Thursday, 24 November 2016

Coalfish cakes - the new black

"Squid ink is the new black". Sounds like something trendy being posted on social media, but in fact risotto nero has been on the menu in Italy for quite a long time. The same goes for black spaghetti, pasta al nero.In Spain, arroz negro and black paella have long been standard fare. Squink risotto too may sound like the epitome of hip cuisine.So I thought I would venture down a slightly different avenue, taking another leaf out of Jose Avillez book and make some blackened fish cakes.This was my second venture into the culinary bairro do Jose Avillez.He uses bacalhau for his version ( "pastéis de bacalhau negros com maionese de alho" ) but bacalhau is not received well in this house, so I thought, being British, I would try pollock.And by the way, can someone clarify for me when, in Portuguese, is a fish cake a patanisca and when is it a pastel?
The Portuguese dictionary definition of pollock is.........
(O escamudo-negro (ou apenas escamudo) ou paloco é um peixe da família do bacalhau Pollachius virens.) 

                      Paloco as pollock  is called in Portuguese is of the same family as cod.

Sometimes also called Saithe, Coalfish or Coley, this used to be a favourite cheap option for the English nation's cats before tinned pet food was developed. Now, however, top chefs and leading supermarkets have changed all that,and these related species are making a fashionable comeback as a great alternative to cod.It is brilliant in fish pies and cakes,and can also be eaten salted and smoked, much like Bacalhau.Hence my choice as an alternative to cod.The recipe stated for 4 people and I found it made 30 pataniscas.The reason my mix made a little bit more was that I found that I needed to add some bread crumbs to the original recipe as I found the mixture needed firming up a little in order to make it more workable when shaping the quenelles.In hindsight, the next time I make them I am going to spice them up a tad by adding some spice and chilli. They freeze beautifully too, so always useful to have some extra as back up.
 Coalite - Do not attempt to eat these and keep them away from children
Ironical that this fish was alternatively known as coal fish because these pataniscas (above) bore an uncanny resemblance to something called "coalite" that my parents used to burn on the fire when we were children.
Pataniscas de peixe negros 
com aioli ou sriracha sauce
makes 30
250g Pollock fillets
200g potatoes 
60g finely chopped onion
10g finely chopped parsley
20g (5 x 4g sachets) squid ink
4 eggs
olive oil
1 clove garlic
Bread crumbs as required
Flor de sal and pepper, nutmeg to taste
Sunflower oil for frying

Boil the unpeeled potatoes with a clove of garlic,salt and olive oil.Remove from the heat and when cool,mash.
Steep the pollock in some hot milk with some peppercorns and a bay leaf.When it almost comes to the boil, remove from the heat and leave with a lid on for 5 minutes then flake it.Add the flaked fish to the mashed potato, chopped onion parsley and stir in the squid ink.Add the eggs one by one and stir them into the mix.Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.With the help of two dessert spoons make quenelles and fry them in a deep fryer at 180C.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Oreo smoked salt chocolate cheesecake

Dont attempt this recipe unless you have time to spare

For some time now I have been looking for the perfect foil for smoked Flor de sal. I have in my store cupboard three strengths of it, mild, medium and strong.The hint of salt here is crucial I was told.It subtly cuts through the richness of the chocolate, so even if you are not a fan of sweet and salty it is essential to the recipe that you include it. If you must, halve the quantity but do not forgo it completely.I know I have been going off on one about recipes that have shortcomings and once again there is a problem with this one. The recipe originally stems from Nigella.I followed the original recipe, apart from substituting 250g mascarpone and 200ml of whipping cream for the 500ml double cream.By doing this I changed the texture slightly making it more of a cheese cake than a tart. Her instructions here are, to say the least, vague.
In her own words the recipe begins.....
"I never lie about how effortless something is to make, but no one will believe me on this one". 
Ok, once made the tart has to rest and set in the fridge overnight, but the cooking time given spans quite a large window (10 to 30 minutes ) The actual preparation time took me over one hour.This is far from the "Express"Nigella of a few years back.I do understand that that series was all about fast cooking for busy mums ( like yourself ), but seduction even with food, cannot – repeat cannot – be done quickly, and this seductive salty chocolate tart is sensual in the extreme. 
Two of the steps alone take 25 minutes between them, leaving me only 5 minutes to complete the rest of the steps.Dear me Nigella, back in the day you were the finger licking goddess of gastroporn, but nowadays you are only happy enough to run your finger across the back of the chocolate coated spoon and the lick it off sensually.When it comes to mixing the ingredients for the base you encase your hands in  disposable vinyl gloves.As I slowly progressed through the 9 stages of the recipe I was thinking how you would have done it.
Get taxi to supermarket to buy Oreos,keep meter ticking and coming out of supermarket look side ways at camera with smouldering look before returning home– bat eyelashes – shake hair – apply disposable gloves, look at camera again – closer, sieve cocoa powder with cornflour, add carefully scraped vanilla that you bought on a recent trip to Madagascar – suggestive look at camera – pick up very small whisk as you are not aiming to get air in the mixture,just trying to banish any lumpiness. Grab packet of baking parchment from the cupboard and run it under the cold tap – wring it out – final mix – wipe finger in it – lick finger – sexy pout at camera. And there you have it, all ready to be poured into a wide Nigella branded measuring jug or batter jug and rest in the fridge for a while with the damp crumpled piece of baking parchment sitting on top of it. I always wondered how one wrung out a piece of wet baking parchment-fascinating.

Finally you can slice modestly into 14 small slices ( not an even working my dear but then again your papa was chancellor of the exchequer so his precise calculations must have rubbed off on you.At last you can give it its first outing at optimal stage - Marvellous. Even though I didn´t have time to spare it was more than worth the work involved.
For the base

2 x 154g/5½oz packets chocolate cookies, such as Oreos or Bourbons(28 small biscuits in all)
50g/1¾oz dark chocolate (min. 70% cocoa solids)
50g/1¾oz unsalted butter, softened
½ tsp smoked sea salt flakes (see tip section)

For the filling
100g/3½oz dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)
25g/1oz cornflour
4 tbsp full-fat milk
200ml/6.5 fl oz whipping cream

250g mascarpone
50g/1¾oz cocoa powder, sieved
2 tsp strong coffee grounds
75g/2½oz caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp smoked sea salt flakes

  1. For the base, snap the biscuits into pieces and drop them into the bowl of a food processor. Do likewise with the chocolate, then blitz them together until you have crumbs. Add the butter and salt, and blitz again until the mixture starts to clump together. If you’re doing this by hand, bash the biscuits in a freezer bag until they form crumbs, finely chop the chocolate and melt the butter, then mix everything, along with the salt, in a large bowl with a wooden spoon or your hands encased in disposable vinyl gloves.
  2. Press into your tart tin and pat down on the bottom and up the sides of the tin with your hands or the back of a spoon, so that the base and sides are evenly lined and smooth. Put into the fridge to harden for at least 1 hour, or 2 hours if your fridge is stacked. I wouldn’t keep it for longer than a day like this as the crust tends to get too crumbly.
  3. For the filling, finely chop the chocolate. Put the cornflour into a cup and whisk in the milk until smooth. (I find it easier to use cups for the liquids – in which case the milk measure is equivalent to an American quarter cup, and you’ll need 2 cups of cream.)
  4. Pour the cream and mascarpone into a heavy-based saucepan in which all the ingredients can fit and be stirred without splashing out of the pan, then add the finely chopped rubble of chocolate, the sieved cocoa (or just sieve it straight in), espresso or instant coffee powder, sugar, vanilla paste or extract, olive oil and smoked salt. Place over a medium to low heat and whisk gently – I use a very small whisk for this, as I’m not aiming to get air in the mixture, I’m just trying to banish any lumpiness – as the cream heats and the chocolate starts melting.
  5. Off the heat, whisk in the cornflour and milk mixture until it, too, is smoothly incorporated, and put the pan back on a low heat. With a wooden spoon, keep stirring until the mixture thickens, which it will do around the 10-minute mark, but be prepared for it to take a few minutes more or less. Take the pan off the heat every so often, still stirring, so that everything melds together, without the cream coming to a boil. When ready, it should be thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, and if you run your finger through it (across the back of the spoon) the line should stay.
  6. Pour into a wide measuring jug or batter jug (it should come to about the 600ml/1 pint mark). Now run a piece of baking parchment or greaseproof paper under the cold tap, wring it out and place the damp, crumpled piece right on top of the chocolate mixture, then put the jug into the fridge for 15 minutes. The mixture will still be warm, but will be the right temperature to ooze into the base without melting it.
  7. Pour and scrape the mixture into the biscuit-lined flan tin and put back in the fridge overnight. Don’t leave it longer than 24 hours, as the base will start to soften.
  8. Take out of the fridge for 10 minutes before serving, but unmould straight away. Sit the flan tin on top of a large tin or jar and let the ring part fall away, then transfer the dramatically revealed tart to a plate or board. Leave the tin base on.
  9. Slice modestly – this is rich and sweet, and people can always come back for more – and serve with crème fraîche; the sharpness is just right here. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for 4–5 days, but the base will soften and the sides crumble a bit. That will not detract from your eating pleasure too much, but I still like to give it its first outing at optimal stage!

Friday, 18 November 2016

Warten auf Brexit

The concept of Brexit appears to have been around a long time.Well heeled shoppers were able to purchase a box of Brexuits endorsed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the second many years ago, leaving only the containers now as collectors items to be bargained for on ebay. I wonder if they were a hard or soft Brexuit? their description as a delightful savoury biscuit, made by Fortnum and Mason Ltd of Piccadilly, does not give much away.Sadly, this is yet another memory that seems to have been forgotten. The past has been re-written by the Brexit Leave campaign, airbrushed to remove our imperfections, distorted to snub our European neighbours, and whitewashed to remove our compassion for refugees, who incidentally, more than anyone, are the ones that need a good Brexuit.The irony is that many of our former allies and foreign counterparts took the advantage as soon as they were able after June 23rd this year to take advantage and make trademark applications related to the word "Brexit."What was formerly "Great Britain" did not have the nouse to take this opportunity to create some newly patented products.It was the more forward thinking countries of Europe that are now planning to start branding what was formerly British.Having lost Cadbury´s to the Americans and thrown British Home Stores away, we then lost the Findus crispy pancake.Now its the turn of Germany among others to rebrand some of our past glory.In fact, naming food and drink after Brexit seems such a daft idea, there’s a strong chance that these products will never even see the light of day. After all, most of the trademark applications were made within 48 hours of the result coming in – which feels much more like ill-thought-out opportunism than considered marketing.Will we be seeing Brexit’s official English breakfast tea be made by Germans? Or worst case scenario, excuse the pun, Brexitwurst sausages. There is a two month period for third parties to object to any trademark application.I haven´t heard of any objections yet.Are the Brits going to be first in the tea plantations before the Germans get there? Its like the old holiday joke of putting your towel on the sunbed by the pool before breakfast to ensure the Germans didn´t get it.“Vorsprung durch Technik” I say.
Now in the light of America making yet another globally affecting faux pas, I suspect that if you stopped an average American on the street and asked them what they thought about Brexit, the assumption would be that you were talking about some delicious new biscuit. Brexit, the snack you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite.A Brexit a day helps you work, rest and play. Or something like that…Sadly the reality of a Brexit is more than a morning snack. I look forward to seeing Disneys Remake of the Lady and the Trump.....Happy days are here again!!!!

Monday, 14 November 2016

Mini savoury leek egg custards ( lost in translation )

Read the press,ate in the restaurant,wowed by it,bought the book and this is how the story continues..........the unspoken problem with cookery books. How many recipes work?

At this time of year you want to be sure you have reliable recipes to hand.There is no time for failures in your seasonal preparations. Translating a chef's creation—intended to be cooked by professionals for hundreds of people per night—into something you can cook at home comes with its own unique set of challenges, from scaling down enormous quantities to sourcing obscure ingredients.
The prevalence of errors in cookbooks is the publishing world's dirty little secret. The problem is indicative of an industry mired in economic doldrums resorting to cost-cutting, guaranteeing less editing and testing before publication.Following a recent memorable lunch at Bairro do Avillez in Lisboa and having purchased one of his books, Petiscar com estilo (making snacks with style) I thought I would put this book, packed with exciting petiscos and tapas recipes, to the test.The main body of the recipes are given in Portuguese with a section in very small print at the back giving the translations of all the recipes into English.I selected my first recipe "Mini savoury leek egg custards" for its wittiness of putting a savoury interpretation on one of Portugal´s iconic sweet cakes.Having myself just put a new spin on Bacalhau a bras by using leeks instead of salt cod, I was rather enamoured witrh Avillez´s idea.It could be the perfect party petisco for Christmas, but also make a beautiful winter starter if dressed up with some winter leaves.

I opted to follow the Portuguese instructions to serve 4 and the method was spot on,the only problem being that the quantity the recipe actually made was for 12. No worries, they were simply delicious, but so rich we could only manage one each and as there were only two of us there was massive leftovers.God help anyone who opted for the English translation in which 500g of leeks became 1.1oz and 50g unsalted butter became .11oz?

 Mini pasteis de nata de alho-francês

500g de alho frances
Flor de sal q.b.
pimenta q.b.
100ml de natas
2 gemas de ovo
50g manteiga sem sal 

De alho-francês
1.Num tacho de fundo termico,derreta um pouco de manteiga
2.Adicione o alho-francês cortado em juliana fina e deixe estufar tapado.tempere com sal e pimenta.Acrecente um pouco de água e deixe cozinhar
3.Quando o alho-francês estiver bem cozido,adicione as natas e deixe ferver 2 minutos
4.Transfira para um copo misturador e triture muito bem.Passe por um passador de rede e deixe arrecefer.
5.Quando estiver frio,adicione as gemas,rectifique os temperos com sal e pimenta e reserve.
Massa folhada
1. Estique a massa folhada,picele com manteiga derretida à temperatura ambiente e enrole-a com se fosse uma torta bem apertada.Deixe descansar pelo menos 20 minutos no frio.
2. Corte o rolo em moedas grossas e coloque-as nas formas.
3.Estique a massa com as mãos até esta se adaptar perfeitamente à forma
4. Encha cada pastel de nata com o creme 8pode congelar nesta fase) e leve ao forno pré-aquecido a 220ºC até ficarem dourados (8 a 10 min aproximadamente).

Mini savoury leek egg custards 
(lost in translation)
(makes 12)
1.1oz leeks
salt and pepper
100ml cream
2 egg yolks
.11oz unsalted butter
Leeks egg custard
1.Melt a little butter in a deep pan
2.Add the leeks sliced into thin julienne.Season and add a little water,cover then let them stew.
3.when the leeks are cooked,add the cream and let it boil for 2 minutes.
4.Whizz everything in the blender,sieve and leave to cool.
5. When it is cold,add the egg yolks mixing well between each addition.Check the seasoning and reserve.
Puff pastry 
1. Lay out pastry and brush it all over with melted butter at room temperature.Roll it out as if for a tart.Let it rest for 20 minutes in the refrigerator.
2 . Cut the roll into rough coin-size shapes and put them into the individual pie shapes on a pie tray.
3.Push the pastry to fit the shape.
4. Fill each pie with the filling (you can put some in the freezer for later)and put in a pre-heated oven at 220C until golden (approx. 8 minutes)

Well I wonder if if you made sense of that? How an earth can you butter a roll of pastry all over before you roll it out? then apparently the rolled out pastry magically forms itself back into a roll before you cut coin sized shapes out of it.My "coin" sized pieces were 8cms in diameter,I dont know any coin in history that has ever been that size. The recipe translations are also given in Castellano, dont lets even go there.

Having had hands on experience in industrial kitchens I know how recipes can become misinterpreted when put into print.What you are intending to achieve in the directions might call for completely different and more sophisticated equipment than your own kitchen is equipped with. The failure, from a recipe which clearly works beautifully in a restaurant, can be blamed in some quarters on the difference between professional and domestic ovens, whereas sometimes the error seems to be with the publishers. Some blame these errors on shrinking budgets, which mean that editors have less money to spend testing and checking recipes pre-publication.Many of the dessert recipes in the original River Café cookbook never worked in a domestic oven. Always needed much longer. But you learn to use your judgment.Any blog post on the subject of culinary disaster isn't complete without mention of the River Café chocolate nemesis.How many of us remember this dish which, despite rave reviews from diners in the west London restaurant, steadfastly refused to work for home cooks like myself, who famously produced something more like "a kind of cowpat" than the decadent dessert they were hoping for. The late Rose Gray's slightly unsatisfactory response was that "It's a recipe you need to make a couple of times before you get it right". I doubt many people attempted it more than once Rose: humiliation doesn't tend to whet the appetite for seconds.And what about that weeks budget of fresh eggs all ending up in the bin? On the contrary, Ottolenghi recipes are mostly conceived and thought through with a home kitchen at heart."How do home cooks cook? What would they want to cook?" and "are they something that home cooks can actually make?" That has always been the guiding force behind his recipes.Aside from not taking into consideration the need for an industrial grade blender to make that ultra creamy fish soup, it is not every home cook that has a gallon of fish stock to hand.
Abbreviations can be the curse of a recipe too. Tsp printed as Tbsp. Just one letter´s difference, but having the potential to reek catastrophic effect on a recipe.An extra zero on the grammage,250 instead of 25g,can cause an absolute Disaaaaaster darling!!!!Chefs are particular culprits because they´re simply not used to thinking in terms of recipes.I am culpable myself when cooking and writing up recipes,being vague in the extreme about the quantities and methods involved.It is so important for authors of cookery books to make it very doable for home cooks.Here´s hoping my next recipe attempt from this book wont need so much cross referencing and initiative.The result however was more than worth the effort and i shall most certainly be making more batches of these.Thank you Mr Avillez, I am sure the faults don´t lie with you.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Angels at your table - pao de deus

There’s a strong history of patisserie in Portugal dating back to the Middle Ages,where nuns would supplement Convent incomes by baking, fervently. The Portuguese make a religion of their pastries, celebrating saints’ days with little cakes of all kinds, filled with custard or scattered with flaked nuts.If you make a pilgrimage to any neighbourhood coffee shop you can see a history of the culinary cloth sprawled across the counters in shades of cake, biscuit, bread and bun.This history has changed very little over the centuries and seems to remain for ever and ever,amen.The Pão por Deus ( bread for god´s sake) celebration is a Portuguese tradition celebrated all over the country the same day as Dia de todos os Santos (All Saints day)There are a number of customs which may vary throughout the many regions of Portugal.For instance in Leiria it is known as Dia de Bolinho ( the day (to ask) for cake).There are records of Pão de deus in the 15th century.On the 1 November 1755 in Lisbon,after the vast majority of the city´s residents had lost everything to the great Lisbon earthquake the survivors had to ask for this bread in neighbouring towns.
Pão de Deus
These buns promise a lot and deliver just as much: heavenly light dough, topped with sweet coconut.They bear a great similarity visually, I think, to baked apples.

Makes 12 
For the dough
10g instant dried yeast
300ml full fat milk, lukewarm
500g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
25g caster sugar
50g butter, softened

For the topping
150g desiccated coconut
150g caster sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
30g butter, softened

For the glaze
1 large egg
1 tbsp caster sugar

1 Stir the yeast into the lukewarm milk and leave for a couple of minutes. Stir the flour, salt and sugar together in a large bowl, then add the milk and yeast mixture and the softened butter. Mix together thoroughly then knead for 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Leave to rise in a bowl covered with clingfilm. It’s ready after 90 minutes or so, once it has doubled in size.

2 Once risen, divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll into balls. Pinch the dough underneath to give a smooth top surface. Set the buns on a lightly greased baking tray and cover with clingfilm. Leave to rise for an hour, or until twice their original size, by which time they should feel spongy and soft.

3 While the buns rise, combine the ingredients for the coconut topping and whisk the egg and sugar together for the glaze. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

4 Brush the buns with egg glaze, add a heaped tablespoon of the coconut mixture of each, and bake for 25 minutes in the middle of the oven, until the dough is tan and well-risen and the topping is golden – check after 15 minutes and if the tops are darkening, cover loosely with foil . Leave to cool completely before eating.