How many cookbooks do you own? Ten? Fifteen? Fifty?
If you’re like me, when you find one you like, you go out and buy ALL the other books by that author. My kitchen cabinet is bursting with multiple volumes of Julia Childs, Ina Garten and Madhur Jaffrey. Spending hours in the kitchen with these chefs, I start to know them personally. You know…Ina puts on a great party. Madhur is my patient aunt passing along family recipes. And Julia, well I hope she doesn’t catch me rolling my eyes when she gets that preachy tone.
When it comes down to it, I’ve spent long afternoons chopping, mixing and frying with these friends, but I’m the only one in the room. A very one-sided relationship!
Maybe that’s why it’s so fun to actually meet a chef in person. One who sits beside you, talks about HER favorite chefs, sighs and admits she shouldn’t have eaten all the dessert but “it was just too good.” And one who’s excited to meet you, the friend she’s spent long hours in the kitchen with– just on the other side of the cookbook.
We picked The Brazilian Kitchen by Leticia Moreinos Schwartz for our Cookbook Club this year. That means every month or so, we meet for lunch and each of us brings a dish from the book. Brazilian cuisine, which combines African, Portuguese and native influences, is still in its infancy outside the region, slowly emerging from recipe boxes of grandmothers in Sao Paolo and carts of street vendors in Bahía. It’s so unusual in the United States, we had a hard time finding some of the ingredients, such as manioc flour and minas cheese. Luckily the book has delicious recipes with common U.S. ingredients and we cooked, analyzed and loved Stuffed Crab Shells, Chicken Empanadas, the iconic Brazilian Feijoada and several to-die-for coconut desserts.
And today, after months of cooking her recipes, we met our author, Leticia Schwartz, at Central Market. And even had lunch with her!
A tiny, gorgeous (imagine a Portuguese-accented Nigella Lawson, but much more approachable) native of Rio, she quite practically worked in finance before quitting and moving to New York to attend culinary school. Back then, she explained, everybody in Brazil considered the cuisine peasant food -and nobody had even documented its dishes. Eventually she settled in Connecticut with her American husband, became a mother and -still fascinated with the foods of Brazil- spent her annual vacations in Brazil, listening to cooks and finding new recipes.
But our conversation at lunch ranged further than just food. We talked about:
- Teaching kids a foreign language- Leticia’s two boys attend her former school when they’re in Rio. Easy when they’re small, but more difficult the older they get.
- Absolutely go to Carnival once in your life- Did you know the parades start at 9 p.m., so you party all night long and sleep during the day?
- Favorite cookbooks- Other than her own, Leticia’s are anything by Paula Wolfert, Dorie Greenspan or Julia Childs. (See…she collects cookbooks, too.)
- Look for Leticia on TV. She may have a Brazilian cooking show soon. And her next book comes out in October.
Leticia had to run…she had a cooking class to teach, so she left us with the Central Market staff to make peanut brittle.
Peanut brittle was a Christmas tradition in my family. I still remember the stress it caused my grandmother…”Is the candy actually at the hard ball stage? No?…Is it NOW??” Well, here’s a full-proof Brazilian version, updated with kosher salt, lots of unsalted butter and no glass of water sitting by the stove. The secret? The candy’s done when wisps of smoke rise from the pan. Immediately remove from the heat and spread it on a baking sheet.[print-me target=”.print-recipe”]
Pé de Moleque
(Adapted From The Brazilian Kitchen)
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup honey
3 cups peanuts (whole, unsalted and roasted)
1. Heat the sugar, butter, salt, corn syrup and honey in a large saucepan until melted, about 2-3 minutes. When it becomes pale yellow, add the peanuts and turn the heat to low.
2. Slowly roast the peanuts by stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until they turn a golden caramel color, about 12-15 minutes. You know it’s done when the peanuts start to smoke and you lift up the wooden spoon and they hold onto each other (as opposed to falling immediately off the spoon).
3. Pour the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and use a rolling pin to spread the brittle thin, trying to fit it into the baking sheet. Let the brittle cool completely at room temperature, then break it into smaller pieces. Store in an airtight plastic container in a cool and dry place for up to 3 weeks.
To be continued….