Last night I enjoyed my final party of 2007. I'm not going anywhere tonight, except maybe to the roof to watch the 'splosions in the sky.
The food last night was simple and delicious as always, and reminded me of this NYT list of 101 Simple Appetizers in 20 minutes or Less (by How to Cook Everything's Mark Bittman), which is a nice compact little cheat sheet for those less-inspired moments. My favorites from this list (hopefully the use of the words "jazzy" and "hip" reveal that the commentary below is also Bittman's):
Mash together best-quality tuna, minced anchovies, minced garlic, chopped oil-cured olives and olive oil as necessary.
Top buttered bread with shaved country ham, prosciutto or regular deli ham and bread-and-butter pickles.
A kind of Moroccan tapenade: As above, but use good green olives with capers; olive-oil-canned tuna (instead of anchovies); garlic, if desired; and cumin.
Beef tartare: Carefully pulse good beef in food processor. For each pound, add an egg, a teaspoon dry mustard, a tablespoon Dijon mustard, a tablespoon Worcestershire, Tabasco to taste, 1/2 cup chopped scallions and a touch of minced garlic. Salt and pepper, if necessary. Amazing stuff.
Cut chorizo into chunks. Cook in a lightly oiled skillet until nicely browned. Kielbasa is equally good (or better), if not as hip.
Even jazzier: Cut just-ripe pears in 1/2-inch cubes; sprinkle with a little salt, sugar and cayenne. Spear with bacon.
Pair crispy bacon chunks with one cube of beet and one of goat cheese.
Rumaki, a 1960s cocktail food that deserves reviving: Brush canned water chestnuts (or chicken liver halves, or crimini mushrooms, or pieces of portobello) with a little soy sauce; wrap in pieces of bacon. Skewer closed with toothpicks and broil, turning once, until bacon is done.
The egg’s gift to cocktail parties: Hard-cook eggs, peel, and cut in half; carefully remove the yolks. Mash yolks with salt, mayonnaise, good mustard and cayenne. You can also add minced radish, snow peas, scallions (or any crunchy vegetables) or curry powder. Spoon back into the whites, sprinkle with paprika, pimentón or parsley.
Even more fabulous: Cook eggs as above. Mash yolks with cooked and minced shrimp, a little chopped olive, minced onion, parsley, salt, pepper and mayonnaise to bind. Spoon back into whites. Garnish with parsley or a piece of anchovy or shrimp.
Popcorn parmigiana: Make real popcorn, pour melted butter over it, and toss with fresh Parmesan.
Here's what Christmas dinner looked like from the other side of the room. I believe this photo credit goes to Cor.
It seems that at some point some eGulleters decided to have an Okonomiyaki Day. I have been celebrating my own rebel version of this holiday here in my apartment today by making as many okonomiyaki as I can justify.
I wasn't wrong when I first fell in love with this piece of nonsense food: they're great. And they still don't make any sense whatsoever in the taste department: smoked fish, green onion, cabbage, mayonnaise all go together, sure; but tonkatsu sauce and cheese are not exactly obvious complements.
They get even better when you add a pork product and a mushroom or two. Tonight I chopped up some leftover prosciutto and threw it in there, and it was just about the best one I've made yet. Only problem? Not photogenic. Observe:
Michelangelo Duck (above). Australian vinegar prawns (not pictured). Salmon sashimi (in progress). Tofu + red cabbage salad. Agedashi Tofu. Okonomiyaki. Green tea ice cream + red bean cakes (not pictured). Alien (not pictured).
1 cup flour (I've been using almond flour with great success)
1/2 cup dashi, hot
1/2 cabbage, shredded (between 3 and 4 cups' worth)
1/2 bunch of scallions, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup young Gouda, grated
1 tbsp furikake
okonomiyaki sauce, or substitute tonkatsu sauce.
aonori (seaweed flakes)
katsuobushi (smoked bonito flakes)
The batter to filling ratio should be like salad dressing to salad....and you're shooting for a maple-syrup-like viscosity. Basically just coat the cabbage with it. Put cheese in near the beginning but then cover with more batter so it doesn't scorch. Flip as necessary. Can take up to 15 minutes to cook. When it's done, drizzle with okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise, scatter scallions on top, sprinkle aonori and katsuobushi on top, and eat!
My fingertips smell like oliebollen. You know, if I could have just one holiday wish come true? I'd wish that everyone's fingertips smelled like oliebollen. Just for a little while, at least.
Skipped over to Utrecht today for a quick glimpse of "something other than Amsterdam". Mara's parents have been to visit us 4 times here in Amsterdam without us ever having left the city limits.
So we did. After dodging our way through the monstrously bad idea that is Hoog Catharijne, we marched directly to Cafe Olivier for some hot chocolate, as well as a new drink we accidentally invented via a miscommunication, hot chocolate with Grand Marnier in it. Better than it sounds.
Then we checked out the Domkerk (more info to follow), and afterwards revisited Pronto Pronto!, which an eGulleter turned me onto a couple of months ago. It was just as good this time, totally Italian: cured meats including bresaola, prosciutto, and salamis from Abruzzo, Lazio, and Tuscany; and a bruschetta with a devastatingly good goat cheese served with a red onion marmalade. Purely, simply delicious.
Miscellaneous thoughts that may be molded into an actual post later today...
We listened to it a few times last night, and I think the new Robert Plant/Allison Krauss CD might really be as good as people are saying it is. Or at least some of it is that good. If you like Emmylou + Gram, or the Welch-Rawlings team, or them Louvin brothers, you should probably put your ears on this. What's up with the cover, though? It looks like my grandmother made it.
We've eaten at more eetcafes in the past week than I would've thought possible. We finally hit Nassau yesterday because it was the only thing we knew for sure was open. My vitello tonnato sandwich was OK, a little skimpy and dry; Dennis had a salami-kaas tosti and pappa di pomodoro that was a good idea and he said it tasted like one as well; Jeanie had an open-faced melt with goat cheese, honey, peaches, and pine nuts. I tasted this, and though it was a good idea, a higher peach-to-cheese ratio would've done it some large favors I think.
I loved that the menu was just the tiniest bit more ambitious than every other eetcafe in town; I just wish that the food had been prepared with as much verve as, say, De IJsbreker, who against all odds managed to somehow serve just about the tastiest lunch we've had this week. So, yeah. I would have to place Nassau near the bottom of the list of eetcafes we've eaten at this week, foodwise.
In fact, what would that list look like, in order of good eats?
De Zotte De IJsbreker Festina Lente De Kat in de Wijngaert Het Molenpad Nassau De Engelbewaarder
Not saying that our testing methodology was remotely fair: there was almost no one in Nassau when we went, and De Engelbewaarder could barely have fit one more person. We were at De IJsbreker at 3 in the afternoon, and hit De Zotte during the peak of a dinner rush. This list doesn't take service or atmosphere into account at all. Well, maybe it does a little. I told you it wasn't remotely fair.
The good news? We didn't have any bad food at all. Nassau was totally fine, and I'll probably eat there again. I'll definitely eat at De Engelbewaarder again. So, this is a list of 7 totally useful eetcafes around town.
Now...where will we go today? It's Mara's parents' last day. We haven't had any oliebollen yet. We haven't had any kibbeling yet. It seems like we've barely done anything, although the last week of blog posts suggests otherwise.
Miss Clare is having a Japanese-themed post-Christmas dinner on the....tomorrow? Hello? Did we actually agree to this?
Yes, we did. I'm thinking of making okonomiyaki, but I don't know. Got to see if I can find some sauce that doesn't cost an arm and a leg.
My dear old mother has asked that I give some more information about these photos so that she may put some names with some faces.
Top photo, from left: Alexandra, our comrade from OT301 who's just returned from a long autumn of brain surgeries in Rome; Bani, the Iranian Texan auteur who is a great cook, I've loved all of her food to date; Andy's sister Misri, and Misri's maybe-husband Louie.
The photo directly above these words, from left: Heather and Brodie, (also known as Head and Body), the Canadians who lived here for just long enough for us to get very attached to them and then they cruelly vamoosed themselves back to the frozen tundra. Heather's gigantic noggin is blocking their friend Sandy from view; Isabelle, for whom I did the most humongous website ever; Phil and Kathelijn, our favorite Dutch-Americans; Colin, the calmest man in the world unless you fuck up his shit; then Bani and Mara talking about halal lamb-slaughtering practices, I imagine.
The pictures below are: one of the dozen tiny windup cars Heather brought to play with; Heather doing so, and simultaneously blocking Sandy from view. Come to think of it, did I ever really see this Sandy character that night? Hmm; Etienne (Isabelle and Joost's son), Andy, and Bani doing something with an umbrella and a guitar that I never did really figure out.
prosciutto di parma, finocchiona.
lemon-marinated fennel, mushroom confit.
bruschette with aubergine and mint; with tomato and garlic.
Both of Mara's dogs in America died this year. Easybeast's long-overdue ship set sail this summer, and Mollybean died peacefully but unexpectedly about 20 minutes ago. The picture below is from March 2004 (Easy, top; Molly, bottom...waiting for chewies). The painting above is from 2004 too.
So R.I.P. Easy (1989-2007), R.I.P. Molly (1994-2007). While we're at it, R.I.P. Otto, R.I.P. Norma, and R.I.P. Sally. R.I.P everybody. May your days be full of unabashed butthole sniffing, long leisurely leashless walks, finally caught squirrels, and plenty of those stinky chewy things you love so much.
Above: Dennis standing in what used to be our CD shop on the Spiegelgracht. It's now a gallery. Below, for comparison's sake, the same view from 2002.
Next, we went to FOAM to see the Weegee exhibit. Not as gory as I thought it would be, and quite a bit funnier than I expected. Nice to see, but ultimately a tad disappointing somehow.
Then we went to De Engelbewaarder to hear some music. Sean was on tenor, Han on drums, Michael was there and we shot the shit for the first time in a while, and it was a good hang. Fortunately I realized that the beers Jeanie was drinking were tripels and not blondes...otherwise things could've ended badly. The photo above was taken at 16:30, when you could still see the stage. Three hours later, it was like Queen's Day in there: complete engulfment in bodies, beer, and smoke.
We returned home and ordered Thai delivery. Forget everything I ever said about Top Thai; Som Tam is about 36 times better. This is a new find from Mara, and the difference is really remarkable. Great chicken larb, nice beef in penang curry (not pictured), good and spicy shrimp in basil sauce.
I took a picture of this spider web at the tram stop. Later in the day I showed it to Mara and she said "was that at the tram stop?" She'd wanted to take a picture of the same spiderweb...
We're entering the final countdown phase for Xmas dinner. Vital stats: 25 guests, 2 soups, 2 pastas, and we don't really know what else. The Tomanek/Morse crew is handling one soup and one pasta, Andy is doing one soup and one pasta, and everyone else is bringing antipasti and dolci. And we're doing a salad, which I think everyone has forgotten about, including me until just now.
Though the theme is Italian, our team's offerings are distinctly Italian-American. Minestra maritata is much better known in America as Italian Wedding Soup, and apparently it's a regional specialty of Ohio, where Mara's family is from.
We've been calling our pasta a "walnut and pecorino tortelloni in a very garlicky Alfredo sauce." But we actually need to do a little more research to determine if this is really an Alfredo sauce...I don't think that it is. The thing is, it's got lots of garlic and crème fraîche in it, catapulting it kilomteres away from the boring heaviness of most American alfredo sauces.
From top: St. Feuillien's Cuvée de Noël (Christmas Ale). Raw herring with diced pickles, onions, and peppadew peppers. Father and daughter enjoying some time together in the kitchen. Choucroute garnie. Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream with rhubarb and strawberry compote. Us losing Pictionary again in a last-square showdown. If you can guess what this is supposed to be a drawing of, then you belong on the girls' team.
Unrelatedly, I think Mara's hit on a repeatable, successful sauerkraut recipe. The secret ingredient? Hard cider instead of white wine or beer.
Holy jumpin' Jebus, I broke a tooth today, no kidding.
My jaw really started throbbing like hell at De Zotte Thursday night, and Friday morning it was no better. Having seen firsthand what can happen if you postpone your dental care until the weekend, I made it to the dentist an hour before closing on Friday, said "I think I broke a tooth", and yep he found a broken tooth and I got a temporary crown.
Unfortunately? It seems like the broken tooth may not have been the source of my tooth pain, 'cause today it hurts just as bad if not worse. The dentist warned me that it would still hurt today, so I'm not going to panic until the pain reaches Affliction level.
What gives??? Why the health woes???
Crostini that I made but couldn't chew: prosciutto, gor(gonzola)-mas(carpone), fig preserves; tomato reduction, black olive, mozzarella, red onion; pain d'ardenne, taleggio, chives. Some of these went into the oven for a bit. I tried to eat them normally without success, so I experimented with sucking on them like candy, which was not all that successful or satisfying.
Below that, nutmeg-enhanced sage and brown butter sauce preparing to meet up with some walnut-pecorino tortelloni. This version of the sauce had a new rustic twist in that it was one-third chicken broth, which made it simultaneously a bit more healthy and more subtle. The tortelloni worked better as lozenges than the crostini had.
Tonight's Pictionary was the closest Dennis and I have gotten in a long time to beating the ladies (note the red phallus one square behind the powder-blue phallus). We had some tough ones: try to draw "charades", "invade", or "deport" in less than 2 minutes. Well, smoke like 4 joints first, and then try it. See what I'm talking about?
Sickness update: sick. Operating at about 55% power, which is a definite step up from days previous, but still not exactly like being alive. Dennis and I were supposed to go to some sort of manly lunch today while the dames spun off in an artsier direction, but my own coughing ruined my night's sleep and I had to cancel. Bummer, because I was looking forward to seeing what a manly lunch looked like in Amsterdam. In my own manlier days, it used to mean martinis and burgers in a ruby-lit Atlanta cave called the Highland Tap. Here, I was having trouble figuring out where the bad people went to lunch.
As luck would have it, I didn't have to worry about unadulterated manliness because the new schedule hooked us up with the womens down on the Weesperzijde, and that left us with limited options for lunching. We chose the option called De IJsbreker because the other immediate option, Aan de Amstel was way too "mom-ish", not that we don't love moms, because we do, but it just looked too crowded with perky people sitting too close to each other, and none of us really do perky very convincingly.
We've been to De IJsbreker enough times between the two of us to know what to expect: tasty, interesting sandwiches, comprehensive beverage options, and extremely unreliable service during peak dining times. Fortunately, we were here at 15:00, and things were relaxed and manageable.
After a round of hot chocolate, lunch showed up and everyone's food was unexpectedly delicious. Dennis had an uitsmijter with ham and cheese. Jeanie and Mara both had a very fresh-seeming bowl of snert and they split a pressed foccaccia sandwich with chorizo, blue cheese, and roasted red peppers...this was frankly fantastic, like something from a Spanish Pizza Hut. I had a smoked salmon club sandwich with an excellent horseradish mayonnaise, cucumbers, and a subtle mix of young greenery. Really, it was all just about ideal. And remind me again: why don't all sandwiches have three pieces of bread?
We then skedaddled to Muntplein to catch David Cronenberg (and Viggo Mortensen)'s nasty new piece of shattered normalcy, Eastern Promises. I thought it was easily the 2nd-best movie I've seen this year up until the last 15 minutes or so, at which point the editing starting showing its seams and I remembered I was watching a movie. But still, the first 90% of the movie is thoroughly captivating, and Cronenberg's new confidence is really something else. It's still probably the 2nd-best movie I've seen this year, go see it.
The we went to De Zottefor dinner, and it was also totally top-notch as always, including the always-elusive (in our fair city) "service" department. Completely human and pleasant in every way.
Pâté with warm brown bread was received, shall we say, "enthusiastically" by our table, but then this crazy maiskoek contraption came out: two almost crispy cornmeal pancakes, with cheese between them and on top, surrounded by rucola and roasted cherry tomatoes, drizzled with balsamic vinegar. We ate this in about 4 seconds.
Then, perfectly cooked medium-rare steak with a mushroom jus, and a roasted poussin with squash and potato purees, all accompanied by frites and mayo. Oh yeah, and some of the best beers in the known world. Yes....we made it look easy today.
"But--I thought you said she had her jaw worked on??? AAAIIIIIEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!"...etc, etc. etc.
I'm self-diagnosing myself as having bronchitis brought on by the flu. But Mark....isn't that absolutely terrible timing??? Yes, thank you for asking, this is bad timing as Mara's parents arrived this morning and last night we had to get through 7 hours of pillow-muffled coughing by me that counted as "sleep".
Since over-the-counter antihistamines aren't good for bronchitis sufferers, I've been exploring other options for re-opening my breathing ports, and one that has worked fantastically is thyme.
Take a big pot, put a couple inches of water in it and 3 or 4 branches of thyme. Bring it to a boil, take it off the stove, drape a towel over the back of your head, and stick your head in the pot. Being careful not to burn your little self, of course. Breathe carefully but as deeply as possible for as long as you can stand it.
Now, would this work just as well with any other aromatic herb? Don't know, haven't tested yet, and hopefully I won't have too many more days left when conditions would be right. But good ol' Wikipedia seems to think that thyme is an especially medicinal herb:
The essential oil of common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is made up of 20-55% thymol. Thymol, an antiseptic, is the main active ingredient in Listerine mouthwash. Before the advent of modern antibiotics, it was used to medicate bandages. It has also been shown to be effective against the fungus that commonly infects toenails.
A tea made by infusing the herb in water can be used for cough and bronchitis. Medicinally thyme is used for respiratory infections in the form of a tincture, tisane, salve, syrup or by steam inhalation. Because it is antiseptic, thyme boiled in water and cooled is very effective against inflammation of the throat when gargled 3 times a day.
So you can gargle with your vaporizer water when it cools, huh? Sometimes Wikipedia sounds like a doddering old aunt that nobody believes anymore.
The rest of this post used to contain a scratchpad for figuring out where we would be eating with Mara's parents, but that has been relocated for reprocessing. Really.
Sorry for all the completely crappy flash-lit pictures around here these days, but the sun is setting at 4pm or so, and well...most of our photo taking is done after that. Plus, we're sick, and photographing food seems like a tremendous waste of precious energy resources.
Considering that it had been a few months since anyone had been seriously injured around here, we should've guessed that Nurse Morse was due to make an appearance.
Actually Nurse Morse knew that his services would be required ahead of time, because this month's health crisis is a "do-over" of a previous month's health crisis: Mara's jaw explosion. She just had her jaw "de-grossified" (a technical term, don't worry about it) at the OLVG again on Thursday, and so now she is the lucky winner of a two- or three- day trip to Codeineland.
Normally, an event like this causes the bulbous red phone on Nurse Morse's spotless desk to emit a high-pitched shriek of alarm, which then causes Nurse Morse to hurl himself into 7 kinds of caretaking action.
Unfortunately, Nurse Morse seems to have a touch of the flu, or of something similar that makes him feel as if his head is made entirely of styrofoam plus his throat is very scratchy.
So we are making beef stew tonight, because we think it will make us feel better. We're using our own recipe from earlier this year, but maybe we'll soon talk about Julia's recipe that we never did make.
Pictured above, a Spanish tortilla I made yesterday, sitting on top of the José Andrés cookbook that taught me the magical pan-flipping technique required to make one. This one contains leeks, mushrooms, potatoes, and manchego, and it's completely delicious.
Let's see: you combine a couple of debauched nights in a row with colder temperatures outside and I'm pretty sure that's a recipe for comfort food. Or a recipe for a state of need that can potentially be ameliorated by comfort food.
Luckily, MT and I had the same idea about what would be comforting last night: red sauce. And ravioli. Unluckily, I didn't remember that Albert Heijn's Excellent spinach and ricotta ravioli contain an excellent amount of lemon zest, and so they're not the most excellent pairing with red sauce. At all. I won't forget again.
So, luckily, I'd also bought some of their "4-cheese" raviolis just in case, and these met the criteria for achievement of moderate comfort.
It's that time of year, when the plethora of get-togethers and other holiday merrymaking starts to pile up on itself. This week we had to make some hard decisions about what to do with our time: would it be a trip to the Ardennes for a few days to get in some walking and cooking with old friends; would it be a brief dash down to southwestern France to take part in a decadent blogfest; or would we play it safe and just go to the 100-year anniversary party for the Villa?
We ended up doing the responsible thing and staying here. Which was great because I got to eat Emma's Ethiopian cooking, which is amazing, no doubt because she's been taught by actual Ethiopians. She really outdid herself this time, it seemed like there were at least 10 different things that you could mix and match with your injera, and they were all super. I have no good pictures at all of the food, so you'll have to settle for shots of the kitchen post-dinner and of Tsehaytu and Getatchew providing the evening's entertainment.
Regular readers of this nonsense will remember that I have been "into" Indonesian food for a number of years now, that number being, say...5. I mean, I'd tasted it in America a couple of times but it was either in people's homes or in faraway places. It wasn't until we got here that I had enough potent doses for the addiction to take root.
After I was hooked, I began my hunt for a high-quality, well-written, modern, authentic Indonesian/Malaysian cookbook. In English. With pictures. This is no trivial set of requirements it seems, cos nothing out there fit the bill. The Sri Owen books seemed OK in many respects, but there were no photos. And since I only know what about 6 or 8 Indonesian dishes are supposed to look like, I needed a bit more guidance for the rest.
The point to all this is, I'd been searching/waiting/thinking about writing one for some time before I found Cradle of Flavor. It's not perfect, but it's pretty darn good. The recipes themselves are extremely thorough and clearly written, and though they usually include quite a bit too much detail, that detail can come in handy if your mind's not 100% committed to cooking that day. The stories behind the recipes and the author's travels in general do an elegant job of tying everything together into a very personal whole.
I've been working my way through it via a pretty non-standard approach. I've been cooking the things nobody else had claimed yet on the Cooking With Cradle of Flavor thread, so I haven't even really gotten around to cooking any of the sure-fire winners like rendang yet.
I guess it's not hugely surprising to see what the last things to be chosen are: recipes featuring exotic ingredients like oxtail or black glutinous rice; also those involving "messy" techniques like deep frying or unusual (for the Western cook) preparations such as whole fish.
The biggest surprise so far is how really easy all of the recipes have been. Some of them are barely even recipes...the Garlic-Marinated Tempeh (tempe goreng) from a while back is basically just cutting up tempeh, soaking it in some water, and then frying it. Today I'm making Pan-Seared Tamarind Tuna (tuna goreng), and it's really just tuna marinated in tamarind paste and then sauteed in peanut oil.
I mean, it's not all quite that simple. There are plenty of recipes with medium-size ingredient lists (10 or more), and many of those recipes utilize more than one cooking technique to deliver depth of flavor, which is apparently a very Indonesian thing to do. For example, Twice-Cooked Tofu with Coriander (tahu goreng bacem) took some time because you first make a marinade for the tofu, reduce it completely with the tofu in the pan, and then deep-fry the tofu after that.
As I mentioned, I haven't made too many recipes that would be my first choices thus far, but due to a shrimp-defrosting snafu, I had to make Stir-fried Shrimp Sambal with very little warning, and that is something that my little meal-planning sniper would have in its sights. It's a simple preparation (shallots, candlenuts, garlic, palm sugar, shrimp paste, and chiles) that's extremely delicious.