Living the Good Life: Mendoza

Wine, grilled meats, gorgeous scenery: how could we not return to Mendoza? After an amazing visit there in 2014 with our friends So Much Wine and So Little Time – Mendoza, Argentina we were eager to return. We again arranged winery tours with Ampora Wine Tours but this time added on an asado cooking class to learn the art of Argentine grilling.

The Hills Are Alive

Mauricio Camenforte was our host for the asado class that was held in his backyard. http://asadocookingclassmendoza.com/ We enjoy seeing how people live and his home and its view were lovely. Mauricio clearly loved having people in his home to show them a true Argentine experience. There were three other Americans from Seattle in the class  – Norberto, Jeff and Holly – and we quickly bonded over a shared love of travel, wine and food.

Ready to Feast!

An asado is made on a special type of grill: a long, flat concrete surface with a metal grill and basket. Only wood is used and the idea is to take your time, drink some wine and enjoy the process. Mauricio started by creating a wood fire. As the wood burns, you knock off cinders and spread them under the grill. Once you have a suitable amount to start grilling, you place the burning wood in the basket, replenish as needed and continue to knock off cinders for under the grill.

As we waited for the fire to burn, we started our feast with delicious bread accompanied by an eggplant spread, blue cheese spread, chorizo and olives. Next up were some amazing empanadas. It goes without saying that there was an endless supply of malbec wine as well.

Appetizers

Then we got to work. We sliced the veggies and put them on the grill with small, fresh chorizos. Beef ribs were expertly placed for slow cooking. Holly and I volunteered to make the chimichurri and we chopped the parsley and garlic as we sipped our wine. Mauricio put green and red peppers and onions directly in the fire basket, which wowed us all. We were even more wowed when they were done and we simply rinsed them under the tap, cut them up and seasoned them with some olive oil, salt and pepper.

Mauricio oversaw the completion of the chimichurri and then we were ready to make choripan – little chorizo sandwiches with chimichurri. Delicious! We also learned to make matambre a la pizza – flank steak topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella. Mauricio warned us that this dish is hit or miss as sometimes the meat can be tough, but his was a big hit.

The food just kept coming! We made provoleta – provolone grilled in a special cast-iron skillet. While we were eating the ribs, veggies and a salad, Mauricio snuck some gorgeous tenderloins on the grill. Just when we thought we couldn’t eat more, we did! The meal ended with a dessert of baked apples with dulce de leche and the popular Argentine drink of Fernet and Coke.

The class was a top notch experience from start to finish. While we didn’t think we could eat or drink for a week, we rose to the occasion the next two days with our wine tasting tours. Both days were excellent and we again met great people and sampled fantastic wines.

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♥ Mendoza!

5 Reasons I Love Buenos Aires

From the moment Matt and I arrived in Buenos Aires, we were smitten.  Ten days later our passion hasn’t faded – despite the heat and dog poop, this place is great and has made the list of places we would like to live some day.  Here are my current top 5 reasons this city is fantastic.

1.  Green.  Buenos Aires does parks right.  There are green spaces everywhere, ranging from the large parks and gardens in Palermo to small squares in every neighborhood.  Old, lofty trees line many streets, adding shade and beauty to an urban environment.  There are also numerous plazas that incorporate green spaces as opposed to being just a fountain or statue on a slab of concrete.

2.  Vibe.  Buenos Aires is laid back with coffee shops and bars galore.  While many guide books talk about the congestion and fast pace, we haven’t felt it, possibly because we arrived during a heat wave that forced life to slow down. People here dress casually – it is the first time I have been to a major city outside of the US and could wear shorts without looking like a tourist.  People linger over lunch and hang out at the bars until the wee hours of the morning.  The fact that Matt and I can both pass as locals (due to Italian genes), until we talk, also makes us feel very comfortable here as we are not immediately spotted as tourists.

3.  Food.  With a strong Italian influence and wonderful beef, the food here is amazing.  Items not to be missed include carne asada (grilled meats) , milanese (thin cutlets of beef, chicken or soy [is there a such thing as a soy cutlet?], breaded and pan fried), alfajores (shortbread cookies with dulce de leche filling, sometimes covered in chocolate), empanadas (savory, filled turnovers), pizza and helado (ice cream).  And bread.  I will be writing an entire post devoted to the bread here; it is that good.  The cuisine is not only local – there are plenty of Japanese, Peruvian, Chinese, Indian and other restaurants to choose from.  We went to an Armenian place in the neighborhood that was delicious.

4.  Wine.  What is great food without great wine?  Malbecs rule the roost, but excellent Cabernet Sauvignons, Syrahs, and red blends abound as do several delicious Argentine white wines.  The proximity of the Mendoza region and an apparent lack of sin tax makes wine as affordable as a soda (or at least that is my excuse for drinking at lunch).

Wine tasting

Wine tasting

5.  The weak peso.  I feel a bit guilty writing that as the Argentines’ misfortune is to our benefit, but for once Matt and I are on the right side of the exchange rate.  Despite this being the second largest city in South America, we have been able to enjoy ourselves without breaking the bank, with wonderful dinners with excellent wines costing around $70, far less than similar meals would cost in Milwaukee.  We have offset those dinners by going to more modest restaurants and eating at home – today we bought two servings of a torta (these were similar in look to a quiche, with a pastry crust but a filling that wasn’t eggs – one was ham and cheese and one a minced chicken filling) and some cookies for dinner for less than $8.  The tortas are huge and we have plenty of cookies, so we will get two meals out of our purchase.

While we enjoy living in Cajamarca, the two experiences couldn’t be more different so we plan to make the most of our last two weeks in Buenos Aires.  Or maybe that is just another excuse for drinking a lot of great, inexpensive wines and eating to my heart’s content!