Thursday, March 27, 2014

Interim Trip Report–March 27, 2014

We arrived quite Wednesday morning (3-19-14) and after unpacking headed out for lunch at Canita La Mamma Rosa, as we always do on our first day. We met Julia and Pablo (youngest daughter and her boyfriend) and Camila and Tito for dinner at our favorite restaurant, A Nos Amours. Tito mentioned to Leandro, the chef, that the figs will be ready for harvest on “the farm.” Leandro gave Tito a lovely smile and said, “I want your figs.”

The following evening we rented a car at Localiza, one of the few car rental places outside the airports, which is (luckily) just three blocks from our house. The day consumed with biking to a meeting with the escribano in the afternoon and shopping for the weekend. We didn’t get to dinner at La Choza until eleven.

Pin indicates location of La Esperanza relative to Buenos Aires.

On Friday morning we picked up daughter Diane and son-in-law Troy at the airport. We headed straight to the estancia (ranch) of our friends Camila and Tito, which is about 4 hours south of BA. Camila served a lunch of delicious empenadas. Afterwards, Tito, Troy, Diane and I drove to Azul, the nearest large town (population: ~60,000), to go shopping for provisions for the weekend. It’s about a 35 kilometer drive over dirt roads that cut through a landscape of grass, blue sky, and lots of cows.  Diane and Troy got a good glimpse into life in this important agricultural and cattle center.

It was a Friday afternoon and the town was bustling with pedestrians, motor bikes, wandering dogs and cars competing at every intersection. The first time Carolyn and I had been here , a number of years ago, was during the quiet siesta time, after lunch, when the only person, besides us, at the main square was a taxi driver snoozing in his car. 

We visited a couple of panaderias (bakeries), the supermarket and the butcher, where Tito selected 7 kilos of meat for the asado planned for Saturday night. That’s 15 pounds of meat! The trunk of the car was filled with food when we finished shopping!  Of course, the Saturday evening asado and all our meals were fabulous. Camila and Tito are excellent cooks. Particularly popular was the Ricotta Cake that Camila prepared from scratch.

JBrzezinski_photo 1_77257-1
7 kilos of meat on the butcher's scale with Tito in the background

“The farm,” as Tito and Camila refer to their estancia (cattle ranch) in English, is named La Esperanza. It’s 2,500 acres supports about 1,400 cows. Altogether, from what I can gather, Tito, his brother, 3 sisters plus two cousins own about 11,000 acres, cumulatively, within the same area. For us urbanites, it’s really hard to fathom such huge tracts of land.

The vistas over the flat land, dotted with thousands of grass fed cows, are astounding. The nearest large town, Azul, is a bit over 25 kilometers (15.5 miles), yet you can see the lights of many of its buildings.

Entrance to La Esperanza (3-21-14)

Happy cows – curious cows

We noticed last December that the flag at La Esperanza was ready to be replaced. Indeed, when we arrived this time it was gone.

JBrzezinski_photo 2_77258-2
Julia watches as the new flag being installed next to the pool

The weather was and ideal, summer-like, but it is the start of fall and perfect timing to  harvest  some figs and walnuts.


Above, Diane whizzes by as she took a turn driving the cuatro ciclo (i.e. ATV).

The two brothers who have been operating Campodonico for decades

We had a chance to visit a nearby pulperia, called Campodonico, which is an ancient bar and general store that has served the gauchos and locals since 1850. These old pulperias are quickly disappearing on the pampas. (location: -36.341944,-59.789722) (See more images, taken by someone else HERE).

After lunch on Saturday. Right to left: Me, Carolyn, Troy, Diane, Tito, Julia, Camila, Francisca, Santi, Joaquin (Camila’s brother) and Luz (his girlfriend)

Tito’s cousin, Inca, her husband, Paul, and their two younger sons joined us for the asado. I preapred Tito’s Hammock cocktails that disappeared very quickly. Unfortunately, I had developed a sore throat and had to abstain. Mas o menos. We attacked the meat with appetite and energy, but only made a dent into the 7 kilos. We went at it again on Sunday lunch, but still could not finish everything.

On Sunday afternoon we drove to the estancia owned by Inca and her brother Juan. It’s called La Aurora (The Sunrise). It’s fairly close to La Esperanza, but even larger in acreage. Although Inca and Paul were not there, Tito provided a thorough tour and some history. The house is a rambling colonial Spanish style building that consists of two connected houses that share a huge dining room. Altogether there are over a dozen bedrooms. Great place for a party!   ;)

At El Obrero (“The Worker”) restaurant in La Boca (3-24-14)

We returned late on Sunday afternoon to finally introduce Diane and Troy to the city.  Since we still had the rental car on Monday (a holiday here) we took the opportunity and drove down to La Boca and San Telmo with them. Julia (youngest daughter, who lives in BA) joined us and served as an impromptu tour guide.

Luckily we found parking in San Telmo. Because it was a holiday, the market that operates on Sundays was again in full swing, including a demonstration of tango in the square. In the evening Pablo, Julia’s boyfriend, joined us at Casa Palermo and shortly later we walked to meet Adriana and Carlos for dinner at the restaurant Minga.

Tuesday morning I returned the dust encrusted rental car to the Localiza office. The young woman there carefully inspected the car, making officious notes on her clipboard. I was worried that there was damage from the rocks on the country roads. She returned to the office and announced “Perfecto!” with a beaming smile. Whew.

Strolling through Palermo Soho (3-25-14)

In the afternoon we walked around Palermo Soho, exploring the various shops. Carolyn and I haven’t done this in the last several years and we astonished how many new shops there are and how many have vanished. Needless to say, it was a lot of walking around. We enjoyed a good lunch at Bartola (corner of Gurruchaga and Costa Rica). In the evening, we met Camila at Plaza Guemes and strolled back to Casa Palermo where she showed us how to start the gas heater. (Unfortunately, the auto pilot has quit working.)

With Maria on the roof terrace at Magnolia Hotel (3-26-14)

We had a late start on Wednesday and didn’t arrive at Maria’s hotel (Magnolia Hotel) until after noon, in spite of the fact that it is only a block away. At long last Maria and Diane and Troy could meet. We had a chance to catch up with Maria and she gave Diane and Troy a short tour of the hotel. Afterwards we had lunch at El Renaciente, a local dive that serves up inexpensive but tasty fare. After a meat-packed lunch we headed to Recoleta Cemetery for the obligatory tour and a stop at Evita’s final resting place.

Recoleta Cemetery

After an helado, we peeked into the famous Alvear Hotel. From there we walked about a mile to Plaza San Martin, which truly is a spectacular park and then down Florida Street, which was very crowded with people, hawkers and people yelling “cambio” (change), hoping to exchange pesos for dollars. Last stop: Casa Rosada (the presidential office building).

At Casa Rosada (3-26-14)

Later we enjoyed a very nice dinner at our favorite restaurant, A Nos Amours, and called it night, exhausted from all the walking.

This morning, Thursday, was cloudy and there was a light, intermittent drizzle, but it was over by noon. Diane and Troy headed out to visit the Museo Evita, but Carolyn and I decided to chillax Casa Palermo. This evening we have plans to go for pizza and then to Milion, a popular club that is housed in a mansion in Recoleta, which is the upscale neighborhood in Buenos Aires.

Unfortunately, Diane and Troy’s week in Argentina is quickly coming to a close. Somehow we have to squeeze in all the rest tomorrow, before they leave for the airport at six.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Jambalaya Presto

Jambalaya is a Louisiana Creole dish of Spanish and French influence that originated in the Caribbean Islands. I concocted this version after having it in a restaurant and tinkered with it several times.

If available, buy shrimp that have already been cleaned and this recipe is very easy to prepare.

6 servings

3/4 - 1 lb. shrimp raw (frozen/thawed okay), cleaned (see note 1)

1-1/2 links low fat smoked sausage (i.e. Polish sausage or similar)

1 can (about 14 oz.) diced tomatoes

2 cans Spanish rice

3 medium green or red peppers, diced into 3/4" pieces

2 onions, diced (sweet onion preferred)

2 pieces celery, diced (or 1/2 teaspoon celery seed)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon crushed thyme

1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic or garlic paste

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 t. cayenne pepper, more or less, to taste (optional)

1/4 teaspoon paprika

2 cubes Knorr’s vegetable bullion


In a Dutch oven, sauté the onion in the oil for 5 minutes over a medium heat, until softened.  Add all the ingredients, except the shrimp and rice and cook over a low heat for 15-20 minutes.  Add water if the mixture is too dry; it should be somewhat soupy.  Stir often.  Add the shrimp and rice and cook for an additional 6 minutes on low heat.  Serve in bowls with buttered, crusty Italian or French bread.

Note 1: If you don’t know how to clean shrimp, and it’s essential to do, Google it.

Triple Berry Tart

I found this recipe on the internet and the photos made my mouth water. Although we have a 9.5 inch tart pan, we also have an 11 inch model. Since I had enough fruit, I decided to do the math and increased the recipe for an 11 inch tart. That recipe follows the original 9.5 inch version.

I changed the cooking temperature for the recipes because my effort resulted in a charred tart.  It instructed that to cook the tart at 400 degrees F, which seemed awfully hot. It was. Next time I will use 350.

2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (use some sort of processor)
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
12 tablespoons cold butter, diced
1 egg yolk
1 cup each of blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries
1 teaspoon sugar (optional) (seems pointless … the crust has so much sugar)

1. Preheat the oven to 400  350degrees F.
2. Combine the flour, walnuts, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter and the egg yolk. Mix, either by hand or with a mixer until crumbly. I felt like mine was too dry, but it turned out perfect, so don’t stress if it seems too “crumbly.”
3. Press 1 1/2 cups of the mixture into an even layer into the bottom of a 9 1/2 inch springform or tart pan.  Using a measuring cup works well to press the mixture into the sides/bottom.
4. In a separate bowl, combine the berries and lightly toss until evenly dispersed. Pour the berries on top of the crust, spreading evenly across the entire surface.
5. Sprinkle to remaining crumb mixture evenly over the berries. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and serve warm or at room temperature.

11 inch version:

2-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped walnuts (use some sort of processor)
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
16 tablespoons cold butter, diced
1 egg yolk
1 cup each of blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries
1 teaspoon sugar (optional) (seems pointless … the crust has so much sugar)

Note: I mistakenly used 12 T of butter instead of 16. Oops.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Butternut Squash Soup



 November 3, 2008 -  Carolyn bought two packages of Butternut Squash from Costco, already peeled and diced.  Also, we didn’t have any bacon or soup base. Or duck fat. So I improvised the original recipe (below).  The soup turned out as good or better!


Yield:  10-12 servings

  • 1 or 2 tablespoon butter
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • salt to taste (I used 1 teaspoon)
  • 2 – 32 oz. packages Del Monte Butternut Squash
  • 8 cloves fresh garlic (squeezed through a press)
  • 8 drops Liquid Smoke
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 Knorr’s vegetable bullion
  • 1 medium Idaho potato, peeled and chopped (into 3/4 inch pieces)

Place butter and oil in a heavy 4 or 5 quart pot over medium heat.  Add onions and several tablespoons of water.  Cover and cook about 10-12 minutes on medium heat, until tender but not brown.  Add garlic at the half-way point.


Add thyme, white pepper, salt, squash, bullion, and Liquid Smoke.  Cover and cook 15 minutes.  Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Add potato, cover, and cook until squash is completely tender; about 35-40 minutes.


Allow to cool for 20 minutes.  Puree mixture in a blender or processor, in stages.  Return to pot, and check seasoning; add salt to taste.  (I did not add additional salt.)



*   *   *


The back story . . .


In late January, 1999, I began visiting the architects (Davis Brody Bond) for the Northwestern University Medical School Research Building Project to hold bi-monthly project meetings. The project manager, Tony Louvis, took care that my stays were pleasant. He arranged for my stay at the relatively new Soho Grand Hotel. Inevitably we visit the better restaurants in Soho and Tribeca.  On the evening of my first visit we dined at "Montrachet" and enjoyed an exquisite squash soup with smoked duck prosciutto. On my next trip, I found a recipe in the dining section of the New York Times for a butternut squash soup that rivals the one I enjoyed with Tony. Of course, I deviated slightly from the recipe adapted from chef Christian Delouvrier.  My version appears below, with notes to allow creating Delouvrier's original.  (February 28, 1999 - jrb)


Yield:  6 generous servings


1 tablespoon butter (or duck fat)

2 medium onions, sliced

salt to taste

5 ounces smoked bacon, chopped (freeze bacon before dicing very finely)

2 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped (I used one large squash and chopped it into 3/4" cubes)

6 cloves garlic, chopped (I used equivalent of Polaner garlic that comes chopped, in a glass jar)

1 spring fresh thyme (I used 1/4 teaspoon dried, crushed thyme)

4 cups chicken broth

1/4 teaspoon Orrington Farm Chicken Flavored Soup Base (not in original recipe, but I used canned broth rather than home made)

1 small Idaho potato, peeled and chopped (into 3/4 inch pieces)

Freshly ground black pepper


Place 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy 4 or 5 quart saucepan over medium heat.  Add onions, season with salt, cover and cook about 10 minutes, until tender but not brown.


Add bacon, squash, garlic and thyme.  Cover and cook 15 minutes.  Add chicken broth and soup base, and bring to a boil.  Add potato and season with pepper, and, if desired, additional salt (I did not add any salt).  Cover, and cook until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.


When vegetables are tender, remove spring of thyme (if you used fresh).  Puree mixture in a blender or processor.  Return to pot, and check seasoning; add salt to taste.  (I did not add salt.)



Ingredients and part of recipe I did not prepare:


1 tablespoon butter (or duck fat)

8 brussels sprouts, trimmed

4 ounces duck sausage, in 1/2-inch cubes (optional)

4 ounces fresh duck foie gras, in 1/2-inch cubes (optional)

12 chanterelle mushrooms, quartered

3 tablespoons creme fraiche


While the vegetables are cooking, bring a small saucepan of water to boil, add brussels sprouts and blanch 2 minutes.  Refresh water under cold water, drain well and pull off leaves, discarding the cores.  Set aside.


Heat butter in a nonstick skillet.  Add sausage cubes, if using; saute until they start to sear; then add foie gras, if using, and saute a minute or two, until they are lightly browned.  Drain on paper towel, and cover to keep warm.  In the same pan saute brussels sprout leaves and chanterelles 5 minutes.  Set aside to keep warm.


Place the pureed soup over medium heat, and bring to a boil.  Stir in creme fraiche.


Place equal portions of sausage, foie gras, brussels sprout leaves and chanterelles in center of each 6 warm soup plates and serve them.  Ladle hot soup into each plate at the table.




Restaurant Review:



                       239 W. Broadway, between Walker and White Sts.

                       New York City, NY

                       Phone: 212/219-2777


                                                                   Over $60

                       Enterprising restaurateur Drew Nieporent's trendsetting first restaurant , still

                       one of New York's finest, keeps the food at center stage. Pastel walls, plush

                       mauve banquettes, and engaging works of art set an unpretentious tone.

                       Two three-course menus as well as a five-course tasting affair are offered.

                       For a satisfying dinner, start with rabbit salad with roasted peppers, then try

                       the signature truffle-crusted salmon in red-wine fumé, and finish off with the

                       puddinglike banana-chocolate gratin, quickly finished under the grill. The

                       distinguished wine list emphasizes diminutive regional vineyards. Bargain

                       hunters take note: A $19.99 lunch is offered on Friday year-round. AE.

                       Reservations essential. Closed Sun. No lunch Mon.-Thurs. or Sat.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Chicken Salpicón


There are many recipes for Salpicón, however, we really liked how it was prepared at El Renaciente Restaurante in Buenos Aires, which is a local dive that is braved by those who don’t need to use “the facilities.” (Read: no toilet seats and no toilet paper provided in the women’s room. The Salpicón was $38 pesos.

Following is a list of the ingredients that we could discern. Eventually, I’ll try to reproduce it and post a follow up.

Roasted chicken, skin removed and chicken pulled apart and cut into small pieces
Boiled potatoes, quartered and quartered again
Boiled eggs, cut in half
Red peppers, cooked al dente and cut into pieces
Olives, cut in half
Sweet onion, chopped

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Vegetable Pancakes

A healthier and interesting alternative to potato pancakes.

1 egg
1 egg white
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1-1/4 lbs. baking potatoes (about 2 medium potatoes), peeled and shredded
1 medium zucchini, shredded
1 large onion, finely diced
1 sweet red pepper, diced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Mix the egg, egg white, salt and pepper in a bowl. Place the potatoes, zucchini, onion and red pepper in a bowl. Add the flour and stir to blend.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over a medium-high heat. Using a ¼-cup measuring cup, drop some “batter” into the skillet and flatten slightly. Cook until underside is browned; about 3 minutes. Flip and brown the other side. Serve immediately.

Stanislawa’s Gołabki (Stuffed Cabbage)

My mother would make this economic meal in the fall, when cabbage and tomatoes were available and inexpensive. Polish comfort food. Incidentally, “Gołabki” translates to “little pigeons.”

You will need a large container. The size depends on the size of the cabbage, but the pot or bucket must allow the cabbage to be completely covered with water. Most recently, I had an unusually gargantuan head of cabbage, so I had to boil two large pots of water and used a plastic garden bucket. Not exactly what they teach at the CIA, I imagine, but it worked nicely.

Ideally, make this one day ahead. It’s better reheated.

1 head of cabbage
1 lb. ground sirloin
2 cups of cooked rice
1 onion diced
2 heaping teaspoons chopped garlic
3 medium tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup sour cream
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoon Salt
~1 teaspoon Pepper

Wash the head of cabbage and cut out the stem. Boil one or two pots of water. Again, it depends on how much water you need. Once the water is boiling, either place the cabbage into the pot or pour the water into the larger container (such as a bucket) and pour in the boiling water. Place something over the cabbage to weigh it down, so it’s somewhat submerged. Let the cabbage sit in the water for about 45 minutes to an hour so the leaves soften from the heat. Meanwhile . . .

Fry the diced onion in 2 T butter, until golden.

Beat the two eggs and combine with the ground beef and one teaspoon, each, of salt and ground black pepper. Add the fried onions and garlic. Knead until the egg and pepper are well incorporated into the beef. Next, add the cooked rice and knead to incorporate into the beef.

Remove the cabbage from the water. Drain the pot and add 2 tablespoons of butter. Heat it just enough so the butter melts and turn off the heat. Carefully remove the cabbage leaves; avoid tearing the leaves. Throw out the outer layer.  Place a large dollop of the beef mixture on a leaf and wrap the leaf around the meat. Arrange the bundles in the pot. Then add water until it almost covers them. Arrange slices of tomatoes over the top, and add about 1 teaspoons of salt and some additional black pepper. Sprinkle a bit of ground cloves over the top. Turn the heat up to high.  Once the water is rolling, reduce to a simmer and cook for 1-1/2 hours.

Remove the gołabki and remove most of the water, leaving about two cups in the pot. Strain to remove the tomatoes. Reserve the tomatoes. Add the ground cloves and sour cream and whisk furiously for a couple of minutes. Using a flour sifter, add the flour and continue to whisk vigorously until you have a smooth sauce. (Alternatively, add 3T flour to ¼ cup of water and mix well until smooth; add to the water.”) Add the tomatoes and heat to thicken the sauce.

Place a pair of the cabbage rolls on a plate and ladle sauce over them. Pour the sauce over the gołabki and serve with bread and butter.

Note: Add lemon or vinegar if you prefer a sourer flavor.