September 2008


Over a year ago, C and I took a trip to Sao Paolo, Brazil for our friends’ wedding.  Before heading out, another friend who had grown  up in Brazil gave us the low down on what to expect.  Along with the usual traveler admonishments that inevitably come with foreign travel, she told us to be sure to try Pao de Queijo – Brazilian Cheese Breads.  She told us they were wonderful and addictive, but to be honest, they sounded a bit odd.  All the same, we promised to try them.  Once we made it to Sao Paolo, they were everywhere – on street carts, at the dinner table, at the airport – and they were, as promised, delicious.  We fast became addicted and in the end literally spent our last bit of Brazilian money at the airport, while waiting for our plane, buying up all the ‘cheese breads’ we could find.

Back in the U.S. we just couldn’t forget about those Brazilian cheese breads.  I looked for an easy recipe, but every one I found called for tapioca flour.  That should have been my cue to look for tapioca flour, but instead I kept putting it off, and putting it off, until I forgot about it.  In fact, if I hadn’t picked up Ingrid Hoffmann’s  Simply Delicioso from the library, those cheese breads might have been lost to my memory.  Instead as I was flipping through the cookbook, I saw her recipe for Yucca Buns and realized that this was the recipe I was looking for.

Apparently these sort of cheese breads are found all over Latin America.  They’re called Chipas in Argentina, Arepas in Colombia, and Pan de Yuca is Ecuador.  These breads are sort of tough to describe.  They are crisp on the outside and doughy/cheesy/chewy on the inside.  Made with tapioca flour – which makes them gluten free – the dough has a texture unlike anything I’ve seen, almost like play-do.  In the end tapioca flour wasn’t that hard to find; it was just in the natural food section of the grocery store rather than the normal baking section – hidden in plain sight.

All in all they are fairly easy to make – tapioca flour, baking powder, egg yolks, a bit of heavy cream and, of course, cheese.  The recipe I used suggested Oaxaca cheese, which I did not have and which I did not feel like driving to find.  Instead I used a mixture of 1 1/3 cups of mozzarella  and 2/3  cup cheddar.  The buns turned out great – cheesy and chewy. I had added a bit of garlic powder, so there was a garlicky flavor that went well with all that cheesiness.  They weren’t as spectacular as what we had in Brazil – foods you eat on great vacations are never as good when you try them at home – but they were a pretty good substitute.  I’m sure we’ll make them again and again all the while dreaming of Brazil.  As they say in Portuguese, Bom Apetite!

Yucca Buns

Adapted from Simply Delicioso by Ingrid Hoffmann

Ingredients:

1 cup tapioca flour, plus extra for kneading

1 teaspoon baking powder

(I added a few shakes of garlic powder as well)

2 cups Oaxaca cheese or other fresh white cheese, such as mozzarella, finely grated

2 large egg yolks

2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream, if necessary

Directions:

reheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil, and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.Combine the tapioca flour and baking powder together in a large bowl. Stir in the cheese and egg yolks. Mix until the dough forms a ball. Lightly flour a work surface and turn the dough out. Knead the dough with your hands until the dough is smooth, even-textured, and not sticky. If the dough doesn’t come together or seems too stiff, then add cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it comes together and feels supple.

Divide the dough into 10 even pieces and with your hands, roll each into a ball. Shape the balls into ovals and place them 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the rolls are pale gold (not browned), about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes and serve while still warm.

Friday was a miserable day.  It was rainy.  It was grey.  It was freezing cold…in every building I entered.   The combination of all three made me crave soup.   I was nudged a little in that direction thanks to the foodie stylings of S and E, and as we all know, I can eat soup any time of year. With my former home of South Louisiana at the fore front of my mind this past week, it seemed like the only solution would be a warm, rich gumbo.

Now, I am very much a born and bred Californian, so I was not born with that gene Louisiana people are born with…You know the one where you can make a perfect roux.  My friend KK swears by the two beer method of roux making.  It seems so flawless when she does it, however, I am never able to replicate it.  Some swear the color of the roux should be like peanut butter, while other advocate a more chocolate syrup colored roux.  So tonight, after deciding I wanted to fall more on the chocolate end of the roux color spectrum, I found myself wondering, should it be milk chocolate or dark chocolate syrup?!?!?

Enter glass number one of beer.  I decided, I would follow KK’s method and whatever it looked like after a second beer was the color I was going to embrace as my roux.  So with the oil and the flour in my dutch oven, I stood there with a beer in one hand and a whisk in the other, just hoping it would turn out ok.

Two beers and I successfully made a chocolately colored roux.  As usual KK was right and with my “Trinity” (chopped celery, onions, and green pepper…an essential in almost every South Louisiana recipe) ready to go, I felt more certain that this gumbo would work.

I say work because my first attempt at gumbo about 3 years ago was just plain sad.  I tried a oyster and shrimp gumbo and when it was done, it was more like burned flour and over cooked oyster soup.  I vowed that I would wait before I attempted it again.  So before making tonight’s rendition of gumbo, I looked over five different recipes, three from Jr. League cookbooks, including Talk About Good, Susan Spicer’s fabulous book, and finally a recipe on the Williams-Sonoma website from Dookie Chase.  In particular, I loved Susan Spicer’s suggestion to put the chicken bones in my store bought stock to deepen the flavor.  I thought it was fabulous.

Chicken and Andouille Gumbo

4 pounds bone-in, skinless chicken thighs
1/8 Tbsp. Cayenne Pepper
salt and pepper to taste
8 Cups Low-Sodium Chicken Stock
1 Cup Oil
1 Cup Flour
2 Medium Onions, diced
2 Green Peppers, diced
4 Celery Stalks, diced
6 cloves of Garlic, minced
12 oz. Pork Andouille, sliced into quarters length-wise, then chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
12 oz. Turkey Andouille, sliced into quarters length-wise, then chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2 Tsp. Pimenton de la Vera (Spanish Paprika)
5 Springs of Fresh Thyme
1/8 Tsp. Cayenne
1/4 Cup Parsley, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. Filé powder

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Spread the chicken out in a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Roast in the oven until the chicken reaches 160 degrees on a meat thermometer. Remove the meat from the bones. Set the chicken meat to the side and add the bones to your stock pot. Bring the stock to a boil and allow it to boil for a few mintues, then reduce to a simmer while you work on your roux.

**Before you go any further prep all your ingredients. The best way to stop the roux at right time is to pour in the veggies, so it is best to have then prepped and in bowls near the stove.**

The Roux
In at least a 7 quart dutch oven over medium heat, add the oil and the flour, stirring constantly. I prefer to use a whisk (a flat whisk works best), but others I know like to use a wooden spoon, either will work, but make sure you keep it moving. You do not want to burn the flour, but if you do, just start from the beginning. No worries. Keep stirring until the roux reaches a chocolate syrup color (or you finish two beers).

Reduce the heat to low and add the onions, celery, green peppers, and garlic. Cook the mixture for 4 minutes. Combine the chicken and sausage. At this point everything will look like a brown mess. Add the paprika, cayenne, and thyme to the pot and stir to combine. Finally discard the chicken bones and add the stock a ladle-full at a time. Increase the heat to medium again, and while stirring constantly, bring the gumbo to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 45 minutes. This is usually just enough time to make some rice to go with your gumbo. I like long grain brown rice.

Remove the dutch oven from heat and add salt and pepper. If you will eat all your gumbo tonight, add the parsley and filé powder. I have read that while filé powder will thicken a gumbo, it can also make it stringy. Since H and I planned to eat this over the course of the week, I sprinkled a little on top of each portion.

To serve, add about a 1/2 cup of rice to the bowl, then ladle the gumbo over it. Make sure you have hot sauce on the table, and if you are feeling indulgent, I like to eat my gumbo with a fresh sweet corn muffin with garlic butter.

Summer Corn

Summer Corn

This chowder isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but it is definitely a winner in the kitchen. The recipe comes from a little book called 50 Chowders by Jasper White, and it could be overlooked given that the book is full of the most wonderful sounding soups and chowders. It’s the kind of recipe that you run across that easily could have come from your mother. My mom never made corn chowder when I was growing up, but this is exactly the kind of thing we would have had when summer was sinking into fall.

This is the perfect time of year for this chowder. It combines the last of the summer corn with the warmth and comfort of a fall soup. If this dish were clothing it would be that light sweater you put on during late summer evenings when you can feel the cool air of fall creeping into the night. This chowder is simultaneously a farewell to summer and a welcome to autumn.

This chowder is sure to become one of those recipes that we make for years to come. It’s very flavorful and comforting. The spice is just right and the ratio of stock to cream lends to a rich chowder but not overly so. The chowder also keeps well overnight and makes for a perfect lunch the next day.

If you head to your farmers’ market this weekend and come home with the last few ears of summer corn, I hope you try this. Maybe it will become one of your favorites, too.

Corn Chowder

Corn Chowder

Corn Chowder
Excerpted from 50 Chowders by Jasper White

3 medium ears of fresh yellow or bicolor corn
4 oz bacon, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion (7 to 8 oz), cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/2 large red bell pepper (6 to 8 oz), cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 to 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped (1/2 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 pound Yukon Gold, Maine, PEI, or other all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
3 cups chicken stock or broth
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
1 cup heavy cream
For Garnish
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives or thinly sliced scallions

1. Husk the corn. Carefully remove most of the silk by hand and then rub the ears with a towel to finish the job. Cut the kernels from the cobs and place in a bowl. You should have about 2 cups. Using the back of your knife, scrape down the cobs and add the milkly substance that oozes out to the corn kernels.
2. Heat a 3 to 4 quart heavy pot over low heat and add the diced bacon. Once it has rendered a few tablespoons of fat, increase the heat to medium and cook until the bacon is crisp and golden brown. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat, leaving the bacon in the pot.
3. Add the butter, onion, bell pepper, thyme, cumin, and turmeric and saute, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 8 minutes, until the onion and pepper are tender but not browned.
4. Add the corn kernels, potatoes, and stock, turn up the heat, cover, and boil vigoursly for about 10 minutes. Some of the potatoes will have broken up, but most should retain their shape. Use the back of your spoon to smash a bit of the corn and potatoes against the side of the pot. Reduce the heat to medium and season the chowder with salt and pepper.
5. Stir the cornstarch mixture and slowly pour it into the pot, stirring constantly. As soon as the chowder has come back to a boil and thickened slightly, remove from the heat and stir in the cream. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. If you are not serving the chowder within the hour, let it cool a bit, then refrigerate; cover the chowder after it has chilled completely. Otherwise, let is sit at room temperature for up to an hour, allowing the flavors to meld.
6. When ready to serve, reheat the chowder over low heat, don’t let it boil. Ladle into cups or bowls and sprinkle with the chopped chives.

So the farmers’ markets around Nashville are exploding with tomatoes. Every time I take a stroll through the market, all I find are tomatoes encroaching on all the other produce. They are pushing the peaches to the side, making the peas inconsequential, and shouldering aside the squash. And as I am faced with these displays of lycopenean bloat, I’m faced with with one hard, irrefutable fact. I hate tomatoes.

Well, let me qualify that. I hate raw tomatoes. Cooked tomatoes, whether they be in marinara sauce, pasta or even ketchup are another story. Cooked tomatoes don’t have that weird slimy texture that, in my mind, has always doomed the raw, ripe fruit. Cooked tomatoes are also the titular ingredient in that most perfect of soups: tomato soup.

I’ll admit it – I love Campbell’s tomato soup. There is usually a can in my cupboard that can be pulled down and made in five minutes when I need a comforting bowl of the stuff. But I also love the the non-canned variety – and I’ve made it at home before. It’s just that my tomato soup cravings usually come on a rainy, cold day in late fall – and I have to end up using canned tomatoes rather than fresh, ripe summer tomatoes. This year though, I was determined to correct this and make use of the current torrent of tomatoes.

I found a basic recipe from a cookbook appropriately titled The Soup Bible. I added in a few more tomatoes than the recipe suggested and cut down a bit on the broth. I also used a free hand with the spices as well – doubling the garlic, adding in a dash of hot red pepper flakes, and using copious amounts of black pepper. What came out was as smooth as Campbell’s soup, but with freshness of taste that just can not be replicated in a can. I’m tempted to buy bushels of tomatoes over the next few weeks, before the season inevitably comes to an end, and fill my freezer with enough tomato soup to last me through the dreariest of winter days. It’s almost enough to make me reconsider my loathing of the raw fruit – almost, but not quite!

Fresh Tomato Soup

Adapted from The Soup Bible

Ingredients:

2 1/2 to 3 pounds very ripe tomatoes

2 T. Olive oil

1 Onion, chopped

2 Garlic cloves, crushed

2 T. Sherry Vinegar

2 T. Tomato Paste

1 T. Cornstarch

1 Bay leaf

2 cups, Vegetable or chicken stock

Dash of Crushed red pepper

Salt and black pepper to taste

1 cup Creme fraiche or sour cream (optional)

Basil Leaves for garnish

Directions:

Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds and pulp to a strainer set over a bowl. Press down on the pulp until all the liquid has been released. Set aside the liquid.

Heat the olive oil in a pan, and add the onion, garlic, sherry vinegar, tomato paste, and tomato halves. Stir and then cover the pan and cook over low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. When done, process the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth and then pass through a sieve to remove pieces of skin. Return to pan.

Mix the cornstarch with the reserved tomato pulp liquid, then stir into the hot soup, along with the bay leaf and stock. Simmer for 30 minutes, seasoning with the red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper to taste. Stir in the sour cream (you can skip this step if you don’t like creamy tomato soup) and garnish with basil leaves. Serve hot.