I have often said that like the army, the Society of American Travel Writers travels on its stomach. The 2006 convention is in Santiago, Chile, with a guarantee of huge meals. As with any conference, many meals are served to everyone (more than 500 of us) in a hotel function room. The Hyatt and Sheraton have made great efforts in serving some local specialties.
Among them have been various disappointing salmon preparations, outstanding fruit salads and a version of Pastel de Choclo. In Chile and elsewhere in southern South America, “choclo” (not mais or similar) is the word for corn. Pastel de Choclo, a casserole, is a summer specialty. Locals tell me that home cooks dice a couple of onions and saute them with chopped chopped garlic and salt. In another pan, they saute diced or ground beef. In yet another, they poach about four pieces of chicken in water. In an ovenproof clay pot, they combine the meat and sauteed vegetables. They top that with olives, raisins, slices of hard-boiled egg and finally the cooked chicken, which may be sliced or shredded. They shuck about 10 ears of corn and blend the kernels in a blender (with a little water “if necessary”). The corn mixture is spread on top and then sprinkled with sugar. They then bake it for about 20 minutes in at an oven setting that I could not discern, but I think must be moderate (350 to 375 degrees) until the sugar caramelizes. The hotel did it in quantity without the caramelized sugar. Other central Chilean specialties include cazuela, a soup of chicken, turkey, beef or pork with potatoes, pumpkin and green beans, also cooked in a clay pot. Empanadas filled with seasoned meat, poultry or seafood are ubiquitous, as is seaood in many forms.
More to come on restaurant meals.
Leaving on a trip soon. Cleaning out refrigerator. Grilled some chicken. Made some rice. Concocted salsa with stuff that needed to be eaten. Here’s what I made (and the recipe is easily adjustable to whatever you might need to use up):
1/2 ripe cantaloupe, seeded, removed from rind and chopped
1/3 red onion, peeled and chopped
1/3 bunch fresh cilantro, stemmed and chopped
1/4 small can of chopped mild chiles
splash of Balsamic vinegar
Combine all chopped ingredients. Add enough Balsamic vinegar to tame the onion taste. Cover and refigerate until ready to use.
Every once in a while, King Soopers produces a pleasant surprise, like the Antica Pasteria fresh lasagna noodles that I found recently in the refigerator section (next to the fresh tortellini and gnocchi). I’ve become fond of no-boil lasagna noodles, so I was really delighted to find fresh rather than dried ones. With the 8.8-ounce package in my cart, I picked up some fresh mozzarella and reduced-fat ricotta. I had everything else in the house that I’d need for a quick basic lasagna.
And it was quick. It didn’t take me more than 15 minutes to assemble this dish and shove it into oven. Lasagna isn’t fussy, and as long as even a little of the sauce covers each layer of noodles, especially at the edges, it’ll come out fine. While it was resting after I took it out of the oven, I made a simple tossed salad with oil and vinegar dressing. We opened a bottle of red wine and sat down to eat 55 minutes after I started — less time than it would take to wait for a pizza delivery on a Friday evening.
Quick Cheese Lasagna
1 package Antica Pasteria lasagna noodles
1 jar good-quality tomato sauce (Whole Foods, Newman’s Own, Trader Joe’s, etc.)
1 container low-fat ricotta
1 egg, lightly beaten
Fresh herbs if available, chopped (I harvested late-season basil and parsley)
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
Grated fresh Parmesan, to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix ricotta with egg and herbs. Ladle a small amount of sauce on the bottom of an 8 x 12-inch or 9 x 13 lasagna pan. Put down a layer of noodles. With this brand, the long side noodles fit perfectly into the the short side of the pan, with a little space to spare between noodles. With kitchen shears, cut one lasagna noodle into 3 or 4 slices to fill in these gaps. Top noodles with another layer of sauce, the ricotta mixture and mozzeralla torn into small pieces. Repeat the process until you run out of something, but do finish with sauce, mozzarella if you have any left and Parmesan. Cover with foil (the no-stick kind would be good if you have some) and bake for 1/2 hour. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes before cutting.
Servings: How hungry are you? Two of us comfortably ate half of this lasagna.