Thursday, 28 March 2013

Pantone Easter eggs

Photo credit:Jessica Jones
I just love this different and modern take on painted Easter eggs.They are so cool.I tapped Pantone and Easter eggs into Google and this is what I got - one clever graphic designer´s enthusiasm for making her mark on eggs. As you well know I have become a dedicated follower of the current fashion for matching Pantone colours to food and this latest discovery is yet another wonderment. The eggs were made by an American, Jessica Jones, a graphic and textile designer who has a blog called "How about Orange" and a pinterest board of the same name.
Having dyed these boiled eggs by standing them vertically in small cups of dye,she precisely matched the Pantone colour numbers from the Pantone swatch book and then typed up the labels and printed them back to front on tattoo transfer sheets,which I believe you can buy from most good stationery outlets or on Amazon or ebay. Perhaps something to keep the kids busy on rainy Easter mornings, when crayons have lost their interest? But make sure you give them bibs and gloves!!!
Grown ups - Anybody for a Graphic Designers Easter egg hunt?

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Take 5 - A modern Portuguese sweet combo

For this pudding I have taken five prime Portuguese ingredients,just add pepper, pastry and pistachios and you have a modern Portuguese piece de resistance.
Everything can be made in advance and then assembled when wanted

1       Rocha pears
     Algarvian almonds
     Queijo de Nisa
5    Flor de sal

Pêra Rocha (Rocha Pear) is a native Portuguese variety of pear. It is the only variety that is qualified (PDO): the West Rocha Pear (Pêra Rocha do Oeste) is the main horticultural product that Portugal exports.The earliest account of the Rocha variety dates from 1836, in Sintra.The particular variety was casually obtained from a seed, on Pedro António Rocha's farm. The variety derives its name from his family name.This pear's pulp is fine, soft and aromatic and therefore perfect for pulping for a sorbet.

Madeira- a medium dry madeira is delicious as a desert wine or with fruits such as peaches or peras rich cakes and indeed with strong cheeses,therefore the perfect candidate for this plate Cheaper versions are often flavoured with salt and pepper for use in cooking.I used an expensive Madeira to pair with the Flor de sal and pepper in my recipe.

Queijo de Nisa DOC has the protected geographical status of DOC(Denominação de Origem Controlada) from the European Commission. It was honored by the magazine Wine Spectator as one of the world's top 100 in an edition devoted to cheese — 100 Great Cheeses. Queijo Nisa is a semi-hard sheep's milk cheese from the municipality of Nisa, in the subregion of Alto Alentejo in Portugal. It is created from raw milk, which is coagulated, then curdled using an infusion of thistle. It is yellowish white, with a robust flavor and a somewhat acidic finish.

Flor de sal Salmarim from our home territory of Castro Marim

Algarvian almonds How can you create a desert in Portugal without introducing almonds in one form or another?

You will need 16 individual foil baking cups 
Makes 16
250g  (8oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups finely shredded Nisa Cheese (
substitute Pecorino if you cant get Nisa)
2 tsp black peppercorns, crushed into small pieces

1/2 tsp sea salt
2 cups all purpose flour
Golden granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350ºF/180º C , with the rack set in the center. Cream together butter, and sugar in a large bowl.  Add cheese, pepper and salt, and mix together until well blended, then add flour and mix until well combined.Press the dough with your fingers into individual 6cm(2in) foil baking cups then place on a baking tray in thefreezer to chill for 15-30 minutes until cold and firm.Remove from the freezer and bake for about 20 minutes until set and straw coloured.Cool in their pans on a wire rack until completely cold before removing them.Store in an airtight tupperware container until ready to use.

You will need two silicone or rubber ice trays
with cylindrically shaped compartments
Makes 16
Allow 1 pear per person. peeled, stemmed, 
cored and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
1 cinnamon stick
4 tablespoons medium dry madeira
Freshly grated nutmeg ( or ground cinnamon ) for dusting
Put the pears, lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon in a pan with 125ml water, and cook over a low flame until the pears collapses ( 10 mins approx depending on how ripe the pears are).
Remove from the heat, remove the cinnamon and when cool, blitz the pears in the processor.Add the madeira,give it a good stir and taste.
The madeira shouldn’t be overbearing or too powerful – it should be subtle and should work well with the pears. However, different brands do vary in strength and flavour, so add to taste.One word of warning if you use too much alcohol the Sorbet won´t freeze. Transfer the purée to the ice trays and put them into the freezer. You will notice it becoming paler in colour as it freezes. After a couple of hours it should be ready. The texture should be firm but easy to just push out like ice cubes would be.

The final element in the composition of this pudding is Algarvian almonds that came my way recently when Casa Rosada went on a field trip to Santa Caterina.I skinned the almonds and slivered them, and then lightly roasted  them with some shelled pistachios.I then made an Indian spiced brittle with Chilli flakes, cardamom and a little cinnamon.
Fragrant Indian Brittle 
This delicious and slightly exotic Indian-inspired candy incorporates a blend of cashews, pistachios, and almonds in a golden brittle sweetened with honey and lightly spiced with cardamom.

Vegetable oil for greasing parchment paper
1 teaspoon green cardamom pods (about 8 pods)
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup mild honey
1/4 cup light golden syrup
1/4 cup water
3/4 teaspoon salt
Heaped teaspoon piri piri (Hot Chilli) flakes,optional
1 cup raw cashews, coarsely chopped (4 1/2 oz)
1/2 cup shelled pistachios (not dyed red; 2 1/4 oz), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup sliced almonds (preferably with skin; 2 oz) 
Special equipment: parchment paper; a candy thermometer
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 300°F. Lightly oil 2 (16- by 12-inch) sheets of parchment paper with vegetable oil and put 1 sheet, oiled side up, on a heatproof work surface.
Crush cardamom pods with side of a large heavy knife and scrape out seeds, discarding pods. Coarsely crush seeds with mortar and pestle or side of heavy knife.
Bring sugar, honey, syrup, water, crushed cardamom seeds, and salt to a boil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, then boil, stirring occasionally, until mixture registers 350°F on thermometer, about 9 minutes.
Add nuts and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture returns to a boil, about 1 minute. Carefully pour hot caramel mixture onto parchment on work surface (use caution when pouring hot liquids) and carefully cover with remaining sheet of parchment, oiled side down. Immediately roll out mixture between parchment sheets, pressing firmly with a large wooden rolling pin to 1/4 inch thick (use caution; mixture will still be hot). If brittle hardens before it is thin enough, transfer to a large baking sheet (still between parchment sheets) and warm brittle in oven 5 minutes to soften, then continue rolling to 1/4 inch thick.
Cool brittle until firm enough to hold its shape but still pliable, 2 to 5 minutes, then remove top sheet of parchment. Lightly oil blade of a large heavy knife or a pizza cutter and score surface of brittle into 1 1/2-inch squares. If brittle hardens too much to score, transfer to a large baking sheet and warm on parchment, uncovered, until surface softens, about 5 minutes, then immediately score remaining lines. Cool brittle completely, uncovered, about 30 minutes. Invert brittle and peel off bottom sheet of parchment, then break into pieces.
Brittle keeps in an airtight container, layered between sheets of parchment or wax paper, at room temperature 1 month.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Hide and sikh I can´t believe its not buddha

What better ingredient for a "cooking with colour" board on Pinterest than my favourite spice with a kick -turmeric.My colour inspiration comes from here in the  Algarve. Amarelo metallico (yellow ochre) is a natural powdered pigment geologically sourced from the Alentejo and used to pigment colour paint  for the exteriors of buildings.You would not be far off if you mistook it for Turmeric.

Two good example of the three natural powdered pigments one sees on the old buildings  all around us in the Algarve

You would be not far off 
if you mistook this for turmeric

Terra cotta, raw /burnt umber and ochre represent the rich soil and clay of the Mediterranean.If I remember correctly on that wonderful Grand Designs programme, Ben Law built a house and painted his walls with turmeric and chilli dyed paint. I can't remember what his paint base was but what I do remember was that the colours were gorgeous.... I quite fancy trying paprika at some point... and maybe heather or lavender...hmmmmm
Turmeric comes by many names here in Portugal- açafrão da India,  açafrão de terra,and curcuma. 

A Goan Risotto 
with turmeric rice

serves 4
250g/8oz basmati rice
625ml/1 pint fish stock
1 heaped teaspoon each cumin seed and turmeric powder
3 cloves garlic chopped
handful of coriander leaves 
1 tablespoon each chopped ginger,green chilli and chopped coriander stalks
1 red onion,peeled and chopped
4 tablespoons plain yoghurt,whisked with a fork
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste
40ml / 11/2 fl oz cooking oil

12 medium prawns

Heat the oil with a little butter on amedium heat,add the cumin until it splutters.Add the garlic,sauté for a minute.Add the ginger,chilli, coriander stalks and onion,sauté for two minutes.add the turmeric and rice and stir well to combine for a couple of minutes.Add the warmed stock,bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and cook until the rice is three quarters  cooked and the stock absorbed.Add the yoghurt and continue cooking until the rice is cooked.Finally stir in the butter and coriander leaves into the rice.
While the rice is cooking stir fry the prawns in some butter garlic and chilli.
Serve the risotto topped with 3 prawns per serving.


Thursday, 21 March 2013

Desperately seeking something,do you remember ?- Energen rolls

Energen Rolls were rough,ping pong ball -size, crunchy, dry, dough type things! I remember them from my mothers picnics with triangular Dairylea cheese spread on them. I loved them to pieces!-the dairylea not the Energen rolls. This was the late fifties early sixties.They were supposed to be (and maybe were) a low calorie bread. To me they always seemed to be sorely lacking in substance. Perhaps that was the point,they were claimed to help with 'slimming' and were intended to be eaten in place of bread. They were roughly spherical, if I remember correctly, and 'slimmers' cut them in half and spread each half with butter - or more likely, a 'low-calorie' butter substitute 'low-fat' spread - and with other fillings such as what would normally go into a sandwich.So that was your diet out of the window in one small flick of the knife.And again, if I remember correctly, they were made of cellulose! - more akin to wood than to what we think of as food! But they had been processed to be light and airy and easy to eat. - Energen Rolls were not really food for people, even if the people were 'slimmers'. Not being termites, people could not digest cellulose and so could not obtain calories or indeed any nutrition from these early junk foods.But what is crunchy and long forgotten, fantastic with pates,terrines and dips? Retro Melba toast.It is a dry, crisp and thinly sliced toast. Melba Toast is what you do with that leftover loaf. Store it in an airtight container and you'll have something ready to nibble on when the occasion arises.Surprise surprise, it is named after Dame Nellie Melba, the stage name of Australian opera singer Helen Porter Mitchell.There is nothing nelly about it, in fact there is something quite snazzy about it. In 1897 the celebrated chef Auguste Escoffier created the toast along with the peach melba dessert for Dame Nellie when she was supposedly taken ill while staying at the Savoy hotel in London. Thereafter Melba toast became a staple of her diet.Homemade Melba toast has the edge on the bought packaged variety. It is nicest served while still a little warm, in a basket or on a napkin-lined plate. If it is made a short time ahead, store it in an airtight container, then refresh it for a short time in the oven.Its wonderfully retro, far tastier than Energen rolls and half the price,and a whole lot better for you.

Home made Melba toast                       1 loaf of day old bread

With a very sharp straight edged knife remove crusts from the bread (multiple slices at a time). Slice the bread in very thin slices (1/8") and then if you prefer cut the slices into triangles: I personally prefer the toasts served in more random shapes particularly when they start to curl up.Put the slices on an oven rack and bake in slow oven (180C) until light brown and crisp, about 1 hour. Serve hot or cold.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


Tu percebes is the second person singular of the Portuguese verb perceber,to understand. Do you understand how Percebes(Goose necked barnacles) come to the dinner table.They are certainly not the best, most glamorous thing on the  fish market slab.Resembling strange creations from the makers of Doctor Who,they might be a dish served up as part of a bush tucker trial.Lets face it, there's no pleasure in watching other people suffer – not even when it's Nadine Dorries. Fully grown, these tube based crustaceans have a sooty finger-thick trunk with a rose-coloured inner tube. At one end is a scaly head that is used to cling to the granite rocks of the storm-bashed Iberian coastlines. and at the other a diamond-shaped foot reminiscent of Jurassic Park. At high tide this foot opens to reveal tiny pink tendrils through which the barnacle filters the surrounding seawater to feed.They thrive in areas that are exposed to the hard lashings of the Atlantic waves, so the collectors, called percebeiros, have to swim in wet suits out through choppy seas,clamber down steep slippery rocks or try to jump from boats bobbing in the rough sea to reach them. Once on the rocks the harvester can easily get clobbered by a breaker or simply slip into the sea. Then there is the problem of what the fishermen call "percebes greed". Driven by financial gain the percebeiros risk their lives in pursuit of this bounty.In Spain (Galicia), particularly in the Christmas season when percebes are the stars of the Spanish festive table and the weather is at its worst, these cultivated barnacles can command whopping prices of up to 100 euros per kilo (£85) in the market."Blistering barnacles"Buccaneer Captain Pugwash would have uttered.
 Nazaré fisherman in traditional costume
In Nazaré, just 40 minutes up the coast from Lisbon, Portugal´s most famous picturesque fishing village,barnacles are much cheaper. Until not too long ago, Nazaré fishermen were still seen using oxen to pull their brightly painted boats from the ocean and even today many locals still wear their characteristic traditional costumes -- the fishermen have check shirts and trousers, and the women wear several layers of petticoats. The fishing boats are Phoenician in design with bright colours and eyes painted on the vessels, supposedly with the magical power to avert storms,so more conducive to hunting barnacles.Here, and all down the Silver Coast and along the more rugged coastline of the West Algarve, a 300g dose (portion)of goose percebes will set you back just six or seven euros,and with another five euros for a bottle of the house plonk you can glut yourself silly for about a fifth what it would cost you in Galicia.These particular percebes may not be as gloriously rotund as I remember Rick Stein describing their Galician rivals.They are however every bit as sweet, so with food of the gods at recessionary prices,who can complain.
If you want to try them at home and your fishmonger can supply them, here is a more domestically accessible recipe from El Corte Ingles.As you cook the barnacles close your eyes and inhale the scent.Imagine you can smell the rocks.An incredible ozone of the sea will assault your nose like a tsunami.Strong as Poseidon´s armpit but heavenly like a mermaid´s burp.Serve your guests with bowls of warm pasta,topped with the percebes.Hungry hands will be eager and waiting to tear apart the tightly woven sleeves, unleashing the pure essence of the ocean trapped within.Not a drop of goodness escapes the barnacle when it´s cooked and there is a gentle intensity to the flesh similar to octopus, but far more refined.Even though they are crustaceans they are nothing like their cousin the mussel,They´re simple pure and the best of the sea boiled down in a mouthful.
The ideal serving suggestion is with a bottle Quinta da Aveleda.The grassy bite of the vinho verde cuts through the sharpness of the Percebes giving you the perfect match of land and sea surf and turf.
Massa com percebes (pictured above)
400g de Percebes cozidos (boiled)
300g massa (à escolha) pasta of your choice
4 dentes de alho,cortado em pedaços - 4 cloves of garlic chopped
2 tomates maduros (ripe)
azeite q.b. olive oil
sal q.b. sea salt to taste
piri piri q.b. Chilli flakes
salsa picada q.b. chopped parsley to taste
Cook the pasta in salted water. Meanwhile, peel the barnacles, leaving them standing up like chickens legs. Put a frying pan on the stove with the olive oil and chopped garlic cloves. Skin the tomatoes, remove them the seeds and chop them coarsely, adding them to the sauteed garlic. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and pour it into the skillet along with the percebes. Add a pinch of chilli to taste and sprinkle with a tablespoon of chopped parsley.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Ensopado Irlandes com um imprevisto Portuguesa

Irish stew is a celebrated national dish, yet its composition is always a matter of dispute. Purists maintain that the only acceptable and traditional ingredients are neck mutton chops, potatoes, onions, and water. Others like myself would add such items as carrots, parsnip, celery, and sometimes pearl barley; but the purists maintain that they spoil the true flavour of the dish.On the contrary, I thing it brings an unctuous sweetness that adds to the starchy-soft quality of the potatoes and the melting richness of the bone marrow.
The trick with this classic one-pot is to use a cheaper cut of meat, which means you’ll skimp on price but not quality (like) .
whats not to like
Irish stew?
Widely celebrated by Irish migrants around the world, Saint Patrick´s day is one of the few saint days that is not celebrated here in Portugal.I find it surprising that, other than by its expat community, this Roman Catholic country ignores a missionary who was considered an Irish apostle and that same country´s patron saint.Well for me it was something else - a weekend of celebrating Irish food.No tinkering here  mother.I cooked two of Irelands greatest dishes in their pure form (I hope). Colcannon and Irish stew. I am sure someone reading this in County Connemara will be upset about something,maybe my embellishment of herbs,parsley thyme and the odd sprig of mint for garnish. I can lay no claim to originality here, Irish stew is Irish stew. My only break with tradition was that like its Portuguese counterpart ( Ensopado de borrego ) I served it on slices of fried bread to soak up that all important broth.
The cut of meat is crucial to the dish,mainly late season lamb or mutton, so this is the time of year to celebrate this fine dish just before the new season lamb is slaughtered.Yesterday was Saint Patrick´s day, conveniently falling on a Sunday and therefore allowing for "just what the doctor ordered". There was no doctor in the house on this occasion but this heart warming stew managed to shut out the cold, howling gale and hailstones falling in the street outside.Here is what you need to make the definitive Irish stew,(bearing in mind the bulk of the cooking is done the day before).
 Serves 4
1kg thick cut chops from the middle neck with lots of marrow bone.
1large parsnip
3 medium onions
4-5 medium potatoes
2 large sticks of celery
3 medium carrots
fresh parsley
3 bay leaves
a few sprigs of thyme
water to cover
a few sprigs of mint to garnish

Pre heat the oven to 160C/Gas mark3.
Peel and slice the onions into thick rings.Cut the celery into short pieces.Peel the parsnip and the potatoes and cut into fat chunks.Peel and cut the carrots into medium chunks.Put all the vegetables into a large deep pot or casserole then tuck in the chops, thyme and bay leaves.Season with white pepper but no salt at this stage.Cover with water and bring it slowly to the boil.Skim off the worst of the scum that will appear on the surface.Cover the top of the stew with a sheet of greaseproof paper,then cover with alid.Transfer the pot to the oven and leave it slowly cooking for two and a half to three hours.Remove the lid.The liquor will be thin,thickened only by the starch from the potatoes.Chop the parsley and mix it in carefully,so as not to smash the vegetables or damage the meat..season with salt (I used My own home made celery salt) and pepper.Leave overnight.The smells that greet  you as you lift the heavy lid of the casserole are so tempting that they will draw you in and make you want to eat it there and then,but you must resist.
The next day, skim the fat from the surface,then re-heat very slowly on a low flame until the meat is thoroughly hot and and the broth is bubbling Check the seasoning-be generous and serve immediately in bowls with a piece of fried bread on the bottom of each.
Colcannon, or Irish bubble 'n' squeak, is traditionally served unfried, with kale or cabbage  leeks potatoes and milk as the main ingredients. Often eaten with boiled ham, it can be a sound use for leftover ham, too – tear it up and mix it in with the mashed potato.
 Cook 500g of large floury potatoes, peeled, cut into large chunks, in deep boiling water until tender. Slice and fry 250g of shredded leeks.Boil a couple of handfuls of kale or cabbage or amixture of both and drain. When the potatoes are soft enough to mash, drain and beat them to a light fluff with a potato masher. Pour in about 150ml of hot milk and add a thick slice of butter. Tear up about 250g of cooked thick-cut ham. Chop the kale or cabbage and ham and fold it in together with the cooked leeks. Season with salt and black pepper and serve. Serves 3-4.
There are no clever twists here so any changes to the above and you will not be making
Colcannon, and if you fry it it will be bubble and squeak or migas.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Orang u tang

Orang u tang umami
Orange and chocolate themed kitchen
As a cross between red and yellow, nothing quite says "fun loving" like orange. Some people say that subconsciously, the colour orange makes us feel more sociable, and also stimulates our appetite. Orange Chicken, anyone? How about tangerines, kumquats, canteloupe melon, carrots, apricots,or sweet potato ?-but wait for it chocolate and orange-YES
I love the combination of dark chocolate with the tang of orange. My name for it is orang u tang.Recent research has shown how our senses perceive food in a different way depending on the characteristics of the container from which we eat and drink.Hot chocolate apparently tastes better in an orange coloured cup than in a white or red one.Results revealed that the flavour of hot chocolate served in orange or cream coloured cups was better for the tasting volunteers.I decided to put it to the test.I baked a simple chocolate orange cake,tasted it on its own, then tasted it served on a plate of juicy slice oranges - RESULT. Take two tasted mouth watering more delicious.

A simple chocolate orange cake
serves 6
Having just made two batches of marmalade, I needed to find a use for what was left on the larder shelf from last year.This experiment was just the ticket.A Nigella cake that is fool-proof, so easy to make,cheap on ingredients (all important in this day and age) and even better,it can be served either as a pudding or just devoured in front of the television.
125g unsalted butter
100g dark chocolate,broken into pieces
300g good thin-cut marmalade
150g caster sugar
pinch of salt
2 large eggs, beaten
150g self-raising flour
20cm spring form tin buttered and floured
Pre-heat the oven to 180C /gas mark 4.
Put the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and put over alow heat to melt.When it´s nearly melted,stir in the chocolate.Leave for a moment to begin softening,then take the pan off the heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the butter and chocolate are smooth and melted.Next add the marmalade,sugar,salt and eggs.Stir again with your wooden spoon and when all is pretty well amalgamated,beat in the flour bit by bit.Put into your prepared tin  and bake for about 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean but moist.Cool in a the tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out.

In addition, this research could encourage chefs, caterers and even the packaging industry to think more about the colour of crockery and packaging. As the researcher explains, "it is a case of experimenting to understand how the container itself affects the perceptions that the consumers have on the product."
In other cases, it has been demonstrated that strawberries appear to be sweeter and have a more intense flavour when served on a white plate compared to a black plate. 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Pearl barley risotto with field mushrooms,presunto and Nisa cheese

Pearl barley and Nisa cheese risotto with New zealand spinach leaves
From time to time I enjoy a blind challenge. Recently refurbished, the Bairro Alto Hotel in Lisbon has reopened its doors to the public with new decor and also with a new name for the restaurant, "Flores". Chef Vasco Lello has set out to compliment the contemporary style of the hotel´s decor with a culinary fusion of traditional and contemporary styles.His goal is reflected in the menu he presents. He revives some of the more traditional flavours of Portuguese cuisine and adapts them to more contemporary dishes.Also in the presentation of the food, elements of Portuguese culture are represented with the plating being done on traditional and handmade dishes.One of his entree dishes, a mushroom risotto with Nisa cheese cried out to me and without ever having seen or tasted it. I set out to make what I imagined it might be.Brave, I hear you say,oh well I could only hope.Having just been given a bag of Pearl Barley (like "gold from the sky" to an expat cook living in Portugal) and with some beautiful specimens of field mushrooms (they are always at their best after the rain) from the market I set out to create a beautiful risotto containing some of the best possible tastes Portugal can provide.

Pearl barley risotto with mushrooms 
Presunto and Nisa cheese
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a starter

200g (8oz) Pearl barley
1 small leek trimmed
6 shallots finely chopped
2 garlic cloves
100g (4oz) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon each fresh thyme and rosemary
5 slices Presunto serrano,chopped
200g (8 oz) field mushrooms,sliced
1 litre mushroom stock from dried mushrooms
100g Nisa cheese or Pecorino
125 ml Madeira
handful of New Zealand spinach leaves (see above)
Flor de sal
Freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the pearl barley and bring the mushroom stock to a boil in a medium sized pan.Add the pearl barley and cook for approximately 8 -10 minutes.Drain the pearl barley saving the remaining stock.Set aside. Meanwhile peel and finely chop the shallots and garlic and thinly slice the leek.Saute them in a large pan with half the butter until lightly coloured and softened.Add the mushrooms,ham,rosemary and thyme.Add the pre-cooked pearl barley,season with salt and pepper, and proceed as you would for a risotto adding the reserved mushroom stock and madeira alternately, until the risotto is cooked( about 20 more minutes).Stir in the spinach leaves followed by the remaining  butter and the grated cheese.Mix well  until the mixture is a creamy consistency.
Warm plates are important,as otherwise the hot rice will adhere to the cold plate,ruining its consistency which must remain ondulado("wavy") as they say in Portugal.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Arabian nuggets -a pointilist appetiser

Its been a wild, wet and windy week here in the Algarve.To bring a more cheerful light to these dark gloomy days I imagined Seurat, easel propped before him, brush poised in hand looking out over fields of lavender,inspired to re-create the many shades of purple he finds before him.What am I like? Seurat never actually painted lavender fields as far as I know but I found a modern equivalent-a photographer behind his/her tripod (can´t see for the hood) sorry who ever you are.Well this was the inspiration and another excuse for an experiment to create a nouveau stippled nibble to accompany a perky ´peritif. Que Seurat Seurat.
Sumac roasted chick peas
The variations for these roasted chickpeas are endless. Roast them with Ras-al -hanout spices, paprika (cayenne) and garlic,fennel seeds and muscavado sugar? Create your own flavour combinations but if you like tart my favoured flavour  sumac is worth a shot.Its just so Dench.

2 15-oz cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained well 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
2 teaspoons sumac 
1 teaspoon Flor de sal
Preheat your oven to 375°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Arrange the drained chickpeas in one layer on a paper towel and lay another on top to cover them. Roll the towel back and forth with the palm of your hand to make sure it absorbs as much of the moisture of the chickpeas as possible.
Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, sumac and salt in a medium bowl and add the chickpeas. Toss well to coat and transfer the chickpeas to the parchment-lined baking sheet. Arrange in single layer and roast for about one hour, making sure to stir the chickpeas 3-4 times while roasting.
Remove from the oven and let cool completely on the baking sheet set on a wire rack. The chickpeas will continue to crisp as they cool. Transfer to serving bowl or in an airtight container (will keep for up to 2 days).

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Flor de sal caseiro com aipo

Up until recently I thought celery salt was made from ground celery seeds, and indeed I am sure it can be.But how lovely it is to make your own and being of peaceful mind that you know exactly what is going into it unlike some of the branded varieties that will be loaded with additives.That´s assuming the labels inform you of exactly what the particular product contains.Where have I heard that story recently?
What?- I hear you all say, you mean there’s more in celery salt than just celery and salt?
Well, unless you are buying artisan celery salt, then the salt in your celery salt could have any of the following in it:
  • sugar
  • sodium silicoaluminate (ugh – aluminum??)
  • dextrose (why is there sugar in salt??)
  • sodium bicarbonate
There must be a catch to making your own. It can´t be that simple, you will now be saying.Well yes there is one small catch.It has to be made with fresh leaves cut from the main head of the celery. You have to find celery with leaves still intact, (post  23/02/2013) which,if its fresh it should have.You are more likely have more luck at the farmers' market, but I have recently  noticed more and more supermarkets here in Portugal sparing leaves. See if you can get your supermarket to source some. Also, leaves hide. You'll find more and more as you work your way in from the outside stalks to inside ones.You can make your celery salt with a number of different types of salt,but nothing beats the flaky whispers of the blossoms of Flor de sal.These can be found with slightly less purity in Maldon sea salt.These shards are similar in size to the crumbled celery leaves you have dried, which works beautifully. With some of the finer sea salts, you get more separation. This is not the result you want to achieve.Convinced?-I think you will be.So now are you ready to make your very own celery salt? Here is how simple it is to make.

Leaves from one bunch of celery                                                                            Flaky shards of sea salt 

Pick the leaves from each celery stalk, leaving the stems behind. The outer leaves tend to be dark green and hearty, the inner leaves pale green and tender. I use them all.
Rinse the leaves with cold water in a strainer, then shake off as much of the water as you can. At this point you want to dry the leaves as much as possible, so they toast (not steam) when you cook them. Gently pat them dry in a clean cloth towel, or paper towels. Once dry arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet, then bake in a 350F / 180C oven for about 5-7 minutes. Bake until dehydrated and crispy, but not browned.You could also do this in a dry skillet over a very low heat, but once again be very careful not to brown them.
In either case, when you're done cooking, remove from heat and let the leaves cool completely. They'll crisp up even more at this point. When cool, use your fingers to crumble the leaves completely, discarding any leaves that aren't crispy,or are brown.
Combine equal parts celery leaves and salt in a jar, and either stir or shake to distribute the celery leaves evenly throughout.
Prep time: 5 min - Cook time: 5 min
I would like to make other artesan salts - a mixed citrus version comes to mind. Also, one with herbs de Provence. Hook me up with other ideas if you've got them. I'm sure I'm not the only one game for trying out new salts.

All I need now is vodka,tomato juice and.....  you can see were this is going.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Chovem Almôndegas - Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Comfort food when its raining meatballs and burgers
This time of year in the Algarve can be a strange period of changeable weather.Today, howling gales are rattling the shutters and blowing gusty draughts under the doors.Outdoor tasks have had to be abandoned and there is insufficient natural light for indoor remedial work such as painting and decorating.It is a time when bedtime stories and childrens fiction comes to mind.Today with the weather unexpectedly and inexplicably taking a turn for the worse, surprising the local community with uncontrollable storms, one must take comfort in food."Chovem Almôndegas" - "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" is a book and animated movie, chronicling the daily lives of the citizens of an unordinary town,called not Castro Marim but Chewandswallow.The town is characterized by its strange daily meteorological pattern that provides the townsfolk with all their required daily meals by raining storms of tapas-style selections of oversized threatening grub. Their lives endangered by the threats of the storms, they relocate to a different community of average meteorological patterns, safe from the hazards that once were presented by raining meals. However, they are forced to learn how to obtain food the normal way.The key to success with meatballs,when they are not falling from the sky is to be creative with your sauce making. This is because with every different herb and spice, you can lend a unique flavour to each of your meatball dishes, and that way each meatball delicacy that you cook will have a different taste and will give you a wide meatball repertoire.Meatballs can be made with beef,pork, lamb or a combination of meats.They can be served on their own with sauce or with spaghetti, rice or cous cous, or as sliders served in burger buns.Here is a basic recipe for Portuguese Almôndegas.  
Almôndegas (meatballs) in tomato sauce
makes 24
100g day old bread
250ml milk
1 onion,finely chopped
2 cloves garlic,finely chopped

800g minced meat of your choice
100g freshly grated parmesan
1 egg,beaten
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Flor de sal
freshly ground black pepper
4 ripe tomatoes
teaspoon cumin seeds
handful chopped coriander
2 tablespoons olive oil 

Soak the bread in the milk for 5 minutes then squeeze it dry with your hands. Mix together with the meat, cheese, seasoning, onion, garlic, parsley. Add the egg, chopped parsley,flour and season with salt and pepper.Mix everything together well (if the mixture seems heavy, add a little more milk)and mould into balls the size of walnuts.
Cut a cross at the base of each tomato and blanch them in boiling water. Skin the tomatoes.Discard the tomato seed and chop it into pieces.Heat the olive oil gently in a large skillet. Sauté the cumin seeds till they release a fragrance then introduce the meatballs, shaking the pan, until golden on all sides. Add the tomatoes and the chopped coriander.Season with salt and pepper, cover and let sweat over low heat for about 25 minutes. If necessary add a little water. Serve immediately.
Not to be mistake for falafels … Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
The follow up of the story, of which I love the title "Pickles to Pittsburgh", tells of the kids of the town receiving a postcard from their grandfather, who claims to be visiting the ruins of what was once the fabled town of Chewandswallow. The kids then go to sleep and dream that they are there with him, helping to rebuild the post-apocalyptic landscape and restore it a liveable condition again, as well as giving the massive amounts of food away to poverty-stricken developing nations and homeless shelters around the world.This proves to be difficult, as there could be more food storms on the way.



Sunday, 3 March 2013

Seville orange shortbread with a Middle Eastern secret

It claims to be the "greatest British biscuit", but its even greater with a tarter than tart and tangy dust, matched to Pantone 7421.

Its a cold damp,windy and grey Sunday afternoon here in the east Algarve, and not only do I crave cake but I am also in the mood for an experiment.I have recently been chastised by my critics for not following the way of Claudia Roden.When I want Middle Eastern or Mediterranean I normally thumb through more regionally specific tomes such as "Moro." Theodore Kyriakou "The Real Greek" or Janet Mendel, but to appease potential enemies here I go, a- thumbin through La Roden´s "Middle Eastern Food" for inspiration.Twice in a day too,because for dinner tonight I am making a fruity Moroccan tagine from the same author.I hope I am forgiven,you know who? My dear mother would be spinning in her grave if she knew I was meddling around with sumac in her shortbread recipe,but what the heck.
With its tangy, sweet sourness and ruby colour, sumac offers a culinary experience which never disappoints.
Essential in the cooking of Iran, Turkey and, most of all, Lebanon, sumac begins life as a berry, the fruit of a shrub that grows in dry, rocky places. The berries are dried and crushed to a deep, wine-red powder. With its fresh, sour-but-fruity flavour, sumac plays a similar role to lemon juice, but has the advantage of not being a liquid. Hence it's ideal for adding zest to, say, a stuffing, where too much liquid would be disastrous. It can be employed as a seasoning, or as a bright finishing touch( my favourite mode-emploi). Recipes suggest "sprinkling it on grilled fish or chicken", "try it on herby, grainy salads or couscous" but nobody says sprinkle it on cakes or as I have done on shortbread. It's relatively mild, too, so you can afford to be generous with it - add by the tablespoon rather than by the pinch. The trick is to use it towards the end of cooking, as long exposure to heat will dull its flavour.
Something else to try is za'atar, an aromatic Middle Eastern spice mix. There are countless different recipes for it, but sumac appears in most of them: just mix two tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds with a tablespoon each of sumac and dried thyme. This can be rubbed into meat, especially lamb before grilling, but is most often used as a dry dip: dunk pieces of bread first into olive oil, then into the za'atar - it's incredibly moreish.
Sumac keeps pretty well (you can use it a good year after buying it, especially if you store it in the fridge), but it's at its fragrant, zesty best when new.

Seville Orange shortbread with Sumac
150g(5oz) plain flour
25g(1oz) fine semolina (for added crispness)
50g(2oz) caster sugar
125g unsalted butter
Grated zest 1 large Seville orange

Topping 1 tablespoon powdered sumac and sprinkling of caster sugar

Sift the flour into a bowl.Rub the grated oarange zest into the sugar with your fingers. Stir in the Semolina,followed by the zested sugar.Add the butter.cut it in with a knife and then rub in with your fingertips.Draw the mixture together to form a crumble mixture.Transfer to an ungreased 17.5cm (7inch) diameter tin.Press out smoothly until the tin is covered with an even layer of the mixture.Spread the surface evenly with a palette knife.
Ridge the edges with a fork and then prick it all over at regular intervals to give a typical shortbread effect.Sprinkle with sugar.
bake for 1 hour in a pre-heated oven 180C/ 300F /Gas mark 3
The shortbread should be the colour of pale straw.
Remove from the oven.Dust with a fine carpet of Sumac.Cool to lukewarm then carefully score into 8 wedges.Carefully ease the shortbraed from its tin.Transfer to awire cooling rack until completely cold.
When cool carefully ease the shortbread out of the tin