Pão de queijo is a traditional Brazilian cheese bun; easy to make, tasty, and since it's made with tapioca flour rather than wheat flour, it's gluten-free. When I want to make it, I just look up someone else's recipe online. There are versions that involve boiling the milk and cooking the tapioca flour (which is also called tapioca starch) in it. But I usually just go with a quick recipe that involves nothing more complicated than piling all the ingredients into my blender and hitting "puree."

One of the great things about p
ão de queijo -- and there are so many great things -- is that you can vary the cheesiness of the flavour by using stronger or milder cheeses. I've even made it with blue cheese. And even then, the cheese flavour was more subdued than I expected.

But recently, I've been experimenting with altering the basic
pão de queijo batter to make other breadlike things. When I do this, I use a mild cheese such as mozzarella, either the hard cheese type, or the fresh, soft, "buffalo" style. I've had good success with doughnut holes (secret batter ingredient; ground nutmeg!) and pholouri. And this evening, I tried something else; bread pudding.

I had a couple of
pão de queijo mini sandwich loaves in the fridge. They'd been there for a few days, and I didn't want them to go bad. So I figured, why not make them into dessert?
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Bread pudding is one of those dishes I cook without measuring anything. It's a fairly forgiving thing to cook. It's traditionally made with stale bread. The way my mother does it is to soak the bread in milk until it's soft enough that you can mush the bread and milk into a paste. Add sugar, eggs, vanilla, raisins and spices. Bake at 300F until it's solidified. So I decided to try it that way.

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I put the oven at 300F.

I poured milk -- in this case, non-dairy cashew milk -- over the loaves. Any type of milk should be fine. You can tear the bread into small pieces if you'd like. You want enough milk that once the bread absorbs it and you mush it, you'll have something about the texture of a runnier oatmeal porridge. If you're unsure how much liquid that will be, go with less rather than more; you can always add more later, if need be.

Leave the bread to soak and soften in the milk for a few minutes.

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And there was my first challenge; a bread that is essentially cheese will not soften much in liquid. But then I thought, cheese melts.

So I put the dish in the microwave on low for a couple of minutes. I didn't want to overheat it, because if it got too hot, the eggs I added later might congeal before I wanted them to.

It worked like a charm. The pieces of bread softened up, and I was able to break them into smaller pieces by hand, just like making mud pies. Another way to deal with this instead of using heat would have been to put all the ingredients -- except the raisins! -- into the blender.

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Then I added:

1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg and ground ginger.
1 teaspoon of vanilla.
The zest of 1/3 of a lime. (If you don't know, lime or lemon zest is the finely granted rind. Take care not to grate it down to the bitter white pith beneath the rind.)
2 eggs. You should beat them first. I didn't because I thought it'd make a prettier photo this way.
Sugar to taste. I used 1/4 cup, and it was actually a little too much. Bread pudding doesn't need to be a very sweet dessert.

Mix it all until everything's incorporated.


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Second challenge; I didn't have any raisins. I always forget to buy them. But I did have chocolate chips. I considered using some diced nectarines or plums instead, because I did have those. It would probably have been healthier than the chocolate chips, but because the fruit was raw, the bread pudding would have had a shorter shelf life before the fruit in it began to spoil.

So chocolate chips it was. I tossed two handsful of them into the batter, then ate a teeny handful for myself; cook's prerogative.

Stir in the chocolate chips, or raisins, or what have you. Pour the whole thing into an oven-safe dish, preferably a ceramic or glass one. Bake until the kitchen smells wonderful, the top has browned, and the pudding has gelled all the way from the edges to the middle. I found this version of bread pudding was a little wobblier when I first took it out of the oven than the wheat version would have  been; the cheese in it was hot. Think of what mozzarella is like when it's on fresh, hot pizza. That's okay, though. Once it had cooled, it was the expected texture.

And the expected taste! Yum.

 
 
 
 
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I adapted this recipe from a 100% cornmeal cornbread recipe over on Plan to Eat. I removed the sugar, reduced the salt, added nutmeg/mace, fresh corn, and flaked coconut. Here's my version. It works well eaten with butter, cheese, cold cuts, or marmalade:

Ingredients:

* 1.75 cup coarse cornmeal (I've also used 1.25 cups cornmeal and half cup ground uncooked rice)
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* half teaspoon salt (optional)
* half teaspoon ground mace or grated nutmeg
* 2 eggs
* 1 ear of corn or half cup corn kernels, frozen or canned (if canned, drain and discard liquid)
* 1 handful flaked coconut, unsweetened
* 2 cups milk (dairy or non-dairy)
* 2 tablespoons liquid fat (e.g olive oil, melted butter, coconut butter or bacon grease)

Directions:

* Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 10" cast iron skillet or an 8×8" pan.

* In a medium-sized bowl combine cornmeal, salt, milk and eggs. Whisk well with a fork. Let stand for 15 minutes, to soften cornmeal and allow it to absorb the milk.

* If using an ear of corn, remove kernels by standing the ear on the stalk end and sliding a sharp knife along the length of the cob.

* Stir liquid fat, corn kernels, mace/nutmeg and coconut flakes into the batter.

* Quickly beat in baking powder. Pour batter into prepared pan and place in oven.

* Bake 25-30 minutes or until a knife or toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the centre. Allow to cool before cutting.


 
 
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  Blackberries, raspberries, chunks of sweet, fresh peach, granted ginger, torn chocolate mint leaves.


 
 
As far as I'm concerned, pholourie is one of the world's perfect foods; puffy little golden balls of savoury fried goodness, crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside, served with a spicy tart dip that can be made of tamarind. If you don't need to be gluten-free, here's a recipe for making it with wheat flour.

It's best for me to avoid wheat flour; it bloats me and aggravates my fibromyalgia pain and fatigue. But the other day it occurred to me that I might be able to modify the recipe for
pão de queijo -- a gluten-free Brazilian cheese bread made with tapioca flour -- into a type of baked pholourie.

First I made a tamarind sauce; I shelled raw tamarinds, covered them with warm water to soften them up and help loosen the pulp from  the seeds, mushed the result with my bare hands until I had pulp, then pushed the mass through a sieve to separate it from the seeds. I tossed the seeds out, added more water to the pulp so it was a bit more pourable, and seasoned it to taste with salt, hot pepper sauce, crushed garlic, flaked dried chilies, and a dab of honey.

Then I varied the recipe for the Brazilian cheese bread: I used fresh mozzarella as the cheese; I replaced 1/4C of the tapioca flour with 1/4C of chickpea flour (I think split pea flour would have worked just as well); I added turmeric powder for colour; I minced a small clove of garlic and tossed that in with powdered cumin, a pinch of baking powder, and black pepper.

Then I baked it according to the recipe, though I discovered it baked in half the time. I used two types of pans to see what would happen. It made quite a difference. The pholourie in the mini muffin tins didn't stay puffed up. They came out flattish:
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Like so. Whereas, the ones in the cake pop tin? (I used this one. The wells are deep and rounded at the bottom). Have a look.

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They look remarkably like pholourie. They smelled wonderfully like pholourie. They tasted like pholourie! But the texture wasn't right; not yet.
Pão de queijo rolls straight out of the oven have much of the texture of molten cheese; they're gooey. So were these pholourie. However, I've learned that the day after baking, Brazilian cheese bread takes on an airier, breadlike texture. So I put the pholourie in the fridge and waited, impatiently, till morning.

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It worked! In the morning, the pholourie was exactly the right texture. And dipped into the tamarind sauce, they were heaven.

 
 
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These took 20 minutes, including stopping many times to wash my hands and take a picture. They are sweet, tart, and hot. Hot as in there's pepper in them. Of course, you can leave the pepper out, if you like. No cooking necessary. You take two or three simple ingredients and smush them together with your hands. That's it. Easy as making mud pies, and tastier.


You can make it even easier by buying tamarind paste. But I saw fresh tamarinds in the grocery, and decided to make them from scratch, the way my mother showed me to make them when I was a child.

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You start with sugar, tamarinds, and hot pepper (optional). You can use pepper sauce instead of the hot peppers. I used some dried chilies which I crumbled by hand. You can sweeten with brown sugar or white. I'm not going to give measurements. If you feel you need them, use this recipe as your guide. Unlike mine, it has the advantage of having no tamarinds seeds in it. Unless you buy the tamarind paste that still has the seeds included.

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Crack the tamarind shells open gently with your fingers, and pull out the tamarind fruit, seeds and all. My version of this recipe includes the dime-sized, shiny blackish-brown seeds. That was part of the fun of eating them as a child; spitting the seeds out.

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The fruit has a kind of cage that looks like tiny, woody vines. Remove that. I grasp the cage at the top and peel it away while pushing the fruit through the other side.

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Put the fruit and the crumbled chilies or the pepper sauce into a bowl. If the tamarind is a bit dry, a tablespoonful or two of water will moisten them. Don't drench them, though. You don't want to entirely melt the sugar.

Add the sugar. I go a bit at a time, working the sugar in as I go, until the texture is right. You want enough sugar to cut the tartness of the tamarind.

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With your hand, squeeze and mush the mixture. This is the mud pie part. Squeeze and mush, squeeze and mush. Add more sugar a little at a time, until you have a stiff, granular paste that you can mold with your hands.

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Here's what the paste looks like. You can see and feel grains of sugar.  Scrape everything off your hands back into the bowl. Wash your hands. Leaving them damp, form the paste into balls about the size of a cherry tomato. I put them on a plate with a sheet of parchment or wax paper on it.

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You're almost done. Put some more sugar on a plate or in a bowl, and roll the tamarind balls in it. This gives them a more finished look and helps to keep them from sticking to each other.

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The tamarind balls on the left have been rolled in sugar. The ones on the right haven't yet.

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And you're done. Make these in small batches. They will keep for a few days, but not much longer than that. They are basically raw fruit and sugar. And fibre; a lot of fibre. Unless your gut needs, um, regulating, I really wouldn't recommend nyamming up a batch of twenty of these in one go. And they are, after all, full of sugar. On the plus side, tamarind has lots of calcium and niacin.

 
 
I visited Toronto for a few weeks this summer. There's a grocery store near my mother's place that carries all kinds of West Indian produce.  This breakfast was comprised of fried green bananas with butter and salt, plus an omelette with ginger, chardon beni, hot sauce. I can't describe the taste of fried green bananas. They're just the best. thing. ever.
 
 
You may or may not know that ackee (Blighia sapida) is one half of the Jamaican national dish of ackee and saltfish. You may or may not know that ackee is the vegetable kingdom's answer to scrambled eggs. Looks like it, kinda tastes like it.

I didn't use salted cod this morning, though. I pan-grilled a fillet of salmon. While it was cooking, I opened a can of ackee and picked some basil and Malabar spinach from my mini container garden. Tossed the ackee into another frying pan with a little oil, the basil and spinach, julienned ginger, chopped garlic, flaked chilies, bitters, salt and black pepper.