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Portugese Patterns

portuguese tiles

ceramic tile

Portugal has been one of those few European countries to which for some reason both my husband and myself never had been to. We had often been very close by, in Spain, we had seen pictures, heard recounts and read articles though. According to them, every pore and place of this history laden little country sounded fantastic, and a few weeks back we finally decided to go see for ourselves and travel to Portugal.

What a great decision this was! Even though our expectations were high, we did not get disappointed in any way. The cities are charmful and pictuesque, full of art and beauty stories, the villages and landscapes ever changing, rural and genuine. There’s colors and gardens and architectural styles, orchards and green spaces and traditions. The people act calm, friendly and helpful towards strangers, and seem like a happy and serene bunch between themselves.

pulpo

vineyards in the duoro

And the food, oh the glorious food, is an entire story on its own. Portugese food is down to earth and does, what food first and foremost used to be and (at least there, how refreshing to witness) still is intended to do: It nourishes. Both the body and the soul, and abundantly so. There is little Froufrou in Portugese food, and much honesty. Animals and plants are used in their entiety. So one will get served pig ears instead of just the loin, turnip greens instead of just turnip, or tiny, whole fishes, eyes, fins and all. Continue reading “Portugese Patterns” »

(Homage to Japan, # 1) The Ten Commandments

another world

“By the time you read this, I will be across the big pond.” This is how my very last post on this blog started, many months ago.

So by the time you are reading this, I have just arrived back home, from yet another big trip  across another big pond, and in the opposite direction than that time before. I spent the past two weeks in Japan, a place I first had visited and fallen in love with 25 years ago. This recent trip showed up on my horizon fast, furious and completely unexpected, and of course I was not just beyond excited but mighty curious about how things would be different now, or how not. (Just a hint: They are even better now than what I remembered them from back then. Seriously. Japan is stunningly clean, has beauty and art everywhere, is easily and totally safely accessible, and full of friendly folks. About the food, that glorious food, I will talk – many times on this blog – later.)

soba lunch

This post is the beginning of “Homage to Japan”, a series on Japan and its food, traditions and specialties. The articles will be served in tiny portions or multiple courses, as a one-pot-affair or an elaborate, staged story. Just like the Japanese cuisine shows up on the table, basically, depending on where and what you chose to eat that day. I will weave in other, non Nippon posts, now that I am happily back to blogging again, but please be prepared for some steady and pleasant rains of recounts from the “Land of the Rising Sun”.

As a starter, today, i am presenting you “The Ten Commandments”. This is a simple but functional list of restaurant and food related habits, tips and rules I observed and learned by eating, well… lots of foods in lots of different places (to say the least). Look at it as a pocket sized, basic but practical guide to make most of eating out in tasty Japan. Itadakimas! (Bon appétit!)

seafood bowl Continue reading “(Homage to Japan, # 1) The Ten Commandments” »

Circle of Friends

White Anchovy fillets on toast, with olive

I don’t know what was first, the tiny little pin or the tray of boquerones. I tried to recall, but I really can’t. It could have been both ways around. But then, it doesn’t really matter, after all.

Fact is, that an old Spanish friend once gifted me with a little brooch. It shows a bullfighter and his beast and was given to me so that I always would remember San Fermin, the 9 days long celebration dedicated to the art of bullfighting – and my dear old friend. Fact also is, that I very recently received a tray of beautiful boquerones – Spanish white anchovy filets – from another friend. Both these two presents made me realize that today, July 10, marks the middle of San Fermin. And so I decided to wear my brooch and put the boquerones to good use. Not because of an affinity to bullfighting, no. Because is was in the mood to honor my friends, here and overseas, to let memories float and, yes, to eat well. Which my beloved Spain is all about.

White Anchovy fillets in tray

San fermin bullfighter pin

I prepared two very simple, very quick versions of tapas. For the first one I covered a slice of toasted bread with the boquerones. I did not even bother to dry or drain the fish fillets, but let the olive oil and vinegar – in which they had been resting – slowly mingle with the bread. I added an olive for a new flavor dimension – and for the eye. I served this flat tapa on top of a glass of wine. Which, as a matter of fact, is the very original way and purpose of tapas (meaning: covers).

White Anchovy tapa on wine

Then I made some banderillas. These are tapas that are served on a toothpick or small skewer (the familiarity with the bullfighter’s weapons is pure coincidence, but I like the idea.) They are especially popular in northern Spain. What goes onto the toothpick depends on the region and ones individual taste. Cured meats, canned fish and seafood, potatoes or eggs will do as well as fresh or grilled vegetables, pickled foods and even some sauces to dip the whole thing in. Banderillas are supposed to be eaten in one bite, so the key is to vary and balance textures, flavors and colors. I picked crunchy, sweet red pepper, organic Manchego, buttery olives and the smooth, meaty boquerones. This was seriously good finger food. An edible ode to my circle of friends, in more than one way.

Skewer tapa with olive, cheese, pepper and boquerones

The World According to Caroline

cheese and chocolate

  • I  eat cheese and chocolate every day. Good cheese and good chocolate.
  • Each time I imagine my last meal, it is different.
  • If there was a perfume created just for me, it would have the scent of tomato plants.
  • If you don’t like duck, I don’t like you!
  • I can’t stand people when they chew gum. Even people I usually like and respect.
  • Food – choosing, preparing and eating it – is an extremely sensual process. Presented in a certain way, each food can become an aphrodisiac.
  • Cooked, I prefer crustaceans over fish. Raw, they come in tied (and on top of my list).
  • My favorite food cities are Tokyo and San Sebastián. In no order.
  • I am not a milk drinker.
  • Texture to me is as important as the flavor of foods.
  • All foods that can be consumed without chewing them, seem like no food to me. I am fine with yogurt but it does not nourish me (or my soul?). Same with soup. I need a hunk of cheese and a loaf of bread with it to make me feel full and happy.

red and white wine bottles

  • There is one exception in regard of liquid foods: I look at wine as food. The only liquid food that does satisfy me. And one very dear food to me, without a doubt.
  • I am not a sweet person. My cravings are salty.
  • I like dramatic changes when it comes to food. A simple stew is not better or worse than a froufrou seven course meal with elaborate emulsions and fancy foams. It’s all about mixing it up, involving all senses, going extreme, staying clean and being open to anything. Over and over again.
  • I love every thing and every one in and from Spain. (And for once, this is not only food related.)
  • I can not decide if I like Fondue or Raclette better. Fondue to me tastes and smells better. Yet Raclette can be enjoyed over an extended period of time. I like that.
  • The best days are the ones when my husband tells me during breakfast what he will be cooking that night.

eggs, some cooked, some raw

No Rules Fish & Seafood Soup

Fish & Seafood Soup in the bowlThere’s six people, five males, four persons who drive, three different schools, two parents and one bunny who rule this house. There’s also countless passions, many tasks, several jobs, few clubs and one business that influence all of us and our lives together daily. In relation to our meals – around which not only my thoughts and dreams usually float around here – this often translates into suppers that can be served in stages and taste as great at 10pm, when the last one comes home, as they did four hours earlier, when the first one sat down to eat.

One of our favorite such dishes has turned out to be a Fish & Seafood Soup. It is flexible and a little different, yet vibrant and rich in flavors each time, and most every time we serve it, at least one of us claims that it never has tasted as good as in the current version. Not following any set rules keeps this dish interesting and perhaps even is the main reason that we never get tired of it.

The instant we decide that dinner will be “The Soup”, as we refer to it, we immediately also agree if it will be “the clear” or “the tomato” one. The latter one contains tomato paste and fresh or canned tomatoes, and it is the one we usually prefer. (Unless there is a specific ingredient we want to incorporate and highlight, like we once did with saffron.) Fish and seafood wise we often choose fresh product that is quick to handle (shrimp, fish fillet, etc.) and, I admit, I admit, retreat to the monger’s frozen case for the items that require more elaborate prep (and he already has done for us – mussels, clams, octopus, etc. Hey, it’s an anti hectic dish, after all). Any combination of creatures has proven to be possible and delicious here, really. As for the vegetables, we like to add chopped onions and garlic, cut up a few potatoes, sometimes peppers, fennel or leeks. Herbs, fresh or dried ones in the form of a bouquet garni, usually are part of the mix as well. As is broth and, always, a little wine (white or red, depending on what’s on hand. Or what we are trying to find an excuse to open for…)

Besides the fact that it is simple and satisfying, doesn’t cause much prep nor clean up work and tastes even better when reheated a day or two later (please, make a mental note that there never is too much of it), “The Soup” offers one more very pleasant aspect: The longer it cooks, the better it tastes – and the longer and more deliciously it smells. The flavors just seem to melt into each other, deeper and deeper. The texture becomes smoother, thicker, more soothing, the chunks turn more tender over time. So don’t even try to stay under six hours! On the other hand, you can leave this soup on the stove for a whole day without having to worry about it. As long as the happy party gets a stir every hour or so, it will behave very well. – And so will the ones who sit down to supper that night. No matter how many there are.

eating the fish & seafood soup

Continue reading “No Rules Fish & Seafood Soup” »