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Today marks my completion of a decade of writing this blog. The culinary adventures (both successful and not so) about which I’ve told stories each week have given me great pleasure. To celebrate my tenth anniversary, this post will be a retrospective of some of the dishes I’ve most enjoyed making, eating, and writing about – one for each year.

You’ll notice a strong Western European emphasis in the choices here. That’s a reflection of Tom’s and my general eating preferences, but I’ve actually written about dishes from 24 countries in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. I could have featured many of those others among these favorites.

Clicking on an image below will open the full post about the dish.
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2010

Prosciutto-wrapped Broiled Shrimp

My first blogging year was devoted to one new recipe a week from one of the 200+ cookbooks in my collection. This one, from Ada Boni’s classic Il Talismano della Felicità, makes as good an appetizer as it did a main course.

 

2011

Plum Cake Cockaigne

From my second year, I began including posts about recipes I’d previously known and loved. This one, from Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking, has been a late-summer favorite in our household for more years than I can remember.

 

2012

Traditional Paella Valenciana

I found recipes for this relatively simple paella in two cookbooks: Penelope Casas’ Food and Wines of Spain, and Teresa Barrenechea’s Cuisines of Spain. Both looked good, so I drew steps from both recipes.

 

2013

Bluefish Gravlax

 

Here, I adapted a salmon gravlax recipe from the Cooking of Scandinavia volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series for local bluefish. I also made the book’s cucumber relish and mustard-dill sauce.

 

2014

Tripe in Golden Fontina Sauce

This is my own version of trippa alla valdostana, from Tom’s and my book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. It makes a remarkably rich, mellow, elegant dish – if I do say so myself.

 

2015

Pheasant Pie with Noodles and Mushrooms

Under this pastry crust is faisan à la vosgienne, made from an Alsace recipe in Anne Willan’s French Regional Cooking. Pheasant, noodles, mushrooms, sauce, and pastry were all lavishly endowed with butter.

 

2016

Chickpea and Cuttlefish Stew

Penelope Casas’s book La Cocina di Mama: The Great Home Cooking of Spain provided the recipe for this Andalucian dish intriguingly spiced with hot red pepper, sweet smoked paprika, and garlic.

 

2017

Poulet Marengo

Anyone familiar with my food preferences will know I couldn’t let this retrospective go by without including at least one chicken dish. This is a classic from Robert Courtine’s The Hundred Glories of French Cooking.

 

2018

Veselka’s Borscht

The Ukrainian restaurant Veselka, in NYC’s East Village neighborhood, serves the best borscht I’ve ever tasted or can imagine tasting. Making a batch of it from the place’s own cookbook was a major accomplishment for me.

 

2019

Apple-Stuffed Pork Roast

Apples, bacon, butter, mushrooms, onions, sage, a pinch of sugar, and a touch of wine vinegar made a delightful stuffing for roasted pork. It’s a recipe I clipped from Saveur magazine and pasted in my big recipe binder.

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So:  10 years, 512 posts, recipes from 120 cookbooks, as well as a few from magazines, newspapers, and the internet. I’ve learned a lot about food and cooking from all this. Now I plan to take the month of January off, to think about how I’d like to position my blog for the coming years.

Panettone for Christmas

From my grocery shopping experience this Christmas season, I’d say there have been at least a million cartons of panettone on offer in local stores, in a dazzling array of varieties. With that abundance before me, naturally I chose to make one of my own.

I wanted a reasonably simple, traditional version of this festive bread, and I found a recipe for one in Michele Scicolone’s 1,000 Italian Recipes. I bake breads often, but very rarely are they this kind of sweet, fruit-dotted loaf. Making this one would be a tiny adventure.
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The first thing to do was to scald milk and, off heat, let butter melt and sugar dissolve in it. Already interesting: I hadn’t ever treated bread ingredients this way before.

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While the mixture cooled a little, I assembled candied citron, candied orange peel, raisins, and the grated zest of a lemon. Let me tell you, chopping candied fruits is a gooey business!
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Then, in the bowl of my heavy-duty mixer, I dissolved yeast in warm water, added the milk-butter-sugar mixture, and beat in two eggs and two extra yolks. That many yolks would certainly make a rich bread.
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The fruits and zest went in next, and finally the flour. Oddly, so it seemed to me, the recipe didn’t say to knead the dough: only beat it for two minutes. From long bread-making habit, I couldn’t resist sneaking in a few minutes of kneading with the machine’s dough hook.

In my bread-making, correcting for dryness or stickiness is often needed as a dough comes together. But this dough behaved beautifully – it quickly became smooth and springy, requiring neither a speck more flour nor a drop more moisture than the recipe’s given amounts.
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The dough was to have its first rise in a buttered bowl, covered by a towel, until doubled in bulk. That took considerably longer than the recipe’s approximation of 1½ hours: actually almost 3 hours. I’d expected something like that, with so rich and dense a dough – and also because it’s always fairly cool in my apartment. I waited with uncharacteristic patience until it was fully risen.
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Then came the choice of baking pan. The recipe called for one nine-inch round springform pan, deep enough to create the classic tall panettone shape. I didn’t want a single loaf that big. Unlike commercial panettones, which have additives to maintain freshness, a homemade one that size would surely go stale before we could finish it. I took a small half of the dough for a six-inch round pan and divided the rest over four tiny rectangular pans, whose loaves I could freeze handily for future pleasures.
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For the second rise, in the pans, the dough was again to double in bulk: about an hour, the recipe said. Again, I was called on for uncharacteristic patience; mine took another three hours, and even then I wasn’t sure it had fully doubled. But I proceeded anyway, lest I leave it too long and the dough collapse on itself. Good thing I’d started early in the day!
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I slashed the top of each loaf, hoping the cuts would encourage higher rising in the oven. The recipe said the big loaf would need an hour’s baking at 350°. My small ones tested done in half an hour, and the large one only ten minutes later. Regrettably, they hadn’t risen very much more at all. Nor had the slashes done much to open the tops. But they looked cheerful enough and smelled fine.
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I’d like to blame their sluggish rising on the age of my yeast, which was from the last of a one-pound bag that had been stored in my freezer for many months. But that’s an easy excuse. Somehow, I think it had to have been me. Sigh.

I wrapped and froze the little loaves and left the large one in a cake carrier on the kitchen counter overnight. The next morning, I cut it open to slice and toast for breakfast. It was extremely dense and weighty: not at all like the puffy softness of a store-bought panettone.
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Mirabile dictu! It had exactly the classic panettone flavor and aroma: lightly sweet, fresh, fragrant, and appetizing. Its feel in the mouth was perfectly acceptable; just more countrified in style – definitely homemade tasting. So this little Christmas cooking story has a very happy ending. Merry merry, everyone!

An Autumnal Apple Tart

I hate how this year’s Christmas marketing bling and blitz started a whole week before Thanksgiving. It’s enough to turn anyone into a Grinch. Even now it’s too early for me to put up my usual Christmas decorations. So when we had friends over for a casual dinner the other day, there was nothing Christmas-y on the menu.
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Instead I took the opportunity to make an autumnal dessert recipe I’d been meaning to try: Apple Tart Mapie. “Mapie” was the Countess de Toulouse-Lautrec, whose cookbook La Cuisine de France had a considerable following in the 1960s. I once had a copy of the book and was a fan of her recipe for skate with black butter, but I hadn’t thought about Mapie for decades. Then I found her recipe in the Pies & Pastries volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series.

Two things interested me about it: the apples were diced rather than sliced, and they were covered with custard of a kind I’d never made before. Seemed like a good use for some of the local fall apples I had in a brown bag in my refrigerator’s crisper drawer.

The pastry crust recommended was the book’s standard all-butter pâte brisée. Though the recipe indicated that a half quantity would work for any one-crust pie, it was barely enough to line my shallow 9-inch round tart pan, even needing a little patching.
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To start the filling, I had to melt a stick of butter and keep cooking it over low heat until it turned light brown. While waiting impatiently for that to happen, I cut up two apples.
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The butter took an unconscionably long time to color. My diced apples sat on the counter turning brown while my melted butter didn’t. Finally, I gave up and declared the butter dark enough.
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I poured it into a bowl in which I’d I put 1¼ cups of granulated sugar, stirring it well. The result looked kind of like scrambled eggs.
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Then I beat in four whole extra-large eggs, which thinned the mixture out to a slurry.
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With a final addition of three tablespoons of flour, that was the entire custard mix: no milk or cream of any kind. Can you really call that a custard? I don’t know. What I did know was that the apples alone had pretty much filled my pastry shell. Was all that dense liquid going to fit in as well? I was beginning to lose faith in this recipe.
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Fortunately, it did all fit – just!

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When I put the tart into a 400° oven, I set a sheet pan on the shelf underneath, to catch what I was sure would be an overflow as the custard swelled up. Surprise! It wasn’t needed: The custard pushed the apples up to the surface, making itself into a soft, even base layer. With a sprinkling of powdered sugar, it made quite a nice looking tart..
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A tasty one too. The custard was a little overly sweet for my taste, but everyone else said it was a fine dessert. Now I think I can finally let go of autumn and start getting ready for Christmas.

This week I tried twice to reproduce a dish called Potatoes Fused with Cheese and Mushrooms that I’d enjoyed at the Bebedouro tapas bar in Lisbon last month. Both times I achieved what I’ll call successful failures. That is, though neither attempt came anywhere near its target, both results were extremely tasty and quite versatile. I can see either of them gaining a regular place in my repertory.

Here is the dish at the restaurant.
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From its flavors and texture, I thought the potatoes and mushrooms might have been roasted separately before being “fused” together in an oven to melt the cheese, so that’s what I’d do. I found a recipe online that seemed to have useful pointers for my initial foray.

The main challenge was the mushrooms. Black trumpets are the only kind I know that are so thoroughly dark, but the ones occasionally available here are always very small. And, this week, the ones at Eataly (best place locally for wild mushrooms) didn’t look very fresh. I’d have to forgo a color match and try another variety. I chose hedgehogs.
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The potatoes were no problem. A stand at my greenmarket carries German butterballs – a small, dense, waxy heirloom variety that holds its shape well in cooking.

In the afternoon I cut both vegetables in large pieces; tossed them separately with salt, pepper, and the luscious olive oil I’d brought back from my Portugal trip; and put the two pans in a 400° oven.

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The mushrooms took about 15 minutes to get tender; the potatoes about 45. When they were done and cooled, I combined them in two individual gratin dishes, along with more olive oil, and left them covered on the kitchen counter. In the evening I topped the dishes with grated Gruyere before reheating them under the broiler.
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Unfortunately, the cheese didn’t melt very well. And clearly, my dish bore no resemblance whatsoever to the Bebedouro one. But it made a delicious combination of flavors: richly meaty, even though totally vegetable. An excellent first course for our dinner.
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Nothing daunted (or at least not too badly daunted), I determined to try again. Roasting had left the vegetables fairly dry and crisp: nothing wrong with that, but not what I’d been aiming for. Next time, for the initial cooking I would boil the potatoes in their jackets and sauté the mushrooms. Also, I would try a different mushroom – oysters, this time. (Black trumpets still weren’t good.)
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So I did. For the final heating I dressed the veg with enough of that good Portuguese olive oil to make a noticeable puddle in the gratin dish. Instead of grating the cheese for the topping, I took thin shavings with a vegetable peeler. And instead of finishing the dish under the broiler, I baked it at 350° for almost 30 minutes.
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This second version didn’t come out looking anything like Bebedouro’s either. But, like my first, it was very, very good. A softer, moister version than the other, it made a fine dinner companion to a small broiled steak.

I don’t think I’ll venture a third try. Some travel-encountered dishes are best left to fond recollection – she said reluctantly.

It isn’t officially winter yet, but some days are beginning to feel like it. Raw, damp weather naturally gets me thinking about hearty rib-sticking things to eat. In the vegetable category, winter squashes fill the bill, so on my latest trip to the Greenmarket, I picked up one from the heaps on display at all the stands.
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I almost always choose butternuts, pale and plain-looking as they are, because their thick, straight necks and small seed cavities provide a greater proportion of usable flesh and are easier to peel than the round, ridged varieties. Besides, they’re very tasty.

This day I wanted to try a new recipe I’d found in Elizabeth Schneider’s encyclopedic tome Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini. The author says her Baked Winter Squash and Apple Puree with Nuts is “more flavorful and subtle than you might expect from the few and familiar ingredients.” Hard to resist a come-on like that!

(I was going to be cutting back the recipe significantly. It gives quantities for 12 servings, and I was making it for just 2. Fortunately, its calling for 6 pounds of squash and 6 apples made it easy to scale down.)

It started out easily enough. In mid-afternoon I put the whole, unpeeled squash and a large Rome apple into a 350° oven to bake until they were tender.
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The recipe said to give the apple 45 minutes, but it cooked faster than that: I got it out of the oven just in time to keep it from turning to applesauce. Romes are like that: They’re the quintessential cooking apple.
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The squash took about two hours to soften, as expected. I cut it in half and left it to cool.
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The next step was to puree one cup of the squash flesh in a food mill, along with the peeled and cored flesh of the apple. My two-pound squash had made much more than a cup’s worth, but I was happy to put the rest of it into the freezer for a future “pumpkin” pie.
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Seasoned with salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of melted butter, the puree went into a buttered gratin dish to await its topping.
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While the squash was baking, I’d made the topping by grinding a sixth of a cup each of roughly chopped hazelnuts and dried breadcrumbs in my mini food processor.
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As dinner time approached, I sprinkled the nut mixture over the puree, grated on a little frozen butter, and baked the dish in a 425° oven for half an hour. The topping should have come out evenly browned, but mine didn’t. My frozen butter had stubbornly clung to the grater, had to be detached in little clots, and refused to spread evenly, so the only brown parts were where the butter had landed on the crumbs. But the dish looked pretty good anyway.
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And it tasted very good. From the faint fruit sweetness, you could tell there was something in addition to squash in the dish, but you might not guess it was apple. The effect was indeed subtle, as the headnote said. And the tiny crunch of the nutty crumbs was a nice contrast to the smooth puree. Altogether, this made an excellent companion to the simply roasted duck legs we served for dinner that evening: compatible flavors and very interesting textures.
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Two Lunches in Lisbon

Before Tom and I went on the Douro river cruise that I wrote about here last week, we spent two days in Lisbon; the first time there for me. It provided only the briefest taste of the city, but we made the most of it – especially gastronomically.

We had two delightful lunches there that were the very essence of serendipity. At the end of the first morning’s strolling, we happened upon a little street entirely filled with tables set for lunch.

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Checking out the establishments along the route, we stopped at one called Bebedouro, which had a chalkboard menu posted on the wall.
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The list of tapas was irresistible. We didn’t even look inside the door; just grabbed one of the little tables on the street. Not sure how big the modestly priced dishes would be, we started by ordering just two. A good thing that was, because they were large: what the Spanish would call not tapas but racions. Both were fabulous.
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Octopus in confit of peppers

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Potatoes fused with cheese and mushrooms

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The wine list featured flights of three wines for €16. We chose one of the red flights and received generous-sized pours, all from the Douro region and all new to us.
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They graduated quite interestingly from light and fruity to bigger and more complex and made interesting matches with the food. (Tom has written more about the wines we drank in Portugal on his blog.)

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That perfect little meal made us so happy that we returned to Bebeduro for lunch the next day. We chose from the fish tapas this time, both of which were just as delicious as the previous ones.
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Roasted tuna in tomato sauce with hummus

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Sardines in olive oil

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This time we tried one of the flights of white wines – again, all from the Douro. They varied from each other and matched with the tapas just as interestingly as the reds had done.
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The four dishes we had at those lunches were so good that I’m determined to try recreating some of them in my own kitchen. The only one that I could do immediately was the sardines. That’s because we were so impressed by the quality of the Portuguese sardines available in their home territory that we brought back five cans of a recommended brand.

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So here is the tapas plate I made with them just the other day. Not as pretty as Bebedouro’s, but definitely in the ballpark for tastiness.
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Even the olive oil from the sardine can was so good we slathered it all over our bread. (I brought home three bottles of olive oil, too.) Next I’ll be trying the potato, cheese, and mushroom dish because I’ve found a recipe online that looks as if it would work. After that, on to tackle the octopus!

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P.S. Though we had no idea of this at the time, I’ve learned from my back-home Web research that Bebedouro is very well known for both food and wine. It seems to be listed in at least one major guidebook and has an enormously enthusiastic online following. Perhaps I should have titled this post “Lucking Out in Lisbon.”

 

 

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Tom and I are just back from a week’s cruise on Portugal’s Douro river. We traveled upriver from Porto, on the Atlantic coast, about halfway to the Spanish border and back. The scenery was picturesque: vineyards, forests, vineyards, olive groves, vineyards, villages, and yet more vineyards. Above all, the Douro valley is Port wine country, but it also makes an abundance of red and white table wines.

Our ship, the Infante Don Henrique, carried 86 passengers from 8 countries, of which only we were from the USA. This was our third river cruise with the Croisieurope line. (See the others here and here.) It serves only one menu for each meal: three or four courses, at both lunch and dinner. Happily, this cruise included many Portuguese specialties, peppered among the line’s good standard hotel-style fare.

The wines – both simple ones poured generously for free and an array of better bottles to buy at modest prices – were almost all Portuguese. Accordingly, we ate and drank very interestingly (not to say excessively) throughout the trip. Here are some of the dishes we particularly liked..

Appetizers

The Portuguese influence on the ship’s cuisine was most prominent among the first courses. Here were cured ham from the prized Iberico black pig; sweet, tender melon from the Azores; a flavorful ricotta-like cheese on toasted whole-grain bread; a locally traditional meat-filled puff pastry tart; three kinds of luscious spicy sausages – chouriço, linguiça, and morcela; and a taste of the nation’s excellent olive-oil preserved sardines.
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Presunto ham and Portuguese melon

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Requeijao cheese tartine

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Pastel de Chaves

 

Grilled sausages, sardine toast

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Main Courses

For the principal lunch and dinner dishes, our chef turned mostly to international hotel-style preparations: everything meticulously designed on the plates and perfectly good, if not very exciting. There was one exception to that pattern, which I’m saving for last..
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Filet of sole with spiny lobster

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Chicken breast stuffed with linguiça

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Braised lamb

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Duck leg with fig and port wine sauce

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The Pièce de Résistance: Bacalhau com Nata
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This big dish of salt cod with cream sauce was presented to our five-person dinner table. My heart sank when I saw it. I knew that salt cod – baccalà – was practically the Portuguese national food, but I’d disliked every version of it that I’d ever tasted, in Europe or America. Nevertheless, I had to try it. Wow! It was terrific. Absolutely delicious.

The cod tasted like fresh fish. It was mingled with potatoes and swathed in a rich bechamel, probably seasoned with onions and wine. It went beautifully with the salad of baby greens and black olives. One of the first things I did when I got home was look up recipes for this dish. There are many online, and I’m going to try one very soon. Only, I’ll make it with fresh cod, not baccalà. That can’t hurt, surely? I’ll let you know.

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Before the cruise, we’d spent two days in Lisbon, where we also ate interestingly and very well. My next week’s post will be about that gastronomical adventure. Tom will also be doing a post on his blog about at least some of the wines we drank on the cruise and in Lisbon.