Recipes for Snacks and Beginnings

Gift Guide: Light, Airy Brazilian Cheese Puffs

December 4, 2016

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We had snow on Thanksgiving, which especially thrilled our Brazilian guests, Fabio and Clarissa (on the extreme left). They went running out to play snow baseball and help build the snow bear family. “We don’t have snow at home,” Clarissa explained.
What they do have, however, is the great Brazilian pao de quejo,wonderful little puffs of cheesy, chewy air. Clarissa arrived bearing a bowl of dough, and we rolled them out and put them into the oven before heading outside. (Don’t you love the dog with the prune eyes?) We came back to a steamy kitchen and piles of warm puffs. (Think of these like crunchy gougeres.)
They were so delicious I asked Clarissa for the recipe.  I’m thinking of whipping up some batter and bringing it along to holiday parties; to me it seemed like an especially thoughtful hostess gift.
Here’s Clarissa’s recipe.
Pao de Quejo

– 1 package of Bob’s Red Mill Tapioca Flour

– 1 cup of milk
– 1/2 cup of canola oil (or any other vegetable oil)
– 1 teaspoon of salt
– Approximately half a pound of ground Monterey Jack cheese
– 3 eggs
INSTRUCTIONS
– Put the tapioca flour in a mixing bowl;
– Heat up the milk with the oil and salt. Once it starts boiling, add it to the tapioca flour;
– Knead the mixture until it resembles crumbs;
– After it has cooled off, add one egg and 1/3 of the cheese and mix it by hand. Once the mix looks homogenous (it will look like sugar icing), repeat with the second and third eggs, and the remaining cheese (one third per egg). The final dough should be sticky.
– If you want to bake them right away, use a spoon to take scoops of the dough and place them straight on a baking sheet. It will be hard to roll them by hand when the dough is fresh, but it shouldn’t be necessary. If you leave the dough in the fridge overnight, you’ll be able to roll them before baking.
– Bake at 350F for about 25-30 minutes, or until the little balls look puffy and lightly golden with a couple dark spots. We like them chewy, not too crunchy.
I found a link to the original cheese.  We normally used either the cured or the half-cured version of this cheese to make them back home.
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Should you want to make this into a serious Christmas present, think of throwing in a pretty platter to put the pao de quejo on. I particularly like this one, from my

neighbor, Mary Anne Davis at Davistudio.

And here’s a rather wonderful rustic Mexican serving plate from National Geographic.
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Comfort in a Bowl

November 14, 2016

068_reic_9781400069989_art_r1In the mood to cook? I think this tart soup might be the perfect dish for this particular moment in time. If anything can comfort you, this is it.

Avgolemono 

Shopping list: 6 cups chicken stock, 1/3 cup rice, 1 lemon.

Staples: 4 eggs, salt.

Serves 6.

Bring about six cups of good rich chicken stock to a boil. Add a third of a cup of raw rice, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes..

Meanwhile, grate the rind from one lemon into a bowl. Squeeze the naked lemon, and add the juice to the rind.

Separate four eggs, dropping the yolks into the lemon juice. (Save the whites for another use.) Add a pinch of salt and beat the yolks into the lemon juice and rind.

When the rice is tender, whisk about half a cup of the hot stock into the yolks, then slowly pour the yolks into the soup, stirring constantly. Cook gently for about five minutes, or until the soup is slightly thickened. Pour into bowls and eat slowly. 

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Eating Clouds

October 31, 2016

ruth_spring_937We had a freak snowstorm last week. It seemed to come out of nowhere; one minute it was fall, the next we were in high winter; wind blowing, snow blasting out of the sky and piling up on the roads.

I’d planned a trip to the grocery store, but that was out of the question. The plows weren’t out, the driveway impassible, the roads slippery. Fortunately, I had some oysters sitting in the refrigerator. I’d planned on eating them raw, but now I changed my mind.

Here’s the thing about fried oysters; they’re one of the foods that truly reward the home cook.  Eaten just seconds out of the fryer they give you the sense that you’re eating clouds.  Order them in a restaurant, and in the time it takes to reach your table they lose much of their magic. 

Fried Oysters

Shopping list: 1 pint oysters, 1 pint buttermilk, 2 cups cornmeal

Staples: flour, salt, oil.

You could shuck your own oysters, but unless you’re really an expert that makes the entire process a whole lot harder.  I open my own oysters to eat on the half-shell, but when I’m frying oysters I buy them pre-shucked.

Carefully drain the oysters, and put them in 2 cups of buttermilk for about 10 minutes.

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Line a baking sheet with waxed paper or a silpat pad. Mix 2 cups of cornmeal with 2 cups of flour and a teaspoon of salt.  Pick up each oyster, shake it a bit, allowing the buttermilk to drip off before plunking it into the cornmeal mixture; toss it about so it’s coated on all sides and place it on the lined baking sheet. Do it with the next oyster, and the next….

In a deep pot heat at least 2 inches of oil until it registers 375 on a thermometer. Pick up an oyster, shake it to remove excess breading and plunk it into the oil. Fry for about a minute and a half until just golden, then remove with a slotted spoon and set on paper towels to drain. You should be able to fry 6 to 8 oysters at a time.  Bring oil back to 375 before adding a new batch.

Sprinkle with salt and serve with plenty of fresh lemons.  Some people like tartar sauce or remoulade with their oysters, but I think that masks the delicate flavor.

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Perfect Fall Soup

October 13, 2016

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This is, to me, the perfect soup for this time of year.  It’s about the easiest soup I know, one that transforms a handful of simple ingredients into something, soft thick, almost creamy.  It’s deliciously soothing.  The color is gorgeous, it’s inexpensive – and also vegan.

Butternut Squash Soup

1 onion, coarsely chopped

1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped

2 carrots, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound peeled butternut squash, cut into 3/4 inch dice

1/2 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 3/4 inch chunks

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 1/2 cups boiling water

garnishes: diced Granny Smith or other crisp apple, olive oil, balsamic vinegar.

  1. Put onion, carrots, celery and olive oil into a large casserole and cook for about ten minutes, until they become soft.
  2. Add squash, potatoes, and salt. Stir in boiling water, bring to a simmer, and allow to cook for about half an hour, until the squash and potatoes are very soft.
  3. Puree, in batches, in a blender.  Be cautious; hot soup can be dangerous.
  4. Taste for seasoning. Serve topped with a drizzle of olive oil and/or balsamic, and the diced apple.

Serves 4.

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Michael’s Pizza

September 24, 2016

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A friend sent me a baking steel last year, and I’ve spent months trying to find a piza dough that I like.  I’ve tried them all, and most of them seem too tough to me.

Finally, I hit on this recipe, which begins with a very soft dough that you gradually knead more flour into.  It’s very pliable, and gives you a pleasingly thin crust.  I believe that our pizza tastes depend upon where we grew up – we all want the pizza of our childhood – but this is as close as I can come to the pizza of my dreams.

Anchovy and Caper Pizza for Michael

Dough

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup 00 Italian flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4  cup lukewarm water

3/4 teaspoon active yeast

pinch of sugar

1 teaspoon olive oil

Mix the two flours with the salt. 

Stir the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water, then mix into the flour with your hands, kneading for a few minutes until it’s combined.  It will be soft and sticky. Allow the dough to rest, unmolested, for 1o minutes, then turn it out onto a well floured surface and knead it for about 5 minutes, adding as much flour as you need to make a soft dough.  Cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise for 3 or 4 hours. 

Knead it again for a few minutes, divide into two balls, cover with the cloth again and allow the dough to rise for another hour.  You can now refrigerate it for a few days, freeze it for a couple of months, or use it immediately. (I like it best after it’s been refrigerated for a couple of days.)

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees and if you have a baking steel or tiles, put it on the second highest shelf in the oven and allow it to heat for an hour.  (Be very careful when it gets hot; it will be searingly hot, and not remotely touchable, even with oven mitts on.)

Stretch one piece of dough into an 8 inch round; this is the hardest part of the entire process.  Unless you know how to toss the dough into the air, it’s not easy to stretch it. Be patient.

Dust a pizza peel liberally with cornmeal. 

Coarsely mash up about 3/4 cup of canned tomatoes with a fork, then stir in a tablespoon of olive oil. 

Remove 6 – 8 anchovies from the bottle.

Drain a few tablespoons of capers.

Cut 1/3 of a pound or so of mozzarella into small chunks and if it’s wet, drain it on paper towels.

Shred a few leaves of basil.

Grate a small handful of parmesan cheese.

Put the round of pizza dough onto the peel. Spread the tomatoes over the pizza dough.  Decorate the top of the pizza with the anchovies and capers.  Top with mozzarella, scatter the basil about and end with a dusting of parmesan.  Open the oven door and very carefully shake the pizza onto the steel without touching it. (If you’ve never done this before it’s tricky, but you quickly get the hang of it.)

Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, depending on how well done you like your pizza. Remove with the peel, and serve it right on the peel.

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