Tuesday, 25 February 2014

O prato básico Português - Arroz de tomate

There are certain staple dishes that make up any nations cuisine and no collection of Portuguese recipes would be complete without Arroz de tomate.
This is a kind of found-everywhere dish. Its not meant to be the star player,but it plays a very important role and you could easily make it your leading dish if you wanted to, serving it up as a great main course for a vegetarian meal or a simple lunch.
It is served as a side dish all over Portugal but the taste can vary significantly depending on the region and the cook.Last week It was served up to us by chef Noelia at one of my favourite restaurants in the East Algarve Jeronimo´s.
Arroz de tomato goes well with almost any entrée, from seafood to pork or chicken.What Noelia chose to serve us that  day was  "Raia Alhada" (Skate cooked with potatoes, garlic and herbs) I will cover this in a future post.
When cooked properly there is something very comforting about this dish.Its a great lunchtime choice on a cold winters day.The essence being in its simplicity. All it needs is seven basic ingredients,however you can embroider the recipe.Its is up to you but I prefer it in its stripped down form.The key to tasty and well cooked Arroz de tomato is the freshness and quality of the tomatoes and basil,preferably home grown and this was exactly how Noelia presented it to us.
I know that some cooks will use tomato paste in this dish,but Noelia certainly did not and I personally don’t like it without the distinct chunks of tomato.
If you like, you can also substitute about a quarter cup of the liquid with white wine for flavour.
Choose tomatoes that are as fresh as possible of course, but also try to find a variety that is meaty and punched full of flavour, such as a beefsteak or vine tomato. If you can’t find a decent tomato it is really better to use a good quality canned tomato instead, rather than make do with a sub-par tasteless supermarket tomato.Garnish the dish with some sprigs of fresh basil.

Arroz de tomate -tomato rice
Serves 4
225g( 8oz) Malandrinho, or risotto type rice
1 medium onion,finely chopped
! bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium tomatoes seeded and diced
1 tablespoon torn basil leaves
2 garlic cloves finely mince

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat.Fry the onion and bay leaf until the onions are soft and golden.Add the garlic and cook for one more minute then add the tomatoes and basil and continue cooking on a simmer until softened,about five minutes.Add water or stock,21/2 times the volume of the rice,bring to the boil and add the rice and some Flor de sal.Simmer until tender(about 25 minutes)and taste for salt before serving.Remove the bay leaf.The rice should not be too dry.When left more on the wet side it has a certain succulence.You could even toss in chunk of butter at the end for an extra richness.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Farofa,a Brazilian bit on the side

With the double header of the World Cup going all Latin American and the 2016 Olympics in distant sight, over the next few months I am certain we will all be reading, eating, sleeping and breathing Brazilian food. Prepare yourself for Cassava, Empanadas and Caipirinhas galore.
The 2014 World Cup kicks off in Brazil this summer,so for sure we will all be bombarded with recipes, ingredients,flavour combinations and dishes from the region. Traditional Brazilian foods incorporating beans, cashews, peanuts, chillies, as well as meat marinades, are sure to hit menus, fast food outlets and our supermarket shelves in time for the big tournament.
Dishes such as Feijoada(a black bean and meat stew), Moqueca (fish stew), Vatapa (spicy, creamy fish dish cooked in peanut sauce), Empadão (hearty meat and vegetable pie), foods using cassava and desserts incorporating cinnamon, coconut and berries are all expected to become popular choices this summer.
While South American food in general has been increasing in popularity for quite  a while now, 2014 is set to really put Brazilian food on the map. With the eyes of the sporting world focused on Portuguese speaking South America expect to see an increased number of manufacturers launching Brazilian-themed variants.In particular because of the time of year, products catering for barbecue style food are sure to be top of the list. Rodizio restaurants will become increasingly popular for football trencherman appetites.My favorite Brazilian dish has to be Feijoada.It is a much served favourite here at Casa Rosada, but  I am always in a  quandary as to what to serve with it. Here is the answer.The Portuguese brought Feijoada to South America but it was Brazil who gave it its partner, a side dish called farofa.
Farofa is the term for a side dish using toasted farinha de mandioca, (manioc flour) which is a dried flour similar in looks and texture to breadcrumbs, made from yucca. The making of farofa as a dish couldn't be easier. It is plain manioc flour toasted in butter. A few of the classic farofa dishes include eggs and scallions, eggs and bacon, banana, bell peppers, green beans and carrots, peas and corn, and so on and so forth. Farofa can be extremely dry, since the manioc flour immediately sucks up all the juices from anything it encounters, especially when it's served plain. The trick to making a moist farofa is to use a small amount of manioc flour in proportion to the other components, turning a side dish into a savory accompaniment that is so tempting, you may even forget there is a main course.

My favourite farofa
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups manioc flour
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced on a bias
1 small red onion diced
100g (about 5 slices) of Toucinho, bacon or pancetta cut finely into dice
1 cup frozen peas
Flor de sal and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the manioc flour and toast it to a light golden colour, stirring often, 8 to 10 minutes. Make sure to stir constantly, otherwise the flour will burn. Set aside.
In a nonstick skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat, and cook the scallions and red onion until they just start to soften. Save a few slices of scallion for garnish.Add the diced bacon,the peas, and continue cooking until the bacon has got a good colour but is not crispy, the onions are fully softened and the peas are cooked.Add the toasted flour and stir well with the onions and bacon to combine.
Pantry tips
Farofa makes a great gluten-free alternative to couscous; 
Farinha de mandioca turns any combination of leftover vegetables (and meats) into a complete meal
The root of the manioc (cassava) plant is commonly sold as a very fine starch (almidón), often called tapioca flour. But to make farofa, you need manioc flour that is coarsely ground, with a texture like farina cereal. You can find manioc flour in Brazilian markets or online.
Watch out for more Brazilian recipes Pelé would be proud of, appearing on the blog closer to the World Cup!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Slada Batata Hilwa (Moroccan sweet potato salad)with preserved lemon

February is not the month to be snacking out on salads.I mean the fresh, green, crispy leafed varieties.Do not despair, you still can eat a seasonal healthy salad and wise up to Spring being just around the corner.Believe it or not hearty root vegetables can make good salads.Warm squash or pumpkin can be spiced up with chili and coriander, and if you are not vegetarian chuck in in a bit of bacon or pancetta.A tray of roasted vegetables enlivened by some fennel and tossed through some crispy croutons can make a healthy winter lunch.This substantial Moroccan sweet potato salad is just the ticket and something I will be serving as a starter well into Spring, or at least as long as the sweet potatoes are in season.What makes this salad extra special is the preserved lemon rind which adds a nice saltiness that just finishes it off nicely with the parsley. You can taste the flavours of the warm North African spices as well as the lemon rind, but I do feel it is a very necessary part of the dish, or maybe I just like home made preserved lemons. It is also great as a side to chicken dishes.

Slada Batata Hilwa  (Moroccan sweet potato salad)

1 medium white onion, diced
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb sweet potato, cubed
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
Flor de sal
6 -8 green olives,pitted
1/2 preserved lemon, rind of, chopped
half a lemon, juice of
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped

Saute onions in 2 tbsp of oil until golden.
Add the cubed sweet potato to the pan with 2 more tablespoons of oil.Add the ginger, cumin, paprika, and salt to taste.Toss everything together well to coat, then add enough water to barely cover the potatoes.
Cook until potato pieces are tender and the liquid has reduced to a sauce, turning the potatoes over once. Be careful when handling them so that they don't fall apart.
Let cool to room temperature.
Mix in olives, and preserved lemon rindl. Taste and adjust salt if you need more.
Sprinkle with lemon juice, remaining one tbsp of olive oil and parsley. Enjoy!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Um desejo de fazer sorvete decadente Baci

Champagne and chocolate have always been de rigeur for Valentines Day,and we all know that expression made famous by Madonna ”Italians do it better.” The phrase chimes nicely with their worldwide reputation as the apotheosis of that prized breed of male known by the term “Latin Lover,” which dates back at least to the days of the great Casanova himself. But is it true these days? I have had no hands-on experience of Italian men in this regard,so I cant comment and leave it up to you ladies to fill me in.I have however always wanted to make Baci ice cream.
It’s so quintessentially Italian, it’s almost an emblem of national flavour. It would be tantamount to treason for an Italian to dislike the heady combination of chocolate and hazelnuts.Consider the place that Nutella* has in the Italian national psyche … the allure of this combination has taken hold and is firmly part of tradition. Think of Baci chocolates from Perugia, with a whole hazelnut encased in a hazelnut praline centre, coated in smooth dark chocolate

… each one with its own romantic message attached. Swoon.
I was determined to get it right first time (yes, it was my first attempt.
All the recipes I googled used Nutella.I have nothing against Nutella* -not that I am particularly wild about the stuff either, but It's just that in my humble opinion I have always thought there must be a better way to achieve that heavenly chocolate - hazelnut combination.Well, use Baci chocolates of course.Maybe its their cost that puts people off, but I have also unearthed a lot of recipes that use Torrone.I thought why not capitalize on the Spanish specialty Turrón de Guirlache, which is so delicious and readily available in this part of the world.So get ready for Valentine's day by upping the ante and surprise your other half with balls of this decadent chocolate ice cream.It won’t be long before you are fastening you´re waistline, pegging a pant up and getting ready for a bumpy night of passion. So here is my version. Or, at least, my variation of a Baci ice cream.

A Decadent Baci Ice Cream
Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, really pushes the hazelnut out and is the only source I found that actually uses Baci chocolates.I upped the Italian ante by using a tub of Mascarpone for an extra richness.

200g Turron/Torrone
30g best quality cocoa powder (Green and Blacks)
50ml Boiling water
100g Good quality bittersweet Dark chocolate (Lindt)
6 large egg yolks
100g caster sugar
250 ml heavy cream
450 ml whole milk
250g mascarpone

8 Baci chocolates plus one extra per serving
In a food processor break the Turron up until you achieve a very coarse crumble.
Put the Turron pieces in saucepan over medium heat and add the boiling water.Add the cocoa powder and cook stirring frequently until the Turron is melted and the cocoa powder is combined into a soft paste.Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile break up the chocolate into pieces and melt in a bain-marie over medium heat.
Warm the cream and milk in a saucepan until almost boiling.Set aside.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a roomy bowl until pale and creamy.Slowly beat in the cream and milk mixture,and then return the mixture to the pan.Stir constantly over a low heat until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.It must not boil or it will curdle.
Remove the chocolate from the bain-marie and stir it into the custard until it is completely incorporated.Transfer to clean jug immersed in cold water and leave to cool completely.
When cold,using an electric whisk,beat the custard into the mascarpone until combined.
Stir in the turron mix followed by 8 roughly chopped Baci chocolates.Freeze in a freezer container until firm,stirring once after two hours and twice more at hourly intervals.
Transfer the ice cream to the fridge at least half an hour before you want to serve it.
Scoop balls into glass bowls,glasses or sundae dishes and garnish each one with a Baci chocolate cut into quarters.Enjoy the heavenly sensation.

*I don’t want to rant about Nutella but one has to acknowledge that it is no longer the wonderful spread that it used to be.We all know why.No point getting on my high horse about it here. The recipe has changed dramatically over the years, which is unfortunate, as it is now a much more sickly sweet chocolate spread with some rather dubious ingredients. Rather unfair to children today, in my humble opinion, as the original was a sublime experience. I think most people over the age of 30 or 40 probably love Nutella for the sweet memories of childhood it invokes.These days, it’s a great idea to make your own and capture that wonderful flavour again.  It’s also easy.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

`SemGluten´ um requisito ou estilo de vida `Gluten free,´necessity or lifestyle choice

All gluten free posts on this blog will now be flagged up accordingly
 Holidays can be a real trial for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. And even for those of us who aren't medically obliged to reduce our gluten intake, excessive holiday eating means we should be mindful anyway of how many rich, starchy foods we're consuming.As more and more of our guests at our bed and breakfast seem to be requiring a wheat and gluten free diet.I acknowledge that 'wheat and gluten free’ is a serious modern day issue that needs to be addressed by everyone involved in the food and service industry.
More restaurants than ever before are willing to accommodate special dietary needs.As a cook catering for the needs of one establishments´ guests this is exactly my feeling on the matter.I am definitely not taking the route of catering specifically to a gluten-free crowd.There are many hypotheses about the sudden increase in interest in the gluten-free way of life, as well as the rise of genuine patients raising gluten-related concerns with their doctors and without scientific clarity the “wheat has to be sorted from the chaff”.More people than ever are buying, cooking and eating gluten-free foods as a lifestyle choice. Gluten-free living appeals to many but like myself still seems to be widely misunderstood.Celebrity inspired intrigue to going gluten free might well play a part, making magazines culpable of starting a new trend in fashionable and healthy eating.The discovery of the causes of Celiac disease being medically recognized in 1952 and linked to the ingestion of wheat proteins,makes this phenomenon something relatively modern and
something I knew nothing about it until I entered the world of catering in 1986.At the moment allergies and intolerances are a minefield for cooks and chefs, but given this position I accept the challenge with an enthusiasm and as and when I find gluten free recipes I will share them on this blog and flag them up accordingly with the symbol above.
Despite the lack of scientific clarity, gluten-free eating appears to be here to stay, whether it's trendy for some or necessary for others. In the meantime, some of the confusion can certainly be cleared up.First stop I need to get more savvy about reading labels on products.