Thursday, February 23, 2006

Culinary School!

I'm officially a full time student – this is my first week of culinary school! Here I am in my uniform…

This week we learned all sorts of orientation-type stuff, and then practiced vegetable, herb, and cheese identification. Tomorrow we get our knives! I think I’ll be blogging a lot more about this in the near future, although it’s hard to know how much I should gab on. I never know who’s checking out this blog – theoretically even my chef/professor could be reading it. I’m going to try to retain a certain level of anonymity to avoid a Dooce scenario, but I suspect I wont be able to resist sharing at least a little of what goes on in school. Hopefully I’ll have a lot more to post very soon.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A Letter from My Kitchen

Dear Raisinhater,

Where are you? What have you been eating? I see the takeout pizza boxes and the can of Pringles and I worry. There is food in here, tasty food, just waiting for you to come and give it a little time and attention. Why don’t you want to spend time with me anymore? Shallots are rotting, the lettuce is wilting, and I think I saw you eating Hershey’s kisses. For lunch.

If you don’t change your ways soon, you’ll get scurvy, or a goiter. What happened to all the good times we had – the soups, the cookies? Weren’t you going to learn to make your own bread? I’m here, please come back to me.


Your Kitchen

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Last Argentina Post

Today will be the end of my lengthy Argentina saga. I was initially thinking about a whole post on Argentine beef, how it compares, how it tastes, but that’s starting to sound a bit more like a massive and well researched magazine article, and today I am too lazy for that. Instead, here’s a picture of some tasty beef…

We were sitting next to a super-famous Argentine soccer person; JF was so excited he could hardly eat. I had no trouble helping him with this fabulous beef.

And a list of other things I noticed/ate on my trip.

Napkins – the napkins in Argentina are bad. At nice restaurants there is no difference, but the napkins in sandwich places are far more like wax paper donut pickup things in the grocery store than anything you would use to try to remove food residue from your face or hands. They just smear it around. Young capitalists – seize this opportunity and reform Argentina’s cheap napkin industry before someone else snatches up this idea!

Salsa Golf – salsa golf is the Argentine condiment of laziness. It is ketchup and mayonnaise mixed together. JF asserts that there may be some extra lemon juice in there too, but I’m not sure if I believe him. It’s on the table at cafes and you can purchase it in the grocery store right next to the ketchup. It’s just as orangey as you’d expect. We ate it on fries and even sandwiches, but it apparently shines on palmitos (hearts of palm) which are a fairly common pizza topping. Once, I even saw a guy order a pizza covered in palmitos and mounds of salsa golf. I never was able to learn why it is called salsa golf (translation: golf sauce).

There is no pepper on the tables, only salt. I found that, generally, Argentines don’t like spicy foods.

Milanesa – Milanesas are pieces of beef or veal pounded flat, breaded, and fried, not unlike chicken fried steak. Sometimes, milanesa will be served Neopolitan style, topped with ham and cheese. I had a fantastic milanesa napolitana at El Obrero in La Boca. Milanesa is also served on sandwiches, like this…

The trip was fabulous but it’s time for me to get back into my own kitchen and start cooking.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Things Are Not Going Well

This is my sink…

But that is not my soap! Every day around, oh, 10am or so, a giant mass of bubbles comes wildly frothing out of my sink drain and fills up the entire sink, stopping juuuuust shy of overflowing all over the kitchen floor. Why is this? Fellow apartment dwellers – do you have this?

And I fell. The great blizzard of ’06 + pomegranate margaritas = me sliding down the steps at the Lexington/53rd Street subway station and landing on my left hip. I jumped right up and tried to pretend nothing happened, but by the time I got home I had a huge lump. I would take a photo and share the horror right here on the internet, but it would be nearly impossible to photograph my hip without also photographing other parts of me that I would prefer not to share with the internet at large. (Mom – did I just hear a sigh of relief?) So use your imagination -- It looks like I have a third butt cheek, a purple third butt cheek, growing from the side of my hip.

Sorry about that disgusting mental image I just shared with you. Here is a photo of some empanadas to help you cleanse your mental palate.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Argentina - Cordero (Lamb)

From Ushuaia, we flew to El Calafate. We stayed there briefly and then drove to the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. It was fabulously beautiful.

But the food was absolutely atrocious.

JF warned me that Chilean food was nothing like Argentine. He was right, the food was awful. Every bite of food I ate in the country of Chile was bad bad bad. It is important to note that we were in a national park, hundreds of miles from anything, so the three restaurants were VERY limited with respect to ingredients, chef talent, etc. This did not excuse the badness of this food though. One of the worst problems – the descriptions were excellent. My most depressing meal was a thin sliced steak sandwich topped with avocado slices, melted cheese, and mayonnaise. How can that be bad? Ooooh, but it was.

There was just no love in the food. Not one bite of anything I ate in Chile was prepared with care. That food had been disrespected, and it was fighting back.

Fortunately, the astonishing beauty of the place compensated for the vittles, and at least I ate a lot of fruit!

Then, we headed back to the lamb country of Argentina to visit the Perito Moreno glacier. (NOTE TO CHILE – at this hotel we also stayed in a national park and the food was ABSOLUTELY AMAZING.) We visited an estancia (farm) and ate lamb cooked on a spit around a fire – and they even let me tour the kitchen! We had dinner at our hotel overlooking the glacier, here was our view…

Here’s a photo of the Upsala glacier...

The food at the hotel was astonishingly good. We ate mostly traditional Argentine dishes dressed up with some international variations, and I think we ate lamb at least once a day. My favorite was a soft stew-like lamb terrine topped with mashed potatoes and crispy fried potato sticks. Here’s a cross section…

Next, we head to beef country!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Argentina Part Dos

In my mind, our Argentine honeymoon should divided into three phases: Centollo (king crab), Cordero (lamb), and Bife (beef).

After we landed in Buenos Aires, we flew directly to Ushuaia, where we learned about centollo.

Ushuaia is a little town that grew too quickly into a city of 60,000. The infrastructure has not caught up with the population growth and the city has a dingy drizzly feel and that permanent sense of foreboding that comes from being surrounded by mountains. Although the surrounding areas are breathtaking, the city itself is not a pretty place.

It is also remote. Waaaay remote. Stuff gets to Ushuaia the hard way, by truck (a four day trip from Buenos Aires), boat or plane. It’s not a place where you’d expect to find cilantro in the grocery store. The local specialty is centollo, or king crab.

(Photo courtesy of the Kaupe website – more on Kaupe later in this post)

When you think of Argentine food, king crab is probably just about the last thing that comes into your mind, right before tofu and right after lingonberries. I had no idea, until we arrived, that it is the local specialty in Ushuaia.

We ate it every night. Our first night in Ushuaia we arrived late and exhausted, and had our first taste of centollo in our hotel restaurant. This meal was unremarkable, so I’ll skip right to our next dinner, at Kuar, a bar owned by some friends of friends of JF.

We weren’t expecting much (when we arrived we didn’t even know Kuar served food), so we were delighted to find a light fettucini with centollo topped with an extremely mild white wine and ricotta sauce. The pasta was surprisingly delicate, and not the overcreamy mess I had feared.

Delicious, but the best was yet to come.

We were surprised to learn that Argentina’s YPF guide selected Kaupe, a cozy little restaurant in Ushuaia, as one of the two best restaurants in the country.

(Photo courtesy of Kaupe website)

Dinner at Kaupe

Ernesto Vivian (pictured above holding the king crab) is the chef and owner of Kaupe, and he was also our waiter. When we arrived he came out to take our order; he offered wine and dinner suggestions and then disappeared into the kitchen to prepare our food.

Because we are disgusting gluttons, we ordered three appetizers for two of us. First, we shared a fantastic scallop ceviche. It was light and tasted of citrus and spicy peppers; I had a difficult time sharing the last few.

Next, JF had naked king crab with lemons and mayonnaise.

And I enjoyed carpaccio covered with long noodles of cheese.

For dinner, we both had king crab kaupe, a sort of creamy flavorful soup full of crab.

At this point, our server (the chef/owner/waiter’s son) caught me taking photos and expressed what sounded like consternation. My Spanish is limited – he also could have been asking if we wanted dessert. JF said something about internet and blog and our server was instantly filled with delight. The chef came out to shake our hands. I smiled and nodded and pointed at my crab and smiled and nodded some more.

Dear friends at Kaupe, I hope you didn’t think I was working for the New York Times. All I can do is promote your delicious restaurant right here on my corner of the internet…


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Back from Argentina!

It is hard to blog when there’s too much to tell!

We got married on January 15th and spent the last two weeks honeymooning in Argentina, where we traveled through the Patagonia for ten days and then celebrated the wedding a second time in Buenos Aires with JF’s family.

Argentina is beautiful and different. People do not wait in line; they clump up. Argentines are serious about dinner, but they are in no hurry about it. There’s nothing unusual about eating out at 11pm and enjoying coffee and wine until 2 in the morning. The Patagonia is expansive and full of wind and sheep and long open dusty roads and big pointy snowy mountains. Buenos Aires is a vibrant gritty city that stretches out over miles and has more neighborhoods than you could explore in a year. Two weeks was not enough.

I can’t resist blogging about the whole adventure, but it’s going to take me a few days to recap the whole thing.

Part One – The Flight

The flight to Buenos Aires is nearly 11 hours – we left at 10 pm and flew overnight. For the first time in my life, I sat up front. Yes, the plushy wide seats, leg room fit for Shaq, the little travel kit with booties and toothbrush, and the personal dvd player – first class. JF flies all over for work, so we used our miles (no, we did not buy the $8,000 tickets) to get an upgrade. I will never fly coach again.

Ok, that’s not true unless I win the lotto, and even then I don’t think my thrifty nature would allow the $8,000 ($8,000!!!) expenditure, but I sure did enjoy it this time. If you’re the kind of person who flies first class all the time, this post is going to be really dull, and you’re going to think I’m some kind of bumpkin, so just skip on over to another blog. But if you’ve ever wondered who those people are who get to board first and enjoy drinks and warm nuts and expansive space in the overhead compartments while you line up with the smelly man and the sticky child and try to force your carry-on under the seat because the overhead bin is full of knapsacks and coats, stay with me.

In first class, you cut the line of eager passengers and board calmly with the ladies in fur. They take your fur (or, in my case, polarfleece hoodie) at the door of the plane and hang it up for you in the special closet. When you sit, a lovely attendant comes over and brings you a beverage to enjoy while the masses shuffle in. I chose champagne. If you drink it fast enough, you can enjoy a second beverage before the plane even takes off. The coach passengers will glare at you. Resist the urge to say “we used miles, really, we never get to sit up here, and we just got married, please don’t hate us!” That is not first class behavior.

During takeoff, you must sit quietly and not recline or use the tray or walk about the cabin, and you must suffer drinkless just like the coach passengers, but once you reach cruising altitude, the delightful attendant is right back with you.

“Another beverage? Hot towel?” (I’m not sure I fully understand the hot towel, but I appreciatively rubbed it all over my face and hands. I noticed that the other passengers tossed theirs aside for the attendants to pick up with tongs, while I placed mine on the attendant’s tray using my very own fingers. Perhaps this was also not first class and was yet another indicator that we were mileage-upgraders.)

Then it is time for wine and warm nuts. The pistachios are the best.

Next, the attendant comes around and introduces him or herself – “I’m Donna, please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.” Donna gets your names, which she will use throughout the remainder of the flight. You review your menu. If you are first class, you do not discreetly slip the menu into your purse to take home as a souvenir.

You choose between “Salt and Pepper Crusted Beef Fillet enhanced by a Kalamata Olive Demi-Glace,” “Salmon and Halibut Bundle wrapped in Zucchini, topped with Olive Tapenade,” and “Ravioli stuffed with Brie and Asparagus topped with Mushroom Cream Sauce and Parmesan.” Donna brings you a cloth placemat and a napkin bundle containing many many forks and knives.

First, you enjoy a salad of king crab, smoked salmon, and marinated shrimp with a garlic mayonnaise. You do not think of all those people who get food poisoning eating shellfish on planes. That does not happen in first class.

Next, there is a mixed green salad with roasted tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, served with creamy garlic dressing.

Then the ravioli.

After dinner you eat your ice cream sundae with the toppings of your choice. Donna whisks away the evidence as soon as you take the last bite.

You set up your personal dvd player and settle in to watch March of the Penguins, reclining the enormous seat all the way back with the knowledge that you aren’t even slightly impinging on the legroom of the passenger behind you. Donna pulls the window shade down so quietly you barely notice her doing it, and she brings you a little more wine. After the movie, you pull on your eyemask and stretch out nearly horizontal.

After five hours of sleep, you pull of the eyemask. Donna is there immediately, offering your choice of “Fluffy Omelette prepared with Cheese accompanied by Turkey Sausage with fire-roasted Peppers and a Potato, Scallion and Sour Cream Timbale” or “Croissants with Yogurt and Fresh Fruits.”

Once the plane has landed, you disembark calmly, with no pushing or shoving or being stuck behind people who cant seem to manage to get their crap out of the overhead bin. Donna hands you your fur coat at the door and you emerge into the 90 degree heat of Buenos Aires.

Because it is your honeymoon, you hold hands in the taxi, even though PDA is not at all first class.