Thursday, 30 August 2012

Alfarroba,worth its weight in gold

Its late August.Doesn´t time fly when you are enjoying yourself?- the Alfarroba (carob) season is here again. It is unfortunate that it is so hot for the time of this particular harvest,because it is about now, the end of August, when they ripen and fall off the trees easily.The ground beneath the trees has to be cleared of dry grass, thorns and nettles, otherwise collecting them can be an great ordeal. These trees are one of the easiest to harvest. That does not mean that it is not hard work. Firstly they have to be knocked out of the trees with a large stick or ‘Vara’. That can involve a lot of neck strain. Then they are picked up from the floor and collected into sacks of about15 to 30 kilos and that involves back strain.So all in all its not surprising you see so many lean to or hunch backed farmers in and around the Portuguese countryside.The carob tree or St. John´s bread tree, is typical of the Algarve. In Portuguese the tree is called Alfarrobeira and the fruit of this tree is called Alfarroba (al-harruba in Arabic).Since the seeds of the carob tree all weigh the same, they were used to weigh diamonds, silver and gold in the Middle East. The modern usage of the word "carat" refers to the official name of the carob tree: Ceratonia Siliqua. The system was eventually standardized, and one carat was fixed at 0.2 grams.In late Roman and early Byzantine times, the pure gold coin known as the solidus weighed 24 carat seeds (about 4.5 grams). As a result, the carat also became a measure of purity for gold. Thus 24-carat gold means 100% pure, 12-carat gold means the alloy contains 50% gold, etc.
One word of warning: When they ripen and fall to the ground some dogs and horses love to chew them. However, they have a very high protein content,(too much in a horses diet can cause it to bloat and it can be fatal). It can cause convulsions and be fatal to dogs too. In no circumstance ever let any dog get a taste for those tasty, crunchy black beans. The protein is too much for their system to cope with. 
Bolo de Alfarroba, Algarvian Carob cake

Carob cake, besides being part of the traditional Algarve cuisine, is a great alternative to chocolate cake for those who are allergic to chocolate. The flavour and appearance are almost identical too.In the Algarve carob powder is used in baking as an alternative to chocolate and is also known by the name cacao do Algarve. Carob is also free from the stimulants caffeine and theobromine found in chocolate. It is naturally sweet, so carob products will contain less sugar.                                            

1 ch.(1 cup) olive oil 1/2 ch. 1/2 cup. leite, milk 4 ovos 4 eggs 1 ch. 1 cup. açúcar amarelo, brown sugar 1 c. (sopa) fermento em pó, ( 1Tablespoon) baking powder 3 c. (sopa) de farinha, (3 Tablespoons) flour 3 c. (sopa) farinha de alfarroba, (3 dessert spoons) carob flour 100 gr. de nozes picadas, chopped walnuts

Mix the oil, milk, egg yolks and sugar.Add the flour, carob, baking powder, nuts and beat well. Finally add up the egg whites. Bake at 200 º C.

Rumour has it that alfarroba is one of the secret ingredients of Coca Cola.
Portugal produces around 40.000 tons of alfarroba per year, most of which is exported. This is a 32 million euro business. Only Morocco produces more, but the Portuguese claim to have the best quality and if the cake is anything to go by it most certainly is.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

A vila, dele atum e duas receitas

A town its tuna and two recipes


You can not possibly visit the town of Vila Real de Santo António without visiting the town archive.For here is preserved a very special and beautifully presented documentation of the passion for the sea that has always been a symbol and a feature of the Portuguese people.This passion  was the catalyst for the fish conservation industry which began over a century ago, and is no more evident  today, than in the lovely town of Vila Real de Santo António.
This tradition goes back to the late 19th century when, in Vila Real,men went out to sea and caught fish to be conserved and consumed later on, mainly during the most harsh and rigorous winters.
After the Second World War, this officially became an industry. Canned tuna and canned sardines are now staples of the modern Portuguese diet.
Having visited this magnificent exhibition recently the memory, every time I crack open a tin of tuna or sardines, serves as a reminder of the wonderful patrimony of this town.The gastronomy of Vila real de Santo António is rich and varied, with many dishes made from fish and shellfish caught in the sea,on the sandy beaches and in the Guadiana river.Today fishing for tuna has virtually disappeared from Algarve shores.Portugal´s tuna supplies now come from the Azores.Tuna fishing in the region goes back to the time of occupation by the Phoenicians or Carthaginians.Among the various dishes that have survived are two of my local favourites. The first, and one of the most popular, is the estupeta prepared with meat from the belly of the tuna.This is Vila Real´s very own version of salade Nicoise and very refreshing it is too.

Estopeta de atum 
500g de atum escuro de barrica,da parte do lombo 
( 500g tuna.The dark brown part of the tuna loin)
I large onion
2 firm tomatoes
1 green or red pepper or both
2 medium boiled eggs
Juice of I lemon
300ml extra virgin olive oil
125 ml white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
lettuce leaves qs

Clean the tuna and soak it overnight in cold water. Change the water once or twice. After soaking, cut into small pieces of around 2 cm.Wash them again in cold water and squeeze well.
Peel and slice the onion into little dice, do the same to the pepper (green or red) and clean 1 tomato, cut it into little cubes also.
In a bowl, pour all the ingredients, ie, tuna, onions, peppers and tomatoes, season to taste with salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar and mix.
In a salad bowl or platter, place a few lettuce leaves, cleaned, and on top, place the tuna mixture in a pile or as desired. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze over the tuna.Keep the estopeta chilled in the fridge for a good two hours before serving.
Garnish around with slices of the other half of the lemon, another tomato, egg, olives and, if desired, onion rings.

Tuna steak with onion sauce
4 bifes de atum 4 tuna steaks
3 cebolas 3 onions
3 colheres de sopa de manteiga 3 tablespoons butter
4 dentes de alho 4 cloves of garlic
1 ramo de salsa 1 bunch of parsley
1 folha de louro 1 bay leaf
sal e pimenta branca qb salt and white pepper to taste
vinho branco qb white wine to taste

Place tuna on a platter.  Season with salt, white pepper, two cloves garlic, peeled and chopped and a little white wine.
Peel onions and cut them into slices.
In a skillet (traditionally clay) pour the butter and let it boil. Let heat and add the remaining garlic, onion and bay leaf.
Place the steaks, taking care of the back, to cook on both sides, stirring onion.
Serve on its own skillet, served with fries, a bowl, and sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

When all is said and done

Like a drum my heart was beating

But the joys of love are fleeting
For Pierrot and Columbine.

Now the carnival is gone.

High above, the dawn is waking,

And my tears are falling rain,

For the carnival is over...

for one more year

Friday, 24 August 2012

Sexta medieval- and for afters

Friday's child is loving and giving 

We´ve filled our goblets till they brimmeth over, feasted and farruca´d and now its time for pudding. Desserts were very popular in the middle ages. Medieval people liked custard tarts for dessert, made of milk, cream, eggs, and sugar. They also ate figs, grapes, dates and pears.
When most people think of medieval cookery their first thoughts turn to meat, bread based dishes and pottage. However, desserts played a part in medieval life and although they were not as varied and sumptuous as the kind of desserts we eat today, they could nevertheless be very tasty.Honey, ginger, fruit, wine and spices were key ingredients in many medieval desserts.
Eggs, milk and cream were used for making cream custard tart, often with honey or spices to add sweetness and flavour. Sometimes the milk was substituted by almond milk to make it even richer, particularly if it was outside Lent, but this was generally only affordable by richer people, not peasants.                           
Dates could be used to make sweetmeat when combined in a recipe with brown breadcrumbs, white wine, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and egg yolks – somewhat like a date loaf that we might bake today.
Pears were popular when cooked in red wine and sometimes mixed with other fruit such as mulberries. Ground ginger and cinnamon were a must in the recipe.
Pine nuts also made a good dessert when combined with toasted bread and honey mixed with spices.

Bearing all this in mind I have tried to create  a thoroughly modern medieval dessert....
Rosemary-scented mascarpone fig tart
(four and twenty figs bake in a pie)

A mix of whipped cream, mascarpone , and lemon zest makes a really fluffy, cheesecake-like texture but with a lighter, more vibrant feel and flavour that’s fresh, but doesn’t scream lemon. On top of this, there has to be the stars of the show: the figs. I tried to present them nicely by alternating the light/dark colors, but figs can be a bit of an ugly duckling, so its not perfect. These are drizzled with a mix of honey  to accentuate the nectar of the figs. Simple, sweet, indulgent, delicious, and most importantly: figgy! Plus, its so quick and easy to prepare…
I’ll have to try some other aromatic herbs as well…thyme and possibly lavender come to mind…).

1 quantity sweet pastry with 2-3 rosemary sprigs extra
250g 8 ounces mascarpone
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4  cup confectioner´s sugar
zest of 1 lemon
10-20 figs (average size
1/4 cup honey ( I used orange flavoured )

Preparation.Strip the leaves off of the rosemary sprigs, dice them up very finely, and add them in when you are making the pastry.Prebake your crust blind and set it aside to cool while you work on the rest of the tart.
Carefully circumcise the dangly part from the figs. Slice the figs from top to bottom into roughly equal sized pieces…something between 1/4 and 1/8 of the fig, depending on the size you’re happy with. Set these aside for now.

Filling. Zest a lemon and grate/dice the zest up as finely as you can. In the food processor, whip the cream,mascarpone, sugar and lemon until smooth and stiff. Scoop this into your pie crust and spread it as evenly as you can.
Now, carefully embed the fig segments on top of the whipped filling.
In a saucepan, warm up the honey a little bit to loosen it up and make it easier to spread.Drizzle this all over the tart and transfer it to the fridge to firm up a bit before serving .

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Quinta medieval -O banquete

Thursdays child has far to go
Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!

This evening is the opening of Dias Medievais in Castro Marim.The gates of the castle will be thrown open to crowds of medieval festival goers.One of the events on offer is a nightly medieval banquet in the castle.For most of us the word ‘banquet’ conjures up vivid and colourful imagery - plentiful food and wine, exotic recipes, lavish presentations, grand table layouts, glorious surroundings and all in all a marvellous evenings entertainment.On the table we have cinnamon, juniper berries, and sugar in your beef, sandalwood in your bread, "sweet herbs and sundrie flowers" beneath your feet. The pheasant on your plate has been dead for some days, but whatever - it swims in a sauce of seventeen spices. You've brought your own knife and spoon, or you eat with your fingers. You drink spiced wine and mulled ale by the quart, sharing the goblet with your neighbour. You're at a medieval banquet--welcome to the Middle Ages!
From swans to peacocks, venison to wild boar, salmon to pike .... medieval meat and fish dishes were usually served with a lavish presentation. Salmon and trout were amongst the most popular fish dishes served at banquets. Pike was another and usually served with a special medieval sauce  called Galentyne sauce which was quite strong (made from white wine, vinegar,  breadcrumbs and water and spiced with cinnamon, saffron, pepper, onion).
Another sauce served with fish (usually saltwater fish) – and as popular today as it ever was in medieval times – is parsley sauce.
Salsa Verde was a green sauce made from fresh herbs , vinegar and white breadcrumbs. It was popular because it worked well with many types of fish.
Seared tuna with salsa verde
(adapted from an original recipe by José Pizarro)
serves 4
4 tuna steaks
olive oil
                                                 Flor de sal salmarim


  • 10g each of flat-leaf parsley leaves, mint leaves and basil leaves
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp capers, drained and dried
  • 50g good-quality pitted green olives
  • 4 anchovy fillets in oil
  • finely grated zest of 1/4 small lemon
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
To make the salsa verde, drop the herbs into boiling water for a few seconds, then drain and refresh under cold water. Squeeze out the water, then put on a chopping board with the garlic, capers, olives and anchovies and finely chop everything together. Scrape into a bowl and add the lemon zest, mustard, lemon juice, olive oil and some black pepper.
Heat a cast-iron griddle pan over a high heat. Brush the tuna with olive oil and season with sea salt. Put them on the griddle, turn the heat down to medium high and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side so you get nice char marks but the fish is rare on the inside.
Serve the tuna steaks with the salsa verde spooned over the top.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Quarta medieval - Was it best before? -the past and its sell by myth

Wednesday's child is full of woe

Medieval food is largely characterized by the heavy use of spices, especially ginger, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, and saffron.Spices were in medieval times  a sign of luxury and affluence. They signified prestige. One sees "verjus" mentioned often, a tart liquid, a mild vinegar, made from unripened green grapes (they have high acidity and low sugar levels; the "must" remains unfermented).

Picking grapes to make Verjus

 Ironically one sees "verjus" mentioned too often nowadays on the menus of those modern smarter than thou not so medieval restaurants.  The most common myth about medieval food is that the heavy use of spices was a technique for disguising the taste of rotten meat in the days before refrigeration. Yet spices had gone out of fashion by the seventeenth century, three hundred years before refrigerators were invented. Besides, spices were expensive and not likely to be wasted on rotting food. Another myth is that the spices were used as preservatives, but medievals were not idiots, spices do not function as preservatives. Fish was salted, as were beef and mutton; and vinegar, sugar, and honey could be used for preservation.Also baking or roasting fish in salt is as old as, well, salt. The technique is dramatic in presentation as well as results. Yes, do try this old trick at home and you won´t regret it. Here are two recipes for potatoes and sea bream baked in a salt crust of  the finest Castro Marim salt

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Terça medieval-Green pea potage

Tuesday's Knight is full of grace

"Perrey of pesoun. Take pesoun and seeth hem fast, and couere hem, til thei berst; thenne take hem up and cole hem thurgh a cloth. Take oynouns and mynce hem, and seeth hem in the same sewe, and oile therwith; cast therto sugur, salt, and safroun, and seeth hem wel therafter, and serue hem forth"

Rest in peas
Suitable for vegetarians as well as the rest of us. Goes well with bacon
(though serve that separately if you want the vegetarians to eat it)
                                                                                                                                              Heat a number of cups of chicken stock to boiling. (Canned or boullion should be salty enough, but salt to taste if using homemade stock.) Add an equal number of cups of fresh or frozen peas (canned won’t work well). Cook just long enough to heat the peas thoroughly, then scoop them out and press them through a food sieve. (Modern folk who are pressed for time might pour them into a blender with a little of the stock and puree them.) Leave a few whole peas in the stock as a garnish. Return the pureed peas to the chicken stock, season with summer savory to taste. Serve hot. The result should be a delicious, bright green soup.

For something a little more contemporary try Marmaduke Scarlet´s recipe for Summer pea soup, it is one of the best pea soups I have tried, and she sure likes peas.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Segunda medieval-Almondegas com limão

Monday's maid is fair of face

Mix minced meat (pork and lamb) with some fresh goat´s cheese, chopped bacon, garlic, onions, egg yolks, wheat flour, grated bread, salt and pepper, saffron, cumin, powdered red peppers, whole-fat milk, parsley, coriander, dried figs (smashed) and some drizzles of a very good wine spirit. Use more flour when working the meat in order to get a smooth and mouldable dough. Use your fingers to mould little balls. Put some garlic and onions in a pan with olive oil and butter, dried laurel, some cloves and herbs. Let it cook for some minutes and then put the meatballs inside until they become slightly brown. Refresh it with a glass of spirit until it evaporates completely. In a saucepan, blend some whole-fat milk with corn flour, salt, black pepper and nutmeg and add it to the meatballs. Stir carefully and let it cook for 15 minutes. Put the meatballs and their sauce in a serving plate. Sprinkle with some chopped parsley and coriander and it's ready to eat!-  if you are not confident in the medieval approach try my modern version (pictured above) of Almondegas com limão

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Dias Medievais-These are the days

For four days and four nights from 23 to 26 August 2012 the little sleepy town of Castro Marim becomes a page torn from a history book. Castro Marim is transformed into a medieval stage where different scenes dating back to the Middle Ages are relived, giving us nothing less than a living history lesson.With many thousands of visitors expected, between the first and last day we are anticipating  a grand historical pageant involving hundreds of participants, tournaments, fire eaters, jugglers, minstrels and cheeky smiling jesters. An extravaganza of street entertainment, a programme of cultural and gastronomic celebration are  aspects that enrich these Medieval Days with ludic moments of true inspiration.
In a small town that once a year totally adapts itelf to medieval times, visitors can experience a trip in the time machine to an age inhabited by kings and queens, nobles and monks, fearless knights and monsters. Medieval banquets and taverns cooking up delicacies of the season, are some of the moments that make for an unforgettable long weekend."Nobless oblige" -  whoever claims to be noble must conduct himself nobly.
Flags and banners are already unfurled and flapping in the wind above the castle.The ghosts of the Knights Templars are being awoken and reminded that it is the final weekend in August.We, as modern day townsfolk, are also reminded of this annual occasion by the appearance of the bold and brassy graphics around us, promoting the festivities.Over the coming days a melange of heady aromas will fill the air in our narrow streets. Smoky whiffs from the grilling and barbecuing meats; sausage,pork loin and our most favourite of all the leitao (suckling pig).A potpourri of scents from stalls manned by quacksalvers selling their remedies and tinctures, exotic scented soaps,perfumes and therapeutic oils.

Sweet and fragrant smelling dried fruits and Mediterranean spices mingle with the deathly smell of salted cod, charcoal cinders and dust filling the often acrid and arid afternoon air. All combined with the smell of octopus tentacles drying on a hot grill! As dusk descends the roll of drums can be heard,flutes fill the alleys with a medieval toon or two. Let the procession begin with .....the arrival of harlequins,bards,men at arms, Moors and knights on horseback.The streets are awash with men and women in medieval costume passing by houses decked with pennants and ribbons,their wrought iron balconies decorated with tapestries and heraldic motifs.Onwards and upwards, whirling dervishes greet you as you enter the castle and then you walk past falconers with their noble birds. Spinning wheels, bread baking, basket weaving, rug making, black smiths, saddlers, potters and lacemakers demonstrate the magic of their traditional craftsmanship. Once inside the inner sanctum, as we look out from the castle ramparts across the Guadiana river that forms the border of Portugal and Spain we are once again reminded of the days the Moors used Castro Marim as a trading centre.Iron ore and tin was shipped along this very river from the mines around Mertola. Medieval trading marked the beginning of a new monetary economy. So too in our modern  "Dias Medievais" this new era is recreated.Inside the Castle its own currency is in circulation, the "real", which visitors can buy from the scalpers. With it they can shop and hold a piece of magic from these days and return to the past in the reality of the twenty-first century.
13th century meets 20th century
So if "Reales" are the preferred method of payment proffered in return for current euros from the medieval casa de câmbio or "bureau de change" why do we find medieval citizens queuing at cashpoint machines?And finally if one is not going to dress up in traditional gear and transform oneself into serf, bard or wench a hat will always suffice and - What sort of hat would you have worn in Medieval times? and what sort of hat would you wear to this type of event? Hats were an important part of medieval garb, so depending on one's occupation and the time of the year, hats could vary from linen head warmers, to straw or felt hats, to "borrelais" hats to fine mesh mail coifs, to "sallet" helmets, to visored "basinets" to mitres and crowns.The thespian rather fancies himself in a hennin while I see myself more as a basinet  bastard!! Oh well you may see us hennin up the hill to o castelo in the next few days but according to the symbol for watering holes displayed on the official programme we will be stopping for a bebida or two at the sign of the wimple or the basinet.

Authenticity  is the word for four days and nights of banqueting, feasting and drinking.Dias Medievais is a festival and event the likes you have never seen. consuming us with its energy   and unveiling medieval life in all its glory and colour.And when all the jousting and tournaments are over the sun has gone down and we are treated to a spectacular firework display.

Over the course of the next week I will be posting medieval related recipes and to download the full programme visit 

Monday, 13 August 2012

How do you gage it?

I feel like an over excited courtier.Its August and here she comes, the Queen of plums, Rainha Claudia, La Reine Claude, Lady Greengage,call her what you will depending on the country in which you are putting her in your basket,cesta or corbeille de fruits.Gauging by the reactions of our recent guests, this August Queen Claude is going down a right royal storm.Cleaned up fruit plates return from the breakfast table to the kitchen every morning, and this makes me very happy. For me there are few more beautiful things than a bowl of greengages in August.I get all plummed up about their pale emerald/ blue/ yellow hues with a milky patina.They cook as well as they eat.My favourite way with the `gage´ is Tarte Rainha Claudia com massa Amendoa, a greengage and almond frangipane, the perfect August pudding, but this year I decided to try something simpler.Earlier this summer I cooked nesperas on the griddle ,so simple and so delicious so I thought I would try a similar trick with our Augustian queen.I was happy to find that one can use the almond scented kernel, nestling within the tough stone of the greengage to make a sort of almond liquor.Needless to say I was too pushed busywise to do this, but it did inspire me to use the almond idea to make a marinade for the greengages to sit in after I grilled them.

Griddled grengages with pistachios and almond greek yoghurt

4 -6 Greengages depending on their size
Juice of 2 oranges
1 tbsp of Almond liquor
1/2 tbsp of muscavado sugar

125g greek yoghurt

Halve and stone the Greengages and lightly grill them cut side down on a screamingly hot slightly greased griddle pan. In a small bowl, add the orange juice, the almond liquor, the sugar and mix well. Pour this marinade on top of the grilled fruits and let them marinate for 30 minutes.Serve the greengages cold with the greek yoghurt and a scattering of chopped pistachios.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The "full english" em regionais estrangeiros

The real Algarve is not just "beaches"
Tourists under fire? We are all guilty of pointing the figure at `the tourist.´As one of the `expat´(estrangeiro) proprietors of a Portuguese guest house I constantly hear myself saying to enquiring guests "avoid such and such as it is very "touristy"".What snobbery is that coming from someone whose livelihood is now dependent on that `tourist´.This year in particular we need that `tourist´ more than ever .However a high percentage of our guests are `independent travellers´ who have not subscribed to the package.Here we find a different mindset-the traveller who seeks the Hidden Portugal, the untapped Algarve.

Your restaurant choice is all important
Only today a Spanish guest asked us to recommend remote villages far from the maddening crowds who throng the beaches, and walk in a straight line from the car park.If only they turned right or left and walked for a few hundred metres they would find a tranquil patch of beach on which to pitch windbreak and picnic. In any culture this amounts to the `sheep instinct.´These are the `tourists´who know nothing other than standing in the sea in a crowd, where no one can move let alone swim or achieve the pleasure of some all important holiday exercise.As residents in the Algarve our recourse is "you take the low road and I´ll take the high road and I´ll be in Tavira before you". In High Season we bypass the coast road and make a slightly longer and more beautiful detour through the serra (hills).Very often we offer our guests a chance to share the experience.The response we get is always "we would never have experienced this nor would we have even known this Algarve even existed had we been on a package.Thank you". I remember many years ago on a return flight from one of my first holidays in the Algarve having the following conversation with the passenger sitting next to me.

Traveller  Had a nice holiday? Where were you staying
Self  a small pensao in Tavira
Traveller Tavira, yes we went there for the day, bit quiet, could have done with a karaoke bar 
Traveller What was your pool like?
Self  there is no pool
Traveller No pool? what about the breakfast
Self  They dont serve breakfast, anyway we prefer to potter down to the river front and
sit having our breakfast outside a local cafe.
Traveller ( with dismayed look) Ohh we have a nice English breakfast.
Self ( trying to be polite and hide the fact I had nothing whatsoever in common with this man´s choice of holiday) 
Traveller So if there was no pool, how do you spend your day?
Self  We take the boat to the beach or get in the car and drive to a different beach
Traveller Did you have the chicken Piri Piri?
Self  No
Traveller Oh they serve it everywhere you know
Self  I know ( beginning to get frustrated and wanting to return to my newly purchased copy of Côté Sud

If I had wanted Chicken Piri piri I could have had Chicken Piri Piri, but then I could have a better piri piri when I got home at Nando´s, or at home from an off the shelf jar from Sainsbury´s. Oh well "chacun a son gout" as the say in France.If I wanted this man´s holiday I would have booked Destination Albufeira with Thomson holidays.

The do´s and don´ts of an Algarvian holiday
Research accomodation in East Algarve,Alastair Sawdays, Further Afield, Algarve2 stay
Turn East out of Faro airport and head towards Tavira or further

A simple straightforward menu of tasty Algarvian specialities
Check out restaurants which dont display menus in six languages
Hire a car,you will be able to explore the real Algarve and its hinterland
Look for flights during school terms

Linekers bar in Albufeira
Any establishment advertising The full English, all day breakfast or English newspapers available here
Theme nights, usually Thursdays

"Tourist" or independent traveller.The choice is yours, but why not turn East rather than West for a more rewarding experience and holiday with a difference.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Pan Bagnat

Summer is not summer without a pressed sandwich.The Pan Bagnat (pahn bah nyah, saying the`n´ in pan through your nose) is a make ahead sandwich from the South of France that´s a whole meal in itself, an essential for the beach basket and the ideal picnic item.This sandwich has the power to transport you to France.Use the wrong kind of bread and you won´t be going anywhere,the result will be an awful mush.This is a sturdy sandwich, built and layered on artisan bread then filled with tuna,tomatoes, sweet peppers,olives,some greens possibly, olive oil and anchovies.A whole lotta Salade Niçoise in some hefty bun I hear you mutter.Well, back in my outside catering days of nouvelle sandwich delivery the celebrated Pan Bagna( Italian derivative) came a very close second to Chicken and peperonata in a foccacia.The wonderful thing about this sandwich is that wherever you are in the world you will always be able, in one way or another, to find the right ingredients for the recipe.That said you have to be a little selective about what you fill it with or it will become something else.For instance put Provolone or mozzarella in it, or any form of cured meats, and it becomes a Muffaletta.The Muffaletta is as Creole as the kicked up Portuguese boy who re-invented it.This is pure Italian brought to New Orleans by the Sicilians.A round hero full of Italian ham, salami, mortadella,provolone cheese,  and an oily olive or two.The versatility of the Pan Bagnat is that it allows you to make a choice between one big loaf or smaller individual rolls. An extra large ciabatta is perfect for the job and slices beautifully into fingers of Mediterranean juiciness.With summer ticking away fast you will be hard pressed to find a better lunch than this. Slice it into wedges or fingers and be generous when distributing the napkins.Pour an Algarvian oaked Rosé from Quinta Barranco Longo and you´ll think you´re in the South of France.or in the East Algarve at least.
1 large country loaf with a sturdy coarse crumb or 4 crusty sandwich rolls
2 large cloves of garlic,peeled and cut in half
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
coarsely torn basil and chopped mint leaves
2 ripe but firm medium tomatoes,sliced
1 tin of flaked tuna,drained
8-10 oil cured olives,pitted
2 heaped teaspoons capers
1 sweet yellow pepper,cored seeded,membranes removed and sliced into thin rounds
1 sweet red pepper,cored seeded,membranes removed and sliced into thin rounds
2 hard-boiled eggs.sliced
handful of fava beans, peeled
Flor de sal and freshly ground black pepper

Cut your bread in half length wise.Rub both of the insides of the bread with the cut sides of the garlic cloves and then drizzle with olive oil.Layer all the ingredients on the bottom half of the bread drizzle with olive oil or if you want a more proveçal taste some vinaigrette.Season with salt and pepper to taste.Cover with the top half of the bread.Wrap the sandwich up in parchment or waxed paper and press with heavy weight for aminimum of 30 minutes but a couple of hours is better for all the flavours to meld together.Happy picnics everyone.

Monday, 6 August 2012

O sal na pedra -The salt in the stone

As in Arthurian legend this is once and future cooking
Stone Age man discovered that salt made food taste better, plus preserved it for later consumption. Centuries later, man found that food cooked on salt tastes really good, too.That's right, cooked on salt. With the discovery of salt deposits left behind by receding seas,salt can be quarried in much the same way as marble or granite.The salt block adds a subtle flavour of salt without being salty
You can cook on it, freeze it and eat ice cream off it or serve sushi on it. However you use a block,whether you heat it, freeze it,or just use it as a vehicle to carry the food. Without you having to pre-season the food it will take on a tinge of salt and minerals that is sublime.
To test if the block is hot, paint on a dollop of olive oil.If It sizzles, just as a pat of butter sizzles when added to a hot skillet, you are ready to go.
Unlike a griddle pan this is slow cooking,it lacks the ferocity of a griddle and it is easier to see the meat or fish taking on some colour as it cooks, so you have more control over texture and flavour.Now you want one? You do don´t you, you do?

 Atum na pedra( tuna on the stone) a meal fit for a king

Vazia novilho na pedra (steak on the stone)

Sardinhas (Sardines)

Mascarpone ice cream ( on a frozen stone)

Friday, 3 August 2012


I have nothing against Chicago but I would rather trust Al Capone and his mob than tuck into a slice of pizza that bears his city´s name.That said, pizza owes so much to the Windy City´s flapper era and its "Voh doh dee oh doh".In the 1920´s  a new woman was born.She smoked,drank,danced and voted.She cut her hair,wore make-up and went to petting parties.She was giddy and took risks.She was a flapper and even had a magazine named after her.Was this the right definition of flapper? The dictionary set me right by defining the word as.....

"a fledgling,yet in the nest,and vainly attempting to fly while its wings only have pinfeathers"

A great way to describe pizza dough before it has been given a good kneading.Set pizza making in a Vaudville-esque Chicago reminiscent of the 1920´s and it is crying out for a little voh-dee-oh-doughing.These petting parties,where petting("making out" or to put it bluntly foreplay)was the main attraction,became popular.A hot sultry Portuguese summer may not seem the time or the place for heavy petting, or rather kneading dough,yet not surprisingly the constant heat couldn´t be more conducive to "making out" and getting a Portuguese pizza dough to rise to the occasion.The heat in the summer is a more even heat so you get a slower,more natural rise. Not to use your hands is such a pity.The gratification one gets from feeling the warm,springy dough against the palm of your hands conjures up unrepeatable images. The sensation is akin to the cooks answer to foreplay.So, put on your pinny,open a bag of flour,dust your pastry board and, imagining yourself for a moment as the reincarnation of Louise Brooks, get Voh dee-oh-doughing.
Rosemary and olive pizza dough
250g plain white flour
250g strong white bread flour
1 sachet dried yeast or 5g fresh yeast
10g salt
350ml warm water
3 bushy sprigs rosemary finely chopped
12 black olives pitted and halved
In a bowl mix the flours,yeast,salt and water.If you are using fresh yeast,then dissolve the crumbled yeast into a little of the warm water before adding it to the flour.Mix to a pliable dough using your hands which will become very sticky until all the ingredients come together.Mix in the rosemary and olives and knead more until they are well combined into the dough. Turn the dough out onto awell floured board or work surface and knead firmly,but not violently for 10 minutes.When the dough becomes elasticated put it back into a n oiled bowl.cover it loosely with a clean cloth and leave in a warm place for an hour or two.the dough will rise to about double its original size.when you press it with your finger it should feel springy and alive. 
Get your oven really hot (240C/Gas mark 8).
Turn the dough out onto a floured board and cut it into 2  or four pieces,depending on what sized pizzas you want.
Roll out each piece to give you a pizza base.
add your chosen topping and transfer to a pizza stone or flat metal sheet 
and bake in the oven for about 10-12 minutes until any cheese is bubbling and the pizza base is lightly crispening up.
A suggested topping
 and for the Portuguese incarnation try this.......
David Leites Pizza à Portuguesa /Portuguese Pizza

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Plain saline

To those of you who otherwise might think salting melon…odd, here´s one for you.
The usual accompaniment to watermelon is napkins—and loads of them. But the idea of the sweet saltiness of flor de sal sprinkled on top really knocked my flip-flops off. This approach couldn’t be easier, yet has its own sort of elegance about it. And it’s really something to see the expression on other peoples’ faces when you set out a platter of this simple yet stunning summeriness. It still maintains the casualness normally associated with eating watermelon but at the same time giving it a little sprinkle of summer sophistication.. Well, as sophisticated as drippy, juicy watermelon can aspire to be.
Extremely versatile, salt can balance flavor, tone down acidity, and highlight sweetness, especially that of the porous ruby fruit of watermelons. I use coarse sea salt, which contains essential minerals and has a gentle flavor, unlike refined table salt, which is bitter and almost completely lacking in minerals.

1 chilled watermelon seeded or not
Slice a portion of melon,rind and all,into 4 slices or wedges
set the rest aside for seconds ( trust me)
Sprinkle each portion with a scant pinch of Flor de sal limao
Serve immediately
Return for seconds

When my boat comes in...