Monday, April 20, 2015

Savory Puff Tartlets for snack -- on Spring break

I don't think I have ever written here about the trips, travels or vacations we take as a family. I don't fancy myself as a travelogue writer. I am never going to be in that high echelon. I haven't even read any travelogues in the recent years. If you have, can you recommend some?

Most of our vacations these days are planned around what people are saying on TripAdvisor. The times when the husband-man and me would pore over the Rand McNally to chalk the routes on a road trip and flip through AAA travel guides to narrow down on hotels and restaurants seems like from another era. Then there was surprise and an aura of adventure at every bend. Now we set out with a fair idea about what to expect. Down to the color of the carpet at the hotel.

These days the TripAdvisor is my travelogue fix where I can hear real people wax eloquent about a hotel's bed or grumble about lack of bacon at Quality Inn's promised breakfast. I love hanging around there and narrowing down my choices. Even if I don't have a choice, I sometimes hang around there, planning vacations I will never take. So anyway all this hanging around results in some sort of planning, and I felt it would help someone or even me in future, if I write a bit about our trips and vacations.

Now, I have forgotten most of the details that went into planning our former trips and so I will start off with our most recent trip down to Virginia and then Outer Banks, North Carolina. This trip however needed no planning. We were visiting friends who lived near Virginia Beach and then going to Outer Banks with them. They knew the area well and so I didn't have much to do really except RELAX.

We were going to be in Outer Banks for two days and a night and Kill Devil Hills, NC was about 2 and half hours drive from their home, so we booked rooms at a hotel right there. That it was just minutes away from Kitty Hawk, the site of the Wright Brother's first successful flight, tipped the scale towards the hotel. The hotel, or actually a motel, was a very basic Day's Inn and it sufficed for a night's stay. Also since we booked very late, we didn't get any ocean facing rooms.

If you plan to stay more than 1 night, I would suggest that you get a better hotel or at least book ahead to get ocean front rooms. This area has lovely vacation rentals, right on the beach, and it would be best if you can stay there. Kill Devil Hills is kind of the mid-point of the stretch of Outer Banks but later we went north to Corolla and Duck and found both towns to be really pretty with lovely vacation rentals along the beach.

Day 1: We reached our friend's home in Virginia after a peaceful but long 7 hours drive. We had decided to drive along US Route 13 via Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the drive was really very beautiful albeit longer. We stopped for a couple of mandatory Dunkin' Donut pit stops and then a lovely lunch at a Thai restaurant just after crossing Maryland. I was especially worried about Little Sis and her "Are we there yet?" refrain but surprisingly apart from a couple of times, she did not ask that question.
The weather in Virginia was really nice, warm and toasty, very different from what we had been enduring all along. The cherry trees there had blossomed and it felt liberating to be outside.
Once we reached our friend's house, all we did however was eat and talk non-stop until midnight. Mutton Curry, Mackarel in a Bengali Jhol, fried wide mouthed Bass, we ate them all.

Day 2: We left for outer Banks around 11 in the morning, 4 adults and 4 kids together in the car. The kids had lot of fun playing their games and creating a ruckus. On reaching Kill Devil Hills, we straight went to Wright Brother's National Memorial, which was to close around 5 pm in the evening. Check the timing when you are going. This is really a nice place, with a museum that now has the replica of the plane on the first flight and a lot of information on the brothers and their attempts at flight. Just outside the museum is the runway where Wilbur and Orville Wright took the first flight.
A few miles away is the monument, up the Big Kill Devil hill. It was a beautiful day with squeaky clean blue sky, fluffy white clouds, a light breeze and the small trek up the hill felt very pleasant. The kids of course ran up and down multiple times while we managed to walk up. Afterwards we sat at the small picnic area down the hill and had a lunch of Biryani.After all every adventure needs to be fueled with food.

We spent about 2-3 hours here after which we went and checked-in at the hotel.In half-hour we were back again on the road to Roanoke islands, to see the Lost Colony, or rather to see carving on a tree about which Big Sis had read in Social Studies
"Roanoke Island was the site of the 16th-century Roanoke Colony, the first English colony in the New World.
In 1587, the English again tried to settle Roanoke Island. John White, father of the colonist Eleanor Dare, and grandfather to Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World, left the colony to return to England for supplies. He expected to return to Roanoke Island within three months. Instead, with England at war with Spain, all ships were confiscated for use of the war efforts. White's return to Roanoke Island was delayed until 1590, by which time all the colonists had disappeared. The settlement was abandoned. The only clue White found was the word "CROATOAN" carved into a tree."
We went to Ft.Raleigh/The Lost Colony.The tree wasn't there but there was a production of "The Lost Colony" in an open air theater by the sea. The place was beautiful and we walked around a bit. It was getting darker though and we didn't have tickets for the theater so we headed back.

Owen's Restaurant at Nag's Head

Searching Yelp for dinner recommendation, we landed at Owen's restaurant in Nag's Head. It was a beautiful restaurant with a really lovely ambiance. The restaurant was established in 1946 by the current owner's family. They had three beautifully decorated dining rooms each from a different period. The food was absolutely delicious southern cooking. I am not very familiar with southern cooking but the food here was really good. I shared a Gumbo with the husband-man and then ordered grilled puppy drum fish for dinner on the server's recommendation. We also had a Shrimp and Grits where the grits was fabulous and a Crayfish Jambalaya which was as good as the Gumbo. The meal was rounded off with a pecan pie and seven layer cake, which was so light, airy and delicious that I was sure it came straight from heaven.

This sumptuous dinner was a treat from our friends, who were also sent along with the cake from some angelic place.

Day 3: After a decent breakfast at the hotel, the kids played at the hotel beach for a while, though it was really cold and I couldn't imagine being barefoot in the water. We then checked out and went to the Sand Dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park in Nags Head. The sand dunes are huge like mountains and once you climb on the top you have a great view of the sound beyond the wide expanse of the sand. You can only imagine the fun all of the 4 kids had in that sand. They dug and rolled and made a mess. Lot of people were flying kites and attempting hang gliding from the dunes. Though the kites were mostly a success I couldn't spot a single hang glider who could.

Sand Dunes

After the dunes, we headed north, to Corolla to see the wild horses. There is an area on the beach where you can drive a 4x4 and if you are lucky wild horses will come trotting by. Or so we assumed. But of course wild horses are no Madhuri Dixit, and none stood by the beach gazing dreamily, as we had imagined.They are more like Rajnikanth apparently, and only if you spend the day around there, you might be lucky to be graced by their presence. Also we later learned that you have to drive further down along the beach if you want to see the horses.

The drivable beach beyond Corolla

Even in absence of any horses the drive on the beach was a lot of fun as we had never done anything like this before. Inevitably our 4x4 got stuck in the sand at couple of points and our friend had to get down and push the car out of the sand while we made bad jokes and laughed at the hilarity of the situations.

Heading back we again had a fabulous lunch at a beautiful restaurant called Sunset Grille and Raw Bar, courtesy our friends. Do you see the pattern here ? He kept feeding us amazing meals all along the vacation. I had fried squids and a very good fish sandwich with fried flounder. Given all these wide food choices, all that Little Sis was happy to have is pasta and macaroni for all her meals. I must have done something wrong! I was very happy to see our friends' kids, especially their little daughter enjoying all kinds of seafood with much enthusiasm.

Day 4: We were back in Virginia and leaving for home in the evening. But of course we couldn't leave without tasting their famous blue crabs cooked in southern spices. Several frantic calls were made to the local fish stores in the town in search of crab and at one point it looked like I might have to leave without crunching on a crab shell. However an Asian store promised a fresh supply around 11 in the morning and while we waited bushels of crabs came in. The crabs were delicious though husband-man, big sis and little sis didn't even touch them. Me and the friends polished off a dozen crab among the three of us.

We returned late into the night,  satiated with the time spent in good company and good food. Spring Break was yet to be over and the kids being home meant, more snacks. These tartlets/quiche/whatever-you-call-them are super easy to make and if you have the stuffing ready, even a child can make them. They also are good finger foods at a party. With little imagination, you can make both sweet and savory kinds to please the crowd.

On the Day of your Grocery:
Buy Pepperidge farm Puff Pastry Sheets. I don't know if this brand is available in India but this is the only one I use.

On a Day when you have nothing else to Do: Make the stuffing.
The way I make the stuffing is the same way I make the stuffing for a fish croquette or a keema chop. Do everything as said in these recipes until the step where it says to shape the chop. For the Keema stuffing, do not put the keema in blender as in the keema chop recipe, a little bite tastes best in this stuffing.
Fish Stuffing
Keema Stuffing

To the  stuffing mix that you just made, add some grated parmesan and chopped up sweet peppers and mix. This is what you will stuff in your puffs.

On the Day you will make the snack:
 30 minutes prior to baking take out the puff pastry sheets and allow to defrost at room temperature. Take out the stuffing and keep at room temperature. If stuffing is frozen, defrost in microwave.

Now take a muffin pan and grease it.

Gently take out the pastry sheets and cut squares. Tuck in the square piece of sheet in each muffin cup. Cut another narrow sheet and place it in the same cup at right angles. So the idea is to have two pastry sheets in each cup, each offset a little. If you have mini muffin cups, then one sheet per cup is sufficient. You can do something like this.

Fill the cups with your stuffing.

Pre-heat oven to 400F. Bake these quiche/tartlets for about 15-20 minutes until they are golden brown. Cool and eat them hot.

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  1. Lovely .. I never had any doubt about your writing skill, food or travel, immaterial.. Ha hs
    Enjoyed.. Will look forward to more on your travel

  2. Write more of travel Sandeepa...of course with food!!

  3. Looked forward to reading this when I saw the post this morning. Very nice read! Thanks very much for sharing your expereince and all the info. We want more travelogue like this from you

  4. Wow beautiful post even advay had spring break his school started today & so my blogging too


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