Sunday, 29 April 2012

Açúcar Mascavado, claro!!!


Choosing a recipe using Muscovado sugar that at the same time appealed universally was a doddle.My choice had to be, without a question, Nigella´s dense chocolate loaf cake.Yup you guessed it, we´re back in food porn territory again.This indulgent cake is all about the finger lickin,eye rollin´and much tossing of the hair style of baking.The pouting sex object is a hard look to pull off when you are elbow deep in messy dark brown chocolate batter,but‘‘doing a Nigella’’ (was there ever a time when she needed a surname?)spells success  every time,and at the age of 52 her recipes still continue to give great satisfaction.Just the uttering of those three syllables NI -GELL -AAHHHH gives the male cake baker goose bumps.When baking  this cake you imagine the grande dame ( you are no longer a goddess when you´ve turned 50 ?) wrapped in a slinky black dressing gown, telling us we are at the age when baking a dense chocolate loaf is what you do of an evening .

Muscovado is unrefined cane sugar that's especially prized by bakers. It is darker in colour, finer in grain size and stickier than other cane sugars due to the high level of molasses that has not been refined out of the sugar. It offers resistance to high temperatures and has a long shelf life.Muscovado sugar can be used as a substitute in recipes where brown sugar is required.The English borrowed the term in the seventeenth century from the Portuguese phrase açucar mascavado,unrefined sugar.The Portuguese verb mascavar ádulterate,´to speak or write incorrectly,came from the probable vulgar Latin minuscapare `make less.´The english form, muscavado, no doubt comes from unconscious association with such words as muscovy and muscatel.
The sugar was considered a "spice", extremely rare and valuable for many centuries. Only in royal palaces and houses of the nobles could sugar be eaten. It was was sold in apothecaries, the farmacias of yesteryear, commanding very high prices. With the spread of the culture of sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum) and modernization of the sugar industry, sugar consumption spread, starting to be appreciated by all.
 

Mascavado Claro -Light Muscovado is used to add flavour and colour to cakes, puddings, preserves, toffee, sauces and ice creams. It has a natural toffee characteristic with light golden colour combined with a fine texture which adds volume to cakes.

Mascavado Escuro -Dark Muscovado has a rich flavour allied with its darker hue. It is ideal for chocolate-based preparations, rich fruit and Christmas cake. It also adds fine texture suitable for savoury sauces, chutneys, pickles and toffee sauces.Because of its high molasses content it enables a one-product application, replacing the combining of white sugar and molasses.

So are you ready to bake this majestically indulgent cake?
First of all lets hear what the culinary first lady has to say about her own recipe."It is the essence of all that is desirable in chocolate:its dark intensity isn´t toyed with,nor upstaged by any culinary elaboration.This is the plainest of loaf cakes-but that doesn´t convey the damp,heady aromatic denseness of it.To understand that,you just have to cook it.Go, girlfriend,bring it on.

225g soft unsalted butter
375g dark muscavado sugar
2 large eggs beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g best quality dark chocolate,melted
200g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
250ml boiling water
23x 7cm forma (loaf tin)
Preheat the oven to 190c/gas mark5, put in a baking sheet to catch any drips,and grease and line the loaf tin.The lining is important as this is a very damp cake:use parchment,Bake-O-Glide or one of those loaf tin shaped paper cases.
Cream the butter and sugar,either with a wooden spoon or with an electric hand held mixer,then add the eggs and vanilla,beating in well.Next fold in the melted and now slightly cooled chocolate,taking care to blend well but being careful not to overbeat.You want the ingredients combined:you don´t want a light airy mass.Then gently add the flour,to which you´ve added the bicarb,alternatively spoon by spoon,with the boiling water until you have a smooth and fairly liquid batter.Pour into the lined loaf tin,and bake for 30 minutes.Turn the oven down to 170c/Gas mark 3 and continue to cook for another 15 minutes.The cake will still be a bit squidgy inside,so an inserted skewer won´t come out completely clean.
Place the loaf tin on a rack,and leave to get completely cold before turning it out.( It can be left for a day or so:like gingerbread it improves.)

O COZINHEIRO SAYS:Don´t worry if it sinks in the middle,it will do so because it is such a dense damp cake.I have made this cake so many times to know that if your cake doesn´t sink,you have done something wrong:

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Pudim de pao Requeijao


The majority of Portuguese recipes that I have come across using Requeijao are of the sweet variety.One recipe in particular from the Estrela mountain region from where the best Requeijao originates, is a rich cheese pudding including almonds and an overdose of sugar.I decided to explore more savoury avenues,and my task was made even easier by Yotam Ottolenghi´s column in last weeks "Guardian" newspaper.As you know I am Ottolenghi´s greatest fan, and every so often I read one of his recipes and it shouts "make me."I love savoury bread puddings and this one in particular sounded unusual.My first thoughts were that my mother would have adored this.Her staple cheese pudding was
Elizabeth David´s, which I myself make frequently.The David recipe uses fresh breadcrumbs giving it a light souffle finish.
Senor Ottolenghis recipe uses whole slices of bread which gives it a denser more quiche like texture. I made the recipe true to Ottolenghis wishes but I have to say I am not a great fan of the turnip and so if I was to make the recipe again I would omit them.Neither the thespian or myself felt that the noble nabo ( turnip ) contributed anything to the dish,nor gave it the peppery "touch" that was promised.I could not source sourdough bread, so I  substituted sour cream in place of the double cream. As in most of Ottolenghi´s recipes this dish is labour intensive in its preparation but intensely rewarding on the plate.

Requeijao bread pudding  (original Ottolenghi version )
Serves 4 as a vegetarian supper dish or 12 as a side order to roast meat 
400g white sourdough loaf
800ml full fat milk
250ml double cream
2 rosemary stalks,plus 11/2 tsp chopped rosemary leaves
1 large onion,peeled and quartered
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
8 medium eggs
salt and white pepper
2 medium turnips, peeled and cut into 1cm slices
200g Requeijao or fresh ricotta 
90g parmesan, or vegetarian substitute, grated
20g chives finely chopped
Olive oil to finish
Cut the bread into 2cm-thick slices,spread on a tray an leave to dry overnight
alternatively,dry in an oven at 80c for half an hour turning once.
Put the milk,cream,rosemary stalks,onion and nutmeg in a medium saucepan,bring to a gentle simmer,remove from the heat and leave to cool.Break the eggs into a bowl.Once the milk is tepid,strain,discard the onion and rosemary,and pour over the eggs,whisking as you go,until you have a smooth custard.Whisk in half a teaspoon of salt and a quarter teaspoon of white pepper.
Blanch the turnips,(if using)for two minutes,strain,refresh and dry.Layer the turnip slices on the base of a22cm x 29cm ovenproof dish.
Mix the Requeijao,parmesan,chopped rosemary and chives, and spread over one side of each bread slice.Lay the slices cheese side up in the dish,standing them up on an angle and overlapping.Spoon the custard over the bread to just cover,and gently press down the bread to immerse.Leave to sit for an hour to an hour and a half, gently pressing the bread down and from time to time and adding more custard.-you may have some left over, depending on how absorbent your bread is.
Half an hour before you are ready to bake, heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
Cover the pudding with foil,bake for 20 minutes,remove the foil and continue cooking for afurther 25-35 minutes,until golden brown and crusty.Poke a knife into the centre and gently press down-if no cream surfaces its ready. allow to sit for 10 minutes before brushing the top with olive oil and serving.




Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Strawberry salad,weird but wonderful

The combinations on some restaurant menus these days are more likely to make you gag than gobble.After all, some foods just do not go with others,Which isn´t to say that all odd couples are bad, Lemmon and Matthau for starters.When I stumbled upon this "salad" I didn´t believe it.You are not going to believe it, but trust me you will believe it when it you taste it and discover it really works.The only question is whether to have it as a starter or a dessert. "I've deliberated, cogitated and digested." and made my decision its a starter and if you want to give it a little extra thrill crumble some feta or Requeijao on top.

Strawberry salad
Strawberries
10 basil leaves
2 tablespoons black olives
50ml balsamic vinegar
100ml best quality extra virgin olive oil
black pepper
crumbled Feta cheese (optional)
Wash the strawberries thoroughly,dry them carefully on kitchen paper and then slice them.Put them in a bowl and then cut the basil into thin strips and spread over the fruit.
Mill the pepper over them followed by the balsamic.Add an unctuous green olive oil  and then as in any salad toss it gently and serve.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Breakfast in the Alentejo

"Uma estrela de Via lacteaa" -a star of the milky whey.

Somewhere over the rainbow
"Whey" up high,
There's a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby.
The tradition of pastoralism in the Alentejo, the wide variety of herbs that are in the fields and the vast array of produce available, bring to the breakfast table some of the country´s most popular recipes. Bread is an almost mandatory ingredient in these recipes.Just one feature of many that will put you in touch with the workings of the Alentejo region is a breakfast of Requeijao cheese spread on thick slices of country bread drizzled with lashings of rosemary honey,or scoops of Doce de tomate (sweet tomato jam )and a selection of home cured meats such as presunto de javali  (wild boar ham).This mornings repast is finished off with a Bolo podre cake.This cake is very typically Portuguese.  I was intrigued by the idea of making a cake with such large quantities of olive oil and honey and just had to try it. Bolo Podre has a dense but not dry texture and is ideallly served with fruit compotes or again drizzled with honey or just enjoy a slice with a cup of tea or coffee.Such a feast will set the locals up for a hard day´s work, or perhaps if you are on holiday a good old hike across the Alentejo countryside.
Requeijao is a by-product of cheese production. Lemon or rennet is added to the whey to  to make the curds.About 10% whole milk is added to the whey and the mixture is heated and skimmed. The skimmed thin cream is then placed into round wicker baskets and drained.It is produced all over the country,but the best  Requeijão is from the Serra da Estrela and the Saloios region near Lisbon.
Requeijao is sold young, swaddled in water to keep it moist and cool.The wet cheese makes the paper it is wrapped in charmingly disintegrate.Its taste and texture are similar to that of ricotta cheese and it is eaten fresh. It is typically sold in specially designed draining plastic or basket-like weaved containers,reflecting its heirloom production process.
For a modern take on the traditional Alentejo breakfast I looked to Australia for some inspiration and Hey hey its Donna Hay. I have now brought to Casa rosada a traditional Alentejan breakfast with a modern antipodean feel. A plate of Bruschetta with honeyed Requeijao, fresh strawberries and mint.


Breakfast Bruschetta with honeyed Requeijao and strawberries
1  baguette,cut into slices on the diagonal
cups (200g) Requeijao cheese or ricotta
500g(1 lb) strawberries, hulled and cut into ¼-inch dice
Honey, to taste
20 fresh mint or basil leaves,for garnish

Beat the requeijao with 1 tablespoon of honey. Lightly toast the bread. Spread a spoonful of Requeijao on each bruschetta slice and top with the strawberries, sprinkle with mint (or basil) and serve.


Thursday, 19 April 2012

Shoppin´ and changin,´ a dish for all seasons

Over abundance of orange blossom in Casa Rosada´s garden, before the winds came
Even though the clocks have long since gone forward, summer in the Algarve still seems further away than all the daylight already saved. This is an interim period controlled by the weather; winter vegetables are coming to an end and the new crops of vegetables are not up to maximum strength yet. Snow in the north of Portugal is keeping the winds coming down to the Algarve cold. Fortunately spring greens are beginning to appear, and the strawberries have been prolific but the affect of no rain in the last six months has taken its toll on fruit trees,the oranges have not developed to a size agreeable for supermarkets to buy, resulting in fruit farmers taking to the roadside verges to sell their oranges.Now the high winds are playing havoc with the blossom.Yesterday I bought strawberries in the market that were covered with white petals from the orange blossom that had fallen on them from the trees.The apricots look like they will be late and will we have cherries in May?- The cooks schedule and calendar is all over the shop.Seasonally I am unable to match up menus to what the diary recorded I was serving in the corresponding weeks last year.The kitchen has another problem to contend with- are there enough fish in the sea or are the boats overtrawling and catching specimens that are not fully bred? Is sustainable becoming a forgotten word.? It is too early for sardines but small sardines have been readily available in the market for some time now. So back in me kitchen what am I gonna do? I'm gonna fix that, thats what I'm gonna do.......
A curry, relying on pantry staples, may seem a little out of place for the time of year. It’s hearty and filling and doesn’t require any fresh produce at all,well very little, nor half the attention you would lavish on other dishes during these normally warmer months. What can I say, though? Sometimes we find ourselves craving something warm and spicy, and sometimes I just plain can’t be bothered with getting in the car and driving to the nearest curry house.We were spoilt for choice  back in East London but here in the good old Algarve curries, side dishes, naans and rice can eventually take their toll, on both wallet and waistline. Sometimes, we prefer to stay in and have something a bit simpler. This recipe is quick, delicious and healthy.Few dishes provide both the spring freshness and cooked-in flavour of a good green curry.  Thai Green curry is now one of the most popular curry dishes the world over and now is the time to start those herbs growing, and if you haven’t tried already, basil and coriander are good ones. Lemongrass is very easy to grow from a bought stalk on a windowsill, then plant outside in a sunny spot and keep watered. It tends to go crazy, so you end up with a lot to use, which is why this easy recipe for Thai Green Curry Paste is so handy. You can make up a big batch of it and keep in the fridge for 2-3 weeks, or store in small batches in the freezer for up to a year.
You then have a good base for a really quick Thai Green Curry. Just add a tin of coconut milk, some green beans, aubergines and some prawns or chicken and you’re done. Easy!-yes fantastically easy, it’s also made up entirely of things you’re likely to find in your kitchen cupboards at this time of year. I don’t think of it as any particular kind of curry-  Rather, it’s just a combination of ingredients and flavours that I like, and usually have lying around:Lemongrass coconut milk,cumin
It certainly doesn’t disappoint for its possible lack of authenticity, though,but  I defy any curry lover not to love this dish. It’s not heavy; the fresh ginger and coriander keep things bright and vibrant.

Thai Green Curry Paste – (Nam Prik Gaeng Khiaw Waan)
Gaeng Kiaw Waan Neua literally means “Sweet Green Curry’ but if you like a little more spice in your curry then simply increase the amount of fresh green chillies.

FOR THE PASTE

6 medium hot green chillies about 5cm/2in long de-seeded and chopped
2 stalks of lemongrass chopped finely
2 tablspoons of coriander leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2.5cm/1in knob of fresh ginger root
2 shallots finely chopped
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon chopped lime zest
1 teaspoon shrimp paste(optional)

FOR THE CURRY
200ml coconut cream
2 tablespoons of the prepared curry paste( keep the rest in the fridge)
4 large green chillies seeded and cut in thin strips lengthwise
2 tablespoons nam pla ( thai fish sauce )
2 heaped teaspoons muscavado sugar
200ml coconut milk
4 kaffir lime laves torn
400g raw king prawns,shelled and cleaned or 400g chicken breast thickly sliced
3 tablespoons of tiny green pea aubergines or 200g aubergine,diced
handful of coriander leaves
handful of holy basil leaves


TO SERVE
steamed jasmine or basmati rice
Saute 2 tablespoons of ground nut oil in a frying pan and add the aubergine and allow them to soften and colour (about 10minutes)Scoop the aubergines out onto adish and set aside.


Heat the coconut cream in another larger frying pan until the oil begins to separate.Add the curry paste and fry until fragrant.Add the chillies,fish sauce and sugar, stir to combine and then pour in the coconut milk and add the kaffir lime leaves.Bring to a simmer and cook for a few minutes.Add the prawns and aubergine and simmer until the prawns have changed colour and are just cooked.Stir through the coriander and basil leaves and serve the curry with the rice

    Tuesday, 17 April 2012

    Pra chuchu, try on the new aubergine

    The voluptuous curves of Christophine, ( née chayote or pra chuchu )

    Eu como legumes pra chuchu. E você?   I eat a lot of vegetables. And you?
    Chuchu = chayote.
    Pra chuchu is a Brazilian Portuguese street smart expression that means “a lot” or “very”. It is said that the expression was created because chayote grows abundantly almost anywhere in Brazil.

    My first encounter with Christophine was at the Old Fort restaurant, the highest point on the Island of Bequia in the Grenadines.She drew me in from the moment I caught site of her as I cast my eye over the menu.I could tell already that one day we would become bosom pals.Her defining qualities reminded me of English painter Beryl Cook who painted larger-than-life, usually older ladies with wrinkled buttocks. I had my first taste, and left the restaurant self-assured that our paths would cross again.I spotted her again last week travelling under her Portuguese pra chuchu nome de plume in a supermarket in Vila Real de Santo Antonio. I brought her home and like Educating Rita, I brought out the best in her. This beautiful mature legume inspired so me much  that I turned her into more than the dish she could ever be,a Greek inspired Moussaka.I risked having plates thrown at me by the likes of Demitri, Theodore or hordes of holidaymakers returning from Corfu. I abandoned the all-important aubergine in favour of my newly preferred lady legume, the pra chuchu.The other crime I might be accused of committing against this iconic Ionian dish is seasoning my meat with Ras-al -hanout.However in the 1920s, Tselementes, a Greek chef who travelled far beyond Greek shores published a book.There is a whole chapter entitled "Mousakas" in Tselementes' book. It includes six recipes, basically substituting zucchini, artichokes, or potatoes for the eggplants. He even has one very interesting variation with alternate layers of zucchini and tomato slices, both dredged in flour and fried. "Tselementes" nowadays for Greeks is synonymous with "cookbook."Oh well, should my critics should utter my defence will be "its all because the lady loves ras al hanout."

    Individual Brazilian moussaka with a simple Greek salad
    Brazilian Moussaka
    serves 2 for a main plate or 4 individual starters

    4 tbsp olive oil
    2 pra chuchus, boiled then sliced 
    1 large onion, finely chopped
    4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
    1.5 tsp Ras al hanout
    1 tsp dried oregano
    500g minced lamb
    2 tbsp tomato purée, mixed with 150ml water
    Small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

    For the bechamel:
    500ml milk
    60g butter
    60g plain flour
    2 eggs, beaten
    Nutmeg, for grating


    Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Boil the chuchus unpeeled in salted water until tender, testing them after 30 minutes.Run them under the cold tap to cool them then cut them into 0.5cm slices.Set aside.
    Meanwhile, put 2 tbsp olive oil into a large frying pan over a medium high heat and cook the onion until soft. Add the garlic,Ras-al-hanout and oregano and cook for a further couple of minutes, then stir in the lamb. Turn up the heat slightly, and brown the lamb well, cooking until the mixture is quite dry. Stir in the tomato purée and bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down low and cook covered for 30–40 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season and stir in the parsley.
    To make the bechamel. Warm the milk, and melt the butter in another saucepan. Stir the flour into the butter and cook for a couple of minutes, then gradually whisk in the hot milk. Cook until you have a thick sauce. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly, then beat in the eggs, salt to taste and generous nutmeg.
    Arrange a layer of the chuchu slices on the base of a greased oven dish, and top with half the meat. Repeat these layers, then finish off with a layer of chu chu, and top with the sauce. Bake for about 45 minutes until well browned, and then leave to cool for half an hour before serving.

    For individual starter portions:
    Choose 4 x 7cm  pastry cutters and put them on 4 sheets of cooking foil large enough to form a base under the cutter and then wrap around the outside of the cutter to a height of  the depth of the cutter and half again. Cut 8 previously boiled slices of chuchu. Lay a slice of chu-chu on the bottom of each cutter top with a generous layer of meat filling and press down, cover with a second slice of chuchu.Top with bechamel sauce and cook as above.

    Try another pair of chu chus.......


    Chinelos pequenos de chuchus creoles com camarões
    little Creole chu chus with prawns
    serves 2
    2 Pra chuchu
    50g (2oz) breadcrumbs
    4 tbsps home made tomato sauce
    250g (8oz) shelled shrimp or prawns
    salt pepper 
    1tsp Cajun seasoning 
    Boil  the chu-chu unpeeled in salted water until tender,testing them after 30 minutes.Run them under the cold tap to cool them,then scoop out the insides,leaving enough to make a firm shell.Mash the insides and to a pulp with the Cajun seasoning, in a processor.
    Put the seasoned mashed chuchu into a frying pan with a good knob of butter,and cook quickly to get rid of excess water.As the mixture dries out,mix in 50g(2oz) breadcrumbs and fry a little longer.Stir in 4 tablespoons of the tomato sauce and 250g (8oz) shelled shrimp or prawns.Season with salt,pepper and cayenne.
    Allow to cool slightly and then fill the scooped out chuchu shells.Sprinkle them with breadcrumbs and some melted butter and parmesan cheese.Bake at 200ºc /400ºf/ Gas mark 6 for 15-20 minutes.The tops should be golden brown,and have taste of downtown New Orleans.

    Saturday, 14 April 2012

    A very short story about shortbread


    "..... I got a problem that I think you should know.
    See, I've been very perturbed of late, very upset,
    Very betwixt and between.
    The things that I want, I don't seem to get.
    The things that I get--you know what I mean!"

    I´ve got those damn expat cravings again,this time its my sweet tooth calling for one of my dear mother´s memorable baking triumphs-her Scottish all butter shortbread.Take me back in time to a grouse moor in  Scotland, and to a kitchen where as a nipper I was allowed to ridge the edges of the shortbread with a fork and then prick it all over at regular intervals to give it the typical shortbread effect.Champion.Wind the clock forward to a windy grey afternoon in Castro Marim 2012.I get my baking head on and with Sondheim´s Follies accompanying me me from the back of the kitchen, I sing-a long-a shortbread and try to rekindle that moment.
    Shortbread, is a thick sweet biscuit made with a flour and sugar mixture that has been "shortened"-made  soft and crumbly with fat, typically butter. Not to be confused with shortcake which in America was, and still is, a cake made with a rich biscuit dough that is split,filled with fruit (usually strawberries) and topped with cream. In Britain,shortbread is particularly associated with Scotland,where historically it was made with oatmeal.It is traditionally made in a large circular form and served cut into small triangular wedges.It is even more enjoyable served with a cup of afternoon tea."Oh isn´t it loverly."-I feel better already.

    My mother´s butter shortbread


    Monday, 9 April 2012

    Chanfana de borrego, a slow cooked lamb stew


    “Chanfana” is a succulent celebratory dish which comes from the Bairrada region in the province of “Beira Litoral” the coastal region of central Portugal. Goat meat is the classic choice,but lamb can also be used.The casserole is slow-cooked in a traditional large black clay pot in a wooden oven for at least 5 hours.I used a tagine. The meat is soaked in good quality red wine, preferably from the Bairrada region,onion, piri-piri, bay leaf, garlic cloves,bacon and some sort of fat (I used olive oil instead of lard).I have never been a great fan of goat meat so opted for lamb, which I thought was appropriate and traditional for Easter.The nature of this dish is that it is served for weddings and large family occasions. I did not see why its style could not be adapted for two people.I found a modern take on the Good Food Channel and adapted the recipe to my own taste.Miguel Almeida slow cooks lamb shanks to create melt in the mouth tender lamb in a rich unctuous red wine sauce.This cut has exactly the right amount of fat and bone and he has added carrots which bring a contrasting colour to the plate.As is common with a lot of Portuguese stews he sits the finished dish on two slices of toast which sop up the juices from the lamb.I made a rub for the lamb then marinated it overnight adding the wine just before cooking.

    Lamb chanfana 
    a modern take on a "celebratory" dish

    2 lamb shanks

    4 cloves garlic crushed
    2 dessert spoons rosemary
    2 dessert spoons thyme
    2 dessert spoons oregano
    Extra virgin olive oil( I used my own infused with piri piri)
    Flor de sal / pepper
    3 dessert spoons dijon mustard
    3 shallots chopped
    4 carrots quartered into sticks lengthwise
    2 bay leaves
    1 glass of white wine (or Red bairrada if you are going for the more traditional)

    Season the lamb shanks with salt, pepper and crushed garlic.
    Rub the shanks all over with the mustard.
    Chop the herbs up very finely and with the addition of a little olive oil rub the fresh chopped herbs into the paste. Put the shanks in a tupperware container or pyrex dish covered with clingfilm and leave to marinade overnight. If you want a strong wine flavour pour the wine over the shanks at this point otherwise add the wine just before placing the meat to  roast in the oven.
    Preheat the oven to 100C / 212F. Lay the chopped shallots, and the carrots on the base of  a casserole and pour over the olive oil. Place the lamb shanks on top, cover with the wine.
    Place the casserole in the oven and let it slow cook for 5 hours. When it’s ready the meat will be
    flavoursome,falling off the bone and the carrots will be very soft.
    To serve, put the toast overlapping on two plates, top with meat and carrots and pour over the juices. 


     

    Saturday, 7 April 2012

    Painting eggs


    I feel as if I'm teaching my Granny to suck eggs.......The Portuguese desserts of Easter time show  an entire variety of special sweet things ; baskets with painted eggs of several colours, crowns with eggs, brioches and pies but above all the chocolate eggs and the almonds are the most representative.Who doesn´t still get a thrill from cracking open the brittle chocolate of a hollow gold wrapped  Lindt bunny with its tinkly bell.How can anything so sweet be so moreish? This fat easter hen is feeling peckish already.....

      

    Thursday, 5 April 2012

    Folar da Pascoa: Portugal's Delicious Easter Bread

    Interessantamente, não leva ovos? Fica muito pesado?-Nao!!!
    Portugal´s answer to the Hot cross bun? For Easter the Portuguese make Folar. Folar de Pascoa,the traditional symbolic Easter bread is almost mandatory when it comes to satisfying the insatiable Portuguese sweet tooth.There are two types of Folar, the sweet version and the savoury one, which includes preserved meats. Last year I made a savoury version so this year I decided to make a sweet one.The savoury versions are favoured more in the North,while the Algarve is home to the sweet version which is more like a cake that resembles a cinnamon roll with allspice and caramelized sugar.
    There are plenty of recipes to be found online for making your own Folar da Pascoa, but many Portuguese prefer to skip all the work and choose from one of the many varieties to be found in  pastelerias and padarias across the country.Now I know why.My thinking on the subject was that this Easter "folklore" recipe warrants "caseiro"( home made) My choice was the Folar "tipo Olhão" This recipe is old as the hills that back the Algarve.Like Austrian Baumtorte it is a cake built in layers or folar (sheets).I unfortunately tried to be a little too clever and turned this old recipe on its head.I de-constructed the method and instead of layering the discs one on top of another I turned the tin on its side and lined it with the discs overlapping in a kind of spiral.My reasoning was based on a fascination with a picture of the cake I found on the internet.( how did they achieve that effect?)The recipe I selected had exactly the same ingredients and quantities.It stated stated it was for a large cake, so I halved the quantities.I cross checked other recipes and there  was no guidance in respect of what size tin to use.One recipe said line the "tins"-but again I ask, how many? Well I opted for a 15" loose bottomed tin and before I knew where I was the cake was erupting like Eyjafjallajokull all over my oven..I feel I created a Portuguese monster that was a chelsea bun/ Hot cross bun hybrid.Never again.Well, I used Algarvian orangesof course and for the liquor, Algarvian Medronho.A local cake for local people, plenty for you here.Well at least I tried. Votos de uma Páscoa Feliz!

    This is the perfection that I was aiming for
    and here is the original recipe in Portuguese and English....
    Ingredientes:
    1 kg de farinha
    60 g de fermento de padeiro
    Sumo de 2 laranjas
    1,5 dl de água
    Sal
    125 g de banha
    250 g de manteiga para barrar
    1 cálice de aguardente
    Açúcar e canela para polvilhar
    Preparação:
    1. Misturar a farinha com 125 g de manteiga, a banha, o sumo das laranjas, 1 cálice de aguardente e água com algum sal.
    2. Desfazer o fermento numa pequena porção de água morna e amassar com a farinha.
    3. Amassar tudo muito bem.
    4. Tirar bocados de massa do mesmo tamanho e fazer bolas, estender com o rolo até ficarem circulares e planas, com cerca de 10 cm de diâmetro.
    5. Barrar muito bem cada círculo com manteiga e polvilhar abundantemente com açúcar e um pouco de canela. Sobrepor vários círculos, uns por cima dos outros, dentro das formas, previamente untadas com margarina.
    6. Deixar a levedar durante 1 hora no forno a 50 ºC.
    7. Polvilhar abundantemente com açúcar e um pouco de canela por cima, Aquecer o forno a 180 ºC, deixar cozer durante 1 hora.
    Observações:
    Este é um tipo de folar muito apreciado no Algarve e não só!!! Conhecido pela sua técnica de elaboração, em folhas ou camadas, cobertas por açúcar e canela. Sugere-se que sejam bem generosos na quantidade de açúcar polvilhado, pois senão este dilui-se e perde o efeito.
     
    Ingredients:
    1 kg of flour
    60 grams of baker's yeast
    Juice of 2 oranges
    150ml ml water
    Salt
    125 g of lard
    250 g melted butter for spreading  
    A glass of brandy
    Sugar and cinnamon to sprinkle 


    Mix the flour with 125 g of butter, lard, orange juice, brandy and water and salt.
    dissolve the yeast in a small amount of warm water and knead into the flour.
    Mix everything well.
    Taking bits of dough the same size roll out circular discs, approximately 10cm in diameter.
    Spread each circle well with butter and sprinkle with plenty of sugar and some cinnamon.   Overlap several circles, one above the other, within the baking tins, previously greased with butter.Leave in a warm place for 1 hour at 50 ° C.
    Sprinkle with plenty of sugar and a little cinnamon on top,
    Heat the oven to 180 º C and cook for 1 hour.

    Wednesday, 4 April 2012

    Coração das Trevas-Heart of darkness


    "Coração das Trevas" (Heart of Darkness) is the story by English writer Joseph Conrad of a trip up the jungle.The story centres around Marlow, an introspective sailor, and his journey up the Congo River to meet Kurtz, reputed to be an idealistic man of great abilities.There seems to be a strong parallel here with Chocolatier Claudio Corallo, also an idealistic man of passion with a knowledge of tropical agronomy.Corallo´s is a story of how one man has taken on the world's largest manufacturers and started a personal crusade on Principe to produce the pure old-fashioned chocolate and coffee that older generations used to enjoy. Claudio Corallo is a man who appears to take no shortcuts. He likes to get to the heart of the matter, which in this case is the dark coffee bean and cocoa pod.The history of the cocoa plant starts in the forest between the Orinoco and Amazon rivers.Centuries later, Corallos dream started in 1974 when he took his specialist knowledge, acquired at the overseas Agricultural institute in Florence and applied it in Zaire to a project that aimed to help a newly independent country to modernize its agriculture.It did not take Corallo long to realize that the project was corrupt and losing its way.Bad intentions were creating artificial economies to ensure handsome salaries could be paid to professionals who lacked knowledge in the field.His discovery led to him to buying a coffee farm in the Congo,and it  was not long before the beans Corallo was producing surpassed the expectations of what others said could be done.His fascination with the great variability of aromas and flavours that could be found within one variety was proven.He developed a production system that found the perfect balance between man and his environment.His understanding of the importance of the relationship between the local population and the potential of its land was the key that was lacking in other dominant producers.Here then we see Corallo travelling the same rivers described in Conrad´s book.In modern terms a Marlow searching for similar physical and spiritual ideals.
    Claudio Corallo,master chocolatier
    In 1979 when the Congo became too much to bear with political unrest in Zaire, Corallo was "called to the bar" literally and moved his family to Sao Tome et Principe where he believed heirloom cacao could be found. In his search on the islands,rather like finding dinosaur eggs, he came upon ancient cacao trees that were the original trees brought over from Brazil in the Amazon jungle by the Portuguese in the early 1800s."The flavour brought back old memories of how chocolate used to taste," he says.He bought two old abandoned plantations in the centre of the country and began a process of recovery, not only of chocolate, but of ancient varieties of Coffea Robusta, a species now almost gone, but with quality equal to that of the most famous Arabica.And so the Marlow / Kurtz parallel continues. Corallo creates an improved quality of life by his ability to set up teaching models built on an exchange of knowledge and respect for man and nature.The result is the production of high quality products representing the patrimony they come from.
    Despite hardships like having to live in a building without a roof, he gradually expanded his business using original methods in order to preserve the authentic taste.
     Corallo now employs 40 families, plus another 120-150 small farmers to whom he subcontract parts of the production process.
    "We work with extreme precision through the various stages of production - and we grow the plants without using fertiliser," he says.
    Corallo´s years of agricultural know-how are now being used to produce world-class cacao and coffee on these small African islands. Corallo controls the entire process of making his chocolate from plantation to bar.He grows his cacao at his plantation on the island of Principe and makes his chocolate on São Tomé, both off the west coast of Africa. The fermentation, drying and roasting processes are all developed and controlled by Corallo himself. The roasted beans are coarsely ground to keep the aroma intact. "Conching", which smooths out the chocolate, is not done. Corallo´s chocolate is raw. Natural. Pure.
    So from a book published in 1902, to 2012 when a tiny volcanic island off the coast of equatorial Africa has become home to what is described as some of the best chocolate in the world. Aplaudo o realização de Claudio Corallo ( I applaud the work of Claudio Corallo )

    Corallo and his sons now manage the family’s cacao and coffee plantations in São Tomé, while Bettina,Corallo´s wife and her daughter Ricciarda run the family’s shop in Lisbon.
    In 2008,the creation by Bettina and Ricciarda Corallo of their premises at Rua Cecílio da Sousa 85 in Principe Real 
    quickly put Corallo chocolate on Lisbon´s gastronomic map. 
    This is a chocoholic's dream shop. There is no place in Portugal 
    quite like it. The entire product is from their own coffee plantations and cocoa fields on São Tome and Príncipe. 
    The chocolates are so pure, they don't need any additives; and they are the only chocolates in the world that contain a distillate (liqueur) that is extracted from cocoa pulp. Some tiny coffee beans are coated in chocolate, and natural ginger or orange peel are sometimes added.

    Aside from my love of chocolate, a book that inspired me to write this post:
    "Equator"- Miguel Sousa Tavares

    Tuesday, 3 April 2012

    Zimbro - Gin and "it"


    I have always kept a small stock of Juniper berries in the larder waiting for that moment when I might feel the need to wave my berry wand over a pork chop and turn something basic into a singular sensation.Juniper berries are a key ingredient of a lot of slow cooked Portuguese dishes and are particularly suited to Caça (hunting and game dishes) including Javali( wild boar) coelho (rabbit) and some pork dishes. Of course, juniper berries are probably most commonly known for the flavour they provide when making gin,but as a gout sufferer I  recently had a revelation that when a gout attack occurs, it is not too late to take juniper as it also contains helpful and effective anti-inflammatory properties, easing the pain and pressure of gout as well as arthritis in the joints. This may be why gin was once recommended to treat gout and arthritis (though it is now known that the alcohol in gin can actually negate any of the benefits of the juniper) so I won´t be rushing to the nearest liquor store for a bottle of Gordon´s,shucks!!! I will however be chewing on juniper berries daily.
    In Portugal,The juniper variety grown is  the subspecies juniperus nana which is grown in  the highest points of the Serra de estrela  and Serra do Geres.

    Juniper berry vinaigrette 
    1/4 cup dry yellow mustard seeds
    2 cups cold water
    1 shallot
    1 large garlic clove
    1/2  bunch flat leaf parsley
    1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
    1/2 teaspoon juniper berries
    1/2 ounce fresh marjoram
    1/4 ounce fresh tarragon
    1 cup extra virgin olive oil
    1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
    Salt to taste
    In a heavy non-aluminum pan, bring the mustard seeds to a boil in the cold water. Simmer for 5 minutes to remove bitterness; then strain, discarding water. Lightly rinse the mustard seeds with cold water.
    Put the strained and rinsed mustard seeds in a food processor. Add shallot, garlic, parsley, peppercorns, juniper berries, marjoram, tarragon, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar; purée until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add additional olive oil. Season to taste with salt. Serve at room temperature.
    Yields approximately 1 1/2 cups.

    A bit of light relief... A much simpler approach to Juniper´s curative properties.The Kneipp’s cure for gout  (named after the German monk who documented it). The cure takes 23 days and it involves chewing and swallowing crushed Juniper Berries.The first day you take 4 berries, the second 5, and you increase by one berry until the 12th day when you’ll take 15 berries.From the 13th day decrease the number of berries you take by one each day until you come back to 4 berries on the 23rd day.

    Monday, 2 April 2012

    Um azeite de mais especial

    From the central mountains to the southern coast
    Like a drop in the ocean, on a rare occasion a little jewel lands on your plate.This week I was the lucky beneficiary of  a Portuguese olive oil that was previously unknown to me.It came in two varieties, the regular Azeite Virgem extra and an interesting and unusual Aromatico which is infused with alecrim (rosemary ) branches, giving you a real feeling of olive on the bushes.Great for roasting potatoes, vegetables,or simply dunking some chunks of artesan bread.Olive oil is an essential ingredient in Alentejo cuisine and has been present in the habits and customs of the region since time immemorial.Slightly thick,fruity, with slight peppery undertones,golden in colour and sometimes a little green.This is the olive oil of the Alentejo.
    The oil is extracted by the Portel Agricultural Cooperative. The modern system of extraction, with careful control of temperature and hygiene, not to mention the high quality of the olives, ensures that the final product is of excellent quality and extremely pure, with a low acidity level.Portel olive oil is of unrivalled quality,it is made from the Galician variety of olive,which gives it its special taste and aroma.It is produced from the olives groves around the Portel mountains close to Evora.


    S. Pedro olive oil is a certified product, which has been distinguished at a number of competitions, both in Portugal and abroad. It was awarded 1st and 2nd Prize at the National Virgin Olive Oil Fair (Olivomoura) in 1999; the Certificate of Quality at the International Medal for Quality (Swiss Gold Medal for Quality) in 1987, and 1st Prize at the 1st Fair of Agricultural Municipalities in 2001. S. Pedro olive oil is marketed as Denomination of Origin, Extra Virgin 0.5º and Extra Virgin 0.7º.