SWEETENED condensed milk is everywhere. There’s probably a can or two lurking in your cabinets. It is the key to Key lime pie; it brings the sweet to Vietnamese coffee; it went to Rio for Carnaval last month in the shape of brigadeiros, bite-size balls of milk fudge that are a Brazilian national treat.
“It is hard to explain the relationship people have with it in Latin America,” said Leticia Moreinos Schwartz, a cooking teacher in Connecticut who grew up in Rio de Janeiro. “Leite moça came when life was hard and there were not many treats,” she said, using the generic Brazilian term that means “milk of the lady,” a reference to the Swiss milkmaid on cans of Nestlé condensed milk, introduced to Brazil in 1921.
Here’s a colorful fish dish from Brazil that’s packed with interesting flavors: sweet peppers, rich coconut and pungent ginger. The original recipe called for sole; until that fish becomes more sustainable, choose tilapia or turbot instead.
The coconut milk acts as a thickening agent. Don’t use coconut water or cream of coconut, which is full of added sugar and emulsifiers.
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 yellow bell pepper
1/2 green bell pepper
10 medium to large shallots
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium cloves garlic
Leaves from 1 small bunch thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
3-inch piece ginger root
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups fish stock
1 cup coconut milk
4 skinless tilapia or turbot fillets (about 6 ounces each)
1 cup flour, for coating the fish
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
You never know what to expect when you sign up for a cooking class. How much cooking will you do? Who will attend and what will they want from the class? How will the personality of the chef influence the experience? What if you could cut down on all those variables by gathering a group of friends with common food interests and visiting the home of a chef whose only motive is to ensure you have a good time and eat well? It would be a fabulous experience – wouldn’t it?
Recently, eight CTBites contributors had just such a fabulous culinary experience with chef, teacher and cookbook author Leticia Moreinos Schwartz at one of her in-home Brazilian cooking classes. From the moment we arrived, Leticia’s warm, effervescent greeting and genuine smile set a relaxed, but enthusiastic tone. Her excitement to share her native Brazilian cuisine was infectious and quickly put to rest any questions we might have had about what was in store.
Our evening began with Ciapirinha, a Brazilian cocktail made with alcohol from distilled sugar cane and served over limes muddled with sugar. Leticia was not only gracious enough to accommodate our last minute request for Ciapirinhas, but accompanied our cocktail course with Pao de Queijo, warm golf-ball sized spheres of bread with a delicious creamy cheese center. As she was explaining that Pao de Queijo is one of Brazil’s favorite savory snacks, it was apparent that her welcome couldn’t have been more complete. We were all in: hearts, minds and stomachs.
Our menu was a collaborative effort with Leticia sending initial menu options, and after receiving our feedback, designing the final selections: Meat Croquette with Red Pepper Pesto, Shrimp and Yucca Stew and Coffee Souffle with Dulce de Leche Sauce. She designed our class as a cooking demonstration, but will structure an evening to include as much or as little hands-on cooking you’d like. Leticia was very comfortable with our participation and welcomed us to jump in – which we did – whenever the spirit moved us.
Leticia prepared ingredients beforehand and organized them on trays, by dish, ready to be used as needed. The timing and order of what she prepared in front of us was planned thoughtfully so she could converse, instruct, cook and enjoy the evening. She began by making the Dulce de Leche and pastry cream for the soufflés, so they would be ready in time for the dessert course. As she scooped individual egg yolks from a bowl with a cupped hand and tossed each gently between her fingers to separate the yellow globes from their clingy white companions, Leticia imparted cooking tips: “eggs separate better when they are cold, but whisk better at room temperature; sugar will burn egg yolks, so whisk them as soon as they’re combined.”
When a few of us helped to stir the veal stock and flour roux and sauté the ground beef for the Croquette de Carne com Pesto Vermelho (Meat Croquette with Red Pepper Pesto), Leticia talked about her native Brazil and the three cultural influences on its cuisine: Portuguese, Amazonian Indian and African. Her recipes draw on these influences and when it makes sense, she injects French techniques she learned while training at The French Culinary Institute and working in New York at Le Cirque 2000, La Grenouille, La Caravelle and Payard Patisserie and Bistro. We saw examples of these influences and Leticia’s special alchemy in the Red Pepper and Brazil Nut Pesto that accompanied the Croquettes. The pesto was inspired by Piri Piri, a fiery sauce common in Portugal and a staple condiment in many East African stews (the Portuguese colonized Mozambique as well as Brazil), but adapted using Brazil Nuts and reducing the heat of the chili peppers.
The croquettes were deliciously crisp on the outside and wonderfully creamy inside. I’m not a huge fan of fried food and marveled at the absence of grease on my fingers after finishing my croquettes. Leticia revealed her secrets: don’t skimp on the flour dredging, the egg dipping or the bread crumb coating; be sure the oil is new and at the right temperature and do not crowd the pan.
Our next dish introduced Palm Oil and Yucca to the group; both ingredients were the basis for an amazing Bobo de Camarao (Shrimp Stew in Yucca and Coconut Sauce). The sauce was flavorful and beautifully balanced with a bright top-note of nutmeg. Yucca, an uber-starchy root vegetable, was mashed and along with the coconut milk created a luxuriously creamy sauce.
We were all beyond food-happy by this point, when Leticia brandished a kitchen-torch and scorched the sugar topping on mini Avocado Crème Brulees, another menu surprise. Avocados, she explained, are used almost exclusively for desserts in Brazil. The crème brulee was made simply from condensed milk, avocados and lemon juice, and it silenced the crowd upon the first bite (except for some food-related expletives). We could have ended the night right there, until Leticia pulled from the oven 10 beautiful caramel colored puffs of Coffee Soufflé, drawing more oohs and ahhs from the crowd. She sliced into their centers, which seemed a shame, but then bathed each gash with the Dulce de Leche. The sauce flowed through the delicate and airy soufflé and the combination was heavenly. The next sound I was aware of was the tinkling of spoons against the bottoms of nine empty ramekins.
A cooking class with Leticia is so much more than your average culinary experience. We had stove-side seats to a classically trained, experienced chef, who couldn’t have been more charming or unassuming. Leticia’s kitchen was built with the intention of sharing her native cuisine and her culinary talents and she moves through it with the comfort and finesse of someone who knows and loves what she is doing. The center of the long room is dominated by an island that easily accommodated all eight of us along one side and the two ends and allowed for steady conversation. Slightly off-center is a single burner where Leticia whisked, sautéed and boiled the dishes we enjoyed, enabling her to put the focus on the food, the cooking, and what we wanted from both. Leticia brings all her knowledge and passion to the table and creates a seamless experience, all of which she manages with aplomb.
Surprisingly, Leticia’s first career was in private banking. Thankfully, she left banking to pursue her passion and moved to New York in 1997 to study at the French Culinary Institute. Although doing what she loved in renowned NYC restaurants, Leticia told us she felt “lost in the world of cooking” and yearned to go back to her Brazilian roots. We are fortunate that her decisions led her to teaching – in her home as well as at The French Culinary Institute and The Institute of Culinary Education in New York – and that when Leticia found her niche, it happened to be right here in our backyard.
Leticia’s first cookbook, The Brazilian Kitchen: 100 Classic and Contemporary Recipes for the Home Cook was published in February and her work has been featured in local and national media outlets, including Fine Cooking Magazine and NBC’s LX TV. You can learn more about Leticia and her cooking classes at her website: www.chefleticia.com
Chef Leticia, 11 Tannery Lane South, Weston, CT, 203.847.4244
December, 3, 2015.
La chef Leticia Moreinos Schwartz conoce de primera mano cuán seria puede ser la diabetes tipo 2; su abuelo murió por complicaciones de la enfermedad.
La pérdida de su abuelo hizo que tanto ella como su familia hicieran cambios en su estilo de vida para reducir sus riesgos de desarrollar diabetes tipo 2.
“Como chef latina, no solo tengo amor por la comida, también entiendo su importancia en la cultura latina. Como alguien que tiene conexiones personales con la diabetes tipo 2, también comprendo el impacto que esta enfermedad tiene en nuestra comunidad. Casi el 13 por ciento de los adultos hispanos han sido diagnosticados con diabetes tipo 2 y tienen el doble de posibilidades de desarrollar la condición, comparado con los adultos blancos no-hispanos”, dijo la chef a HuffPost Voces.
Siendo que la comida es tan importante en la cultura latina, la chef entiende que uno de los aspectos más difíciles para los hispanos que han sido diagnosticados con diabetes es el ajuste de la dieta:
euforia sexual”Hay muchas razones por lo cual esto sucede, pero un factor importante es el estilo de vida, especialmente el énfasis que los latinos ponen en la comida. Después de que mi abuelo murió por complicaciones de la diabetes tipo 2, toda mi familia se comprometió a cambiar su estilo de vida, ajustando nuestra manera de comer y aumentando nuestro ejercicio. Aunque fue difícil al principio, nos dimos cuenta de que no teníamos que sacrificar mucho, y podíamos seguir disfrutando de nuestra comida sin cambiar el sabor y viviendo una vida más saludable al mismo tiempo”, compartió Moreinos Schwartz.
Pero la chef, quien nació y se crió en Brasil, no se limitó a hacer cambios solo en su familia, sino que quiso educar a los latinos a través de la alimentación saludable uniéndose al programa “Desafiando la Diabetes”, una colaboración entre la Asociación Americana de la Diabetes y Merck.
A través del programa la chef busca “educar a los hispanos sobre la diabetes tipo 2 y motivarlos a trabajar con su doctor para manejar su condición y alcanzar su meta de A1C, que es el promedio de glucosa en la sangre en los últimos 2 a 3 meses”, según nos explicó la chef.
Respecto a cómo pueden las personas diagnosticadas con diabetes ajustar sus recetas, Moreinos, quien es autora de libros especializados en comida latina, nos dijo lo siguiente:
“No hay ninguna solución que sea ‘talla única’ para la diabetes. Ciertos cambios pueden ser los adecuados para ciertas personas pero no para otras. Es importante hablar con tu doctor sobre qué comidas son las mejores para ti y cuáles evitar. También podría ayudar trabajar con tu doctor para planear comidas y meriendas durante el día”.
Añadió además que otras pequeñas modificaciones pueden ayudar:
“En mis recetas, hago pequeñas sustituciones que mantienen el sabor tradicional pero hacen que el plato sea más adecuado para alguien con diabetes. Por ejemplo, al hacer arroz con pollo, puedes usar salchicha de pavo en vez de chorizo, y arroz integral en vez de blanco. Las hierbas y especias también son una manera fantástica de mantener el sabor sin calorías adicionales o sal”.
“Los tacos pueden ser más saludables con tortillas de maíz, pollo en vez de res, etc. Evitar comidas fritas y postres con mucha grasa es usualmente una buena idea, pero la moderación es clave”, enfatizó la chef.
Leite’s Culinaria Feb 23, 2010 posted by David Leite | photo by Ben Fink
LC Something Fishy Note
Though this recipe calls for fish stock, if you’re pinched for time–or choose not to stink up your kitchen by simmering fish bones–you can certainly rely on frozen fish stock, found in small containers in the freezer section of most seafood counters.
BRAZILIAN FISH STEW RECIPE
1 scallion (white and green parts), chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 small piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
4 large cloves garlic, minced
5 tablespoons dendê oil (you can use extra-virgin olive oil or peanut oil, but you’ll loose the vibrant Bahian hue)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 1/4 pounds sea bass, cut into 2-inch chunks
1/2 cup freshly chopped green bell pepper
1/3 cup freshly chopped yellow bell pepper
1 1/2 cups fish stock (you can substitute clam juice, homemade chicken stock, low-sodium canned chicken broth, or equal amounts of both)
1 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup canned or jarred hearts of palm, drained and diced
2 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
1. In a bowl, mix together half of the scallion, half of the onion, half of the ginger, and half of the garlic. Add 2 tablespoons of the dendê oil, all of the olive oil, and half of the cilantro. Place the chunks of fish in a resealable plastic bag and add the marinade, pressing the bag to evenly coat the fish. Remove all of the air from the plastic bag and seal it. Place the bag in a shallow bowl, making sure the chunks of fish are completely covered by the marinade, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
2. Take the fish out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
3. Place the remaining 3 tablespoons of the dendê oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the remaining scallion and onion along with the green and yellow bell peppers, and cook until softened, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the remaining ginger and garlic to the pan and cook, stirring to combine, for another minute or until it’s hot. Add the fish stock and let it come to a full boil. Add the coconut milk and tomato paste and return to a boil. Immediately lower the heat to medium-low or so and simmer the sauce, nice and gently, while you prepare the fish.
5. In the meantime, place the fish and its marinade in a gratin or casserole dish. Pour the lemon juice on top and season lightly with salt and pepper. Bake until the fish is almost but not quite cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes.
6. Carefully transfer each chunk of fish to the pan with the gently simmering sauce. Add any juices in the dish from the fish and marinade. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and cook just until the fish is soft and tender, 5 to 8 minutes.
7. Uncover the pan, add the hearts of palm and tomatoes, and just let them get hot, which will take only a minute or two.
8. Taste the moqueca, season it with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with the remaining fresh cilantro.
HUNGRY FOR MORE? CHOW DOWN ON THESE:
Spanish-Style Fish Stew from Stephen Cooks
Brazilian Salmon and Sweet Potato Stew from Healthy Green Kitchen
Mahi Mahi Stewed with Cherry Tomatoes and Capers from Leite’s Culinaria
New England Bouillabaisse from Leite’s Culinaria
December, 3, 2015.
Leticia Moreinos Schwartz, aka Chef Leticia, may not have diabetes, but she’s doing everything in her power to stay healthy and educate others on the types of foods to reach for to prevent diabetes or to help manage diabetes. She has a strong family history of type 2 diabetes and her grandfather died from diabetes complications.
Chef Leticia Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Chef Leticia has built a career on her passion for her native Brazilian cuisine. She studied culinary and pastry arts at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, has cooked at such legendary New York restaurants as Le Cirque 2000 and La Grenouille and is the author of two cookbooks, including The Brazilian Kitchen.
But since 2013, she has become dedicated to diabetes, partnering with Merck and serving as the spokesperson for Desafiando La Diabetes campaign which is part of America’s Diabetes Challenge. Her goal: to raise awareness of the importance of working with your doctor to set and reach your A1C goal.
Her strategy: providing traditional Latin recipes that are diabetic-friendly. This is especially important as an estimated 12.2 percent of U.S. Hispanic adults have already been diagnosed with diabetes and diabetes is the fifth leading cause of death within the Hispanic community.
“In our community, we’re so attached to ingredients,” she says. “Whenever someone is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, people immediately think that their eating is going to be boring. I’m on a mission to change that.”
For Chef Leticia, this means helping people learn how to make amazing meals that don’t sacrifice flavor. And, when it comes to cooking, she is the first to encourage people to cook more at home.
“We have a tendency to eat takeout a lot,” she says. “We can better control what goes into our foods if we make them from scratch.”
She also hopes people will swap out the sodium by using more spices in their cooking.
“As Latins, we tend to use a lot of Goya Adobo in our cooking and those blends contain a lot of sodium,” she says. “But if you use more herbs and spices, you don’t need that much salt.”
She also recommends going the DIY route when it comes to chicken stock since store-bought varieties can be loaded with salt. Take chicken stock, a key kitchen staple for so many dishes, including braising and making sauces, as one example.
“One of the things I learned as a chef working in restaurants is that there’s a real benefit from making chicken stock every week,” says Chef Leticia, who considers chicken stock a kitchen staple that’s used for braising and making sauces. “I never throw out the bones from a chicken and my stock isn’t loaded in sodium, like the canned version.”
Shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables is another key message Chef Leticia likes to share.
“There something so amazing about fresh fruits and vegetables,” she says. “I love shopping at the farmer’s market for arugula, green lettuce and spinach.”
Smart substitutions can also go a long way, she adds.
For example, when it comes to a favorite meal such as rice and beans, Schwartz suggests switching out white rice for brown rice. “The same thing goes for pasta,” she says. “Instead of regular white pasta, sub in whole wheat pasta.”
And dessert shouldn’t be entirely off-limits.
“One bite is too little, two is just good, three is a lot,’” she says. “In other words, everything in moderation.”
So, a taste of Arroz Con Leche (aka rice pudding) doesn’t have to be a thing of the past. But fruits are also wonderful ways to get a taste of sweetness.
“I encourage people to eat natural sugars,” she says. “If I feel like something sweet, I’ll make a smoothie with papaya and oranges, for example. With the sweetness of papaya, you don’t need any additional sugar. But it’s important to keep in mind that too much sugar from any source can be an issue for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.”
Is all this talk about sweet and savory foods left your mouth watering? That’s good, because Chef Leticia shared a handful of recipes with DiabeticLifestyle that are not to be missed! Try them out and let us know what you think by leaving a comment or recipe ranking.
Cocada de Forno
One of my favorite dishes at Brazil a Gosto, chef Luiza Trajano’s elegant restaurant in São Paulo, is a baked cocada (a coconut candy made of coconut and sugar cut into squares) with lemon sorbet. It is so delicious that I had to experiment with it back in my American kitchen. I have to admit I am very happy with the final result and I think you will be, too. This is an unpretentious and easy dessert to assemble. You can prepare everything in advance and just bake it on the day of serving.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3 whole eggs
1/3 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon Malibu rum
1 1/2 cups unsweetened grated coconut
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, sifted
1 24-ounce baking dish
1 – Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease a baking dish with some spray.
2 – In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and sugar until light and creamy at medium speed, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue to mix. Scrape the sides of the bowl after each addition.
3 – Add the coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, and Malibu and continue to mix at medium speed until the batter is well blended, about 1 minute. Add the coconut and mix until it is all incorporated, although the batter will look grainy.
4 – Fold the flour in with a rubber spatula. Spread the batter into the prepared baking dish. You can keep this in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap, up to 2 days ahead of time.
5 – Bake in the oven until the top looks golden brown, the edges are set, but the center is slightly jiggly, about 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes.
6 – Serve with a scoop of lemon sorbet.
Recipes from The Brazilian Kitchen by Leticia Moreinos Schwartz (Kyle Books; 2010)
It’s futile to resist introducing Leticia Moreinos Schwartz as the chef from Ipanema.
She was born and raised in that song-famous district of Rio de Janeiro and now, as a resident of Weston, is on the verge of achieving celebrity status as America’s Brazilian cooking guru.
She pops up on YouTube in dozens of daytime television cooking clips, a minor stardom born from the success of her first cookbook, “The Brazilian Kitchen.” It won the 2010 Gourmand Award for best book on Latin American cuisine. But there are two clips, both from public TV cooking shows, that exemplify where Moreinos Schwartz came from and where she might be going.
There she is on Sara Moulton’s “Week Night Meals” shopping at Banana Brazil, a favorite deli market in Danbury, and then cooking in Moulton’s kitchen. And there she is with Hubert Keller, the celebrity chef from San Francisco, but now she’s back where she started, talking and jogging with Keller on the beach in Ipanema, before taking him on a tour of her favorite Rio tea rooms, chocolate shops and restaurants. The clip is from one of several 30-minute episodes featuring her and Keller timed to coincide with this summer’s Olympics Games, which are being hosted in Rio.
“It was a marathon. It was exhausting,” Moreinos Schwartz says of the intense 10-day shooting schedule. Even so she says she enjoyed jogging on the beach, in tights. Besides, the Keller show probably will boost her cookbook sales, especially of the second, “My Rio de Janeiro,” published in 2013. The airtime should also be good for a cooking show of her own that is in development. Tentatively titled “Brazilian Kiss,” she says it “is a mission of joy and love. It’s not an easy task.”
Moreinos Schwartz, who has lived in Weston since 2005 with her husband and two children, has a cooking pedigree that is part privileged, part home-grown and part hard-earned. Both her parents were bankers, who nevertheless recognized a child so interested in cooking that they gave her her own recipe notebook when she was 8. One of the first she recorded was for Pao de Queijo, the small round cheese breads that she says are iconic to Brazilian tables.
She already was apprenticing with the family’s live-in housekeeper, a woman named Dilma, and remembers helping her shape the cheese breads, as well as the rounded fudge balls called brigadeiros that are another icon.
“We’d scoop them and roll them and make little portions,” she says. “We used to talk for hours when we were rolling. I was just a little child.”
By age 15, Moreinos was imagining a career in cooking, but with few culinary school choices in Rio, she got a degree in economics instead. Then, on a trip to New York City, she discovered the French Culinary Institute, now called the International Culinary Center.
“That’s when I had that aha moment. This is what I’ve been looking for all my life,” she says.
She enrolled in 1997 and started on what has become a reality TV subgenre.
“I lived the young (chef) lifestyle,” she says. “I was burning my arms and working in restaurants. I was washing dishes and peeling carrots for hours and hours. I was a line cook and getting yelled at. I really wanted to soak up everything I could.”
Because of her school and her commitment, she got internships at renowned restaurants like Le Cirque. What might have been a high-adrenaline career was interrupted by marriage and children and the move to Connecticut, first to Norwalk, then to Weston.
She made adjustments and began teaching cooking in continuing education classes. Those led to private classes and catering and back to the Culinary Institute for a course in food journalism. Even though she speaks Portuguese, Spanish and English fluently, Moreinos Schwartz worried she lacked the writing skills her book demanded.
“I wanted detail,” she says, to improve on existing Brazilian cookbooks she found too vague. “They write something like bake in oven until golden brown. They don’t give the temperature. They don’t say what are the possibilities for error.”
At the time, Brazil was enjoying its international “moment,” she says, with the approach of the 2014 soccer World Cup, then the Olympics (that will occur in the shadow of an enormous corruption scandal).
The TV appearances that followed “The Brazilian Kitchen” also led to an ongoing role with the Merck pharmaceutical company’s diabetes awareness campaign. As the Hispanic face of the campaign, Moreinos Schwartz is on the road several times a year teaching healthy recipes. Her counterparts are country singer Tim McGraw and actor S. Epatha Merkerson (best known for “Law and Order”).
More recently Moreinos Schwartz was chosen to do a series of Gravy Master commercials. She does not endorse the product; instead she appears in one spot as a backyard barbecuer, slathering Gravy Master on salmon. The company originally intended to cast a man in the role, but decided a woman would be more effective moving Gravy Master out of grandma’s pantry.
When the family moved to Weston, Moreinos Schwartz had the kitchen remodeled so she could give private cooking classes, and it doubles as a home kitchen. For breakfast, she may serve her children, 12 and 14, the cheese bread she learned to make as a young girl with Dilma at her side. For dinner, it’s often the most iconic Brazilian dish of all: rice and beans.
“Plain rice and beans. And meat, rice and beans. And chicken, rice and beans. And sausage, rice and beans. We just do rice and beans with everything,” Moreinos Schwartz says without apology.
Connecticut Cottages & Gardens
By Dina Cheney
Photography by Aimee Herring
Blame it on Rio Originally from Rio de Janiero’s Ipanema neighborhood, Leticia Schwartz (opposite), grew up watching her family’s cook, Dilma. Leticia Schwartz now runs a culinary instruction and catering company in Weston.