Sunday, 31 October 2010

No trick nor treat

The old fashioned Halloween -society bobbing for apples
the contemporary idea

Happy Halloween - sweetie?
Halloween is one of the world’s oldest holidays, with origins stemming from centuries of both religious observance and superstition.As a child I was brought up on bobbing for apples, and the strangest custom where my father would get a piece of solid metal molten hot, then we would toss it into a bucket of cold water, withdraw it and read our fortune in the shapes the melted metal had formed. Superstition at its best I would say? The name itself is a derivative of “All Hallows Eve,” It´s roots were in the Celtic festival of Samhain,  and prior to that the Roman festival named after the goddess Pomona, hence the apple bobbing connection. Today Halloween has now become synonymous with commerce.
Today is Halloween and by now all the Halloween recipes have been posted -  For obvious reasons. People need to read them and make them for their celebration of All Hallows.Call me old fashioned but all the recipes I have been reading over the past few weeks on blogs and commercial websites, are just being themed to this particular night and if divorced from that they all stand up on their own for various occasions throughout the winter or even the whole year. 
So lets have some "Sympathy with the devil"..."That old devil called love"

Bloody Mary - perfect cocktail at any time of the year and great accompaniment to scrambled eggs for breakfast. Kick start to the day and perfect hangover cure.

Devilled eggs - perfect for Easter thanksgiving and summer picnics

Devils on horseback, a favourite canape from the Abigails Party era.Never has a prune been better dressed. Pushing the boundaries of culinary inventiveness, someone, probably in this country, once decided to combine the typically British delicacies of streaky bacon and prunes in one delicious snack, nowadays enhanced with some mango chutney. You stuff the chutney into the pitted prune, wrap it in bacon and secure it all with a toothpick. Grill for about three minutes on each side and a taste sensation will be ready for your expectant palate.Originally French "anges a cheval",angels on horseback, oysters wrapped in bacon.
These little devils are surely well overdue a comeback.

Devilled kidneys, a piquant Victorian British breakfast dish consisting of lamb's kidneys cooked in a mixture of Worcestershire sauce and mushroom ketchup, - what a perfect start to the day. This perfect dish should steady you and lift the spirits at the same time, not ward off the spirits!!!

Pumpkin pie a traditional North American sweet dessert, eaten during the fall and early winter especially for Thanksgiving and Christmas, not neccesarily on Halloween." An American classic we really should import, or something best left on the other side of the ocean?" -A bete noire of the foodista nationalist party - Guardian readers and writers you know who you are.

Devils food cake- an all time classic chocolate cake, this is a truly wicked treat for all chocolate worshipers, anywhere anytime!

and just to say i´m not an old killjoy

The ocozinheiro halloween awards 2010

Favourite halloween recipe-

Black and Orange Halloween Pasta 

Most imaginative presentation

Spooky soup- Roast pumpkin and garlic

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Posh Spice at top shop

Recently I have been bringing some Moroccan influences and ingredients into the dishes I have been producing here in the Al-Gharb, at Casa Rosada. Saffron, cous cous, pomegranates, dried apricots, chermoula, preserved lemons and ras el hanout.
Literally "top of the shop", ras el hanout is a Moroccan spice blend that can contain more than 30 ingredients.The spices I use are supplied by Algarvespice. Hartmut Meuschel and Ruth Bhuiyan have top quality spices and some that I have never even heard of. On a recent occasion buying spices from them at a local Autumn fair, I noticed their bagged up ras el hanout contained 26 ingredients!!!- I prefer to make my own blend. It is a streamlined version of the traditional mixture and includes most of the main spices.For the spice merchants in the Souks it is a point of honour to have the most sought after version of the blend. These spice merchants are reputed to have created custom blends of ras el hanout for prestigious clients,(Victoria whats your secret? ) including ingredients such as hashish and even Spanish fly. Our guests enjoy their dinners at Casa Rosada but I dont think we should be providing add-ons such as stimulants in the food!!!!-God help us we dont want a rude awakening of a night!!! Ras al hanout may sometimes contain floral scents such as lavender and rose buds.  A first class ras el hanout, when found, is one of the finest examples of how well a diverse variety of spices can be combined to to create an ingredient that is greater than its individual components. Ras el hanout is curry-like with a spicy kick, a sometimes floral fragrance and subtle nuances within an overall robust flavour. It is extremely versatile, adding a golden colour and an enticing aroma to a variety of dishes. A teaspoon stirred into rice or cous cous while cooking will lift  it to a higher level. It can be used as spice rub for lamb chops.
Here is my streamlined version:(11 components)

1 teaspoon ground cumin 
1teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

And while on the Moroccan spice trail....  
Coming up soon
Roast pork tenderloin with pears, dried apricots and ras el hanout
Preserved lemons
Mediterranean cous cous
Chermoula lamb leg steaks
Moroccan cooked tomato and green pepper chicken

Friday, 29 October 2010

Calling all pomegranate users

"I´m on the pomegranate, hello hello, you´re breaking up on me.Are you there Ga Ga?"
Did you know you can make coffee with your phone, that you can talk on the phone on the way to your hot date and shave at the same time, whip your phone out of your handbag and shave your legs in the office before going into a board meeting where you can liven up an editorial meeting by playing the harmonica to your colleagues on your phone. Hands free, coffee makin in just 30 seconds - Pomegranate phone.
But does it make real good Jelly - I think not.. so back to reality "Still there Ga Ga ?"

Pomegranate and Orange Jelly
Casa Rosada served this last night. It is labour intensive, but makes a very unusual and delicious desert.Pomegranates are now in season and with Christmas just around the corner, this would make a refreshing grand finale to the Christmas lunch.
Serves 6
 6 large juicy oranges ( 750ml juice)
100g caster sugar
3 pomegranates
1 unwaxed lemon
6 green cardamom pods
6 sheets gelatine

Squeeze the oranges. You will need about 750ml of juice.
Squeeze 2 of the pomegranates and the lemon.
remove 3 or 4 strips of zest from the orange and lemon with a sharp knife.
Pour the juices and peel into a stainless steel or enamelled saucepan and add the sugar.
Split open the cardamom pods, extract the seeds then add them to the juice and bring almost to a boil.
When the juice shows signs of bubbling, cover with a lid and turn off the heat. 
Leave to cool a little - 15 minutes should do it.
Slide the gelatine sheets, one or two at a time into cold water and let them soften for 5 minutes.
Remove the lid, then pour the juice through a sieve into a large clean jug.
Reserve the cardamom seeds. 
Lift the softened gelatine sheets from the water- they will be just short of dissolving
and stir them into the warm juice.The gelatine will dissolve in seconds. Stir thoroughly, making certain that all the gelatine has melted.. add the reserved cardamom pods. They will float around, but will subtly flavour the jelly as it sets. Pour into glasses and refrigerate overnight.

This is supposed to be a soft set jelly, so dont worry about "a bit of inner thigh wibble" Nigella!!!!

HOT TIP, NOT LEMSIP: Pomegranates are in season just when winter colds are taking hold.When juicing the pomegranates, save the bitter pith as it supposedly acts as a cold remedy, infuse in some warm pomegranate juice and take as needed.


Thursday, 28 October 2010

Joe Gazzano 1940-2010 RIP

I read with great sadness today of the the passing of Joe Gazzano in Matthew Fort´s eloquent obituary, Guardian 25th October. Gazzano´s up until 2004 was such an important part of my life.Unfortunately I wasn´t around to witness the opening in 2006 of the newly re-built premises and the cafe in the Guardian Museum.Hardly a day went by without me popping in on my way to work to pick up fresh cheeses, salame, prosciutto, and the only non-Italian thing in the shop Pasteis de nata, Portuguese custard tarts.On most days I would probably pay a second visit to the shop in the afternoon.
Gazzano's is something of an institution around the Farringdon Road. Four generations of the same family have worked here since arriving from Italy's Amalfi coast just after the war.
The founder was originally an olive oil seller from Liguria and in the 30's he travelled abroad to sell his produce each year - this routine was abruptly interrupted by the onset of the second world war.Almost a century later Joe Gazzano continued the family tradition, running the shop supported by his sister, with her wonderful La Dolce Vita retro beehive and false eyelashes. From very young his children Joe and the lovely Lucia, were brought up in the family run salumeria and managed it in their fathers absence or day off.
The original shop felt like a little corner of Italy in Clerkenwell (which is, anyway, the area of London where Italian immigrants traditionally settled). I loved this place and have missed it so much since moving to Portugal. Gazzano’s still to this day sells all the fine quality Italian ingredients, dry pastas, cheeses,hams, salame, coffee, prepared foods, home made fresh pastas/ravioli/gnocchi,dried pastas and risotto rices stored in old fashioned grocers drawers, mozzarella,tins of olive oil, amaro, pane e cioccolata. The I want list is never ending and not so uncomfortable on the pocket. I defy anyone to find sausages equal to the Napolitan spicy ones I used to buy, weighing in at only £6 a kilo. I especially loved going there on a Sunday morning when all the old-school Italian families popped in for supplies after service at the Italian church in Clerkenwell Road.Joe Gazzano was a traditional shop owner, with a kind and sincere heart,and a strong poitical voice that witnessed the changing face of Little Italy, Clerkenwell. He always showed a strong interest in my then local business panini etc, and was ever supportive of it. I gleaned so many culinary tips from the man.
I thank him for this and will always remember not only shopping there, but our daily conversations, and putting the world to right.
God bless Joe Gazzano and all power to him for securing the future of an important and loved family business in the shadow of a changing environment,government and tough economic climate.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

A day in the Sapal- "com pitada de sal"

 "com pitada de sal" -taken with a pinch of salt
Flor de Sal is the finest flower of sea salt. It appears as a thin layer floating on the surface of the brine. These first fragile crystals are carefully skimmed off every day in good weather conditions and only sun dried before packing. 
Click on the icon below - then sit back and follow the Marenotos ( salt harvesters ) going about their work on a hot sunny day, and perhaps you´ll get a taste for what they call the "White Gold" of the Algarve. Enjoy the sunshine!!!!

Monday, 25 October 2010

The creme of the Brûlé

Papoela,(Poppy ) never misses a trick and always has the last say, as she did today!!!!

Today we had a visit from a photographer, Steve Stoer, sent down from Lisbon to photograph Casa Rosada, its enviroment and Mein hosts.
Steve Stoer was commissioned by Tyler Brûlé´s magazine, Monocle.
The feature is going to be part of a special edition featuring Dream Businesses. Steve was here for three hours and covered the entire house, inside and out, including the garden, finishing with some portrait shots of the proprietors themselves and Poppy dog had to stick her nose in too!!!!- I cant wait to see if she gets into print!!!?
Monocle is a direct competitor to many glossy Condé Nast titles, but has the cache of being printed on chic matt paper. Its coverage is business, fashion, travel,  and style-conscious urban pursuits such as shopping and fine dining. In a way it is about "everything that is around us", the term Brûlé used to describe Wallpaper, the style bible with which he captured the zeitgeist in 1996, selling it a year later to Time Warner for an alleged $1.7m.

Is this the icing on the cake? Casa Rosada always considered itself the poor cousin!!!!!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

All tomorrows breakfasts

......  there's such an air
of Spring about it
I can hear a lark somewhere  ........
..........   But how strange
The change from major to minor
Every time we say goodbye

Its that time of year again. The clocks will soon go back, heralding the end of summertime, alas. But no we wont have it, we´ve got to keep walking on sunshine, we and our guests need fuel to power  walking in the nature reserve, the sapal and not forgetting those miles of unspoilt golden east Algarve beaches.

Wakey wakey rise and shine!!! To start an autumnal day I serve fruit compote.  Never mind Kelloggs and its sunshine breakfast strapline,a serious breakfast bowl sets you in good stead for the day ahead - "Good day sunshine." You need to laugh and when the sun is out, you´ve got something you can laugh about, you feel good in a special way....
You take a walk,  the sun is shining down, burns your feet as they touch the ground...
If Venus is the goddess of beauty, sass and sunshine, a good compote makes sure there isn´t whiff of a wet kipper or full English in the air while my Mediterranean inspired winter breakfast is to be enjoyed.

I have a core recipe upon which I improvise with what fruit is at hand or in the market.
I mix fresh fruit with dried varieties, of which we are spoilt for choice here. My latest discovery is Morangos desidratados (dried strawberries).I also use dried cranberries, fruits of the forest, kiwi, papaya, banana and pineapple. The last six varieties all being dried also.Its a one pot stop - all you need is an ovenproof casserole.

Serves 8
3 large oranges, Navels or Valencia lates, peeled, pith removed and segmented
1/2 kilo fresh plums ( optional)
1/2 kilo fresh peaches ( optional )
2 cups dried apricots
1 cup dried figs
1 cup stoned prunes
1 cup of dried kiwi banana , pineapple, papaya, coconut
( the simplest way here is to chuck in a bag of good quality tropical cocktail mix, 
the type with just dried fruits not nuts)
1/2 cup dried strawberries
mixed candied peel to taste
I cup water
1/2 cup orange licore or brandy
1/2 cup golden granulated sugar

Preheat your oven to 130ºC. Place the orange segments and any juice in a casserole large enough to take all the ingredients. add the dried fruit in layers, finishing with the apricots.
Pour in the water and licore and and sprinkle the sugar over the top. Cover and cook in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Add a little extra water if necessary. Allow to cool and then store in the refrigerator. Store a week of power breakfasts.Ideal for a busy lifestyle.
Serve with toasted almonds or granola sprinkled on top alongside a bowl of creamy yoghurt topped with honey and pomegranate seeds.

though we´ve had to say goodbye to the summer
I don´t want to say goodbye to the summer
Yes its gonna be cold, lonely winter..... but brightened by a colourful breakfast.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Every day a little death


Every day a little death
In the parlor, in the bed
In the curtains, in the silver
In the buttons, in the bread
Every day a little sting
In the heart and in the head
Every move and every breath
And you hardly feel a thing
Brings a perfect little death......

I´m sure Stephen Sondheim is not a bacalhau fan but his lyrics sum it up perfectly. Andrew says it tastes of death and there is one salt cod recipe for every day of the year. My God, 365 ways with salt cod!It is like reading the registry of deaths. Well I´m afraid Andrew is on his own and 11.5 million Portuguese can´t be argued with.They call it the fiel amigo
( faithful friend ). Market stalls brimmeth over with this grey mass.There are said to be over 1000 recipes in Portugal alone and it can be considered the iconic ingredient of Portuguese cuisine (but curiously enough, the only fish that is not consumed fresh by this fish-loving nation).The Portuguese import massive quantities of salted dried codfish every year from Norway ( bacalhau de noruega) and Iceland ( bacalhau de Islandia). Once affordable,this Portuguese treasure has nowadays  been hit by the shortage of cod fish stocks and the dismantling of the Portuguese bacalhoeiro fleet.Traditionally the Portuguese fisherman caught the cod and brought it back to be salted and dried by women in coastal towns.This sparked off a certain theme of Saudade (a longing for the past that is so far into the future it will never be accessable!!!!!) in Fado songs. Women wailing on the beach the "fleet hasn´t returned, the boats must have been wrecked and we will never see our men folk ever again"!!!!
Its an essential part of Christmas menus in Portuguese families, but like flowers on Valentines day, it commands a higher price around the festive season.On Christmas Eve bacalhau rules and Portuguese families gather all over the country to sit down and eat Bacalhau com todos ( salt cod with the lot).
If you don´t  experience a luscious salt cod dish that makes you grateful for each of your senses then you dont deserve Portugal!!! Its ´mouth feel´inspiring food.
And here are my two choices.

pataniscas de bacalhau with chilli dipping sauce

Pataniscas de bacalhau Tailandes
Pataniscas originated in the Algarve: 
There are a few versions around, 
but this is certainly the sort of salt cod dish you can modify. 
I have put a certain Thai stamp on mine.

500g flaked salt cod, desalted and reconstituted
6 kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped 
or 1 stalk lemongrass finely chopped
1teaspoon Nam Pla ( thai fish sauce )
Handful of fresh coriander leaves
2 small hot red chillies, de-seeded and finely chopped
3 spring onions finely chopped
75g fresh bread crumbs
a little flour
oil for shallow frying

Put the fish, Kaffir lime leaves or lemongrass, if using, fish sauce, coriander leaves, chillies and spring onions into a food processor.Blend briefly then tip into a bowl and stir in the breadcrumbs and enough flour to bring the mixture together, it should be firm enough to be able to shape into flat cakes or balls. Mould the mixture with your hands into patties, cakes or balls, to the size you require. The above quantity will make 12 5cm patties. Dust these with a little flour, then fry them in shallow oil till crispy and golden about 3-4 minutes each side.
Serve as a starter, canape or snack with a pot of chilli dipping sauce

Bacalhau a bras
Shredded dried salt cod, fried potatoes and scrambly type eggs
Serves 6-8
750g potatoes
vegetable oil for deep frying
750g salt cod thoroughly soaked ( see below)
3 tablespoons olive oil
150g butter
375g onions peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
salt and pepper
9 eggs
1/2 bunch chopped parsley
1 cup small black olives

Reconstitute the cod in the usual way.( see below)
Skin and bone and wash again. Pull it into small strips, using your fingers. I buy bacalhau desfiado which is the raw shredded cod and will already be boned and shredded and therefore you can omit the stage above.
Peel the potatoes and cut them into fine matchsticks. Pat them dry with paper towel, then deep fry them in hot oil until they begin to colour. Remove and drain on paper towel.
Heat the oil and half the butter in a frying pan and gently cook the onions for about 10 minutes until soft and beginning to colour. Increase the heat, add the garlic and then stir the cod through the mix. Continue to cook for 5 to 6 minutes, until the mix becomes golden. Add salt and pepper to taste, then transfer the mix to a bowl and toss through the potatoes. Heat the remaining butter in the frying pan and add the potato and fish mix.
Beat the eggs and stir them through the mix so they just bind the fish and potatoes but don´t scramble. Serve with the parsley and black olives on top.

Basic Preparation
Most recipes demand that salt cod be well soaked before cooking it. Rinse well under the tap to wash away some of the salt, and place in a roomy bowl, covering it well with cold water. Change the water 4 to 5 times, for a period of 12 hours for very thin cuts, and 24 hours for thicker ones. Before cooking taste a few strands to make sure it is not over salty any more, although it should retain a little saltiness or it will be too bland.
You should not add salt to any dish containing salt cod until you taste it,to take into account the salt remaining in it which will probably be sufficient for seasoning the whole dish.

Weight indicated in recipes refers to the salt cod before soaking.

If you intend cooking salt cod occasionally soak a bit extra and keep the excess in the freezer well wrapped in a plastic bag.

If you do not use the salt cod immediately after buying it, keep the parcel inside a plastic bag and place in the lower part of the fridge. This will prevent it drying out and and making a fishy smell in your fridge.

Use within 2 to 3 weeks

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The drying game

..." I´ve had my share of the drying game"...

I´ve learnt how to maximise cropping from our garden by drying some selected herbs and plants. Lemongrass, lemon verbena, basil and bay leaves are among the foliage I have so far experimented with.
As I mentioned in yesterday´s blog I proffered fresh stalks of lemon grass to one of our guests to take home. I used the trimmed foliage from the top of the plant to dry out for tea.I hang it up in tied bundles in the kitchen. When it has dried out completely I break it up into smaller lengths and store it in jars. I apply the same principle to lemon verbena, but in this case, and as is the same with basil, the leaves have to be removed from the stalks once they are dry. These herbal teas are becoming increasingly popular with Casa Rosada guests who like a whimsical bit of afternoon or pre bed-time infusionista in their lives.

..."First there are kisses, then there are sighs
and then before you know where you are
you´re starting to dry"....
If eaten whole, bay leaves impart a pungent and sharp, bitter taste. As with many spices and flavourings,the fragrance of the bay leaf is more noticeable than its taste.This is the new foodista thinking, that "flavour is very different from taste because it brings other senses into play — smell, sight, sound, touch and memory".
The general consensus of opinion does not agree about the use of dried or powdered bay leaves. Most agree that it is most succesful if enclosed in muslin, for instance bouquet garni, but if used in some dishes the texture of the dried crumbled bay may not be desirable
So ...."Why there are heartaches and why there are tears".
I just don´t know. It seems quite simple to me. If you dont like the strong flavour dont cause yourself heartaches and tears, use it in moderation.

..."one day soon I´m going to tell the moon about this drying game
and if he knows maybe he´ll explain"...
Bay leaves should only be ground in small quantities as you need them. Their potency fades very quickly and God forbid one doesn´t want jars of musty stale herbs occupying valuable storage space in ones larder.
Bay leaves can be scattered in the pantry to repel moths flies and beetles. The Romanies place a dried Bay Leaf underneath their pillow on St. Valentine's Day. It is believed that the leaf causes the user to dream of his or her future marriage partner. 
Enough is enough!!!!

..."Don´t want no more of the drying game."

STOP PRESS COMING SOON!!! -watch out for our companion blog - all new  o jardinheiro este algarve a photo journal/ diary of what is good and whats happening on the Casa Rosada horticultural front, written by the inhouse gardener.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The green green grass goes home


 As I write, the departure hall in Faro airport is about to become aromatised. A woman with a scented suitcase is about to pass through baggage handling."Excuse me madam, did you pack this bag yourself, have you left it unattended at any time?- Are you planning on cooking a Thai green curry madam? Holds up the incriminating evidence three stalks of Lemongrass.

As our guest was checking out this morning, she questioned the strong aroma that was coming from the kitchen. "What are you preparing she asked"- I informed her I was making Thai pork burgers. "What's the seasoning?" Chilli, lemongrass, shallots, coriander, fish sauce, soya sauce.The pale spiky plant that is Lemongrass grows in Asia and Australia. To my great surprise and delight I discovered I could grow it succesfully here in the kitchen garden at Casa Rosada. It has now grown to ornamental proportions. I offered to pick her some stalks and she leapt at the offer. A perfect seasoning for her sunday lunch to share with her son back in London tomorrow. I trimmed the stalks for her and bagged her up a bag of dried lemongrass tea. Before you could say badda bing she had it firmly planted in her suitcase and she was off to the airport. Tonight with no guests in the house we are going to be couch potatoes. TV dinner of Thai Burgers with home made chilli coriander jam. Will there be a Thai breaker in Strictly or Will Louis Walsh put a finger in the factor and allow the public to decide?- Whatever.......

One of my many perfect TV dinners - 
Nigel Slater´s Thai pork burger

serves 2

500g minced pork
1 tablespoon soya sauce
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
2 small hot chillies, Piri Piri or Birds eye
Large handful of fresh coriander
2 sticks of lemongrass, trimmed of its tough outer stalks and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
1 shallot peeled and finely chopped
Hamburger buns or baps
2 tablespoons groundnut oil
Home made tomato chutney, hamburger relish, chilli coriander jam
or if you cant be arsed just plain Heinz tomato ketchup!!!!

Put the minced pork in a bowl. add the soya and fish sauces. Put the chillies, coriander, lemongrass, garlic and shallot in the food processor and chop as finely as you can. Add the mixture to the pork and season with salt and pepper. Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly and with floured hands mix into four flat patties. Set aside, the longer the better. Warm the oil in a non-stick frying pan. When the oil is hot, put the patties in in the pan and let them cook for a minute or two until the underside is golden, then flip them over carefully. Continue cooking for a minute, and then turn the heat down, cover the pan and cook for 4 minutes. Drian on kitchen paper and serve.

I adapt this recipe to make meatballs or small tapas.

Other ideas with lemongrass

Lemongrass marinade
Prawn marinade
Lemongrass and lentil soup
Grilled lemongrass chicken
Lemongrass dressing
Lemongrass fried rice

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Sub standard

October in the Algarve sees late cropping figs hit the market.
Not all traders have them but them that do does you proud.They jump off the stalls and into peoples shopping baskets before you can say figgin ell, there´s none left! Today I needed 12 fine specimens to make fig cheese cake. Cheese... cake? .... FIGS?
Yes, as a fig fanatic I had been lured into the pages of the latest issue of Blue cooking,which I no longer need to buy, as it can be read online at cooking, Portugals answer to the UK´s Olive and Delicious, is part of a publishing portal of quality lifestyle magazines. Check out Blue Travel online issue 77 for a 19 page feature on Castro Marim
So what tempted me? - An 8 page feature on figs- am I in hog heaven or what?

My Cheesecake de figos

Cheesecake de figos seemed a mouthwateringly tempting recipe ( page 38 ) and very simple, so I rose to the challenge. My finished pud was thwarted by the fact that as so very often happens in this digital age- the recipe in question had not been subbed, by this I mean its author had written it and the copy had not been checked and proofed before publication. The problem in question was with the two types of sugar listed in the recipe. It tells you what to do with the golden sugar, but not the plain sugar. In hindsight I now realise this ingredient should have been added in Step 1. I overlooked this and my cheesecake was palatable and had our  guests ooing and aaahing but tasted a little bland. What a shame. Nevertheless I will try again.

If you have time to try this recipe please tell me how YOU get on.
Has anyone had similar experiences of badly edited recipes? I would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Mushroom magic

The finished dish and the ingredient that brought it to life

For those of you not registered or followers of UK food bloggers. This is a challenge set by Julia Parsons , the founder of UKFBA and her co-organiser Scott of Real Epicurean. The idea is that they choose 3 seasonal ingredients which are put in the bag and we have to come up with a dish and blog about it.

This months ingredients are:


For my "In the bag" dish I have chosen to cook my interpretation, (Oh dear I hear you all say.Here we go O Cozinheiro meddling with tradition again) of a traditional regional Portuguese speciality from the inland province of Tras-os Montes  in the far north of Portugal. I have used wild field mushrooms, grown locally and sourced by our local independent supermarket here in Castro Marim.This dish can make a rustic main course or sophisticated small bite starter, and the other great joy is that it can, for the greater part, be cooked in advance and finished off in 10 minutes.Wild mushrooms have a much richer flavour than the bland cultivated varieties, go easy on the mace as it can overpower the dish. Otherwise the subtlety of the flavours coming through are extraordinary.
Migas ( fried bread ) is a device in Portuguese cooking for soaking up juices.You will often find fried bread under a lamb stew or sardines. Mushrooms give off a lot of juices in the cooking and this is a perfect way of eliminating a lot of unwanted gravy on your plate.

Congumelos guisados com migas e rolado de pistachio tostado
(stewed wild mushrooms on fried bread with a pistachio crumb topping )

serves 4-6
1 kg wild mushrooms or field mushrooms
100g smoked ham, pancetta or lean bacon diced
4 medium slices of rustic country bread
4 cloves garlic plus extra
4 tablespoons olive oil and a little butter
4 shallots finely chopped
1 level desertspoon Dijon mustard
pinch of mace or nutmeg
Splash of Madeira wine
100g toasted pistachios crushed with your fingers
grated zest of orange and lemon
handful of chopped flat leaf parsley  sprigs and a  few chive stalks to garnish the plates

Wipe the mushrooms and cut off the end of the stalks. Cut the mushrooms into irregular sized pieces, leaving small ones whole without the stalk.Set aside. Fry the shallots and bacon gently in the oil and butter. Add the mushrooms and stir in the mustard, mace and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for two to three minutes until the mushrooms start to absorb the juices in the pan. Splash the mushrooms with Madeira and cook a further minute. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and rest in a warm place, add a little more olive oil and fry the slices of bread until golden on both sides.
Place the fried bread slices on plates and top with the mushrooms.Garnish the plates with parsley sprigs. Sprinkle the crushed pistachio crumbs over the top of the mushrooms and finish with the orange and lemon zest. carefully lay three or four chives across the top and serve.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Nature´s crown jewels

Open this exotic fruit up and you'll find that its seeds are truly the jewels in nature's crown, a fruit fit for kings It can ward off Alzheimers disease. It can prevent breast cancer, and the British Heart foundation endorses cartons of pomegranate juice. This hardy fruit with its thick, red-hued skin, has obtained the accolade of a superfood due to its sky-high levels of antioxidants. But enough of myths and health benefits – lets just eat them because they're versatile, perfect for sweet and savoury dishes, and because they taste good.Serve it with chicken, fish, quail, cheese or as a constituent in numerous desserts.
This weekend Casa Rosada offered Chermoula marinated tuna with jewelled cous cous as a main course option. 

Chermoula marinated tuna with jewelled cous cous
serves 2

2 thick tuna steaks

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 medium red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon coriander leaves chopped
1 tablespoon parsley leaves chopped

Mix the marinade ingredients together in a large shallow bowl 
add the tuna and coat the fish with the marinade mix
leave for 30 minutes

heat the griddle pan until it is smoking then quickly cook the tuna steaks
about  1 1/2 minutes each side will ensure they remain pink inside
serve with the jewelled cous cous

150g cous cous ( 2 person portion )
250 ml marigold bouillon or good quality vegetable stock
1 red onion finely diced
100g pomegranate seeds
50g toasted pistachios coarsely chopped
( 50g dried apricots if you are serving this with meat not fish )
sprigs of flat leaf parsley for garnish
juice of 1 lemon
grated orange and lemon zest
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

pour the stock over the cous cous and fluff it up with a fork after 10 minutes
mix in all the rest of the ingredients and adjust the seasoning.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Dia descanso com o diabo

O meu dia descanso( my day off ) - ´You little devil ´ I hear you say. An unexpected encounter with another red devil brought fire to a simple Casa Rosada supper.
Having cooked a serious 3 course dinner for our guests last night, tonight I need speedy supper, and it needs to be devilishly delicious. I go to the fridge,open the door, and it shouts hello condiment queen. Oh my god my fridge is complaining about the number of jars its being asked to store.You name it I´ve made it, I´ve stored it....Thai green curry paste, red tomato chutney, chilli jam, green olive tapenade, piri piri sauce, salad dressings every which way, so what needs using up and what can contribute to speedy supper. A jar of harissa I made last week catches my eye. I´ve got the devil in me and like a thing possessed I don my shopping basket. Its  half past twelve, its Sunday, its Castro Marim and the local supermarket closes in thirty minutes. Our supermarket has its own butchers counter selling a lot of home produced meat.His satanic majesty requests two free range chicken breasts, and returns home with a recipe in mind. Half my work is done, the fridge also proffers me a bowl of jewelled cous cous left over from last night. Harissa Chicken with jewelled cous cous, less mutton dressed as lamb, more devil wears Prada.
I simply adore this fiery pungent paste made with hot red chillis and spices. It can be smeared over almost anything. Let this North African staple give punch to lamb shanks or just simply mop it up with hunks of fresh bread. Our piri piri bushes are covered with little red chillis crying out, ( you will be ) to be picked and taken to the kitchen. There are so many recipes for harissa, using either fresh or dried chillis. The quantities vary with each one so I took the plunge and decided it should be as hot as you
want it.

100g fresh hot piri piri chillies
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
5-6 tablespoons olive oil

Grind the cumin and coriander seeds finely.
Put the ground spices, chillies, garlic and salt in a food processor and whizz to a stiff paste. with the machine running, slowly add the olive oil through he feed tube until the paste becomes smooth.

Harissa Chicken with Jewelled cous cous
 (per person)
1 boned and skinless chicken breast
Harissa paste

Jewelled cous cous ( recipe in "crown jewels" blog , coming soon )

Smear the chicken breast all over with harissa paste.
Cover and put in the fridge for at least an hour.

Heat the oven to 200c. Put the chicken on a lightly oiled roasting tray. 
Pop in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until done. 
Once done, remove and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing.
Serve on top of jewelled cous cous

Thursday, 7 October 2010

a platter of tiny meats

There is nothing more appetising than the sound of a biscuit being crunched with tiny slivers of ham. Last month I recounted a visit to  the "secret grocer, " Alimentacion Orta´,in Ayamonte. Beyond its epicurean lobby lies another secret - a tapas bar. Under the guise of a grocers shop steeped with tradition you will find this interesting and unique little place for tapas. Here you can taste excellent preserves, cured fish, pork products,cheese, preserved vegetables, fine wines, sherries and all surrounded by a cacophony of antique furniture.At the back of the shop you pass windowed offices full of old fashioned typewriters from which you can imagine the echoes of stenographers tapping out bills and accounts from a more mercantile era. Walk past sherry casks and high stools till you stumble upon a beautiful crumbling patio, with tables in the shade of an orange tree where you can peacefully escape the intense heat of the Spanish sun and enjoy Andalucian tapas at its best.   What a discovery!!!! 


Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Nun in the oven

Picture by kind permission: Abigail Hedderwick

Long before Portugal´s monasteries and convents were turned into luxury hotels, they were places of high living. William Beckford the English travel writer who visited Portugal in 1793, and settled here for a while, was shocked by the "perpetual gourmandising" of the monks, wondering at their diet of "rarities and delicacies of distant countries, exquisite sausages, potted lampreys and strange messes from Brazil!!!"His writings are full of "description of scenes and manners".

Portugal boasts more than 200 varieties of biscuits, cakes and pastries known collectively as doces (sweets). With names as quaint as papa de anjo (angel's chin), they're fun to get your mouth around in every sense.Each sweet delight is an integral part of Portuguese culture and history.
These sweets have been an important part of Portuguese culture for centuries. Although popular in medieval times (honey was the sweetener), the arrival of sugar in the 15th century, brought by the Arabs, quickly crystallised the sweets industry, especially among the aristocracy, who could afford it.
However, it was the nuns and monks from Portugal's convents and monasteries who produced some of the country's best-known recipes. The popularity of doces conventuais - literally "conventual sweets", which include biscuits and pastries - soon spread through the provinces. Conventual sweets sprang up through habits of a different kind. To protect family virtue and fortunes, wealthy families sent their daughters to the local convents. These well-off religious institutions served not only as places of faith but as accommodation options for important visitors, including royalty, and became gastronomic centres (the idea perhaps being the more one ate, the more one prayed). With time to kill, the chaste females flirted with recipes, using eggs from the convent's chickens and other ingredients available to them. One nun did stray when she fell in love at first sight with a French officer whom she spotted from her convent window. Letters Of A Portuguese Nun, five passionate letters to her man published in the 1600s, is the result of her non-consummated lust; today, the letters are assumed to be fiction but the romantic tale is a great drawcard for the town of Beja.
In the 1800s, when the clergy and workers were expelled during the liberal revolution and convents and monasteries were shut down, these recipes found their way into local padarias and pastelarias. In Beja for example, Casa de Cha Maltesinhas, a small back street bakery specialisies in conventual sweets, their toucinho do ceu comes highly recommended. The centennial coffee shop Luiz da Rocha is a true institution of the city of Beja, and an undeniable reference of Alentejan conventual sweets . The cupcakes of curd, backpacks of eggs, sweet almond, or the irresistible chicken pies are part of a showcase of delicacies that belong to the heritage of many generations of Alentejo gastronomy. Trouxas de ovos,( sugared egg yolks) plus other less conventional creations including the porquinhos de doce, literally "sweet little pigs", made of marzipan and shaped as pigs and piglets. ( a guilt-free choice for vegetarians).Luiz de Rocha has sweetened the lips of generations of Bejense and turistas alike.The nuns nevertheless "pigged out" in more ways than one. Pork, up there on the list of the world's quirkiest cake ingredients, was used frequently in recipes. Adventurous nuns and monks added to the Portuguese culinary call, such delights as pudim do Abade de Priscos (a creme caramel prepared with pork lard, port and spices) and toucinho do ceu (literally, "heaven's lard", or "bacon from heaven" a small almond cake with a touch of, you guessed it, Porky Pig). Even the monks were in on the act: you can imagine them chuckling away, while concocting their own egg-based creations, including barrigas de freiras - nuns' bellies. Culinary horizons can be expanded eating your way through the medieval history of Portugal and indulging in some sinful treats. After all, a porky belly is nothing a few Our Fathers, Hail Marys, or a few months at the gym won't cure.
Still keeping the theme Iberian I am dying to try a phenomemon that I have heard about, but as yet haven´t had the chance to experience first hand. The order of the Claridad nuns ( Poor Clares) have a convent in Ronda Spain, and they sell their homebaking through a revolving hatch (so you can't see them)...this was featured on the recent Jamie Oliver in Andalucia programme.You place your money on a sort of lazy susan, or in this context shall we call it a lazy nun.The wheel rotates and in return your conventual treats appear.This seems to be quite commonplace in a lot of Andalucian convents so check it out.

Other conventual recipes that make me chuckle -
Angels Breasts
Fig Lord
Abbots Ears
St Claras turnovers
Prisco´s parish priest pudding
Friar John´s delight

I wonder if Stephen Sondheim has ever had a taste of things conventual.
it makes you wonder when Sweeney Todd enquired  - 

Haven’t you got poet or something like that?
No you see the trouble with poet is how do you know it´s deceased - Try the priest