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Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching. Whether you’re planning an elegant night out with your sweetheart or having a romantic dinner at home, tapas bring you the passion of Spain and are perfect for this special day. Tapas, can take many forms; cold dishes like patatas bravas or the Tortilla Espanola, and warm dishes like pulpo a la plancha or croquetas.

Here are some of our favorite picks for a tapas celebration in honor of Valentine’s Day and our special someone.

Piquillo Peppers stuffed with Bonito del Norte Tuna

The red color of these roasted Piquillo peppers make this dish perfect for Valentine’s Day.  Stuff these succulent, velvety red peppers with Bonito del Norte Tuna from the Cantabrian Sea. Stuffed Piquillo peppers are a perfect ambassador of Valentine’s Day.

Montaditos de Cantimpalo

The Montadito wears its heart on its sleeve. Montaditos are like little open faced sandwiches. Everything it has to offer your taste buds is right there in the open for all to see. The red color of a slice of Cantimpalo along with the white color of a slice of Montelarreina Sheep’s Milk cheese on top of a slice of crunchy bread make this version of the Montadito perfect for Valentine’s Day celebrations.

Marcona Almond Stuffed Gordal Olives

The Marcona almond is one of the finest available and this ancient nut is also one of the oldest known aphrodisiacs, arousing desire and fertility.  Stuff the beautiful, green Gordal olive with delicious Marcona almonds and you’ve got a bite sized treat. Just remember that a little aphrodisiac goes a long way.

Queso de Cabra al Horno

With a little creativity, this classic dish is perfect for Valentine’s Day. Instead of the typical round slice of creamy goat cheese, mold the cheese into a heart shape. Place the cheese in a cazuela, surround it with a pool of rich tomato sauce, then broil in the oven. The result is a molten symbol of love.

Which tapas do you think best represent Valentine’s Day?

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Javier Bardem

Javier Bardem

Congratulations to Javier Bardem! Enhorabuena! As Spaniards and providers of all that is delicious from Spain, we feel proud that Javier Bardem has been nominated for the Best Actor award for his work in the film “Biutiful”.  So this blog post is dedicated to him and his years of acting in both Spain and the United States.

While we would love to interview Javier Bardem about his favorite foods, I don’t think we’d be able to get an appointment. So instead we’ve compiled a list of our top 5 foods in honor of Javier Bardem’s Academy Award nomination and his extensive filmography. 

 

Raise the curtain please! Here is our version of Javier Bardem’s top 5 favorite foods.

  1. Croquetas de Jamon Jamon: Bardem’s acting in the dark comedy “Jamon Jamon” makes this food a must on his top 5 list. This dish, featuring Spanish cuisine’s own best supporting actor Jamon Serrano, is featured at the Bardem family restaurant La Bardemcilla in Madrid.
  2. Huevos de Oro Estrellados: Named for another of Bardem’s films “Huevos de Oro” (yes, Golden  Balls English), this dish features scrambled eggs and delicious cooking chorizo. Huevos de Oro Estrellados is also served at La Bardemcilla.
  3. Butifarra: This traditional white sausage from Catalonia honors the film “Biutiful”, set in the Catalonian city Barcelona. Will Butifarra have a cameo appearance in the movie?
  4. Montelarreina Cheese: An award winner like Javier Bardem should eat an award winning cheese like 12 month cured sheep’s milk cheese, Montelarreina, winner of many awards including the gold medal at the World Cheese Awards in 2008.
  5. Tortas de Aceite: This sweet treat must be included in honor of his even sweeter wife Penelope Cruz.

What do you think Javier Bardem’s favorite food would be?

Mahon Mania

Off the coast of Spain, in the Mediterranean, you will find Menorca, one of the Balearic Islands, and the home of Mahon cheese, named for the town of its origin. This beautiful Island has a long history of cheese making that dates all the way back to the 13th century. Today, dairy farming for the production of cheese remains key to the economy of the Island. In fact, Menorca is now a protected Unesco Biosphere zone with a mission to conserve natural beauty while supporting a sustainable economy on the island.

The Taste of Mahon

Mahon Cheese

Mahon Cheese

Enough about history, let’s talk about flavor. Mahon, a protected denomination of origin (D.O.) cheese is made from the milk of cows that are indigenous to Menorca. And whether fresh or aged, Mahon is buttery, sharp, slightly salty and has sweet and nutty aromatic notes. Mahon’s sweet and fruity but at times slightly salty taste is due in part to the sea salt content in the grasses the cows eat. Just picture those cows hanging out on the island of Menorca, enjoying the view and munching on a little grass salad seasoned with sea salt. Visually, Mahon has a unique personality as well.  The rind is generally an orange color since the rind is rubbed with butter, or oil, and paprika as the cheese ages.

Age before Beauty

Mahon cheese is sold in both semi-cured (aged at least 45 days) and cured varieties (aged at least 5 months). We love both the younger and the more mature cheeses, but these days it seems like everyone is focused on youth. So for this blog we’re going to focus on the more mature Mahon Curado.  As it ages, Mahon starts to develop small irregularly shaped holes and some granularity. These two characteristics help to give aged Mahon its personality and distinguish it from its less mature siblings.

Calzone with Mahon and Sobrasada

Calzone with Mahon and Sobrasada Photo Courtesy of directoalpaladar.com

Mahon cheese is one of the most versatile cheeses in Spain. In Spain, Mahon is often served as an appetizer, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a sprig of fresh Rosemary. Grate it over pasta, potatoes, rice or a vegetable like asparagus for an alternative to ordinary Parmesan. Served as part of a cheese selection, Mahon stands up to a big and spicy Spanish red wine.   

The opportunities are endless. How do you like Mahon?

It’s that time again. The year is drawing to a close, and it’s time to take stock of 2010. What were the best movies of 2010, our favorite songs, the most important events? Here at Solex, we’ll leave all that to the pundits and media. What we care about is authentic food from Spain. So, we’ll share with you our own list of the Solex staff’s favorite Spanish foods of 2010.

This Year’s Favorite Foods from Solex Staff

Eva: My favorite food of 2010 is Lomo Serrano from Fermin. A taste of this cured meat brings me back to the house my maternal grandparents had in a town called Cibanal on the border with Zamora and Portugal. The town of only 50 inhabitants was very close to Salamanca, home of the Iberico pig and for generations the humble people of this area have lived on cheese they  make from their own sheep’s milk and the chorizos, lomos and jamones they cure in their own homes, hung by the chimney, like Christmas stockings. The Lomo’s smoky aroma and flavor of the Spanish Dehesa countryside in winter transport me back to my childhood.

Barbara: In 2010 I found the Caramelized Olive! And it is unlike anything I’ve ever tried before. The first time I bit into one I was expecting a regular olive and was surprised by its sweetness.  Since discovering it, I have enjoyed seeing the look in someone’s eye when I introduce them to this unique olive. Plus, it goes so well with other foods, like strong cheeses or meats.

Carmen: My favorite food is Cana de Cabra, a traditional fresh goat milk cheese, served with quince paste. I love the combination of the creamy, tangy cheese with the sweetness of the quince.

Christie:  I would say that my discovery of the year is the Rosemary Panoleta.  I love the fact that this cheese is unique, not only in flavor and taste but also in the shape and size.  I love the hint of Rosemary that comes along with every bite. Yum.

Rocio: I’m in love with Ventresca. It’s cut from the belly of Bonito del Norte tuna and has a consistency like butter. I love fish but this is something on a whole new level. The first time I tasted Ventresca I thought I would never stop eating it.

Ruth: This year I have been fascinated by Extra Virgin Olive Oil with White Truffle. Truffles have always seemed special to me. It could be something about the way they are harvested, sniffed out by dogs and pigs. Or it may be their unassuming appearance, camouflaging the delicious flavor inside. But combine white truffles with extra virgin olive oil and you’ve got a fantastic, flavor-packed, extravaganza.

Miguel: I love the “Banderillas” we sell!  Named for tool used in bullfighting, they are like tiny little swords that spear a row of olives, peppers, onions and gherkins. They’re so festive and can be used as appetizers or drink garnishes. When I open up a jar of these I have an instant party.

Ignacio: Without a doubt, my 2010 find was Monte Enebro goat cheese. It’s a very delicate cheese that is produced by a small company in Avila and as a result it is sometimes hard to get. But its texture and lightly tangy flavor are totally worth it. I have a hunch that I’m not the only person who has discovered this unique cheese either since many of the chefs we serve order it regularly; they immediately see menu possibilities. Throughout the country I have seen Monte Enebro served in different ways, each one of them delicious. In Texas I had it served cold over fresh vegetables and in Indiana it was even breaded and fried. This cheese is a sure bet!

What are your favorites? We’d love to know!

Solex Holiday Memories

The holidays are a time we typically spend with our families and friends. It’s also a time of year when our Solex team members from Spain start reminiscing about their families and friends back in Spain. During our Solex holiday dinner we had a long conversation about our favorite holiday foods and Spanish traditions over a few glasses of wine. We had so much to talk about that we decided to share some of it with you via a la Plancha.

The Point of View from Ray’s Catalonian Stomach

We’ll start with Ray, our numbers guy, who is from Barcelona. Now, if you know much about Spain, you know that Barcelona is in a region called Catalonia where they have their own unique language, customs and foods. Here’s what Ray had to say about his favorite holiday foods and memories.

Escudella I Carn d’Olla

For me, the highlight of the holiday season is spending time with family and friends, and eating great food.  Unlike the rest of Spain, we don’t have our big family meal on Christmas Eve. For us, the focal point is Christmas day when we eat a traditional dish called Escudella I Carn d’Olla. In Barcelona,where I am from, Paella may be more famous and pa amb tomaquet more ubiquitous but Escudella I Carn d’Olla is truly the national dish.  It is a slow-cooked, one pot stew with meat and vegetables that is served year round in Catalonia, but on Christmas we pull out all the stops. Our Christmas version adds chicken (for Saint Peter), Pork (for Saint Anthony), beef (for Saint Luke), lamb (for Saint John) and a giant football shaped meatball called a Pilota. And don’t forget the Galets, giant shell-shaped pasta typical of Catalonia.  

Though Escudella i carn d’olla is the star of our traditional Catalan Christmas dinner, we also serve grilled prawns, jamon Iberico and cheese like Senorio de Montelarreina which is my favorite. My grandmother’s recipe for Escudella I Carn d’Olla is a closely guarded family secreted. The three wise men would give up their Frankincense and Myrrh for the recipe. But someone’s grandmother was nice enough to share hers in this video.

For me, the celebration of the St. Stephen’s day (known also as Boxing Day) on December 26th also makes Catalonia unique. The food of the day is Canelones de San Estaban, stuffed with the filling that remains from the Christmas Escudella, turkey, or capon. Step aside Italy, Catalonia’s Canelones are coming through!

Ignacio and the Twelve Grapes

New Year's Eve Grapes Courtesy of diarioinformacion.com

Another of our team members, Ignacio, is from Madrid. Here’s what he had to say about his favorite traditions of the season.

My family’s big dinner on December 24th is always the best, an opportunity to catch up with relatives I haven’t seen for a while over a great meal. Any Spaniard will tell you that the Jamon Iberico is the center of attention during any celebration, but at Christmastime, it gets a little competition from seafood, lamb, fish, and my all time favorite, capon.

New Years Eve, is also one of my favorite days of the year. In Spain, if you’re superstitious, your luck for the entire next year is determined at the stroke of midnight. How? When the clock starts to strike midnight, you must eat one grape for each strike of the clock. If you can manage to eat 12 grapes during this short period of time, you are guaranteed to have a good year. With or without the guarantee of a good year, our next stop is usually the local Churreria where we buy hot and crispy Churros or fried dough and dip them in gooey chocolate.   Haven’t planned your New Year’s Eve menu yet? Make your own Churros and chocolate using this recipe.

Jose’s Basket of Goodies

Christmas Basket

When we started to talk about holiday memories, Jose, one of our founding team members, was reminded of his childhood when negotiating about food began for him at an early age. Here is Jose’s story.

In Spain, it is customary for companies to send their employees home with Christmas baskets (which for the lucky are more like chests) filled with traditional Spanish foods each year. These holiday baskets are stuffed with typical Spanish goodies like crunchy Marcona almonds, salty white anchovies from the Cantabrian Sea, juicy olives from Granada, sweet and chewy Turron from Alicante, and of course Iberico ham which needs no introduction.  My father was no exception. Each year he would come home with what as a child seemed like a Christmas basket as big as my youngest sister.

As the oldest sibling, I took charge each year. First my three siblings and I gathered together to plot out our strategy.  With excitement reflected in our bright young eyes, we reviewed what had come in last year’s basket and what our father might bring home in this year’s. The next and most important part was negotiating to get dibs on each of our favorite items from the basket. By the time our father brought the basket home, we had claimed every last item except for the Cava, his favorite.  To this day, the sight of a holiday gift basket brings me back to the holidays of my childhood.

This is just a glimpse of what the holiday season means to us here at Solex. What are your favorite holiday traditions and memories?

Move Over Fruit Cake

After Thanksgiving in the United States, we start seeing the sweet symbols of the holiday season: candy canes, ginger bread houses, and the infamous fruit cake. In Spain, the sweet of the season is Turron, a delicacy made from the almonds the region of Valencia is known for.  There are two traditional varieties, hard Alicante Turron and soft Jijona Turron, both named after the cities in which each originated. In Spain everyone has a favorite. Some like the crunchy Alicante Turron, which has the consistency of peanut brittle and is made by roasting the fresh almonds and slow cooking them with honey and egg white. Some like the smooth and chewy Jijona  Turron, which is made by grinding an almond and honey mix into a smooth nougat-like paste.  

Once Upon a Time in Alicante

One of the beautiful things about Spain is that most traditional foods have a long and interesting history; Turron is no exception. Many stories tell the history of this sweet, but the one we like the best is all about princesses, snow, and romance.  This legend dates back to the 11t h century, when the Moors ruled Spain and is set in beautiful Alicante on the Southeastern coast of Spain.  The reigning Moorish king at the time, Emir Ali, was a pretty cosmopolitan guy. During his world travels, he met and fell in love with a beautiful Scandinavian princess named Ilda, whom he married and took back to sunny and beautiful Alicante. But the princess longed for her native Scandinavian landscape, with its snow-capped mountains.  Clearly the princess had never spent a winter in Chicago, for surely she would have been more appreciative of the weather in Valencia.  But let’s get back to our story. The king only wanted to make his princess happy, so he had the genius idea of planting thousands of almond trees around his kingdom. The following spring, the almond trees burst into bloom and the entire landscape was showered with their white petals. For that moment, even if just for an instant, Ilda felt at ease as the falling petals reminded her of her snowy home.

Let it Snow

Seeing the joy in his wife’s eyes, the emir made it his mission to prolong the happiness the almond trees provided all year long. The emir looked throughout his kingdom, and the solution was found in a small bakery in Jijona, where a local baker created a sweet confection made with the fruits of the almond tree. By crafting a sweet confection that could be enjoyed during the whole year, even Ilda could enjoy the pleasures of the spring blooms all year long. Because Turron was meant to remind us of the pleasures of the first blooms in spring, over time it came to be enjoyed as a winter tradition, when we need to be reminded of spring the most.

A Treat Fit for a King

More than a simple dessert, historically Turron was sold as a delicacy in Valencia. Turron and fig bread were served together to important visitors to the city of Alicante. This winter, why not serve Turron and fig bread, as an accompaniment to your favorite cheese plate. The nutty crunch of Alicante Turron is a nice accent for a blue cheese like Covadonga, and the smooth and honeyed flavor of Jijona Turron goes well with a semi-soft cheese like Tetilla D.O. With the variety of cheeses that Spain offers, your options are limitless.

Paella, A Valencia Tradition

Rice Fields Valencia Spain

Rice Fields in Valencia, Spain

Valencia and Rice Go Way Back!

To many people, Valencia is synonymous with rice and with Paella… and for good reason. After all, the Moors brought rice to Valencia from the Far East way back in the 8th century. Without doing the math, I can tell you that is a very long time ago!

A Rice Dish for Every Day of the Week
Rice is good and wholesome and everything, but what I really love is the transformation rice can make into something more than just the sum of its parts.  In the right hands, these humble ingredients become delicious dishes from seafood or vegetable Paella to Arroz Abanda, Arroz Negro, Fideua and more. You could eat a different rice dish each day of the week and never get tired of the stuff.

Bomba is the Bomb!

paella with wine

Paella Valenciana

Let’s take the classic Paella as an example. The best Paella is made with Bomba rice, a rice that can absorb up to three times its volume in broth.  Just imagine that mighty little grain of rice sucking in all of that rich broth and transforming itself into a tasty morsel just for you. And it still maintains its granular shape, never getting sticky like Chinese rice or mushy like Arborio rice.  Bomba rice has been bred over the centuries to be the perfect rice for Paella. What a destiny.  

What makes Paella and other rice dishes so special? It may be the low shallow pan in which the dish is cooked, allowing for slow simmering and caramelized flavor. Or it could be the Socarrat, the crispy bits that appear like magic at the bottom and along the sides of the pan. Some Valencianos believe that a perfect paella cannot be made without water from Valencia, so they take it with them wherever they go, kind of like Hindus with water from the Ganges.  

Perfect for Families, Friends and Celebrations

Paella is perfect for the coming holidays. In Spain, families and friends will gather to enjoy each other’s company and share stories over a dish of Paella. Why not start a new tradition of Paella with your family and friends this year?