Thank Facebook! (part 2)

Once again, Facebook knew exactly what I wanted! We were looking for a tapas place, in Alicante, on our last day in Spain, when Marco reminded me about our happy experience with Facebook recommending a restaurant in Lisbon. So, after meandering the streets of Old Town Alicante, I stopped and went on Facebook. And, to my delight, the wonderful phrase popped up saying “there are three highly rated restaurants near you that you might like”.

The nearest one was Bandarra Bar. Our waiter spoke limited English so it was challenging to understand his response when he tried to tell us what bandarra means. I think it is a word from catalan or one of the local dialects, and, he said it meant “thug”. We spoke a little more and he made sure that this did not mean a violent person, but more of an attitude. Looking on their Facebook page, I found a description from a review that explains it better. It comes translated by Google, but the point is pretty clear. “His presentation makes it clear: within each person there is a bandarra who wishes to be awakened, that mischievous, rebellious and maverick with the everyday feeling of the irrefutable desire to live and experience new sensations. Free yourself and break with everything you think you know, join us and let the being bandarra flow through your veins… you feel ready?” (quote from review found by clicking here).

We felt ready and experienced a delightful gastronomical journey. We chose 4 tapas recommended by our waiter/chef. He brought each one to the table, where he finished the last cooking details in front of us. Sometimes, he did it with sauces, sometimes with croutons, and often with the heat of a torch. In each case it was like sitting up close by the stove being with the chef as he finished his creations.

We were so enraptured by the experience that we forgot to take photos. So, apart from the dessert photo above, the credit for this other photos is given to the Facebook page of Bandarra Bar (click here). Check out the web site and see how the cooking philosophy of rebelliousness  plays out in the urban art displayed on the walls, and the playful combination in the aesthetic of the decor.

Below is a chicken stew:

We ate the chicken pictured below and it was a playful tapas of stir fried, asian infused, chicken.

One dish, not pictured here, was a pork rib with an apple barbecue sauce. The meat had been prepared ahead of time. It was a little like pulled pork. Our chef/waiter brought it to the table, drizzled the sauce with a dramatic flourish, and proceeded to heat the dish with a kitchen torch. It melted in our mouths. He is in the photo below and appears to be one of the owners.

This bar perfectly captured what we love about the tapas style of dining: the sharing of many smaller dishes, the experiencing of several diverse flavors, and the slow pacing of a meal so that the tastes are paced out without producing a stuffed feeling.

Bandarra Bar took it up a notch with the added fun of a personal (and hot) chef completing the finishing touches at the table. The dessert pictured below was entirely created at the table,  beginning with the vanilla helado (ice cream) filled chocolate ball, placing it over a drizzle of custard and salted caramel, crumbling the cookies, sprinkling the cocoa, and finishing with the torch to heat the ball, melting the chocolate to expose the ice cream center.

Buon appetito!

Thank Facebook!!!

Resting in our hotel room after a jet-lag-infused, 2-hour nap, I opened my Facebook (FB) page to find an advertisement pop-up that encouraged me to check out three local restaurants. And, of course, FB knows me well after 8 years of friendship! It knows my location, my posts, my friends, the things I like, my eating habits (especially this), and who knows what else!!??

The nearest one, Sr. Lisboa, had a review that jumped out at me, where the writer stated that this had become his favorite restaurant in Lisbon. And, I wanted to find a restaurant for my birthday lunch. So, we decided on this. Click here to check out the FB page and watch the video to get a feel for the cozy and inspired decor.

Here are Matteo and I out front, before it opened for the day:

We were drawn to the warmth of the cozy space, decorated with features of a country kitchen with a modern art deco inspired urban feel. Our table was a 50’s era stove top covered with glass. A wine rack made of wooden spoons juts out of the wall above a counter space with sparsely located antique kitchen gadgets. Two stainless steel chandeliers made of the inside of a laundry machine hung in the dinning area. Another light bulb, surrounded by hanging cooking pans hung in the entryway.  And, yet another light fixture,made from a plumbing pipe, hung over the bar.

We each ordered a cup of cream of mushroom soup, followed by four tapas to share. The soup arrived in cute pottery cups covered with little tops. It was a yummy flavor, with no cream in the recipe, but simply a purée of mushrooms with a nice hint of thyme. We ate the crispy shrimp pictured above (I credited Sr. Lisboa for the photo as I found it on their FB page). I don’t know how they did it, but it was coated with the thin wisps of some kind of a batter, and then, deep-fried, without being greasy. 

We had a duck magret salad. I’m not a duck fan, but ate the salad, which was nicely garnished with toasted walnuts and a raspberry vinaigrette. We asked our waitress to suggest the top two tapas for our last choices. She offered the cod baccala fritters and the black pig cheek. Both were perfectly prepared, the cod fritters, a nice blend of salt and mild cod-fish, sitting on a dipping aioli. For the pig cheek, we thought of thinly sliced guanciale, but tender pieces of meat braised in a red wine reduction arrived in terra cotta plates.

We were so thrilled and entranced by the meal that we forgot to take photos for FB! It only occurred to us when the dessert arrived. . . a deconstructed pastel de nata. You see the result below, a small pile of thin crispy pastry pieces layered with creamy custard alongside a house-made coffee ice cream.

Eating here this one time, made us truly feel like we were eating in a place that was opening their warm space to us for a home-cooked meal made with care and devotion. I love their advertising slogan, “we share our house and food …proudly.”

Buon appetito!

2 ingredient tort

This blog space often compares the Italian and American cultures from the perspective of an American who is born and raised in one, and semi-lives in the other via marriage, in-laws, and 20 years of visiting. It is sometimes difficult to be in one for want of comparison to the other. When in the Italy, we miss the efficiency and directness of American daily functioning. When in the States, we miss the aesthetic of Italian food and everyday rhythms.

I love the diversity of cultures. One of the things I enjoy about travel is experiencing the differences and suspending one’s own way of life for brief exposure to the other. This doesn’t always have to occur through travel, as we can experience a multitude of cultures in the short distances within our diverse country. Even in my daily work I enjoy many cultures in the patients I work with in our community health center.

Sometimes the small differences can be challenging. A new visitor to Italy is frustrated by the store closings during the afternoon lunch period. A simple visit to a bank for a rudimentary transaction in Italy is an hour-long ordeal. And “service with a smile”, with the American value of customer service, is not readily available in the Italian shopping experience.

Marco is often annoyed at the length of time it takes to get an espresso or cappuccino  in some local coffee establishments in the States. This is one thing the Italians have down to a science. Simply observe a barista in an Italian café during a morning rush and you will see the efficiency and speed that the cups fly from the counter.

The other morning I was picking up a breakfast pastry and caffè lattè at our local bakery for Marco and me. I was a little delayed in arrival, so Marco texted, “where are you?” I responded back, “coming. . . latte slow.” When the friendly barista at the bakery gave me the latte she presented it with the nicest smile and well wishes for my day. Then, I noticed a beautiful little design of some sort of flower made with the last layer of milk froth. I went home to Marco reported that while the service was slow, I got it with a smile and a foamy design. . . wouldn’t get that in Italy!

Here’s a fun little dessert that uses perhaps the favorite export from Italy after pizza, Nutella. It is a simple mix of eggs and Nutella to create a nice little chocolate flourless tort. We found it best served with the coffee Häagen-Dazs ice cream seen in the photos. It is another recipe from the 180° di Dolcezza. Click here to see it in Italian and see a quick video.

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs
  • 300 g of Nutella

Process:

  1. heat the oven to 360 F and prepare a piece of parchment paper to place at the bottom of a 7 inch spring pan
  2. in a bowl, beat the eggs with an electric mixer for about 5 minutes on the highest speed to get a fluffy consistency 
  3. heat the Nutella for a few seconds in the microwave and add to the egg mixture, this time using a slow speed
  4. once the Nutella is incorporated into the eggs, pour into the pan and bake for 35-40 minutes depending on the texture that you would like
  5. once the tort has cooled off, sprinkle with a little powdered sugar and its ready to serve

Buon appetito!

Super-sized

America is the land where “bigger is better”. This is especially true when it comes to our food and food portions.  We have our Big Macs, Big Gulps,  Big Buckets, and our Cheesecake-Factory-portions-all-you-can-eat-Olive-Garden-pasta-stations-supersized-“Fast-Food-Nation”-loving fascination with the large-sized “value meal”. 

The industry people who bring us all of this are no dummies. They hire scientists who know exactly what they are doing. They are experts in the field of neuroscience and are precise about combining sugar, fat, and salt to make wonderfully addictive combinations of flavor to satisfy the habit-forming, survival-seeking parts of our brains.

This all makes my job as a behavioral health therapist more challenging. The slow and steady work of clients to become more aware of their bodily sensations in order to monitor and manage emotions, while confronting the addictive aspects of soda and other carefully crafted foods, is not easy work. The challenge of cutting back from 4 liters of coke, the 1300 calorie McDonald’s lunches, and the vast temptations of salty sugary processed foods is difficult work when our brains are hard-wired to succumb to addiction.

What a weird introduction to sharing a dessert recipe! There is a method to my madness. I’m convinced that the way back from this super-sized, value meal, addiction-inducing food craze, that is particularly American, and fast becoming exported throughout the world, is to promote awareness.

Any change begins with acknowledging  reality. One of the main benefits of therapy is having a space where the client is afforded the ability to gain more and more insight. This comes through a focus on the thoughts, emotions, body sensations, and behaviors that are in play when we face the situations of life. It requires a training of the brain to use the pathways called the executive functions. This taps into the motivation to change so that brain wiring feeds new healthy habits.

Regarding portion control, we bring another recipe from the blog site that brought us the Sbriciolata alla Nutella. Each recipe in this site makes a 7 inch dessert, a super size for healthy eating. Here’s a dessert idea that is sweet, tasty, house made from real ingredients, and smartly sized to serve 12 reasonable portions. Click here for the Italian version and the short video.

 

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • 250 g of sugar (recipe calls for 300 g)
  • 100 g of self-rising flour
  • 20 g of unsweetened cocoa
  • 60 g of melted butter
  • 70 g of chopped walnuts

Process:

  • preheat the oven at 360 F
  • in a bowl, beat 1 whole egg and 2 egg yolks with 200 g of sugar
  • add flour and cocoa and mix well
  • add butter and walnuts and continue to mix
  • in another bowl beat 2 egg whites at high speed
  • when the egg whites start to foam, add the remaining 50 g of sugar and continue to beat at high speed
  • pour the first mix in a 7-inches spring pan with parchment paper on the bottom
  • pour over the egg white mixture
  • bake for 40 minutes

Buon appetito!

Home is where the heart is

Last weekend, we took the blog on the road to the home of one of the most faithful readers. Maria wanted Marco to teach her how to make gnocchi. So, we all pitched in with ingredients. She had an Ina Garten  recipe for minestrone soup ready for us to enjoy as we cooked. And, she had the potatoes hot and baked, just out of the oven. I brought Adelina’s bolognese recipe (click here) for the gnocchi sauce. Others brought cheese and crackers, wine, and dessert so the cooking class fast moved towards the sit down feast of our labors.

The best part about the day is that she had a treat in store for us that was far better than any food or wine. . . her Italian parents. What a joy to get to know two warm people and enjoy hearing the Italian language, the noise of a large group, and the laughter. Marco and her mother, Mariella, hit it off right away, and his reciting of “questi americani non capiscono niente” (“these Americans don’t understand anything”) continued to garner a belly laugh every time.

Another surprise came in the form of home-made sausages. Marie’s father, Rosario, brought the pork pieces, meat grinder, spices, and hog gut to grind and shape our own links. No fingers were lost, but, one minor skin slice led to the need of a substitute laborer.

The finished product of the house made gnocchi alla bolognese:

Marco and Maria serving up the gnocchi:

Raylene and Rosario with the finished sausages ready to grill:

Jessica bought the sbriciolata alla nutella from last week’s blog (click here):

Jessica and Marco having some fun with the crumble:

I often hear a familiar refrain when travelers return from a trip to Italy. . . and it includes food and something about the warmth of the people. Our cooking class finished with a meal together where we enjoyed both the food and the warmth of the people. The open and inviting home of Maria and Carmine, the tastes, colors and textures of food prepared with our own hands, sharing and laughter. . . all part of experiencing home, a cherishing of moments enjoyed together with the hope of meeting again soon!

Buon appetito!