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Yucca Alchemy: Chewy, Cheesy, Brazilian Cheese Rolls (Pão de Queijo)

 

 

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From My Rio de Janeiro: A Cookbook, by Leticia Moreinos Schwartz, published by Kyle Books, 2013.

 

Since I returned from Brazil, I have been obsessed with pão de queijo or Brazilian cheese rolls. In search of the best recipe, I turned to chef and cookbook author Leticia Moreino Schwartz,  who has been making pão de queijo since  she was a little girl.   In her wonderful book, My Rio de Janeiro: A Cookbook, Leticia aptly describes pão do queijo as a “golf sized little roll that is chewy, cheese, and steamy, almost succulent…the result of yucca alchemy…. it’s quite difficult to eat just one.”

Made with sour manioc (tapioca) starch which is extracted from yucca (aka manioc or cassava),  Pão de queijo is the national bread of Brazil and can be found all over the country; eaten at all times of the day:  slathered with butter for breakfast; enjoyed with cup of coffee for an afternoon snack, or served as a side with dinner. When I asked Leticia to tell me a story about a time she made it for a celebration she said ” I make pão de queijo for every party!”

Pão de queijo is ideal to make for big gatherings because the dough can be easily made ahead and frozen in big batches.  “This is what made it viable to take the little cheese ball from our grandmother’s oven to a global scale,” she said adding, “Today pão de queijo is available all over the world!” You can buy mixes or pre-made and frozen in many different flavors. But of course, the best are made at home and eaten “one minute after they come out of the oven.”

Big Batch Notes: The best way to make pão de queijo for a crowd to make the dough ahead of time,  roll it into balls and put on a sheet pan to freeze (lined with parchment paper or silpat). Once the balls are frozen, place them into a plastic bag.  Then shortly before the event, you can bake the rolls directly from the freezer for about 12-20 minutes (depending on the oven and the size of your rolls) until puffy and golden brown.

Special ingredients: The secret ingredient is povilho azedo also known sour manioc starch, different from sweet manioc starch.  Although I have made mine with tapioca starch, to make truly authentic pãao de queijo you will need to use this ingredient, for which there is no American brand but can be easily purchased on available on Amazon.  Leticia recommends the Yoki brand. (For more information about this ingredient, see below).

 

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Pão de Queijo

Recipe by Leticia Moreinos Schwartz

Brazilians have a fierce love affair with pão de queijo. From Belém do Pará in the north of the country to Rio Grande do Sul, in the south, and anywhere in between, pão de queijo has the power to ignite conversations and direct dinner habits.

In Rio, you will find pão de queijo all over town. Accompanied by a cafezinho on a side in the middle of the afternoon, this habit definitely keep cariocas happy. Another common way of finding pão de queijo is in restaurants, especially in churrascarias, pão de queijo is served in a little basket as part of the couvert. That alone can change the destiny of your menu ordering. If that basked is full of a precious one, the restaurant owner should think twice about serving it. At Esplanada Grill, a fine churrascaria in Ipanema, I have to do a little bit of transcendental meditation before a visit since their pão de queijo is simply spectacular! That’s the inspiration for this recipe.

 

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1.     Place the manioc starch in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Set aside.

2.     Place the water, milk, oil, and salt in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Immediately pour the hot liquid mixture in one stroke into the starch and turn the machine on at low speed. Mix until the dough is smooth and starch is all incorporated, about 2 minutes. Pause the machine and add the eggs. Continue to paddle at low speed until the dough develops structure and turns pale yellow about 5 minutes. The dough will feel sticky.

3.     Add the cheese and mix until well incorporated.

4.     Season to taste with nutmeg, cayenne, and freshly ground pepper.

5.     Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator.

6.     Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

7.     Wet your hands with olive oil (alternatively, you can flour your hands with manioc starch) and use an ice cream scooper to make 1-inch balls, rolling them with your hands. Place them on the baking sheet, leaving about 11Ž2 to 2 inches between each (you can freeze them at this point by storing them in a zip-lock bag for up to 3 months).

8.     Bake the cheese rolls in the oven until they puff up and look lightly golden brown, about 12 to 14 minutes. To ensure even baking, rotate the pan once during baking time.

9.     Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place the rolls in a basket lined with a nice cloth. Serve immediately while they are still at their warmest and chewiest.

 

*Manioc (Tapioca) Starch

Manioc Starch (povilho doce) and sour manioc starch (povilho azedo) are both extracted from yucca (aka manioc or cassava). When it comes to manioc and tapioca starch, it can get very confusing because different American brands call these products different names.

Povilho Doce (manioc starch or sweet manioc starch):

Goya calls it Tapioca Starch, but Bob’s Red Mill calls it Tapioca Flour, and I call it manioc starch in this book.

Povilho Azedo (sour or fermented manioc starch):

No American brand makes the Brazilian equivalent of sour manioc starch (at least not yet), so when a recipe calls for this ingredient, do not substitute for an American brand. I recommend Yoki or Gloriasul brands both available on Amazon.

Farinha de mandioca (manioc flour):

Although this flour is also extracted from the yucca vegetable, the process is completely different from making starch. Here, the yucca vegetable is not washed but ground, then squeezed in a cloth to eliminate any vegetable juices, sieved, and lightly toasted. Think of it as breadcrumbs. Farinha de mendioca is used to make another important staple of Brazilian cuisine: farofa.

 

 

 

 

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Hope and Hoppin’ John for a Crowd

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I much prefer New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve. Reflection on things past turns to hope for things to come, especially with a pot of Hoppin John, a Southern dish said to bring prosperity.The black eyed peas are said to symbolize coins, while the greens and cornbread represent money and gold

No one seems completely sure where the name Hoppin’ John comes from. According to Jessica Harris, noted authority on African cooking in the Americas, the only thing that all seem to agree on about Hoppin’ John is that the dish is “emblematic of South Carolina and is composed of rice and some kind of pea.” Field peas are thought to be native to Africa and were brought to the United States in early Colonial times, during the slave trade. After the peas were harvested, the plants were left for grazing cows hence the names “field peas” and “cowpeas.” .

At her annual celebration Jessica, has made batches to feed up to 60 along with roast pork, collard greens, okra, corn, and tomatoes. As for why black-eyed peas are associated with luck Jessica writes:

 Just as nobody is sure of the origin of the name Hoppin’ John, no one seems quite certain why the dish has become associated with luck, or New Year’s. Some white Southerners claim that black-eyed peas saved families from starvation during the Union Army’s siege of Vicksburg in the Civil War. “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food” suggests that it may come from Sephardic Jews, who included the peas in their Rosh Hashanah menu as a symbol of fertility and prosperity.

For African-Americans, the connection between beans and fortune is surely complex. Perhaps, because dried black-eyed peas can be germinated, having some extra on hand at the New Year guaranteed sustenance provided by a new crop of the fast-growing vines. The black-eyed pea and rice combination also forms a complete protein, offering all of the essential amino acids. During slavery, one ensured of such nourishment was lucky indeed.”

One final tradition: On New Year’s Day, in some families, a dime is placed in the Hoppin’  John with the promise of more luck for the finder.  On that, writes Jessica, “ The thought of cracking a tooth makes me think that this may not be the best idea. Try it if you wish.”

Depending on the region, availability of ingredients and family traditions, there are as many versions of Hoppin’ John as there are cooks. In this big batch version by award-winning cookbook author and teacher Rick Rodgers from his book The Big Book of Sides (Ballantine 2014), Rick creates a delicious ham broth that can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 3 days ahead of time. Rick recommends serving this dish with boldly flavored main dishes including smoked or roasted meats, spicy sausages, sautéed greens and vegetables.

Big Batch Notes: For 8 to 10, Rick used a stock pot (12-qt) for the stock, and a 6-qt large saucepan/Dutch oven for the John. For the double, he recommends using the same stockpot (12-qt) for both.  Make the stock, strain, and then use the same washed pot for the beans. Also if making the broth ahead of time, make sure you have room to store it in your refrigerator.

HOPPIN’ JOHN

By Rick Rodgers

This hearty, full-flavored dish will warm you on the coldest January day. Please note that the beans need to be soaked 8 to 12 hours before cooking. Have your butcher halve the ham bones for you. Make ahead notes: The ham broth and its meat can be be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for 3 days. The Hoppin’ John is best made right before serving.

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cooking Time: about 2 ½ hours

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.05.45 AM1.  To make the ham broth:  Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, carrot, and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the ham hocks, broth, and 1½ quarts (3 quarts for the larger batch) cold water.  Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming off the foam that rises to the surface.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the meat on the hocks is tender enough to be cut from the bones, about 1½ hours.

2. Strain the broth into a large bowl, reserving the ham hocks but discarding the other solids.  Cut the meat from the hocks, discarding the bones, and chop it into ¼-inch pieces. Measure the broth; you should have about 1¾ quarts (3 ½ quarts for the big batch).  (The broth and meat can be separately cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

3.  To make the hoppin’ John: Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp and browned, about 8 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain, leaving the fat in the pot.

4.  Add the onion, celery, and bell pepper to the pot.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the drained beans and 6 cups of the broth and bring to a boil over high heat.  (Set the remaining broth aside at room temperature.) Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the peas are barely tender, 30 to 45 minutes.  (The exact time for cooking the peas will depend on their age and softness after soaking.)

5.  Stir in the drained tomatoes, diced ham meat, salt, and hot sauce and return to a boil over high heat. (See Note) Stir in the rice.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook at a steady simmer, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender and has absorbed almost all of the cooking liquid, about 20 minutes. If the rice has absorbed the liquid before it is done, add some of the reserved broth.  (Leftover broth can be covered and frozen for up to 2 months; use it for soups, especially split pea soup.)

6.  Remove from the heat and cover the pot.  Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes to finish cooking and soaking up the liquid.   Transfer to a huge bowl, fluffing the rice as you do so.  Sprinkle with the scallions and reserved bacon and serve hot, with hot sauce passed on the side.

Note: If you wish, you can cook the rice separately and serve the pea stew on top.  In this case, cook the the rice according to the package directions. For 2 cups of raw rice, use 2 cups water, 2 cups Ham Broth, and 1 teaspoon salt.  For 4 cups of rice, use 4 cups water, 4 cups Ham Broth, and 2 teaspoons salt.)

** If you want to learn more about African cooking in the Americas, check out one of Jessica’s twelve books. In addition to being an accomplished author, she has been a National Board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food and a board member of the Caribbean Culinary Federation, the New York Chapter of Les Dames D’Escoffier, and the Southern Foodways Alliance where she was a founding member and also served as chair of the planning and then programming committees. Currently, she is a Board member of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, The New Orleans Afrikan American Film Festival, an advisory board member of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and the New Orleans Edible School Yard.

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What a Combo! Soup and Meatball Gathering for 25

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My father will often put two foods together and exclaim “What a combo!”  Sometimes these combinations are brilliant–like potato chips and chocolate and sometimes the combinations are more challenging (usually involving kimchi), but the phrase is used so often in my family that it has become an adjective.

I was thinking about this phrase while deciding what small bite to serve for soup night. My mother suggested the Turkey and Zucchini Burgers with Green Onion and Cumin from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book, Jerusalem. Who doesn’t love a meatball? I thought. And why stop there? In honor of the late Marcella Hazan, I decided to make her classic Meatballs and Tomatoes from The Essentials of Italian Cooking. As my father might say “Soup and meatballs—what a combo!”

My soup gatherings often start small and get bigger until I don’t know how many people are actually coming. I alternate between panic that no one will show  (a scenario that has led to inviting random strangers while running errands) and dread that there is not enough food.  One of the best things about soup is that you can always round it out with bread, cheese, salad or in this case, meatballs.

A forecast of 81 degrees and a case of late summer tomatoes inspired double batches of gazpacho from the Bi-Rite cookbook, Eat Good Food and Joanne Weir‘s Smoked Ham, White Bean, and Tomato Soup from Soup’s On! and triple batches of each kind of meatball. 

Friends brought wine, cheese, and cookies for dessert.  As it turned out, about 25 people showed up and we had enough food (including a few bowls of soup and meatballs leftover for lunch the next day).

Below are the recipes as well as my basic big batch soup and meatball gathering strategy. Do you throw soup gatherings? We would love to hear from you.

What are your favorite “what a combos?!”

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Big Batch Soup and Meatball Party Strategy:

Sunday soup and meatball night:   A an early evening Sunday gathering is a lovely ritual and most importantly, gives you Saturday to prepare.

Soups for all: I recommend making double batches of 2 or 3 kinds of soup–one meaty stew, one vegetable minestrone (usually vegan) and one bean soup. If people offer to bring a soup, always say yes!

Gather your sous-chefs especially small children: It is so much more fun to throw a party with a team–People love to be a part of the action!

Organize your refrigerator: This may seem like a simple step, but clearing out space is essential when throwing any party, especially when making dishes ahead of time.

Shop ahead; make ahead: Chose recipes that can be made ahead of time. I recommend shopping the day before and cooking off at least one soup (preferably a stew that is better the next day). Again, make sure you organize your refrigerator so you have room to keep things overnight. Making food ahead of time leaves more time for worrying that there isn’t enough and gives you the opportunity to make more ;).

What else to serve: Hand held edibles and small bites that don’t don’t require big plates like empanadas,  crostini, polenta squares, flat breads and roasted vegetables.

How to serve: You’ll need bowls of course (mugs will help in a pinch!) and little bamboo/paper plates and stacks of napkins are ideal for small bites. You can set everything out on the table along with mason jars filled with silverware.

Invite your guests participate: I usually ask 2 to 3 people to bring cheese, bread, salumi, and olives and another 2 people to bring simple desserts like cookies (again, no plates!)

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JOANNE WEIR’S SMOKED HAM, WHITE BEAN, AND TOMATO SOUP

Joanne’s Weir generously donated include this recipe for our book, Soup’s On! I doubled the amount of beans in her original recipe to make a version that is more like a stew. Deliciously smokey with the flavors of ham and bacon, this soup is an all season go-to!

Weir Smoked Ham Soup

Pick over the beans and discard any damaged beans or stones. Rinse. Put beans in a bowl, add plenty of water to cover, and refrigerate for about 3 hours. Drain the beans and place them in a saucepan with the parsley stems, thyme, bay leaves and cool water to cover by 2 inches. Simmer uncovered until tender, 40 to 50 minutes. Drain the beans, and discard the parsley and thyme stems and bay leaves.

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and onion, and cook until the onion is soft, 10 minutes. Add the garlic, and continue to cook 1 minute. Add the stock, ham hocks and tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and cook until the ham just begins to fall from the bone, about 1 hour. Add the beans, and continue to simmer until the ham falls easily from the bone, about 1 hour more.

Remove the ham hocks and let them cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Discard the skin and bones, and cut the ham into 1/2-inch pieces. Add the ham and mint to the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve immediately.

photo (15)SERIO’S GAZPACHO

Luscious and flavorful,  this gazpacho from the Bi-Rite Cookbook  Eat Good Food, by Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gough calls for whole tomatoes (no peeling or seeding!) which makes it faster and easier to make for a crowd.  While many gazpacho recipes rely on the addition of bread, this version uses olive oil instead, making it a good alternative for the gluten-free crowd. Use a light olive oil that is not too peppery and the season’s ripest and most flavorful tomatoes.

Serio's Gazpacho

Put the oil, vinegar, and Tabasco in the bowl of a blender and blend briefly. Add the onions, cucumbers, parsley, basil, garlic, and 3 tsp. salt and blend until smooth. With the blender running, add the tomatoes a few at a time. When the blender is about 3/4 full, pour out half of the liquid into a medium bowl. Continue to puree and add the tomatoes a few at a time until all the tomatoes are incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Pour the blender contents into the bowl and stir to blend.

If you want a super-smooth texture, pass the soup through a fine mesh strainer.

Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Whisk to blend, then taste and add more salt or vinegar as needed.  Garnish each serving with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

TURKEY AND ZUCCHINI BURGERS WITH GREEN ONIONS AND CUMIN

These herb and spice-laden meatballs  from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi will change your life. They are easy to make in big quantities, just make sure you don’t crowd the pan when searing in batches.   To make a richer burger, use ground dark meat. If you do not have sumac to make the yogurt sauce, it is still delicious without.
Sumac Sauce

First make the sour cream sauce by placing all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Stir well and set aside or chill until needed.

Turkey Zucchini Burgers

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F/220 degrees C. In a large bowl combine all the ingredients for the meatballs except the sunflower oil. Mix with your hands and then shape into about 18 burgers, each weighing 1 ½ ounces/45 grams.

Pour enough sunflower oil into a large frying pan to form a layer about 1/8 inch/2mm thick on the pan bottom.  Heat over medium heat until hot then sear the meatballs in batches on all sides. Cook each batch for about 4 minutes, adding oil as needed until golden brown.

Carefully transfer the seared meatballs to a baking sheet lined with waxed paper and place in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until cooked through. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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TOMATOES AND MEATBALLS

This meatball recipe from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, is a great project to do with lots of people, especially with kids who enjoy (and are often quite skilled at) rolling the balls in the bread crumbs. 

Tomatoes and Meatballs

Trim away the bread crust, put the milk and bread in a small saucepan and turn on the heat to low.  When the bread has soaked up all the milk, mash it to a pulp with a fork.  Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Into a bowl put the chopped meat, onion, parsley, the egg, the tablespoon of olive oil, the grated Parmesan, a tiny grating of nutmeg – about 1/8 teaspoon – the bread and milk mush, salt, and several grindings of black pepper.  Gently knead the mixture with your hands without squeezing it.  When all the ingredients are evenly combined, shape it gently and without squeezing into balls about 1 inch in diameter.  Roll the balls lightly in the bread crumbs.

Choose a saute pan that can subsequently accommodate all the meatballs in a single layer.  (or cook them in two batches) Pour in enough vegetable oil to come 1/4 inch up the sides.  Turn on the heat to medium high and when the oil is hot, slip in the meatballs.  Sliding them in with a spatula will avoid splashing hot oil out of the pan.  Brown the meatballs on all sides, turning them carefully so they won’t break up.

Remove from heat, tip the pan slightly and with a spoon, remove as much of the fat as floats to the surface. Return the pan to the front burner over medium heat, add the chopped tomatoes with their juice, a pinch of salt, and turn the meatballs over the meatballs over once or twice to coat them well. Cover the pan and adjust the heat to cook a quiet but steady simmer for about 20 to 25 minutes until the oil floats free of the tomatoes. Taste, correct for salt, and serve.

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Fondue Party on the Fly: The Good Food Awards and Making the Most of a Good Thing

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If life gives you lots of cheese, make fondue. That was the strategy for the Good Food Awards after party held this year at The Mill, Josey Baker’s wonderful bakery on Divisadero Street in San Francisco. Tia Harrison (co-owner Avedano’s and Sociale and co-founder of The Butcher’s Guild) and Marrissa Guggiana (co-founder of The Butcher’s Guild and author of  Off the Menu: Staff Meals at America’s Top Restaurants)  took charge of this year’s fondue extravaganza.

Created through a collaboration of food producers, farmers and independent grocers and organized by Seedling Projects , the Good Food Awards is an annual event celebrating the best artisan foods based on flavor as well as sustainability:

The Good Food Awards recognize that truly good food—the kind that brings people together and builds strong, healthy communities—contains all of these ingredients. We take a comprehensive view, honoring people who make food that is delicious, respectful of the environment, and connected to communities and cultural traditions.

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Seedling Project founder Sarah Weiner and her sisters.

Though the actual award ceremony isn’t until January, the panel of  130 judges were in town for the tasting which included beer, charcuterie, chocolate, coffee, oils, pickles, preserves, spirits and of course CHEESE.  Over 140 samples (approximately 200 pounds) of cheese were submitted this year. After all the cheese had been carefully tasted and evaluated, the mandate of not wasting any leftovers resulted in a thank-you party for all the judges and volunteers. Extra cheese =fondue =delicious and fun.  Understanding that extra cheese is a luxury, fondue is still relatively simple and inexpensive to make for a crowd. 

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Fondue comes from the French word fondre, or to melt.  There classic recipe calls for good melting cheeses Emmentaler (Swiss) and Gruyere cheeses and includes alcohol or acid, a binder, and flavorings.  Since in our case, we didn’t have much control over the cheeses, Tia used these basic guidelines, approximating the proportions and adjusting for flavor and consistency.  The key was making one large batch at a time and pouring into smaller fondue pots.  If you feel more comfortable making multiple small batches (that serve 6 at a time),  we highly recommend Laura Werlin’s tried-and-true recipe for Classic Cheese Fondue from her book The New American Cheese.   We served the fondue with bowls of cubed Josey Baker bread generously donated by the Mill and side platters of charcuterie, fresh sliced vegetables, and pickles.

Now you can fondue too.

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Josey Baker gives the fondue a swirl.

Big Batch Equipment, Cooking, and Strategy Notes:  Tia made big batches of fondue in a 5 quart-sauce pot before pouring into smaller-sized fondue pots to serve.  She would then make additional batches and re-fill as needed.  A large-sized whisk is recommended as are multiple packs of long bamboo skewers.

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Tia Harrison whisks up some fondue magic.

On the Fly Fondue

Tia created this recipe adjusting the seasonings and the proportions to the characteristics and flavors of the cheeses  available. Making fondue isn’t difficult but you must pay attention and “listen” to what it needs.  Cheeses have different moisture and fat contents and they react differently to heat. If you have the choice, chose cheeses that melt well and yield a smooth consistency. The ingredient amounts are approximations so you will need to taste and test for flavor and consistency as you go along and  we offer this recipe to you in this spirit. For the bread, a rustic thick loaf cut into 1-inch cubes makes the best swirling. 

Serve with platters of sliced vegetables, charcuterie, and pickles!

Makes 3 to 4 quarts or 12 to 16 cups; serves about 50 people at a party supplemented with other edibles. 

1. 6 pints (1 bottle) dark beer

Approximately 4 pounds good melting cheese, (Emmentaler, Swiss or Gruyere, Fontina, Jack, or Cheddar), cut into 2-inch cubes, approximately 8 to 10 cups.

Approximately 1/2 cup whole grain mustard

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 bunch rosemary

1-2 cups heavy cream

Approximately 3 tablespoons cornstarch

Approximately 5 to 6 loaves rustic-style bread cut into 1-inch cubes

1. Pour beer into a large (5-quart) stock pan. Add 8 cups of cheese and bring to a simmer over medium high heat stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the cheese melts and the consistency is smooth and creamy. If the mixture is too runny add more cheese xx at a time.

3. Use a large whisk to stir in the mustard, rosemary, chopped garlic, and stir constantly until blended.

4. In a small bowl, mix together 1/4 cup of the cream and the cornstarch to create a slurry.

5. Pour the slurry into the cheese mixture and continue to whisk until smooth. Whisk in the rest of the the cream 1/2 cup at a time, checking to make sure the consistency is thick and smooth.  Check the consistency by dipping a cube of bread into the fondue to see how the cheese coats the bread adding more cheese if needed.

6. Add salt and pepper to taste.

7. Pour into the small fondue pots and serve with the cubed bread.

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Feast of the Momo—How to make Nepalese Dumplings for a Crowd

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momo and filling

The day we met Bini Prathan, owner of Bini’s Kitchen  at La Cocina, she had just finished making 15,000 momos (Nepalese dumplings) for the San Francisco Street Food Festival. Big batch cooking is in Bini’s blood. Born in Nepal, her mother cooked for the Nepalese royal family in the 1960s and big gatherings were the norm. “A typical party at my house was 160 to 180 people, it wasn’t unusual to have 35 people over for dinner.”

Whether for a party of for a mid-week dinner, friends and family would gather in the kitchen to cook together  “It’s how you catch up on the days events. It’s one of the things you love to do together.” When she was a child, she and her friends would run to her house from school because everyone knew there would always be good food. Nowadays, Bini counts on her assistant Sopa who is from Tibet as well as family members to help with big events. But she doesn’t have much trouble convincing people to help, even some of her clients have joined in the fun,  “They like to be a part of it.”

Big gatherings are typical in Nepal where it is said “the Nepalese people observe more festivals than there are days in a year. There are different festivals celebrated to honor Hindu and Buddhist gods and goddesses and others to recreate important events from ancient mythology and epic literature.”  Bini is looking forward to the Dashian, a religious festival that lasts for 15 days at the end of October.  For this festival, her family would cook a goat and buffalo and make curry with chicken and “whatever else was possible.” Usually 100 to 250 people would come to that event.

Bini went to culinary school in Mumbai before moving to San Francisco and joining La Cocina’s business incubation program nearly a year ago. Her menu includes sumptous curries, dahls, rotis and other Nepalese specialties including her beloved momos.

Also found in Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, and other parts of India, a momo is a type of steamed or fried dumpling that boast numerous variations of filling. Bini’s specialties include turkey, lamb, and cabbage (vegetarian).  She says the secret to her momos is her spice mixture that includes spices she brings back from Nepal.

Folding a momo is like making pleats for a fan. It takes a bit of practice and technique shown here by  Sopa.

sopa copy

happy bini

The little hole in the top is for putting in the sauce.

momo closeup

Bini says that when you eat a momo, it is important to grasp the top with all 5 fingers  and place the whole dumpling in your mouth. “God gave you 5 fingers. When you eat with your hands you are saying thank you to god; when you lick your fingers you are serene from the inside, and this means you are feeding your soul, not just your stomach.” 

Cooking  For  Crowd Strategy: As noted above, having lots of eager volunteers is the best way to make momos for a crowd. For steaming the dumplings, if you don’t have an industrial scale steamer (!!), Bini recommends the Asian stacked steamers in which you can steam 20 to 30 at a time. For big gatherings you will need a dedicated person to steam the dumplings in batches.

Serving a Crowd Strategy: At big events, Bini spoons about 8 momos per person into little paper boat bowls.  For the sauce, pour into plastic bottles with squirt tops for more fun and easier service.

Bini’s Turkey Momos

Bini recommends using a sturdy round dumpling wrapper.  She prefers Nasoya round wrappers which come in packs of 60.  For the filling,  you can add spices to taste; fry a little pinch to test the flavoring before you stuff the wrapper.

momo grid

*Note that the proportion of spices is to taste. To test your filling fry up a pinch and taste it before you stuff your dumplings. Also each pack of Nagoya round wrappers includes 60 wrappers, so count on 1 pack per batch.

 

 

1.  Combine the filling ingredients in a large bowl and mix gently until all the ingredients and spices are evenly disbursed. Try to handle as little as possible.

2. To fill each dumpling, place a table spoon of filling in the center of each wrapper and gather the edges together pasting with little water. Fold, wrap and pleat to make neat joint for each individual momo leaving a little “well” at the top.

 3.  Take a tray spray it with nonstick spray and place each wrapped momos in a row and put it in a freezer until ready to cook.

4.  To steam the momos,  fill the steamer to the half-point half  with water and boil. Place a colander (steamer) on top of the vessel and grease it with nonstick spray.

 5.  Lightly spray each momo with oil and place on the greased colander leaving inch between each momo .Cover the steamer with lid and steam for 15  minutes.

 6.  Serve steaming hot momos with spicy tomato cilantro sauce. Recipe follows:

Spicy Tomato Cilantro Sauce

This recipe calls for a Nepalese spice called timur which is available online. If you can’t find, it just leave it out.  If you are making a big batch, it is helpful to place sauce in bottles with a squirt top for easier serving.

momo sauce grid (1)

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. In a baking sheet,  roast the tomatoes for about 3-5 minutes.  Set aside to let cool.

3.  Place all of the ingredients in a blender or a food processor  (roasted tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, timur, asafetida powder, salt and oil). and process until the sauce is smooth and light orange in color.

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