Friday, July 9, 2010

Pleasantly Plump: The Story of an American in Portugal


I deeply apologize for my hiatus but you must know that I would have loved to write for the past month except for my lack of internet on the other side of the Atlantic while in Portugal. Anytime I wanted to use the internet I had to contend with the other 13 people on my study abroad trip as we all battled for bandwidth in the internet cafe down the block. Needless to say, my internet usage was spent updating the fam and assuring Louis that I hadn't, in fact, replaced him with my new lovers Mr. Choc and Gelato. More on those two later. First, I want to discuss the good, the bad, the ugly, and the starchiest of Portuguese cuisine and illustrate my points with photographic proof.

Portuguese Food: Plain and Simple
Disclaimer: Opinions based on food tasted primarily in the town of Vila do Conde and northern Portugal. This does not represent all Portuguese food-just what I happened to observe and ingest from a month long study abroad session.

  1. The first thing about Portuguese cuisine that must be established is that they LOVE their carbs. With almost every meal they serve french fries (of the fairly soggy variety) and rice. See example below:
  2. They don't believe non-starchy vegetables have a place in their meals. The day I found spinach (which many of you know is my absolute FAVORITE food because of it's versatility) I did a happy dance. In a small Portuguese grocery store. It was truly a special moment.
  3. Their salads consist of two pieces of lettuce, raw onion, some sliced tomato, and maybe olives if you're lucky - dressed in vinegar. 'Nuff said.
  4. Octopus is a big deal. Fisherman actually go out and catch octopus-insane. Refer to octopus and octopus rice photo:
  5. Corn is believed to only be cow food. It is just recently being added to their "salads."
  6. There is A LOT of pork. Everywhere. And if you order chicken? You'll receive what seems to resemble the entire bird just cut into pieces. YUM.
  7. They sell ice cream everywhere. Whether it's gelato or ice cream bars there is never a lack of ice cream. My preference? Cornetto Soft Nut Emotions flavor. It is a chocolate and hazelnut soft serve with chunks in it YUM. I had it once and searched high and low for it until we finally met again 2 days prior to my departure. I was nuts for nut emotions!
  8. Their pastries are AWESOME. Many are egg based and are creamy, dreamy, full of custard. The local fave? Natas-a custard filled pastry almost resembling creme brulee except packed into an itty bitty pastry shell. Most often topped with cinnamon and DELICIOUS.
  9. There is a lot of fish consumed. Whole fish-not filets, heads and all. Once again, here is picture proof:
  10. I'm almost positive the country would cease to function without the existence of espresso. We took at least 3 coffee breaks during the day, and consumed more after dinner. Because I don't drink coffee, this is where I indulged in the ice cream. Alas, my portubelly grew.
  11. Choco Duo by Mr. Choc, a delectable blend of both white and milk chocolate in spreadable form, coupled with Maria cookies is the best thing ever.
  12. Lunch is entirely too long (about 2 hours), forcing my attention span to putter out. When I get bored and have food in front of me I tend to uh, get "creative." Meet my good friend and not quite Frankenstein-esque creation, Pepito:

Afterthought: If you go to a restaurant in Spain and order Manchego off of the "empanadas, meats/pies" menu you WILL get a plate of cold manchego cheese. Not a nice warm manchego empanada like one would think. Yup, I learned the hard way, but I don't regret it. Eating manchego in Spain is the way to eat it and it also tops the list as one of my favorite meals.

I'd just like to end with the notion that despite how these opinions may sound, the food truly is delicious there. I'm just a bitter Pescatarian who could only consume fish with scales and fins. On top of that I'm also a hopeless lover of carbs, sugar, and anything inclusive of fresh olive oil and/or butter. I embraced the Portubelly whilst abroad and now that I'm back I'm takin that thing DOWN.

Stay tuned for my next ventures: make your own pizza and learning to cover cake in fondant!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Prelude to Portugal:Cookie Call to Action

Well, I'm back home in Dallas and after a particularly exhilarating evening of dinner with my grandparents followed by watching Julie and Julie with my parents I am inspired to catch you up on my baking adventures.
I know you come to read about my conquests and see some good recipes so I hate to disappoint you, but...I haven't been so ambitious in the realm of baking for the past few weeks! The reason?I blame the dreadful final exams that consumed my life for the past two weeks and somehow won priority over baking. But here's the good news I'M DONE! It's summertime! Now I have two months to bake, cook, and thankfully do those activities and still use a good chunk of the day to work out and balance things out. But, because I have been so preoccupied spending 12 hours a day in the library, having melt downs, and stress eating I haven't had much time to bake much of anything. Luckily, I did manage to bake a couple of batches of two different delectable cookies before my time was eaten up (no pun intended... I think I gained about 10lbs stress eating. YUCK!) with work.
The organization I am an intern for put up a survey required by the international offices and were having difficulty garnering responses from students. I joked with my boss that I would announce to my boyfriend's fraternity that if they filled out the survey and informed me that they had completed it I would bake them cookies. I gave them one week to complete the task and notify me by any form of communication in order to claim their reward. The result was a group of hungry boys who came together to help me with just the promise of a tasty incentive.
As for the cookies, I baked two kinds based on suggestions from a few of the boys: the first type was white chocolate macadamia nut and the second was oatmeal chocolate chip. Both very basic cookies but SO good and guaranteed to make a bunch of boys jump into action. Boys are boys and when they are offered home made cookies they absolutely leap at the opportunity regardless of what's being asked of them.
Due to recent technical difficulties of my computer I am unable to find the white chocolate macadamia recipe for ya'll...but, luckily I do have the oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe on hand! The recipe comes courtesy of none other than Quaker oats and it can be found on their website. As always, I made some changes though...see below. Might I add that this recipe would go excellently with heath toffee bits mixed in or even peanut butter chips.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe adapted from Quaker Oats

  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
      • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
        • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
          • 1/4 teaspoon salt
            • 12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
              • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
                • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
                  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
                    • 1 large egg
                      • 2 tablespoons milk
                        • 12 oz package semi-sweet chocolate chips
                          • 2 cup Quaker® Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)

                  • Directions:

                    Heat oven to 375°F.

                    In small bowl, combine flour, baking power, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. In large bowl, beat butter, sugars and vanilla with electric mixer until creamy. Beat in egg. Gradually beat in flour mixture and milk. Stir in chips, oats and raisins. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets.

                    Bake 10 to 14 minutes or until edges are crisp but centers are still soft. Cool on baking sheets 2 minutes; remove to wire racks. Cool completely.

                    Basically, the cinnamon makes this recipe what it is-absolutely exquisite. Now, my changes were extremely minor. I added an extra cup of oats (the website recipe only calls for 1c) and I also used semisweet chocolate chips rather than milk chocolate. I just prefer the taste of semi-sweet, but it's completely personal preference. I don't believe milk chocolate has a place in cookie-I think it should stick to making a name for itself in the candy bar biz, but hey-that's me! Semi-sweet chocolate just oozes decadence and demands to be used in baking because the sweetness is just enough to fulfill even the most intense chocolate craving. Ok, enough on that topic I'm starting to sound like a fanatic (I kind of am though, aren't I?)

                    The cookies

                    Next conquests: banana bread and possibly Portuguese butter cookies.

                    Sidenote: While picking something up from my doctor I made the most wonderful discovery on Wednesday: Society Bakery, my absolute favorite bakery in Dallas, now has a location in Medical City hospital. Not a prime spot that I hope to visit often, but much closer to home than the original location. Any Dallas foodies have got to stop by and try their treats. My favorite are their giant m&m cookies-they will change your life. As for the bakers-I strive for such talent!

                    Adeus (that's Portuguese for goodbye...)-Next time I write I'll likely be in Portugal! I'll keep you updated on the cuisine I encounter...I keep seeing the words "salted cod" floating around and I'm getting nervous. We'll see what I'm bound to subsist off of!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Swirls of sweetness

I have a secret, and I don't want anyone to judge me when I admit to this.
Ok, well I'll tell you then-I really feel like we trust each other!

Confession: Not everything I make is completely from scratch.
I know! I'm such a phoney. But honestly, I'd say 80% is from scratch and the rest is, to reference Sandra Lee (not my favorite food network chef but still fun to watch at the gym), "semi-homemade." I mean it when I say semi-homemade, I don't usually just take a box mix and make it according to the directions-I spice it up, make it more interesting! Brownies? Make a homemade caramel sauce and throw in some pecans. Cake mix? Add a mix in and make homemade frosting and filling. Hot Roll Mix? Wait, what?

You read correctly-I said hot roll mix. Wondering what in the world I use this product for? Challah bread. For my entire life Friday night has meant Shabbat dinner at home with my family. This has been, and probably will always be, my absolute favorite meal that my mom makes. Every Friday night we have grilled salmon, cheesy potatoes (twice baked potatoes for those of you who didn't grow up in my house!), sauteed veggies, salad, and challah. My parents both know not to mess with this menu or they will encounter a very unhappy daughter- I look forward to it every week.

Until recently we bought our challah every week. The moment that changed everything? My mom's best friend shared her secret to challah baking, which was of course the hot roll mix, and there has been no turning back ever since. You follow the directions on the mix, add an additional 3 tablespoons of sugar to the dry mix, and you've got your challah dough. Almost anything you affiliate with challah can be added to make it extraordinary-poppyseeds, sesame seeds, raisins, crainsins, nuts-to just name a few. But, last weekend I experiemented and made an incredible cinnamon swirl challah. Oh yes, it was just as good as it sounds-even better. I filled each strand to be braided with the cinnamon filling, then coated the risen bread with melted butter and cinnamon sugar. I hope you're salivating at this point.

So here's my filling recipe and directions on how to make this masterpiece-it will be sure to delight at your Shabbat dinner! Even if you don't do shabbos-I still recommend making this because it's delicious. It would also make excellent french toast bread...please just imagine that one morning-SO GOOD!

1/4 cup grated semi-sweet chocolate (about 2 ounces, I believe)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Once you've followed the directions on the hot roll mix box and the dough has rested for 5 minutes separate the ball of dough into 3 smaller balls. Roll the first ball into a long cylindrical shape, and then pat it out so that it's flat. Add the filling into the flattened dough and bring the sides of the dough back together to reform the cylinder shape making sure none of the filling peeks through. Repeat this for the other 2 dough balls. Braid the cylinders together into a challah shape. Let the bread rise according to the hot roll mix package (it says 20-30 minutes, but I usually let it rise for about an hour and a half). Once it has risen, before placing it in the oven, brush melted butter on the top. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over the melted butter and pop the bread in the oven. When it's done you won't be able to resist, promise!

The challah all ready for shabbat-how amazing does it look??