Monday, October 24, 2011

Chicken Pie

This is a very traditional Brazilian take on chicken pie. In Brazil, we call it "empadão de frango".
It is not complicated, but as with pies in general, it is a little time consuming. I had the whole Sunday, that I promised myself I wouldn't work. Nothing like spending a cold Sunday baking. I also baked a cake, (recipe later) I was never a big baker. I like to eyeball things and that just doesn't work with baking, or chemistry experiments.
So here is the Recipe:
3 cups of flour
1 stick of butter, (about 100g)
1/2 cup of canola oil
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 cup milk 
1 teaspoon of salt
Mix the ingredients by hand, (it is not a sticky dough.)
Cover a springform pan, bottom and sides and poke with a fork.

3 cups of chicken breast (cooked and shredded)
1 small onion, chopped finely.
3 cloves of garlic, minced or through a garlic press.
2 cups of crushed tomatos. (I buy them in a can, no salt added, no basil, just tomatoes)
1 cup of chopped green olives
1 cup of chopped palm hearts. (Some palm hearts can be tough, so when you are chopping, if it feels fibrous, toss it. I usually discard the outer layer and use the soft centers.) Or you can substitute for corn kernels.
1 cup of catupiry cheese. Ok, this is the tricky part. I buy it at a Brazilian market, here in LA. It looks like this: 

I think Philadelphia cream cheese may work. I never tried it, but I imagine it would take a little longer to melt.

Sauté the onions until translucent. 
Add the garlic and the chicken and give it a nice stir for a minute or so. Add the tomatoes, olives, palm hearts (or corn)  and let it simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the cheese and blend it well. The mixture should not be runny, but a nice cream. If you think it's too thick, you can add a drop of milk.

 Fill the pie crust and top it however you like it. I didn't have a lot of tools nor patience. So mine was a basic top with a little heart (I need to get some more cookie cutters). I also had some left overs so I made a little one. Brush it with egg wash, and bake it for about 30 minutes depending on the thickness of the crust. It should look golden brown. Let it cool for 15 minutes and serve it with a nice salad. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Oxtail with Polenta

I had never cooked oxtail before. I had it a couple times this year in different restaurants and had been thinking about giving it a try.
First, get over your fear of pressure cookers and get one. I just got an electric one from Cuisinart  and I am in love with it. It is very safe and the lid will not open if there is still pressure inside. Second, find a good butcher. I found the coolest butcher shop in LA!  Coolest because they are two girls, selling locally produced, humane and sustainably raised meats. If you are in LA, you should check Lindy & Grundy!
So here is how the story goes:
3 pounds of oxtail.
1 medium onion, chopped.
5 garlic cloves, minced.
3 tomatoes, chopped.
half a bottle of red wine.
3 clovers, 1 or 2 cinnamon sticks.
1 branch of rosemary, 1 large sprig of thyme,
1 bay leaf,
olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
2 bunches of watercress, chopped.

                                          Don't forget to wear your matching flip flops

Trim the fat of the oxtail, season it with salt and pepper and brown it on a heavy bottom pan.
In the pressure cooker, saute the onions, and add the garlic, the tomatoes, stir a little and add the herbs and spices. Add the oxtail, and the red wine and sprinkle a little more salt. Lock the lid in place and set on high pressure for 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes, release the pressure valve and when the steam is out, open the lid, add half the watercress (1 bunch),  give it a couple stirs, check the salt and close the lid again and set another 30 minutes on high pressure. (Don't forget to engage the valve back to pressure)
Do the same procedure to open the lid again. Remove the oxtail from the pan and transfer to a plate.

Pour all the sauce in a bowl and put it in the fridge for an hour or so, (I like to do that so the fat in the sauce hardens and I am able to remove all the fat on the surface of the bowl. I do that to make a leaner dish, if you like richer, you can skip that step.) Remove the bones and fatty parts from the oxtails, pull all the meat and set aside.

Transfer to a pan along with the lean sauce and adjust the salt. Add 1/2 a bunch  of watercress at the very end and serve hot over polenta made with chicken stock and milk and finished with a little butter, half a cup of "Lamb Chopper" cheese and the rest of the watercress.

                      Looks great and tastes even better!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Artichoke Risotto

When people ask me what my favorite thing to cook is, I never think twice: Risotto!
This one is so full of flavor, I think it is one of my favorites.
Artichoke can be a little headache to work with but it is not difficult. I usually remove the petals, cut it in four. Remove the hairy chokes with a pairing knife or a melon baller. Keep a bowl of cold water with lemon juice aside and put the clean pieces of artichoke in it so they won't get dark. The stalks are edible, just peel the outer skin.
You are going to make a herb pesto and keep it in the fridge. You can do it hours ahead.
Here we go:

1 medium bunch fresh basil – leaves removed from stems
8 springs fresh Italian parsley – stems removed
1 large garlic clove – skinned and left whole
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (use microplane grater)
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Blend all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and keep it in a container with some plastic film covering it or a thin layer of olive oil on the surface so it doesn't turn brown.

For the Risotto:

3 large artichokes in large pieces, (slices or cubes) well rinsed to remove all chokes.
4 cups water
1 chicken stock cube or vegetable stock. 
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion – chopped       
2 large garlic cloves – finely chopped or pressed
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup of Arborio rice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon of butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Reggiano parmesan

Boil the artichoke pieces in 4 cups of water for 6 minutes. Drain the artichokes and keep them aside, saving the water they were cooked. Heat a wide heavy-bottomed pan over high heat. Add the olive oil and onion, stir well and sauté for 3 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic, give it a couple stirs, and add the rice, mixing it well to coat with the the olive oil. Add the white wine and stir well until the rice absorbs the wine.
Add the stock cube to the water you cooked the artichokes, mix well, and start to ladle the broth into the rice, little by little, without stopping to stir, after 8 minutes add the artichokes, and keep stirring and adding broth. after 15 minutes start trying the rice to see if it;s all dente or to your desired texture. ( you may need a little extra broth or even just water) When it is cooked to your liking, (it should take 17 to 20 minutes) add the butter and parmesan, give it a vigorous stir and turn of the heat. Adjust the salt if necessary.
Stir in the pesto (add half, taste, and then add more to your liking) Serve immediately.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Salt is such an interesting mineral. It is essential for human life yet can be harmful in excess. Its composition is mainly Chloride and Sodium, and it is involved in regulating the water content in the body. It is one of the oldest, most ubiquitous food seasonings and has been also used to preserve food. Salt was an essential commodity in the early days. Most of the ancient civilizations used salt as a form of trade. For wine, wood, glass, dye and other luxuries. 
The word salary comes from salt (Salarium) It referred to the money paid to Roman soldiers for the puchase of salt.
The harvest of salt from the surface of Xiechi Lake in China dates back to at least 6000 BC, making it one of the oldest verifiable saltworks.
Since cooking and stones are my favorite things. salt has a special place in my heart. I think it really enhances the flavors of food and who knew, it can also be beautiful and a collector's item!!
Culinary salts generally come either from the oceans or from solid underground deposits of ancient seas.
Sensory scientists have found that beyond supplying its own taste, salt in small amounts enhances our perception of sweetness and sourness while suppressing bitterness, a talent that helps balance the flavor of everything from brussels sprouts and grapefruit to caramel and chocolate and coffee. It brings out the flavor of food by helping expel its volatile molecules, so there’s more aroma to fill our noses.
There was a big boom in salt sales and production recently. You can find so many varieties of salt in the gourmet section of every supermarket. Black or red, from Hawaii, pink from Himalaya or Bolivia, all the delicate salt crystals from many regions in France, coarse salt from Portugal and Brazil, and wonderful salts from England, Australia, Bali, Pakistan, Spain amongst others. Not to mention the flavored salts, mixed with herbs and spices.
How about collecting salt?? 
Halite is natural salt. There are beautiful specimens to be found all over the world. My favorite locations are New Mexico, Searles Lake, in California,  France and Germany. There are some nice ones from Italy too.
Here is a sample of how beautiful salt can be:
A purple faceted Halite and a transparent piece of rough. Both from New Mexico. Carlsbad Potash District produces the most colorful pieces. And they are salty too! or you think I wouldn't lick a little piece?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Seafood Soup

You can call this a soup or a stew. It is very simple to make and is so delicious. Saffron is a little expensive, but it makes such a big difference. It goes well with a nice Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. (My favorite) It can be very saucy so be sure to have a hot crusty bread.


  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice (not seasoned)
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 pound of halibut or any firm white fish cut in chunks of an inch or more.
  • 1/2 pound sea scallops
  • 1/4 cup flour, 
  • 1 tablespoon (1 turn around the pan) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter 
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • zest of one lemon
  • Hot, crusty bread, for plate mopping  


Lightly coat the sea scallops in flour after seasoning them with salt and pepper. Discard remaining flour.
Preheat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add oil (1 turn around the pan) and butter. When butter melts into oil, add scallops. Brown scallops 2 minutes on each side, then remove from pan. Do the same with fish and shrimp.
Add an additional drizzle of olive oil to the pan and add the garlic, shallots, and crushed red pepper flakes. Reduce heat and saute it for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine to the pan and free up any pan drippings. Reduce wine 1 minute, then add stock, tomatoes and saffron threads. Let this sauce reduce and thicken up a little. Return seafood to the pan and cook 5 minutes longer. Add lemon zest, stir well and transfer to a warm serving dish.  Pass plenty of warm country bread or baguette to enjoy the juices.
NOTE If you like the sauce a little thicker, you can dissolve 1/4 of a teaspoon of corn starch in 1/4 cup of water and add it at the end, cooking for a couple extra minutes

Monday, March 21, 2011

Big Bubble.. no trouble..

A beautiful Quartz with three phases of inclusions: gas, liquid and solid. The solids are tiny specks of Graphite. Isn't it just amazing to think that this water has been trapped there for millions of years?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Black Bean Soup

It is still cold and one of my favorite soups is a good black bean soup. First because I am Brazilian and Brazilians love beans (and rice), second because it's so rich in protein and nutrients.
I  would usually cook the beans in a pressure cooker but for this recipe, I actually used canned beans as a short cut. This serves 2 as an appetizer portion or small entree.  But is is simple to double the recipe.

2 cans of organic black beans (with no seasoning)
1/4 of an onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, pressed.
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbs olive oil

Blend the beans with 1 cup of water. Meanwhile saute the onions and garlic in olive oil, in a soup pot.
add the blended beans and let it simmer for 10 minutes. You can add a little more water if you think it's too thick. Season with salt and black pepper.

Serve hot with a parsley and egg garnish:

1 bunch of parsley finely chopped,
2 hard boiled eggs chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
lime juice, salt and pepper to taste
Make a little salad with these ingredients, and season well. I like the kick the lime gives.  Scoop on top of the hot soup.  Bom Apetite!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Euclase on Matrix???

I came across a beautiful lot of  Euclase crystals from a new dealer that was in Tucson "just visiting and checking the show".
He runs an Emerald mine in Brazil and is associating with the owner of an Euclase mine in Rio Grande do Norte. He offered me a large lot of Euclase that included single crystals and some druzy crystals on Quartz. I noted a very cute specimen on matrix. It was a thumbnail but very attractive. It was different from the rest of the lot, and although smaller, it was one of my favorite pieces. I bought the best pieces of the lot. At home,  when I started photographing the piece for my website, all the close-ups made me have a weird feeling about it. I started to look very closely and poke it with a needle but it felt very solid, I took a couple pictures more but still, something just didn't feel right. I put the piece under UV light. Not all glue fluoresce, but lots of them do. In this case it didn't seem to fluoresce. Maybe a tiny bit.  The most used glues for this kind of "job" are soluble in acetone. I left the piece in a container filled with nail polish remover and covered with a lid for a few hours. When I checked, I started to see an opaque white substance around the junction of the two parts and, poking with a tweezer, I could also feel the texture.
It took me a couple other dips on the acetone to release the two pieces.
Isn't it amazing?  I am almost sure that the person that sold me didn't know. Usually this kind of crafty work is made at the mines. I have been seeing more and more of those "matrix pieces", and from now on, I will carry my polish remover to the shows too.
Here is a sequence of photos. The top row has the photos as it was when I bought it. and the rest is the process of detaching them. If you click on the photo, it will show you a bigger version.


Friday, January 14, 2011


I love to observe optical properties in gems and minerals and one of my favorites is Pleochroism.
Pleochroism is the ability of a stone to display two or more colors when viewed from different angles. Some good examples are Kunzite, Tanzanite and Cordierite
Good cutters know exactly how to orient the stone to be viewed from the best angle. Like for example a  light pink Kunzite shows a much stronger pink color when viewed from the c-axis. So the best way to cut it, is to put the table of the stone where the c-axis is.  Dichroism is basically the same thing, although a dichroic stone only shows two colors while a Pleochroic can show more than two.  I came across a small lot of Cordierites that show perfectly the pleochroism on Cordierites (Iolites):

If you were to facet a piece of rough like this, you could choose the color of the stone from yellowish to deep blue. What color would you choose?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Emerald Trapiches

Emerald is a green variety of Beryl. The color is caused by Chrome or Vanadium. Depending on the color and clarity the price could range from a few dollars to many thousands per carat. Emeralds are found in every continent and the most prized ones are from Colombia.
Usually flaws decrease the price of the stones, not unlike most gems. One exception is the trapiche.
Trapiches are a rare kind of Emerald with the presence of black carbon impurities giving the Emerald a radial six pointed star pattern. It is usually made into oval and round cabochons but I have seen different shapes too. More recently, Colombia has produced some different trapiches. They look more like flowers. The carbon is thicker with sharper definition. It looks best when sliced, like the watermelon Tourmalines. Sometimes the center is black but it can also have a green center. Each piece is unique and the contrast of green and black is quite beautiful.