Friday, September 30, 2011

flying in from Colorado....

 How wonderful to travel the country, the world, but I always love landing in Seattle.

Mount Rainier
 The Salish Sea {aka Puget Sound}
I hope you have a splendid weekend, as you roam, or at home.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Platja de Pals, best lunch in Spain...

Pals beach is an expansive, crescent shaped, golden sand beach along the Costa Brava. Our brood was hungry for an array of water activities and this beach had it all: trampolines, jet skis, kayaks, paddle ball, soccer and rides on inflated tubes towed by speed boats. It's a great family beach.

We were hungry for lunch, so we thought the mini golf, Foosball tables and pizza at the Sa Punta would keep everyone in the group happy. What we didn't realize is that we were about to enjoy one of our favorite meals in Spain.

I was immediately intrigued by the label on the menu. As you may have read earlier, the town of Pals {just inland from the beach} is known for the rice it has been growing since the middle ages.

 Like others in Spain, the Pals rice is a rounder shaped grain {hence the name Bomba rice, you can find it under that name in the US}. The more rounded shape gives each grain a greater surface to absorb the flavorful broth used to make paella.

Seafood Paella, Sa Punta, Pals beach, Costa Brava
In addition to this Seafood Paella, Sa Punta offered a Black Paella, made with squid ink, a Seasonal Vegetable Paella, Venison and Mushroom Paella, Rabbit Paella and a Fish Paella, all following the standards of the Arrocerias de Alicante, or Master Rice Makers, and using Pals rice.

I loved the table presentation, a woven charger is placed on a short metal stand and the paella pan {which can be ordered for 2 or more} is rested on the charger, hot from the oven.

Paella is a great meal to make at home, click on Paella Splendide for favorite recipe, and for a quicker version, click on week night paella. To learn more about why I am so passionate for paella, click on saffron.

They also served a wonderful Salade Nicoise {under a Spanish name}, with plenty of fresh vegetables, chunky tuna and a light, simple dressing.

The side of asparagus was perfectly roasted and artfully arranged.

This was also the home of these marvelous mussels, featured on the earlier post on salsa romesco. For a simple, yet sublime way to serve mussels in a tomato sauce try this recipe from the Hampton Hostess. She was in Spain recently and when she returned, she recreated a mussel dish she enjoyed on her travels. This recipe "sounds" very much like what we were "tasted", I haven't tried the recipe yet, but will soon, click here for the recipe. 

The manger tried to entice us to prolong our stay with a round of fruity drinks after lunch, dangling promises for the actual recipe for the heavenly sauce used to make the mussels.

We did enjoy the traditional digestif, Baines de Aronon. Imbibe magazine wrote the perfect description of this beverage: 

"Imagine a sloe berry took a sunny Spanish holiday with a bottle of anisette and you’ll be close to envisioning this velvety, cranberry-pink liqueur from Spain’s Navarre region. Originally formulated centuries ago for Spanish royalty, but not commercially bottled until the mid-1950s, pacharán is made by macerating sloe berries in anisette with a touch of sugar. This particular pacharán from the Baines Licor Company is bright and fruit-forward with sweet and tart flavors of crushed red berries and cherry candy and a lingering trace of anise on the finish. Sip it slightly chilled and solo as a digestif, or mixed with gin, lemon juice and a touch of fresh spice in the Basque" 

For their Basque Swizzle recipe, click here. To find a bottle of this unique, refreshing bev, google the name, it's widely distributed.

We loved the Baines over ice, but this temptation could only hold us for so long....we had a shopping mission to complete.

Pacharan Baines de Aranon on ice, Pals beach, Costa Brava, Spain
Sa Punta also offers food to go, so you could bring this goodness to the beach for a picnic. To round out the offering, there is a little store next door with a wide variety of good quality picnic foods and beverages.

Sa Punta Pizzaria/Mini-Golf
Platja de Pals - Begur
Costa Brava, Spain
Tel. 972 66 80 51

A successful day at Viva Bombay, Pals Beach, Costa Brava, Spain

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Chanterelle mushrooms...

It sounded too good to be true. I received an email from a family friend saying that he had an abundance of fresh Chanterelle and Lobster mushrooms available and "would I like him to drop some by?"

Turns out, my friend Holden has made quite a hobby of harvesting mushrooms in the local forests in the fall and someone mentioned to him that I may be an interested "customer".

"Absolutely, I'll take a pound of Chanterelles", I wrote back as quickly as I could, fearing the offer would go away as quickly as it came {and still not quite believing that this was really gong to come to fruition}.

But it did. 

A few hours later I was gently holding a small paper bag packed to the top with golden Chanterelle mushrooms. When I poured them out on a plate, I couldn't help but to marvel at their near perfect condition.

These Chanterelles were the most perfect, pristine specimens I have ever laid eyes on, they were firm, plump and perfect looking. The creamy, honey color was warm, fresh and inviting.

A pan of sautéed Chanterelles is one of the most elegant and simple side dishes I can imagine for an autumn meal. Their distinctive flavor, which I would describe as earthy, and honey~like, with a little tinge of orange. 

These mushrooms were so clean, I just trimmed the stems, wiped them with a cloth and cut the larger ones into pieces which would be a large bite size after they were sautéed.

I melted some butter {I always use Tillamook salted butter}, drizzled in a little olive oil and gave them a quick sauté. A little coarse sea salt and chopped parsley were the finishing touch for these delights, fresh from their forest bed.

Next week, Holden is going to check his "white chanterelle spot" and mentioned that they are "a little larger, firmer and more fragrant" than the goldens.  I'll keep you posted {and my fingers crossed}!

For a previous post with more details on a splendid mushroom sauté, click on funghi.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Romesco Sauce...

..or Salsa Romesco is something we were pleased to acquaint ourselves with while in Spain. It is a thick, complex flavored tomato sauce developed by the fishermen to serve with their seafood. In our dining experiences, we found the sauce in the center of the table while enjoying seafood or, often, the seafood was cooked in the sauce.

When they cooked the seafood in the sauce it was usually in these wonderful little clay dishes, called Cazuelas, which are practically perfect, they are beautiful to look at, oven safe, presentable on the table, and can even be used to cooked over a low flame. I am absolutely adding some of these to my butler's pantry. To order them from The Spanish Table on line, click on Cazuelas or visit one of their stores in Seattle, Santa Fe, Berkeley or Mill Valley.

Our most favorite version of the sauce was the one we had at Platja Pals at the restaurant Sa Punta. This simple little restaurant just up the street from one of the largest, and most crowded of the beaches we visited in Costa Brava featured some of the best food we tasted in Spain.  

When we finished all of the mussels, we had to order bread because we couldn't stand the thought of letting this luscious sauce go to waste.

As with any sauce with ancient, rustic origins, there are many different versions of the Salsa Romesco, and it is a sauce that invites one to be creative. We did ask for the recipe at Sa Punta, but the managers terms were more than a little presumptuous. 

All is not lost, however. On our way to El Far we planned on stopping for lunch and asked for a recommendation to a casual little restaurant with good Catalan fare {we were all in swimsuits and cover ups}. We wanted someplace that would be appropriate for our van load of kids.

Well, the Michelin starred restaurant El Tinars certainly offered delicious Catalan fare, but it was a little more formal than we expected. We received more than a couple of "looks" as we traipsed in with our goat rodeo for lunch!

But, all is well that ends well. The origins of this restaurant connect back to the the early 50's, before the Costa Brava became a destination for visitors. The current generation has put a gently modern twist on the presentation. We had a lovely lunch and they kindly shared with me their recipe for Salsa Romesco.

Reading their recipe, I realize that the rich complex flavor of the sauce is a result of the cooking the ingredients in different ways before blending them together, offering a luscious, blended taste of roasted tomatoes and garlic, smoky peppers and country bread pan toasted with olive oil.

As I mentioned earlier, this sauce is on one that is made from many different recipes. When you make it you should feel free to modify to suit your tastes. In my research, I found that most of the recipes for Salsa Romesco included ground hazelnuts or almonds to thicken the sauce and give it a richer flavor. This recipe did not. All of "ingredientes" and "elaboracions" were written in Catalan and the quantities were in metric, so I have done some creative converting, and a little bit of modifying on this recipe. 


6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1~1/2 pounds of fresh, ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil {plus more for cooking}
1/8 cup sherry vinegar
2 fresh chilies, roasted {they called for the local guindilla and carne de flora chilies, I used one anaheim and one jalapeno}
2 crustless slices of white country bread
sea salt


Cut the tomatoes in 1/2 and put them in a roasting pan with the garlic and some olive oil, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Roast in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, until the tomatoes start to become soft and the skins begin to wrinkle and split. Once cooked and cooled sufficiently, peel the tomatoes and garlic.

Roast the peppers over a flame until well blistered. Allow the hot peppers to sit in a paper bag for about 1/2 hour to steam and soften. 

When softened, seed and core the peppers and scrape off any excess burned skin with a fork or dinner knife.

Pan toast the bread in olive oil.

Combine the peeled, roasted tomatoes and garlic, bread and chilies in the bowl of a food processor and process until thick and smooth. Add the 1/4 cup olive oil and the sherry vinegar and take it for another quick spin.

Add more oil, vinegar or salt to taste.

This will keep in your refrigerator for about a week {I've actually found it best to make this the day before you need it and then do a final seasoning after all of the flavors have a chance to meld for 12 hours or more}. 

I love having this sauce on hand in the refrigerator, it really comes in handy. When some friends invited us to see their new {yet to be furnished home} I told them we'd bring a picnic dinner.

Picnic dinner: Halibut in Romesco Sauce, citrus wedges and olive oil pan toast.

I put slices of halibut in a baking dish, sprinkled them with salt and pepper and then topped them with the sauce. I also added some sliced Spanish olives, capers, a drizzle of olive oil and the juice of one lemon. After baking the dish for 25 minutes at 350 degrees, the halibut was tender and moist within that flavorful sauce.

It is also a nice liquid in which to poach eggs for brunch. Serve them up with a side of fried corn tortillas and dabble of coriander chutney or salsa verde, plus a splash more of olive oil.

Friday, September 23, 2011

channeling Van Gogh....

The drive from Barcelona to the Coasta Brava went quickly and was dotted with a number of picturesque sights. Many of the towns in the near distance were topped with ancient forts and castles, which would have been fascinating to explore. I loved seeing the gorgeous, flowing fields of hay, much of it harvested and rolled up in the large round bales, reminding me of a painting by Van Gogh.

paintings of Haystacks in Provence by Vincent Van Gogh

But what really drove me completely crazy, to the point that I felt I was nearly channeling Vincent, and made me positively mad for a photo op, were the massive fields of sunflowers. 

Thankfully, my patient friends were kind enough to give me a few momentos, in a field, with my camera, in and amongst these lovely petaled orbs {gracias, amigas}.

We are having a gorgeous {yet strangely humid} Indian Summer here in the PNW. I'm trying to enjoy every last minute of sunshine and warmth {I even skipped yoga class today!!}

I hope you have a warm and wonderful weekend with lots of fun friends and family buzzing about.

 Plus a little time ALL to your {very perfect} self.

hasta luego...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

El Far Hotel, Costa Brava, Spain...

In less than two hours one can drive from bustling Barcelona to the remote, wild and rocky coastline of the Costa Brava. This area of Spain seems to be untouched by time. The people who live here enjoy a slower paced lifestyle than the residents of Barcelona. 

Driving northeast, after reaching Girona, we headed east towards la platja {the beach}, then navigated our way to the small beach town of Lafranc. After passing though sleepy Lafranc we followed the signs up the hill.

There were a few more twists and turns up narrow roads before we reached El Far {the lighthouse} de St. Sebastia. This simple and solid lighthouse has been sending it's signal out to mariners since 1857. It is in a small cape on the Costa Brava up on the high, rocky cliffs overlooking the Med. 

When we got out of the car, we were pleasantly taken back by the crisp, fresh marine air.

Next to the light house is a charming little hotel, configured within the confines of an ancient church. Here, we hung our hats for a couple of days to take in all we could of this beautiful section of Spain.

Each of the rooms of the hotel are uniquely decorated. I immediately fell in love with the airy essence of our room. The arched ceilings, the pale blue and white paint, and the curtained bed created a positively ethereal setting.

If you have been a splendid reader for awhile, you probably know I have a passion for the blue and white color combination.  

So, of course, I immediately gravitated towards this beautifully hand painted bowl on the dresser in our room.

But I also developed a very serious crush for the aqua and blue color combination in our bathroom. I'm sorry it doesn't show up very well in these photos, but these walls are painted the prettiest shade of pale aqua blue.

The aqua was a magnificent backdrop for the rich blue tile work.

Deep navy shutters protected our room from light and other elements,

and from these shuttered doors, 

we had the most incredible view of the sea, 175 feet below.

During the day we could hear the voices of the boaters below, enjoying the sun and sea and speaking far to fast for me to understand their happy conversation.

As the light dimmed, the sea and sky seemed to melt into one.

The only downside to this room was that people would gather on the patio below early in the morning to set out for day hikes on the trails that stretch along the sea.

 Even though I am not a morning person, I'd take that trade off again anytime!

I loved walking down these ancient stairs, each one has been beautifully worn and smoothed by ages of footsteps over the years.

The restaurant offers authentic Catalan cuisine and sports a casual beach decor. 

The border of France is less than 100 kilometers north, and I definitely detected a strong french influence in the look and feel of this area.

If you take a trip to Spain, I highly recommend a visit to El Far.

For more information on touring the Costa Brava, click aqui to read an interesting article Sarah Wildman wrote for the New York Times.