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Mirazur in Rio de Janeiro

30 Nov

High-end gastronomy has been quite away from me, usually nothing more than a dream, for two main reasons: (1) I live in a small town, more than a few hundred kilometers from any restaurant that could be considered “high-end” and, (2) I usually don’t have the money to afford such a luxury.

Thus, it was with great enthusiasm I received an invitation from my brother-in-law Rodolfo to travel to Rio de Janeiro (around 1,800 km from my home) and meet the with the chef “Mauro Colagreco“, from “Mirazur” in Menton/Cotê D`Azur/France to what would be my first top class meal. No, I wasn`t invited for my cooking or blogging abilities (which in fact suck), but because Mauro and my niece Julia live together and they all know of my love for food.  So, there I went.

Mauro prepared a chef`s menu, with some of the creations that made the Michelin Guide recognize his talent and attribute a star to his cuisine. The dinner took place at “Olympe“, one of the best restaurants in Brazil and headed by the chef Claude Troisgros and his son Thomas.

Claude Troisgros (left) and Mauro Colagreco ready to start their work of art

This was the menu:

Colagreco's menu at the "Olympe"

Sorry, but I just can’t highlight any item of this superb menu, as all dishes were simply amazing. Every bite had a hidden surprise to my freshman taste buds. This doesn’t mean I don’t have my favorites. Yes, I do. The first and the third courses.

Huitre

The first course was composed by fresh oysters that, by coincidence, were shipped from my home state, Santa Catarina, and are considered the best in the country. Every oyster was delicately wrapped by a thin pear sheet and laid over a pear cream with diced pears and onions and watercress sprouts.  You could taste the sea, the same sea I used to swim into during my childhood.  Of course this had to be one of my favorites, after all a real dinning experience is much more than just chewing.

My second favorite? The third course, a grilled jumbo shrimp served with 3 brazilian roots (sweet potato, cassava and the less known arracachaArracacia xanthorrhiza), some petals and watercress sprouts.  The sauce was simply fantastic, based on bone marrow. I could have eaten this all night.

Grosses Crevettes

These were my favorites. But let`s go back a bit, to the second course, a composition of asparagus in three different ways: green, white and sliced in a yogurt and orange sauce with lime and grapefruit.  I`m not a huge fan of salads, but this was light and the sauce dripped from heaven.

Salade D`Asperge

Fourth course was a stripped bass with yam pure and a foam of smoked clams.  Some of my friends elected this as the best course.

Poisson Sauvage

Than, it was time for the duck breast, with caramelized radish and sesame seed sauce. The breast was cooked to perfection and matched well with all other components, including a small package of confit (sorry, I was not able to identify the leaf wrapping – have to ask the chef next time I meet him).

Canard

A top chef is someone not always cooking his/her meals to perfection, but always trying to please and surprise his/her guests.  And Mauro did that by present a dish not on the menu, truffles on an egg yolk sauce.  I had tried black truffles before but, let me assure, it has little to do with these Alba babies.  The smell is pungent and unmistakable, as it is the taste. Only between you and me…I was not ready for that. I`ll have to train my palate much more before going into such delicacies (guess you understand what I mean).

White truffles

Time for dessert. The first was an almond foam with saffron cream and orange sorbet, and the second a cold chocolate truffle and glazed cashew nuts in a chocolate sauce with “mate” tea ice cream. Both out of this world.  The first was delicate and refreshing, the second with marked flavors, openly influenced by the chef`s birthplace, Argentina. I was much pleased by the second one, as mate is also a common drink in the southern regions of Brazil, where I happen to live.

Espuma D`Amande

Terre de Manjari

Overall an unforgetable experience.  Chef Mauro Colagreco demonstrated his skills and versatility, incorporating in almost all the courses typical Brazilian products, what coupled with the most unblemished technique, ends up in a festival of sensations I could hardly imagine.

Many thanks to Mauro for bringing Mirazur to Brazil.

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Lunch with the Troisgros

22 Nov

I came to the wonderful city of Rio de Janeiro to meet the Michelin stared chef Mauro Colagreco of “Le Mirazur” in Menton/France.  Last Friday night (Nov 19th) we had a fantastic dinner at the “Olympe” , owned by the great and mostly widely known “brazilian” (he is in fact French) chef Claude Troigros. He was not present, but I had the opportunity of meeting two other great personalities of the Troigros clan, his son Thomas (of the “66 Bistrô” and who was in fact running the Olymp kitchen) and his nephew, Cesar Troisgros, who was also with hands on the kitchen. If you want to know more about this family and their over 50 years of tradition in the culinary world take a look here. The chef Ricardo Santoro, from Venezuela, who works with Mauro in Menton, joined us later.

I’m not going to write about this dinner right now, which, by the way, was amazing. I just want to mention that Mauro was invited to have a Sunday lunch with the Troisgros family at the “Aconchego Carioca”, a typical and most acclaimed bar/restaurant in Rio.  Well, to make a long story short, Mauro got sick with a relatively high fever spending the last 3 days in bed and was not able to go.  Who went? Chef Ricardo and myself. For those who know the Troisgros I could stop this post right here, as enough has been said.  For those who don’t I’ll share some pictures and impressions.

Claude Troisgros

Claude Troisgros (right) and myself in front of "Aconchego Carioca". The beautiful blonde on the background is his daughter.

Cesar Troisgros

César Troisgros, Michel´s son, presently working with his uncle Claude and his cousin Thomas at "Olympe" in Rio.

Thomas Troisgros

Thomas Troisgros, Claude's son, a most vivid and captivating personality.

Let’s talk about food.

The food, which was served at “Aconchego Carioca” by one of its pleasant owners, Katia Barbosa, had its highs and lows.  Gladly mostly highs.

The highs:

1.  The beers.  “Aconchego Carioca” has over 100 different beers to choose from.  A hard task.  We had very nice ones, all Brazilians, specially 2 produced by “Colorado” and one from “Bamberg“. I recomend.

2. The appetizers

Those are, no doubt, the strongest items on the menu.  Small snacks you can eat while drinking the cold beers (they have to be relatively cold in Rio).  Below are my recommendations:

Fried black beans cake filled with kale. A must eat.

Fried breaded "Ladie's finger" pepper (Capsicum baccatum) filled with sun-dried meat and cream cheese (I believe that's the best translation to the original name - please, correct me if not))

Thinly sliced "jiló" (Solanum gilo - scarlet eggplant?) with a balsamic reduction (I believe) topped with cheese and rose pepper.

I could spend all day eating things like that  in the wonderful company of the Troisgros, specially of Thomas and his lovely wife Roberta.

3. The desserts

Two of the desserts served made me use my utensils more than twice (as a matter of fact more than a dozen times):

Fried curd cheese with guava jam. It looks like French fries and catchup, but let me assure you it's much better than that.

"Pudim de cachaça" - A "cachaça" (distilled from fermented sugar cane juice) flan, made with tapioca, "cachaça" and coconut, topped with a molasses and "cachaça" sauce. It's almost impossible to be more Brazilian than that.

The lows.

Ok, no place is perfect, and “Aconchego Carioca” is no exception. Two lows:

1. The service – Most waiters were more than good, but I’m still waiting for a dish to lay some pork ribs (the bones, of course).

2. The “winter squash with shrimp” – This is a dish you can find in restaurants along most of the Brazilian coast, even though it’s considered to be typical the northeast region of the country and one of the best dishes of  “Aconchego Carioca”.  Sorry, but I don’t agree.  The shrimp was a bit overcooked, it had not enough sauce, but what really made me dislike it was the excess of cream cheese (“requeijão”).

Over all the experience was fantastic.  Unforgettable in fact.  For an amateur blogger and food lover like me to share a meal chatting with the Troisgros family is priceless. Many thanks to chef Mauro Colagreco for making this possible (I’m sad that you were not able to be present as well), and to the Troisgros family for making me feel like an old friend.

Mom’s Clericot

26 May

It was with my mother that I’ve learned to appreciate a refreshing “clericot”.  This is a drink the British took to South America as “claret cup”, which later became “clericot”.  According to Darcy O’Neal it was the punch of choice for parties and the drink most enjoyed by the British in the 1800’s.   It’s very similar to the Spanish “sangria” and it basically consists of wine with some sort of fruit and a sweetener (usually white sugar).  Hundreds of different “sangria” and “clericot” recipes can be found on the net.  Actually in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, as far as I know, the main difference between “sangria” and “clericot” is that the later is prepared with white wine (regular and/or sparkling), while in the former reds are used.

This was my mom’s choice drink for Christmas Eve (remember that Christmas is during the Brazilian summer), and she had her own recipe, which included diced fruits (mainly fresh apples and canned peaches – thus you don’t need to add the sugar), 1 bottle of Champagne, 1 bottle of white wine (usually a Riesling), 1 bottle of sparkling mineral water and lots of ice.

A few weeks ago I was offering a Sunday lunch for some friends and decided to try something different (at least it was completely different for me).  The idea was to transform my mom’s “clericot” recipe into a dessert.

What I did, and you can try it too, was to dissolve 2 powdered neutral gelatin envelopes in 2 cups of cold water and waited it to hydrate for a couple of minutes.  I then added 1 1/2 cups of sugar and heated the mixture until the gelatin and the sugar dissolved completely (you must be careful not to overcook the gelatin, after all it’s a protein).  I then transferred it to a large bowl and added 1 bottle of Champagne (in fact I used a Spanish cava) and 1 bottle of Chardonnay.  I gently mixed everything (gently, as you won’t want to lose all the gas) and took the mixture to the refrigerator.  All this was done one day ahead.

Just before serving I diced several canned peach slices, scraped the gelatin with a fork, and arranged them (almost in layers) in white wine glasses.

Clericot gelatin

I have no reason to be modest, then let me tell you, the result was excellent.  You could even feel the bubbles as the gelatin melted in your mouth and the wines filled your tongue and palate with their distinctive and refreshing flavors.  My mom sure would have loved it.

Just remember, the alcohol is still there, thus there goes a piece of advice:  go easy on it and keep your kids away.

Clericot Gelatin

Brown sugar crumble

28 Aug

Of British origin, the crumble is simply composed of fruits topped with a mixture of fat, sugar and flower and baked until crisp.  Although it’s a quite simple dish, on the Internet you’ll certainly find hundreds of different recipes employing an incredible array of fruits.  My favorite one was prepared by Olivier Anquier, an ex-model who became a chef and TV star after immigrating to Brazil in 1979.  Besides having a captivating smile, he usually offers simple and but quite nice recipes in his TV shows and web site.

Olivier employed pears, which I substituted by apples. Just mix about 200 g of wheat flour with 100 g of brown sugar and 80 g of butter, using your hands, until you get a texture similar to that of breadcrumbs.  Butter a ovenproof dish and place the sliced apples sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon. Cover with the crumble and bake in the oven for 20-30 min at 180 ºC (around 356 ºF).

Crumble:  fruits (apple in this case)...

Crumble: fruits (apple in this case)...

...topped with a mixture of fat (butter), flour and sugar (brown sugar).

...topped with a mixture of fat (butter), flour and sugar (brown sugar).

Crumbles are usually served with Chantilly or ice cream, but Oliver prepared a syrup by melting around 80 g of butter with a similar amount of brown sugar, to which 40 ml of whiskey are added.  The mixture was left to boil under low heat for a couple of minutes and 100 ml of heavy cream then added. Just steer for a few moments and and it’s ready.

The final product is simple but irresistible.

The final product is simple but irresistible.

This is, in my opinion, a  nice companion during a rainy Saturday, along with a cup of freshly prepared Brazilian coffee, to watch an old movie on TV.

Pear Crumble on Foodista

Pesto alla Genovese

29 Jul

Ocimum basilicum, or basil, is a member of the mint family, or Family Lamiaceae, originated in northern Africa, but playing a major role in Italian cuisine.  It’s the central ingredient of “Pesto alla Genovese”, a mixture of first quality ingredients (basil, extra-virgin olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and cheese – Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino) made to a paste and typical of Liguria/Italy.

Ocimum basilicum (basil)

Ocimum basilicum (basil)

Although you can probably find industrial pesto in your neighbourhood supermarket, nothing really compares to the one you can prepare at home with fresh ingredients.  Even if you don’t have any culinary experience I believe you should try it, as I am 100 % sure you will end up with a much better final result.  If you want to know the secrets, history, recipes, etc, take a look at “Pesto Perfect“.

The best pesto I’ve tried was at “Trattoria da Maria” (Vico Testadoro 14 r), a small restaurant hidden in the dark streets of Genoa/Italy.

Trattoria da Maria - Genoa/Italy

Trattoria da Maria - Genoa/Italy

The pesto was served over a fresh, long, flat, narrow ribbon pasta, similar to tagliatelle, but typical of Genoa, the “bavette”.

Bavette con pesto alla Genovese from Trattoria da Maria (Genoa/Italy)

Bavette con pesto alla Genovese from Trattoria da Maria (Genoa/Italy)

For dessert Maria served some almond cookies dipped in Marsala wine topped with a mascarpone cheese cream.

Almond cookies dipped in Marsala wine covered with a mascarpone cheese cream

Almond cookies dipped in Marsala wine covered with a mascarpone cheese cream

The price was quite fair, around US$ 13,00.

Pesto on Foodista

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