Top Hacks of the Week: Gradissima’s tweaked Shortbread cookies and Stuffed Roma Tomatoes recipes

Adjusting, tweaking, hacking- whatever you call it, taking an idea and making it work for you is fun.

I almost never follow entire recipes when I’m cooking. If I’m baking, I’ll use a few recipes as a guide, and if I’m cooking on the stove, I might consult recipes online to bolster (or to helpfully redirect) my ideas of what flavors might work well together.

Here are some recent successful hacks you might like:

1. Shortbread cookies

It all started with 101 Cookbooks (as it so often does). Last year (or before?) I fell in love with Heidi’s Pine Nut Rosemary Shortbread.  The outcome is awesome. You also come off like a pro if you whip these out over the holidays. Simple elegance – Check!

I plan on making these again for the holidays. I was planning to do some test-runs with the recipe because of my degree-less-oven, and since pine nuts are insanely expensive here, I just used rosemary.

They were righteous. And the tweaking continued…

After a whole lot of calories, I ended up with this go-to hack (half the fat of the original, mind you!)


  • 250g (2 cups) flour (white, wheat, whatever you want… but remember wheat absorbs more liquid, so you might need to do your own tweaking)
  • 1 tsp salt (you might use a whisper less than this…I love the salty undertone.)
  • 100 ml/approx. half a cup of olive oil (Extra Virgin, regular Virgin, or slutty…whatever kind you want)
  • 2 tbs Water (you might need a bit more if you are using whole wheat flour. Just use enough so that the dough is moist enough to make a log out of)
  • 2/3 c sugar (brown sugar, white sugar, raw sugar…it all works)

This is your base… Nowadays, I do four main flavor variations. You can mix these into the flour before combining ingredients, or you can manage it by making the dough and dividing it into multiple batches, mixing after the fact in separate bowls. It all pretty much works.

My current favorite variations:

  • Cinnamon/Canela (a sure Porto-pleaser, I always make some of these in case I’m the only one with a more ‘adventurous’ palate)
  • Saffron (red, flower-looking Turkish saffron from my mother-in-law plus yellow powder saffron from Sao Tome ) + Nutmeg/noz moscada
  • Rosemary (dried is fine…rub it in your fingers or grind it to break it into smaller pieces so you don’t feel like you are eating pine needles)
  • Cacao Nibs (I feel pretty superior about this one. We were in Sao Tome e Principe a couple of months ago, and I brought back a cacao pod, cut it open, scooped out the seeds, cleaned them, dried them for a week, then roasted and crushed them. Rockstar? Yes. Yes I am.)

How much of the seasonings should you add to the batch?  A generous amount. I do it until it looks good. With the Turkish saffron, I add enough so I can see pretty little flowers in my cookies, and then enough of the good-smelling things to make the mix smell good.

Ok. So, you have ingredients. Now what?

  • Mix. Form, shape, roll out on baking paper. Slice/cookie-cut/whatever your cookies from the flattened dough. Bake until just barely getting golden around the bottom edges touching the baking paper. Cool. Eat. (For more precise details, look at the original recipe. )

Helpful hint- I now use baking paper to excess. I roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper (vegetal), and my rolling-pin (or wine bottle, if you haven’t got a rolling-pin… or your hands, if you want to go commando) doesn’t get goopy. Neither does my countertop.

I have one baking sheet, so when I’m doing batches, I have one in the oven (on baking paper, on the baking sheet), and one batch ready to go on another sheet of baking paper. When the first is done, I just switch out the paper (which doesn’t burn your hands) and leave the baking sheet in the oven.

You can also make a dough log and freeze it. I don’t know how long it lasts, but probably months.

At this point, I’d like to acknowledge that no self-respecting food blog is without photos. Not a problem, as my blog is quasi-nebulous at the moment, and it has no ego. It’s more a point of referral than anything else. The other blogs I’m directing you to have fantastic photos. Also, my gal pal in Azeitão will soon be contributing her mad photography skills to the foodhack endeavor. Hang tight, friends, hang tight.

2. Emptyouthefridgebeforeweleavetowntomorrow

Otherwise known as stuffed Roma tomatoes.

Lunch today involved leftover cannelloni for my man, eggs for me, and a tray full of stuffed Roma tomatoes. We leave tomorrow for a two-week holiday with my family in AZ, and we had to get rid of some food. In addition to about 6 Roma tomatoes, I had a half-used bag of shredded mozzarella.

I also had about 20 minutes before my man had to go back to work.

No problem.

  • Preheat oven.
  • Cut tomatoes in half. Scoop out the seeds. Discard the solid core bits and put some seedy-juicy bits in a bowl.
  • Take a tosta or two (if you live in Portugal, you have these somewhere in your kitchen. Otherwise, use croutons, or breadcrumbs) and crush it into the seedy-juicy-bit bowl.
  • Throw a heap of oregano in. Or another herb. And some salt. And whatever other flavor you want.
  • Mix it up. Throw in some cheese. Mix a little more.
  • Line tray with baking paper.
  • Put the tomato halves on the tray, fill with treats from the juicy bowl. Top with more shredded cheese.
  • Put them in the oven until they smell good, and until they look like you’d want to eat them.

The whole process took, like, ten minutes.

Ok. That’s two quickies to start with. I also made veggie dumplings/gyoza the other night, but I need to pack so I’ll write about that later.

Let me know if you have questions, comments, etc!


Food Hack: A Slacker’s Guide to Getting by Respectably

Or “Food Hack: A Slacker’s Guide to Getting by in Portugal”… or  “Food Hack: A Slacker’s Guide to Making It in Portugal”…

Possibly a viable name for my lil’ blog? Thoughts?

An alternative might be PortuHack, or possibly ExpatChick… or ExpatChickHack… or some variation thereof. ‘Lifehacker‘, “Lifehack” and variations are already well-used, but perhaps a permutation on this might work as well? … hmmmm….

Chow, nuts, and rock n’ roll…(Roasted Rosemary Walnuts recipe via

I’m new to Chow, but from what I’ve seen, I like.

The post that drew me into the website was on birthday etiquette regarding an all-carne meal for a birthday girl with vegan friends in the mix. I didn’t necessarily agree with the moderator’s advice, but I loved the vibe of the site. The writing is a bit rock-and-roll without being over-the-top hipster-snob, the recipes are things that I and people I hang with would eat, and it’s full of nerdy goodness to boot.

Now, I get recipes from Chow sent to my email account. Some of them I read, some I discard immediately, some I pass onto girlfriends in hopes that they are more ambitious than I and will eventually feed the completed dish to me.

This morning, they sent a recipe that was so simple yet so perfect for any gathering…one of those things I’d just do on the fly. I love that they think of these little things and send out handy reminders during the holidays. Because, honestly, when you’re shit out of luck and trying to throw a casual-yet-classy snack table together, sometimes you forget about the basics.

Enter Roasted Rosemary Walnuts. Hackable with any nut (and a variety of other edible substances, I’m sure), this is an elegant snack.

Nice, Chow, nice.

Roasted Rosemary Walnuts Recipe

Difficulty: Easy


Total: 25 mins

Active: 5 mins

Makes: 8 to 10 servings (5 cups)

Roasted Rosemary WalnutsSee More in the Gallery

By Amy Wisniewski

Nuts and booze are a tried-and-true combination for any happy hour or cocktail party. Here the addition of rosemary and black pepper classes up the combo without getting too fussy.

Game plan: These nuts will last up to 10 days stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

This recipe was featured as part of both our Academy Awards Cocktail Party menu and our Bar Snacks photo gallery.

…get the rest at

There’s an Onion for this…

I stumbled upon an abandoned blog of mine yesterday. I don’t remember the password for it, and the comments are full of spam. You see, kids, back when I was young, I had another blog.

The blog survived for two glorious months in 2005. I used it as a sounding board and sharing post for interesting articles in anthropology. It was highly specialized (i.e., interesting only to me) and full of useful article chunks… more of an online, casually annotated bibliography. It was…sweet.

I wish I remembered that password, for old time’s sake.

It made me think of what other cyberjunk I’ve left floating in cyberspace. I know I discarded a myspace somewhere…and of course a friendster page…I have a hi5 page that I still check at least once every several months (it’s on the brink of extinction). I had a webpage my first year of university (1998?). Wow.

Thus the Onion reference.

My commentary ends here. The Onion has covered the rest. 🙂

The impetus to work…

It’s different for all of us, I know. Some people work well under pressure. Some work for joy. Some, like my Wifey, work for pastéis.

She is, at this moment, calculating the number of pastéis she will be able to buy with her next translation paycheck.

You’ve got to respect a girl’s true love of custard.


Spin-offs are the greatest…(Aka, hack of Baked Eggs via 101 Cookbooks)

I’ve been under the weather off-and-on for a couple weeks now (weather change, rain, hormones), and today’s surprise gift of sun in Mafrica came with a hovering sinus headache.

Whatev. More relevant to my general situation is that my man works nearby, and though the puppy and I are on our own for several hours a day, I get to feel like a contributing member of our young household for a solid two meals every day.

It’s not much, but I’m relatively new here, and I’m making the best of it.

The other week, I re-introduced to our kitchen an old faithful from Heidi Swanson’s fantastic online journal, 101 Cookbooks. Not only is she just lovely, the site is full of healthy, hearty, beautifully-varied recipes and stories, along with the requisite envy-inspiring photography.

So, on that day (the other week), my lunch menu came from Heidi’s Baked Eggs recipe.

And now, a note about my kitchen.

We live in a relatively old building. The outside is dismal and looks as though it has barnacles growing on the wall. (Yes, I know they are really lichens and such, but the idea of barnacles on my building amuses me. Incidentally, barnacles are considered a delicacy here.)

The inside of our apartment is actually pretty cute. There’s enough retro flare to maintain a theme. The kitchen is bigger than most small apartment kitchens. The refrigerator is tiny (european, of course) as is the freezer. The stove is gas, and I have no way of determining the temperature of the oven.

I like it that way. It absolves me of responsibility if the food doesn’t turn out.

Relevance? All recipes involving an oven, I wing. I peek and test and tinker. Thus I have no useful commentary to add about the baking times of recipes I cite here. I thought you should know.

Now, back to the eggs 🙂

The night before, we had had spicy bean burritos, and I had two tortillas and some spicy black beans left over. I also had a jar of salsa open. And, you know, some eggs.

I microwaved the tortillas just enough to soften them, tucked them down into a couple of ramekins (Continente, 50 cents each), spooned some black bean mixture in the bottom of the tortilla cup, and cracked a couple of eggs into each dish.

While those were baking (see Heidi’s recipe…I’m not responsible for those details), I made some sweet potato wedges in the oven (a bit of olive oil, sea salt, and rosemary).

If you have the right baking and serving dishes, it’s easy to make home-made (but slacker) food look wholesome and rustic. A nice, simple salad with baby spinach and roma tomatoes, or another attractive combination always helps.

Anyway, lunch was a success. A glass of red wine, and all was done.

Bringing it on home…

So, today, I feel a bit like poo. My man had meat (some burgers) he was going to cook for his lunch, so I threw some olive-oil coated frozen potato balls in the oven, and I prepped an omelet for myself.

Then I saw my happy little ramekin. And the crumbly, broken bits of the end of some very tasty, seeded bread we’d enjoyed this week.

Baking paper was soon cut into a square to line the ramekin. The bread was soon squished by hand to line said ramekin. The omelet mix awaiting the frying pan took a detour, into the ramekin and into the oven.

Yum. Cute. Pretty. Healthy-ish. And easy. Very, very easy.

I’ll figure out dinner in a couple of hours. 🙂

It’s time for Mafrica…

My man is freezing his tintins off in the field. My dog is dreaming in his bed. My parents are enjoying the afternoon in Arizona. My girls in Timor are already sweating on their way to work, a thin layer of dust settling into their pores.

It’s raining in Mafrica.

I don’t feel like studying Portuguese right now. My eyes are too strained for painting. Packing for Friday morning’s flight to the US is out of the question, because I don’t want to.

Ah. Of course. I’ll start a blog.

I won’t start with the suggested (thanks, Wifey, but I’m uninspired) anthropological commentary of variations among social groups regarding folk healing and food knowledge in contemporary Portuguese society.

[If you are bored, I suggest checking out See especially her post “Ice Water Kills”. Incidentally, among “my” people, ice water just slows digestion, although I frequently make waves by tempting illness by walking barefoot on tile. It’s a dangerous world 😉 Of course, every culture has these things… but that is precisely what I’m not getting into right now.]

What I will commit to before I take my contacts out and find something brainless and happy to watch on sidereel, is a quick list of other blogs… guaranteed time-suck marvels. You’ll enjoy them. (My impulse to refer people to other authors is a remnant, perhaps, from my years in academia. Or not.)

In no particular order, might I recommend:

You’re welcome 🙂