Hot Apple cider

Apples and maple syrup are Maine’s superstar ingredients. And even if the drink is more traditionally associated with fall or winter, there is no other comforting feeling than diving deep into a hot mug of apple cider in the middle of a chilly early spring day.

When the early settlers from Europe arrived with a long history of Apple cider making (i.e. with alcohol) they saw in this drink a perfect alternative to beer. While the latter was the clear favorite at the time, it turns out apples are much easier to grow in New England and with no need for brewing process, colonists quickly settled to become avid cider aficionados. The long tradition of cider in New England, hard or not, is believed to come from those days. In the recipe below, we’ll explore the mulled version of the drink and add a hint of Maple syrup to it.

Yield: 6-7 comforting mugs

10 Apples

1/4 cup Maple syrup (adjust to taste)

1 inch fresh Ginger

1 tbs ground Nutmeg

10-12 whole Cloves

2 Cinnamon sticks

6 cups Water

To speed up the process without losing on the depth of flavours, I use
a pressure cooker in this recipe as well . Same as the previous recipe (delicious corn chowder!), if you don’t have one or don’t want to use it, you can simply opt for a more traditional method on the stovetop in which you simmer everything for about 2 hours or slow-cook for 6-8h.

While I was researching methods on how to make the best lobster broth out there, I came across a few books and blogs that recommended to crush the shell as finely as possible in order to maximize how much flavor is infused during the cooking. I decided to apply the same logic here and blend the entire apples and spices finely before putting the liquid in my Instant-pot.

A lot of recipes call for high quality apple cider but I don’t think you are saving that much time while you’ll get something equally good for a fraction of the price by using, you know…real apples. Set the pressure on high for at least 25 minutes (and up to an hour). Once cooked, turn the valve to relieve pressure through the quick release method.

Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer, pushing the pulp through to extract as much goodness as you can from it.

Pimp your mug

For a boozy “after-ski” feeling, drop a shot of rum (aged rum is the best)
in your mug or pick whiskey to add a more smoky taste.

If on the other hand you want the ultra comfort drink version, stir a teaspoon of butter in your mug. It’s extra delicious.

Pressure cooker Corn Chowder

To talk about a chowder with New England as a destination without tackling the Seafood chowder first could be seen as somewhat of a sacrilege. But truth to be told there is a lot to be learned from other versions in how they approach what comfort food is. In the recipe below I tried to strike a balance between simplicity, healthiness and comforting flavors.

You can easily make it vegan by substituting the bacon with fried shallots and the cream with almond cream. For our gluten-free friends, replace the flour with cornstarch or potato starch.

Yield: 4 comforting bowls

6 stripes of bacon

4 garlic cloves

1/3 cup white wine

1 large onion

2 celery sticks

3 cups water (or light broth like chicken or veggie)

1 large potato

2 corn cobs (or 2 cups of frozen corn work too)

1 tsp toasted sesame oil (optional)

1/4 cup half-half (or heavy cream)

2 tbs all-purpose flour

2 green onions

Chives

Lemon wedges (optional)

Doing this recipe is much faster and simpler if you use an electric pressure-cooker. If you don’t have one, you can get some equally good results by simmering the chowder for a longer time (about 35-40min) on the stovetop.

“Frying” the bacon + garlic and prepare the fond

Set the pressure cooker to “Saute”. Cut the bacon into .5 inch lardons and mince the garlic finely. Drop the bacon first and add the garlic once enough fat has been rendered. Stir from time to time to ensure even browning. What you are after are nice and crispy bacon bits with fried garlic. Reserve those for serving at the end but keep that good fat in the pot.

Pour the white wine into the fat and wait until it’s reduced by about half. Watch out as pouring a liquid into hot fat will create some activity in that pot (but no need to be paranoid here it’s deep enough and not hot enough to be dangerous).

Making the broth

While the good stuff is bubbling all it can, chop the onion and celery into small/medium pieces. It’s going to melt in the end so no need to be too fancy here with the knife work. Saute the mix for 2-3 min in the pot.Dice the potato into small/medium bits too and cut the corn kernels from the cob. Do not throw away the cobs! Put the potato dices, corn kernel, corn cob and anything you want to use to flavour the broth (I used the empty lobster shell I froze after making the delicious lobster rolls here). You could easily add some toasted sesame oil, bay leaves or pink berries if you want at this stage…basically whatever you like as long as it remains subtle in the amount of flavours it brings to the dish.

Lock the pot and set on high pressure for 10 minutes.

Turning the soup into a great chowder

While the soup is cooking chop the chives and green onions finely and reserve. A quick tip to get a nicer presentation at the end is to cut the onions with a slight angle.

When ready, use the quick-release method to drop the pressure in the pot, then discard any flavouring elements you used (i.e. lobster shell, cob, leaves, etc.).

Set the cooker back to Saute and add the half-half, flour and half the green onions. Bring to a boil while stirring vigorously to mix the flour and breaking down some of those potato dices to help getting a richer soup. Let it simmer for a few minutes until it thickens a bit.

Chowd’ah time!

Serve with bacon and garlic bits on top of the chowder and the remaining green onion and chives. Poppy seeds looks nice as well if you have some in your pantry.

A wedge of lemon on the side is a great addition if you want to bring a bit more acidity to the dish.

This chowder can be a great meal on its own with a side of toasted sliced roll and coleslaw or be a side itself to accompany other seafood-based delicacies from New England.

Next time I’ll try to add some fresh goat cheese to bring some tartness to the soup while banking on the comforting taste of hot goat cheese.

Let me know what you think below.

Maine vs Connecticut lobster rolls

If you have ever been to the New England coast, you too have eaten countless lobster rolls along the way. And while everyone can agree on how delicious those are, two styles compete for the title of THE true Lobster roll.

The most famous version and the one you are most likely picturing in your head right now is from Maine: a to-die-for, mayo-based salad, simply laid on a toasted bun. If you aren’t a purist, you’ll allow some shaved celery to delicately join this tasty party.

The slightly less famous contender comes from the deep south – well… from Connecticut but it’s all relative in the end. Unlike its Northern rival, this roll is hot and relies on a melted-butter base.

Try both versions and decide for yourself what the best lobster recipe is.

Don’t be scared by the length of the recipe below. I wanted to give you everything you need to build each element from scratch but you can easily cut corners by buying ready-made buns or pre-cooked lobster.

Homemade New England hot dog buns

Yield: 10-ish hot buns

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tbs active yeast (or substitute above with 1 cup of sourdough starter)

5 tbs buttermilk powder

1 tbs salt

1 tbs sugar

1/2 cup milk or buttermilk

1/2 cup water

1 egg (+ 1 for egg wash)

40g soft butter

For best results, plan to make the dough 24h in advance. It can also be done in just a few hours if you don’t have the time (or are just impatient, hungry, or most likely both).

In a standing mixer, with a dough hook, mix well together the flour, yeast, buttermilk powder, salt and sugar. In the meantime, bring the water and milk to a warmish temperature (about 100F / 38c). Add the liquids to the solids before dropping the egg in the batter.

Knead the dough until smooth (about 5 min). The texture you are looking for is a dough that does not stick to the side of the bowl but still a bit to the bottom. Add a teeny weeny bit of water if needed (different types of flour will hydrate differently).

Now, add the butter, piece by piece and keep on kneading for an other 5 minutes. In the end the dough is sticky, shinny and smells delicious. Cover the bowl with cling film and let it rise in the fridge for 24h. If you opt-out for the shortcut, simply put your bowl in a warm place (but not HOT) until doubled in size (about 1h).

Pre-heat your oven to 350F (180c).

To shape the buns, cut the dough in pieces of about 110g (around 10 pieces). Roll each on your table in a 4-inch long cigar. Press the center of the cigar with the side of your hand to create a small furrow. This is to help you pinch both side tightly together to create a smooth top. Place each bun 1/2 inch apart to have them bump into each other during the second proofing (or while cooking) and get those delicious soft sides that comes with New England style buns.

Brush some egg wash on top, to create a nice coloration and cook for 25-30min or until golden brown.

Note: If you bag them and place in the fridge they will stay equally delicious for a few days. I actually found them to be easier to work with on the next day and we both preferred the second round.

I also really recommend to trim a tiny bit each side to have a planer surface which helps get a much more evenly toasted side. It seems like applying the butter directly on the side instead of in the pan also achieve more toasted and crunchier sides.

Lobster salad (Maine)

Yield: 4-5 proud rolls from Maine

1 lbs lobster tail

3 tbs high-quality mayonnaise

2 tbs very thinly sliced celery heart

2 tbs chives

2 tsp celery seeds

2 tbs lemon juice

Splash of champagne vinegar (optional)

Salt & Pepper

The preparation for both versions is the same up to the final steps. First you need to flash-boil the tail to remove the lobster meat more easily. Lay it flat and place a skewer or chopstick between the meat and the shell to prevent the tail from curbing.

When the water is boiling, drop the lobster in the pan for one minute. Stop by putting the tail in an iced-water bath, then separate the meat from the shell. Technically, because you’ll cut that tail into pieces you could argue this step is not critical but it’s always a good way to learn how to remove lobster meat from its shell – plus it really is much simpler to remove the meat without butchering it.

Now for the actual cooking the easiest way to get perfect results without effort is to rely on a sous-vide. If you don’t have one you can steam or boil until the lobster turns bright red (about 8-10 minutes). However, you’ll thank me later for telling you to bag that bad boy with 2 tbs of butter and some fresh herbs. Cook for 30min to 1h at 130F (55c).

For Maine-inspired rolls, remove the cooked lobster and let it cool down. Cut it down into chunks making sure to remove the tougher tiny bits if there are any in your lobster. Mix with the rest of the ingredients before placing in the fridge until the last moment.

Toast each side of your New England buns in a hot buttered pan. Garnish them with the cold lobster salad. Close your eyes… take a bite… I’m sure you can almost hear the seagulls.

Butter-poached lobster (Connecticut)

Yield: 4-5 warm rolls from Connecticut

1 lbs Lobster tail

60g Butter (about 4 tbs)

2 tbs Chives

2 tbs Lemon juice

1 tsp Paprika (optional)

Salt & Pepper

Follow the steps above to remove the meat from the shell and cook the lobster to perfection. The difference here is that you’ll cut the meat while still hot, then melt the rest of the butter with the liquid that was in the bag if you opted for sous-vide cooking. Note 60g is the total amount of butter so subtract any amount you’ve already put in that pouch if you don’t want an extra buttery sauce. Add chives, lemon, salt, pepper and paprika to the melted butter.

Toast each side of your New England buns in a pan. Meanwhile, mix the lobster meat with the hot butter sauce (in a bowl to avoid having the lobster cooking a second time). Garnish (without soaking the bread with butter) and prepare for a treat.

Fresh green coleslaw

3 cups fine grated green cabbage

1 cup thinly sliced celery

3 tbs mayonnaise (or to taste)

1 tbs lemon juice (or to taste)

1 tbs celery seeds

1 tsp crushed coriander seeds

1 tbs apple cider vinegar

1 tbs coarse salt

1 tsp pepper

Mix everything together appart from the mayonnaise. I prefer to do this by hand and massage the mixture for 2-3 min to make sure the salt is covering the pieces as evenly as possible.

Let the coleslaw rest for a good 30 minutes. The salt will do its magic and pickle the veggies slightly. The more you let it rest the more the salt will “cook” the cabbage. 30min offers a good balance between soft & crunchy. It is also usually the time it takes to do the rest of the recipe so start with the coleslaw and let it rest while you work on the above.

Stir before serving. Add lemon juice to taste.

So guys, what’s the verdict: Maine or Connecticut lobster rolls?

Waiting to be toasted and stuffed…

Road tripping in Coastal Maine

We went to Main, flying from New York into Portland in October. Weeks before, I started tracking the foliage evolution, keeping my fingers crossed that we would arrive on time. 

And we did, with Nature putting on the best show: an explosion of colours, with all the shades of yellow, orange and red. 

But also…the power of the ocean, whose waves came crashing against the rocks of Acadia Park, leaving us hypnotised by the strength and beauty, loosing track of time. The deers’ greetings as we woke up in the morning from the quietest and most restful night. And seafood and lobster as our main diet.

Acadia Park, Thunder Hole

To plan our 4-day road trip, we heavily relied on Conde Nast’s article, and added our own spin to it. Our itinerary, including recommendations on where to eat, sleep and hike looked like that:

Day 1: We landed in Portland on an early and chilly Friday morning and parked our rental car at the Eastern promenade, which allowed us to reach the city centre by foot – a lovely introduction to the city. We wandered through the city centre, getting to understand a bit more about Portland’s history along the way, and opened the festivities with an early lunch made of lobster roll and a pint at Portland Lobster Co. As our first lobster roll in Maine, it had to be special and delicious – the sunshine and the view on the Harbour probably helped.

View from the Eastern Promenade, Portland
Portland Lobster Co

We then slowly drove north through the scenic route, following our inspiration and making stops along the way, arriving in Camden in the early evening. Our Airbnb host John recommended Waterfront for dinner, where we indulged in seafood and beer, enjoying the feeling of our faces getting redder as the fireplace was warming us up.

Day 2: We again followed John’s recommendation and went to Marriners for a very filling breakfast. Back on the road, driving to Acadia National Park, with a few stops along the way, despite the rain. Just before dark, we reached Mount Desert Island (20min drive from Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park’s main town), where our cottage was waiting for us.

Day 3: At Acadia National Park, we started by Bar Harbor to buy our Park passes and wait for the rain to pass (it’s Maine, man!). We then followed the main road south to Thunder Hole, a magical must-see. We enjoyed yet another lobster roll by Charlotte’s legendary lobster pound’s fire pit. In truth, at that time of year, it was the only lobster option for lunch – all the other places we called before going had their answering machines on. Thinking we will have to go home as the rain started again, we were surprised by the rays of sunshine, which let us hike the short, yet magnificent Acadia Mountain (1.3miles), admiring the sunset from the top, before going down at a brisk pace to avoid being stuck in the hoods at night. Frognico’s chowder recipe closed the day in the most mouth-watering way, after reading and chatting away by the fire.

Day 4: After a few short walks and stops (Echo Lake, Long Pond…), we drove back to Portland through the highway to arrive on time for our flights. We stopped at Eagles Nest in Bangor, which felt so authentic with a view on the river and big portions of chowder and lobster rolls, as a last goodbye to this breathtaking region.

We weren’t rushed and managed to have a good feel for what Maine’s coast has to offer. It is such a wonderful long weekend option – as long as you go off-season and don’t have to deal with the traffic. With only the weekend, we recommend to stick to Portland and Camden. On the contrary, with more days ahead of you, no doubt you can do numerous hikes, never get tired of lobster rolls and disconnect even more.

48 hours in Paraty

If you are looking for the perfect mix between architecture, pristine waters, mountain hikes and good food, not too far from Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paolo, look no further than Paraty. A charming, colonial town with jungled mountains as a backdrop, buildings from the 17th and 18th century, and surrounded by dozens of islands…there is a lot to do there! So with only a couple of days, here are recommendations on what to do, where to stay, eat and more.

What to do in Paraty

If you only have a few hours ahead of you, wandering through the cobbled streets of the picturesque historical centre is a must. It is small enough that there is no need for a map and it is car-free so you can admire the whitewashed houses without watching your way ahead!

With a bit more time, do a day boat-trip. Not only you can see Paraty from the sea and take in the Costa Verde mountains, but you will also swim in clear waters, jump from the boat and snorkel with tropical fish.

We first tried to book the trip through Paraty Tours which was in our travel guide (we usually use Lonely Planet), but the tours we were interested in were sold out, so instead we went with Caicara Tours, and borded the Ilha Rasa II (R$90 pp), that offered a very similar experience. At first, with 80 people on the boat, we were a bit skeptical about what could sound like a mass-tourism experience. But we focused our attention on making the most of the day instead…and so we did.

The 6-hour tour was varied as we did 5 different stops, the staff was attentive and the atmosphere excellent. The guitarist, though he may not have been Brazil’s top talent, definitely added to the charm of the day as Brazilians didn’t hesitate to sing along (as they do!). You can order lunch on the boat, which everyone seemed to do; in our case we had brought sandwiches and kept our appetite for dinner. We recommend the whole experience with our eyes closed!

Would we have had an additional day, we would have done the Jeep-tour that drives through the Gold trail, waterfalls and natural pools, and ends with a visit of a Cachaca distillerie. Both travel agencies above offer the tour.

Where to stay, eat, drink and listen to live music

Where to stay: hotel and Airbnb. We stayed one night at Vila do Porto and enjoyed its location, at the entrance of the historical centre, as well as its delicious breakfast. We spent our second night at Casa Cacau, which booked through Airbnb. It’s a 15min walk from the centre so it might feel a bit long under a tropical rain, but we cannot recommend this beautiful house more. The host and her family are lovely and we had the most wonderful welcome, greeted by three kittens and two guitar players. The peaceful garden lends itself incredibly well to napping, reading and you will most likely enjoy breakfast there too.

Pousada Vila do Porto

Restaurants: if you feel like changing from the Brazilian food, Oui Paraty for authentic French crepes and Thai Brasil – specialized in…Thai Food believe it or not, are excellent options with very good food, friendly service, central location and relaxed atmospheres.

For drinks and live music: before dinner, we enjoyed sipping caipirinha and cervejas, in one of the cobbled streets and watch the crowd and animation grow. After dinner, we recommend a local’s favorite: the Camoka Botequim Arte Cafe, for quality live music and time passing by soaking in the warm seaside air (don’t be fooled by online pictures, the place and its outdoor seating are so much nicer than that).

The adventure continues

From Paraty, we went back to Rio de Janeiro, using our Easy Transfer package and changing in Conceição de Jacareí half-way through. After we booked the transfer on their website and confirmed our Airbnb address via email, they picked us up on time the day after: easy, smooth and not expensive. Count half-a-day to go back to Rio (5-6 hours depending on traffic), and about the same if you stop by Ilha Grande.

Vegan coconut panna cotta with rich and creamy lime curd

For our first dessert, I wanted to choose an ingredient that followed us through our entire trip in Brazil – outside of acai. And coconut imposed itself: from yogurt at breakfast, milk in countless dishes, to water on the beach or chunks in tapioca crepes, it was a very loyal companion along the way.

The simplicity, rapidity and versatility of this recipe makes it a great choice for dinners with friends or family…and is particularly on point after a main course on the heavy side.

Vegan Coconut Panna Cotta

Yield: 6 small panna cottas

1 can Coconut Milk (400g)
3 tbs Sugar (45g)
0.6g Agar agar powder (about an 1/8 tsp)
0.4g Xanthan Gum (Optional add 0.2g Agar if you don’t have Xanthan)
1 pinch Salt (0.2g)
3 tbs Water (at room temp)

Note: You can replace the agar/xanthan gum with 2 tsp gelatin if you prefer. You can also skip or substitute the sugar with 2 tbs of honey to fit a Paleo diet.

  1. Sprinkle the agar agar on 3-4 tbs of water in the saucepan and let it bloom for 5min.
  2. Mix in the other dry ingredients before adding the coconut milk.
  3. Bring to a boil then reduce to a light simmer for about 5 minutes stirring constantly.
  4. Divide into 6 small ramekins to let it cool down to room temperature.

Leave in the fridge for at least 4 hours, so it has time to set fully.

Covered, it can be kept for a few days.

Tip: to unmold them easily, slightly grease the ramekins with coconut oil before pouring the mixture in.

Variations

I made a few tests with either half coconut milk/half coconut cream or with a half of heavy cream.

Heavy cream brings extra creaminess and a silkier texture but also makes it much heavier. While this can be perfect for some occasion, on a hot lazy day I enjoy the lighter and fresher version above more.

The coconut cream enhances the taste, but I ended up with a grainier texture a few times…maybe passing the mixture through a fine sieve could help but, I haven’t tried this yet.

Deluxe lime curd

And to bring a little kick to the dish, there is nothing better than the star of Brazil’s national drink, lime – here turned into curd. This version is a slight adaptation I made of the incredible Sous-vide Meyer lemon curd, from Modernist Cuisine. You need to have a Sous-vide and it requires slightly more work than more traditional recipes, but it is so worth it.

Yield: 1 cup

5 yolks
5 tbs Sugar
Juice of 2 Limes
2 tbs Lime zest
1 Butter stick at room temperature (113g)
A pinch of salt

  1. Preheat your Sous-vide to 149F (65c).
  2. While the water is heating, separate the yolks from the whites and bag them. The water-displacement method with a zip-top bag can be simpler but regular Sous-vide bags work too as long as you are familiar with your vacuum machine. If in doubt just go with the water-displacement. Massage the pouch gently to burst the yolks.
  3. Pasteurize them Sous-vide for 35 minutes.
  4. In the meantime, place the sugar, salt and zest in a saucepan with 2 tbs of lime juice and cook for a couple of minutes until the syrup is clear. Pour in a smaller recipient and let the syrup cool down to room temperature.
  5. Pour the pasteurized yolks in a blender, add the syrup gradually while blending. Add cubes of butter one by one until completely blended then add the rest of lime juice.

The Modernist Cuisine recommends to refrigerate for 4h but I prefer to serve the curd straight away or at least when brought back to room temperature.

Covered and in the fridge, the curd can be kept for a few days.

Check out this more traditional lime curd from Nutmeg Nanny if you want a faster, but still delicious option.

Vegan alternative: mango/maracuya coulis

If you want to keep it simple or are looking for a vegan option, this mango and maracuya coulis is a perfect, sweet and tangy alternative.

180g Mango
30g Passion fruit pulp
Honey to taste (optional)

If using frozen fruit, you can defrost them in the microwave but make sure not to cook them. I prefer to let them thaw on the counter when doing the Panna Cotta.

Blend everything and correct acidity with some honey to taste. Keep in mind that you want the coulis to stay acidic enough to give the Panna Cotta a kick.

Rio De Janeiro: favourite spots for breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks and late night

We don’t pretend these addresses are soon to be Michelin-star restaurants or the latest trending spots, but we do guarantee good food, chilled vibes and lovely settings to soak in the Carioca atmosphere.

Cafe cultural Sacriliegio, Lapa. Samba everywhere.

Breakfast

We went to Tapi on the last morning of our travel, before our last swim at Posto 9 on Ipanema Beach…so of course, it will always have a very special flavour! Sit on the small bench outside and enjoy the warmth of the morning sun, the delicious banana and nutella tapioca crepe (or any other ingredients of your choice), and the refreshing and velvety acai bowls. Their second address is at Rio International Airport and we may have had one, two or three more tapioca crepes (before AND after buying those 10 pairs of Havaianas).

We so enjoyed Quiteria‘s varied breakfast buffet, most mornings of our stay at the Ipanema Inn (look at us staying at Boutique hotels now). Sat on the small terrace, we drank coffee and fresh juices, ate tropical fruits and homemade coconut yoghurt with too many toppings, as we planned the day ahead.

Lunch

Jarbo is the perfect place to gather energy before or after a few hours walking through all the shades of green of Jardim Botanico. For once, we favoured the inside, with its bright and the elegant simplicity of its decor. Sandwiches, salads and different types of eggs are served there.

Atmosphere and decor at Jarbo, in the Jardim Botanico

Not too far from there, Plage Cafe in Parque Lage serves sandwiches and salads in a peaceful and gorgeous setting. It’s also a good place to start the day, before climbing (or rather tramway-ing) up the Corcovado to the must-see Christ The Redeemer.

Cafe Plage in the Parque Lage

Balada Mix is a small day-time restaurant chain that serves healthy, fresh meals (be reassured, there are also less healthy options!). We went to the Ipanema one, sat on the patio and opted for their Poke bowls – a slow transition from our visits to the beach.

Dinner

In Ipanema, Maria e o Boi and La Carioca are our two favourite restaurants. Outside of their quiet-street location and outdoor/open air seating, they don’t have much in common though. The first one serves grilled meat and delicious vegetable sides, while the second one is all about ceviches.

(Yup, there is a recurring theme of outdoor seating throughout this post! It’s not necessarily our criteria to go to a restaurant, but clearly one that makes us enjoy the place even more.)

Drinks and late night

Walking through the streets of Ipanema and Leblon in the evening, you will easily find bars like Riba, Boteco Belmonte and Canastra but you need to know which streets to hit. We are working through a map of the main nightlife streets in both areas – stay tuned!

For beer lovers, Brewteco in Leblon is a must. They also serve pasteis, so that makes it a great place for a late night snack. The bar itself is not big, so everyone takes over the street which adds to the atmosphere. If you want to sit down, this might therefore not be the best option.

Antonio’s Bar, in Lapa, is a good place to start the night: the food is not necessarily the highlight, but the corner place with large opened windows and outdoor seating is a great way to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the night, before hitting Cafe Cultural Sacrilegio. There, you can dance your butts off to the rhythm of live samba music. That’s the place that got us started dance classes when we got back to NYC!

Antonio’s bar, Lapa
Cafe Culural Sacrilegio, Lapa, minutes before we joined the dancefloor. You can spot the musicians through the window.

To learn more about Rio, what to do and how to make the most of your stay, head over there.

The recurring question of safety in Rio

“How safe is Rio?”, “Is Rio safe for tourists?”…the most common Google searches show how much safety plays a role in the decision to visit Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately it usually triggers two types of reactions, neither of which are particularly useful: some will almost tell you that you will get mugged or killed while still on the plane when others will paint an idyllic picture of perfect safety because “nothing happened to them”.

Like everyone else we wondered and looked for answers online before our trip there. After spending a week in Rio, here is how we now answer when friends ask us about it.

Let’s be straight, Rio is a city where violence and crime are real issues. In 2015-2016, the situation improved and large investments poured into the pacified favelas to increase income from tourism (even some boutique hotels started emerging then). There is no telling as to where the city will be headed as Bolsonaro pulls Brazil to the far-right but for the past 2 years the situation only seems to have gone downhill. Looking at our modest experience, we had to change our initial hotel located on the edge of one of the “pacified” favela in Ipanema due to the repeated 15min-long gunfights raging just next door in the morning, afternoon and at night. At the top of the Corcovado and the next day on the Sugarloaf, we could hear sounds of gunfights in distant favelas. And any Cariocas you talk to will mention insecurity at some point.

However, even if the above sounds bad you should absolutely visit Rio! With its incredible natural site, vibrant atmosphere and world-renown wonders, we had some of our best time in Brazil there and it is easy to stay safe with basic knowledge and common sense.

Favelas are usually close to safe or upscale neighborhoods but violence is confined in those poorer areas. We recommend you to stay at the heart of one of the neighborhoods of Zona Sul (Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon and possibly Botafogo): it is the perfect base to visit most must-sees and offers many great options to lunch, dine and party. Zona Sul is also the safest area in Rio before and after dark. From there, it is just a matter of respecting the basics:

  • Don’t be that obvious target flashing jewelry and expensive smartphone/camera.
  • Do it like everyone else and only take what’s necessary to the beach, including a bit of cash if you want to buy something from the vendors or the cabanas.
  • Just ask people to keep an eye on your personal belongings when you go swimming if you brought things of value.
  • A Carioca we talked to explained that it happens that vendors walking the beach back and forth are actually not selling anything but looking for easy things to snatch. Be mindful (not paranoid) of where you leave your belongings.
  • Prefer the main road to small streets or dark alleys when you walk back home at night.
  • Take a cab back at night if you are not centrally located.
  • Enjoy the miraculous sunset from the beach (Ipanema’s is the best we saw) but avoid wandering on the beach late at night.

All in all, there is no denying that Rio is plagued with crime, but with the above in mind, we certainly were able to fully enjoy what the city has to offer – our top tips here.

Pao de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread)

Impossible to visit Brazil without tasting those delicious small breads. A pao de queijo hides under its crust a soft and chewy heart of cheesy dough. They are a great option to have easy to make appetizers that are both original and delicious on your table. Added bonus if you’re looking for tasty gluten-free recipes as this one will please any crowd regardless of how they feel about the question.

They are traditionally made with Tapioca flour and aged Queijo minas but after making a few batches, I actually prefered to start from small Tapioca pearls that I grind in a blender to give more texture to the dough. Also as aged Queijo minas is hard to find you can substitute it with other hard pressed cheeses. Most recipes out there call for 100% Parmesan however so far I found the best results were with a 70/30 combination of a Mexican cheese called Cojita and Parmesan. You can’t really go wrong though so I’d encourage you to keep playing with different cheeses and combinations to find what you love the most.

Yield: 16 balls of goodness

1 cup whole milk

2 tbs butter

1 tbs coconut oil

1.5 cup small Tapioca pearls

1 Egg

175g Cheese (125g Cojita + 50g Parmesan)

1 tsp Salt

If like me you start from Tapioca pearls, grind them in a blender until you get a somewhat fine flour with still a few bits and pieces in it. Alternatively you can just go with regular Tapioca flour but I find the texture of the crust slightly more interesting when starting with pearls.

In a sauce pan bring the Milk, Butter, Coconut oil and Salt to a simmer then pour the Tapioca in the pan. As the dough can be very sticky, some prefer to work it in a standing mixer while others will be fine with just mixing in the same pan. At this point, the dough does require a bit of a leap of faith as it is still grainy and sticky. Believe me it will be fine except if it is super dry (in which case just add a TINY bit of hot water).

Let it rest a bit to allow the tapioca to hydrate and the dough to cool down. Once  it is cool to the touch, it is a good time to preheat your oven to 400F (or 200 Celsius) before adding the Egg and Cheese to the bowl. Mix until completely incorporated.

If the dough is too sticky to form the balls, just wet your hands regularly to make the process easier. All sizes work but something about as big as a ping-pong ball gives a nice crust-to-chewy heart ratio. As it does not rise a lot so you’ll be fine by letting about an inch of space between each ball.

Cook in the oven between 20 and 30min depending on how much crust you want to have.

They are best served when still warm. Enjoy!

Shelf-life and Freezing

Once the balls are formed you can keep them up to 2 days in cling film in the fridge if you need to. However, they freeze perfectly at that point and can be cooked from frozen so that’s what I would recommend doing if you made a bigger batch. Just add about 10min next time you put them in the oven.

In the unlikely event you have some left-overs, you can keep them in cling film in your fridge for 1 or 2 days and reheat quickly in the microwave. Spoiler alert: it’s not as good but I doubt you’ll find anyone able to say no to one and it’s still better than wasting them.

What I want to try next

As the base is some milk you warm up, I’m curious to test infusing it with various ingredients in the first step. I tried with shallots but the taste was not noticeable. Next I’ll try to play a bit with chilies, garlic, cloves, nutmeg or other spices.

As usual please share below any challenge you faced, ideas or variations you particularly liked.

Rio de Janeiro: 5 tips to enjoy it to the full

What to write about Rio when it has been covered so many times before? Looking back at our stay in this amazing city, we summarised five pieces of advice that you don’t necessarily hear often but will make a difference to how you plan your stay and how you experience the city.

Don’t be naive but don’t be paranoid either. Questions about safety and Rio go hand in hand and it usually triggers two types of reactions, neither of which are useful: some will almost tell you that you will get mugged or killed while still on the plane when others will paint an idyllic picture of perfect safety because “nothing happened to them”.

For a more balanced point of view, check out our detailed post on how to stay safe in Rio.

The key takeaway is that crime and violence are real issues in Rio and you should absolutely consider that when picking the location of your hotel or decide what you do there. However, you should absolutely visit Rio! With its incredible natural site, vibrant atmosphere and world-renown wonders, we had some of our best time in Brazil there and it is easy to stay safe with basic knowledge and common sense.

View from the Jardim Botanico, on Christ The Redeemer on the Corcovado mountain

Pick your hotel carefully. We recommend to stay in Zona Sul, the south area of the city comprised of Botafogo, Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon. Santa Teresa is a neighbourhood that comes back regularly but means a 30min cab ride to the beach and not safe to walk through at night so we favoured neighbourhoods like Leblon and Ipanema. We stayed in both neighbourhoods and had a preference for Ipanema but you can’t really go wrong with any of the 3 other areas:

  • Botafogo is more on the hostel/backpacker side of the spectrum.
  • Copacabana needs no introduction (but can be a bit overrun with tourists).
  • Leblon is a bit further away but has some nice AirBnB options and a beautiful beach.

Also, Rio is relatively expensive so if a nice hotel looks too good to be true then it probably is (talking about experience as we had to move hotels half-way through our stay).

Take your time to peruse Ipanema in the evening. The walkability, the natural beauty of the beach and the number of great addresses for any time of the day makes Ipanema shine. Typically, after a slow morning and an active afternoon of visits, we would hit the beach around 5pm to read, swim and sink in the sunshine and atmosphere, enjoy the sunset and get ready to go out for 9pm. Walking through the warmth of the Ipanema evenings and stopping by at one of the neighbourhoods’ terrace for hours was simply delightful.

Stay tuned for addresses; Froglola is polishing up a post on that topic.

Ipanema Beach before sunset

Brave the crowd on most famous beaches . We might all want to feel like the cool kids going to secret places. Unfortunately, when it comes to beaches in Rio the most popular are also the most beautiful ones. Sure you have a few other nice spots (Praia Vermelha, Praia do Diablo etc.) but there is a reason why everyone floods to the shore of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon.

This “shared” experience of the seaside can also be great: joyful cacophony, countless bouncing foot balls in the sunlight and crowd applauding magnificent sunsets are only some aspects of the constant animation.

Don’t force yourself to check every recommendation you find online or on your guide. That’s quite a statement for the two enthusiastic frogs that we are, so here are our 5 must-must-do in Rio:

  • Corcovado with Rio’s most famous landmark, Christ The Redeemer and a breathtaking view at the top.
  • Sugarloaf Mountain. We discovered only afterwards that a 40min trail starting from the west side of Praia Vermelha takes you half-way up and makes for a more active ascension. At the end of the short trail, you will reach the top with
  • Jardim Botanico and Parque Lage for their respective lush greenery and views. Ok, they make two but they are so close to each other (10min taxi ride) that it’s nearly not cheating!
  • The beaches of Zona Sul, particularly between Posto 9 and 10.
  • Centro and Santa Teresa for their architectural gems (it will be part of our next visit!).

Hours at the beach to appreciate the different lights throughout the day, sipping coffee or fresh juices in one of the lively streets, or dancing on live music late at night are great ways to understand and enjoy the city even more.