Thursday, December 6, 2018

Gingerbread Muffins


One of my favorite flavors this time of year is gingerbread, whether it's in a latte or a loaf. I love the flavors so much I think they are perfectly acceptable any time of year, however society might disagree. In any case, we're lucky it's the right time of year to enjoy these gingerbread muffins!

Although they are quite easy to make, I would heed the warning within the recipe to not overfill the cups. I was sure that I hadn't overfilled the batter, and even baked 2 additional muffins in another muffin pan, and mine still ended up being too full. They expanded a bit over the edges and sank in the middle as the recipe warns. The muffins were still excellent, however!

Although most people think of gingerbread cookies this time of year, as opposed to the more cake-like variation, I personally love gingerbread in loaves or muffins in this case. They are packed with flavor, heavily spiced, and so comforting with a cup of coffee or tea in the morning.

Gingerbread Muffins
Makes 12 regular or 6 jumbo muffins
(From Muffins & Biscuits)

6 Tbsp [85 g] salted butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
1/3 cup [80 ml] buttermilk
1/2 cup [120 ml] molasses
1/2 cup [100 g] firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups [180 g] all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp chopped crystallized ginger
1 tsp confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325°F [165°C]. Line a 12-well standard or 6-well jumbo muffin pan with paper liners or coat thoroughly with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and the eggs. Add the buttermilk, molasses, brown sugar, and vanilla and whisk until well combined. In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and black pepper. Stir in the chopped crystallized ginger.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and use a rubber spatula to carefully fold together until just combined. Be careful not to overmix, or your muffins will be tough; the batter should still have a couple of streaks of flour.

Divide the batter equally among the prepared muffin wells. Because these muffins have a lot of moisture, they are prone to collapsing a bit in the center. To prevent this, do not fill the muffin wells more than two-thirds full (if you have a little extra batter, make it into pancakes) and do not open the oven to rotate the pans during baking.

Bake until the tops are puffed and a muffin bounces back when you poke it gently in the center with a finger, 18 to 22 minutes for standard muffins or 25 to 28 minutes for jumbo. Because these muffins are dark in color, it’s a little more difficult to tell when they’re done. If you’re not sure, then slip a small sharp knife or a metal skewer into the center of a muffin; if it comes out clean, then the muffins are done.

Remove the muffins from the oven and let cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes. Carefully lift the muffins from the pan and transfer them to a wire rack to cool a little more. (Use a butter knife to lift the muffins out if you didn’t use paper liners.)

Dust the tops with confectioners’ sugar just before serving, if desired. Serve warm.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Brown Butter Pumpkin Pie


This is THE BEST pumpkin pie you will ever have. Although I love pumpkin pie I rarely make it because it seems almost boring to me when there are so many other interesting pies I could be making, but this particular pumpkin pie is anything but boring.

It begins with a brown butter butterscotch which gets pureed into a mixture of pumpkin and spices. A dash of molasses and lemon juice add further flavor complexity, and a surprise addition of carrot juice really takes things over the top. The result is a decadent, creamy one-of-a-kind pumpkin pie with a hint of tanginess that almost reminds me of cheesecake but way scaled back.

I shared this recipe with a friend of mine prior to Thanksgiving and told her I was thinking of making it for the occasion. She added it to her Thanksgiving menu as did I, and at both Thanksgivings it was met with rave reviews.

I froze some of my leftover carrot juice in ice cube trays with plans to make another pie this Christmas, which is only 3 weeks away! That's how much my family enjoyed this pumpkin pie that after years of avoiding making pumpkin pie because it's just too typical and not exciting enough for the menu, I'm making it twice in one season.

This is the pumpkin pie of our dreams, and I highly recommend making it for Christmas, for the weekend, for the office, for fun, for whatever purpose you choose because it's really better than the pumpkin pies of your past.

Brown Butter Pumpkin Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie
(From Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 2/3 cups pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch ground cloves
1 teaspoon molasses
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup carrot juice
One par-baked All-Butter Crust for a 9-inch single-crust pie
Preheat the oven to 350° and position a rack in the center of the oven. In a heavy-bottomed skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Continue to cook; the butter will foam and then begin to turn golden, then nut brown; whisk occasionally. When the butter is nut brown, immediately add the brown sugar, whisk, and then carefully add the water to loosen. Bring the mixture to a boil and continue simmering until a candy thermometer reads 225°F. (If you don’t have a candy thermometer, cook until the mixture smells caramelized and starts to darken.) Slowly add the heavy cream (the mixture will bubble rapidly) and whisk until smooth. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract.
Place the prebaked pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the eggs and yolks together with the salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, blend the pumpkin puree with the allspice, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, molasses, and lemon juice until smooth. With the machine running on low, stream the brown-butter butterscotch through the food processor’s feed tube and process until combined. Stream in the egg mixture, followed by the milk and carrot juice; blend until smooth, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides with a rubber scraper.
Strain the filling through a fine-mesh sieve into a separate bowl, pressing through with a rubber scraper. Pour into the prebaked shell. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, rotating 180 degrees when the edges start to set, 30 to 35 minutes through baking. The pie is finished when the edges are set and puffed slightly and the center is no longer liquid but still quite wobbly. Be careful not to overbake or the custard can separate; the filling will continue to cook and set after the pie is removed from the oven. Let to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm, at room temperature, or cool.

The pie will keep refrigerated for 2 days or at room temperature.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Ode to Barcelona: Escalivada, Gambas al Ajillo, Sangria Roja


The following recipes are a lot less complicated and less time consuming than the bombas I shared in my previous post, so I decided to share them all in a single post. They make up the bulk of my Ode to Barcelona tapas menu.

Escalivada, sometimes called escalibada, is a Catalan roasted vegetable dish featuring eggplant and red bell peppers, and sometimes onions and/or tomatoes. One of our surprise dishes off the confusing menu at Vinitus was escalivada with goat cheese. It was delicious and unexpected.

This version is more of the traditional approach, and less refined and structured than the goat cheese-topped version at Vinitus. It's so very lightly dressed, and I used some cava vinegar I purchased in Barcelona as the acidic element. Although it appears to be incredibly simple (and it is), the flavors are great. This is a very nice vegetable dish to add to a tapas menu.

I also included gambas al ajillo, or garlic shrimp. I've made a different recipe in the past, but this one is more garlicky and the winner of the two versions in my opinion. It reminds me a bit of a Spanish shrimp scampi.

Finally, I'll share a recipe for my beloved sangria. You hardly need a recipe for this crowd-pleasing drink, as there are so many different ways to make it truly unique. In this particular case I was inspired by some of the fruits that were featured in various sangrias we drank in Barcelona (mainly citrus fruits and some green apples), and in particular the usage of cinnamon. One evening our sangria was topped with ground cinnamon, and yet another day it was garnished with an entire cinnamon stick in the glass.

I infused the sangria with a couple broken cinnamon sticks. The flavor really comes through, especially since I chilled my sangria for a full 8 hours before serving. The cinnamon along with the apples and citrus really shine with the flavors of fall and winter. Berries are another traditional element in sangria, but use whatever fruits you like.

Escalivada (Catalan Roasted Vegetables)
Serves 6 to 8

2 eggplants
2 red bell peppers
3 small onions, unpeeled
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for coating vegetables
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or cava vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Lightly rub the eggplants, bell peppers, and onions with olive oil and set them on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast until the skin is blistered and blackened and flesh is tender when pierced with a knife, rotating the vegetables once or twice partway through cooking.

Remove vegetables from the pan as they are done, the eggplants and peppers will roast for about 30 to 40 minutes, and the onions will likely take an additional 10 minutes or so depending on their size.

Put the eggplants and red peppers into a plastic bag, seal and let them rest for about 10 minutes. This will loosen the skins. Carefully peel the skins off the vegetables and remove the stems. Gently scoop out the seeds from within the eggplant and peppers, and tear or cut the flesh into strips. Slice the peeled onions with a knife.

Whisk together the 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper, and dress the vegetables, lightly tossing to help incorporate the flavors. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Arrange the vegetables in a serving dish and top with chopped parsley. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the flavors to develop. Serve cold or at room temperature, preferably with crusty bread.

Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp)
Serves 6

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (I used garlic oil leftover from making allioli)
1/4 cup thinly sliced garlic
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons dry sherry
Zest of 1 lemon
Chili flakes, to taste
Kosher salt

Heat the oil over medium-low heat in a large non-stick or cast iron pan, and add the garlic. Gently cook the garlic, stirring regularly to allow it to infuse the oil and become fragrant and golden. About 5 to 8 minutes.

Add the shrimp and continue to cook, stirring to ensure it cooks evenly, until shrimp is mostly pink throughout, another 5 minutes or so. Add the parsley, sherry, lemon zest, chili flakes, and salt to taste. Cook another few minutes to absorb flavors and finish cooking the shrimp. Serve immediately with crusty bread.

Sangria Roja
Serves 6 to 8 (but really in my family only about 4!)

2 (750 ml) bottles Spanish red wine
6 ounces (3/4 cup) brandy (I used apricot brandy)
6 ounces berries (I used blackberries)
1 orange, thinly sliced into rounds
1 lemon, thinly sliced into rounds
1 granny smith apple, cored and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half

Combine all the ingredients in a pitcher. Refrigerate for at least an hour, but preferably longer to really infuse the flavors. Aim for 8 hours or overnight.

*Note* Many sangria recipes use some sweetener, such as simple syrup or even fruit juice. This is a matter of personal preference. You can sweeten this sangria more if you'd like, although my family enjoyed it just as is.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Ode to Barcelona: Barceloneta Potato Bombas


I returned from my recent trip to Barcelona incredibly inspired by the food I had enjoyed there. There were many dishes I wanted to recreate, and decided to plan an ode to Barcelona in the form of a tapas party for my family.

There are many dishes from our trip that didn't make it onto the menu simply because I had to limit the number of dishes, but I hope to try some of the others in the very near future. This is the menu I came up with for the occasion.
Spanish cheeses
Serrano ham
Olives stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes
Pan con tomate
Garlicky fried mushrooms
Escalivada (Catalan roasted vegetables)
Gambas al Ajillo
I purchased a variety of Spanish cheeses from Whole Foods including 6 month aged Manchego (sheep's milk cheese), Capricho de Cabra (soft goat's cheese), and Drunken Goat (aged goat's cheese with edible red wine rind)--the latter two are from the same cheese maker.

I also was able to procure Serrano ham there as well (I later found some at Aldi as well). Although it's from a different breed of pig, and not nearly as amazing as jamón ibérico, it's the best I could do with my resources stateside. It reminds me a bit of prosciutto. The jumbo green olives were pre-stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, and were purchased from the World Market section at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

The pan con tomate doesn't really require a recipe, although I shared one years ago in another post. When we were in Barcelona, we ate this tapas dish more than any other, and everywhere it was made with different types of bread. On this occasion I used ciabatta bread, split and light toasted, rubbed with fresh whole garlic cloves, halved tomatoes and a light drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. So simple and so incredibly good! I also made some gluten-free pan con tomate on gluten-free baguettes for my nephews!

I'll share a few of the other recipes for the sangria, escalivada, and gambas al ajillo in another blog post but today I will focus solely on the bombas.

Bombas were actually invented at La Cova Fumada in the Barceloneta neighborhood of Barcelona. You may recall from my Barcelona blog posts that I had planned lunch one day in Barceloneta but had to change my plans last minute. Well, my plan was to eat at La Cova Fumada, the birthplace of these famous potato bombs, but that unfortunately didn't happen on this trip. I still managed to eat bombas on two other occasions in Barcelona, and it was so memorable that I absolutely had to try making them myself at home.

Our favorite bombas from the trip were filled with stewed beef, but the more traditional version uses ground meat as the filling. I compared a lot of recipes to figure out the best way to approach this dish, and I actually ended up making twice as much filling and twice as much bravas sauce than I needed, so I scaled those portions down for the recipe below. I actually froze my remaining bomba filling so I can easily make another batch of bombas in the future.

I yielded 21 bombas, but small discrepancies in measurements, or depending on how much you peel your potatoes may fluctuate that number a tad. You'll just want to aim for about 1/4 cup potato and 1 tablespoon filling per bomba. Using a measuring cup and spoon will save the day and yield more accurate and evenly sized bombas.

Before breading and frying

Although there are a number of steps, the recipe is actually not very difficult. It just requires a bit of planning and patience, but the different components are quite easy to make and the bombas themselves are pretty easy to assemble as well. I was worried shaping them would be messy, but it wasn't too bad at all.

I used a deep fryer to cook these, which I highly recommend since it keeps the oil temperature steady, and doesn't make a huge mess on my stovetop. They fry very quickly, at only about 2 minutes each.

My next post will feature more recipes from this tapas feast but first here's a bonus! I used some of my leftover bravas sauce and allioli from the bombas recipe to make what I'm calling "trashy" huevos cabreados, or angry eggs.

Huevos cabreados were one of my favorite discoveries in Barcelona. We really didn't know what to expect, but were floored by how much we loved this dish of french fries, bravas sauce, and allioli topped with a fried egg which was sliced table side and tossed together.

I recreated it in the trashiest, most American way possible: with frozen tator tots baked until crisp in my toaster oven. This was a super easy rendition of the original, and I didn't even need to heat up my deep fryer or slice a single potato into matchsticks. I just drizzled the two sauces over the top of my tator tots, finished with the egg, and viola!

Barceloneta Potato Bombas
Makes about 21 bombas

6 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup mayonnaise
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Kosher salt

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion or 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
4 ounces (113 g) ground beef
4 ounces (113 g) ground pork
1/2 tomato, flesh grated on a box grater, skin discarded
1 teaspoon sweet (regular) paprika
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Chili flakes or cayenne pepper, to taste

2 1/2 pounds (1134 g) Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
Kosher salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large egg

Bravas sauce:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sweet (regular) paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chicken broth
Kosher salt
Pinch cayenne pepper, or more to taste

To finish:
Vegetable oil, for frying
All purpose flour, as needed
2 to 3 large eggs, beaten
Dried breadcrumbs, as needed

To make the allioli: In a small saucepan combine the garlic cloves and olive oil and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the garlic is tender and honey gold (occasionally tilt the pan as needed to keep the garlic submerged--even off the heat the olive oil should be hot enough to keep cooking it). Watch the garlic carefully so that it does not overcook. Life the garlic cloves from the oil with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels to cool. Reserve the garlic oil for another use (1 tablespoon will be used later for the allioli).

In a small food processor fitted with the metal blade, puree the garlic cloves, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon of the garlic oil. Taste, season with salt, and pulse to mix. Scrape the allioli into a lidded storage container and chill for up to 3 days. You should have about 1 cup allioli.

To make the filling: In a large non-stick skillet heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and pork, and cook, breaking the meat up into small pieces with the edge of a wooden spoon, until no longer pink and most of its natural liquid has evaporated. Add the grated tomato, paprika, garlic, salt, and cayenne and continue cooking until the remaining liquid has absorbed/evaporated. Set aside to cool completely.

To make the potatoes: Add the cubed potatoes to a pot and cover with cold water by at least an inch. Salt generously and bring to a boil over high heat, being careful it doesn't boil over (lower the heat as needed). Boil the potatoes until they are easily pierced with a fork, drain and then return to the pot off the heat. Add the olive oil and mash the potatoes with a potato masher until smooth. Adjust seasoning if needed. Let the potatoes cool slightly and then mash in the egg (you don't want the potatoes super hot or else the egg will cook). Set aside to cool to room temperature.

To assemble the bombas: Scoop 1/4 cup of the potato mixture at a time into the palm of your hand. You can slightly wet your hands as needed if the potato starts to stick to your hands during this process. Carefully pat the scooped potato into a disc about 1/2-inch thick in the palm of your hand. Add 1 tablespoon of the cooled meat filling into the center, then carefully cup your hand to start bringing the edges of the potato together and use your other hand to pinch it closed. Smooth into a round ball and set aside as you continue shaping the remaining bombas. The bombas can be refrigerated at this point until you are ready to bread and fry them.

To make the bravas sauce: Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour and paprikas and whisk for a couple minutes to ensure the flour starts to cook. Slowly add the chicken broth while continuing to whisk into a smooth sauce. It will thicken more once the mixture comes up to a boil. Season with salt and cayenne pepper. This sauce can be served hot, warm, or room temperature.

To finish the bombas: To each of 3 wide bowls add flour, beaten eggs, and dried breadcrumbs to set up a dredging station. Dredge each bomba one at a time in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs, and set aside on a clean tray or work surface until remaining bombas are breaded. You can also bread them in batches as you fry them, but this can get messy.

Heat the vegetable oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 350 degrees F. You'll want the oil to be deep enough so the bombas will be fully submerged once you add them to the oil. Fry the breaded bombas in batches for about 2 minutes each or until they are golden brown. If you fry them much longer the balls may start to crack open. Set finished bombas aside on a paper towel-lined tray or sheet pan to drain. Serve bombas immediately with the allioli and bravas sauce.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Roza's Tas Kebab


I'm a nostalgic person. I take a lot of pictures so I'll always remember happy memories. I've kept several of my favorite childhood toys. There are a lot of ways to remember important moments and people, whether it's with things, photographs, or in today's case with food.

My aunt Roza passed away in September. Like any good Armenian woman, she loved to cook and feed people. She was famous for her rice pilaf, her poohree macaron, her baklava, and her tas kebab. She was also an avid fan of this blog, and loved to call me up to ask me about recipes I had tried out and shared, or to ask my advice on dishes she wanted to try making herself.

We would always task my aunt with making her tas kebab for family gatherings and special occasions. She made the best tas kebab, and we left it to her knowing it would never disappoint. Sadly I was not able to make it with her to see her methods or learn her secrets. I knew the list of ingredients she used and the general method of prep, and decided to recreate her tas kebab in her honor and write down the recipe so we will always be able to make it.

It took a couple attempts to get it just right. The recipe is incredibly simple, but the broth is very flavorful, and the beef is so tender it falls apart. This tas kebab is hearty, comforting, and deliciously spiced with whole peppercorns, allspice berries, and ground cinnamon. It's best served over a mound of rice pilaf so the broth can soak into the rice.

Tasting this tas kebab brings back so many memories of my aunt. It tastes just like hers, and I'm sure she would be so proud that I was able to recreate this beloved dish.

I've said it before and I will say it again, please do yourselves a favor and write down any family recipes shared by parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, whoever in your family is responsible for your favorite flavors of nostalgia. Take the time to measure the ingredients, write them down, retest them, and save them. I'm glad I was able to recreate this tas kebab, but if the dish had been more complicated I doubt I would have ever gotten it to match hers, and that would have been a travesty.

Although this is my comfort dish and not necessarily yours, I encourage you to try your hand at making this tas kebab in honor of my aunt. She lived her life for those she loved, and feeding them around the clock was always part of the deal. Even though she's gone, I'm happy I can now feed my stomach AND my soul with this tas kebab recipe.

Roza's Tas Kebab
Serves 6 to 8

3 pounds beef chuck, cubed into 2-inch pieces
1/4 cup tomato paste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon allspice berries
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Rice pilaf, for serving

Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Set aside.

Rinse the beef with cold water. Drain and add to a large pot. Cover with cold water by about 2 inches. Heat over medium-high heat, skimming impurities off the surface. When the water starts to boil, remove from the heat, drain into a colander and rinse the beef with cold water.

Wipe the pot clean, add the beef back along with 6 cups of boiled water, the butter, tomato paste, and all of the seasonings. Return to high heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer covered for about 2 1/2 hours or until the beef is easily cut with the side of a spoon (my aunt would cook it until the meat was actually falling apart so aim for significantly longer than fork tender).

Tas kebab is best when made a day or more ahead of time and reheated prior to serving, as this allows the flavors to develop. Serve the tas kebab spooned over rice pilaf in wide serving bowls or plates.

*Note* You will have to pick out the peppercorns and allspice berries as you eat. This is the way my aunt always made this dish so that is how I wrote the recipe, however it wouldn't be a bad idea to perhaps tie those spices into a cheesecloth and cook the tas kebab with the spice bundle for easy removal later instead of loose spices.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Guinness Bread


Earlier this summer, I had the privilege of visiting Ireland, truly one of the most beautiful countries I've ever seen. At breakfast one morning in Derry, Northern Ireland I lightly toasted a slice of Guinness bread, slathered it in Irish butter and strawberry jam, and my life changed forever.

I was so impressed by this delicious and simple morning treat, with its hearty texture and complex flavors, that I vowed I would recreate it upon my return to the states.

Fast forward 150 days, and I FINALLY followed through on my plans to bring my newly beloved Guinness bread into my kitchen and home.

Before baking

After baking

The recipe is incredibly simple and is mostly comprised of oats and whole wheat flour for the dry mixture, and Guinness and buttermilk for the wet mixture.

My Guinness bread turned out fantastic! It was crumbly and crusty on the outside, tender, slightly sweet and malty on the inside.

Although you can slice and eat this bread as is, I like to slice and toast it in the toaster oven. Let it cool completely before buttering it because the butter will melt right into the bread if you're impatient like I tend to be :)

Irish butter is arguably the best butter in the world, so definitely splurge both in cost and calories to get the good stuff. I topped my toasted slices with a generous smear of Kerrygold and a couple spoonfuls of my homemade plum jam (omg it's amazing!).

Guinness Bread
Makes one loaf
(Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa)

1 cup quick-cooking oats (not instant), plus extra for sprinkling (I used old-fashioned rolled oats)
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 (11- to 12-ounce) bottle Guinness extra stout beer, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for brushing the pan
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Salted butter, such as Irish Kerrygold

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the beer, buttermilk, melted butter, and vanilla. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the well. With your fingers, stir the batter from the middle of the bowl to the outside, until it’s well mixed. It will look more like cake batter than bread dough.

Brush a 9×5×2 1/2-inch loaf pan with melted butter. Pour the batter into the pan and sprinkle the top with oats. Put the bread in the oven, immediately turn the temperature down to 400 degrees F, and bake for 45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Turn the bread out onto a baking rack and allow to cool completely. Slice and serve with salted butter, toasting slices in a toaster oven if desired.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Barcelona - Days 8 & 9 - Travels & Recap


Yesterday we took a look at what was supposed to be our last day in Barcelona. Things didn't really work out that way, but let's start from the beginning. Our Saturday flight wasn't scheduled to depart until 12:20 pm, so we headed to Barcelona-El Prat International Airport with plenty of time to spare. Barcelona Airport although quite beautiful and open with lots of light and plenty of shops, can be very disorganized and confusing.

We would be taking Joon, a subsidiary of Air France, from Barcelona to Paris, then Air France from Paris to Boston.

After checking our bags, we made it through security and ended up in a big crowd of people trying to get through Passport Control. There were no airport employees around to help direct us on what to do or where to go, there was no clear signage on who had to wait in line here and who didn't, and since we were flying internationally we joined the chaos in front of us in an effort to make it through Passport Control so we could get to our gate.

It was a hot mess. It felt like herding cattle. There was one airport employee who was about to lose it. She was running back and forth, yelling at people who wouldn't listen, trying to wrangle travelers into actual lines, etc. It was a HOT MESS. She even chased some poor lady away from the European Passports line for not listening to her and getting in the wrong line. I can't even put into words what a clusterf-ck it was (pardon my French, but it was really that bad).

While in the line for Passport Control, which made the lines at Disney World look tame in comparison, Lucy and I both got email alerts and alerts on our Delta app that our flight from Barcelona to Paris was cancelled. Let that sink in. We're in the center of chaos, we have tried asking any airport staff we have seen to help us make sure we are even in the right line (apparently we weren't!) and we are now notified that our flight was cancelled.

We decided to stick it out and get through Passport Control since we were close to the front of the line by now, and figured we would go to the gate and see what was up. That turned into another problem, because once we got through Passport Control, it opened up into 2 different terminals which were not the right terminals. We again tried asking for help, and no one would help us.

We managed to find a security guard, and basically went back through a different entrance, had to get our passports checked AGAIN at a different booth to get back into the main post-security area so we could go to the correct terminal. So we get to the correct terminal but there is no gate number listed for our now-cancelled flight. We find an information desk after much walking and are told we have to go to baggage claim, collect our bags, and go back up to the area where we checked our bags to get rebooked on another flight.

We trek all the way back from the terminal, go to baggage claim, wait for our bags, head upstairs to the baggage check/ticketing area, wait in the slowest moving line ever to be finally helped by an Air France agent who can rebook us.

Let me interrupt for a moment to inform you that neither of us have eaten breakfast. Our plan was to eat something at the airport. That obviously didn't happen.

The Air France team had pulled up an airplane cart with some bottled waters, sodas, and crackers, so that was nice. We were able to snag a few crackers and some water while we waited, but oh my god we were just so exhausted at this point.

We had gotten email alerts that we were rebooked for a flight the following morning at the crack of dawn, but were really hoping we could get booked on ANY flight today getting us back to Boston today instead of tomorrow. When it was our turn we spoke with the ticketing agent who informed us there were no flights through any of Delta's carriers that could get us back to Boston today. The first flight out would be the one we were automatically rebooked for the next morning at 6:14 am. We didn't really have a choice so they confirmed our flight with us and printed boarding passes, but only for the first leg from Barcelona to Paris. They said we would have to print our other boarding passes once we arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport. That felt a little odd to us, but we couldn't do anything about it.

Then we moved to another line where we had to wait in order to have a different agent book our hotel for the night. Sigh. We were booked along with several other passengers from our flight at the Hotel Alfa by Best Western not too far from the airport. Then we had to wait a bit longer with the others who would be going to the same hotel. We ended up sitting on the floor and waiting until the Air France agent came over to explain how to get to the shuttle which would take us to the hotel.

So the group of us headed in that general direction. Got confused several times, as the signs weren't very clear, but eventually we made it to the shuttle area where we waited. And waited. And waited.

The shuttle arrives. Hallelujah! We're on our way to the hotel, FINALLY after hours and hours and hours at the airport.

The hotel itself was clean and conveniently located near the airport. It even lists departing flights on screens in the lobby, so I can imagine it's often used for airline guests who need to be put up for the night, and travelers who just need a place to stay close to the airport. This is not somewhere you'd plan to stay if you want to spend a week in the city. It's not that convenient.

By the time we arrived at the hotel it was after 2 pm, and we were surviving on water and a few cheese crackers. We checked in, dropped our stuff off in our room and immediately headed to the hotel restaurant. We had received vouchers from the airline for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We were offered menus for a 3 course meal, although other diners who didn't have vouchers were able to order off of a standard a la carte menu.

I had the fisherman's rice, the fried fish, and ice cream. Lucy had the pasta, the chicken hamburger, and the cheesecake. The food in general was quite sad, but we were starving so it was nice and comforting to finally sit down for a hot meal. I thought the fisherman's rice was pretty decent. It was super comforting and nicely seasoned. Lucy had been craving pasta for days, so she was happy with a bowl of Bolognese even though I thought it was overcooked. The main course across the board was meh. Dessert was alright. I took these pictures with my iPhone because I had stopped caring at this point :-D

When I had mentioned to some family and friends that our flight was cancelled, and we'd be spending another night in Barcelona, they all said "That's great! You'll have another day in the city to do stuff!" But unfortunately it wasn't like that. Although we got another night in Barcelona, we were at the airport most of the day, had a flight SUPER early the next morning so planned to go to bed early, and were just so physically exhausted, and even further away from the city center than we were at our previous hotel, that there was no way we planned to venture out at this point.

We spent hours in our room watching the HGTV show Buying and Selling with the Property Brothers in Spanish.

The hotel dining room didn't open until 8 pm for dinner, and after our late 2:30 pm lunch we weren't super hungry, but we didn't want to eat even later than 8 pm since we had to go to bed early to get up early for our flight.

Again, we were offered a 3 course menu for dinner, but we both decided to just stick to a couple simple dishes instead of overdoing it at this hour.

We both started with the chicken noodle soup. It was obviously made with homemade broth, which was very comforting and flavorful. There was very little chicken in the soup, however. Lucy had 2 small pieces, and I had none. It was basically just broth with a tiny bit of noodles.

We both also got the spaghetti with tomato sauce and cheese. I thought it was pretty awful to be honest. The cheese was melted in one giant pile on top, and the sauce was very thick, almost like a paste. I just ate some of the pasta and sauce and moved the cheese aside. As a pasta lover this was just a travesty, but I know I needed some nourishment.

Bedtime was early tonight, since we were getting picked up at 4 am to go to the airport. We were really concerned when the Air France folks said 4 am because we were afraid it wouldn't be enough time to check in, etc before our 6:14 am flight, but that's what the airline set up so we just went with it.

The hotel had prepared bagged breakfasts for us since we were leaving too early to use our breakfast voucher in the dining room. We each got a ham sandwich on a small baguette, a yogurt, a water, a small bottle of orange juice, and an apple. At this hour we couldn't eat much. I drank my water and some of my orange juice, and saved the ham sandwich to eat at the airport when I had more of an appetite. We had to throw away the yogurts and the rest of our juices before going through security anyway.

Air France actually sent a taxi since I guess the airport shuttle didn't operate that early. I'm pretty sure our taxi driver was auditioning for Nascar! He was driving 150 km/hr (that's over 90 miles/hr)! Somehow we safely made it to the airport, and waited in line again to check our bags. The lines moved pretty quickly, thank goodness, and we double checked with the Air France agent about Passport Control to see if it was even necessary after yesterday's debacle. Apparently since the first leg of our trip was still within the European Union (to France) we didn't need to go through Passport Control after all! That was a relief, although funnily enough after getting through security we found the line for Passport Control to be completely empty! What a difference from yesterday's situation, which was a total circus. In any case, we bypassed Passport Control and headed to terminal B where our gate would be located. Grabbed some coffees and waited until they posted our gate number.

The first leg of our flight on Joon was only 1 1/2 hours, and there was no food service. The flight was totally fine, no issues whatsoever.

I had flown through Charles de Gaulle airport in the past, and remembered it being kind of a nightmare between connecting flights because in the past, not sure why, we had to pass through security (get our carry on bags scanned, etc) in between flights. That didn't happen at all on this trip, and our experience at Charles de Gaulle airport was a complete dream compared to yesterday's insanity at Barcelona's airport.

As soon as we debarked from our plane, there were machines set up to print boarding passes, so we took turns printing out the boarding passes for our next flight. Turns out Air France gave us seats far apart from each other, so after making our way through Passport Control here (no line to speak of!) and to our next gate (no hold ups here either!) we went to the desk at our gate and asked the agent to move our seats. They were easily able to accommodate us, and we got a pair of seats right by the window (not in the middle section like our last long leg).

We got more coffee and something to eat, and checked out some of the shops until it was time to board.

Instead of flying Air France like we were supposed to do the day before, this flight from Paris to Boston was on Delta. When it was time to board, we headed down the jetway and discovered they were actually going to bus us to our plane. We weren't getting on a plane at that actual gate. Very odd, but my parents mentioned they had to do the same thing last spring for a flight connecting through Charles de Gaulle, so I'm thinking that the airport has just run out of gates for all the planes? Who knows! In any case, we boarded a bus, and the bus actually drove for a while through parts of the airport I didn't know existed, and eventually we made it to what looked like a giant parking lot near some hangars where there were about 6 or 7 planes parked. We got off the bus and took some stairs to get onto the plane. We actually wondered what the airline would do for anyone with mobility issues in a situation like this since they couldn't wheel them right onto the plane.

We actually recognized some of the Delta crew who were all Boston based, so we're sure at least most of the crew was the same crew we had on our Delta flight from Boston to Amsterdam the week before! What a crazy coincidence since we weren't even flying through the same connecting city.

The plane was great, and the flight was great. I ended up watching 3 movies on the way back, all of which I wanted to see but hadn't yet seen--Solo: A Star Wars Story, I, Tonya, and The Shape of Water. That's the one good thing about a long-ish flight on a plane with screens on the back of each seat, and lots of movies and television shows to pick from. There's no lack of entertainment to help the time fly while YOU fly.

We were served lunch on this flight, along with some more bites later in the flight.

Lucy selected the chili chicken with spicy Hollandaise sauce, and I got the gnocchi in basil cream sauce with toasted pine nuts. I didn't try her chicken at all, so I can't comment, but overall my gnocchi wasn't bad. The sauce was thick and creamy. I particularly liked the dessert, which was a Black Forest style dessert in a cup.

Oh, look! We're flying by Greenland! What a view...

And right around the time we were flying by Greenland, the flight attendants dropped off Magnum Mini Classic ice cream bars as a dessert/snack. It's like they knew we were looking at something cold and icy out the window.

Less than an hour before we were due to arrive, the flight attendants began delivering our pre-arrival meal, which was a choice of 2 packaged sandwiches. We both selected the chicken tikka wrap with mango chutney.

It reminded me a bit of an Indian Hot Pocket, but obviously better than an actual Hot Pocket. It was just a heated wrap, served in its box (in which it was heated). We liked this a lot since we enjoy Indian flavors. It was tasty, but not nearly enough food considering we were already getting quite hungry at this point.

We arrived safe and sound at Logan Airport in Boston, moved very quickly through Customs and Border Protection due to a non-existent line, and the new Mobile Passport app we were using for the first time.

Although the trip back to the United States ended up taking longer than anticipated, with the delay of an entire day, we were very pleased with the way the airline handled everything. Although we had to wait in many lines at the airport, and suffer general exhaustion and uncertainty about getting home, Delta and Air France are commendable in how well the agents at the airport handled it, and also how their claims department handled our claim upon our return. We both filed claims on Air France's website, because due to EU regulations airlines that cancel flights for non-weather reasons are required by law to financially compensate passengers. I've already received my check from Delta (thank you!) and they also reimbursed my credit card for the money I had paid to select my seats in advance on the 2 flights we missed. I did have to call them myself the week after we returned to follow up on our electronic claim forms, but in less than an hour the rep had called me back and handled our cases immediately. I can't thank them enough for making the aftermath of what was a frustrating experience into something that more than makes up for the inconvenience, and restores my faith in the airline.

Although I was worried this dramatic ending to our journey would potentially diminish some of the experience we had throughout the week in Barcelona, it didn't. I absolutely loved this city, from the fantastic architecture to the incredible food, from the rich Olympic history to the oasis of sangria laid before our feet :) It really exceeded my expectations, and I hope I have the privilege of visiting this great city again someday. Perhaps we will plan to return in 2026 when Sagrada Familia will hopefully be finished. Fingers crossed!

Barcelona - October 2018


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