Tuna Steak

A while back I picked up a four-pack of frozen tuna steaks at Food Basics for about $10.00, which is a really reasonable price around here. Now, I know that frozen fish can be hit or miss, but around here a lot of the stuff you find at the fish counter is previously frozen anyway (it’s usually noted only in the tiniest of print), so I figured I’d give it a shot. I followed Jamie Oliver’s tutorial for How to Cook Tuna Steak, which I’ve had great success with before. I figured it would be a good idea to keep the methodology the same if I wanted to test a different product, only changing the one variable and all that. See, teachers, I did learn something in science class!

I am happy to report that it turned out really well! I’d say it was easily as good as the tuna steaks I’ve previously bought from the fish counter. Now, the stuff from the counter probably doesn’t compare favorably to fresh, but unless I want to spend an exorbitant sum to get stuff flown in from the ocean, it’s probably the best I’m going to get. After all, we are landlocked here — the closest ocean (the Atlantic) is almost 500km away! (And that’s if you go to Maine — it’s more than double that to stay in Canada.)

The rub on the tuna is salt, pepper, coriander seeds, and fennel seeds, all ground together with a mortar and pestle. I served the fish over sticky rice, along with garlic shrimp, steamed asparagus, and steamed edamame. Overall it was a lovely, fresh-tasting dinner, and I look forward to having it again.

Lactose-Free Pizza

A friend of mine who also has to avoid lactose told me that she’d found a great new product from President’s Choice: Lactose-Free Pizza Mozzarella Shredded Cheese (and they also have a cheddar blend). I was able to find it at a nearby store, too! Then the other day a different friend reminded me that I could use my bread machine to make pizza dough, so I figured that the world was conspiring to have me make some pizza.

Since I’d already tried the Betty Crocker pizza dough recipe, I thought I’d try something different to compare it to. This time I went with the dough from Tomato and Prosciutto Pizza on page 108 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002), and I think I like this one better. It’s more of a thick crust and it definitely makes a greater quantity. I’d run out of homemade sauce, so I picked up a jar of Classico Traditional Pizza Sauce, which I had also never tried before and ended up quite liking. Not only did it taste much better than the canned kinds, it also was enough for two pizzas with some left over. I topped the pizza with bacon and ground beef, at Thing 1’s request. And I really liked how it all turned out! I was especially impressed with the lactose-free mozzarella, which remained gooey and stringy even as it cooled. I find that a lot of lactose-free cheeses melt just fine, but they start turning a disturbing plastic-like consistency very quickly. But not this one! This is definitely a dish I’m going to be making again, especially since my pizza dough tossing technique needs a lot of practice.

English Muffins Take 2

My husband has been bugging me to make homemade English muffins again since I last made them about a year ago. But my new stove meant that I didn’t have the griddle attachment anymore, and I hadn’t bought a stand-alone version in the meantime. I also hadn’t found a local source for proper silicone English muffin rings, which is what I thought would have really helped create a better muffin than last time.

However, I had found a Flippin’ Fantastic pancake maker at a thrift store, so after a good wash I thought I’d give it a try instead. I discovered that if you want perfectly-round English muffins, this really isn’t the right tool. It’s great when they’re first starting out, but the rings need to be deeper, so once they started to rise they ended up being irregularly-shaped anyway. Not only that, but despite a good coating of non-stick spray, the batter stuck really badly to the silicone, making for a messy clean-up.

I also tried to use the flipper for the eggs that were going to go in the muffin sandwiches, and that was an unmitigated disaster. Eggs are a lot more liquid than English muffin batter, and they just leaked out the bottom of the flipper to create a single, solid mass of egg that I then had to break up with a spatula. Online reviews point out that this exactly the same thing that happens with pancake batter, so I don’t think that this product works as advertised. What a shame.

All that being said, the flavour and texture of the English muffins themselves was great despite the flipper not working out. I used Alton Brown’s English Muffin Recipe, which turned out lighter than my other attempt. I discovered that while this mixture is too liquid to mold like a bun, it can just be spooned out onto a pan without rings at all. The resulting muffins will be lopsided, but they will taste just as good! This time I served the muffins as sandwiches with bacon, egg, and cheddar cheese (lactose-free for me), with slices of navel oranges on the side. It was a hit!

Salmon Cheese Tamagoyaki & Rice

This past Saturday I had what seemed like a houseful of people over for dinner. Okay, there were seven people in comparison to our normal four, not exactly a party, but still more than usual. I didn’t have anything taken out of the freezer, I decided to make everyone tamagoyaki on rice. Ever since I got my Japanese omelet pan for Christmas, they’ve become a go-to meal when I want something relatively simple and healthy.

This time I had smoked salmon in the fridge, so I added ingredients between each layer of egg: nori, cheese, and smoked salmon. The kind of salmon that I had automatically comes sliced in very thin, flexible sheets, so it’s perfect for this kind of thing. I really liked this addition and I think I will do it again in the future! I served the omelets with slices of naruto fish cake and cucumbers on the side, and a squirt of Japanese mayonnaise on top (if the diners wanted these additions).

Should I do this again, though, I’ll have to plan at least a little bit better. I didn’t make enough rice the first time so I had to make a second batch, and I realized that I was short of eggs about halfway through and had to send my brother-in-law out to get some. And if I’m planning on making this many tamagoyaki in a row again, I’m definitely going to have to pick up a second pan!

Restaurante Sobrino de Botín

When I was in Madrid last month, one of the places I knew I had to visit was the Restaurante Sobrino de Botín (Botín’s Nephew’s Restaurant). This restaurant, which is very close to Plaza Mayor, is featured on Atlas Obscura, which is where I first learned of it. However, it’s in a lot of guidebooks and can be found on many websites because it has been recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest restaurant in the world still in operation. A certificate in the front window from Guinness reads, “The oldest restaurant in the world is Restaurante Botín, in Calle Cuchilleros, Madrid, Spain, which opened in 1725 and has been operating ever since; it even retains the original 18th century firewood oven. It is currently run by the González family.”

The restaurant is in what used to be an inn built in the 1500’s; it originally only took up the main floor, but now occupies all four floors. The current exterior dates back to a renovation in the 1800’s, when the large windows were added. Originally they displayed cakes and pastries, but now they showcase photos and articles on the left, and a miniature model of the interior of the restaurant on the right.

The large door to the right of the main entrance is carved with the year 1725, and it was installed at the time of the restoration that transformed the main floor into a restaurant. It would originally have been called an inn, then a tavern, under the name Casa Botín, because at first the proprietors were forbidden by law to sell the food, only to cook it for customers. Eventually the laws changed and they began to provide food as well as prepare it; the restaurant was passed down to Candido Remis, the Botín’s nephew, which is when the name changed (“sobrino” means “nephew”).

The miniatures in the window showcase all four floors, but for some reason I didn’t take a picture of the top one (which was showcased off to one side of the window).

The basement, with its vaulted brick ceilings, used to be the wine cellar.

The ground level is the original restaurant.

The second floor used to be lodgings (I believe the proprietors lived there), but has since been expanded.

On the sidewalk just out front of the building (you can see it roughly at the center bottom of the first photo) is a plaque installed by the City of Madrid. These plaques don’t stand out, but they’re out front of a lot of the city’s culturally important locations.

When my husband and I went for dinner, we were seated on the second floor. It was outside of the main tourist season and we arrived relatively early by Spanish dinner standards, around 8:00pm, so we didn’t end up needing a reservation. Even so, the restaurant was doing a very brisk business and table turnover was steady.

Given the mixed reviews that this place has received for its food (since the recognition by Guinness, a lot of people claim it’s just a tourist trap), I was quite happy with the food. The bread was fresh and tasty, with a crisp, flaky crust, and soft insides.

Since we had to be budget-conscious, we skipped appetizers and went straight for the main meal. It’s probably a good thing we did, because it was really filling! I had the suckling pig roasted in the restaurant’s original wood-fired ovens, served with boiled potatoes. It was plain but delicious, with the crackling skin being the most delectable part. The pork is a traditional regional dish and the pig itself was brought in from Segovia, where we were actually going the next day, and where I also had suckling pig. If I’d realized that these events were going to happen two days in a row I would probably have switched my dinner order in Segovia itself, but we had to decide weeks in advance what we were eating because it was a large group and a tour meal. The restaurant in Segovia was fantastic, and I’d say that the suckling pig at the two locations was comparable.

We declined dessert so that we could take a walk around the area around the main square to find ourselves a separate place for coffee and sweets. I had a lovely meal at the oldest restaurant in the world, and I can see why it has been in business for so long!

Shrove Tuesday

I meant to write this post on Wednesday about Tuesday, but unfortunately I was in a minor car accident — a fender bender, really — which, while not severe in any shape or form, did eat away at my day. (Before you ask: I seem to be fine, the car is now in the shop but likely doesn’t require any major repairs, and no it wasn’t my fault (I was rear-ended while stopped in a right-hand turning lane, waiting for a gap in traffic so I could pull out).) So now I’m writing my posts all out of order, but this post will be backdated to Tuesday, which is when I actually made the pancakes.

I’ve written about Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Tuesday before, since it was a yearly tradition in my family growing up. In all of the hustle and bustle with travel (and my remaining jet lag) this year I’d almost forgotten about it, but somebody’s post on Facebook reminded me just in time. Not that pancakes for supper are limited to one day a year, mind. Some days I just feel like pancakes.

This year I went with Basic Pancakes from the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition); I’m not sure what page of the hard copy book, though, since this time I used the app (super-convenient, that thing). However, I discovered too late to go to the shops that I was low on eggs and completely out of butter, so I substituted half a mashed banana for an egg and canola oil for the butter. My substitutions seemed to work just fine since these pancakes were very fluffy and mighty tasty! I topped them with a fresh fruit salad of Granny Smith apples, dragon fruit, strawberries and more bananas, along with lots of maple syrup. And, as is pretty much a constant request in this family, I served bacon on the side.

Royal Palace of Madrid

Like many tourists, one of my first stops during my visit to Spain was the Royal Palace of Madrid (“Palacio Real de Madrid” in Spanish). I actually visited twice on consecutive days, because I underestimated how long it would take to properly appreciate all of the exhibits and I wanted to give this beautiful complex the attention it deserved.

The Royal Palace is located right in the middle of the old city; buildings that are commercial on the ground floor and apartments (or sometimes hotels) above are separated only by a road and the public parks such as the Plaza de Oriente and Jardines de Sabatini. This means that you can get a good look at the palace even from outside of the gates. It’s possible to look right inside the Plaza de Armeria (the main courtyard) from the publicly-accessible area between the Catedral de la Almudena and the palace. The throne room is on the second floor right above the central doors, and looks over the courtyard and at the cathedral.

This is the statue of Charles III at the base of the grand staircase.

And this is the grand staircase from above, with a statue of Charles IV at the center. It is, quite simply, awe-inspiring in its grandeur.

On ceiling above the grand staircase (and, indeed, most of the ceilings inside the palace) is a fresco. As this is probably the biggest single room that I saw, I’d venture to guess that it’s also the largest fresco. It is by Corrado Giaquinto and depicts Religion Protected by Spain (although I have to admit I had to look that up after the fact, I was so gobsmacked by the palace that I forgot less-consequential things like artists and titles).

After this, though, I have very few photos of the palace, since there were only a few areas where photos were allowed. Suffice it to say that it is an exercise in opulence and incredible attention to detail. Also on the palace grounds is the armory, which contains fantastic examples of full plate armour (for men, children, and horses) alongside swords, crossbows, and other weapons. Most of the items on display belonged to royalty or upper nobility, so they are beautifully detailed as well. Of course I wasn’t allowed to take photos in there either.

One place that photography was allowed was an extra to the basic tour that I just had to go see: the royal kitchens. They are absolutely huge, which makes sense because they once played host to hundreds of people working at hot, sweaty, tiring jobs that eventually produced all of the food that royalty and nobility at the palace ate. Above is a selection of the kinds of copper and glass molds that were in use.

A wooden work table with the more delicate tools for preparing and decorating the foods prepared in the molds.

The station for washing vegetables.

The pastry station with its marble counter top for keeping the pastry dough cool (much as we still use marble rolling pins or rolling pins filled with cold water for the same purpose today — it keeps the lard or butter from melting, which makes the dough flaky).

Prep table in the room with the main ovens and stoves. The big rack in the background holds all of the different kinds of spits for roasting above the massive fireplace.

The stoves used wood as fuel and the smoke was vented through pipes that ran under the floor, which kept them from having to have overhead chimneys. I’m not sure how they managed to get the chimneys to draw correctly; apparently it was quite the feat of engineering. Notice the high ceilings for air flow; the kitchens were in the basement and the windows that light it and allow for air circulation are at ground level.

Here you can see another of the massive cast-iron stove/ovens, with the fireplace for spit-roasting in the background.

Back when these kitchens were in use, they were often written about by visitors who were impressed by how much work it took to feed the upper classes in the manner to which they were accustomed. They also wrote about how the kitchens ran like a well-oiled machine, or they compared it to a military operation. I personally have a hard time imagining the monumental task it must have been to make these kitchens anything but absolute chaos. My hat is off to the generations of people who worked here.