Basic Pizza Sauce

This came together as the amalgamation of at least 6 different pizza sauce recipes. Skip the pepper flakes if you prefer it mild. When cooking, I like to leave the sauce slightly thinner than optimal. We make pan pizza at home, so the thick crust needs a longer bake than the toppings. We bake the crust for 10 minutes with sauce only, then 10 more minutes with cheese and toppings. The first bake allows the sauce to evaporate extra liquid.

1 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 14.5 oz/400g can whole stewed tomatoes
1/2 t dried oregano
1 t dried basil
large pinch salt
large pinch sugar
1/2 t whole fennel seeds
large pinch dried red pepper flakes (optional)
1 small onion, peeled and halved

Heat a small saucepan to medium and add butter and oil, cooking until milk solids just start to brown. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes or until very fragrant. Add tomatoes and juices to the pan. If you like your tomatoes chunky, add them to the pot whole and break them up with a spatula; for smoother sauce, run them through a food processor first. Stir in all of the rest of the ingredients plus a half-can of water, bring sauce to a simmer and cook on medium-low for one hour or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Remove onion, taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Warming up in Porto

After that stunning — but chilling — visit to Iceland the first week of November, we knew we’d need a little dose of sun and warmth before diving into the long, dark Upper Palatinate winter.  We came back for basically a weekend at home in Regensburg before turning around and departing for Porto. 

Airport / Transport

Porto subway schematic showing where we got on at the airport and where we got off at Bolhão or Campo 24 de Agosto
Porto Metro, E-line goes to the airport

I thought we were just lucky with the place that Sarah picked out for us, but upon closer inspection of the subway schematic, it’s easy to get to much of Porto from the airport with few or no Umstiege. As it turned out, our place was smack in the middle between two stops along the Stammstrecke (man, is there a name for that in English?). For all that simplicity, it was still kind of hard to understand what kind of ticket to buy for what kind of travel (3-day pass, all-day, one-way, short hop, multi-zone?). A kind soul of a security guard at the airport metro kiosks pointed out that we were likely buying tickets way overblown for what we needed, and we should go talk to the woman over there (behind a little podium which looked nothing like a ticket counter) to get more appropriate ones.

Thomaz Palace Apartment

View from our window

Sarah found us a gem of an apartment. We paid less than 70€ a night.

  • 2nd story apartment with elevator
  • whole building was only 4 months old after recent renovations
  • nicely equipped kitchen
  • pleasant shower
  • excellent location regarding public transit, bakeries, mini/super/regular markets

The only complaint might have been somewhat flaky wifi; it disconnected our devices frequently.

Cuisine

Pasteis de Nata class

A pal, occasional travel buddy, and fellow Portophile recommended a Pasteis de Nata baking course she took through AirBnB. Since we couldn’t stop eating these wonderful custard tarts every morning while in Lisbon on a previous trip, we thought it important to at least learn how to make them on our own. That way, if a craving strikes at home in Regensburg, we

  1. don’t have to leave the country, and
  2. do at least have to commit to the effort of making them

Going to be in Porto? Like to bake in a mixed-skill-level (both baking and ESL) environment? Take the course. It was a great way to spend a morning.

Meat, Fish, Sandwiches

Alheira in various forms

Eat some of this sausage while you are in Portugal! There’s a fascinating socio-cultural-political origin story waiting for you there. For our last night in Porto, we ate at Tabafeira, a restaurant that specializes in modern remixes of the dish.

Francesinha

Don’t tell your cardiologist about this one. Beef, pork, sausage, cheese, a little bread, beer sauce, and maybe even a fried egg under that top cheese layer, and a side of french fries will make your health insurance premiums go up. This “sandwich” is native to Porto, after a transplant was inspired by the croque-monsieur. There are countless variations on this theme. Do not try them all. But for the not-yet-hard-of-artery you can take a course on making these from the same docent offering the Pasteis de Nata course.

Bacalhau

It’s dried, salted cod. It’s everywhere. We saw a lot of it in Porto from Icelandic waters. It’s almost like they were following us. Read more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacalhau

Douro Valley / Wine stuff

This is the origin of port wine, from back when the British were trying to get good European red wine without having to deal with France. I wonder what innovations are in store this time around.

We booked an all-day excursion — also through AirBnB. Fortunately the meeting point was quite close to our Ferienwohnung. We rode in a van with about 10 other tourists about an hour north and east, headed inland, up one side of the Douro valley and down the other. We got some hillside views and took a short boat ride, admiring the vineyards on both sides before taking a winery tour, and getting lunch at a fancy place with plenty (too much, really) of excellent local food and wine.

This was the worst weather of the trip, which meant a lot of gray and brown landscapes under dark skies. It didn’t detract from the less visual parts of the tour — those things were great. But the scenery would have been dazzling with a little sun.

So instead, we made the most of some indoor wine appreciation. We booked a tour of Graham’s Port Lodge, with some sampling and bottles to be shipped back home.

City Scenes

We had a lovely time just walking around exploring on foot, both day and night. Here are some of our favorite shots.

Porto in mid-November was a really nice time and place to stave off the onset of winter. Let us know in the comments what attractions we missed so that we can follow up on them in our future plans. We’d love to go back.

Visit to Iceland — Day 4

We did four full days in Iceland in November 2018. Here’re the write-ups for Day 1 and Days 2 and 3.

Day 4: South Shore

It felt significantly warmer on this, our last day of adventure in Iceland. Unfortunately, that meant also it rained cats and dogs. Really would have loved my rain pants here. It was too warm for the ski pants but not dry enough for just jeans.

Reynisdrangar rock formations and hexagonal basalt cliff walls

Continue reading Visit to Iceland — Day 4

Pumpkin Risotto

Pumpkin is pretty naturally sweet, so don’t be bashful with the salt and cheese.

4-5 c/1-1.25 L vegetable broth
2 T olive oil
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
500 g arborio or carnaroli rice
0.5 c/100 mL dry white wine
1 c/225 mL pumpkin purée
1 t dried thyme
1 t ground black pepper
salt to taste
2 T butter
1 c/225 g grated Parmesan, divided

Heat oil in large deep skillet to medium and bring broth to a low simmer. Sauté shallots and garlic until tender and fragrant. Add rice and stir until coated with oil and starting to smell toasty. Add wine and stir until mostly evaporated. Start adding broth by ladleful, stirring constantly. When the pan starts to look dry, add another ladle of broth. After adding about half of the broth, add the pumpkin, thyme and pepper. Taste and add salt, if needed. Keep adding broth until it’s gone. Once all broth is in, remove skillet from heat, stir in butter and half of cheese thoroughly, cover skillet and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve with cheese for sprinkling.

Visit to Iceland — Day 1

We met my parents, sister and brother-in-law halfway: in Iceland. We finally managed to get the six of us together on vacation in the same place, scratch off another country on our list (and crack into Scandinavia along with it), and see some really cool (and cold) stuff.

We opted for a travel company’s package instead of doing all these things ourselves:

  • accommodations and breakfast
  • car rental and driving
  • admissions, scheduling
  • POI-selection based on weather, etc.

We had a limited amount of time and the travel agency packed in quite a lot to see for the time available. I don’t think we could have done that better than they did. But that also meant a lot of time spent on the bus. Was it worth it? Continue reading Visit to Iceland — Day 1

Pasteis de Nata

While in Porto on vacation this month, we took a class on baking Pasteis de Nata, a custard tart we fell in love with in Lisbon a few years ago. This recipe is originally from our course instructor as part of the class, with our own notes and adaptations added.

Equipment

  • stand mixer with kneading hook, or a hand mixer with beaters (be prepared to knead by hand in that case)
  • rolling pin you can use to whomp on the butter through the dough
  • 2 sauce pans
  • whisk

Dough Ingredients

Makes a double batch of puff pastry, about 20-24 cupcake-sized pasteis shells in total.
* 500 g flour
* 250 ml water
* 250 g unsalted butter, chilled
* salt

Notes on Dough Ingredients

  • In the class we actually used margarine. Our instructor, Joana, explained that it works better than butter under less-than-optimal conditions, like at normal room temperature, or when you’re not rolling the dough out on a marble countertop. I’m thinking about making this dough outside on the patio next time.
  • Joana didn’t specify the amount of salt. Our first batch at home was with a half-teaspoon, and it didn’t seem like enough.

Dough Instructions

  1. Combine flour, water, and salt in a stand mixer with a kneading attachment and knead for 4-5 minutes. Alternatively, combine and then knead by hand for 10 minutes. You want a soft, not-very-sticky dough, that springs back at you when you poke it. Let it rest for at least 5 minutes after kneading.
  2. Roll out the dough on a large floured surface in as cool a place as possible. We opened our doors and windows (in November!) to drop the room temperature down to about 15,5 °C and that seemed to help. You want a rectangular shape, about 45 cm in the long dimension, with the dough a half-centimeter thick. Put the block of chilled butter (perhaps cut it into two skinny squares) in the middle of your rolled-out dough and fold the edges of the dough over it, like you’re wrapping up a present (and you are — the butter is the present to yourself).
  3. Beat the heck out of that butter-wrapped-in-dough package with your rolling pin. You want to flatten the butter inside its doughy sleeping bag. Try to maintain the rectangle shape; rotate the dough 90° every few whomps with the rolling pin. Sprinkle flour to cover up any spots where the butter might be leaching through. If the butter has warmed up during this process, stop and refrigerate your dough and don’t proceed until the butter is cold again.
  4. Fold it again, this time in thirds, like you’re mailing a letter of confession to your cardiologist. Let it rest for at least 10 minutes. Roll it out again to the rectangular shape. Do this at least two more times. On the last roll-out, sprinkle a little water onto the surface of the dough and then smooth it around with your hands.
  5. Starting on the long side of your rectangle, roll up the dough like it’s a treasure map (it is) you’re going to stuff into a bottle and set adrift on the open sea. Stop rolling when you get about half way and cut the roll away from the remaining flat dough. Put that roll aside in your freezer for another batch of natas. Roll up the remaining half of the dough in the same way.
  6. Cut the dough roll into about 1-inch segments. Each segment will become one pastel. Take a segment of the roll, rotate it onto its side (so the the layers inside the roll are visible to you), and with wet thumbs and fingers, squish the segment into the cupcake pan, drawing the dough up the sides of the cupcake mold from the center of the segment with your thumbs. It’s OK to have thinner pastry coverage at the bottom; you want it to be thicker around the edge at the top.

Custard Ingredients

200 g Sugar
175 ml water
1 lemon peel
1 cinnamon stick
17-20g corn starch (more starch = stiffer custard)
25 g Flour
250 ml Milk
5 egg yolks, lightly beaten

Instructions

  1. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water, lemon zest and cinnamon stick. Let it come to boil in at medium heat. You don’t have to stir (much). Just let it come to a healthy boil.
  2. When it starts boiling, count 1 minute and remove from heat. Set it aside.
  3. In another pan, first combine flour and corn starch and then add the milk. Whisk it before putting it onto the stove. Cook the milk, flour and starch on low heat, always whisking.
  4. When the texture thickens, take it off the stove. Remove the lemon peel and cinnamon stick from the infused syrup you made and discard them. Gently, add the syrup to the milk, whisking it until it’s fully combined. Let it rest a little while before adding the egg yolks, tempering first.
  5. Whisk everything together, pass it through a strainer (if you didn’t temper the eggs effectively and have scrambled bits) and pour it into the dough cups, about 3/4 of the way full.

Baking Instructions

You want it as hot as your (home) oven can go. We get ours up to over 250 °C. Make sure it has plenty of time to preheat — at least 30 minutes. We turned the convection fan on for the bake. Ours were done after about 12 minutes of bake time. Don’t touch them while they’re baking, and try to let them cool a little before you put them in your mouth. They should pop out of your cupcake pan quite easily (thank you butter!) once they’ve cooled a bit. You can sprinkle them with sugar, cinnamon, both, or nothing.

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup

The soup place I used to work at had a couple of varieties that they offered every day. Chicken Pot Pie Soup was one of them and it was outstanding! Thick and rib-sticky, with a topping of pie-crust crumbles to really make it feel indulgent. This is an approximation of that soup with a few more vegetables thrown in for good measure. Leave out noodles and add 2-3 diced potatoes and this could work as pot-pie filling.

2 T olive oil
5 T butter, divided
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
75 g all-purpose flour
1.5 L chicken stock
300-400 g shredded cooked chicken
1 t Brathähnchengewürz (rotisserie chicken seasoning; poultry seasoning should work here)
1/2 t thyme
1/2 t tarragon
200 mL boiling water
250 g (1/2 lb) short noodles
200 g frozen peas
50-75 mL cream
salt and pepper to taste

In a deep pot over medium-high heat, warm oil. Add 2 T butter, heat until starting to foam, then add onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender and fragrant. Add 2-3 more T butter and cook until butter is deep golden and nutty smelling, then sprinkle flour over vegetable mixture. Lower heat to medium, stir until all flour is incorporated and roux turns dark blonde and nutty-bready smelling. Whisk in chicken broth in gradual additions to avoid lumps (3-4 additions will do). Add chicken, poultry seasoning, thyme and tarragon and bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer for 6-8 minutes.

Turn heat back up and add boiling water. When boil is steady, add noodles and cook until about 2 minutes short of done. Add peas for final 2 minutes of noodle cook time. Remove from heat and stir in cream. Adjust seasonings and allow to sit covered for 5 minutes before serving.