Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The cakes that never came

The Maias  regarded as the most important work of the late 19th-century Portuguese writer Jose Maria Eça de Queirós is full of culinary leitmotifs.Early in the book Two friends make an excursion from Lisbon to Sintra;Carlos in the belief that he will find the woman that he has seen twice but never met and with whom he has fallen passionately in love and Cruges his friend, who has been charged by his mother not to return without bringing back a unique speciality of Sintra- Queijadas.

 ....`Don´t forget the cheese pastries´

These delicacies are tartlets filled with a mixture of egg, sugar, cinnamon and Requeijao ( a fresh curd cheese similar to Ricotta) - Two men on a mission.

....`I mustn´t forget the cheese pastries....´

and again ....

`And I´ve still got to buy those cheese pastries`, muttered Cruges
Exactly cried Carlos.There are still the cheese pastries to buy;there´s no time to lose! We´d better go!´

They return at the end of the day,one having failed to encounter his true love and the other having forgotten to buy the cakes.
Both Woman and cakes are delectable, sought after consumables, and as we learn later, both can be bought.These cakes, once associated with the woman being pursued, recur later in the novel either as a gift that has been forgotten or as a gift that comes to nothing.When another best friend first meets the aforementioned woman at Carlos´house, he coincidentally brings with him a packet of queijadas.
...`the brown paper parcel, only loosely tied together,came undone,and afresh supply of special Sintra cheese pastries tumbled out onto the floral rug and promptly crumbled into nothing....
The seemingly unique relationship between woman and suitor was as fragile as the pastries and was soon to crumble into nothing as well.

Queijadas de Sintra

10oz (280g) flour
1.5 tablespoons butter

12oz(350g) fresh Requeijao ( substitute ricotta)
2oz(60g) grated hard cheese,Cheddar type
7oz(200g) caster sugar
5tablespoons flour
3egg yolks plus 1 whole egg
!/2 teaspoon cinnamon 
The cases in which the cheese filling is cooked are tin and crunchy,rather like very thin water biscuits. The dough is generally prepared well in advance, preferably the previous day. Put the flour in a bowl, make a well in the centre, add the softened butter and a little salt.Mix with the tips of the fingers and add tepid water very gradually while kneading thoroughly. The dough must be elastic and smooth but rather on the dry side, and should not stick to the bowl.Cover with a dry cloth then with a damp one. set aside to rest until the following day, or at least for a few hours.
Meanwhile prepare the filling.Sieve the fresh cheese, and mix well with the grated cheese, until a smooth paste is obtained.Add the sugar an then all the other ingredients, little by little, beating between additions.
roll out the dough really fine( the thickness of 3 sheets of paper, put together) on a floured board.Cut out small rounds,3inches(7.5cm in diameter, and line buttered patty tins with them, cutting 4 snippets to adjust the dough into the tins. Fill with the cheese mixture and bake in ahot oven210ºc /425ºF /Gas 79 for about 15 minutes or until brown.
When cold, join the tartlets in pairs, placing a small piece of greaseproof paper between them. Keep in tins to prevent drying.
Makes 24 to 30 queijadas.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Menu Crise

Menu Crise as promoted at Pastelaria-Padaria São Roque,Lisbon
Casa Rosada "checked in" to Lisbon for three days.We arrived with small overnight bags, capsule wardrobe enclosed therein.Our mission - a bit of relaxez -vous and, as always, find good food and "happy" meals at value prices.Others had come from other parts of Portugal prepared to do battle, armed with placards and banners.Lisbon on Thursday played host to the Greve Geral.Portugal´s leader Pedro Passos Coelho had told his nation to brace for further austerity.The nation´s workforce was not happy.15,000 Portuguese unions were supposed to have been represented in a mass demonstration on the streets of Lisbon.For most workers, not being able to get to work gave an excuse for a day off at home. For those who knew better, it was all hands on deck to serve us estrangeiros with coffees, cakes  and sandwiches, Pastelaria-Padaria São Roque did just that.
Pastelaria-Padaria São Roque
Located at the top of the Bairro Alto in Principe Real, this turn of the century "cathedral of bread" as proclaimed by azulejos ( decorative tiles) behind the counter, is essentially one of Lisbon's excellent bakeries, although ample seating is provided for customers who prefer to stay longer.The decoration alone makes this worth a sit down stop.Marble pillars reach up to a magnificent domed ceiling. Tiles intricately painted with scenes from nature flood the room with colour. Staff understand little English and territorial locals are somewhat put out by curious tourists.To discover this is to discover a real slice of local life.
 Having been slightly disappointed (main criticism tables too cramped)  by the very authentic Portuguese fare of a neighbourhood Bairro Alto restaurant, Alta Bota, we opted on our second night for something more spacious. A slice of Little Italy New York dished up with Portuguese precision by a charming and attentive brigade of waiting staff.
Not apparently known to taxi drivers, this up-market, but very reasonably priced Italian restaurant serves traditional Italian piatti and pasta dishes with a Portuguese essence by a Napolitan chef who formerly owned a restaurant in New York, but moved to Lisbon a few years ago.It is one of the most authentic Italian restaurants in the city - the mozzarella apparently is even shipped directly from Italy. (only criticism: chef Guerreiris predominant love of spinach).After dinner we headed back down the Avenida to call in for a nightcap at  Enoteca Chaffariz do vinho

Enoteca Chafariz do Vinho
This "watering hole" is located just up the street from Praça da Alegria and right down the steps from Principe Real. What makes Enoteca Chafariz do Vinho attractive is its unique location within an 18th century stone reservoir. This Mãe de Agua (Mother of Water), which also happens to be the name of the street it’s situated in, connects apparently with the rest of a 36 mile aqueduct used during water shortages to bring clean water into the city up until the 20th century. The reservoir was refurbished and converted into the enoteca it has become today. Beginning at the very bottom of the cistern and traveling up a towering 3 stories, tables fill every nook and cranny of this medieval, yet romantic,quirky space. At night, the reservoir fills up with visitors keen to have a tipple. With an amazingly comprehensive wine list including 14 wines by the glass, and a very reasonably priced tasting menu you´ll love this if you can find it.Impossible to park but the kitchen stays open till 1a.m.
Back to reality on the sunny Iberian peninsula there has been a feeling that as bad as things are, they're not yet as awful as they will become.Earlier in November the Algarve was victim to some heavy rains and  a tornado that literally took with it the roof of the check in hall of Faro airport. Maybe the "heavenly powers" (Sarkhozy, Merkel etc) were trying to tell us that something is rotten in the state of Southern Europe and it is  is in the grip of the worst economic crisis since the second world war. Is the fish in Portugal rotting from the head down—all is not well at the top of the political hierarchy for sure. If Shakespeare was alive today he might have written something like this....
Cavaco Silva:
She waxes desperate with imagination. "She is well and truly frit".
Let's follow. 'Tis not fit thus to obey her.
The leader of the unemotional volk "is having an uncharacteristic fit of the vapours."
Cavaco Silva:
Have after. To what issue will this come?
"There are limits to cutting: you can't just cut blindly,"
Something is rotten in the state of Merkel. 
Cavaco Silva:
Heaven will direct it

Ironically however Casa Rosada was a benefiary of the current situation, giving the Algarve its busiest summer on record.The reason - the holidaymaking population of the Iberian peninsula stayed home and French holidaymakers alike took to their cars instead of planes. There was no room at the inn for anyone, restaurant seats were like gold dust, some units in large shopping malls may have looked like ghost trains but others were open and doing business.

Life must continue. Recession,what recession.There maybe no Christmas street lights but Portugal has survived recessions before and those who are old enough to remember it are the stalwart ones who will survive methinks.It is a sanguine view a "saudade" perhaps. A longing for the past that is so far in the future it may never happen.Lets hope Alls well will End well.


Tuesday, 22 November 2011

"I really nailed it"

Prego roll with salted sweet potato chips and chilli salt, The perfect TV dinner
Some things can never change, like the pleasure of eating a good steak sandwich.There will always be something to beef about.Can it be Improved yes it can. How? - Innovation, improvement, interpretation, adding new flavours and, of course, using only the best quality ingredients, and having a meat mallet to hand, apparently. Small beef or pork steaks in a roll (respectively pregos or bifanas) are popular Portuguese snacks. When menu crise dictates and when time and economy take their toll, a prego or bifana, eaten at a snack bar counter, may constitute the lunch of a white collar worker. When I´m in town, if I can just smell a whiff of a prego in the air I´m off down every back street and alley to find it- that´s how fanatical I am in my search for the best prego in Portugal.
These Portuguese steaks flavoured with onions and red wine are called garlic "nailed" steaks because a small meat mallet is typically used to "nail" the garlic slices into the steak. If you like drama, go for it, but I think its more preferable and less of a faff to just push the garlic in with your finger - it doesn't really stay in too well anyway. Regardless, this is an awesome way to enjoy your next steak sandwich. They're quick, satisfying and totally delicious.

Prego No Pao

2 x 120g rump or sirloin steaks (the ones sliced about 1/4  inch/ 5mm thick) 
30 g /10oz butter 
2 -3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (or more) 
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced 
1/2 cup red wine 
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
2 crusty Portuguese bread rolls 
Piri Piri sauce to serve (optional) 

Lay out steaks on a work surface and to be traditional,"nail" the garlic slices into the steak on both sides (about a clove per steak, more if you like). If this isn't your style, just push the garlic slices in with your finger. 
In about 1/2 the butter, fry each steak for 3 to 4 minutes, turning once.  
Remove to a dish and reserve.Add a dash of Flor de sal to the meat while it is resting
Add the rest of the butter and the sliced onion.  
Saute until onion is golden, then transfer to another pan and continue coking over a very low heat. Pour the red wine into the skillet used to cook the steaks and onions; scrape up the browned bits and simmer over medium-high heat until liquid is reduced by about half and tastes good.Dip the cut sides of each bread roll in to soak up some of the juices from the sauce.Return the steaks   to this skillet, season with salt and pepper, and cook another minute on both sides of steaks, until warmed through. Serve steaks and onions on warmed crusty sandwich rolls.

Sweet potato chips and chilli salt
serves 6-8
500g(1lb) sweet potato peeled
vegetable oil for deep frying
1/2 teaspoon Flor de sal
1/4 teaspoon chilli powder
Use a vegetable peeler to peel the sweet potato into long, thin strips.Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook the sweet potato in batches for 1 minute until golden.Drain on absorbent paper.Combine the salt and chilli powder.Toss with the sweet potato chips and serve immediately.

or if you prefer......
Gourmet prego. O cozinheiro´s take
Imagine a well-seasoned and tender steak, sandwiched between thin strips of parmesan, rocket and crusty bread. Fancy?

Monday, 21 November 2011

What scone is scone

Remember the good old days of the old fashioned "tea room" ? These national institutions still thrive and three classic establishments; Confeitaria Nacional in Lisbon, Angelina´s on Rue de Rivoli in Paris and ooh, Betty´s in Harrogate, England come to mind. Scones, cream teas, nibbly type cakes, tartines and custard tarts have all become national treasures in these turn of the century salons.With the revived and rising interest in home baking, it´s time for a tea room twist;  yesterday´s patisserie tidbits are now becoming today´s new taste sensations. Bring a bit of phoney super-sconey Bollywood to your party this Christmas. Move aside slowness, and with a little heroics and a bit of eena meen deeka you will be the hostess with the mostess.Here´s the good news. Don´t leave everything to the last minute. Get ahead of the entertaining game and stay on top  by making something now that can be frozen for up to one month, de-frosted and then re-heated in 5 minutes.

Indian scones with chilli coriander jam (V) 
You can use any chutney or other preserves in these scones. The choice is yours.
I chose Chilli coriander jam and Green tomato relish.
can be frozen for up to 1 month
Makes 20, ready in 35 minutes

250g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tablespoon garam masala
125g butter
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 green chillies, de-seeded and finely chopped
20g fresh coriander
1 large egg beaten
4 tablespoons buttermilk
1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons  black mustard seeds
10 fresh curry leaves ( you can used dried such as Barts
Home made chutney of your choice
Pre-heat the oven to 200C / fan180C/Gas 6
Line 2 baking sheets with baking paper.
Sieve the flour, baking powder, salt and garam masala into a large bowl.
add the butter and rub in until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the ginger, chillies,coriander, egg and buttermilk and mix well to form a soft dough. Roll out on a floured service to about 2cm thick. use a3.5cm plain round cutter to cut out 20 scones, re-rolling the trimmings as you go.Put on the baking sheets.
Brush each scone with milk, then top half with mustard seeds and the rest with 1 curry leaf. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until risen and golden. Set aside to cool slightly. halve each scone and sandwich together with the chutney. Serve warm or cold.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Utterly butterly

Utterly irresistable,so perfect, but thinks better add salt.
I can not believe I have just made butter. Utterly perfect in every way. I can not believe its butter.Sometimes you even surprise yourself. There is a first time for everything, and today it was the time for me to lose my virginity to buttermilk. I had a pile of recipes in front of me and buttermilk was required before I could proceed.Scones are calling. Where do I find buttermilk? In the Algarve- no chance mate.I need help. Call buttermilk helpline? Tinternet.About.com had the answer...."Once you see how easy it is to make buttermilk, you'll want to make your own everytime. Here's how:"
A question was asked "Do you have a jar of heavy cream in your fridge"
The answer was yes: We are back  in business.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Ingredients: a jar of cream

1. Fill a jar halfway with heavy cream. 
Then, screw the lid on firmly (a canning jar works well for this purpose).OK
2. Start shaking the jar back and forth. After several minutes, the cream will thicken and turn into whipped cream.Within only a few minutes I had whipped cream. OK

I now have no faith in the next step. It is just not going to happen. How can you cause agitation to a jar of solid whipped cream. I persevere.....

Keep shaking until the whipped cream is replaced with a yellow glob (butter) and a separate liquid (buttermilk).
I continue shaking but nothing is happening then suddenly my face lights up. Something is rattling in the jar. EUREKA!! I have a lump of butter and a whole lotta liquid which is the buttermilk I set out to acquire
3. Pour the buttermilk out of the jar, and use it in any recipe that calls for buttermilk.

To Use the Butter: Knead it under cold water for a couple minutes to remove any remaining buttermilk (it will spoil very quickly, if you don't). Then, salt (if desired), and store in the refrigerator until you're ready to use it.
The cats feet had been buttered, The buttered cat paradox is a paradox based on the tongue in cheek combination of two adages.

Cats always land on their feet
Buttered toast always lands buttered side down

The paradox arises when one considers what would happen if one attached a piece of buttered toast (butter side up) to the back of a cat, then dropped the cat from a large height.
Whatever, I have landed on my two feet having made butter. Oh Joy!!!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Enjoying the fruits of our labour

Enjoying the benefits in winter of what you have harvested in the summer is immense. Celebrate the honest and earthy goodness of flavours from the garden by using them in both new and classic ways.You may remember back in September I sundried my tomatoes on the dashboard of the car, well Its only a short ride from sunning on a vine in the summer to the stain down the front of a shirt in the winter.
Pesto can be made in either a blender or food processor;a food processor usually does a better job though. Note: when using a blender to prepare pesto, it may be necessary to add the oil at the same time as the herbs.
This home made sun-dried tomato pesto is pure condensed summer in a jar, and one of the best things I've ever tasted.

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto or Spread
makes about 6 cups

2 cups sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil
(drain oil before measuring if there is a lot)
2 cups coarsely grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4-1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4-1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup home made tomato sauce 
2 tablespoons of pine nuts or toasted pistachios or a combination of both
6 large cloves garlic
sea salt to taste, about 2 tsp.
fresh ground black pepper to taste

Put garlic cloves into the food processor and process until finely chopped. (You could use the food processor to chop the basil and parsley if you wanted too, but I just chopped it with a chef's knife.)
Add sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan, olive oil, basil, parsley, tomato sauce, and process until mixture is well combined. I kept mine a tiny bit chunky. Season with salt and pepper, buzz for a few seconds to combine again.

(If you don't have the fresh tomatoes to make fresh tomato sauce, use 2 cans diced tomatoes, puree in food processor with some fresh torn basil leaves, then cook down to make 1 cup sauce. Cool before using in this recipe. You could also use canned tomato sauce, but the flavor would not be as fresh.)

This will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a month. Chance would be a fine thing, it will never last that long!

Sundried tomato pesto pairings
A container of home made pesto in the refrigerator can be the inspiration for any number of interesting dishes.

Slather it on sandwiches
Toss it in with spaghetti
Stir it into risotto or soup
Use it as a pizza base
Blend it into a dressing
This pesto can become addictive and is well worth
keeping on hand as a store cupboard staple.
A fun way to turn a simple supper into a special occasion.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Pick a peck of prickly pears

Prickly pear mojito, a truly autumnal cocktail
"Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman." 

I have been foraging again, and look at the bounty I have returned with. Those prickly spines put most of us off, but when foraging, "A prick in the hand is worth two in the bush." I managed to get through four good years before summoning up the courage to tackle the fruits of the prickly pear. If done with care,not as I did, harvesting and processing prickly pear fruit will result in very little pain. Carelessness, as I discovered to my detriment will result in a whole lot of time spent picking painful spines and glochids as they are called out of your fingers. Consider this a Zen exercise in patience and attentiveness, neither virtues I have ever possessed.Once you have your prickly pear juice, you have to figure out what you are going to do with it. You can make jelly, always a popular and tasty gift, and something Casa Rosada could well introduce to its breakfast table or you can make syrup for dressings and drink recipes. Yes, there is even a recipe for prickly pear mojito.(pictured above)

Makes 1 mojito. 

1 1/2 tablespoons prickly pear syrup
6 to 8 mint leaves
juice of 1 lime (about 2 ounces)
2 ounces rum
1 to 1/2 cups cubed or crushed ice
2 ounces club soda

In a tall glass, place the mint leaves, lime juice and the cactus syrup. Muddle the leaves for 20 seconds to release the mint oils using either a muddleror a wooden spoon.
Add the rum, and stir.Fill the glass until 3/4 full with ice.
Top off with the club soda


Prickly pear syrup recipe
6 cups strained prickly pear juice
6 cups white sugar
4 tbsp. lemon juice

Wash and chop prickly pear.  Cover chopped fruit with water about 2 inches above level of fruits in pan.  Cook over medium heat for approximately 20 minutes.  Use cheesecloth and a colander to strain liquid from cooked prickly pear fruit.  This will make the strained juice thinner to increase production of the syrup without any decline in flavor.
Combine strained prickly pear juice and lemon juice and cook over medium heat until solution is boiling.  Once boiling add sugar and stir constantly.  Keep at a rolling boil until all of the sugar is dissolved. Then remove pan from heat.  If canning syrup, ladle into sterilized jars.  If using syrup immediately, cool syrup and store covered in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly Recipe

4 cups strained prickly pear juice
6 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 package pectin*

Wash and chop prickly pear.  Cover chopped fruit with water even with level of tunas in pan.  Cook over medium heat for approximately 20 minutes.  Use cheesecloth and a colander to strain liquid from cooked prickly pear fruit. 
Combine strained prickly pear juice and lemon juice and cook over medium heat until solution is boiling.  Once boiling add sugar and pectin* and stir constantly.  Continue to keep mixture at a rolling boil for ten minutes, then remove pan from heat.  If canning jelly, ladle into sterilized jars.Prickly pear jelly may take up to two weeks to gel inside the jars.  If using for fresh jelly, cool jelly and store covered in the refrigerator for up to one month.

*I used a natural pectin made from the rind of lemon and orange halves .You need to remove the whole fruit from the jam mix and then strain the juice back into the jam through a muslin bag.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire....

 É dia de São Martinho;
comem-se castanhas, prova-se o vinho.
It is St. Martin's Day,
we'll eat chestnuts, we'll taste the wine.
A typical Portuguese saying related to Saint Martin's Day

In Portugal,today the 11th November we celebrated St. Martin's Day.It is commonly associated with the celebration of the maturation of the year's wine, being traditionally the first day when the new wine can be tasted. It is celebrated, traditionally around a bonfire, eating the magusto, chestnuts  roasted under the embers of the bonfire (sometimes dry figs and walnuts), and drinking a local light alcoholic beverage called água-pé (literally "foot water", made by adding water to the pomace  left after the juice is pressed out of the grapes for wine - traditionally by stomping on them in vats with bare feet, and letting it ferment for several days), or the stronger jeropiga (a sweet liquor obtained in a very similar fashion, with aguardente  added to the water). Água-pé, though no longer available for sale in supermarkets and similar outlets (it is officially banned for sale in Portugal), is still generally available in small local shops from domestic production.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Marmitako- Out of the pot onto the plate

Winter is the time for comfort, for
good food and warmth, for the touch
of a friendly hand and for a talk beside
the fire:  it is the time for home.
Edith Sitwell
The temperature drops and up goes our appetite for foods that come in huge steaming pots.Goodbye salads and cold dishes, Hello comfort food ! It is a time to gather friends around a table overflowing with dishes steaming hot from the stove top or oven. When the days get shorter and the going gets tough, the tough need to tuck in. I have been checking out the provenance behind all these piping hot dishes. So Spanish, so Portuguese. Alright lets not argue, recipes vary from place to place but  have similarities both in their cooking method and choice of ingredients. In the Iberian peninsula it is just like looking over a neighbours fence and seeing something identical on the other side. Spain and Portugal are neighbours.To an outsider, not so close sometimes but both nations´ fishermen put out to sea to catch our fish and their survival on board translates into our mainland sustenance.
Marmita translates as 'pot' or 'casserole' in Basque, while the suffix ko is the genitive case, so that marmitako literally means 'from the pot'. Of course, just about everything in Basque cooking comes 'from the pot', but only this venerable dish goes by that name. Originally it was cooked on board fishing boats - and still is - but for decades now it has appeared on restaurant menus in the Basque Country, sometimes even prepared with salmon. The stew is soupy but thick, specially when the potatoes are 'cracked open' to yield more starch. You can prepare a marmitako up to the point at which the tuna, or for that matter any other robust fish is added,( I cooked it with hake on the bone) and then reheat the stew up to a day later and add the fish.

Marmitako, the traditional version 

2 dried choricero or ancho chiles 
1 pound fresh tuna fillet 
Coarse Flor de sal 
4 russet potatoes, about 2 pounds total weight 
1/3 cup olive oil 
1 brown onion, finely chopped 
1 clove garlic , minced 
1/2 green pepper, seeded and cut lengthwise into narrow strips 
1Tablespoon sweet pimentón  or paprika

In a heatproof bowl, combine the dried chilis with boiling water to cover and let stand for 30 minutes, or until soft. Drain the chilis, slit them open, and scrape off the flesh with the edge of a knife, discarding the seeds, skins, and stems, Set the flesh aside.
Cut the tuna into small pieces. Sprinkle the pieces with coarse salt and set aside.
Peel the potatoes. To 'crack' the potatoes into chestnut-sized pieces, make a small cut in each potato and then break it open the rest of the way. Set the potato pieces aside.
In a Marmita, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and bell pepper, and the flesh from the chilis, stir well, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the onion and bell pepper have begun to soften and all the ingredients are well blended.
Add the potatoes and pimentón and mix well. Season with a little coarse salt and add water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, cover, decrease the heat to medium-low, and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork-tender.
Add the tuna pieces to the pot and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the tuna is opaque. Remove from the heat and let stand for 30 minutes before serving. If the soup is very clear because the potatoes didn't release enough starch, mash a piece or two against the side of the pot with the back of a spoon and shake the pot a little.
Reheat gently to serving temperature (if your pot retains heat well, the stew may still be piping hot and you won't need to reheat it). Ladle into warmed bowls and serve at once.

Serve with a crisp Portuguese white wine.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Mary Queen of Scones

Bolos pequenos com romá e requeijao
Why don´t we have scones in Portugal I cry? My scone song has to be to introduce "Scones" to the Portuguese community. Home made scones, such a delicious treat, not just for afternoon tea. Sweet or savoury scones are so versatile and are so quick and easy to make.There is a scone for almost every occasion. Scones are believed to have originated in Scotland.The origin of the name 'scone' is just as unclear as where it came from. Some say the name comes from where the Kings of Scotland were crowned, the Stone (Scone) of Destiny.So donning my Scottish Toque I take on the role of Mary Queen of scones for an afternoon.
If I was to introduce the scone to Portugal I think this would be what I would bake.....

Pomegranate scones with requeijao
makes 8 large scones 

2 1/4 cups plain flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2/3 cup butter, chilled and cut up
2 eggs
1/3 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
pot of requeijao cheese to serve
Combine the flour, sugar and baking powder.Cut in the butter until your mixture resembles coarse crumbs.Stir in the egg combined with the cream and vanilla. On a well-floured surface knead in the pomegranate seeds. Roll the dough into eight equal sized balls and press into a 6.5cm pastry cutter. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Repeat with the remaining scone dough. Bake at 200C /400F for 15 minutes or until bottoms of the scones are lightly browned.
Serve with a pot of Requeijao cheese,or if you prefer, a home made Seville orange curd.
If you eat all the scones before your guests arrive,I promise not to tell.
I have many more scone recipes up my sleeve so watch out for more ideas between now and Christmas.


Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Palmito´s way

I never look a gift horse in the mouth and as a result I sometimes acquire items that I have not got a clue what to do with.I have had a large jar of heart of palm sitting expectantly on the store cupboard shelf for a while now, and so decided to ask a Portuguese partaker of the Casa Rosada cookery workshop what I should do with it.She said open it and it wont get as far as the kitchen counter, you will start eating it from the jar and not stop until its all gone. She was spot on. It tastes like artichoke heart dressed up to look like white asparagus. I started to eat it from the jar but had to pull in the reins as I needed to try various ways of serving it.
First and foremost, to enjoy this Latin American delicacy one must be absolutely sure of its provenance, and therefore that the product has been organically or biologically farmed.
Heart of palm, also called  palmito or "burglar´s thigh", is  a vegetable harvested from the inner core of certain palm trees.Brazil was the highest producer of uncultivated hearts of palm, but in the 1990s its quality went down - mostly because of unsustainable poaching for stems (called colete, Portuguese for "vest") of the main producing species. The harvesting of many non-cultivated or wild single-stemmed palms results in palm tree death since their apical meristem (tissue whose cells divide indefinitely, giving rise to new cells that enable plant growth) is eliminated. An alternative to harvesting wild heart of palm are palm varieties which have undergone a process of adaptation to become a domesticated farm species.The King of Palms, the product I tested comes from the palm variety Euterpe Olerecea, best known for Acai. In English this is called the peach palm.This variety is the most widely used for canning and bottling. Peach palms are self-suckering and produce multiple stems, up to 40 on one plant, so harvesting several stems from a plant is not so expensive and also sustainable because the plant can live on.Thus, even with its introduction to cultivation, extraction of the palm heart in its natural habitat has endangered species of which is acquired, especially the species Euterpe edulis, the most popular.  To mitigate the threat of extinction, the cultivation and harvesting of the acai and peach palm is now encouraged.The harvesting takes place in a sustainable manner and is fertilized naturally from the richness of plants and nutrients in the soil from the land flanking the Amazon river provides. No pesticides are used and the manual cutting of the palm preserves the ecosytem, contributing to the future development of the palms.In the additional production and bottling process no chemical additives are used.

Palm heart and requeijao risotto
A delicious risotto of palm and cheese, with a subtle flavour
Serves 4

350g(12oz) Arborio rice 
60 g butter  
50 ml extra virgin olive oil   
6 shallots peeled and chopped finely 
2 bay leaves  
1 / 2 cup dry white wine  
250g requeijao curd cheese ( you can substitute ricotta)  
1 litre vegetable stock   
2 sticks of palm heart, chopped  
Grated Parmesan cheese  
salt and pepper to taste

    Saute the onion with the butter and olive oil and add the rice (stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to get a good coating on the rice) Add the bay leaves and wine. Add hot vegetable stock gradually stirring gently and adding more stock as needed  (about 20 minutes).  When the rice is al dente but still has a slight bite to it  remove from heat and stir in the cream cheese, chopped hearts of palm, Parmesan cheese and seasoning to taste.  Mix well and let stand a few minutes before serving. garnish with fresh parsley

      Variations on a theme of palmito
      Palmito vinaigrette
      Creamed palm heart canapé with bacon
      Palm heart salad with fresh mango and prawn

      The palm heart is low in calories and fats, rich in minerals such as calcium, iron and phosphorus. It is also a good source of vitamin C, and smaller amounts of complex B.


      Monday, 7 November 2011

      Thinking pink on the Algarve

      Nigella bless your little pink cotton socks, twinset and pearls. You uppity minx, you had me stirring till I was as red as the pomegranate that I had just juiced. My right arm nearly dislocated itself but and a huge but....... this recipe is so simple, so gorgeous, and so ungodlessly DEELICIOUS that I totally forgive you and I simply couldn’t keep from sharing it not only with Portugal but a wider audience. I have no plans to purchase an ice-cream maker. What’s the point if you dust it off once every few years out of guilt? Nah, for this recipe all you need is a little elbow grease as I soon found out. - Agitating a thick liquid with "shall we call it an implement"...

      250ml. fresh pomegranate juice (2 pomegranates depending on size Nigella?!)
      Juice of 1 lime
      175g icing sugar
      500ml. whipping or double cream

      Serves: 8
      1. Juice the pomegranates and the lime and strain the juices into a bowl.
      2. Add the icing sugar and whisk to dissolve.
      3. Whisk in the double cream and keep whisking until soft peaks form in the pale pink cream.
      4. Spoon and smooth the ice cream into the airtight container of your choice and freeze for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
      5. Scatter with some pomegranate seeds before you eat it.
      What Nigella said about her own recipe....
      It's not hard to think of a pudding that can be made in advance. But mostly the advantage is simply that all the effort is upfront and early. The thing about this recipe is that you do it in advance - it's ice cream, so that stands to reason - but what you do in advance is negligible in terms of effort. You don't make a custard, and you don't have to keep whipping it out of the deep freeze to beat the crystals. No, you simply squeeze and stir.
      On top of that cause for greater contentment, there is also the fact that this delicate pink ice cream tastes like fragrant, sherbety heaven.

      and what Nigella forgot to say...
      ....And pink matches the colour of my website, my range of kitchen stickers and the Nigella mousemat, not forgetting my angora cardigan.

      "Now, I wouldn't presume to tell a woman,
      what a woman oughtta think,
      But tell her if she's gotta think: think pink—!

      Thursday, 3 November 2011

      The quintessential Christmas sweet

      Turrón de guirlache
      Doesn’t it seem like every year Christmas preparations start earlier? As soon as November arrives, I start seeing the first signs of Christmas:leaflets coming through the door, decorations, advertisements, special Christmas foods, etc. As I was thinking about this, I realized that starting Christmas earlier gives one the excuse to enjoy one of my favourite Christmas treats for longer, Turrón Turrón! I just love Turrón, a traditional Spanish Christmas sweet, in English known as Nougat.There are two types of Turrón "hard", made with whole almonds and "soft", made with ground almonds.Turrón is made by amalgamating almonds with a whole range of other ingredients, chocolate,hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts,peanuts, honey, sugar, lemons and eggs.The choice of components is the individuals choice. 
      Nowadays there are all sorts of varieties and flavours, but the original one,was brought to Spain by the Arabs during the Moors occupation.
      In Spain there are some very artesanal turrones that are a real treat, but if you can´t get your hands on these, try to make it yourself! And it will be a lot of fun too!!
      During Christmas, and now starting in November!, it is kind of moorish to have a plate with different turrones and Christmas sweets around the house to have as a bite in the afternoon.
      The 16th-century Manual de Mujeres ("Women's Handbook"), Spain´s forerunner to Mrs Beeton, a sort of Consuela´s handbook of recipes for cosmetics and foodstuffs, has what is probably the oldest extant Spanish Turrón recipe. It calls for honey and some egg whites, cooked until it becomes breakable once cooled. Once the honey is caramelized the recipe suggests adding pine nuts, almonds or hazelnuts, peeled and roasted. The mix is then cooked a bit further, and finally removed from the heat and cut into slices.
      My artesan favourite is the brittle Turrón de guirlache. Its name comes from the French "grillage" (toasted  ) and was popularized  in Aragon.It is now a regional speciality of Aragon, particularly around Zaragoza, Catalonia and Valencia.Lets get cookin´.......

      1Kilo sugar
      Half a kilo of whole raw Marcona almonds
      Juice of half a lemon
      2 tablespoons honey

      Place a piece of lightly oiled parchment on a cutting board, a baking sheet, a piece of marble, or anything else flat that can take heat.Set aside.
      In a skillet heat the sugar until it forms a caramel. Add half a kilo of raw almonds, the juice of half a lemon and two tablespoons of honey.Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly for about 15 minutes.Pour the mix into the reserved baking sheet and with the help of half a lemon greased with oil, spread the the mixture evenly into your desired shape and thickness, normally a rectangular bar about one inch thick. When cold and set you can start cutting it, and tuck in.

      Wednesday, 2 November 2011

      Ruby Tuesday

      The table is set
      This week we  had a special dinner booked in. An expat couple,living here in the Algarve were celebrating their 40 married years together.(I have changed the names to initials in this post to protect the privacy of the individuals).They had been given,by their daughter across the oceans a present of an away day ( and night ) at Casa Rosada.She gave them the choice of a night at one of 6 selected Algarve bed and breakfasts and they chose us. When we get a booking like this we pull all the stops out to make it special.The menu was sent to Australia ,and was very rapidly given the seal of approval. A little fine tuning was done and suddenly it was all upon us.The sun shone for them and they enjoyed morning coffee in our garden.Having settled into their room they set off at midday to spend the rest of the day exploring the local area.

      8.30am Shopping in  market for flowers and fish.First hiccup of day.
      Due to the recent storms at sea,the fishing boats have not been going out so there is very little choice of fresh fish on the stalls. My plan to serve a "signature dish" main course of pan fried red mullet with spinach and saffron potatoes must be abandoned.I revert to the plan B - main course with Quail.Next stop my butcher,closely followed by  flower stall. Mission accomplished, return home with flowers and fowl, fresh bread  and prepare myself to greet our guests.

      10.30am  Guests arrive half an hour early.throw arms up in the air - exclaim, minor expletives. Pass task of their welcome to  thespian who serves them coffee in the garden.

      11.00am Kitchen prep begins...

      1.00pm 3 menu items for starter prepped, main course marinating in fridge and  desert  already prepared in advance.Cook can now relax for a few hours.

      6.30pm Glass of Ninfa Bruto in garden

      Anniversary couple move indoors to be seated for anniversary dinner

      7.30pm Starter served of warm beetroot parfait, Manchego cheese and home made marmelada (quince cheese) lemon scented meatballs roasted in lemon leaves.
      Anniversary couple asked what they think of show so far- daughter in Australia done ém proud.

      8.00pm Main course of oven roasted five spiced quail served with a jewelled Ras al hanout cous cous and Tunisian carrot purée.Complete silence from dining area. Silence is golden or as many present-day feminists would prefer it:
      "Silence is a woman's best garment."
      "everything perfect" anniversary couple thoroughly enjoying their dinner. 
      Apron off, thespian and I can sit down to dinner at kitchen table till time to serve desert....

      9.00. Dessert of Ruby poached pears with peach, wine and vanilla granita. garnished with frozen grapes.

      9.55. Coffee for one served. the day is done,time to put feet up

      Dear diary what a busy day, able to go to bed relaxed,more happy customers.

      J and J´s
      Ruby Wedding Dinner
      Saturday 29 October 2011

      Ninfa bruto Reserva

      Manchego Cheese with hme made quince jelly
      Beetroot parfait  with artesan breads
      Lemon scented meatballs

      Main course
      Roasted 5 spiced quail with jeweled Ras al Hanout
      cous cous and Tunisian carrot puree

      Drunken poached peaches,
      with wine and vanilla granita

      J and J drank

      Quinta da barranco Longo Escolha 

      Valdepenas Reserva 2004, Tempranillo