Monday, 30 January 2012

There´s no taste like home

I get such enjoyment from finding recipes like this; the tradition of passing them from person to person and generation to generation.There´s no taste like home, and I feel so honoured to have been given this recipe by one of our Spanish guests from Sevilla. Atun encebellado al Jerez is a very typical southern Andalucian dish originating from Costa de la luz.The"coast of light"extends from Tarifa in the south,taking in the coast lines of the gulf of Cadiz and the provinces of Cadiz and Huelva right up to our home at the mouth of the Guadiana river.There are, like any recipe, some some small regional tweaks, but it tastes just like the madre would have made - good home cooking at its best.Thank you Lola, I hope I did justice to your your recipe.It certainly tasted as good as the night you cooked it for us here at Casa Rosada, round our kitchen table.

Atun encebellado al Jerez
For 4 people
1 Tuna loin (kilo)
4 large Spanish onions or 6 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 glass of  sherry or manzanilla wine (250g)
Salt and pepper
Butter ( 2-3 tablespoons)
Olive oil ( to sear the tuna)
1 chicken stock cube (optional)

Cut the tuna into medium sized pieces,sprinkle them with salt and pepper.Coat the tuna pieces with flour and fry them briefly in olive oil (to sear them).Set the tuna aside to drain on kitchen paper and put
put them in a large ovenproof clay dish. In another pan, heat up the butter with a littlle olive oil and add the onions.Sautée the onion over avery low heat until it is golden brown and tender. add ateaspoon of flour to thicken the sauce.Keep frying very lightly and add the glass of sherry.Flambée it or cook it over alow heat for about ten minutes in order to burn off the alcohol.Add to the bowl with the tuna and cook it over a low heat for 5or 10 minutes.At this stage you can add the stock if you want.
Serve with parsley and butter coated new potatoes. Put the clay pot in the middle of the kitchen table, with the potatoes, a basket of bread and let everybody serve themselves.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Breadknobs and saltsticks

"It is not what things are; it is what they seem to be. Is that not so, Madam?"
I have always been scared to bake bread but I now decided it was time to face that fear.There is nothing difficult about baking bread apart from elbow work -just mix,knead,sit back and let the yeast work its magic.
In this my first attempt at baking  bread,I felt like the apprentice witch,with a cynical conman, the thespian, looking over my shoulder while I looked for the magic spell ( flor de sal,Salmarim) that would make my breadsticks rise to the occasion and have a spellbinding effect on those who sampled them.Once bitten no sooner smitten.They were so easy to make;there is no stopping me now.My only advice would be to only make the amount you need on the day as they need to be eaten fresh.They are gorgeous when just baked and warm.They do keep but become crispy, so you need to think grissini rather than soft dough sticks, if you are keeping them for more than a day.
Next time onion breadsticks,spicy breadsticks,herby breadsticks,parmesan breadsticks.

Sea salt breadsticks
45 minutes
500g ciabatta mix or other strong bread flour
Olive oil
flour for dusting
Flor de sal flakes 2 tablespoons -assorted flavours, 
natural, pimentao, aromatica, azeitona

Heat the oven to 220C /428F  /Gas mark7.
Follow the pack instructions to make the bread dough,adding 2 tablespoons of Extra Virgin olive oil at the start.
After the dough has doubled in volume, knead it again briefly,then flour your hands,work surface and rolling pin.Roll out the dough to the thickness of about 3.5mm.
Slice into long sticks about 1/2 cm wide.Lay on lightly oiled baking sheets and leave in a warm place for about 10 minutes or until puffed up a little.Stretch them out if they have become too short and fat.Scatter with different flavours of sea salt, pressing the crystals on lightly.
Bake for about 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.Cool on a wire rack.
makes about 30.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Green Genie

A smoothie for the The Big squeeze- The Green Genie

1 Large green stick of celery
1 apple
a quarter of a pineapple
juice of two limes
a thumb sized piece of fresh ginger,minced
Put it all in a juicer or blender and blitz
Celery is an excellent source of immune boosting vitamin C, allowing it to be a fighter of the common cold. Its anti-inflammatory properties have also been found effective against asthma. An old Chinese remedy for high blood pressure is to drink celery juice, which you can make in a blender or juicer. One to two glasses daily can help prevent or normalize high blood pressure.So just when the middle classes are worn out from eatin quinth, along comes a gorgeous looking drink,the green genie "let yourself go oh" glistening greeny-gold with a frothy mousse on top.It´s fun to drink too, because it plays tricks with your senses.The limey-pineapple nose promises the tropics,but once in the mouth the mellow sweetness of the apple balances off any zingy acidity.The ginger kick starts you,then just when you thought you´d identified all the ingredients and it was safe to sit down the celery kicks in giving it a long savoury finish.
It also delivers a good whack of vitamin C.The enzymes in the pineapple aid digestion.The celery makes you pee, which is not useful if you are in a queue at the post office, but very good for reducing the raised blood pressure and stress from having had to stand impatiently in line. Both celery and apple promote detox,so "woh ho" thats last nights drinking binge sorted.It speeds up digestion and benefits a sluggish system and joint inflammation, Gout, Cancer and high blood pressure. Can´t be bad.

Why not do as the Chinese have been doing for centuries: eat and drink your celery for a long life.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Shopping buy design

Every one a winner- Red Dot Design Award 2008

Packaging is more than just protection for the product within; it is also the bridge between the goods and its viewers. Product branding is mainly based upon beautiful packaging designed to attract the customer's attention. A successful and striking design plays an important role in influencing its potential buyer.Food packaging may seem simple at first: show what’s inside the packet, add a bit of marketing speak, job done.How many times has the label on a bottle of wine or the design of a packet of pasta influenced your purchasing choice? But aside from the usual design considerations of target audiences and the like, there are many more things to consider.The most obvious is that the retail environment is one of the most densely populated for any product to stand out in, so each product has to outshine its neighbour to ensure you purchase that particular brand.From my first holiday in Portugal over twenty years ago, to the decision to make The Algarve my permanent home, I have always been aware of how good The Portuguese standard of design was.I think I can safely say that the design of modern Portuguese furniture is among the best in the world.Modern Portuguese architecture is distinctive.When I am in the papelaria, as a former graphic designer, the quality of newspaper and magazine design does not go unnoticed.One Portuguese company in particular has made it their mission to ensure their entire product range is design led. Boa Boca work in partnership with small artesan producers and transform their hand made products into high quality design objects.This is all about the old school traditional flavours of Portuguese food and wine coming together with some of the best of modern day packaging.With five International and one National design award under their belt,Boa Boca  stand out from others by their style and bold design.Would you break with taboo and buy a wine box?-I very much doubt it. You might well change your mind if the box in question was an original modern shape and filled with high quality Alentejo wine.By doing just this its creators have tried to destroy some of the barriers associated with this kind of product.
Design Award: 1st place - packaging wines prize. Portuguese Wine Magazine
Merit design award -  One Show Design - New York
Other Portuguese brands with a distinctive design style worthy of awards

This packaging influenced my selection when purchasing rice
 Gallo -Redesigned to restore the brand's position as the undisputed leader in Portuguese olive oil.

 A stylish Christmas cover for Blue Cooking

Expresso -Bold colours, clean grid-based layout and concise typography.
Never forget the unexpected power of 4 pack sardines

Has someone got designs on you?

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

An alchemists pudding

Mascarpone,Moscatel and saffron tart
When Renaissance Alchemists tried to change base metal into gold,for me they chose the wrong elements. Their efforts would have been much more fruitful (and delicious) if only they had turned their talents to transforming simple ingredients into phenomenal food. A new idea about the alchemy of cooking? Can one flavour plus another flavour equal three flavours? How much of the effect of combining ingredients happens on the stove, and how much is in one´s head? Here goes,experiment....

A dollop of Italy, a Spanish thread and a drop of Portugal

Mascarpone is made in much the same way as yoghurt.Tartaric acid (natural vegetable acid derived from tamarind is added.Mascarpone is one of those foods that make the food police, who pull us over for cooking too fast, quiver and stop dead in their tracks. It is a fresh, very rich compact but supple and spreadable cream cheese which makes it the perfect candidate for a cheesecake— and has a fat content of 75 per cent.It partners well with Cognac.The biggest problem with mascarpone is that most people (even prominent people who have their own television cooking shows) pronounce it as if the r is before the s instead of in front of the p. These may well be the very same people who pronounce pasta parstar. And even when you discreetly point it out to them, they don’t apologize or make the slightest effort to change. What is with those people?

Saffron, the lady of La Mancha and most exotic of spices, is a perfect partner for infusing with alcohol.Only a pinch of saffron is needed for most dishes.A large pinch equals about one teaspoon (100mg) and a small pinch,1/4 to1/2 teaspoon (25-50mg).Amounts can be adjusted according to taste,however too much will make a dish taste bitter and medicinal.Before being added to a dish saffron threads should be crushed to a powder with the back of a spoon and then infused in a hot fat-free liquid such as water, white wine or citrus juices.

Moscatel de Setubal
With its golden/orange hue and  floral scented nose and palate, it has whiffs of orange blossom, peel and flesh with fresh almond and toothsome caramelly notes.Deep, golden amber with a broad saffron rim – lovely colour!  A dark, spicy but fresh and tangy bucket with an intermission of chutney, tamarind, jaggery, sweet dried fruits and spice, again reminding me of Madeira.To sum up rancio notes abound.

So we have two striking ingredients which will bring out a third striking flavour in the major ingredient,the mascarpone.The non evident tamarind base element in the mascarpone is brought to the fore by the fruits and spices coming through the Moscatel and then rounded off by the saffron infusion.The taste sensation is subtle and surprising.

Mascarpone,Moscatel tart with a saffron infusion
I can not call it a cheese cake,even if the key ingredient is a cream cheese.Cheesecake would not have a shortcrust shell and the filling is more reminiscent of a curd.I found this website very helpful for before and afters in my research around everything cheesecake. 

Makes 8 round 10cm individual tarts or a 23cm round tart
500g mascarpone 
medium pinch of saffron threads, infused in a tablespoon of hot water( 10 minutes)
200g caster sugar
4 eggs
50ml Moscatel de Setubal

Shortcrust pastry
185g plain flour
1 tablespoon caster sugar
90g cold butter cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk
1-2 tablespoons iced water
Mix the mascarpone, saffron-infused water,sugar,eggs and Moscatel together in a bowl until well combined.
To make the pastry, pulse the flour,sugar and butter in a food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.Add the egg yolk and the water and pulse until the mixture is just combined,adding more water as needed.Remove and form the dough into a ball,then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.On a floured board,roll out the pastry to about 2mm thick,then gently press the dough evenly into the bases of 8 round 10cm diameter or 6cm x12cm rectangular tart tins,or a 23cm diameter tart tin with a removable base.Trim the edges with a sharp knife.Refrigerate for 30 minutes.Pre-heat the oven to  200C /392F and line the pastry shell/s with aluminium foil or baking parchment and fill with pastry weights.bake for 15 minutes,remove the foil and weights and bake for a further 5 minutes until lightly coloured.Cool completely on a wire rack in the tins.
To cook the tarts,pour the filling into the tart tins to come about 5mm below the top edge of the pastry shell.Bake in a pre-heated oven 180C / 356F 20 minutes.Set aside to cool and seve at room temperature.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Please, sir,I want some moor

Pasteis marroquinos
Pastilla, also spelt Bastilla is a savoury-sweet Moroccan meat pie made by filling a thin flaky pastry shell with a mixture of tender braised poultry, eggs, and fried almonds. At first glance, a pastilla could easily be mistaken for a dessert, since it’s generously dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon, but the sweet crispy exterior belies the spicy, savoury mixture on the inside. Traditionally made with squab ( pigeon) and warka pastry, I’ve adapted these pastillas with ingredients that are more readily available and easier to work with.I made two variations on the theme - chicken with Ras -al hanout cous cous and a second version with spicy minced beef and vegetables."Warka is for the obsessed and the mad".So I heeded this advice and simplified matters by opting not for phyllo which would be the next best thing,but for ready rolled and pre-cut pastry discs.
Every refrigerator should be permanently stocked with a packet of these.I really don´t know what I did before I discovered these, but believe me for recipes like this pies are made in minutes.
As you bite into a crisp buttery pastilla, the sugar and cinnamon activates your sweet taste receptors, but the sweetness quickly fades as the savoury filling hits your tongue. The tender chicken and onions flood your mouth with an umami rich burst of flavour that carries with it, notes of ginger, turmeric and cardamom and whatever other spices you include. It´s quite amazing how magnificent these humble pastries can be, and they leave your guests crying out for moor.

Pasteis marroquinos
makes 16

2 soup spoons of olive oil
1 onion chopped
450g minced meat( preferably lamb)
2 cloves garlic crushed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 heaped teaspoon chilli flakes
1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 cup of meat stock
1 soup spoon regular flour
1 cup frozen peas
a small assortment of vegetables diced very small,carrots new potatoes
2 soup spoons chopped coriander leaves
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 heaped soup spoon tomato purée
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium flame.Cook the vegetables and onion for about 10 minutes,until soft and transparent but not browned.Add the meat and cook stirring constantly until browned all over. Add the crushed garlic and the spices.Mix in well and cook for another minute.Add the flour mixing it in well and cook for another minute,Stir in the tomato purée followed by the meat stock and season with salt and pepper.Cover with a lid and lower the heat.Cook for 10 minutes or until the mixture is thickened and has formed a paste.Add the peas and cook on a simmer for 5 more minutes or until peas are tender.Mix in the coriander leaves and allow to cool.
Divide the mixture in teaspoonfuls between the discs. brush the edges of the discs with beaten egg and fold over the pastry disc pinching it together to seal in a crescent shaped parcel.Brush the pastillas lightly all over with beaten egg and transfer to a baking tray lined with parchment paper and store in the refrigerator till ready to use.Heat oven to 200c and cook the pastillas for around 20 minutes or until golden.
Serve with yoghurt cucumber and mint raita.
For the chicken variation:Dry fry a small onion in a pan with a soup sponn of Ras al hanout
until fragrant then stir in  a soup spoon of olive oil follwed by 65g cous cous and 125ml of hot vegetable stock.Leave for 5 minutes then fluff up with a fork.Mix in some shredded chicken, quail or duck meat and fill the pastillas as above.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Preserving tradition

Its that time of year again,the Casa Rosada garden is yielding a ripe and fragrant harvest of Sevillian citrus fruit - It´s marmalade time. I put this weekend aside for the massive task, and I mean massive.My advice to anyone embarking on marmalade making is to make sure you have enough time, patience and a boxed set of something as epic as Wagner´s Ring Cycle or the entire soundtrack of Glee seasons 1 to 3,to give you a musical accompaniment while you work.My prep work alone was 3 hours. 

and this was just the beginning

At one point in my de-pipping and fine slicing I had a real Julia Child moment.She had tears welling up in her eyes from the mound of chopped onions in front of her, I had stinging sensations from the acidic citrus juice getting into small hacks and wounds in my fingers.Make double the quantity that the recipe says I implore you.This will ensure you wont have to do the job again for a while.Home made marmalade has a shelf life of two years.I must be bonkers.Is there any good reason these days for making your own marmalade?What a chore,what a bore.No wonder my dear mother was always in a jam every summer,when she wasn´t in a pickle making chutney.More of that story later,Kirsty.Anyway I reluctantly got on with the job and sought consolation that I was conserving winter sunshine in a jar for those days when the blistering sun is unbearable.Here at Casa Rosada the yearly job has to be done to keep our coming season´s guests toast topped with this tastiest of traditional toppings.

My other suggestions of what to do with an over abundant harvest of Seville oranges....
Madeira and Seville orange chutney
Seville Orange curd
Ruth Watson´s Seville orange chutney

I have just cleared out the larder and here I am filling it up again with lines of sterilised jars. Oh well if needs must.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

All in a Portuguese whirl

Today I had one of those ooh aah moments.If there's one single cake that brings back childhood memories, it's this one. Marble cake is a classic childhood cooking memory. There are recipes that are part of the culinary universe as far back as one can remember. One of these is the marble cake, for years it had almost disappeared from my memory, but living in Portugal where this cake is ever popular, not only with children, it all came back to me, and today I finally made my first Bolo mármore, Portuguese chocolate marble cake.As simple as it looks, there´s more to the ins and outs of proper whirling than meets the eye. A marble cake looks slick when you slice into it and reveals the delicate pattern created when the two batters are swirled together.I combed the internet for a recipe that used real cooking chocolate and not cocoa powder and this was a long search, believe me.When I finally found what I was looking for I then had to recast the recipe before I was able to achieve what I was setting out to do.This recipe used rum- ok if I wanted a truly adult cake that would have been fine but remember I was trying to rekindle a childhood memory, and my dear mother would certainly not have plied me with liquor at an early age, let alone the fact she would have been thrifty with her  ingredients in the post ration days of the  fifties. The second element of the recipe I changed was their choice of baking tin. They advocated a tube or Bundt pan.My desired choice was a square cake tin so I could have more geometrically shaped slices when I served it.

Makes one  (20-cm)  square and 8cm deep cake tin, about 24 slices
  • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into a dry-measure cup and level off)
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 ounces/350 grams (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 7 large eggs

  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 6 ounces (175 grams) bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 2 cups Base Batter
1 x 20cm square cake tin greased and lined with baking parchment.
Set a rack in the lower third of your oven and heat the oven to 160C/325F.
Combine flour,sugar,baking powder and salt, in the food processor.Pulse quickly to mix.Add the butter and beat on alow speed until you have a smooth heavy paste( 1-2 minutes).
Whisk the eggs together then on medium speed introduce them gradually into the flour and butter mix, beat for 1 minute,scraping  down the beater bowl in between each introduction of the egg mixture.When all the egg mixture has been added beat for a further 2 minutes.Remove the bowl and set aside.
Combine the milk and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl.Whisk well to dissolve the soda. Scrape in the chocolate and whisk well. Add 2 cups of the base batter to the chocolate mixture and whisk again to combine. Scrape half the remaining base batter into the prepared tin and smooth the surface.Cover with the chocolate batter making another layer as even as possible.Top with the remaining base batter and smooth the top.Using a wide bladed table knife or metal spatula draw the blade through the batter to the bottom of the pan and up and out of the side of the pan closest to you, repeating the motion every inch or so around the pan, making a spiral in the batter, almost as though you were folding egg whites into it. Stop when you get back to the point where you started. Don't bother to smooth the top of the batter—it might disturb the marbling.
Bake the cake until  it is well risen and firm, and a toothpick or a small thin knife or skewer emerges dry, about 1- 11/2 hours.Cool the cake in the pan on a rack until completely cooled then invert it and carefully peel the baking parchment away.Place a square plate over the cake and invert it back onto the plate.Now is your oooh aah moment.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Keeping Portuguese tradition alive

The first first pressing was in the summer of 2009.The first lot was a limited edition of only 5,000 bottles.A sophisticated and discerning wider public have been awaiting an olive oil that has the calibre of Casa Anadia. Since a month ago the Algarve now has a distributor in Faro and this olive oil can be purchased in gourmet outlets such as Ex Libris Gourmet in Tavira.

The terms used to describe it are worthy of a wine maker.....

" an olive oil of superior quality,fruity,soft,sweet and spicy, leaving a final taste of green almond and with a scent of fresh artichokes and apples to remember it by".
The most interesting particularity of Azeite Casa Anadia, however is in the fact that it is made from a single variety of olives(Arbequina)transformed in the hours immediately following the harvest.Truly extra virgin, DOP Ribatejo, cold pressed with a maximum acidity of 0.2 per cent.What more could a chef ask for? The low acidity and fruity finish makes it an ideal choice for combining with chocolate.You would think that the flavour pairing of olive oil with chocolate is the creation of some chef dabbling in molecular gastronomy, "elementary my dear Blumenthal," No you are so wrong,the award goes to the Catalans in Spain.After the second world war when luxury ingredients such as chocolate were rationed, Catalans would melt a piece of chocolate,spread it on bread and add a few drops of olive oil and finish off with some salt on top.
Pan con chocolate (Chocolate toast) is actually a popular after school snack in Spain. Ferran Adria used to love eating it as a boy and he actually served a gussied-up version of this, called pan con aceite y chocolate, as a sort-of-dessert in El Bulli. Or at least he used to!!!
There is a scientific explanation of why chocolate pairs well with olive oil.Chocolate is made up of cocoa solids, cocoa butter,vanilla and sugar.Cocoa butter is high in fat and coats the tongue.The extra virgin olive oil decreases the fat thanks to the polyphenols it contains, a class of antioxidants found in a variety of foods, and these polyphenols dry the mouth and allow the cocoa flavours to come through.The flavours of chocolate therefore pair well with those of oil.Some taste fruity,others taste nutty,some are more bitter and some are milder.Olive oil is the same.Different varieties are more or less bitter,and taste more or less peppery,fruity or floral.These flavours compliment the fruity floral notes in the chocolate, and what better candidate to do the job than Casa Anadia.
Produced in the Quinta do Bom Successo, Alfarrarede (Abrantes)the estate has a tradition of olive oil production going back some 500 years.Quinta do Bom Succeso (400 hectares in area, 90 of them encompassing olive groves)and is still privately owned.The Bom Sucesso estate files contain documents that confirm the strong relationship this House has with olive tree farming. A photograph dated 1890, taken by the Marquise of Faial, daughter of the first Count of Alferrarede, clearly shows the Manor's olive press. Casa Anadia belongs to an ancient nobility and nowadays represents important Portuguese titles and connections.It is through the 4th Count that the Anadia family became connected to the important Paes do Amaral family.In the second half of the 19th century, the title passed on to José de Sá Pereira de Menezes Paes do Amaral, second son of the 4th Count of Anadia and brother of the 5th Count of Anadia. Today the estate is still in the Anadia family and the current title has passed to businessman Miguel Paes do Amaral.After a career in the media and  book publishing, the former president of Media capital floats his hopes in olive oil, a trend that is fortunately on the up.
Casa Anadia olive oil is  the continuation of an ancient link to olive oil production. This is immensely relevant today and for the future, as in a fast-moving world, roots are an increasingly important distinguishing factor. Tradition leads to know-how, building the personality of brands and the trust of consumers, clearly adding value to both.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Back to Black

After the gluttony of the holidays many of us vow to eat better, lose weight, and exercise more. But the quickest way to fail our healthy resolutions is with a fad diet. We should enjoy the foods we eat and not be stuck with limitations, such as calorie counting and depressing "I can't eat that list" foods. Instead, embrace what you can have! Loads of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthier-for-you locally reared grass fed meats, hearty grains, and heart-healthy fats.While de-pantrifying in larder re-hab I unearthed a packet of squid ink spaghetti. How long it had laid dormant at the back of the shelf I shudder to think.Perhaps it was a house warming present, if so it had been there for 6 years.One of the missions of my larder re-hab was to eat the cupboard bare and then start from scratch.Before I set about searching for a recipe for esparguete preto (com tinta de choco) I had to remind myself that in the days before the Germans took over a high percentage of the packaged Italian food industry (  I checked the packaging details and found the product was German and produced in the North of Italy near Bologna ) we would never have encountered this variety of dried pasta.Furthermore there is a more traditional way to prepare this dish.The freshest uncleaned squid is purchased from the market. When cleaning the squid one sets aside the ink sacks ( being careful not to break them)The ink sacks are then opened and the ink collected in a bowl.When it comes to  boiling the  spaghetti the reserved squid ink is added to the cooking liquid resulting in a black tint being given to the spaghetti, without adding any flavour and merely adding an aesthetic effect. Back to my mission, with a packet of pre-manufactured black spaghetti, ( something I would never have purchased)I had to find a recipe. I was guided by colour,I wanted a strong red sauce to strike a contrast with the black pasta and create a dramatic impression on the plate.
Before long I had found a recipe in a back copy of the much loved and  sorely missed  Portuguese magazine Blue Cooking.The recipe was "Black penne rigate di seppia Rustichella dàbruzzo with smoked salmon and white asparagus" and  was featured in the November 2007 issue. It was my inspiration, but not my answer.It lacked the colour and dynamic I needed to create a dish of distinction.I thought of Tuna but there would have been even less contrast than the sharp pink of the salmon.Prawns then came to mind.If I were to combine prawns, chilli, lime a strong fresh green herb and the vibrant red tomato sauce I would be bringing together some of my favourite flavours and at the same time be making a colourful statement on the plate.Serve in bowls that will show off the Black spaghetti and its sauce to create a colourful dish.

Esparguete preto com camaroes malaguetas,lima e coentros
( Black spaghetti with prawns,chilli lime and coriander)
Serves  2
500g /1lb 2oz tin of imported Italian tomatoes (Cirio)
well drained and coarsely chopped
1tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Flor de sal
250g black spaghetti
250g raw prawns
4 shallots,chopped
olive oil
medium red chilli peppers deseeded and chopped
grated zest and juice of 1 lime
Generous handful of coriander or parsley
Put the tomatoes and olive oil in a pan,turn the heat to medium-high,add salt,stir and cook the tomatoes down until reduced by half.Set aside.In another frying pan add some olive oil and fry the shallots till softened but not browned, introduce the chillis and continue cooking for another minute.Combine the previously cooked tomato sauce and stir in the prawns, Cook until the prawns turn colour and become fully pink.Stir in the zest and juice of lime and a generous handful of coriander or parsley.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Shelf denial

New year, new you. As soon as your resolutions are made,they are just as soon undone.
This year I decided it was finally time to book myself into larder re-hab or Pantrification as I have named it. Before I could say broom I was swept up in a domestic version of supermarket sweep. Chuck it out if its past its sell by and destroy evidence of any impulse culinary purchases that you are embarrassed never to have opened.
"and when she got there the cupboard was bare" - inconceivable. I have never seen an empty larder. Neither have I ever been one of those householders who takes pride in an empty fridge or spartan pantry. My shelves are so stocked,that in the unlikely event of an earthquake or a replay of the tsunami that hit the Algarve in 1755 my friends and neighbours would be able to survive for another generation. My hoarding obsession is not a bad thing, it´s just completely unnecessary. I shop for fresh food on a daily basis, but I would not want to get caught short in a freak cous cous crisis.As soon as I notice a product gap on the larder shelf its on my replacement list. I couldn´t admit defeat if there were no fresh beans to be seen. If it must be beans I have jars and tins. No one can force me to eat pasta when my heart is set on beans. Of course this never happens. In the absence of beans I just flip to lentils and the tin of beans continues to rest firmly on the shelf alongside the past its sell by tin of condensed milk, the rapeseed oil and jar of heart of palm. The store cupboard, bare or otherwise, is very revealing of character ( more so than the fridge, which is an of-the-moment appliance).That cupboard is full of hope,dreams delusions and denial. Every six months I throw out a packet of tortilla wraps. I am never going to make enchiladas. We don´t eat Mexican food in our house. But there is an experimental me, the one that really wants to break loose from the potato peeler, who continues to find freedom in a packet of tortillas and a tin of re-fried beans. In a rather more rustic and patient delusion I find myself buying dried legumes, not just cannelini beans but pinto beans, kidney beans, lentils every which way and broad beans under the pretext that I will soak them overnight ready for tomorrow´s meal. Having hurriedly opened a barrage of ready to go tins of beans, peas and lentils a guilt over their dried neglected cousins sets in.Thats when I decide put my conscience to right, blind bake some pastry and freeze it.In my dreams. To recover from a lifetime of denial is why I decided self styled pantry rehab was the only answer. Eat the cupboard bare. Then start from scratch. Use every jar of pickle, pesto, pate and curry paste.My first advice to any one trying this therapeutic scarifying is that it should not be  undertaken without enlisting a culinary support group. They must be prepared to eat some of their favourite meals as a Heston Blumenthal scientific experiment. Depantrifying is full of life lessons and is therefore time well spent.Here are some of my preliminary findings.

Rolling your own canneloni from sheets of lasagne is far more sensible than trying to stuff puréed pumpkin with  the end of a wooden spoon up the back end of the pre-manufactured variety.

If you open 2 types of mustards at once you are only transferring the problem to the fridge.

The addition of pureed palm heart to every dip is not destined to be an unqualified success

Anchovies and capers will not always improve a sauce already overwhelmed by an abundance of other mediterranean ingredients

All those wacky products purchased from the supermarket posh ingredients aisle are usually horrendous so be cautious with an over use of the likes of Mirin

Potato and rice flour will not always make your batter any more interesting

Dont be tempted by that jar of past its peak store purchased pesto

About once a month a tin of sardines on toast makes a hilariously nostalgic lunch

Not everything benefits from being rolled in polenta,but can give a bit of crunch texture and presentation to an otherwise bland looking canape or snack

A tube of wanton wasabi waiting to be wokked is only worth its weight in Japanese recipes

Never succumb to tamarind temptation.

Most of the above need never be replaced and are not store cupboard essentials
I can see clearly now the jars have gone!!!!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Frog Prince

"There once was an ugly duckling
  With feathers all stubby and brown"

Knobby, gnarly, warts and all - welcome celeriac,unknown and unloved like the ugly duckling, the unsung frog prince of winter vegetables. Pare off its warty exterior and you'll uncover the most royal of vegetables within: a perfect, ivory-fleshed, winter alternative to potatoes and other starches.Celeriac is a historic European favourite. The vegetable's most classic employment is in the cold French salad celerie remoulade, in which the root is peeled, grated, "cooked" in lemon juice (or blanched briefly in acidulated water) to lose a bit of its rawness, then dressed with a mustardy mayonnaise.Still not interested? Bear with,bear with. When peeled, the celery root's creamy white flesh resembles that of a turnip and tastes like a subtle blend of celery and parsley. Additionally, half a cup contains only 30 calories, no fat and provides an excellent source of dietary fiber.Now you like?

"All through the wintertime he hid himself away
Ashamed to show his face, afraid of what others might say
All through the winter in his lonely clump of wheat
Till the organic farmers spied him there and very soon agreed
You’re a very fine vegetable indeed!"
This time of year, celeriac can be a perfect non-starch substitute for potatoes in a warming meal, and can be prepared in a similar way. Mashed, shaped into batons and boiled, or even French fried, celery root can provide a winning accompaniment to a fresh green vegetable or salad and anything roasted or grilled.

Celeriac gives a whole new meaning to oven chips and with a dash of Marsala wine or with a  simple twist of curry powder  you´re lifting your side order to another level.As the celeriac roasts, it absorbs some of the raisiny flavour of the marsala (but not the alcohol, which just burns off), while caramelising to a golden, sticky brownness.Use a paring knife, rather than a peeler when peeling the root. Shave downwards with the blade in broad strokes to remove the thick skin.Once peeled, chop slice or shave bits from the celeriac and drop them into a bowl of acidulated water (water into which some lemon juice has been squeezed) immediately after cutting to prevent discoloration. Even if you are planning to fry or bake the celeriac later, parboiling it first for 5 or 10 minutes in acidulated water will soften its raw edge.When peeled and cooked, this ugly duckling vegetable will become a true culinary swan, as I recently found in this stunning and modern Portuguese take on celeriac by Rafael Pinto.

 Bochechas de porco confitadas com puré de batata e aipo

Confit of pork cheeks with mashed potato sauteed mushrooms and celeriac

  • 12un Bochechas de porco Pork Cheeks 12
  • 500g Banha de porco 500g Lard
  • 600g Batata 600g Potatoes
  • 250g Cabeça de aipo Head of celery 250g
  • 300g Cogumelos paris 300g Paris mushrooms 
  • 100g Chouriço 100g Chorizo
  • 100g Manteiga com sal 100g salted butter              
  •  qb sal salt to taste 
  • Clean pork cheeks of excess fat and season with salt,bay leaves,garlic and red wine.
  • Marinate pork for 4h Marinate for 4 hours
  •   Peel potatoes and head of celery
  •   Grate about 80g of celery finely and reserve
  • Place the lard in a pan on the heat and allow to melt 
  • Add the cheeks and cook over low heat until they fall apart when pressed with a fork (roughly 4 hours) Drain excess fat
  •   Saute potatoes in butter with the head of celery cut into small pieces
  •   Add enough water to cover potatoes and head of celery, add salt and cook till soft
  • Drain and mash the vegetables and rectify the seasoning
  • Cut the mushrooms into quarters and chop the sausage
  •   Sauté in olive oil seasoning with salt 
  • Saute the reserved celeriac and drain on paper towels to remove excess oil 
  • Plate up as suggested in the photograph above



Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Heaven knows I´m miserable now

Pure comfort
The John Lewis Christmas advert,using the Morissey classic "Please please let me get what I want" showed a tiresome brat getting increasingly impatient in the run-up to Christmas before it annoyingly turned out 60 painful seconds later that he was only itching to give a present to his mum and dad.This advert left me saying Please, please,please someone give him what he wants so I dont have to endure this tear-jerking sentimentality for a moment longer. Now all the festivities are done the party is over and left me singing "ne me quitte pas"(if you go away) and  wondering who will be the next brand leader to give their 2012 New year ad campaign the more appropriate accompaniment of that other Morissey classic "Heaven knows I´m miserable now"- perhaps a package holiday company? 
Nothing is better than starting the new year with something that makes you happy.Food  can have a great impact on our moodswings,and our mood can effect everything in our daily life.If you want to look and feel good then you need to be sure to include some of the foods that will naturally lift your spirits. Whip up your favourite meal, listen to your favourite song, watch a great movie, and things of that nature. Avoid the melancholy music and avoid the alcohol if you’re feeling down; neither will improve your mood. Look to what makes you feel happier and indulge yourself.In my case-always comfort food.I turn up the stereo or with I-tunes favourites set on random I stare at the fridge.I suddenly get inspired and decide to become at one with my wok and create a soupy soya saucy surprise full of delicious nutritious ingredients and weird food combos that only I love, and others would call random crap from the fridge.Half a red pepper, scallions,some broccoli florets, a half opened packet of cashew nuts and some left over pork.I suddenly am back in the smile zone, my head immersed in a steamy garlic haze of stove top hypnosis.A blocked drain,crashed internet connection,recently introduced motorway tolls and the credit crunch all recede into insignificance.I am in the Algarve and I am elevated to wok heaven.

A Crise friendly new year stir fry 
serves 2

400g left over pork
4 tablespoons peanut oil
100gunsalted cashew nuts
4 spring onions,finely chopped
half a red pepper, cut into thin strips
two florets of broccoli (optional)

4 cloves garlic
thumb sized knob of ginger,peeled and finely shredded
teaspoon hot chilli flakes
zest and juice of two large juicy limes
2 tablespoons nam pla(Thai fish sauce)
dash of soya sauce
Handful of Thai basil leaves chopped
handful mint leaves,torn

Dice the pork or slice into strips, the thickness of your finger.Get your wok really hot over a high flame and pour the oil into it.Add the spring onions,garlic ginger and chilli flakes and fry stirring constantly for a minute or two.Tip in the nuts, stir fry for another minute or two and then toss in the cooked meat.Stir in the lime zest and juice,the nam pla and soya sauce.Finally stir in the herbs and serve immediately.Get Happy!!

Could a bag of crisps have been the answer?- Yes for a short while so-called´happy crisps` proved a big hit in America due to their mood enhancing properties.a short lived success before being taken off the market. The crisps contained St John's Wort - a plant well known for its anti-depressant properties.Never mind there are plenty of other feel good foods you can eat to improve your mood that are healthier than a packet of crisps. The key is to pick foods that contain natural feel-good properties.
The body produces its own uplifting chemicals, known as endorphins, by breaking down food, and it is therefore possible to raise the levels of these substances in the brain by eating foods containing a combination of nutrients which release endorphins.
Low endorphin levels can be caused by certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Certainly, a lack of B vitamins (particularly B12) and vitamin C, or of minerals such as iron, potassium and zinc, can cause you to feel low. So it is important to include the so-called happy foods in your diet to stave off low mood swings.

Endorphin-releasing foods to make you feel happy.

Top of the happiness ratings -
Chocolate:The N-acyclethanoloamine group of chemicals found in chocolate stimulates channels in the brain to release endorphins. As every chocoholic knows, a quick fix will 'heighten sensitivity and produce euphoria'.

Milk: Foods that are rich in calcium will naturally help to boost our spirits. Those that suffer from depression are told to take a calcium and Vitamin D supplement, and the good news is that 1-2 glasses of milk a day can be a natural mood booster that can help a person to feel happier and more productive.  

Spinach: Dark leafy greens are good for your health and a home remedy for so many ailments. So it’s really no wonder that spinach, rich in iron, is a definite if you are looking for food to make you feel happier. You can get the nutrients that you need out of this dark leafy green and lift your spirits all at the same time.  

Salmon: Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids a regular consumption of salmon, about 2-3 times a week, can help to make us feel happier and of course maintain good health  

Pasta A great source of protein with no fat, pasta is also a good source of complex carbohydrates, which fill us up while releasing energy slowly. Protein contains two amino acids, tryptophan and L-pheny-lalanine, which also produce endorphins. It has been shown that a lack of protein in the diet can cause depressed moods in people with low intakes of these amino acids.