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Cookbook Review: The Barcelona Cookbook

Posted Jul 02 2009 12:00am
For my last cookbook review, we traveled to Scandinavia, for this one we go to Barcelona, or rather the Barcelona Restaurant and Wine Bars in Connecticut. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Barcelona Cookbook by Sasa Mahr-Batuz and Andy Pforzheimer recently to review. I have never been to their restaurants, but if the food is as good as what I cooked at home using their cookbook, I would happily eat there any time. The Barcelona Cookbook is a beautiful book, with it's dark brown binding and gorgeous photographs of the restaurant, the food, and the ingredients of Spain. Mahr-Batuz and Pforzheimer became business partners and started Barcelona together, choosing the name to encompass both an authentic tapas experience while also featuring a wide variety of Mediterranean food and wine. Barcelona, Spain is considered to be a "cosmopolitan" city that reflects that global outlook. They now have five restaurants and will be opening a sixth, so they must be doing something right.

My perfect restaurant experience is enjoying lots of small plates and tastes of food like tapas, and I was happy to find a good portion of the 115 recipes in the book are for hot and cold tapas. There are also sections on and recipes for cocktails, main dishes, and party foods  and desserts. There are menu planning tips and menus for tapas parties and "assados" (the Argentine tradition of an outdoor cookout with an amazing variety of food). Also included is information on Spanish wine and ingredients like olive oil, cheeses and cured meats and a list of sources for these items. Although there are many Spanish recipes of course, like the Barcelona restaurants themselves, the cookbook also takes inspiration from various cultures and features recipes with global flavors.

But let's get to the good stuff--the recipes I made. I tabbed about 1/4 of the book because it all looked so good, then went back through and narrowed it down, ending up with 8 dishes to make for this review. The beauty of tapas is that you can make them relatively easily and in small quantities so I armed myself with plenty of Spanish olive oil, wine, thyme, dried chili pepper and good bread and escaped for a bit to Barcelona. 

First up, I had to try a Sangria of course, and since the weather has been so warm the White Sangria sounded perfect. With it's crisp white wine, peach schnapps, apricot brandy and peach nectar it was crisp, fruity, sweet and refreshing, and infinitely too easy to drink. I could get into trouble with this one and with some of the yummy-sounding cocktails that I tabbed to try later on.

I took the Goat Cheese with Mojo Verde to a tapas party and it was a big hit. It is easy to prepare, mixing goat cheese, cream cheese and herbs and rolling it into logs and allowing them to set up. Later they are sliced and topped with a fresh green mojo verde of bell pepper, onions, cilantro and jalapeno. The creamy herby cheese is a great contrast with the mojo verde and with some grilled bread it is delicious. You can find the recipe here.

I know sardines are one of those "love em or hate em foods" for people. For me they bring up good memories of eating them on crackers with my Dad and are even now a occasional quick dinner for me when I don't want to cook. The Mashed Sardines from th book are simple and with the red onion, lemon juice and zest and parsley, they are much more flavorful than just eating them out of the can. 

Sometimes tapas are very simple, like this small plate of Heirloom Tomato Salad that I enjoyed with some shrimp or "gambas" for a easy supper. Just the fresh, local heirloom tomatoes, chives and basil, drizzled with Spanish olive oil and aged balsamic and then just a bit of coarse sea salt sprinkled on top right before serving. Perfect!

The Gambas al Ajillo (or Shrimp with Garlic), were probably my favorite dish I tried and I am still thinking about them. The book says it was the restaurant's first tapas and has stayed on the menu ever since. The shrimp and garlic are seared, golden sherry is added to the pan with pepper flakes and thyme and the shrimp is cooked through and removed. Then the sauce is reduced until nice and sticky, and butter added. The shrimp is then tossed back into the glaze and served (preferably with some grilled bread). The combination of flavors comes together wonderfully in this one--it is addicting and one that I will make again and again. 

Although I struggled with finding some good Spanish chorizo sausage (what happened Whole Foods?!), I had already purchased my clams and really wanted to make the Almejas con Chorizo. I love clams with a great broth but confess for some reason I have never cooked them myself at home. This was an easy and delicious recipe and even though my chorizo crumbled rather than sliced, the flavors were incredible. With the clams, garlic, white wine and thyme, it was spicy and delicious--perfect for dipping soft crusty bread in. I will be making this one again too--and staying on the alert for good chorizo. 

I did try one main course dish--although I have many more marked to try. The Peruvian Steak Salad, (which got its name when the chef first made it with purple potatoes, then kept the name anyway when the potatoes were out of season), seemed like a nice, cool choice for the hotter, muggy weather we have been having. I liked the combination of crispy vegetables; red bell pepper, green poblano, jicama, red onion, cucumber and tomato with the warm, seared skirt steak, over the romaine with the sweet, slightly spicy dressing. A great hearty but not heavy, lunch or dinner.

Finally dessert, I tried the Chocolate Indulgence (who could resist the name?!), which had me when I saw Nutella listed as one of the ingredients. This is a warm, molten, flourless chocolate cake and is rich and as indulgent as the name says. It is supposed to be served with a raspberry puree, but alas I only had frozen blueberries. Although not as bright and pretty, the blueberry-chocolate combination was great. If you like decadent chocolate desserts, this one is for you.

So that's it, 8 recipes and I honestly liked all of them. It was a pleasure to review this book and it will have a prime spot in my cookbook collection. I will be working my way through more of the recipes in this book--after all, I still have over 1/2 a bottle of Spanish olive oil to use up! Because the tapas and the other recipes in the book are fairly simple to make and so versatile, it is possible to make a lot of them for a party or just a couple for an easy, casual dinner. This is a fun book for anyone who likes to entertain, loves fresh global flavors and wants to get out of their current appetizer rut and try something new. It would be a great gift along with some good Spanish wine or olive oil. 
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