Monday, August 30, 2010

Europe Part 1: Amsterdam

Hallo! I’m back in Seattle, and missing Amsterdam like you wouldn’t believe. While a week was enough time to get familiar with the city and do and see most everything on my list, I definitely could have stayed longer… like… a lifetime maybe!? Seriously though… Evan and I love it there. Head over heels.

I know you’re all dying to know about the food…since, well, that’s what this blog is about. But, even though I can’t stop thinking about the Dutch cheese and the amazingness of their bread, food was really secondary to the overall awesomeness of Amsterdam. Well, actually… overall awesomeness was number one, BEER was number two (at least in terms of amount consumed), and then food. Don’t worry though, I do have a lot of delicious things to share with you, and will surely be adding a lot of Dutch-inspired recipes to my repertoire.

So…overall awesomeness, beer, and food… where to begin!? For starters, Amsterdam is amazing. Did I say that already? Well, I’ll say it again… and again and again. I love it. A lot. Can you tell that I’m deeply and madly in love with it!? Amidst incredibly old and beautiful architecture, A’dam is a modern, bustling city full of a great mix of energy and at the same time, patience. Riding bicycles throughout the city, cars don’t honk and run you off the road… everyone takes their time, goes with the flow, and eventually gets where they need to go. Even with all the movement of cyclists, trams, tiny little cars, and foot traffic, no one seemed to be in the big race that we are in the states. Even at restaurants, things seemed to slow down a bit. You order a beer (typically a Heineken… or several Heinekens in our case), and then you sit and relax and drink your beer and enjoy your company, without concern about when the food will arrive, or after that, when the check will arrive. I liked that. There was also a friendly cat nuzzling against my leg in one restaurant, and I liked that, too.

We did a million touristy things, many of which our good friend, host, and Amsterdam-native Vincent hadn’t even done. We experienced the Heineken Brewery (complete with several beers), visited the Van Gogh Museum, toured the Anne Frank House, wandered through the Red Light District, popped into a coffeeshop (ahem), and biked all over the city and through the beautiful Vondelpark. And while touring the city as picture-taking, map-wielding, fanny-pack wearing (ok, not really that, haha) Americans was fantastic, my favorite part was hanging out with Vincent, meeting his friends, going to his regular Monday-night bar, and getting a glimpse of how 20-somethings in Amsterdam live.

Which brings me… to the food. For as excited as I was to get to Amsterdam and go out to eat Dutch specialties, it turns out that like any big, culturally diverse city, Amsterdam cuisine is a melting pot of international flavors: Chinese, Greek, Thai, Italian, Spanish, and at the forefront of it all, Indonesian. On our first day, we ordered the “Dutch Specialty” for lunch…it was chicken sate (or satay as we call it here) in peanut sauce. While the restaurants didn’t knock my socks off, we did get to try some fun traditional Dutch pub and street food.

At the pub: Bitterballen, i.e. Bitter Balls. The breaded, fried, meat and gravy filled croquettes (kroketten) dipped in mustard and served in pubs aren’t actually bitter, but according to my research, were traditionally served alongside alcoholic bitters, hence the name. While I loved trying them, I can’t say that having a bitter ball with my beer is the perfect way to end the day. I mean, they tasted alright… like fried meaty grease and mustard… but the texture, I guess it’s something I’d have to get used to.

On the street: Vlaamse! Vlaamse are Dutch potato fries, and they are amazing (and cheap!). I know this sounds a little crazy… but I actually thought that the Dutch vlaamse blew the Belgian frites we had out of the water. Thick and golden, crunchy on the outside and hot & tender inside, dolloped with sweet, tangy mayo and rolled up in a paper cone… vlaamse put greasy, limp American fries to shame. And, street corners and ally-ways in Amsterdam are filled with vlaamse stands and frituurs (fry-carts).

The best food in Amsterdam, however, was the stuff we bought at the grocery store, and the food Vincent and his friends prepared for us. I was actually pretty impressed with the kitchen-savvy of Vincent and his 20-something guy friends. Let’s just say they knew their way around the kitchen a little better than most of the 20-something guys I’m friends with here in Seattle. On our first night in Amsterdam, Vincent’s BFF Michael invited us over for appeltaart (the most delicious apple pie ever) on his rooftop terrace, overlooking the city, complete with coffee, beer, and even fireworks… no big deal. Vincent made us a fabulous open-face egg sandwich for breakfast, his famous pasta salad, and a super delicious Indonesian meal of noodles, stir-fried vegetables, chicken, speck, and Indonesian sauces, called Bahmi. He also told me about some Dutch home-cooked meals that I’ll be experimenting with this winter.

Even after all the vlaamse, bitterballen, and homecooked meals, my very favorite thing in Amsterdam was… the plain ol’ store-bought sandwich bread smeared with butter and topped with chocolate sprinkles. I know it sounds a little wacky, and at first when Vincent prepared it I thought he was crazy. However, my friends… crazy he is not. He might actually be a genius…it was delicious. The grocery store has shelves of really good chocolate sprinkles in different flavors and sizes, made for the sole purpose of topping bread….chewy, soft, amazing Dutch bread, studded with dried corn. I’ve been dreaming about that bread. I brought back three boxes (a little excessive?) of sprinkles….they’re that good. And even though I’ve been drowning my post-vacation sorrows in sprinkles, our American bread just doesn’t cut it. Sigh. But I guess it will have to suffice, along with my other souvenirs: stroopwafels (sweet, syrup filled waffle cookies), salty black-licorice, Speculaas (crunchy gingerbread-like cookies), and of course, cheese.

Those crazy Dutch will eat anything on buttered bread...sprinkles, cheese with mustard, and even...cookies!

My vacation ended too soon, but I know I’ll make it back there sooner rather than later. You just can’t turn your back on that kind of love… the intense, butterflies in your stomach, swooning, head and heart pounding kind that I now have for Amsterdam. In the meantime, I’ll be doing everything I can to whip up tasty Dutch-inspired treats and share some of the amazingness with all of you.

By the way… we also went to Belgium! Coming soon to a blog near you: Europe part 2-Brugge!

Friday, August 20, 2010

While I'm Away

I'm leaving tomorrow for Amsterdam! If you miss me while I'm away (I'll only be gone a week, but ya never know), click on the Food 52 image below to peruse my recipes on Food 52, and check out some of the awesomely delicious blogs in my 'Good Enough to Eat' section!

As they say in the Netherlands..."Afscheid!" (I think that means "farewell"...) 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Big News!

Sorry I’ve been a little MIA lately, I've just been too excited to write! I haven’t had much time to cook anything fancy lately, and furthermore, it’s been extremely difficult to concentrate on the food in front of me when I have waffles, beer, cheese, and chocolate on my mind. So what's the exciting news and why am I constantly craving a weird list of  foods lately? Any guesses!? No, I’m not pregnant, if that was your guess (although the beer might have ruled that one out). Did you figure it out yet?

I'M GOING TO EUROPE! In 3 days!!! Evan and I are going on our first ever European vacation to Amsterdam and Bruges. I’ll be gorging myself on Dutch cheese and Belgian beer, and stopping at all the waffle and frieten stands I can find. Not to mention filling my bags with chocolates and other goodies for the ride home (oh, and for gifts).

We’re spending part of the trip with my friend Vincent, who was among the bevy of semi-unfortunate high school exchange students who ended up spending their year in America in the tiniest of tiny little rural towns. Not that it was all bad, of course… the exchange students at my high school were instantly the most popular kids in school, they were able to play on every sports team regardless of skill, and they got invited to all the best parties. It also worked out well for me, because now I have friends all across the globe that are more than willing to lend a couch.

I’m sure I’ll be bombarding you with Euro-posts when I return, so in the meantime, here’s something totally un-Euro. The other night I was flipping through an old Gourmet mag, and came across Zucchini and Red Pepper Enchiladas with Two Salsas from August 2009. Using the recipe as inspiration…OMG. Best dinner I’ve made in a long time. I switched things up a bit, adding more cumin and salt (and less oil) to the pepita sauce, substituting my awesome pico de gallo for the tomato salsa in the recipe, and serving everything burrito style, rather than fried into enchiladas, for a lighter touch. The thick, nutty pepita sauce basically replaced the need for cheese (although, c’mon… you know me, I still put some cheese out to sprinkle on top), and it really complimented the acidity in the pico. We wrapped a stack of tortillas in foil and heated them on the grill alongside the onion, red peppers, and zucchini, then topped our grilled veggie burritos with sliced radishes, green onions, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

As we crunched into our amazingly tasty and fresh veggie burritos filled with Mexican spices, we daydreamed about waffles and Gouda. I’ll be back before you know it, hopefully with delicious stories from abroad!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You Say Tomato, I Say Sandwich

What is it about tomato sandwiches that make foodies (or food lovers, eaters, or maybe just everyone) go absolutely wild? The simple tomato sandwich—a combination of bread, tomato, and mayonnaise, plus or minus other variables—is a summer staple in home kitchens across the country. I certainly love a good tomato sandwich, but I didn’t really realize that everyone else felt the same way, until Merrill from Food 52 posted an article about her favorite way to make the classic tomato sandwich… and received comment, upon comment, upon comment (upon comment) about how everyone else loves (and I mean LOVES) tomato sandwiches.

My tomato sandwich (if I could have a tomato sandwich in my honor) includes thick slices of chewy French or Italian bread (but not the soft pillowy kind, and definitely not toasted) slathered in store-bought mayo (Best Foods), thick, super juicy slices of heirloom tomatoes sprinkled with super fine sea salt that melts into the flesh, and black pepper. My tomato is usually eaten standing up at the kitchen counter, because it’s so juicy and fresh and good that once I’ve licked the ingredients off my fingers, I can’t possibly wait one second longer to dive in. It’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s acidic. The bread squishes around the thick tomato, bringing together the mayo and tomato juices in perfect unity. I don’t even like mayonnaise that much… but give me a tomato and a slice of chewy bread, and it’s all over.

The tomato sandwich, people, it’s nothing to scoff at. Go make one, trust me… you’ll want more.

And more.

And more.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Lumpia

Our friend Kyle's mom used to run a Filipino restaurant, and Kyle grew up cooking in it. One of their specialties was a caramelicious banana lumpia....which I convinced him to make for me.


Kyle is always welcome to come make Lumpia for me.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ice Cream and Cake and Cake

Ice cream and cake and cake. Do the ice cream cake. Ice cream and cake and cake.

Those are the lyrics to the most annoying-yet-catchy commercial jingle ever. Baskin Robbins I think. With  dancing robots and dinosaurs that really like ice cream cake. Ever since I told Amanda I was making her an ice cream cake, we've been singing that song... and it's been stuck in our heads non-stop. If you don't know it, you're lucky that it won't be stuck in your head...but you're also kind of missing out, because it's sort of awesome.

My peanut butter ice cream cake was sort of awesome too. I baked a yellow cake (two 8inch rounds), one topped with a peanut caramel mix, and sliced them in half, and froze them. Then I made the frozen peanut butter filling from this pie, plus a dash of cinnamon, sans the bacon. Then I layered them in a spring form pan, topped with more peanuts, and froze. Then I topped them with totally juvenile but completely fabulous happy birthday candles. Then I showed up with the cake at a restaurant with a group of Amanda's friends. Then, as Amanda was leaving happy hour with my co-conspirator Cindy, we stood up from a hidden table and yelled surprise, as Amanda's margarita-addled brain tried to understand what we were doing there. Then, we laughed, and sang, and ate delicious Mexican food. Then we did the ice cream and cake and cake.

And then we danced like robot dinosaurs.
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