Thursday, March 29, 2007

Brazilian Treasure

There is nothing more romantic than artisan food. The care and love put into making the food; the skills and recipes passed down from generation to generation, turning basic ingredients into mouth-watering treats. Goiabada Cascao is one of them. Goiabada is a marmelada made of guava - a fruit widely available in Brazil. There is really nothing special about guava fruit. There are guava trees everywhere in Brazil. But when a concoction of sugar, water, and guava is cooked outdoors, being stirred for hours until it reaches the perfect consistency, something magical happens.

I remember traveling to Minas Gerais (southeast Brazil) several years ago to take a tour of small towns where the main attraction was food. Restaurants and small shops had local food, fresh, made from scratch all day. I remember going to an artisan store specialized in jams, jellies, and preserves and watching a cook making goiabada. The artisan way uses a large and heavy copper pan called "tacho" over a fire ring. The cook stirs it constantly with a long wooden spoon. It's almost as a theatrical show. It's an art for sure. The smell and steam coming out of the tacho is incomparable. When it's done the marmelada is spread on a large form and after it cools off and reaches a solid consistency it is cut into squares. The one I brought from Brazil is sold on a rustic wooden box with a label that says "Founded in 1919".

There are many ways to eat goiabada, plain or with a slice of Minas Cheese - this combination is called "Romeo and Juliet". Melted goiabada is also delicious as cake or pastry filling. For cakes filling it can be melted with some water on low heat. For pastries, it melts when baked.

Goiabada is also sold canned, highly processed, full of preservatives. Needless to say, the canned goiabada tastes like pure sugar with no flavor. The real thing is called Goiabada Cascao -never out of a can, nothing added besides sugar and water.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Baked Polenta with Roasted Pepper Sauce

Healthy Food can (and should) be tasty. I am modifying recipes by replacing ingredients high in calories and/or fat with low-fat ingredients, using lots of veggies and fresh produce. This weekend I made two dishes that are not only healthy but also easy to make. Both can be made ahead, kept for a day or two in the refrigerator, and baked when you are ready to eat.

Baked Polenta with Roasted Pepper Sauce

2 cups canned tomato, diced
1/4 cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 oz canned roasted red bell peppers, drained and sliced
Cooking spray
1 cup dry yellow polenta

2 cups fat-free milk
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine the milk and water in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and gradually add the polenta, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cover and cook over medium-low heat 2 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Coat a medium baking pan with cooking spray. Spread the polenta.
Combine first 5 ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and cook 10 minutes, stirring sauce occasionally. Spread sauce over polenta. Sprinkle with cheeses. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until bubbly.

Yield: 4 servings

White Bean Enchiladas

3 tablespoons fat-free sour cream
16 oz canned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat Mexican blend cheese, divided
2 tablespoons canned chopped green chiles
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt
8 oz enchilada sauce (such as Old El Paso)
4 (6-inch) corn tortillas
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°.
Mash beans and sour cream with a fork until almost smooth. Stir in 1/4 cup cheese, chiles, onions, chopped cilantro, salt, and cumin.
Spread 1/4 cup bean mixture on tortilla; roll up. Place roll, seam side down, in an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with remaining tortillas and bean mixture. Spoon over enchilada sauce; sprinkle with 1/4 cup cheese.
Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until bubbly. Don't forget the Mexican Beer (a long-neck bottle has 100 calories).

Thursday, March 22, 2007

We are back

We are back from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. For the next few days will be working on getting back to our routine. Unpack, Reorganize, Do Laundry, Buy Groceries, and the list goes on and on. We are also getting back to our diet - or should I say "our attempt to diet from New Year's until we traveled on vacation". My attempt to lose weight was awfully unsuccessful. I really ate healthy and exercised but only lost 3 lbs in 2 months. The good news is that I didn't gain anything on vacation. I don't know how because I ate anything and everything. From steak houses to Italian restaurants and lots of ice-cream parlors and pastry shops in between. I am going through my stack of healthy recipes and planning my menu for this week. I will post only the winners - healthy yet tasteful meals.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Rio de Janeiro

Sign at a Food Stand in Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Coconut Water

Green Coconut Water is very popular in Brazilian beaches. Served cold, coconut water is deliciously refreshing. Some people tend to mix up coconut water and coconut milk. They are completely different. The water is found in green and young coconuts. Coconut water is clear, with high mineral and sugar content. Coconut milk is white, oily, and high in calories. The milk is prepared by squeezing coconut meat from mature coconuts. Coconut milk is used in many cuisines, in Brazil it's found in several seafood dishes as well as desserts.

When here I arrived last week the first thing I said is "I'm going to drown in coconut water while I am here". I have tasted virtually every brand of bottled coconut water sold in the US and they don't taste anything like fresh coconut water. Before the water is bottled, it goes through a pasteurization process that destroys some of the nutrients almost all of the delicate flavor.

Some interesting facts about coconut water:
- has more potassium than a banana
- it is more nutritious than whole milk with less fat and no cholesterol
- it is a natural isotonic beverage with almost the same level of electrolyte balance as we have in our blood
- can be used as an intravenous solution
- athletes use coconut water to replenish electrolytes lost in perspiration. It works just as well as and even better than some popular commercial sports drinks

There is no other way to drink coconut water; unopened shells should be kept in ice for a short period of time. When you are ready to drink, punch a hole on the shell and drink from a straw.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Blogging Abroad

I am on vacation! I will be blogging from the place pictured below for two weeks.

I am in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, my hometown. We arrived here almost a week ago. We are enjoying the huge change in temperature, leaving our home with temperatures below freezing and arriving here at 104 degrees F (40 degrees C).

I am not going to cook much for the next few days but I had to make one dessert: Passion Fruit Mousse. Passion Fruit is indigenous to the tropical regions of America and commonly used in desserts here in Brazil. I personally love its distinctive flavor both on savory and sweet dishes. Passion Fruit Sauce (made only with the pulp) goes beautifully with grilled fish. The dessert I made uses passion fruit juice for the mousse and pulp with seeds for the topping. The topping is cooked with a little bit of sugar, creating an aromatic, intense, and tart syrup with crunchy seeds.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Dinner in 6 minutes

Dinner doesn't get any easier than this. I came across this recipe and I found it so odd that I had to try. The sauce is quite unusual, made of eggs, cheese, and mascarpone cheese. I had some mascarpone left from another recipe and was so intrigued about it I couldn't wait to try. The result was beautiful. I made it from start to finish in 6 minutes. The recipe is from the cookbook "On top of Spaghetti" written by the renowned chef-owners of Providence, Rhode Island's legendary restaurant Al Forno, this book is delightful. They have been is business for 25 years, I figured they knew a thing or two about pasta sauces.

Fettuccine with Mascarpone and Parmigiano-Reggiano (from "On Top of Spaghetti" by George Germon and Johanne Killeen)

Serves 6 to 8 as a first course or 4 to 6 as a main course

4 large eggs
6 tablespoons mascarpone
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound dried fettuccine, packaged in nests
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Whisk eggs, mascarpone, salt, and pepper in a heatproof mixing bowl that is large enough to sit on top of your pasta pot. Set aside.

Add a generous amount of salt to the boiling water, and return to a boil. Add the fettuccine, and cook, stirring frequently, according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, rest the mixing bowl above the boiling water to warm the mixture, stirring frequently, to prevent the eggs from curdling. When the fettuccine is al dente, drain it and toss the pasta into the mascarpone mixture. Fold in the Parmigiano-Reggiano, toss, and serve immediately with additional cheese and pepper.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Revolutionary Recipes from the Hunan Province

NPR All Things Considered, February 28, 2007

China's Hunan Province has long been recognized for its spicy cooking, and for its revolutionaries.
In Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, chef Fuchsia Dunlop pays homage to some of the area's most well-known dishes and provides a taste of the history and culture that surround them.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Reading Time

The only pleasant aspect of my long commute to and from work is my reading time. I drive halfway and take public transportation (metro). The second part of my commute has become my prime reading time. Last year tackled classics such as "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy, "A Room With a View" by E. M. Forster, and "Emma" by Jane Austen. This year I am reading modern fiction and memoirs and maybe later in the Spring I will go back to classics. So far this year I have read:

- "The Glass Castle: A Memoir" by Jeannette Walls
- "Running with Scissors: A Memoir" by Augusten Burroughs
- "Little Children" by Tom Perrotta
- "About Alice" by Calvin Trillin

I enjoyed all of them very much . Reading on a public place is can be embarrassing because I laugh, giggle, chuckle or even cringe. The last book, however, made me cry. The book is so sincere and talked about a strong and wonderful woman, Alice, who succumbed to lung cancer in 2001. Alice was described by a friend as someone who:

"managed to navigate the tricky waters between living a life you could be proud of and still delighting in the many things there are to take pleasure in".

The book was written by her husband of almost 40 years, who still adores her. It's a truly beautiful story.

The next one on my book pile is "Him Her Him Again The End of Him" by Patricia Marx that is supposed to be funny and witty.