R is for Rio de Janeiro

In our alphabetical trip around the world this year, we’ve been spending a lot of time in Europe and North America, so when the letter R came up I decided it was time to check out South America for a change. I’ve never been to Brazil, but Rio de Janeiro has always seemed like an amazing destination. And with the World Cup in 2014 and the 2016 summer Olympics coming to Rio, I’m sure the city will be on the world’s radar in the next few years.

To introduce the kids to Rio, I did a bit of searching and was able to find a few kid friendly video clips of the Carnival parades in Rio de Janeiro. Of course my daughter did manage to notice the two seconds of questionable footage on the one video, despite my attempts to distract her. (“Look at that lady dancing, mom, I can see her bare bum!”) We also got sidetracked into watching some clips from the movie Rio, which actually had some good Brazilian music and featured a lot of the highlights of the city. We then made our own carnival masks with the feathers and glitter we had in our art chest. rio

For our Rio meal I made a dish called feijoada, a combination of black beans and meat that is considered the national dish of Brazil. The legend is that it originated back in the slave days when the owners would slaughter an animal for a special occasion. The rich folks of course would take all the meat but the slaves would be given the bits and scraps. The meals they would make by cooking these parts with beans and vegetables tasted so good that the slave owners were soon requesting this instead of their own roasts and steaks.

Feijoada is a flexible dish with recipes calling for almost any meat you could imagine to be included. I ended up choosing a recipe with bacon, smoked sausages and ham hock. I made it in the slow cooker and the house smelled pretty good when we came home for supper! I read in one cookbook that the meat is removed and served separately from the beans so I did that and also made white rice, a traditional accompaniment. I rounded out the carb-fest with pao de queijo, a sort of cheese puff made with tapioca flour. They puffed up beautifully but I didn’t quite grease the pan enough and I deflated them a bit getting them onto the plate. I also made ensalata de palmitos, a salad made with hearts of palm, avocado and red peppers.

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To drink I was going to make a cocktail called caipirinha, which is considered Brazil’s national drink. However, it is made with a sugarcane rum called cachaca and I couldn’t find that anywhere in town. Instead I found a recipe for a sort of mulled wine called vinho quente de festa juninha which has cinnamon and apples in it. I liked it but my husband said it ruined a perfectly good red wine.

And the verdict? We liked the main course, although it was a bit heavy. My kids liked the smoked sausage pieces from the bean pot and my son in particular kept calling for “more hot dogs!”. The cheese puffs were also really good fresh out of the oven. I liked the salad, although nobody else seemed too interested. All in all it was definitely more successful than some meals I’ve tried.

For dessert I made a sweet called brigadieros. These are made by heating up cocoa, condensed milk and butter until it’s thick, then letting it cool and rolling it into balls and coating the balls in chocolate sprinkles. I actually had to make two attempts. On my first try I didn’t heat it long enough and it didn’t thicken the way it was supposed to. I ended up with a pot of chocolate glue. The second attempt was more successful, although I’m pretty sure it’s one of those deceptively simple recipes that requires a little practice to get the technique down. I should also have rolled them a bit bit smaller because they were very rich and very very sweet. But in a good way!

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And that was R is for Rio! Our destination for S is one of our family’s favourite places and we’ve been looking forward to it since this adventure began, so hopefully it won’t disappoint. See you there!

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