Monday, July 28, 2014

Almond, lemon and buckwheat tea cake and weekend plans

Almond, lemon and buckwheat tea cake / Bolo de limão siciliano, amêndoa e trigo sarraceno

I think you guys should know that I managed to keep the plans I’d made for the weekend: I watched more than just one movie (one of them probably for the tenth time) and I also baked and cooked a bit – the cold days are a great excuse to keep the oven on. :)

I find it almost impossible to switch channels when some of my favorite movies are on, and yesterday one of the channels had a Godfather marathon: all the three movies were being aired in a row. I don’t care for the third movie, but I love The Godfather and The Godfather II and ended up watching the first movie once again (a couple of glasses of wine kept me from watching the second one). :)

Another thing I find almost impossible to do is to resist the urge to bake lemon cakes: as much as I try to vary – and sometimes I succeed, you know that – I always bookmark the lemon cakes in the cookbooks I buy, and this beauty was no exception: there are tons of wonderful recipes there and the first recipe I tried from it was a recipe for cookies, but after those I could not wait to take the lemony route, and here it is.

I used buckwheat flour instead of all purpose flour and loved the result – it’s not a very tall cake (mine turned out just as the one on the photo of the book) but it’s packed with flavor (and gluten free).

Almond, lemon and buckwheat tea cake
slightly adapted from the oh, so beautiful The Baking Collection (The Australian Women's Weekly)

½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
125g unsalted butter, softened
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup (35g) buckwheat flour
pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
120g ground almonds
2 tablespoons whole milk, room temperature
2 tablespoons flaked almonds
2 tablespoons pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 180°/350°F. Lightly butter a 5-cup loaf pan, line it with baking paper and butter the paper as well.
In a large bowl, rub sugar and zest together until fragrant. Add butter and using an electric mixer beat the ingredients together light and creamy. Add the three eggs and the vanilla, then beat until incorporated – scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally. Sift the buckwheat flour, salt and baking powder over the mixture, add the almond meal and milk and stir to combine. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, smooth the top and sprinkle with the almonds and pine nuts.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until risen and golden and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan over a wire rack for 15 minutes, then carefully unmold onto the rack. Cool completely, then peel off the paper.

Serves 6-8

Friday, July 25, 2014

Amaranth choc chip cookies, and one month without movies

Amaranth choc chip cookies / Cookies com gotas de chocolate e farinha de amaranto

I had a confession to make: I haven’t watched a movie in weeks. Several weeks – it might be a record or something.

The last movie I watched was The Fault in Our Stars, then the World Cup began and I breathed soccer for a month – I believe I wasn’t the only one. :) After the German team took home the Cup I got obsessed with season 6 of SoA, so there was no room for movies – I had to know how things would end up (for the record, I did not like it at all).

My plans for the weekend: to watch as least one movie. And to bake, of course. :)

Movies weren’t the only forgotten thing around here: I hadn’t baked chocolate chip cookies in quite some time I did not even remember when I’d done that last. Being in possession of a 70% chocolate bar made me think of choc chips cookies, they would be the perfect way to use up such great chocolate. I’d seen these and they looked so good, and then I saw that they were an adaptation of a recipe I’d made, too, from a cookbook I adore (and the cookies were delicious).

I was out of buckwheat flour so I changed the recipe ever so slightly and used amaranth flour instead – the cookies turned out fantastic, beautifully golden, with a slightly different flavor. I had a couple while they were still warm from the oven and it was hard not to eat several in a row, I must tell you. There was a very, very subtle grainy texture to them while still warm – to me, not a problem at all – and that became less evident once they were completely cool.

If you’re out of amaranth flour, don’t fret: try the whole wheat version, it is equally delish.

Amaranth choc chip cookies
adapted from this wonderful cookbook, one of my favorites

2/3 cup (93g) whole wheat flour
2/3 cup (93g) all purpose flour
¼ cup (35g) amaranth flour
¾ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick/113g) cold unsalted butter, chopped
½ cup (88g) light brown sugar, packed
½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g dark chocolate (70%), coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
In a large bowl, whisk the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars on low speed just until the ingredients are blended, 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing on medium until each is combined. Mix in the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients at once and blend on low just until the flour is barely combined, about 30 seconds. Add the chocolate chunks at once and mix on low speed just until the chocolate is evenly combined – to avoid overmixing the dough, finish incorporating the ingredients with your a spatula.
Place 2 leveled tablespoons of dough per cookie onto the prepared sheets, 5cm (2in) apart. Bake until golden brown around the edges, 12-16 minutes.
Cool in the pan for 2 minutes, then slide the paper with the cookies onto a wire rack and cool completely.

Makes about 20

Thursday, July 24, 2014

One fantastic rye pastry, two tarts: leek and cheese galette and plum and blackberry galette

Leek and cheese galette (with rye pastry) / Galette de alho-poró e queijo (com massa de centeio)

One of the things I find most magical and fascinating about cooking is that even if you’ve been doing it for a long time – in my case, nearly 25 years – there always something new to try, or a new way to try something you already love: food is dynamic.

After making those delicious jam bars with rye flour, I began searching for other ways to incorporate the beloved ingredient in my baking and saw these beautiful apricot galettes in one of my favorite books (and one of the most beautiful I own, too). I like Amber Rose’s approach to food and everything I had made from her cookbook had turned out great until then, so I was really looking forward to trying her rye pastry.

It was a revelation.

As I ate pieces of the galettes, first the savory, then the sweet, I was mesmerized: how could that be so delicious?

Making the pastry was easy using a food processor, and as I rolled and folded it I kept thinking that the result would be a very flaky pastry, which is something I love – it indeed turned out flaky, and so tasty. Divine, actually.

When I placed the two little packages of pastry in the fridge for their final rest, I saw the leeks I’d bought for soup and had a sudden urge: instead of making two plum tarts, why not make one sweet and one savory? Dinner and dessert with one pastry recipe = perfection. :)

I cooked the leeks with some white wine (me and my love for booze) and paired it with cheese for the savory galette – it turned out amazing. The plum tart was really good, too. The rye pastry, besides being flavorsome and flaky, was great paired with both savory and sweet fillings. The recipe is a keeper and I hope you give it a go – I cannot wait to make it again with different fillings: tomatoes, goat’s cheese and thyme is a combo I would love to try with this pastry, and I bet that apples and pears would be lovely with it, too.

Plum and blackberry galette (with rye pastry) / Galette de ameixa e amora (com massa de centeio)

Rye pastry (enough to make both tarts)
slightly adapted from the beautiful and delicious beyond words Love, Bake, Nourish: Healthier cakes and desserts full of fruit and flavor

120g rye flour
120g all purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
175g unsalted butter, cold and in small cubes
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
7-8 tablespoons ice-cold water
1 egg, lightly beaten with a fork, for brushing

Plum and blackberry filling
adapted from the same cookbook

4 plums, each cut in eighths
½ tablespoon honey
pinch ground cinnamon
8 frozen blackberries
demerara sugar, for sprinkling

Leek and cheese filling
own creation

1 large leek, white part only, sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ tablespoons white wine
60g gruyere, grated
1 tablespoon finely grated pecorino or parmesan, for sprinkling

Start by making the pastry: place the flours, salt and sugar in a food processor and blitz to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the vinegar and half the water and pulse until a dough starts to form – add more water if necessary, but do it gradually. Form a ball with the dough, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Unwrap the dough, place on a lightly floured surface, and roll into an oblong shape about 20x28cm (8x11in) - don't worry if the dough is still a little crumbly; it will come together with the rolling.
Fold the dough into thirds (as if you were folding a letter), roll out to its original oblong shape, and then fold into thirds again. Repeat the process, then divide the dough in half, wrap each in plastic wrap and return to the fridge for at least 1 hour or overnight.

When ready to make the tarts, place each piece of dough onto large piece of baking paper and roll into a rough 25cm (10in) circle. Transfer each to a baking sheet.

Fruit tart: put the plums in a bowl with the honey and the cinnamon and toss to combine. Arrange the fruit on the center of the dough, top with the blackberries and drizzle with the juices left in the bowl (if there’s too much, use only half to avoid a soggy crust). Carefully fold one edge in towards the center of the fruit and continue folding all the way round, bringing the edge of the pastry towards and over the filling. Place the sheet in the freezer for 30 minutes – in the meantime, preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

Savory tart: heat the butter and oil in a large nonstick frying pan. Add the leeks and cook until fragrant and beginning to turn golden, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper, add the wine and cook until it evaporates, 2-3 minutes. Cool.
Arrange the gruyere on the center of the dough, top with the cooled leeks, then fold one edge in towards the center of the filling and continue folding all the way round, bringing the edge of the pastry towards and over the filling. Place the sheet in the freezer for 30 minutes – in the meantime, preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

Brush the tarts with the egg wash (only the pastry). For the sweet one, sprinkle with demerara sugar. For the savory one, sprinkle with the pecorino.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown. Both tarts are delicious both warm and at room temperature.

Serves 4 (each)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Whisky and nutmeg pound cake

Whisky and nutmeg pound cake / Bolo de uísque e noz-moscada

I know, I know, there’s nothing “healthy” about whisky, but I believe that there is nothing wrong with adding a bit of alcohol to your cooking and baking occasionally – I can’t cook risotto without a splash of white wine, and beer can do wonders to a beef recipe (my bolognese sauce turned into something even more delicious after I started adding red wine to it).

All that written by someone who once made a cake drenched in rum. :D

The cake I bring you today has a lot less alcohol, but it is very flavorsome still and I bumped into the recipe because I wanted to bake something with whole wheat flour – my first thought was to bake bread, but when I checked the whole wheat flour container it was almost empty. Alice Medrich’s cake was then a very good choice, since the recipe called less than ½ cup of flour. It turned out tender and delicious – as all cakes should be – and with a beautiful golden hue.

I thought the cake was great with a cup of tea (it was a cold weekend), but I am sure it would be wonderful served with whipped cream and berries or fresh fruit, as the plated trifles Nigella makes, for a summery dessert. Or with vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate sauce, or salted caramel sauce.

Ok, I’ll stop. :)

Whisky and nutmeg pound cake
slightly adapted from the delicious Pure Dessert

2 tablespoons whole milk, room temperature
1 tablespoon whisky
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
105g cake flour (homemade: 15g corn starch + 90g all purpose flour)
55g whole wheat flour
150g granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon table salt
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
180g unsalted butter, softened and in chunks

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 4 to 5 cups loaf pan, line it with baking paper and butter the paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk the milk, whisky, eggs, and vanilla to combine.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the flours, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt. Add the butter then pour in half of the egg mixture. Beat on low speed just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 minute. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Add half of the rest of the egg mixture and beat for 20 seconds. Add the rest of the egg mixture and beat for 20 seconds. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth the surface. Bake until golden and risen and a toothpick comes out clean, 55-60 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes, unmold carefully and transfer to a wire rack. Cool completely, then peel off the paper.

Serves 8-10

Monday, July 21, 2014

Olive oil brownies and feeling nostalgic

Olive oil brownies / Brownies com azeite de oliva

You’ve probably noticed by now that I’ve been using olive oil in my baking quite regularly and with great results – it makes the cakes flavorsome and oh, so moist. That is why I couldn’t wait to try using olive oil in brownies – I was curious to find out if the ingredient paired beautifully with chocolate as it does with apples, coconut and citrus.

I found this simple, yet wonderful recipe online and it comes from one of the first food blogs I ever read, the beautiful The Traveler’s Lunchbox – it made me feel very nostalgic, but in a very good way. It reminded me of my discovery of food blogs, how eager I was to read them and how amazing it was to see so many people passionate about cooking and baking as I was. It was a first for me to see people actually enjoying making dinner or baking a cake, for up until that day I had never met anyone who felt what I did towards food – I knew tons of people who loved eating, but I knew no one who took pleasure at the act of making it as I did.

All of a sudden all those strangers felt a lot closer to my heart than many people I knew in “real life” – I guess that is what happens when you finally find people with something in common, for my friends did not like the kind of movies I watched back then and for sure did not feel that making dinner for a family of five was fun at all (we became six when my sister was born). They were so lazy that if their moms didn’t make any food on a given day they would feed on bread and butter, and some of them wouldn’t even eat on a plate to avoid washing up. I got older, my love for the kitchen became bigger, and my friends continued to believe that cooking was a stupid thing to learn.

Now you can imagine how I felt when I bumped into the first food blog. :)

It’s been a while since Melissa last updated the blog, but I recommend reading the archive – there are plenty of great recipes there, such as the one for these brownies; she calls for dark chocolate with 70% cocoa solids, but since I did not have any I used the one I had and added one tablespoon of cocoa to boost the chocolate flavor.

Olive oil brownies
slightly adapted from the beautiful The Traveller’s Lunchbox

115g dark chocolate, finely chopped – I used one with 53% cocoa solids*
1/3 cup (80ml) fruity extra virgin olive oil
2 large eggs, room temperature
¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup (70g) all-purpose
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon table salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Brush a 20cm (8in) square baking pan lightly with canola oil, line it with a piece of foil leaving an overhang in two opposite sides, and lightly oil the foil as well.
Place the chocolate in a small bowl and melt it over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Whisk in the oil, then cool.
Using an electric mixer, whisk the eggs and sugar until pale and thick. Fold in the vanilla and the cooled chocolate mixture, then fold in the flour, cocoa and salt. Stir to combine. Pour into the prepared pan and distribute evenly.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is dry and crackly, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out a little wet. Cool completely, then cut into squares.

*the original recipe called for 70% cocoa solids, I didn’t have any, so I used the one I had (53% cocoa solids) and added cocoa for a deeper chocolate flavor

Makes 16

Friday, July 18, 2014

Chilli con carne and guacamole, and being cocky

Chilli con carne + guacamole

I guess that once you start cooking and baking and the years go by it’s sort of inevitable to become a little cocky: I try to exercise modesty on a daily basis, but there are times when I’m eating something – savory or sweet – and I think: “I could make this, and a lot tastier” (and I bet some of you reading this right now are nodding your heads in agreement, relating to that feeling). :D

And let’s not forget that we can make the food better and for a lot less money.

I’ve managed to cut down our meat intake quite substantially (which is great), but our occasional fixes include chilli con carne, something my husband loves to eat when we go out for Tex-mex food (I lean towards guacamole, just love the stuff). I told him I would try making the chilli con carne at home and he was more than pleased with the idea.

I immediately reached out for Dean Edwards’ wonderful cookbook and the result was an amazing chilli con carne: very flavorsome, spicy to perfection, and insanely easy to make. I prepared the chilli con carne in advance and urge you to do the same if at all possible: it tasted great the day I made it, but it was even better the day I served it. The recipe below yields a lot and leftovers are delicious over some fluffy rice or as pasta sauce.

For the guacamole, I used one of Martha’s recipes – after mixing the ingredients, I drizzled the mixture with plenty of freshly squeezed lime juice, which not only boosts the flavor but also stops the avocado from getting brown. It tasted really good and paired perfectly with the carnivore part of our meal.

Chilli con carne
slightly adapted from the delicious Mincespiration!

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
500g beef mince
1 large onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small red pepper, deseeded and finely diced
3 bacon rashers, finely sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 × 400g cans of chopped tomatoes
1 × 400g can of red kidney beans – I used 150g pinto beans I’d cooked the day before
200ml beef stock
sea salt black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
20g dark chocolate (70% cocoa), grated
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander, for serving

Heat half the olive oil in a large saucepan over high heat and brown the mince. Do this in batches if necessary so you don’t overcrowd the pan. Remove the beef from the saucepan and set aside. Add the remaining olive oil to the saucepan and cook the onion, garlic, pepper and bacon for about 5 minutes or until golden and fragrant. Add the cumin, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and oregano and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Tip the mince back into the pan and add the tomatoes and stock. Cover the pan and cook over a low heat for an hour, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t catch in the bottom of the saucepan. Add the beans (and more water if mixture is too dry) and cook for another 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, add the sugar and chocolate and stir to incorporate. Sprinkle with chopped coriander before serving. If making it in advance, let cool completely before refrigerating, covered.

Serves 5-6

slightly adapted from Martha

1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
1 large red chilli, finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper
2 ripe Hass avocados
1 small tomato chopped
juice of 1 large lime

In a large bowl, mix together the onion, chilli, 2 tablespoons of the cilantro, salt and black pepper. Crush the avocados into the onion mixture, leaving the mixture chunky. Fold in the tomatoes. Drizzle with the lime juice and mix to combine.
Sprinkle over remaining cilantro and serve.

Serves 2-3

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Hazelnut blackberry financiers made with "safely" acquired berries

Hazelnut blackberry financiers / Financiers de avelã e amora

I was never an athletic child: while my brother and cousins liked being outside playing soccer or riding their bikes, I much preferred being inside, reading my comic books or writing stories. I was never able to do a cartwheel, and up to this day I haven’t learned how to ride a bike (you can go ahead and laugh, now). :)

One of my cousins, who was my age, was quite the opposite: she used to play with the boys, rode her bike with her hands in the air and could even climb trees. Her parents had a mulberry tree in their back yard and I loved eating the berries, but could never reach them; my cousin was kind enough to climb the tree and fill a small bucket with the berries for us to eat together - on the ground, safely, of course. :D

When I went berry picking with my friend Valentina years ago and saw blackberry bushes I thought “hey, this is so much easier!”, only to notice, a couple of steps forward, that the bushes were covered in thorns. :S

I think I should stick with buying berries at the supermarket, right? That is a lot safer. :) Having them in the freezer is great for when the baking urge strikes: here, the blackberries are paired with hazelnuts and the result is really delicious financiers.

Hazelnut blackberry financiers
adapted from the always delicious Simply Bill

85g hazelnut meal (finely ground hazelnuts)
135g icing sugar, sifted
55g all purpose flour, sifted
pinch of salt
5 egg whites
95g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
170g frozen blackberries, unthawed
icing sugar, for dusting

In a large bowl, combine the hazelnut meal, icing sugar, flour and salt. Stir in the egg whites until just combined. Stir in the melted butter and the vanilla. Cover and refrigerate the batter for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter and flour ten 100ml capacity mini cake or muffin pans.
Pour the batter in the pans, then top each with 3-4 berries, pressing some down into the batter. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden - the financiers should spring back when touched.
Cool in the pans for 2 minutes, then carefully unmold onto a wire rack to cool. Dust with icing sugar to serve.
Financiers are best served the day they’re made, but can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Makes 10

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cashew oatmeal cookies and a story from the past that could be happening to someone right now

Cashew oatmeal cookies / Cookies de aveia e castanha de caju

As I was baking these cookies the other day, I recalled a time in my life when I was entering my teenage years and used to flip over my older cousins’ magazines – they used to read a mag called Capricho, a Brazilian version of Seventeen. I remember reading something about a Brazilian model called Ana Paula Arósio and the 70+ magazine covers she’d been on till then – she was only fifteen. She was stunning and looked like a grown up, and she was only two years older than me.

One of the questions the reporter asked her was how she managed to stay “in shape”, to what she replied that she ate lots of fruits and vegetables (surprise!), and things like banana with oats and honey, because they were so good for you. My thirteen-year-old brain captured that information instantly, only to feel disappointed seconds later for I, too, ate lots of fruits and vegetables, and I, too, loved bananas with oats and honey, but I did not look like Ana Paula Arósio. At all. I was a thin girl, but not skinny, and I was short and my face and arms were covered in freckles (still are, actually). I did not have any fashionable clothes and my hair was pretty much in a ponytail most of the time. I did not wear lipstick or fake eyelashes – I did not even have boobs, for crying out loud. But I did not know back then everything there is behind a magazine cover, I just thought that there was something very wrong about me because even though I ate (and loved) my greens I did not look like a model. :(

All that crossed my mind while I baked these cookies because oats are, indeed, good for you, even though for a moment in my teen years I doubted that. They are wonderful with bananas and honey (and a pinch of cinnamon, yum), great in granolas and cookies.
Fruits and vegetables are excellent for you, too, and they taste delicious, which is always a plus. So let’s keep eating our greens and our grains to stay healthy and try to stay positive and shield ourselves from all the crap the media throws our way every single day.

Cashew oatmeal cookies
slightly adapted from the always gorgeous Delicious Australia

¾ cup (110g) plain flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
125g unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup (150g) demerara sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
110g rolled oats
150g salted cashew nuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and creamy. Beat in the vanilla, then the egg, and mix to combine. Scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally. On low speed, beat in the flour mixture and the oats, just until combined, then add the cashew nuts.
Place 2 leveled tablespoons of dough per cookie onto the prepared sheets, 5cm (2in) apart. Flatten slightly. Bake until golden around the edges, 13-15. Cool in the pan for 2 minutes, then slide the paper with the cookies onto a wire rack and cool completely.

Makes about 22

Monday, July 14, 2014

Coconut olive oil cake

Coconut olive oil cake / Bolo de coco e azeite de oliva

These past weeks, in which I have been experimenting with my baking and adding more vegetables to my cooking, have been a lot of fun: once you start trying new things (with both good and bad results because well, that’s life) it’s like a blindfold being lifted from the eyes, I guess – you just want to discover more and more.

It is such a joy to open the fridge and know that you are moments away from a delicious and nutritious meal. It is a great feeling to watch a courgette and some cheese get transformed into fritters (that tasted really good with a few drops of Tabasco), or to make a flavorsome sauce with eggplants, tomatoes, peppers and ricotta while a pot of pasta boils away. I used to cringe at the thought of whole wheat pasta, but after buying Di Cecco’s linguine and cooking it twice with different sauces I’ve come to the conclusion that my past bad experiences with the ingredient were caused either by poor quality pasta or poor recipes.

Being out of the comfort zone is a good thing.

As my butter supply was running low and I needed the 100g left to make cookies (more on that soon), I decided to bake the cake I had in mind with olive and canola oil, and the result was a tender and delicious cake – no icing, no frills, just simple, good cake to be eaten with freshly brewed coffee (I had my slice with a glass of wine because watching Brazil’s ridiculous soccer team embarrass themselves twice in a row requires alcohol).

Coconut olive oil cake / Bolo de coco e azeite de oliva

Coconut olive oil cake
slightly adapted from the delicious Under the Walnut Tree: 400 Recipes Inspired by Seasonal Ingredients

4 medium eggs*
¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
finely grated zest and juice of 1 large lime
1 cup (100g) unsweetened desiccated coconut
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
50ml canola oil
120g all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly oil a 20cm (8in) round cake pan, line the bottom with baking paper and oil the paper as well. Dust everything with flour and remove the excess.
Using an electric mixer, whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla until thick and pale. Stir in the lime zest, juice, desiccated coconut, canola oil and olive oil. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and stir to combine. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes, or until risen, golden and a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
Cool completely in the pan. Unmold, carefully peel off the paper and place onto a serving plate.

* I had only large eggs at home, so I chose the smallest four to use in the cake

Serves 8-10

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Baked fish with salsa verde and potatoes - the oven as an ally

Baked fish with salsa verde and potatoes / Peixe assado com batatas e salsa verde

Despite my love for fish I don’t eat it as often as I should or would like to, which is such a shame – if my mom was around she would certainly be mad at me for that. When we were little she made sure we ate fish at least once a week – mom was a health nut, over thirty years before that became fashionable. :D

My favorite way of eating fish as a kid was rolled in corn flour (very fine cornmeal, not corn starch) then deep fried – the thought of it makes me drool already. Crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, it was probably my favorite meal when it was served with a simple tomato salad (with loads of lime juice) and fluffy rice – very simple, yet delicious, especially when cooked by mom. <3

These days, however, I rarely deep fry anything: besides the health issues, I live in a small apartment and I don’t want every piece of fabric in my house (or my hair, for that matter) smelling like fried food. :P Therefore, the oven is always a good ally – I don’t use it for sweet things only, you know. :D

This recipe is really, really simple: fish fillets baked in a bed of potatoes. Nothing much, you might think. I thought so, too, until I tasted the salsa verde: I’d never tried that sauce before and my goodness, it is delicious –it transformed the simple dish into something special and very flavorsome.

I hope you give this recipe a go – if tasty and healthy don’t convince you, this is also quick and easy to put together. :D

Baked fish with salsa verde and potatoes
slightly adapted from the always fabulous Delicious Australia

300g small waxy potatoes, thinly sliced (a mandoline is ideal)
1 lemon, thinly sliced
handful fresh oregano leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 x 120g firm white fish fillets – I used flounder

Salsa verde:
1 small garlic clove
½ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
½ cup basil leaves
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained
finely grated zest of 1 lemon¼ cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°C. Toss potato, lemon slices and oregano with the oil, season with salt and pepper and spread in a lightly oiled 20x30cm (8x12in) baking pan, in a single layer. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until potatoes start to golden.
Meanwhile, to make salsa verde, whiz garlic, parsley, basil, capers and lemon zest in a food processor until finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil and process until mixture is a drizzling consistency. Transfer to a small bowl, season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Remove roasting pan from oven and place the fish on top and season the fillets with salt and pepper. placing a lemon slice from the pan on top of each fillet. Return to the oven for a further 8 minutes or until the fish is cooked through.
Serve drizzled with salsa verde.

Serves 2

Friday, July 11, 2014

Grapefruit bars (gluten free) and the Emmy nominations

Grapefruit bars / Barrinhas de toranja

During the time I was out of the loop of TV series I did not care much about the Emmys and while watching the Golden Globes I would focus only on the movie part of the ceremony – since I wasn’t watching anything from TV regularly I did not know if the nominations had been fair or who should win. Now, I stay tuned when the nominees are announced and I get happy or sad depending on who takes the awards home (or pleased when each and every one of them deserve the award). :)

As I read this year’s Emmy nominations, I thought part of them were fair, but to me some people were missing from the list: I would replace Jon Hamm and Jeff Daniels for Michael Sheen and Liev Schreiber (heartbroken for having to leave James Spader out), and would cross Christina Hendricks off the list (I really don’t know what she’s doing there). I loved seeing Lizzy Caplan nominated, she really deserves it, and I’m glad Breaking Bad is all over the place, as well as House of Cards (go, Robin!).

(note to self: watch The Normal Heart)

I haven’t watched comedies in ages, but since I like both William H. Macy and Ricky Gervais a lot I’ll be pleased if either wins – I don’t need to watch what they’re doing to know they’re really good at it. :)

As I told you the other day, I am not gluten intolerant therefore I don’t plan on going gluten free, but what is the problem with experimenting every now and then, right? These bars turned out delicious with almond meal replacing the wheat flour, the nut flavor paired beautifully with the citrus tang of the feeling and the texture became pudding-like – if you want to make them as the original recipe, just trade the almond meal for all purpose flour in both the crust and the filling, using the same amounts.

Grapefruit bars / Barrinhas de toranja

Grapefruit bars
slightly adapted from the delicious Wintersweet: Seasonal Desserts to Warm the Home

6 tablespoons (85g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
30g confectioners’ sugar
140g almond meal
2 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of salt

finely grated zest of 2 grapefruits
¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
¾ cup (180ml) freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons almond meal
confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 20cm (8in) square pan, line it with foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides and butter the foil as well.
Crust: in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the almond meal, cornstarch, and salt. Mix on low for 2 to 3 minutes or until the mixture starts to clump - stop when the dough holds together when you press on it.
Transfer to the prepared pan and press it evenly onto the base. Bake for 18-22 minutes or until lightly golden around the edges

Filling: rub the grapefruit zest into the sugar in a medium bowl until moist and fragrant. Whisk in the eggs until dissolved, then the grapefruit juice, vanilla and almond meal. Pour the mixture onto the hot crust and bake for 15-20 minutes , or until the center is just set.
Cool completely in the pan over a wire rack. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, then cut into squares to serve – the bars are quite soft, so remove them gently from the pan (I used a pan with a removable bottom, so it was easier to unmold the bars).
The bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days, and they also taste delicious after being refrigerated.

Makes 16

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Leek, carrot and potato soup or "my soup", according to my husband

Leek, carrot and potato soup / Sopa de alho-poró, batata e cenoura

Soups and winter go perfectly together, right? I make soups quite often during the colder months, and when I do I usually make a large batch so we can have it for dinner two days in a row. I have noticed that most soups, and the one I bring you today especially, taste even better the next day, so there’s another reason for making extra soup. :)

I like to vary when it comes to food and soup is no exception, but this is my husband’s favorite soup: whenever he wants me to cook it he says “why don’t you make your soup tonight?”, and I know that by my soup he means the vegetable soup I’ve been making for as long as I can remember. I have made this soup with and without the leek (just onions and garlic), with squashed added in the mix, with and without the pasta and rice replacing it, you name it. The fresh oregano is a recent addition: I’d always made this soup with parsley only, but on a given day I did not want the oregano bunch to go to waste and ended up adding it to the soup – after that, it became indispensable.

This is a very simple, yet versatile recipe and you can adjust it to make it your own. I used butter because I can’t resist using it with leeks, but you can omit that for a vegan soup.

We love having this soup with some crusty bread on the side, but it would be a crime for me not to suggest Barbara Lynch’s grilled cheese, too. :)

Leek, carrot and potato soup
own creation

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, white part only, chopped
½ large onion, finely diced
2 fat garlic cloves, minced
2 ripe tomatoes, seeds removed, finely chopped
3 carrots, in small cubes
3 potatoes, in small cubes
boiling water, enough to cover the vegetables
salt and freshly ground black pepper
handful fresh oregano leaves
handful fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1 cup cooked small shaped pasta, such as ditalini*

Heat butter and olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the leek and onion and cook until transparent, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and a pinch of salt and cook until they are mushy. Add the carrots and potatoes and stir to combine. Cover with boiling water and season with salt and pepper. When the soup comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover partially and cook until vegetables are tender, 10-15 minutes.
With an immersion blender, blitz the soup for a couple of seconds – you want the mixture to be half chunky, half smooth. Add the oregano and parsley, check the seasoning.
Divide the pasta among the serving bowls, top with the soup and serve.

* Once the pasta is in the soup it won’t stop swelling – that is why I cook it separately and add it only to the bowls when serving and not to the entire batch of soup

Serves 4

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Apple olive oil cake and things that work

Apple olive oil cake / Bolo de maçã e azeite de oliva

Another trailer for Gone Girl has been released, and it is fantastic – one can count on David Fincher to set that kind of dark mood in a two-minute trailer, for sure, and if I already was looking forward to watching the movie now I just hope time flies. :D

I’m not too keen on Ben Affleck portraying Nick Dunne – let’s just wait to see what happens – but, on the other hand, could there be anyone more perfect to play Desi Collings than Neil Patrick Harris? \0/

The music fits the atmosphere of the story really well and when the trailer ended I could read that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are the ones behind it – these two have already have already given us two amazing and innovative soundtracks (and deservedly took home the Oscar for The Social Network). It is great news that they’re once again working with Fincher – what a great combo. And the same way Fincher is sticking with Reznor and Ross for another job because he knows for sure they will perform amazingly, I’m back to baking with olive oil.

After the success of the orange olive oil cake I baked the other day – two colleagues told me they baked the cake, too, and they loved it – I was thrilled to see an apple cake made with olive oil on Anna Jones’ beautiful book. Without much thought, it was the first recipe I tried from the book and the result was a tender, moist and flavorsome cake, with a nice hint of spices. Really, really good. This cake is dairy-free and can be made with spelt flour – I can’t find it in my neck of the woods (such a shame!), so I used all purpose flour instead.

Apple olive oil cake
slightly adapted from the amazing A Modern Way to Eat: Over 200 Satisfying, Everyday Vegetarian Recipes (That Will Make You Feel Amazing)

250g all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of ground allspice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon honey
150g light brown sugar
2 large eggs
150ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Granny Smith apples
handful sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly oil 20x10cm (4x8in) loaf pan, line it with baking paper and lightly oil the paper as well.
Sift flour, cinnamon, allspice, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl.
In a large bowl, mix the honey, sugar, eggs, olive oil and vanilla until you have an even mixture. Stir in the flour mixture and mix again, until evenly combined. The mixture should be quite thick. Grate in the apples and mix well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle with the almonds.
Bake for 45-50 minutes or until risen and golden and a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan over a wire rack for 10 minutes, then carefully unmold onto the rack. Cool completely, then peel off the paper.

Serves 8-10

Monday, July 7, 2014

Hearts of palm empanadas - great snacks for the World Cup

Hearts of palm empanadas / Empanadas de palmito

The World Cup has been a lot of fun, there have been some great matches and I think that soccer aficionados around the world have been biting their nails like there’s no tomorrow. :)

To avoid that from happening, it is a good idea to have something to snack on during the games – I’d always wanted to make empanadas and they seemed perfect for the occasion, but since I’d made sfihas weeks before I wasn’t in the mood for more beef. Therefore, I mixed Argentina and Brazil and filled the empanadas with hearts of palm, making them vegetarian and delicious – those two countries together on the field is a very dangerous thing, but the combo worked out beautifully in my kitchen. :D

Inspired by these beauties I used a 10cm cutter to form the empanadas, and they turned out tiny and cute – you may make them larger if you want, but in the end it doesn’t matter: they were a great treat for the games and went really well with a couple of very cold beers. ;)

Hearts of palm empanadas
inspired by these, dough from Epicurious, filling own creation

215g unbleached all-purpose flour
100g whole wheat flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ cup (1 stick/113g) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 large egg
1/3 cup (80ml) ice water
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

½ tablespoon olive oil
½ onion, finely diced
1 fat garlic clove, minced
300g hearts of palm, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ½ tablespoons boiling water
¼ cup parsley leaves, finely chopped

Egg wash:
1 egg, lightly beaten with a fork, mixed with ½ teaspoon water

Start by making the dough: sift flours with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.
Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated (mixture will look shaggy) – I used the food processor do make my dough, it was quite fast and effective.

Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Form dough into a flat rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour.

Make the filling: heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the onion and cook until transparent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the hearts of palm, season with salt and pepper, add the water, cover and cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until the water has been absorbed. Add the parsley, mix to combine and remove from the heat. Cool completely.

Preheat your oven to 200°C/400°F. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll it out until it is about 6mm ( ¼in) thick. Cut out roughly 10cm (4in) round circles in the dough. Place about ½ tablespoon of filling in the center and fold the circle into a half moon. Pinch and fold the edges to seal them, then transfer to the prepared sheet.
Once all the empanadas are formed, brush them with the egg wash.
Bake the empanadas for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 22

Friday, July 4, 2014

Sour cream-chocolate cake with caramelized white chocolate frosting and being predictable

Sour cream-chocolate cake with caramelized white chocolate frosting / Bolo de chocolate e sour cream com ganache de chocolate branco caramelizado

I am so predictable. I am, really.

As I told you last week, I put the mobsters and gangs aside for a while and started watching Downton Abbey – I thought a break from bad guys would be a nice change. Apparently, I was wrong: after spending some time in 1912 I went back to Tony’s arms and I did it in a hurry. :)

At first I thought the rhythm was the problem for me with Downton Abbey, but then I remembered that Rectify, for instance, has a very singular rhythm, and that never bothered me – much to the opposite, it’s part of what makes that show so sensational. So I’m still trying to figure out the reason why DA is not my cup of tea – and while I do that, I have some serious Hannibal catching up to do. :D

See, I told you I was predictable – I’m back in my criminal TV mood. But at least something has to be sweet, right? So there’s cake, and it’s just not any cake: it is a delicious chocolate cake – tender beyond words – with ganache made of something I’d never tried before: caramelized white chocolate. That scores big points with me not only for being scrumptious but also for being made in a very curious way: the chocolate gets caramelized in the oven – when I read the recipe I wasn’t very sure it would work, but decided to give it a go because I’d read about it in another cookbook. It does work – luckily – and I guarantee that you’ll be more than happy to lick the bowl after you assemble the cake. :D

Sour cream-chocolate cake with caramelized white chocolate frosting
cake adapted from the amazing Sky High, filling/frosting from the most beautiful cookbook I own

185g all-purpose flour
300g granulated sugar
45g unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup (160ml) canola oil
2/3 cup sour cream*
1 cup (240ml) water
1 ½ tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 small eggs

450g white chocolate, finely chopped
¾ cup (180ml) heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter the bottoms and sides of two 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of baking paper and butter the paper as well.
Cake: sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the prepared cake pans.
Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool completely in the pans over a wire rack.

Frosting: preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F. Line a large baking sheet with foil and spread the chocolate over it. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until light golden. In the meantime, heat the cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat until very hot (but not boiling). Add the caramelized chocolate and stir until melted (reheat the mixture over low heat for a few seconds if necessary). Strain through a fine sieve, pushing down on solids, then discard solids. Let the ganache cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until spreadable.

Assembling the cake: I followed Deb’s precious tip and froze the cake layers for 30 minutes before assembling it (they are indeed very soft, so this step makes it easier to put the layers together).
Place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread about half the ganache, then top with the other cake layer. Spread the remaining ganache over the top of the cake – just the top, not the sides.

* homemade sour cream: to make 1 cup of sour cream, mix 1 cup (240ml) heavy cream with 2-3 teaspoons lemon juice in a bowl. Whisk until it starts to thicken. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 1 hour or until thicker (I usually leave mine on the counter overnight – except on very warm nights – and it turns out thick and silky in the following morning; refrigerate for a creamier texture)

Serves 8-10

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Jam and rye crumble bars - falling in love with rye flour

Jam and rye crumble bars / Barrinhas de centeio e geleia

There was some beer left from Nigella’s spectacular cake, and I started looking for a good recipe to use it in. I froze part of the beer for another day and part of it was transformed into a rye bread. Very flavorful, it was gladly devoured in open sandwich form – I mixed Brazil and Scandinavia and made the open sandwiches with hearts of palm and cheese. They were extremely simple but oh, so delicious.

I liked the bread so much I couldn’t wait to use the rye flour again, and it was such a revelation to me to use it in baked goods other than bread – I’d seen the recipes before, but hadn’t tried them myself. In these bars, for instance, it adds a very interesting depth of flavor, not to mention it paired beautifully with the jam flavors I chose – I mixed apricot jam and marmalade because I did not have 1 cup of either to use in the recipe, and it ended up being a very nice thing. Because I was using marmalade, I added orange zest to the topping, and you can’t imagine how great my kitchen smelled while the bars were in the oven.

I still have some rye flour left and several ideas in my head from the recipes I’ve seen, like using it in cakes and tarts. Such a wonderful addition to my repertoire – and it all started with a simple (yet delicious) loaf of bread.

Jam and rye crumble bars
slightly adapted from the glorious Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours

Shortbread base:
55g rye flour
105g all-purpose flour
40g light brown sugar
pinch of salt
75g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Crumble topping:
70g rolled oats
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
40g rye flour
25g all-purpose flour
1 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
finely grated zest of 1 orange
55g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup jam – I used ½ cup apricot and ½ cup marmalade

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 160°C/320°F. Lightly butter a 20cm (8in) square pan, line it with foil leaving an overhang in two opposite sides and butter the foil as well.

Crust: in a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar and salt. Add the melted butter and vanilla and stir until thoroughly combined. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the pan. Put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Crumble topping: add the oats, brown sugar, rye flour, all purpose flour, granulated sugar, salt and orange zest to the bowl of a food processor and process until the oats are partially ground, about 5 seconds. Pour the mixture into a bowl. Add the melted butter and stir with your hands, squeezing the dough as you mix to create small crumbly bits. Set aside.
Bake the frozen shortbread until golden brown and firm when touched, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and increase the temperature to 180°C/350°F.
Spread the jam over the shortbread crust and top with the crumble. Bake the bars for about 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely in the pan. Cut into squares to serve.
The bars can be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Makes 16

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Churros waffles for my sister

Churros waffles / Waffles de churros

I sometimes look at photos of my sister as a kid and my eyes tear up a little bit – I miss those days, she was a fun, smart kid, it was great being around her. I love telling her the funny things she used to say and do back in the day, the games she liked to play, the clothes she liked to wear – like the T-shirt I gave her when she was around two years old and that she wanted to wear every single day, to her mother’s despair – and the food she liked to eat. She was never picky; she loved salads and ice cream, strawberries and chocolate cake, and would also devour a plate of pasta or rice and beans like nobody’s business.

Her taste has changed over the years, naturally – she still loves strawberries and chocolate cake, but won’t eat bacon anymore. Still, it is always a nice feeling for me to learn that most of the things she loves are the ones I love, too. She could have become pain-in-the neck picky like my brother, but luckily she’s a lot more adventurous, always trying new things like tacos, chilli con carne and guacamole, sushi and sashimi. I can see, sometimes, a bit of me in her, and that makes me really happy. <3

Something we both love and eat together every now and then are churros, so when she came over for another Super Mario Bros. session I told her I would make waffles that tasted just like churros – she was thrilled with the idea (and so was I). :)

These waffles are the perfect way to quench the desire for churros without the frying (and also a great way of winning brownie points with sisters). :D

Churros waffles
slightly adapted from Richie, who got it from Vitor Hugo

For serving the waffles:
unsalted melted butter
½ cup (50g) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (or to taste)
dulce de leche

1 cup (140g) all purpose flour
35g corn starch
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ tablespoon baking powder
pinch of salt
200ml whole milk, room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cool
1 large egg, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a shallow plate, mix the sugar and cinnamon together. Set aside.

Make the waffles: in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, corn starch, sugar, baking powder and salt.
In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, melted butter, egg yolk and vanilla. In another bowl, whisk the egg white until firm peaks form.
Pour the milk mixture over the flour mixture and stir until smooth. Fold in the egg white.
Heat a waffle iron until very hot; lightly coat with nonstick spray. Working in batches, cook waffles until cooked through.
When the waffles are cooked, brush them with the melted butter and roll them in the cinnamon sugar. Serve at once with the dulce de leche.

Makes 4 waffles

Monday, June 30, 2014

Orecchiette with squash sauce and spinach balls - quick, nutritious and delicious

Orecchiette with squash sauce and spinach balls / Orecchiette com molho de abóbora e bolinhas de espinafre

Despite my desire to try new things in the kitchen, I feel very lucky for not having serious food allergies and also for not having to give up gluten or dairy – I was a vegetarian for many years and that wasn’t hard, but I don’t think I would last one week without bread or cheese.

Pasta is another staple I’m not willing to eliminate from my diet, not only because it is delicious but also because it is a very versatile ingredient: it can be made in so many different ways, the sky is the limit. When I’m in a hurry to make dinner or the refrigerator is empty pasta always saves the night. That is why I was so eager to buy Antonio Carluccio’s book on the subject and he didn’t disappoint: it is oh, so beautiful, and the recipes look mouthwatering – I want to cook everything from that book.

Still strong with the plan of adding more vegetables to our meals and reducing the amount of meat I thought that a pasta dish with a vegetable sauce would make a light, nutritious lunch, and since my husband had said something about how great the dish on the cover of the book looked it was easy to choose a recipe. Carluccio’s recipe calls for zucchini, but I decided to use the beautiful squash I had in my fridge: not only the food was delish and super fresh, it was really quick to put together – that way I did not miss any of the action on the Holland vs Mexico match (I screamed so hard when Sneijder scored that my throat was sore for the rest of the day). :)

Orecchiette with squash sauce and spinach balls
slightly adapted from the beautiful and delicious Pasta: The Essential New Collection from the Master of Italian Cookery

Spinach balls:
150g spinach leaves
1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
20g fresh breadcrumbs
15g parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 egg, lightly beaten with a fork
salt and freshly ground black pepper
canola oil, for shallow frying

Pasta and sauce:
150g orecchiette or penne
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
½ fresh red chilli, not too hot, finely chopped
300g coarsely grated squash*
salt and freshly ground blackpepper, to taste
finely ground parmesan, to serve

Preheat the oven to 120°C/250°F.
Prepare the spinach balls first by cooking the spinach leaves in salted water for a few minutes. Scoop out and leave to cool. When cool, squeeze out most of the moisture and chop the leaves with a knife, but not too small. Then mix in a bowl with the garlic, nutmeg, breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Add the egg gradually, mixing until the mixture comes together (you might not need the whole egg). Season with salt and pepper. Roll mixture into balls (you’ll get about 10) and shallow-fry in a tiny bit of canola oil until they brown on all sides. Keep them warm in the oven while you make the rest of the recipe.

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente.
Meanwhile, make the sauce: heat the oil in a large saucepan, and add the garlic, chilli and squash to the pan. Cook quickly in the oil, about 3-4 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Drain the pasta and mix it with the sauce over high heat, to cover and warm everything up, then divide between warmed plates. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle with parmesan and place four or five spinach balls on top. Serve at once.

* I used a type of squash called “abóbora paulista”, which by photo I found similar to cushaw squash (but a lot smaller in size); feel free to replace it with other types of squash or use zucchini instead (as called for in the original recipe)

Serves 2

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Little passion fruit and coconut cakes (with amaranth flour) and time to change

Little passion fruit and coconut cakes (with amaranth flour) / Bolinhos de maracujá e coco (com farinha de amaranto)

A very dear friend of mine adores Downton Abbey and every time we see each other she asks me if I have started watching the show, to which I always reply “no, not yet”. She ended up lending me the DVDs, but I’ve been so caught up with SoA that I never bring myself to watch them.

To make things worse, I’ve started watching The Sopranos (because of another dear friend) and got hooked right from the start – it is impossible not to love Tony Soprano, I can tell you.

Breaking Bad, The Fall, SoA and now The Sopranos – I wonder if I’m on a criminal roll. :S Maybe it’s time to change to something less bloody, more delicate. Maybe it’s time for Downton Abbey, after all. :)

If my TV series choices seem to fall into a certain category, my cooking and baking habits seem to have widen, a little at least: these small cakes fit perfectly into my desire to try new things and to make old favorites differently – made with icing sugar, egg whites and almond meal they’re like financiers, but here the all purpose flour is replaced by amaranth flour, making these a tiny bit more nutritional then traditional financiers and also gluten free (I have gone as far as calling sweets “nutritional”, you’re not reading it wrong). :D

Little passion fruit and coconut cakes (with amaranth flour)
slightly adapted from the beautiful Supergrains: Cook Your Way to Great Health

200g pure icing sugar
65g amaranth flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup (100g) almond meal
½ cup (50g) desiccated coconut
6 egg whites, lightly whisked
100g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
70g passion fruit pulp, seeds and all
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
icing sugar, extra, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter a 12-hole 80ml muffin pan or line it with paper cases.
Sift the icing sugar, amaranth flour, baking powder and salt together into a large mixing bowl. Stir through the almond meal and coconut.
Add the egg whites, butter, zest, passion fruit pulp and vanilla and stir to combine. Divide the mixture among the lined muffin holes. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through (a skewer inserted into the center of a cake should come out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it). Remove from the oven and set aside for 5 minutes, then carefully unmold and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Dust with icing sugar to serve.

Makes 12

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Chocolate self-saucing pudding - perfect to go with a soccer game

Chocolate self-saucing pudding / Bolo-pudim de chocolate

Warm desserts are something I crave even in hot days (I’m crazy, I know), and if I don’t make them when I have other things going on in the oven I think of them every time I sit on my couch to watch a movie or a TV show (there days those have been replaced by soccer games, actually). :)

I am not a chocoholic and will choose a fruit based dessert over chocolate any day, but while going through one of my old Donna Hay magazine issues searching for inspiration I saw these really pretty chocolate pots and having tried self-saucing puddings before (including chocolate ones) I could not resist them – to the kitchen I went to make these, especially for the Germany vs Ghana game. It is an easy recipe, quick to put together and that needs little over 10 minutes in the oven. Next time I want to give it a try using almond milk.

A really good match and a delicious dessert to go with it – what else could I ask for on a Saturday afternoon? ;)

Chocolate self-saucing pudding
from the always wonderful DH magazine

100g all purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
45g brown sugar
½ cup (120ml) whole milk, room temperature
35g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

90g brown sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup (240ml) boiling water

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Place flour, baking powder, salt, cocoa, brown sugar, milk, butter, egg and vanilla in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Divide the batter among four 1-cup capacity ovenproof bowls or cups and place them on a baking sheet.
Sauce: combine the brown sugar and coco in a small bowl and sprinkle over the puddings. Top each pudding with ¼ cup (60ml) boiling water. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the top is firm, like a cake (the sauce will be underneath). Serve right away.

Serves 4

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Beef, lemon and pecorino meatballs and favorite TV characters

Beef, lemon and pecorino meatballs / Almôndegas com limão siciliano e pecorino

As I finished watching season 5 of Sons of Anarchy, I started thinking about favorite characters in TV series – I have some favorites myself, characters I supported and cheered for (or still do) even if they’re not the nicest people around (hello, Walter White). :)

When it comes to SoA, for instance, it is agonizing to have a favorite character – let’s just say that Kurt Sutter and George R. R. Martin could easily be best friends – but even so Chibs is the one I like the most, I just adore him and his accent. <3 Samantha Jones and Peggy Olson are my favorites in SATC and Mad Men, respectively, and although everyone in Seinfeld was really funny George Costanza was and will always be my #1. :)

Do you have favorite TV characters? I would love to hear about it.

I have favorites when it comes to food, too: meatballs have a very special place in my heart, and the hubby loves them too. I am always interested in trying new meatball recipes, especially ones with a twist like Ottolenghi’s leek meatballs I made the other day. The ones I bring you today are delish, very easy to make, and here the cheese acts both as seasoning and binding agent – no need to add breadcrumbs and eggs. I served them with tomato sauce and Andrew Carmellini’s polenta because it was a very cold day, but I am sure the meatballs would be great as a snack with a bit of Tabasco and a glass of very cold beer on a summer day.

A bit of a warning, though: all that cheese melting in the oven will smell so good you’ll want to dive in as soon as the meatballs are ready – trust me on that. :)

Beef, lemon and pecorino meatballs
slightly adapted from the delicious Olive magazine

400g beef mince
½ red onion, grated
1 garlic clove, minced
finely grated zest of ½ lemon
handful fresh oregano leaves, chopped
30g finely grated pecorino
salt and freshly ground black pepper – I used ½ teaspoon of salt, be careful because pecorino is already salty

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Line a large baking sheet with a double layer of foil. Brush the foil with vegetable oil.
Place the beef, onion, garlic, zest, oregano, pecorino, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix to combine (I prefer to use my hand to do that). Shape mixture into balls (the job becomes easier if you lightly wet the palms of your hands). Place the meatballs onto the prepared sheet and bake until golden and cooked through (about 20 minutes).
Serve with tomato sauce or whatever strikes your fancy. :)

Makes about 18

Monday, June 23, 2014

Orange olive oil pound cake and trying new things

Orange olive oil pound cake / Bolo de azeite de oliva e laranja

From time to time I catch myself trying to be more creative in the kitchen, trying to use different kinds of flour, for instance, or to use more vegetables and less meat. Lately it has been a little less temporary than it used to be, I’ve been thinking of incorporating healthier food in between my cakes and cookies, or at least try new ways of making good old favorites, even if for flavor only. Don’t know the reason why it happened, but I hope I manage to succeed.

I’ve been browsing many blogs and there’s so much out there to be tried and tasted, like the beautiful chocolate cake I saw this morning. There are so many ways of preparing the food I love, it’s a shame not to try them, even if in the end I settle for the old school ways I will be happy to have tried something new.

Amidst so much information, I ended up reaching for a very reliable source, someone whose recipes always turn delicious and I can bake with my eyes closed: Alice Medrich. Her olive oil pound cake sounded so good, I loved the idea of using olive oil instead of butter – I know it’s nothing new but it’s something I seldom do, I usually rely heavily on butter.

To make the cake even moister, I replaced some of the all purpose flour with almond meal and added the zest of 1 orange because orange cakes are really out of this world – this is no exception.

Orange olive oil pound cake
slightly adapted from Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts

170g unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
30g almond meal
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
finely grated zest of 1 large orange
1/8 teaspoon table salt
½ cup (120ml) flavorful extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 small eggs, cold
½ cup (120ml) whole milk, room temperature

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 20x10cm (8x4in) loaf pan, line it with baking paper and butter the paper as well.
Sift the flour and baking powder together, stir in the almond meal and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the sugar and orange zest and rub them together with your fingertips until the sugar is fragrant. Add the salt, oil, and vanilla and, using the whisk attachment, whisk until well blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, then continue to beat until the mixture is thick and pale, 3-5 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally. On low speed, beat in the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk (start and end with the dry ingredients).
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour or until golden and risen and a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for about 15 minutes, then carefully unmold onto the rack and cool completely. Remove the cake when the cake is cool.

Serves 6-8

Friday, June 20, 2014

Madeleines with lemon curd

Madeleines with lemon curd / Madeleines com curd de limão siciliano

I love baking but admit that turning the oven on in the winter is much more pleasant than doing so on hot days (though that doesn't really stop me). :)

To me, certain baked goods have a summery feel: I look at them and it feels like the sun is shining, even though it's raining and cold outside (as it is right now here in Sao Paulo). As I type this text with nearly frozen fingertips and a cup of piping hot tea by my side, I look at these lovely madeleines and think of a sunny day, I think of spring and flowers, while I plan on making soup for dinner because of the weather.

I might bake another batch of these madeleines before I start chopping leeks, potatoes and carrots for the soup - I know how good it feels every time I take something beautiful and delicious from the oven, it is an instant mood booster. I might even make some savory madeleines to go with the soup - now that's a tough decision, so enjoy the sweet version while I think it through. :)

Madeleines with lemon curd
adapted from the beautiful The Little Paris Kitchen: 120 Simple But Classic French Recipes and the always delicious Gourmet Traveller

80g unsalted butter
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
65g granulated sugar
½ tablespoon light brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
½ tablespoon mild honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
115g all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
18 frozen raspberries, unthawed
about 2 tablespoons lemon curd, in a piping bag
melted butter, extra, for brushing the molds

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat, add lemon zest and set aside until cooled to room temperature but still liquid (2-3 minutes).
Place the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, honey and vanilla extract in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until light and fluffy (4-5 minutes). Sift over flour, baking powder and salt and fold through.
Fold in butter mixture a little at a time until just incorporated, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (4 hours or up to overnight).
Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F. Brush eighteen 2-tablespoon capacity madeleine molds with melted butter and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Brush the molds again and refrigerate for another 10 minutes. Divide the mixture between the molds (do not spread it out) and press a raspberry deep into the batter. Bake until golden and cooked through (8-10 minutes), then immediately unmold onto a wire rack. While the madeleines are still hot, pop the piping nozzle into the hole of each raspberry and squirt in bit of lemon curd.
Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 18

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