Mojo Picón

Last night we (anafmora & cataspanglish) went for dinner with Ande Gregson, Kate PickeringSara Bonjoch & Olivier Schulbaum after the #media140 conference. One of the dishes was papas arrugadas with mojo picön which everybody loved & reordered. I promised everybody my receipe which Ana eats by the mortar-load every time I make it. Lo prometido es deuda as they say, so here it is, based on the recipe from the brilliant book by Janet Mendel, “Cooking in Spain” (this is the best book I’ve found about Spanish cooking, & I’ve tested many of the recipes on Ana’s very “authentic” mama. Buy it!)

Ingredients:

2 cloves garlic

1 chilli

paprika (to taste – I put about 2 tsp)

cumin (to taste – I put about 1tsp)

oregano

3 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp vinegar

1oo ml water

salt & pepper

Put the garlic & chilli in the the mortar & grind them with the pestle. Add the paprika, cumin, oregano, oil & vinegar and keep mixing. Mix in the water and season with salt & pepper.

Spoon it over anything – fish, spuds, chicken, veg, meat etc. and scoff

A TALE OF TWO BUFFETS

Guarding the Buffet

photo by specialkrb

We’re in luck – Simpson seems to be on a roll

pINCHEN AND (oh, i’ve dome it again haven’t i? will i never learn) i have many obsessions, but perhaps none that stretch as far back as one of us saying unto the other “and i bet that’s never been said before”.
 
So when i put my fork down on my second “Buffet Lliure” of the weekend and mentioned to “Her Indoors” (though at the time we were obviously out and about) that i had better write about our gastronomic adventures of this weekend, and the phrase “A Tale of Two Buffets” leapt into my mind, there was obviously no way back and it had to be done.
 
Sometimes a title is just so good (incidentally, did you know that unless you write on your own blog or are Rupert Murdoch and own your own swathe of publications, you will never, ever get to put your own title on your own piece of writing? Even if it’s a damn good one, because the person who receives your piece will either think it’s rubbish or will think you’re a smartarse and will want to establish oneupmanship over you for being so) that you then have to go away and write about the bloody thing. (Wow i’ve just realized that the bracket was far, far longer than the sentence itself).
 
It seems a bit daft to write about buffets; but then thinking about it, there is really so much that you can say about them. In a sense, there’s more that you can say about them than a straightforward meal.
 
i mean, it obviously is not a “review” in the strict sense of the word, and clearly nobody (in their right mind) is going to go to the buffet (at least not the ones i’m going to be talking about, but if anyone knows of a great one, please, please, please let me know so that i can get what i want) just because it is mentioned on the internet.
 

glutton (!) for punishment

The obvious difference between a set-course meal in a restaurant and a buffet is that you can – if you want and are a glutton (!) for punishment – get to try most of what they lay on. Unless of course you are reviewing a) a friend’s place and you are well catered for; b) you are a well-known gourmand and the owner is all out to impress you; c) at a place like El Bullí where there are 35 courses or something.
 
i actually think that there is a place in the culinary world for buffets, particularly at lunchtime (you’re generally hungrier than at night and the tendency is to eat lighter at night, plus, and here is the killer-point: you’re more likely to be in a hurry and will have more things to do than when night approaches and you can relax).
 
Look, i know that the brackets are getting annoying but i happen to think that my supplementary material is pretty damn on-the-money aujourd’hui, so indulge me please fellow buffet-eaters of the world (all seven of you).
 
If you’ve got offspring in tow, have had a lot of exercise and are flagging, are in a hurry, are extremely ravenous (or what about all four?) have no time to go home and cook and all previous four reasons are applicable, or don’t like sitting on your own in an eaterie feeling self-conscious, then the lure of the tray, one-off down payment, and collect your glass and cutlery on the way, is for you.
 
One in a weekend may be fortunate or careless, depending which way the breadroll crumbles, but two? Yet that was the position we found ourselves in this last saturday and sunday. The reasons for this culinary oversight are irrelevant, the detail however, is very much worth a closer look.

Why should the fare at a buffet be so much worse than in a restaurant? The people doing the actual cooking would i imagine be earning more-or-less the same, i suppose the lack of a “proper” chef at the helm might be something to do with it.

 Maybe it’s just the presentation? Perhaps if you put smaller portions from the large buffet trays onto plates along with sprigs of parsley or a little rocket salad your taste buds would be fooled by your visual dept?After all, they say that presentation is the key to a great dish. Personally, i’ve never been swayed by that particular cliché as many of the beautiful people i’ve met have been dull-as-ditchwater and some of the teams i’ve heard play magnificent stuff have been played off the park by a gang of bruisers; so i tend to reserve judgement until the grub hits my gullet.

First the good news, both places had gazpacho as a starter. You may scoff, but i like it all year round and would someone please explain to me why gazpacho made in military quantities would be any worse than in a charming bistro? The good news continues because both were more than acceptable and superior to a number of gazpachos i’ve had over the years in smaller establishments.

 Saturday’s place (8.95 per head & 4.50 for children) put the gazpacho in those tumblers that Basque wines are served in, and amazingly only filled it a half or a third full………. where’s the logic? i had to have three of them to feel well on the road to my five-a-day of fruit & veg.

i normally eschew the ubiquitous salad buffets on the grounds of a) boredom; b) even i could do that at home if i could be bothered c) other people sneezing. To round off my buffet extravaganza i finished on a mélange of couscous with diced things and a bluecheese salad whose cheese didn’t look blue but whose tomato was moist with something (nice i mean, probably a vinaigrette). But i had been hopelessly misguided by my final-flourish.

My savoury misguidance was saved by a fresh fruitsalad (kiwi + apple in orange juice) – called a macedonia here – and unbelievably a homemade yoghurt, mixing fruitsalad with yoghurt or natillas (a spanish custard but consumed solo here) can outsmart many a homemade cake or desert here which is heavy on appearance, and synthetic cream and sugar and flour, and has no redeeming features whatsoever, i’ve found some quite classy places getting it hopelessly wrong on cakes, puddings and reposteria in general.

Her indoors got a chocolate pudding/ brownie type thing which at one point was warm out of th’oven, was declared delicious and she proceeded to eat five (they were in small squares and she claimed that only half were for her).

In between there was a fideua (not dry) – a paella-type dish of short noodles instead of rice – meatballs with squid in sauce (meat routed crustacean by about 8 to 1 in a one-sided encounter where i would have liked to see a draw), a potato and courgette omelette (i can never be bothered to do filled omelettes at home) and grilled vegetables along with a few fried slices of aubergine.

I also had chips. Now here’s the thing, if you haven’t had chips for a while, doesn’t there come a moment when you just fancy some. And go on, admit it, you often end up disappointed don’t you (is there anything more dismal than a cold chip?)? Well, in a buffet, you can wait until a freshly-fried batch hits the container and take as many as you want. i waited, i saw and i conquered.

The next day…

Which is more than can be said for my next day’s buffet (sunday). In the Olympic Port, ergo, primed for tourists, we were “up for pollo a l’ast” – the catalan barbequed chicken – and this place said on the gaudy publicity stuck on the window that they did it.

What a disaster! Suffice to say that it should be renamed a “self-service” as upon paying “punter” were given a main course ticket and “one pudding only” ticket (so you couldn’t mix the tinned fruit-salad with anything else). The only thing that you were free to do was reject some of the fare on offer.

The only saving-grace was the fish soup (there was even a whole mussel in it), a full bowl of gazpacho, and a strong garlic flavour in the “patata graten” – the Spanish Dauphinoise which is butter free but smothered in their ubiquitous, insipid bechamel sauce. One chicken dish, one fish dish and a paella (which had been out for an eternity while the fresh one remained on the serving-hatch, doubtless to bring it down to the required cold temperature).

There were signs all over the place – helpfully in a variety of languages – that your pudding-rights would not be exchanged for coffee-rights. Yeah! That’s really a deal-breaker right there. It was, as someone once pointed out to me with reference to the catering-areas of large institutions: Get in, get fed, get out!

 The price was 11.95 – how much we wondered would it be midweek? We asked the illegal economic migrant who cleared our table, he had no idea but came back shortly and told us that it was three euros more monday-saturday. We were surprised, so on leaving asked the female presumably illegal economic migrant how much it was during the week, the same price we were told. 

 We didn’t know who to believe, and to be honest we didn’t really care. This was one buffet too far, and free or not, we would never be back.

 

The Flavour of the Origins

 

__-la-llavor-dels-origens-__

 

Yes, it’s been a long time and it’s a long story but…

A few months ago I asked my mate Simpson to write about menu’s del dia for Spanish Sauce, but he declined saying he was no longer a menu man. Although it seems I have been living here forever, when I first arrived I met Simpson and he turned my menu del dia hobby into a passion. The menu del dia is the fixed-price lunchtime menu offered by eateries all over Spain. If you are on any sort of a budget you HAVE to take advantage, but this great institution comes in all shapes, sizes and flavours and Simpson is blessed with a veritable Sherlock Holmesian ability to sniff out the worthy ones from amongst the flotsam and jetsam of midday culinary offerings.

Now me and Simpson bicker constantly about everything, but I’m not the only menu lover who takes note when the maestro allows us mere mortals to share The Knowledge. There are many of us who are happy to traipse from one side of Barcelona to another when the man announces that “today is Thursday and toca codillos al horno in the Najera.”Don’t get in our way, because we have appetite and are going to get there By Any Means Necessary.

Beacuse another of Simpson’s abillities is Instant Menu Memory – you can consult him on where to get the best lentejas on a Monday, where the best portions are served and the best place to go depending on where you are. He led me on a merry trail around BCN as my midriff widened and plans were hatched to somehow fund a project called “Pinchen and Simpson Eat Spain”.

Yesterday, out of the blue as is his wont, he called and asked if I was interested in a piece for this blog. It arrived at 1:57 this morning and I read it on the iPhone in bed. As I started putting the post together I checked out the restaurant on Google and realised that it was the kind of place that I would have dismissed instantly, the kind of place that only my trust in Simpson would make me eat in. It is with great pleasure then that I present what will hopefully be the first of many posts by the menu Man. Bugger the Michelin Guide, this is the Simpson guide:

Look, this might take a while………..
Is this a review for a restaurant, a way of eating, how to choose an eaterie…..? Nationalism & cookery, discuss!

This is a tricky time of the year to select what to buy, what to knock up, where to eat and indeed what to choose once you get there.
Autumn, the fall, great time for ingredients and even greater time for getting into a quandry with a sweaty menu in your mitts.
It’s the middle of one season, but it’s unseasonable weather………. do i go hot, do i go cold, is it time to opt for soups, or are salad days back again?
You tell me, ‘cos i don’t know.      

There we were, perusing the menus placed outside Barcelona’s eateries, i was already rueing my – is it conservative or liberal? – choice of layers (when it’s warm & you’ve put on too many, i mean) which didn’t exactly endear me to any of the places that had soups, habas a la Catalana (broad-beans in a sauce and a winter staple in my book) and salads all vying for a place in the list of starters.

Is there not a halfway house? That is to say, some autumnal or spring dishes which could help get punters out of said menu quandry.

There are plenty of seasonal ingedients that abound at the minute: squash, pumpkin, sweet-potato, chestnuts. But do they make it onto a bog-standard Barcelonan menu? Do they buggery. You see, that’s what i want, a bog-standard 10-12 euro menu with seasonal stuff that’s good and plentiful, at the moment, and reasonably-priced.

Then, right in the ultra-touristy and uber-trendy Borne i clapped eyes on a place that i’ve seen reviewed somewhere, no-smoking inside – buttons were already getting pressed – and on its list of seasonal starters was a pumpkin & date soup. La Llavor dels Origens was packed, but there was table available in 5-10 minutes, and the waitress whose accent was heavy French was friendly.
That gave my pregnant lunching-companion and i time to visit the church opposite – her choice not mine – but it was shut –  the priest’s choice not ours, i bet he was tucking into something seasonal as well. This actually played into our hands as while walking around we picked up a summer food-magazine placed outside by the restaurant for people to take, and clocked that there are two sections to the place. (One of them where they keep the bottles, and very nice it looked too).

We were seated in the part which looks out onto the Passeig del Borne and the church, more natural light but the decor was no great shakes. That hardly mattered as the place-mats contain details of the seasonal dishes while the magazine is in fact a menu containing all of the information you might require about their food, drinks and Catalan cuisine en general.

All dishes are well-described, with information on its origin and ingredients, with much, much more besides. If only more places could do such a thing, it would certainly make solo-dining a less boring experience. As the “Tardor” edition was their 11th number, at four editions per calendar-year, that tells me even with my sketchy mathematical knowledge that “Origens” (it’s the biggest word of the name printed on the mag’s frontpage) is one season off its third birthday.
Another foible i have – it’s a long list as anyone who has eaten out with me can attest – is where starters end and main courses begin. I’m a man who likes to mix & match; and again the place obliges so that all dishes are more-or-less the same size and are served, at least in our case, at the same time.      

This is what we had:
She: A spinach-dish (medieval) with bacon, raisins, pinenuts, cottage-cheese and almond-dust; A stuffed-apple of minced pork and beef, lemon-peel, sugar, cinnamon, a touch of egg and a “carquinyoli” biscuit-powder (Empordà).
He/i: Vegetable-stuffed aubergine (general Catalan); lamb in honey & rosemary sauce. i was also pleased that my favourite local-beer (A K Damm) is stocked, i cannot comment on the wines but a lot of variety was stocked and there is a mound of info on them in the magazine.

My companion’s apple dish was one of the best things i’ve ever eaten and consequently was tithed extensively by my greedy fork & remnants of bread. i told the waitress so, who told the Head-Chef which resulted in a conversation via the serving-hatch, which i am wont to do when so moved – i even moaned about my main dish, that it lacked a little something! That little something was probably just of simple solution like being hotter or just more, or maybe it was just that i was sore as SHE had got the best dish.

Total price, 35 euros, and i shall recommend it to anyone who is trapped in the tourist-hinterland of the gothic quarter. i like the idea of a place espousing local traditions and dishes in the nightmare of the false ethnic, cod pizza & pasta and ubiquitous Basque tapas-bars that abound wherever tourist and his & her money abound.  

Give me nationalism over that any time, at least it has a connection to the soil and its food. 

 

  

 

 

 

 

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