Monday, January 2, 2012

Home Cookin': Christmas Dinner in Santiago, Chile

Well, the weather outside was frightful (a hot 93 degrees fahrenheit), but the fire is so delightful (if by fire you mean the incredibly strong Christmas alcohol drinks that have a kick like fire water), and since we've no place to go (since everything is closed on Christmas)...

December 25, 2011 marked my 2nd year living in the southern hemisphere during Christmas time. For any European or North American, it's quite a change in culture, regardless of the country. In New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and other English speaking southern hemisphere countries, you'll still find the same Christmas music with all it's snow and winter references, playing in stores. Oddly enough, even in a Latin country like Chile, you'll hear the same music. We can chalk that up to a bit of cultural imperialism.

When you are an expat, living in a Spanish speaking country and having a poor overall comprehension of the language, it's easy to think that will all the culture and climate differences, it could be a tough time. But in great countries like Chile, you don't miss a beat. You still find all the festive cheer, the kind people, and christmas decorations any snowbird would be used to. And like every country, Chile puts it's own twist on the holiday traditions.

So here's a look at some of those with the focus on some of the excellent food Chile has to offer for the holidays.

Unlike many other countries like the United States, Christmas Eve is the more important time for families for the holiday. It's when all the relatives get together for a proper meal.

As I was alone in Santiago on Christmas eve, I used it as an excuse to have  less traditional "Christmas" meal, but still something distinctively Chilean.

So for dinner, it was Pastel de Choclo.

Pastel de Choclo:
Home Cookin': Pastel de Choclo with a corn and chicken salad, topped with candied almonds (Santiago, Chile)

The dish is popular throughout Chile, and is their unique version of an popular dish many know as "Sheppard's Pie". Consisting of a base of sauteed ground beef, onions, chicken and sliced hard boiled egg, the casserole is completed with a tasty corn batter topping that is sweet and silky like the tastiest corn cake or pudding you could ever have. For a quick an easy recipe to try it out, try this one.

Cola de Mono
Pan de Pasqua and Cola de Mono

The literal translation in English is "Monkey Tail". The name might not be as appealing when you factor in what is produced nearby a monkey's tail. But the drink is fantastic. A traditional Christmas drink, Cola de Mono is the equivalent to egg nog in many Anglo cultures as something you'll only find at Christmas time. I had heard much about the drink and was anxious to give it a try. As I didn't have it in me to actually cook and prepare the drink myself, I opted for a pre-made mixture that no self-respecting Chilean would ever subject themselves to. And it was still one of the best holiday drinks I've tasted.

Like any complex drink, each person preparing it can add their own twist. But the basics include milk, water, instant coffee grounds, cinnamon, vanilla, sometimes a fair amount of cloves, combined with a highly alcoholic aguardiente. Variations might include any combination of liquors such as pisco, rum, or brandy.

Served cold and when drank, the end flavor is something like a White Russian. But due to the complexity of the flavors, it tastes more like a combination where the prevalent flavors would be Kahlua and Baileys Irish Cream.

And to eat for dessert with the Cola de Mono, a slice of Pan de Pasqua.

Pan de Pasqua:
Remember in the 1980's, when comics would make jokes about fruit cake and how it's the gift you get for someone at Christmas time you don't really like...since so few people in Anglo cultures actually like fruit cake? Well, if you have a Chilean friend living abroad, you can always re-gift your unwanted fruitcake to him or her...because Chileans devour the stuff. Every supermarket, every bakery is packed to the ceilings with Pan de Pasqua at Christmas time. And make no mistake: this isn't some special recipe that tastes different to what you've had in the UK or the USA. It's virtually the same thing, ranging in texture and consistency from somewhat (and I stress somewhat) fluffy to a hard round brick you could break a car window wish. It was nice to eat this year though, since it is the type of food that would elicit memories of a trip to grandma's house.

Chistmas Dinner: Roasted Turkey
Home Cookin': Christmas dinner - Turkey injected with a rum marinade with apples and prunes roasted into the meat, roasted garlic mashed potatoes and grren bean almondine (Santiago, Chile)

Even with my new found love for Cola de Mono, the headliner of Christmas Dinner came in the form of "pavo". While a portion of Americans pass on Turkey for Christmas due to the late November holiday of Thanksgiving featuring turkey, for many Chileans, Turkey is the main event. This year, I was blessed with having a wonderful girlfriend who changed her holiday travel schedule to return to Santiago early to spend Christmas day with me. And thanks to her loving mother, she arrived with the greatest gift you could give a food writer on Christmas: a roasted turkey, cooked to perfection.

Now I could have bought a turkey and prepared it myself. But the style I would have used would have been more along the lines of what I've done in the past as a more Anglocentric method. You all know the drill: clean the turkey cavity, stuff it with various items such as traditional stuffing, baste every so often, and serve.

But the style this year was such a pleasant surprise.

The uncooked meat was injected with enough rum to take down a college student, adding a richer flavor to the meat upon cooking and producing a much more flavorful au jous. Rather than relying on just the traditional stuffing of the cavity that I'm used to, prunes and apples were placed into the actual meat prior to cooking, infusing with the meat upon cooking. This is something I often do with every pork dish, especially with fruit, fresh rosemary and whole garlic cloves. But for eating turkey, this was a first for me. The result was a near perfect meal of the roasted turkey, served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and green bean almondine.

And for dessert, homemade pumpkin American contribution to the Christmas dinner.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sushi at Yuki in Buenos Aires

Sushi platter from Yuki, Buenos Aires

When it comes to finding good sushi in Buenos Aires, it's a nearly impossible quest. Sure, if you like salmon, cream cheese and the mystery white fish, then you're all set. But if you're looking for the mythical red tuna (Ahi), you're out of luck...because even if you find it on a menu, it's usually inferior quality.  So if you like a more traditional style of Japanese sushi, Buenos Aires has next to no options.

Except for Yuki.

Thanks to a review I read, I made it a priority to make sure I took a visit.I planned for months to goto Yuki but didn't get around to it until tonight. And it was well worth it.

They didn't have any fresh red tuna but were honest in saying that since it wasn't fresh, they wouldn't serve it. But even without it, the meal was superb.

In fact, when we told them "no queso crema" they explained how as a traditional sushi restaurant, they never use it anyways. Yes folks, in BA, most sushi has cream have to ask to NOT have it when ordering.

Karaage from Yuki, Buenos Aires

Tamago, pulpo, rabas y tuna from Yuki, Buenos Aires

Green tea ice cream from Yuki, Buenos Aires

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving in Buenos Aires

As good a time as any to test out the iPhone Blogger app with some photos from this past Thanksgiving.

This year, Thanksgiving was in Buenos Aires, at an American restaurant, Kansas.

The meal consisted of turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied carrots, mashed sweet potatoes (with pecans and apples). And for dessert, pecan pie.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Home Cookin': Cranberry Ice Cream & Cranberry Cheesecake

Cranberry season is here for many. This means you'll find a few places with some cranberry muffins on the menu, but for the most part, it's still Thanksgiving cranberry sauce that will be the primary time you'll eat the tasty tart berry.

But if you're a big fan of the cranberry, there are a few other creative things you can do with them.

Or course there are muffins and various cakes and breads you can use them with. But you can also use them to make a tasty and unique ice cream flavor.

In fact, it's a great way to use any leftover cranberry sauce you make for Thanksgiving. When making a home made vanilla ice cream, just include a desired amount of your homemade cranberry sauce into the ice cream ingredients. The result is a sweet ice cream with all the berry flavor and a hint of tartness.

Cranberry Ice Cream

The same sauce is also a great topping for cheesecake, a nice alternative to strawberries, raspberrys, blueberries, chocolate, etc.

Cranberry Cheesecake

Monday, November 7, 2011

Montevideo, Uruguay in Food Photos

Took a two night weekend trip to Montevideo to grab a few things I've long craved, with seafood at the top of the list. Despite it's location near the Atlantic, Buenos Aires is as far from a "seafood city" as you can get. Yet not far away in Montevideo, Uruguay, you'll find that beef and parrilla are still king, but also lots of great seafood options. But even when in a city with better seafood, you can't fully bypass trying the excellent parrilla options...and of course a chivito of two. Not to be forgotten...we also included a trip to one of my favorite German restaurants.

Grilled meats from Estancia del Puerto, Montevideo, Uruguay

Parrilla Mariscos Mixto: shrimp, pulpo, calamari, corvina, salmon, zucchini, potato, squash, red and yellow bell peppers from Rara Avis, Montevideo, Uruguay

The national food of Uruguay...the Chivito. One of the greatest sandwiches on the planet consisting of bife de lomo, lechuga, tomate, huevos, queso and usually jamon y panceta:
Chivito from Chiviteria Marcos, Montevideo
, Uruguay

Pez de espada con papas natual from El Peregrino, Montevideo, Uruguay

Apple pancake with rum flambe with vanilla ice cream from El Peregrino, Montevideo, Uruguay

Grilled swordfish with boiled potatoes and sauteed onions and peppers from El Peregrino, Montevideo, Uruguay

Costilla ahumada con papas Suiza y pure de manzanas from one of my favorite German restaurants,  Dackel, Montevideo, Uruguay. Easily the greatest pork chop I've ever had!

And another shot: Costilla ahumada con papas Suiza y pure de manzanas from one of my favorite German restaurants,  Dackel, Montevideo, Uruguay. Easily the greatest pork chop I've ever had!

Always good to get a quality dark dunkel beer...

Salchicha y medio-medio (half champagne, half white wine) from Estancia del Puerto, Montevideo, Uruguay

Caprese salad from Dackel, Montevideo, Uruguay

Tasty pan seared fish in a curry and safron sauce with mussels from El Fogon in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Gaze upon the greatest pork chop ever cooked. One wouldn't expect Uruguay to have a good German restaurant, but Dackel is real good.

The specialty at Dackel is the Costilla Ahumada Kassler. This pork chop is almost 3 inches thick and slow cooked in a smoker. They then finish it off with more dry rub (mostly pepper) on the grill. The sides are Papas a la Suiza which is a hash brown by US standards, and apple sauce.

Dackel has a good selection of traditional German cuisine that you seldom find in Buenos Aires. While the photo doesn't show it, they have lots of more traditional German breads...which I ate before the photog. 

As Dackel is 2 clocks from the beach in Carrasco, there's also some seafood selections. The neighborhood is a good 30-40 minute cab ride from Ciudad Vieja, where most tourists are in Montevideo. But it's well worth the trip. Besides, you can just head to the beach and walk off all that pork fat.

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