Five Things I Learned While Eating My Way Through Spain

In 2016, I finally took my taste buds to the Eastern Hemisphere for the first time.  This chic travelled solo to Spain.  While in Spain, I visited 4 cities (Madrid, Barcellona, Valencia, Seville) and had a ball.  Spain is beautiful.  The people are amazing.  And the food is even more amazing.  While eating my way through Spain, this is what I learned:

  1. ‘Menú del día’ is a wonderful thing.  Menú del día means menu of the day.  Monday through Friday restaurants will serve a three course meal (includes bread & your choice of beverage for one price for lunch.  The choice of dishes are prepared with thought & precision.  And the  portion sizes are hearty since lunch is typically the largest meal eaten in Spain.  I found these meals my most enjoyable.  Below are pics from my menú del día at Toro Tapas in Madrid.
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    Vegetable & Potato Salad topped with Tuna
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    Grouper Fish in Green Sauce with Clams

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    Apple Pie
  2. A spanish tortilla in Spain has a different meaning.  Spanish tortilla in Spain is different than the tortilla made for tacos.  If you see ‘Spanish Tortilla’ on the menu, this is a dish made with eggs, onions, and potatoes.  I ate spanish tortillas almost every morning for breakfast at my hotel.
  3. Food tastes fresher.  It is what is.  Potato chips from a corner store tasted as if they were made with ONLY potatoes fried in oil with minimal salt without any extra added preservatives.

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    My Chip Fix
  4. Siesta is a ‘real’ thing.  Pay attention to the hours of operation for restaurants, shops, & other businesses you would like to visit.   Some places are closed for 2 to 3 hours before they reopen during siesta.  Side Note: You might want to carry a few snacks in your bag to tide you over until you can find somewhere to get a meal.
  5. Sometimes the best made plans occur when there is a change in plans. Piggybacking on lesson 4, I had 1 restaurant picked out.  I had studied the menu; but I failed to check the hours of operation.  Good thing that they were closed or else I would not have found a  vegetarian restaurant, El Estragón Vegetarano in Madrid.  And of course, I ordered the menú del día 😉
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    Salad with Feta Cheese
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    Broccoli Burger with Trimmings

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    Vanilla Custard topped with Chocolate

This was only a snippet of what I ate while in Spain.  And yes, I ate tapas & drank wine while in Spain.  But I will save that for another post.

I am looking forward to returning to Spain.  But in the meantime there are a ton of other places I must cross off the Dish Destination list first 😉

There is Nothing Little About It: Embeya (Now Closed)

For dinner, I chose to experience the Restaurant Week menu offered by a restaurant located in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood by the name of Embeya. This sexy establishment is located on the northeast corner of Randolph and Jefferson.

Embeya
Embeya
Yes, I said sexy. Everything was inviting. The decor drew me in and the flavors kept me captivated and satisfied. I didn’t have to do anything but enjoy the moment.

By the way, I did have to decide if I wanted 3 courses or 4 courses. I proudly chose 4 courses since I had studied the menu earlier that afternoon. Unlike Blackbird, you received every dish listed for each course.

WARNING: Bring your appetite.

Embeya CRW Menu
Embeya CRW Menu
Embeya means ‘little one’ in Vietnamese. The Asian Progressive restaurant did not deliver a ‘little’ experience. Embeya exceeded my expectations with each course.

The First Course:

Octopus
Octopus

Green Papaya
Green Papaya
The Optional Course:

Clams & Grilled Quail
Clams & Grilled Quail
The Main Course (not showing Thit Heo Kho & Fried Rice):

Brussels Sprouts
Brussels Sprouts

Garlic Chicken
Garlic Chicken
Dessert:

Pineapple Marmalade
Pineapple Marmalade

Creme Puff
Creme Puff
I am a fan of coconut. I found myself wanting to tilt my head back & slurp the remaining broth left in the bowl after I finished the clams. Instead, I remembered my manners and used my spoon to shovel the broth in my mouth. The octopus was a winner also. The octopus replaces kampachi found on the online CRW menu.

Embeya offers a restaurant week menu for lunch ($22) and dinner (3 courses for $33 or 4 courses for $44). Tax, tip, and beverage are not included.

I will be returning back to Embeya. I suggest that you make your reservation and you tell me how it is. The staff at Embeya will be happy that you stopped by. I don’t think you will regret it.

My CRW @ Embeya
My CRW @ Embeya

It’s Not Goodbye. It’s Hello.

I missed soooooooo many holidays. I missed soooooooo many possible posts. This chick was busy making some changes before 2016.

I know July was my last post; but I was busy saying, ‘Until we meet again’, to my favorite city, Chicago. I traded pizza, lemon pepper wings, and State Street for clam chowder, sourdough bread, and Market Street. I moved to East Bay area of California.

When I settled in the Bay Area, I had felt the need to visit Brown Sugar Kitchen, located on Oakland’s Westside.

Brown Sugar Kitchen
Brown Sugar Kitchen

Each time I visited Brown Sugar Kitchen there was a wait. And honestly, the food was well worth the wait. Chef Tanya Holland’s soul food creations will make your taste buds happy. My favorite item on the menu is the Cornmeal Waffle. The light and airy waffle served with brown sugar butter & apple cider syrup truly dissolves in your mouth with minimum effort.

Chicken & Waffles
Chicken & Waffles

Check out Brown Sugar Kitchen’s website for the hours & location. I have added a few pictures detailing my taste excursion.

Chai Tea Latte
Chai Tea Latte
Brown Sugar Kitchen
2 Eggs, Chicken Sausage, Toast, & Breakfast Potatoes
Breakfast Potatoes
Breakfast Potatoes
Brown Sugar Pop Tarts
Brown Sugar Pop Tarts

Roasted Garlic & Tomato Chunky Salsa: Small Appliance Review

Chips & salsa was my go to snack when I was in undergrad. And if I had a bag of Cool Ranch flavored Doritos and a jar of any medium salsa, life was grand 🙂 Since I had the opportunity to check out Hamilton Beach’s Wave Action Blender, I decided to take it back to the undergrad days and make a delicious tummy pleasing salsa.

Chips & Salsa
Roasted Garlic & Tomato Salsa

I had the opportunity to make a number of recipes. The Wave Action Blender performed above and beyond my expectations when I made smoothies and most dips. In less than 2 minutes, creamy smoothies were ready for me to devour. The 48 ounce glass jar allowed me to blend a week’s worth of smoothies to store in the fridge.

Hamilton Beach Blender
Hamilton Beach Wave Action Blender

My hummus recipe didn’t turn out too well in the Wave Action. I transferred the contents of the unblended chickpeas, garlic, olive oil, smoked ancho chili peppers, and tahini to the food processor to make a smooth hummus without having to add additional oil to the mixture.

The Wave Action Blender is worth sitting on your counter. The beautiful stainless steel base is one reason for you to jazz up your kitchen.

Roasted Garlic & Roasted Tomatoes

1 pint yellow cherry tomatoes
1 pint red cherry tomatoes
5 garlic cloves
pinch of salt
dash of black pepper
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

ONEPreheat oven 250 degrees.
TWOIn a medium bowl, toss all ingredients until tomatoes are well covered with the extra virgin olive oil.
THREESpread the tomatoes out on a lined cookie sheet.
FOURBake for 20 minutes.
FIVEAllow to cool before putting them in a food processor or blender.

Roasted Garlic & Tomato Chunky Salsa

3 cups roasted garlic & tomatoes (recipe above)
1 diced sautéd shallot
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chopped jalapeño pepper (optional)
1 pinch salt (optional)
5 to 8 leaves fresh cilantro finely chopped

ONEAdd all ingredients to the blender.
TWOPulse ingredients for about 1 minute. NOTE: The longer you blend the mixture, the smoother the mixture will be.
THREEEnjoy!!
FOURRefrigerate any leftover, if you have any leftovers.

Chips & Salsa
Savor the Moment

Stay tuned to Facebook or Instagram for your chance to win your own Hamilton Beach Wave Action Blender.

Tasting New Orleans Part 2: Crescent City Cooks

Just minutes after starting my walk through the French Quarter, I bumped into a few shops along Chartres Street. I ducked inside one shop that sold unique kitchen decorative items, local food items, and regional cookbooks. On my way out, I saw a cooking demo class schedule posted outside the door of Crescent City Cooks located at 201 Chartres Street in New Orleans’ famous French Quarter.

Crescent City Cooks
Crescent City Cooks

I quickly walked back in the shop and paid $30.00 USD for Saturday demo class; and patiently waited for Saturday morning to arrive.

The demo class at Crescent City Cooks was more than what I expected. Chef Scott, one of the instructors, gave us a lesson in creole and cajun cooking while creating amazingly delicious dishes.

Chef Scott Giving A Lesson
Chef Scott Giving A Lesson

Arrive earlier, to make sure you get a great seat. If you don’t get a great seat, the remaining seats are good. Large mirrors & a large screen allows you to witness the cooking action.

See What's Cookin'
See What’s Cookin’

Before you arrive, I suggest that you only eat a light breakfast. Crescent City Cooks will make sure you leave satisfied.

Shrimp Creole
Shrimp Creole
Chicken Fricassee
Chicken Fricassee
Bread Pudding w/Rum Sauce
Bread Pudding w/Rum Sauce

After leaving Crescent City Cooks, you will be able to conquer the streets of New Orleans on a full tummy 🙂

Tasting New Orleans Part 1: Everything You Think It Is

Instead of going back to Miami, I decided to venture to a city that I have never visited. Everyone I know that had visited this city would talk about how great the food is so I had to experience it for myself. And yes, New Orleans is everything they say it is and more.

I am going to take you on a visual tour of the restaurants I experienced in NOLA:

DayONEKingfish

Pimento Cheese Fritters @ Kingfish
Pimento Cheese Fritters @ Kingfish
No. 10 - Crawfish & Green Tomato Galette with Sweet Corn & Red Bean Relish topped with a Poached Egg @ Kingfish
No. 10 – Crawfish & Green Tomato Galette with Sweet Corn & Red Bean Relish topped with a Poached Egg @ Kingfish

DayTWOThe Original Pierre Maspero’s

Shrimp & Southern Fried Fish Platter @ The Original Pierre Maspero's
Shrimp & Southern Fried Fish Platter @ The Original Pierre Maspero’s

DayFOUR

Café Du Monde

Beignets & Café Latte @ Café Du Monde
Beignets & Café Latte @ Café Du Monde

The Palace Cafe

Pomegranate Mimosa @ The Palace Cafe
Pomegranate Mimosa @ The Palace Cafe
Crabmeat Cheesecake @ The Palace Cafe
Crabmeat Cheesecake @ The Palace Cafe
Bleu Cheese Salad with Crawfish @ The Palace Cafe
Bleu Cheese Salad with Crawfish @ The Palace Cafe

The Praline Connection

Stuffed Crab Plate @ Praline Connection
Stuffed Crab Plate @ Praline Connection

DayFIVE

Mother’s Restaurant

Seafood Half & Half (Calamari & Oysters) @ Mother's Restaurant
Seafood Half & Half (Calamari & Oysters) @ Mother’s Restaurant

Pier 424 Seafood Market

Pecan Crusted Gulf Fish @ Pier 424
Pecan Crusted Gulf Fish @ Pier 424

DaySIXMr. Ed’s Oyster Bar & Fish House

Charbroiled Oysters with Garlic & Parmesan @ Mr. Ed's Oyster Bar & Fish House
Charbroiled Oysters with Garlic & Parmesan @ Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar & Fish House

I could go on about each dish and each restaurant; but I won’t. I wish I would have saved Kingfish for last. The flavor combinations & creativity blew my tastebuds away. The unique Crabmeat Cheesecake at The Palace Cafe and the Pecan Crusted Gulf Fish (served with roasted mirliton, sweet potato andouille hash, and sauce meunière at Pier 424 Seafood Market did not disappoint either. Every meal I ate was great.

What was very interesting also is that three of the restaurants I walked into because I liked the menu, are owned by Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts. Go figure. The three restaurants are: Kingfish, Piere 424 Seafood Market, and The Original Pierre Maspero’s. Each restaurant has its own style while offering great food and good service (The Palace Cafe wins the best service award for this visit.)

And yes, I ate pralines. There are so many company’s that sell pralines in New Orleans. My favorite of all the pralines I tasted is Pa Pa Praline located in the outlet mall located along the river walk named (The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk).

And to cool off on the super humid & hot days, I went to The French Market for snoballs.

Peach Snoball @ The French Market
Peach Snoball @ The French Market
Kiwi & Cream Snoball @ The French Market
Kiwi & Cream Snoball @ The French Market

And no I didn’t skip DayTHREE. Number three will be part two of my foodie vacation 🙂

Branca Menta Chocolate Float

I had some Branca Menta left and I needed to do something with it. I just couldn’t let is sit in the cabinet and just age away. I am a firm believer that you should treat yourself from time to time. With a little chocolate sauce and some French vanilla ice cream, I made the perfect chocolate float by adding a few ounces of Branca Menta. The Italian mint liqueur gives your chocolate float a smooth and sexy taste

Chocolate Float with Alcohol
Branca Menta Chocolate Float

You know you want a sip 🙂 Check out the recipe below to make your own indulgent float.

Branca Menta Chocolate Float

2 Tablespoons Chocolate Sauce
1 to 3 Scoops French Vanilla Ice Cream
2 ounces Branca Menta

ONEIn a small glass that is about 8 ounces, add 1 tablespoon of chocolate sauce.
TWOAdd 1 scoop of ice cream.
THREEAdd 1 ounce of Branca Menta.
FOURRepeat adding the ingredients in the order above until you have a scoop of ice cream on top ensuring you end with a drizzle of Branca Menta.
FIVEAdd a straw and sip with joy!! Happy Summer!!

Celebrating National Iced Tea Month

June is National Iced Tea Month and what better way to celebrate is with a refreshing new recipe. Don’t settle on adding water to a dry mix. Whip out the tea bags to make a batch of fresh brewed tea. Did you know that fresh brewed tea makes the simplest meal taste that much better?

When the weather is hot, I love to snack. Veggies, hummus, crackers, and cheese are my favorite past time munchies. Add turkey sausage with other turkey based cured meats and you can create your own customized charcuterie platter.

Branca Menta
Good Times with Branca Menta

I added fresh fruit and the refreshing taste of Branca Menta. Branca Menta is a Mint Liqueur made in Italy. The smooth herb minty flavor is the perfect addition to fresh brewed iced tea.

Fresh Brewed Tea

4 Mangoes, cut in cubes
1 Pineapple, cut in cubes
8 Black Tea Bags
1 cup Sugar
1 gallon Water
1 cup Branca Menta (optional but suggested)

ONEAdd water to a pot.
TWOBring gallon of water to a boil.
THREEAllow water to cool down for about 5 minutes.
FOURPour water in pitcher.
FIVEAdd sugar & stir until sugar has dissolved.
SIXAdd tea bags to pitcher.
SEVENStir in Branca Menta.
EIGHTPlace pitcher in refrigerator for at least 4 hour or until cold.
NINEServe with fresh fruit. NOTE: To not water down your drinks, serve iced tea with frozen fresh fruit instead of ice cubes.
TENEnjoy!!

Branca Menta Iced Tea
Branca Menta Iced Tea

Vegetarian Enchiladas

I was craving tacos all week. But instead of making tacos, I had planned on breaking from the norm and make a pan of enchiladas. After my run today, I was crazy hungry. Guess who forgot to take the ground turkey out of the freezer to thaw. If you answered me, you were correct. Instead of throwing the idea of enchiladas out the window, I found a can of black beans and turned everything around.

Vegetarian Enchiladas

1 15-ounce can reduced sodium black beans, rinsed
2 small zuchinni squashes, chopped
1/4 cup onions, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
1 pinch of salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 10-ounce can red enchilada sauce
5 or 10 corn tortillas (If the tortillas are thin, double up the tortillas.)
1 teaspoon canola oil
Cooking spray or olive oil in spray bottle
1/4 cup your favorite shredded cheese (I used extra sharp cheddar & prairie breeze cheese.)

Preheat oven at 375 degrees.

Sauce

ONEAdd enchilada sauce, ground cinnamon, and cayenne pepper in a small sauce pan.
TWOCook at low heat for 15 minutes, occasionally stirring to ensure sauce does not stick.
THREESet to the side.

Filling

ONEAdd canola oil to skillet over medium heat.
TWOAdd zuchinni, onions, green pepper, chili powder, salt, and garlic powder to skillet. Sauté mixture for about 10 minutes.
THREEAdd beans & cilantro. Continue to cook for about 5 minutes.

Enchilada Filling
Enchilada Filling

Tortillas

ONESpray oil on both sides of each tortilla.
TWOWrap in paper towels.
THREEHeat up in microwave for 30 seconds

Assembley

ONEAdd about a 1/4 cup of sauce to a small non-stick baking pan or casserole dish.
TWOOver to the side, add about 1/2 cup of filling to the tortillas and roll up. Place enchilada with seam side down in the dish.

Rolled Enchiladas
Rolled Enchiladas

THREECover with the remaining of the sauce.

Sauced Enchiladas
Sauced Enchiladas

FOURTop with cheese.
FIVEI added cilantro & black beans to the top.

Dressed Uncooked Enchiladas
Dressed Uncooked Enchiladas

SIXBake for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted & not burned.

Vegetarian Enchiladas
Vegetarian Enchiladas

SEVENENJOY!!

Vegetarian Enchiladas
Vegetarian Enchiladas

Restaurant Review: Franco’s Cucina

About thirty miles northwest of Chicago’s city limits, you will find an authentic Italian restaurant that will make you forget about any chain Italian restaurant that you may patronize. The other day I had the pleasure of experiencing Franco’s Cucina located at 1550 Bourbon Parkway located in the suburb of Streamwood, Illinois.

Twenty years ago, Emily and Franco Iacciano with their son John, decided to open Franco’s Cucina after operating a successful bakery business. The Iacciano family poured their passion for food into their Italian deli and bakery.

Their passion for food can be found in each bite. From the very first bite of Chicken Vesuvio, I could tell that this visit was going to be a most memorable one.

Chicken Vesuvio
Franco’s Cucina Chicken Vesuvio

At Franco’s massive counter, you will be greeted with a welcoming smile by a member of their friendly staff. You can order piping hot daily specials, sandwiches, salads, and pizza at one end of the counter. At the opposite end, is a vast selection of sweet indulgences that made me forget about my New Year’s resolution.

I blew my New Year’s resolution in less than an hour. The Tiramisu was amazing. The Cannoli was spectacular. It was my first time experiencing Zeppole. The custard was light and airy. Biting into the Zeppole felt like I was biting into a sweet satisfying unforgettable cloud.

Franco's Cucina Cappuccino
Franco’s Cucina Tiramisu
Franco's Cucina Cannelloni
Franco’s Cucina Cannelloni
Zeppolli
Franco’s Cucina Zeppolli

In my book, Franco’s Cucina cannot do anything wrong. They even create the perfect cup of Cappuccino. I didn’t even add sugar to this beautiful work of art. Whether it was paired with a Biscotti or a Lemon Knot, the rich taste of the Cappuccino remained smooth.

Cappuccino
Franco’s Cucina Cappuccino

Remember to take your appetite when you go to Franco’s Cucina. The flavors are huge and so are the servings. According to owner, John Iacciano, “Go big or go home”.

Daily Specialss
Saturday Daily Specials

I now know why Franco’s Cucina has been around for 20 years. Happy 20th Anniversary to Franco’s Cucina. I wish them twenty plus more years to come 🙂

Additional Photos from Franco's Cucina
Additional Photos from Franco’s Cucina