Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Nuts about a salad

Green beans with an Asian-style dressing get a flavour kick from crunchy toasted almonds

Fear of fat? - look no further. Nuts despite being high in fat (unsaturated) can be good for you.To put this into perspective, think of the oil in olives. Nuts like olive oil, play a part in lowering cholesterol.Of course, since nuts are high in fat, they are also high in calories, so I´m not saying start eating pounds of pistachios every day, but incorporate them in moderation into your diet, and enjoy.
This easy to make salad is a cracker, as a side order, a great picnic box filler, but also as a great springboard for combining with other ingredients such as salmon to make a more substantial meal.The saltiness of the nuts and the simplicity of the salad and its fresh zingy dressing doesn´t allow it much time on the plate before being devoured in its entirety.Well not in our house any way. As an alternative, if you want to go for haute presentation the nuts can be placed around the rim of the plate as an edible decoration.I served it this weekend as a companion to a light lunch of Pinchos Morunos.

Green bean salad with Coriander and Soy- glazed almonds
serves 4

1/3 cup Marcona almonds ( about 50g / 1.5 ounces )
4 teaspoons Soya sauce
500g green beans trimmed, cut into short pieces
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove pressed
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
2 tablespoons thinly sliced spring onions 
1/3 cup fresh coriander leaves 

Put the almonds in a small non-stick frying pan.Stir over a medium heat until the almonds are lightly toasted, about 5 minutes.Increase the heat to medium high. Add 3 teaspoons of the soya sauce and stir until soya sauce has evaporated and coated the almonds, about 1 minute.Set aside and cool.
Cook the beans in a large pan of salted boiling water until just tender about 5 minutes.rinse well under cold water and drain well.
Whisk the oil and vinegar, garlic, ginger and the remaining teaspoon of soya sauce in a large bowl. Add the beans and toss to coat. season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the spring onions coriander and almonds over the salad and serve.

PANTRY POINTER: The almonds and beans can be prepared up to 6 hours in advance.Cover the almonds and store at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate the beans; return to room temperature before serving.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The proof of the peach is in the pudding

It may look like an orange but it ain´t

Perfumed red skinned peaches are superabundant right now, so make the most of this voluptuous fruit.Gauging quality without tasting, however, is well-nigh impossible. There are pointers - a ripe peach should give a little when pressed (gently, so as not to bruise), and it should be perfumed, plump and voluptuous-looking -think Beryl Cook and a Putto´s bottom and you wont be far off what you need.But even the most promising examples can turn out to be disappointing, with a woolly texture and dull, muted flavour.The next thing you need is a recipe.The answer was handed to me on a plate.Last Sunday´s Observer food column was filled, in Nigel Slater´s absence by Bocca di Lupo's Jacob Kennedy who gave us this mouth watering recipe.

Peach, wine and vanilla granita

At the local market, 1 Euro buys 10, exactly what you need for this recipe and, assuming that you can choose your own, I reckon you cannot ask fairer than that.So "Cupid draw back your bow and let your arrow go, straight to my lover's heart for me".... and in the words of Jacob Kennedy

"This granita is dramatic, delicate and complex in taste, but so easy to make. It is a great thing to do with less-than-perfect peaches, especially if they have dark red skins – but it is one of the only dishes I can think of where it's excusable to use good peaches, too (such peaches are so hard to find it is normally a travesty to do anything other than eat them as they are).
The recipe, or the principle behind it, came from my dear friend Zaki, who made it for me after eating something similar at the Eagle in London's Clerkenwell. He decorated his with frozen grapes, which I absolutely loved – only recently have I become so austere in my outlook as to omit them. With or without, it is summertime perfection.
Choose peaches that have very dark skins and a good aroma, and are pretty much ripe, but ever so slightly firm. The ones that would be perfect to eat tomorrow will be the best to cook today."

Serves 4-6
white or yellow peaches with dark red skins 6 large or 12 tiny
lemon zest 2 strips made with a potato peeler
vanilla pod ½, split lengthways
cinnamon stick 3cm
white wine 500ml
caster sugar 175g

Put everything into a pot, and add water to just cover the peaches – 500ml or so. Bring it to a simmer, and cook until the peaches are tender and the skins ready to slip off. This may be as little as 3 or 4 minutes if they are ripe, 15-20 if they are firm.
Use a slotted spoon to lift them from the syrup and leave to cool until you can just handle them. Remove all the skin with your fingers and return it to the liquor; put the peeled peaches, covered, in the fridge.
Allow the syrup to simmer with the skins in it for at least 20 minutes longer (to extract all the colour and flavour), and taste for sweetness. If it's too watery, boil it down a little or add more sugar to taste. Strain the rosy pink liquid, let it cool, then pour it into a deep tray that will fit in your freezer (metal is best). Place it in the freezer and check after half an hour. Once ice crystals start to form, stir every 15 minutes or so with a fork or sturdy balloon whisk until you have a satisfyingly thick slush. If it gets too hard, thaw it a little before serving – it can be stored this way (frozen solid) for weeks.
Serve the ice (whose colour is about as beautiful as can be, especially on a sunny day) with the whole peaches on top. 

MY VERDICT: Tried and Tested, A truly delicious combination of complex and subtle flavours. A beautiful and stunning summer desert. Don´t forget the frosted frozen grapes, it´s like "finishing the hat".

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Can you manage a melon?

The perfect antidote to sultry summer heat
One of the reasons I love shopping at markets is the sheer abundance of variety you find, whereas produce found at the supermarket has been carefully picked and bred, not for taste or variety, but for shelf life, and looks.It has been said that Melon, like wine, can not support mediocrity.Knowing what to look for when buying it and how to care for it once you´ve got it home will spare you mediocre melon, and believe me, I´ve learnt the hard way. A good melon is hard to find and when you do its usually melondipity.
Because melons must be eaten at the moment they reach, in the words of Brillat-Savarin, "the perfection which is their destiny." recognising ripeness is the key to fulfilment. Cantaloupes. like many other summer fruits, have virtually no starch reserves before they ripen, so they don´t get any sweeter once they´ve been picked. In fact, the cantaloupe has a built in system that halts the development at exactly the right time.When the sugar content reaches saturation, a separation layer develops where the stem meets the fruit, preventing further nutrients from entering the melon. The layer in the stem then pulls away, which is why ripe melons are so easy to pick. If a Cantaloupe is damaged at the end of the stem, it´s obviously been picked too early.
Choose cantaloupes that are heavy for their size and have a sweet, musky fragrance. The "netting" should be thick and well-raised and the colour behind it golden rather than green.The melon should give slightly when pressed with the thumb at the stalk end, and a smooth patch should surround the opposite end. Avoid melons with soft spots, scaly irregularities, shrivelled skin, cracks, or an overly strong odour.
Though their sugar content won´t increase, cantaloupes will get juicier and softer if left for a few days at room temperature. After that, they should be refrigerated- either wrapped in plastic wrap or tightly sealed in a plastic bag, as their aroma tends to permeate
everything around it and you certainly don´t want melon flavoured milk.While on the subject of flavoured milk, have you tried the new Casa Rosada melon and ginger smoothie?
Try also cold cantaloupe and mint soup, cantaloupe in port jelly or try chumming it up with some presunto or bacon in a summer salad or sandwich.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Medieval Malarky

What goes around comes around.Another year has passed and the Medieval malarky is back. Between 25 and 28 August,daily life in the Middle Ages in Castro Marim is once again recreated with rigour and passion, a four day programme of cultural,gastronomic and ludic events.Callin´out around the world are you ready for a medieval treat?Oh it doesn´t matter what you wear,just as long as you are here.This is an invitation across the nation. A chance for folks to meet. There´ll be laughin´singin´,and music swingin´and dancin´in the street.....and all to a medieval beat.


Monday, 22 August 2011

The easy season

Roll out those lazy hazy crazy days of summer... There´s nothing easier and better than a big warm salad to set off a barmy Algarvian evening. Salad needn´t be something cold and limp on the side. It can be comforting and warm, but it will lack the WOW factor if your ingredients aren´t top nosh.Sounds like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, but its frightening how many, not just home cooks but restaurants too, get it so wrong. Choosing quality oil and vinegar is a good start. You don´t have to push the goat out, punish your purse and drizzle every other rocket leaf with estate bottled olive oil, but it should stand the "dipping in bread alone" test. The same applies to your vinegars, wine, sherry or balsamic. Beware of the school that throws everything but the kitchen sink into a bowl and calls it a salad. I was brought up as a child on vinegary beetroot, limp lettuce and something reminiscent of a snails trail of slimy salad cream resulting in a sort of savoury Eton Mess.Ingredients should be matched, as in all dishes, with care or else your salad will cause offence to its recipients and end up like John Galliano at a Bar Mitzvah.

A warm salad of potato, chouriço, 
prawn and pimenton dulce (sweet smoked paprika)
Serves 6
1Kilo new potatoes
100g whole blanched Marcona* almonds
4 tablespoons good quality olive oil
1tablespoon  La chinata pimenton dulce
300g best quality chouriço corrente ( semi-cured cooking chouriço )
cut on the diagonal into chunks
500g large prawns cooked and peeled
100g pitted green olives flavoured with anchovy (sabor anchoa)
100g rocket 
Flor de sal Salmarim and ground Wynad black pepper
Scrub the potatoes and cook in boiling salted water.Set aside to cool,then if necessary cut them up into pieces.Lightly toast the almonds in a dry frying pan over a high heat.Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan and fry the paprika for a minute over a medium heat. Add the chouriço and fry turning halfway for 2-3 minutes.
Stir in the potatoes and prawns coating them thoroughly with the paprika oil.
Remove from the heat and stir in the olives, almonds, the remaining olive oil and the rocket leaves, setting aside a few leaves for your final garnish. Taste then adjust the sesoning. Transfer to a large salad bowl and scatter with the remaining rocket leaves.
Serve warm,tepid or cool, but not refrigerated cold.
*The Marcona variety of almond, which is shorter, rounder, sweeter, and more delicate in texture than other varieties, originated in Spain and is now popular in other parts of the world. Marcona almonds are traditionally served after being lightly fried in oil, and are also used by Spanish chefs to prepare a dessert called Turrón. 

Friday, 19 August 2011

"Her name was Lola...."

.... The pudding was called Claudia.Named not after Schiffer, Cardinale or even Winkleman,two great media queens and a princess of the silver screen.My queen of puddings was named after Rainha Claudia or La Reine Claude, wife of François 1 of France.
Was Claudia small, round and green? - probably not,but they had to name something after her.Eh,voila!!- the Greengage.We have a Spanish couple from Sevilha staying in the house, and they had ordered dinner. I prepared the dinner menu, but the thespian, who enjoys pushing me to my limits,encouraged me to stretch my skills and venture out of my culinary comfort zone.I dutifully agreed and for the pudding I donned my plumed hat as ambassador to the court of tarts.Tarte Rainha Claudia com massa Amendoa, a greengage and almond frangipane, the perfect August pudding, when those beautiful little green,( may I call them Plums?) gages are in season.Not too far from my comfort zone, having made this little number before, I served it up with honey whipped cream.Lola, having been suffering with a bad back for the entire day,announced that having partaken of my pudding "her hormones were back in equilibrium again" I was so pleased I  decided to introduce her name into the pudding.

Tarte Lola com Rainha Claudia massa amendoa
(Lola´s Greengage and almond Frangipane)
Serves 10

One quantity of sweet pastry, shop or home made

( approx. 500g )

250g whole blanched almonds
250g unsalted butter250g caster sugar4 whole eggsas many greengages as it takes
to fill the tart shell in one layer.

Prepare the frangipane the day before. Grind the almonds until fine.
Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat until creamy.
Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk thoroughly.
Slowly add the eggs to the butter and sugar.
add the ground almonds and mix in well.
Refrigerate overnight. Frangipane cooks better when cold.
Line a 12in loose bottomed pie dish with the pastry and put in the fridge for 1 hour.
Pre-heat oven 180c /350f 7 gas mark 4.
Blind bake 15 minutes and allow to cool.
Fill the tart shell with frangipane.
Halve and de-stone the fruit then lay them over the frangipane in one layer cut side up.
Dust with icing sugar and put in the oven for 45 minutes.
Let tart sit for at least half an hour before removing and serving.
Serve with lashings of creme fraiche!!-Hurrah.

What would I have done if "It had happened one night" that "Lily" Colbert had been in the house? I would have had to make a smaller pudding and call it Rainha Claudette.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Lets play sardines

Apart from the ubiquitous salt cod, fresh sardines are, of course  Portugal´s national dish, especially char-grilled.Summer holidays are in full swing,and it appears the Portuguese are staying at home( crise economica ). The Algarve is awash with the northern population of the country coming south. Before the crates of sardines are tipped onto the cold slabs of the fish market, the restaurants are grilling them, the villa terraces are grilling them and the residents backyards are notifying their neighbours its good old sardines for lunch. Here is a modern twist on the traditional way of preparing them.It has to be done indoors alas and you will still fill the house with that ubiquitous smell, but never mind its worth it.Throw open the windows, lap up the omega goodness of fresh fish, and forget the crise.

Beer batter fried sardines and lime
Frying the lime wedges gives them a lovely golden colour and enables the juice to squirt right into your eye or onto you new shirt with the slightest pressure.

Serves 2
1/2 cup Sagres beer ( substitute a lager but not dark beer)
1/2 teaspoon Castro Marim Flor de sal
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 kilo Cleaned and gutted sardines ( you can remove heads bone and tales if you choose)
1 Lime
4 cups vegetable oil

In a bowl whisk beer and salt into flour until smooth.Drain sardines and pat dry. Cut lime into 8 wedges.
In a 3 litre saucepan heat the oil over a moderately high heat until the thermometer registers 375º F. Working in batches of about 6 and holding sardines at head end to avoid breaking, dredge fish in batter to coat completely, dragging lightly against the side of the bowl to remove excess, and fry, stirring, until golden, 2-3 minutes. With a slottted spoon transfer the sardines as fried to paper towels to drain. Fry the lime wedges in oil until they begin to turn golden, about 30 seconds, and transfer to paper towels to drain. Serve sardines with lime.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Culinary artistry

My loyal garlic press manufactured in Eastern Europe and given to me many 
years ago by dear friend and New York´s  Hippest Hostess Ellen Swandiak

There is a proverb " a poor workman blames his tool´s.Good workmanship doesnt depend on the quality of the tools but on the way in which they are used, so to blame the tools for bad workmanship is to attempt to excuse one’s own lack of skill.In former times, a blacksmith for instance would have made his own tools, so the act of blaming one’s tools would rebound on oneself.The wording of this proverb also has a double meaning, in that a workman will remain poor without improving his skills, regardless of the quality of his tools, and thus never be able to afford better tools.The moral of the story: There are poor tools, but if you blame the tool you aren't necessarily a poor workman. If you're a good workman, you won't accept a bad tool, you'll strive to find a better one
In all my 15 years of kitchen duties I´ve never mastered the art of the knife. After all these years I still suffer from knife envy when I watch the speed and skill with which chefs chop, slice, julienne and dice.I don´t envy chefs their ability to julienne peppers or mince fresh herbs- its what they can do with garlic that gets me. They can smash a clove with the side of a broad knife and chop it to a purée, pressing the sides of the blade over the garlic to mash it with the ease of a child spreading melted chocolate all over its face. The purée is perfect of course  but it only takes them seconds to produce it.If I practiced every day I might get the hang of it. Because most of us don´t have enough time to become expert garlic mashers, the god of kitchen equipment invented the garlic press.

The Darth Vader of my gadget drawer, another loyal and trusted companion
this one is of french origins.

It looks like a lemon squeezer with teeth, or a mini meat tenderizer fitted into a nutcrackers handles. Put a peeled or even unpeeled clove of garlic into the box and with the holes on the bottom, then bring down the flat side of the press, squeeze the handles and Hello, Ola garlic presto!!!! Tiny pieces of garlic, soft enough to mash with a fork come
oozing through the other side. Run a knife across the press, and garlic purée is all yours. It´s all very simple that is until you have to extract the stray bits of garlic that didn´t make it to the other side.That is what I am convinced made the garlic press, bad press. It was tedious getting out all that mashed up gunk, and if you didn´t do an impeccable job, you knew it the minute you opened granny´s gadget drawer the next time.
So, for those of you like me with less than perfect knife skills, you can get by with without anyone ever needing to know our limitations.Yes along the way the food fashionistas will have branded us with committing a food fashion faux-pas, but I don´t give a flying foccacia.Having already fooled the world with this magnificent implement, I can leave the kitchen without a soul knowing I have been working with one of nature´s most odorous ingredients.Who says you can´t fool all of the people all of the time.

Friday, 12 August 2011

A cool summer hit

Melon and ginger smoothie as served at Casa Rosada
Kick start your morning spiked with ginger, this smoothie is guaranteed to perk you up after a long run on the beach or make a nice alternative to a summer breakfast. For a more aromatic variation, use a cantaloupe instead of a honeydew melon.
The key word with smoothies is Versatile: you can blend your favorite fruit with any of the following:
Milk, sorbet or yoghurt for a calcium rich drink.

Ginger: fresh and clean tasting, ginger is also helpful in boosting digestion, easing nausea or fighting off a cold.

Lime: if you want to add a fresh, sharp-tasting edge to any fruit concoction.
Yoghurt or bananas: Either of these ingredients will give your smoothie a thick and creamy consistency.

Freshly squeezed orange juice: loads of vitamin C and a good way to thin out a smoothie.

Melon and ginger smoothie( regular kick)
2 servings

  • 1 cup chopped honeydew melon
  • 1/3 cup chopped peeled kiwi, (1 large)
  • 1/2 ripe banana, sliced
  • 1/4 cup white grape juice
  • 1 teaspoon ginger syrup *
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice                                                                                       Place ingredients in the order listed in a blender. Pulse three times to chop the fruit, then blend until smooth. Serve immediately.
Melon and ginger smoothie( extra ginger hit )

2 servings
200g Galia or cantaloupe melon
250g  Greek Style Yoghurt
1 tablespoon honey 
Juice of 1 lime
50ml apple juice
heaped teaspoon of ground ginger

Place ingredients in the order listed in a blender. Pulse three times to chop the fruit, then blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

* Bottled ginger syrup is available in most health-food stores and gourmet supermarkets

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Conically iconic

Estou fora de si com exitaçao!!!! - I am beside myself, in a state of great emotional excitement.After months of searching I have finally managed to acquire my first tagine, Morocco´s Iconic conically shaped cooking pot. Hopefully this will be the start of a collection of  different sizes and modes of decoration. To put it to its first test I  opted for an Ottolenghi recipe, not specifically written with a tagine in mind, I know, but I like to do the sort of cooking that gets on with itself slowly, so I can potter about the house.Tagine cooking is slow cooking at its best. Last week in his Guardian column Ottolenghi gave us this relatively simple Sephardic dish* which he told us "yields many layers of comforting flavours".As usual I couldn´t help but meddle a little with Yotam´s recipe, but what the heck, wouldn´t life be boring if we just replicated each others work.You have to, you do don´t you,you do:

Yotam Ottolenghi´s Chicken Soffrito 
with O Cozinheiro´s preserved lemons and green olives

If you have a pan that's wide enough to hold the whole chicken flat, butterfly the bird by cutting through the centre of the breast until it opens up (or ask a butcher to do it for you). Serves four.

1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 small free-range chicken (about 1.5kg), butterflied or quartered
1 tsp sweet paprika
¼ tsp ground turmeric
¼ tsp sugar
Salt and black pepper
2½ tbsp lemon juice
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
Sunflower oil, for frying
25 garlic cloves, unpeeled
750g charlotte potatoes, peeled, washed and cut into 2cm dice
1 preserved lemon cut into strips
100g large green olives, pitted

Pour the oil into a large, shallow pan or casserole and place on a high heat. Lay the chicken flat in the pan, skin-side down, and sear for four to five minutes, until golden-brown. Season all over with the paprika, turmeric, sugar, a third of a teaspoon of salt, some pepper and a tablespoon and a half of lemon juice.
Turn over the chicken, add the onion and cover the pot with a lid. Reduce the heat to low and leave for 30 minutes, occasionally checking the amount of juice at the bottom of the pan: add a little water, if needed, so there's always around 5mm.
After the chicken has been cooking for 30 minutes, pour sunflower oil into a medium saucepan so that it comes 3cm up the sides. Bring up to medium-high heat and fry the garlic and potatoes in batches for about six minutes, until they take on some colour. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a paper towel. Sprinkle with salt, and repeat with the remaining potatoes and garlic.Meanwhile scrape the pulp out of the lemon and discard. Cut the skin into strips, rinse thoroughly drain and reserve.
After the chicken has been cooking for an hour, lift the bird from the pan and stir the strips of preserved lemon,green olives, potatoes and garlic into the cooking juices. Put the chicken on top of the potatoes and cook for another 30 minutes, by which time the meat should be falling off the bone. When serving, drizzle with a little fresh lemon juice.

...and the verdict: our guests loved it especially the preserved lemon twist.

*The descendants of Jews who left Spain or Portugal after the 1492 expusion are referred to as Sephardim. The word “Sephardim” comes from the Hebrew word for Spain, Sepharad, that is stated in the Bible.
It is believed that Jews had lived in Spain since the era of King Solomon (c.965-930 B.C.E.)(Before the Common Era) Alternative term for "B.C." (Before Christ) Little information can be found on these Jews until the beginning of the first century. We do know that in 305 C.E,(Common era)Term often preferred by Jews and Muslims to refer to the period after the year 0, since “A.D.” (Latin. " anno domini" or “year of the Lord”) refers to Jesus. the Council of Toledo passed an edict forbidding Jews from blessing the crops of non-Jews and prohibiting Jews and non-Jews from eating together.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Indian summer

Could it be better than Bollywood?-  Kick start August with a Bollywood bash in the Bay of Cadiz.Its summer time in Lusitania and the temperatures are rising, so lets put a little spice back in our lives and enjoy some cool comestibles. Tomatoes are plentiful and watermelons abundant. Are we being previous or will we get an Indian summer. Here´s hoping......

Vicky Bhogal´s Watermelon and feta cheese skewers with Indian spices

1/2 watermelon
200g block Feta cheese
11/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tbsp cumin powder
dash of lime juice
dash of extra virgin olive oil
sprinkling of piri piri flakes
1 tsp chopped fresh coriander leaves
salt and pepper

Cut the watermelon into chunks and set aside. cut the Feta into chunks of the same size and put in a bowl. add the remaining ingredients and stir well to coat, Thread alternate chunks of watermelon and feta onto skewers and serve

My Samarejo ( Cordoban Gazpacho) with a difference
Traditional Andalusian gazpacho with Indian flavours

675g tomatoes, skinned and seeded
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 heaped teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 red chillies,de-seeded
2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves
225g robust country bread torn into pieces
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
16 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
300ml iced water

Put all the ingredients in a liquidiser and process to a purée.
Adjust with a little water and more olive oil until you achieve your desired consistency.

For a real fun taste of India serve with spicy poppadoms broken into the soup.

Friday, 5 August 2011

The perfect relationship

Cardamom cheesecake with fresh fig topping

"It's the little things you put together,
Put together,
Put together,
That make perfect relationships".

Sondheim and Rodgers, Holmes and Watson, Gilbert and Sullivan, Marks and Spencer, Morse and Lewis, and now we have Cardamom and dairy, the coolest summer combo. A double handed duo that could solve every catering dilemma in the district with only a smidgeon of extra help.In this case the extra help was a beating on the bottom with a Womans Weekly. Whenever I am stuck for a culinary solution my search engine smacks into Australian Womans Weekly, bend me over backwards on me hostess trolley and my dilemma has become a delicious dessert. I abandoned their suggested base of NICE biscuits and opted for a classic digestive biscuit base.Eh voila I was on the way to no cook culinary heaven.

Cardamom cheesecake with fresh fig topping
Serves 6
For the base
  • 15 large digestive biscuits 
  • 85g/3ozunsalted butter 
    1. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2. Break up the digestive biscuits  and place them into the bowl of a food processor.
    2. Place the butter in a heavy-based pan and melt gently.
    3. Process the biscuits in the food processor, until the mixture has the consistency of fine breadcrumbs.
    4. Line the base of a 24cm/9in-10in loose-based spring-form cake tin with a round of greaseproof paper. Brush the bottom of the tin with some of the melted butter and place the round of greaseproof paper in the base.
    5. Add the remaining melted butter to the biscuit crumbs in the food processor and process again briefly.
    6. Tip the crumbs into the bottom of the cake tin. Using the back of a spoon, gently push the crumbs from the centre outward, until smooth and level. This will form the base of the cheesecake.
    7. Bake the cheesecake base in the oven for 10-15 minutes until it's lightly browned and just set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least five minutes.
For the topping

2 leaves or 2 teaspoons gelatine
2 tablespoons water
200g low-fat yogurt
250g light cream cheese, softened
¼ cup (90g) honey
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 fresh figs (120g), cut into wedges
1. Sprinkle gelatine over the water in small heatproof jug; place jug in small pan of simmering water, stir until gelatine dissolves. Cool 5 minutes.

4. Using electric mixer, beat yogurt and cream cheese in small bowl until smooth. Stir in honey and cardamom then the gelatine mixture; pour into prepared pan. Cover; refrigerate about 4 hours or until set. Serve cheesecake topped with fig.

Cardamom panna cotta
makes 6 ramekins 

500 ml good quality yoghurt
500ml half and half mixture of single cream and mlk
225g sugar
1 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds
4 leaves gelatine
Beat the yoghurt lightly with a fork until smooth and creamy.
Combine the cream and milk mixture, sugar and crushed cardamom in a pot over a medium flame until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is nicely warm to the touch.Remove from the heat. Dissolve the gelatine in 4 tablespoons of water and add to the cream and milk mixture. Stir to mix, ensuring the gelatine is completely dissolved.beat in the yoghurt.
Pour into the ramekins and chill for several hours or overnight until set.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Second to Nun

Quality Alentejo wine at the right price

Eighteen, I´d never been kissed by a boy( well as far as I know), never drunk wine, not even Blue Nun. Never eaten an avocado or seen an aubergine. Never been on an aeroplane, life was very different in those days.
It was all Dusty and Dylan and Landlubber loon pants otherwise it was curtain fabric inset in triangles sewn painstakingly by one´s mother into the bottom seam of one´s jeans to make flares.  The alternative was bootboy subculture, bovver boots and braces.Things were soon to change when I became a student.
The first Blue nun advertising campaign
Those student days introduced Blue Nun along with Black Tower and other cheap German imbibements as my blue heaven and were all the rage on tight grants. I was barely ashamed to be quaffing nuns piss by the bucket. There was little to be embarassed about, Rod Stewart endorsed it and Elvis Presley sang about it, and did you know.... On the Beatles’ infamous White Album, the track ‘Long, Long, Long’ is overlaid with the sound effect of a bottle of Blue Nun spinning on the top of George Harrison’s amp!
It was de rigeur to have familiarity with a fluted blue glass bottle.
 Oh yes we knew how to entertain. In my early student days Blue Nun and I were joined at the hip, not biblically speaking of course. Had we no shame? We imbibed the nun warm, ignoring guidelines for chilled or room temperature.

Noughty Blue Nun
German wines, once the Frauleins of the wine world,  used  to sit proudly alongside their quality French counterparts. But then came Liebfraumilch and the popularity of this young upstart of variable quality, and its subsequent fall from grace, tarnished all but the odd German Riesling along with it.Blue Nun launched in Germany in 1923. After World War II, the brand became incredibly popular in the UK and the US, selling for the same price as a second growth Bordeaux.By the ‘90s however, easy-drinking, semi-sweet German wines began to fall out of favour, and the brand came to be seen as tacky and dated.
Now in 2011 Blue is back in wine spraak  but instead of Blue Nun its Blue Window.(Janela Azul ) A smart quaffable vinho for a corresponding price to what we used to pay for the eponymous lady of the cloth. The nun in question has had a youthful makeover, and has retreated discreetly into the emblem on the label.

Is  Mateus, the iconic rosé, next  up for a bit of rejuvenation? The mind boggles
But for the moment Alentejan wins my palate.Try a glass or bottle with some excellent traditional Portuguese cuisine at a Tasca medieval in Castro Marim., where Fatima and Antonio will welcome you and
ensure you receive excellent service.