Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Parmesan Polenta with Rosemary Mushroom Sauce

I've been wanting to recreate this appetizer from Bar Toto, my favorite restaurant in Brooklyn. It's been quite a while so I'm not sure if it's similar but it was just as delicious as I remembered.

Cook polenta according to package instructions (mine indicated a polenta to liquid ratio of 1:3) and pimp as necessary. Here's how I did it:
  • 3/4 c. polenta
  • 3/4 c. water
  • 3/4 c. milk
  • 3/4 c. vegetable stock
  • 1/4 c. shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 t. fresh thyme, chopped
  • salt & pepper to taste
Saute garlic and thyme in olive oil until garlic is slightly browned. In a seperate pot, bring water, milk, and stock (or any combination of liquid you prefer) to a boil, add polenta and remove from heat. Whisk constantly until smooth. Add in olive oil mixture, cheese, and s&p. Immediately pour into a 9x9 inch glass plan, allow to cool and refrigerate until set. When ready to serve, cut into slices for serving. Coat a pan with cooking spray and cook polenta over medium heat, about 5 minutes on each side.

Rosemary Mushroom Sauce

I stumbled upon a box full of humble white mushrooms at my neighborhood verduleria and aspired to turn them into something spectacular. And so I did...
  • 250 g. (1/2 lb) mushrooms, chopped
  • 1-2 T. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 1/2 c. vegetable stock
  • 1/4 tsp. cornstarch dissolved into 2 T. water
  • salt & pepper to taste
Saute onions and garlic in olive oil until softened, 7-10 minutes. Add mushrooms and rosemary, stir every few minutes but allow these to slightly brown (add a touch of olive oil if needed), about 7 minutes.

Add wine, stock, and s&p, simmer on low. After about 10 minutes, the sauce will reduce some, add cornstarch if desired. Allow most of the liquid to cook out. Serve on top of polenta slices.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Where's the B-12?

Earlier this year, my 9th year of being a vegetarian, my doctor discovered that I was vitamin B-12 deficient. As a result of this deficiency, my feet (and sometimes hands) tingled constantly. So my doctor recommended that I take a daily B-12 supplement of 1000mcg plus a daily multi-vitamin. A month later, the tingling had nearly stopped and I now only feel it occasionally.

Vitamin B-12 is found naturally in animal products, though dairy contains significantly smaller amounts than meat. B-12 is needed for cell division and proper functioning of the nervous system (this is my tingle problem). You can read more about it here.

Duh! How could I have neglected to do my research?! The truth is, I never planned to be a vegetarian and I just began to embrace it recently. Somewhere between 16 and 17, I unknowingly cut out meat. First, it was beef - due to looking at a McDonald's hamburger. Then, I started to feel sick when I smelled chicken cooking. And eventually, I wasn't interested anymore and didn't miss meat. And so I became a vegetarian by default. I spent a lot of time being apologetic for my diet, and feeling guilty. Some of my family thought it was a phase that they hoped I would outgrow. My grandfather (a Baptist preacher) tried to convince me that it was unnatural and against the Bible. Holy Cow! And I was always told 'just pick out the meat.'

But in the last few years, I figured out how to cook vegetarian meals instead of just eating sides. And living in New York made it so easy for me to fit in. I no longer was told that I had to choose a restaurant where there would be something for me to eat. I could eat anywhere! It was nice that people didn't feel uncomfortable around me and it became a non-issue. And then I moved here.

I ran out of my B-12 supply and haven't been able to find any. The pharmacists are incredibly confused by my request and the closest thing they found was a B-complex vitamin - 30 days supply for 70 pesos. wtf?! I found a defense-complex vitamin at a dietica for around 23 pesos but with a minuscule percentage of my doctor recommended dosage. And so, my tingly feet and I will have to write home to Mom and ask her to send my special vegetarian vitamins for the freakshow that I am.

Of course, I could just eat a lot of eggs and dairy. According to this Wiki article, 10 eggs would provide a daily amount. yummers. I feel a lot of omelets coming on. Please let me know if you have any suggestions (or egg recipes)!

(image from

Monday, December 22, 2008

Something for Santa

In my silly little mind you can't have Christmas without cookies and other goodies that you deprive yourself of all year long. Determined to make it feel like Christmas down here, I spent a few days selecting and adapting my favorite recipes. In addition to classic Nestle Toll House and Quaker Oatmeal cookies, I whipped up a sugar cookie recipe passed down from my great-grandmother, a Paula Deen inspiration with an Argentine twist, and I attempted fudge for the first time ever.

Buttermilk Drop Cookies

These are classified by my family as sugar cookies, but they are cakey and taste very much like madelines.
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 227 g. margarine (grandma's recipe called for oleo), softened
  • 1 egg
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 1 c. buttermilk or 1 T. vinegar (or lemon juice) into 1 c. milk
Mix together flour, bs, bp and salt and set aside. Cream together the sugar and margarine, add egg, vanilla, and buttermilk. Slowly add flour mix and chill the dough for several hours. Bake at 190 C. on the top rack for 8-10 minutes. I used parchment paper to get that madeline-like edge but butter and flour a sheet pan if you want a thicker edge.

I made icing out of powdered sugar (available at Royal or cake supply stores) and warm milk and butter. In a small pot, I melted together probably 1 T of milk and 5 g. of butter, then added powdered sugar (stirring constantly) until I got the consistency I wanted and immediately smoothed it onto the cooled cookies.

The green sprinkles were a challenge. Colored sugar sprinkles aren't anywhere to be found so I decided to make my own to give the cookies Grandma's Christmas touch. I bought green paste at a cake store and was told to make dye by mixing equal parts of water and alcohol. I used a tiny amount of water and vodka to mix with an even tinier amount of paste. Then I dripped it over my sugar and meshed it together with my plastic wrapped fingers, and spread it out to let it dry. After it dried out and was all clumped together, I smashed it back into little crystals. Quite a process for a small detail!

Fudge with Walnuts
  • 350 g. Aguila chocolate (or any bittersweet/semi-sweet type), chopped
  • 1 can (395 g.) sweetened condensed milk
  • 30 g. butter
  • 140 g. walnuts, chopped

Place butter, condensed milk, and chocolate in a double-boiler or your makeshift version -- I placed a glass casserole bowl (with handles) in a heavy pot with about an inch of boiling water on low heat (don't let the water touch the bowl) -- allow the butter and milk to warm up and begin to stir the chocolate into the mix.

Continue stirring until completely mixed and smooth. Add nuts and pour into a 9x9 inch pan, allow to cool and refrigerate until completely set. I poured on a little melted peanut butter as soon as I poured it into the pan for just a touch of extra flavor.

I lined the pan with plastic wrap but it was still tricky to cut the fudge out. Next time I'll try parchment paper. I would also add a dash of salt and try a dark chocolate version as suggested by Nigella Lawson.

Paula's Pistachio Linzertorte Cookies
from Food Network

Oh. My. God. I love this woman. and her butter. These cookies were perfect for combining with membrillo for that Argentine twist. Her recipe is listed below but I made a half batch with some egg finagling and listed this alongside:
  • 3/4 c. butter, softened (or 85 g. if you're making half of the batch)
  • 1 c. powdered sugar (1/2 c.)
  • 3 egg yolks (1 1/2)
  • 1 1/2 c. flour (5 oz. for half)
  • 1/4 t. nutmeg (1/8)
  • 1/4 t. cardamom (I omitted)
  • 1 1/2 c. ground roasted and salted pistachios (3/4 c.)
  • Cherry Jam (I replaced with membrillo)
I found pistachios at a dietica, peeled about 175 grams, and ground them up in a food processor until the consistency was like crumbs. These were the priciest cookies out of the bunch.

Combine flour and spices and set aside. Beat butter and sugar on medium and add in yolks, followed by flour mixture. Stir in the nuts, cover and chill for a few hours. My dough was too dry so I added a little water to bring it together. Roll out dough 1/4 inch thick and cut out into desired shapes.

The bottom cookie should be full size, while the top cookie should have a hole. Bake at 160C on parchment paper for about 10-12 minutes. Spread the membrillo on the bottom cookie (I warmed it in the microwave to make it spreadable) and sandwich with the top cookie. Bake another 2 minutes.

Unfortunately, the holiday season is also swimsuit season here on the flip side of the world so I'm feeling really guilty about these indulgences as I pack for our trip to the beach. Fortunately, Christmas cookies are easy to give away.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The best investments ever

Okay, so I obviously haven't ever purchased Apple stock. But these really are lifesavers in the kitchen.

Magnetic Kitchen Timer - Saves all of my cookies. I brought this with me and I use it for everything I cook because I'm so freakin' forgetful.
$12 - Anthropologie

Oven Thermometer - Since my current oven only has 2 heat settings (big flame and little flame) I'm dependent on this little gadget. Now I can regulate the temperature with some door opening and fanning. weeeee!
25 pesos at a random store

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Do you know your Muffin Pan?

Tiny Apple Pies

Guille splurged to buy me a muffin pan (the aforementioned funny shaped one made out of blue silicone) so I'm baking everything I can come up with in it. I had a little leftover pie crust so I rolled out 2 circles (about 4 inches each) and fit each into a muffin cup.

Then I made a variation of apple pie, slicing up one apple and tossing it with a sprinkle of cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, flour, and a squeeze of lemon juice. This mixture filled up the 2 cups and I topped each with a mixture of flour, brown sugar, and butter and baked at 180C, 350F for 30 minutes.

These tiny pies were delicious topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and the crust to pie filling ratio was amazing. mmmmm.

Parmesan and Basil Baked Eggs

Late last winter I was wandering around Noho or Soho or someplace south of 14th street on a drizzly day. And somewhere I stumbled upon a french cafe and had the most wonderful brunch with a huge bowl of baked eggs and a good friend. And when we planned another brunch date there, we couldn't find the right spot. Sad times. But yummy eggs.

So this morning, on another gray and dreary day, I attempted my own version of muffin-sized baked eggs while Guille studied away.

Each muffin cup gets:
  • 1 large egg, organic is always more tasty
  • 1 T. milk (or cream)
  • 3 basil leaves, torn
  • 1 T, shredded parmesan cheese
  • sprinkle of salt and pepper
As a test, I greased only some of the cups. Since I have a silicone pan, I found that I didn't really need to do this, and the ones I greased ended up a little too chewy on the bottom. My advice for this kind of pan is to skip the greasing.

I put a little of the basil and cheese in the bottom of the cup, plopped in the egg, sprinkled with s&p, added the rest of the basil and cheese and poured in the milk. No need to mix. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 180C.

Next time, I'll want to add tomatoes and perhaps a stronger cheese.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Very Argentine Thanksgiving

The goal was to cook an authentic Thanksgiving feast for my Argentine friends. Quite tricky with the 90+ degree heat. Of course, I don't eat turkey, and they're few and far between here anyway, so here's what I was able to whip up. The recipes are traditional, but altered to fit available ingredients and could be of use to other ex-pats.

The Menu:
  • Green bean casserole
  • Scalloped corn
  • Stuffing
  • Hashbrown casserole
  • Dinner rolls (previous post)
  • Deviled eggs
  • Cranberry Sauce (I splurged on this - 11 pesos - found in the int'l foods aisle at Jumbo)
  • Apple pie
  • Baked chicken

Green Bean Casserole
  • 2 cans (350 g. each) green beans
  • 1 package Knorr mushroom sauce (for pasta) cooked according to package directions
  • dried onions to cover top (found next to the spices)
Mix beans with sauce in baking dish, bake at 180C for 30 minutes. Add dried onions on top and bake another 10 minutes.

Scalloped Corn
  • 2 cans (350 g. each) cream style corn
  • 3/4 stack saltine crackers, crushed
  • 48 g. butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cans (use the corn can) milk
  • dash of salt
Mix all ingredients together. Bake in shallow baking dish at 180C for 1 hour.

inspired by SimplyRecipes
  • 10-12 c. cubed day-old bread (I used french bread)
  • 2 c. celery
  • 2 c. onion
  • 85 g. butter
  • 2 green apples
  • 2 c. veg stock
  • 1/4 c. chopped parsely
  • 1 t. dried sage (salvia)
  • 1 T. fresh thyme (tomillo)
  • 1 T. fresh rosemary (romero)
  • 1 t. salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 T. apple cider vinegar
Melt half of the butter in a saute pan, stir in bread to coat and allow to toast. You may want to do this in a couple of batches if you don't have a super large pan. In a separate pot (dutch oven or non-stick pot would be ideal) saute onions and celery until translucent - about 10 minutes. Add vinegar, apples, herbs, s&p and bread. Stir in stock to moisten all of the bread. Cover and cook on low for approximately 30 minutes, adding stock as necessary. (Mine only took 30 min but it would take longer in a heavier pot.)

Hashbrown Casserole
  • 4 c. shredded potatoes
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 package Knorr mushroom sauce (for pasta) cooked according to package directions
  • 20 g. butter, melted
  • 2 c. shredded cheese (I used Sardo)
  • 1 large package Casan cream
  • Bread crumbs to cover top

Peel and shred approx. 4 potatoes. Squeeze out excess water using a dishcloth. Mix potatoes with onion, sauce, cream and half of the shredded cheese. Spead into a greased baking dish, top with cheese, bread crumbs and melted butter in that order. Bake at 180C for approx 45-50 minutes.

Apple Pie

  • All butter crust, refrigerated
  • 6 small apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 T. flour
  • 3/4 t. nutmeg (nuez moscada)
  • 3/4 t. cinnamon (canela)
Roll out half of the crust and place in pie pan. Mix sugar, flour, and spices together. In a large bowl, mix together water and lemon juice and add apples as you cut them. Drain apples and toss with sugar mixture. Add to pie pan.
Roll out other half of the dough and place on top. Pinch crusts together and cut slits in top. Brush milk on top and add sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 190C for 30 minutes.

Thanksgiving Part Two

After 10 guests on Thursday, we were running a little low on leftovers so we added the following dishes for family Thanksgiving on Friday.

Parmesan Mashed Potatoes
  • 5 baking potatoes, cubed and boiled in salted water until tender
  • 1/2 c. parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 c. veggie stock
  • 2 T. milk
  • 1 T. butter
Drain potatoes and immediately add remaining ingredients. Mash with potato masher. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Green Beans with Almonds
  • 3 cups fresh green beans, snapped
  • 1 small onion, sliced thin
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1/3 c. almonds
Boil beans in salted water for 10-15 minutes. Slice and toast almonds (I toasted these in a pan over low heat, flipping often, for 5 minutes but a toaster oven works well too.) Saute onions in olive oil until translucent. Drain beans and add to onion. Cover and simmer 10-15 minutes, until the beans reach your desired consistency. Toss with almonds and serve.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Pre-game

We're 4 days out but I had to get started on a couple of Thanksgiving necessities.

Cloverleaf Dinner Rolls
from Veggietable

These will be on my Thanksgiving dinner table, but for now they're in my freezer.
  • 1 package dry yeast (or about 2 1/2 t.)
  • 3 T warm water
  • 1 c. warm milk
  • 4 T (60 g.) softened butter + extra for brushing on top
  • 3 T sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 t. salt
  • 3 1/2 c. flour
  • drizzle of oil
Stir yeast and warm water together and let stand for 5 minutes. Use a hand mixer (low speed) to combine with milk, 4 T of butter, sugar, egg and salt. Slowly add in 2 cups of the flour and beat for 1 minute, then slowly continue to add the remaining flour. Turn out onto floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Roll into a ball and place in a large oiled bowl, turning to coat all of the dough with a little oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour in a warm spot. Punch the dough and knead back to the original size. Cover and let rise in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Divide into 36 pieces and roll into balls (slice in half, cut each half into 3 pieces, and cut each third into 6 pieces). At this point you can freeze until Thanksgiving! I went ahead and made a few to see how they would turn out.

Grease a muffin pan and add 3 dough balls to each cup. Cover loosely and let rise for an hour. Brush with a bit of melted butter. Bake at 375F, 190C for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned.

Vegetable Stock

Since stocks are necessary for most thanksgiving recipes, and it doesn't come in a can here, I went ahead and made about 6 cups. While celery is usually used, along with a variety of veggies, I didn't have any so here's what mine included today:
  • Half an onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Herbs (a sprig of thyme, a few leaves of rosemary, and a little floppy basil)
  • 1 old carrot, scrubbed
  • 10 asparagus stems (the ends that aren't suitable for eating)
  • 1 old zucchini
  • 3 leaves of not-so-crisp lettuce
  • 2 t. sea salt and a few shakes of pepper
In case you just think I'm gross, I'm encouraging you to use up any old veggies--there's no need to buy brand new vegetables for this. Use whatever you've got on hand. Dried herbs are fine too. Saute the onion, garlic, and herbs in a drizzle of veg oil for a few minutes then stir in the roughly chopped veggies. Add 8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for about 40 minutes and then strain. I believe that this freezes well but I think it will be just fine in the fridge for a few days too.

A New Best Friend - The Joy of Baking!

While the weather has been uncooperative with my baking needs, a few cooler days have enabled me to bake away! And where did I turn but to the Bible of baking -- otherwise known as the Joy of Baking. Here are some slightly altered (due to the inventory of my kitchen) versions that have made me feel at home lately.

Egg and Cheese Biscuits

I made half a batch of biscuits with the following:

1 1/4 c. flour
1/2 T. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1/2 T. sugar
1/4 c. (55 g.) cold unsalted butter
1/2 c. milk
1 egg, lightly beaten

Whisk together flour, bp, salt and sugar. Cut butter into cubes and blend into the flour--I used my floured fingertips--until crumbly:

Stir in egg and milk. (I gently whisked these together and reserved 1 T. for the egg wash) Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth (about 5 minutes). Roll dough to 1/2 inch thick and cut out 6 circles (I used a glass). If there is extra dough, (or you prefer to roll out thinner) make more circles and stack 2 tall (this is great for pulling the biscuits apart for sandwiches). Brush with egg wash and bake on greased and floured baking sheet (or use parchment paper) at 400F or 205C for 10-15 minutes.

Add a fried egg (lightly coat a pan with cooking spray, cook the egg over low to medium heat and flip after the bottom has cooked, adding salt and pepper to taste) and top with a slice of your favorite cheese!

Scones with Jam

Once upon a time a young girl went to Scotland with a broken heart. What made her smile again? Scones. It's just not possible to be sad with a scone in your hand...add jam and you'll forget everything.

2 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 c. (75 g.) cold unsalted butter
1 egg, lightly beaten (Optional - 1 egg for egg wash)
zest of a lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c. heavy cream + 1 T for egg wash
jam to taste

Whisk flour, sugar, bp and salt. Cut butter into cubes and blend into the flour until crumbly. Stir in the lemon zest. Combine cream, egg and vanilla and mix into the flour. (I didn't want to use an additional egg for the egg wash so I reserved a spoonful of the beaten egg). Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and knead 4 or 5 times. Divide dough in half and roll out each half into a circle about 8 inches round. Spread jam (1/4 c. per recipe) on one half and sandwich with the other half, somewhat sealing the edges. I used a great blackberry (rana) jam that I found for a good price at a dietica.

Cut the circle into 8 wedges (don't worry that the jam oozes out) and brush (I used my finger) with the egg wash--mine consisted of the spoonful of egg and about 1/2 T of cream. I baked these on a butter-greased and floured baking sheet for only 12 minutes because I couldn't keep my oven at a steady 190C or 375F. I've learned to stack 2 baking sheets together to keep the bottom from burning in my firey oven. I mixed a t. of sugar with the tiniest bit of warm milk, sprinkled on top and popped back into the oven for 2 minutes.

Old Friends

Not to be forgotten, these recipes are tried and true.

Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins
from SugarBar

When I first arrived in Rosario, I didn't think I would make these muffins again until I saw another American summer. Blueberries were incredibly expensive (18 pesos) but now they've gone down to just 5 pesos. So I jumped at the chance to make a familiar recipe. Next time I'm going to try to add in strawberries and raspberries to create a version of Ladybird Bakery's tri-berry muffin. But I have to start off slowly here, I created enough confusion with this simple blueberry concoction. Is it cake? dessert? merienda? when do we eat it? Poor Argentina, deprived of muffins and all things brunch. I'm here to help.

2 c. flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 c. butter, softened
3/4 c. superfine sugar (best but regular sugar will work too)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c. buttermilk (or you can use a substitute of 1/2 c milk and 1/2 T lemon juice)
1 c. blueberries, tossed lightly in flour

Whisk together flour and bp, set aside. Beat butter with sugar until creamy. Add a beaten egg to the milk and gently mix into the butter mixture. Add the next egg. Slowly add flour mixture and fold in the floured blueberries.

This is a lot of batter but it makes 6 supersized muffins. I used paper cups back home but I could only find a funny-shaped silicon muffin pan (with higher cups than normal) here so I buttered and baked directly in it. I must say that I had better results when I had superfine sugar, buttermilk, and a normal muffin pan but they still taste delicious, with gloriously crunchy tops, and remind me of a warm Brooklyn morning.

Start with oven pre-heated to 200C but drop to 190C when you put the muffins in. Bake for 25 min then reduce to 180C for another 5 minutes.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lunch Specials

Potato Tortilla

Work has calmed down quite a bit, which means I'm home for lunch. Tortillas are popular here and easily whipped up for a quick meal. These are also great for using up leftover cooked vegetables -- green beans, zucchini, sweet potatoes, asparagus, peppers, whatever!
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 medium potatoes
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1/2 red or green pepper
  • herbs, salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 c. shredded parmesan cheese
Dice potatoes and boil in salted water until al dente, drain. Saute onion and pepper with olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat. After a few minutes, add the potatoes and saute until they begin to brown (about 10 minutes). Whip the eggs with salt, pepper, herbs (we used a teaspoon of dried oregano), and most of the cheese (reserving a few pinches to sprinkle on top) and pour over the vegetables. Cook, allowing the raw mixture to seep under the set eggs by lifting the edges with a spatula. When it is mostly set, and before it gets too brown on the bottom, flip the tortilla onto a plate by covering and flipping the whole pan, then slide back into the pan and cook another few minutes until completely done. Top with more cheese.

Bowl O' Sushi
from 101 Cookbooks

Why didn't anyone think of this sooner?? Sushi is not in abundance here but this simple dish has all of the flavor. I made half of Heidi's recipe, though we're not stocked-up on so many natural ingredients, and it was perfect for 2. Here's what I ended up using:
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • grated zest and juice of half an orange
  • grated zest and juice of 1/4 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce + more for table
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar (I only had apple cider vinegar, but I would use brown rice vinegar, as suggested, if on hand)
  • 2 thin sheets (about 4"x4") extra-firm tofu
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced into strips
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
Guille convinced La Casa de Nicolas to sell us a block of tofu (not available at supermarkets) so we could have it on hand. Slice off a couple of sheets and set on a paper towel to dry a bit. Lightly spray a pan with cooking spray and fry the tofu on each side for about 5 minutes, adding a little salt and pepper. Remove from the pan and slice into strips. Put these back on the heat for a few minutes to brown the tofu on all sides.

Cook the rice (I use the standard method of 2 (water) to 1 (rice), bring to a boil, cover and simmer on lowest heat for 10-15 minutes). In a small pot, bring the juices and sugar to a boil for 1-2 minutes, then add the soy sauce and zest and boil for another minute. Mix the sauce into the rice and serve in a bowl, topped with the avocado, cucumber, tofu, and sesame seeds. Add a splash of soy sauce for more flavor.

You could also swap out the citrus dressing for soy sauce (perhaps mixed with wasabi and/or ginger) for a super quick lunch.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Desayuno, the last bargain in Argentina

When I first visted Argentina in 2005 (met Guille) and then again in 2006 (came back because he was so hot), the country was my playground. I didn't need to worry how many pesos I spent, even on a graduate student budget. Sadly, inflation has once again driven up the cost of everything in Argentina, while salaries lag behind. Now that I'm earning pesos, there's no way I would waste them on things of poor value. Forgetting the exchange rate (3 pesos to 1 dollar), let's say that prices are basically the same--if you would spend $5 on something, I would want to spend 5 pesos on it here. It doesn't work quite like that, most things are a little more expensive, but it's not far off. Three years ago, Gui and I would often go out for merienda (the afternoon meal -- think happy hour with coffee and pastries instead of beer) along with the rest of the country. This is a coffee from Havana, a popular cafe with delicious alfajores that's now out of our price range and caters to tourists:

A simple tostada (grilled cheese sandwich) costs between 9-15 pesos in various restaurants, add in coffee and you're looking at a hefty bill for a daily meal. A smoothie at one of our favorite spots more than doubled in price--we might as well have Jamba Juice shipped down. Even in New York I wouldn't have paid $9-15 for a sandwich snack, or $14 for a smoothie, so meriendas are now few and far between. But there is one traditional meal that's still affordable and delicious - breakfast!

There isn't a lot that can motivate me to get out of bed, but the thought of warm medialunas and their sticky sweetness causes me to actually move my ass. Desayuno (breakfast) typically includes cafe con leche, 2 or 3 medialunas (small, crusty croissants), a tiny glass of soda (sparkling water), and sometimes fresh squeezed orange juice. Being a value monger, I found the restaurant in my neighborhood with the best delicious deal--3 medialunas, coffee, oj, and soda for 5 pesos! It would cost nearly 3 times as much to have all of this in any restaurant for merienda.

The search is on for the best medialuna in Rosario. So far, I believe (and Tomas and Virgina confirmed) that Distinction is the winning panaderia. Guille holds Nuria in high esteem but we'll be seeking out smaller bakeries as well. The varying ingredient from bakery to bakery is the fat. Butter vs lard/shortening. Good thing my ass is moving, at least.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Vegetarian Penne alla Vodka

Oh yes, friends. The mother of all pasta dishes. I feel like I can check this off of life's to-do list. I'd been eyeing the bottle of vodka for a while, waiting for my opportunity to cook up this specialty and a small dinner party gave me the chance to create my own version. This dish is unknown here so I felt free to play with the ingredients. Argentineans often add cream to pasta as a sauce but I need a little more than that. I had trouble finding a vegetarian (not vegan) recipe so I tweaked a few to come up with the following:
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 1/2 T olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2/3 c. vodka
  • 1 c. tomato puree
  • A couple of tomatoes (canned, whole, peeled) chopped up a little
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 2 T milk (2% or less, as you prefer)
  • 1/2 t. salt + more for the pasta water
  • ground pepper or crushed pepper flakes to taste
  • a handful of basil
  • 1/2 c. cheese + extra for table (of the parmigiano-reggiano variety - reggiantio would be great and cheaper, we used sardo)
  • 400-450 g penne (1 lb)
Melt the butter and olive oil together over medium heat, add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes before adding the onion. Saute for 5 minutes (add red pepper flakes here and cook for at least 30 seconds) and add vodka (you probably want to take the pan off of the flame to avoid burning down the kitchen while you pour in the vodka), simmer on low for approximately 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. The mixture will get a little foamy and reduce by nearly half. Roughly chop and add a couple of canned, whole tomatoes and the puree, along with salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. It will look something like this:

You could stop here, cover the tomato mixture and continue when you're about 15 minutes away from serving time. Or just keep going... Add cream and milk (believe me, this is a smaller amount of cream than any recipe lists and it was just perfect. Simmer for 10 minutes while your penne cooks to al dente in salted water. Drain pasta and mix with sauce, cooking together another 5 minutes until the pasta is cooked to your taste. You may need to add a touch or water or a little puree. (You could also just fully cook the penne and then stir together with the sauce but it's really great if the flavor gets into the noodles.) Finally, mix in the cheese and serve, topped with shredded fresh basil.

Of course, this isn't figure friendly but I'm sure it's lighter than what I typically ate in restaurants AND it has all the flavor. This served 4 of us and was lunch for 2 today.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dinner for Two

This may look like a scene from a cheap hotel, but it's actually a bedroom picnic. I threw a vintage table cloth over our bed to keep out the crumbs and voila! Dinner and a movie in our pajamas. Luckily, veggie burgers have made it to Argentina (though not popular in restaurants) and my options are expanding. Yes, in typical white people fashion that's hummus again. This time we soaked 1/2 cup of dried chickpeas overnight and then boiled for 30 minutes and incorporated into the recipe.

In case you're interested in actually leaving the casa, here are a few vegetarian (or veg friendly restaurants) in Rosario that I've tried recently and recommend:
-Verde Te Quiero Verde -- Organic and reasonably priced, and fresh slices of homemade bread keep coming. Go early for lunch, it gets a little sloppy after the crowd. The vegetable and rice wok is delish.
(Palace Garden Shopping, top floor)
-La Casa de Nicholas -- Chinese take-out! A miracle, given the lack of ethnic food here. No fortune cookies though - I'll be searching for a recipe of these most-likely American concoctions. (Mendoza 937)
-Sana Sana -- A little pricey but at least someone in this city has figured out FLAVOR! (Alvear y Brown)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Weekend grilling & composting

We spend nearly every Sunday at Guille's family's weekend house in a little town called Funes. In typical Argentine fashion, we eat a ton of food followed by siesta. They've made a little room on the parilla for my vegetarian food too.

Provolone Cheese a la parilla

Add a little olive or vegetable oil and a sprinkle of oregano to a thick slice (about half an inch) of provolone cheese. Use a small pan to grill for about 10 minutes, until a crunchy crust forms.

Grilling veggies
This is what I've been eating recently. It's basically any vegetable rubbed with oil and grilled. If you have any other suggestions, I'd love to hear them. I'd would also add a variety of spices or something as simple as garlic salt for more flavor.

  • Asparagus - rub with a tiny bit of vegetable oil and salt, cook directly on the grill (keep turning) for 10 mintues.
  • Potato/Sweet potato - rub with a little vegetable oil and salt, wrap in tinfoil and grill for 30 minutes, turning every few minutes
  • Corn - Grill either in the husk (just a few leaves, with a bit of oil) or rub ear with a little oil and salt and wrap in tinfoil. Cook for 20 minutes
  • Onion - leave in skin, rub with a little oil and grill for 10-15 minutes (for a small onion) and peel
  • Butternut squash - slice into circles 1/2 inch thick, leaving the skin on. Rub with a little oil and salt, cook on the grill, turning every now and then, for 15 minutes.
A few months ago, Guille created a compost area (3'x3') in the backyard with yard waste (dried leaves). Now that its spring we toss in our peels, plant/flower trimmings, and other organic matter, then mix with the dirt (which is about 1 1/2 feet deep). We give it a good watering with the hose and aerate it (Gui taped a blade onto a pole--awesome) once a week. And the soil is already really rich and great for using as a base for new plants and flowers. We've kept it pretty simple but the U of I page is thorough and includes a list of items to leave out of your compost, like dairy and meat scraps. It isn't at all smelly and neither is our garbage can!

Sneak peak!
These little guys will soon turn into uvas (grapes!) fresh for the picking and squishing. And we may be making some Argentine wine of our own.