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Monday, August 29, 2011

Lei Seca

Lei Seca, which literally means "dry law" in Portuguese, is what we are praying for these days as we are waiting for our clothes to dry. The dryer is not working, and the weather became too humid and not warm enough to do the trick. We've had to improvise. My son wore my daughter's pants as pajamas, in turn she used my cami as a nightgown. I put on my husband's sweater and my mother-in-law's skirt, my husband borrowed his dad's socks and we used the hairdryer so we could wear dry underwear. I fought with my son the whole morning trying to get him to pretend that his swimming suit was a pair of shorts, but he refused...

However, the Lei Seca term doesn't have anything to do with our wet clothing issues, even if it sounds like it does. It's actually the law enforcing zero tolerance (well, 0.2 g/l of alcohol in blood are allowed, which is equivalent to eating 2 liquor-filled Godivas', or drinking a can of beer or a glass of wine) to drunk driving in Brazil.
Police officers randomly stop and test drivers at night in undisclosed points in different streets around town. If anyone fails the test, a $500.00 fine is given, the driver's license is suspended for a year and if the alcohol level is above 0.6 g/l, the inflicter might go to prison (FYI, in the US, the limit is 0.8 g/l).

In Rio, the strict lei seca has not outsmarted the Cariocas (people from Rio) nor modern technology, as they now Tweet the details and locations of the check points. This way, fellow drunk drivers can plan their route to avoid the cops. I'm just hoping that if they are sober enough to tweet, they can drive! 
And...why am I explaining all this? Well, because the recipe that follows is for the one and only CAIPIRINHA.

I know. This is supposed to be a baking blog, and here I come and post 2 drink recipes on a row and no baking, but if Irene's sister (or brother) doesn't interrupt our traveling plans, we hope to be back in New York next week and I'll get back to baking. Enjoy this post. An exception, where instead of super food, I tell you how to prepare super booze.
Say goodbye to summer with a caipirinha that tastes as a pleasant Sunday afternoon in the beach listening to bossa nova. And, it also makes family vacations more fun (or even do-able), and help you forget you are wearing wet clothes!

The original caipirinha is made with cachaca (spelled with the squiggly thing under the last c), the sugarcane liquor that's been produced in Brazil for centuries, and which is super popular within the international in crowd.
Other spirits are often used instead of cachaca, so no fear if you are out of it (I'm assuming you are in the in crowd). If vodka is the one, then the cocktail is a "caipiroska," when spiked with sake, you would get a caipisake (I'm serious!).
The traditional caipirinha is made with fresh limes, but at any bar or restaurant, kiwi, berry, lychee, passion fruit, mango, and other combinations might show up in the menu too.
The third ingredient for the drink is a nice amount of white sugar. Brazil is the largest producer of sugarcane in the world and it was one of the first crops the Portuguese brought when colonizing, so no surprise Brazilians like their sugar and use it abundantly. Fresh fruit juices, check. Their cafesinho (coffee), check. Smoothies (called "vitaminas" here), fruit, and ultra sweet desserts. Check. It makes me cringe when my mother-in-law sprinkles sugar on my daughter's fresh strawberries. My 6-year-old is ecstatic, and I fear next time I try to feed her plain fruit. But when in Brazil, do as the Brazilians...Who by the way, are a bit vain. Always talking about dieting, substituting their beloved sugar for all sorts of alternative calorie free sweeteners, submitting themselves to the knives of the most gifted plastic surgeons in the planet, and giving Giselle to the world, they do live in their own irony of baking, drinking and loving sweetness.
Phew, I vented! Next? Ah, yes Caipirinhas:


1 fresh lime (unpeeled), cut into eight wedges
1 teaspoon granulated sugar, or more
2 tablespoons (or less as it's REALLY strong!) Cachaca (try using an artisanal one, not the cheap stuff) or vodka or sake

Squeeze the lime eighths into a glass and place the squeezed wedges in too. Add sugar, crush and mix with a small wooden spoon, a pestle or a  soquete (a cool Brazilian wooden pestle-like utensil used for crushing caipirinhas or garlic cloves).

Add cachaca. Mix and add ice cubes. Mix a bot more and enjoy.

Please don't drink and drive!!!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Carmen Miranda: a fashion prophet

From the 1930s to the 1950s, Carmen Miranda sang, danced and acted her way up to a lucrative entertainment carrier in Broadway and Hollywood. She turned into a Latin American icon and kind of a stereotype when she sported her Tutti Frutti hat for the first time. The Portuguese-born, Brazilian bombshell inspired everyone who wanted to portray anything Latin American, from fashion to advertisement, from cartoons to drag shows, her produce headpieces made a mark.
And after my recent visit to the fruit market in Rio, I now understand and admire Miranda's genius.
The colors, shapes, sizes and aromas of the local fruits are incredible. Everything we consider "specialty" in the US, here is "local."

Fresh cacao
Fresh cacao (I'd never seen the real thing, and I come from the land where chocolate originated with the Mayas and Aztecs),

5 different kinds of mangoes that ranged in hues of bright green to purple, fresh young and dry coconuts,
Gold bananas

4 varieties of banana: gold, silver, soil and baby.
Thin, long, pale and amazingly sweet pineapples,
Passion fruit

huge (and inexpensive) passion fruits, 
Star fruit

the most delicious star fruit (which I had tried before in the US - no comparison). Pink guavas, 

Fruta do Conde

artichoke-looking "frutas do conde," super fragrant herbs and the quite peculiar caju, a super fruit that I hope becomes more widly available soon.

Caju is actually a pseudofruit, as the fruit-looking piece (red-orange section), is the peduncle--a part that precedes the real fruit. The true fruit is the one that looks like the stem (the hook-looking one) and is what we know as cashew nut (in order to extract the nut, the peel has to go through a special process of crushing and roasting). But the caju part can be eaten as is--well, more like sucked, as its pulp is not really chewable; but if you suck it, a fabulously sweet juice, extra rich in vitamin C and iron comes out. But if my explanation confused you even more about caju than when you didn't even know it existed, please comment at the end of the post and I'll try to make myself clear next time!

I couldn't find any information related to nut allergies in relation to caju, as nut allergies don't seem to be an issue here, although apparently gluten is, as every single ingredient label states whether the product contains gluten or not.
Fresh strawberries, lable indicates "no gluten"

I would recommend caution if a person eating caju suffers from nut reactions; other than that, I'm hoping caju becomes the new acai (which is also Brazilian, from the Amazonian region).

Sliced guavas, star fruit, espada mango and passion fruit (back)

My fruit salad in a passion fruit "cup"
I was excited to make a fruit salad with the kids once we got to my in-laws' house. My kids, who were perfectly excited as we discovered the new fruits, got bored once we started cutting the goodies and went to play with the real attraction of their visit to Brazil: the staircase.
I ended up eating most of the fruit myself, and it was quite a treat. I loved the fruit so much, that I'm hoping to incorporate it into new headpieces for myself! So when you see me wearing a turban with pineapples, hearts of palm, coconuts, guavas and 4 types of bananas, you know where it all came from. In the meanwhile, the Spring 2011 fashion collections might be in my mood board too! Why can Miuccia Prada wear banana earings and I can't wear a caju on my head???

Meanwhile, as I keep playing milliner, here's a delicious recipe I tried at my husband's cousin's apartment. It was amazing. Delicious, refreshing and easy to make, and one of the few fresh fruit recipes that I thought could be reproduced at everyone's home. Just please pardon the props, as this is what I have access to (plus they make homage to Carmen Miranda)!
Pineapple-mint smoothie
Super ingredients: Pineapple (rich in manganese and vitamin C) and Mint (rich in antioxidant, anti-microbial and soothing essential oils) 
  • Vegan (if honey isn't used)
  • Dairy, nut, soy, gluten, wheat, egg free
1 fresh pineapple
1 small handful fresh mint (preferably spearmint), plus more for garnish
1/2 cup ice cubes
water, if needed
3 tablespoons raw honey (optional)

Peel and core pineapple. Cube pineapple flesh and place in a blender, add mint and ice. Blend until completely smooth. Taste, and add honey if pineapple isn't sweet enough, and add water if smoothie is too stiff.  Garnish with mint leaves and serve.

Variation: add 1/2 to 1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger while blending.

NOTE: When I asked the cousin (who by the way, is awesome!) for the smoothie recipe, she also mentioned that sometimes she makes tea out of the pineapple peel (yes, the spiny part), by boiling it in water, straining the liquid and refrigerating it. She drinks it chilled, and I think it's great to be able to use a part of the fruit that is seldom taken advantage of.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

When in Rio

We made it safe and sound!
Last time (and only time) the four of us traveled southbound to my husband's native Brazil, was a disaster (yes, we were that family who's baby would not stop shrieking), but three years later, both, my husband and I, were happily surprised to see how well our kids handled the 10 hour night-time flight to Sao Paulo and the morning connection to Rio de Janeiro.

Ipanema beach in the winter
Rio's winter welcomed us with lots of sunshine and a tropical breeze, and my mother-in-law welcomed us with plates full of rice and black beans and my favorite Brazilian food: Pao de Queijo. As my husband's mother took care of force-feeding (which this time didn't require much force, as we were all famished) my kids, I took care of devouring the little cheese balls that I first encountered thirteen years ago when I came to Rio to meet my then future in-laws.  
We all had gone to a restaurant. Once we sat down, my father-in-law ordered something I thought to be the specialty of the house. The waiter came with a basket full of light yellow, puffy looking spheres. I took one and couldn't believe my taste buds, nor my palate, nor my teeth! Cheese and bread fussed together, but the melted cheese still oozing out in every bite. It was bread-like, but not really bread. It was glorious! Thinking that this was my one and only chance to enjoy the house specialty, I ate like 200 cheese balls, barely paying attention to the conversation or anything else. I was in trance.
As the days passed and our dining adventures increased, I realized that the house special was actually a very popular (well deserved, if you ask me) snack in the whole country. The pao de queijo is as typical as caipirinhas (which I also discovered on that trip) and feijoada.
This visit, and two kids later, I still love them as much as the first time, and I'm glad my daughter isn't into them, as there are more left all for my self!
They are pretty easy to make. The tricky part is to find the ingredients, especially the polvilho azedo (sour starch), which is tapioca flour that has gone through a fermentation process prior to filtering. It's extremely common in Brazil, but not used anywhere else*.

* There's a Brazilian store in Manhattan's Little Brazil (W.46th St) where they sell it, and of course I found it in amazon. And good news: it's kosher pareve (more kashrut info at: )

Tapioca Root
But let's get back to TAPIOCA, or MANDIOCA, MANIOC, CASSAVA, YUCA or AIPIM, which are all the same thing: a root native to South America and the West Indies. In the culinary world, its flour can be used to make breads, puddings, and to thicken sauces and desserts.

Boiled Tapioca
The root can be peeled and boiled or fried and served as a sweet or salty dish. It can be shaped into pearls by passing the moist starch through a sieve under pressure, and the resulting spheres, also known as boba, are used in the ubiquitous bubble teas.
Cassava root has traces of cyanide in it, so after peeling, the fresh root should be boiled in water until soft, and the water should be discarded. Commerically sold manioc flour or starch has already been through the poison's removal process. 
I would not call tapioca a super ingredient in nutritional terms, as it is mostly carbohydrates with almost no protein and a very low concentration of vitamins or trace elements, however, I do believe that we will be seeing this root appear more and more often in American menus and products. Why? Because cassava flour (or starch, which is the same thing in this case) is GLUTEN FREE and as opposed to the common gluten substitutes, its texture, versatility and flavor are AMAZING.
Just try making pao de queijo and you'll see what I mean (although you have to use polvilho azedo, as regular tapioca flour or starch doesn't do the trick in this particular preparation).

Adapted from: All Recipes Brasil

  • Gluten, soy and nut free
  • Contains eggs AND dairy

1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon cold water 
3/4 cup whole milk 
4 ounces (1 stick) organic butter, at room temperature 
2 teaspoons sea salt
3 large organic eggs
7 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, finely shredded
3.75 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated


Place the polvilho azedo in the bowl of a standing mixer or in a large bowl and mix in the cold water with your hands, letting the starch moisten.
In a small saucepan, bring milk, butter and salt to a boil and pour over the polvilho mix. In the standing mixer or with a wooden spoon, mix into a dough. Keep mixing until you get a soft and glossy dough.
Once it cools completely, beat the whole eggs quickly and mix them into the dough until incorporated.
Mix in the cheeses with a wooden spoon, distributing them well all over the dough.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight, if possible.
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Shape the dough into balls (about 3 inch diameter) with your hands. Arrange them on a parchment lined baking sheet, leaving 2 inches in between each other.
If you want, freeze pao de queijo at this point and bake them later or bake them right away for 25 to 35 minutes, making sure the bottom doesn't burn, but cheese balls puff. Serve immediately!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pie for Mikey

As you know, my blogging career launched very recently so I'm still figuring out the who is who and the what is what of blogging, twitting, facebooking, RSSing, and whichever more social media verbs have been invented in the last two years.
Friday morning, while I was trying to tweet about my new post, I realized that a lot of the people (or Tweets?) I follow were tweeting "peanut butter pie" and "Mikey." I had no idea what was going on.
After clicking and clicking a bit more I realized that Jennie Perillo, a food blogger, a chef, a mom of two children and a New Yorker lost her husband to a sudden heart attack. Her blogosphere request: for everyone who could, to bake her deceased husband's (Mikey) favorite pie: creamy peanut butter and to offer it to the people we love to show them our appreciation for them and for the moment.
I don't personally know Jennifer, but I'm extremely sorry and shocked for her loss. It just got me to think how lucky I am despite every single problem I complain about, and how much my family and my friends mean to me and how thankful I am for having them in my life.

I couldn't post on Friday, although the pie did make it on time for Shabbat dinner's dessert. As we enjoyed the rich bites, and discussed how it did taste like peanut butter, while not having any, I just felt incredibly thankful for being able to be there with my family and some beloved friends.
I don't use peanuts at Three Tablespoons, but here's my Sunflower Seed Butter version for the pie.
I just hope Jennifer can find some solace in the amazing response of the cybercommunity, who is hugging her and honoring Mikey through his favorite sweet.

  • Vegan
  • Gluten, soy, dairy, nut, egg and wheat free
Super ingredients: Sunflower seeds, bittersweet chocolate



1/2 cup (5 oz) unsweetened sunflower seed butter (Sunbutter brand, organic)
3 tbsp pure maple syrup

3 tbsp sucanat
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil or expeller pressed grape seed oil
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¾ cup (3oz) whole oat flour (use gluten free oat flour if needed)
1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

12 oz bittersweet chocolate (plus a bit more, shaved for garnish)
1/2 cup coconut milk beverage (I used So Delicious brand, unsweetened), plus a couple of tablespoons
3/4 cup (7.5 oz) raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup (5 oz) unsweetened sunflower seed butter (Sunbutter brand, organic)
2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup pure maple syrup


Preheat oven to 350 F. In a bowl, mix with a spatula the sunbutter, maple syrup, sucanat, oil and vanilla. Once incorporated, whisk in flour, baking soda and salt. Knead into a ball and place crust in between two large pieces of plastic wrap. Press into a disc and then roll out from the center out.
Turn the dough 45 degrees, remove plastic and place again (to prevent it from sticking) and repeat rolling and turning until it forms a circle that is large enough to cover an 9-inch pie mold bottom, sides and has about 2-inch overhang.
To transfer dough onto the pan, remove plastic cover, and slip your hand under the bottom plastic. Use the wrap to lift dough on top of pan. Carefully turn plastic wrap over and let the dough into the pan.
Crimp the edge of the crust or just cut excess overhang and prick all over with the dents of a fork.
Bake for about 15 minutes. Prepare the filling while crust bakes and cools to room temperature.

On a double boiler, melt chocolate and coconut milk beverage. While it melts, finely grind sunflower seeds in a food processor. Once seeds are completely pulverized, add sunflower seed butter, vanilla, salt and maple syrup. Once chocolate mixture is completely melted, pour into processor and pulse until it incorporates completely with sunflower seed mix. Add a bit more coconut milk if batter is too hard (it will be thick).
Pour over cooled crust and spread evenly with an offset spatula. Top with shaved chocolate and refrigerate or freeze. It can be served refrigerated, or as a frozen pie straight off the freezer

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Sprinkle Grinch

Have you ever met a child who doesn't go nuts for sprinkles? What's the magic behind those gorgeous little dots, strips, hearts and flowers in all the colors of the rainbow that top our treats?
Is it that they are so sweet, festive, crunchy and/or colorful?

If those are the reasons, I could argue that fresh fruit also comes in those festive colors. In season, it can be almost as sweet, some fruits are crunchy and they all come in many shapes and sizes. There are tiny rounds like currants and blueberries, or large ones like oranges and clementines, there are ovals like kiwis, elongated bananas, strawberry hearts, and there's even the star fruit.

Why is it then, that if I take my kids to 16 Handles* (the very professional lab, where I conduct most of my clinical research) they NEVER top their frozen yogurt with fruit and I have to scream at them to stop piling up the micro candy on their already sprinkle-drowned fro-yo?

*A self-serve frozen yogurt store where you get to crown your treat with assorted toppings of your choice

No doubt. There's something fascinating about sprinkles: their tiny size, their perfect synthetically achieved hues, their easy-to-like flat sweetness...My son says he likes them because they are "yummy" and my daughter agrees stating that they are "tasty," and when I push a bit more she admits also liking that they are colorful.
However, I personally cannot stand sprinkles, and if it weren't because I would turn my kids into sprinkle binge eaters and I would have to pay for endless psychotherapy sessions for sprinkle-deprivation, I would completely ban them.
I agree they are beautiful and cute and they make everything look whimsical and happy, but they are the ultimate empty calorie food seasoned with artificialness. Their ingredient list? Well it goes something like this: sugar, starch, hydrogenated oils (Trans fats baby!), gums, and blue 1, red 40, red 3, yellow 5, and other numbered colors.
So, given my bitterness towards those sweeties, ever since I started developing recipes for Three Tablespoons, I wanted to come up with a natural and wholesome alternative. Puffed amaranth grain with natural food coloring (derived from fruits and vegetables) has been my most exciting answer to the sprinkle dilemma. It doesn't fool anyone, but it's another fun and colorful topping for food and it's actually quite nutritious.

Amaranth--which along with quinoa is called a pseudograin due to their similarities in flavor and culinary uses with cereals--is not a grain, but a seed. It was a staple in the Inca, Aztec and other Native American civilizations and was an important component of their diet and religious rituals. It is still a common food in Mexico, where it's prepared with honey and eaten as a candy with the loveliest of names: "alegria," which means joy.  
Amaranth is incredibly high in complete protein and is a good source of fiber, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper and vitamin B6. It doesn't contain any gluten, it's easily harvested, and high yielding, which explains why it's considered "the crop of the future."  
But don't wait! Step into the future now and start puffing. My kids know amaranth as “baby popcorn” and they love seeing it pop and eat it quite happily (although I must warn you: popping gets messy as the grains can jump all over, so if yours is out of control, lower the flame).

Here's how to do it:


  • Vegan, pareve
  • Gluten, egg, dairy, nut and soy free

From left: raw amaranth seeds and puffed amaranth


Amaranth grain

Natural Food Coloring in primary colors (I use India Tree brand, which is expensive, but a little goes a long way and keeps well for months when refrigerated)

Place a dry medium saucepan (tall sides) over medium heat until VERY hot.
To test its temperature, throw in a few amaranth seeds, and if they start shaking and pop right away, proceed to add a tablespoonful of amaranth.

Mix constantly with a heat proof spatula to avoid it from burning, and once the grain stops popping, pour it onto a bowl (it pops very fast, but be careful, as it can burn very fast as well). If your seeds are burning, lower the heat. Repeat with another tablespoonful of amaranth and continue until you have your desired amount.

Once puffed amaranth cools, color it by squeezing a few drops of food coloring in a small Ziploc bag, then add some of the puffed grain. Close the zipper of the bag and mix the seeds with the coloring. Add more coloring or mix colors. Once you achieve a shade you like, let the seeds dry at room temperature for a couple of minutes and then keep them in an airtight container.
I like having 3 small Ziploc bags. I use them first separately for each of the primary colors then I empty the colored amaranth and reuse the bags to mix secondary colors.

They kind of liked them!!!!