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I had a bunch of good things happening this year and I can’t complain at all! But the last days of 2011 are kind of cloudy. A small health issue brought me to Brazil this week and that’s exactly from where I am writing to you now.

Fortunately, everything is solved and I’m fine. But I have to wait to come back “home” and the idea of spending New Year’s Eve so far from my husband and daughters is just terrifying me. Sorry but this is going to be a short talk, I don’t want to get too emotional.

I am here, instead, to wish you a super, SUPER vibrant 2012!! Oh, and to help you kick it off with an equally vibrant dish.

Brown rice with marinated feta dressing, garnished with roasted eggplants, baby arugula and pomegranate seeds, how does it sound to you? This is a plate that can be either served warm as a side dish or cold as a salad. Several steps can be made ahead to save you some time. Just put everything together a couple hours before starting your party and go dress your self up!!

Start with the marinated feta up to a week before, it really tastes better and better with each passing day.

And I like to use crumbled feta here, it gets mixed with olive oil creating naturally the perfect dressing for the rice. If you think you put too much oil, strain the excess and save it for future vinaigrette recipes.

 

Place crumbled feta in a clean container. Add garlic cloves, thyme, garlic powder, cover with olive oil and set it on the fridge for up to a week.

For the rice I bought a mix of wild rice and brown rice. The black wild grains gave an extra appeal to the dish but they can be expensive. So, you can use whatever blend you prefer, just make sure to use a variety of whole grains.

To cook the rice, place 5 cups of water in a medium saucepan, add salt and 1 tbsp of olive oil.  Cook for 30 minutes or until soft. Let it rest for extra 10 minutes. Loose the rice with a fork.

Cut eggplant in ½ in thick slices, brush with olive oil and season with salt, black pepper and thyme. Bake for about 20 minutes or until soft. Set aside.

Take the feta and discard garlic cloves and thyme.

In a large bowl, mix rice, marinated feta, pomegranate seeds and green onions. Add pepper and salt according to your taste.

To set your plate, you have two options. First, to build it like I did, start with a bed of baby arugula, prepared rice and slices of roasted eggplant on the side.

Or, as I said before, you can just serve it as cold salad by chopping the roasted eggplant and mixing it into the rice with baby arugula. Serve immediately.

 Happy New Year!!!

Brazilian Cheese Bread!

December 22nd, 2011

Christmas is all about family to me. And when I say family I am including aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, in laws, even actual boyfriends or girlfriends that would show up in my grandma’s house.

I don’t get the chance to spend every single Christmas Eve like that anymore but every year all these people, something between 60 and 80 people (I guess they don’t count it anymore) get together to celebrate and specially, to meet each other. And we eat…… the menu doesn’t change a lot, traditional roasted pork, “farofa”, “tutu”, “salpicão”, “pavê” are always there.

As you may be wondering, with this much people there is no way we can get a formal dinner. We just find a spot to seat and eat, in our own pace, a piece of this, a piece of that, while trying to catch up with the ones we didn’t see for a while.

And again, with this much people, you just can’t get to talk with every single person in one single night. That is what the following days are for, to meet everybody again, to spend more time with our favorite ones and gossip about the ones we…. well, you know! What cheese bread has to do with it? Oh, cheese bread is the most important part of the backstage here; it’s the joint, the collator, the assembler, responsible to gather and redistribute the groups in an incessant motion.

Every time a batch of bread comes out of the oven, people resurge from wherever there were in the house and populate the kitchen again.  Basically we can say with a bowl of cheese bread the feast is never over.

If you had never heard about Brazilian cheese bread before, it is a kind of chewy popover, similar to gougére that happened to be gluten free (since it is made with yucca/tapioca flour).  It comes from the state of Minas Gerais, located in southeast of Brazil and known for its dairy products and country kitchen style food (personalities, politicians and important historic facts all come after that). And cheese bread is definitely one of the stars of this kitchen, if not the biggest one.

I have been hesitating to share this recipe because I had a hard time trying to find the best flour. I have tried Indian ones, Mexican ones, but nothing compares to the Brazilian when the subject is cheese bread. But a couple weeks ago I realized what I need in fact was to try a different recipe. I grabbed my Aunt Joana’s recipe, which is much more moist than mine, and gave it a try using a brand of tapioca flour sold at Whole Foods. All I can say is my days of abstinence are over!!!!

So, Brazilian cheese breads anyone?

 

 

1. Preheat oven to 380°F. Grease a mini-muffin tin or use nonstick to save time. Put the first four ingredients into a blender and mix for about a minute.

2. Add tapioca flour and pulse until smooth, scrapping down the sides of the blender with a spatula. The flour tends to get stuck. Add grated parmesan cheese and pulse a few more times to get an homogeneous dough. It’s going to be very similar to a pancake batter but thinner.

3. Fill each mini-muffin cup 2/3 full of batter.

4. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until puffy and just lightly browned.

Eat while warm. Makes about 3 dozen of cheese breads.

AAAAAAA

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Two tips here:

* Experiment with other hard cheeses such as Asiago or Cotija.

** Make the batter and keep it well covered (with plastic film touching the batter) up to two days in the fridge.

AAAAAAA


Kale again, I know. Sorry, but I couldn’t resist. I’ve been dating this soup since October, when a cousin who had recently visited Portugal brought me a magazine featuring a recipe for “caldo verde”.

I wonder what my mom would say here. As far as I remember, she used to make soup at least once a week and we would complain every single time. I learned soup could be tasteful and more than a bunch of vegetables cooked together in beef stock a bit later in my life.

Caldo verde, for instance, was introduced to me by my mother-in-law and I could not believe this heavenly dish had not been part of my childhood memories; it would have made so much sense!!

Did you know Brazilians have a big affection for kale? It’s one of many Portuguese heritages alive on our everyday meals. Kale, a different kind but very similar in flavor, used to be part of everybody’s garden – when people used to have a garden, of course. I remember parsley, green onions and kale were the ubiquitous trinity of any backyard. And the chitchat about how somebody’s kale had not grown well or had got some kind of pest could take long at the table.

So, I don’t understand why “caldo verde” didn’t exist to me until my twenties. But we met, and that’s important now. It was a bit forgotten, I confess; but I knew I was getting a warning when I saw the recipe on the magazine. Finally, it fairly made its way to my “virtual recipe notebook”.

In summary, this soup is a combination of potato and kale, served with sliced Portuguese chorizo.  But we love to add a special kind of Italian sausage in our Brazilian version. Here I used Spanish chorizo and loved the spices it added to the dish.

Funny right? A Brazilian girl cooking her version of Portuguese “caldo verde” with Spanish chorizo in North American territory. I just feel like playing Chinese Whispers in the kitchen. Specially because I didn’t follow the magazine recipe at all;  actually, I took it as a base, as a starting point and ended adding more potatoes, less water, Spanish chorizo as I told you and lots, lots of garlic. So, it is basically a new recipe.

And I added to that a recipe of kale crisp from here. I cut it in smaller pieces and the baking time was short. I highly recommend, it’s a beautiful garnish and extra texture to  your soup.

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan and cook onion and garlic over medium heat for about 3 or 4 minutes.

Add potatoes, cook for extra 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Add water, salt, pepper and bring to a boil.

Let the potatoes cook under low heat for about 20 minutes or until tender. At this point I just grab a large potato masher or a fork and smash roughly part of the potatoes, leaving some small chunks intact. It’s a tip from my mother in law, the mashed potatoes will thick the soup and you will still have some texture at the same time. Delicious!!

Add sliced chorizo and let it cook for 4 minutes.

Add thin sliced kale, stir, turn off the heat and serve immediately. And that’s important; you can make almost everything ahead; just wait until the last minute to add the kale.

Garnish and serve.

Have a warm winter everyone!

 

 

I don’t know if I told you that but I spent part of my life into catering. I mean, I used to cook for a catering service; my job was to take care of the kitchen, plan different menus, create new recipes, very exciting. And I gained some experience cooking for a bunch of people at the same time. Oh crazy days!  Folks, I have good and scary stories about this time…

That’s how I really started to work with food. And during this time one thing that always gave me big headaches was the appetizer. You probably know hors d’oeuvre, finger-food, canapés, all can be a nightmare when having guests over. Preparing little small bites that look good and look alike at the same time? Not easy!! Now imagine preparing it for hundreds of people during a cocktail party.

Dips, in the other hand, are a caterer dream!! Unfortunately, I don’t remember one single party I was able to include them on the menu, logistic problems I guess. It works beautifully for small groups though. And I love making them for friends, for me they are more than an appetizer but a style of eating that brings people together.

My recipe today is a spinach and artichoke dip twist. I have seen the original all over the place, cookbooks, magazines, web. I like the concept but I just can’t figure out its origin and degree of importance for the American table. If you know, please, feel free to tell me. Here I use kale and heart of palm instead.

Serve this recipe with some of those crackers and grissini we did last week, add to that the Brazilian most famous cocktail and have your party off to a good start

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat olive oil in a saute pan and add garlic. Cook for approximately 2 minutes or just before it starts to brown.

Add chopped heart of palm and mix well.

Add chopped kale and stir.

Turn off the heat, add milk and cream cheese and stir until well combined. (You can add more milk according to your taste).

Mix in sour cream, ¾ cup parmesan cheese and adjust salt and black pepper.

Lightly grease a small baking dish.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish. Top with the rest of parmesan cheese and bake for 25 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned.

Serve immediately.

 


 

I don’t have much to say about caipirinha, even TGI Fridays sells it nowdays. It is made with cachaça, a Brazilian style of rum made with sugarcane juice, not so hard to find in regular grocery stores. It’s by far my favorite drink and pairs amazingly with a beach. But we can’t have everything, right? So, I drink caipirinha looking to the snow, I don’t care. It’s still good.

The credits for this recipe go to my brother; he owned a bar for a few years and obviously knows something about the art of making cocktails. It’s an easy one, no secrets. If you don’t have fine sugar you can use granulated instead. Give it an extra share and just make sure it’s sugar cane and not another kind of sugar.

*Can be called as aguardente, pinga, caninha, etc…. The most common brand I find here in the United States is called Ypioca. Give preference to the silver one; aged cachaças (golden) are better appreciated by themselves.

Place lime and sugar in an old-fashioned glass. Using a pestle, “muddle” the lime and sugar together, just enough to release the juice.

Add ice cubes, cachaça and mix well.

For even better result, you can use a cocktail shaker. After combining all the ingredients, place everything in it, close and shake vigorously for at least 15 seconds.

Return to the old-fashioned glass and garnish with a slice of lime. Enjoy you caipirinha!

 

 

Thanksgiving is gone and so far, no more than a few snow flakes here in Chicago. It seems everything is going slowly but the time. I remember last year we were surrounded by a big eagerness as we were packing to go to Brazil, spend the Holidays at “home”; and because of that, November felt like the last month of 2010. But now, it’s taking a big effort for me to get into that mood again.

Ornaments, decorations and Christmas songs are hard to ignore though, they surely make you feel the end of the year is around the corner. And then there is all this talk about parties and plans for the season, where we are going, how we are going to celebrate and who will be with us.

Hopefully, December will make me fasten my pace. If you are feeling like me, if you are a step behind, here are two multipurpose recipes that certainly will help you to catch up: cute, salty, flakey handmade crackers and grissinis.

 

First, they can be a perfect handmade Christmas gift, especially for those who need a break from sweet cookies. Second, both are good treats to be taken to the office Christmas party and show your skills off to that super-confident-and-not-so-loved colleague; they really, really make people think you’ve done real work when you really haven’t. Tell me, isn’t it everything you were looking for??

 

The first recipe, the cheese crackers, comes from here, you can even watch Mark Bittman’s video. I love his recipes and don’t have nothing to add about this one, I followed each step straightly and the result was absolutely fabulous.


1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly dust with flour. Put flour, salt, cheese and butter in bowl of a food processor. Pulse until flour and butter are combined. Add about 1/4 cup cream or half-and-half and let machine run for a bit; continue to add liquid a teaspoon at a time, until mixture holds together but is not sticky.

2. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until 1/2-inch thick or even thinner, adding flour as needed. Transfer sheet of dough to prepared baking sheet (drape it over rolling pin to make it easier). Score lightly with a sharp knife, pizza cutter or a pastry wheel if you want to break crackers into squares or rectangles later on. Sprinkle with salt or other topping if you like.

3. Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack; serve warm or at room temperature or store in a tin for a few days.

Yield: About 4 servings.

Grissini, oh grissini; I’ve been looking for a good recipe for a long time and finally found one my oven can handle. Why such obsession? I just think when handcrafted, they make the most beautiful and clean edible ornament.

But most of the time I would end with a chewy texture instead of crisp and crunchy grissini. This recipe instead, an adaptation of the book Baking and Pastry: mastering the art and craft, put me on the place I wanted to be.

 

 

Combine flour and yeast. In a mixer bowl, combine beer, butter, olive oil, salt, molasses or honey. Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed with the hook attachment for 4 minutes and on medium speed for 3 minutes. The dough should be very stiff. Let it rest for 15 minutes.

Shape into a ball and let the dough raise until nearly doubled, about 30 minutes.

Line sheet pans with parchment paper.

Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a rectangle 12 inch long and ¼ inch thick. Trim the edges if needed.

Using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife cut the dough lengthwise into strips ¼ wide. Lay the strips crosswise on the parchment–lined sheet pans, making sure they do not touch. Brush the strips lightly with olive oil.

Cover and let it rise slightly, about 30 minutes. Bake in a 360˚F until the grissinis are golden brown, 8 to 12 minutes, rotating halfway through. Cool completely on racks.

Oh, just one more thing: be creative. You can give your own touch to this recipes by adding different spices, garlic, or even another type of cheese.

 

 



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