Friday, 25 September 2015

Bolo de Natal .... uma causa perdida recuperou

Christmas cake....  a lost cause regained
Last Saturday the monthly farmers market was awash with late summer produce. Heirloom red onions,white peaches, chucha tomatoes and fresh farm eggs in mismatched sizes.What I was most drawn to, apart from being distracted to buy a gorgeous hunk of  presunto, was one of my regular and most reliable suppliers offering beautiful figs.Que coincidência,this was exactly what I had set off from home with the intention of looking for. I was on a mission to make a salami de figo for Christmas.Forget stir-up Sunday, thats two months away, I had to start now as it takes two and a half months to "cure" so to speak.Traditionally, if following the Italian recipe, the fig paste is mixed with anise liqueur and reduced grape must and very often chopped walnuts.It is rolled into a log resembling a salami,wrapped in fig leaves, and aged for for at least a month and up to 3 months.
I excitedly brought my figs home and immediately set about chopping them and blending them in the food processor with more lovely Algarvian ingredients,almonds, home made orange liqueur and blended with balsamic vinegar.The recipe said add a bit more liquid if needed.With what was now going to ensue there would be no need for that. I pressed the button, Whooossshh, and ended up with a sloppy sludge that would be impossible to turn out onto a work surface and roll into a log.I called for advice..."Have you read the recipe" asks the thespian.Reads recipe, can´t see anything awry.Reads recipe again, one pound of "dried" figs (cue hysterical tears).Puts thinking cap on, - tastes sublime, could it become part of a new twist on my traditional Christmas cake? After years of tinkering I thought I had finally perfected the recipe.I had chucked out all the usual currants, raisins and sultanas in favour of dried figs, apricots, hazelnuts, prunes, cherries and dates.Hey-ho,what I had before me put paid to this.To make this succeed I would have to put my Mary Berry bake-off hat on and create a cake recipe from scratch,yikes thats quite a challenge.My main concern was getting the right ratio of wet to dry ingredients so that the dry ingredients,nuts etc, would be suspended throughout the cake and not fall to the bottom.My first thought was that using fresh fruit instead of dried  would affect the shelf life when storing the cake.My fear came out of being told once that, in the event of a nuclear holocaust, the earth would be populated solely by Cher, cockroaches, Styrofoam hamburger containers, and fruitcakes.(Fruit cakes have always been renowned for keeping moist and fresh for years,some taken out of tins up to 25 years later have improved with age).
Have you ever wondered how a baker can create a cake recipe from scratch and know that it will work? Unlike a savoury chef who can often use intuition to design a successful dish, a baker must work within defined parameters to produce a cake that will rise, set, and taste the way he or she wants. Experienced cake bakers would never dream of trying to bake a cake without first "doing the math" to make sure that the ingredients are in balance. Having the right proportions of flour, eggs, sugar, and fat is essential.My first task was to thicken the fig paste from my thwarted salami project.I put it in a medium pan and reduced it for 20 minutes.It thickened beautifully by half to a sticky jam like texture.I then let it cool completely before weighing it,then incorporated that into my maths.I have taken all this into account and created a Christmas cake with a difference.No sultanas and no raisins.And how smug am I that I can say September is not over yet and my Christmas cake is tucked up to rest wrapped snugly in parchment paper and foil inside an airtight container.I will be giving it a tipple of liquor from time to time between now and Christmas.
Bolo natal embebeda do figo
Boozy Christmas fig cake
340g self raising flour (farinha com fermento)
1 tablespoon mixed spice,mace,cinnamon,cardamom and ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt 
115g (4oz ) salt dried cherries (re-hydrated overnight)
500g (1lb ) fresh figs cooked down to a paste with 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and either almond or orange liqueur
115g (4oz )Dried apricots,soaked in liquor overnight
115g prunes,soaked in liquor overnight
100g dates,stoned
170g mixed nuts,roughly chopped
280g/10oz moist brown sugar
280g/10oz unsalted butter softened
5 large eggs beaten
juice and grated zest of 1 large orange
60g dried cranberries
4 tablespoons honey
Light rum or brandy or orange liqueur for soaking fruit
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark3 ( 160ºC, 325ºF )

Sieve together the flour,spice and salt. In a large bowl mix together all the fruits, nuts,fig paste and spiced flour, coating all the fruits with the flour.In a second bowl cream the butter and sugar until quite light in colour. Beat in the eggs then thehoney, lemon juice and zest.
Combine the two mixtures in one bowl. Mix well, adding enough alcohol to arrive at a soft dropping consistency. 

Butter and line the bottom and sides of a 7-8lb ( 3.2 - 3.6 kg ) square or round cake tin ( about 9in/23cm square or 10in/25.5 cm in diameter and 31/2in/9cm deep)with double buttered paper. Fill with mixture and level the top. bake for 1 hour, then reduce the temperature to gas mark 1 (140ºC, 275ºF ) for a further 2-21/2 hours.Test with a skewer to see when the cake is done. Leave to cool. Store for at least a month, spiking it with rum and or brandy once a week.

STORAGE TIP: Wrap in clean parchment paper (papel Cuisson/papel vegetal) then wrap in foil and store for up to 3 months in an airtight tin or container.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Torta de queijo caprino com avelãs torradas, A matéria de que são feitos os sonhos...

I'm sure you´ve all had your fair share of dreadful savoury tarts. Anybody who lived through the 1970s and 1980s will have had the misfortune of enduring stodgy quiches with soggy bottoms and dense custard fillings. Maybe a quiche Lorraine eaten in Lorraine is a dish to celebrate, but growing up not in France but across the channel, the only Lorraine I remember was on the telly, my almost contemporary Lorraine Chase.
But for those Britons who managed to travel and sample culture overseas they at least were able to to ensure others shared some of their experiences,if only second hand, on their return.They bought cookbooks by Elizabeth David like French provincial cooking and prided themselves in cooking Mediterranean dishes such as quiche lorraine for their terribly middle class dinner parties.The proliferation of French and mediterranean restaurants in the country´s high streets also catered for increasingly adventurous metropolitan tastes.These were the days of bistrots,tavernas and trattorias and dining out on expense accounts-how exciting was that?
The old puritan functionalist approach approach of scampi in a basket, fish and chips and meat and potatoes were giving way to a new theatricality. Food was becoming entertainment.This was also the prawn cocktail era.TV cookery shows with culinary celebrities, Fanny Cradock, Robert Carrier and Keith Floyd encouraged a new style of home cooking and entertaining.What would we have done without the quiche Lorraine? A classic French dish, which I think it would be fair to say helped revolutionise British food, although these days it seems to have been overtaken by a plethora of other quiches containing all sorts of nonsensical ingredients.So I thought I would embark on a trip down retro lane
There is something about baking a pastry case and filling it with something delicious that appeals to me perhaps more than making a cake or a tray of brownies. From the moment  you push the dough  into the tin with your floury fingers to the quiver of the custard as you proudly take your handiwork from the oven. This is the sort of cooking you always promise yourself you will do more of, because it turns making supper into a recreational therapy rather than work.
You must carry your laden tin oh-so-carefully to the oven, watching the custard ebb and flow perilously toward the rim,trying your very best not to lose concentration at the last minute, causing your egg and cream custard to  dribble and burn on the hot oven door.My choice of tart to revive the quiche era was the sort of recipe dreams are made of, a goats cheese tart with roasted hazelnuts.The secret to a good quiche or tart is in its texture and and in this case it was sublime.Roasting hazelnuts increases their flavour and improves their crunchy buttery texture.My thinking here was to provide a complete contrast in textures and flavour. The hazelnut's flavour has an advantage over other nuts because of its ability to stand up in recipes with many high-taste ingredients, in this case the piquant flavour of the cheese, cream and eggs.

Warm goats cheese and  hazelnut tart
Butter for greasing
220g  good shortcrust pastry
220g soft goats cheese such as caprino or chevre
6 free-range eggs plus 3 yolks
300ml double cream
150ml milk
50g hazelnut kernels,toasted,skinned and chopped
grated nutmeg

Dressed salad leaves to serve
Grease a25cm-diameter,deep sided,flan tin and roll out the pastry very thinly to line it.Chill for at least 30 minutes and preheat the oven to 180C /350F /gas 4.
Bake the tart shell blind for 15 minutes then take out and remove the blind,leaving the oven on.Allow the pastry case to cool completely.
in aprocessor, blend together the cheese and eggs plus extra yolks,then blend in the cream and milk.Season with salt pepper and a grating of nutmeg.Pour carefully into the pastry shell.bake for 30 minutes,then check that the surface is not browning too 
quickly.Cover with foil if it is.Continue to bake until the pastry is golden and the filling is just set in the centre.Sprinkle with the  chopped nuts and serve the tart warm with dressed salad leaves.

Monday, 7 September 2015

A chi chi burger

Chickpeas have no etymological connection with small chickens.The last time you bit into a falafel or spread some hummus on warm pitta all you were probably thinking about was the warm spice and crunch of the chickpea fritters, and the way their texture and flavour played with your palate.
I had always thought of the chickpea as an unassuming bean and enjoyed the pleasure of chickpea dishes like hummus and falafel. But until I began digging into its story, I hadn’t realized the strong associations attached to this lowly legume. I was astonished to learn that the Roman orator and statesman Cicero’s name came from the Latin word Cicer for chickpea.The Italian name has remained almost the same today- ceci.But it was the French of course, with their ability to make showiness of an unpretentious object who made it chi chi.The name evolved into chiche or chiche-pois, which, on the model of the French, the good old English then transformed into Chickpea.How the Portuguese ever arrived at Grao de bico I will never know? The name for a small coffee in Portugal is a bica.The name bica originates from the way the coffee flows from the spout (bica or beak).You will notice that chickpeas have little beaks attached to them.Maybe this is how the name evolved in the Portuguese language.
A sprouted chickpea
Another possible explanation...
There is a very traditional Portuguese salad of chickpea and salt cod. The salad is called meia desfeita, which means “half an insult.” The unexpected combination of the two ingredients represented clashing cultures. The salt cod was a subsistence food for generations of the Portuguese. The chickpea, was associated with the hated Moors who had conquered Portugal and Spain.

Chickpea and coriander burger
Makes 4 Quarter pounders  or 8 sliders
This recipe has come in many guises,some including feta cheese,some involving pre-cooking and others only requiring a blitz in the processor and a quick flash fry.This burger is so delicious, you will not miss the meat, I promise! My original inspiration came from Donna Hay,but I have to admit much as I love and repeatedly use her recipes I couldn´t keep the burgers from crumbling and falling apart. I developed my own version which excluded the feta cheese and introduced home made bread crumbs.
2x 4oog jars of chickpeas,drained and rinsed
2 large onions chopped
2 large onions,chopped
1tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons ground cumin
4-5 garlic cloves,chopped
1 lemon
1 tablespoon Harissa paste or tomato purée (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
fresh breadcrumbs as needed
mixed leaves or rocket for garnish
Drain and rinse the chickpeas.Sauté the onions in the hot oil until glistening and add the cumin and garlic.When they become aromatic, add the chick peas and enough vegetable stock to barely cover them.Add the lemon juice,Harissa or tomato paste and cover and simmer for about 1 hour.Set aside to cool the coriander and the chickpeas in a food processor and process until roughly chopped,gradually add the breadcrumbs in stages,using the pulse action until you have aworkable dough like consistency.With your hands form the dough into patties the size you want.Heat 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil in a non-stick frying pan over a high heat and cook your burgers in batches for 1-2 minutes each side or until lightly golden.Serve with rocket or mixed leaves, bread and condiment of your choice.I served mine with a chilli coriander chutney.

Friday, 4 September 2015

No espetinho

This is a tale of tapas, pintxos, banderillas, gildas, montaditos and more.
"A pincho," a thorn or spike (or if you are in basque mode, pintxo) is a small tapa, typically eaten in bars traditionally in northern Spain but their popularity has spread to the south where we find pinchos morunos, among other derivatives, on many Andalucian menus.Variations of pintxos are "Banderillas"and"Gildas."(Lollipops).
"Banderilla" refers to the colourfully decorated and barbed sticks used in bullfighting.
It also refers  to a type of Spanish tapa mounted on a toothpick.
"Gilda"- The name refers to the main character of the film Gilda as embodied by the actress Rita Hayworth in 1946.The shape acquired by the pintxo when upright supposedly reiterates the silhouette of Gilda.
The term Gilda started being used in 1952 in a bar called Martinez ,located in the old quarter of San Sebastian.
In Navarre there is yet another variant, which is called Pajarico.
This type of tapa is marinated in salt ( brine ) and usually combines a pickle with olive and some form of pepper,pequillo or capsicum, sometimes also a little onion, and canned fish, usually  anchovies, secured with a skewer.  
 Like all foods in brine, its flavour is strong and very acidic, which makes it ideal to accompany an aperitif.In fact all tapas on a stick are great to accompany an aperitif.Here I have selected 3(see above)

Pintxo caprese con frutas

1 cantaloupe melon
1 Galia melon or piel de sapo
2 tubs of bocconcini (baby mozzarellas)
150g Presunto  in slices
manjerico or basil leaves
olive oil 
bamboo skewers
large Black and green grapes (optional)

Montadito de salami porco preto e pepinillos
1 slice of rustic baguette
1 thick slice of 

2 small cornichons or peinillos 
Secure all three ingredients with a long bamboo skewer in the order above

Banderillas de Olivas con Anchoas en Vinagre
This easy pinchos recipe consists of a stuffed olive wrapped in a strip of Moorish pickled anchovy, stuck on a toothpick to keep everything together. These spicy pinchos with pickled anchovies and green olives will refreshen the mouth and are truly delicious snacks.In Spain there are many recipes for these "Anchoas en Escabeche" or "Boquerones en Vinagre" 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

A melancia amuse bouche

Humidity levels soared again this weekend and something refreshing on the palate has been more than welcome.There is an overabundance of lovely melons,particularly water melon in the market at the moment. As a result I have been serving up watermelon, canteloupe and galia melons to add some bright and unusual accents to the breakfast platter that we serve our guests.Melons do not lend themselves to being portioned into interesting shapes, cubes triangles and spheres etc. So inevitably there is a lot of waste, and as you know I am a stickler for being resourceful when it comes to food.I owe it to my mother.Cubing water melon is always a tricky one, particularly if you are not working with the seedless variety.For some reason I have always been wary of these hybrids so usually end up making more work for myself by selecting the seeded ones. After prepping up to six of these platters I always end up with a tupperware full of eccentrically shaped offcuts in different sizes.My usual solution is to blitz the whole lot with some citrus, ginger and yoghurt to make a cooling smoothie.This time I decided differently.I would keep the fruit until later in the day and make a starter or amuse bouche for the nights dinner in the garden.It certainly had the S-factor.....Sweet (water melon,fig, vanilla) sour (sumac) salty (pistachios) and sassy (the finished thing)

Watermelon cube,melted goats cheese and more
2cm cube watermelon
soft goats cheese
slithers of wafer thin red onion
cracked pistachios 
sumac for dusting
fig balsamic
Cut your water melon into 2cm cubes.
Spread a thick layer of soft goats cheese (I used chevre)
Shell the pistachios, roughly chop them, then sprinkle them on top of the cheese and around the plate.Dust everything with sumac.

1/2 cup ripe fig pulp
1/4 cup balsamic
1/4 tsp vanilla
Scoop out the pulp from the figs and discard the skin.
Put the pulp,balsamic and vanilla in a small pan and heat on low for 20-25minutes,stirring every 5 minutes until thick.Allow to cool completely before serving.
You only need a very small coffee spoonful per serving as it is very rich.