Lesson 5: Boeuf Bourguignon and Butter in Various Other Forms

No culinary-themed travel memoir would be complete without an ode to Julia Child.

Don't worry- I'm not going all Julie Powell on you (ugh). But I will confess that I got a little emotional when I realized I had executed (though definitely not mastered) one of the classics. Isn't that what every slightly chubby little girl dreams of?

So here's my ode, loud and proud. The mise en place (diced onion, quartered mushrooms, 4mm x 4mm carrots, minced garlic, celery, 2cm/2cm cubes of beef and nectar of the gods, or pancetta): 

We sautéed the pancetta until it was fragrant and brown:

After removing the pancetta, we cooked the vegetables just until the onion appeared translucent. And then things got super exciting- we dredged the cubes of beef in flour (doesn't that sound SO appetizing)!

Moving on, we deglazed the pan by adding cognac and red wine. I now know: to deglaze is to pour alcohol into a dish and use it to scrape up all those juicy brown bits on the bottom of the pan. So we put our bulging guns to use. Next: added rosemary and let it simmer until the wine sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon (adding a splash or two of beef broth along the way).

Et voilà!

It looks a little like dog food, I know. But trust me- it was amazingly delicious. Also, cutting potatoes into that little football shape there is probably the hardest thing we've had to do.

In addition to the lovely concoction above, we made chicken with butter sauce:

Chicken with cream sauce:


Here's a shoutout to Rachel, who valiantly grilled and sauced those things. But, as the 2008 presidential campaign showed us, you can't put lipstick on a pig- they tasted like butter-soaked sponge.

Off to Punta del Este for Semana Santa this weekend! Pics and perhaps some restaurant investigations to come! Happy Passover/Easter!


Lesson 4: Homemade Alfajores

Since moving to Buenos Aires, I've discovered a new food group that makes up a large portion of my nutritional pyramid: alfajores. Alfajores- dulce de leche-filled cornstarch cookies- come in lots of different shapessizes and flavors. You can't walk three blocks here without passing a bakery that sells them. And if, like a certain someone, you lack self-control in the face of anything with the formula fat + sugar + dairy, then you too will justify replacing the entire "grains" section of the pyramid with these delightfully gooey gems.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of crappy alfajores out there. Yesterday, I tried to make a batch that I hoped would avoid the common pitfalls (too sweet, stale cookies, etc.).

You know what's hard? Baking when you don't have a temperature gauge on your oven. My options range from "big flame" to "little flame."

So far, I've been eyeballing it to roast veggies, but "medium flame" didn't fly with these babies. Starting with dough that should have made 15 sandwich cookies, I ended up with...four. But what an addictive four they are.

The recipe:


  • 12 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 1/2 cups cornstarch (corn flour)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  • Dulce de Leche
To make cookie dough:
Cream the butter and sugar together, then mix in the remaining ingredients except the dulce de leche until well blended. Knead on a floured work surface until the dough is smooth and let rest for 15 minutes.

Make the cookies:
Roll the dough out to a thickness of about 1/4 inch and cut into 2-inch rounds. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 300°F oven for 20 minutes. When cool, spread some dulce de leche on the bottom of half the cookies and press another cookie on top, allowing some of the dulce de leche to squeeze from the sides.
1) To make your own dulce de leche, buy a can of sweetened condensed milk; empty into a bain-marie OR a 9-inch pie plate covered with foil; if using the pie plate, place into a larger pan filled with hot water (without letting water into the pie plate); bake at 425 degrees F for an hour or until caramel colored.
2) You can also dip these in melted milk, dark or white chocolate or roll them in coconut!

And by the way...dulce de leche. They sell it by the spoonful here, but I highly recommend buying it by the jar (oh hey, iron!).


Lesson 3: ¡Más Pasta!

First, an admission: some of the stuff we're learning- though important- isn't blog-worthy. On Tuesday, for instance, we boiled vegetables, which evoked images of Oliver Twist slurping watery cabbage soup in Dickensian London.

Fortunately, yesterday's pasta class put the spice back in our spoonulas.

Entering into the "food fight" between Jessica Seinfeld and other "sneaky" moms has proven to be dangerous business. But this week, we learned a few techniques that could enhance Mrs. Seinfeld's repertoire of  cauliflower scrambled eggs and chocolate beet cake.

We made two more types of gnocchi delight, and this time we livened up the doughs with spinach and winter squash.

The technique, however, is essentially the same. In the case of the spinach, we dried it out by sautéing it in butter. And we roasted the squash in the oven before mixing in the egg yolk and flour.

We funkified the shapes, too. The spinach "gnocchi" were heaping, rounded tablespoons plopped into boiling water. The finished product, covered with cheese and baked in the oven briefly, looked like the one pictured below. And they were OVERWHELMINGLY delicious- puffy and not too spinachy- as evidenced by the fact that there were 15 more on the plate about 30 seconds before I took this picture:

The squash dough required to most fun technique we've learned to date...
...squirting droplets of dough from this pastry bag- which they call una manga- directly into the pot. They come out looking like mini Chik-Fil-A chicken nuggets and tasting slightly sweet and crunchy.

We made two tomato-based sauces to accompany our veggie-laden pasta. For the spinach gnocchi, we made a simple tomato sauce, with diced carrot, onion, garlic and basil.

Our other sauce called for a review of our knife skills- the ellipse!- and also had more complex flavors- white wine, anchovies, black olives and capers- thrown into the mix.

All in all, two more deceptively easy meals that, though veggie-laden, still feel like comfort food. Even the Soup Nazi would approve.


Between Meals: Feliz Día de la Memoria por la Verdad y la Justicia

Whatever you think of the Kirchners- mentioning the name here provokes the same responses as saying Haman in a synagogue- Nestor did do one cool thing while in office.

He gave Argentineans (and American culinary students) a day off to commemorate the victims of the last military junta, including an estimated 30,000 "disappeared" political dissidents.

Today, I'll be watching Las Madres: The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, researching recipes for this weekend's post (baking alfajores!) and giving thanks that Argentina is ruled by a corrupt democratically elected official rather than a corrupt dictatorship


Between Meals: Gemelos

Mondays and Fridays are lecture days- aka boring days- at culinary school. I meant to write something about the Chinatown here this weekend, but it was too rainy to make the trek.

And so, a couple quick notes to whet your appetite!

This is my Brazilian friend Alejandro from culinary school. Today, he put his GIANT Converse-clad foot next to mine and said, "Somos gemelos!"

Also, my landlords left this on the doorstep the other day.

Back with more on culinary school tomorrow, but a good reminder: What good is learning to cook if you don't have such lovely people to fatten up?


Between Meals: Librería El Ateneo Grand Splendid

My friend divides the world into two camps: the outdoor kids- who chased bugs in the forest growing up- and the indoor kids- who liked nothing more than to munch on DunkAroos while reading the latest Goosebumps installment.

I’ll let you guess which one I was.

A hint: I found indoor kid paradise yesterday...

Lesson 2: Potato Gnocchi

A turning point: I've now made real, edible food in culinary school! 

I associate pasta with being a lazy college student (boil water, dump in box of penne, open jar of tomato sauce, shovel noodles into mouth while pondering Kelly Bensimon's bronzer application on the Real Housewives of New York) or with being a vehicle for cheese (occasionally the neon, powdered kind).

So the idea of making homemade pasta always seems to defeat the purpose. All that cutting and drying is not what I have in mind when I'm craving a giant bowl of Bolognese.

The solution: gnocchi. Who knew those chubby nubbins were so simple? 

The recipe:
Mash a potato (or sweet potato)
Add yolk, flour, salt
Mix thoroughly with your hands
Roll into a cylinder with a 2cm diameter
Cut into 1cm x 2cm (yes, we've transitioned to metrics, but never fear, I usually just guesstimate the size) rectangles; roll into slightly more rounded nubbins (they look like little cocoons!)
That little tool pictured above just gives them added flair, i.e. lines

You can also jazz it up by stuffing in a couple small pieces of cheese (mozzarella was delightful) and rollling them into round balls. These are super impressive- a VOLCANO of cheese erupts in your mouth!- and no one will ever know that making them requires the same skills you used as a kindergartner futzing with Play-Dough:

We topped our gnocchi with some heart-attack-in-a-bowl sauces: roquefort cream sauce and saffron cream sauce. Both delicious and very simple: 1) make a roux (cooked flour plus butter), add cheese and cream for the roquefort sauce; 2) sauté diced onion in white wine, strain, add saffron, cream and parmesan for the saffron. If I were pretending to care about cholesterol, something slightly, uh, lighter- a pesto or puttanesca sauce- would have been a nice foil for the heaviness of the gnocchi.

Success: our pasta professor was a fan and even hammed it up for the camera:


Lesson 1: KNIVES

It's a culinary trope that the hallmark of a trained chef is his or her knife skills. Accordingly, the first three days of culinary school were more a lesson in geometry than gastronomy. My twenty or so classmates and I honed our skills by chopping potatoes, tomatoes, onions, peppers, lettuce, leeks, mushrooms and carrots into precise, little logs and cubes. I'm starting to look a little like this.

We learned the basics from our fast-talking instructor, who clearly has some form of OCD- he interrupts himself to swipe at stray potato peelings like a hawk diving for its prey. And LOOK at those perfectly rounded balls of potato! 

After our tutorial, we crowded into the kitchen to prove ourselves worthy of his praise. Although there's a lot to learn, I picked up a few tips that I hope will fool people into thinking I can cook when I return. I'll pass them on here so that you too can make matchstick french fries to great acclaim!

1. This is old news, but: sharp knives are a must.

2. The mantra: UNIFORMITY. This should be self-explanatory, but I never stopped long enough to realize that you can’t get pieces of the same size if you start with raw material that is all skee-wonky. Thus, the key to cutting uniform pieces is to start with smaller slices that are the correct length and thickness and then cut slices to your desired width (see the picture below- the smaller slices are on the bottom left with the resulting slices and dices).

3. The motion you make with your knife is a essentially an ellipse- first pushing the tip of the knife away from your body and simultaneously down into the veggie, then pulling the handle back toward you and up to complete the circuit. It’s almost balletic when done correctly. My motion right now is more like sumo wrestling.

4. To get everything the same size means a lot of wasted vegetable, which is offensive to American tastes. Take a deep breath and compost your scraps.

As we chopped, chocolate from the students baking downstairs wafted into our classroom, and my carrots and onions started to look a little...meager. Our instructor saw the baleful looks on our faces (ok, mostly my face) and told us we'll be preparing something tasty to take home tomorrow...


Between Meals: Turista

Tomorrow, I don my chef's outfit- black-and-white checkered pants and a GIANT white chef's coat (pictures to come)- and sharpen my knives.

But first, one more week as a turista. My cousin Wes and his girlfriend Colette came to visit. We did the tourist thang.

The adorable pair at Helena, a sickeningly cute Bay Area coffee shop- mismatched pillows!- transported to Palermo Soho.

The Jardín Botánico- where to go if you're hankering for a few dozen stray cats and dengue fever from the mosquitos.

According to my trusty guidebook- Time Out Buenos Aires- el Parque Tres de Febrero, which is reminescent of Central Park, transforms into a transvestite prostitute stomping ground at dark. I have yet to summon up the courage to prove or disprove this theory, but the white roses and gurgling fountains do provide a soothing atmosphere for love to work its magic.

As the guards closed the gates to el Cemetario de la Recoleta at dusk, we saw a woman cry and beg to be let in to see all the famous generals and politicians buried there. Ha, right. There is one draw and one draw only: Madonna's, I mean Evita's, grave.

Puerto Madero- an overhauled port- is Buenos Aires’ version of gentrification. I had heard it’s the place to stalk beautiful people, but all I saw were tourists, ships and this white, pointy thingStill, it’s a great area for a quiet stroll or a swanky meal on the water.

The Falklands War Memorial (the first person to explain what makes the Falklands worth fighting for wins a prize!) and sunbathers. Note to Argentinean government: that uniform looks pretty hot and itchy for the summertime.

TANGO! Colette tells me you're not supposed to take pictures at tango clubs because you might catch men looking deep into the eyes of women other than their wives. ¡Que barbaridad! So I surreptitiously took one of this fun guy, who had a one-man show that incorporated some krump elements.

Finally, the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series of quirky usages of English in advertisements here:

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