Archive | Spices RSS feed for this section

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.

Advertisements

Almanara – The Beacon

11 Sep

Almanara, in reality Al Manara (Arabic: المنارة‎), literally means “the beacon”, but in Brazil, particularly in São Paulo, it’s synonym to Arabian food.

In 1876 the Brazilian Emperor D. Pedro II visited Lebanon resulting, among other things, in a wave of Lebanese immigrants, which was quite intense until 1890, and lasted until the mid-50’s.  Most of them were running away from the Turkish-Ottoman politics with its lack of perspective.  In Brazil, most of them started small industries and commercial establishments.

Around 1950 one of these families, which had a few years earlier disembarked at the port of Santos (to this day Brazil’s largest port), decided to spread in São Paulo one of the treasures they had brought from Lebanon – a collection of traditional Arabic recipes. The Restaurant Almanara was created.

Around 28-30 years later, by the end of the 70’s, I was in São Paulo as a graduated student (I’ve told you that already – See “The Best Chinese Food Ever“), and to have a meal at the Almanara was something I could only dream of.  Definitely, that was not a place for students.

Well, another 30 years have gone by, and now I can afford to turn some of old dream into reality, among them to have dinner at the Almanara.  So, there we went (my wife and myself and, our friends Renan and Leila).

We ordered the sampling menu composed of:

1. Antipasto

The Almara salad

The Almanara salad, nothing special about it.  A few vegetables with a rosé sauce.

2. First Courses

Babaganuche, curdled milk and homus

Babaganuche (eggplant patê), curdled milk and homus (chickpeas paste) served with pita bread, probably the best dish of the whole dinner.

Sfiha and kibbe

Sfiha, a dough folded in a triangular shape and filled with ground lamb, and kibbe (or kibbeh) a mixture of bulgur and ground beef stuffed with minced lamb.  Not bad, but you can find better ones in literally hundreds of small diners and snack bars in São Paulo.

Kibbe and tabbouleh

Kibbe  and tabbouleh, a salad made of bulgur, chopped parsley and mint, tomato and spring onion, seasoned with lemon juice and olive oil.

Raw kibbeh

Raw kibbe, what I’ve classified as a Middle Eastern steak tartare.  Not that I’m a very good cook but, honestly, a can prepare a much better one.

3. Main Courses

Dolmas

Dolmas, grape leaves stuffed with ground beef and rice.  The leaves were quite old and bitter, while the stuffing had too much rice and almost no meat at all.

Kousa mihshi

Kousa mish is a dish of Syrian origin composed of a zucchini stuffed with ground meat and rice. At Almanara it was served with a tomato sauce.  Quite tasteless, I’d say.

Kafta and michui

The kafta, grilled ground beef seasoned with Lebanese spices, and the michui, chicken breast skewers with onions and red bell peppers were way too overdone.

To finish the dinner a black coffee, which unfortunately can’t stand up to the Brazilian, and specially to the Arabian, tradition (see Some Arab Contributions)

Coffee

In conclusion, this visit to Almanara was quite a deception.  Wish I had kept my student dream undisturbed.  Will try to keep that in mind for the future.

Autumn Flowers

20 May

On this side of the world fall is arriving, and although spring is the season known for the abundance of flowers, last weekend a nice surprize was waiting for me as I walked around my home garden to take care of a few herbs, fruits and other plants growing around. Guess I don’t need to say much more than that, judge for yourself.  I bet you’ll never look at these plants the same way again.

Papaya - Carica papaya

Papaya - Carica papaya

Malagueta pepper - Capsicum frutescens

Can you believe that from this delicate flower a 100,000 Scoville units devil grows?

A variety of basil - Ocimum basilicum

A variety of basil - Ocimum basilicum

Rosemary - Rosmarinus officinalis

Loquat - Eriobotrya japonica

Want some information about these plants?  Click on the links below:

Papaya on FoodistaPapaya

Malagueta Pepper on FoodistaMalagueta Pepper

Basil on FoodistaBasil

Rosemary on FoodistaRosemary

Loquat on FoodistaLoquat

Earth Day – April 22 – Go Organic!

22 Apr

The Earth Day, a day founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson and designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for our environment since 1970, is celebrate on April 22 on almost every country in the world (according to the Earth Day Network).

I´m engaging in their campaign, and you can do the same at the Earth Day website.

Among the proposed activities is to shop at a farmer´s market and to buy local and organic food. Done !

Below are some pictures of one of my visits to a local farmer’s market (at Cassino Beach).  Hope they somehow inspire you to do something similar.

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Organic food is healthier to the environment, to your body, and to your pocket.  So, what are you waiting for?

Spices – They made the world go ’round

20 Nov

Every society seems to have its own luxurious items, available only to the dominant casts, to the rulers, to those who dictate not only the present, but in some ways also the future.

Clearly, you can get quite rich, very rich, if you happen to dominate the market of these goods, as history has shown that no logic exists regarding their market price. In fact, it seems that the more expensive they are the more they seem to be used as a symbol of power and wealth, regardless of their real value.

During the middle ages some of the most luxurious products someone could lay hands on were the spices. Products like cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, nutmeg, for example, were among the most prized ones. And their market was dominated by the Venetians. The Republic of Venice, for around 6 centuries, dominated the trade of these substances with the Middle-East and most of Asia.

By the XVth century two of the most powerful countries in Europe, Portugal and Spain, where, for obvious reasons, quite unhappy with this situation. The decision taken by their rulers was an obvious result of such unhappiness: they decided to free themselves from the Venetian monopoly establishing their own trade routes with the Eastern world. How to do that? Build nice ships, hire good sailors, and set them to sea in search of practical new routes. Among the most known expeditions launched were those headed by Cristoforo Colombo (Christopher Columbus), Pedro Alvares Cabral and Vasco da Gama. Colombus landed in America in 1492, Cabral discovered South America, having reached Brazil in 1500 and Vasco da Gama commanded the first ship to sail directly from Europe to India in 1497-1498. All of this mainly because of spices.

I’m not even going to mention the spices discovered in this new world, like chili pepper, vanilla and chocolate, which, also needless to say, spread around the world in a reversed travel towards the East and in such a way that it’s almost impossible to imagine present-day Eastern food without their presence, specially of the chili pepper (just take a look at some of the main dishes in China, Thailand, India, etc). The point is, spices really made the world go ’round at that time.

Among the old Eastern spices 2 of my favorites are star anise and cinnamon.

Star anise is the fruit of Illicium verum, a small tree native of China, widely used in its dried form not only in China, but also in India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Cinnamon, is actually the bark of Cinnamomum verum, also a small tree, but native of Sri Lanka. Cinnamon, along with black pepper, are perhaps the most widely known, and still used, spices in present-day cuisine.

All of this just to mention that I was very happy to find a recipe by one of my favorite chefs, the Australian Kylie Kwong, using both (cinnamon and star anise) to prepare a sweet-sour plum sauce to go along a crisp-skin duck.

My version of Kylie Kwong's crispy-skin duck with plum sauce

I followed the recipe available at the ABC site with 2 exceptions: (1) the plums were not really blood plums, but a lighter version, as you can see in the above picture and, (2) instead of Sichuan pepper and salt I used sea salt with crushed black pepper corns (4:1).

The result, and specially the sauce, was superb. The 2 spices, star anise and cinnamon, added a very nice dimension to the simple water/sugar base, perfectly complementing the sourness of the lime. My daughter Juliana, who happens to be a professional chef, ate it even with ice cream.

Cinnamon on Foodista
Star Anise on Foodista
Duck Meat on Foodista

%d bloggers like this: