Tag Archives: travel

Eclectic Houston – Extremadura, Spain

Hola! and welcome to the Susitna Cafe’!  We’re discussing “Eclectic Houston”, our monthly chronicle about the unique and international aspects of Houston, TX USA.

Our Susitna Cafe’ neighbors in Houston come from all around the world… France, Hong Kong, Cuba, Spain, India, Mexico, Armenia, and Texas A&M (Ha-Ha!).  Isn’t that wonderful?  Whenever our neighbors warmly welcome us into their home, we learn about the native food and cultural traditions that they brought with them to Houston.  We are sooo fortunate!

Recently, our neighbor Rita and Fernando invited us to a party at their lovely home to celebrate Rita’s birthday.  Oooohhhh, they are such nice people and they always have a wonderful international smorgasbord.  You know, I really like international smorgasbords and birthday parties!

Fernando’s family originates from the Extremadura Region of Spain, an area bordering Portugal in Europe.  Rita’s mother’s family is from Ecuador.  So, we were delighted to participate in their eclectic Spanish smorgasbord and birthday celebration.

Happy Birthday Rita!

Oh look, there's Fernando (to the right)!

Extremadura, by the way, means “to go to extremes”.  This is a Spanish region that is blistering hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  The Extremadura landscape consists of lush forests, sweeping plains and ancient hilltop villages.  It is an area off the beaten tourist path and a region of Spain where the villages seem frozen in time.

Photo Courtesy of Spanish-Living.Com

Extremadura is well known for its outstanding gastronomy.  Highly prized Iberian pork, for example, originates from Extremadura where the free range pigs feast on acorns which give their meat a unique and highly prized flavor.

Extremadura’s delicious food is based on seasonal availability.  It is simple and down to earth thus reflecting its peasant origins.  Rita and Fernando’s feast included an Extremadura gazpacho amongst other delightful simple and down to earth Spanish dishes…

various canapes and vegetables…Albondigas Al Zafaron (pork and veal meatballs with saffron)…Potatas Alinadas (Andalusian potato salad), and even a Lithuanian beet soup (borcht)…There was a beautiful Empanada Gallega (Galician cod pie) with a patisserie enscription of Rita’s initials too!  Oh my, someone pinch me now! 😮

In addition to the delightful  Spanish smorgasbord, we enjoyed some refreshing sangrias poured by Joseph, Rita and Fernando’s son…

Of course, all the guests had a wonderful time eating fresh seasonal food and sipping sangria…

Oh look, and there's Rita's sister (to the right)!

Handsome Bogart

Oh, and let’s not forget about dessert…Maria, Rita and Fernando’s daughter, made some delightful carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting…

Lucky for all of us, Rita and Fernando have generously shared their family recipe for Xela’s Extremadura Gazpacho with the Susitna Cafe’!  This recipe originated with Fernando’s mother, Xela, and it is absolutely wonderful…it’s refreshing and delicious!  Thank you Rita, Fernando and Xela from your Susitna Cafe’ friends!

Xela’s Extremadura Gazpacho

6-8 Servings


Ingredients

4 pounds fresh ripened tomatoes, skins removed and cut into chunks

1 cucumber, cut into chunks

2 red or orange bell peppers, cut into chunks

4-5 garlic cloves, peeled

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

3-4 Tablespoons sherry vinegar

2-3 Tablespoons salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Garnishes

1 bell pepper (any color), diced

2 tomatoes, skins removed and chopped

1/2 medium onion, diced (I use red onion)

1/2 cucumber, diced

2 boiled eggs, chopped

croutons, 1/3 stale baguette cut into small cubes, sprinkled with olive oil and salt and baked until golden on cookie sheet

To begin, prepare your vegetables and tomatoes.  Dip the tomatoes into a boiling pot of water for a few minutes.  Allow to cool to touch, then peel and remove the skins.

Next, in a food processor or blender, add a combination of tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and garlic with a portion of the olive oil.

Process/blend the vegetables and olive oil until you have a speckled puree.

Pour the speckled puree into a large bowl or non-aluminum pot.  Continue to process/blend the vegetables and olive oil in batches pouring into the large bowl or pot when done.  Add the sherry vinegar, cumin and salt to the bowl or pot and stir well to incorporate the ingredients and flavors.

Refrigerate for several hours or overnight if possible to meld all the flavors.  Serve with a platter of garnishes so that your family and guests  can add their own to taste.

Cook’s Notes:  I reduce the amount of extra virgin olive oil when I make this recipe simply because I prefer a little less oil.  Do consider using a colorful confetti mixture of the chopped bell peppers as a nice touch to the garnish platter.  If, by chance, your gazpacho is too thick just add some cold water or ice until you have a desired consistency.

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Filed under August 2010

The Dim-Sum of the Matter…

你好 (nee-how) my Susitna Cafe’ friends!  We’re talking about travel here at the Cafe’.  I know, this is no surprise to you!

Do you like to travel?  I like to travel because I like to learn.  I like to learn what a place is really like.  You know, really get into “the Dim-Sum of the matter”.

Sometimes getting to “the Dim-Sum of the matter” during a short visit can be challenging, particularly when jet-lag is involved.  Last year, we traveled to Hong Kong.  We had anticipated some jet lag.  However, I experienced serious jet lag.

Upon arrival in Hong Kong, I was absolutely sure that my body was  located in Hong Kong.  However, my brain was located elsewhere.  Timbuktu perhaps?  No telling really…

Our planned Day 1 itinerary didn’t challenge our jet lagged minds too much.  We had planned a ride on the Victoria Peak Tram, the world’s oldest funicular railway.  All of our travel guidebooks had recommended it as a “must-do” activity.

After reaching Victoria Peak, we planned to walk amidst the nature trails and enjoy the views of Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong below.  And so, that’s what we did.

Upon arrival at the Peak, we refreshed ourselves with some strong Pacific Coffee at the Peak restaurant.  And, zoom-zoom!  Off we went to enjoy our walk and fabulous vistas!

The view of  Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong below was sooo impressive…Hong Kong appeared like a modern and westernized city!

Gee, it even looked like a big city in North America (you know, that place where my brain was located…or, was that Timbuktu?).

The Peak nature trails were lovely.  Much of the vegetation was semi-tropical and familiar to us.  Gee, it sort of looked like the same vegetation found in Houston, TX…

“R” really liked the trees along the Peak trails.  According to the horticultural signage in the Park, the trees were identified as rubber trees.  Hmm…we hadn’t seen any rubber trees like that in Houston, TX…

So we walked and wandered amongst alot of rubber trees.  Although still feeling  jet-lagged, I experienced a brief moment of clarity during our walk.  I thought “Hmm…if you can find something different, like a rubber tree, amongst so much familiarity, then our distant view of Hong Kong might be like a wonton wrapper”.

I’m sure that you understand what happens to a person when you walk around and see alot of rubber trees pondering these sort of thoughts my Susitna Cafe’ friends.  As you can imagine, we had reached a decision point during our first day in Hong Kong amongst all those rubber trees.  We decided that this is “where the rubber meets the road“!  Tee-hee 😮

So, at that point on our first day in Hong Kong, we decided to break-away from our planned itinerary and dive-in to “the Dim-Sum of the matter”.  There was no time to lose, so we headed down into the heart of the city to see what was inside the Hong Kong wonton wrapper…

Upon arrival at street level, Hong Kong  appeared very modern and westernized just like our view from atop Victoria Peak.  I think we were still on the edge of the wonton wrapper…

We saw big and western style malls full of fashionable shops…

You know, a funny thing happens when you travel and explore…the more you explore, the more you discover what’s behind the wrapper (wonton wrapper that is…).  Here’s a peak inside the Hong Kong dumpling…an Asian junket amongst a modern and westernized backdrop wrapper…

After seeing the Asian junket on Victoria Harbour, we were excited to really get to “the Dim-Sum of the matter”.  So we explored further.  All of a sudden, we noted that the signage in our surroundings began to change.  Instead of modern and westernized signs, we saw neon multi-lingual signage printed with both western and Chinese characters…

As we delved into the dumpling even more, the street signs changed again.  Now there were more Asian influences…

Soon, our exploration led us to the heart of the dumpling…an evening Ladies Market where we experienced all kinds of tasty ingredients…

This is a vibrant place where locals and visitors enjoy the tasty dumplings…

A place where the friendly ingredients meld so nicely together…

Well my Susitna Cafe’ friends, as you can see, we had a wonderful first day in Hong Kong!  Sigh…there’s just nothing like getting to “the Dim-Sum of the matter” when you’re traveling!

Susitna Cafe’ Shrimp Dumplings

Ohhh…I love yummy dumplings, don’t you?  Although you can use store bought wonton wrappers for these dumplings, homemade tastes so much better!  Ohhh…they’re even better when we incorporate tasty herbs too!

Herb Wonton Wrapper Ingredients

2 cups organic unbleached flour, plus extra for pastry board

1/2 teaspoon gourmet salt

1 large egg

1/2 cup water

1/3 cup cilantro & chives, chopped fine

cornstarch

Combine flour and salt on your pastry board or countertop.  Make a well in the center of your flour and salt mixture.  Next, add egg and water into a mixing bowl.  Whisk until mixed.  Pour the egg and water mixture into your flour well.

Mix and knead the dough until it forms a smooth ball.  If the dough sticks to your pastry board, then add a little extra flour to the surface.

Now add the chopped herbs to your dough and knead to distribute herbs evenly throughout the dough.

Place the dough ball into a mixing bowl.  Set aside and cover with a damp cloth and let sit while we make the shrimp dumpling filling.

Shrimp Dumpling Filling Ingredients

1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp, chopped and dried on papertowel

1 cup chinese cabbage, chopped fine plus some extra whole leaves to line your steamer basket

3 Tablespoons carrot, minced

2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped fine

2 Tablespoons chives, minced

2 Tablespoons green onion, minced

2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced

3 Tablespoons oyster sauce (we use Lee Kum Kee brand with No MSG Added at the Cafe’)

1 teaspoon sesame oil

Toss all ingredients together into a mixing bowl.  Stir to combine.

Now let’s work with our herby wonton dough again.  Begin by dusting your pastry board and rolling pin with corn starch.

Next, cut your dough into quarters.  Roll-out one of your dough quarters until approximately paper thin.  Cut the dough with a biscuit cutter.  If you don’t have a biscuit cutter, you may use a 3-4 inch diameter drinking glass edge dusted with corn starch too.

Now let’s make dumplings!  Place approximately 1 teaspoon of your shrimp mixture in the center of your cut-out dumpling wrapper.

Wet the edges of the wrapper, fold-over into a half-moon shape and seal.  You may pinch the edges for a decorative effect.

Or, at the Susitna Cafe’, we often pinch up the wrapper to form a little happy package.

Then we tie our dumpling package with a little chive bow…sigh

Once you have made all of your dumpling packages, pour about 3/4 cup of water into a dutch oven and place a steamer basket inside.  Heat the dutch oven over medium heat.  When you observe steam arising, place chinese cabbage leaves on the bottom of the steamer basket.  Place enough leaves to cover the bottom of the basket.  Now place your dumpling packages in the basket and be sure that they are not touching.

Place a cover on your dutch oven and steam for about 10 minutes or until your dumplings are semi-transparent.

While the dumplings are steaming, you can continue working your 1/4 pieces of wonton dough, filling them and forming the dumplings into the shape of your choice.  If the water is low in your dutch oven, add additional water and wait until the water steams prior to adding additional dumplings in the steamer basket.

Serve with your favorite dipping sauces.  You can make a quick dipping sauce with 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1 ounce rice wine vinegar, 1 ounce cooking sake, 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil, 1/2 teaspoon chili paste, 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger and 1/2 Tablespoon cilantro, chopped fine.

It’s now time to get to get to “The Dim-Sum of the Matter…”



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Filed under March 2010

Caffe’ Ahh…Roma

Ciao!  I’m glad you’ve stopped by the Cafe’ today.  We’re discussing Italy.  Have you been?  Hmm…how about a quick culture lesson?

A very nice man, Bruno Bozzetto,  produced a video on Italian culture.  It won’t take too much of your time to view…just a few minutes…let’s watch the video together, shall we?

Oh, by the way, be sure to take notes when you see the “Coffee” section of the movie.  It’s really important.

So, what do you think?  Isn’t it just the berries that you can have sooo many coffee choices?  That’s why I like Italy, and Rome in particular.  In fact, my name is “happy-happy” when I’m around the ahh…Roma of coffee.

My view of Italy, and particularly Rome is probably different than most.  I think it has something to do with the caffe’ (pron. kahf-Feh with an accent at the end:o).

Oh don’t get me wrong.  I love Italy.  I love Rome.  I truly do.  It’s just that once you’ve tried the caffe’ in Rome, something happens to you.

It certainly happened to me.  When “R” and I were in Italy last year, we walked and wandered the streets of Rome.

It was our second trip.  We had seen many of the sights before, and it was oh so nice to see them again…

Somehow though, Rome was different on that trip.  In fact, “R” agrees too.  Rome had taken on an ahh…Roma-like personality.  You know, sort of intense and aromatic.

Ahh…Roma is everywhere in Rome.  Doesn’t seem to matter where you are…it’s just there.  After all, there is a caffe’ bar on every street and street corner.

You can just walk-in (the doors are always wide open), order your caffe’ from the barista, and sip away while standing.  It’s like a quick “happy-happy“, and then you’re off to see more of ahh-Roma!

Oh wait.  Here are some more pictures.  You’ll see what I mean about the ahh…Roma-like personality.

Oh look, there’s a Latte Macchiato.  Isn’t it lovely? sigh

Oh yes, I remember this sight.  This is Caffe’ Ristretto.

Oh Joy!  Aren’t Italian baristas just the best!  Look at the perfect swirls of milk foam on the Cappuccino!

I think there’s just one more photo…yes, here it is…a favorite of mine, the Mocacchino.  You know, the one with chocolate!

Oh my, you’re right.  There is something  missing in all these photos….Hmm…what do you think it is?

Oh, I know!  It’s that wonderful little cookie that is served with the caffe’.

No problem!  We’ll just make some.  Let’s see…let’s celebrate “happy-happy .  So, how about baking some Chocolate Caffe’ Ahh…Roma Biscotti?

To start, let’s assemble the ingredients.

Ingredients*

1 3/4 cups unbleached flour (will need some extra to dust your pastry board or work surface)

1 cup natural cane sugar

1/2 cup cacao powder (Valrhona is best for this recipe)

1 1/2 Tablespoons allspice

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 Tablespoons fresh brewed espresso

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (Ghirardelli Gourmet 72% Cacao chips are wonderful in this recipe)

8 ounces pistachios

parchment paper, wax paper or silpat liners (enough for 2 large baking sheets)

*organic ingredients are preferred

Now that the ingredients are assembled, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Begin by adding all of your dry ingredients (flour, cane sugar, cacao powder, allspice, baking soda, and salt) into a large mixing bowl.  Stir to combine.

Next, add your liquid ingredients (eggs, vanilla, and espresso) into a small bowl and lightly beat together to combine.

Let’s now pour the combined liquid ingredients into your large mixing bowl containing the dry ingredients.  Mix until thoroughly combined.  Next, fold in the pistachios.

Transfer your dough onto your floured work surface and begin to knead.  Note that the dough will be sticky and stiff.  Add additional flour to your work surface, as necessary while kneading, to prevent the dough from sticking to your work surface.

Divide the dough into 2 balls.  Shape each ball into 2 loaves approximately 12-inches long.  Place 1 loaf onto your prepared baking sheet.

Bake the loaf until it appears cracked (about 35 minutes).  Set the loaf aside to cool.  Meanwhile, bake your 2nd loaf until it appears cracked.

After you remove your 2nd loaf from the oven, reduce your oven temperature to 300 degrees.

While you’re waiting for the 2nd loaf to cool, place your 1st loaf on a cutting board.  Using a sharp serrated bread knife, cut your loaf into 1/2 inch diagonal slices.  You will have approximately 25 biscotti slices.

Place your biscotti slices onto your baking sheet.  Bake for approximately 7 minutes, or until lightly toasted.  Once toasted, turn over the slices and bake again for 7 minutes or until toasted.

It is important at this stage, to do the following:  walk out of your kitchen for approximately 1 minute;  breathe in some fresh air; next, walk back into your kitchen; and, breathe in a Big breath of Chocolate Caffe’ Ahh…Roma Biscotti air.  Isn’t it wonderful?  Aren’t you “happy-happy“?

Now repeat the twice-baked procedure with your 2nd loaf.  You may, at this point, repeat the Big breathe-in procedure too.

Allow your biscotti to cool thoroughly so that the chocolate chunks harden.  Once cool, store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.  Or, freeze the extra (if there are any).

Oh…think of the possibilities…perhaps if we crushed the biscotti, we could use biscotti crumbles for a cheesecake crust…yum…

There now.  What a relief…  The photos are complete.  There is “happy-happy” biscotti with the caffe’.  Sigh

Cooks Note:  This recipe was developed after testing (and tasting) many, many chocolate biscotti recipes.  Thanks to Martha Stewart for her “Martha Stewart Living Cookbook” Double-Chocolate Biscotti recipe and to Todd English and Sally Sampson for their “Figs Table” Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti recipe.  Their brilliance led me to adapt those recipes and ultimately develop the  “happy-happy” Chocolate Caffe’ Ahh…Roma Biscotti.

Traveler’s Notes:  Don’t miss the beautiful sites in ahh-Roma:  the Coliseum; Campo di Fiori; the Trevi Fountain; the Arch of Constantine; the Vatican Museums (and the spiraling staircase); the Pantheon; and, of course, the Spanish Steps.

S3XT5E8RRVGU

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Filed under February 2010

Cabbage Pride

I enjoy gardening, don’t you?  I started gardening when I was in grade school.  In fact, when I was 12 years old, I grew a BIG cabbage.  The BIG cabbage was my pride and joy.

Of course, I grew this cabbage in Alaska–you know, the place where everything is BIG.  In fact, my cabbage weighed 40 lbs.

After growing this pride and joy, I hadn’t thought about it much.  Mostly, I’ve lived my life knowing that I am a successful cabbage gardener.  I haven’t won any awards or even shared this tidbit of information with many of my friends.

Perhaps I’ve just lived my life feeling really proud about my gardening ability, particularly when it comes to growing cabbage.  Well, I must admit that I’ve probably been a bit arrogant about the whole ordeal.

However, last September my pride was shattered.  I was crushed.  I felt about the same as when my mother exceeded my BIG fish catch record.  In 1984, my little petite mum (she’s 4′ 11″ tall) caught a 70 lb. King Salmon in Deep Creek, Alaska.  After that occasion, life was simply not the same.

My life was shattered...

My cabbage pride (vs. my fishing pride) was shattered at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, Alaska.  I remember the day well.

“R” and I had decided to take my mom out to lunch, then spend the afternoon walking and wandering the Fairgrounds.  It was a crisp and cool Fall day.  We entertained ourselves silly…

Alaskan Wildlife

Coffee Guys

I wish we hadn’t done it.  But, we did.  We walked and wandered into the farm animal and garden complex…

It was OK at first.  We viewed and talked about all the nice vegetables grown by local gardeners.  We even saw some large vegetables.

Rhubarb

"R"'s thumb and large zucchini

But there it was.  I remember gasping for air.  I had even wondered if I was dis-com-bob-u-lated (is that a word?  well, you know what I mean).  I closed my eyes and reopened them and saw cabbages everywhere…

Cabbage in a canoe...

"Count Veggula" cabbage...

But, there was no mistaking the BIG cabbage.  It was “The Beast” of all cabbages.  And it was, indeed, there in front of me.

"The Beast"

“The Beast” weighed 127 pounds.  Can you believe it my Cafe’ friends?  I was in awe, as you can imagine.

The Anchorage Daily News reported about “The Beast”…that “Leafy Wonder”.  But, I was unable to read all the details.  My cabbage pride had been wounded.

Time heals these wounds, however.  So, now several months later I’m upbeat again.  Why not?  You only live once!  Why not make cabbage and meatball soup to soothe one’s wounded cabbage pride and move on in life.  Shall we, my Susitna Cafe’ friends?

Cabbage and Meatball Soup (serves 6-8)

Ingredients

Ingredients

¼ cup olive oil

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 yellow onion, chopped

2-3 small celery hearts with leaves, chopped (or, 1 celery stalk will do)

2 carrots, sliced

.25 lb Serrano ham, chopped

2 plum tomatoes, chopped

1 small head of cabbage, shredded and chopped

7-8 cups of water

2 heaping Tablespoons of Better than Bouillon Organic Vegetable Base (or 3 cubes of Rapunzel Vegan Vegetable Bouillon)

1 can cannellini beans, drained (or ½ cup dried beans soaked in 4 cups of water overnight)

Parmesan rind (or about 1/3 cup of grated parmesan)

10 meatballs (your favorite recipe or frozen will do—I often use Ikea frozen meatballs (thawed) because they are good quality, and have no preservatives)

Make Your Soup Base

Heat olive oil in large dutch oven or soup pot under medium heat.  Add garlic and sauté.  When the garlic begins to turn brown,  add the chopped onions.  Sauté and stir til transparent.  Now add your chopped celery with leaves, sliced carrots and chopped Serrano ham.  Cook for about 10 minutes.  Next, add the chopped plum tomatoes and cabbage.  Stir and sauté for another 10 minutes, and enjoy the beautiful color of this cabbage soup base.

Oooh...so nice!

Let’s Make Soup

Your soup base is prepared, so now let’s add 7 cups of water, the bouillon, cannellini beans, and the parmesan rind.  Simmer the soup for approximately 30 minutes.  If you used dried soaked beans, you may need to simmer the soup longer in order to soften the beans.  Taste, and use your own discretion.

Add your meatballs and lots of fresh ground pepper.  You may add an additional cup of water if the soup becomes too thick (note, this is a substantial soup so it will be thick).  Cook for an additional 10 minutes.  Add salt, as needed.

Garnish with shredded parmesan.  Serve with crusty sourdough bread, a hunk of your favorite cheese, and a tossed salad.

Dinner is ready!

Ode to the Cabbage

Oh, great cabbage…

Where art thou?

Not one of 5, 10, or 20 pounds…

No imposter will do!

Oh, what temerity!

Roll along now ye little ones…

We seek cabbage from the Land of the Midnight Sun!

by “R”

Traveler’s Notes:  the Alaska State Fair will be held this year from Aug. 26-Sept. 6, 2010.  Be sure to visit the BIG vegetables!

Cook’s Notes:  this recipe makes alot of soup–freeze some!  It freezes well.

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Filed under February 2010

Hungary Anyone?

We’ve just returned from the Land of Paprika.  I don’t have a diary.  But, if I did, I would describe Day 1 as follows:

Just arrived in Budapest, Hungary feeling groggy.  The airport is much smaller than expected.  It’s mid-afternoon, Hungary-time…I’ve eaten breakfast twice…or, was it lunch that I ate twice and breakfast and dinner only once?  Even my watch, with multiple time functions, is confused.

Our Zona Cab driver, a friendly native Hungarian, promptly whisks us from the airport to Erzsebet Korut.  He is happy for us.  He wants us to love Budapest.  He’s proud of the people and  cultural heritage.  He speaks excellent English.

Thank goodness.  I’ve forgotten how to speak anything in Hungarian.  I am jet-lagged.

“We’re here” he says.  We step-out of the cab and look up.  Wow!  “R” and I have our mouths open wide.  The Hotel doorman, observing us, is surely wondering if we’re trying to speak Hungarian, and after having failed, have decided to fall back on the Charades technique to act-out our needs…

No, we are not Hungary hungry.  We are in awe.  The online hotel reviews simply did not depict the beauty of  the Corinthia Hotel.  The Hotel was described as having been “a former restored palace”…a bit “out of the way”…

As the winter sun began to set, the lights appeared all around us.  We gasped at the  Corinthia “Grand” Hotel, a beautifully restored palace, glowing on this winter day in all its splendor.

Home away from home...

We wave goodbye to our new Hungarian taxicab driver friend, and we step into the Hotel…

“R” is enthusiastic.  He wants to take my picture, although we haven’t checked-in yet.  “Limburger!”, he says while he takes a multitude of photos of me.  “R” shows them to me, and they appear a bit jet-lagged blurry.

"Limberger!"

We agree to check-in quickly, toss our baggage into our room and focus on exploring.  “R” and I love to walk when we travel.  We walk and we wander…

Our jet-lag begins to wear-off as we walk out onto Erzsebet Korut.  It is cold outside.  We take it all in…the Austro-Hungarian architecture, the stoic remains from the communist occupation, and the city dwellers walking home from work.

I take note of a cluster of locals carrying bags of groceries home.  I quietly think, oh joy!  I know there’s a grocery store nearby…Yes, my Susitna Cafe’ friends, a grocery store.  Can you believe it?

Who in the world travels all the way across the Atlantic from Houston, Texas to Budapest, Hungary to spend time in a grocery store?  We do.  Why?  Well, you would be amazed at what one can learn from the experience!

After spending about 20 minutes in the local Spar grocery store, one can assess the following:

1) the locals eat fresh foods and shop daily as typical Europeans do–this is determined by strolling around the entire store first in order to get an overall broad assessment of the situation–are we having fun yet?

2) pastries, and most particularly, cakes are popular–take note that the cracker, cookie and pastry isle is fully stocked with prepared cakes…carrot cake, chocolate cake… cake with and without marzipan…

3) there is paprika everywhere–we’re not talking about paprika in small jars.  We’re talking about paprika in bags and tubes.  If paprika is not packaged in a bag or tube, it is commonly found as an ingredient in food items.

At this point of my grocery store cultural assessment, my thoughts race as I consider all the recipes I could test and/or develop from this wonderful inspiration.

In the meantime, “R” is beginning to look tired and Hungary hungry.  I encourage him to be patient because I think I’ve found ITIT is that one source of cooking inspiration that I simply must learn about during our trip.  In this case, on our first day, IT must be paprika.  Paprika is Hungarian.  Hungary hungarians eat paprika.  We are in Hungary, so we must eat paprika.  We must learn about paprika too.

My thoughts continue to race…well, there are so many kinds of paprika to consider… special quality, delicate, excuisite delicate, pungent excuisite delicate, noble sweet, half sweet, rose AND hot paprika.  What is a girl to do?

I convinced myself to hold that thought until I could figure it out later.  After all, what is a girl to do?  So, we walk out of Spar and head towards Andrassy Ut.

Meanwhile, “R” is still Hungary hungry.  We observe many bookstores on Andrassy Ut.  We love bookstores!  We enter “Alexandra” bookstore, and I find the cookbook section quickly.  They have “Culinaria Hungary” in English!  I quickly glance at recipes and note some common ingredients…Hungarian peppers, tomatoes, paprika…

“R” waves at me wildly and encourages me to go up the escalator with him.  “R” has found food and art…

What a sight as we ride the escalator to the second floor–the ceiling is gilded.  Isn’t it marvelous?

Alexandra Guilded Ceiling

Look Up!

We are delighted as we sit at the “Alexandra Bookstore Cafe” table amongst friends.  But, there is a slight hiccup…our waitress speaks Hungarian.  We try speaking Hungarian…our waitress doesn’t understand us, and she smiles at our efforts…

Our smiling waitress then begins speaking German.  At this point, there is hope…I speak some German, and after doing so, she understands me!  We are now “connected”.  We enthusiastically order a hot tea, a latte and some sandwiches.

We dive into our sandwiches amongst the frescoes and books.  Occasionally I look up and see this:

Alexandra Bookstore Cafe Fresco

Art and Food...

I am, once again, inspired.  I become more energized by the minute.  As I bite into my sandwich, I ask the waitress, “Was ist das?” She tells me that we are eating Hungarian sausage laced with…what else?  Paprika!  Art and food…

Susitna Cafe’ Hungarian Winter Lecso (“LETCH-oh”)

Lecso is a popular Hungarian national dish.  Every Hungarian family has their own version.  The Susitna Cafe’ version includes an assortment of colorful organic vegetables combined with sausage and, of course, paprika.  It is a wonderful winter stew inspired by Day 1 in Hungary, our art and food experience.  Would you like to share the experience with me at the Susitna Cafe’?

This is what you’ll need to make Lecso that feeds 4-6 people as a main dish (feeds more if served as an appetizer):

Ingredients

Ingredients

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil

1 Tablespoon bacon grease*

1 medium eggplant, sliced in 1″ slices, salted, rinsed, then chopped

1 red onion, chopped

2 yellow bell peppers, chopped in 1/2 inch pieces

2-3 small zucchini squash, diced

3 plum tomatoes, chopped

3 heaping teaspoons tomato paste

2 Tablespoons Hungarian paprika (hot is preferred, but sweet will do)

1 Hungarian sausage link*, chopped (kielbasa or your favorite sausage will do)

Salt and pepper to taste

Sour cream (for serving)

*vegetarians omit these ingredients

Begin by slicing the eggplant into 1 inch slices.  Salt the tops and bottoms and leave for 10 minutes.  The salt will extract any bitterness from the eggplant.

Salted Eggplant

Salted Eggplant

Heat the oil in a dutch oven at medium-high heat.  Meanwhile, clean and chop the red onion.  Next, rinse the salt from the eggplant slices, pat them dry, and chop them.  Throw the onion and eggplant into the heated dutch oven.  Saute and stir.

While the onion and eggplant cook, clean and chop the remaining vegetables.  After the eggplant and onion are cooked soft, add the remaining chopped vegetables.  Saute and stir.

Sauteed Mixed Lecso Vegetables

Colorful Lecso Veggies

The vegetables may begin to stick to the pan, so you may add about 1/4 cup of water, as needed.  Now add the tomato paste and paprika.  Cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally.  The Lecso should have the consistency of a chunky tomato sauce.

Add the chopped sausage to the mix and continue cooking for 30 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Less salt is required if sausage is used in the recipe.

Now, turn-off the heat and allow the Lecso to come to room temperature.  Although you may skip this step and dig-in, a little patience will reveal a richer and full-flavored Lecso.  The cooling period allows the Lecso flavors to meld.  Once the Lecso is cool, then reheat and serve.

Serve with a dollop of light sour cream on top, some crusty bread,  and a tossed green salad.

Hungary Anyone?

Traveler’s Notes:  Since writing this post, I’ve discovered that the Alexandra Bookstore Cafe’ frescoes were painted by a 19th century Hungarian painter, Karoly Lotz.

16 Comments

Filed under February 2010

I’m So Excited!

I’m so excited! This is my first post.  All I can say is…uh…salmon! Salmon…molded into a delectable cream cheese and herb mixture and rolled in pecans…oh my…yes, salmon.

But, perhaps I should back-up before we dive into this together my Cafe’ friends.  Shouldn’t I say more about salmon?  Those ambitious and shiny wonders that spawn every year in Alaskan waters give us so many healthful benefits–how about all that healthy protein and omega 3?  How about the bragging rights when you catch one?  Oh joy!  I’m so grateful.

Every summer while Ron (“R”) and I visit my mother in Alaska, we do what every person in the Land of the Midnight Sun does.  We FISH.

Since the FISH in Alaska are big, we catch BIG FISH.  Oh…I should inform you that everything in Alaska tends to be BIG.  Yes, BIGGER than Texas. ..

In fact, there is a big brag sign to prove it.  The sign located upon entry to the Great State of Alaska from the Alaska “Alcan” Highway (via the Lower 48 states) is there to inform you that you are about to experience BIG everything.  BIG land, BIG waters,  BIG moose, BIG fish, BIG people with BIG feet and coat sizes, etc.  You get the picture.

Well…so, we fish.  Usually we catch BIG (and oh so beautiful) salmon and halibut.  Sometimes, we catch some rockfish or flounder too.  Here’s a brag picture for you:

BIG Salmon

This BIG King Salmon was caught while enjoying a cup of Joe in Homer, Alaska.  Well…OK, my nose seems to be getting larger as I’m writing this.  Sort of like Pinnochio, you know?  I guess this pic is just a bit of Alaskan humor.

The truth is that my mother (the petite woman on the left) and “R” are actually proudly displaying what we had hoped to catch on this nice day in Homer, Alaska after we had finished our Joe.

Truth be known, that we did not catch the BIG one in Sept. 2009 in Homer on that particular day.  However, upon getting back to Anchorage, our home, with little to show of our BIG fisherman skills, our friends came to the rescue.  Alaskans are like that.  They gave us lots of Kenai River Red and Silver Salmon to bring home to Texas.  So we, once again, came home with a cooler full of fish to grill, smoke, and bake into some kind of wonderful delight.

Hmm…How about a few Smoked Salmon Logs?  Good stuff on crackers or perhaps a bagel.  Let me get a cup of Joe and then we’ll get started here.

Ingredients

This is what you’ll need to make two (2) logs:

(2) 8 oz. pkgs. of cream cheese at room temp.  (you may use lite or neufchatel)

(3) Tablespoons of Alouette cheese (garlic and herbs or vegetable)

(1) 5 1/4 oz. can of smoked salmon (Red or King is best, but any will do)

1/4 – 1/3 cup of salmon jerky, chopped (not a requirement, but this adds a wonderful intense flavor)

1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped

(2) Tablespoons garlic or regular chives, chopped

(1) Tablespoon fresh or dried dill

1/3 cup italian parsley, finely chopped

And for later (after the logs have been mixed and rolled), you will need the following ingredients:

1/2 cup italian parsley, finely chopped

3/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped (chopped pistachios are a good choice too)

Now that we have the ingredients ready, you can mix the cheese, salmon, onion and herbs together using a mixer or your hand until thoroughly mixed.  It will look something like this:

Mixed Ingredients

How about spreading this on a bagel :o)

Next, on a clean surface, mix your additional chopped parsley and chopped toasted pecans together.  This will constitute your herb-nut mixture.

Toasted Texas Choctaw Pecans

Now spread-out the herb-nut mixture into a rectangle.  Let’s make the logs next:

Spoon-out 1/2 of the cream cheese mixture and begin forming a 3″x6″ log by rolling the mixture back and forth between your hands.  The cream cheese mixture will be sticky.  Once the log is formed, place it atop your herb-nut mixture as shown below:

Logroll

More tasty bits...

Now begin rolling the cream cheese log back and forth until it is completely covered by the herb-nut mixture.  You may wish to roll the log back and forth until it is longer and thinner, perhaps about 2″x7″.

Roll Log til Covered

Oh my, the anticipation...

Next, you may begin spooning-out the remaining cream cheese mixture and form your 2nd log following the steps above. Or, you may wish to save the rest as a bagel spread–how about a little Sunday brunch?

Oh my…looks like someone may have taken a bite while I wasn’t looking…

Finished Log

Smoked salmon spread on a rice cracker anyone?

Traveler’s Notes:  Take note my Cafe’ friends, you too can take your own photo with the Big Salmon in Homer, Alaska.  Hint:  the Big Salmon is not real…it’s actually sculpted and painted by an Alaskan with a good sense of humor.  You can visit it at the Homer Spit while you enjoy your cup of Joe.

6 Comments

Filed under January 2010