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It’s corn time!

June 3rd, 2011

Finally an ingredient to celebrate together, it’s time for corn my people!! Here and there, from South to North, everybody is eating corn!!

Well, with such bad weather, maybe here in Chicago it will take more time for corn to kick off. The prices are getting down though and if it’s not possible to grill yet, there’s a bunch of other options we can deal with.

It’s “the” corn time in Brazil too, even though the seasons are totally the opposite and winter is about to start.  Actually, stilling corn ears was part of my winter break from school. I used to spend time at my gramma’s house, in a smaller city an hour from home. My aunt Marilda would wake us up very early, me, my sister and two cousins, to walk through the unpaved roads and steal some ears of fresh corn from the fields. I don’t remember what she would prepare with them; of course stealing was way more exciting and that’s what I kept in my head.

As you can see, corn is a big deal for Brazilians too. And it becomes even more important when we talk about “Festa Junina” (June Festival), the annual nativity of St. John the Baptist celebration commemorated nationwide on the entire month of June. The festival can suffer variations according to the location but one thing is certain, there is no feast without pyrotechnics, bonfires and dishes like “curau”, “canjica” or “pamonha”, all of them made from corn or some related ingredient such as corn meal.

So, to be fair and celebrate one more time the two cultures together, I chose two very special recipes: hush puppies and “curau”.

I tried hush puppies for the first time in Mississippi, during a road trip to the South. We ordered catfish and they came together with a few other yum side dishes. But still they were the most memorable items on the menu for me.

I asked the waitress the name of those golden little balls and she stayed silent for a while like “How is it possible? Doesn’t she know what hush puppies are? I understand she is a foreign by her accent but do not know what hush puppies are, that’s too much for me”.  She told me anyway, I barely understood and forgot about them for a while ‘til I faced the recipe on the Living magazine July 2010.

A full article on classic corn recipes in America made me finally understand the waitress expression on that day!  Hush puppies are an American classic!!!

So, I made them immediately and stick with this recipe since then.

Whisk together corn meal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt and the cayenne. Whisk together egg, buttermilk, and onion. Stir egg mixture into cornmeal mixture. Batter will be as heavy as pancake batter.

Heat 4 inch oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven high heat until a deep fry thermometer reaches 360˚F. Working in batches, drop batter by the tablespoon into oil. Cook, turning occasionally, until cooked through and deep golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. (Adjust heat so the temperature remains constant.) Transfer hush puppies to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Serve warm.

“Curau”, a kind of Brazilian corn pudding is a classic too. It’s sweet and it is not served as a side dish nor as a dessert. It’s a bit rich for it, at least for me. “Curau” is the kind of treat we eat between meals and can be tasted warm or cold, according to your desire.

Remove the corn grain with a knife. Beat in a blender with the milk. Strain the corn/milk mixture and discard the fibrous part of the kenels. Mix sugar, salt, corn starch and cinnamon.

Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes stirring constantly. Divide the cream into four ramekins and sprinkle with extra cinnamon powder. Can be tasted warm or cold, according to your taste.

Farmer’s Market Season

May 25th, 2011

Last Saturday I woke up 5am, just to get the beginning of my first Farmer’s Market of the year on Division St. in downtown.

But I didn’t go there obsessed for buying the best or freshest products. I’m not that kind of cook and I’ll never be. There are a few things that make me wake up so early and shopping is NOT one of them. And even if it was my intent, I’d not have to worry; actually I could count on my hands the number of people that showed up before 8am.

I went there to take some shots and get an assignment done for a photography class I’m taking and that I’m in love with. So, I left home early wishing to see how the whole thing happens. Funny is I had the story in my head and, by the time I was driving, I was imagining the farmers arriving, the noise, the big wood box filled with fresh fruits and vegetables.

I know, sometimes I just forgot I live in Chicago. And I was warned before by Penny De Los Santos: “Farmers Market in the United States are a cliché!”. No improvised tents, impeccably organized, no noise and, since we are talking about Chicago, just a few vegetables and no fruits yet.

But man, I have to say, what a joy to be there, getting to meet incredible people and feeling in each person the pleasure of shopping outdoors again after a stubborn and persistent winter.

And the local fruits are coming soon. Steve, a guy from the Lehman’s Orchard, said weather this year is not collaborating but in two weeks they should start to show their faces. Perfect excuse to go back!!

Meanwhile we can enjoy a big variety of fresh herbs, different kinds of cheese, a lot of goodies and pastries, meat and sausages, asparagus and rhubarb, the stars of the day. Ah! And don’t forget the flowers, ‘cause after all, it’s spring.

My favorite restaurant!

May 16th, 2011

Usually when we talk about a restaurant we liked we start describing how unique was the service and how unbelievable good was the food. But Mocotó, a restaurante located on the largest Brazilian city, São Paulo, doesn’t need one more person saying they have the best “escondidinho” on the planet or the best “rapadura” ice cream ever.

The media did that a lot and the best chefs in Brazil agreed.

I’m here instead, to say Mocotó is my favorite restaurant because it gave me hope again. I will tell you why.

The interest in the culinary arts started to experience a huge growth on the last decades. And it was not different in Brazil. TV cooking shows became popular, cooking schools opened everywhere, everyone wanted to have their own restaurant and suddenly, everybody was called a chef and began to charge astronomic prices for their food.

When we went to Mocotó, last January, what we saw was the opposite. It’s located on the same place where it was born almost 30 years ago, Vila Medeiros, a kind of discriminated neighborhood, far from the lousy and fancy restaurant areas of “Sampa”.

Mocotó is a family business that started on the 70’s with José Oliveira de Almeida, the father, and gained its fame with Rodrigo Oliveira, the son.

Rodrigo went to culinary school but came back to give the restaurant a new beginning. In five years the place just exploded. Last year it won the title of the best Brazilian food restaurant in the country. Rodrigo also joined the 100 list of the most influent people in Brazil and, invited by the Culinary Institute of America, became a member of the Latin Cuisine Advisory Council.

But, besides the fame conquered, both father and son are still working together to preserve one of the best foods we have in Brazil, and even better, making good food in accessible price to all.

And thanks God we had to wait two hours to get a table. Meanwhile, we got to taste almost every appetizer on the menu.

For my surprise their generosity didn’t stop yet. The “escondidinho” recipe translated here can be find on the website, together with other plates of the menu.

I know they are in portuguese and most of then requires specific Brazilian ingredients. But escondidinho can be fairly reproduced in the USA too. Check out the tips and video about this dish on the blog Cuca Brazuca and find out the goodness of the this beef jerk surprise.

** If you’ve noticed the recipe asks two times for butter. That’s because the original requires a special one called “bottle butter”, a type of clarified butter similar to ghee (Indian butter). So, feel free to replace it according to your taste.

If I lived in a perfect world I would say my mom is my best friend, I’d say she taught me all I know today, I’d say she was always by my side when I needed her.

But no, that’s not a perfect word. My mom is not my best friend, she didn’t teach me all I know and she wasn’t always there. But if she failed a few times as a mom, I’d failed too as a daughter, failed for being impatient, for expecting too much, for not measuring my words.

The truth is my mom and I are extremely alike, alike to the point of repelling each other. But among disagreements and fights I still know one of her favorite ice cream is lime ice cream. And I guess it means something to think and feel she deserves a big batch of it on Mothers day!

What makes this ice cream so special, besides the fact I’m making it for my mom, is its origin. The recipe comes from my grand grandmother or my mom’s grandmother cookbook. I already told you about this book, the “magic book”, and you are probably gonna see more of its recipes here. So, this ice cream recipe is from the time that there was no refrigerator or electric machines do help doing the job.

I’ve tried to follow each step and preserve as much as I could of the original. And it was funny to see the differences and how the way we understand and taste food today had changed.

First, the recipe requires a lot of sugar because it comes from the time when sugar wasn’t evil.

Second, the flavor would be considered mild by our pampered palate, so used to artificial flavors and over seasoned food.

Third there was no other word than ice cream, at least in Portuguese, for frozen desserts like that. Sorbet is pretty much new to our vocabulary and, in that time, it didn’t matter if one was using cream or not. Ice cream was just ice cream.

Finally, the way recipes were written could easily drive one nuts. Simple as possible, missing a lot of explanation and measures. Tell me, how big a lime can be?? And how much juice can I extract from a lime witch I don’t even know if it’s the proper size?

Truly time traveling with a lot of guessing involved, no??

This is the original recipe translated, of course. In the book, the ice cream chapter begins with a quick explanation on how to prepare and use an ice cream machine (no electricity involved). This explains the “freeze as indicated” sentence.

I used my fridge, after all it was invented for a reason. As the idea is make ice cream and not a big ice juice block, we have to follow a few steps. Put the mixture on freezer just after it’s completely cold and try to mix every hour until the mixture is creamy in texture. You are gonna have an authentic early 20th century ice cream.

So, as I said, the amount of juice is very unclear. Since I didn’t have four large limes, I used three smaller ones and two big lemons, which gave me a total of 250ml of juice. I added also a bit of lemon zest, I guess my grand grandmother wouldn’t care and my mom would love it!!

And for those with insatiable sweet tooth, try this sauce!

Mix sugar, heavy cream, baking soda, honey, lemon grass and butter in a medium sauce pan. Bring to medium heat and cook stirring constantly, until amber in color.

Turn off the heat and add lime juice, stir, and strain, letting it cool before serving.

If it’s too thick, just add more lime juice until you get the desired consistency.

Improvements

May 3rd, 2011

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Just a quick entry to announce some improvements! First, a recipe index. I have to say I found myself lost a few times in my own blog.

And if Give Me Flour was born with the idea of organizing my recipes and notes in a more disciplined way, that’s a must have section. And this is the moment, now that we have a relatively good number of recipes to be putting together.  So, the icon will stay fixed on the side bar, just like Home and About, making things easier to everybody. Hope you find it helpful!

And, looking to straighten up our communication, two other new address were added to our profile. First, a Facebook page with exclusive pics and a more dynamic way for interacting. And finally, a Tumblr page showing the best shots and little discoveries. Hope see you here……and there!!



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