30 November 2012

Another homage to Brazil

The last night I was in Brazil, I was entreated to a night at the local Samba bar, which I was assured was a "very Brazilian experience".  The band was very loud and people were boisterous, not so different from a good bar at home.  But Samba music is for carnival, which would be sort of like partying in New Orleans, and interestingly, although the dance floor was a reasonable size, many people chose to merely stand up behind their chairs and dance, thereby maintaining conversation with their table mates. I can't universalize this experience since it was the only Samba bar I visited, but I describe it to you because it effected the atmosphere; dancing was not cordoned off to an appropriate place, it was everywhere!  And therefore the dance floor sort of came to us, whether we were standing or sitting.

Buckets of that weak, weak beer were kept full at all times throughout the bar, and at some point a large sizzling platter (think fajitas) arrived on the table filled with meat, veggies, and cheese, with a little crusty garlic bread on the side.  Everyone took nibbles between sweat-inducing dances and still felt full of energy at 2am when we left! I tried out this recreation on my meat-loving family when they visited last week and it was a hit.  We probably could have stood some exercise afterward, though...

Brazilian Sizzling Plate

Serves 6

For the meat:
2.5-3 lb. flank steak or similar cut
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon mustard
2 shallots, finely minced
other ingredients:
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 small butternut squash, peeled, cubed, and boiled until al dente
4 white potatoes, peeled, cubed, and boiled until al dente
3 bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch strips
4 oz. white mushrooms, sliced
salt to taste
8 oz. shredded or thinly sliced cheese of your choice (I used Irish cheddar), optional

Grill the meat outside: The night before you make this, combine steak and all marinade ingredients thoroughly in a gallon zip-top bag.  Refrigerate overnight and turn occasionally.  Grill over hot coals 3-4 inches from the heat; cook 4 minutes on each side for mid-rare or longer if you want the meat more done (it will cook a little more on the grill pan). Cover in foil to keep warm while you...

Toss the veggies with a little bit of olive oil and salt.  On a well-oiled grill pan inside, cook everything until it chars (if you have to do it in shifts, just keep what's been cooked on a baking sheet in the oven at 250 F so it stays warm).  Slice the grilled meat into thin strips and toss with all of the veggies on the grill pan (add anything that's been sitting in the oven).  Sprinkle cheese on top and cover with a large heat-proof bowl; cook just until cheese is melted.

Plop the grill pan on the table, serve with crusty white bread, hot sauces, and forks.  Plates optional.

24 November 2012

Can't we all get along? Ebony and Ivory dessert

OK, sorry if that was too crass.  And don't read into it because the white is on top--I just like undercooked brownie. This is basically a fudgey layer of brownie topped with dreamy, fluffy coconut cake.  And now that  we've blown our diets on Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie, why not just keep going until Christmas?

You can do this all in one bowl if you don’t mind wiping it out between layers, which need to be cooked in shifts, anyway.

Black-bottom Coconut Bars

Black Bottom:
1 stick (½ cup) melted butter
1 egg
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt

White Top:
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup white sugar
1 cup flour
½ cup sweetened, shredded coconut, plus more for top

Directions:  Heat the oven to 375°F.  Grease a 9-inch cake pan.  Combine all ingredients for the Black Bottom and spread evenly into the pan.  Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven and allow to cool about 5 minutes

Combine all ingredients for the White Top (using ½ cup of the coconut for this mixture).  With a large spoon, drop dollops of the coconut batter on top of the Black Bottom layer and gently spread to form an even layer of White Top.  Sprinkle more shredded coconut on top and return to oven.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until coconut on top is browned.

(This song inspired the title of the dessert, and it is also proof that the '80s sucked.)

20 November 2012

Another butternut squash soup

I've always wanted to try some version of African peanut stew  because it sounds crazy and I love peanut butter.  Well, I haven't always wanted to try it--when I was a child, I probably wouldn't have given a shit if you had mentioned it to me.  But for over six months, for sure, I have thought it sounded interesting.  The recipes I've found call for sweet potato, but I had butternut squash, as you know, so here goes:

African Peanut Stew
Makes 4-6 servings
Can be served as a soup or over couscous for a little more heft. 

Olive oil
1 medium red onion
1 poblano pepper, seeded and ribs removed, finely chopped (you can use 2 jalapenos if you can't find poblano)
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons curry powder
One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups veggie stock
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons peanut butter
2 cups tightly packed baby spinach
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Roasted peanuts
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large Dutch oven over a medium flame. Add the onion, pepper, and carrot and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic, ginger and curry powder, and sauté for 2 more minutes. Add the tomatoes and the salt and simmer until soft and reduced, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the squash and cover with stock until submerged (it might be less than 4 cups, depending on the size of your pot). Bring the liquids to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the squash is tender, about 20-25 minutes. Whisk in the peanut butter and simmer until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Add spinach and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning and then garnish with the cilantro and peanuts.

16 November 2012

Brazilian drinks

The beer is terrible in Brazil (think Budweiser, but with a few different names), and the beer on tap, or Chopp, is the weakest of the bunch.  If you want to drink all night and never get drunk, this is the way to go. I have noticed this--the hotter the climate, the weaker the beer.  And always German-style lagers.  You can read into that whatever you want.

Even stronger alcoholic drinks don't pack as much of a punch in Brazil, but they highlight delicious fresh fruit and locally made, cane-based products, so I think they're the way to go.  The national cocktail seems to be caipirinha, made with Cachaça, sugar, and limes.  Caipiroskas are similar (but made with vodka) and often come in a variety of different fruits at bars.  Cachaça is available in the States at larger liquor stores (here in NoCo, Wilbur's in Fort Collins carries one that works just fine for mixed drinks), and Brazilians assure me that top-shelf is not necessary--or even desired--for making caipirinhas.

Standard Caipirinha--as dictated to me by Thiago, a very talented bartender who may have a drinking problem, in Goiania.

Serves 1

ice (we don't measure these things)

In a short old-fashioned glass or other tumbler, place 1 thin-skinned lime, quartered, and muddle until the juice has been released.  Pour in approximately 2 tablespoons sugar, a generous handful of cracked ice (be sure the pieces are not too big or they'll suddenly water down the drink), and fill with cachaça .  Stir with a long spoon and drink sloooooowly.

Strawberry Caipiroska (I can't claim authenticity in procedure here--this is just my replica of what I had at a samba bar in Goiania)

Serves 1

6 strawberries*, washed and quartered
1 tablespoon sugar
2 oz. vodka
cracked ice

Place the strawberries and sugar in an old fashioned glass and allow to sit about 5 minutes, or until strawberries start to give off juice.  (This can also be done ahead of time, in larger quantities, in a container kept in the refrigerator until it's cocktail time.)  Stir strawberry-sugar mixture, add vodka, stir again, and top with ice.

*Can also use chunked pineapple, limes, lemons, mangoes, or passion fruit.

13 November 2012

Butternut Squash, part deux

I just realized I implied some kind of series of butternut squash recipes a while ago, but I got so wrapped up in memories of Brazil that I have not delivered. I still have a hell of a lot of squash, though.  So I thought, if everyone from Missouri to Ohio can put zucchini in their quick bread, surely butternut squash could serve a similar purpose.  See what you think:

Marbled Butternut Squash Bread
Yields 1 loaf
1 1/2 cups (about 370 grams) butternut squash puree**
1/4 cup (60 ml) vegetable oil
1 cup (200 grams) brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the butternut squash puree, oil, and sugar, mixing until uniform. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well between additions. Beat in the vanilla extract. Gradually mix in the flours, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt.
In a medium bowl, mix together the cocoa powder with 3 tablespoons hot water until it forms a paste. Add 1/3 of the butternut squash batter and stir until incorporated. Set aside.
In order to achieve a marbled effect, mentally divide the loaf pan into 6 different sections. Pour the orange batter into 3 of the sections and the chocolate batter into the other 3 so that it alternates between the colors. Using a spoon, swirl the batter back and forth, taking care to not over-mix the batter. Bake the bread for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the bread in the pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.
**To make butternut squash puree, roast a butternut squash in a 400 degree F (205 degrees C) oven for 25 minutes, or until fork tender. Peel the squash and place into a food processor (or blender) and process until smooth. Drain out any excess moisture.

09 November 2012

Guava Bread Pudding, because I miss Brazil

Brazil is home to many, many amazing fruits, and it shows in their recipes.  Many of these fruits are not available in the States (did you know that the cashew fruit makes an amazing juice when sugar is added?  Yeah, you're not going to find that in Colorado.), but we do what we can.  The typical fresh pineapple juice with muddled mint is an easy enough thing to replicate here at home, for instance, and guava paste can be found in many Latin/ Mexican sections of larger grocery stores now.  Thinly sliced guava paste and queso fresco stacked together makes a typically Brazilian snack or a great filling for dessert empanadas (use puff pastry to make it quicker).  I tried to combine guava paste with a sweet, spiced bread pudding (an homage to Brazil's obsession with white bread for breakfast), and here's what I got:

Guava Bread Pudding
Bread Pudding:
1 day old baguette cubed (~ 6 cups)
4 eggs
1 cup almond milk
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup guava nectar
1/3 cup butter, plus a little extra to butter the ramekins
zest from one orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar, plus sugar for sprinkling
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup guava paste--cut up into chunks
Guava Sauce:
1 cup guava paste--cut into chunks
juice from 1 orange (I used a blood orange)
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup guava nectar
pinch salt
Melt the Earth Balance and toss with the cubed bread. Set aside. Whisk eggs, almond milk, coconut milk, orange zest, guava nectar, sugars, cinnamon, vanilla, salt, and cardamom. Toss in buttered, cubed bread. Stir to combine. Let the bread soak in the custard mixture for at least 30 minutes stirring occasionally.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 4 large ramekins. Slice guava paste into 1/2 inch chunks. Heat 1 kettle of water until boiling. Turn down to medium low to keep warm.
Make the sauce: Heat all sauce ingredients in medium saucepan over medium low heat. Stir frequently until guava paste melts. Once guava paste is melted, cook additional 5 minutes. Keep warm on low heat.
Add 1 tablespoon of sauce to each ramekin. Split bread-custard mixture between the 4 prepared ramekins. Wedge guava paste into the custard mixture. Sprinkle the top of each ramekin lightly with sugar. Add each ramekin to a large baking dish. Fill the baking dish halfway with hot water to create a water bath. Bake in the center of the oven for 35-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the middle of bread pudding is set. Let the bread pudding cool slightly (~10-15 minutes) before serving. 

06 November 2012

When in Brazil...

...you tend to drink a lot of cachaça, the national rum.  It is delicious in a Caipirinha with sugar and lime juice or on its own while engaged in deep conversations about the meaning of life and all the world's problems. But at some point, it becomes a good idea to refuel with some protein to avoid alcohol poisoning. Like coddle in Ireland  or eggs here in the States, Brazilians have a lovely tradition of making a big pot of bean soup to help shake off the hangover and regain your strength after a particularly important night of world problem-solving.  This recipe is my version, with more flavoring in it than what I have been served (and yes, the addition of beer was mine, not native). I think it works anytime you need some comfort and fortitude. 

Pinto Soup

Serves 4-6

2 cups dry pinto beans
½ cup cooked pasta
1 bay leaf
2 garlic cloves
½ onion
1 carrot, peeled
½ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Teaspoon salt
6 oz. beer
Salt and pepper to taste
Pico de gallo and lime wedges, for serving

Soak beans overnight. Drain, rinse, and place beans along with bay leaf, garlic, onion, carrot, oregano, paprika, and 1 teaspoon salt into a pressure cooker or large pot.  Cover with water and cook for 20 minutes in pressure cooker or about 1 ½ hours over medium heat on the stove (until beans are tender).

Remove bay leaf and transfer cooked bean mixture to a blender; blend until smooth. Return to the pot and add the beer and salt and black pepper to taste.  Stir in pasta at the last minute and heat thoroughly.

Serve with pico de gallo and lime wedges.

02 November 2012

Breakfast Rice Pudding

As you read this post, I am in the midst of teaching and performing in Brazil for 10 days, but thanks to the magic of scheduled blogging, I am sharing this most un-Brazilian of recipes with you.  When I get back (and get over my jetlag, and possible rum hangover), I'll tell you everything, I promise.  

Breakfast Rice Pudding

…and the secret ingredient is tofu!  Tofu haters love this pudding, and when you tell them it’s in there after they have taken a bite and raved about it, the look of betrayal on their faces is so precious.

Makes 6 servings

1 8oz. carton tofu (I use soft, but whatever you have in the pantry is fine)
½  cup vanilla almond milk
¼ cup raw honey
2 cups cooked brown rice
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Add-ins: chopped nuts, raisins, dates, apricots…

Place tofu, milk, honey, and spices in blender and process until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in the rice, nuts and dried fruit of your choice.  Keep for 1 week in the refrigerator.

Some combinations I like…walnuts + raisins; pistachios + dried cherries; cashews + apricots