Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Amarguinha chocolate cup cake nemesis

Austerity respite

This is the closest thing to nemesis I have ever known.The definition of nemesis being "a source of harm or ruin" or "an opponent that cannot be beaten or overcome". A cold, cold  Sunday afternoon in the East Algarve and a cake is always prerequisite."Ottolenghi the cookbook" to the rescue. Does one need an excuse for self indulgent chocolate cake? Well, just to ease my conscience, there is an occasion coming up.One bright young lady we know, Carolene.Its going to be her thirteenth birthday and what better way to enter adolescence than with a grown up chocolate cup cake topped with an Amarguinha chocolate ganache. And what better than at this time of the year, when the Algarve is covered with a dream-like white almond blossom,signifying Spring is on its way.
Amarguinha is a Portuguese liqueur made from the best almonds available in the Algarve,the "amendoa amarga" (bitter almond). The original brand of "amarguinha" was created by Filipe de Brito, Portuguese mercenary and governor of Syriam, Burma, in 1602.So good is this liqueur that Portuguese bartenders sometimes use Amarguinha as a substitute for orgeat syrup. Samuel Pepys, the famous 17th Century diarist and a great imbiber, loved (amava seu bebida) Amarguinha chilled and mixed with half a lemon and a good dose of Turkish coffee.
Pale yellow in colour with an intensely aromatic nose of spiced almonds, hints of citrus fruit, and in a strange but cool way, bear claw pastries. Its rich syrup- like full body, and lack of acidity is why the Portuguese usually add a squeeze of lemon. Amarguinha is typically served as a digestif or night cap, as it is known by the Portuguese to have some positive medicinal properties. Also great served with espresso, almond biscotti, fresh fruit or in any number of imaginative cocktails.At the end of the meal a shot of Amarguinha, like a spoonful of sugar, helps the meal go down,leaving a distinct haze of almondy sweetness on your tongue.

Amarguinha Chocolate cup cakes 
Makes 12 cup cakes
(adapted from a yotam ottolenghi original)
I have been so disciplined with my New Years resolution of austerity measures in the kitchen that I thought I would have respite Sunday and throw caution to the
wind and bake.Every extravagant ingredient known to man seems to have gone into these cup cakes but what the heck, the following day it would be back to frugal midweek suppers and feasts for a fiver.A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound -  bearly makes a meal go round.
2 free range eggs
150ml creme fraiche
80ml sunflower oil
20 ml golden syrup
20g unsalted butter melted
60g caster sugar
60g light muscovado sugar
120g plain flour
35g cocoa powder
1tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb onate of soda
1/4 tsp Flor de sal
40g ground blanched almonds
200g dark chocolate,cut into small chunks

FOR THE ICING
165g dark chocolate cut into small pieces
135ml whipping cream
35g unsalted butter diced
1 Tbsp Amarguinha,Amaretto or other almond liqueur
Heat the oven to 170C/Gas mark 3.Line a muffin tray with 12 paper cases.
Whisk together the first 7 ingredients in a large mixing bowl until they are just combined.Don´t over mix.Sift together the flour,cocoa,baking powder and bicarbonate of soda.Add them to the wet mix, along with the salt and almonds, and fold together gently.Fold in the chocolate pieces.
Spoon the batter into the cupcake cases,filling them up completely.bake for about 20-25 minutes;if you insert a skewer in one,it should come out with quite a bit of crumb attached.Remove from the oven and leave to cool,then take the cup cakes out of the tray.
While the cup cakes are baking,start making the icing.It will take time to set and become spreadable.
Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl.Put the cream in a small saucepan and heat almost to boiling point,then pour it over the chocolate using a rubber spatula to stir until all the chocolate has melted and come together with the cream.Add the butter and liqueur and beat until smooth.
Transfer the icing to a clean bowl and cover with cling film.Leave at room temperature until the cup cakes have cooled completely and the icing has started to set.You need to catch it at the point where it spreads easily but isn´t hard.DO NOT speed things up by refrigerating.
Spoon a generous amount on top of each cup cake and swirl with a palette knife.Apply carefully to face and savour the divinely decadent experience.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Seville orange,carrot and ginger smoothie

Hello bright new day (my anti - inflammatory smoothie)

On Saturday morning I woke up with inflamed and stiff joints in both of my feet.I struggled to even make it down the stairs. Ezekiel I cried "Dem dry bones!"
"The toe bone connected to the heel bone,
The heel bone connected to the foot bone,
The foot bone connected to the leg bone".....
...Where´s this going I ask myself? As some of you may well know I was diagnosed with gout three years ago and this cold damp weather is extremely unfriendly to gouty prone bones.I’m not sure if it was related to all the seasonal excess but if so I feel I have done remarkably well to keep on my feet up to now.Immediate action had to be taken.I recalled something I had read recently about Seville oranges in the Guardian.Now that Seville oranges are plentiful and in season, I thought I’d try a winter version of my cool summer hit. I rapidly whipped up a smoothie and with a little medication I was back on my feet fairly quickly.I have now christened it the “anti-inflammatory” smoothie and it will be a morning staple until the weather gets warmer.For once I can write a post about something that is concurrent in both England and Iberia.Tis the marmalade season on both sides of the water.The bitter Seville oranges have been traded between Britain and Spain for centuries.It is Spain´s way of saying we bring you sunshine.Carrots are plentiful and cheap, both here and there, and fresh ginger root is also inexpensive and trust me, a little bit goes a long way.Try stepping outside the frame for a moment and treat your tastebuds to something different, refreshing, and healthful.

Seville orange, carrot and ginger smoothie
2 large carrots
A thumb-size piece of ginger
500ml freshly squeezed Seville orange juice ( about 6 oranges depending on size)


Peel and finely chop the ginger and blitz in a blender or juicer. Peel the carrots and shave them thinly with a mandolin or vegetable peeler.Add the shaved carrot to the blender with a little bit of the juiced oranges and blitz.Add the rest of the juice and blitz again.Enjoy immediately! Bottoms up!
However if you have the will power to resist, refrigerate in a bottle overnight.When you awake the following day it is  Hola ginger-carrot-orange goodness... a dayglo bottle greets you when you open the fridge door, lighting up your day and making you feel beautiful from the inside out.This juice is simple, delicious, and oddly filling because of the fibre of the carrot which gives the drink some body.  Plus, who doesn't love that vibrant orange color?  The ginger adds a bit of zingy spice which I found refreshing in contrast to the sweetness of the carrots and the bitterness of the Seville orange.

Just be happy you aren’t drinking the "totally tropical taste" that is Lilt, Capri-Sun, Sunny Delight or Um Bongo.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Qual é a especiaria que não pode faltar na sua cozinha?

What spice can´t you do without in your cooking?
While spices had long been available to the European middle classes (including the wealthy monasteries and nunneries,which may explain the dominance of spices in conventual sweets), it wasn´t until Vasco de Gama made his sea route to India in 1498 that Lisbon became spice central.Established on Goa and Sri Lanka,the Portuguese exploited cinnamon over the next couple of hundred years to such an extent that almost every sweet in Portugal is today still flavoured with cinnamon.Some places even give you a quill of it instead of a spoon to stir your coffee.What spice can you not do without in your cooking? and what does your spice rack say about you?
There is nothing new about the fact that fresh spices give that all too important boost to a bland curry, or pepper up a simple dish of rice or beans and magic it into a "HOT" pot. Certain spices of the more exotic variety remind me of my travels.A tin of something exotic hints at a well-travelled individual doesn´t it? Cardamom and peppercorns for instance bring to mind a trip to Zanzibar,while ginger powder, nutmeg and mace remind me of childhood and my mother.
If someone were to ask me what spice I use the most often in my cooking, I would hesitate. - it´s such a tough question to come up with a quick answer: there are so many contenders.
In my larder there is a hodgepodge of little unmatched jars and sealed foil packets some of them known brands, some of them old re-cycled anchovy jars, well-washed and filled with spices from more serious specialist catering outlets. I try and contain them with some modicum of regiment in a deep plastic tray but they inevitably spill out onto the shelf in a very eclectic mishmash of colours, sizes and shapes.
Does this sound like your spice store, or do you have a different approach?
In my cupboard there are also a few of those tiny jam jars that look like elements of a room service breakfast, filled with different strains of paprika and various samples I have been given as well as the occasional interestingly shaped vintage jar I've found here and there.
Do you have one particular spice that always needs replacing? And more alarmingly do you have spices that have been sitting at the back of your cupboard that have never seen the light of the kitchen worktop? Spices are generally the most neglected items in the store cupboard. Full brownie points if you have cleaned out your spice rack, drawer or jars lurking in the back of the cupboard in the past year.A word of re-assurance here,you are not alone.It is that time of year again,resolutions to be made and undone.Nothing is more deserving of good old pantrification than the spice drawer or rack.I have to constantly monitor my spice reserves because of their shelf life.
The first thing to chuck out is glass jars(and as you have seen above I for one raise my hand in shame here). These are the worst possible containers, being exposed to light and fluctuating temperatures on the kitchen shelf. (Tins or foil packets are far better, especially when stored in a cool, dark, dry place.)I am starting to sound like some terrible pantry aesthete. Really my life is far from being in an ordered state. Moreover, anything older than a few months will have already begun to deteriorate, and not just in terms of flavour. The goodness of spices and their benefits can only be derived when they are fresh,so this is why new year or even twice yearly spice scarifying is essential.
From our spice troves - an image can be assembled of who we are and what we like to cook.Among this half ordered turmoil of containers in my larder you'll find several kinds of chili powder, chilli flakes, dried whole chillies and some spices that have never seen the inside of a supermarket, which I believe spells adventurous cooking! On closer inspection, while I was doing my spice inventory, I found five jars of chinese 5 spice.How could this happen? The words busy or perhaps scatty come to mind.This I assume means I am a cook who does not check their store before going to the market or am I an impulse shopper who constantly forgets whats back home.
Specific categories of spices spill the beans on our culinary cultural upbringings: Curry mixes, Garam masala, Ras al hanout, Thai, the all fashionable za'atar or cinnamon and cardamon.You will notice I have not mentioned things like Italian seasoning or dried herbs.I consider these in a different category completely,not what I would classify as spices
How about you? What sort of spice girl are you? Are you hodge-podge or uniform spice? Well-labeled spice or lucky dip spice ? How do you spice up your wife and what is your reason to season? Or are you just lost in spice?I leave you with this thought from comedian Jack Whitehall "Piri piri is a blend of spices brought to fruition by the tears of Portuguese fishermens wives".

My top ten of most used spices (in no particular order)
Cinnamon
Cardamom
Cumin
Piri piri flakes
Turmeric
Chinese five spice
Ras-al hanout
Coriander
Nutmeg /mace


A Moroccan cinnamon spice blend
Makes 1/4 cup (60 mL)
Very aromatic without being overpoweringly hot, this spice blend is versatile for tagine dishes that include fruit and can even be used in small amounts in sweet dishes and beverages.
What you will need:
small tagine, wok or cast-iron skillet
pestle and mortar or spice grinder

1 piece(5 cm /2 inches) cinnamon, crushed
2 tbsp cardamom seeds
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tsp black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
1 star anise
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
In the bottom of a small tagine, spice wok or skillet, combine cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, cumin, peppercorns, cloves and star anise. Toast over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes or until lightly colored and fragrant. 
Remove from direct heat just as the seeds pop; do not let the spices smoke and burn. Let cool.In a mortar (using pestle) or small electric grinder, pound or grind toasted spices until coarse or finely ground. Add nutmeg to ground spices and mix well. 
Store in an airtight (preferably dark) glass jar with lid in a cool place for up to 3 months.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Pudim apaziguado -appeased pudding

Pudim Ingles com ervilhas secas amarelas

Pease pudding hot!
Pease pudding cold!
Pease pudding in the pot
Nine days old.

Some like it hot,
Some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot
Nine days old!

Almost every family has a treasured recipe,no more so than here in Portugal, beloved as much for the memories it evokes of family get-togethers or a special family member, as it is for its taste. Most families have many such recipes, handed down through generations, taught to children, or squirreled away on index cards or scraps of paper. 
Some of the dishes our mothers made came from old recipes, but most were from memory. They seemed to know just how to make a meal, and it always turned out perfect,and how annoying was that.This is kind of the way I myself cook.Having cooked a recipe once I abandon it and cook it more intuitively, but  often it turns out less than perfect,and thats what they call the learning curve.
When I think of my mother cooking  there is a dish that is always still in my mind, and believe it or not, I still can remember the taste.It is my favourite comfort dish, (not that I get the chance to make it that often living in Portugal ) extremely tasty and filling,and both easy and quick to prepare.Part of its comfort factor for me comes from the memories I associate with it; the sense of taste is closely linked to the sense of smell,and related more strongly to memory than visual stimulus or flashback.Yesterday when I was making it,the cold north wind was rattling the shutters but indoors I was inhaling the warm scent of the marrow fat split peas cooking down in a pork broth,it brought it all rushing back to me and transported me to the security and warmth of my dear mother´s kitchen in the 50´s.
That was a long time ago when I was still a very young boy. She often used to cook this dish, called pease pudding.It's been eaten in Britain for centuries.In the past the British preference was for 'pease' over  pulses. (Mediterranean puy lentil pudding hot, Mediterranean puy lentil pudding cold, just doesn't have the same ring about it somehow.)  It was traditionally eaten with bacon or ham, and still is.The salt of the bacon, ham or gammon offsets the blandness of the pease pudding nicely. The 'Pudding' part of the name comes from the fact that it was cooked in a cloth in the same pot as the meat,or cooked in a pudding basin.
It is a purée of boiled split peas,more usually the yellow variety.This may sound like quite a retro kind of dish,and there is nothing wrong with retro -when the cooking budget gets tough  the tough cook retro. I'm sure many people have forgotten this delightfully unfashionable delicacy – or never even tasted  dried marrowfat peas with their mealy texture and concentrated flavour.You just add boiled bacon, cured gammon or home cured ham and enclose them in a floury bap(stottie). I found these bouncy Portuguese baps and the combination of the whole was utterly sublime....and the good news is –that after boiling the bacon you can reserve and freeze the stock to make a another recipe called The London Particular.(split pea soup) 
By adding some Portuguese clams to my pea souper I have found I can make something even more delicious not far removed from a chowder.More of that story later.
My mothers (ap)pease pudding 
In an attempt to appease the god of split peas, I used up the remains of a rescued packet of split peas  (that is why I call it Appease Pudding?)
In my mothers time,pease pudding would have been tied into a muslin pochette and cooked in with the boiling meat,in her case usually salt pork or bacon.Left overs were, and still are I believe. fried and eaten another day.I finished it off by steaming it in a pudding basin.

500g(1lb) dried yellow split peas or whole dried peas
60g(2oz) butter
1 large egg salt and pepper 

Nowadays many dried vegetables do not need soaking before they are cooked,so much has the quality been improved.If however they have been on your shelf for a few months I would advise to allow them an overnight soak adding 1 level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to your water if its hard.
To cook the peas,drain them if they have been soaked,then put them in a pan.Cover them with plenty of water ( I used home made ham stock for a more intense flavour )and simmer until tender.Split peas should take from 45 to 60 minutes depending on their age.Whole dried peas will need at least 2 hours,Drain off all the liquid and save it for soup.Put the peas in the blender and pulse to a not too smooth purée.Mix in the butter,then the egg and season well.Put the mixture into a buttered pudding basin and steam for an hour.Turn it out and serve it with boiled smoked bacon or gammon.My preference however is is in the pot one day old cold and then slathered on a sandwich with ham or bacon.
The verdict: tastewise I recreated my childhood favourite,it was perfect but my only criticism was that the texture was a little on the dry side and this was caused by steaming the pudding for too long.The difference  being my mother always used a pressure cooker and I used a bain marie.

Monday, 21 January 2013

A load of cobblers

Leek and ham pie with a cobbled topping

Pies are a key part of Britain’s history – just think of all the references to pies in the nursery rhymes of our childhood. Simple Simon, met a pieman, going to the fair. And Tom, Tom the piper’s son,who stole a pig and away he ran. The ‘pig’ that he stole was actually a sweetmeat pie from a street trader. So, whether it’s a sweet pie, a savoury pie, or a four-and-twenty-blackbirds-baked-into-a-pie, the British are pie crazy people.
The cobbler has not hit the streets or malls of London or Lisbon yet but I don´t see why it shouldn´t.I am talking about my Portuguese make over on a British /American colonial dish from back when.A commercial hybrid could be something right up the pieman´s (aka Andy Bates) street. Pies are sold worldwide as street food at football matches and other major events.Portugal is proud of their rissois, pasteis and empadas,and so they should be, they are delicious.And while Portugal struggles under the yoke of recession its residents are becoming more resourceful at making their dinheiro go a little bit further.Trends are showing a return to the lunchbox, a move towards opting for inexpensive takeaways in place of the traditional sit down affair.Restauranteurs have been observing and listening and are now adjusting accordingly.Top quality traditional Portuguese pot pies are now jumping into boxes off the counters of Empadaria do Chef ,not only in Portugal but now in Madeira and Brazil.A concept originally  pioneered by Michelin starred Portuguese chef José Avillez,with experience under Alain Ducasse and Ferran Adrià, these pies are not to be sniffed at. So what about my simple pieman´s trans european make over?
I made the filling for a classic ham and leek pie and then paved the top with a decking of calçadas.Traditionally this would have been called a cobbler.
Cobblers originated in the early British American colonies. English settlers were unable to make their favoured traditional suet puddings due to lack of suitable ingredients and cooking equipment, so instead covered a stewed filling,either savoury or sweet, with a layer of uncooked plain biscuits or dumplings, nestled together. When fully cooked, the surface has the appearance of Portuguese calçadas or, if in England, a cobbled street.The name may also derive from the fact that the ingredients are "cobbled" together.
Cobblers and crumbles were also promoted by the English Ministry of Food during the Second World War since they were perfect ration food, using less butter than a traditional pastry and could be made with margarine.For my cobbler crust I used neither, but instead,flour,creme fraiche and olive oil.How healthy and low calorie is that and, surprise surprise, it tasted fantastic.
My mother used to make a good old cobbler, so continuing my new year culinary programme of austerity I had to make her be proud of what I literally cobbled together.I know for sure the fact that it involved leftovers is enough to make her smile down on me.
This is a lovely warming dish that is perfect for a cold January evening.It also conveniently uses up that leftover chunk of ham from Christmas.This warming cobbler is impossible to resist, but is so delicious that eaten once it then paves the way for cooking it up all year round.
2½ tbsp olive oil
450g leeks.trimmed and thickly sliced
100g self-raising flour.plus a little extra for rolling out the dough
75ml creme fraiche or yoghurt
1 tsp thyme leaves,plus extra to decorate
140g frozen peas
100g chunk of ham,shredded
1 small Granny Smith apple or ½ large apple grated
Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Heat ½ tbsp oil in a large pan, then fry the leeks, stirring for 5 mins until starting to soften. Add the stock, then simmer for 5 mins.
Meanwhile, tip the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre, then add the yogurt, remaining oil, thyme leaves and a little salt. Using a cutlery knife, mix to bring together to a soft dough. Divide into 4 and shape into rounds on a floured surface. 
Stir the peas, ham and grated apple into the leeks, then divide between 4 individual pie dishes or one large dish. Top each with a round of dough,or alternatively make one large rectangular pie and carpet it with your pastry paving.Scatter with more thyme, then bake for 20 minutes until golden.. 

Also stepping out on the tiles....
Peach cobblers, berry cobblers, apple cobblers, and more.Vegetable cobblers
Pork and parsnip cobbler,chicken cobbler, beef cobbler and lamb cobbler.

And as I am sure the British tabloid press would declare "its all a load of cobblers"

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Pumpkin cumin and chilli soup in in a pumpkin pot


Yesterday I made a batch of Pumpkin jam.Todays recipe, as promised, is for a
spicy soup that really "warms the cockles of your heart."(that is delighting your innermost feelings).I have just discovered that a Kachel is a Dutch oven. Something that radiates heat.Could it be that the expression is a corruption of the phrase, "May it warm the kachels of your hearth." A kacheloven is fuel efficient and apparently radiates heat long after the fire is out.This explains why the phrase is always associated with warming.

Pumpkin cumin and chilli soup
(served in its own pot)
For the one that came in from the cold.What I really love about this soup is its simplicity, both in its preparation and the conciseness of its ingredients.If you carefully slice off the top of the pumpkin and set it aside you can use it later as a lid for your pumpkin pot
1 large winter pumpkin weighing in at around 2 kg
2 tbsp butter or oil or combination of both,for frying
1 tbsp cumin seeds
2 medium onions finely chopped
1 or more red chillies(seeds and pith left in,if you like spice),cut into ribbons
12 tsp caster sugar
1 litre (approx)hot vegetable or chicken stock
Flor de sal
4 tsp roasted pumkin seed oil for drizzling
Peel the pumpkin with a sharp knife, cut it into segments about 2.5cm (1in thick ), and then into neat cubes.Using your hands pull out all the  the seeds and fibres and discard. Heat the butter and/or oil in the bottom of a heavy pot,then throw in the cumin seeds.Stir until they start to pop and release their aroma,then add the onion,stir well and reduce the heat Cook slowly,stirring ecery now and then,until the onion is very soft and transparent.Add the  chilli and sugar,and stir well.Introduce the pumpkin followed by the hot stock.Cook gently until the vegetables are soft ( about 1 hour).Allow to cool slightly and then blitz the soup in a processor. Drizzle with lashings of olive oil and enjoy the softer than satin orange velvety sensation.





Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Jorge and the giant pumpkin


We all know the story of James and the giant peach, occasionally macabre and potentially frightening in some of its content.Throughout his adventure James was nonetheless clever, ever-resourceful and intuitive with his plans concerning the giant peach. I intend to be equally resourceful and intuitive with the giant legume that was recently bestowed on us.
Every winter our friend Jorge gives us a large punpkin from his brother´s farm. I look forward to this gift each year and the challenge of finding enough recipes resourceful enough to use up every part of this giant Portuguese pumpkin.What with all the season´s comings and goings I haven´t had time to tackle the task in hand.This is lucky because these squash type legumes have a good shelf life while left uncut.As soon as a knife is taken to them everything changes and one has to move fast.
Pumpkin jam is my first priority.Always popular on the Casa Rosada breakfast table, a batch of this, stocking up the larder shelf, will be more than a reward when it comes to the arrival of the season´s first guests, if I myself have not slathered it over my own toast in the coming weeks.

abobora borbhulado (bubbling pumpkin)
Doce de abobora 
( Pumpkin Jam)
This is an excellent jam, very useful for filling tarts and cakes or simply on its own as a dessert, with creme fraiche cut through it and topped with toasted almonds.Just one word of warning before you get started - according to how much cinnamon you add at the end the glorious colour of this jam will darken.
1lb (450g) cooked pumpkin
1lb (450g ) granulated sugar 
 (The Portuguese prefer their sweet things, very sweet, I used half this amount)
Cinnamon to taste


Peel and clean the pumpkin and cook in water until tender, adding just a pinch of salt. Place it in a sieve to drain it as much as possible while pressing it lightly to extract the liquid trapped inside.Blitz in processor until you have a very smooth puree. Mix with the sugar and boil, stirring with a wooden spoon until it thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the cinnamon. Pour into a sterilized jar and keep in the fridge.Look forward to spreading this on some toast for your breakfast. 

Next up tomorrow a steaming bowl of creamy pumpkin soup with Chilli and cumin,served in its own bowl drizzled with extra virgin oil.The perfect meal to serve up at this time of year.It warms both body and soul.Be sure to check it out.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

How I miss a biscuit

Hardly a day goes by when I have not left a half eaten biscuit somewhere.You are enjoying a mid morning cuppa and the phone rings.You might or might not take your mug of tea with you, but by the time you have finished your conversation there is no biscuit.Maybe dog had it ? Maybe not.The postman or courier rings the door belI and wants you to sign for a delivery.You receive the delivery and then something jogs your memory... Where´s my tea, where´s my biscuit? I have found half eaten biscuits in the strangest of places.Once I even found half a biscuit under the bed.Eating a biscuit requires concentration and is not something that lends itself to multi-tasking.Perhaps a biscuit needs a plate? It is difficult to lose both a plate and a biscuit,or perhaps not.The biscuit I found under the bed was sitting on a plate.
How often have you been in the situation of "Where is my biscuit?" Does anyone else share this sentiment or am I alone in my madness? I would love to hear other peoples biscuit stories.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Homity pie - a homage to a British institution

My two versions of homity pie using the same filling but diffferent crusts
This time of year can be a time of recollection,not just of the year gone by but taking one further back in time, maybe to ones childhood or perhaps happy rekindlings of some pertinent memories along the way.One of the food trends I think we will see in 2013 is a revival of retro dishes and a return to recipes that have been passed down through generations.This handing down of family recipes has always been an important part of Portuguese culture.Everyone will prepare food differently when they learn a recipe,and it´s only over time  and with practice and innovation that the correct family recipe is perfected.
Across Europe we are becoming  more resourceful with our shopping and our cooking.Take for example the humble pie, a dish of true austerity, a dish that with a little helping can go a long way, a quiche for instance can be eaten hot when fresh from the oven but is equally delicious cold for lunch the next day.
Homity pie is a traditional British pie, and like many British recipes it originated due to the fact that us poor Brits couldn't afford anything else. The advantage of this now is that in these hard times it's nice and cheap to make.I first stumbled on Homity pie in Cranks in the late 80´s and it had long since vanished from my back head until watching one of the great British bake off programmes on TV that  stirred up those not so infrequent ex-pat cravings.
Cranks was one of the first vegetarian restaurants that appeared in Britain. It opened its first restaurant in 1961 in the famous Carnaby Street and soon earned its reputation as the place to eat for vegetarians. But by the 1980s and 90s the stereotypical image of the vegetarian as a sandal wearing,lentil loving hippy was apparently holding the restaurant back.The cotton and straw espadrille and elastic gusseted canvas pump had become the new leather sandal.
The chain had to transform the way people saw vegetarian cuisine and 'vegetarians'.The rush to embrace a meat-free lifestyle seemed to be over - the rate at which Britons were climbing aboard the tofu burger bandwagon had slowed. Madonna, for so long a loud and proud vegetarian, had started to eat meat. Perhaps now she had adopted a Brit lifestyle bacon butties,fry-ups and pub grub started to prove a temptation too far. The chain also faced competition with the increasing availability, for those who continued to want it, of vegetarian food, not just by other vegetarian outlets but by the likes of Paul and Linda McCartney,Redwoods ( taken over, ironically,  by Heather Mills), Dalepak, Holland and Barrett and mainstream supermarkets too. But unfortunately, after years of serving wholesome, flavourful and hearty dishes, Cranks alas closed all its outlets in January 2001.
The turning of 2012 brought recollections of my very short lived phase back in the 80´s of tipping the veldt of Vegetarianism. I was working in the West End of London in Hanover Square, just a short wholesome step from Cranks in Marshall Street. For a quick lunch on the hop I would frequently pop in for a take away homity pie and pop back to the office. Oh how I used to loved them,and having now made them myself,apparently still do!!
Anyway, after that history lesson on Cranks I guess I should let you know what a Homity pie is?! Homity pies were one of the most popular dishes served at Cranks. I would describe homity pies as an open shell pastry with a potato filling. I have read two different stories about the origins of the homity pie.       
One states it was an old English economy meal recipe that has a history dating back to the efforts of the Land girls of the Second World War and the restrictions imposed by wartime rationing. The other says it was a Romany speciality. To keep up with the changing times, the homity pie had also gone through a number of transformations at Cranks: the potatoes were now mashed and made without the pastry case and flavoured with Tamari and Tabasco.
Well yesterday afternoon I decided to make some Cranks style homity pies. It is a little time consuming as you have to make the wholemeal pastry, rest it in the fridge, blind bake it and then it’s onto the potato filling - that is why I decided to make it the day before. I stayed true to the Cranks recipe  but found their wholemeal pastry just a little too worthy and heavy for my taste.So I played a little. What I was looking for was a touch of linen about the pastry not a heavy hessian or sackcloth.Anyway this is what I came up with which was delicious.
The Cranks Homity pie and mine
Serves 6
A good old fashioned English country recipe-one of Cranks most popular

FOR THE PASTRY (Cranks worthy version)
300g(10oz) wholemeal shortcrust pastry 

MY VERSION
225g (8oz) plain flour
pinch of Flor de Sal
150g(5oz) unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons cold water
Whizz the flour and salt together in a processor,chop the butter roughly and add to the bowl,processing for just a few seconds until you have a mixture resembling breadcrumbs.Beat the egg yolk and mix in the water,then add to the mix in the processor.Whizz for afurther 20 seconds until the pastry dough leaves the side of the bowl and forms a ball like shape.Chill for 30 minutes in the fridge before using.
Roll out the pastry and line a 20cm tart tin.Put it back in the fridge to rest then blind bake for about 10-15 minutes.

FOR THE FILLING
350g  (3/4 pound ) potatoes
450g(1lb) onions
50ml/ 3 tbsp oil 
25g(1oz) butter or margarine
15g (1/2 oz) fresh chopped parsley
100g(4oz) cheese grated 
2 garlic cloves crushed
15ml/1 tbsp milk (I used cream)
freshly ground pepper and Flor de sal to taste 
Roll out the pastry  and use to line six 10cm (4inch)* individual tins or foil dishes
Boil or steam the potatoes until tender,then mash and set aside
Chop the onions,then sauté in the oil until really soft but not browned
Combine the potatoes with the onions,add the butter, parsley,50g (2oz) cheese,garlic,milk or cream, and season to taste.
Cool the mixture then use to fill the pastry cases.
Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and bake in the oven at 220C/425F/gas mark 7 for 20 minutes until golden.
Bake for 25-30 minutes.
*Alternatively,use to make one20cm(8inch) flan dish.
 

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Cauliflower Power - getting kinda gobhi


"Cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education"
Mark Twain

Choufleur, Couve flor or Cavolfiore.This is true in any language the cauliflower is really only a highly cutivated cabbage,but this does not mean to say that it can be the basis for some delicious dishes.
Okay, so cauliflower cheese is an English national institution,but that does not mean you have to cook it that way.My preference is for the obvious and simple applications of cauliflower- a good cauliflower cheese,a hugely simple,satisfying though not so simple feat.A lovely Moroccan cauliflower and almond soup blended but not strained to give it a wonderfully moussey texture.A French creamy sweet Cauliflower veloute.The Italian twist of adding cauliflower to a macaroni cheese or a Spanish cauliflower salad with Serrano ham and cherry tomatoes.The choices are endless and perhaps a good old aloo ghobhi might be just what the Indian doctor would  have ordered.
I have been meaning to cook this extremely unusual recipe for some time now.What in heavens name posessed me? I think it was the curiosity of seeing how it was going to turn out.I have no idea what the provenance of the dish is,other than  a tear sheet in my kitchen scrapbook.Perhaps I thought it was going to be more of an artwork than something that would grace my table.The recipe called it a rather elaborate starter ( not half). I was disappointed by the result but needless to say it is a wonderfully old fashioned recipe and gave me the chance re-kindle old memories by using one of my Grandmothers classic Mason Cash pudding basins,(seen in background of the picture).As classic and recognisable as the mixing bowls, no household would be complete without a nest of traditional white Mason Cash pudding basin.
Once the pudding mixture is poured into the basin it can be covered with greaseproof paper, muslin or cling film to form a lid. The rim around the top of the basin makes it ideal for retaining the ‘lid’ and therefore perfectly designed for any mixture requiring steaming. The rim also provides added grip when the basin is tipped to remove the pudding.Cauli gosh!! This is real old fashioned stuff.Buttering parchment paper and making lids for pudding basins by securing the paper round the rim of the bowl with kitchen string,and the main thing was that I really enjoyed myself.
Cauliflower and Spinach mousse
( a rather elaborate starter)
1 cauliflower
1 kg spinach
200ml double cream
2 eggs
4 egg yolks
Nutmeg
Pick and wash the spinach,drop it into plenty of boiling water then refresh it in cold water.
If you are pressed for time you could use a good quality brand of frozen spinach.( If using fresh )Drain, squeeze it dry  and chop.Put the spinach into a saucepan,cover with the cream,season with salt pepper and nutmeg and then reduce down until really thick.Blend, and set aside to cool a little.Beat the whole eggs and the egg yolks,and mix them well into the cooled spinach.Trim the leaves and stem from the cauliflower,taking care to keep it whole,then blanch it in salted boiling water until slightly al dente.Refresh it in cold water and drain.Butter the inside of a pudding basin that is slightly larger than the cauliflower, and place the cauliflower,stalk side up,inside.Pour in the spinach mousse,tapping the bowl so that it penetrates through the interstices of the cauliflower.Cover with buttered parchment paper.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Fudging it - Chocolate salt fudge ediçao limitado

 Most certainly from another time, 
one when there was a thing called a sweet shop.

Sugary, soft and irresistible....sweet tooths everywhere will appreciate a square of this home made chocolate salt fudge from Salmarim and Casa Rosada.To celebrate the Day of the Kings (6 January) we got together to create a limited edition product which we released to a selective audience on Friday.
Its a long way from Tavira to Tobermory, Taunton or Tintagel,but if you are in search of some of the best fudge you can be sure you´ll be heading to one of these places to find it. Happily its much easier to make fudge in the Algarve than it is to make the journey all the way to Tobermory.
The components of Fudge are very similar to the traditional recipe for Scots Tablet, which is noted in "The Household Book of Lady Grisell Baillie" (1692-1733), and the term "fudge" is often used in the United Kingdom for a softer variant of the tablet recipe. Chocolate fudge is something I think of as more American,so having never made fudge before I have kind of fudged the recipe, ending up with a final product that is half way in texture to tablet
Até aos Reis há festa!!!!!

but with a full chocolate taste contrasted with vanilla smoked salt and a hint of Seville oranges.And the recipe I sourced came from the Vogue Entertaining Australia cookbook.Well isn´t it just amazing how things come together?
Easy no cook chocolate and 
vanilla salt fudge
Melt 125g good quality dark chocolate and 60g butter in a owl over simmering water and stir to combine.Add 1/4 cup evaporated milk and finely grated zest of 1 orange.beat in 375g icing sugar until the mixture is smooth.Spoon into an18cm square shallow tin lined with greaseproof paper.level it out and set aside till firm,then turn out and cut into squares.
Makes 36 pieces

Friday, 4 January 2013

Uma sopa de caril pastinaga - a curried parsnip soup

I opened the door of the fridge and the last parsnip beckoned to me.On Christmas Eve we were the lucky recipients of some beautifully cellophaned and ribbon wrapped parsnips, transported in her suitcase by a dear friend all the way from England.What a wonderful surprise this was after having crawled despondently home from the supermarket the previous day, finding what probably were the last two parsnips in Portugal.They certainly looked like they were the last two neglected specimens and I felt guilty not having given them a chance to share our Christmas table with us.Parsnips (pastinagas)are like gold dust here in the Algarve, so when I see them I become filled with a panic parsnip buying frenzy, shovelling them into carrier bags until they are almost splitting under the pressure.Christmas is not complete for me without a parsnip,so luckily the day was saved and after there was one left for .... 

January 4th........Freshly returned from a blustery January walk on the beach with the dog I was in search of some ingredients to piece together a warming hearty winter soup that would keep that cold North wind at bay.My mothers curried parsnip soup came to mind,and because of the parsnip´s infrequent appearance there was even more expectation.I decided to follow her original recipe in its true form,even including a tablespoon of flour,which I would not normally include in a soup.My teaspoon of curry powder was made up of a heaped mix of ground coriander, turmeric, ground cumin and a touch of garam masala.My only break with what she had written down below was a handful of coriander, of which I separated the stalks and the leaves.The former I cooked down with all the vegetables at the beginning and introducing the chopped leaves into the soup when I puréed it


Mother´s original recipe
Cook 1 large parsnip,1 chopped potato,1 large onion,1 piece of peeled chopped garlic gently in 125g( 4oz) butter (she used margarine) in a heavy pan for about 10 minutes without browning.stirthen gradually add 21/2 pints (1.5litres)beef or chicken stock.Simmer with lid on until cooked.Purée in the mixer,season to taste and add a small carton of cream,before serving.
This soup is equally good hot or cold

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Leftovers or great beginnings

Arancini di riso a top nosh snack made from leftovers
For me leftovers are just the beginning,it´s where creative cooking comes into its own.A peek in the fridge, I've got this and I've got that, so what can I rustle up? Like my mother before me I always make a point of using things up.I get a lot of pleasure from not throwing things away.Any remaining edible portions from a meal that is over, for me constitutes leftovers.Some leftover food can be eaten cold from the refrigerator, while others may be reheated, or mixed with additional ingredients and recooked to make a new dish. A classic example and one of my favourites is bubble and squeak.By the time I post this the whole world and his wife will have posted  a recipe for their own take on this,so I decided to shelve this post till everyone was sick of reading about bubble and screech.
Leftover problem?
Leftovers aren't a problem! They're a bounty.  
2013 should be the dawn of a new age of thrift.I would love to see more magazines and cook books carrying intelligent original chapters and verses on left overs.Combing my bookshelves I found that many of my first cookbooks from the 1970s and 1980s always had chapters on using up leftovers.Delia Smith´s Classic Christmas book has a fantastic leftovers chapter that is one of my most well-thumbed at this time of year.
Something has changed everybody´s views on the subject. Left overs have become taboo. I think supermarket sell-by dates have a lot to answer for. People now look at the label on some bacon or cheese, and if it's a day over they'll throw the whole packet out instead of using some common sense and opening it up, tasting and smelling it.
What ever happened to "home economics." Good practical domestic advice being taught in schools. My mum would never throw out mashed potatoes – they would be made into Colcannon,fish cakes, potato scones or Irish potato cakes.The skill and initiative of cooking has disappeared One of the first skills of the cook is opening the fridge door, eyeing up what´s before you and thinking, what could I do with that?
As I wrote in my post on The 1st December, nothing ever gets wasted in our house.Like my mother, Nigel Slater almost has a fetish for using up scrapings and remnants. He writes about that sort of thing as a matter of course.However he now is also an exponent of using up every morsel while you are prepping,therefore bumping waste on the head before you even sit down to eat.Not everything, or everyone for that matter, is partial to a good warming through (so to speak).They say opposites attract,well my poor partner the thespian, God help him, has had to put up with 18 years of my leftover creations, some good and some bad I admit it myself, but he is never happy when I put a midweek leftover supper on the table.Lets face it, most households ended up with some sort of carcass on New Years day, and the previous Tuesday also. From this remaining meat I was able to rescue enough resources to provide delicious sandwiches with attendant pickles and the makings of another light meal and a TV dinner.The stuffing and the left over breadcrumbs all became the makings of a more than tasty migas. Having stripped the carcass bare, it was then ready to be boiled down to make stock that made wonderful curried parsnip soup for later in the week, and there was even enough stock left to freeze some.The remaining meat formed the basis of a midweek lunch of Duck Rice for friends.Now guess what? I found myself with leftovers from the left over Duck rice. I knocked up some Arancini for another supper.With leftovers the possibilities are endless.
Todays lunch is all tomorrows dinners

These typically Sicilian snacks are a great way of using up leftover risotto.Traditionally they are filled with different stuffings,such as minced meat or vegetables.
Arancini di Riso
1 quantity of left over risotto
plain flour for dusting
2 eggs beaten
breadcrumbs for coating
sunflower oil for deep frying

Take a little of the risotto and form it into a ball, roughly the same size as a golf ball.You will find it easier if you wet your hands with cold water. Dust with a little flour,then coat with beaten egg and finally coat in the breadcrumbs.Repeat the process for each ball.
Heat some oil in a large deep saucepan or in a deep fat fryer.Add the risotto balls a few at a time and fry for 2-3 minutes until golden brown.Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot or cold.

A good New Years resolution
With millions of people in Europe now unable to afford the food they have been used to eating and global food prices set to rise as climate and other pressures increase, tackling food waste in the kitchen is at least a very good place to start.We are all guilty at some time or another of over shopping or impulse buying,but then there is always a recipe for that lost soul that is in the vegetable box or sitting on the fridge shelf.Think about it.Ready meals are not as wholesome or as cheap as they are made out to be.