This is for all the garlic lovers out there!

If you are like me and use garlic in almost all of your cooking you will definitely want to have a good garlic crusher on hand.

The garlic press we all know and probably have at home!

The garlic press we all know and probably have at home!

For years I had used the regular garlic press that everyone knows. You know the one I am talking about. The one with two handles and a little pocket where you put the garlic clove in, manipulate a little hammer thing so it sits right on top of the clove, and push the two handles together, crushing the clove and pressing the garlic through a mesh of small holes. It always worked, but without fail there would be garlic juice spraying everywhere, you never quite managed to crush the whole clove and cleaning the damn thing was near to impossible.

To put it quite bluntly, I always hated that garlic press and in order to avoid using it I would actually just crush the cloves with my fist on the counter top and quickly chop everything finely with a knife. This has always worked well for me, but is a little labor intensive.

Well, as luck would have it, about a year ago my husband and I visited our local R$1.99 (the Brazilian equivalent of the dollar store). We were browsing around, I can’t remember what we needed, but while browsing a sales lady came up to us and showed us this new little kitchen device they had just gotten in. It was a garlic crusher. It plastic and round, with two halves that fit one into the other and a line of teeth in the middle. She demonstrated that you put the garlic clove in one half, close the top and then spin the two halves causing the garlic clove to crush! I gave my husband a sidewise glance, trying to silently tell him that this will never work (the sales lady did not demonstrate with a garlic clove) and continued looking for what I had actually come into the store for. As I was paying, much to my surprise my husband placed the garlic crusher on the counter at the cash register, apparently he had decided to give it a go. I was in complete doubt that it would work, but paid for it anyway!

The fantastically amazing garlic crusher!

The fantastically amazing garlic crusher!

When we got home it was time to try this new thing out. Bravely, my husband gave it a shot. Much to both of our surprise it worked amazingly. The plastic did not break, the garlic got crushed very easily and we didn’t lose any part of the clove, it ALL got crushed. No juice sprayed all over the kitchen and it was super easy to clean. I fell in love with it immediately and ever since it has become an ESSENTIAL kitchen item.

This garlic crusher is used on a daily basis in my house and I don’t know what I would do without it. It is so easy to use and clean and the best part about it is that it crushes the cloves perfectly and you don’t lose anything!

I have no idea if this is specifically a Brazilian crusher, but wherever it is from, I highly recommend that anyone who uses garlic on a regular basis get their hands on one of these. I have a super hard time finding them in stores here in Brazil and wouldn’t know where to look in the USA, but you can purchase it on amazon.com (find it HERE) and in Brazil you can find it HERE!

Give this garlic crusher a shot, trust me, you will not regret it!

Garlic crusher

What do these measurements mean?

Learning to cook Brazilian foods has been challenging on many different levels, but it has also been amazingly rewarding. Today, I am going to tell you about the challenges of deciphering Brazilian recipes. Yes I did say deciphering and I do not mean deciphering because I cannot read portuguese, no it is a different type of deciphering.

Reading Brazilian recipes is a whole challenge in and of itself. Although they are written very simply, understanding the measurements and directions is a whole guessing game. When I picked up my first Brazilian recipe book and flipped through to find a recipe for carrot cake I had to read through the recipe twice to make sure I was understanding everything. When I still couldn’t understand the measurements for all of the ingredients I turned to my husband and said “what the hell does 1 prato (1 plate) mean?” He was as dumbfounded as me and basically just said that it was a form of measurement that was used in the old times.

Wonderful, so I had stumbled across my first challenge with Brazilian recipes and quickly avoided any recipes that had the measurement of 1 prato. Yes, one plate of flour does sound very romantic, but it is not helpful when you are trying to make a cake recipe.

Sorry for the watermarks, but this was perfect! (www.jantoo.com)

Sorry for the watermarks, but this was perfect! (www.jantoo.com)

Although my dilemma of the plate measurement was somewhat easy to by-pass, other measurement problems were not and are still not. Recipes in Brazil, for some reason, almost always specify measurements in cups and spoons (I prefer weight measurements…but I can’t be too picky right?). Anyway, a wonderful problem that always comes up is when the recipe says “2 copos de farinha” (2 cups of flour). Now, to an American this is straightforward, you just reach for your measuring cup and measure out two cups of flour. In Brazil its not so simple. What the hell is one cup here? Some people mean one standard glass, others mean one american sized glass, and others use a measurement for cup from a cream cheese glass. So, one cup does not mean one nice simple standard measuring cup. Honestly, it can mean anything, whatever size cup you have in your house that’s what you should be using, but knowing that it’s the same measurement as that from the person who wrote the recipe is anyone’s guess.

After realizing that there wasn’t tons I could do about the cup issue I now use a standard american measuring cup and keep my fingers crossed hoping for the best.

Next dilemma with measurements in recipes is spoons. Holy crap do I get confused when it comes to using spoon measurements. Every recipe seems to have there own sized spoons, ways of writing, and ways of keeping things confusing. So the basic definition of spoons is this:

Colher de sopa = soup spoon
Colher de cha = teaspoon
Colher de sobremesa = dessert spoon
Colher de cafe = coffee spoon

When I first read this I quickly figured out that colher de sopa was going to be a tablespoon, phew got that figured out. But, the other three…what is the difference between them? Ok, they are all slightly different sizes but how do I translate this into some consistent measurements. Essentially this is what the size differences between the spoons are supposed to mean, but still, this doesn’t translate into anything that really helps with getting accurate measurements for my recipes.

colheres

Well, instead of fussing about things I somewhat guess on spoon measurements and once again hope for the best. If the recipe turns out great then wonderful, if not, well I have to go back and begin deciphering these measurements once more.

Another measurement that is commonly found in Brazilian recipes is the famous lata or can. Yup, the can which the sweetened condensed milk is in is used to measure the rest of the ingredients in the recipe. This measuring is wonderful and I am always excited to make a recipe that just requires me to use the condensed milk can to measure everything else out!

Ok, once I have gone through the ingredient list and somewhat managed to understand the measurements of everything it is on to the directions. Generally, this part goes a little bit smoother. Most recipes just tell you to toss everything into the blender, blend together, and then either put in the refrigerator or bake. Ah, here we go to the next area of confusion: oven temperature!

Oh man, this has me confused every time, and so far I haven’t managed to really figure things out and usually end up playing a guessing game. See, instead of giving nice round oven temperatures, most recipes like to just say a low, medium, or high oven. Really? What does a low oven really mean in degrees? Its all a guessing game from here as cooking times are never specified either! Luckily, I have a wonderful husband who knows the temperature for most things and I can just use him as my reference guide. But otherwise, too hell with knowing exactly what the exact oven temperature needs to be.

So yes, understanding Brazilian recipes has been a challenge and continues to be a challenge. From finding a recipe to understanding all of the measurements it can take some time, but after I have successfully managed to make what I was hoping to, I cannot complain about the difficult of reading and understanding the recipes. So far I have been able to find wonderful recipes, often combining four or five different recipes as there are so many different recipes for one dish! Yes, the measurements and oven temperatures are a challenge but they haven’t stopped me yet!

Happy cooking!

Reference:
http://livelifebrazil.wordpress.com/2013/10/01/using-brazilian-food-recipes/

The ‘Brazilian’ Can Opener

Yes, today I am going to tell you a little bit about can openers or as they are called in portuguese abridor de latas. Why am I going to dedicate a post to can openers, or to be more specific, one type of can opener? To be honest, this can opener has given me a lot of headaches, took me a long time to master, and I have not seen it anywhere else besides Brazil. It has given my husband many an opportunity to poke fun at me because of my difficulty with learning how to use it. And lastly, every household in Brazil seems to have one of these simple can openers. So, if you are going to cook in Brazil you are going to need to learn how to use this abridor de latas.

1855 Lever-type can opener

1855 Lever-type can opener – the first can opener!

When I first came to Brazil in 2005 I was enthusiastically introduced to this can opener by my husband. I remember taking one look at it and saying “I prefer the normal one.’ Needless to say I didn’t learn how to use it in 2005 and only dared to try and use it several times in during the next eight years. You can guess that all of those embarrassing attempts resulted in me reaching for the normal can opener.

Now that I am settled in Brazil and on quite a few occasions have only had this can opener available to use I have had to learn to properly manipulate it so as to end-up with an open can. The first attempts were embarrassingly miserable. I tried to pierce the top of the can with the sharp blade-like end and couldn’t get it through the metal. Eventually I managed to pierce the top of the can and then struggled to cut the rest of it. Instead, I would jerk the can opener around, almost cut my fingers (if that is even possible with a can opener), and yell in frustration. But, eventually I managed to get the hang of it and now I am opening cans with this simple device in seconds!

To my surprise this is now the can opener that I first reach for when I need to open a can. Although I have now mastered the art of using this can opener I am still the butt of most jokes in the kitchen. My husband can’t refrain from having a laugh whenever I pull out this can opener to use!

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Can_opener

Pressure Cooker

When you see someone cooking in Brazil you are more than likely to see a pressure cooker on the stove. The other day, driving home, there was a man cooking on the street with a pressure cooker. A couple of nights ago I didn’t have enough time to cook a beef stew, and instead I tossed all of the ingredients into the pressure cooker, cooked it for 30 minutes, and I was rewarded with a tasty stew that was ready in record time! Every household in Brazil will at least have one pressure cooker and you can guarantee that it is one of the most used kitchen items. Having a pressure cooker is a must-have when cooking Brazilian food, and once you get the hang of it and see how much time you can save when using it, you will never want to cook without it.

Ok, so pressure cookers may be a little bit scary and make a lot of noise when cooking, but trust me they are a kitchen life-saver! Not just used for beans, pressure cookers are used for anything that may take longer than 30 minutes, potatoes, soups, stews, broths….etc!

So what exactly is a pressure cooker? We may have all heard about it, but let me explain a little bit about how it works as it is not a common kitchen appliance in all parts of the world.  A pressure cooker uses water, or other cooking liquids, in a sealed pan that does not allow air to escape. Pressure cookers heat food quickly because the internal steam pressure from the boiling liquid causes saturated steam (or “wet steam”) to bombard and permeate the food. Thus, higher temperature water vapor (i.e., increased energy), which transfers heat more rapidly compared to dry air, cooks food very quickly. Pressure cooking allows food to be cooked at higher temperatures, when using a normal boiling method water will heat to 100C and remain at this boiling temperature. With a pressure cooker the boiling point of water increases as the pressure increases. Liquid in a pressure cooker can reach a temperature of 121C resulting in much faster cooking times! After cooking, the built-up pressure needs to be released so that the pan can be safely opened.

History tells us that in 1679 a French physicist, Denis Papin, invented the “Steam Digester” an airtight vessel that used steam to increase the boiling point of water and as a result reduced cooking times. In 1795 Nicolas Appert developed a canning process of packing clean jars sealed with a cork and cooking them in boiling water. Appert’s invention combined with Papin’s “Steam Digester” helped in the development of the pressure cooker as we know it today. In 1917 pressure canning began to become popular in the US and was determined by the US Department of Agriculture as the safest way for preserving low acid foods. A 10 gallon pressure canner was developed for home use and together with it, homemakers began to discover the benefits of using the pressure canner to speed up the process of cooking foods. In 1938 Alfred Vischler introduced his “flex-speed pressure cooker”; the first saucepan-style pressure cooker. In 1939 the “Presto” cooker was introduced and became a popular pressure cooker in the USA.

Today, pressure cookers are not widely used in the USA. Finding one for sale in a store can be a challenge. While living in the USA I gave-up trying to find a pressure cooker and instead acquired one in Brazil! The pressure cookers in Brazil are slightly different from what I found in the USA and I like the ones here much better. But don’t despair, you can buy great pressure cookers in the USA. But, you are better off purchasing it online. Here are a couple of links to point you in the direction of making your first pressure cooker purchase.

  1. A search on Amazon.com gives you pressure cooker options from $25 to over $100.
  2. Wiliam-Sonoma will give you much more expensive options.
  3. Macy’s gives you mid-range prices.
  4. This is an excellent pressure cooker that I have used and highly recommend!

Before you use a pressure cooker for the first time there are two things you need to remember, (1) that the lid is properly sealed before turning on the heat, and (2) release all of the pressure, once finished cooking, before you open the lid.

A little story about what happened to my husband and I when our pressure cooker was not sealed properly: everything in the kitchen was eerily quiet, the pressure cooker was not singing its usual song, when suddenly it started with a loud bang. This was clearly not normal so we both rushed to the kitchen. To our horror (probably more mine) purple steam was flying out of the pressure cooker staining our ceiling and walls. There was only one thing that we could do…wait for all the steam to be released onto our walls and ceiling…! Needless to say I spent the next two hours trying to wash the purple bean-steam off my white walls and ceiling. This has only happened once, but when the lid is not sealed properly you can expect similar results!

For my simple bean recipe that uses a pressure cooker CLICK HERE!

Sources:
The History of Pressure Cooking…
Wikipedia – Pressure Cooking
História da Panela de Pressão