July 28, 2012

Dinner in the Garden...a special moment in time.


There are moments when it truly dawns on me how lucky I am to do what I do. A while ago, I attended a 'Dinner in the Garden" and it was a smashing success. What a spectacular setting for a five star wine dinner. On tap for the evening was an intimate line up of some stellar chefs, who wowed us with fresh, hours, if not minutes before picked, produce and sustainable organic ingredients, delivering a meal that was an experience to remember.

With a backdrop of rows of fresh greens and herbs, it wasn't just the jazz trio sending out smooth cool vibes across the field, or the perfect weather the evening produced. It wasn't the sunset, bathing the greenhouse and guests with warm sunshine, or the guests dressed for an evening in the field, mingling, picking and tasting fresh herbs. It wasn't even the spectacular meal, served in fine style by a bow-tied waitstaff. Nor was it the seeing of friends and sharing a glass of bubbly. Now I realized as I stood in the midst of the garden, wine glass in hand, having stopped to take in the scene before me, that it was all those things combined together at this one place and time that had created what was almost a perfect experience. One of those unforgettable culinary moments that we foodies live for.

My gift on this evening, aside from spending quality time with good friends in such a wonderful setting, was that somehow fate had allowed me to glimpse the uniqueness of the moment and see it while I was in it. You know what I mean, one of those moments in time that we usually say to ourselves in hindsight, "I wish I was aware at the time how special that moment was." Too often we are so busy looking ahead to the next thing on our schedule that we forget to take the time to appreciate the 'moment' when it happens.

Friends, if you have been reading me for any length of time, you know that life has thrown me some curves, as I'm sure it has you as well. While I am no expert and can't tell you what to do, I can give my advice at what not to do. For all our planning, stressing and worrying about what the future may bring, I have learned one thing; no one is promised tomorrow. Don't miss the moment you are in. This very moment. You see, I'm sure all of you, like me. have too many times taken our adventures and our experiences for granted. Make sure you are cognizant of that special moment, in that special place, with someone, or a group of someones, sharing a meal and making memories.

I have concentrated my world around social cuisine because I am very fortunate to have a friend who opened my eyes to what a common denominator food truly is to human relationships. I believe it is the unifier that binds us all. Sharing a meal with friends is so much more than just eating great food and enjoying fine wine. Somehow, a shared meal is the perfect vehicle for a connection between friends, family, or even strangers. It is why I am so passionate and fortunate to share my culinary journeys with you. I'm sure all of us can remember times, when dining, that you've engaged perfect strangers in conversation. See, it seems no matter our ethnic or cultural differences, we all remember the dumplings our moms made. Or that special dessert. Or simply the act of sitting at a table with those you care about, sharing a meal. It is a truly powerful experience. Social, yet intimate all at once.

Throughout history, throughout cultures, the meal is the one constant that opens the discourse, bridges the gap, connecting rather than dividing us. The dinner table is where treaties were written, alliances made, scholarly discourse engaged in. Ideas that changed the world, in most cases, happened at a dinner table, or at a campfire, over a meal. For most now though, eating has become just a means of sustenance. Fuel. In the busy scurry of life, sometimes we forget what a meal with family and friends can do for us, both spiritually and emotionally.

Don't you love meeting a friend for coffee, or a bite for lunch, or dinner. We look forward to it. We text what time and where we are and we always feel better for it. We share pictures of our meals on twitter, facebook, and YouTube... food is the one thing we all share equally. Look around, see all those people on cell phones, trying to stay 'connected?' How connected do you feel when you share a meal with someone? For those of us that are fortunate enough to realize this, sitting at the dinner table with friends and loved ones has never been about the act of eating. Whether fine dining or casual, it is never about what we were eating. It was where and with whom. That is always first and foremost.

As a self titled gourmet, as my palette has become more sophisticated, I'll admit, I now care very much what I'm eating, especially with friends. However, I'm comfortable in the fact that my predilection for fine, or simple quality cuisine just makes the social act of sharing a meal more enjoyable and meaningful. So, the next time you want to connect, re-connect, apologize, congratulate, or just shoot the breeze, do it over a meal. Life becomes so much more civil with shared experiences. And make sure you don't miss the moment. Revel in the laughter, the camaraderie, the connection. Look around the table, realize and appreciate those you are sharing that moment with and know, this moment actually is special.

As always, Bon Appetit

Lou

July 23, 2012

How do you do? I'm fond of Fondue. How about you? Do you like fondue too? (props to Dr. Seuss!)

Good friends, sitting around a table laughing, creating memories and enjoying the communal bond that comes with sharing a meal. It's special.

Though this was not the impetus for the creation of fondue, when introduced to America, that is indeed what happened. In the Sixties and Seventies, fondue parties were all the rage.In the Eighties and Nineties, we 'Boomers' became 'too cool' to do fondue.That was our mother's and father's generation. Beehive hairdos, polyester leisure suits, platform shoes.

Happily though, in recent years, in America, fondue is making a comeback. There is even a restaurant chain dedicated to the concept. In its country of origin, Switzerland, it remains a staple of Swiss cuisine and throughout the world there are many different forms and versions.. From traditional cheese fondue, to the chocolate decadence of dessert fondue, to the actual cooking of meats in a pot of oil or broth, fondue continues to be a fun way to share a meal with friends and family. Personally I am very fond of fondue. I have been known to make it just for myself. Come along with me as we take a look at fondue and its origins, then go out get yourself a fondue set and have a party. Just don't forget to invite me. I can never get enough!

History
This warm cheese dish originated in Switzerland and more specifically, in the Canton of Neuchatel. The dish consists of at least two varieties of cheeses that are melted with wine and a bit of flour and served communally out of pot called a "caquelon." Long forks are used by each guest to spear a cube of bread then the bread is dipped into the cheese and eaten.

Fondue dates back to the 18th century when both cheese and wine were important industries in Switzerland. This simple to prepare meal utilized ingredients that were found in most average homes. French gastronome Brillat-Savarin mentioned fondue in his 19th century writings. However, fondue really hit its heyday in 1952, when Chef Konrad Egli, of New York's Chalet Swiss Restaurant, introduced a fondue method of cooking meat cubes in hot oil.

Swiss communal fondue arose many centuries ago as a result of food preservation methods. The Swiss food staples bread and raclette-like cheese made in summer and fall were meant to last throughout the winter months. The bread aged, dried out and became so tough it was sometimes chopped with an axe. The stored cheese also became very hard, but when mixed with wine (You see! Everything is better with wine!) and heated, it softened into a thick sauce. During Switzerland's long, cold winters, some families and extended roups would gather about a large pot of cheese set over the fire and dip wood-hard bits of bread, which quickly became edible.

As Switzerland industrialized, wine and cheese producers encouraged the dish's popularity. By the 20th century, many Swiss cantons and even towns had their own local varieties and recipes based on locally available cheeses, wines and other ingredients. During the 1950s, a slowing cheese industry in Switzerland widely promoted fondue, since one person could easily eat half a pound of melted cheese in one sitting. In 1955 the first pre-mixed "instant" fondue was brought to market. Fondue became very popular in the United States during the mid-1960s after American tourists discovered it in Switzerland and through Chef Egli.

The Swiss Tradition
Each component of a traditional Swiss fondue plays an important role. "Traditional" Swiss style fondue is a combination of two cheeses, Gruyere and Emmenthaler. These two cheeses are combined because each cheese alone would produce a mixture that was either too sharp or too bland. The cheeses are most commonly melted in a dry white wine which helps to keep the cheese from the direct heat as it melts as well as to add flavor. Anyone from Switzerland will tell you, "Making fondue without wine is not actually fondue, it's just melted cheese." The Kirsch (a clear cherry brandy) was added if the cheese itself was too young to produce the desired tartness. The garlic was for additional flavoring, while the flour or cornstarch assists in keeping the cheese from separating.

The Traditional Pot (Caquelon)
The traditional fondue pot is called a "caquelon" or "câclon" and is made of a heavy earthenware. Other variations include glazed, ceramic or enameled iron. All variations are heavy, to help promote even heat distribution and heat retention. The fondue is heated on your cook-top in the caquelon over low to medium heat then transferred to the table and placed over an alcohol burner or a hot plate.

Etiquette
Given fondue is a "communal" meal, there are a few basic guidelines to follow. To eat cheese fondue, spear a piece of bread using a fondue fork and dip it into the pot. Twirl the bread cube gently in the cheese to coat it. You'll want to let the bread drip a bit before you put it in your mouth. This will allow the excess to drip back in the pot and also allow time for cooling. When you put the bread in your mouth try not to touch the fork with your lips or tongue because the fork does go back in the pot. We suggest always using a dining fork to slide the bread off the fondue fork then eating it with the dining fork. To eat meat fondue, spear a piece of meat and plunge it in the hot oil. Allow it to sit until the meat is cooked to your liking. Remove the fork and place it on your plate. Use your dining fork to slide the meat off the fondue fork. Also use your dining fork to dip the meat in the sauce as desired.

A "no double-dipping" rule also has sway: After a dipped morsel has been tasted it should never be returned to the pot or dipping sauce. In longstanding Swiss tradition, if a nugget of bread is lost in the cheese by a man, he buys a bottle of wine and if such a thing happens to befall a woman, she kisses the man on her left. Lately, rather more humorous twists on this have shown up in Switzerland such as young diners diving into the snow whilst clad only in underwear. Children will sometimes fight over the cracker-like la religieuse left at the bottom of the emptied caquelon.

The Bread
A baguette works very well although any crusty French or Italian style breads will do. When you slice the bread, make sure that each piece includes a bit of the crust. This crust helps keep the bread on the fork after it is placed in the cheese.

Recipes

Three-Cheese Fondue with Champagne
Yield: Makes 2 servings
Ingredients
4 teaspoons cornstarch
2 cups coarsely grated Gruyère cheese (about 7 ounces)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 cups dry (brut) Champagne
1 large shallot, chopped 1/3 cups grated Emmenthal cheese (about 5 ounces)
1/2 cup diced rind-less Brie or Camembert cheese (about 3 ounces)
Generous pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground white pepper
1 French-bread baguette, crust left on, bread cut into 1-inch cubes

Method
Stir cornstarch and lemon juice in small bowl until cornstarch dissolves; set aside. Combine Champagne and shallot in fondue pot or heavy medium saucepan; simmer over medium heat 2 minutes. Remove pot from heat. Add all cheeses and stir to combine. Stir in cornstarch mixture. Return fondue pot to medium heat and stir until cheeses are melted and smooth and fondue thickens and boils, about 12 minutes. Season fondue with nutmeg and white pepper. Place over candle or canned heat burner to keep warm. Serve with bread cubes.

Dessert Fondue
Dessert fondues became very popular in the 1970's. Chocolate fondue was a favorite used for dipping ripe fruits such as bananas, strawberries and tangerines. Some recipes suggest dipping some cubes of angel food cake as well. Other dessert fondues include caramel, coconut and marshmallow.

White Chocolate Fondue
Serves 6

Ingredients
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 packages (12 ounces each) premier white morsels,

Dippers
Fresh fruits - bananas, strawberries, grapes, tangerines, pears, apples, raspberries. Fresh fruit should be ripe but still firm enough to not dissolve while dipping.
Dried fruit - apricots, dates, figs
Cakes or cookies - Bite sized pieces of angel food cake, pound cake, lady fingers or crisp biscotti

Method
In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine cream and butter. Bring mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly. Remove pan from heat. Add white morsels. Stir until melted and smooth. Cool slightly. Transfer to a fondue pot, chafing dish, or ceramic bowl. Serve with apples, bananas, strawberries, cookies, pretzels, and pound cake.

Other Fondue Styles

Broth or Bouillon
Shabu Shabu is the Japanese version of fondue using vegetable broth or boullion. This makes a lighter, less caloric meal than the cheese or hot oil versions. Potatoes as well as other vegetables or small bits of seafood are cooked in the simmering pot of broth.

 

Fonduta
Fonduta is an Italian dish similar to Fondue made with Fontina cheese and egg yolks.



Fondue Bourguignonne
Also referred to as Beef Fondue. A mixture of half butter and half cooking oil is combined and heated in a cast iron or enamel fondue pot. Small pieces of lean meat and vegetables are speared and cooked in the hot oil. It is particularly important to use a stable fondue pot for this type of fondue.

Bagna Cauda
This is a wonderful dish from the Piedmonte region of Italy. The name comes from bagno caldo which means "hot bath". It is made by combining butter, olive oil, garlic and anchovies. The mixture is heated and guests use wooden skewers or fondue forks to spear a variety of fresh vegetables, meats and seafood which are dipped and warmed.


KaasDoop
This is a Dutch dish (cheese dip) similar to the Italian style fonduta.




I've only one more suggestion: If you decide to have your own Fondue party....make sure I get an invite!!! Thanks for taking the dip into Fondue with me...

Bon Appetit,

Lou

July 03, 2012

Spanish Wines

Most people are quite surprised to hear that Spain has the largest amount of wine producing acreage of any country in the world. I know I was. My guess as to why this fact might not be so well known is probably because, when we measure the total volume of actual wine produced per country, it ranks third on the list behind Italy and France. Most experts are inclined to agree that this is most likely due to the geography. As we discovered in another article here this month, Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe behind Switzerland, another thing most might not know. Don't you just love it when you learn something at the same time you' re enjoying yourself?

The History
Because the culture of Spain is such that it has been influenced by centuries of invasion and the subsequent insertion of foreign customs, Txomin Etxaniz Vineyard in Getaria foods and beliefs, today's Spain is a vibrant and alive country with many diverse sides.

That said, I'd like to give you a brief glimpse into how Spain came to be the wine producer it is. Keep in mind though, that a good many things we understand about the culinary side of this nation are intertwined. For example, cheeses are developed specifically to go with age old wine traditions and the same can be said in in the opposite order.

First, let's talk grapes. Some were cultivated between 4000 and 3000 BC, long before the wine culture of the Phoenicians came to Cadiz around 1100 BC. After that it was the Carthaginians. When the Greeks came in 700 BC, they introduced the culture of extensive vineyards. A few centuries later the Romans developed viticulture in the country further and following the fall of the Roman Empire, the Visigoth invaded Spain and wine production went into decline. Later, the Arab conquerors tolerated wine production without actually encouraging it. That is eight, uniquely disparate countries and cultures over a 4000 year span, if you count the indigenous population. But wait... there's more..

The Moors were subsequently defeated and Christians took over. With colonization, Spain developed markets in its South American colonies, as well as, wine trade with England. The 17th and 18th centuries saw the growth of popularity with Sherry, Malaga and Rioja wine. The end of the 19th century saw the emergence of Spanish sparkling wines, with Cava in Cataloña. Then came the beginning of the Denominación de Origen system (D.O.) first developed in Rioja in 1926.

The Spanish Civil War in the 50s, saw many vineyards neglected or destroyed, but the final political stability created new export opportunities for bulk wine. This facilitated the creation of many cooperatives. Sherry was rediscovered in the 60s, while Rioja wines were again in demand from foreign markets. Gradually, Spain has moved from producing low quality bulk wines, to focusing on top shelf, quality wines.

The D.O. system was revised in 1970 and now has similarities with the French and Italian systems. In 2007, there were 67 D.O.'s. in Spain. The Spanish have also addeed a top class of D.O., the Denominación de Origen Calificada. This status is given only to D.O.'s that have a consistent track record of quality. There are two D.O.C.; Rioja and Priorat.

So as you can see, Spain's food, wines and attitude have all been shaped over the centuries into a melding of the culture you have today. It explains quite a bit as you start to delve into the nation, its culture and its cuisine. To really get an understanding of a country and its people, you have to think, eat and drink like they do. I wholeheartedly agree. To find out more about the regions and culinary history of Spain, check out Spain...A Culinary Day in the Life. Lastly, no discussion about wine in Spain would be complete without talking about the time honored tradition of drinking out of the Porron.

El Porron
From Wikpedia: "Porron (Catalan: porró) is a traditional glass wine pitcher, typical of Catalonia, but famous throughout Spain. It resembles a cross between a wine bottle and a watering can. The top of the bottle is narrow and can be sealed off with a cork. Stemming upwards from the bottom of the pitcher is a spout that gradually tapers off to a small opening. It is shaped such that the wine stored inside it will have minimal contact with the air, while being ready to be used at all times. The idea originated as a replacement to Bota bags. Porrons are most commonly filled with regular wines, either white or red, but are also used to drink Cava. A smaller version, filled with dessert sweet wine, is common in Catalan restaurants."


Now that we have covered a brief history of the country's wine making origins, rather than give you a huge list of wines, I have chosen three outstanding D.O.'s for you to try and enjoy.

Bodegas Bleda, Murcia
The Winery
Bodegas Bleda is a family owned bodega that was established in 1935. It was one of the very first bodegas to individually bottle wine in this region, where until the 1980's was primarily used to produce bulk table wines. It is also one of the most important and historic Bodegas. Its ever-increasing presence in various reference guides and awards in international competitions are Christopher Gilar of Bodegas Bleda testimony to the quality and focus of this bodega, and the success of their extensive regional grape varietals - primarily the Monastrell (or Mourvédre in French). Their wines are bottled and aged under the most modern and technologically advanced conditions in line with the new Jumilla, while maintaining the long traditions of the bodega.

The Wine
DIVUS
Current Vintage: 2005
Grapes: 95% Monastrell, 5% Merlot
PRODUCTION NOTES
The grapes come from 50 year-old vineyards of Monastrell 95% and Merlot 5%, hand selected and harvested during the first week of October 2005. There is a long maceration of the skin for 21 days. Crianza of the wine: in new French oak barrels (Allier) during nine months.
TASTING
Very intense and deep cherry red color. Nose of intense blackberry, blackcurrant and light anis, with a pleasant vanilla note of elegant Allier wood. In the mouth it is tasty, rich and with balsamic notes. Meaty, fresh and balanced structure, very powerful with good acidity and noble with well-joined tannins integrated with wood. Ample and persistent finish with tobacco & toasted notes and bright retro nasal aroma.

The Bodegas Berceo of Rioja
The Winery
Bodegas Gurpegui Muga was formed nearly one and a half centuries ago, where the first member of the Gurpegui family inspired the creation of what is today, one of the most important wine producing grupos in Spain. The respect for inherited tradition and a deep love of wine are still recognized as the prominent features of their identity.

Bodegas Berceo is the oldest and most historical bodega of the group located in Haro (Rioja Alavesa) on the historical street of Cuevas de Haro, and was established in 1872. One of two bodegas located within the actual municipality, they originally located the bodega on the side of town with the steepest incline, as it was one of the first to use the gravitation process advantage to produce wine, which at the time, was considered a revolutionary technology. It is still functional to this day (but not used for production). In the old cellars and ancient facilities of Bodegas Berceo, the traditions of old live side-by-side with the most innovative wine production systems, such as the new Luis Gurpegui Muga Bodega, a splendid 21st century building incorporating the latest wine-making technologies, located at the edge of the Navarra region which borders Rioja Alavesa. Today, they are part of a Riojan group called Grupo Gurpegui Muga, which utilize a wide variety of wine-producing estates in a number of areas. The Bodegas Berceo of Rioja and Luis Gurpegui Muga of Navarra wines are highly respected and well established in the Spanish and international markets, along with continuing international accolades and recognition.
The Wine
GONZALO de BERCEO RESERVA
Current Vintage: 2001
Grapes: Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo
PRODUCTION NOTES
The bunches were hand picked, whole, clean and leaf free. Vinification was carried out with the traditional fermentation method, not exceeding 28 °C during the first fermentation. After a very light sulphite process, skins were cleared from the must at a denisty of 995 gr/L, completing afterwards malolactic fermentation. Once completed, a further sulphite process was carried out at 2 fr/hl, after which the aging process began, keeping the wine in oak barrels (both French and American) for at least 1 year. The wine was then filtered and cold stabilized at -5 °C, prior to bottling.
TASTING
Clean and brilliant ruby red color.
Perfect balance between the vanilla and spices from the oak and plumy, red berry fruit aromas. Smooth, well rounded, good backbone and a long, persistent finish, with nice, well integrated acidity which will help keep the wine, improving for a further 3 to 4 years.

Adega Almirante, Rias Baixas
The Winery
The birth of Albariño and its relation to Portas dates historically back to the XII Century above the river Umia, which ends in Portas, about one-third of the way between Pontevedra and Santiago de Compostela. Adega Almirante in a very short time, has become one of the most important bodegas (Adegas) in Rias Baixas. Located in the borough of Portas within the province of Caldas de Reis, which is located in the northern portion of Val de Salnés. This is the closest Albariño region to the Atlantic west, allowing for a later harvest and increased grape maturity. The over 35 hectares of vines are owned by the five principal owners of Adegas Almirante. Therefore the quality of the grapes and reputation of the wines are controlled by the owners. This quality is evident as reflected in the new state of the art facility and growing techniques, which is resulting in the rapid success of their Albariños locally, and now, internationally. The late harvest maceration provides the wines with brilliant color, freshness, elegance, and intense flavors.
The Wine
MACCERATO
Current Vintage: 2006
Grape: 100% Albariño
NOSE
A nose that is surprisingly complex, elegant ripe fruit - apricot, banana, apple, giving way to delicate floral tones and a subtle herbal background.
VISUAL STAGE
Clear, brilliant, intense straw color with golden reflections.
TASTING STAGE
A flavorsome Albariño, which stands out for its body and complexity, due to the second, temperature controlled Maceration process. This elevates the fruity overtones, while at the same time, Maccerato is characterized by its finish, rounded quality and acidity. Through the retro-nasal passage, there is a balanced structure that makes this an especially unique Albariño.

Bon Appetit, 

Lou

July 01, 2012

Spain...A Culinary Day In The Life...

The inspiration for my wanting to write this article was a conversation I had with Grammy Award winning musician, Arturo Sandoval. Though he is from Cuba, like a good number of Latin Americans some of his ancestors are from Spain. He was explaining about his grandfather and mother, describing for us what is the the typical Spanish day, especially as it pertains to lifestyle and how the people of Spain incorporate food and the famed 'siesta' into their daily routine.

As Arturo spoke, it was a fascinating glimpse of this vibrant country's people, culture and lifestyle. Admittedly, the appeal and allure of this laid back pace, that 'smooth glide through life,' as I have come to refer to it, was just too good to pass up, so here we find ourselves whisking off to Spain for a look at 'a day in the life.'

For me, the observance of what is the Spanish dining ritual, if you will allow, is such a wonderful way to socialize and spend quality time with the ones you love, enjoying the varying nuances of every part of the day, from sunrise and breakfast, all the way through to churros and hot chocolate at 2 A.M. In Spain, every day is a celebration unto itself, deserving of your 100 % effort, an embracing of a lifestyle that is very much after my own heart; Squeezing every drop of life out of every minute of every day.... so as not to miss a moment. A pretty intense, and possibly quite exhausting way to live, hence... the Siesta! Spain is a country set in traditions, especially when it comes to the subject of food, so before we delve into the specifics, we need to a quick trip through the basics of Spain's cultural and culinary history, in order to give us a better understanding of the region and its people.

The Iberian Peninsula
South of France, in Western Europe on the Iberian Peninsula, Spain is surrounded on three sides by water – to the north is the Cantabric Sea, to the west is the Atlantic Ocean, on the east is the Mediterranean Sea. Just across the Straight of Gibraltar lie Morocco and Algeria. A surprise to most is that Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe behind Switzerland, with a wide variety of climates, from the hot, dry region of Andalucía in the South, to the lush, green and humid zones of Galicia and Asturias in the North and Northwest. In Spain you can ski in Granada one day and go to the beach the next! Spain lies at approximately the same latitude as California, so it has similar weather.

Regional and Cultural Divisions

Spain has been invaded over the centuries by various peoples, including the Phoenicians, the Romans and the Moors. For centuries Spain was divided into small feudal kingdoms that had their own money, culture, languages and food. Although Spain is one country and two basic ingredients common to all regions are garlic and olive oil, there are large regional differences in cuisine. There are traditionally six culinary regions in Spain, however within those regions are areas of distinct cuisines as well:

Cuisine of Castilla Leon
Castilla-Leon, the largest area of Spain is known for its roast suckling lamb and pig, as well as hearty stews. Castillians also enjoy fish and seafood plates, and very traditional sweets with a religious past.

Cuisine of Valencia
Valencia is well-known for its rice dishes, in particular "paella." It is also the region where the Spanish almond candy "turron" originates.



Cuisine of Cataluña
Cataluña has some of the most sophisticated regional Spanish cuisine. Barcelona has been well known for its cuisine for centuries. Seafood, game, beef or lamb are mixed and cooked with rice and/or sausage. There are a wide variety of dishes in this region.

Cuisine of Castilla La Mancha
Land of windmills, stomping ground of Don Quixote, it produces delicious Manchego cheese, hearty stews, soups and about half of all Spanish wines.

Cuisine of Asturias
Asturias, a province in the northeastern corner of the Peninsula, with a natural beauty and exquisite cuisine. Regional cuisine from Asturias includes fresh salmon, hot and tasty "Fabada Asturiana" and rich "Cabrales" blue cheese.



Cuisine of Galicia
Galicia is located in the extreme northwest of Spain and is known for its fish and seafood, as well as sauces and stews, "empanadas" and fish dishes of Galician cuisine. 



A Culinary Crossroads
Spanish cooking has popular roots. Over the centuries, Spanish cuisine has been influenced by many other cultures, both invaders and visitors, as well as from its colonies. From the Phoenicians, who arrived in the South, and established a colony called Gádir, the modern day Cádiz, to the Romans, who brought not only their government, culture and art, but their agricultural technology, too. Grape-growing and wine-making, olive cultivation and pressing techniques came to the Peninsula. Hispania (the Roman name for the Peninsula) was part of the Roman Empire for over 500 years. During this period, a blending of cuisines took place, with Hispania being an important producer of food for the Empire.

In 711 A.D., the Moors crossed the Straight of Gibraltar from Africa and invaded the Peninsula. They quickly established themselves in South and Central Spain and they flourished for many centuries. The Moors brought with them advanced agricultural technology, rich spices, new fruits and vegetables. In 1492, with the discovery of the New World came revolutionary changes to Spanish cuisine, as well as the rest of Europe. The Spanish explorers brought back many new and exotic foods, such as potatoes, tomatoes, corn, avocados, papayas, peppers and cacao for chocolate.

Spanish cuisine is down-to-earth, uncomplicated food, based on the ingredients available locally or the crops grown regionally. Many dishes are prepared today using the same cooking methods and ingredients as they were two or three hundred years ago.

The Traditional Foods of Spain


Olive Oil
Spanish recipes either call for olive oil or lard. Most Spaniards consider extra virgin olive oil to be worth the added expense. Spain is a leading producer of olive oil and olives are grown all over the south of Spain.

Ham
Jamón is a very prized food. Spaniards take their ham very seriously and will pay a high price for top-quality. There is even a denomination of origin for certain types of ham. So proud are Spaniards of their ham, that there are several museums of ham, or museo de jamon. You will see different types on menus or in supermarkets, but typically it will be jamón serrano or ham from the sierra or mountains.


Fish & Seafood
Because Spain is surrounded on three sides by water, fresh seafood is always plentiful in the markets and is eaten daily. Everything from halibut, shrimp, to octopus are common to most markets and menus.


Cheeses
Wonderful cheeses of every type can be eaten in Spain. Spanish cheeses are made from sheep, cow, goat milk and mixed. Types range from aged cheeses, such as the manchego variety from La Mancha, to the soft creamy cheeses, such as tetilla from Galicia and everything in between. There are even blue cheeses that mature in limestone caves, such as Cabrales. Cheese can be eaten as a tapa as well as during meals and for dessert.

Sausages
Spanish love sausage, in particular their chorizo, a pork sausage made with paprika. Again, there are many types of chorizo, from fresh and soft to smoked and aged. Every local market offers a variety and Spanish families often make their own in the winter and hang them in the cellar or the attic to dry.

Beef, Lamb and Pork
All three meats are common and can be roasted, grilled over the coals or sautéed in a sauce. Generally, Spanish prefer veal, suckling lamb and pig. Roasted meats are a popular dish for holidays and festive occasions.



Eggs
Eggs are eaten daily either fried, deviled, or in a Spanish omelet. They are an essential part of many recipes, including desserts.



Chicken
Chicken is very popular and is eaten regularly. It is prepared in every way, but mostly commonly is fried, roasted or stewed.




Fruits and Vegetables
Spanish eat lots of fresh fruit as snacks or as the last course to their meals. A fresh fruit bowl sits in every kitchen. Simple salads and sautéed vegetables are eaten every day. Popular dishes often include eggplant and zucchini.

Legumes
Beans of all types are eaten regularly. Beans and chickpeas (garbanzo beans) have been a staple of the Peninsula for centuries and rival bread as the most commonly eaten food.

Nuts

Spain is one of the top producers of almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts. Almond-based and milk-based desserts are very common. Turron, the almond nougat candy eaten at Christmas is probably the best-known of these sweets. Many recipes of Arabic origin contain crushed almonds. Hazelnuts, not almonds are the most popular nut to be mixed with chocolate.

Herbs and Spices
Onions and herbs such as oregano, rosemary and thyme are used, while garlic is predominant in most regions.



Cooking Methods
Cocido, olla, pote, guiso, estofado or escudella are the Spanish terms for stew. This is one dish that could be called characteristic of Spain, although each region has its own version. Spanish do not only stew, they roast, fry and saute many foods. It is not as common to bake or broil, although they do grill meats on a metal plate or on a charcoal grill.

A Day in the Life
The typical Spanish working day in any town or city involves a morning's work from about 8:30 or 9 until 1:30, followed by a three hour break in the middle of the day, during which many people go home, have lunch, sleep, watch television, etc., before returning to work at around 4:30. Most people finish work at about 8 P.M., which is about the time that shops close. Spaniards tend to live near their place of work, often in central apartment blocks, and after work, some stay on for a drink or for dinner.

Breakfast – El Desayuno The Smallest Meal of the Day

Continental Breakfast
A typical breakfast might include café con leche - strong coffee with hot, frothy milk, bollos (sweet rolls) with jam, or toast with jam or mild cheese.

Tapas - Little Spanish Meals
Tapas are eaten well after breakfast, but before lunch, the large mid-afternoon meal! Tapas-time includes bar-hopping to wine-taste and chat.

A Different Tapa at each stop
Spanish love tapas so much, they made a verb out of it. The phrase 'Vamos a tapear' means “Let’s go eat tapas!” A few of the most popular tapas are:

Tortilla Española - Spanish Omelet

Patatas Bravas - Potatoes with Spicey Brava Sauce

Gambas al Ajillo - Shrimp in Garlic

La Comida – Lunch

The midday meal, la comida as it is called in Spain is the largest meal of the day. It is definitely a large meal, usually with multiple courses. Traditionally, Spaniards have a 2-3 hour break from work or school in order to enjoy la comida and take a nap or siesta and the entire country closes up shop from about 2:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. The siesta is a tradition that goes back centuries. When most people worked in agriculture and air conditioning did not exist, it is easy to understand why folks needed a large meal and a rest from the hot Spanish sun before returning to work outside. Everyone in Spain enjoyed this afternoon break, from school kids to shop workers and government officials. Most Spanish still enjoy the break and large meal, but life is slowly changing. Many people spend over an hour commuting to and from their work, making it impossible to go home for a meal and siesta. Because of this, Spanish government employees in Madrid now work a standard eight-hour day with a one-hour lunch break. Many large supermarket and retail chains in large cities no longer close for lunch either. Still, in most of the country folks close up shop and enjoy their meal and break.

The Largest Meal of the Day
Eaten between 1:30 and 3:30 P.M.
Below is a sample meal that you might find on a menu at a restaurant or if you were invited to someone’s home for lunch:
Vegetable or Seafood Soup, Fresh Fish or Seafood, Roast Chicken or Lamb, Fried Potatoes, Rabbit Stew, etc. Green Salad or Vegetables Dessert - Flan, light pastry, fresh fruit or ice cream, Coffee, Brandy and a Cigar.

Bread is always on the Spanish table. It is plentiful and fresh and used to mop up sauces. Spanish lunches are always large! Courses come one at a time, so pace yourself! Since Spaniards love eggs and dairy foods, you will find that many desserts are made from fresh milk or cream. Fresh fruit is typical to see on the dessert menu, and may be served with a soft cheese. Don’t forget the coffee – You’ll probably need that after the big lunch!

La Merienda - Snack
The late-afternoon snack in Spain is called la merienda and is necessary since lunch is done by 3:30 P.M., but dinner isn't usually eaten for another five to six hours. La Merienda is especially important to children, who always seem to have lots of energy and play soccer in the streets, etc. La Merienda can be anything from a piece of French-style bread with a piece of chocolate on top, to bread with chorizo, ham or salami. La Merienda is eaten around 4:30 or 5:00 P.M..

La Cena – Dinner  
Smaller than Lunch
Eaten between 9:00 P.M. and Midnight
A dinner might include fresh fish or seafood, roast chicken or lamb, fried potatoes or rice. A simple and quick dish, commonly eaten at dinner is arroz cubano, which is a mound of white rice, topped with tomato sauce and a fried egg. Green salad and/or a vegetable dish are standard at lunch and dinner. A lighter dessert of fresh fruit or flan (Spanish vanilla custard) may also be eaten.
After Dinner 
Spaniards are night owls. The typical Spaniard does not eat dinner until at least 9 P.M. and probably does not get to bed until close to midnight. On the weekends, on holidays and during the summer months, it wouldn’t be unusual for a Spanish family to turn in round 3 or 4 am. So, after the late-night dinner, Spaniards continue their socializing in their neighborhood cafés and taverns or go out to a nightclub or disco-pub.

The last stop on the way home from an evening of fun might be to a churreria or a churro stand. After a night on the town, there is nothing better than fresh churros, bought from a street vendor or sidewalk café, served hot and sprinkled with sugar.They are delicious and very light.

To accompany your churros, hot chocolate is the drink of choice. Chocolate in Spain is your typical rich drinking chocolate that is common throughout Europe, although Spanish chocolate is hot and very thick, made with fresh, whole milk. It’s very sweet and sometimes so thick that you can stand a spoon in it.

So there you have a pretty comprehensive snapshot of Spain, its regions and its cuisines. The most fascinating aspect of all this for me, being a traditionalist at heart, is that even though we now find ourselves in 2012, many of the centuries old traditions and dishes are still popular among the younger Spanish generations, having been handed down within each family. This is certainly a culture that has embraced the overall integration of dining together as much more than just eating. To the Spaniard, it has always been, and continues to be, the center of social interaction. Ah...what a life! A little tapas, a nice nap. You know, I could get used to this...

Bon Appetit,

Lou

Image Sources allworld-vacation.com , wikipedia.org, a-t-s.net, viajejet.com, afectadosporbanif.ning.com, seelecttea.com, t3.gstatic.com, delariberanavarra.com, freecountry.bligoo.com, livespanish.com, robinyap.com