How to Order Pintxos Like a Local in Basque Country

The food culture in the Basque region of Spain is truly amazing! San Sebastian is quickly becoming one of the top foodie destinations and for good reason. At the center of the Basque food culture are pintxos. These are small bites, similar to a tapa which people are probably more familiar with. In general pintxos are larger and more complex than most tapas offered in Spain. You can easily create an entire meal on pintxos, trust us we did this very often while we were in Bilbao and in San Sebastian. 

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 It can be intimidating to walk into a pintxos bar when you aren’t fluent in Spanish and aren’t sure the protocol. Most pintxo bars are small places and the best ones are jam packed with people. But don’t worry, we have some tips for how to order and what to order. The first stop on our northern Spain trip was Bilbao. When we arrived we knew we had to eat pintxos but we weren’t exactly sure what to do. We walked into a pintxo bar and just watched for a few minutes so we could see what people were doing and get a lay of the land. We saw people pointing to the pintxos on the bar so that is what we did. Most pintxo bars have cold pintxos out on the bar or just behind the bar, on display. So if you don’t know any Spanish you can simply point to which ones you want. Most often pintoxs are enjoyed with a drink so knowing how to order a beer or wine is helpful. Una copa de vino tinto or vino blanco will get you a glass of red or white wine respectively. You can ask for a cerveza and that will get you a beer but most locals will order a cana, which is a small glass of beer. Pintxos are meant to be eaten standing up and most locals go from place to place so don’t expect to sit at a table and stay at the same bar all night long.

We spent the first two days of our trip eating only these pintxos we saw on display. We ate well and were not disappointed but we knew we weren’t getting the full pintxo experience. We learned more later on in our trip once we got to San Sebastian. Here we took a food tour our first night hoping we would learn more than what we had already picked up on based on our observations.

What we learned is that a lot of the pintxo bars have a hot pintxo (pintxos caliente) menu which is often listed on a board (often a chalk board) on display on the wall behind the bar. Some of the bars will also have a paper copy on this menu and that may be offered in English. Hot pintxos can typically be ordered as pintxo size (small, bite size portion), a half portion (media racion) or as full portion (racion) which is a larger portion similar to what you would expect if you ordered an entrée. Either way most locals still enjoy their food standing up at the bar or a small counter. 

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La cuchara de San Telmo – 1/2 racion of Scallops

Once we discovered how to get hot pintxos there was no going back to the ones on display on the bar. The pintxos we ordered in San Sebastian were some of the best things we have ever eaten. While there are many Michelin star restaurants in San Sebastian we decided to stick with pintoxs each night we were there. That way you can still get amazing food but at a much lower price and get a real feel for the city as you wander the streets. You can get hot pintoxs in Bilbao but as we were there before we really had it all figured out we don’t have as many specific recommendations for Bilbao as we do for San Sebastian. Here is our list of pintxo bars you must eat at while in each city.

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La cuchara de San Telmo – 1/2 racion of Suckling Pig

San Sebastian:

La Cuchara de San Telmo: We ate here three times! The first time our food tour guide brought us. We loved it so much that we went back the following two nights. Everything on their menu looked amazing. The guy behind the bar taking orders was also awesome! He remembered our name and took time to say thank you and have a great night before we left. This is even more incredible when you see just how crowded this place is. Everything we had here was excellent, but you must try the Morcilla (blood sausage)! We also had the suckling pig, scallops, and pigs ear – and everything we saw come out of the kitchen looked and smelled phenomenal. One thing to note is that they almost exclusively have ration/half ration order sizes (no pintxos and everything is made to order), but don’t worry – you will wish you had more.

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La cuchara de San Telmo –  1/2 racion of Morcilla

Atari Gastroleku: We ended up going here twice. Once with our guided tour and once later in the week on our own. They are known for their Galician Octopus, and we also had the braised beef cheeks which are a traditional dish to the region. They are also known for their Gin & Tonics, so if you mind skipping the wine for a stop – this is the place.

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Atari Gastroleku – Racion of Octopus (pulpo)

Ganbara: This place is known for their mushrooms, you will see a pile of different types and there are a few different dishes you can get made to order with mushrooms and they are all on the menu. We also went here with our guide, and he ordered tuna off menu (called bonito in northern Spain, this place had it when it was in season).

Bar Sport: It was recommended by our AirBnB Host who’s brother owns this place. Despite the bias, we agreed it was very good. We mostly had the cold pintxos, and the sea urchin soup was really good.

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Bilbao:

Mercado de la Ribera: This is the largest covered market in Europe. You can buy fresh seafood, meats, cheeses, vegetables and fruits here. There is also a large indoor sitting area surrounded by venders selling a wide variety of pintxos.

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El Sacachoros: This was the first pintxo bar we stepped into. We didn’t really know what to do, so we ended up ordering off the cold bar, then sitting down at a table. We had the octopus pintxo in the picture below, which was excellent. the Iberico ham one was good too though!

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There are plenty of other pintxo bars in both these city’s. Wander through old town in Bilbao or San Sebastian and go into any pintxo bar full of people. We promise you won’t be disappointed with the food!

-TFWYs

Bourbon Barrel Planked Venison Meatballs

We love Venison. And we love bourbon. And we love grilling, grilling planks and meatballs. What do you get when you combine them all? Magic. You can buy the bourbon barrel planks here on Etsy: Bourbon Barrel Grilling Planks (full disclosure – we sell them at this shop!)

Ingredients

  • 1 Lb. Ground Venison (you can also substitute for another ground game meat, lamb, or grass fed beef)
  • 1 Tsp Sea Salt (we use Himalayan Pink salt)
  • 1 Tsp Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 Tsp Garlic (granulated or diced)
  • 1/2 Tsp Onion powder

Make Them!

  • Soak Bourbon plank for at least 30 minutes to an hour
  • Mix ground venison with the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix without overworking the meat.
  • Form into meatballs and place on plate and refrigerate one hour.
  • Preheat grill with indirect heat at 400F
  • Place plank on the grill to preheat for 10 minutes. As the moisture escapes the wood fibers it brings the oak and bourbon flavor out of the barrel plank and into your meatballs!
  • Once the plank is warmed up, place the meatballs on the plank
  • Cook approximately 20 minutes, or to your liking. I shoot for medium for meatballs, or 150F internal temp. Do not overcook them, Venison does not have the fat content beef has and they will dry out quickly!
  • They should be brown and glistening when you take them off. Enjoy them with naan and Tzatziki!

Please let us know if you try this out in the comment section!

TFWY’s

How to Make Kombucha at Home

We started making kombucha at home several years ago after reading about the health benefits it can offer. It is pretty expensive to purchase it at the store so we figured we could make it ourselves for much cheaper. Kombucha is a fermented tea that offers probiotic benefits. The fermentation is done by a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). The SCOBY will grow to whatever size container you decide to make your kombucha in. Each time you make a batch it will grow another layer. As you accumulate layers you can pull them apart and either give the extra layers away, compost it or make something out of it. We typically compost our excess or cut it into small pieces and give it to our chickens as a treat. You can find all sorts of different uses for it if you do a Google search or look on Pinterest.

Kombucha does contain trace amounts of alcohol (not enough to need an ID to buy it at most grocery stores). It also contains live cultures from the SCOBY which is what gives you the health benefits.  You can find lots of different flavors of kombucha at the store. If making it yourself you can experiment with all sorts of flavors to find what you like best. It is a pretty easy process so we will outline the steps here and offer some tips that we have for flavoring.

What you will need:

  1. A SCOBY – we will outline options for where/how to get a SCOBY later in this post
  2. A large glass container to do your fermentation in (metal can harm your SCOBY so no metal containers)
  3. A kitchen towel or other cloth to cover the top of your fermentation container
  4. Sugar- we use sugar in the raw for the fermentation but refined white sugar is fine
  5. Black tea or green tea- you cannot use other types of tea without risking your SCOBY dying
  6. Ball jars (wide mouth are easier to fill)
  7. Whatever fruit or flavoring you want to add
  8. Distilled water

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How to make Kombucha:

  1. You need to get a SCOBY in order to start this process. We have read online that you can grow your own from scratch but that can be a lengthy process. To do this you need an unflavored kombucha from the store so you can use the small amount of live culture that is in the bottle to start growing your SCOBY. We cannot offer tips on this since we haven’t done this but know that it is an option. A faster way to get up and running is to buy a starter SCOBY if there is a store locally that offers this. Or ask around,  if you know anyone who does make kombucha already they will likely be more than willing to give you a layer or piece of their SCOBY. Don’t be shy we shed a layer each time we bottle and would be happy to give one away!
  2. Once you have your SCOBY you need to brew some tea to get the fermentation started. We recommend using distilled water because tap water can contain chlorine and other chemicals which over time could kill your SCOBY. We do about a gallon at a time. For that we bring a gallon of water to a boil with one cup of sugar. Then steep 5 tea bags to make the tea. Once the tea is cooled to room temperature transfer the tea to your kombucha fermentation container and add your SCOBY. Your SCOBY was likely given to you in a small amount of liquid to keep it alive (that is already fermented kombucha). Transfer all of that liquid with your SCOBY to help get fermentation started. Place a cloth with a rubber band around it over the fermentation container to allow air to pass in and out during the fermentation process. Store this at room temperature out of direct sunlight. We let ours ferment for about two weeks. The longer you let it ferment the less sweet, more vinegary your kombucha will taste. Also longer fermentation will offer increased probiotic benefits when your drinking your kombucha.
  3. After fermentation is complete you have kombucha! If you want to drink this without adding additional flavor you can. We tend to add flavoring and let it sit another week in a secondary fermentation before drinking. To do this transfer your SCOBY along with one cup of the kombucha out of the container and set that aside for now (metal can harm your SCOBY so if you wear rings do remove them before picking up your SCOBY). We transfer the kombucha from our large fermentation container into smaller ball jars to flavor. This is also convenient because then you have your kombucha in serving sized jars so you can grab one and go when it’s ready to drink. We use a measuring cup to scoop the kombucha into the jars. You do need to make sure everything is clean during this process.
  4. Once you have the kombucha in ball jars you can add your flavoring. After adding your flavoring make sure the tops are securely on so that your kombucha stays fizzy. We let the jars sit about a week at room temperature before placing in the refrigerator and then drinking.
  5. The same day you bottle and flavor you will also want to brew another gallon of tea to start your next batch. Once it comes to room temperature transfer the tea and your SCOBY with the cup of kombucha you had set aside into your fermentation container and begin the process all over again. If you don’t want to start a batch right away you can keep your SCOBY stored in a few cups of your finished kombucha for a few weeks until you are ready. This will require you to reserve more than one cup with your SCOBY before you scoop the kombucha into the ball jars.

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Tips for Flavoring:

We used to slice fruit and add it right in. That does work but what we have found works better for us is to use a small food processor or blender to combine your flavors into something you can scoop into your ball jars. We do about one full scoop/spoon full per jar. We do find that our fruit flavors tend to form a mini SCOBY on the top of each jar so when you open it to drink your kombucha we typically just toss that out before drinking. Don’t be alarmed if you see this in your kombucha! You are still getting the live culture and benefits from drinking it even if you have to pull out a mini SCOBY before drinking.

We really enjoy ginger so we tend to use that a lot. We combine ginger with either strawberries, raspberries, blackberries or cherries. If you end up with more fruit then needed for flavoring it does freeze well and then you can thaw it out to use for your next kombucha batch. We also really like mint as a flavoring, again combine that with whatever type of berry or fruit you like.

Citrus flavors are also a good option. We tend to squeeze fresh juice right into our ball jars if going this route. We would recommend adding a pinch or two of sugar to help the kombucha continue to ferment and keep its fizziness. This isn’t necessary with berries or other sweeter fruits.

Another thing we have used is dried lavender. We enjoy this flavor on its own and combined with citrus juice or another type of fruit. We have tried using lavender essential oil but that gave too much of an overpowering flavor. A small scoop of dried lavender added to your kombucha gives it just enough flavor.

One last tip is that you can flavor your kombucha with another type of tea/flavored tea. Again you cannot use flavored tea as the base as it can kill the scoby. We really enjoy rooibos tea for example. To do this method you need to brew a cup of rooibos or whatever tea you’d like (add some sugar again to make sure fermentation can continue). Once the tea comes to room temperature you can add a small amount to each ball jar to flavor your kombucha.

These are our favorites but really the flavor possibilities are endless. You can use any type of fruit and/or herbs you want in whatever combination you want. If you have a great flavor idea we would love to hear it! We always enjoy experimenting with new things! One last note, if you do ferment other things (like we make wine at home) you don’t want to have your kombucha fermenting in the same room to avoid cross contamination. Happy fermenting!

 

-TFWYs

Hidden Gem Near Cancun: Fish Market Mar-Bella Raw Bar Grill

This restaurant was highly recommended to us by the host at our apartment the last night of our trip.  We didn’t make it to this restaurant that night since we decided to go somewhere within walking distance and this was a little further away. But when we went back to the Cancun area for Ryan’s brother’s wedding we were determined to leave the resort and find this place. The resort staff actually tried to talk us into another restaurant, but we insisted this was where we wanted to go and we were not disappointed. You walk into what looks like basically a convenience store and you would not know that there was a restaurant if you didn’t know to look for it. You walk up a small spiral staircase and once you are upstairs there is a small seafood counter to the left and the restaurant to the right. The restaurant is right on the water so you see the beach and the small fishing boats as you eat. You order from the list of all the fresh seafood at the counter. Items can be cooked in a variety of ways. Fish is on order by the kilo.  The server can tell you the different ways they can cook everything and offer recommendations. We were lucky enough to find a waiter who did speak English well and could help us out. Spanish would have helped with the majority of the staff there. We had a group of 5 of us so we ordered a ceviche, a whole fish, grilled and served with risotto and veggies on the side. We also tried a few chocolate clams: a few of us had them raw with a squeeze of lime juice and the others tried them grilled in a butter sauce. Everything was delicious and very fresh. We would highly recommend this restaurant if you are in the Cancun area.

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South African Biltong Recipe

Every time we travel there are iconic foods that stick out and define a location for us. Foods that we go back home and try to recreate as closely as possible. Empanadas in Chile, Zucchini balls with Tzatziki sauce in Greece, or Tacos Al Pastor in Mexico. For South Africa, it was dried meats: Droëwors and Biltong specifically. This post is a recipe for Biltong that we have tinkered with a bit and are still refining. Our friends that lived in South Africa for over a year had it last weekend and thought the spice profile was extremely close. We used Venison, but you could use any lean cut of beef or wild game:

Ingredients:

  • 3-5 lbs of lean Beef or Venison (you are looking for a lean roast: top round, eye of round, bottom round, etc.) It should be long enough to slice into nice slabs.
  • 1 cup rock salt or coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 cup – Whole Toasted Coriander seeds – crush w/ mortar and pestle (you can use coriander powder if you are in a pinch)
  • 1 cup of Apple Cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp Black pepper

Instructions

  1. Cut the meat into strips. Slice them WITH the grain into roughly 2 x 1.5″ slabs. Ours were Venison and ended up a bit smaller than we would have liked
  2. Add about half the salt to a large bowl or pyrex dish
  3. Lay the slices in the salt, then cover with the rest of the salt- the slices should be well coated. Put in the refrigerator for about 45 minutes
  4. In another large bowl, add the Worcestershire Sauce and Apple Cider Vinegar
  5. Add in the baking soda and brown sugar, mix
  6. Remove the meat from the fridge, remove all the salt. They should have firmed up.
  7. Add the strips of meat to your brine, let them soak for 5-8 minutes. You may need to do this in batches. As you remove them, put them on a paper towel to soak up some of the moisture.
  8. Time to crush your coriander seeds: you can use a mortar & pestle; food processor, or just a rolling pin on a cutting board to get the seeds crushed in half with a bit of powder.
  9. Coat each steak strip with copious amounts of coriander. Each piece should be completely covered.
  10. With the pieces encrusted with coriander, crack some black pepper on both sides.
  11. Time to dry: either use a Biltong Box or Umai Dry Bag
  12. Slice THIN. It should be so thin it is slightly translucent. It’s not jerky!
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Venison Biltong in the Umai Dry bag
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Finished Biltong: slice it thin!

Dry them to your liking: some people prefer Biltong a bit more ‘wet’ while others like it completely dried. Using a biltong box that would range anywhere from 4-8 days. We did try another method while I work on building a biltong box: Umai Dry Bags. These things are awesome, we have dry aged steaks with them and made a few types of charcuterie. They are basically breathable vacuum seal bags that you leave in your refrigerator. We dried our Venison Biltong for 14 days (it will take a bit longer than a biltong box).

Umai Dry Bags on Amazon

Have you ever had Biltong? If you try this recipe out please let us know how it turned out!

-TFWY