Love is in the air.
Once again, Valentine's Day is upon us. To be quite honest, Mr. Flintstone and I are tickled pink by the prospect of V-day, not because of contrived notions of romance, but because of the prospect of an excellent meal. As Charles Schulz put it, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt!”
Although Mr. Flintstone and I love eating out, we both feel it's more special to celebrate Valentine's Day at home. Aside from avoiding pandemonium in the streets, you get to spend more time with your significant other when you shop and chop, cook and eat together. And if--like mine--your better half is better off away from the kitchen, it's still gratifying to tailor-fit an entire menu based on both of your cravings and likings. After all, nothing says "I love you" more dearly than an honest-to-goodness homecooked meal.
Spanish Cuisine has the world watching. Predominantly known for its bold, exciting flavors, as well as its pioneering forays in molecular gastronomy, Spanish Cuisine has recaptured the heart of Manila--as evidenced by the popularity of Rambla, Vask, Las Flores, and Donosti. Renewed interest from diners comes with a side education on Basque Cuisine and Catalan Cuisine as well. In fact, the internationally renowned Madrid Fusion, one of the most anticipated culinary events in the world, will be hosted in Manila this April.
This month, I'll be featuring Spanish-influenced dishes. Some dishes aspire to be as authentic as possible, while some were tweaked due to ingredient availability, ease-of-preparation, and personal preferences (most featured dishes are Paleo-friendly).
Appetizer - Romesco Sauce
Traditionally served with grilled calcot (a type of scallion), romesco is a wonderful salsa or sauce made of a heady mixture of almond or hazelnut chunks, grilled red bell pepper, roasted tomato, sherry vinegar, and olive oil. Mr. Flintstone personally enjoys dipping raw vegetables in romesco, while I enjoy scooping it with a ginormous baguette.
Appetizer - Cojonudo
Cojonudo is a lip-smackingly rich toast piled high with romesco, olive oil-fried quail egg, and chorizo. A bite-sized beauty that glistens with fat and flavor, cojonudo truly sings when paired with wine. To make this paleo-friendly, Mr. Flintstone puts the chorizo and quail egg on a slice of roasted sweet potato.
Appetizer - Pulpo a la Gallega
Pulpo a la Gallega is another underrated appetizer. Several restaurants in Manila have begun featuring octopus, and Mr. Flintstone and I can attest that octopus is wonderful in salad and even pairs well with hummus! Exotic and unctuous, your date will be in for a real treat.
Appetizer - Setas al Ajillo
An earthy mix of sizzling mushrooms, fragrant with garlic and olive oil, and made more flavorful with white wine. This dish makes Mr. Flintsone pound his chest in unbridled joy.
Main Course - Paella Valenciana
I don't think I've put in as much research on any dish as I have with paella. While an authentic paella could make you lose yourself, it could also make you lose your wits if you make a critical misstep. When I set on the epic journey of paella-making, I let go of my fears and focused on achieving full-flavored dish that I can continue to improve as time goes by. So be easy on yourself. Cooking is about conquering your fears and having fun!
Main Course - Mojo Roasted Pork Belly
This dish actually has Cuban roots, but it goes so well with Paella that it's a shame not to include this. Inspired by one of my favorite movies, Chef, I tried my hand in making a delicious roast pork belly with the intoxicating aroma of lime, lemon, and oranges. And yes, no need to bicker with the mister as there's enough crackling skin for everyone!
Main Course - Spanish Spice Rubbed Steak with Asparagus a la Plancha
Like his caveman ancestors, Mr. Flintsone frequently gets a hankering for meat, especially on Valentine's Day, Father's Day, and his birthday. In this recipe, steak is generously rubbed with fennel seeds, mustard, and Spanish paprika. The end result is a fragrant, perfectly charred, still-pink-in-the-center slab of meat served with grilled asparagus.
Dessert - Almond Tart with Mantecado Ice Cream
My other nickname for this dish is "sweet surrender". It's a crunchy, hot, chewy, buttery, caramelized, cool, liquid gooey mess. It's on the side of crazy. But it will make you fall in love with it, over and over again.
Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz (with a few variations)
Pre-made tart or pie shell
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar (can be reduced to 1/2 cup)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup sliced or slivered almonds
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier or Amaretto liqueur or bourbon
1. Pre-bake tart or pie shell according to package
2. Mix cream, sugar, and salt and slowly bring to boil, stirring continuously. Upon foaming, remove pot from heat and add almond, vanilla extract, liqueur.
3. Spread mixture in pre-baked tart or pie shell. Make sure layering is even. Put tart with filling in oven.
4. Set the alarm for 10 minutes. Take out the tart and gently crack the tart's surface. Return tart in oven and check every 6 minutes. If sugar crust forms, gently crack it. Continute baking until filling slowly caramelizes. When tart filling is golden with flecks of cream, remove from oven. Ideal baking time is 30 minutes. Cool tart slightly until it sets. Top with Mantecado ice cream.
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