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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Pão de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)

This is a great little recipe! Brazilians mostly eat it for breakfast or as a snack. The only ingredient that might be hard to find is the sour cassava flour (which we learned about during our trip to the Amazon).  You can order it on and you may even find it in a Latin grocery store.  Find it.  It's worth it.  Oh, and for those of you that avoid gluten, it's gluten free!
Sour Cassava Flour

These few things are transformed into amazing pão de queijo

The cheese called for in this recipe is Quejo Minas Fresco (fresh cheese traditionally produced in Minas Garais in Brazil). You can definitely substitute other cheeses for it.  I will be experimenting with some different combinations of cheese the next time I make this bread.

Pão de Queijo (Brazilian cheese bread)

1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sour cassava flour
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups Minas cheese (can substitute parmesan or other cheese)

Ready to be portioned and put in the oven
Preheat oven to 350. Grease or line pan with parchment paper.  Put oil, milk and salt in a pan over medium heat and whisk  just until it starts to bubble.  Remove from heat and immediately add the cassava flour and mix well. Put the dough in the bowl of a mixer and (use paddle attachment) beat on med until dough smooths and it's cool enough to touch. Whisk eggs in a bowl and then slowly add them to the mixer while it's running. Add the cheese and continue mixing until incorporated.  The dough is going to be very sticky.  I use two spoons to portion and place on the baking sheet. You can also use an ice cream scoop (probably easier).  I also saw a recipe where the dough was placed in a mini muffin pan to cook.  Whatever works for you. Bake until the outsides are dry and they get a little color on them.  My oven is terrible and I had to cook them for almost an hour.  I imagine if I had a good oven, it would probably be closer to 30 minutes.
 Let cool a few minutes and enjoy.

When I made these, I made one baking sheet of them and portioned the rest of the dough onto another baking sheet and let freeze.  Once they were frozen, I transferred them to a freezer bag and threw them back in the freezer.  That way I can easily pull out a few to bake when the mood strikes me. They are really best served warmed, right after coming out of the oven.
Ready for the freezer

Monday, June 17, 2013

Amazon Trip Part Two

Amazon trip - Part Two (for part one, click here)

Native home visit

I loved this visit!  The natives gave us a demonstration on processing manioc/yuca/cassava.  Manioc is abundant in the Amazon and they use it for everything.  There are two types  – bitter and sweet.  The sweet manioc they just cook and eat.  The bitter manioc has poison in the juice and they have to process it to make it edible. First they have to extract the juice then they have to drain it (using something like a cheesecloth).  Next they let the flesh dry out then sift it, resulting in a coarse powder they can use for cooking. If they boil the liquid, it can also be used as a condiment or in cooking too.

one of the tools they use to use to extract the liquid

giving the 'new' extraction equipment a whirl 

sifting the manioc

sifting the dried manioc

Our guide told us that people would fry the powder and carry it around on long journeys so they could just mix the powder with water for a meal - it expands in the stomach to make you feel
full (without actually providing any nutrients).  They made some tapioca pancakes for us to sample (yummy) and also let us sample some Brazilian nuts.

preparing tapioca pancakes for us

The powder is also fried and mixed with different things (for example smoked meats, nuts, and fruits) to make farofa.  Everyone has their own special recipe for farofa and they eat it with just about everything.  The first time I tried it, I was not impressed, but I now eat it regularly over salad and with grilled meats.  It adds a little flavor and a really nice texture to dishes.  The powder is also used to make the ever popular pão de queijo (cheese bread) which I will eventually try to make (and blog about).

the finished product - yummy tapioca pancakes

Native village tour
The village was really cool.  There are about a hundred residents there on a large plot of land. Through  hunting and fishing they are able to remain self sufficient with the exception of a few items traded for in the city of Manaus.

We were also given a demonstration on how rubber was historically harvested from the trees.  First, they make a diagonal slash in the tree and allow the milk/sap to drip into a container. After it solidifies (coagulates), they heat it and pour it onto a pipe over a small fire oven.  It hardens into a ball (seen below). They would then sell the rubber in large balls.  
Rubber became the economic star of the Amazon in the early nineteen hundreds.  The nearby city of Manaus became the center of the Brazilian economy.  Eventually, someone smuggled rubber tree seeds out of the Amazon and replanted in areas with similar soil/climates that were more convenient to major ports (like Malaysia and Singapore).  The proximity of the new rubber trees to the ports resulted in decreased prices which resulted in a significant decrease in demand for the Amazon rubber.

Holding a rubber ball

This trip was so wonderful.  It was a unique experience, fun, and educational.  I really loved our time there and will always treasure the memories we have of the river, the jungle, the wildlife, and the people.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Trip to the Amazon

This past weekend, we were able to take a trip to the Amazon.  I knew it was going to be fun but had no idea how wonderful it would truly be. 
What I thought of when I thought of the Amazon River ( this is actually a flooded forest)
What it really looks like (it's huge!)

The Hotel

We stayed at a hotel that is built over the Amazon River.  The hotel was inspired by Jacques Cousteau during a visit to the area in the early 1980s.  The hotel has had lots of distinguish guests including Bill
Gates, Susan Sarandon, Roman Polanski, Charlton Heston, The Royal Family of Spain, The King of Morroco, Royal Family of Sweeden, and Jaques Cousteau.  

I imagine at one time, the hotel was pretty amazing.  Unfortunately, it has fallen into a terrible state of disrepair (from severe flooding and simple neglect).  But it’s still an okay hotel in a unbeatable location.  The hotel is on the Amazon River.  And I mean on top of the river.  As we walked across the decks and pathways, water was constantly splashing up between the boards.  

Positives things about the hotel

The food was good and plentiful with lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, several selections of entrees, breads, desserts, etc.
One of my favorite dishes - tapioca pancake (more like a crepe) filled with ham, cheese, and onions

The excursions that are included with the hotel stay are outstanding.  (more on this below)

There are squirrel monkeys all over the hotel and they are extremely friendly (and always looking for  food).  They get excited when they see food and will jump on you to get it.  They are adorable and lots of them had little
What's in the monkeys hand?  Oh, that's the peanuts it stole from my husband.
baby monkeys that clung to their backs the entire time.  The monkeys were my daughters favorite part of the trip (although if they came too close she would take off running and screaming).

Other wildlife we saw while walking around our hotel included macaws, parrots, fish, and some other kind of monkeys.

Negatives for the hotel
There was a bat in our room on the second night.  They moved us to another room and I think there may have been one in that room too but I didn’t see it (just heard it).  I could have been a little paranoid at that point but waking up to a bat in your room in the middle of the night will do that to you.

The last night (in yet another room), we woke up to ants all over our bathroom. 

Some of the towers (there are eight all together) are closed off and don't look like they will be reopening any time soon.  If everything was open and functioning properly, it could be a really amazing place. 

The Excursions

Swimming with the pink dolphins

They were so many dolphins and they were not shy!   My daughter was scared at first but, being the brave girl that she is, she finally warmed up to them and interacted with them (and even sat on the back of one).  The dolphins are born mostly gray and they get pinker as they get older. 

Caiman scouting
 This was a little bit scary!  We went out at night (can only do this one after sunset) with the scout standing on the front of our boat.  He kept shining a light along the river bank, looking for the caiman’s eyes.  When he found one, I was under the silly impression he would just lean down and kind of scoop it up.  Instead, we pulled the boat close and he belly flopped into the water and grabbed it. He brought

it up on the boat and we were able to hold it while the guide told us all about the caimans.  For those of you that don’t know, caimans are in the same family as alligators (but smaller).  Click here to learn more about them.  On the boat ride back, we had a great view of the stars and I saw the Southern Cross constellation for the first time.  It was an really great last night in the Amazon!

Piranha fishing

Of all the excursions, this was my least favorite.  It is neat to say I went piranha fishing in the Amazon but that’s about it.  I’m not a fisherman (surprising, right?).  I am not patient enough for it but
competitive enough that it bothers me that I can’t catch anything.  One of our guides hooked one for me and let me pull it in for the sake of a photo.  Oh I’m not proud, I took it.  We took our catch back to the hotel and the kitchen staff grilled it up for us.  It’s a really tasty but tiny fish. 

piranhas for dinner!

Jungle hike with guide

We hiked with our tour guide who pointed out different medicinal plants and trees, poisonous things we
shouldn't touch, etc. It was really informative and fun.  Some of the things we saw were - frankincense, myrrh, a plant used to make Ben-Gay, a cure for athletes foot, a plant that helps lower blood pressure, and so much more that I'm forgetting now. The guide also made crowns for all of us.
Yeah!  We look cool!!!

We also did a sunrise boat trip and caught the sunset on the way home from another trip.  Gorgeous!

Sunrise on the Amazon River

There is so much more to talk about so I've made this a two part blog.  For part two (which includes the native village tour and the visit to a native home),  please click here.


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