mexican miscellany.

I was just having a real corn tortilla quesadilla for breakfast this morning (an occasional indulgence...actually on three separate occasions this morning) and once again silently thanking those Corny Bakers for reuniting me with my lost love, the corn tortilla.

If you'll recall, I didn't actually get to utilize these boys in the big game last Sunday or whenever that was, but I really should've. Flour tortillas just blow, and somehow...I forgot that. I let the absence of corn tortillas cloud my judgement. As a way of "making things right", it was my duty (pronounced "deewty") to provide those tequila-addled Europeans with a real LA-style quesadilla last weekend after having served them so many flour tortillas in the past...I owed it to them, and frankly...I failed.

Luckily I succeeded in providing my own self with several this morning, so everything is OK. I just want to point out that if you're not making quesadillas with fresh corn tortillas, start doing so.

Relevant things I found on my procrastinative travels this morning: a pictorial guide to burrito folding, which includes the little-known secret third fold and made me pine for days of old, when my life revolved around arriving at Tortillas on Ponce de Leon as they opened at 12 noon, ordering a shrimp burrito with cheese and spinach and a Sam Adams, waiting 10 minutes or so with my Creative Loafing, and then entering into a dream world for the next 45 minutes or so, red and green salsas trustily at my side. And then going home for a nap. That was a good day.

Why do things have to change? Tell me that. I'm serious.

Actually I'm only half-serious. Maybe 60%. Regardless, I also looked at the Wikipedia quesadilla entry, which, while being strangely informal, is also pretty informative.



In less bitchy news, Klary has a nice piece on sauerkraut up at Smaakpraat.nl, (sorry mother dear, it's in Dutch). This is especially relevant for me since I've been eating sauerkraut every day that I haven't eaten mole in the past week. Dinner at Greetje kinda got me started on it and I haven't been able to stop...I think because I haven't actually had it with sausage yet. So that will be tonight's dinner, in an effort to get the zuurkool monkey off my back.

But the main takeaways from Klary's article: rinse your sauerkraut well before using it (if you've never done this before, you have been eating something very different from what sauerkraut can be like); and toss a glass of kirschwasser over it after it's cooked and before serving. The latter tip is a new one for me and I hope to try it out tonight if I can manage to drag my ass out of the house to go get some kirsch.

EDIT: I did not drag my ass to get kirsch b/c there's not a liquor store in our neighborhood (how is that possible? This is supposed to be a bad neighborhood), but I did drag my ass to the corner to get some sausage. Actually, I got two, in order to have a bit of a taste-off: Weidenaar kookworst from Friesland, flavored with nutmeg and ginger; and Spar Gelderse rookworst, flavored with MSG and fake smoke.

Actually the Spar rookworst is about the only packaged rookworst I've seen without MSG (here called e621 or smaakversterker (literally "taste amplifier", which sounds like the title of a Boris CD)), which is why I bought it. But it does have fake smoke.

Worst in general, but specifically rookworst is a bit nostalgic for me...when we first moved here, we were renting an apartment for two weeks until we could move into our actual apartment, and during those first two weeks I have no idea what we did other than watch music videos (you could count on seeing Aaliyah's "More Than a Woman" or Basement Jaxx' "Where's Your Head At" once every 20 minutes, as a result I associate these songs with the squirrel-like naivete we possessed back then) and eat the following five items exclusively:

1) Wokkels
2) Eggs + Sambal Badjak
3) Couscous with butter and Heinz Curry Sauce
4) Kletskoppen
5) Rookworst + Huisman Zaanse mustard (possibly the dorkiest link I've ever linked)

I can't imagine why we didn't buy groceries...maybe we didn't want to mess up his refrigerator? I think he didn't have an oven, only a stovetop burner. But I really can't begin to understand our rationale for this diet. But anyway, I guess my point is that we were sweet and unblemished then, and those memories smell like rookworst. Or something. Whatever, I'll reveal the extremely unsurprising results of the worst taste-off in my next post.

stop already.

with giving Dutch businesses and products English names. This is a country with a fantastic reputation for "business savvy", whatever that is, where people speak English as a second language better than most Americans speak it as their first. Which explains WHY the Anglolinguaphilia in marketing exists, but does nothing to explain why the names are so embarrassingly BAD.

Maybe all countries do this. You've all heard about Engrish in Japan. And in America...I used to go by My Dong Korean/Vietnamese restaurant on Buford Highway all the time (great to yell out over your shoulder as you leave the house: "Hey honey, I'm going out for awhile, need anything from My Dong?"). And native Americans do it too (not "Native Americans")...isn't American food marketing full of appropriated foreign words, like "Cafe Buon Giorno"s and "Cafe Bella"s, and doesn't every city have a French resturant called "Pastis"? OK, but Americans are notoriously unilingual, so their naming a cafe or restaurant something completely banal or awkward in another language should not be a surprise.

But the Dutch have a mostly well-deserved reputation as sophisticated multilinguists.

How, then, could Albert Heijn call its newest "gourmet" ice cream Nut Explosion? It's bad enough that the name of this gourmet line itself is "Excellent" (a gourmet line that would be scorn-worthy no matter what it was called because in some cases they just repackaged things they were already selling as "regular" products. And in most cases, they stopped selling whatever product they were carrying that might have competed with their new brand, like Haagen-Dazs. Excellent!).

So, anyway...if anyone asks if you'd like to taste their Excellent Nut Explosion, eh....no you would not (this link in Dutch points to a product recall from AH because some of their Excellent ice cream had "hard plastic pieces in it which may be hazardous to your health"). Even better, when you Google "Excellent Nut Explosion", all you get are stories about meth labs blowing up. "Meth Lab Explosion" is a flavor I would be willing to taste before this Nut Explosion.

I haven't even addressed Gorgeous Restaurant...let me think about it over some Excellent coffee while you ponder their actual "mission statement":

Chic without constraint. Glamour without pretence. Personal and open. A place where you can feel at home, a place in which we’re happy to welcome you. A restaurant in one word... Gorgeous.

Actually those first two sentences are pretty much lifted word for word from my own personal mission statement...proof that industrial espionage is alive and kicking.

* not a real word.



finalmente! tortillas de maiz.

I really thought I'd never see the day...Corny Bakers: you rock, rock. You know that list of things I keep saying you can't reliably find in Holland? Tomatillos, poblanos, anchos, pasillas, guajillos, achiote, epazote, corn husks, etc. No longer true. I really have no idea what their prices are like or if I can even order from them directly. But I bought some of their corn husks, masa harina, and frozen corn tortillas yesterday at Tjin's (who are now also my heroes), and everything was pretty reasonable...4 euro for 1.5KG of masa harina, for example.

Something embarrassing that did not seem reasonably priced (6 euro) but that I would have spent twice as much money on now that I've tasted it....Jim Beam BBQ Sauce (after looking at other websites, it's not such an unreasonable price after all). They also had Open Pit and BullsEye, but high fructose corn syrup was too close to the top of the ingredient list on those guys (second ingredient). It's not even that I'm supermilitant about HFCS or anything...it's just pointless, lazy cooking (in addition to being terrible for your body). With the Beam sauce it's just regular corn syrup, and it's not even its own ingredient, it just shows up as a component of Worcestershire sauce. Amazing.

Anyway, I said it was embarrassing because we know that off-the-shelf sauces are a no-no for any pitmaster worth their smoke. It was an impulse buy, though, and for once a really smart one...it's ridiculous and unexpected what a nostalgic taste this is (even though I've never had Jim Beam's sauce before)...I've obviously repressed the memories of exactly how much BBQ I ate during my time in the Southland. But this is an especially good BBQ sauce, assuming that nostalgia hasn't slipped my tastebuds a roofie. Vinegary and molasses-y and spicy, without too much smoke and a good bit of Worcestershire and black pepper. Let's just say I bought it yesterday and half the bottle is gone...I just had BBQ salmon for breakfast, following my BBQ catfish from last night. And a few spoonfuls before bedtime. And I am now licking my breakfast plate.



it's all about taste.

Taste is a subject that's been under much discussion in these parts as of late. Mostly with regard to music and mostly between Hilary and me, but it's funny how synchronicity works sometimes: I've just recently had several other rather deep discussions about taste with completely unrelated people coming from very different perspectives. Hopefully I'll have sufficient focus to elaborate at some point.

Right now though I just want to point to someone whose taste in Amsterdam bars seems to be similar to my own: these are some nice Flickr photos of a handful of my favorite watering holes in town (note: the second Arendsnest foto is actually a pic of In de Wildeman, in case you care). Especially nice since I never seem to see any pictures of Het Schuim, and it's such a dark but airy interior where I've spent a number of satisfying afternoons.



restaurant greetje.

Had a rare sit-down meal out tonight, at the easy-on-the-eyes Restaurant Greetje on the Peperstraat where Raap & Peper used to be.

Here's what I had:


Sauteed black pudding with warm apple sauce.

Roasted half Dutch pheasant with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes, duck sausage, pheasant gravy and duck liver.

Crème brûlée with liquorice and liquorice ice cream.


And, my comments, based on an email conversation about the meal with someone else who was there (who I hope doesn't mind that I've turned our personal conversation into blogfodder, I hereby grant her reciprocal privilege to do the same):


In retrospect, my biggest issue with Greetje was my completely unfounded expectations, and that is hardly the restaurant's fault. I can't say anything was really wrong with my meal, it was all well-prepared and multi-textured, and the service was...interesting, incompetent but very good-natured and occasionally attentive, which is better than average for restaurant waitstaff in Amsterdam. We only had to go look for them once I think (an ordered bottle of wine never showed up...because it was being chilled in the freezer. Now that is home-style cooking)!

My blood pudding was good (did I really just say that?), but I really only got excited about my sauerkraut and my duck sausage, and that's just because, well....crikey, it's sauerkraut and sausage, what's not to like. The sausage was like a mini merguez, spicy and nearly red....and the sauerkraut was baked with potatoes and a breadcrumb crust and cutely presented in a little pot on the side. Very delicious and definitely the most satisfying part of the meal. My pheasant was mostly very tasty, I did get one unpleasant bite that made me realize I'd forgotten what "gamey" tastes like...it reminded me of my cats (not the way they taste, but something about them...either their food or their litter box. Or maybe both. Hurl.)

So, to sum: Greetje was interesting in that it tried (or appeared to try) to focus on a refinement of traditional, regional Dutch cooking, the menu being charmingly specific about historical names and regional slang. The food: artfully presented, but I think a little more salt and pepper and a little more sauce would've really helped measurably in the satisfaction department. "Pleasant" is the word that keeps coming to mind. But based on who knows what, I'd expected something a little more exciting than "pleasant".

Still, I'd recommend it as an introduction to casually elegant Dutch cooking, and perfect for visitors to Amsterdam who are interested in this kind of thing. Plus, importantly, we had a very cozy and relaxed evening in terms of pacing and ambience and general vibe. But I might also take them to a good game-centric eetcafe like Cafe van Beeren to taste the less-refined but more comfort-foody version of rustic Dutch dishes.