¡Puerto Vallarta otra vez!

We returned to Puerto Vallarta again in January 2018 for a break from winter.1 It was glorious, like usual.

Corraled in Houston

Except for the getting there, which (predictably) was nicht so toll.  But we didn’t let that wreck the mood. Our buddy from Boston and several-time visitor to Ye Olde Parental Condo flew in shortly after we did and the Good Times™ began to roll.

Cookin’ Vallarta course — Tamales y Mole

Sarah found us a cooking course offered through Cookin’ Vallarta and the three of us, along with about a dozen other people, learned from Chef Enrique and his team about the produce available at the fish, meat, and vegetable markets in Puerto Vallarta, before taking us back to his house/classroom2 kitchen to make

  • tortillas
  • salsas
  • guacamole3

… and the two stars of the show,

  • mole poblano
  • tamales

I was impressed with the sheer number of ingredients in the mole, but wowed by the flavor that came out of it. I liked that everyone got a task to do (I made the tamal dough, Sarah was tasked with husking the cocoa beans for the mole, others were paired off to make the salsas or guacamole). And everyone got to form the tamal dough around the filling and cook his own tortillas on the hot griddle. All in all, it was an excellent way to spend 6 hours on a Tuesday. And we got lunch out of it!

We spent most of the rest of the time in Puerto Vallarta hanging out with my parents (who arrived a few days after our Boston Buddy departed). We went off the beaten path a bit to the Red Cabbage restaurant as a bit of a splash out with my parents towards the end of the trip. It was kind of a haul to get there, with

  • taking a bus downtown
  • knowing when to hop off the bus (gracias a los padres…)
  • knowing how to do the last bit on foot in the dark (gracias a mi esposa muy inteligente)

…but it was totally worth it. Unsure what to order once you’ve arrived? Try la Cena Frida. I loved it. It’s not on the menu on their website. It’s a sampler of lots of neat stuff with several courses and some drinks included. El flan finalmente era una cosa mágica. Note bien: ¡no se aceptan tarjetas de crédito! It will be late and dark when you’re done, and in all likelihood much wine will have been drunk. Spring for a taxi back. Note well: as opposed to the vast majority of restaurants we’ve visited in Puerto Vallarta, ¡no se aceptan tarjetas de crédito!

Here are my favorite pictures from the trip. ¡Hasta la próxima vez, Vallarta!

  1. Actually winter hadn’t been all that wintry by that point, but those last couple weeks of February — hoo boy; that was winter like we don’t often see ’round these parts. []
  2. For those who’ve been: you know that little sign on the golf course where the cart path crosses the road warning about cocodrilos? That’s where Enrique lives! []
  3. honestly? I like ours better, but that’s a Geschmackssache — a matter of personal taste []

Morbiflette (French Mountain Potato Gratin)

A couple of years ago, on a trip to France, we ended up poking around a Christmas market in Dijon. It was lunchtime and we were staring at a giant skillet (a poêle, linguistically related to paella) with potatoes and onions and bacon and cheese, all being stirred by strapping French country men. It was love at first sight. Chunks of Morbier cheese with its signature dark vein running through the center were on display, being tossed in as the cooks saw fit. We got a portion and split it. That was dumb; should’ve each gotten our own. After cross referencing multiple recipes, we FINALLY hit on a good reproduction.

The method is based on that of tartiflette, a potato dish developed in the 80s to promote Reblochon cheese. Reblochon is a much softer, brie-like cheese, as opposed Morbier, which you can slice. The firmer texture of Morbier is why I’ve upped the crème fraîche; runnier Reblochon made for a creamier finished product.

A note: you guys, it is SO EASY to mess up a gratin. Believe it or not, a pile of cheese and starch will be sad and bland if you don’t do the detail work. Think “eh, I don’t need to boil the potatoes, they’re going in the oven,” or “ew, I don’t want to cook the onions in bacon grease! I’ll use olive oil instead,” and you will ruin all your hard work. The potatoes need to be boiled in salted water or they’ll be gummy and bland. The onions need the bacon grease because of the smoky saltiness it imparts. The salt levels need to be checked and adjusted throughout the process to keep the flavors balanced. If you’re worried about this not being healthy, make something else. Cutting corners on this dish will render it inedible. A salad with a tart vinaigrette is the perfect accompaniment.

1 k or 2.2 lbs large waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into halves or thirds
2/3 t salt
200 g or 1/2 lb bacon
2 large onions, sliced into ribbons
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
100 mL or 1/2 c white wine (we forgot this, so we drank it with)
1/2 t dried thyme
75 g or 1/3 c crème fraîche
3 T heavy cream (forgot this too, but the texture would benefit)
300 g or 2/3 lb Morbier cheese, rind trimmed and sliced thickly (1/2 cm or 1/4 in)

In a large pot, cover the potatoes with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, add salt, stir and lower heat to a steady simmer. Cook potatoes for 15-20 minutes, or until easily pierced with a sharp knife. Drain potatoes and set aside to cool. Do not rinse potatoes!

Heat a large skillet to medium high and cook the bacon until browned and crispy. Set on paper-towel lined plate to cool. Turn heat down to medium and add onions to the skillet to cook in the bacon drippings (if there are a lot of drippings, remove all but 2 T and set aside to add in case pan starts to look dry). Cook until softened and starting to caramelize, stirring only occasionally. Add a pinch or two of salt if needed (onions shouldn’t taste salty, just very oniony) and chopped garlic for last 2-3 minutes of cooking. Remove onions to deep bowl.

Preheat oven to 220° C or 425° F. Lightly but thoroughly butter a medium to medium-large baking dish (several individual deep crocks would also be great for a crowd). Chop cooled bacon into bits and add to onions. Add thyme, crème fraîche and cream to onion mixture and stir until well distributed. Slice cooled potatoes into generous 1/2 cm or 1/4 in pieces.

Layer half of potatoes on bottom of buttered dish, using broken bits to fill in gaps. Top with half of onion mixture, spread evenly. Top onions with half of Morbier slices (try to leave small margin around sides of pan). Repeat sequence until all ingredients used up.

Put pan in oven and lower heat to 200° C or 400° F. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until top is browned and bubbly. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before slicing.

Some Thoughts from My Passport

Killing time on a plane today, I was checking out my passport stamps and found these quotes inspiring, particularly in light of recent domestic and international politics.

Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair. —George Washington
Democracy is based on the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people. —Harry Emerson Fosdick
The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or sect, a party or a class — it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity. — Anna Julia Cooper
Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America. — Dwight D. Eisenhower
It is immigrants who brought to this land the skills of their hands and brains to make of it a beacon of opportunity and hope for all men. — Herbert H. Lehman

Zimt Riesenschnecke

I like a lot of those videos by Tasty. Snappy music, nice videography. Makes for a fun viewing. But they are somewhat misleading: every thing you need to know fits into a two-minute video of theirs. The execution is nowhere near as straightforward as it seems in the video, and you are responsible for your own music. But still, this was a success. I got it from this YouTube video, which was inspired by her. I adapted the recipe for use with metric measurements and fresh yeast, which I prefer over instant or active dry yeast. I converted the yeast amount based on this yeast converter website, for which I am grateful. The instructions are mostly a straight lift — just be aware of the baking time notes in the instructions.

I didn’t have a round 9-inch cakepan or skillet, but my squarish 10-inch cast-iron skillet worked out just fine. The rolls of dough happily shapeshifted from circular to a rounded square.



100 g or ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
500 ml or 2 cups whole milk, warm to the touch
105 g or ½ cup granulated sugar
7 g fresh or 1 pack active dry yeast (0.5 oz)
690 g or 5 cups flour, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt


165 g or ¾ cup butter, softened
157 g or ¾ cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon


113 g or 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
25 g or 2 tablespoons butter, melted
30 ml or 2 tablespoons whole milk
5 ml or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
148 g or 1 cup powdered sugar

Mathy Thoughts

Area of a circle = πr²
Area of a 9-inch round pan1 = π×(4.5)² = 63.6 in²
Area of a 12-inch round pan = π×(6)² = 113 in²

So…going from a 9-inch pan to a 12-inch pan means doubling the ingredient amounts? Good to know for next time in case we need to make a bigger one.


  1. Generously butter a 9-inch cast iron or cake pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together warm milk, melted butter, and granulated sugar. The mixture should be just warm, registering between 100–110°F (40°C). If hotter, allow to cool slightly.
  3. Whisk the yeast evenly into the warm mixture and let sit for 1 minute.
  4. Add 4 cups of all-purpose flour to the milk mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until just combined. 2
  5. Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for an hour.3
  6. Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C).
  7. After 1 hour, the dough should have nearly doubled in size. Ours got bigger and gloopier, but I wouldn’t say it doubled. Remove the towel and add more flour — the original instructions suggest an additional ¾ cup of flour — the baking powder, and salt. Stir well, then turn out onto a well-floured surface.
  8. Knead the dough lightly, adding additional flour as necessary (about ½ cup), until the dough just loses its stickiness and does not stick to the surface. You’ve got to go by feel here.
  9. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle, about ½-inch (1 cm) thick. Fix corners to make sure they are sharp and even. Don’t make it too large. A bigger rectangle here means a doughier, breadier cinnamon roll at the end. And that detracts from the cinnamonitity.
  10. In a small bowl combine the filling ingredients and stir to combine. If your butter isn’t soft enough, you’ll need beaters to whip it into form. And it’ll still be difficult to spread onto the dough evenly without tearing it. Moral: get that butter nice and soft before you start.
  11. Spread the filling mixture evenly over the rolled-out dough, spreading right to the edges.
  12. Using a pizza cutter, being careful not to cut into your silicone rubber work surface, make three horizontal cuts to divide the dough into four long, evenly sized strips.
  13. Starting from the bottom, roll the first strip up right to left. Take the first roll and place it back on top of the next strip, starting again on the right side and rolling up right to left, building on the first. Continue with the remaining two strips until you have a giant cinnamon roll. 4
  14. Place the giant cinnamon roll in the prepared cast iron or cake pan and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm spot and leave to rise for 30 minutes. The cinnamon roll should expand to the edges of the pan during this time. Mine didn’t. The big expansion came during the baking, thanks to the baking powder. 5
  15. Bake for 45 minutes. Cover the cinnamon roll with foil to prevent the outside from burning, and bake for an additional 35 minutes, per the original instructions, if you like it to get a burnt, crusty bottom. That’s what I got. Next time I’ll try the second baking phase with just 15 or 20 minutes. Your nose is helpful here; when you smell a faint burning smell coming out of the office, take that pan outta there!
  16. While the cinnamon roll is baking, prepare the frosting. In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together cream cheese, butter, vanilla, whole milk, and powdered sugar, until smooth. Use an electric mixer here if you can, especially if your cheese or butter isn’t quite room temperature yet.
  17. Remove the cinnamon roll from the oven and let cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes. Once cool, remove from pan and drizzle frosting over the roll before serving.
  18. Slice and enjoy!
baked, but not frosted


  1. The ingredients above assume a 9-inch round pan. []
  2. Actually, I did steps #2-4 in my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. []
  3. I just put the whole stand mixer bowl in our steam oven at 30°C for an hour. []
  4. Lefties: I strongly suspect it does not matter at all in which direction the rolling starts, as long as you are consistent in your direction for all four strips. []
  5. Learn more about single- vs. double-acting baking powder; perhaps AmiExpat’s conversion ratio will work for you if you didn’t smuggle American baking powder back with you on your most recent trip to the USA. But I suspect it won’t be an exact drop-in substitute. []

One-Pot Spicy Rigatoni

I’m not a full convert, but I do dig this whole one-pot recipe craze. Especially with pastas, I find the noodles are particularly infused with flavor. We were inspired by this recipe, but made a few changes. I imagine it’s great with the chicken, but we’ve only ever had it without and it has never disappointed.

2 T olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
2 roasted red bell peppers, roughly chopped
2 T tomato paste
1/2 c dry sherry
1 28 oz can stewed tomatoes
2 c water
2 T fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 2 t dried)
2 pinches dried red pepper flakes (3 if you like it spicy)
1/2 t salt
500 g Rigatoni (or other short pasta, tubes would be best)
1 T butter
10-15 basil leaves, torn
1/2 c Grana Padano, grated
3 T cream

In a deep pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté shallots and garlic until tender, then add peppers and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook until it begins to smell caramelized, then deglaze pot with sherry. Add tomatoes and break them up with a spatula. Add the water, oregano, pepper flakes and salt and bring to a boil.

Add the pasta and cook, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes or until almost tender. Turn heat down to low, add butter and basil. When butter is completely melted, add cheese and cream, stirring until integrated. Simmer for 5 minutes more, stirring all the time, then remove from heat. Let stand for a couple of minutes, then serve.

Freinsheimer Kulinarische Weinwanderung die Dritte

Third time’s a charm! Actually, the first and second times were also charms.

We liked our stay at Karlbacher Hof in 2015 so much that we reserved there again as early as possible, without having anything more concrete in mind than “we’ll need a place to sleep during the Weinwanderung.”

We got lucky with the drive in on Friday morning and the return trip on Sunday afternoon: no traffic problems, despite the nightmare of construction on the A6.

The WEBMU pals who introduced us to this glorious weekend in September back in 2012 flew in from Old Blighty with their not-quite-three-year-old son — perhaps indoctrinating him with early exposure to Weinfestkultur.

On our way out of town late Sunday morning, We stopped by the Altes Landhaus winery store/hotel/vacation apartment place and bought a couple bottles of a Chardonnay/Weißburgunder blend, and restocked on their 2014 Scheurebe we loved so much with Snooker on our first stay Karlbacher Hof.

For future reference: Bissersheim, Herxheim am Berg and Kirchheim an der Weinstraße look like good alternatives if Freinsheim and Großkarlbach are all booked up. A couple thousand meters on a farm path is about the most you’ll want to do on foot back to your accommodations if you don’t have a DD (we did — thanks Damon!). Don’t count on taxi service; they’re in high demand.

A Late Summer Weekend am Arlberg

This weekend was perhaps the last chance this year for a long weekend. A few years ago some good friends who started out as work peeps recommended Apart Schultes to us for a pretty, affordable, friendly place to stay in the off-season in the Austrian ski region St. Anton. Continue reading A Late Summer Weekend am Arlberg