other pictures from Sirha:
Ice sculpture

Automatic crêpe machine
sculpture made of sugar by the best sugar craftsman in the world