drink

Exploring Vinos de Madrid with Madrid Food Tour

This past Tuesday, I participated in a wine tasting with Madrid Food Tour held at De Vinos. (Rough life, am I right?) Madrid Food Tour was founded by Lauren Aloise with the goal of showcasing all of Madrid’s gastronomical delights, with a bit of history added in to keep things interesting. They have several different types of tours, all of which you can book through their website.

On Tuesday, however, they hosted their first midweek wine tasting, led by James Blick. James knows a lot about wines, and I was excited to learn more about a relatively unknown region—Madrid. As James told us, up until 1990, such wine was sold a granel (“in bulk”). However, that year Madrid’s denominación de origen, or protected designation of origin, was established. Actually, as he explained to us, Madrid is basically made up of three subzones: Arganda del Rey, Navalcarnero, and San Martín de Valdeiglesias. The  majority of these wines are young and rosés, although there are some excellent red wines to be had (as we would find out).

Wine 1: Blanco Brut Nature by Bodegas Jesús Díaz

2B

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Anniversary Dinner at Madrid’s Teatro Real

Madrid’s Teatro Real Restaurant was the perfect place for Mario and me to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. Elegant, glamorous, and ethereally silent, this restaurant is located on the second floor of the royal theater and is itself decidedly royal.

The Teatro Real, or Royal Theater, was originally built in 1850 in front of the royal palace. It served as the city’s opera house and housed the Madrid Royal Conservatory until 1925. There were several periods of reconstruction, but the theater opened for good again 1997. It hosts opera, concerts, and ballet and is home to the Madrid Symphony Orchestra and Choir. Its many halls are decorated with works of art from the Prado and Reina Sofia museums.

Teatro Real Salón Naranja

The Salón Naranja is decorated with the portraits of Juan Carlos and Sofía

To enter the restaurant, you must walk through a few different salones, or rooms, all of which hhae a color theme.

Teatro Real Salón Verde

The restaurant itself is also magnificent. The starry ceiling replicates Madrid’s much-advertised cielo.

Teatro Real Restaurant Madrid

Source: Atrapalo

And although the restaurant has a capacity of 200, we were the only diners for a good hour! We ate early for Spain, at the elderly hour of 9 p.m.

We ordered the menú de degustación, which wasn’t really a tasting menu, but we got a good idea of what the restaurant does well. (Hint: most everything.)

To start we had a taco de salmón, with a bit of mustard and tarragon. I forgot to get a picture!

Teatro Real Restaurant Salmorejo

Next was perhaps my favorite plate of the night, salmorejo cordobés con virutas de jamón ibérico y huevo, salmorejo with shaved ham and egg . Salmorejo is a purée consisting of tomato, bread, oil, garlic, and vinegar, originating from Córdoba, Andalucía. This was breathtakingly good: creamy, tangy, and rich. The ham was obviously Iberian. I couldn’t stop telling Mario that I never wanted this dish to end!

Teatro Real Restaurant Esparragos

Next: espárragos blancos con huevo escalfado y aceite de piñones, white asparagus with poached egg and pine nut oil. There were also salmon eggs, perched atop. The egg itself was not salted, but once you bit into the salmon egg, it let out a perfectly juicy pop! of saltiness. The asparagus itself was perfectly cooked, and didn’t have the sometimes unpleasant texture of canned asparagus, which is a common dish in Spain.

Teatro Real Restaurant Fish

Now for the fish: corvina al horno con mejillones en salsa de coco y lima, oven-baked corvina with mussels in a coconut-lime sauce. The coconut and lime worked perfectly to complement the delicate taste of the corvina, and the onions were caramelized to perfection.

Teatro Real Restaurant Presa Ibérica

This dish was presa ibérica con mojo canario y patatitas confitadas, Iberian pork with Canarian mojo sauce and a caramelized potato.The meat was delicate, tender, and full of flavor, including thyme and sea salt. The mojo sauce went perfectly with the potato and the meat, giving it just a slight kick. After this dish, we were more than full. But there was still dessert …

Teatro Real Restaurant Dessert

Our dessert was light and refreshing, perfect for a hot summer’s day: piña colada en texturas, different textures of piña colada. There were dehydrated bits of sweet pineapple atop coconut cream with a pineapple sorbet underneath. Delicious!

Teatro Real Restaurant Chocolate Truffles

And lastly, just in case weren’t stuffed enough, they served us two decadent dark-chocolate truffles and candied orange peel. The chocolate was to’-die-for good, and the candied orange peel lent it just a hit of tartness and acidity.

All of this came with white wine to start and red to finish. The white was Fray Germán, a Verdejo, and the red was Ribera del Duero, Valdubón. The red was really quite full-bodied and rich, but as red-wine enthusiasts, we found it enjoyable.

Teatro Real Restaunt Couples

Here’s to one great year and many more! It was a meal worth repeating. (Next year, perhaps?)

Fusión Cultural: An American’s Journey through a Spanish Kitchen and Back

What is about food that can make one so homesick? Tomato soup and grilled cheese will always make me think of cold winter nights in Indiana. Corn on the cob elicits feelings of nostalgia for backyard barbecues and Fourth-of-July celebrations. And a tomato brings back memories of the family garden: eating it whole, warm and juicy from the earth. Food is family, food is culture, food is home.

Melanie Glover knows this quite well, having married a Spaniard, moved to the US, and subsequently learned to cook her husband’s favorite foods from home. He missed home, and thus she brought a little bit of his childhood to their new home by learning to make paella and ensaladilla rusa and beef soup. In her new ebook, Fusión Cultural: An American’s Journey through a Spanish Kitchen and Back (only $3.99 on Amazon!), she details this process—and provides a few recipes along the way.

FUSION CULTURAL

Having also married a Spaniard, I identified quite well with her journey: from not knowing much about Spanish food all the way to being quite enthusiastic about it! I came to Spain loving cooking and tomatoes, unlike Melanie, but I too had to learn to like new things. And I did! I now love olives, merluza (hake), and hearty red wine.

Melanie was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me about her book. Take a look!

Barcelona Cooking School

Melanie at the Barcelona Cooking School in Barcelona, Spain

Why did you first visit Spain?

I first visited Spain in 2005 as part of a study-abroad program through my university. I stayed for three months and knew I had to return. I left at a point that summer in which I felt I was at the peak of learning, and I desired that learning to continue. I returned to Spain for a month after I graduated from college in May–June 2006, at which time I met my Spanish husband, Álvaro!

Kaley: Sounds like we had a similar experience!

What were you first impressions of Spanish food (likes, dislikes, curiosities)?

When I first visited Spain, the food really didn’t catch my attention. I remember having a hard time getting adjusted to the differences in food, actually. My señora (the woman to whose home I was assigned to live for three months) promised that manzanilla [chamomile] tea would help my restless stomach, and it did for a time. But when I started dating Álvaro, he and his family opened my eyes to the wonderful Spanish gastronomy. Being from Extremadura, they taught me all about embutidos. I’m not sure how I lived without cured Spanish ham and cheese before then!

As for curiosities, I had always wondered about octopus before I tried it in 2009. But I didn’t like it because of the texture. [K: Me neither.] I have liked rabo de toro [oxtail] but disliked pigs feet—too chewy!

How did you meet your husband and what was your first meal together?

I met my husband in 2006 on a bus traveling from Madrid to Cáceres, his birth city. We were seated next to each other. He offered me a mint, we struck up conversation, and we spoke the entire four-hour bus ride! We kept in touch, and we started dating when I went back to Madrid in 2006–2007 to study. We married in 2009, and we’ve been living in Dallas, Texas, since 2010.

As I describe in the book, our first real meal together was at his apartment in Madrid in 2006 when he prepared baked fish and canapés de salmón. It was so delicious that it completely changed my mind about fish.

What are his favorite Spanish foods? What are his favorite American foods?

Álvaro’s favorite Spanish foods:

  1. Jamón ibérico de bellota [Iberian ham made from pigs that only eat acorns during the last months of their lives] 
  2. Lomo ibérico [Iberian cured pork loin]
  3. Queso de oveja curado [Cured sheep’s-milk cheese]
  4. Mejillones en escabeche [Pickled mussels]
  5. Langostinos a la plancha [Grilled prawns]
  6. Tortilla de patata [Spanish potato omelet]

Álvaro’s favorite American foods:

  1. Hamburgers
  2. Barbeque anything (ribs, brisket, smoked turkey, sausage, etc.)
  3. Tex-Mex and Mexican

What foods do you miss most when you are in the US?

I miss los ibéricos like crazy!

Besides your mother-in-law, how else did you learn to cook Spanish foods?

Green beans with ham and potatoes

A recipe in the book, green beans with ham and potatoes

Since meeting my husband and learning about the important of food to him, I have made it a point to learn more about cooking—but especially Spanish foods. I have felt an obligation to keep him well and healthy since he’s left Spain for me. I knew the immigration process was going to be a difficult one because of the cultural differences between the US and Spain, but I didn’t realize just how difficult it would be in the realm of food. I have purchased numerous recipe books (send me an email for recommendations!); I’ve asked my Spanish-language teachers to focus on culinary topics during classes; and I’ve taken numerous cooking courses both in Spain and the US to learn more about Spanish cuisine. I’m not an expert, but they’ve all helped tremendously.

What kitchen tools are necessary for cooking Spanish food?

  1. Chef’s knife for chopping (garlic, onion, etc.)
  2. Large, shallow pan for making sauces
  3. Peeler

Lemon peeler

Why do you think food helps your husband feel connected to home?

Almond chicken

Another recipe, almond chicken

Food is everything to Álvaro. It makes him nostalgic for a place, time, location, people, etc. Food brings back memories that allow him to recall the good times he has had in various places with people he loves. These memories are important for coping with living so far away from family and friends with whom he’s shared wonderful meals all of his life.

If you had to live in Spain, which foods would help you feel connected to the US?

I think I would miss pork or beef roasts with vegetables and potatoes because we ate a lot of these growing up. So I think I’d need to invest in some type of crockpot to replicate these dishes in Spain because that’s what my mother used here. I would also probably eat a lot more hamburgers and steaks to remind me of all of the grilling my family did while growing up in Michigan.

Thank you, Melanie, for giving me the chance to interview you. I love your book, and I’m sure I’ll be replicating some recipes soon!

Does food have the ability to make you homesick or nostalgic? Which foods would when you are away?

Vino de Toro—There’s More than Just Rioja in Spain

Go into any bar in Madrid and ask for a glass of (red) wine, and they’ll likely give you an option: Rioja or Ribera del Duero? If it’s a wine bar, they’ll likely have other options, but most of the time you’re going to be offered one of these two Denominaciones de Origen, or Designations of Origin. But Spain’s wine selection goes way beyond these two regions to include ones like Valdepeñas, Somontano, Jumilla, and even Madrid. Today, I want to talk about my favorite region:

Denominación de Origen Toro

Source: Vinotic

Toro

Un Tinto Un Toro

¿Un tinto? ¡Un Toro!

Toro wines have a long history, starting before the Romans arrived on the Iberian peninsula. It is indeed plausible that when Cantabri’s (Celts) and Astures’ (Hispano-Celts) villages were raided, the invaders looked to steal their wine. The Romans and the Visigoths also left their marks. During the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth century, Toro wine was sold outside of the region and royal privileges were granted to them. There was a great demand for the wine at this time, especially among the pilgrims walking along El Camino de Santiago, so much so that King Alfonso IX of León ceded Toro territory to Cathedral of Santiago so that they would make their wine there as well!

Fun fact: in fourteenth-century Seville, the king prohibited selling any wine but Toro!

Toro wines are made from the tinta de Toro grape and are known for being full-bodied, powerful wines with rather high alcohol levels (14% is normal). If you like tannin-rich wine, these are the wines for you!

In honor of today’s Feria del Vino de Toro, I’d like to list some of my favorite wineries from the region (keeping in mind I haven’t tried them all!).

1. Elias Mora

IMG_0526

I know I’ve mentioned them before, but if you’re looking for quality + price, they’re your people! Also the winery is run by women, which is always a plus. Their regular wine, aged six months in American oak, is delicious and runs about €6 a bottle in Zamora!

2. Cyan

Cyan Roble

Source: Bodega Cyan

Cyan was founded in 1999, but it is indeed one of Toro’s most recognized wines, as I have found it in my dear old Indiana. Nonetheless, they only produce about 150,000 bottles per year, helping them to maintain their quality standards.

Check out their Cyan Roble for low-cost, high-enjoyment wine!

3. Estancia Piedra

Estancia Piedra Roja

Source: Cofre Regalo Estancia Enológica

Estancia Piedra was actually started by a Scot, Grant Stein. In Scottish, Stein means piedra or rock, thus the name Estancia Piedra.

For a real treat, try the Piedra Platino, which spends 18 months aging in oak barrels and another 36 months before it goes on sale. You won’t regret it.

4. Numanthia

Numanthia Winery

Funnily enough, I’ve only ever had Numanthia wines in the States, as it can get rather pricey and my parents footed the bill. Forbes called it “Spain’s best red wine.” Robert Parker gave Numanthia’s Termanthia wine a perfect 100 in 2004, one of only nine Spanish wines to receive such a score.

5. Liberalia

Liberalia Toro Tres

Liberalia takes its name from the festival of Liber Pater and his consort Libera. Liber Pater was an ancient god of fertility and wine. We drank Liberalia Cuatro on Thanksgiving, the perfect accompaniment to a fine roast turkey!

6. Románico

Romanico

The 2010 Teso La Monja Románico wine, produced by the Eguren family, is an entry-level wine, but Robert Parker valued it at 92 points. If you’re ever in Zamora, ask for it!

7. Matsu

Matsu Wine

Matsu first caught my eye because of their intriguing bottle art, quite different from most. The youngest wine shows a young man, the slightly aged wine shows a middle-aged man, and the oldest shows a rather decrepit old man. Matsu is a Japanese word that can be translated as “wait.” All their wines are naturally cultivated; they do not use herbicides, insecticides, or fungicides.

So the next time you’re visiting a wine shop in Spain (or anywhere else for that matter), try asking yourself the following: “¿Un tinto? ¡Un Toro!