Reliving our honeymoon one plate at a time

Boy oh boy, have things changed in the past year. I had a great day off yesterday, and I had invited my mother and her husband over for a tapas dinner because hey, any chance for a visit right? When I woke up yesterday I realized that a year ago I woke up on a plane descending into Madrid with Mrs. Primate on the first day of our honeymoon. I figured it was a sign that I should probably make something for dinner on days that I cook that would remind us of where we were on our honeymoon at this time a year ago. Well, dinner number one was already in the bag.

Last night I finally cracked open the Spanish cookbook that Mrs. Primate gave me for my birthday and made a couple typically Iberian delights, a tortilla with potatoes and onions, and albóndigas with a tomato salsa. In addition I added in a memory of our trip to Hong Kong (where I had my first tapas dining experience) with asparagus roasted under a blanket of manchego cheese. It turned out beautifully, and we had just enough little plates to even serve it in an authentic fashion. Things weren’t 100% Spanish though.

This #homemade lemon #gelato has me pretty excited for #dessert tonight. #food #foodporn #foodstagram

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For dessert I made gelato. Why? Well, memories of how good the gelato in Rome was as we walked through the streets on a hot spring day have been going through my head like freight trains as the weather has started to heat up. I logged onto trusty old Pinterest, searched for a lemon gelato recipe, and came up with this. It took me about an hour, and this was only my second experience with the ice cream maker my sister unloaded on gifted to us a few months ago. Well, let’s just say the second attempt went MUCH better than the first. So much better that I’m planning to make a little straciatella when we run out of this wonderful lemon batch.

Simmering up a syrup for limonata.

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I also made a syrup with lemon and basil to make homemade limonata, you know, the Italian version of lemonade? Something about the tartness of the lemon with the aroma of the basil really works together, and the basil was grown in our own garden. Talk about a fresh flavor! I found that one part Limonata mix and two parts carbonated water make for a really refreshing lemonade. If only it had a shot of limoncello…

These naked #lemons are making my first batch of #homemade #limoncello. #booze #drinks #picstitch

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Well, it will have a shot of limoncello, in about 30 days when this vodka I recently poured over the zest of 8 lemons is finished infusing, and simple syrup is added. But I digress.

The Spanish bit of the meal was absolutely fabulous, and it did in fact remind me of sitting at a table in Plaza Mayor in Madrid, watching street performers, hawkers, and families mill about as we enjoyed our tapas and wine. That was the point. I’d better save some Italian stuff for a week or two until I need to remind myself of Italy. 😉

Foods of Spain

Spain was one of the countries on this trip that I was most excited about, and not because of the amazing sites to see, the history of the Spaniards and the Moors and the Conquistadores, or even the Spanish inquisition. The one thing I was most enthralled by knowing that we were heading to Spain was the food. I know, what a huge surprise, this blogger was excited about food. I know.

I was completely unfamiliar with Spanish food until very recently. Although it always looked delicious on TV and all of the cheftestants on Top Chef who seemed to win had some experience working in Spanish kitchens, I never actually tried any of Spain’s delightful foods until we visited Hong Kong. Hey, after a couple of years living in Asia you’d eat at a Spanish restaurant when you visit the most western of all Asian cities too. Anyhow, the whole tapas experience excites my stomach because you can have a little bite of a bunch of different things without feeling like too much of a total pig.

In Spain, the experience was a bit different. We tried the local fare of Madrid and Barcelona, with a special lunch at a San Sebastian style Basque tapas bar for our final (and most grand) tapas meal. Everything was amazing in Spain. The ham fell apart in your mouth. The chocolate covered churros, well, I’ve already gushed on and on about those. Catalan sausage, all sorts of marinated tuna and salmon, and a wide variety of cheeses, all of it completely geared towards my palate. Spain seems to be the spot where they figured out how to use spices in a way that just screams (or sings maybe) finesse, whereas the way they’re used in Turkish or Indian cuisine screams WE’VE GOT LOTS OF SPICES AND WE AREN’T AFRAID TO USE THEM. Of course, Turkish and Indian cuisines are beautiful for that very reason.

At any rate, a picture is worth a thousand words, and I think this little gallery of images of Spanish cuisine will probably make you hungry.

Montaditos of anchovy, squid, chorizo, manchego, potato, and tortilla

Montaditos of chorizo, manchego, blood sausage, and mortadella

Cheesecake and cafe con leche

Planchado of bacon and cafe con leche

Counterclockwise from left: Croquetas, pork grilled with moorish spices, albondigas, and gazpacho

More montaditos, salads, and tinto verano.

Torrados of Catalan sausage and manchego

Pintxo of ham and vegetables with cafe con leche and a berlina.

Pizza of smoked tuna.

Empenadas of ham, cheese, and spinach.

Chocolate covered churros.

Clockwise from top: Pintxos of marinated tuna, soft cheese and pinenuts, salmon, and tortilla.

Pintxo of chorizo, served hot.

Hungry yet? Yeah. I thought so. May I suggest that you pick up some jamon Iberico and manchego cheese, and make yourself a nice sammich?

Madrid: Part I

The last week or so has been a total whirlwind of visitors, nerves, wedding, nerves, nerves, and nerves, and tasks. When it all came to an end I was understandably tired. The honeymoon was planned, flights and hotels booked, but the whole thing suddenly became pretty intimidating because we’ve never been to Europe, I haven’t really tried to speak Spanish in any meaningful way since high school, and the first stop was SPAIN. How could I, the guy who just barely managed to hold it together long enough to get married, enjoy the beginning of this trip as much as I wanted to when I was so tired? Well the answer is always a good night’s sleep.

We woke up at about 5:00 Monday morning, finished packing, had final showers before the trip, and waited for my Dad to show up to drive us 3 hours over to Houston where we were to start the flying bit of the trip. It all went quite swimmingly, save for a small delay getting out of Newark-Liberty International Aiport. The in-flight entertainment was kinda meh-tastic but it did the job, and about 8 hours after we took off from New York we descended back through the clouds and landed on the most beautiful, green, earthy landscape I’ve ever seen. A quick stop at tourist information to find our way to the subway and we were off to our hotel. We checked in and about two point seven seconds later we were both asleep…for eight hours.

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After we woke up it was time to freshen up and hit the road, because food is obviously what Spain is all about, right? As Carolyn did her hair and makeup I checked some websites looking for tapas bars in our neighborhood, and stumbled across a chain particular to Madrid called 100 Montaditos which makes two-bite sized sammiches that you enjoy with a nice beer. Also the price is totally right. We selected about 8 montaditos and a salad and a couple of beers and nommed for a while. I don’t remember all of them, but there was chorizo, Jamon Iberico, manchego cheese, calamares, gambas, pollo asado con bacon, and a few others. It was delish. After our first outing into the world of Spain’s food, we went back to the hotel and passed out again. UNTIL 11:00AM.

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We never sleep late anymore, so it’s a bit out of character that we’d do it while in a place as interesting as Madrid. Weirder stuff happens though, I guess. Upon waking up we headed over to the Palacio Real Madrid and found ourselves in the midst of some sort of celebration. It turns out that May 1st is a holiday in Spain, and that the palace was closed. The cathedral across the street however, was not.

We paid a 6 Euro entry fee to get into the museum inside the church only to be told we couldn’t take pictures in the museum itself. The first few rooms of the museum were absolutely beautiful, and then there were some galleries of relics and stuff. We did see some great vistas from the balcony and the dome atop the cathedral.

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On the way out we were finally let into the cathedral proper, and there were no signs saying “No Fotografia” so we went nuts. It was a beautiful work of light and space. The bold colors on the altar and frescoes were pretty stunning, and the sheer verticality of the whole thing was just nuts. We’re not very religious, but it’s always refreshing to see the good works that a devout belief can manifest out of people.

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After our visit to the cathedral we stopped for a quick lunch at a little tapas bar across the street where we had a platter of charcuterie. Chorizo Iberico, Jamon Iberico, different selections of sausages, blood sausages, and cheese. It was pretty glorious. Throw in the fact that the beer was basically free and hell, that’s what I call lunch.

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After lunch (which was around I think 3 or 4) we headed down Calle Mayor towards Plaza Mayor, the theme-park-esque Times Square-ish kinda bit of Madrid. It’s a huge open square with all manner of street performers, pickpockets, knockoff handbag dealers, cafes, football hooligans, bars, and restaurants. Some places are made for people watching, and this is one of them. We had a coffee and a dulce de leche cheesecake while we watched the square do its thing, then we headed along to Puerta del Sol where preparations were being made for protests against austerity and celebrations of a citizens uprising against the French that happened on May 2, 1808.

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We moved along to Plaza Cibeles to see some impressive buildings we saw on postcards earlier that day, along with a great fountain of Neptune, and all the way up to the gate of Parque Retiro. It was getting late. Already 8pm. Still light out by any means of description, but we were getting kinda tired, and we’d been on our feet pretty much nonstop for 8 hours. We found a place to eat with pictures of paellas in the window and sat down.

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Paella has been on the list of things I want to eat for a while, and the fact that they had a paella de verduras and I was needing some vegetable action sealed the deal. What we’ve learned since then is kinda sad. There is some sort of mass production going on and places have a separate menu that says Paellador! Lots of places both in Madrid and here in Barcelona have the same menu. I’m pretty sure the vegetables were frozen or something, because they didn’t have a whole lot of color. It was pretty tasty, but not the beautiful food I’ve become accustomed to in Spain, ya know? My tip: Avoid Paellador paellas. Not worth the 12 Euro everyone seems to charge for them.

After our meal it was back to the hotel where we once again fell asleep quite fast. Jet lag is a bruja.

Five cuisines I’m ready to eat on their own turf.

photo by Sangutxujai on Flickr

5. Spain’s cuisine seems to have been all the rage in the culinary world over the past couple of years. Growing up so close to Mexico, I can distinctly remember having vocabulary sessions in Spanish class where the teacher had to explain that a tortilla was a completely different experience altogether in Spain.

I’m not a huge seafood lover, but the idea of super expensive canned seafood products really intrigues me, and I can’t wait to give some of those canned oysters a try on our tentatively planned visit to Spain. Additionally, it appears to this armchair foodie that molecular gastronomy is a really big thing in Spain, but that it’s done in a playful manner that doesn’t take itself too seriously. My kind of people, you know? Spain is the tentative first stop on our honeymoon, so hopefully I’ll be experiencing the sabor of Spanish cuisine myself early next year.

photo from David McKelvey on flickr

4. France has to make an appearance on this list. It’s where all of the classical cooking techniques that home cooks like me talk about in order to make ourselves sound more worldly come from. That’s really not what I’m most ready to sink my teeth into, though. I want to bite into something crusty, flaky, and soft on the inside. You know, a fresh baked baguette.

Anything baked is what my mind tells me I most want to eat on a trip to France, and that day is coming soon I do believe. Breads, pastries, wines, cheeses, roasted vegetables and meats; your days are numbered. Hopefully I’ll be tasting some fine French foods in early 2013.

Sashimi is only one of the foods I’m excited about in Japan

3. Japan has been on my food hit list for a long, long time. Everything from ramen, soba, and takoyaki to the more expensive sushi and Kobe beef has danced through my dreams at some point over the past three or four years. I don’t have to dream much longer, as I’ll be visiting Kyoto and Osaka on September 29th. I imagine that our visit to Japan will be a breathtakingly expensive journey through the world of “cheap” Japanese eats, and that my taste buds will want to go back for years to come.

photo by the TheLawleys on flickr

2. Thailand has been spicing up my life with its cuisine for long before I ever thought I’d actually make it there. On August 4th we’ll be headed to Thailand, and the first thing we plan to do upon arrival is get something to eat. I think the Thai people work magic with fish sauce, vegetables, tofu and noodles. I’m hoping that the cooking class I’ve signed up for will teach me some of their techniques and secrets so that I can keep the heat of Thailand in my belly for a long time to come.

photo by Kristie’s NaturesPortraits on flickr

1. Greece has created over the past bajillion years a cuisine that I at one time really didn’t like. It took me a long time to appreciate the flavors and textures of Greek food, but when it clicked, it clicked in a big way. The food I wish I could find or make while we’ve been living here in Korea is Greek food. The food that looks best on television is Greek food. The food that makes my stomach rumble as I look through friends’ facebook photos is Greek. The liquor that looks like it would produce the most terrible hangovers that are actually worth it is Greek.

Let’s put Greece on notice. Stock up on your food supplies, Greeks. Be ready to teach me your ways. I’m coming for you, Moussaka (that sounded so sinister I had to include it.) I plan to gain at least 10-15 pounds made completely out of feta cheese and meat roasted on sticks. It’ll be worth it when I’m trying to carve those pounds off with runs through the park and weights after we get back home.

Congratulations Greece, you’re #1 on my list.

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