give me flour

Things are getting really busy! And I know that’s not just the feeling of a person who just got rid of her boot (YEAP!) and knows she has a lot of things to catch up with.

I mean, things are getting truly and significantly busy. On the last days I got to meet new friends through Give Me Flour, virtually and in real life, caught the grand finale of maple season in a Maple Festival and got to eat in a unique and traditional place in my own town for the first time after living here for 2 years and a half. Why didn’t I know about Kevin’s Place before?? I used to drive around it every day while taking my daughter to school and never, ever paid attention to this place. But let’s forget Kevin for a moment, he deserves his own and exclusive post.

A thing that is really on my mind now is the fact that I made a new friend last week and she has gluten and dairy issues in her diet. I felt scared and ashamed at the same time, I have to say. Ashamed because as a professional of the food industry I’ve never paid too much attention to those things; scared because I don’t know exactly how to deal with a pantry that does not have flour and butter.

I could say, in my defense, that a lot of the allergies that occur on the Northern Hemisphere don’t occur with the same frequency in Brazil, what is actually true. But it is not an excuse at all, especially as my philosophy is that food should bring people together instead of separate them.

This whole thing didn’t stop pounding in my head.  So, we went to the North Park Village last Sunday in Chicago to enjoy the Maple festival, a little walk through the woods getting people to taste and learn the process of making maple syrup.

But the first thing to catch my attention was an apple tent from Michigan. We stopped by and, another surprise, the guys were selling gluten free chestnut flour, just another sign to affirm I should start carrying about it.

With a basket of apples in one hand and a bag of chestnut flour in the other I started my adventure. Grabbed some maple to use as a sweetener and voila, a gluten free, dairy free apple-maple crisp was on its way.

That’s a very simple recipe but I think it’s exactly what to expect of a crisp topping: crunch, sandy and nutty. As an option for vegetable shortening you could also try to use lard or even butter, but just in case you don’t have any issues with dairy products.

Start with topping. Mix together flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Add shortening and mix until it resembles coarse meal. Add chopped pecans and distribute evenly in a baking sheet without pressing. Let it chill on the freezer for at least 15 minutes.

It can be made in advance too. Keep dough in a fridge up to 1 week or up to 3 months on freezer. Defrosting is NOT necessary.

Prepare filling. Pre heat oven to 370°F. Cut apples in thin slices (half moon shape); add lemon juice, maple, corn starch and vanilla extract.

Fill four ramekins (2.5 inch) with apple mixture.

Cover with a generous layer of topping and bake for 30 minutes or until filling starts to bubble and leek.

Watch out, if topping starts to brown too fast, cover with a loose piece of foil and keep baking until filling leeks out of the ramekins.

Yumm!!! Now I just have to try it with a scoop of David Lebovitz goat cheese ice cream my friend Catherine introduced to me.

What about the Maple Festival?? Oh man, it was GREAT! I know I’m totally suspicious: I tasted maple syrup for the first time here in the United States and suddenly felt in love. Now I try to use it as much as I can. The only reason I don’t drink it by itself is I’m afraid to get sick of maple (if it’s possible to occur at all).

So, understanding a bit of the production process increased even more my respect for maple and for the nature. And my heart just melted away when the ranger told us this year the maple season had been extended due to “warm winter” (at least in Chicago). I felt like the trees were waiting for me to be able to walk freely again and get there.

Temperature is a decisive factor here. The whole story begins on late summer and fall, when trees “stop” growing and start storing starch. When the temperature begins to warms up again, in late winter, starch is transformed in sugar that goes to the sap, the “tree blood”.

Once again the increased temperature acts creating pressure and making the sap to flow up to the branches. It’s like they are saying “Come on, send me some food, spring is coming and I need my leaves back!”

And that’s exactly the perfect time to get some maple, I mean, sap. But it has to be made in a very conscious way. Rangers were explaining it’s almost like to collect blood of a person. People that are too young don’t have the proper weight, or the ones who carry a disease cannot be considered as donors.

Besides that, you have to know how many taps to make by measuring the size of the tree. And I guess these guys could use a precise ruler to do that, but why wasting the opportunity to hug a tree right??

An approximatively 1 1/2 inch taphole is drilled, a spout is taped to help collecting the sap and buckets (or milk gallons!) are used to hold the “water”.

Yes, it’s almost water and does taste almost like water. To give you an idea, 40 gallons of sap are necessary to produce one gallon of maple syrup.

The next step so is to boil, and boil, and boil………….

Now, the questions are “Who discovered that?” and “How did they discover how to make such a delightful thing ?”. I wish I could travel in time, find those people and say THANK YOU!!

Brigadeiros to help Japan!

March 24th, 2011

For one more time the virtual word is expressing its huge power by stepping in and calling up the real word. It’s time to help Japan!!!

So, food bloggers couldn’t stay apart and an online bake-sale is about to start at The Tomato Tart. Sabrina Modelle, the host, came up with the idea, contacted some other friends and now there are more than 60 bloggers from 8 different countries participating!

It’s one more opportunity for you to help. The bake sale will be held, silent auction style, on March 30th (to choose your favorite goodies, check here).

The money raised will be donated to Second Harvest Japan, a local food bank that is responding to the crisis in a direct and very meaningful way – by feeding people who are in need.

By the way, do you know Brazil has the biggest Japanese community outside Japan? They immigrated at the begging of 20th century to work in coffee plantations and somehow helped to build a bit of my country home. For me that’s not only a way to help but a way to show appreciation to Japan and its population.

Give Me Flour is donating two box of brigadeiros! A delicious Brazilian soft caramel candy to affirm life can be sweet too.

For those who don’t have an idea of what a brigadeiro looks like, it’s made basically with sweetened condensed milk and chocolate, a chocolate pudding cousin and fudge spread brother that has its own and unique identity. You gotta try!

For those who know, hum…….you know!

A few other things going on:

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Asha Pagdiwalla from Fork Spoon Knife and a handful of other bloggers are throwing an International Food Bloggers Auction for Japan to raise funds for the Japanese Red Cross Society towards their disaster relief efforts. The auction is open to all readers across the globe!

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Helene Dujardin from Tartelette, the amazing and famous food blogger, food stylist and food photographer is donating 20 bucks for each one of her sold pics at Eatsy.

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Find your way to help!

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Mix sweetened condensed milk, cocoa powder, butter, salt and honey in a medium saucepan. Salt brings up the flavor and honey improves brightness. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly, preferable with a silicone spatula.

We like to say brigadeiro is done when one can see the bottom of the pan. And the time for that varies depending on stove potency or quantity and quality of cocoa powder. More chocolate reduces cooking time. The whole process can take something from 10 to 20 minutes and we have to have in mind brigadeiro will get thicker when it’s cold.

The right consistency of a brigadeiro can be very personal too. If you cook it longer, it’ll resemble soft caramel candy and it will be very sticky. What is not bad if you like soft caramel as I do.

The problem is I do like dulce de leche or chocolate pudding too and I love when my brigadeiros are creamy like them. But although we gain in creaminess by cooking it for a shorter time, we can have a lot of trouble trying to obtain perfect little balls during shaping.

One solution is to make what we call “brigadeiros for spoon”. Fill little plastic cups with small portions of dough to be eaten with a spoon or eat the whole batch straight from the pan.

But, if you really want to have creamy brigadeiro balls, let it chill completely, keep on freezer for at least an hour or on the fridge overnight.  Pay attention to the candy cup tips below too!

So far we were talking about classic brigadeiros. But things can always get better. Two important ingredients that can upgrade your candy are heavy cream and chocolate.

I’ve always made mine with heavy cream; it’s perfect, the texture is much cremier and brigadeiro gets less sweet. Besides that, the result is ideal for frosting and cake fillings.

About chocolate, it has been used for a while now; specially on what they call gourmet brigadeiros. It’s up to you but I strongly recommend you to try it, the final texture is certainly the best.

To use heavy cream and chocolate (or both together), make one batch of classic brigadeiro, turn off the heat, mix those extra ingredients and stir. The chocolate will be melted by the warm dough. Return to heat and cook until thick again.

Use as a filling, frosting or fill the little cups while it’s still hot. To make the balls, let it chill completely.

You’ll find a lot of brigadeiro pics and recipes calling for chocolate sprinkles. But, in fact, most of these sprinkles are just made using sugar and some artificial coloring and flavoring. Instead, I like to grate my favorite chocolate bar. Just place the grated chocolate into the fridge for 10 minutes before rolling the brigadeiros in it to avoid melting.

Graze your hands with butter or no-stick cooking spray, take small portions of dough, about a teasponn at a time, and shape it out. Coat them immediately with chocolate.

Finally, little paper cups are an important key to help holding the candy shapes. The tendency of the brigadeiros at room temperature is to lose their rounded form if the paper cups are not suitable. Choose the right size and use 2 or 3 cups fit together to place the balls.

One batch gives you about 30 brigadeiros that, when left behind, can be perfectly frozen. A very handy candy for any occasion!

The phone rang. My seven years old daughter picked it up and started talking: “Huhu… yes………. I’m ok …………yes…… school is good, yes…….excuse me, I’m handing it to my mommy, I’m busy making quiche!”

On the line, my 25 years old sister, surprised: “Is she making quiche??”  Yes, she was; it was really, really good and, best of all, she kept a smile on her face for the rest of the day!

She proved to me, one more time, quiche is the easiest pie ever!

We can say quiche is a pie, an open one with a flaky crust holding creamy custard based in eggs and milk, period. There’s no need to cook filling or pre-baking the crust (although a lot of different recipes ask for that).

A basic quiche would be enough to make a lot of people happy. But why stopping here if life can be much more funny, colorful and still simple? Got a grilled eggplant leftover on the fridge? Mushrooms were on sale? Need even more bacon in your diet? Or are you just looking for a reason to smile?

Yes, quiche is a democratic dish with plenty of space for freedom where even a frozen broccoli can go directly from the freezer to the crust and be perfectly cooked on the oven.

But besides its easiness, everyone should make a dish that carries the healthy benefits of a smile!

I’m doing my part by sharing the recipe, now it’s up to you. And I hate to be unfair but I really don’t remember in which recipe this one was based on. I made quiches so many times and changed it quite a bit that I guess I can call it mine now.

So, here is a booklet with instructions and tips. And even if you don’t care about quiches, that’s the crust recipe you want to keep. There’s a lot of recipes based in flour and some kind of fat, having water as the gather ingredient but this dough gets an upgrade by using egg and cream in its composition to unite flour and butter instead. It’s like a dream, an amazing flakiness in a dough possible to be rolled out.

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The crust can be made using a food processor or by hand, using fingertips or a pastry blender.

Personally I like better the pastry blender (picture).

First because it takes me time to set a food processor and I hate having to wash all of its pieces later.

Second, the pastry blender gives me a more irregular dough, with visible pieces of butter that result in a flaky shell.

Variations:

Spinach and Feta: keep same amount of cheese and replace broccoli for 4 cups of blanched spinach.

Bring a pot with water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add spinach and cook for about 30 seconds. Drain and place them in a bowl filled with cold water and ice cubes. Drain it again, add seasonings and spread on top of cheese.

Tomato and basil: Use mozzarella and parmesan to cover the crust. Take of seeds and peel 3 tomatoes, chop, add olive oil, salt, pepper and ¼ cup basil leaves. Use on the recipe or, as an option, use roasted or sundried tomatoes.

Gorgonzola and Leeks: use 2 ½ cups grated mozzarella and ½ cup of mashed gorgonzola. Chop the white part of a big leak, add salt and pepper, place over the cheese.

Rolling the dough:

You are going to need a 9inch quiche pan, springform or a glass pan. Using a scissor open a gallon size plastic bag. Flour one part and place dough on top. Flour dough and place other half plastic bag on top. Start opening dough from the center to edges ‘til it gets 1/6inch high.

To cover the pan remove just one plastic from the dough. Place it carefully over the pan using the other plastic as a support. Press slightly to remove any air bubble and take off the other plastic. Cut the edges, cover again and place on freezer while preparing the fillings.

You know quiche is composed of two fillings: basic cream and the “flavoring” one.

To make the first one, just beat cream and eggs, add salt, pepper, oregano and keep on fridge.

For the “flavoring”, reserve cheeses and mix broccolis with the other ingredients. If you want a lighter flavor sauté onion and garlic in olive oil before using them.

Isn’t it super simple?  And you can easily diversify without adding extra work.

Want a piece? Here it’s!

I have a dream!

March 14th, 2011

Thirty one months ago I came to the United States. This momentous event came as a great beacon light of hope to me, a person who had seared in the flames of English language. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of my captivity as from that moment I would be able to learn and decode American cookbooks.

But 2 years and a half later I’m still not free. Two years and a half later my life is still sadly crippled by the manacles of metric system and chains of pounds and ounces!!!

I’m not kidding here! English was a rouge barrier in my life and of course there is still a lot to learn, but when it comes to cooking and baking, I feel like chained by the metrics.  Especially in baking, where everything is so precise.

Whereas in the United States everything comes in pounds, ounces, gallons, quarters, inches, yards and so, in Brazil and in most of the entire whole word the measures are defined by kilos, grams, liters, milliliters, centimeters and meters. And believe me, I just had to look at the dictionary for those words.

To give an example, a pound equals 450milligrams while an ounce is 28.35g.  What are these numbers?? And did I mention the shorthand? I understand pound is represented by lb, what stands for Libra, but oz for ounce?? Come on!! What’s the “z” for? (Are you curious?)

I have conversion tables everywhere in my kitchen. Even a fridge magnet that a friend gave me and is probably one of the best gifts I got recently. But it is not just that. Writing down my recipes for the blog requires a lot of mental work and calculus when I start to consider the amount of ingredients.

I think the best example is butter. Most of the recipes call for an x numbers of butter sticks. It can be very helpful here, where you usually buy butter by the pound. Easy, since a package contains 4 sticks (113g each!!!). But in Brazil butter is sold by bars of 200g each or 0.444444444lb. It’s not 1 stick, 1 ½ or two, it’s a crazy number that makes me tired just to think about it!

It’s the same with the reverse process. I developed the recipe for this post a few years ago using milligrams, inspired by a similar tart sold in a fancy bakery in Brazil called Mister Cuca. It came out surprisingly good and I was very proud of my creation. And after blowing my mind measuring one ingredient while cutting another, I finally got it converted.

And so even though I face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream!!!!

I have a dream that, one day, all the world will be using the same metric system!!

To make the dough, sift together flour and cocoa powder. Cream the butter and sugar until pale in color. Add egg yolk and mix well. Mix dry ingredients by hand, carefully, until everything comes together. Don’t overwork the dough. Cover with film roll and set on the fridge for 15 minutes.

Graze 4 4-inch tart pan or used non-stick ones. Divide the dough in 4 pieces and spread each one evenly on the bottom and sides of the pan.

Heat the oven to 325˚F. Cover the pans with parchment paper and fill them with beans.

Bake for 10 minutes, take off the beans and bake for 8-10 more minutes. Let it cool for 10 minutes and unmold.

To make banana filling, mix all ingredients in a saucepan and cook stirring constantly until starting to boil. Turn heat off and let it cool before using.

For pastry cream boil milk in a small saucepan. Meanwhile mix together in another bowl egg yolk, sugar and corn starch. Pour the milk into the egg mixture gradually. Return the mixture to the pan and cook until thick stirring constantly. Turn of the heat, add vanilla extract and butter.

Stir well to incorporate the butter. Cover with film roll touching the cream surface. It avoids any undesirable crust to form on top of the cream. Let it cool completely before using.

To make ganache boil the cream using a microwave or a small saucepan. Add chocolate and light corn syrup and let it aside for 5 minutes or until the chocolate gets melted. Mix until incorporated and finish with rum, if desired. Tip: don’t overmix the ganache to avoid bubble and to get an even frosting. Use right way or keep on the fridge. Warm it again before using.

Cover the bottom of each crust with banana filling and pour a full tbsp off pastry cream over it. While ganache is still liquid, pour it over the pastry cream slighting turning the crust around to get an flat frosting.

Set on the fridge for at least two hours before serving.

Get inspired!

March 8th, 2011

After a few days confined in my own house, with a broken foot and a persistent cold, I realized that, in fact, it was a blessing in disguise. I’ve been searching, and searching, and searching on the internet all day long to fill my time and to be less bored. Folks, there are so many good things happening on the virtual world!

A good example is the Charcutepalooza (“shar-coo-ta-pa-loo-za”), a “meat feast” that is going to last at least 9 more months. Bloggers from different places gathered virtually to improve their abilities in curing, salting and smoking, sharing their experiences, thinking about meat consume and production.

The whole story began with two bloggers,  Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster. They came with the idea, people liked, got involved, the media and sponsors showed interest and the benefit is ours.

During 12 months (it’s the third already), participants are going to prepare the challenge of the month and post their experiences. The reference is Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman but everyone is free to use their creativity.

And you can check the first two assignments, duck prosciutto and the salt cure. For this month the challenge is brining, very appealing and exciting for those who want to make their own corned beef and get ready for St. Patrick’s Day.

Registrations are closed and we can’t run for the prize anymore, a seven day trip to France, including charcuterie classes in Camont. But there is still the chance to follow or even join the braves! For more information, check the bloggers list, Flickr gallery and Facebook news.



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