Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Brazilian Flan with an American Twist!

Oh flan, sweet flan!!! 

Flan is probably one of the oldest and most traditional Brazilian desserts. You can't live in Brazil and not know what a flan is. It's like living in the US and not know peanut butter & jelly, french fries or cheesecake! Flan is a staple in the Brazilian cuisine, and I've just discovered it's ridiculously easy to make! 

In my 27 years of being Brazilian, I've eaten flans countless times, but had never made one myself! Inspired by a cousin who is currently living in Sweden, and whom in her attempt to manage her homesickness keeps making all kinds of traditional Brazilian dishes; I decided to venture into making one myself! 

She had mentioned to me about a flan she made that turned out amazing, and as she explained how she made it, I was dumbfounded by how simple and easy it sounded, that I just had to make one myself! And I had the perfect occasion for it: Super Bowl Sunday! (YES, totally not posting dishes in chronological order here...hehehehe)

From all the flans I've eaten, my absolutely favorite was one made by a Brazilian friend in Chicago. Her flan is simply the creamiest one I've ever tried! And her secret? Adding an American twist to it! Key ingredient?  Cream-cheese!

So I decided to try her recipe out! Here are the ingredients you'll need:
  • 1 can of condensed milk
  • 2  cans (use empty can of condensed milk for measure) of milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 oz of cream cheese
  • For sauce: 1 cup of sugar

Oh, sweet condensed milk! It was one my edible passions growing up. In fact, it's most kids passion in Brazil. They now even make little cans for you to drink like a soda, can you believe it? Little did I know all the harm underneath this heavenly creamy sweetness! Definitely NOT something I would let my child drink off a can, but definitely something to enjoy in moderation once in a while in different recipes! And there is no place better to enjoy it than in a flan.

So you basically add all the ingredients (eggs, condensed milk and milk), except sugar to a blender and blend it all! That's the custard part-new English word I just learned the meaning!

You'll need a bundt pan on top of a round baking dish with water in it.

Then make the sauce! Which is basically melting 1 cup of sugar and placing it in the bundt pan. Move pan around so sugar syrup will stick to all sides of the pan. Look at photo for reference:

Cover bundt pan with two foil papers. 

Place under 340F for about two hours or until you stick a knife and it comes out clean.

It was a big hit at the party!!!  
Definitely making this again ;)

Monday, February 27, 2012

FREE COOKING: Leftover Lasagna

So this dish was one of those pleasant surprises to me! :) 

It started out as I was making a lasagna, and ended up having some leftover lasagna pasta. It was just enough to make one more small lasagna, but I had run out of the sauce or filling (whatever you call it) I was using for the other one! So I remembered I had some leftover sauce from the Brazilian Style Hot DogYes, this lasagna should have been posted way back then, but I have so many different things to post about, that I get a little carried away and lose track of the "chronology" of things! hehehe...

When I first learned how to make a lasagna, with my dear friend M. from south of Brazil in California, I learned a pretty delicious recipe, that is quite heavy on the cream and cheese, but a guaranteed success! 

I'm not sure if I ever shared this here, but as much as I love cooking and entertaining friends, I dread cooking for guests! It has more to do with my own insecurities than anything else (hoping to be done with that soon...hehe)! I'm a total people pleaser, so when I'm cooking for people, I want everything to turn out perfect, and I fear so much things going wrong, that they often do. Or at least I think they do!:D

Mostly I think this is due to the way I cook. Free cooking is great and all, but it leaves more than enough room for big disasters! And when people are coming over, I have to constantly tame my urge to free cook. I remember having a friend visit from Indiana, and as I started doing a beef stew, I felt like adding red wine to it just to see what happened! I had never cooked with wine before...well...I spent a LONG time fixing the damage so things would be edible! Big disaster....hahaha.

Anyway...so whenever I have to cook for people, I have a few recipes I always use, because they are a sure success. And the lasagna recipe I learned from my friend is definitely one of them.

This lasagna I'm posting about today was SO SO easy to make, that I kept thinking I should definitely make lasagnas more often! It tastes great, it's a one dish meal, and did I mention easy? Okay...I have to give credit to the leftover sauce I had in the fridge. So let's say this is the perfect thing to do with leftover sauces you may have around :)
How did I make it? Given I didn't have A LOT of sauce left, I just did the "old trick" of adding water to increase volume! Yes, that's what I did! hehe. Yes the sauce did look and taste pretty watery, and I kept thinking this was probably not going to be a super tasty lasagna! But I was on a mission to not waste any of my leftovers, and little did I know what was about to come out from that!

So after "increasing" the sauce [see here for sauce I used], I added sauce to the bottom of dish, than layered whole wheat oven-ready lasagna, added sauce on top and some fresh spinach, sprinkled a tiny bit of cheese (I used maybe 1/2 cup in the entire lasagna, because it was all I had left and it worked great!), and added some pitted kalamata olives as well. I kept layering it like that, and ended with whatever I had left of the sauce, olives, spinach and the rest of the cheese. So basically once you have the sauce already, all you do is layer things in the dish, and pop in the oven!

Believe it or not, this turned out one of the best lasagnas I've ever made! And I learned that a lasagna does not need a heavy sauce and LOTS of cheese to taste awesome!!! My leftover sauce barely had any hot dog left, so it was mostly the tomato sauce and the vegetables, so it tasted more like a veggie lasagna.

SO good! I just hope I can replicate this :)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

FREE COOKING: Quick & Easy Tortilla Pizza

In the mood for something fast, easy and tasty? Or in the mood for something crunchy, cheesy yet healthy? Well...I got something for yah! The quick & easy tortilla pizza!!! 

It's the type of dish I'll make on those lazy days I'm really NOT in the mood for chopping or sauteing anything, but not willing to compromise too much on health either! 

One thing about tortillas though, is that most of them are highly processed. If you want something closer to "real food", I would encourage you to check labels and find one with the least amount of ingredients in the list, and with nothing you can't pronounce! 

The other day as I walked through a Target aisle, I saw some tortillas and thought of getting one, since it's the type of thing I like having around for days like this. But as I started doing what I always do before placing something into my food cart: read the labels, I was shocked to see how ALL of the ones they offered had a huge list of ingredients, and most of which I could not pronounce! I just could not get myself to buy one.

A few days later I found Ezekiel 4:9 tortilla (something that comes from the Bible has to be good for you! ;) at the frozen "health" section at Kroger. 

And check this ingredient list out: 

organic sprouted wheat, filtered water, organic sesame seeds, organic sprouted soybeans, organic sprouted barley, organic sprouted millet, organic sprouted lentils, organic sprouted spelt, sea salt.  

That's it! Not even oil or yeast in them! Only actual real foods. Wow! Definitely too much to ask for these days.

Pretty cool, eh? And then when you research about the benefits of sprouted grains, you get even more excited about them!!! We usually consume most of our bread products from them. And little one loves it too!

Here are the ingredients I used for this dish-but feel free to use whatever you like as a topping! The great thing about cooking is that you DON'T have to follow what someone else likes, you can add what YOU like!
  • Roasted garlic tomato sauce (ready from jar)
  • Thawed frozen corn
  • Sliced onions
  • Fresh spinach leaves
  • Part-Skim mozzarella cheese. For my vegan friends, you can use a vegan cheese of your choice! I prefer to eat cheese less often and eat the real thing, since vegan cheese is highly processed and doesn't seem to fall into a "whole food" category.

So let's get started on the "how-to":

  • First spray a large skillet with a oil spray.
  • Place tortilla on skillet.
  • Spread tomato sauce on the tortilla.
  • Add veggie toppings, I used just corn, onions and spinach.
  • Top it with shredded cheese

    • Cover skillet and keep tortilla there until cheese melts.
    • Once cheese melts, remove pizza from skillet and place on a round oven/pizza dish and place in oven under 400F just until cheese browns. It browns pretty fast, so stay tuned!

    Looks great, doesn't it?!


    Wednesday, February 22, 2012


    If you are a true greens lover, you will LOVE this hamburger!
    This burger came to me today as I looked at my leftover vegan eggplant parmigiana, and a bunch of collard greens and purple kale that were about to go bad if not used! I had the awesome idea of eating the leftover eggplant with these two greens, inside this delicious Ezekiel 4:9 sesame bun!  

    If you've never tried these, you should!!! Not only are they super healthy for you, but they taste pretty awesome too :)

    The vegan eggplant parmigiana I made for dinner last night, but I didn't have all the ingredients required, so I wasn't able to try it as it's "supposed" to be. To me it turned out good (given that I LOVE eggplants), but definitely did not impress me. It was a little bland to my taste. BUT, in this sandwich, it was AMAZING!!! 

    Here is the recipe for the eggplant parmigiana [here]. I'm sure if you plan ahead and buy all the needed ingredients, the end result will be a lot more interesting in flavor, but in case it's bland...don't worry! You can always turn them into this:

    I guess the ideal thing would be to make eggplant parmigiana for one meal, and use the leftover in this burger, if you wanted to try this out. TOTALLY WORTH IT, if you ask me! Especially if you happen to be a veggie lover like me :) 

    So to make this was quite simple! First I prepared the greens:
    • Washed leafs(1 bunch of collard greens & 1 bunch of purple kale), removed stems and finely chopped them. Set it aside.
    • Chopped one onion and put in a large skillet with some sprayed oil, then added lots of minced garlic (used about 5 cloves) and let it cook until golden, adding a little water as necessary so it wouldn't burn.
    • Once onion and garlic were translucent and golden, I added both chopped leafs and let it cook under medium-high heat for a couple of minutes and then turned heat off. I have an electric stove top, so it takes a while for the heat to be completely off. 
    • Added a little bit of sesame seeds, onion powder, ground ginger & smoked paprika (but you can use whatever you like)
    • Added liquid aminos (can use soy sauce) to taste.
    This by itself is already SO good! Simple, quick and delicious. I like to leave the leafs a little undercooked and with its color bright. It's better for you, because the less they are cooked, the higher their nutrient content. I also find it tastier a little crunchier.

    Next, I toasted the buns, and spread that amazing zesty Italian dipping oil I ALWAYS talk about! If you haven't seen it yet, here it is again:

    If you like thyme, garlic and hot pepper, you will totally dig this! My husband is in love with the stuff. He spreads everywhere, including in his morning toast. So inspired by him, I spread some of this oil on the toasted buns, then added the leftover eggplant parmigiana (heated) and freshly cooked greens. 

    I'm telling yah! This became TOTALLY awesome. My husband could not stop complimenting it with every bite!  

    Just how I like it :)

    I understand this is NOT an easy dish to make, because the eggplant parmigiana is a bit time consuming (I found it to be!), but as a leftover fix, it's quick, healthy and SO tasty that I just could not resist sharing!!! 

    I'm filled with "drafts" of dishes to post about, but this one earned its bump! ;)

    Bom Apetite! !!

    Sunday, February 19, 2012

    Breakfast Pizza

    (Before cooking...just love the colors!)

    I am SO excited to share about this new dish I recently discovered!!! Definitely NOT a nutritarian one, but definitely one to enjoy on occasion on those "not vegan" days for the "almost vegans" out there-or those "trying" to be, like us! hehe...We have not been doing a great job lately. The foodie in me keeps taking over. ;) Yikes! 

    Anyway, unless you're a true vegan, you're in for a big treat with this one! ;) 

    Last Sunday I was invited to my friend's baby daughter dedication, which was followed by a brunch at her home. I arrived a little earlier than most guests, so I went straight to the kitchen to try and help with whatever I could. When I saw her making this "breakfast pizza" I went totally nuts over it! Bummed that I didn't have my camera with me, my phone just had to do it!  

    It's one of those great and simple ideas that makes you wonder, "why didn't I think of that before?"

    Wondering what's in this beautiful dish??? I didn't get an exact recipe,  but here's what you'll find:

    • Chili Pepper oil (she used the Archer Farms one you get at Target)
    • Garlic (minced)
    • Cream Cheese
    • Scrambled eggs
    • Shredded cheese
    • Smoked salmon
    • Fresh dill and scallion
    • Pizza crust (she used one that you buy ready, but you're free to use whichever you want!)
    • Endless goodness!!! :)

    It's very simple to do, 
    • First you spread the pepper oil w/ some minced garlic (I guess you can omit garlic if you want!) onto the pizza crust,
    • Then spread cream cheese
    • Add scrambled eggs (my friend just said to omit salt since smoked salmon is pretty salty! But you can add black pepper to it if you like).
    • Add shredded cheese
    • Add smoked salmon
    • Fresh dill & scallions on top!
    • I didn't get this part from her, but I'm guessing you can add to a 400 F preheated oven until cheese melts. Just as you would do with any pizza.

    She served it cut in squares. It turned out totally AWESOME!!!!

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012

    Sweet Valentines Treats (vegan & flourless)

    These are a great (and for the most part healthy) treat to enjoy with your loved one this valentine day or any other day! ;) They are very tasty, easy to make and you would never know there are chickpeas in them!  :)

    Here is what you'll need:

    • 1 1/2 cups chickpeas (1 can, drained and rinsed)
    • 3/4 tsp baking powder
    • 1/8 tsp baking soda
    • heaping 1/8 tsp salt
    • 3/4 cup brown sugar
    • 1-2 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1/4 cup ground flax
    • 1/4 cup peanut butter 
    • 1/3 cup chocolate chips (Ghirardelli semi-sweet are vegan!)

    What you'll do:
    • Preheat oven 350F. 
    • Blend all ingredients, except chips. 
    • Mix chips in and place on a greased 8x8 pan.
    • Bake for about 40min or until toothpick comes out clean!
    Original recipe found here!

    I used a heart shape cookie cutter once they were already baked! These are so good you can't stop eating them. What I like most about this recipe is that it tastes very light, so you don't feel that heaviness after eating a sweet treat, but the down side is that you end up eating a lot more of it as consequence!

    These were my sweet valentine treats to my lovely husband! 

    And these were my husband's sweet valentine gifts to me! :) I think flowers and chocolate will NEVER get old to me. I totally love receiving flowers or any thoughtful gift from my husband! He actually surprised me a few days before valentines with these, which were completely unexpected, since he's not "naturally" the flower/chocolate-giving type of guy! Totally loved it :)

     Happy Valentines everyone!!!

    Thursday, February 9, 2012

    FREE COOKING: "Frango Caipira" (Brazilian Country Style Chicken)

    This dish is the perfect example of free cooking at its core! I happened to have these organic chicken drumsticks in my fridge (cost only $4 bucks!) from the day I bought them at the store, and sort of forgot about them for a couple of days. So I HAD to make something with them! This particular day I had pizza in mind all day, especially since I still had some shredded mozzarella cheese in the fridge, which is a rare commodity these days! So I looked up at the Brazilian recipe website (tudogostoso) for a pizza crust I remembered once seeing. 

    As I'm looking that up, I decided to go ahead and be efficient by putting these drumsticks in the pan so they could start cooking, and I could just shred them and use as a topping for my delish pizza!!! "Way to go G.!"

    As I start browning them to then proceed to cooking them, I get completely swept away by the thought of a Frango Caipira

    "Uhhhmmmmm....sooooo good I thought!!!" I kept looking at those sizzling, beautiful brown chicken legs, and kept thinking they were just too beautiful to simply get shredded and turned into a pizza topping! They deserved being a dish of their own! They deserved to be the most tender, soft, and tasty Brazilian country style chicken...or as Brazilians would say, "Frango Caipira"! "Aha! Perfeito! I thought" :)

    So off I went trying to figure out what I had in my kitchen that would make this task possible.

    When I think of "frango caipira", I think of two things: my childhood years in my grandparent's farm and my grandma! 

    My maternal grandma is a very interesting woman. In her, fragility and strength are so intertwined that you can't tell where one begins and the other ends. She used to tell me in a jokingly yet resentful manner, that she was meant to be born in a "golden cradle" (a Brazilian way of saying you were meant to be born rich) but instead, she ended up being born into a "cradle of rags" with her rough life. 

    And rough it was! Her skin was so sensitive and thin, that she would be filled with bruises from simply bumping into a tree, or the chickens pricking her as she looked for eggs or fed them. Her skin so pale, and her eyes such a light blue that the bright and hot Brazilian sun made her beautiful round face quickly wrinkle away. But as fragile as she often looked, her arms were stronger than my washing machine! With all the cooking, cleaning, tending the animals, the orchard and washing by hand clothes for her family of seven, she developed a strength that I doubt I ever will! 

    That woman never stopped! As a child I would convince her after much arguing (also thanks to my persuasive skills), to go sit under the mango tree to relax a bit and say her prayers, while I would go do the dishes for her stepping onto a stepping stool to reach the sink. It made me feel so good to see her rest!

    Grandma & Grandpa in their golden days!

    Grandma & Grandpa now (2010)

    The greatest memories of my life were created in that farm with her and my grandfather. I would milk the cows with my grandpa in the early morning ( I can milk a cow if you never knew that about me ;), then make bread and cheese with my grandma in the afternoon, and finally go to the village and sell the milk, cheese and eggs with my grandpa in the evening or the next day! Best of all, he would let me drive his old FIAT on the dirt road of the farm, all by myself, until we reached the fence to exit the farm! He actually taught me how to drive on that dirt road, first on his lap, than as I was old enough to reach the pedals, he would let me drive by myself! I thought this was the coolest thing ever! Still do ;)

    But the memory that came to mind when I was making this dish, wasn't the milk, the cheese or the bread, but of course, the chickens! One of the memories I will never forget is my grandma killing a chicken by the hand to prepare for dinner! She would grab that chicken like there was no tomorrow (which for the chicken there really wasn't!), and would twist its neck so rapidly and effortlessly, that I barely had time to process the event! I remember just hearing the chicken scream and try to get away, and all of sudden it was dead! It freaked me out every time, and I could never understand how my grandma could get herself to do that! I think I would be a vegetarian if I had to kill my own meat. I remember when I first cooked a chicken in my life and the process of having to perforate the chicken's skin with a knife completely freaked me out! 

    But being exposed to life on a farm you also learn to appreciate the cycle of life, and all that God provides us through nature! Although, I used to say that I wanted to send my Pitucha (my pet cow...more on that some other day) to India so she would never be eaten and would get treated like a god! hehehe...But luckily I found Christ before I went to such lengths...hehe.

    Anyhow... so this is actually me as a kid (probably my daughter's age ~14 months) in my grandpa's farm in central Sao Paulo, Brazil (holding some corn to feed the chickens!):

    Now enough chatting, and let's get down to some chicken business!!!

    First, let the drumsticks brown in some oil. Keep switching sides as it browns-it takes a while for it to get this golden brown! Be patient :)

    Then I added smoked paprika! If you've never tried smoked paprika, PLEASE do yourself this favor and buy some. It's revolutionary in the kitchen!!! :) At least for me! It gives that "bacon" flavor, without bacon ;)

    Added minced garlic (lots of it!)

    Reduced heat and placed sliced onions on top of chicken.

    Added sliced baby potatoes, finely sliced leeks, pitted kalamata olives and seasoning-salt & black pepper. Just laid them on top of the chicken.

    Covered skillet, left it under low heat to let the chicken cook slowly! That's the big secret here, for it to cook slowly under low heat.

    Chicken gets VERY soft & juicy!

    So good that it was approved even by our toddler!!! And this was her very first introduction to chicken :) Her face was TOTALLY priceless when she took her first bite. She loved it! She ate a little bit of everything in this dish and kept asking for more!

    We ate it the Brazilian way with some rice! Only difference is that most Brazilians will eat white rice and we do brown ;)


    Tuesday, February 7, 2012

    HOME REMEDY: Garlic Tea

    The other day I woke up feeling like I could be coming down with something. My chest felt a little heavy and I started coughing. It's rare that I'm actually sick, and I believe part of it is due to the fact that as soon as I begin feeling intruders are trying to invade, I start bombarding myself with nutrient-rich foods and home remedies!

    This one I'm sharing was a great discovery I made after marrying my sweet husband! During our early months of marriage, he got a nasty cold and would NOT stop coughing. He tried to sleep, but couldn't with the constant coughing. I remembered he had told me once that his mother used to always make a garlic tea that really helped him feel better when he was sick. Against his will, we called his mother to ask for the recipe. After we made the tea and he drank it, he slept the entire night like a baby (a good sleeping baby, not our daughter-type of baby! haha)-simply NO coughs! I could not believe it!

    I was so puzzled by this experience, that I started researching about garlic. And surely, it seems that garlic is the superfood responsible for the amazing results! Apparently garlic has antimicrobial, antiviral and antibacterial properties, and it's a highly anti-inflammatory food! No wonder I'm rarely sick...hahaha...I eat LOTS of garlic in most my meals. Although my cousin who is a functional nutritionist in Brazil says you should never eat too much of anything daily! That our bodies need "variety", so that we don't build intolerance towards a certain food. I'm definitely not good at keeping this advice!

    So I made this tea and drank it first thing in the morning! I normally would top that by drinking those immunity booster packs, but I had none left, so the tea was going to have to do it! And indeed it did! I felt great all day, and whatever was coming my way did not get a chance to progress into anything. 

    I normally will modify the original recipe a bit just to make it a little more immune-boosting than it already is! But feel free to use the original recipe, if you prefer.

    Following goes the recipe:

    First you add a little oil/butter (I used earth balance vegan margarine for the taste)

    Then you add LOTS of minced garlic, I used about 5 medium-large cloves. Mince the garlic onto the pan, since you want all the garlic juices in it!

    Add a Tbsp of sugar.  I guess Mary Poppins was right, a spoon full of sugar does help the medicine go down!

    I use turbinado raw sugar or brown sugar.I've also done with raw honey, but once heated, raw honey loses its good, medicinal properties, so you're better off just eating the raw honey later. The sugar here I believe is mostly for the taste! Or maybe to help soothe you with its sweetness :) I've also used less sugar, and then added molasses once tea was done. You can try different ways and see what works best for you!

    Then you add a glass of milk. The original recipe calls for cow's milk. I use almond's milk or hazelnut milk that is even better! Hazelnut milk is highly anti-inflammatory. But, I still think anything with cow's milk tastes better. So if you're going for taste, go for cow's milk!

    Bring to a boil.

    Turn heat off, and let it cool down a little.

    Filter out the garlic from tea.

    And enjoy!!! You'll be quite surprised at how tasty this actually is. My husband does not like drinking tea at all, and he always jokes that this is the only tea he likes!

    This is NOT a "cure-all" medicine, and not supposed to replace your Doctor's instructions. But in conjunction to a healthy, immune-boosting diet, this tea can be VERY effective in helping your body boost its immunity to kick the butt off of whatever is coming your way!!!

    And it seems to be great at soothing coughs. My mother got really sick last year with an awful cough that would not go away, and I gave her this recipe and she said it really helped! 

    So try it yourself and lemme know if it works ;)