Archive for August, 2011

I have mentioned the Mercado Central several times.  It is an indoor market with stalls, much likeThe Midtown Global Market, (where my catering kitchen is).  which is modeled after some of the more famous indoor markets in the U.S.  It is a brilliant concept, and greatly appreciated by folks like me who like to find their food close to the source, and ideally in bulk.  This market is not huge, but I have been able to find most everything that I want and need.  My favorite place is the spice/grain/flour stall.  The men all stand in the middle, surrounded by bins and the customers stand outside and tell them how much of something they want.  It moves quickly, and I am still working out how much half a kilo is, not to mention saying it all in Spanish….so I rarely feel as if I have gotten everything I wanted, but each time I come back I make a new discovery and learn a new word or two.

most every spice you'd ever need

Notice the "Lino" (flax seed)?




















I am dying to know what Mendocinos do with ground flax seed, or quinoa.  I haven’t seen evidence of any of these things anywhere, so I am quite curious. There are also lots of dried beans, and while you won’t find corn tortillas anywhere, there is plenty of whole dried corn, corn flour and polenta. Again, I am curious to know what everyone is doing with all of these whole foods!



I have learned that the places to find “health food” and things like herbal supplements, whole grain pastas and crackers and natural sweets are called “dieteticas”.  They are scattered throughout the city and all seem to have more or less the same things, except the one I discovered very close to our apartment. They have FRESHLY BAKED whole wheat bread, pizza crusts, sweetbreads, media lunas (the crescent shaped pastry sold everywhere) and alfajores.  They have a kitchen in the back where they prepare everything.  I am strategizing about how to arrange a little trade or workshare with them…..

A few last photos from the market.  I was a little self conscious about taking out the camera, and definitely didn’t want to take photos of people, but it’s tough to pass up these classic shots of the meat.

I'm guessing intestines

For all you cured meat lovers




















Slowly but surely I am finding my way to the places that will nourish and sustain us.  I still have much to discover about the food system here-who and where does it all come from, and what happens to all the waste? Is there a culture of sustainability?  If so, where and how do they fit into the larger culture here?

We did just discover that the local library is sponsoring a “Mes de la agricultura familiar”- a month about local agriculture, and there is a farmer’s market tomorrow.  I will definitely check it out, and ask as many questions as I am able to.  Thankfully I’ll have my translator (AKA husband) with me.

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It has been cold here.  Bone chilling cold.  Not the below zero kind of cold that we are used to in Minnesota, but a kind of cold that gets inside you quickly, and is hard to get out.  And, while the pizza, pasta and meat have not been warming my heart, the other specialty in this town is chocolate.  As I mentioned, there is a strong Italian presence here, so lovely, delicate pastries abound.  And there are the Alfajores

Traditional Afajores

These cookies apparently have their origins in Arab lands, and are traditionally made with honey, almonds and cinnamon…today they are found mostly in Argentina and surrounding countries, and have evolved to the heavenly combination of dulce de leche sandwiched between two butter cookies and smothered with chocolate glaze.  For those of you unfamiliar, dulce de leche, a common treat in Latin America, is essentially a caramel made from milk and sugar. Needless to say, a gal could spend a lot of money, and potentially gain some pounds sampling every version of Alfajores out there!  Not to mention that there likely isn’t a ‘whole foods’ version of the treat to be found in this town!

Since there are many low quality versions,  I have held off on buying dulce de leche, and thought I’d wait to make some of my own.  Then, at the Mercado Central in my favorite cured meat and cheese shop, I spotted a jar of ‘dulce de leche de cabra’-that would be an artisan version of the sweet stuff, made with goat’s milk!  I took it home, and yesterday instead of venturing out into the cold, I stayed in and spent the afternoon creating my own version of Alfajores.

As many of you know, I like to bake with healthy, whole ingredients.  So, I thought I’d go with a simple shortbread cookie made with honey, brown sugar and a mix of white and whole wheat flour, and bittersweet chocolate with real butter.

I adapted my favorite shortbread recipe.  It is incredibly simple and delicious and includes just three ingredients:

1# butter, 1 cup sugar, 5 cups flour

I have already converted this recipe by substituting maple syrup-my favorite sweetener of all time, but there is no maple to be found in South America.  I decided to use half honey and half brown sugar, and to make a small batch.  I was also converting cups to grams without any formal measuring utensils (something I haven’t added to the kitchen yet).  So here is what I used:

80 grams softened butter (about 3 oz.),

2 Tbs honey, 2 Tbs brown sugar,

125 milliliters white flour,

125 milliliters whole wheat flour (about 2/3 cup each)

creaming the butter, sugar and honey

Once this is creamed, you add the flour and mix until it forms a good firm, yet pliable dough

When the dough is firm, you roll it into a smooth ‘log’ being gentle enough not to flatten it, yet firm enough to keep out any air holes.  Then you want to slice the dough into nice uniform cookies.  Normally, for shortbread, I’d cut them about 1/2 inch thick, but since I was making a sandwich with these, I cut them much thinner-about 1/4 inch thick.  A serrated knife works well for this.They were fragile, but firm enough.

While the cookies baked-about 18 minutes at 375 (my oven has no numbers on it, so I was guessing at the temp), I made the chocolate glaze.  I have found a lovely chocolate company called Aguila. For a pretty reasonable price (about $2 per 6 oz bar) I have a nice quality semi sweet bar that melts creamy and rich.  I melted about 40 grams of butter (about 1 1/2 oz.) with about 4 oz. chocolate.

perfectly browned cookies, freshly melted chocolate

Now I was ready for the assembly.  This was somewhat laborious but fun nonetheless.

bottom halves with dulce de leche

now for the chocolate!

like frosting little cakes

Notice the makeshift tray-I covered a cutting board with plastic and taped it down so it wouldn’t move.  I also remembered to glaze the bottoms of the cookies first. After they were all covered, I stuck them in the freezer to solidify.

Here they are.

Not bad for my first attempt!  A couple of happy chocolate faces too!

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