Sunday, January 10, 2010

Funny How Time Flies

This year--and part of last, I guess I should say--gatherings with friends and family for the holidays left my co-conspirator and me with New Years Eve as our only opportunity to spend a holiday with just the two of us. We elected to do what we've done in the past. We cooked and ate. Recently I found a thick South American cookbook in a used bookstore and had been reading it and selecting recipes I wanted to try. We decided this would be our opportunity to make a few of them.

The event started with making dough for the caldudas which are the Chilean version of empanadas. The dough needed to rest and the filling needed to cool before they were assembled so I got on those tasks early in the afternoon. The filling was made with my new favorite ingredient, achiote oil. It's made by boiling annatto seeds and dried pepper in oil yielding a deep golden red oil with a little heat and a hint of nutmeg flavor. We cooked the onions for the calduda filling in a combination of achiote oil and butter turning them a glowing gold.

Ground beef, beef stock, spices and a chopped hard-boiled egg rounded out the filling.

Later in the afternoon I rolled out the dough, which was very firm and had me worried whether it was right or not, and assembled the caldudas.

With that prep work done we were ready for the fun to really begin. We started Happy Hour with pisco sours with some cheese and olives. A drop of bitters makes the colorful spot on the eggwhite foam.

For an appetizer the co-conspirator assembled these roasted peppers stuffed with tuna salad. They were delicious!

It was really starting to feel like a tapas kind of night when the next small plate rolled out. We made mini sandwiches with some leftover cold roast beef with arugula and a horseradish mustard sauce on mini pitas. People who complain about leftovers are clearly not "leaving over" the right foods.

Next we whipped up a batch of one of our favorite foods, tortillas de Cangrejo--crab cakes! I don't think I'll ever get tired of crab cakes. This recipe was different from the ones I've made in the past in that it used thick white sauce as a binder rather than eggs.

I think it was about this time that our "guest" Don David arrived from Argentina. I'm not sure. Thinks were getting a bit fuzzy by this point.

When the caldudas came out of the oven I was happy to discover that the crust had indeed been correct and the filling was flavorful. I made the full batch and froze all but a few before baking them for future meals.

Following this we decided to move on to preparing the main courses. An atamalado is a stew made with meat or seafood and a grain or small pasta. We chose to make ours with chicken and quinoa.

And what would a South American meal be without potatoes? We elected to simply boil ours to preserve their innate flavor and then topped them with a sweet pepper and hazelnut sauce making papas sancochadas con salsa de avellanas. I'll admit the plate looks a little empty, but if you've read this far you know we weren't going hungry.

Normally I don't eat desserts. But the co-conspirator rightly decided a meal of this magnitude called for something to top it off. The choice was little chocolate cakes in ramekins. We groaned happily and called it a night.

Have a happy and bountiful 2010!

Saturday, January 9, 2010


I'm a little embarassed to admit we went twitching today. Twitching is a birding term for traveling some distance just to get a look at a rare bird. I'm not crazy about the idea for a couple of reasons. First, it's not exactly ecologically sound to drive a great distance for something so frankly frivolous. Second, it can be harmful for a rare bird to be mobbed by eager birders anxious to get it on their life lists. Just last year, I believe it was, a Burrowing Owl lost it's life in the Chicago area because of too much attention.

Still, the co-conspirator and I didn't have any big plans today so we threw some optics in the car and took off for Wisconsin's East Coast to see a Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla.) It's a pretty little gull that has been present in the harbor at Port Washington for nearly a month.

We watched it sitting on the water.

We watched it flying around.

We watched it catch and eat a fish!

All this made us hungry so we stopped at a local Mexican restaurant and had lunch before returning home. So, I guess you could say we combined two activities into one trip.