Monthly Archives: March 2011

Smoky, Spicy, Charred: Penne with Chickpeas & Tomatoes

It’s a common theme this time of year in my favorite food blogs and magazines: the final lap through the end of winter and into the growing season. It is a relief to hear others say that they too, cannot deal with the last three turnips in their vegetable drawer, or hear the words “stew” or “braise” without kicking their oven door.  For myself, I have been inundating the Washington Post’s food chat each week with questions tantamount to “I’m booooooooored! What can I cook noooooow?” Spring is so, so close! But while we wait for ramps and asparagus, I am not opposed to the occasional clamshell of mini heirloom tomatoes from Trader Joe’s, particularly in a recipe calling for them to be charred, an effective technique for glossing over any out-of-season wimpiness in vegetables.

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1884: the epic and the aftermath

Having been taken to see a stage production of Evita at an impressionable age (12), my longtime aspirations of traveling to Argentina were mostly fueled by the desire to somehow sneak onto the balcony of the Casa Rosada and belt out a showstopper. Unfortunately, the museum and tour of the “Pink House” were closed to visitors during our trip, so that is one life goal I will have to leave unchecked for the moment. Probably for the better.  However, in the midst of all our bike riding and wine tasting in Mendoza, my bestie Q and I did find time for another singular Argentine experience- dinner at 1884 Francis Mallman.

 

The parilla and clay oven

 

For those uninitiated into the cult of the fire, Mallman is the author of Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way, and is generally credited with elevating the gaucho cooking of South America to the realm of international cuisine. And how!  I love dining out and have been known to go to great lengths (including attending graduate school to win a bet over a chef’s table dinner) to eat at new restaurants, and 1884 was no exception. Despite the restaurant’s global profile, the local cab drivers in Mendoza were somewhat uncertain of the location. The third cab we flagged was willing to take us, but as he veered out of the city into the unlit streets of suburban Godoy Cruz, turning onto a residential dead end, I started to get that “this is how I’m going to die” feeling in the pit of my stomach.  Just then, Q spotted a small light on at a huge compound tucked behind massive iron gates. Saved from certain starvation/death, the driver pulled up in front, the security guard checked my name against their reservation list, and the gates swung open to this…

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I’m Back! And, Perfect Popcorn

First things first… I’m back from two weeks in Argentina!  It was an amazing trip, filled with steak, wine, dulce de leche, and sunshine.  Much more on this to come….

Wine: Stage 1

In the meantime, however, in honor of the birthday of the queen of stovetop popcorn (that would be my mother), I am sharing her best techniques for perfect popped corn.  Did you ever notice how microwave popcorn has that slightly plastic squeak when you bite into it?  That’s… not good.  I think popcorn deserves a little more respect.  Not only is it one of the oldest edible plants native to North America, it is also the official snack food of Illinois.

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