The more I cook, the more satisfaction I get out of making things that most people take for granted as coming out of a box, or jar, or can -- like mayonnaise, beans, soup, lemonade, rye bread, whipped cream, mochi, and kimchi -- all of which I have attempted over the last few years. I still understand why people buy these things at the supermarket -- I know the value of one's time as well as anybody -- but there is a part of me that mourns the loss of our intimate knowledge of how such things are supposed to work, that is, how ordinary recipes are made and how the food is supposed to taste.
I was offered so many plastic-wrapped chicken and tuna salad sandwiches as a child that I developed an aversion to mayonnaise that has lasted until this year, when I learned to make my own and discovered how tasty the real thing is (sorry, Hellman's). Other foods that I had considered inedible have become much more palatable to me now that I have a better grasp of what they're supposed to taste like, having made them myself with some success: mutton doesn't need to be gamby, beans shouldn't give you gas, and omelettes needn't be rubbery and tasteless, for example.
All of this lead-up about home-made food, and I must admit that I'm a bit disappointed with my efforts tonight to make pão de queijo, Brazilian cheese-bread.
I ate pão de queijo every day when I lived in Brazil, for several reasons:
1) Pão de queijo contains no wheat, which my body doesn't like (tapioca flour takes its place)
2) Pão de queijo is sold on every street corner in the city where I lived in Brazil
3) Pão de queijo is delicious!
So it was my hankering to recreate my time in Brazil that lead me to a pão de queijo recipe of dubious origin (wikipedia), and got me to turn on my large, inefficient oven despite the New York heat. (Coincidentally, two men from ConEdison stopped by in the midst, to offer me a fixed-rate plan to offset the summer spikes in our electricity bill, which was surely suffering from that oven and the air conditioning unit on at the same time!)
In its most basic form, pão de queijo contains polvilho (fine manioc or tapioca flour), fresh cheese, milk, eggs, water, and salt. Obviously, the polvilho would be the hardest ingredient to find, but up here in the Heights, my Dominican neighbors are almost as fond of manioc as the Brazilians are, and I easily found manioc flour at the local supermarket.
The rest was quite easy: a little mixing, boiling, stirring, waiting -- and a quick bite with jam, once the little balls had come out of the oven.
The texture wasn't bad -- it had the characteristic chewiness of anything made with manioc -- but my version seemed to lack a bit of flavor. Perhaps I didn't use enough cheese, as I was just guessing as to how much grated Piave equals 6 ounces. The batter also seemed a bit lumpy, and my pães are hardly the round spheres that I was accustomed to seeing in Brazil. Still, I couldn't stop eating it, piping hot from the oven, with a touch of jam, and decided to make a dinner of it: