Celebrate World Tapas Day this June 16

Tapas, those wonderful small plates of food served throughout Spain, have their own international holiday this June 16th. According to the Tourism Office of Spain, World Tapas Day is taking place in cities and destinations throughout Spain as a tribute to one of the most delicious culinary customs in the country: tapas. 

We love tapas and are reminded of the ones we had at the Castilla Termal Valbuena, a wonderful resort in the Colonial village of San Bernardo, one of the charming villages on the fabulous Ruta del Vine (wine trail) Ribera del Duero.

#WorldTapasDay

#DíaMundialdelaTapa

#MTJATapas

The Chicago Flamenco Festival 2021

Flamenco, that artistic expression of music, movement, song, and dance originating in Andalucía Spain and possibly dating back to the 8th century, is on display during the Chicago Flamenco Festival 2021 presented by the Instituto Cervantes de Chicago, a non-for-profit center for the Spanish language and cultural exchange.     

Chicago Flamenco Festival 2021

“Flamenco is a dance of passion,” says Teresa Hernando Rojo, cultural activities coordinator at the Instituto Cervantes and director of the festival which runs until November 13 “It takes great skill and dedication.” 

Best described as a solo dance with three components, canto (song), baile (dance) and one of three forms—intense, grand, and intermediate, flamenco is also an energetic and a highly expressive art form incorporating hand clapping, fancy footwork, elaborate hand, arm, and body movements all accompanied by music. It’s enthralling to observe—percussive footwork and clicking castanets, elaborate and richly colored costumes often patterned (at least for the women; the men seem to prefer black) with the music and movements expressing a wide range of emotions.

The attention to detail is amazing, even the way the bailaora or female dancer ties her long hand-embroidered shawl is representative of differing moods. Adding to the visual impact are ornate fans, perfectly coiffed hair, ruffled dresses cut high in front to enable movement, veils, and combs.

“Even the costumes are very traditional,” continues Hernando, noting that the costumes often worn during the performers at the festival are handmade by people who specialize and only make flamenco clothing.

It’s also a family tradition, flamenco is often passed down through the generations. Performers learn from parents who have learned from their parents, fathers to sons and mothers to daughters.

Performers during the five week events include Kati Golenko, one of the few women professional flamenco guitar players, and Miguel Reyes Jimenez, a master of the flamenco cajon who has written books on the subject. Golenko, who was born in Chicago and Jimenez, who is from Mexico City, met in Madrid and believe that flamenco is not only for people who were born into the tradition. They invite foreigners to join what they describe the clan of flamenco bastards, ‘The global tribe of #flamencobastards are all of us who were born outside of Spain, lacking flamenco purity in our veins, but for some strange reason, palpating with flamenco in our blood. We can´t speak to purity, but we can share what’s ours: technique, feeling, and strength.”

Other performers include Nino de los Reyes who was nine years old when he performed in “Campanas Flamencas,” directed by Paco Sánchez, founder of the legendary Cumbre Flamenca and Amparo Heredia, known as “La Repompilla,” who premiered her own show, “Herencia Flamenca,” at the Tío Luis de la Juliana festival in Madrid in 2017. This year she won La Lámpara Minera, the most prestigious and highest International flamenco singing award.

“The great thing about flamenco is you don’t have to understand the language to understand its power and beauty,” says Hernando. 

For information on the Flamenco Festival and shows, click here, or contact the Instituto Cervantes at 312-335-1996; chicago.cervantes.es.

Castillo de La Mota: In the Castle of the Queen

         Well, this isn’t going well I think as I approach the gates of Castillo de La Mota, a medieval fortress in Medina del Campo, a town known since the 15th century for its fabulous fairs and markets as well as being one of the places Queen Isabella of Spain called home.    

         A man behind me grouses to his wife “another day, another castle” but then stops as he sees what is in front of us. Lined up in a row blocking the entrance to the drawbridge are women archers dressed in long skirts layered with magenta jumpers each stitched with an insignia of a yellow bird with spiky feathers. But what is most daunting about the scene is that their bows are raised, arrows notched, and the strings pulled back. If they let go, we’ll be hit with a barrage of arrows.

         “Password,” shouts a tall woman who looks like she’s in charge.        

“Isabelle,” I call back without even thinking.

         “Isabella,” she responds.

         Oops.

         But it’s good enough. The archers lower their bows.

         We are not only in Isabella’s castle, we’re also in her time. Men, women, and children are dressed in the everyday garb of 15th century Spain, soldiers wear bright red doublet cut with yellow inserts, red pantaloons that stop above the knee, white stockings and leather shoes ranging in colors like blue, red, and beige.

I don’t know much about 15th century weaponry beyond bow and arrows and swords–and even that is very limited. But here the soldiers not only carry broad swords and rapiers, but also pikes and spears. Silver helmets top their heads and somewhere metal collars, part of a suit of armor.

         La Mota isn’t a fairy tale castle, it was a large strong fortress that the townspeople as well as the King and Queen could go for refuge. She and her husband Ferdinand II lived in a royal palace in the town’s major plaza though Isabella wrote her will and took Last Rites at age 53 at La Mota. Dating back to the 11th century, it grew through the centuries becoming the largest castle in Castile.  Called La Mota because it is on a small hill rising above the town, it has turrets (2), towers (4), thick walls and a courtyard.  Unguided tours are available as are guided tours which can be booked here    

         In her day,  Isabella, one of the few women rulers at the time, would have dined on rabbit, deer, bear, lamb, and bread. She would have enjoyed leeks but little else in the way of vegetables. Juan Alejandro Forrest de Sloper whose blog Book of Days combines his passions for world cuisine and as an anthropologist with a focus on rituals and celebrations. De Sloper was a professor of anthropology at Purchase College, S.U.N.Y for 32 years but he also spent time living throughout the world and learning to cook in all sorts of kitchens.

 In his post on Isabella he shares a dish from Libre Del Coch, a Catalan cookbook—the first written cookbook–written by Robert de Nola who went by the pseudonym Mestre Robert who was the chef to King Ferdinand I of Naples. The Catalan version was published in 1520 in Barcelona and translated to Castilian Spanish five years later. Parts of the cookbook are based on a famous medieval cookbook titled Llibre de Sent Soví.

The cookbook includes classic dishes that were popular with the wealthy (and Isabella was surely that) during the 1400s. Casola de Carn or Meat Casserole is like many recipes or receipts as they were called then, there’s no list of ingredients or amounts. It’s all a little murky for 21st century cooks, and phrases like “all the fine flavorings” are a little—no make that a lot baffling. There are also ingredients such as aggrestal (spelled in the recipe as agressta) means wild plant which can sure cover a lot of ground.

Casola de Carn

(Meat Casserole)

Cut the meat into pieces the size of a nut and fry it in pork fat. When it is well fried put in some good broth and set it to cook in a casserole. Add all the fine flavorings and saffron and a little orange juice or agresta and cook well until the meat begins to fall apart and only a small amount of broth remains. Add three or four eggs beaten with orange juice or agresta. When your master is ready at table, turn the meat four or five times to let the sauce thicken. When it is thick, take it from the fire and serve it in bowls, sprinkled with a little cinnamon on each.

There are some people who do not add eggs, or spices except cinnamon and cloves. The meat is cooked as stated above.

They add vinegar, for the flavor. It appears that many people do it in the following manner: the meat is left whole stuffed with cinnamon and cloves, and with the other spices in the broth. The meat must be turned from time to time so that it doesn’t cook more in one part than in any other. You can leave out the cloves and cinnamon if you follow the other directions correctly.

As wonderful as Isabella’s meal might have been, our luncheon at El Motero in Medina del Campo probably was equally good. Because Medina del Campo is a stop on the wonderful Rueda Wine Route, we indulged in the local wines and dined on fish, baby lamb, and a variety of whimsical dishes such as canelón de mango relleno de frutos de mar y gelatina de gazpacho (Mango cannellon stuffed with sea fruit and gazpacho jelly),  tartar de tomate, aguacate,salmón marinado ,wakame sobre pan de Cerdeña (Tomato Tartar, Avocado, Marinated Salmon, Wakame on Sardinian bread)and  Mini san Jacobo de lomo asado y salsa de piña (Mini San Jacobo roasted loin and pineapple sauce).

I did indeed dine like queen.

CHURROS AND CHOCOLATE: THE PERFECT END TO AN EVENING IN MADRID

In Madrid, we take a cobblestone street down a narrow street between Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol to El Pasadizo San Gines and happen upon Chocolatería San Gines, the oldest churro shop in the city, having opened in 1894. There are two shops, just across the way from each other and both have long lines. But it’s our last night in Madrid and we are willing to wait. Ordering our churros and chocolate along with cups of coffee we find a outdoor table and sit down to wait–impatiently–for our treats. The churros when they are arrive are thick ropes of sugar coated dough fried to a golden brown and hot to the touch. We tear off chunks and dip them in deep bowls of thick rich chocolate and then taste. Sublime.

I think of churros as originating in Spain where they may have first been by shepherds, their name coming from the horns of the Churra sheep they tended. In turn the Spaniards, when they invaded Mexico, brought along their foods including churros and  buñuelos–a similar dish. Churro and chocolate shops are now common throughout Mexico. But their history may be more complicated as Portuguese sailors returning from China may have carried the recipe for youtiaos, another fried bread snack.

It’s close to midnight when we finally finished but this being Madrid the streets were just a lively and people still stood in line for their churros and chocolate.

Back in the U.S., I was desperate for my churro fix. Fortunately, there’s Take & Bake Churro Kit from San Diablo Artisan which beats making these treats from scratch. The company says they’re the only churro kit maker in the country making it a one-of-a-kind gift. There’s no messing with dough, making your own filling or frying them up. Instead, the kit contains 13 pre-made and chilled mini churros already fried to a golden brown and dusted with sugar and cinnamon as well as a selection of fillings such as Nutella, dulce de leche or sweet cream already packaged in squeeze bottles. Just fill the churros and pop in the oven or air fryer to reheat.

For the real foodie who wants to do a deep dive into churro making, San Diablo Artisan, a Utah based company, also sells churro dough so you can roll your own. And if you want to go all out when it comes to making churros, you can buy their recently introduced kit with a churro maker and nine different shapes of interchangeable nozzles.

San Diablo Artisan Churros specializes in creating artisan-filled churros for special events and celebrations. The proprietary, award-winning churro dough recipe is made from scratch and fried on-demand. The fried golden brown, hollow-centered churros are filled with “happiness”—gourmet fillings of choice. In a relentless search for churro perfection, the menu has expanded to include seasonal flavors, savory churro offerings, and nationwide at-home delivery. San Diablo members enjoy outstanding quality artisanal food that is undeniably fresh, delicious, and delivered with a unique style of fun. Like their Artisan Churros, San Diablo is filled with social good: supporting local, national, and international non-profit causes. 

A Dish Worth Celebrating: World Paella Day is September 20th!

Moncho Riquelme de Casa Riquelme con su paella alicantina.

September 20 is World Paella Day, a way of honoring that wonderful Spanish rice dish made with rice and a host of ingredients, is one of the traditional dishes of the Valencia region of Spain

Paella from Don Quijote in Valparaiso, Indiana

Writing in Saveur magazine, David Rosengarten, an American chef, author and television personality who also has hosted or co-hosted more than 2500 television shows on the Food Network from 1994 to 2001, explains that “the earliest kinds of paella were products of purely local ingredients and eating habits.

“The dish exists because of rice, and rice has existed in Valencia and its environs ever since the Moors planted it there more than 1,300 years ago, in a lagoon called Albufera, where the grain is still grown today. Saffron, that precious and earthy spice, brought to Spain by Arab traders in the tenth century, was the Moors’ preferred seasoning for rice, and it remains a traditional paella ingredient. Local game like rabbit, and foraged foods like snails, as well as various legumes and vegetables, found their way into rice dishes during the Moorish occupation of Spain, but pork (which was prohibited under Muslim dietary laws) and shellfish did not.”

The earliest paella was made with all local ingredients and eating traditions. It’s main ingredient is rice and Valencia is known for their rice, planted by the Moors over 1,300 years ago in a lagoon called the Albufera, now national park where the grain still grows today.

“Saffron, that precious and earthy spice, brought to Spain by Arab traders in the tenth century, was the Moors’ preferred seasoning for rice, and it remains a traditional paella ingredient,” writes Rosengarten. “Local game like rabbit, and foraged foods like snails, as well as various legumes and vegetables, found their way into rice dishes during the Moorish occupation of Spain, but pork (which was prohibited under Muslim dietary laws) and shellfish did not. “

That certainly has changed today when many think of paella as being a seafood dish with sausages as an added ingredient.

Casa Lola desde el Grao de Castellón con su arroz negro con gamba roja
— at Plaza del Ayuntamiento.

While the Moors vacated Spain in 1492, the passion for rice dishes remained. What the Valencians ate during the reign of the Moors and afterwards for almost four centuries isn’t exactly known, but one of the first printed recipes we have dates back to 1840 and calls for such ingredients as rabbit, snails, beans and saffron cooked in a shallow pan called a paella. It was typically prepared over open fire composed of dried vines and branches from orange trees,

Miquel Barrera del Restaurante Cal Paradis desde Vall D’Alba con su “Arrocito de Castellón”
— at Plaza del Ayuntamiento.

According to Rosengarten, paella remained a regional food for a good long while. Back when that original paella recipe was first published, Spain wasn’t a popular destination on the tourist track, and its cuisine was little known beyond its borders. But the 20th century—the century of Picasso, Dali, Buñuel—saw a burgeoning interest around the world in all things español. Epicures were eager to discover the country’s rich, rustic flavors; in 1950, Elizabeth David, the cookbook writer who delivered England from its wartime gastro-dreariness, published A Book of Mediterranean Food (John Lehmann), which included a recipe for paella containing the hitherto non-traditional combination of chicken and shrimp. (Before long, gourmands in England, America, and beyond were serving all kinds of variants of the dish out of brightly colored Dansk paella pans along with goblets of sangria.

The Seafood Paella at The Grove in New Buffalo, Michigan

For those who want to make the dish to celebrate World Paella Day, buy a bottle or two of wine from the Ribera del Duero and Rueda Wine Regions of Spain and try the recipe below courtesy of James Beard Award-winning chef Jamie Bissonnette of Toro restaurants in NYC and Boston.

But first a little about wines from Ribera del Duero or Rueda (follow the links to find out more).

All About Rueda

Spain’s most popular white grape is Verdejo, and it is native to the region of Rueda in Castilla y Leon.

Tempranillo: Ribera del Duero’s Prized Grape

Full-bodied without going Godzilla-overboard, Ribera del Duero tempranillos are about as food-friendly as red wines get.

Teresa Roig con sus Paellas con Arte dando el toque creativo del evento
— at Plaza del Ayuntamiento.

Toro Paella Mixta, serves 4-5

2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 cup Spanish onions, diced and sautéed in a generous amount of olive oil
1/2 cup scallions, white parts only, diced
1 cup sliced Spanish chorizo
1 cup red bell pepper, diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup chicken breast or thigh meat
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 cups Calasparra or Bomba rice
10 threads of saffron
Canned Spanish seafood conserva (optional)
1 1/2 cups lobster stock (any combination of chicken, vegetable, lobster or shrimp stock will work)
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
6 to 10 top neck or count neck clams
18 mussels
4 to 5 shrimp
1/2 cup English peas
Olive oil, 1/4 cup sliced scallion tops, and lemon wedges for garnish

Combine garlic, sautéed onions, white scallions, chorizo, red pepper, salt and black pepper to taste in a 17-18″ paella pan and sauté over high heat for 4 to 5 minutes. If you don’t have a paella pan, use a shallow copper or enamel coated steel pan (important to create the socarrat — or crust of crispy rice that develops on the bottom of the pan).

Add the chicken, tomato paste, rice and saffron, and stir, making sure to evenly coat the rice. Toast for 4 to 5 minutes. Add a can of conserva, if using. Evenly distribute and flatten out rice in pan.

Add all stocks. This should be the last time you stir the paella. Once boiling, add the clams and cook 5 to 10 minutes, until they open and rice grains are clearly visible.

Add mussels, and reduce heat to medium. Once the mussels open, add shrimp and peas. Cook over medium heat until shrimp and rice are cooked and have created a crispy bottom called “socarrat,” watching and smelling closely for burning.

Add small amounts of stock as necessary during cooking if all the liquid has evaporated and paella looks dry. Start to finish cooking time is approximately 30 minutes, 20 minutes to cook after adding stocks to chicken/rice mixture. Texture of rice when done should be soft on the outside but retain some bite/texture in the center. The rice on the bottom will be crispier (socarrat) from sitting on the bottom of the pan. Let the dish rest about 5 minutes before serving.

Garnish with olive oil, scallion tops, and lemon slices.

Pair with an unoaked Rueda Verdejo or a fruit-forward Ribera del Duero Joven.

#worldpaelladaycup2020

#worldpaelladay2020

#worldpaelladay

Don Quijote Restaurant in Valparaiso Benefit Dinner to raise $20,000 to support VNA Porter County Meals on Wheels program; Curbside pickup August 16

Porter County, IN – The community is invited to participate in Don Quijote Benefit Dinner to raise $20,000 to support VNA Porter County Meals on Wheels program.

Since mid-March, Meals on Wheels has seen a 57% increase in need and anticipates it will only continue to rise. In an effort to meet the need a new walk-in refrigerator is necessary to help maintain proper food prep standards for client meals.

“This is just one of the many critical needs in our community,” said Kim Olesker, president & CEO of United Way of Porter County. “We can’t thank Carlos and his team enough for helping us to raise support for homebound seniors.”

The program currently serves 300 seniors daily help maintain their nutritional well-being and is a partnership between VNA of Northwest Indiana, Pines Village Retirement Communities and United Way of Porter County.

Don Quijote’s Benefit Dinner menu will feature Chef Carlos Rivero’s signature paella with appetizer, salad, dessert and bottle of red, white or rosé wine. Traditional and vegetarian paella available.

Single and dinner for two packages available. Single dinners are $65 and dinner for two are $125. Bottle of wine option only included in dinner for two package. Dinner will be curbside pickup only on August 16 from 1 to 5 p.m. Order deadline by noon on Saturday, August 15. To purchase a dinner package, visit unitedwaypc.org/Don-Q-Dinner.

Photos courtesy of Don Quijote Restaurante.

United Way of Porter County works to lead community collaboration, unite residents and inspire action to improve lives in Northwest Indiana. United Way of Porter County annually provides more than $2.3 million to support a network of education, health, disaster and basic needs services. To learn more, visit unitedwaypc.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.