Happy 2012! We have exciting news…

We are back in Amsterdam after a wonderful two week visit in Louisiana and Florida with our family and friends for the Christmas holiday.  Our second year together in
Europe brought many adventures in France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Germany, and of course The Netherlands.  And we added a few “new” countries to the list…Scotland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.  It’s really hard to pick a favorite since every destination has been unique in its own way.  Our travels over the last two years have bought us to more places than I ever imagined I’d visit in my entire life.  But we’ve only scratched the surface with all the amazing places yet to be discovered.

Which leads to our latest update:  Another year in Amsterdam!  G is now officially a Dutch employee and we are excited about another year of European Adventures.  Here are a few highlights from 2011…we’ll see where the wind blows us in 2012.

Wishing you and your family good health and happiness in Twenty Twelve!

R&G

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Costa del Sol ~ Spain

Two weeks ago I was fortunate to spend a few days in Southern Spain on the Costa del Sol. As August came to a close, the local Dutch weather bureau noted we had just experienced “the wettest summer since 1906”. As you may have read in my last post, I have tried to maximize any opportunity to soak in the sun in an effort to ward off signs of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). While some people think SAD is a bunch of hokey baloney, I honestly believe my mood is quite vulnerable to these long periods of rain and gloomy skies.

Enter my friend Barbara and her offer to spend a few days at her seaside property just outside of Marbella. How could I say no? The weather forecast was perfectly sunny with temperatures in the mid 80’s F (~30 C) all week…which I guess is just par for the course since the Costa del Sol receives an average of 320 days of sun. Compared to Amsterdam’s average of 200 days of rain per year, this was a no-brainer.

During the week, we enjoyed lounging by the pool, walking on the beach, gorgeous sunsets, and terrace dining. From the terrace, we could see across the Mediterranean to the coast of Africa. Looking west also afforded views of the Rock of Gibraltor. Throughout the week we grazed on fabulous tapas of pimentos pardon, pulpo, jamon y manchego, gambas pil pil, Spanish meatballs, and melon wrapped prosciutto— I was glad I packed my running shoes to burn off a few calories!

The day before we left, Barbara drove us to Casares; a white-house village in the Sierra Bermeja with a population of about 3,000 people and beautiful views. The remains of a 12th century Moorish castle linger at the peak of the town and provide panoramic views of the picturesque town of Casares set against the mountains. The sun sparkled against the red-brown mountains which are dotted with orchards, olive trees, and cork woods. As we wandered the steep and narrow walkways nestled between the ancient white homes, the town was busy preparing for the upcoming annual festival, Feria del Cristo. Seeking shade under a patio umbrella, we enjoyed lunch at the tapas bar in the town square and noticed a few women gathered at the public water fountain chatting away. As I sat with a cold cerveza in hand and enjoyed the last few hours of warm sunshine tingling on my skin, G sent a message “Do not come home unless you bring the sun with you.” The last few days in Amsterdam had been a soaking wet and windy mess.

By some crazy miracle, I managed to fill his request. Upon my return, the weekend weather turned out better than originally forecast and the following week was filled with more sunny days than we have seen in weeks. Thank you Mother Nature.

CLICK HERE for a quick slideshow of my photos from Marbella and Casares.

If you plan to visit the Costa del Sol, check out Barbara’s property for your holiday stay. It’s a beautiful apartment with spectacular views, lush gardens, and pools all over the property with the beach only a few minutes’ walk away.  CLICK HERE to view property details.

Spanish Sunday

On Friday night, G returned home from a week-long business trip in NYC and Paris.  During my ‘single’ week, it was pretty quiet in the kitchen preparing very simple meals for myself.  With G back home, I was ready to dirty some pots and pans and make a mess of the keuken.

Despite the freezing temperatures which began this weekend, we bundled up and biked to the markets and grocery store to prepare for some weekend cooking.  Saturday’s meal wasn’t very fussy.  Rosemary butter chicken, hand-mashed potatoes and some fresh green beans made for a cozy night in by the fire.  Super Lekker!

On Sunday, we spent our lunchtime at the gym building up our appetites for our Spanish Sunday meal:  Gambas Picantes and Tortilla Española.  After our long holiday in northern Spain this summer, I continue to be inspired to try to replicate all the tasty meals we enjoyed there.  It also helps that G bought me a Spanish cookbook with tons of great recipes.  Today we found two more keepers.

The Spanish tortilla can be served so many different ways—a starter, main course, sandwich filling, or tapa and either warm or cold.  It’s one of the most common tapas and I can’t remember how many times we ordered one during our trip.  While there are several variations and different ingredients can easily be added (various meats or veggies), the basic ingredients include potatoes, olive oil, onion, eggs, salt, pepper, and butter.   Easy.  The tricky part is the cooking, it’s all about timing…which is while I let G take the reins on this first stab.  He can make a mean omelette, so logic told me he was well suited for the tortilla.

Pan fry the boiled potatoes

Off heat: let the potatoes, caramelized onions , & eggs "marry" for a few minutes

Back on heat, gently swirl to cook the egg

The flip for cooking side two...and my cue to start the shrimp

Last night I began marinating the shrimp in olive oil with chili peppers and garlic.

 

Since shrimp are so quick to cook, I waited until G was on side two of the tortilla before tossing the gambas on the hot skillet.

Perfectly pink and ready to eat!

 

Paired with a fantastic Chilean Shiraz and a garlicky wheat roll, there was no doubt we had happy tummies tonight.

Great job G!

Full of flavor and not overly spicy

Eet smakelijk!!!

 

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.

Pimientos de Padrón

Long before G knew he was moving to Amsterdam, he wanted to “eat his way through northern Spain”.  Now I know why.  We just returned from our 12 day road trip and I am already having withdrawal despite the need for damage control and a much needed marathon day in the gym.  On our way back home, we  made a quick stop back in San Sebastian to pick up some Sidra.  Being a Sunday with nearly everything closed, we had our work cut out for us.  But our perseverance paid off not only with Sidra, but a fresh bag of pimientos de Padrón. What a fantastic birthday surprise for both of us.

We first saw the peppers on the menu in Santiago de Compostela and then repeatedly in A Coruña.  Rightly so as these peppers are the most famous produce of Padrón, a small town in Galicia.  We finally ordered them with our dinner our last night in A Coruña on Friday.  OH WOW!  We both agreed if that was all we had for dinner, we could easily go to bed happy.

Since produce has a short shelf life, our fix was fulfilled this evening as chef G made some fantastic pimientos de Padron.  Other than the peppers (which are a little tricky to find outside of Spain), you only need olive oil and salt…so easy!  We have half the bag left so it’s not hard to guess what will be on our dinner menu tomorrow night.  More to come in future posts about all the amazing food northern Spain has to offer.

Clean, dry, and ready to cook

Skillet is hot and I'm hungry

Chef G works his magic

Ribeiro vino pairs well

Yum! And immediate use of our new bowls.

Fruits of the labor

Not a morsel left

Our Camino via Spain

We have just completed our 9th day driving about Spain’s Northern Coast and it has been AMAZING!!!  The food, the drinks, the drive, the views, the beach, the cliffs, the mountains, the ocean, the sunsets, the festivals, the towns…it has been simultaneously refreshing, tiring, and filling. I can’t find enough words to describe it and, of course, have hundreds of photos which will tell a much better story.
Tonight is our last night in Spain and it is bittersweet.  We have loved every minute here, but also look forward to being home in our own beds.  The only drawback to our trip has been the lack of comfort with our hotel beds…and it has been oddly consistent despite our variety of large chain hotels, mid size hotels,  and quaint charming smaller ones.  We still have another +/-15 hours left of driving time before we are back in Amsterdam.  So far we have logged about  31 hours in the car, 2800+  kms, and no quarrels :).  Click here to see our route to date:  31 hours in the car.
I have so much more to post, but here is a quick peek at our trip so far:
Day 1 & 2:  San Sebastian, Basque Country
 

Pintxos, the Basques' take on tapas at La Cepa



Day 2:  Drive from San Sebastian to Oviedo with stop in Bilbao

Only one road in and out for this cliff side fishing village of Elantxobe

Guggenheim Museum - Bilbao by Frank Gehry


Day 3 & 4:  Oviedo, Asturias

Oviedo cooked up some great eats!


Day 5 & 6:  Santiago de Compostela, Galicia
 

Camino de Santiago, the 1000 year old pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Pilgrims rejoice in Santiago after a completed journey

Others rest weary legs and feet

Day 6, 7, & 8: A Coruna, Galicia
 

Coastal views by our hotel in A Coruña

 

Squid fresh from the ocean

Beach time during the day

Happy tummies after razor clams, monkfish, and pimientos del padron



Day 9: Haro, La Rioja
Wine Country Spanish style

Vino tinto and sunset