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)