Archives for posts with tag: Sweets

This last week, Julia and I were blessed with the best kind of busyness that visits from friends bring.

First, my bubbly, eternally optimistic and adorable friend since the 4th grade, Lindsey, flew in for a couple of days before continuing on to see her sister who is studying abroad in Rome. Her trip could aptly be described with the word “whirlwind.” We fit in a lot in the few days she was here as she admirably adapted to the time change while sight-seeing, tapas hopping and dodging rain drops.

Lindsey enjoying the audio guide and scrutinizing the bricks in the Alcázar, to determine if they were originally carved or molded.

I’ve found that I have not become tired of visiting the sights in Sevilla yet. They seem to take on fresh aspects through each person’s eyes with whom I share them. For instance, Lindsey is currently a Museum Studies grad student. Her thoughtful observations and scrutiny of detail deepened my historical appreciation for familiar sights such as the Alcázar, Cathedral and Plaza de España. She also fell in love with the tile that is abundant in the architecture here. On her last day, we went on a quest for keepsake tiles that she could take home, and she ended up with two tiles from the 1820s that we found in an antiques shop! Now I can’t stop noticing the beautiful tile everywhere I go.

Lindsey’s love affair with tile began in the Alcázar

We discovered a Labyrinth in the Alcázar gardens during Lindsey’s visit. I’ve been to the Alcázar close to 10 times, and had never noticed it before. It was a true challenge to find our way out of the maze!

The day after Lindsey departed for Italy, Julia’s and I’s warm and kind-hearted college roommate, Lauren, flew in from Ghana. She was there on a spring break trip with her Occupational Therapy graduate studies program at USC. She came to us exhausted but entirely enthusiastic about seeing our adopted home city. We toured her around the usual suspects (Alcázar, Cathedral, Plaza de España…) but found a unique way to see María Luísa park, the gardens where the Plaza de España is located. We rented a three-person bicycle and pedaled our hearts out for 30 minutes! I would recommend the experience, especially to travelers weary of walking tours. Another alternative would be row-boating in the Plaza de España, which I wrote about here.

We braved the Labyrinth once more with Lauren.

Our three-seater bike’s dashboard, with map and bell

Of course, Julia and I did our due diligence in sharing the city’s culinary gems we’ve discovered with our visitors. Here are some pictures from some of our sweet times…

It’s beginning to look a lot like spring in Sevilla, which means that ice cream season is upon us! Rayas Helados is a newer discovery for Julia and I, but is currently my vote for best in the city

Chicken with Roquefort sauce and potatoes at Café Levíes (I’ve neglected to write about this place before, but it is one of our go-to places). This is a tapas portion, which costs about 3 euros. It’s a good example of how cheap going out to eat in Spain can be, without sacrificing quality!

These little squares, called Torrijas de Miel, taste like cold French toast dipped in honey. They are a traditional Lenten sweet. We bought these from the bakery Los Angelitos, which I’ve written about before here.

I’ve praised the Spanish tortilla with garlic mayo and the piripis (below) at Bodeguita Antonio Romero before here and here, but I thought Lauren’s pictures of these dishes captured them well.

Piripis from Bodeguita Antonio Romero

I’ve also written about chocolate y churros before when we had them in Granada, here. Julia and I have happily discovered the churro stand on the Arenal side of the Triana bridge in Sevilla. It is open 8pm-8am on the weekends, making it a perfect late-night dance fuel or sugary finish to a Triana neighborhood tapas tour. The chocolate is balanced between too thick and too thin, and the churros, in their greasy glory, stand up well to the chocolate in their complementary role.

Chocolate with its trusty sidekick, churros!

A full week of hosting these fun friends left us with many great memories, new experiences in this amazing city and disbelief that their visits are over already!

We had an interesting finish to the week on Saturday night. Having sent Lauren off on her journey back to the States on Friday, we were having a tranquil night in on Saturday when we heard a commotion outside our window. Thinking it was probably a protest or parade on the main avenue a block from our house, which occur frequently, we were surprised to see this from our balcony…

Wow! It seems that during Lent we will get a glimpse of what Semana Santa at the end of April will look like!

Besos,

Jenna

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In honor of Valentine’s Day this past Monday (read: using Valentine’s Day as a pretense to rope together these yummy pictures), here is a review of chocolate stand-outs from my teach abroad time so far:

Best Excuse to Eat Chocolate for Breakfast: Pain au chocolat at Jean Millet in Paris

Most quirky table companions: Chocolate cream pie among garden gnomes at Cafe Gartenzwerg in Lagos, Portugal

Finest reason to eat pinkies- up: Hot chocolate at Angelinas in Paris, France

Best justification to eat chocolate at the holidays: The fleeting chocolate montecado at Filella Bakery in Sevilla, Spain


Quickest way to a sugar rush (and subsequent stomach ache): Chocolate y Churros at Cafe Bib Ramblas in Granada, Spain

Cheapest taste of luxury: Chocolate Tart at Hotel Alfonso XIII in Sevilla, Spain- I highly recommend checking this place out if you visit Sevilla. The hotel is in a gorgeous building built between 1916 and 1928. Having a drink and dessert on their patio for a refresher between exploring the city is an experience in luxury.

Valentine’s Day is celebrated here in Spain, though not with the same fervor as in the U.S. My school had flower grams available to be sent and received during the school day, and many bakeries around town offered little heart-shaped cakes for the occasion. Upon questioning, however, most of the teachers did not have special plans with their significant other that day, and its commercial presence in stores was minimal.

Julia and I added to the above list of chocolate-y moment memories by indulging in these on Monday…

The elegant-looking ones are from Los Angelitos bakery (the same bakery as my birthday cake). They are made up of a white chocolate slab layered over milk chocolate flecked with chopped hazelnuts. The less handsome but equally scrumptious chocolate was made by Helen, the British language assistant at my school. She calls it Tiffin Cake, which tastes to me like fudge studded with candied fruit and digestive cookies. It is really quite good! I’m hoping to get the recipe, which perhaps I can share with you all!

Thank you for bearing with my chocolate-centric nostalgia:-)

Besos,

Jenna

 

 

In your group of friends, I’m betting there is a particular month out of all 12 when it seems that all of your friends, their friends and their friend’s great-aunt’s cousin was born. I’ve heard for some, that it is October, for others, that it is August- for me, it is February. And in the midst of the birthday month madness, yours truly celebrated a birthday last weekend. It was a birthday of firsts for me: my first outside of the States, and my first when I was obliged to go to work. Luckily, ensuing weekend celebrations prevented any lasting trauma from the early morning and long commute on the day of.

Julia, being a birthday traditionalist, bought me a chocolate cake. I became a little obsessive with documenting the candle-lighting ceremony, which resulted in the birthday cake photo shoot below. If models and celebrities get this kind of treatment, why not beautifully voluptuous chocolate cake as well?

Setting the scene

Starting the flame

Almost there…

All a-blaze!!!

The cake is from a super petite bakery called Los Angelitos (Little Angels) located in the center of Sevilla, whose window displays are ever tantalizing. The shop-owner sold Julia on this cake with two words: “pure chocolate.” On this point, we admitted ourselves disappointed. The cake consisted of a genoise/sponge-like cake paired with a light mousse. You can see its insides below…

A cross-section of the cake

This made for a delicate cake that imparted more of a suggestion of chocolate, which may have been sufficient for milk chocolate lovers, but for hard-core dark chocolate users, it was a tease. The rich ganache coating was closer to what we were after. This scruple aside, it was a wonderfully yummy cake. I particularly loved the little white and milk chocolate striped “fan” decorations, which conjured up thoughts of flamenco. Reared on American diets of rich gooey brownies, fudgy cookies and dizzying sundae toppings, I imagine our scale of chocolatey-ness differs substantially from a Spaniards.

El fin!

A sweet way to start the new year!

Besos,

Jenna



Imagine: Chex Mix cereal coated with melted butter, chocolate, and peanut butter and then liberally coated in powdered sugar. Sound good? This is what we called Muddy Buddies in college. They’re the perfect study session/road trip/party snack food. And, as a cultural ambassador, the perfect way to introduce peanut butter to Spaniards. Though it’s hard to imagine, peanut butter is not at all popular here. In fact, several of the people we’ve met have never tried it before, and those who have consider peanut butter and jelly an unthinkably bizarre combination. They’re astonished to discover that most American kids were reared on a steady diet of the stuff.

A batch of Muddy Buddies

Without an oven, it also places among the limited repertoire of sweets that we can make here at the Dos Jotas Mesón. Julia and I mixed up a large batch back in November and brought Tupper-wares full to our school. In the English department, the teachers could be heard puzzling over the mysterious ingredient (peanut butter!) and asking for the recipe, translated into Spanish. Some even declared they were going to serve it at their Christmas parties.

Mixing up some holiday fudge

In December, Julia and made fudge as an encore to the Muddy Buddies. When I was spotted with the tell-tale Tupper-ware, cries of “Are you trying to make us fat?” “Are you trying to make us break our diets?” were elicited as the little squares of chocolate and walnuts rapidly disappeared.

Following in step with the preceding months, we heralded January with some Buckeyes, a candy-like sweet popular at Ohio State tailgates and that is made up of little clusters of peanut butter, butter and powdered sugar coated with chocolate. They are supposed to resemble their namesake nut, but ours have none of this aesthetic value (though in taste I like to think they’re an even match). These we gave to our neighbors and visitors to our apartment (and enjoyed ourselves!).

Our not-so-beautiful but oh-so-delicious Buckeyes

What will February bring? It is the month of chocolate after all, with Valentines Day about 3 weeks away. Without classic cookies, cakes or pies to fall back on, we’ll have to continue to mine the American recipe box for no-bake treats!

Besos,

Jenna

PS: In case you’re in a DIY (or chocolate or peanut butter) mood, the recipe we used for the Muddy Buddies is at…

http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/chex-muddy-buddies/92e4756c-abc1-452a-9b2c-dd124d858050

and the recipe for Buckeyes at…

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Peanut-Butter-Buckeyes-243225

What about the fudge? Well, we used a secret family recipe from Julia’s family, so you’re on your own for that one!

PPS: If you have any favorite sweets that can be made without an oven, let me know!

Saying good-bye to Christmas can be a sad thing. To me, the sight of a Christmas tree tossed in the street, forlornly awaiting the garbage pick-up, is one of the most depressing sights to be found in suburbia. As the lights come down and cities return to their ho-hum humdrum, it’s so easy to become nostalgic for the holidays. And in Spain, there is one more dark side effect to the passing of the Christmas season- the montecado, a glorious repository of sweetness, ceases to be sold in stores.

A chocolate montecado

Montecados are essentially a kind of cookie, made up of super finely-ground almonds, flour and sugar (of course!) and butter or lard. Montecaods have been delighting Spanish palates since the 16th century! Since then, many varieties have developed, so in addition to the traditional cinnamon or sesame flavors, there are also lemon, chocolate, coconut, or hazelnut montecados. Also, over time they have become tightly associated with the celebration of Christmas- unfortunately for those of us prospective year-round consumers!

An assortment of montecados from our fave bakery, Filella

Polvorones are a type of montecado, sharing the same seasonal fate as the montecados. According to Wikipedia, polvorones have a different quantity of ground almonds than montecados, and are supposed to have a distinctive shape as well, supposedly more oval and elongated. However, we found them to be practically indistinguishable. Shopkeepers seemed to share the confusion, as we would often ask for one, and they would give us the other.

A polvorón

Also according to Wikipedia, montecados and polvorones can be found year-round in stores. This may be true. Perhaps, in the larger bakery operations and American-esque grocery stores, we could find boxes of our beloved cookies. But none can compare to the ones distributed by our little near-by corner bakery, which instantly crumbled upon touch (the “polvo” in “polvorones” translates as “dust”), and elicited audible sounds of satisfaction, as everyone “mmmmmed” and “yummmed” there way through their cookie, only to be left with a desire for more and an instant sugar high.

A torta de polvorón; tastes like a polvorón, but in more traditional American cookie shape

Today was the day we found out the little bakery had stopped montecado production. It also happens to the be the one-month anniversary since Christmas. Though this post is a bit of a mournful remembrance, I’ll end on a bright note with the news that there are only 333 days, 10 hours, 58 minutes and about 50 seconds until Christmas! These are definitely cookies worth waiting for.

Besos,

Jenna

Peppermint candy canes, eggnog, and Christmas cookies…these are the flavors that conjure up Christmas to me. It has been a revelatory experience to discover that they don’t for the rest of the world! So, for purely cultural research reasons, I have been tasting and testing the sweets that Spanish people wait for all year long to eat at the most wonderful time of the year.

Boxes of turrón stacked up in Francisco’s shop La Oliva in Granada

Turrón is unquestionably the king of Christmas sweets here. It has been a part of Spanish Christmas celebrations since the 16th century! Boxes upon boxes (and in fact, aisles upon aisles) of turrón pop up in the major grocery stores towards the end of November (without Thanksgiving to officially mark the beginning of the Christmas season, Spanish retailers begin stocking for Christmas as early as the beginning of November).

Prettily decorated slabs of turrón in a bakery window. The shop owners slice pieces off the end.

More turrón in another shop window

What is turrón exactly? One of the most traditional kinds of turrón, turrón de jijona, is made of chopped toasted almonds, honey, sugar and egg whites. Almonds and honey are primary ingredients in sweets from the Arabian peninsula, where the earliest ancestors of turrón may have originated. This mass is cut into rectangles, similar in appearance to a typical chocolate bar. While turrón de jijona has a soft texture, other traditional turrón is hard, like nougat. There are hundreds and hundreds of turrón flavors sold today, catering to every taste imaginable- marzipan ones, chocolate ones, fruit-flavored ones…

Turrón sampling

We sampled the turrón de jijona y turrón de crema catalana (a toasted custard flavor).  The jijona is quite crumbly. The crema catalana has the texture of fudge but with a strong egg yolk flavor. Turrón is quite distinct from our Christmas sweets but I find myself already craving it!

Besos,

Jenna

PS- In the spirit of Christmas, I’ve enabled WordPress’ Let it Snow feature, so if you notice some falling white dots on the blog, don’t be alarmed!

Helen, the other language assistant at my school, was Julia’s and I’s first official out-of-town visitor who hadn’t been to Sevilla before! Julia and I felt a great responsibility to give her a wow-worthy tour of the city we love. She put her day completely in our hands, and we attempted to blend together an itinerary of history and culture, sights and activity and of course, fabulous food to give her a slice of Sevilla life!

11:30am, Alcázar

The Alcázar, former Moorish fortress and later Catholic palace, is an opulent display of mudéjar architecture (architecture heavily influenced by Islamic design but not necesarily built by Muslims). Exquisite tile and plaster work, sprawling gardens, and gurgling fountains feed the visitor’s imagination to give an idea of how a by-gone era defined luxury. The fortress walls today serve to block out the noise of traffic and crowds, creating a modern tranquil escape in Sevilla’s city center.

1 pm, Lunch

Spanish tortilla with garlicky mayo

We decided to take Helen to a tapas place close to our apartment called Bodeguita Antonio Romero. I’ve already praised their delicious piripi montaditos in a previous post. They also happen to serve the best Spanish tortilla I’ve tried (not to be confused with the flour tortillas in Mexican cuisine, Spanish tortillas are kind of like a sliced potato omelet). Being a vegetarian in Spain, Helen has become a Spanish tortilla connoisseur since it is often the only menu item without meat in many places. To our delight, she gave this tortilla her seal of approval.

2:30pm, Plaza de España in María Luisa Park

The Plaza de España was built for the 1929 Ibero-American Exhibition that took place in Sevilla. It’s moat has been under reconstruction for the past several months, but serendipitously opened in time for the beautiful day we had yesterday. We took advantage of the non-cold to hop in a rental row boat for some unique perspectives of the Plaza.

Julia and Helen, launching our row boat

Fellow boaters in the Plaza’s moat

Plaza de España tower

Many horse carts park and wait for clients in the Plaza

We really enjoyed this pony and donkey. They seemed to have formed a special alliance being dwarfed by all of the horses around them.

4:30pm, Feria de Gastronomía y Artesanía

Advertisement for the Feria de Gastronomía y Artesanía

After our row boat excursion, we were met by our friend Joanna, and all together we ventured to this Feria de Gastronomía y Artesanía, or Gastronomy and Crafts Fair, where we found lots of samples to nibble. Julia and I picked up an orange balsamic vinegar- orange trees are everywhere in Sevilla!

6pm, Ending the day on a sweet note at the Dos Jotas Mesón

Almond, vanilla and chocolate montecados from Filella bakery

Samples proved to not be sufficient enough to sate our hunger after all of our excursioning, so we attempted to stop at a café for something more substantial. The good weather combined with a Saturday evening resulted in a complete people jam in the city center. We resorted to retiring to our apartment, where we had a stockpile of cookies from the nun’s cookie fair we attended last weekend, and we supplemented those with some montecados, popular powdery Spanish cookies, from one of our favorite bakeries. I will be posting more about montecados, and other Spanish sweets, in honor of the Christmas season soon!

With the weather as our co-conspirer, Julia and I had a lovely time playing tour guides for Helen!

Besos,

Jenna

 


Sevilla is especially busy today because it’s a work holiday here in Spain (Constitution Day). There is also a holiday on Wednesday (Day of the Immaculate Conception). This produces what the people here call a “puente” or “bridge,” where lots of people get Tuesday off too. Hence, a super long weekend and perfect travel opportunity. Julia and I were scared away by the snow forecasts for Madrid and the Spanish air controller’s strike, and decided to have a “stay-cation” here in town. Here are some of the foodie adventures we got into while staying put…

Thurs. Night: Sushi…finally!

Since we’re close to the Sevilla airport, we get lots of guests passing through on their way to an early next-morning flight. Such was the case on last Thursday night. Our guest and a couple of her friends had plans to go to Japanese for dinner, and Julia and I tagged along. We hadn’t had sushi since we arrived in Spain! It was a welcome change from our usual fare.

Beautifully presented and great tasting!

We thought the mochi ball might resemble the Trader Joe’s frozen mochi ice cream. Sadly, it was a far far cry. Extremely chewy and tasteless except for the blizzard of shredded coconut coating it.

Fri.: Tattoos and some extraordinary sandwiches

Friday began with some excitement as Julia and I accompanied another language assistant, our friend Joanna, to get a tattoo! She had made her appointment about a month ago at a place near our apartment, and Friday was the big day! Having had little breakfast and with the tattoo finishing around 3pm, we knew we needed to get our friend some food. We returned to a place our neighbors took us to, called the Patio San Eloy. It has an exquisite tile-filled interior and fantastic sandwiches, and as the spaz that I am, I didn’t get pictures of either. However, I snapped a pic of our extremely cheesy “salad” we ordered…

A little lettuce with our 3 cheeses: brie, manchego and “queso fresco” (fresh cheese). In case that wasn’t enough dairy, the salad dressing is a runny tangy yogurt.

We capped the meal off with a stop at the most charming bakery in Sevilla, called La Campana. It was established in 1885, and the servers still wear pale blue and white old-fashioned uniforms reminiscent of soda shop outfits. We had some unique sweets from their impressive pastry case…

Pez de nata=cream fish. Not-too-sweet pastry sandwiching whipped cream.

Turquesa: rolled chocolate sponge cake with light piped cream on top

Once our freshly-tattooed friend was on her way, we met up with some of our neighbor’s friends (the neighbors are out of town), and they took us to a bar called Bodeguita Antonio Romero. Once there, they proceeded to order one after another of knock-out dishes. One of their favorites at this particular location is the piripi, a montadito, or little sandwich, made up of pork chop, bacon, cheese, tomato, lettuce and ali-oli (garlic-tinged mayo). Sound familiar? They tasted like fresh BLTs on mini baguettes.

A tapas order of piripis

Sunday: Taken by storm

A monstrous storm moved in on Sunday, covering the city in a blanket of hard rain, thunder and lightening. Julia and I attempted to make it to church in the morning, but missed our usual bus. Dampened by the prospect of arriving late and the pelting rain drops, we comforted our mishap with a trip to a little café under our apartment (literally, the first floor of our apartment building). Our goal is to try all of the places in our immediate proximity, so we were able to cross this one off our list. The decor is nothing special, but their chocolate had a good consistency (not too thick, not too thin) and their churros were light enough to not induce a chronic stomach ache for the rest of the day.

The Spanish language uses commands in many more contexts than the US. For example, this sign directs its reader to “Order chocolate with churros.”

Monday: To market nuns go

The convents in and around Sevilla had a special market this morning to sell baked goods for the approaching holiday season. We had to wait 15 minutes in a long line of Spaniards to just enter the market area. Tables wrapped around the periphery of the market hall were stacked high with boxes filled with all kinds of sweets, and people were grabbing them up quickly.

Some of the nuns’ more unusual baked goods

Julia and I made several laps before carefully deciding on our purchases. We brought home a variety cookie box and some mantas (fried dough dripping with honey).

Mantas

Variety cookie box. I love the cartoon nun in the bottom right-hand corner!

Wishing everyone a sweet start of December!

Besos,

Jenna

 

 


Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!! Hope you are enjoying this special day with loved ones! I’m so thankful for all of you for reading and for all of your encouragement in the Comments section. I feel less far away from you all through the blog:-) Enjoy your turkey and pumpkin pie!!!

Besos,

Jenna

PS- Some pics of our Thanksgiving Day sweets…they’re a little unconventional…

On the left: The teachers from my school’s English department gave me this cake today! Such a sweet recognition of my being away from home on a holiday. It looks like a chocolate-chip cake inside-we haven’t tasted it yet, so the full report is to come.

On the right: I was excited to find pecan pie here! However, I’m not so excited that it has come from the Starbucks pastry case, labeled as “Cake of Pecans.” Again, the full report to come- I’m not getting my hopes up too high for this one!

Granada!!! It is such an enchanting city with a mix of exotic winding streets in the Moroccan quarter and charming plazas in the center, resting in the shadow of the stately Alhambra and snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada. I studied abroad here 2 years ago, and the trip felt like a kind of homecoming.

Julia and I interspersed foodie missions with explorations of the city, in the process re-visiting some beloved favorites and discovering new ones. Welcome to Granada…

1. Chocolate y churros in Plaza Bib-Ramblas at Bar Alhambra

By far the thickest drinkable chocolate I’ve ever tried- when the waiter plops the cups onto the table, its contents barely budge. The greasy churros make for very indulgent complements. The advisability of eating this is questionable- for me, it resulted in a headache and a long series of strange dreams that night. However, if it is drugged, which is entirely possible given it’s addictive quality, the Granadinos don’t seem to mind- if you glance at the surrounding tables, every single person is partaking in the same guilty pleasure!

2. Flamenquín from Braulios

Though Americans may claim deep-fried Twinkies, Spaniards can claim flamenquín- a dizzying combination of cheese and serrano ham rolled in a pork chop, fried to a crisp and served with fries and mayonnaise. Another stomach-whopper like the chocolate and churros, the flamenquín is an excess in protein as the chocolate is in sugar. It is a traditional dish from the city of Córdoba, but is also a special of the classic restaurant Braulio in Granada. Worth trying  at least once!

3. Cookies from a convent

There are lots of nuns in Granada, and they include baking cookies with their religious duties! Delicious cookies at that. Securing some nun’s cookies involves placing an order through an intercom system, laying some money on a large lazy-susan type apparatus that protects the nun from being seen, and receiving in turn a box of tightly packed cookies. The cookies tend to have different kinds of ground nuts. Others are like jelly candies coated with coconut. And yet others are like butter cookies. Fantastic fuel for hiking up to see the Alhambra.

4. Piononos

The pionono is a pastry indiginous to a little town outside of Granada. It consists of a very thin rolled cake, saturated with a sugary syrup and topped with a little crown of caramelized pastry cream. They are served cold, and have a very pleasing medley of textures and not-too-cloying sweetness. They’re an awesome local specialty.

Of course, this list does not include everything we had to eat, like afternoon snacks with Carmen (the lady I stayed with during my study abroad), amazing vegan food from The Piano, or a home-cooked lunch of hake and potatoes and salmorejo (a cousin of gazpacho) made by Francisco, a foodie friend who owns a gourmet shop, La Oliva, in Granada.

Wishing everyone a happy and delicious rest of their day!

Besos,

Jenna