Smokin' Chestnut

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. ~Harriet van Horne

Winter Tofu Korma

Another day, another Heidi Swanson creation. And while I may have taken a bit of a break from food blogging *coughcough* five months *coughcough,* I have not taken a break from cooking. In fact, I’ve bookmarked so many recipes I’m pretty sure I’ll never find the time or occasion to make them. Asian turkey meatballs with lime sesame dipping sauce. Thai-style vegetable curry. Quinoa cakes with roasted red pepper and walnut pesto. Apple-stuffed pork loin with Moroccan spices.

Or how about pork ragu with semolina gnocchi? Maybe some osso bucco with saffron-scented risotto? (I was lucky enough to get some saffron for Christmas from Matthew’s mother — exciting!) The last two recipes are more decadent so I’ve been thinking about cooking them for Valentines dinner this year. We figure why battle the crowds when I can just spend a few extra bucks on ingredients for a special dinner?

And, as Matthew so sweetly puts it, “Why go out when the food here is just as good, if not better?” I *knew* I kept him around for a reason…

As for this dish, it’s one that can rival a restaurant’s version. The spices perfectly complement the garlic and ginger while the coconut milk gives it a rich, creamy component. It’s vegetarian but Matthew has never once complained of feeling hungry afterwards. Sweet potatoes, cauliflower and tofu give you your veggies and protein while the brown rice is there to fill you up.

I can barely finish a bowl before I’m stuffed. But it’s so good, so I keep going, typically until… I’m stuffed. But it’s worth it. And if it’s cold outside? That complements the dish even more.

Winter Tofu Korma
serves 4-6
slightly adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 3/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated
4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes (3 medium), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 lb cauliflower, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
12 oz firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch-cubes

1 14-oz can coconut milk
cooked brown rice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread tofu cubes onto nonstick cookie sheet lined with silpat or sprayed with a bit of olive oil. Bake in oven for roughly 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until softened (roughly a few minutes). Add ginger, stir, then add garlic. Stir in spices and cook for a minute or two more. Add sweet potatoes, cauliflower, half of the slivered almonds and salt.

Add 3 cups water and coconut milk. Stir and cover, leaving a small crack open to vent. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through. Stir in baked tofu and simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve over cooked brown rice and top with remaining slivered almonds and chopped cilantro. Feel the warmth of this dish seep into all the chilly corners of your body.


“Never go full turtle,” I told Matthew while also asking him to carry our second backpack.

“You know what time it is?” He asked me in response. “Turtle time.”

“OK, Hunchie….”

And then we started cracking up and I made him stand still for a photo. Then I wrote down the quotes on my iPhone in a folder called “Portugal Funnies” so that we would never forget those memories. There’s a seagull vomit story, a quote about 50 liters of beer and countless others, but they will come later. For now, Óbidos.

Or, as Matthew called it, “Óbi-DOUCHE.” No, I’m serious. Óbidos, like many Portuguese words that end in “s,” has a “shh” sound. So you pronounce it Óbidohsh, right? Not Matthew!

“Where is the supermarket in ÓbiDOUCHE?” he asked the owner of our hostel. “How many people live in ÓbiDOUCHE?” “There sure are a lot of cats in ÓbiDOUCHE.”

Finally I gave him a confused look and told him I was pretty sure I had heard someone say ÓbiDOHsh, not DOUCHE. But, since he’s a guy, he thought it best to keep pronouncing it his way (at least in private). In fact, he STILL pronounces it this way! I told him I was going to write about Óbidos tonight and post my photos and he said, “You mean ÓbiDOUCHE??!”

Sigh! Men.

The only time during our two-week trip that we nearly missed our bus, which would have meant leaving us with zero places to stay, was on our way out of Lisbon to Óbidos. We took the metro to this huge bus station, where there were no signs to conveniently direct us to our Óbidos bus. After wandering around looking like lost tourists, we finally found someone in the metro station who pointed us in the right direction of where the bus tickets were sold.

“But today is a holiday and I’m not sure the buses run to Óbidos,” the woman said apologetically.

Well…. but… er… our hostel people said the buses went there today! Thankfully the hostel staff in Lisbon knew more about the bus schedule than the metro people did, because we found a place to buy tickets and EVENTUALLY, after seeing our bus and then immediately losing our bus because it hid from us (sneaky Portuguese buses…), we were on our way.

By the way, traveling via bus in Portugal is REALLY nice. Plush seats, tons of windows, lots of space. Despite the fact that they travel at warp speed on tiny, curvy roads like the Knight Bus in Harry Potter, it’s a great experience and a cheap way to travel. We never once rented a car and never felt like we missed out on anything.

Except for the part where I reeeeally wanted to visit the horse fair in Golegã, but ah well. Killian would have been jealous anyway.

Our hostel was the , which was another incredible hostel experience. I cannot thank our guidebook enough for suggesting as a place to find beautiful, unique and highly-rated hostels throughout Portugal. The owner of the hostel was a woman from Spain (we called her Señora because we never actually figured out her name!), which made understanding her a lot easier because we understood Spanish a lot better than we did Portuguese.

Her dog, a beautiful brindled female mix, was named “Moo” (or Mu?) and meant “tiny mountain.” She showed us to our room and told us we had the entire top floor to ourselves since no one else had booked the other rooms for the next few nights. Yay! Our window looked out onto the beautiful countryside. We soaked up the blue sky for as long as we could, as the next few days meant rain, rain and more rain.

After cleaning up a bit, we grabbed a map and a few suggestions from the owner and set off to explore the tiny, quaint city a bit. And quaint describes this town PERFECTLY! I have a special affinity for small towns, always have, and this one was no different. I love that everyone practically knows everyone and there is little to no crime. Even though I’m sure there were the annoying throngs of tourists in the summer, months like November meant a quieter, calmer pace.

The one thing that would stop me from living here would have been the food. I’ll try not to complain overmuch about the food in Portugal since I’ve already mentioned disliking most of it but…. still… the meal I photographed above had to be the saltiest meal I’ve ever eaten in my life. Salty grilled pork, the saltiest fried egg of my life, with salty french fries, white rice and… OLIVES. Which are inherently salty! GAH!!!

“Vegetables… where are the vegetables?!”

The cat who sat meowing next to our table — as SOON as our plates were placed in front of us and not a second before, mind you — was happy to eat our salty food, if we were so inclined to give it. Which we were not, as the couple right next to us had already fed the cat half of their own plate!

And so we wandered about, me exclaiming how “beautiful” and “old” and “lovely” everything was, snapping photos every few steps while Matthew wore (I’m sure) an amused expression. There was just something about the city that drew me in so quickly. Perhaps it was that I knew I wouldn’t be getting lost within its castle walls, since A) we had a map, and B) it was small enough that getting lost meant you were only a street away from knowing where you were again.

I was hungry to photograph this city, too. “This is Portugal. THIS is the kind of stuff I wanted to find and photograph!” Little did I know there were even more incredible sites to photograph later on but, for now, I was held captive by Óbidos. We wound our way up to the top of the city, found a mini trail behind the castle walls, and looked out onto farmlands. We found cute little coves filled with character, homes etched with the evidence of time and stairways leading us to nowhere, where we sat smiling at each other and taking in our surroundings.

We had read that the castle’s walls, built over 500 years ago, took you completely around the inner city and had several points of access. We found our first access point by wandering up a rocky path spotted with spiky aloe plants. I’ll tell you, it’s quite a rush standing in these historic spots, imagining soldiers standing in your same place hundreds of years ago. Except I’m sure soldiers back then were grimacing more than grinning, as I was.

Or at least they were not COMPLETELY freaking out during one section of the walls, whereas I was. It was high up, it was misting, the path was narrow, slippery and there was nothing to hold onto! And there was a good 40-foot drop on one side of me with the wind blowing me TOWARDS said treacherous drop. While I practically hyperventilated during this portion of the walk, Matthew gently encouraged me to keep walking until we reached a battlement/stairs section of the wall.

I believe he also said “It would be a lot worse to try and turn around and go back right now.”

That was true enough but it did not make the last 15 or 20 feet of walking any easier. But made it I did and I’m alive to tell the tale!

That evening had to have been one of the most memorable of our entire trip. The hostel owner gave us directions on how to find the nearest grocery store (maybe a 15 minute walk), which had us eager for a new experience (and dinner). Matthew says he loves grocery stores in other countries because they are so different.

We grabbed some vegetables (my body was craving them at this point!) and figured we’d do a bread/cheese/ham type of dinner. With wine… vinho verde, to be exact! One of Portugal’s claim to (my) fame is their “green wine.” It’s slightly tangy, almost sour in some cases, while bubbly in others. Always white. And always so good!

So we set up a table by the fire the owner made for us and ate and drank and then roasted chestnuts old-school style. The owner showed us how to do it, and since it was chestnut season, she provided us with a bunch of fresh nuts. Some of them didn’t open as easily as we would have liked since we didn’t cook them long enough, but it was the memory that mattered.

I can’t forget to talk about the pennyroyal liquor the owner offered us after our dinner. It was, to be honest, not my cup of liquor. I’m not a liquor kind of girl anyway (except for tequila… give me a good tequila any day!), but when she set a bottle of liquor that she had made herself, we couldn’t refuse.

But it tasted like… licorice. And mint? But mostly licorice. Thankfully I just took a tiny sip and had Matthew do most of the smiling and nodding while I gulped the rest of my wine. Ahh, then a fuzzy night ensued, but the day had been well spent.

Next morning (well, early afternoon by the time the torrential downpour ended and after we finished our lunch of leftovers) we headed back out to explore the rest of the town. We also bought a few gifts and sent out some postcards to friends. OH! And the photo of the pastry? It’s called Pastéis de Belém, or pastry of Belém, a city near Lisbon that is known for their amazing pastries! It’s a flaky, buttery crust filled with a vanilla, eggy custard. Too much custard for my liking, but I devoured that crust like no other.

It’s very popular in Portugal and rather than actually try and visit Belém with its hoards of tourists, I found a shop in Óbidos with one of said pastries. And it was very yum.

One of the last photos in the bunch is of a drink called ginjinha. It’s a sweet cherry brandy that is often served in tiny chocolate cups. I’m sure the two go together great, but I was all sweeted out so I stuck with wine with of sip of Matthew’s ginjinha.

Next stop? Coimbra! Big university town that took me a few days to get used to… but I ended up loving it.

Lisbon, Portugal

No trips are perfect. When you’re visiting another country and you have no idea how to speak the language, you’re definitely prepared for mishaps.

But we didn’t have any mishaps in Portugal. Minus the one time we were trying to navigate a very large bus station and had to run to find our HIDDEN bus to Óbidos (It was seriously hidden! Why would they park the bus far away from all the other buses behind a huge pillar? To screw with us, you see…), everything during our two week long trip to Portugal was great. Perfect way to spend our official honeymoon/year anniversary together. And a special thank you to Matthew’s mom for helping make that trip happen.

But getting there? And getting home? DISASTROUS! First the Random Snowstorm of October 2011. Then, a day after being delayed, the plane malfunctioned as it was taking off. Then the airplane mechanic has a heart attack while working on said plane. We ended up taking off at midnight the second day and found ourselves in Portugal with no other problems. On the way back? The Great Car Debacle of 2011, which started off as a dead car on the side of the road, which led to being STRANDED in BumbleF, Kentucky for three days, which then ended with massive car problems due to incompetent mechanics. Which we’re still dealing with over a month later. But THAT story has been told over and over again and I won’t bore anyone here.

SO I DIGRESS! Because this post is about the first leg of our journey in Portugal. When we arrived in Lisbon on October 31st, we caught a bus to take us as close as we could get to our hostel, which was smack in the popular Baixa district.We hopped off the bus, weighed down by our camping backpacks (best decision we made on how to carry all our stuff) and consulted the map. Once we hit the main street, where our hostel was located, it didn’t take long for someone to ask us if we — specifically Matthew — wanted some drugs.

“You want some marijuana?”

“No, thanks,” Matthew said.

“You like cocaine? I have good cocaine!”

You know, because the jump from marijuana to cocaine is a small one. We learned to spot these guys after a while. Shifty eyes, see. They’d stand in the middle of popular intersections and approach anyone who seemed… I don’t know, like they wanted drugs? Matthew’s hair is long and you KNOW what that means! And man, some of them like sales people! One guy asked me if I wanted every drug in the book after I kept saying no. Then there was the old guy who slowly came up to Matthew one day and croaked, “Yoouuu liiiikke maaariiijuuaaannnaaaa…?” That was our favorite phrase for a while.

The hostel, Travellers House , was incredible. Smack in the middle of everything with TONS of amazing reviews and yearly awards, it was the perfect place to get acquainted with the city and with other travelers. The staff organized events every night, from wine tastings (went to that!) and chorizo tastings (went to that!) to bar crawls and scenic tours outside Lisbon. Our room was quiet and at the veeeerryyy top of the building, which shared a common area, kitchen and bathroom with two other rooms. It was perfect, with a small refrigerator and lots of pots and pans and utensils in case you wanted to cook one night. We only had one night there when we first arrived, since we had been delayed a day, but we ended up coming back earlier since it was such a great place.

After being shown around and told the rules of the place (along with when breakfast was served — eggs and toast and juice!), I practically ran up all the steps to take a shower. One of the staff members, Gui, gave us a map and suggestions as to how to spend the next few hours before chorizo night. The Baixa is the main hub of the city, where tourists and locals constantly mill about. There is the occasional street musician, which makes for nice ambiance, and often times restaurants will have tables and umbrellas out in the middle of the (pedestrian only) streets.

And so we wound our way around the Baixa for a bit before following the tram lines, per Gui’s instruction, up to the Alfama district. This is the oldest part of Lisbon and, in my opinion, the most photogenic. Every crumbling wall, every window sill with chipped paint, every destroyed piece of tile — it all sat there waiting to be admired. Which I did. A lot.

We stepped into the Sé, one of Lisbon’s cathedrals, and took a quick look around. I snapped photos as quietly as I could, leaning against the cool, stone walls to bolster my camera as I set a low shutter speed.

We eventually found our way to the top of the city just as the sun was finding its way to the horizon. We ate at the Club de Fado, which was our first Portuguese meal!! And we had…. sliders. Mini hamburgers. An omen of things to come regarding the cuisine here. Oh well, we would be eating Portuguese chorizo that night. But I’ll just say that the country isn’t really known for exotic dishes or exotic spices — or any spices, for that matter. That’s the foodie coming out in me.

And as I told a friend of mine, “A salty egg is NOT a spice!”

At least the views from the top were great. We saw a bit of the ocean and watched the sun’s progress until we finally decided to wind our way back down to the hostel.

Ah, chorizo night. We hit up a wine store beforehand, since dinner wasn’t until 9pm. Yep, that’s how they roll in Portugal. Can’t get a table at a restaurant before 7pm and if you do, you get to sit and wait until the chef arrives and begins preparing food at around 8pm. But that’s all right, because we hung out in the common area and talked to a couple from England and Poland.

And then… we gorged. And drank red wine. And ate more. There was a little piggy spit where the chorizo was cooked, then sliced up for all of us who paid to hang out and eat. We had bread, soft Portuguese cheese, olives and all different types of chorizo. It was so good! Some were spicy, some were thin and crispy like bacon and others were mild and soft. Matthew mingled with some Canadians while I spoke to a German guy about world politics.

Even though I don’t know very much about world politics but it was still so much fun. Though at the end of it my body was craving vegetables like mad. That’s the other thing about Portuguese cuisine… not too big on vegetables.

Oh, and since it was Halloween night, apparently a memo went out to half of Lisbon to get together and impersonate zombies. They did a great job at it, too! Lots of moaning and screaming and bloody faces… A perfect accompaniment to chorizo night, I think.

And so finishes our first day and night in Portugal. The next post will be our trip to one of my favorite towns in Portugal — the beautifully-picturesque-at-every-corner town of Óbidos.