Prague, Czech Republic

August 15, 2015

A long time ago I lived here in Prague. I celebrated the turning of the millennium in Old Town Square in the heart of Prague; in all I spend 1-1/2 years here. Most importantly, my oldest son was born here. He has a Czech birth certificate, of which I can only decipher about 50%. He learned to walk on the uneven cobblestones of 700 year old squares. In a sense, this vacation was my son’s big “homecoming”; returning to the city of his birth for the first time in his memory.

Old Town Square

Old Town Square

Prague is a one of those eternally beautiful cities. The architecture of the town center has changed little since I lived here. Prague served as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire beginning in 1355, and later became tied to the Hapsburgs.

When I lived here I was newly married to my now ex-wife. Now, as I walked around Prague re-telling stories to my two sons; 16 and 14; all the memories were happy. Riding our bikes to a nearby Chateau, the bar across the street from our old apartment that sold beer for 15-cents, the walled gardens hidden behind storefronts. I enjoyed, again, struggling to put together enough Czech words to be (somewhat) understood.

While the main tourist areas; Wensenslaus Square, Old town Square, and Charles Bridge are more overrun than ever by tourists, we did find that stepping away from the main tourist thoroughfare revealed the delightful city that I remembered.

 


Strasbourg, France

August 11, 2015

My uncommon last name has always been difficult for people to pronounce. It’s hard to understand its origin in order to apply the proper linguistic rules. It comes from this region that switches back and forth between France and Germany, depending upon who won the last war. Finally after hundreds of years, my family name returns; if only for two days. Old town Strasbourg is charming and decidedly German.

However, the slightly newer areas have a feel and ambiance of Paris. It wasn’t until later in the day that we realized that we dressed as the French flag.

Of the sights to see, Strasbourg has an amazing cathedral. It is in the top 10 worldwide list of tallest cathedrals. It was so immense that it was not possible to take a complete photo, and my lens was zoomed out so far (to 18mm) that the curvature prevented me from making a collage.

Finally, we ate a traditional French dinner of. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture before we ate. Another highlight was the amazing French cheese we bought. While not as elaborate as a Parisian Fromagerie, it greatly surpasses even the finest cheese shop back home in New York. Just a common unpasteurized goats cheese is better than the finest cheese I have every bought in the US.


The Romantic Road, Germany

August 9, 2015

With only a few days in Germany, we only had time to visit a few towns along the romantic road. My favorite town along the road that we visited was Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which was exceptionally picturesque. By the way, following the signs that say “Romantische Straße” is the surest way to get lost. Fortunately, we were only visiting a few of the major towns so we only got lost once or twice (there always seems to be a detour).

We also visited Dinklebuhl, which was a charming, well-maintained, walled town. It is small and very cute.

And finally we visiting Nordlingen. It was the smallest of the three towns we visited. While it was nice, it was undergoing a lot of re-construction so our visit was relatively brief.

We ate a typical German meal, but I forgot to take a picture (I was famished, haha).


Munich, Germany

August 8, 2015

I’ve been planning a vacation for a few years to take my two sons to Africa, and this was the year that the stars all aligned to allow it happen. But facing a 22 hours trip to Johannesburg was daunting, so I took advantage of the layover to spend a week in Europe. Because we flew Lufthansa, our layover began in Munich.

Munich is an interesting blend of modern and historic. The most impressive building is the Town Hall in Marienplatz. While it’s glockenspiel may seem tame my today’s technological standards, it certainly provides an entertaining glimpse at historical importance of Germany engineering.

Here are a few other scenes from Old Town Munich. The Altstadt is an interesting blend of modern city life and old historical buildings.

On a somber note, we also visited Dachau concentration camp. While it wasn’t the most deadly of the German Concentration Camps, about 32,000 people dies here. Most of the other 200,000 people who past through these gates went on to other camps.


Semi-Boneless Grilled Leg Quarters with Lime Dressing

August 2, 2015

About a month ago I made these 5-star Grilled Leg Quarters with Lime Dressing. They were easy to make and had amazing flavor. The only drawback was that the bone-in chicken was a little difficult to eat. Then I remembered back to last Thanksgiving’s deconstructed turkey thighs about how deliciously easy a semi-boneless leg quarter was to eat. Today I applied that same technique to chicken leg quarters. The technique opens up a slit on the inside of the thigh, leaving the skin in tact. Use a boning knife to carefully shave the meat away from the thigh bone; once exposed, cut through the leg/thigh joint to remove the thigh bone. Leave the drumstick bone-in. Finally, stuff the thigh and truss it together again using bamboo skewer and kitchen twine.

Best dollar I ever spent

Best $1.15 I ever spent

The results were spectacular, and the deboning/stuffing technique really elevated the presentation of the chicken. Stuffing the thigh made the flavor much more intense. While I gave it 5-stars as a bone-in, the recipe as I cooked it today was an out-of-the-park home run.

Comments:

  1. I adjusted the recipe below so that I would have more paste to marinade the chicken. The original recipe called for just a few teaspoons of spices; without any lime or cilantro.
  2. I would suggest trying the deboning/stuffing technique at least once. It adds about 20 minutes to the preparation time, but really transforms the meal into something very special.

Rating: 5 stars.
Cost: $4.50.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Ready at 6:15 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

4 chicken leg quarters (about 3-pounds)
8 garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1-1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon grated lime zest plus 3 tablespoons juice
1 Tablespoon plus 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
4 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano (2 teaspoon of dried oregano)

  1. Peel garlic cloves. Mince garlic or press into a small bowl. Add kosher salt, sugar, lime zest, 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, cumin, black pepper, and cayenne; mix to form a paste. Set aside 2 Tablespoons of garlic paste in a small bowl (I re-used the same small bowl), whisking together 1/4 cup of olive cup oil, lime juice, which you will use in Step 8 to make the dressing.
  2. Leaving drumsticks attached to thighs. Remove any remnants of the backbone exposing the top of the thigh bone (probably need a chef’s knife for that). Using a boning knife follow the line of fat that follows the thigh bone, cutting into the thigh along the entire length of the thigh bone. Use the boning knife to shave down along the thigh bone until you reach the thigh/leg joint. Cut through the joint and discard the thigh bone.
  3. Trim away and extra skin and fat, pat dry using paper towels. Arrange on a cutting board with the skin-side up. Make 2 deep, parallel, diagonal cuts into each leg quarter: 1 across drumstick, 1 across joint. Each cut should reach the bone. Flip the chicken over and make 1 diagonal slash across the back of the drumstick.
  4. Rub paste from Step 1 into chicken, and allow to marinade in the refrigerator for between 1 and 24 hours.
  5. Completely open up the top and bottom vents of your charcoal grill, and ignite a chimney start willed with 6 quarts of charcoal. Allow to ignite for 20-to-25 minutes until the top-most coals are partially covered with fine gray ash. Create a 2-level fire, by emptying two-thirds of coals over one half of the grill, and the remaining one-third of coal on the other half.
  6. Put the cooking grate in place, cover and pre-heat for 5 minutes. Clean the grill, and dip paper towels in vegetable oil and wipe.
  7. Arrange chicken with the skin-side upward on the cooler side of the grill. Cover and allow to brown for 11 to 12 minutes. Flip the chicken, cover, and continue to cook for 8 to 10 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 165-degrees.
  8. Without flipping (skin-side still down) slide the chicken to the hotter side of the grill and cook for 3 to 5 minutes until the skin becomes nicely brown. Flip chicken and cook for about 3 more minutes; until the chicken, measured at the leg joint, becomes 175-degrees. As the pieces come up to temperature, remove them to a serving platter and tent them with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile, finish preparing the sauce by chopping 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro and 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh oregano. Add into the bowl and mix. Pour half the dressing over the chicken and pass the remaining dressing separately.

Cherry-Plum-Blackberry Preserves

July 27, 2015

While none of my past jams or jellies (see Triple Berry Jam, Grape Jelly and Cherry, Plum and Raspberry Jam) was a failure; they were all delicious. Each of my past recipe was hampered by the exact same issue: the results were always a little too runny. I either added too little sugar or mis-estimated the correct amount of pectin based upon the combination of fruit. I finally resigned myself to the impossibility of using regular pectin; it just isn’t for me. So, I switched to Low-Sugar Pectin, which doesn’t require a precise ratio of sugar and acid in order to thicken. While harder to find (I had to order over internet), it’s perfect for those who don’t want super-sweet jam. Finally; 5-stars; the jam taste like fruit rather than just sugar.

Summer sweetness all year long

Summer sweetness all year long

Comments:

  1. If you do decide to use regular pectin; always follow the specific recipe for correct gelling. Every fruit requires a different proportion of pectin, sugar and lemon juice. If something is even slightly off (or if you over-or-under-cook it), it will be runny. If the fruit was picked too early on the farm. the jam may not set. While Ball’s (the mason jar company) pectin-calculator is a big help, but it requires using a single fruit to get accurate results.
  2. While I love blackberries; be careful because they can add too many seeds.
  3. If you live more than 1000-feet above see level, you should adjust your processing time in Step 9 based upon your altitude. More or less; add 1 minute per 1000 ft. in elevation.

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $12 for 5 pints of jam; about 5 pounds.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 6:00 PM. Finish time 8:30pm

3 pounds Cherries
3/4 pounds dark-skinned plums (about 4)
3/4 pounds blackberries
4-1/2 cups granulated sugar (2 pounds)
2 tablespoons red wine
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 pinch salt
1/3 cup low-sugar pectin
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

  1. Run jars through dishwasher on high heat, using a heated dry cycle. Wash the screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Bring a saucepan to a boil, remove from heat for five minutes and add flat lids with the wax seal upwards. Allow to stand in hot water until ready to use; which will soften the wax used to seal the lids.
  2. Bring large pot full of water to a light boil. In my case, I use two Dutch ovens instead of one large pot, because my jars don’t fit in pot. These will be used to process the jam after sealing the jars. Put a wire rack on the bottom of the pot to prevent the jars from coming in contact with excessive heat from the burner, otherwise the bottom of the jar may break. Once boiling, reduce burner to maintain a simmer.
  3. Sterilize your jars by placing them in the hot canning water for 10 minutes above 185-degrees. Leave your jars in the hot canning water until you are ready to fill them so they remain sterile and hot, but be sure to completely drain jars well before filling.
  4. Meanwhile Pit the cherries. Quarter and pit the plums. Finely chop all fruit. Place four small spoons and a plate in the freezer (for Step 8).
  5. Combine plums, cherries, blackberries and lemon juice into an 6 to 8 quart pot. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes until juices form, stirring occasionally.
  6. Increase burner to medium/high. Uncover and add pectin and bring to a full boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred); about 20 minutes longer.
  7. Add in sugar and return the jam to a boil. Once it has returned to a full boil, continue boiling for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  8. The temperature should register 220-degrees. To test if the jam is ready, scoop a little jam onto a frozen spoon. Return to the freezer, and wait 1 minute. Remove spoon from freezer, and gently nudge the edge of the jam with one finger. If the jam is ready, it will wrinkle slightly when pushed. If it is not ready, it will be too thin to wrinkle. If the jam does not wrinkle on the first attempt, cook two or three minutes more, and repeat the gel test.
  9. Remove the pot of jam from heat, skim off any foam. Using canning tongs to remove a jar from the simmering water, and empty the water back into the pot. Ladle jam into hot jars (use a canning funnel if you have it); filling to within 1/4 inch of tops. Wipe the jar rims and threads with a slightly damp paper towel; otherwise the jar will not properly seal. Top the jar with two piece lids and finger-tighten, being careful not to force the lid.
  10. Using canning tongs to put back into simmering water. Process closed jars in hot water bath for 10 minutes (adjusted for altitude); start timing as soon as water returns to boil.  Water must cover jars by 1 inch. Add boiling water, if necessary. Try to ensure that the jars aren’t touching the sides of pot and are spaced 1″ apart.
  11. Remove jars and place upright on a towel or wire rack to cool completely; 24 hours. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with finger. (Once cooled, if lids spring back when pushed down then they are not sealed and refrigeration is necessary. Put any unsealed jars in the refrigerator and use first. ) Store jam in a cool, dark place up to 1 year.

Shrimp Scampi

July 18, 2015

Chris Kimball has a basic recipe for Shrimp Scampi. The result is perfectly cooked and flavored shrimp. However his recipe has one problem huge problem; it yields barely enough sauce to flavor the shrimp with nothing left over for the accompanying pasta (or potatoes as I served it today).  While his original recipe calls for 2 pounds of shrimp, I’ve adjusted the recipe down to use just over 1 pound of shrimp, which is ideal for 3 people when serving with over a bed of pasta or potatoes. Also, instead of using 1 tablespoons of vermouth, I reduce 1 cup of white wine down to 1/4 cup. Even though this recipe yields more than twice sauce as Chris Kimball’s original recipe; I still find that there is never enough sauce.

Just enough sauce to complement the bed of garlic, cheese mashed potatoes.

Just enough sauce to complement the bed of mashed potatoes.

I posted Chris Kimball’s version of Shrimp Scampi over 5 years ago, but it bears very little resemblance to the Shrimp Scampi I’ve been making over the subsequent years.

Adjustments/Comments:

  1. Chris Kimball says to cook the shrimp for just 1 minute; stirring occasionally. However, I find that my shrimp always needs more cooking time. So in general, I’ve switched to using his technique to for cooking longer on one side of the shrimp to promote a little caramelization. The residual heat of the shrimp will finish cooking the second side after being removed from the skillet.
  2. I prefer to use cilantro instead of parsley, which I think is too muted. However, I use whichever I already have in my kitchen.
  3. Instead of 1 tablespoon of Vermouth, I reduce 1 cup of dry white wine down to 1/4 cup. It concentrates the flavor of the wine, and by using cilantro (instead of parsley) I do not miss the subtle herb flavoring of the vermouth.
  4. I increased to 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, which I think makes the scampi brighter and more flavorful.
  5. I usually serve this over a bed of angel hair pasta, but today I served it over some extra creamy mashed potatoes.

Rating: 5-stars
Cost: $11.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 5:00 PM.  Ready:  6:15 PM

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

4 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 pounds large shrimp (21-to-25 per pound)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup dry white wine
2 Tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves (or parsley)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  1. Put shrimp in a large bowl filled with cold tap water. Allow to defrost for 1 hour. To speed defrosting you can replace the water a few times.
  2. Put a large pot of pasta cooking water on stove, season with salt, cover and bring up to a boil. When water has come up to a boil, plan and start your pasta based upon the cooking instructions on your pasta. I like to use fresh pasta with this recipe, which cooks in only a minute or two.
  3. After the shrimp has defrosted, drain shrimp in a colander. Peel and devein shrimp; leaving the tails on to protect the narrower tail. Pat shrimp dry and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon sugar.
  4. Add 2 teaspoons vegetable oil to 12″ skillet and swirl to coat the bottom of the skillet. Pre-heat over high burner for 3 minutes until very hot, and the oil begins to smoke.
  5. Cook your shrimp in two batches, adding half the shrimp in a single layer. Cook for 3-1/2 minutes without moving or flipping. Empty shrimp into a clean bowl. While the second side will not appear to be fully cooked, it will finish cooking with the residual heat of the shrimp in the bowl.
  6. Wipe out you skillet using paper towels; and repeat with another 2 teaspoons oil and the rest of the shrimp.
  7. Turn down the burner to medium-high, add 1 cup of white wine and reduce for 5 minutes until thick; and has reduce to about 1/4 cup. Melt 3 tablespoon butter, add minced garlic, and saute for 30 seconds.
  8. Remove skillet from burner. Stir in lemon juice, minced cilantro, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Return shrimp and accumulated juices to skillet. Toss to combine; serve immediately.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 386 other followers

%d bloggers like this: