Thursday, 12 June 2014

Bom Apetite!

Love it or hate it, football is likely to cross your path for the next few weeks as the 2014 World Cup tournament gets underway this evening in Brazil. Whilst not strictly speaking a fan, my family is pretty male-dominated and my partner works his calendar around matches, so I have needed to find a way to make the tournament work for me. Which is why I have used it as the perfect excuse to explore the food of Brazil!

Ready for the opening ceremony tonight, I have made a Brazilian feast fit for the greatest fan – be they foodie or footie or both, and I have a sneaky feeling at least one of them might be working its way into my regular repertoire.

To start, we will be nibbling on Coxinha, a popular street food in Brazil. These are bite-sized “little chicken drumsticks” and great fun to make. I have to admit to accidentally polishing off the leftover filling while making them yesterday because it was so delicious, and as we all know that deep-frying multiplies food by a factor of delicious, this should mean the finished article will be delicious squared.

Coxinha are made by poaching a large chicken breast in stock and a mirepoix of vegetables before allowing it to cool and shredding it. In a deviation from how they are traditionally made, the chicken is then mixed with cream cheese rather than Mexican crema and a little tomato paste, as well as fresh corn kernels, grated garlic, sliced spring onions and seasoning. Some of the poaching liquid and a little oil are then brought to a boil and used to make a roux-based dough with plain flour, which is kneaded, rolled to 3mm thickness and cut into 10cm discs. Each disc is used to enclose a little of the filling as a teardrop-shaped pouch, which is then dipped in an egg wash and coated in breadcrumbs (I used Panko). The pouches are then deep-fried in batches, drained on paper and served hot with a sprinkling of salt. Whilst time consuming and a little fiddly these were great fun to make.

I really enjoy making streetfood like this, which in my mind, due to the necessity of portability, largely falls into a number of categories:
  • Things In Wraps – such as burritos, spring rolls, peking duck, nori rolls, masala dosa and gyros
  • Mouth-Pops – such as arancini, bhel puri, churros and Pão de Queijo (see below)
  • Hidden-Content Foodstuffs – where a filling is enclosed in some sort of pastry, such as Cornish Pasties*, baozi, brik and samosas

Slightly more tricky to make were the Pão de Quieijo, soft chewy cheese bread rolls. For these, I was supposed to use two different types of manioc starch. Manioc is another word for cassava, and the starch and the flour are not one and the same. The recipe called for both a sightly fermented version and a non-fermented version, but neither supermarket nor organic health food store could land me what I needed, even if it is gluten free! I did find ground manioc in Sainsbury's but this would make more of a porridge consistency, so I opted instead for Arrowroot, which also derives from rhizomes of a number of root vegetables native to South America, including manioc, and which research assured me would give a close likeness to the required consistency. Cornflour would prove too sticky, I was told, and potato flour would become slimy after cooking.

To make the bread rolls, I blended eggs and egg yolks with packed grated parmesan well in a food processor to make a loose paste. I brought milk, water and olive oil to a boil and added this to the arrowroot along with pinches of cayenne, nutmeg and pepper. If you have a mixer with a dough hook, use it!! I don’t, and my arms are now paying for the 15 minutes of hard work mixing and kneading this to a smooth and incredibly sticky dough. After resting overnight in the fridge, the dough is rolled into gold-ball sized balls and baked until lightly golden before serving while warm and chewy.

Next I made steak marinaded in Chimichurri Rojo. The marinade is like an Argentine Worcestershire, with sherry vinegar, oil, paprika, cayenne, minced garlic, ground cumin and pepper with bay and salt. I used thin sirloins but skirt steak is recommended. The steaks marinated overnight in half of the marinade ready to be quickly grilled the next day (the acidity in the marinade serves to cure the steak, greatly reducing its cooking time whilst increasing its tenderness). To serve with the steaks I made Cebollas Fritas – thinly sliced Spanish onion battered and fried before liberally covering with manchego cheese and baking.

To round off proceedings and provide occasional cheering fuel during the first match, I made chocolate Brigadeiros – chocolate fudge balls. Though a little time consuming, these were simple to make – I boiled condensed milk, cream, butter and golden syrup (a substitution for corn syrup) before stirring through chopped chocolate (I used 70% cocoa to counter the sweetness a little) and cocoa powder. This is then cooked, stirring constantly, ‘until the mixture moves as one piece’ and there is a burnt layer on the bottom. As an insurance policy, I used a probe and cooked it to 110C. This mixture was cooled in a bowl to room temperature and then covered in the fridge for a few hours before being rolled into truffle-sized balls and coating in grated chocolate. They are very sticky indeed and I’m not too sure how many of the ice-cream tub full even two hungry boys are going to manage, but I will do my best to help. 

Hopefully, one of those hungry boys will mix me a traditional Brazilian Caipirinha to go with it after my hard work. Gotta keep things authentic, after all!

So, if food, but not football is your thing, why not use the World Cup as an excuse to explore a few new world cuisines? You might find some new favourite dishes…

*Funny story, I once had an email jokingly refer to ‘nipple pasties’ and it took me a long time to re-adjust my thinking away from either the amazing (although possibly somewhat painful) concept of nipples adorned with miniature steak and swede-filled delights, or of canapé pastries in the shape of, well, nipples. Which miniature versions of the coxinha’s described above do in fact resemble.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Cordial Greetings!

Summer, I think we can tentatively suggest, is on its way. And this means a whole host of wonderful vegetables, edible flowers, abundant herbs, and opportunities for even newbies to have an outdoor forage. Now, this needs to be done with some careful research - I'm not suggesting anyone heads out into the wild gleefully munching on whatever they can pick - but one thing growing particularly rampantly right now, and fairly easy to identify, is elderflower.

From cordial, to sparkling wine, syllabub or sorbet, elderflower is a flavour that encapsulates Summer (almost as nicely as Pimms!). It is lightly floral and refreshingly citrus in flavour and elderflower bushes pop up everywhere. Right this minute they are out there at their best, so once you've finished reading this, pop on your sunnies and get out there with a pair of scissors and a sturdy plastic shopper to collect some.
Choosing where to forage is up to you, but I prefer to head for places that are low in traffic so that my pickings are as unpolluted as possible. I also do my best to forage responsibly, choosing a few blooms from a number of bushes rather than decimating a few. This has added benefits when it comes to elderflower, as the untouched flowers now will turn into delicious elderberries in Autumn. 
Elderflower is fairly easy to identify if you head out foraging in the morning. The creamy white flowers grow on bushes, often attached to trees, with the flowers growing in clustered blooms that should smell of - you guessed it - elderflower. By the afternoon, or when they are past their best - they begin to smell musty and should not be picked. They can be confused with other plants such as cow parsley and pyracantha but there are easy ways to rule these out. This is an excellent blog on how to identify the right target
To make about three litres of elderflower cordial, you will need to pick about 20 elderflower blooms. I picked mine from three different woods and commons and found that those in the sunlight and higher up in the bushes smelled freshest. One of the first rules of foraging is not to pick close to the ground if you can avoid it - basically wherever dogs can make their mark. Smell the blooms before you pick them to ensure you are getting the ones that smell as they should and beware - a few hours smelling these can wreak havoc on even mild hayfever sufferers like me!
Once you've picked your blooms, here is the best recipe I could find - BBC Good Food's recipes contains a lot more sugar and I wanted to keep a little more zingy freshness.

Elderflower cordial (makes approx three litres)
20 Elderflower blooms (no leaves)
4 unwaxed lemons
1.8kg caster sugar
1.2 litres water
50g citric acid (this can be bought from asian grocers or chemists but is not a vital ingredient)
  • Gently shake the elderflower heads to knock the blackflies and other bugs from their delicious harem. Do not wash them as this washes away more of the precious pollen than knocking them will. You won't be able to get rid of all the bugs, sadly, but do your best and think of the extra protein!
  • Put them in the roomiest saucepan you have, along with the peeled zest of the lemons, which then need to be sliced and added to the pot.
  • Add the water, boiling, to the sugar, and heat until the sugar has completely dissolved before pouring this on top of the elderflower and lemon. Pop a lid on the pot and allow it to talk to itself for 24 hours.
  • After this time, strain the mixture into a clean pot first through a large sieve or chinois and then through muslin to remove unwanted particles. 
  • Heat the strained mixture to boiling (do not allow to catch or burn before bottling in sterilised bottles. Bottles can be sterilised either by fully immersing in sterilising solution and allowing to airdry, or by running the clean bottles through a hot cycle in the dishwasher.
The cordial will keep for six weeks in the fridge, or can be stored in the freezer in ice cube trays or frozen flat in freezer bags on a tray for easier storage. It can be used as a cordial (mix one part to 8 or 9 parts water, added to champagne or prosecco, or used in cheesecakes, custards, syllabubs.. the list goes on.
And let me tell you, it tastes delicious. So what are you waiting for? Get your shoes on and get out there before it disappears!