Thursday, October 31, 2013

Calvin & Haroldo

I stay away from translations if I can understand the original language (no Hemingway in Spanish, please), but reading Calvin and Hobbes in Portuguese is super fun. It's a great way to learn "kid" words, too, the ones that you rarely hear in typical adult language but that make up every child's vocabulary, or at least the Brazilian Calvins of the world. Can you guess what "invertebrado acefalo" means?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Dulce de Leche + Postre de Vainillas

In a surprising and unprecedented occurrence, one of the containers of dulce de leche that I brought back the last time I was in Argentina has remained unopened until now. Over the past month or two, Alejandra and I have had multiple conversations on how to use this last hold out, most of them starting with her saying, "Do you understand what it's been like for me to have to ignore that dulce de leche in the pantry all this time??" Almost all Argentinean desserts include dulce de leche, sometimes in several forms, and Argentinean dulce de leche is universally recognized as being superior to dulce de leche produced in other countries (except maybe for Uruguay, but that's another regional rivalry for another day). Alejandra told me about a dessert they make in her family called postre de vainillas, and decided to write her aunt asking for the recipe. Meanwhile, I thought about all the other things that are traditionally made with dulce de leche. Say someone gives you a jar of dulce de leche, or you bring back a jar from a trip. What to do with it, other than consume the entire jar in one sitting, inducing blind sugar coma oblivion? (which is totally fine, too, we've all been there) 

-Unquestionably one of the best options, and not at all similar to the vanilla ice cream-based version sold in the U.S., is to make Argentinean dulce de leche ice cream. You can swirl more, unadulterated dulce de leche through the ice cream once it's almost set, the way you would with a chocolate stripe (which is also a good option here).
-Make alfajores, or use it to fill sandwich cookies, which is basically the same thing.
-Spread it on toast. It sounds ridiculous, and the first time I saw a mother give it to her kid as a snack I thought, that is the least healthy snack I have ever seen, but it is really, really delicious (and let's be real, it's not as if most jams are actually less sugary).
-Use it to fill a jelly roll cake, or pionono. For that matter, use it to fill any cake.
-Eat it with milanesas, aka schnitzel. Just kidding, although I did have a Spanish teacher a long time ago who told me that his dad did just that.
-Dulce de leche with bananas. Slice a banana. Layer half into a small bowl, (generously) top with dulce de leche, then add in the remaining slices and top with (lots more, way more than seems reasonable) dulce de leche. Breakfast!
-Fill donuts, croissants, or other sweet rolls. When I was doing field work for my master's thesis in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, the most exciting part about getting up at the crack of dawn was the knowledge that there would be dulce de leche-filled donuts waiting for me next to the bus stop. They were massive, greasy, and rolled in granulated sugar, and the lady sold them for 1 peso until she ran out.
-Which leads me to more memories of dulce de leche-filled, chocolate-covered churros in the train station at Retiro, and the ones sold on the corners of Once that Felipe would bring home for merienda.
-Dulce de leche flan. Then serve the flan with whipped cream and a big dollop of dulce de leche alongside. Really.
-On a spoon, next to a shot of espresso or a cup of strong coffee. This is Felipe's routine after lunch every day whenever we have dulce de leche in the house (now you see how amazing that the dulce de leche had survived until now), and it is pretty wonderful. There is a fancy La Salamandra cafe in Buenos Aires that does the same, serving a dollop of dulce de leche alongside its cafes instead of the typical tiny cookie.
-Eat it with crepes, called panqueques in Argentina.
-Chocotorta, the classic Argentinean birthday cake. Basically an icebox cake, but the filling is dulce de leche mixed with a lightened cream cheese. The first time I had it my eyes almost rolled out of my head.
-In the interest of full disclosure, I feel like I have to mention one more classic use for dulce de leche, with the warning that every time I've ever had this I immediately regretted having put it in my mouth: la torta rogel, a.k.a. torta milhojas. Tasteless cardboard layered with dulce de leche and capped with sickly sweet meringue? I'll pass, thanks.

As soon as Alejandra got ahold of her aunt's recipe, we set about collecting the ingredients. We bought and then promptly ate the packages of vainillas (lady fingers) three times before a fourth trip to the supermarket resulted in an untouched package. If you don't have access to Argentinean dulce de leche, you can make your own. The dulce de leche is covered with two layers of vanilla and/or chocolate pudding, and the lady fingers are soaked in strong coffee. The dessert itself comes together very quickly and then has to chill in the fridge for a couple of hours while the pudding sets and the lady fingers soften. In our house, the postre lasted all of 24 hours, and that was solely out of politeness to our significant others. It is similar to tiramisu in its construction, but the flavor is very, very Argentine, the kind of dessert you'd be served by someone's abuela. Next time I make it I'll probably skip the chocolate in the pudding so that the dulce de leche flavor is more prominent, though a little extra chocolate alongside your dulce de leche never hurt anyone, and especially no one Argentine...

Lady Finger Pudding (Postre de Vainillas)
     adapted from Alejandra's aunt

14 oz. (400 g.) lady fingers
1 c. (8 oz., or 225 g.) strong coffee (we used espresso from my beloved Moka pot)
14 oz. (400 g.) dulce de leche (if using Argentine dulce de leche, Sancor and La Serinissima are good options here-- you want good quality but non-expensive)
Double recipe vanilla bean pudding, recently made and still hot off the stove
2 Tbsp. dark rum
3 oz. (90 g.) bittersweet chocolate (optional)
shaved bittersweet chocolate or chopped walnuts to sprinkle on top

Line the bottom of a glass 9- or 10-inch square baking dish with lady fingers, breaking of edges as necessary to make them fit. Now, dunk each lady finger thoroughly in the coffee and then place it back in the dish, working quickly so the cookie doesn't disintegrate on you (you should use half of the coffee here). Carefully spread half of the dulce de leche over the layer of lady fingers (they will be fragile from being soaked in coffee), using an offset spatula/butter knife to make an even layer. Stir the rum into the vanilla bean pudding, and then pour half of the pudding over the dulce de leche layer, carefully spreading the pudding out with your spatula as to not disrupt the underlying layers.
If you want the second layer of pudding to be chocolate, stir in the bittersweet chocolate into the (still warm) pudding, letting it melt thoroughly. Dip more lady fingers into the remaining coffee and arrange a second layer of cookies over the vanilla pudding layer. Spread the rest of the dulce de leche over the ladyfingers, then pour the rest of the pudding over the dulce de leche and smooth into an even layer. (You may have extra pudding-- don't overfill the baking dish. I would recommend eating it while you wait for the dessert to set.) Put the baking dish in the fridge to chill, at least 4 hours and ideally overnight. Once the pudding has chilled, and before serving, shave bittersweet chocolate over the whole top, or sprinkle with chopped walnuts.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

All the secrets

If you're now reading this, I don't need to tell you that I've been AWOL lately. We went to the states to visit my family, and then on a whirlwind trip of Scandinavia. It was wonderful, and also pretty much the polar opposite of what my daily life has been like for the past 5 years (white-blond tall people everywhere! buses that run on time! awkward dancing!)

I'm back in Brazil now, and back to business as usual, I suppose. I've been obsessively listening to Alex Alvear's incredible Mango album. I've been staring at these pictures for the past hour. A while ago, I wrote up two itineraries of super fun stuff to do in Cali for a new travel site that recently went live; if you're interested, you can find it here. And by "super fun stuff" I do of course mean "what I do when I'm in Cali, and what I wish I were doing right now." Felipe's already planning our trip in December; if it were up to him I'm pretty sure we'd leave tomorrow. 

It was too hot this last weekend to even think about turning on the oven, but I've been wanting to make Argentinean empanadas lately, ever since I learned ALL THE SECRETS to perfect empanadas from a trial-by-fire-style round of 100 empanadas de carne that I made a couple of months ago with my friend Alejandra. One of our Tipo Colombia parties this year fell on a Colombia vs. Argentina soccer game day (eliminatory games to determine who will play in the World Cup); as you might imagine, those kind of games are a big deal around here, and for the party we made both Colombian and Argentinian empanadas. I talked Alejandra into helping me make the Argentinean ones --  I've made plenty of Argentinean empanadas in the past but never beef ones, which is funny given that beef empanadas (empanadas de carne) are the most common in Argentina. And they came out really, truly great, mostly due to Alejandra's father's recipe (he owns a restaurant down in Patagonia) and Alejandra yelling at me so that I would actually follow the recipe during the cooking. By the end of the 100 empanadas, our repulgues (folded edges) were actually very respectable looking.

But the main, HUGE aprendizaje (lesson) that I took away from the empanada-making was what separates the real empanadas that you get in restaurantes in Buenos Aires and my previous homemade attempts: the empanadas have to be flipped. I had always done what I had been instructed to do, by Argentinean friends and internet tutorials alike: painted the folded pastries with egg wash, and baked until golden. The empanadas always turned out tasty, but somehow not the same as the restaurant ones, a difference I had always attributed to restaurant ovens or different dough or whatever. NOPE. Here's the secret: start the empanadas face down on an oiled/parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Halfway through baking them, flip them over carefully, then paint the now face-up empanadas with egg wash, and finish baking. The flipping browns both sides evenly and redistributes the filling, leaving you with a pleasingly plump, golden empanada. 

For the party, we made the empanadas with Argentinean premade wrappers (the La Salteña ones are the best) and they tasted exactly right...these days, it's what almost everybody uses in Argentina to make their empanadas, anyway, so you don't have to feel weird about it (it's not at all comparable to using, for example, premade piecrust, which is almost always disgusting). However, if you don't have access to the wrappers, the good news is that after the party, Alejandra and I did another trial with a homemade dough recipe that came out fantastic. The link is here if you read Spanish (the masa criolla ojaldrada one); otherwise, give me a week or two to get everything together and write it up properly, until I can stand to turn the oven on again...

Beef Empanadas (Empanadas de Carne)

     adapted from Parrilla La Tranquera, Sarmiento, Chubut

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

5 medium onions, or 3 large ones, finely chopped
1 large spring onion or 3-4 scallions, finely chopped
1 medium red pepper, finely chopped
1/2 green pepper, finely chopped
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. aji molido*, optional
2 lbs. (1 kilo) ground beef
1/2 c. tomato puree (either an Italian-style passata or you can blend up a couple of canned tomatoes in their juice to make 1/2 c.)
4 eggs, 3 hard-boiled, cooled and chopped (don't overcook them as they will be reheated in the oven; check out Kenji López-Alt's method here), and 1 uncooked for the egg wash  
24 empanada wrappers (We used La Salteña's "Criollas para horno" wrappers; whatever kind you buy, make sure they are the kind that go in the oven, "para horno.")

In a large saute pan over medium heat, cook the vegetable oil and onions/scallions until translucent. Add in the red and green peppers, a big pinch of salt, and continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently so nothing browns-- you're not looking to caramelize anything here. Stir in the oregano, thyme and aji molido, and cook for another minute, then stir in the ground beef. Cook, stirring every couple of minutes and making sure to scrape the bottom, until all the beef has changed color, then add in the tomato puree and stir. Taste for salt (it should be well seasoned but not overly salty, and then stir in the chopped boiled eggs. Cover the pan and stick it in the fridge until the mixture has completely cooled down. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Hot filling will melt the wrappers-- think about putting hot filling into an uncooked piecrust-- the butter would melt and then you just get a very sad disaster. 
Once the filling is completely cooled, turn on the oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set up a work surface with a clean counter, your empanada wrappers, the cooled filling, a soup spoon, a little cup of water, and your baking sheet off to the side. Take a wrapper and place a spoonful of filling into the center. (Don't overfill, it will make the empanada harder to close; with practice you'll be able to successfully get more filling in there.) Wet your finger with the water and run your finger around the edge of the wrapper, this will help it seal better. Now, the easiest way to seal an empanada is by folding it in half over the filling and then using the tines of a fork to seal it; press hard to make sure the empanada won't open in the oven. For the traditional repulgue, fold the wrapper in half over the filling and then pinch the two sides together hard. Starting at one corner, fold the border over on itself every 1/2 inch or so; this also takes practice, and you'll get better at it.
Place the empanadas on the baking sheet face down (you will probably have to do this in two batches). Bake for 15 -20 minutes, until they are golden brown on the bottom, then flip each empanada over and paint the golden brown side (now facing up) with egg wash. Return to the oven for another 10-20 minutes, until the empanadas are golden brown all over. Serve hot.

*This is one of those things that wouldn't have made a difference to me, but that Alejandra was very adamant about: if you don't have Argentinean aji molido (ground red pepper), leave it out. I wanted to use paprika or red pepper flakes, and she said absolutely not, that will taste WRONG (also, red pepper flakes are far hotter than Argentinean aji molido, which isn't really hot at all). You can order aji molido online here, or you can leave it out, which is what we did, and it will still taste both great and authentic, two criteria that are sometimes surprisingly different.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Broke Da Mouth

A couple of years ago, when I was getting ready to leave Buenos Aires, an Argentinean lawyer friend of mine named Mariana was getting ready for her own trip to the states. She left for Hawaii on a 4-month work/study visa (this was back in 2010)...and never came back. In fact, she liked Hawaii so much she got a job there, joined a rowing club, and last month got married to a nice all-American boy.  

Before she left, I had told her she should write a guest post for the blog on her impressions of the states while she was there, turning the tables on my usual rantings about the Southern Hemisphere, and she promised me she would. The other day I opened up my mail to find "lo prometido"- an Argentinean take on American culture, more specifically Hawaiian food culture, which is a whole other world pretty much unknown to me. 


When I first came to Maui, Hawaii, the food was one of the biggest culture shocks. I was an Argentinean that, in my own opinion-- and after having travelled through both Europe and South America-- “ate almost everything”. That was far from being the truth.

The first difference wasn’t even the actual food but the American eating culture. To my eyes, the main thing that was missing was an important piece of furniture: the table. To us, the table is where the whole eating routine takes place. We usually don’t start eating unless everyone is sitting; when we’re kids we’re not allowed to leave it until we've finished the meal (and everyone else has finished too); there’s a sort of ritual about serving what we cook and we’re sharing. But not only that, we love sitting after the meal is over, even leaving all the dirty plates on it, just talking and enjoying the company.

America (and when I say this I’m talking about United States Of America: nobody here believes I’m “American” too), is the land of the plastic plate and silverware, paper cups, SOLO cups, tin foil, plastic wrap and “to go” containers. But barely any tables involved. They cook the food and whenever it is ready, everyone grabs a plate and a fork, puts together their own plate and finds a place to sit and eat. The big exception might be Thanksgiving. Food wise, America offers a great variety of cuisines: Mexican, Mexican-American, Thailand, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Italian, and so many others. Most of them are already part of the American daily dishes. Most of the dishes at restaurants’ menus also can be prepared in many different ways or can come with the choice of one or two sides of accompaniment. SO MANY CHOICES…

A typical situation is: you choose your meal, they ask you how you like it to be cooked (first question); then they ask you if you want salad or rice with it (typical second question); if it comes with any sort of bread, they offer you all the different varieties of it (third question). And I could keep going….after taking a long time to determine what I’m going to eat, I end up doubting myself with all the new possibilities!

In most Argentinean restaurants, food is always Argentinean cuisine (that includes Italian, German, French and Spanish dishes), but that’s it. And everything is a la carte. No sides, not substitutions, you'll only be asked how you want your food cooked if you order steak. And there’s a huge chance that whatever you’ve decided to order is not available that day! Another big difference was trying to get used to the many condiments, aiolis, dressings, gravies and sauces of all kinds that may come with the food. In Argentina, we only have salt, pepper and mayo. The worst part (but interesting as well) was dealing with spiciness. There’s nothing spicy in our dishes, chimichurri is not even mildly hot in comparison.

But I’m not only living in America, but in Hawai’i.

The youngest of the 50 US states, Hawai’i joined in 1959. This archipelago was earlier populated by Polynesian civilizations and, after that conquered by Europeans. Later, the Kingdom of Hawai’i would be created.
Along with American English, I had to get used to Hawaiian (the other official language) and learn words like aloha (hello, goodbye, love), mahalo (thank you), hale (house), and keiki (kids).

The (unofficial) third language is Hawaiian Pidgin, a Creole language based in part on English and used by many residents of Hawaii in everyday conversation. "Da kine" is probably the most identifying characteristic of spoken Hawaiian Pidgin, and certainly the most versatile. You can use it anywhere, anytime, anyhow. It's very convenient: it's the word you use when you don't use the word, a place-holder of sorts. 

But when talking about food, the main expression heard is “BROKE DA MOUTH”, used when something is so tasty that you want to eat it all at once. The cuisine of Hawaii is a fusion of many foods brought by immigrants to the Hawaiian Islands, particularly of American, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Polynesian and Portuguese origins, including plant and animal food sources imported from around the world for agricultural use in Hawaii such as pork, pineapples, macadamia nuts and bananas. 

One of my favorite baked goods here in Maui is the banana bread. It’s usually sold by locals along the road, made with the sweet “apple bananas”, brought from the Philippines. I used to bake a lot back in Argentina, and, since I moved to Hawai’i I think I’ve been overwhelmed by the many dishes, flavors and differences in the food that I couldn’t even imagine the idea of cooking something by myself. Last week, some friends gave some ripe apple bananas from their backyard. In the search of the best recipe, I ended up with this delicious banana bread.

Thanks Mariana!

Maui Banana Bread
     recipe from Mariana Lowy

4 ripe, normal-sized bananas (or 8 apple bananas)
1 c. (8 oz.) butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 ½ c. all-purpose flour 

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour a 9 in. x 5 in. loaf pan, then tap any excess flour out. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the eggs.
Stir in the bananas, previously mashed. Sift the flour; baking soda and powder, salt, together directly into the bowl, then stir well.
Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Bake for 45 min. / 1 hour, until a knife stuck into the center comes out clean and the bread has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 min., invert the bread out of the pan, and then put it back right side up on a plate.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Notes from Buenos Aires

While Brazil was exploding over the past couple of weeks, I was further south, in Buenos Aires. It was weird being out of the country while all of our friends protested in the streets, but we had no idea what was going to go down when we bought the tickets. We got back to Rio this past weekend, just in time for the final of the FIFA Federation Cup, which Brazil won, and which immediately had everyone speculating as to how much the Brazilian government paid for the win. I'm not normally into conspiracy theories, but it was far too convenient for the Brazilians to win just now, even more so with an opposing team as strong as the current Spanish one. The protests continue on but less so...

Every time I go back to Buenos Aires I experience it differently. Some (mostly) trivial observations from the last week:
-If I'm not paying attention, I can go a week without eating a single fruit or vegetable.
-Everybody on the subway looks like they want to kill themselves.

-Apparently I'm far more worried about security in Rio than I realized-- I felt myself slowly relaxing and not automatically fearing every dark, person-less street. An Argentinean friend said to me, "People here constantly complain about how dangerous Buenos Aires is, but if you look at the statistics, it is far safer here than most other cities in Latin America and in the states." 

-Catcalling in Argentina is several orders of magnitude worse than it is in many other South American countries-- imagine Latinos crossed with Italians, and, well, you get Argentineans...

-In a sea of blacks and greys, me and my turquoise trench coat stand way, way out.
-Even if the coffee is terrible (and it is), it's lovely to be able to sit down and relax in the elegant, Old World-style coffee shops.

-Argentinean Pesos these days feel like monopoly money-- I was spending 100 pesos/day without even trying. (100 pesos used to last me a week.) The Argentinean government has severely restricted the buying of U.S. dollars, which has resulted in a massive black market. The official exchange rate is around 5 pesos=1 dollar, but on the black market it's more like 8-10 pesos=1 dollar. I went to change dollars into pesos at the black market rate, and it was probably the oddest business interaction I've ever had. Picture a jewelry store with 4 men in black standing by the entrance. You walk in, past the customers actually buying jewelry, and just stand at the back of the store until a guy ushers you into one of many small rooms, each with a guy behind a desk drinking mate. Nobody asks you what you're there for, and you don't say, they just say "hola linda" and you say, "hi, it's 8 to 1 today, right?" and they say yes, you tell them how much money you want to change, and two seconds later you're walking out the door, currency in hand, feeling kind of illicit but really not, because all you did was change money. 

-I had forgotten what it's like to see people reading on buses instead of zombified over their smart phones. I had forgotten what it's like to be able to take buses home at 4 in the morning! Honestly, I'd forgotten what it's like to be in a country with such a tangible middle class, where everybody takes public transportation, public art events and book fairs are packed, and the country doesn't come to a halt because of the telenovela.

On a more personal level, I love going back to Buenos Aires because I get to visit friends and eat empanadas and dulce de leche ice cream (not in any way similar to what is sold in the states, btw) until se me para el ombligo (until my belly button stands up). And you always gotta love dark Argentinean humor, appropriate for the grey streets and 0ºF weather. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Potato shmatato

Last month, my friend Vanessa came over to make Ukrainian Easter food. It was maybe a bit ironic because I'm pretty sure her forefathers made life hell for my forefathers, but there must have been some mixing at some point because Ashkenazi Jews make really similar food, though we keep the milk and meat far away from each other. Vanessa and I made very large quantities of borscht, pyrogies, "cabbage" rolls, and paska, the only one of the bunch which I hadn't tried before. Paska is Ukrainian Easter bread, very similar to challah except that is uses dairy and is round. The "cabbage" rolls were not actually make out of cabbage because Vanessa wanted to try using collard greens, which are ubiquitous in Brazil, and they turned out quite nicely. 


She also got a kick out of making all the gut-busting food in a miniskirt in Brazil-- the weather hardly suggested hot soup and carb-stuffed carbs, but it sure beats the hell out of actually having to deal with sub-zero temperatures. 

We divided the work up by comfort zone, meaning that I wrangled the doughs while Vanessa dealt with the borscht and cabbage rolls. Her grandmother's original paska recipe was enormous, calling for 15 cups of flour, so that was halved, and lacking a large springform pan or the equivalent the bread turned out rather freeform. "Artistic", I like to call it, a.k.a. "Thank God we no longer live in an icy tundra so who cares what it looks like as long as it tastes good." L'Chaim/whatever Ukrainians say!

     adapted from Vanessa's grandmother

1 1/2 c. whole milk
1/3 c. unsalted butter
1/2 c. water, lukewarm
(1/2 packet) dry yeast
1/2 c. sugar
4 eggs (reserve 1 egg for the egg wash)
1/2 Tbsp. salt
~8 c. all-purpose flour

Heat the milk in a small saucepan just to scald it, then set it aside to cool down. Do the same with the butter in a different pan or in a bowl in the microwave, heating just until it has melted. Set aside to cool down. 
In a large bowl, combine the water, 1/2 tsp. of the sugar and the yeast. Let stand for 10 min. When the scalded milk has cooled down to lukewarm, add it along with the sugar to the yeast mixture, stirring well, then add in 3 of the eggs, one at a time, stirring well. Add in the salt and the flour, a cup at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon. When the dough is too heavy to stir, flour your hands and turn the dough out onto a clean, floured surface to knead for ~10 minutes, until you have a smooth dough, adding flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the counter and your hands. Form the dough into a ball and place it in an oiled bowl to double, covered with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel. Depending on how hot your house is, rising will take take between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 hours.
Once doubled, punch down the dough, cover and let it rise until it doubles again, ~1 hour. 
Oil a large springform pan. Divide the dough into two uneven pieces, one 3 times bigger than the other. Form the larger piece into a round so that it lines the bottom of the pan. With the smaller piece of dough, make decorations for the top-- braids are popular, or you can make designs with small balls (Google for ideas). Remember that everything is going to expand as it rises. Cover lightly, leave to rise until doubled once again, ~ 45 minutes. 15 minutes before the dough has finished rising, preheat the oven to 400F. 
Beat reserved egg, and paint egg wash onto the dough. Place dough in oven. After 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 350F. Bake 40 minutes or until dark gloss brown (but not burnt!)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Out of sight, out of mind

Morro da Providência, the oldest favela in Rio and our neighbors

I don't know if this happens to you, but I'll often forget about an ingredient that I love-- for years-- and then, prompted by who knows what-- an article online, a conversation, astrology (jk, definitely not astrology)-- all of the sudden pick it up one day and use it in absolutely everything for the next month or so. For Felipe's sake hopefully its something that he likes as well, something other than eggplant-- that was a rough two months for him awhile back. 

More eggplant, with tahini

In this case, I actually know exactly why I started buying tahini again. It's because of Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem cookbook. Roasted squash with tahini, fried cauliflower with tahini, sabih (why oh why is this not sold as street food here?)...and that's before I even hit the dessert chapter, my preferred section of cookbooks. Ottolenghi and co. included a recipe for the popular Israel tahini cookies, which are really quite similar to peanut butter cookies but a bit more interesting for those of us who grew up happily bathed in peanut butter. Because of how much I liked the tahini cookies (made without cinnamon, because yuck) I started thinking about including tahini in other desserts outside of the typical halvah, which I do also love dearly. I started thinking about a tahini tart, and then Google led me to Turkish tahini cake, which led me to promptly baking it and Felipe telling me that we really needed to get more tahini "so that we can make like 10 more of these cakes." 

So, we made a bunch more of the cakes, and I started fiddling with the recipe-- replacing some of the oil with butter, upping the baking powder (I suspect there's a translation error in the original recipe), and replacing the crunchy outer sesame seed crust with my beloved demarera sugar when I was out of the seeds. The last time I made the cake, I realized that the original recipe calls for beating the eggs and sugar for 5 minutes, "until foamy," which makes me wonder if what this really is supposed to be a modified chiffon cake. Being that I don't have an electric mixer and that I reserve my arm "muscles" for things like merengue and buttercream frosting, my theory will have to go untested for now. Besides, we are 100% happy with this present, non-beat-your-arm-off iteration, slightly dense with tahini, not too sweet, and positioned to stick around even when/if the tahini craze abates. 

Turkish Tahini Cake
     adapted from Hayrire's Turkish Food and Recipes

6 oz. (1 c.) sugar
2 eggs
2.5 oz. (1/3 c.) vegetable oil
2.5 oz. (1/3 c.) butter, melted and cooled
2.5 oz. (1/3 c.) whole milk, cold from the fridge
6 oz. (1 1/3 c.) flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2.5 oz. (1/3 c.) tahini
3 Tbsp. sesame seeds or demarera sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a 9 x 5 in. (8 x 4 in. should be fine too) loaf pan, then pour in the sesame seeds/demarera and tilt the pan around so the seeds/sugar stick to the buttered sides relatively evenly. 
In a large bowl, mix the sugar and eggs with fork/mixer until foamy. Add in the oil, melted butter and cold milk. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour and baking powder. Finally add the tahini, and stir well to incorporate all the ingredients.
Pour the batter into the pan and sprinkle the top with additional sesame seeds/demarera sugar .
Bake for ~45 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cake cool in pan. 
The cake will keep a couple of days well wrapped in plastic. Serve it plain alongside cafe con leche or black tea, or you could probably serve it with some lightly sweetened whipped cream if you like (I mean, you can do that with pretty much any cake, can't you? It's not ever really a bad idea. But I don't think it's particularly necessary here, unless you need to dress it up.)

Tahini-- o pasta de sesamo/ajonjolí-- le da un sabor muy rico a esta torta que es muy rápido y fácil de hacer. 

Torta de Tahini Turca
     adaptada de Hayrire's Turkish Food and Recipes

170 g. (una taza) de azúcar
2 huevos
70 g. (1/3 taza) de aceite vegetal 
70 g. (1/3 taza) de mantequilla, derretida pero tíbia (dejala enfriar unos minutos después de derretirla)
70 g. (1/3 taza) de leche entera, fria de la heladera
170 g. (1 1/3 taza) de harina de trigo 
1 1/2 cucharita de polvo de hornear
70 g. (1/3 taza) de tahini (pasta de sesamo/ajonjolí)
3 cucharadas de semillas de sesamo/ajonjolí o azúcar demarera/azúcar morena gruesa

Precalienta el horno a 180ºC. Amanteca un molde de pan, después echale el ajonjolí/azúcar demarera e inclina el molde para que las semillas/el azúcar se peguen a los lados uniformemente. 
En un bol grande, bate el azúcar y los huevos hasta que esté espumoso. Echale el aceite, la mantequilla y la leche, batiendo para incorporar. Con una cuchara de palo, incorpora la harina y polvo de hornear. Echale el tahini, revolviendo bien para incorporar todos los ingredientes.
Echa la masa al molde y salpica la superficie con ajonjolí/azúcar demarera adicional.
Hornea durante ~45 minutos, hasta que la torta esté dorada y un cuchillo metido al centro salga limpio. Deja la torta enfriar en el molde y sirve cuando ya esté fria.
Guarda la torta envuelta en plástico.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Rumba Tipo Colombia Turns 1!

Though none of us can believe it's already been a year since this ridiculousness started, I'm very happy to announce that we'll be having our 1 year anniversary Rumba Tipo Colombia party in June.

If you happen to be in Rio de Janeiro and want a break from all the Portuguese to come dance salsa and eat empanadas, come find us next to the Arcos da Lapa on June 7th.

And in case you were wondering, no, Colombia is not actually homogenous to the point that you can have one true Colombian-style party, as you can imagine might be the case with any country of almost 50 million people with mountains running between the big cities. But absolutely everyone loves to rumbear (party) and dance, and at our parties the people in charge of the music are from four different regions (Cali, Bogotá, Pasto and Medellín) so we end up with a pretty diverse mix. And at the end of the day, everyone just ends up goofing around anyway, like Felipe in the video below:

Thursday, May 2, 2013

On technology

In Cali, there's a restaurant called "El Arca" (The Ark) that specializes in plantains. That sounds a bit funny to say given that most Colombians eat plantains at least once a day, but they are generally eaten as a side to the main dish or as a snack instead of being the focus of a meal. The menu at El Arca is divided according to the three general stages of ripeness of plantains-- green, yellow/green, and yellow/black, a.k.a. verdepintón, and maduro. Green plantains are turned into giant patacones piled with all the toppings your little heart could possibly desire, and the sweet yellow/black plantains are split and stuffed with cheese and other luscious melty things.  And they have canastas de plátano pintón, fried plantain baskets made with the "in the middle" stage plantains, which are a little bit sweet but have still retained much of their starch. Stuffed with cheese and stewed vegetables or shredded meat, they are damn tasty-- and not very common, in Colombia at least, as this was the first time I had ever run across them.

Luckily, last December in Colombia Felipe's mother gave me a plantain press used to make the baskets and I kind of really love it, even if my (Colombian) friend Gabriel's reaction when I pulled it out was to rant about how Colombian "technology" is limited to wooden plantain presses, which, ok, fair enough (sort of), but my iPod is not helping me get fed anytime soon, and I don't think it's a mutually exclusive proposition anyway. 

And other than medical stuff, when it comes to "technology", I'm not sure there's much I value more than knowing how to feed oneself well, which at the end of the day is not unrelated to medicine and which much of the U.S. is pretty incompetent at. Hell, I thought I knew how to cook when I left the U.S., and I couldn't even make decent rice (good oatmeal cookies, though).  

I've veered way off topic, because what I mainly wanted to say is that if you are a fan of plantains, well, do I ever have a recipe for you. And even if you don't have a fancy-shmancy plantain press, you can make mini baskets using a citrus press-- just cut the plantains into smaller pieces before frying, and line the press with plastic wrap so the plaintain doesn't get stuck in the crevices. It's kind of a nice party trick, don't you think? And you can leave your iPod at home.

Plantain Baskets

For the plantains:

4 yellow-green plantains (ask for plátanos pintones if you're at a latin market)
vegetable oil for frying

For the filling:

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil (sunflower or canola or the like)
1 lg. onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 lg. red pepper, deseeded and deveined, quartered and thinly sliced
3-4 scallions, chopped
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 c. cilantro leaves, chopped
8 oz. mozzarella cheese, sliced thinly

Line your press with plastic wrap or a clean plastic bag. Heat at least 3 in. of oil in a medium pot over medium-low heat. Peel plantains and then and cut in half horizontally. Fry them slowly (lower the heat if they begin to brown immediately, you need low heat so they will cook all the way through) until you can pierce them easily with a fork. Remove with a strainer and immediately place one plantain half in the press. Close the press gently, exerting slow force. If the plantain breaks roughly it may not have been cooked all the way through (don't worry about it, but it's good to know for the next batch). Remove the pressed plantain gently to a clean plate and immediately continue with the rest of the cooked plantains-- you have to press them while they're still hot. Once pressed, the plantains will keep a couple of hours at room temperature, or you can even freeze them to use later in the week (not much longer, though). 

In a medium skillet over medium-low heat, heat the vegetable oil and onion together until the onion is translucent (add in a pinch of salt and stir), then add in the red pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then cover the skillet and let the onion and pepper stew together for another 10 minutes, stirring every now and then and adding a tablespoon of water or two if the bottom begins to burn.  The peppers should be soft and sweet. Add in the scallions, turmeric and another pinch of salt. Cook another minute or two, cover the pan and turn off the heat.

Right before you're ready to eat, heat up the oil again until very hot, then fry the plantain baskets, one or two at a time (if you add too many the temperature of the oil will drop and they won't crisp up). Turn them once or twice so they brown evenly, then remove them with a strainer to a paper-lined plate and fill (and consume) immediately.

Stir the cilantro into the pepper mixture. Fold and roll a slice of cheese so that it fits into the bottom of a plantain basket, then cover it with the pepper mixture. Repeat with the rest of the baskets. Serve hot or warm.

Canastas de Plátano Pintón

4 plátanos pintones

aceite para freír

Para el guiso:

una cucharada de aceite
una cebolla grande, partida en quatro y cortada
un pimentón rojo grande
2 tallos de cebolla larga
1/2 cucharita de cúrcuma
1/2 taza de hojas de cilantro, picadas
225 g. (1/2 libra) de queso mozzarella 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A "proper" Brazilian party

Ok, so I lied, two posts about Brazil in a week does not a Brazil week make. Note to future self: don't promise posts that depend on information that is not in your current possession, e.g. verifying recipe proportions, photos from places that aren't your house etc.

But I do have one more Brazil-centric post for now. And it's about parties, birthday parties specifically, and what makes a good one around here. A couple of weeks ago I went to a great birthday party-- lots of music, good food, and happy people-- but even at the time, the thought occurred to me that the party would not have been good under similar circumstances in the states. In fact, I am quite sure that arriving 5 hours late to a birthday party in someone's back patio for a cookout as a huge storm hits and during which the power goes out for hours would be a recipe for disaster in the states. Right? Your friend would be pissed for your lateness (or you would just miss the whole damn party), as soon as the storm hit people would head inside, and as soon as the electricity went out people would go home. But in Rio, the rain pours down, the power goes out, and nobody blinks. I was actually filming when the power went out (and we were already huddled under the roof on the patio).

The birthday guy is the guy dancing in a speedo-- he was dealing with the water running off the tarps rigged up to protect us from the rain and just gave up at being dry at some point. We stayed until late, bellies full of feijoada and beer and sickly sweet cake. And I don't think it even occurred to anyone that the party was a failure, because it wasn't. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Prato Feito

Lunch is the main meal in Brazil, meaning that most people eat lunch out in the middle of their work day. Though buffet-type places that sell food by the kilo are probably the most common option these days (with wildly variable quality), many older pubs and hole-in-the-wall restaurants sell what is called a "prato feito", an extremely filling dish made up of a protein, rice, black beans, farofa and spaghetti. You know, real (and real caloric) food, made up of whatever was cheap at the market that day. Black beans and three kinds of starch? Count me in. I will choose a prato feito over a "kilo" restaurant almost any day of the week.

While the prato feito at some places can be kind of a mess on a plate, I recently stumbled upon a really quality one, among the old crumbling buildings and restored façades that line the Avenida Mem de Sá in Lapa. Nicely stewed frango com quiabo (chicken with okra) and in this case, mashed potatoes instead of the typical spaghetti, all for 7 reais (~$3.50). If you order a glass bottle of off-brand guarana soda to share (one of the only sodas in the world I actually like, and no I can't tell the difference between brands), two people can eat an enormous lunch for 16 reais, possibly with leftovers, not bad in a wildly overpriced city where it can be hard to find meal for under 20 reais for one person. And Lapa during the day is charming/gross/pretty all at once, its restaurants somehow always occupied by older men idly drinking beer at noon. It'd be a shame not to pass by every now and again.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Carinhos Brasileiros

I spent the beginning of last week in Búzios, a coastal resort town a couple of hours east of Rio. It was low season and the beaches were so clean the sand squeaked under our feet and the water was smooth like glass. 

I need to get out of Rio more. And I need to get out of the Latino ghetto in Rio, which I've actually been doing more of the last couple of weeks. You know, samba and feijoada instead of arepas, mate and salsa. It's not for nothing that my Portuguese is crap, though I do like Portuguese the Language, and Brazilian food, and Brazilian music, for that matter (as long as it's not pagode or funk, but I feel like that should go without saying...)

Yesterday we were at an all day feijoada for a friend's birthday, and after everyone had tired of eating and drinking and playing music, the jokes and stories started. One guy told a story about his young kid's linguistic confusion that I loved in part because it could only happen in Portuguese. In English, we don't use an auxiliar to ask someone for something (we don't say, ask TO your mom if you can go to the park), but in Portuguese "para" is used both to say "pergunta para ele" (ask him) and "pede para ele" (ask FOR him). So the guy explains that he's at a family event and his kid spills something on himself, so he tells the kid (let's call the kid Mikey): 
Mikey, vá pedir um guardanapo para você. (Mikey, go ask for a napkin for you.)
Para quem? (Ask who?/For who?)
Para você! (You!/For you!)
The kid, beginning to look distressed, Para quem? 
Para você, peça um guardanapo para você! (For you, go ask for a napkin for you!)
So the poor kid, looking really confused, asks himself out loud, Mikey, me da um guardanapo? (Mikey, can you give me a napkin?)

When we finally left the party at 2 in the morning, we ran into a large group of very drunk people coming out of a roda de samba. A friend walking with us had his guitar on his back, prompting the drunk crowd to chant "Play Pixinguinha!" (a famous Brazilian composer whose birthday is tomorrow) repeatedly until they took it upon themselves to start singing "Carinhoso" ("Affectionate"), complete with harmony and rhythm provided by some random percussion instruments they happened to be carrying with them (it's Brazil, I don't ask questions). 

But I have been thinking that I should post more Brazil-related stuff on this blog, given that I do live here and all (and given that I have a folder full of half-finished posts on the subject), so that's the plan for this week, for real. All Brazil, all week long, it's going to be incrível.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Kreplach: Not just for Klingons

Though I have loved matzo ball soup since forever (and ever), I had never had kreplach, the Other Eastern European Jewish Dumpling, until quite recently. Now, although I wouldn't consider kreplach categorically better than matzo balls, I may or may not know others, unbiased by childhood memories of copper cauldrons brimming with matzo ball soup, who strongly prefer kreplach in their soup if given the choice. If you, like me, didn't grow up with kreplach and were assuming all this time that they were Klingon food, allow me to illuminate you: kreplach are like Chinese ravioli-dumplings, but they taste unequivocally Ashkenzic Jew-y due to the chicken, parsley and onion-y flavorings present. I like them in soup, but you can also eat them on their own after being fried or boiled (the kreplach, not you). And kreplach can actually be filled with all kinds of things (beef, cheese, etc) and are kind of fun to make; pinching their sides together reminds me of making hamantaschen, except for that I'm not tempted to lick my fingers when the filling gets on them because it's raw chicken parts. Delicious.

Ok, but in all seriousness, once cooked, kreplach are very tasty little dumplings. I screwed around with a couple of recipes, South Americanizing them a bit-- using the white and green parts of scallions instead of shallots and chives, and generally being amused that the original recipe authors think I have a food processor at my disposal. I also experimented with passing the dough through a pasta roller (yes, I have a pasta roller but no food processor, sue me), which turns out a nicer, more uniform dough than using a rolling pin empty cachaça bottle but is kind of a pain because the dough is wetter than your typical pasta dough and likes to break when forced through a pasta roller. I'm told you can also just use wonton wrappers, and if I had ready access to them I might, though I would imagine you would get a drier, less ravioli-like kreplach using them. 

yISop! Es gezunterheyt! 


     adapted from The Mile End Cookbook and Michael Ruhlman

For the filling:

1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. chopped shallots/scallion whites
1/2 lb. raw boneless chicken meat
1/4 lb. chicken skin and fat
2 chicken livers (optional-- I've made the without also and might prefer it that way)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c. chopped chives/scallion greens
1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

For the dough:

1 c. flour
1 egg
2 Tbsp. water
pinch salt

First, make the dough: Place the flour in a large bowl, and make a hole in the middle of the flour, adding the eggs, water and salt. Use a fork to whisk the water and eggs together, then slowly bring in the flour from the sides until you've incorporated all the flour. Knead a bit until you have a smooth, homogenous dough. Cover the dough with plastic and let it rest while you make the filling. 

Saute shallots/scallion whites in vegetable oil until translucent. Pulse chicken meat, skin/fat, livers, garlic, chives/scallion greens, salt and pepper very briefly in a food processor just until roughly chopped and combined, then stir in the cooked shallots/scallion whites. If you don't have a food processor, use a sharp knife (or a mezzaluna would probably work great) to finely chop the meat, livers and skin/fat. The last time I made these I froze the skin/fat and found it much easier to chop frozen. Stir together the chopped chicken with the rest of the filling ingredients. (I've over-processed the filling before, and personally I strongly prefer a slightly chunky filling over a homogenous one, which is why I haven't try doing this in the blender, not that you would ever consider doing that.)

Roll out the dough quite thinly, less than 1/8 in., and use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut out 3 in. x 3 in. squares. Place a dollop of filling in the center of each square, then pinch the sides to seal. You can do a four-cornered pinch like me, or you can just fold them over diagonally, corner to corner, to get triangle ones. You can also use a bit of water or beaten egg to help seal the edges if they don't want to stick together, but I haven't found this necessary (if you were to use wonton wrappers, this will definitely be necessary).

Drop the kreplach into simmering soup (or boiling water) and cook until they float up to the surface, like ravioli.