Sunday, March 29, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Hunting Steak in Argentina: Una Noche a la Parrilla

Argentina has the highest meat consumption per capita in the world. Above all other meats, beef is king in Argentina. The cows feed upon nutrient rich grass, resulting in healthy, essentially "free-range" cows. In Buenos Aires, a "parrilla", or steakhouse is as common as a Starbucks in the United States.

I arrived in Buenos Aires having made only one plan: to eat my first meal at an authentic Argentine parrilla. I try to avoid tourist traps and the most expensive restaurants when I travel. Thus, after much internet research, I decided that Rachael (a friend also visiting Buenos Aires) and I would eat at El Obrero, a restaurant in La Boca.

Now, people who say that Buenos Aires is the Paris of South America are probably not referring to La Boca, a run-down, tough neighborhood founded heavily by Italian immigrants. Very poor, many immigrants constructed their homes out of sheet metal. It is said that, as they could not afford to buy paintings to decorate their homes, they decided to paint their homes in bright colors in an attempt to make the neighborhood more attractive.

La Boca is not a place to wander off the beaten path, and, as such, Rachael and I arrived by taxi to El Obrero.

To use the bathroom, one must exit the back of the restaurant where you pass salad greens and mussels stored in buckets in the back of the restaurant. Chorizo and garlic hung outside the bathroom door (in a separate outdoor room, women were preparing food). Seeing the storage conditions, I am really glad that we did not decide to order mussels..

The inside of the restaurant was an homage to futbol (soccer). La Boca's pride and joy are the Boca Juniors, whose stadium stands a few blocks from the restaurant.

Blackboards listed appetizers, salads, meats, wines and desserts.

We started with a roasted eggplant appetizer. It had smoky taste and was marinated in vinegar and olive oil.

We also ordered "provoleta," baked provolone cheese garnished with herbs. Most Argentine restaurants have varying degrees of influence from Italian cuisine. Our restaurant was a blend of Spanish and Italian cuisines, with pure Argentine beef.

Giant slabs of beef lay on a cutting board in the open kitchen. The waiters took turns cutting and tending to the beef as it cooked. Only men worked the grill and as waiters-common in most Argentine restaurants. Perhaps a bit of machismo in the workplace?

Our waiter was from La Boca and had been working at El Obrero for over 10 years. His favorite steak is Bife de Chorizo, which is a juicy but lean cut, similar to our Porterhouse.

We decided to order 3 cuts of meat: bife de ojo (an eye filet, or ribeye), tira de asado (a rib roast) and bife de chorizo (the porterhouse). We ordered our steaks "a punto," which means medium rare. Unlike Europeans, Argentineans prefer their steak more well-done.

The steaks' arrival was a wonderful moment for us, as evidenced by our inappropriate joy. It took all of our self-constraint to photograph the steaks before slicing and devouring the beef.

Above is the bife de chorizo. Below is the eye filet.

The rib roast, or tira de asado, appeared juicy, but the effort it took to remove the meat from the bone almost negated the joy of eating it...that being said, the process did not take much effort. Supposedly tira de asado is one of the most popular cuts, but I did not find it memorable at all.

The eye filet, below, and the porterhouse were, in contrast, thick and juicy. They had the ability to both be a teeny bit chewy but then melt apart in your mouth seconds later.

Argentine steak is prepared with only salt and pepper. To marinade the steaks would ruin the omega-3, grass fed cows' unique flavor. That being said, chimichurri is a most popular accompaniment. The sauce is typically made with olive oil, garlic, parsley, bell pepper and vinegar, but there are as many variations as Argentine grandmothers, so each restaurant has its own recipe.

Some close ups of the cut eye filet-notice how juicy it is, even after being cooked past medium-rare.

While eating our meal, we were interrupted by several argentinos. The baby boy Alvaro was the most friendly. He continually visited us to try to give us a spoon, or take Rachael's camera, or just stare up with a goofy look on his cute little face.

The table next to us comes to El Obrero every Saturday. Why? The man on the left's reason: "porque Mario paga," because his friend to the right, Mario, pays for the food. In all seriousness, when the group entered they were greeted by name by the entire wait staff . That seemed to be a common theme during our 3 hour meal. While the steak was excellent, I suspect that there are better parrillas and better steak, but the lively atmosphere and neighborhood feel of the restaurant made us comfortable. The men at Mario's table asked us many questions about our plans for our time in Buenos Aires and offered suggestions, as well as a ride back to our hotel. We accepted the suggestions but definitely declined the ride!

For dessert we split "pave de dulce de leche," a moist dulce de leche cake topped with whipped cream. It reminded me a lot of "pastel de tres leches," a cake soaked in sweetened condensed milk. It was so delicious. We ordered coffee as well. Cortados, tall espresso shots with a little steamed milk. The perfect end to a mostly perfect meal.

Later that night, at a hotel lounge, we randomly met one of the more bizarre people I have met in my lifetime, the guitarist (I believe) from the 80s group Iron Maiden. Completely unrelated to steak, but still, kind of cool! : )

Later this week I will post about our empanada-eating Odyssey...stay tuned!

Friday, March 27, 2009


So I leave tonight for Buenos Aires, of steak, malbec, empanadas, dulce de leche and mystery.

Saturday Rachael and I will be dining in El Obrero, a well-regarded Argentine restaurant in the neighborhood of La Boca. We will have a wine and steak sampling and interview the owners and chef (if we can drag him away from the kitchen!). Check out my 24-24-24 post Sunday to see how it went!

As I obviously will be on a hiatus from cooking, I'll be sure to take photos of everything I eat , want to eat, see others eat, or suspect people might be able to eat.

I am extremely excited for my trip. For those who have traveled to or lived in Buenos Aires or Santiago, Chile (where we will spend a weeekend), please post restaurants/food stands I should check out while I am down there!

Ciao! (For now).

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reviewing an E-Cookbook!

So on Monday Karen, a publisher (the publisher?) at FolkHeart Press, wrote me to ask me to review an E-Cookbook.

The e-book is Spanish Cuisine One Region at a Time: Catalonia, by Catalan Chef Eduardo Balaguer. It combines food history with traditional Catalan dishes, tips on how to prepare paella as well as Eduardo's personal paella recipe and some information about the culture surrounding this cuisine.

I have just briefly skimmed through it, but it looks interesting and right up my alley-combining anthropology with food!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Moroccan Chicken

I am not a big lamb fan...well, to qualify, they are cute and I like to wear their wool, but am not so into eating them. Thus, to compliment my Vegetarian Moroccan Tagine, I like to make Moroccan Chicken. Vegetarian Tagine + Chicken = Moroccan Chicken Tagine.

I am making both vegan and chicken options for my work fundraiser. 20+ orders of tagine, weighing in around 1 lb per serving, and taking the public transit, dear lord wish me luck.

But anyways...onto the chicken!

4 chicken breasts (about 2 lb total)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 juiced lemon
1 diced Vidalia onion
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash paprika
Dash cumin

What I love about this recipe is that it is easy, healthy, and produces very moist, delicious chicken to serve over tagine, with couscous or just by itself.

Put bell pepper, herbs, lemon, onion, olive oil, crushed red pepper, paprika and cumin in food processor or blender.

Lightly blend so that ingredients form a slush. (Sorry I cannot find a better word for it than slush).

Wash chicken breasts and pat dry with a paper towel. Put chicken breasts and marinade in a large Ziploc bag. Seal and invert bag until chicken is covered completely by marinade.

Refrigerate overnight, or at a minimum, 4 hours before cooking.

Preheat oven to 375.

Bake chicken 20-25 minutes-to see if it is done, slice on breast to see if chicken is no longer pink.

Remove from oven, grind pepper over chicken and serve!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Recession Proof Dining Round Up #1

From Dirty Kitchen Secrets: Pizza Margherita a la Rabia.

From Italicious: Frittata di Maccheroni.

From 5 Star Foodie: Chilled Avocado-Cucumber Soup.

From Dietitian For Hire: Eggplant Dal, Quick and Easy Black Beans and Easy Spinach South Indian Style

From Zucchini Breath: Seitan Stuffed Cabbage Rolls and Vegan Stuffed Acorn Squash.

From Fit Coach 2007: Healthy "Fried" Chicken.

From Dinasaur Dishes: Poor Man's Pesto Pasta.

From The Foodie Forkfull: Cassoulet.

From Kelly @ Evil Shenanigans: Wacky Cake.

From Liz @ Bluegrass Foodie: Dirty, Dirty Rice.

From Hurst Beans: El Cantarito Beans.

From Jennifer @ PC Cuisine: Vegetarian Chili.

From Mommy Gourmet: Asian Noodles on the Cheap.

From GrubsClub: Fried Egg Sandwiches, Veg/Egg Fried Rice and Bread Mithai.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spanish Omelet (based roughly on Ferran Adria's recipe for el Bulli)

Tortilla Espanola is an inexpensive, delicious dinner choice. It can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to two days. Served with a side salad, good bread and a bottle of wine, a Tortilla is an easy and impressive option for entertaining. (I originally posted this in November, but took pictures today while preparing them for fund raising lunch #2).


Potatoes (about 3 large ones or 2 lbs of baby potatoes)

2 Large Onions

1 Dozen Eggs

Oil (olive, canola, vegetable...olive oil gives the best taste but all are fine to use).
Salt & Pepper

Rinse/scrub potatoes and onions clean under running water. I do this BEFORE cutting into them to practice good food safety (this should appeal to my fellow hypochondriacs).

Peel potatoes and cut into small rectangles, about 1/4 inch thi
ck. Peel onion and cut in half, slicing along the layers so that you have long, thin onion strands.

Using a large skillet, heat about 1/3 cup oil over medium-high heat. Add potatoes, using a pancake spatula to prevent any potatoes from sticking to the
bottom of the pan. Turn heat down to medium/medium-low and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are just about tender. Add onions to pan and cook until they are soft, about 5-8 minutes, turning mixture occasionally to prevent sticking.

Strain onion/potato mixture in colander over clean saute pan (reserving leftover oil).

While potatoes/onions are cooling, crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl, add pepper and salt (I always err on the side of too little, as these can be added to the cooked tortilla). Whisk eggs vigorously for a minute.

When potato/onion mixture is warm but not HOT, add to eggs and stir.

Heat pan with reserved oil over medium-high he
at (add more if the pan bottom is not liberally covered). Pour egg/potato/onion mixture into pan, flattening mixture with a spatula. Turn heat down to medium-low. Use spatula to loosen tortilla from pan every couple of minutes until eggs are almost set. They will still look a bit runny on top.

Carefully slide tortilla onto large round serving plate. With oven-mitts (and perhaps the help of a friend), place pan on top of the plated tort
illa. Hold both pan and plate on each side and flip upside-down so that the undercooked eggs are now on the bottom of the pan.

Turn heat up to medium and cook for a few more minutes, loosening bottom with spatula, until lightly golden.

Slide onto clean serving plate.

*Vegetables and meat can be added to the tortilla. Mushrooms, bell peppers and chopped cooked Chorizo complement the flavors nicely!

Bloggeraid, and a Challenge.

So while perusing Foodbuzz yesterday, I happened upon Cajun Chef Ryan's Profile. On it, there was a link to Bloggeraid, a group of people who, by their own description are:

"...a growing group of international food bloggers determined to make a difference in aid of world famine. The love of food and community that brings us together drives the compassion of its members to reach out to our world to help those less fortunate than we are. Banded by a mission of helping to make a change in a world where starvation affects such a profound number of people, we will raise money and awareness for the hungry in communities both at home and abroad"

I encourage everyone to check out the site, and seriously consider signing up.

Beyond Bloggeraid, I would love to see my fellow foodies taking action, big or small, to help alleviate hunger and fight malnutrition (either lack of food OR what people overlook, which is obesity resulting from high calorie, low nutrient diets).

Hold a bake sale, auction off your services to cater a dinner party, donate a percentage of your business proceeds to a worthwhile organization, hold a food drive at your work, church, temple, etc. Just do something, anything!

I was 21 when I saw the effects of malnutrition firsthand; I was volunteering in the Dominican Republic, mostly translating for doctors who did not speak Spanish. A baby girl was brought to our makeshift clinic with marasmus-energy-deficient malnutrition-and probable acidosis. She was hospitalized and improved, but without proper aftercare and with a complicated family situation, the hospital-supplied formula was not given to her, and she later died. A completely preventable death of an infant girl.

Nutrition, vaccinations, clean water, aftercare, community health becomes overwhelming when you think of all the obstacles in place that prevent millions of children from reaching adulthood, but just one action on your part can make the difference in the life of 1 child.

Blog about your efforts or send me your stories at "thealchemistchef at gmail dot com" to publish on my blog. I am available for support, advice and will read what you send me.

Hunger is a worldwide issue, but rarely do you read of hunger and malnutrition in your own backyard. Many elderly people cannot afford or access groceries, pay for medications and household necessities. Families choose cheap, fast food (or may have no other option) over nutritious meals, predisposing their children to obesity, type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

A heart attack, followed by an ambulance ride, ER visit, hospitalization, potential operation and staff, technology and medication costs likely result in around 40,000 dollars billed to your insurance, Medicaid or your own wallet. And that is just 1 instance, chances are you will have other cardiovascular co-morbidities and related costs. 40,000 dollars that could supported a family's food costs for 10 years!

Foodbuzz has somewhere around 10,000 members; if everyone raised 100 dollars, that is ONE MILLION DOLLARS TO FIGHT HUNGER AND MALNUTRITION. Imagine if everyone raised 1,000!

It is great to be aware of an issue, but nothing changes until you change. Do something, do anything, but please, do it now.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Maduros (Fried Sweet Plantains)

I made plantains for my 1st fund raising lunch at work. The first day you buy plantains they might be yellow and their taste is starchy, fried as tostones, they remind me of french fries and they serve a similar purpose in Latin cuisine.

If you let plantains ripen over time, they begin to speck
le with black spots. When the plantain has about 1/3-1/2 of its peel turned black, it is the perfect time to fry them for a sweet accompaniment to your meal.

2 ripened plantains
Canola oil, for frying

Wash plantains very well before peeling. Slice through the peel vertically and remove peel from plantain. Slice vertically in half, then cut into piec
es 1 1/2 inches long.

Heat up oil in deep saute pan or a medium sauce pot over high heat. It should be about 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep so that plantains are completely covered whe
n frying. Add plantain pieces to hot oil.

Fry 3-5 minutes, turning once, until they are golden brown. Remove, and drain on paper towels.

Serve with Cuban black beans and rice.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Apple Squares

For Pastry Crust:

1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup butter
2 large eggs
1 cup full fat sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

For Apple Filling:

2 lbs apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4-1/3 cup brown sugar (if apples are on the tart side, use 1/3 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

For Frosting:

1/4 cup milk (estimated)
1/2 cup powdered sugar (estimated)

Preheat oven to 350.

Cut butter into small 1/4 inch thick pieces and place in freezer ten minutes.

Stir together flour, sugar, and baking powder. Using your hands, mix in butter pieces until the mixture feels like coarse meal.

Beat together eggs, sour cream, and vanilla and add to flour mixture. Mix well.

Spread half of the batter into greased 9 by 9 baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes, or until crust is lightly golden. Let cool to room temperature.

While crust is baking, toss apples with lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla.

Spread apple mixture over crust. Carefully use a spoon to cover apples with remaining batter.

Bake at 350°F for 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven.

Mix together powdered sugar with milk. It should look thin but not very runny. Add more milk or sugar to adjust consistency. Drizzle over cooked dessert.

Let cool and slice into squares. Served best at room temperature.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Feeding Others to Feed Families in Need

So this Thursday is my first day of my work fundraiser. For those who don't know, I am cooking meals to sell as lunches at my work (a hospital) or to take home for dinner.

I really like the idea of cooking, my coworkers buying it, and the proceeds resulting in food for those who cannot afford to feed their families. It seems very full circle to me. I also feel more comfortable asking people to donate via getting a meal rather than a straight donation as I imagination everyone is getting donor fatigue what with the economy right now.

For my first meal I am preparing vegan Cuban beans and rice, fried sweet plantains and ropa vieja, a Cuban beef stew.

It's a lot of work, but I am hoping that over the next months I am able to raise over 1000 after costs. A bit ambitious, perhaps, but that is the goal. It looks like Thursday's meal will raise between 150 and 175 dollars, not bad for my first day!

I'd love for people to send me ideas & recipes for future meals-I am aiming to have 1 vegetarian and 1 meat/seafood option each time, and try to keep cost down so that there are more proceeds at the end of the fundraiser.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Steak Skewers with Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 shallot, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

Freshly ground black pepper
24 oz skirt steak (buy steaks and cut them into 1 1/2 inch wide strips)

1 cup coarsely crumbled Maytag blue cheese (about 4 ounces)

1 cup milk

Kebab skewers

Coat steaks with olive oil and cover with shallot, garlic and ground pepper. Marinate overnight.

Preheat oven to 450.

Heat up cheese and milk in saucepan over medium heat. Stir until melted and bubbling. Turn heat to low, stirring occasionally.

Skewer steak strips. Place on cooking sheet on top rack of oven. Cook 4-7 minutes depending on how well done you like your steak, turning once so that strips brown.

Serve with blue cheese dipping sauce.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Peanut Butter Brownies

Before giving this recipe I have to warn you that these are highly addictive. They are gooey and sweet and salty and oh-so-delicious. It is nearly impossible to just eat one.

And I must give credit to my genius mother Alberta for coming up with the perfect recipe for these brownies. ...Happy Mom? ; )

1/2 cup butter

1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup flour

3/4 cup oatmeal

1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

3/4 tablespoon peanut butter

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup(?) milk

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream butter with peanut butter. Use a beater to mix in brown sugar, egg and baking soda.
Mix in flour and oatmeal (on slow speed).

Spread batter over lightly greased 9 by 13 glass baking dish.
Cook about 20 minutes, this should be very soft when done (golden means it is drying out).

Spread chocolate chips over brownies and return to oven for 1 minute.

Mix remaining peanut butter with powdered sugar. Stir in milk until frosting is very creamy. Drizzle over chocolate and spread evenly over brownies with a spoon.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Vegan Cuban Black Beans & Rice

To Make Cuban Black Beans:
1 1 lb bag dried black beans
3 cups vegetable stock
2 onions, diced
1 head garlic, chopped finely
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste or 1 large tomato, diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons soy sauce (to taste)
2 teaspoons pimenton (Spanish paprika)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 dried bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons
freshly ground black pepper 2 cups medium or long grain white rice
Optional: juice of 2 limes
Optional: juice of 1 orange
Optional: minced cilantro

Rinse beans very well in cold water and let drain. Put in
large stew pot and cover with water, so that there is about 3 inches of water above beans. Let beans soak overnight or 8 hours.

Drain beans and rinse well and drain again. (For some reason, the rinsing gets rid of most of the substance that gives people indigestion).

Heat olive oil in stew pot over medium high heat. Add onions, bell peppers and garlic. Turn heat to medium and saute, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes, until vegetables have softened.

Add tomato paste, spices, vinegar and 1 teaspoon sauce sauce and cook 3 minutes.

Add beans and vegetable stock. Add water if needed, so that bean mixture is covered by at least 2 inches of liquid. Bring to a boil.
Turn beans down to soft boil and cook 3-4 hours, or until they are almost soft enough to eat.

Add juices and cilantro at this point if you wish to use them.

If pouring over white rice, cook beans additional 20 minutes or until soft enough to eat, then turn off burner and remove from heat.

At the same time, add rice and 4 cups of salted water to a large pot. Bring to boil and stir 1 minute. Then turn heat down to medium low or low, and cover pot. Cook about 15-minutes, checking after 12 to see if rice is almost done. If it's almost done and there is a lot of liquid, finish cooking rice uncovered. If it is drying out add a little more water and keep covered.

You can also add water to beans (about 2-3 cups of water) and stir in rice, turning heat to low and cooking 20 minutes. Warning: if you keep checking rice and stirring it, it will break and turn mushy. Patience is a virtue (that I often lack).

Serve with pork or ropa vieja, plantains, avocado and lime wedges.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Arroz Con Pollo

Arroz con pollo is a dish served during special occasions in Cuba. The flavors of the chicken, rice, spices and vegetables all meld together and create a comfort dish that feeds a lot of mouths without costing a lot of money. While I use a whole chicken for this recipe, feel free to use chicken thighs or whatever chicken meat you have on hand.


1 whole chicken (4 lbs), washed, dried and chopped into 8 pieces
1 sour orange, juiced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 large onion, diced
8 cloves garlic, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 tsp annatto seeds, or 1/4 tsp saffron threads
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups medium or long-grain white rice
2 1/2 to 3 cups chicken stock
1 cup frozen peas (petit pois)-about 5 oz
1/3 cup chopped green olives with pimento

Mix the oregano, cumin, white pepper, paprika and sour orange juice in a large glass bowl. Add chicken pieces and turn so that marinade covers all parts of chicken. Let marinate at least 15 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large sauce pot over medium high heat. Brown the chicken pieces all over, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and pour out all but 2 tablespoons fat from sauce pot.

Saute onion, bell pepper, and garlic in fat in pot over medium high heat, stirring occasionally and scraping up brown chicken bits that have stuck to the pan's bottom, until sofrito has softened, 6 to 8 minutes.
Add tomato paste and chicken to pot, cook 1 minute.

Add chicken stock, wine and saffron (if you use it instead of annatto oil) and bring to boil. Simmer 30 minutes.

Rinse rice with water thoroughly.

Bring chicken mixture to a boil, stir in rice, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the rice is tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. If it dries out before rice is done, add water as needed. If rice is almost done after 15 minutes, uncover during last 10 or 15 minutes of cooking.

Stir in chopped olives
and peas a few minutes before rice is done cooking.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cuban Style Picadillo

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large white onion, diced
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 14 /2 oz can diced tomatoes
2 lbs ground beef (85% lean or higher)
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes in juice
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup green olives, chopped

Heat up olive oil in large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, green pepper and garlic. Turn heat down to medium. Cook about 5-7 minutes, until onions are softened.

Add the ground beef and break apart using a large spoon. When beef is no longer pink, add diced tomatoes and vinegar. Stir in spices.

Cook over medium heat until mixture thickens, about 20 minutes. Stir in green olives and cook additional 5-10 minutes.

Serve with beans, rice and fried plantains.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tostones Rellenos

Okay, I realize that these are not actually "stuffed" plantains in the manner of croquetas, but the fried plantain serves as a bowl for all sorts of cute toppings.

To make the shells, follow beginning of tostones recipe, but so not flatten a second time, rather use a shot glass or something that approximate size to form a bowl shape to the fried plantain, then continue the normal recipe to finish.


Shrimp, Queso Fresco and Avocado

Cuban Style Picadillo

Pork Carnitas-you can also use a pork butt for this recipe, reduce cooking time accordingly

Black Beans & Goat Cheese-follow the recipe, but rather than add plantains, use filling in plantain shells


I love tostones: crunchy, green plantains that been sliced then deep fried twice, then salted generously. I first got into them while studying in Havana and they remain a favorite comfort food. They are pretty easy to make and add the last needed touch for a plate of rice and beans or ropa vieja

3 to 4 large unripe (green) or barely ripe (slightly yellow) plantains
about 2 cups olive or canola oil for frying

Wash plantains and cut off ends with a sharp nice. Slice lengthwise through skin to remove peel. Slice into 1 inch round pieces. In a large skillet heat 1/2 inch oil over medium heat until just hot enough to sizzle when plantains are added. Fry in batches, without crowding, until tender and just golden, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Carefully transfer plantains as fried to paper towels to drain.

Remove skillet from heat and reserve oil. Using the bottom of a saucepan or something similar, flatten plantains to 1/4 inch thick. Dip plantains in bowl of salted water and drain them well on paper towels.

Heat reserved oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking and fry flattened plantains in batches, without crowding, until golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer tostones to paper towels to drain and and salt before serving.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Strawberry and Lemon Tiramisu

For Cake:
36 Fresh ladyfingers

For Strawberry Cream & Topping:

2 1/2 cups fresh strawberries
8 oz mascarpone cheese
1 1/2 cups whipping cream

1 tablespoon powdered sugar (+ 1 teaspoon to garnish)

For Lemon Syrup:
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

For Curd:

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest

1 cup fresh lemon juice

1 1/3 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1 3/4 sticks (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces

To Make Curd:
Whisk together zest, lemon juice, sugar, eggs, and a pinch of salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Add butter all at once and cook over moderately low heat, whisking constantly, until curd is thick enough to hold marks of whisk and first bubbles appear on surface, about 10 minutes. Immediately pour curd through a fine sieve into a bowl, then chill, covered.

To Make Strawberry Cream:
Use hand mixer to whip cream with sugar and mascarpone to soft peaks. Add 1/2 cup mashed strawberries and continue to mix until cream forms hard peaks.

To Make Lemon Syrup:
Stir ingredients until dissolved.

Spread lemon curd over bottom of 9 by 13 pan. Line up 18 ladyfingers over curd, covering bottom completely. Sprinkle 1/2 lemon syrup over ladyfingers. Spread 1/2 of strawberry cream over ladyfingers, covering them completely.

Line remaining ladyfingers over cream. Sprinkle remaining syrup over fingers. Top with remaining cream.

Wash strawberries and remove stems. Slice vertically and arrange on top of cream to serve.

*Lemon syrup and curd can be made the night before assembling the tiramisu.

Lady Fingers

I love playing off the idea of tiramisu by adding seasonal ingredients and using ladyfingers for my base. I was excited to see that Epicurious has a recipe for homemade ladyfingers, as they are not terribly cheap. The recipe takes a little bit, but the result is worth the effort.

Ingredients: (from
5 large eggs, separated, at room temperature 30 minutes

2/3 cup sugar, divided
7/8 cup all-purpose flour
Confectioners sugar for dusting
Equipment: a pastry bag with 3/4-inch opening

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Beat yolks with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale yellow, then gradually beat in all but 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar.

Beat at medium-high speed until pale yellow, tripled in volume, and thick enough to form a ribbon that takes 5 seconds to dissolve when beater is lifted, 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle flour over mixture and stir until just combined (batter will be very stiff).

Beat egg whites with cleaned beaters until they just hold soft peaks.

Add remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar in a slow stream, then beat until whites hold stiff peaks.

Stir one third of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Spoon batter into pastry bag.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment, piping a dab of batter under each corner to secure. Pipe 2 rows of (3 1/2-inch-long) ladyfingers (12 to 16 per row) onto sheet, piping them so they almost touch. Dust with confectioners sugar.

Bake until pale golden, dry, and soft but springy to the touch, 14 to 16 minutes. Cool completely on baking sheet.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Spanish Garlic Soup (Sopa de Ajo)

Sopa de ajo is perfect for those winter nights when you need a little something to warm you up. It's also my favorite soup to have when I have a cold (take that, chicken noodle). It's incredibly simple to make, and delicious!

6 tablespoons Spanish extra virgin olive oil

12 garlic cloves
3 thick slices of day old bread (white, baguette, ciabatta) (about 2 cups)
1 teaspoon pimenton (Spanish smoked sweet paprika)
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
4 eggs

Use garlic press to crush cloves. Heat up the olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic, stirring frequently for 2-3 minutes, until garlic is soft. Add bread, paprika and pepper. Cook about 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Immediately turn the heat down so that the soup is simmering, but no longer boiling. Cook about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Ladle soup into bowls. Crack egg over each bowl, the heat from the soup will cook the egg (not a whole lot-it's more like lightly poached). You can also add poached eggs, this will ensure your egg is done the way you like!

You can pulverize the bread if you prefer a more uniform texture.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Call For Action: Foodies Can Alleviate Hunger

Lately I have felt more and more compelled to do something to help as our country seems to sink into an ever-deepening recession. Two projects immediately came to mind. I hope that you choose to take up similar endeavors or support me in mine. All who donate to either cause will be entered into a drawing- 1 donor will receive a gift from Argentina as a token of my thanks. Just donate to the Walk For Hunger (and I will enter you with that contact info) or make a donation to Share Our Strength: Operation Frontline and e-mail me proof of your donation, and on June 1st I will mail a prize (think alfajores, a jar of chimichurri or dulce de leche to any address in the States.

First, I am holding grown-up versions of bake sales in my community. Rather than ask for a straight monetary donation, I will be selling prepared meals and baked goods (beef bourguignon, for example) to coworkers, friends and community members. All proceeds after cost will benefit Operation Frontline, a program run by Share Our Strength, whose volunteer chefs and nutritionists teach lower-income families how to prepare healthy, tasty meals on a tight budget. If you wish to donate to Operation Frontline to support their efforts there is a "donate" link on the right column of my blog.

Second, on Sunday, May 3, I will be participating in Project Bread's 2009 Walk for Hunger. I know that we are all worried about the current economy, some of us feeling its effects more than others, but I hope that you can make a contribution to my cause, because ANY AMOUNT HELPS. Donate to Project Bread's Walk For Hunger. Search for my name, Caitlin McDonnell, and make your donation on my page. This is a tax deductible charitable contribution.

As someone who loves food-cooking it, eating it, talking about it (I love talking about it so much that I have a blog dedicated to food), as a chef, and future nurse practitioner I know that I am in a unique position to help fight hunger and malnutrition around Boston, in the state Massachusetts and I hope someday worldwide.

I see elderly people deciding between buying food or necessary medications because they cannot afford both.

Hunger also affects the working poor, who use more and more of their income to pay rent, heating oil, medical care, and childcare. In low-income communities throughout the state, one child in three lives in a family that struggles to put food on the table.

Project Bread-supported pantries and meal programs served 43.4 million meals last year alone. And the need for these programs is skyrocketing with additional layoffs, rising food prices and an unstable economy.

The money that I raise by walking as much as I can of the 20-mile route will directly help "hungry people," a phrase referring to more than 522,000 people in Massachusetts, including the state’s most vulnerable citizens — children, the elderly, the disabled, and the unemployed.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and please make a donation to this cause, any amount helps.

Money raised through The Walk for Hunger funds more than 400 food pantries, soup kitchens, food banks, and food salvage programs in 128 communities across Massachusetts.

The 20-mile Walk route weaves through Boston, Brookline, Newton, and Cambridge.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Pomegranate-Glazed Game Hens with Eggplant

2 Cornish game hens
1 small eggplant
1 large tomato
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2/3 cup pomegranate juice
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Pomegranate seeds, reserved for garnish
1 tablespoon olive oil
Roasted pistachios

Thoroughly rinse game hens with water and pat dry with a paper towel. Rub with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon paprika and 1/8 teaspoon turmeric.

Whisk together honey and juice and pour over hens. Marinate, covered, overnight (or before going to work in the morning to cook later that evening). Turn occasionally.

Drain hens, reserving marinade in small saucepan. Simmer marinade for about 10-15 minutes and set aside for use later.

Slice eggplant and salt liberally. Let sit 10 minutes so that the salt draws out the eggplant's bitter juices, then rinse with water. Cut eggplant into 1 inch by 1/2 inch chunks, removing peel.

Mince garlic. Dice tomato.

Heat up olive oil in large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and turn heat down to medium, stirring so that garlic does not brown. Saute 3 minutes. Add tomato, eggplant, lemon juice and remaining cinnamon, paprika and turmeric. Cook at a simmer for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Season hens with salt and pepper. Bake game hens in middle of oven, basting frequently with reserved marinade. They should take about 60 minutes to cook/be firm to the touch when done. Remove from oven. Let rest 5 minutes and then brush with remaining marinade.

Spoon eggplant over plates. Set game hen on top of eggplant. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and pistachios.