Monday, July 19, 2010

I'm back in the States and back in my kitchen!

I'm back from Brazil! The people, the culture, and the music made it such an amazing place to explore. While I'm a usual foodie when I travel to new places, this country was not one place that made me grab my camera the moment the plate was set in front of me. Not saying that they were all bad, they just weren't unique enough to capture on the lens. There were the occasional dishes that caught my eye like pastries, meat dishes and traditional dishes like fejoida but nothing too exciting. The three daily meals consist of the following:

Breakfast (Cafe de mana)
- Espresso - the strongest you can ever have.
- Fresh fruits
- Carbs - sweet to savory pastries like pao de queso (cheese bread), pastel de frango (deep fried chicken bake), pastel de carne (beef bake) and other types of empenadas.

- Fresh juice (just ice and fruit blended into one sweet concoction)
- Um salgado favor - more empenadas
- Plato de carne y frijoles y arroz (plate of beef, beans and rice) with enough salt you will need for the rest of the year.

- This could range depending on the restaurant you go to. Their dishes feature a lot of massa (pasta), pizza, seafood, beef, chicken and pork.

While in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, I stayed in an apartment and tried to cook whenever possible since I was eating out almost everyday for the past 2 weeks in Salvador Bahia. Daniel and I went to the grocery store and tried to purchase some things that were different and exotic to the local area. There were some great fruits like passion fruit (maracuja), pineapple (that's actually white), papaya ( I don't like this but Daniel does) and cherimoya (another thing I don't eat). While some of the fruits were appealing, the meats were something I tried to stay away from because they didn't look much like what we have here. They hung on racks with flies hovering over all of them and they look salted to death. I stuck to things that I knew I couldn't really get sick from like bread, deli meats (that's already cooked and prepared for me :)) and basic vegetables (carrots and corn; I didn't eat the corn though because it was the strangest texture ever). Since I didn't cook as much while I was there for almost a month, I was ready to get back into my kitchen and make some comfort foods for myself like soup :).

I went on a little bit of a soup frenzy, finding every kind of soup recipe there is to see what I could make over the next couple of weeks. I was really set on looking for a pumpkin soup recipe because I had one of the best pumpkin soups in Brazil that Daniel fell in love with so I wanted to try and recreate it. I didn't have much luck since it isn't pumpkin season and most of the recipes called for canned pumpkin. I decided that I wanted to make something more fresh and similar to pumpkin soup such as butternut squash. I found this great recipe from that was delish. If you like pureed soup, this one is for you. It's sweet and super easy to make. Enjoy!

Summer Squash Soup
Adapted from Gourmet, September 2006

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 a medium onion diced
Dash of salt
1 bag of butternut squash (already cut and prepared; 1 lb) from Trader Joes. Slice into smaller chunks.
1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups chicken broth

Melt butter in a medium to large pot over light to medium heat. Cook onions with the dash of salt in melted butter. Stir onions until it is softened (about 4 minutes).

Add squash, carrots and stock and bring it to a boil.

Reduce the heat, partially cover the pot with a lid and let it simmer for about 20 minutes (until the squash is mushy with a fork).

Remove the lid and soup from the heat and allow the soup to cool down for about 10 minutes.

Pour half of the soup mixture into a blender and blend it smooth. Pour the pureed soup into a serving bowl. Continue blending the remainder of the soup in the pot and pour it into the serving bowl. All done! Serve in smaller bowls for everyone. If the soup is too thick for you, thin it out with water or more broth.

I need a better camera. Seriously...

Here is another soup that I made the following day. It sounded so interesting to me because it mixed two items that I really like: chorizo and sweet potato (aka yam). It was unfortunate that my taste buds were not working that day because I came down with a cold. My taste buds disappeared but I was still able to smell the amazing chorizo cooking right in front me. It was kind of a sad day but I'm glad that others got to enjoy it. My sister liked it and Daniel just kept saying "Yum! Yum!". I asked him if this was a 'must do it again soup' and he said "Definitely!" That's going to be our new rating scale. Instead of doing a 4 star out of 5, we are going to say "Let's make that again" or "Let's not make that again". In other words, it's a pass or fail rather than a letter grading system ;).

Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup
Adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2007

1 and 1/2 tbsp of olive oil
7 ounces of chorizo sausage (about half of what usually comes in a package)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove (or more to your taste), minced
1 pound of red-skinned sweet potatoes ~ 1 potato, peeled, quartered into small pieces (about 1/4 inch)
1/2 pound of white-skinned potatoes ~ 2 small potatoes, peeled, quartered into small pieces (about 1/4 inch)
3 cups of low-salt chicken broth
Handful of fresh spinach
(In case you're wondering, all ingredients for this soup cost less $8.00 total!)

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a medium to large pot over medium heat. Add the chorizo and wait until it fully cooks through (about 7 minutes). I kind of mashed up the chorizo in the pot with my spatula as it was cooking so that it separated into 1/4 inch chunks.

Transfer the sausage to a separate plate and keep the pot going on the stove. Add the onions, garlic and cook them until they are translucent. Make sure to stir often as it may stick to the oil that is left behind by the chorizo.

Add all potatoes (red and white) and cook until it starts to soften. Make sure to stir often.

Add broth and allow the mixture to come to a boil. As it boils, use a spatula to scrape the bottom of the pot to get the chorizo bits, garlic and onions from the bottom to move around the pot.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the potatoes are soft (about 20 minutes). Stir the soup occasionally to prevent anything from sitting in one place too long.

Use a potato masher to mash some of the potatoes in the pot (I just used my fork and mashed some chunks against the side of the pot).

Add the chorizo to the soup. Stir in the spinach and simmer just until it starts to wilt (about 3 minutes). Season the soup with salt and pepper. Divide the soup into smaller boils and enjoy.

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