Friday, August 29, 2014

Beetroot, red onion and feta tart with rye pastry

Beetroot, red onion and feta tart with rye pastry /Torta de beterraba, cebola roxa e feta com massa de centeio

Cooking is a continuous learning process and one thing I’ve learned over the years is that the freezer can be a powerful ally in the kitchen: not only for already made dishes and ice cream, but for stashing and preserving ingredients like stock, vegetables, nuts – you name it.

With some rye pastry in my freezer – I made the entire recipe, divided in half and froze each individually, first well wrapped in plastic, then in foil – I decided to bake a tart for lunch and then started thinking about the filling. I almost made the leek and cheese tart once again – it tasted so good! – but then I saw Dale Pinnock’s beetroot and goats cheese tart and fell in love with it.

My mom loved beets and I ate them quite regularly as a kid, but always boiled or raw. As an adult, once I roasted beets for the first time there was no turning back – I’ve never boiled beets again and don’t intend to: when roasted, their flavor becomes stronger and the texture is less watery. Just delicious.

This is my twist on the recipe, using roasted beets instead of boiled ones and homemade rye pastry instead of puff pastry: it tasted great and I thought it looked beautiful, too, don’t you? ;)

Beetroot, red onion and feta tart with rye pastry /Torta de beterraba, cebola roxa e feta com massa de centeio

Beetroot, red onion and feta tart with rye pastry
adapted from two great sources: The Medicinal Chef: Eat Your Way to Better Health and Love, Bake, Nourish: Healthier cakes and desserts full of fruit and flavor

½ recipe rye pastry

5 small beetroots
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
½ tablespoons honey
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
100g feta cheese
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 egg, lightly beaten with a fork, for brushing

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Place the beetroots in a large piece of foil, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Close the foil, transfer to a baking sheet and roast for about 40 minutes or until the beets are soft when pierced with a knife. Cool enough to handle, then peel off the beets (the ones I used were organic, so I did not bother with a bit of skin left on them). Cool completely, then cut into slices.
Heat a little olive oil in a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the red onion and cook for 4–5 minutes, or until softened. Season with salt and pepper, add the honey and thyme and continue to cook until the onion takes on a caramelized appearance. Cool.

When ready to make the tart, place the dough onto large piece of baking paper and roll into a rough 25cm (10in) circle. Transfer to a baking sheet.
Arrange the red onion on the center of the pastry, top with the beets and crumble over the feta. Sprinkle with the pine nuts, 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 tart with the egg wash (only the pastry). Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown. Top with fresh thyme leaves to serve. The tart is delicious both warm and at room temperature.

Serves 2

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Apple, sour cream and cinnamon crunch muffins

Apple, sour cream and cinnamon crunch muffins / Muffins de maçã, creme azedo e canela

I have to be careful while cooking or baking with certain ingredients for the reason that I adore snacking on them! Cherry tomatoes, carrots, olives, cheese, nuts – I have to control myself not to eat everything before adding the ingredients to the recipe itself. :D

Depending on the ingredient, my husband does the same, and there goes dinner.

Add to that list roasted pumpkin seeds – they’re delicious and I have to avoid getting carried away by the fact that they’re healthy. While preparing these muffins, I set aside the 2 tablespoons needed for the recipe and measured out 2 more tablespoons so I could snack on while baking – they were gone in no time (I’d just whisked the dry ingredients together in the large bowl).

I told myself that it was better to eat a handful of pumpkin seeds than a handful of candy and stopped worrying about it. ;)

Feel free to use raw pumpkin seeds in these muffins – they’re the ones called for in the original recipe – I used roasted seeds because I had them in my pantry. The cinnamon, almonds and the apple make these muffins super tasty, while the sour cream makes them moist and tender.

Apple, sour cream and cinnamon crunch muffins
slightly adapted from Grains: 150 Recipes for Every Appetite

70g almonds, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds – I used roasted seeds
45g light brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

100g whole wheat flour
100g all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
75g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
75g light brown sugar
150g sour cream
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 large Gala apple (about 250g), peeled and chopped in small cubes

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line a 12-hole muffin pan with paper cases.
Topping: in a small bowl, mix together the almonds, pumpkins seeds, brown sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
Muffins: in a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter, brown sugar, sour cream, egg and milk. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients and stir lightly – batter will be lumpy; do not overmix. Stir in the apple and divide the batter among the paper cases. Sprinkle with the topping and lightly press it down the batter to adhere.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and risen and a skewer inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean. Leave to rest in the pan for 5 minutes before lifting the muffins out.

* 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)

Makes 12

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Chocolate rye cake

Chocolate rye cake / Bolo de chocolate e centeio

I’m not a chocolate cake person as some of you already know, but I’m aware that most people love them, especially the ones I share my baked goods with so from time to time I catch myself searching for a good chocolate cake recipe.

I found a beautiful loaf on Good Food magazine and it looked chocolaty, delicious and, above all, moist – this is one of my pet peeves with chocolate cakes: some of them turn out too dry – so I gave it a go. The recipe called for almond meal, an ingredient I love using in cakes because of how much it improves their texture, and I added a bit of rye flour to see if it was any good paired with chocolate.

Rye flour is as great with chocolate as it is with citrus, plums, berries, leeks and cheese – beetroot and onions, too, but more about that soon. :)

The cake turned out tender and flavorsome, and moist as I expected it to be – a good, simple chocolate loaf. The original recipe called for drizzling melted chocolate – both dark and white – over the cake, but I did not think that was necessary: in this case, less is definitely more.

Chocolate rye cake
slightly adapted from Good Food magazine

175g unsalted butter, softened
175g granulated sugar
3 eggs
70g all purpose flour
70g rye flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
85g almond meal (finely ground almonds)
100ml whole milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
70g dark chocolate, in chips or chunks, slightly dusted with flour – I used one with 53% cocoa solids

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter a 20x10cm (6-cup capacity) loaf pan, line it with baking paper and butter the paper as well.
Beat the butter and sugar with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, flours, baking powder, almond meal, salt, milk, vanilla and cocoa until smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips, then scrape into the tin. Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden, risen and a skewer poked in the center comes out clean.
Cool in the pan over a wire rack for 30 minutes, then carefully lift using the paper and transfer to the rack to cool completely before peeling off the paper.

Serves 8-10

Monday, August 25, 2014

White chocolate granola cookies - turning something bland into something delicious

White chocolate granola cookies / Cookies de granola e chocolate branco

I told you weeks ago that my experimenting with new types of recipes had had good and bad results: luckily more good than bad, but some things just did not work at all.

There was an almond cake from this book that ended up in the garbage can – I should have followed my instincts and added flour to the batter once I realized it was much too runny – and there was the granola that tasted funny (the one I mentioned the other day). I felt sad about the cake – it was too rubbery and not flavorsome enough for me to come up with something to do with it – but the good thing is that I managed to save the granola.

If life gives you bland granola, make cookies with it. :D

These are super easy to make and taste great – I used homemade granola, which wasn’t too sweet, and it worked perfectly with the white chocolate. If your granola is sweeter (store-bought usually is), using dark chocolate instead of white chocolate might be a good idea.

White chocolate granola cookies / Cookies de granola e chocolate branco

White chocolate granola cookies
adapted from the most complete dessert cookbook I own

1 cup (140g) all purpose flour
heaping ¼ teaspoon baking soda
heaping ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
½ cup (113g/1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (175g) light brown sugar, packed
¼ cup (50g) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250g granola (I used homemade)
150g white chocolate, in chips or chunks

Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars in large bowl until creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Add flour mixture; mix on low speed just until blended. Using wooden spoon, stir in granola and chocolate.
Line two large baking sheets with baking paper. Using 2 leveled tablespoons of dough for each cookie, drop batter onto prepared sheets 5cm (2in) apart. Chill 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Bake cookies until golden around the edges, 10-12 minutes. Cool in the sheet for 2 minutes, then slide the paper with the cookies onto a wire rack and cool completely.

Makes about 25

Friday, August 22, 2014

Wholemeal pasta with vegetable sauce - food with my husband's suggestion

Wholemeal pasta with vegetable sauce / Espaguete integral com molho de legumes

I’ve always believed that one’s love for food is a growing thing: the more you eat, the more you love food (if it is good, obviously).

My sister, for instance, grew up eating different kinds of food, from salads to cake, and nowadays she is not afraid to try something new – she might not like it, but at least she’ll give it a try before saying no. I like to think that she got that from me, that I played an important part in the past so she hasn’t become a picky adult.

My husband, on the other hand, was picky for many, many years and I’m glad he’s been leaving that behind. I’m glad it’s been a natural thing for him and that I have never forced anything – I think that’s the kind of discovery worth doing on one’s own.

I will say, however, that cooking is nowadays much more pleasant.

He’s come from “I don’t like fish” and “is there cilantro in this???” to making suggestions to recipes: as I flipped through Carluccio's cookbook the other day, I showed him a beautiful photo of spaghetti with a vegetable sauce (I’m not the only visual person in the family), then waited for his reaction – he said “that looks good – why don’t you add some cherry tomatoes to it?”

That coming from the guy who used to avoid tomatoes of all kinds like the plague. :)

So I made the pasta and followed Joao’s suggestion, but roasted the cherry tomatoes till they were soft and tender – that way they would mingle with the spaghetti better. His idea was pretty delicious, I have to say. :)

Wholemeal pasta with vegetable sauce
slightly adapted from the wonderful Pasta: The Essential New Collection from the Master of Italian Cookery

200g cherry tomatoes
extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
salt and freshly ground black pepper
300g dried wholemeal spaghetti
handful fresh basil leaves, torn
60g parmesan, freshly grated

6 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
4 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and very finely chopped
2 celery stalks, very finely chopped
4 medium ripe tomatoes, seeds removed, finely chopped

Preheat the grill in the oven. Cut the cherry tomatoes lengthwise and place them cut side up onto a baking sheet. Drizzle with the extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill for about 10 minutes or until soft. Set aside.

In the meantime, make the sauce: heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry all the vegetables until soft, 10-15 minutes – season with salt and pepper halfway through the cooking time.

Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water for about 8–10 minutes (follow the instructions on the packet), or until al dente. Drain, save some of the cooking water, and mix the spaghetti with the sauce, basil and parmesan (the cheese will make the sauce creamier) – add a bit of the cooking water if necessary. Transfer to warmed plates, top with the cherry tomatoes and serve at once.

Serves 4

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Citrus blueberry cake (with buckwheat flour) and a piece of advice

Citrus blueberry cake / Bolo cítrico com mirtilos

You guys know that I don’t really need an excuse to bake a lemon cake – if I didn’t like trying new recipes so much I would probably have a lemon cake sitting on my kitchen counter every weekend. :)

As silly as it might sound, having baked goods on my kitchen counter is one of the things that make me really happy. :)

When I saw this beautiful recipe for an orange cake freckled with blueberries I decided to add lemon to the mix, making it a citrus cake instead. The cake turned out delicious – both oranges and lemons are wonderful paired with blueberries – very tender and also pretty from being baked in a tart pan.

I did, however, used a pan 1cm smaller than the one called for in the recipe – do I like living dangerously? I wonder – and for the first 20 minutes in the oven I kept checking to see if the batter had overflown. Luckily it didn’t and the cake turned out fine, but if you don’t want to worry like I did use a slightly larger pan – or... :)

Citrus blueberry cake
slightly adapted from Margaret Fulton Baking: The Ultimate Sweet and Savory Baking Collection

250g all purpose flour
50g buckwheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon table salt
250g granulated sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
¾ cup (180ml) whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
finely grated zest of 1 orange
finely grated zest + the juice of 1 lemon
130g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
200g fresh or frozen (unthawed) blueberries

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter a deep 22cm round loose-based flan pan or cake pan*, line the bottom with a circle of baking paper and butter the paper as well. Dust it all with flour and remove the excess.
Combine the flours, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add the eggs, milk, vanilla, zest, juice and butter and mix until combined. Spoon into the prepared pan. Top with half of the blueberries and bake for 20 minutes.
Sprinkle over the remaining blueberries and bake for another 20 minutes (my cake needed 35 minutes in the oven after the second batch of blueberries were added).
Cool in the pan for 25 minutes, then carefully remove the outer ring of the pan. Cool completely before slicing and serving.

* the tart pan I used is 21x4cm and the batter almost overflew – I recommend using a slightly larger pan

Serves 8

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Eggplant turnovers and the wonderful Internet

Eggplant turnovers / Tortinhas de berinjela

The Internet, this wonderful thing: while reading a text on feminism (too bad it’s not in English, I would gladly recommend it to Shailene Woodley), I got to a video of George Carlin - I don’t know why on earth I did not know this genius man, and I’m really glad that has been corrected now.

On my daily visits to IMDb I learned that Raymond "Red" Reddington is coming back soon, on September 22nd, to be more precise. \0/

I saw the first teaser for the last season of Sons of Anarchy, and it is amazing.

I learned that Jason Reitman might actually make me like a movie with Adam Sandler – I’m in awe with the beauty of this trailer. <3

And I also came across these eggplant turnovers, a recipe by Dan Lepard (someone who usually doesn’t disappoint when it comes to food), and I have to tell you: the husband and I weren’t too thrilled about the filling – it tasted good, but sort of bland – but this pastry is absolutely fantastic: very flaky and tasty. It is made in a similar way to the rye pastry I adore so much, and all that folding and turning really transform already good pastry into something even better.

I might not have been too happy with this eggplant filling (despite my love for the veggie), but this pastry is worth making again with different fillings – it might become my official empanada pastry instead of the one I posted here a while ago.

Eggplant turnovers
slightly adapted from Dan Lepard

2 medium eggplants (about 700g total)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
300g ricotta – I used homemade
2 chopped spring onions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

200g all purpose flour
100g whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon table salt
1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, packed
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
100g unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1cm cubes
½ cup (120ml) cold water
1 egg, beaten with a fork, for brushing

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line a large baking sheet with foil.
Halve the eggplants lengthwise and place them onto the foil cut side down. Prick them all over with a fork, piercing the skin. Bake for 1 hour.
Scrape out the flesh, spoon into a sieve over a bowl with ½ a teaspoon of salt and drain for an hour. Stir in the ricotta, onions and oregano. Let it drain again.

In the meantime, make the dough: put the flour and salt in a bowl, stir in the parsley, and rub in the oil and butter. Add the cold water, coax into a rough dough and chill for 30 minutes. Using extra flour, roll out to a rough 40x15cm (16x6in) rectangle, fold in by thirds (as if you were folding a letter), repeat the roll and fold, then wrap and chill for another 30 minutes. Repeat the double roll and fold steps twice more at 30-minute intervals. Roll the dough about 3mm thick and cut into 12 squares.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°C. Line a large baking sheet with baking paper.

Season the filling, discard the liquid, and spoon a little onto each pastry square. Seal like pasties, place onto the sheet, brush with eggwash and bake for 30 minutes or until golden and crisp.

Makes 12

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Quinoa choc chip cookies and things stuck in my head

Quinoa choc chip cookies / Cookies de quinoa e chocolate

Some movies have such great soundtracks that after I watch them I catch myself singing or humming the songs for days in a row (sometimes I listen to them on a daily basis for months, too).

I watched The Color of Money last Sunday and now I can’t get It's In The Way That You Use It out of my head – but to be honest the song is so great I’m not even trying to let it go, really. :)

I once read that when Tom Cruise started to pursue acting as a career he made a list with the names of great directors he wanted to work with, people like Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott and Oliver Stone – time went by, he became a star (if you’re my age you probably remember his sex symbol status and how the girls went crazy over him) and he managed to cross many names – if not all of them – off that list. I don’t think he’s all that as an actor - he's done some good things, in the end he's irregular -, but I admire the guy for setting the bar so high right at the beginning of his career – like Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon after him, Cruise could have taken the heartthrob route and stayed there very comfortably.

But I digress – I was telling you about a song that got stuck in my head. And there was a recipe that I kept thinking about, too, I had it in my mind for weeks – these quinoa choc chip cookies. I had used quinoa flakes in a granola recipe but did not like the result very much: I thought the flavor wasn’t all that. But after tasting the granola again I found that the problem with it was the lack of some sort of fat, not the quinoa flakes so I decided to give the ingredient another chance, this time in cookie form – it was a hit with family and friends. I highly recommend using dark chocolate here, 70% if at all possible, since its bitter flavor compliments the sweetness of the cookie dough beautifully.

Getting songs out of our head might be a bit tricky sometimes, but for recipes the solution seems to be simpler: a trip to the kitchen and you’ll know if it’s any good (and stop being curious about it). :)

Quinoa choc chip cookies
slightly adapted from the wonderful Supergrains: Cook Your Way to Great Health

130g unsalted butter, softened
65g light brown sugar
65g granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
110g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
110g quinoa flakes
200g dark chocolate, chopped – I used one with 70% cocoa solids

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
Use an electric mixer to cream the butter and sugars until pale and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined. Add flour, baking powder and salt and mix on low to combine. Stir in the quinoa flakes and chocolate.
Place 2 leveled tablespoons of dough per cookie onto the prepared sheets, 5cm (2in) apart. Refrigerate for 10 minutes, than bake until golden brown around the edges, 12-15 minutes.
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, August 18, 2014

Cheese straws for hungry friends

Cheese straws / Palitinhos de queijo

As someone who loves food, I always make sure that my friends have something to eat the minute they enter my house – I believe that nothing like a drink and something to snack on to make one feel welcome. :)

I like to serve something small enough to be eaten without cutlery and without much mess either, and tiny portions so everyone is still hungry when dinner is served. I made these cheese straws the other day, when I had a couple of friends over for pizza, and they turned out delicious and flaky.

I baked the straws in the afternoon and kept them in an airtight container. When my friends arrived, I just arranged the straws in glasses and served them with drinks – no more hungry guests. :)

Cheese straws
slightly adapted from the lovely and delicious National Trust Simply Baking

155g all purpose flour
70g whole wheat flour
115g unsalted butter, cold and diced
¼ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
85g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 egg, beaten

½ egg, beaten with a fork
dried oregano, to taste

Place the flours, cheese, salt and pepper into the food processor and blitz to combine. Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Mix in the egg 1 ½ tablespoons of the ice water and, with the motor running, pour this into the mixture and stop processing as soon as the crumbs begin to hold together – add more water if necessary, but do it gradually.
Turn out on to a lightly floured surface and gather the dough together with your hands. Divide the dough in half, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
Roll half the dough about 5mm (¼in) thick (keep the other half in the fridge) - the pastry needs to be thick enough to twist without breaking. Trim the edges and cut into strips, each about 15cm (6in) long and 1cm (½in) wide. Gently twist each strip and lay onto the baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining pastry. Re-roll the trimmings and repeat until you’ve used all the dough and made around 40 straws.
Carefully brush all the straws with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the dried oregano. Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on the sheets over a wire rack.
They will keep for a few days in an airtight can.

Makes about 40

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Chocolate orange financiers and going for something slightly different

Chocolate orange financiers / Financiers de chocolate e laranja

I used to think that I was immune to gore – David Cronenberg is one of my favorite directors, after all – but I might be getting less resistant to it as I get older: I haven’t been able to continue watching Hannibal (I saw two episodes of season 2 months ago) and I gave up on The Knick after only fifteen minutes. :S

I intend to go back to both series (very soon, I hope) but I can’t imagine myself watching them now. Days ago I was looking for something different, even if ever so slightly, and started watching Betrayal, the reason being my love for Night Stalker, a TV show I watched years ago (to this day I haven’t met anyone who watched it, too).

Night Stalker got canceled in a heartbeat, and Betrayal won’t have a second season – poor Stuart Townsend is definitely not the luckiest guy in the world when it comes to TV shows. :(

I’ll continue watching Betrayal anyway – so far, it’s kept me interested and it doesn’t involve blood or chopped people. That is what I want for the moment. :)

I might go back to gore soon, who knows? The same way I always go back to financiers: I can’t resist baking them, even though I tell myself I’ll keep the egg whites in the freezer until I have enough of them to bake an angel food cake. :) There is always an interesting financier recipe to try with good flavor combos, like orange and chocolate, which I find fantastic together.

Chocolate orange financiers
adapted from two great sources: A Passion for Baking and Simply Bill

120g icing sugar
65g all purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
85g almond meal
5 egg whites
80g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
35g dark chocolate, melted and cooled – I used one with 53% cocoa solids
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
finely grated zest of 1 orange
icing sugar, for dusting

In a large bowl, sift together the icing sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt, then whisk in the almond meal. Stir in the eggs whites, then the butter, chocolate, vanilla and zest. 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 bake for about 15 minutes or until risen and firm to touch and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sichuan spiced eggplant - in an eggplant state of mind

Sichuan spiced eggplant / Berinjela apimentada

I’ve been in an eggplant state of mind lately: I’ve used it in soups, empanadas and my husband and I love eggplant parmigiana – I always make a large batch because the leftovers are great.

And when I’m not cooking with eggplants, the Universe conspires for me to do so: my copy of Save with Jamie arrived and there was a aubergine daal recipe there (withh handmade chapatis, no less) – I almost drooled over the book. :)

As I searched for something good on TV the other day, I bumped into Paul Hollywood making maneesh with baba ganoush. :)

And finally, days after that, while going through the August issue of Delicious UK magazine I saw a recipe for spiced eggplant served with rice and it looked so mouthwatering I had to try it. It is, indeed, delicious and easy to make – you just need some time for the eggplants to roast in the oven before actually cooking them with the remaining ingredients: the soft flesh carries all the others flavors beautifully.

This recipe makes great leftovers, too, and can be served with quinoa instead of rice (I would gladly eat it with bread, too, if you’ll ask me ). :)

Sichuan spiced eggplant / Berinjela apimentada

Sichuan spiced eggplant
slightly adapted from the wonderful Delicious UK

2 medium eggplants
olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ onion, finely diced
½ tablespoon grated fresh ginger
½ red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 ripe tomato, processed to a paste
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ tablespoon granulated sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ tablespoons sesame seeds
fresh cilantro leaves, to serve

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Line a large baking sheet with foil.
Halve the eggplants lengthwise and place them onto the foil cut side up. Slash the cut side a few times. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 35 minutes. Cool completely, then cut into slices.
In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and add the garlic, onion, ginger and chilli. Cook until softened, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato and cook for 1 minute. Add the eggplants, sesame oil, soy sauce and sugar and add ½ cup (120ml) water. Bring to the boil, then simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick and glossy. Check the seasoning, add salt and pepper if necessary, stir in the sesame seeds and serve sprinkled with the cilantro leaves.

Serves 2 (with leftovers)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lime and ginger cream cake - a good recipe after a really bad one

Lime and ginger cream cake / Bolo de creme de leite, limão e gengibre

Possets are desserts I adore, not only because they taste delicious but also because they’re really easy to make – there’s little cooking involved and the citrus juices and the fridge do all the work.

I had an eye on a grapefruit posset for a really long time, a recipe I’d seen on Delicious Australia and after making the grapefruit bars the other day I thought a posset would be equally nice – I was wrong. :(

It was too bitter and too greasy. It did not set properly.

It was probably the first recipe from the magazine I got disappointed with – it was a bit of a shock, since I cook and bake from it regularly, always with wonderful results. I’m glad I halved the posset recipe – less food in the trash is always a good thing – but for that reason I ended up with some heavy cream left in the fridge and needed to use it quickly before it went bad.

Deborah Madison’s cream cake came to my rescue (Eat Your Books being really useful, as usual), but instead of brown sugar and ginger, I baked it with granulated sugar, ginger and added lime – the result was a delicious cake with the perfect amount of spice and citrus, and so tender it was tricky to slice it neatly (just like the Port cake I baked weeks ago).

The grapefruit posset might have been a waste of good cream, but this cake was the perfect way to use it up.

Lime and ginger cream cake
slightly adapted from Seasonal Fruit Desserts: From Orchard, Farm, and Market

105g all-purpose flour
95g cake flour – homemade: 80g all purpose flour + 15g corn starch
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, room temperature
1 cup (240ml) heavy cream
175g granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
finely grated zest of 2 limes
1 tablespoon lime juice
icing sugar, for serving

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter a 20cm (8in) round cake pan with a removable bottom, line the bottom with a circle of baking paper and butter the paper as well.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, ginger and salt.
Using the whisk attachment of an electric mixer, beat the eggs until foamy, then add the cream, sugar and vanilla. Beat on high speed until you have what looks like soft whipped cream. Scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally.
Add the lime zest, juice and the dry ingredients and beat on low speed just until incorporated and smooth. Pour into prepared pan and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 50-60 minutes. Cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then carefully remove the outer ring and let the cake cool completely. Remove the pan bottom, peel off the paper, transfer cake to a plate and dust with icing sugar.

Serves 8

Monday, August 11, 2014

Amaranth cantuccini - no butter, no olive oil

Amaranth cantuccini / Cantuccini com farinha de amaranto

So far I’ve made several delicious recipes replacing butter with olive oil, but how about baking cookies without neither? That is what made me curious about these cantuccini: the fat in them comes from the almonds and the eggs – no butter, no olive or canola oil – and the eggs, combined with the fruit juices, are also responsible for the moisture in the dough.

Just for the record: I have nothing against fat, much to the opposite – I feel lost without butter in my fridge and I use olive oil for cooking all the time – but I find it interesting to learn how to make delicious things without it.

This is a fairly simple recipe – no electric devices involved – and the cantuccini turned out very flavorsome from all the fruit zest and juice. These are not rock-hard and they benefit from some time in the cookie jar: the citrus flavor becomes more evident with time, making the cantuccini even tastier days after they were baked (if they last that long). ;)

Amaranth cantuccini / Cantuccini com farinha de amaranto

Amaranth cantuccini
slightly adapted from the delicious Do-Ahead Dinners: How to Feed Friends and Family Without the Frenzy

200g all-purpose flour
50g amaranth flour
150g granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 orange and juice of ½
zest and juice of ½ lemon
2 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
150g almonds (skin on)

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Line a large baking sheet with foil.
Mix the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Throw in the orange and lemon juice and zest, eggs and vanilla, and mix together thoroughly. Stir in the almonds – the dough will be sticky.

With lightly floured hands, divide the dough into two pieces and roll each into slightly flattened sausage shapes, about 30cm (12in) long each. Transfer to the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes, then carefully peel off the foil.
Using a sharp knife and one firm cut, slice each log diagonally into 1cm slices, place them onto the sheet, side by side, and bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Turn the biscotti and bake until golden on the other side as well, about 8 minutes.

Cool completely, then store in airtight containers.

Makes about 35

Friday, August 8, 2014

Garlicky cashew chicken and curiosity

Garlicky cashew chicken / Frango assado com alho, castanha de caju e coentro

My love for roast chicken is so notorious that when I tell my husband I have no idea what to cook on the weekend he always says “how about roast chicken?” :D

If I’m not feeling very inspired, I just make Donna Hay’s chicken with chorizo because I know it’s delicious and my husband and I love it, but most of the times I like to vary because there are several great recipes out there just waiting to be prepared (and devoured).

When I saw that Amanda Hessler’s recipe for barbecued chicken included a marinade made with cashew nuts I got immediately curious, especially because I could not imagine how it would turn out – some recipes feel familiar to me, and with others I try to imagine how they would taste even if I hadn’t tried them before, but not this one: I kept wondering how the nuts would flavor the chicken, and how they would behave combined with the cilantro and the soy sauce.

The only way to find that out was cooking the recipe, and that’s what I did.

(if someone tells you that Scorpios are curious, believe them). :)

The cashew nuts make the marinade very creamy and also make the chicken moist and golden without the need of too much oil. The cilantro and soy sauce add great flavor (don’t go overboard with the salt because both the soy sauce and the nuts are already salty). Would I make this chicken again? Yes, it tasted delicious, but I would add a bit more garlic next time – despite the name, it was not garlicky enough for me.

My husband still prefers Donna Hay’s chicken, though. :)

Garlicky cashew chicken
slightly adapted from the wonderful The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century

1/3 cup roasted, salted cashew nuts
handful fresh cilantro leaves + a bit extra for serving
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
½ tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon brown sugar, packed
juice of 1 large lime
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 chicken pieces – use your favorites

In a blender or food processor, combine nuts, cilantro, oil, garlic, soy sauce, sugar and lime juice. Blend until smooth, scraping down sides as necessary. Taste and season with salt and pepper if desired.
Smear the chicken generously with the marinade. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for at least 3 hours (overnight is best).

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°C. Line a roasting pan with a double layer of foil and brush it lightly with oil. Place the chicken onto the foil and drizzle with the remaining marinade.
Roast for about 1 hour or until cooked to your liking.
Serve sprinkled with fresh cilantro leaves.

Serves 2

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Banana almond cake - simple yet delicious

Banana almond cake / Bolo de banana e amêndoa

After posting a recipe that calls for homemade vegetable stock, homemade tomato sauce and homemade ricotta I had to bring you something simpler, but equally good: a no-fuss banana cake with part of the all purpose flour replaced by almond meal, which gives it a delicious almond flavor and combined with the sour cream and the mashed bananas makes the cake moist and tender.

In my defense, it could’ve been worse: I could have told you to make your own sprinkles. :D

Banana cakes are favorites of mine and I always have a couple of ripe bananas in the freezer, just waiting to be transformed into something delicious – it’s too cold now for banana sorbet, so cake was my decision and it was a no-brainer, really.

The cake sunk a bit in the middle and years ago that would have stopped me from posting it here, but with time I’ve learned to dial down my perfectionism at least a bit, and I try to do that whenever possible because as much as people parade it as a “quality” I don’t think that’s true – it is actually a cage we build around ourselves and from which it gets harder and harder to escape.

The cake sunk, yes, but it tasted amazing, so I photographed it to share it with you – I hope you like it as much as I did.

Banana almond cake
slightly adapted from the delicious World Class Cakes: 250 Classic Recipes from Boston Cream Pie to Madeleines and Muffins

1 ¼ cups (175g) all purpose flour
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup (65g) almond meal
2/3 cup (150g) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup sour cream*
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 20x10cm (8x4in) cup loaf pan, line it with paper and butter the paper as well.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the all purpose flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder , cinnamon and almond meal.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Beat in the vanilla.
Add the sour cream and the banana and mix on low just until combined. Add the dry ingredients in and mix on low just until incorporated.
Transfer batter to prepared pan and bake for about 45 minutes or until golden and risen 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 and cool completely. Peel off the paper, dust with icing sugar and serve.

* 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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Polenta and ricotta chips and cooking from scratch

Polenta and ricotta chips / Palitos de polenta e ricota

As I told you yesterday, I love making things from scratch if and when I have time for that, and the recipe I bring you today is a good example of that: in these delicious polenta and ricotta chips, I used homemade vegetable stock, homemade ricotta and homemade tomato sauce.

The vegetable stock is a precious hint I got from a good friend of mine: she makes her stock with the skins peeled off the vegetables (carrots and potatoes, for example), mushroom stems, parsley and basil stalks, the green end of leeks, that is, all the tidbits that would end up in the garbage. I’ve been making stock her way for a long time and always have some stashed in the freezer, and that is the one I used to cook this polenta.

The tomato sauce is the one I make over and over again, with canned tomatoes and lots of fresh basil, oregano and thyme, and it’s the one my husband eats by the spoonful if left to his own devices – if there’s bread in the house I have to make sure he doesn’t eat the whole batch of sauce with it before I even have the chance to proceed with whatever I was making in the first place. :D

And the ricotta is a recipe from the wonderful Donna Hay magazine I got years ago, 2009 to be more precise, and from that moment on I’ve never used store-bought ricotta again – I’ve been using this homemade ricotta for all sorts of things, always with amazing results. It has great texture and flavor and it is quick to make. Back then I used to line the colander with fine muslin, but a while ago I bought a fine mesh strainer and it does the job perfectly without the cloth.

This post might sound like a nightmare for those of you who don’t like making things from scratch, and I’m not here to preach, but believe me when I say that besides tasting a lot better than the store-bought versions they’re all easy to make – not to mention they’re very budget friendly, especially the vegetable stock.

I know it may seem like a bore to turn each polenta chip after their first 20 minutes in the oven, but that was the way I found to make them crisp and golden without frying (which was called for in the original recipe) – please don’t hate me. :)

Polenta and ricotta chips
slightly adapted from the always wonderful Donna Hay magazine

2 cups (500ml) vegetable stock
1 cup (170g) instant polenta
1 cup (80g) finely grated parmesan
25g butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g ricotta*
canola oil, for brushing
tomato sauce, for serving

Place the stock in a large saucepan over medium heat and bring to the boil. Gradually add the polenta, whisking continuously for 2–3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir through the parmesan, butter, salt and pepper. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Add the ricotta and fold through to combine. Spoon and press the polenta into a lightly buttered 20cm (8in) square cake pan and refrigerate until set, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Line a large baking sheet with foil and brush it lightly with oil.
Remove the polenta from the pan and slice into thick chips. Arrange them on the prepared sheet 1cm apart. Bake for 20 minutes, then carefully turn each chip and bake for another 20 minutes or until golden and crisp.
Serve immediately with the tomato sauce.

* I used homemade ricotta: 3 cups (720ml) whole milk = 200g ricotta

Serves 4

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Cardamom, lemon and olive oil madeleines

Cardamom, lemon and olive oil madeleines / Madeleines de azeite de oliva, limão siciliano e cardamomo

Madeleines are small cakes, therefore I guess it was just a matter of time until I went for a version made with olive oil after using the ingredient in so many cakes.

I found some recipes online (I’ve told you I love the Internet, haven’t I?), but what really caught my attention was the combination of cardamom and lemon: it sounded delicious and Russell’s madeleines looked super cute.

Cardamom and lemon are indeed great together, and madeleines made with olive oil are as fantastic as the ones made with butter (and they stay moist and tender on the following day).

I do like making things from scratch but I’m all for shortcuts when they’re good and feasible; however, one thing I don’t use is pre-ground cardamom – I bought it once, ages ago, but did not like it. I started buying the pods and grinding the seeds myself and I never looked back. If I may, I recommend you do the same, not only for these madeleines but for all sorts of cardamom recipes (click here for some inspiration).

For completely dairy-free madeleines, the molds should be brushed with oil instead of butter – I haven’t tried that yet, so if anyone tries it I would love to hear about it.

Cardamom, lemon and olive oil madeleines
slightly adapted from here

80g granulated sugar
finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
¼ teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
2 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
110g all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/3 cup (80ml) extra-virgin olive oil

Place sugar, lemon zest and cardamom in a large bowl and rub together with your fingertips until sugar is fragrant. Add the eggs and vanilla and using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attached, beat for 5 minutes until the mixture becomes light and thick.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt over mixture and fold to combine. Fold in the olive oil.
Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F. Brush twenty 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). Bake until golden and cooked through (8-10 minutes), then immediately unmold onto a wire rack.
Dust with icing sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 20

Monday, August 4, 2014

Buckwheat thumbprints with fig preserves - food that looks pretty

Buckwheat thumbprints with fig preserves / Biscoitinhos de trigo sarraceno com geleia de figo

I once took a test at college (given by one of the professors) and the result was that I was a synesthesic person. As I read about it and the professor explained it, the result actually felt right.

Most of my colleagues got "visual" as a result, meaning they were visual people. I'm not sure I would get the same result if I took the test today (that was seventeen years ago), but I believe that the percentage of my answers leaning towards "visual" would be higher, since I feel that really latent sometimes, especially when it comes to food. I go crazy with books, magazines and blogs packed with stunning photos and I sometimes I tend to choose a recipe because of how the food looks - that is why I love making thumbprint cookies, they always look so adorable! <3

These are made with a combination of all purpose flour and buckwheat flour, and the fig jam paired perfect with it. I believe that marmalade would be an interesting choice for the buckwheat flavor too, but I'll have to try that next time. :)

Buckwheat thumbprints with fig preserves
adapted from the great Great Cookies: Secrets to Sensational Sweets

1 ½ cups (210g) all-purpose flour
½ cup (70g) buckwheat flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
200g unsalted butter, slightly firm
½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
fig preserves, or use the flavor you like the most

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
Mix together the flours and salt in a large bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter on medium-low speed until smooth. Pour in the sugar and mix just until incorporated. Add the egg yolks and vanilla, mixing only until blended. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the dry ingredients in two additions, mixing just to combine after each addition. Do not overmix or this dough will become oily.
Roll 1 leveled tablespoon of dough into balls and place 5cm (2in) apart on a lined cookie sheet. Using a wooden spoon with a rounded handle no wider than 1cm (½in), make a deep indentation with the tip of the handle in the center of each cookie. Place the cookies in the oven. After 10 minutes, remove the cookies from the oven and re-press each indentation. Then fill the centers with preserves. Do not overfill these or the preserves will run over.
Return the cookies to the oven, rotating the pans top to bottom and front to back. Bake for 5-7 minutes longer until the cookies are golden brown around the edges. Cool in the sheets for 2 minutes, then slice the paper with the cookies to a wire rack and cool completely.

Makes about 45 cookies

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