Meat and Potatoes

Sometimes in my quest for new recipes I forget to return to the basics.  Last night was not one of those times.

There’s just nothing like a rare ribeye, and a loaded baked potato.  Meat and starch go so well together.  To add a little veggie to the mix I added steamed and then sautéed broccoli with parmesan.  It was a delicious trio and a basic, down home dinner.

A little Malbec in my glass and some just-out-of-the-shrink-wrap records on the turntable and I had one very old school evening.

All hail meat and potatoes!

Baked Egg in Avocado

Who would have thought that two of my favorite flavors in the world, egg and avocado, would go so well together?  The recipe is straightforward.  Put your egg in the avocado where the seed would have been (hollowed out a little more to fit the egg), and then put the whole shootin’ match on a cast iron skillet or oven safe plate in a 425 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until your egg looks done the way you like it.

The egg was very flavorful surrounded by the avocado.  The fruit was warm and firm but not a weird consistency.  I topped mine with a little bit of SaSo for an extra kick in the flavor department.

Having tried this recipe, I’m now curious about what other great egg avocado parings there are out there.  Avocado in egg salad, maybe?  The possibilities are endless.

Cherry Tomato and Parmesan Quinoa

Before going to work on Friday, I took a nice, thick pork chop out of the freezer and put it in the fridge to thaw.  I hadn’t actually planned what I was going to eat with it.  That is until I spied some week old cherry tomatoes on the counter; I decided to take care of them in one go.  There was nothing to this recipe but I thought I was pretty crafty for using the tomatoes and making a delicious side dish.

I followed the regular directions for making quinoa and put the 10 cherry tomatoes in the water even before it boiled.  A little olive oil, a couple teaspoons of oregano and several handfuls of grated parmesan and I was good to go.  The exploded tomatoes added nice acidity to the dish and put a little extra color on the plate.  Not bad for a seat-of-the-pants side.

Lard-Fried Chicken

Hey, Larda**! Chow down, wide load!

Anybody who has seen “Stand By Me” will remember the above line.  Interestingly, as three white blocks of rendered pork lard were liquefying in my frying pan, the chant “Larda**, Larda**, Larda**!” did enter my mind.  However, instead of it being a taunt, it was all about self-satisfaction.  I had never cooked with lard and I was about to cook one meat with the fat of another meat.  What’s not to like?

I used the Homesick Texan’s recipe.  Fitting as I am homesick for Texas since the rest of my family is there.  But the fried chicken I whipped up last night went a long way to making me feel better.

The day started with a trip to the Tesco Express to pick up two whole chickens and three blocks of lard.  With plenty of free time on my hands I decided to break down the chickens myself, having not done that since the early days of my marriage.  My wife gets a little freaked out by raw chicken and with her out of the picture, I was free to add a little more “homemade” to this recipe.  With 16  beautiful pieces of chicken before me, I brined them in saltwater according to the recipe.  The recipe called for a minimum of 8 hours for the soak and by the time I got home from the store, I only had time to do them for about 7 hours.  Frankly, I’m glad I didn’t have more time – as the end result was just a tad on the salty side.

I fried up the birds in four batches.  They cooked evenly and the end result was a thin but delightfully crunchy crust surrounding the most moist chicken you’ve ever eaten.  I usually pass on chicken breasts but the white meat done by this method was tender, juicy and full of flavor.  Chased down with a cold Gambrinus and accompanied by celery sticks, it was a meal fit for a tub ‘o lard bachelor.

As I’m in full test kitchen mode, I froze a good portion of the leftovers for weeknight meals while the girls are out.  The four other pieces in the fridge will be dinner for me tonight.

This is one Larda** that can barely wait to chow down.

Bacon Wrapped Shrimp

This may be an effort to keep myself entertained but I’ve decided that I’ll blog as many interesting meals as I can while the girls are out.  The NH kitchen tends to become a bit of a test kitchen when I am a bachelor so I’ll let you know how that goes.

Tonight’s dinner was shrimp grilled with English/British bacon.  It’s essentially a cured pork belly, sliced like bacon, wrapped around shrimp and then grilled.  Not bad, not bad at all.  This type of bacon is “hammier” than what us Yankees are used to.  No matter.  We’ve taken everything else the Brits gave us and made it better.

Ever grilled your bacon, blokes?

Chicken and Dumplings or Chicken ‘n Dumplins

Growing up in Nebraska I always loved chicken and dumplings.  My dumpling world was limited to the ones Mom made, however.  If I recall correctly, these were dumplings made with Bisquick.  They were delicious and a personal favorite but they are considerably different than the ones you’ll find on order in Texas.  Mom’s were pillowy spoonfulls as opposed to the traditional wide Texas strips.

My Texas experience with dumplings began at the Paris Coffee Shop.  Fridays were the special day of the week when Paris served wall-to-wall patrons with delicious helpings of chicken ‘n dumplins on cafeteria style trays along with traditional Texas sides like steamed okra.  It was a pilgrimage for many of us.  Comfort food after ill advised nights out or breaks from study sessions.  (Oh, who am I kidding, the latter probably never happened.)

So, imagine my delight when my wife-to-be brought me home to Houston during a break in the semester only to introduce me to her Gramma, in the kitchen, preparing a delicious pot of chicken and dumplins.  Mrs. NH’s family was serious about this dinner.  My future father in law even had his own dumpling bowl.  I’ll admit, I was a bit taken back by the seriousness of the whole ritual.  Dedicated dumplin bowls?

Yet, as soon as I took my first bite of these dumplins, I realized exactly what all the fuss was about.  I wanted this recipe in my family.  Marriage seemed like a pretty good way to lock it in.

So imagine my glee last Saturday night.  I was in the NH kitchen to witness the first mother-daughter joint dumplin cookoff.  Mrs. NH passed down the recipe and technique to Little NH just as her Gramma did before she passed away.  I have to say, love must be a major component in this recipe.  Because with both generations of NH girls in on the cooking, they tasted better than they ever have.  And that’s saying something.

Oh, and a note on the spelling of “dumplin”; I was informed at my first meal with the family of my wife to be that dropping the G was the correct pronunciation.  You think I’d argue and risk getting a second helping?

I have to say, it’s great to have family traditions like this especially when all I have to do is eat the finished product.  With any luck, my girls will pass this tradition down to my grandkids some day.  Time to get me a dumplin bowl.

Cinderella Princess Cake

I put a lot of effort into blog posts on music and travel.  Still, the post on the Minnie Mouse cake continues to be the most visited post on this blog.  I could be upset but instead I’m happy to ride the coattails of my wife’s baking ability on the way to more site visits.

Since cakes are such a hit here, this is today’s creation.  We’re celebrating Little NH2’s birthday a little early, so we could all enjoy the Sunday afternoon together.  It’s about 10 degrees Farenheit outside and the warm oven in the house is welcome.

My wife tells me that this cake design was used by her mother for her birthday, with a full-sized Barbie and full-sized bunt cake.  This particular cake was done using a mini bunt pan and smaller Cinderella figure.  (I’ve gotten to be a pro at anything Disney Princess lately.)

Mrs. NH and Little NH have been decorating cupcakes as well.  I’m definitely going to benefit from all of this for dessert.  And lest I forget, Happy First Birthday Little NH2!

Croquetas de Jamón, Albóndigas en Sofrito y Alcachofas Laminadas – Hecho en Casa

I could have opened up a restaurant in downtown Madrid last night.  This amateur chef was firing on all cylinders.  Heck, I was even firing on cylinders that I didn’t know I had.

Making croquetas has always been something that I have wanted to do – successfully.  I tried it once with my dad about 20 years ago, back when I was a kid just home from a year in Spain.  We failed.  Miserably.  The croquetas were burnt blobs.  The failure scarred me and I had not tried to make them again, until last night.

Just back from India, I got a hankerin’ for something that was, well, not curry.  Having recently excavated a nice chunk of frozen jamón from the freezer, I decided to put it to use in the croquetas.  I used the recipe from La Tienda.com‘s website.  I ended up changing the proportions quite a bit since the 1/2 lb of jamón that the recipe called for made for too meaty of croquetas.  I used some smoked sweet paprika and nutmeg in the batter, just to bring out the flavors I love.

They were a huge success.  Mrs. NH and Little NH gobbled them up as fast as I could make them.  But I didn’t stop there.

I also wanted to try my hand at fried artichokes, just like in Barcelona’s Ciudad Condal.  These always seemed like an impossible dish to make, due to the cleaning of the choke and thin cut that they needed to have.  Nonetheless, I decided to give it a try and I’m glad I did.

First, I pulled off the green outer leaves and then cut of the top prickly portion of the artichoke.  Using a baby food spoon (thanks, Scamp!) I scooped out the fuzziest part of the inner choke, right above the heart.  I then halfed it and set to running it through on the “thin” setting on my mandolin.  Finally, I fried them in about 1/2 inch of olive oil and finished with a liberal sprinkling of sea salt.  Wow.  Two home runs in one night.

Finally, I decided that to round out this feast, we needed Little NH’s new favorite tapa – albóndigas (meatballs).  We did a pork variety with a delicious sofrito from José Andrés’ “Made in Spain”.  Little NH helped mix the meat and made all of the balls herself.  I fried them up and added them to the sauce to simmer for a good hour until we chowed down.

Not content to do a feast of tapas half way, I opened the pack of duck jamón I had in the fridge and Mrs. NH prepared fresh pan con tomate.  It was a meal that I would have been thrilled with at any Spanish tapas bar in el barrio gótico or on Cava Baja.  The fact that I had it while sitting on my couch, made it all the better.

¡Exito!

Pizza or Pakistan?

I didn’t choose; the Pakistani Embassy in Prague chose for me.  I didn’t get a visa to visit Pakistan in time so I did what any smart man would do.  I stayed home and cooked.  From Friday night through Sunday night Mrs. NH and I made/ate/froze:

2 Pizza Margheritas
14 doughs for pizza crust
1 Breakfast Burrito
2 Cheesesteak Sandwiches
48 Flour Tortillas
27 Crepes
1 Batch Tortilla Soup

It was an incredible weekend and the freezers are full.  And my pants still fit.
That beats Islamabad any day.

A Perfect Day in San Sebastian – Part 2

“Siesta” marks a huge split in the day in Spain.  I have been told that for those Spaniards in the corporate world, it is a thing of the past.  However, in the small hill towns of La Rioja and even the winding back streets of “La Parte Vieja” of San Sebastian, it is still very much a part of daily life.  Therefore, we planned our day to deflect the gap that is sometimes left by siesta in order to pack as much into our last Sunday in Spain.  (This article is part two of the article that began here.)

Stop 5: Ostertz – Coffee and Sherry and Regional Education

After a big morning and early afternoon of feasting, some good digestion was in order.  Mrs. NH and I settled on a small, busy cafe/bar right along the waterfront on the opposite side of La Concha Bay – facing the new town of San Sebastian.  We weren’t the only family that sought shaded refuge and something to sip on for continued strength.  After our coffees, I opted for a nice fino Sherry and Mrs. NH suggested that I, “Ask if they can make me a rebujito!”  Discovered while touring Jerez a few years back, a rebujito is a drink that consists of Sprite or some kind of bubbly lemon drink mixed with fino Sherry.  I prefer not to pollute my fino with anything.  However, Mrs. NH doesn’t ask for much so the least I could do is ask at the bar keep.  My inquiry was met with incredulity from the bartender and eye rolls and independent commentary from another patron inside the bar.  “This isn’t Andalucía,” he offered.  Luckily, I had ordered my fino puro first and was able to believably pass off my request for what it was – a request from my wife.  When I returned to the table with a fino and a cerveza clara, I marveled with my wife about how truly regional Spanish food and drink is.  I also relayed the fact that despite almost being laughed out of the bar for my order, both bartender and patron were curious to know the exact ingredients and proportions of a proper rebujito.  The best part, they asked the American!

Stop 6: Merry Go Round and Potato Chips

As a father, I’ve seen a lot of playgrounds in a lot of towns in a lot of countries.  If you have kids of your own, you know how it is.  If they see a playground, they want to stop.  Same goes with merry go rounds.  My girls are good travelers so if there is time in the day,  I don’t mind spending a bit of it doing things they like.  I feel it ads harmony to the overall trip experience (as well as the obvious “carrot” for good behavior).  So, kid fun time completed, we proceeded to the paved mosaic waterfront of San Sebastian.  On the way we saw a man selling 1.50 euro bags of potato chips and did not waste any time in forking over our coin for a modest bag.  The reason we shelled out almost $2.25 for a small bag of chips?  Experience.  Spanish potato chips can be really tasty – like the ones sold in La Plaza del Salvador in Sevilla.  The ones in San Sebastian were no exception.  Thick cut, salty, slightly greasy and really satisfying.  Between that and the sunset walk along the ocean, it was the perfect primer to an evening of tapas and delightful Spanish mayhem.

Stop 7: Ormazabal

Part of Little NH’s fascination with Spain comes from a part of the Spanish tapas bar culture that seems entirely counter to everything she has been taught about cleanliness.  At first, she was terrified to toss a used napkin on the floor of Spanish a tapas bar.  However, by the end of the trip, she was asking, “Daddy, are you done with your napkin?  When you are, give it to me so I can throw it on the floor.”  When in Spain…, right?

For our second to last tapas stop of the evening, we hit Ormazabal for a round of family favorites from our last several days in Spain.  The friendly folks behind the counter made a couple recommendations and even delivered the items right to our table – and we had a great time bantering in English, Spanish and sorta-French with them.  Our orders consisted of some of the best food we had eaten in Spain and included: meatballs (albondigas), spinach croquetas, peppers stuffed with bacalao, octopus in its ink and beef cheeks.  Having settled into a comfortable table in the back with room for the stroller (which at this point in the trip resembled more of a covered wagon), we decided to stay put and made this tapas stop more of a meal.  We ordered 2-3 more rounds of food, each accompanied by great banter with the help, and departed very satisfied for a very modest price.

Unfortunately, for Little NH, not all restaurants in Spain cater to the “napkin on the floor” tradition – including Ormazabal.  So, we had one more stop.

Stop 8: Munto Jatetxea Redux

One good turn deserves another, right?  As we were heading north to France the next morning and Little NH2 was asleep in her stroller, we decided to head back to Munto Jatetxea for our last plates of tapas.  Mrs. NH had not had enough pimientos de padrón on this trip and I had no problem helping her gobble up the heaping plate while our youngest slept in the stroller amidst the din of the patronage in the bar.  At the other end of the hyperactivity spectrum, Little NH stood outside in the pedestrian traffic only street and danced and sang to a tune residing somewhere deep inside her head.  Folks alternately chuckled at her, danced with her and dodged her.  We all got to do what we loved best.  Of course, Little NH took a break every now and then to come inside, sip some juice and toss down my used napkins.

A Perfect Day in San Sebastian – Part 1

Sundays in Spain are pretty hard to beat.  One can choose church in the morning or, if you were like us, opt to let your 4 year old and 8 month old sleep in after a typically late Spanish Saturday night.  The majority of the morning was rainy and gray so we hunkered down until around 11:00 as the clouds drifted away leaving a blue sky and gleaming cobblestone streets.

Stop 1: Churros

Mrs. NH and Little NH were determined to start their final day in Spain with the classic churros con chocolate.  Considering our late start, we had to travel to the “parte vieja” to find a restaurant offering the tasty breakfast.  The one we found seems to offer delectable churros 24/7.  With breakfast out of the way, it was time to begin on the rest of the culinary day out.

Stop 2: Basque Lessons

I have a pretty good conversational grasp of Spanish.  In the preceding week, I hadn’t missed a lick of conversation with any Spaniard.  However, in La Cepa I was fairly lost.  To this day, I’m not sure if the first conversation I had with the man behind the counter was in heavily accented Spanish or Basque.  Yes, I muddled through and got a plate of delicious pinchos, but I was left stuttering as if it was my first day speaking Spanish.  Confused, I brought the pinchos, sangria and zumo de manzana back to the family; the fellow behind the counter winked and gave me a small brochure with English, Spanish, Basque, Catalan, Dutch and other translations of common phrases and words.  “Ah, ha!” I thought.  “When in País Vasco…”

We gobbled up the pinchos and finished our sangria.  Having studied my translations, I was ready to make my next order as a local.  A Basque local.  “Bat sangria!” I hollered to my ostensible new professor.  He smiled and winked, “Eh, sangria bat! Pero gracias!”  It was a correction, and a good natured ‘thanks for trying.’  It was also my first word in a new language.  No one will ever confuse me for a linguist!

Stop 3: ¡Foie!

San Sebastian is Basque country and that means there is a good mix of French influence in this region.  Considering my weakness for foie gras, it was also a culinary jackpot.  We pulled up napping Little NH2’s stroller outside of Munto Jatetxea and I went in to place the orders in the midst of a bustling Sunday crowd.  I ordered stuffed peppers, out-0f-this-world croquetas for Little NH, and the aforementioned foie.  Ordering the foie gras was almost as fun as eating it.  I relayed my order in Spanish to the sprightly girl behind the counter and she repeated it with incredible vigor over her shoulder to the open door that contained the kitchen.  Seeing my reaction and smile at the power of her voice, she filled a caña and a clara and handed to me with a wide grin.  I. Love. Spain.

Stop 4: Plaza de la Lasta and the Waterfront

Fat and happy from several tapas we decided to take a break from eating and stretch our legs for a short walk to the waterfront.  The sun was now shining brightly and the town of San Sebastian seemed to be cast in Technicolor.  We sat on the pier for an hour, digesting and soaking up the sun while Little NH practiced her Spanish on a group of boys wrestling with a fishing pole twice their combined height.  Approaching them, she yelled, “¡Hola!”  They all gave her a disinterested look and went back to untangling their line.  Realizing that it won’t always be that way, I laughed and began plotting the rest of the day in my mind.  Across the way, a string of seaside restaurants beckoned.  Am I ever not hungry in Spain?

Continue to Part 2.

Patatas Alioli

Spanish cooking is very traditional fare.  Unlike other European cultures, there is not a prevalence of foreign foods on offer in the bustling cities of Spain.  There are exceptions, of course.   If one looks hard enough, you can find a smattering of Japanese, pizza and even burger places.  However, the preponderance of cuisine in Spain is very fresh and very Spanish.

That’s why when Mrs. NH and I stumbled across these patatas alioli, we took notice.  It was in a restaurant tucked in a side street at the top of the old town of Tossa de Mar in northeastern Spain called La Lluna.  The patatas arrived piping hot with an inviting garlicky aroma.  The shape was the first thing we noticed.  They were round, restaurant namesake appropriate half-moons of perfectly crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside potatoes.    They were still covered in bubbly tender skin.  The edges of the moons were flaky and crispy and the whole piece was sprinkled with just enough sea salt to really make it zing on the palate.  The alioli was thick but began to melt slightly as it rested on the warm potatoes adding a luxurious creamy texture to the already fluffy, smooth centers of potato.

Mrs. NH and I have always been huge fans of patatas alioli but this batch stands out as one of the most delicious versions we have encountered.  The dish pushed the boundaries of the traditional dish in both shape and pure rustic goodness without leaving behind any of the authenticity.

The dinner at this restaurant was so good that we decided even before we finished our first meal that we would be back again the next night.  As if to punctuate our decision to the friendly and helpful staff, we left proclaiming “hasta mañana!”  Needless to say, we kept our promise.

Sun Chips, etc.

Little NH2 had us up a good part of the night.  She wasn’t happy with something and as a result, we didn’t sleep a lot.  However, Mrs. NH is now taking a nap (I can’t sleep) and Little NH2 is dozing right next to me.  Little NH just got home from church with her Grandmother and is snacking on some chicken nuggets.

For my lunch, I fixed a turkey and swiss sandwich.  On the side, I had some Sun Chips.  I don’t get Sun Chips in Prague but have read about the loud, compostable bag.  I say it’s much ado about nothing.  I mean, I had it crinkling right next to an infant, and she didn’t even bat an eye.   Maybe if it was 3:00am it would be a different story.

Anyway, even in my slightly delirious state, I can appreciate how lame it is to blog about my lunch and a chip bag.  Sorry.

Fresh Penne Train Wreck

“I gotta go get the camera!”

“You’re not going to blog this, are you?”

“Sure, you can blog your failures, too.  Besides, it’s so lame it’s kinda funny.”

“Yeah, it is.”

This was the conversation Mrs. NH and I had as we were peeling apart once beautiful fresh penne (pictured above) that had become stuck together (pictured below) after we failed to separate it and put it on a floured surface.  We’re still trying to perfect the procedure with our new KitchenAid pasta attachment and last night’s attempt was an abject failure.  We salvaged what we could and what we couldn’t turned into more of a spaetzle than a penne.  The sauce was delicious as usual (alla Vodka) but we’ve got a ways to go until we take this pasta maker to prime time.

However, last night’s failure brought back memories of family failures in the kitchen when I was a young kid.  The one that is most memorable was the time the wine bottle fell off the top of the fridge and smashed into the batch of freshly made green tomatillo salsa.  And of course, our numerous attempts at frying stuff always seemed to yield greasy and soggy results.  The failures weren’t terribly numerous but were always a letdown.  But still, we laughed.

Mrs. NH and I laughed last night as well.  This wasn’t our first failure in the kitchen and it won’t be our last.  I’m just glad we didn’t do it in front of company.  Of course, by posting it here, you can laugh but you don’t have to be polite and eat it.  You’re welcome.