Sunday, November 17, 2013

Weekend trip to Barcelona

Bobby gave a talk in Barcelona on Wednesday, so we took the opportunity to have a long weekend away from cold, dark, rainy Copenhagen. We arrived Saturday evening and immediately went to a tapas bar. We both had some cava, the Spanish version of champagne. We then proceded to stuff ourselves full of a variety of little bites.
We simply had to take our plate up to the bar and pick what we wanted.
We had some Ibérico ham, goat cheese with tapenade, and another soft cheese with an onion jam.
We also had crab salad, fish cake, and salmon mousse with roasted bell pepper. You can see one toothpick spearing each tapa; this is how the waiters know what to charge you. We paid by the toothpick, and each tapa was 1.95€. So for under 40€, we ate a ton of tapas and had enough cava to leave us feeling happy.
But no evening out is complete without dessert. On our walk home, we came across a lovely little gelato place. We shared two scoops; I chose dark chocolate, and Bobby chose cherries and cream. As you can see, Bobby was very happy with his choice.
The next morning we started our day with some café con leche and croissants from the amazing Hofmann bakery. We were lucky enough to stay just a few blocks away from Hofmann, which is one of the best bakeries in Barcelona. We tried their croissants filled with mascarpone and one filled with raspberry jam. I was hoping they would have their mango-filled croissant, which I had been recommended to try, but they didn't make any on the two days we visited. Oh well, we were quite happy with our selections!
This was our second trip to Barcelona; we first visited in June 2009. The nice thing about going to a city you've already been to is that there is less pressure to visit everything since you've already seen so much of it. We therefore didn't feel any guilt about just wandering and meandering around. We still saw a few historical sites, like the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. There was a concert of some traditional Catalan dance music outside of the cathedral; there were many older (and even a few younger) people wearing special shoes dancing in a big circle. One man was energetically waving the Catalan flag.
We even re-visited the side cloister, which is home to a gaggle of noisy geese. I wonder if the Cathedral's priests get a special meal of foie gras every so often...?
I just love this covered passage!
We continued our relaxed strolling in the Gothic area, stopping for not a cone of ice cream but a cone of meat!
We love all of the cured meats you can find in Spain. We were quite tempted to buy a whole hock to take home, but we didn't think it would fit in our carry-on. Next time, we'll bring a bigger suitcase.
We also did some shopping while in Barcelona. As you can see in this photo, I was in shoe heaven. All ballet flats, all made with good materials in Barcelona! Needless to say, I bought a pair. But don't feel too bad for Bobby; he eventually got a pair of shoes as well (not ballerina flats, though).
The days are getting very short in Copenhagen; it is completely dark by 16:30, and it's quite chilly as well (we might get our first proper snowfall this week!). It was still a pleasant temperature in Barcelona, though; it was in the 70s during the day with plenty of sunshine to make us feel very pale. The days are also longer, which helped us adapt to the Spanish meal schedule. In Spain, it's very unusual to eat dinner before 20:00 or 21:00. I don't mind eating late so long as I have a cone of meat as a snack in the later afternoon. However, what is difficult is knowing what to do with the hours between 18:00 and 20:00! So, of course, we drank. We really, really enjoyed this sangria. Bobby enjoyed his sangria so much that he gave a euro to some really crappy street musicians.
After a bit too much sangria and support of the arts, we headed to dinner. We greatly enjoyed this squid, along with a few other dishes. Unfortunatley, we ordered a large plate of cockles (sea snails). It turns out we both hate cockles. Land snails are tasty; sea snails not so much. Oh well, live and learn!
The next day we headed to the Park Güell. Completed in 1914, the park was designed by the famed Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (perhaps best known for the Sagrada Família church).
The park is a UNESCO world heritage site and at .17 km2, it is one of the largest architectural sites in southern Europe.
La Torre Rosa, which is also within the park, was where Gaudí lived for a number of years. Compared to his other works, I think the style of this building is quite restrained.
This is more what I expect from Gaudí.
For our last dinner together, Bobby and I went out to a wild game restaurant. The restaurant, Pitarra, is housed in an old clock-makers studio and there are many different clocks all over the walls. The food was pretty good, though a bit under-seasoned. We started with some local mushrooms, which were served with Iberico ham, prawns, and parsley sauce.
We then split two main courses. We started with the leg of baby goat. This was served with more mushrooms, a long and slow roasted tomato, and scalloped potatoes. This was my favorite course. The goat leg was very tender and juicy, falling off the bone like pork knuckle. When a couple next to us ordered the same dish, the waiter asked if they wanted the right leg or the left leg (at first they didn't understand that he was joking).
Our final course was wild board in a chocolate sauce. The boar was tasty and not too gamey, which was nice because we've had some really, really gamey boar in the past. The chocolate sauce, however, was too overpowering, and too chocolately. It wasn't bad, but nor was it great.

All in all, we had a really lovely weekend relaxing in Barcelona. We spent out time wandering around, eating well, sipping cafés, and enjoying each other's company. A perfect weekend away!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lots of work in the apartment

We have done a lot to the apartment in the month of October. We started with purchasing the china hutch, which we showed in the last post. Remember when I said that we don't usually make just one improvement at a time? Well, this holds true for October as well. We added a carpet to the music room. This carpet was actually left in the apartment by the previous owners, but I couldn't think of a good place to use it. Bobby finally convinced me that it would work in the music room. After some maneuvering, we found the perfect position for it.

We finally placed some photos and random art work on the nook table. We also hung some curtains.
Bobby said we needed the curtain (and rug) to help dampen the sound of his piano practicing. He's been doing a great job at practicing daily since returning home in August. I'm quite impressed with his progress. You can also see in this photo that we've hung up a world map. My paternal grandparents used to have a similar map, where they had pins sticking out of all the places they have visited. I loved looking at the map as a child and would wonder if I'd get to visit as many places as they did. I'll still not sure that I'll reach all the places Grandma and Grandpa went to, despite my best efforts, but I still love having my own map with pins in all the places Bobby and I have visited together.

I think the guest room is finally finished (at least until we replace the old closet unit in it, but that won't be for a long while). I touched up the brown wall, added a bed-side table (which Bobby found in the trash! Gotta love Denmark for all of its nice furniture in the trash), and then added a lamp (this one purchased at Ikea).

We also added a desk to the room so our guests have a place to write their postcards. I'm pretty sure this desk was found in the trash, as was the lamp on the desk. Both the chair and closet were left in the apartment by the previous owner, similar to the above-mentioned rug.

Our bedroom was the big task this month. The room used to be painted the same yellow color that the entire apartment was one painted (the only rooms left yellow now are the kitchen and Bobby's office... we've painted the entryway, guest bedroom, part of the guest bathroom, dining room, music room, and bathroom). It also had a huge but completely non-efficient closet unit that took up the entire side of the wall. We decided to replace the old closets with new ones from Ikea. These are also huge units, but they actually take up less space than the previous closet, and I love the mirrored doors! These behemoths took us 16 hours to make over the course of two days. 16 very, very long hours. It took us about 4 hours to break down the old closets and take them down to the large trash bins in our central, communal courtyard. We live on the 4th floor, so that's a lot of stair!

In addition to replacing the closet unites, we also painted the entire room. We thought we had bought a gray color, but in the room the paint turned out to be more of a blue-green-gray. Though it's not what we were expecting, we actually really love the color. It reminds me of the ocean. We also hung up new curtains. Funny story about the curtains - they block out so much more light than our old curtains that the first week with the new curtains we kept oversleeping because it was so dark in the room!

Last but not least, we added a shelf above the bed. Man, this was a giant pain to install. Not as bad as a 16 hour closet installation, true, but still a pain. But I think it looks great. The white bureau was one we used to keep in the guest bedroom. It was something we also found in the trash! Add some new sheets and a new duvet cover and violá, we have a brand new bedroom!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

China hutch

 Our home improvement bug has yet to flitter away. After scouring Den Blå Avis (, the Danish equivalent to CraigsList), we found this awesome china hutch (vitrineskab in Danish). The original owners bought it new two years ago from a fancy design shop in Copenhagen and it is in perfect condition. It's also a heavy SOB, which makes me happy since that means it's a solid piece of furniture (no offense Ikea). Luckily for us, the original owner had a car and was kind enough to rent a trailer, so he delivered it to our apartment! He and Bobby carried the two halves up while I carried the shelves. It's really nice to have a hutch where we can display our wine glasses and alcohol collection, plus have the storage space for our serving linens, candles, and other odds and ends.
This black piece is what we used to use for a hutch. It has now be relegated to the front entrance, where it stores our winter hats and gloves, ping pong paddles, and umbrellas.

Hurray for new furniture!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fresh coat of paint

Back in March, Bobby and I started hosting paying guests through the awesome site AirBnB (you can find our listing here). Since then, we've had at least 40 different sets of guests. It's been a lot of fun meeting all of these different people and learning about their different cultures (we've had guests from all over Europe, the US, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand). With so much use, the guest room was starting to look a bit... used. There were grease marks from people's head on the wall behind the bed and hand marks on another wall. So in between guests last week we touched up the room a bit. I've been a bit bothered by the color of the room for some time now. I really like the green color, but it was just too much to have it on every wall. So we decided to paint one wall dark brown, and we applied some fresh green paint where needed. You can see the initial results in this photo.

After a day, we decided we weren't mad about the brown color, but we had some guests coming in soon so we couldn't re-paint it a different color right away. We asked our guests what they thought of the color, and one of them said, 'It would look better if you had something on the wall to break up the color.'
 So we took her advice! We have had this giant world map sitting around for over a year (we found it in the trash at our university). We decided to try hanging it to see if it would look good and make the room look nicer. We're quite pleased with the results!
Bobby and I tend to go a bit wild once we start painting; we don't usually do just one project. True to form, we decided to paint the exposed wall in our master bathroom. The previous color was a yucky yellowish-brownish blah that made the bathroom seem really dark.
Now it's this much better white! It lightens up the room a bit, but best of all, it makes it look much cleaner.

Our next project to our bedroom. In November we are planning on replacing all of the closets, paint the entire room, and re-arrange the furniture. I can't wait!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Two weeks worth of vegetable bags, plus some crazy neon mashed potatoes

I've gotten a bit behind on writing about our vegetable bags, so now you get a food-heavy post with 2 weeks worth of vegetables and cooking. This bag was the beginning of our apple gluttony. A kilo of apples accompanied potatoes, carrots, beets, green beans, mizuna salad, and corn. Bobby was very excited about the corn. The poor guy didn't realize I already had plans for it, but after seeing the excited look on his face, I 'allowed' him to boil one and eat it off the cob. It wasn't as good as the sweet corn we have in the States, but it was still tasty.
My plans for the corn and some of the other vegetables was a late summer salad. Any good salad requires a good dressing. This one was made up of a special chili honey from Denmark, elderberry vinegar from Germany, Dijon mustard from France, and kalamata olive oil from Greece. Quite the pan-European vinaigrette!
And thus the salad: roasted beets, boiled corn, steamed green beans, mizuna lettuce, and the above vinaigrette.
More of the beets and lettuce were put to use in a lentil salad later in the week. This one had a nice warmly-spiced dressing. I found the recipe here.
By the end of the week, some of the roasted beets had yet to be used, so I decided to cube them and add them to roasted garlic and goat cheese mashed potatoes. The flavor of the beets were unfortunately covered by the strong garlic and goat cheese flavors, but there was no mistaking the fact that beets were in the mash! I don't think I've ever eaten something so... fuchsia.
There were also a few scraps of random vegetables left over by the end of the week, so I made some vegetable pancakes. These pancakes used up some of the potatoes and carrots from the vegetable bag, along with some cabbage and zucchini. Accompanied by garlicky-green beans and kimchi dumplings, we had a full meal based on random vegetable scraps.
This was the second week's vegetable bag, and it added to our already growing pile of apples! We also got a kilo of plums, baby potatoes, garlic, onions, zucchini, summer squash, green beans, swiss chard, and parsley. I am not a big fan of parsley, so I asked for recommendations on how use it up on Facebook. One person suggested a parsley pesto, which I made: parsley, roasted hazelnuts, lemon, parmesan, and olive oil. The pesto was spread over puffed pastry, rolled, cut into pinwheels, and baked. They were ok-tasting, but made a good appetizer for a dinner party we hosted (more on the food served at the party below).
As you can perhaps tell, I'm a fan of dishes that use up random bits of vegetables. The pancakes shown above are one good way, and a pasta bake is another good way to use up vegetables. For this particular pasta bake (I make pasta bakes fairly regularly, and they are different each time depending on what vegetables and cheeses I have hanging around) I used up some of the swiss chard, yellow squash, garlic, and onions from the vegetable bag. You first sauté the studier vegetables.
Next come in the more delicate vegetables (in this case chard and a bell pepper). While the vegetables are sautéing, I boil the pasta until al dente (a minute or so before the normal cooking time) and make the sauce. For this particular bake, I used crème fraîche, soft goat cheese, and some grated hard salty cheese from the west coast of Denmark. I usually make very little sauce, just enough to slightly coat the pasta.
Once the sauce is made and the vegetables and pasta are cooked, I mix them all in a mixing bowl then dump it into a baking dish. I top the pasta with some Parmesan cheese and bake it until golden on top, about 20-25 minutes at 200C/400F.
Now, about that dinner party... I am so bad at taking photos of dishes I serve at dinner parties (I'm usually so busy trying to get the dishes ready at the same time and serving them together and making sure everyone has enough wine and is there salt on the table and and and...). I can tell you what I served, though, and provide you with links to recipes. The appetizers included the above mentioned parsley pesto pinwheels. I also made a caramelized onion dip, and some spicy cheddar and ham pinwheels. For the main, I found a dish that finally used a few of the apples we've received in two week's worth of vegetable bags: this really awesome cider-braised pork neck with apples and onion confit. This was a really delicious dish, was easy to make, could be made ahead of time, and was quite impressive to serve. You should try it. I served it with the baby potatoes from the vegetable bag (I just boiled them, nice and easy), and this green bean salad with French feta (much milder than the Greek version). For dessert I used up some of the plums from the vegetable bag. My intension was to roast and caramelize the plums, which were going to go into a fruit tart with a custard base. Unfortunately, the plums were more ripe than I expected and therefore collapsed during roasting. So I instead made a almond cream base (from Dorie Greenspan's cookbook Around My French Table) and smeared the collapsed plums on top. It tasted great and no one was the wiser about the failed first attempt!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Thörnströms Kök

This post is about the second 1-Michelin star restaurant Bobby and I visited in Göteborg. We had a 9 pm reservation at Thörnströms Kök. Even though we tend to eat on the late side (especially during the summer), 9 pm was a bit late for a really big meal. We therefore chose the 6 course dinner instead of the 8 course dinner (I know, I know, only 6 courses). Had we chosen the 8 course meal, I'm sure we would have been there until 3 am! As it was, we were there until nearly 1 am.
We started with a rich mushroom consumé, which I just loved! My apologies for the very yellow pictures: being so late, there was no natural light inside the restaurant  :(  Oh well, you'll still get an idea of what we ate!
The bread basket was a thing of beauty: crisp rye with fennel, brioche, rye sour dough, roasted onion bread, rye baguette, all served with fresh butter (two butters, in fact: virgin butter (meaning not handled too much, so it was still a bit sour since not all of the buttermilk was removed) and a more traditional salted butter).
The first course was salmon trout with pickled cucumber, soured potato crème, salmon roe, fennel flowers and bread crumbs. There were so many different textures and flavors! This was served with a 2012 Silvaner Kabinett Troken by Juliusspital (Germany).
The second course was our favorite of the evening, and perhaps the best course of the entire trip. This seared scallop just melted in our mouthes! It was perfectly paired with a mushroom purée, raw marinated turnips, and lovage vierge. It was absolutely brilliant. It was served with a 2011 Sequillo White by Eben Saide (South Africa).
This third course was so well prepared that I might have freaked out over my inability to cook fish this well. The breaded lemon sole was served with carrots, lemon froth (so light and tangy), and mustard marinated raw shrimp (unlike at Noma, this raw shrimp was no longer alive, thank goodness). This anxiety-inducing course was unfortunately served with what was our least favorite wine, a 1998 Champagne de Venouge (France). The champagne was served several minutes before the food was served for the purpose of letting it got a bit flat. For us, it just didn't work. The flat champagne was too metallic for this softly-nuanced fish course.
But all was forgiven when the 4th course was served. Variations of Rödkulla beef (tenderloin, sausage, and paté) were with mushrooms, onions, and a fantastic smoked vinegar jus. We were treated to a big Italian red, a 1999 Radici 'Riserva' by Mastroberardino from Taurasi. Lovely, lovely, lovely!
The 5th course was a very interestingly presented cheese dish. The hard Swedish cheese Almnäs Tegel was grated, which made it quite airy and light. Under the cheese was a plum compote, and roasted almonds and vegetable ash were sprinkled on top. Served with a nice and crisp 2011 Spätlese Risleing from Maxin Grünhäuser (Germany), we were pleasantly surprised with this dish.
And finally, the dessert. This dessert was a bit of spectacle: the server made the caramel table-side, then added the malt brioche to the caramel. A bit of cognac was added and them shwoosh, the whole thing was flambéed! Once the flames resided, the caramel and malt briche were added to a dish with lemon sorbet, honey crisp, cherry cream, and a Valrhona chocolate terrine. It was served with a Pedro Ximenez El Candado by Valdespino (Spain).
We finished the meal with some nice petit four and asked for a taxi home (all 6 glasses of wine were topped up numerous times!).

Between the two restaurants, Bobby and I both slightly prefer Kock och Vin, but only very slightly. Both restaurants were great and a good value for the cost.