Nero Pasta con Frutti di Mare e Salsa Fra Diavolo

You don’t need Google Translate to decipher this tasty dish.  Just as our holiday last summer to northern Spain left us craving more of their culinary delights once we returned home, our recent return from Italy has been no different.  We haven’t wasted anytime popping open bottles of wine, using rosso pesto on everything from sandwiches to pasta, and savoring the sweet honey on fresh bread.  Now it’s time for the squid ink pasta.

As many people know, squid excrete a black ink as their defense mechanism to confuse and elude predators.  As many cooks know, it’s a wonderful element to add flavor and color to a variety of dishes, pasta being the most common.  The flavor is described as “briny and seafood-y”.  Big surprise there.  And naturally, best paired with seafood.

Amsterdam has been nothing but a daily soggy mess for over a week.  But we managed to hit the fish market to grab some fresh squid and clams during a brief dry moment.   The recipe is really easy and takes under 30 minutes to prepare, especially if you buy seafood that has already been cleaned.

Sauté

Add Chianti

Add tomatoes and seafood of choice

Mmmm, squid!

Nero pasta, al dente

Mix it all together...

...and enjoy!

There are several great recipes on the web using squid ink pasta, we just happen to choose this one and somewhat halved the recipe to accommodate two people.

  • 1 lb (about 500 grams) black squid ink pasta (regular pasta can be substituted)
  • 2 lb whole baby squid (or 1 lb cleaned baby squid bodies or pre-cut rings)

[we also added clams; I think any kind seafood will pair well if you don’t prefer squid]

  • 1- 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, use the best you can find
  • 1/2 c Chianti Wine
  • Olive oil as needed
  • Garlic, 2-3 cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • Lots of crushed red pepper flakes for heat

[we love heat and added a chili pepper as well]

  • Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • Garnish:  Fresh or dried parsley and/or grated parmesan

Preparation:  Before you begin anything, clean and prep the squid by gently but firmly grabbing the “head” of the squid and pulling away from the body. This should remove all insides including the ink pouch. Careful to not break the ink pouch, it will get EVERYTHING black. Next, rinse out the squid body and pull out the “bone” – it runs down the body of the squid and looks and feels like thin clear plastic. It should come out in one clean piece. Next, gently tear off the “flaps” on the body and this should bring all the skin with it. You are looking for a shiny, white, clean squid body which you then cut into rings, rinse one more time and set aside. Want less mess and a time saver?  Buy cleaned squid or pre-cut rings (we did!).

Next, cook pasta to al dente, drain and reserve about 1/2 c cooking liquid. Meanwhile sauté garlic, shallots and red pepper flakes in olive oil, careful to not burn garlic. Add wine and bring to a boil, reduce by about half…add tomatoes, simmer, adding salt and pepper as needed (to taste).

Add squid to tomato sauce, along with drained pasta and reserved cooking liquid. Simmer, tossing frequently, and turn off heat before mixture nears dry (and before seafood becomes tough). Squid, like shrimp, cook within minutes and will be tough and chewy if you overcook it.

Garnish with crushed red peppers and chopped parsley, serve immediately (preferably with your favorite Chianti Classico!).

Eet smakelijk and Buon Appetito!

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An American Sunday in A’Dam

I love living abroad, but sometimes miss the Sunday Funday’s I used to have in NYC with my friends.  Some Sunday’s were “healthy”:  run a 5 or 10k race in Central Park and then ingest twice the calories at brunch that we had just burned off.  Other’s were “holier”:  morning mass at the neighborhood church and then off to any bar that was televising the Saints football game (not always an easy find in NYC or Hoboken).  And in the summertime when it was too hot for a run and too early for football watching, we could easily make a marathon day out of eating and drinking.  Really.

I was thrilled when I heard about the Sunday pop-up brunch in Amsterdam called lovefood; click here to check it out.  I went once in the spring and have been eager to return.  Jason Hartley, an Englishman living in Amsterdam for 10+ years is a consultant during the week and a chef during the weekend cooking up a fantastic brunch and satisfying tummies of all cultures.  It’s a solid brunch menu with my favorite brunch beverage, the Bloody Mary.  Lovefood has had several pop-up homes in A’Dam and is currently serving up Sunday’s in the canal ring on the Prinsengracht.  Today was the 2-year celebration for lovefood which featured a special birthday pop-up at Tommy Hilfiger’s People’s Place; a new restaurant/bar/event space which  is exclusive to TH’s staff and business customers.

 

 

J at the Bloody Bar

Me and J mix our Bloodys

super lekker bloodys

Proost with J & E

With beverages in hand, it was time to order.  I love breakfast food.  And I appreciate the American breakfast more now that it is not at my disposal.  While my mom can make some fabulous dinners, I loved when we were in need of a trip to the grocery,  and she made breakfast for dinner because somehow there always seemed to be enough eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage or biscuits for a satisfying meal.

My patient friends can attest to the fact that I could never make up my mind when time came to place my brunch order.  Sweet or savory, sweet or savory?   Which begs the follow up question, ‘mimosa or bloody, mimosa or bloody?’.   Fortunately lovefood’s menu is equipped for i-want-my-cake-and-it-eat-too people like me.  It’s called The Full Mikey.  (catchy, eh?)  And this morning I was Mikey and I would eat anything, anything that Jason Hartely was cooking.

The Full Mikey

The Full Veggie & Eggs Florentine

Complimentary birthday cupcakes

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

A few hours later it was time to change gears.  The NFL championship games were on and I was ready to support my Packer friends.  I had a gold scarf, but lacked a single article of hunter green to show my support for the cheese heads.  J had plenty of green in stock and happily loaned me a green shirt and dubbed me an honorary Packer fan for the night.  We are 7 hours ahead of U.S. CST, but found an Aussie bar in Rembrandtplein showing not only the Packers/Bears game, but the Jets/Steelers game as well as long as you were in the door by midnight.  It proved to be a game worth staying up late for.  I’m tempted to find a cheesehead hat for the big game.  After all, this is Holland…land of kaas.  Veel success to the Packers in two weeks!

Happy Fans!

Game Over!

 

German Christmas Markets


It’s Epiphany!  For some of you (like my nanay) it’s the day the Three Wise Men ended their journey in Bethlehem.  The Christmas season has concluded and it’s time to take the tree down.  For those of you in my beloved New Orleans, its Twelfth Night, y’all and the Carnival season has begun.  Did your slice of king cake have a baby in it today?  Ohhhh, how I miss the king cake!!!  And if you’re in Amsterdam, it was another typical Dutch day biking around in the rain.  While the baked good here are super lekker, it’s the land of licorice and stroopwafels so not a king cake in sight.  And with the New Year holiday now behind us, the oliebollens and appelflappens stands left town with the holiday tourists.

As every holiday owns a unique tradition, Germany is THE place to go to experience the authentic Christmas Markets.  My first visit to Germany was five years ago for a business trip.  It was during the month of November and while the States where preparing for Thanksgiving, Germany was gearing up for their Christmas markets.  Our client took us to dinner in a medieval town called Rothenburg.  It sounds cheesy, but it was like I stepped into a European snow globe.  With timber homes,  cobblestone streets and beautiful decor, I felt like I traveled back in time by a few hundred years.  Our client told us, “You should see it when the markets are here.”  Sadly, I had to return to the States before I had that opportunity, but mentally added the German Christmas Markets to my Bucket/Travel List.

Five years later, I was finally going to cross it off the list.  Or not.  Well maybe.  Or maybe not.  Two weekends before Christmas, major snow storms were sweeping through Germany and travel by car or train was not looking very optimistic.  We decided to make a game time decision on Saturday morning, but hotel choices were becoming scarce.  On Saturday morning, the weather looked better and we were muti-tasking with showers, packing, and hotel searching.  We buzzed our friends A&A and they were game to join our last minute excursion.  With an overnight bag packed and a not-our-first-or-second-choice-but-you-have-availability-so-we’ll-take-it-room, we were off to Cologne.

 

The drive was pretty smooth until the outskirts of Cologne.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one determined to hit the markets this weekend.  It was such a tease as we were so close, but yet stuck in bumper to bumper traffic.  Our first mug of glühwein was well deserved.  While it didn’t make the list of my Top 10 favorite drinks, it did mean we had finally arrived and the warm spiced wine ignited my Christmas spirit.   Our first market stop was in the town center at the Cologne Cathedral.  Here I made another mental note to return to Cologne and appreciate the history the city had to offer beyond the markets.

It was a bit of madness with thousands of people mashed into the city center.  But we made our way around to eat, drink, shop, and eat and drink more.  The next stop was the Alter Market where we found live Christmas music, gifts for our family, and a bier garten—for more, food, drink, and a thankfully a spot to sit down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, we stopped at a few other markets in Cologne before driving to the town of Aachen. Not surprising, it was pretty crowded as well and after a few hours we all felt like pinballs bouncing around nonstop.  The guys were shopped out and it was time to make the drive home. 

 

When I lived in NYC, no one batted an eye if your day involved activities throughout New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.  The Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium are not much different…except for the fact you can say you were in three countries in one day rather than three states.  We would be hungry for dinner long before we reached Amsterdam and agreed that a slight detour to Antwerp, Belgium was a perfect idea.  G and I love the Kathedraalcafe just off the Grote Markt and after several bratwurst sandwiches; we were keen to some seafood.  With happy bellies, we had a quick peek at the Christmas markets and then piled in the car for the trek home.

Special thanks to A&A for contributing photos.  Click here to see a full slideshow.  Tot Ziens!

Good Times!

 

 

A Feasting Weekend

With a year of “domestication” under my belt, I am finally finding my groove in the kitchen.  I was so excited about hosting NYE dinner and trying out some new recipes.  Beef tenderloin, cheesy mashed potatoes, and roasted asparagus with artichoke hearts hit the spot to bid farewell to 2010 with a few friends.

Beef tenderloin with Maker's Mark marinade

Mashed by hand with love

 

Roasting artichoke hearts

Artichokes marinating

Roasted veggie delight

Voilà, dinner is served!

 

In additional to the  traditional midnight champagne toast, the Dutch also enjoy oliebollens (oil balls)  or appelflappens (similar to apple fritters).  Throughout the day, there were pop-up stands in front of every shop and bakery selling fresh made oliebollens and appelflappens.  Since G doesn’t like fruity pastries, I had the appelflappens alllll to myself for my New Year’s Day breakfast.  Super Lekker!

 

After nearly a two hour bike ride down the Amstel River and back through Amstelveen, we were starved and ready for the obligatory New Year’s Day grub. Despite G and I are not frequent cabbage eaters, every good southerner knows that black eyed peas + cabbage + pork is a must for starting off the new year (and side of leftover mashed potatoes hits the spot as well!).

A toast to luck, prosperity and progress in 2011

On Sunday, we lightened it up and made our first batch of udon noodle soup.  It turned out well, but will need to add some heat to give it more kick for next time.  We love the spicy food!

Click here for Food Network’s Bourbon Beef Tenderloin recipe.  Send me a comment or email if you would like any of the others.  After all of this feasting, it’s definitely time for some exercising.  Hope your New Year started off with some good eats as well!  Eet Smakelijk!

Krówka = Krówki = Polish Crack

Ok, it really translates into “little cow”.  I may have just offended anyone with any iota of Polish descent by calling their famous confectionary “crack”.   But in English slang, it is an endearing term for something that is addictive, i.e. just can’t get ’nuff of it.  And if that something is a sweet, I am pretty much addicted.  And if it is anything similar to a caramel  or dulce de leche, G loves it.

Last week’s business adventures brought G to Warsaw for a few days.  Upon his return he revealed three small bags of something I had never seen, tasted, or even heard of.  But now I have.  And now I’m in trouble.  Well, my waistline is in trouble.  As if I needed another confectionary bullet point on my resume of sweets.  These little rectangles of sweet goodness are SUPER LEKKER!  I mean, who doesn’t love a perfect combination of milk, sugar, butter, vanilla and cream?  Some of the wrappers describe them as “cream fudge” or “butter fudge”, but to me they seem creamier and have a unique texture…somewhat layered with a creamy and crumbly feel…like a cross between fudge and caramel.  Mmmm!

My newest Polish Pottery purchase was a small footed bowl that was perfect for the trio of little cows.  I purposely placed it in the dining room, out of my normal path so I don’t eat all the little cows and become a big one.

Mama-fied

G and I can walk bike the streets of Amsterdam with our heads held high now that we have indulged in the late night offerings of Mama’s.  In a town where 24-hour diners and late night pizza shops are about as common as a day without rain, you can find gastronomical refuge within the dime-a-dozen Shawarma eateries.  A great way to settle both the late night munchies and the countless Belgium or Dutch biers consumed during the evening.  We’ve been to other shawarma snack bars, but our friends rave that Mama’s is the lekkerst (yummiest!)!  The only downfall to Mama’s (and probably one reason it took us so long to finally try it) is that it’s smack in the middle of Leidseplein, the U.S. equivalent of Times Square or Bourbon Street.  In other words, an area we typically avoid during our weekend outings or bike rides home from the Center.

But last night, the stars were aligned and it was finally a Mama’s night.  We attended a farewell party for G’s colleague, read: bier + bier + bier + bier, etc.  The evening was very gezellig, we were all having a great time and dinner time came and past.  With the witching hour growing near and the party winding down, our hunger pains were kicking in.  It was a unanimous decision to stop at Mama’s.  We peddled down the canal with a drizzle in the air and anticipated our meaty dish.

A & A arrived just before us and kindly ordered for all.  G & I walked in to warm shawarma pitas awaiting us on the counter.  Followed by a bowl of frites, we soon had happy tummies and G and I were officially Mama-neophytes.  No more dropped jaw reactions coupled with “you’ve never eaten at Mama’s?!?

 

eet smakelijk!

 

Salt for your frites? Ja!

On the note of late night eats, I couldn’t help but think of a few others I used to frequent in my previous cites.  During my college days in Shreveport, Murrell’s was open 24 hours with waitstaff that addressed you by honey-baby-sugar-dawlin with every roll of the tongue.  Like every poor college student whose funds were now in a bartenders tip jar, the abundance of complimentary saltine crackers + green goddess was a jackpot.  Maybe that’s why they are now closed.  Despite the limited seating, The Camellia Grill in Uptown New Orleans was a staple late night or late morning after a really late night.  The omlettes are amazing and the staff always entertaining.  If you are ever in Nola, it’s a must stop.  Like New Orleans, the NYC area food options are endless and hard to narrow down.  However, late nights in Hoboken, NJ always ended with a slice of pizza from Imposto’s on Washington.  For Manhattan, I could easily rattle off a dozen late night diners or cafes, but L’Express has always been a favorite with some of the best fries, great coffee, and excellent people watching.  Conveniently located just north of Union Square ,  it was always easy to hail a cab or catch the express train home from there.

Wishing you good eats where ever you may be!  Tot Ziens…

 

Fabada

During our road trip in Northern Spain, we never ate a single bad meal.  Everything was amazing and we were always excited to try new dishes.  Like many countries, the local cuisine will vary as you enter a new town, state, or province.  Nearly everyone immediately thinks tapas or paella when you say Spain.  Take a trip to any town in Northern Spain and you will find there is so much than you could imagine with Spanish fare.  The coastal towns are naturally overflowing with seafood so fresh, you’d bet money that your meal was just swimming in the Bay of Biscay only minutes ago.

While seafood is still plentiful inland, the cuisine tends to favor heavier stews, soups, and endless uses of pork.  We spent two nights in Oviedo; an inland town which is the modern capital of the Asturias province.  And this is where we fell in love with fabada.  Or as the Dutch would say, “super lekker!”.

Spaniards are notoriously late diners with lunch hour usually around 2 or 3pm. But we had a light breakfast and after trekking all over town, we were hungry!  At RQR Restaurante (Calle de Cimadevilla, 16) the first guy to greet us spoke little English, so he sent another woman over to help us.  She found it funny that I was constantly taking photos of the menus, the bottles, the food plates, etc.  Mr. I-can’t-get-enough-pork ordered the fabada Asturiana while I, being the rice lover, ordered the arroz caldoso de mariscos (soupy rice with seafood).  So mine was really good, but G’s selection easily won “best pick of the day”.

 

G pours his sidra

Fabada & Arroz

Heavy lunch...this was after the soups. We totally skipped dinner that night.

 

 

After we finished, we went back to a shop we saw during our walk where we were certain we could get the necessary items to replicate this in Amsterdam.  Bingo!, Rey del Jamon (King of Hams, of course!) had a perfectly packaged kit of all that we needed.

Fast-forward three months.  It’s a chilly Sunday and perfect for fabada!  Just as G finishes setting up the tv so I can watch my Saints football game, he takes one final taste and serves up a bowl of warm porky goodness.  It’s not gumbo, but runs a very tight second place.

 

 

Chef G takes a test

 

Putting our clay cazuelas to use for the 1st time.

 

French bread and Rioja to pair...we are ready to eat! Eet smakelijk!

While there are several variations, here is a typical recipe for Fabada Asturiana which serves four:

Ingredients
  • 1 pound Dry White Beans (Fabes, Judion, Fava, etc.)
  • 6 cups Water for soaking beans
  • 5 cups Chicken broth
  • 1 Onion, diced
  • 1 Bell pepper, diced
  • 4 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 8 ounces Jamon Serrano or Salt Pork, coarsely diced
  • 8 ounces Chorizo sausage, coarsely diced
  • 6 ounces Morcillia (Spanish sausage), coarsely diced (optional)
  • 2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt to taste
Prep Time/ Cook Time

Soak beans overnight, 3-4 hours simmering on the stovetop

Instructions

Soak the beans overnight in water. Drain. Add beans and broth to a large soup pot. Cook until soft, approximately 3 hours. (Optional: After several hours of cooking feel free to add additional broth or water to make the recipe like a soup, or keep it thick for a traditional taste!) In a separate pot add the Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Cook the onion, pepper, and garlic and until just tender. To the onion mixture, add the ham and sausages. Cook for 3 minutes. Remove 1 cup of cooked beans and coarsely mash. Return the mashed beans to the pot containing the remainder of the whole beans. Add the onion-sausage mixture to the beans Simmer for 40 minutes. Add salt to taste. Serve and enjoy! We recommend serving in a terra-cotta clay cazuela.