Sunday, 28 August 2016

A Medieval bugbear

                                                      Do not attempt this at home

As this years Dias Medievais draws to a close it has not been without its bugbears, and I dont just mean those fearsome imaginary creatures evoked to frighten naughty children. The streets of Castro Marim were alive with plenty of those hobgoblins, and even stalls selling all the accoutrements for evil parents to dress up as Vlad The Impaler and attempt the fantasy at home.No, what I am talking about is the other type of bugbear that is a source of annoyance and soon grows into a bone of contention, baby buggies.The last few days the streets have  been tailbacked with this tiresome form of infant transportation.Who in their right mind tries to navigate one of these around congested narrow streets.
Some of the designer models in medieval blue or festival fuschia you could expect to pay top dollar for and yet their owners are grumbling about the entry fee to the festival and having parked their car on the pavement to avoid paying the paltry parking fee of €1.50. Then, as we witnessed, making a dash through the gate with their pushchair when the stewards back is turned.It maybe a sweet ride for baby but for the pedestrian it becomes a hazard.Some of them are being pushed empty perhaps with a couple of bottles of water inside but no sight of the wretched ankle biter it is supposed to be carrying.Some of these stylish strollers even Cynthia Nixon would roll around the streets of Manhattan in Sex in the City.I thought I had left all this behind In Stoke Newington ten years ago, but it has returned to haunt me and cause my exposed ankles to be covered in bruises. Having got that off my chest, we have this year seen hirsute topless Scottish lads double somersaulting and cartwheeling their way down the streets in their kilts.When Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane, far too much excitement,woops what´s that bush I saw yonder or was it a sporren. It all happened in just a flash.After three days these youths had found themselves some medieval totty and calmed down considerably.Thank god for the lull in testosterone. 
A new bar,Taberna Medieval had this year come into its own.As you walked into this watering hole you expected to be greeted by Falstaff. images of the Merry Wives of Windsor came to mind. Wenches rushing around sweeping plates of half finished morcela, pork scratchings and other discarded detritus into oversized baskets.But it was the music that provided the background to all this that produced a successful modern take on medieval.First we had the wonderful warbling notes of Jethro Tull´s flautist Ian Anderson "Serenading the cuckoo" from their debut album This Was.
I was transported back to 1968.This was time travelling at its best, sitting on the raised terrace of a medieval tavern in 2016 listening to some of my favourite music from the sixties. But what came next was a triumph of re-invention.
The Belarussian band Stary Olsa, whose video of their medieval version of Metallica’s song One was a viral hit came loud and clear over the system with their medieval rendering of the song Californication, originally by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
From then on it just got better and better.Pink Floyds "Another brick in the wall" and Deep Purple´s "Child in time".We didn´t need no education,oh no. What a great evening it turned out to be and buggy bear free.Such fun.Until next year, I leave you with this....


O banquete final dia 28

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Dias medievais 2016 - how the camel got the hump

Happy days are here again!!! "So long sad times, Go long bad times, We are rid of you at last, Howdy gay times, Cloudy gray times", for five days next week Castro Marim is once again a thing of the past.
The 19th edition of the Medieval Days or " WOOPS ,where´s my wimple" is coming and with it all the fascination of this bygone era.Be prepared to trip the medieval magic light fantastic. From 24 to 28 August, the sleepy little town of Castro Marim wakes up once again and returns to the Middle Ages.Oh joy the medieval circus and all its trappings is back in town.
I love what I witnessed in a previous year - Camels, dromedaries and other even toed ungulates escaping from their pen during the night and eating the trees before deciding whether to cross the main road and have dip in the salt spa. Can you spot the white queen, the red queen,where´s the wench, and who will be your knight in shining armour? Which shop will win the coveted prize for best dressed medieval window? I feel the presence of the ghost of medieval present,  Mistress Mary Portas, peeping from a Juliet balcony,ensuring all codes of window dressing practice are firmly adhered to.
Brocade canapés for the medieval banquet? or had I misread it for canopies? How lovely either way.One of the always eagerly awaited highlights of Medieval Days are the banquets inside the Castle.
Under the mysterious light of torches and probably brocade canopies, the sound of the classical guitar serenades the guests while they delight in a medieval menu where timeless dishes are plentiful and duly accompanied by lashings of wine, dark beer and cider.Hurrah.

In the streets you will find mythological and historical characters, warriors, monsters, princesses, kings and queens and the various social classes - clergy, nobility, bourgeoisie and people - musicians, drummers and dancers, knights, jugglers, babblers of half-truths,hunchbacks and mountebanks,multibancos, fire-eaters and storytellers, pipers, jugglers, swordsmen and contortionists, among many others, make up the rest of this scenario.The main drag will be awash with coats of many colours. Galliano gaiety will abound ,attempting to match the lux and trim of any medieval Lacroix courtier.You will never be more than a canon balls throw throw from a stall selling slices of brigadeiro, Doces regionais and Doce Conventuais.
"You having jasmine sorbet tonight or the chancellor´s buttocks?" a picture is conjured up of muscular fingers paddling in chocolate lava squeezed from Etnas of sponge,the calloused palms of monks curving lecherously over hillocks of quince jelly and quivering dunes of the deep fried pistachio patties known as chancellor´s buttocks.Slices of sweetness drawing inspiration from erogenous body parts, you soon become aware you are surrounded by a triumph of gluttony
And if cheeky desserts aren't your style, you can always opt for pig in a bun, which is so good it can even pass for breakfast. 
Back to camels. Among the mysteries Rudyard Kipling explores in his Just So stories, is how the camel got its hump. Or should that be humps? "He ate sticks and thorns and tamarisks and milkweed and prickles, most 'scruciating idle; and when anybody spoke to him he said 'Humph!' Just 'Humph!' and no more," Kipling wrote. After next week, while the town picks up the pieces, we know exactly how the camel felt - Humph!!!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The catch of the day,one should never assume.

  “Assunção da Virgem” - Nicolas Poussin (1630-1632)
Yesterday we planned another dinner here at Casa Rosada as part of our ongoing gastronomy project.Working closely with Salmarim  we co-host the occasional gastronomy events, like our food bloggers weekend, a lunch on the salt pans and an evening where Michelin starred chefs cooked with us in our kitchen. Last night we had a guest Belgian chef  Fons Claes in the house and two Danish journalists who are writing a travel guide to the Algarve. Fons uses Salmarim products in his restaurant De Koerier Brasserie. The Danes wanted to visit the Salmarim salt pans and have a dinner at Casa Rosada ,so we thought we would combine the two parties for a dinner and Jorge from Salmarim would cook some Robalo (sea bass) in a salt crust.My contribution to the evening was my latest Gazpacho, pate ovos de bacalhau (smoked cods roe pate),Muxama rosemary and garlic roast potatoes, an Algarvian salad and to end the evening a honey and cardamom cheesecake with fresh figs. 

First of all there was a catch. It was the day after Asunçao de nossa senora (The Assumption) and there was no fish to be had in the market, as not only had the holiday fallen on a Monday but the fishing boats had not been out on the holiday.We had wrongly made the assumption that there would be fish in the market.Jorge to the rescue and contacted Atlantikfish our local fish farm here in Castro Marim and head honcho Andre arranged for our own special catch ready to be picked up in the afternoon.our dinner was saved and could go ahead as planned.

  and when all was said and done...i guess we all enjoyed it

Monday, 15 August 2016

But what about savoury panna cotta? ...with a bit on the side?

I thought nothing could be more polarizing than one country´s  referendum on leaving Europe and then someone mentioned panna cotta.I know I know… I am sure you are thinking that I must have lost the plot.
Savoury panna cottas are served in some restaurants, and therefore not entirely unknown but then again not widely known.
 What is panna cotta made of?  Basically, cream. To which we add flavours, vanilla, lemon geranium, mint, yoghurt (sometimes), gelatine and sugar.  If you take the sugar out of the equation, why not adapt the smooth texture and delicate flavour as a savoury dish instead of a sweet one?. Yes,  Panna Cotta is (usually) a dessert. But hear me out. Same silky consistency, same shine… different taste.I have made sweet panna cottas every which way but only added one savoury version to my repertoire
Panna cotta is known and loved all over the world as that most delicious of  Italian desserts. Silky smooth cream with just the right balance of gelatine to settle it  into a soft wobbly lady indicative shape. 
This may sound strange but imagine a savoury panna cotta made of basil leaves served with beautiful prawns and a salad fresh summer vine tomatoes, or a panna cotta made of horseradish and dijon mustard or perhaps a minty pea panna cotta served with with crispy fried serrano ham .There is a glut of tomatoes in the market place this summer so on the lines of the recent chilled roasted tomato soup  my thoughts turned to adapting this recipe into a slow roasted tomato and angostura panna cotta.
Botanically, tomatoes are a fruit: the berry of the Solanum lycopersicum.certain varieties can taste disappointing, but long, slow cooking concentrates their flavour.

The art of making a good panna cotta comes down to controlling the amount of gelatine. You need enough gelatine to settle the cream but you don’t want the cream to become a solid shape. When put in the mouth, and squished between the tongue and your palate, the panna cotta should dissolve quite easily. If you need to chew the panna cotta, you have used too much gelatine.
The amount of salt added to the panna cotta should emphasize the taste of cream and herb but never overpower it, so be really careful when tasting, but remember that chilled dishes often need a tiny bit more salt than warm dishes.

Slow roasted tomatoes and angostura panna cotta 
with a bit on the side

2kg tomatoes, halved and de-seeded
1 head garlic, halved horizontally
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for oiling the ramekins
2 teaspoons caster sugar, plus 1 teaspoon (if necessary)
150ml half-fat crème fraiche
3 generous dashes of Tabasco 
1 tablespoon Angostura bitters
5 sheets, about 8g, gelatine leaves
salad leaves for garnish

Heat the oven to 150°C/fan oven 130°/ mark 2. Place the tomato halves in 2 roasting tins and add half a garlic head to each one. Drizzle over the olive oil. Sprinkle over 2 teaspoons sugar and some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake in the oven for 2½ hours. Remove and leave to cool slightly. Pick out the softened garlic cloves, discarding the skin, and return to the tomatoes.
Brush 6 x 150ml ramekins with a little oil and place a disc of non-stick baking parchment in the base of each. Spoon the tomatoes and garlic into a food processor and process to a smooth purée. Pass the mixture through a sieve, squeezing out as much liquid as possible and discarding the remains. Measure into a jug - you should have about 800ml. Pour into a saucepan and stir in the crème fraiche and Tabasco. Taste and season with salt and pepper, and the extra teaspoon of caster sugar, if necessary.
In a shallow bowl, cover the gelatine leaves with cold water and leave to soak for 5 minutes. Place the saucepan over a low heat and, stirring gently, heat the tomato cream until hot but not boiling. Take off the heat. Lift the softened gelatine out of the water and squeeze out any excess water. Add to the tomato cream and stir until it is dissolved. Then cool a little before pouring into the oiled moulds. Cool completely before refrigerating for at least 6-8 hours, or until set.

For the bit on the side: you can add different textures and flavours  to make a panna cotta more interesting. Since a panna cotta is really creamy, you need a lot of contrast, so try adding some crunch e.g. nuts,crispy bacon bits, biscuits ( savoury or sweet) and chippy type things or cheese straws,.
Some food historians trace a link of cheese straws to the British “biscuit.” Others cite the biscotti and hard breads of Italy and Spain. But wherever cheese straws originated, they’ve found a real home in Savannah. Making cheese straws was once a way of preserving cheese in the heat and humidity of the Deep South. But nothing enhanced their appeal like a good cocktail, and they became immensely popular in the canapé-crazed fifties and early sixties. 
 Inspired by today’s mixologists and artesan spirits revival, many cooks have adapted their grandmother’s recipe, adding  new elements to  create a “new-old” version of cheese straws. Rolling them in cheese and rosemary with cayenne pepper a la Mrs Beeton' s book of household management was a family standard I remember.
Today, cheese straws are usually served at cocktail parties or instead of crackers or bread with soups or salads. While early recipes are non-specific, simply stating, “cheese,” flavorful Cheddar evolved to be the cheese of choice. Few of the gourmet cheese straws are still in “straw” shape. One of our favorites, John Wm. Macy CheeseSticks, observes the traditional form with a twist—they are actually twisted, and made from puff pastry. They’re also available in a variety of cheese flavors, as is true with most straw producers. Cheese straws are easy to make from purchased puff pastry, if you want to serve them hot out of the oven. You can make cheese sticks from your favorite butter cookie dough, too. There are as many different shape and recipe combinations as there are creative bakers.

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It´s not really surprising they’ve seen their share of recipe tinkering.Today cheese straws are a standard nibble for any reception or to accompany drinks but a few traditional hosts still serve them in the old fashioned way as a crisp accompaniment to a starter, soups or salads.I thought I would try the more traditional approach but being the tinker cook I am I put a twist on them, literally

Red pepper tapenade twists
320g sheet ready-rolled, all-butter puff pastry

50g red pepper tapenade

1 egg, beaten

Lay the sheet of puff pastry on a board. Cut in half vertically and spread the tapenade over one piece. Lay the second piece over the first and brush the surface with the beaten egg. Cut the pastry into 12 vertical strips. Twist each piece to form a spiral and lay on a baking sheet. Chill for 15 minutes. Heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C/mark 6. Bake the tapenade twists for 15 minutes or until puffed and golden. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
To serve, unmould the panna cottas on to serving plates - you may need to run a knife around the edges of the moulds to loosen the sides. Garnish with salad leaves and serve with the tapenade twists.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Once twice six times amazingly

Just how simple yet spectacular can grilled steak be? Onglet tu dis, sirloin you say.Por que não peito alto? Everyone has their own favourite cut.But of course the cut you choose is determined by how you want to cook it.
Hang about, every time I´ve read a newspaper or tapped into a blog recently,everybody´s banging on about Hanger steak. I have been following the Portuguese culinary ambassador to London Nuno Mendes column in The Guardian and he came up with a recipe for a seared beef salad with a herb puree. I have to say it grabbed my attention not only because I have a soft spot for steak salads, but because the cooking method fascinated me. I bookmarked it, but where could I get hold of "quality aged hanger steak" here in the Eastern-most Algarve.Without the contacts in the trade I would have great difficulty I would say.Surely this was  a delicacy reserved for the likes of high-end city restaurants.
 Not having even heard of the name before, it sounded to me like an indie band that hasn't quite hit the top-40 mainstream status yet, but is big enough that everybody other than me had heard about. Most I assumed would have have even given it a try. If you lived in France, you would have seen it on bistro menus as onglet—a popular cut for steak frites. Elsewhere it was called butcher´s steak because the butcher used to take it home if it hadn´t ended up in the mincer. After browsing endless maps of the beast and what the equivalent cuts were called in different countries I set off armed with some photocopies to show my butcher and explain what I wanted to achieve.
 I had discovered that it is cut from the plate section of the cow (the front of the belly), it "hangs" off of the cow's diaphragm, so hence the name. it did not take long before the butcher identified what I wanted to be Peito, or more specifically Peito Alto -  a first for me.I returned home and the thespian immediately said well it certainly looks like onglet, so things were looking up.I returned to the Nuno Mendes recipe and decided I would proceed with his cooking method, but I would change the way i was going to serve the salad.I wanted to make it my own.First of all I introduced a marinade into the equation.I cast my memory back to a seared sirloin salad I had eaten back in the London days at Moro in Exmouth Market.They had marinated their steak in Sumac giving it a fruity tartness and then contrasted that with sweet white grapes. I had the beginning of my recipe and everything that followed just fell into place. The steak amazingly is seared not once not twice but six times on each side resting it in between and re-seasoning it each time with Flor de sal.Try it, this may seem an unusual way to cook steak, but the light touch preserves the integrity of the meat and produces the juiciest melt-in-the-mouth slices of steak you can possibly imagine.The secret I found also is to allow a generous resting time ( at least twenty minutes) at the end.Served cold the next day it was even better.

Peito alto novilho com pimentas bebê salteados 
(Skirt steak with sautéed baby pepper salad)
Serves 4

500g good-quality aged hanger steak, well trimmed
5 tbsp salted butter, melted
Sea salt and black pepper  


1/2 small red onion grated
1 tablespoon redwine vinegar
1 teaspoon sumac
1 teaspoon coriander seeds,freshly ground
a pinch of freshly ground allspice
a pinch of freshly ground black pepper

6 miniature pimentos of of different shapes, colours

12 cherry and pear tomatoes/ kumatoes of different , colours, halved and sliced
4 large bulb spring onions, sliced in half lengthways

selection of mixed salad leaves including rocket
½ bunch coriander, leaves picked and stalks discarded
¼ bunch parsley
2 spring onions tops, sliced
6-7 large, fresh mint leaves
½ seeded jalapeño pepper
Salt, to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish  

Mix all the marinade ingredients together and rub evenly over the steaks.leave to marinade for a good hour or two.Bring the meat back to room temperature
While the meat is marinading de-seed and trim the peppers, julienne.
Heat a small knob of butter and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a pan and sautée the peppers over a gentle heat until soft about 10 minutes.set aside to cool completely.
When the meat has marinated sufficiently, in a very hot non-stick pan, sear the meat on each side for 30 seconds, then remove from heat. Repeat this procedure six times, allowing the meat to rest in between, and reseason with a little sea salt each time. After the sixth time, let it rest for at least twenty minutes, it can be served cold.Slice it  across the grain into long, thin slices – it should be nice and pink, but warm all the way through.
Prepare a large dish with the salad leaves mix in the jalapeno pepper parsley and spring onions.Cover with the mixed tomatoes,the cooled pimentos and then arrange the slices of meat across the salad.Scatter a carpet of the mint and coriander leaves over the top and finish with some extra-virgin olive oil.
Prepare to collect the accolades.

Monday, 8 August 2016

O brigadeiro - The brigadier and his cannon balls

 Hard to resist...I know....
Bored of the same old chocolate cake recipe that your mother passed on to you? Well there is nothing wrong with that, but maybe its time for something a little different? Well, here is a cake of Olympic proportions for all of you hardcore chocolate fans. It is a well known Portuguese cake that is called “bolo brigadeiro”. In English you could translate it as brigadier cake. I know, it sounds strange but I can assure you that this chocolate cake is one of the best ways of eating chocolate as cake.One popular way to recreate the brigadeiro is to turn it into a rich, moist chocolate cake. The cake part is usually some sort of standard chocolate cake, the brigadeiro part being found in the frosting. It is not hard to make and the effort pays off, believe me.
It is named after a brigadier general Eduardo Gomes who tried to conquer the hearts of voters, using the brigadeiro as a way to raise funds while he was campaigning for president. The brigadeiro is made from sweetened condensed milk, cocoa powder and butter,which when combined give the depth and intensity to this Brazilian obsession.The brigadeiro mixture is then shaped and rolled into little fudge balls.
The brigadeiro, created in 1940 is common throughout the entire country, as well as in Portugal, and is present in practically all the major Brazilian celebrations.It contributes a big part of the Brazilian culture and is said to be a national icon. I thought with the Olympics running in Rio for the next two weeks it would be an appropriate time to venture into unchartered waters and bake my very first brigadeiro cake. As it turned out the brigadeiro experience is way way better than any track or field event.
 When made in Brazilian homes, the brigadeiro can be eaten straight from the pot 
( dangerous!!!!) while one watches TV (must try this), which is why it can sometimes be called "spoon brigadeiro". I must say I tried hard to resist but while spooning the brigadeiro mixture onto my chocolate sponge I had to "spoon" some into my mouth so leaving no brigadeiro for my original plan which was to  serve up the balls version all around the cake to honour the brigadier and his cannon balls.Next time perhaps.I think my first endeavour deserved bronze but next time with more practice I´m going for gold.

Bolo Brigadeiro ( Brigadeiro cake )

Brigadeiro Cake (Bolo Brigadeiro)
Makes 1 23cm ( 9-inch ) cake

For the sponge cake
150g dark chocolate
50ml milk
6 large whole eggs, free-range preferred
150g dark muscavado sugar
50g butter
150g all-purpose flour
1tsp baking powder

For the topping:
375g can  sweetened condensed milk
250ml milk
125g unsweetened dry cocoa powder
chocolate sprinkles

Make the sponge cake:
 Preheat the oven to 180C(350F). 
Grease a round spring form cake and dust with some flour.
separate the yolks from the whites.Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and reserve in the fridge.
Put the chocolate broken into pieces with  the butter in aheatproof bowl over apan of boiling water and stir with a fork until you get a creamy mixture. Set aside.
In an electric mixer,beat the egg yolks and brown sugar on medium speed until you obtain acreamy mixture.add the melted chocolate,milk and mix for 3-4 minutes until it´s nicely incorporated.Reduce the mixer speed to low,add the flour mixed with the baking powder and beat until you have obtained a homogenous and creamy mixture.Finally with a spatula fold in gently the egg whites.
pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake until atooth pick inserted in the centre comes out clean,about 40 to 45 minutes (the time depends on the oven).
Make the topping:
in asaucepan place the milk,cocoa powder,condensed milk and whisk nicely. Place the pan over alow heat and stir occasionall with awooden spoon until the cream thickens (about 15 minutes)
Turn off the heat and allow to cool for about 5 minutes.
Carefully slice the cake in half with a long knife.
Place the bottom slice of the cake on aplate and spread with an even layer of the brigadeiro cream.
Cover with the top slice of the cake and cover completely with the remaining cream.
Garnish the cake with sprinkles and store the cake in the fridge until ready to serve.

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