Posted by: Sensible | September 16, 2011


After many (9, not that I’m counting) months of kitchen limbo, the last two weeks have been very eventful.

First, with many thanks to contributing voters:

Painted sink cabinet

(For contrast, see the previous post.)

From a distance

Three to four coats of Rustoleum spray paint and a lot of tape and draped plastic later, I think the black (matte) blends with cabinets. And is not as grimey looking as the previous incarnation. (Note the dishes draining: I am so tidy and clean!)

And, now, the big moment. COUNTERTOPS!!!111!11!! I am very excited.


Close up 1

Yes, I am aware of the ugliness of the surge protector. But the oven power cord is not long enough to reach the plug. Please offer suggestions if you have them.

Close up 2

More! countertops

Close up

In one fell swoop (extended over 9 months), I have tripled the amount of counterspace I started with (and moved from gerry-rigged make do to lovely, stable, expansive surfaces).

Sadly, my original dream of bowling alley countertops did not come to fruition, but I’m pretty pleased with what did happen. The contractor/carpenter who did some of the bathroom work saved the day. When I called him in for an intervention/estimate, he offered to use the maple flooring he salvaged from a local college’s basketball court renovation. So, the countertops are maple with cherry (the border inlay) and mahogany (the center panel). The wood is not yet finished: I was planning on sealing it with marine-grade polyurethane (water proof!) but now I’m debating something more natural, like tung oil. (On the last image, you can see where I wiped the counter with a damp cloth; I think that’s what a tung oil finish would look like, but I really have no idea.)

Also, one day, the large hole under the counter will hopefully be filled with a dishwasher.

Posted by: Sensible | August 17, 2011

A very important poll

Dear readers (all 3 of you):

I need some advice. As you can see, the cabinet holding the sink is … less than ideal.

The dilemma

However, I have grown fond of it’s shape, and I don’t want to replace it with something else (unless that something else is free and someone else will do all the work). So, (and this is where you come in):

Keep in mind, my options are limited by the range of spray paint colors.

Edited to add context pictures:

Shelves that only look crooked


Keep in mind that the wall behind the stove is now also red and has a shelf (exactly like the ones in the picture above) running the whole length of the wall.

Posted by: Sensible | August 4, 2011

Other places I ate in Barcelona

So, the other places I ate in Barcelona, bullet-style. Many thanks to Chowhound posters for pointing me towards some tasty meals. And my apologies to all for my failure to reproduce the various accent marks.

  • Cinq Sentits: This was an interesting experience. The food was definitely delicious, and I appreciated some of the smaller touches (the two different olive oils, the play on pan amb tomaquet). Three of us went for lunch, and we all had the “Sensacions” tasting menu. I go back and forth on the molecular gastronomy: on the one hand, very clever and intellectually provocative; on the other hand, academics aren’t the only ones who go in for masturbation. Also, I wonder how long it takes the staff to master to master the fork-and-spoon napkin folding?
  • Gresca: First, even for lunch, make a reservation. That said, the menu del dia was delicious and a very good value for 18 euros (though it did not include wine). The portions were very generous. I started with a mustardy brown lentil salad (minus the quail egg, because blech eggs, though I can imagine how the eggs would temper the sharpness of the mustard. Again, blach, eggs), and I had a lovely piece of merluza (hake) for mains. Note that the numbers on each side of the street are mismatched.
  • Tapas 24: After the Cinq Sentits lunch, I couldn’t afford any more super-fancy meals, so I went to Carles Abellan’s Tapas 24, rather than the more formal (and pricy) Comerc 24. Because my Spanish is so inadequate (and my Catalan even more so), I threw myself on the mercy of the waitperson for ordering. The bikini– a jamon i queso sandwich with truffe oil– is justifiably famous; I had my doubts, but I departed a believer. The lamb kabob was also excellent (although not what I would call traditional Catalan). (The vino blanco was quite servicable.)
  • La Canete: This find was totally fortutious. After an afternoon of diligent reading at Federal, I was ready to call it a day and retire to my abode. However, a very kind gentleman (owner?) recommended La Canete to us as one of his favorite places to eat in Barcelona, despite its somewhat off-putting proximity to Las Ramblas. Here, deferring to the waitstaff is definitely a good idea. We had a wonderful bottle of wine and some truly extraordinary dishes: melting, salty anchovies on toast; a tuna tartar with ricotta and mint (it sounds wrong, but it’s amazing), and a miraculous haunch of beef (which the waitperson explained with some succinct gesturing).
  • Bar Mundial: OK, so this place is a bit of a challenge to find (although the setting is delightful), and the service isn’t always sycophantic, BUT the fish is incredibly fresh and– this is what really matters– the eggplant is amazing. Ask for the “berenjena con miel y queso cabral,” and you will become a veritable missionary. Eggplant sliced wafer thin, tossed with flour and deep-fried, drizzled with honey and topped with crumbled chevre. If I weren’t afraid of burning down my house, I would make everyone I know eat this all the time. It might be why I buy a mandolin (the slicer, not the musical instrument).
  • Mercat de Santa Caterina: The fancy tile roof is a result of renovations, and it sure is purty. This market, right off the Via Laietana, is super-fancy, with some beautiful produce and meat, fish, and dairy stalls. I’m not sure it’s a better value than the Mercat Sant Antoni, but it is more centrally located for site-seeing, and the tapas bar does plates to order (vs. St. Antoni’s pre-made bocadillos). I sat at the bar to have a melon and jamon soup and, when I realized I was hungrier than I thought, pan amb tomaquet and grilled vegetables. I eyed quite a few others’ plates with envy. Slightly more pricey than I expected, but the people watching was worth it.

    I may have missed some places, but I will update as necessary.

  • Posted by: Sensible | July 31, 2011

    Do potatoes ripen?

    Before I left for my summer adventures, I decided that, rather than compost some rotting potatoes and onions, I would plant them in a hanging basket. Maybe the potatoes would have the beautiful leaves that ornamental sweet potato vines do.

    Two months (and a heatwave) later, I returned to a very sad basket of mostly dead greenery. In dumping out the soil (onto the mint– something should benefit, right?), look what I found:

    Homemade potatoes

    Just for reference, that’s a side plate.

    So, do potatoes ripen? Are the ones the size of the tip of my little finger safe to eat? And who knew you could grow potatoes in a hanging basket?

    Posted by: Sensible | July 26, 2011

    Barcelona eats

    I ate at a number of delicious places while in Barcelona– too many to go over in detail separately. Consider this post a quick tour of my neighborhood joints, with another post to follow on the rest of Barcelona. All the addresses are at the end of the post.

    For the five weeks I was in Barcelona, I lived in Poble Sec, a newly defined neighborhood located between El Raval* and Montjuic, the actual hill. It’s the home to a mix of working class Spaniards, hip young professionals (or they would be, if Spain weren’t in the midst of a financial crisis and insane “austerity” measures), and immigrants. The social center of Poble Sec is Carrer de Blai, a pedestrian avenue of bars, fruterias, and pelluquerias. (It’s also very convenient to the Paral.lel or Poble Sec metro stops.) If you’re visiting Barcelona, I recommend taking the Funicular (from the Paral.lel stop) and the Teleferic to the castle at the top of Montjuic. Enjoy the amazing views over the city and the sea before walking down the hill, through the various gardens and by the socialist propaganda statuary, until you come to Carrer de Blai. Reward yourself for all your effort with a drink and a delicious snack at one of many bars’ terrace tables.

  • Lia has the “best croquettes in Barcelona,” according to my roommate. I tested them, and they are delicious: about four times the size of a regular croquette, they are creamy and salty and crispy on the outside. In addition to the croquettes and an enormous, beautifully arranged cheese plate, Lia tends to have a couple special tapas del dia; if patatas bravas are on the menu, get them. They are also fantastic (none of that soggy fries and ketchup nonsense).
  • Bar Ramon: I didn’t eat anything here, but my roommate recommended the Patatas arugadas. They have a good wine selection, and I also tried a bright yellow digestif made from herbs. Of some kind.
  • La Tieta is tiny but has outside seating. Unlike most bars, 1) you need to specify your wine (rather than just accepting the house wine), and 2) you order at the counter. They have a limited selection of delicious montaditos, rotating daily.
  • La Fibula serves Lebanese and Syrian dishes, including very good falafels.
  • Not strictly on Carrer de Blai, but in the same neighborhood:

  • Quimet & Quimet is one of the most famous tapas places in Barcelona, owned by four generations of one family. It’s standing room only and is invariably packed. Wedge your way in or, on a technicality, stick your foot in the door and take up the sidewalk. My Spanish being what it is (or isn’t), I basically asked the woman who served me and my friend to give us a selection of whatever was good. We got a plate of various canned shellfish, another plate of pates and meaty things, and a plate of bread and crackers with which to convey the rest to our mouths. Sadly, we were stuffed before we saw some of the amazing looking montaditos passing to other eaters. To drink, we had the housemade vermouth, without the soda water we were offered.
  • Like Quimet & Quimet, Cellar Cal Marino is technically a wine shop (exploiting a loophole of licensing laws), but it also has very good tapas. The tapas here are slightly more inventive than Quimet & Quimet, and more expensive, but there’s also more room. It’s a toss up.
  • Federal: Just around the corner from Mercat Sant Antoni, Federal has excellent pastries and brunch fare; it’s also open in the evening for dinner and drinks. It’s owned by two Australians and modeled on Bondi beach coffee shops and–unlike most Barcelona cafes– is safe for long bouts of working-in-public (free wifi!). I was on the verge of panic that I would have to stay at home to write, but Federal rescued me from that terrible fate. The space is lovely and light (although short on plugs). More importantly, the food is good. The bruschetta with pesto, feta and oven-dried tomatoes is especially tasty.

    Bar Ramon
    Carrer de Blai, right next door to Lia

    Cellar Cal Marina
    C/ Margarit, 58
    Note: they keep store, rather than bar/restaurant, hours.

    C/ Parlament, 39

    La Fibula
    C/ de Blai, 46

    La Tieta
    C/ de Blai, between C/ Fontrodona and Roser

    Lia d’en Vicius
    C/ de Blai, 28

    Quimet & Quimet
    C/ Poeta Cabanas 25
    Note: they keep store, rather than bar/restaurant, hours.

  • Posted by: Sensible | July 8, 2011

    A review of Restaurant U

    It’s a bad sign when your own browser history doesn’t remember your blog. Nevertheless, I shall proceed with a review.

    Currently, I am whiling away the summer (but also reading prodigiously) in Barcelona. My two lovely friends, Minnie and Earthwalker, were able to visit me, and we indulged in some delicious meals (I’ll do another post with recaps and links), the best of which was at Restaurant U in Avinyonet in the Penedes. This was part of a day trip to explore the cava vineyards. (We hired a car, and we visited Freixenet and Pares Balta. So so worth it.)*

    The highlight of the trip was definitely lunch, however. After our tour at Freixenet, we made our way to the small village of Avinyonet. A wee bit of excitement and misdirection (see below for detailed instructions; thanks, lovely construction workers, for lifting our small egg-shaped car out of the abyss) later, we arrived to find Raimondo, the owner/chef, getting ready to close up for the afternoon siesta. He very graciously welcomed us in, and he just as graciously offered to explain the (very reasonably priced) menu del dia. Since we were the only people there, Earthwalker asked him to make us whatever he felt like. (I had read several glowing reviews, and I felt slightly bad about showing up relatively late. Even for a Spanish lunch.)

    That, my friends, was an excellent idea. Raimondo treated us to, basically, one of his evening tasting menus, accompanied by a private history of Catalan cooking and the producers involved in the local food movement. All of his dishes are based on 13th century Catalan cook books, using the best possible produce– and only produce that would have been available in 13th century Catalunya. This means that some of the iconic dishes of Catalan food– pan amb tomaquet, for example– aren’t part of the menu, because tomatoes– along with corn, sweet peppers, and chocolate– are indigenous to North and South America. Very briefly shown to students in cooking schools, facsimiles of these cookbooks are the basis of modern Catalan cuisine, but they don’t get much attention otherwise. Raimondo has excavated them and adapted them to contemporary tastes. (The food nerd in me was in heaven.)

    He also guided us to an excellent bottle of Pardas Xarel.lo 2007, from a wine list comprised entirely of Catalan wines. Xarel.lo is one of the three grapes that combine to make cava.

    Raimondo and his sister share kitchen duty, and they are both clearly guided by a dedication to Catalan cooking and a passion for delicious food. He was so excited to tell us about how and why he cooked the way he does, and he eagerly answered all my questions (while Minnie and Earthwalker patiently observed my geekery).

    The menu:

  • An amuse bouche of bruschetta topped with hummus.
  • Appetizer of herb-filled flat bread with a saffron dipping sauce. The dipping sauce was slightly foamy and tangy (like a loose creme fraiche), and it very nicely complemented the salty freshness of the bread.
  • Appetizer of “shrimp popsicle”: four shrimp nestled into two circles, perfectly grilled with an amazing (amazing) soy and arugula-oil dipping sauce. Seriously, at one point Raimondo wanted to take the sauce away because he thought I was “finished.” I may have growled at him.
  • Pickled partridge salad: incredibly tender and moist shreds of partridge with mixed greens.
  • Cod: The perfectly cooked (ginormous) cod on a bed of softly stewed vegetables (eggplant, onions, ?), with a creamy, slightly sweet almond milk sauce. Raimondo mentioned that this was one of the dishes he had tweaked a bit from the 13th century recipe to accommodate contemporary palates, which are not as comfortable combining savory and sweet.
  • Suckling pig: A mound of suckling pig contained by its robe of jamon, over a chutney of onions and apples. Let me pause to say, the portions were not “tasting” portions.
  • Dessert: “chocolate” cake with whipped marscapone. Except made with carob. Um, I take back every mean or skeptical thing I ever said about vegan cookies (although I do doubt they could be this delicious). The carob yielded a not-too-sweet, slightly fruity flavor– the kind of flavor I associate with fancy dark chocolate bars– but it was pleasantly (relatively) light after such a generous meal.

    This was an amazing meal, and I encourage anyone close to Barcelona to make the trip.

    Restaurant U
    Pare Carles Suria, 13
    08793 Les Gunyoles
    Avinyonet del Penedes, Barcelona

    1. Get to Avinyonet in whatever way you can It’s a small town on the N-340 between Vilafranca del Penedes and Cantallops.
    2. If you are coming from the west (Vilafranca), turn right onto Carrer del Doctor Joaquim Parellada. If you’re coming from the east, turn left onto Carrer del Progres, and then turn left onto Carrer del Doctor Joaquim Parellada.
    3. Turn right onto Carretera del Gunyoles/BV-2412. This might be the time to mention that roads aren’t always clearly marked. Have faith and keep going.
    4. Continue through Placa Anselm Clave (this is not a Barcelona plaza; it is a slightly wider stretch of very narrow road).
    5. Kinda sorta veer right (while going up hill) onto Carrer del Pedro. Don’t really bother looking for any more street signs.
    6. Go straight (a couple of hundred meters?) until the road forks, and take the left fork. (As of July 2011, there was some construction on the right side of the road; beware the drop.) You’ll think you’re running out of village, but look for the big homemade “No Parking Aqui” sign, at the next fork in the road veers left. Bear left, and park on the very tiny (sorta one way, going the other way) street. Restaurant U is on the left side of the street, and it looks like a regular house.

    *My apologies for my inability to insert the relevant accent marks.

  • Posted by: Sensible | January 5, 2011

    What a relief!

    All this time, I thought I was eating avocado on toast. I now realize, thanks to the Bon Appetit Food Lover’s Cleanse, that I’ve been enjoying Avocado Tartine. Thank God.

    Posted by: Sensible | December 20, 2010


    I’m so excited!

    Step one complete!

    Posted by: Sensible | December 12, 2010

    Roasted squash and couscous

    This dish basically combines the idea of Jamie Oliver’s roasted butternut squash (from his first cookbook) and inspiration from a friend’s kitchen. What do you do when you want pilaf but don’t have the time/energy/stamina to cook rice? You substitute couscous! Brilliant. The best part is that this recipe 1) is infinitely flexible and 2) generates leftovers that can be re-purposed to something else delicious.

    Roasted squash and couscous

    2 medium size butternut squashes
    1 medium onion
    3-4 cloves garlic, minced or microplaned
    a big chunk of ginger (about the size of a thumb), ditto
    1 chili, finely diced (optional)
    2c couscous
    approx 1Tbsp apricot or ginger preserves
    1-2 handfuls dried apricots, roughly chopped
    cashews (roasted and salted or plain), slightly broken up

    1. Cut squash in half and deseed. Chop squash into largish chunks (Infinite flexibility #1: you could also cut into long wedges for a more formal? fancy? presentation). You don’t even have to peel the squash! I promise! (Infinite flexibility #2: you don’t even have to use butternut. Sweet potatoes, a combination of carrots and parsnips, some other winter squash, all of the above. Infinite, I tell you.) Roast in the oven at 400-425F until soft and beginning to carmelize (45-70 minutes).
    2. Do something else until about 20 minutes before roasted vegetables are done.
    3. Dice the onion, and saute in pan with about a tablespoon of oil (olive or vegetable, your call) over medium heat. Very generously season with salt and pepper. When onions begin to color, add garlic, ginger and chili. Continue cooking for about 1 minute, until garlic and ginger are fragrant but not burnt.
    4. Dissolve jam in about a 1/4 cup of water (I’m using some self-made jam that I cooked too long, and it’s a bit stiff; it needs a little bit of help). Add to pan with apricots (infinite flexibility #3: or whatever dried fruit you think will work. I chose apricots because they’re the some color as squash), and cook until most of the water evaporates. This step creates a kind of glaze that coats everything in the pan.
    5. Add the couscous, and stir around in the pan for about a minute. This toasts the grains just a bit and allows them to suck up the flavors undiluted. Add 2 cups of boiling water, stir and cover for 5 minutes (or however long your couscous package recommends).
    6. In a separate small skillet, add a tiny bit of oil and toast the cashews (or almonds, pistachios etc) until golden.
    7. Once the couscous is done, fluff with a fork to make sure everything’s evenly distributed, and add salt and pepper to taste. Add toasted nuts. Mix the roasted vegetables into the couscous, or serve on top.

    Infinite flexibility continued:
    -Were it summer, I might have added cilantro or mint at the end of the couscous fluffing process (of course, then I would have been using different vegetables).
    -Serve the couscous piled inside half a roasted acorn (or other hollow, single serving) squash.
    -Use quinoa instead of couscous.

    ETA: Take couscous off heat at Step 5.

    Posted by: Sensible | October 28, 2010

    Greens and chorizo

    So, apparently I believe in pacing. Very very deliberate pacing. I think much of the delay stems from my reluctance to admit that fall has come to FN, and that means winter can’t be far behind. So, I’ve been ignoring the sweet potatoes and the butternut squashes and the greens. I finally succumbed last weekend. I don’t have a picture, both because this is not a pretty dish and because I’m lazy (and easily frustrated).

    Greens and chorizo

    2 onions
    3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    4 oz Spanish chorizo (mild or picante), roughly chopped
    1 bunch greens (mustard greens, kale, etc)
    vegetable stock

    1. Finely slice onions in half moon shape. In heavy pot, gently saute onion over medium heat in 2-3 tbsp olive oil. Add salt and pepper. Cook until golden.
    2. Add chopped chorizo to pot and cook for 3-5 minutes. The chorizo will release some of its fat and delicious flavor, staining the onions deep yellow. Add garlic and cook 1-2 minutes more (don’t let garlic burn).
    3. Depending on what greens you’re using, you may need to remove the stems entirely, dice them roughly and saute a few minutes extra before you add the leaves, or just chop up the stalks up with the leaves. I used mustard greens this time, and the stalks were too fibrous to deal with. Slice the leaves into 1-2in ribbons.
    4. Cram all the leaves into the pot, season with salt and pepper, and put the lid on. Turn heat down to medium low. The leaves will be a tight fit at first, but they wilt a lot as they cook. As the volume gets more manageable, stir the pot to distribute the onion and garlic through the greens.
    5. The greens will take 30 minutes to an hour or more to cook to tenderness, depending on what variety you’re using and how mature they are. Be patient and stir occasionally. Add about 1/4 cup of stock as needed to prevent burning and create a braising effect.

    The end product should be moist but not soupy. I can imagine adding canned chickpeas towards the end too, or smoked paprika with the chorizo to amplify that taste.

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