Saturday, 30 May 2015

A view from abroad

                                                                                                ©Maureen Kane

Recreating the smells and flavours from a trip abroad can trigger happy memories.The most obvious and simplest way to achieve this is through a photograph, something you can take home and cherish for your lifetime.
I am always encouraging guests to respond in this way on this blog.Maybe they´ve taken one of my recipes home and then sent me  a picture of their own interpretation,or maybe like this example (above) a restaurant dish photographed by one of our guests, recording a memorable culinary moment We shared this moment with her, enjoying a lunch beside the beach at Cha Com Agua Salgada.She has now submitted this photo to the Observer Food Monthly awards in the category "Best food photography." Not only is this a photo that entices you to eat the subject but is recording an innovative way in which the food is cooked,on a salt stone.Cha com agua salgada is renowned for its modern approach to traditional Portuguese cuisine.Here she has recorded for  posterity an unusual dish that she had never tried before.If you like this photo as much as we do, please vote for it.
Yes,  Nuno Mendes  brought his vision of modern Portuguese food first to to Viajante then to the Chiltern Firehouse in Chiswick and now he´s wowing diners with his latest venture, Taberna do Mercado in London’s Old Spitalfields Market.But there is nothing that can replace the `real experience´ (above) of tasting modern Portuguese food in its natural environment, under sunny blue skies  beside the lapping waters of the Algarvian coastline.There is a growing interest in Portuguese produce.Around 2.1 million British visitors now head to Portugal every year, with numbers up 15 per cent in 2014. It seems the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance (the oldest in the world, dating back to 1373) is stronger than  ever.Perhaps now is the time to visit Portugal for that hands on experience.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Does an apricot belong in a jar ?

Bittter sweet "apricot almond" ice cream
Just when I was bemoaning the fact that the apricots  had not made an appearance this year, a dear friend and neighbour dropped by with two crates of apricots.They were divided into two categories, the finest quality fresh and ripe and ready for eating and second grade a slightly blemished batch ready for the preserving pan.My action plan yielded  a large batch( 6 kg) of compota,and an exceptionally delicious apricot chicken curry.
I am still in the process of sun drying the remainder on the dashboard of the car to store for my winter reserve. I have now learnt something about apricots I never knew, namely that the pits hold a precious secret.The secret is what is inside the pit, the apricot kernel which is heralded by some as a miracle cancer cure, despite a lack of clinical evidence for its efficacy.
The apricot kernel (Prunus armeniaca),is the soft part inside the seeds of the apricot. It is said to be a good source of iron, potassium and phosphorus, and one of the best sources of vitamin B17 (also known as amygdalin).
The pits of apricots, nectarines, peaches and plums all contain a kernel that tastes astonishingly like an almond. Not a sweet almond, but one with a rounded nutty flavor that ends bitter. And they can be used in ways other nuts cannot.They are, not surprisingly, called "apricot almonds" or "bitter almonds."
In fact I also just learned while writing this post that apricot kernels are sometimes used to make amaretto and creme de noyaux, a liqueur that takes its name from the French word for fruit stones.Apricot kernels very often replace almonds in the production of amaretti cookies.
Putting two and two together I realised that these bitter sweet kernels with their unusual potency would make an interesting  ice cream.Cold tends to temper flavours.I also recalled how just one single kernel gave a jar of apricot jam a perceptible scent.
Therefore infusing cream, milk and eggs with kernels would bring out the flavour even more.The fruit pits contain small traces of cyanide, but using the kernels as an aromatic poses a negligible risk .Anyhow, it would take a lot of kernels to harm an adult and I think apricot pit ice cream would not be a flavour children would appreciate,and should be served in small amounts with some kind of fruit or other flavours on the side to give it its full umami. 
I got cracking on the stones with my trusted heavy duty nutcracker to retrieve the seeds.A daunting task, but in hindsight worth cracking over fifty pits to discover the reward at the end. Smashing with a hammer is all very well and great fun, but one soon finds crushing is more efficient and less messy. I then toasted the broken shells lightly in the oven which dried out any of the fruit flesh still attached to the stones.As I was intending to use the crushed stones as well as the kernels in my infusion this would intensify the flavour.I would then sieve out all the fragments before churning the ice cream.

Bitter sweet "apricot almond" pit ice cream
Time: 45 minutes, plus overnight chilling and churning time  
This the perfect dessert for a mischievous cook like myself.You can keep your guests guessing the flavour. "It looks like vanilla ice cream", "it´s the colour of butter, with the flavour of almonds but not regular almonds". "Almonds that could have come from a an unusual variety of tree". You can keep them guessing forever.
45 to 50 apricot pits (4 1/2 ounces)including broken shells
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
7 egg yolks.

1. If you have not got a heavy duty ratchet nut cracker (see above)wrap apricot pits in a heavy tea towel or strong freezer bag. On the floor or on a firm cutting board, crack pits open using a hammer or a meat mallet, exposing kernels.This method is not entirely reliable. As you smash the pits you also smash many of the kernels whereas the nut cracker keeps the kernels whole.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine apricot kernels and  broken shells with the milk and heavy cream. Bring to a boil; turn off the heat, and let cool. Chill overnight in refrigerator.
3. The next day, bring the milk mixture to a boil again and strain through a fine sieve. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and the yolks until light and fluffy. Whisk about 1/2 cup hot milk into the egg mixture, and then whisk the egg mixture back into the milk. Pour into a large saucepan, place over medium-low heat and, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Remove from heat immediately. Let cool, and then strain.
4. Pour into an ice cream maker, and follow manufacturer's instructions.
Yield: 1 Litre / 2 pints.
If you are buying the apricots in small amounts,you can save the pits in the refrigerator or freezer until you have collected enough.                                                                                                                 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Uma sobremesa nova cada dia

"I don´t think you ready for this jelly"

Wouldn´t it be lovely to create a new pudding every day.Unfortunately, some puddings do not allow us this indulgence due to the time it takes to prepare them. Jelly is not one of these.So simple to make, this is just the kind of pudding that brings a smile to your cheeks in hot sultry weather.My favourite childhood pud has just been given an adult makeover.Correct me if I am wrong, but I hardly think Nespera (loquat  )is what a child is anticipating when you tell them you are making a fruit jelly.Alongside blancmange, jelly became the  darling of the Anglo Saxon tea table,while in America it became known by a prolific brand name Jello.More recently the word jelly has attained a more salacious and metaphoric reputation on the back of the the hip hop generation, in particular Destiny´s child´s hit "Bootylicious"  To cut a long story short, nothing could be simpler than making a home made fruit jelly. 
Nespera and orange jelly
800 g de nêsperas - 800 g of loquats
100 g de açúcar - 100 g sugar  
600ml de água - 600ml of orange juice 

6 folhas de gelatina neutra - 6 leaves of gelatin 

Wash the nesperas. Cut them in half lengthwise and remove pits.Place the nespera halves in a pan, along with the sugar and orange juice.Cover with a lid and bring to boil. Cook over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes.Remove from the heat Soak the 5 sheets of gelatine in cold water.Squeeze well and add to the cooked nesperas while still hot.Make sure the gelatine is completely dissolved.Remove the nesperas from the pan and set aside to cool.Allow the jelly in the pan to cool also.Pour a third of the jelly into a jelly mould,put in the fridge until set.Tip in the cooled nesperas and pour the rest of the jelly mixture into the mould.Return to the fridge until fully set and ready to serve.Alternatively skip the penultimate stage and divide the jelly between  individual glasses or sundae dishes.When starting to set, place a nespera on the top of each.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Cheap as chips

 There is so much more to the Algarve than just a sunny seaside destination.Besides sea,sand, and surf the Algarve offers the best value for money when eating out.This is a very important consideration when budgeting for one´s holiday. A recent survey showed Portugal to be 22% cheaper than last year in this respect.Last week the proof of this was in the cooking,things could not have got much better.Cooking doesn´t get cheaper than this. I took three very good friends out to lunch at a roadside restaurant.As is always the case, if you go slightly off the beaten track or head away from the coastal resorts, you will find prices become a lot cheaper.Our order consisted of a couvert ( fresh cheese sardine paste and bread),three dishes of liver and onions ( iscas encebolado), 1 plate of oven baked octopus (polvo no forno) all dishes served up with chips, 1 beer and 2 jugs of house wine.The bill for four people was €37.70.One could hardly cook and feed four people at home for this price.Liver and onions is a traditional English dish.Here I was in the Algarve  and I have to say this was the most tender and tasty version of liver and onions I ever had.This was no tourist trap and was far too remote for that anyway.To find quality family cooking at this price is a real discovery and once found should remain a well kept secret. I will be returning to work my way through the rest of the menu.
I already have my sights set on the picanha and maminha cuts of beef

Monday, 11 May 2015

Spice poached Portuguese Rocha pear with Nisa cheese

"Because no good story starts with....when I was having a salad..."
The response I received from one of our dinner guests when I served this particular salad however might well prompt a good story on his return home,and I quote his response "that was one of the best dishes I have tasted this year." Thank you for that Mr "O"
Many cuisines have long traditions of combining fruit with cheese. The Italians for instance flaunt the combination of juicy pears with a salty ewe's milk pecorino.Since living in Portugal I have been wanting to find a savoury way of poaching the beautiful Rocha pears we get here.I have cooked them in red wines,white wines,with all kinds of combinations of spices.I even have a much referred to Peter Gordon recipe for spice roasted pears with goats cheese but it is yet another dessert recipe.In the Casa Rosada fridge you will always find a semi-hard sheeps cheese called Queijo de Nisa.It is from the Alentejo and 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.It has been honoured as one of the 100 great cheeses in the world.Its resemblance in flavour but not texture is not dissimilar to Pecorino,in my opinion.It suddenly dawned on me that this was the perfect pairing for my spiced Rocha pear salad.I read through several dessert recipes before I came up with the formula for a savoury spice roasted pear.I removed the allspice and cinnamon that was predominant in all these recipes and put in some more savoury flavours.

Spiced roasted Rocha pear salad with Nisa cheese 

you can cook the pears in advance if you need to save time -they will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days
1 red chilli, stalk removed,finely chopped
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
thumb sized piece of root ginger peeled and cut into slithers
1 large clove of garlic peeled and sliced
2 Kaffir lime leaves (optional)
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
30ml cider vinegar
120g light muscovado sugar
150ml water
4 large sweet (but firm) Rocha pears,cored and cut in half lengthways
400g Nisa cheese roughly crumbled
Chinese five spice for dusting
Salad leaves of your choice
1/3 cup walnut halves

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. 
Halve the pears, and carefully remove the seeds and core.
Mix together the first 8 ingredients and then pour over the water.Place the pears in an oven proof dish just large enough to hold them.Pour the mixture over them and cook for approximately 45 minutes to one hour or until they are just receptive to the tip of a sharp knife.You want to retain a bit of crunch.remove them from the oven and allow them to cool in their poaching liqid.Remove the pears when cool and keep them refrigerated until you are ready to use them.
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic minced
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Flor de sal and freshly ground pepper
In small bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup (75 ml) strained poaching liquid, mustard and garlic. Slowly whisk in oil; season with salt and pepper.
When ready to serve scatter mixed leaves of your choice on the plate.Cut one half of the pear into six segments almost to the stalk of the pear but still allowing the pear half to remain in one piece.Carefully rest the pear half on the centre of the salad and fan the segments apart.Crumble Nisa cheese over the salad then drizzle over the dressing.Scatter the salad with a smidgeon of halved walnuts. Dust the pear with chinese five spice as you would use pepper.Serve immediately.
*If you are not in Portugal please try to source this unique cheese otherwise pecorino would make a fine substitute  

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Dont push me May

 Portuguese Heirloom tomatoes
Its May It´s May, May is here! It’s unbelievable how fast this year is going. It seemed like only yesterday we were ringing in the New and now we’re almost halfway through 2015.Today the monthly market was in town,buzzing and everyone around seemed to be happier (maybe it’s the anticipation of summer or maybe everyone’s seasonal affective disorder is finally wearing off). I don´t know about you but with the sun shining and nature in full bloom again I finally feel motivated.May is the month that gets one pushed busywise,not only in the kitchen with all this wonderful new produce but in the garden too,planting seeds and potting on plants that will keep our tummies happy well into late summer.In season in the Algarve are Nesperas,Portuguese avocados,strawberries,snails. The first soft fruits are making an appearance,white fleshed peaches,nectarines and hopefully soon apricots and the "Figos Lampos"the first figs of the year,so called because they resemble lamps;lampo or lampeiro in Portuguese also appropriately means premature and hasty.I even saw a small box of cherries but at €8 a kilo I declined the stallholders offer."Only for the pregnant women" he added,making a relevant gesture with his hands.
On the foraging front too wild asparagus, spinach, dandelion leaves and Salicornia (marsh samphire)are springing up.

Returning home shoulder askew with a bag of  bountiful produce I set about unpacking my stockpile.Heirloom Portuguese tomatoes.An enormous bunch of coriander,onions,a kilo of new seasons garlic which I am going to pickle this afternoon.Tomorrows breakfast for the guests will include nectarines and peaches.I also picked up some walnuts and baby new potatoes for including in up and coming salads.All in all plenty to keep me occupied for the next few days....Don´t push me May.