cooking

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Swiss Chard is commonly found here in Ecuador’s highlands-almost as common as cacao in the lowlands. But you don’t find it in a lot of dishes. It’s usually served here in soup “Sopa de Acelga,” with pieces of chard floating in the broth. Not my favorite way to eat it, and I didn’t have a whole lot of options to prepare it-usually sauteed with some anchovies and garlic, maybe some julienned strips of red pepper tossed in, cooked until tender. Or cooked down into a sort of ragu, then served over pasta with breadcrumbs and parmesan on top.

It was at my in-laws house that the maid was preparing it in a totally new way. An unusual way. She called the “Emborrajados.” The closes thing I can find for this word is some kind of fritter. And that’s exactly what it is. It’s a very basic recipe, but one of the most delicious ways I have found to prepare chard.

First, quickly blanch it in salted water for 3-4 mins (at sea level, probably less-use your culinary judgement) until it’s soft but not falling apart. You’re going to be frying it in a later step so it will continue to cook there.

Make a quick fritter batter with about two eggs, a cup of flour, and salt and pepper. A dash of nutmeg doesn’t hurt. Chop the chard into 1/2″ strips or so, pretty finely chopped. Make sure it’s dry and mix it in with the batter. It should look like this:

Chard Fritters001.jpg

Then, with two soup spoons, make a quenelle like shape, and don’t worry if it doesn’t hold tightly together. The batter should be wet but not so stiff that you can’t get it to mix in with the chard. But is should be dry enough that you can basically form a loosely packed quenelle that will hold together when you drop it in the hot oil.

Fry it up and eat with a squeeze of lemon before serving!

Chard Fritters002.jpg

Ecuador’s Trade Secrets

Walking through the supermarket with my camera, I surreptitiously managed to take several shots. I say surreptitiously because management definitely would not approve. If you’ve read much of this blog before, you already know that most businesses here in Ecuador are highly protective of their information, and that includes pricing and products. Anyone seen gathering such information purposely would be highly suspicious…why, I don’t know. Do you?

Unrefrigerated Eggs?

One food handling practice that constantly pokes me in the eye is the eggs. Eggs are not refrigerated in Ecuador-not ever, not anywhere.
Eggs On The Shelf In Ecuador-No Refrigeration
Even on the coast, where temperatures average in the 80s and 90s, you’ll find eggs on the supermarket shelf without cooling, eggs in the local store, eggs in the corner market, all just sitting out. And even if you buy eggs from the big producers, who do run egg farms, they still stamp them with dates that are 30 days out! Incredible, and I say it doesn’t work. I often get eggs which have 30 days on the “use by” label, and upon cracking them, the yolks immediately break, a sure sign of an egg which is not fresh.

Alcohol-Truly, A Luxury

Wines (and liquors) are expensive here and became extremely expensive a few months back, when Correa, Ecuador’s president, implemented some draconian import duties on most everything to save the country from running out of hard currency-the dollar, that is. Ecuador was importing far more goods than it was exporting, and so of course the dollars to pay for those imports were leaving the country faster than they were coming in. Once we put this crisis behind us, duties may come down again and some items might, just might, approach reasonable again.
Wine Shelf At Supermaxi-One Of Ecuador's Largest Supermarket Chains

World’s Largest Banana Producer

On the other hand, bananas are cheap, and I mean so cheap, they’re almost giving them away. As the world’s largest exporter of bananas, it should be that way.
Bananas-About $0.45/lb, Pineapples-About $0.25/lb
And these are high end bananas-you can find them cheaper elsewhere. You can buy pineapples on the roadside for as little as 3 for $1, sometimes less in the growing zones. You’ll see bananas, the defective ones, sometimes piled high in the back of a truck or on the side of the road-they’re used to feed the cows. However, these are not the Cavendish variety that are exported.

Of course, most of the time the bananas you find are not the blemish-free, spotless, even-colored ones we are accustomed to in the US. All the perfect ones get shipped abroad. I wasn’t able to confirm the current price for the 43 pound box of bananas that are the standard for shipping to the US and Europe, of the Cavendish variety, but it seems to be around $5.25 a box, and was recently as high as $11-$12 due to heavy rains in other parts of the world that decimated banana crops.

Chocolate Dominates-Flash Without Flavor

Plenty of chocolate fills the supermarket shelves, but not a whole lot of it is world-class, nor is much of it consumed here. Caoni has now taken up the majority of shelf-space in the chocolates section, next to Nestle, a few other mass market imports, and other sweets. Caoni has first-class packaging that belies what is to be found inside. It’s produced by Tulicorp, a local processor of cacao based in Guayaquil. Hearsay has it that one of the main investors behind it is Pronaca, Ecuador’s largest poultry, pork, and general mass food processor.

The rest of the mass market chocolates are either locally produced or imported from Colombia, and most contain vegetable fats and hydrogenated oils but no real cocoa butter. As far as appreciation for chocolate goes, most Ecuadorians think chocolate is chocolate. Per cents mean nothing to most consumers, and where it comes from-who cares? As long as it comes in a pretty package, is cheap, and there’s a good amount, most local consumers are happy.
Caoni Chocolate Rules The Shelves Of Supermaxi

Instant Gratification

While there is still plenty of basic home cooking going on and the pace of life is much slower here than in the so-called industrialized world, Ecuadorians love their instant soup mixes too. And soup, being part of the daily lunchtime ritual, is a highly popular item. Nestle again dominates the market here, under its Maggi brand of soups and condiments.
Maggi (A Nestle Brand) Dominates The Instant Soup Market

Cows-Loving Grass, Not Corn

Finally, Ecuadorians are very big on cheese and dairy items. Locally made cheeses are abundant and the most popular kinds are fresh cheeses which keep only a few days after being opened and cannot be aged. There is also a Swiss contingent that has been here for decades, that produces a decent Gruyere, among other cheeses. Variety is thin, not the hundreds of regional cheeses like those found in France; there are no more than a dozen or so different types. Imported cheeses are costly as import duties are in place to protect local industry. Almost all dairy products here, especially the fresh ones, have a rich, deep flavor-probably because all the cattle here is free-roaming and grass-fed.

Cream and milk is most commonly purchased in UHT boxes; Nestle also seems to have major control over this sector. Fresh milk and cream can be spotty in quality; because Ecuador’s dairy cattle are almost purely grass fed, flavor and fat content tend to vary depending on the time of year. Also, fresh products are not homogenized so you often get fat separation.
Dairy Section Of Supermaxi

Empanadas are one of Ecuador’s most ubiquitous, and of course popular, foods. You can find them in small shops along most streets, on street corners, and in almost any Ecuadorian restaurant both high and low-budget. Occasionally baked but usually fried-made even better by the use of fresh lard-they come in a variety of flavors.

Sunday we stopped at this little empanada-only shop in San Rafael, a suburban but bustling town just outside of Quito. My mother-in-law had recommended this place; they have two locations, the other is a few miles away in another part of town.  All they sell here are empanadas, sodas, and beer. They come in several flavors, but the most common types here are made of plantain dough, which is made with fresh plantains and flour, or with a type of white corn called morocho, filled with just a bit of ground pork and peas.

“Old Country” Empanadas

Ecuadorian Hot Sauce AKA Ají in Spanish.

White empanada on left made of morocho or corn, on right, Chilean style empanada.

Our son Sebastian enjoying his cheese and plantain empanada and a Fanta.

Daily empanada list-corn, chilean style with meat, chicken, napolitan (cheese, tomato, oregano, and salami), cheese, plantain, and mejid-cheese and sugar in plantain dough, a sweet/salty mix.

Inside the shop.

See and download the full gallery on posterous

Posted via email from aequare’s posterous

I’ve been trying to make pound cakes and things like it for months. I never had the discipline to keep copious, detailed notes until just recently. All my poundcakes were a flop. The looked like this:

High Altitude Lemon Cake Disaster

I tried adjusting recipes, tried different recipes, different oven temps, starting off in a warm, but not fully-preheated oven (my mother-in-law swears by it for her orange cake), but nothing seemed to work. The work went in fits and starts, I’d try for a day here, a day there, but kept giving up. I finally decided it was time, time to just go at it, do a marathon of baking if that’s what it took, to get something, anything, resembling a pound cake, baked here at Quito’s altitude of 9,000 feet.

After five attempts, we finally got something that works! The key points, who I must credit to user davidtmori of South Lake Tahoe, CA on egullet, were these:

“…cakes and cookies are the two items affected most by altitude. In cookies, the leavening needs to be reduced, by as much as 50%. Flour and eggs need to be increased by 8% and 13% respectively. Sugar, a tenderizer, needs to be decreased by 8%. Fat, such as butter, needs to be decreased by 7%, And liquid, such as water or milk, needs to be increased by 20%.
Of course, every recipe is different, and the best results are obtained by some experimentation and tweaking. These across the board percentages may need to be adjusted from one recipe to the next. Good luck.

I had made several different adjustments similar to these in one way or another, but still wasn’t getting results. But after applying these percentage adjustments to a scientific degree I finally got it right. The one adjustment that was even bigger than what’s recommended here was leavening, which I reduce by about 75%. Also, I did not increase the eggs from the original recipe.

I began initially with Joy the Baker’s Lemon Drenched Lemon Cakes recipe. The photo above is the first flop. After converting the entire recipe to grams, it was a lot easier to start making percentage adjustments here and there.

What finally brought success was the following:

195 g butter
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
190 g cream
515 g sugar
325 g flour
6 eggs
vanilla extract, powder or bean
2 Meyer Lemons
Juice of 2 lemons

Making the cakes:
Preheat a convection oven to 350 degrees F or a conventional oven to 375 degrees F. Butter and flour two 8 1/2-4 1/2-inch loaf pans. Place the pans on an insulated baking sheet.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Put the sugar and the lemon zest in a large bowl, working with your fingers, rub them together until the sugar is moist and the zest has released its oil and smell in the sugar. Add the vanilla bean seeds or vanilla powder and work them into the sugar. If you are using vanilla extract, add it later, after you have added the eggs.

Add the eggs and whisk them into the sugar, beating until they are thoroughly incorporated. Whisk in the extract (if using), then whisk in the cream. Continuing with the whisk, or switching to a large rubber spatula, gently stir in the dry ingredients in 3 or 4 additions; the batter will be smooth and thick. Finish by folding in the melted butter in 2 or 3 additions. Pour the batter into the pans, smoothing with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. As soon as the cake goes into the oven, make the syrup. After about 30 minutes in the oven, check the cakes for color- if they are browning too quickly, cover them lightly with tin foil.

Making the syrup:

Stir the water and sugar together in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the sugar melts, then bring to a boil Remove the pan from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Pour the syrup into a heatproof bowl and let cool.

When the cakes test done, transfer them to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before unmolding them and turning them right side up on the rack. Place the rack over a baking sheet lined with wax paper and, using a thin skewer, cake tester or thin-bladed sharp knife, poke holes all over the cakes. Brush the cakes all over with the syrup, working slowly so that the cakes sop it up. Leave the cakes on the rack to cool to room temperature.

I skipped the syrup, it’s up to you. Thanks to http://www.joythebaker.com/blog/2009/01/lemon-drenched-lemon-cake/ and Dorie Greenspan, from which this recipe has been adapted for altitude.

In no more than a few weeks, I´ve gained fame baking chocolate chip cookies from the NY Times recipe back from July ´08. It first caught my eye after reading about it on Chez Pim´s. Before I was able to actually sell the cookies, I had to make the recipe several times over and make the proper adjustments for altitude. My first cookies came out flat as pancakes. The second batch too. They were crispy all the way through and not bad, but not what I was looking for. I like them crispy and brown on the edges and chewy as you work your way towards, the middle, don’t you?

I tried extra an extra egg yolk for texture, that didn’t work. The brown sugar here is different than what you can get in the states-there is no “light” or “dark” brown sugar, just plain brown sugar. Tried varying the rations of brown to white, made little or no difference. I let a Venezuelan friend of mine, who owns a restaurant, try them and they didn’t like the “panela” flavor. Panela is the term for what is raw, unprocessed brown sugar, which usually comes in a solid block and has to be broken up before it can be used. But to me, the absence of brown sugar…well, you couldn’t call it a chocolate chip cookie, really, if it didn’t have brown sugar.

You can’t find bread flour here in Ecuador either, so I use all AP flour in the recipe. Worked fine for me here.

I found the key to getting cookies that did not spread too much was to use chilled dough. 50g portions were just right. A hot oven is also key. Success came using our convection oven preheated to 375F.

Finally, I realized the less I changed the original recipe, the better. Because of the altitude, I find that most muffin and cookie recipes can use up to 80% less leavening than at sea level. So, let me leave you with the recipe adjusted for high-altitude baking, 9,000 feet to be more or less exact. (BTW, if you have any tips, I’m still having trouble with high altitude pound cake). Adapted from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/09/dining/091crex.html?_r=1:

Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours’ chilling

475 g AP Flour
1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
280g unsalted butter
560g light brown sugar
225 g granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
500g bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves (I use 55% bars broken up in chunks)
Sea salt.

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 50g balls of chilled dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day.

Yield: Approx 3 dozen cookies.

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Welcome to Destination Ecuador!

Welcome to Destination Ecuador! My family and I have been living in Ecuador for the last four and a half years. We’ve dealt with the worst kinds of red-tape, searched out or ended up making hard-to-find ingredients ourselves, imported equipment for making chocolate confections, learned the import-export business...Continue >>

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