24 April 2009

Quail eggs!

Ok, so I know quail eggs are found all over the world and not just in Brazil, but here they are very popular. "Ovos de cordorna," like all eggs that come from the small bird who comes from the pheasant family, they are like miniature, brown-camouflage versions of chicken ones, with an inner shell that is a slightly lighter robin-egg, light blue color.

The taste is equatable to that of a hen's egg, but I think is richer in flavor. P.S., throughout most of Latin America one does not find eggs in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Instead, they are located on a shelf, at room temperature, and in my opinion, allows for a more consistant, farm-fresh taste. I have never heard of people getting sick from eggs kept this way, as long as they are consumed by the validation date.

I find them easiest to eat soft or hard boiled simply because it is less shell-removing work than say trying to make a scramble. Esthetically, you also cannot help but prefer a tiny hard-boiled, Easter egg-coloring-gone-marbled egg, to the boring white kind, right? I also think a quail's feathers and headress are quite chique. A nice, natural closure to the poor-quality chocolate/marshmallow/hyper-color dyed/ubber-sugary style egg holiday that just passed! Happy post-Easter!

23 April 2009

To the juice bar...home again, home again, giggidy, gig

A mini-holiday in Rio de Janeiro allows for me to elaborate on the somewhat limited selections that I have in my charming, yet out-in-the-country, town of Paraty. For dinner one night we went to a lanchonete (lahn-shoh-neh-chee) which is a juice bar/sandwich/sometimes hot food shop. This particularly yummy one named "NaturalPolis" (a take on Brazilian cities with suffixes reminiscent of European languages that once were spoken here in the southeast of the country like Petropólis and Florianópolis) in the fashionable Leblon neighborhood. As you can see by the list on the left of fresh fruits available to blend into juice, there is no shortage of choices here! Some of my best-loved are "melancia" (watermelon), "caqui" (persimmon), "graviola" (a squishy, white-fleshed fruit encased in a soft, green, notched skin and called guanábana in Spanish, guyabano in the Philippines, and soursop in English, though I had never heard of or seen this fruit before living in the tropics...and one of my all-time favorites-first photo below, left), "fruta do conde" (also called "pinha" in Brazil or sugar-apple in English and grows in tropical regions with a flavor similar to graviola, only in a smaller version-second photo below), and "cacau" (the slimy/sweet insides of the cocoa pod that cradles the seeds that chocolate is made from-second row, left). Other popular selections are "acerola" (red cherry look-alike, and one of the most concentrated sources of vitamin C from Mother Nature-next to cacau), "pitanga" (a kind of peppery, tart, fluted-looking berry-third row, left photo), "cajú" (the fruit of the cashew tree that has the nut attached to the top of the fruit and must be roasted before consumed to clear it of toxicity-next photo) and "cupuaçu" (super-healthy pod from the Amazon that is related to cacau-last photo).

You can have your liquid health mixed with water or milk (occationally soy milk), sweetened or sugar-free, and with optional add-ins like oats, other powered grains or milk, and chocolate vitamin powder (think Nesquick).

On this night I selected, for me, one of the greatest discoveries in the world of fruit-jaca (zha-ka)! Known also as jackfruit, is the largest tree-borne fruit on earth and can reach a weight of up to 80 pounds! The outside armor is a bit intimidating, with its gree spines and sour smell, but just crack it open and see a beauty come out of the beast. The edible parts, which resemble little bouquets, taste like perfumed flowers mixed with pears...or something like that! The first time I sampled jaca was when I was traveling through the north of Brazil and stayed at a little bed & breakfast in the state of Bahia. We were served this with our coffee and our tapioca "bread" and I immediately fell in love! I had never seen jaca as a juice before and was eager to give it a whirl. Delicious!!

Lanchonetes also serve an assortment of food, though usually of the pocket sandwich (called salgados, pre-made and kept warm in glass cases for the customer to see...good if fresh, food poisoning territory if old) or bread-and-cold meat varieties. Sometimes made-to-order, hot foods are also an option. Most contain grilled or breaded beef or chicken, ham, eggs, or cheese, rice, beans (I prefer black), French fries, and salad (almost unanimously consisting of lettuce and sliced tomatoes, sometimes onions and carrots, and palm hearts if you are really lucky). Hamburgers are also a Brazilian staple, though few here know that they were not a Brazilian invention. Sadly, you will never find pickles on the side!
I got a chicken-salad sandwich on warm, salty-buttered bread with shredded carrots and corn (and I think fresh parsley) mixed in...can it get much better than that!

11 April 2009

Easter week begins...let's see how much sugar we can eat!

Throughout Brazil, large, window-box like carts filled to the brim with homemade desserts are parked on street corners, ready to satisfy every kind of sweet tooth. The one I like to frequent is run by a gorgeous, young man with a cheek-to-cheek smile named Ueslei (ooh-es-lee), which is the Brazilian spelling of Wesley. He sets up shop every evening (weather permitting) in our colonial town's historical center and sells each sweet for $2.50 reais (less than $1.25 US dollars). Once a customer selects the goodie they want, he cuts it from its original baking pan, scoops it out with a metal spatula (easier said than done with some, like the toasted coconut-turned solid block one with a toffee-consistency), places it on a paper napkin, and if desired, drenches it in condensed milk (a favorite icing throughout Latin America). Let's take a look at what he has to offer!

Starting with the first photo on the left, the little chocolate balls at the bottom are called "Brigadeiro" (bree-ga-dair-oh). According to Wikipedia, the candy was created in the 1940's after "Eduardo Gomes, a Brazilian Air Force brigadier who first gained notoriety for playing a part in quashing a communist coup attempt in Rio de Janeiro. Later he ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 1946 and 1950. This was a time of shortage of traditional imports such as nuts and fruits because of the war. But, at the same time, Nestlé was introducing its chocolate powder and condensed milk (known popularly as Leite Moça) in the country." Add a lot of butter and coat in some chocolate sprinkles and you have a truffle-like winner.

Next is an orange-shaded maracujá (passion fruit) tart, complete with the fruit's black seeds on top as decoration. In the next photo is a lime version of the tart. It is amazing how light and fluffy this one is despite being primarily made of heavy cream!

On to a local favorite, pé-de-moleque (pay-dgee-mo-lekee) or "street-boy's foot". Again from Wikipedia, here is the origin of the name. "Certain streets in Brazil were made by laying down various odd rocks in a loose layer of sand/dirt, and having street-boys stomp on them to flatten the surface. Streets made by this method came to be called 'pé-de-moleque.' The appearance of the peanuts stuck together by molasses was found to be similar to that of these types of streets, and so, the sweet took the same name." Here in Paraty, our streets are famous for their imported Portuguese stones that make up the quaint, better-keep-your-eyes-on-the-ground-or-you'll-trip-and-fall-on-your-face cobblestones of the streets in the old part of town. Apparently this same dessert is found in parts of India by the name "chikki." Ok, so that is a great name too, but not as funny as the Brazilian one!

Then we see pudim de aipim e coco, or yucca/cassava and coconut pudding. This hearty, moist, baked dessert combines two favorites of mine: the South American (though it is found throughout tropical cultures) root vegetable and coconut!

Above left, are two more sugary coconut dishes. First is cuzcuz (pronounced like the northern African grain, couscous, and possibly takes its name from the influence of immigrants in Brazil from that region). Though normally found sweet, cuzcuz is made from manioc root and can be made into savory recipes with chicken and vegetables also. This one here is gummy and spongy and not as loaded with sugar, so is a popular candidate for condensed milk as a topping. Next to the cuzcuz is what is named "quebra-queixo", or "jawbreaker!" This is the one that I described earlier that is impossible to cut. I understand the name since trying to bite and chew through the toasted, shredded coconut glued together with caramelized sugar, definitely takes dedication, and good teeth!

The second photo is another type of pudding baked in the oven called "Italian cassarole," made from cheese and coconut...are you kidding...delicious!

My choice on this day is tapioca pudding covered with a caramel sauce. Tapioca in Brazil is not like the spoonable kind in a bowl found in the US. In fact, in the northeast of the country tapioca is common as a both a meal, and a dessert. There the manioc flour from which it comes is formed into a batter that is pan-fried like a crepe, and filled with ingredients ranging from shrimp or beef with cheese, to chocolate, coconut, guava paste and/or banana blanketed with, you guessed it, cheese! Here in the Southeast, tapioca is usually found in a thicker, square form like you see below. Check out the bite mark in the right-hand photo. That is how dense it is, despite still being able to soak-up all that caramel "broth" as it is described in Portuguese. It also retains the texture of "spider eggs" as we used to call them as kids.

Ok, I am officially worn out after my sugar rush and need a nap! I'll be back later with more sweet treats, only this time with more chocolate, Brazilian Easter egg-style! Tchau! (tch-ow) (Ciao) (Bye)

09 April 2009

Autumn in Brazil...time to eat pine trees!

Ok, so I'm not talking about eating the tree itself; just the kernel. The nuts of the pine tree are eaten around the world and the varieties that grown here in southeastern Brazil are no exception. Most people think of Brazil and imagine palm trees, not pine trees. The species that grow here are only up in the mountains where the elevation allows for cooler, drier temperatures. Some cultures say pine nuts bring fertility, prosperity, and have aphrodisiac powers. Who knows. What I do know is that they are tasty!
The kind here, called a pinhão (peeng-yow) or pinhões when there is more than one, are larger than say the ones made famous in Italy and essential for basil pesto. They are usually about 1 1/2 - 3 inches long, encased in a hard, coffee-brown shell and edible only after a good amount of cooking. Most locals stick them in a pressure cooker, but as I am not confident with the unpredictability of a pot on the stove containing the equivalent of a steam-powered engine under its lid, so I prefer the old-fashioned boil-till-it's-done method. The ones in the above photo are already cooked. They were kept in lightly salted, boiling water for about an hour on the stove and eaten warm as it is easier to peel open the layers that way. Most people here use their teeth to crack the casing and squeeze out the innards, but I think my dentist would advise against that. The smell was fantastic too and I did a make-sift, vapor facial afterwards with the scented water. Getting at the fruit of the tree requires as much dedication as eating an artichoke does, but worth the effort to get at the good stuff inside. I though was the kind of kid that would spend hours in front the fireplace hand cracking walnuts and pecans, using a pick to get out every last soft morsel.
So what do they taste like? It is kind of like a cross between a sugarless date and a slightly sweet potato, with an undercurrent of Christmas tree thrown in for good measure. It has a firm, kind of grainy texture but not with the oily residue of other nuts. I made my own version of pesto with these pinhões and it came out great! Tis' the season!

14 March 2009

Brazilian-style ice cream Part II

Sorry about the long delay in new posts here at lifewithriceandbeans, but as life would have it I have been much occupied with a full-time work and school schedule. Now that I have given a good excuse I will make a sad attempt to compensate for my absence by writing this short, pseudo-blog to tide you over till I have time to write a proper one. Here goes...

Is that CORN in the picture above? Yep, a corn and cream popsicle has now been added to my top 5 list of fabulously-strange-yet-tasty frozen treats! This local company makes other, more traditionally tropical flavors like pineapple, papaya, guava, toasted coconut, and mango, as well as watermelon, açaí with guaraná, maracujá (mah-dah-koo-zhah) or Brazilian passion fruit and in the photo below, an Amazon fruit known for its health properties called cupuaço (koo-poo-ah-soo), and some cream/chocolate combo named "mini-skirt!"
It's the end of Summer here so a cool ice cream hits the spot on steamy days. But you are stuck in the depths of Winter in the Northern Hemisphere, you are thinking. Now is not the time for cold food! Come on-do you not have central heating? Trick your hibernating brain into thinking it is time to come out of the cave and whip together some canned corn, heavy cream, sugar, maybe a little cinnamon, and freeze the mixure in ice trays with sticks. YUM!!!!!

04 February 2009

Ice cream makes firemen happy!

Ten seconds before I shot this photo, these professional life savers were all smiles but with ice cream in their mouths. I was refused pictures incriminating them in indulging in their treat while on-the-clock, but they were willing to pose in front of the fire department vehicle instead. I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream…so goes the song, almost nursery rhyme that every child in the USA grew up singing. I have to confess; I love the stuff but have a lactose intolerance if I eat too much, so I rarely do. On a hot day like today though, I can be convinced to deal with the stomach cramps and bloating that will inevitably follow my treat.

In Brasil ice cream “self-service” is very popular. It is kind of like a buffet but with a scale at the end of the line. You pay for how much it weighs. (There also is a regular food version of this that I will cover at a later date). The front of the line starts with scoopers, cups, bowls and/or waffle cones, and ends with unlimited sticky, unhealthy toppings (M&Ms, chopped nuts, regular AND sweet & sour gummy worms, and marshmallow cream) to smother your frozen dessert with. The best aspect of this is that you can combine and make science experiment-looking creations that would make any five year-old proud.

The flavors range from basic flavors like vanilla and chocolate that Gringos are used to, to regional specialties made from vegetables like “chu chu” (shoo-shoo), which is a green, teardrop-shaped plant that grows on vines in tropical areas, and “abóbara com coco” (a-bow-bah-dah), or squash with coconut. Other selections of interest include “maracujá” (mah-dah-koo-zhah), or passion fruit; “goiaba” ( goy-ah-bah), or guava; “jabuticaba,” a dark berry; condensed milk; whipped cream with cashew nuts or “castanha de cajú”; Ferrero Rocher, after the famous hazelnut and chocolate candy from Italy; and a white concoction with a flavor I cannot place named “Beijinho” (which means “little kiss”).

This particular “sorvetaria” (soh-veh-tah-ree-a) is a bit over-lit and sterile, but they advertise lack of hydrogenated vegetable oil (because I prefer cream and sugar over air-poofed fat), and the exterior art murals were painted by a friend of ours. You can see a little of it behind my husband as he digs into his ice cream. The owner is also super nice and curious to ask me if the reason so many Americans are epidemically overweight because they eat bacon and eggs for breakfast. Though that is a loaded question with complex answers, I agree with him and add the statistical fact that large numbers of people there also eat nothing but processed and fast food. I also want to add that it is also because ice cream is so popular in the US, but I hold my tongue.

I kept my choices monochromatic and had pistachio and chu chu. The flavors were smooth and just like you would expect from a place that puts a little love into what they serve. Chu chu is simple and maybe a little bland, but clean and like ice cream you’ve had before. The pistachio was great since it was packed with nut pieces! Maico had vanilla with chocolate flakes and mango, topped with chocolate sauce. Can you go wrong with fruit and chocolate...delicious!

03 February 2009

Ok...here's the last Obama endorsement...for now

You have to see this yummy write-up on Good magazine’s blog: http://www.good.is/?p=14505

Tomorrow we will tie this together with Brasil’s version of ice cream- sorvete (soh-veh-chee, or like we say here in Paraty, soh-veh-tch). Enjoy!

28 January 2009

Obama Day 8: tough first days on the job call for extra potent drinks after work

So it is about a week after the US Inauguration and spirits are high here in Brasil as people put trust in the new US president to follow through on his ambitious promises to change the world image of the United States from World Bully, to World Progressor. So far he has done pretty well. If you want to monitor his Executive Branch activities check out The St. Petersburg Times' sharp "Obameter" that monitors the guy's campaign commitments at: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/ . I thought we should therefore raise a glass and continue with all the hullabaloo and hope for a renewed USA and keep the libations flowing. In Brasil folks clink shot glasses filled with a sugar cane liquor called “cachaça” (kah-shah-sah) while gleefully shouting (and eventually slurring), “cheers” in Portuguese: “saúde” (sa-oo-jee)!

What better way to make a little party than to mix up the most well-know Brasilian cocktail: the caipirinha (kah-ee-pee-deen-yah). Here is how it is done:

  • Get yourself some limes, wash them, cut them in half (through the middle not from stem top to bottom), and score them by making 2-4 cuts into the rind (like pictured) without cutting all the way through...though if you are lazy you can just cut the lime up into how ever many small sections you want.

  • Put some well-refined sugar (as much or little as you like) in a glass, tumbler, mug, whatever as long as it has a wide mouth opening. If you use a less-refined sugar it will take longer for it to dissolve and therefore more wait-time before you can drink. Put the cut lime flesh-side down on top of the sugar.

  • Take a wooden or plastic muddler, spoon, potato masher, or something to squash the lime into the sugar until you have lots a sugared lime juice in your glass. Add as many limes as you like.

  • Put ice in the glass (chopped is best), followed by a generous shot of cachaça. Pour the whole mixture in a martini shaker or just put your hand securely over the glass, and shake! Add optional straw and drink till your heart's content.
When I was eleven years-old, my grandfather handed me a tiny, glass medicine bottle and told me (with a devilish grin) to take a sip of the mysterious, clear liquid that was in it. As I knocked-back a healthy dose, all I remember was what felt like a mixture of rubbing alcohol and liquid fire burning a corrosive path from the tip of my tongue to back of my throat and down my esophagus. Coughing and spitting and crying from the confusion of being poisoned by my own flesh and blood, I wiped my eyes of their tears to see my grandfather laughing at my near-death experience. Now, you may think that I had been subjected to some kind of torturous hazing ritual by the patron of my own family, and maybe I kind of was, but I sure never made an attempt to sample from grandpa’s liquor stash, unless he was present. And if any of us grandkids were curious about smoking, he did the same live-and-learn example with cigarettes and cigars as a way to scare us away from experimenting with those kinds of vices until we were at least a little older. Did it work? Sorta. If nothing else it taught all of us to respect and maybe fear our no-nonsense, Southern, mountain-man grandpa. Maybe it was also all those Christmases when he dressed up like Santa (he looked just like him), made every one of us give him a kiss and let the babies pull on his snowy beard.

The probably 190-proof (95% pure) alcohol that my grandfather gave me was colloquially called “white lightening” or “moonshine” by the backwoods distillers and patrons of the South in the earlier part of the 20th Century. Though moonshine can still be found in personal liquor cabinets and hidden in the back of divey bars, modern regulations have re-packaged it, given it the name “Everclear,” and regulated its strength as either 151 or 190-proof (though the stronger one is illegal to sell in fifteen US states).

Ok, so what does all this have to do with Brasil and cachaça? Well, first off, another name for cachaça is "Aguardente" which translates to "burning (or flaming) water," so in other words; it is just like what Grandpa had stored in the basement. This Brasilian version though is generally lower in alcohol content (between 38%-48%), if it is produced commercially. Though many of the small-scale, artisan and better-tasting pingas produced in my corner of the world might have labels displaying how strong they are, just as many do not and a test of their strength is gaged only by how quickly you forget how to walk a straight line while you are drinking them. Maybe that is why another fitting name for cachaça is "Aquela-que-matou-o-guarda," or "the one that killed the cop!"

Here in Paraty, we are famous for our cachaça or "pinga" (peen-ga) from the verb "pingar" which means "to drop." This are became known as a pinga producer beginning in the 1800s after farmers attempting to get rich off of refined sugar realized that there was too much rain here for large-scale sugar cane cultivation. Instead, by utilizing the countless rivers and streams swimming through the forests and mountains here, a big wheel could be fitted to churn hydro-electricity that could power a mill and thereby make a lot of product that required a lot less sugar cane. An industry was born and for many years the word "Paraty" or "Parati" (the other way to spell the name) became synonomous with the word "cachaça." Even Brasil's king Dom Pedro II (born 1825-1891) reportedly placed special orders for the highest quality "Parati."

You see, to say you are going to buy a bottle of cachaça is like saying you are going to buy a bottle of vodka or whiskey; they are types of distilled alcohol. Here I will quote directly from Wikipedia:

Cachaça, like rum, has two varieties: un-aged (white) and aged (gold). White cachaça is usually bottled immediately after distillation and tends to be cheaper…Dark cachaça, usually seen as the "premium" variety, is aged in wood barrels and is meant to be drunk pure. Its flavor is influenced by the type of wood the barrel is made of...I however feel that if I want my cachaça to have a charred wood overtone, I would just drink scotch.

There are also other grades of cachaça that are hard to find outside of Brasil. "Azulada" (a-zoo-la-dah), in which tangerine leaves are added and results in a very high-quality mix that has a slight blue cast to it (see photo below). "Gabriela" is a local concoction that infuses cinnamon, clove and sugar together to get something truly magical and lovingly reminiscent of something that would be found in a large pot on the stove at a family Christmas gathering (though I prefer Gabriela with an ice cube). Pinga blended with pumpkin, banana, passion fruit, chocolate, etc. are among the many ways producers find ways of tantalizing consumers. Another popular way to drink pinga here is to put a healthy dose of honey in a cup then pour a dangerously large amount of the alcohol on top and mix until the honey becomes one with the pinga. Delicious! Below is a photo from a shop that sells, floor to ceiling, every variety of cachaça under the sun along with jarred, sweet compotes and preserves and locally made hot sauces.

Every civilization that has had access to either some sort of starch or fruit, has discovered through either a happy accident or painstaking chemistry experiments, that a little time and a thing called fermentation will turn a potato or a grape into a glass of Good Times. Alcohol has been used to commemorate both sadness and celebration the world over, and though there are those folks out there who think the stuff is the work of the Devil (and maybe they are right), it also is a liquid marker of a culture's culinary ambitions. A good, stiff drink so often compliments the flavors and scents of a meal since the dirt used to grow the vegetables and feed the animals that will be made into food also adds the same nutrients and complexity to what can also be turned into an alcoholic beverage, so everything logically synchronizes and harmonizes once put together. Though good food can stand on its own, a drink before, during, and/or after makes it an experience!

After this was posted, I was corrected by several Brasilian bartenders on what I thought was an authentic caipirinha recipe. To avoid an unwanted sour taste on the tongue, cut out and discard the middle, white, core parts of the lime before muddling with the sugar. Thanks!