Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Barcelona January 2016

Catalan facade

Barcelona at the end of January?  A bit of a risk we thought.  But if we were thinking that maybe other people were too, which meant it could be the perfect time to go.  And so it proved.  Four days of blue skies, warm sun and few tourists.  Bliss.  I've written about Barcelona more than once so rather than repeat myself too much, I've put a couple of links at the bottom of this post.  You may want to get to Barcelona 'rĂ pid', so here's a speedy roundup for you.

Nomad Coffee (Lab)

First up coffee (and food), which has  changed so much in Barcelona over the past couple of years.  Onna Coffee was on our radar on previous visits but we'd never actually sampled it at it's previous home in Poble Nou.  Bags dropped at the hotel, we headed to C/ de Santa Teresa 1, just above Passeo de Gracia where they have now put down roots specialising in roasting and serving Costa Rican coffees.  It's a great place to start and grab a little something to eat too.  The Polenta, honey and rosemary cake was very good.
Satan's Coffee Corner proved as good and welcoming as ever.  On previous visits it's been hellish to find in the maze of narrow Barri Gotic streets but this time instinct took over and we wondered why we'd ever had problems.  The coffee is really good and the simple Asian-influenced food is freshly made, beautifully served and delicious.
But, as ever over the past couple of years, the one we returned to again and again on this visit was Nomad Coffee.  There is so much to love about their 'Lab' on Pasatge de Sert 12, and I've expressed my own before.  Set in a peaceful, dreamy passageway in El Born, it's a space I feel very much at home in.  They now also have a beautiful, understated 'Roaster's Home' at Carrer Pujades 95 in Poble Nou.

Lunch at Satan's Coffee Corner

For more on coffee in Barcelona, and beyond, I recommend 

Pescaditos at La Plata

Next up Food and Drink.  Bar Zim is a tiny, perfect little bar at Carrer Dagueria 20 in Barri Gotic serving just a few good wines with small plates of Sobrasada-smothered toasted bread and plates of excellent Spanish cheeses from Formatgeria la Seu a couple of doors down.  Very simple and just perfect, I think.
Quimet y Quimet opened in 1913  and a 'must' for any Barcelona visit
Bar la Plata is a tiny placed tucked away behind Passeig de Colom at the bottom of the Barri Gotic.  Another very simple set-up offering wines and beers along with very good fried Pescaditos and Pan con Tomate with anchovies.
Can Paixano proved to be a good pit-stop for a glass or two of decent, well-priced Cava.  The food came recommended but maybe it was a little early for us as we just weren't hungry enough to eat here.  A good place to get a speedy breakfast, I'm told.
We didn't go to Bar Brutal/Can Cisa at El Born's Princesa 14 on this visit but it's a good place to head if you're looking for natural wines.  Just round the corner is L'Anima del Vi serving good, well priced, natural wines and bought-in quality canned fish, pates and rillettes - I just wish you didn't have to bring your own atmosphere.
MONVINIC is often on our schedule for its excellent, and huge, wine list and great value Menu del Dia.  I've got to say the food wasn't quite up to par on this visit.

Two places I definitely want to check out next time: La Cova Fumada and El Vaso de Oro, both are in Barceloneta.

Pescaditos at Mercat Barceloneta 

There are some 40 Food Markets in Barcelona and I'm gradually working my way around them.  There's the best known, Boqueria Market, of course, which for history and atmosphere is a must - at least once.  New ones explored on this trip were the Abaceria Central in Gracia which started life serving a close-knit working class community; Mercat Poble Nou serving a mixed neighbourhood of long-time residents and incomers to this up and coming area; Mercat Barceloneta was the liveliest of the three.  And markets I always love to check out are Mercat de la Llibertat in Gracia and Mercat Santa Caterina in El Born.

Almond pastries at Pasteleria Hofmann

Food Shops I recommend include Pasteleria Hofmann at Carrer des Flassaders 44 in El Born which never lets me down.  Buying an almond pastry and wandering over to the nearby Parc de la Ciutadella to eat it is one of life's great pleasures. The Kouign Amann and lemon cake (which came back to London with us) are also some of the best ever.
Casa Vives at Rambla de Catalunya 58 (and Carrer de Sants 74) is still my favourite traditional style pasteleria in Barcelona for cakes, chocolates, delicious Empanadas and light as air Bunyols (Lenten doughnuts).
Baluard Bakery is a much-lauded bakery opposite Mercat Barceloneta.  The bread looked great but time was running out for us and we weren't able to sample any of the bakes.  One to revisit when we have more time perhaps.  Baluard also have the bakery at Praktik Hotel at Calle Provenca 279.

Antoni Gaudi's Casa Battlo

There are so many 'Sights' to be seen in Barcelona but Gaudi never fails to appeal and soon there will be another Gaudi building to enjoy.  The scaffolding is up at Casa VicensCarrer de les Carolines 24 (Metro: Fantana).  Until recently in private hands, there are plans to open Casa Vicens to the public in 2016 but our visit suggested it might be rather later.

Silver Birch in Parc de la Ciutadella

You might also want to read:

Barcelona Spring 2015

Barcelona Spring 2012

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb!

Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb

When I started 'big' school, the maths teacher was less than impressed with my homework.  He would show his despair at my inability to grasp calculus by writing 'rhubarb', with a furious flourish, across my pages of painfully reached conclusions.  What he meant, of course, was that my work was nonsense, rubbish, worthless stuff.  This slang use of the name of one of my favourite fruits/vegetables (discuss) presumably dates back to the 16th century when rhubarb was grown in the UK, not for its eating possibilities, but, as a purgative.  The increasing appetite for bitter coffee led to  affordable sugar in the 1700s and opened British eyes to eating rhubarb for pleasure rather than purging.  By the early 19th century we had learned, by accident, how to manipulate rhubarb's growth to produce a very different food from the thick-stemmed, pink/green shafts topped by exuberant, non-edible, leaves that grew in our gardens.  I've written about this before so go to Rhubarb Triangle if you want to read more.

Why am I returning to the subject of rhubarb?  Because of seasonality, each year in early January slim stems of soft-pink through to ruby-red 'forced' rhubarb stems briefly appear at market.  And this year photographer Martin Parr has a perfectly timed exhibition at The Hepworth Wakefield gallery, part of which focuses on 'The Rhubarb Triangle'.

If ''Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb' is familiar to you it's likely to be for those, supermarket, small pink, plastic-wrapped, decapitated  bundles or, if you're lucky, glowing sticks laid out, untrimmed, on the shelves of your greengrocer's shop.  Martin Parr's 'The Rhubarb Triangle' project digs beyond the beauty of the candle-lit harvesting of the crop and its consumption.  When I posted a snap of what I was seeing at the exhibition, someone commented "It looks like a horror movie."  Parr's project captures the dirty, cold, labour-intensive work of moving the plants from field to shed, its back-breaking nature clearly etched on the faces of the workers in this triangle of West Yorkshire land between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell.  It's an exhibition well worth seeing, along with the fantastic permanent collection of Barbara Hepworth's work and that of her contemporaries.

Image taken by me at The Hepworth Wakefield
The Rhubarb Triangle Exhibition by Martin Parr

On my visit, a detour into Wakefield market yielded no rhubarb and in Leeds market only a few sticks of the local speciality.  I hope this means that local people buy direct from the growers thereby getting the very freshest produce.

I'll happily use my allotment-grown rhubarb in various ways - crumbles, cakes, muffins and jams - but for me, by far the best way to enjoy 'forced rhubarb' is simply, and gently poached.  The addition of one of the following before poaching is good - a vanilla pod; a little preserved ginger; orange zest and/or juice; or a single clove.  Best of all, I think, is to add a teaspoon or two of rosewater just before serving.  Forced rhubarb is expensive - think of all that hard graft - particularly this winter when the necessary frosts have been few and far between.  But it is special and poaching it will give you a pot to keep in the fridge to be eaten by the spoonful, with yogurt or cream perhaps.  Here's how I like to poach my forced rhubarb, along with a great recipe for Hazelnut Shortbread from The Kitchen Revolution by Rosie Sykes, Polly Russell and Zoe Heron.  These biscuits add an accompanying buttery crunch.

Poached Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb
with Hazelnut Shortbread (and a dab of cream)

Poached Rhubarb

1 kg (36oz) pink forced rhubarb
175-200g (6-7oz)  caster sugar
Just before serving - add a teaspoon of rosewater to each serving

Preheat the oven to 160C (140C fan).  
Wash and top and tail the rhubarb.  Cut into 1 inch/2cm lengths.  Place in an ovenproof dish.
Sprinkle with the sugar (if you opt to use a flavouring other than rosewater - see above - now is the time to add it).  Cover with a cap of greaseproof paper and cook for 30 minutes.  If your spears are thin ones they should be soft but still holding their shape.  If they are thicker then give the dish a very gently stir, replace the paper cap and cook for a further 10-15 minutes.  
Remove from oven and leave to cool a little.  Using a slotted spoon, gently place the rhubarb in a bowl (if you have used a clove, remove it now).  
Pour the juice into a small heavy-based pan, bring it to the boil then simmer until the juice is reduced by half.  
Cool and stir the thickened juice gently into the fruit.  The compote will keep, covered, in the fridge for up to a week.

Hazelnut Shortbread
(makes 30-40 small biscuits)

125g (4½oz) softened unsalted butter (plus extra for greasing)
50g (2oz) caster sugar
100g (3½oz) skinned, toasted hazelnuts
150g (5½oz) plain flour
pinch of salt
A little caster sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 160C (140C fan).
Grease a baking tin, approx 26 x 16 x 2cm, with butter.  Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Pulse the hazelnuts in a food processor (or bash them in a tea towel) into small pieces and add them to the butter and sugar mixture.
Fold in the flour and salt to form a light crumbly mix.
Press the dough evenly into the greased tin and score into fingers without cutting all the way through.
Bake for 25-30 minutes.
Remove, dust lightly with caster sugar and allow it to cool a little before breaking the shortbread into fingers along the score lines.

For the biscuits in the photograph above, I rolled the dough into a cylinder (handling it as little as possible), chilled it, then cut coins of dough to place on two greased baking trays and baked the biscuits for about 20 minutes.

My maths may not have improved much but I do know that rhubarb is very far from being worthless stuff, particularly when it's Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb.