Thursday, October 29, 2009

Y En Eso, Llegó El Verano

Two days ago I was still wearing fleece, and now my back is stuck to the wall because of the humidity, and my hair is just lovely. The side benefit of having all the doors open is that I can hear my neighbors screaming even louder than usual. I think there is a general difference in speaking volume in cultural terms-- not only between American and Latinos but between Argentines and the rest of Latin America. Our next-door neighbors in particular really seem to like to share their fights with the rest of the building, you know, make sure that we all know that los hijos son tuyos y me tienes que ayudar! (the children are yours and you need to help me!) As Felipe says, if a couple were fighting like that in Colombia (or I would assume in the states), they would be weeks away from a separation. Here no one seems to think much of it, but they make sure to tell Felipe that it´s not their fault that he has to practice, and why doesn´t he find somewhere else to rehearse.

In general, people seem to have shorter fuses here-- and they easily change from being very warm and friendly to extremely pissy, which can make situations very difficult to read. When we first moved into this apartment, the owner promised us that a refrigerator and dresser were going to arrive later in the week, and that she would open a door bolted shut between to of the rooms (something particularly helpful in wintertime, so you don´t have to go outside to get from room to room.) Weeks and weeks went by without a sign, and I finally decided to say something to her (you might thing it would make sense for the South Americans around here to take care of any confrontations, be it with landlords or cockroaches, but it´s definitely la gringa who does both). Well, to say she took it badly would be an understatement, though she did open the door for us, and promptly stormed out. I thought she was never going to talk to me again, and resigned myself to an uncomfortable relationship. But since that day, she has been nothing but sweet, and yesterday she told us she would be our garante if we needed one. In Argentina you can´t just go out and rent a normal apartment, you need a garantia, which is basically when someone puts their house up as collateral if you fail to comply with the rent contract. This makes it almost impossible for foreigners to rent under normal, that is to say inexpensive, conditions, and makes her offer an incredibly generous one.

I´ve heard Argentines give the bipolar weather here as explanation for this phenomenon more than once. I have no idea, but finally after all the heat and humidity the rain finally came, big warm drops, and we got into the cab and the cabdriver was singing Italian opera, and when we got to the milonga it was in one of those huge old houses with high ceilings and beautiful molding and red light and mirrors, and I was so delighted to be exactly where I was. Who´s bipolar now, I ask you?

And as far as not knowing your own brain goes, all I know is that I need to re-remind myself of the same things all the time.

Like that I really need to bring my camera with me more often, because how else am I going to remember that the girl in front of me waiting for the bus was wearing black stretch pants with white skeleton hands screen printed on to look like they were grabbing her butt?

And why do I cook things that I absolutely love and then forget about them for two years? Part of the purpose of this blog is so that doesn´t happen as much.

Therefore, to remind myself of how utterly pleased I was this week to be eating it, I´m putting my recipe for oriza, a wheat berry-sweet potato oven-baked dish that I got out of a library book years ago- I think it´s supposed to be Morrocan-Jewish- and it´s one of those things that I always want to make again immediately after it runs out the first time. Now I just need to recreate those skeleton pants...


adapted from Kitty Morse

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 big onions, finely diced

1 tsp. sweet Hungarian paprika

¾ c wheat berries, rinsed

2 cups water

1 tsp. salt

1 small sweet potato or batata, peeled and cut into ½ in. cubes

4 shallots, peeled (or use more garlic cloves)

4 garlic cloves, unpeeled

Preheat the oven to 325. Heat the oil in a cast-iron or other ovenproof skillet on med-high heat. Add onions and paprika and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and have started to carmelize just a bit. Add wheat berries and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Add water, sweet potato, shallots and garlic. Seal pan with foil and lid. Bake until berries are tender but chewy and, 2-3 hours. The garlic cloves will be squishy and the pulp comes out easily, so squish them with a fork or your fingers and throw out the husks, leaving the sweet garlic mush in pockets among the wheat berries.

Oriza es un plato judio-marrueco de trigo entero y papa dulce (o batata) que se cocina lentamente al horno.


adaptado de Kitty Morse

2 cucharadas de aceite de oliva

2 cebollas grandes, picadas chiquitas

una cucharita de pimentón

¾ de taza de granos de trigo entero, lavados

2 tazas de agua

una cucharita de sal

una batata chiquita, peleada y picada en cubitos de 1 cm.

4 ecshalotes, peleados (o usa mas dientes de ajo)

4 dientes de ajo, no peleados

Precalienta el horno a 160 º. Calienta el aceite en una sartén de hierro fundido u otra que se pueda meter al horno (que no tenga manga de plástico) al fuego medio-alto. Echa las cebollas y el pimentón y cocínalos, revolviendo cada tanto, hasta que se ablanden las cebollas y empiecen a caramelizar un poquito. Añade el trigo y sigue cocinándolo, revolviendo, por 2 o 3 minutes. Echa las 2 tazas de agua, la batata, los eschalotes, y el ajo. Cierra el pan con papel de aluminio y con la tapa encima. Hornea hasta que los granos estén tiernos pero al dente, 2-3 horas. Los dientes de ají estarán blandos y la pulpa saldrá fácilmente, así que apretales con un tenedor o los dedos y bota las cascaras, dejando pedazos de pulpa entre los granos.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pure Spider Oreos!

I used to get asked a lot why I moved down here, and the (simplistic) response of "to learn Spanish" always received a similar response, no matter whether I was talking with Argentines or other native Spanish-speaking foreigners: "but we/they speak terrible Spanish here!" I don't know about good/bad Spanish, I'm not such a big fan of talking about "purity" of language (nor of much else, though with drugs and the food supply I suppose it can be pretty important. I've always found the FDA's requirements of "no more than 8 spider parts per pound" a bit off-putting), and I get a little annoyed when Argentines tell me that British English is the "pure" form of English, which they all supposedly study here in school but that somehow produces an accent that sounds nothing like a British one. It is true, however, that in their own language Argentines use a ridiculous amount of lunfardo (slang), much taken from Italian because of the quantity of Italians that have immigrated here over the past century. There also seems to be a propensity for using words not heard in the Spanish-speaking world outside of Argentina. A factura is a pastry, although the word factura typically means invoice (Argentines use it for both...can you fax me the croissant for my croissants? Great thanks.) And although businesses called panaderias and lavaderias are found all throughout Latin America, the factureria, a place that makes facturas, is a distinctly Argentine invention, not to be outdone by the paraguerias (umbrella stores), colchonerias (mattress stores), and cuchillerias (knive-selling stores).

And certain people around here turned 30, though I don´t even know how it´s possible that I know people that old. I thought that by the time you were thirty you were supposed to have stuff more or less figured out with, I don´t know, a house and stuff (I think I also thought that 25 was the ideal time to have kids? Let´s just say, at least in my case, umm...) On a bit of a heavier note, sometimes I see people here in the hospitals who are, you know, 26, with 6 kids, and I cannot even begin to imagine it (and I´m seeing them in the hospital because they have HIV...)

But back to birthdays, a cake had to be made, and as the birthday person´s favorite two desserts seem to be cheesecake and brownies, it was not a very difficult thought process to decide to combine the two (nor was it original-- I had seen this ridiculous invention here).

And although it looks like a lot of work, it actually wasn't-- I hardly planned it well, and was rushing to get to a workshop in Varela, a township an hour and a half outside of the city (an hour and a half in bus, but worlds away-- the first time I went out there I asked the woman sitting next to me if she could tell me where to get off, and because I was afraid I would pronounce the name wrong I showed her the address-- to which she responded that she couldn't read. Oops. Slap myself on the forehead.)

At any rate, this cake is wonderful and the perfect kind of ridiculous for a birthday, and it was declared "the best cake I've ever eaten in my life," by Chako [really named Francisco, because he grew up in Chaco (don't even ask about the spelling inconsistency), a province in Northeastearn Argentina.] And it's not a lot of work, though I would definitely make the brownies the days before and chill them in the fridge before cutting them. And I would not substitute the oreos in the crust for anything else, I once considered using Argentine brand oreo-cookie like things, and I know some people like using chocolate wafers or teddy grams, but I really don't find the oreos to be substitutable here. And I definitely don´t find the rainbow birthday candles substitutable.

Brownie-Oreo Ridiculous Cheesecake

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For the Brownies:

2.5 oz. (70 gr.) unsweetened chocolate

6 Tbsp. (which is 3 oz. or 85 gr.) butter

scant cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 9-inch square baking pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides of pan. Grease foil.

Place the butter and chocolate together in a heat-safe bowl over a pan of simmering water (bain-marie; you want the water level fairly low so it doesn't touch the bowl above), stirring occasionally. When the chocolate is almost all the way melted, remove the bowl from over the pan and continue stirring until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sugar. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add flour and salt; mix well. Spread into prepared pan.

Bake 25 to 30 minute or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudgy crumbs. (Don´t overbake.) Cool in pan on wire rack. Remove brownies from pan, using foil handles.

Cool brownies, ideally in the fridge over night (easier to cut that way), then cut them into 3/4- to 1-inch squares for use in the cheesecake. Add cubes to cake batter as directed below.

For the Oreo Crust:

12 oz. crushed oreos [buzz them in a food processor briefly, leaving lots of chunky bits, or stick the oreos in a ziplock bag and, using a rolling pin, take out all of your aggression at the fact that this country somehow can´t have a functioning coin system on those ill-fated cookies. Or use wine bottle (try not to break it by banging too hard on the counter)..]

1/2 c unsalted butter (1 stick, which is 8 Tbsp, or 4oz, or 113 gr.), melted

1/2 cup granulated sugar

small pinch salt

Stir everything together and, using your fingers, press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-in springform pan. It won't be perfect and the sides will crumble a bit, just press the fallen bits in again and try to more or less evenly distribute the mass. Fill right away or chill up to 2 hours.

For the Cheesecake:

21 oz. (600 gr.) cream cheese, softened

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup granulated sugar

2 cups brownie cubes (from recipe above)

Make crumb crust as directed above. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Make the filling-- beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth and add eggs, 1 at a time, then vanilla and sugar, beating on low speed until each ingredient is incorporated and scraping down bowl between additions.

Fold brownie cubes in very gently and pour mixture into prepared pan. Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven 45 minutes, or until cake is set 3 inches from edge but center is still slightly wobbly when pan is gently shaken. Put in the fridge to cool at least 4 hours.

When completely cool, top with chocolate ganache:

For the Ganache:

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

2 ounces butter

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon sugar

Grind the chocolate into powder in the food processor, scald the butter and cream in a saucepan (or in a Pyrex cup in the microwave). With the machine running, pour the hot cream/butter mixture slowly through the feed tube onto the chocolate. Blend until completely smooth, stopping machine to scrape down sides once or twice. Add the extract and sugar and process until smooth. Spread over cheesecake while ganache is still warm. Chill until ready to serve.

Torta Ridicula de Brownie-Oreo Cheesecake

Adaptado de Smitten Kitchen

Para los Brownies:

70 gr. chocolate amargo (sin azucar)

85 gr. mantequilla

una tazita de azucar

2 huevos

1/2 cucharita de vanilla

1/4 cucharita de sal

1/2 taza de harina

Precalienta el horno a 180°C. Cubre un molde de 22 cm. con papel aluminio, extendiendolo encima de los lados del molde. Amantecar con mantequilla el papel aluminio.

Coloca la mantequilla y el chocolate en un bol seguro contra el calor en un baño maria (no quieres que el agua alcance el bol arriba asi que no pongas tanta agua abajo), revolviendo de vez en cuando. Cuando el chocolate este casi derretido, quita el bol del baño maria y revuelve el chocolate hasta que este completamente derretido. Echa el azucar y revuelvelo bien. Añade los huevos y la vanilla y revuelve. Echa la harina y sal, mezcalo bien. Unta la masa en el molde preparado.

Hornea por 25 a 30 minutos o hasta que metiendo un cuchillo en el centro salga con migas mojadas. (No los hornees demasiado.) Dejalos enfriar, despues sacalos del molde usando el papel aluminio.

Enfria los brownies, es una buena idea dejarlos en la heladera por la noche (ya que sera mas fácil cortarlos), despues picarlos en pedacitos de 2 cm. Echalos a la masa del cheesecake.

Para la Masa de Oreo: 

300 gr. (3 paqueticos, si comes una o dos de las galleticas..) oreos aplastadas [muelelas en la procesadora brevemente, dejando muchos pedazos grandecitos, o coloca las oreos en una bolsa de plastico y, usando un rodillo, saca toda tu rabia por el hecho que la ciudad no puede tener un sistema de monedas que funciona y usala contra las pobres galleticas. O usa una botella de vino (trata de evitar quebrarla por pegarle demasiado duro al superficie)...]

1/2 taza (113 gr.) de mantequilla, derretida

1/2 taza de azucar blanca

una pizquita de sal

Mezcla todo junto y, usando los dedos, presiona la mezcla hacia el fondo y los lados de un molde desmontable de 22 cm. No va a estar perfecto y los lados van a caer un poquito, solo presiona los pedazitos otra vez y trata de crear una distribucion nivelada. Llenala con la masa de cheesecake inmediatamente o dejala en la heladera hasta 2 horas antes de llenarla.

Para el Cheesecake:

600 gr. queso crema (yo uso Finlandia)

4 huevos grandecitos

una cucharita de vanilla

una tasa de azucar

2 tazas de cubitos de brownie (desde la receta arriba)

Haz la masa de oreo. Precalienta el horno a 180°C.

Haz el relleno de cheesecake: Bate el queso crema hasta que este suave y incorpora los huevos, uno por uno, y despues la vanilla y el azucar. Batelo bien pero trata de no incorporar tanto aire a la mezcla asi que si estas usando una batidora usalo a velocidad baja.

Añade los cubitos del brownie (si quieres que los pedazitos se quedan intactos, incorporalos muy suavemente), y echa la mezcla a la masa de oreo. Hornea la torta por 45 minutos, o hasta que este cuajada alrededor pero todavia se mueve en el centro. Dejala enfriar en la heladera por lo menos 4 horas.

Cuando este completamente enfria, echa la salsa de chocolate encima:

Para la salsa de chocolate:

85 gr. chocolate semi-amargo, picado

50 gr. mantequilla

1/4 tasa de crema de leche

1/2 cucharita de vanilla

una cuchara de azucar

Calienta la crema de leche y la mantequilla en una olla chiquita. Cuando esten a punto de hervir, echalas a una batidora donde ya hayas colocado el chocolate y el azucar. Batela hasta que este completemente suave, y despues echa la vanilla y batela otra vez. Por otro lado, si tienes una batidora de inmersion puedes hacer esto pero quitando la olla del fuego despues de calentar la mantequilla y la leche, echando el chocolate y el azucar alli, y batiendola alli en la olla hasta que este suave. Despues echa la vanilla y batela otra vez. Cuando la salsa este tibia pero no fria echala encima de la torta cuando esta ya este fria. Devuelvela a la heladera otro ratico, hasta cuando la vayas a servir.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

To Last Me 'Til Next Year

There have been lots of passing of epochs lately here, whether formally marked, acknowledged, or not. September 21 was the first day of spring here, which is actually fully celebrated (it`s also el dia del estudiante, so no one has class, and the parks are filled, and I mean filled, with kids). Rosh Hashanah came and went, and now Yom Kippur. One of the common occurrences being a foreign student (and having foreign student friends) is that there tends to be a lot of mobility, there´s always someone going back to their home country, or arriving anew, or someone's cousin´s friend just moved here etc...A Colombian friend, a pianist, is returning indefinitely to Colombia after not having been home in almost 2 years, and Saturday night there was a surprise goodbye party involving lots of beer and Colombian folk music played with upright piano and double bass (not a very typical combination, but you do what you can.) After a drizzly windy 5 o'clock in the morning return journey (read: freezing) certain people didn´t get out of bed until 3:30 in the afternoon (the day was made, made to stay in bed) although they had invited the pianist and his lovely girlfriend over for a goodbye 3. Luckily the party didn't end until 9 in the morning [we were super flojos (wusses) for leaving at 5], so no one was exactly raring to go. In the end it turned into a very late lunch/pre-Yom Kippur dinner (for the Jew), and I ended up so full I don't think I'm going to need to eat for the next two days anyway, which I blame, oddly enough, on a lemon tart that managed to taste ridiculously of butter, though it really didn't involve anymore than any typical recipe that I would tend to make. My mom used to always make us a bunch of lasagna right before Yom Kippur, my dad would eat half (if not a full) pan, and we would all end up satisfied, that is until we returned from Kol Nidre and I would become sharply aware of the long, dark 20 hours ahead of me. But after this meal I seriously think lemon tarts, while not particulary Jewy or traditional in any way, may be the way to go.

Does this look like spring to you? Not quite, but apparently we´re getting there...on the other hand, this is one of the coolest hospital facades I´ve seen...even the barred windows look classy.

Along with the ridiculous lemon tarts, I also made some chocolate cookies that, though pretty rich tasting, go down much lighter. I love them, everyone always loves them, and they´re pretty much the easiest cookies you could possibly make-- I say this because there is no creaming of butter, which I really think sometimes is an issue, especially for those of use who don't have mixers, and there are no eggs. They also use cocoa powder, which frankly is much cheaper than melting down chocolate and mixing it with the butter, and they seem to stay chewier for longer.

Cocoa Cookies

Adapted from Orangette, adapted from Alice Medrich

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (000)

1/4 tsp. baking soda

small pinch salt

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup light brown sugar (or mix 1 cup granulated sugar with 1 tsp. molasses to account for all of the sugar in the recipe)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I´ve had some terrible experiences with cocoa powder in Argentina, mainly because it´s mostly sold in bulk so you don´t know what you´re getting beforehand. I mix a bit with equal parts sugar and a bit of water, and if it tastes kind of like dirt, well, I throw it out...not such a big fan of dirt-flavored cookies. Muddie buddies, on the other hand, I would totally go for right now...)

1/3 cup plain yogurt, preferably not low- or nonfat

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate, I like bittersweet but I've seen chocolate toffee candy bars chopped up and thrown in to good results as well, so it's flexible...walnuts might be good too...kind of like a calmer brownie with walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (Do I always do this? No. I almost never have parchment paper. Sometimes they stick...not terribly, but they do. It's up to you whether you feel like dealing with it, and whether you want picture perfect cookies.)

Heat the butter until just melted. Add the sugars and the cocoa, and stir well to break up any lumps in the cocoa (you can sift the cocoa first to avoid this if you want.) The mixture will be somewhat thick and pasty, like wet sand. Add the yogurt and vanilla and stir to mix thoroughly. Sift the flour with the salt and baking soda into the bowl with the chocolate mixture, and stir everything together just until it´s combined. Add the chocolate chips and stir to incorporate. Drop the dough by generous tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheet. The cookies spread a bit so leave space, an inch or two, in between them. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes (rotate the sheet at 5 minutes so they cook evenly), or until the tops of the cookies have crackled slightly and look set. Transfer the sheet pan to a wire rack, and cool the cookies on the pan for 10 minutes. Transfer them to the rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough. Makes about 20 cookies.

Unas de las galletas mas faciles hacer, y a todos les encantan. No hay que preocuparse por incorporar aire a la mantequilla, y ni siquiera llevan huevo. Ademas llevan cacao, que es mucho mas barato que chocolate derretido con la mantequilla, como se hace en muchas recetas de galletas de chocolate, y parece que quedan masticables por mas tiempo.

Galleticas de Cacao

Adaptado de Orangette, adaptado de Alice Medrich

una taza de harina de trigo (tipo 000)

1/4 cucharita de bicarbinato de soda

una pizquita de sal

4 cucharadas de mantequilla

2/3 taza de azucar blanca

1/3 taza de azucar rubia (o 1/3 taza de azucar blanca mezclado con una cucharita de melao)

1/2 taza de cacao amargo (sin azucar...a ver, en Argentina he visto una diferencia de calidad y esto depende del lugar. Yo compro el cacao en las dieteticas, donde no hay marcas y lo venden suelto, asi que diria que tienes que probar el cacao, mezclalo con la misma cantidad de azucar y un poquito de agua, y si no tiene buen sabor asi, botalo...por ahi se encuentran unos que tienen saborcito de tierra...y asi sabran las galleticas)

1/3 taza de yogur natural (sin azucar, entero)

una cucharita de vanilla

½ taza de chips de chocolate o chocolate picado, a mi me gusta el chocolate semi-amargo aca pero se puede usar cualquier tipo de chocolate o pronto nueces, seria como un brownie mas suave con nueces

Precalienta el horno a 180°C. Cubre una bandeja con papel de hornear (La verdad es que no lo hago siempre...casi nunca tengo papel de hornear en casa. A veces se demasiado, pero si, pegan. Es una cuestion de molestias...¿comprar el papel, o tener galleticas pegaditas y menos perfectas?)

Calienta la mantequilla hasta que este justo derretida. Añade los azucares y el cacao, y mezclalo bien para romper grumos que esten en el cacao (puedes tamizar el cacao antes para evitar eso si quieres). La mezcla estara espesa y pastosa, como arena mojada. Echa el yogur y la vanilla y mezclalo bien. Sobre el bol que tiene la mezcla de chocolate, tamiza la harina junto con la sal y bicarbonato de soda y mezcla todo solo hasta que este combinado, no te excedas revolviendolo. Echa los chips de chocolate (o cualquier otra cosa que quieres echar ahora), y revuelve.

Coloca bolitas del tamaño de una cucharada en la bandeja preparada. Las galletas van a crecer entonces deja por lo menos 3 cm entre las bolitas. Hornealas por entre 9 y 11 minutos (voltea la bandeja a los 5 minutos para que cocinen uniformemente), o hasta que las superficies se vean un poquito rajadas y no tan humedas. Translada la bandeja a una rejilla de enfriamiento y dejalas enfriar por 10 minutos. Sacalas con una pala y transladalas a la rejilla para terminar de enfriar. Repita el proceso con el resto de la masa. Rinda alrededor de 20 galleticas.