Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Breakfast on the Cheap

Here in São Paulo, the food prices range from super cheap to ridiculously expensive. I, being the
cheap-ass that I am, am always out to find a very inexpensive way to eat when I am out and about in the city. One of my favorite ways to eat in the early morning (before 9 AM) is at the "tiazinha" stand. "Tiazinha" means auntie in Portuguese, so it's a very endearing term. These ladies set up their makeshift tables close to metro stations, bus stops, and any bustling walkway for morning commuters. They always have fresh juice (normally orange or guava), coffee, with or without milk, a variety of cakes, and my favorite, pão de queijo.

Pão de queijo can be found at just about any barzinho in Brazil. It means "cheese bread" and is made  with tapioca flour. Tapicoa flour comes from one of Brazil's largest yielding crops, mandioca. Madioca in English is yucca or cassava, and Brazilians eat a heck of a lot of it. When the tapioca flour is cooked, it becomes really gooey and sticky. To make pão de queijo,  you mix this tapioca flour with a special cheese (and a few other ingredients), then roll it into a ball and bake it. I love the stuff!

These "tiazinhas" sell a ton of these every morning. I love getting one with some coffee with milk and a little bottle of fresh juice. The total price for this breakfast of champions is 5 reais, which is less that $2.50. That's what I call breakfast on the cheap!!!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Food Trucks! Welcome to São Paulo!

In the past year, São Paulo has finally gotten with the program and started to have food trucks. This is very cool, but unfortunately, I feel like the trend has caught on, but not the "essence" of what food the food truck is. For me, the idea of a food truck is having the diversity and quality of a restaurant, but at a fraction of the price considering that you have eliminated the restaurant and service part of the equation. Plus, you get the added bonus of actually meeting the people preparing your food, allowing you to connect with the chef, the culture, and the idea of where the food comes from. São Paulo just skipped all that shit and went straight to jumping on the bandwagon of the "food truck movement" by having the trucks only available in posh areas and even some brand name trucks. For example, one of the first food trucks here was the "Jameson Truck", tricked out to the max. Now, there is even a Sadia truck, which is a brand name equivalent to Oscar Meyer in the US.

I'm not a huge fan of the direction that the food truck thing started here, but I am a fan of food...and even more a fan of international food, which is not so easy to come by here in São Paulo. Sure, you can find some nice, cheap places, but you really have to dig to get beyond the standard rice, beans, meat or pasta meal for a decent price. I also love eating in the food truck pavilion. There is something so satisfying about sitting on a plastic stool, drinking the beer you've bought from the supermarket, and enjoying the view of locals eating their lunch in the fresh air. Plus, these food truck fairs do offer an array of foods from different regions, which for me is always intriguing.

Today, my boyfriend, Thiago, and I hit up the Faria Lima Food Park, a little alley covered in graffiti where skateboarders used to ride. The trucks rotate through the week, but today we managed to try two of them.

First there was the Kebab truck. Kebabs are like rare gems in São Paulo, which in Europe is standard fare. We paid 16 reais (about $7) for some hearty meat, cabbage, tomato, and yogurt sauce wrapped in a grilled flatbread. It was delicious, but I will quote Thiago when I say that it didn't have that "whoaaaaaa" factor. I really enjoyed eating this street meat that is so familiar to the late night European drunkard, but Thiago was right, it was good, but just good.

Next we hit up 4Brothers, a burger truck which had the biggest line when we arrived. Brazilians LOVE burgers. WTF? It's like the easiest thing to do at home, but burger joints are popping up like weeds here in SP. This place had a nice option of a burger called the Brooklin (I'm not spelling it wrong, that's how they spell it here), which had mango chutney and goat cheese. I got a boner just at the words "goat cheese" because it is so hard to come by and so expensive here, so we ordered that. At a price of 22 reais ($10), it was pretty damn good. The meat was cooked to a nice medium rare, the bread was dark, fresh, and wheat (they call it Australian bread), with creamy goat cheese, but once again...missing that "whoaaaa" factor. I thought that maybe just a touch of something else would have made it amazing, like some caramelized onions. And, it was a bit small for my American stomach. Just wish I had a side of fries or a salad to make my 22 reais worth it.

Monday, October 1, 2012


I feel like a Top Chef Master when saying that "food is a way to bring people together", but I do truly believe this statement. Meals shared with friends over special or obscure occasions always are more enjoyable. In commemoration of the return of Dexter, my friend Nick and I decided to try to replicate the Dexter breakfast (Dext-fast) from the opening credits. Here is the clip to remind you:

We bought some pork chops at the local meat shop, got the pan nice and hot, and Nick skidded the meat across the pan, making that delectable searing sound so prominent in the clip. This chop is accompanied it by an over-easy egg showered with hot sauce, fresh brewed coffee, and fresh squeezed blood orange juice. Unfortunately, I have yet to see a blood orange in this country (Brazil), so we did have to forget about this one element. After eating this killer combo, we could understand how Dexter has the energy to overpower his victims and lay them on his table wrapped in plastic for his reaping.

We followed the episode by eating Dexter's favorite food, a Cuban Sandwich. I slow simmered some pork with some mandarin and lime peel and juice, plus seasoned the liquid with cumin, oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper. After slowly cooking while we watched the episode, we pulled the pork into shreds and sandwiched it with some ham, cheese, and pickles into some french bread spread with mustard. All of this was shoved into the panini press to crisp up the bread and melt the cheese oozing all over the interior of the sandwich. I'm not sure if anything tickles my fancy more than tart mustard, briny pickles, succulent meat, and melted cheese. This was Nick's first Cuban, and I have a feeling it will not be his last. We are planning to do it all over again next week. Welcome back, Dexter. You were missed.

Comforts of Home

It’s amazing when you are in another country and broke what you can learn about cooking the comforts of home. Here in Brazil, of course, you can buy many American treasures, but you usually end up paying an arm and a leg for them. One of my guilty pleasures that I find myself longing for is ranch dressing. Tonight I came home with a hankering for a Chef “style” Salad, which must be topped with a creamy dressing. I looked up a recipe for the sacred ranch dressing, and amazingly had more or less all the ingredients on hand. The only thing missing was sour cream, which I have not seen here

in Brazil, anyway, so I substituted it with Creme de Leite. This creamy sauce thickener has done well for me in substitution for sour cream in other dishes I have made here. The result was even better than America’s own Hidden Valley. The fresh herbs and garlic pack a punch that you could never find in a packaged product. Fellow Americans, please do not be afraid to explore the easiness of creating your favorite guilty pleasures in the comfort of your own home…I am talking about food you guys…

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Holy Feijoada!

Yesterday I went to my friend's step-father's sister's birthday party, and let me tell you, Brazilians know how to throw a party. The party was outside, they had huge speakers to amplify the music or the live pagode group that was playing, beer flowing, a caipirinha station, and a company hired to make feijoada. For those of you that don't know, feijoada is the national dish of Brazil. Most restaurants only serve it on Wednesdays and Saturdays because it is quite laborious to make. The dish consists of black beans and every part of the pig that you can put in. Most places stick with sausage, ribs, carne seca (dried beef), and pork belly, but some times you can find pig's feet, tail or ears. I didn't find any odd parts in the one at the party, but I did find endless chunks of meat blackened by the bean juice. All the different cuts of meat allow the flavors to layer on top of each other richly. The dish takes hours to make adding to this complexly developed taste. The feijoada is served over white rice and accompanied by farofa (manioc flour), vinegarete (onions, tomatoes, and peppers type chunky salsa), and my favorite, couve (collard greens). They slice the couve so thin and cook it with garlic just enough for the green to brighten adding a blast of color to the plate. I was so excited about this meal that I piled everything hight on my plate making my dinner companions chuckle at the size of my appetite.

Not to mention, they laughed at the fact that I was taking pictures of my food. For me, this was something cultural, traditional, and very special. Maybe for them, it was just another good party with good food, drink and music. I had to let my huge meal digest before I tried to samba to the pagode band, played soccer with the little kids, and shared caipirinhas with my new friends. I left the party full; full of food, full of drink, and full of contentment from such a great party and experience. Here are a few more pics from the day:

Who Knew?

Who knew enchilada sauce was so easy to make?? I am so accustomed to buying it in the can, and it is usually quite tasty. But now I'm in a country where if I want to buy Mexican condiments, I have to spend half of my paycheck. I used a recipe from the Food Network, and not only was it super tasty, but it was also very easy to make. You just make a roux with flour and oil, add and toast chili powder, and then add tomato paste, chicken stock, oregano, and cumin. I'm sure you can add other spices for different flavors as well. This sauce had a little kick that paired with the sweetness of the tomatoes. The enchiladas turned out great, making me proud that I can still pull off a Mexican meal with limited resources.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Quail Eggs Are Cute!

Recently I was at my neighborhood market, and my egg guy was selling ovos de codorna or quail eggs.  They were only 5 reais ($2.50) for 30 little, cute, mini-dinosaur looking eggs. I had never cooked with quail eggs, so I decided to give it a whirl. They are a bit tougher to crack than regular eggs, so I youtubed a video on how to do it without breaking the yolk. Also, I recommend cracking them into a cup or a ramekin before putting them in the pan, ensuring not to damage the delicate yolk. The other day, I decided to make a hash inspired from one of my fav cooking shorts, Working Class Foodies. I altered the recipe a bit using onions, bell peppers and garlic. Instead of fresh sausage, I used the Brazilian household essential, linguiça, which is smoked sausage. Man, I love this stuff. It stays in the fridge forever and has a smokey depth that goes well with various dishes. I did not follow the Working Class Foodies advice of using a non-stick pan and regretted it as much of my meal was left to be scrubbed off with some serious elbow grease. However, my brunch was still epic with the perfectly tender potatoes and robust smokey flavors oozing from the linguiça. The quail eggs were cooked in my non-stick pan which is why they turned out so delicately adorable atop my hash. Lately every meal I make is freckled with fresh herbs, so I used parsley here. See how charming!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Inspired in the Kitchen

When I moved to São Paulo seven months ago, I had no idea how my life was going to change. I found a job as an English teacher, and it is definitely one of the craziest occupations I have ever had. I get up early for lessons and return home late. I walk, metro, train and bus it everywhere, all to the pounding of music through my headphones. Completely opposite of what I was doing in the US, meaning sitting in front of a computer all day every day. Now I have work sporadically throughout the day, giving me time to come home during the day and develop my skills in the kitchen. Having time to prepare a nice lunch brings me a happiness that only food can deliver. I am utterly grateful for this time in my life to really put my heart into my growing passion. Here are some pictures of some of my dishes.

Yakisoba with chicken, carrots, peppers, and cabbage. I liked this video for inspiration:

Quesadilla with homemade tortillas topped with avocado pico de gallo. Used this video for the tortillas:

Hamburger with fries and cheese sauce. I made a bechamel cheese sauce, and it was sinful. 

The Armstrong Christmas classic, Lasagne. Recipe courtesy of Great Grandma Katherine, and not to be published. 

On the 4th of July, I celebrated Independence day with food. BBQ ribs, State Fair Potato Salad, and pasta salad.

Sopa de Mandioquinha, a delicious Brazilian soup for the "harsh" winter.  A mandioquina is a sweet, starchy vegetable used quite commonly here in Brazil. Used this video as a guide:

This is one of my favs! Thai Lettuce Cups! I mix eggplant with the beef to make it heartier and with more veg.
Got my recipe from Cooking Light.

This is my mom's Chili recipe, topped with avocado, purple onions, and cilantro. 

The next day I made a potato hash and covered it in the leftover chili and a fried egg.

Another recipe from Cooking Light, Egg poached in tomato sauce with onions an peppers. Very tasty. 

Sweet, spicy, pungent Thai Pineapple Fried Rice. I love the curry, raisins, and cashews in this recipe.

Fish Tacos with mango salsa on homemade tortillas from the same recipe as above from the quesadilla.
A round toasted bread as a bed for a fresh, ripe tomato, a kale-leek-sausage mixture, crowned with a sunny-side up quail egg and sprinkled with fresh parsley. Delish!!!

So, that's what I have been up to lately. Will keep on experimenting and trying new things. If you want more details on any of the recipes above, just let me know!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Perfect Pernil

One of the many things that fills my life with joy is my love of the open market. Every week, I go to my local market, converse with the vendors, and buy my produce for the week. I always leave a happier person than when I arrived. When I told my Brazilian friends about this love of mine, they all insisted that I go to Ceasa, the biggest open market in São Paulo. This market is about an hour from my place on metro and train, and it is only on Saturdays and Sundays until 1pm. It took me a while to get my ass over there because getting out of bed by 9am after a good São Paulo night proves to be quite difficult. However, one early Saturday morning, I finally managed drag myself out of bed and hop on the public transit. And oooohhhh man, was it worth it. Aisle after aisle after aisle of beautiful, cheap fruits and veg. Plus, they had many things that I haven't seen at any other markets or grocery stores, such as anheim chiles and poblanos. It was intoxicating.

Of course looking at the rainbow of produce started my mind racing of dishes to prepare, which of course, made me very hungry. I saw smoke rising and the smell of grilled meat alerted me. I felt like a cartoon character as I followed the scent with my nose. It lead me to this:

It was beautiful, and the smell made me voraciously hungry. A huge leg of pork (pernil), smothered in sauce, smoking on the grill. I ordered the recommended sandwich, Sanduiche de Pernil com molha BBQ. The grillmaster started slicing chunks off the leg, adding peppers and onions to it on the grill, and squirted some BBQ sauce on the whole mix. Stomach was officially growling. Finally, he hands over my lovely, most delicious sandwich. I took a seat and hugged my jacket closer to me. It was an exceptionally cold and drizzly day out, which made the steam from my sandwich even more visible. The pork was so soft, tender, juicy, and piping hot. I immediately started to get warmer from the inside, out. The sweet, spicy BBQ sauce enveloped the smokey pork/onion/pepper combo all tucked in a fresh, crusty french bread. It was hard keeping all of it inside; I'm talking about the pork in the sandwich and my emotions for it. What a satisfying treat to top off my already great morning at the market. Ceasa was just as good as the rave reviews that I heard about it.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Comida di Buteco – Pé Pra Fora

Right now in São Paulo, there is a competition of some of the best botecos around the city. A boteco is a restaurant/bar that usually has petiscos (snacky type food), lanches (sandwiches), and porcões (pieces of meat or cheese), along with regular entrées as well. Here is the website for the competition to check out the options: I found one boteco called Pé Pra Fora in Vila Madelenda.

I went there on a Saturday afternoon, so the bar was slowly filling up with families and friends wanting some good eats and a leisurely beer. Most of these botecos have tables covered by an overhang on the sidewalk in front of the bar so the clientele can enjoy the fresh air, even though this particular Saturday was quite gloomy. Saturday in Brazil is the day that most of the bars serve the national dish, feijoiada, but I was not there for this, I was there for the Delicia de Pé, and a nice, cold cerveija, of course. The dish that this boteco entered in the competition is a petisco made of a small piece of chicken breast slid on a toothpick, covered in flour and creme de leite, and then deep-fried. I’m not sure if we have anything like creme de leite in the US. It is the “cream of milk”, which I guess should be like heavy cream, but it’s thicker. It’s a sumptuous addition to sauces to make them nice and thick and creamy. But in this case, the chicken was drenched in this rich, creamy sauce, then coated in flour and of course, deep-fried. How can you go wrong with that? The chicken was moist and tender, while the coating was crunchy with an intense richness that I’ve never tasted before in a piece of fried chicken. The served these little nuggets with lime wedges, which just enhanced each specific flavor. I found myself fantasizing about eating more Delicia de Pé all afternoon. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Street Tacos in Vallarta

Probably my most favorite thing to eat in Mexico are the street tacos. When I was there last summer, I went on a taco tour, with my objective being to try as many weird tacos as possible. I tried eye muscle, lip, tongue, and the most surprisingly good one was the tripe. But nothing surpasses my love for tacos al pastor. For those of you unfamiliar with these glistening gems of meat, they are slabs of pork stacked atop one another upon a spicket rotating around a wall of coals. Often times, they plop a pineapple on top of this lovely hurricane of meat to allow the sweet juices to drizzle over the meat as it hypnotizes you while it turns around and around. The guy that prepares your taco (I don't know what they are called) artfully swipes his knife across the meat as it flies into your tiny corn tortilla, then he tops it with a sliver of pineapple if you desire. You then move along to the array of salsas they have with all different levels of spicy to pick your poison and dress your taco. The meat is crispy on the outside, and juicy and tender on the inside. Talking about it makes me want to go back to Mexico right now.

For years, I thought that these guys were just guys that sliced meat, but now I know...they are magicians. I was just intoxicated enough one night to ask this guy if I could try to slice the meat off myself, and he let me have a go. I massacred the poor meat with my uneven cuts and carves. It was a revelation to me at how talented these guys are. I think the pictures can tell the story better than I. The pic of the final product is kind of blurry, but I think you get the idea that I suck at this....

Working with the Meninas Brasileiras

Last week I went to a city near the beach called São Vicente to stay with my friend Lucas and his parents. His parents own a restaurant and seeing that I am food obsessed, they invited me to come and learn a few things from the meninas (girls) in the kitchen at the restaurant. I ended up mostly just peeling potatoes and garlic, but they did invite me in peek at the real action and gave me a few tips on cooking.

1. To make beans without a pressure cooker. First, soak them all night. Then, in the morning, wash them with hot water and pick out the weird ones. Sauté onions and garlic, and add just a bit of thinly sliced sausage. You want it sliced so thin that it dissolves after cooking it for a while, you don't want pieces of meat in your beans. That's a different dish. Add beans, a bit of oregano, a bay leaf and enough water to generously cover and cook until soft, about 2 hours. Now, I have to tell you, I have not yet perfected my Brazilian beans. In fact, I have some cooking right now. Let's see if I can master this!

2. They soak the whole bulbs of garlic without the outer skin in water for about an hour before cutting off the tops and peeling the cloves. The skin comes off super easily. This is great if you are making a big meal where you need lots and lots of garlic.

3. This one may seem simple, but I had not done this. They peel the beets raw and grate them up for salads. I just love this touch to a salad.

4. They did not use any fancy Cuisinart, slicers, dicers, choppers, nothing. Just a simple, decent steak knife.  This was quite impressive to me since I always use all types of crazy gadgets.

In the time I peeled about 30 potatoes and 30 bulbs of garlic, these 3 women prepared 12 different items to set up for the buffet table. I was was thoroughly impressed with the ease and skill they prepared this lavish spread. Good job, meninas!!!!!

Having a Nose for Putting Things in My Mouth

Now, now, everyone, get your mind out of the gutter. Remember this IS a food blog, and I am talking about having a nose for finding good eats and good peeps, not anything else...that's for my other blog. Haaa. I don't know how it happens, it must be something that comes from within. My instincts. My withinstincts. Yesterday I went on a adventure in my new city, São Paulo, to explore a new neighborhood, Vila Madelena. Streets strewn with hip, expensive, alternative shops, graffiti covering most buildings, and as dusk falls, little bars (barzinhos) start to put their chairs and tables on the sidewalks for the evening's festivities. I pop into one of these barzinhos and ask to see the menu because seeing as I have no job, my ass is surely on a budget. I go to 4 of these little bars only to find the cheapest thing on the menu being 22 reais which is about 15 dollars for even just a salad. This is not the kind of place I am looking for. I decided to give up, and retreat back to my shady neighborhood for some cheap eats. As I'm heading back to the metro station, I see one more cute little place with nice seating out front. I decided to give it one more whirl.

So glad I did!! As I walk in to the empty restaurant (it's 4 pm and they close at 6, plus it's a Wednesday), a lovely girl with a big smile greets me and shows me all the items they have available on the menu at this hour. Many things were in the 20-40 reais range, but she does point out one item that made one of the local newspapers, Beringela Rechada or Stuffed Eggplant, and this is only 14 reais (less than $10). She also shows me the photo from the paper, and I am sold. The beer selection is on the counter, and she explains to me that a few of them are from other regions in Brazil. This comes as a shock to me because most places offer only about 4 different varieties of beer that all taste virtually the same. I choose a clear lager from the state north of São Paulo, Minas Gerais and grab a seat in front so I can watch the passer-byers. She brings out my beer accompanied with thinly sliced crostini gently dabbed with oil, garlic, and oregano along with a side of this spicy jam-textured dipping sauce. One taste, and I knew my nose had taken me to the right place. My eggplant is delivered to me by this cute, buff, tattooed guy who looks very excited to come and speak with me. He immediately asks where I'm from, and I reply San Francisco, and he expresses his love for San Francisco, and that he is gay, and that he studied gastronomy in Buenos Aires, etc. We chat for a while and exchange emails so that he can show me some of his favorite São Paulo spots. Totally adorable.

But let's get to the good stuff...the eggplant is HUGE, and overflowing with ground beef, cheese, tomato sauce, and oregano. Plus, it comes with a side of rice, that I know I won't touch with this luscious meat and cheese in front of me. And, my new gay homie brings me another serving of the crostini, and I want to kiss him for it. The eggplant is cooked softly so it's not stringy, and the meat is just gently flavored. I can't help myself but to add more parmesan and a couple of droplets of that spicy sauce. Before I know it, I'm three quarters of the way done when the owner comes out to check on me. She and I blab for a few minutes, and she asks me to let her know if I need to heat up my food a bit more since it is a bit chilly outside. I felt right at home. A perfect ending to a perfect day at Casa da Li. Now I want to go back for the porchetta....