Sunday, April 25, 2010

From Afar

It got cold again. I feel like I complain about this a lot, but it's rather striking the way it happens here. One day, t-shirt weather. The next day, full on wool winter jacket and scarf. We made churros and hot chocolate. I´ve never made churros before, but man what a great invention. They´re one of the cheapest, fastest, and most satisfying snacks I´ve had in awhile, especially coming in from miserable early-evening early-winter drizzle (I was not pleased with the situation, as if that wasn´t already abundantly clear.) I tried to buy a star-shaped pastry tip to make them with, but three stores told me that they were out and were expecting a shipment the next day. I should have known better, but I went back to check the next day (all three stores are more or less in between my work and my house). Suffice it to say, we made churros without the star tip.

They were great anyway.

Before it got cold, when it was still Indian summer-y (is that still an acceptable term?) we went out to Tigre for the day. Tigre is two things: a municipality and a river. The river goes through the municipality, and turns into a delta with lots of small islands, only accessible by boat or catamaran. A friend of mine lived alone on one of these islands for a 6 month period once, getting supplies from the floating stores that pass by. When the weather is nice, the riverbanks fill up with groups of people drinking mate and lying in the sun.

The train from Retiro, one of the main transit centers of Buenos Aires, takes about an hour. You start seeing sprawling country homes and greenery and you begin it would be great to live out much calmer, so much prettier...the commute´s not even that bad, I could handle it...which is a total lie. Tigre, and many of the neighborhoods leading up to it, is beautiful. But an extra hour and a half of sleep every morning...who am I kidding. And the crazy crowded commute on winter mornings? Tigre and I are going to have to remain lovers from afar.

And before it got cold I made peach jam, from a recipe from another lovely place far, far away-- Big Sur, California-- which experiences equally drastic weather changes except they happen daily, the second the sun sets. It´s lovely, lovely, not-too-sweet but very brightly peachy stuff. It will have to last me for awhile. I can only claim that churros are an adequate breakfast and/or merienda (afternoon snack) every so often, and I have a good 4 months to go.

Peach Jam
      adapted from Big Sur Bakery

1 c. (200 g.) sugar
zest and juice of 2 oranges
½ vanilla bean, halved and seeds scraped, or 1 tsp. natural vanilla extract
4 c. ½ in. diced, peel-on, peaches (about 2 pounds whole)

In a medium size pot and using a wooden spoon, mix together the sugar, orange zest and juice, and vanilla bean and seeds. Place a candy thermometer in the pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook for a few minutes, until it reaches 220ºF. Add the peaches and boil, stirring occasionally, until the peaches turn into a thick jam and the thermometer returns to 220ºF, 35 to 45 minutes. If you don´t have a thermometer, you´ll know it´s almost ready when the jam begins to stick to the bottom of the pan. At that point keep stirring for another 5 min., making sure it doesn´t burn. Remove the vanilla bean. Transfer the jam into sanitized glass jars. Put their lids on and let cool. Store in the fridge, and eat for breakfast with bread and butter and a big bowl of cafe con leche. (If you want to keep them outside of the fridge, you need to follow the canning sterilization process.)

Mermelada de Durazno
      adaptado del Big Sur Bakery

1 taza (200 g.) de azúcar
la cascara rallada y el jugo de 2 naranjas
½ vaina de vainilla, partida por la mitad y con las semillas sacadas con un cuchillo, o 1 cucharita de extracto de vainilla natural
4 tazas de duraznos, en cuadritos de 1 cm., con cascara (aprox. 1 kilo)

En una olla mediana con una cuchara de palo, mezcla el azúcar, la cascara y el jugo de naranja, y la vainilla y sus semillas. Si lo tenes, coloca un termometro para golosinas en la olla, y ponla sobre un fuego mediano. Ponla a hervir por unos minutos, hasta que el termometro indique 105ºC. Écha los duraznos y deja la mezcla hervir, revolviendo cada tanto, hasta que se espese y se vuelva a una mermelada espesa, y el termometro vuelva a registrar 105ºC, 35-45 minutos. Si no tenes un termometro, cocinalo hasta que la mermelada empiece a pegar al fondo de la olla. Cuando ya haga esto, segui revolviendo constantamente durante 5 minutos mas. Quitala del fuego y transladala a dos tarros de vidrio sanitizados. Tapalos al vacío, espera que se enfrien. Guardale en la heladera, y come en el desayuno con pan y mantequilla y un pocillo grande de cafe con leche. (Si queres guardarlos afuera de la heladera, tenes que seguir el proceso de sanitización.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Torta de Pera Volteada para Claudia Marcela

On Sundays in Buenos Aires, the parks and squares around the city fill up with groups of families and young people. Hawkers sell pan relleno from wicker baskets, artisans sell jewelry from hippy-patterned blankets spread out on the sidewalk, and there are often drum circles and free performances. Today in Parque Chacabuco we saw a great performance by an independent modern dance group which was just so Argentine, using traditional Chacarera music with dramatized fighting between men and women (couple drama being the national pastime after soccer)...keeping in mind these were highly trained, gorgeous dancers with beautiful bodies and artsy/hippyish was like a big swig of all the beauty and craziness Argentina all in one gulp.

Everyone brings with them to the park their mates (the vessel you drink out of), thermos and yerba mate(the herb), and probably some cookies or facturas. Or, if you have an American friend, upside-down cake, which wouldn´t you know is perfect to bring to the park on a Sunday to drink with mate? We´ve gone through 2 in the last 10 days. My friend Claudia had a lot to do with the astonishingly quick rate of disappearance of the first one, so we made it together again later this week. If maté´s not your bag of tricks, it´s also great with coffee for breakfast or merienda (teatime-- the fourth meal that we are sorely lacking in the states if you ask me.)

Pear Upside-down Cake for Claudia Marcela

For the pears:

½ c. brown sugar (or white sugar mixed with 1 tsp. molasses)

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter (do not use margarine, Claudia Marcela)

pinch of salt

3 ripe pears, peeled, cored, and cut into wedges (8-12 wedges per pear)

For the batter:

½ c. (1 stick or 113g.) unsalted butter

1 c. granulated sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

¼ tsp. natural almond extract

1 tsp. natural vanilla extract

1 ½ c. all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

pinch of salt

½ c. milk, room temperature

In a cast-iron skillet over med-low heat, melt the sugar and butter with a pinch of salt, stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved. (If you don´t have a cast-iron skillet, you can do this first step in a skillet and then pour the hot mixture into the bottom of a 9 in. cake pan.) Swirl to coat the bottom and remove from heat. Arrange the pears in concentric circles over the sugar, completely covering the bottom.

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt together.

Preheat the oven to 350º F. In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well. Beat in the almond and vanilla extracts. Add a third of the flour mixture, stirring gently until it´s incorporated, then add in half of the milk, mixing gently but thoroughly. Continue alternating between the flour and the milk, ending with the flour, mixing gently but thoroughly each time.

Pour the batter over the pears, mainly in the center (I seem to think that the cake sticks less to the sides if the batter gets there on its own.) Spread the batter a bit, but don´t worry too much because the heat from the oven with help to even the cake out.

Bake for 40 min., rotating the cake after the first 20 min. (so the cake bakes evenly- most ovens have hot spots.) The cake is done when a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Run the knife around the edge of the cake. Place your serving plate face down on top of the cake and turn the skillet over in one swift motion. The cake should come out easily. If any pieces of pear stick to the bottom of the skillet, just put them back into the spaces they fell out of from the cake.

Torta de Pera Volteada para Claudia Marcela

Para las peras:

½ taza de azúcar rubio (o azucar blanco con una cucharita de melao, o con una cucharada de panela para cumplir la media taza)

4 cucharadas de mantequilla (no margarina)

una pizquita de sal

3 peras maduras, peladas, sin las semillas y partidas en julianas gruesas (8-12 julianas cada pera)

Para la masa:

113 g. (½ taza) de mantequilla, a la temperatura ambiente

1 taza de azúcar blanco

2 huevos, a la temperatura ambiente

¼ cucharita de extracto de almendras natural (por lo cual, Claudia hizo una carita de asco...pero al probar la masa, se dio cuenta que el sabor no se identifica justo como almendras pero da el toque extra...igual si no lo tenes, podes reemplazar el extracto de almendras y el de vanilla con un chorrito de cualquier licor con sabor que te guste...o sino podrías echar una cucharita o dos de especias como canela o cardomomo, pero mezclalo con la harina y los otros ingredientes secos)

1 cucharita de extracto de vanilla natural

1 ½ taza de harina de trigo blanco (tipo 000)

2 cucharadas de polvo de hornear

una pizquita de sal

½ taza de leche, a la temperatura ambiente

En un sarten de hierro fundido sobre fuego medio-bajito, derrita el azúcar con la mantequilla y la pizquita de sal, revolviendo con una cuchara de palo hasta que se mezcle bien. (Yo uso este sarten porque lo puedo meter al horno. Si no tenes uno que se pueda meter al horno, haz este primer paso en cualquier sarten y luego pasa esta mezcla a un molde redondo o refractaria de aprox. 22 cm. diametro. Si usas otro que no sea de hierro fundido, coloca papel de hornear al fondo del recipiente para que no se te pegue después la torta. Enharinar el molde no sirve por el azúcar que vas a echar allí.) Esta mezcla debe quedar bien distribuida sobre todo el fondo del recipiente que vayas a usar para meter al horno. Si esta mal distribuida, mejor recalentar la sarten que tratar de distribuirlo con la cuchara, asi se hace grumos. Coloca las peras (peladas en julianas) distribuidas en circulo encima del azúcar, cubriendo el fondo del recipiente.

Mezcla la harina, el polvo de hornear y la sal juntos.

Precalienta el horno a 180º C. En un bol grande, bate el azúcar con la mantequila hasta que este bien incorporados y la mezcla este más blanca (en este punto, ya no deberías sentir los granitos de azúcar). Echa un huevo y sigue revolviendo la mezcla hasta que se incorpore completamente. Echa el otro huevo, y continua batiendo. Echa los extractos de vanilla y almendras (o lo que tengas). Echa 1/3 de la mezcla de harina al bol, revolviendo suavamente hasta que la harina este bien incorporada. Echa ½ de la leche, y revuelva otra vez suavamente hasta que este bien incorporada. Repite con la harina otra vez, despues la leche, y termina con la harina. Echa la masa encima de las peras-- deja la mezcla caer mas en el centro de la sarten que por los lados (con el calor del horno, ella se expande hacia los lados sola). Hornéala durante 40 minutos. Después de los primeros 20 min., voltéa la sarten 180º (el horno siempre tiene un lado mas caliente.) La torta esta lista cuando introduzcas un cuchillo en el centro de la masa y éste salga limpio.

Mete un cuchillo por el perimetro del recipiente para asegurarte que salga fácilmente. Pon un plato, encima del recipiente (la refractaria, el molde o el sarten), y voltea la torta sobre el plato de modo tal que la fruta, que no era visible mientras la torta estaba en el sarten, quede ahora visible. La torta debería salir del recipiente sin problema. Sí te quedan pedacitos pegados al fondo de fruta, simplemente recolocalos encima de la torta.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Things that make me happy right now:
-A Mover El Culo (we of course have our version, Mystikal's Shake Ya Ass, but I am pretty sure I was the only one who found this funny when I put it on afterwards at a recent party...I think they were more horrified at the video than focused on the translation of the lyrics...)
-breakfast Argentina! oh I am so not even kidding...after several failed attempts, I've got the flour ones down, and I just found out the Mexican embassy sells corn mornings have just been improved exponentially
-Ryuichi Sakamoto's Casa album...goddamn is it beautiful
-late afternoon Quilmes and maní (peanuts) outside on the "terrace" (really the outside steps going up to my housemate´s room)
-1.5 kilos (3.3 lbs.) of chicken wings for 2.70 pesos (about 75 cents)
-vanilla bean pudding...that´s sort of a lie, actually, given that I have a long term running obsession with all kinds of puddings, which seems to leave me open to getting made fun of an awful lot. Apparently a lot of people associate pudding with kind of icky childhood memories and general textural mushiness. I associate it with home and loveliness and my mom making milky chocolate pudding on the stove out of The Settlement Cookbook which is about 100 years old. I did learn (along with my poor sister, who may never recover from the experience) that making rice pudding with brown rice is, um, really gross. But otherwise, sitting on my bed, eating pudding and watching the historic trashiness that is The Tudors serves me extremely well and makes for a very nice chilly Sunday afternoon.

Vanilla Pudding
     adapted from Mark Bittman

2 ½ c. whole milk
2/3 c. sugar
pinch of salt
½ vanilla bean or 1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened (optional)

Put 2 cups of the milk, sugar and salt in a small or medium saucepot over medium-low heat. If using a vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise and scrape seeds into milk or half-and-half using small sharp knife, then add pod. Cook just until mixture begins to steam.
Combine cornstarch and remaining milk in a bowl and blend; there should be no lumps. Fish pod from pot and discard. Add cornstarch mixture; cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture starts to thicken and barely reaches a boil, about 5 minutes. Immediately reduce heat to very low and stir for 5 minutes or so until thick. Stir in butter and vanilla extract, if using.
Pour mixture into 4 teacups. Put plastic wrap directly on the pudding if you do not want a skin to form (I love the skin so I don´t put the plastic directly on the surface, but I do cover the cups so weird smells from the fridge don´t give the puddings a funny taste). Refrigerate until chilled.

Pudín de Vaina de Vainilla
     adaptada de Mark Bittman

2 ½ tazas de leche entera
2/3 taza de azúcar
una pizca de sal
½ vaina de vainilla, o 1 cucharita de extracto de vainilla
3 cucharadas más 1 cucharita de maizena
2 cucharadas de mantequilla (opcional)

Coloca 2 tazas de leche, el azúcar, y la sal en una olla pequeña sobre fuego medio-bajo. Si utilizas la vaina de vainilla, partela por la mitad y saca las semillas con un cuchillo. Mete las semillas y la cascara en la leche, y calientala sin que hierva.
Combina la maizena con la media taza de leche que quedó y mezclalas bien, asegurandote que no quedan grumos. Saca la cascara de vainilaa de la olla. Écha la mezcla de maizena y cocina, revolviendo cada tanto, hasta que la mezcla se espece y empiece a hervir. Inmediatamente baja el fuego y seguí cocinando, revolviendo, durante 5 minutos hasta que ya se sienta mas espesa la mezcla. Después de apagar el fuego, écha la mantequilla y el extracto de vainilla (si los estas usando).
Écha la mezcla a 4 pocillos. Coloca papel de cocina transparente directamente encima de la colada si no queres que forme una capa encima (yo no hago esto, me encanta la capa pero cada uno tiene su preferencia, igual pongo el plástico arriba para que no absorba olores de la heladera). Dejalos enfriar.