sábado, 26 de dezembro de 2009

A toast of homemade drink to celebrate a special gift

I am a liquor kind of girl and I love to sip small glasses filled with fruity and nutty liquors. This summer our two plum trees gave us the most wonderful harvest and I was able not only to eat kilos and more kilos of fresh fruit but also donate many baskets to friends and make all sorts of plum products I have ever dreamed of. I made jam, ice cream, spicy plum sauce, Chinese style and, of course, plum liquor. I used an Italian recipe, inspired on a recipe of bargnolino liquor, a fruit liquor from Parma. The result was just perfect. Can't wait for next harvest when I plan to produce at least four times more liquors jars.

We had a wonderful time opening the jars after the three months of maturation of the plum in cachaça and sugar. The perfume was amazing and the deep red color just made it more seductive. I just love my homemade liquor, nothing I make made me more proud. We drank loads of our homemade liquor during Christmas and we made a special toast to Deb, my new friend in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Let me explain: On the morning of December 23 I receive by post a very special Christmas gift from Deb, the owner of Kahakai Kitchen a blog full of amazing recipes and histories and she was my blogging by mail friend. How lucky am I to have her as friend? very lucky. After I show you all the delicious Hawaiian specialties she sent me you will understand.

The box was full of amazing stuff and I could see that she was very careful and detailed showing how much she cared not only for me but her love for Hawaiian products and flavors. Among the deliciousness there were:

The most amazing gift of the the box was this long desired album by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, a fantastic Hawaiian singer who I admired and longed to own. My new distant friend Deb knows more about me than she could ever imagine;

A diverse selection of Hawaiian macadamias; the honey roast and chocolate covered ones were my favorites...

A selection of Hawaiian flavors and specialities;

a very special vulcanic Hawaiian salt from Molokai island; I made a great impression to our guests during our New Years dinner with this salt, thanks Deb...

the most delicious Hawaiian honey made out of macadamia flowers, if Deb knew how much I love honey she would know how much I loved this one...

Some Japanese style spices which are deliciously strong and flavorful...

An incredible tea with the most suggestive name: Passion for Hawaii, again, if Deb knew how much I love Hawaii she wouldn't be able to put together a more perfect package for me...

Some 70% cocoa chocolate produced in Hawaii with Hawaiian cocoa beans, I loved it...

Delicious anti-bacterial hand made soap with incredible perfume...

The most delicious coconut lip balm, once more, if Deb knew how much I adore everything coconut..

Deb also sent us a beautiful calendar with gorgeous pictures for every month of the year. This will make us remember Deb and the beautiful Hawaiian islands along the year 2010... Estela loved the calendar so much that she chose where to hang it. It is in our kitchen and its pages are already filled with marks of our most special dates...

Deb, thank you so much, you can't imagine how much I loved everything you chose for me!

segunda-feira, 23 de novembro de 2009

Plain Brazil nuts macarons

Nuts speak to me and it definitely can explain why I am totally crazy for nuts, specially Brazil nuts, pistachios, cashew nuts and peanuts. But I also adore almonds and hazelnuts. I can cook everything with them and eat them everyday. Actually, I always have grounded nuts around so I sprinkle some toasted almonds, peanuts or Brazil nuts over ice creams, mousses or puddings as an extra flavor. I love caramelized nuts to and I regularly make pralinés with both whole and grounded nuts and they are amazing.

I love nut-based biscuits such as amaretti, basler brünsli and macarons for example. There is something about the mixture of wiped egg whites and nuts which makes me totally amazed. This time I made macarons using grounded toasted Brazil nuts and the result is so incredibly good that I just couldn't stop eating them straight out of the oven. Once baked the macarons keep the dense and strong aroma of the Brazil nuts which reminds me of home and I feel more homesick than I actually am...

The macarons were made with the nuts a friend brought me from home some months ago and I saved them very tight because I just feel like saving some of the good things from home that I have until the day I can actually get some more, or buy some more, to replace my small stocks. Since I will be traveling soon and a good friend has already sent me some more nuts I could relax and enjoy my last box of nuts..

I love macarons without any filling, just plain as I find that most of the fillings can be pretty dominant, extremely sweet and disturb the light flavor of the macarons' shells. The shells are very sweet by nature as it is nothing but a nutty meringue, but I love the way they are. So, even if had planned to make an orange ganache to fill Brazil nut macarons, I just didn't make it and ate them like this.

I think it will fit wonderfully with some citrus filling, maybe next time I will go for it. Besides I find it really boring the process of macaron filling and I think they loose their texture once filled and become a little bit mushy after a couple of days. It resists a lot better if the shells are kept unfilled.

Brazil nuts Macarons

100 grams of egg whites (approximately 3 egg whites which must be aged for a couple of days at room temperature)
30 grams sugar
125 grams grounded Brazil nuts
200 grams confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


First separate the egg whites and leave them covered on the counter at room temperature for two or even three days).

On the day you plan to make the macarons process the nuts and confectioners sugar in a food processor until well grounded, sift the mixture oncee, sift it again to remove all the big pieces of nuts. Line two or three large cookie pans with parchment paper and set aside.

In the bowl of a electric mixer beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the granulated sugar, one table spoon at a time and let the mixer continue beating until you have a glossy meringue.

Add the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture to the meringue in three or four parts folding until the dry ingredients were completely incorporated to the meringue and your don't have any more white parts in the batter. Make a test to check the batter. Put a teaspoon of batter on the corner of one of the prepared pans and if the batter flattens immediately you are ready if it form rustic peaks you still have to fold the batter couple of times more.

Once it is ready put the batter in a pastry bag, or a plastic bag, and pipe the batter to a diameter of three centimeters on the prepared pans. Let the piped macarons stand in room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes, while your oven is heating. You can sprinkle some nuts over the shells, before they dry completely. I sprinkled some of the bigger pieces of nuts which didn't pass through the sieve. You can also sprinkle some sugar or any other grounded spice or nut.

Bake the shells for 10 minutes at 150 C/275F in a preheated oven. It is important to turn the pans halfway through for a more equal baking.

Makes 60-70 shells (30-35 filled macarons)

sábado, 14 de novembro de 2009

Iced mate with pomegranate juice

Mate is my favorite cold drink and it reminds me of Brazil and those very hot days on the beach, in Rio de Janeiro, when happiness was easily confused with a glass of iced mate shaken with some lemon juice and served with manioc starch biscuits. As time went by I started to appreciate mate blended with passion fruit juice or cashew fruit pulp and lots of ice cubes.

For those of you used to drink green hot mate, I am sorry, I know iced mate might sound a little bit crazy, almost like a crime but it is so good, deliciously fresh and seductive with its smoky aroma and I just can't resist. If you don't know anything about mate it is an amazing and delicious South American herb which is drunk by native Americans since long before the arrival of the first European colonists. It is a delicious drink, hot or cold...

Iced mate with pomegranate juice

1 liter of water
2 tablespoons of roasted mate or black tea
one big and ripe pomegranate
1 tbsp of sugar (use more or less if you prefer)
Ice, lots of ice cubes


In a pan boil one liter of water and once it is boiled add the mate and let it in infusion until it cools completely. After the infusion has cooled put in a jug and transfer it to the fridge. When you are prepared to serve transfer the chilled infusion to a blender, add the pomegranate pulp, the sugar, ice and blend it for 30 seconds as you don't want to smash the pomegranate seeds too much. Pass the mixture through a sieve, discard the solids and serve the drink with lots of ice cubes.

Serves 4

quarta-feira, 21 de outubro de 2009

Autumn colors and pistachio raspberry financiers

Well, I will make things clear, I detest autumn and its changes but at the same time I can show appreciation for the different shades of yellow, red and brown of the leaves, while hanging the trees before they sadly fall on the ground. Naked trees are terribly sad, almost depressing, half dead, a waste of productive time. Ok, hate me, I just can't get over my tropical senses and appreciate the beauty of season changes. Hate me, no I can't. On a sunny day it all looks reasonable and the shades of yellow so totally won me over. It is deep blue and deep yellow that I am talking about.

Meanwhile, I have a question for you. Among all the nuts you love which on you hate the most? I hate pistachios because I always cut my skin trying to break their shell, how dangerous pistachios shells are? I just can't find reasonably priced peeled pistachios, without salt of course. Around here they just cost too much and come in very small portions, not for cooking, it is designed as a snack. If you want a lot of pistachios because you are going to ground them and bake cakes with them, you have to peel them yourself, that's what they think around here...

We are planning a party around here, I can't give much details as someone might sneak around here to learn all the details of our surprise plans. However, trying to prepare myself to all the work involved I started preparing some tart doughs and baked some batches of pistachio and raspberries financiers. After the little cakes cooled down they went straight to the freezer where they will stay until party day, some 10 days away. Financiers are just the perfect cake to be frozen, they keep the texture and the flavor pretty much the same.

Pistachio and Raspberry Financiers

100 grams unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely grounded pistachios
3/4 cup flour
1 cup confectioners sugar
4 egg whites
Scraps of half vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1/2 cup of fresh or frozen raspberries


Butter twelve muffin cups or small financier molds and set aside. In a small pan melt butter with vanilla scraps and let them cook until golden brown (beurre-noisette), keep you eye on the butter until it is cooked as it can burn very easily and you will have to start again. Once it smell nutty and delicious remove it from heat and set aside.

In a food processor ground the pistachios with, flour and sugar. Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl. In a large bowl whisk egg whites with pinch of salt using a whisk (fouet) until foamy. Add the flour mixture, in batches, until well incorporated. If using vanilla extract add the vanilla extract and mix. Finally add the butter while it is still warm and mix to incorporate it into the batter completely. Divide the batter in the prepared pans and add two raspberries to each one of them. Bake the cake in a hot oven, at 180C/300F, for 15 minutes or until golden on the edge of the financiers. Sprinkle some confectioners sugar on top of cakes before serving.

Makes 12 cakes.

sexta-feira, 9 de outubro de 2009

Homemade Dried Plums

In our garden we have two big plum trees, a small tree growing besides and some new trees are expected to join these group soon as many seeds were thrown around the area these last couple of years. The two producing trees have provided us with buckets and more buckets of plums and I almost freaked out trying to find different and interesting uses for all the plums we picked this year. Besides the obligatory distribution of fruits to family members and friends I made some fantastic dishes with our little cherry plums. We also picked some delicious yellow plums in our neighbors garden which were also included in the recipes.

In case some of you can read Portuguese, I have links to all the recipes of my plum adventure.

Oat and plum crumble pie
Two colors plums jam
Plum yogurt cake
Sweet sour plum sauce
Plum Liquor
Plum yogurt ice cream

It was a great fun to learn how to dry plums at home since I don't own a dehydrator and I used my conventional oven to do the job. All the instructions I found referred to the use of dehydrators so I had to invent and experiment with the oven. I learned that with a proper machine it would take 12 hours to dry big plums and it took more than 24 hours to dry my little plums. Besides the energy costs, which were seriously considered, there weren't any other inconvenient in the job, on the contrary, it was amazing to eat my homemade plums which looked a lot more like big sized raisins than prunes.

My prunes were small, because my plums were small pink ones, but they taste like the best prunes I have ever tried. They are sweet, tasty, soft and juicy ans I selected the best plums to be dried. It is fundamental that the plums to be dried are ripe but not over riped, washed and dried so the natural wax of the fruits is slightly removed. Our trees are totally organic, never received any chemical additive or fertilizers and we happily share our yearly harvest with birds, snails and insets in general who mostly prefer our strawberries and for that reason we had a huge production this year. The dried prunes can be caned in sterilized jars and they can last, unfortunately not as long as jam but they can resist pretty well protected from humidity and heat.

Drying plums

3 to 4 cups of perfectly ripe plums
1 dry and clean big sheet pan


Transfer plums to pan let them dry in a previously heated oven at 80C for 12 hours. Check the fruits and if they are inflated with air make some holes on theirs skins with a tooth pick or a fork. Let them dry for another 12 hours and they will be dry but juicy and soft. If your plums are bigger and still didn't reach the perfect staged after 24 hours let them cook another 6 hours checking every two hours to certify that they did not over dry. Transfer to sterilized jars and keep the jars in cool dry places.

Drying plums at home is an act of love and patience but you will be reward with the most sweet and tasty prunes you ever tried. Good prunes require extremely good, sweet and ripe plums. Try eating your home made prunes with natural yogurt and a drizzly of honey, it is my favorite way to enjoy prunes.

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