Pao de Queijo

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Late last night we got back from celebrating the Fourth of July in Rhode Island with my parents. Fourth of July at our house involves a kitschy beach town parade complete with a Rod and Reel Drill Team and lots of kids riding their bikes in costume; a huge meal cooked by mother, ending with the once-a-year appearance of her old-fashioned wood ice cream maker; and, since Rhode Island legalized fireworks a few years ago, a panoramic firework extravaganza where all our neighbors set off fireworks and we stand on the deck and watch.

After the Fourth, Noah and I spent the next four days kayaking, swimming in the ocean, playing tennis poorly, and alternately eating my mother’s delicious cooking and Rhode Island’s culinary specialities.

Rhode Island has a weird food sub-culture. It has its own clam chowder (clear with no cream) that I think is better than New England or New York chowder, but others (Noah) beg to differ. A favorite treat is clam cakes, essentially hunks of fried dough (think savory cake donut) flecked with clam. Rhode Islanders drink coffee milk instead of chocolate milk. We like to keep a bottle of Rhode Island coffee syrup in our refrigerator. I could go on.

On this Rhode Island trip though Noah and I finally made it to a Rhode Island Chicken House. I read about these in Gourmet a few years ago and have been wanting to go ever since. Basically a chicken house is a giant restaurant (the one we went to seats over 1,000) that looks like a conference center. At a chicken house you order, naturally, a roast chicken dinner. This comes with roast chicken, manicotti with tomato sauce, french fries, salad, and dinner rolls. Drinks come in pitchers. Food comes quickly. It’s all you can eat.

I should mention that this was our third night of chicken in a row. We had chicken teriyaki for the Fourth of July and left over chicken the next night. I’m not actually a huge fan of chicken so by the time we got to the chicken house I was a little concerned, but this was really, really good chicken.

According to our waitress, Wright’s has 55 ovens that cook chickens 30 to a pan all day long at a low heat. As a result the chicken starts to flake off the bone achieving a texture close to that of pulled pork. It’s worth a trip if you’re in Boston or Rhode Island.

After dinner we visited the over-sized gift shop and loaded up on penny candy so that I could prove to Noah that Charleston Chews really do taste like cement mixed with marshmallows. (The jury is still out on that one.) This being Rhode Island, we also bought milky-coffee flavored hard candies.

The next day, we packed up to leave and packed dinner for the train. Despite the many chicken left-overs remaining the refrigerator, I decided that I could not eat chicken for the fourth night in the row. That’s where these came in.

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I had never made Pao de Queijo before, but it’s one of my mother’s standbys when she’s cooking for lots of gluten-free people. They are a traditional Brazilian cheese roll made with tapioca flour, thus following the rule that gluten-free food is better if it has always been gluten-free. You can’t think of them as a bread replacement, but they are really delicious in their own right. Texture-wise they are somewhere between a popover, a cheese puff, and mochi. I think this texture works really well for something that tastes like cheese since those of us with Western palettes are used to cheese being kind of squishy.

Pao de Quiejo are also, it turns out, remarkably easy to make. Here’s how you do it.

Pao de Quiejo (based on this recipe)

– 1 egg

– 1/3 cup of olive oil

– 1/2 cup packed sharp cheddar

– 2/3 cup milk

– 1 teaspoon salt

– 1 1/2 cups tapioca flour

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

* Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth

* Grease muffin tin or mini muffin tin (depending on how big you want them to be)

* Pour batter into muffin tin

* Bake until puffy and lightly browned (about 15 minutes in a mini muffin tin and 20-25 in a regular one)

These can be eaten warm or reheated later.

For the train, I cut two in half and stuffed them with mom’s refried beans. The combination is delicious so if you’re looking for sandwich replacements, I would strongly recommend Pao de Queijo stuffed with some sort of smashed beans and I bet some avocado would be pretty delicious in there too.

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