Archive for May 2010

Dia de Mercado

May 31st, 2010 — 6:53am

San Telmo Market

We had one of our usual slow starts to our day.  The rain had stopped and the sun was shining brightly for the first time we have been here.  It also turned out it was the perfect day to attend the San Telmo Market which occurs along Defensa from Plaza de Mayo all the way to the Boca district every Sunday.  We boarded the “Subte” again and off we went to Plaza de Mayo.

The market is really a cross between a flea market, an Easter parade, and a musical amateur hour.  You can find anything from key chains to antiques for sale.  The leather goods seemed to be the most useful things to purchase.  Most of them were handmade locally.  The street was also crowded with musicians ranging from a full tango band to lonely guitarists hoping you will buy their CD’s. And of course whenever you have a twelve block promenade of people all the ranks of society come out to look at each other.  Thankfully most of the people we saw were not of the tourist variety.

We also ventured by and eventually ate at a restaurant I had researched before we came down here.  Brasserie Petanque is noted for its French cuisine.  This being a city of mixed Europeans I wanted to try out some of the local translations of diaspora cooking.  The menu at Petanque could easily have been something right off the Champs Elysees in Paris.  I had my mind set on the rabbit in mustard sauce ever since I saw the menu on line.  Will had the rack of lamb which was grilled with some garlic, lemon and parsley.  Both of them were outstanding.  And the presentation was nothing short of magnifique! It was refreshing to see the attention to detail in the cooking.  Although the prices at first seemed a bit intimidating the bill was not the largest we paid since we have been here.

After the day at the market we made out way back to the apartment.  Around 9 PM we decided we should go out and get a little something else to eat.  All the restaurants around us close at 9 PM on Sundays so we stopped by a shop that was making empanadas and pizzas.  We order 2 cheese and ham, and 2 arroz con pollo empanadas for the ridiculous price of 12 pesos, or about $3, and took them home to consume with a nice bottle of wine.  After having the height of French cuisine in the afternoon, we finished our day with the lowly empanada, more commonly eaten by workers as a quick lunch.  We were no less satisfied with the empanadas.

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Un Dia Perdido

May 30th, 2010 — 8:24am
Cloudy Day, Buenos Aires

Cloudy Day, Buenos Aires

As the title suggests the excitement of the first two days was replaced by a heavy rain all day.  Not that we were going to set the world on fire anyway.  The night before we did not finish dinner until about midnight; I guess our Argentine transformation is complete.  And after cocktails, tapas, and a late dinner we poured ourselves into a cab and slunk back to the apartment flopping into bed around 1 in the morning.

We did not get out of bed until about 12:30.  With half the day lost and a steady cold rain we hung out in the apartment.  Will paced back and forth wondering what we were going to do all day while I researched museums to see which one might be of interest on a rainy day.  Unfortunately most of the museums here close early on Saturday.  So with no museums in sight I suggested we head down to a local restaurant I had seen the night before for a long lunch.

I have been using guide books to pick restaurants.  This has led to about a 50% success rate.  So I thought a random choice would be a good pick and El Timon turned out to be the best meal of the trip.  This is clearly not a tourist restaurant.  The menu contains an array of local specialties that did not show up on any of my internet searches; including mutton, lamb, every type of beef on the grill including all the organs, spare ribs, fried local cheeses and a few other things I still do not understand due to my limited Spanish culinary vocabulary.

We were the only non-locals in the whole restaurant which was populated with families, workers on lunch break and some shoppers from the antiques market across the street.  I can tell you that the array of foods flying by our table was astonishing. And our waiter, Javier, got so tired of me asking him “que es eso?,” that he just stopped by our table every time a new dish left the kitchen and gave us a bit of show and tell. Bless you Javier.

We stuck with some safe picks, Will had short ribs marinated in chimmichuri and grilled to a perfect medium rare (try that with ribs!).  I had a chicken milanesa stuffed with a thin slice of ham and cheese topped with a nice red sauce.  Will had something called “papas fritas provencal” which was a perfectly executed wedge cut french fry finished with some garlic, parsley, and salt.  Delicious.  I had the more traditional french fries which were just as good.  For dessert we had what was described as a very traditional Porteno offering of “queso dulce,” which was a slab of queso fresco, very similar to mozzarella, and a similar size slab of a jellied concoction of some type of fruit and honey.  Oddly enough it worked as a very nice, not too sweet dessert pairing.  Kind of like having the cheese and dessert course all at once.

Our two hours at El Timon was well spent.  And at about $30 for two demi-bottles of wine, two entrees, and a nice dessert, this was definitely the best investment we made on the trip.  When we arrived back to the apartment Will headed up to bed for a nap and I spent the rest of the afternoon (it was already 3 PM) reading while the rain poured down outside.  So it was not a totally lost day after all.

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Buen Dia Para Una Caminata

May 29th, 2010 — 10:14am

Obelisk in Buenos Aires

We had a late start to the day, following our late Argentine evening.  While I was getting ready I heard Will listening to the television.  He had it tuned to “Canal Musica” or the Music Channel and he was listening to the latest pop music in Spanish.  Despite the fact that he had no clue what the songs were about he told me that he really liked the latin music.  I had no idea his transformation into a Porteno (what the residents of Buenos Aires are called) would happen so quickly.

We ventured into the “Subte” or subway (please do not tell my mother, you are never supposed to take the subway in a strange place), and took the train to Plaza de Mayo which is the central hub for the government of Argentina.  I will not bore you with all the details, but in summary we saw the Casa Rosada (the equivalent to our White House except theirs is pink), ventured down Avenida de Mayo (which is reminiscent of the Champs Elysee except narrower), took in the Congreso (the equivalent of our Capitol building), wandered down Avenida 9 de Julio (arguably the widest avenue in the world, good luck crossing with one change of the lights), took in the Obelisco (pictured above), wandered down Corrientes (theater district and shopping), veered off into Florida street with the Galerias Pacifico (Gucci, Prada, Hermes etc.) wandered over to the Plaza San Martin, and finally all the way over to Recoleta and the Cementerio de la Recoleta, the cemetery where Eva Peron is buried.  I just got tired from writing this.

The cemetery is one of those places you really need to see to believe.  It is oddly reminiscent of Pompeii except the people in the Recoleta Cemetery wanted to be buried there, and the people of Pompeii had no choice but to be buried there.  Picture narrow streets lined with mausoleums capped with all sorts of ornamentation, from baroque to sleek ultra modern.  The mausoleum for Eva Peron (oddly she kept her maiden name Eva Duarte when she was buried) is one of the simpler mausoleums done in sleek black marble and adorned with flowers left by people who still adore her.  One of the more comical aspects of the mausoleums is that family members often leave their last memorials in statements cast in bronze attached to the outside of the mausoleums.  One of the more interesting ones was left for a prize fighter from his “tias” or aunts who proudly proclaimed that they were glad he finally made something of himself.  I guess in death all things are possible.

The only other thing of import to tell is that I think we have very quickly gotten into the rhythm of the city.  We wandered around our neighborhood a bit more last evening.  We are in a district that features antique furniture and many shops for furniture restoration.  There is an enormous variety of little markets that cater to different culinary specialties.  There is something soothing about seeing a beautiful ham hanging in the windows of shops.  And I had my first argument with a cab driver in Spanish, because I knew better how to navigate our neighborhood than he did.  But no hard feelings he apologized and I gave him a tip anyway.  Feels like home already.

1 comment » | Musings, Travel

Buen Dia en Buenos Aires

May 28th, 2010 — 7:36am

Palermo, Buenos Aires

We have made our way to Buenos Aires.  We have already been here for a day and experienced a walking tour through Recoleta and Palermo.  Although the weather was a bit hazy there was a lot to see along the way.  We will be returning to take pictures of the largest rose garden I have ever seen, which is part of the “Central Park” of Buenos Aires,  a series of large parks with incredible statuary, water features, and lots and lots of gardens.  We decided to save the Recoleta Cemetery and the grave of Eva Peron for a more sunny day.

We managed to eat a homemade pizza of sun dried tomatoes, nicoise olives and mozzarella, sprinkled with basil.  Surprisingly good since it came from the local grocery store.  We found a nice hole-in-the-wall bar in our neighborhood of Palermo Hollywood (apparently a lot of celebrities live here) by the name of Omm.  All the cocktails are made from fresh ingredients.  Since it was “Hollywood” I ordered a cocktail called “Glam,” a concoction of vodka, fresh lime juice, fresh peaches, and a peach liqueur whipped in a blender.  I am not usually a blender drink sort of person but when in “Hollywood”…It was delicious.  And so was the greyhound with freshly squeezed grapefruit.

For dinner we tried to hold out until the usual hour of 10PM, but fatigue and cocktails made us only hold out until 9:30.  We had out first night of beef from the parrilla, or wood-fried grill.  Bife de chorizo, or rump steak, seems to be their national dish, so we had to have that.  Along with a nice Argentinian cabernet, for which we splurged and spent $20.  For the steaks we spent about $9.  Hard to pass that up.

We are having technical difficulties so I will have to share our pictures with you a bit later.  Will is out having a breakfast of coffee and toast on the balcony of our penthouse apartment looking out over the “Hollywood” of Argentina.  The place already feels like home.  One good reason to give thanks for floating currencies.

Ciao for now.

1 comment » | Musings, Travel

Food and Places

May 27th, 2010 — 8:00am

Rigatoni alla Vodka

I have traveled to and lived in a few places in my life.  And those food associations we make in our mind always seem to be infallibly true.  You know, like pizza in Naples, salami in Genoa, cheese steak in Philadelphia, corned beef in New York, vodka rigatoni in Trenton…So you never heard of that one.  Well listen up or I’ll have Tony Soprano at your front door.

I used to live just outside of Princeton, New Jersey.  I have to emphasize outside because people there hate it when you say you live in Princeton and you really do not.  Because if you live in Princeton you will pay at least 50% more for your house just to have a Princeton address.  And there are really two Princetons.  There is the Borough of Princeton, which is where the namesake university is located, and there is the Township of Princeton.  You pay a bit extra to say you live in the Borough of Princeton even though the Township of Princeton completely surrounds the Borough.

Nobody in Princeton would ever be caught dead eating in Trenton, the capital of New Jersey, and a place more reminiscent of Hoboken or Jersey City.  However, the rest of us non-Princetonians would eat there all the time, especially in the plethora of Italian restaurants.  These restaurants all had two things in common.  They would all tell you that Merv Griffin ate there regularly and they all had vodka rigatoni on the menu (the more upscale places would call it rigatoni alla vodka). 

I know that Merv Griffin had a weight problem but I never knew it came from eating at all the Italian restaurants in Trenton.  The guy had more money than Donald Trump. Why would he drive all the way to Trenton from Atlantic City to have Italian food?  Could he not build a nice Italian restaurant in his casino?  Urban legends are what they are so we will believe that Merv Griffin actually ate at all these places in Trenton.

The fact of the matter is that I actually saw vodka rigatoni on all these restaurant menus.  So I can vouch for the fact that it was the city dish of Trenton.  There was not one iota of difference between all of the recipes even though each restaurant would tell you that they were the originator of the trend.  So I channeled the spirit of Merv Griffin and I made my own version of rigatoni alla vodka last night.  I made mine with some pancetta and some sun dried tomatoes as additions to the usual sauce.  This would not be cool in Trenton.  Do not tell anyone or I might get whacked.

3 comments » | Recipes

Ugly Tomatoes

May 25th, 2010 — 8:56am

The First Tomato

We have just begun the tomato harvest. The first one came off the vine looking more like a deformed basketball than a tomato. But if I have learned anything over the past few years it is that the sweetness of the tomato is proportional to its ugliness. Heirloom tomatoes have become all the rage due in large part to their meaty succulence in spite of their often ugly appearance. And while our first tomato was a beefsteak hybrid, its deformities seemed to indicate something special about its flavor. It turned out to be a very meaty sweet tomato which we paired with some fresh mozzarella and some basil.

Mystery Squash

The rest of the garden is just getting to the point of rapid fruit production. We have had a couple of Japanese eggplants and a couple of summer squash. But there is enough miniature fruit in the process to keep us in vegetables for a few months. We also had some uninvited guests, not of the bug variety, but of the vegetable variety. It seems that some seeds were present in our compost when we spread it on the garden. As a result we have a couple of varieties of squash we cannot identify as well as one variety of cucumber which as of yet is still a mystery as to its species. We have never eaten any squash that looks like these. How they got in the compost we will never know. If you know what they are let me know!

A Hopeful Garden

As for the ugly tomatoes, we will be knee deep in them soon enough. I think our composting yielded enough material for them to thrive this year. After our disaster last year I was a bit leery of even trying them again. But those little bitty plants I showed you several weeks back have turned into a forest of beefsteak, plum, cherry, and grape tomatoes. Looks like some good cooking coming up.

Tomato Jungle

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Vino Italiano

May 23rd, 2010 — 8:00am

Chianti and Valpolicella

This is my first post about wine. You may wonder why it took me so long to write about something I consume daily. The reality is that I tend to stick with wines that I like and that are reliably produced in the same manner year after year. I also am hard pressed to justify spending more than $15 on a bottle of wine that I drink on a daily basis. I have eaten pizza with a Chateau Lafite Rothschild, but I was young and naïve then. If the $100 bottle of wine was all you had on hand you drank it.

My other worry about price is that it is not always a good indicator of taste. How many times have you splurged on that $50 bottle of wine only to find out that it was about as good as the $10 bottle of wine you had the night before? For me this happens all too frequently. Relying on the food and wine magazines is usually suspect because the wines they recommend are often advertisers in their pages. How likely are you to give a negative rating to a wine that spent $30,000 to advertise in your magazine?

I have a new favorite food magazine La Cucina Italiana. My college roommate told me he had stopped his food magazine subscriptions except for this one. I just went ahead and added this to my list of reading without canceling any others. It is obviously about Italian food and wine. The photography is beautiful. The recipes seem reasonably simple if you can find a source for all the ingredients. The wine recommendations are always in a reasonable price range.

This month the magazine listed 25 Italian wines under $25 dollars. Interestingly the day after I received the magazine my wine store was having a one day sale of Italian wines. So off I went to see if La Cucina Italiana would be a better wine resource than most others.

I found two of the wines listed in the magazine; “Palazzo delle Torre,” Valpolicella, Veneto, 2006 by Allegrini, and “Nipozzano Riserva,” Chianti Ruffino DOCG, Tuscany 2003, by Frescobaldi. Both were memorable and worth the price.

Frescobaldi, "Nippozzano Riserva," Chianti Ruffino DOCG, 2003

We tried the Chianti first with the chicken and sausage burgers. I wanted to see how the wine would hold up with the spiciness of the meat. The wine provided its own spice contrast with anise and pepper notes. It had a nice body to it which held up well with the condiments on the burger. This was one of the best Chianti’s I have had in a long time. At $21 per bottle it was well worth the price.

Allegrini, "Palazzo delle Torre," Valpolicella, 2006

We then tried the Valpolicella with meatballs and a red sauce. I am not sure this was the best food paring but the wine was delicious regardless. La Cucina Italiana calls this a “baby Amarone.” It definitely has the richness of an Amarone with a much smoother taste on the palate. There were a lot of nice berry flavors. At $23 per bottle this is another to add to your list.

I guess, for now, I can rely on the wine recommendations of La Cucina Italiana. At least the small sampling that I tried turned out to be excellent recommendations.

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Two for One

May 21st, 2010 — 8:00am

Chicken and Sausage Meatballs

In order to conduct my recent burger experiment I had to buy a pound each of ground chicken and sausage meat. This would have yielded eight burgers. If the experiment did not turn out who would want to eat eight so-so burgers? If it did turn out the remainder would probably have ended up in the freezer only to be tossed out when I remembered them six months later.

I thought the mixture I was using seemed a lot like a meatball mix. So I halved the burger mixture and added some bread crumbs, tomato paste, and some mustard to half of the mix and formed them into eight meatballs. I put them in a tray in the refrigerator for later in the week.

Well, later in the week was last night. It turns out the mixture makes a very good meatball. Surprisingly the hot sausage in the mix really came through in the meatballs. The heat was not so evident in the burgers. I liked them none-the-less. If you are not a fan of spiciness I suppose you could substitute sweet sausage or reduce the amount of hot sausage in the mix. Either way, chicken and sausage meatballs are worth a try.

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Burger Alternatives

May 19th, 2010 — 8:50am

Chicken and Sausage Burger

I just finished reading the June issue of Food & Wine magazine. Its primary focus is on grilling with a short piece on “30-Minute Burgers.” The recipes sounded pretty interesting using everything except beef in the making of the patty. However, I noticed that the sauces used with the burgers seemed like they would have a whole lot more flavor than the actual burger.

Liking the idea of a burger for dinner as a nice change, I decided to combine two of the ingredients, ground chicken and hot Italian sausage, to make a different sort of burger. I know this breaks most of the rules about mixing different types of meat. I use ground turkey in my meatloaf instead of veal, and combine it with ground beef and ground pork. So this was not a big stretch for me. I used fresh parsley, basil, and oregano as the primary flavoring in the burger with a little bit of chopped onion.

The result was actually very good. The combination of the chicken and sausage was spicy but not overwhelming. The fresh herbs were a nice underpinning to the overall flavor. I topped them with a bit of melted mozzarella, lettuce, tomato, some fresh basil leaves and a bit more onion. Placed between two halves of a grilled onion roll the chicken and sausage burger turned out to be a nice dinner alternative on a hot night.

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Tired of Pasta

May 17th, 2010 — 8:00am

Italian Sausage with Sauteed Mixed Greens

I thought I had heard everything, until last night, when The Boss told me that he was tired of pasta. I am one of those people who would be perfectly happy having pasta for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I try to mix up the starches throughout the week so meal time will not get too ho-hum. So the declaration that he was getting tired of pasta kind of threw me off course as I had planned on making Italian sausages in a tomato sauce with pasta. Not very inspired, I know, but certainly something I can throw together without much thought.

Off I went to scoop up the remnants from the salad garden; a little bit of mustard greens, some Italian sorrel, a bit of spinach, a few leaves of arugula, and some sorry looking swiss chard. I sautéed the greens with some onion and a bit of garlic in some olive oil. The grilled sausage was cut into chunks and reheated with the wilted greens. And wanting to keep to an Italian theme I prepared some polenta instead of pasta.

The sausage with sautéed mixed greens was quite tasty. Paired with the sweetness of the polenta it turned into a very nice meal overall. I added some sautéed green beans to the plate, although they were the least interesting part of the meal. So when you get tired of pasta why not try some polenta? And when you want to skip the tomato sauce with your sausage some sautéed greens would be a nice alternative.

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