Vintage 8 in Torremolinos, Spain

Spain is lovely, with plentiful sunshine even on the rare ‘cloudy’ day. Clouds in Helsinki provide an alternate reality and entirely different notion of just what a cloudy day looks like I suppose. But, one thing we didn’t really think much about when we booked this holiday was food or the cuisine. One comment I heard several times before leaving was that Spain is not kind to vegetarians, and finding anything beyond chorizo, serrano and manchego would be a challenge.

Challenge accepted.

[As an aside, but related to this tale of gastronomic bliss, sometime in September this year during a sleepless night, I made the mistake of watching a documentary The Cuban found, entitled Dominion. I haven’t been able to eat meat since and my diet now borders on veganism. I’ll spare you the details of the documentary. But unless I know definitively that the pig, chicken, cow or fish I’m about to ingest enjoyed a happy life and was slaughtered in a way which wasn’t delightfully and gleefully cruel, I ain’t touching it.]

Anyway…thus far and two weeks into our sorjourn to the sun, we’ve been rather underwhelmed by the food. Aside from a lovely Italian bistro down the block from our home away from home, the food we’ve had can be best described as ‘meh’.

All that changed yesterday. And, we have Vintage 8 to thank for the dining delights, an experience we plan to repeat several times before we depart back to the land of darkness.

We found Vintage 8 after searching for solid restaurants in the area, thinking it’d be a nice place to meet up with old friends. Since its situated at the end of the route for our daily evening strolls here on holiday, we decided we’d try it yesterday rather than hit up our favourite Irish pub for a pint of Guinness before dinner. Typing out that comparison seems like such an insult both to the restaurant and the chef, because the only thing the two options have in common is that they lie rather closely to one another by happenstance. But, that’s part of Vintage 8’s charm. It sits on a block of utterly incongruent choices — Burger King and a Chinese-Thai place both provide alternative options to this gastronomic gem. But, the reviews. Just about every review of Vintage 8 sang its praises. And, a few of those reviews came from vegetarians, which intrigued me.

We arrived early by Spanish dinner-time standards (probably around 18.45). And, we were the only folks there other than the chef, who performed dual functions until later in the meal, taking care of our every need as well as cooking up some insanely delicious treats.

The menu itself is a delight, with whimsicial, playful names featuring giants like John Lennon, Ella Fitzgerald and Paul McCartney in various dish descriptions, along with flavours I’d never imagined but wanted to try. Nothing looked uninteresting.

I opted for the tasting menu, which the chef was incredibly and kindly willing to adapt to my annoyingly vegetarian food habits at the moment. The Cuban, rather bravely, also decided on the tasting menu (his first ever!), opting to try both fish dishes rather than the lamb or chicken which typically closes out the four-course meal. Here’s the truly crazy part to both of us: the four courses we each were about to savour cost an astoundingly cheap €19.90 each, and included a beverage (red wine for me and water for The Cuban). This culinary adventure also included a starter and dessert, both of which were just as delicious on their own as they were a part of this culinary journey of Morrocan and Mediterranean fusion food. Oh, yes, we will be back, my new best friend.

So, here’s what we had. [I’m rather sad that the pictures here do very little justice to the food, and don’t include each course. Our next visit, I’ll have my proper camera so that I can capture these insanely lovely tasting and beautifully plated dishes. I’ve included some photos, however, just to give you, dear reader, a bit of salivatory satisfaction for now.):

  • Mushroom croquette: I gladly could have eaten a mound of these, but I love mushrooms and all things fried. The Cuban, who is not exactly enamoured by fungal foods of any sorts, loved them as well. And, the beginnings of a happy food face first emerged across the table from me.
  • Vintage 8 Egg: This won the ‘best tapa’ award and it’s clear why. This seems like an egg, but borrowing from The Cuban, it is ‘the best egg I’ve had. In. My. Life.’ Served with deep-fried onions and fresh bread rolls which you dip into this most divine egg. So, so much more than ‘just an egg’.
  • John Lennon’s Pacificism: Goat’s cheese with a tomato and aubergine compote and fresh greens.  A couple sat near us just before we left and were underwhelmed by the goat cheese course. I hope that they ate those words when it arrived. I love cheese of all sorts, which is perhaps my number one reason for not going full-on vegan. This dish blew me away completely; not because of the cheese, but because of everything else happening within the dish. There is this slight crunchiness to the dish that I couldn’t work out, but which delighted my taste buds further. The chef shared his secret with me; and I shall carry that secret to my grave. Suffice it to say the flavours work perfectly. Note that the picture looks like a mound of salad greens. Clever.

[At this point, our dishes diverged, whereby I had two non-menu item courses made ‘just for [me]’, and The Cuban had two fish courses. I must say, his looked incredible as well and judging by both the clean plates and his face, they rocked.

  • ‘Just a veggie burger’ mini-burger. If you know anything about my food preferences, you know I do not do onions. This burger had what I think were carmelised onions and I ate them all. I LOVED them. A little tiny mini-veggie burger entirely for me served with fresh crisps and a little green salad with hearts of palm. Yes, please. Oh, yes.
  • The Cuban had prawns wrapped in filo dough and fried with perhaps the best description of all time, aubergine and ‘black magic fuckery’ tomato  sauces. He was scraping his slate plate.
  • For my final course to this meal-I-never-wanted-to-end, I had a filo pastry base topped with Morrocan spiced vegetables and tgenerous slices of fresh cheese, which resembled an incredible combination of parmesan or manchego (perhaps an aged manchego?). Honestly, this was unreal.
  • The Cuban’s last course was salmon over potatoes, which sounds rather plan but was anything but. In TC’s words, ‘Wow. Just wow’.

As if this wasn’t enough, we still had dessert to conquer. A divine date and almond biscuit topped with a lime sorbet and covered in an avocado-mint sauce. (According to The Cuban, this dish beats my brownies, which, okay, stings but I admit defeat. Because chef is a bloody genius!)

This. Meal. Honestly. We were happily stuffed when we left, but not to the point of feeling sick. The Vintage 8 tasting menu is a steal, and provides so much seriously delicious food that we honestly can’t wait to return. And, when we return, I’m taking the proper camera. And, a healthy appetite. I intend to work my way through whatever chef puts in front of me.

Should you ever find yourself in Torremolinos, Spain, or anywhere near here, go to Vintage 8. You will not regret it.

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On Anthony Bourdain

Finding Anthony Bourdain was a complete accident. Flipping through channels in Moscow on a completely ordinary day, I stumbled across this weird dude on a military boat saying, ‘Not how we expected this show to end, huh?’.

Anthony Bourdain in Beirut, 2006 from Andrew MacGregor Marshall on Vimeo.

That dude was Tony and he was filming an episode of No Reservations in Beirut. The problem was all hell broke lose on his first day of filming and he, his crew and many others were trapped in a hotel until they could get out of the country safely. He, the star, seemed more concerned about his crew, the other hotel guests (particularly the kids) and the hotel staff, as well as all those beyond the hotel living in hell on earth. He cooked for his crew as stress relief, and mostly he showed such a rare degree of honest compassion for everyone else in that episode that he was just … some dude who happened to have this really cool gig, talking about food and eating it on camera. In a war zone.

I was hooked.

I watched him through the last episode of No Reservations. I mourned the closing of El Bulli with Tony.  I have watched almost all of Parts Unknown faithfully, although I am a bit behind.

I love his perspective on food, his commentaries on the cultures in which he finds himself and his interactions with the people he meets as he eats and pontificates across the globe. He makes the different seem not so bad. And, not quite so foreign.

When he traveled to Cuba in 2011, I was equally thrilled and horrified. My biggest fear was ‘which’ Cuba he would see; which Cuba would he show his legions of followers from the couch. But, before that show aired, he wrote the following:

It’s easy, I know, to over-romanticize the unspoiled. Especially when “unspoiled” means “poor”. But look. Look.

Whatever your politics, however you feel about Cuba–look at tonight’s show and admit, at least, that Havana is beautiful. It is the most beautiful city of Latin America or the Caribbean. Look at the Cuban people and admit that they are proud and big hearted and funny and kind–and strong as hell, having put up with every variety of bullshit over the years. On these things, I hope we can agree.

That episode made me weep for the country which has embraced me and which also breaks my heart just a little every time I think of her and her amazing people. He got it. And, better yet, he showed it to everyone else.

He showed so many parts of this crazy world to us all, and showed us the unpolished, unvarnished, unsanitised versions. Because that’s life. For all of us. Regardless of the perfect images we personally choose show to and share with the world.

‘Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.’
Anthony Bourdain (No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach

This past year, he’s also been a rather vocal ally to women, supporting #metoo, understanding the inherent irony of a chef from an incredibly chauvinistic and misogynistic profession giving voice to acts of misogyny and sexism. But, you know, having that ultimate dude as an advocate for women calling out powerful men meant something.

All of it did. It does.

Now, in a world in which we won’t have his wit, his curiosity, his insatiable appetite for all of the food, his uncanny skill with words and their descriptive beauty and power … I’m simply heartbroken.

Thank you, Tony. You gave us too much. And, forgive me, but I really, really, really want to punch you right now.

If you feel at all at the end of tether, before you do anything, please call / reach out to me. Reach out to someone. Anyone.

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org. Take a moment and know that you are loved.

Chicharritas a la Frida

If, like me, you crave all things fried, allow me to introduce you to the divine deliciousness that are chicharritas.

Frida, the third generation from my favourite cooks in Cuba and, fortunate for me, one amongst my tribe through marriage, introduced me to these little delights on our most recent journey to that enigmatic island. What are chicharritas, you ask? The most divine junk food on the planet, if you ask me.

Chicharritas are very green plantain chips. They are also nothing like tostones, another sinful treat from Cuba, common throughout most of Latin America which also relies on green plantains. Think potato chip, but with infinitely more flavour and lighter than air.

So, after my first taste of these lovely little bits of goodness, I decided to record the process. Whilst Frida cooked, I took notes (and pics and videos). And, I ate and ate and ate. Chicharritas are like any other chip — there is no having just one; you must eat many!

Here’s the process:

Start with very green plantains

Start with very green plantains

Take your green plantains and peel them. The smaller or larger varieties may be used; if you can’t find plantains, you can use very green bananas, but the flavour will vary quite a bit. Soak the peeled plantains in water, which you can season with lime juice and/or salt.

Peel plantains and place in a water bath to prevent browning. (Note: Cooking is made more interesting when accompanied by mojitos. Thanks, Alain!)

Peel plantains and place in a water bath to prevent browning. (Note: Cooking is made more interesting when accompanied by mojitos. Thanks, Alain!)

Heat a half-filled small saucepan of oil. The pan doesn’t need to be too deep, but should be deep enough to allow a bunch of chips to fry at once. Because Frida was using the smaller variety plantains, you’ll most likely slice about 10 cm of plantain at a time. Use any oil you like except olive oil. I’d recommend peanut or any oil with a high smoking temperature. Frida used canola oil. So, if you’re aiming for authenticity, use that. You’ll want the oil to be very hot. Not smoking, but heated to a very high temperature.

Take one plantain from the water bath, and pat it dry. Using a mandolin, slice the plantains very thinly directly into the oil. Here’s where Frida’s skills really shine. Personally, I’ve never been comfortable using a mandolin, but she has inspired me to improve my technique (and overcome my fear). If you are using the larger plantains, only slice about 5-10 cm of the plantain at once.

 

Note: if you don’t have a mandolin and are using a knife, the individual pieces are likely to stick to one another. Thus, perhaps like me, be inspired and aim to perfect Frida’s masterful technique. There’s no time like the present.

Fry the slices until they are golden. Stir them a bit as they fry to keep them from sticking to one another. You’ll need to keep careful watch over your chips. Be careful not to let them go too long — in the ultimate cooking sacrifice, we watched an entire pan go from lovely and golden to black very quickly. Beware!

Once fried to a crispy, golden colour, drain on a paper towel

Once fried to a crispy, golden colour, drain on a paper towel

Once golden and lovely, remove from the pan, drain them on a bit of paper, and serve whilst hot. You’ll want to let them cool for at least a minute before devouring them. But, they’re best eaten warm. If you like, you can season them with a little extra sea salt. If you happen to be cooking them for your dining companions, be sure to set a few aside for yourself. There won’t be any left for you otherwise!

Devour. Seriously, if anyone is capable of eating just one or two, I'd like to meet them.

Devour. Seriously, if anyone is capable of eating just one or two, I’d like to meet them.

¡Buen provecho!

Days 42 & 43: Proekt 365 (No complaints here)

Day 42: Proekt 365 Good thing the deadline was yesterday....I have no complaints!

Day 42: Proekt 365
Good thing the deadline was yesterday….I have no complaints!

I spied this sign yesterday at my new favourite lunch spot–Roslund. I can’t imagine that they’d have any complaints at all because the food is fabulous.

But, this sign also resonated with me for other unrelated reasons. I’ve found that by holding off on immediately reacting to situations, things seem less dramatic, less pressing and dare I say less annoying. Even if something is troubling or a bit of a concern, mulling it over or letting it lie helps. At least that seems to be the trend as of late.

Plus, given that I had several large and looming deadlines this past Monday, I loved the whole ‘deadline’ synergy.

Day 43: Proekt 365 A bit of pastrami and an (unreal) taste of home

Day 43: Proekt 365
A bit of pastrami and an (unreal) taste of home

Today brought another little bit of simple pleasure to my world.

A friend of mine who lives in Pennsylvania has been torturing me the last several months with pictures of mouth-watering mounds of pastrami. Not intentionally torturing me, but… each photo reminded me of just how much I love pastrami. Pastrami. I miss pastrami. Desperately.

Yesterday, I finally found proper pastrami at a butcher shop. (Insert the ‘I scored’ dance here!) It wasn’t cheap, but it also wasn’t prohibitively expensive and I didn’t have to figure out how to make it myself. (One day, I will. But, not now.) An added bonus—the butcher sliced it incredibly thin, so it’s perfect for sandwiches. (Seriously, if you can’t find me elsewhere, chances are I am camped out at Roslund’s.)

For lunch today, I made myself a sandwich. Just a simple little sandwich. And, I swear, I nearly cried it made me so happy. There is nothing quite like a big deli sandwich in my book. Today’s may not have been quite the same height as a pastrami on rye from one of my favourite haunts in New England, complete with fresh rye bread, fresh and not swimming-in-sauce cole slaw, crispy fries and deli pickles. But, oh… pastrami. How I love thee.

Nope. Not a complaint in sight. Regardless of the deadline for their submission, I have no complaints at all.

Day 41: Proekt 365 (The joy of cooking)

Day 41: Proekt 365 The joy of cooking

Day 41: Proekt 365
The joy of cooking

My current copy of The Joy of Cooking is tattered and looking a little less than pristine. But, those are only marks of love and affection. Last night, the break from a frenetic work pace allowed me to think a little about what I wanted to cook and afforded me the time to actually put something together without worrying about time or time schedules. What a treat.

What did I make? Roasted butternut squash risotto with a kick and sauteed tiger prawns.

The prawns were easy; but, the risotto takes time and patience, neither of which I’ve had much of lately. Perhaps that’s why yesterday evening’s  preparatory process was so therapeutic.

Peel, de-seed and cube the butternut squash; mix the cubes with a little ancho chili powder and olive oil; roast until tender; and, then, purée most of the roasted butternut squash reserving a few of the roasted cubes.

It’s the process of making risotto, though, that I love. Prepare the stock (in this case vegetable). Sauté a little garlic (and whatever else you want—I added a bit of crushed red pepper for a little extra kick), brown the risotto just a touch and then ladle in the stock, stir, simmer down and repeat until you have a luxurious, shiny bit of cooked risotto. Add in your flavours and cheese of choice (in this case, ~1 c of butternut squash purée and two heaping tablespoons of soft chevre) and mix completely. Then, fold in the reserved cubes of squash, serve and enjoy.

There is always a moment during the process of cooking risotto when I panic that there either isn’t quite enough stock or that I’ve added too much liquid at one point. It invariably turns our alright, and just requires a little more patience and resolving not to panic. But, panic, I do. Every single time. Yesterday, patience won out (once the panic subsided). And, dinner was lovely.

After not really having the time or energy to spend that extra time cooking lately, yesterday’s meal was a treat, both as a way to spend an evening away from my desk and in terms of a tasty bit of sustenance.

The joy of cooking, indeed.

Day 37: Proekt 365 (Mmmm….meat)

Day 37: Proekt 365 Steak, but no potatoes

Day 37: Proekt 365
Steak, but no potatoes

Many years ago, I was a vegetarian. Not vegan, but I ate nothing with a face. It confused my family, who had previously watched as I’d happily scarf down the biggest steak on the table. But, the conditions in which most meat is produced in the US disturbed me. Still does. If it’s organic and free-range / cage-free, fine. But, for quite a few years, my diet was all about veggies and beans and nothing with a face. And, if at all possible, I’ll gladly pay more for meat that I know hasn’t come from a cow that suffered a life of misery just to provide me with a little bit of juicy protein for my dinner.

Most of the cooking I do at home these days is vegetarian, mainly because I like it, but also because my husband is not at all fond of meat. He will have fish from time to time, however, which is great. But, there are times when I crave steak. This week was one of those weeks.

A friend had mentioned a lovely steak salad dinner she made a week or so ago. I think my taste buds have been subliminally signalling that I must make this since she mentioned it. Each time I’ve been in the supermarket since then, I’d find myself staring at the meat counter and salivating. Yesterday, I finally broke down when I saw some gorgeous marbled steaks which didn’t also break the bank. Hence, today’s picture.

Big, big green mixed salad and a few additional veggies and bits of fungus all tossed with a small splash of blue cheese dressing. Topped with sliced filet of beef. Nom nom nom. I may come from the land of meat and potatoes, but this was a fine idea. Satisfied my meat munchies and didn’t leave me feeling quite so unhealthy and heavy.

Apologies to the vegetarians out there! But, I do love a good steak now and again.

Day 28: Proekt 365 (A note of adoration)

Day 28: Proekt 365 Silly notes in random places from my adoring husband

Day 28: Proekt 365
Silly notes in random places make me smile

We are fond of silliness in this home. Very fond.

One habit we formed very early in our relationship was the random placement of notes to one another in places we’d least expect to find them. These are not the ‘I’ve gone to the supermarket / work / gym / ice fishing’ type notes. They may or may not have something to do with a household chore, but normally they are just little message that we’ll ‘get’, but others would find puzzling or just plain weird. I love them. I love that he normally illustrates his notes to me.

This afternoon, as I was rooting around for some afternoon grub, I found the above note on top of the leftovers from my dinner last night. Not being a huge fan of chicken, my husband wasn’t shy at all about letting his feelings be known about this particular dinner item. Evidently when he put the container in the refrigerator last night, he was inspired to share his thoughts. Through a note.

It took me completely by surprise when I found it today. It made me giggle. And, that’s the point. A little random bit of silliness to make us smile and hopefully giggle.

(And, to remind me in case I’d forgotten that he is not a fan of chicken!)